An event announcement from one of my students.
We are screening A Place at the Table, a documentary produced by the creators of Food, Inc., about food insecurity in the United States today. It documents the experiences of three food insecure American families, while challenging the viewers to consider the options for ending American hunger for good.
Elvin Lim, Government:
So it is not the Constitution that is at fault. It is faction, injected like a toxin into the Constitution, that has caused the separation of powers to go awry. And if so, the short-term solution for shutdown politics is to call faction what it is. Errant and arrogant members of Congress need to be reminded or educated that while they represent their constituents, some of whom no doubt want a stay on Obamacare, each member of Congress also belongs to a chamber of the United States and it is always the national majority (across the nation) that counts more than a factional majority (in a district).
Richard Grossman, Economics:
Republicans should take a lesson from history, which has shown time and time again that such ideological crusades, when applied to economic policy, can have disastrous consequences.
Magda Teter, Jewish Studies
During his marathon talk on the Senate floor, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, turned to history to help him persuade his colleagues to support his dream of defunding Obamacare, and quiet those saying that it was “impossible,” and “cannot be done.”
Sen. Cruz’s statements were not only outrageous. They were also inaccurate. Britain responded to the German invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939 within hours, and Neville Chamberlain declared that the nation was at war with Germany by late morning the following day.
An op-ed from a good friend and colleague. As the quote below suggests, our reaction to the Benghazi attacks has had some unfortunate consequences.
After the Benghazi attacks, I grieved not only for my fallen colleagues, but also for the loss of the chance to deepen a relationship that had, in Qaddafi’s final years, consisted mainly of counterterrorism efforts, limited commercial relations, and historical issues, such as the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. Stevens, who championed a more comprehensive approach, would have been devastated to witness the fortress that the US embassy became after his death.
China has a long history of disputes with other nations regarding their sovereignty over islands. Japan and China are currently at odds over some islands in the East China Sea (owned by a private Japanese individual). Vietnam recently sent six Buddhist monks to lay claim to the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. And this, coupled with the even more serious contestation between China and the Philippines, amounts to what some (including Walter Russell Mead) are calling “the Great Game”.
Map of the Spratly Islands:
The biggest contest in recent days seems to be between China and the Philippines, again near the Spratly Islands which are also desired by Vietnam (Business Insider). Philippine warships reportedly threatened Chinese fishing vessels, raided ships, and faced-off with Chinese surveillance vessels. China has deployed ships and aircraft to the region. Of course, the Philippines is a strategic ally for the United States, so it may come as no surprise that all of this is happening just as their annual joint American-Filipino military exercises began in the South China Sea (Washington Post). However, as Julian Ku notes over at Opinio Juris, it is unlikely that the Philippines will win this dispute with military force.
Could this be resolved using international law? The Philippine government seems to hope so. They have brought the case to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). Their Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary, Albert del Rosario:
At day’s end, however, we hope to demonstrate that international law would be the great equalizer…The purpose of the exercise will be to ascertain which of us has sovereign rights over the waters surrounding Scarborough Shoal. (ABS-CBN News).
However, China may have its own sovereignty claim which, Ku notes, may make it difficult for ITLOS to have jurisdiction without China’s (unlikely) consent. And apparently China is not too keen on using ITLOS as a forum. Chinese embassy spokesperson Zhang Hua, in response to these developments, reportedly wrote:
We urge the Philippine side to fully respect China’s sovereignty, and commit to the consensus we reached on settling the incident through friendly consultation and not to complicate or aggravate this incident, so that peace and stability in that area can be restored.(Zambo Times)
So, using ITLOS is an aggravation?
Even if they cannot get ITLOS to settle the matter, they might be able to get an advisory opinion (along with Vietnam) from ITLOS on China’s claims, which could lend support for their cause, argues Ian Storey (Thanh Nien News). A case study at American University does a nice job of briefly and neatly summarizing what I believe are the key legal claims here:
The Law of the Sea Convention — an international law/standard agreed to by the countries of the world — is involved in the claims of Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines. These three countries claim that all or part of the islands are a part of their continental shelf. According to the Law of the Sea, the countries have legal right over the area of their continental shelf.
In 1987 China claimed that the Hainan Island–the closest recognized Chinese territory to the islands–was a separate province that would be developed as a special economic zone and declared a new law on its territorial waters in 1992. These laws gave China a greater basis for claiming control over the Spratlys as a “contiguous zones” for territory.
What is at stake here?
The islands are significant for their geographic location (shipping and military interests), fishing rights, guano, and possibly oil, natural gas and mineral resources.
Earth Day is this Sunday and in both of my classes we are discussing the politics and international law of climate change this week and next. So I thought it might be a good opportunity to examine the recent news.
Fragmented Global Governance and Climate Change
A quick look at Reuter’s Diary on the Global Environment helps illustrate the continued fragmentary approach to these issues at the global level. Just in the next 7 days:
On a regional basis there is the Africa Carbon Forum, meeting in Addis Ababa; a “Public Forum on North America’s energy future” meeting in Canada; an “EU energy and the environment Minister’s meeting”.
Issue based efforts
Sweden’s “Stockholm+40” conference on sustainable development; The Fifth Annual Global Marine Renewable Energy Conference in Washington, DC
And if we look beyond the coming week, more of the same is happening in Asia, Europe, and elsewhere, looking at linkages between climate and water, climate and birds, the use of solar energy, and desertification. The meetings are hosted by governments, UN agencies, and regional organizations. On the one hand, we might like the fact that so much attention is being paid to these issues. On the other hand, how do we organize a response to climate change in light of such institutional complexity?
Individual state efforts to combat climate change may create problems for global talks
While we wait on a global solution, individual countries are creating and implementing their own approaches to the issues. One example of this is a European Union law to charge airlines for their carbon emissions (Reuters). Reportedly, US airlines will comply, but China and India want nothing to do with this. Says India’s Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan:
For the environment ministry, for me, it is a deal-breaker because you simply cannot bring this into climate change discourse and disguise unilateral trade measures under climate change…
I strongly believe that as far as climate change discussions are concerned, this is unacceptable.
Apparently, India is suggesting that this culd be a reason for them to boycott all future climate-change talks.
In the United States
Recently, in the US there was a suggestion that the Endangered Species Act could be used to require the US to control greenhouse emissions. Since those emissions create conditions that make polar bear’s habitats less habitable, there was arguably potential scope for regulation. While this has so far been used to target domestic emissions, one can wonder whether a success in using the Act this way could also lead to pressures to regulate the actions of foreign actors whose emissions can be said to have direct effect on our polar bears’ habitats. My guess: highly improbable. But it is interesting.
Issue Linkage: Climate Change and Conservation
Finally, there is an interesting piece by Elias Ngalame at AlertNet on how Cameroon is trying to get support for climate adaptation projects in order to protect its elephants from poaching. The claim is that elephants are wandering out of the protected parks due to drought and desertification brought on by climate change, leaving them more susceptible to poaching.
An interview with Michael Battle, the US Ambassador to the African Union:
First, there are the necessary vague policy statements:
it is in our strategic, tactical, and vested interest to have a kind of capacity to strengthen the capacity of the African Union, to make the African Union strong where it is not so strong, to cooperate with the African Union in areas where it is strong,
Then there is the reaction to China’s donation of a modern building complex to the AU:
AMBASSADOR BATTLE: I was asked this same question when I was doing a taping with Ethiopian TV, and the person who was doing the interview said, “How are you going to feel walking into this massive building built by the Chinese?” I said, “I’m going to feel absolutely splendid and wonderful walking into the building,” for two reasons: the U.S. would never build the building. The African continent cannot afford to build the building. So China is doing some of the infrastructure development that we cannot and will not do and that the African continent cannot afford to do.
But yet, there was a great need for the African Union to have a facility that could actually house its summit, because up until this year the African Union has had to rent UNECA to have its own buildings, which was costing the African Union money, taking money out of the African Union budget, putting it into the UNECA budget. So I have zero problems – zero difficulty with much of the activity that China is doing. What I would like to see and what Assistant Secretary Carson is actively trying to see is how we can find synergies that we could work with the Chinese. I mean, the Chinese Government is not a competitor for the U.S. on the African continent, because we have strategically different orientations. They are not the bad guy; they are the people doing stuff that we are not going to do. And so I embrace it. Yeah.
Here is the key phrase in that statement, pasted again:
So China is doing some of the infrastructure development that we cannot and will not do
Which really says a lot about the differences between what the US and China are doing in Africa
The Business Insider citing NPR:
I am far from being an expert on American politics and elections. But I do tend to pay attention when they intersect my interests in international relations and I’ve gleaned a few tidbits from my Americanist colleagues: foreign policy preferences can impact voter attitudes (Aldrich et al. 2006); there may be “two presidencies” (domestic and foreign policy), and Presidents have greater control over foreign policy (Wildavsky 1966); and that the President’s party rarely does well in mid-term elections (see Shenkman; in 1991, James Campbell wrote about how the Presidential “surge” is pretty regularly followed by a decline)
So I find it interesting, when procrastinating looking today at the Wall Street Journal’s “POTUS Tracker”, which analyzes how Obama spends his time, that foreign policy and defense seem to be less of a relative priority over the last period as compared with the similar period a year ago (see the images below). The number of such events that engaged Obama’s attention a year ago was apparently 309 and this year for the same period, 265. This, of course, is a crude measure. But it makes me wonder whether Obama is missing an opportunity. While the economy is important, it may be that he should be doing more about foreign policy.
When it comes to his foreign policy record thus far, the reviews are not the greatest. Stephen Walt wrote recently that Obama is “0 for 4” on foreign policy. Richard Haass seems to have a more nuanced perspective but still finds major problems in Obama’s approach to Afghanistan and the Middle East.
My current view is that Obama is doing an OK job with some of this, but there is a lot of room for improvement. Citing success in Iraq–as he has done in recent days–is a good move, but it will take a lot of spinning. He could be bolder on the closing of Guantanamo. (Somehow, I think that Congress would find a way to fund the new domestic facility if he made a realistic threat to close Guantanamo “no matter what”.) Afghanistan may not be an easy sell these days, but Obama should be thinking about other foreign policy opportunities. In particular, I think he needs to find a way to make the US appear as the key leader behind a major successful international initiative. It almost doesn’t matter what it is (environment, human rights, security, trade). But there are several things that would matter here:
- This has to be a multilateral initiative
- Other states need to seem excited about cooperating with the United States
- There needs to be some reasonable chance of success with the initative
I think that if Obama could find this, then he would be fulfilling part of the great hope many Americans had when voting for him. He was supposed to be a game-changer, especially when it came to international affairs. We were to have a President who the international community liked and could get behind. People would like America again. I think such a positive experience with Obama could also change the way he is seen in the upcoming election, though it may already be too late for that.
Or, perhaps I’m wrong. Clinton did well when he focused on the economy. And the world seems to resemble the complicated world that Neustadt (1991) seemed to think that American Presidents would face:
“In a multipolar world, crisscrossed by transnational relations, with economic and environmental issues paramount, and issues of security reshaped on regional lines, our Presidents will less and less have reason to seek solace in foreign relations from the piled-up frustrations of home affairs. Their foreign frustrations will be piled high too.”
From the Wall Street Journal: