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Innovation and Cooperation: The Future of UN Peacekeeping

At a recent event held at the Brookings Institute, Under-Secretary General of Peacekeeping Missions for the United Nations Hervé Ladsous led a discussion on the future of peacekeeping operations around the world. He highlighted the need for greater innovation and international cooperation in both current and future peacekeeping missions in order for increased success.

As of today there are sixteen ongoing missions through the Department of Peacekeeping Operations as well as a special political mission--the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA.) An estimated nine out of every ten peacekeepers are currently stationed in Africa, with missions such as those in the Central African Republic and South Sudan being the most volatile. These dispatched peacekeepers handle a myriad of problems within conflict areas and help to restore stability and peace to those displaced and injured by civil or international violence.

Mr. Ladsous commented on the success of peacekeeping missions in recent years, highlighting the fact that the number of conflicts around the world has decreased dramatically within recent decades. However, the severity of the conflicts we face today make them far more intractable and difficult to handle than in the past. The issue of weakened political frameworks stands as the greatest problem in many conflict areas and often times “cripples the missions.”

The Expansion of the Syrian Civil War into Iraq: What Should the US Do?

ISIS in Iraq

It is undeniable that Iraq is in major trouble. Dozens of cities once thought to be impenetrable to jihadists have suddenly been overrun by ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), a militant group so violent that even Al Qaeda refuses to be associated with them. Gory videos have emerged on the Internet showing militants executing vast numbers of captured Iraqi soldiers in cold blood. Images of abandoned Iraqi troop posts have become commonplace on news networks, as many Iraqi soldiers have made the decision to escape with their lives rather than fight.

As a result, all eyes have turned to the White House and how the President of the most powerful nation in the world will respond. Indeed, many people have begun to wonder: what will Obama do?

Nobody truly knows the answer to this question, but we may have gotten some hints during the last few days. For instance, Obama recently declared that the option of “boots on the ground” is off the table, to the chagrin of many Republicans. Additionally, we have learned that Obama is considering authorizing US air strikes against ISIS, a measure that the head of the Iraqi government has requested.  

In my opinion, however, Obama must respond in more ways than one if he wishes to end this recent reign of terror in Iraq. He must begin by addressing the roots of the problem, which lie in the two warring factions in Syria: the Sunnis and the Alawites. Obama must work with our allies to help end the conflict between these two ethnic groups, one that has allowed ISIS to seize control of unclaimed land and use it to further grow their terrorism base.

World Cup Puts Global Inequality on Display

A mural street artist Paulo Ito painted on the doors of a schoolhouse in Sao Paulo's Pompela district. From Ito's Flickr feed.

With the 2014 FIFA World Cup underway in Brazil, it’s easy to ignore the headlines about protests in favor of the dramatic, high-scoring football matches capturing the attention of fans worldwide. But before we get out of the group stages, let’s focus on a chief concern of those protestors: inequalities in Brazilian society, and a corollary – how dismayingly common those inequalities are around the world.

Let’s start with Brazil. Around 15.9% of Brazilians are below the national poverty line. Just 3% of Brazilians own two thirds of the arable land, and agriculture is big business in Brazil. The most important picture of Brazil is the contrast in, say, Rio de Janeiro, between the massive favela shanty towns and the picturesque high-rise hotels immediately adjacent – the exact scene that will be playing out for tourists at the World Cup. With families locked in poverty sometimes for generations while the wealthy seemingly stay on top, desperation can easily set in.

But Brazil is only one piece of the puzzle; inequality is getting worse around the world. One study saw the top 1 percent of earners in the world increase their incomes 60 percent from 1988 to 2005; the bottom 20 percent saw no change. Eight percent of people see 50 percent of income worldwide. Coupled with staggering extreme poverty figures – we still have 1.22 billion people living on less than $1.25 a day – we all have a reason to protest.

Climate Change: The Moonshot

More than ever, Americans are aware of climate change and are convinced that it will adversely affect humankind. The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication indicates that 69% of Americans believe that climate change is caused by humans in some way. Of that 69%, 57% identify human activities as the main cause.

This poll data indicates that the public’s awareness of climate change might not be the major obstacle to meaningful climate action. Perhaps the greater challenge is getting Americans to see the benefits of action on climate change.

In a June 6 episode of Slate’s Political Gabfest, the editor of Slate David Plotz argued that environmentally-conscious activists and politicians have not been able to show the public the benefits of addressing climate change:

They can tell us, like, ‘If we do not act, these terrible things are going to happen – that things are going to melt, that animals are going to die, droughts, fires.’… What they haven’t been able to do is do the positive part of it and say, ‘Here is the good stuff that is going to come out of us acting. Here are the innovations. Here is the prosperity. Here are the new kinds of jobs.’

Are Human Rights the Cost of Global Governance?

Uganda’s Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa has been elected President of the UN General Assembly. While this is primarily a ceremonial position, Kutesa’s election comes with much protest, with opponents citing his string of corruption charges as well as Uganda’s own questionable laws and actions.

The most horrendous of these laws, and the main cause of concern, is Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law, which sentences violators to life imprisonment for “attempting to commit homosexuality,” along with other acts. The law also punishes businesses and owners “found guilty of the promotion of homosexuality.” Since the passage of the law, there have been many reports of violence, arrests, and other acts of discrimination, giving rise to a “culture of extreme and violent homophobia.” Many countries and organizations have responded to this by cutting aid to Uganda, with the World Bank suspending a $90 million loan directed to improve health services. 

Uganda was also found liable by the International Court of Justice in 2005 for war crimes in the Congo, for which it was ordered to pay $10 billion in reparations. This debt has yet to be paid.

Apostasy and Misogyny in Sudan

Last Tuesday announced the next chapter in a legal case that has drawn international outrage: Meriam Ibrahim, sentenced to death for apostasy, has been brought before an Appeals Court in Sudan. Ibrahim was condemned under Sharia last May for renouncing Islam and marrying a Christian, a so-called act of adultery. She gave birth in shackles and remains imprisoned with her newborn daughter. Ibrahim is trapped in a struggle between religious freedom and theocracy, but is also chained by legalized misogyny.

Apostasy is punishable by death, a penalty described in the Hadith and enforced by the Sudanese court. But Ibrahim’s punishment is not only an attack on religious freedom--it is also what happens when the gendering of religious identity is codified by state law.

The accusation and sentencing of Ibrahim are founded on the principle that women have neither the right to choose their religion nor to pass it on to their children.

Ibrahim’s only connection to Islam is through her long-absent father; she was raised by her Christian mother and considers herself Christian. Yet Sudanese law has determined her to be an apostate Muslim because the religion is patrilineal.

Unilateral US Force In Iraq Will Make The Situation Worse

Map of Iraq

The United States must not unilaterally re-engage its military in the intensifying violence in Iraq.

The US war in Iraq officially ended two-and-a-half years ago, yet violence has continued unabated since then. The Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki is now under serious attack by militants from the group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The militants, who have controlled parts of Fallujah since December last year, overtook the city of Mosul last week and are on the march toward Baghdad. 

To his credit, President Obama has ruled out sending combat troops back into Iraq. But he is still considering other military options such as air strikes and has dispatched up to 275 troops to reinforce the US embassy. With all due respect, it is not the President of the United States’ right or responsibility to decide on the international use of force in this way. Chapter VII of the UN Charter provides a framework for the use of force, and the US should not act alone. The only military action that can or should be considered must take place under the umbrella of the United Nations. Whether that is a UN peacekeeping force or other measures, it is critical that the US not engage unilaterally again.

A Weapon of War Tolerated for Too Long

"It is a myth that rape is an inevitable part of conflict. There's nothing inevitable about it. It is a weapon of war aimed at civilians. It has nothing to do with sex, everything to do with power."

With this statement, Angelina Jolie, co-chairing with Foreign Secretary William Hauge, kicked off the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict on Tuesday in London, the first of its kind. In attendance are representatives from over 100 countries, experts in the fields, faith leaders, survivors, and NGO and international organization representatives.

The issue of sexual violence is not a new topic in the US, as sexual assault, particularly on college campuses, is at the forefront of policy action. The importance of the international community to use political will to end sexual violence in the world’s current conflicts is paramount.

Human Rights Watch recently documented cases of sexual abuse in many current conflicts including those in Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote D’Ivoire, Guinea, Libya, Somalia, Sri Lanka, and Syria. This report doesn’t even include the recent discovery of sexual abuse happening in South Sudan right under UN peacekeepers' noses. Even worse, allegations in South Sudan have been made against government soldiers and rebel forces.

The four main goals for the summit are:

Why Ratifying the Women's Rights Treaty Is Important to All American Citizens

The United States has led the way for democracy and equality around the world. Through its own work as well as through collaborating with international organizations, the US has strived to guarantee better lives for all citizens. Despite such progress, recent issues regarding equality between the sexes within the US have brought to light the domestic problems we still face and how such problems prevent us from helping others around the world.

News headlines in recent months have been filled with stories of inequality and injustice against US women. President Obama’s speech on equal pay for women has led many once again to bring up the need for women to be treated as equals in the workforce and to receive the same benefits as their male counterparts.

The recent shooting near UC Santa Barbra that took the lives of seven individuals has shed light on the violence continually committed against women in the United States. The assailant, a 22-year-old male that had attended the university, left a video explaining how his actions were targeted against women as consequence of their continually rejecting him. This misogynistic attack led to a social media campaign entitled #YesAllWomen, which sought to bring attention to the need for greater protection of women’s rights.

The Inauguration of a New President: What does it mean for Ukraine's Future?

The Inauguration of President Petro Poroshenko

The inauguration of newly elected Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko this past Saturday marked an important day for Ukraine, as the country officially transitioned from its interim government. In his inaugural speech, the newly elected president vowed not to seek revenge against Russia for its contributions to the ongoing crisis, declaring instead that he would look for a peaceful way to resolve the increasingly destructive conflict. He offered amnesty to pro-Russian separatists who do not already have “blood on their hands,” with the condition that they lay down their arms at once.

President Poroshenko did not shy away from sharing his beliefs towards Ukraine’s sovereignty, however. He emphatically stated that he would defend any and all challenges to its territorial integrity, meeting them with force if the situation deemed it necessary. He declared that “Crimea belongs to Ukraine,” a statement which the predominantly pro-Ukraine crowd responded to with vigorous applause. He denounced Russia’s proposal to federalize Ukraine, adding that Ukraine will continue to remain a single state with Ukrainian as the sole official language.

Indeed, it remains to be seen whether or not the newly elected president has the necessary strength and skill to maneuver Ukraine out of one of the worst crises it has seen in decades. The new president certainly has the backing of his country--he received nearly 56 percent of the vote, but it is still unclear whether he can truly convince the dwindling number of pro-Russian separatists to bow peacefully.

What the new president will most definitely receive is the support of the United States. Vice President Biden recently announced the US will be giving an additional $48 million in government assistance to Ukraine, which has already received $73 million in security and crisis-response aid this fiscal year.