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Dear Readers,

The posts on this blog are intended to accompany the chapters in the text Introduction to Global Politics. They are intended to interest, excite, entertain, and allow you to immerse yourselves in the subject matter. Some involve scholars about whom you will read; others involve events described in the text – past and present – and still others will allow you to delve more deeply into topics described in those chapters.

Please navigate the blog through the use of the category links on the side. You can browse posts by the type of material they contain or by the chapters to which they are related.

Dispute over the South China Sea Escalates

April 11, 2012

The South China Sea is once again the source of rising tensions between China and the Philippines. The area in question is the Scarborough Shoal, a small chain of islands and reefs about 124 nautical miles off the Western coast of the Philippine island of Luzon, according to Al Jazeera (see article and map).  It is claimed by both China, as sovereign territory, and the Philippines, as part of that country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam also lay claim to parts of the Sea, most of which is claimed by China. These countries all seek control over the area’s oil and gas deposits, fishing stock, and numerous sea lanes.

This most recent dispute began when a Philippine warship out on patrol found eight Chinese fishing vessels anchored in the area and discovered illegally harvested coral, clams, and live sharks, as reported by the Voice of America. The New York Times presents the following description of events:

“At about 7:20 in the morning, the boarding team started to conduct a board, search and seizure on the first Chinese fishing vessel and found large amounts of corals, sizable quantities of giant clams and live sharks in its compartments,” Admiral Pama told reporters Wednesday, adding that the other Chinese boats carried similar sea resources that he said were illegal to harvest.

On Tuesday afternoon, two Chinese surveillance ships, identified by Philippine officials as Zhonggou Haijian 75 and Zhonggou Haijian 84, took positions at the mouth of the lagoon within the shoal, blocking the Philippine Navy vessel’s access to the fishing boats inside.

One of the Chinese ships radioed the Philippine ship and said that the area was Chinese territory and that the Philippine Navy should withdraw. The Philippine captain responded that the shoal was his country’s territory. As of late Wednesday, the vessels remained in position.

In its statement, the Chinese Embassy said the fishing boats were in the lagoon seeking shelter from a storm when “a Philippine Naval gunboat blocked the entrance of the lagoon, and sent 12 Philippine soldiers, 6 of which armed, into the lagoon and harassed the Chinese fishermen.”

It went on to say that the embassy had contacted the Philippine government and “reiterated China’s sovereignty over Huangyan Island [China’s name for the island], urged the Philippine side to stop immediately their illegal activities and leave this area.”

This is only one in a series of run-ins between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea in the past year, but tensions are especially high this time around. The Christian Science Monitor reports that Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario has told China’s ambassador that “if the Philippines is challenged, we are prepared to secure our sovereignty.” A Chinese general has warned that the Philippines is “facing its ‘last chance’ to peacefully resolve sovereignty disputes over the South China Sea,” and that “the biggest miscalculation of the Philippines is that it has misestimated the strength and willpower of China to defends [sic] its territorial integrity.”


Tensions Rise over North Korean Missile Launch

March 30, 2012

Earlier this month, and just weeks after the US and North Korea announced a deal to resume nuclear talks in exchange for food aid, North Korea announced plans to launch a rocket to place a satellite in orbit in mid-April. North Korean officials have indicated that the satellite will be used for scientific research and “peaceful purposes” and that the timing of the launch is intended to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the country’s founder Kim Il-sung. The United States insists that this launch is really a long-range missile test and, as such, violates a 2009 UN Security Council resolution (pdf) calling for North Korea to suspend its ballistic missile program and end all missile launches. Speaking earlier this week at the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea, US President Barack Obama warned that if North Korea proceeds with the missile launch, it risks further isolation (BBC). The US has also announced it will suspend food assistance to North Korea (Christian Science Monitor).

A number of countries in the region, including Japan and South Korea, have expressed concerns that parts of the rocket might endanger their territory and have declared their intention to shoot down the missile if it goes off course or otherwise threatens their countries (New York Times).



Global Water Security

March 26, 2012

A report commissioned by the US State Department and released last week warns that  lack of access to clean water poses national and global security threats. The report’s bottom line is (p. iii):

During the next 10 years, many countries important to the United States will experience water problems–shortages, poor water quality, or floods–that will risk instability and state failure, increase regional tensions, and distract them from working with the United States on important US policy objectives. Between now and 2040, fresh water availability will not keep up with demand absent more effective management of water resources. Water problems will hinder the ability of key countries to produce food and generate energy, posing a risk to global food markets and hobbling economic growth. As a result of demographic and economic development pressures, North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia will face major challenges coping with water problems.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the release of the report on World Water Day (March 22). In the same speech, she also launched a new partnership, the US Water Partnership (USWP) to improve water security (view fact sheet). The USWP is a public-private partnership between US agencies like the US Department of the Interior and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) with corporations and NGOs, including Coca-Cola, Proctor & Gamble, the Nature Conservancy, and the Clean Water America Alliance. The partnership “seeks to mobilize US-based knowledge, expertise and resources to improve water security around the world–particularly in those countries most in need” (see the press release).

You can read more about the Global Water Security report and the USWP in these news stories in the New York Times and ABC News.

ICC issues first ruling

March 14, 2012

Ending a three-year trial, Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga was found guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” on Wednesday of recruiting and enlisting children under the age of 15 and using them as soldiers in conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is the first verdict issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) since it began operating in 2002.

From the ICC Press Release:

Today, 14 March 2012, Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court (ICC) decided unanimously that Thomas Lubanga Dyilo is guilty, as a co-perpetrator, of the war crimes of conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 and using them to participate actively in hostilities from 1 September 2002 to 13 August 2003. It is the first verdict issued by an ICC Trial Chamber. At present, 14 other cases are before the Court, three of which are at the stage of trial.

The present war crimes of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 and using them to participate actively in hostilities were committed in the context of an internal armed conflict that took place in the Ituri (the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and involved the Force patriotique pour la libération du Congo (Patriotic Force for the Liberation of the Congo) (FPLC), led by Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, against the Armée Populaire Congolaise and other militias, including the Force de résistance patriotique en Ituri. A common plan was agreed by Mr Lubanga Dyilo and his co-perpetrators to build an army for the purpose of establishing and maintaining political and military control over Ituri. This resulted in boys and girls under the age of 15 being conscripted and enlisted, and used to participate actively in hostilities.

Mr Lubanga Dyilo was the President of the Union des patriotes congolais(Union of Congolese Patriots) (UPC), the Commander-in-Chief of its military wing, the FPLC, and its political leader. He exercised an overall coordinating role regarding the activities of the UPC/FPLC and he actively supported recruitment initiatives, for instance by giving speeches to the local population and the recruits. Furthermore, he personally used children below the age of 15 amongst his bodyguards and he regularly saw guards of other UPC/FPLC staff members who were below the age of 15. The Chamber, comprising Judge Adrian Fulford (presiding judge), Judge Elizabeth Odio Benito and Judge René Blattmann, found that the evidence presented by the Prosecutor establishes beyond reasonable doubt that Mr Lubanga Dyilo’s contribution was essential to the common plan.

At the request of Mr Lubanga Dyilo, and in accordance with article 76(2) of the Rome Statute, the Chamber will hold a separate sentencing hearing. The Chamber will, furthermore, establish the principles that are to be applied to reparations for victims. The defence is entitled to appeal the conviction within 30 days of receiving the French translation of the Judgment.

The international justice advocacy director of the NGO Human Rights Watch observes that the ruling sends the message that recruiting, enlisting, and using child soldiers is a serious crime in international law that can lead violators “to the dock.”

For more details and further analysis see these news stories published by the BBC, Christian Science Monitor, New York Times, and Al Jazeera.

Water is in the news this month

March 13, 2012

Water is necessary, of course, for drinking, but it’s also needed for cooking, cleaning, and for producing our food and clothing. Do you know how much water you use in a given day? Did you know that it takes 49 gallons of water to produce one bag of potato chips and 1.5 gallons to make the plastic bottle that contains the beverage you may drink with those chips? And what about the clothes you’re wearing? If you’re wearing jeans and a t-shirt today, you might be surprised to learn it took about another 2,200 gallons to grow the cotton for those clothes. The Nature Conservency provides these estimates and more information about how much water you really use in your daily activities here.

We generally don’t realize how dependent we are on water until there’s a shortage, and water scarcity is a growing problem in many parts of the world. This week more than 180 countries have sent representatives to Marseille, France to participate in the 6th World Water Forum. The World Water Forum has convened every three years since 1997 to discuss the challenge of providing universal access to safe water and sanitation.

You can read more about the 6th World Water Forum here and you can find the Ministerial Declaration here. The Ministerial Declaration is an official document, approved by the Ministers and Heads of Delegations, that elaborates their goals for the conference. You can also find updates during the remainder of the conference (it ends March 17) on facebook and on twitter by following @WorldWaterForum or searching for #Waterforum6.

The World Water Forum is not the only event focused on water this month. Each year since 1993, the United Nations has observed World Water Day on March 22nd. You can learn more about World Water Day and this year’s theme “The World is Thirsty Because We are Hungry” at the UN’s 2012 World Water Day website. You can also find more data on water resources and use on the UN Water website.

China increases military spending 11.2%

March 9, 2012

China announced this week that it will increase military spending by over 11 percent in 2012. The New York Times reports:

The increase, reported to be 11.2 percent, is in step with the increased pace of military spending by China over the past decade, but the official statement did not give details of what weapons systems China is developing or offer a description of military strategy beyond protection of the country’s sovereignty. China analysts said the true figure was probably significantly higher and was underreported because much of the military’s decision-making is kept opaque.

Even with the massive increases, China’s official military budget remains much lower than the military budgets in the US or UK. China’s parliament spokesman Li Zhaoxing defended the increase this way, as reported by Reuters:

“You can see that we have 1.3 billion people with a large land areas and a long coastline, but our outlays on defense are quite low compared to other major countries,” Li told a news conference before the annual full session of the National People’s Congress, the Communist Party-controlled legislature that will approve the budget.

“China’s limited military power is for the sake of preserving national sovereignty, security, and territorial integrity,” said Li, a former foreign minister. “Fundamentally, it constitutes no threat to other countries.”

But, real military spending may be two times the official budget. China is developing and testing a variety of new weapons and transport systems including a new fighter jet, new submarines and ships, an aircraft carrier, and anti-ship ballistic missiles (see this BBC story for a map indicating the range of those missiles).

Michael Beckley of Harvard University’s Belfer Center argues (see the above Reuters story) for keeping China’s military modernization in perspective:

“There’s no doubt China’s new hardware has important symbolic value and, at least in the case of the ASBM, important coercive value – the U.S. navy has to think twice now before getting too close to China’s shores,” Beckley said in emailed comments, referring to China’s anti-ship ballistic missile.

“But the PLA’s progress needs to be viewed in the context of China’s low level of economic development,” he added.

“China’s economic weaknesses constrain its ability to produce cohesive military systems that link weapons and soldiers to sensors, satellites and command centers.”

Why is China so intent on modernizing its military? This analysis on the Foreign Policy Association website links China’s rising defense budgets to its energy policy.

Water Dispute in Kashmir

March 9, 2012

India and Pakistan’s dispute over Kashmir is not just about territory–it is also about water. One focal point of this conflict today is the Baglihar dam, which sits on the Chenab river that flows from Jammu and Kashmir (administered by India) into Pakistan.

You can read about this conflict and view maps of the disputed territory in these articles in The Economist, The Christian Science Monitor, and the New York Times. You can also read regional coverage of this conflict in The Times of India and view photos of the dam on the website Pakistan Defence.