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Protests in China and the Death of Jiang Zemin

5. Dezember 2022 - 4:00

Rare protests broke out across several cities in China in recent weeks. Demonstrators took to the streets to protest the government’s extreme Zero Covid policy, which imposes harsh lockdowns in an effort to stamp out the virus. In some cases, the protests took aim at the government itself, calling for Xi Jinping to step down.

Protests of this kind are extremely rare, so this movement understandably caught the attention of the world. It also apparently caught the attention of the government which has since signaled an easing of its quarantine policies.

In this episode, we speak with Kaiser Kuo, host of The Sinica Podcast, from The China Project. We spoke just hours after it was announced that former president Jiang Zemin had passed away at the age of 96. We discuss Jiang Zemin’s legacy on China today and how his death may serve as a catalyst for further protest in China. We then have an extended conversation about the rationale of Xi Jinping’s Zero Covid policy, and what may come next for this policy and the protest movement.

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Transcript lightly edited for clarity 

Who was Jiang Zemin? 

Kaiser Kuo [00:00:00] The lockdowns themselves in this particular building, in this particular area, really contributed to the inability of firefighters to get the fire under control and to save people from dying.

Excerpted News Reports [00:01:04] “The protests were triggered by a deadly fire Thursday at an apartment building in Urumqi, the capital of the far western province, Xinjiang.” “A lot of the folks as well, you can see they’re holding these white pieces of paper. This is a symbol of anti-censorship.” “We don’t want any coronavirus test, this woman says. We want freedom. We have human dignity. We are human, says this man. We are Chinese. We need constitutionality.”

Kaiser Kuo [00:04:01] Jiang was picked as the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party after the removal of a guy named Zhao Ziyang. Zhao had been the general secretary during the Tiananmen protests of 1989 and was removed from power during that process and spent the rest of his life in house arrest. So, Jiang was handpicked by Deng Xiaoping, who was then the paramount leader, and he really took China into a very different era, the whole post Tiananmen era, where you saw China really boom economically. So, he was in charge of things for a full decade, all the way up until 2003 when he passed the baton to Hu Jintao.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:04:45] And this includes milestones like China entering the World Trade Organization, right?

Kaiser Kuo [00:04:50] So, yeah, I mean, you know, he was certainly involved in architecting the formal accession to the WTO, but it didn’t happen until 2001. But yeah, absolutely, that was one of the major milestones. He also oversaw some difficulties between China and the United States, like the downing of the EP3 plane in 2001, like the Taiwan Straits crisis in 1995 and 1996.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:05:15] And the U.S. bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade as well.

Kaiser Kuo [00:05:18] That’s right.

Was Jiang Zemin a popular political figure?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:05:20] How is Jiang Zemin perceived popularly within China today?

Kaiser Kuo [00:05:25] Well, it’s tough. I mean, on the one extreme, there are people who actually have a positive personality cult around him. They kind of semi tongue in cheek worship, the great toad, the toad king. He has a kind of well, let’s face it, a kind of frog like or toad like appearance, you know but less ironically, I think a lot of people credit him for having really saved the Chinese Communist Party. He has this signature piece of theory called The Three Represents and most people can’t recite to you what these three represents actually are you know, they’re things like the party represents the most advanced forces of production, the party represents the most advanced cultural forces, and the party represents the overall blah blah of, you know, the Chinese people, right? So, nobody will sort of quote that to you chapter and verse but what it really means is that he brought the intellectuals and entrepreneurs into the party, and he did this in a way that really ended up saving the Chinese Communist Party. Let me put it this way. Prior to this idea, there was very little representation by leading entrepreneurs or by real intellectuals, and the party was still heavily technocratic already, but the rank-and-file party members tended to be quite low class. I remember my father used to tell me a really interesting anecdote about a company in China’s Silicon Valley in the Northwestern part and it was a company that employed, you know, 2700 people or something like that. But the only party members were a cook and a driver. So, the idea was that, you know, he wanted to bring what he would call the most advanced forces of production — that is serious engineers and scientists and people like that into the party. Jiang himself was a real technocrat. He had actually been the minister of the Ministry of Electronics, which no longer exists but at that time he was in the early 1980s.

Could Jiang Zemin’s death stoke further protests in China?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:07:30] So the death of Jiang Zemin at this particular moment of protest in China may potentially harken back to the death in April 1989 of former party leader Hu Yaobang. He was an outspoken reformer, and his death was the spark that led to the Tiananmen Square demonstrations that year. Is there something meaningful in that comparison? And to what extent might party leadership today be worried that Jiang’s death may add fuel to these ongoing protests?

Kaiser Kuo [00:08:02] Well, they’re certainly worried, and there’s certainly people who are already going immediately for that comparison. There were calls earlier for a candlelight vigil in Shanghai in remembrance of Jiang, and Shanghai was where you had sort of the most vociferous slogans being chanted. Shanghai had, of course, really suffered badly in the spring and early summer during their lockdowns. So, there’s a lot of public anger and as far as, you know, the actual comparison between the two, Jiang was a very, very complicated guy Hu Yaobang was, too but, you know, Hu had been ridiculed prior to his death, but immediately after he died, that all dried up and went away and people sort of only remember him as sort of this martyr to reform. He had been removed as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party after he failed to crack down hard enough on an earlier round of student protests that happened in 1986 and 1987. So, he was removed in 1987 as general secretary, but he kept his seat on the Politburo Standing Committee. So that meant that after his death, they were obliged to organize a formal state funeral for him. And that gave a bit of time for people to be able to ostensibly mourn his passing, you know, an act of patriotism but it was very clearly just a fig leaf for quite critical demonstration. They’re afraid of the same thing happening right now but this time they’ve seen this play run before, so they sort of know how it goes and they’re not going to allow that kind of thing to happen, to have Jiang’s death be a signal for this now. It’s interesting that they seemed to have announced it immediately after it happened. There are other times where, in sensitive moments where they fear something like this, they might have kept it under wraps for a little while before letting out the news. Funnily enough, it was just maybe ten days ago that there was another round of pretty serious rumors that Jiang had passed, and we all kind of laughed that off but now this time for real.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:10:02] So you’re saying that authorities are certainly prepared for protesters to potentially use the death of Jiang Zemin as a pretext for demonstrations that, while ostensibly would be mourning the death of Jiang Zemin, would really be a way to get people protesting lockdowns out on the street.

Kaiser Kuo [00:10:25] Yeah. Yeah, that’s exactly right. Now, nobody really thinks of Jiang as sort of an archetype of liberal reformer. Now, he did oversee a lot of really important reforms, but they were mostly in the realm of market liberalization. He broke a lot of the eggs that needed breaking to make the modern Chinese economic omelet. He and his especially his Premier, Zhu Rongji, they oversaw a period where a lot of inefficient, state-owned enterprises were allowed to fail or were obliged to let go a large number of workers. He was sort of the time of the smashing of the iron rice bowl. He did a lot of things that were popular, like, you know, pushing the People’s Liberation Army out of the business world. You know, the PLA used to own a lot of businesses. And, you know, he sort of put an end to that. But he’s not regarded as some icon of political liberalization, although, I mean, maybe he deserves to be in some regards because he did do a lot to advance intraparty democratization and things like village elections, local elections.

What happened in the Urumqi, China fire?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:11:37] I’d love to have you go back and trace the source of this current protest movement. I take it it’s sort of the spark of this current protest movement was a fire in authorities handling a fire in Urumqi. Can you explain that incident and how that has led to protests throughout much of China today?

Kaiser Kuo [00:12:04] Sure. I think we need to go back a little bit further than that, just a little bit of context. You know, fires happen and sometimes they have people really, really angry but this particular fire happened in sort of a context of really, really severe lockdowns in many Chinese cities. And of course, there is the allegation, and I think pretty strong evidence to suggest that is indeed the case, that the lockdowns themselves in this particular building, in this particular area, really contributed to the inability of firefighters to get the fire under control and to save people from dying. Ten people at least died in that conflagration. But three years ago, when it broke out, China cracked down on the virus really severely. And it was, you know, feeling a little triumphalist by April or May of last year. There were a lot of photos circulating and being circulated deliberately by Chinese propaganda authorities to show, hey, look, we’ve got this thing quashed now. Zero COVID has worked. We’re throwing gigantic pool parties now. No one has to wear masks indoors. We’ve got rock festivals. You know, the bars are open; they’re going to restaurants. But when Delta and Omicron, especially the Omicron variant, hit China, although the outbreaks are really, really small, even right now, the current very large outbreaks by U.S. or other, you know, Western countries standards are very, very small. But the potential for it is huge. So, they’ve cracked down. They’ve, you know, instituted very, very strict lockdowns in many, many cities.

What is China’s Zero-Covid policy?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:13:37] Can I ask, what do these lockdowns look like by those who are experiencing them?

Kaiser Kuo [00:13:44] So what happens typically in, you know, a typical Chinese city is there will be a positive case. Sometimes that’s external transmission. Somebody came back and somehow, after many days in quarantine, they didn’t have symptoms or they didn’t, you know, show positive. And then there’s a transmission or sometimes it’s a false positive. So, what happens is they will lock down either a building itself or sometimes an entire compound. Often, apartment buildings are part of big blocks of, you know, multiple buildings. And so, they’ll lock down that whole neighborhood or adjoining buildings or adjacent buildings or even buildings just, you know, a block away. And they will, you know, in some severe cases, put chains on doors or actually weld gates shuts or limit the number of egress or entry points to a compound or to a building. They try their level best, I suppose. I mean, we can take this on good faith that they ensure that people are delivered food and other necessities, but no one comes in and out of the buildings except with special permissions.

Why are there protests in China right now?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:14:52] So if this has been more or less the standard procedure for many, many months now, why is it that protests have suddenly erupted?

Kaiser Kuo [00:15:04] Well, two things. One, that you mentioned, the Urumqi fire is certainly one of them, but the other is the Foxconn demonstrations in Changzhou in Hunan, where there’s an enormous Foxconn plant that employs hundreds of thousands of people.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:15:18] And this is a company known mostly for making iPhones.

Kaiser Kuo [00:15:23] I mean, they’re a contract electronics manufacturer, the biggest in the world. They’re actually a Taiwanese owned company, and they do, yeah, most famously, Apple products. They’re an extraordinarily sophisticated operation, obviously, and their Changzhou operation, Hunan is the central Chinese province in sort of north central China, a huge city, huge population, and population in that province the size of Germany. It’s only the size of the state of Missouri so it’s quite small. My ancestral province, in fact.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:15:52] Mine is Ukraine.

Kaiser Kuo [00:15:55] Yours, I’m sure, was Ukraine at one point, Lithuania, maybe Poland.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:15:59] Bessarabia, it was called.

Kaiser Kuo [00:16:01] Bessarabia. Yeah, you know, that’s kind of standard Ashkenazi history, right?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:16:05] Precisely.

Kaiser Kuo [00:16:07] So this was really widely publicized where because lockdowns had been announced, a lot of workers panicked because there were some cases there and either they wanted to escape lockdown, or they wanted to avoid infection. It was different when you talk to different, you know, workers who fled, but they got out and they walked, you know, in some cases, many dozens or even hundreds of miles or they set out to walk those distances to get home. And so, there’s a lot of really, you know, fascinating footage of people just pushing their way past guards, walking down these freeways. It’s kind of nuts. So, there was a lot of sort of solidarity with them. The Urumqi Fire: when these images of these impotent fire trucks trying to blast water from quite far away because there were cars blocking their access to the actual building; cars that couldn’t be moved because their owners had either left town or were in lockdown. You know, anger really bubbled up. So, there was a lot of pent-up frustration over all this time in lockdown, a lot of, you know, mental health crises, people who had other health issues that couldn’t be addressed in local hospitals because they couldn’t leave their buildings easily. There’s a lot of economic pain as well. People who can’t simply work from home and who had lost their jobs or hadn’t been paid for months. So, I think it’s quite understandable how frustrated people were.

Why are there anti-government protests in China?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:17:33] So the protests that have erupted from this I’ve seen alternatively described at least in Western media, as anti-lockdown protests, but sometimes also anti-government protests, and presumably there’s some overlap between the two. How would you characterize the protests based on what you’re seeing, your own reporting, your own sort of analysis of the situation?

Kaiser Kuo [00:18:01] So there have been protests now in many, many cities and even some very small communities, and some of them are quite localized, some of them are just limited to one, say, neighborhood that’s been locked down. For example, there’s an enormous housing complex called Tiantongyuan in the north part of Beijing. I mean, there are probably a million people who live just in that one compound, and they had a fairly localized protest that focused just on lockdown restrictions, and they actually won; their restrictions were lifted. Others have been very overtly political and bigger. What’s interesting is that mostly I would say they’re local in their scope, but the issues that concern them are ones that are felt pretty uniformly across the country, you know, more severe in some places where lockdowns have been bad, where there have been bad outbreaks, and where management of the lockdowns themselves have been poor. But what’s interesting is that they’re happening simultaneously or that they happened. So, let’s just be clear. By today, they almost entirely petered out. And in fact, by Monday night they had pretty much petered out. So, it’s maybe not correct to speak of ongoing protests, but we’ll see. I mean, they still might flare up. Who really knows? In any case, they’re not by any means, all overtly political. There’s only one city that I’m aware of right now where the chants were things — there’s some debate over how it’s translated — but literally in Chinese it means Xi Jinping get off the stage like I mean, down with Xi Jinping, or it can be like we’re calling you to step down and the Communist Party get off the stage or down with the Communist Party.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:19:49] The message is clear.

Kaiser Kuo [00:19:50] Yeah. So that’s only one city that’s in Shanghai. So, Shanghai’s obviously a very important city. It’s the most economically important city in China. So again, it’s quite diverse in size and scale in the kinds of demands they’re talking about in their scope. Very, very diverse.

How does the Chinese government suppress protest movements?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:20:09] Have the protests petered out precisely because the authorities are so good at suppressing dissent at this point? You know, the much-vaunted electronic surveillance systems, are they able to, like, track down the protesters using their facial recognition technology and so on, in order to prevent these protesters from returning to the streets?

Kaiser Kuo [00:20:35] That’s certainly part of it. I think it’s really hard to say really accurately, because, again, there are so many people protesting for different motives and not protesting for different reasons. I’d say that part of it is, as some guests that I spoke to who lived in Beijing and have been there for a very, very long time, have said, is that part of it is that people just wanted to sort of blow off steam and they’ve done that so there’s maybe not as much steam. They’ve, you know, opened the pressure cooker, and let it all out. So, it may take time to build up again. Maybe it won’t. But there are other people who would say that no it’s because the police presence has been really, really huge. One of my guests, he said basically they’ve gone to DEFCON f around and find out, which I thought was a really clever turn of phrase. And then part of it, I think, also is just the weather. I mean, in especially the northern cities there was a gigantic cold snap so that it was like with windchill minus ten or even colder on Tuesday.

Why is China continuing it’s Zero-Covid policy despite protests?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:21:37] So Xi Jinping is paying a decent, it seems, political and economic cost for the Zero-Covid policy. What do you suppose drives his dedication to that rather extreme policy at this point?

Kaiser Kuo [00:21:56] Yeah, I think it’s pretty simple. I mean, I think they do a lot of modeling there. There have been a lot of models that have been done, including one that was just published earlier this week in Nature Medicine — this was done in May so conditions may have changed between then and now — but as of May, had they allowed basically COVID to run, you know, if they had stopped the Zero-Covid policy, it would result in an estimated 1.5 million deaths, 77% of which would have been among people 60 and older who are unvaccinated. So, they’re also aware that vaccination rates have been quite low among the elderly, and there’s all sorts of reasons for vaccine hesitancy, but they’re looking at an immunologically naive population and a very big, very dense one. They saw what happened in Taiwan when Taiwan let go, when they saw 48,000 cases a day and had numerous deaths. So, they project from that, and they think, you know, the same people who are criticizing us right now for this strict crackdown, they’re going to turn around and they’re going to say, hey, we are a country that, as you always remind us, you know, cherishes the young and respects the aged, where’s your respect for the aged now, you’re letting them all die. So, you know, they feel like they can’t really win. And I think that, you know, there’s an old, stupid saying, they always say oh out in Asia, life is cheap. That’s clearly not the case.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:23:20] I’ve never heard that.

How many people in China have died of Covid?

Kaiser Kuo [00:23:22] They care very much about deaths. They do not want to see anything like that, especially when one of their big talking points in the last few years has been this million plus deaths in the United States and they can point right now and honestly say they’ve kept deaths to about 5000 in a country of 1.4 billion.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:23:44] I saw a statistic that something like 20% of Chinese are over the age of 60. Basically, you know, what you’re seeing is that the political price and the economic impact of the zero-lockdown policy is something that Xi and party leaders are willing to tolerate because they think that loosening restrictions would cause an even greater political headache and they would pay a steep price for large number of elderly Chinese dying.

Kaiser Kuo [00:24:16] That’s exactly right. There’s a sort of grand utilitarian calculation there. They are making, you know, some hundred million people grumble really, really unhappily but meanwhile, there are, you know, another 1.3 billion in the surrounding area in China, right? The rest of the country is perfectly happy to be able to lead relatively normal lives. Now, that 100 million happens to be a very important piece. And let me just say, I mean, they’re constantly updating this. They’re not locked into one set of policies. Already, we’ve seen the Chinese Centers for Disease Control issue new guidelines. Let’s remember also that the first week of November, right after the party Congress, they released this 20-point set of guidelines. There were many points in there that had to do with, you know, loosening. In fact, there’s been some theorizing that says that in that very act of showing a little bit of softening, that maybe emboldened critics, this is something that China always fears. They think that this is the pattern. If you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile, that kind of thing.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:25:17] And so it was that softening that also inspired people to come out into the streets thinking that maybe an even deeper softening is possible.

Kaiser Kuo [00:25:27] I don’t know whether that’s really the case. I’m saying that there are people who think that it might be. I don’t think there’s any easy way to sort of empirically establish whether that is in fact the case.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:25:37] So how sustainable is the Zero-Covid policy? You know, assuming that protests do sort of peter out as they seem to have been, how sustainable is this zero-covid policy?

Kaiser Kuo [00:25:51] Well, I think that they’d be foolish if they didn’t realize that it’s not very sustainable in the long run. They’ve painted themselves into a corner. I mean, they’re victims from their early successes, right? I don’t know what they thought was going to happen, to imagine that COVID was just going to go away in the rest of the world and that they would be able to, you know, like reopen without the threat of COVID. Clearly, they did not use that vaunted state capacity for what they should have used it for, which is, you know, really getting a lot of shots in a lot of arms, especially among the vulnerable elderly population. Now, there’s a big plan to do that, and we all anticipated that that was going to be announced after the party Congress, that that was part of the reopening plan, that they would have to really start using that coercive capacity to immunize people.

Why are women taking the lead on recent lockdown protests in China?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:26:36] So there is this kind of rich tradition of Chinese online activism that skirts censorship through clever means. And I guess what’s significant to me as an outsider looking in is that, you know, these protests that we saw over the last week or so seem to be like a physical manifestation of the sort of online protest universe in an interesting way.

Kaiser Kuo [00:27:05] Absolutely. This is true O to O, online to offline, as they say in China. They were using many of the same kind of memes and techniques that they would have used in the online world. Of course, a lot of it was organized online so yeah, the same kind of snarky cleverness and like weaponized passive aggression and which is just, you know, something that must never be underestimated. The other thing I would say about the protests and people have remarked on this, I think it’s really interesting is how many women are not only taking part in, but leading the protests and leading, you know, conversations about this, not only offline but online as well. And people have wondered why that is. I have a couple of explanations for it. One is just that during these years, I mean, China did enjoy a couple of years where its lockdowns were much less severe than in the rest of the world but let’s not forget that there was still a lot of restriction and, you know, online education was the norm in China for a very long time, even after the rest of society had opened up. So that put a lot of burden, of course, on women who were the primary caretakers of school age children. There were during the lockdowns themselves, you know, spikes, as there have been in the United States, in other countries of spousal abuse, of domestic violence. Women have had to bear a lot of the brunt of this. They were often in the jobs that were deemed nonessential, unfortunately, and so they lost jobs when they were under more economic duress than many of the men in the country. So that’s one reason. The other, I would say, is that across these decades of relative, you know, political quiescence in China, one area where we have seen really bold activism is in feminist causes, whether it’s, you know, MeToo stuff or domestic violence or in gender equality issues, more generally about pay and other things. We’ve seen women really, really show an admirable bravery in confronting political authority. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that they’re out in front in this as well.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:29:16] Lastly, in the coming weeks, is there anything you’ll be looking towards that will suggest to you whether or not these protests might revive or indeed if they have petered out?

Kaiser Kuo [00:29:27] Yeah. I mean, you know, the obvious thing is just simply watching whether there are, you know, further instances, seeing if this trickles down into lower tier cities, seeing where the protest organizers now direct their energies. It’s hard to identify who they are and, of course, you know, in doing so, you may be putting them in danger. But I’m just going to continue, as I have been doing, to watch Chinese social media and, you know, even looking for specific lacunae, because it’s often those dogs that are forced not to bark that sort of give you clues about what’s actually happening. So, looking at where the censorious efforts of authorities are placed.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:30:08] Well, Kaiser, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.

Kaiser Kuo [00:30:11] Thanks so much, Mark. It’s been a real pleasure.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:30:20] Thank you for listening to Global Dispatches. Our show is produced by me, Mark Leon Goldberg, and edited and mixed by Levi Sharp.

The post Protests in China and the Death of Jiang Zemin appeared first on UN Dispatch.

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Why is Turkey About to Invade Syria?

1. Dezember 2022 - 4:00

On November 13, six people were killed in a bombing in Istanbul, which the government of Turkey blamed on a Kurdish militant group based in Northern Syria. Shortly thereafter, Turkey began targeting Kurdish positions in Syria and Iraq, with President Erdogan threatening an imminent ground invasion of Northern Syria.

In this episode, we speak with Lisel Hintz, assistant professor of international relations at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, to discuss this bombing and this escalating conflict, which comes amid a profound shift in Turkey’s relationships with other countries in the region.

We begin by talking about what we know about the November 13th attack and the Turkish government’s attempt to control the narrative before having a broader conversation about how this crisis informs, and is informed by, recent changes in Turkey’s foreign policy. This including a warming of relations with former regional adversaries like Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Syria. Lisel Hintz also explains the domestic political considerations that may be driving Erdogan’s decisions on the use of force in Syria ahead of elections next year.

Apple Podcasts  | Google PodcastsSpotify  | Podcast Addict  |  Stitcher  | Radio Public 



Transcript lightly edited for clarity 

Why was there a bombing in Istanbul on November 13?

Lisel Hintz [00:00:00] And if the government calls a state of emergency, it has a much sort of larger tool kit with which to shape the conditions for its potential reelection in the elections in June.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:02:15] This is an evolving situation at time of recording. Turkey had not yet invaded, though my guest, Liesl Hintz, believes it’s only a matter of time, as she explains in this episode. And of course, whatever happens, this conversation will give you the context you need to understand events as they unfold in the coming days, weeks, and months.

Lisel Hintz [00:05:01] So we know that a bomb went off on November 13th in a crowded section of Istanbul in Istiklal, which is a main shopping thoroughfare. We know that six people were killed. We know that many, many were injured. We know that relatively soon after that, the Turkish government claimed that it was the action of the YPG, which is the people’s protection units or the Syrian Kurdish militia that the Turkish government views as a terrorist group, as linked with the PKK, which is the Kurdistan Workers Party in Turkey. So basically, the Turkish government is claiming that this is a Kurdish terrorist group that is carrying out an attack on Turkish soil. And very soon after that, they released a photo of a woman that they claimed who had planted the bomb. They said that it was very clear that she had YPG ties. And so, one of the things that I think has been frustrating for observers is that there doesn’t seem to be trustworthy evidence or very clear evidence that this is of the YPG. Both the YPG and the PKK have denied responsibility for this attack. For those who study those organizations, it doesn’t seem like the kind of attack that they would carry out. It doesn’t seem like they have the motivations to do so right now. And so, there’s a lot of suspicion, there’s a lot of uncertainty and compounding that suspicion and uncertainty was the broadcasting ban that the Turkish government put in place, which did not allow news media organizations to cover the incident. It was an attempt for the government to try to control the messaging on this. This is a pretty common tactic that the government uses when there’s some kind of disaster or some kind of violent episode. The government kind of goes into spin mode and tries to control the flow of information. There was also a noticeable slowing of social media. Some social media sites were blocked, and so there was a very concerted attempt by the government to try to ensure that people were not perhaps speculating on who could be the source of this or were not sharing information that the government did not want them to share. So the fact that the government immediately claimed that this was the YPG, PKK, the fact that they immediately detained someone whose YPG links have been found to be quite questionable, and the fact that they put a broadcast ban and some social media blocks in place have led many to question who actually is behind this attack and whether the government is sort of trying to benefit from this for its own domestic political purposes.

What are the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:07:41] Generally speaking, over the years has the PKK, which is an internationally recognized terrorist group that’s distinct from the YPG, which is a U.S. backed militia in Kurdistan section of Syria, in the past have those groups claimed responsibility for attacks when they happen?

Lisel Hintz [00:08:04] In the past, the PKK has claimed responsibility for attacks. I would note that the PKK also has several offshoot organizations that have claimed responsibility for the attacks, so perhaps it was like a youth militia wing of the PKK rather than the PKK itself. I would note that there are reasons, legitimate reasons for linking the YPG and the PKK. They have organizational ties; they have social ties, networks among them, so it’s not a completely off the wall suggestion for the Turkish government to make that these organizations are linked. But in terms of the kinds of attacks that they carry out, this doesn’t seem to resonate as having the mark of a YPG or PKK attack.

How has the Turkish government responded to the bombing on November 13?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:08:48] So yet, you know, this attack happened. The government very quickly seemed to claim the narrative, blaming the YPG for the attack and then began mounting airstrikes in northern Syria on YPG targets. Can you describe what those airstrikes have been like and what the government’s narrative has been thus far?

Lisel Hintz [00:09:14] So the Turkish military has been carrying out airstrikes against Kurdish targets in northern Iraq and northern Syria. The Turkish government has been claiming that there’s going to be a new ground incursion since late spring, early summer, in order to try to push the YPG back from the Turkish border. So, the Turkish government has been claiming that there is a legitimate security threat, that the YPG, which again they claim is this sort of brother organization of the PKK — and they have reason to do — but they claim that there is a legitimate security threat that needs to be addressed and so they’re using airstrikes to do so. There have been a number of civilian casualties for this, and there’s a concern that a ground incursion could have a much, much larger human cost to it. One of the things that we’ve seen in terms of the way that Turkey has been trying to convince the international community of this security threat has been even the objection of the Turkish government to Sweden and Finland’s NATO’s accession. The Turkish government has repeatedly been saying that the international community needs to take the fact that the YPG poses a legitimate security threat to Turkey seriously. So, it’s been carrying out airstrikes, it’s been threatening a ground incursion, and it’s been trying rhetorically to set up an international context in which those kinds of further campaigns are possible.

Why does the United States financially support the YPG (People’s Protection Units)?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:10:41] And how has the United States responded thus far? The United States has backed the YPG in its fight against ISIS in northern Syria and Iraq, and apparently YPG has been rather effective against ISIS. What have we heard then from the U.S. in terms of how it’s trying to manage this apparent crisis?

Lisel Hintz [00:11:06] The US is in a difficult position, and it’s put itself in a really difficult position. The decision to arm the YPG as part of a broader Syrian Democratic forces fighting unit that could fight ISIS in order to avoid U.S. boots on the ground to do so was a decision that the U.S. government hoped was not going to anger Turkey to the point that it did. And so, you have a number of issues that are causing tensions between the U.S. and Turkey. But from the Turks perspective, the YPG is absolutely number one. They say, how can our NATO ally, how can a country that claims to be our partner and take our security concerns seriously, arm a terrorist group that we see as having a very threatening presence directly on our border? So that’s the Turkish perspective. Why on earth would the U.S. choose to arm a Syrian Kurdish organization in its fight against ISIS? Now, from the U.S. perspective, Turkey was not willing to step up to the plate in terms of fighting ISIS. The U.S. was trying to avoid another major American military presence in the Middle East, and they knew that the Syrian Kurdish forces could be very effective in their fight against ISIS, and they proved to be. So, the U.S. made that choice. But now they have Turkey saying, you know, this is a stab in the back. How can you do that to us? You’re exacerbating our security concerns. And again, the point was to create these larger Syrian democratic forces but from the Turks perspective, that was a fig leaf. This was largely populated by Syrian Kurdish forces. So, the U.S. recognizing that the YPG has played a significant role in combating ISIS and, by the way, in maintaining the prisons in which ISIS fighters are currently housed, do not want to see them moved out of those border regions of Syria, do not want to see a further military incursion by Turkey. They’ve been very adamant that they have been concerned about a future incursion, although I will note that under the Trump administration there were some mixed signals that were being given to Turkey. And a lot of people would say that the Trump administration kind of greenlighted Turkish military incursions in Syria. We saw Defense Secretary Mattis and Brett McGurk resign over that green lighting. So there have been some mixed signals from the U.S. but under the Biden administration, the message has been very firm. You know, Turkey should not carry out military incursions in Syria. They certainly should not engage in a ground incursion. And what we’ve seen is that the Turkish government has been hinting that this has been coming since June, but they’ve been unable to get the green light from the U.S. and from Russia. It looks as though they’re negotiating with Russia right now as to whether they can get the permission to be able to carry out that particular campaign or will Russia allow Syrian government forces to come back in? But from the Turks perspective, there needs to be a clearing out of the YPG from its borders whether it does it, Russia does it, or the Syrian government does it.

How is Turkish president Erdogan responding to the November 13 bombing?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:14:10] So we’re speaking on Tuesday, November 29th. This ground invasion is much anticipated but hasn’t happened yet. However, as you said, there have been stepped up airstrikes. How do you perceive that Erdogan perceives the situation in terms of managing his foreign relations? What are some of the politics that are driving his decisions right now in terms of whether or not to go ahead with this ground invasion?

Lisel Hintz [00:14:46] So I think there are a lot more domestic political motivating factors, but they are intimately intertwined with the international foreign policy considerations so it’s a good question to ask. So, Turkey or Erdogan, specifically in terms of being the one calling the shots, is on one hand trying to extract some concessions from the United States. It very much wants to purchase F-16s from the United States. It has been given signals from the Biden administration that it may be able to purchase F-16s from a domestic or military capacity standpoint. It very much needs those F-16s and upgrade kits that would come with them. And of course, part of that is because Turkey lost out on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program because of its purchase of an S-400 missile defense system from Russia. So, the sanction coming from the United States was we’re going to kick you out of the F-35 program. So, of course, it now finds itself in a situation to upgrade its military capacity. It needs these F-16s. The Biden administration, again, has indicated that may be possible, but Congress has strongly objected. So that’s something that Turkey is considering. Does it go ahead with this campaign knowing that that may harm its chances to get the F-16s? Or does it think probably we’re not going to get those anyway so let’s not let that be a constraining factor for us. So, again, thinking about the S-400 and the Russian side, Turkey has a number of ways in which its government and its economy and its energy sources are intimately connected with Russia. There, of course, is the aspect of Russia controlling Syrian airspace, of controlling a lot of the politics of what goes on in Syria and of supporting the Assad regime. So, one of the things that you’ve seen in recent months is Erdogan’s government, who called Bashar al-Assad the president of Syria enemy number one for a long time, has now said, well, you know, perhaps we can reestablish relations, just as he’s been able to attempt to reestablish relations with President Sisi in Egypt. So, you’re seeing kind of an about face on a number of the relationships that had hardened quite a bit following the Arab Spring.

Why might President Erdogan be trying to improve relations with Syria?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:17:03] Can I ask you about the two about faces? We saw this very warm embrace of Erdogan to Sisi at the World Cup in Qatar the other day, which was a very public demonstration of Erdogan’s shifting priorities. Previously, Erdogan supported the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi, which are enemies of Sisi in Egypt, but now you saw Erdogan and Sisi embrace each other at the World Cup. Similarly, you just noted that Erdogan has been signaling a warmth towards Assad in Syria. What accounts in particular for this about face towards Turkish Syrian relations?

Lisel Hintz [00:17:50] Yeah, and it’s funny because in some cases it’s an about face after an about face so Erdogan and Assad had been quite close friends, you know, they vacationed together, their wives shopped together, and then, of course, in the wake of the Arab Spring, when Erdogan was not able to convince Bashar al-Assad to stop cracking down on his people and was trying to say, hey, international community, I’ll be able to negotiate this; let me use my political capital. But then he wasn’t able to pull that off. Then they become, you know, these arch enemies, and Turkey is, of course, supporting Syrian opposition forces that are trying to oust Assad. So, you go from very good friends to arch enemies to now, okay, let’s try to sort of pragmatically negotiate how we can manage this relationship. And, you know, Sisi and Erdogan never had that close relationship and, you know, politically and ideologically, they were never going to. But the factors that are driving these sorts of attempted rapprochement, which I don’t like that term, because I think it sort of assumes that things are going to be normalized when it’s more of a really tense, pragmatic relationship that I think we’re seeing, it’s very much due to what I mentioned earlier, which is kind of Erdogan’s domestic political calculations. And part of that has to do with the immense economic crisis that Turkey is undergoing with the free fall of the lira, with skyrocketing unemployment, with massive foreign debt. The fact that you also have Turkey, which of course doesn’t have a whole lot of its own energy resources and therefore would like to be able to partner on gas exploration, on oil pipeline — I mentioned earlier its energy ties with Russia — so economic and energy concerns, I think, are the ones that we can think of as really driving the need to establish these relationships. We’ve seen a bit of an about face with a bunch of Arab countries as well, in addition to Syria and Egypt, that Turkey has undergone. Part of that is sort of in the wake of the Abraham Accords but again, there is this identified need to try to find export markets, to try to find energy sources, to try to find some way of getting swap deals. You know, it has had a similar softening of relations with the UAE, which had been another state in which it had very, very tense relations and even with Israel. So, I think it’s difficult to understand this kind of charm offensive that Erdogan has been trying to undertake without looking at the economic and energy issues that are underlining that. And of course, all of that culminates in Erdogan’s need to remain as president in the 2023 elections.

Why would Turkey launch a ground invasion into Syria?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:20:32] So if economic malaise at home, which is deep and profound —I did an episode on this podcast not long ago about the tanking lira and the unconventional economic responses by Erdogan, which seems to have made things even worse if those considerations are driving this about face in Turkish foreign policy. Is there similar sort of domestic political motivations for wanting to invade Northern Syria, for wanting to mount a major ground invasion across the border?

Lisel Hintz [00:21:12] There are absolutely domestic political considerations for Turkey wanting to undertake a military campaign in Syria, and there’s a number of them. Again, I think that Turkey’s domestic and foreign policies are so intimately intertwined, and I think this is one of these cases in which we can see that. My colleague has just written an excellent book on this topic, the intertwining of domestic and foreign policy, specifically when it comes to Turkey’s campaigns against Syria. If we’re thinking about what Erdogan may be able to gain from this kind of an incursion, I think we have to remember that he is extremely adept at turning crises into opportunities. In turning the 2016 coup attempt into a way to not only sort of rally around the flag and bolster national sentiment and create a lot of national unity, if relatively temporarily, but also to purge opponents from the military, from the civil service, from institutions that could serve as positions for challenging him. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has turned into an opportunity for Turkey to position itself on the world stage as being able to broker a green deal, as being a mediator, which of course is a very convenient position for Turkey to be in because as a mediator you cannot choose sides between Ukraine and Russia, and that’s exactly where Erdogan wanted to position Turkey. So, when it comes to Syria, the Kurdish issue, of course, is one of the main issues that comes to the fore. When we’re looking at elections in 2023, we see that his party and he as the presidential candidate are facing major challenges from the opposition and that Kurds have previously played a very pivotal role. I would say not even just important, but pivotal role in the Opposition’s ability to carry out victories at the polls. We saw that in the 2019 local elections where Kurds were integral to the opposition’s ability to not only win Istanbul but win Istanbul twice in a rerun election that was forced because the government had the Supreme Electoral Board annul the previous election in an attempt to hold that seat. So, Kurds are a key political player in Turkey. Now, the challenge for the Turkish opposition parties, and we have a group of six of them that have united to try to unseat Erdogan, is that not all of those parties can agree on the Kurdish issue, essentially. And among those parties, those six parties, there are nationalist parties that do not want to see Kurds as part of their cohort, as part of their alliance, that have campaigned on anti-Kurdish policies previously, that have voted to remove parliamentary immunity from Kurds. And so, this is a really sort of tense and contentious issue in terms of how the opposition parties can reach out to Kurds. So, what does that have to do with the potential for a military incursion in Syria? So, by carrying out a military campaign, the issue of Kurds as an enemy, the issue of Kurds as a security threat becomes one that the government can inflate, becomes one in which the government can continuously reference Kurds, and not just Kurds who are members of these militant organizations, but Kurds more broadly. There’s this terrorist paintbrush that the government is able to use and does use in order to marginalize Kurdish political actors and also those opposition parties that are willing to partner with those actors. And as you can see that can then create a wedge between opposition parties. Do we partner with the Kurds or do we not? If we do, are we painted as collaborating with terrorists? How do we negotiate that space? How do we negotiate that space legally when we may be targeted by the government with a court case? How do we negotiate that space with voters and how are we trying to communicate to them and make sure that we’re garnering as many votes as we can? So that becomes a much more contentious issue. It’s already a balancing act that the parties have been trying to negotiate, but with a future incursion, that becomes even more difficult.

Why is Turkey’s 2023 election important?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:25:31] So by invading northern Syria, by fomenting nationalism, you potentially divide the political opposition and make his own position stronger ahead of elections next year. So, it all could be viewed through that domestic political lens.

Lisel Hintz [00:25:52] I think a lot of it can be viewed through the domestic political lens, but there’s even more so he can rally nationalism, although I think it’s worth noting that when Erdogan makes a fiery speech about Greece, right, or threatens another military incursion, he can get a nationalist bump in the polls, but it’s relatively little and it doesn’t last a long time. This kind of a military incursion in which a lot of the population has harbored anti Kurdish sentiments that can be stirred up, so that can have an effect. It can also have an effect in dividing the opposition parties, again, as we said. But it can have a further additional effect, which is alienating Kurdish voters from voting at all. So, you know, maybe they were thinking about voting for the opposition parties, but no, they’re just going to stay away from the polls completely. So, you can alienate Turkish voters who are uncomfortable with how the opposition parties are negotiating the Kurdish issue and then you can also alienate Kurdish voters. I would say that there’s even an additional factor to consider when it comes to this, and this is perhaps looking too far down the road and is perhaps too pessimistic. One of the things that I worry about is if there is another military incursion, if there is unrest that follows from that in Turkey or that spills over the borders, if there’s cross-border violence, that can give the government the pretext to call a state of emergency. And if the government calls a state of emergency, it has a much sort of larger toolkit with which to shape the conditions for its potential reelection in the elections in June. So, we know that the previous presidential election in 2018 was held under a state of emergency, and it was lifted relatively soon after. So, the state of emergency had been put in place following the 2016 coup. It’s lifted soon after the 2018 presidential elections, which Erdogan wins. So, there is a track record of being able to carry out election victories under a state of emergency. The potential for unrest or for violence in the Syrian situation means that there’s the potential for that kind of state of emergency that could lead the government to postpone elections, to cancel elections in the Kurdish region, to have more impetus for closing the HDP, the People’s Democratic Party, which is the pro-Kurdish party in Turkey. It just basically gives the government more tools to use in terms of configuring the domestic playing field in its favor. And that’s something that I worry about quite a bit.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:28:24] In the near term, are there any indicators or inflection points that you’ll be looking towards that will suggest to you whether or not that pessimistic scenario, as you call it, will indeed play out?

Lisel Hintz [00:28:36] I mean, the most obvious one is, is there a military incursion? And I think that there will be. I had thought that before there was a bombing on November 13th, so perhaps that’s why I’ve had kind of a cynical view of the way in which the government has tried to benefit politically from that attack. So, we’ll be looking for whether there’s an incursion, even though we currently see Turkey sort of negotiating with Russia as to whether Russia can clear the YPG from the borders. That doesn’t necessarily seem like something that the YPG is willing to agree to, so we’ll have to see how that plays out. I would also note that one of the extra additional factors that a military incursion in Syria might be able to contribute to when it comes to Erdogan’s domestic popularity is that he has claimed that he can use those spaces as a way to repatriate Syrians. And we know that the Syrian refugee issue or the 4 million Syrians who are living in Turkey, not technically under refugee status, but temporary protection status, has been a major source of criticism of his government and an issue that the opposition has been pushing very, very hard on. So again, lots and lots of different domestic political considerations for this. But in terms of the inflection point, so, A, is there an incursion? And even if Russia is able to clear the YPG from one of the towns in northern Syria, say Tal Rifaat, which they have been trying to convince the YPG to withdraw from, Turkey has also cited a number of other northern Syrian towns that the YPG currently holds, including Manbij and Kobani. So, it seems as though the potential for an incursion is high again, given all of those domestic political motivations for carrying out such a campaign. So, we’ll be looking for that. I think we’ll be looking to see whether there is any kind of violence that spills over. Are there rocket attacks that are coming landing on Turkish soil? Are there protests in Turkey, largely Kurd organized protests or other protests? If there are protests, are the police forces cracking down on them violently? All of this is, I think, for a lot of Turkey observers recalling 2015, which was the summer in which you saw the reignition of the war between the PKK and the Turkish government. There’d been a ceasefire that they’d been working on for several years, but that fell apart once the AKP had lost its parliamentary majority in the June 2015 elections.

What is Turkey’s AKP political party?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:31:06] And the AKP is Erdogan’s party?

Lisel Hintz [00:31:09] Yes. So, the AKP, Erdogan’s party, loses its parliamentary majority for the first time, and the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party actually is able to get quite a lot of members into parliament. So, there’s sort of political reasons for why that cease fire breaks down but what happens in the meantime over that summer is that there are a number of ISIS attacks, there are a number of Kurdish protests that are cracked down violently. There’s a lot of unrest and there’s a very hard nationalist turn by the AKP, Erdogan’s party, so that by the time you have new elections in November, you have this high, high amount of nationalist rhetoric that’s being used, and Erdogan is both able to draw more votes for his party and is able to partner with another nationalist party. So, all of that is to say a lot of people are looking at the current situation with concern because of the amount of violence and the hard nationalist turn that occurred in Turkey, in Turkish politics in 2015. There’s a concern that we might be seeing a rerun of that now with the AKP having learned the lesson that they can gain more votes in that kind of a situation of tumult.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:32:19] Well, thank you so much for your time.

Lisel Hintz [00:32:20] You’re most welcome.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:32:29] Thank you for listening to Global Dispatches. Our show is produced by me, Mark Leon Goldberg, and edited and mixed by Levi Scharff. Before you go, do take a moment to show your support for the show by becoming a premium subscriber. If you’re listening on Apple Podcasts, you can do so with a couple taps of your thumb. If you’re listening elsewhere, you can go to We rely on support from listeners to continue to do what we do far into the future and by becoming a premium subscriber, you will unlock access to our entire archive of hundreds and hundreds of episodes. Please rate or review the show on Apple Podcasts.

The post Why is Turkey About to Invade Syria? appeared first on UN Dispatch.

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Senator Jeanne Shaheen on Congressional Support for Ukraine and Shoring Up Democracy in The Balkans | Live from the Halifax International Security Forum

28. November 2022 - 4:00

Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat from New Hampshire, lead a large bi-partisan Congressional delegation to the Halifax International Security Forum in Halifax, Nova Scotia in mid-November. We just days after the US House of Representatives was confirmed to flip to Republican control following the US mid terms. With that change in power comes a degree of uncertainty around the extent to which Congress can be relied upon to continue its support for Ukraine’s defense.

Senator Shaheen discusses how Congress’ approach to Ukraine may change when the Republicans gain control of the house next year, as well as the situation in the western Balkans, where Senator Shaheen recently returned from an official trip to the region in which she observed the Bosnian elections. She explains how Russian meddling may undermine democratic gains in the region and how Congress can better support democracy in the region.

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Transcript lightly edited for clarity

How Will the New Congress Treat US Aid to Ukraine?

Senator Jeanne Shaheen [00:00:00] Anyone in Serbia who thinks that their future may lie with Russia, they just need to look at what’s happening in Ukraine and question whether that’s the future they want. That [changes in aid] remains to be seen, but certainly there is strong bipartisan support for the United States’ involvement in the allied effort to support Ukraine. And we reiterated that yesterday. I’m here with a bipartisan delegation from Congress, both six senators, three members of the House. My co-lead of this delegation is the ranking member, so the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee. Every place we have been, we have pointed out that the voices that have raised concerns, raised questions about the U.S. support for Ukraine are the small minority, they are the extreme voices, and that there continues to be a strong bipartisan majority in support of Ukraine.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:03:22] As we enter the new year, what do you foresee being Congress’s top priorities regarding Ukraine?

Senator Jeanne Shaheen [00:03:30] I think continuing to ensure that the resources are there, both humanitarian and the support for weapons systems and continuing the diplomatic effort. I think one of the things that has been so important has been the exchange between Ukrainians who have come to meet with members of Congress, members of Congress who have gone to Ukraine even after the war to see what’s happening there, to point out to President Zelensky and the Ukrainians that we continue to support them, and talking about why this support is important, I think is really critical. One of the stories that I have told my constituents in New Hampshire is of a meeting that I had with some women of the Ukrainian military. And one of the things that one of those soldiers said to me I found so urgent. She said, we are here to ask you for weapons so that we can fight the Russians, so that you don’t have to. And I think it’s that connection to our own national security, to the importance of defending democracy around the world that we need to continue to remind people of.

How does Congress fund humanitarian efforts in Ukraine?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:04:47] Beyond the provision of military aid and funding military aid, are there other opportunities you foresee the incoming Congress could have regarding other types of funding, humanitarian funding, or more broadly supporting diplomatic efforts around Ukraine?

Senator Jeanne Shaheen [00:05:04] Well, I think all of the above, it’s certainly supporting those diplomatic efforts. We had a hearing with a member of our State Department in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this past week. And one of the questions that she got asked was about the morale in Ukraine. She had just come back from a visit to Kyiv to meet with our embassy staff and leaders of Ukraine and she talked about how high the morale was there in the embassy and that we recognize the sacrifices that Ukrainians are making; that personnel from the United States, from other countries who are serving in Ukraine are making, and we are here to stand behind them to support that. So those are diplomatic efforts. There is a lot of discussion about how we continue to support the grain shipments out of Ukraine so that the people in Africa and other parts of the world that are experiencing famine can get the food they need and help them understand that it is Russia that is trying to prevent those shipments from getting out of Ukraine. So, I think there are a lot of efforts that continue partly in official ways, like through the committee hearing process, but also through individual meetings that members have with each other and that we’re having with people from other parts of this allied effort, but also from Ukraine.

How has the Western Balkans been affected by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:06:33] So I know earlier this year you traveled to the Western Balkans. This is an area that has for many years been particularly vulnerable to Russian meddling and Russian malign influence. Are you seeing evidence of that in the wake of Ukraine? Or perhaps to put this another way, what political impact have you seen unfold in the Western Balkans stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?

Senator Jeanne Shaheen [00:07:00] Yeah, absolutely. We continue to see Russian efforts to destabilize the Western Balkans, particularly to look at ways to stir up tensions that already exist in the region, to stir up conflict. I was there the beginning of October for the elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and one of the things we heard as I was visiting polling places and talking to people was about the disinformation that’s coming out of Russia to try and stir up those ethnic conflicts, support for the Republic of Serbs and their leader in trying to urge them to secede from the country of Bosnia-Herzegovina. So those continue. We see that in Serbia, where they’ve had historic ties to Russia, and China, by the way, is operating in the region in ways that are destabilizing.

How is China involved in the politics of the Western Balkans?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:07:56] Can you elaborate on China’s operations in the region? This is not something you hear too often about. What did you see?

Senator Jeanne Shaheen [00:08:03] Well, one of the things that we heard about is the effort to set up cultural centers to provide funding for an infrastructure project, something that we’ve seen across as part of their Belt and Road initiative. We’re seeing those conversations happening in the Western Balkans as well. I had a chance this morning to meet with the defense minister from Kosovo, and it’s one of the things he talked about that they’re seeing.

How can Congress support democracy in the Western Balkans?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:08:30] So what could Congress do to shore up Democratic gains in the Western Balkans? You know, the soft underbelly of Europe, it’s often called. What opportunities, what can Congress do to support democratic gains there?

Senator Jeanne Shaheen [00:08:43] Well, one of the things we need to do is pay attention to what’s happening. That’s at the most basic level, and that means going to the region. I was pleased that when I went in April, we went to Serbia, Kosovo, and Bosnia Herzegovina, and it was a bipartisan delegation. There were three senators who went. One of them had never been to the Western Balkans before. And so, making sure that we understand, have a better understanding of what’s going on there and what the people are asking for support. One of the things I heard this morning from the defense minister was the importance of Western investment in Kosovo, and I think that’s true across the Western Balkans. I have legislation that would try and encourage that kind of investment from the U.S. into the Western Balkans. So, I think we need to look at how we can encourage economic support, trade, obviously, and how we can continue to support efforts to make sure that stability continues in the country. So, efforts to try and encourage Kosovo and Serbia to resolve the differences that exist between those two countries, to try and encourage Croatia to play a positive role in the region, to try and look at things like the U4 mission that just got reauthorized at the U.N. to ensure that there is a European military force that continues in Bosnia Herzegovina so that it helps maintain stability. So, there’s a whole range of things that we need to do, and we need to continue to focus on that.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:10:15] In the coming year, from your perch in Washington, D.C., are there any indicators you’ll be looking towards in the Western Balkans that will suggest to you whether or not the democratic gains will be consolidated, or alternatively, if perhaps Russian meddling is accelerating?

Senator Jeanne Shaheen [00:10:34] Well, certainly a breakthrough between Serbia and Kosovo would be critical, I think, to see progress, looking at a breakthrough in Bosnia Herzegovina that allows them to form a government and move forward after their recent elections. They have been years without being able to form a government. Looking at Croatia and the role that they’re playing in Bosnia and hope that that would be positive in ways that would encourage stability in the country.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:11:02] I’m wondering if perhaps paradoxically, you think Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has maybe encouraged Serbia to perhaps engage more directly with Kosovo? You saw at the United Nations, for example, Serbia really vocally supporting Ukraine on some key votes. Have you seen any evidence that Serbia is more willing to negotiate with Kosovo beyond that rhetorical support that Serbia has given at the United Nations?

Senator Jeanne Shaheen [00:11:30] Well, I think that remains to be seen. There’s actually a meeting happening in Brussels tomorrow between the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo with the European Union high representative. And hopefully one of the lessons for the Western Balkans of Russia’s unprovoked, brutal war in Ukraine is that that could happen to them. And for anyone in Serbia who thinks that their future may lie with Russia, they just need to look at what’s happening in Ukraine and question whether that’s the future they want. Do they want a future where there is a brutal dictator who can come in at any time, who can kill people, rape people, destroy cities? Or do they want the Western values that are being offered by the EU and NATO that say we are going to respect human rights, we are going to give people the opportunity for good jobs and prosperity in the future, and we are going to support those efforts. I think that’s the choice that people are facing.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:12:37] Well, Senator, thank you so much.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen [00:12:39] Thank you.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:12:47] Thank you for listening to Global Dispatches. Our show is produced by me, Mark Leon Goldberg, and edited and mixed by Levi Sharp.

The post Senator Jeanne Shaheen on Congressional Support for Ukraine and Shoring Up Democracy in The Balkans | Live from the Halifax International Security Forum appeared first on UN Dispatch.

Kategorien: english

Meet Jamila Afghani, 2022 Laureate of the Aurora Prize For Awaking Humanity

21. November 2022 - 16:00

In this episode, we speak with Jamila Afghani, the 2022 Laureate of the Aurora Prize For Awaking Humanity, which is a prestigious annual award conferred to grassroots human rights defenders.

Jamila Afghani is a the founder of the local Afghan NGO Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organization, which among other things supports girls education in Afghanistan. She founded the organization as a refugee in Pakistan but then established it in Afghanistan just months after the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001. For the last twenty years, her NGO has supported girls and women throughout Afghanistan — and even today, with the country back under Taliban, the work continues.

In our conversation, Jamila Afghani explains how and why she began work as a civil society leader, which also includes a leadership position with Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She also discusses how she fled Afghanistan in August 2021 and continues to lead her NGO, but now as a refugee in Canada.

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Kategorien: english

Human Rights and the Qatar World Cup

17. November 2022 - 4:00

As the World Cup kicks off in Qatar, the plight of the migrant workers who built the facilities enjoyed by fans and spectators is coming into sharper focus. Qatar required massive amounts of labor, and those workers often toiled in highly exploitative conditions.

In this episode, we speak with Michael Page, deputy director in the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch We discuss how and why migrant workers were exploited in Qatar and then have a conversation about how the human rights community may better leverage massive sporting events to advance human rights, including protection of freedom of expression, LGBT rights, and women’s rights.

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Kategorien: english

Why is North Korea Suddenly Launching an Unprecedented Number of Missile Tests?

14. November 2022 - 4:00

Over the last several weeks, North Korea has launched an unprecedented number of missile tests. In one week alone in early November, North Korea launched over 80 missiles, including short and long range ballistic missiles.

In this episode, we speak to Kelsey Davenport, Director of Nonproliferation Policy at the Arms Control Association, to put these tests in context of geopolitics, what kinds of technologies that North Korea is testing, and what these missile tests suggest about North Korea’s nuclear strategies and intentions?

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Kategorien: english

The Foreign Policy Implications of the US Midterm Elections

10. November 2022 - 4:00

During the time of this recording, Wednesday, November 9th, the final results of the US mid term elections are uncertain, but trending towards an outcome in which the Democrats are likely to hold the Senate and Republicans gain control of the House of Representatives.

At stake in these elections of course is control of Congress, which has a unique role to play in shaping US foreign policy. Congress approves budgets and spending on foreign affairs and foreign aid, confirms nominees for Ambassadors and senior positions at State Department, Defense Department and elsewhere, and provides oversight over the executive branch, among many other roles.

In this episode, originally recorded as a live Twitter Spaces, we are joined by Matt Duss, a visiting scholar in the American Statecraft program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace to discuss the foreign policy implications of the US mid term elections. From 2017 to 2022, Matt Duss served as the foreign policy advisor to Senator Bernie Sanders.

In our conversation we discuss the role Congress plays in shaping US foreign policy before having a longer conversation about the concrete foreign policy implications of the the 2022 US Mid terms.

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Kategorien: english

What Will Drive the Agenda at COP27?

7. November 2022 - 4:00

Delegates from around the world are en route to Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt for the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, better known as COP27. The conference lasts from November 6th to the 18th.

These COPS are key moments for international climate diplomacy.  And since the 2015 Paris Agreement, it is the main mechanism in which countries renew, review, and assess their progress towards the Paris Agreement goals to limit global warming to at least 1.5 degrees celsius.

In this episode, we give a preview of the key stories, debates, and outcomes expected to drive the agenda in Sharm el Sheikh with a Twitter Spaces roundtable we recorded on Thursday, November 4th with guests Pete Ogden, Vice President for Energy, Climate, and the Environment at the United Nations Foundation, Nisha Krisnan, Director for Climate Resilience in Africa with the World Resources Institute, Mark Hertsgaard, executive director of Covering Climate Now and the environment correspondent for The Nation, and Dr. Omnia El Omrani, the first ever Youth Representative for COP27.

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What is COP27?

Mark Hertsgaard [00:00:00] This is a local news story because what happens at COP27 and what doesn’t happen is going to go a long way towards deciding how bad climate change gets in your local community.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:03:00] Pete Ogden, I’d like to start with you. Broadly speaking, is there an overarching theme or set of issues you foresee being prominent during this COP?

Pete Ogden [00:03:12] Yeah, absolutely. And I think one of the things that’s interesting and notable about this topic is that it’s really the first one in the Paris Agreement era where those themes are not being substantially shaped and determined by negotiating deadlines. Just the way that the Paris Agreement timeline sets out the timing for this COP, unlike, say, last year’s COP in Glasgow, which had agreed a deadline for countries to revisit their national targets under the agreement. There isn’t that kind of single action forcing feature of the agreement that has a mandate that necessitates that it be dealt with at this COP at the highest level. What’s interesting is that what you do have, though, is the climate crisis itself and the urgency of the situation defining those themes. And I think it’s well reflected actually by two of the ways in which Egypt has described its COP. One is as an implementation COP and the other as an Africa COP. And I think the former really speaks to the fact that one of the major themes will be how and what can countries do to demonstrate that they are getting on the track of the Paris Agreement goals and of taking the additional action necessary to bend their emissions to get in line with that goal and ultimately the 1.5-degree world. The other sort of piece of that on the Africa COP and it’s not just Africa, but it is shorthand for the unique set of experiences of developing countries that because of where we are in the climate crisis, our failure to get on top of the situation more quickly are experiencing increasingly severe impacts. And it has become clear and they’re making it very clear that a priority for the COP is to try to ensure and try to get access to the kind of support from developed countries to help them to Cope with these impacts. Its shorthand is the term of loss and damage, how to Cope with these problems almost entirely, not of their own making, but which they’re bearing right now. So, I think those are two major, broad themes that we’ll see play out over the next couple of weeks.

How will Russia’s war on Ukraine effect COP27?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:05:24] Pete, sticking with you, you’ve described these kind of two overarching themes, one being the implementation of everything that has previously been agreed upon, that this is the implementation COP, and this is also the African COP. I’m going to speak with Nisha a bit about that latter point. Still, this COP is happening in a very unique geopolitical circumstance in which energy prices are shooting through the roof, and countries that have formerly been very committed to the energy transition are now starting to ramp up coal development and increase their reliance on fossil fuels in the midst of the fallout of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. To what extent can that issue be separated from what’s happening at COP, or do you foresee the broader geopolitical context being an integral part of the mood and tenor of COP this year?

Pete Ogden [00:06:27] Oh, I think it’ll be very pronounced there. I mean, the decisions that countries are making about climate change are fundamentally also about their energy security. And as you pointed out, in some ways, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the consequent spike in fossil fuel prices and energy shortages are pulling in two different directions. One is to try to make near-term decisions, to try to do whatever they can to keep prices under control and maintain access. On the other hand, it’s never really been clear, even though it was obviously very foreseeable that dependance on fossil fuel is not an economically, or from a security perspective, a tenable place to be. And so, the question is whether I think the climate discussions happen against a backdrop of whether there are steps that they can take that would help them to accelerate the transition off of those fuels and to be able to benefit from their climate policies in the economic and security spheres as well.

Why is COP27 being called the African COP?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:07:24] Nisha, so as Pete noted, this is being billed as the African COP. Is there a specific set of issues or outcomes that African countries in particular are seeking to achieve during this conference?

Nisha Krisnan [00:07:39] Yeah, that’s a great question. And I would say yes, absolutely. You know, I think one of the things is around adaptation. So how do you actually deal with the impacts of climate change? Right now, finance for adaptation is still quite lagging behind that of mitigation. So how do you reduce emissions? And the continent is really struggling, as Pete outlined. You have sort of ground zero for a lot of climate impacts happening on the continent. It’s a confluence of droughts, floods, even climate related pests. You’ve got extreme events here so it’s really hitting the continent hard. And at the end of the day, governments do have to be able to adapt their infrastructure to change how they actually do financial decision making. And all of that requires investment and adaptation and reducing sort of the vulnerability and the impacts of climate change. And right now, in 2019, 2020, the last numbers we have for the continent is about $7 per capita for adaptation, which is minimal. And there are some estimates around there that the African continent would need about $124 billion per year to really adapt its infrastructure and people’s right to deal with the impacts of climate change. And this is not including the other issue of loss and damage, which I’ll get to. And last year at Glasgow, developed countries committed to doubling adaptation finance to a grand total of $40 billion per year by 2025. So, as you can tell, probably, adaptation finance is still high on the agenda for African countries to see that scaled up to see more action on that front. So that’s priority number one. Number two is this issue of loss and damage.

What is climate-related loss and damage?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:09:20] Can you just briefly define loss and damage for those not steeped in the language of climate diplomacy? What do you mean by loss and damage? Because I know this is going to be a key issue at the outset of this COP.

Nisha Krisnan [00:09:32] Yes. So, I think as we all see, climate impacts are accelerating and we are actually only seeing disasters because we are not able to deal with them, right? So, we haven’t prepped our communities, we haven’t adapted our infrastructure to deal with some of these impacts. And even if we were to adapt right to most of these impacts, what the interpanel government on climate change, which is sort of the overall scientific body on climate issues, they released their recent report in February of this year and one of the reports outlined the fact that impacts are accelerating in severity and frequency and that even if we were to adapt at this point, we would still be not able to actually avoid the worst of these impacts. Right, so there is still going to be loss and damage. So, things that are irreversibly going to change for us, whether that is the loss of land, whether that is impacts, for example, of the floods we’re seeing in Pakistan, there are just things that we are going to experience now that are going to be irreversible. And that’s what we mean by loss and damage. It is you are going to have to change your way of life. You’re going to have to move. You’re going to have to do something else different. And so that’s what we mean by loss and damage. It is what is left once we have tried to mitigate and tried to adapt, and we still can’t actually address the problem that we’ve caused.

Why will loss and damage be a key discussion at COP27?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:10:56] And this requires money to be put up by countries that caused the damage of climate change as sort of reparations for countries that are experiencing the worst brunt of it. And it’s my understanding that at day one of this COP, there might be potential for some high drama as developing world countries seek to formally include conversations on loss and damage into the conference agenda, which it’s not currently set to be. Can you sort of set up that drama for listeners?

Nisha Krisnan [00:11:30] Sure. I think we as the public probably want more drama than there might actually be, at least at the start. But basically, day one of these conferences is when all the countries get together to actually adopt the agenda for what they’re talking about. So there’s never been an agenda item to really talk about loss and damage finance before and this year, as a result of the disappointment of last year’s conversation in Glasgow, when finance for loss and damage was taken off the table, the biggest grouping of negotiating countries — so at the COP every year there are different negotiating blocks; here’s the Africa Group of negotiators and the biggest one is the G77 and China, which is actually a group of 134 countries, and this was actually led by Pakistan — they tabled a request to add an agenda item about talking about a loss and damage finance facility, because that is still not on the agenda. And getting on the agenda means that you have a political space to actually discuss the issue, and so you’re also validating these concerns. And for the longest time, I think pre-Pakistan, probably this year so pre-September, there was quite a lot of reluctance, I would say, from probably the developed world in general, the EU, the US, others in having this conversation and having this frank conversation about what does it mean to financially address loss and damage. But I think because of Pakistan there has been a come to moment, like, you can no longer avoid the pictures in the news. You can no longer avoid the community stories out there about what is happening around the world. And so, I think there has been quite a lot of movement in the last couple of weeks to acknowledge and validate these concerns. And from what we’re hearing, for example, the UNFCCC presidency, the secretariat, and the Egyptian presidency, who’s the host of the conference this year, have actually appointed co-facilitators and two ministerial peers to help bring everyone together. And so, they’ve had lots of conversations with different countries about this agenda item to make sure that there isn’t potentially this showdown on the first day, because that could really derail all of the conversations, not just about loss and damage, but, you know, the hundreds of agenda items that they would have to cover this year.

What are the potential big outcomes from COP27?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:13:51] Mark, what stories are you following during COP27: are there any specific personalities that you’ll be looking towards? And in general, how will you be following this conference?

Mark Hertsgaard [00:14:05] So I speak here both as an environment correspondent at The Nation magazine, which co-founded Covering Climate Now, but also as the executive director of Covering Climate Now. And in that latter post, we have over 500 news outlets that reach about 2 billion people, but they come from very different parts of the world. We have big TV networks like ABC and CBS and Al-Jazeera, but we also have a lot of journalists who are at smaller news organizations, especially in the Global South. And so we’re trying to help all of our partners, all of our fellow journalists around the world to cover COP27, whether they are there on site in Egypt or still back in their home country and the way that we’re doing that is to say to everybody, look, COP27, it may be a big global summit, but this is a local news story because what happens at COP27 and what doesn’t happen is going to go a long way towards deciding how bad climate change gets in your local community. We’re trying to focus our colleagues on that, partly because we learned that the public, they respond more to climate stories when it can be localized and when it can be humanized. And so, we’re trying to urge our colleagues not to just focus on 420 parts per million and 1.5 degrees and all of that as important as they are, that doesn’t reach the average reader or listener or viewer of news. You have to talk about actual people. And so, we’ll be looking at that and we’ll also be trying to keep an eye on the activists. We also say that activists are newsmakers, just like politicians are, just like CEOs are, and we as journalists, we routinely cover politicians and CEOs as newsmakers. We have to get better at recognizing that activists are newsmakers as well. And finally, we’re trying to get all of our colleagues to understand that the planetary house is on fire and don’t be cynical about COP27 and these COPs. It’s very easy to sort of put on your jaded journalistic cap and say, oh, well, these COPs, they’re just a bunch of blah, blah, blah, as Greta Thunberg said they don’t really produce anything. We remind our colleagues, in fact, if it weren’t for COP 21 in 2015 at Paris, there would be no Paris agreement and we would not even be talking about the 1.5 target that is now so urgent.

Will the United States’ midterm elections play a role in COP27?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:16:32] Honing in on this idea of connecting local or even maybe national news stories to what happens at COP. You know, as an American, I am interested in learning how you see the ability of the Biden administration to set the tone at this COP. Over the summer, just a couple of months ago, we saw the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which was the single largest U.S. investment in climate change mitigation here in the U.S. How do you see the Biden administration being able or not to leverage the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act to meaningful outcomes at COP27, if at all?

Mark Hertsgaard [00:17:18] It’s interesting you ask that, Mark, because Covering Climate Now is just about to publish, in fact, we may have already in the last minutes, our weekly newsletter, Climate Beat, which I urge everyone to sign up for. You don’t have to be a journalist to receive it, just go to our website covering climate now dot org and you can sign up for it. And we’re talking there to our fellow journalists mainly, and we’re talking about that very question: how do you cover COP27? And of course, for U.S. outlets in particular, but not only for them, the start of COP27 coincides with the US midterm elections. So, the answer to your question of what kind of a bargaining position Joe Biden and John Kerry will be in at Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt, it’s going to largely depend on what happens on Election Day, much more so than the Inflation Reduction Act. If the Democrats hold on to both houses of Congress, then Kerry and Biden will be in a relatively strong position in Egypt. They can say, hey, the United States has finally come back to the global situation. We have passed the Inflation Reduction Act. It’s not enough, but it’s a floor and we’re going to do better going forward. If, on the other hand, Republicans end up controlling one or both houses of Congress, Biden and Kerry will be in a much, much weaker position in Egypt because Republicans are not likely to be able to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act because Biden could veto any such effort. But certainly, if they take control of the Congress, that means, no more strong climate action for the next two years. And Republicans can try and weaken the implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act by going after the funding, holding investigative hearings and so forth. So, for US outlets and indeed for news outlets around the world who recognize that the United States is the world’s leading climate superpower, biggest economy, biggest emitter of carbon gases in history, these elections are climate elections, and we’re trying to get our colleagues to make that clear to audiences. Americans so far are telling pollsters the issues on their minds as they go to the ballot box are inflation and abortion rights and to some extent, the future of democracy. In fact, Biden said that yesterday that democracy is on the ballot, but also on the ballot next Tuesday is the future of the planet and most Americans don’t know that yet. And we’re hoping that the media will do a better job of making that clear in the days to come.

Pete Ogden [00:19:45] Can I just make one quick comment in reaction to Mark’s observation about the impact of the midterm elections happening? I mean, I take maybe a little bit of a different view on that. I think that the significance of the US passing $369 billion worth of climate investment is very significant and really changes a lot the kind of contours around what’s possible at this COP. I mean, if you think back a few months and we’re staring very likely at the prospect of having nothing at all, no credible path forward, and now instead you have the largest piece of climate legislation in the US history. I mean, I think that does actually breathe some helpful life into the whole situation and really, we can’t discount it at this point, even if there’s a Republican take over and there are assuming that the whole bill is not somehow rescinded, which I do not see happening. And we will face other headwinds, but it’s pretty consequential. I worked in the Obama administration for five years in the climate negotiation space and I would have loved to ever be in a position where we had something like this going into a COP. I think part of the challenge, though, is that that’s a domestically focused bill and I think Nisha speaks for a lot of people when she says she’s looking at loss and damage. And that’s an issue that will require ultimately increases in climate finance overseas. And that is not addressed in the context of the Inflation Reduction Act, and that will be impacted significantly by the makeup of the Congress because, you know, they were talking about mobilizing public funding as part of it. So, I think figuring out how to make financial commitments that then can also be credibly met is going to be a real challenge because of that. And I agree with Mark at the outcome of the election that Tuesday will help shape what’s feasible there.

Who is the youth envoy for COP27?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:21:35] And Omnia, I wanted to turn to you now. You are the youth envoy for COP27 and in recent years we’ve seen in response to youth activism an increased willingness on the part of government officials to engage with youth on climate issues. How do you ensure that youth participation is actually meaningful, though, and more than just lip service?

Dr. Omnia El Omrani [00:21:59] Yeah, this is a great question and I think as young people, we tend to be tokenized in many events and global conferences and at the same time we may be given the opportunity to speak, but then there’s no sustainable follow up or meaningful integration of our voices in a way that is standardized or formal. At the same time being now the first ever envoy and the vision that we have as the presidency for that specific position is that in many COPs, young people and the presidency not necessarily interact in a way, except there’s always an annual conference of youth, which is COI that takes place right before COP. And the aim of COI is to build the capacity of young people to understand the complex climate processes of the UNFCCC and see and at the same time develop a global youth statement, which is the official youth input to the climate process with specific policy asks around adaptation, mitigation, loss and damage, all the different agenda points of COP. And as the presidency this year we don’t just want to welcome or receive this global youth statement and then no follow up is normally seen. We wanted to have a young person who is a young civil society representative and not a governmental official to really engage, actually listen from young people way ahead from the beginning of the term of the presidency and see what are the challenges that youth are facing and how can you work around that. A good example of this is that when I started my term, I held the first consultation in Gabon. We had around 100 African youth participate during the Africa Climate Week of the UNFCCC. And the key challenges that they face and communicated to me was, for example, logistics and access to accommodations from el Sheikh and that is why the government of Egypt provided 400 subsidized accommodation places only for young people to be able to come to the conference and stay for two weeks and afford it. And at the same time, they also communicated that we have the Global Youth Statement and then what? And that is why on the Youth Day, which is on November 10th at COP, we are organizing roundtable discussions, not a panel, but a roundtable dialog between the negotiators, ministers and youth representatives and experts to discuss the policy asks in that statement and how can we mainstream it and integrate this in a meaningful way in the negotiation process? We have two or three specific policy asks on each agenda point, which is the youth asks because this statement has been produced over the past three months with inputs from young people from all over the world. At least 100 youth organizations participated in the development of the statement and right now in Sharm, we have over 500 youth coming, convening, and discussing what is the collective youth input to COP. And during these roundtable discussions, we have two of them: One, focusing on adaptation, loss, and damage on resilience. The second, focusing on mitigation and just transition. And in them, we are going with our new thinkers and youth facilitators to come up with policy outcomes that young people are going to use across COP. We have a children and youth pavilion at COP, which means we have a youth space for the entire two weeks of the conference, independently led by young people, developing our own sessions, inviting the policymakers and the negotiators and the heads of litigation to come to us. We have a network, a room for all the bilateral meetings with young people and the climate policy makers. And we also have a room to conduct our sessions, our dialogs, our workshops throughout the two weeks of COP for the first time.

How will youth voices be heard and valued at COP27?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:26:00] So to that end, Omnia, is there a specific outcome that you will be looking towards at COP27 that will indicate to you that indeed youth voices and youth perspectives are being integrated into the conversation.

Dr. Omnia El Omrani [00:26:19] So when we look at negotiations in specifics, there is now a conversation around having — there is an ACE or an action for climate empowerment focal points — what we are pushing for is to have a youth focal point for climate action, and this is one specific outcome we’re pushing for. The second is, as you said, how can we assess the participation of youth? Was it meaningful or not? Are young people represented as part of their official country delegations? And we know that every year the UNHCR releases a report on gender composition. And what we’re trying to push for together with the youth constituency, is to also have a monitoring mechanism around youth engagement. How many young people are part of their official country delegation? How many young people speak? And for how long?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:27:07] And I’m going to go down the list and ask Pete, Mark, and Nisha to give a response, a variation on the same question: What does success look like for you at COP27? Nisha I’ll go with you first.

Nisha Krisnan [00:27:27] I think one thing for me is probably getting loss and damage on the agenda and actually addressed at COP this year. That’s my very quick and no-nonsense answer.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:27:37] Pete, what does success look like from your perspective?

Pete Ogden [00:27:43] I mean, I agree with Nisha, how the loss and damage issue is dealt with is going to be a huge indicator, I think, for whether people feel like they leave satisfied, across the board. I think on another level I am sort of interested in whether the fact that the G20, which falls right in the middle of the COP, whether there is going to be a sense that the climate discussions and what happens in these negotiations is really linked into the big other issues and global crises that we’re facing. And you alluded to this earlier. I mean, are we dealing with climate as a major factor in the energy crisis, or are we dealing with climate as a major factor in the global food crisis? So, I think there could be an opportunity for a lot of success if we see the COP processes not siloed off from these other grand structural crises that we’re facing, but actually can help to contribute to resolving them.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:28:36] Mark, give your take on how you would define success at this COP.

Mark Hertsgaard [00:28:42] The big question is still, how close is the world going to keep eventual temperature rise to 1.5? And the head of UNEP just said the other day that there is no credible path any longer to 1.5. We had our opportunity for incremental change, that time is over now. A root and branch transformation is the only thing that will save us from utter catastrophe. So, the things I’ll be looking at is, one is they’re going to be really credible, ambitious, and far-reaching action pledged by the major emitters. That means the G20 in general and above all the US and China. At Glasgow there was big promises made by the U.S. and China on climate cooperation that have fallen into ruin over the last 12 months because of other tensions in the relationship. We all remember at the final minute of COP26 how India and China together collaborated to essentially water down the final agreement to say that we will phase down rather than phase out coal use. So, what these big emitters do and credibly do is going to be big question number one. And of course, the G20 meeting is happening at the end of COP27. So, I urge everyone to keep your eyes on the ball there. And second, of course, is the question of loss and damage in general, which essentially represents what has always been the fundamental conflict in these conferences going way back to 1992, the Earth Summit in Brazil, which I covered. That climate politics internationally has always been a conflict between the rich countries who have gotten rich by burning all these fuels and the poor countries who have suffered because of that and who are saying that, hey, we have a right to develop and now we need compensation, reparations, whatever you want to call it, loss, and damage. I think that’s going to be a very, very tough hill to climb. John Kerry, who is very ambitious about climate action in general, has been very resistant to talk about anything about loss and damage and his argument is that, hey, we only have so much money and if you can get more votes out of a Republican Congress than we did, great, but how are you going to find trillions of dollars for loss and damage? We have to keep our eyes on the ball and make sure that we keep the temperature rise to as close to 1.5 as possible. So those are the two issues that I’ll be watching.

Nisha Krisnan [00:31:05] So I just wanted to pick up on this whole compensation, reparations, liability sort of conversation and actually one of the things that I would say is that, you know, obviously, developing countries are very scared of this compensation liability thing. And actually, the Paris agreement in its cover decision did put this issue of compensation and liability to rest. Under the Paris Agreement, they have already said loss and damage will not be an issue about compensation, liability. At this point, which basically closes the legal door to any sort of legal cases against countries. The point right now is that, look, we’re beyond compensation, liability, and that’s only a fear really in developed countries minds. It is not a fear or even a request from developing countries and vulnerable countries. Right now, it is we are in the front lines. We would like help because this is now a development and a livelihood and a life issue. It is no longer whether you caused the problem, or we didn’t. It is that we are on the front lines, and we need this in terms of solidarity. And so, it is much broader of a conversation than this whole compensation liability aspect. And I do want to make that clear, and it’s something that’s in the Paris Agreement. It’s been put to rest. And I do think we need to move beyond it and make sure that we have that framing, because it is much more than that at this point.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:32:25] All right, everyone, thank you so much. Huge thank you to our speakers. We’ll see you next time. Thank you for listening to Global Dispatches. Our show is produced by me, Mark Leon Goldberg, and edited and mixed by Levi Sharp.

The post What Will Drive the Agenda at COP27? appeared first on UN Dispatch.

Kategorien: english

Cholera is Surging Around the World and Vaccine Supplies Are Running Low

3. November 2022 - 3:00

There are a record number of cholera outbreaks around the world today. Consider this data point: in 2022 alone, 29 countries have reported a cholera outbreak. This compares to 20 countries over the previous five years. The outbreaks are distributed across several regions: countries in the Caribbean, Middle East, Africa, and Asia are experiencing cholera outbreaks — some for the first time in decades.

Amidst all these concurrent outbreaks, there is a global shortage of cholera vaccines to the point that public health officials are suspending the the standard two-dose vaccination regimen in favor of just a single dose.

In this episode, we speak with Dr. Louise Ivers, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, and the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Global Health about why there is a sudden surge in outbreaks worldwide, where the outbreaks are the worst, and what can be done about this vaccine shortage.

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Transcript lightly edited for clarity

Where are the Current Cholera Outbreaks Happening? 

Dr. Louise Ivers [00:00:00] The geographic diversity to me is just an example of how if we don’t really pay attention to infectious diseases, they can really become global phenomena.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:02:12] In this conversation, Dr. Louise Ivers mentions the cholera outbreak ongoing in Haiti, and if you want a deeper dive into the political, social and security crisis unfolding in Haiti right now, I recommend you listen to my conversation with Jacqueline Charles, reporter from The Miami Herald, which was published just a couple episodes back.

Dr. Louise Ivers [00:02:56] Some of the worst outbreaks are happening on the continent of Africa. There’s also a brand-new outbreak in Haiti. There are outbreaks in the Middle East, in Syria, in Lebanon. All of those are causes for concern at the moment, although to be honest, for many people who are heavily engaged in the disease of cholera, the persistent outbreaks have never really gone away. And so many of us have been very concerned, at least since the end of 2021, as we saw cases going up but those are some of the hotspots that people might be reading about it in the news right now in particular.

Why are the current cholera outbreaks spread out over the world?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:03:32] What does the geographic diversity of these various outbreaks tell you about trends in cholera? I mean, you’re mentioning an outbreak in the Caribbean, an outbreak in Africa, and I know there are outbreaks in South Asia as well. What does the sheer geographic diversity of these outbreaks tell you?

Dr. Louise Ivers [00:03:50] I’m an infectious disease doctor by training, and we often say infections don’t know borders, which sounds a little bit cliche, but it’s true. You know, we see a disease of cholera, which historically was much more contained in the area of India, Bangladesh, which started spreading as a pandemic many, many years ago, and that pandemic has never really actually been stopped. I mean, it’s the seventh pandemic of cholera, but it has been going on for many, many decades. And so, I think the geographic diversity to me is just an example of how if we don’t really pay attention to infectious diseases, they can really become global phenomena and they can be really devastating to people who get sick from them, but also to health systems that have to try to deal with them and to economies where people are sick. And the economics of the country has to try to respond to control and contain the outbreaks.

Why have cholera cases increased since 2021?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:04:51] So you mentioned earlier that there has been a general increase in cholera worldwide since 2021. Why is that?

Dr. Louise Ivers [00:05:02] We don’t really understand all the factors that go into cholera increasing, but there’s certain things that we could put together as part of the issue of cholera increasing. We definitely see that cholera cases are related to climate and extreme weather events, and that is one factor. We also know that you can stop cholera outbreaks. You can prevent people from catching cholera if they have good access to water and sanitation, and those, sadly, are still very, very lacking around the world. We also know that food security and food insecurity is associated with challenging behaviors for people who may not be able to prevent themselves from putting themselves at risk for cholera. So if you put together the kind of climate, environmental factors, the water, sanitation, hygiene factors, food insecurity, and what’s common to many of the areas where we’ve talked about earlier, having cholera outbreaks is a social and political insecurity and instability that puts people on the move, that puts more pressure on water systems, on sanitation systems, on food systems and add all those things together, you have a bad scenario in which cholera can really increase. So those are some of the things that we’re all thinking about which are related to the increase in numbers.

How does the climate crisis lead to more cholera outbreaks?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:06:17] So access to sanitation or lack of access to sanitation seems like a very straightforward reason why there might be a cholera outbreak in any given location. But there are two other reasons you just cited that I’m curious to learn a little bit more about. The first is this link to climate and extreme weather events. Where are you seeing climate and extreme weather events causing or contributing to a cholera outbreak and how does that relationship work?

Dr. Louise Ivers [00:06:48] So I think of that relationship in two streams: One is the environmental factors of how Vibrio cholerae, the bacteria that causes cholera, are a type of bacteria that can exist in the environment. And so, we think about how with warm weather, with moist environments — Vibrios live in aquatic environments — how when you see changes in the temperature of the air and the moisture and the rainfall, how those can cause a proliferation of Vibrio is an important piece. And then I think about the social factors that are associated with climate and extreme weather. So, when you have floods, for example, and water systems are contaminated with flood water or people are on the move because of flooding or of droughts, and those people that are moving to places where there might be already water insecurity, putting more density of people in places where they’re trying to access the water and food systems being scarce. So, I think those are the two kinds of ways of thinking about how climate and weather are really associated, both from a bacteriological perspective and also from a social environmental perspective.

Where in the world is climate contributing to increased cholera cases?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:07:58] Is there a place, a country, a region where you would see this relationship between a warming, a more moist environment and an increase in incidence of cholera? Is there a specific place or country or region you could cite?

Dr. Louise Ivers [00:08:13] Well, I think there’s a lot of research going on to try to understand and to pinpoint in the exact factors associated with the climate and the weather in terms of the environmental perspective. And there’s definitely some modeling studies from the early 2010’s that looked at rainfall patterns, air temperature patterns and the evolution of cholera outbreaks. Sometimes some of the situation is tied up, as I said, in the movement of people. I want to maybe use the example of a recent cholera outbreak in Haiti, where you have a confluence of circumstances that can sometimes make it difficult to pinpoint what exact one circumstance caused the outbreak, if you know what I mean. So, in Haiti, over the last three or four years, there’s been a dramatic increase in the physical insecurity in the country. There is a lot of gang activity that has made it very difficult for people to get out and move around. There has been a lot of protests against the existing government and in the context of this social disruption, there is a blockade of access to fuel. Lack of access to fuel has caused the fact that even the water purification companies have had a hard time doing their job of purifying water. Then the trucks have had a hard time getting into communities to deliver the water. And you add that into the context of what the local community have reported as an incredibly hot summer with a substantial amount of rainfall in the fall. And now we see a cholera outbreak in Haiti started about a month ago, although there had not been any cholera cases reported there for about three years. It can be challenging sometimes to really unpack the very specific issues of which thing exactly caused an outbreak. But more and more researchers are trying to study and understand this and also use more novel scientific techniques like genomic sequencing to understand exactly where the cholera is coming from. Is it coming from the same place and just reemerging from the environment, or is it being reintroduced by people as we have this increasing global society where people are transporting bacteria with them whenever they go to different places? So, it can be a little bit hard to unpack with some specific details.

How does food security relate to cholera outbreaks?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:10:28] So you also mentioned food security as an aggravating reason that a cholera outbreak may occur. What’s the relationship between food security and cholera outbreaks? And again, where are you seeing this relationship manifesting itself around the world today?

Dr. Louise Ivers [00:10:49] So this is an area that I’m personally interested in from a research perspective, and I work in public health programs, and I also undertake some investigations to try to understand how the social determinants of disease actually realize themselves. And what we noticed in our team, again, working in Haiti, was that in houses where there was a very high measure of food insecurity, that there was a higher rate of cholera and a higher risk of death from cholera compared to families that had food secure households. When I’m talking about food security, I’m talking about access and availability to food. So, you could imagine how there are different ways that food insecurity works. One of them is that if you don’t have reliable access to food in your house, you could develop malnutrition and the children could develop malnutrition. When we have malnutrition, the intestine itself becomes incapable of protecting the human from bacteria that it encounters. There’s a breakdown of the barrier, and there is a change in the immunology in the intestine, which can make a person who accidentally swallows a vibrio cholera more likely to develop cholera. So that’s one pathway. The other pathways are around behavior. So, when you are food insecure and you don’t actually know exactly when you’re going to eat next or your attention is really focused specifically on your next meal, you sometimes have to undertake behaviors that you know are not in your best interest, so you might be more likely to eat leftover food that hasn’t been able to be reheated. Or you might have to scavenge for food, or you might have to choose between purifying your water or sending your child to school or making some other risk calculations. So, we find that food insecurity interrupts risk calculations and it modifies behavior in a way that we hypothesize is one of the ways in which food insecurity is also associated with cholera. And then we know also that food insecurity really exerts a mental toll on people. So, seeing that seeking food is one of the most fundamental human needs and desires, the inability to be certain about your food source puts a mental toll and mental stress on people. It’s associated with anxiety and major depression, and this can also interrupt one’s resilience in the face of an outbreak. So, there are many ways in which we see that food insecurity may be associated with cholera. It’s an area of research for my group and my team. But we have seen in a multinational study that we looked at that when food insecurity in nations is high, there is a higher outbreak risk of cholera in those countries as well.

What caused the current cholera outbreak in Lebanon?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:13:36] I wanted to also ask you about the outbreak in Lebanon, which is, I guess, surprising to me because it’s not a place that one typically associates with cholera. There hasn’t been an outbreak there, I think, since like 1993. What accounts for the cholera outbreak in Lebanon and what does the fact that it hasn’t experienced an outbreak in over almost 30 years and is now in the midst of one tell you about the nature of this disease and about its occurrence globally.

Dr. Louise Ivers [00:14:10] I think that all infectious disease outbreaks really highlight or should highlight the fragility of our societies and our health systems. Specifically, as it relates to Lebanon, generally speaking, we find that outbreaks need to have the bacteria introduced or to reemerge. I mean, it sounds simplistic, but either somebody brought the bacteria to the place, or it was silently existing in a way that didn’t reach the radar of our detection systems, our surveillance systems and environmental situation of water, sanitation, movement of people, insecurity caused it to be able to flourish. If you look at North America, Europe, we don’t really have cholera outbreaks, generally speaking. That is because even if one or two people have cholera when they come to the United States or to Europe, they generally have systems in place such that an outbreak doesn’t occur. So, a person might have cholera, but they have access to latrines, to toilets, to sanitation. They are able to wash their hands. The water is purified, the water is clean. So, you have multiple places in which transmission is interrupted. When you have a situation, for example, in Lebanon where there is a fracture in the system or in multiple parts of the system, whether it’s a movement of people, access to sanitation or pressure on sanitation systems, if you have flooding in areas that normally are used to kind of gravity type of sewage, but flooding has caused the sewage and the water systems to interact in some ways. You have a risk now that anyone who has the bacteria is now able to introduce it, especially into the water system and then later into the food system. So, these are the ways in which we see outbreaks occurring in places where they hadn’t either occurred for some time or where they’re starting to reemerge in a large amount, even if they hadn’t been seen like that before.

How does cholera infect people?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:16:12] So can I have you explain to listeners who might not be aware just how cholera infects people, how it sickens people and how it kills people and who it generally kills?

Dr. Louise Ivers [00:16:26] Yeah, so cholera with a small ‘c’ is the name of a constellation of symptoms: nausea, vomiting and profuse watery diarrhea. They can lose ten liters, 20 liters of fluid through diarrhea in a day. It’s very dramatic. You acquire the bacteria through contaminated water or foods in particular. So, this is why we keep in our conversation talking about water and sanitation. You have to have the sanitation separate from the water, and where they come together, you’re at risk of acquiring the bacteria. So, you eat or drink contaminated water or food; the bacteria multiplies in your intestine and it causes an acute secretory diarrhea. So, your body starts secreting, secreting as a result of a toxin. And what we can see happen is even the healthiest adults can go from walking, talking healthy to almost at death or dying within a matter of hours. Very, very, very dramatic illness that occurs very, very quickly and can kill even the healthiest of people. So, it’s not just children who are at risk from cholera. The adults are very much at risk from cholera as well. What happens is that as the bacteria leaves the body, it has become hyper infectious. So, it’s like the body amplifies the infectiousness of the bacteria, and when it’s pooped out in the diarrhea, that diarrhea is highly infectious. So, you really want to be sure that that is not getting back into the water system, is not somehow contaminating food, maybe through people’s hands or other practices, caregivers helping to take care of the sick, and it amplifies outbreaks. So, one person who gets cholera may then inadvertently through their illness, cause the transmission to many, many other people. And if you add this kind of infectious cycle in the human into the social context that we talked about, maybe where there’s very much overcrowding or where people are in displacement camps or refugee camps, where there’s not enough access to soap to wash their hands or clean water to drink or the sanitation gets flooded by heavy rainfall and contaminates the local water system, you can see how you can sometimes get really explosive outbreaks. What we do see is that in some countries where cholera is endemic, meaning that they have regular yearly outbreaks of cholera, adults tend to have had multiple exposures to cholera over their lifetime, so they do develop some degree of immunity to the disease. So, they might still acquire the infection but not be quite as sick. In those circumstances, you do find that it’s often the children who are the sickest because they have had less time to be naturally exposed over the years to circulating cholera in the environments. What we’re seeing in Haiti at the moment in this outbreak is a large portion of the sick are indeed children, and that might be related to the fact that there was such a long outbreak in Haiti from 2010 until 2019, before many older people had had some exposure to the Vibrio at the time of that outbreak. But we’re not really sure why that’s happening in Haiti just now.

How is cholera treated?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:19:45] It is also my understanding that just as cholera is extremely infectious and can really harm people very quickly, there are also a suite of really effective and frankly really inexpensive treatments that could be given like oral rehydration salts and antibiotics that seem to work pretty well, right?

Dr. Louise Ivers [00:20:05] Yes. Cholera is 100% preventable and 100% treatable, so nobody should die of diarrhea. You can find cholera early by detecting the symptoms and treating people with oral rehydration solution. Very, very simple mixture of sugar and salt and water that helps to establish hydration for the person and can really be very dramatic in saving their lives. Antibiotics, for some cases are also very useful. They can shorten the duration of illness, and they can also reduce the number of days of shedding the bacteria so that a person who’s treated with rehydration solution and antibiotics would be less likely to pass on the infection to others. And then it’s also possible to vaccinate against cholera. There is a very low-cost oral cholera vaccine that was developed a couple of decades ago and is very useful in interrupting outbreaks and in protecting people in both the short and the long term.

Is there a vaccine for cholera?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:21:11] And it’s this vaccine that I’d really love to discuss with you, because as we are speaking, there is a global shortage of this vaccine. In normal circumstances when there’s not a shortage of this vaccine, in what circumstances is this vaccine used? I mean, I take it is both a vaccine used to prevent one from getting cholera in places in which cholera may be endemic, but it’s also used in emergency situations. So, could you just paint the vaccine picture for listeners before we get into a conversation about reasons why there is a vaccine shortage right now?

Dr. Louise Ivers [00:21:49] Yes, so there is a cholera vaccine that is available to travelers in Europe and North America, which we won’t talk about too much, because I think we’re more talking about the global pandemic as opposed to a traveler that might feel that they were at risk. And the traveler available vaccine is not available on the global scale. So, people who die from cholera are usually people who are impoverished, displaced, have less access to medical services and health services in the first place. And they are, generally speaking, not considered by pharmaceutical companies likely to make much money. And the reality is that vaccines that are not going to make much money are hard to get to the market because businesses who are functioning with the profit motive don’t see the motive to move forward. Cholera vaccines have been available for some time, but I would say it’s really in the last decade that their use as a public health tool has become more popular. Data, which became available from Haiti and from Guinea and from South Sudan and other countries that used cholera vaccines as part of outbreak response really showed that using oral cholera vaccination, either in a single dose or two doses, was very helpful to stop outbreaks. When that data became more available, it became increasingly popular to use cholera vaccine as part of outbreak response. So, what happens now is that there is a global stockpile of cholera vaccine, and it is managed by a coordinating group that receives requests for emergency use of the vaccine, and then there is another group that receives less urgent but also important requests for the vaccine. And those groups are trying to decide on any given month which country and which region has a good plan put together. Where is the crisis that they should use the vaccine doses that are available and trying to manage a pretty limited supply. I will add that the supply of cholera vaccines for public health use has been limited for quite some time. The limited availability is really coming to a peak at the moment and really obvious at the moment because as we were talking about, the number of cases has been skyrocketing. So, the skyrocketing number of cases and therefore the demand to use the vaccine is going up just at the same time as the availability of the vaccine is beginning to really plateau and go down. But it has been under some pressure in terms of supply and demand for quite some time.

Why is the cholera vaccine being rationed?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:24:32] And basically, we’re at the point now where this coordinating committee you described is rationing vaccines, trying to decide which outbreaks get the vaccines and which don’t.

Dr. Louise Ivers [00:24:43] Yeah, I think they were always rationing because that’s their job, because if the vaccine was more available, that coordination committee would not be necessary. If the vaccine was more available, countries who need it and want it would just buy it. But because the vaccine was already limited, the coordination group and the stockpile was created to help both stabilize demand so manufacturers could make a certain amount and also help to manage the supply by negotiating with the manufacturers and helping to be the interlocutor. But you’re exactly right. Recently, the International Coordinating Group announced that they would limit the number of doses available to a single dose campaign instead of a two-dose campaign. So that full vaccination or fully up to date on your vaccine would be two doses of these vaccines. But they are limiting it to one now due to the extreme pressure on the supply.

How is the cholera vaccine shortage affecting cholera outbreaks around the world?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:25:38] So typically they would recommend two doses now because of supply shortages, they’re recommending just one dose. How is this limitation in cholera vaccine accessibility manifesting itself around the world? What does the shortage look like on the ground in places where cholera is happening?

Dr. Louise Ivers [00:26:01] What it looks like is that in Haiti, for example, where many of the non-governmental partners have been working to put together a proposal for access to some of the vaccine, they’ll be looking at changing their plans. So, they would be looking at a single dose campaign instead of a double dose campaign. What we know about single dose of this vaccine is that it does work in the short term, and it looks like it works up to about 12 months or so after you take the dose. So, it can be very helpful in the outbreak setting, but the duration of protection is short compared to taking two doses. So, if you take two doses, the vaccine works for four years, maybe longer, but one dose is only going to be good for one year. So, you can imagine as a country or region experiencing an outbreak, now you have to a. Communicate with the population why they’re only getting one dose instead of two — will that help your public trust or cause some distrust? Who knows? I would hope people would still be trusting because I know one dose will work but how do you communicate that? But then it also means that countries and regions are going to have to scramble because they know that it’ll be only protected for one year. And really, what we always are hoping cholera vaccination will do is buy time. Nobody, I think, in public health wants to see a situation in which we’re just constantly vaccinating against a disease that actually could be prevented by water and sanitation. No, everybody needs to have access to clean water and sanitation. Until we do that, we are going to live in a very unhealthy world. So, the idea of vaccination is that you would buy time during which you can work on your water and sanitation systems, in which you can drill for wells, and you can build the piping that you need and the water systems that you need. Let’s go back to this question of a single dose versus a double dose: with a single dose we know you’re buying much less time from a public health perspective, and you’re going to be reacting probably again just a year later, whereas two doses would give you a much longer period of time in which to work.

How can the cholera vaccine shortage be remedied?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:28:09] So you mentioned earlier that the key reason there is not sufficient supply of cholera vaccines right now is because pharmaceutical companies don’t see it in their interest to manufacture sufficient supply. Is there a public policy remedy to this?

Dr. Louise Ivers [00:28:28] Personally, I would love to see public biotechnology. For me, as an infectious diseases doctor, and especially one that works, generally speaking, with health systems that are underfunded and under-resourced, we have to try to incentivize public goods, and it can be very hard to do this in the private sector. And that’s understandable if you look at the private sector’s motivations and what they have to report on. I do think it’s very challenging to envision a world in which we’re building off the profit motive around biomedical interventions, but we still need to serve the most impoverished people with the tools of biomedical discovery. For some time, there was only one vaccine producer making this oral cholera vaccine and then a few years ago, a second company came on board in South Korea, and they began manufacturing, I believe, with the understanding that there would be then two manufacturers going forward. The first has now dropped out of producing, so the second is left kind of on its own, doing everything they can to keep up with the demand, but really being under pressure and physically not necessarily having the infrastructure to be able to produce more vaccine. I see the way out of this as really having public investments in the manufacturing of vaccines and supporting vaccine production around the world, including on the continent of Africa, where they currently have to import many of their routine use vaccines. We see this in the COVID 19 pandemic, a lack of ability to produce their own vaccines and the rest of the world really leaving them out and leaving them behind and hoarding. That’s not the case with cholera vaccines, because the quote unquote rich world doesn’t really need the vaccines in the first place. So, they, generally speaking, just haven’t been paying that much attention to them.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:30:25] In the coming weeks or months, are there any data, points or indicators that will suggest to you whether or not on a global level, cholera outbreaks will continue to get worse or whether or not, say, vaccine supply may meet demand and things might get a little better.

Dr. Louise Ivers [00:30:45] I am watching with some concern the current situation, and I’m hopeful that I will see cases stabilize and reduce. I’m hopeful because I know we have all the tools that we need in 2022 to actually contain and control cholera. We have all the knowledge on how to do this. The thing that gives me concern is, will we actually do this? Will we actually control it? Will we contain it? Are we willing to move resources into it to ensure that it happens? And also, how is the COVID 19 pandemic, which we didn’t really discuss, but I think has really interrupted in many ways the health systems and perhaps surveillance and perhaps things have been happening that we haven’t been able to be aware of in the cholera world because attention was focused on COVID 19. So, to answer your specific question about what I am watching, I’m carefully watching the cholera cases in the countries we talked about. I’m very interested in seeing the case fatality rate for cholera, which ideally would be zero but we’re seeing has been creeping up over the last year or two as well and hoping that to see those things stabilize and then reduce. And then I would love to see the pharmaceutical companies change their mind and one in particular, stay on board, keep production, or perhaps other companies that can come on board to help to manufacture the much-needed vaccines while we try to also improve access to water and sanitation for the planet.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:32:25] Dr. Ivers, thank you so much for your time. This is very helpful.

Dr. Louise Ivers [00:32:29] Oh, you’re welcome.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:32:37] Thank you for listening to Global Dispatches. Our show is produced by me, Mark Leon Goldberg, and edited and mixed by Levi Sharp.

The post Cholera is Surging Around the World and Vaccine Supplies Are Running Low appeared first on UN Dispatch.

Kategorien: english

The White House Makes Biosecurity a Pillar of National Security. Can Doing So Prevent the Next Disaster?

31. Oktober 2022 - 3:00

On October 18th, the White House released an expansive new strategy on Countering Biological Threats, Enhancing Pandemic Preparedness, and Achieving Global Health Security.

The strategy sets out a whole of government approach to mitigating biological risks. This includes naturally occurring pathogens or dangerous new pathogens created in a lab.

In this episode, we speak with Nikki Teran, director of biosecurity policy at Guarding Against Pandemics. We discuss the substance of the new US biodefense strategy, it’s strengths, weaknesses, and potential barriers to implementation, as well as the Bio-risk threat landscape, in terms of what specific pathogens and broader trends a strategy like this seeks to mitigate.

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Transcript lightly edited for clarity 

What is Zoonotic Spillover?

Nikki Teran [00:00:00] Nikki Teran: [00:00:00] Bio is a national security threat that is capable of producing catastrophic and potentially existential global consequences, which I think i8s somethign that isn’t usually touched upon when talking about biological risks. [00:00:00][0.0]

Mark L. Goldberg [00:03:01] Like Ebola or monkeypox are two recent examples of that.

Nikki Teran [00:03:06] Absolutely. And one that people might not be as familiar with is Nipah, which some bats carry. And when bats drink the palm syrup and then humans drink that same palm syrup, they’re exposed to the bat saliva that can have viruses in it. So especially as animals are changing their migration patterns due to climate change, they’re able to pass pathogens between each other in ways that they didn’t previously, which leads to mutations. And they’re coming in contact with people in a way they didn’t previously, as there’s less wild out there and more human animal interfaces.

Why is zoonotic spillover more prevalent now?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:03:41] And this is partly an example of why we’re seeing increasingly more zoonotic pathogens out there infecting people at a greater clip than we have in past history.

Nikki Teran [00:03:52] Yes, we’re also noticing more, and people are more interconnected than ever. So it could be that Nipah was spilling over in some small village and those people got sick and maybe the village got sick, but it didn’t extend past that village. But now, since people are going into cities and traveling around the world, you’re much more likely to have those pathogens escape that one tiny little corner of the world and become a big problem. And so that’s just the naturally occurring. Biotechnology is advancing rapidly, such that humans are able to almost play God: create and manipulate life in ways that they haven’t been able to before. And it’s becoming cheaper and easier, and there’s more and more information about how to do this. They’re actually like little kits. You can buy a CRISPR kit online, maybe about 50 bucks, maybe it’s 200 bucks, and edit the DNA of bacteria just at home with what comes in the mail. Editing the E coli genome to be resistant to an antibiotic isn’t the biggest pandemic threat, but it is actually gain of function work where you’re adding functionality to a potential pathogen that didn’t happen before.

What are some current biotechnology threats?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:05:08] And it’s work that can happen just in anyone’s garage as opposed to in like a regulated setting.

Nikki Teran [00:05:14] Yes, and that expands the potential for both deliberate uses, where more people are able to create weapons in a way that they weren’t before, and accidental use, because if someone doesn’t know what they’re doing, they might create a problem. Or if they’re trying to deliberately create a problem and are not very effective at doing so and infect themselves, then you have another problem.

What is RSV?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:05:40] And this is just not regulated; this is a corner of the bio-risk world that is like a free for all.

Nikki Teran [00:05:48] Essentially. There are some requirements around reporting if you are funded by the National Institutes of Health, but otherwise, if you’re doing it on your own, there’s basically free rein. Now there is a list of pathogens that you’re not allowed to have unless you have special permission, and those do include smallpox and Ebola, SARS, some stuff like that, but it is a finite list. And so, if you add capabilities to RSV that wouldn’t actually run afoul of any US regulations.

How are non-scientists creating bio-risk with experimenting on pathogens?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:06:20] And RSV, we should note, is just like running like wild through elementary schools right now. So, one can imagine if one wanted to add functionality to RSV to make it more potent or more resistant to treatment, this is something that people could do.

Nikki Teran [00:06:38] Yeah, and not everyone who’s doing work in this vein is doing it maliciously. Actually, for the development of vaccines, people do typically make pathogens more transmissible, but they try to tone down its pathogenicity, its virulence, how sick it actually makes people. So, it’s not like we only need to worry about bad actors, but we also need to make sure that the work we’re doing in the name of defensive measures is both done as productively as possible and as safely as possible.

How frequent are pathogen-experimenting accidents?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:07:09] How frequently do accidents happen that are potentially very catastrophic, that are using some biological agent that is particularly virulent? Is this like a frequent occurrence or are these accidents relatively very rare?

Nikki Teran [00:07:27] I think it depends on what your definition of relative is. I’ve seen a list of, I think, something like 40 different accidents with high consequence pathogens in the last 50 years. A good example is SARs, where SARs emerged twice from animal reservoirs, but I believe there were six separate incidents where it got out of labs and made people sick. And actually, the last person to die from SARs died as a result of a laboratory outbreak. Actually, it wasn’t even the researcher who died, it was her mother, which is very sad.

What is in the Biden/Harris National Biodefense Strategy and Implementation Plan for Countering Biological Threats, Enhancing Pandemic Preparedness, and Achieving Global Health Security?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:08:03] So it’s in this context in which we have an increasing frequency pace of naturally occurring pathogens, the zoonotic pathogens that you were discussing earlier, then you have a whole suite of new technologies that are enabling the deliberate or accidental release of pathogens. And it’s in this context that the Biden administration is releasing its new national strategy for dealing with biological threats. What is in this strategy that is significant and notable to you?

Nikki Teran [00:08:42] One thing that I find particularly notable about the strategy is that it actually refers to catastrophic biological incidents and in the national security memorandum that accompanies it, basically, the strategy is like the game plan and the memorandum is actually telling people they really do have to do it. There is in the memorandum a mention of the fact that bio is a national security threat that is capable of producing catastrophic and potentially existential global consequences, which I think is something that isn’t usually touched upon when talking about biological risks. Often, it’s grouped into a public health issue and not so much a national security or even existential risk issue. So, I don’t think there’s anything particularly revolutionary that’s shown in the National Biodefense Strategy if you’re the kind of person like me who is constantly paying attention to this. But it is like a very solid collection of what needs to be done to prevent and respond to and recover from catastrophic biological incidents.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:09:49] Can you walk those of us who are not so deeply enmeshed in this issue, what are some of those key highlights and key strategy points?

Nikki Teran [00:09:59] So key strategy points here start out with preventing outbreaks from becoming epidemics and preventing incidents before they can happen. So here are the incidents before they can happen revolving around biosafety, trying to make sure that labs have the best resources they can to keep their workers safe and also preventing epidemics or preventing outbreaks from becoming epidemics and pandemics. And here, a big factor is early warning and detection.

How does early warning and detection of outbreaks and pandemics look in practice?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:10:27] What does that mean in practice?

Nikki Teran [00:10:29] Basically, it’s a smoke alarm for pathogens. You don’t want to see the house on fire to know that there’s a problem. So early warning and detection can be pathogen agnostic where you don’t necessarily know what you’re looking for. All living things, most pathogens, most things we’re worried about have DNA or RNA, and you’re able to kind of read those DNA and RNA sequences and see that there’s something there. So that would give you an idea of, say, if there is Ebola in San Francisco or if there is an exponentially growing new pathogen that maybe you’ve never seen before, you can kind of send out that alarm. That’s the smoke, that’s the signal. There are also ones that are more targeted and directed either through wastewater monitoring of known pathogens. This is the thing where we kind of know how much COVID is in a city, by how much COVID RNA you’re able to detect in literally sewer water, like literally from people’s poop. And then there’s also signals in hospital usage. So, if a bunch of people in one city are coming in with pneumonia, especially pneumonia of unknown origin, you can flag that, although I personally think that’s a little bit too late.

How does early pandemic detection work internationally?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:11:42] And to what extent are these early detection systems, the kind of smoke alarm you just describe, also able to be deployed internationally? I mean, one thing that we’ve seen, we discussed Ebola earlier or Nipah, these are diseases mostly of the developing world in countries and places that do not themselves necessarily have such robust health systems, let alone the kind of surveillance that you’re describing. Does this strategy account for that?

Nikki Teran [00:12:14] Absolutely. The strategy does task, not just CDC with trying to implement this kind of surveillance, but also USAID and the State Department. You might be inclined to think that we over here are so civilized, of course, we’d be able to implement these high-tech plans, and what about places where Ebola comes out? But in reality, they actually have better infrastructure than we do in many ways because it is a recognized threat, and there has been investment, especially throughout Africa, in trying to set up some of these surveillance systems. Whereas in the United States there’s actually a big issue of data sharing between states, from states to CDC. So, it’s important to both do that investment on the home front so we can detect things when they’re here, but also around the world. And it’s a large task to do anywhere, but it’s not like we’re totally safe here.

How does the new National Biodefense Strategy tackle the ability to do at-home pathogen experimenting?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:13:07] On bio safety, what specific either regulations or directives does this strategy suggest be used to improve biosafety concerning some of the risks that you were discussing before, both in terms of gain of function research, the idea that you could manipulate pathogens ostensibly to study them, but bad things might come from having manipulated them, and also that kind of off the shelf CRISPR by mail you discussed earlier.

Nikki Teran [00:13:41] The National Biodefense Strategy doesn’t have very clear guidelines as to exactly how these things should be implemented, but it does stress that safe and secure bio laboratory practices should be a priority and should be promoted. So, it’s not saying like you need to wear this kind of gloves, but it is saying that there needs to be an interagency review of what the current recommendations and standards are, and best practices should be propagated from that. Similarly, that it should be a priority of the United States to make sure that these best practices are shared internationally as well, so that we’re not the only ones sitting on good information as to how to keep people safe. And here in that prevention bucket is not just biosafety, there’s also deterrence of biological weapons. So, this is making it really obvious that you don’t want to use biological weapons. Having everyone affirm that this is a norm that we’re not going to break. And also coming up with the tools to decide very quickly who released a biological weapon so that there can be appropriate responses to that.

What is the Congressional Republican stance on the National Biodefense Strategy?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:14:45] That leads me to a set of questions around implementation. You know, this is a strategy, accompanying the strategy is an implementation plan, part of that includes $88 billions of funding. Where does Congress stand on these issues? I mean, we’ve seen in recent months partisan squabbling over covid funding with republicans balking at additional funding requests from the administration on COVID related issues, both domestically and internationally. Does Republican reluctance to want to continue to fund COVID issues at the level the White House is requesting shadow or carry over into other issues around biosafety and biosecurity?

Nikki Teran [00:15:42] I don’t think that there’s so much a large pushback against investing in the future through pandemic prevention, so much as there’s some apathy towards it and it’s no one’s greatest priority.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:15:53] Do you fear that funding for the implementation of this plan might go the way of COVID and become partisan?

Nikki Teran [00:16:02] I absolutely do worry about it becoming a partisan issue. There are people that are interested on both sides of the aisle in making sure this doesn’t happen again. People can agree on a solution to a problem without necessarily agreeing what the key components of those problems are. So here, Democrats might be really concerned about the equity issues surrounding pandemic prevention and response, where the people on the front lines are not the most privileged. The people that need to keep food on the table are not necessarily the same ones that are making the decisions here. Whereas for Republicans, there’s also the issue that this is a national security threat, that this could destabilize the country and put our freedoms in danger. We saw a lot of loss of freedoms during the COVID response, especially early on, and you want to prevent that from happening again. And so, the solution here is funding. The White House has requested that $88 billion in mandatory spending. So that’s kind of a promise, for the next five years, we’re going to give this money, which is not the way that Congress typically operates on these things. They like being able to have the oversight of the agencies and making sure that the funding that you give them every year is well allocated year to year. You can tell it was well spent. You’re not just promising things in the future. In this plan, it is not just the request for that 88 billion, but I believe it’s in the national security memorandum, there’s a requirement for the agencies to make pandemic preparedness and prevention funding part of their yearly budget. So that’s incorporating this priority into their normal form of action.

Why is government coordination important for the National Biodefense Strategy?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:17:47] And this is the meat on the bones of a whole of government approach. When we say whole of government, we mean that agencies themselves adopt this as a strategy, sort of intrinsic to how they operate. Part of what they do from now on needs to incorporate pandemic preparedness and bio threat mitigation.

Nikki Teran [00:18:11] Exactly. It’s not just that it needs to be part of how they operate day to day as a priority but also a whole of government response requires a lot of coordination between different parts of the government. And here there are leads presented and support for every goal and strategy in the subtheme. But that still doesn’t necessarily guarantee that everyone’s going to play together nicely and you’re going to get a coordinated whole of government response, because that coordination part really matters for efficiency and cost effectiveness.

How robust is the Biden/Harris National Biodefense Strategy?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:18:46] I’m curious what grade would you give this Biden administration biodefense strategy plan? This is what you study, what you do for a living, how would you assess it as it has been released thus far?

Nikki Teran [00:19:03] I think it’s a great comprehensive game plan. I think I would probably give it — well, I don’t know, it depends on what kind of curve we’re grading on — A minus. I think it’s very well done, very well put together, thinks through all the different components that might be necessary for preventing outbreaks, responding to outbreaks, recovering from outbreaks. But I guess it depends on what the assignment is. I’m worried that there isn’t enough in the actual implementation. Like when you get down to the nitty gritty of some of these things, they’re really complicated and this is a very high-level plan, as it should be from the NSC. So, I think it’s got a lot of good information all in one place. It’s got a comprehensive idea of where you need to start, how you need to get things going, how you need to respond. But the devil’s in the details, and no single document that any one person can read can really encompass all of those details, so maybe I’m just grading too harshly. I’m expecting too much from anything like this.

What are some of the most important implementations from the National Biodefense Strategy?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:20:04] Well, what would be a detail in this plan that you could foresee either being resolved in a way that’s really effective and impactful or, on the other hand, be resolved in a way that does not live up to the purported purpose of this document. Like, what are some of those nuances and details in implementation that you’ll be looking towards in the coming months, years as this rolls out?

Nikki Teran [00:20:31] One of the things that is mentioned but not spelled out super consistently is protecting infrastructure, and that can mean a lot of different things. In context, it might seem to mean like medical countermeasure infrastructure, things that you would need to make masks or vaccines. But it can also mean like literally keeping the lights on, keeping food going into stores or into people’s homes, keeping water systems running. And I don’t think that this document spells that out as clearly as might be desired. And then when you get there, there’s a bunch of issues where a lot of these things are run at the state and local level, and so how do you coordinate with who exactly needs to do the coordination? Some things are listed as HHS as the lead for this, but HHS is giant. There are subagencies within them and then subcomponents within those and then different people within there. Yeah, I think that there’s no one playbook for everything. This can’t be the single playbook but there are plans to have representatives from agencies meet every 90 days. And my hope would be that the kind of detail that I’m really seeking would get hashed out in those or even at a more micro level. I just have to trust that things will get done.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:21:50] To what extent do you consider this strategy to be a response to COVID, like the last pandemic obviously still ongoing, as opposed to predicting how a future pandemic might unfold?

Nikki Teran [00:22:09] I do think that there’s a basis for this strategy that’s independent of COVID. This is basically updating a 2018 version of the strategy, which obviously happened before this pandemic. I don’t think it’s super targeted. I think that a lot of these components are necessary almost regardless of what the outbreak is. And I don’t think it’s playing too much of favorites. It does mention, again, catastrophic risks, but I’m not sure that when you get into the actual details, it encompasses what a catastrophe could actually really be like. So, it maybe is hanging too much on how COVID ended up being in that respect, even though it seems that they are conscious of and want to work on potentially larger issues.

What is not included in the National Biodefense Strategy?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:22:59] So what was left out of this strategy that if you were designing it, you would be sure to include?

Nikki Teran [00:23:07] Yeah. One part that I didn’t find in the biodefense strategy was around information and potential problems of biological information and how do you deal with that? There is the biosafety component where you want to make sure that pathogens don’t get out of labs and there is the biosecurity component of deterring development of biological weapons. But I don’t think that there’s enough of, or really any, mention of the kinds of information that can be generated that could be easily misused. And that is to say, like, is not sufficient to prevent bugs from getting out of labs. You need to prevent the information on how to create those bugs from getting out as well. And it was just kind of glossed over here or omitted.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:23:59] The idea is that you have scientists who could be doing legitimate scientific research. They might want to publish their findings, but their findings might be really problematic for humanity.

Nikki Teran [00:24:10] Absolutely. And I think that’s a problem that we’ve seen during COVID, where in order to do good research on COVID, there have been scientific developments that have made it so that people can essentially manufacture COVID-like pathogens quite easily. And I think that that’s a threat that isn’t touched on here and I would like to see focused on more in the future.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:24:33] Are there any key inflection points that you’ll be looking towards that will suggest to you whether or not this strategy and this this plan is actually being implemented in impactful ways?

Nikki Teran [00:24:45] Yes. I would hope that there’d be some readout of that NSC mediated interagency gathering to see that everyone is on the same page. But I think one of the biggest readouts will probably be the budget requests next year, whether these agencies are actually thinking about how they would need to implement this plan and what funding they would need for it and in what specific accounts. So, I think it’ll really be pushed on to the agencies to figure out those details or the readout we’ll get about whether they’re actually going through that, will be those budget requests.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:25:18] Well, Nikki, thank you so much for your time and for putting this new strategy in context. I really appreciate it.

Nikki Teran [00:25:27] Thank you for having me.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:25:35] Thank you for listening to Global Dispatches. Our show is produced by me, Mark Leon Goldberg, and edited and mixed by Levi Sharp.

The post The White House Makes Biosecurity a Pillar of National Security. Can Doing So Prevent the Next Disaster? appeared first on UN Dispatch.

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Who is Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, The Haitian Gang Leader at the Center of Haiti’s New Crisis?

27. Oktober 2022 - 4:00

On October 21st, the United Nations Security Council imposed individual sanctions on Jimmy Cherizier, a former police officer turned gang leader in Haiti. For weeks, the coalition of gangs headed by Cherizier, known as the G9 Friends and Allies have imposed a blockade on the main fuel terminal in Haiti. Fuel is now getting more scarce by the day, with prices surging to as much as 20-dollars a gallon. This is exacerbating an already dire humanitarian situation, with parts of Port au Prince experiencing what the United Nations deems catastrophic food insecurity. Meanwhile, amidst the chaos and fighting, a new cholera outbreak is sweeping through neighborhoods of Port au Prince. 

In this episode, we are joined by Jacqueline Charles Caribbean Correspondent for the Miami Herald and a longtime reporter covering Haiti, to discuss the biography of Jimmy Cherizier before having a longer conversation about Haiti’s recent gang wars and the relationship between gang violence and politics in Haiti.

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Why an Ebola Outbreak in Uganda is Not Yet Under Control

24. Oktober 2022 - 4:00

At time of recording an ongoing Ebola outbreak in Uganda has sickened 64 people. 24 people have died. The outbreak was declared on September 20th in a rural community but has since spread to Kampala, the sprawling capital city.

In recent years, health officials in Africa have become very adept at responding to ebola outbreaks, and have relied on a highly effective vaccine that was developed in the wake of the 2014 West Africa ebola outbreak. However, there is no vaccine for the particular strain of ebola circulating in Uganda today.

In this episode, we speak with John Johnson, vaccine and epidemic response advisor with Doctors Without Boarders France to talk about the origins of this outbreak and how it has spread, how healthcare workers are responding, and why there’s not vaccine for this particular strain of Ebola when other ebola vaccines have proven to be so effective.

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What A More Powerful Xi Jinping Means for Chinese Foreign Policy

20. Oktober 2022 - 4:00

The Chinese Communist Party Congress is always a key moment on the Chinese political calendar. Every five years, party delegates select party leadership. This includes the selection of the top most ranks of the Chinese Communist Party, including its General Secretary. Being a one party state, the head of the Chinese Communist Party is also the President of China.

Over the last several decades, General Secretaries of the Chinese Community Party serve at most two consecutive five year terms, but Xi Jinping is bucking this trend. He is widely expected to be installed for a third term — demonstrating that he is the most powerful individual leader in China since the time of Chairman Mao.

In this episode, we are joined by Jessica Chen Weiss, professor of China and Asia-Pacific studies at Cornell University to talk about the significance of this Party Congress, and to shed some light on what a more ensconced and more powerful Xi Jinping might mean for China and its relationship with the rest of the world, including the United States, as well as discuss the significance of this Party Congress.

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A Feminist Uprising in Iran

17. Oktober 2022 - 4:00

Iran is in the midst of the most significant protest movement in years — and it is being lead by women and girls. 

The spark that ignited this movement was the murder of 22 year old Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested by Iran’s morality police for improperly wearing her headscarf. She was beaten to death in police custody. 

Protests erupted throughout the country, with women and school aged girls audaciously flaunting laws around dress codes. It is a feminist lead uprising against the ultra-conservative government lead by Ebrahim Raisi and, as some argue, against the Islamic revolutionary system that has governed Iran since 1979. 

In this episode, we are joined by Negar Mortazavi, an Iranian-American journalist and commentator and host of the Iran Podcast. We discuss how these protests started and then spread to become an intersectional movement. We then have a in-depth conversation about the Iranian government’s response and what may come next.

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The Ethiopia-Tigray Crisis is Escalating Sharply

13. Oktober 2022 - 4:00

Last March, there seemed to be a glimmer of hope that the brutal civil war between the Ethiopian federal government and the breakaway Tigray People’s Liberation Front would come to an end. The government announced a ceasefire and an African Union lead peace process was underway.

The conflict began two years earlier, in November 2020 with clashes between Tigrayan regional forces and federal government troops. It quickly escalated. This included the intervention of Eritrean troops to support the Ethiopian government.  Over the ensuing months, the conflict caused the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. There’s been severe food shortages, a humanitarian blockade, a telecoms blackout and massive displacement. 

Thus, that moment in March when a ceasefire was declared — was extremely welcome. But just four months later, the ceasefire was shattered and now the conflict is entering a new and dangerous phase as Eritrea is re-entering the conflict in a very big way.

In this episode, we are joined by Zecherias Zelalem, a freelance journalist who covers Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa to discuss how we got to this point. We begin our conversation by discussing the circumstances that lead to this ceasefire and its dissolution before talking about the current trajectory of the Ethiopia-Tigray conflict.

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If Putin Goes Nuclear, How Should the United States Respond?

10. Oktober 2022 - 4:00

These are perilous moments in the conflict in Ukraine. In response to the Ukrainian military’s stunning gains in recent weeks, Putin is escalating. He has enacted a military mobilization within Russia and is once again threatening the use of nuclear weapons. 

How seriously should we take these nuclear threats? In what scenarios and circumstances might Putin actually use a nuclear weapon. And how should the Biden administration and NATO respond if, indeed, Putin goes nuclear? We put these questions and more to Jon Wolfstal a longtime nuclear policy professional and aid to then Vice President Joe Biden who currently serves as senior advisor to Global Zero and as a board member for Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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What Brazil’s Elections Mean for the World

6. Oktober 2022 - 4:00

On October 2nd, Brazilians headed to the polls for the first round of national elections. At the top of the ticket were two very familiar names in Brazilian politics: incumbent president Jair Bolsonaro and former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known best simply as Lula.

These two men are starkly different kinds of politicians. Bolsonaro is very much a right wing populist, often compared in style to Donald Trump. Lula is former union leader who served as Brazil’s president from 2003 to 2010 and later served 580 days in prison before his conviction was annulled.

After the first round of presidential ballots were cast, Lula won 48.4% of the vote and Bolsonaro, 42.2%. Since no candidate won over 50%, the election will go to a run-off on October 30.

This election is deeply consequential for the future of democracy in Brazil and also carries important international implications, which we discuss with today’s guest, Matthew Taylor, professor of international studies at the School of International Service at American University.

We start off by discussing the first round results and electoral dynamics heading into the second round, before having a deeper conversation about what this election means for Brazil and the world.

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The Coming War of Economic Attrition Between Russia and the West

3. Oktober 2022 - 4:00

Before Russia invaded Ukraine the United States and its European allies signaled strongly that they would impose crushing sanctions if Russia, indeed, invaded. Russia invaded anyway. The threat of sanctions were not a deterrent.

After surprisingly heavy sanctions were imposed, Russia did not moderate its behavior and cease its attack. Just the opposite. The imposition of sanctions were not, therefore, what is known in International Relations speak, “a means of compellence.”

So what have the sanctions accomplished? And why might these sanctions and countermeasures by Russia be leading to a war of economic attrition between Russia and the West?

To answer these questions, we are joined by Bruce Jentleson, a professor of political science at Duke University former senior state department official, and author of the new book  Sanctions: What Everyone Needs to Know.


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Africa is Rolling Out a New Plan for Pandemic Preparedness and Health Emergencies

29. September 2022 - 4:00

In late August, health ministers from across Africa held a meeting in Togo in which they adopted a common strategy to confront health emergencies.

The so called “Regional Strategy for Health Security and Emergencies” commits African countries to concrete steps to strengthen disease surveillance, response and preparedness.

There are over 100 health emergencies in Africa each year — including outbreaks of infectious and deadly diseases like Yellow Fever, meningitis, and ebola. And it is sometimes the case that diseases endemic only in parts of Africa, like MonkeyPox, can spread globally precisely because of limited local capacity to contain an outbreak. This new strategy seeks to change that dynamic.

In this episode, we speak with Dr. Abdou Salam Gaye, WHO Regional Emergency Director for Africa to discuss this new African health security plan and Africa’s role in global pandemic preparedness and response.

We kick off by discussing what COVID revealed about African health systems’ ability to respond to a massive emergency. Dr. Salam then explains some key elements of this new regional strategy on health emergencies and how the successsful implementation of this plan will have a global impact.

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Why is China Suddenly Expanding its Nuclear Arsenal?

26. September 2022 - 4:00

China first tested a nuclear weapon in 1964. And since then, Chinese authorites have been content with a relatively small nuclear arsenal.

That was, until very recently. There is now mounting evidence that China is substantially expanding its nuclear capabilities.

In this episode, we speak with Tong Zhou, Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a Visiting Researcher at Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security, to explain what is driving Chinese nuclear strategy.

We kick off with a brief history of China’s nuclear weapons program before having an in depth discussion about the intentions and motivations behind China’s expanding nuclear arsenal. We also discuss what steps China’s main rival, the United States, could take to assuage at least some of the concerns driving Chinese nuclear strategy.

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