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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.

How to Invest Your Life in Saving Humanity

In the Czech Republic lives a 17-year-old civic-minded student named Vojtěch. His teacher Doug describes him as a prodigy and “by far the most gifted and extraordinary natural student leader that I have ever had the pleasure to meet,” claiming he has the makings of a transformative leader.

However, Vojtěch, like most humanitarians at one point or another, questions whether or not he actually has the ability to make a difference in the world.

Doug recently asked Vojtěch, “If you could save the world, would you?” He immediately replied, "Yes, absolutely, but where should I start?"

For Vojtěch’s  birthday this year, Doug sought to help him answer this question by collecting letters from 18 different leading social and humanitarian advocates around the world. He contacted organizations such as the World Policy Institute, the National Coalition for the Homeless,  the Nonviolent Peace Force, and, asking participants to complete the following statement: "If I were you and wanted to invest my life in saving humanity, I would…"

As you may expect, he received a wide range of responses with many different suggestions on what sorts of problems to tackle.  All of the messages to Vojtěch are available for you to read, but  here are a few excerpts:’s President and CEO Don Kraus says,

Putin's Political Moves

Over the past two weeks, the international community has seen the situation in Ukraine move from bad to worse as it devolves into violence and chaos. Russian-supported separatists are pitted against the European backed interim government in what seems to be rapidly escalating into a civil war that threatens to tear the country apart.

This violence easily overshadowed two crucial political moves Putin made that clearly signaled his intent to solidify Crimea as a Russian entity and reassert Russia's power over Ukraine. The first was his trip to Crimea on Friday, May 9th, which is Victory Day in Russia. Victory Day pays tribute to the Soviet defeat of the Nazis during WWII and is the single biggest holiday in Russia – the whole country celebrates and glorifies Russian power and strength. Putin purposefully chose to observe this holiday in Crimea to show that it is undoubtedly an integral part of Russia and that the referendum of March 16th was valid.

His second move was minting a new commemorative coin as part of a series naming himself “The Gatherer of Russian Lands.” This coin showed his face on the front and Crimea on the back, labeled as the Russian Federation’s Republic of Crimea. This coin will forever serve as a commemoration of the Russian adoption of the republic and as a symbol of their ownership of Crimea.

It's Time to Act: Visit our Indiegogo Campaign

People underestimate the negative effects that not ratifying treaties can have on our lives. It can limit the rights of women or people with disabilities. Non-ratification also limits the influence that the US has in international decision-making. By not being part of the Law of the Sea treaty, the US loses opportunities to have a voice in decisions that govern the world’s oceans; this is a major issue for the US as the country with one of the largest coast lines.

Shouldn’t we embrace women’s rights and rights of the disabled? How can we end conflicts like the Syrian war without an arms trade agreement? The opposition wholeheartedly contests all treaties, while most proponents will advocate only for one. That needs to end. We CAN fight back, but we need to do it together, through broad support for treaty ratification.

The War on International Law is gaining traction, and we need to work harder to stop it. recently launched a project on Indiegogo, a crowd funding site, to raise money for our campaign. We need to bring attention to the Arms Trade Treaty, the Women’s Equality Treaty (CEDAW), the Disability Treaty, the Law of the Sea Treaty, and many others. The US has not ratified any of these crucial agreements, which has significant negative consequences for the US role in the world and for US citizens.

Our goals are simple: expose the opposition, identify the costs of this negative policy, and build a robust network of support that crosses traditional issue silos inside and outside the Beltway to reengage the US in adopting international law. We need your support in order to make this campaign a success.

Conflict is Not the Way Forward

"Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it."

The Washington Post recently published an article entitled “In the long run, wars make us safer and richer” by Ian Morris. In the article, Morris argues that through “10,000 years of conflict, humanity has created larger, more organized societies,” greatly increasing human safety and promoting economic growth.

In the Stone Age, 10-20% of all humans died at the hands of other people. By contrast, in the past 100 years, only 1-2% of the world’s population died violently. Similarly, prosperity has increased, with life expectancy more than doubling (from 30 to 67) and average income rising from $2 to $25 per day. According to Morris, all of this happened because “war made states, and states made peace.” While he admits that war “may well be the worst way imaginable to create larger, more peaceful societies,” Morris asserts that it is the only way.

This argument, however, assumes that pacification and suppression of dissent equals peace. It does not. Violent conflict merely creates the illusion of peace, which is broken as soon as those who have been suppressed garner the strength to rise up against those who beat them down. If violent conflict had really created peace through pacification, it would have ended after the first war. Instead, the cycle of conflict continues.

A very obvious example is World War II. Hitler was able to rise to power on the wave of support he gathered by speaking out against the allies and reparations that bankrupted Germany after the first World War. If peace rather than revenge had been sought in the wake of WWII, Hitler would have had no platform from which to acquire power.

Human Rights Battle: US v. North Korea

Last Monday, North Korea released its own human rights report aimed at the US. This report, a direct response to the critical UN report on North Korea published in February, called the US “the world’s worst human rights abuser.” It also labeled the US as “a living hell, as elementary rights to existence are ruthlessly violated.”

As evidence to these harsh claims, the report cites US poverty statistics, the luxurious life of the president, and the racial discrimination and injustice surrounding Trayvon Martin’s murder. While these cases do hold weight, the facts have been distorted to paint our nation as a human rights abuser on par with North Korea itself. For example, the report rightfully cites Trayvon Martin’s case as an example of racial inequality, but incorrectly labels his killer as a white cop, blurring the line between fact and fiction.

I will be the first to say that the US still has a long way to go to make equality and human rights a reality for all people. However, this report is a bit too much of the pot calling the kettle black. Pointing to North Korea and saying, ‘well at least we’re not as bad as them,’ is no justification for our own problems--but neither is it for them.

North Korea has a terrible human rights record, and just because we cannot get into the country to see it does not mean it doesn’t exist. Pointing the finger back at the US only serves to perpetuate the conversation around North Korea’s own record, effectively defeating the purpose of the report.

With this report Kim Jung-un might be saying, "Hey US, people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones." But then again, neither should you, North Korea.

Missing Nigerian Girls: Where is the Media Now?

On April 15th, 234 Nigerian school girls aged 16-18 were abducted from their school by a known terrorist group, Boko Haram. The next day a South Korean ferry sank, killing 260+ people on board, most of who were students. Both of these events are newsworthy tragedies. But while most of you reading this know about the ferry in South Korea, many probably never heard about the missing Nigerian girls.

Most media chose to ignore this story, and reports they may have been pulling together were eclipsed by the ferry disaster. For the past two months CNN continued almost non-stop coverage of the search for Malaysia Airlines plane 370, which went missing in early March. Where are those green screens and field reporters for these missing girls? Only now, almost a month later, has there been any significant news coverage on the efforts to locate and rescue the Nigerian girls.

Anyone who watches crime shows can probably tell you that the most crucial time to find kidnapping victims is in the first 12-24 hours. The Nigerian government stated 24 hours after the abductions that all of the girls had returned safely, when in fact almost no effort had been made to even begin looking for them, let alone coordinate a rescue effort. The 30 girls who have made it back home escaped of their own initiative with no help from the government.

Ukraine: A Federalist Future?

Can tensions in Ukraine be lowered without a federalist-constitutional restructuring of the State?

On Thursday, 17 April 2014, US Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergy Lavrov, Ukraine's acting Foreign Minister Andriii Deshchytsia, and the European Union Foreign Policy representative Catherine Ashton met in Geneva for a one-day exchange to address concerns over the situation in Ukraine and to take steps to limit the growing violence within the country.

The meeting came shortly after the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned in a 15 April report that “Misinformation, propaganda and incitement to hatred need be urgently countered in Ukraine to avoid the further escalation of tensions in the country...It is critical for the Government to prioritise respect for diversity, inclusivity and equal participation of all− including minorities− in Ukraine.”

Also on the eve of the Geneva talks, President Vladimir Putin said on Russian television that he had been authorized by Parliament to use military force in eastern Ukraine if necessary, but hoped that it could be avoided. The statement highlighted the possible use of Russian forces, some 40,000 of which are stationed on the Russian-Ukraine frontier.

The Russian Government has denied that the pro-Russian armed militias around occupied government buildings in eastern Ukraine are under their control, begging the question of whom the men in unmarked military uniforms are working for. Turmoil, including the shooting of some of these pro-Russian demonstrators, is growing. In response, NATO forces have been strengthened in Eastern Europe and the Baltic States.

One Year Since Bangladesh Building Collapse

April 24th marked the one-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

This devastating collapse killed more than 1,100 people and injured 2,500 more. By no means the first industrial accident in Bangladesh's history, though certainly the most devastating, the collapse was the result of turning a blind eye to the factory's structural problems by the local owner and the failure of international corporations like Walmart to properly ensure that their supply chains meets minimum safety standards for workers in countries such as Bangladesh.

The garment industry plays an enormous role in Bangladesh's economy. It is now the world's second largest apparel producer, behind China, and Bangladesh's 5,600 garment factories employ 4 million people, 90 percent of whom are women, and produce $20 billion in exports every year. Because this industry dominates the economy, workers often have no choice but to take jobs in unsafe factories for what little income they can earn. The Rana Plaza factory produced clothing for as many as 28 foreign brands,including Walmart and Benetton.

US Quietly Ratifies Fish Treaties

Congress protect fisheries, while ignoring the rights of the disabled (Photo:

On April 3, 2014, the United States ratified three treaties, all of which help protect oceanic wildlife and eliminate the black market fishing industry. Black market fishing is an enormous industry that produces up to $23.5 billion each year--that’s some serious competition for fishermen who play by the rules. Not only that, but pirate fishers commonly use banned fishing gear, slaughter unwanted fish and other sea creatures, and participate in drug smuggling and human trafficking.

The Convention on the Conservation and Management of High Seas Fishery Resources in the South Pacific Ocean and its sibling convention by a similar name for the North Pacific Ocean are two regional treaties that have been adopted. These conventions have set up monitoring groups for each region that will implement conservation measures to protect the marine wildlife and sustain the legal fishing industry.

The largest of the three treaties, commonly known as Port State Measures Agreement, is not in effect due to the lack of participating coastal countries. The agreement will only go into effect once 25 countries have ratified; only 11 have ratified so far. This treaty would require ports to refuse products offered by any vessel suspected of illegal fishing. Widespread adoption of this treaty would strangle the profits of illegal fishing and bring a significant portion of the entire fishing industry back in line with conservation regulations.