• Texas Congresswomen Granger Holds Up USAID's Aid Allocation to Egypt

    Within the United States federal government is an independent agency with the mission of providing and promoting democracy abroad. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), currently led by Dr. Rajiv Shah, works closely with other federal departments, including the Department of State, on international aid issues and allocations. Its annual operating budget is about $3 billion.

    Above: Texas Congresswoman Kay Granger (TX-12).

    Today, Friday, September 28, 2012 Dr. Shad notified Congress that his agency intends to give Egypt's new government an emergency cash infusion of $450 million (click here for more).

    US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the aid is needed to support the governments in the region that have emerged from the popular uprisings of the Arab Spring.

    Above: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi at the Waldorf-Astoria, Sept. 24, 2012 in New York. / AP photo.

    Texas Congresswoman Kay Granger (TX-12) disagrees. Granger is the Chairwoman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations and has said,   "This proposal comes to Congress at a point when the U.S. - Egypt relationship has never been under more scrutiny, and rightly so. I am not convinced of the urgent need for this assistance and I cannot support it at this time.  As Chair of the Subcommittee, I have placed a hold on these funds." (click here for more).

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Does the Obama administration have a duty to support the emerging democratic governments in the Arab region?

    2.     Do you agree with Secretary of State Clinton's statement, "Extremists are clearly determined to hijack these wars and revolutions to further their agendas and ideology, so our partnership must empower those who would see their nations emerge as true democracies?"

  • President Obama To Iran: The U.S. Will 'Do What We Must' On Nukes: Containment Not an Option

    On Monday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Israel has no roots in the Middle East and would be "eliminated" (click here for more).

    The quest for nuclear arms continues to create serious international tensions. The nations with nuclear weapons consistently seek to block proliferation.  The problem - the so-called Nth country problem (the addition of new nuclear states) - continues to grow both horizontally (the increase in the number of nuclear states) and vertically (the increase in the capabilities of existing nuclear states).

    Above: President Barack Obama addresses the United Nations general assembly in New York today. (photo by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters).

    Today, President Obama spoke to the United Nations General Assembly that while the United States remains committed to a diplomatic solution on Iran's nuclear program, "time is not unlimited."

    "America wants to resolve this issue through diplomacy, and we believe that there is still time and space to do so. But that time is not unlimited. We respect the right of nations to access peaceful nuclear power, but one of the purposes of the United Nations is to see that we harness that power for peace. Make no mistake: a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained. It would threaten the elimination of Israel, the security of Gulf nations, and the stability of the global economy. It risks triggering a nuclear-arms race in the region, and the unraveling of the non-proliferation treaty. That is why a coalition of countries is holding the Iranian government accountable. And that is why the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," said President Obama.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do you believe the Iranian leaders who say their nuclear program is for peaceful purposes?

    2.     Do you agree with President Obama that, "the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran are immense, and would threaten the elimination of Israel, the security of Gulf nations, and the stability of the global economy?"


  • Arctic Sea Melts: Nations Haggle over Resources

    Imagine the severe northern Artic Ocean - ice covered and of little interest to but only scientists.

    Now imagine that just as a precaution, Arctic nations and NATO are building up military capabilities in the region.

    The Artic has for thousands of years been a place where exact boundaries were never much of a concern.  However, all that is changing - states are now staking border claims - as global warming melts the ice (click here for more on the melting ice).

    Negotiations - between Canada and Denmark, and the United States and Canada - are ongoing amongst the primary nations with Artic borders (click here for more).

    Why does anyone care? Where are the legal borders in this frozen land?

    As the ice melts, two opportunities arise: sea-lanes (for trade open - at least in the summer months) and long trapped oil and gas resources will become more and more accessible in the coming years.

    So who owns the ice, shipping lanes, and resources?

    The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is the globally recognized international law dealing with all matters relating to the law of the sea and the ownership of the Arctic. This Convention gives Arctic nations (states with borders in the region) an exclusive economic zone that extends 200 nautical miles from land, and to undersea resources farther away so long as they are on a continental shelf.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     What options might states without Arctic borders have to invest and benefit from the melting ice?

    2.     What effect might the uncovering of resources in the Arctic have on the global warming debate and policy? 



  • The Rohingya Test: Can Suu Kyi Champion Human Rights and Citizenship for a Stateless People?

    Today in Washington US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed Aung San Suu Kyi to the United States (click here for the welcome speech).  As political reforms are implemented and foreign investment floods in some are saying that Burma could be Asia's next economic tiger. But the government of Burma is facing a huge and significant problem - a human rights problem.

    Suu Kyi won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for championing democracy in opposition to a ruthless military junta (click here for more).

    Suu Kyi will be honored by the US Congress for her work in championing democracy and human rights in Burma and around the world. As Secretary of State Clinton put it Suu Kyi is "someone who has represented the struggle for freedom and democracy, for human rights and opportunity, not only in her own country but seen as such around the world."

    However, Burma is on an uneven and very fragile road to democracy and Suu Kyi, the legislator, now faces a significant human rights problem (click here for more).

    Clinton hinted at the trouble saying that being a legislator (rather than an outsider) "exposes you to a whole new sort of criticism and even attack, and requires the kind of pragmatic compromise and coalition building that is the lifeblood of politics but may disappoint the purists who have held faith with you while you were on the outside."

    Burma's coastal state of Rakhine is home to the Rohingya - who have been described by the United Nations as one of the world's most persecuted minorities (click here for more). Most of the Rohingya are stateless - not recognized by Burma's government and not able to go anywhere else (Bangladesh cannot host them). The Burmese Buddhists are fighting the Muslim Rohingya migrants who many say are a target because they are Muslim in a Buddhist-majority country. Hundred of Rohingya have been killed in recent months and many more are suffering horrible human rights abuses with little hope for change (click here for more).

    To be stateless is to be part of a growing group of people who have no citizenship rights in any country and are forced out of one country and not accepted in any other. Despite living in Burma for centuries the Rohingya are not accepted in the Buddhist dominated Burma. 

    Discussion starters:

    1.     As Suu Kyi serves in the Burmese parliament can she remain quiet on the plight of the Rohingya community?

    2.     Will the persecution of Rohingya Muslims overshadow Suu Kyi's visit to the United States?


  • Free Speech, Foreign Policy, Unrest, and Violence

    Outrage at the anti-Islamic film purportedly produced by a man in California spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa last Friday, with US embassies in Egypt and Yemen coming under attack.

    Above: Islamist Salafis set fire to an American flag during a demonstration near the US embassy in Amman (Photograph: Muhammad Hamed/Reuters).

    On Sunday, September 16, 2012, the president of Libya's parliament, Mohamed al-Magariaf, said military action is being considered against militants blamed for the killing of the US ambassador Chris Stevens.

    Also Sunday, the US State Department has ordered back to the United States all non-essential staff from its embassies in Sudan and Tunisia.

    In Sudan, protesters have stormed the British and German embassies, and in Jerusalem Israeli police fought with Palestinian protesters.

    The short and sophomoric film (which was seen around the world on YouTube) has now sparked a week of violence and protest (click here for more).

    Secretary of State Hillary said, "The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation."

    Discussion starters:

    1.     As protestors march and burn in the middle East, should the United States in the name of foreign policy reject and or limit the actions by those who abuse the right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others?

    2.     Or perhaps should the United States do as suggested by Secretary of State Clinton, "not stop citizens from expressing their views, no matter how distasteful"?


  • Pro-Democracy Leader Aung San Suu Kyi to Visit United States

    Aung San Suu Kyi, flew out of Yangon today to the United States. 

    Burma's pro-democracy opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi,'s trip will be highlighted with awards and meetings with senior U.S. government officials and the those of Burmese community in the United States.

    Interestingly, Suu Kyi's trip coincides with Burma's President Thein Sein travel to the United States where he will face tough questions and discussion about Burma's human rights record. The United States currently has a complete ban on all imports from Burma (click here for more).

    Aung San Suu Kyi spent the better part of two decades under house arrest for her campaign for political reform in Burma (click here for more).

    Among the awards she is to receive is the Congressional Gold Medal - the U.S. Congress' highest civilian award (click here for more).

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Should the United States lift the current ban on imports from Burma?

    2.     As the military junta's political grip has gradually loosened in the country should Washington respond by allowing American companies to invest in the country?


  • “Make no mistake,” President Obama said, “Justice will be done.”

    Protestors in Libya - ostensibly demonstrating over a virulently Islamaphobic video which appeared on Youtube - attacked and killed four Americans (click here for more).  Libya's leader, Mohammed Magarief has apologized, calling the killings "cowardly criminal acts" and part of a campaign "to impede our democratic experiment." The attack now appears to be a carefully planned terror strike rather than an uprising of a mob angry over a film that lampooned the Prophet Muhammed (click here for more).

    The video, "Innocence of Muslims," was created by Sam Bacile (the name appears to be an alias) who claims to be Israeli American, in California and crudely denigrates the prophet Muhammad. A man in California posted a video on Youtube that created a furious storm of violent protest in Libya, Yemen, and Egypt.

    Obviously, the global information age weaves us together - but it does not necessarily provide us with understanding of one another. Communication is obviously more than just receiving information. To paraphrase Frank Zappa, information is not knowledge and having knowledge does not necessarily mean an understanding.

    Pessimists predict that social media and global communication technologies will only increase tensions and conflict.  Optimists argue that these same technologies that now transcend geographical boundaries will erode national identities, sovereign state boundaries, and allow people to become "global citizens" who support one indivisible planet. Or as William Sloane Coffin said, "Let us love our country, but pledge allegiance to the earth and to the flora and fauna and human life that it supports - one planet indivisible, with clean air, soil and water; with liberty, justice and peace for all."

    While the Libyan government expressed deep regret over the attack, the disconnect between the open 1st Amendment protected United States and the state of Egypt is huge as demonstrated in today's protests and the ongoing spreading conflict.

    On the one hand, President Obama - in the aftermath of Diplomat Stevens's death - says, "justice will be done" and places his focus on the terrorists who killed, while on the other his Egyptian counterpart, Mohamed Morsi, focus is on harshly criticizing the video. "We condemn strongly ... all those who launch such provocations and who stand behind that hatred," Morsi said.

    Mr. Morsi issued only a mild rebuke of the rioters - on Facebook - while his movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, has called for a second day of protests against the lurid anti-Muslim video that set off the riots. President Morsi has asked President Obama "to put an end to such behavior" (click here for more).

    Discussion starters:

    1.     What does President Morsi fail to understand about an open society with his request that President Obama "put and end to" such hateful videos and behaviors?

    2.     What is the difference between having information and understanding it?

  • Putting Those Who hold Up Half The Sky at the Center of Foreign Policy

    Students, scholars, and policymakers of international relations often confront the question of priorities when addressing global concerns. Some argue that the focus of policy should be on "high politics" areas of "hard power" - that is war, security, and peace, while the "low politics" areas of social justice and human welfare should be less important or perhaps not even a real focus or effort of the international community. 

    Is the oppression of women and girls only a "soft issue" or does the repression of those who hold up half the sky rise to the level of high politics?

    In their book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn paint at grim and often difficult to read story of the harsh oppression and devastating under-recognized injustices women and girls in - mostly - developing countries face. The title comes from the Chinese saying that "women hold up half the sky" (click here for more).

    Kristof and WeDunn's book is now a movement - a movement that hops to bring light and then action to solve the many problems of the oppression of women and girls. The movement hopes to create practical ways to effect the change that's so badly needed around the world and is using every imaginable platform to reach as many people as possible. From social media (click here for Facebook page) to film to games the NGO is working to educate an unknowing (and perhaps to often an uninterested) world.

    The Half The Sky film is to air on Independent Lens October 1st and 2nd.  Beginning September 3rd and culminating with the broadcasts in October, Half the Sky Movement's "30 Days Campaign" is offering a free daily music download from legendary and emerging female musicians from around the world who have come together to support the Half the Sky Movement (click here for the music download). The movement also has a gaming initiative that implements mobile gaming that is part of the overall effort to reach and educate a widespread audience about political, social, economic and health issues that contribute to global poverty. The games (that run on mobile phones) are being developed to help educate the residents in developing countries and bring modern medical concepts and procedures to largely primitive villages where a family unit has shared access to a mobile phone.

    The oppression and injustices facing many women and girls are complex and extremely difficult to solve - as they are often interwoven in generations of socialization and are so much part of the culture. Thus, The Half The Sky Movement is focused on education and empowerment.

    How might the oppression and injustices women and girls face effect security and even economic growth and development of a nation?

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Are transnational actors, like the Half The Sky Movement, truly capable of bringing about change? By bringing what is hidden into the light, will or should such an effort bring about cultural changes?

    2.     Are the rights of girls and women - and the harsh oppression and stark injustices - "soft issues" that are really "low politics" and as such not really as important global concerns?

  • New Hope for the Victims in the Ivory Wars in Central Africa

    In the 1980s, there were about a million African elephants in the wild. Today, the existing population numbers less than 600,000. The population of elephants in Central Africa has declined by more than 50% since 1995, primarily due to poaching (click here for more).

    The killing of Central Africa's elephants is not the work of a few small-scale hunters selling ivory in local markets. Rather it is a large international effort that is both well funded and highly organized killing with helicopters and automatic weapons.  The ivory is being sold in an international market - mostly to China and Vietnam.

    The Guardian reports "up to 400 elephants were killed in a few hours in a park in Cameroon by a Sudanese gang on horseback bearing machine guns and another 30 elephants were massacred in Chad by a group of armed militia on horseback, leaving a two-week-old baby elephant fighting for its life" (click here for more).

    Central African governments under the Central African Forest Commission (click here for more) have launched an ambitious coordinated plan to combat poaching in the region.

    10 signatories nations (Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Central Africa Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Rwanda and São Tomé e Príncipe) have signed a five-year $14m initiative, which includes cooperation between law enforcement agencies, joint country patrols around border areas, ramping up of investigations, use of informants, and cooperative cross-border prosecutions and penalties.

    Ivory, often bound for China and Vietnam, is smuggled across borders before reaching overseas ports and airports. Under the plan, customs controls will be increased at these international transit hubs.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     What roll does a state's poverty and weak governance play in law enforcement and tackling organized elephant poachers?

    2.     What can the world community do (if anything) about demand for ivory?


  • Geopolitics and Foreign Policy in the South China Sea

    Speaking in Jakarta today, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States has a national interest in maintaining stability and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, which is home to islands claimed by China, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei (click here for more).

    History is replete with examples of geography's influence on international relations. The geopolitics school of thought stresses the influence of geographic factors on foreign policy, decisions, and political outcomes.  The disputes over the resource-rich waters of the South China Sea that include key shipping lanes for international cargo provides us with yet another example of geopolitics (click here for more). 

    Alfred Mahan's famous work, "The Influence of Sea Power in History," argues that the control of the seas shapes national power and foreign policy. In brief, this theoretical approach sees a state's foreign policy as - at least in part - determined by its location, natural resources, and physical environment.

    Clinton will be visiting China on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then travel on to Timor-Leste and Brunei.  A range of geopolitical questions that are nagging the Asian region will dominate her visit.  The United States has said it takes no position on the sovereignty of the South China Sea islands in dispute but it also criticized China's recent establishment of a military garrison in the disputed waters as a provocative move.

    Clinton's trip comes as tensions are rising in the region over territorial disputes and as concerns grow in China about U.S. efforts to put more emphasis on ties with Asia.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Are the disputes in this region a manifestation of shifting geopolitical balances in the region or are they something larger?

    2.     Are the United States efforts to shift attention to an Asian regional grouping seen by the Chinese as a geopolitical threat to contain China?

  • Tensions Grow Over Disputed Islands in the East China Sea: Senkaku Islands

    There are high international tensions boiling around five small islands and three rocky outcroppings about 75 miles from Taiwan and 90 miles from the closest Japanese island (click here for more).

    The Chinese call them the Diaoyu Islands and claim them as part of Chinese territory dating back to the 14th Ming Dynasty.

    The Japanese call them the Senkaku Islands and say they incorporated the islands in 1895 - when they placed a marker on one of them declaring them to be part of Japan.

    Above: Thousands of Chinese protesters marching in a demonstration in southwest China's Sichuan province against Japan's claim of the Senkaku islands.

    For almost 200 years, neither country focused very much attention to the islands - as they were thought to hold little commercial value - they are covered by jungle, there is fresh water only from rainfall, and the only significant animal life are small goats that were introduced about 30 years ago.

    But then in 1970, the Chinese began to take interest after a United Nations study showed there might be oil and gas in the seabed around the islands.  Today, these islands are source of increasing tensions between Beijing and Tokyo as they are near key sea-lanes and both nations are laying claim to the fishing and natural gas deposits in and around the islands (click here for more).

    On August 15, 2012, the 60th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War, a group of activists landed on the biggest island, Uotsuri, as part of China's public relations campaign for ownership. The Japanese government detained them (click here for more).

    Following the detainment of the Chinese, Japanese activists waved the Nippon flag on one of the islands. This sparked off protests across China. Chinese protesters took to the streets, attacking Japanese-made cars and Japanese-owned businesses (click here for more).

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Is this growing dispute a manifestation of shifting power balances in the region?

    2.     Do you see international law providing a solution to this dispute?