How the world is saving the shark

by PSA Staff | July 16th, 2013 | |Subscribe

Tara D. Sonenshine is the former US Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and a former PSA Board Member.  This article originally appeared on CNN.

How the world is saving the shark

As the summer ocean waves wash up onto America’s beaches, we find ourselves thinking, nervously, about Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” and the paralyzing fear that sharks inspire in us. Yet, paradoxically, we celebrate global attempts to protect the declining number of sharks. The world has figured out we need these species, along with all creatures of the Earth, to maintain a delicately balanced ecosystem.

Sharks, in particular, are “in” these days. Thanks to good public policy and the power of public education and multimedia campaigns featuring stars such as Yao Ming, Jackie Chan and Ang Lee, killing sharks for shark fin soup is no longer cool.

Shark fins dry in the sun on the roof of a factor in Hong Kong, one of the world’s biggest markets for shark fins.

The demand has been rising for decades, threatening sharks with extinction — up to 100 million sharks are killed each year just for their fins. But we have started to reverse the trend, particularly in affluent areas of the U.S. and overseas where restaurants once proudly displayed shark fin delicacies on the menu.

In California, and other states, a ban on the sale and possession of shark fin soup has gone into effect this year after aggressive marketing campaigns by WildAid and other organizations.

Overseas, marketing and public diplomacy efforts featuring posters on public transportation systems and TV ads have been underway for the past few years. These efforts all show signs of success, on both the supply side and the demand side of trade in shark fins. Hong Kong’s Census and Statistics Department tracked 3,100 metric tons of shark fin being imported from the island to China last year, but this year’s numbers are way down.

Stopping the killing of sharks is part of a broader movement to stop the killing of wild animals and the trafficking of wildlife products around the world — products that come from poaching elephants, tigers and rhinos, in addition to killing marine life.

In November, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for a global strategy to protect wildlife, raising the level of urgency to a growing national security threat.

For example, the poaching of elephants in search of ivory tusks for luxury goods had became a full-scale war between poachers, who are sometimes terrorists, and governments in parts of Africa. Illegal shipments of tusks across porous borders bring in the prizes of money and weapons.

Once a marginalized issue of U.S. foreign policy, Clinton and current Secretary of State John Kerry have placed wildlife trafficking at the top of the agenda, given its wide tentacles to Africa, Asia, Russia, Indonesia and consumers in almost every country.

According to National Geographic, which has been tracking elephant poaching, the financial losses place the issue on the scale of global drugs and crime, with an estimated 30,000 African elephants being killed for their tusks last year — a rate of slaughter, say wildlife experts, that could drive the animals to extinction within the century. The dwindling of African elephant populations is alarming. Much of the ivory is destined for China to make chopsticks and jewelry, and the Far East, where it can fetch upward of $1,300 a pound.

Whether it is shark fin soup or ivory piano keys, killing animals is big business. Together with international partners, conservation groups, nonprofits and businesses, the United States is leading the worldwide effort to reduce demand for high-end jewelry, herbal medicines, skins, foods and other products that rely on killing animals and marine life. Working with governments through existing protocols and conventions, the U.S. is convening stakeholders to pressure those who provide sanctuary for the poachers or allow parts and goods to make their way out of countries to market.

Public diplomacy and public education, together with sound policy, give us a model for success. Using Facebook, Twitter, public service advertisements, the media, celebrity interviews, videos and classroom teaching, we can martial the forces to convince consumers that buying products that come from slaughtered elephants or harpooned sharks is simply wrong and dangerous.

And we can track the results of wildlife trafficking and punish the offenders.

This is one of those rare international tales of where the public and private sector, along with Hollywood, can create a very different kind of movie.

The War on Tusks

by PSA Staff | July 11th, 2013 | |Subscribe

Tara D. Sonenshine is the US Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and a former PSA Board Member.  This article originally appeared in National Geographic.

The War on Tusks

Tusks up–in some parts of the world that means good luck; a saying full of irony considering the unfortunate plight of elephants today. Depending on your culture, elephants also convey strength, power, wisdom and patience. Whether in India, Africa or other lands, they are important and meaningful—and today they are receiving the global attention they deserve.

This month President Obama issued an executive order targeting the illegal trafficking of elephant tusks (and those of rhino horns and other products) promising a $10 million effort and a national presidential task force to increase anti-poaching efforts.  Building on what former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began in 2012 as a global crackdown on illicit trade of wildlife, the President vowed to rein in the growing black market for illegal animal products, which experts estimate has reached an annual business of 7-10 billion dollars.

The threat posed by this lucrative trade is not only environmental. It is a security and counterterrorism issue for the United States and many other countries. There is mounting evidence of links between wildlife crime syndicates and terror groups, with traffickers bankrolling rebels and their militias, conducting military-style assaults on elephants and terrorists funding their violent agenda through the burgeoning market for luxury goods, religious articles, carvings and medicines.

The White House action came as new scientific research opens major possibilities for determining the age of elephant tusks—a key part of the poaching puzzle.  Reported by theProceedings of the National Academies of Science, the research on tracking the age of ivory uses atmospheric nuclear weapons testing residue from the 1950s and 1960s to connect the dots on the age of elephant tusks.  In what is akin to the DNA breakthrough on crime solving, this new research could help law enforcement and other agencies determine when the killing of an elephants occurred—a tool in citing violations of the 1989 ban on African elephant killing for tusks.  The mere fact that carbon footprints from radiation from nuclear testing can be linking to elephant footprints is an astonishing scientific leap that will also help in tracking the numbers of traffickers since estimates of poaching comes from examining elephant carcasses.

The world is waking up to the plain fact that we are losing elephants fast.  National Geographic’s  2012 cover story on “Blood Ivory” detailed a decade of poaching that hit a high in 2011, having the greatest impact in the central Africa region.  According to experts at Columbia University, we have only 400,000 elephants left in the wild.  30,000 elephants are killed each year. A public education awareness campaign must be waged worldwide to target the demand side of the elephant equation. Consumers have to understand that ivory comes from a dead elephant’s tusk and that without an end to the purchase of these products, we simply cannot win the war on trafficking.  Media campaigns like those spearheaded by National Geographic, WildAid, the World Wildlife Federation and hundreds of other conservation groups are critical.  The involvement of Hollywood figures like Jackie Chan have helped the wildlife trafficking issue to gain traction as has the work of athletes like Yao Ming.

In the end, this war will be won through changing hearts and minds—or in other words, public diplomacy.  We need education to reinforce the principle that killing animals is not cool and that the crime of poaching will lead to serious consequences.Whether it is good luck, wisdom or patience, elephants are vital to our planet and must stay front and center in the global mindset until their slaughter is stopped.

Aphrodite’s possibility: Everyone wins in the eastern Mediterranean

by PSA Staff | June 3rd, 2013 | |Subscribe

Marc Grossman is a Vice Chairman of The Cohen Group, a Henry Kissinger Senior fellow at Yale University and a former US Ambassador to Turkey.  Tom Miller is a member of the PSA Board of Directors, President of the International Executive Service Corps, a former US Ambassador to Greece, and US Special Cyprus Coordinator. This article originally ran May 31, 2013, in FuelFix (A Houston Chronicle Publication).

Aphrodite’s possibility: Everyone wins in the eastern Mediterranean

With the violence spilling over the border into Turkey in the form of car bombs, the crisis in Syria surely topped the agenda when President Obama met Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week.

We hope they also took a few minutes to discuss the opportunity to make progress on one of the world’s most intractable problems  – the division of Cyprus — by harnessing  the discovery of a natural gas field about 100 miles south of Cyprus called Aphrodite.  Getting that gas to market could revive the Cypriot economy, enhance Turkey’s relations with Israel and lay the foundations to end Cyprus’ division, a requirement for Turkey’s long-sought membership in the European Union.

Because of the collapse of Cyprus’s banking sector, experts estimate its GDP could shrink by 15% this year and another 15% in 2014.  The EU’s first bailout plan initially created more controversy than confidence; it will take years for Cyprus’s GDP recover.

The Aphrodite field could change the trajectory of that recovery.  There are press reports that Houston-based Noble Energy, the company that found Aphrodite in 2011, estimates that the field contains 142 billion to 227 billion cubic meters of gas worth $45 billion at current prices. (more…)

Assessing the Nuclear Cop

by PSA Staff | May 22nd, 2013 | |Subscribe

Reviewed by: Andrew K. Semmel is the Executive Director of the Partnership for a Secure America. He is also president of AKS Consulting, whose clients include the International Atomic Energy Agency. This article originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of Arms Control Today, and has been reprinted with the permission of the Arms Control Association.

Detect, Dismantle, and Disarm: IAEA Verification, 1992-2005
By Christine Wing and Fiona Simpson
United States Institute of Peace Press,
2013, 184 pp.

When the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) entered into force in 1970, it included a provision designating the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as its verification arm. When the IAEA was created in 1957, its principal purpose was to promote the use of nuclear energy for civilian purposes. Over the years, however, its role has changed.

Today, its more-visible function is to provide the international community with assurances that countries using nuclear science and nuclear materials are not using them to pursue weapons programs. Because of its expanded role in verification, largely through on-site inspections, the IAEA has joined the NPT as one of the two key anchors of the nuclear nonproliferation regime.

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Commentary: Tired of budget shenanigans? Here’s an answer

by PSA Staff | April 22nd, 2013 | |Subscribe

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years, and PSA Advisory Board member. This article was originally published in the Alexandria Echo Press

Commentary: Tired of budget shenanigans? Here’s an answer

With the formal release of President Obama’s budget, the pieces are finally in place for a reprise of the Washington drama we’ve all come to know. There will be high-stakes negotiations, lines in the sand, and enough intrigue to keep Beltway insiders riveted by every piece of breaking news.

The rest of us, though, are already worn out. In repeated conversations with ordinary people, I’ve been struck by the immense frustration I’ve encountered. They’re tired of brinksmanship and constant fiscal crisis. They’re fed up with accusations, spin, fear mongering, and intransigence. They’ve had it with a complex, opaque process when the outline of a solution — controlling spending and entitlements, raising revenues to meet the country’s obligations, and investing in economic growth — seems evident. Above all, they’re weary of a government that appears addicted to crisis. Why, they wonder, can we not pass a budget in an orderly, rational way?

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Presidents are breaking the U.S. Foreign Service

by PSA Staff | April 19th, 2013 | |Subscribe

Susan R. Johnson is president of the American Foreign Service Association. Ronald E. Neumann, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, is president of the American Academy of Diplomacy, where Thomas R. Pickering, a former undersecretary of state and PSA Advisory Board member, is chairman of the board.  This article was originally published in the Washington Post.

Presidents are breaking the U.S. Foreign Service

American diplomacy is facing a crisis. The professional career service that is intended to be the backbone of that diplomacy no longer claims a lead role at the State Department or in the formulation or implementation of foreign policy. The U.S. Foreign Service is being marginalized — just as military efforts to resolve major diplomatic challenges in Iraq and Afghanistan have failed, and as diplomacy has become both more complex and more important to our national security and prosperity.

The Foreign Service is being relegated to a secondary status: staff support to political elites who set and manage policy. Long-held concepts about the disciplined, competitive, promotion-based personnel system are being called into question.

The Rogers Act established the Foreign Service as a merit-based, professional diplomatic service in 1924. This concept was reemphasized in 1946, after the U.S. experience in World War II ratified the need to model the Foreign Service’s personnel system after that of the military rather than the domestic civil service. The 1980 Foreign Service Act reiterated that “a professional career Foreign Service based on merit principles was necessary to meet the challenges of a more complex and competitive world.” The importance of a professional diplomatic service has been underscored by our national experience in the simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the broad array of current and foreseeable challenges.

What is wrong at State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, our embassies and other agencies that together are the vehicles for American diplomacy? What accounts for the Foreign Service being marginalized? (more…)

America Must Atone for the Torture it Inflicted

by PSA Staff | April 17th, 2013 | |Subscribe

Thomas R. Pickering is a member of the Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment. He was undersecretary of state for political affairs from 1997 to 2001 and served as ambassador and representative to the United Nations from 1989 to 1992. Ambassador Pickering is also a member of the Partnership for a Secure America Advisory Board. This article was originally published in the Washington Post.

America Must Atone for the Torture it Inflicted

It’s never easy in this volatile world to advance America’s strategic aims. For more than four decades, in the service of Democratic and Republican presidents, it was often my job to persuade foreign governments to adhere to international law and observe the highest standards of conduct in human rights — including the strict prohibition of torture. A report released Tuesday by an independent task force on detainee treatment (to which I contributed) makes it clear that U.S. officials could have used the same advice. (more…)

What Obama Must Do in Israel

by PSA Staff | March 20th, 2013 | |Subscribe

Samuel R. Berger, former national security advisor to U.S. President Bill Clinton from 1997 to 2001, is a PSA Advisory Board Member.

March 19, 2013|Foreign Policy

What Obama Must Do In Israel

This week, when Air Force One lands in Tel Aviv, the newly reelected American president and the Israeli prime minister with a new government will turn the page on a new chapter in their relationship. And they will discuss how to manage the strategic challenges we both face in ways that protect our respective interests.

Much has been made and said about the personal relationship between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu. Some of it is even true: It has been far from tension-free, and is very much in need of a reboot. But I also think that too much has been said about it, as if the bilateral relationship could be reduced to their personal rapport — as if the strategic dimension of the two countries’ ties were either anecdotal or purely a function of personal chemistry.

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The Need for US Leadership as China Continues to Exert its Influence in the South and East China Seas

by PSA Staff | January 16th, 2013 | |Subscribe

This article was written by Katherine Ehly and Matthew Hays, two Participants in PSA’s Congressional Partnership Program.  All CPP articles are produced by bipartisan groups of Democrat and Republican Hill Staff who were challenged to develop opinion pieces that reach consensus on critical national security and foreign affairs issues.

The Need for US Leadership as China Continues to Exert its Influence in the South and East China Seas

In late 2011 the Obama Administration announced that it would increase America’s visibility in Asia.  These efforts were described by the Administration as a “pivot” or “rebalancing” of U.S. military planning, foreign policy, and economic policy toward the region.  Washington, however, has wrestled with how to engage the most prominent and powerful country in the region, China.  With troops nearly gone from Iraq and drawing down in Afghanistan, this shift could not have come at a better time.  As the region has grown more prosperous, the issue of sovereignty over the South and East China Seas has become intense with China exhibiting worrisome acts of aggression toward its neighboring countries.  China, in attempting to control these waters, appears to be demonstrating its intent to exert dominance over the region.

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What to do about Iran?

by PSA Staff | October 18th, 2012 | |Subscribe

Thomas Pickering, member of the PSA Advisory Board, along with esteemed colleges Anthony Zinni and Jim Walsh authored this Op-ed originally published in the Chicago Tribune

What to do about Iran?

Adlai Stevenson once advised that “to act coolly, intelligently and prudently in perilous circumstances is the true test of a man — and also of a nation.” In the face of Iran’s potential for becoming a nuclear weapons state and a threat to Israel, U.S. leaders would be smart to follow Stevenson’s advice and act prudently and intelligently.

There is little doubt that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose dangerous challenges to U.S. interests and security, as well as to the security of Israel. There is no question of the seriousness of the problems presented by Iran’s nuclear program or the need to consider the use of military force as a last resort.

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All blog posts are independently produced by their authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of PSA. Across the Aisle serves as a bipartisan forum for productive discussion of national security and foreign affairs topics.