What Are Human Rights?

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Some might say there is no such thing as ‘human rights’ and the concept itself is merely a made-up human construct. After all, humans, like any other animal on the planet evolved with the law of the jungle, a view most commonly cited by atheists. Most people now believe there are certain human rights, although what is considered and not considered a human right varies widely. 

Here in the U.S., our very wise founding fathers came up with the concept of ‘inalienable rights’ and reasoned these rights were granted not by government, but by the creator and a birthright to all. At the time this was considered a brilliant innovation for the cornerstone of our government, a guiding light for us to aspire. Today, we have grown accustomed to freedom, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In fact, we expect and demand it.

Human Rights and U.S. Foreign Policy

When it comes to human rights and U.S. foreign policy pragmatism is more commonly practiced rather than sticking to any sort of straight definition. This was recently noted in a well-penned Op-Ed on ‘where human rights come from’ in the Wall Street Journal. Although we often perceive that the countries we trade with or align with have common values when it comes to human rights, all too often we allow exceptions when it is politically expedient in achieving a different goal such as winning a war, preserving peace, improving economics, acquiring resources, or involving issues of national security.

There are endless examples of the United States letting human rights violations slide in order to negotiate a peace accord, secure oil, or bring a somewhat rogue nation back into the fold of the international community. Still, our record on human rights has been pretty strong overall, comparatively speaking.

What Are Human Rights, Who Decides and Why Does It Matter

Recently, Secretary of State Pompeo asked about Human Rights. He put forth a number of questions. He explained the problem in making policy without any clear definitions, explaining that it gets complicated when there is such a diverse view of just what ‘human rights’ is actually supposed to mean. The definition varies greatly between nations and amongst human rights’ organizations, or organizations parading around as human rights groups.

What is included and not included in these definitions are also often contradictory and puzzling. Even more problematic is the ever-changing nature of what human rights encompass, and how fervently politics come into play when the topic comes up.

Should the United States take a leadership role in fostering a set of standards for human rights around the world? Should the U.S. focus on this now? If not the U.S. then whom, if not now, then when? One of the biggest challenges in international diplomacy is that when the United States makes a stand against human rights violations, we often test the strength of our alliances. All too often we end up making an enemy, and other nations who could care less about human rights go out and make a new friend of that nation or nation’s leader which we’ve inadvertently alienated.

Walking the Talk

 Standing on the moral high-ground can serve our nation well and do a great service to all of humanity. Are we up for the challenge or will this latest push for human rights come across as a threat to the leaders and cultures of other nations far and wide? Is it possible to get everyone on the same page? Is it a fool’s errand to try? Clifford May of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies analyzes human rights and breaks down the politics, conflicts, and reasoning behind how we got here and how we must proceed.  

The leading researchers on human rights aren’t just looking towards the past for answers to humanity’s future. Now they are also focusing on better-defined definitions void of political agenda and based on discussions from human rights experts.  There appears to be a good opportunity here. That is ‘if’ we can get everyone on the same page and ditch some of the dark political agendas behind the scenes.

According to the latest news on foreign policy and human rights, the Trump Administration’s Mike Pompeo is serious about taking this dialogue to a higher level. Considering the past failures on human rights issues at the United Nations, it is about time the pendulum swung back in favor of humanity. All too often the biggest abusers of human rights violations were enabled by the very groups claiming to uphold those values. Maybe it is once again time to start calling out these abuses when and where they occur.

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Turkey’s Anti-NATO Behavior

SD meets with Turkish MOD Fikri Isik

In recent years alliances have been significantly tested all around the world. With every new conflict comes disagreements of policy which lead to otherwise friendly countries being at odds. Mark Dubowitz on his site, The Foundation for Defense of Democracies, has outlined numerous drastic changes between powerful nations over recent months, including the U.S. withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal.

One such battle is between Turkey and the rest of the NATO member countries. Turkey is a critically important ally to the U.S. and NATO as a whole. Its geographical location makes it vital when responding to a crisis in the Middle East and it remains to be one of the strongest presences in the region. However, recently Turkey’s leadership, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has exhibited anti-NATO behavior.

To fight the Islamic State in Syria, the U.S. enlisted the help of a Syrian-Kurdish militia group known as YPG. This past January, Turkey began attacking those same forces in Afrin, (a district in northern Syria). The Kurdish people have a long history of seeking separation from the existing powers to create a sovereign Kurdish state. Since the 70’s, there have been a series of armed conflicts between the Turkish government and various Kurdish insurgent groups.

Due to this history, President Erdoğan has made it explicitly clear that he will never allow a Kurdish state to form, especially on Turkey’s Southern border. He views the YPG forces as a potential first step in such a state. What’s worse is these attacks against the U.S. backed forces were made with Russian support. Moscow controls the skies in that region, so Turkey needed their approval to carry out its assaults.

Mark Dubowitz of FDD states that Western nations have tried to persuade Erdoğan to cease attacks, but they have failed to condemn Turkey publicly. In the past several years NATO and the EU haven’t responded appropriately to Erdoğan’s numerous human rights violations. When one NATO member acts against the interests and values of the organization it significantly undermines the entire NATO community. Turkey’s recent actions show a disturbing willingness to abandon Western norms.

Turkey’s relationship with Moscow is also a sign of trouble for NATO. At a time when NATO is trying to isolate Moscow for its track record of aggression and hostility towards its neighbors, FDD warns this decision sends the wrong message globally and weakens NATO’s image. Learn more about FDD.

Within Turkey’s borders, the government under Erdoğan’s control has acted in ways that widely sway from NATO founding values. Since the 2016 attempted coup, Erdoğan has arrested hundreds of journalists and clamped down on its judiciary. Any NATO member that weakens its own democracy tarnishes the entire alliance. All NATO countries are bound to the same founding document, the 1949 Washington Treaty, the preamble of which states, “all members are determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilization of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.”

NATO is not just a military organization. It is a political alliance with the preservation of democracy as a core value. All indicators suggest that Turkey is leaving democracy behind. An independent organization, Freedom House, recently downgraded Turkey from the status of “Partly Free” to “Not Free.” As a vital NATO member, Turkey’s military actions in the Middle East and the way it operates its government within its borders could jeopardize the entire organization.

 

 

 

Evolution of Iran’s Ballistic Missile Capabilities

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Iran possesses one of the most extensive ballistic missile arsenals in the Middle East, with many of those weapons capable of carrying a nuclear device. This is mainly due to several technological advancements the country has made in the field of aerospace engineering over the past decade. Some of these accomplishments include the deployment of satellites into low Earth orbit, the construction and successful testing of multi-stage missiles, improved missile guidance, and improved fuel efficiency. These, among other advancements, have extended Iran’s firing range, improved missile speeds, and lowered costs.

 

The growth of Iran’s missile armament has increased global fears surrounding the country’s intentions. One concern is that Iran plans to build a fleet of long-range missiles that could act as a substitute for the country’s aging air-force. Another concern is that Iran could use these improved ballistic missiles to deliver nuclear payloads. Due to the tense political climate in the Middle East, many fear the potential for escalation on both a regional and global scale, were Iran to become a nuclear power.

 

Though an international deal preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons was reached in July 2015 under the Obama administration, there remain many who are skeptical of the agreement’s strength. Speaking with Politico, Mark Dubowitz of FDD said: “the day was a bitter setback.” The arrangement, which was supported by the UN and many U.S. allies, requires the Iranian government to submit to inspections of military facilities in exchange for the removal of economic sanctions.

 

Mark Dubowitz doesn’t believe Iran is living up to its end of the bargain, and he is not alone. President Trump has repeatedly criticized the deal for being unenforceable. FDD explains that the way the agreement is written requires the president to waive the US sanctions against Iran on a prearranged timetable (every 120-180 days). If the president refuses to waive the US sanctions, the deal will crumble.

 

In January President Trump vowed not to waive any further sanctions.

 

Push-back against the agreement has drawn criticism from both parties, as well as leaders abroad. The heads of Russia and China have both denounced the current administration’s refusal to cooperate with the deal, calling it “efforts by the US o change negotiated treaties.” However, the US’s position, both under the Obama administration and the Trump administration, as well as the European position, is that the deal might already be void by Iran’s refusal to allow proper inspections.

 

One subject the treaty doesn’t cover, which many wanted included, is Iran’s non-nuclear missile program. The country has been able to continue with its efforts to expand the scale, reach, accuracy, and speed of its projectiles uninhibited by global sanctions. In a last-ditch attempt to keep the United States from leaving the deal, European allies have promised to work on a version of the treaty that would require Iran to halt efforts on its ballistic missile program, or face the return of global economic sanctions. While the future relationship between the U.S. and Iran remains uncertain, many are hopeful that some arrangement will stay in place for the time being.