Opinion

The Great Debate

How ambitious the world?

For more than a decade, the very idea of multilateralism often seemed to be on life support — damaged by the Iraq invasion and its messy aftermath, buffeted by the global economic crisis and bruised by the difficulty of coming to agreement on critical trade and climate issues in Doha and Rio, respectively. Now, the world’s attention is riveted on whether the United States and Russia’s agreement to avert the immediate crisis triggered by the use of chemical weapons in Syria can be effectively overseen by the United Nations Security Council.

But a more consequential test for multilateral cooperation is looming, one that will shape the world for decades to come. That is whether, by 2015, the international community — from the halls of U.N. headquarters to the poorest corners of the globe — can identify our shared challenges and collectively act to solve them.

2015 marks the deadline for important negotiations on development, climate change, finance and trade. And the jury is still out on whether the world’s nations can reach agreement in any of these areas — much less all of them. Given the enormous stakes involved, all the U.N. member states must seize this opportunity to revive global partnership.

One of the last great examples of international cooperation could provide the spark to get multilateralism back on track by the 2015 deadline. In 2000, 189 U.N. members agreed to the Millennium Development Goals, an ambitious agenda that included halving the proportion of people living on less than $1 a day, ensuring boys and girls have universal access to primary school and beginning to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS.

While the Millennium framework was not perfect, and results have been uneven, the goals have largely succeeded in uniting the world behind a common agenda. As a result — and despite the global financial crisis — the drop in extreme poverty over the last decade has been the steepest in human history.

For U.S.-Iran, it’s all in the timing

Four years after President Barack Obama famously extended his hand of friendship to Iran, Tehran finally seems willing to unclench its fist. The most decisive geopolitical handshake of this decade may take place today at the United Nations.

Iran’s new president Hassan Rouhani and Obama may have this encounter at the luncheon of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Tuesday or in the U.N building’s corridors.

This new opening has taken the world by surprise. Washington’s dual track policy over the past three years — a combination of a little bit of diplomacy and a whole lot of strangulating sanctions — has produced a hardening of the Iranian position. Tehran’s nuclear activities have continued unabated, while its regional policies, particularly its support for the Assad regime in Syria, have intensified.

First chapter for ending extreme poverty

Children queue for free porridge at a local government feeding program in Tondo, Manila, Oct. 29, 2011. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

President Barack Obama believes it. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia believes it. I believe it, too: By 2030, we can eradicate extreme poverty.

This is not a hollow platitude. The generations living today are the first in human history that could eliminate extreme deprivation and hunger. It is critical that all nations strive to meet this goal. Not only for our own security, though we know that a more prosperous world is more stable, but because ending extreme poverty is the right thing to do.

For Russia, Syria is not in the Middle East

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with (clockwise, starting in top left.) U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, British Prime Minister David Cameron, next Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. REUTERS/FILES

A string of leaders and senior emissaries, seeking to prevent further escalation of the Syria crisis, has headed to Moscow recently to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. First, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, then British Prime Minister David Cameron, next Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and now, most recently, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon These leaders see Russia as the key to resolving the Syria quandary.

But to get Russia to cooperate on any stabilization plan, the United States and its allies will have to take into account Russia’s significant interests in the Mediterranean region.

from David Rohde:

A failure to lead at the U.N.

It is the world’s most important organization, yet remains one of the most dysfunctional.

This week a former United Nations employee described a pervasive culture of impunity inside the organization – one in which whistle-blowers are punished for exposing wrongdoing. James Wasserstrom, a veteran American diplomat, said he was fired from his job and detained by U.N. police – who searched his apartment and placed his picture on wanted posters – after he reported possible corruption among senior U.N. officials in Kosovo.

“It’s supposed to be maintaining the ideals of human rights, the rule of law and anti-corruption,” Wasserstrom said in an interview. “And it doesn’t adhere to them on the inside.”

Arms trade treaty may point a way forward for the U.N.

For years governments told us in meetings that an Arms Trade Treaty was a fanciful idea – merely a twinkle in our campaigning eye. But earlier this month an Arms Trade Treaty was adopted by an overwhelming majority at the United Nations General Assembly. Thanks to the democratic process, international law will for the first time regulate the $70 billion global arms trade.

When we launched the Control Arms campaign more than a decade ago, only Mali, Costa Rica and Cambodia were prepared to publicly stand with us in demanding the treaty.

But things started to change.

Dogged perseverance, growing recognition that the arms trade was out of control and a campaign around the world began to pay off. The UK government’s announcement of support in 2004 was a turning point; many other major arms exporters followed suit. By 2005, more than 50 countries supported the idea.

Helping Iran safeguard its nuclear stockpile

Diplomats from six world powers  are due back in Kazakhstan on Friday for talks with Iran about its controversial nuclear program. From the hawkish “bomb-bomb-bomb-Iran” crowd to the “jaw-jaw-not-war-war” folks, there is no shortage of ideas about how to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue.

Lost in the din is the prospect that the United Nations agency charged with monitoring Iran’s nuclear activities could settle the most pressing issue – by helping Iran convert its enriched uranium gas stockpile to safer metal form. If only the world powers will encourage it to do its job.

The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) not only monitors member states’ nuclear programs to make sure they are in compliance with required safeguards obligations, but it also provides technical cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear technology.

Why we must ratify world rights of disabled

It could happen to you. Whether from a car accident or an injury sustained in service, your life, your mobility and your perspective could be changed in an instant.

Though we are from different ends of the political spectrum, we share much in common: We both became disabled as adults, went on to serve in Congress and share an unwavering support for the national and international rights and protections of persons with disabilities.

Passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act was one of the proudest moments in our careers. Twenty-two years later, this important bipartisan legislation continues to support the independence and dignity of millions of Americans living with disabilities.

Mideast’s WMD ‘red line’ gauntlet

“Red lines” are all the rage this year. Even as the swirl of Middle East headlines focus on Gaza and Egyptian politics, the region remains under two “red lines.” If Iran and Syria, respectively, cross the nuclear and chemical weapons thresholds, it would generate a strong, if undefined, Israeli and American response.

Washington’s red line, however, lays bare another issue: Should the executive branch have carte blanche to commit the country to military action? Secretary of State Hilliary Clinton Monday appeared to suggest so. She declared, in public remarks in Prague, that the Syrian government’s use of its chemical arsenal would be a “red line” for Washington to act.* Or is it time for Congress to make its own evaluation before the country again turns to the gun?

Let’s first recall how the red lines emerged (one literally) and why the line issued against Syria is now most concerning.

Re-thinking U.S.-China relations

The United States and China have been searching for a new way to frame their relationship.  President Barack Obama’s trip this week to Southeast Asia, the focus of much U.S-Chinese tension, reminds us that with new leadership now set in both countries, it is time for them to carry on with that important task.

The new head of China’s Communist Party Xi Jinping called for a “new type of great power relationship” when he visited Washington last spring. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that Washington and Beijing “are trying to do something that is historically unprecedented, to write a new answer to the age-old question of what happens when an established power and a rising power meet.”

Obama’s China policy has been successful in securing U.S. interests. What’s missing, however, is the two nations’ shared understanding of how they can co-exist in peace decades into the future.

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