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The Cipher Brief Experts on National Security

  • The British and 9/11
    by Suzanne Kelly on September 11, 2021 at 6:32 pm

    Cipher Brief Expert Tim Willasey-Wilsey is a Visiting Professor at King’s College, London and a former senior British diplomat. From 1996 to 1999 he was senior advisor to the British government on overseas counterterrorism.  This piece was first published by RUSI in London.  The views do not represent those of RUSI. Analysis of openly available … Continue reading “The British and 9/11” The post The British and 9/11 appeared first on The Cipher Brief.

  • Wars are not Won by Evacuations
    by Suzanne Kelly on September 9, 2021 at 1:11 pm

    Mark Kelton, Former Deputy Director, CIA’s Counterintelligence, National Clandestine Service Cipher Brief Expert Mark Kelton is a retired senior Central Intelligence Agency executive with 34 years of experience in intelligence operations. Before retiring, he served as CIA’s Deputy Director for Counterintelligence.  He is a partner at the FiveEyes Group and is Board Chair of Spookstock, … Continue reading “Wars are not Won by Evacuations” The post Wars are not Won by Evacuations appeared first on The Cipher Brief.

  • The Risk of Terrorism at Home and Abroad
    by Suzanne Kelly on September 1, 2021 at 1:31 am

    As information emerges about Islamic State of Khorasan, or ISIS-K – the terrorist group that claimed responsibility for last week’s suicide attack that killed 13 US service members and more than 160 Afghans – there is an increased effort to predict how Afghanistan, under Taliban rule, may emerge once again as a breeding ground for … Continue reading “The Risk of Terrorism at Home and Abroad” The post The Risk of Terrorism at Home and Abroad appeared first on The Cipher Brief.

  • What Intelligence was there on Afghanistan?
    by Suzanne Kelly on August 25, 2021 at 1:13 pm

    When The Washington Post reported this week that CIA Director William Burns slipped into Afghanistan on Monday to meet with Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar, it was described as the highest-level face-to-face encounter between the Taliban and the Biden Administration.  WaPo cited anonymous sources for the information and the CIA offered no immediate comment on … Continue reading “What Intelligence was there on Afghanistan?” The post What Intelligence was there on Afghanistan? appeared first on The Cipher Brief.

  • Putin’s Calculated Afghanistan Play
    by Suzanne Kelly on August 19, 2021 at 1:51 am

    Robert Dannenberg, Former Senior CIA Officer Cipher Brief Expert Rob Dannenberg is a 24-year veteran of the CIA, where he served in several senior leadership positions, including chief of operations for the Counterterrorism Center, chief of the Central Eurasia Division and chief of the CIA’s Information Operations Center. Dannenberg is a member of the Board … Continue reading “Putin’s Calculated Afghanistan Play” The post Putin’s Calculated Afghanistan Play appeared first on The Cipher Brief.

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  • Almost half a million US households lack indoor plumbing: ‘The conditions are inhumane’
    by Nina Lakhani in New York and Maanvi Singh in San Francisco on September 27, 2021 at 9:30 am

    Renters and people of color are most likely to be living without water or flushing toilets in some of America’s wealthiest cities, new research showsYan Yu Lin and her seven-year-old daughter live in a tight studio in San Francisco’s Chinatown, in a century-old building where 60 or so residents on each floor share a bathroom.Along the back wall of the room is a plastic potty – the kind designed for toilet training toddlers. The shared bathrooms are out of order so often, so rank and unhygienic, that Lin has her daughter use the plastic potty instead. “It’s safer,” she said. Continue reading…

  • Coronavirus live news: fourth Brazil UN attendee tests positive; life expectancy falls by most since second world war
    by Harriet Grant (now) and Helen Sullivan (earlier) on September 27, 2021 at 9:24 am

    Life expectancy of American men drops by more than two years; CEO of Brazilian state lender tests positive for CovidCovid has wiped out years of progress on life expectancy, finds studyTributes pour in for pioneering PNG female doctor who died from CovidHow the US vaccine effort derailed and why we shouldn’t be surprisedAntibodies in breast milk ‘remain for 10 months after Covid infection’ 10.24am BST South Korea has announced it will begin vaccinating children aged 12 to 17 and offering COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to those 75 years and above. The vaccination advisory committee of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) has ruled that the benefits outweigh the risks in vaccinating children. 9.54am BST The EU Commission is proposing an extension of the Covid-19 vaccine export control system a spokesperson has told journalists. The Commission introduced the export control mechanism on vaccines produced in EU countries in January – as a response to a shortfall in production from the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca earlier this month. Continue reading…

  • Anne at 13,000ft review – a woman uses skydiving as therapy
    by Peter Bradshaw on September 27, 2021 at 9:00 am

    Confident microbudget feature zones in on one woman’s unhappiness, and how skydiving provides an unlikely but dramatic releaseDeragh Campbell is an award-winning Canadian actor and film-maker whose recent movie MS Slavic 7 I have to confess to finding weirdly inert and indulgent. She has a starring role in this movie, which is a confident, intimate microbudget feature shot almost entirely in searching closeup, directed by Campbell’s longtime collaborator Kazik Radwanski. It is a more approachable piece of work and Campbell’s performance is unsettlingly real.She plays Anne, an unhappy young woman with a job in a children’s daycare centre and an undiagnosed anxiety disorder, whose life is turned upside down when she tastes the ecstatic thrill of skydiving. Anne gets on pretty badly with her grumpy, humourless colleagues – who may nevertheless have a point about her unprofessional, casual and derisive attitude – and argues with her mother. She meets a nice guy called Matt (Matt Johnson) at a co-worker’s wedding, though she may well be about to alienate him too. But all this is against the background of skydiving, which she took part in as part of the bachelorette party: the bride and all the maids-of-honour did it once, but Anne wants this amazing and passionate experience again and again. Could it be a miraculous therapy for her? Or is skydiving simply enlarging and intensifying her already troublesome and anarchic personality? Continue reading…

  • Paraguay on the brink as historic drought depletes river, its life-giving artery
    by William Costa in Paraguay on September 27, 2021 at 9:00 am

    Severe drought that began in late 2019 continues to punish the region while experts say climate change and deforestation may be intensifying the phenomenonIn the shadow of towering grain silos that line the bank of the River Paraná, South America’s second-longest waterway, Lucas Krivenchuk stands watching workers rush to load a barge with soybeans.“Twelve barges had to leave today, but only six will make it out: there’s no time, the water’s dropping too fast”, said Krivenchuk, general manager of the Trociuk private port in southern Paraguay. “It’s the first time that any have left in two months”. Continue reading…

  • NSW and Victoria criticised for ‘glaring omission’ of aged care freedoms in reopening plans
    by Melissa Davey on September 27, 2021 at 8:53 am

    Roadmaps make no mention of how sector will manage risk of allowing increased visitors after reaching vaccination targetsRestrictions: Vic, NSW; borders: Vic, NSW5km and 10km from home map: check your travel radiusVaccine rollout tracker; Covid cases and data trackerGet our free news app; get our morning email briefingThe Victoria and New South Wales roadmaps to reopening have been criticised for failing to include details about increasing freedoms for those in aged care.While both states have outlined extra freedoms vaccinated people can enjoy once 70 and 80% vaccination targets have been achieved, there is no mention on what will happen to the aged care sector, such as allowing visitors again. Continue reading…

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  • Why America keeps turning its back on Haitian migrants
    by Fabiola Cineas on September 24, 2021 at 6:40 pm

    As US immigration authorities begin to deport immigrants back to Haiti from Del Rio, Texas, thousands crossed the river back into Mexico to avoid deportation. | John Moore/Getty Images The Biden administration is continuing a long history of exclusionary policy against Haitian asylum seekers. The images left many sickened and outraged: Border Patrol agents on horseback hounding Haitian migrants near the US-Mexico border, more than 14,000 of whom were camped under the Del Rio bridge on September 19. The uniformed men swung their long horse reins — which many interpreted as whips — to keep the migrants from crossing into Texas. In one photo, an agent grabbed the T-shirt of a migrant, while another shouted in a video, “Get out now! Back to Mexico!” Condemnation of the agents’ behavior was swift, with advocates drawing parallels to slave patrols, or the white men on horses who whipped enslaved people in cotton fields. But inhumane treatment of Black migrants, particularly Haitian migrants, is not new; it’s closely linked to the history of immigrant detention in the United States. Paul Ratje/AFP via Getty Images A US Border Patrol agent tries to stop a Haitian migrant from entering an encampment in Del Rio, Texas, on September 19. Outrage over the image was swift, with some advocates drawing parallels to slave patrols. Paul Ratje/AFP via Getty Images Much of the current wave of Haitian migrants, more than 10,000, left Haiti after experiencing crises including an earthquake, a tropical storm, and the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. Paul Ratje/AFP via Getty Images The US has been deporting thousands of migrants back to Haiti to deadly circumstances. Haitians have sought asylum at US borders for decades, but every presidential administration since the 1970s has treated Haitians differently than other migrant groups, rejecting asylum claims, holding them longer in detention, and making it harder for them to settle down in safety. In the early 1990s, for example, when the United States detained more than 12,000 Haitian refugees at Guantanamo indefinitely, Immigration and Naturalization Services denied the vast majority of them asylum. According to Carl Lindskoog, the author of Detain and Punish: Haitian Refugees and the Rise of the World’s Largest Immigration Detention System, the United States’ inhumane treatment of Haitian refugees, whom the country has often cast as criminals, unskilled, diseased, and poor, has been a central part of the immigration detention story. “Policies were specifically designed to deter Haitians from coming in. These policies became the prototype for what became a global system of migrant incarceration,” says Lindskoog, a professor of history at Raritan Valley Community College in New Jersey. The current wave of Haitian migrants is fleeing a country that has experienced compounding crises. This summer, Haiti suffered a magnitude 7.2 earthquake and tropical storm that killed an estimated 2,200, with thousands more missing or injured. The July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse worsened violence and instability. Haitians are still reeling from the January 2010 earthquake that affected 3 million people, causing irreparable damage to homes and infrastructure. Gangs have since risen in power, leading many Haitians to live in fear for their lives and families. Julio Cortez/AP Migrants, many from Haiti, at an encampment along the Del Rio International Bridge in Texas on September 21. Some Haitian immigrants at the border had not found asylum elsewhere after the 2010 Haiti earthquake that devastated the country. As Lindskoog says, what Haitians are experiencing is the kind of calamity that asylum was designed for in the period following World War II: “It is their legal right to seek asylum.” However, some migrants hoping for asylum are instead being chased down and shut out at the border — images show them being removed from airplanes in Port-au-Prince with their belongings scattered on the airport’s tarmac — while an undisclosed number are being allowed into the United States. Biden’s decision to fly Haitians back to deadly circumstances, under a Trump-era policy, underscores the United States’ longstanding animus toward Black migrants. I talked to Lindskoog about the history of Haitian migrant detention in the US and why America has consistently rolled out harsh policies for Haitians, without displaying compassion for immigrants from the embattled Caribbean nation. Our conversation has been edited and condensed. Fabiola Cineas This week, images and video of Border Patrol agents mounted on horseback rounding up Haitian migrants at the southern border sparked national outrage. The images depicted officials using horse reins, which many likened to whips, to control the movement of the Haitians. Can you tell me what came to mind when you saw those images? Carl Lindskoog The images are horrible. I agree with everyone who said it was so terribly resonant of the long history of anti-Black racism and racial violence. Those images bring a lot of strands of history together, from why the Border Patrol was created, to how violent that institution has been, to how our modern policing system comes from the enforcement of slavery. And then there is how our immigration system has been criminalized and merged into our criminal justice system, both of which have anti-Black elements. What’s happening at the border is horrifying and fits into the long intersecting history of anti-Black, anti-immigrant sentiment and anti-Haitian exclusion. Fabiola Cineas Let’s talk more about the Border Patrol’s racist history, which has been well documented and began with its formation in the early 1920s as a kind of brotherhood with KKK members and racist Texas Rangers. Can you tell me more about how these origins were likely at play in Del Rio with Haitian migrants? Carl Lindskoog There is a really good book about this by Kelly Lytle Hernández called Migra! A History of The U.S. Border Patrol, in which she describes how the creation of the US Border Patrol in 1924 happened amidst a much broader anti-immigrant moment. There was the national Immigration Restriction Act of 1924 that placed new racist immigration quotas and exclusions as part of American immigration policy. It was the gatekeeping mechanism at the time for keeping out who we don’t want to come across on American shores. [Author’s note: For example, the law favored migration from Northern and Western European countries and decreased the annual immigration cap from 350,000 to 165,000.] Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images “Aliens” apprehended by the Border Patrol await questioning in Brownsville, Texas, in September 1984. Simultaneously, the Border Patrol — which evolved out of a longer history of anti-migrant, anti-Mexican white supremacist violence along the US borderlands — was introduced to police to control the movement of Mexican migrants in particular, but also other people who might cross the southern border. Fabiola Cineas Yes, many people tend to only think of Mexican migrants trying to cross the southern border. But there are people from Caribbean countries taking long, arduous treks across water and through numerous nations and terrains to seek American asylum. For example, reports have suggested that many of the more than 14,000 Haitian migrants who were camped under the Del Rio International Bridge had actually left Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and had stopped in places like Brazil and Chile but have been on the move to Mexico due to various circumstances. What kinds of conditions have these migrants faced in the past 10 or so years? Carl Lindskoog From what I’ve learned from organizations like the Haitian Bridge Alliance and from reporters who have gone down to places like Brazil to report on conditions, especially after the economic downturn and other crises in Brazil, is that they couldn’t stay there. So they went to Chile and didn’t have the greatest reception there and sometimes faced a harrowing journey through jungles and across borders. There’s a gigantic immigration detention facility in southern Mexico, where Mexico does a lot of the dirty work of the United States by detaining people who’ve crossed the border with Guatemala. If they got out of there, and were able to make it through the dangerous terrain up to the US-Mexico border, that is a major act of survival because of everything that they had to face in coming so many miles and facing so many police forces, prisons, and natural challenges. And then to see the images and read the reports that they’re living in that large encampment now, and just trying to get food and water and then to face that violent reprisal by the US Border Patrol — it’s just unimaginable. Fabiola Cineas And how does this modern-day situation compare to the kind of treatment Haitian migrants have traditionally received over the past couple of decades, whether they’re entering through the southern border or trying to get to Florida’s shores by boat? Carl Lindskoog They have, for most of history, been met with exclusion. During the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, most Haitians were coming on student visas or tourist visas, and then if they didn’t have authorization to stay, they were overstaying their visa. There were also a number of political exiles. So they weren’t really on the radar and seen as a big problem. They were establishing themselves in neighborhoods in New York primarily, and in Boston and elsewhere in Canada. It’s really in the early to mid-1970s when the so-called “boat people,” which is a different demographic — more working-class, urban, displaced Haitians — started to come by boats and ships, trying to make it to American shores. When they tried to put in asylum claims was when they started to be more on the radar of American authorities. That triggered this racist backlash, especially in South Florida, because it was at a moment when there was already a racist backlash to the civil rights movement. So to have all these poor unauthorized migrants who don’t speak English, that are Black, showing up, there’s this really racist reaction. AP Haitians refugees arrive at Mayport in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1976. They had been adrift in an 18-foot boat for five days. South Floridians started to put pressure on their local officials, who then turned to Washington, and there was a very concerted effort to keep Haitians out. The Carter administration introduced something called the Haitian Program — a punishing set of policies designed to deter Haitians from coming in. And if they were already here, it tried to keep them out of the mainstream population. That meant putting them in detention facilities and local jails, basically denying them carte blanche their asylum claims and just sending them back. There was a big legal challenge in 1980, Haitian Refugee Center v. Civiletti, where Haitian migrants and their advocates got a federal judge named James Lawrence King to recognize in a ruling that this practice was not only discriminatory but also racist. Haitians were being excluded because they were Black and because they were Haitian. King overturned the Haitian Program, but the Carter administration worked to circumvent it like subsequent administrations would. When the Reagan administration came into power, they introduced a new Haitian detention program and the policy of interdiction, in which Coast Guard cutters would intercept boats of Haitian asylum seekers before they could even reach land and send them back, often to violence and death in Haiti. That process continued throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The Biden administration’s mass denial of asylum claims, which they’re doing by invoking Title 42 — a 2020 Trump administration coronavirus policy that has been used to expel more than a million migrants without hearings before an immigration judge — is not something new. This is something that both Republican and Democratic administrations have done, and it very much fits with the long history of the US government denying the legitimacy of Haitians’ asylum claims and sending them to a dangerous and often deadly situation. Fabiola Cineas It seems presidents of all backgrounds and in both parties have engaged in harm toward Haiti and Haitian migrants. US involvement in Haiti has often led to periods of instability there, but then the US has at times in the past turned around and interned Haitians at Guantanamo. Carl Lindskoog The coup d’état against Haiti’s first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, happened when George H.W. Bush was in power, and he sort of paid lip service to the illegitimate military government that was ruling after Aristide was put out of office. But Bush refused to accept Haitian asylum seekers and did everything the US government could to keep Haitians from being able to seek safe haven, even though the human rights atrocities after the coup were well-documented. There was another set of legal challenges and legal battles in the courts to give Haitians asylum, some of which were somewhat successful, but that’s the period when Guantanamo was first established as an offshore prison to try to serve as a buffer for people whom you don’t even want to allow to get to American shores to seek asylum. And Haitians were the first Guantanamo detainees. When Bill Clinton was running for president and trying to defeat George H.W. Bush, he promised to reverse that. A lot of Americans and people around the world were indignant about the Bush administration’s treatment of Haitians. “Of course we’re gonna let Haitians in,” Clinton said. But after he was elected, he reversed course and turned his back on the Haitians and said, “Well, we don’t want to trigger another humanitarian crisis by taking people because then more people will go out on this perilous journey across the ocean.” He was trying to invoke humanitarian reasons for still denying people the right to seek asylum. Meanwhile, more Haitians filled up Guantanamo, some of whom were HIV positive and had AIDS. That began another chapter in what one scholar calls the carceral quarantine of Haitians for medical reasons. This was similar to what’s happening today because Title 42 is built on the basis of public health mandates to exclude people. While many people were forcibly returned from Guantanamo to Haiti, a number of those Haitians who remained at Guantanamo were able to make it to the United States after intense political and legal struggle. Chris O’Meara/AP Haitian refugees lined up in cots in the McCalla hangar in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in 1991. Fabiola Cineas There’s historically also been a difference between how Cuban migrants and Haitian migrants have been treated, which many scholars point out is based on skin color. Is it useful to compare the plight of various migrant groups trying to make it into the United States? Carl Lindskoog I think it is useful. I think there are a lot of interesting polarities in the experience of Haitians and Cubans in how they come to the United States. The best example of course was the summer of 1980 when more than 100,000 Cubans came by boat seeking asylum, and so did approximately 15,000 Haitians. The Refugee Act of 1980 had just passed, but it didn’t have clear instructions for how to treat vast numbers of asylum seekers, so initially, both Cubans and Haitians were placed in refugee camps on military bases across the United States. But pretty quickly, Cubans, for the most part, were released and allowed to be with family members and the Cuban community. Haitians languished in detention much longer. For the Haitians that came after, a special piece of legislation was passed to adjust their status known as the Cuban-Haitian Entrant Act of 1980. But the Haitians that came after the act were again treated just like the ones that came before — excluded and barred. Cubans never suffered the same kind of exclusion or mass detention that Haitians did, despite the fact that they’re both coming from Caribbean nations and seeking asylum. Fabiola Cineas How do these exclusionary policies translate to how Haitians are treated once in America? Carl Lindskoog For the Haitian community and Haitian migrants in particular, they’ve repeatedly been targeted as disease carriers, which historically has also been a racialized notion not only of the foreign-born but especially of the nonwhite foreign-born. In the 1970s, their incarceration exclusion was sometimes justified on the basis that they were carrying tuberculosis. In the 1980s and especially in the 1990s, it became the notion that they were carrying AIDS. But Haitians said all along that singling them out is discriminatory because they aren’t any more likely to be diseased than other people. It is racialized stigmatization. The same thing goes for criminalization. The Black Alliance for Just Immigration has documented how Black immigrants are much more likely to be incarcerated, how they spend much more time in detention, and how their asylum cases, deportation cases, and immigration appeals are much more likely to be denied. That’s part of how immigration enforcement blends into the criminal justice system and policing — now that there’s a criminalized racial immigration system, often a migrant’s first point of contact in this country is with law enforcement. A lot of municipalities and localities have an agreement between their local law enforcement in the immigration system that they will refer any unauthorized or undocumented person or someone with some kind of immigration issue over to the immigration system. They then get put into the immigration system based on some racialized reading about who they are and are disproportionately likely to be detained or deported. Fabiola Cineas So it’s clear that Haitian migrants are particularly demonized and criminalized, but I also think another element to their story is erasure. It feels like not many people know about this history. Even in the past decade or so, conversations about immigrants tend to leave out Black immigrants in general. Research from the nonprofit organization RAICES found that 44 percent of families that ICE locked up during the pandemic last year were Haitian and that this information was underreported. A February 2021 report from the American Immigration Council stated that at one detention center in 2020, nearly half of the families threatened with family separation were Black and originated from Haiti, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, and Afro-Latino communities in Latin America. What does the erasure signify? Carl Lindskoog Black migrants, Black immigrants, and Black asylum seekers are often left out of discussions of immigration, immigrant rights, and immigrant justice. In the media, when we are having these big national debates, we tend to think more about Central Americans and other Latin Americans, not the Caribbean so much. And, of course, in recent years, there were large numbers of displaced people coming from Central America — and that’s part of why that drew the attention. But it’s also true that Haitians only appear from time to time in conversation, and it’s not understood that their experiences track really closely to a lot of other asylum seekers. John Moore/Getty Images Haitians have sought asylum at US borders for decades, but presidential administrations since at least the 1970s have practiced exclusion against them. Fabiola Cineas Even with the current attention being paid to the treatment of Haitian migrants, it’s still unclear how the United States is going to decide which Haitians they allow in and which they don’t. The Biden administration’s initial response was to schedule seven flights a day to send Haitians at the border back. But then the Associated Press reported that Haitians were being released to El Paso, Texas; Arizona; and other places for 60 days before they’d have to appear at an immigration office. There’s not much transparency about how these decisions are being made. Carl Lindskoog ​​The Biden administration is under intense political pressure from different sides and from different interests, just as previous administrations have been. The administration is trying to maintain its image as being very different from the Trump administration, especially when it comes to racism and anti-immigrant nativist xenophobia, but I don’t believe that his policies have yet proven to be very different. [Vice President] Kamala Harris can stand there and say she is horrified, and [press secretary] Jen Psaki can say the same. But the whole reason the inhumane treatment of Haitians is happening is because the Biden administration is continuing the Trump administration’s illegitimate and unjustified use of Title 42, which is a way of denying the asylum process to which Haitians and all other people are entitled, by both our own federal law and international law. US Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorcas made a strong statement to migrants saying that if they come here illegally, they’re going to be removed, that they are going to fail. But it’s not illegal to claim asylum. It is a legal right to claim asylum. Migrants have to have a legitimate fear of past or future persecution in their home country on the basis of a number of categories — if they can prove that, then they’ve proven their asylum case and are supposed to be allowed to stay. Fabiola Cineas Many activists have used the phrase “Haitians are owed.” There’s this idea that the world owes Haiti and has played a role in its plight. What do you think about this in the context of what took place at the border this week? Carl Lindskoog We do all owe Haitians for the Haitian Revolution, which successfully ended in 1804 and was the most sweeping human rights revolution in all of human history. Haitian liberation, first from slavery and then from colonialism and achieving independence, was a victory for all enslaved, oppressed people, including Black Americans. In many ways, Haitians, sadly, because they’ve so often been targeted by racism and injustice, have kept fighting in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s in this country and in others. Their determination to liberate themselves and other people they’ve struggled alongside continues to be a model for how all incarcerated, enslaved, and otherwise abused people can find their liberation. That’s one major reason we owe a debt of gratitude to Haitians. That’s even more reason to fight alongside them for justice today at the US-Mexico border and wherever they encounter racism and discrimination.

  • At the UN, Biden is still trying to convince the world America is back
    by Jen Kirby on September 21, 2021 at 6:40 pm

    President Joe Biden departs after concluding his address to the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 21 at UN headquarters in New York City. | Eduardo Munoz/Getty Images But the test isn’t whether America is back — it’s whether it can help build the world Biden says it wants to build. In the first United Nations General Assembly of his presidency, Joe Biden assured leaders that America was ready to work together on global challenges — from the Covid-19 pandemic to climate change to the preservation of democracy and human rights. “This is the clear and urgent choice that we face here, at the dawning of what must be a decisive decade for our world, a decade that will quite literally determine our futures,” Biden said Tuesday in New York City. “As a global community, we are challenged by urgent and looming crises, wherein lie enormous opportunities if — if — we can summon the will, and resolve to seize these opportunities.” If it sounds familiar, it should. Biden, since his 2020 campaign, has promised to deploy American leadership to help solve the world’s problems, and to do so alongside allies and partners. He has repeatedly framed his presidency as a defense of democracy in a global struggle against authoritarianism. He did both again Tuesday. He talked about the need to untangle the United States’ reliance on military power and use other diplomatic and humanitarian tools instead. He referenced many international organizations — like the World Health Organization — that the US is reengaging with. The United States, Biden said, was “back at the table in international forums, especially the United Nations, to focus attention and to spur global action and shared challenges.” This vision has always been a deliberate contrast to former President Donald Trump’s “America First” worldview. But Trump is out of office (for now). Biden alone has the power to deliver on his promises of cooperation, of democracy, of human rights — and allies are judging him not compared to the previous president, but on his and his administration’s actions alone. Biden’s vision reflects that of the United Nations. But the question is still whether the US can deliver. Biden’s half-hour UN speech was clear-eyed about many of the challenges the world faces. “As we look ahead, we will lead on all the greatest challenges of our time, from Covid to climate, peace and security, human dignity, and human rights,” Biden said. “But we will not go it alone. We’ll lead together, with our allies and partners and in cooperation with all those who believe as we do.” Biden used this cooperative vision to also frame some foreign policy priorities — among them, competing with China (though he avoided bringing up Beijing directly), reentering the Iran nuclear deal, pushing for a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, and denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. It was, in all, a wish list of things that require some mix of diplomacy, multilateralism, and compromise. Biden explicitly rejected the use of military force to achieve these goals, a theme that stood out a month after the US’s Afghanistan withdrawal. “US military power must be our tool of last resort, not our first. It should not be used as an answer to every problem we see around the world,” Biden said. “Many of our greatest concerns cannot be solved or even addressed through the force of arms. Bombs and bullets cannot defend against Covid-19 or its future variants.” But there are still many questions about how Biden will fulfill these commitments on climate change, on Covid-19, and on everything else. At the United Nations, Biden, once again, offered an optimistic view of the capacity of the world to work together, and a generous view of America’s role in it. But that rhetoric has not always matched Biden’s foreign policy reality to date. For example, though Biden is raising the US refugee cap to 125,000 as of this fiscal year, in Afghanistan, tens of thousands of allies were likely still left behind, and the administration is deporting Haitians at the southern border and returning them to uncertain futures. The withdrawal from Afghanistan also raised questions among allies about whether the US did enough to consult with them, and the US’s new deal with the United Kingdom and Australia over nuclear submarines shows America is still flexing to counter China, while angering France, another close ally, in the process. This is even true on some of the big, existential challenges that the world faces and that, as Biden rightfully says, are impossible to solve alone. On Covid-19, Biden reiterated his administration’s commitment to a pandemic response, saying the administration has sent more than 160 million vaccine doses abroad. This week, Biden is hosting a Covid-19 summit, which will draw more commitments from allies and partners to achieve what Biden said are three goals: “saving lives now, vaccinating the world, and building back better.” At the same time, the US is debating whether to give out booster shots, which the World Health Organization has said should not be a priority because of unequal vaccine access around the world. About 6 billion Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered worldwide, the vast majority in higher-income countries. Just 2 percent of the population in lower-income countries has received a first dose. Covax, the international effort to equitably deliver vaccines, reduced its targets for delivery this year. On climate change, Biden reiterated the emergency and repeated the US’s climate commitments under the Paris climate agreement. But actually achieving some of these goals requires real policy steps, and a lot of that depends on Congress. Right now the future seems uncertain for the Democrats’ big bill on climate, social spending, and more — and that could endanger the scaled-down bipartisan infrastructure and climate bill, too. Biden also reflected on the values of the United Nations, human dignity and rights. “As we face down violence and insurrection, democracy remains the best tool we have to unleash our full human potential,” Biden said in what sounded like a reference to the US’s internal struggles. He tried to frame Afghanistan as an end to a chapter of the war on terror, although the fallout in Afghanistan and in so many other countries is likely to continue; Biden also acknowledged this by saying the US would take action against terrorists when it thought necessary. Biden, before the UN, says “terrorists” can “continue” to expect the US to launch lethal strikes, just not large-scale ground conflict. Then declares this is no longer 2001. This is a reification of the Sustainable War on Terror, down to the rhetoric of ending the enterprise.— Spencer Ackerman (@attackerman) September 21, 2021 Biden has promised cooperation and commitment, and no matter who is president, there are always limits to this. United Nations speeches are often built on a certain kind of idealism, just like the institution itself. But presidents choose the themes important to them. Trump was “America First”; he talked sovereignty and self-interest. Biden presented himself as the alternative to that. But the alternative isn’t Trump, it’s to Biden himself. The test is not whether America is back, but whether it can help build the world Biden says it wants to build.

  • Nuclear subs and a diplomatic blowup: The US-France clash, explained
    by Ellen Ioanes on September 18, 2021 at 9:52 pm

    President Joe Biden talks about a new national security initiative at the White House on September 15. | Win McNamee/Getty Images France recalled its ambassadors to the US and Australia over a new defense deal. France recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia on Friday in protest of Australia’s decision to cancel a major defense deal in favor of a new one with the US and Britain. The dramatic move caps a week of indignation for France, which described the new US-UK-Australia deal as “a stab in the back” on Thursday, and represents a major diplomatic break between longtime allies. It’s the first time France has recalled its ambassador to the US, and it comes after French officials canceled a Washington, DC, gala scheduled for Friday. The new US-UK-Australia deal, which was announced on Wednesday by the leaders of the three countries, lays the groundwork for Australia to acquire at least eight nuclear submarines with support from the US and the UK. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it also marks the “first major initiative” of a tripartite new security agreement among the countries under the acronym AUKUS (pronounced AWK-us, according to the AP). “This initiative is about making sure that each of us has a modern capability — the most modern capabilities we need — to maneuver and defend against rapidly evolving threats,” President Joe Biden said in Wednesday’s joint announcement with Morrison and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The AUKUS submarine deal replaces a previous agreement between France and Australia for France to deliver 12 non-nuclear submarines. In a Friday statement announcing France’s decision to recall its ambassadors, French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that the move “is justified by the exceptional gravity of the announcements made on 15 September by Australia and the United States.” I am being recalled to Paris for consultations. This follows announcements directly affecting the vision we have of our alliances, of our partnerships and of the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe. https://t.co/ue2V1NUTpN— Philippe Etienne (@Ph_Etienne) September 17, 2021 In public remarks this week, French officials, including Le Drian, have not held back their shock at Australia’s decision to turn to the US and the UK. “We had established a trusting relationship with Australia, and this trust was betrayed,” Le Drian said on Thursday, according to Politico. French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly reserved particular disdain for the US, saying France is “clear-eyed as to how the United States treats its allies,” according to Deutsche Welle. Despite the UK’s smaller role in the negotiations — currently, the US shares its submarine technology with the UK alone, necessitating Britain’s cooperation in the pact — Le Drian had harsh words for the Johnson government, too, saying it is “in a logic of permanent opportunism.” Regarding the United Kingdom, “recalling our Ambassador to London was not necessary because we already know that the British government is in a logic of permanent opportunism”.— Pierre Morcos (@morcos_pierre) September 18, 2021 Nuclear submarines make geopolitical sense for Australia French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to withdraw his country’s ambassadors to the US and Australia in response to the pact marks a surprising breakdown in France’s historically close relationship with the US — but Australia’s decision to look to the US for its submarine fleet is less surprising. Specifically, China’s military buildup, and its quest for dominance in the South China Sea — a major trade route for Australia — made the French submarines obsolete before they were even delivered. Because the US-made submarines rely on nuclear power, they have a far greater range than conventional submarines, don’t require refueling, and have better stealth capabilities — meaning they can stay underwater for months at a time without being detected, Australian National University researcher AJ Mitchell explained in the Conversation this week. With the AUKUS pact, Australia will join six other nations — the US, UK, Russia, India, France, and China — in deploying nuclear submarines, assuming the deal goes forward as planned. Prior to this new alliance, the US had shared its submarine technology only with Britain. In addition to the advantages of nuclear submarines, Australia’s previous deal with France — a $66 billion submarine contract, finalized in 2016, that would have provided Australia with 12 conventional, diesel-powered Barracuda submarines — has been rife with difficulties. The deal with France was only canceled on Wednesday, just hours before Morrison announced the AUKUS agreement in a teleconference with Biden and Johnson, but it had already begun to unravel — falling behind schedule as costs nearly doubled — when Australia approached the US about acquiring its submarine technology, shortly after Biden took office earlier this year. In June, Australian Defense Secretary Greg Moriarty signaled in a Senate hearing that the original deal was proving untenable, Politico reports, and that Australia was pursuing other options should the pact fall apart. On top of cost overruns and delays, there were other issues as well. Shortly after Australia and France reached the agreement in 2016, the French shipbuilder, then called DCNS, revealed it had been hacked and documents related to a separate Indian submarine project exposed. And while France’s submarine technology — conventional, diesel-powered attack vessels that could be switched to nuclear power — may have made sense when Australia’s relationship with China was less contentious, that relationship has soured recently due to China’s aggressive foreign policy in the Pacific and elsewhere. AUKUS took France by surprise While issues with the Australia-France deal have long been apparent, neither the Americans nor the Australians discussed the shift with their French counterparts until just a few hours before Morrison, Johnson, and Biden announced the new alliance, according to the New York Times. In fact, Australia and the US reportedly conspired to keep the developing deal from France, even as officials from both countries met with their French counterparts. Biden discussed the future of their alliance with Macron in June, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken made no mention of the pact when he met with Le Drian that same month in Paris. Australia also hid its plans from France when Morrison and Macron met in June, although Morrison says he did raise concerns about the viability of diesel-powered vessels, according to the Hill. Australia’s defense and foreign ministers even met with their French counterparts late last month and issued a joint statement about furthering their defense cooperation, specifically citing the submarine program. But by that date, according to the New York Times, the AUKUS deal was all but signed. The news caught French officials off-guard, with French ambassador to Australia Jean-Pierre Thebault reportedly learning of the new alliance when the news broke in the Australian press, and while Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, did discuss the decision with French ambassador Philippe Etienne just before the official announcement, that did not stop France from recalling Etienne to Paris for consultations. The complex roots of France’s fury In addition to diplomatic issues, France’s disappointment in the dissolution of its original submarine deal has a financial component. Indeed, the scuttled $66 billion deal was billed as the “contract of the century” in France, and Parly noted Thursday that the French government won’t rule out asking Australia for compensation. The now-defunct deal also intersects with France’s long-term foreign policy goals. Macron has long sought to establish what he calls “strategic autonomy” for the European Union, asking members of the bloc to increase their military spending and establish a stronger political relationship with NATO. In February, Macron emphasized at an Atlantic Council forum that “the EU is a credible player and one at a relevant level.” The dissolution of the French-Australian defense deal prevents Macron from flexing the country’s — and the bloc’s — security and political muscles in the Indo-Pacific. That doesn’t mean France’s outrage this week augurs a major shift for the country going forward, however. As Daniel Baer, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, points out in Foreign Policy, “For the French — or anyone else — to spin a substantial commercial loss into a paradigm-busting strategic reorientation is a misinterpretation of the meaning of the pact, the main strategic focus of which is, after all, the Indo-Pacific.” Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the name of Australia’s defense secretary. His name is Greg Moriarty.

  • Apple shut down a voting app in Russia. That should worry everyone.
    by Rebecca Heilweil on September 17, 2021 at 8:40 pm

    Russia pressured Apple and Google to remove the Smart Voting app from their app stores. | Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP via Getty Images Critics say Apple is not keeping its promise to hold fast when faced with government pressure. Apple and Google shut down a voting app meant to help opposition parties organize against the Kremlin in a parliamentary election in Russia that’s taking place over the weekend. The companies removed the app from their app stores on Friday after the Russian government accused them of interfering in the country’s internal affairs, a clear attempt by President Vladimir Putin to obstruct free elections and stay in power. The Smart Voting app was designed to identify candidates most likely to beat members of the government-backed party, United Russia, as part of a broader strategy organized by supporters of the imprisoned Russian activist Alexei Navalny to bring together voters who oppose Putin. In a bid to clamp down on the opposition effort, the Russian government told Google and Apple that the app was illegal, and reportedly threatened to arrest employees of both companies in the country. The move also comes amid a broader crackdown on Big Tech in Russia. Earlier this week, a Russian court fined Facebook and Twitter for not removing “illegal” content, and the country is reportedly blocking peoples’ access to Google Docs, which Navalny supporters had been using to share lists of preferred candidates. Removing the Navalny app from stores is a shameful act of political censorship.Russia’s authoritarian government and propaganda will be thrilled.@google @Apple— Ivan Zhdanov (@ioannZH) September 17, 2021 Critics say the episode serves as an example of why Apple, specifically, can’t be trusted to protect people’s civil liberties and resist government pressure. The company strictly controls the software allowed on to millions of devices and has recently faced allegations of monopolistic behavior with regard to how it manages its App Store, which is the only way people can install apps on iPhones and iPads. While Google is also being accused of caving to censorship demands, Android users can still access the Russian voting app without relying on the Google Play store, though it’s more difficult. “Android users in Russia can find other ways to install this app, whereas Apple is actively helping the Russian government make it impossible for iOS users to do so,” Evan Greer, the director of the digital rights group Fight for the Future, told Recode. “Apple’s top-down monopolistic approach is at the root of their harm.” Apple insisted just last month that it did, in fact, have the ability to defy this type of government influence. The company said so when it announced a new photo-scanning iPhone feature meant to identify images containing child sexual abuse material (CSAM). The tool, Apple explained, would involve downloading a National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) photo database, in the form of numerical codes, onto every iPhone. The update would have run those codes against photos stored in users’ iCloud accounts, looking for matches that would be reported to human reviewers, and then to the NCMEC. Though stopping the abuse of children is certainly worthwhile, the tool raised a lot of concerns for privacy advocates. Some said the update amounted to Apple building “a backdoor” into iPhones, one that could easily be exploited by bad actors or governments seeking data about their citizens. In the face of mounting criticism, Apple put the update on hold. But the company also insisted that it would never bow to government pressure. “We have faced demands to build and deploy government-mandated changes that degrade the privacy of users before, and have steadfastly refused those demands,” the company said. “We will continue to refuse them in the future.” Apple has long marketed privacy as a feature of its products. After the San Bernardino terrorist attack, Apple famously refused the FBI’s demand that the company build a back door into the iPhone. Earlier this year, Apple updated the iPhone’s operating system to allow users to opt out of the app-based trackers deployed by platforms like Facebook. Nevertheless, the company’s move on Friday to take down a voting app in Russia shows that Apple’s actual willingness to oppose government interference has its limits. The Smart Voting app was meant to help supporters of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in this weekend’s parliamentary elections. Neither Apple nor Google provided a comment for this story. Apple’s ambiguous commitment to protect its users’ civil liberties is especially concerning because the company still insists that it should control large swaths of the software available on the iPhone. While developers like Epic Games have been pushing back against this “walled garden” approach, Apple still manages to maintain wide-ranging discretion over what programs and apps run on its devices. But as recent events in Russia make clear, Apple’s tight control over its App Store can be abused by authoritarian governments. “Apple was trying to bake censorship into the operating system, adding technology that could search our own phones for banned files,” warned Albert Fox Cahn, the director of STOP, the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project. “But if one government can search for CSAM, another can search for religious texts and political discourse.”

  • Inaction on climate change can worsen the crisis in Afghanistan
    by Jariel Arvin on September 15, 2021 at 12:00 pm

    People walk next to houses damaged by flash floods in eastern Afghanistan, on July 31. | AFP via Getty Images Everything is at stake for Afghanistan at this year’s UN climate conference. After decades of foreign intervention and violent conflict, the American mission in Afghanistan has ended and the Taliban have announced a new government. But for millions of Afghans, human-induced climate change has only magnified the strife. Most of Afghanistan is dry and hot for much of the year, and from 1950 to 2010, the landlocked country warmed 1.8 degrees Celsius — about twice the global average, but it is only responsible for a tiny fraction of greenhouse gas emissions. The combined impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, war, and prolonged drought threaten millions of Afghans with food insecurity. Although rainfall in Afghanistan has long varied, certain farming regions in the east, north, and central highlands are seeing up to 40 percent less rain during the spring, when the largely rain-fed crops will need water most. A majority of Afghans earn some income from farming. Sayed Khodaiberdi Sadat/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images The death toll was said to have hit over 100, with hundreds of homes destroyed, as a result of floods in Afghanistan in late August. To avoid the most devastating impacts for Afghanistan, experts have stressed that the US and the international community must commit to deeper cuts to carbon emissions and help developed countries to become more resilient in the face of environmental calamities. At the United Nations Climate Conference (COP26) in Glasgow this November, nearly 200 world governments have the chance to make good on their commitments to keep global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, in line with the 2016 Paris climate agreement. Developing countries are already asking some of the world’s top economies to further slash emissions, and to provide financial help with adapting to climate change and transitioning to clean energy through mechanisms like the Green Climate Fund. Before the Taliban took over, Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency planned to submit its updated climate pledge at the conference. It planned to ask for more financial assistance for projects to improve water management, as well as smart agriculture implementations to improve farm productivity and reduce environmental harm. Ahmad Samim Hoshmand was set to represent Afghanistan at COP26. But now he’s one of the thousands of Afghan people to flee, as the Taliban swept through major cities and assumed power. As national ozone officer for the United Nations Environment Program, Hoshmand’s work to enforce the global ban on ozone-depleting substances made him an enemy of people trading them. Having already worked a risky job in Afghanistan, Hoshmand now fears retribution as a refugee. But despite the security threats facing him and his home country, Hoshmand stresses, “If we don’t address climate change, conflict and violence will only get worse.” Members of the Taliban have said they want recognition from the international community and to work together to tackle shared concerns like global warming. But how? For help answering this question, I called Hoshmand, who was in Tajikistan. Our discussion, edited for length and clarity, is below. This interview was conducted in late August, prior to the announcement of the new Taliban-formed government. Jariel Arvin What are the major ways climate change is currently affecting Afghanistan? Ahmad Samim Hoshmand Afghanistan is among the most vulnerable countries in the world when it comes to climate change, based on its geography, sensitivity to, and ability to cope with global warming. I’m 100 percent sure that when you add conflict to those criteria, Afghanistan is the most vulnerable country in the world. Various data shows that the country is facing food insecurity, water scarcity, drought, and flash floods. All these issues are connected to climate change, and in recent years, we have witnessed the situation get even worse. We’ve had extreme weather like floods in the north, while at the same time, we’ve experienced drought in the southern part of Afghanistan. But there are also indirect impacts of climate change on Afghan society. Violence, conflict, human rights abuses, and underage marriage are linked with climate change. Eighty-five percent of Afghanistan’s economy depends on agriculture. So when farmers lose their livelihoods, they will do whatever they can to survive. In a fragile country like Afghanistan, the alternatives are often dangerous. Jariel Arvin What was Afghanistan doing to address climate change before the Taliban took over? Ahmad Samim Hoshmand In recent years, we’ve been actively engaging in a multilateral process to fight climate change with the aim of enhancing equality, knowledge sharing, and partnership with countries across the world. We’ve been especially focused on engaging with countries who share common interests of socioeconomic development and sustainable growth. Afghanistan has taken a number of actions at the national level, policy and planning level, and international level. Jariel Arvin Are there any specific policies or actions you can point to? Ahmad Samim Hoshmand We have taken lots of practical actions, like developing a climate change strategy and action plan. We also completed a greenhouse gas inventory for the first time in the history of Afghanistan, which was a very big achievement for us. We secured more than $20 million in grants and financing from the Green Climate Fund (GCF), to support the development of renewable energy. At the same time, we’ve also improved our national climate targets in accordance with the 2016 Paris agreement. We were planning on submitting them at COP26. Jariel Arvin Do you have any idea what the updated plan will be? Ahmad Samim Hoshmand Not at this stage. I hope my colleagues can participate, but given the current situation it is quite difficult to arrange everything. At the very least, I’d like to see space for Afghanistan at COP26. There should not be an empty chair. There should be someone representing the country, and that person should share at the leadership level that Afghanistan is the most vulnerable country in the world, and we need financial support to cope with climate change shocks, for the sake of our children and the next generation. Jariel Arvin Are you still going? Ahmad Samim Hoshmand I was on the list. And if the situation calms down, and if my colleagues resume office, then I will participate. I’d love to represent my country. Jariel Arvin Let’s say the Taliban didn’t take over this year. How would you have worked to address climate change if you were still a part of the government? Ahmad Samim Hoshmand My colleagues from the National Environmental Protection Agency who remained in Kabul are still working to go to COP26. Everyone is waiting for the government to be announced. Once we have a government, then I’m sure that climate experts will go to the Taliban and tell them the urgency and the importance of sending a delegation to COP26. Jariel Arvin I’ve read reports that the Taliban are seeking international recognition and that they want to work with other countries to fight climate change. Do you believe them? Ahmad Samim Hoshmand A decade ago, when someone in Afghanistan spoke about climate change, it was something that you had to imagine. Now it’s visible. So governments have to work with each other in order to survive. You can’t stop drought, floods, or landslides. In order to survive, governments have to address the problem. There’s no choice but to deal with climate change. Jariel Arvin So are you saying that since climate change is an existential issue that threatens the future of Afghanistan, the Taliban’s commitment can be taken seriously? Ahmad Samim Hoshmand I hope so. If they know that there are very serious issues we’re facing, and that we cannot do something about them without the support of the international community, then of course they will come up with some good decisions in this regard. Jariel Arvin How might the international community work with the Taliban on climate change? Ahmad Samim Hoshmand Climate change is different from internal issues, economic issues, or even peace and sustainability. It is a matter of life and death — of a community, of government, of a people. My family is still there. If climate change is not managed well, they might flee Afghanistan one day — not because of war but because of climate-related disasters. Despite other political issues, the international community needs to help the people of Afghanistan. There are very remote communities where most people don’t know about climate change. They don’t know why there are floods, why there is drought, why there is uncertainty with national disasters. And it is the climate expert’s mandate to take care of them. Jariel Arvin So you’re saying that most people in Afghanistan, like farmers and people who are working in the agriculture sector, aren’t aware of climate change? Samim Hoshmand Absolutely not. They’re aware that something has changed in nature. They know that today’s situation is not like previous decades, but they don’t know the cause. They’re religious people, and they aren’t knowledgeable about the science of climate change. It is the duty of the international community to support Afghanistan in adapting to climate change shocks and impacts. Jariel Arvin How would you spend aid from the international community? What’s the best way to bring the most relief to people in Afghanistan? What kind of projects? Ahmad Samim Hoshmand If I’m very optimistic, we can implement projects in very remote areas, which we have not accessed in previous years. That would also be an opportunity to somehow adapt to the climate change shocks in Afghanistan, and implement projects in very remote and foreign and unsecure places. Projects that help limit risk and exposure to natural disasters, investing in smart agriculture and adaptation projects for ecosystem restoration and reconstruction. We also need projects that improve early warning systems and water management. Jariel Arvin Some reports have suggested that climate change has helped the Taliban. Do you think that’s a fair assessment? Ahmad Samim Hoshmand When people lose their ability to farm, which is their main source of income, they become more willing to work with opposing entities to regain their livelihoods. When people are hungry, they will do anything to make ends meet. If we don’t address climate change, the conflict and violence will only get worse.