• A US Apology to the People of Afghanistan

    Think about the last time you were upset with something someone did to you. Did they apologize? Did the apology help with the destructive feelings of conflict? An apology at the personal or the international level is spoken or written statement that seeks forgiveness for an act. An apology is often said to be in order when you err or offend someone. World leaders apologize to help settle feelings and quell conflict. For example, in his last year in office, President Bush apologized for Afghan civilian deaths to Hamid Karzai, the leader of Afghanistan. 

    Muslims treat each specific book of the Quran with deep reverence and consider the desecration of a book one of the worst forms of blasphemy. Many Muslims consider the Quran the literal word of God.

    Last week, American soldiers were observed burning a truckload of Islamic religious items, including copies of the Quran, taken from detainees at Bagram Air Base. The burning has set off days of protests that have left at least nine people dead, including two American soldiers.

    President Obama issued an official US apology to the people of Afghanistan.

    The Quran burnings will likely make it even more difficult for U.S.-led forces to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people and to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table ahead of the withdrawal of troops by the end of 2014.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Following the burnings, many Afghans have denounced Americans as their enemies and do not seem recognized the huge sacrifices made by American soldiers and taxpayers.  Might an apology help with the hurt and feelings of the Afghans?

    2.     An apology can sometimes stir ambivalent attitudes from both the giver and receiver. Should President Obama have apologized to the people of Afghanistan?

  • World Bank President Zoellick Announces: A Global Partnership for Our Oceans

    A coalition of governments and international organizations has joined forces with the World Bank to confront threats to the health of our oceans. The World Bank is steering a new global alliance on the issue.

    Today, Friday, February 24, 2012, World Bank President, Robert Zoellick, announced the launching of a Global Partnership for Oceans (click here for more). Zoellick said global marine life was threatened by over-fishing, loss of habitat, and environmental degradation. The Global Partnership for Oceans is an alliance of governments, international organizations, civil society groups, and private sector interests committed to addressing the threats to the health, productivity and resilience of the world's oceans.

    "Send out the S-O-S: We need to Save Our Seas," said Zoellick, speaking at the World Oceans Summit in Singapore today.

    "The world's oceans are in danger, and the enormity of the challenge is bigger than one country or organization. We need coordinated global action to restore our oceans to health. Together we'll build on the excellent work already being done to address the threats to oceans, identify workable solutions, and scale them up."

    Many of the benefits from our oceans are taken for granted, often because there is no value assigned to them or to their destruction. What is the economic impact when a reef or whale is killed? Rethinking how we all value nature and incorporate those values into economic studies and balance sheets will refocus our decision-making towards less destructive practices.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Rising sea levels and temperatures acutely affect island nations and nations with fish-heavy diets. How should we manage our oceans? Should we focus on global governance?

    2.     What is the current mindset regarding the natural resources of our oceans and what mindset might better protect those resources?

  • Are Natural Rights for Humans Only?

    The above dolphin can recognize himself in the mirror - just like you.

    The idea that we humans have rights - basic natural rights that are so fundamental that they must be protected and no government can take away - while not universally accepted, does enjoy very widespread support.  Many people and states the world over agree that some rights (life and liberty for example) are by their nature so basic that they cannot legally be taken away regardless of whether it is a minority or a majority that might wish to do so.

    These rights are said to be natural - unalienable - rights: rights that every individual has and that governments cannot legitimately take away.

    Should individual humans be alone in enjoying and holding these natural and unalienable rights?

    According to a BBC report, scientists now believe dolphins and whales are sufficiently intelligent to justify the same ethical considerations as humans. Scientists say they are individuals. This announcement was made at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Vancouver, Canada, the world's biggest science conference.

    These scientists base this announcement on years of research that has shown dolphins and whales have large, complex brains and a human-like level of self-awareness. This has led the experts to conclude that although non-human, dolphins and whales are "people" in a philosophical sense, which has far-reaching implications.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     If whales and dolphins are individuals and if individuals have natural rights, then would the deliberate killing of an individual dolphin be equivalent to deliberately killing a human?

    2.     Should the international community support a Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans?

  • World Day of Social Justice Celebrated - 20 February

    The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed today, February 20, as World Day of Social Justice in 2007.  UN Member States are to devote the day to promoting national activities in accordance with the objectives and goals of the World Summit for Social Development and the twenty-fourth session of the General Assembly.

    Above: United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

    United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in a message marking World Day of Social Justice said, "achieving social justice for all is integrally linked to realizing the agreed development goals articulated at the Copenhagen Social Summit, the Millennium Summit and elsewhere."

    Above: In a February 2009 - UN Press Conference - Mary Robinson, former High Commissioner for Human Rights and former president of Ireland says that as a Global Community, values have been forgotten and the World Day of Social Justice is to remind us of the spirit of the Universal Declaration for Human Rights. The hierarchal goal of the World Day of Social Justice is to recognize that social development and social justice are indispensable in obtaining peace.

    Mr. Ban, said the "winds of change have swept across the globe" in the past year, with protests in numerous cities and countries. At the heart of this mass mobilization lies a call for social justice."

    Discussion starters:

    1. How will social justice become a reality? What must be implemented in order to make social justice fair to all nations and people?
    2. Does there have to be winners and losers (is this a zero-sum game) in promotion of social justice or might social justice be a win-win?
  • Leaders from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran agree to close ties - pipeline

    The leaders of Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan met to discuss a range of regional peace efforts [Photo: Reuters].

    As regular readers of this blog know, Iran is facing growing economic difficulties due to its international isolation. The United States has increasingly put pressure on Iran to discourage its nuclear development program.

    Two days of high-level talks between Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan concluded today. While the talks failed to advance Pakistani's bid for a peace process with Taliban fighters, the three leaders did agree on a real, long-term, and substantial project that will link the three nations.

    In these talks, Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad offered to finance the Pakistani portion of a multinational pipeline project. The pipeline that will connect Pakistan to gas from Iran has been planned since the 1990s, but has been plagued by political and economic delays.  Just last year Pakistan and Iran finalized the $7bn deal. Iran will export gas to Pakistan through the new pipeline beginning in 2014 in a move that builds closer ties between Tehran and its neighbor.

    The pipeline is opposed by the United States.  Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan's president, has vowed to continue with a proposed pipeline project with Iran despite American warnings of sanctions, saying Pakistan-Iran relations would not "be undermined by international pressure of any kind''.

    The Pakistani official who spoke to CBS News said, "Theoretically, it would make a great deal of sense for Pakistan to import gas from Iran. The U.S. may oppose the project, but the Americans have no alternative to offer for providing relief to Pakistanis. When people are protesting because they can't cook food at home, the compulsion to do whatever is necessary becomes very strong."

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Should the United States offer Pakistan an alternative to energy from Iran in order to further isolate Tehran?

    2.     What does the relationship between Iran and Pakistan mean for the US war on terror?


  • Clinton, Summers, Geithner Said to Be Leading Contenders for World Bank Top Job

    It is hard to overestimate the impact of World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II on global economic relations. The trade and exchange rate regimes of the 1920s, the global economic collapse of the 1930s, and the disasters of both World Wars forced world leaders to construct a new set of global institutions with missions to stabilize the global economic system.  With an eye on world markets, reconstruction, and stabilization they established the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development - now known as the World Bank.

    The World Bank needs a new president. World Bank President Robert Zoellick announced yesterday that he will be stepping down in June.

    The World Bank is an intergovernmental organization (IGO) operated by 187 countries. The United States is the bank's largest shareholder and will select its next president. Under an unwritten agreement, the U.S. has historically selected the World Bank president - while European countries select the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The Obama administration has pledged to put a replacement candidate forward for Bank board approval within the next few weeks. The Bank's president has always been an American.

    The World Bank's central role in the global system was originally to provide capital for the recovery of war-destroyed societies and long-term development. Today, the World Bank plays an important (and sometimes controversial) role in the global financial system focusing its efforts primarily on giving aid to developing countries.

    In recent years, the World Bank has increased lending ($44 billion in fiscal 2010 from $13.5 billion in 2008) to support development in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. Given the bank's focus, it is likely that developing nations will want to offer their own candidates for the bank's top spot.

    Who will President Obama nominate to replace Robert Zoellick?

    Above: Bill Clinton is being talked about as the next president of the World Bank. Photograph: Ethan Miller/Getty

    Lael Brainard, under-secretary for international affairs at the US Treasury, is responsible for drawing up the short list of possible candidates. Washington rumors include and former White House economic adviser Larry Summers, current Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, and even former U.S. president Bill Clinton.  President Obama could even nominate a non-US citizen. 

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Given that this is an election year in the U.S. could we expect that the World Bank nomination might become a partisan and hot button issue?

    2.     Since the World Bank operates primarily in developing countries, and has most impact in those countries, would it be best for President Obama to select a candidate that is supported by developing countries?

  • Tibetan Nun Dies from Self-Immolation Protest

    On Saturday, February 11, 2012, an 18-year-old Tibetan nun, Tenzin Choezin, at the Mamae nunnery in Sichuan province, set herself on fire to protest Beijing's handling of the Tibetan people and territory.  Such acts of suicide are escalating and widening in Tibet, reports indicate that as many as 18 monks, nuns and ordinary Tibetans have set themselves on fire over the past year.

    Above: Tenzin Choedon, was a nun at the Mamae Nunnery in Sichuan Photo: AP

    States are often made up of multiethnic and multicultural societies.  Many states have a variety of politically active groups that seek, if not outright independence, a greater level of autonomy or a greater voice in the domestic and or foreign policies of their state.

    The people of the remote and isolated region of Tibet see themselves as an ethnic and cultural group different from the Chinese and have for centuries (off and on) enjoyed control of their own lives and territory.

    The Chinese intervention in Tibet began in the early 18th century when the Chinese emperor of the Qing dynasty sought to bring Tibet into a unified China. However, while the remote region never really came under complete Chinese administrative rule, the Qing dynasty never relinquished its nominal control over the region - giving later Chinese governments the claim that Tibet has always been part of China.

    In 1950, shortly after Communist party takeover in China, the Chinese invaded Tibet to reassert their ancient claim on the region. While Beijing's policy toward Tibet was relaxed throughout most of the 1950s - they allowed the Dalai Lama to remain the spiritual leader.

    Tibetan resistance to Beijing's control grew until, 1959, when the unrest boiled into protests and open armed rebellion against the Chinese government.  Beijing authorities declared martial law, eliminated all of the remaining elements of autonomy in Tibet, and forced the Dalai Lama to flee to India (where he has been given sanctuary since).

    During Mao's infamous Cultural Revolution, his Red Guard smashed temples and Buddhist traditions in Tibet and all across China. Tibetans claim that some 6,000 of their monasteries were obliterated. Tibet today is completely under Chinese rule and Beijing authorities consider Tibetan Buddhism dangerous.  China has harshly criticized and even vilified the Dalai Lama, accusing him of a campaign to split Tibet from the rest of China. The Dalai Lama says he is only seeking increased autonomy for the people of Tibet.  The last few months have been Tibet's most violent since 2008.

    Inside Tibet's heart of protest - video

    The self-immolations indicate that the people of Tibet are continuing to protest and struggle for autonomy as they challenge China's definition of national unity, call for the return autonomy, and the return of their spiritual leader.

    Self-immolations continue in Tibet - ABC video  

    Tenzin Choezin, the young Tibetan nun, shouted protest against the Chinese government before setting herself on fire not far from her nunnery. Chinese soldiers came immediately and took her away and surrounded the nunnery.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     What solutions might be created between Chinese officials who say that Tibet has been under its rule for centuries and the Tibetans who claim the region was and deserves to be functionally independent?

    2.     Obviously, anger over cultural and religious restrictions continues to deepen in Tibet but why self-immolations and not other forms of protest?


  • Argentina takes Falkland Islands Protest to the United Nations

    It seems that humans have always struggled with each other for power and control over their living space. Conflict arises over territory for many reasons - multi-ethnic national states and stateless people are two examples. Some conflicts arise over pieces of land considered sacred - such as in Israel.

    Sometimes conflicts arise over land that has long since been occupied - such as those who have lived in the same place for generations without and legal documentation in countries in Africa.  The British have long occupied (since the 1840s) of the Falkland Islands even though Argentina considers it its territory. Fishing concessions and oil beneath the coastal waters have made the Falklands wealthy.

    Today, the Argentinian president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, has announced that the Argentinian foreign minister, Hector Timerman, will make a formal complaint over the 'militarization' of the Falkland Islands at the United Nation.

    Above: President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner said Britain's actions amounted to a threat to international security.

    Timerman presented a complaint to the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, who expressed concern about the increasingly strong exchanges in a summary of the meeting given by his office to reporters.

    President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has said that recent changes by the British are provocations and present a "grave risk for international security" to Argentina. The British have recently dispatched a modern destroyer, HMS Dauntless, to replace an older vessel to the islands. The high profile placement of Prince William, in his role as a search and rescue helicopter pilot has also heightened tensions.  Further, Fernández has expressed alarm that Britain may be sending nuclear weapons to the islands. Reports in the British media have indicated that one of the Royal Navy's Trafalgar-class submarines was on its way to the region. British officials say that the deployments are routine.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Why is Fernández reopening old wounds on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the conflict?

    2.     Might the dispatching Prince William (the British forces' most high-profile officer) to the islands, in this anniversary year, be read as an attempt to communicate ownership of the islands to Argentina?

  • U.S. Threatens to cut $1.5B in Aid to Egypt over NGO Trials

    Ideas are almost impossible to stop.  NGOs and other nonstate actors are often integral in the construction of and the sharing of ideas that people use to define themselves and their interests.

    Above: Hillary Clinton speaks about the deadlock with Egypt over its crackdown on NGOs (AFP/Getty Images/File, Alex Wong).

    Today, Egyptian officials are holding 43 NGO workers, including 19 Americans, for a criminal trial for alleged involvement in banned activity and illegally receiving foreign funds. The decision is likely to further sour relations between Egypt's military rulers and the United States.

    Citizens around the world have increasingly created nongovernmental organizations to influence governments, address problems, and shape the conditions in which they live. These organizations often share ideas that governments greatly fear.

    Issue advocacy group activity has risen to unprecedented levels.  International Alert, Greenpeace, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), and International Republican Institute (IRI) are just a few examples of nongovernmental groups that actively seek to influence and change global and or domestic conditions.  These groups are known as the global "civil society" - a community that embraces shared norms to collectively manage problems without coercion and through peaceful and democratic means for improving human welfare.

    NGOs (like IRI) focus on promoting democracy and are often accused by some governments of weakening or working to overthrow the state. The military leaders in Egypt see IRI and other similar NGOs as a real threat to their hold on power - and that often means clashes between civil society and state security forces. Liberal international relations scholars argue that the growth of NGO power is leading to an erosion of governmental power.

    On the other hand, realists point out that while the relationship between governments and NGOs is reciprocal, it is the governments that manipulate the NGOs. The IRI, for example, receives its funding through grants from the U.S. State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development and the National Endowment for Democracy.  Less than one percent of IRI's funding comes from private donations. Is the IRI an extension of the US government? Other NGOs work very hard to keep state influence out of their organizations and work. Greenpeace, for example, does not accept any funding from companies, governments or political parties.

    US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has warned Egypt that continuing with the trials could lead to the loss of American aid. The United States is due to allocate Egypt $1.3 billion in military assistance and $250 million in economic aid in 2012.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Realists argue that NGOs participate in global relations but without any real power. Do you think that is true of IRI? Greenpeace?

    2.     Civil society groups often seek to force changes in behaviors and policies of sovereign states. Is the information age of disappearing borders increasing the power of nonstate actors?

  • Vázquez Mota: "I am going to look after your family as I have looked after my own."

    Josefina Vázquez Mota celebrates after Mexico's National Action Party chose her as its presidential candidate. Photograph: Edgard Garrido/Reuters

    Mexico's center-right governing party has chosen a woman a its candidate for the country's presidency.

    Josefina Vázquez Mota, a former education minister, won Sunday's nationwide vote of members of the National Action Party with around 55% of the vote.

    Many have long criticized mainstream theories of international relations as well as the actual practice for a gender bias. Feminists argue that the mainstream literature on world politics dismisses the plight of women and the contributions of women leaders.

    "I am going to be the first female president in the history of our country," the 51-year-old mother of three said. "I am going to look after your family as I have looked after my own."

    As in Mexico, historically, the perspective as well as the role of women has been marginalized. Feminist scholars argue that it is critical to purposively include and examine the female experience.  Women have been largely excluded from foreign policy and the creation of state interests.  State-to-state behaviors have been male dominated.

    Feminists scholars in international relations call for a closer examination of the key concepts of world politics - such as state interests, security, and the focus on hard power - and ask whether male dominance has shaped the focus, ideas, and conduct of foreign policy.

    Some feminists argue that there are no significant differences between men and women leaders - while others claim real differences exist.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Should Vázquez Mota win (most opinion polls put her in second place, 20 percentage points behind Enrique Peña Nieto, the candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary party) would you expect a difference?

    2.     Have the women who have had an impact (Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel, Michelle Bachelet) done so only within the rules and norms created by men?

  • Afghanistan Taliban aided by Pakistan?

    Women supporters of Pakistani political and Islamic party Jammat-e-Islami (JI), stage an anti-US protest rally in Karachi on December 2011 (Photo: Asif Hassan / AFP - Getty Images).

    Self-determination is a liberal doctrine that claims that indigenous nationalities have the moral right to decide which authority should rule them. People of a country should be able to select their own government.

    How should the people of Afghanistan determine who will rule them? Does the war on terror erase the doctrine of self-determination or of sovereignty?

    The United States (working with regional partners and other Western states) is currently working to build a nation in Afghanistan. Of course, nation building in Afghanistan is fraught problems because of the many ongoing conflicts and fears of terrorism. The United States is not only concerned about the indigenous people of Afghanistan - but is concerned with anti-American terrorists.  

    The United States has relied on Pakistan for regional help with rebuilding Afghanistan. But that relationship (between the United States and Pakistan) has been tense and continues to be highly strained.  As the U.S.-Pakistan relationship deteriorates, the U.S. has become increasingly vocal about its frustrations with Pakistan - who is supposedly an ally in the fight against terror.

    Former vice chief of staff of the US Army, General Jack Keane, says that US officials have known for over two years that senior members of the Pakistan military and intelligence directly aid the Afghan Taliban leadership - providing aid and sanctuary.  General Keane claims that Pakistani government officials know the locations of senior Taliban leaders and are not acting to arrest or detain them in any way.

    General Keane's assertions come as a secret NATO report seen by the BBC also suggests the Taliban in Afghanistan are being directly helped by the Pakistani security services. However, Keane's assessment of the situation in Afghanistan is starkly different from that presented in the NATO report. The NATO report indicates that the Al Qaeda organization is weakening in Afghanistan while the Taliban's influence is growing there - with the support of Pakistan.

    Watch The Secret War on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

    The leaked NATO report (click here for the BBC story) is quite straightforward and confirms General Keane's claims - it appears that the Pakistani government (the very government that receives some $2bn a year in US aid dollars) is at least looking the other way - if not directly supporting the Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. Pakistan's foreign minister says her country has no hidden agenda in Afghanistan, in response to a leaked secret NATO report on Islamabad's links to the Afghan Taliban.

    The NATO report directly challenges the claims by Gen. Keane and those made by President Obama in his State of the Union Address last week that "the Taliban's momentum has been broken." The BBC is reporting that the Taliban are working to hasten NATO's withdrawal by deliberately reducing their attacks (click here for a complete analysis by Azmat Khan).

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Imagine you are advising the US President on Pakistan and Afghanistan today. What advice would you give regarding the uneasy US alliance with Pakistan?

    2.     How should the people of Afghanistan determine who will rule them? Should Pakistan help? Should the West? Does the war on terror erase the doctrine of self-determination?