I had flown halfway around the world to experience what many believed was the world’s best diving site. Little did I know that I after a week would feel like Neo in the movie Matrix, who involuntarily got the red pill. From a blissful ignorance of illusion, to a glimpse of a painful truth. A truth that everyone in international politics, aid and trade know, but few talk about. Something that will forever change my view of the world, international politics, democracy, aid, corruption, and especially the United Nations. Palau, March 2014. 

Penguins at the North Pole
Palau is often called the world’s best diving destination. There are as many objective rankings as there are penguins at the North Pole. In other words, none! Penguins live at the South Pole and all rankings are subjective. So I entered the plane with a combination of enthusiasm and skepticism. Was Palau a hype or could it really be the holy grail for anyone with a dolphin complex.

The blue hole

The blue hole

What the hell…
- «What the hell happened at the end? ‘I cried with fearful joy when I broke the surface. Had just dived «the blue hole”, where we started in a narrow vertical hole in the ocean floor and dropped down to some huge underwater caves. The sunlight disappeared quickly, but small flashes of light gave it a magical atmosphere.

At the end of the dive we continued along a steep rock wall. Just before the ascent the sea exploded. The currents were extremely powerful and pulled the wetsuit, large schools of fish appeared out of nowhere and suddenly we were surrounded by sharks, lots of sharks circling around us.

– It was the beginning of The Blue Wall, smiled the dive guide, and it is the start of our next dive. The blue wall! The best site at the world’s #1 diving nation. The place I had been nagging in vain to dive every day at the dive school. I was ecstatic.

One of several sharks that circled us at the blue wall"

One of several sharks that circled us at the blue wall»

The best of the best
The world’s longest hour passed before I finally could buckle up again. I was handed a steel hook with instructions to hook onto the sea floor at the edge of the cliff to the blue wall, since the currents were  strong.

The descent went quickly and with an effort I got hooked onto the edge of the blue wall. The current was so strong that the rope was in constant tension and I felt like a little kite being shaken to pieces in the sky during a full storm.

But strong currents attracts small fish.  Huge schools in all shapes and colors appeared. And small fish attract hunters. Everywhere there were large schools of hungry tuna, barracuda and shark hunting. A feeding frenzy. I was in heaven.

German Channel at the Manta cleaning station

German Channel at the Manta cleaning station

The days passed quickly and Palau had served dives in world-class on an assembly line, including Ulong Channel, German Channel, the Manta Cleaning Station and not to mention the Jelly fish lake. The latter was an incredible and surreal experience, to swim amongst 21 million jelly fish. Definitely among the top 10 funniest dives I’ve experienced.

A bunch of hypocrites and a nagging brat
- Did you know that 90 % of all shark species are endangered, asked Dr. Mark Meekan, a researcher at UWA Oceans Institute, subject to the Australian Government. He further enlightened me about his research projects around the world and Palau’s efforts in preservation of sharks.

Dr. Mark Meekan og ... , who did research on sharks migration patterns in Palau

Dr. Mark Meekan and Luciana Ferreira (28) , who did research on sharks migration patterns in Palau

After discreetly nagging to volunteer at one of his shark projects around the world, like a little brat after candy on a weekday, he opened that I might be able to assist as a chef. It was the closest we got a justification to drag a 75 kg yellow dead-weight without relevant formal education, on an expedition. If it becomes a reality, I should perhaps avoid «local» delicacies such as bats, guinea pigs and live octopus  .

– Tiger sharks migrate over large distances, so preservation of sharks requires international cooperation, the Brazilian Luciana Ferreira (28) informed, who took a PhD on tiger shark migrations at the University of Perth. One of the major problems are countries like China , where it was a week earlier revealed large factories, specialised in whale shark finning, a total protected specie .

– We ‘re a bunch of hypocrites, I said with a smile, and pointed out that we were annoyed over China’s environmental crime, while we fiddled with our Chinese-made iPhones.

– “ Yes ,» she said and laughed. In today’s globalized marketplace, it is difficult to walk on the narrow path.

Neo’s red pill
I am rarely shocked, but the next topic would shake the foundations of my world perception. A shock similar to when I learned that Santa Claus didn’t exist in kindergarden.

– Palau is a master of political maneuvers, Mark said. See those nice roads they have? They supported Japan’s pro-whaling stand in the UN and received new roads. Then they supported US, which gave them another «aid». They needed a new parliament building, so they recognized Taiwan’s sovereignty.

At first I was intrigued with Palau’s double moral regarding  Japan’s pro-whaling stand, but then slowly but steadily, the elephant in the room materialised itself.

The next week I talked to several people in Palau and other countries, which reinforced my hypotheses:

There will always be another diver, who has much better equipment than you

There will always be another diver, who has much better equipment than you

«The 12 votes in the Pacific are the cheapest to buy in the UN and 40 other international organisations. A million bucks is nothing in China, but a large sum for a small island nation with 10-20,000 inhabitants. Pacific Islanders have the most » aid» per capita in the world», (Bruce M, an international retailer)

«The United Arab Emirates wanted Marshall Island’s vote in the EXPO 2020, so they informed about a green energy project, where the country was entitled 5 million USD», (Giff Johnson, editor in chief, Marshall Island Journal)

«The Pacific islands are extremely dependent on sponsorship, which accounts in average 70 % of their GDP…, … we are loyal to our long-term partners», (Kensley Ikosi, Minister of Finance, Micronesia and World Bank representative)

Masters in political maneuvering or a bunch of corrupt islands
The newly acquired knowledge was initially shocking. Do we really have a dozen hookers in the UN and the 40 other international organisations? Is it really an open international market for vote buying?

The next week I downloaded lots of sexy bed readings, including a 60 page thesis at Harvard International Law Journal 2013. Of course 60 closely written pages with small fonts without pictures .

Most of the international vote buying go disguised as aid, but some countries don’t bother. According to The Guardian Russia in December 2009, offered the small island state, Nauru $ 50 million in exchange for its extending diplomatic recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the two separatist provinces in Georgia. In 2008 Iran paid $ 200,000 to the Solomon Islands in exchange for future votes against Israel in the UN, according to YNETNEWS.

The most frightening was perhaps in 2003 when, according to the Wall Street Journal, a bidding war erupted between US and France on the undecided votes in the UN Security Council, where US wanted a resolution that would clear the way to a war in Iraq. Angolan President was amongst other juggling calls from U.S. President Bush and France’s Jacques Chirac , when they had one of the ten temporary seats in the Security Council. USA offered millions of dollars and Angola had its shopping list ready.

A study conducted by Harvard in 2006 revealed that a country’s aid from the US increased by 59 % when it assumed a temporary seat on the Security Council. The effect was more pronounced during years where key diplomatic events take place.

En Napoleon Wrass, som fremstår upåvirket av beskyldningene om korrupsjon

En Napoleon Wrass, who seems unaffected by the allegations of corruption

The mediating circumstances
In a national context, this is illegal and classified as corruption, but the jury is still out on whether this is true in an international context. Today on the international level, they are routine feature of relations between countries. The few Pacific islands are only a small piece and the practice is widespread throughout the world.

Would such a system favoring the rich countries, or is it a laudable channel of income for poor countries? Does vote buying distort decision-making, or instead enable it to reflect states’ preferences more accurately? Is it corruption or is it a country’s sovereign right to optimize the welfare of the nation and its citizens?

The issues are complex and there is not a clear answer. But still, it’s disturbing and it challenges the legitimacy of the United Nations and other international organisations.

My vote for the world’s best diving destination
Such revelations makes one doubt his own naivety. I have always known that corruption takes place, and about the political trade-offs within coalition governments and with the

The untouchable divers discussing the world's best diving destination

The untouchable divers discussing the world’s best diving destination

opposition, but that vote buying goes on so widely and openly was new to me.  And that there are bidding wars on votes in UN’s Security Council prior to invasion of other sovereign nations.

Santa has never existed, but I thought so in my naive childhood. The world might not be a worse place now, but I have learned more about international politics, aid and voting / vote buying. And I will follow with more skepticism future decisions and awards. How much does it cost to buy the next World Cup, EXPO or war?

Anyway, I traveled to Palau to dive. If there had been a ranking today on the world’s best dive destination, my vote would go to Palau. Unless someone paid me to say something else ….

 

Wanne see a 3 minute guide to diving in Palau, press here!

Sources: www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/dec/14/nauro-recognises-abkhazia- south-ossetia, www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3808621,00.html, http://www.harvardilj.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/HLI104.pdf, Ilyana Kuziemko & Eric Werker «How Much Is a Seat on the Security Council Worth? Foreign Aid and Bribery at the United Nations «,  Jeanne Cummings & Robert Block, «U.S. Bids Against France for Votes in U.N.», Wall St. J., Feb. 26, 2003,

————————————————— PICTURES ———————————————————————

 

Japanese diver ready to get wet

Japanese diver ready to get wet

 

The blue hole

The blue hole

 

A 15 ft manta ray at the German Channel

A 15 ft manta ray at the German Channel

 

One of the 21 million jelly fish in the lake. They have no natural enemies, except from a cute anemone, so they have lost the ability to sting

One of the 21 million jelly fish in the lake. They have no natural enemies, except from a cute anemone, so they have lost the ability to sting

 

Two best buddies taking a break under a coral

Two best buddies taking a break under a coral

No perfect diving experience without a Japanese photo shoot with Russian models

No perfect diving experience without a Japanese photo shoot with Russian models

Usain Bolt knows how to make that look good

Usain Bolt knows how to make that look good