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If We Don’t Choose Failure, We Can At Least Try to Avoid It

In a back-and-forth about Nina Hachigian's TNR piece that Mark praised the other day, new FP blogger Dan Drezner relays Hachigian's effective response that working through international institutions will prove the only way to address major 21st century challenges.
But the evidence is mounting from events like 9-11, SARS, the Mumbai attacks, and freakish weather that if we don't work together, we sink together. And in order to work together most effectively, we need institutions. Yes, the current ones are flawed, sometimes deeply flawed. But they already carry our water on a regular basis and nearly zero political credit for doing so. Want to prevent an epidemic of drug resistant TB in the US? Need the WHO. Want to share the costs of bailing out a whole bunch of countries? The IMF is taking that on. Want to run schools in Gaza or elections in Iraq? Call the UN. You see my point. It's not that these institutions are a panacea. It's that they are necessary because we haven't figured out a better way to coordinate actions between governments...and they do deliver. If we invest in them modest amounts of time and money, they will pay further dividends in our security and prosperity.
Drezner had expressed some skepticism about the model that conservatives often caricature as "global governance," presenting the legitimate argument that, unless the spheres of interest of great powers sufficiently overlap, it will be exceedingly difficult to construct solutions on issues as internationally divisive as, for example, how to respond to global warming, or how to reform the Security Council. At the root of Drezner's skepticism is the game theory problem that, while the catastrophic effects of global warming will affect everyone, individual countries have a hard time responding to the imperative by taking the first step, and thus consensus is difficult to achieve. Drezner characterizes Hachigian's argument as one of "failure is not an option," but I think he is being unfair in parsing out the clarification that failure can only be an "outcome," not an "option." Clearly. The choice, per se, is not between successful nuclear non-proliferation and failed non-proliferation (though some, of course, might attempt to make an attempt for proliferation); it is between attempted non-proliferation and unattempted non-proliferation. International institutions come into play not because countries recognize that they do not want to "choose" failure, and not only because they represent the best -- and, as Hachigian convincingly expresses, only -- way to avoid failure, but also because they provide the best means for negotiating the way to move these long-term common global interests forward. This is not investing "diplomatic capital on hope," as Drezner interprets it, but on strengthening the mechanism by which the interests of various international actors are pressured into a certain direction. Now the final question that Drezner raises, whether the consensus that emerges out of such international negotiation will be a good one...well, there's the rub. But the potential for a less-good solution, or even a certifiably bad solution, no less decreases the absolute need to work together than the overwhelming difficulty of mustering any sort of effective response diminishes the enormity of a problem like global warming. It won't be easy to come to a "good" solution, and -- as climate talks in Poznan last December showed us -- the chances of reaching an ideal agreement are slim to none. But a little bit of give on all sides -- had the United States acceded to either of two very legitimate and agreeable proposals for Security Council reform in 1996, for example, we might have a very different-looking international order today -- can go a long way in securing a response that will be far, far better than no response at all.
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United States Reverses Itself, Abstains from Gaza Ceasefire Resolution

Russia Today has the story: In the days leading up to yesterday's Security Council vote on Gaza, Condoleezza Rice assured her colleagues in the Arab League that the United States would support a UK-drafted ceasefire resolution. Then, immediately before the vote Secretary Rice spoke to President Bush over the phone and policy was reversed. The United States abstained. A resolution without American backing has less clout. Not surprisingly, both Israel and Hamas are ignoring the Security Council's ceasefire call. The carnage continues for another day.
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UNRWA Pulls out of Gaza, UN Drivers Killed

More dispiriting news from Gaza. From the UN News Center.
A United Nations agency that is a lifeline for 750,000 Palestinian refugees in Gaza suspended food delivery operations today after Israeli strikes killed two of its drivers and injured a third on the 13th day of an offensive launched with the stated aim of ending Hamas militant rocket attacks into Israel. The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said the clearly marked convoy carrying a UN flag and picking up supplies at the Erez crossing into Gaza had been coordinated with Israeli liaison officers who gave the green light. A second equally coordinated and marked UN medical convoy on its way to fetch the body of an UNRWA staffer killed in an earlier bombardment came under light arms fire in Gaza City.
Read on.
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Getting to Zero

Spencer Ackerman liveblogs from a conference on nuclear proliferation.
Proliferation -- from Russia, North Korea, Iran and the freelance efforts of Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan -- is at "a tipping point" that will be "irreversible, and dangerous beyond the imagination of most people," [Former Defense Secretary William] Perry says. The world has been "moving backwards" on nuclear proliferation, "and each year we have moved ever closer to a nuclear catastrophe." That's why it's time to take what used to be considered drastic action to "move toward the elimination of nuclear weapons." Not reduce, eliminate. "That will not happen until the American government takes a strong leadership position," Perry says, and claims that Obama sees it that way based on campaign statement. Wants Obama to hector the world on nuclear abolition, and "deep cooperation" with Russia on "mitigating the danger of nuclear terrorism." Says it's time to work with the Senate on ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty "12 years after we signed it." Bob Joseph and Eric Edelman, Bush administration officials on the panel, look uncomfortable and whisper something to each other.
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What Meeting With Radovan Karadzic Is Like

Opinio Juris' Kevin Jon Heller offers a fascinating report of his first interview with his client, indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic (Mark rightly praised Kevin's decision to defend Karadzic here). While the substance of their conversation is, of course, confidential, Kevin does divulge Karadzic's preferences in soda (grape Fanta plain old Coke) and Monty Python flicks ("Life of Brian"), as well as some interesting commentary on the architecture and location of the UN Detention Unit in The Hague, Netherlands. Here, Kevin expresses his confidence that Karadzic's trial will not devolve into the counter-productive ranting that marred the trial of his former boss, Slobodan Milosevic (not to mention that of Saddam Hussein in Iraq):
Finally, I came away from our meeting feeling very comfortable with Dr. Karadzic's decision to represent himself. I would, of course, prefer that he hire [his legal associate, Peter Robinson] as his legal counsel. But nothing he said to me indicates that his behavior in the courtroom will bear any resemblance to Milosevic, much less to Seselj. I don't know whether he believes that the ICTY [International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia] is legitimate; I didn't ask him. I do know, though, that he views his trial as an opportunity to challenge the ICTY's often problematic jurisprudence and to ensure that the Tribunal's official narrative of the events in the former FRY does not exclude the Serbian view. Moreover, I know that he recognizes his limitations and appreciates the legal advice that he is receiving from Peter, from me, and from the many academics and law students we have brought into the case.
Karadzic, Kevin reports, appears sanguine about his prospects. Bringing him to the appropriate justice will be important for victims of the genocide and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia in the mid-90's; with Kevin's legal assistance, the trial has an opportunity not only to ensure accountability, but to boost the legitimacy of the ICTY proceedings and strengthen the concept of fair justice itself. (image from flickr user Grumbler %-| under a Creative Commons license)
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Forget The ABCs

Alanna Shaikh makes sense.
It's time to abandon Abstain, Be faithful, use a Condom. This is the mantra of PEPFAR, the US-funded President's Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief. All PEPFAR-funded HIV education efforts must follow that formula, and include all three points. 33% of all HIV prevention funds - 20% of the PEPFAR budget - must be - according to the organization's congressional mandate- spent on abstinence only education. Yes, that's right. We are requiring that 7% of our HIV budget be spent on programs that have been scientifically proven not to work. Oops! Sure, nine out of ten Americans have sex before marriage. But we expect the developing world to do better at that kind of thing, right? PEPFAR is a good idea. More money for AIDS prevention and treatment is a good thing. Wasting limited PEPFAR funds is not. It's time to free the PEPFAR budget from loony congressional restrictions on what can be funded. PEPFAR should be funding the efforts that will do the most good for the least money. End of discussion.
Now, the typical retort is to say: "But Uganda was the vanguard of the ABC program--and it's HIV rates there plummeted by over 30% since the 1990s!" That may be true, but studies have shown that condom use, not abstinence, is largely to credit. (Photo credit: Me. A picture of a street sign in Addis, Ababa Ethiopia. November 2008)
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Papua New Guinea: Girl Stripped Naked and Burned for Witchcraft

In the 21st century:
A young woman was stripped naked and burned alive at the stake in Papua New Guinea, possibly because she was accused of being a witch, newspapers reported on Wednesday. The woman, believed to be between 16 and 20 years of age, was blindfolded, gagged and lashed to a pole on a pyre of tyres and firewood on a garbage dump in Mount Hagen, a witness told the Post-Courier newspaper. 'The girl was stripped naked and could not shout for assistance or resist as she was tightly strapped and her mouth gagged,' said Jessie James, 21, who lives in a settlement near the town in PNG's volatile Highlands region. He said several men who had arrived with the woman in a truck then poured petrol over her and set the pyre ablaze. Highlands divisional police commander Simon Kauba told the paper he was appalled by the crime. 'I don't know the right words to describe it but it's barbaric ... can you find the best word to describe such acts which are rampant here?' Mr Kauba said, pledging to track down and prosecute the killers.
More from CNN:
The country's Post-Courier newspaper reported Thursday that more than 50 people were killed in two Highlands provinces last year for allegedly practicing sorcery. In a well-publicized case last year, a pregnant woman gave birth to a baby girl while struggling to free herself from a tree. Villagers had dragged the woman from her house and hung her from the tree, accusing her of sorcery after her neighbor suddenly died. She and the baby survived, according to media reports. Killings of witches, or sangumas, is not a new phenomenon in rural areas of the country. Emory University anthropology Professor Bruce Knauft, who lived in a village in the western province of Papua New Guinea in the early 1980s, traced family histories for 42 years and found that 1 in 3 adult deaths were homicides -- "the bulk of these being collective killings of suspected sorcerers," he wrote in his book, From Primitive to Postcolonial in Melanesia and Anthropology. In recent years, as AIDS has taken a toll in the nation of 6.7 million people, villagers have blamed suspected witches -- and not the virus -- for the deaths. According to the United Nations, Papua New Guinea accounts for 90 percent of the Pacific region's HIV cases and is one of four Asia-Pacific countries with an epidemic. "We've had a number of cases where people were killed because they were accused of spreading HIV or AIDS," Mauba said.
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Smart Nutrition

Writing in the Ideas 4 development blog, Josette Sheeran, the head of the UN's World Food Program, makes the important point that, unlike with the fight against cancer or other deadly diseases, we already have all the technology we need to combat the global food crisis. Still, as her description of a new "smart" nutritional program in India makes clear, a little innovation can't hurt.
This new ready-to-use food is made from ingredients such as chickpeas and dry skimmed milk powder with a range of added micronutrients. There is huge scope for this type of nutritional supplement in India which has the highest prevalence of underweight children in the world, higher even that sub-Saharan Africa. This latest addition to our hunger toolbox can be used not just for rehabilitating malnourished children but for preventing them becoming malnourished in the first place. This product can be made locally and at relatively low cost - a daily ration costs just five rupees (10 cents). Being oil-based, it does not require water for its preparation, giving it a longer shelf life and making it particularly suitable for use in places with poor sanitation. Nor does it require cooking which makes it ideal for distribution in disaster zones - which is why we deployed it as part of our relief package after the recent cyclone in Myanmar. It has already excited significant interest in the region and beyond. Afghanistan, Nepal and Bangladesh have all expressed interest in making this product part of their national food programmes. When I produced a sachet at the African Union Summit in Ethiopia not long ago, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said he wanted to start producing locally it in his own country.
This reminds me of the success of "Plumpy'nut," the peanut butter-esque, Nutella-inspired nutritional supplement that was used to stave off famine in Niger. Sheeran also reveals that WFP is working on an ingenious "rice fortification" project; including just one of these hyper-fortified grains of rice amongst 99 regular kernels will provide crucial micronutrients. Let's hope the folks at FreeRice are aware of this development. (image of child with Plumpy'nut, from flickr user aheavens under a Creative Commons license)
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The Promise of “Environmentals” in Lagos, Nigeria

(by Dayo Olopade. Dayo holds degrees in Literature and African Studies from Yale University, and is the Washington reporter for The Root.)
IBADAN, NIGERIA -- The last Saturday of every month in Lagos is reserved for a governmentally mandated "environmental holiday." Citizens are barred from leaving their homes until noon that day, and instead are directed to clean their homes. In a country where the adage "cleanliness is next to godliness" can be found printed on buses and street murals, this is no great surprise. Sincere but unintentional, this odd form of individual "environmentalism" does have some appreciable collective benefits. Abundant petroleum, subsidized to a price of 70 Naira (50 cents) per litre, plus a lack of efficient transport alternatives, ensures that, left unbothered, everybody drives everywhere -- all the time. By keeping cars off the road in congested, cacophonic Lagos (much like Beijing in the days before the Olympic games), the one-day policy produces a substantial improvement in local air quality. Due to a spot of confusion as to whether the last "environmental" of 2008 was canceled due to the holiday season, I was on the road during the deserted hours, which set me thinking about the potential for green, smart growth in Lagos-a city of 15 million that George Packer once brilliantly described as "the archetype of the megacity, perhaps because its growth has been so explosive, perhaps because its cityscape has become so apocalyptic." It is easy to see apocalypse in the stacks of plastic bags and bottles that cluster or burn by the side of the road -- the more so because these materials are made from the same petroleum that is Nigeria's most abundant natural resource, accounting for 90 percent of its GDP and bloody conflict in the Delta region. But there are silver linings when it comes to city planning, particularly because of the "explosive" nature of the city. Recent, large-scale land reclamation schemes have made intelligent city design a distant possibility. They've also stirred up legitimate environmental controversy.