Monthly Archives: April 2013

U.S.-India Relations

On April 29th I attended the event of U.S-India Relations in D.C that greatly covered the current and ongoing diplomatic relation of India and U.S. for the past 2 decades. The speakers were many but the two prominent were James Jay Carafano, Ph.D Derek Scissors, Ph.D and Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan Ph.D. The much heralded partnership between New Delhi and Washington has not lift up to its promise that was made during the Bush Administration and Bill Clinton’s visit to India in 2000. The Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi and The Heritage Foundation in Washington D.C. is keen to understand this paradox and find ways to rekindle the strategic enthusiasm that has plateaued between the two democracies for the past several years. The event covered heavy sectors such as economy, regional security in East and Southwest Asia, counterterrorism, defense and non-proliferation. The progressive relationship between both countries for the past two decades is not denied, specially throughout and after the Cold War, it was in the first decade after the Cold War that the tension raised over nuclear nonproliferation. The U.S. role in India-Pakistan relation over the dispute of Jammu Kashmir and the undeniable fact that U.S. allied Pakistan over India in against of the use of 1998 nuclear tests that caused a major confrontational footing between U.S. and India which made New Delhi the target of international nonproliferation regime. Despite their high profile disputes, he engagement between the political leaders is inviting a stronger foundation for partnership. The bilateral engagement between them now is truly impressive for the economic system which is the major sector that can help build the U.S. economy and make India an economic dynamite in the coming future. Although the current political situation is not as it was expected to be between these large democracies, and to comprehend sources of frustration like strategic culture, the differences in bureaucracies of both countries and policy missteps in New Delhi and Washington is necessary for sorting out the road map for the future of both states. What I found impressive and something new to my knowledge was that the trade and investment relationship between both countries, India has imported nearly $10 billion worth in the past few years in major defense equipment and India’s armed forces exercise more with U.S. military system more than any other military in the world. I didn’t have any idea about this fact.

Climate Change and Extreme Weather: Impacts on Public Health and Agriculture

On April 10th I went to the Wilson Center for an event called Climate Change and Extreme Weather: Impacts on Public Health and Agriculture. The event speakers were Tom Karl, Director of the National Climatic Data Center, Catherine Thomasson, Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility and William Hohenstein, Director of the Climate Change Program Office at the Department of Agriculture. A brief introduction was made by the Brazil Institute Director Paulo Sotero, who talked about how Brazilians are protecting their rainforest and the measures the government is taking to reduce extreme weather impacts in Brazil.

This event was very interesting. We always hear how global climate change will affect us but I haven’t had the opportunity to actually listen to the experts and realize the causes and effects that can affect us as a society. Tom Karl presented very valuable information focusing on the U.S regions that are impacted by billion dollar disasters. He pointed out that there is a correlation between natural disasters and heat index registered over the years. For example in California there has been an increase of forestal fires and the intensity of thunderstorms in the southeast region has also rise. Although there are some extreme weather changes that can be detected like heat waves, others like severe thunderstorm and extra tropical cyclones are harder to detect. He concluded his talk by stating that the better ability they have to observe changes the better they can understand and identify the patterns.

Next up was Catherine Thomasson, who explained the effects that climate change has on the population’s health. For instance she focused on how for example the loss of electricity by severe thunderstorms or just the increase of heat waves can impact the elderly, chronically ill and little children. She pointed out that in 2003 during the European heat wave, the number of deaths dramatically increased.  Heat also impacts the health of those in vulnerable regions like Africa. Mosquito disease and malaria are affecting areas, which due to extreme high temperature the disease is more likely to spread faster. Dengue fever has also increase in the southern region of the U.S due to climate change. Another important point she focused on was the fact that drought increased forest fires and therefore it affects vital crops that we eat every day. A statistic I found very interesting and important to share is that 2 billion people worldwide do not have access to clean potable water. To conclude, she mentioned that human intervention is necessary to help reduce emissions and to move towards renewable energy.

The last panelist was William Hohenstein and he specifically focused on how climate change is impacting agriculture in the US. As well as Catherine he called for a reduction of greenhouse emissions. He gave various example on how severe weather affected crops. For instance, corn suffers from high nighttime temperatures as well as soybean from water stress and high temperatures. Wheat and small grains can be frozen during flowering and affected by water stress. Although his data showed important damages towards the crops he was much more optimistic when talking about farmer’s adaptation to severe weather. He stated that farmers are adapting to the change and that they are trying to develop new strategies, tools and practices for adaptation.  Nonetheless, effects are likely to worsen significantly if greenhouse emissions remain high.

Overall I think this event was very interesting and I certainly enjoy it. Like I said we always hear about these changes but to actually see data and listen to the expert’s it changes your perspective about the issue and makes you realize that with small changes we can all contribute in solving the problem.

 

North Korean Propaganda

The event I attended in Washington DC, discussed North Korea Propaganda. They first showed a documentary on North Korea and showed citizens from North and South Korea and also had American commentators. The film showed the streets of North Korea and the different types of Propaganda present in North Korea. After the film was over the director had a question and answer session, where he answered a variety of different questions from the audience. It was very interesting to see North Korea and to understand that the citizens have always been surrounded by this propaganda and is the only thing they know. I learned that North Korean citizens are really isolated from the outside world meaning that they are only told and shown what the leaders want them to know.

Takedown: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda

The New America Foundation is an organization in Washington DC, clearly doing big things; I attended an event there this afternoon, at what seemed like a conversation between old friends (later revealing they ARE old friends). Peter Bergen, a British-American journalist, interviewed Phillip Mudd, who worked in the CIA, and then a liaison for the White House during 9/11.

The event began with Mudd simply introducing himself and how he began his career. Mudd is a graduate from UVA, in English surprisingly enough. He had been turned down several times for a teaching career, and drove up to the CIA gates when he was aware they were hiring. Mudd worked his way up quickly and specialized in South East Asia in intelligence. He began working on Iraq in 1999 and was still involved and a leader during the September 11th attacks. Mudd says he didn’t know how, but as soon as he became aware of the attacks, he knew the world in that moment, changed forever. Throughout his deep involved testimonial of the time, Mudd repeats the phrase “let me blunt” very often. He was honest and even though he has no regrets, he says the time was very emotionally trying. He talks about how the CIA perfected in those years, the art of taking down individual leaders before more could develop. An interesting comment he made revolved around that “art” he mentions. Mudd believes that drug and human traffickers could also be taken down in this manor, claiming the Government isn’t doing enough. Mudd went on to talk about how much the hunt for Bin Ladan weighed on him. He speaks openly about how even though we were killing of these awful men, they still had families, and children whom would never see them again. Mudd also brought up a claim that really weighed with me my metro ride home. He says he believes the CIA has gone into a business of man hunting, and has left its espionage roots. (Mudd is no longer working for the CIA- and is an investment banker in DC). He spoke candidly saying this needs to change, and this is a root problem in not only America, but a lot of Intelligence Agencies across the world.

“Al Qaeda is a movement… not a group” Mudd said. This was something I had not just not been aware of, but didn’t even understand. (even after countless views of Zero Dark Thirty) During this presentation, my knowledge of Al Qaeda grew exponentially. He explained Al Qaeda “cells” and other brief knowledge of the movement in a language not only I could understand, but really enjoyed and found fascinating. That quote really stuck with me as well, changing a lot of my preconceived notions about Al Qaeda.

The talk ended with a question and answer session. There were questions from why isn’t he married, to other organizations America should be worried about. A man praised him on being one of the few CIA officers to acknowledge the pain and suffering children of Al Qaeda leaders have faced. Mudd was no longer part of the CIA during the final capture of Bin Laden, he remarks that he was upset with America and the praise his death recieved. While necessary he says, it was still a death. I really respected this outlook and thought about how much morality this must take….especially for a man so much on the inside.

 

 

Scotland as a Good Global Citizen

On Tuesday, April 9th I ventured to the Brookings Institute to sit in on a conversation on Scotland’s hopeful independence featuring Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond. As the leader of the Scottish Parliament as well as the Scottish independence movement, Mr. Salmond provided a compelling argument as to why Scotland would make for a “Good Global Citizen” in its future as an independent nation. Some of the points that Mr. Salmond addressed in his argument included future relationships with the rest of the world, membership in international institutions, and priorities in foreign and diplomatic affairs.

Mr. Salmond opened his argument with remarks about the close ties between the U.S. and the Scotland region, referring to how many 20 million Americans claim Scottish heritage and emanate a spirit of Scottish pride. He added that he hoped that these close ties would lead to a strong international relationship between two independent nations if the referendum for Scottish independence churned out a “yes” vote next autumn. In fact, Mr. Salmond hopes to continue relationships with other nations, as well as membership in international institutions such as the UN, European Union, and NATO. His vision of an independent Scotland is one of little change, save for independent power in international affairs.

According to Mr. Salmond, it is only a matter of common sense that Scotland should become its own independent nation. Scotland is already active in supporting climate and energy programs, including adopting the toughest climate control program in the world. The region is becoming a role model for independent nations in terms of climate control and energy concerns. Mr. Salmond then proceeded to end his discussion by quoting a speech by John F. Kennedy made in 1963: “nationalism must embrace internationalism”. For a region that is already distinct in some international concerns such as climate control,  why shouldn’t it have the power to independently control international decisions- or its own defense and taxes in the welfare system either, for that matter?

Colombia: Land & the Agenda for Peace

On April 3rd, 2013 I visited the United States Institute of Peace to attend a presentation on Colombia: Land & the Agenda for Peace.  There were 3 panels and each had two presenters.  Dr. Cynthia Arnson from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars played the moderator for the first panel.  The first 2 guest speakers were Mr. Absalon Machado and Carlos Salgado.  Both are Colombian Economists.  Their presentation was about the problems of land and peace agenda in Colombia and also the importance of rural areas in the land reform process.  The speakers were speaking in Spanish through interpreters.  Most of the discussion was about the current peace talks between the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the Colombian government in Havana, Cuba.  it is considered a road map for peace in Colombia.  The panel discussed the issue of land reforms for those who are displaced, peasants, and those lands that were taken by drug traffickers and guerrillas.  The panel also discussed the struggles that both sides face in order to reach an agreement.  One main struggle is that there are four sides to the process, Colombian government, FARC, peasants, and organizations.  Before any of these talks to be discussed, the panel said that the Colombian government must have a proper zoning maps to include land with resources and how it will be distributed.

China in Latin America

On Thursday March 27, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars held an event on China in Latin America. Joined by the Institute of the Americas and the Institute of Latin American Studies the event’s goal was to inform about China and its increasing presence in Latin America. The presenter Eric Olson, Associate Director of the Latin American Program introduced the four speakers. The first two, Dinorah Azpuru and Elizabeth J. Zechmeister, who are professors of political science at Wichita University and Vanderbilt respectively, led a team of researchers to gather and analyze data throughout Latin America on how the population feels towards China’s involvement in the region. The project is called Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) and if you go to their webpage http://www.vanderbilt.edu/lapop/ there is tons of information about the research, something they encourage us to do throughout their presentation. The other two panelists were Chinese professor Liu Kang, director of the China Research Center at Duke University and Daniel Erikson, senior adviser for policy in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the U.S Department of State.

Although they presented precious information about countries and their statistics, I personally was expecting more. Prof Azpuru and Zechmeister touched on various points. From China’s involvement in socialist countries like Nicaragua and Venezuela to how hard it is for the Latin American population to distinguish China from Taiwan and even Japan. This last point was very interesting because I come from Peru and usually we don’t normally call Asian people “Chinos” or Chinese without thinking about the big difference it makes. Prof. Zechmeister was able to explain this point and when interviewers asked question about China, they explain first that they were talking about continental China, something which the people can identify more as the People’s Republic of China and not Taiwan for instance. Another important point about their research is that countries leaning to the left tend to see China’s regional participation in a good influential way than the U.S and the contrary happens towards right leaning countries  with China vs. the U.S. Among those countries with high percentage favoring China were those of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) Coalition whose most representative members include Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Cuba. On the other hand, countries that score a low percentage were countries with strong ties with the U.S like Mexico and Colombia.

After the data was presented Professor Kang took the stage talking about China and its economic growth. He specifically focused on how China is looking for new markets not only in Latin America but also in Africa. Another important point was that China is seen as a negative influence throughout the East Asia region and even according to polls in China, the majority of the population does not consider China as a role model for economic policy.

Senior adviser Erickson talks about how the US sees Chinese presence in Latin America as good and is willing to work with them. They called it “The New Triangle” meaning China, Latin America and U.S. However, Mr. Erickson gave his insights about the LAPOP project and called for more correlation and to add more focus on those countries in which the Chinese have invested more. I agreed with his point and with other member in the audience how as well asked about countries were China have directed its money. I said at the beginning that I was expecting more because for example in Peru there is this big attention regarding the Chinese investors and the economic policy that the government is following towards China. Actually, in one of the booklets they talk about Peru and the fact that 40% of oil production in Peru is owned by China investors. For that reason, I was expecting them to correlate their information to those countries like Peru and also have some experts talk about the national feeling about it. Overall, I enjoyed going to this event, it was the first time I went to the Wilson Center and I would definitely be back again.