• Informal Governance: The World’s Elite gather for the World Economic Forum in Davos

    When we think of global governance, the most common thoughts that come to mind focus on organizations like the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union, or the World Trade Organization. While large, formal organizations play a critical role, the complexity of global governance goes beyond what these organizations can manage. The gap is partially filled by non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) that operate in a wider range of countries under widely differing conditions and following a dizzying array of goals.

    One of the most interesting NGO’s is the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation (IOPPC), more often known by the name of its annual meeting: The World Economic Forum. It is an informal NGO that is dedicated to the broad principle of improving the state of the world. Like several other informal governance NGO’s, the IOPPC is technically a Swiss non-profit organization. It is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.

    The IOPPC was created in 1971 to promote the improvement of the state of the world through building social entrepreneurship in world affairs. Managed by a Board of Trustees drawn from a diverse range of government and private industry, the organization seeks to make the world a better place.

    Each year the World Economic Forum is held in Davos, Switzerland and brings together a diverse group of the world’s elite to discuss global problems and a vast array of different ideas about what can be done about them. Leaders from many different parts of the world come together to speak and listen and to share ideas about the future. At this rare conference, the Columbian pop singer Shakira can speak as an equal at the same conference as Xi Jinping, the President of the People’s Republic of China. Shakira’s discussion of the need for greater emphasis on education for young children stems from a long career working to improve the lives of poor children in her home country and in her service as Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF. Xi Jinping is the first Chinese president to attend the Forum in a sign that China is seeking a larger role in promoting its soft power abroad.

    The World Economic Forum lacks the institutional power of intergovernmental organizations like the UN. It lacks the material power of nation-states. Despite this weakness, the influence of the ideas discussed at the forum represent the emerging norms of an international elite that has enormous personal power in many countries around the world. Just how much this matters will be widely debated by students of international politics, but the attention given to the Forum shows that it, at least, has the world’s attention.



    1. The World Economic Forum is a talking-shop where the world’s elite discuss major issues. Does this matter in international relations? Does the transmission of ideas and norms actually make a difference?
    2. When we think of global power, we generally think in terms of armies and industrial might. In spite of this, the representatives of powerful states like the PRC send their political leaders to the World Economic Forum. Why would an increasingly powerful nation-state like the PRC send its president to a forum that most leaders of the major powers did not attend?
    3. Davos represents informal elements of global governance. In the absence of a single world government that can enforce agreements between actors in the international system, is informal governance really any different from the more formal versions? If all global governance is basically about self-help, does the distinction between formal institutions and informal exchange of ideas matter?

  • Some in US Congress still deny global climate change while many call for action now

    Leonardo DiCaprio addressed world leaders assembled for the United Nations Climate Summit, urging them to take action on global climate change.

    DiCaprio said, “My Friends, this body – perhaps more than any other gathering in human history – now faces that difficult task. You can make history ... or be vilified by it.”

    DiCaprio went on to say, “I am not a scientist, but I don’t need to be. Because the world’s scientific community has spoken, and they have given us our prognosis, if we do not act together, we will surely perish.

    Now is our moment for action.”

    Discussion starters:

    1. After watching these two videos what challenges do people in the United States face in following DiCaprio’s call to action?
    2. Do you expect the US Congress to take the necessary actions?
  • Women as global leaders in the UN and beyond

    As global leaders convene for the sixty-ninth session of the UN General Assembly in New York this week, it is important to recall the long and significant history of the role of women in the United Nations.

    On 29 January 1946 Ms. Frieda Dalen of Norway became the first woman delegate to address the UN General Assembly.

    From Eleanor Roosevelt to Frieda Dalen to Emma Watson, the women of the UN have long ensured that gender perspectives are reflected and that gender equality issues receive strong visibility.

    Ms. Dalen was an Alternate Delegate of Norway and a Rapporteur (appointed by an organization to report on the proceedings of its meetings) of the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee. Dalen a teacher, addressed the first session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, held in London.

    Later Roosevelt would write, “I also want to mention Miss Frieda Dalen of Norway, rapporteur for our committee. This is an important position because, in the way you write a committee's report, you can do what we in America call "slanting the news." Just a little change in emphasis may give a false impression of the way the committee really felt. Considering the heated arguments that went on in our committee and the insistence on diverse formulas and words to express exact meanings, I thought Miss Dalen did a wonderful piece of work.”

    Discussion starters:

    1. Do women world leaders change our international relations?
    2. Would more women in positions of power bring different concerns to the table?
  • Terrible Memories: Holocaust Remembrance Day

    Some things are so terrible that they leave a scar on the collective psyche. Holocaust Remembrance Day is a day set aside to remember such a thing. The Holocaust was the systematic extermination of people deemed undesirable by the Nazi government. It was the application of industrial organization to mass murder. While genocide has become a familiar term in global parlance, there is still something especially terrible about the Holocaust.

    The Holocaust killed as many as 20 million people. Jews were the largest single group, but the Holocaust was intended to kill everyone deemed inferior by the Nazi regime. The goal was the purification of the human race through extermination of any group seen as impure. Had the Nazi dream of global conquest been fulfilled, this would have meant the extermination of the vast majority of the people on the planet.

    In the aftermath of the Holocaust the world vowed that it would never happen again. To this end, the United Nations adopted, and nearly every nation ratified, the Genocide Convention. The Genocide Convention is unique in international law in that it requires nation-states to violate the sovereignty of other nation states in cases where genocide is taking place. Failure to act in the face of genocide is specified as a crime against humanity, making those who tolerate genocide war criminals.

    Since the ratification of the Genocide Convention, the world has changed a great deal. The Holocaust has faded into memory. Few remember that the overall goal was to kill most of the human race. Some even deny that the Holocaust ever happened. In searching for content for this blog post, four of the first ten video links were from Holocaust denial sites.

    Holocaust Remembrance Day strives to keep alive the memory of what was done. Those who deny that the Holocaust happened represent a lunatic fringe, but the regrettably common occurrence of genocide in the post-World War Two era has raised questions about the global commitment to prevent genocide.

    A key part of preventing genocide is to remember the horrors that it brings. The Holocaust was the first modern genocide. It remains the only genocide practiced by a modern, industrial state that turned the tools of industrial production to murder.

    That the Holocaust was committed by a modern industrial state matters. Genocide is not something that only happens “over there” to “them”. It can happen whenever people decide that a group different from themselves is not actually a group of people. When we dehumanize a group enough, we can kill them and not lose sleep. The Holocaust started with rhetoric about racial and social purity and the need to keep the wrong kind of people away, even if it meant rounding up your neighbor and making them vanish.

    Millions of Germans went along with this regime, including thousands who knew the extent of what was being done. Today Germany owns its history. Postwar Germany made a point of taking collective responsibility and of preserving the memory of both the Holocaust, and the fact that people let it happen.

    Sitting in a safe, quiet office and writing a blog entry about the Holocaust, it is easy to see this as something that happened long ago. It is easy to rest on the norms that have developed since the Second World War and argue that the Genocide Convention makes a repeat of these events impossible. But then a review of genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, and other places shows that the legal framework means less in practice than it should.

    In 2016 several African leaders began the process of withdrawing from the International Criminal Court, the modern descendant of the Nuremburg and Tokyo Tribunals that punished war criminals of WWII. In 2016 radical nationalist parties in Europe saw big gains in local elections. Populist leaders spewing the rhetoric of dehumanization and division have again joined the mainstream of political discourse across the globe. And the killing goes on in places like Syria, South Sudan, and Yemen.

    Norms are tricky things in international relations. A norm as powerful as the prohibition against genocide can be widely accepted. The problem comes in enforcing the norms when they are violated. Genocide is a large-scale crime. To stop it requires resources and political will, not just from political leaders, but from the people they represent. Early intervention has been rare. The most common action by the international system has been justice after the fact, with perpetrators facing limited justice in international courts. In the absence of justice, norms are a poor deterrent.

    As this Holocaust Remembrance Day passes, it is good to stop and mourn those who died. It is also important to think about what role the Genocide Convention and other tools to fight against crimes against humanity play in international relations. Can such tools be used effectively to limit these crimes in the future? Or are we doomed to repeat the process again and again: a crime without end?



    1. Global days of recognition show a common set of norms about what is significant in international relations. They reflect a common set of values. Does such a common set of norms matter in the relations between states? If the norm conflicts with material interest, do norms ever win?
    2. One problem with genocide is that it is expensive to stop once it is underway. Large-scale military intervention is often the only option to force an end to it. Given the small number of countries with the ability to project power globally, can the international commitment to prevent genocide ever be meaningful unless this small group is willing to bear the bulk of the costs of prevention?
    3. Ideally, an early warning system could identify genocide before it happens. The problem would be how to act without violating the sovereignty of the state in question. If a state is about to commit genocide, the Genocide Convention does not clearly apply and any intervention would violate sovereignty. How could an early warning system work to stop genocide in a world of sovereign states?

  • UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson launches the HeForShe campaign

    UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson gave a wonderful speech at a special event for the HeForShe campaign, United Nations Headquarters last week.

    Waston announced the launching a campaign called “HeForShe,” saying that she is reaching out to work to end gender inequality.

    The HeForShe campaign will try to galvanize as many men and boys as possible to be advocates for gender equality. "If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted, women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled," she said.

    "If we stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by what we are — we can all be freer and this is what HeForShe is about. It’s about freedom. 

    "I want men to take up this mantle. So their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice but also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too — reclaim those parts of themselves they abandoned and in doing so be a more true and complete version of themselves."

    Discussion starters:

    1. Is the right for human rights for women a mantle men and boys should shoulder?
    2. Does the United Nations have a role in fighting for a world in which our daughters, sisters, and mothers can be free from prejudice?
  • “Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy.”

    In an address to the nation last night, President Obama detailed a comprehensive strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group ISIL.”

    President Obama said, "We can't erase every trace of evil from the world, and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm. That was the case before 9/11, and that remains true today. That’s why we must remain vigilant as threats emerge."

    Along with a “broad coalition of partners” joining us, the President a four part US strategy to defeat ISIL:

    1. A systematic campaign of airstrikes against ISIL:

    “Working with the Iraqi government, we will expand our efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions, so that we’re hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense.  Moreover, I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are.  That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq.  This is a core principle of my presidency:  If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”

    2. Increased support to forces fighting ISIL on the ground:

    “In June, I deployed several hundred American servicemembers to Iraq to assess how we can best support Iraqi security forces.  Now that those teams have completed their work –- and Iraq has formed a government –- we will send an additional 475 servicemembers to Iraq.  As I have said before, these American forces will not have a combat mission –- we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq.  But they are needed to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment.  We’ll also support Iraq’s efforts to stand up National Guard Units to help Sunni communities secure their own freedom from ISIL’s control.”

    “Across the border, in Syria, we have ramped up our military assistance to the Syrian opposition.  Tonight, I call on Congress again to give us additional authorities and resources to train and equip these fighters.  In the fight against ISIL, we cannot rely on an Assad regime that terrorizes its own people -- a regime that will never regain the legitimacy it has lost.  Instead, we must strengthen the opposition as the best counterweight to extremists like ISIL, while pursuing the political solution necessary to solve Syria’s crisis once and for all.”

    3. Drawing on our substantial counterterrorism capabilities to prevent ISIL attacks:

    “Working with our partners, we will redouble our efforts to cut off its funding; improve our intelligence; strengthen our defenses; counter its warped ideology; and stem the flow of foreign fighters into and out of the Middle East.  And in two weeks, I will chair a meeting of the U.N. Security Council to further mobilize the international community around this effort.” 

    4. Providing humanitarian assistance to innocent civilians displaced by ISIL:

    This includes Sunni and Shia Muslims who are at grave risk, as well as tens of thousands of Christians and other religious minorities.  We cannot allow these communities to be driven from their ancient homelands.

    Discussion starters:

    1. Are these steps the United States should take against ISIL?
    2. Would you have suggested a different course of action against ISIL?
  • Where, after all, does peace begin? UN International Day of Peace 2014

    Each year the International Day of Peace is observed around the world on 21 September. 
    The United Nations General Assembly declared the 21st of September as a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples.
    Facebook and other social media were filled with event photos from #BeThePeace events around our global village. The above photo is from Bahawalpur, Pakistan.
    Above: A human peace sign is made on the Smith Co. courthouse square in downtown Tyler, Texas, following the Art of Peace Festival concert, celebrating the UN International Day of Peace, on Sunday, September 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Dr. Scott M. Lieberman).
    In 1958 speech Eleanor Roosevelt delivered a speech titled “In Our Hands” on the tenth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Roosevelt asked, Where, after all, does peace begin? It begins "in small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”
    Discussion starters:
    1. How did your community celebrate the International Day of Peace?
    2. What might the celebration of peace change across our global village?
  • World Naked Bike Ride 2012 - A Greener World?

    Yesterday, Saturday, June 9, 2012, thousands and thousands of protestors took to the streets in over seventy cities around the world.  In Austin, San Francisco, London, Berlin, Madrid, Amsterdam, Guadalajara and in many other cities around the world, cyclists took part in the World Naked Bike Ride (click here for a Facebook page).

    Yesterday's protest was the 9th annual ride. The annual clothing-optional protests started in 2004 and aims to promote cycling as a greener mode of transportation, and encourage a body-positive culture (click here for a photo essay).

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do you think that protest or awareness events like this actually change behavior and or policy? Do you think that the attitudes of people are opened and that some people become more aware of the issues and are encouraged to adopt a body-positive culture?

    2.     Why do you think it is that people have organized this protest or annual event?  

  • Forever free: International Literacy Day

    After escaping from slavery, Frederick Douglass was a leader of the abolitionist movement, a reformer, writer, and statesman. Douglass wrote, “once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”

    The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) established 8 September as International Literacy Day in 1965 to focus attention on literacy around the world (click here for more).

    Former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan said, “literacy is a key lever of change and a practical tool of empowerment on each of the three main pillars of sustainable development: economic development, social development and environmental protection.”

    Literacy empowers people.

    Being able to read (and write) plays a critical role in an individual’s understanding of and participation in the creation of a peaceful and prosperous global village. 

    Discussion starters:

    1. Is a basic education properly included as a human right?
    2. How might education change people involved in and living with Isis in Iraq?
  • Humans of New York (HONY) promotes awareness of UN's millennium development goals

    By far, my favorite photo blog is Humans of New York (HONY). HONY is one of the primary reasons I open Facebook each day. Brandon Stanton has been doing brilliant work sharing stunning photography of real people of New York, Austin, San Francisco, and beyond along with vibrant and telling pieces of their individual stories for several years now.

    Above: "My father was very simple, but everyone respected him. The former president of India came to his funeral, even though we weren't a wealthy or powerful family. Everyone saw my father as a peacemaker. Whenever there was a fight, he'd put himself in the middle and beg for it to stop. Once there were two groups of men fighting, and my father ran over to break up the fight. Someone threw a stone and it accidentally hit my father in the head. He was so respected, that as soon as the stone hit him, everyone went calm." (New Delhi, India)

    In recent weeks, Stanton has taken his blog on tour, visiting 11 countries in 50 days in partnership with the United Nations to raise awareness of the millennium development goals (click here for the MGDs).

    Brandon has an uncanny gift for connection.  He is able to visit with and then share the profound inner thoughts and stories of those he meets. As one reads/views his blog it is obvious that everyone has a story to tell and something to share. Brandon’s work in Iraq, Jordan, Uganda, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Ukraine, and India gives us a real sense of our shared humanity. We are far more alike than different and far more connected that we typically understand.

    Stanton’s work is often uplifting and very emotional.

    Above: "I'm not a politician. All I can do is to pray the bad things move away from us." (Juba, South Sudan)

    Stanton’s blog is followed by millions of people around our global village thus his photos and stories are helping the United Nations reach a new and broader audience.

    According to the Guardian the UN adviser to the secretary general’s MDG advocacy group, Gabo Arora, coordinated the tour with Stanton. Arora said the aim was to make the MDGs more accessible and inspire action before 2015 deadline. “We’ve been joking that the MDGs are cool again, or if they were never cool, they are now,” Arora said, “For us, this is a new way of getting the message out there. 

    Discussion starters:

    1. Does Stanton’s work bring us closer together as a global village?
    2. Do you agree with the UN’s use of Stanton’s blog to promote global awareness of the MDGs?
  • Bank accounts for the poor - a human right?

    There are just over 7 billion people in our global village and at present 2.5 billion adults do not have access to a bank account (click here for more).

    International political economists often argue that macro-economic stability is an essential pre-condition for stability and peace.

    The large numbers of people in some states who do not have access to basic banking simply cannot be considered separate from the structural, social, and human aspects of development. Without access to basic banking many adults are left out of the great global economic system. They have little or no opportunity for advancement and basic economic security.

    NGOs, like Kiva.org, are working to provide basic banking to those who are in need. 

    Discussion starters:

    1. Should we include access to basic banking as a human right?
    2. Do we run a significant security risk by ignoring those who do not have access to a bank account?
  • President Obama to detail Isis strategy

    The United States aerial attacks against Islamic State militants in Iraq has now increased to more than 140 air strikes hitting an expanding range of locations.

    On Wednesday of this week, President Obama will announce a new US "game plan" for an offensive against Islamic State (Isis).  Isis has publicly beheaded two Americans and threatens the foundations in Iraq and Syria.  

    Polls show that a majority of Americans back the President’s air strikes against Isis.

    Discussion starters:

    1. If you were to advise the US President on Isis would you suggest a strategy to build a regional alliance to contain and ultimately reverse the spread of Isis?
    2. Would you suggest American troops be deployed to contain Isis?
  • 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? 
  • An Early Test of Resolve: Russia Deploys Missiles to Europe in Violation of Arms Control Commitments

    During the Cold War, it was taken as a given that the Soviet Union would test any new American president. It was an effort to see how the new leader would react under stressful conditions. After the Cold War, the desire to test new leaders to measure their political will and political temperament has not vanished.

    Donald Trump has had a couple of chaotic weeks in office, leading a government that seeks to unsettle the past ways of doing things. Despite all of the rhetoric of change, the tests of resolve from foreign leaders are following a very familiar pattern.

    International relations is a confusing and dangerous field for those who practice it. You can know a great deal about a country and its leaders, but you always are faced with some degree of uncertainty. You can know how a leader will probably react based on their past decisions, the type of political institutions in their nation-state, and a range of other factors that influence the kinds of incentives they face. But you never know how much of your estimates of probable actions will match reality until the leader actually makes decisions.

    Wars have happened because political leaders have gotten this kind of calculation wrong. The German Kaiser was convinced that Great Britain would never fight to protect France, and thus missed a key element that determined the outcome of World War One. In 1941, the Japanese Imperial government thought that the United States would negotiate a peace after being attacked if it freed them to fight in Europe. That miscalculation led to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the unconditional surrender of Japan in 1945.

    When nations miscalculate what political leaders in rival states will do, the results can be costly.

    So, tests of resolve are common tools of policy. The idea is to create a situation that matters, but not too much. This allows all parties to send costly signals to each other about how they will act at other times. Russia spends time and money to deploy a missile system to the borders of NATO member states. This is a costly signal that threatens NATO allies and signals that Russia is willing to break its past commitments. The ball is then in the court of the Trump administration to respond. The response is a costly signal of how the Trump administration will react in future cases of threats. This signal is not just for Russia, but for all of the potential competitors.

    Russia is only one of the states seeking to get a feel for Donald Trump. North Korea and Iran have tested ballistic missiles that can carry nuclear warheads since Trump’s inauguration. China has accelerated economic integration plans within Asia to fill the gap left by the abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

    It is still early days for the Trump administration and the response to these threats has varied. Iran was hit by additional sanctions. North Korea will likely face additional penalties, but through the United Nations process rather than unilaterally. And Russia? Given all the furor over Russia and its possible role in the 2016 elections in the US, the response here is an important early signal about the resolve to stand by our NATO allies.

    It is still too early to judge the response to this challenge. This is not a simple matter and it requires a thoughtful response, even in an administration distracted by other issues. The response may also take a long time to implement.

    But it is still nice to see that in at least one area of contemporary politics, all the old rules still apply.



    1. Russian violation of past commitments is a serious signal about how trustworthy they are as a negotiating partner. In the absence of an international enforcer, a reputation for breaking agreements can limit the potential for future cooperation. To what degree does the deployment of these missiles undermine the potential for future agreements between Russian and the West regardless of the outcome of this particular challenge?
    2. In the domestic political debates, Donald Trump has been portrayed as a bit crazy: He does not follow the normal rules. Does this image (whether or not it is true) undermine the usefulness of the costly signals game that other states are playing? Does the public reputation of a political leader matter in how other leaders evaluate them?
    3. We assume that rational preference structures will constrain and shape the behavior of political leaders. Tests of resolve can help to reduce the levels of uncertainty that surround these leaders by evaluating what they do in response. Given this, can we expect more overt tests of the resolve of a leader with little or no prior history of decisions? Does this mean that the early months of the Trump presidency are going to see many more tests of his resolve?


  • Malala Yousafzai Youngest Ever Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize

    Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi both won the Nobel peace prize 2014.

    The Nobel Peace Prize committee selected the Pakistani teenager and Indian children’s rights activist saying: “Despite her youth, Malala Yousafzai has already fought for several years for the right of girls to education, and has shown by example that children and young people, too, can contribute to improving their own situations.

    “This she has done under the most dangerous circumstances. Through her heroic struggle she has become a leading spokesperson for girls’ rights to education.”

    Discussion starters:

    1. Clearly Malala Yousafzai’s actions, courage, and struggles should be celebrated. Did the committee give her the award too early in her life?
    2. What impact does the Nobel Peace Prize have on peace, culture, and the sharing of values?