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Roméo Dallaire: Leaving the Senate But Not the Life of Service

In Canada, Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire is a household name. When asked in elementary school to write a composition on a Canadian Hero, students invariably gnash their teeth in frustration as they find themselves presenting eight or nine identical essays on the famed commander of the ill-fated 1994 UNAMIR mission in Rwanda.

In his bestselling Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, Dallaire recounts his experiences as a witness to the horrific mass murder of 800,000 men, women and children despite his peacekeeping force’s best attempts to prevent the slaughter.

The titled failure of humanity refers not only to the massacres, but also to the murderous passivity of the international community, whose failure to intervene despite Dallaire’s pleas and whose lethal withdrawal of resources and support from UNAMIR depleted Dallaire’s forces, abetting the killing of civilians for months.

North Carolina's Huge Risks with Rising Sea Levels

A map of projected sea level rise on North Carolina's coast

Despite the obvious danger that rising sea levels pose to communities on the Gulf Coast, tensions over climate change are flaring most acutely in the beach towns of North Carolina. In 2010, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR) established the North Carolina Coastal Resources Commission (NCRC) to study the effects of rising sea levels by 2100. Lawmakers were dismayed when the report predicted a 39-inch rise in sea level by 2100.

By the summer of 2011, realtors and community members living on North Carolina’s Outer Banks saw the figures and were shocked. Even worse, the state was already developing a website to enable residents to check the vulnerability of their property. In response to this news, realty organizations fought back against the commission’s report, arguing that its scientific methods were questionable, lacking an assessment of economic impact, and devoid of any maps.

Pirates, the Printing Press and Global Democracy

Cell phones have facilitated access to health care for millions of people living in Sub-Saharan Africa. Mobile applications are enhancing government accountability with respect to sexual violence. Social media is augmenting disaster response and emergency management.

Digital technology has drastically impacted some of the most routine facets of our lives. Beyond this new threshold of interconnectedness, we should consider digital technology’s impact on citizenship and governance in the future.

When Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1436, he knew it would ease the labor of monks who spent all day manually copying the Bible. He probably didn’t think it would fuel colonization of the New World, make custom t-shirts or enable representative democracy. Imagine the difficulties of lobbying, holding elections, and organizing political parties without the ability to mass produce written correspondence.

In Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond says, “Invention is often the mother of necessity, rather than vice versa.” Diamond’s point, outlined in the NY Times, is that inventors often create new products and the society finds a use for the product afterward.

Just as Gutenberg did not anticipate his press would promote literacy, mass media, and eventually enable the rise of Twitter, today’s technological developments have immeasurable possibilities.

Think Globally, Act Locally

Egyptian women demonstrating in Cairo's Tahrir Square

I never would have imagined that my 2010 summer in Egypt would change the trajectory of my life. However, my time there gave me critical exposure to social inequities in "Pre-Arab Spring" Cairo. It was there that I discovered my passion for social justice and the strength of global cooperation.  

Six months later, it was at that same Tahrir Square that I passed every day in which thousands mobilized to demand change in what began the 25 January 2011 Revolution and Arab Spring of Egypt. 

The truth is that young people around the world are becoming larger players in their societies. When we speak about global issues that we urge our international communities to address-- such as poverty alleviation, women's empowerment, access to education, and health equity--we cannot deny the role of young people in seeking change.

One of the biggest root issues that plague our global community is the lack of outlets that young people have to make their voice heard and create those changes. Local governments are not always doing the best job and aren't holding themselves accountable.

As a country and government, we can help create outlets for young people to raise their voices globally. We must invest in local NGOs and help develop civic society so that young people have channels to properly voice their concerns and demand systemic reforms from their local institutions.

The Arab Spring is a prime example of how active our youth is; oftentimes youth will take to the streets if they feel that they are not being heard. Young people are interconnected, multilingual, and globalized. Before our global community can tackle any issue on a larger level, we must look at ourselves and ensure that we are investing in local, youth-driven initiatives for change towards issues related to health, education, and economic opportunity. Young people have answers, and they can be part of the solution. 

The Climate Is Changing, and So Should Its Message

Climate change, and the campaign surrounding it, has evolved significantly over the last decade. Just look at its name: it went from “global warming” to “climate change” and now there are suggestions to call it “global weirding,” “pollution death,” or (my personal favorite) “atmosphere cancer.” The way in which it has been framed has evolved as well. It has gone from an environmental issue to a public health issue to a political issue, a representation of a deep-seated ideological divide between Democrats and Republicans. 

And yet, despite all these changes, only 40% of Americans view climate change as a major threat. Clearly, the way in which climate change is being framed is not working to convince the general public. The climate is changing, and so should its messaging.

Latin Diaspora, US Southern Border, and... China??

It would be much easier to move the US southern border further south to where it is only about five hundred miles wide rather than continuing the argument over the two-thousand-mile-wide US-Mexican border. Or, since we are pouring so much money and resources into assisting Central American States with their problems, maybe we should just move the effective border to the Panama Canal and get it over with. After all, the canal is only forty-eight miles long and would be much easier (and cheaper) to secure and manage as a border. So we need a North American Federal States system that stretches from the Panama Canal to the North Pole. But how does China influence this idea?

If Mexico, Canada, and the Central American States can be brought into a larger federal system, and can give their citizens representation in that federal union like the rest of us and tax them like the rest of us, it would give us a bigger voice in their States than we have now. And since we are already asssisting them with numerous financial aid packages and programs and giving them effective US citizenship rights anyway, then we should make the North American Federal States official. At least we would get something back for the influx of a large Latin diaspora wanting so desperately to be in the US, to be safe, secure, and contributing US citizens: NAFS citizens.

Then, with a larger federal system, we could more easily prevent China from becoming the next all-powerful global hegemonic state. As it stands today, the US will lose out to China in the global economy as China matures economically and politically. We simply do not have the numbers to be competitive against a mature Chinese economy, nor against a stronger European Union, nor a Eurasian Economic Confederation, nor a strong African Union—all are or will be larger than the US today.

No Sanctuary in Sanctions

Economic sanctions are increasingly being used to promote the full range of American foreign policy objectives. Yet all too often sanctions turn out to be little more than  expressions of U.S. preferences that hurt American economic interests without changing the target's behavior for the better.

Fifteen years later this quote from a Brookings policy brief on the topic of economic sanctions still stands true. Economics sanctions have a long history of being used by the US and international community to reprimand states for their actions or to enact change in national policies. While sanctions are seen as an effective policy tool, how successful are they at actually enacting the change countries hope to see? 

The textbook example of sanctions and their effects on a nation is that of Iran. Ever since the state began its nuclear program in 1967, sanctions have been placed upon, removed from, and reinstated against Iran. The approaching July 20th deadline for a new agreement between the P5+1 countries (the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, and China) and Iran over current sanctions has once again brought international attention to the issue. 

Both sides in the debate want different things out of a new agreement. While the international community, especially the US, continually favors applying sanctions, Iran wants sanctions to be lifted and its nuclear rights to be guaranteed. Iranian representatives at a recent debate stressed how the US must stop its “illegal and irrational” stand in the negotiations.

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.

The Debate on UN Funding

$1.5 billion. That was the amount of the United States' debt to the United Nations at the beginning of the 2009 fiscal year. Of that, over $1.3 billon was for peacekeeping operations. This put the US at the top of the UN collections list.

In 2010 the US satisfied a significant portion of its debt to the UN, paying more than $500 million owed for peacekeeping and other UN operations. This was a significant feat at the time; the newly Republican House had threatened to withhold funding for the UN, which they perceived as a waste.

Why does the US’s contribution to the UN, and more specifically peacekeeping, matter?

Peacekeeping has emerged as an integral part of the UN; it is also the most scrutinized arm of the International Governmental Organization (IGO). While some of the most polarizing examples of UN peacekeeping operations are failures, such as those in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, many other peacekeeping missions have been successful.

In addition to its peacekeeping efforts, the UN also helps war-ravaged countries rebuild and close the chapter of conflict. Peacekeeping and building efforts have been instrumental in reconstructing dozens of countries around the world.

FIFA: For the Game. For the World.

A mural of Mario Balotelli outside of the San Siro

Soccer (football) is the beautiful game. As an American this might sound strange, but I am thoroughly convinced that no sport trumps soccer in its capacity to inspire and connect people from different parts of the world. FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, is tasked with keeping the game vibrant, fair, and accessible so that everyone can enjoy it – their motto being For the Game. For the World.

Their charge is far from simple. FIFA governs 209 national soccer associations, with each member nation assigned to one of FIFA’s six regional confederations. For those keeping count, this means that FIFA has more member states than the United Nations, since FIFA recognizes 23 non-sovereign polities as nations. The fact that football is such a dearly held treasure for humankind – and consequently a lucrative business for the wealthy – means that FIFA’s conduct is felt, scrutinized, and often critiqued.

I feel that FIFA is an organization worth some thought, particularly for its function as a supranational government. It has attracted businessmen from the world over, all of whom look to capitalize on the prestige and profits of club teams. Lastly, and possibly most intriguingly for me, FIFA is very intimately tied to and affected by social currents in every corner of the world – racism, colonialism, homoantagonism, neoliberalism, globalization, and more can all be seen in the history of the teams and the organization.