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Category: Prevent War

The Path We Should Follow after Syria Crosses the Red Line

FreedomHouse/Flickr

President Barack Obama's recent announcement that he believes Syria has used a small amount of chemical weapons ignited a debate. Has the Assad regime crossed the "red line" the White House laid down?

U.S. intelligence reports "varying degrees of confidence" that Syria used chemical weapons. "We have to act prudently," Obama said. "But I think all of us...recognize how we cannot stand by and permit the systematic use of weapons like chemical weapons on civilian populations."

The situation in Syria is clearly dire, with more than 70,000 deaths. Over 2.5 million Syrian refugees (including 600,000 children) have overwhelmed the ability of the United Nations and neighboring countries to provide adequate care. Another 2 million kids are internally displaced within Syria.

But politicians seem more concerned about U.S. credibility than suffering Syrians. So what's next for Washington?

If I were president, I'd try to carefully navigate between two horrendous mistakes my predecessors made:

A Plea to End Targeted Killing Strikes

On April 23rd, Farea Al-Muslimi, an activist and freelance journalist from Yemen who has spent several years as a teenager studying and living in the United States as a foreign exchange student, appealed to the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the United States drone strike on his town, Wessab. He explained to the Committee that the drone strike on his village "terrified thousands of simple, poor farmers" and "tore [his] heart," much like the horrific bombings in Boston, MA last week.

Al-Muslimi was one of a selected few students in Yemen who received a scholarship to study abroad in the United States. When he returned to his small village, he spoke highly of the American culture he had learned during his study abroad experience and its people who have positively influenced his life. Al-Muslimi considers himself both an ambassador to Yemen for the United States as well as an ambassador to the United States for Yemen. His unique background has brought him to the Senate Judiciary Committee in order to explain the consequences of targeted killings by the United States in Yemen. Before the drone strike, the people of Yemen, especially those in Al-Muslimi's home town, had positive views of the United States but now they think of the "terror they feel from the drones that hover over their heads ready to fire missiles at any time."

Don't Poke The Bear

Like all siblings, my brother and I have our differences. We love to antagonize one another and drive each other crazy. Often I try to hug my brother who reacts poorly since he's, well, a teenage boy. My parents have always said do not poke the bear, referring to my brother as the bear.  That was sound advice; don't provoke those who can cause damage.

Now let's talk about North Korea. Lately North Korea or the Democratic Republic of Korea, has been antagonizing the US and South Korea, trying to provoke a response. When it comes to our foreign policy, at first, the US seemed to be saying, we aren't going to let this little nation push us around and sent B-52 Bombers to participate in practice exercises in the Korean Peninsula. Except this only made North Korea angrier and they have now published propaganda showing missiles attacking the US, threatened to attack Guam, Japan, and South Korea, restarted nuclear weapon production, and told embassies they could not guarantee their protection if war came about.

Luckily the US is smart and decided not to test missles on the Korean peninsula among recent tensions. They are for lack of a better phrase, not poking the bear.

Except it begs the question, what is North Korea up to? In this analogy, would the US not be the bear or North Korea? After two long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US is in no position to become involved in any military conflict and North Korea believes they have the protection of the Chinese, so they feel they have the upper hand.

A Treaty is Born

What do Iran, Syria, North Korea and the NRA have in common? They are all on the losing side of trying to block the creation of a new Arms Trade Treaty. This landmark agreement has been in the making since 2006 and will be the first international treaty to regulate the conventional arms trade. The most powerful way the United Nations can agree to a treaty is by "consensus", where all nations agree to the text. But these three rouge nations blocked agreement. It was a sad sight to witness.

But fortunately, the treaty’s sponsors did the next best thing and brought it to the General Assembly where it was agreed to by an overwhelming majority: 154 to 3, with the U.S. voting in favor. A treaty is born!

The Arms Trade Treaty is a great step forward in dealing with the unregulated and illicit global trade in conventional weapons and ammunition, which fuels wars and human rights abuses worldwide

The United States played a positive role in negotiating the Treaty which is designed to help prevent the more than 500,000 deaths worldwide that happen as a result of armed violence. Firearms are used in armed conflicts and to carry out human rights violations, including genocide and gang rapes. More than 250,000 children have been forced into combat as under-aged child soldiers.

The Treaty will address these heinous crimes by bringing foreign governments up to U.S. export standards and moving black markets out of the shadows. This is a legacy issue for President Obama, who has made genocide and atrocity prevention a priority. The Arms Trade Treaty explicitly prohibits arms transfers when a country "has the knowledge at the time of authorization that the arms or items would be used in the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity...."

Global Arms Trade: Time to End the Violence

Next week, from March 18th to 28th, negotiators should finalize text for the Arms Trade Treaty to set uniform standards for international arms sales that will bring foreign governments up to U.S. export standards. This international treaty is years in the making-the lack of accountability for the global sale and trade of arms is appalling. War lords, terrorists, and those who commit haneous human rights violations benefit from the current system -- it is simply too easy for these people to obtain weapons. Worldwide, one person dies every minute of armed violence. That's 500,000 people a year. But don't let the statistics sway you. Here are some personal stories of women who have experienced violence at the hands of those with illegal arms.1

Marren Akatsa-Bukachi: "One man with a gun can rape a whole village"

Marren Akatsa-Bukachi is the Executive Director of the Eastern African sub Regional Support Initiative for Advancement of Women (EASSI). They work with women survivors of violence.

"Men and women are affected differently by arms.

"In Africa, guns are used to rape women, disempower them. Women are also affected when their husbands die or become incapacitated by small arms as they become head of the household.

"I myself, have been affected by the misuse of small arms. I'm from Kenya and twice, people came into my home with guns and robbed my family. It was four hours each time. They tied us up, face on the carpet, terrorized us, threatened us with their guns. They took everything I had ever worked for.

"I was lucky because I was not sexually molested but I'm still traumatized. Now I live in Uganda and even though it is very hot, every night before I go to sleep, I lock all the doors and windows, even the bedroom door. Who wants to live like that?

"We really need to control the flow of arms. In Africa, we don't even know where the arms come from.

Getting Small Arms Out of the Wrong Hands

No More Weapons for Child Soldiers

Did you know that international laws dictate the rules of the game when it comes to selling bananas and iPods, but not grenade launchers and AK-47s?

It’s crazy but true. Fortunately, a solution is at hand. Negotiators at the United Nations will soon wrap up a global Arms Trade Treaty that will establish much-needed rules to prevent selling arms to human rights violators.

Every year, more than 500,000 people around the world are killed as a result of armed violence. Firearms are used in armed conflicts and to carry out human rights violations, including genocide, gang rape, and the practice of forcing children into combat as underaged soldiers.

There are about 250,000 child soldiers.

Roughly 60 percent of documented human rights violations involve the use of small arms (such as rifles and machine guns) and light weapons (such as grenade launchers and shoulder-fired missiles). In fact, more human rights abuses are committed with small arms than with any other category of weapon.

The new Arms Trade Treaty sets uniform standards for international arms sales that will bring foreign governments up to U.S. standards and move the black markets out of the shadows. It will protect legitimate trade while holding governments accountable for selling arms to human rights violators. Without the treaty, warlords and terrorists will continue to get weapons used to force child soldiers to kill their parents, to attack American soldiers and missionaries, and to rape refugee women and girls.

What Obama did not say in the state of the union

Last week a New York Times article announced that during the State of the Union, Obama was going to call for drastically reducing our nuclear weapons stock pile.

Yet the state of the union came and nothing was said on the matter.

Lately, tensions with Russia have begun to fray around the edges. Vladimir Putin refuses to renew the Dunn-Lugar Treaty, the Russian Parliament banned Russian adoptions to American parents, and the Russians have expressed their great displeasure of the United States’ involvement in their energy sector. Perhaps this is all why Obama chose instead not to discuss the fragile issue during one of his most public speeches.

He planned to say that 700 out of the total 1850 deployed weapons would be taken out of use. This comes two years after the senate ratified New START, which agreed with Russia that both countries would limit their weapons to 1,550 by 2018. As that date is just five years away, Obama seems to want to finish this before he leaves office. The US military even agreed that the arsenal can be cut by 1/3 and still maintain the safety of the American people. The former chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff argued that with just over 900 deployed, the US would remain extremely safe and powerful. He went on to explain that he believes the current stockpile is due to the cold war reserves and that this is not a current threat for the 21st century, “The world has changed, but the current arsenal carries the baggage of the cold war,” Gen. Cartwright said.

"Provocative" Blast Tests International Law's Limits

North Korea Nuclear Test Site

North Korea's latest nuclear test highlights the limits of what the United Nations and its member states can do when an outlaw nation is determined to run roughshod over existing international laws. Policymakers and diplomats in Washington, DC and at the UN are scrambling for a way to respond to the young dictator Kim Jong Un's latest delinquency. The bottom line is that North Korea's latest nuclear blast shows just how reliant we are on an effective global network of institutions and laws; and how relatively weak that network still is. Kim Jong Un's nuclear tantrum should be seen not only as a threat, but as a clear message that we need a cooperative global system with the capacity and means to ensure a safer future for us all. And we are not there yet.

Attack of the Drones

U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Stanley Thompson

The topic of drone strikes has been popular conversation topic and has a large impact on national security.  "The drone war is a shadow war," states Rosa Brooks, a Schwartz Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation and Georgetown University law professor, who also served as a Counselor to Under Secretary of Defence for Policy Michele Flournoy at the U.S. Department of Defense. In her article, "Death by Loophole," Brooks continues by stating that the CIA and the White House has had little to no acknowledgement about their involvement in 'targeted killings' around the world.  Today, we do not know exactly how many drone strikes have been launched or exactly where these 'targeted killings' have taken place.

Under what circumstances can the United States' government use droids?

The uses of drones have been very important to the United States military. They are able to "provide 24-hour patrols over hotspots, gather intelligence by pulling in millions of terabytes of data and hours of video feeds and they can also launch precisely targeted airstrikes without putting a U.S. pilot at risk." Overall, drones have a wide variety of uses, both good and bad.

Syria: Where is the United States Now?

Zac Baillie/AFP/Getty Images.

As the atrocities of Syria continue, the Obama Administration seems to have little to no interest in intervening with the current situation in Syria. More than 60,000 people have been killed and over 650,000 refugees have fled across Syrian borders within the last 22 months---and the numbers continue to grow every day.

United States---as the self-proclaimed leader of the free world---needs to take a more active role in protecting the lives and human rights of Syrian citizens by helping shape a governmental system that supports the needs, interests, and fundamental rights of the Syrian people. This is a difficult role for the United States, but one that we must take the lead on.

Newly sworn-in Secretary of State John Kerry commented that if the United States were to intervene, it would "have to make things better and not worse." United States intervention, with or without military action, could alter Syria's future in many drastic ways. But one thing is for sure, Syrian men, women, and children are suffering and we need to take action to support those who are in need.

If neighboring countries do not have the resources to help out the Syrian people and the United States does not take a larger role, what will happen to Syria? How can the United States, or any other country for that matter, intervene without military intervention? What can we do as an international community to assist a dying nation?  We want to hear from you: leave a comment in the comments section!