Sunday Readings

Who Is Al Qaeda – And Does It Matter How They Are Defined?
Katherine Zimmerman of the American Enterprise Institute writes in The Washington Post that the definition of al Qaeda is as varied as the spellings of the name of the terrorist organization – and that can be dangerous.

“An excessively narrow definition of al-Qaeda is just as dangerous as one that includes every Sunni Muslim extremist group. Clearly not all parts of the broader al-Qaeda network are equally dangerous. Nor does dealing with each automatically require the use of military force. Decisions to use force against al-Qaeda must be shaped by strategy and prioritization, like any other national security decision. But excluding large portions of the al-Qaeda network from consideration and hiding behind semantics guarantees strategic failure. Defining the enemy down is not the answer,” writes the author of the 2013 report, The al-Qaeda Network: A New Framework for Defining the Enemy.”

When Being Unprepared Is As Dangerous As The Threat Itself
Aditi Sen describes on YaleGlobalOnline the threat posed by coastal flooding to numerous cities across Asia. Of the 20 coastal cities with the highest population exposure to coastal flooding, 15 would be Asian, Sen notes that the real danger may not be from the environment disaster but by the cities’ lack of preparation to respond when a disaster strikes.

Yet the real vulnerability of Asian megacities lies not so much in the fact that they are the most at risk from the impacts of climate change, but the fact that these cities are among the least prepared.  A 2013 study in Nature which estimates the annual losses from flooding in 136 coastal cities shows that while the ranking in terms of exposure includes mainly rich-country cities, the ranking in terms of absolute flood losses contains more cities from developing countries , particularly Asia

“In the wake of the increased frequency and intensity of flooding, several of Asia’s cities are belatedly taking steps to shore up their flood defenses. Manila and Jakarta have initiated ambitious projects to clean their clogged waterways with financial support from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. In Mumbai, a proposal to overhaul the city’s 150-year-old storm-water drainage system, shelved in 1993, was revived by the city following the deluge of 2005. 

“Yet investments in physical flood defenses only go so far. Most of Asia’s cities have grown haphazardly as each year they lure thousands of migrants in search of a better life. As the population in these cities continues to swell, their capacity to deliver services and provide safe housing to residents has been stretched to breaking point,” Sen writes.

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who now serves as UN Special Envoy for Global Education, expresses concern after the release by the United Nations of the 2013 Education For All Global Monitoring Report.

Brown’s worry lies in the growing disparity between educational achievement around the world, but even more so in the growing discontent that is fueled by the education gap.

“The gap between the promise of globalization — opportunity for all — and the reality young people experience is already creating a restless and rebellion youth tension.

“A report by the Initiative for Policy Dialogue and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung studied recent protests and found that: ‘The main reason why people around the world  are protesting is because of a lack of economic justice. Overall, 488 such episodes are found in the period 2006-2013, 58% of total protests were counted in the study. They reflect people’s outrage… The majority of global protests for economic justice and against austerity manifest people’s indignation at the gross inequalities between ordinary communities and rich individuals and corporations.,'” he asserts.

Quick Headlines

In Afghanistan, election season has just begun.

The Diplomat’s Stratos Pourzitakis takes a look at the growing relationship between Russia and Japan.

Gregory Feifer of The Los Angeles Times argues that rather than highlighting its progress, the Olympic Games have exposed the dark side of Putin’s Russia.

Tom Wilson ponders in his recent Commentary essay what the real price of Secretary of State John Kerry’s pursuit of Middle East peace might be.

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