• Everything is Connected: Japanese Whaling, Rewilding, and You

    As regular readers of this blog know, the Japanese have been killing whales for about hundred years. The Japanese and other whaling states have wiped out between two thirds of the great whale populations.

    The good news is that the population of great whales, once under the threat of death from whaling nations is now to some extent regaining lost numbers.

    In this video Rewilding campaigner, George Monbiot, describes how these large creatures that grace our planet mean a great deal to us and our lives.

    Discussion starters:

    1. What steps should the international community take to protect the whales?
    2. What do Monbiot’s thoughts mean about the interconnection of everything? 
  • Social media and international relations: Do tweets have a role in international relations?

    The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is a 52-year-old think-tank located in Washington DC. CSIS “is dedicated to finding ways to sustain American prominence and prosperity as a force for good in the world.” CSIS serves as a consultant on foreign relations and international relations policy.

    Today, CSIS apologized on Twitter for a tweet that came from the CSIS twitter account yesterday. It seems that an intern thought he was tweeting from his personal account when he tweeted at Amnesty International: “Your work has saved far fewer lives than American interventions. So. suck it.”

    CSIS called the tweet "unconscionable," saying "The views expressed are abhorrent and appropriate action will be taken at CSIS to address the matter internally."

    CSIS has stated that it was reviewing its "social media processes."

    Discussion starters:

    1. What sort of tool does or might twitter and social media play international affairs?
    2. Should those who use social media in international relations be properly trained and or monitored or is it merely harmless words?  
  • Should the US work with Iran and or terrorists groups to achieve its mission in Iraq?

    On 7 August, President Obama said, “Yezidi women, men and children from the area of Sinjar have fled for their lives.  And thousands -- perhaps tens of thousands -- are now hiding high up on the mountain, with little but the clothes on their backs.  They’re without food, they’re without water.  People are starving.  And children are dying of thirst.  Meanwhile, ISIL forces below have called for the systematic destruction of the entire Yezidi people, which would constitute genocide.”

    Yesterday and again today, US fighter jets, drones and bombers pounded Sunni insurgent positions in an attempt to ease the siege.

    As noted below, Iran and the United States are working together in sending military advisers in to the Kurdish region of Iraq in recent weeks. This puts the US and Iran on the same side of the conflict in Iraq while on opposing sides in the Syrian civil war. 

    Discussion starters:

    1. Should the United States and its Western allies follow laws that prohibit them from providing weapons or training to designated terrorist organizations when those organizations might help the US achieve the desired outcomes in Iraq?
    2. Should the United States put troops on the ground in Iraq or turn a blind eye and do business with groups it once labeled terrorist organizations? 
  • Khmer Rouge leaders found guilty of crimes against humanity

    In 1974, the Khmer Rouge leadership began a reign of unimaginable terror. Until the invasion in 1979 by Vietnam, the leaders of Cambodia sought to achieve a pure form of rural communism. To achieve that goal they murdered nearly all of those who had an education and drove all remaining people living in cities on to farm collectives.

    Other Cambodians killed nearly two million Cambodians.  Since the Genocide Convention (click here) clearly refers to the intent to destroy “another” community of people, the Cambodia case has come to be known as “autogenocide.”

    During that four-year reign, the Khmer Rouge officials killed a quarter of the population by starvation, exhaustion, execution and or the lack of medical care in a failed attempt to create a communist “utopia.”

    Earlier this month, nearly 40 years after Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge reign ended two top Khmer Rouge leaders were found guilty of crimes against humanity and jailed for life.

    Khieu Samphan, 83, and Nuon Chea, 88, are last members of former Cambodian regime deemed fit to face trial. Prosecutor William Smith said both men were, “dictators who controlled Cambodians by brutal force and fear.”

    “They brutalized and dehumanized their own people and kept spilling blood for power,” he said.

    Lawyers for the two men said they would appeal.

    Discussion starters:

    1. Does the international community have a duty to intervene in “autogenocide?”
    2. What might the impact of these two sentences of life in prison for these two men be?

  • Women in Peacekeeping: Major General Kristin Lund takes Command of UN Peacekeeping Operation in Cyprus

    It is milestone day for women in peacekeeping!

    “Today we shatter another glass ceiling, and we do it with commanding force!" said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as he announced the appointment of the first-ever female Force Commander Major-General Kristen Lund of Norway. 

    The United Nations has led over sixty peacekeeping missions since 1948. Without assigning blame, the UN calls for a ceasefire between all disputing parties and then places neutral troops with blue headgear (a thin blue line of peace) between the disputing parties.

    Major General Kristin Lund becomes the first female to serve as a Force Commander for a UN Peacekeeping operation as she replaces outgoing UNFICYP Force Commander Major General Chao Liu. 

    “I think it’s very important that the UN took this step to appoint a female force commander and I hope that I can be a role model for other female officers that see that it’s possible,” said Major General Lund. 

    Discussion starters: 

    1. Do you support the UN’s decision to place Major General Kristin Lund in Command of a peacekeeping operation?
    2. Why is the milestone (a female commander) only just now taking place in 2014?
  • A cry from Iraq: "No one is coming to help!"

    Last week one Iraqi cried to the world, “there is no one coming to help.” “Well,” said President Obama, “today America is coming to help.”

    Above: President Obama meets with his national security team in the Situation Room to discuss ISIL in Iraq.

    Yesterday, President Obama said that the United States "cannot and should not intervene every time there’s a crisis in the world," but the current situation in Iraq requires the U.S. to act:

    “When we face a situation like we do on that mountain -- with innocent people facing the prospect of violence on a horrific scale, when we have a mandate to help -- in this case, a request from the Iraqi government -- and when we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye.  We can act, carefully and responsibly, to prevent a potential act of genocide.  That’s what we’re doing on that mountain.”


    “I’ve, therefore, authorized targeted airstrikes, if necessary, to help forces in Iraq as they fight to break the siege of Mount Sinjar and protect the civilians trapped there.  Already, American aircraft have begun conducting humanitarian airdrops of food and water to help these desperate men, women and children survive.  Earlier this week, one Iraqi in the area cried to the world, “There is no one coming to help.”  Well today, America is coming to help.  We’re also consulting with other countries -- and the United Nations -- who have called for action to address this humanitarian crisis.”

    President Obama has detailed a set of core principles that he believes should guide foreign policy decisions. 

    1)   We do whatever is necessary to protect our people. 

    2)   We support our allies when they’re in danger. 

    3)   We lead coalitions of countries to uphold international norms. 

    4)   We strive to stay true to fundamental values – the desire to live with basic freedom and dignity – that are common to human beings wherever they are. 

    “That’s why people all over the world look to the United States of America to lead.  And that’s why we do it,” said Obama.

    Discussion starters:

    1. Do you agree with the President’s decision and reasoning in ordering the airstrikes on Iraq?
    2. Should the United States military be used to prevent humanitarian crisis? 
  • Would the recognition of Hamas and a Palestinian state bring peace and security?

    On 8 July 2014, war broke out in Gaza – again. Since early July, more than 1,600 Palestinian and 65 Israeli lives have been killed.

    Jimmy Carter, Mary Robinson, and The Elders argue (click here) that to help bring Israelis and Palestinians closer to peace, world leaders must recognize Hamas, recognize a Palestinian state, and pressure both sides to respect international law.

    Last April, President Carter wrote, “More than ever, both parties urgently need to make the necessary compromises to reach a lasting peace with two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.”

    Discussion starters:

    1. Should world leaders support and promote the recognition of Palestinian statehood by the United Nations?
    2. Why do the Israelis not support a Palestinian state? 
  • Rabbi David Saperstein to serve the next U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom

    President Obama this week selected Rabbi David Saperstein to serve the next U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. Rabbi Saperstein will be the fourth person to hold the post and first non-Christian since it was created 16 years ago.

    The US State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom (click here) has the mission of promoting religious freedom as a core objective of U.S. foreign policy. Of course, the US Senate must confirm Rabbi Saperstein before he can fill the post.

    The office now to be headed by Rabbi Saperstein monitors religious persecution and discrimination worldwide and recommends policies in respective regions or countries to promote religious freedom.

    Rabbi David Nathan Saperstein is Director and Counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, where he has served since 1974.  He is also a Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center, where he teaches First Amendment Church-State Law and Jewish Law. Saperstein will appeal to many who advocate for religious freedom for his work in the area and for his lifelong commitment to social justice.

    Rabbi Saperstein received a B.A. from Cornell University, an M.H.L. from Hebrew Union College, and a J.D. from American University. Rabbi Saperstein is an outspoken defender of Israel.

    The United States Office of International Religious Freedom seeks to:

    • Promote freedom of religion and conscience throughout the world as a fundamental human right and as a source of stability for all countries;
    • Assist emerging democracies in implementing freedom of religion and conscience;
    • Assist religious and human rights NGOs in promoting religious freedom;
    • Identify and denounce regimes that are severe persecutors on the basis of religious belief.

    Discussion starters:

    1. Do you think that Rabbi Saperstein’s vocal activism for Israel will be unsettling to some given the role of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in shaping global politics?
    2. Do you agree with the mission statement of the US Office of International Religious Freedom? 
  • United States Senate Approves $225m for Israeli “Iron Dome”

    As the cease-fire in Gaza failed today (the planned ceasefire failed in a clash in southern Gaza in which two Israeli soldiers were killed and a third “suspected” captured, the Israeli military said) the United States Senate unanimously passed legislation to provide $225m to Israel to enhance and support the “Iron Dome” missile defense system.

    Israel's Iron Dome missile interceptor system, which was partly funded by the United States, has shot down most of the rockets fired at its cities by militants in Gaza during the current three-week conflict in Gaza.

    According to Reuters, the US lawmakers reached an agreement overnight to pass the missile funding measure. To become law, the funding plan must still pass the House of Representatives and be signed by President Barack Obama.

    Discussion starters:

    1. Do you expect this spending bill to encounter significant resistance in the US House of Representatives?
    2. What explains the traditionally strong support for Israel by US lawmakers and many US citizens?