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The Future of Multilateral Engagement: Treaties or Gentlemen’s Agreements?

This post was originally published on March 26, 2014. It has been reposted in light of the recent news that the Obama Administration is pursuing a climate agreement in lieu of a treaty for the 2015 UN summit meeting in Paris. 

In an increasingly globalized world, multilateral engagement is becoming even more critical for the planet’s survival. No longer can a nation act unilaterally without being left behind. In light of this, a debate has emerged about what is the best way to engage on the international level: through treaties or agreements?

In a 2013 article posted by Foreign Affairs, David Kaye argues that treaties create reliable expectations and impose consequences for violators that agreements do not. Kaye points out that because a systematic rejection of treaties has developed in the US, treaty commitment and full US participation is no longer expected, hindering the government's ability to engage in global policy making. While treaty opponents decry them as a threat to U.S. sovereignty, treaties actually create more stable and transparent relationships than gentlemen’s agreements, he says.

Continuing the Fight Against North Korean Atrocities

Propaganda portrait of Kim Il-sung

We all have some idea of how bad things are in North Korea, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). We’re also aware that outside efforts to remedy the situation haven't really panned out. But turning our backs on the suffering civilians is not an option. So where do we go from here?

The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect published a policy brief last week offering some possible answers to this question.

The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is a doctrine that obligates countries to safeguard their populations from mass atrocities, including genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. If a State is unable to fulfill this responsibility, it falls to other countries to provide diplomatic and humanitarian assistance. If the State is unwilling to do so, the international community is compelled to intervene.  

DPRK clearly falls into the latter category, as its millions of citizens are victimized by the brutal regime every day. The Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry (CoI) has found systematic human rights violations, particularly in the form of political prison camps. Hundreds of thousands of inmates in these camps are subjected to starvation, forced labor, execution without trial, torture, rape, forced abortion, and infanticide. Meanwhile, millions of other citizens live in abject poverty, suffering from hunger and malnutrition while the State uses food as a means of control.

Speaking Out Against Rape Culture

If you would talk to your daughter about safety, talk to your son about consent.

 When you dress like that, you are asking to be raped.

For every man in jail for rape, there should be a woman in the cell next to his.

It wasn’t uncommon to hear my prep school teachers utter sentences like these. Though their statements outraged me, I never took them to be indicative of society as a whole; surely no one outside of my backward little Northern Virginia community would actually blame a victim for her own assault. After graduating, however, I would come to realize how wrong I was about that.

 In later years, I learned not only of the prevalence of rape across the globe, but the cultural acceptance of it. In Afghanistan, for example, sexual violence is a widespread and underreported problem. It often comes in the context of forced and child marriage, domestic abuse, and police brutality. Because of the high value placed on girls’ virginity, rape victims who come forward are often shamed and may even be imprisoned for “moral crimes.”

Here in the US, rape culture is illustrated by the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses and the failure of administrations to take appropriate action. Another major indicator is the Steubenville rape case, in which the respective offenders were sentenced to a mere one and two years in detention, while those in mainstream and social media alike mourned the loss of the boys' "promising futures" and attributed the crime to the victim's intoxication.  

The UN Teams up with Humans of New York

If you have not yet heard of Brandon Stanton and his photo blog, Humans of New York, you should check it out here (and here is the Facebook page).

Stanton started HONY in 2010. His goal was to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers and plot the city’s inhabitants on a map; the result is not only photos, but an incredible blog that highlights the human dynamic and diversity of New York.

Now the United Nations has taken notice; with their help, he is taking his project a step further. On August 7th, Stanton embarked on a journey to ten countries with a larger purpose in mind. According to the HONY Facebook page, he hopes to raise awareness for the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

The MDGs are eight humanitarian goals the member countries of the UN set for the world in 2005. The goals range from reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS to alleviating extreme poverty to promoting environmental sustainability; in all, the eight goals are meant to meet the needs of the world’s poorest by 2015.

In the statement released on the HONY website and Facebook page, Stanton hopes his trip will “in some way help to inspire a global perspective, while bringing awareness to the challenges that we all need to tackle together.”

Protecting the INF just like Reagan

Since the beginning of 2014, Russia has been a constant agitator in the news. And the end of July was no exception when news broke that Russia had violated an international arms agreement, the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). Now this is not the first time, but it has certainly sparked some of the greatest criticism in light of their other actions in the past year.

This news has arms control critics calling for abandonment of arms restrictions on our part as well stopping the aggressor. However, this is one of the last things we should do.

Arms control treaties were created because our past leaders understood the inherent danger in tit-for-tat arms buildup, a practice they termed, “mutually assured destruction.” They understood that unless restrictions were put in place for both sides, the problems would not be solved; rather, they would spiral out of control until both sides were destroyed. This is still an ever-present danger that these arms control critics have chosen to forget.

Russia’s violation of an arms treaty should not be an argument against arms control and treaties, but rather an argument for imposing consequences for the violator. The US should not and cannot unilaterally go on the offensive every time a party violates a treaty. Diplomacy rather than force needs to continue to drive US actions, particularly where Russia is concerned.

In the past six months, Putin has proven that he has no qualms when it comes to over-stepping boundaries, but the last thing we need to do is give him validation for further action against arms trade treaties.

The Gauntlet of Doha

The Gauntlet of Doha

This summer, Jennifer and I had the chance to conduct independent research on a topic that deeply interested both of us: soccer. With palpable excitement in the US regarding the World Cup, Jennifer and I looked toward the 2022 iteration of the tournament as the legitimacy of FIFA's decision to award the tournament to Qatar was called into question. Myriad issues sprung forward after Qatar was awarded the tournament, including climate, lack of infrastructure, and the treatment of laborers in Qatar. All of these, only complicated by seemingly dishonest behavior from FIFA in a string of match-fixing scandals, has many observers calling for change.

Jennifer and I were lucky that CGS encouraged us to pursue this lead and try to address the question, "What, if anything, should be done to change the 2022 World Cup?" Each of us had the chance to read through primary documents from FIFA and the Qatari bid committee, as well as dig into the effects previous World Cups have had on their host countries. The findings might counter some commonly-held assumptions about the benefits of stadiums and major tournaments. If you are skeptical of many of these events, you will likely have many of your initial thoughts confirmed.

After researching, Jennifer and I came to the conclusion that moving the World Cup would be advisable. Looking toward the future, Doha needs to construct nine new stadiums and do major renovations to three others. Accomplishing this in eight years is no small feat -- and this is without considering the massive infrastructure overhaul that Qatar outlined in its bid. NGOs project that at its current pace, thousands of laborers would die from the hostile working conditions as Doha frantically tries to finish the projects.

Entomophagy “Luna-ticks”

In the age of world hunger, endangered species, and a crippled environment, we are constantly looking for new sources of food to take the pressure off our currently over-tapped resources. Insects have been increasingly pointed to as a more sustainable source of protein, as they have "a far smaller carbon footprint than most livestock." The UN’s own Food and Agriculture Organization has even promoted this practice as a healthy and environmentally friendly alternative to meat in its 2013 report.

2 billion people worldwide have no qualms about eating insects – why are Americans totally buggin?

Many small companies have begun trying to market bug-filled products in cute and innovative ways as an attempt to overcome the inevitable “ick-factor”; my personal favorites are chips with a cricket base called “Chirps” and the movement to rename locusts “sky prawns.” There are also more subtle ways to consume insects, such as through the use of cricket flour, keeping these creepy crawlers out of sight and (hopefully) out of mind.

Some fast facts for why we should all start eating bugs include:

Hook, Line, and Sinker: There’s More on the Line than Just Fish

For approximately 3 billion people in the world, both wild-caught and farmed seafood are their primary source of protein. Moreover, an estimated 85 percent of marine fish stocks are either overfished or fully exploited. But the problem of overfishing is not just an issue of consumption; the types of fish we choose to eat and the way in which we catch these fish are related to many other issues--namely food waste, environmental destruction, corruption, and even human rights.

Bycatching, or the portion of a commercial fishing catch that consists of marine life caught unintentionally, is a persistent problem. Some estimate that the global bycatch may make up 40% of the world’s overall catch, which totals 63 billion pounds per year. This has a significant effect on sea life, with many fisheries discarding more fish at sea than they bring in, while also “injuring and killing thousands of whales, dolphins, seals, sea turtles, and sharks each year.”

Its not just about the way fish are harvested, though, but rather the types of fish being harvested. Some of the most popular fish, such as Bluefin Tuna, have the biggest appetites. The Bluefin’s natural diet consists of a lot of other, smaller fish; farmed tuna are fed up to 15 pounds of other fish such as sardines and mackerel for each pound of tuna that can be sold.

US Needs Greater Discussion on ICC

Ambassador Tiina Intelmann speaking at the Congressional briefing on the ICC

US Congressional attitudes on the International Criminal Court have moved away from the days of open hostility epitomized by the Bilateral Immunity Agreement (BIA) Campaign. Now, there are many US representatives and Senators that support the ICC and its mission – to hold individuals accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes accountable.

Senator Leahy (D-VT) put his opinion on the ICC on record during the Bush administration, saying that

By sitting on the sidelines, the United States is losing out on its ability to influence the structure and culture of this important new institution. Each time we refuse to join another treaty or international organization, which has become a pattern of this Administration, we erode our international leadership.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) mirrored Leahy’s distaste for sitting on the sidelines in 2005: “I want us in the ICC, but I'm not satisfied that there are enough safeguards.” His concern for safeguards is fine, just so long as they don’t prevent US leadership on the world stage.  

In spite of this support for the ICC in Congress, the US is still prohibited from financially supporting the ICC under law. Public Law 106-113, enacted in 1999, forbids any US funds to be directed towards the support of the ICC. The American Servicemembers’ Protection Act (ASPA) also outlaws US cooperation with the ICC in any form unless it is in the US's national security interests and the President issues a full waiver of the law.

Thank You Citizens for Global Solutions!

Ben Gross

As one of the youngest interns in Citizens for Global Solutions’ long and proud history, I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t nervous when I walked in the door on my first day. And while it was true that I have had a deep interest in politics since I was child, I was unsure of whether I had made the right decision by choosing to intern at CGS over the ACLU, one of the largest and most well-respected non-profits in the world.

But after eight weeks at CGS, I can tell you that I definitely made the right choice.

Brought on in early June to work as a Campaigns and Communications Research Associate, I quickly gained valuable insights into the issues that CGS is passionate about, like bettering human rights around the globe and supporting international cooperation to combat climate change. I learned that the US is surprisingly not a signatory to some of the world’s most universally-accepted treaties, including those that support women’s rights and protect our oceans.