Monthly Archives: January 2014

Targeting Terrorists Through Missile Strikes

The United States on Sunday night launched a strike against Ahmed Mohamed Amey, a chemical weapons export and suspected militant leader with close ties to al Shabab. Amey was hiding out in southern Somalia. The organization he belonged to, Al Shabab, came into the spotlight in last September when several of its members launched an attack on the Westgate Shopping Mall in Kenya that resulted in 67 deaths. The attack has been widely covered, including by the BBC (though it has received considerably less attention inside the United States than outside it).

What do you think? Is the current US policy of using missile strikes in an effort to kill key leaders of militant and terror groups likely to be effective in disrupting the effectiveness of such groups? Or do the unintended deaths often associated with such strikes weaken the US position and generate support for its opponents, as some critics suggest?

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The Economic Challenge of Climate Change

Bill Gates and the World Economic Forum

Bill Gates and the World Economic Forum

Government ministers and corporate executives descended on Davos, Switzerland, to meet at the World Economic Forum last week. While the world faces numerous challenges, ranging from the threat of an internet meltdown to the situation in the Middle East, the topic of climate change quickly took center stage. Delegates agreed that climate change posed a major threat to the global economy, with Coca-Cola’s Chief Environmental Officer, Jeff Seabright, noting that “Increased droughts, more unpredictable variability, 100-year floods every two years—we see those events as threats.” Seabright also noted that access to water, sugar cane, sugar beets, citrus juice and other key ingredients was also threatened by climate change.

But while the World Economic Forum is noting the importance of addressing climate change, individual governments appear unwilling to make significant strides towards real action. A report in the New York Times last week noted that the European Union is moving to ease climate rules in an effort to alleviate some of the economic pain associated with the global downturn. The United States has refused to sign most international climate change accords, usually citing the threat to the national economy as the reason. Economic growth and a clean environment as thus often cast as rivals in a tradeoff—to get more of one, you have to accept less of the other.

But is this accurate? Are environment and economy in constant competition? Al Gore, Bill Gates, and others are hoping not. In a conversation on climate change and development at this week’s World Economic Forum, Gates raised the connection between climate change and development, noting that, “As the poorest are being lifted up, as they’re getting lights and refrigerators, we are going to use more energy. There’s not a scenario here where we use less energy. We have to make the energy we use not emit any greenhouse gases, particularly CO2.” But Gore and others are hoping that “clean development” can create jobs and reduce carbon emissions around the world, removing the tension between economy and environment. If they’re right, the future looks a lot brighter. If not, there are some real challenges ahead.

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Combating Piracy Through Development

somali-piratesThe International Maritime Bureau on Thursday reported a sharp decline in piracy on the world’s seas. While the movie Captain Phillips—telling the 2009 story of Captain Richard Phillips and the Maersk Alabama hijacking by Somali pirates—receives best picture attention, the reality of global piracy is that it is at its lowest levels in more than six years.  In 2013, there were 264 attacks against merchant shipping vessels, resulting in 12 vessels being hijacked. This represents a 40 percent decline from the 2011 peaks.

The decline in piracy has been driven by several factors. Increased naval patrols by the United States, the European Union, and others in Gulf of Aden and other key waterways combined with a greater investment in security and countermeasures by global shipping companies has deterred some attacks. But increasing political stability and economic development in Somalia has also been critical. In 2010, 49 of the 53 ships hijacked around the world were taken off the coasts of Somalia. The country lacked any central government and was ruled—to the extent that it was ruled—by competing warlords. Fishing communities lacked any options for eking out a living, and thus turned to piracy. Today, the country has a fragile but existing government and is working with other countries in the region to establish itself. Things, in short, are moving in the right direction. And as a result, many who formerly viewed piracy as a means of survival are finding other options available to them. In other words, two of the key factors in combating Somali piracy were political stability and economic development.

The End of Globalization?

containershipsAn interesting short video clip from CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS asks whether we are witnessing the “end of globalization”?

For much of the last thirty years there has been a steady trend in commerce: global trade has expanded at about twice the pace of the global economy. For example, between 1988 and 2007, global trade grew on average by 6.2 percent a year according to the World Trade Organization. During the same period, the world’s GDP was growing at nearly half that pace: 3.7 percent.

But a strange thing has taken place in the last two years. Growth in global trade has dropped dramatically, to even less than GDP growth. The change leaves one wondering: has the incredible transfer of goods around the world reached some sort of pinnacle? Have we exhausted the drive toward ever-more-globalization?

It’s an interesting question, and likely one without a clear or easy answer. More broadly, I wonder what the end of globalization might even look like? While there is certainly a trend towards the local (just look at all the local food movements), can we envision a world without significantly high levels of global exchange? Just think of all the ways we are connected globally in our daily lives, and ask yourself, what like would look like without all those things?

Basketball Diplomacy

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and former NBA player Dennis Rodman watch a basketball game in February.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and former NBA player Dennis Rodman watch a basketball game in February.

Former NBA star Dennis Rodman made headlines during a news conference ahead of an exhibition match between several former NBA players and the North Korean national team in Pyongyang yesterday. After being asked questions about the American Kenneth Bae—who has been held by North Korean authorities for almost a year after being sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor for “hostile acts to bring down the government”—Rodman responded with a sharp defense of the North Korean regime. Rodman suggested that Bae was guilty of the charges against him. He later serenaded North Korean President Kim Jong Un with a round of “Happy Birthday,” and described Kim as his “best friend.” Rodman also defended his “basketball diplomacy” stating that, “One day, one day, [North Korea’s] door is going to open because these 10 [basketball players] here, all of us, Christie, Vin, Dennis, Charles … I mean everybody here, if we could open the door just a little bit for people to come here and do one thing.”

But Rodman’s efforts have been widely criticized. The National Basketball Association has distanced itself from Rodman’s trip, with NBA Commissioner David Stern stating that “Sports diplomacy is a wonderful thing.  But they should be done in a far more dignified fashion than this particular trip is being carried out.”

Bill Richardson, former US Ambassador to the United Nations, was more direct, nothing that he has “disappointed”  in Rodman’s outburst and stating that “I think Dennis Rodman crossed a line this morning by implying that Kenneth Bae might be guilty, by suggesting that there was a crime.”

Do you think that Rodman’s “basketball diplomacy” will make a difference in US-North Korean relations? Why? In what way? What factors make “sports diplomacy” more or less effective? Might sports be used in other contexts to facilitate diplomatic initiatives? How?

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Fallujah and the Resurgence of Al Qaeda in Iraq

The Iraqi government today reported that it had lost control of the strategic city of Fallujah west of Baghdad. The admission comes after days of fighting between government forces and al-Qaeada and Sunni militias in the region. The fighting in Fallujah marks the highpoint in ongoing struggles between Sunni and Shi’a groups across Iraq, with Sunnis feeling that the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has systematically favored Shi’as over Sunnis. Civilian deaths in Iraq in 2013 were at their highest level since 2008, and many observers fear that a full-scale sectarian conflict could be emerging.

Does the loss of Fallujah signal the resurgence of al Qaeda in the region? If so, what if anything should the United States do to address the situation in Iraq?