• Welcome to the International Relations blog!

     

    A blog should provide you with information and perspective. It should be a quick, clear, and easy place to find information on a specific topic. We intend for this blog to do just that.

    This blog will be regularly updated (3 times a week) with information about global events and international relations. You can expect to find current information relating to global issues, your international relations course, as well as a perspective on those issues and relations.

    What perspective? Well, in short the world is changing! Among other things, technology and transportation are dramatically reshaping the way we interact and the very narrative we use to think about relations among nations and peoples of our planet. In short, we are all connected in ways only a few could dream of just ten years ago. These connections have rendered borders almost as meaningless as they were when gazelles first loped across the bushy savannas of Africa.

    In addition to blogging about the big in-the-news-stories of state actors (Where is Muammar Qaddafi?), this blog will focus on human connections in international relations. What is Kiva.org? How is hard power being used? What is soft power? What role do MNCs play in development? Why is Greenpeace putting pressure on Disney and Toys-R-Us? How are humans reaching out to one another - across the globe? We hope that with each visit you will find new and useful information and inspiring perspective as you learn about relations among nations and peoples of our "pale blue dot." 

  • Is Power Ebbing Away from States?

     

    As an introduction to current international relations issues, concerns, and the theme of this blog we will focus on Professor Joseph Nye's concept of Soft Power. "Soft power" is the ability to obtain what one wants through co-operation - seeking a win-win situation. This is people working across borders with both government and non-government actors. It can be contrasted with 'hard power' - that is government's use of state power - money, bullets, bombs, and boots. The wonderful thing about soft power is that you (or any other actor such as and NGO) can use it. Soft power is not just for government use.

    Watch a short TED Talk by Professor Nye on the shifting of power in international relations... 

    Historian and diplomat Joseph Nye gives us the 30,000-foot view of the shifts in power between China and the US, and the global implications as economic, political and "soft" power shifts and moves around the globe.

    Discussion Starters:

    1.    How might the use of soft power reshape the global relations?

    2.    How might a small group of concerned citizens use soft power to help solve the cutting down of the rain forest?

    3.    What are the strengths and weaknesses of soft power?

    4.    Can soft power be used to solve civil conflicts?

     

     

  • Is NATO's Libya mission its last?

     

    President Obama telephoned French President Nicolas Sarkozy yesterday to talk about the situation in Libya. The two men agreed to continue to work together and with allies to support a peaceful transition to democracy. President Obama said the United States will give the Libyan opposition about $1.5 billion in frozen Gadhafi regime assets.

    President Barack Obama talks on the phone with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Aug. 23, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza).

    Months ago, President Obama decided that the best way to confront Gadhafi was to use NATO airpower to protect Libyan citizens from a Gadhafi crackdown and chose a "leading from behind" strategy in Libya (meaning that NATO and Europe would take the lead).

    As NATO moved to lead the Libya operation, Washington, particularly outgoing US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, criticized Europe's commitment (funding) to the alliance. Last year, the United States funded seventy-five percent of NATO's operating budget.

    In a widely cited speech to NATO leaders in Brussels, Mr. Gates said that "if current trends in the decline of European defense capabilities are not halted and reversed, future US political leaders - those for whom the cold war was not the formative experience that it was for me - may not consider the return on America's investment in NATO worth the cost."

    Discussion Starters:

    1. Is it in the interest of the United States to continue to support NATO?

    2. How might Gadhafi's removal and a stabilized Libya effect Libya's oil production and the cost of gasoline in the United States?

    3. If you were on the staff of the new US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta what advice would you give him regarding US support for NATO?

  • MNCs, NGOs, and the problem of deforestation in Indonesia

    In an excellent example of "soft-power" the NGO Greenpeace is currently mounting a global campaign against Disney, Hasbro, and Mattel. Why would Greenpeace (an NGO concerned with the environment) be concerned with these toy companies?

    The short answers is that Greenpeace investigators found that toys such as "Barbie" and "Transformers" are packaged in paper that comes from the Indonesian rain-forests. Mattel, Hasbro, and Disney toy packaging is often produced by the multinational corporation Asia Pulp and Paper (APP). Had you ever heard of APP?

    While Disney, Mattel, and Hasbro are only selling toys around the world, APP is destroying the Indonesian rainforest to package those toys.

    Indonesia has one of the fastest rates of forest destruction in the world.

    Discussion Starters:

    1.     Why doesn't Greenpeace mount a public campaign directly against APP?

    2.     Do you think the "soft power" of the NGO can directly change the behavior of a multinational corporation like Disney, Mattel, or APP? Why or why not?

    3.     Will it take soft or hard power or both to save the rainforest?

     

  • Nurses Converge on Congressional Offices – Calling for a Robin Hood Tax

    Around the United States yesterday, nurses marched on Wall Street, the offices of major federal legislators, and other venues to call for a Robin Hood Tax - a tax on Wall Street financial institutions to, in their words, "heal the nation." In major cities (Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and Orlando, as well as smaller ones, such as Corpus Christi, Texas; Bakersfield, California; and Dayton, Ohio) nurses marched to "support a Wall Street transaction tax that will raise sufficient revenue to make Wall Street pay for the devastation it has caused on Main Street."

    Imagine a global citizen effort to fight poverty on main streets in countries like the UK, Germany, Spain, France, the United States, as well as in developing countries around the world.  Why tax Wall Street?

    In 2009, taxpayers around the world bailed out the banks and other financial institutions (see derivative instruments). For example, the US Treasury invested about $200 billion in hundreds of banks through its Capital Purchase Program in an effort to prop up capital and support new lending.  Today, many around the world (including American nurses association) are calling for a tax on those very same financial institutions. More than 25 governments and globally millions of people are supporting a Robin Hood Tax. So, what is a Robin Hood Tax?

    Of course, the tax has different names in different countries - the Germans call it 'Steuergegenarmut' or 'tax against poverty', and it is called "La Tasa Robin Hood" in Spain, but they are all talking about the same tax of about 0.05% on financial transactions like stocks, bonds, foreign currency and derivatives.

    The IMF has studied who will end up paying transaction taxes and concluded that the tax would in all likelihood be 'highly progressive'. Meaning that it would fall on the richest financial institutions and individuals around the world (in a similar way to a capital gains tax).

    Of course, most Americans have not yet heard of this tax, which is being championed largely by civil-society NGOs, President Sarkozy of France, Chancellor Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister Zapatero of Spain, as well as George Soros and Warren Buffet. Thousands of economists including Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, and the Earth Institute's Director Jeffrey Sachs have endorsed the tax that they say would raise hundreds of billions every year to fight poverty and climate change.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     What interest groups are likely to appose a tax on financial transactions?  Why would a nurse association march in favor of such a tax?

    2.     What are civil-society NGOs and why might they support a Robin Hood tax?

  • Accompanying the People of the Horn of Africa

    In May 2011, anthropologist and physician, Dr. Paul Farmer gave a speech to he Harvard Kennedy School of Government graduates.  Farmer, who works daily and directly with the people of Haiti, explained a real and significant problem of only a short-term outpouring of help in a time of crisis - once the Haiti earthquake disaster faded from the headlines so did the help and support the Haitians so badly needed. Farmer argued that we owe it to those who need our help to stick with them - not for just a brief while - but as long as they need us.

     "To accompany someone," Dr. Farmer said, "is to go somewhere with him or her, to break bread together, to be present on a journey with a beginning and an end...There's an element of mystery and openness...I'll share your fate for awhile, and by 'awhile' I don't mean 'a little while.' Accompaniment is much more often about sticking with a task until it's deemed completed by the person or person being accompanied, rather than by the accompagnateur." Click here for the speech.

    Can NGOs, governments, and individuals "accompany" or "stick with" those who are in such dire need for the long-term?

    Governments around the world, NGOs, and individuals are today seeking to "accompany" those living in the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today - in the Horn of Africa, where 12.4 million people are now in acute need of food assistance.

    Last month Dr. Jill Biden lead a delegation of US officials to a tour of Dadaab, the world's largest refugee camp. Biden also met with top Kenyan government officials including Agriculture Minister Sally Kosgey and President Kibaki.

    In a speech about the Horn of Africa crisis, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated, "President Obama has announced that in light of the current crisis, we are making available an additional $105 million in emergency funding with another 17 million on top of that with 12 million designed specifically for helping the people of Somalia. That brings the total U.S. humanitarian assistance to the region to more than $580 million this year. " Click here for the complete speech.

    The crisis extends across parts of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. Some areas in the region are experiencing their worst drought in 60 years. More than 10 million people have been affected across the Horn of Africa. Acute malnutrition has reached 37% in some parts of northeast Kenya and child refugees from Somalia are dying of causes related to malnutrition either during the journey or very shortly after arrival at aid camps.

    The NGO Care International has worked in Dadaab since 1992 and is distributing emergency food rations, blankets, water containers, sleeping mats and plastic sheets.

    Famine in East Africa: How you can help 

    By Natalie Angley, CNNAugust 18, 2011 10:36 a.m. EDT 

    Discussion Starters:

    1.     What percentage of the United States Federal budget is allocated to foreign humanitarian assistance? Should this number be increased - why or why not?

    2.     Dr. Paul Farmer has witnessed first hand the outpouring of humanitarian assistance only to see it stop once the crisis is no longer in the headlines around the world. How can policy makers better "accompany" those in need?

     

  • Serbian General found Guilty of War Crimes

    Above is General Momcilo Perisic, who commanded the Yugoslav Army during the wars in Bosnia and Croatia in the 1990s.

    Over twenty years ago, ethnic conflict erupted in the former state of Yugoslavia - a multicultural state created after WWI by the Western Allies. Yugoslavia was composed of ethnic and religious groups of people who had been neighbors (living side-by-side for generations). But old historical rivalries turned neighbors into bitter enemies and saw the Serbs (Orthodox Christians), commit genocide against the ethnic Albanians (Muslims) in Bosnia. In 1995, in the town of Srebrenica, Serb forces separated civilian unarmed Muslim men and boys from women and killed about 8,000 en masse.

    The Peace Palace, International Court of Justice in The Hague. 

    Yesterday (Tuesday, September 6, 2011), in The Hague, Netherlands, the International Court of Justice handed down a sentence against Momcilo Perisic. Perisic, 67, the former chief of the Yugoslav army, was sentenced to 27 years imprisonment for providing crucial military aid to Bosnian Serb forces responsible for the Srebrenica massacre and other atrocities. Click here to read the full statement by the Court.

    Perisic is the first senior official of the former Yugoslav government found guilty by the war-crimes tribunal. In the mid-1990s, Perisic was one of the former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic's closest allies. Milosevic was being tried on similar charges when he died in custody in the Netherlands in 2006.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do war-crimes convictions such as this have real and significant impact on decision-makers?

    2.     It is often said in regard to international law, "winners try losers." How might this apply (or not) to Momcilo Perisic?

  • Americans Remain Wary and Uninformed

    Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff). Click here for full article.

    As the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks approaches many are reflecting on the events, the lessons learned, and how we might have changed as a result of the attacks.

    In the semesters and years following deadly attacks, in which more than 3000 people were killed, enrollment in international relations courses jumped across the United States as American's sought to understand the people of societies beyond their own. Immediately, the attacks taught us just how little we understood about the world outside American borders and focused our thoughts on a religion and people we'd not even considered before the attacks.

    In the years that followed 9/11 some Americans came to view those of the Islamic faith itself as the enemy. Around the country, some Americans became fearful and intolerant of Muslims, some even vandalized mosques, and people who just appeared to be Muslim or Middle Eastern were often harassed or worse.

    Immediately following 9/11 and in the years since there have been several concerted efforts to both educate Americans about Islam and other cultures as well as bridge the gap between religions. Many colleges and universities have begun to "globalize" their institutions, thereby giving students the opportunity to learn about and experience cultures other than their own. A Pew Research survey (http://pewforum.org/Muslim/Public-Remains-Conflicted-Over-Islam.aspx) found that college graduates (by a margin of 47% to 28%) expressed favorable opinions of Islam while those with less education express unfavorable views.

    Many spiritual leaders across the country and around the world have sought to create ties and connections with other faiths and religions. For example, immediately following the attacks, Rabbi Ted Falcon called Sheikh Jamal Rahman, a Sufi imam and invited the imam to speak at his synagogue. Eventually, Rabbi Falcon, Sheikh Rahman, and Pastor Don Mackenzie, held a series of open and honest discussions about their values and beliefs. These discussions have inspired a radio show, a pair of books, and worldwide speaking tours (http://interfaithamigos.com).

    Leaders such as Eboo Patel (who has started the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) argues that is not enough to be know of and just be tolerant and accepting of religious pluralism. Patel demands that people push back against intolerance and stand up as leaders (www.ifyc.org).

    While education and spiritual leaders efforts are under way, these lessons of the 9/11 attacks have yet to change many Americans. Even now ten years from the attacks, a Pew Research survey found that most Americans say they know very little about the Muslim religion.  Currently, 55% of Americans say they do not know very much or know nothing at all about the Muslim religion and its practices. While 35% of Americans say they know some about the religion, only 9% say they know a great deal about Islam. Sadly, these numbers are largely unchanged from 2001.

  • Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement Negotiated

    Imagine you are the administrator of a health clinic in a poor and developing country. Every morning, people line up ill at your front door. Some have walked for miles and miles carrying a sick child.  Some have diseases that are easily treated with a drug and others have HIV/AIDS or TB and need daily doses of expensive medicines.  You are operating on a tight budget of funding from IGOs and NGOs from around the world. The need for drugs is far greater than your ability to purchase.  In making your drug purchases you can select from expensive brand name medicines or from quality generics. 

    Affordable, quality medicines are critical to treatment programs in developing countries.  About 80 of the HIV medicines that Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, MSF) uses are generics. MSF routinely relies on generic drugs to treat TB, malaria, and a wide range of infectious diseases.

    It is easy to see why all the major treatment providers (including The U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, UNITAID, and UNICEF) rely on affordable generic drugs for the programs they support. 

    The first generation of HIV drugs has become far more affordable over the last ten years as these drugs are now produced in India, Brazil, and Thailand where they are not patented. The drop in price has helped in the treatment of more than six million people in developing countries. About 80% of anti-AIDS drugs (92% of drugs to treat children with AIDS) in the developing world come from these three countries.

    This week in Chicago, leaders from the United States, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam are meeting behind closed doors to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.

    A leaked draft (click here for a copy) of the United States' position indicated that the US is seeking an aggressive intellectual property provisions. The United States is seeking protections for drug companies. The United States is seeking provisions that effectively delay the introduction of generic medicines. These provisions include "patent extensions" that extend monopolies beyond 20 years, "patent linkage," which delays approval of generic drugs, and expanded "data exclusivity," which restricts access to the clinical data necessary for generic drug approval.

    Oval Office, Sept. 7, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    "The Obama administration is coordinating and deploying trade policy tools to help reduce potential barriers to access to medicines, while also supporting innovation and the development of new medicines by the U.S. pharmaceutical and other health industries," the U.S. Trade Representative's office said in a paper obtained by Reuters.

    TPP negotiators are striving to have an outline of the agreement in time for the November 8-13, 2011 meeting of APEC leaders in Honolulu.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do you think that the TPP states should negotiate these provisions in secret or should the agreement negotiations be public? Why or why not?

    2.     Do you think that the Obama administration is turning away from public health provisions or protecting the drug company's rightful interests?

     

  • UN Secretary-General Ban K-moon embraces social media for global conversation with public

    World War II reshaped our world. The changes in the international community brought about by WWII cannot be overstated. The victorious leaders of that war knew and understood the devastation and horrors of world war. They had seen so much death and destruction that they vowed to make a better world. They agreed that they would not make the same mistakes that the world leaders had made at the end of World War I. In that fervor to remake international relations the United Nations (UN) was born. In 1945, fifty-one countries came together and committed to working together to maintain international peace and security.

    Much has changed since 1945.  In the 21st century, communications, transportation, technology, and economic interdependence (just to name a few) have reshaped relations among nations and the peoples of the world. How does an organization, created in the 1940s, adapt to the new and sweeping changes to the landscape of current global relations? How does a large bureaucracy with lots of members, with many different interests, and concerns reform or reshape itself? 

    Yesterday, September 13, 2011, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon embraced (for the first time) one of the changes brought about by technology. The Secretary-General answered questions submitted directly from individual citizens from around the world through Facebook, LiveStream, Twitter and other social media networks on issues ranging from social justice and the Middle East conflict to poverty and food security.

    Interestingly, the first question, submitted in Spanish via Twitter, asked the Secretary-General when the United Nations would be reformed to match the needs of the 21st century. Mr. Ban responded by stressing the complexity and difficulties of decision-making in an organization numbering 193 members.

    "To make this Organization more effective and efficient is our great challenge and great target," he said. "We've been trying to make this Organization much more mobile, and efficient, and accountable and transparent."

    Where international relations was once the purview of states only and the actors were state leaders and diplomats, today we find many individual citizens acting and shaping international politics, issues, and concerns in ways never dreamed of in 1945.  With so many changes taking place the demands for a reformed UN organization are ever growing.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     With its universal and inclusive membership does the UN provide a unique platform for international action?

    2.     Does the structure and ability of the UN to provide critical services - peacekeeping, security, and stability - make it an organization that the world's states should continue to support?

    3.     Does knowing that UNICEF vaccinates 40 per cent of the world's children - saving 2 million lives a year - change your answer(s) to the above questions? 

     

     

  • Rejecting new information on Somalia?

     

    (Photo: Tyler Hicks/The New York Times) A woman cared for her malnourished child in the Dadaab camp.

     

    Anais Nin once said, "we don't see things as they are, we see things as we are."

    In your study of international relations it is particularly important to check and recheck your worldview. As it is our own view of the world of politics, problems, and issues that shape how we interpret and understand events.  Through a process known as cognitive dissonance, we tend to reject information that contradicts previously acquired images and personal experiences.  It is often very hard for us to let new information reshape older longer held beliefs.

    Our world is so complex and often so difficult to understand that we create mental maps to simplify it.  These maps categorize our understanding of the world - matching what we see with images and experiences in our memories of past events.

    If you were paying attention to international events in the early 1990s you probably have a mental map of the famine and horror that unfolded in Somalia. You may even have images of the horrible deaths of American soldiers.  Those old images could lead the world to watch 750,000 Somalis starve to death in the coming months.  The United Nations is warning that a drought-induced famine is once-again creeping across Somalia. While thousands of Somalis have already died, a militant group (the Shabab) is blocking most aid from the areas it controls. In the next few months three-quarters of a million people could run out of food.

    During the Somali famine of the early 1990s, many donor states from around the world accepted the need to give food and assistance. Today, however, many people claim that theft, corruption, and violence are just part of the Somali history and culture and claim that aid and assistance just does not work.  They argue that the food aid given in the 1990s went directly and only to the militias, set off conflict between them, and created a criminal network that made millions from the stolen food aid.

    Since it is so very difficult to understand the size and difficulties facing the Somali people - we've created mental records using past information and images - like those from the movie Blackhawk Down. These long held images now make up most people's understanding of the Somali famine. These images might be wrong.

    It might be time for a new set of images of Somali, as aid agencies and workers now have a more complete understanding of the situation and are better able to practice the of feeding thousands and thousands of starving people. Yes, the World Food Program and other NGOs are still handing out food, but they are doing so with individualized food vouchers rather than the actual food. The vouchers enable hungry people to buy their own food and supplies. They can purchase exactly what they specifically need and support local private Somali suppliers.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do you expect the world's aid donors to step up and help the Somali people? Or will we sit by while thousands and thousands of people starve to death?

    2.     Do the wealthy of the world have a duty or obligation to help the people of Somali?

     

  • Ron Paul, Guns, Butter, and Eisenhower's Military Industrial Complex

    Money and energy flow wherever our attention goes.  We spend on the things we value.

    Republican presidential candidates, from left, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, businessman Herman Cain, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, stand together before a Republican debate Monday, Sept. 12, 2011, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

    In 2010, the world military expenditure is estimated to have been $1630 billion US dollars. Military spending continues to grow and has increased over seventeen-fold in the last decade, a growth rate far exceeding that of world population, the rate of expansion of global economic output, and perhaps most importantly the expenditures for public health and welfare. The United States' national defense budget category is currently just over half of the United States discretionary budget each year.

    On 17 January 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered his Farewell Address to the people of the United States. In that speech (click here for the complete speech) Eisenhower warned of a growing ''military-industrial complex.'' This "complex" would be a powerful linkage between government and those who profit from the production of the weapons of war.  Eisenhower warned of the power and interests of the ''conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry" in the American experience and went on to say, "the total influence - economic, political, even spiritual" would be "felt in every city, every State House, every office of the federal government" and that "we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications."

    On 12 September 2011 at the Republican debate in Florida, presidential hopeful Ron Paul (R-Texas) spoke passionately about current military spending and the reach of U.S. military forces around the world today.  Paul said, "We're in 130 countries. We have 900 bases around the world. We're going broke."  Ron Paul argues that the U.S. needs to spend far less of its budget on the military (click here for complete discussion of Ron Paul's statistics). 

    A U.S. Marine of 3rd Platoon, Kilo Company, 3/4 Marines, carries his second rifle, a machine gun, atop his backpack, as he arrives on foot at a small outpost, Patrol Base 302, in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, Thursday Aug. 25, 2011. The Marines living in austere conditions at PB-302 exchange fire regularly with Taliban who attack from multiple directions. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

    In 2010, the United States outlays for 'National Defense' plus State Department outlays for Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and International Military Equipment and Training (IMET) amounted to $698 billion.  According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the United States' military spending accounted for 43 per cent of the world total military spending in 2010, followed distantly by China with 7.3 per cent, the UK with 3.7 per cent, and France and Russia with 3.6 per cent.

    The "guns versus butter" debate encapsulates the tradeoffs necessary between military spending and human development and welfare.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     While some realists say a state can never spend too much on its military, others argue that this costs is too high a price to pay and does not allow for government spending on social welfare and other needs. Does High Military Spending Lower Human Security?

    2.     Supporters of America's high military expenditure often argue that United States provides global stability with its high spending and allows other nations to avoid such high spending. Is this a burden the United States must carry to maintain a peaceful world that is safe for trade and business?

     

     

  • The OECD Anti-Bribery Convention

    On Thursday, 13 October 2011 the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) will host a working group meeting on the international Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. This meeting will be a consultation with the representatives from the private industry and civil society (it will be held at OECD headquarters in Paris and will be followed by a cocktail reception).

    The OECD Anti-Bribery Convention establishes legally binding standards to criminalize bribery of foreign public officials in international business transactions. The 34 OECD member countries and four non-member countries (Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, and South Africa) have adopted this international Convention. Click here for a complete fact sheet on the Convention.

    Above, at the OECD offices in Paris, Ms. Melanie Reed (top left), a lawyer with the Anti-Corruption Division of the OECD discusses the Convention with political science students from the United States. The OECD regularly holds working group meetings to enable the exchange of information and best practices in relation to the implementation and enforcement of the Convention.

    Companies and individuals engage in the bribery of foreign public officials when they offer, promise or give a bribe to a foreign official to win advantages in an international business transaction, such as reduction in taxes or the winning a contract. The OECD reports that every year, millions of dollars are lost to bribes paid to public officials in exchange for business advantages.

    Bribery hurts people by allowing the construction of weak and crumbling bridges, buildings such as hospitals and schools that are dangerous for the occupants, and food and drugs that do not meet safety standards. Too few people realize that bribery of officials carries stiff penalties and that ignorance will not protect companies and individuals from prosecution. 

    The US is a signatory to the Anti-bribery Convention and the OECD is currently working to make sure that private business leaders around the world understand the Convention. In 1977, the United States Congress passed - and President Jimmy Carter signed - the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).  The FCPA prohibits the offer or payment of anything of value to a foreign official for the purpose of influencing any act of that foreign official in violation of the duty of that official, or to secure any improper advantage in order to obtain business.  In short, paying money (or anything else) to a government official in order to do business is illegal under US law.

    In 2005, two Houston executives at American Rice, Inc. (ARI), David Kay and Douglas Murphy, came to fully understand the harsh reality of FCPA non-compliance. Kay and Murphy had paid Haitian government officials to reduce duties and taxes on their rice imports.

    Kay and Murphy were exporting rice to Haiti in a time of great political turmoil and rampant corruption in that failing state.  At that time in Haiti - and currently in many other parts of the world - paying government officials to escape obstacles to business was "business as usual." The paying of bribes was so much part of routine business in Haiti that Kay actually volunteered the information that he regularly paid bribes to his company lawyers - explaining that doing so was just part of doing business in Haiti.  ARI lawyers then informed their board of directors who in-turn self-reported the bribes to United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The SEC then launched an investigation into ARI, Murphy, and Kay. Murphy and Kay were eventually indicted on twelve counts of violating the FCPA and later Kay was sentenced to 37 months in prison and two years supervised release, Murphy to 63 months in prison and three years supervision.

    Workers unload rice (photo Reuters UK Telegraph). 

    Currently, the OECD has a three-year initiative underway that includes a worldwide media outreach campaign as well an outreach to business, political science, and law students to include course materials on foreign bribery to educate the next generation of leaders about the Anti-Bribery Convention.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Does state sovereignty (the idea that there is no legal authority above the state) preclude effective international law? Because state sovereignty places the interests of the state over the interests of the global community many argue that international conventions such as the Anti-Bribery Convention do not really matter.

    2.     Critics of international law say it suffers from the lack of a legislative body capable of making binding legal rules. Does the fact that 38 states have signed the Anti-Bribery Convention indicate at least the early creation of a law?

    3.     Could it be true, as some argue, that the Anti-Bribery Convention is an instrument of the powerful to oppress the weak and poor?

  • Global Inequalities and the Under-Fives?

    Poverty and inequality have existed throughout recorded history, but today the levels of inequality have reached unprecedented levels. The division in power and wealth between (and within) states comprising the Global North and Global South poses both moral and security problems. Poor and failed states are often fraught with terrorism, mass migration and refugee movements, drug trafficking, and disease.

    In order to address both growing poverty and inequality around the world, it is critical to address not only the results of such poverty (violence, terrorism, criminality, and drug and human trafficking) but the underlying roots of these symptoms. When states fail to function, they fail to provide basic public goods for their populations (including the under-fives). The people living in failed states are likely to experiences steeply escalating problems that spill over to the rest of the world.

    In September 2000, world leaders came together at United Nations Headquarters in New York to address the roots of global poverty. They adopted the United Nations Millennium Declaration, committing their nations to a new global partnership to reduce poverty. The Millennium Declaration set out eight time-bound goals - with a deadline of 2015 - that have become known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Click here for the MDGs.

    Goal 1: Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger

    Goal 2: Achieve Universal Primary Education

    Goal 3: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women

    Goal 4: Reduce Child Mortality

    Goal 5: Improve Maternal Health

    Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other Diseases

    Goal 7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability

    Goal 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development

    At what point in a person's life do her chances at living a life beyond poverty begin? Do life chances start with access to education?  Does poverty and inequality matter in a person's life chances?

    Reuters Staff Photo 

    Research released (Lancet.com) last week may indicate a need to rethink at least the approach to some of the MDGs. The research shows that inequality between and within populations has origins in adverse early childhood development and experiences. In short, a child's early biological and psychosocial experiences affect brain development. Poor nutrition, substantial maternal and family stress, and poverty affect a child's brain development from the prenatal period onward. If children are denied basic support in their early years, their academic aptitude, cognitive development and ability to generate income as adults will suffer.  The Lancet authors argue, "Unless governments allocate more resources to quality early child development programs for the poorest segment of the population, economic disparities will continue to exist and to widen."

    Discussion starters:

    1.     What might the moral arguments be for addressing global under-five early childhood development?

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

  • Nobel laureate - Founder of The Green Belt Movement - Maathai dies

     

    On Sunday, September 25, 2011, Mama Wangari died. Wangari Maathia - the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize - died at a Nairobi Hospital after a long battle with cancer. Most Americans people think of Ms. Maathai as an environmentalist who planted trees - if they know of her at all. 

    However, Ms. Maathai's life was about far more than planting trees. She was indeed an environmental activist but her holistic approach also served to empower women in Africa and elsewhere.  She was a powerful advocate for democracy, women, and for protecting the earth.

    Environmental degradation is a product of the individual pursuit of private gain. The metaphor of the tragedy of the commons explains how individuals acting in their own best interest can have a destructive collective impact. In recognition of this, Ms. Maathai founded the "Green Belt Movement."

    Kenya's former president called Maathai a mad woman. She was seen as a threat to the rich and powerful and was beaten, arrested and vilified for simply planting trees. Maathai believed planting trees could reduce poverty and conflict and launched a one-woman campaign to reforest Kenya. She hoped to help stop soil erosion and to provide a source of lumber for homes and firewood for cooking.

    Maathai distributed seedlings to rural women and set up an incentive system for each seedling that survived. She encouraged farmers, most of them women, to plant protective "green belts" to stop soil erosion, provide shade, which would become a source of timber and fuel.

    Mama Wangari's Green Belt Movement has now planted more than 30 million of trees in Africa. Her Green Belt Movement has spread throughout the world, from Africa, to the United States, to Haiti, and beyond.

    Click here to see her speech at the UN.

    Discussion starters:

    1. Developing countries such as China and India are rapidly increasing their emissions as their economies have grown. How should the world’s problems be prioritized?

    2. Despite people like Maathai expressing concern about the global future, why do so many national leaders fail to make firm commitments to sustainable development?