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ISN Weekly Theme: French Foreign Policy

Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel, photo: Chesi- Fotos CC/flickr

Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel, photo: Chesi- Fotos CC/flickr

Nicolas Sarkozy, two years into his office as president, continues to chart a bold, if unfocused course in French foreign affairs. Although rhetoric has so far been stronger than action, Sarkozy has forged warmer ties with the US, assumed an active role in regional crisis management and pushed for further European integration. And with the Lisbon Treaty ratified Sarkozy seems to have gotten what he wanted on this crucial front.

Kiva Confusion

Photo: Jared and Corin/flickr

Photo: Jared and Corin/flickr

The New York Times published an article on Sunday that highlighted a blog post by David Roodman, a research fellow at the Center for Global Development, that questioned the transparency of Kiva, a ‘microfinancing matchmaker.’

Kiva promotes itself as a middleman between microlending organizations and microborrowers. The problem, according to Roodman, was that due to how the microborrowers were showcased on the site, some donors believed that they were giving money directly to microborrowers and not to microlending organizations.

He also suggested that Kiva does not (or did not, since they’ve changed the wording on their site) do a good job in explaining the money path.

Over at Foreign Policy’s blog, Passport, Annie Lowery gives a great summary of the confusion about Kiva and the publicity surrounding that confusion, so I won’t go into that.

Since the issue seems to focus on the wording on the site, which is Kiva’s calling card, then the critcism is probably warranted. But if you want to learn more about Kiva and what it does, check out this ISN Podcast with Kiva’s Fiona Ramsey from June.

A Close-Up of China

Screenshot of the Atlantic magazine

Screenshot of the Atlantic magazine, map of China

The Atlantic and Patrick Chovanec have published an excellent region-by-region analysis of China with an interesting historical/socio-political angle.

Too often, Chovanec reminds us, China is seen, analyzed and treated as a monolithic entity, while the truth is much more interesting: “China is a mosaic of several distinct regions, each with its own resources, dynamics, and historical character.”

He divides China into Nine Nations and analyzes the historical character, make-up and challenges of each ‘nation’ in turn. They’ve added a snazzy map to the analysis too. I highly recommend reading the whole text though, it gives invaluable insight into the unique challenge China faces as a historically, ethnically and socially complex country with a massive population and a vast geography.

It’s a learning opportunity and one that proves that with China in particular, myths- both accidental and self-generated- have to be questioned in order to “understand the Nine Nations and the role each of them is playing in shaping China’s future.”

Amen to that.

And if you’re still hungry for more, remember to check out our Special Report on US-China relations.

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Charter for Compassion: Should We Really Need This?

An announcement landed in my inbox last night about the unveiling of a project called the “Charter for Compassion.” The brainchild of author and former nun Karen Armstrong, the Charter is a call to action for folks to behave with, well, compassion toward one another.

“We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.”

After signing the Charter, participants are prompted to detail their acts of compassion on the site.

The Charter and the video (see above) are beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. They both show what can happen when people from all walks of life join together for a common, wonderful cause.

But here’s the question I posed a few minutes ago to a colleague about the project: “Have we fallen so far that we have to go to a website to remind us to be human?”

“This is a ritual…people need rituals,” he replied. “Rituals help you remind yourself of your duties.”

Darned good point.

But still, do projects such as the Charter change or tweak how people behave toward one another? Or, do they preach to the choir? Can we expect to see Than Shwe’s name (verified, please) on the list of affirmers?

One can hope.

One can also hope that the time will come when the site returns a “404 not found” page because it wasn’t needed anymore…we’d learned how to treat each other with compassion without having to be reminded to do so.

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Justice and Hope for Afghanistan?

Lone girl in Afghanistan, photo: Papyrrari/flickr

Lone girl in Afghanistan, photo: Papyrrari/flickr

As the world anticipates Obama’s long-awaited strategy review for Afghanistan, the debate around the war intensifies with politicians, experts and laymen weighing in on the desired course of Afghan policy.

A war that has lasted eight years, and that costs the US $3.6 billion a month, has become a source of intense historical and strategic debates about the nature of conflict in South Asia, the region’s geopolitical significance, and the role of US power in the modern era. With America’s Vietnam legacy in mind the pressure to deliver something positive is immense.

But in these debates about strategy- how to quell the Taliban insurgency; how to address the region as a whole, particularly with Pakistan’s shortcomings in mind, and how to strengthen the Afghan government without giving Karzai carte blanche, etc – the humanitarian focus is exactly what seems to be missing.

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