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Will De-escalation Really Occur?

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meeting in Paris (Photo: PBS)

Yesterday saw progress on ending the crisis in the Ukraine with a diplomatic agreement reached in Geneva.

After ongoing talks between officials from the Ukraine, Russia, the United States and the European Union, it was agreed that the situation in Ukraine must de-escalate. The agreement calls for all illegal military formations in Ukraine to be dissolved and everyone illegally occupying buildings to be disarmed and to evacuate. There is added amnesty for all anti-government protesters under the agreement as well. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will moniter the de-escalation efforts. 

Beyond this general agreement, however, much is left unclear. I think most of the world with access to the Internet could deduce that the situation in Ukraine needed de-escalation even without going to Geneva. And we could reasonably assume that for this to happen, violence and occupation of buildings needed to stop. This agreement leaves much to be desired in the realm of resolving the conflict in the region and stabilizing the government and economy of the Ukraine. Already today there are reports that the protestors in East Ukraine are refusing to disperse, showing the cracks in the weak facade of this "deal."

Less certain is whether or not Russia will actually support the agreement or agree simply to save face, but not act. Putin is an unpredictable leader and has shown that he has no qualms about bending the rules to ensure that he remains in control. Hopefully Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov’s assent to this agreement will hold true and the Russian government will remain committed to ending the conflict with the Ukraine, but there is no certainty in dealing with Vladimir Putin.

A Responsible Boycott: Canada and the Commonwealth

Canadian Tamils protest against Sri Lankan government abuses in Toronto during the late stages of the civil war. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

On Monday, Canada’s foreign affairs minister announced that the world’s 11th largest economy would be suspending its $10 million annual contribution to the Commonwealth of Nations until late 2015 in protest against Sri Lanka’s two-year leadership of the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper caused controversy last year by joining the leaders of India and Mauritius in boycotting the summit in Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital. This persistent conflict stems from Sri Lanka’s continued refusal to address claims of human rights atrocities committed by government forces during the country’s 26-year civil war.

Since the end of hostilities in 2009, Colombo has continuously rejected all calls for investigation into the claims, most recently denouncing a March resolution by the UN Human Rights Council requesting a “comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations” by “both parties” in the war. Monday’s announcement has been met with similar obstinacy, as the Sri Lankan foreign ministry accused Canada of attempting to “hold the Commonwealth to ransom” for the sake of “scoring political points.” Human Rights organizations, however, have consistently praised the Harper government for its uniquely stern stance in dealing with Colombo.

The pulling of $20 million in total from the Commonwealth marks the strongest action taken yet in pursuit of accountability and an independent investigation into atrocities which continue to be ignored.

Nuclear Arms Control: New START and Continued Reductions in Nuclear Stockpiles

Last week, the US administration of Barack Obama announced that it would reduce the number of deployed US Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) from 450 to 400. The silos that housed these nuclear weapons will be maintained, unfortunately, and the 50 weapons will be stored rather than dismantled. The reduction comes as part of the United States' obligations under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with the Russian Federation.

The treaty requires both parties to limit their deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550 and reduce their nuclear weapons delivery systems to 800 (700 deployed) by 2018. As of October, 2013, the Russian Federation had already accomplished this reduction with 473 reported deployed delivery systems. The US currently has 886 deployed and non-deployed delivery systems, still above the 2018 goal.

American Ignorance and Ukrainian Action

Where is the Ukraine?

The top headline on BBC News yesterday read “Ukraine begins 'anti-terror action’.” "Terror" evokes a strong reaction from most Americans as they think of 9/11, leading some to call for US action in the region. However, despite the months of nonstop news coverage, many of the Americans making these demands do not know where the Ukraine is located, let alone what they are calling for action against. And the possible repercussions of US military intervention make this call to action an improbable option for the US.

The limited knowledge on the Ukrainian situation was very apparent in an article posted in the Washington Post last week detailing a poll which asked Americans to locate Ukraine on a map and then asked them a few questions about the situation and possible moves for the United States. Some of the guesses were so far off as to put Ukraine in the middle of the US, in Australia, in the middle of the Pacific, and surprisingly often in Greenland. The survey showed that the further the guess was from the actual location of Ukraine, the more likely the person was to support US military intervention. Even controlling for demographic factors and general foreign policy stances, the surveyors concluded that “the less accurate [the] participants were, the more they wanted the U.S. to use force, the greater the threat they saw Russia as posing to U.S. interests, and the more they thought that using force would advance U.S. national security interests.”

Global Justice: The Unrealizable Promise of International Institutions

The "Pale Blue Dot" photo of Earth taken in 1990 by Voyager 1 from beyond the orbit of Pluto. We're the tiny dot.

In recent years, we’ve come to recognize that the world is interconnected, perhaps in ways and on a scale that it never has been before. We live together and affect each other on the same small planet and we are all fundamentally equal regardless of where we are born. Global justice is about deciding how the institutions those interactions create, formal and informal, social, political, and economic, should be managed in a just, equitable way, where everyone is treated fairly and no one is abused.

New international institutions were born in the last century to cope with the consequences of depression and devastating wars in a globalizing world. The United Nations was designed to pursue diplomacy on a variety of issues, and its Security Council in particular was designed to prevent great power war. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were designed to rebuild the global economy and keep it stable, so that every state can participate and so that no single state could make a mistake with its economy so terrible that it dooms us all. Institutions keep being birthed, too: a World Trade Organization has formed to help states better manage the flow of goods and services, an International Criminal Court started work just a decade ago to hold violators of human rights to account for their crimes, and more institutions have been created, including regional courts, issue-focused IGOs, and others.

These international institutions do much good, bringing food and shelter to refugees, helping us understand human rights violations, and helping keep the world stable in ways it may not be otherwise.

A Taxing Solution to the Greatest Challenge of Our Time

Could a Tax on Carbon Pollution Maintain the Health of our Country?

Ben Franklin said it best — nothing is certain, “except death and taxes.”

Like most Americans, we submit our 1040s to maintain the health of our nation. However, we’d personally rather decrease our income tax and instead pay a fee that reduces carbon pollution and could preserve the planet.

The carbon-intensive oil, gas, and coal industries are stoking climate change. According to a new UN report, the threats to our civilization are enormous. Crop failures, the top concern in the UN’s report, will cause widespread starvation in all parts of the world. Countries will face a cascade of destabilizing events: severe water shortages, heat waves, floods, droughts, wildfires, intense storms, rising sea levels and other catastrophes on an unprecedented scale. Civil wars and conflicts between nations will increase as people compete for scarce natural resources.

The good news is that while it is too late to avoid climate change — it’s already happening — humanity can still temper its force. One of the simplest ways to slow the pace of climate change is by levying a fee on greenhouse gas emissions.

Putting a price on burning oil, gas, and coal that reflects the damage inflicted on the environment will make renewable energy alternatives (like solar, geothermal, and wind) and energy-reducing investments more competitive.

Our friend Alan Rushforth lives near Philadelphia and started a small solar-powered water-heating business a few years ago. Even with state and federal subsidies, it took Rushforth Solar’s customers five to seven years to break even compared with the cost of installing natural gas heaters, so it was a tough sell.

U.S. Power Play over Iran and U.N.

Iranian Nomination for U.N. Ambassador, Hamid Aboutalebi

The recent move by the Obama administration to bar Hamid Aboutalebi, nominated to be the Iranian ambassador to the UN, from entering the U.S. weakens the United Nations. By denying Aboutalebi a visa to access UN Headquarters in New York City, the United States is effectively commandeering UN policy and forcing the world organization's proceedings to bow before U.S. national security interests. 

The denial ignores the 1947 U.S./UN agreement that the U.S. will not interfere with diplomatic rights, the only exception being if the diplomat's visit raises national security concerns. 

The administration and Congress has overreacted to Aboutalebi’s role as a translator in the 1978-61 Iran Hostage Crisis. Aboutalebi, 22 during the crisis, has since lived the life of a career diplomat. He’s been the ambassador to Italy, Australia, Belgium, and the European Union. If he were a “terrorist”, as Senator Cruz labels him, then these countries and the EU would certainly never had allowed him to enter their territory.

Remembering Rwanda

Photographer Pieter Hugo documented the forgiveness and reconciliation between perpetrators and victims of Rwanda's genocide.

One hundred days and nearly 1 million men, women, and children alike killed; killed only because of their ethnic backgrounds. Neighbors, friends, coworkers, and in extreme cases spouses, fell victim to what the United Nations has declared “one of the darkest chapters in human history.” Twenty years later Rwandans are moving forward in inspiring ways.

Throughout the African country, villages are emerging; villages in which perpetrators and victims live as neighbors, some even as friends. Known as Reconciliation Villages, these are places where forgiveness is becoming the norm and where life is moving on.

New York Times photographer Pieter Hugo has chronicled several of these reconciliations in a piece titled “Portraits of Reconciliation.” These powerful images capture the work of AMI, a non-profit working with national efforts for reconciliation. These Reconciliation Villages are part of a grassroots effort to address the thousands of accused who have yet to face trial.

In an attempt to reduce the overwhelming number of accused waiting for trial, the national reconciliation efforts re-established community tribunals. This effort allows these communities to try their accused and, as is often the case, reach reconciliation as a means of justice. The Gacaca court system ran from 2005 to 2012, trying more than 1.2 million cases country wide.

A Closer Look: 2006 House Republican Average Score

2006 Congressional Report Card

Recently, I wrote on the consistent partisan divide between Republicans and Democrats on foreign policy over the last decade. Observant readers would have noted that in 2006, the House Republican’s average grade in the report card was far better than the average they received in any other year

The dramatic rise in House Republicans’ average score in 2006 is a clear outlier: it’s a 26-point jump from the previous report card. The partisan divide in 2006 was 45 points, which is better than the 62 point gap in 2014, but still not so great. What caused this surprising bump in the House Republicans’ average grade?

It clearly wasn’t a change in their fundamental views – the House Republican average dropped right back into the trend the next grading cycle. Extra credit was also a definite non-factor – the Party scores are averaged together without extra credit to maintain an even playing field. My first guess was that international initiatives led by the Bush administration had gained party support. I soon learned, however, that the explanation was not that easy.Congressional Report Card Average Grades

World Bank Has Major Role to Play in Mitigating Climate Change Outcomes

World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim

With the joint World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings coming up April 11th through April 15th, it’s worth reviewing the contribution these institutions make to global justice. We’ve already covered the IMF a bit recently, so let’s review the World Bank, particularly in light of a recent announcement that it will be substantially increasing its lending to developing countries.

Like the IMF, the World Bank was created after World War II to help stabilize the new economic order. The World Bank was originally designed to help rebuild war-torn countries following years of conflict. As those states regained stability, the Bank’s mission changed: help the worst off around the world build their societies into more stable economies that can participate on the world stage. But like the IMF, the World Bank has been criticized for forcing countries to take certain policy advice that has often stifled rather than encouraged development.

In recent years, the World Bank has made impressive efforts to reform, especially in streamlining its bureaucracy. It has also strengthened its role as a repository and developer of knowledge– it has developed a strong understanding each state’s economy, and can therefore partner with those states and investors to examine problems and leverage its economic expertise to find solutions. Most of all, the Bank’s global presence and relative independence give it the opportunity to address genuinely global needs, ranging from extreme poverty to famine to global health and climate change.