• Threats to India's Big Cats: A Global Tiger Initiative

    According to the Wildlife Protection Society of India, poachers have killed a total of 923 Indian tigers since 1994.  India's current population is estimated at 1,706 down from 45,000, which reportedly roamed India 100 years ago.

    The people of India currently face frequent power shortages - days or hours without any electric power. No power means less economic growth. Thus the people of India are putting pressure on their government to permit the development of coalmines. This search for fuel (coal that creates electricity) is threatening the lives of India's tigers (click here for more).

    Last month, India's supreme court has issued an order banning all tourism in tiger habitats. This temporary decree is to give the Court time to assess whether tigers and tourists can co-exist in India (click here for more).The temporary ban on tourism will last until August 29, 2012 when the Supreme Court will issue its final decision.

    Ajay Dubey, a campaigner who filed the petition to the Indian Supreme Court, said, "Tiger conservation is being adversely affected by mindless tourism; the large number of vehicles loaded with people were traumatizing the endangered species in the critical tiger habitat" (click here for more).

    Just last month (July 29) Global Tiger Day was celebrated around the world. The 13 tiger range countries declared Global Tiger Day at the Global Tiger Summit in Russia (in 2010) to support for the Global Tiger Recovery Program. The global effort is intended to conserve wild tigers and their natural habitats, and raise public awareness and support for tiger conservation, and celebrate these big cats.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do you agree with some environmentalists and conservationists who insist that Indian Supreme Court's ban will only harm the tigers? Will a ban on tourism mean the end of the tiger in India?

    2.     Is coal (energy) and economic development more important than 1700 tigers?


  • United Nations Urges Treaty on $8.5 Billion Small Arms Trade

    Today, August 27, 2012, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaking at the Second Review Conference of the UN Program of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons - said, "Our collective responsibility is clear: to prevent the flow of illegal small arms into conflict and post-conflict areas and the hands of warlords, traffickers and criminals."

    "The human cost of the massive and destructive use of small arms and light weapons in armed conflict, piracy, gang warfare and crime-related violence is well documented," said the Secretary-General.

    The Small Arms Survey 2012 (click here for more) reports that the countries which export more than $100 million of small arms were the United States, Italy, Germany, Brazil, Austria, Japan, Switzerland, Russia, France, South Korea, Belgium and Spain. The United States has the highest gun ownership rate in the world - an average of 88 per 100 people (click here for more).

    While illicit small arms trade occurs around the world, it is significantly concentrated in areas afflicted by armed conflict, violence, and organized crime.

    Arms trafficking fuels civil wars and regional conflicts; stocks the arsenals of terrorists, drug cartels, and other armed groups; and contributes to violent crime.

    The United Nations reports, "more than half a million people are killed each year.  Civilians suffer most - particularly the poor."

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Last month, the United States and other delegations from around the world failed to agree on an arms-trade treaty to regulate the more than $60 billion industry. Do you think the United States and others will opt for further talks and a possible U.N. General Assembly vote in the coming year?

    2.     Do you think that the recent shootings in the United States will have any effect on public perception and or a UN treaty to ban illegal small arms trade?

  • As the Arctic Melts International Friction Grows

    According to the UN team of scientists - from around the world - known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), global warming is not coming, it's already here, and happening. And oil and gas firms and world leaders are taking note - but not for the reasons you might hope.

    This week Arctic sea ice is set to reach its lowest ever recorded and this has many interested and concerned.  Some NGOs, like Greenpeace, argue "the disappearing Arctic still serves as a stark warning to us all. The consequences of further rapid ice loss at the top of the world are of profound importance to the whole planet. This is not a warning we can afford to ignore." Others see the disappearing ice revealing new riches.

    "Unless something really unusual happens we will see the record broken in the next few days. It might happen this weekend, almost certainly next week," Julienne Stroeve, a scientist at the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Boulder, Colorado, told the Guardian (click here for the full report).

    "In the last few days it has been losing 100,000 sq km a day, a record in itself for August. A storm has spread the ice pack out, opening up water, bringing up warmer water. Things are definitely changing quickly."

    While Greenpeace and others warn of the dangers and consequences the longer ice-free summers are expected to open up the long frozen Arctic Ocean - revealing oil and gas reserves long buried beneath the ice.

    With the ice melting away companies will move in to drill for oil and mine as well as to open new trade routes. According to the Guardian, ships are now traveling north of Russia between northern Europe and the Bering straits and last week a Chinese icebreaker made the first voyage in the opposite direction. The melting ice may mean a shorter sea passage to Asia.

    The melting ice trend is already paving the way for a geopolitical struggle over ecopolitics among five countries - Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, and the United States - that are already laying claim to the resource-rich Arctic region.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Should these five countries be fighting over the now uncovered natural resources (oil and gas) or working to reduce carbon emissions?

    2.     Might we argue that, in essence, global warming is creating an international friction for control and profits of the Artic area?


  • Olympic Defections: Seeking Asylum in Search of a Better Life

    Olympic athlete Yosmel De Armas is a Cuban soccer midfielder seeking asylum in the United States. While in Nashville, Tennessee last month for the Olympic qualifying soccer tournament, De Armas, defected. "We're preparing an asylum application to file with the Department of Homeland Security," said Armas's attorney Alex Solomiany, according to Reuters (click here for more).  Asylum is the provision of sanctuary to safeguard a refugee who is escaping from the threat of persecution in the country where he holds citizenship.

    One of the many beautiful things about the Olympics is that the Games highlight so much that is human - both good and...well, not so.  On the individual level the games show us failure, frustration, triumph, persistence, ego, endurance, and so much beauty and grace.  From a societal point of view, we witness much that is good - even great about our world - as well as many of the challenges of our pale blue dot.

    At each Olympiad, many athletes, coaches, and fans defect - seek asylum in the host country.  During the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, for example, about 35 Hungarian athletes defected after learning that the Soviet Union had invaded and occupied their home country.  In the 2012 Olympics in London, more than 20 athletes and coaches have defected (just disappeared - some of them even before they competed). Of those 20+ who did not return to their home countries, 7 were from Cameroon - five male boxers, a female footballer and a male swimmer. The UN reports that 27% of all individuals seeking asylum come from African states (click here for the complete report).

    Above: 7 of the members of Cameroon's Olympic team seen here in the opening ceremony - are seeking asylum in Britain.

    While the plethora of defection precedents over the history of the Olympics makes the process look rather easy, it is interesting to note that no North Korean athletes managed to defect during the London games.  The UN reports that individuals originating from Asian states submitted about half of all global asylum claims in 2011.  The North Korean officials are said to threaten the athletes and their families and they place a government monitor with each athlete while abroad. 

    People (Olympic athletes included) most commonly defect (or migrate) in search of a better life. Like the Cameroon and Cuban athletes, many people simply walk away from the continuous political and financial hardships in their homes states seeking the luring prospects of a better life elsewhere.  According to the UN, an estimated 441,300 asylum applications were registered in 2011 in the 44 countries, some 73,300 claims or 20% more than in 2010 (368,000). The 2011 level is the highest since 2003 when 505,000 asylum applications were lodged in the industrialized countries (click here for the complete UN report).

    The movement of people living abroad raises a host of moral and ethical issues - such as the meaning of citizenship and sovereignty and the protection of basic human rights and prevention of exploitation. 

    Particularly troubling from an international relations perspective is the moral inconsistency between the Western policy of simultaneously defending the basic human rights of asylum seekers and refugees and the absolute right of sovereign states to control their borders.

    Discussion starters:

    1. How will human security (of athletes like those from Cameroon) be reconciled with national security?

    2. The United States was the largest single recipient of new asylum claims in 2011 among the 44 industrialized countries. How should the United States handle these 74,000 asylum applications? 

  • A Global Campaign to Free *** Riot: Responding to Human Rights Abuses

    Last February, punk provocateur band members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich performed a brief impromptu high kicking, singing, dance routine in the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow. While dancing, they shouted the words of a "punk prayer" asking the Virgin Mary to deliver Russia from President Vladimir Putin (click here for more).

    Above: Masked protesters take part in an Amnesty International flashmob in the Royal Mile in support of Russian punk band *** Riot (Photograph: David Moir/Reuters) The three band members were arrested on charges of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred," which carries a maximum sentence of seven years (click here for more).

    Archbishop Desmund Tutu said, "If you are neutral in a situation of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor."

    Today, rallies and protest are being held around the world in support of the three women who have been in jail for more than five months because of the anti-Putin prank in Moscow's main cathedral.

    Amnesty International has declared the women prisoners of conscience and collected tens of thousands of petitions that have been sent to the Russian government. Protests have been held in a number of Western capitals, including Berlin, Barcelona, London, Paris, New York, and Washington.

    The U.S. State Department has expressed concern about what it called the "politically motivated prosecution of the Russian opposition and pressure on those who express dissenting views."

    Above: The three member of the band have been behind bars since March this year (Photo by Natalia Kolesinkova AFP/Getty Images). 

    Is this case a domestic concern or a global concern?

    Statists (or legalists) reject human rights promotion within individual states because it represents an unwarranted intrusion into the domestic affairs of others and is an infringement upon the principle of state sovereignty.

    Nonetheless, the global community has dramatically expanded the legal protection of human rights over the past half-century. From the perspective of international law, Russia is obligated to respect the human rights of the *** Riot band members and the international community has the prerogative to challenge Russia if it does not do so.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     How can we reconcile our claim of sovereign national interests with a human rights code of conduct that protects all people?

    2.     What role might NGOs and IGOs and globally organized protest - like those for *** Riot - play in reconciling the contradiction between state sovereignty and global human rights?


  • Internet Sovereignty: Who Should Have and Control Access?

    For most of history, the central and most powerful actors on the world stage were leaders of states and religions. The nation-state system - established after the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 - created a network of relationships among independent territories.  States were independent and all rulers held the same legal rights: their territory was under their sole control, they enjoyed unrestricted control of all domestic affairs, and they could conduct foreign relations with other states. In short, a state's leaders was said to have "state sovereignty." No other actor is above the state.

    Technology (the internet and social media) has handed the ability to influence events, policy, and even who rules through information, persuasion, and attractive ideas and is challenging this core idea of state sovereignty. The soft power of knowledge, diversity, and culture is liberating billions of people all around the world.

    Above: Park Kyung-sin, one of the South Korean government’s Internet regulatory board, says political elites feel threatened by the openness of the Internet. 

    Some of those who are in power feel threatened and they are seeking to take control of the Internet. Reporters without Borders, a Paris-based non-governmental organization (NGO) that defends journalists and fights censorship, has recently added even the South Korean the government to its 2012 list of Enemies of the Internet (click here for more).

    Enemies of the Internet is an inventory of governments worldwide that filter online content, restrict their citizens' Internet access. Governments track cyber dissidents and use the Internet to spread pro-government propaganda while smearing opposition.  South Korea recently joined other governments that the NGO has cited as cyber oppressors, including Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

    Some governments - such as China, North Korea, Cuba, and Iran - censor Internet access so effectively that they restrict their populations to local intranets that bear no resemblance to the World Wide Web you experience.

    As leaders seek control, a the fragmentation of the Internet may occur wherein Internet users are granted varying degrees of access, depending on where they were connected. To arrest the soft power of knowledge and ideas, those in power are seeking to break up the interdependent Internet global village into a small sovereign states.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Should states (national leaders, whether repressive or not) have and hold the power of Internet sovereignty - the power of unrestricted control of their domestic affairs?

    2.     Might Internet sovereignty mean two different types of Internet access - one for leaders in power and another for the rest of the population?


  • US to Cleanup Agent Orange in Vietnam: Is this indicative of growing ties?

    Nearly 40 years ago, during the Vietnam War, over about nine years (1962-1971) the United States sprayed about 20 millions of gallons of a chemical called Agent Orange on vegetation to destroy enemy cover and expose communist fighters (click here for more).

    Since those years, the United States government has paid billions of dollars in disability payments to American soldiers who developed illnesses associated with Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.

    Above: US Air Force planes spray Agent Orange over vegetation in South Vietnam in 1966 (AP Photo/file).

    While the Vietnam war ended on April 30, 1975 (when the Communist forces seized control of Saigon) the effects of Agent Orange are still very prevalent today.  Agent Orange, which contains dioxin, has been linked to cancer and severe birth defects. Up to three million Vietnamese people were exposed to the chemical and at least 150,000 children have been born with birth defects (click here for more).

    The United States has not admitted liability for health problems caused by the herbicide.  But this week, a U.S. Embassy official announced that $43 million would be allocated to a joint U.S.-Vietnamese project to clean up major Agent Orange sites (click here for more).

    The Agent Orange clean up effort is expected to take about four years.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Given China's rising influence in the region, do you think that this Agent Orange project is intended to forge closer ties to boost trade between the United States and Vietnam?

    2.     Do you think that the United States is maintaining a double standard in not acknowledging liability for Agent Orange?


  • A New Era of Justice: A Successful Prosecution in the International Criminal Court

    Thomas Lubanga Dyilo commanded rebels in the Congo in 2002. He has been accused of massive human rights violations, including ethnic massacres, murder, torture, rape, mutilation, and forcibly conscripting child soldiers.

    The international community has for hundred of years sought to create a successful and powerful international court that could be used to prosecute men like Mr. Lubanga - who might have committed the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes.

    On July 17, 1998, the international community reached an historic milestone when 120 countries established the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC is often confused with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) - which was established in June 1945. While both courts are located in The Hague, Netherlands there are several important differences.

    First, the ICJ is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations.  All UN member states are automatically members of the ICJ while states must individually become members of the ICC. The ICC is an independent IGO and is not part of the United Nations system. Secondly, while the ICJ settles disputes between member states - with their consent - on issues such as sovereignty, trade, natural resources, treaty violations, and treaty interpretation - the ICC tries individual people (like Mr. Lubanga) for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression. Thus, the ICJ issues both binding judgments and advisory opinions, while the ICC hands down individual criminal prosecutions or acquittals.

    In March 2006, a prosecutor for the ICC charged Mr. Lubanga with the war crime of enlisting children under the age of fifteen; conscripting children under the age of fifteen; and using children under the age of fifteen to participate actively in hostilities.


    Last month (July 10, 2012) Mr. Lubanga became the first person in history to be sentenced to prison by the ICC. The Congolese warlord was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment (click here for more).

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Is global interdependence reshaping the way we think about handling individuals like Mr. Lubanga?

    2.     Do you expect to see the ICC involved in more criminal prosecutions or is this an isolated case? 


  • Consular Notification and the Death Penalty in Texas

    The 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations consists of 79 articles that mostly lay out the details for the operation of consulates.  A few of these articles specifically address a consular official's duties when a citizen of their country face difficulties abroad.

    Specifically, Article 36 provides rights for individuals in the case of an arrest and guarantees the right to counsel and due process through consular notification and access to consular protection. If a foreign national is arrested or detained, he must be told that he may have his country's consulate notified, and officials from the embassy or consulate must be allowed access to the person detained upon request.


    In 1994, Humberto Leal Garcia, was arrested and later convicted for the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl in San Antonio, Texas. Few doubt he was guilty.

    However, Texas authorities failed to tell Leal, who was born in Mexico, that under the 1963 Vienna Convention he was entitled to contact the Mexican consulate when he was arrested. Leal's lawyers argue that his lack of consular access played a role in the death penalty being applied because Leal incriminated himself in statements made to the police on the day of the murder.

    Leal was executed (July 7, 2011) in Texas.

    The Obama Administration attempted to stop Leal's execution saying that it would breach the Vienna Convention and do "irreparable harm" to US interests.

    The governor of Texas, Rick Perry, moved ahead with the execution of Leal, despite condemnation across the political and legal realms.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Was President Obama right to intervene in Texas death penalty case?

    2.     What problems might arise for the United States because of the Leal execution?


  • Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter: Tools of War?

    The Syrian conflict is filling social networks like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime are engaged in a fierce social media war (click here for more). 

    When one thinks about war the first thing that comes to mind is probably weapons - perhaps tanks, rifles, bombs, and airplanes or even drones. But as this video clearly shows - and perhaps soldiers as far back Vietnam have known - letting the world know what is happening via images and words is critical and just as important as the bullets being fired in a battle. Just as the telegraph, radio, and telephone did in years past, social media is changing war.

    Soft power is the capacity to change behaviors or minds through intangible factors as opposed to "hard power," which coerces through military might.  Just last August the US military began developing plans to use social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter as both a resource and a weapon of war (click here for more). 

    As Facebook and Twitter are increasing used in war - like in Syria - governments and military planners will increasingly work to detect and track the spread of ideas.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do you see governments appropriately taking an active and participatory role in identifying participants and intent, and measure effects of persuasion social media campaigns?

    2.     Is it good/positive (or just inevitable) to see soldiers and governments getting into the details of working in and about social media?

  • "Make no mistake, we will remain determined to prevent Iran from ever acquiring a nuclear weapon"

    Will Israel unilaterally strike against Iran's nuclear sites in the coming months?

    Earlier today, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "Neither sanctions nor diplomacy have yet had any impact on Iran's nuclear weapons program."

    "However forceful our statements, they have not convinced Iran that we are serious about stopping them. Right now the Iranian regime believes that the international community does not have the will to stop its nuclear program. This must change and it must change quickly, because time to resolve this issue peacefully is running out," the prime minster said.

    Above: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta give a joint press conference at the prime minister office in Jerusalem on August 01, 2012 (photo by AFP).

    Looking straight into the camera, Secretary of Defense Panetta pledged, "We will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, period. We will not allow them to develop a nuclear weapon, and we will exert all options in the effort to ensure that that does not happen."

    Discussion starters:

    1.     What does Secretary of Defense Panette's pledge mean for US foreign policy?

    2.     What are the policy choices or limits you expect the Israelis and Americans might adopt to prevent Iran from development nuclear weapons?