The author, Christina Vachon, is a graduate student at George Washington University where she is pursuing her Master’s degree in International Affairs with a concentration in International Security Studies. She is currently an intern at the Partnership for a Secure America and has a research interest in security policy in the Middle East.
When Iran Gets the Bomb
Even though a short term deal with Iran has been reached, the US should prepare for the chance that Iran will cheat. As talks continue toward a long term agreement, the US should assess what Iran, the Middle East, and the world will look like if Iran gets the bomb. There is a lack of consensus on what happens if and when Iran gets the bomb. Due to the uncertainty that exists about Iran and its program, continued diplomatic efforts are important in order to gain more information about the situation, to better relations, and to prepare for a nuclear Iran. It is important though that all options remain on the table in order to protect US interests.
Ryan McClure is an attorney, intern at Partnership for a Secure America, and foreign policy blogger focusing on U.S. foreign policy in East Asia. He can be followed on Twitter @The BambooC.
The Need for Bipartisanship on U.S.-Burma Policy
The United States’ relationship with Burma has greatly changed in a brief period of time. Just three years ago, Burma was a pariah state subject to severe American sanctions. Today, sanctions have been lessened and the Burmese president is welcomed at the White House. The reason for these changes is Burma’s quasi-military government’s decision to carry out political reform toward a more democratic system. However, political oppression and human rights violations continue.
The Obama Administration, while aware of these abuses, persists in rewarding the Burmese government for geo-strategic reasons. Because of this, Congress must press the Administration to institute a more deliberate policy that rewards Burma with economic and diplomatic engagement only when concrete, sustained benchmarks have been met. (more…)
Jayson Browder is a decorated Air Force and Iraq Veteran. A recent graduate of Fordham University, Jayson was named a National Finalist for the Harry S. Truman Scholarship in 2012 and was recently awarded the William J. Fulbright Scholarship for 2013 to Turkey. Currently Jayson holds a position as a Military Legislative Assistant for Congressman Beto O’Rourke in the United States House of Representatives. This article originally appeared on PolicyMic.
Congress’ Iran Policy: Short Sighted and Irrational
Clear thought, rational thinking, and innovative ideas are desperately needed in the 113th Congress. Unfortunately, a large number of members of the House of Representatives have let short-term priorities and easy political points cloud their judgment. This has made for some poor and unfortunate votes that, for some partial short-term gains, will have long-term repercussions for the United States and our allies abroad. Examples of this include the failure to pass a budget for four years, the failure to solve the sequester, the failure to solve the debt ceiling, and most recently, the votes to place more stringent sanctions than ever on Iran.
By William Luers, Thomas R. Pickering, and Jim Walsh. Thomas Pickering is a PSA Advisory Board Member and a former US Ambassador to the United Nations. The article was originally published in the New York Review of Books.
For a New Approach to Iran
Could this be the year for an engagement with Iran that “is honest and grounded in mutual respect,” as President Obama proposed over four years ago? That goal seems unlikely without a shift in Iranian thinking and without a change in American diplomatic and political strategy. But two developments, one in Iran and one in the region, provide reason to think that diplomatic progress might be possible.
The first is Iran’s recent presidential election, which Hassan Rouhani won thanks to an alliance between Iran’s reformist and moderate camps. Together with the departure of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, this may provide the Obama administration the chance to start a new phase of relations with Iran. The second development is the war in Syria, which has the potential to grow into a region-wide Shia–Sunni conflict. This poses a direct threat to Iran’s vital interests, giving Tehran an incentive to reduce tensions with the international community.2
Iran and the United States have many important differences, but an agreement on Iran’s nuclear capability should be a critical priority. This could open the door to conversations with Iran regarding Iraq and Afghanistan. A functioning US-Iranian relationship could also help advance diplomatic efforts on Syria.
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.
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.
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…)
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.
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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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…)
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.