Saturday, April 25, 2015

Nepal Needs Your Help

Nepal declared a state of emergency on April 25th after an earthquake, later confirmed by the United States Geological Survey to be a magnitude 7.8, wrought havoc on the nearby capital of Katmandu, fifty-kilometers from the epicenter of the quake. As far afield as Northern India, Bangladesh and China, the impact of the quake was felt and the number of those killed continues to rise.

The current count places the number of dead in Nepal over 4,000 and in India at 72. This brings the current total in these four nations to approximately 4,365 . What has made this earthquake particularly devastating has been its closeness to the surface, at only around 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) below ground. 

The earthquake also triggered avalanches on Mount Everest. Ten people, among them Google Executive, Dan Fredinburg, have reportedly been killed. Others are feared trapped. Almost immediately after the earthquake, India's Prime Minister ordered for resources to be mobilized in an effort to assist in Nepal, as well as in India. 

Humanitarian organizations, such as the Red Cross, are imperative in these circumstances and even more so in underdeveloped countries like Nepal. Search and rescue missions with the help of k9 search dogs will make it possible for people to be rescued in time. Aid organizations are also crucial for getting medical supplies, water and basic forms of shelter to those affected. I urge all who can to make a contribution to any of these organizations or any other trustworthy organization. 


Global Giving:

American Red Cross:

Crowd Rise:

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Falklands Affair

For a relatively small group of islands in the South Atlantic, the Falklands have, now for hundreds of years, been exceedingly contentious land. Various nations have historically asserted claims, however it is Britain and Argentina who remain bitterly embroiled in dispute.  

Spain was delegated the French settlement of Port Saint Louis in 1676, which it accordingly renamed Puerto Soledad. When ensuing colonial rebellions needed burly rejoinder, the Spanish were forced to abandon their possession, leaving the islands largely uninhabited. 

Louis Vernet, a German merchant of French descent, was accorded land on East Falkland in 1823 by the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata, precursor to Argentina, Uruguay and Bolivia. However, Vernet sought permission from the British Consulate in Buenos Aires, agreeing to provide regular reports and expressing a desire for Britain's safekeeping of his settlement in the likely event of a return to a permanent presence in the Falklands, as was written by Jason Lewis.

While Britain had withdrawn from the Falklands in 1774, she had never ceded jurisdiction, leaving a plaque stating: "Be it known to all nations that the Falkland Islands, with this fort, the storehouses, wharfs, harbors, bays, and creeks thereunto belonging are the sole right and property of His Most Sacred Majesty George the Third, King of Great Britain, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc. In witness whereof this plate is set up, and his Britannic Majesty’s colors left flying as a mark of possession by S. W. Clayton, commanding officer at Falkland Islands". 

Britain's reestablishment of rule in 1833 may be seen as somewhat controversial but with a justifiable premise, nonetheless. The denizens of the islands are mostly descended from British families and identify wholly with their British heritage. Argentina's claims to the Falklands are, most tenably, geographical, with the islands lying some 300 miles (500 kilometers) off Argentinian shores.

Argentina's military encroachment in April of 1981 was almost exclusively a publicity stunt attempting to detract attention from the heavy-handed military government under which the economy was flailing and the population was continually suppressed. Leopoldo Galtieri, President of Argentina, ordered the invasion of the Falklands, as he knew regaining the "Malvinas" would raise popularity for him and the ruling government. As soon as Argentinian soldiers stepped on the Falklands, however, responsibility was theirs for starting a hopeless armed conflict against a nation who would never allow for a violation of her sovereignty. After much loss of life, most casualties being on the Argentinian side, the conflict resolved nothing and placed the Falklands back in British hands.

The most recent Argentinian rhetoric has been against the drilling of oil in the North Falklands Basin, reported the economist. Legal proceedings are to take place, according to Argentina's Secretary for Matters Relating to the Falkland Islands, against five companies. This he announced in London. 

Diplomacy has, unfortunately, achieved far too little for the dispute over who the islands righty belong to, and Argentinian leadership often makes the point that it cannot be to a nation some 8,000 miles away. Although implausible that Argentina will ever acquire the Falklands, legally, it would set a dangerous precedent. Distance does not determine any nation's right to land where there is a population identifying with another. Even Russia broaches the right to self-determination, one of Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, in defense of its roguish involvement in Ukraine.

While financial compensation would seem a legitimate step towards resolving the still apparent strife between these two nations, it would be unlikely that both sides would agree to it and would find a sum that both seem appropriately represents the value of the Falklands. Furthermore, the idea would also find political opponents in the respective parliaments of the concerned nations. MPs in Britain would likely argue that the United Kingdom has no obligation to pay for something that is rightfully theirs, while their Argentinian counterparts would see clear affirmation of their right to the islands if a financial compensation were to be discussed. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Rethinking Airline Safety

Flying is hailed as the "safest" modern convention of transport. Regrettably, with an uncanny surge in incidents in recent months and the preceding years, many now see its vulnerabilities.

In 2014, a total of 1,098 lost their lives on commercial flights. While this is an unfortunately high
number of casualties, the total number of passengers was estimated at around 3,3 billion by
the International Air Transport Association. Roughly calculating, the likelihood of any one commercial passenger dying on their flight was, thus, 0.0000003%.

Why is it not all good news? Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, en route from Amsterdam to
Kuala Lumpur, on July 17th, was shot down by a BUK surface-to-air missile. The event trumpeted the need to recontextualize international flight paths during ongoing armed conflicts. Some airlines did consider the dangers of such a calamity occurring, especially after the downing of various planes belonging to the Ukrainian Air Force. The national carrier of Malaysia was not one of them, however - even after 49 were killed weeks prior, when a Ukrainian Ilyushin Il-76 was brought down.

The tragedy of lives being lost is only one aspect of the incident. Another is that investigators were unable to carry out their work due to the presence of insurgents. Bodies lay in the scorching summer heat slowly decomposing for days before they were eventually taken away. The handling of the event was, thus, truly shameful.

And, of course, that was not the only 777 the Malaysian national carrier lost in 2014. The remnants of Malaysian Airlines MH370 are yet to be located, well over a year after the plane was first reported missing. While there is certainly no hope of recovering human remains, finding the black boxes would serve investigators with the crucial evidence as to why the aircraft crashed. Without finding them, it will remain impossible to assuredly find the reason. Once more, the handling of the incident by Malaysian Airlines, months before the downing of Flight 17, was fairly unscrupulous.

The most recent aeronautical disaster has highlighted a very different issue. Andreas Lubitz, a Germanwings co-pilot, had been dealing with depression during the training he was undergoing to become a pilot, according to the Telegraph. While the circumstances of the illness with which Lubitz was later diagnosed remain veiled, it is clear that it meant an end to his career flying. The fact a diagnosis had been made and Lubitz was still able to fly elucidates the lack of communication  between doctors and the Luftfahrt-Bundesamt (Federal Office for Civil Aviation of Germany).

Since Lubitz's illness was either not discovered or properly handled by Germanwings administration, he was able to steer 144 of his passengers and 5 of his crew towards their death. Many media outlets have mistakenly reported on the how a copilot cannot assume control of an aircraft, as was the case on Flight 9525 - this is simply not true. Further, this mass tragedy did not occur because the pilot had to use the restroom, but because Andreas Lubitz was ill and had decided to kill both himself and all onboard.

The event sheds light on the importance of the wellbeing of our pilots and the need to extend protocol to provide better oversight. Random drug testing of pilots, screening of their social media fingerprints and establishing communication protocol between doctors and civil aviation agencies could all be effective measures providing a better idea of who it is in the cockpit and what they may be going through.

Today, April 14th 2015, we have once more been acquainted with an additional vulnerability of flying. With the technological advancements that have come onboard, particularly the integration of WiFi as a passenger service, cockpit security has been compromised. The gap that now exists on hundreds of "ultra high-tech" aircrafts is one hackers could, potentially, take advantage of. News of
this has now spread around the world - a mistake that should never have occurred. Extremist organizations, had they not known of this security lapse previously, now do.

The only pragmatic decision to make is to suspend such services on commercial flights. Otherwise, all that would have been accomplished is making the world more aware of a detrimental weakness that may, at this point in time, be the biggest threat to civil aviation since the early 2000s.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Avoiding the European Conflict

Russia has always been a nation keen to exert influence. No better witness than history itself. However, with the end of the Cold War and collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991, many thought they were hearing the melodious sound of peace emerging from a conflict that began when Europe still lay in ruins. Genocide followed too swiftly for real European peace to prevail and, once more, the world realized the complexities and hazards of power change. The 2000s brought with it, finally, a peace that we now look back upon. Europe, spearheaded by a German economic powerhouse, was expanding to include new members like Estonia, Lithuania, Hungary and the Czech Republic, all previously part of the USSR or satellite states. After the faint economic recovery, Ukrainians saw closer ties with the European Union as the primary constituent for their own progress.

Viktor Yanukovych's Presidency was marred by widespread speculation of vote-rigging after the results of the 2010 Presidential elections placed him ahead of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. 

Understandably, countless Ukrainians were angered when, in 2013, President Yanukovych turned away from talks with Europe and, instead, hammered out a deal with President Putin to buy 15 billion dollars worth of Ukrainian debt. 
An escalation such as occurred in Ukraine, from protests to Russian intervention, is truly a sign that President Putin had been intent and waiting for the opportune moment. Nevertheless, the magnitude of the ensuing protests had been unprecedented. 

For Ukrainians, the matter wasn't as simple as "who to trade with". It was a matter of wanting to move forward and leaving behind the far-flung association it had with Russia. Stronger economic ties with Europe opened other possibilities, such as Ukraine becoming an EU member. Stronger economic ties with Russia weren't nearly as promising. 

The issue of self-determination has once again given rise to violence, as Europe has so often witnessed. Today, it is estimated that approximately 6,000 people have been killed during the conflict. This number should abash the practice of appeasement. Further, Russia's interference in Ukraine should highlight that a rhetoric-heavy approach to diplomacy will achieve little with President Putin at the helm. 

The most tragic moment during this crisis remains the shooting-down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, which claimed the lives of all 283 onboard. This colossal mistake on the part of the foolhardy pro-Russian separatists will, ultimately, serve as a potent reminder of the broader impact of regional crises.

A fragile ceasefire has been in place since February of this year. However, the issue is once more on the brink of escalation with Amnesty International reporting the execution of four Ukrainian government soldiers (April 9th). With this development, and with pro-Russian separatists already having signaled they're ready to fight once more, an urgent re-evaluation of the Western response is needed. 

Ukraine has had an IPAP (Individual Partnership Action Plan) with NATO since 2002, which was thrown off track by the Presidency of Viktor Yanukovych. However, Ukraine now views NATO membership as the only plausible way to fend off a further Russian advance, which would wedge Russian influence deeper into Ukrainian territory. It is likely that the next week will be the most critical. 

What is clear is that the response of the West needs to be more decisive than sanctions. Dialogue with Russia and the pro-Russian separatists cannot be ruled out, as it has already achieve a ceasefire. Yet, it has been short-lived and violated. The west now needs to prepare for further violence in Eastern Europe and weigh its military options, even before Ukraine has formalized an agreement with NATO. Otherwise, we will see a bulkier Russian presence in Ukraine and a more prolonged conflict with more casualties.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Iran Is Beginning to Look Different - and so Is Israel

After years of economic stifling under current and continuous sanctions, Iran is finally attempting
to make negotiations and international dialogue a worthwhile venture.

Although this arguably presents the world with progress that has been awaited for decades, President Barack Obama faces fierce opposition home and abroad. Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker (R) has served the president with a pledge of undoing all current progress reached at the table with Iran - though his intentions on running for office are not yet clear.

The landscape of regional politics is shifting at a historical pace, presenting new issues. Israel, America's closest ally in the Middle East, is at odds with the US on two key issues: agreeing upon how to limit Iran's nuclear capabilities and the two-state solution. Both have shown Benjamin Netanyahu as fiercely defiant in maintaining the regional status quo, clad with uncertainty and mistrust.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has won the Israeli elections, but not before flamboyantly asserting the will of Israelis over Palestinians. Such racial rhetoric has President Obama in an extremely awkward political scenario during the final leg of his second term. An association of this kind is not what the President is looking for after the events in Ferguson and New York, which have brought to the world's attention discrimination in the United States.

The progress achieved by the P5+1 is laudable, with the framework outlining a reduction in both
low-enriched uranium and reducing Iran's number of centrifuges to just around 6,000 (approximately 19,000 centrifuges are currently installed at the Natanz enrichment plant, according to the Arms Control Association).

Yet, that doesn't go far enough in the eyes of US Republicans and, indeed, the Israeli leadership, who seek to further lower these numbers as part of any agreement with Iran. Josh Mitnick of the Wall Street Journal spoke of the possibility of Congress "overriding a Presidential veto". This would be a dull-witted mistake considering the efforts that have gone into the current agreement and how long it has taken for this to be accomplished.

The very intentions of the framework, a show of bilateral efforts to secure international consensus, is historical in itself. Relations between the United States and Iran are, at this fragile moment, as good as they have ever been, since the cessation of the former government of Reza Shah Pahlavi and remodeling of the country into an Islamic Republic.

While it is difficult to construe the intentions of Iran and with the fact remaining that even a significantly subjugated nuclear program poses a clear threat, a step has been taken in the right direction and stepping back now would cross the line twice.

The question that arises now is whether allowing the relationship between Israel and Obama's administration to falter based on these two key issues will bring further volatility to the region.
Bipartisanship between the two nations remains critical in attempting to loosen the grip that the Islamic State currently exerts throughout entire regions of Iraq and Syria. More worryingly, there are signs of the Islamic State establishing a presence in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East.

While Israel has not provided support in the physical sense, Moshe Ya'alon, former Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, has confirmed that Israel is providing the coalition with valuable intelligence. With airstrikes meaning no presence on the ground and little way of gathering intelligence, this contribution is as important as any number of fighter planes it could provide.

Addressing the two-state solution during an interview with the New York Times, Prime Minister Netanyahu maintained that granting Palestine statehood would lead to radicalization in tune with the efforts of the Islamic State and put Israelis at further risk. He went on to blame left-wing parties for overlooking the dangers that Palestinian statehood would pose for Israel.

For Iranians, afflicted by years of sanctions, the preliminary agreement between the P5+1 and their government is nothing short of a miracle. Iran's moderate President, Hassan Rouhani, is likely the
clearest indication that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is willing to take Iran off the list of rogue nations, where it has for so long been stuck besides the likes of North Korea and Cuba. Well, just
North Korea now.

Netanyahu's coalition and Republicans will need to embrace a new tactic of diplomacy: good faith.
Without this, it is more than likely that years will pass before a comprehensive dialogue is reestablished and those are years that the people of Iran will continue to endure the effects of sanctions.

For relations between his coalition and President Obama's administration to ever regain their former semblance, Prime Minister Netanyahu will need to accept the final agreement and, at the very least, be conservatively open to the idea of establishing a Palestinian state in the not-too-distant future.