Wolfowitz Case Offers Test of Multilateralism

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World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz faces unprecedented pressure to resign his position. What's at stake here, analysts say, is the Bush administration's commitment to multilateralism. Critics say it's time for the World Bank's leader-selection process to be opened up, so that non-U.S. citizens could be considered for the post.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz is still giving no indication he will give in to demands that he step down. Wolfowitz has hired an attorney to represent him, and the White House is standing by him, at least for now. But NPR'S Tom Gjelten reports the movement to force Wolfowitz to resign is taking on the dimensions of an international revolt against the Bush administration.

TOM GJELTEN: The latest blow to Paul Wolfowitz is an open letter published in the Financial Times newspaper today signed by 42 former top World Bank executives. The group said the bank's effectiveness and credibility as an institution will be, quote, "fatally compromised," end quote, if Wolfowitz refuses to leave.

Peter Woike is one of three former managing directors of the bank to sign the letter.

Mr. PETER WOIKE (Former Managing Director, World Bank): I think he should resign. I think he should have resigned probably 10 days ago, you know. I think he should have put the institution in front of his own personality here.

GJELTEN: The Financial Times also reported today that an internal watchdog group at the bank has issued a report saying the controversy over Wolfowitz' leadership risks causing irreparable harm to efforts in poverty reduction and sustainable development. The independent evaluation group's report is to be considered this week by the World Bank executive board, which is reviewing Wolfowitz' role in the arrangement of a pay and promotion deal for a female companion at the bank. According to the Financial Times, the group is calling for swift changes in management at the bank.

Kenneth Rogoff is a former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund.

Professor KENNETH ROGOFF (Economics, Harvard University): This is just unprecedented. There's never been anything like this at any of the major international financial institutions.

GJELTEN: The German government, otherwise a steady U.S. ally, has already publicly called on Wolfowitz to resign, and the British government has made little secret that it, too, thinks Wolfowitz must go.

Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations says the movement against Wolfowitz now raises the question of whether the international community still has confidence in U.S. leadership in the world.

Mr. CHARLES KUPCHAN (Senior Fellow and Director of Europe Studies, Council on Foreign Relations): I think what we're seeing here is not a revolt against Wolfowitz' leadership but a broader revolt against American legitimacy and its conduct of foreign policy, particularly in international institutions.

GJELTEN: Ever since the World Bank's establishment, the United States, as its single largest donor, has been allowed to choose the bank president. European governments, in turn, have been able to select the head of the International Monetary Fund. But Kenneth Rogoff, now at Harvard University, says the uproar over Wolfowitz' leadership is likely to change those practices. Giving the United States and the European countries the power to select the leaders of international financial institutions no longer makes sense, he says, in today's world.

Prof. ROGOFF: Where Asia is bigger than Europe in economic terms, where Latin America, Africa have grown incredibly, it is a total anachronism. Everyone agrees that it has to change. I believe that the Wolfowitz debacle will finally catalyze this.

GJELTEN: Paul Wolfowitz' term at the World Bank is not due to end until 2010. Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington.

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