• US and China build relations, roads, and democracy in African states

    As NGOs like Partner's In Heath seek to improve the lives of those who are most in need in our village they often find that medicine alone is insufficient in helping. Simply providing a clinic without a way to get to it does not help those who most need it.  Aid agencies - governments, IGOs, and NGOs - seeking to provide needed assistance must decide how to best help - where to spend the monies.

    Above: A group of children near the home of a patient receiving HIV care in Rwinkwavu, Rwanda. Read more about Partners In Health's work in Rwanda: http://ow.ly/s1OyM 

    For decades the United States has focused on strengthening and democratizing the unstable and weak governments of Africa.

    In an Star Tribune's John Rash wrote a piece just before Christmas (click here) in which he argues that the Chinese are making better decisions with assistance than the Americans.  Rash writes, "America comes with democracy. The Chinese come with roads."

    Rash explains that in Africa the Chinese are focused on infrastructure projects while the Americans are focused on health care, education, and democracy.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Are the American and Chinese approaches to development complementary?

    2.     Are the Chinese focused on profit only and perhaps benefiting from years of US building of stability in the region?


  • Peace and optimism abound as 2013 draws to a close: A less violent global village?

    Are we humans learning to get along? Has our global village gotten more peaceful?

    The Dalai Lama's Facebook status today reads, "I feel optimistic about the future because humanity seems to be growing more mature; scientists are paying more attention to our inner values, to the study of mind and the emotions. There is a clear desire for peace and concern for the environment."

    Above: the Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyi after a meeting in London, England, on June 19, 2012 (photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL).

    Professor Steven Pinker is also optimistic. Writing about the overall human movement toward peace, Pinker has argues, "Human ingenuity and experience have gradually been brought to bear" driving the worldwide rate of death from interstate and civil war downward.

    In his book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, Professor Pinker shares the data for this trend. "From almost 300 per 100,000 world population during World War II, to almost 30 during the Korean War, to the low teens during the era of the Vietnam War, to single digits in the 1970s and 1980s, to less than 1 in the twenty-first century, the worldwide rate of death from interstate and civil war combined has juddered downward" (click here for more).


    Discussion starters:

    1.     What might some of the reasons be for smaller percentages of people being killed in war?

    2.     Could the optimism be warranted? Might humans be learning to better handle conflict?


  • Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe visits controversial shrine and draws cries of indignation from China

    Could a visit by Japanese prime minister to a shrine created in Meiji era (1869) be an act of aggression?

    On Thursday 26 December 2013, Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, did just that - he made an official visit to a shrine in Tokyo.

    His visit prompted a furious response from Chinese and South Korean officials.

    While the Yasakuni shrine is a memorial for fallen Japanese soldiers dating back to the 1860s it is those Japanese war criminals that were enshrined there in the 1960s and 70s that are so controversial.

    In the late 1970s, fourteen "Class A" war criminals, including wartime leader Hideki Tojo, were honored with enshrinement.  These men ordered and oversaw Japan's brutal war in China and South East Asia. Many people around the world believe that the shrine wrongly commemorates the 14 men convicted of war crimes after Japan's World War II surrender.

    According to The Guardian, China's foreign ministry said "The Chinese government expresses strong indignation at the Japanese leader's trampling on the feelings of the people of China and the other war victim nations, and the open challenge to historical justice ... and expresses strong protest and serious condemnation to Japan."

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Is it possible the PM Abe is seeking to provoke China, and that China has reacted just as Abe wanted it to?

    2.     As the Japanese and Chinese tensions have flared recently in the South China Sea over the small groups oil rich islands might this visit have been a shrewd political move?


  • Russian and US relations: the significance of Billy Jean King and soft power

    Through sport states often seek to reshape domestic policy within other states.

    With sport a nation can reach out and touch many people - in a way that military hardware simply cannot.  Sporting events - like the Olympics - bring people together both within a nation and across borders and are often used as tools in diplomacy. The 2014 Winter Olympic games to be held in Sochi, Russia are yet another prime example.

    While the Russians are getting ready to host the 2014 winter games they are also seeking to head off criticism of their human rights records. This past week the Russian government granted amnesty to the band members of *** Riot and to the thirty Greenpeace activists who were protesting drilling in the Arctic (click here for more).

    Interestingly, while making these two public relations steps the Russians have also also ramped up anti-gay laws (click here for more).

    The anti-gay policies have generated significant international protest (click here for more). President Barack Obama has openly named openly gay athletes to represent the United States in the opening and closing ceremonies.  Tennis champion Billie Jean King and ice hockey champion Caitlin Cahow are both openly gay athletes who have identified publicly as part of the ***, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     How might Billy Jean King and Caitlin Cahow's attendance at these ceremonies shape the relations between the United States and Russia?

    2.     What human rights signal has President Obama made with the appointment of this delegation?

  • NSA sought to collect data/information from IGO and NGO leaders

    The men and women who toil in American National Security Agency (NSA) have made decisions to cast a wide net in the collection of information. In the name of national security they targeted a very comprehensive list of people and organizations.

    Partnering with the British intelligence agency the NSA was collecting data on/from the European Union's competition commissioner, German public officials including the mobile phone of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and, according to a new report from The Guardian, the heads of IGOs and NGOs that provide humanitarian and financial assistance around the world (click here for more).

    The Guardian is reporting that the NSA was targeting the United Nations development program, the United Nation's children's charity UNICEF and even Médecins du Monde, a French organization that provides doctors and medical volunteers to conflict zones (click here for more).

    Discussion starters:

    1.     What might be the reason(s) that the NSA spied on the leaders of IGOs and NGOs?

    2.     What might be the long-range implications of the NSA's efforts to make the United States more secure?


  • Japanese whalers set out to kill 1000 whales - for 'scientific' study?

    Can this possibly be true?

    The Guardian is reporting that Japan's whaling fleet departed this week for the Southern Ocean, where it hopes to kill about 1,000 whales this winter.

    One thousand whales!?

    The Japanese claim that the hunt is for 'scientific' reasons. What scientists could possibly need to kill a sample of 1000 whales for a study?

    In 1986 the International Whaling Commission banned whaling but allowed research hunts. These hunts are a de facto return to commercial whaling.

    A clause in the IWC moratorium allows meat from the research hunts to be processed and sold legally in Japanese restaurants and markets,

    The work of the Sea Shepherd - and NGO - has clashed with the Japanese whalers in many times over the past several years has been credited or blamed for limited the Japanese whalers to 103 whales last year (click here for more).

    Fortunately, the Japanese public's appetite for whale meat is declining sharply.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     What factors keep the international community from adequately protecting the whales?

    2.     Beyond making donations, what steps can you take to help protect the whales?


  • Members of the US Congress could be sending complicating, if not conflicting, foreign policy signals in the Middle East

    The impact of domestic actors on international relations is complex. The nexus of domestic and foreign policy is further complicated in a constitutional democracy. While the United States Constitution divides foreign policy powers between the President and Congress it is often that those powers overlap (click here for more).

    How much legally can and or should individual members of Congress shape or even engage in US foreign policy? Is a trip by several members of Congress a step into the President's Constitutional role? This week, three United States House members - Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), and Steve King (R-Iowa) - traveled to the Middle East (click here for more).

    Above: US Congress members in Tripoli (Photo: Libya TV).

    The Libya Herald reports: "Three rightwing Republican members of US Congress - Michele Bachmann, Louie Gohmert and Steve King - made a lighting trip to Libya to assess the situation in the country. All three have been particularly forthright in their criticism of the US government following Ambassador Chris Steven's killing at the US diplomatic offices in Benghazi in September 2012. They accuse the Obama administration of covering up facts in the case. Last week, Steve King said that the attack in Benghazi was ten times bigger than Watergate and the Iran-Contra scandals together."

    The US Constitution sets important, unique, and overlapping foreign policy roles for the US legislative and executive branches.  The Constitution establishes the President as the chief spokesperson in all foreign policy.  The President is to direct, conduct diplomacy, and articulate U.S. foreign policy.

    While in Libya, Congress members Backmann, Gohmert, and King met with the General National Congress and with Congress President Nuri Abu Sahmain.

    The US Congress does hold the power of "oversight" of US laws - including foreign policy.  With this oversight power Congress can affect the course of foreign policy through legislation.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Is it appropriate for a small or large delegation of the members of Congress to travel abroad (even privately) to meet with foreign heads of state?

    2.     Would it be Constitutional for members of Congress to contradict the official foreign policy of the United States while meeting with foreign officials?


  • Does the IR theory we teach/learn matter? Does our interpretation of global relations shape outcomes?

    Sociologist W. I. Thomas wrote, "It is not important whether or not the interpretation is correct - if men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences."

    Scholars of international relations make interpretations of global affairs through the lenses of the theory or theories that they select are true.  Practitioners of global relations also frame their interpretations and actions in the light of their own educations, understanding, and experiences.

    Could it be that scholars and or practitioners in global relations have defined their world-views in such a way that predetermines the outcome of all they see and do?  For example, might the scholar who has come to define relations among nations in realist terms have created the environment that results in the real consequences of the realist theory?

    In short, might the IR practitioner or policy maker's interpretation of any given global situation cause a real action - have real consequences - even if that interpretation is incorrect?

    Most scholars and practitioners explain global relations using one or more of the three dominant IR theories: realism, idealism, and constructivism.

    Realists view the world of global relations as a permanent struggle among self-interested states for power and the limited resources that support that power. This view may be the most widely accepted paradigm in international relations.

    Idealists view relations among the people of our global village through a cooperative paradigm. Idealists interpret global relations in cooperative and positive terms - not as an unending struggle.  Idealists tend to see opportunity for the coming together and the unity of humankind. The idealist worldview can be seen in the Zulu phrase "umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu", which literally means that a person is a person through other people. The philosophy of "Ubuntu" views the world's people as a community, a common humanity, as all one.

    Constructivism, on the hand, is a loose paradigm that builds on the above quote from W.I. Thomas.  Constructivists see global political relations in terms of accepted images of reality.

    What images of reality dominate and why?

    Discussion starters:

    1.     What if the realist view of the world were the only or the predominate view taught to future policymakers?

    2.     How might global relations be different if all future global leaders were taught the constructivist's paradigm and or the philosophy of Ubuntu?  


  • Drilling for oil in the Artic? Is it time for clean-er energy?

    Should oil companies be permitted to drill in the artic?

    Three months ago 30 Greenpeace activists were arrested while protesting at an Arctic oil platform. The activists were jailed and charged first with piracy (a silly charge) and then with hooliganism (click here for more).  It looks as if the Russian government will finally be releasing the activists as the Duma has voted for an amendment that grants them amnesty.

    These Greenpeace activists were striving to bring attention to the many impacts of drilling for oil in the Artic. It almost goes without saying, but the impact on on marine life is disastrous.

    A report released today by NOAA (click here) finds that dolphins are suffering due to oil spilled in the oceans. The report details the effects of oil on dolphins in Barataria Bay. Dolphins are suffering from a higher prevalence of lung disease and adrenal effects.

    The NOAA study found that almost half (48 percent) of the dolphins sampled in Barataria Bay warranted a "guarded or worse prognosis." The scientists classified 17 percent as being in very poor or grave condition, meaning the dolphins were not expected to survive (click here for the full report).

    Above: Following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, numerous dolphins were documented encountering oil, such as those in this photo from July 2010 (photo from NOAA).

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Should we humans move to end the era of offshore oil drilling?

    2.     Should world governments - or international law - prevent oil companies from creeping into the Arctic, where conditions are much harsher and spilling oil more likely? 



  • Chinese officials ban shark fin soup at all official dinners

    There are now over 7 billion of us on this pale blue dot.  With many humans facing real struggles for survival the world environment and specific endangered species do not easily rise to the top of the list of urgent priorities. How can we raise the protection of endangered species (like sharks) to the top of our list?

    As anyone who watches Shark Week will tell you, sharks are mean and scary creatures. But they are now endangered (click here for more). While sharks are a vital part of our ocean ecosystems they are being over fished and cut to into pieces for shark fin soup - a delicacy in China. According to LiveScience, fisheries kill an average of about 100 million sharks each year (click here for more).

    China's authorities recently published a regulation that explicitly ruled out dishes containing shark fins in official state dinners. While this is a nice and small step the Chinese did not create this regulation to protect sharks - but rather to save money as shark fin soup is very expensive (click here for more).

    Discussion starters:

    1.     What domestic factors shape the international regulation and protections of sharks?

    2.     Will the Chinese ban on shark fin soup likely help in the global fight to protect sharks?


  • Mandela "not a saint" in the struggle for human rights

    The struggle for human rights is very often a struggle against the existing, substantial, and entrenched power structure in a state.  A state that has denied rights to a people is often the very reflection of a larger systemic power structure and the norms of those in power. To fight for human rights in such a state is to fight the existing status quo. How does one fight the power of the state?

    When Martin Luther King Jr. led the fight in the United States he was leading a fight against the establishment. When Nelson Mandela led the fight in South Africa he too was leading a fight against established and entrenched power. Both men were imprisoned for their work.

    To fight the existing power structure for human rights takes great courage (much can be lost in the battle) of both individuals like King and Mandela as well as organizations.

    The world lost a courageous and fearless human rights leader last week in Nelson Mandela (click here for more). President Carter said, "I am deeply saddened by the death of Nelson Mandela. The people of South Africa and human rights advocates around the world have lost a great leader. His passion for freedom and justice created new hope for generations of oppressed people worldwide, and because of him, South Africa is today one of the world's leading democracies."

    Not only does the struggle for human rights rely on the courage of individual giants like Mandela and King - but also on millions of unsung heroes (like you).  Many individuals work to create and run very effective human rights organizations that work day-in-and-day-out to fight for rights of individuals all over our global village.

    Today there are several hundred NGOs (Amnesty International being the best known) that work to promote the rights of humans around the world.  I have written about the work of The Elders here before. The Elders is an NGO created in 2007 by Nelson Mandela that works for global peace and human rights.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Much has been written about Mandela in recent days. While Mandela himself said that he was "not a saint," was it wrong for the man who promoted human rights to believe in the armed struggle?

    2.     Was King's approach of nonviolence superior to Mandela's belief in armed struggle? 


  • Sabers rattle in the South China Sea as the Chinese Navy confronts a US Navy warship

    The USS USS Cowpens was forced to come to a "full stop" in the South China Sea last week to avoid a collision with an aggressive Chinese Navy ship (click here for more). 

    The Chinese commander while in direct conversation (bridge to bridge) with the commander of the USS Cowpens made a highly unusual and deliberate act of aggression toward the US warship (click here for more).

    Tensions are high in the South China Sea over a group of small-uninhabited islands that are the site of tense disputes between China and Japan, both of which claim the islands. The Chinese recently imposed a Air Defense Zone over the islands. The Chinese claim much of the South China Sea as being within its territorial waters, but the Japanese, South Koreans, and the Americans do not recognize that claim. 

    State leaders have increasingly used "saber rattling" as a tool in foreign policy.  Saber rattling is the threat or implied threat of military force.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Is the USS Cowpens simply responding to the Chinese unfounded claims?

    2.     Might the Chinese and or American leaders be reacting to domestic pressure in making the decision to rattle sabers in the South China Sea?

  • Global Health: New report from ONE suggests that it is time to stop saying 'AIDS in Africa'

    Today, Sunday 1 December 2013, is World AIDS Day (click here for more).

    Do you often hear people refer to African as if it is a single country? And do you hear references to "AIDS in Africa" as if the disease has been uniformly spread and addressed across the vast African continent?

    An NGO cofounded by Bono called ONE, works with activists, policymakers, and political leaders to combat AIDS and preventable diseases across the vast continent of Africa.

    ONE has issued a new optimistic report with data that suggests that the beginning of the end of AIDS could come as early as 2015, and 16 African countries have already surpassed the tipping point (click here for the report).

    The ONE report suggests that the phrase 'AIDS in Africa' has become an anachronism.  "It's time to retire the phrase, 'AIDS in Africa'," says Erin Hohlfelder, ONE's Global Health Policy Director. "Our analysis shows major distinctions between leaders and laggards, and that a one-size-fits-all approach to tackling AIDS on the continent does not make sense."

    Discussion starters:

    1.     In what ways does it harm the policy discussion to refer to "AIDS in Africa?"

    2.     As the crisis of AIDS subsides, do we run a risk of lost focus and efforts and resources?