The Global Citizen

Search form

Revisiting "The Grand Bargain of the NPT"

President Lyndon Johnson looking on as Secretary of State Dean Rusk prepares to sign the NPT, 1 July 1968.

A few days ago, March 5, humanity celebrated the 45th anniversary of the coming into force of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). We also celebrated one more day of dodging the nuclear bullet, sitting in the chamber in the gun in our own hands. Along with my colleagues at CGS, I am convinced that we will not dodge this bullet indefinitely - unless someday the nations of the world comply with all the terms of the NPT, and abolish nuclear weapons forever from the face of the earth.

So as a relatively new CGS guest blogger, I offer you a piece I published on the Huffington Post 5 years ago, excerpted from my book Apocalypse Never, to commemorate the NPT's 40th anniversary and to explain what the treaty is fundamentally about.

You might want to read it quickly.

Because that bullet, aimed at each and every one of the 7.2 billion human souls alive today -- not to mention the infinite number of our future descendants who have not yet even had the chance to be born -- is not staying in that chamber forever.

The UN: From Idealism to Reality

On February 23rd, the United Nations Security Council held a debate on the Purposes and Principles of the UN Charter. There, US Ambassador Samantha Power made a plea for the Council, and the UN, to reaffirm its commitment to the principles laid out in the Charter. Most importantly, she urged the council to "recommit ourselves to these people – individuals in every one of our states whose basic dignity the Charter is meant to defend and uphold.”

It’s no secret that the UN isn’t the world’s best problem-solver. Even the body itself has admitted a failure to limit or stop certain events, such as the atrocities in Syria or rape in Darfur. Part of this is from inaction: many argue that it is too hard to pass a resolution, especially on the Security Council where each member’s veto power leaves propositions dead in their tracks. Power puts it best when she says, “divisions among Member States continue to prevent the Council from taking action…or even speaking in one voice to condemn the violence and call for meaningful accountability.”

Finding the Path Toward World Law

We recently celebrated the birthday of Louis Sohn (born 1 March 1914), who played a key role in the development of world law. His Cases and Other Materials on World Law stressed the difference between "international law," which is born of treaties between two or more States, and "world law," which is the composition, functions, powers and procedures of organs of the world society. 

World Law consists of norms and values which are binding on all States and individuals, regardless of whether a State has ratified a specific treaty. The 1948 Convention against Genocide, for example, is world law even if a State has not ratified it.

Additionally, when a State joins the United Nations, it pledges to follow the norms set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, the Declaration as world law is binding on individuals and the administration of States which are not UN members, such as Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh, Kosovo, and what may become States in eastern Ukraine.

Louis Sohn, who died in 2006, would no doubt be following current events in Ukraine with passion. He was born in Lviv, then part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire; the city became part of Poland during his youth and university studies, then part of the Soviet Union and now Ukraine − a testimony to the changing nature of States and nationality.

The Deterrent Effect of the International Criminal Court

Fatou Bensouda, ICC Prosecutor at the first appearance hearing of Dominic Ongwen on 26 January 2015 at the International Criminal Court in The Hague ©ICC-CPI

In a time where horrible atrocities continue seemingly unabated in Nigeria, Syria, South Sudan, and beyond, we find ourselves wondering whether our global institutions could be doing more to prevent them. Take, for instance, the International Criminal Court. In the preamble to the Rome Statute in which it was founded, it is said to be both “[d]etermined to put an end to impunity for the perpetrators of these crimes and…to contribute to the prevention of such crimes”. Over ten years after its founding, is the ICC actually deterring crime? Or do these atrocities prove the ICC is failing?

The logic of the international criminal justice system preventing crime works on two prongs. First, there’s prosecutorial deterrence. As the likelihood of prosecution and the associated punishments (e.g., fines, prison sentences, etc.) goes up, crime goes down. The second form of deterrence is social. Those who violate the law may face stigmas associated with their crimes whether they are prosecuted or not; they may be shamed or shunned, and they may be excluded from profitable relationships domestically or internationally.

Is the International Criminal Court actually deterring crime on either of these models? Yes, with some caveats.

Suppression of Academic Discussion in China

Peking University

Although China does allow slightly more freedom of speech than North Korea, ever since Xi Jinping became President in 2013, the country has been cracking down on speech and expression deemed subversive in its higher academic institutions.

President Xi has been pushing universities to espouse the views of Maoism and to get back on the socialist track, especially since he’s been courting conservative members of the Communist Party. In September 2014, a prominent Party journal stated that top-ranking Peking University appealed to its faculty and student body to “fight criticism of the party.” The Party is afraid that if it loosens too much of its grip, the country could descend into territorial breakup and mass disorder.

Professor Xia Yeliang, an economics professor at Peking University, was let go from his job in 2013. He’s an advocate of greater freedom of speech. The Chinese government also has imprisoned Liu Xiaobo, a human rights activist who started a petition to reinstate Xia at his job. During the same year, law Professor Zhang Xuezhong, who worked at East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai, was fired after publishing articles that defended rights guaranteed under China’s Constitution.

Ending the Practice of Foot-Binding

Bound Feet in Lotus Shoes (Courtesy of NPR/Photo by Louisa Lim)

Although the struggle for women’s rights in China is far from over, the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party has allowed women more opportunities and rights than their ancestors before them, especially in the public sphere. The best thing that the Party did in the name of women’s rights has been to eradicate the practice of foot-binding.

Foot-binding began during the Song (or Sung) Dynasty (960-1279). Over time, this practice trickled down the socioeconomic ladder from the ruling to the lower classes.

Foot-binding can also accurately be called foot mutilation. It involved great risks, including infection and gangrene; some women and girls even died as a result of these complications. But those who willingly participated in it believed they were culturally obligated, as sometimes this was the only way a lady could improve her status and marry into a family of higher economic or political rank.

Besides being considered aesthetically pleasing, bound feet were also a symbol of women being inferior and dependent on men, as they couldn’t move about so easily. It was also believed that foot-binding helped to protect women’s chastity as well as devote their bodies’ energy into reproduction.

World Day of Social Justice: The People’s Revolution is on the March

A person capped with a Tunisian flag walks past a statue representing the cart of Mohamed Bouazizi, the fruitseller whose self-immolation sparked the revolution and ignited the Arab Spring, on December 17, 2011.

The United Nations General Assembly, on the initiative of Nurbch Jeenbrev, the Ambassador of Kyrgyzstan to the UN in New York, has proclaimed 20 February as the “World Day of Social Justice.”

The World Day of Social Justice gives us an opportunity to take stock of how we can work together at the local, national and global level on policy and action to achieve the goals set out in the resolution of “solidarity, harmony and equality within and among states.”

As the resolution states,

Social development and social justice are indispensable for the achievement and maintenance of peace and security within and among nations, and that in turn, social development and social justice cannot be attained in the absence of peace and security or in the absence of respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The Preamble to the UN Charter makes social justice—or “social progress,” the more common expression of that time—one of the chief aims of the organization. The Preamble calls for efforts to “promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.”

The US representatives who worked on the draft of the UN Charter were strongly influenced in their views of social progress by the “New Deal” legislation of President Roosevelt and its philosophy as it had been set out by his Vice-President Henry A. Wallace.

Wallace’s 1942 speech describing US war aims was the first time that such aims were not stated in terms of “national interest” and limited to the demands that had started the war. Wallace, who had first been the Secretary of Agriculture and who had to deal with the severe depression facing US agriculture, was proposing a world-wide New Deal based on the cooperative action of all of humanity.

Wallace said,

The Greek Sovereign Debt Crisis and Global Institutions

Head of radical leftist Syriza party Alexis Tsipras speaks after winning elections in Athens, January 25, 2015. CREDIT: REUTERS/MARKO DJURICA

Following recent elections, Greece has us asking big questions about how its sovereign debt will be managed going forward. These questions carry implications well beyond Greece: a collapse in talks over the next steps could result in a severe crisis for the European Monetary Union (EMU), with potential effects throughout the global economy. What are the implications for global politics?

A brief refresher first. Greece joined the European Monetary Union in 1999. The country wasn’t in good financial shape, and things only got worse throughout the next decade. The full extent of the problem wasn’t known until a new finance minister discovered deceitful accounting in 2009. Greece was defaulting on its debt, but it started to take steps to fix the problem.

A troika of international creditors had substantial leverage over how Greece would repay its debt. For Greece to receive relief from this group, it would have to increase taxes, cut government spending, and modify labor standards. With no alternative, Greece agreed to the conditions and accepted a bailout package.

President Maithripala Sirisena: A New, Peaceful Beginning for Sri Lanka?

Courtesy of Sri Lanka Embassy in US

Recently elected Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena is seeking reconciliation after the end of Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war, which lasted from 1983 to 2009. His predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa is credited with ending the war, but the social conditions that led to it, including the discrimination and persecution against the Tamil population, continue to exist.

Rajapaksa refused international inquiries into the human rights abuses that occurred during and at the end of the civil war, as well as persisting conditions like abuses in the internment camps. He also started a domestic war crimes commission that was criticized outside of Sri Lanka as grossly inadequate.

However, Sirisena is planning on starting up a new domestic inquiry into the human rights abuses that occurred during the Sri Lankan Civil War, especially at the end of it when many Tamils were trapped in refugee or internment camps.

However, a government spokesman said that the new Sirisena Administration would welcome foreign experts to come in and help if the need arose. Sirisena also realizes that military action alone is not enough to prevent a renewed civil war, especially if the conditions that led to it in the first place are not resolved.

Can China’s Christian Evangelical Movement Improve Religious Freedom?

An Underground House Church in China (Courtesy of Beliefnet/China Digital Times)

Both religious tolerance and suppression have been common throughout China’s history, depending on who was ruling at the time. This is true regardless of the religion in question, including but not limited to Christianity.

Typically, if the ruler believed that philosophies or religious doctrines would hinder his interests, he would persecute followers of those creeds, destroying religious structures and documents. The Qin Dynasty, which lasted from 221 to 206 BCE, was particularly notorious for persecuting Confucian followers and destroying Confucian texts.

This does not mean that history must always repeat itself. However, the current Chinese Communist Party is following a historical cycle in China where the ruling party seeks to crush or co-opt possible religious opposition to their rule. 

The Chinese Communist Party gets particularly concerned when other groups that could potentially oppose it become much larger than its own membership, which now stands at 83 million. Today, there are also an estimated 70 million Chinese Christians over the age of 16.

China recently has been destroying both official and unofficial churches (underground house churches) under current President Xi Jinping, who is seeking to suppress possible opposition. In some ways this is similar to what happened under Mao Zedong during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), although it hasn’t become as aggressive.

The government has also been removing large crosses from several churches, claiming that under building and safety codes that they cause a driving hazard, even though it’s obvious what the real purpose is.