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Does stopping climate change only require two countries?

Recognizing that the issues on which the United States and Russia are extremely unlikely agree to are limited to a relatively small sub-sphere is, unfortunately and erroneously, not enough for some commentators.  Dave Schuler, at Outside the Beltway, for example, finds nothing on which the former Cold War foes can build a relationship.  Yet how Schuler can argue in one paragraph that "[t]here is no more important bilateral relationship between nations than that between Russia and the United States" and in the next that "[w]e don’t really need Russia’s cooperation on pressing world issues like climate change" is utterly baffling to me.  His point is that, as much as the two countries need a good relationship, "there isn't much basis" for one.  On the contrary -- I'd argue quite easily that the very need for this good relationship -- evidenced by, say, their ability, cited by Schuler, "to destroy the world" -- is more than basis enough.

Dan Drezner respectfully disagrees with the logic Schuler uses to connect Russia's strategic position with its U.S. relationship.  The flaws in the logic that he uses to dismiss the mutual needs and interests of this relationship, I'd add, are encapsulated by that flabbergasting statement: "We don’t really need Russia’s cooperation on pressing world issues like climate change."  As a country, Russia is the world's third largest emitter of greenhouse gases.  China, the United States, then Russia.  How, pray tell, could any global emissions reductions system have any success whatsoever without inducing Russia to stopper its smokestacks?

(This is precluding, of course, the admittedly rather faint possibility of one particularly environmentally interested country, or billionaire, saying "screw it" and sucking all of the carbon out of the atmosphere themselves.)

(image from flickr user otodo under a Creative Commons license)

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Obama, Medvedev pledge to reduce nukes, dress the same

Diplomacy in action:

At a signing ceremony, Obama and Medvedev, wearing identical dark suits, white shirts and red ties, pledged to finalise a treaty by the year-end to cut the number of deployed nuclear warheads on each side to 1,500-1,675 from levels above 2,200.

If they both happened to wear the same thing, then maybe they just happened to choose similar target numbers for warhead reductions.

Of course, that's not how diplomacy is conducted. I have to agree with Matt Yglesias that, in terms of negotiating with Russia, the game of huffing and puffing about topics on which neither side is at all likely to budge is far inferior to conducting negotiations on issues about which the two countries may actually come to an agreement. If one of these happens to be fashion, then so be it.

To read this Wall Street Journal editorial, one might seriously conclude that Medvedev doesn't deserve to wear the power suit that befits an American president.

Here's an idea. Set aside the dime-store national psychoanalysis and return to first American principles and interests. This summit rests on a fiction: That Russia is an equal power to the U.S. that can offer something concrete in return for American indulgence.

Here's the thing. It doesn't matter that Russia is not "an equal power." Nobody this side of the Cold War is disputing that. But it doesn't change the fact that Russia and the United States have some interests in common, and other issues in which they differ, but both have a lot at stake. The way to achieve these "first American principles and interests" is not to rail against Russia's autocracy and heavy-handed role in certain small, independent countries in its orbit (the protection of Georgia's freedom may be important, but an American "principle" of the first order?). Reducing Russia's nuclear stockpile, securing its cooperation in fighting climate change -- these are the concrete goals that the Journal scorns. And it's going to take something much more nuanced than "indulgence" -- and, okay, more substantive than matching suits -- to reach them.

A picture of the two leaders from before their historic agreement to wear suits that are more than just almost identical.

(image from The Official White House Photostream)
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More bombs, more sanctions?

The Security Council is holding a closed-doors meeting in five about two minutes to discuss North Korea's most recent missile launch.  In the meantime...

A U.N. sanctions committee is considering blacklisting more North Korean companies and individuals for supporting Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs. It is meant to complete its work by Friday.

The folks in Pyongyang don't seem to be doing themselves any favors.

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How swine flu and the economy can help tackle climate change, MDGs, and food shortages

If the G8 can figure out what to do about Italy, they might want to heed some of the Secretary-General's advice. In another op-ed that just might increase a few crushes (or maybe just boost his global popularity), Ban presents the responses to the global financial crisis last fall and the H1N1 epidemic this spring as evidence of the interconnectedness of global problems -- and how vigorous global cooperation can have a resounding impact. Armed with these examples, he lays down the gauntlet for the G8 on three of the causes he has taken up: global warming, the Millennium Development Goals, and the world food crisis. On the first, he sets an ambitious goal:

First, the G8 and other major emitters of greenhouse gases must intensify their work to seal a deal at the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen in December. That agreement must be scientifically rigorous, equitable, ambitious and exact. Achieving the goal of limiting the global mean temperature increase to two degrees Celsius will require nations to cut carbon emissions by 50% by 2050. The G8 and other industrialised countries must take the lead by committing to emission cuts of at least 80% from 1990 levels.

It's worth pointing out that this is the minimum that will be necessary to prevent the worst from happening. Yet it's also, thus far, more than the United States and other wealthy countries are ready to commit to. As Ban writes, "co-operation works, but we've only just gotten started."

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A couple of positive outcomes from the UN investigation in Gaza

Even though Israel is not participating, or did not allow the commission -- headed by South African judge Richard Goldstone -- to pass through Israeli territory, it seems to have helped bring about two developments that can be applauded.

First, despite its opposition to the probe, which is mandated to investigate actions of both the Israeli military and Hamas, the Israeli government has agreed to provide compensation for the damage inflicted upon UN buildings, including a school, in Gaza during the December/January offensive.  This is a welcome step, though it does not of course excuse the inexcusable: bombing a UN building, even by accident, but particularly if targeted, makes Ban Ki-moon very, very angry.

Second, and more directly, the commission was able to hear from Israeli witnesses, most prominently the father of captured soldier Gilad Shalit, in Geneva.  That the investigation is seeking out such witnesses should be signs enough to the Israeli brass that it is not "hopelessly biased," but alas, that train, as they say, has sailed.

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United Nations Stakes

As in the Belmont Stakes and the Preakness Stakes -- the United Nations Stakes is a horse race.  I had no idea the United Nations had a horse race named after it -- since 2000 -- and I can't quite seem to figure out why.

For horse-racing fans out there, Presious Passion (no typo there) won the race this year, which takes place in Monmouth, New Jersey.

The winner:

(image from flickr user Linda Dougherty under a Creative Commons license)

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Listen to ICC radio in (the) C.A.R.

One of the controversies the ICC has had to deal with is the notion that it is "biased" against Africa. Even though most of the ICC's work to date has been in African countries, this is a pretty hollow charge; the reason that the ICC is operating in three of these four states is because they asked it to do so.

Much of the resistance to the ICC in Africa, particularly since the indictment of Sudanese President Bashir, has come from other heads of state. Hence the AU resolution last week rebuking the court, which was concluded in a closed-door session and evidently did not garner the support of all participants.

Discomfort with the ICC among Africans on a populist level, though, does undeniably exist, even if much of it seems based on misinformation (often peddled by state governments). To counter these negative impressions, the ICC is taking to the airwaves.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) today launches a series of radio programmes in the Central African Republic (CAR) as part of an outreach campaign aimed at informing the country’s population about the court’s mandate and activities.

The 13-episode series, which will be broadcast in the Sango language, is called “Understanding the International Criminal Court” and uses a question-and-answer format. At least 14 separate radio stations are expected to air the programmes.

Crank that dial.

(image from flickr user fatcontroller under a Creative Commons license)

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Comparisons to avoid

Really, Alan Dershowitz?

The very idea of the UN Council conducting an "independent" or objective investigation of Israel is preposterous. It would be as if an all white Mississippi court were investigating a black man's self-defense in response to years of lynchings by whites and limiting its investigation to the event following the lynchings.

Comparing the situation in Palestine to the Holocaust is not okay. But neither is calling an independent UN investigation, led by a veteran dismantler of South African apartheid, whom even the slimy Dershowitz calls "a good man," the equivalent of a racist court that protected whites from prosecution for lynchings. And, if I recall my American history, I don't believe African-Americans in the South had quite the recourse to military power as does the state of Israel.