Glimmer of Hope for Cease-Fires

Syria talks photoMost wars end without military victory for either side, and whatever arrangements move a conflict toward resolution, they generally begin with a cease-fire. Recently several of the world’s serious armed conflicts took steps in the direction of cease-fires — certainly a welcome development in the period of backsliding from peace over the last five years.

The world’s worst war at present, in Syria, saw a baby step toward political resolution today as four major outside powers met in Vienna to discuss it — Russia, the United States, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia (Russia supports the Syrian regime; the others oppose it). The talks hardly justify or vindicate Russia’s violent military intervention in Syria, but it’s still better to have backers of different sides talking. Whether it’s better than nothing, or is actually nothing, remains to be seen.

In Ukraine, meanwhile, a real cease-fire has taken hold, probably because of Russia’s preoccupation in the Middle East now. Previously the Minsk Agreement was honored in part but fighting continued in places. Now the front line is quiet, which is a step forward.

Yemen also shows tiny steps forward.  The Saudi-backed government and the Houthi rebels who control the capital have finally agreed today to meet. The UN envoy charged with making it happen has not yet set the date or agenda. Perhaps it will happen before the Yemenis all starve.

In Mali, where Tuareg rebels signed a cease-fire with the government in February, two feuding Tuareg tribes who had been fighting each other have now reached agreement as well.

Myanmar (Burma) has just reached a peace deal with some, but not all, of its rebellious ethnic groups. Possibly the others will come on board in the future. Myanmar is preparing for its first elections since the military loosened its grip on the country somewhat.

South Sudan had been sliding over a precipice and facing widespread starvation after persistent and brutal fighting between the two largest ethnic groups in the world’s newest country (which had spent decades in a brutal civil war before splitting from Sudan). Recently the leaders in South Sudan also signed a political agreement and cease-fire, which has been holding imperfectly and may not last but nonetheless represents a ray of hope.

October 24 is “UN Day” and this year it’s the organization’s 70th birthday.  In Mali, South Sudan, and Yemen, all largely removed from great-power interests, the UN has been a key broker in negotiations.  In the conflicts directly involving Russia — Ukraine and Syria — the great powers make their own deals without the UN. In Myanmar outside mediators seem to have played little role, and in the recent peace deal in Colombia, the mediator was Cuba.

This diversity of approaches to making cease-fire deals underscores an important point — there is no one set route to end wars and broker agreements.  Sometimes it’s governments, sometimes the UN, sometimes NGOs or individuals, but if a war is to end someone has to go in and help the sides get to an agreement.  And that agreement almost always begins with a cease-fire.  The first step in ending a war is to stop the shooting.

Peace in the Western Hemisphere

Peace deal handshake

Cuba’s Raul Castro celebrates peace deal between Colombia’s president and FARC leader, Sept.2015

Amidst the violent turmoil in the Middle East and the world’s backsliding in its long-term progress toward peace, a piece of good news deserves notice. Last week a breakthrough finally occurred in peace talks between the government of Colombia and the FARC rebels. The talks, held in Cuba, had dragged on for several years but have now produced an agreement to definitively end hostilities in six months, in March 2016. A truth commission will sort out war crimes, and penalties will follow a compromise between impunity and severe punishment.

The agreement marks the end of the last war in the Western hemisphere and thus continues a trend over recent decades that have seen the zone of active fighting in the world shrink to an area now stretching from central Africa to Pakistan, with a tendril up into Ukraine and occasional little skirmishes in southeast Asia. (Actually fighting in Pakistan is much reduced this year, and a shaky peace deal was agreed last month in South Sudan, though Syria’s war rages on.)

Peace in the Western hemisphere does not mean an absence of violence. Thousands continue to die in drug-related violence in Mexico, homicides against indigenous people in Guatemala, and gang violence in El Salvador. But the historical contrast is stark.

Just a few decades ago, civil wars (with international involvement) ravaged Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Argentina’s government waged a “dirty war” against leftists, Chile lived through a brutal coup and dictatorship, and Brazil had a military government. The United States invaded Grenada and Panama.

Although economic growth in Latin America has slowed recently, some 70 million people there rose out of poverty in the past decade. Literacy and education rates are very high, birth rates are low, and the region has become solidly middle-income. Actually, Latin America has become so successful that it’s easy to ignore amidst the troubles of other regions – making the evening news only when a big corruption scandal (Brazil) or especially violent incident (Mexico) flares up.

With the reopening of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States this year, the Western hemisphere now enjoys normal and peaceful interstate relations from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. It’s not paradise to be sure – inequality, corruption, violence, and racism have definitely not disappeared – but the progress is dramatic.

The war in Colombia lasted fifty years, took more than 200,000 lives, and displaced millions from their homes. Peace will be sweet.

World Backsliding on Peace

Data graph of battle deaths

UCDP: Uppsala Conflict Data Project, Sweden.     PRIO: Peace Research Institute Oslo, Norway.

The latest Swedish data on world battle-deaths (through 2014) add to the evidence of a serious reversal of the decades-long trend toward fewer and smaller wars.

From fewer than 25,000 battle-deaths in 2011, the total has jumped to nearly 40,000 in 2012, 70,000 in 2013, and more than 100,000 in 2014. The world has moved from a historic interlude of relative peace, about halfway back to Cold War levels of armed conflict, and will get there in a few more years on the present trajectory. (Uppsala battle-death data are minimums based on confirmed reports of incidents.)

Most of the reversal in the peaceful trend over the past decade has come specifically from the terrible civil war in Syria, and the consequent new Iraqi war with the so-called Islamic State (IS). Of the world’s 101,000 battle-deaths in 2014, some 54,000 were in Syria and 13,000 more in Iraq, together making up close to two-thirds of the world total.

Afghanistan and Pakistan each added another 12,000 battle-deaths; Nigeria and Ukraine had about 5,000 each. Smaller wars with 1,500 to 2,000 battle deaths included South Sudan, Yemen, and Israel/Hamas. Adding this year’s developments into the picture, the civil wars in Yemen and South Sudan have worsened dramatically in 2015, with millions of people facing starvation unless solutions are found.

The world’s most serious wars are quite internationalized. Foreign fighters and outside military forces are operating in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Ukraine, South Sudan, and Yemen. By contrast, United Nations or other international peacekeepers are conspicuously absent from the world’s major conflicts today, the main exception being South Sudan where they are ineffective. (It’s unclear if these conflicts became deadlier because of the absence of peacekeepers or if the world’s powers avoid using peacekeepers in the deadliest conflicts.)

The increase in war over the last four years does not negate the longer-term decline in armed conflict, but does clearly set the shorter-term trend in the other direction, with the potential to undo much past progress if things continue in the new way. Battle-deaths in 2014 were still less than half the typical level during the Cold War years, and of course no comparison to the World Wars. In the peaceful post-Cold War period, we’ve had two previous spikes in battle-deaths up to near the level reached in 2014. These corresponded with the Ethiopian civil war and Gulf War around 1991, and the Ethiopia-Eritrea War around 1999 – the world’s last sustained interstate war.

Because quantitative data are always suspect in some quarters, and battle-deaths are in some ways problematic, I’ve argued the long-term decline of armed conflict since the World Wars primarily using evidence other than just battle-deaths.

Among the salient landmarks are the “zeroes” – no nuclear wars since 1945, no wars between great powers since 1953, no naval battles worldwide for more than 25 years, no tank battle anywhere for more than 10 years, no wars between two regular state armies (the most destructive category) in more than 10 years.  And the rising great power, China, has not fought a single military battle in more than 25 years (historically unheard of). Geographically, the areas of the world affected by active fighting have shrunk to a zone from central Africa through Pakistan. Whole regions such as Central America and Southeast Asia, not long ago plagued with multiple wars at once, are nearly entirely at peace now.

As battle-deaths climb, however, some of the other peaceful developments also seem to be slipping. The war in Ukraine crosses several red lines, including the spread of active war up into Europe and the de facto fighting between two regular uniformed armies, although dressed up as local conflict and “little green men.” It’s not quite an interstate war, but it’s pushing the limits. Meanwhile Russia’s annexation of Crimea was an alarming breach, unprecedented in decades, in which one UN member seizes and annexes the territory of another. Iraq tried that with Kuwait but unsuccessfully.

Even China’s remarkable “peaceful rise” seems to be slipping lately, with more bellicose rhetoric and expansive claims in the South China Sea – where China says everything belongs to China and therefore is not subject to international law. So far, China is not an important contributor to the new trend away from peace, but China’s changing attitude does somewhat undermine the fragile norms of peace that had been strengthening.

Syria and the adjacent Sunni areas of Iraq, consisting of less than half of one percent of the world’s land area, currently produce two-thirds of the world’s bloodshed from armed conflict.  Americans wishing to help the millions of Syria refugees directly can do so through the UN refugee agency here. Diplomatic efforts for a political settlement need to be redoubled and supported.

Note:  I’ve updated my “wars in progress” page with the 2014 data.

Sources:  UCDP Battle-deaths data, v.5, 2015. See Pettersson, Therése & Peter Wallensteen. Armed Conflicts, 1946-2014. Journal of Peace Research 52(4), 2015. Available at . PRIO data:  Peace Research Institute Oslo, Battle Deaths Dataset 3.0, updated from Bethany Lacina and Nils Petter Gleditsch, “Monitoring Trends in Global Combat: A New Dataset of Battle Deaths”, European Journal of Population 21, no. 2–3 (2005). Data provided by Human Security Report Project (HSRP), Simon Fraser University.

Climate Change is the BIG issue in IR

COP_12_MAVThe most important issue in IR today, climate change, is receiving little scholarly attention in our discipline. To help address this gap, I am hereby winding down much of my work on war, retiring from my IR textbook, and will make climate change my main area of work. Thirty years ago I set out to understand war because it was the overriding moral issue of our time and the greatest threat to humanity. Today that issue is climate change.

Climate matters not only for practical reasons but because it cuts to the heart of IR as a field. IR is all about the governance of an “anarchic” system with weak central authority, in which power resides primarily in sovereign states whose individually rational decisions lead to bad outcomes for all. We call it the collective goods problem (public goods, collective actions, Prisoners’ Dilemma, etc.). It’s the central, pervasive theme of my IR textbook, shaping subfields from war to trade to international development. But the biggest example, the most difficult dilemma, and the case with the greatest impact is climate change.

Each actor’s economy benefits from burning fossil fuels, no single actor can affect the overall outcome alone, yet all will suffer catastrophic consequences as a result. The global governance mechanisms have proven very weak – the Kyoto treaty basically failed, targets are not being met, some leading economies are backsliding, and nobody has a workable plan for how to change our trajectory. Year by year, for our global institutions it’s “talk, baby, talk” while in the real world it’s “drill, baby, drill” from the melting Arctic to the American shale fields to the Persian Gulf.

The basic structural challenges to reaching agreement are amplified by several additional problems. Today’s generation would have to pay costs for the benefit of future generations – a hard sell whether in a democracy or an autocracy. Rich country would have to pay for the benefit of poor countries. And specific constituencies and regions will feel different costs and impacts:  multinational oil companies versus farmers in Bangladesh, for example. On top of it all, there is widespread public confusion about the issue, notably in its categorization as an “environmental” problem as though it will impact cute animals not cities.

This then is a prime area for IR scholarship in general and IR theory in particular.  The guru of IR theory, Robert Keohane, thinks so. But he writes, “In view of the magnitude of climate change, it is distressing to observe the slow response from political science as a discipline.” That’s an understatement. Consider the current issues of our leading IR journals. Let’s count the number of climate change articles and the total number of articles:

  • International Studies Quarterly, 0 for 16
  • Am. Political Science Review, 0 for 10
  • International Organization, 0 for 11
  • World Politics, 0 for 5
  • Journal of Conflict Resolution, 0 for 7
  • Journal of Peace Research, 2 for 8

Across these six journals, we have 2 climate-related articles out of 57. Both of those are about possible effects of shifting weather patterns on something we do study – armed conflicts. Not a single article deals with the challenge of an international system trying to come to terms with a massive collective goods problem that threatens civilization. This in a year when the world will gather in Paris to try for a new global agreement to grapple with the problem. Debra Javeline calls climate change “the most important topic political scientists are not studying.”

Climate change is not an environmental issue. It’s an existential issue – the slow-motion equivalent of an asteroid heading for earth. We have no effective global mechanism to develop and launch a mission to knock that asteroid off its trajectory. Yet every day it gets closer and harder to shift off its course. How would the world respond to that scenario?  Would a hegemon take the reins and implement a solution?  The G20?  The United Nations?  Would all countries have to contribute to an expensive solution?  Would competing programs by different states step on each other’s toes?  Would private companies abandon the profit motive to develop technologies to save us? These are the kinds of questions we should be asking about climate change in IR. Now would be a good time to start. The asteroid is not waiting.

[Photo credit:  COP 12 MAV by agenciaandes. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons]

The World’s Wars — An Update

Homs-tank feb 23 2012 reutersThe two most important wars currently are in Syria and Ukraine, but for different reasons.

The Syria war, now including Iraq, matters because it is by far the world’s deadliest current armed conflict, and because the so-called Islamic State (ISIS, or ISIL) has created a transnational challenge unseen in international politics in many years. The data team in Uppsala, Sweden, was unable to estimate battle deaths for 2013, and the data for 2014 will not be released for several more months, but we know the order of magnitude is tens of thousands per year and something on the order of 200,000 over the last four years. Apparently, somewhat more than half of these are military fatalities with the rest civilians. Many millions of civilians have been displaced and large numbers are suffering terrible deprivation. Humanitarian efforts are frustrated both by inability to reach populations in need and by inadequate funding.  (Contribute to UNHCR here.)

Peace efforts for Syria are near a standstill.  There are no peacekeepers, no agreements, no negotiations, no UN Security Council resolutions laying out the path to follow. Russia backs the Assad government and the West opposes it. The UN envoy has been trying to get local cease-fires in specific places (currently working on Aleppo) with limited success.

Meanwhile ISIS holds territory in Syria and Iraq, most importantly the city of Mosul, Iraq.  ISIS challenges the entire state system on which international relations has operated for centuries.  This unites all the countries to stop them, from the United States and European powers to Russia, Iran, and the Gulf states. However, peace negotiations are not a viable option, and the military campaign against ISIS raises a collective goods problem in terms of who bears the costs.  Currently Iran and Iraq on the ground, and mostly the USA in the air, are providing the bulk of forces.  Given its lack of allies, ISIS will not pose a long-term threat, and is over-hyped in the media owing to its spectacles of barbarism, in my opinion.

The war in eastern Ukraine is far smaller and less deadly (about 6,000 deaths) but matters for another reason – it breaches red lines that had contained armed conflicts in recent years.  For the first time since the U.S. invasion of Iraq more than a decade ago, two state armies have been directly fighting each other. This is a bit ambiguous, however, since Russia has sent its forces into battle with insignia stripped off, as “little green men,” rather than overtly.

The Russian seizure of the Crimean peninsula in 2014 represents a very, very rare case in recent decades of one member of the United Nations taking territory from another by armed force. Iraq did so with Kuwait in 1990 but the border was restored the next year by an international coalition in the Gulf War. Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 but the matter remains highly contested still.  These days, borders disputes are far more often resolved through international law and arbitration – this has happened in several Latin American cases and in West Africa in the past decade.  In Crimea, the land-grab is mitigated by the fact that Russia traditionally owned the peninsula and still has its navy based there. When Russia and Ukraine were both part of the Soviet Union, in 1954, Khrushchev abruptly transferred ownership to Ukraine. Still, many international borders have odd histories but using military force to readjust them would be an extreme step backward from the progress we’ve made over decades.

At the moment a shaky cease-fire (Minsk II) is in place in eastern
Ukraine, though it’s too early to say if it will hold up or just serve as a resupply lull.  Peace negotiations have included Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and France.  Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are present, though often frustrated in their efforts.  The Ukrainian government would like to see UN peacekeepers but Russia probably will not allow this.  Ukraine and Russia have lived with a wide range of conflicts, ranging from natural gas prices to ethnic/linguistic differences, ideological divergence, and territorial disputes, ever since the USSR broke up in 1991.  There is some hope that a political process in the coming years will allow the two countries to coexist peacefully, perhaps with Crimea joining Russia under a legal framework approved by Ukraine, and eastern Ukraine firmly returned to Ukraine’s control with local autonomy. Economic sanctions on Russia are taking a high price but may or may not change Russian behavior.

The Ukraine war is also the main, though not the only, instance of armed conflict spreading beyond the zone of fighting that has characterized recent years.  That zone extends from central Africa through the Middle East to Pakistan. Beyond, and at the edges, wars had been winding down.  This is still true in Colombia, the only important armed conflict left in the Western Hemisphere, where peace talks have been going on for two years and a cease-fire is taking hold. But in West Africa, new and serious fighting has broken out in northern Nigeria; in northern Africa, Libya is descending into civil war; and in Southeast Asia, new fighting has broken out in the north of Myanmar/Burma.  These are all reversal in areas at the edge of the world’s zone of active warfare, where wars of recent decade had been fading away and peace had been taking hold.

Smaller wars in the heart of that zone continue.  Brutal ethnic conflicts in the Central African Republic and in the world’s newest country, South Sudan, are abating somewhat but settlements remain elusive.  In both cases, outside powers are engaged in working for peace, and UN peacekeepers are present (sizable missions, about 10,000 in CAR and 15,000 in South Sudan). UN peacekeeping also continues in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (about 25,000 troops), where progress is being made slowly, and in Darfur, Sudan (about 20,000).  Somalia has made a lot of progress in the last few years, with insurgents pushed out of cities, but Yemen has become more violent in recent months and is in danger of splitting in half.  Israel and the Palestinians appear destined to fight recurrently as they did in Gaza last year. Afghanistan remains at war after the withdrawal of NATO combat forces (though direct talks with the Taliban are in the works).

The backsliding in recent years can only be discouraging.  This has accompanied an overall deterioration in top-level relations, especially between Russia and the West. China continues to be the most peaceful great power (in history, arguably), but has stepped up its alarming moves to claim large contested areas of the nearby seas. North Korea continues to add to its arsenal of at least a half dozen nuclear weapons, and Iran’s nuclear program could create a sizable arsenal within years, and a regional arms race, if current negotiations fail. The U.S. and Russian nuclear programs are “modernizing” after years of downsizing that saw stockpiles shrink by three-quarters over thirty years.

We should keep today’s wars in perspective, however.  Overall, the world’s armed conflicts are still smaller, fewer, and more geographically limited than during the Cold War.  Almost all of Central, East and Southeast Asia, southern Africa, Europe, and the Americas are at peace. In historical perspective, we just marked the 70th anniversary of the deadliest bombing raid in history, on Tokyo in 1945, which incinerated 100,000 civilians in one night – more than the total battle fatalities in the world last year.

State of the World’s Wars

UCDP battle deaths to 2013 smallThrough the haze of horror and grief at war scenes around the world, systematic data collection can provide a needed big-picture perspective. The world’s experts on that, in Sweden, recently released the updated dataset on armed conflicts through 2013.

The bad news is that 2013 continued a trend in the wrong direction (so far clearly continuing into 2014), with war increasing in the world. The measure of total “battle-related deaths” refers to military and civilian deaths caused by violence during war fighting, which is only a fraction of total war-related deaths, but more reliable than other measures for tracking trends. The world total battle-deaths dropped dramatically from the Cold War era, with around 200,000 annually, to the low point of under 12,000 in 2005 (and typically for years in that period, around 20,000). Since then, it has trended up, reaching more than 45,000 last year.

How much more, we don’t know, because the data collectors could not come up with a “best estimate” figure for the war in Syria, and gave only a minimum, 22,750. That minimum is about equal to the battle-deaths for the rest of the world combined, and the real figure for Syria could easily be double that minimum, which would make Syria a strong majority of the world’s battle deaths. Another way to think about this is that if tomorrow a cease-fire took hold in Syria/Iraq (strictly hypothetical under current conditions), the world’s battle-death totals would drop by at least half, perhaps two-thirds or more, and return the world to the low levels of overall conflicts that characterized the early 2000s.

There is a policy message here: While other international dramas and tragedies flare up, don’t lose track of Syria. It is the world’s bloodiest conflict by far. The spread of the war to Iraq in 2014 has only strengthened this imperative.

Moving to the rest of the world, the 2013 data list six other “wars,” defined as producing more than 1,000 battle-related fatalities in the year. This is an arbitrary definition but one long used by political scientists, and effective in separating smaller, sporadic armed conflicts from more serious ones with regular ongoing fighting. Afghanistan had about 8,000 battle-deaths and the others all fewer than 2,000 – Iraq, Nigeria, South Sudan, Pakistan, and D.R. Congo.

Another 26 “armed conflicts” were recorded, in 18 countries (some countries have several insurgencies at once). The more serious of these conflicts, with more than 200 battle-deaths in 2013, were in India, Mali, the Philippines, Russia, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.  Today, Ukraine would be in this category, as would Israel/Gaza and Central African Republic. Others, however, could drop off the list as some progress toward peace is happening in India, Mali, and the Philippines.

The most positive trend that continues in the world despite the upsurge of the Syria/Iraq war, is the absence of interstate war in the world, a new development historically that has proven robust over the past decade. The war in eastern Ukraine has not escalated to a fight between the regular Russian and Ukrainian armies, a fight that would have crossed the red line against interstate war. Neither have the maritime disputes in the East and South China Seas. The world’s regular state armies still threaten each other, with 20 million soldiers worldwide and every conceivable weapon, but none have fought each in a war for 11 years. (Russia-Georgia in 2008 killed 500 in 5 days.)

I’ve revised my “Wars in Progress” page to reflect the new data.

Seeking a Job with the UN

The following guest post by Elisa dos Santos is reprinted for students interested in UN jobs, courtesy of PassBlue (whom I thank). The original is posted here (Feb. 4, 2014).

So.Sudan IDP camp Julio Brathwaite/UN photoApplying for a job at the United Nations requires a high degree of perseverance — “like trying to find a secret passageway from a brick wall — but eventually you get through,” said Stéphane Dujarric, the director of news and media at the UN Department of Public Information in New York.

The Center for Global Affairs at New York University presented a much-attended “Careers With the United Nations and Multilateral Organizations” panel in the fall, presenting several UN officials who gave insight into the process of applying for a permanent, temporary or consulting job at the world body.

The UN receives about 800 job applications for each post that is open annually through its digital employment portal, Inspira, which lists thousands of jobs at hundreds of “duty stations” throughout the world, among nearly 100 UN organizations, at any given time. These applications are scanned by the UN human resources department, with 200 to 300 making the cut to be sent to internal evaluators for further screening.

The UN’s Young Professionals Program, or YPP, is an alternative process to obtaining a job; it is open to people no older than 32 and is useful for those who have not accrued the five years of professional work experience that is required for many jobs listed in the Inspira database.

Because hundreds of people may be applying for any given job through Inspira, the most important thing you can do when filling out an online application on the portal is to “spend a lot of time on your personal history profile, put a lot of details about your work experience,” Dujarric, who is a former journalist and helps evaluate job applications of prospective candidates, said. “Your experience is what will make a difference.”

It takes about 10 months for applications to be evaluated for a position, a long time frame that involves following many rules and regulations to assess candidates, although consultancies and temporary posts are filled much faster. It is important to remain patient during the process and “follow as many parallel tracks as possible; apply to different places at the same time,” Dujarric said.

David Ohana, who runs the film and special projects at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, is a model of patience. As a panelist at the event, he said that “it took over 10 years and 27 job applications” until he received a phone call for an interview at the UN.

Another way of getting a foot in the door is working for an organization that is involved in the UN indirectly. “Spending time at an NGO [nongovernmental organization] is a great way to get noticed by the UN, especially if it’s something in the same area,” said Kurt Chesko, a program officer at the UN Mine Action Service and a panelist. (An additional source for job information in the nonprofit world is

While languages other than English are vital for applying for a job in the UN Secretariat — which carries out the daily tasks of the world body through its base in New York and stations worldwide — it is critical that applicants can write clearly in English.

“Sometimes, the UN overlooks really great candidates because they don’t have the English background,” Dujarric said. If you are a native English speaker, he added, don’t forget to put that in your personal history profile. Inspira offers three kinds of entry-level jobs to apply to: consultancy, professional and general service.

It is also important to know that when people apply for a general service category job in the Secretariat, they can get stuck behind a “virtual wall” between so-called ‘G posts’ and the professional category, Dujarric said. “That’s something to keep in mind as you plan your UN career.”

Moreover, professional level posts generally require a master’s degree. The UN global staff is more than two-thirds male, so the organization encourages women to apply for positions to help make it a more gender-balanced operation.

“If you really are interested and you don’t think you have a great background, such as 20 years of experience, a piece of advice: network as much as possible, go to as many events as you can, do as many internships as you can,” said Isabel Raya, who worked as a consultant for the Sustainable Energy for All initiative in the office of the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon.

Raya, who is a graduate of the Center for Global Affairs master’s program, with a concentration in international development, came from Spain to New York to ultimately seek a career at the UN. Like the other panelists, she advised the audience to network and to be persistent.

“Think outside the box,” she said. “The best thing you can do is to network as best as possible. Follow the UN agency you are most interested in, attend events open to the public, start networking, keep business cards.”

With her international affairs background, Raya worked at two separate unpaid internships at the UN, which she said was a “full-time job and difficult to combine with [her] studies,” but worth it. One of the internships involved traveling to Mexico to be a Spanish-English translator for three weeks.

Related articles

For ‘Young Professionals,’ How to Land a Job at the UN

For a Job at the UN, Start by Making Contacts

Two Resources for Job Seekers in Foreign Affairs

Elisa dos Santos is a business economics major and presidential scholar at Hofstra University Honors College and an intern at the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean in Washington. She is also a co-founder and president of the Hofstra University Hunger Project and a member of the Hofstra Gold Leadership Program. She is fluent in Portuguese.

Becoming a Foreign Service Officer

The following guest post from International Relations Online, a free online resource for those interested in careers in International Relations, may interest many current students. Elsewhere I’ve posted “Careers in IR” boxes from my textbook International Relations, covering jobs in government, business, NGOs, and education.

fso victor

FSO Experiences

Become a Foreign Service Officer

Foreign Service offers challenging and rewarding career opportunities for those who are passionate about public service on behalf of the United States government. Foreign Service Officers support U.S. embassies, consulates, and diplomatic missions around the world. They experience the cultures and customs of different nations while promoting peace, advancing U.S. interests, and protecting U.S. citizens abroad.

Is Foreign Service Right for You?

A career as a Foreign Service Officer can be exciting and glamorous, providing high levels of responsibility as well as opportunities to work with important and interesting people. As employees of the U.S. Department of State, Foreign Service Officers receive competitive salaries, government-paid housing, and additional benefits including health insurance, paid vacations, and retirement funding.

Despite the many benefits offered by Foreign Service, the lifestyle that comes with the career is not for everyone. Some foreign posts are in dangerous settings or in remote locations that lack amenities that many U.S. citizens have come to expect. Families are encouraged to accompany Foreign Service Officers to their posts, except in cases where there is imminent danger or civil unrest. Depending on the post, life abroad may be either enriching or difficult for family members.

Before choosing Foreign Service as a career path, you should assess both the rewards and the downsides and decide if you are willing to adapt your life to the job. The U.S. Department of State provides an online quiz that can help you decide if the positive aspects of a Foreign Service career outweigh the negatives. Candidates should also become familiar with the Foreign Service Officer Qualifications List, which describes 13 character dimensions that are deemed essential to Foreign Service work.

Choosing a Career Track

In addition to looking at the pros and cons of the Foreign Service lifestyle, it is important to learn about the different career tracks. Your preparation for the career track you choose will affect whether or not you are selected for a position with the Foreign Service. Choose carefully, because once a Foreign Service candidate has specified a track during registration for the Foreign Service Officer Test, it is difficult to switch to a different track.

These are the five Foreign Service career tracks:

Consular Officers protect Americans living, working, and traveling in foreign countries.
Economic Officers work with U.S. government agencies and foreign governments in the areas of trade, science, technology, energy, the economy, and the environment.
Management Officers are leaders who handle a wide range of challenges while overseeing embassy operations.
Political Officers analyze political events in foreign and negotiate with foreign officials.
Public Diplomacy Officers are experts in cross-cultural relations who promote U.S. values, policies, and interests abroad.

A detailed description of each track can be found in the State Department’s Guide to the Foreign Service Officer Selection Process.

Acing the FSOT (Foreign Service Officer Test)

The Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) measures a Foreign Service candidate’s knowledge, skill, and abilities. The three-hour test is administered three times per year in test centers located in the U.S. and abroad. The test consists of four components: a job knowledge test, an English expression test, biographic questionnaire, and a written essay. A sample of the type of questions included on the FSOT is provided at the end of the Guide to the Foreign Service Officer Selection Process.

Ordering the official FSOT Study Guide is the best way to ensure a passing score on the test. In addition, it is important to have strong foundational knowledge of world affairs. To this end, the U.S. State Department provides a resource list of books, journals, and websites to help candidates prepare for the Foreign Service selection process.

Final Steps

Candidates who pass the FSOT move to the final assessment steps. First, they are asked to answer a series of Personal Narrative questions. These questions are centered on six precepts: intellectual skills, interpersonal skills, communication skills, management skills, leadership, and substantive knowledge. The next step is the Foreign Service Oral Assessment, which is designed to determine how candidates put the 13 Foreign Service character dimensions into practice. Administered over the course of a single day, it includes a team exercise, a structured interview and a case management exercise.

Candidates who successfully complete all Foreign Service tests and assessments are asked to obtain medical and security clearances and complete the Final Review Panel. Only those who pass the review will be considered for positions as Foreign Service Officers.

Philippines Storm and Climate Change

Super typhoon Haiyan: survivors walk past a ship that lies on top of damaged homesThanks to the BBC (again), we can watch in near-real time as desperate masses of Filipinos struggle to stay alive without water, food, or health care. The “super-typhoon” that hit them is possibly the biggest storm ever recorded.

On the other side of the world, in Poland, an international conference got underway to try to negotiate about precursors to a possible agreement to someday set targets to reduce the growth of the rate at which we are adding carbon to the atmosphere. The Philippine delegate cut through all that with an emotional speech that electrified the room, linking the devastation in the Philippines to the world’s failure to prevent climate change. “We can fix this. We can stop this madness,” he pleaded. He began fasting until the conference takes effective action.

The media coverage of this storm and other recent weather destruction always warns us that no particular weather disaster can be attributed to climate change. This is technically true, but misleading. If you are sitting on the beach while the tide is rising, you will notice that some waves come up much higher on the beach than others, unpredictably, and with no relation to the tide. But over time, for certain, your picnic is going to get soaked. Same thing with planet Earth – our picnic is for certain going to be completely soaked if we continue on our current path.

People wonder if the recent weather disasters will be the “new normal.” The answer is definitely no. The new normal will be far, far worse. The trends that will play out over the next few decades have only just begun. This is just a little taste of a future that will be truly catastrophic, barring a major change in the direction of human civilization.

The massive denial about climate change that now pervades our collective consciousness is reminiscent of the “nuclear numbing” of the public during the Cold War. We were aware of such matters as nuclear war planning, but their logical consequences were too horrible to look at. So we delegated the uncomfortable core issues to experts and policy makers, who could treat the issues surgically, with acronyms and euphemisms. The nuclear freeze movement upended that arrangement, and I wish the same would happen for climate change. The experts and policy makers are not solving it. The international governance institutions are not up to the job. And, embarrassingly, my own dear United States is on the wrong side of the issue, emitting way more than its share of carbon and failing to lead the push for change, indeed even undermining the world’s feeble efforts such as the Kyoto Protocol (unratified by the USA).

Climate change is the overriding moral issue of our time. So when I say the USA is on the wrong side of the issue, I mean the wrong side of history.

[Donations to help the people in the Philippines can be made through one of these groups.]

Guide to Middle East Complexity

WaPo ME chart BSm0bOBCYAAAph6The idea seems to be gaining traction that the Middle East is incredibly, incredibly complex – far too complex for Americans to ever understand and far, far too complex to intervene in with any hope of success, be it military strikes on Syria, peace negotiations with Israel and Palestine, or military aid to Egypt. Last week the Washington Post’s foreign affairs blogger Max Fisher published a chart of Middle East players filled with arrows in every direction — sheer chaos (the chart was from an Egyptian blogger, “the big Pharoah”).

I’ve redrawn the chart – breaking “Syrian rebels” into four constituent groups but otherwise retaining the same actors — and it’s not that complicated. (Sure, a level down from here, on either chart, lies lots of complexity down to individual personalities and cross-cutting ties, but that wasn’t the original chart’s point.)

Goldstein Middle East Chart

Fisher comments on his chart:  “There are rivals who share mutual enemies, allies who back opposite sides of the same conflict, conflicting interests and very strange bedfellows.” But actually, on my version you see mostly a two-way split between the Russian-backed Shi’ite axis in the upper right and the actors on the left. The main complexity is a rivalry between Qatar (home of al Jazeera TV) and Saudi Arabia (along with the other Gulf states). They back opposing sides of the conflict within Egypt between General Sisi and the Muslim Brotherhood. They both support the Free Syrian Army but favor different factions within it (the Saudi-backed side is dominant now in the Syrian rebel leadership). In the lower right, al Qaeda and the Kurds each control territory in Syria and are more concerned with administering it than bigger ambitions.

There are a few anomalies but not of great significance. For instance, Israel likes the USA, which likes Qatar (where we held military exercises this year), which likes Hamas, but Hamas does not like Israel!

Thirty years ago studying international relations in graduate school, my professor Nazli Choucri taught me that “the Middle East conflict” was actually at least five conflicts layered over each other.  Today it’s even less about Israelis versus Arabs than then. But the region is not a swirling cloud of unpredictable and shifting conflicts that no one could ever understand. Journalists at the Washington Post, and elsewhere, should try to understand and explain these conflicts, not throw up their hands. My opinion.

For those of you who would like a map to go with the chart, here you go:

middle east map