Commentary

A Blueprint for Ending Child Marriage

DHAKA – When a young girl is pushed into marriage, the damage can last long after her wedding day. Research shows that girls who marry before the age of 18 receive less schooling than those who marry later, face a higher risk of domestic abuse, and suffer a lifetime of adverse effects on their physical and mental wellbeing.


Yet child marriage continues to be a common practice in the developing world. According to UNICEF, there are more than 700 million women alive today who were married before they turned 18. One in three women aged 20-24 were married or in a union while still a child.

What can be done to end this harmful practice? Bangladesh offers both a possible blueprint and a cautionary tale.

Today, Bangladesh has the world’s highest rate of marriage among girls under 15, and violence against Bangladeshi women is on the rise. Unfortunately, legal efforts to protect women and girls by criminalizing aspects of child marriage face significant obstacles, due to the prevailing political culture, the accommodation of religious extremists, and the persistence of gender bias.

The existing law penalizing aspects of child marriage – the Child Marriage Restraint Act (CMRA) of 1929 – dates to the British colonial period. The law stipulates terms of imprisonment or a fine for anyone who “contracts,” “solemnizes,” or arranges a marriage with a girl under 18. But, with some recent exceptions, it is frequently ignored and rarely enforced.

In the last three years, various drafts of a bill to give the law more teeth have been proposed. But the proposals focused on criminalizing facilitation or participation; none would invalidate child marriage itself. Individuals who officiate at child marriages or adults who take a child bride may violate the law, but the marriage itself would remain legal.

Each version of the bill has kept open this legal route for child marriage. Moreover, while the drafts have introduced stiffer penalties for perpetrators – and imposed greater responsibility on officials to take action – they have also created more space for exceptions. Marriage below the age of 18 is already permitted in Bangladesh by personal laws based on religion. The newly passed replacement of the CMRA – the CMRA 2017 – allows for exceptions in “special cases,” which remain entirely undefined.

That “special cases” clause was earlier interpreted by an official to mean in “for the sake of honor” – which presumably could include pregnancy following a rape – as long as the marriage has a court’s approval and the parents’ consent. Such a framework could ultimately erode legal protections – such as the right to consent – that girls have had for almost a century.

Despite these legal challenges, Bangladesh’s experience may offer hope. Notwithstanding the current child marriage concerns, Bangladesh has made important strides in improving the lives of girls and women during the last three decades. A generation ago, it was unusual for girls to attend primary school. Today, thanks to a broad political consensus on the value of female education, gender parity has largely been achieved in both primary and secondary schooling.

Even on the issue of child marriage, political developments have been encouraging. As two of us have noted elsewhere, at the July 2014 Girl Summit in London, the Bangladeshi government said it would aim to eradicate marriage by girls below the age of 15 by 2021. Targeting marriages with such young girls may be the right approach. Much work remains, and pressure to make good on these commitments is mounting. But there seems to be at least some will to act.

When it comes to persuading some of the Bangladeshi public, however, progress has stalled. Communities in South Asia often value girls less than boys because of limited opportunities to acquire skills and access salaried jobs. Early marriage is often considered the best option to secure a girl’s future. But the constraints placed on young women originate from the patriarchal norms that dominate the community and the household.

Conservative values that oppose giving adolescent girls and young women full control over their life choices are pervasive, because family “honor,” for them, is closely tied to the perceived “purity” of their daughters and brides. An unmarried adolescent girl’s reputation must be carefully protected, because its loss could damage her family’s social standing considerably. The government has often alluded to this line of reasoning to justify proposed reforms to the child marriage law. The “special cases” clause in CMRA 2017 could be an attempt to pre-empt “patriarchal resistance” or a backlash from religious extremists.

But the social cost of allowing exceptions may be too high. Bangladesh’s success in empowering girls and ending child marriage will hinge on strengthening the rule of law by closing existing loopholes. Crucially, such actions must be accompanied by sustained social campaigns and targeted educational programs that convince the public to support the goal, while empowering girls themselves.

As the UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Angélique Kidjo has said, “long-lasting, fundamental changes come from within communities, and they depend on engaging both mothers and fathers in finding solutions that make a difference in their daughters’ lives.” Some recent successful efforts to address child marriage do precisely that.

It is still possible for Bangladesh to meet the Sustainable Development Goal of eliminating child marriage by 2030. If the government leads, we are confident that the people of Bangladesh will eagerly follow.

Sajeda Amin is a senior associate at the Population Council in New York City. M Niaz Asadullah is Professor of Development Economics at the University of Malaya, in Kuala Lumpur, Research Fellow at the IZA Institute of Labor Economics, and Visiting Fellow at the Center on Skills, Knowledge, and Organization Performance (SKOPE), the University of Oxford. Sara Hossain is a lawyer at the Supreme Court of Bangladesh and an honorary executive director of the Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust. Zaki Wahhaj is a senior lecturer at the University of Kent.

By Sajeda Amin, M Niaz Asadullah, Sara Hossain, and Zaki Wahhaj

The Threat of Threats

PARIS – “Tell me what you fear and I will tell you what has happened to you,” the psychologist D.W. Winnicott wrote in the early twentieth century. It sounds straightforward, until one considers how much has happened – and how much there is to fear.


The sheer diversity of the threats facing the world today evokes the tragic farces of Luigi Pirandello. In the West, some focus on religious extremism – in particular, the terrorism supposedly being carried out in the name of Islam.

Others point to Russia, warning of a new cold war, already apparent in Eastern Europe and the cyber realm. Still others, highlighting the rise of virulent right-wing populism in the United States and parts of Europe, declare that the real danger lies within.

Even those who recognize all of these threats struggle to prioritize them – which is vital to addressing them. If, say, Islamist terrorism is the principal threat, then it might make sense for the West to align itself with Russia in the fight against it.

But what if right-wing populism, which the Kremlin actively supports, is the biggest menace? In that case, aligning with Russia could prove destructive for Western liberal democracy. In fact, exaggerating the threat of Islamist terrorism, while downplaying the threat of right-wing populism, could well play directly into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hands.

The struggle to prioritize threats is not exclusive to the West. In the Middle East, countries are trying to figure out who should be contained. Among the frontrunners are the Islamic State (ISIS), Iran, and Israel.

For Israel (and Saudi Arabia), the answer is clearly Iran. For Iran, the answer is Israel (despite high tensions with Saudi Arabia). The West, too, has opinions on the matter: the European Union is convinced that ISIS should be the top priority. A few months ago, the US might have agreed, but President Donald Trump, despite citing the eradication of ISIS as a major policy goal, may also be prepared to fight in Israel’s corner to contain Iran.

In Asia, too, countries are finding it difficult to sort the dangers they face. Should they focus on a North Korean regime that is as volatile as ever, and that recently launched a ballistic missile toward the sea off its eastern coast? Or should they be keeping their eyes on China, which has gradually expanded both its regional influence and its revanchist claims?

For Japan and South Korea, North Korea seems to be the top priority. But for Vietnam, Indonesia, and Singapore, it is difficult to discern whether North Korea actually poses a greater threat than the giant and increasingly nationalistic China. This is to say nothing of other acute risks, such as strains between two local nuclear powers, Pakistan and India.

When it comes to prioritizing today’s threats, there are no easy answers. But unless we find them, we risk repeating some of history’s great mistakes.

The French philosopher Paul Valéry believed that history teaches nothing, “for it contains everything and furnishes examples of everything.” But, at this point, it is difficult not to make historical comparisons, particularly in Europe.

In the late nineteenth century, surging nationalism underpinned an era of revolutions and civil wars. In the 1930s, the rise of populism in Europe opened the way for disaster. Many Europeans, so fearful of the “reds,” were prepared to compromise with the “browns.” It didn’t take long to find out the true threat the Nazis posed.

The lesson is clear. Rather that attempting to prioritize the threats we face – compromising on one goal to advance another – we must tackle them all at once. As the assassinated prime minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin, used to say, we should “fight terrorism as if there is no peace process, and pursue peace as if there is no terrorism.”

The battle against Islamist terrorism is important, but it should not overshadow – much less undermine – the imperative to protect our democracies from the threat of right-wing populism. To accept, for example, the victory of the National Front’s Marine Le Pen in France’s presidential election, arguing that it is at least better than allowing radical Islamism to proliferate further, is to ignore the lessons of history – and, indeed, to ignore reality.

ISIS may be born of a culture of humiliation and driven by a spirit of revenge, as was Nazism, but it does not possess anything like the industrial and military resources of Germany in the 1930s. ISIS is not the “modern Nazism” we should fear; it is the terrorism that, in the spirit of Rabin, we should fight.

The peace we should pursue, meanwhile, is within our own countries. To allow right-wing populism to continue to advance is to succumb to fear, rather than behaving according to a clear-headed analysis of our interests and, above all, our values. It is to compromise with the brown shirts for fear of the reds.

There was a time, not so long ago, when the EU – a model of reconciliation, peace, and prosperity – inspired countries from Latin America to Asia. Today, Europe, along with the once venerated US, is a model of fear – and it is scaring others. If Europeans cannot develop – with lucidity, firmness, and dedication – enlightened solutions to the threats they face, who can? Dominique Moisi is Senior Counselor at the Institut Montaigne in Paris.

By Dominique Moisi

The Three Trumps

NEW YORK – Never in recent history has a change of leadership attracted as much attention and speculation as Donald Trump’s rise to the US presidency. What this change signifies and what it portends requires unraveling three mysteries, because there are three versions of Trump.


The first Trump is the friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump’s enthusiasm for Putin is the most consistent part of his rhetoric. Despite a worldview that regards the United States as a victim of foreign powers – China, Mexico, Iran, the European Union – Trump’s ardor for Putin burns bright.

Depending on who is opining, Trump is either a naive admirer of strongmen like Putin or a long-time tool of Russian intelligence. There is almost surely a backstory here, one that could destroy Trump’s administration if some of the lurid rumors are confirmed. We now know that some key dates and details in the infamous “dossier” on Trump’s relations with Putin, assembled by a former British intelligence officer, have been verified.

A growing body of circumstantial evidence suggests that Trump has been backed by Russian money for decades. Russian oligarchs may have saved Trump from personal bankruptcy, and one reportedly traveled to a number of Trump’s campaign stops, perhaps acting as a go-between with the Kremlin. And many top members of Trump’s team – including his first campaign manager, Paul Manafort; recently-ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn; former ExxonMobil CEO and now Secretary of State Rex Tillerson; and hedge-fund magnate and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross – all have significant business dealings with Russia or Russian oligarchs.

The second version of Trump is a greedy businessman. Trump seems intent on transforming the presidency into another source of personal wealth. For most people, the presidency would seem to be its own reward, without cashing in (at least not while in office). Not for Trump. Contrary to all previous norms, and in violation of the standards set by the Office of Government Ethics, Trump is keeping his business empire, while family members maneuver to monetize the Trump name in new investments around the world.

The third Trump is a populist and demagogue. Trump is a non-stop font of lies, who brushes aside the inevitable corrections by the media with the charge of “fake news.” For the first time in modern American history, the president is aggressively demonizing the press. This past week, the White House barred the New York Times, CNN, Politico, and the Los Angeles Times from a news briefing by the press secretary.

On some interpretations, Trump’s demagogy is in the service of his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, who defends a dark vision of a coming war of civilizations. By raising fear to the highest possible level, Trump aims to create a violent America-first nationalism. Hermann Göring chillingly explained the formula from his Nuremberg jail cell after World War II: “[T]he people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

Another theory is that all three Trumps – friend of Putin, wealth maximizer, and demagogue – are really one: Trump the businessman has long been supported by the Russians, who have used him for years as a front for laundered money. One might say they won the jackpot, parlaying a small bet – on manipulating the outcome of an election they most likely never expected him to win – into a huge payoff. On this interpretation, Trump’s attacks on the press, the intelligence agencies, and the FBI specifically aim to discredit these organizations in advance of further revelations regarding the Trump-Russia dealings.

Those of us who lived through Watergate remember how difficult it was to hold Richard Nixon to account. Without the revelation of secret White House tapes, Nixon almost surely would have escaped impeachment and served out his term. The same was true with Flynn, who lied time and again to the public, and to Vice President Michael Pence, about his communications with the Russian ambassador before he assumed his post. Yet, like Nixon, he was tripped up only because his lies were recorded, in this case by the US intelligence agencies.

When Flynn’s lies were exposed, Trump’s reaction, characteristically, was to attack the leak, not the lies. The main lesson of Washington, and indeed of strongman politics in general, is that lying is the first, not last, resort.

If Congress has enough honest members, a majority, knowing that Republicans will not police Republicans, will demand an independent investigation of Trump’s Russia ties. Republican Senator Rand Paul was explicit on this point, declaring that it “makes no sense” for Republicans to investigate Republicans. Trump seems intent on turning up the pressure on the FBI, the intelligence agencies, the courts, and the media to back off.

Demagogues survive because of public support, which they try to maintain through appeals to greed, nationalism, patriotism, racism, and fear. They shower their supporters with short-lived cash, in the form of tax cuts and income transfers, paid for by running up the public debt and leaving the bill to future generations. Trump has so far kept America’s plutocrats happy, through promises of unaffordable tax cuts, while mesmerizing his white working-class followers with executive orders to deport illegal immigrants and bar arrivals from Muslim-majority countries.

None of this has made Trump very popular. His approval ratings are historically low for a new president, around 40%, with roughly 55% of respondents disapproving. Judicial challenges to executive actions, fights with the media, tensions stemming from rising budget deficits, and new revelations regarding Trump and Russia, will keep the pot boiling – and Trump’s public support could evaporate.

In that case, Republican leaders are more likely to turn on Trump. But no one should ever underestimate a demagogue’s willingness to use fear and violence – even war – to maintain power. And if Putin is indeed his backer and partner, Trump’s temptations will be strong.

Jeffrey D. Sachs, Professor of Sustainable Development and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University, is Director of Columbia’s Center for Sustainable Development and the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. By Jeffrey D. Sachs

Checks and Balances Before Roads and Bridges

WASHINGTON, DC – In the 2016 American presidential election, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump agreed that the US economy is suffering from dilapidated infrastructure, and both called for greater investment in renovating and upgrading the country’s public capital stock. Now that the Trump administration is preparing its first budget outline, its initiatives in this area will be a central focus of attention.


The United States is not alone. In fact, infrastructure gaps are an even more urgent problem in the rest of the world. Other advanced economies also need to revive moribund investment, and emerging economies need to prepare for population growth, increased consumption, and higher demand for transportation spending.

Initiatives adopted in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis are beginning to promote infrastructure investment. In the European Union, the Juncker Plan – which draws on EU funds to help finance riskier and more innovative projects – aims to generate more than $300 billion in investment between 2016 and 2018.

And there is an even greater push for infrastructure investment in emerging economies – especially China, which is pursuing projects both at home and abroad. In recent years, China has set up domestically funded institutions such as the Silk Road Fund and spurred the establishment of new international financial institutions such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

When done well, infrastructure investment can revive flagging economies and pay for itself, by galvanizing private-sector activity and fostering economic growth. But when done poorly, public infrastructure spending can lead to corruption and waste, with taxpayers footing the bill for “bridges to nowhere.” Properly executed infrastructure investment entails more than just financing; it also requires that all the myriad details of a project’s selection, design, and implementation be closely managed.

And here, the keys to success are not just professional skill and technocratic expertise. They are also transparency and a free press. Citizens should have accurate facts about a project, so that they can monitor its progress and pressure policymakers to protect the public interest.

In a new book, Tomas Hellebrandt and I project that consumer spending on transportation will quadruple by 2035 in Sub-Saharan Africa, India, China, and other emerging Asian countries.

People who earn $200 per year spend only 1% of their income on transportation, compared to 18% for people earning $20,000. In the next two decades, the number of people earning $6,000-$20,000 will increase by more than one billion, and many of them will purchase their first car. Meanwhile, the number of people with annual incomes of $20,000 and above will increase by almost 800 million, and many of them will begin to fly for leisure.

Transportation networks in emerging economies will have to expand vastly to keep up with this growing demand. And while advanced economies already have extensive transportation infrastructure and stable populations, their networks urgently need renovation and repair.

Emerging countries will be able to muster sufficient financing for infrastructure only if they expand the role of the private sector; pension funds and life insurance companies, in particular, could furnish vast resources. But to capitalize on this opportunity, prudential requirements for such investors must be loosened, so that they can hold diversified portfolios of infrastructure projects. And co-investment platforms with multilateral and regional development banks should be established, to boost the credibility of these investments.

To attract private investors, governments will need to maintain a stable regulatory environment that is free from arbitrary interference. At the same time, they will have to monitor and disclose fiscal obligations from projects that involve private participation, such as what Chile now does routinely. This will help to prevent government guarantees for public-private partnerships from imposing budgetary costs equivalent to one or more points of GDP, as has happened in Colombia, Indonesia, and Portugal.

Governments will need to foster a culture of transparency to ensure that financing is put to productive use – rather than illicitly syphoned off or directed to low-value-added projects for political purposes. Tenders and key contract features should be routinely published, and good record keeping and quality control must be maintained throughout the procurement process and contract performance.

To deter fraud, governments should reward whistleblowers, and protect them from retaliation. Many of the emerging countries where investment is most needed must urgently reform their institutional framework for selecting and implementing infrastructure projects. But corruption afflicts all countries to some extent, so advanced countries also need to protect infrastructure projects from undue private influence and arbitrary official interference.

Successfully boosting infrastructure investment in emerging economies is in everybody’s interest. And with emerging economies now at the forefront of the fight against climate change, the world will benefit even more if investments in these countries are steered toward green-infrastructure projects. Building new metro-railway networks, instead of roads, would help to reduce carbon dioxide emissions for decades to come.

Advanced countries can help in this effort by supporting green-technology research and development, and by providing financial incentives for climate-friendly infrastructure investment through export credit agencies and multilateral and regional development banks. With an open and transparent international procurement system, the most efficient technologies would then come out on top.

Infrastructure investment holds much promise, but to reap its benefits, policymakers in emerging economies will need to strengthen their institutional frameworks for procurement sooner rather than later. And policymakers in advanced economies should preserve and apply well-known checks and balances, to keep the project-selection playing field level, and to permit monitoring implementation from start to finish.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of the IMF, its Executive Board, or IMF Management.

Paolo Mauro, Assistant Director in the African Department at the International Monetary Fund, coauthored World on the Move: Consumption Patterns in a More Equal Global Economy with Tomas Hellebrandt while a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute of International Economics.

By Paolo Mauro

Free Speech and Fake News

PRINCETON – About a week before the United States presidential election last November, someone posted on Twitter that Hillary Clinton was at the center of a pedophilia ring. The rumor spread through social media, and a right-wing talk show host named Alex Jones repeatedly stated that she was involved in child abuse and that her campaign chairman, John Podesta, took part in satanic rituals. In a YouTube video (since removed), Jones referred to “all the children Hillary Clinton has personally murdered and chopped up and raped.” The video, posted four days before the election, was watched more than 400,000 times.


Emails released by WikiLeaks showed that Podesta sometimes dined at a Washington, DC, pizza restaurant called Comet Ping Pong. Apparently for that reason the child-sex-ring accusations focused on the pizza restaurant and used the hashtag #pizzagate. The allegations were frequently retweeted by bots – programs designed to spread certain types of messages – contributing to the impression that many people were taking “Pizzagate” seriously. The story, amazingly, was also retweeted by General Michael Flynn, who is soon to be President-elect Donald Trump’s national security adviser.

Even after Trump’s election – and despite debunking by the New York Times and the Washington Post – the story continued to spread. Comet Ping Pong was harassed by constant, abusive, and often threatening phone calls. When the manager approached the DC police, he was told the rumors were constitutionally protected speech.

Edgar Welch, a Christian who has Bible verses tattooed on his back, was one of Jones’s listeners. On December 4, he drove 350 miles from his home in North Carolina to Comet Ping Pong, armed with an assault rifle, a revolver, and a knife. He allowed guests and staff to leave while he searched for enslaved children supposedly hidden in tunnels. He fired his rifle at least once, to open a locked door. After finding no children, he surrendered to police.

Fake news – “active misinformation” that is packaged to look as if it comes from a serious news site – is a threat to democratic institutions. There have been less absurd examples, including a fake report of a nuclear threat by Israel’s defense minister that misled his Pakistani counterpart into retweeting the report and warning Israel that Pakistan, too, is a nuclear power.

President Barack Obama acknowledged the danger to democratic freedoms when speaking to the press in Germany shortly after the US election. Whether or not fake news cost Clinton the presidency, it plainly could cause a candidate to lose an election and upset international relations. It is also contrary to one of the fundamental premises on which democracy rests: that voters can make informed choices between contending candidates.

The First Amendment to the US Constitution states that. “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” By 1919, the Supreme Court’s interpretation of those words had led to the doctrine that Congress could prohibit speech only if it posed “a clear and present danger” of serious harm.

That position was further refined in what is perhaps the greatest defense of freedom of speech by an American judge: Louis Brandeis’s concurring opinion in the 1927 case of Whitney v. California. Brandeis described freedom of speech and assembly as “functions essential to effective democracy.” He appealed to “courageous, self-reliant men, with confidence in the power of free and fearless reasoning applied through the processes of popular government.” On that basis, for speech to pose a clear and present danger that could justify prohibiting it, the harm the speech would cause must be so imminent that it could preclude any opportunity to discuss fully what had been said. If, Brandeis insisted, there is “time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

Today, it is difficult to have so much confidence in the power of “free and fearless reasoning,” especially if it is supposed to be “applied through the processes of popular government” – which presumably requires that it influence elections. Similarly, Brandeis’s belief that “more speech, not enforced silence” is the remedy for “falsehood and fallacies” looks naïve, especially if applied in an election campaign.

What, though, is the alternative? What Jones said about Clinton is surely defamation, and she could bring a civil suit against him; but that would be costly and time-consuming, most likely taking years to move through the courts. In any case, civil defamation lawsuits are effective only against those who have the assets to pay whatever damages are awarded.

What about criminal libel? In the United Kingdom, “defamatory libel” was for many centuries a criminal offense, but it fell into disuse and was abolished in 2010. In the US, criminal libel is not a federal offense. It continues to be a crime in some states, but few cases are brought.

A report in 2015 by A. Jay Wagner and Anthony L. Fargo for the International Press Institute describes many of the recent cases as “petty” and regards the civil libel law as a better recourse for “personal grievances.” The report concludes that criminal libel has become “redundant and unnecessary.”

Recent examples of fake news suggest that Wagner and Fargo’s conclusion was premature. To accuse, during an election campaign, a US presidential candidate of personally murdering children is not petty, and civil libel law provides no adequate remedy. In the Internet age, is it time for the legal pendulum to swing back toward the offense of criminal libel?

Peter Singer is Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University and Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne. His books include Animal Liberation, The Life You Can Save, The Most Good You Can Do, and, most recently, Ethics in the Real World.

By Peter Singer

Water as a Force for Peace

MUMBAI – The changing of the guard on the 38th floor of the United Nations building in New York, with António Guterres taking over for Ban Ki-moon as UN Secretary-General, has taken place at a time when notions about peace and conflict are undergoing a subtle change. In particular, the role of resources – and especially water – is getting the recognition it deserves.


This has been a long time coming. Both Ban and his predecessor, Kofi Annan, have argued for some two decades that protecting and sharing natural resources, particularly water, is critical to peace and security. But it was not until last November that the issue gained widespread acknowledgement, with Senegal – that month’s UN Security Council president – holding the UN’s first-ever official debate on water, peace, and security.

Open to all UN member states, the debate brought together representatives of 69 governments, which together called for water to be transformed from a potential source of crisis into an instrument of peace and cooperation. A few weeks later, Guterres appointed Amina Mohammed, a former Nigerian environment minister, as his deputy secretary-general.

The growing recognition of water’s strategic relevance reflects global developments. In the last three years, the Islamic State (ISIS) captured the Tabqa, Tishrin, Mosul, and Fallujah dams on the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. ISIS subsequently lost control of all of them, but not before using them to flood or starve downstream populations, to pressure them to surrender.

Many analysts hope that ISIS will finally be eliminated from Iraq and Syria in the next few months. But that does not mean that the group will disband; on the contrary, it may well relocate to the border areas between Libya and Chad, putting West African cities and water installations at risk.

This tactic is not exclusive to ISIS. Extremist groups in South Asia have also threatened to attack water infrastructure. And of course state actors, too, can use water resources to gain a strategic advantage.

The importance of water in the twenty-first century – comparable to that of oil in the twentieth – can hardly be overstated. Yet some strategic experts continue to underestimate it. The reality is that oil has alternatives like natural gas, wind, solar, and nuclear energy. By contrast, for industry and agriculture as much as for drinking and sanitation, the only alternative to water, as former Slovenian President Danilo Türk once put it, is water.

The same is true for trade. Consider the Rio Chagres. While it may not be widely known, it is vitally important, as it feeds the Panama Canal, through which 50% of trade between Asia and the Americas flows. There is no risk of the natural depletion of the river flow for the next hundred years, but, in the event of a security crisis in Central America, it could be taken over by rogue forces. The impact on the global economy would be enormous.

The consensus on the need to protect water resources and installations in conflict zones is clear. What is less clear is how to do it. Unlike medicines and food packets, water cannot be airdropped into conflict zones. And UN Peacekeeping Forces are badly overstretched.

The International Committee of the Red Cross does negotiate safe passage for technicians to inspect and repair damage to water pipes and storage systems in Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine; but each passage needs to be negotiated with governments in conflict and rebel commanders – a long and cumbersome process. A better approach would be for great powers, with their considerable influence, to negotiate short-term ceasefires in areas experiencing protracted conflict, specifically to repair and restore water systems.

To pave the way for such an approach, however, the UN Security Council will have to declare water a “strategic resource of humanity” and adopt a resolution to protect water resources and installations, similar to Resolution 2286, adopted last May to protect medical facilities in armed conflicts.

In the longer term, countries that share riparian systems will need to establish regional security arrangements to preserve and protect their resources. With collaborative management underpinning collective protection, water, often a source of competition and conflict, could become a facilitator of peace and cooperation.

Denis Sassou-Nguesso, President of the Republic of the Congo, is at the forefront of this movement, by leading a group of eight governments toward the establishment of the Blue Fund for the Congo Basin. If successful, the Fund will help to mitigate climate change, create new avenues of river-based employment, and promote collective security in an unstable region. The Africa Action Summit in Marrakesh two months ago described the Fund as one of the four key ideas that can transform the continent.

Last March, on World Water Day, Jordan’s Prince Hassan bin Talal and I called for the establishment of a Marshall Fund for the world’s shared river basins. The Blue Fund for the Congo Basin is a step in that direction. Now, we need similar funds to emerge to protect all of the world’s 263 shared river basins and lakes. It is a huge challenge; but, given the power of water to sow conflict and support peace, we must confront it head-on.

Sundeep Waslekar is President of Strategic Foresight Group.

Africa’s Unique Vulnerability to Violent Extremism

ADDIS ABABA – Africa bears the brunt of lives lost, economies ruined, and relationships fractured by terrorism. It is the continent where al-Qaeda launched its war against the United States in 1998, by bombing the US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; where Boko Haram kidnapped 276 Nigerian schoolgirls in 2014; and where 147 students were killed in their sleep at Kenya’s Garissa University in 2015.


While these attacks did garner the world’s attention, most people do not realize that, in the past five years alone, 33,000 people have died in terrorism-related violence in Africa. Violent extremism and groups espousing it are threatening to reverse Africa’s development gains not only in the near term, but also for decades to come.

African countries are particularly vulnerable to violent ideologues, owing to the prevalence of weak institutions and ungoverned territory where extremist groups can germinate. Add to this the mismanagement of ethnic and religious diversity, stir in a large and growing cohort of unemployed and digitally connected youth, and the continent offers ideal conditions for mayhem.

Emulating countries elsewhere, African governments have responded to violent extremism primarily by putting “hard” security first. But this strategy has not reduced extremist groups’ potency or limited their reach. In fact, there is evidence that an exclusively military response can be a waste of resources, or even do more harm than good. What is missing is a deeper examination of root causes, particularly underlying development challenges.

Some people claim that the connection between socioeconomic conditions and violent extremism is specious, because most poor and marginalized communities do not join terrorist groups. But this argument fails to address the relevant issue: poverty, social marginalization, and political disenfranchisement are the fertilizers extremist groups need to take root and grow. Around the world, policies and operational responses to violent extremism are largely informed by theory, rather than drawing on thorough empirical evidence of the personal motivations and structural factors that drive people to commit terrorist acts.

I recently visited Galkayo, in North Somalia, to interview captured al-Shabaab fighters as part of an ongoing United Nations Development Programme study of the roots of African extremism. What struck me was that, apart from their being imprisoned, these young men seemed entirely normal, and their individual journeys toward extremism were not particularly informed by religion.

Rather, what united the young al-Shabaab militants I spoke to was a shared experience of deprivation. They had all grown up surrounded by conflict, and none of them had ever been given a good reason to view the government as a positive force in their lives. When I asked whether they went to public school, most could not even fathom the idea of free education or health care. These children and young adults are by-products of a failed state and society; they have spent their entire lives in an environment that is ripe for terrorist recruitment and exploitation.

Just as tuberculosis infects a body already compromised by HIV, extremism thrives under the right conditions, such as those created by the conflict in Somalia, or the political fragility and social neglect in northeastern Nigeria, where many interviewees cited scarce access to both religious and secular education.

The UNDP’s primary research into extremists’ personal motivations – based on more than 350 interviews with formerly active violent extremists in prisons and transitional centers in Cameroon, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, and Uganda – is the most extensive project of its kind in Africa, if not globally.

Our preliminary results suggest that the ideology behind violent extremism is delivered with a flexible marketing strategy, whereby extremist groups tailor their message for potential recruits. For the unemployed or the poor, they offer paid jobs; for marginalized ethnic and religious minorities, they offer recourse through violence; and for the middle class, they offer an adventure, a sense of “purpose,” and an escape from mundanity. The ideology mutates to exploit its intended recruit’s vulnerabilities.

Our research, which will be completed in early 2017, aims to shed light on individual journeys to extremism, through the words and perspectives of people who have been involved in terrorist organizations in Africa. It will also provide communities, other researchers, and policymakers with empirical evidence on which to base their future interventions. 

One thing we already know for certain is that poverty and underdevelopment can no longer be ignored if we are ever to combat violent extremism effectively. Addressing these issues, rather than just strengthening military and law-enforcement capacity, must be a high priority for any plausible strategy.

Mohamed Yahya is Africa Regional Program Coordinator for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

By Mohamed Yahya

The Fight for Ocean Health

NEW YORK – The ocean is changing – and not for the better. Well-established scientific evidence shows that it is becoming emptier, warmer, and more acidic, putting marine life under serious pressure. But there is good news: evidence also indicates that the ocean can regenerate, and the world has already agreed to enable that outcome.

The Sustainable Development Goal for the Ocean (SDG 14) was adopted by world leaders in September 2015 as part of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It includes vital targets, such as mitigating ocean acidification, securing habitat and species protections, reducing pollution substantially, and ending illegal fishing and subsidies that lead to overfishing.

Ultimately, SDG 14 promises to preserve the ocean and ensure its sustainable use in the future. But it can be realized only with bold and urgent action, buttressed by solidarity among governments, citizens, and business.

This week, governments and experts are gathering in New York to begin crafting a global “call for action” to implement SDG 14. The call, which will be launched in June, at the UN’s first-ever Ocean Conference, should include a firm commitment to protect at least 30% of the ocean by 2030, and ensure that the remaining 70% is sustainably managed. UN member states must also pledge to secure the extension of legal protections to high-seas biodiversity by closing the gaping governance loophole that exposes the ocean to plunder.

There is one more priority area that the call for action must address: climate change. In fact, a healthy ocean will be impossible to secure without also addressing this pressing global challenge. Achieving SDG 14 therefore demands that the international community reaffirm its commitment to the Paris climate agreement, and to announce concrete steps toward achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

To avoid more empty promises, all commitments must be backed up by a clear financing plan and subjected to regular accountability checks. Governments, the UN, and other actors should set a schedule for monitoring and check-ins, to keep delivery of the targets transparent, funded, and on schedule.

To support these efforts, we urge UN Secretary-General António Guterres to appoint a Special Representative for the Ocean, tasked with improving ocean governance and ensuring that the full potential of SDG 14 is realized. Such a representative must be given sufficient resources to do the job.

The ocean has suffered decades of abuse and neglect. It has been treated as a free-for-all garbage bin and race-to-the-bottom buffet. We have financed its destruction, with no regard for the consequences. But those consequences have become impossible to ignore. While we, as previous global ocean commissioners, had to campaign hard in 2014 for the ocean to have its own dedicated global goal, it is now hard to believe that the ocean’s position in the SDGs was ever in question. That is the sense that we should have in 2030, when the targets of SDG 14 are fully met.

The only way to get there is through concerted effort – and not just by the likes of ocean commissioners. People everywhere must stand up and demand real action to ensure the ocean’s regeneration. In short, the ocean must become everyone’s business.

To kick-start that process, we have joined the Ocean Unite network, which is galvanizing conservationists, business leaders, young people, and activists to take advantage of growing interest in these issues and create coalitions that can drive ocean health to the top of political and economic agendas worldwide.

Such efforts are already having an impact, with citizens mobilizing to defend the ocean and policymakers beginning to respond to their calls. Now, it is the business community’s turn to step up.

Business has a clear interest in reversing the decline in ocean health. The GDP derived from the ocean amounts to $2.5 trillion, or 5% of the world’s total GDP. That’s equivalent to the GDP of the world’s seventh-largest economy. The ocean is also the world’s biggest employer, directly supporting the livelihoods of more than three billion people, and is a source of food for over 2.6 billion. Restoring the ocean thus amounts to an unparalleled business opportunity.

But the ocean’s value goes far beyond economics. It provides half of the air we breathe, governs our weather, and helps to support peace and prosperity. The ocean’s future is the world’s future.

At a time when politics threatens to undermine cooperative action on the environment, fighting for our shared global environment is more important than ever. Our responsibility for the ocean’s health is as deep, fundamental, and permanent as our dependence on it. No political consideration can compete with that. Now is the time for all of us – citizens, business, and government – to unite and fight for our ocean.

José María Figueres, former President of Costa Rica, is Co-Chair of the Global Ocean Commission. Pascal Lamy, a former director-general of the World Trade Organization, is a Global Ocean Commissioner. John D. Podesta, Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton from 1998 to 2001, is the founder of the Center for American Progress.

The Anti-Science Seed Treaty

STANFORD – In September, the United States ratified the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, known as the International Seed Treaty. Like so many international agreements crafted under the auspices of the United Nations, it is severely flawed. Indeed, the Seed Treaty is a politically correct, anti-technology fiasco.


To be sure, the treaty, which entered into force in 2004, emanates from some laudable intentions. But it is ultimately a jumble of pie-in-the-sky aspirations, translated into draconian legal constraints on the exchange of genetic resources (mainly seeds) among countries. The unreality of the treaty’s goals comes through in the official statement of its objectives: “the conservation and sustainable use of all plant genetic resources for food and agriculture and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of their use, in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity, for sustainable agriculture and food security.”

The guiding principle of the Seed Treaty is that genetic resources fall within the “sovereign right” of member states (that is, governments). This amounts to an explicit rejection of the long-standing understanding that genetic resources in plants and animals are the “common heritage of humanity.” It defies the notion that certain global resources, regarded as beneficial to all, should not be unilaterally exploited and monopolized by individuals, states, corporations, or other entities, but rather should be managed in ways that benefit all of humanity.

The Seed Treaty was motivated by fear of “biopiracy” – the pilfering of the world’s genetic resources by agricultural seed companies, which could then claim patents on them and wield monopoly control. But, though accusations of biopiracy may have emotional appeal, impartial analyses have shown that they have little factual basis. In fact, biopiracy is rare – so rare that it can be dealt with directly.

Instead, the world created a baroque, bureaucratic, politicized system that systematically inhibits scientific research, plant breeding, and the creation of intellectual property. The Seed Treaty achieves this by establishing a multilateral system for access to a negotiated list of agricultural genetic resources.

The Seed Treaty also brought under the control of its parties and secretariat the 15 research institutions that comprise the Consultative Group of International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), an influential global research partnership. When a country ratifies the Seed Treaty, it agrees that its own seed banks – in the US, the repository at Fort Collins, Colorado – will adhere to the same rules as the CGIAR centers.

But common rules are little help. Unfortunately, as a result of the Seed Treaty, countries increasingly treat their genetic resources like a dog treats a bone: no sharing allowed, even among their own scientists and plant breeders, while most international exchanges of genetic resources have been shut down over the last 12 years. The CGIAR centers have been able to continue exchanges of genetic resources, but the process is now much more complicated and demanding that it was before the Seed Treaty came into force.

For the US, the precise impact of the Seed Treaty’s implementation is difficult to determine, not least because the treaty contains wishy-washy, ambiguous phrasing that obscures its meaning and requirements. What is clear is that the experience of countries that have implemented the treaty has not been particularly positive, unless those countries have a high tolerance for bureaucratic regulatory regimes that stifle innovation and development in the name of lofty aspirations.

The Seed Treaty is cut from the same anti-capitalist, anti-science, anti-innovation cloth as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). It also mirrors the flagrantly unscientific, anti-genetic-engineering Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the CBD. And it has much in common with the Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress to the Cartagena Protocol – yet another anti-genetic-engineering screed, which accomplishes little except to frighten potential entrepreneurs away from agricultural biotechnology. It is overwrought, confusing, and complex – in short, inimical to innovations that could benefit the world’s poor.

The Seed Treaty runs counter to science, agricultural development, and intellectual property rights. That, in the policymaking game, is three strikes – and should be an out. The US Senate, which ratified the Seed Treaty, should reconsider, as Article 32 of the treaty allows. Thereafter, the US State Department would notify the treaty’s secretariat, with official withdrawal taking effect a year later.

President-elect Donald Trump, author of The Art of the Deal, has promised Americans that he will put an end to bad ones. Withdrawal from the Seed Treaty would be an auspicious start to making good on that pledge.

Henry I. Miller, a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, was the founding director of the Office of Biotechnology at the United States Food and Drug Administration. Drew L. Kershen is an emeritus professor at the University of Oklahoma College of Law.

Trump’s Extreme Oligarchy

WASHINGTON, DC – US President-elect Donald Trump is filling his cabinet with rich people. According to the latest count, his nominees include five billionaires and six multimillionaires. This is what is known as oligarchy: direct control of the state by people with substantial private economic power. Given that the Republicans also control both houses of Congress – and will soon make many judicial appointments – there is virtually no effective constraint on the executive branch.

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