Archive for January, 2012

Food Wars

Food insecurity may have, at least in part, caused the Arab Spring. A study conducted by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) analyzed the connection between rural development, food security and conflict. Although not fully completed, the study shows so far that Arab nations might be more vulnerable to conflicts associated with food insecurity and poverty because the region is experiencing overall economic growth but persistent rural poverty. Thus, there is a huge disconnect between the Arab countries’ economies and the majority of its people. Food prices rise, people cannot afford to buy the food, nor can they grow their own food**, and then conflict ensues.

So will this “provocative” report on the connection between food insecurity, poverty and conflict cause states to pump even more money, time and lives into the Middle East? Probably not. It will however lead international organizations such as IFAD and IFPRI to develop more beneficial programs for the Arab region, more programs which are tailored to the specific needs of the Arab region–i.e. food insecurity.

No one is happy when they are hungry, let alone hungry and without any source of food. Perhaps, as IFAD states, food insecurity is the reason why some wars start. Hopefully organizations such as IFAD and IFPRI continue to work towards alleviating that insecurity, and noticeable improvements are seen in the near future in the Arab region.


**”In fact, farming is no longer the main source of income for the region’s poorest rural households, who now earn more than 80 per cent of their income from non-agricultural activities.”

International Fund for Agricultural Development

IFAD Blog-



Poverty: Polluting the System and Degrading the Environment

It’s fairly common knowledge that the poor nations of the world do not have the cleanest or most preserved environments. For example, I say “Sub-Saharan Africa,” and you probably aren’t picturing fields of crops and an abundance of trees and other foliage. This is not just due to geography. No rather it is due to, as well as exasperated by, poverty. And chronic poverty at that.

The savannas of Sub-Saharan Africa offer little for the people of the region to use for food, materials, or other needs.

This issue was examined by the Poverty- Environment Partnership in a joint agency paper in 2008. This study specifically looked at environmental hazards, how they effect citizens’ health, and how that in turn then effects the security of these nations. The study found that “enhanced economic growth is essential for poverty reduction in most parts of the world, but the quality of growth, and in particular the extent to which it creates new opportunities for the poor, also matters.”

I think it is astounding that a nearly 60 page study published by more than 15 well respected NGOs came up with this conclusion. Is it not obvious that economic growth would reduce poverty? And doesn’t economic growth have to create some kind of new opportunity for the poor in order to be effective? What a politician response to such a pressing problem.

The fact of the matter is the poverty-environmental destruction cycle is a serious problem in that it jeopardizes the ability for people to have access to basics like clean water, enough food, shelter, and even a means to make a living. The poor are typically uneducated in how their actions affect the environment around them (i.e. how cutting down trees for cropland causes soil degradation and erosion, which leads to polluted water supplies, etc.). But even if they are educated on the issue, their dire situation forces them to act for their present needs (like food for their family every day) rather than be concerned about environmental problems that may not be apparent or affect them right away.

Nations need to consider their people and their role in making the state what it is. Without the consent of the people, the government does not exist. This is true even in non-democratic states. If the citizens revolt with enough force and organization, they can effectively remove leaders from power. Leaderless states, or even states that have leaders that are not widely accepted as legitimate, are not secure. Just take a look at Latin America over the past 50 years and we can see the effects that civil unrest can have on domestic and regional security.

Leaders of nations suffering from chronic poverty need to take this issue much more seriously, as it is in their best interests to do so. They need to seriously consider the needs of all their citizens, or else face losing their power. In the vein of human security, poverty is also an issue that must be conquered. As sated previously, poverty leads to environmental destruction, disease, and other such disasters that threaten the lives and economic well being of the people of a nation, and by extension that of the nation itself. For without its people, a nation ceases to exist. And that isn’t in the best interests of anyone.



Please visit for more information on the joint agency paper.

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Security and liberty

Huzzah for procrastination!

I have a physical condition that makes me fall asleep/stab things in my eye when I take these types of assignments too seriously and so intend to be conversational in my style of delivery.

The recent supreme court case US vs Jones held that the government must obtain a warrant in order to engage in the constant surveillance of a vehicle/person’s whereabouts over a sustained period of time. This is as an extension of the fourth amendment prerogative of the people to not be subject to unreasonable searches and seizures. This opinion is a putative expansion of the previous landmark 4th amendment case Katz VS US which held that fourth amendment right held where the “victim” had a reasonable expectation of privacy. Its arguable what exact standard the Court intend to set here as they took pains to rule very narrowly and the majority opinion isn’t from a single legal reasoning but rather an overlap of multiple legal theories holding for Jones in this specific instance. To grossly simplify however, this case leads credence to the idea that events that take place in the public eye, which is a continually expanding, almost limitless platform, still require some amount of due process if the government thinks it necessary to eavesdrop.

One could spend a very long time talking about the intricacy of each justices opinion and how it might impact a future more expansive, definitive case but as this is not a constitutional law class I’m going to avoid that for now and talk about what I believe I get credit for talking about, security. There’s a common trope that you can’t and shouldn’t trade liberty for security. My knee jerk reaction is that this case is not an example of that, that, as we defined security, a police state in of itself is a threat to our “security”, our cherished values. But thats just a statement of my values, my definitions. To step back from that for a moment its interesting to consider, at what point are we willing to trade liberty for security (and in this case by security, I mean physical integrity)? We shy away from thinking of it but making dubious assumption that increased government power results in more “protection” what are we willing to sacrifice to be safe? This court ruling is a small expansion of personal freedoms, as they are respected by the government, and that small expansion has costs in terms of criminals that get away, people that get hurt, crimes that go unsolved. I think those sacrifices are worth it, do you? And why? Where’s the dividing line between an unacceptable violation of personal freedoms and a respectable sacrifice for safety?

mmmm cookies…. <- this is not a serious statement the question above is, continue the discussion!

Two-state solution to Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Oscar Taranco, the UN assistant secretary-general called upon Israel and Palestine to settle their differences by establishing a two-state solution.  This means that both Israel and Palestine would just smooth things over and live side by side peacefully with both Israel and Palestine being independent states.  Taranco says that they need to realize the “legitimate rights of all” or there will be continued conflict.

This is an extremely oversimplified solution for a historically complicated and dangerous situation.  The states will not settle this situation with a peaceful two-state solution because the recognition of Palestine as an independent state would mean sacrificing vital Israeli land, including that of Jerusalem, which is not only the capital but is also the most important part if their territory.  Toranco calls for both to have contiguous and viable land which for the Palestinians would include the Gaza strip, which is in the lower left side of the nation, and the west bank. With the west bank being on the opposite side of the country would divide Israel in a way that would make it unmanageable for defense purposes.

The change in situation either along the borders or in statehood status of Palestine would invoke a war, as Israel will not give up vital zones to the Palestinian people making their land unable to be defended.  War at this time would have effects completely opposite from those desired by Palestine, due to the status and strength of the Israeli armed forces.



UN official urges two-state solution to Israel-Palestine conflict. January 25, 2012



Oil Price Hikes as a Possible Catalyst for Action

Here’s a shocking tidbit: the world is running out of oil. Pause to gasp. The demand for oil in the world today is pushing the limits of its supply. The Green Blog from the New York Times posted an article titled “Oil Supply as a Strategic Risk” today that covered an opinion piece on global oil production. Professors James Murray and David King published the article in the Nature Journal. The authors argue that governments need to take action on oil supply concerns, basing their motivations on the rising prices if not on the climate effects.

While their argument seems commonplace today- who would argue against governments needing to jump start alternate energy programs and other “green” initiatives to decrease dependence on oil?- their discussion turns a more interesting corner as they present the dwindling oil supply as “a large strategic risk to economic growth” (Gills). I agree with the professors that focusing on the price hikes and unhappy populace standing at the pump is likely to be the most compelling reason governments take “green” action to lessen pressure on the world’s oil supply. That the article was published in “the world’s most august scientific journal” shows that the community involves understands that presenting an argument for alternative energies- even, as the authors mention, pushing for nuclear power- cannot be done by working an environmental, save-the-earth angle (Gills). Rather, presenting the case as diminishing oil threatening the security of the global economy holds much more weight to the political audience needed to spark the movement.

PetroChina, a main player in Chinese oil and gas, has said, “The uncertainty and instability of the global economic recovery may become more severe, while the global financial markets and crude prices may see greater fluctuations” (Hook). This “severe” market PetroChina is worried about should alarm other corporations and their governments as well. Maybe statements such as “the world is running out of oil” should not be met with sarcasm and then overlooked; maybe it is time to focus on an angle to push upon congressmen and activist organizations alike, and perhaps Professor Murray and Professor King have found the right one.


Black Market Peso Exchange highlights difficulty in tracing Cartel cash

The Black Market Peso Exchange is a comprehensive money laundering machine, taking advantage of international financial transfers and transnational corporations, whether real or shells, to repatriate huge amounts of cash from drug sales in the US to Colombia, and more recently to Mexico.
“The Black Market Peso Exchange is perhaps the largest, most insidious money laundering system in the Western Hemisphere,” says Raymond Kelly, Commissioner of the US Customs Service. “It’s the ultimate nexus between crime and commerce, using global trade to mask global money laundering.”

The BMPE enables profits from drug sales in the US to be exchanged for pesos in the nation of choice, via an elaborate system of banks, shell corporations, legitimate businesses and cambrios, or cash exchanges.

Drug profits pose an interesting security threat. What can drug kingpins do with stacks and stacks of US currency? Almost anything. Even given the healthy cut that a BMPE broker will take from repatriation of funds, successfully laundered drug profits can be used to intimidate, bribe or kill judges, prosecutors, law enforcement officials and politicians nearly anywhere else in the world.

Drug profits also pose an interesting economic question. If you are a Mexican businessman, who wants to buy a shipment of American made goods, wouldn’t it be worth your while to talk to your local BMPE broker to negotiate a possible discount? You would designate the American made goods that you want, whether those goods are guns or dishwashers, pickup trucks or stereos doesn’t matter, and have a US BMPE broker purchase the goods in the US with cash, and have them delivered at a healthy discount, as much as 20% off wholesale, in exchange for purchasing them in local, clean pesos. Dirty money gets distributed into durable goods, and clean pesos get picked up and returned to the hangs of drug traffickers.

Simple, effective, and without any real chance of being stopped. Dangerous and profitable. At least it boosts US exports.
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Rising Strife Threatens Tenuous Iraqi Stability

After U.S. troops have pulled out of Iraq there has been problems with keeping the Iraqi parliament united.  Violence and instability have been spreading across the state as Sunni’s and Shiites are warring for control.  The American forces believed that if they pulled out now that Iraqi forces would be able to control the situation in a peaceful manner.  The opposite has actually happened as the country has been acting very unstable, and not representing the peoples needs.  Their is a genuine fear that the Shiite militias will take over the cities again without an American presence being around.  Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has taken an aggressive stance by arresting several Sunni politicians in the last several weeks.  This crises could not have come at a worse time for the Iraqi people, who believed that finally they had a government that represented them and the social, economic, and religious rights that America had overlooked.

Sunni politicians have boycotted parliament and have even been talking about breaking away from the central government.  Prime Minister Nuri tried to curtail these threats by making one of his own, that he would release information that would connect politicians to terrorist plots.  With all of this pandomonium, Iraq’s stability has gained international attention.  Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip had called and asked that officials try to get along peacefully as other nations also are at stake for Iraq’s well being.  There has also been hype that Iran has been pulling some of the strings behind the scenes in Iraq and Southern Lebanon.  Sunnis and Shiites have asked Prime Minister Maliki to reprimand them as well.

– Ben

EU Oil Embargo Against Iran Likely to be Successful?

The international community is taking progressively severe actions against Iran’s nuclear program. This time turning towards “unprecedented” economic sanctions, the European Union (EU), backed by Germany and France, has recently decided to place an oil embargo on Iran, as well as freezing Iran’s assets within its central bank in the EU. The U.S. has already taken economic measures against the country, as well as promoting other countries, such as Japan and South Korea to find alternative oil supplies. They cite the possibility of Iran’s presence in the area as a nuclear power a threat to the region as well as the Israeli state. Iran’s nuclear transparency has been questioned more so recently. Thought the country allowed inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the EU’s nuclear watchdog, to visit nuclear cites last August, Iran hasn’t met other international requests for openness and accountability and continues its uranium enrichment programs.

Nuclear Weapons provide security by creating deterrence from other states. One state having nuclear weapons over the other inevitably gives that state a degree of dominance. Iran has in the past shown weariness to U.S. nuclear compatibilities, especially with the U.S.’s presence in the region. National regimes such as the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) have failed to coerce many states to get on board, for example Israel and Pakistan, due to issues of security. Though the EU and the United States see Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons as a threat, Iran may see other states’ possession of nuclear weapons within the region, such as Israel, as a strong threat against its own security.

Will the oil embargo and sanctions change Iran’s policy? It may or may not. Iran may see developing a nuclear program as worth suffering the consequences of economic sanctions. Although around 20% of Iran’s oil exports are bought by EU countries, China, Iran’s biggest trading partner, will likely continue economic support towards Iran and will not impose sanctions. Some have proposed using a policy of carrots and sticks. The sticks have already been imposed through sanctions, but bargaining tools could also be used to create a deal in which Western powers promise to relieve pressure for Iranian regime change if they make efforts to cease their nuclear efforts. This may be a difficult policy however to pursue, due to domestic and political factors. Whichever policy used however, whether continuing to just push economic sanctions or offering deals with Iran, the EU’s IAEA and the US will no doubt continue to monitor Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

-Anna D.

Al-Qaeda’s influence is spreading to the Arabian Peninsula

This article discusses the rising threat of al-Qaeda in Arab Peninsula, and specifically in Yemen. Even since the death of Anwar al-Awlaki, a major leader of the al-Qaeda movement in Yemen, al-Qaeda’s presence seems to being continually growing. Like much of the rest of the Arab world, Yemen has experience a series of protests over the last year. In November, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh signed an agreement stating that power would be transferring to the Vice President. However, Saleh has only partially followed through on that agreement and still maintains much of the power. It is also expected that the elections slated for next month will be indefinitely postponed. With the lack in leadership in Yemen, al-Qaeda forces are becoming increasingly prominent. They have largely been chased from their previous bases across the Middle East and it appears as if al-Qaeda is looking to create a stronghold in the Arabian Peninsula, especially in vulnerable countries such as Yemen.


The fact that al-Qaeda is moving their location to Yemen and other Gulf states means that the United States needs to be constantly reevaluating their strategy for dealing with al-Qaeda. If it is the United States’ goal to destroy al-Qaeda, then we need to weary that we are not simply chasing them to newfound safe havens all over the world. The United States also needs to be aware that political instability in Yemen could open (it arguably already has) the door to al-Qaeda insurgents relocating to Yemen. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has issued a message stating that the United States supports the elections that are scheduled for next month. If those elections don’t occur, or they are not considered “ free and fair”, then the United States may want to consider altering their strategy so that al-Qaeda does not gain further influence in Yemen by taking advantage of its unstable position.


Additional Reading:



How Far Will an Intelligence Agency go to Secure America?

Accused war criminal Taylor ‘worked with CIA’

US intelligence officials have recently admitted to working with accused war criminal former Liberian President Charles Taylor. This is the man responsible for the wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s. He provided RUF rebels in Sierra Leone, in addition to other rebel groups, with the money to recruit and use child soldiers, torture opponents, and smuggle blood diamonds.
The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) saw him as an asset because they were interested in information Taylor might have been able to provide the agency with concerning then-Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi.
What is so shocking about this development on the intelligence community is that until 2001, he was still being paid by the CIA (whether he was actually providing them with information or not, the article does not say) and in 2009 DIA officials even helped him escape from jail!

This article reminded me of our discussion during our class about the costs and benefits of security plans. The benefit in this situation was the possible gain of information about a potentially threatening country, Libya. The cost on the other hand was payments and support to a war criminal who both directly and indirectly caused the death of 250,000 people. I am interested to learn more about our intelligence agencies and how they conduct their intelligence gathering. Are they always this radical in conducting their research? Has it improved our national security?


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