On Earth Day, bring together the dreamers and the plodders on climate change


Original article can be found here:


A schism is opening between two groups calling for action on climate change: the dreamers and the plodders. The dreamers are panicked by the mountains of scientific evidence on climate change and call for a massive transformation of our energy system to keep the planet safe. The plodders advocate more realistic steps in the face of political gridlock. Of course both arguments have their merits, but until these two groups reach a consensus on how to move forward, real solutions will remain on the horizon, just out of reach.

The cautious Obama administration

Last Thursday’s New York Democratic debate demonstrated this tension. Senator Bernie Sanders called for a World War II-like mobilization to counter the threat of global warming. Meanwhile, Secretary Hillary Clinton stood steadfast behind the incrementalism approach of the Obama administration, working around an obstructionist Congress.

The Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan turns the policy dials as far as possible with existing regulatory tools. It does so with improved efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, nudges the shift from coal to natural gas, and pushes for a modest uptake of renewables. The U.S.’s national climate plan submitted with great fanfare as part of the Paris Agreement aims to reduce emissions by 26-28 percent by 2025. Yet there will be a reckoning between the pledge and what’s actually required to stay within a budget that would give us a fighting chance to avoid dangerous climate change.

The dreamers know what’s needed but lack a credible and concrete technical, political, and sociological plan to get us there. The plodders have a set of existing and politically acceptable tools that are inadequate to the task.

What we need

What we need is a bold new climate and energy policy in the U.S.  And we need a whole new set of social and technical knowledge to get us there. We need transformational thinking and new policy tools. And, we need major legislation such as putting a price on carbon. However, we also need to know if those steps will even be enough to keep us below the scientifically endorsed and aspirational goal included in the Paris Agreement of limiting global average temperature increases to 2.0 or 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The dreamers know what’s needed but lack a credible and concrete technical, political, and sociological plan to get us there. The plodders have a set of existing and politically acceptable tools that are inadequate to the task.

Since 2012, The Solutions Project has sought to lay out how the U.S. and the world could boost energy efficiency and switch to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. This, however, is focused on the technical side of such a transition. Missing is the political and social thinking adequate to consider where power and resistance lie and how to bring about a just and rapid transition with the technology we have.

We need to start by clearly understanding how much energy savings and carbon emissions reductions existing programs can deliver in various situations. What will each deliver under different political and economic scenarios? Whose livelihoods might be threatened and how can planners address their needs?

The Rhode Island example

I call Rhode Island home, and here, we have good existing programs to build upon. These are instructive of the task faced by many other U.S. states and the nation as a whole. Since 2004, Rhode Island has had the Renewable Energy Standard, which requires a steadily increasing proportion of energy to be supplied by renewable sources each year. . We can extend and strengthen that. Since 2006 the state has mandated that energy companies do the “least cost procurement” of the energy they need, forcing utilities to first undertake serious efficiency and “load-shedding” measures before they build new power lines and power plants. That’s saved millions of dollars and many megawatts of electricity, and reduced our state’s dependence on imported fuels. Since 2011, we have had a growing Distributed Generation program in which wind, solar photovoltaic, and anaerobic digestion technologies compete to lock in prices so they can in turn sell electricity back to the grid. The benefits have begun: clean energy jobshere shot up 40 percent in 2015, and renewables jobs rose by 84 percent in just one year.

Rhode Island can scale up efforts at increasing efficiency, and lock in the savings by replacing the remaining energy needs with renewables (see thesolutionsproject.org for one model on how we might). We are developing the first offshore wind farm in North America, which could be scaled up sharply with increased investment. We can incentivize local solar installation, and could become leaders in wave and tidal energy research and implementation. For backup we can buy more hydroelectric power from Quebec and Labrador. We have legislation pending to reduce demand by putting a fair and steadily rising price on carbon which will fund weatherization of low-income homes and small businesses.

What we need is a bold new climate and energy policy in the U.S. And we need a whole new set of social and technical knowledge and know-how to get us there. We need transformational thinking and new policy tools.

Rhode Island can use energy “demand pricing” to incentivize customers to use energy at times of day when it is cheapest and most plentiful, simply by timing when they charge their cars or run their dishwashers. In the short term, we need to aggressively address natural gas (methane) leaks, shore up distribution networks (pipes), and mitigate environmental fallout from extraction (fracking). We can utilize existing nuclear facilities to ease the transition, as long as they remain safe.

We can technically get closer to zero net emissions, and possibly quickly enough to avoid profound climate impacts. But we don’t really know how quickly each of these efforts will deliver what levels of emissions reductions, and whether they can together spur a just and rapid transition off of fossil fuels.

This Earth Day, it’s clear that we need a bold climate and energy policy in the U.S., and we need a whole new set of social and natural science to get us there, combining the vision and urgency of the dreamers with the practical approach of the plodders.

Portrait: Timmons Roberts
Timmons Roberts, @timmonsroberts
Nonresident Senior Fellow, Global Economy and Development
Timmons Roberts is a nonresident senior fellow in the Global Economy and Development program at Brookings, and the Ittleson professor of Environmental Studies and Sociology at Brown University. He is a leading expert on climate change and development. Co-author and editor of 11 books and edited volumes, and over 70 articles and book chapters, Timmons’s current research focuses on equity and why addressing it is a crucial part of confronting climate change.

Europe is a moral wasteland: Countless refugees continue to die while the West turns a blind eye

SUNDAY, APR 24, 2016 03:00 PM EDT

Original article can be found here:


As many as 500 migrants died just last week, yet the world’s powers pretend this calamity still isn’t their problem

After days of rumored disaster, United Nations officials now estimate that as many as 500 migrants died earlier this month in the Mediterranean after their ship capsized en route from Libya to Italy. Many appear to be Somalis.

“The flow consists almost exclusively of people from sub-Saharan Africa,” The Guardian reports. “Syrians have yet to reach Libya following the closure of the Greek route, but migration specialists expect them to try again from Libya in increasing numbers later in the year.”

The tragedy won’t make headlines for long, and fresh ones are sure to follow. Sub-Saharan Africans, who may represent the bulk of last week’s mass drowning, never won much sympathy to begin with. Now Europe, under siege from an insurgent far right, is trying to slam the door shut on Syrians as well: Since recent attacks in France, Belgium, and San Bernardino, tenuous solidarity for ISIS victims has been replaced by a conviction that refugees are in fact ISIS.

Never mind that attacks have mostly been carried out by European-born men. Rather than take a look in a mirror, France has imposed a draconian and alienating state of emergency, and Europe has cut a deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, exchanging cash and political legitimacy in return for accepting refugees forcefully returned from Greece in contravention of international and European law.

Arrivals on Greek shores have plummeted since the accord’s enactment. But both desperation and aspiration find a way, and the lack of a regular process for migrants and refugees only encourages people to take irregular and dangerous routes. And so people die.

“You patrol the seas better, then land routes are exploited,” Nigar Göksel, a Turkey analyst at International Crisis Group, told Frontline. “Or the price of smuggling goes up, or different ways of creating fake documents are discovered. Smugglers often win out in these circumstances.”

Or, they might die in Syria.

Turkey, according to Human Rights Watch, has all but closed its border with Syriasince March 2015, even as refugees stuck inside the country flee camps threatened by ISIS and the Assad regime. Recently, Turkish border police allegedly shot at refugees fleeing ISIS advances. According to an Amnesty International report, investigations on “Turkey’s southern border provinces suggests that Turkish authorities have been rounding up and expelling groups of around 100 Syrian men, women and children to Syria on a near-daily basis since mid-January.”

Disturbingly, Turkey’s adherence to international refugee law is explicitly limited to those fleeing European conflicts.

“The EU deal is based on the deceptive premise that all returned people are safe in Turkey, when the facts say otherwise,” said Fred Abrahams of Human Rights Watch, in what seems like a significant understatement.

Europe has pledged to accept one Syrian refugee from Turkey for every one sent back. The accord is purportedly meant to discourage refugees from making a dangerous sea crossing. But perversely, the number of Syrian refugees that Europe accepts under the deal is tied to the number who irregularly cross and are then sent back to Turkey.

What’s worse, this not-so-magnanimous deal does not even extend to other refugees, including, remarkably, Afghans, thousands of whom are already stuck in Turkey with access to neither refugee camps nor legal work. Turkey allegedly deported about 30 Afghan asylum seekers to Kabul “just hours after” the accord with Europe was signed, according to Amnesty International. People from Iraq aren’t covered either. Europe is distinguishing not only between refugees and economic migrants but between those refugees who are deserving and those who are not. And what do these distinctions even mean when it comes to people willing to risk death?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, after years of migrants dying at sea, finally became a limited-purpose hero last year, dubbed “compassionate mother” by grateful refugees after resettling many of the more than one million that crossed into Europe. Anti-migrant sentiment and violence cut that solidarity short soon thereafter, and countries including Austria and Macedonia closed their borders. And so Turkey is now the supposed save haven.

Europe’s priority is not saving lives. The Italian Mare Nostrum sea rescue mission, which according to the Italian government saved the lives of roughly 166,000 in 2014, was shut down under heavy criticism from Germany. Europe condemns smugglers, and has even pondered military operations against them. But they ignore the fact that their military and economic policies have for centuries created the condition of their possibility.

* * *

The accord is purportedly about safety but the notion that refugees belong in Turkey and not Europe is simply a racist one: They are mostly Muslims like in Turkey, and not Christians like in Europe. Ironically, it is Turkey’s Muslim population and its terrible human rights record that have long frustrated its desired ascension to the European Union. Now, Europe has proven willing to trade quite a lot to Turkey, where the human rights situation has rapidly deteriorated in recent years, for the sake of ethno-national homogeneity: Last week, after a satirist dared mock Erdogan, Merkel green-lighted a prosecution, under a very illiberal and very old German law, on behalf of the thin-skinned and authoritarian leader.

It’s often said that there’s a migrant crisis in Europe. In reality, the crisis in Europe is mostly a political one. According to the UN Refugee Agency, just “slightly more than 10 percent of those who have fled the conflict [in Syria are] seeking safety in Europe.” Today, there are roughly 4,841,807 registered Syrian refugees worldwide. By April 2014, nearly one in five people in tiny, constantly-destabilized Lebanon were already Syrian refugees.

Merkel’s initial response was laudable. But her brutal response to Europe’s financial crisis had helped lay the groundwork for today’s meanness, rallying the continent’s worst instincts to break Greece’s uprising against austerity. In turn, that austerity further worsened the living conditions of European workers—making them all the more susceptible to right-wing demagogues.

The U.S., of course, has behaved even more horribly, accepting roughly 3,100 total Syrian refugees since 2011, as of a Boston Globe overview published in late March. That included just about 1,200 of the mere 10,000 refugees that President Obama had pledged to settle by this October. The leading Republican presidential candidate, of course, wants to bar Muslims from the country.

There is something profoundly stupid but predictable about countries that invaded Iraq and colonized Africa, that foster a global system that exploits the poor for the benefit of the rich, that supported the overthrow of the Somalia’s government and carved up the Middle East into a despotic jigsaw puzzle now wondering just how the world came to be such a mess. Europe is clinging to a vision of the nation-state that colonialism has always made impossible. The hypocrisy is the same for economic migrants: People migrate from Africa fleeing poverty and war, but yes, also just to seek a better life. Moralizing about whether those people are deserving is beside the point, because a global economy entails a global labor market and migration. The trajectory of capital, like that of violence, boomerangs.

Shutting the doors on refugees and migrants requires a profound lack of the basic human solidarity required by most any existing moral system that I’m aware of. This cruelty, however, is also premised upon the idea that it’s not our problem. The belief that one, and one’s nation, are innocent of whatever crime has sent these people trekking across continents and risking their lives at sea.

The West, however, has been eager to wage wars in the name of human rights. “Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries,” President Obama bragged in 2011 over NATO’s intervention in Libya. “The United States of America is different.”

The humans in whose name these wars have been fought are now being deported back toward war zones. They are dying at sea in enormous numbers. They live or are detained in squalid camps and are abused by security forces.

The European Union was “founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.”

It’s now clear that the moral posturing of the West is fraudulent.

This is of course not to suggest that other places are of better moral quality. Far from it: consider the Thai junta returning Chinese dissidents to China, the Egyptian military dictatorship’s complicity in Israel’s blockade of Gaza, the Gulf states’ systematic exploitation of guest workers, or the alleged abuses committed by Mexican agents, on behalf of the United States, against Central Americans fleeing gangster terror. The world is in large part run by mean, venal and greedy people. But the next time the West invokes its moral superiority remember that they have already failed humanity’s most basic test.

Daniel Denvir Daniel Denvir is a writer at Salon covering criminal justice, policing, education, inequality and politics.
You can follow him at Twitter @DanielDenvir.

Here’s How to Make Ukraine’s Reforms Irreversible

April 23, 2016 BY HANNA HOPKO

Original article can be found here:

Atlantic Council




We live in a time of transformations: today, we decide which Ukraine our children will live in tomorrow. But a new Ukraine will be hard to achieve unless citizens with no connections to the old system take action and begin controlling the government and thinking long-term.

In 2013, Ukrainians protested to demonstrate that there was no way back to the Soviet Union; they stopped the Kremlin’s plan to drag Ukraine into the Customs Union. The Maidan proved that Ukraine is a European state with a thousand-year history, not a vassal of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Eurasian empire.

In 2014, Ukrainians fought for dignity. They ousted the regime of President Viktor Yanukovych and took the first steps to demolish the old power monopoly. But ultimately power was seized by those who had already squandered their chance to build a strong state immediately after the Orange Revolution. The Maidan activists lacked political experience, time, and the ambition to create a political force of their own; as a result, the post-Maidan parliament was formed by ad-hoc political projects that co-opted civil society activists as “new faces” that could connect the old-turned-new parties with the electorate. But new political brands did not bring new procedures, approaches, and rules to the political game. Business as usual prevailed.

In 2015, we laid the foundation for reforms to ensure that the country’s changes were irreversible and political revanchism impossible. We accomplished a lot: the international community declared Russia an aggressor state, the Rada adopted decommunization laws, and some bills targeting oligarchs (like the law on the gas market) were adopted. The database of real estate owners became open, the law on public broadcasting was adopted, and Russian propaganda was prohibited in Ukraine.

But without strong institutions and new professional cadres, the system is hard to change. We failed to implement judicial reforms, only imitated changes for the offices of the Prosecutor General and the Interior Ministry, and the reforms to Ukraine’s tax and customs administrations were largely cosmetic. Institutional reforms did begin at the parliament, but archaic Cabinet of Ministers regulations prolonged the red tape and impeded reforms. It remains to be seen whether the law on civil service will produce any tangible results.

Additionally, the ongoing struggle among Ukraine’s elites complicates the already difficult task of reform as Ukraine tries to gain full independence from Russia in the energy, military, information, and economic sectors.

The year 2016 will be like crossing the Rubicon. Will Ukraine get a visa-free regime with the EU? Will it be able to convince its partners to extend sanctions on Russia? Will there be progress in regaining Ukraine’s control over the Donbas and the Ukrainian-Russian border? Will stability be preserved?

To achieve those goals, Ukraine needs a team of mature politicians for whom the interests of the state stand above all. But the last two years have demonstrated that a national team is still a dream for the future. Professional and honest politicians who are keen on implementing reforms are not yet a majority even within their political parties. They cannot win over tight-knit corrupt businessmen and the oligarchs’ various nominees, all of whom continue their behind-the-scenes deals.

Recently I chatted with some fellow politicians during a break in a TV program at one of the national channels. They attempted to convince me that as the new parliamentary coalition is unstable and trust in the current parliament has been exhausted, the time is ripe for snap parliamentary elections. Only elections, they argued, will help new leaders ensure elite turnover.

Their personal interest is clear, but who can guarantee that a newly-elected parliament would be a better one? We can’t be certain of its higher professionalism, as there are no real political parties, the oligarchs continue to control the TV channels, populists are on the rise, and people’s apathy is growing due to disappointment and mistrust.

Ukraine’s new cabinet was formed on April 14, but this is not a government of reformers. Instead, it is one of loyalists, members of a narrow circle of trusted cadres who keep a monopoly on power.

As people’s dissatisfaction grows, the crisis is likely to deepen. It is high time to change these approaches and stop living by the old rules. Yes, politics requires compromises, but not a total eclipse of principles and values. Ukrainians want to see real changes, not pseudo-reforms that only increase frustration and heighten the protest mood among voters.

Putin thinks the Ukrainian political class still lacks defenders of the national interest and that he turned many into Russia allies. He anticipates that his agents will rock the boat and stir up anger through the skillful application of patriotic and populist rhetoric, and hopes that disunity and the inclination to find three hetmans among two Ukrainians will cause them to fail.

The current political crisis demonstrates that Ukrainians do not need Putin in order to quarrel with each other and waste this historical moment. Is it Putin’s fault that our political leaders perceive Ukraine to be their private company? Is it Putin’s fault that the Prosecutor General has not opened a single criminal case against his subordinates, the so-called “diamond prosecutors”? Did our heroes and patriots give their lives at the Maidan and in eastern Ukraine for this?

Ukrainians must get engaged; they must speak up and start controlling the government with an understanding that even under the best-case scenario, real changes and results will only be seen by their children. We should not succumb to sweet populist promises that pensions in Ukraine will grow to 500 euro the day after they come to power. It only takes five percent of a population to constitute a critical mass capable of changing a society. The challenge before us is to find and bring them together, and then to harness their energy and political will. That’s how an active minority wakes up a passive majority, and that’s what we’ve decided to do in Ukraine.

Together with a team of activists—many from the Euromaidan—as well as experts, entrepreneurs, and analysts, liberal reformers in parliament have begun developing a horizontal network of new leaders who will ensure civic support for reforms. In just two months, we have identified numerous regional activists who have joined the “Switch On” initiative and started searching for specific approaches to regional problems, such as the lack of competition in business, lack of transparency in the allocation of land by local councils, and lack of information about local budgets. Together with Rada deputies, these activists make unexpected visits to governors’ and mayors’ offices, to the cabinets of local deputies, and to the managers of communal enterprises to start face-to-face dialogues on how to turn the reform process around.

Only horizontal ties between us, rather than the old vertical patron-client connections with the oligarchs and other political “bosses,” can ensure the development of Ukraine’s civil society. We need a critical mass of active communities to guarantee the victory of a revolution of justice and effective implementation of the laws. We need to involve citizens to develop a mature political force, not just another one-day political brand to win the next elections. Let’s speak up!

Hanna Hopko is a member of Ukraine’s parliament and chair of its foreign affairs committee.

The Saudi and Gulf Perspective on President Obama’s Visit

Original article can be found here:


Americans have never been particularly good at seeing the world from the viewpoint of other countries. Perhaps it is the production of distance and two oceans, or never having had modern war on U.S. soil, but it seems exceptionally hard for Americans to realize that even friends and allies can have different strategic perspectives, different priorities, and values that differ strikingly from those of a Western secular democracy.

The fact is, however, that America’s strategic ties to Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states — which in practice include Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the UAE — have been critical to U.S. strategic interests ever since Britain withdrew from the Gulf, and the loose strategic partnership between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia has been progressively more important ever since President Roosevelt met with King Ibn Saud on the deck of the USS Quincy in the Suez Canal on February 14, 1945.

A Changing Saudi Arabia

There is no question that Saudis have different values than Americans. Modern Saudi Arabia emerged out of a war with Turkey during World War I, and in the face of British support for a different royal family. It was formed as a conservative and puritanical Sunni Muslim state comprised of a group of tribes under a monarchy. It was one of the poorest countries in the world for the first decades of its existence, and it was not until the first major rise in oil prices in 1973 that Saudi Arabia could afford serious modernization, public services, education, and a modern structure of government and defense.

At the same time, they have been under constant pressure or threats from at least one major neighbors ever since the rise of Nasser in the mid-1950s and British withdrawal from Yemen, and they have faced massive internal pressures for change as their population has increased from some 3.9 million in 1950 to 27.8 million in 2015 — an increase of over seven times with a projected further increase of 45% by 2050.

A once rural and nomadic society is now a hyperurbanized nation that is over 83% urbanized and becoming more urbanized at a rate of 2% per year. A young population — with a median age of 26 — is so young that 27% of the population is 14 years of age or younger, and another 19% is between the ages of 15 and 24.

A population that had virtually no schools for either sex until the early 1950s is now 94% literate, and has a school life expectancy of 16 years. Discrimination against women is all too clear in many areas, but gender bias gives men more social outlets than women, and women spend an average of a year longer in school. They now make up a larger portion of both secondary education and university education (60% are women) than men, and the gross enrollment rate for females is 36.1 percent as opposed to 24.7 percent for males.

Women also have the advantage that they tend to take modern courses while men must often devote significant time to religious instruction. At the same time, the Saudi government has created private universities that do not require religious training, has slowly reformed parts of the overall curriculum, and has tightened restrictions on its religious police. Change is carefully managed, and the rate is limited, but the net cumulative effect is both massive and deliberate. Moreover, it did not react to the tragedy of 9/11 by keeping its best students away from the United States. Instead, it not only created U.S.-managed universities in Saudi Arabia, it raised the number of Saudi students studying in the United States to well over 125,000 in 2015.

These forces combine to create massive pressures for better education, social change, and job creation, and for government efforts to create development, jobs, housing, new schools, medical services, and infrastructure. Unlike most of its neighbors, however, Saudi Arabia has made massive investments ever since oil wealth became real in the mid-1970s. Moreover, former King Abdullah succeeded in creating one of the only serious programs that dealt with the challenges destabilizing the Arab world after political uprisings began in 2011.

The net effect is that Saudi income per capita was $54,400 in 2015, and if one compares this to other large high-populated states in the Middle East with far longer modern economic histories, Algeria was $14,400, Egypt was $11,500, Iran was $17,500, Iraq was $15,000, and Syria was only $5,100 — even in 2010. In fact, one of the key aspects of modern Saudi history is that its royal family, technocrats, and business elite have led a conservative population towards change rather than having been pushed towards reform from below.

The Saudi royal family and government may not meet U.S. ideals in moving towards democracy and Western concepts of human rights, but if one looks at decades of Saudi budgets and five year plans, Saudi Arabia has reacted by consistently investing a larger share of the nation’s wealth in modernization and meeting popular needs than any other highly populated Middle Eastern state.

Saudi Arabia has invested major amounts in mosques and religious schools, but some of the commentary on Saudi Arabia’s religious practices and funding programs ignore realities that the United States cannot safely continue to ignore.

  • First, survey after survey – including excellent work by the Pew Trust – shows that largely Muslim states give religion, religious law, and religious extremism the same or higher polling support than Saudi Arabia.
  • Second, some countries like Pakistan are more than willing to blame the Saudis for their own low and terribly managed investment in education; willingness to tolerate native extremist movements like the Deobandis; and consistent (ISI) state support of terrorist and extremist movements to use against other countries like India and Afghanistan.
  • Third, all legal Sunni clerics in Saudi Arabia are state-funded, and no other largely Muslim state has exerted tighter control over what they say since the rise of Al Qaeda.

Saudi Arabia is no model of stability or rapid modernization — although it is rather hard to list other states that are actually doing better. It is important to note, however, that security, stability, and rising living standards are also indicators of human rights, and scarcely unimportant ones.

Saudi and U.S. Common Interests

If the United States is to have lasting strategic partnerships anywhere, it must avoid the kind of broad political rhetoric and false assumptions that other countries should act on the basis of U.S. strategic priorities and needs. No U.S. ally in the world has identical strategic interest with the United States, and partnerships need to be based on respect for that fact and on compromise.

In broad terms, U.S. and Saudi strategic priorities have much in common:

  • Ensuring the stable flow of some 17 to 18 million barrels of petroleum exports per day out of the Gulf, and steadily increasing the flow of oil, gas, and product exports to meet the demands of the global economy. These exports are critical to the Saudi economy, but also to the overall health and growth of the U.S. and Saudi economies.
    • The U.S. for example, had a GDP of some $18 trillion in 2015, $1.6 trillion in exports (9% of GDP) and $2.35 trillion in imports (13% of GDP).
    • In 2015, it still imported some 9 million barrels of petroleum and product per day. Only 1.51 million barrels came from the Gulf (16%), although 1.06 million barrels (11%) came from Saudi Arabia. This was well under 8% of total U.S. imports.
    • Direct import dependence, however, is only part of the story. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that U.S. dependence on imports from nations whose economies are critically dependent on the stable flow of Gulf petroleum exports is far more important. In 2015, 16.3% of U.S. imports came from China, 9.7% came from Japan, 6.3% came from South Korea, 4% came from Taiwan, 3% from India, and 1.1% from Vietnam: A total of 40.4%. Even assuming that the United States eliminated all petroleum imports and exported some oil and gas, it would still be strategically dependent on the stable flow of Gulf petroleum exports.
  • Saudi armed forces are largely U.S.-equipped, and are shaped on the basis of American support and advice. A recent Administration fact sheet noted that Saudi Arabia had some one billion dollars of U.S. arms in active delivery. Reporting by the Congressional Research Service shows a steady build up in U.S. arms deliveries to Saudi Arabia.
    • Saudi Arabia ordered $13.2 billion worth of U.S. arms in 2007-2010, out of a total of $29.6 billion. Saudi Arabia ordered $47 billion worth from the U.S. in 2011-2014, out of a total of $56.4 billion. These included systems tailored to supporting joint action against Iran and counterterrorism.
    • Deliveries lag far behind orders. Saudi Arabia only took delivery on $5.3 billion out of $10.9 billion in 2007-2010, and $9.0 billion out of $16 billion in 2011-2014. The end result is a massive backlog of arms deliveries tailored to cooperation with the United States that predates the war in Yemen.
    • Saudi Arabia conducts regular joint exercises with the United States, seems to have flown some sorties with the U.S.-led air campaign operating against ISIS, and receives extensive support in Yemen. Saudi Arabia has reshaped its air force to develop long range strike capability that is interoperable with U.S. forces, decided to modernize key elements of its navy in ways that improve cooperation with the U.S., and is working with the other Gulf states to create effective missile defense and more modern land-based air and cruise missile defense systems.
    • While the other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states have made little progress in standardization and cooperation, Iraq, Kuwait, and Oman have all made major purchases that are tailored to some degree to operating with the United States, and Bahrain and UAE are steadily improving their cooperation with the United States.
    • Saudi-Omani tensions remain serious, and Oman’s role in the JCPOA negotiations has not helped. Internal tensions in the GCC spill over to a limited degree in U.S.-Saudi relations.
  • Dealing with the full range of complex threats posed by Iran:
    • Avoiding a nuclear arms race in the region and Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons.
    • Countering the massive Iranian build up of conventionally armed rockets and missiles that are evolving towards precision-guided systems, and can reach virtually every major energy, desalination, population, and military target in the Gulf region.
    • Countering the equally massive Iranian build up of an asymmetric threat combining air, missile, and naval systems that include smart mines, a wide variety of anti-ship missiles, easily dispersible patrol boats, submarine, and submersibles, all of which Iran has threatened to use to “close the Gulf.”
    • Halting the steady expansion of Iranian influence and arming of non-state actors and proxy forces in areas ranging from Lebanon and Gaza, to Syria and Iraq, which threatens states like Kuwait, Bahrain, and Yemen.
  • Suppressing and defeating any form of violent extremism, particularly ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, Al Qaeda, and groups like the Al Nusra front.
  • Ending the conflicts and human tragedies coming out of the conflicts in Libya, the Sinai, Gaza, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.
  • Helping to support and stabilize moderate states and regimes like those in Morocco, Jordan, and Egypt.
  • Creating an end to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and a stable, secure two-state solution.

Saudi and U.S. Differences

There are, however, important differences in the Saudi and U.S. view of the security situation in the Middle East. These are differences that President Obama failed to acknowledge in his criticism in the Atlantic’s April 2016 article, but which are nonetheless vital to Saudi Arabia and the other Arab Gulf states:

  • ISIS is seen as the primary terrorist threat to the United States and Europe, to the point that U.S. strategy in Iraq and Syria is focused largely on defeating ISIS and the Al Nusra Front.
  • Saudi Arabia also sees ISIS as a threat, and is an ally in the U.S.-led air effort. However, its primary terrorist threat is still Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has some strength in Saudi Arabia, but is based largely in Yemen. Other Arab Gulf states — other than Iraq — also see ISIS as a lesser threat.
  • Saudi Arabia has improved its relations with Iraq to some extent, but it sees the U.S invasion of Iraq as having divided the country, putting it under Shi’ite and Kurdish control, removing Iraq as a key military counterbalance to Iran, and giving Iran a critical level of influence in Iraq that it will retain, even if the U.S. can bring Iraqi forces to the point where they can defeat ISIS. Saudi Arabia also feels that the U.S. has been far too slow and limited in its efforts to build up Iraqi forces.
  • Saudi Arabia sees Assad and Hezbollah as major threats to the Arab Sunni world, and as closely tied to Iran. It has seen the United States as indecisive and ineffective in supporting Arab rebel forces and checking Assad ever since 2012, as having failed to act decisively on its own red lines, as having failed to react or check Russian intervention in support of Assad, and as having been willing to accept a settlement that might well either divide Syria permanently or keep Assad in power. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Arab rebel forces, and the United States are improving their coordination, but Saudi experts are still deeply concerned that recent U.S. efforts to build up Syrian rebel forces with a larger U.S. advisory effort and heavier arms will come too late to be effective.
  • Saudi Arabia sees Iran as having effectively made Hezbollah the major power in Lebanon, as a key power in Syria and Iraq, and as a major threat in Bahrain. It gives the expansion of Iranian military forces and regional influence far higher priority.
  • Saudi Arabia sees the war in Yemen as a war that effectively began in 2009, and potentially would put an Iranian supported Houthi-Saleh Shi’ite government in control of a state that has a critical strategic position in controlling access to the Red Sea, and a 1,307-kilometer long border with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has had constant security problems with Yemen since the 1960s, and also sees the fighting as having led to the halt in its partnership with the United States in seeking to defeat AQAP in Yemen, and as having greatly expanded AQAP influence in Yemen. It welcomes limited U.S. support in the war, but sees the war as having far more strategic importance than the U.S. does.
  • Saudi Arabia is deeply concerned that regardless of what it does, it is still seen by many Americans as supporting terrorism and being responsible for 9/11. Saudi intelligence officers raise questions about CIA support of Bin Laden in Operation Cyclone in Pakistan, but the exact sequence of events there and leading to Bin Laden leaving Saudi Arabia in 1992 remains unclear. In any case, Saudi Arabia treated Bin Laden and Al Qaeda as a steadily more serious threat, and attempted to push the Taliban into putting him under their control well before 2001. Saudi Arabia had its own “9/11” in the form of AQAP attacks in Saudi Arabia in 2003, and has become a steadily closer partner in counterterrorism since that time. It has created the equivalent of a third U.S. advisory mission in Saudi Arabia to focus on counterterrorism supporting the Saudi Ministry of the Interior – in addition to the two long-standing military advisory groups working with its regular military and National Guard.
  • The U.S. support of an expanding role for Iraqi and Syrian Kurds in the war on ISIS has led to an expansion of Kurdish occupied territory that is largely Arab. Saudi Arabia does see this as a threat to the unity of Arab states and Arab control, although not the kind of direct threat seen by Turkey.
  • Saudi Arabia sees current efforts to make the Saudi government legally liable for “9/11” as a major political attack on Saudi Arabia, and one that shows no recognition of Saudi partnership with the U.S. The full details of “9/11” remain classified, but there is other evidence that the Saudi government never supported Bin Laden or Al Qaeda. At the same time, there is a broader problem in that at least some senior Saudis — and senior figures in the UAE, Kuwait, and Qatar — did support extremist charities and causes, and that controlling the flow of all such funding remains virtually impossible.
  • President Obama’s statements in the Atlantic implying that Saudi Arabia was not doing its share in the security field have not helped. Saudi Arabia feels its cooperation has been high, that the United States has failed to create effective force postures in Syria and Iraq, and does not seem to recognize Saudi priorities at the White House level. It feels as though its arms purchases and cooperation with the United States have involved a major effort, and that supporting the third largest military budget in the world represents a massive effort. Saudi Arabia spent some $81.9 billion on defense in 2015 – ranking third in the world after the US ($597.5 billion) and China ($145.5 billion) and above Russia ($65.6 billion), This amounts to 12.9% of its GDP at a time when nations like Britain and France find even 2% a challenge.
  • Saudi Arabia also feels the U.S. still sometimes regards it as an all-purpose source of aid and security funding for U.S. needs at a time when Saudi petroleum revenues have dropped to the crisis level — only 40% to 60% of their 2013 and 2014 levels.

Uncertainty, Not Crisis, in Relations

The end result is several ironies in the meeting between President Obama, the Saudis, and the other GCC states. First, such meetings almost inevitably announce improved cooperation in areas like missile defense and common resolve, and downplay serious issues. Unlike previous meetings, however, Obama is to some extent a lame duck President, and one clearly operating without the support of a Congress that Saudi Arabia sees as uncertain and to some degree hostile. In a year where every major security issue involves critical uncertainties, this U.S. President brings little clear leverage to the negotiations. His success will consist largely of restoring the image of cooperation without having an impact on the substance.

Second, the Saudi royal family is all too familiar with the constant outside obsession with Royal politics and succession issues. This time, however, the U.S. President’s succession issues involve three main populist candidates whose foreign and security policies are almost all rhetoric and no clear substance. If the U.S. delegation is worried about future Saudi leadership, imagine how the Saudi leaders feel about the United States!

Third, and perhaps most ironic of all — regardless of what the Saudi Arabia can or cannot say publically — the only competent U.S. Presidential candidate that serves the common Saudi and U.S. interests, and now now seems to have a serious chance of winning, is a woman.

Barack Obama is right: Britain could lead Europe if it wanted to

THE American president touched down in London last night for a three-day visit. Officially his trip has to do with wishing the queen a happy 90th birthday. In practice it is a carefully worded bid to nudge British voters towards a Remain vote in the EU referendum on June 23rd. His lobbying began this morning with a column in the Daily Telegraph (seemingly chosen for being the most high-brow Eurosceptic outlet) under the headline: “As your friend, let me say that the EU makes Britain even greater.” This afternoon he will give a press conference in Downing Street where he is expected to reiterate these arguments.

The Leave camp is furious at the intervention, calling it a diplomatic impropriety. Boris Johnson has a counter-column in the Sun today urging the president to butt out and, rather oddly, insinuating that as a “half-Kenyan” his views reflect resentment of Britain’s colonial past. In truth this is sour grapes. For many on the Leave side quitting the EU is a first step to building a new Anglophone alliance, led by Britain and America and extending across the Commonwealth. How ungrateful, how unAmerican, how un-Anglo-Saxon of the president to reject this thrilling fantasy.

But most of all they are angry because his comments will hurt their cause. America’s president is popular in Britain. Brexiteers know that voters will take his arguments seriously: the most resonant yet of the line-up of credible, authoritative voices—the Bank of England, the IMF, business leaders, former prime ministers—whose warnings form a steady drum-beat that should stay Brexit-inclined voters’ hands on referendum day.

Mr Obama’s comments stand out among these not just for their weight, but for their optimism. “You should be proud that the EU has helped spread British values and practices”, he noted in his column: “The European Union doesn’t moderate British influence—it magnifies it.” Other interventions have focused more on the disadvantages of Brexit: the risk to growth and jobs, questions unanswered by the Leave camp, the dangers of a fragmenting Western alliance in uncertain times. And that is right. Britons are not natural pro-Europeans. There is no latent zeal for European unity lurking, ready to be unleashed, just under the surface of British society. Nervous urging from keen Europhiles that the Remain campaign show more “passion” about the joys of European integration are, I’m afraid, too optimistic about the public’s appetite for such entreaties. “Britain Stronger in Europe” has conducted the focus groups, commissioned the polling and tested out its messages and on that informed basis is concentrating on the risks of Brexit and the transactional benefits of membership—a case, in other words, that rings true to a sceptical audience.

Yet there is nonetheless a place in the pro-European toolbox for the sort of arguments put forth by Mr Obama. For too long the Leave crowd have got away with painting the pro-Europeans as the gloom-mongers, the people who think Britain so small and insignificant that it needs to hug tight to its sclerotic neighbours. In this vision, the bold and ambitious national strategy is to break loose and reemerge on the world stage. “Britannia can rule the waves again!” as one Brexiteer put it at a debate I recently attended.

The retort, which the Remain camp could perhaps make more often, is the one put by the president. Britain has long pushed the EU in a liberal, outward-looking direction. Think of the Lisbon Agenda to make the EU more competitive in the last decade, the eastwards expansion (one of the most significant triumphs of British foreign policy in decades), the Iran nuclear deal, the moves towards TTIP today. As president, Mr Obama has broadly neglected the transatlantic relationship, but tellingly even he has been moved to urge Britain not to perform such a self-mutilating move (damaging to his country too insofar as a dynamic and effective Europe is in American interests) as to throw all this away.

And all that is without Britain much bothering to use the EU to project its interests. Compared with its neighbours, it does little to push its brightest administrators and politicians into the European institutions. Until recently Mr Cameron had few real Europe experts in Downing Street (compare that to the German chancellory, which has almost an entire wing devoted to Europe policy). Apart from a handful of Europhile and Europhobe die-hards, few MPs are much interested in the EU; attendance at the European Scrutiny Committee in Parliament in the 2014-15 parliamentary session was just 48.7%. Some of David Cameron’s European policies—pulling out of the European People’s Party, his botched veto in 2011, threats to endorse a Brexit vote last year—have hardly helped the country promote its agenda in Brussels.

Given how much Britain manages to influence the EU despite all this, what it could achieve if it actually tried? If it resolved, over ten or fifteen years, to remake the union in the British image? That ambition is less far-fetched than it might look. New geopolitical and security threats play into Britain’s long-standing desire to make the EU more outward-looking and security-conscious. The urgent need to make Europe more competitive—an agenda now being championed even by the French and Italian governments—similarly responds to traditional British priorities. For all the talk of integrating the euro zone, fellow northern European member states will want to ensure they are not simply yoked to poorer, more sluggish southern economies. Other non-Euro-zone states will be wary of caucusing and want to ensure that the EU continues to operate at 28 rather than 19. These developments create political opportunities for Britain.

Indeed, euro zone or no euro zone, no EU state has an automatic claim to leadership. France is a big military power but has a struggling economy. Germany is an industrial powerhouse but reluctant to lead on defence matters. Neither has a global financial centre to rival London. In a Europe of overlapping and concentric circles, perhaps Britain, an unsentimental member state with one foot in Europe’s centre, one in its periphery and an eye on the wider world, is best-placed to lead.

The demographic and economic shifts of the coming years also bear consideration. By 2030, according to some estimates, Britain will be the largest economy in the union. It is also on track to overtake Germany and become its largest member state. That in itself should pay dividends—numerical, in the Parliament and institutions—and symbolic.

For the reasons explained above, I am not convinced that all this should be the backbone of the Remain case, useful though Mr Obama’s intervention today is. But it does give the pro-Europeans something with which to parry Eurosceptic defeatism (“Britain has virtually no influence in Brussels” bellowed a recent Express headline) and accusations of talking down Britain’s prospects and ambitions. Perhaps the moment at which to make this argument in full will be after a Remain vote (if indeed that is the referendum’s outcome). If his gamble pays off Mr Cameron will have a window in which to reframe his country’s place in Europe and describe a new course, before eyes turn to the next big political drama: the battle to replace him. A path forwards to sceptical, pragmatic British leadership in a continent that badly needs it would be a legacy indeed. As Mr Obama might put it: “Yes we can!”

2016 Hershberg Scholarship Recipients

  World Affairs Council of Kentucky and Southern Indiana
Announces the 2016 Winners of the David Hershberg Scholarship


Louisville, KY. (March 29, 2016) – The World Affairs Council of Kentucky and Southern Indiana (WAC) is pleased to announce the winners of the annual David Hershberg Scholarship for Study Abroad. The winners, who each will receive $2000, were selected based on their commitment to enhancing their knowledge of international affairs and for their dedication to making the world a better place. The scholarship monies will be used to help defray the costs of their respective study abroad programs.

This year’s award winners are:

Alice Kennedy, a University of Louisville student who is earning her master’s degree in Public Health. Alice wants to peruse a career in the international monitoring and evaluation of Public Heath Systems. Alice will use her funds this summer to research and gather information on the public health systems in Ghana.

Amos Izerimana, a student from Berea College who is majoring in Peace and Social Justice Studies. Amos wants to pursue a career in Peace Studies helping refugees. Amos will use his scholarship to further his understanding of peace building strategies at the prestigious Caux Scholars Program in Caux, Switzerland this summer.

The David Hershberg Scholarship for Study Abroad was established in the memory of David Hershberg, a Louisville educator, mentor, and guiding force in the creation and development of the Louisville International Cultural Center (now the World Affairs Council of Kentucky and Southern Indiana). Dr. Hershberg was a career faculty member in Romance Languages at the University of Louisville, and was particularly known for his dedication to his students and their development.

The World Affairs Council of Kentucky and Southern Indiana is a non-profit member-based organization whose mission is to promote cross-cultural awareness, education and tolerance through nonpartisan discussions on current international issues. Through our speaker series, international visitors program and education-centered opportunities, WAC provides the community with the tools and knowledge to develop an informed citizenry and increase the global competency of students, educators and professionals.