As 2012 draws to a close, here are some international issues that need urgent — some more than urgent — attention.
1) End the Bloody Conflict in Syria
By March of 2013, what has become a civil war in Syria will have dragged on for a full two years. An estimated 40,000 people have died; more than 2 million have been displaced, with hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing to Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and other countries. On December 11, President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. will officially recognize the Syrian opposition — formally known as the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces – following the U.K., France, Turkey and the Gulf Cooperation Council.
The National Coalition has begun to develop committees on humanitarian assistance, education, health, judicial matters and security issues, but has yet to agree on a prime minister or a cabinet. 70 foreign ministers have met at a “Friends of Syria” conference in Morocco and the Syrian National Coalition attended for the first time.
The question remains very open if U.S. backing will change what has become an intractable conflict between the rebels and the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and one that threatens the stability of the entire Middle East. Indeed, the opposition has expressed resentment towards the U.S. for not recognizing it sooner; U.S. backing does not yet include arming the rebels or military support in the form of airstrikes. The U.S. has also been criticized for not labeling Assad a terrorist, despite the numerous atrocities civilians have suffered at the hands of his troops.
2. Stop the Keystone XL Pipeline
The proposed $7 billion pipeline that could bring in 800,000 barrels of tar sands crude from Alberta per day into refineries in Texas and around the Gulf of Mexico looms large in Obama’s call for the U.S. to achieve energy independence, but at a huge cost to sensitive lands and water sources along Keyston’e nearly 2,000 mile route.
Because the pipeline crosses the U.S.-Canada border, Obama must approve it. According to the Daily Beast, Hillary Clinton’s State Department could be on the verge of recommending approval for the pipeline even though top climate scientists have made it clear that Keystone could have a not insignificant impact on climate change. TransCanada, the company behind the pipeline, has started on its Gulf Coast section but has recently been ordered to stop work in Texas, as a landowner whose property Keystone goes through has said that the pipeline was only permitted to carry crude oil and not bitumen from the tar sands.
Can Obama stand up to Big Oil and stop the pipeline?
3. Protect Women in Afghanistan
On December 10, unknown gunmen shot and killed Nadia Sediqqi, the acting head of the women’s affairs department in eastern Laghman province as she was on her way to work. Just five months ago, her predecessor, Hanifa Safi, had been killed in a bomb attack on her car. Too many other brutal attacks on women, too often by their own families, are routinely reported in Afghanistan.
The day after Sediqqi’s killing, the United Nations joined in criticism of President Hamid Karzai’s efforts, or rather lack of them, to protect women and implement the 2009 Law on Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW). While Afghan women have won basic rights in voting, education and work, female lawmakers contend that violence against women and abuse are on the rise because Karzai’s government is simply “losing interest” as it seeks to reconcile with the Taliban before NATO-led troops are withdrawn in 2014.
As one teacher says: “We have educated women who are being locked inside houses. I wish that those women who are locked in their homes by their families and are tortured and beaten would be rescued.”
4. Tell China To Get Serious Its Ecological Footprint
According to the recently issued Global Trends 2030, Asia’s global power will surpass that of the U.S. and Europe by 2030. China’s economy is on track to become the world’s largest, overtaking the U.S.’s a few years before 2030.
But another just-released report, the WWF International’s Ecological Footprint Report, reveals that China is a leader in a very alarming way. China has the world’s largest ecological footprint and is now consuming resources at 2.5 times the rate that the country’s ecosystems can provide.
Previously, population growth and China’s mushrooming infrastructure were responsible for its ecological footprint. But rising affluence has meant a huge upsurge in individual buying (of food, energy-consuming cars and appliances and much more) in the Communist country. China’s environmental problems, such as the pollution clouding its cities, are some of the worst in the world and its failure so far to get greener (along with its very poor record on human rights issues) suggests it is far from ready to lead the world.
5. End the Endless Euro Zone Crisis
The economic crisis in the 27-nation European Union, which began in 2009 when Greece admitted that its debts had reached 300 billion euros (the highest in modern history), seems poised to enter its fourth year. Unemployment, especially for those in their 20s, is at record high levels of 11.7 percent throughout the EU and far higher (around 25 percent) in Spain and Greece.
Scenes of thousands protesting outside government parliament buildings over successive rounds of austerity measures have become sadly commonplace in Madrid, Athens and other European cities. The crisis has caused political turmoil and led many to question the continued existence of the currency union. The recent news that Mario Monti, the technocrat prime minister of Italy, will resign after his predecessor, Silvio Berlusconi, withdrew his party’s support has sent the euro into another round of turbulence.
The euro zone crisis has evolved into a “chronic disease” that will remain with us for years to come, says Foreign Policy. As we enter a new year, can the U.S. and other economies step in to keep the sick man of Europe’s illness from becoming contagious?
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