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Arms Control: The Missing Component in the Conversation about Terrorism

We can’t have it both ways. We can’t be both the world’s leading champion of peace and the world’s leading supplier of arms.

--Former President Jimmy Carter, 1976

As ISIS's threat to international peace and security grows, Syria continues to funnel billions of dollars to the United States for bombs and other forms of weapons. As a result of United Nations Resolution 2249, Syria has all of the autonomy in the world to partake in whatever vague, "necessary measures" it sees fit to combat ISIL. Despite the deaths of thousands of civilians attributed to indiscriminate airstrikes lead by the Syrian government, and most recently by Russia, the war against terrorism has led to an all-out arms extravaganza in the Middle East. In fact, on November 13, 2015, the same evening of the terrorist attacks in Paris, the United States began its first steps in selling $1.29 billion of bombs to the Saudi Arabian government.

North Korea's Nuclear Test

Kim Jong-un (Photo: Bonhomme Richard,

North Korea claims to have completed a successful test of a hydrogen bomb on Wednesday, January 6th. This test (North Korea’s first in three years) carries the potential for nuclear war. Whether successful or not, the test has allowed North Korea to move yet another step closer to the possibility of propelling a nuclear missile toward the United States or any other country in the World.

Not only has North Korea’s test caused tension between itself and the rest of the world, it has also caused tension between the United States and China. Since the test, the US and China have been entrenched in arguments regarding China’s continuing support for North Korea. Fortunately however, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi agreed to work closely together to address their shared concerns about North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. The US has put pressure on China to tighten its control over North Korea.

China has some important choices to make in the immediate future if it wants North Korea to remain stable. One option is to cut aid to North Korea, but doing this would mean an even worse quality of life for the innocent citizens there who are already living in severe poverty. By running a nuclear test, North Korea has essentially shouted to the world that they are aggressive, active, and ready to go to war. The UN Security Council was quick to condemn this test as a “clear threat to international peace and security.”

Let's Talk About Sex...Trafficking

For those of you who don’t know, sex is fun. So fun, in fact, that people are often willing to pay for it. Reasons for paying vary widely--from extreme loneliness to fetishes one might be reluctant to explore without the anonymity of an economic exchange. Sometimes it’s just easier.

While those willing to pay for sex may (hopefully!) see a consensual transaction between two adults, there is often much more to the story.

Will We Learn this Time?

No Lost Generation: Syrian children development center

Hunger and starvation are in the news again, this time in Syria. They shouldn’t be. For decades, the world has produced more than enough food to feed every man, woman, and child. Yet today, 16 years past the due date for ending hunger, we still have to read about it on the front page.

Even on a day when hunger is not on the front page, or any page, 17,000 children will die from easily preventable malnutrition and related infectious diseases. And for each child that dies, 10 more will live on with permanent mental and/or physical disabilities.

While some in the world suffer from threats posed by groups like ISIS, experts argue about the definition of “terrorism” and politicians debate how to defeat it. But there should be no debate about the ultimate terror--a parent’s loss of a child or fear of losing a child from a lack of food, one of the most basic of human needs. Nutritious food is one of the most basic of all inalienable human rights.

Sadder still is our failure to learn--after decades of presidential commissions, scientific studies, intelligence reports, and righteous scriptures--that when people are hungry and their children die, all humanity pays a monstrous price in the form of war, disease, revolution, terrorism, and economic instability fueled by hunger. This cost in lives and dollars is always preventable. Given the unbelievably low cost in preventing it, this policy failure should be criminal.

President Jimmy Carter has been chastised for his perceived ineptness at foreign policy, but in hindsight, his administration was the wisest and most insightful. Congress just didn’t listen.

Global Responses to Human Trafficking

It is truly frightening to think that there are more slaves in the world today than ever before in history.  Exploiting human beings for sex or labor is a highly profitable and thriving enterprise in almost every country in the world, including the United States.

What’s being done to combat this global problem?

January 11 has been designated by the UN General Assembly as a day to develop awareness of human trafficking.  Awareness has been growing, but remedies are slow and uncoordinated.  Effective solutions often are not accessible to victims of trafficking owing to gaps between setting international standards, enacting national laws, and implementing these laws in a humane way.

The international standards have been set out in the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crimeand its Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. The Convention and the Protocol standards are strengthened by the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.  The world-wide standards have been reaffirmed by regional legal frameworks such as the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.

Despite clear international and regional standards, many countries have poor implementation due to limited government resources and infrastructure, a tendency to criminalize victims, and restrictive immigration policies.

Slavery in the Seams

Raw cotton being picked in Uzbekistan, a country plagued by forced labor.

When most people think of human trafficking, they think of sexual slavery. This is understandable, given the public awareness campaigns, films, and documentaries that highlight the sex trade. Sex trafficking is a valid concern, especially considering issues like child pornography.

However, the vast majority of human trafficking occurs in forced labor situations, as reported by the International Labour Organization. Labor trafficking occurs in nearly every sector, from fishing boats in Thailand to cocoa plantations in Côte d’Ivoire. Slavery taints every kind of product, whether food, clothes, or electronics.

One of the most pressing labor trafficking issues in the world takes place in Uzbekistan’s cotton industry. Uzbekistan ranked as a Tier 2 Watch List country on last year’s Trafficking in Persons Report from the U.S. State Department. The report found:

Saudi Arabia: New Year Beheadings Pour Oil on the Flames

As a major oil producer, the government of Saudi Arabia might know the dangers of pouring oil on a fire. Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran related to the respective armed conflicts in Yemen and in Syria-Iraq and Kurdistan were already high.

U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby stressed the obvious when he said that Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr's execution “risks exacerbating sectarian tensions at a time when they urgently need to be reduced.” The Iranian Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for “divine vengeance” upon the Saudis.

A mob, rarely formed spontaneously in Tehran, did not wait for the divine to punish, but rather attacked the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and set fire to an annex. Saudi Arabia has broken off diplomatic relations as a result. Crowds also demonstrated in Bahrain.

The Saudi government began the year by beheading 46 other people accused of undermining the State.  Most were Sunnis and said to be related to a branch of Al-Qaeda and to have used or advocated using violence to further their aims. Nimr had been highly critical of the Saudi government but had not called for violence.

From Paris to Present: Addressing Climate Change in the New Year

Secretary-General Interviewed Ahead of COP21 in Paris

Last month, 196 countries reached a historic agreement to address climate change. While the agreement does not address everything—such as the affect of climate change on migrants/refugees—it does seek to set strict limits on emissions and to help developing countries create the infrastructure to meet these limits as well.

While there is much to celebrate, there is also room for skepticism. Given the history of UN multilateral agreements, won’t countries just find another way to dodge their commitments? Will the terms of the agreement be enough to curb the effects of climate change? Will rich countries follow through on their promises to poor countries, and how this will affect aid that is typically used for other forms of development?

Though the United States cannot act for everyone, its individual actions can have a big influence on whether these concerns become true in the future. What can we do as citizens to ensure our government supports and builds on the work done in Paris? We must urge our representatives to enact national measures such as providing funds to states to convert dirty industries to renewables; mobilizing American businesses to open new markets for renewable industries and tools around the world; and supporting the development of local, sustainable food markets in poor countries by changing the way we regulate aid.

The Peace Walls Must Eventually Come Down

Peace Wall in Belfast (Photo: Nick

In Northern Ireland, there are barriers known as peace walls separating Irish Catholic and British Protestant neighborhoods from each other.  Most of these walls can be found in Belfast, but some were also built in the cities of Londonderry, Lurgan, and Portadown. 

They were originally set up during the era known as the Troubles* from the late 1960s to the 1990s, when riots and violent paramilitary activity between Irish Catholics (who wish to join the Republic of Ireland) and British Protestants (who want to stay with the United Kingdom) were rampant.

As peaceful relations between the two national/religious groups continue to evolve and the threat for violence diminishes, the peace walls should come down. They keep Northern Ireland in negative international spotlight, hinder the region's economic development, and signify one of the world’s longest-lasting conflicts.

The conflict in Northern Ireland that led to these walls being erected has been managed well ever since the Good Friday Agreement of April 10, 1998.** Relations between Irish Catholics and British Protestants are still testy at times, but peace groups have helped young people across the divide establish friendships and engage in peaceful activities together.

Local Engagement with Armed Groups in the Midst of Violence

The armed conflict in Iraq and Syria becomes more complex each day, and good faith negotiations seem ever further away. Those of us on the outside who would like to see compromises so that the killing may stop find it difficult, if not impossible, to find those who represent the armed groups. There are, no doubt, people from different intelligence services who have contacts, but good faith negotiations may not be their central aim.

Wisam Elhamoui and Sinan al-Hawat point out in their study “Civilian interaction with armed groups in the Syrian conflict”:

As the Syrian conflict enters its fifth year, it is important not to lose sight of the significant roles played by unarmed, non-state actors to develop structures for promoting local security and peace and to adapt to the constantly changing demands of the conflict. Huge efforts have been invested in maintaining a civilian voice by activists and locals. They have shown courage and resilience and an incredible capacity to sustain their efforts and aspirations despite huge challenges and lack of support.

At the local level, conflict reduction efforts depend on channels of kinship and earlier social relations.