Monthly Archives: December 2013

China’s Moon Landing and a New Space Race

The Chinese government today landed an unmanned robotic rover on the moon. The successful landing marks the high point of China’s space program, and signals China’s continued ascendency in global politics. Much like the US moon landings, China’s lunar program is an important political statement.

The US space program was pushed forward by the Cold War with the Soviet Union, the result of a dramatic increase in spending on science and education after the USSR beat the US into space by launching Sputnik.

Today, US spending on its space program is at historic lows. The decommissioning of the Space Shuttle program left the United States dependent on other countries—most notably Russia—to ferry US astronauts to and from the international space station.

Is China’s space program emblematic of a new Cold War between the United States and China? Might China’s recent successes spark a renewed interest in space exploration in the United States? Might it also rekindle US investment in education?

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A New WTO Deal

WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo presides over the meeting in Bali, Indonesia.

WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo presides over the meeting in Bali, Indonesia.

After years of stalled negotiations, the World Trade Organization concluded its first trade deal in more than a decade last week. The agreement, signed in Bali, Indonesia, could increase the value of global trade by $1 trillion and create as many as 20 million jobs, according to a report by the Peterson Institute for International Economics. The Bali package would harmonize border standards, making international trade less cumbersome—a process known as “trade facilitation.” It also includes provisions permitting developing countries to expand subsidies to their agricultural sector and provides support for developing countries to implement the trade facilitation provisions. But the agreement has widely been critiqued by development experts, who observe that the key provisions of the Doha Development Agenda—liberalization of agricultural trade, access to essential medicines, and other pro-development trade policies—were not included in the current agreement.

Bali was widely seen as a “make-or-break” moment for the World Trade Organization, which has been stalled since the Doha Round was launched 12 years ago. In the meantime, bilateral trade negotiations have proliferated, threatening to make the WTO less relevant. The agreement is seen as an important boost for the WTO, helping to repair its image in international trade circles. But parties remain very far apart in addressing the most important questions in the Doha Round, and it remains unclear whether or not the WTO will be able to translate the progress it made in the Bali Agreement into a broader consensus on the more complicated—and politically challenging—questions it still must address, including farm subsidies, tariffs on industrial goods, and liberalization of trade in services.

What do you think? Does the conclusion of the Bali Agreement signal a shift towards a more multilateral approach to trade liberalization? Or does the agreement represent the limits of the WTO and reinforce the trend towards bilateral negotiations?

Remembering Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela in 2008

Nelson Mandela in 2008

Former South African President Nelson Mandela passed away today. Most well-known for his role in helping South Africa transition to a multi-racial democracy after having been imprisoned by the apartheid government for 27 years, Mandela was a human rights icon. His ability to work peacefully with the apartheid government after such a long period of imprisonment—and his ability to reach out to white South Africans in order to begin a long process of reconciliation in the country—made him an important leader to many South Africans. And at the international level, Mandela lent his voice to several causes, particularly in combating the HIV/AIDS crisis and prompting rural development and the expansion of education in the global south.

A short video by the New York Times outlines Mandela’s achievements, particularly as the first black President of South Africa.

Mandela’s passing provides an important moment to remember his legacy and to reflect on the role of individual actors in global politics.

Enforcing Human Rights Through the Courts

A Meeting of the European Court of Human Rights

A Meeting of the European Court of Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights is hearing a case centering on the extraordinary rendition and alleged torture of two men currently held at the United States’ Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba. The case was brought by lawyers for Abu Zubaudah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, both al Qaeda members, against the government of Poland. In it, lawyers for Zabaudah and al-Nashiri allege that they were seized and flown to secret US-administered “black sites” in Poland, where they were subject to waterboarding, mock executions, and other ill treatment. Lawyers allege that all of this took place with the knowledge and consent of the Polish government. Lawyers for the Polish government do not contest the accusations but assert that the Polish government should be allowed to undertake its own investigation before the case is brought to the European Court. A similar suit filed by lawyers for Khaled al-Masri against the government of Macedonia in 2012 was successful, resulting in an order by the European Court that the Macedonian government compensate al-Masri.

The use of the European Court of Human Rights is an interesting twist in the protection of human rights of alleged terrorists. One of the key features of the extraordinary rendition program was that it took place outside the United States, and thus beyond the reach of US courts. Do you think that the European Courts will be able to effectively protect the rights of suspected terror suspects held incognito by the United States in Europe? Why?

Weekly Quiz: Test Yourself on This Week’s Events

The weekly quiz is now live. Good luck!