Wednesday, 20 August 2014


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German Eavesdropping on U.S. Leaders

Most friendships are built on mutual respect and trust. This usually means being open and honest, but also respecting each other’s right to privacy and to keep certain matters to themselves. Is there any situation that would make it right to snoop on a close friend’s private life? This scenario is playing out on a global scale between some of the most prominent world leaders, as revelations of spying between friendly nations have come to light. Attention has been specially focused on the continuing drama between the United States and one of its most important allies: Germany. The tension began a few months after American intelligence contractor Edward Snowden leaked thousands of classified documents just before fleeing the country in the summer of 2013. That October it came to light within those documents that the U.S. monitored German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s personal mobile phone. Although the White House officially denied spying on Chancellor Merkel, the incident sparked anger and suspicion not only in Germany, but among other European allies worried about surveillance as well. Distrust can now flow both ways, however, after an investigation claimed this week that Germany conducted surveillance of its own. The largest revelation alleged that Germany conducts systematic espionage on Turkey, a mutual ally of both Germany and the U.S., but it also pinpointed incidents of eavesdropping on former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and current Secretary of State John Kerry. The incidents involving Clinton and Kerry are apparently unintentional and isolated events, but that does not stop the U.S. from accusing Germany of hypocrisy. All told, what was once a guarded secret is now all out in the open: the U.S. and Germany spy on allies, including each other. But is this beneficial, providing both nations with important intelligence for their own national security, as some argue, or is spying counterproductive, critically undermining mutual trust and cooperation? It is no secret that rival nations aggressively spy on one another, but what happens when we find out that two allies do so as well? Is it justifiable for two friendly nations to spy on one another, or should allies trust each other and let leaders maintain their privacy?

Crisis in Iraq

Imagine you are the leader of the most powerful nation in the world. A crisis has broken out on the other side of the globe, and your country is one of the few with the power to help stop it. Some say that it is your duty to take action, but others think that getting involved will come at too great a cost to your own country. How would you react? U.S. President Barack Obama is facing this exact dilemma in the form of a sudden humanitarian crisis in Iraq. In 2011, the U.S. removed its last combat troops from the country after a nine-year war that toppled its oppressive government, and now Iraq’s new democratic government is facing its biggest challenge yet. In recent months a terrorist organization, the Islamic State (IS, also formerly known as ISIS or ISIL), has forged a path of destruction across Iraq. IS comes from one of Islam’s two largest groups, Sunnis, but the group subscribes to an almost universally condemned interpretation of Sunni Islam. It aims to establish a nation governed by its extreme, harsh interpretation of Islamic law, and is committing cruel atrocities against the other large Muslim sect, the Shia, as well as Iraqi Christians and other small religious and ethnic groups. IS’s threat has now reached the doorstep of a major ethnic group, the Kurds, and particularly a Kurdish religious group, the Yazidis. Kurds and Kurdish Yazidis have traditionally retained some security and independence from the rest of Iraq, but IS has pushed toward their territory. Now thousands of Kurdish Yazidis face a choice between almost certain death as IS invades their towns, or refuge on a mountain, Mt. Sinjar, with scarce food and water, medicine, and shelter. The Iraqi military has struggled to rescue civilians now trapped on the mountain with risky helicopter flights, but the U.S. has helped by conducting airstrikes to halt approaching IS militants and airdrops to deliver critical supplies to Mt. Sinjar. A small number of U.S. military Special Forces went to Mt. Sinjar on August 13th to assess the humanitarian situation. Based on their report, President Obama announced that humanitarian airdrops would end while military strikes continue, but he insisted that military involvement would not escalate beyond airstrikes and U.S. ground troops would not be put at risk. At this point, however, hundreds of civilians are dead at the hands of IS, thousands are still displaced, and IS remains a dangerous military force pushing into Kurdish territory. Many say that the U.S. should remain involved, continuing assistance to innocent civilians, including Kurdish Yazidis, and to Iraqi and Kurdish armed forces fighting IS. On the other hand, many say that the U.S. should not be militarily involved in Iraq again, and that American resources, and possibly even lives, should not be risked for the people of another country. What do you think? Should the U.S. be engaged in Iraq, or not?

Attack on teen consumes Pakistan

Have you ever been attacked for standing up for your right to go to school? In the U.S. – at least after the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s – this idea has become virtually extinct. But there are other parts of the world which are going through a similar struggle right now. One such place is a region of Pakistan called the Swat Valley. Malala Yousufzai, a 14-year-old girl from Pakistan, was shot twice on her way home from school by the Taliban -- a militant movement that is widely classified as a terrorist group. She survived and is now recovering. Ms. Yousufzai has been standing up for education and women's rights since she was 11. She even wrote for the BBC about her life under the Taliban regime and their attempts to take over in Pakistan. She was also awarded the Pakistan's first National Youth Peace Prize. After the attack, a Taliban spokesperson claimed, "This [her outspokenness] was a new chapter of obscenity, and we have to finish this chapter." In other words, should she return to school, she will remain a target. Here is how we will begin to discuss this particular topic: The willingness to take the life of someone who has convictions that differ from your own is to abandon faith in the communication process. The act is particularly despicable given the target was a 14-year-old child. But we can’t let this cloud our ability to first understand the attacker's perspective. It is only when the motivation behind this act is properly understood that it can be universally condemned. So what were the Taliban's motivations? The Taliban believe that children should only receive an “Islamic education,” rather than instruction in math, science and other subjects. They believe girls should only be educated up to the age of 8, in order to "secure environments where the chasteness and dignity of women may once again be sacrosanct". However, another spokesperson for the Taliban stated that, "If anyone belives we had chosen Malala as a topic of education as a goal, they are mistaken. She was chosen because she plays a pioneering role in the spread of secularism, and the so-called enlightened moderation.” The attack, and its justifications, have been universally condemned in the world press. Consider the perspectives from all over the world. What do you believe is the strongest argument for condemnation? that could create a worldwide consensus leading to unified action against the Taliban?

Iran Elects A New President

How can one person define a whole country's relationship with the rest of the world? Imagine you hold the highest elected office in a nation. You represent your country on the world stage, and you are trying to reverse the relationship left by your predecessor. How would you do this? Voters in Iran went to the polls on June 14th to elect a new president. Current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has had a difficult relationship with other world leaders, was legally prevented from seeking a third term. The election was contested between six conservative candidates approved by the Guardian Council, a powerful body of Islamic law experts selected by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. With just over half of the vote, moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani, won out over the rest of the candidates, who were seen more as strict conservatives. Backed by reformers, Rouhani called his, “a victory for wisdom, moderation and maturity... over extremism." With this change of leadership, there is uncertainty how it will impact Iran’s relations with other countries, especially concerning its controversial nuclear program. Rouhani was a top nuclear negotiator, and in 2003 under former President Mohammad Khatami the country agreed to suspend uranium enrichment. The program later resumed, however, under the uncompromising Ahmadinejad, escalating international tensions. Rouhani campaigned promising to ease sanctions imposed against Iran for its nuclear program, and he is a proponent of engagement with world leaders. Some in the international community see his election as an opportunity to reduce pressure and improve relations with Iran over nuclear development. Many are skeptical, though, about his real power to promote change. As you read through the perspectives, consider this: Does Rouhani's election provide a real opportunity to ease tension and improve diplomacy concerning Iran's nuclear program, or are expectations of reform being exaggerated?

UN Prepares Unprecedented Intervention in Democratic Republic of Congo

Imagine you lead an international organization. You represent the entire world, and your mission is simply to maintain peace while remaining neutral. In the interest of accelerating peace, would you ever consider actually using violence? And in especially difficult conflicts, would it ever be right to favor one side over another to bring security faster? The Democratic Republic of Congo is part of a region that has long been plagued by armed conflict. There are numerous facets to these hostilities, dating from the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda. Within DR Congo the main conflict is between government forces and rebel groups, primarily the M23. The situation is unfavorable, with accusations that bordering nations even support certain rebel groups. Currently, just less than 20,000 United Nations peacekeepers and international police are in DR Congo to provide non-violent security, only fighting in self-defense. Despite their presence for over a decade, however, these forces with limited capabilities have done little to reduce fighting. In March, the UN approved an unprecedented “offensive” force of 2,500 troops to enhance peacekeeping efforts. Set to arrive in July, this “intervention brigade” has a wider mandate to “disarm” and “neutralize” armed rebels, and to monitor the flow of arms and military personnel from neighboring countries. According to the UN this is an exceptional situation and is not meant to set a precedent for future peacekeeping efforts. Some are skeptical, though, contending additional forces may not bring peace, and asking whether it is the UN's right to use military force. As you read through the perspectives, consider this: Should the UN use offensive peacekeeping forces to fight rebel groups, or should it limit itself to its traditional role of providing security neutrally and with limited force?

Extensive US Surveillance Program Uncovered

What are you willing to give up for security? Is freedom absolute, or are there some liberties that you would concede to the government? Furthermore, are there some things that the government should be allowed to keep a secret from you in the name of your safety? On June 5th, information leaked by Edward Snowden, a contractor working for the United States National Security Agency (NSA), revealed an unprecedented surveillance program. The agency has been collecting the telephone records of millions of customers of the company Verizon. In April, the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa) authorized the agency to collect data about calls, although not the contents of them or personal information of callers. Data collection of this kind was authorized under President George W. Bush, but until now it was not known whether President Barack Obama had continued it. The breadth of this is also unusual, as Fisa courts normally mandate the turnover of more targeted records. Later, another NSA program called Prism was uncovered that allows the government access into the systems of large internet companies. With this, the government can collect data including search history and the content of emails. Under Prism cases no longer require individual court authorization, and there must only be reasonable belief that the target is a foreigner. The US intelligence community defends the programs as an important tool to fight terrorists. Some, including many members of Congress, condemn this as an invasion of civil liberties, however, and are critical of the secrecy of the programs. These programs fall within existing laws, but their reveal has led to intense scrutiny. As you read through the perspectives, consider this: Should the government engage in surveillance for the sake of security, or not?