Category Archives: United Nations

American Leadership at Risk – How to Win it Back

Another one of my articles just published on Impakter magazine:

AMERICAN LEADERSHIP AT RISK – AND HOW TO WIN IT BACK

BOOK REVIEW “BUILDING THE NEW AMERICAN ECONOMY: SMART, FAIR, AND SUSTAINABLE” BY JEFFREY D. SACHS (AUTHOR), BERNIE SANDERS (FOREWORD) COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS, FEBRUARY 7, 2017

When Professor Sachs, one of the world’s most influential economists, wrote the book I’m reviewing here, we lived in a simpler, more innocent world, full of hope for a better future, particularly after the success of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, in large part a result of President Obama’s efforts.

America was firmly seated in the global leadership role it had occupied since World War II and as recently as last summer, it looked like nothing could upend it. The most recent “soft power” wins included the opening with Cuba and the deal with Iran to neuter its nuclear power – soft power wins that came on top of a long series of similar victories since 1945, starting with the generous Marshall Plan that resuscitated Europe from the ashes of war.

It may come as a surprise to many Americans, but it is this soft power, much more than its military power, that has ensured American leadership, turning it into a global moral compass, effectively the “land of dreams”.

Incidentally, the American military is well aware of this soft power, as evidenced in a recent letter signed by over 120 retired generals and admirals calling on Congress not to slash funds for diplomacy and foreign aid (as called for in Trump’s proposed budget), noting that “The State Department, USAID, Millennium Challenge Corporation, Peace Corps and other development agencies are critical to preventing conflict and reducing the need to put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way.”

Sachs’ book, Building the New American Economy: Smart, Fair, and Sustainable, was intended as a roadmap for America to continue to lead the world. He had worked on Bernie Sanders’ campaign in 2016 and clearly meant this book to guide a new Sanders administration – for Professor Sachs, as he insisted in a recent interview discussing his book, sees himself as a “progressive”. And barring Sanders, no doubt he expected to see Clinton in the White House.

But that was not to be. Some sixty million Americans, many without a college degree and who felt by-passed by “globalization” and betrayed by a “blinkered elite”, voted in a man that is likely to upend America’s global leadership by systematically cutting everything that sustained America’s soft power: foreign aid and diplomacy; the environment and clean energy; support to science, health and the arts;  immigrants and trade.

As soon as Trump signed his “Energy Independence” executive order on March 28 rolling back Obama’s Clean Energy Plan, China stepped forward, claiming the climate leadership role. And this came on top of the Davos meeting earlier this year, where, as Sachs put it, “Chinese President Xi Jinping offered a stirring defense of globalization and international responsibility.” Indeed, Chinese leadership is the biggest story that came out of Davos this year.

Is there anything that can be done to win back the moral high ground and global leadership for America? Professor Sachs’ book shows us how.

WHY WE SHOULD LISTEN TO PROFESSOR SACHS

Jeffrey D. Sachs, born in 1954 and raised in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan, is today Professor of Sustainable Development and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University as well as Director of Columbia’s Center for Sustainable Development and of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). Sachs started early accumulating firsts. He was one of the youngest ever to achieve tenure at Harvard University, becoming a full professor of economics in 1983 when he was just 28.

Over the next two decades, he was one of the few economists willing to leave the safety of Academia’s white tower and step out in the real world, with the risk of getting burned.

IN THIS PHOTO: JEFFREY SACHS AT THE UN (2009) –  PHOTO CREDIT: JAVAMAN200

To read the rest, click here. This is a book I really enjoyed and it was also extremely interesting to dig into Professor Sachs’ life for this review. A highly recommended read

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Filed under Book review, non-fiction, politics, United Nations

THE RETURN OF AN OLD SCOURGE: STARVATION

Another one of my articles, just published on Impakter, here is the opening:

Famine was supposed to be a thing of the past. True, 75 million people had died from starvation in the 20th century, but we had learned from these tragedies, how to predict them and how to address them. The largest famines dated back two decades: in the Horn of Africa in 1984-85 and 1992, and in North Korea in the mid-1990s. There had been only one serious famine in the 21st century, and it had occurred in Somalia in 2011, killing 260,000 people.

Now, all of a sudden, the scourge of starvation is back. The news came out over a month ago: 20 million people facing starvation, including 1.4 million children at “imminent risk of death”. The United Nations famine alert concerned four disconnected countries, across Africa and the Arabian peninsula: Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.

IN THIS PHOTO: Photo was taken in Radfan village in Lahj city. It shows a young girl who is collecting water from a far distance due the water shortage in Yemen. PHOTO CREDIT:  UNICEF/UN018342/ASKOOL

THE FOUR-COUNTRY FAMINE: 20 MILLION PEOPLE AT RISK

The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres did not mince his words at the press conference he held on 22 February in New York. This was a humanitarian crisis in-the-making, it was without precedent in scope and a total of $ 4.4   billion would be needed by the end of March to “avert a catastrophe” (see full transcript here). The Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien and several UN agencies heads (or their representatives) participated in that conference, including WFP (via video), UNDP, UNICEF and FAO (remarkably, not UNHCR).

Even though this was the largest alert in the 21st century and nobody had heard of anything like this for decades, the UN Secretary General’s appeal fell on deaf ears.

Was it a case of crying wolf too many times?

Read the rest on Impakter, click here.

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Filed under Economics, politics, United Nations

The Western Sahara

 Another one of my articles on Impakter magazine:
Western Sahara

on February 22, 2016 at 5:25 PM

The Western Sahara scandal. The last colonial war in Africa is still unresolved, in spite of over 40 years of efforts on the part of the United Nations. A people has been destroyed, its rights to its native soil confiscated, half of its people living in refugee camps – three generations now that have never known a normal, free life – while the rest barely ekes out a living in the barren eastern part of the country, just beyond a Berlin-like wall built by the occupant, Morocco.

And all the riches of the country from ocean fisheries and phosphate mining go to Morocco, leaving not a cent for the native people of the Western Sahara, the Sahrawis.
Morocco has brought into the country some 350,000 Moroccan immigrants; they help exploit the phosphate mines and have even set up modern agricultural infrastructures producing tomatoes, while the exploration rights to oil recently discovered in the ocean have been sold to Americans. The Moroccan tomatoes bought by Europeans are often in fact grown in the Western Sahara.

Who knew?

Actually, nobody knows. Or cares. This is an international scandal, one of the worst offenses against human rights and human dignity. And a conspicuous United Nations failure.

How did it all start?

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Filed under politics, Uncategorized, United Nations

What Really Happened at the Paris Climate Conference – and What Next

Impakter just published one of my articles about the United Nations – this one about the results of the Paris Climate Conference:

cop21-1050x677

The Paris Climate Conference Agreement – What Next

After the Copenhagen fiasco in 2009 when no agreement was reached, the subject of climate change looked dead and buried. Yet, this time in Paris, something positive happened at COP21. That’s the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP), i.e. the countries that have signed onto the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) back in Rio, at the 1992 Earth Summit. It took twenty-three years to get from there – in Rio – to here in Paris.

So, was COP21 a success or yet another failure? Actually, it was both

On Saturday, December 12th, at 7:30 pm, after 11 days of negotiations between 195 countries, including a 24 hour delay and a last minute panic caused by a typo in the text that suggested that one sentence in the agreement was binding when it was intended to be voluntary, an agreement was reached, met by a standing ovation.  Called the “Paris Agreement” by the French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius and President of COP21, it was agreed to by “consensus” as is the habit at the United Nations, even though one country, Nicaragua, insisted that its perplexities be put on record.

If you listen to French President Hollande or the Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon, it was a huge success, a “historic” agreement, the start of a new era. President Obama concurred, seeing the accord largely as a personal victory, the result of his agreement last year with President Xi Jinping of China to reduce greenhouse gas emissions  and  of the new regulations he issued this year to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. “We’ve transformed the United States into the global leader in fighting climate change,” he told the New York Times.

Yet, the deal falls far short of what is needed to slow global warming and reverse the environmental damage already done.

The rest on Impakter, to read click here.

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The Weather War: UN Report Shows Toll of Climate Change

On 23 November, just a week before the opening of COP 21, the Climate Change Conference in Paris, the United Nations issued a fascinating (and scary) report showing the unexpected toll of climate change over the past 20 years (see here). The author of the report is the UN’s office for disaster risk reduction (UNISDR). Headquartered in Geneva with 5 regional offices, UNISDR is an organizational unit of the UN Secretariat, headed by Margareta Wahlström and tasked to support the implementation, follow-up and review of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 that was adoped by UN Member States in Japan in March 2015.

Margareta Wahlstrom, presenting the report. She is Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Disaster Risk Reduction, appointed since 2008. A citizen of Sweden, she started her international career with the Red Cross (1995-2000).

The numbers are mind-boggling. Did you know that over the past twenty years, since the first Climate Change Conference (COP1) in 1995, over 600,000 people have lost their lives and over 4 billion have been injured  in weather-related events? Losses to property are of course commensurate and enormous: 87 million homes were damaged or destroyed over the period of the survey; the total cost of property losses – including from earthquakes and tsunamis – is between US$250 billion and US$300 billion annually (a UNISDR estimate, noting that loss data is systematically under-reported).

Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that weather-related events account for 90% of disasters. We always think of disasters in terms of war and other human-related causes (and of course, those are the worst, on ethical grounds because they could be avoided) and we tend to accept passively disasters caused by climate change.

But we shouldn’t. The pace of climate-related events is increasing: An average of 335 weather-related disasters were recorded per year between 2005 and 2014, an increase of 14% from 1995-2004, and almost twice the level recorded during 1985-1995. That is truly scary.

Yet, there is a silver lining in all this. In the upcoming Climate Change Conference, we have a chance to finally do something constructive. This report proves that, in purely economic terms, engaging in measures to control gas emissions and reduce global warming results directly in lives and property saved. And that translates into an automatic reduction in the costs of controlling climate change. So it’s not a straight exchange, one on one, between economic growth and climate change control. By choosing to curb emissions, even developing countries would find that they are enjoying a better quality economic growth.

And then there’s the moral question. Do we really have the choice of sacrificing lives to the God of Economic Growth and the Golden Calf of Profit?

Adoration of the Golden Calf by Poussin

 

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The Key for Peace: The Indispensable Role of the United Nations

Once again, one of my articles, just published on Impakter, with a remarkable introduction from the Editor (he is a millennial, a man deeply concerned about the issues of our time, value-driven like his whole generation, and this too is reason for hope in a better future). This is the beginning, to read the rest, go on Impakter, click here.

THE KEY FOR PEACE: THE INDISPENSABLE ROLE OF THE UNITED NATIONS

on 16 November, 2015 at 19:00

Note from the Editor: In these hours, following the tragic killing of innocents in Paris and Beirut,  our thoughts are with the people of France and Lebanon.

Impakter is a global publication. Our team comes from every corner of our beloved World. We represent the citizens of the World. Furthermore, our aim is to express that through this publication. Today we want this thought to reach higher than ever before. 

We believe that the current events taking place during the G20 could potentially be a significant milestone in our human history. A unprecedented event. The G20 could potentially regroup all the citizens of the World.  All united into delivering a safer and united future for all the generations to come.

The road is full of challenges, but  we will all walk through it under one flag, that of Peace. This is without a doubt a key turning point in our history. Like the Phoenix, we are to be reborn from the ashes of our World’s darkest hours.

Now, more then ever, we must move upwards and onwards. 

This is a first analysis of what might be happening next.

LESSONS LEARNED FROM THE PARIS ATTACKS – THE WAY FORWARD

Once the United Nations Security Council is unblocked, we can hope to see an end to the Syria crisis. So far, because of Russia’s repeated use of its veto power at the Security Council, supported by China, its usual ally, the international community has not been able to move forward in a concerted fashion. Syria, after three years of a devastating civil war, is now pounded by Russian and American forces and their respective allies, but they haven’t agreed on common objectives: Russia supports Bashir al Assad, the United States targets Daesh, a.k.a ISIS or IS. But now things are changing.

On Sunday 15 November, at the G20 meeting in Turkey, a major political decision was reportedly taken, a page in the difficult relationship between Russia and the West appears to have been turned. It seems that Putin and Obama had an eye-to-eye talk that lasted half-an-hour and their meeting was caught on Turkish television.

Negotiations under the aegis of the United Nations between the Syrian opposition and the regime [meaning Bashir al Assad] and a cease-fire

A White House spokesman said afterwards…

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Filed under politics, Uncategorized, United Nations

Getting Close to the “Darkest Hour”: Ancient Art Destroyed, Lives Lost, A Voice for Freedom Silenced

We are getting close to Mankind’s “darkest hour”. The Voice for Freedom, silenced in Moscow on 27 February, was that of Boris Nemtsov. It was close to midnight, he was gunned down not far from the Kremlin, as he was walking home from a radio interview in which he had dared to take Putin to task for his warmongering in Ukraine.

Nemtsov was a liberal politician, a fighter of corruption, one of the most important leaders in the opposition to Putin. As a young man, he’d been close to Yeltsin, serving as his first deputy minister and many thought that since he was Yeltsin’s right arm, he would succeed him; instead, Putin, Yeltsin’s left arm, the man picked to spy on several of his colleagues, was the one ultimately chosen – with the catastrophic results we all know.

And of course Putin is behind the failed cease-fire in Ukraine. Merkel and Hollande unwittingly played their part: the agreement they brokered was faulty, the rebels quickly took advantage of the loophole and trapped the Ukrainian army.

As to the situation in Iraq, we can only watch with rising horror as ISIS and like-minded terrorist groups in Libya systematically pursue and behead Christians – putting at stake the very survival of Christians among the Muslims – and, as if this were not enough, destroying ancient art in Mosul, proving to the world that they have sunk to the levels of animals.
Yes, indeed, Yeats’ poem of the Second Coming, with its image of the beast, comes to mind:

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

The “darkest hour” is the phrase coined by Winston Churchill to describe the desperate moment when Britain stood alone against Hitler, as the Nazi forces invaded France in 1940 and the Soviet Union in 1941. The “finest hour” is perhaps one of his most famous speeches, delivered to the House of Commons on 18 June, 1940 two days after France had sought an armistice.

It is probably one of the world’s greatest masterpieces of oratorical art, both defiant and uplifting.

The peroration of that speech, if you substitute references to Britain with the phrases civilization and “human rights”, eerily applies to our situation today.

….However matters may go […], we […] will never lose our sense of comradeship with the [Christians of the Orient] … the Battle of [Human Rights] is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of… civilization. Upon it depends our own […] life, and the long continuity of our institutions… The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us…. If we can stand up to him, all [the world] may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.
But if we fail, then the whole world, … including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if [civilization and human rights] last for [another] thousand years, men will still say, This was their finest hour.

What a pity the United Nations continues to be bypassed: our best instrument to avoid war and defend human rights remains sadly unused, as the Big Powers take turns to block the Security Council.

All we have for now are comments from the UN affiliated organizations. Two stand out:

  • One made earlier by Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, a Jordanian prince and the first UN human rights chief from the Muslim and Arab world: reacting to the horrific beheadings perpetrated by ISIS, he implored the Security Council to support efforts to overturn ISIS’ “ideology of violence and death” , saying there was no space for it in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. No space at all.
  • The other from UNESCO. Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s head, condemned ISIS’ destruction of ancient Assyrian art “as a deliberate attack against Iraq’s millennial history and culture, and an inflammatory incitement to violence and hatred.”

Naturally, the Security Council also condemned ISIS, but it continues to debate the situation in Syria with no resolution in sight, because of Russia’s and China’s threat to block any action with their veto. Authoritarian regimes band together to trample human rights, no surprise there. 

This week, in a New York Times Op-Ed aptly titled “Unshackle the United Nations”, Amnesty International vigorously called for the Big Powers to stop using their veto when human rights were at stake. “2014 was a catastrophic year”, it said, listing human rights abuses in 160 countries and noting that the Security Council wielded their veto power on the sole basis of “vested interests and political expediency.”

Wounded Syria girl treated at a hospital. See NPR article

The world has become more dangerous than ever, a dark place. Very sad… 

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