• Girls Not Brides: NGOs Address Human Rights

    As we study international relations and global issues we see a huge range of issues.  Some issues are the focus of governments while others are not.  Our times are turbulent (perhaps all peoples have thought that).

    In any survey of global relations one finds cause for both grave concern and unbounded hope. We humans - on this "pale blue dot" - can be so awfully dreadful at times and so very inspiring at others. Desmond Tutu is one of the ever so inspiring ones.

    Tutu, an 80-year-old Nobel peace prizewinner, is a South African activist and retired Anglican bishop. From AIDS and tuberculosis to poverty and racism, Tutu has worked tirelessly to fight a wide range of global ills.  Today, Tutu has turned to the defense of basic human rights and uses his high profile to campaign for the oppressed. Tutu is working to promote the Girls Not Brides campaign (click here for more on this campaign).

    Girls Not Brides is a global partnership of organizations (launched by an NGO called The Elders) working to end child marriage all over the world. The organization seeks to give a voice to girls at risk of child marriage, to defend their rights to health and education, and to give them the opportunities they need to fulfill their potential.

    The Elders are an interesting group of high-profile leaders who use their collective weight and influence to campaign on issues ranging from equality for women to human rights and peace.

    The Elders members are Martti Ahtisaari, Kofi Annan, Ela Bhatt, Lakhdar Brahimi, Gro Brundtland, Fernando H Cardoso, Jimmy Carter, Graça Machel, Mary Robinson, Desmond Tutu, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Nelson Mandela (click here to learn about these amazing people).

    Nongovernmental organizations bring a focus to issues that governments either cannot or will not address. As such, these organizations are increasingly shaping world affairs and are carrying out independent solutions and lifting up concerns that would otherwise not be considered.  The Elders is one such group - a group of people who have banded together to form a coalition of private global citizens in order to participate in global affairs.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Are global human rights concerns (like child brides) secondary issues? Why?

    2.     Why do governments often fail to be concerned with or lift up issues that The Elders engage?

  • President Eisenhower’s Warning - Arms Sales to Bahrain

    Should the United States proceed with a $53 million dollar arms deal with Bahrain?

    According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the volume of international transfers of major conventional weapons in 2006-10 was 24 per cent higher than in 2001-2005, continuing the upward trend.

    The United States and Russia continue to be the largest exporters of major conventional weapons - accounting for 53 per cent of the volume of exports.  Add in Germany (11%), France (7%) and the UK (4%) and these five countries export a full 75% of the world's conventional weapons. The major recipients of arms shipments remain heavily concentrated in a subset of Global South and East states.

    Of course, economic considerations continued to play a central role in a state's decision to export arms.  Josh Rogin is reporting in Foreign Policy that President Barack Obama's administration has been delaying its planned $53 million arms sale to Bahrain due to human rights concerns.

    When Bahrainis took to the streets calling for greater political rights in February 2011 the authorities used lethal force to suppress the peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations. Bahraini authorities killed one protester, wound many more, and sentenced to prison hundreds of people accused of involvement with the protests in unfair military courts (click here for more).

    Last week, however, Obama administration officials told several congressional offices that the administration would be moving forward with a new and different package of arms sales to Bahrain - without formal notification to the public.

    US officials say that the Bahrain arms package will result in some 50,000 jobs in 44 US states (see the below table for total employment by country and company).

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Does President Eisenhower's warning about the power of a military-industrial complex fail to matter to us or do the jobs created in an industry that has tentacles in every congressional district matter more?

    2.     Are these countries and companies selling security or are they merchants of death? Or both?

  • SEAL Team 6 in Somalia Rescues Aid Workers

    " John, this is Barack Obama. I'm calling because I have great news for you. Your daughter has been rescued by our military."

    The above photo provided by the White House shows President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama during a phone call from the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012, immediately after his State of the Union Address, informing John Buchanan that his daughter Jessica was rescued by U.S. Special Operations Forces in Somalia. (AP Photo/Pete Souza, White House).

    President Obama's call ended an ordeal that started three months ago for aid workers Jessica Buchanan (32) and Poul Thisted (60) and their families.  Somali kidnappers seized both Buchanan and Thisted on October 25, 2011.

    This combination photo made from images provided by the Danish Refugee Council shows Poul Hagen Thisted, left, and Jessica Buchanan (Photo credit: AP).

    Since May 2010, Jessica (who is from Ohio) has worked for the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) as a regional education adviser.  The DRC has worked in Somalia since 1998, and is widely recognized and respected aid organization. The organization provides relief and assistance to an estimated 450,000 people in the Horn of Africa and Yemen.

    Two teams from SEAL Team 6 - the same unit that killed Osama bin Laden - parachuted into Somalia in the early hours of Wednesday morning, killed nine kidnappers, and swept Jessica and Poul to safety, without taking any casualties.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     What (if any) impression might these developments have on other would-be kidnappers?

    2.     These are risky operations (22 SEALs who were killed in August when their helicopter was hit by a Taliban rocket). Should leaders (like President Obama) be commended or criticized for authorizing a raid (that could end tragically) for aid workers who knowingly put themselves in harms way?

  • "We have Sinned," says Founder of Davos Economic Forum

    The World Economic Forum kicks off today. In sober opening remarks Klaus Schwab, the founder of the Davos meeting, told the Associated Press, "We [the global business community] have sinned."

    Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

    "I'm a deep believer in free markets, but free markets have to serve society," he said, adding that there is a "lack of inclusiveness in the capitalist system."

    Is 20th century capitalism not working in the 21st century?

    Bill Gates, in his fourth annual letter, has challenged global leaders at Davos to invest in innovations that accelerate the fight against poverty (click here for the letter).

    "Right now, just over 1 billion people-about 15 percent of the people in the world - live in extreme poverty. On most days, they worry about whether their family will have enough food to eat. There is irony in this, since most of them live and work on farms. The problem is that their farms, which tend to be just a couple acres in size, don't produce enough food for a family to live on."

    "The world faces a choice. By spending a relatively little amount of money on proven solutions, we can help poor farmers feed themselves and their families and continue writing the story of a steadily more equitable world," Gates writes in the letter. "Or we can decide to tolerate a very different world in which one in seven people needlessly lives on the edge of starvation."

    Gates also encouraged submitting letters from students and delivered letters from thousands around to the global leaders at Davos.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Should difficult economic times cause leaders and people around the world to question or limit their aid commitments?

    2.     What might the consequences be of less rather than more inclusiveness in world's capitalist system? Is capitalism failing?

  • France Considers an Early Withdrawal of Troops from Afghanistan

    French President Nicolas Sarkozy (above) has threatened to withdraw all forces from Afghanistan after four soldiers were killed last week (Photo: Charles Platiau/AP). Afghanistan is often called the "graveyard of empires." Today, the chaos and violence in Afghanistan is one of the most difficult security problems facing the West.

    On Friday, January 20, an Afghan soldier (in army uniform) turned and opened fire on unarmed French soldiers engaged a sports exercise at a base east of Kabul. The Taliban claims that the gunman was an infiltrator working for the Taliban. This attack is just the latest of several attacks in which western soldiers have been killed by members of the Afghan army or police forces.

    As the West prepares to withdraw from Afghanistan, coalition officials must face the challenge of bringing stability and security to the country while denying the Taliban power. Along with others, France has committed to keeping troops in Afghanistan - which currently number about 4,000 - until 2014. This incident puts France's total loss of service members in Afghanistan at 82.  A French withdrawal could place considerable strain on NATO troops already spread thin across Afghanistan and potentially encourage other partner nations to end their mission ahead of schedule.

    In the above video, the NATO Security General claims that these types of attacks are rare and isolated.  However, the coalition hired behavioral scientist Jeffrey Bordin to study the issue of Afghan army and police killing coalition soldiers (the report has recently been classified by is still available on the internet).  According to Bordin's report the number of attacks have been growing, with 26 incidents of killings or attempted killings since early 2007.  These attacks have led to the deaths of 58 foreign personnel.  Overall deaths of NATO troops fell from 711 in 2010 to 565 in 2011.

    Bordin writes that NATO's attempts to downplay the threat of Afghan soldiers killing their Western counterparts "seems disingenuous, if not profoundly intellectually dishonest."

    "Lethal altercations are clearly not rare or isolated; they reflect a rapidly growing systemic homicide threat [a magnitude of which may be unprecedented between 'allies' in modern military history]," wrote Bordin.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Why might NATO officials want to downplay the tensions between Afghan soldiers and coalition forces?

    2.      What might the consequences be of partner nations ending their mission in Afghanistan ahead of schedule?

  • The Soft Power of Sport - From Cricket to the Olympics

    Newspapers across Europe today read, "England humiliated by Pakistan." To a student of international relations, headlines like these may indicate state-to-state tensions or a diplomatic slight or perhaps even an overt and intended coercive diplomatic act by one state to humiliate another. In fact, these headlines are about sport - the sport of cricket.

    Yesterday, England lost and important cricket match against Pakistan in an Abu Dhabi tournament.

    Above: Pakistan's Umar Gul, left, celebrates taking the wicket of England's Kevin Pietersen with Saeed Ajmal. Photograph: Matt Dunham/AP 

    Do sports matter in global relations?

    Without any doubt, sport matters greatly within societies.  Our sports - our play - often reveals our true and best nature (as well as our worst) and bonds us in a way seen by few other events and activities. Think about the way the Americans behave on Super Bowl Sunday.

    The global business of sport knows few limits.  Sport has for centuries been an agent of globalization and interdependence. Sport is used to open and create new markets in developing countries as products are global and Western firms target the fan in developing countries. Developing states are also creating powerful global sports businesses (like cricket in Pakistan and India) of their own.

    Readers of this blog will recognize sport as a "soft power." Sport is a significant and important soft power. Through sport a nation has the capacity to engage the rest of the word - economically, politically, and culturally in an emotional and real web of interdependence. Through sport a nation can reach out and touch others in a way that military hardware simply cannot.  Sporting events - like a cricket tournament or World Baseball Tournament or the Olympics - bring people together both within a nation and across borders.

    Sport is also often an important vehicle for nation-building. From soccer to cricket to baseball to basketball to golf - world sports allow states like Cuba, Pakistan, and China to show the world who they are, to display a bit of their culture and country, and to engender a great sense of national pride.

    Above: Desiree Davila, Shalane Flanagan, and Kara Goucher, pose after running in the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012, in Houston. (AP | David J. Phillip)

    The soft-power of sport is also used to engineer diplomatic relations.  Just as the Chinese have long used Panda Diplomacy the Chinese basketball star, Yao Ming, with his many loyal fans around the world also bridges the Chinese and American states. Sport is often a critical soft-power tool in an ever-changing political landscape.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     How might events like Olympics in London this summer bring nations and people together?

    2.     Does or could sport foster a dangerous sense of nationalism?

  • United States makes it Difficult to Pay for Iranian Oil

    Above: an Iranian man walks past a currency exchange shop in Tehran. The Iranian rial has fallen to a record low against the dollar after US President Barack Obama signed a bill imposing sanctions against the country's central bank (photo: Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters).

    Global finance includes a broad variety of international transactions - such as currency trading, foreign aid, international loans, and cross-border investments such as the purchase of stocks, bonds, and other investment instruments.

    Global finance also includes financial services that are conducted across state borders. 

    Over time and for pragmatic reasons a consolidated global system of financial arrangements has emerged, leading financial specialists to discuss the "end of geography" as the new global financial system reveals real limitations in state power.

    Many claim that in a gradual way, this new global financial system is undermining state's regulatory capabilities and eroding international relations power. The realist theory that all states are autonomous actors in complete control of their own financial affairs is being seriously challenged.

    In an attempt to shape international relations and another state's behavior, President Obama signed a bill into law on the last day of 2011 that would ban foreign financial institutions that deal with Iran's Central Bank from operating in US financial markets. President Obama is seeking to change Iran's behavior regarding nuclear weapons development.

    The law allows the US to stop any institution that does not comply from accessing US financial markets. This financial restriction is already making it difficult or next to impossible for oil refiners in China (and other states) to pay Iran for the oil they buy.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Chinese officials have repeatedly criticized this US effort to make other nations follow America's lead in pressuring Iran.  Is the US law that bans financial transactions with the Iran Central Bank above international law?

    2.     Is it reasonable to force other states to comply with this restriction and sanctions on Iran? What does this imply about the "end of geography"?

  • Oil, Nuclear Weapons, and Sino-Iranian relations

    China is Iran's biggest oil customer.

    China imports over half a million barrels of Iranian crude each day to feed its hungry economy.  

    The United States is applying diplomatic pressure on Beijing this month in an attempt to persuade China to help pressure Tehran over its nuclear program by buying less Iranian oil.

    Above: US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, left, held talks with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on the issue of sanctions against Iran [Reuters photo]

    A hegemon is a state capable of dominating the conduct of international political and economic relations.

    The Chinese are understandably wary of upsetting Tehran and are not supporting sanctions.

    The European Union has agreed to an Iranian oil embargo. South Korea and Japan, two other major importers of Iranian oil, are also expected join Washington's sanctions on Tehran.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do you agree with the Chinese statement that negotiations not sanctions will change Iran's quest for nuclear weapons?

    2.     Is the United States playing the role of the hegemon?

  • Internet Access a Human Right?

    From our social interactions to transportation to education to international relations the Internet is changing everything. Yep, there is an app for that too. The power of the Internet is reshaping communications in not only the West but also in states like Iran, Syria, and North Korea. While it is extremely difficult to get to your Facebook account and you cannot yet Tweet in China - governments are finding it is extremely hard to stop the technology from reaching people.

    Almost nothing is untouched by this web of interconnection. This week, LG launched a new Internet refrigerator that has the coolest set of features ever seen in a refrigerator. It is a side-by-side fridge, with an on-board computer that can be accessed via your smartphone from anywhere in the world or the touch-screen monitor mounted on the fridge door.  Its food management system keeps track of your groceries (it scans the barcode). The fridge keeps an inventory of what foods are in each section and how long they have been there - and it will let you know when you need to restock and even order groceries for you while you are away at the Olympic games in London this summer.

    A Spanish-owned company, O2, is launching open and free Wi-Fi access to all in the United Kingdom (this week O2 opened free Wi-Fi that covers London's Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea boroughs). Through partnerships with restaurants, shops, and retailers across the UK, O2's free Wi-Fi is just in time for throngs summer study-abroad students, the 2012 Olympics, and Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee. The UK taxpayers will not be paying for the free Wi-Fi.

    Is access to the Internet a human right?

    A 2010 poll by the BBC found that almost four in five people around the world believe that access to the Internet is a fundamental right. The survey - of more than 27,000 adults across 26 countries - found strong support for net access on both sides of the digital divide.

    The United Nations Human Rights Council (in November 2011) issued a special report (click here for the complete report) that says that broadband Internet access is a basic human right. Along with the right to civil rights, healthcare, shelter, and food, freedom of expression now mandates the ability to broadcast that expression to the entire world.

    The UN report underscores the unique and transformative nature of the Internet not only to enable individuals to exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, but also a range of other human rights, and to promote the progress of society as a whole.

    The UN report explores ways in which States (like China) are increasingly censoring information online, namely through: blocking or filtering of content; criminalization of legitimate expression; imposition of intermediary liability; disconnecting users from Internet access.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Is open and free access to Facebook speech and therefore a basic human right? Who will pay for the Wi-Fi?

    2.     Given wide and broad use of Twitter and Facebook in the Arab Spring uprisings, what changes might we see for human rights?


  • MNCs, FDI, and Land Grab in Africa!


    The word draws to mind AIDS, suffering, poverty, war, rape, corruption, great poverty, and homeless refugees.

    Is Africa the Dark Continent? Geographer George Kimble wrote, "The darkest thing about Africa has always been our ignorance of it."

    It is important to realize that Africa is not a country. It is 53 countries. It is wildly diverse and while Africa holds great human suffering it is also a place of remarkable economic change.

    Enter Multinational Corporations.

    While countries in Africa are desperate for foreign direct investment a huge change is underway today in nations like Ethiopia.

    When we think of the Horn of Africa we think of the drought-stricken countries and starving people - not an agrarian revolution. But, indeed, a quiet agrarian revolution is taking place in many countries in Africa.

    Multinational farming corporations are buying or leasing huge areas of land from governments. Vinay Shekar, the CEO of an Indian MNC called Karuturi, now owns an huge empire of farmland in Africa. Karuturi has brought work opportunities, tractors, and large-scale agribusiness practices to Africa - but not without cost and great controversy.

    Many Ethiopians say that their land was taken from them and that they now must work for the MNC for extremely low wages.  Karuturi says it will sell the food it grows in Africa. The MNCs see profits in the land and markets in Africa. Oxfam International reports that most of the land deals done in Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Mozambique Senegal, and Tanzania have been to grow crops for export - including commodities such as cut flowers and biofuels.

    Land Grab?

    Critics claim that the Ethiopian government is giving the land away to MNCs.  Oxfam reports, "many of the deals are in fact 'land grabs' where the rights and needs of the people previously living on the land are ignored, leaving them homeless and without land to grow enough food to eat and make a living."

    "Many of the world's poorest people are being left worse off by the unprecedented pace of land deals and the frenetic competition for land. The blinkered scramble for land by investors is ignoring the people who live on the land and rely on it to survive," said Oxfam chief executive Dame Barbara Stocking.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     While foreign direct investment has the potential to help poor people work themselves out of poverty, might the current MNC rush for land leave people worse off?

    2.     What kind of global action is needed to protect local people from losing what little they have for the profit of multinational corporations?

  • Iran Sentences American to Death for Spying

    Above: Screen grab from video of Mr. Amir Mirzaei Hekmati as seen on Iranian TV.

    At the very foundation of international law one finds the principle of state sovereignty.  Since the Treaty of Westphalia (1648), states have held fast to the right to act within their territories in any way the ruling government chooses.  The idea of state sovereignty means that no authority is legally above the state - except that which the state voluntarily joins.

    Today, Monday, January 9, 2012, Iran sentenced an American ex-Marine to death for espionage.  An Iranian court convicted Amir Mirzaei Hekmati of "working for an enemy country," as well as membership in the CIA and "efforts to accuse Iran of involvement in terrorism."

    International law - though evolving - was designed and written for and about states. It was written to protect states - from other states - not individuals from a state.  The United States is demanding Hekmati's release.

    Supporting the principle of sovereignty - in part - is the principle of noninterference. The principle of noninterference (or nonintervention) requires states to refrain from uninvited activities within another country's territory.

    Hekmati, an Iranian-American born in Arizona in 1983, was shown on Iranian television in December confessing to being a CIA agent.  Hekmati's father said he had gone to Iran to visit his grandmother.

    As the tensions between the West and Iran continue to boil over Iran's nuclear weapons program.  Hekmati's death sentence signal Iranian defiance of western sanctions amid heightened tensions in the Gulf.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Does the nonintervention norm of international law (which is often abused) give Iran the right to exercise jurisdiction over all things in its territory?

    2.     Can a government today do whatever it chooses (including developing nuclear weapons or gross human rights abuse) under the principle of state sovereignty?

  • The Lady: Human Rights and Democracy in Burma

    Above: Burmar's pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, displays a sign that reads, "I also Love the People," to her supporters. Suu Kyi told thousands of wildly cheering supporters Sunday that she would continue to fight for human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in the military-ruled nation. Photo: Khin Maung Win/AP

    When we think of global affairs, we very often neglect considering the people - individuals who make up the great 7 billion strong sea of humanity. In international relations, people are often - if thought of at all - relegated to the mere victims or simply the subject of the rulers and events.

    Individuals matter and can make a difference. Increasingly, scholars have come to recognize that individual human beings very often bring much more than passive and superficial involvement. Often they have real influence.  

    Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Laureate and Burmese human rights leader who spent the past 21 years in prison or under house arrest, is a wonderful example of an individual who is playing an important role in promoting human rights, democracy, and human dignity.

    In recent days, the generals who have ruled Burma for the past 21 years have indicated that Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy may participate in April elections for the country's parliament. Even more hopeful, a presidential adviser said that Suu Kyi "could one day lead the country."

    These winds of change have brought three high profile visits to Burma. United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, businessman George Soros (longtime funder of pro-democracy and human rights groups), and Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague have each traveled to Burma to support Suu Kyi.

    While Suu Kyi has said that she is optimistic about Burma's future, she has also cautioned the West to not get too excited, pointing out that the human rights and democratic changes could still be blocked by Burma's Army.

    A new movie about Suu Kyi will be released this spring (The U.S. theatrical release date is scheduled on February 17, 2012.).

    Discussion starters:

    1.     What role do individual human actors, like Suu Kyi, have on human rights on a global scale?

    2.     Is it likely that human rights will be valued and protected around the world? Will the human welfare articles of the UDHR be promoted?

  • Crude Oil Jumps 4 Percent as Tensions Rise in the Strait of Hormuz

    Photo showing the front of the Iranian 100,000 Rials bank note (Reuters file photo).

    On New Year's Eve (2011) U.S. President Barack Obama signed into law even tighter sanctions on Iran.  These new sanctions do not allow financial institutions that work with Iran's central bank to use the U.S. financial system, thus blocking the main path for Iran to receive payments for its crude oil.

    The United States (and other Western countries) has imposed the increasingly tight sanctions on Iran in an effort to prevent Iran's nuclear development program. 

    After years of measures that had little impact, the new sanctions are already having an effect. World oil prices have jumped more than 4 percent, Iran's rial currency reached a record low yesterday, and long lines have formed at Tehran banks and currency exchange offices as Iranians seek to buy US dollars.

    Obviously feeling the effect of the sanctions, Iran has threatened the United States with the closure of the Strait of Hormuz.  A full forty percent of the world's oil flows through that narrow Strait.

    The U.S. says it will not allow any disruptions to Gulf shipping. "The deployment of U.S. military assets in the Persian Gulf region will continue as it has for decades," the Pentagon said.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     On Sunday, January 1, 2012, Iran reported that it has successfully tested and produced fuel rods for use in nuclear power plants.  Will Iran continue to work toward joining the nuclear club or change directions and seek stabilize their own economy?

    2.     Can the United States afford to keep such tight sanctions on Iran? Wouldn't that mean cutting off oil that's a huge part of the world oil supply?

  • Coercive Diplomacy in Iran?

    The leaders of Iran greeted 2012 with a test missile launch.

    In the coming decades, world leaders must address and handle three very critical policy questions: 1) whether they should develop and maintain nuclear weapons, 2) whether they should use those weapons, and 3) how to prevent others from using these weapons.

    The United States, Israel, and the West are confronting these policy questions today as the leaders in Iran and North Korea seek to develop nuclear weapons.

    States construct strategies for controlling the outcomes of the policies of other states.  They may 1) arm themselves, 2) form or sever alliances with other states, and or 3) practice coercive diplomacy.  Coercive diplomacy is the use of threats and or limited acts of military intervention that targets an enemy's policy. Readers of this blog will recognize these tolls as "hard power" - the ability to exercise influence by military means.  Many analysts are speculating that the United States and Israel are using coercive diplomacy in conducting a covert war against Iran.

    On Monday, January 2, 2012, Iran successfully test-fired two long-range missiles, in a saber rattling (flexing its military muscle) move intended to intimidate both Israel and the United States.

    The West and Israel have recently increased pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear development program, which they say is designed to make nuclear weapons. Iran says is it is strictly for meeting its electricity needs.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     What is the incentive for states like Iran and North Korea to seek nuclear weapons?

    2.     Is it hypocritical for those who posses nuclear weapons to deny others from joining the nuclear club?