Opinion

America’s Dangerous Anti-Iran Posturing

NEW YORK – In recent weeks, US President Donald Trump and his advisers have joined Saudi Arabia in accusing Iran of being the epicenter of Middle East terrorism. The US Congress, meanwhile, is readying yet another round of sanctions against Iran. But the caricature of Iran as “the tip of the spear” of global terrorism, in Saudi King Salman’s words, is not only wrongheaded, but also extremely dangerous, because it could lead to yet another Middle East war.


In fact, that seems to be the goal of some US hotheads, despite the obvious fact that Iran is on the same side as the United States in opposing the Islamic State (ISIS). And then there’s the fact that Iran, unlike most of its regional adversaries, is a functioning democracy. Ironically, the escalation of US and Saudi rhetoric came just two days after Iran’s May 19 election, in which moderates led by incumbent President Hassan Rouhani defeated their hardline opponents at the ballot box.

Perhaps for Trump, the pro-Saudi, anti-Iran embrace is just another business proposition. He beamed at Saudi Arabia’s decision to buy $110 billion of new US weapons, describing the deal as “jobs, jobs, jobs,” as if the only gainful employment for American workers requires them to stoke war. And who knows what private deals for Trump and his family might also be lurking in his warm embrace of Saudi belligerence.

The Trump administration’s bombast toward Iran is, in a sense, par for the course. US foreign policy is littered with absurd, tragic, and hugely destructive foreign wars that served no real purpose except the pursuit of some misguided strand of official propaganda. How else, in the end, to explain America’s useless and hugely costly entanglements in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and many other conflicts?

America’s anti-Iran animus goes back to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. For the US public, the 444-day ordeal of the US embassy staff held hostage by radical Iranian students constituted a psychological shock that has still not abated. The hostage drama dominated the US media from start to finish, resulting in a kind of public post-traumatic stress disorder similar to the social trauma of the 9/11 attacks a generation later.

For most Americans, then and now, the hostage crisis – and indeed the Iranian Revolution itself – was a bolt out of the blue. Few Americans realize that the Iranian Revolution came a quarter-century after the CIA and Britain’s intelligence agency MI6 conspired in 1953 to overthrow the country’s democratically elected government and install a police state under the Shah of Iran, to preserve Anglo-American control over Iran’s oil, which was threatened by nationalization. Nor do most Americans realize that the hostage crisis was precipitated by the ill-considered decision to admit the deposed Shah into the US for medical treatment, which many Iranians viewed as a threat to the revolution.

During the Reagan Administration, the US supported Iraq in its war of aggression against Iran, including Iraq’s use of chemical weapons. When the fighting finally ended in 1988, the US followed up with financial and trade sanctions on Iran that remain in place to this day. Since 1953, the US has opposed Iran’s self-rule and economic development through covert action, support for authoritarian rule during 1953-79, military backing for its enemies, and decades-long sanctions.

Another reason for America’s anti-Iran animus is Iran’s support for Hezbollah and Hamas, two militant antagonists of Israel. Here, too, it is important to understand the historical context.

In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon in an attempt to crush militant Palestinians operating there. In the wake of that war, and against the backdrop of anti-Muslim massacres enabled by Israel’s occupation forces, Iran supported the formation of the Shia-led Hezbollah to resist Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon. By the time Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, nearly 20 years after its original invasion, Hezbollah had become a formidable military, political, and social force in Lebanon, and a continuing thorn in Israel’s side.

Iran also supports Hamas, a hardline Sunni group that rejects Israel’s right to exist. Following decades of Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands captured in the 1967 war, and with peace negotiations stalemated, Hamas defeated Fatah (the Palestine Liberation Organization’s political party) at the ballot box in the 2006 election for the Palestinian parliament. Rather than entering into a dialogue with Hamas, the US and Israel decided to try to crush it, including through a brutal war in Gaza in 2014, resulting in a massive Palestinian death toll, untold suffering, and billions of dollars in damage to homes and infrastructure in Gaza – but, predictably, leading to no political progress whatsoever.

Israel also views Iran’s nuclear program as an existential threat. Hardline Israelis repeatedly sought to convince the US to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, or at least allow Israel to do so. Fortunately, President Barack Obama resisted, and instead negotiated a treaty between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (plus Germany) that blocks Iran’s path to nuclear weapons for a decade or more, creating space for further confidence-building measures on both sides. Yet Trump and the Saudis seem intent on destroying the possibility of normalizing relations created by this important and promising agreement.

External powers are extremely foolish to allow themselves to be manipulated into taking sides in bitter national or sectarian conflicts that can be resolved only by compromise. The Israel-Palestine conflict, the competition between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and the Sunni-Shia relationship all require mutual accommodation. Yet each side in these conflicts harbors the tragic illusion of achieving an ultimate victory without the need to compromise, if only the US (or some other major power) will fight the war on its behalf.

During the past century, Britain, France, the US, and Russia have all misplayed the Middle East power game. All have squandered lives, money, and prestige. (Indeed, the Soviet Union was gravely, perhaps fatally, weakened by its war in Afghanistan.) More than ever, we need an era of diplomacy that emphasizes compromise, not another round of demonization and an arms race that could all too easily spiral into disaster.

Jeffrey D. Sachs, Professor of Sustainable Development and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University, is Director of Columbia’s Center for Sustainable Development and the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Ten Lessons from North Korea’s Nuclear Program

SEOUL – North Korea has produced a number of nuclear warheads and is developing ballistic missiles capable of delivering them around the world. Many governments are debating how to prevent or slow further advances in North Korea’s capacity and what should be done if such efforts fail.


These are obviously important questions, but they are not the only ones. It also is important to understand how North Korea has succeeded in advancing its nuclear and missile programs as far as it has, despite decades of international efforts. It may be too late to affect North Korea’s trajectory decisively; but it is not too late to learn from the experience. What follows are ten lessons that we ignore at our peril.

First, a government that possesses basic scientific knowhow and modern manufacturing capability, and is determined to develop a number of rudimentary nuclear weapons, will most likely succeed, sooner or later. Much of the relevant information is widely available.

Second, help from the outside can be discouraged and limited but not shut down. Black markets exist any time there is a profit to be made. Certain governments will facilitate such markets, despite their obligation not to do so.

Third, there are limits to what economic sanctions can be expected to accomplish. Although sanctions may increase the cost of producing nuclear weapons, history suggests that governments are willing to pay a significant price if they place a high enough value on having them. There is also evidence that some or all of the sanctions will eventually disappear, as other governments come to accept the reality of a country’s nuclear status and choose to focus on other objectives. That is what happened in the case of India.

Fourth, governments are not always willing to put global considerations (in this case, opposition to nuclear proliferation) ahead of what they see as their immediate strategic interests. China opposes proliferation, but not as much as it wants to maintain a divided Korean Peninsula and ensure that North Korea remains a stable buffer state on its borders. This limits any economic pressure China is prepared to place on North Korea over its nuclear efforts. The United States opposed Pakistan’s development of nuclear weapons, but was slow to act, owing to its desire in the 1980s for Pakistani support in fighting the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan.

Fifth, some three quarters of a century since they were first and last used, and a quarter-century after the Cold War’s end, nuclear weapons are judged to have value. This calculation is based on security more than prestige.

Decades ago, Israel made such a calculation in the face of Arab threats to eliminate the Jewish state. More recently, Ukraine, Libya, and Iraq all gave up their nuclear weapons programs either voluntarily or under pressure. Subsequently, Ukraine was invaded by Russia, Iraq by the US, and Libya by the US and several of its European partners. Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya were ousted.

North Korea has avoided such a fate, and the third generation of the Kim family rules with an iron fist. It is doubtful that the lesson is lost on Kim Jong-un.

Sixth, the Non-Proliferation Treaty – the 1970 accord that underpins global efforts to discourage the spread of nuclear weapons beyond the five countries (the US, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, and France) that are recognized as legitimate nuclear weapons states for an unspecified but limited period of time – is inadequate. The NPT is a voluntary agreement. Countries are not obliged to sign it, and they may withdraw from it, with no penalty, if they change their mind. Inspections meant to confirm compliance are conducted largely on the basis of information provided by host governments, which have been known not to reveal all.

Seventh, new diplomatic efforts, like the recent ban on all nuclear weapons organized by the United Nations General Assembly, will have no discernable effect. Such pacts are the modern-day equivalent of the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact, which outlawed war.

Eighth, there is a major gap in the international system. There is a clear norm against the spread of nuclear weapons, but there is no consensus or treaty on what, if anything is to be done once a country develops or acquires nuclear weapons. The legally and diplomatically controversial options of preventive strikes (against a gathering threat) and preemptive strikes (against an imminent threat) make them easier to propose than to implement.

Ninth, the alternatives for dealing with nuclear proliferation do not improve with the passage of time. In the early 1990s, the US considered using military force to nip the North Korean program in the bud, but held off for fear of triggering a second Korean War. That remains the case today, when any force used would need to be much larger in scope and uncertain to succeed.

Finally, not every problem can be solved. Some can only be managed. It is much too soon, for example, to conclude that Iran will not one day develop nuclear weapons. The 2015 accord delayed that risk, but by no means eliminated it. It remains to be seen what can be done vis-à-vis North Korea. Managing such challenges may not be satisfying, but often it is the most that can be hoped for.

Richard N. Haass is President of the Council on Foreign Relations and the author, most recently, of A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order.

By Richard N. Haass

When Populism Can Kill

LONDON – Unfounded skepticism about vaccines in some communities, in developing and developed countries alike, has emerged in recent years as one of the most serious impediments to global progress in public health. Indeed, it is one of the primary reasons why eradicable infectious diseases persist today.


For example, the effort to eradicate polio worldwide has been disrupted in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria, where rule by Islamist militants has led to increased resistance against vaccination campaigns. And many high-income countries have experienced measles outbreaks in recent years, owing to fears about vaccinations that began with the publication of a fraudulent paper in the British medical journal The Lancet in 1998.

More recently, skepticism about vaccine safety and efficacy has been on the rise in Southern Europe. According to a 2016 study, Greece is now among the top ten countries worldwide with the lowest confidence in vaccine safety. And, as Greek Minister of Health Andreas Xanthos has noted, health-care professionals are increasingly encountering parents who have fears about vaccinating their children.

Similarly, in Italy, Minister of Health Beatrice Lorenzin recently warned of a “fake news” campaign, backed by the opposition Five Star Movement, to dissuade parents from vaccinating their children. Already, the share of Italian two-year-olds who have been inoculated against measles is under 80%, well below the World Health Organization’s recommended threshold of 95%. So it should come as no surprise that Italy had five times more measles cases in April of this year than it did in April 2016.

In May, Greece and Italy each enacted very different policies to respond to vaccine skepticism. In Greece, despite the fact that child vaccination has been mandatory since 1999 (unless a child has a certified medical condition), Xanthos has advocated an opt-out option for parents who do not want to vaccinate their children.

By contrast, Italy’s center-left Democratic Party government has made vaccinations against 12 preventable diseases compulsory for all children. Under a new law, unvaccinated children are not permitted to attend school, and parents of unvaccinated children can be fined for their children’s non-attendance. According to Lorenzin, the law is meant to send “a very strong message to the public” about the importance of inoculation.

In other words, two left-wing governments have responded to the same public health problem in very different ways. Whereas Greece moved from paternalism to laissez faire, Italy moved in the opposite direction.

The decision by Greece’s Syriza-led government is surely the stranger of the two, given that Syriza tends to favor robust state intervention in most other policy areas. In Italy, the government is responding to the populist Five Star Movement’s anti-vaccination agenda, which has become a part of its broader campaign against the state, established political parties, and the “experts” responsible for the 2008 financial crisis and the eurozone’s prolonged economic malaise.

But, putting politics aside, there are compelling reasons for why governments should mandate vaccinations for all children, rather than leaving it up to parents to decide. Ultimately, the state has a responsibility to protect vulnerable individuals – in this case young children – from foreseeable harm.

In 1990, Greece signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, in which it recognized all children’s right to “the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health.” But by allowing misinformed parents to forego vaccinations, Greece is exposing children to preventable infectious diseases and openly violating its pledge to ensure “that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to such health-care services.”

Moreover, governments have a responsibility to establish public goods through legislation, and “herd immunity” is one such good. Herd immunity describes a level of vaccination coverage that is high enough to prevent a disease from spreading through the population. Achieving herd immunity is one of the only ways to protect vulnerable members of a community who cannot be vaccinated because they are immunocompromised, or simply too old.

In addition, vaccination is a crucial instrument in the fight against one of the twenty-first century’s biggest health challenges: antimicrobial resistance. By preventing infections, vaccines also prevent overuse of antibiotics, thereby slowing down the development of drug resistance. More generally, it is widely known that high vaccination coverage results in a healthier population, and that healthier people can contribute more, both economically and socially, to their communities.

No medical or technical obstacles are blocking us from eradicating preventable infectious diseases such as measles and polio. Rather, the biggest hurdle has been popular resistance to vaccination. By allowing parents to make uninformed decisions about the health of not just their own children, but their entire community, the Syriza government is only adding to the problem. Governments should be educating the public to improve overall coverage, not validating unfounded fears about vaccine safety.

No country can achieve herd immunity – and eventually eradicate preventable infectious diseases – if it allows parents to opt out of vaccinating their children, as in Greece. But it also will not do simply to sanction noncompliant parents, as in Italy. Ultimately, to defeat infectious diseases, we will have to restore faith in expertise, and rebuild trust with communities that have grown increasingly suspicious of authority in recent years.

Domna Michailidou works for the Economics Department of the OECD and teaches at the Center for Development Studies at the University of Cambridge and the UCL School of Public Policy. Jonathan Kennedy teaches at the UCL School of Public Policy and is a research associate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Cambridge.

By Domna Michaildou and Jonathan Kennedy

When Populism Can Kill

LONDON – Unfounded skepticism about vaccines in some communities, in developing and developed countries alike, has emerged in recent years as one of the most serious impediments to global progress in public health. Indeed, it is one of the primary reasons why eradicable infectious diseases persist today.


For example, the effort to eradicate polio worldwide has been disrupted in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria, where rule by Islamist militants has led to increased resistance against vaccination campaigns. And many high-income countries have experienced measles outbreaks in recent years, owing to fears about vaccinations that began with the publication of a fraudulent paper in the British medical journal The Lancet in 1998.

More recently, skepticism about vaccine safety and efficacy has been on the rise in Southern Europe. According to a 2016 study, Greece is now among the top ten countries worldwide with the lowest confidence in vaccine safety. And, as Greek Minister of Health Andreas Xanthos has noted, health-care professionals are increasingly encountering parents who have fears about vaccinating their children.

Similarly, in Italy, Minister of Health Beatrice Lorenzin recently warned of a “fake news” campaign, backed by the opposition Five Star Movement, to dissuade parents from vaccinating their children. Already, the share of Italian two-year-olds who have been inoculated against measles is under 80%, well below the World Health Organization’s recommended threshold of 95%. So it should come as no surprise that Italy had five times more measles cases in April of this year than it did in April 2016.

In May, Greece and Italy each enacted very different policies to respond to vaccine skepticism. In Greece, despite the fact that child vaccination has been mandatory since 1999 (unless a child has a certified medical condition), Xanthos has advocated an opt-out option for parents who do not want to vaccinate their children.

By contrast, Italy’s center-left Democratic Party government has made vaccinations against 12 preventable diseases compulsory for all children. Under a new law, unvaccinated children are not permitted to attend school, and parents of unvaccinated children can be fined for their children’s non-attendance. According to Lorenzin, the law is meant to send “a very strong message to the public” about the importance of inoculation.

In other words, two left-wing governments have responded to the same public health problem in very different ways. Whereas Greece moved from paternalism to laissez faire, Italy moved in the opposite direction.

The decision by Greece’s Syriza-led government is surely the stranger of the two, given that Syriza tends to favor robust state intervention in most other policy areas. In Italy, the government is responding to the populist Five Star Movement’s anti-vaccination agenda, which has become a part of its broader campaign against the state, established political parties, and the “experts” responsible for the 2008 financial crisis and the eurozone’s prolonged economic malaise.

But, putting politics aside, there are compelling reasons for why governments should mandate vaccinations for all children, rather than leaving it up to parents to decide. Ultimately, the state has a responsibility to protect vulnerable individuals – in this case young children – from foreseeable harm.

In 1990, Greece signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, in which it recognized all children’s right to “the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health.” But by allowing misinformed parents to forego vaccinations, Greece is exposing children to preventable infectious diseases and openly violating its pledge to ensure “that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to such health-care services.”

Moreover, governments have a responsibility to establish public goods through legislation, and “herd immunity” is one such good. Herd immunity describes a level of vaccination coverage that is high enough to prevent a disease from spreading through the population. Achieving herd immunity is one of the only ways to protect vulnerable members of a community who cannot be vaccinated because they are immunocompromised, or simply too old.

In addition, vaccination is a crucial instrument in the fight against one of the twenty-first century’s biggest health challenges: antimicrobial resistance. By preventing infections, vaccines also prevent overuse of antibiotics, thereby slowing down the development of drug resistance. More generally, it is widely known that high vaccination coverage results in a healthier population, and that healthier people can contribute more, both economically and socially, to their communities.

No medical or technical obstacles are blocking us from eradicating preventable infectious diseases such as measles and polio. Rather, the biggest hurdle has been popular resistance to vaccination. By allowing parents to make uninformed decisions about the health of not just their own children, but their entire community, the Syriza government is only adding to the problem. Governments should be educating the public to improve overall coverage, not validating unfounded fears about vaccine safety.

No country can achieve herd immunity – and eventually eradicate preventable infectious diseases – if it allows parents to opt out of vaccinating their children, as in Greece. But it also will not do simply to sanction noncompliant parents, as in Italy. Ultimately, to defeat infectious diseases, we will have to restore faith in expertise, and rebuild trust with communities that have grown increasingly suspicious of authority in recent years.

Domna Michailidou works for the Economics Department of the OECD and teaches at the Center for Development Studies at the University of Cambridge and the UCL School of Public Policy. Jonathan Kennedy teaches at the UCL School of Public Policy and is a research associate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Cambridge.

By Domna Michaildou and Jonathan Kennedy

When Populism Can Kill

LONDON – Unfounded skepticism about vaccines in some communities, in developing and developed countries alike, has emerged in recent years as one of the most serious impediments to global progress in public health. Indeed, it is one of the primary reasons why eradicable infectious diseases persist today.


For example, the effort to eradicate polio worldwide has been disrupted in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria, where rule by Islamist militants has led to increased resistance against vaccination campaigns. And many high-income countries have experienced measles outbreaks in recent years, owing to fears about vaccinations that began with the publication of a fraudulent paper in the British medical journal The Lancet in 1998.

More recently, skepticism about vaccine safety and efficacy has been on the rise in Southern Europe. According to a 2016 study, Greece is now among the top ten countries worldwide with the lowest confidence in vaccine safety. And, as Greek Minister of Health Andreas Xanthos has noted, health-care professionals are increasingly encountering parents who have fears about vaccinating their children.

Similarly, in Italy, Minister of Health Beatrice Lorenzin recently warned of a “fake news” campaign, backed by the opposition Five Star Movement, to dissuade parents from vaccinating their children. Already, the share of Italian two-year-olds who have been inoculated against measles is under 80%, well below the World Health Organization’s recommended threshold of 95%. So it should come as no surprise that Italy had five times more measles cases in April of this year than it did in April 2016.

In May, Greece and Italy each enacted very different policies to respond to vaccine skepticism. In Greece, despite the fact that child vaccination has been mandatory since 1999 (unless a child has a certified medical condition), Xanthos has advocated an opt-out option for parents who do not want to vaccinate their children.

By contrast, Italy’s center-left Democratic Party government has made vaccinations against 12 preventable diseases compulsory for all children. Under a new law, unvaccinated children are not permitted to attend school, and parents of unvaccinated children can be fined for their children’s non-attendance. According to Lorenzin, the law is meant to send “a very strong message to the public” about the importance of inoculation.

In other words, two left-wing governments have responded to the same public health problem in very different ways. Whereas Greece moved from paternalism to laissez faire, Italy moved in the opposite direction.

The decision by Greece’s Syriza-led government is surely the stranger of the two, given that Syriza tends to favor robust state intervention in most other policy areas. In Italy, the government is responding to the populist Five Star Movement’s anti-vaccination agenda, which has become a part of its broader campaign against the state, established political parties, and the “experts” responsible for the 2008 financial crisis and the eurozone’s prolonged economic malaise.

But, putting politics aside, there are compelling reasons for why governments should mandate vaccinations for all children, rather than leaving it up to parents to decide. Ultimately, the state has a responsibility to protect vulnerable individuals – in this case young children – from foreseeable harm.

In 1990, Greece signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, in which it recognized all children’s right to “the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health.” But by allowing misinformed parents to forego vaccinations, Greece is exposing children to preventable infectious diseases and openly violating its pledge to ensure “that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to such health-care services.”

Moreover, governments have a responsibility to establish public goods through legislation, and “herd immunity” is one such good. Herd immunity describes a level of vaccination coverage that is high enough to prevent a disease from spreading through the population. Achieving herd immunity is one of the only ways to protect vulnerable members of a community who cannot be vaccinated because they are immunocompromised, or simply too old.

In addition, vaccination is a crucial instrument in the fight against one of the twenty-first century’s biggest health challenges: antimicrobial resistance. By preventing infections, vaccines also prevent overuse of antibiotics, thereby slowing down the development of drug resistance. More generally, it is widely known that high vaccination coverage results in a healthier population, and that healthier people can contribute more, both economically and socially, to their communities.

No medical or technical obstacles are blocking us from eradicating preventable infectious diseases such as measles and polio. Rather, the biggest hurdle has been popular resistance to vaccination. By allowing parents to make uninformed decisions about the health of not just their own children, but their entire community, the Syriza government is only adding to the problem. Governments should be educating the public to improve overall coverage, not validating unfounded fears about vaccine safety.

No country can achieve herd immunity – and eventually eradicate preventable infectious diseases – if it allows parents to opt out of vaccinating their children, as in Greece. But it also will not do simply to sanction noncompliant parents, as in Italy. Ultimately, to defeat infectious diseases, we will have to restore faith in expertise, and rebuild trust with communities that have grown increasingly suspicious of authority in recent years.

Domna Michailidou works for the Economics Department of the OECD and teaches at the Center for Development Studies at the University of Cambridge and the UCL School of Public Policy. Jonathan Kennedy teaches at the UCL School of Public Policy and is a research associate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Cambridge.

By Domna Michaildou and Jonathan Kennedy

How Parasites Pull the Strings

LIVERPOOL – Science fiction has long explored the terrifying possibility that we are devoid of free will, and that some unpleasant creature could control our minds or turn us into plodding zombies. But mind control is not just a literary trope. It is also a common method by which parasites gain access to environments where they can grow, reproduce, and complete their life cycles.’


Consider the fungus Cordyceps, which interferes with the behavior of ants in tropical rainforests in such a way as to make them climb high into the vegetation, and latch onto a leaf to die. The fungus then reproduces by dropping its spores all over the forest floor, to infect more ants below. Similarly, a virus that infects gypsy moth larvae prompts them to climb en masse to the tops of trees to die. The virus then multiplies, and rains viral particles down on the forest floor.

These parasites make their hosts seek a higher elevation, which expands the reach of their infectious spores or particles. But other species can induce far more complex behaviors. Nematomorph worms, for example, infect crickets, and drive them to commit suicide by jumping into various water sources, be it a puddle or swimming pool. It is precisely in such aquatic environments that nematomorph worms reproduce and complete their life cycles.

And parasites’ mind-control abilities are not limited to invertebrates. Consider the rabies virus, which is transmitted among dogs, humans, and other mammals by biting. To maximize its chances of spreading to another host, the virus actually alters its host’s mind to turn it into an angry, slavering, biting machine that will chomp at anything it encounters.

Another species that can affect human behavior is the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii, the causal agent of Toxoplasmosis. T. gondii is extremely common, with an infection rate of 15-85% across different countries, depending on climate and diet. Whereas Brazil and France have infection rates of around 80%, Japan’s is only 7%.

T. gondii can find its way to humans through farm animals such as pigs, cows, and sheep. And, as it happens, raw-meat dishes are more common in French and Brazilian cuisines. But T. gondii naturally targets cats, by way of rats whose behavior it has altered. Namely, the microbe increases the likelihood of its host rat being eaten by a cat, by reducing the rat’s natural fear of light (photophobia) and cat urine.

Humans, too, can experience alarming behavioral changes after becoming infected by T. gondii. Infected men can become jealous, distrusting of others, disrespectful of established rules, and less risk-averse; as a result, they are almost three times more likely to be involved in a car accident. Infected women, meanwhile, can become either suicidal or more warm-hearted, insecure, and moralistic.

Moreover, there is evidence that a T. gondii infection could play a role in mental disorders. More than 40 studies have shown that people suffering from schizophrenia test positive for T. gondii antibodies, indicating that they may have been previously infected. And T. gondii has also been tied to dementia, autism, Parkinson’s disease, and brain cancer.

How can these puppet-master parasites control the brains of such diverse invertebrate and vertebrate species? One possibility is that they can change the levels of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin in the brain. Neurotransmitters are ancient molecules that have been conserved through the ages of evolution, and they are known to influence behavior.

Thanks to genomics and proteomics, we have begun to understand the role that neurotransmitters play in allowing parasites to manipulate host behavior. When researchers analyzed the T. gondii genome, they found the precursor to dopamine synthesis, L-DOPA, suggesting that the parasite might be able to synthesize and secrete dopamine directly into a host’s brain. This would explain why rats infected with T. gondii have higher levels of dopamine, and why dopamine inhibitors can suppress their parasite-induced behavior.

Parasites that infect invertebrates can also manipulate neurotransmitter levels. For example, the emerald cockroach wasp injects its cockroach host with a venomous cocktail that contains the neurotransmitter octopamine. This puts the cockroach into a sleep-like state, at which point the wasp drags it off to its lair and lays eggs in its abdomen.

And like T. gondii in rats, acanthocephalan worms (also known as spiny-headed worms) overrides the natural photophobia of their freshwater crustacean hosts. As the crustacean gravitates toward the surface of the water, it is eaten by a duck, at which point the worm completes its lifecycle.

Researchers have found that when uninfected amphipods are injected with serotonin, they spend more time near the surface of the water, as if they had been infected. And protein analysis of grasshoppers infected with nematomorph worms shows a change in the proteins that are involved in releasing neurotransmitters.

We are only just beginning to understand how these diverse puppet-master parasites can manipulate invertebrate and vertebrate behavior. But we already know that pulling on the strings of neurotransmitters is one common method. If further research vindicates some of the more seemingly outlandish imaginings of science fiction, it wouldn’t be the first time. Robbie Rae is a lecturer in genetics at Liverpool John Moores University, United Kingdom.

By Robbie Rae

The Imperialist People’s Republic of Africa?

BEIJING – A few months ago, a New York Times magazine cover was emblazoned with the question “Is China the World’s New Colonial Power?” The notion that China is a twenty-first-century colonizer is not new: commentators have been batting it around for a decade. But, to anyone who has experienced or even studied colonialism, the claim seems inappropriate, if not insulting.


The colonialism described in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, and Franz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks was insidious and potent. Yes, there were strong trade and investment relationships, but there was always explicit dominance, exemplified in imposed curricula, curfews, and movement restrictions based on skin color.

In the countries that experienced such colonialism – including my home country, Kenya – the effects can be felt to this day. To call China a colonial power is to diminish the true horrors that were faced by the colonized communities, including by my own relatives, who were detained by the British colonial authorities.

But, beyond the moral obtuseness of the comparison, this approach simply is not useful. To label China a “colonizer” or “benefactor” does little to help us understand the true nature of its relationship with the African continent, let alone other regions such as the Caribbean. And, given the potentially lopsided power dynamics, grasping that relationship is vitally important.

I recently worked with the boutique consultancy ChinaAfricaAdvisory to explore in depth how Chinese actors are operating within some key African countries, including by carrying out revealing cross-country comparisons. Three observations stand out.

First, we found that Chinese state-owned and private companies, government departments, and non-governmental organizations prefer to do business in African countries that have already formalized their ties with China. This is not the way colonialism usually works, for those still insisting on that comparison.

Such formalization often happens through memorandums of understanding, which seem to act as a kind of “gateway” for Chinese actors. For example, Kenya, which has at least 17 such memoranda with Chinese government actors, has attracted a large number of Chinese companies and NGOs for activities like managing special economic zones and spearheading large infrastructure and agricultural projects. Nearby Tanzania and Mozambique each have fewer than ten such agreements, and have attracted less Chinese activity.

The second observation is that Chinese actors do not avoid countries with governments that champion their own citizens’ interests (again, not a typical trait of colonizers). For example, in African countries with strong domestic labor laws, Chinese companies are not just willing to engage in infrastructure and other contracted projects; they also tend to hire more local workers, relative to Chinese labor. A recent McKinsey survey of over 1,000 firms in eight African countries found that almost 90% of their employees were locals.

This can have a powerful impact on the host country. Job creation resulting from construction projects and manufacturing investment is crucial, particularly in countries such as South Africa, Namibia, and St Lucia, where 40% or more of young people are unemployed. The shift toward hiring more local labor is particularly notable, because, as recently as 2015, almost 40% of all Chinese overseas workers were on the African continent.

The third insight revealed by our research relates to the true complexity of Chinese investment decisions. Like any investor, Chinese actors in Africa focus on maximizing returns – and that means seeking fast-growing economies. As a recent Johns Hopkins University briefing showed, the Chinese investment destinations of Tanzania, Ghana, and Kenya have been growing at annual rates above 6%.

But, unlike many other investors, Chinese actors have proved willing to take economic and political risks. Consider South Africa, which has a “comprehensive strategic partnership” with China. Since at least 2003, South Africa has regularly ranked in the top five African recipients of outward direct investment from China, with Chinese ODI continuing to rise, even as South Africa’s economic growth has declined.

Similarly, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Zimbabwe – countries with notoriously difficult political environments that typically feature at the bottom of global competitiveness indices – have all been key destinations not just for loans, but also for significant non-financial Chinese investment over the last decade.

While China is no colonizer, African and other governments do have a responsibility to ensure that their relationships with China meet their own development interests and objectives. Given China’s growing global footprint, an ad hoc approach is no longer appropriate.

I would suggest four critical steps.

• First, each government should prepare an in-depth “China plan” that sets out explicitly what its citizens want from Chinese partnerships. Such plans can also support due diligence – for example, exploring China’s relationships with neighboring or other countries at a similar level of development.

• Second, each country should seek out Chinese actors that might help them carry out their China plan. Organizations such as the China-Africa Business Council and others can help facilitate such searches and introductory meetings.

• Third, countries should negotiate memorandums of understanding and contracts on the basis of established best practices. In pursuing such negotiations, African countries should be aware that they actually have a great deal of bargaining power vis-à-vis China, even more than many other developing countries.

• Finally, governments should enlist the help of domestic entities, such as NGOs, in monitoring and reviewing the outcomes of China’s activities, such as those concerning labor standards or environmental performance.

There are still an estimated 389 million Africans living below the poverty line – over half the world’s total. China’s engagement in Africa can help to reduce that number, but only if African countries work to manage their relationships with China strategically, protecting their own interests as they create mutually beneficial arrangements with the Asian giant. Though China is no colonizer, it would be a mistake to assume that its growing global footprint is purely benign.Hannah Ryder, a former head of policy and partnerships for the United Nations Development Programme in China, is founder and CEO of Development Reimagined.

By Hannah Ryder

The G20 and the Inequality Crisis

LONDON – Almost a decade ago, facing a near-collapse of the financial system and the risk of a depression, the world needed a new form of leadership to navigate and restore confidence in the global economy. That’s why, in 2009, at his first global summit as US president, Barack Obama joined then-British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to spearhead the G20’s upgrade, making it the world’s preeminent economic forum. What they created helped solve one immediate problem, but it let linger another global challenge.


With the Obama-Brown upgrade, the G20 – comprising 19 of the world’s largest advanced and emerging economies, plus the European Union – took over the role played by the G7 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the US). Obama and Brown knew that a group that did not include rising economic powers, like China and India, could not propose effective solutions to the global economy’s biggest problems.

Whatever one thinks of the G20 – and it is by no means perfect – this more inclusive grouping helped to overcome the consequences of the 2008 global financial crisis. With an expanded coterie of world leaders taking charge, jittery financial markets stabilized, and the G20 then helped launch, and sustain, a global economic stimulus, led by China, which reversed the downward spiral.

Today, the G20, now meeting in Hamburg for its annual summit, must confront the challenge of inequality. With the world’s richest 1% now owning 40% of its assets, the benefits of growth are not being shared in a way that is either economically efficient or politically sustainable.

This crisis had been building for many decades, but it accelerated sharply after the global financial meltdown that the G20 helped stem. As a result, disillusioned and disaffected voters in advanced economies are challenging established political parties to find solutions or cede power, while millions of people from poor countries, unable to envision a future at home, are risking their lives by crossing deserts and seas in search of economic opportunity.

It is up to the G20 to deal with the global inequality crisis with the same urgency it showed during the Great Recession of 2008-2009. Just as Obama and Brown led the way then, German Chancellor Angela Merkel must respond purposefully and powerfully to the widening divide between rich and poor, which has become an acute danger to the world economy, and to social cohesion and political stability.

The G20, which Germany now leads, could take many steps to address the crisis of inequality, but three are most important.

First, the G20 needs to get serious about accelerating work on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The SDGs set a bold but achievable agenda for addressing poverty, reducing inequality, improving education and health, and protecting the planet. But almost two years after their launch, a business-as-usual approach prevails in most countries, and accountability has been reduced to exercises in collecting data. The G20 countries, which collectively account for most of the world’s population and resources, should lead by translating the SDGs into national policies, and by harnessing government budgets and their private sectors to drive implementation.

Second, the G20 must crack down on economic abuses that weaken states and markets, and erode public trust. Tax avoidance by big corporations and wealthy individuals, which by some estimates cost poor countries $200 billion a year, is a case in point. Many business leaders do understand that the future of the world economy, and their own companies, depends on reducing poverty, and that this is becomes harder to achieve as inequality widens. But to tackle a crisis of this scale, the entire business community must be on board.

Finally, the G20 should lead the way toward giving every child access to quality education by 2030. This is the real game changer when it comes to addressing inequality. For example, teaching all students in poor countries to read could help pull more than 170 million people out of poverty, equal to a 12% decline in the number of poor people worldwide.

But this would require a dramatic increase in education spending, including more funding for existing programs, like Education Cannot Wait, which supports the continuation of schooling for children in disaster areas, and the Global Partnership for Education, which provides grants to support education in countries with the most need. It must also include investment in proposed initiatives, like the International Finance Facility for Education, which aims to bring public and private donors together to increase global education financing by more than $10 billion dollars a year.

The G20 is still the world’s leading forum when it comes to the global economy. It helped us through the global financial crisis. Now is the time for the G20 to step up again, and to act with genuine resolve, to address the global inequality crisis.

Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a former Prime Minister of Denmark, is Chief Executive of Save the Children and a member of the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity.

By Helle Thorning-Schmidt

Death or Democracy in Venezuela

CARACAS – Venezuela’s democratic institutions are in ruins, its coffers are empty, and its citizens are searching for food in garbage dumps. Its people are dying from starvation, from preventable and curable diseases (at much higher rates than the Latin American average), and from violence – including, in some cases, gunshot wounds inflicted by their own government.


More than three quarters of Venezuela’s 31 million people want to free themselves from the stranglehold of their rulers, a small group of no more than 150 mafia-like figures (mostly military) who have hijacked the country’s democracy, robbed it blind, and created a devastating humanitarian crisis. The 18-year-old regime – established by Hugo Chávez, and now led by President Nicolás Maduro – would rather hold an entire country hostage than lose power and potentially have to answer for crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court. But how long can it hold on?

Venezuelans have actively pursued a change of government. In the December 2015 parliamentary election, two thirds of voters lent their support to the democratic opposition. That outcome should have loosened the regime’s grip on the state and helped to re-establish the checks and balances envisioned in the constitution that Chávez himself drafted.

But the regime has systematically undermined the National Assembly through rulings from a Supreme Court that it packed with loyalists, using the outgoing legislature. At the end of last March, the Supreme Court went a step further, taking over all of the Assembly’s powers – a move so blatantly illegal that even the chavista Prosecutor General Luisa Ortega Díaz denounced it as a “rupture of the constitutional order.”

With that, desperate Venezuelans took their opposition to the streets. On April 1, they began holding almost daily protests demanding another general election, despite the mortal danger of public opposition. Indeed, since the protests began, the regime’s security forces have killed 85 demonstrators and wounded over 1,000 more, including by throwing tear-gas canisters into crowds and launching pellets at people’s chests, at close range. More than 3,000 protesters face criminal charges, simply for exercising their democratic rights.

Cornered, the ruling clique has become defiant. Maduro recently announced that if the regime cannot muster the votes needed to stay in power, it will use its weapons instead. But he is also taking more extreme political action to protect the regime: he has now ordered, by presidential decree (rather than by referendum, as the constitution requires), a constituent assembly, to be chosen on July 30, to draft a new “communal” constitution.

The demonstrations have now become what is essentially a popular uprising, with Venezuela’s people calling on the armed forces to evict the regime from power. Ortega, for her part, has called on the Supreme Court to annul the regime’s push to rewrite the constitution, but the court declared her request “not receivable.”

Venezuelans recognize that a Marxist-Leninist constitution approved by regime-appointed deputies would complete Venezuela’s transformation into another Cuba within a month. The question is whether the rest of the world will stand by idly.

Luis Almagro, the secretary-general of the Organization of American States (OAS), has called its member states’ attention to the Venezuelan regime’s grave constitutional and human-rights violations. At last month’s OAS General Assembly in Mexico, 14 countries (Argentina, Brazil, Bahamas, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Guyana, Jamaica, Mexico, the United States, Peru, St. Lucia, Uruguay, and Paraguay) proposed a draft resolution on how to initiate a dialogue with the Venezuelan regime – to no avail.

Such a dialogue would have focused on pushing Venezuela’s regime to comply with the commitments mediated by the Vatican last autumn, including holding free and fair elections this year, releasing political prisoners, restoring the National Assembly’s constitutional powers, and accepting humanitarian assistance. But, though 20 OAS member states supported the resolution, ten did not, owing to their dependence on Venezuelan oil and financing. That left the resolution three votes short of the required two-thirds majority.

Emboldened by what it perceived as a victory, the Venezuelan regime has ramped up its violence against protesters and organized a bogus coup against itself. During the recent siege of the Legislative Palace, an officer of the National Guard assaulted Julio Borges, the president of the National Assembly – the only institution with any legitimacy left. The regime is also set to appoint a tame new deputy prosecutor general to replace Ortega, who has had her bank accounts frozen and is barred from leaving the country.

The opposition is firing back, organizing via the National Assembly an official referendum, on the basis of articles 333 and 350 of the constitution. Venezuelans will be able to weigh in on Maduro’s plan to rewrite the constitution and the opposition’s push for new elections, the restoration of all checks and balances, and the formation of a “national unity” government. The vote will take place on July 16, in all churches in Venezuela, and with international observers.

Having lost all legitimacy, Venezuela’s kleptocratic and murderous regime is hanging on by a thread. Already, individual OAS member states have imposed targeted sanctions on officials affiliated with the regime’s aggressive drug-dealing faction – the sub-group responsible for murdering young people in the streets and torturing some 300 political prisoners. (The European Union has yet to join the effort.)

By rejecting a democratic transition, the regime is only prolonging its own agony and creating higher costs for Venezuela. While the ruling clique is not eager to negotiate, a deal offered via the OAS or at the United Nations Security Council could prove difficult to refuse in the current context.

Such a deal would require an immediate general election and the cancellation of the constituent assembly, and could be implemented relatively quickly and easily, according to the existing constitution. If successful, it could help reinvigorate international trust and cooperation. More immediately, it would give the desperate, starving, and repressed Venezuelan people their country back.  Enrique ter Horst, former Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in El Salvador and Haiti, was UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights.

By Enrique ter Horst

Death or Democracy in Venezuela

CARACAS – Venezuela’s democratic institutions are in ruins, its coffers are empty, and its citizens are searching for food in garbage dumps. Its people are dying from starvation, from preventable and curable diseases (at much higher rates than the Latin American average), and from violence – including, in some cases, gunshot wounds inflicted by their own government.


More than three quarters of Venezuela’s 31 million people want to free themselves from the stranglehold of their rulers, a small group of no more than 150 mafia-like figures (mostly military) who have hijacked the country’s democracy, robbed it blind, and created a devastating humanitarian crisis. The 18-year-old regime – established by Hugo Chávez, and now led by President Nicolás Maduro – would rather hold an entire country hostage than lose power and potentially have to answer for crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court. But how long can it hold on?

Venezuelans have actively pursued a change of government. In the December 2015 parliamentary election, two thirds of voters lent their support to the democratic opposition. That outcome should have loosened the regime’s grip on the state and helped to re-establish the checks and balances envisioned in the constitution that Chávez himself drafted.

But the regime has systematically undermined the National Assembly through rulings from a Supreme Court that it packed with loyalists, using the outgoing legislature. At the end of last March, the Supreme Court went a step further, taking over all of the Assembly’s powers – a move so blatantly illegal that even the chavista Prosecutor General Luisa Ortega Díaz denounced it as a “rupture of the constitutional order.”

With that, desperate Venezuelans took their opposition to the streets. On April 1, they began holding almost daily protests demanding another general election, despite the mortal danger of public opposition. Indeed, since the protests began, the regime’s security forces have killed 85 demonstrators and wounded over 1,000 more, including by throwing tear-gas canisters into crowds and launching pellets at people’s chests, at close range. More than 3,000 protesters face criminal charges, simply for exercising their democratic rights.

Cornered, the ruling clique has become defiant. Maduro recently announced that if the regime cannot muster the votes needed to stay in power, it will use its weapons instead. But he is also taking more extreme political action to protect the regime: he has now ordered, by presidential decree (rather than by referendum, as the constitution requires), a constituent assembly, to be chosen on July 30, to draft a new “communal” constitution.

The demonstrations have now become what is essentially a popular uprising, with Venezuela’s people calling on the armed forces to evict the regime from power. Ortega, for her part, has called on the Supreme Court to annul the regime’s push to rewrite the constitution, but the court declared her request “not receivable.”

Venezuelans recognize that a Marxist-Leninist constitution approved by regime-appointed deputies would complete Venezuela’s transformation into another Cuba within a month. The question is whether the rest of the world will stand by idly.

Luis Almagro, the secretary-general of the Organization of American States (OAS), has called its member states’ attention to the Venezuelan regime’s grave constitutional and human-rights violations. At last month’s OAS General Assembly in Mexico, 14 countries (Argentina, Brazil, Bahamas, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Guyana, Jamaica, Mexico, the United States, Peru, St. Lucia, Uruguay, and Paraguay) proposed a draft resolution on how to initiate a dialogue with the Venezuelan regime – to no avail.

Such a dialogue would have focused on pushing Venezuela’s regime to comply with the commitments mediated by the Vatican last autumn, including holding free and fair elections this year, releasing political prisoners, restoring the National Assembly’s constitutional powers, and accepting humanitarian assistance. But, though 20 OAS member states supported the resolution, ten did not, owing to their dependence on Venezuelan oil and financing. That left the resolution three votes short of the required two-thirds majority.

Emboldened by what it perceived as a victory, the Venezuelan regime has ramped up its violence against protesters and organized a bogus coup against itself. During the recent siege of the Legislative Palace, an officer of the National Guard assaulted Julio Borges, the president of the National Assembly – the only institution with any legitimacy left. The regime is also set to appoint a tame new deputy prosecutor general to replace Ortega, who has had her bank accounts frozen and is barred from leaving the country.

The opposition is firing back, organizing via the National Assembly an official referendum, on the basis of articles 333 and 350 of the constitution. Venezuelans will be able to weigh in on Maduro’s plan to rewrite the constitution and the opposition’s push for new elections, the restoration of all checks and balances, and the formation of a “national unity” government. The vote will take place on July 16, in all churches in Venezuela, and with international observers.

Having lost all legitimacy, Venezuela’s kleptocratic and murderous regime is hanging on by a thread. Already, individual OAS member states have imposed targeted sanctions on officials affiliated with the regime’s aggressive drug-dealing faction – the sub-group responsible for murdering young people in the streets and torturing some 300 political prisoners. (The European Union has yet to join the effort.)

By rejecting a democratic transition, the regime is only prolonging its own agony and creating higher costs for Venezuela. While the ruling clique is not eager to negotiate, a deal offered via the OAS or at the United Nations Security Council could prove difficult to refuse in the current context.

Such a deal would require an immediate general election and the cancellation of the constituent assembly, and could be implemented relatively quickly and easily, according to the existing constitution. If successful, it could help reinvigorate international trust and cooperation. More immediately, it would give the desperate, starving, and repressed Venezuelan people their country back. Enrique ter Horst, former Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in El Salvador and Haiti, was UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights.

By Enrique ter Horst

Top
We use cookies to improve our website. By continuing to use this website, you are giving consent to cookies being used. More details…