• A dove of peace and birds of prey: Is violence simply part of life?

    In the Vatican's St Peter's Square on Sunday, tens of thousands of people listened to Pope Francis appeal for peace in the Ukraine where many anti-government protesters have recently died (click here for more).

    Above: A seagull and a crow attack a dove that was freed by Pope Francis and children. 

    After the Pope's appeal for peace he and some children released beautiful white doves as a symbolic gesture of peace.

    With thousands watching the doves were attacked by a crow and seagull. Of course, conflicts do turn violent. When one attempts to dominate or destroy another in order to pursue their own interests the clash is often bloody.

    Conflict scholars report that violence has been declining over the course of human history. Studies show that the twentieth century was the most peaceful on record (controlling for population growth) and yet political conflicts killed some 230 million people across our global village.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Is conflict and violence simply part of life on this planet?

    2.     Are humans getting better at working together all across our global village?


  • Global climate change and the power of oil MNCs

    According to The Guardian, governments around our global village handed out $2bn a year in subsidies to the five biggest US oil firms between 2001 and 2011 (click here for more). We gave our tax dollars to MNCs that raked in profits of $1tn over that same period.

    As the rich and powerful met last week in Davos they put climate change high on their agenda. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asked the leaders at Davos to deliver bold proposals that will help stimulate low carbon growth and create more resilient economic development.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Is oil MNC power the greatest threat to progress on climate change?

    2.     How might the power of oil MNCs be addressed around the world?




  • US interrogation policy: Justice for the killer of Daniel Pearl?

    It is a sad understatement to say that the end of Daniel Pearl's life was tragic.

    About ten years after his death, a friend of Pearl's, Asra Q. Nomani, was one of 50 journalists invited to witness the arraignment of the man accused of killing Pearl in Pakistan in 2002.

    After nine years of being locked up at secret CIA prison centers and the Guantánamo prison, 183 waterboardings, and years of uncertainty, the man who boasted about decapitating Pearl was facing justice (click here for the complete story).

    While reading Nomani's tragic tale of Daniel Pearl's story, I began to wonder again about the use of waterboarding - which simulates drowning. Is it not torture? Was it wrong to use in that situation? Was it wrong to use waterboarding on the man who boasted of killing Danny Pearl?

    Upon taking the office President Barack Obama banned the use of waterboarding.

    In his book Decision Points, former President Bush writes that the practice was one of a number of "enhanced interrogation techniques" his administration used to help foil a number of terrorists attacks around the world.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     After reading Nomani's piece do you believe the United States is justified in using "enhanced interrogation techniques?"

    2.     What might the long term implications be for continued use of waterboarding by the United States CIA or military?



  • Global Poverty and Development: Bill and Melinda Gates share good news and work to dispel 3 myths about poverty and development

    By watching the news it's easy to get the impression that the world is horrible place and only getting worse. Many people think poverty is increasing around the world, that too much money is spent on wasteful foreign aid, and that saving the lives of poor people leads to overpopulation.

    In their annual letter on global poverty and development Bill and Melinda Gates share uplifting statistics (things are getting better almost everywhere) and work to dispel these three deeply damaging myths about global poverty and development (click here for the letter).

    "By almost any measure, the world is better than it has ever been. People are living longer, healthier lives. Many nations that were aid recipients are now self-sufficient. You might think that such striking progress would be widely celebrated, but in fact, Melinda and I are struck by how many people think the world is getting worse. The belief that the world can't solve extreme poverty and disease isn't just mistaken. It is harmful. That's why in this year's letter we take apart some of the myths that slow down the work. The next time you hear these myths, we hope you will do the same."

    Myth One: Poor countries are doomed to stay poor. Gates states, "By 2035, there will be almost no poor countries left in the world. Poor countries are not doomed to stay poor. Some of the so-called developing nations have already developed. Many more are on their way. The nations that are still finding their way are not trying to do something unprecedented. They have good examples to learn from."

    Myth Two: Foreign aid is a big waste. Gates writes, "Health aid is a phenomenal investment. When I look at how many fewer children are dying than 30 years ago, and how many people are living longer and healthier lives, I get quite optimistic about the future. By 2035, every country will have child-mortality rates that are as low as the rate in America or the U.K. in 1980."

    Myth Three: Saving lives leads to overpopulation. Melinda Gates writes, "We see comments like this all the time on the Gates Foundation's blog, Facebook page, and Twitter feed. It makes sense that people are concerned about whether the planet can continue to sustain the human race, especially in the age of climate change. But this kind of thinking has gotten the world into a lot of trouble. Anxiety about the size of the world population has a dangerous tendency to override concern for the human beings who make up that population.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Why do these myths continue?

    2.     The next time you're in an online forum and someone claims that saving children causes overpopulation, will you share the Gate's Foundation's findings?


  • Will the United States violate international law by executing a murderer?

    In December of 2013, Mexico's foreign affairs secretary sent a letter to the Texas governor Rick Perry, requesting a reprieve for Edgar Arias Tamayo (click here for more). Tamayo is set for lethal injection on Wednesday, January 22, 2013.

    On January 30, of 1994, Houston, Texas police officer, Guy Patrick Gaddis, 24, arrested and handcuffed Mexican national Edgar Tamayo and was transporting him to jail when Tamayo pulled a pistol that had gone unseen and shot officer Gaddis in the back of the head. On Tuesday, November 1, 1994, after three hours of jury deliberation, Tamayo was convicted of the murder of officer Gaddis and sentenced to death.

    Mexican government officials and Tamayo's lawyers are arguing that the State of Texas has violated international law. A statement released last week by the Mexican Foreign Relations Department said that executing Tamayo would be a United States violation of Article 36 of the Vienna Convention.

    Mexican officials are asking the United States to halt Tamayo's execution because the Mr. Tamayo was not told he could get legal help from the Mexican government, as agreed under the 1963 Vienna Convention.

    Vienna Convention ~ Article 36

    Communication and Contact with Nationals of the Sending State

    1. With a view to facilitating the exercise of consular functions relating to nationals of the sending State consular officers shall be free to communicate with nationals of the sending State and to have access to them. Nationals of the sending State shall have the same freedom with respect to communication with and access to consular officers of the sending State; a) if he so requests, the competent authorities of the receiving State shall, without delay, inform the consular post of the sending State if, within its consular district, a national of that State is arrested or committed to prison or to custody pending trial or is detained in any other manner. Any communication addressed to the consular post by the person arrested, in prison, custody or detention shall also be forwarded by the said authorities without delay. The said authorities shall inform the person concerned without delay of his rights under this sub-paragraph; b) consular officers shall have the right to visit a national of the sending State who is in prison, custody or detention, to converse and correspond with him and to arrange for his legal representation. They shall also have the right to visit any national of the sending State who is in prison, custody or detention in their district in pursuance of a judgment. Nevertheless, consular officers shall refrain from taking action on behalf of a national who is in prison, custody or detention if he expressly opposes such action.
    1. The rights referred to in paragraph 1 of this Article shall be exercised in conformity with the laws and regulations of the receiving State, subject to the proviso, however, that the said laws and regulations must enable full effect to be given to the purposes for which the rights accorded under this Article are intended.

    In September of 2013, United States Secretary of State John Kerry wrote to the Texas Governor, Rick Perry, urging that an execution date not be set for Mr Tamayo. 

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Is the Mexican government correct in its claim that Tamayo's conviction and pending execution is "a clear violation by the United States of its international obligations under the Vienna Convention?"

    2.     Might legal assistance from the Mexican consulate have helped Tamayo obtain a punishment other than death from his Texas jury?

  • Globalization: governments grapple with how to handle digital currencies

    Ross William Ulbricht was arrested 1 October 2013 in a San Francisco and charged by US prosecutors in New York with money laundering, computer hacking and drug trafficking. On Mr. Ulbricht's laptop US Federal agents found 29,655 units of the digital currency called Bitcoin - worth $27m (click here for more).

    Mr. Ulbricht's Bitcoins had belonged to Silk Road, an anonymous online black market that authorities say was a conduit for purchases of drugs and computer hacking services (click here for more).

    The US Attorney for New York's southern district said that the government is still trying to decide what to do with the forfeited Bitcoins.

    Above: Ross William Ulbricht, 29, accused of running the Silk Road as "Dread Pirate Roberts" is shown in this courtroom sketch in U.S. Federal Court in San Francisco, California October 4, 2013. Photograph: STRINGER/Reuters.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Given concerns about the way in which Bitcoins are used by criminals to circumvent state regulations intended to prevent money laundering how should authorities dispose the Bitcoin assets?

    2.     Would the selling of the Bitcoins by US government could give the currency further legitimacy?


  • Incomes across our global village: where the rich and poor live

    Does the distribution of wealth within and across our global village affect even the wealthy?

    Take a look at this fascinating National Geographic map, showing where people are rich, where they're poor, and where the population is most dense.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     What global policy implications might be drawn from this National Geographic map?

    2.     Might the economic successes or failures of developing countries have an effect on the gains or loses from trade and investment in the United States?




  • Accountability for targeted killings: Is it time for the US to end drone strikes in Pakistan?

    Targeted killing is an ill-defined and controversial issue in international law. While customary international law has for hundreds of years prohibited the killing of national leaders it is unclear under international law if this same prohibition applies to terrorist who are not on a “battlefield.”  

    Since 2004, the United States military has been using drones to carry out the targeted killings of Taliban members and other terrorists operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

    In December of 2013, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution declaring the drone attacks a violation of human rights.

    Pointing to a very old principle of “discrimination” in international law many argue that the targeted killings are a gross violation of human rights. The principle of discrimination requires states to treat civilians and soldiers differently. As general custom soldiers are not to attack the civilians – except in extreme situations.

    This week, Pakistani Adviser on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said that it was time for the United States to end the drone attacks.  Aziz argued that the drone killings are proving to be counter-productive to the US mission. He also added that the strikes inside Pakistan have already hit the 'high-value targets,' making it unnecessary to continue with the policy.

    Discussion starters: 

    1.     Is the targeted killing of people without trial inappropriate?

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    2.     Should the US be in anyway held accountable for these targeted killings under international law?

  • Syrian Human Rights lawyer abducted

    Human rights are those rights, freedoms, and protections all people should enjoy as individuals and in groups.  Human rights conditions are not only shaped by governments and intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) but also individual actors. 

    In 1961, a British lawyer, Peter Benenson, was outraged over the imprisonment of two students for a toast they made to liberty. Mr. Benenson acted on his outrage and launched a revolution in advocating for human rights with the creation of Amnesty International. Benenson's approach was to spotlight the issue and bring international pressure on the offending government or group. Since those early days, Amnesty International has fought for the rights of many thousands of individuals.

    Like Peter Benenson, Razan Zeitunah is an outraged lawyer who was also seeking to protect human rights. Ms. Zeitunah founded the "Human Rights Association in Syria" which was used to inform the world about the atrocities committed by the Syrian regime. Until last month, she was a leading voice calling for human rights in the Syrian revolution.

    On 9 December 2013, Zeitunah's own most basic of human right - liberty - was taken from her. Zeitunah (along with her husband and two friends) was abducted by an unknown group (click here for more).

    The Syrian government had accused Ms. Zeitunah of being a foreign agent for reporting about the atrocities against civilians via social and foreign media. Zaitunah's website and Facebook page had became a principal source of information about the killings and torture of civilians by Syrian forces.

    Above: Razan Zeitunah and other recipients of the 2013 International Women of Courage Award Winners are pictured with US Secretary of State John Kerry and First Lady Michelle Obama.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do NGOs like Amnesty International and the Human Rights Association in Syria actually protect and promote human rights?

    2.     What responsibility does the rest of us who are free have to Ms. Zeitunah? 



  • United Nations World Food Program: 10 Hunger Facts for 2014

    Over 800 million people in your village do not have enough to eat to be healthy. The World Food Program (WFP) is part of the United Nations system and is charged with the mission of eradicating hunger and poverty.

    The WFP created a list of top 10 hunger facts that everyone ought to know going into 2014.

    1. About 842 million people in the world do not eat enough to be healthy.  That means that one in every eight people on Earth goes to bed hungry each night.

    2.The number of people living with chronic hunger has fallen by 17 percent since 1990-92. If the trend continues, we will fall just short of the hunger target in the Millennium Development Goals.

    3. Most of the world's undernourished people are still to be found in Southern Asia, closely followed by sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Asia.

    4. A third of all deaths in children under the age of five in developing countries are linked to undernutrition.

    5. In the developing world, one child in four is stunted, meaning that their physical and mental growth is impaired because of inadequate nutrition.

    6. The first 1,000 days of a child's life, from pregnancy through age two, are critical. A proper diet in this period can protect children from the mental and physical stunting that can result from malnutrition.

    7. If women farmers had the same access to resources as men, the number of hungry in the world could be reduced by up to 150 million.

    8. It costs just US $0.25 per day to provide a child with all of the vitamins and nutrients he or she needs to grow up healthy.

    9. By 2050, climate change and erratic weather patterns could have pushed another 24 million children into hunger. Almost half of these children would be in sub-Saharan Africa.

    10. Hunger can be eliminated in our lifetimes. The Zero Hunger Challenge, launched by the UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon, works to galvanize global support around this very objective.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Given the hunger facts one through nine, is number ten an objective we can achieve?

    2.     What policy steps does point number nine (above) require?


  • Pope Francis: "This, dear friends is truly scandalous"

    Speaking to United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization 20 June 2013, Pope Francis said, "It is a well-known fact that current levels of production are sufficient, yet millions of people are still suffering and dying of starvation. This, dear friends is truly scandalous" (click here for the complete speech).

    Pope Francis went on to say, "A way has to be found to enable everyone to benefit from the fruits of the earth, and not simply to close the gap between the affluent and those who must be satisfied with the crumbs falling from the table, but above all to satisfy the demands of justice, fairness, and respect for every human being."

    Is Pope Francis calling for social justice?

    An intergovernmental organization, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization has 194 Member Nations and is focused on food security.  Scholars point to several structural causes for the global food crisis: climate change, environmental stress, capitalism, and state policies. Pope Francis argues that financial speculation, and corruption are keeping millions of people in hunger. 

    Want and poverty are powerful driving forces. The lack of basic needs of life - food, water, and energy - can be powerfully destabilizing forces and are similar to the violence of war and military aggression.

    Pope Francis is calling for "more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor! It is vital that government leaders and financial leaders take heed and broaden their horizons, working to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education and healthcare."

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Might the need for food create a "politics of scarcity?"

    2.     How might a vocal Pope Francis reshape global food policy and help the UN FAO?


  • Private military service operations in Africa

    Do private military services alter the reasons for, the nature of and distribution of global military operations? Governments - like the United States - are increasingly outsourcing what were once government military specific operations to private companies. Military operations - like armed security, information technology systems, equipment maintenance, and even intelligence gathering - are increasingly contracted out to private for-profit multinational corporations.

    In an exhaustive report, TomDispatch, reveals that the US military is increasingly involved in more than 49 African states.  By analyzing internal briefings, contracts, and other official documents, the report reveals, "US military operations in Africa are vast and expanding" (click here for more).

    Among those private military services profiting from US military missions in Africa is a small two hundred-person business in San Marcos, Texas called Berry Aviation (click here).

    On 29 July 2013 Berry Aviation was awarded a $49 million contract to provide airlift support for U.S. Department of Defense operations throughout Western and Central Africa. Berry Aviation provides "aircraft, personnel, equipment, tools, material, maintenance and supervision necessary to perform casualty evacuation, personnel airlift, cargo airlift, as well as personnel and cargo aerial delivery services throughout the Trans-Sahara of Africa" (click here for more).

    Berry Aviation also performs military services for other governments. The firm has recently provided the Peruvian government aircraft for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (click here for more).

    Discussion starters:

    1.     How might the privatization of military services impact military activity in Africa?

    2.     What insights might realism, liberalism, and constructivism highlight about private military services in Trans-Sahara region of Africa? 


  • What is and should be the impact of religion (Christianity) in the United Nations?

    Mohandas Gandhi wrote, "Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is."

    How much of a role should or does religion play in politics - in international relations? Mark Twain wrote, "Man is a religious animal. He is the only religious animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion - several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat, if his theology isn't straight. He as made a graveyard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother's path to happiness and heaven."

    Professor Jeremy Carrette and a team at the University of Kent have been working to uncover the impact of religion in the United Nations. By examining the religious and non-religious NGOs that work within the UN, Carrette has found that more than 70% of NGOs working with the UN have Christian foundations (click here for more).

    Carrette's research team argues that our global village must be more aware of the way religious NGOs are represented within the United Nations and effect international relations.

    According to The Guardian, Professor Carrette said: "It would seem there needs to be more of a 'global goodwill' to make the UN system work for all religions equally, and for religions to follow and share equally UN goals for peace and justice."

    Discussion starters:

    1.     If Christianity does indeed dominate the UN's NGOs, what approach(s) might we take to increase non-Christian representation in world peacemaking?

    2.     From a practical - make-it-happen - point of view how would we "make the UN system work for all religions equally?"