Monday, November 16, 2009

The Danes Are Trying To Save The World

Well it looks like the predictions that the Copenhagen climate change summit would be a disaster before it even began were true.  President Obama acknowledged today that the chance to secure a legally binding agreement at the summit has gone belly up.  Denmark of all places has come to the rescue to at least try to salvage something from this hot mess.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, proposed the summit should aim for firm political agreements, but may delay actual binding treaties until mid-2010.  This in theory will give the U.S. Senate time to pass carbon capping legislation, something the Dems have been aiming to get on the floor by spring.   This should have been signed, sealed and delivered already, in time to lend its crucial weight to the summit - but the Senate, I assume, have been overwhelmingly busy doing the bang-up job getting health care legislation passed so smoothly.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Is The U.S. Playing Too Nicely With Russia?

Great post by Seth Weinberger at Security Dillemmas over the U.S.'s seeming inability to obtain a pledge from Russia to support sanctions against Iran regarding their possible nuclear ambitions.  He argues that Obama missed a golden opportunity to trade the decision to dismantle the anti-ballistic missile system (ABM) that was planned for installation in Poland and the Czech Republic, for guaranteed support from Russia regarding Iran.  Considering how much the possibility of ABM deployment in their neighborhood angered the Russians, it is strange that the U.S. did not seize upon this opportunity.

In addition, Secretary of State Clinton announced yesterday during her trip there, that the White House would no longer critisize Russia on their human rights record in order to improve relations.  Considering the rollback in democracy under Putin, this is very surprising, disturbing and again puzzleing...what is the U.S. getting in return? Still not a concrete plege - Prime Minister Putin announced today it is "premature to discuss sanctions against Iran".  Not what Hillary was hoping for one could guess.

Could there be any consequences to all of this soft peddling?  Weinberger argues that a weakened commitment to Eastern European NATO countries could embolden Russia to take advantage, leading to future scenarios similar to its invasion of Georgia.  Eastern European nations are not blind to this fact - they are already concerned with how the ABM situation panned out and are now aware that the U.S. may look away from human rights abuses such as those that took place in Chechnya in the 90's during their wars with Russia. Also, I would add to his argument, the concern that Russia is planning a new pipeline that would run along the bed of the Baltic Sea.  This new "Nord Stream" pipeline would allow natural gas to travel directly to Germany and Western Europe, eliminating the current need to pipe it through Eastern Europe. A NY Times article writes,
Officials in Central and Eastern Europe fear that while profits from the pipeline, a joint venture between Gazprom and a trio of German and Dutch companies, will flow to Russian suppliers and German utilities, the long trod-upon countries once under the Soviet umbrella will become more vulnerable to energy blackmail.  Such tactics are hardly without precedent. A Swedish Defense Ministry-affiliated research organization has identified 55 politically linked disruptions in the energy supply of Eastern Europe since the breakup of the Soviet Union. 
For Eastern Europeans, the pipeline issue evokes deep memories of a darker era of occupation and collaboration, and has become a proxy debate over Russia’s intentions toward the lands it ruled from the end of World War II to the fall of the Berlin Wall.  In an open letter to President Obama last spring, 23 former Central European heads of state and intellectuals, including a former Czech president, Vaclav Havel, and a former Polish president, Lech Walesa, pointed out that after the war in Georgia last year Russia declared a “sphere of privileged interests” that could include their countries.  With the control of gas pipelines, they wrote, “Russia is back as a revisionist power pursuing a 19th-century agenda with 21st-century tactics.”
Hopefully, there will be positive results from this recent visit to Russia, as well as improved relations and relationships.  Hopefully, Russia will slowly come around on the Iranian issue. Hopefully, Russia will not abuse its strengthened position in the region and bother its neighbors.  Fingers crossed...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The OTHER Nobel Candidates....

Whether you agree or disagree with the Nobel committee's decision to award the Peace Prize to President Obama, we should remember that there were more than 200 other candidates for the honor.  The Independent took a look at just six of them - each profile so utterly inspirational you wish more than one Nobel Peace Prize could be awarded.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Overpopulation - Our Greatest Threat?

Compelling article by Paul Farrell in MarketWatch the other day, describing a meeting which took place last May that gathered some of the most influential movers and shakers.  The goal: to reach a consensus as to what constitutes the greatest threat to humanity.

    "Bill Gates called billionaire philanthropists to a super-secret meeting in Manhattan last May. Included: Buffett, Rockefeller, Soros, Bloomberg, Turner, Oprah and others meeting at the "home of Sir Paul Nurse, a British Nobel prize biochemist and president of the private Rockefeller University, in Manhattan," reports John Harlow in the London TimesOnline. During an afternoon session each was "given 15 minutes to present their favorite cause. Over dinner they discussed how they might settle on an 'umbrella cause' that could harness their interests." 
 The world's biggest time-bomb? Overpopulation, say the billionaires. And yet, global governments with their $50 trillion GDP, aren't even trying to solve the world's overpopulation problem. G-20 leaders ignore it. So by 2050 the Earth's population will explode by almost 50%, from 6.6 billion today to 9.3 billion says the United Nations. And what about those billionaires and their billions? Can they stop the trend? Sadly no. Only a major crisis, a global catastrophe, a collapse beyond anything prior in world history will do it."

The dangers of overpopulation have been argued over the years - indeed the centuries. Thomas Malthus, the classical economist famous for his theories on the limits of natural resources, wrote way back in 1798, in, "An Essay on the Principal of Population:  

"I say, that the power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man.  Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. A slight acquaintance with numbers will shew the immensity of the first power in comparison of the second.  By that law of our nature which makes food necessary to the life of man, the effects of these two unequal powers must be kept equal.  This implies a strong and constantly operating check on population from the difficulty of subsistence. This difficulty must fall somewhere; and must necessarily be severely felt by a large portion of mankind."

Others, such as the the father of the Green Revolution, Norman Borlaug -  most famous for his stunning achievements in agricultural growth - was less widely known for his life-long belief that the greatest threat to food security was overpopulation.  

A debate remains as to the tipping point number...9 billion, 12 billion, even more, but it seems evident that natural resources such as water, energy and land can only sustain a limited amount of people before catastrophe occurs.  It would be a tragedy to see our world undergo a sudden population correction (a nice way of saying massive war, famine, disease etc.), when instead, sound policy direction and investment in family planning initiatives could steer us smoothly towards a more stable growth trend.  

This issue needs as much attention as the global alternative energy movement.  Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen anytime soon.  Politically, it's a touchy subject matter and attempts by countries such as China's "One Child" policies,  have left behind a bad taste.  Meetings such as the one last May are encouraging, but will real change happen in time?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Berkeley To Independently Comply With United Nations

From the west coast, it seems that the city of Berkeley has passed a measure that will allow it to independently comply with UN treaties.  This would be the first such measure passed in the United States.  It will also require Berkeley to file a report every two years on how it is meeting international human rights standards.

While very noble, this could very well be a potentially embarrassing situation if it turns out Berkeley is in fact, not up to par with certain UN standards. They've got a crippling homelessness problem, and let's not forget John Yoo, the Justice Department lawyer who co-wrote many of those infamous memos that would later be used to justify torture of terror suspects...he's a UC Berkeley law professor.

Friday, October 2, 2009

India's Ongoing Drought

An article by the Wall Street Journal yesterday looks at the severe drought which is currently affecting millions in India.  The monsoon season, which countless farmers and families rely on for survival, arrived late and supplied poor rainfall.  65% of farmers rely on these monsoons for their agricultural needs.  Any shortfall in rain directly hurts India's economy, where agriculture accounts for roughly 17% of its GDP.  Of even more concern is the growing lack of food.  Reduced output and rising prices have threatened the food security of almost 700 million Indians.  In August, the finance minister of India, Pranab Mukherjee, announced they would begin importing food to offset shortages.

These changes to India's weather patterns came as no surprise to many scientists, and were actually predicted. A Purdue University research study early this year concluded that ongoing climate change could precipitate weakened and delayed monsoon seasons in South Asia.  As quoted from a ScienceDaily article back in March, the research group,

"Found that climate change could influence monsoon dynamics and cause less summer precipitation, a delay in the start of monsoon season and longer breaks between the rainy periods.  Noah Diffenbaugh, whose research group led the study, said the summer monsoon affects water resources, agriculture, economics, ecosystems and human health throughout South Asia.  "Almost half of the world's population lives in areas affected by these monsoons, and even slight deviations from the normal monsoon pattern can have great impact," said Diffenbaugh, an associate professor of earth and atmospheric sciences and interim director of the Purdue Climate Change Research Center."

As I mentioned in my previous post on food security and climate change, there is a wealth of information, analysis, and evidence that climate change is vastly affecting agriculture.  There needs to be some sort of international consensus that the way forward is not to ignore these warnings.  Let's be mindful of the numbers - only one weak monsoon season has already led to 700 million people facing hunger.  Can we afford to see these numbers grow and grow?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Climate Change And Hunger

As the date for the climate summit in Copenhagen approaches, a series of reports have been released this week that deserve widespread attention.  The International Food Policy Research Institute has written several reports that analyze the impact of climate change on agriculture.  They are worth reading and excellent sources of in depth regional information and data. One of the most compelling and frightening conclusions they arrive at is that hunger and malnutrition will eventually be suffered by over 25 million children in the poorest of countries - all of it directly due to climate change.  Africa and Asia not surprisingly, would be the hardest hit.

Global food prices for staples such as rice and maze have already seen staggering increases over the last few years, which contributed to an international food crisis that has been largely ignored here in the US. Lower yields from harvests due to environmental damage will certainly not help.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Is It A Good Idea For The US To Escalate Military Operations In Pakistan?

An ultimatum was issued to Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan's president, last week by US officials.  The US is dissatisfied with Pakistan's reluctance to deal with the Taliban's ruling council, which is believed to be situated in Quetta Shura, a region in Baluchistan.  The US position is that the militant leadership residing in Quetta poses a grave threat to Nato forces operating in Afghanistan, and may be targeted for drone attacks.  This however, moves such drone attacks much deeper into Pakistani controlled territory - bringing with it almost certain protest from the Pakistani people and an escalation of tension.

While it is militarily understandable that the US would want to eliminate a powerful Taliban stronghold, politically this could be disastrous.  Pakistan's stability rests on very fragile ground.  Extremists would very likely take advantage of the public outcry against these attacks to recruit.  This is especially true if these drones end up killing many civilians, which is likely given that the Quetta region is more heavily populated than current strike zones.  An uptick of radicalization within the much needed moderate population poses as much, if not more of a security threat than any Taliban.

Bruce Riedel, a Brookings Institution scholar who also served as the co-author of Obama’s review of Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy, has previously stated that Pakistan, "has more terrorists per square mile than anyplace else on earth, and it has a nuclear weapons program that is growing faster than anyplace else on earth.”

A Pakistan that veers out of control, brimming with US supplied money and arms, could send the entire Middle East as well as India into chaos - and large scale attacks into the heart of Pakistan could very well open up a Pandora's box of trouble.  Why play with fire?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bill Clinton Hosts CGI Panel On Northern Ireland - A Peek Inside

I had the good fortune to attend a panel discussion this afternoon at the Sheraton Hotel.  It was a Clinton Global Initiative meeting, hosted by the man himself, Bill Clinton.  The room was packed to the max - he still has that level of star power.  The topic of discussion was the Northern Ireland peace process and the immense progress both sides have made to achieve a level of stability only dreamed of a few decades ago.  The panel included: Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin, Northern Secretary of State Shaun Woodward, and Declan Kelly, who was appointed by Clinton's wife, Hillary, to be the US economic envoy to Northern Ireland.

In the audience was Gerry Adams, Bertie Ahern and Martin Scorsese.  Yes, Martin Scorsese.

There was a brief discussion of the successes achieved with the peace process.  And it has certainly been a kind of success that could be a blueprint for other countries facing sectarian and/or religious conflict.  Indeed, Mr. Martin pointed out that delegates from Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka have visited NI to study their methods.  All the politics talk was over quickly however, as the main thrust of this event was to promote investment.  Declan Kelly was particularly animated, and his enthusiasm for NI economic and investment potential was so enthusiastic it seeped into the audience, and his speech got a hearty round of applause.  I think Hillary made a good choice in her selection of Kelly!

Mr. Kelly went on to argue that NI has a particularly strong workforce that is highly educated.  Combined with a low cost base, the lowest unemployment in the EU, it was no wonder that almost a billion dollars was invested by over 40 companies during the worst of the global financial collapse.

It seems that NI it attempting to develop into a major economic player in the EU.    They are playing smart - having achieved long fought for stability, they are ready to take advantage of their built-in benefits: a young, highly educated workforce, cultural and language compatibility with Western nations, and low operating costs.  It seems Clinton and CGI are trying to broker as many deals as possible right now.  In fact, Clinton declared that any company could contact CGI directly for help with initiating business with NI.

I have a feeling a lot of deals will be made out of this meeting.  There were hundreds of people in attendance, with at least 300 who were turned away due to capacity.  All in all, a fun afternoon.  The biggest laughs came when Clinton was reminiscing about Frank McCourt's recent memorial service held in a bar across the street, (Rosie O' Grady's for you NY'ers -and if you've read Angela's Ashes, you will understand why he would have preferred a pub over a church service).

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hope For A Greener Future

Here in New York this week, it is a mishmosh of traffic, random mystery motorcades, amazing talks and panels, and more traffic.  It's like this every September during the week of the summit of world leaders at the United Nations.  President Obama certainly has a lot on his plate.  Near the top is the ongoing negotiations on climate change.  This morning, Secretary Ban Ki-moon (who wrote an eloquent op-ed in the NY Times last Thursday), is convening a meeting with over 100 heads of state to specifically discuss the issue of climate, with Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao addressing the group.

There is tremendous pressure on both developed and developing countries to reach a deal at the upcoming Copenhagen summit.  Pressure not only derived from the noble desire to protect our environment, but also growing pressure from investors and businesses within the green industry.  Here's hoping that we can finally reach some sort of consensus in the upcoming months.  To keep that hopeful vibe going, here are a few articles that demonstrate how varied and effective green technologies can be.

The first one looks at Germany's massive expansion of their offshore wind farm program.  The next - about the upcoming construction in New York of a spinning flywheel, of which a single 20 megawatt plant will have the equivalent carbon emissions reduction impact of planting 660,000 trees. More offshore wind farms in Denmark, and finally, an article arguing that China is far surpassing the US at the moment in pioneering clean energy solutions.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Remembering Someone Who Fought World Hunger...

The stampede over the weekend in Karachi, Pakistan that killed at least 14 women and children illustrated in the most tragic way possible that hunger still has yet to be beaten.  Free flour was being handed out, presumably in a disorganized way and in a narrow, confined space.  However it was the unexpected numbers of women and children that showed up to receive the flour that caught the distributers by surprise. Last week, we lost Norman Borlaug, a scientist who made it his life's work to improve agricultural output and was a pioneer of the Green Revolution.  In 1970, he was awarded the Nobel Peace price for his advances in plant breeding that increased yields throughout Latin-America and Asia, where he was single-handedly credited for saving millions of lives from starvation.  He remained steadfast in his position that population growth was the true instigator of hunger, and also faced critics arguing that the Green Revolution was an unsustainable, ecologically unsound practice.  Whatever may be your opinion on the matter, here is a tip of the hat to a man that undoubtable made an impact on all of us - as Gary H. Toenniessen, director of agricultural programs for the Rockefeller Foundation states in a New York Times article, half the the world's population every day consumes grain descended from one of the high-yield varieties developed by Dr. Borlaug and his colleagues of the Green Revolution.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Will Israel Attack Iran?

There are mounting signs that Israel is indeed gearing up for a possible attack in the near future.  A major issue seems to be the growing split with the Obama administration, which seems committed to arriving at a diplomatic solution and whose foreign policy approach so far lies in stark contrast to Bush’s hawkishness.

On Thursday, the US State Department rejected a proposal by Iran to engage in international talks regarding its nuclear program.  Israel has been increasingly impatient with the US’s approach to Iran – Obama will wait until the end of the year to decide whether to offer the negotiation track, or increase sanctions. Many in Israel, who feel that their immediate security concerns are gravely threatened, view this as political drag footing.  AIPAC has also been making the rounds in Washington, lining up support to put pressure on Obama. According to a Senate aide quoted in a TPMCafe article by M.J. Rosenberg, “For AIPAC, it's all Iran, all the time. I don't think they have come in about any other issue for a year or two.”

Russia’s role has been spotlighted recently.  The recent disappearance and reappearance of a Russian cargo ship in the Arctic Sea was rumored to be carrying anti-aircraft missiles bound for Iran.  It is also believed the ship was intercepted by the Moussad before it could complete the transaction with Iran.  This could all be dismissed as idle speculation, yet the very surprising secret visit to Moscow last week by Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to confirm something is brewing.  It appears he chartered a private jet to take him for a meeting with Russian officials to possibly dissuade them from selling those missiles to Iran, as well as inform them of a potential attack.

There is an excellent article in Slate, written in April, that not only foreshadows some of these recent rumblings, but also offers a very good analysis as to why an attack on Iran falls within Israel’s rational interests. And for all of you political theory fans, can be explained using plain old-fashioned balance of power concepts.  What is does offer up, is the argument that Israel’s current political ideology believes that the way to insure the establishment of a Palestinian state is to knock out Iran’s nuclear program.  In essence, the ability to offer up territory and the security threats that come with this would be mitigated by an Israel that appears militarily strong.  In return, the Middle East with an established Palestinian state and a weakened Iran would see some happy neighbors – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan to Lebanon.
It’s a complicated mess, and one that the US needs to keep its eye on.  What are YOUR thoughts?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Can Turkey and Armenia Be Friends?

It came as a surprise to many when Armenia and Turkey announced today that they would establish diplomatic ties after decades of extreme animosity towards one another.  Yet talks have been ongoing for the past year, most notably with negotiations in Switzerland.  With the current economic climate, it is to both countries advantage to advance their political relationship.  Turkey remains committed to winning membership into the EU, and without some resolution of the Armenia situation, its chances were slim of gaining admittance. (Although the Cypriot issue remains as another major roadblock.  There is a good blog post by Tony Barber in the Financial Times, regarding some of Turkey's EU ascension issues.)

In addition, Turkey seems very interested in increasing its stature in the region, and by currying favor with the Russians  - who are the main source of military and economic aid to Armenia – as well as the US and EU, Turkey is attempting to smooth the road for numerous deals involving energy, security and political advantage.  Both countries seem aware that securing the Caucasus  - or at least appearing to be working towards that end – is beneficial for their respective goals.

Yet, will much of anything truly progress after this announcement?  There still remains enormous bitterness over the lack of acknowledgment by Turkey over its refusal to admit it committed acts of genocide back in 1915.  Diplomatic will notwithstanding, it will be interesting to see if the people of Armenia will tolerate the opening of borders without a formal declaration of apology from Turkey.  There is also a sizable Armenian population residing in the US, which will likely be vocal in their protests.  In addition, the final steps of establishing diplomatic ties lie with parliamentary ratification, which could easily become mired down with opposition and political maneuverings. "I don't see it as a breakthrough, because as long as everything is tied to parliamentary approval ... you can always go back to square one," said Nigar Goksel, an Istanbul-based analyst with the European Stability Initiative, who has closely followed recent diplomacy between Yerevan and Ankara.

The two governments set a six week deadline for consultations within their respective parliaments before beginning the process of ratification.  Interestingly enough, this deadline expires very close to a planned October visit by Armenia's president, Serge Sakisian, to Turkey to attend a World Cup qualifying match.  Can football diplomacy succeed?  Stay tuned...

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Opportunity To Ask UNICEF Executive Director Anything!

I recently came across an interesting post on  They are offering readers a unique chance to ask Ann Veneman, the executive director of UNICEF, questions regarding the work of the organization.  They'll collect the questions through September 1st, and begin posting her answers next week.
You can check it all out here on AlertNet's site. 

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Controversy Surrounding Gaddafi Visit

It's that time of year again - September - when the annual United Nations General Assembly gathering of international leaders brings with it inevitable controversy surrounding the presence on US soil of some figure or another.  The usual suspects: Chavez, Ahmadinejad, and Castro, have been replaced with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi - a man who has received little media attention for almost 20 years.
While visits by controversial heads of states often lead to heated political debates, protests, and calls for denial of entry visas, Gadhafi's potential stay here is marked with a particularly painful edge.  After the recent release by Scotland of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi and his subsequent "hero's" welcome back home in Libya, it is rumored that Gadhafi may take up residence in New Jersey, where the embassy owns some property in Englewood.  Out of the 270 victims of the Lockerbie bombing, a large percentage came from New Jersey, and there has been a significant outcry of protest.  The Star Ledger ran a recent column arguing that arresting him as soon as he touches US soil would be justifiable.  

What would be the best course of action for the US?  The release of al-Megrahi has certainly reeked of political maneuvering by the British government to facilitate trade deals with Libya.  His release by Scottish authorities on "compassionate" grounds, was dubious at best, but it was the riotous welcome home  - obviously well orchestrated and funded - that tipped the scales towards almost universal outrage.  

As the United Nations' host country, the US is required to permit entry to virtually any representative of a member government.  Yet, one could argue that allowing Gadhafi entry would be to silently overlook the government of Libya's' potential involvement with this tragedy.  

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Hi World.

I've been interested in international relations and politics most of my adult life.  I even hope to make a career of it.  What I aim to accomplish with this little blog o' mine, is to post some (hopefully), interesting thoughts on current foreign policy issues.  

What I'd really love to see here eventually is lively debates and discussions between all of you - my dear readers out there in this big world. So comment away!