Last week, we looked at how international and regional-level entities created and designed to deal with 20th century problems are struggling to adapt to a changing global landscape – a landscape that now features social, economic and political problems that are more comprehensive, deeper in scope, and last longer in time than in the past. These challenges acknowledge no borders and defy traditional structures, regardless of their previously conceived national or international foundations. But as we suggested last week, perhaps the best way to look at how macro-level politics are now being transacted, both regionally and internationally, is to look at them as you would a well-turned prism. In doing so, we come to see many causes AND effects at play in the international system today. We’ve covered some of them over the last two months, but we are hardly done. For example, both a cause and symptom of the structural changes currently occurring in the international system is the general concept of human rights and its practical application, a growing portion of international law. Indeed, because the ever-burgeoning and expanding concept of rights, coupled with attempts to make them “stick”, complicate how contemporary international relations are evolving, we need to explore their Janus-faced relationship over a two-week period. Well, let’s now do so.
The announcement of Kim Jong-Un as Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army is one more step in the process of Pyongyang’s efforts to consolidate power as quickly as possible after the sudden death of Kim Jong-Il. It is fairly certain that the proliferation of pronouncements and titles given to the young Kim are manifestations of a terribly rushed succession process. Something that they hoped could be done over the course of a decade or more has suddenly been set in motion.
Many Western analysts believe the North has been planning such a succession for a long time and they are therefore methodically carrying out the power transition step-by-step. I do not think this is right. » More
The world’s population hit seven billion at the end of last year, an increase of one billion in a mere 12 years. As the population continues to grow, food security will remain one of the most pressing problems of the 21st century. Malthusians might have a point in being concerned: The challenge of feeding seven billion-plus people is likely to become more difficult as environmental degradation and desertification carry on – and competition for crops increases. Food prices have soared in the last five years and increasing demand for alternative fuels further aggravates the situation. Food production has so far kept pace with population growth however, though the total area of land given to arable use has remained almost constant for decades. How long this can continue is not certain.
An important part of the human diet are livestock products, which account for 13% of the calories consumed worldwide and for 20% in developed countries. Meat production increased by 23.6% in the last decade, mainly driven by growing demand in China and Brazil, two countries which account for more than three-quarters of the yearly growth in meat output. In 1961, China’s per capita meat consumption was 3.8 kg; by 2002 it had increased to 52.4 kg. To meet this growing demand for animal products, factory farms and intensive farming methods are necessary. Besides the ethical concerns raised by these farming methods, such practices also cause a number of environmental and social problems. » More
What do smoke detectors, invisible orthodontic braces and infrared ear thermometers have in common? They are all NASA spin-offs; which means that they are consumer goods that in one way or another benefited from technologies developed through NASA funding, research, licensing, facilities or assistance.
There was a time when new technologies would trickle into the consumer market after they’d been developed and used by the military or in space research and exploration. But this trend is now rapidly reversing, with defense departments starting to look into ways of adapting consumer goods into their programs. A case in point is the recent call for applications by the American Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an agency of the US Department of Defense. DARPA is seeking developers versed in the art of developing applications for mobile devices – or more precisely, smartphones. The agency hopes to leverage commercial smartphone development approaches to create common hardware and software that can be quickly configured to perform a variety of applications. » More
Practitioners and academics have long contemplated United States defense policy in an age of austerity. The era of expansion under President George W. Bush spiraled into long-term unsustainability, presenting leadership with hard decisions regarding the future of American national security strategy. The Middle East, Asia, and Europe all stand to gain or lose influential elements of American power – key dynamics that will shape the conduct of international relations in a twenty-first century environment rife with unforeseen challenges. President Obama’s recent address reveals how the administration is pursuing military transformation in accord with new strategic thinking.
Conventional wisdom suggests a recalibrated focus on Asia-Pacific in the vein of great power politics. China and a potentially resurgent Russia represent a level of competition that does not exist elsewhere, and the region is all the more wary considering potential mission requirements for a collapsing North Korea. The European Union might be regarded as an economic rival in volume, though it would be hard to imagine any confrontation between longtime defense partners. There are interests in the Middle East that will continue to be the focus of the American military via less strenuous application of force and troop deployment. An unrivaled blue-water naval force, paired with air superiority under every mission parameter, meet vital American interests including defense of the homeland and maintaining a stable energy market within an open economic order. Capable power projection and global strike capability underline core force requirements for a streamlined American military prepared for a host of crisis scenarios around the world. Yet as much as the United States cannot afford to be everywhere at all times, there is a discernible expectation that partner states should increasingly help combat transnational threats and maintain regional stability. » More