Tag Archives: american university

Anne-Marie Slaughter: Focus on Care at Home and Abroad

My piece published here
Also here
Renowned scholar and President of the New America Foundation, Anne-Marie Slaughter, visited SIS as part of the Dean’s Discussion lecture series. Titling her talk, Revaluing Care, at Home and Abroad, Dr. Slaughter spoke about a broad range of issues, domestic and foreign. The revaluing of care is a reference to a feminist theory called ethics of care; one of the relevant tenets of that theory is valuing actions in the private sphere equally to those in the public one.
In 2012, Anne-Marie Slaughter published an article in The Atlantic entitled Why Women Still Can’t Have It All; she wryly remarked that, to this day, this article keeps being referenced as the article amongst the myriad of pieces she has authored in her 20+ year academic career.  In outlining the evolution of her thinking since the article was published, Dr. Slaughter said, “I don’t think the problem alone is discrimination against women, although that is not to dismiss that as an ongoing problem facing women, especially low-income women.” The severe underrepresentation of women in positions of power is, in a sense, baffling considering the much-rosier statistics of women graduating college. “The deeper problem that unites the many facets of the symptoms we see is less about women per se and more about not valuing the kind of work that women have traditionally done. We don’t value care; we value competition and consumption.”

“There is a deep unconscious bias on the part of men in the academy. We need more women in senior professorial positions. So much of advancing in the academic requires being selfish and saying ‘no’ as what is valued are big ideas and a body of scholarship. This often works against women who mentor students and are asked to contribute to the community.”

Dr. Slaughter suggested that until we are able to value care as much as earning an income and until we learn to support care-givers, not much headway can be made. She has been using Twitter (and the hashtags #wherearethewomen and #foreignpolicyinterrupted) actively to raise the profile of women in international affairs. “There is a deep unconscious bias on the part of men in the academy. We need more women in senior professorial positions. So much of advancing in the academic requires being selfish and saying ‘no’ as what is valued are big ideas and a body of scholarship. This often works against women who mentor students and are asked to contribute to the community.”
Taking her care vs. competition framework to a grander scale, Dr. Slaughter said, “We should place an equal weight on human interest and government interest. What happens to people in a country should be of as much value as what happens politically.” Referring to the ongoing civil war, she stated, “I have been very passionate about the need to do more in Syria.” Invoking the principle of “responsibility to protect” is relevant in the case of Syria which is committing crimes against humanity on its own territory. “Syria is the Rwanda of our time. An estimated 150,000 people have already died in this conflict; the entire region surrounding Syria has become majorly destabilized.” Dr. Slaughter expressed outrage and dismay that Assad is still allowed to operate from the air, a capacity she feels could have easily and swiftly been disabled by intervention. “I wish the President had used force as soon as the chemical weapons use by Assad, with the approval of international bodies.” Talking about Russia, Dr. Slaughter felt that Putin is being given way too much power by the second-Cold-Water rhetoric. “His approval ratings are not that great at home,” she added.
You can watch a video of her talk here.

The Global War on Tribal Islam: An Interview with Akbar Ahmed

Originally published here
Also here
“After 9/11, I dedicated myself to creating bridges of understanding between different cultures and faiths. The relationship between the West and the Muslim world seemed to especially be fraught by much misunderstanding,” says Professor Akbar Ahmed. For his latest book, The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam, Professor Ahmed focused on tribal areas: The peripheral areas between states and on the communities living between borders.  Ahmed provides an exhaustive survey of tribal cultures across North and East Africa, Yemen, and Southwest and Southeast Asia. The title of the book is a metaphor; the thistle was how Leo Tolstoy described the tribes living in the Caucuses in his book Hadji Murad because, like the flower, they were thorny and prickly. The drone, on the other hand, is a symbol of globalism and the epitome of technological advancement.
In The Thistle and The Drone, Ahmed explores in-depth tribal history, culture, code of honor, and tribal Islam, an Islam that is very different in nature from more mainstream branches of the religion. Drawing on 40 case studies that Ahmed and his team of student researchers interviewed and analyzed, Ahmed couches his discussion in the dichotomy between center and periphery.

The first main finding of the book is that terror towards the West is very much perpetrated by tribal people. 90% of the 9/11 hijackers were from Yemeni tribes. The rhetoric used by Osama bin Laden and many others has always been very tribal in nature, Ahmed suggests.  Thus, he says, “we [the West] are fighting one kind of war when it is an entirely different kind of war to them.” The second major point is that Ahmed believes that there is a way that the tribes can be pacified via peaceful and diplomatic means, citing the example of the Aceh in Indonesia or the relations between Scotland and England.
The central argument of The Thistle and the Drone is that “war on terror” is ultimately a war between a central government and a periphery. In Ahmed’s view, the “center” is nearly always in direct conflict with the tribal societies—a war of the state vs. its domestic antagonists, if you will. These tribal societies are often fighting against modernity or increasing encroachment upon their territories and way of life– the Rohingya in Burma, the Tuareg in Mali, or the Pashtuns in Afghanistan and Pakistan, for example. “These tribes already have turbulent relations with the central government, which has failed to bring them into the nation, and the war on terror has only exacerbated this tension.” In addition, their own fellow Muslims often look upon the tribespeople as backward as well. This central vs. periphery tension is something Ahmed sees as fixable but not through the use of drones in the war on terror. “Drones have in essence become a symbol of Western arrogance. A far cry from the surgical-precision weapons they are described as, they have devastating moral costs. We often don’t hear about what it is like to live in an area where drones are buzzing overhead all night long—how often the women and the children suffer…”

Cosmopolitan Sex Workers: An Interview with Christine Chin

Originally published on The Stoner’s Journal

Professor Christine Chin came to write her ground-breaking book, Cosmopolitan Sex Workers: Women and Migration in a Global City, somewhat reluctantly as sex work a subject she was not initially interested in and one that is fraught with contention in feminist scholar circles.My first book was about domestic workers in Asia; my second was about global cruise ships. Even though I kept hearing about sex workers, I was not interested in conducting research on the topic initially. One of the reasons was that the debate amongst feminists on how to understand this phenomenon was divided between abolitionists and those who felt that sex workers had agency and that it was a valid choice, with the dominant perspective being the abolitionist. I did not want to get into this debate as I felt it was too binary and picking a side was incredibly limiting.”

Dr. Chin instead allowed what was coming in from the field to shape her line of inquiry—for example, news reports of immigration raids were suggesting that not all of the women in the industry had been trafficked. “I started to dig into this somewhat reluctantly, but I also saw how the literature up to this point was so rigid and so…almost morally rarefied; it was very focused on sex trafficking and I felt that there was an unrecognized spectrum of experience that could only be seen by letting the women tell their stories.”
Utilizing an ethnographic method, Dr. Chin interviewed a number of sex workers from all over the world–including Asia, the Middle East, and Russia–living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, shattering  many of the prevailing views on the industry, and turning her research lens on non-trafficked women who willingly migrate to major global metropolises for sex work. Uncovering a wide spectrum of experiences, including the nature of the migration (serial, where women shuttle back and forth between home and a city vs. circular, where the women move within the global cities of a region and then move to another region), whether the workers moved with the aid of a syndicate or independently, and the motivation for their involvement in the industry, Cosmopolitan Sex Workers paints a complex picture of the structural forces of globalization at play and how the women very keenly understand and respond to them.
When I sat down with Dr. Chin to discuss her book, she outlined three of the key findings of Cosmopolitan Sex Workers. Firstly, migration for sex work is being globalized via an interconnected web of global cities that are nodes on this new frontier. For example, there are Senegalese women in Paris and Eastern European women in the Middle East—in other words, the same forces at play as a result of globalization are impacting this industry in predictable ways as well. The clients these women serve also travel to these destinations driven by the same economic motivations. Second, the common assumption that the workers are the “poorest of the poor,” is often not true. Some of the women are college graduates and/or come from middle class families. The women enter the business for a variety of reasons. For example, to assist their families, save money to start a business, get an education abroad, enjoy a certain more consumptive lifestyle, or simply earn income while travelling. These are the same reasons most workers migrate, regardless of their profession. From the women’s perspective, and the reason Dr. Chin prefers to use the term “sex work” rather than “prostitution,” sex work is work.  Dr. Chin underlines the fact that doing this strictly for survival purposes is not always the case; for many of the women, this is a very calculated choice based on a careful consideration of their ability to earn income doing work that is commonly associated with—and available to–migrants, more specifically domestic work or other blue-collar labor. Sadly, the math weighs heavily on the side of sex work, which could earn them something akin to ten times as much as what they could bring in otherwise. Women’s monthly incomes (post-syndicate “taxes”) range between several thousand to tens of thousands of dollars. Thus, the impetus lies somewhere between a familiar, pragmatic strategy and an imperative.

Trafficking map: USA Routes

Sex trafficking USA routes via anti-trafficking organization The Future Group

Finally, Dr. Chin reflects on how neoliberal globalization facilitates the occurrence of the relatively new phenomenon of non-trafficked sex workers. Some of the women contract with syndicates or facilitating groups—one of those syndicates is explored in-depth in the book. Morphing from a traditional Chinese secret society or a triad to a new model of a transnational corporation, it reflects the environment of the global city. Whereas organizations such as this one previous dealt in debt bondage and extortion, the newly “cleaned up” climate of the global cities rendered those feudal vestige industries obsolete, if you will. This is a horizontal organization that conducts a lot of “legitimate” business, such as investing and as a business organization also responds to the needs of its clients. What are those needs, you might ask? Predictably, fair-skinned women are in high demand, as are African women who are perceived to be “exotic” in Europe. To quote one of the members, “they want to make this a five star city; we will give them five star women.” Women who contract with such syndicates pay agreed-upon fees and a percentage of their income in return for syndicate-arrangement of their travel documents, transportation, board and lodging, and personal security.  The spaces for the sex work are very varied as are the hierarchies of what was “in,” in other words: The physical characteristics of the women controlled where they could work and what prices they could command. Most of these women come into the cities under the auspices of either a tourist or a student visa. Though it deserves mentioning that some actually were receiving legitimate educations and not just using the visa status as a cover.

“The political economy of colonialism is not that terribly removed from the political economy of globalization and the sex industry illustrates that these ‘shadow economies’ are not afterthoughts or side effects but something that is inherently built into the system.”

“The political economy of colonialism is not that terribly removed from the political economy of globalization and the sex industry illustrates that these ‘shadow economies’ are not afterthoughts or side effects but something that is inherently built into the system,” Dr. Chin says. This system, in parallel with the same structural forces in place under colonialism, is highly gendered and racialized. Dr. Chin explains, “The book shows the gradations, the nuances of something that was previously thought to be very binary. I wanted to show that the women are responding, and rather astutely so, to structural forces at play. They understand the hypocrisies inherent in the system—the fact that their occupation is morally-condemned, yet at the same time, work such as being a domestic servant is so incredibly low-paying and subjects them to abuse as well.”

The Sectarian Myth: Iraq Ambassador Lukman Faily Speaks On The Situation In Iraq

My article
“The reality in Iraq is very different from that portrayed in the international media,” affirmed the Iraq Ambassador to the United States Lukman Faily in a talk at American University on February 18th. The focus on violence and the identification of sectarianism as the root cause of Iraq’s violence creates what he called a “sectarian meta-narrative,” that is far too simplistic of a paradigm and one that has plagued not just Western media portrayal of the region but also Arab media rhetoric as well. “It is easier to define a country in binary terms; to find simple, sellable elements to hone in on in the media. Violence has long stopped being sectarian in nature since about 2006-2007.” Ambassador Faily defied all the conventions of a typical “ambassador speech,” electing to speak frankly on the many misconceptions surrounding Iraq’s democratic transformation.
“Dictatorship changes the fabric of society.” Upon my request to further expound on this, the Ambassador stated that, “the longer and more ruthless the dictatorship, the longer it takes to shake off that coat, if you will. The state is there for the needs of the dictator so the people no longer associate themselves with the state. In a sense, people dislodge themselves from the state, which is why, for example, we saw the looters when the regime collapsed. The years under Saddam were detrimental to the Iraqi society. People began to associate the sanctions with the US because they were so removed from the state as a concept.” Psychologically, he explained, there is a need for cleansing after living so long in those circumstances. “Dictatorship demoralizes people, it makes for a more inward-looking, self-centered community and the longer it lasts, the more adverse the effect.” Placing Iraq more in the context of the Arab Spring movement, Ambassador Faily described the mindset of the people as “I want change, but I am not sure what the new social contract should look like.” People are after a new social contract, he suggested, but the weak civil society institutions in place, and the total dearth of NGOs and other community organizations, mean that the foundations are still not there and the role of the citizens is still unclear. “This is a young democracy and more people participation is needed.” This also necessitates the need not just political reforms but for social and economic ones as well.

Iraq Ambassador to the United States Lukman Faily and AU Professor Dr. Abdul Aziz Said in a talk at American University on February 18th. ©Toni Ti

Ambassador Faily then offered a very theoretically-rich construct to apply to the state of Iraq—the dichotomy of nation building vs. state building. “People often conflate nation with state, but this is a bit more complicated in Iraq. The state as a concept is very clear, but the definition of what it means to be an Iraqi is evolving.” What is the nation, he asked, especially in a society as heterogeneous as Iraq, where people can define themselves by a plethora of factors such as region/province, religious, or ethnic identity. He outlined several questions, including, “Do we rebuild the national character or the state institutions?” and “Do citizens have a stake in the nation or in the state?”
In addressing the current economic climate in Iraq, the Ambassador stated that the adverse impact of past sanctions was severe damage to the economic infrastructure. The current rate of economic growth is 9-11%, with steady increases in oil production and income levels. Unemployment, however, remains the same due to an over-reliance on oil production. Since oil as an industry is not very labor-intensive, he explained, it employs less than 1% of the population. “The core structure of the economy has to be managed better, with less reliance on subsidizing certain sectors.” Iraq also hopes to maintain a long-term investment relationship with the United States.

Geoengineering

In May, scientists reported that the average daily level of CO2 in the atmosphere surpassed 400 parts per million, an alarmingly high concentration level last seen two to four million years ago.

Even if humans miraculously halted all carbon emissions next week, the problem of climate change would be an inescapable and grim reality as most of the heat-trapping gas would linger in the atmosphere for decades or even centuries. The inertia in the world’s warmed oceans would prevent a quick return to cooler temperatures, even as the CO2 levels decrease. The most optimistic predictions for the rest of the century, cited by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its 2007 assessment report, forecast a rise of 2.0 to 5.2 degrees by 2100, while the direst anticipate a rise of 4.3 to 11.5 degrees. Among the anticipated effects are rising sea levels, increasingly severe storms and droughts, and melting glaciers and permafrost.
So what exactly is geoengineering then, a concept given some unexpected attention and increasing legitimacy by its mention in the most recent IPCC report? It refers to methods that “aim to deliberately alter the climate system to counter climate change.” The rather controversial area of engineering Earth’s climate seems to now be firmly planted on the scientific agenda. Some climate models suggest that geoengineering may even be necessary to keep global temperatures within the 2 °C above pre-industrial levels mark, agreed upon by the scientific and international community as the “tolerable” level. Most geoengineering technologies generally either reflect sunlight — through artificial “clouds” of aerosols, for example — or reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Reducing greenhouse gases generally involves carbon-capturing technologies that range from building towers to collect it from the atmosphere to grinding up rocks to react with CO2 and take it out of circulation. Solar geoengineering involves ideas including deflecting sunlight away from the earth with massive space shields or with clouds over oceans.

Renowned author Clive Hamilton recently visited American University’s School Of International Service to talk about his recent book, Earthmasters, and the environmental justice implications of climate engineering proposals. SIS Professor Simon Nicholson, who is a part of The Washington Geoengineering Consortium, moderated the event. Hamilton explained that until recently, geoengineering was largely a scientific discussion, held behind closed doors, and that it was very much viewed as a “Plan B” solution in the event that cutting greenhouse gas emissions was unsuccessful at the requisite speed. He referenced Harvard professor David Keith as the foremost proponent of climate engineering. The main climate geoengineering plan was inspired by sulfur-spewing volcanoes and involves using jets to spray sulfates into the stratosphere, where they would combine with water vapor to form aerosols. Dispersed by winds, these particles would cover the globe with a haze that would reflect roughly 1 percent of solar radiation away from Earth.
The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, which shot some 10 million metric tons of sulfur into the air, reduced global temperatures about 1 degree F for at least a year. The sulphate aerosol shield would be regularly sprayed into the stratosphere to create a dimming effect and a resultant cooling akin to what happens when there are large volcanic eruptions. Couching the discussion in the context of environmental justice, Hamilton stated “we need to implement the sulfate aerosol shield to protect the Pole as a matter of justice, because there is nothing more unjust than the impact of climate change itself.”
A big issue that remains, however, is the uncertainty of how well it would work—there is no question about the cooling effect the shield would have but whether that cooling would be systematic and how it would affect precipitation patterns and the climate as a whole is a major question. Another issue is what Hamilton called the question of governance: a) who should control the technologies (patents?)?, b) who should make decisions about the deployment of geoengineering schemes?, c) where would the sulfite sprays be applied (over the Arctic or at the Equator, for example)?, and d) how would they be applied? “Essentially, the question is who should have their hand on the global thermostat.”
The most recent report by the IPCC reinforced the rather dire projection that “with business as usual,” we would surpass the 2 degree threshold set as an acceptable level of temperature change within a decade. SIS Professor Paul Wapner stated, “business as usual is what has gotten us in trouble in the first place, and this solution may seem like more business as usual. We tend to not solve problems but displace them across time, space, and species.”
Hamilton agreed that what was initially a Plan B is now a nearly inevitable course of action as mitigating efforts do not seem to be progressing forward at the requisite rate to stem drastic climate change. But he expressed a lot of reservations about the Promethean-like nature of this sort of intervention and the “technology will save us now” air to it. “In essence, this plan is being marketed as turning a drastic failure of the free enterprise system into a triumph of humanity’s ability to solve our greatest problems through technology.” In her recent article, Dr. Rachel Smolker took issue with what she perceived to be the normalization of geoengineering: “This insistence that we engage in debate over climate geoengineering is part of the process of ‘normalization’ that seems orchestrated — perhaps deliberately — with the intent of habituating people to the whole idea of climate geoengineering as an option.”
 In a response, Dr. Simon Nicholson stated, “geoengineering is in fact entirely normal. It is the expected response of a culture that looks to technological solutions to complex societal challenges. It makes far more sense, in that light, to have an active voice in the geoengineering conversation than to seek to suppress it.”

Old Rivalry, New Age


On December 12, 2013 the World Affairs Council-Washington, DC hosted an event on Russia’s role in the international community entitled “US-Russia Rivalry: Old Rivalry, New Age?” moderated by Anya Schmemann and featuring Dr. Fiona Hill of Brookings and Dr. Donald Jensen. Four years later, the reset in U.S.-Russian relations has been reset many times over to a much icier territory with issues like Russia’s support for Syria and a crackdown on opposition creating an increasingly tense atmosphere. Ms. Schmemann began by posing the question of how the U.S. should view Russia, in light of the American media’s frequent portrayal of Russia as a rather recalcitrant rival. Dr. Jensen responded that Russia’s primary goal is to reassert itself as a great power. “Russia is neither a friend nor an enemy, but it is not a partner either. It is a country we can cooperate with on issues of common interest.” Russia often defines itself by taking the “non-American position,” he continued. Russia respects strength and this makes the task of diplomacy very complicated but not impossible. “While they respect the U.S., they have taken the measure of the man and feel they can maneuver the U.S. in positions to Russia’s advantage. The national security/great power preoccupation of the Kremlin parallels the realist approach of many U.S. foreigner affairs thinkers so in a sense there is a natural fit between the two countries’ agendas, but there is also a disconnect.”

The discussion then turned to Russian domestic affairs and how much influence, if any, the United States has on them. Dr. Hill believes that that influence is little if not entirely none. “What we have with Putin is that the Russian political system is highly personalized, somewhat of a “one boy” network—everyone at the top is in one way or another related to Putin. There is a very tight web of informal networks.” While Dr. Jensen agreed with this, a small point of contention was on whether there is a growing ideological divide between the U.S. and Russia. Dr. Hill believes that Putin is promoting a return to traditional family values. She noted that Putin’s recent poslanie was very much an indication of the conservative direction in which Russia is moving. “In his poslanie, Putin very much admitted he is a conservative politician who believes in a conservative agenda to move the country forward. That means an anti-Western, anti-individualist, communitarian point of view with a strong role for the Russian Orthodox Church.” Dr. Hill suggested that Putin has been contextualizing Russia as an unique civilization in his speeches—and that a return to traditional Russian Orthodox family values is what would move the country forward. “The Russian Orthodox Church has proven to still be an entity that can mobilize hundreds thousands of people on the streets. In a place that still has a great deal of discomfort with same sex relations, Putin is, in a sense, expressing what is already in place and reaching out to other European countries with similarly conservative stances.” Dr. Hill suggested that this new ideological stance, which Dr. Jensen does not believe is present, is a stand that is a reaction against the decadence of the West and that Sochi is a battleground of sorts for this ideological divide.
Dr. Hill identified three trends in place in Russia that are affecting domestic affairs at the moment. First, the Russian economy has slowed down. For over 10 years, the Russian economy has been growing at 7-8 percent, creating a lot of expectations for the continuation of this burgeoning; these expectations now have to be seriously tempered in view of the current 1-2% rate growth. Russia is across the board a commodities and natural resource-based economy, Dr. Hill suggested. This also makes Russia very vulnerable to commodity price fluctuations. The big problem is moving into “value added products.”  “Putin keeps laying out that Russia wants to diversify its economy, but they cannot do that, in fact, it would be foolish to do so as this is not their comparative or competitive advantage. All that would happen would be to subsidize industries that would not have a long term success.” Russia’s trade relations tend to be dominated by energy and there is growing concern that the Gasprom-model is changing and grinding down, which is why the thrust is moving away from Europe and courting China. Dr. Hill pointed to the armaments industry as still one of Russia’s most vibrant manufacturing sectors. “7 million people still depend on the industry for jobs. This is why we see Putin really trying to push this forward and find more buyers for Russia’s arms. He addressed this in the poslanie—in a sense, making himself personally responsible for finding markets to sell these products.”
The second trend is the rise of Russian nationalism–anti-immigrant and anti-migrant sentiments are taking hold, much as they are in the rest of Europe. The anti-migrant feeling is also directed towards people moving into Moscow from other cities, more specifically toward the Muslim population from the Northern Caucus area. The third trend is the decline of Putin’s popularity. Dr. Hill stated that Putin’s approval ratings have plunged from the high marks of 80% to 60% to now as low as 40% in terms of actual voter turnout strength. Both panelists opined that Putin’s tightening of power is spurred by fear of rivals and insecurity. Dr. Hill asked the question of whether it is possible to have Putinism without Putin. She suggested that a political re-entrenchment is taking place to put the political instruments in place for the successful continuation of the system. The highly-personalized/charismatic leader model of the Russian political system necessitates that public approval does not ebb as this is what bestows the leader legitimacy, she added.

Assistant Secretary Barton Says Diplomacy Matters

Dean’s Discussion
Frederick Barton, Assistant Secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations, told an SIS audience that the United States is entering a “golden era of American diplomacy” as it moves away from a “terrorist-heavy narrative to an understanding that conflict resolution has an extremely heavy political, diplomatic element.”
Dean Jim Goldgeier explained in his introduction that the Bureau Of Conflict And Stabilization Operations that Barton heads was created in November 2011 in an effort to bring a more systematic approach to conflict prevention and response. The bureau’s mission is “to advance U.S. national security by driving integrated, civilian-led efforts to prevent, respond to, and stabilize crises in priority states, setting conditions for long-term peace.” The talk was facilitated by SIS Professor Charles “Chuck” Call, who is on a two-year sabbatical from AU to serve in Ambassador Barton’s office.
Barton explained that the increasing complexity of conflicts precipitated the creation of the new bureau. “Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan underlined to us the complexity of all of these cases,” he said. It seemed that a lot of smaller conflicts were becoming bigger and thornier, so it became crucial to bring together policy and practice.” The bureau’s work is mostly focused on Syria, Kenya, and Honduras, with additional efforts in Burma, Nigeria, and Bangladesh.
He summarized the tri-fold strategy of his bureau as: “1. Where—make a difference in two to three places of strategic importance to the United States; 2. People—create a team; 3. The nature of the work—bring agility to the U.S. response.”
Barton conceded that the State Department did not yet have the agility to move into conflict situations as quickly as humanitarian organizations. “We have tried to be much more agile and build a strong, reliable civilian response network. We also work closely with the military community, who are eager to find civilian partners,” he said.
Barton outlined five elements to successful conflict resolution: “1. Sophisticated understanding of places and an advanced level of analysis; 2. A common view of the problem—for example, the United States would get involved only in areas of strategic importance; 3. Being opportunistic about who does the work; 4. Real-time evaluation; and 5. Improved public communication.”
Politics are also important to conflict prevention and resolution efforts. Namely, which conflicts the United States chooses to involve itself in is a strategic and political decision. “Basically, we are concerned about whether the place matters to the United States, whether there is that moment of ripeness for an intervention, and whether there is something we can actually do,” he concluded.

What’s In A Number: Can We Meet UN Poverty Reduction Goals?

The numbers in the recently released UN Millenium Development Goals Report are a case in point. Among its key findings, the report tells us that “the proportion of people living in extreme poverty has been halved at the global level. In developing regions, the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day fell from 47 per cent in 1990 to 22 per cent in 2010. About 700 million fewer people lived in conditions of extreme poverty in 2010 than in 1990.” A UN High-Level Panel report touts the progress made in the last 13 years as “the fastest reduction in poverty in human history.” In essence, the prevailing consensus is that Millenium Development Goal 1, the reduction of extreme poverty and hunger by half, is already accomplished. But are the numbers really so clear?
The actual numbers on poverty look significantly grimmer–1.29 billion people in 2008 lived below $1.25 a day; 2.47 billion people in 2008 consumed less than $2 a day. At the current rate of progress, there will still be around 1 billion people living below $1.25 per day in 2015. Most of the 649 million fewer poor by the $1.25 per day standard over 1981-2008 are still poor by the standards of middle-income developing countries.
It turns out that the seemingly simple question of how we measure the number of poor people in the world is surprisingly difficult and extremely important to answer. It affects how we report success, especially considering that the post-2015 talks now dare to speak openly about the goal of complete poverty eradication. In April, at a press conference during the Spring meeting of the international financial institutions in Washington, DC, the president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, pointed to 2030 as the global target year to end poverty. President Obama expressed similar sentiments in February, when he promised that “the United States will join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades.”
So, how much has actually been accomplished? Thomas Pogge, the Director of the Global Justice Program and the Leitner Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs at Yale University, makes an important insight—the way that extreme poverty and hunger are measured has shifted over time, and significantly. In other words, some of the madness definitely lies in the method—measurement shifts have taken place, perhaps under the radar of public knowledge and only noticeable by economics geeks. This is inherently confusing. When we claim success, we should know what we have actually accomplished.
In September 2000, the heads of 147 governments pledged that they would halve the proportion of people on Earth living in the direst poverty by 2015, using the poverty rate in 1990 as a baseline. Here Pogge points out something largely glossed over: as with the hunger target, the so-called success over recent years owes much to the back-dating of the base year from 2000 (UNGA Millennium Declaration) to 1990. More specifically, the goal set at the World Food Summit in Rome in 1996 was to halve the number of chronically under-nourished people between 1996 and 2015. That criterion quickly changed at the 2000 meeting to “halve, by the year 2015, the proportion of the world’s people whose income is less than one dollar a day and the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.” Changing the language to refer to a proportion instead of an outright number and backdating the goals to 1990 changed the picture and made the goals easier to reach. Another modification changed the definition to refer only to people in the developing world. Dr. Pogge explains, “…there are two different shifts: (a) shifts in what is to be halved by 2015 (number of poor, proportion of poor in world population, proportion of poor in population of the developing world) and from what baseline (1996, 2000, 1990). (b) Shifts in how persons get identified as poor (average household income below $1/day in 1985 US-dollars, below $1.08/day in 1993 US-dollars, $1.25/day in 2005 US-dollars). These methodological revisions entailed substantial shifts in the number of poor, in their geographical distribution, and, most importantly, in the global poverty trend.” The back-dating of the year allowed for the international institutions to count the significant progress China had made in poverty reduction.

Another major methodological issue is how poverty is measured, using an international poverty line (IPL), and the resulting overreliance on what Dr. Pogge calls a “money-centric” measure set by the World Bank. “In contrast to a human requirements-centered approach, the Bank has set a relatively arbitrary international poverty line (IPL) defined in abstract money units and translated into local currency amounts that it deems to be ‘equivalent.’” The poverty measurement’s excessive sensitivity to the IPL level has a significant impact in how we measure progress, as it provides a very narrow definition of poverty. At $1.25/day, according to PovcalNet, we are 22.4% ahead of meeting the goal. But with $1.50/day, we are only 8.5% ahead, and with $1.815/day we are 5.7% behind. The choice of base year that the progress is measured from is an equally important consideration. Another distortion comes from the use of general consumption PPPs. The general-PPP (purchasing power parity) equivalent to $1.25 (2005) in a typical poor country buys only as much food there as $0.83 bought in the US in 2005. So, the World Bank’s poverty line is too low to cover basic needs. The Bank’s very low line overlooks a lot of very poor people. It counts as poor in 2010 only 1,214.98 million people. The rather narrow IPL measure also disregards intra-household income distribution by looking at the household as a whole, nor does it account for other dimensions of poverty such as the leisure time/labor time ratio, public goods, and climate.
So how can we get around this statistical quagmire and properly measure a very human problem — living in dire poverty. Dr. Pogge suggests that it is crucial that we “define precisely in advance the goals and targets the world is committing itself to as well as the methods by which progress toward these targets is to be measured or assessed,” to prevent midstream revisions and back-dating of targets. He also advocates that the monitoring of progress be left to groups of independent experts, not to international agencies, which are politically exposed. Ultimately, the new agenda should be a lot more participatory, inclusive, and responsive to those directly affected by poverty and social injustice.