• International Cooperation: The UN Security Council votes to remove chemical weapons from Syria

    Tonight, there is good news from the United Nations.  For the first time, the UN Security Council was able to unite and pass a resolution related to the Syrian conflict. The Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution to turn Syria's chemical weapons stockpile over to international monitors (click here for more).

    Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the vote "the first hopeful news on Syria in a long time." He went on to say, "As we mark this important step, we must never forget that the catalogue of horrors in Syria continues with bombs and tanks, grenades and guns. A red light for one form of weapons does not mean a green light for others. This is not a license to kill with conventional weapons. All the violence must end. All the guns must fall silent."

    China has repeatedly backed Russia diplomatically and joined Moscow in vetoing the last three resolutions aimed at solving the crisis over the past three years.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Does this important step lead to optimism about further cooperative UN efforts in war torn Syria?

    2.      Could this vote mark a new era in Security Council cooperation?


  • All politics is local: Texas Attorney General Opposes United Nations Arms Trade Treaty

    Eighteen states have now signed a United Nations treaty designed to regulate the global trade in conventional weapons (click here for the treaty).  The Arms Trade Treaty seeks to establish a common international standard for the national regulation of the international trade in conventional arms (click here for more).

    The United States officially signed the document this week (click here for more).

    Treaties can sometimes set new norms international law.  With support of a strong majority of states a treaty is applicable to even non-treaty states (click here for more).  However, the Arms Trade Treaty is years away from becoming an international norm as at least 50 of the UN member states that have signed the treaty must ratify it in order for it to take effect, and so far only six have done so.

    The United States Senate must now vote on the ratification of the treaty.

    At the signing, Secretary of State John Kerry said, "This treaty will not diminish anyone's freedom. In fact, the treaty recognizes the freedom of both individuals and states to obtain, possess, and use arms for legitimate purposes. Make no mistake, we would never think about supporting a treaty that is inconsistent with the rights of Americans, the rights of American citizens, to be able to exercise their guaranteed rights under our constitution. This treaty reaffirms the sovereign right of each country to decide for itself, consistent with its own constitutional and legal requirements, how to deal with the conventional arms that are exclusively used within its borders."

    The Texas Attorney General, Greg Abbott, who is running for Texas governor has yet another understanding of the UN Arms Trade Treaty. "By signing this treaty, the Obama administration has attempted to subject Americans' right to bear arms to the oversight of the United Nations," Abbott said in a statement (click here). "...This treaty contradicts the underpinning philosophy of our country and establishes the precedent that the UN has some level of authority to govern our lives."

    "We can't stand back and let our individual freedoms be signed away," Abbott said. "We urge senators to vote against this dangerous precedent."

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Why does the Texas Attorney General have such a vastly different understanding of the treaty than that presented by the United Nations?

    2.     Former Speaker of the U.S. House Tip O'Neill coined the phrase, "All politics is local." Is the success of the UN Arms treaty and perhaps Greg Abbott's success directly tied to the understanding of the issue(s) to the people of Texas?


  • Greenpeace activists arrested as pirates/terrorists - ship seized crew jailed.

    Six days ago the Russians seized an NGO's ship and arrested the crew as pirates.

    For centuries the state held a monopoly on a legal personality in international law. The only exception to this was the status of pirates. Pirates have long been subject to international law as individuals and any state could capture and try them.

    The Law of the Sea (LOS) Convention (click here for more) offers a number of rules for our vast oceans and has been widely accepted, either through ratification or by states treating its rules as customary law.  However, the issue of piracy is problematic - largely because of enforcement.

    Article 101 of the LOS clearly defines piracy as of any of the following acts:

    (a) any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed:

        (i) on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;

        (ii) against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;

    (b) any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft;

    (c) any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph (a) or (b).

    For some months now, the NGO Greenpeace with a ship and crew of 30 have been campaigning against drilling for oil in the Pechora Sea, northwest of Russia's Arctic coastline.

    Late last week, two Greenpeace activists climbed up on a Russian drilling rig to further their protest. "Our climbers attempted to attach themselves to the side of the platform to raise attention to the threat of Arctic oil drilling in this fragile environment and the urgent need to deal with climate change. This was a peaceful protest against Gazprom's ambitions to be the first company to pump oil from icy Arctic seas."

    In response Russian coastguard officials boarded the Greenpeace ship (which operates under the Dutch flag) and arrested the crew and towed the Artic Sunrise to Murmansk, Russia.

    At this writing, Russian officials have failed to respond to Dutch demands for an explanation of the seizure of the Greenpeace ship.


    Discussion starters:

    1.     Are the Greenpeace activists pirates or terrorists?

    2.     By arresting the activists and seizing their ship did the NGO achieve their goal?


  • Open vs Closed Governments: Iran opened then closed access to Facebook and Twitter

    Iranians woke Tuesday to the disappointment of finding that they no longer had access to Facebook. Overnight their government had blocked access to the social media site (click here for more).

    Why would the Iranian government officials care is the people looked at pictures of their friend's cats?

    The Iranian government restored blocks on Facebook and Twitter after what they described as a "technical glitch" that briefly removed filters from the social networks overnight (click here for more).

    Iran's newly elected President Hasan Rohani has pledged more openness in Iran.  Perhaps there is a struggle within the leadership of the Iranian government about the liberal policies of openness.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Might savvy Iranian computer users simply be forced to go through proxy servers for access?

    2.     Do you think that the open access might point to an internal struggle between officials seeking to openness and hardliners in the establishment, who wish to remain in control of information and Internet access? 


  • Where does peace begin? Working to build tolerance and understanding in local communities around the world on UN International Day of Peace

    1981 the United Nations passed a resolution that established the International Day of Peace. The International Day of Peace is Saturday 21 September (click here).

    How will you make peace in your community?

    All this week many of the citizens in Tyler, Texas are participating in a festival to embrace and promote peace. The "peace events" were organized with the mission of bringing a dialogue about peace and social justice issues to the East Texas community.

    The East Texas peace leaders have organized various events for each day of the week (such as a Day of Peace for Kids, a Peace Meal, and a Peace Open Mic) to spread peace through fellowship, dialogue, music, poetry, and art (click here).

    Above: Peace One Day Ambassador Jude Law who is one of the hosts at the Peace Day celebration (www.peaceoneday.org).

    Where does peace begin?

    Eleanor Roosevelt wrote, "Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world."

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Since the first Peace Day was observed in September 1982 and yet we still have war does this mean that these efforts are in vain?

    2.     As wars rage (and many people in our village are consumed with hate and war) should we consider Eleanor Roosevelt's words and begin close to home - in places like Tyler, Texas?


  • UN weapons inspectors confirm use of banned chemical nerve agent in Damascus

    What should be the response to the use of chemical nerve agents in a mass killing? Do American's, Chinese, Russians, and or the British have a duty to respond when such weapons are used to kill?

    What can and should the United Nations do if such weapons are used?

    Above: Ake Sellstrom, head of the chemical weapons team working in Syria, hands the report to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (Paulo Filgueiras/UN Photo). 

    Today the United Nations chemical weapons inspectors released a report (click here) confirming that rockets armed with the banned chemical nerve agent sarin were used in a mass killing near Damascus on Aug. 21.

    This is the first official confirmation by scientific experts that such munitions had been deployed in the Syria conflict.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Does this official confirmation that the agent sarin was used change the need and or the type of response from the rest of the world?

    2.     How should and can the United Nations best respond to this mass killing?


  • International Day of the Girl 2013: Innovating for Girls’ Education

    International Day of the Girl Child will be observed on 11 October this year.

    In 2011, The United Nations General Assembly chose October 11 to recognize girls' rights and the unique challenges they face.

    The day is to promote awareness of and action on the issues facing girls all over our global village.

    On this the third observance, the United Nations has selected a new theme and call to action. The UN chose "Innovating for Girls' Education" and is calling for new and creative ideas in the areas of technology and in "partnerships, policies... and, most of all, the engagement of young people themselves."

    Many colleges and universities around the world will be hosting discussions and screening films that reflect to challenges girls face and the rights they hold. The University of Texas at Tyler, for example, will be showing the documentary "Girl Rising."

    Girl Rising is a feature film, launched by award-winning journalists, and is global call to action for girls' education (click here for more).


    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do NGOs and powerful storytelling campaigns like Girl Rising drive social change?

    2.     How will you observe this International Day of the Girl Child?


  • A world changed? 12 years on a nation remembers the attacks of September 11, 2001

    Remembering September 11, 2001.

    Twelve years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks claimed nearly 3,000 lives, President Obama and Vice President Joe paused for a moment of silence on the south lawn of the White House.

    In the weeks and months after 911, many international relations scholars and pundits said, "this is a moment that will change everything."


    Discussion starters:

    1.     Did the 911 attacks and response in fact "change everything?"

    2.     In what ways are international relations different today than in the pre-911 world?

  • Buddhists hate speech fuels extremism as Myanmar seeks to transition to a constitutional democracy

    The leadership in almost all open countries face a dilemma when in comes to free speech. How far does that freedom go? In weak states, leaders must be even more careful. On one hand, if you take away too much and you kill the freedom, while on the other if you allow all to be said violence and instability may be the result.

    Ashin Wirathu, a Buddhist monk with a huge following in Myanmar, gives almost daily rants against what he calls "the enemy" - Myanmar's Muslim minority.  Wirathu leads the self-titled "969″ anti-Muslim movement, which he claims is a nationalist effort to protect Myanmar's Buddhist.

    The 969 movement includes many Buddhist followers who display the group's logo in their places of business to show support for Buddhists, to boycott of Muslim businesses, and to shun Muslims as customers.

    Many critics warn that Wirathu's rhetoric is inspiring the riots in which Buddhist mobs have killed more than 200 Muslims and forced more than 150,000 Muslim people from their homes.

    Wirathu's photo appeared on the July cover of Time magazine's Asia edition, above the headline, "The Face of Buddhist Terror: How Militant Monks are Fueling Anti-Muslim Violence in Asia."

    Myanmar's military leadership imprisoned Wirathu for eight years for inciting hatred. But now that the government of Myanmar is opening up to democratic reforms and have freed Wirathu, he has found his voice anew. "I am proud to be called a radical Buddhist," he said.

     Discussion starters:

    1.     As the United States seeks to promote democratic reforms in Myanmar, how would you recommend the Myanmar officials best handle the leadership of Ashin Wirathu?

    2.     If Ashin Wirathu continues to take advantage of his new freedoms and walks uses free speech to incite violence against Muslims, what might happen to Myanmar's fragile transition to democracy?


  • China's Troubles in Myanmar: A failure to understand basic human rights and dignity?

    Perhaps the leadership in China should study with the leaders of nearby Bhutan and maybe even take some notes from the leadership in Myanmar.  A successful economy or business environment does not bring happiness and stability to a state and its people.  Perhaps happiness is a not found in economic success, as the Chinese leadership seems to think (click here).

    While China's new top leader, Xi Jinping, is afraid that his party is vulnerable to an economic slowdown he is failing to understand the more fundamental concerns facing his government - basic dignity and human rights.

    One of the main shortcomings of focusing only on the success of Chinese businesses is that China is increasingly finding itself at odds with its own people and its neighbors.  The current and recent reactions of the people of Myanmar to Chinese policies provide an excellent example.

    The Myanmar-China pipeline has been controversial since its inception. The people of Myanmar have been very unhappy with it and the way they have been treated by Chinese officials. The pipeline is the target of frequent demonstrations (click here for more).

    Chinese officials have only given halfhearted nods or just ignored the widespread perception in Myanmar that China is solely concerned about the security of its own economy and business operations. Chinese officials may silence voices within their own country but are finding it difficult to silence the people of Myanmar and of NGOs operating in the region.

    While the leadership in Myanmar is taking steps to open up and allow democracy to flourish, Mr. Xi's biggest fear is that of "Western constitutional democracy." As the people of Myanmar have begun to find the freedom to voice their concerns (and NGOs in the region have begun to point out problems of corruption) the Chinese government increasingly finds itself on the defensive.  In fact, Xi has endorsed an enumerated set of seven fears and policies that are further exacerbating both internal and external conflicts.  Mr. Xi's recently enumerated in a memo seven perils to their state (click here for Document No. 9).

    1.     Will Mr. Xi's policies that seek to strengthen China's economy and his campaign to enforce party authority be successful if they fail to address the fundamental rights and basic human fairness?

    2.     How might the opening and democratization of Myanmar change Chinese policy?



  • Worker abuse reported at Jabil Circuit - the maker of Apple's new iPhone 5c

    Are you looking forward to owning one of the colorful new iPhones?

    Would it bother you to know that the workers who produced it might be being abused and working under harsh conditions?

    At a manufacturing plant in Wuxi, China (not far from Shanghai) a United States Florida-based company called Jabil Circuit is producing Apple's new iPhone, the so-called the iPhone 5C.

    Jabil owns some 60 plants in 33 countries around our little global village and employees some 30,000 men and women at the Wuxi plant. These employees are making the cases for the colorful iPhone 5C.

    A report, published today, by an NGO called China Labor Watch claims illegal and abusive conditions in Jabil's Chinese factories (click here for the report).

    The NGO's report drew upon interviews with about 90 employees and evidence from an undercover investigator who worked at the Jabil Wuxi for a month.

    According to the report, workers were commonly required to work 110 hours of overtime per month (which is in excess of Apple's own code and even further in excess of Chinese statutory regulations on overtime hours). Workers spent about 12 hours each day in continual standing with no breaks outside of meal breaks during a 12-hour shift. Each Jabil Wuxi worker is forced to work 11 hours of unpaid overtime every month.  Workers live in overcrowded dorms - with more than eight people per room.

    In response, Jabil has said it had uncovered problems last month and is taking immediate steps to investigate the allegations. Apple said its experts were "already on site" to look into the claims  (click here for more).

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Is it the duty of the Chinese government to regulate the conduct of firms like Jabil?

    2.     Does the United States government share in the responsibility for the labor abuses committed by a Florida based company that is manufacturing in China?


  • Russian President warns the United States against any action in Syria without United Nations Security Council approval

    Today the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, warned the United States against launching any military action in Syria without approval from the United Nations Security Council.

    In an interview with Associated Press (click here), Putin said it was too early to talk about exactly what Russia might do if the US attacked Syria but added: "We have our ideas about what we will do and how we will do it in case the situation develops toward the use of force or otherwise. We have our plans."

    Putin said Russia did not exclude supporting a UN resolution on punitive military strikes if it were proved that Assad used poison gas on his own people.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Given Putin's comments, and the fact that Russia has protected Syria from punitive action at the UN Security Council before, is this suggestion of support for a resolution on strikes unlikely to be given much credence in the United States' decision to launch an attack on Assad?

    2.     Are President Barack Obama stated plans for US military strategy to topple Assad the correct outcome of a US attach on Syria? Should the United States only attach if given full support by the United Nations Security Council? 



  • Levels of Analysis: Understanding the international response to Assad's killing of 1,429 people

    How do we best understand the international response to Assad's forces of killing 1,429 people with chemical weapons (click here for more). 

    When we examine an international issue it makes sense to first separate the multiple pieces of the puzzle - to lay them out in different places so that we may analyze them.  With so many moving parts, and issue like the Syrian civil war and the West response (click here) can seem impossibly complex.

    International relations scholars break phenomena into levels - known as levels of analysis. The different characteristics of the international event are examined and interpreted in explaining a global phenomenon.

    Typically, scholars investigate one or more of three distinct levels of analysis: 1) individual, 2) state (or domestic), and 3) global influences.

    President Obama's decision to strike Syria could and has been analyzed at the individual level. But now that the President is seeking congressional approval for military action the focus of analysis is shifting to the state or domestic level of analysis.

    Will congressional Republicans authorize the use of military force in Syria? Will congressional Democrats support the President's decision? A variety of domestic political factors will undoubtedly influence the outcome of the votes in both the upper and lower houses of the US legislature.

    Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol appeared on "Meet the Press" yesterday and said, "I think he [Obama] will end up prevailing in Congress and I think the Republican party, the party I know a little bit better than the Democrats, will support the president. Will do the right thing for the country despite many doubts about the character of the military assault he's about to launch, and many doubts about his past decisions as commander in chief, I think the Republican party will step up and do the right thing and support the president against a chemical-weapons using, terror-sponsoring, Iran-backed dictator (click here for more).

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Does the domestic divide on US policy toward Syria fall along partisan lines?

    2.     Does the "levels-of-analysis" tool prove useful in explaining this phenomena?