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The UN Leadership Team and the Non-Aligned Movement

There is currently an active discussion among UN delegations in New York concerning how the next UN Secretary-General will be appointed in 2016. The discussions are likely to heat up as many heads of government come to New York in late September for a special summit to adopt the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals. As chair of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), Iran is likely to play a leadership role in the selection process both in formal and informal negotiations.

Currently, formal discussions are taking place in the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Revitalization of the General Assembly. There is widespread demand that the General Assembly have a greater role in the selection of the Secretary-General. In the past, the negotiations took place in the Security Council, mostly among the five permanent members. Then the General Assembly was only asked to “bless” the selection made within the Security Council.

Unease with this usual process comes not so much from the choices made as from the lack of inclusiveness of the process itself. There is an increasing demand that all member states know the candidates, their qualifications, and their vision for leading the UN.

SDGs Highlight Agenda for Historic 70th UN General Assembly

In the last few weeks, the world’s attention has been riveted on the crises in China and the upheaval in the emerging markets. We have all felt the consequences of the global economic turmoil. The moral of this story: What happens abroad has significant ramifications here at home. It would behoove the American public to take note of this fact.

This story is no different than the one that will soon play out at the United Nations at the end of September. Heads of State and other well-known dignitaries will descend upon New York City for the 70th UN General Assembly. This is no ordinary meeting of the General Assembly; this year it will pay tribute to the global institution’s 70th anniversary of its founding. The post-2015 development agenda will take center stage as leaders will mark the transition from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will lead the way forward for the next 15 years.

How do they work? Why should I care?

As with the global economic turbulence we continue to witness on a daily basis leaving none of us unscathed, the SDGs will play a similar role in that all sectors of global society will be touched in some way. From ending poverty and hunger to ensuring the health and well-being of all; to providing education and access to clean water and energy; to growing economies in a sustainably responsible manner to galvanizing the world to act on climate change; to preventing conflicts and promoting peace and ensuring post-conflict peacebuilding, everyone is affected in some way by these goals. 

Paris Carbonomics

In December of this year, 196 nations will meet in Paris to close a global deal to address climate change. With less than three months and five official negotiating days left before the Paris UN conference, diplomats are working out the key remaining disagreements.

The major concerns revolve around money: how much responsibility rich nations will take for climate change compared to the developing countries that need to power their growing economies and populations; and how developed nations will fulfill their agreement of $100 billion per year of climate finance to begin in 2020.

It’s no surprise that cold hard cash is at the center of these disputes. At its core, climate change is an economic problem. Cheap and subsidized coal, oil, and gas fueled the industrial revolution and high quality of life in the West. We didn't realize until the 1960s and 1970s that there was also a huge expense we failed to foresee—pollution and climate change.

Here’s an analogy to consider: the 2008 financial crisis was created by insatiable banks and mortgage brokers who offered loans with “easy” terms to under-qualified customers that didn’t reflect the true risks involved and created a housing market bubble. When the bubble finally popped, homeowners who couldn’t afford increased mortgage interest rates and small investors took the brunt of the loss.

Fossil fuels are being sold at a price that doesn’t reflect the true cost of their impact on the environment. Businesses, governments and even consumers are creating a “carbon bubble” that when it pops may have both severe financial repercussions and, if not addressed soon enough, will trigger uncontrollable climate damage. And, like the housing bubble, those who will pay the most severe costs are the poor, elderly and children.

Migration-Refugee Exodus: A Worldwide Challenge

During the summer of 2015, the international community has become increasingly concerned with the causes behind the mass exodus of people from their homes—the refugees and migrants.

 It has been all too easy to become accustomed to the image of the refugee: the displaced in Europe after World War II, internally displaced Chinese during the Chinese civil war, the struggle of Jews to enter Palestine prior to the creation of Israel followed by the flight of the Palestinians, the Hungarians in 1956, and the boat people from Vietnam—the refugees who made the front pages of the world press and all the others too often forgotten. The sum of human misery since the Second World War has been so heavy and so constant as to have a numbing effect.

However, the summer of 2015 has brought images of refugees and migrants drowning at sea or trying to make their way under barbed wire, with the most recent photos of some 70 persons who died in a closed truck in Austria near the Hungarian border.

Until now, governments within the UN system have gone on the assumption that security and peacekeeping are political matters to be kept as separate as possible from emergency humanitarian efforts. Since, in nearly all the cases that have led to massive departures, the UN has failed in its attempts at conflict resolution, humanitarian aid did what it could to bind up some of the wounds. Both the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and non-governmental organizations working on direct relief avoided political considerations as much as possible. For public political analysis leads to controversy, to charges of being one-sided, and to misunderstanding the historic complexities of the situation.

A Miracle?

There are those who think the U.S. suffers from prejudice against Obama, competition between political parties, bullies who have the ability to exert power, and vast financial inequality with only limited democracy left. 

In my humble opinion, the human family hasn’t acted rationally since the beginning of World War I.  Thus it comes as no surprise that an agreement with Iran approved by so many experts and groups looks like it will fail.

The Iran agreement makes war or some form of coercion less likely. The agreement will improve our relations with Iran, Israel, and other nations. 

Voting against the agreement makes us look foolish and irrational. Without the deal, nuclear militarization and international strife will be more likely. The human family will have more needless conflict and differences.

I hope this take on evil and prejudice is incorrect. I hope reason and humanity prevail over deep-seated emotion and unacknowledged evil.

Needed: A UN Parliamentary Assembly

The United Nations suffers from a severe democratic deficit. Despite the opening words of its Charter, "We the peoples," ordinary people--the  citizens of planet Earth and the proper holders of sovereignty--are subsequently ignored in that document.

To this day, 70 years after the UN's founding, people other than politicians and  diplomats have been denied a voice in planetary governance. Realpolitik, old-fashioned power politics, remains the dominant paradigm. Is it any wonder, then, that decisions of the undemocratic United Nations are increasingly regarded as illegitimate?

Conventional wisdom in the diplomatic community, as well as in mass media and academia, is that the system cannot be fundamentally changed. This is mainly because of the political oligopoly built into the UN Charter, which grants veto power to  the five permanent members of the Security  Council. None of these unfairly privileged states, supposedly, will ever consent to changes that would infringe on this power. But once you say you can't, you can't. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

The so-called "experts" sooner or later will be proven incorrect. Roughly half the world's people already  live in countries that are more or less democratically ruled. The hallmark of all such countries is a parliamentary system. Even though the leaders of these countries find it necessary go along with the present undemocratic UN system at the global level, that doesn't mean they can remain oblivious to the democratic demands of their own people. To attempt to do so runs the risk of their being voted out of power.

The Continuing Humanitarian Crisis in ISIS-held Areas

In an August 25, 2014 statement, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned the “appalling, widespread, and systematic deprivation of human rights” by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The violations mentioned included targeted killings, forced conversions, abductions, trafficking of women, slavery, sexual abuse, destruction of religious and cultural sites of significance, and the besieging of entire communities because of ethnic, religious and sectarian affiliation. In addition to the violation of human rights, the High Commissioner cited other UN reports stressing the humanitarian crisis and the severe shortages of food, water and the lack of medical services.

One year later, the situation remains much the same, but with an increased number of people uprooted as internally displaced persons and refugees. The political situation has grown more complex, with Turkey playing an increasing if unclear role. Efforts at mediation by the United Nations of the Syrian aspects of the conflict have not given visible results. Russian diplomats have been meeting with some Syrian factions as well as with the Syrian government, but there seem to be no advances toward broader negotiations.

The political and military actions of ISIS have effectively linked the conflicts in Iraq and Syria. A global approach for conflict resolution is needed. 

It Takes Two (Genders)

Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) recently introduced the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Act of 2015 “to ensure [the] promotion of women's meaningful inclusion and participation in mediation and negotiation processes in order to prevent, mitigate, or resolve violent conflict.” If passed, this would be a huge step forward in a world where less than 30 percent of senior positions in government, military, academia, and think tanks are held by women, despite their making up 50% of the population. And yet, the lack of news coverage alone shows that the world still needs convincing of the significant impact more women in foreign policy could have.

Other than the obvious reasons of gender equality that make this act so crucial, including more women in foreign policy serves a practical purpose: they are better able to address the problems many women face in conflict zones, as they are women themselves. Sexual violence and sexual health in particular are issues that could be positively impacted by an increase in women leaders.

Open Letter #8 To My Grandson Jake

Jake and Gram in front of the triceratops at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

Letters to Jake Series, Letter #8

Dear Jake,

I am writing this letter in the car as Papa and I drive home after a visit with you and the twins. I liked going to the Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC as well as going to the county fair in the countryside near your home. At the museum I especially enjoyed seeing the dinosaurs and other animals that are now extinct. My favorite parts of the fair were riding on the Ferris wheel with you, where we could see the beautiful countryside all around us, and watching the 4H children care for their farm animals.

Our two trips in one week were a good reminder of how wonderful and how precious life is on planet Earth. We need to take care of the earth’s resources like air and water that are important for human life as well as the life of all animals, trees, and other plants that share our planet with us.

Pope Francis just wrote a very long letter entitled “On Care for Our Common Home.” In this letter he reminds all people that we are responsible for taking care of Earth.

Pope Francis is concerned about the growing threat of climate change. Scientists believe that Earth is getting warmer and that clean water is getting scarce in some places.

Humans need to do all they can not to add to the warming and to protect the water so there is enough for everyone. Children like you and the 4H children we saw at the fair can help their parents by reminding them to reduce their use of the earth’s resources, reuse items instead of throwing them away, and recycle whenever possible. Wealthy countries like the U.S. need to help make sure everyone in poor countries has access to healthy drinking water.

Iran: The Deal is More than the Deal

The P5+1 Iran Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is vital for reducing the risk of nuclear militarization and for allowing Iran to operate much more freely in international commerce—to pump more oil and gas, buy more freely abroad, entertain more direct foreign investment, etc. From the world’s perspective, the deal opens up much more international commerce with Iran.

But there is a broader perspective as well. In the modern history of Iran, this deal can be a landmark affecting both the internal dynamics and the external behavior of the country.

Iran, the current embodiment of the Persian culture and  heir to one of the oldest major civilizations, has had a turbulent passage through the 20th and 21st centuries. It may be fair to say that Iran has faced two major governance challenges.

One challenge has been choosing among or somehow melding the open, secular, and democratic institutions which have grown out of Europe or “the West”; the dynastic traditions of much of Iran’s past; and the cultural and sometimes theocratic traditions of Islam, imposed on Persia  by Arab conquerors in the 7th-10th centuries.