• Leadership, Inclusion, and Problem Solving in a Hyperconnected World

    Could it be that today's world leaders have been trained in a world that no longer exists? There seems to be a huge disconnect between our current global interconnectedness and the regulation and inclusion of relations among all people in our global village.  National or state centered political systems seem incapable of agreeing on badly needed global forms of governance and cooperation.

    It is almost as if our leaders do not live in the same village. They seem to be seeing the world in vastly different ways. Our current generation of leaders was trained in the closed-world structure of institutions of 1947 and our emerging leaders have come of age, learned, and experienced in a digital age of the unlimited openness of a hyperconnected digital village.

    Take a look at the work these millennials are doing to shape the future of Tunisia (link to video here). These "global shapers" are working with a social business model to aid a school for handicapped children, focusing on engaging youth in politics (an inclusive democracy), and working at the foundations of Tunisian society by promoting the arts in creating a post-revolution Tunisian culture. They are doing the real work of changing lives and reshaping our village by building trust and being inclusive.

    On the other hand, this week - just as they have done for over 40 years - heads of state, royalty, the CEOs of global corporate giants will all meet in Davos, Switzerland, an upscale ski resort, to debate global issues. This year the Davos meeting will run from 23 to 27 January and the theme is "Resilient Dynamism." To attend the meetings in Davos you must have an invitation - a substantial travel budget. Only 2,600 "white badges" of attendance have been issued to representatives from more than 100 countries.

    The millennials are seeking cooperation, inclusion, and openness. Is it possible to have an effective society and or economy without inclusion and trust?  Of course, trust must be earned. Governing structures, leaders and polices must be transparent and open so that individuals understand what's going on, actors become accountable, and all are included. 

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Should meetings and global governance be inclusive or by invitation for only those with "white badges?"

    2.     How do you expect the millennials to address the issues of power and inclusion once they hold the traditional means power? Or are those traditional means of power gone?


  • President Obama: Our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom.

    Today in his inauguration speech, President Obama gave a big-picture foreign policy summary saying, "We will support democracy from Asia to Africa; from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom. And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice - not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice."

    Yesterday in Myanmar a cease-fire ordered by the Myanmar President Thein Sein failed.  The rebels and the Myanmar government blamed each other for fighting that continues today.  Myanmar's parliament unanimously approved a motion last Friday calling for the ceasefire to end fighting between ethnic Kachin rebels and the military in the north (click here for more).

    Above: A soldier from the All Burma Students Democratic Front - Northern Burma, an ally of the Kachin Independence Army, holding his weapon in September, 2012, as he looks out from an outpost near Laiza (AFP PHOTO/ Soe Than Win).

    While the United States has also called for a ceasefire and new peace negotiations, the continued fighting is raising doubts for some about democratic reforms in Myanmar.  Decades of ethnic tensions between the people who live in the Kachin region and the Myanmar government erupted again in June 2011 as seventeen-year ceasefire fell apart and fighting erupted between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and Myanmar's military.

    Civil wars and ethnic fighting are almost always difficult situations for foreign policy makers. The lines between who is right and justice are not always clear - nor is it a simple task to know just how or when to help.

    What is the appropriate diplomatic pressure to place on the struggling Myanmar democracy? President Obama said, "our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom."

    Myanmar's many ethnic groups - including the Kachin people - are calling for a federal system of shared power. But as the ever-present struggle between the US states and the federal government show - power is not easily given up or even shared.

    Like Alexander Hamilton and John Marshall, President Thein Sein and the majority Burmese ethnic group favor a more centralized union that would preserve their pre-eminence of the existing power structure. The current Myanmar Constitution calls for a hybrid system of local administrations and a powerful central government. The people of Kachin want local power and decisions.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Does the fact that the Myanmar government troops are still firing on the rebels raise doubts in your mind about the sincerity of the government's democratic reforms?

    2.     What role must other world leaders play in this struggle?



  • A First Step: The Minamata Convention on Mercury

    Yesterday, January 19, following a week of intense negotiations in Geneva, leaders of our global village announced a treaty to begin working on setting limits on the use of a highly toxic metal (the signing ceremony will be held later this year in Japan - click here for more).

    That metal can be found in the "mother river" - the Citarum River - in West Java, Indonesia. The Citarum is a water source for around 40 million people in Indonesia, supporting agriculture, water supplies, fisheries, industry, sewerage, and electricity. The Citarum provides 80 percent of Jakarta's drinking water.

    Along this mother river are dozens of textile factories - making cheap clothes for you.  These factories are the main source of employment for many of the local people.  They are also the biggest polluters of the Citarum River, spewing industrial waste - toxic metals directly into the water.

    These factories are dumping persistent organic pollutants (POPs) into the river that is the very lifeblood for so many local people.  POPs are toxic chemicals that adversely affect human health and the environment - not just in the Citarum river - but all around the world. These chemicals are transported to you and me in the food we eat, by wind, and water. Pollutants generated in Indonesia affect people and wildlife far from where they are used and released. These metals also persist for long periods of time in our environment (click here for more on POPs).

    In short, the water in the Citarum is linked to your water. Of course, the Indonesians boil the water before drinking it, but that only kills the bacteria - it does not get rid of the heavy metals and toxic chemicals.

    Above: Greenpeace activists label the company Noah Paper mills Inc as a possible source of toxic pollution.

    While the Citarum is getting a $500m clean up (click here for more), more than 140 states have adopted the first legally binding international treaty aimed at reducing mercury emissions.

    The treaty - called the Minamata Convention on Mercury - named after the Japanese city where people were poisoned in the mid-20th century from industrial discharges of mercury - will phase out many products that use the toxic liquid metal such as batteries, thermometers and some fluorescent lamps, through banning global import and exports by 2020. The treaty will require countries with coal-fired power plants such as Indonesia, India, and China to install filters and scrubbers on new plants.

    Not everyone is happy with the negotiated treaty. Joe DiGangi, a science adviser with advocacy group IPEN, which works for the elimination of persistent organic pollutants, said that while the treaty is "a first step," it is not tough enough to achieve its aim of reducing overall emissions (click here for more).

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Why do you think our leaders failed to include a requirement in the Minamata Convention on Mercury that each country create a national plan for how it will reduce mercury emissions?

    2.     Why do you think we continue to expose ourselves (and our environment) to hazardous toxic pollution? Why are environmental treaty negotiations about something as simple as mercury so difficult? 


  • Liberian ex-president Charles Taylor Serving 50-year Sentence for War Crimes Seeks Pension

    The 64-year-old Charles Taylor was once one of West Africa's most powerful figures - as President of Liberia. Today he is locked up in The Hague while appealing his 50-year prison sentence for war crimes.

    This week, Taylor asked his impoverished country to pay his pension - he is seeking at least $25,000 per year in retirement pay. Taylor insists he's owed this money under the Liberian constitution (click here for more).

    Some human actions are so reprehensible that we have made them international crimes.  These practices are so heinous that they are often referred to as "core international crimes." Commit one of these crimes at the rank of private or president and one is very likely to end up appearing before an international tribunal in The Hague. Crimes against the peace, crimes against humanity, and the crime of genocide are among the more prominent war crimes.  President Taylor was "found responsible for aiding and abetting some of the most heinous crimes in human history," said Judge Richard Lussick who presided over the trial (click here for more).

    Charles Taylor and his National Patriotic Party emerged victorious from special elections held in Liberia on July 19, 1997.  Taylor was the better of two evils - he won the election by a large majority, primarily because Liberians feared a return to war had Taylor lost.  The Taylor government did nothing improve the lives of Liberians. Unemployment and illiteracy stood above 75%, and little investment was made in the country's infrastructure to remedy the ravages of war. Taylor seems to have focused his time on the diamonds and the conflict in the neighboring state of Sierra Leone.

    In March 7, 2003 Taylor was indicted for "bearing the greatest responsibility" for atrocities in Sierra Leone.  Between 1996 and 2002, Taylor, aided and abetted war crimes and crimes against humanity, when supporting rebels in return for gems - "blood diamonds."

    Taylor was convicted in a court in The Hague for planning war crimes with the with Revolutionary United Front rebels in Sierra Leone.  He was found guilty of offences that included murder, rape, sexual slavery, recruiting child soldiers, and enforced amputations. The civil war he oversaw left more than 50,000 dead in the West African state.

    This indictment of President Charles Taylor established a new principle international law. A serving head of state is not immune from prosecution.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     In time will prosecutions like that of Former President Taylor serve as a deterrent to other heads of state?

    2.     If you served in the Liberian legislature would you vote to reinstate Mr. Taylor's pension?


  • 1 BILLION to RISE in Refusal to Accept Violence Against Women and Girls: 14 February 2013

    There are just over 7 billion people in our global village (click here for more). On Valentines next month day 1 billion women and men are expected to rise and dance in revolution.

    According to the World Bank and United Nations, one in three women in our global village will be raped or beaten in her lifetime (click here for more).

    On Valentines Day, 1998, Eve Ensler (an American playwright, performer, feminist, activist and activist, best known for her play The Vagina Monologues) along with a group of women in New York City, established an NGO called V-Day.  The NGO's mission is simple: it demands an end to violence against women and girls (click here for more).

    V-Day stages large-scale benefits and produces innovative gatherings, films and campaigns to educate and change social attitudes towards violence against women.

    The group - along with many others - is promoting a worldwide campaign to stop violence against women for 14 February 2013.  The Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, Michelle Bachelet, and many other world leaders are inviting one billion women - and those who love them - to walk out, dance, rise up, and demand an end to this violence.

    The ONE BILLION RISING campaign hopes to affect change by activating women and men across every country in our global village.

    V-Day wants the world to see the collective strength of women and men and the solidarity across borders.

    Discussion starters:

    1.  Do events and campaigns like this help change attitudes and culture?

    2.  Will you participate in this act of solidarity, demonstrating to women and girls a commonality of their struggles? 


  • US and Liberian Relations: An Old and Storied Bond Renewed in 2013

    Building on a relationship that began in the 1820s, the year 2013 will bring renewed and deeper US and Liberia interdependence.  On Tuesday of this week, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed a Statement of Intent launching a Partnership Dialogue that institutionalizes the long-standing bilateral relationship between Liberia and the United States of America (click here for more).

    The U.S.-Liberia Partnership is intended to promote diplomatic and economic cooperation between the two countries.  "Today," said Secretary of State Clinton, "we are taking another important step to deepen the partnership between our nations and to support Liberia as it continues down the path of democratic and economic reform. The Partnership Dialogue we are about to sign will expand the cooperation between our countries and ensure high-level engagement for years to come. This agreement establishes Working Groups in three key areas; first, agriculture and food security. Helping Liberia's farmers use their land more effectively and get their crops to market more efficiently will be critical to improving the health and prosperity of Liberians under the Feed the Future Initiative; look for new opportunities to attract private investment in the agriculture sector; and recommend policies to promote food security and better nutrition."

    The states of Liberia, "land of the free," and the United States have a long and complex history. Liberia's capital - Monrovia - is named after U.S. President James Monroe. Liberia was founded by free African-Americans and freed slaves from the United States in 1820 (click here for more).

    In the 1820s, some American leaders believed that the growing number of freed slaves in the United States threatened to destabilize the institution of slavery. Other leaders believed that slavery was inhumane, wrong, and incompatible with American values. Both groups decided that sending Americans with African ancestry to Africa was the best solution. A group called the American Colonization Society formed and sent groups of 86 freed American slaves to Liberia on February 6, 1820 (click here for more).

    Ethnic conflict in Liberia (between those who came from the United States (called Americo-Liberians) and those from the interior of the country (called Africans) plunged the state into war - with different factions struggling for power and dominance.  In the late 1990s, Liberian President Charles Taylor was responsible for his country's decent into chaos and brutality. More than 150,000 people were killed and another 800,000 fled to neighboring states.

    Taylor was imprisoned in Sierra Leone in 2006 and remains in the The Hague where he is facing trial for war crimes (click here for more).

    Today, Liberia still suffers from the lingering effects of ethnic conflict, civil war, and economic, political and social upheaval. Liberian elections that were held in 2011 were declared free and fair.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     What motivation(s) (other than humanitarian) do you hear in Secretary of State Clinton's remarks about the new agreement with Liberia?

    2.     To what extent - if any - is the institution of slavery responsible for the ethnic conflict in current Liberia? 


  • UN Urges Action and Warns of Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea

    In recent decades international law has evolved to include the punishment of a state's leaders for mass violence against their own civilians. International law, today, criminalizes crimes against humanity - or anything atrocious committed on a large and widespread scale.

    Yesterday, the United Nations' top human rights official said that as many as 200,000 civilians are being held in North Korean political prison camps. These political prisoners are being systematically subjected to torture, rape, and slave labor. The UN stated that some of the abuses might amount to crimes against humanity (click here for more).

    If this report is found to be true North Korea's leadership - including Kim Jong Un could be tried and held responsible for these atrocities in the International Criminal Court  (ICC). The ICC has jurisdiction over genocide,  war  crimes,  and  crimes  against  humanity  when  national  courts  are  unable  or unwilling  to  prosecute such  crimes.

    These allegations and a call from the UN human rights council for "a full-fledged international inquiry into serious crimes" in North Korea come just over a year after Kim Jong Un became the new leader upon the death of his father.

    The U.N. Human Rights Council said strong action is needed, including a full investigative probe - one authorized by the United Nations but performed by experts independent of the U.N. system.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Could the international focus on North Korea's missile and nuclear weapons programs have diverted attention from those who are suffering human rights abuses in North Korea?

    2.     What actions would you support regarding this UN report?



  • The Millennium Development Goals 2015: What are our Goals for our Global Village?

    Scholars of international relations well know the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  These eight goals were established in 2000 to make our global village a better place for all.

    The MDGs - range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS to providing universal primary education - are set expire in 2015. So what's next. Are we done? Short answer, no.

    While successes have been recorded in meeting the MGDs much work remains. The MGDs continue to galvanized unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world's poorest. So which direction do we go in 2015?

    To answer that question, the United Nations Development Program, the UN Millennium Campaign, the Overseas Development Institute and the World Wide Web Foundation have jointly developed "MY World" to help define the way forward for our global village. What changes do YOU think would make the most difference in our village?

    MY World is a global survey for citizens. The intent of the survey is to hear many voices, priorities and views, so we can make a new list of goals and priorities as we begin the process of defining our next set of global goals to end poverty.

    From now until 2015, you can help define the next set of global goals by voting for the changes that you would like to see in the world. To join this global conversation and post-2015 debate go to: MYWorld2015.org.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Will you vote on the list of priorities on the MY World site?

    2.     Will you participate beyond act of voting on these goals? 


  • Citizens of Israel and Iran Unite Across Borders: Love Wins?

    American cultural anthropologist, Margaret Mead said, "A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." Could a small thoughtful Facebook group change relations between nations?

    Digital devices are without any doubt reshaping our global village. From the way we communicate individually to the very foundations of international relations new technologies are opening opportunities never seen before in human history.

    The Internet is allowing for more inclusive and greater citizen participation. Electoral processes are now more open than ever before.  Greater civic engagement and public access to information has empowered many people, forcing governments to be more responsive. More responsive and online government is leading to more local governance, and even greater access to justice all around the world.  At the international level of analyses, the digital revolution is being used to fight corrupt government officials, protect human rights, and promote gender equality.

    Given all of this change is it possible that social media (Facebook) and access to information might change the very nature of relations among nations? Click here for the complete story from CNN.

    The opening of new avenues for interaction among citizens of our global village may be reshaping the very nature of international relations. Information sharing, instant citizen-to-citizen dialogue across borders, and the monitoring of governments have shown promise in advancing and helping to promote a peaceful dialogue.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do you think that Margaret Mead's small group of thoughtful citizens might just foster peace by reaching across borders?

    2.     Might Facebook groups linking thousands of citizens across hostile neighboring states force governing institutions to change?


  • Malala, Pakistani girl shot by Taliban, leaves hospital!

    With so much to blog about this first week of the New Year, I decided to start 2013 with some happy news.  Malala is well enough to leave the hospital!

    Malala Yousafzai, shot by the Taliban for being an advocate of girls' education, has been discharged from the UK hospital she has been at for the past 3 months. She will continue her recovery in England.

    Since her shooting, Malala has become an international figure. She was selected as runner-up for Time magazine's Person of the Year for 2012 (click here).

    Discussion starters:

    1.     How might Malala's stand for her rights change the rights for girls around the world?

    2.     Do you see a role for the United States and other states in Malala's fight?