• Ian Fleming's Secret Agent: A Reflection of Global Threats?

    Movies are often an excellent way to help make things clear for students. For international relations students the 23 James Bond movies often make for an interesting focal point for the discussion of historical international relations issues and geopolitics.

    Examine this interactive map of the James Bond film locations: from Dr. No to Skyfall created by The Guardian (click here for the map).

    The Guardian map quickly highlights each Bond film's focus and attention to specific regions, persons, and international concerns and threats.  From Skyfall to the older films such as From Russia with Love each film either directly or indirectly reflects the international tensions and fears of that time.

    For example, Casino Royale is the first post-911 Bond flick and in an oblique way tackles the global concerns of terrorism. Terrorism in Royale is a global issue requiring a global reaction.

    In the latest Bond film, we find Bond fighting cyber terrorist in Istanbul, chasing a stolen computer disk that contains the secret identities of embedded NATO agents.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     What geopolitical concerns do you see on The Guardian map?

    2.     Do you see any real world implications for the Bond movies? Such as how we view the international question or threat from the film? 


  • I am Malala: A Movement from Darkness to Light

    The American philosopher Allan Bloom wrote, "education is the movement from darkness to light." The United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education reports that today 61 million children are shut out of the light as they are denied a primary education (click here for more).

    In class yesterday, I needed an example of the struggles developing states often face when traditional or extremist values and beliefs clash with education. Of course, Malala Yousafzai came to mind.  Interestingly, only a few of my students knew Malala's story (click here for more on Malala).

    As Malala watched the Taliban destroy her father's all-girl school, as well as more than 200 other schools, and impose fear and an extreme fundamentalism on the people of Swat Valley in her country of Pakistan, she had the courage to stand up in the face of such terror and bravely call for "of a country where education would prevail."

    15 year-old Malala's stand for the basic human right to get an education so threatened Taliban values and desired social arrangements that the Taliban shot her.

    Yes, education challenges traditional values and social arrangements, as it empowers both women and men, and helps individuals participate in the shaping of their own lives and their societies.

    As Malala now miraculously recovers in a British hospital, her bravery is seen as a global call to protect the freedom to learn. "She is communicating very freely, she is writing," said Dr. David Rosser, the medical director of Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England (click here for more).

    W.E.B. Du Bois wrote, "of all the civil rights for which the world has struggled and fought for 5,000 years, the right to learn is undoubtedly the most fundamental.... The freedom to learn...has been bought by bitter sacrifice. And whatever we may think of the curtailment of other civil rights, we should fight to the last ditch to keep open the right to learn, the right to have examined in our schools not only what we believe, but what we do not believe; not only what our leaders say, but what the leaders of other groups and nations, and the leaders of other centuries have said. We must insist upon this to give our children the fairness of a start which will equip them with such an array of facts and such an attitude toward truth that they can have a real chance to judge what the world is and what its greater minds have thought it might be."

    The former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, who is currently who is current an UN Special Envoy on Education has launched an "I am Malala" website and petition to push Pakistan to agree a plan to deliver education for every child, to call on all countries to outlaw discrimination against girls, and for a full global effort by international organizations to ensure the world's 61 million out of school children are in education by the end of 2015 (click here to participate).

    How will YOU participate?

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do you see the fight for education as today's foremost human rights frontier?

    2.     What happens to the twelve-year-old child who has never had the opportunity to attend school? How is education linked to a states political and social development?


  • Texas Attorney General Threatens the International Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe over Election Monitors

    Established in the mid-1970s, the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) is an IGO with several missions - from arms control, to border management, to conflict prevention, to education (click here for more). The OSCE's member States have also tasked the IGO with observing elections throughout its 56 participating States (click here for more). The OSCE is funded by contributions from its 56 participating States - including the United States.

    As a matter of routine earlier this month, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the OSCE officially announced an election observation mission for the general elections to be held in the United States on November 6. The IGO has routinely observed U.S. elections since 2002 and is sending a small number of election experts from around the world to monitor the upcoming presidential and congressional elections.

    OSCE will visit a number of polling stations across the United States to follow and monitor election-day procedures. The IGO does not carry out systematic or comprehensive observation of the voting, counting, and tabulation on election day. OSCE will only have a team of 13 experts from ten OSCE member countries based in Washington and another 44 observers deployed across the country - including Texas.

    However, the Texas Attorney General, Greg Abbott, in an open letter has warned the OSCE not to monitor the polling in Texas elections (click here for the letter).

    Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) tweeted on Tuesday: ‏"No UN monitors/inspectors will be part of any TX election process; I commend @TXsecofstate for swift action to clarify issue."

    It should be noted that the OSCE does not monitor elections for the United Nations as the OSCE is an independent IGO.

    Greg Abbott told Reuters on Wednesday (click here) that he is considering legal action against the OSCE if it doesn't concede that it will follow the state's laws. "They act like they may not be subject to Texas law and our goal all along is to make clear to them that when they're in Texas, they're subject to Texas law, and we're not giving them an exemption," he said. 

    "The OSCE's representatives are not authorized by Texas law to enter a polling place. It may be a criminal offense for OSCE's representatives to maintain a presence within 100 feet of a polling place's entrance. Failure to comply with these requirements could subject the OSCE's representatives to criminal prosecution for violating state law," he said.

    In a letter (click here) to United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Ambassador Janez Lenarčič, the Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), expressed his "grave concern" about the threat of Texas prosecutions.

    Above: OSCE/ODIHR Director Ambassador Janez Lenarcic in Warsaw.

    "Our observers are required to remain strictly impartial and not to intervene in the voting process in any way," Lenarcic said. "They are in the United States to observe these elections, not to interfere in them."

    Discussion starters:

    1.     If the United State's has agreed to participate in a IGO and agreed to abide by the IGOs rules can an individual state (within the United States) opt to not follow those obligations?

    2.     Is Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's threat of criminal sanctions against OSCE/ODIHR observers a step into the foreign policy domain of the US State Department and federal government? 


  • Foreign Policy Debate: Iran's Nuclear Program

    In the course of a wide-ranging discussion in the last of three presidential debates President Obama appeared to be open to a negotiated settlement over Iran's nuclear program (click here for more).

    Above: Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, left and President Barack Obama face each other during the third presidential debate with President Barack Obama at Lynn University, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, David Goldman)

    "I'm pleased that you now are endorsing our policy of applying diplomatic pressure and potentially having bilateral discussions with the Iranians to end their nuclear program," said President Obama.

    It is not clear whether Governor Romney would enter such direct talks with Iran.

    Above: President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney clash over Iran's nuclear program in the third and final debate at Lynn University, Florida. Romney said an attack on Iran would be a last resort.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Does the President's openness to a new phase in the negotiations possibly open up a significant difference in outcomes in foreign policy as a result of the 6 November elections?

    2.     Otherwise, do you see significant differences in the foreign policies of President Barack Obama and the Republican candidate Mitt Romney?


  • Forced Labor in our Interdependent Global Village: Do slaves work for you?

    To help Americans better understand the global problem of forced labor, the United States State Department has created an interactive website that highlights the many intersections of American life and global involuntary servitude (click here for more).

    Above: Blind in one eye after being beaten in the head during forced labor, this man fled Myanmar in the mid-1990s, one of an estimated 200,000 undocumented Rohingya living in neighboring Bangladesh, according to Human Rights Watch (photo by Greg Constantine. Bangladesh, 2009). 

    Everyday, we Americans wear, use, and consume items made or processed by men, women, and children in what the agency calls "modern day slavery."

    The US State Department's website (http://slaveryfootprint.org) allows you to calculate "how many slaves work for you" based on your consumption of food, clothing, etc.

    The site also offers a cool smartphone application to help consumers reduce human trafficking.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     If you blindly shop are you contributing to the global slavery problem?

    2.     Did the State Department's "slavery footprint" website help you better understand your contribution to the problem?


  • Regulating Speech in a Digitally Interdependent World

    Is free speech a universal right? Is it a right that applies anywhere in our global village? As we spin wildly along in digital revolution, people from every corner of our village people - world leaders, those who want to know, and rebels who want to speak - are asking and thinking about openness and free speech on one hand and control of information and security on the other.

    Our digital global village is magnificently interdependent.

    Earlier this year, Twitter (a San Francisco based MNC) announced a new device and a policy of weeding out and removing offensive content from its site if a foreign government requested it.

    In response to the deaths, riots, and protests that were sparked by outrage over a film ridiculing Muhammad produced by an American in California (click here for more) President Obama said, "I know that not all countries in this body share this particular understanding of the protection of free speech. We recognize that. But in 2012, at a time when anyone with a cell phone can spread offensive views around the world with the click of a button, the notion that we can control the flow of information is obsolete. The question, then, is how do we respond? And on this we must agree: There is no speech that justifies mindless violence. There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents. There's no video that justifies an attack on an embassy. There's no slander that provides an excuse for people to burn a restaurant in Lebanon, or destroy a school in Tunis, or cause death and destruction in Pakistan. In this modern world with modern technologies, for us to respond in that way to hateful speech empowers any individual who engages in such speech to create chaos around the world. We empower the worst of us if that's how we respond."

    German law has yet another approach. For Germans there is no free speech on issues such as holocaust denial, Nazi slogans and symbols or anti-democratic speech.  Last week, Twitter tweeted that it's blocking a neo-Nazi group's account in Germany.

    A German official sent a letter to Twitter that a right-wing group that called itself Better Hanover had been banned for their neo-Nazi views and anarchistic hate speech. Although banned, the group was still spewing xenophobic, neo-Nazi rhetoric with its Twitter account and the government wanted it stopped (click here for more).

    Twitter has also withheld another account - this one in Britain, belonging to a right-wing member of the European Parliament who tweeted support for discrimination against gays (click here for more).

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Which approach to hate speech do you think is best for our country? President Obama's approach to speech or the German approach? Which is best for our interdependent global village?

    2.     Do you agree with Secretary of State Clinton that the conflicts of the future will be centered around open versus closed?


  • The Impact of Perceptions on World Politics: Arrests of US sailors in Okinawa

    To study world politics is to examine how global actors' actions influence, change, and seek to achieve their interests and ideals and how those actions affects the world at large. While we usually think of global actors as being presidents, diplomats, MNCs, IGOs, and NGOs, they can be and are increasingly individuals. Individual and personal actions can and do affect our global village - sometimes in positive ways and sometimes negatively.

    Above: U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos delivers a statement after a meeting with Japan's Senior Vice Foreign Minister Shuji Kira at the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo, October 17, 2012. The meeting was held after arrests of two U.S. sailors on suspicion of raping a Japanese woman in Okinawa (photo credit: Reuters/Kyodo).

    We tend to hold simple images of world politics - these images tend to be our own shorthand-simplified versions of reality. We live in a world defined by our perceptions.  Of course, this simplified view of the world is inevitable and even necessary - a mental map of the world must be reduced to essential images to be manageable. It is important for students, scholars, and policymakers alike to understand that this simplified world-view very often determines our attitude, our beliefs, and behaviors.

    This week the suspected actions of two U.S. individuals on Japan's southern island of Okinawa could again strain the ties between Tokyo and its closest ally, Washington.  The two US servicemen have been arrested on suspicion of raping a Japanese woman (click here for more).

    The arrests come at a time when people of Okinawa's perception is at odds with Tokyo for allowing the U.S. deployment of Osprey hybrid aircraft on the island despite lingering concerns about their safety.

    The suspected actions of these two men negatively reinforce the mental images of the tensions and world-view of the people of Okinawa about Americans and the military base at a time when Tokyo needs the Washington's support.

    The people of Okinawa have struggled with about 140 reported incidents of violence against Okinawan women by members of the US military over the past 40 years.

    Above: Protesters in Tokyo on Wednesday decry the alleged rape of an Okinawa woman by two U.S. sailors (photo Agence France-Presse/Getty Images).

    Japan's relationship with China has recently sharply deteriorated over the disputed East China Sea island chain (click here for more). This dispute with China makes it strategically important for Tokyo to reaffirm its alliance with the United States.

    While the base on the island of Okinawa is important to the Japanese it is also the source of also the source of anger, the Japanese Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto said, "I feel strong anger and indignation."

    Discussion starters:

    1.     What are some the policy implications associated with the image of the United States a depicted in people of Okinawa's images of the world?

    2.     How does history play a role in the features of the mental images held by the people of Okinawa?


  • United Nations: An IGO for all the World's Problems?

    From feeding the poor to nuclear weapons to refugee support to war in Syria, to the plight of the Palestinians our global village's most difficult problems are brought to the United Nations.

    Intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) are purposely created by states to solve our shared and most difficult problems. States can give an IGO authority (power) to solve a problem - or not. Of course, the United Nations is the best known of the IGOs as it includes nearly universal state membership.

    In principle, UN member states join and agree to the UN's authority, goals, and regulations. In practice, many (if not all) states put their own national interests above the collective - above the shared global concerns. This was especially true during the cold war - and is true today with crises like Syria.

    Peace and security were the foremost concerns of the creators of the United Nations. At the close of World War II world leaders decided enough was enough - and created an institution to keep peace. The history of the UN holds many successes and failures and reflects the power and interests of great powers.

    Watch this overview of a recent collection of problems brought to the UN General Assembly - note that the UN now manages an ever-expanding agenda of urgent military and non-military problems.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do you see a value in the UN as a forum for negotiation and norm promotion?

    2.     Does the UN's failure to solve problems like terrorism, nuclear weapon acquisitions, or civil war mean that the IGO itself is failure?  


  • Corn, Corn, Everywhere Corn: The Global Political Economy of Corn and Global Food Prices

    It is often difficult for students to entertain the twin problems of the sharp rise in obesity in the United States and a global food crisis. While obesity numbers continue to grow in the US, rising food prices have created a great deal of civil unrest as well as waves of humanitarian concern around the world (click here for more). There are several factors that are pushing our global village into the food crisis danger-zone: environmental stress, food consumption patterns, and government policies. Interestingly, one governmental policy may be contributing to both obesity in America and now to the rise in global food prices: the US corn policy.

    Corn is in everything - from hamburger patties and chicken nuggets to soda and fruit juice to yogurt and soup to peanut butter and mayonnaise to milk and even to bottled water (yes, it is in the bottle itself)! Corn is processed and put into thousands of products that millions of people around the world use every day.  Almost every food consumed contains corn - in some way, shape or form.  

    Corn is the most heavily subsidized crop in the United States. Agribusiness MNCs planted nearly 80 million acres of corn in the United States over the last five years and received an average of $5.5 billion in federal subsidies each year. Corn fed to our cows and chickens makes them fat - and in turn makes artificially cheap calories for Americans.

    As the entire global village has come to depend on US taxpayer supported corn the US Department of Agriculture is now reporting that a historic drought is causing a shortage and that US corn stocks will be far lower than expected until well into 2013 (click here for more).

    Discussion starters:

    1.     What is the effect of subsidized corn on the obesity problem in the United States?

    2.     Rising food prices - and a food crisis - raise questions fundamental to our existence: is our global village capable of supporting itself? What insights might the constructivist theorists provide us in the area of food prices and production?

  • Malala's Fight Is Our Fight on this International Day of the Girl Child October 11, 2012

    Today, as you sit in your classes I ask that you read, learn, and cherish your right to attend school. Think about Malala Yousufzai. Make an action plan to support girls.

    "In the area where I live. There are some people who want to stop educating girls - through guns."   

    Today October 11th (the International Day of the Girl Child) a 14 year old Pakistani girl, Malala Yousufzai, remains in critical condition in a hospital after the Taliban tried to kill her for standing up for her rights and wanting to go to school. Doctors were able to remove the bullets lodged near her spine, but Malala remains unconscious, on a ventilator, in critical condition (click here for more).

    Just last year, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution to establish October 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child (click here for more). 

    As Taliban fighters terrorized her town in Swat Pakistan, Malala bravely spoke out about her passion for education - she wanted to go to school and become a politician, she said - and in speaking up for her rights she became a symbol of defiance against Taliban subjugation. Today she is fighting for her life.

    "She has become a symbol of Western culture in the area; she was openly propagating it," said a Taliban spokesman, adding that if Malala survived, the militants would certainly try to kill her again. "Let this be a lesson," he added (click here for more).

    According to the U.N., this annual girls' rights Day will: "help galvanize worldwide enthusiasm for goals to better girls' lives, providing an opportunity for them to show leadership and reach their full potential."

    Here's a short documentary about Malala and her fight for her basic rights:

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Why do you think the Pakistani Taliban feared a fourteen year old girl?

    2.     Do you agree that Malala's fight is our fight?

  • She is a Woman - What can She do for Us? The United Nations Launches a Support Center for Women Representatives

    Imagine a village council meeting in the Alwar district of Rajasthan in India in which few women are allowed to participate. Now imagine that same meeting with a significant number of the representatives being women - women who are supported by others and not left to stand alone in what has long been a male dominated environment. That is the idea behind the UN Women's first ever "knowledge hub" for elected women representatives in rural areas across India.

    The UN Knowledge Center will facilitate the exchange of information and resources and provide a platform for elected and aspiring women representatives at the local level for training, capacity building, and to network with other elected women representatives from the region.

    Unveiled by UN Women's Executive Director Michelle Bachelet last week, in the presence of more than 200 women leaders, experts and policy makers, the knowledge hub will use audio and video content in different languages to reach and support women leaders in remote regions.  The UN launched this program in India last week and plans to expand it throughout South-Asia.

    "This is a huge leap forward for women leaders across South Asia. The Regional Center for Excellence will ensure that much needed information is available to them in different languages. This will undoubtedly strengthen their leadership and provide them with skills to perform their roles more effectively," said Ms. Bachelet.

    "Unlocking women's potential and increasing their political and economic partnership and leadership is critical from the district offices to the corporate boardroom, from the Lok Sabha to the village panchayats. This will send a clear message to the world that India is leading the way for democracy, for women and for equality,'' she added.

    Above: United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet addressing a press conference in New Delhi last week (photo: S. Subramaniam).

    Click here for more about the virtual center www.womenchangemakers.net 

    The Changemakers film:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EML35JFjr0Y 

    Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Women-Change-Makers

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Some feminists assert that on average there are not significant differences in the capabilities of men and women while others claim significant differences exist. What do you think?

    2.     Will the injustices and oppression faced by women in India likely change with more women elected to and supported in positions of power and responsibility?


  • Human Rights Abuses, Slavery, and Oppression of those who hold up Half the Sky

    Girls and women are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking. While many think the selling of a child into slavery is an obsolete practice, the reality is that trade in girls and young women who are raped, bought, sold, and forced into horrible lives of unimaginable abuse is a raw reality for far too many. This growing slave trade crisscrosses our entire global village. The United Nations reports that the leading form of human trafficking - at 80 percent - is the sex trafficking of girls.

    As I watched the faces of my students - over 200 college students watching Half the Sky - I worried. I worried about the hard-hitting content and the effect of the documentary might have on these young people.

    Most of my students have not traveled beyond this region of the United States. On one hand, I was sharing Half the Sky with my students so that they could learn about the horrors and oppression that so many women face across our global village while on the other hand, I worried that the window-to-the-world provided by Nicholas Kristof's film would provide my students with a raw and true but a one dimensional understanding of places like Vietnam, Sierra Leone, and China.

    Half the Sky is a remarkably moving (several of my students were in tears) documentary - filmed by George Clooney and created from Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn's bestselling book - that employs a half-dozen well-known actors who paint a vivid and often difficult picture of the many different forms of human abuses and cruel oppression that women face across the world. Half the Sky seeks to increase our awareness of the abuses, struggles, and horrors faced by so many girls and women. The documentary is both troubling (hard to watch at times) and inspiring (so many people are working to make things better).

    In responding to questions after watching Half the Sky, a handful of students took the "statist" or "legalist" stance, rejecting the human rights promotion in states like Vietnam because it represents and intrusion into the domestic affairs and cultural practices of others and an infringement upon the principle of "state sovereignty."

    Discussion starters: 

    1.     While inspiring, Half the Sky is not fun to watch.  Do you agree that students should be learning about the global problems of the oppression of women, slavery, and human trafficking?

    2.     Do you agree with Archbishop Desmund Tutu, "If you are neutral in a situation of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor?


  • Afghanistan: Nation-Building in a Failing State Where Ordinary People Tread a Between Life and Death Everyday

    US Special Forces ousted the Taliban from power in Afghanistan 10 years ago. This week the death toll of US military and civilian personnel passed 2,000 (click here for more).

    Above: Afghan girls attend a class (photograph: Christian Science Monitor/Getty).

    The US-led Operation Enduring Freedom has invested billions of dollars in building, rebuilding, and restoring services decimated by conflict and the years of Taliban rule. State failure is one of the most challenging problems of our interdependent global village (click here for more).

    Since 2002, the American people have provided the Afghan people with more than $8 billion dollars in development assistance (click here for more).  USAID has built or refurbished 680 schools across Afghanistan and the British have restored and reopened another 164 (click here for more).

    The United States has invested more than $422 million in improving health care services for the Afghani people and the British have built 55 health clinics and another 15 comprehensive hospitals.

    While the United States government has completed the construction of over 1000 miles of paved roads and 800 miles of gravel roads, the British have constructed another 168 miles of new roads, and upgraded another 100 miles of highways.

    While Operation Enduring Freedom forces worked to rebuild the Afghan state, the Taliban regrouped in Pakistan and gradually stepped up their cross-border attacks. The state is once again racked with violence.

    In an interview with the Guardian NATO's Secretary-General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has stated that he is under pressure to withdraw faster than planned from Afghanistan (click here for more). Today, US-led NATO forces now aim to have an Afghan security force of 352,000 taking over responsibility for the country in just over two years when the US-led combat operations are scheduled to end.

    Why engage in ten years of nation building in the hostile environment of a weak, fragile, and failing state?

    State building is an expensive, highly challenging, and very complex endeavor. Policymakers today are driven to take up the challenge by three factors: first, a consensus that the state has an critical role in development; second, many now argue that we all are responsible for human rights and security for people anywhere and everywhere in the world. In short, the norms concerning the domestic responsibilities of states to protect their populations are changing. Third, in our post-9/11 world policy makers are concerned about weak states hosting terrorists, organized criminals, and other international threats (click here for more from the OECD).

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Will the success or failure of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan likely contribute to US security, Afghan development and or overall international stability?

    2.     Is it the responsibility of those who can to promote justice, human rights, and the welfare of the people in failed states like Afghanistan?