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Saturday, 20 December 2014

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Gaza: Was Israel's Invasion Justified?

Put yourself in the shoes of a world leader. Your country is under attack from right across the border. You have the ability to fight the small group of attackers in the other country, but they are so effectively dug-in among the local population, it would come at a heavy cost to innocent civilians. What would you do? One of the most violent and complex conflicts of the last half-century is occurring in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine. Israel was created as a homeland for Jewish people who had for centuries been spread across Europe and the Middle East without an actual nation to call their own, often facing intense anti-Semitism which climaxed during the Holocaust. With an influx of people to create the new nation of Israel, tension quickly arose between the new Israelis and the people already inhabiting the territory, the Palestinians. Since creation in 1948, Israel has fought a number of wars with neighboring Arab countries and has been at odds with Palestinians, all while Israeli borders have slowly expanded and Palestinian territory has shrunk. Conflicts still arise today, most recently in 2012 with an eight-day Israeli military campaign in Palestinian-held Gaza called Operation Pillar of Defense. Violence flared again this June with the kidnapping of three Israeli settlers in Gaza and the lobbing of rockets into Israel by the terrorist group Hamas. On July 8, 2014 Israel launched Operation Protective Edge, a large campaign of airstrikes and ground operations against Hamas targets in Gaza. A peace accord was agreed this week that will likely end the 72-day conflict, but tension remains high. Do you think that Israel was justified in undertaking its most recent invasion of Palestinian territory in Gaza?

Negotiating With The Taliban

What is the value of a life? Can one life actually be as valuable as multiple others? Take this into account and imagine you are a world leader. What would you trade to save one of your citizens who is in danger? U.S. President Barack Obama faced this question this past May, in the case of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. Bergdahl was captured by militants aligned with the Taliban while serving in Afghanistan, in June of 2009. The circumstances of his capture are a subject of heated debate, but most agree that he either walked away from his base or was ambushed and taken while on duty at night. Shortly after his capture, the Taliban released a video featuring Bergdahl, and the Pentagon officially classified him as “missing/captured.” During his five years as the U.S.’s only prisoner of war in Afghanistan, Bergdahl was sometimes tortured, and once held in a cage for weeks after he attempted to escape. Throughout his captivity, the Taliban released a number of videos showing a bearded and physically deteriorating Bergdahl. The U.S. mounted a number of significant, yet failed, rescue attempts, and Bergdahl was the subject of ransom demands for both money and the release of detained Taliban fighters. His captivity finally ended when on May 31, 2014, a deal was struck and Bergdahl was released in a prisoner swap, which sent five detainees from the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the custody of a mediator nation, Qatar. There the five Taliban-affiliated men will be in the custody of, and monitored by, Qatari officials for at least one year, while Bergdahl eventually returned to San Antonio, Texas after two weeks of medical treatment in Germany. The prisoner-swap agreement crafted by the Obama Administration to secure Bergdahl’s release has remained a hot topic of debate throughout the summer, with legal investigations ongoing. So what would you do in President Obama’s situation? Would you negotiate with the Afghan Taliban to bring an American home?

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? ...one that could create a worldwide consensus leading to unified action against the Taliban?

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?