foreign policy


UN certain chemical weapons used in Syria, US agrees, Russia dissents | 

UN SG Ban shares remarks on the chemical weapons report.
UN SG Ban shares remarks on the chemical weapons report.

The much anticipated report from United Nations chemical weapons inspectors in Syria was finally released on Monday. The group’s findings pointed towards the use of chemical weapons by Syrian armed forces. The US and UN made strong statements about Syria’s use of the weapons. Russia is again the dissenter.

However, the Syrian government is not directly assigned blame. Rather the information provided in the report strongly indicates that the attacks were carried out by Syrian government troops.

“The environmental, chemical and medical samples we have collected provide a clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent Sarin were used,” conclude the inspectors.
Continue reading

Beyond rape in the Democratic Republic of the Congo | 

Neema Namadamu

Neema Namadamu

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is by many measures one of the world’s most difficult places to live.

Government instability, rebel attacks in the east, terrible health services and more contribute to an environment that some have gone as far as to call “hell on earth.”

Congolese activist Neema Namadamu launched a Change.Org petition late least year to call for the US to create a presidential envoy that will work with the United Nations and the African Union to help establish a peace process for the DRC. Crippled by polio at the age of two, Namadamu has emerged as a leading activist for women, children and the disabled in the DRC. She is joined by fellow women activists who are speaking out against the violence they face and to find inclusive solutions to the country’s problems.

“We know that we can create peaceful, sustainable communities in Congo through a holistic new model that ends violence, poverty, and the destruction of nature altogether,” she wrote in the petition. Continue reading

How PlayPumps are an example of learning from failure | 

PlayPumps Service Project

PlayPumps are a go-to example of failed aid interventions.

The merry-go-round powered by playing children pumped water out of the ground. The idea was that children filled with energy could have something to play with that also provided water for a community.

Problem was that it did not end up working out as planned. The PlayPumps needed to spin all day long in order to provide enough water for a community. That meant children and adults were no playing, but walking endlessly in circles to get the water out of the ground.

The over-hyped idea failed spectacularly. It has been used countless times to illustrate how aid programs can fail. Continue reading

Much Ado about Power and Rice | 

President Barack Obama, second from left, walks with with United Nations Ambassdor Susan Rice, third from left, his choice to be his next National Security Adviser, current National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, left, and Samantha Power, his nominee to be the next United Nations Ambassador, in the Rose Garden of the White House on Wednesday, June 5, 2013, in Washington. ()
Donilon, Obama, Rice and Power walk in the Rose Garden of the White House, yesterday.
Evan Vucci

If there were such a thing as a foreign policy earthquake, the magnitude of yesterday’s White House reshuffle would have measured quite high.

Twitter, blogs and media were abuzz with the news that the US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice would take over as National Security Advisor and former journalist Samantha Power is to occupy Rice’s former seat at the UN.

You may remember Rice as the potential candidate for Secretary of State who’s comments following the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi became an attack point for Congressional Republicans and led to her withdrawal from consideration.

Power comes with her own baggage. The former journalist and academic was a strong critic of the lack of action by the United States during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. She is a strong advocate for the US taking an active role in genocide prevention and joined Rice in advocating for the US-led intervention into Libya in 2011.

Rice and Power represent a multitude of things to the humanitarian world. For some, Rice is a strong Africanist that will bring the continent to the forefront. Others will point to her failure on Rwanda and subsequent close relationship with President Kagame as problematic. Power is polarizing in her bend towards interventions. Supporters see her  as a strong voice on atrocity prevention and a ‘nod for the development community‘ while critics point at her neo-conservative tendency to elevate military action above diplomacy.

The dilemma of eating locally and hurting others globally | 

Farmer plants rice in the Philippines. Credit:  International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)
Farmer plants rice in the Philippines. Credit: International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)

Want to change the world? Many tell you to start at the grocery story…or with your local farmers market.

Eat less meat, go organic, eat local and eat healthier. Such recommendations can be heard just about anywhere and they often end with a call to demand support for American farmers, or politically, renewal of the US Farm Bill. The argument sounds sensible on a quick glance and certainly so from a US-centric, self-serving perspective. But it may not be so sensible and good.

Modern food production and distribution systems are today international in scope and affect almost everyone, everywhere – and in many ways that may surprise you.

As the same time, eating local – locavores – has increasingly become a popular trend in the United States. Farm-to-table restaurants are popping up touting that they source all their products locally. The appeal is that consumers can get fresh (often organic) produce at nearly the same cost while supporting local businesses and reducing the massive carbon footprint produced by shipping food across the United States.

The trend has come with wider public recognition of the downside of industrial food production: The antibiotics used for livestock protect against disease (and boosts production) but this also builds drug resistance that has negative ramifications for people’s health. The high overall consumption of meat hurts the environment – from the methane produced by cows to the amount of land and water needed to care for them. Policies by governments and purchases by consumers have an impact on farmers from Arkansas to Haiti to the Horn of Africa.

The choice between eating cheap supermarket food versus being a sustainable locavore is not really as simple as it looks, at least if your goal is to make the world a better place. Continue reading

Searching for Truth About Rape in DR Congo | 

Victims of sexual violence, Kivu clinic 2010
Victims of sexual violence, Kivu clinic 2010
Flickr, andre thiel

What really happened in a village near Luvungi, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in August 2010?

At least 200 fighters from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and the Mayi Mayi Sheka looted homes, committed rapes and abducted hundreds.  387 people (300 women, 23 men, 55 girls and 9 boys) were systematically raped over the course of four days by rebels, according to the International Medial Corps (IMC) and the UN.

An article by Laura Heaton, a freelance reporter and consultant for the Enough Project, in Foreign Policy this week says that the figures were exaggerated. She uses the attack as an example of how an extraordinary amount of attention and resources are diverted to the problem of rape in the DRC while issues like displacement garner much less attention and financial support.

She visited the area after the attacks and interviewed a few women about their experiences. In those discussions, Heaton and her colleague felt that they were being lied to by the women.

When the interviews were over and we were out of earshot, my colleague and I stood in confused silence. I had interviewed survivors of rape in eastern Congo before; a psychological element seemed to be missing in these interactions. Before I managed to articulate the uncomfortable feeling that we had just been lied to, my Congolese colleague spit it out: “Those women have been coached.” Continue reading

Nils Daulaire brings his fight to Seattle – Global is local! | 

“Our only chance to keep Americans safe is if the systems for preventing, detecting and containing disease … also stretch across the globe,” Nils Daulaire.

By Lisa Stiffler, special correspondent

Many Americans just don’t get it – Global health is a domestic issue.

That was the main message last night at Seattle’s Broadway Performance Hall from Dr. Nils Daulaire, director of the Office of Global Affairs for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

One might think that Americans would be anxious about the next bird- or bug-borne pandemic, the strength of disease surveillance abroad.

Not exactly. At the “Diseases without Borders” forum Daulaire said that the question he’s most frequently asked is this: “Why does (Health and Human Services), a domestic institution, even have an Office of Global Affairs?”

Luckily, Daulaire makes a compelling case for spending taxpayer dollars on health issues arising outside our borders.

Continue reading

The case for divorcing foreign aid from military support | 


Bill Easterly

Development expert and economist Bill Easterly, writing in The Guardian, argues that A firewall should be built between U.S. foreign aid and national security. Says Easterly:

US foreign aid programs should be for poverty relief and should not be taken over by national security interests, abetted by delusions of nation-building.

Easterly said the foreign aid budget was significantly increased under President George W. Bush and enjoyed wide bipartisan support in Congress until recently. So what happened to turn foreign aid into Congress’ favorite punching bag in the budget battle these days?

The answer is that the US aid program was taken over by national security interests, abetted by delusions of nation-building. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) wound up in the most self-destructive position – the unsuccessful cover-up…. The resultant failures overshadowed notable successes in more traditional aid programmes like health. These disasters and the neglect of more feasible poverty relief failed to sustain the compassionate constituency evident earlier in the decade.

I’ve written about this issue several times before, when the Arab Spring came to Egypt and many of us learned how much of our “aid” to Egypt had been actually going for military equipment in support of the Mubarak dictatorship. Here was a story the next day in The Guardian noting the risk of mixing up defense and aid.

For comparison purposes, here’s a chart from GOOD comparing how much we spend on aid vs. the military.

Easterly says it’s clear most Americans want to help the poor overseas. He contends the only way we can rescue foreign aid is to disentangle it from our national security interests:

Compassionate American taxpayers continue to make private donations at a rate higher than any other nationality in the world. The bipartisan coalition that came together to increase aid in 2002 may be nearly extinct, but it could be resurrected by redirecting aid to where it has a decent chance of working. Aid will not get too many more chances.