Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mexico's Proposed Climate Change Green Fund

The climate negotiations in Copenhagen will need to determine how we finance adaptation and green technology for the developing world. To this end, Mexico has been floating a proposal for a World Climate Change Fund for at least a year now.

Some of the ideas and principles driving the Green Fund are outlined in a presentation on Innovative Finance Mechanisms by Carolina Fuentes. She suggests that the fund would have the following advantages:

–Increased access to financial and technical resources
–Expansion of the global mitigation scale, Developing countries will have positive incentives to widen their mitigation efforts.
–Broader participation, The governance scheme of the Fund will be open to all countries.
–A predictable and verifiable regime, activities will be subject to independent supervising.
–Not necessary to demonstrate additionality, since the Fund is not a compensatory mechanism to offset emissions.

Is it a promising sign that the U.S. embassy in Mexico City included the proposed Green Fund in a February memo?

The Tweet Heard 'Round Tehran: A New Channel of Public Diplomacy

Guest post by Jessie Daniels, a Truman National Security Project fellow:

As we watch with interest the events unfolding in Iran, one of the major stories dominating the headlines is the Twitter effect. Twitter, and other new media, have given a global voice to the angst over the elections and have made the intensity of those marching in Tehran palpable to those sitting on the couch watching halfway around the world. Most importantly, the social networking phenomenon has undermined the Iranian regime’s attempts to isolate its country from the rest of the world and has, perhaps, opened a new chapter of informal public diplomacy efforts.

Despite the regime’s efforts to prevent the outside world from witnessing the post-election ramifications, new media sites continue to provide the most up-to-date information on the events in Iran. Moreover, these sites have become forums not only for reporting but also for advocacy. For example, tweeters on Twitter have been urged to turn their avatars green in solidarity with the Iranian protesters.

The increased attention has also highlighted the complications faced by the regime as it tries to effectively counter the public reaction to the election results. The regime’s dismissive rhetoric, which often plays well when denouncing the West, has instead stoked the flames of internal dissent. After Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad compared the protests to the “passions after a soccer match,” members of the Iranian national soccer team wore green armbands during a World Cup qualifier in protest. Efforts to blame the United States and Israel for improper meddling seem to fall on deaf ears as the protests continue to resonate.

Events in Iran have sparked a debate here at home about what the U.S. should be doing in response. Some assert that the administration should openly and actively encourage the protesters in Iran while others believe that we should stay out of the process. Regardless of where one falls on this spectrum, though, these events already illustrate the power of a new public diplomacy channel present in new media venues.

As opposed to formal public diplomacy measures, such as educational and cultural exchanges, social networking sites like Twitter provide a way to informally connect people. These small-scale efforts could have long-ranging benefits. Right now, the American public is getting a glimpse of the Iranian public and gaining an understanding of what drives them, what they are fighting for, and how they are expressing their dissent. The Iranian protesters are also aware that they have a global audience, including those watching in the United States. Although the Iranian and American publics have been kept apart for three decades, new media may be helping to debunk stereotypes in each country that have been built up since the 1979 revolution.

In this paradigm, government works best when it works to ensure that free and open dialogue continues. Doing so can help to pave the way toward increased support for further engagement at higher levels. There will likely be opportunities for the administration to capitalize on this situation as it pushes forth with direct engagement. Already, however, social networking has gone far beyond allowing high school buddies to keep in touch. With a significant percentage of the population in Iran younger than 30, this method of connecting the Iranian and American publics could eventually lead to a level of engagement and understanding that is beyond the realm of formal public diplomacy.

Originally posted on The Moderate Voice and The Reaction.

Photo by Sinistra e Liberta.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Case for Humans in Modern Aviation

Policy Innovations contributor Mikaela Bradbury reports on modern aviation:

I stayed away from the plethora of stories on the details of US Air Flight 1549 landing in the Hudson in the days after the event. I wasn't interested in many birds got caught in the engine, or the exact series of exchanges that went on in the cockpit. While reading the Wall Street Journal recently, though, a story about the incident caught my attention.

In particular, I was struck by a portion of Captain Sullenberger's testimony that emphasized the "importance of relying on experience and memory, rather than rigidly using written checklists to deal with unexpected emergencies."

The captain's comment illuminated the particular poignancy the story carries in contemporary culture. It offers welcome relief in otherwise bleak times. But more specifically the captain's rejection of rigid checklists, and his stunning performance in general, combats a looming specter in the airline industry, and America at large, of an increasingly mechanized and dehumanized work force–not to mention a work force devoid of human's altogether.

It could be argued that such mechanized and rule-adherent decision-making are partly responsible for the current financial crisis–where common sense and ethics took a back seat to an unquestioned faith in complex financial models–and has no doubt contributed to a number of other global crises haunting the globe.

In the airline industry, the battle between humans and technology is certainly being played out on the ground, where self-service check-in and online services have started to take over. Onboard, the winner of this battle is still undecided. Discount airlines in particular are wise to the role of personality in drawing customers, something that JetBlue established with its notoriously quirky crew.

On the other hand, quirky personal TV's are equally present in everything from ordering movies to getting a drink. Up front, the cockpit has become increasingly computerized and automated with digital navigation devices, while pilots face dwindling salaries.

As the value of human performance is at stake, the Hudson River episode demonstrates the indispensability of unquantifiable and un-programmable elements such as skill, spontaneity and intuition in solving unforeseen problems. As Sullenberger said in the WSJ, "The captain's authority is a precious commodity that cannot be denigrated."

Photo by davipt.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Options on DPRK: Bad and Worse

Policy Innovations contributor Mikaela Bradbury reports on Victor Cha's talk yesterday at Carnegie Council:

In an intimate gathering last night at the Carnegie Council, Dr. Victor Cha, former Director for Asian Affairs in the White House National Security Council and Director of the Asian Studies program at Georgetown University, addressed what he sees as one of the toughest negotiations in the world: the ongoing dispute with North Korea over its nuclear program. Parsing the discussion into three categories––causes, motivations, and ways forward––Cha attempted to shed some light on this unpredictable nation, where a recent series of muscle-flexing has pushed the DPRK to the top tier of U.S. security concerns.

With respect to potential causes of North Korea's recent behavior, Dr. Cha advocated the most simple explanation: North Korea is developing a nuclear weapons program because it wants a nuclear weapons program and part of the nuclear club. Blaming U.S. policy for North Korean hostilities is no longer valid, both in light of Bush's last minute deal with North Korea, and in light of the Obama administration's willingness to participate in high-level negotiations.

The question of "what North Korea wants" has confounded policy analysts for years. Problematically, Dr. Cha explained, many of the things people claim North Korea desires has already been offered them. And the two things that North Korea is really after, according to Cha, the United States can't give them.

More specifically, North Korea is set on being a nuclear state, and acquiring an agreement with the United States similar to the one India got in October 2008. Ironically, Cha speculated, once given that status, the DPRK would likely engage in mutual nuclear reduction negotiations.

The second and equally impossible item on North Korea's wish list, according to Dr. Cha, is an enhanced security agreement with the international community. The United States has already issued various negative security assurances to North Korea, one of which occurred during the Six-Party Talks, when the United States stated that it would not attack North Korea unless provoked.

Despite the significance of this overture, it does not address North Korea's concern over regime security. Namely, if North Korea were to open itself up for reform, it would still require international support in order to survive. In light of North Korea's human rights record, such external backing is unlikely. Given this deadlock, Dr. Cha struggled to find "good options." The proximity of North and South Korea rules out any military intervention. North Korea has stated that any transport sanctions or inspections of suspicious cargo at sea would constitute an act of war.

The remaining possibilities are neither comprehensive nor guaranteed to work. In the past, financial sanctions has proven somewhat effective in penalizing the North Korean elite. The United States could also work with various port countries to increase customs inspections, or persuade China and Russia to restrict their airspace.

With respect to China, Beijing claims to have little influence on the peninsula. Yet, in reality, it has both material influence and access to the leadership, making it the most critical player moving forward. Any pressure from China would have to be exerted covertly as to avoid appearing a lackey of the West, as Dr. Cha has overheard North Koreans previously say of Beijing.

In the end, Dr. Cha bleakly stated "nuclear non-proliferation is under assault." The recent emergence of North Korea's potential alliances with Syria only makes the threat more dire. In significant language, Secretary Gates has recently said that "the transfer of nuclear weapons or material by North Korea to states or non-state entities would be considered a grave threat to the United States and our allies." . As Dr. Cha warns, the "red line" for how much the United States is willing to tolerate may be approaching.

The current leadership transition occurring between Kim Jong-il and his youngest son leaves the future even more uncertain. On paper, this instability is the perfect condition for radical change. However, as Dr. Cha stated, internal "fluidity" often manifests in external belligerence.

As a testament to how little we know about the DPRK, the international community is still unclear about where we are in this leader transition–– whether it is "smoke before or after a fire," as Cha so eloquently put it. The same could be said about North Korea's erratic behavior. Signs of more to come or the last cries of a faltering dictator?