• "Flickers of Progress" in Burma (Myanmar)

    In 1990, Aung San Suu Kyi won Burma's last democratic election for Prime Minister. However, Burma's military did not let her take office.

    And in 2003, the Burmese military cracked down even further on Suu Kyi and her followers - putting her under house arrest. The United States responded by imposing sanctions against Burma.

    Economic sanctions are punitive actions against a target country to deprive it of the benefit of continued economic relations. Sanctions have been used with ever-greater frequency since World War II, as they tend to be an easy foreign policy tool that allows governments to demonstrate - to their citizens as well at the leadership in the targeted country - that they are punishing unacceptable behavior.

    Suu Kyi has been a long time supporter of US sanctions against the ruling military junta. Photo: UK Telegraph - JULIAN SIMMONDS

    In recent months, Suu Kyi has said that Burma's government has taken positive steps toward reform. Censorship has been eased, unions legalized, and the Burmese generals have lowered their profile and loosened their control over the country. These reforms - along with the release of Suu Kyi from house arrest (and an open a dialogue with her) - says President Obama are "flickers of progress" toward democracy in the isolated and impoverished nation.

    Today, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Burma (on the first visit by a senior American diplomat in over fifty years) to signal that the United States is "quite hopeful" that reforms undertaken by the Burmese government could lead to a broader "movement for change."

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Even after the United States imposed sanctions on Burma, China (never a country to focus on human rights) continued to purchase natural gas from Burma's huge natural gas reserves. But Burmese generals have become increasingly uncomfortable with China, which they say is exploiting Burma for its natural resources and strategic location near the Indian Ocean. Might Clinton's visit to Burma be really about China?

    2.     How much should Clinton focus on Burma's human rights record or Chinese relations while visiting with the leadership in Burma?

  • COP17 Climate Talks in Durban

    Representatives from nearly 200 countries have gathered today in Durban, South Africa for a U.N. conference on climate change called COP17.

    Should big developing economies like China, India and Brazil submit to emissions targets? 

    The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) was established at the 1992 Earth summit in Rio de Janeiro. The leadership of the UNFCC is the Conference of the Parties (COP), which comprises representatives from 195 countries and meets over the next two weeks for its 17th conference. 

    The 12-day meeting will focus on efforts to extend the Kyoto Protocol, which is set to expire next year. The Kyoto pact committed industrialized nations to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997 and it commits 37 developed countries to reducing carbon emissions to 5% below 1990 levels by 2012. The United States refused to join the Kyoto Protocol, arguing it did not impose any obligation on China.

    Efforts to negotiate its successor to Kyoto have been on hold since the failure of the climate conference in Copenhagen two years ago. Few believe the COP17 conference will result in a new agreement, but delegates say they are hopeful.

    Air pollution (and the resulting climate change) remains a critical international challenge. The world's reliance on fossil fuels (coals, oil, and natural gas) generates carbon dioxide. Annual emissions of carbon dioxide have increased more than 80% since 1970. Of course, these emissions have a rather dramatic effect on the concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. These emissions - together with chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) produce a greenhouse effect and global warming. Of course, the rise in carbon emissions, CFCs must be addressed because of the dramatic change in climate throughout the world.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Countries around the world are currently dealing with an economic crisis. Should (or can) they rise above national interests during the climate change talks in Durban for the future of our planet?

    2.     Should countries look out for their own interests and only cooperate on an issue-by-issue basis?

  • Missile Defense Shield Revives Old Nuclear Tensions

    In this 2009 file photo, a column of Russia's Topol intercontinental ballistic missiles rolls across Moscow's Red Square, during the annual Victory Day parade. Ivan Sekretarev/AP/File

    The United States and its NATO allies have proposed a European missile defense shield that has revived long-standing tensions. The system is due to be fully deployed by 2020 with interceptor missiles and radars at sea and in several European countries, and will be used to counter potential threats from nations such as Iran. But Russia fears that it could erode the deterrent potential of its nuclear forces.

    The nuclear era brought about confrontation that has been fraught with tension. The U.S. missile and anti-missile plans have clouded relations with Russia since President Ronald Reagan dreamed of a "Star Wars" shield in the 1980s.

    New technological developments always seem spark the dangerous and unthinkable thought that a nuclear war might be winnable. As long ago as 1960, Henry Kissinger stated, "every country lives with the nightmare that even if it puts forth its best efforts its survival may be jeopardized by a technological breakthrough on the part of its opponent."  Perhaps Russia's nightmare is the new defense shield proposed by the United States and NATO?

    On Wednesday, President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia will arm itself with missiles capable of foiling a U.S. shield in Europe and may deploy additional weapons in its west and south to counteract the system the United States is building with NATO allies.

    The White House swiftly responded to Mr. Medvedev's statement, saying it will not alter in any way its plans to deploy a missile shield. Click here for the Fact Sheet: Implementing Missile Defense in Europe.

    Among Russia's demands, President Medvedev said that the US and NATO must put down in writing specific provisions for how the missile shield would work, including "military-technical criteria that will enable Russia to judge to what extent U.S. and NATO action in the missile defense area correspond to their declarations and steps, whether our interests are being impinged on, and to what extent the strategic nuclear balance is still intact." The United States refuses to provide the Russians such provisions and details.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Could the development of a missile defense shield and nuclear weapons in Russia and the United States part of President Eisenhower's Military Industrial Complex?

    2.     Should leaders around the world have nuclear weapons proliferation foremost on their minds?

  • Black Friday and Our Endangered Oceans: A Tragedy of the Commons?

    At the Greenpeace Research Labs at Exetor University, Professor David Santillo wrapped up his overview on the state of our oceans and with urgency in her voice a student asked Dr. Santillo what could she do to help save the oceans.

    The professor paused and looked intently at the concerned student.

    He had just described vast problems of pollution (plastics in our oceans) looming extinctions from overfishing, and the "deadly trio" of climate change, ocean acidification, and lack of oxygen. Our oceans are in trouble he had said: acidification is intensifying, dead zones are growing, plastic garbage patches are killing marine life, overfishing is rampant-and the loss of the ocean's great mammals increases carbon emissions, exacerbating all the other problems.

    His reply was kind but very poignant. Professor Santillo looked directly at the small groups of students and returned the question with a question.

    "How much stuff do you need?"

    Nervous laughter followed his question. "No, really," said the professor, "think about it...think about how much stuff you really need, think about how much plastic is in the objects you are purchasing, how you will use those objects, how long, and how much plastic it is wrapped in that you will cut open and throw away instantly."

    The very thing that makes plastic so useful to us as consumers, its durability and stability, also makes it a problem in marine environments.  Around 100 million tons of plastic are produced each year of which about 10 percent ends up in our oceans.

    On Friday, about 40 million Americans are prepared to cut short giving Thanks for the potential of a bargain on unnecessary plastic objects - from Lego Ninjas, to Let's Rock Elmo, to iPads and Kindles, to "shape shifter" clothes to hide all that Thanksgiving turkey, Americans will buy tons and tons of plastic. 150 million Americans will be fighting - sometimes literally - for billions of dollars of plastic wrapped consumer goods come Friday morning.

    According to a recent study from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean, the combined effects of overfishing, fertilizer run-off, pollution, and ocean acidification from carbon dioxide emissions are putting much marine life at immediate risk of extinction. The researchers also found that marine litter and plastics are found throughout the oceans, sometimes in massive swirling gyres.

    The state of our oceans, our ecosystems, species, and environmental problems cannot be viewed in isolation.  Our oceans belong to all of us - collectively - and the problems within them cannot be solved by individual states.  Even when most of us agree on the challenges we face and it seems to be in the interest of all to cooperate to address the problem, short-term political and economic interests often thwart the needed global efforts.

    Want to help? Click here for Brenda Peterson's ten simple steps that you can do every day to help heal our oceans.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     What does Garrett Hardin's phrase "tragedy of the commons" mean and how does it apply to plastics in our oceans?

    2.     Should states support international environmental conventions even if it is not in their interests? Can we suffer short-term economic pain to make our oceans sustainable? 

  • al Qaeda Sympathizer Arrested in New York

    On Sunday, November 20, 2011, the New York Police Department arrested an alleged "al-Qaida sympathizer," 27-year-old Jose Pimentel, who was, according to reports, acting as a "lone wolf" and had planned to bomb returning military personnel, police cars, and post offices in the city.

    A Dominican-born US citizen, Pimentel had spent most of his life in Manhattan, said New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, and had been under police surveillance since May 2009.

    Terrorist groups – like al-Qaida – are also NGOs. They are non-state actors that sometimes have significant power and influence. Terrorism in its contemporary global form challenges many of the theoretical perspectives we use to understand international relations. For example, the realist theoretical approach, which rest on the power of nation-states, offers little in explaining the relations within a community that includes non-state terrorist actors.

    New York police commissioner Ray Kelly said Pimentel was a follower of radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed by a US drone strike in Yemen in September. The death of al-Awlaki "set him off" said Kelly.

    While globalization and technology is undoubtedly connected and enables contemporary terrorism, the power of terrorist groups has brought new and significant challenge to states. When states face terrorist actors, overwhelming military power does not translate into victory - as terrorists engage in what is known as asymmetrical warfare. Asymmetrical warfare is unconventional fighting between unequal belligerents.

    Prevention of terrorism is difficult. Alleged "lone wolf" actors like Jose Pimentel are often difficult to find and prevent.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do incidents like the one above lend further support to continue the global war on terrorism? Or is this only an example of an isolated criminal act?

    2.     Many argue that the war on terrorism lacks a clear definition, scope, and outcomes. Do you think it might be a better policy to address the grievances of those with no legitimate political means to address them?

  • China's Nervous Neighbors, a US & Australian Military Agreement, and an Indonesian East Asia Summit

    The East Asian Summit which convenes today in Indonesia, recently expanded its membership to 18 countries, including the United States and Russia. President Obama (pictured above) is the first US president to attend an East Asian Summit. 

    "This is another example of how the United States is refocusing on the Asia Pacific, and engaging more deeply in regional organizations, so we can meet our common challenges together," Obama said following a bilateral meeting with the Indonesian president. Indonesian diplomats have sought to lay the groundwork to make the EAS a substantive meeting on regional issues.

    Countries form alliances when a state in their midst becomes a threat.  The People's Republic of China (PRC) has been increasingly assertive in its territorial claims over huge swathes of the South China Sea. This assertive behavior has unnerved several of the China's neighbors.

    When states perceive a threat they often engage in "balancing" behaviors. In short, they join alliances (both military and economic)  to protect themselves and their interests.

    A number of China's neighbors - Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines - say they have noted a growing readiness in Beijing to assert sovereignty claims far from mainland China and have formed closer ties other smaller states in the region and with the United States.

    In Australia this week, President Obama announced a major boost in military ties, giving US forces permanent access to Australian bases in northern Australia, very close to Indonesia. Using "hard power" (the ability to exercise influence by military capabilities) the United States is seeking to use force to secure key shipping lanes in the South China Sea.

    US Pacific Commander Robert Willard described the shipping lanes in the South China Sea as "incredibly vital to the region, to our partners and allies, and certainly to the United States." Around 50 percent of world trade passes through the South China Sea. The Obama Administration says it is neutral in the regional disputes, and that its interest in the area lies in the security of the shipping lanes that carry $5.3 trillion of world trade each year.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Does the establishment of a US military base in Australia amount to a "bullying" strategy by the Obama Administration?

    2.     Do we expect a "reciprocating" strategy by the Chinese?

  • US Military buys entire fleet of Harrier warplanes scrapped in UK

    The US military has agreed to buy Britain’s entire fleet of Harrier jump jets after they were controversially scrapped under the Government’s austerity measures. Photo: ROYAL NAVY

    In the next two weeks, Britain's decommissioned Harrier jets are set to be sold to the United States Marines.  The planes date back to 1980. They were built by two companies that are long since gone: the U.S. McDonnell Douglas, now part of Boeing, and the U.K.'s British Aerospace, now part of BAE Inc. It is interesting to note that a 19th Century superpower is selling warplanes to the 20th Century superpower.

    Is this a cost-cutting deal for the United States?

    Speaking to the NavyTimes, Rear Admiral Mark Heinrich, chief of the US navy's supply corps, said buying the Harriers made sense because many of the jets had been recently upgraded, and the US already had pilots who could fly them.

    "We're taking advantage of all the money the Brits have spent on them," he said. "It's like we're buying a car with maybe 15,000 miles on it. These are very good platforms. And we've already got trained pilots."

    In recent budget negotiations, US military officials have agreed to cut $450 billion from the Pentagon's budget over the coming decade - $450 billion from the roughly $7 trillion. "These cuts are difficult and will require us to take some risks, but they are manageable," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta wrote lawmakers this week.

    The range of cuts being discussed is still well within the proportions of drawdowns after the ends of the Korean, Vietnam and Cold wars.

    Interestingly, the likely budget cuts are in military health care and retirement accounts, cuts in the number of troops on active duty, and a reduction in the Pentagon's planned $350 billion buy of more than 2,400 F-35 fighters.

    In a time of constrained budgets questions of the appropriate places to cut abound. Some contend that power in today's world depends less on military power (hard power) than on (soft power) information, technology and trade competitiveness.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     The continuing budget crisis also leaves the United Nations in a difficult position as it seeks to manage many of its responsibilities. Why is spending on hard power (global military spending is about one hundred times as much as the UN budget) so significantly more than on soft power?

    2.     How should the nations of the world best respond to the global security needs?

  • APEC 2011 - China "Off Kilter" with Trade Policies?

    Over the weekend, President Obama kicked off the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Ministers and Economic Leaders' Meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii.  Regional trade regimes, like APEC, are seen as a way to promote economic growth. Examples of these trade regimes included NAFTA, APEC, ASEAN, and SADC.

    US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama pose with Chinese President Hu Jintao and his wife Liu Yongqing in Honolulu, Hawaii, on November 12.

    Since its first meeting at Blake Island near Seattle in 1993, APEC has served as a forum for U.S. engagement with the Asia-Pacific region.  APEC's 21 member economies comprise a market of 2.7 billion consumers, account for 44 percent of world trade, and represent 55 percent of global economic output (more than $35 trillion in 2010).  Six of America's 10 largest trading partners are in APEC.

    These regional trade and economic organizations have not sought nor achieved the level of integration the EU. However, they do demonstrate the widespread acceptance that states cannot individually resolve many of the problems that confront them collectively.

    At the APEC meeting, President Obama also met with Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) leaders, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. 

    President Barack Obama attends the Trans-Pacific Partnership meeting at the Intercontinental Hotel in Yokohama, Japan, Nov. 14, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    The Obama Administration announced in November 2009 the United States' intention to participate in the TPP negotiations to conclude an ambitious, next-generation, Asia-Pacific trade agreement that reflects U.S. priorities and values.  The Obama Administration expects the TPP agreement to boost U.S. economic growth and support the creation and retention of high-quality jobs at home by increasing American exports to a region that includes some of the world's most robust economies and that represents more than 40 percent of global trade. 

    "The TPP will boost our economies, lowering barriers to trade and investment, increasing exports, and creating more jobs for our people, which is my number-one priority," said President Obama.

    Later in the day, President Obama participated in an APEC CEO Business summit, including a question and answer session with Boeing CEO, Jim McNerney.  McNerney, 61, oversees the strategic direction of the Chicago-based, $64.3 billion aerospace company. With more than 160,000 employees across the United States and in 70 countries, Boeing is the world's largest aerospace company and a top U.S. exporter. It is a leading manufacturer of commercial airplanes, military aircraft, and defense, space and security systems; it supports airlines and U.S. and allied government customers in more than 90 nations.

    President Barack Obama, with Boeing CEO James McHenry, Jr., answers a question at the APEC CEO business summit in Honolulu, Hawaii, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    Companies from Caterpillar Inc. to Eli Lilly and Co attended the summit as the APEC CEO Summit draws thousands of business leaders from around the region and beyond. The CEO Summit provides opportunities for business executives to engage in dialogue with global leaders and ministers of foreign affairs and trade, discover business opportunities through networking with CEOs from hundreds of top Asia-Pacific companies, and to forge connections with economic thought leaders from around the region and the world.

    President Obama strongly expressed Corporate America's concerns about China's trade policy in a private meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao on Saturday. 

    "He made it very clear that the American people and the American business community were growing increasingly impatient and frustrated with the state of change in China's economic policy and the evolution of the U.S.-China economic relationship," said Michael Froman, a senior White House adviser on international economic affairs.

    Chinese President Hu Jintao listens to U.S. President Barack Obama's opening remarks during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit leaders plenary session in Kapolei, Hawaii on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

    Discussion starters:

    1.     There are many positive and negative impacts that multinational corporations have on Global South countries. Do multinational corporations in the Global South: help or hurt? Or both?

    2.     President Obama has said the US relationship with China was "off kilter" and China is now too "grown up" now to flout international rules. How should the United States (a national that clearly supports liberal trade policies) engage with China's protective trade policies?

  • Coalition of more than 125 NGOs come together for World Pneumonia Day (11.12.11)

    Students often ask, "What can I do to help?" Global concerns and problems often seem so overwhelming and so far away. In our ever-interdependent global village technology now allows yet another direct way to be active - with "digital coordination." Digital coordination can inform billions of people and link all who are working on a specific problem.  It is quick and easy to join an online effort to raise awareness and pass on information about an issue or concern.  One such effort is currently underway.

    A global coalition of more than 125 NGOs, community‐based organizations, academic institutions, government agencies and foundations has come together provide leadership for World Pneumonia Day.

    World Pneumonia Day is the product of the efforts of the Global Coalition against Child Pneumonia. This coalition was established in April 2009 to raise awareness about the toll of pneumonia, the world's leading killer of children, and to advocate for global action to protect against, effectively treat and help prevent this deadly disease.

    Tomorrow (November 12, 2011) is World Pneumonia Day. People the world over will come together to mark the third World Pneumonia Day with a range of events around the world.

    The Coalition is asking everyone to join the efforts online with a digital coordination on Facebook, Twitter, and any other social network. They have even compiled an Activist Toolkit (click here) that includes sample Facebook status updates and tweets to make it easy for all to help raise awareness. A sample post: "Did you know 98% of children who die from pneumonia live in developing countries?"

    By raising awareness of the deadly effects of pneumonia, World Pneumonia Day organizers hope to encourage funders, policy makers, health professionals, and all people to add to the effort to the fight against the disease.

    What is pneumonia? Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs, filling them with fluid. It causes cough and fever and can make breathing difficult. Severe pneumonia can be deadly.

    Who is most at risk? In developing countries, children under 5 years of age are at risk, especially in the poorest communities. Some children and adults are at greater risk because they have other illnesses, such as HIV/AIDS. People with HIV stand a much greater chance of dying from pneumonia than those who do not have HIV. Children who are poorly nourished can also have weakened immune systems, putting them at higher risk of contracting pneumonia.

    Click here for "Five Things You Can Do."

    For more information on World Pneumonia Day and the Global Coalition Against Child Pneumonia, and for tips on how to get involved and do your bit for this cause, visit the World Pneumonia Day website: http://worldpneumoniaday.org.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Is "digital coordination" yet another irreversible trend in globalization?

    2.     Does an awareness of a problem (and a remedy) actually encourage governments around the world to allocate funds for global health?

  • Clinton using “Smart Power” Seeks AIDS-free Generation

    In a speech on Tuesday (November 8, 2011) on HIV/AIDS Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced $60 million in additional funding to fight AIDS transmission in sub-Saharan Africa, and that Ellen DeGeneres will be a special envoy to raise global awareness about the deadly disease.

    In keeping with the Obama Administration's policy of using "smart power" to address global problems, Clinton wrote to DeGeneres: "By lending us your energy, compassion, and star power to serve as our Special Envoy for Global AIDS Awareness, your words will encourage Americans in joining you to make their voices heard in our campaign to achieve an AIDS-free generation. The enormous platform of your television show and your social media channels will enable you to reach millions of people with the strong and hopeful message that we can win this fight."

    According to the State Department press release, DeGeneres responded, "I'm honored to have been chosen by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as Special Envoy for Global AIDS awareness. The fight against AIDS is something that has always been close to my heart. And I'm happy that I can use my platform to educate people and spread hope. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go look up what "envoy" means."

    Infectious diseases do not respect borders. Our ever-closer interdependent global village makes the spread of diseases more likely.  Therefore, there is a growing recognition of the link between global health and state security.

    Clinton called on the citizens of the United States and people around the world to join in working to achieve the goal of an AIDS-free generation. An AIDS-free generation means that virtually no children are born with the virus. HIV/AIDS has devastated countries in the Global South, where 90 percent of the new infections occur.

    Through the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and across the government, the United States is using science to guide policies, strengthen programs on the ground, and maximize the impact of U.S. efforts. Three key scientific interventions have been identified as pivotal: stopping mother-to-child transmission, expanding voluntary male circumcision, and scaling up treatment as prevention.

    When used in combination with each other, condoms and other prevention tools, these three interventions offer an historic opportunity to drive down the worldwide rate of new infection. "If we take a comprehensive view of our approach to the pandemic, treatment doesn't take away from prevention. It adds to it," Clinton said. "So let's end the old debate over treatment versus prevention and embrace treatment as prevention."

    As noted below, Clinton and others have been working to preserve U.S. spending on overseas aid. "At a time when people are raising questions about America's role in the world, our leadership in global health reminds them who we are and what we do," she said.

    Discussion starters:

    1. With some 34 million people living with HIV in the world today, the new emphasis on treatment could prove very expensive in a time of tight budgets. Would it be a better policy decision to focus limited resources on prevention rather than treatment? Or does the Obama Administration's approach make sense? 

    2. Does the globalization of disease and other transnational concerns perhaps mean the end of the nation-state?

  • Papandreou Steps Down Crude Oil Prices Rise

    Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou resigns (Getty Images).

    Ever wonder just how globally interdependent we all are?

    According to AAA the price you pay for gas is going up just in time for your Thanksgiving travel. In a weak economy is fuel prices are supposed to stay low right? A lower demand is suppose to equal lower prices. Well, the AAA driver assistance firm says it expects gas prices to rise for Thanksgiving and for that trend to likely continue into December. Gas prices are expected to move back toward the $3.50 mark, which would place them about $0.50 higher than they were last Thanksgiving weekend.  

    Why are gas prices rising?

    Last night, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou stepped down to allow the formation of a new caretaker government in Athens that will pass a European Union bailout plan.  Today, European finance officials are meeting in Brussels to work out the final details of a plan for the bailout fund for Greece. Optimism abounds.

    A stabilized Greece translates into a more economically stable Europe and a likely rising demand for crude oil. Investors around the world saw the stepping down of Papandreou as sign of economic stability in Europe and thus worldwide stability and perhaps even economic growth. With investor optimism that Europe will be able to contain its debt crisis the price of crude oil has jumped to $95 a barrel today. We live in a truly globally interdependent community.

    Discussion starters:

    1. Should the United States take a more substantial leadership role in the European debt crisis?

    2. Do you see a time when Americans are not to dependent on crude oil?  

  • President Obama and Bill Gates in Cannes, France for G20

    Bill Gates spoke to the leaders of the G20 yesterday emphasizing the importance of foreign aid to the developing world.

    What is the G20?

    The United States, European Union, and other large industrial economies along with emerging states such as China, India, and Brazil belong to the "Group of 20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors" - or G20. The G20 was set up in 1999 in response to financial crises to bring together the leaders of both industrialized and developing economies to discuss issues in the world economy. Presidents and prime ministers often participate in the G20 summits. President Obama is at the meeting and will attend working sessions with the full assembly of leaders, as will as hold bilateral discussions with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

    President Nicholas Sarkozy asked Gates to report to the G20 on new ways to finance development given deep budget cuts in advanced economies struggling with high public debt.  In a sense, Gates has moved from businessman to statesman.

    Gates urged the G20 to show leadership by coming up with a more comprehensive approach to improve the lives of the poor. He said innovations such as new seeds and vaccines had saved billions of lives and proved that if used properly, aid was effective in reducing poverty.

    "The world will not balance its books by cutting back on aid, but it will do irreparable damage to global stability, to the growth of the global economy and to livelihoods of millions of poor people," Gates told G20 leaders.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Should the G20's contribution to developing countries be about raising aid money, how that aid money is spent, or perhaps about remaking the global financial architecture to benefit the poorest people and the poorest countries?

    2.     In difficult economic times, when unemployment is high in many rich countries, do you think that it is perhaps best for the G20 to focus less on conditions in poor countries?

  • Rio+20 & The Global Compact and Corporate Sustainability

    Today, states are challenged from above by intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) and from below by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that seek to influence the outcomes of global problems and concerns.

    The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) will take place in Brazil on 4-6 June 2012 to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, in Rio de Janeiro. The Conference will include Heads of State and Government officials, IGOs, and Civil Society NGOs. One of the issues to be raised at this conference will be corporate sustainability leadership.

    How can we best get multinational corporations (MNCs) to engage in sustainable business practices?

    Some suggest that getting corporations to sign on to voluntary codes of conduct is a market-friendly and realistic way of promoting corporate sustainability. The UN's Global Compact (click here for the Compact) reflects this view. The Global Compact (an initiated by Secretary-General Kofi Annan) challenges corporations to incorporate ten core principles into their business practices.

    On November 2, 2011, in preparation for Rio+20, the UN Global Compact Office released a document (Corporate Sustainability Leadership: A Framework for Action at Rio+20) which calls for governments around the world to take steps to support corporate sustainability, stating that with the right incentives the private sector can make significant contributions to sustainable development.

    The UN Global Compact Office's key recommendations to governments around the world include:

    1.     encouraging businesses everywhere to adopt universally accepted sustainability principles (click here for the principles), as advanced by the UN Global Compact;

    2.     encouraging greater accountability and transparency by business on sustainability;

    3.     and committing to develop transformational partnerships between business, the public sector and civil society which address systemic issues.

    With little doubt, nonstate actors (IGOs and NGOs) shape world affairs. However, very difficult questions remain. Can the private sector police itself?  Are governments able to shape and control MNC behaviors?

    Some observers are less sanguine about voluntary means of promoting sustainability. Corporate sustainability still has not penetrated the majority of companies around the world.  According to the UN report, the 6,000 business participants that have signed onto the Compact represent only a tiny fraction of the world's estimated 70,000 multinational corporations in the world.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Given the power and mobility of MNCs, can state governments continue to meet the needs of citizens around the world?

    2.     Will IGOs become the new primary actors in world politics as they rise to fill in the gaps where states are failing?  If so, will this likely to lead to a new era of global governance?