10/31/2008 - 12:31pm
You've heard it before, but there's no harm in hearing it once more - this is an historic election, and the perfect opportunity to make your vote count. With just a few days to go before the elections, there's a lot of information out there for you to sieve through on how these candidates will vote and act once elected. So browse through our elections page to see who we've endorsed , check out our Congressional Report Card to see how all the candidates have fared on the issues we care about, or compare Obama and McCain on key topics like Nuclear Proliferation, the ICC and much more. There's no time like the present, so go out and make your voice heard! And while you're at it, check out our CEO Don Kraus' video on getting out there and voting!
10/30/2008 - 10:33am
Posted by Scott Hoffman
"A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical elusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."
~ Albert Einstein in Minerva #33, October 2008
10/28/2008 - 6:50am
Much excitement was generated earlier this year when Radovan Karadzic, former Bosnian Serb leader was arrested in Belgrade and charged by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia with war crimes and genocide. Since his arrest in July, Karadzic has pleaded Not Guilty to these charges, and is now claiming that genocide never occurred in Srebrenica . According to Goran Petronijevic, Karadzic's chief legal advisor, the accused will attempt to show how the killings occurred in response to an escalation of events, rather than being pre-meditated, as the charge of genocide implies. Although his chances of getting acquitted are a long shot, Stephane Bourgon, a lawyer working on Karadzic's defense, has said that such an argument should not be easily dismissed. Witness bias and the nature of political speech - purposely inflammatory and deterministic - may be argued as coloring the case against Karadzic. However, the prosecution remains positive that the case against Karadzic is strong enough to withstand such frivolous attempts by the defense.
In August Karadzic attempted to court more controversy by requesting former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright, Richard Holbrooke and former chief war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone to appear as defense witnesses in his case . He claims to have struck an agreement with the U.S. State Department in 1996, wherein he agreed to "keep quiet" and "disappear" in exchange for immunity from the current trial. This, he said, was violated when news of the deal surfaced and he was prosecuted by the Tribunal. Holbrooke has vehemently denied the passage of any such deal. Karadzic is using this as another reason for why he believes this entire case against him should be dismissed.
Of his own accord, Karadzic is set to appear as a witness in the re-trial of another Bosnian Serb indicted and convicted of war crimes, Momcilo Krajisnik . Krajisnik, the former President of the Republika Srpsika Parliament, is set to appeal his 2006 conviction by the Hague Tribunal where he was sentenced to 27 years imprisonment for his involvement in the atrocities at Srebrenica (a region of Bosnia). His lawyers are hopeful that Karadzic will provide crucial testimony; evidence which was not available at the time of the original trial because of the latter's fugitive status.
All these developments display the desperation and fear of Karadzic as the Tribunal proceeds in its case against him. After finally being caught, Karadzic will be held accountable for the events that took place under his leadership. The prosecution is determined in their attempt to bring justice and closure to the many victims and to the international community as a whole, all of whom have been witnesses to the horrors that took place in Srebrenica.
10/28/2008 - 6:27am
Posted by Lenka Andrysova
By Lenka Andrysova and Simone Pereira
Scholars all around the world have been searching for years for reasons why most countries on the African continent lack democracy. Tony Leon, former Leader of the Opposition in South Africa, and now a visiting fellow at the CATO institute, identified some reasons for the persistence of non-democratic regimes. In addition to poorly structured judiciaries, ineffective distribution of foreign aid, inefficient opposition, fiscal disconnect between voters and political governing elites (only small proportion of voters pay taxes and therefore the government is not as invested in its citizens' interests) and strong presidential systems, Leon identified oil production as a key deterrent to democracy.
The impact of oil production on democracy in Africa deserves more scrutiny. The situation here is comparable to what many scholars have discovered in the Middle East, and in Eastern European nations that are in transition from communism to democracy. The income generated from the export of oil is sufficient to fund the activities of the government, and hence national leaders feel no need to set up a tax structure. The lack of a cohesive tax system ensures that the leaders need not respond to the basic needs of the people, like public education and health care, creating a state where the people must fend for themselves. The erosion of the need for funding of the government by the people also effectively eradicates the accountability the government has to the people in exchange for taxes, insulating those in power from the responsibility to their constituents. In Africa, this problem has been exacerbated by the dramatic poverty of the majority vis-?á-vis the wealth of those in power.
Interestingly, while we are all aware of the problems of oil producing nations, very little has been achieved in resolving the issues. Countries which disagree with regimes in Africa need to take some active measures. For instance, the United States, which is, according to CIA one of the biggest importers of oil in many African countries, has a lot of power to change things. The U.S. buys the largest oil proportion in "not free" states, such as Nigeria, Algeria , and Equatorial Guinea. Purchasing more than half of Nigeria's exports, the U.S. indirectly supports the existing government which is able to maintain control because of the taxes being levied on oil exporting companies and on exports themselves, and not because of any direct accountability to its own citizens. Moreover, it is important to take into account that oil and petroleum products make a living for a minor fraction of population and as a result, oil industry does help only the already rich and not the country as a whole.
If the United States, along with other oil consumers, disagree with African big-man governments, they should at least try to stop worsening the situation. Without interfering into domestic issues, such as taxation systems, several solutions might be suggested. For instance, countries could export oil only from democratic states, or could also limit their dependence upon oil, for example, by developing and spreading renewable energy technologies. Unless one interrupts financing the old regimes, other solutions calling for more democracy in Africa might come in vain.
10/28/2008 - 5:44am
October 23, 2008 - NEW YORK - On Friday, the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly held an interactive discussion with the UN expert on torture. At the Assembly, Manfred Nowak , the UN Special Rapporteur on the subject, conveyed his disappointment that "torture is still a frequent or even standard practice in many countries, even 60 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."
In the dialogue, Nowak articulated his belief that a lack of sustained public scrutiny is to blame for the continued practice of torture and inhumane treatment taking place largely behind closed doors.
To address these problems, Nowak called on all nations to ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) and to establish well-resourced National Preventive Mechanisms (NPM). These mandates are designed to develop a system which would oversee the maintenance of human rights by establishing "a system of regular visits undertaken by independent international and national bodies to places where people are deprived of their liberty, in order to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." Such provisions would create and maintain a public climate of observation that could do a lot to prevent torture from happening.
In his report, Mr. Nowak paid particular attention to the torture of persons with disabilities . Since such persons are often deprived of their liberty, being placed in prisons, social care centers, orphanages, and mental health facilities, they are particularly vulnerable to ill-treatment and torture. Nowak argued for the protection of such people from maltreatment, sexual exploitation and medical experimentation.
In addition, the UN Special Rapporteur raised concern over the disproportionate use of solitary confinement as a method to put psychological pressure on detainees. From his findings, Nowak concluded that "solitary confinement should only be used in very exceptional cases, for as short a time as possible and only as a last resort."
Perhaps with the oversight Mr. Nowak suggests, we can begin to work towards a future free from torture and ill-treatment in all spheres of life.
10/24/2008 - 8:23am
Posted by Scott Hoffman
This month's near-breakdown of the global financial system is a classic example of a pattern that has occurred periodically since the eighteenth century, though not at this magnitude since the Great Depression - an unsustainable investment bubble followed by inevitable collapse and panicky selling of depreciating assets. The results are massive debt, banks (those which have survived) reluctant to lend, job availability plummeting, and 401K retirement plan balances shrinking.
Since much of the regulation designed during the Depression to moderate such declines was jettisoned during the Reagan years, the United States and other countries find themselves more overwhelmed than at any time since the thirties. The key questions are what can be done to keep the present crisis from reprising that dire decade, and how to build up better safeguards to protect us in the future.
Some global financial leaders are confident that the crisis can be contained. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), said last week that "the world is a very different place now from the '30s. We have learned from the mistakes of the past, and we have learned from each other's experiences. We have tools to manage markets and economies now that we did not have then. We have the will to use them. I am confident that we can emerge from this crisis with our economies and our societies intact." There seems to be general consensus that a much higher level of regulation of banks and other corporations is justified.
Strauss-Kahn went on to endorse a G-7 action plan which includes support of key financial institutions, guarantees for bank deposits, and restarting mortgage markets. He also announced that the IMF would "take the lead in drawing lessons from the crisis and in recommending actions to restore confidence and stability."
Many critics question whether the IMF is a sufficiently democratic institution to be trusted with this responsibility. Bill Pace, General Secretary of the World Federalist Movement (WFM), challenges the IMF's "one dollar/one vote" decision-making system, which puts most of the power in the hands of rich countries. The Washington Post's Sebastian Mallaby would give more clout to China and India.
WFM recommends moving discussion of a new global regulatory system out of the IMF altogether, switching the debate to the UN General Assembly, which allots equal voting power to each one of its members. I question whether the General Assembly's track record as a decision-maker is good enough to suddenly give it so much responsibility, but clearly the voting structure in the IMF would have to be radically reformed to provide an adequate alternative.
Wherever the conversation about the future of the world's financial institutions takes place, a crucial opportunity for CGS and other advocates of global decision-making structures is a growing acceptance of problem-solving at the world level. As The Christian Science Monitor wrote last week, "ΓÇªleaders are learning that they can pull together constructive initiatives in the face of danger. And if they can save banks, why not the environment? If they can stop the spread of shareholder panic, why can't they stop the spread of nuclear weapons?"
If the present crisis can lead to a new appreciation of global solutions for global problems, perhaps enhanced by a more enlightened foreign policy in the next U.S. administration, the temporary financial pain most of us are feeling may be a small price to pay.
(Scott Hoffman is the Director of CGS's World Federalist Institute. The views expressed here are his own. Lenka Andrysova helped do research for this article.)
10/22/2008 - 11:42am
Climate change is often discussed as a global problem. We constantly hear catch-phrase warnings such as 'melting ice caps,' 'rising sea levels,' 'desertification,' and 'greenhouse gases.' What we don't often hear about are the real problems pollution and climate change are creating today in small communities across the globe.
What's the problem?
In communities the world over, people are dealing with disease, disability, neurological damage and illness as a result of deteriorating environmental conditions .
For instance, in Nanjing, China cyclists have begun to wear masks as they ride through the city streets under a thick blanket of smog. Inhaling the airborne particulates that contaminate urban areas across the globe can lead to chronic pulmonary and cardiovascular stress as well as severe respiratory diseases.
(For more information on Urban Air Quality or the rest of the Toxic Top Ten worst pollution problems in the world, click here.)
What is being done?
What should we do?
10/17/2008 - 7:30am
Posted by Lenka Andrysova
Nearly half of the countries in the world are demanding that the International Criminal Court postpone prosecution of the Sudanese President Umar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir according to an October story in the Economist. To reach this end, these countries call for the United Nations Security Council to declare that the actual arrest of Mr Bashir is a threat to the peace, breach of peace or an act of aggression as stated in the UN Charter. However, what is at stake if the current situation in the region could not be described as peaceful and stable at all.
What is more, it is President Bashir who has partially contributed to the disastrous state in Sudan. Bearing this in mind, the International Criminal Court (ICC) charged him with most serious crimes. Mr Bashir is facing the accusation of committing the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur, which makes his case unprecedented. That is to say, nobody before him stood in front of the ICC wearing a burden of triggering genocide. As a result of his decision, 98 percent of the villages inhabited by the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa people are said to be attacked and destroyed. According to ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Sudanese president should be held responsible for internal displacement of 2.7 million Sudanese during five-year conflict, out of which estimated 300,000 lost their lives. Despite these serious claims, 53-member African Union (AU) and 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) stand by him.
These Afro-Arabic organizations representing a remarkable part of the world population suggest that the arrest of the Sudanese leader would undermine the stability in the region. They are right as to that fact, as the removal of Mr Bashir would definitely alter the situation in Sudan, one of the most unstable countries in the entire world, where unfettered warlordism flourishes. Clearly, as Bashir is the top man in his country, his prosecution would fundamentally shatter the Sudanese political pyramid. The Sudan's president is not only chief of state, but also head of government. He even substitutes for the legislative body, since the Parliament has not been absent since 1999 when Mr Bashir himself dissolved both chambers. Hence, putting the most powerful man in the country into jail would mean that Sudan would lose all the political leadership over night. This would lead, according to heads of member states of the AU and OIC, to a catastrophe.
However, having arrested the Sudanese president, political changes in Khartoum could spark much needed reforms in the country. If Mr Bashir was convicted, the power would be likely transferred into the hands of the existing First Vice President Salva Kiir, who is in favor of independence of the Southern Sudan, or to the Second Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, who would probably initiate some changes, too. As a result, Sudan could start a new era of development with thus far virtually unknown leaders. If the ICC does insist on arresting the Sudanese president, this failed state in the third world could be given a chance for a much desirable change.
The argumentation of the African and Arabic nations which lies in retaining status quo should not convince the UN Council since it also did not take into account that Sudan would soon undergo some changes anyways. By July 2009 Sudanese people are slated to hold elections for their president and representatives. If the choice of new governing elites were to turn democratic, a wind of change would surely blow off the president who seized power during a 1989 military coup.
Similarly, Human Rights Watch, an organization following development of this case since 2001, strongly believes that demands of the AU and OIC are irrelevant. According to their report, a deferral of an ICC investigation risks legitimizing political interference with the work of a judicial institution and could set a dangerous precedent for accused in other situations. Therefore, any exception must be extremely rare, which should be valid for the Sudanese case as well.
10/09/2008 - 1:10pm
For the first time since its creation in 1974, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) granted India a waiver , thereby allowing this nuclear country to trade in technology with supplier states like the U.S., France and Russia. Ironically, the NSG, which has a membership of 48 countries, was started up in direct response to the nuclear tests carried out by the Indian government in 1974, and remains as a body to regulate and prevent the development of nuclear weaponry. The NSG was the last hurdle the American and Indian governments had to overcome before their Civilian Nuclear deal could be passed. On October 8, 2008, after over three years of negotiations and lobbying by government and independent agencies, the US-India Civilian Nuclear Agreement was signed into law.
Some argue that this deal will help other states keep tabs on India's nuclear developments. Since the country refused to sign the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968, it has been forced to develop its own capabilities using independent resources, and without any sort of tabulation by international bodies. By opening the way for bilateral trade between the U.S. and India, the former is able to maintain checks on Indian nuclear arsenals. The passage of this deal, however, proved to be no easy feat. In India, the Communist Party in the south represented the largest and most vocal opposition to the agreement. Amongst their concerns was the fear that while the US would gain unrestricted access to Indian nuclear sites, the Indian government would be highly restricted in their endeavors on American soil. They threatened the withdrawal of their support in government, which would have led to the crumbling of an already shaky coalition government under the Congress Party.
Despite such strong opposition to the deal in India, the slow progress made in the U.S. over the past few years and the determination of both countries' leaders resulted in the agreement being signed and passed into law. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has since brokered a deal with France over nuclear resources, and is expected to negotiate with Russia soon. For India, this deal is a significant step towards increasing its legitimacy in the international arena. While India is not too far behind China in weaponry capabilities, the country's legitimacy has been drastically less favorable given its non-compliance with the NPT. The waiver granted by the NSG essentially grants India this legitimacy without the required signature to the NPT.
This deal also opens up the forum for more extensive exchanges between these two countries, exchanges that will range from the economy to the military to social services. India's traditional rivals, Pakistan and China, however, do not share the same sentiment. Both are nuclear countries, and have been apprehensive of the growing closeness between America and India. While Washington mounts the pressure on Pakistan to cooperate more fully with the fight against Al Qaeda, this deal represents a strategic move by the U.S. to find a reliable and capable ally in the region. As it is, the Pakistani government has expressed concerns over Afghanistan's increasingly close ties with India, and this deal will merely reinforce Pakistan's concerns over encirclement by hostile countries. With regards to China, it is believed that America will use India as its ally in brokering trade deals with China and to maintain a leveled standoff against Russia.
While it remains crucial to the deal that India does not launch any more nuclear tests, this deal does not work towards the NPT's goal of removing all nuclear weaponry. In the face of growing international uncertainty over security, the world needs more transparent deals that aim at removing nuclear weapons as an option in war.
10/08/2008 - 12:16pm
With the crumbling of the nation's largest banks, national governments like Iceland on the edge of bankruptcy, and the recent failure of the trans-national interest rate lowering scheme, the governments of the world are in a panicked frenzy to stop the bleeding.
Each nation is conjuring up its own go-it-alone nationalistic response plan, but the leaders of the world are failing to recognize one of the most fundamental and obvious facts about the crisis: its global dimension. The world economic system is integrated. What happens in one country is likely to affect the rest of the world. To address this global problem - many have called for a coordinated international response.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy articulated the need for "a wholesale reform of the global financial system, urging major economic powers to meet before the end of the year to examine the lessons of the crisis."
John Lipsky, First Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, called for "globally coherent and consistent policy interventions." In fact, the IMF is among the first and only institutions to really bring an array of policy prescriptions to the table. Among their proposed suggestions is a way to render the deleveraging process more orderly by concentrating on "insufficient capital, falling and uncertain asset valuations, and dysfunctional funding markets." The Fund also suggested that governments can "offer the use of public balance sheets, or allow more flexible use of mark-to-market accounting rules to reduce pressure on valuations." The private sector can also take action, the IMF said, urging financial firms to "shore up balance sheets with new capital, strengthen risk-management practices, improve valuation techniques and create better clearing and settlement mechanisms for over-the-counter securities." But these suggestions are vague at best.
Others like C. Fred Bergsten, director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, have suggested everything from a global stimulus program, to a coordination of the national efforts to recapitalize tottering banking systems, to the national expansion of coverage of their deposit insurance programs to discourage bank runs.
Across the world, the financial movers, shakers and policy-makers all seem to be calling for the same thing: a unified global response. They all talk about reforming existing global financial institutions and developing policy responses which reflect the interdependence of the world economy, but few seem either willing or able to make these global policy suggestions.
What we need most now is not just a convening of international leaders, but a plethora of real nitty-gritty details to work with. If we're ever to have a global solution, we will need specific global ideas for both institutional reform and policy. Let's get to work.
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