International Relations

Diplomats succeed in Geneva in creating "concrete steps" for the Ukrainian crisis

04-17-2014 2:39 PM with no comments

At a meeting of more than seven hours of intense negotiations in Geneva today, the United States, Russia, Ukraine and the European Union agreed to a plan aimed at defusing the conflict in Ukraine.

The foreign ministers agreed to put on hold for now at least additional economic sanctions against Russia.

"All sides must refrain from any violence, intimidation or provocative actions. The participants strongly condemned and rejected all expressions of extremism, racism and religious intolerance, including antisemitism," the joint statement said.

"All illegal armed groups must be disarmed; all illegally seized buildings must be returned to legitimate owners; all illegally occupied streets, squares and other public places in Ukrainian cities and towns must be vacated."

The US Secretary of State, John Kerry said, "if the US and EU did not see progress, new sanctions would follow."

Discussion starters:

1.     Does it appear that the Russians are concerned about the sanctions being imposed by the United States and others?

2.     Why did the Russians agree to take these steps in Ukraine? 


Posted by robert.sterken

United Nations assist Afghanistan's move to democracy

04-13-2014 12:37 PM with no comments

The Afghani people are facing the challenge of making a democratic transfer of power. Despite rainy weather and threats of violence by the Taliban, more than 7 million Afghans, including women and many young people, voted in polling centers across Afghanistan on April 5.

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is an IGO that seeks to connect countries to knowledge, experience, and resources to help people build a better life. The UNDP program is seeking to support the transfer of power by helping the Afghans hold elections that are legitimate.

The April 5th election is a success - in part - by the UNDP as one of its major goals is a project called ELECT II. ELECT II is seeking to help Afghans find solutions to global and national development challenges and to support national electoral institutions and to conduct credible elections.

ELECT II has a budget of US$ 338,157,793 funded by Australia, Canada, Denmark, the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.

For the first time in Afghanistan's history Afghans voters facilitated the transfer of power from one democratically elected government to another in solid repudiation of the militant Taliban in the conflict-ridden country.

Discussion starters:

1.     What does a successful democracy in Afghanistan mean for the rest of the world?

2.     Is this collective IGO effort in Afghanistan worth the millions being spent?


Posted by robert.sterken

Diplomacy in the Middle East: "Why don't we try one more time?"

04-10-2014 10:04 AM with no comments

Yesterday in Austin, Texas President Jimmy Carter told an emotional story about the near failure of his attempt to broker a historic peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.

Upon taking office in 1977, President Jimmy Carter and many others considered the Middle East the most likely flashpoint for a superpower war between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Middle East was highly unstable with Israel at war with its Arab neighbors.

While the Egyptians sought to reclaim the Sinai territory seized by the Israelis in 1967, the Palestinians fought the Israeli control of the West Bank and Gaza territories. In a historic ceremony, on September 17, 1978 in Washington the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and President Jimmy Carter signed the Camp David Accords.

The three leaders agreed that Israel would withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula in stages and agreed to meet further to work to resolve the Palestinian question. They would work toward solutions at a table rather than in war.

President Jimmy Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize in part for this achievement in 2002.

Discussion starters:

1.     Why do you think Israeli Prime Minister Begin changed his mind about the talks after looking at the photographs?

2.      What roles did Carter's focus on detail and the work of Ms. Susan Clough play in this historic peace agreement?



Posted by robert.sterken

Does state behavior and attitude shape outcome of relations among nations?

04-06-2014 12:38 PM with no comments

There is a story of two dogs. Both at separate times walk into the same room. One comes out wagging his tail while the other comes out growling.

A woman watching this goes into the room to see what could possibly make one dog so happy and the other so mad.

To her surprise she finds a room filled with mirrors.

The happy dog found a thousand happy dogs looking back at him while the angry dog saw only angry dogs growling back at him.

What you see in the world around you is a reflection of who you are.

If we are fearful, we will very soon find many things to fear. 

If we are peaceful, we find peace all around us. 

If we are warlike, we find war and conflict all around us.

Discussion starters:

1.     Does this story of personal outlook work in the world of relations between nations?

2.     Does a warlike nation create its own warlike world?



Posted by robert.sterken

Saber rattling in the South China Sea: The United States sends in two ballistic destroyers

04-06-2014 11:36 AM with no comments

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel did a little saber rattling as he delivered a warning to North Korea and to China on Sunday (April 6, 2014) (click here for more).

Secretary Hagel, in a show of military power, announced that the United States is sending two additional ballistic missile destroyers to Japan to counter North Korea's threats in the region and to send a signal to the Beijing about respecting neighbors.

The American warships are just the latest move by the United States to step up a military presence in the region.

"We must be very careful and we must be very clear, all nations of the world, that in the 21st century this will not stand, you cannot go around the world and redefine boundaries and violate territorial integrity and sovereignty of nations by force, coercion and intimidation, whether it's in small islands in the Pacific or large nations in Europe."

Discussion starters:

1.     Is the threat or implied threat of military force by the United States at odds with seeking to promote North Korea and China to resolve the disputes peacefully?

2.     Is Hagel correct in comparing China and North Korea relations within the Asian region with those of Russia and the Ukraine?


Posted by robert.sterken

Climate Change: Will Global Leaders Act?

04-01-2014 7:07 AM with no comments

The United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a 2,600-page report assembled by more than 300 scientists on Monday (31 March 2014). The events predicted in the report when taken all together are overwhelming (click here for the full report).

The UN report focuses on the importance of action and the ways in which climate change will affect our global village in coming years. As quoted in the Wall Street Journal, "The key new finding that they're emphasizing is that climate change is being felt by people and not just by polar bears," said Myles Allen, climate scientist at the University of Oxford. 

According to the UN report, "Throughout the 21st century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hot spots of hunger."

As the global food supplies dwindles the scientists expect the poor to be hit the hardest. But that does not mean the rich in the global north will not be affected. All of these changes will create an unstable world.

Discussion starters:

1.     Is it likely (or even possible) for world leaders to do as the report suggest and stave off the worst affects of climate change by move quickly to cut emissions?

2.     Will you and world leaders take up UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon's challenge to "innovate, scale-up, cooperate and deliver concrete action that will close the emissions gap and put us on track for an ambitious legal agreement?"


Posted by robert.sterken

Maps of our global village: maps worth thousands of words

03-29-2014 10:44 AM with no comments

The NGO ONE has assembled eight maps of our global village that will probably change the way you look at our planet (

In the above map we see global Internet use.

In the above photo we see the world at night (created from photos from NASA).  

The night shot of our global village shows stark contrasts in access to electricity - especially when comparing the continent of Africa with the global north.

Discussion starters:

1.     How might access to the Internet shape the opportunities for people?

2.     How does the lack of electricity effect health care, or economic growth, or education, or simple safety?


Posted by robert.sterken

As the West considers further action toward Russia some Ukrainian women impose their own sanctions - denying Russian soldiers sex in protest

03-27-2014 3:47 PM with no comments

Many claim that the referendum vote by the people of Crimea to leave Ukraine for Russia is illegitimate.  One group of Ukrainian women are fighting back and urging their countrywomen to "fight the enemy in any way!"

This group (click here for their Facebook page) of Ukrainian women are campaigning to "deny Russian men sex" and selling provocative t-shirts to draw attention to alleged Russian misdeeds in Crimea with attention-grabbing slogan: "Don't give it to a Russian."

The protest shirts sell for just $23 with all of the proceeds going to the "needs of Ukrainian army."

According to a report in Foreign Policy the campaign organizers are saying, "What Russia is doing in Ukraine is terrible, but the world sees their actions primarily through the prism of the pro-Putin propaganda."

Discussion starters:

1.     Given Europe's economic dependence on Russia's oil, will sanctions actually come together and how might that circumvent the situation?

2.     What effect if any might the Ukrainian sex boycott have on Vladimir Putin?



Posted by robert.sterken

MY World: The United Nations global survey for a better world

03-25-2014 9:55 AM with no comments

Government that includes all voices and is accountable to the people is necessary and critical for ensuring more equitable development and for the effective realization of human rights for all across our global village. The United Nations is in the process of developing and agenda for our future and is seeking your thoughts, priorities and views, so that global leaders can act on the will of the people.

The UN "MY World" website includes a survey for all citizens that aims to capture a better understanding of need and desires as they begin the process of defining the new development agenda for the world.

The UN survey asks you to select which six of sixteen possible issues you think would make the most difference in your life (click here for the survey).

The results of the survey will be provided to the UN Secretary General´s High Level Panel for Post-2015 before their meetings in Monrovia, Bali and New York.

Discussion starters:

1.     Do the sixteen issues selected by the UN inclusive of all the important priorities - or did they omit an important issue?

2.     Do the sixteen issues selected by the UN specifically represent the needs and desires of the world's poor and marginalized communities?



Posted by robert.sterken

We are all connected: emotional contagion across global social networks

03-18-2014 10:53 AM with no comments

Our global village is growing ever closer together.

In the mid-1990s Thomas Friedman and others pondered the effects our global connections might have on international relations and conflict. Friedman's idea was that "no two countries that both have a McDonald's have ever fought a war against each other." For many scholars the ever-tightening human and economic bonds would make cooperation more and more necessary.

Above is a map showing global concentrations of McDonalds restaurants in 2012. 

While Friedman's McDonalds bond is significant, a new study (recently published in Plos One) by scholars at the University of California, Yale, and Facebook highlights an even more important connection across our global village.

This study found that moods spread virally through social media all across the globe. "What people feel and say in one place may spread to many parts of the globe on the very same day." This finding implies that "emotions themselves ripple through social networks to generate large-scale synchrony that gives rise to clusters of happy and unhappy individuals."

As a result, we may see greater spikes in linked global emotions that could generate increased volatility in everything from our political systems to financial markets.

Coviello L, Sohn Y, Kramer ADI, Marlow C, Franceschetti M, et al. (2014) Detecting Emotional Contagion in Massive Social Networks. PLoS ONE 9(3): e90315. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0090315

Discussion starters:

1.     How might caring and providing better care for those who are suffering in Bangladesh or Mississippi effect others?

2.     What public policy implications might be drawn from the phenomena of emotional contagion across global social networks?


Posted by robert.sterken

Malaysian Flight MH370 Highlights Global Policing Problem

03-16-2014 11:33 PM with no comments

What do we know about the crew and passengers of the missing Malaysian Flight MH370? Could they have board the aircraft with a stolen passport? 

Officials announced late last week they were looking at the background of all the crew and passengers. Reports indicate that at least two passengers on flight MH370 were traveling on stolen passports (click here for more).

Interpol is an international governmental organization (IGO) that works to enable police around the world to work together to make the world a safer place. Interpol's governing body is called the "General Assembly" and is composed of delegates appointed by each of 190 member states.

"Whilst it is too soon to speculate about any connection between these stolen passports and the missing plane, it is clearly of great concern that any passenger was able to board an international flight using a stolen passport listed in Interpol's databases," said Interpol Secretary General Ronald K. Noble (click here for more).

Interpol estimates that in the last year alone passengers were able to board planes more than a billion times without having their passports screened against its databases (click here for more).

Discussion starters:

1.     Has the missing Malaysian flight underlined the security problems posed by the global trafficking in fake travel documents?

2.     What reasons might authorities in Malaysia and elsewhere give for not relying enough on Interpol's database of lost and stolen travel documents?


Posted by robert.sterken

Nationalism: Students suspended and charged with sedition for supporting the Pakistani national cricket team in the Asia Cup match

03-12-2014 2:39 PM with no comments

India and Pakistan were, of course, once part of the very same state. But in 1947 leaders very violently divided the state - pushing most Muslim people one direction and Hindus the other.  India and Pakistan have been bitter enemies and have fought two wars over Kashmir - a region on land that in part divides the two states.

Cricket matches between India and Pakistan are international relations events with huge cheering crowds and millions of people watching on television. Passions run deep on both sides.

Last week the Pakistani national cricket team traveled to India to take on the Indian national team. Students from Kashmir who attended a local university (Swami Vivekanand Subharti University) found out just how deep the feelings of nationalism run as they cheered for the Pakistani cricketers.

Meerut Police registered a case of sedition against 67 students and University officials suspended the students.  What was their crime? The students were caught shouting and cheering for their favorite cricket players and the Pakistani team.

Leaders of the university community demanded action against the "anti-national" students. According to the New York Times, Manzoor Ahmed, a vice chancellor of the university said, "You cannot pass judgments against your own national team, their behavior was not conducive to peace on the campus. It creates bad blood with the local boys."

Nationalism is a mindset that glorifies a particular state and the "nationality" of the group who resides there. Nationalism or patriotism teaches citizens to believe that their state is the best.


Discussion starters:

1.     Was it irrational of the Meerut police to book the students for sedition?

2.     What message might the punishment send to Indian, Pakistani, and Kashmiri youth?


Posted by robert.sterken

Giant Oil MNCs watch closely as US and EU governments debate sanctions on Russia over Ukraine

03-12-2014 12:43 PM with no comments

Multinational corporations are closely watching global policymakers this week, as the European Union and United States governments debate what actions to take against the Russian aggression in the Ukraine.

Multinational corporations (MNCs) are nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) with extraordinary ties, influence, and activities around the world. With billions of dollars invested in the far corners of our village these NGOs wield enormous power in state-to-state relations and in international conflicts.

MNCs, like ExxonMobil Corporation are increasingly influential because they are enormous agents of growth. In the last decade ExxonMobil has worked hard to develop close ties with the Russians (click here for more). How close? Well, Exxon currently holds the drilling rights for 11.4 million acres of Russian land - an investment of billions. Exxon has plans to begin drilling in 2015.

Later today (Wednesday 12 March 2014) the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee will review a sanctions bill drafted by senators from both parties.

Politico reports that the draft-bill would block Russian assets and possibly revoke the visas of some Russian officials. The bill could impose strict sanctions on commercial activities within Russia.

Discussion starters:

1.     Should American oil MNCs investments be lost because of US sanctions on Russia?

2.     If you were lobbying the US Senate for Exxon, what would be your argument re your company's work in Russia and the recent invasion of Ukraine's Crimea?



Posted by robert.sterken

US Navy "Prepared to act:" Iran's efforts to smuggle weapons to the Gaza Strip stopped by Israelis

03-12-2014 10:13 AM with no comments

According to a CNN report, "the U.S. Navy had secret orders this week to be "prepared to act" to stop a cargo ship carrying Iranian arms destined for Gaza."

U.S. officials began secretly tracking a shipment of weapons as it left Iran by air, landed in Syria, and were then shipped into Iraq and loaded at a port in southern Iraq. U.S. navy ships then tracked the cargo down the Persian Gulf, to the Arabian Sea, and then to the Red Sea until the Israeli navy boarded the vessel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the captured ship was "stocked with weapons destined for terrorist groups" and that "the entire operation . . . was organized by Iran."

Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps official news agency denied the Israeli Prime Minister's allegations, calling them "a baseless lie."


Discussion starters:

1.     How might this tracking and seizure of weapons bound for Gaza affect U.S. and Iranian relations?

2.     Does CNN's report about the orders for the US Navy indicate that the United States is continuing to hold Iran "accountable for its destabilizing activities in the region, even as we continue efforts to resolve our concerns over Iran's nuclear program through diplomacy?"



Posted by robert.sterken

United Nations International Women's Day - 2014: HeForShe

03-08-2014 10:48 PM with no comments

Equality for women is progress for all.

Today - March 8 - is International Women's Day.

It is hard to believe that in 2014 women around the world are still being abused, objectified, and silenced.

Yet, women are half of the world's potential and every single one has the right to a life free from discrimination.

On this Women's Day, an organization called HeForShe is working to get men around the world to voice support for women's rights.

Discussion starters:

1.     How does the focus on equal rights for girls and women shape the development of a state?

2.     How might the inclusion of men's voices help with fight for equal human rights for all women? 


Posted by robert.sterken

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