• United Nations' "Let's Fight Racism" Campaign: What Do you See?

    What do you see?

    The United Nations' "Let's Fight Racism" campaign seeks to foster inclusion, dialogue, and respect for human rights (click here for more - also click here for the Facebook page).  

    The United Nations is striving to expose racism and prejudices. Many see this fundamental campaign as essential for security, peace, and justice for all in our global village.

    "Racism undermines peace, security, justice and social progress," said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his message marking the day. "It is a violation of human rights that tears at individuals and rips apart the social fabric."

    Racial prejudice is an opinion that is not based on reason, actual knowledge, or experience.  A prejudice is a preconceived opinion that is born from ignorance and often a fear of others or the unknown.

    Today, once again, Americans of all races are searching for an understanding of race, prejudice, and justice. While much still remains unknown (even now a month after the tragedy) and new facts will no doubt emerge, the Trayvon Martin tragedy carries many of the classic characteristics of racial bias.

    George Zimmerman, driving his SUV, saw Trayvon Martin (17) walking home and called 911. "This guy looks like he's up to no good or he's on drugs or something," Zimmerman told the operator. Armed with a gun, Zimmerman said he was following the guy. The dispatcher told him not to.

    While Trayvon's death does not appear to have the overt racial hatred that was present in the Emmett Till tragedy, it does appear that Zimmerman's assessment of Martin was not based on reason, actual understanding, or experience - but rather on prejudice.  Sadly, in the United States as elsewhere, it is still far too common for minorities to be prejudged by others and even stopped by authorities for no other reason than the color of their skin, their clothes, or just the person's general appearance.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     What do you see?

    2.     Do you think the UN Secretary-General is correct in saying that ignoring the issues of prejudice and racism creates a risk of explosive conflict?

  • China, Food Aid, and Nuclear Weapons: President Obama Warns North Korea

    Today in the DMZ on the Korean peninsula the United States has 28,500 troops in what President Obama called "the frontier of freedom."

    Above: President Barack Obama is briefed by Lt. Col. Ed Taylor as he views the DMZ from Observation Post Ouellette at Camp Bonifas, Republic of Korea, March 25, 2012 (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy).

    In South Korea this week, President Obama strongly hinted that the United States might withhold 240,000 tons of emergency food aid promised the North Koreans in "the leap year agreement" reached last month between the US and North Korea in Beijing. In the "leap year agreement," North Korea promised to stop the testing of long-range missiles and nuclear warheads in exchange for the food aid. "It would be difficult," said President Obama, "to move forward with that package if they showed themselves unable to meet commitments even a month later."

    Obama indicated that the leadership in North Korea is still in flux and uncertain. "The situation remains unsettled," said Obama. "It's not clear who's calling the shots." Whoever's really in charge, the President surmised, "they have not yet made that strategic pivot where they say what they're doing is not working."

    President Obama said that he believed China did not "want to see North Korea with a nuclear weapon," but added "the question is what the Chinese are doing" to get North Korea to adopt a different approach.

    Discussion starters:

    1.  President Obama only hinted that it would be "difficult to move forward with that package if they showed themselves unable to meet commitments even a month later." Why do you think that he did not say specifically that the US would refuse to provide the food?

    2.  Do you think that President Obama is correct in saying that the Chinese do not want to see North Korea with nuclear weapons? If so, are the Chinese likely to put real pressure on the North Korean leadership?

  • Land Rush is Threatening Paraguay’s Chaco Forest

    The historical antecedents of biologists Garrett Hardin's "tragedy of the commons" lie in the common grazing lands of post-medieval England. Hardin shares the story of how a shared natural resource, the village commons, was destroyed.  The tragedy of the commons is created when resources that are open to all are exploited by a few for immediate individual profit.

    While the gains from the selfish use of the resources benefit a few, the costs (overgrazing of the commons or the cutting of timber) are shared by all in the village.

    We live in a global interdependent village.  Our "commons" is now our planet.  A surging land rush is threatening Paraguay's Chaco forest. As cattle ranchers from Brazil and German-speaking Mennonites prosper, indigenous people and our commons - the environment suffer.

    Environmental resources (such as Paraguay's Chaco forest) are collective goods. We all benefit from collective or public goods - even if we do not participate in maintaining the good. Indeed even the cattle ranchers from Brazil and the Mennonites are benefiting from the public good that they are destroying. International environmental concerns like the Chaco forest are known as "common pool resources," because one actor can spoil them. In our global village, problems like the Chaco forest and the adverse consequences by individual actors are compounded by the lack of overarching governance and coordination of maintenance.

    Discussion starters:

    1.  What responsibility does the global North have to help the government of Paraguay enforce sustainable development in the Chaco forest?

    2.  Is the global North's environmental concern simply ecoimperialism?

  • Dr. Jim Yong Kim: A New Focus for the World Bank?

    In a surprising announcement today, President Barack Obama nominated Dr. Jim Yong Kim to head the World Bank when Robert Zoellick steps down in June (click here for more on Zoellick).

    Dr. Kim has worked in healthcare for the poor in settings from inner city Boston to the slums of Peru, from Haiti to Rwanda to the prisons of Siberia (his story is included in Tracy Kidder's book Mountains Beyond Mountains and has long worked with Partners in Health).  Kim has devoted much of his working life to breaking the cycle of poverty and disease in developing countries.

    Kim is not well known political circles from which former World Bank presidents have often been drawn, and his nomination came as a surprise. His name had not surfaced in a series of media reports on potential candidates (click here for more).

    Rather than appoint a political figure, President Obama's choice for the World Bank, is the current president of Dartmouth College, the former director of the Department of HIV/AIDS at the World Health Organization, and a Korean-American known for decades of work fighting poverty in impoverished countries.

    "It is time for a development professional to lead the world's largest development agency," Obama said, in the White House Rose Garden.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Is the appointment of Kim a signal about the direction and focus of the World Bank?

    2.     Former Treasury Secretary, Lawrence Summers, was among those rumored to be being considered by President Obama. How does the appointment of Dr. Kim differ from Dr. Summers?

  • March 22 is World Water Day!

    When I told my students that tomorrow (March 22) is World Water Day they wanted to know why? Why is water so important that the United Nations would declare a Water Day? 

    The numbers are startling. The United Nations' world water development report, published last week, warns that the critical demand for water is threatening global economic development goals and will exacerbate inequalities between and within countries. 

    According to United Nations...

    • 884 million people lack access to safe water supplies; approximately one in eight people.
    • 3.575 million people die each year from water-related disease.
    • The water and sanitation crisis claims more lives through disease than any war claims through guns.
    • People living in the slums often pay 5-10 times more per liter of water than wealthy people living in the same city.
    • An American taking a five-minute shower uses more water than a typical person in a developing country slum uses in a whole day.

    Water aid is economic aid. Simply providing clean drinking water and sanitation to those in need can reduce health risks and can free up time for education and other productive activities.  An OECD study on global water challenges says that rapid urbanization, climate change, and shifts in the global economy will push demand for water up by 55% by 2050.

    The impact of providing water to a community will, of course, vary significantly depending on local factors, such as the prevalence of diseases and the population density. Providing water to a community would also produce many non-economic benefits, such as improvements in dignity, cleanliness, and overall well-being.

    It is critical that water projects be both intelligent and sustainable. There are many cases in developing world of projects that failed or created more harm than good when long-term maintenance was not considered or the project was not combined with sanitation investments and hygiene education.  Simply providing the water and failing to accompany the project helps only temporarily. 

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Is it your responsibility to assist those who do not have access to clean water? Is it our responsibility to follow a healthier and sustainable diet? To consume less water-intensive products? To reduce our food wastage? To produce food with less water?

    2.     How do we help? Or will you?

  • Social Media and Foreign Policy: The Case of Kony 2012

    My students ALL know Joseph Kony - even the non-political science majors.

    The viral Kony 2012 video has moved many to want to know more. While the video is at once factually correct and light on details, it has left my students and the millions of Americans more informed.  Today, the most viral video of all time has about 100 million views. The stated goal of the Kony 2012 video is to put pressure on the United States to help capture Joseph Kony. 

    Can a viral video affect a state's foreign policy? Can public awareness and a media focus affect foreign policy decisions?

    On March 19, 1999, peace talks with Slobodan Milosevic failed.  President Bill Clinton urgently called a meeting with his foreign policy team to review US policy and NATO's plans. 

    As Clinton's senior foreign policy team assembled around the conference table in the White House Situation Room all eyes fell on a photo on the front page of the New York Times.  Ambassador Richard Holbrooke noted, "The Times sat in the middle of the oak table in the middle of the situation room like a silent witness of what was going on."

    Madeleine Albright added, "When the pictures showed up of these massacres and there was this sense - the sense that I'd had from the very beginning of the year, that we had - were reliving the stories of Srebrenica and the terrible things that had happened in Bosnia, and that we knew better now, that we shouldn't be allowing these kinds of things to happen.

    Holbrooke went on, "And it was one of those rare times where a photograph just kind of - the terrible photograph of that dead person in that village was kind of a reminder of a reality, and it had a very real effect on the dialogue."

    At that meeting, President Clinton reached a pivotal decision: If Milosevic did not pull his troops back then the United States and NATO would use military force.

    Within a week, in televised address on 24 March (1999) President Clinton announced that the US/NATO Kosovo air war had begun.

    Only last October, many Americans were completely unaware and uninformed about Joseph Kony (click here for more).  Even Rush Limbaugh decried President Obama's decision to send US military advisors to help Ugandan and other forces deal with the Lord's Resistance Army - because the LRA sounded godly.

    Media attention helps to frame our awareness and news coverage often shapes the design and implementation of foreign policy.  By influencing the political attitudes of opinion-shaping elites and the public at large, the Kony 2012 social media campaign could also affect the conduct of US foreign policy. 

    Does the fact that there is now some controversy around the Kony 2012 video help or hurt the group's goal of making Kony famous?

    Discussion starters:

    1.     How might public impatience, fueled by the Kony 2012 video, pressure President Obama and other political elites? How does the media's focus (or lack of focus) on a crisis affect public opinion?

    2.     Do you expect this initiative to make a difference? If you were Joseph Kony, would you welcome these Kony 2012 efforts?

  • US Embassy Tweets Beijing PM2.5 Air Quality

    Twenty to thirty years ago Chinese families aspired to own bicycles. This year they will purchase about 10 million cars. The Chinese are joining the car culture.  According to a new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Urban air pollution is set to become the biggest environmental cause of premature death in the coming decades (Click here for the report).

    China and India are among the most polluted. Above: Smog down a main street of Linfen, in China's Shanxi province. Photograph: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images

    Hourly tweets from the United States embassy's air quality monitoring station are putting pressure on the Chinese government to be truthful with air quality reports and to clean up the air.

    The US embassy in Beijing issues hourly air quality updates via Twitter on the @beijingair account. "BeijingAir ‏ @BeijingAir 03-17-2012 20:00; PM2.5; 219.0; 269; Very Unhealthy (at 24-hour exposure at this level)."

    The US embassy tweets provide air pollution readings for ozone and PM2.5 in 140-characters English summary of the health implications. On heavily polluted days, Beijing city dwellers wear facemasks and do not to exercise outside.

    Lung cancer and cardiovascular illnesses are rising and are expected to get worse in the future because of factory emissions, vehicle exhausts and cigarette smoke, Zhong Nanshan, the president of the China Medical Association, told the Guardian (click here for more).

    "Air pollution is getting worse and worse in China, but the government data showed it was getting better and better. People don't believe that. Now we know it's because they didn't measure some pollutants," said Zhong. "If the government neglects this matter, it will be the biggest health problem facing China."

    The data on @beijingair is more reliable and timely than the pollution statistics released by the Chinese government. Even though the Chinese censors are trying block the tweets, they are quickly translated and spread around the Chinese internet.

    According to a new Both developed and developing countries will be hit, and by 2050, there could be 3.6 million premature deaths a year from exposure to particulate matter, most of them in China and India. But rich countries will suffer worse effects from exposure to ground-level ozone, because of their ageing populations - older people are more susceptible.

    Above: Source: OECD (2012), OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Why might the Chinese government not be measuring and reporting the air pollution problems?

    2.     Is social networking (twitter) putting real pressure of the Chinese officials to change environmental policy?

  • U.S. Challenges India's Poultry Ban in the World Trade Organization

    Since February 2007, India has banned imports of poultry products from the United States. Without this trade barrier US poultry exports to India would likely surpass $300 million a year.  In 2011, American farmers exported about $5.1 billion worth of poultry products - including eggs - to world markets.  The United States is the world's largest broiler meat producer and second largest exporter, behind Brazil.

    India says that its ban on US poultry products is a precautionary measure to prevent outbreaks of avian influenza in the country.

    The Obama Administration argues that India's poultry ban is "clearly a case of disguising trade restrictions by invoking unjustified animal health concerns."

    United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk has said that the United States will initiate dispute settlement proceedings against India before the World Trade Organization (WTO) to challenge its longstanding prohibition on the import of US poultry. "We are extraordinarily frustrated with India's continued non-application of internationally recognized scientific standards. American poultry is safe. There is no reason for them to deny us access," said Kirk.

    "India's ban on US poultry is clearly a case of disguising trade restrictions by invoking unjustified animal health concerns. The United States is the world's leader in agricultural safety and we are confident that the WTO will confirm that India's ban is unjustified," Kirk said.

    "Opening India's market to American farmers will promote jobs here at home, while also providing Indian consumers with access to high quality, safe US products," Kirk said.

    Consultations are the first step in the WTO dispute settlement process.  The WTO is a place where states go, to try to sort out the trade problems - like India's ban on poultry from the US.  It is important to remember that the WTO was born out of negotiations, and everything the WTO does is the result of negotiations.  While the WTO is a complex set of trade rules and agreements it operates on a simple fundamental principle - the lowering trade barriers is one of the most obvious means of encouraging trade.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Who is being helped and hurt by India's ban on US poultry products?

    2.     What would a ruling for or against the United States in the WTO mean for American and Indian poultry farmers?


  • Holder Provides Legal Defense for Al Awlaki Killing

    Imagine you are in the Situation Room of the White House with President Obama and his national security team.  The CIA Director, General David Petraeus, has just given an overview briefing of terror threats within the United States. In his briefing, Petraeus informed the President about Anwar al-Awlaki, a senior al-Qaida leader, who holds both US and Yemini citizenship.

    Yes, Aslaki is a US citizen.

    Above: President Barack Obama meets with members of his national security team in the Situation Room of the White House, Oct. 11, 2011 (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza).

    The evidence Petraeus has just presented shows that Awlaki has participated in, inspired, or directed at least four terror plots within the United States, including the failed underwear bomber in Detroit.

    Repeated attempts to capture him have failed. The President listens as his Attorney General offers a solution.

    Eric Holder, the Attorney General says, "our government has the clear authority-and, I would argue, the responsibility - to defend the United States through the appropriate and lawful use of lethal force," and that authority is "not limited to the battlefields in Afghanistan." A "drone attack" option is now one the table.

    Holder goes on, "we should not deprive ourselves of any tool in our fight against al Qaeda. Based on generations-old legal principles and Supreme Court decisions handed down during World War II, as well as during this current conflict, it's clear that United States citizenship alone does not make such individuals immune from being targeted."

    Above: Mr. Holder delivers a speech regarding the Obama administration's ongoing counter terrorism efforts during his visit to the Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago, March 5, 2012.

    Several in the room meet Holder's argument with raised eyebrows. Someone across the room says, "what about due process? Do not Americans have the right to due process of law - to a judge and jury?"

    Holder responds that while citizens have a right to due process, that doesn't mean judges must review battlefield decisions. "Where national security operations are at stake, due process takes into account the realities of combat," he argues. "The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process."

    "The president may use force abroad against a senior operational leader of a foreign terrorist organization with which the United States is at war - even if that individual happens to be a US citizen."

    While several people in the room worry, other see Holder's argument as a much needed endorsement of the President's executive power in fighting a stateless enemy - even if they are American citizens.

    The President approved the killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaqi (click here for more). Last week, Mr. Holder reaffirmed that Presidential power in his speech at Northwestern University School of Law. Since last year, US drones have killed three Americans overseas.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do you agree with Holder and reject any role for the courts in deciding when to kill American citizens suspected of terrorism?

    2.     Did the framers of the US constitution intend to limit the President's ability to fight a war?

  • Celebrating Women's International Day 2012

    You may have already noticed the Google doodle theme for today (March 8, 2012) is celebrating International Women's Day.

    In Afghanistan this week, President Karzia endorsed a repressive set of guidelines. "Men are fundamental and women are secondary," reads the statement that has been posted on Mr. Karzai's website. His statement goes on to say that men and women should not mix in work or education, and that women must have a male guardian when they travel.

    Above: U.S. Carli Lloyd (L) fights for the ball with Norway's Solveig Gulbrandsen during their Algarve Women's Soccer Cup match in Olhao February 26, 2010 (photo: REUTERS/Jose Manuel Ribeiro).

    Fortunately, we all know strong women who spend their time making our global village a better place. From Mary Wollstonecraft to the mother who cares for her children in dire circumstances in the Horn of Africa (click here for more), to the thoughtful food writer who spreads good will and cheer in her community, to the director of a program for children with autism, to the soccer coach who pushes her girls to be the leaders of tomorrow, to the hard working executive for an MNC, to world leaders like Wangari Maathai, Aung San Suu Kyi and Hillary Clinton we observe (on March 8 each year) International Women's Day to honor the achievements of women!

    Above: Marie Carmichael Stopes (October 1880 - October 1958) was a British author, palaeobotanist, campaigner for women's rights and pioneer in the field of birth control. Click here for The Guardian's The 10 best female pioneers and trailblazing women, from suffragettes to style icons.

    The first IWD was observed on February 28, 1909 in the United States. The idea for celebrating IWD was born in the age of industrialization. The working conditions in the late 1800s and early 1900s led to many protests.  In specific, women from clothing and textile factories staged a protest on March 8, 1857 in New York. These women were protesting very poor working conditions and extremely low wages.  The protesters were attacked and dispersed by police. More protests followed on March 8th in subsequent years, most notably in 1908 when 15,000 women marched through New York demanding shorter work hours, better pay, and voting rights.

    The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed March 8 as the UN Day for Women's Rights and International Peace. International Women's Day is now celebrated all over the world and is an official holiday in many countries including Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China, Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia.

    The tradition sees men honoring their mothers, wives, daughters, girlfriends, colleagues, etc. with flowers and small gifts. In some countries IWD has the equivalent status of Mother's Day where children give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers. From social gatherings, to Facebook groups, to conferences on ending domestic violence, many people are celebrating girls and women worldwide.

    Discussion starters:

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

    2.     How would Mr. Karzai's above statement be received by the men and women in your community?

  • UN's MDG Drinking Water Target Being Met!

    Good news this morning from the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF. The world has met a drinking water target set in the Millennium Development Goals!

    UN agencies like the WHO and UNICEF are important and active forces in helping the poor around the world.  While some in the United States question the efficacy of the UN, the IGO enjoys great support and legitimacy across the globe.

    The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are a group of goals set by the international community in 2000 that seek to improve health and reduce poverty among the world's poorest people by 2015 (click here for the UN MGDs).

    Meeting this goal means that we are making significant and important progress in providing safe drinking water to those in need three years ahead of a 2015 MGD deadline. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said this was "a great achievement for the people of the world" and noted it was one of the first MDGs to be met.

    UNICEF's Executive Director Anthony Lake said, "For children this is especially good news. Every day more than 3,000 children die from diarrheal diseases. Achieving this goal will go a long way to saving children's lives."

    Lake cautioned against declaring victory too early, as at least 11 percent of the world's population - or 783 million people - still have no safe drinking water, and some 2.5 billion do not have improved sanitation facilities. As such, UNICEF launched a new campaign today with Lenny Kravitz - Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter, record producer and actor - using his voice and talent to support safe water and improve the lives of millions of children and their families around the world.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Is access to safe water a "soft power" being used by the global north to alleviate stress and conflict in the global south?

    2.     What role is the United Nations filling with the MGDs?


  • Scottish Salmon in Your Local Market and China - the Web of Interdependence!

    Multinational corporations and the jobs they bring a country are often central in the decisions made by states. Multinational corporations are strong advocates with powerful lobbyists.  In our rapidly globalizing world, trade increasingly links politics, economics, ecology, societies, and cultures in webs of ever-tightening interdependencies.

    Just yesterday, at a local grocery fish counter, I purchased a couple of beautiful pounds of Scottish salmon. After cooking the fish on the grill and eating it with rice and a salad, I began to wonder about the sustainability of the Scottish salmon. Was the fish I ate from a wild harvest? Or did it, perhaps, come from a responsible, safe, and well-managed fish farm? Was I being a responsible consumer?

    I e-mailed my local grocer to find out it they had complete information (no answer yet). However, the Monterey Bay Aquarium (click here for more) has a full report and seafood helper (even an app for your iPhone).

    It turns out that the harvest of Scottish salmon is fraught with global politics and controversy.  The top five export markets for Scottish salmon are the United States, France, Poland, Irish Republic, and China.

    The salmon farming industry in Scotland primarily uses fish farms to produce large quantities of this fish.  The farms are made up of marine cages of hundreds of thousands of salmon.  Aquaculture is not the problem. The problem is sea lice.

    Above: Scotland's fish farming industry has been boosted by the news that an agreement has been reached between the Scottish Government and China to export salmon to Asia. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images Europe) 

    Scottish salmon farms are breeding grounds for millions of sea lice; these parasites feed on the mucus, tissue, and blood of the caged salmon.  In order to reduce the damage, the fish farmers use chemicals to combat the lice. Of course, the sea lice are not a problem for only the caged fish, but also for the wild fish, which migrate from the rivers to the sea each spring.  As these fragile young fish migrate, they swim past the fish-farm cages and are ambushed by the unnaturally high concentrations of lice. The attachment of more than 10 lice is almost invariably fatal.

    The demand for Scottish salmon is high and growing. In January of 2011, the Scottish and Chinese governments reached an agreement to allow seafood exports directly from Scotland to the People's Republic of China.  Thousands of tons of Scottish salmon are now being exported to the most populous country in the world. The Chinese like the salmon in their sushi.  Opening up the Far East market has boosted Scottish salmon exports by some 600 per cent.

    Salmon farming provides some 2000 direct jobs in Scotland and, of course, that are many more jobs supported indirectly).

    So what is a responsible consumer to do?

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Is the power of multinational corporations and lure of jobs supportive, or detrimental, to sustainable salmon farming in Scotland?

    2.     How might we prevent over fishing and promote responsible and sustainable aquaculture?

  • The iPhone Economy: Globalization is Shifting Jobs

    The creation of goods (at least at some point) cannot happen without labor.

    Jobs matter greatly to people all across the globe and thus labor issues are a particularly contentious aspect of politics and policy in this age of globalization. Labor directly links us with the global economy.  Actions that effect jobs like "outsourcing" hurt some while helping others.

    The globalization of labor is the integration of labor markets enhanced by the global nature of production as well as the increased size and mobility of labor.

    Outsourcing is the transfer of jobs by a corporation (usually headquartered in the global north) to a global south country for a ready supply of low wageworkers.

    A significant shift has occurred in the location of manufacturing.  Estimates range, but most agree that between 1977 and 1999 alone, some 3 million US manufacturing jobs were lost to outsourcing.  As this video clearly illustrates, the loss is not just in the low wage-manufacturing sector.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Market forces and global competition ensure that goods and services are produced efficiently and at a minimum cost. What effort does this have on wages and jobs in the global north?

    2.     In what sense, if any, does neoclassical theory (comparative advantage) explain labor and outsourcing?

  • Outsourcing Drone Operations to Contractors Raises Questions

    The future for unmanned aircraft looks bright. A recent Congressional Research Service note (click here for the note) states that Congress may replace a significant portion of the manned aircraft fleet with unmanned aircraft. Since 2001, the military has spent $26 billion on these unmanned aircraft called "drones." Lots of those drones are tiny flying spies used for surveillance.

    Until this year, only the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency have employed drones. The drone campaign began with President Bush's war on terror and has been continued with President Obama's administration. The United States has been running two drone programs: the military is in charge of drones in Afghanistan and the Central Intelligence Agency is running a drone program in Pakistan. President Obama only recently spoke publicly about the covert CIA-run drone program. But he and other U.S. officials refuse to openly say more about the details of the strikes because they are classified.

    The United States State Department is now taking bids from private contractors to manage drone operations in Iraq. In the online prospectus (click here for the prospectus) the State Department has outlined a broad requirement to provide "worldwide Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (U.A.V.) support services."

    The prospectus says the State Department's drone program's mission is to provide "real-time air surveillance of fixed installations, proposed movement routes and movement operations, and special events thereby improving security in high-threat or potentially high-threat environments." Some military experts have cautioned that the mission could expand to include finding terrorists or other high-value targets (click here for a full New York Times story).

    While the prospectus has drawn interest from more than a dozen US companies many questions remain.

    Above: A parrot AR drone in flight. Photograph: Laurence Topham/guardian.co.uk

    Discussion starters:

    1.     As Iraq continues to assert its sovereignty who controls the airspace?

    2.     Should the lessons of the Blackwater incident of 2006 [in which 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians were killed] inform the State Department's decision to outsource security to private drone operators?