07/10/2014

Reflections on Autumn and Indian Summer

As mornings turn darker and darker, leaves start changing colors and the summer heat becomes the nip of autumn, many bemoan the end of summer. I don’t. Yes, vacation time is over; outdoor pools are closed and tennis goes indoors. We are all back to the routines of the regular year. But the riotous colors of the flora and the invigoration of the cool weather make it all worthwhile.

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30/09/2014

A Geneva Odyssey

On September 27, the citizens of Geneva rejected an initiative for the construction of a short tunnel to join the two banks of Lac Leman. While several explanations have been given for the resounding defeat of the proposal – too expensive during a period of economic belt tightening or more enthusiasm for an ambitious, larger construction away from the center of town – no one with a fleeting knowledge of Geneva history should have been surprised at the result. Since the construction of the Mont Blanc bridge in 1862, there have been numerous attempts to build another crossing, but all have failed.

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23/09/2014

Perpetual war poses a risk to U.S. power: An update

The following are parts of an article written by me which appeared on the Op-ed page in the International Herald Tribune on June 28, 2002. In parentheses and italics are updates that I have added after President Obama’s September 10, 2014, speech on the Islamic State (ISIL). The direct quotations are from his words.

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16/09/2014

How Should We Celebrate With Roger?

After his triumph in the reverse singles on Sunday that clinched Switzerland’s place in the Davis Cup finals, Roger Federer was carried around the court on the shoulders of teammate Stan Wawrinka and Captain Severin Luthi. “To see his face after the match point, he looked like a 17-year-old junior who had just won his first ATP points,” said TV commentator and former Swiss Davis Cup Captain Marc Rosset.

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09/09/2014

Roger’s Roar and Smile and their Lessons for Diplomats

Roger Federer is best known as a tennis player, perhaps the greatest of all time. His record of 17 Grand Slam titles is unmatched in the sport’s history. But besides his one-hand backhand, elegant dress and phenomenal court movement and presence under pressure, his recent performance at the U.S. Open bears witness to another quality that warrants attention and, hopefully, simulation.

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02/09/2014

Iraq, Libya and Syria: Are they better off today than they were before?

At the end of the Cold War and the Arab Spring, the West enjoyed tremendous satisfaction that liberalism was on the rise. More than just the superficial end of history, there was a deeper sense that there was progress in the organization of human society. Various manifestations appeared of a universal acceptance of human rights and humanitarian law. The establishment of the United Nations Human Rights Council was a fitting example. The term “international community” seemed to have some meaning.  

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27/08/2014

Hostages: To pay or not to pay, that is the question

The grotesque assassination of the American journalist James Foley has publicly raised the complex question of whether or not governments, companies or individuals should pay a ransom to free hostages. There are supportable arguments on both sides of the issue and, not surprisingly, there are differences on to how to deal with the problem. There has been no coherent response in the West to demands for ransom.

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19/08/2014

Swiss Struggles With Russian Sanctions and Neutrality

A Swiss law professor once bemoaned to me that he had spent 25 years of his career dealing with one word, “neutrality”. We all know that legally neutrality means that a country will not join armed alliances or fight in wars other than for self-defense. But, politically, for Switzerland neutrality can run the gamut from not allowing airplanes to fly over Swiss airspace on their way to attack another country to promoting human rights and the rule of law, what is called “positive neutrality”.

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13/08/2014

The U.S. in Iraq: Here We Go Again?

Getting old has its positive and negative aspects. Positively, there is a growing sense of wisdom because of having been witness to many events over time. Negatively, in contradiction to the growing wisdom, there is the realization that certain things keep repeating themselves, such as the United States trying to save the world or trying to impose its vision in faraway places that may not be open to the same vision.

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08/08/2014

Didier Burkhalter’s Way With Words

As President of the Swiss confederation, as Foreign Minister, as Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE, Didier Burkhalter is required to give many speeches. He probably has at least one person helping him prepare the texts. Be that as it may, the introduction to his national day August 1 address, although little commented upon, bears particular attention. Much like his “Cher Collègue” greeting to President Putin during a May visit to Moscow (see my blog of May 9), Mr. Burkhalter said a great deal in very few words.

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04/08/2014

The Revolution of the Saints Revisited From Geneva

In the West, there is tremendous fear of Islamic fundamentalism taking over the Arab world. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), often described as “extremist” and “militant,” continues its march towards Baghdad; in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood remains an important actor. Surprisingly, there should be a particular understanding of this phenomenon from a Geneva perspective.

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30/07/2014

The End of Humanitarianism?

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2013. Started in a small apartment in the Old Town of Geneva, the ICRC crystallized and codified the first international norms dealing with the laws of war. After watching on the news the bombings of hospitals and schools in Gaza with innocent women and children among the victims as well as the difficulty for outside forensic experts and family members of passengers to inspect the site of downed MH17 in eastern Ukraine, I ask: Is humanitarianism still pertinent today?

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25/07/2014

MH17 and Gaza: Who Is Responsible?

Responsibility is central to moral philosophy and law. On the negative side, justice demands that we find out “Who did it?” “Who is to blame?” On the positive side, we want to know who should be praised, who should be rewarded. But beyond moral philosophers and lawyers, we often debate in the simplest conversations about who was responsible for a given act or situation. Even if we hold responsible a heavenly being or fate, we still want to know who is responsible.

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18/07/2014

Reconciling Peace and War: In But Out

The sun shines in Geneva during glorious summer days. Swimming pools are crowded with excited children; some have left for their chalets in the mountains, others have left or are planning to leave on vacation to the beaches of southern Europe or Asia. “Summertime and the livin’ is easy” as George Gershwin wrote. But newspaper headlines scream otherwise: “Israel launches ground invasion of Gaza,” “Jet brought down by missile in Ukraine”. How to reconcile “the livin’ is easy” with the horrors of the headlines? And with other tragic events that don’t make the front pages.

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15/07/2014

Reflections on Non-Violence at the World Cup

The World Cup has ended. An orgy of flag waving and anthem singing has concluded for at least another four years. Germany won, as could have been expected. What wasn’t expected was how the threats of street violence and protest within Brazil over the lavish preparation did not materialize.

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11/07/2014

The Human Brain Project Controversy: Let the Taxpayer Beware

When asked if it was difficult to govern during a world war, the American President Woodrow Wilson famously replied; “Not at all. I have been chairman of a political science department and president of a university.” The quotation referred to notorious conflicts among academics, and in many ways reflects what is currently taking place surrounding the Human Brain Project (HBP).

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07/07/2014

Can One Be Heroic In Defeat?

Roger Federer is being lavishly praised for his heroic battle with Novak Djokovic in this year’s Wimbledon final. The Swiss football team is being lavishly praised for its heroic battle with Argentina in this year’s World Cup round of 16. Federer and the national team were both close to victory but they both lost. Can one be heroic in defeat?

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04/07/2014

What if the U.S. Won the World Cup?

The World Cup dominates front pages. Forget Sarkozy’s problems; the war in Syria has disappeared; Russia and Ukraine are far from Brazil; ISIS and Iraq are not competing on the pitch. Even stories about incomplete stadiums and social protests in Brazil can’t make the news. Rabid nationalism in the best sense has broken out all over. Even in the United States. 

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30/06/2014

Is Iraq Déjà Vu All Over Again?

The recent announcement that the United States was sending some 300 advisors to Iraq should have sent shivers up the spines of many Americans with historical memory. It did at least for me, someone who vividly remembers that the original engagement of the U.S. in the Vietnam War began with a similar seemingly simple gesture by President Kennedy. While this time the advisors will be arriving at what was announced as the winding down of involvement, the parallels are no less striking.

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16/06/2014

A Tale of Two Heidis

The story of Heidi is a Swiss and international classic. It is a fictional account of a young girl and her grandfather in the Swiss Alps and the virtues of living with nature. Today there are two Swiss Heidis intimately involved in real time with the real tension between Russia and Ukraine. While the idyllic Heidi finds refuge with her grandfather in mountain pastures, the two Heidis are trying to settle one of the thorniest political problems since the end of the Cold War between Moscow, Kiev and Western leaders.

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A Tale of Two Heidis

The story of Heidi is a Swiss and international classic. It is a fictional account of a young girl and her grandfather in the Swiss Alps and the virtues of living with nature. Today there are two Swiss Heidis intimately involved in real time with the real tension between Russia and Ukraine. While the idyllic Heidi finds refuge with her grandfather in mountain pastures, the two Heidis are trying to settle one of the thorniest political problems since the end of the Cold War between Moscow, Kiev and Western leaders.

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10/06/2014

Swiss Nature vs. American Wilderness

Why are the Swiss so fascinated with one bear roaming the Grison? Why are the Swiss so fascinated by the introduction of a wolf or lynx into the countryside? While these may seem superficial questions, the answers reflect fundamental attitudes toward nature as well as subtle differences with the Sister Republic, the United States.

The role of nature in Switzerland is obvious. From small, public garden patches outside metropolitan areas to weekend and holiday retreats in the mountains, the Swiss adore being in nature. Romantic poets and artists throughout Swiss history have written about and painted the virtues of being in the state of nature. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, after all, was born in Geneva.

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06/06/2014

Brady Dougan is the quintessential, successful, modern man

Brady Dougan is the quintessential, successful, modern man. Dynamic, wealthy, media-savvy, he is at the head of one of the world’s largest banks. He is the envy of an entire generation who want to be sitting on the top of the corporate totem pole. He has it made. His total compensation package for 2013 was close to $10 million.

Mr. Dougan testified before a United States Senate Committee. During his testimony he made two simple statements that are perfectly clear, and totally contradictory. 

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16/05/2014

“Rebranding” the United Nations Office in Geneva

A serious effort is being made by the Acting Director-General of the United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG) to “rebrand” his organization. Michael Møller, a Danish diplomat with extensive experience in the United Nations system, is energetically trying to give new life and a new image through a host of activities and presentations.

He is to be commended. Not only does the historic Palais des Nations need a serious face-lift if not major cosmetic surgery including implants and replacements, but many of the organizations associated with the UN in Geneva, such as the Conference on Disarmament and the World Trade Organization’s Doha Round, could use some massive adrenalin (testosterone?) injections. Add to that the growing role of NGO’s, the private sector and competition from other cities for hosting conferences and organizations, and one can see that Mr. Møller has a lot on his plate. And he is officially only an Acting Director who says he is not actively competing for the regular position!

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09/05/2014

The Importance of Didier Burkhalter’s ”Cher Colleague”

During his recent visit to Moscow, Didier Burkhalter referred to Vladimir Putin as “Cher Colleague” before the cameras. While this might not seem like a monumental step towards de-escalating the violence in Ukraine or resolving the crisis, it was a highly symbolic gesture that warrants more attention than it has received.

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