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Climate Security: Building on the Momentum of the Paris Agreement

The Paris climate summit known as COP21 came to an end on Saturday afternoon, December 12, 2015. This was a day later than originally planned to allow for last-minute compromises and an agreement with a few States, mainly Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, so that they would not block a consensus agreement.

All 195 States plus the European Union had to agree. A treaty is not something that can be created by a majority vote as can be done in a UN General Assembly resolution. On April 22, 2016, there will be a high-level signature ceremony. The Treaty must be ratified by 55 States and will come into force in 2020.

The treaty arising from COP21 will replace the Kyoto Protocol. The new treaty is relatively short and clear. However, it is the “Preamble” of 140 paragraphs--not legally binding but where all the analysis and aims are set out--that caused difficulties to reach consensus among States with diverse interpretations of “national interest,” of short- and longer-term perspectives, and of differing access to national expertise.

The preamble has been under negotiations for the past two years. Although most points had been agreed upon well before the Paris conference, some crucial aspects had to be negotiated during the two-week session among heads of government and teams of negotiators, often with a Foreign Minister present.

The Myth of American Isolationism

I recently had the privilege of attending a panel hosted by the Woodrow Wilson Center. The panel was convened to discuss a new report from the Chicago Council concerning the notion that Americans have changed their viewpoints on foreign policy and believe that, as a nation, we should stay out of international affairs. While the panel itself made for a healthy discussion, the report was equally interesting, and I implore everyone to read it here.

In attendance at the panel were experts such as Ivo Daalder, former US ambassador to NATO; Jill Dougherty, former CNN foreign affairs correspondent; Bruce Jentleson, a professor at Duke University; and Jane Harmon, CEO of the Wilson Center. The panel began with a summary of the main points of the report, several of which I will address below. After the summary, the experts discussed their thoughts on the report and attempted to explain some of the interesting trends in the data. Following their summations, the panel fielded a few questions from the audience, mostly concerning the trends.

Just before the conference I coincidentally stumbled upon an article by one of my political science heroes, Professor Daniel Drezner of Tufts University, concerning this very report, which he co-authored. The article details ten surprising facts concerning the data gathered and the myth of American isolationism.

UN Peacekeeping in Syria and Iraq: Why not?

UN Peacekeepers at Work.

"Do you see UN Peacekeeping as a viable option to help solve the humanitarian crises in Syria and Iraq?” I asked Hervé Ladsous, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations. Couldn’t UN Peacekeepers help remedy the enormous humanitarian dilemma that has resulted from these two crises-- with millions now suffering from a shortage of food and clean water?

“The answer to your question is no,” stated Mr. Ladsous, without even the slightest hesitation. “We wish we could help the people suffering, but the magnitude of the two crises is simply much too large for the UN to handle.”

It was at that point I found myself disagreeing with one of the world’s leaders in peacekeeping. For if we wish to help solve two of the worst humanitarian crises in recent history, UN Peacekeepers must be involved.

They must be involved because they are undoubtedly the best and most well-trained peacekeeping group in the entire world. They are experts at delivering supplies to those who need them, and quickly. They are adept at helping to mend differences between ethnic groups, often healing situations that many had previously thought were beyond repair. They remain 100 percent committed to their missions no matter the circumstance--some even paying the ultimate price in a concerted effort to help make the world a better place.

Now, I understand that some of you may be looking at me sideways at this point, and are thinking of the various studies that have recently come out declaring that UN Peacekeeping is only marginally effective, if that. You probably want an answer for some of the UN Peacekeeping’s failures--like the Rwanda catastrophe in 1994 or Kosovo’s bloody civil war in 1999, and you deserve one.

Global Ocean Commission: "Our Oceans Are in Decline"

"Plastic is everywhere in the ocean."

"87% of the world’s marine fish stocks are fully exploited, overexploited or depleted."

These are just two of a number of very troubling statements concerning our world’s oceans, as outlined in a report released last Tuesday by the Global Ocean Commission. The report, which comprehensively details the issues that pose a threat to the health of our oceans, asks that countries cease turning a blind eye to the immeasurable harm that they inflict regularly. It demands that countries make the rectification of our oceans’ health an immediate priority, or else face the risk of causing irreversible damage.

The report cites a rising demand for resources, new technological advances, the depletion of fish stocks, climate change, and weak high seas governance as the most prominent reasons for the decline in the health of our oceans. It explains that the world’s immense growth in population-- reaching 7 billion people in November 2011-- has driven the demand for the ocean’s treasure trove of resources to naturally unsustainable levels. It warns that a failure to address climate change would have a calamitous effect on the world’s oceans, potentially wiping out as much as 60% of ocean species by 2050.

The report goes further than simply identifying the root causes of the ocean’s demise; it offers up a series of important steps, most notably Proposals 1 and 2, which would help remedy many of the ocean’s issues.

The New UN Peacekeeping Mandate in South Sudan: What Does it All Mean?

The United Nations is now warning of a potential famine in South Sudan. Though South Sudan had agreed to ceasefires in January and again in early May, they did not last. The UN had to act quickly because with the surges of violence, there has been an increase in secondary deaths due to starvation and disease. The conflict has heavily interrupted the crop-growing season by displacing farmers, and the UN estimates that if the violence does not stop, famine will ensue.

On May 27th the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2155, which renews the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), but makes some important amendments. From this resolution, a civilian protection mandate was added to address the growing humanitarian and security needs. This stems from un-subsiding violence that broke out in December when President Salva Kiir fired his rival Riek Machar from the deputy president position. This event fueled underlying ethnic tensions between the Dinka who support Kiir and the Nuer who support Machar.

This action of civilian protection from the UN is a huge step in the right direction with regards to UN involvement in conflicts. The UN has a record of not taking appropriate action quickly enough, most notably in Rwanda in 1994; hopefully this is a sign of changes to come.

Guess Who (May Be) Coming to the UN General Assembly,_12th_AU_Summit,_090202-N-0506A-137.jpg

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir announced that he is planning to come to the US to attend the UN General Assembly.  Bashir, accused of human rights abuses in the western Darfur region of Sudan, is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC).  If he goes through with these travel plans, the US government should arrest him and extradite him to The Hague to face charges for his crimes.

The ICC has indicted Bashir twice for crimes related to the conflict in Darfur that has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions.  The indictments include five counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and torture.  Another two counts are for war crimes, or attacking civilians, and three counts are for genocide.

Bashir has applied for a US visa to come to the UN General Assembly and is scheduled to speak next Thursday afternoon.  If the visa is granted and he chooses to attend, Bashir will undoubtedly be met with angry protesters and shunned by most other world leaders.  His motives for wanting to attend are unclear. It's been speculated that he is simply "thumbing his nose" at the US and the rest of the world.  Some UN diplomats suspect that he may not actually make good on his threat, for fear of arrest and extradition.  But this is not the first time Bashir has tested the limits of travel under ICC indictments; in July he attended an African Union summit in Nigeria, promptly returning home when protests broke out and lawsuits were filed.

A Peacekeeping Mission with Teeth

photo courtesy of unmultimedia

The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or MONUSCO, has been conducting peacekeeping operations in the unstable countries since early 2000. But on March 28th, 2013, the Security Council approved Resolution 2098 which allowed for the creation of an Intervention Brigade. This Brigade, a first in the history of the UN, is allowed to conduct offensive operations against numerous rebel and guerilla groups, including the Lord's Resistance Army, operating in the DRC. These groups have been responsible for 59 peacekeeper deaths and have attempted to further destabilize the country and halt elections. The Brigade has a one year mandate and a defined exit strategy; it consists of almost 20,000 soldiers in 3 infantry battalions, 1 artillery battalion, 1 Special Forces group, and 1 Reconnaissance Company.

A peacekeeping force that can actually go after rebels and guerrillas that attack civilians and destabilize regions is a very positive step forward for UN Peacekeeping. Past UN operations have been heavily criticized for be unable to stop events and groups that were killing innocent civilians. The most damning example of a UN Peacekeeping failure is the Rwandan Genocide. Peacekeepers were not allowed to combat machete wielding Hutus as they massacred Tutsis and even when several Peacekeepers were killed the force was withdrawn rather than being reinforced and allowed to counterattack. Being able to stop and combat the groups that led to a need for a UN mission will make for a more lasting peace than when the groups were ignored or government forces had to be relied on to stop them. Future instances of the brigade will depend on how well the one in the DRC performs, but being able to actually stop violence directed at civilians and peacekeepers alike will go a long way in ensuring that a tragedy like the Rwandan Genocide will not happen again just because peacekeeping forces' hands are tied by red tape.

Is Internet Access a Basic Human Right?

internet access human right

Not Quite the World Wide Web: a three-part series about the importance of full access to the internet for all

Only one third of the world's population has internet access; both Mark Zuckerberg and the UN think this is unacceptable. Sure, I like checking Facebook as much as the next girl but is a connection to the internet a basic human right? This is a question that international leaders have been debating over the last few years. The UN Human Rights Council unanimously decided, in 2012, that free expression and a connection to the internet are human rights. The resolution encourages nations with poor internet access to take steps to increase connectivity and admonishes nations with filters and blocks on certain parts of the internet. The Council recognized the two basic issues within this subject; providing access to people who don't have it, and liberating the internet for those who do. These two concerns will be addressed in the next installments of, "Not Quite the World Wide Web" series.

OMG Samantha Power Empowers Youth Activism

"OMG," Samantha Power is excited about viral videos and social media as a lever of change.  The youngest US Permanent Representative to the United Nations, at age 42, gave her first speech as an Ambassador to the Fourth Estate Leadership Summit this weekend.  The event was hosted by Invisible Children, an advocacy NGO with the goal of bringing members of the Lord’s Resistance Army to justice and ending child conscription in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Her speech was current and geared toward encouraging the world’s youth to take action in whatever creative or unconventional forms.  She praised the work of Invisible Children in their “Stop Kony” campaign and the efforts they have taken since their viral video release last year.  “Today ordinary citizens don’t just advocate for change and action, they force change and they take action themselves,” Powers remarked.   She gave examples of how today’s youth don’t have to become Washington lobbyists to catalyze global change like Invisible Children’s effort to design fliers that encourage LRA fighters to defect, to distribute them to LRA-affected areas in DRC and the Central African Republic, and to build radio stations in areas of high LRA activity.

While Power embraces youth movements such as viral videos and social media, she also stressed the importance of result focused action saying, “everything else is just noise. But this new generation understands that the video is not what matters; the number of twitter followers is not what matters. These are just means to an end… What matters is the real world scoreboard.” 

World Refugee Day 2013

Photo Courtesy of

World Refugee Day is upon us and while my instinct is to do what I do on every such anniversary, which is to wish everyone a "Happy World Refugee Day!" I think we all can agree that this is no happy occasion.  World Refugee Day was established by the United Nations in December 2000 and is celebrated each June 20th, to honor the world's refugees for the courage they must possess when compelled to flee their homes and travel to unfamiliar lands, often with no certain hope of return.
Most people don't recognize the sheer volume of refugees in the world today: according to the UN's refugee agency, the number of people who have been forcibly displaced by war and other crises in 2012 was approximately 45.2 million people - higher than it has been in almost two decades. Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, adds, "This means one in each 4.1 seconds. So each time you blink, another person is forced to flee."

One every 4.1 seconds? That number is difficult to fathom. And I think it is all too easy to be misinformed or even completely unaware about the plight of all those people. One common misconception lies in confusing refugees with immigrants. But unlike immigrants, refugees usually have little to no choice over the timing of their departure or their destination. Also, refugees typically are not people moving from poor countries into rich countries in search of a better life or more opportunities. In fact, 87 percent of the world's refugees were protected by developing countries, with Pakistan as the world's top host nation in 2012.

Among the 45.2 million refugees, 28.8 million are internally displaced, 15.4 million are border-crossing, and 937,000 are asylum seekers. And although the asylum seekers are a relatively small piece of the pie, they are arguably the most important segment to the United States because for seven years in a row the U.S. was the largest recipient, among the industrialized nations, of new asylum claims.