Monday, April 29, 2013

To the Brink and Back: India and Pakistan’s Continual Escalations

Since 1998, the world has lived with two openly nuclear neighbors with a troubling relationship. India and Pakistan have never enjoyed completely amicable relations since independence and partition in 1947. The acquisition of nuclear weapons by both powers have had analysts predicting alternately Armageddon and a stable subcontinent ever since. India tested its first nuclear weapon in 1974 but refrained from launching another test for over 20 years, until 1998 when it tested its first fusion weapon. In response, Pakistan launched 6 missiles, officially joining the global nuclear club. Neither country is a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and thus were not in contravention of international law in proliferating. Yet the international community’s initial response was one of dual-sided approbation and fear, especially given the two countries’ long-standing territorial dispute in Kashmir. Pakistan had been supporting the Kashmiri insurgency as well as other uprisings within India for decades, and now there was real danger of escalation of conflicts to the nuclear level in the minds of scholars and policymakers alike. Alarm bells were ringing in South Asian circles with many predicting that there would be a new and equally dangerous “Cold War” on the sub-continent.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Thick Red Line - Syria's Intolerable Use of Chemical Weapons

Evidence has been amassing in recent days to support the notion that the Syrian government is using chemical weapons in the ongoing civil war ravaging the country. The use of chemical weapons has continuously been referred to as Obama's "red line;" therefore, the implications of this are quite serious. However, despite the White House having said since the beginning of the conflict that they would not tolerate the use of chemical weapons and would see it as grounds for more substantial intervention, nothing seems to be happening. Without a clear consensus coming from lawmakers and the White House, continued floundering by the U.S. on this issue will have significant repercussions for the Syrian opposition. In a moment vaguely reminiscent of Rwanda in 1994, President Obama's legacy may be galvanized by his wavering on what is one of the gravest issues he has faced as president thus far.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

LGBTQ Rights Worldwide: A Love Story

The Global Atlas of late has been consumed by the tragedy in Boston that affected all of our contributors directly. Yet while many bad things were happening in the world, there have been distinctly positive developments on the world stage. In one realm of human rights where many feared there would never be progress, especially in more conservative religious societies, major gains were made just in the last week: France and New Zealand each legalized gay marriage nationwide, bringing the total number of countries with legalized same-sex marriage to fourteen. Fourteen out of nearly 200 countries isn’t great, but consider this: it is a 1,300 percent increase in just the last ten years. At the beginning of this century, not a single country had legalized equal marriage rights. Not a single US state had legal same-sex marriage. Not. One. Now nine have fully recognized equal marriage as well as the District of Columbia. So 2013, with 14 countries and 9 US states having legalized equal marriage rights, marks a sea-change from the world in which we were living not even 15 years ago.

Protests in favor of equal marriage rights in January in Paris. Courtesy of AFP/Thomas Samson

Saturday, April 20, 2013

When Terrorism Hits Home: Three Reactions to the Boston Bombing Crisis

 The indomitable city

Vicky Kelberer:

I wrote the following on Thursday evening, before the terrorists were killed and captured:

Boston, for me, is an adopted home. When I moved here five years ago, my mother would be the first to tell you that I spent the first week crying and wanting to go “home” to Minnesota. Five years later, Boston is home. It’s where I grew up, and I mean really grew up, into some semblance of an adult. It’s where I met best friends, found my passion in life, found mentors who help me to achieve it, and most importantly, it’s now where I come “home” to when I travel around the world and across the country. The only year since moving here that I missed Marathon Monday, the ultimate Bostonian holiday (even bigger than St. Patrick’s Day, not kidding), I had a dinner of mourning with a friend from Boston since we both were in Switzerland far away from the festivities we love so well.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Dispersion of Power and Control in the Syrian Opposition: Only The Beginning?

As tracked through a series of articles in The Global Atlas (here, here and here), we've been follwoing the situation in Syria closely. In what began as a botched uprising followed by renewed protests after the incarceration and torture of Syrian teenagers for anti-government graffiti, the Syrian uprising quickly devolved into a civil war that has not only produced a massive humanitarian disaster within and outside of its borders but has tested the organization and cohesiveness of the broad Syrian opposition. Converging now is a spectrum of developments that's shaping the reality on the ground and raising renewed fears that the Syrian opposition's decentralization and lack of transitional authority on the ground--let alone the lack of consensus on the future shape and ideology of a Syrian state--pose serious problems for any post-conflict settlement. Emerging from the chaos is an increasingly worrisome mélange of powerful militant factions all vying for power and control as largely a biproduct of Syrian National Council's (SNC), and later the National Coalition's failure to effectively lead the rebels as opposed to merely represent them.

Members of the Syrian National Coalition. December 2012. Photo via Ya Libnan.

Monday, April 8, 2013

An Iron Lady, A Shining Example: A Tribute to Margaret Thatcher

You could say many things about the late, great Margaret Thatcher, and people certainly do, proclaiming her alternately heroine and villain, tough and cruel, powerful and power-hungry. Upon the news of her passing last night of the last in a long line of strokes, Twitter lit up with proclamations of “ding, dong the witch is dead,” as well as the outpouring of millions who respected the so-called Iron Lady. Childish tweets aside, the world has lost one of its great female leaders, who – regardless of whether or not you agree with her politics – served as an example to women everywhere of the greatness they could achieve and the place in history that could be theirs.

Hillary learned how to wear a pair of sunglasses like a BAMF from Ms. Thatcher

Friday, April 5, 2013

Tug Of War in South America

After a brief respite, it seems that in recent weeks there has been heightened animosity in South America over the Falkland Islands, and whether they belong to Argentina (the archipelago is just over 300 miles off the Patagonian Coast) or the United Kingdom. The disagreement is by no means new - the Falklands War in 1982 was a stark reminder of the U.K.'s desperation in holding on to at least some of their dissolving empire - but that the tiny islands are making waves in the press again indicates a renewal of the seemingly eternal disagreement. Argentina's President de Kirchner is as fiery as any head of state, and while it may be wise for her and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron to keep the tense words to a minimum and avoid any outright conflict, it is yet unclear how things will unfold.

Falkland residents after the vote

Thursday, April 4, 2013

UN Arms Trade Treaty Overwhelmingly Approved

In the summer of 2012, I wrote an article on the failure of the international community to reach a voting consensus on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), despite the almost 10-year lobbying effort to get the treaty signed into international law. Various problems with the treaty came to the fore back in July 2012, mainly that the U.S. and Russia claimed they didn't know how the treaty would affect their domestic laws. It was a frustrating end to what could have been a monumental addition to international law; a treaty designed to regulate trade worth $70 billion annually. Good news came roughly 9 months later: two days ago, the Arms Trade Treaty was brought to a majority vote and received overwhelming international backing. Only three countries in the UN General Assembly voted against it (North Korea, Iran and Syria) while great power arms manufacturers China and Russia abstained. Despite a few small issues, the treaty may very well prove to be a guiding law in future policy discussions, especially concerning the three conspicuous nations that voted against the measure.

United Nations General Assembly chamber. Photo by Chris Erbach.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Human Rights and Peace Triumph Across the Globe

In a shocking turn of events today, Kim Jong-un retracted his previous threats to use preemptive nuclear strikes against South Korea and the U.S., instead announcing a plan to point the country's "missiles" at China instead. In a statement, the often unpredictable North Korean leader said, “After decades of a close friendship, North Koreans have come to realize that China is about to take sh*t over. We’d prefer it not be us.” Further shocking observers, Mr. Kim announced a divorce from his current wife, insisting that he is now engaged to South Korea’s Prime Minister Park Geun-hye. The two were seen canoodling in a Pyongyang internet café soon after the announcement.

Official portrait of Kim Jong Un

Apparently in response to the shifting alliances on the continent, Japan and China agreed to shelve their dispute over the Senkaku-Diaoyu islands and form The League of Asian BAMFs for regional security. Japanese Prime Minister Abe said of the move, “Hell, they’re just a couple stupid rocks. We’ll just split ‘em and cut our losses.” His counterpart in China, Li Xinping, responded, “Those upstart Koreans won’t know what hit them when they have the LOABAMFs coming at them.” China and Japan then unfriended both Koreas on Weibo.