February 11, 2016 | By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week's Reads

A scientist shows a picture of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes inside the International Atomic Energy Agency's insect pest control laboratory in Seibersdorf, Austria. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

The nature of national security is changing. Challenges are no longer geographically contained, they spread fast, and they cannot be solved using our old ways of thinking. Are we prepared to deal with them?

There are more than a few reasons for pessimism. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, former secretary of defense Robert Gates says that there has been an “absence of any clear strategy” in US policy to deal with these new threats. And the New York Times’ Roger Cohen criticizes President Obama’s lack of action in Syria. What’s more, bad actors are finding new and clever ways to spread disorder and crime. As the Financial Times reports, organized criminals—and, perhaps, soon, terrorists— have exploited Europe’s poorly guarded ports. Perhaps most disheartening, the well-intentioned refugee policies of leaders such as Angela Merkel, have produced a cascade of unintended, damaging, consequences (see Paul Collier’s recent article in the Financial Times below).

But there are also reasons for optimism. Even a problem as seemingly intractable as the refugee crisis could be alleviated—if not solved—given the proper political will. In one of this week’s reads, the FT’s Philip Stephens suggests ways Merkel might turn things around. The Economist offers some possible solutions for managing the migrant crisis.  And for more depth, Nicholas Burns and James Jeffrey articulate a plan for Syrian “safe zones” in The Washington Post. The fight against Zika, also is prompting creative solutions. For instance, The New York Times reports that medical experts have genetically modified mosquitoes in a novel attempt to stamp out the virus that was discovered by a medical mystery in Brazil.

The world is moving fast, and threats are ever evolving. Let’s hope our solutions can keep pace.

With that, here are some of my recommended reads for this week:

The US Has No Global Strategy

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. /The Wall Street Journal

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates attributes the rise of the Islamic state from Syria into Iraq on the Iraqis and a lack of US troops on the ground. Mr. Gates believes that President Obama and the White House shouldn’t have publically insisted on the removal of Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Bashar al-Assad of Syria unless they had a strategic plan in place. He believes the United States should take the lead on managing the world’s problems, not solving them.

America’s Syrian Shame

Roger Cohen/The New York Times

With the intention of avoiding another Afghanistan or Iraq, President Obama’s lack of concrete action in Syria has extended the conflict both in length and scope. Cohen argues that the administration has done little to alleviate the crisis, leading to a crumbling European Union open border system and a de facto approval of Putin’s bombing campaigns. Unless Obama does everything possible to take in tens of thousands more Syrian refugees, his inaction may overshadow his other achievements.

Europe’s Ports Vulnerable as Ships Sail Without Oversight

Sam Jones/Financial Times

Officials have acknowledged the long-standing ability of organized crime to exploit the lack of a comprehensive tracking system through European Union ports and along 43,500 miles of coastline. While current intelligence services are designed to stem the flow of narcotics, continental monitoring is at the moment ineffective and incapable of thoroughly inspecting the thousands of freight ships entering European waters every month, leaving them vulnerable to terrorists.

Angela Merkel’s Open Door Has Harmed Those It Was Meant to Help

Paul Collier/Financial Times

The FT’s Paul Collier argues Angela Merkel’s open door policy has inadvertently harmed the economic standing of the Syrian refugees. Instead of welcoming refugees, which may lead them to make a dangerous journey to Europe, he suggests efforts should be made to spur economic development in neighboring countries like Jordan and Lebanon. Those who could afford to be smuggled into Europe can never return, depriving a future post-conflict Syria of its better-off citizens for a dream that hundreds have died for.

Hard-Headed Humanity Can Save Angela Merkel

Philip Stephens/Financial Times

Failures to secure external borders, distinguish refugees from economic migrants, and provide financial aid to countries hosting refugee camps have thrown EU member countries into a tizzy. Overwhelmed domestic governments are heeding calls for border closures and undermining what was once a symbol of a unified Europe. According to the FT’s Philip Stephens, to secure her leadership and achieve further EU integration, Angela Merkel should look towards a regional development strategy.

How to Manage the Migrant Crisis

The Economist

Significant changes must be made to the current European asylum system to prevent total collapse and a further rise of xenophobia. The Economist elaborates on vital steps that will be difficult to implement but are necessary to discourage further migration and reduce the number attempting to enter Europe. If migrants still make the journey, they would be subject to a swift yet more stringent asylum process that will resettle refugees while sending ineligible migrants home.

The Diplomatic Case for America to Create a Safe Zone in Syria

Nicholas Burns and James Jeffrey/The Washington Post

Two former career diplomats argue that a safe zone near Syria’s northern border with Turkey is necessary to both protect the millions of Syrians fleeing conflict and to reinforce American strength in the region. Such a zone would stem migration to neighboring countries and curtail the Syrian air force, which would be limited by a policed no-fly zone. While it would require on the ground and air support from the United States, American inaction would be more detrimental in the long run.

New Weapon to Fight Zika: The Mosquito

Andrew Pollack/The New York Times

Experts believe the best way to fight the Zika virus is to use genetically engineered mosquitoes. The mosquitos have been released in small quantities to test communities heavily impacted by the Zika virus. The results are promising, but will take time to fully implement.

How a Medical Mystery in Brazil Led Doctors to Zika

Donald G. McNeil Jr., Simon Romero, and Sabrina Tavernise/The New York Times

The New York Times describes the process by which scientists in Brazil identified a correlation between the presence of the Zika virus and a surge in the number of infants with microcephaly. Doctors were unable to diagnose the virus for almost a year as it had rarely been seen previously in South America. In 2015, the number of infants born with microcephaly began to spike, leading scientists to believe a correlation existed and establish case studies for definitive proof.


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Each year approximately 30 students from leading research universities around the world participate in the global student delegation program at the Pritzker Forum on Global Cities. Promising students who have demonstrated a commitment to improving global cities and are enrolled in a master’s or PhD program are nominated by their host universities to attend. The 2019 delegation included 30 students from 20 countries, including China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Germany, Israel, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. Their biographies are available here.

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