Exit Interview With Ex-Special Advisor on Conflict Diamonds Brad Brooks-Rubin

After 4½ sometimes turbulent years manning the State Department’s conflict diamond desk and being involved with the Kimberley Process, Brad Brooks-Rubin is moving on. He talks with JCK about the controversies during his tenure, what he has learned, and the plusses and minuses of the KP: 

Any thoughts on the Kimberley Process, after all these years dealing with it? 

The thing about the KP is how much and how little it does simultaneously. On the “how much” side, rough diamonds are the only product with a worldwide certification scheme that encompasses everybody. To have a trade that has complete oversight, including in the artisanal mining sector—which is generally excluded because it’s too hard—it does an extraordinary amount.

But it takes people a long time to realize the narrowness of the scope of what the certificate actually means. I don’t think people really get it. It is an entire regulatory system to deal with this one issue. It’s not an outdated issue—the Central African Republic teaches us that. [Martin] Rapaport always uses the analogy of a kosher kitchen. If the KP is a kosher kitchen, it’s like the rabbi is only looking for cheeseburgers. He will let bacon through. He will let other things through. Only if it’s a cheeseburger is he going to stop it. That narrowness is something the KP is going to have to wrestle with.

As things have gotten politicized, we have seen the inability to have an honest conversation about the issues, because of all the conspiracies and hyperbole, and Chaim [Even-Zohar], and everything else. The challenge of the KP is to take this remarkable system that has been constructed and use it to its potential. 

The fight over Zimbabwe was a big mess. Any thoughts on things you did wrong and what lessons it presents for the future? 

One relates to that honest conversation issue. I hate to narrow it down to the two sides. But if you look at the two sides [on Marange], I think we didn’t do enough to understand one another. We publicly allowed ourselves to be put into corners and put into sides. Because the KP is a unique platform, it doesn’t need to act like other international organizations where you have the usual political camps. There are a lot more opportunities for engagement and understanding points of view that I don’t think we used as well as we could have. 

All the arguments about why the U.S. was taking certain positions were wrong. We weren’t trying to pursue a sanctions agenda or control the country’s resources. But we didn’t understand how our arguments would be perceived that way. And I think some of their arguments all too often fed into our perceptions of how the country was governed. Sometimes, there were perceptions of differences that didn’t really exist, and we didn’t think of what we can do to change that. The KP needs to really utilize its role as an environment where different perspectives can come together. 

We also need to have consistency and rules to think ahead to situations that may come up. The Jerusalem agreement included things that are wholly outside what the KP did before. I think the KP needs more rules and guidelines to deal with difficult issues. Otherwise, you will have more situations where you have difficult issues and people trying to come up with solutions out of whole cloth.

Any thoughts for the industry?

There is a huge opportunity for the industry to be more involved in the KP. The World Diamond Council has been represented by a small number of people. Cecilia Gardner does outstanding work, Eli [Izhakoff], Andy Bone [of De Beers]. The industry needs to do a lot more of that.

I don’t understand why KP meetings don’t have a session on the state of the industry. There are too many diplomats and bureaucrats who come into the KP and know zero about the industry. I think the WDC should think about national WDCs. Some countries already have national associations, but their engagement with the KP varies. There are too many people who come into the industry like me and don’t know anything about it, and KP meetings don’t give you much of an opportunity to learn about it. 

The industry as a whole needs to be engaged much more on development. There is remarkably little understanding of the challenges of artisanal mining. The more those communities can benefit, the more the trade will be helped from a consumer awareness and corporate responsibility perspective.   

Another thing is enforcement. There remains people in the industry who seem very skeptical of engaging with law enforcement. That is to everyone’s detriment. Law enforcement can’t help the industry if they don’t understand it. There have been no suspicious activity reports filed by the industry with FinCEN [the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network]. That doesn’t make sense. And we see that worldwide. 

The last thing I would say is: Be willing to honestly listen and engage with things that happen outside the KP. Like with the multi-stakeholder [working] group that emerged, there are people in the industry too willing to listen to hyperbole, and exaggeration, and conspiracy without trying to figure out what’s exactly happening. In Zimbabwe, a lot of people listened to their worst fears and suspicions. 

The diamond industry is very unique and it’s very special. But it’s not alone in the how people focus on its products.… There are plenty of small and medium textile factories that have a found a way to deal with these things. There have been a lot of good efforts from the U.S. associations, but the process needs broader support, and broader understanding, and broader engagement. A lot of the right conversations are happening. They just need to be broader. 

…The KP is a very important tool. But it’s very specific, and it is just one piece of the puzzle. A lot of people look at the KP as a one-stop shop for diamond issues, and it’s not—and it shouldn’t be.

Any advice you would give to your successors at State? 

I could have done more to learn about and engage with the trade. I think it’s critical to do that. I think it’s equally critical to visit the more critical places and think about how policy can deal with the hardest issues. It’s easy to just sit at the desk. I went to Zimbabwe twice; I went to CAR [the Central African Republic]. But I could have gone to more places and done more to engage with and better understand what is going on. Instead of just listening to commentary or NGO [nongovernmental organization] reports, it has to be based on the perspective you develop on your own. 

Any thoughts for the NGO coalition? 

I guess I would say the current coalition has evolved quite a bit. Its reliance on southern African NGOs has been an outstanding development that makes the KP kind of unique among these initiatives. 

I think the NGOs need to understand more about the trade and the industry. One of my first bosses said the KP only works when the NGOs and industry are aligned and are engaged with one another, and then governments will be pushed in the right way. When they are at cross-purposes, everything breaks down, and I think we have seen that in recent years. Both the industry and NGOs need to make sure they are really collaborating.

What about Global Witness’ decision to leave the KP?

In the end, I feel like probably more got made of that when it happened then it should have. For the first six months of our chairmanship, in every article there was an obligatory reference to Global Witness. That was unfortunate and inappropriate. I think Global Witness made clear why they left and what it’s going to pursue. And to its credit, it’s done those things. There is a lot more to the diamond trade than just the KP.  It doesn’t have the monopoly on everything that relates to the diamond industry by design.

So Global Witness saying “We are not that interested in the KP” is perfectly reasonable. By the same token, I think the KP coalition has been further strengthened by its work with African NGOs. It was difficult when it happened, but people go their own ways. In the end, it worked out appropriately for everyone. 

How do you assess America’s year as KP chair?

Ambassador [Gillian] Milovanovic was, in my humble opinion, an outstanding chair and did a ton of good work. We had to do it at some point, and for us to do it after the most difficult time turned out to be for the good. People said it would be a huge mistake to take on some of the issues that we did. When people say that we failed in our reform effort, that’s a shortsighted view. We had things like the Washington Declaration on development and things that were adopted last year in terms of the KP overall. The [recent] intercessional went very well, and the South Africans deserve a lot of credit for that. We continue to hear a lot of good things about how our chairmanship went. Overall, it’s one of the things that I’m proudest of being part of. 

Anything else?

I think the chairmanship, the Washington Declaration on artisanal mining and development. We made development a real aim of the KP instead of just a slogan.  I helped set up the Public-Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals Trade that now has 47 members, including Apple, GE, Motorola, and the World Gold Council.

What do you see as the KP’s future?

I don’t know. I think that good things are possible this year, and you can’t predict what China will do [when it becomes KP chair in 2014]. I think people are reasonably skeptical about China. But my view is, when a country gets to be chair, you have to be for something. I don’t think countries would be chair just for the sole purpose of hosting meetings or promoting tourism. You have to see where South Africa gets to, to see where China will take it. It is hard to predict, but there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic.

Brad Brooks-Rubin now practices law at the Washington, DC office of the Denver-based law firm Holland & Hart. He hopes to still work on these issues and can be reached via LinkedIn.

JCK News Director