• Bangladesh's Third Major Industrial Accident in 5 Months Raises Questions of Accountability, Worker Safety, and Labor Rights

    More than 3,000 workers in the Rana Plaza building in Savar, Bangladesh toiled making clothes for American, Canadian, and European consumers for less than $3 dollars a day.  Labor activists say that the workers produced clothing for JC Penney; Cato Fashions; Benetton and other retailers (click here for more).

    The Rana Plaza building collapsed last Wednesday, claiming the lives of at least 377 garment workers, and hundreds more workers are missing still, buried in the rubble. Civil Society labor activists say that the Rana Plaze collapse is deadliest accident in the history of the garment industry (click here for more).

    The incident occurred after owners of the building's factories ignored a warning to discontinue operation due to cracks found in the building (click here for more).

    While rescue workers focus on the victims, perhaps the rest of us should search for immediate accountability.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Are global safety standards needed to ensure worker safety?

    2.     Do the American and European MNCs and or consumers at least somewhat responsible for this tragedy?


  • SIM Cards Sold in Burma: Thousands of Burmese People Gain Access to the Digital Age

    Last week in Burma thousands of people gained access to the digital revolution.

    Thousands of $2 mobile SIM cards went on sale throughout Burma making this a significant time in terms of technology, communication, and perhaps justice.

    Burma (like North Korea) one of the last untapped mobile markets in the world.

    Until last week, access and the cost of a SIM card was simply out of reach for most Burmese people.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     How might the sale of SIM cards (mobile phones) shape Burma's future?

    2.     What changes do you expect the technology and open communication will bring to rural Burma?


  • Diplomacy: Frank Honesty or Spin about the Policy and Future of Afghanistan

    Stephen Covey wrote, "Trust is the glue of life. It's the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It's the foundational principle that holds all relationships."

    How honest and or forthcoming should a leader or diplomat be?

    French ambassador to Kabul: Bernard Bajolet spoke very frankly and honestly this week as he laid out a picture of his assessment of the problems and future of Afghanistan. The New York Times reports that when Bajolet finished speaking, "one diplomat raised his eyebrows and nodded slightly; another said, "No holding back there" (click here for more).

    Above: Bernard Bajolet honestly outlined the challenges facing Afghanistan (photo by Bertrand Langlois/Agence France-Presse - Getty Images).

    Covey also wrote that successful people "seek first to understand, then to be understood." Instead of blaming the other we are all better off if we listen first. In a sense, liberal theorists in international relations agree. Instead of blaming conflict on the zero-sum game and inherent lust for power, the liberal theorists argue that the emphasis in relations is correctly placed on seeking first to understand. In place of force, honest diplomacy is said to provide the best means of achieving mutually acceptable solutions to common problems. Leaders negotiate seeking Covey's "win-win" - rather than the "win-lose" of coercion.

    Above: US troop in Afghanistan (photo: REUTERS).

    Diplomacy is then an open and honest communication and negotiation between global actors that is not dependent on the use of force and seeks a win-win cooperative solution.

    According to the New York Times, Bajolet's "tone was neither shrill nor reproachful. It was matter-of-fact." He said, "that the Afghan project is on thin ice and that, collectively, the West was responsible for a chunk of what went wrong, though much of the rest the Afghans were responsible for. That the West had done a good job of fighting terrorism, but that most of that was done on Pakistani soil, not on the Afghan side of the border. And that without fundamental changes in how Afghanistan did business, the Afghan government, and by extension the West's investment in it, would come to little."

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Is the positive spin from the US and European leaders - that glosses predictions of Afghanistan's future with upbeat words like "promise" and "potential" - serving to effectively address the conflict?

    2.     Does "spinning the truth" or Bajolet's frank honesty about country's progress better serve world leaders who are focused on Afghanistan's future?


  • Guantánamo Prisoner Crisis: A Decision of Life and Death

    Imagine you are in the Situation Room in the White House.

    You are an assistant sitting just back from the table as the President, his lawyers, and advisors are debating a serious and very difficult problem - a problem of keeping Americans safe from terrorism, a problem of international and US Constitutional law, and one that has 93 men in a hunger strike with several men on feeding tubes just to keep them alive. This is not an academic argument. Real risks and real lives are in the balance.

    During the Bush administration 779 prisoners were brought to the US prison in Guantánamo. Today, April 25, 2013, 166 of those prisoners remain.

    Several of the advisors at the table consider these men to be too dangerous to release - but impossible to prosecute (click here for more). These prisoners from the "war on terror" have been held without trial for more than 11 years and they feel that they will never go home (click here for more). They are protesting in the only way possible - not eating.

    Congress had blocked the President from making prisoner transfers to countries throughout 2011, but now the Pentagon has the power to waive most of those restrictions on a case-by-case basis. The argument today is how and or if to use that authority.

    Leaning forward the CIA Director reports to the President that some 27 percent of 603 former detainees were "confirmed" or were "suspected" of taking part in terrorist activities after they were released from Guantánamo. The men who remain he reports are even more likely to take part in terrorist activities if released. The President listens - you take notes.

    The General in charge of Guantánamo says, "Mr. President, this situation as is - is just not sustainable. The prison structure is crumbling and we are not equipped to handle the ever-growing medical needs of the prisoners. We need more doctors and nurses. We must make changes, Sir."

    As the President listens you hear strong and principled arguments for releasing the prisoners, for moving them to a prison in the United States, and even for spending another $200 million more on rebuilding and re-staffing the Guantánamo prison.

    As you watch the President, you notice that he is making notes in the margins of a memo from Ms. Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights (Pillay's memo singled out the Guantánamo prisoners when she recently denounced the prison as "a clear breach of international law").

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do you agree with Navi Pillay that Guantánamo detention regime is in "clear breach of international law" and should be closed?

    2.     What possible Guantánamo exit strategies would you suggest to the President?


  • Global Health: A World 100% Free of Polio?

    Worldwide efforts in the last twenty years have reduced the number of polio cases by 99 percent.

    Today, 99% of the world is free from polio, but is that good enough?

    The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is working with governments and all partners in the polio effort to ensure no child is at risk of either contracting or transmitting this crippling disease (click here for more).

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    Over the years, there have been plans to eradicate polio – but those target dates and milestones unfortunately were missed. Today, in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria polio still hasn’t been stopped.

    Discussion starters:

    1. What barriers to eradicating polio might the governments of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria face?

    2. What role and responsibility do the wealthy states have in designing and informing a plan to eliminate polio? Should the United States lead the charge?


  • President Obama to send non-lethal military aid and Signs Executive Order to further Pressure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

    Syria's civil war is now in its third year and more than 70,000 people have been killed. Last week, President Obama said, "The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside" (click here for more).

    Above: Deir al-Zor, Syria: Members of the Free Syrian Army sit in a burnt house (photo Reuters).

    The United States and its European allies are struggling to find a policy that will stop the violence in Syria.  In a speech last week, President Obama said that the US "will support an effort to bring about a Syria that is democratic, just, and inclusive for all Syrians" but United States has no plans to send weapons or give lethal aid to the Syrian rebels.

    President Obama signed an executive order that 1) blocks the property of the Syrian government, 2) bans U.S. persons from new investments in or exporting services to Syria, 3) bans U.S. imports of, and other transactions or dealings in, Syrian-origin petroleum or petroleum products (click here for more).

    Despite international pressure, President Assad has managed to retain power far longer than the Obama administration expected.  Since February, the US has shipped food and medical supplies directly to the Free Syrian Army. The aid was expanded later to include defensive military equipment. So far, the US has provided an estimated $117m in non-lethal aid to the Syrian opposition (click here for more).

    Obama said that the United States is support the Syrian people "by pressuring President Assad to get out of the way of this transition, and standing up for the universal rights of the Syrian people along with others in the international community."

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Should President Obama follow the advice from some in the US Congress and some administration advisers and provide lethal aid to the Free Syrian Army?

    2.     Might providing lethal aid only lead to further bloodshed in Syria?


  • How and Who will the Digital Revolution Empower?

    The digital revolution is without a doubt empowering. But just who will be empowered?

    Two of Googles top executives - Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman and former CEO, and Jared Cohen, Director of Google Ideas posit that the digital revolution also has some dark and unanswered questions.

    Who will lead in the age of Twitter and Facebook? How will repressive regimes try to use digital technology to control their citizens?

    Within a couple of days of the terror attacks in Boston digital images of the suspects were shot millions of times across our digital networks. Could face recognition and digital scans be used for evil and well as for good?

    In their forthcoming book (published 23 April) "The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business," the authors state: "Dictators and autocrats in the years to come will attempt to build all-encompassing surveillance states, and they will have unprecedented technologies with which to do so. But they can never succeed completely. Dissidents will build tunnels out and bridges across. Citizens will have more ways to fight back than ever before-some of them anonymous, some courageously public. The digital revolution will continue. For all the complications this revolution brings, no country is worse off because of the Internet. And with five billion people set to join us online in the coming decades...the digital future can be bright indeed, despite its dark side."

    Click here for an essay adapted from Schmidt and Cohen's book.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     What steps can we take to ensure that the digital future is bright?

    2.     Do you agree with the authors that dictators and autocrats will never succeed completely?


  • Linking Chechnya with Terrorism in the 117th Boston Marathon?

    While at this writing, Boston marathon bombing suspect and Chechen born, Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, 19, remains at large, a reporter just called me to find out why a Chechen born in 1993 might be a terrorist. The answer is not an easy one as it is difficult - at least for me - to rationally link the bombing of the 117th Boston marathon with Chechnya. 

    The connection between Chechens and terrorism is well known in Russia - but not so much in the United States - where few American have any idea where Chechnya is even located.

    It is very important to note that - at least at this writing - no link has been established between the Boston marathon suspects and Chechnya - other than the possibility that they are from that region of Russia. In an interview with Anzor Tsarnaev, the father of the suspects, conducted by Ellen Barry and Andrew Roth of The New York Times Moscow bureau, provided no link between Chechnen social and political interest and his sons (click here for more).

    In 1991, as the Soviet Union was collapsing, the Chechen regional parliament declared Chechnya's independence from Russia. Independent of any outside authority, the Chechen leadership was however unable to impose law and order in the territory - and the region became a center of lawlessness, unrest, and corruption.

    In 1999, Chechen militants and Islamic extremists invaded a neighboring region of Russia seeking to expand the area under their control. In response, Russia launched a full-scale military invasion and succeeded in gaining control of the region.

    In gaining control, the Russians committed many human rights violations and killed thousands. Losing control their land, Chechen fighters turned to terrorism - attacking civilians outside the Chechen region in Russia.

    More than a thousand Russian people have been killed by Chechen terrorists attacks in the last twenty years - in bombings of subway trains, concerts, shopping areas, apartment buildings, and airlines.

    The Russian leadership has long sought understanding from the West regarding the terrorist attacks - claiming that the bloody Chechen conflict has made democracy in Russia much more difficult to achieve.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     At what point does a crime become an act of terrorism?

    2.     Must an act of terrorism have political or social objectives?

  • Turning Nations into People: The Soft Power of Study Abroad in International Relations

    In 1983, J. William Fulbright, said, "Educational exchange can turn nations into people, contributing as no other form of communication can to the humanizing of international relations." The people and leadership of North Korea need to see the people of South Korea with new eyes.

    I encourage all of my students to study abroad - especially my international relations students. When people who are (or will be) opinion leaders travel and study abroad they very often come to approach "others," politics, and policymaking quite differently. People who have had the experience of "others" often see with new eyes and share that new understanding with their home community - which in turn makes our village a better place. The more I read and learn more about the current leaders and the people of North Korea the more I think that they need to get out more.

    Isolation leads to ignorance, misunderstanding, mistrust, and miscommunication. Students who study abroad - be they Americans in Spain or Chinese in the United States - return home having learned more about life, people, and different cultures than they could ever have imagined. People that are isolated, that are not permitted to travel, to read freely, to have open access to the Internet will not only lead less fulfilling lives but are likely to be a people who fear others and are more easily controlled. North Korea is, of course, just such a nation - isolated, fearful, mistrusting, poor, hungry, and ruled by a small group of isolated elites.

    Given the troubles created by isolation, it is interesting that US secretary of state, John Kerry, is warning North Korea that it risks even further isolation with a missile launch (click here for more).

    Students who study abroad are often pushed well out of their comfort zones and asked to do things that they otherwise wouldn't do. Once stretched in new directions the mind never retakes its original position. Traveling or study abroad changes people in so many ways; especially in the way they view others. Students who study abroad become more open-minded and report that they are more open and inspired by other cultures and traditions.

    The people and leaders of North Korea desperately need openness - not further isolation. Of course, that is not how the leaders of North Korea see it. They fear openness. They fear the Internet and the free flow of information - they fear "others."

    Discussion starters:

    1.     How might other states and or NGOs help the North Korean leaders and people to know others?

    2.     How might international relations be different if more Americans better understood people of the Muslim community?


  • US Seeks Answers to Deadly Boston Blasts: Libyan Hend Amry tweets, “Please don’t be a ‘Muslim.'"

    A bomb at a sporting event as pure, hopeful, and optimistic as the Boston Marathon?

    What?! No way! Who does this?!

    How you reflexively answer that question may tell you something about your own social construction of terrorism. How we define our world very often predicts how we interact with it.

    Did you think or say, "it is probably the work of a Muslim terrorist?"

    As the US officials seek answers to yesterday's terror attack in Boston, people in the Muslim world are reminding us that Muslims too despise terror and abhor violence.  Yes, Muslims despise terrorism just as much as anyone else.

    But Muslims (along with the many Americans) come to dread the revelation of the perpetrator(s). All too often we allow a few Islamic extremists to define an entire community of faith. Using Twitter and other social media some are seeking to reshape these definitions and reactions.

    Our global village seems to have two over simplified social constructions and reactions to terror.  On the one hand, many Americans quickly jump to the conclusion that "Muslim terrorists" are probably responsible for the bombing while on the other, Islamic extremists reflexively assume the people of the United States hate Muslims.

    As we are inextricably bound to one another in an interdependent village these two narratives tend to feed one another. Our collective past - the 911 attacks, the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, the protests about a Muslim center in New York - tend to shape our present reactions and future polices.

    Even without knowing anything about the person (or people) responsible for the deadly bombs yesterday in Boston, some Muslims felt compelled to make it very clear that they denounce the violence and consider it a violation of Islam.

    Discussion starters:

    1.    How do we prevent the actions of a few fanatical individuals to define our assumptions about others and ourselves?

    2.    Is it true that we are inextricably bound to one another?


  • United States Seeks China's Help with North Korea: Pyongyang Dismisses Opportunity to Talk

    Today, Sunday 14 April, North Korea dismissed South Korea's proposal to resolve current tensions through dialogue.  The North Koreans described the proposal as "a crafty trick" designed to disguise the South's hostility.

    US Secretary of State John Kerry is in China as part of an intensive three-day push to try to calm tensions on the Korean peninsula (click here for more).

    Above: John Kerry at a press conference in Beijing. Kerry is seeking China's help in dealing with North Korea (photograph: Paul J RichardsAFP/Getty Images).

    Kerry offered to cut back American missile defenses if the North abandoned its nuclear program (click here for more).  China is North Korea's main ally and provides much of its food and energy.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Is the 29 year old "Kim Jong-un using the only bargaining chips he holds (war with South Korea) to do as his father did and attempt to gain aid and humanitarian assistance?

    2.     Do you believe that China's cooperation is an important factor in the Obama administration's attempt to cool tensions on the Korean peninsula?



  • Interdependence: Christies Makes A Move into the Chinese Art Market

    The Asian art market, China specifically, has overtaken the United States as the world's largest art and auction market (click here for more).  The Chinese are today responsible for about twenty-five percent of the global art purchases.  Chinese interest in art has grown along with the economy and thus a greater and greater number of Chinese now have money to spend on art.

    Christie's C.E.O. Steven Murphy says that his company is prepared to be the first independent auction house in China (click here for more).

    Discussion starters:

    1.     What - if any - are the implications of a strong Chinese art market?

    2.     Are there any international relations considerations to consider from Chrisitie's auction house operating independently in China?


  • US State Department Diplomat Killed in Afghanistan Delivering Hope

    Anne Smedinghoff, a young American diplomat was killed Saturday (6 April 2012) while delivering books to children in Afghanistan (click here for more). Anne volunteered to take up the challenge of bringing about change - an unbelievable undertaking in one of the toughest places on earth - Afghanistan.

    US Secretary of State John Kerry said, "The folks who want to kill people, and that's all they want to do, are scared of knowledge. And they want to shut the doors and they don't want people to make their choices about the future. For them, it's "You do things my way and if you don't, we'll throw acid in your face. We'll put a bullet in your face," to a young girl trying to learn."

    Kerry went on to say, "this is a huge challenge for us. It is a confrontation with modernity, with possibilities, and everything that our country stands for, everything we stand for." 

    Kerry said "America does not and will not cower before terrorism. We are going to forge on, we're going to step up. ... We put ourselves in harm's way because we believe in giving hope to our brothers and sisters all over the world, knowing that we share universal human values with people all over the world – the dignity of opportunity and progress."

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do you agree with Secretary Kerry when he said that Anne Smedinghoff embodies what America stands for?

    2.     What is it about school and books that makes some people so scared?


  • North Korean Leaders Threaten to Restart Nuclear Reactor: Heightening Tensions on the Korean Peninsula

    The outrageous rhetoric normally heard from North Korean leaders has recently become even more so. The North Koreans are making increasingly shrill threats of a pre-emptive nuclear strike and announcing the ending of the armistice and then refusing to answer a hotline phone.

    The threats this week by leader Kim Jong Un and ensuing actions have been incredibly provocative - raising tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Today, the North Koreans are saying that they intend to restart all mothballed facilities at its main Yongbyon nuclear complex.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     What pressure might the internal economic troubles in North Korea be placing on the leaders of North Korea?

    2.     How might those pressures be forcing the North Koreans to engage in such tense rhetoric?