The foreign policy debate I’d like to see

Under the Obama Administration, we have seen the humanitarian imperative compromised by counter-terror laws and the politics of alliances. In Somalia and Syria, aid agencies were hampered by the PATRIOT Act from operating in areas in which they might be deemed to be providing assistance, material or symbolic, to groups labeled as terrorists. Preventable humanitarian disasters followed. In Yemen, the U.S. has been party to economic warfare conducted by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, causing famine conditions. In each of these cases, U.S. counter-humanitarianism cost lives, to no political benefit.

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Is the Era of Great Famines Over?

I’ve studied famine and humanitarian relief for more than 30 years, and I wasn’t prepared for what I saw during a visit to Ethiopia last month. As I traveled through northern and central provinces, I saw imported wheat being brought to the smallest and most remote villages, thanks to a new Chinese-built railroad and a fleet of newly imported trucks. Water was delivered to places where wells had run dry. Malnourished children were being treated in properly staffed clinics.

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Malthus’s Zombie: Why Are We Still Scared by Stories about Scarcity Causing Atrocities?

One monstrous zombie concept is the claim that climate change will spark new atrocities and conflicts over food scarcity. It’s clear that climate change is a scientific fact. But I am a skeptic about any direct links between environmental crisis, climate change and conflict and famine in the modern world. This skepticism arises partly as a reflex against the poor arguments marshaled in favor of those who predict such crises. Not to mention the trend lines: as the globe has warmed over recent decades, mass atrocities (including both large scale violent killing and famines) have declined.

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Open letter to Gayle Smith

Under the Obama Administration, foreign policy has been driven by national security and concern over domestic opinion polls. Humanitarian issues, democratization, development, and resolving armed conflicts get on the agenda only when the Pentagon and CIA have had their say. That is glaringly obvious in Africa and the Middle East. You more than anyone should know that a security policy that relies overwhelmingly on military and intelligence instruments and has no wider economic and political strategy is doomed to fail, and to wreak havoc in doing so.

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The end of mass famine?

We are starting a project that will document the patterns of famines and episodes of mass starvation over history, including their causes, locations, and best estimates for the numbers of people who died. Remarkably, this does not appear to have been done before in a systematic manner. Our aim is to bring together evidence for major famines and instances of deliberate mass starvation (related to war and genocide).

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