How to pitch the International Policy Journal

The work of the International Policy Journal is to imagine better futures and better solutions to the shared challenges of cohabitating the earth with other countries, with other peoples.

Here we hope to foster a lively discourse about the how and the what of better futures. As outlined by our publisher at the Center for International Policy, the work is designed to provoke a needed paradigm shift in thinking about the US role in the world. That perspective must be internationalist. While the base unit of foreign policy remains the nation, we know that the challenges of the world are bigger than any one nation, and that the needs of the people on this planet transcend the constraints of borders and language.

The writers we publish will not always agree, nor would we want them to. We live, broadly, within the failures of consensus foreign policy, with leaders following paths of least resistance until we arrive decades deep into seemingly intractable problems. Plotting a way out of present messes and future problems does not require agreement, at least not at the stage of discourse. Thoughtful grappling with the complexity of global challenges is part of the process of progressive world-making. Instead of adhering to any one prescriptive doctrine, every writer published in these pages commits to take seriously the notion that different actions can lead to better futures. While we seek to provide a platform for these critical conversations, the views of our writers do not necessarily reflect the Center for International Policy’s positions.

Pitching Guide

At present, the Journal accepts pitches and runs stories at two different lengths.

Articles are between 750 and 1,000 words, about as long as an op-ed that might appear in a newspaper or online. Articles make one concise argument well. The journal will regularly publish pieces of this length, designed to be easily digested on a metro commute or in a couple minutes before a meeting starts. The rate for published stories of this length is $400.

Here are a few examples of published articles:

How Defending Ukraine Unearthed a Tool for Green Foreign Policy
Sanctu-Wary: protecting wildlife beyond protected areas
The Global South is fighting for a voice in global tax rules
Durable Peace Isn’t Possible Without Palestine

Features are around 3,000 words long. These pieces are designed to drive the conversation, and are published once or twice a month. These pieces can include reporting and original research, as well as well-argued and supported argumentation. The ideal reader is anyone, but especially those involved with the nuts and bolts of policy implementation or advocacy. The rate for published stories of this length is $1500.

Here are a few examples of published features:

Meet Me In The Backroom: Environmental NGOs & China/U.S. Climate Cooperation
Counter-terror turned the Sahel into a coup-belt. U.S. policy in the region should move on.
Abandoning Disarmament Means Embracing Proliferation

Most successful pitches are a few sentences in length, demonstrating both an understanding of the topic and the ability to describe it concisely.  In your pitch, tell me:

•The one sentence pitch idea
•The problem in foreign policy this solves
•Why it is important
•What you’re suggesting as a change
•How this change is different from what is presently being done about the problem.

Accepted pitches will be subject to editing from CIP staff, including but not limited to the Chief Editor. This is intended as a collaborative process, designed so that the best version of the work can be refined through productive back-and-forth.

A Note On Topics

Topics should cover at least some aspect of foreign policy, and area for interaction between governments or peoples spanning borders. Because stories at the Journal are expected to start from policy as-is, many pitches will invariably want to talk about militaries, especially the US military, as a policy tool. Changing the scope, parameters, funding, and role of militaries is indeed part of foreign policy, and should be in the conversation. Expanding the role of the US military, or the Intelligence Community, or broadly any other part of the national security state, is a position that already has plenty of advocates in Washington, DC, and a pitch to that end will likely find a better home elsewhere.

The goal of the International Policy Journal is to expand who is writing about foreign policy, redefine how we talk about security, shift foreign policy beyond just the actions of governments to each other, include accountability and anti-corruption work, and to identify barriers to peaceful solutions or other options beyond militarism.

Ready to pitch?

Submit a pitch – no more than a couple sentences — to submissions@internationalpolicy.org. Include expected length of piece. For our Summer Issue, pitch here.

In the top half of the image, a hemisphere globe shows the navies of China and the United States shouting at each other across the Pacific Ocean. (Tiny F-35s are pictured on an aircraft carrier). This hemisphere rests on top of a table, and beneath it lots of people can be seen talking, working together, and collaborating on projects like renewable energy, in stark contrast to the tensions above.

AI and Israel’s Dystopian Promise of War without Responsibility

Khaldoun Khelil is an energy and international security scholar with over 20 years of experience in the oil and gas industry and served as the Energy and Security Scholar at the Middle East Institute. He writes on culture, politics, technology, and games.

As Israel has executed its assault on Gaza, it has turned to new technology to facilitate the selection and ostensible legitimization of targets. The net effect is six months of horrors deployed against the people of Gaza. Among these tools facilitating the slaughter of Palestinians is a constellation of Artificial Intelligence programs that seemingly pick targets with little to no human oversight.

In November 2023, a multitude of publications, including the Guardian, +972 Magazine, and Al Jazeera, reported claims from the Israeli military that ramped up use of Artificial Intelligence facilitated its volume of attacks and destruction in Gaza. The program reported in November carries the grandiose name “the Gospel”; another program reported in April 2024 carries the innocuous name Lavender. The primary function of these algorithmic tools is reportedly to pick targets for Israel to blast apart with its US-supplied munitions. A former Israeli intelligence officer, speaking to +972 Magazine, described the Gospel AI as a “mass assassination factory.” The results can be seen in the incredibly high death toll in Gaza with over 33,000 Palestinians killed and at least 75,000 wounded by Israeli fire.

Prior to the use of AI tools, Israel would take up to a year to identify 50 targets in Gaza. Now with the assistance of the Gospel, Israel claims they produce 100 credible targets a day. Israel’s Lavender AI program reportedly marked an astounding 37,000 Palestinians for death as “suspected militants.”

This exponential leap in targeting is one factor explaining the unprecedented civilian death toll in Gaza inflicted by Israeli forces. Additional automated systems reported in +972, including one perversely called “Where’s Daddy?”, were used specifically to track targeted individuals and carry out bombings when they had entered their family’s residences, basically ensuring mass casualty events. In fact, Israel would purposefully use massive 2000-pound ‘dumb’ bombs on these targets if they were believed to be “junior” militants to cut down on the perceived expenses of using a guided munition. The Israelis were more concerned with the cost in bombs than the cost in civilian lives.

Targeting residences means accepting not just families as collateral damage in the strike, but also destroying residences, making them uninhabitable. Previous reporting also showed that Israeli forces termed high-rise residential buildings and critical infrastructure as “power targets” in the assumption that their destruction would demoralize Palestinian civilians.  As Yuvul Abraham reported regarding Gospel AI, “The bombing of power targets, according to intelligence sources who had first-hand experience with its application in Gaza in the past, is mainly intended to harm Palestinian civil society: to ‘create a shock’ that, among other things, will reverberate powerfully and ‘lead civilians to put pressure on Hamas,’ as one source put it.”

As with many other AI systems, Israel’s Gospel and Lavender are seemingly black boxes that spit out irreproducible results drawn from source material of varying reliability. While the same Israeli sources insist that Gospel’s targets are cleared through human hands, that is little comfort considering Gospel produces over 100 targets a day and a human reviewer would have no reliable way to penetrate the system’s black box to ascertain how a target was selected, nor incentive to do so. In Gaza, Israel is relying on AI systems to decide whom to kill, with humans being relegated to “rubber stamps” in the overall process.

The quantity of targets produced by Gospel alone would make any meaningful oversight daunting, but the nature of AI also means that the exact process by which Gospel chooses its targets can never be dissected or reproduced. In the case of Lavender AI, its targeting pronouncements against Palestinians were essentially treated as orders with “no requirement to independently check why the machine made that choice or to examine the raw intelligence data on which it is based.”

One of the few emerging international norms around AI in warfare is the concept of keeping a human at the heart of any decision to take a human life. In short, robots and algorithms should not be making the ultimate decision on whether a living breathing person is annihilated. Israel’s reckless implementation of AI in Gaza is undermining this norm before it has even had the chance to fully establish itself.

Was a target chosen because it best fit current military necessity? Or was it chosen because of a biased input or an unwillingness to uphold civilian protection norms? These questions potentially become unanswerable when Artificial Intelligence is being used so close to the end of a very violent decision tree. Even chat-based AI that has the seemingly straightforward task of parsing out Wikipedia information in conversational paragraphs sometimes “hallucinates,” creating fake facts to flesh out their stories. What assurances are there for commanders, soldiers, policy makers, and humanitarian observers that a targeting AI is not hallucinating the data on which it validates targets?

While fully autonomous fighting platforms are likely still many years off, the reality of AI software that can effectively sift through an avalanche of data to identify threats and opportunities is already here. In the US, the Biden administration has simultaneously released a “Political Declaration on Responsible Military Use of Artificial Intelligence and Autonomy” while allowing the US Army to move forward with Palantir’s Tactical Intelligence Targeting Access Node (TITAN). While the declaration is a brief statement that calls upon endorsing nations to have a dialogue about the responsible use of AI, the TITAN project provides over $178 million to Palantir to develop a program that will integrate artificial intelligence with other technology being used by American ground forces. In a jargon-rich press release, TITAN promises to “rapidly process sensor data received from Space, High Altitude, Aerial and Terrestrial layers” and reduce “the sensor-to-shooter timeline.” Judging by the experience of Israel’s AI in target selection, reducing the “sensor-to-shooter” timeline can allow for attacking targets faster, but is absolutely no guarantee of ensuring the target is properly selected, or that the human evaluating target selection is anything more than a rubber stamp.

Israel’s Gospel AI places humans on the wrong end of the targeting process and significantly reduces our ability to judge if a specific bombing or missile strike was justified. We cannot truly peer within the Gospel’s “brain” as it’s a black box, though the datasets used to train AI are likely based on existing targeting data sets, and carry within them additional biases reproduced by machine learning algorithms. By giving these AI systems, such as Gospel and Lavender, the power to choose targets, Israel obscures who should be held to account as civilian deaths mount. Given the many credible accusations of war crimes against the Israeli military, this may be the most compelling feature of AI for them. As an IBM presentation slide succinctly stated in 1979, “A computer can never be held accountable, therefore a computer must never make management decisions.” When the decision to take a human life lies functionally with a computer program, systems like ‘Lavender’ and ‘Gospel’ shift responsibility, and thus accountability, to a machine that can never be meaningfully questioned, judged or punished.

US policymakers would be wise to look at Israel’s AI abetted and indiscriminate onslaught in Gaza as a warning. We may still be a long way off from fully autonomous targeting systems and true Artificial Intelligence making objective choices concerning life or death, but today a more insidious and stark reality already confronts us. The imperfect systems currently labeled as AI cannot be allowed to supplant real living decisionmakers when it comes to matters of life and death, especially when it comes to picking where and how to use some of the world’s deadliest weapons.

In Gaza we see an “indiscriminate” and “over the top” bombing campaign being actively rebranded by Israel as a technological step up, when in actuality there is currently no evidence that their so-called Gospel has produced results qualitatively better than those made by minds of flesh and blood. Instead, Israel’s AI has produced an endless list of targets with a decidedly lower threshold for civilian casualties. Human eyes and intelligence are demoted to rubber stamping a conveyor belt of targets as fast they can be bombed.

It’s a path that the US military and policy makers should not only be wary of treading, but should reject loudly and clearly. In the future we may develop technology worthy of the name Artificial Intelligence, but we are not there yet. Currently the only promise a system such as Gospel AI holds is the power to occlude responsibility, to allow blame to fall on the machine picking the victims instead of the mortals providing the data.

A US Foreign Policy Pathway to Peace for Yemen

Muna Luqman (she/her) is a Yemeni peacebuilder, humanitarian/development expert, and advocate for inclusive diplomacy. She is the founder and chairperson of Food4Humanity and the co-founder of the Women’s Solidarity Network. Diana Duarte (she/her) is the interim Senior Director of Policy and Advocacy at MADRE, a global gender justice organization and feminist fund.

For nearly 10 years, Yemen has been divided by a civil war fought between three parties: the internationally recognized government, supported by the US-backed and Saudi-UAE led coalition,  the Houthis, and separatists in the south. A temporary truce was announced in April 2022, but ultimately collapsed after six months. Neither side had fully met the conditions of the truce, and Houthi hardline demands created an impasse. The failed peace process left the future uncertain for Yemeni communities facing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and significant aid cutbacks, until a new peace process began to show signs of progress. Under the auspices of the UN Special Envoy’s office, an inclusive peace process began to take root, bringing together Yemeni civil society leaders with Houthis, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Southern separatists. In late December 2023, parties to the conflict had committed to a nationwide ceasefire, measures to improve living conditions, and restarting an intra-Yemeni political process

However, this promising roadmap towards peace was derailed by the retaliatory violence of the US against Houthis blockade attacks in the Red Sea and the expanding effects of Israel’s brutal war on Gaza. This deepening violence and the stubborn determination of policymakers to seek collective punitive military and economic responses is further imperiling lives across the region – all while many of these same policymakers justify launching bombs in the name of so-called security.

The experience of Yemeni peacebuilders has shown: there are ways to escape from this spiral of violence. Making that shift requires the international community to prioritize human rights first and to seek security, accountability and an end to conflict through inclusive, community-led processes. This has long been the vision of Yemeni women who have organized and strategized together for peace, while offering concrete proposals to the international policymakers to guide them towards an approach that centers diplomacy, rights and an ethic of care.

Instead, the unconditional pursuit of military primacy, whether by the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Russia, or others, has worsened the volatility and violence of armed conflict, and ultimately benefits and proliferates armed actors by creating cycles of violence and radicalization. A policy pathway with any chance of success – real, just and sustainable peace for Yemen – must instead put a different set of priorities first. It must reflect the urgent, expressed demands of local peacebuilders, uplifting the primacy of community security and inclusion in fostering a wider, interconnected national, regional, and global security.

In short, the path to peace is built first on ceasefire and inclusive processes, made possible by the leadership of grassroots women peacebuilders with a bottom-up approach.

Peace from the grassroots

Facing reality, we know the status quo is still lightyears away from this needed shift. The policymaking paradigms of the world’s most powerful governments have embraced a militarized logic that routinely threatens or carries out violence against vulnerable people. By taking steps toward transformation, the US and international community can better support peace processes led by community leaders and human rights defenders at the heart of the world’s most intractable conflicts.

First, the work of women peacebuilders at the grassroots reflects documented best practices that a peace deal won’t last unless everyone is at the table. That means broadening any peace process beyond combatants. Too often, formal peace negotiations are carried out only with the people with guns — and the process in Yemen has been no exception, focusing on the Saudi Arabia-led coalition and the Houthis, with limited involvement from civil society.

Not only has this excluded a host of political actors — tribal leaders, the Southern Transitional Council and other local armed groups — but crucially, it divides and sidelines civil society and feminist leaders, who have tended to be shunted into “parallel” advisory tracks and less likely to be in the room as key negotiators. For many years, those who have been invited were tokenized: excluding a diverse community of civil society leaders whose needs and analysis vary according to their work and geographic region.

Notably, more recent efforts have sought to broaden civil society participation in these talks via a series of consultations with local stakeholders in Yemen and in the regional diaspora. These led to significant steps towards a ceasefire in December 2023, and the renewal of a remarkable truce that largely held despite its expiration over a year ago. In the year leading up to the truce, there had been 40 Saudi-led airstrikes on Yemen per week, and the truce’s break in hostilities offered a vital moment of peace and relief for Yemeni families. But the situation remains fragile. All parties will need to continue to work with Yemeni civil society, especially women leaders, to secure a new truce, a monitored ceasefire, and an inclusive, sustainable peace agreement.

Despite existing commitments to localization and inclusion in peace and security, the US and its military actions are endangering peace efforts led by local actors. The US responded to the Houthi blockade of ships in the Red Sea with military force, hitting more than 200 targets in Yemen over the last several weeks. Even as Biden remarkably acknowledged that these attacks were unlikely to affect Houthi behavior, the US has continued to launch airstrikes, promising a trajectory of violence that continues to escalate in Yemen and spread across the region.

Food not bombs

There’s a more sustainable answer to promoting peace and security in Yemen, one rooted in human rights, transitional justice  and effective peacebuilding practice: the US must end its support for Israel’s war on Gaza and demand a ceasefire there, while investing in inclusive peace processes for Yemen led by local peacebuilders, including under the auspices of the United Nations. The US should particularly rely on women and youth peacebuilders, who create real, tangible peace even against unimaginable odds, often under threat of attack by armed groups.

The evidence is clear: when women and civil society meaningfully participate in conflict prevention and resolution, peace agreements are 35% more likely to last at least fifteen years. Peace requires responding to the needs of a wide range of constituencies, and women can often serve as the vital link. The Women Solidarity Network, for example, is the largest women’s network in Yemen, bringing connections to hundreds of community-based organizations across the country. Through their humanitarian work — like delivering food, water, and medicine — women’s groups come to intimately understand people’s needs and build trust among communities that undergirds any successful peace. They create spaces for local communities to identify their urgent needs and to tease out the root causes of conflicts, and they demand channels of inclusion that can funnel this vital information into wider political negotiations,  from post-conflict accountability to the reintegration of fighters to the rights of marginalized groups, like people with disabilities, youth, and minorities.  The Mothers of Abductees Association has negotiated the release of prisoners and detainees, and other leaders have brokered ceasefires locally, and as seen in Yemen, have successfully nurtured the conditions for a nation-wide truce.

For example, the local women-led organization Food4Humanity mediated between two communities in Yemen who had been fighting over scarce water resources. They identified and fixed the source of the problem – a broken water station that led to conflict over scarce water sources. After repairing that station, they then brought together community representatives to sign a peace agreement and commit to maintaining the water pump. As a result, the fighting stopped. Moreover, because water is available, women do not need to walk hours to fetch water, and girls can attend school, decreasing child marriage and empowering young girls.

Local organizations like Food4Humanity also invest in local relationships that serve as entry points to negotiate with factions of armed groups to reach vulnerable populations that international organizations may lack the connections to support. When these communities are reached by local trusted actors, they help identify root causes of the conflict and barriers to address those root causes that would otherwise prevent or spoil the implementation of peace agreements. Inclusion is not pursued just for the sake of representation: it is a tested and required step for effective diplomacy and sustainable security.

Too often, powerful voices around negotiating tables dismiss these kinds of local examples as too small to be relevant to official peace processes. But it is exactly this granular attention to detail, combined with a wider, principled political vision and community networking power, that makes women peacebuilders so effective. This is just one example of the kinds of peacebuilding solutions we need: women leaders have the local connections to play a critical role in monitoring local ceasefires and ensuring that peace holds. In this way, women’s grassroots work repairs broken bonds among communities, enhancing community safety and fostering systems of care, setting the stage for post-conflict reconciliation and reconstruction. The Feminist Peace Roadmap, developed by Peace Track Initiative and members of the Women’s Solidarity Network including Food4Humanity, recognizes that peace cannot be secured from the top down. Sustainable peace flows from the grassroots up and is rooted in meeting the urgent security and livelihood needs of communities at high risk of radicalization.

Instead of prioritizing the involvement of grassroots women-led peacebuilders and civil society actors including tribal leaders and local mediators, the old-school approach of negotiations by the internationally-led peace process prioritizes warring parties responsible for mass human rights violations. Additionally, in Yemen, the US focus on military responses, at the expense of sustainable community-driven security, has created an elite-driven peace process that has allowed warring parties to repeatedly create stalemates while consolidating, or recalibrating, their positions, all while receiving luxurious treatment from international and regional partners, who have also been parties to the conflict. At the same time, the focus on meeting the needs of elites has sidelined the well-documented political priorities of grassroots community leaders in Yemen, including Yemeni women peacebuilders.

Despite their expertise and trusted relationships with local actors, grassroots women peacebuilders and political experts have little access to shape US policymaking that impacts their own communities. They experience firsthand the effects of foreign policy decisions made in distant conference rooms, with little recourse to influence those decisions. Yet, when communities most directly impacted can play a pivotal role in shaping policy, they bring expertise, urgency, and community to even the most dire and complex policy debates. The conflicts that seem intractable can only be met with a set of tools that US policymakers must admit they lack: trust and accountability, which is held exclusively by local peacebuilders, who have already proven that they can bring together what war has torn apart. Rather than military interventions, Yemenis need locally-rooted peace policies that resource priorities and programs designed by grassroots leaders to de-escalate tensions and prevent further violence.

Deeper diplomacy

A current strategy initiated by the Office of the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, in partnership with UN Women, aims at expanding inclusivity in Yemen and involves conducting targeted consultations with Yemenis. These consultations aim to identify the root causes of conflict, foster leadership skills for inclusive peacebuilding, and develop a bottom-up approach for an all-inclusive peace process. This recognizes that lasting peace can only be achieved through the active participation of all stakeholders. By leveraging the collective knowledge and experience of Yemenis, the approach seeks to develop a sustainable peace process that reflects the diverse needs and interests of the Yemeni people. However, this requires true commitment, political will and genuine support by the international community and an enabling environment.

To create space for the voices and leadership of Yemeni women, youth, and civil society, international civil society allies can also serve a key role, building bridges between local communities, global peace movements and policymaking spaces. For instance, groups like international women’s rights organization MADRE — who work in long-term partnership with women on the frontlines of conflict in Yemen and war-affected regions globally — are positioned to demand that feminist analysis and women peacebuilders’ solutions guide US policymaking and to demand accountability for the actions of US leadership. They can bring policymakers — from Congress to the Biden administration — into direct conversation with Yemeni women and youth experts who are poised to identify ways forward for peace, justice, and human rights that outside actors simply cannot see.

The international community must prioritize peace in Yemen, and a ceasefire in Gaza, in order to meet urgent humanitarian needs of communities across the region and end a rapid spiral into deeper instability and bloodshed.

Yemeni women-led civil society is also taking the long view, and ultimately, they know that a peace agreement will be signed. When that happens, if people’s voices are not sufficiently included, the resulting peace will be fragile, and the likelihood of violent escalation and civil war will loom large. Yet, there are proven ways to avert this outcome, by centering justice and accountability, prioritizing inclusion, and meeting communities’ needs for humanitarian aid and development.

To pivot towards peace, we must seize the opportunity to democratize the process, drawing on the expertise of Yemeni women and local experts to generate momentum for policy shifts — including pushing parties to halt attacks and negotiate for peace, increasing humanitarian aid to grassroots, women-led groups, and advancing international accountability for war crimes. We do not need to go back to the drawing board: Yemeni women peacebuilders and civil society organizations have already organized political demands for sustainable peace into guiding frameworks, including the Feminist Roadmap for Peace and the Yemen Declaration for Justice and Reconciliation.

Yemen is currently facing a number of serious issues, including food insecurity and escalating conflicts in the Red Sea. It is crucial to restore the country’s security and judicial institutions, in order to promote stability and human rights, and to combat extremism. This requires an inclusive peace process involving private sector leaders, civil society leaders, and Southerners. Community-based peacebuilding initiatives have proven to be an effective tool in addressing security and governance issues, and preventing violence. Such initiatives have enabled local communities to repair divisions, address grievances, build trust, identify issues, initiate dialogues, and take action to resolve conflicts and build sustainable mechanisms for peace.

The UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen must receive support and strengthen efforts to enhance an inclusive peace process that prevents further escalation and is not a symbolic box-ticking exercise.

It’s time for the Biden administration to adhere to its national and international commitments and ensure that Yemeni women-led civil society are at the table in meaningful and power-wielding roles, and that their priorities are centered and resourced, to shape a more inclusive and successful peace process.

CIP Response to the 2024 State of the Union

Matt Duss is the Executive Vice President of the Center for International Policy

On foreign policy, President Biden’s State of the Union last night didn’t give us too much to work with. He did come right out of the gate strong, talking about Ukraine. I can’t remember the last time a president opened the State of the Union talking about foreign policy, but it really served to underline the urgency of the need to pass the Ukraine aid package which has been stalled in Congress for months.

The section on the Gaza war was unfortunately as expected. Yesterday’s announcement of the building of a Gaza port to facilitate humanitarian aid shouldn’t be dismissed  – more aid for Palestinians on the brink of starvation is obviously good. But as with the airdropping of aid it just reveals the incoherence of U.S. policy right now, in which we’re trying to ease Palestinian suffering while continuing to unconditionally arm and support the government that is intentionally inflicting that suffering.

The president seems to recognize that ultimately this conflict will require a political solution, but is still unwilling to bring the full weight of America’s considerable leverage to that goal. Biden’s potted history of the conflict didn’t help. Hamas’ atrocities on October 7 were obviously the precipitating event, but this war did not begin on October 7. It has been waged against the Palestinians every day for years in the form of a violent and humiliating military occupation. Any effort to bring this conflict to a just resolution will need to confront that reality, and Biden seems unprepared to do that.

On the bright side, Biden took what I think is exactly the right approach on his administration’s biggest foreign policy priority: China. He basically told everybody to chill out about it, he’s got this. This isn’t dismissing the challenge, he hasn’t done that, but I think taking a less hysterical approach is something that will lead to a more rational discussion and better, more effective policy.

On immigration, a key goal must be tackling root causes, such as corruption and violence, in US-Latin America policy. The president unfortunately allowed himself to be drawn into a back and forth with Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green over the murder of Laken Riley, a 22 year old Georgia nursing student who was murdered by an undocumented migrant who had been released into the country after being detained. Biden’s statement that Riley had been “killed by an illegal” was a misstep that plays right into the right’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, which is unfortunately in keeping with his general approach to immigration lately, where he’s been willing to tack right and offer some pretty dangerous concessions to try and save the Ukraine aid package. But many of the principles and values at stake at our border are the same ones at stake in Ukraine: human safety and dignity, a commitment to international law. It’s wrong to think we can promote one while selling out the other.

But the bottom line is there just wasn’t much foreign policy in it at all. A few paragraphs in a nearly 90 minute speech. And that reflects his administration’s approach: they would like to talk about foreign policy as little as possible. President Biden has a strong case to make in terms of his administration’s domestic accomplishments. They’ve been able to get important things done that are showing huge benefits to the American people. He has a similar opportunity to advance a foreign policy agenda that improves the lives of Americans and global populations alike. Given that foreign policy is clearly going to be a much bigger issue in this election than anyone expected, I think it was a missed opportunity to stake out a bolder vision.

 

The Global South is fighting for a voice in global tax rules

Wouter van de Klippe is a freelance journalist and Public Policy graduate based in Europe. He’s particularly interested in organised labour, economic, social, and environmental justice, and social welfare states.

Since 1954, a “rich countries club” of the Global North have set the rules of the global tax system through the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Now, countries of the Global South are successfully fighting for more equal say.

On the 22nd of November, 2023, the Africa Group of the United Nations spearheaded an effort to take global tax rule setting away from the OECD and towards the UN. The UN has global representation, more transparent voting mechanisms, and more impactful accountability measures in case countries violate rules.

What died and let the OECD set tax policy?

Just after the second World War, the newly formed United Nations attempted to start setting global taxation rules determined by all member states. This effort collapsed, rather unspectacularly, in the summer of 1954 with the discontinuation of the fiscal committee of the UN.This left the OECD as the only multilateral organization setting global tax rules. The OECD only included a small number of rich states and its approach towards taxation represented these interests.

The OECD sets tax rules by providing frameworks that countries adopt within taxation agreements with other states. For example, the OECD publishes and updates a “model taxation guideline” that countries typically use when drafting their own taxation agreements. These guidelines provide advice on how to prevent companies from being taxed twice for the same profits, set rules on how to tax profits when companies sell to their own subsidiaries abroad, and more.

Under the OECD’s leadership, this tax system is one where tax evasion is rampant, double-taxation agreements benefit the richest of the world, and it took until  2021 to form an agreement on a global minimum corporate tax rate of 15% to prevent multinationals from fleeing taxes and plundering public funds.

Consider the oil giant Shell. In 2022, Shell announced that it made an astounding $39.9 billion in profits. These profits were distributed all over the world across various tax havens, meaning that it paid a 0% effective tax rate in the Bahamas (on $570 million profits), 3% in Singapore (on $937 million profits), and 7% in the Netherlands (on $2.2 billion profits). Miraculously, Shell was able to squeeze these millions of dollars of profit out of the Bahamas despite it having no ‘real’ economic activity in the country whatsoever.

This is on the verge of a major transformation being led by the Global South.

Tax and Amend

After a drawn-out fight where the US, the UK, and the countries of the EU bitterly resisted the convention, countries representing the vast majority of the world’s population voted on November 22nd, 2023, in favor of the new UN-led convention. In the end, 125 countries voted in favor with 48 votes against.

Ahead of the vote, Dr. Chila Milambo, permanent representative of Zambia at the UN, said that the convention “is not merely a political document, but a beacon of hope for developing countries that have long sought a voice in shaping international tax norms.”

According to the Tax Justice Network, the countries that voted against the resolution are responsible for 75% of global tax evasion and only represent around 15% of the global population. All told, an estimated $480 billion in tax revenue is lost each year as a result of evasion – money that could otherwise be spent on public schooling, transportation, health systems, and much needed programs for the just transition.

While the total amount of money lost to tax evasion is significantly smaller in lower-income countries, the total share of public budgets that they lose is much higher. On average, lower-income countries lose about $47 billion each year – representing almost half of their annual budgets for public health.

The scale of tax abuse is so great under the current system that currently, African countries lose more through tax abuses than the total amount of foreign development aid per year.

The OECD itself recognized that it was failing to prevent tax abuse so in 2016 it created a special framework that now includes over 140 countries with the goal to establish new tax rules. This is called the OECD/G20 inclusive framework and was heralded by some as a much needed step towards global inclusivity in taxation.

Critics have argued that it hasn’t meaningfully challenged the skewed nature of global rule setting. The Tax Justice Network argues that the OECD’s lack of transparency, bias towards OECD member states. The fact that its key members are the same countries responsible for tax abuses mean that it is unsuitable to be the body determining how global tax rules are set.

The fight for a seat at the table

For decades, the dominant narrative of tax evasion was that poor administrative infrastructures facilitated corruption within low-income nations, squarely placing the blame on the countries suffering the most from the evasion. Through years of lobbying, campaigning, and organizing, Global South-led coalitions of civil society organizations and political leaders fought for recognition that tax abuses were inherent to the current system, and that meaningful change was needed. The reality was clear – a tax system that was built by the richest countries of the world would never provide justice to the Global South.

In 2015, the G77 group of developing countries tabled an earlier motion to legislate taxes at the UN in a meeting at Addis Ababa. Then, amidst heavy lobbying by countries of the OECD, the resolution tabled at the summit in Addis Ababa was rejected.

At the time, the slogan supporting the change was “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu”. If the talks at Addis Ababa represented a failed effort to establish more equitable tax rules, the passing of the resolution at the UN last year, nearly a decade later, shows the resolve and durability of solidarity movements of the Global South.

The proposed UN tax convention represents yet another instance of powerful Global South solidarity, such as what we have seen in the Global South’s rallying support for South Africa’s genocide case against Israel, and the near-unanimous Global South support for the COVID vaccine patent waiver at the peak of the pandemic.

A just and solidaire foreign policy is out there – in this case at least, it’s just not the Global North leading it.

While debate still needs to take place on what exactly the tax convention will consist of, it represents a success in forcing a more inclusive and democratic future for setting the rules of taxation. The Global South has shown that international solidarity can force meaningful changes in a regime built against their interests. With the UN becoming the leading institution for tax reform, the majority of the world’s population will finally have representation at the taxation rule table.

Full view of the UNGA hall

Reimagining Progressive Foreign Policy

Editor’s note. A version of the following remarks were presented February 6th, 2024, opening the Progressive Foreign Policy as a Political Force conference held at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

Nancy Okail is the President and CEO of the Center for International Policy

Thank you so much, Diana! I am truly honored to be here and fortunate to work alongside you and our board.

I appreciate your kind words about my role at CIP, but I am merely standing on the shoulders of many incredibly inspiring and dedicated individuals who have championed this cause for decades. This includes not just those at CIP but the entire community of actors, advocates, and thinkers, many of whom are here today.

I am privileged and honored to lead CIP, an organization that could not be more progressive, having chosen an ex-convict as its president. For those familiar with my story, [or as I previously wrote], when I was first locked in the courtroom cage during my trial, my eyes caught a previous prisoner’s scribble on the wall that read: ‘If defending justice is a crime, then long live criminality.’ It’s my mantra and a ‘crime’ I am proud of, and I cherish the many partners in that crime that I have had over the years (some are here in this room), and most recently my new ‘partner in crime,’ Matt Duss, CIP’s Executive Vice President. (Those who know Matt know that his values and standards stand taller than his noticeable height. You can’t miss it.)

It is with a sense of both urgency and hope that I welcome you today to this pivotal conference. We are here not just to discuss foreign policy but to reimagine it, clarify what it means to pursue a progressive foreign policy and what we can do together to advance it.

As Diana mentioned, we are long overdue for a paradigm shift to address the dysfunctional and harmful system that has led us to war, climate change, inequality, and has perpetuated corruption and authoritarianism. These are the issues that shape our priorities at CIP.

As we sit here in this safe room, civilians in Gaza are being bombarded for the

fifth month in a row by Israel, in a disproportionate and indiscriminate response to the tragic attacks by Hamas on October 7th of last year. We have now reached a staggering death toll of 27,000 humans, mostly women and children, in addition to the 1200 Israelis who died due to the initial attacks. Similarly, others in Ukraine face threats from the extended war since Russia’s invasion in 2022. We are not mere witnesses to such human catastrophes; we are participants—some directly implicated, others by silence in fear of the consequences. It’s a collective failure of humanity…we are all responsible.

But perhaps our biggest failure is our inability to HONESTLY challenge the systems and mindsets that have created this dismal picture of the world.

Nearing the end of the first quarter of the 21st century, the picture is bleak, and the US has played a significant role in shaping this. Despite remarkable advancements in science and technology, we can fairly say that ultra-nationalism, inequality, and hyper-militarization have become worrying overarching characteristics of this century.

Global crises like the pandemic and climate change are devastating in their own right,but also magnify our inherent structural problems, particularly inequality, racism, and the impacts of corruption, elite capture, and authoritarianism around the world. Figures from last year present an undeniable picture of where we stand:

In 2023, the United States ranked 43rd in the gender parity index, falling 16 slots from the previous year. This ranking by the World Economic Forum is based on gaps in employment, health, and political leadership. This decline is compounded by the overturning of Roe vs. Wade and the erosion of reproductive health rights. At the bottom of the global parity index is Afghanistan, now deemed the most repressive country for women and children by the UN, following the Taliban’s takeover after two decades of US involvement. (Let that sink in as we reflect on our global engagements.)

On the corruption front, the situation is no better. The 2023 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) shows that global corruption is rising. With a scale of 0 to 100, the global average stagnates at 43, with most countries making no progress; 23 countries fell to their lowest scores last year. Much like the pandemic disproportionately impacts the poor and marginalized, corruption most severely affects those with the least access to basic necessities while the elite exploit justice systems.

Relatedly, after a period of improvement in closing the income inequality gap until 2018, that trend has since reversed. Income inequality has risen in most advanced economies and major emerging economies. According to the Brookings Institution’s ‘Rising Inequality’ report from last year, inequality has significantly increased in the United States, as well as in advanced economies and among major emerging economies like China, India, and Russia.

Meanwhile, the US defense budget and arms sales have seen a staggering expansion, with the US maintaining its position as the world’s highest arms exporter. The correlation with increased violence is clear. Even before the Gaza conflict, the Institute for Economics and Peace’s annual global index reported that over 238,000 people died in global conflicts in 2022, this marked a 96 percent increase in deaths due to conflicts from previous years. This spike is attributed to deadly conflicts in Ethiopia and Ukraine. Now, the human catastrophe in Gaza unfolds, with over four months of conflict resulting in 27,000 deaths. A population of 2.3 million faces continuous bombardment, exacerbating conditions with the spread of disease and the risk of famine.

The US is once again involved militarily in the Middle East, following its withdrawal from a two-decade-long engagement in Afghanistan. Over the recent weekend, the United States has conducted bombings in Yemen and Iraq, and in Syria, responding to the deaths of three American soldiers in Jordan from attacks by Iran-backed militias, whose actions come amidst sustained demands for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The hard fact is that these events are not merely happening to us, like earthquakes or pandemics; we are all deeply implicated. To be brutally honest, even those among us striving to leverage our best tools—US domestic laws, International Humanitarian Law, and aid conditionality—have not been immune to the dominant power dynamics that catalyzed these situations initially. This issue extends beyond the military-industrial complex; it’s about the entrenched structural violence and the dominance of the security-state paradigm. And I’m not excluding myself from that.

Working through Congress trying to employ our laws as safeguards against the misuse of arms, I increasingly realize how we cannot legislate ourselves out of  crises (at least not just), as I find myself perpetually puzzled by the term ‘misuse of arms.’ It conjures up an image in my mind of weaponry production packages adorned with stickers saying ‘kill responsibly.’ There is, fundamentally, one use for arms, and that is to kill. They are not meant to sit in warehouses, nor are stockpiles intended to serve any purpose other than easy access for feeding the war machine, as we observe now in the conflict in Israel. We can employ as many euphemistic terms as we like to legitimize the act of killing, calling it defense or deterrence, but it does not alter the outcome. The discourse on the misuse of arms and the legislation designed to regulate it overlooks the reality of who holds the power to decide who deserves to live or die (which delineates the proper and improper use of weapons). It’s no secret who makes these decisions; it is those within the elite monopoly over foreign policy and they are conformists.

But we are not without options; we possess agency. None of this is INEVITABLE. We have choices, but the one choice we do not have is to persist in operating within the flawed system that legitimizes and legalizes atrocities through flawed policy framings, such as ‘arms for peace.’ This was the foundation of deals like the Abraham Accords in the Middle East—look how that turned out.

We also cannot afford to pretend that domestic and foreign affairs are separate, nor can we mislead people into believing that national security is achievable without global security. Addressing global crises necessitates domestic reforms. Democracy begins to decline incrementally when we treat it merely as a set of electoral rituals, following them without question or challenge. If we have faith in the virtue of democracy, despite its imperfections, we should not treat it as if it were a dogmatic religion, merely carrying out ‘rituals of democracy’—elections—trapped within a rotational cycle among a few elites on either side of the aisle. We should not wait for the shock of events like Trump’s win to realize we have a problem. Regardless of the outcomes of this year’s elections, the combination of elite capture and tribal politics has long undermined our genuine pursuit for an equitable, just society, and a peaceful world.

 

What then are our choices?

As progressives, our choices transcend those between left and right, or one side of the aisle over the other. Our choices are between integrity and corruption, accountability and complicity, impunity and the rule of law—applicable to both sides of the aisle. Our decisions do not only pivot on ending wars but more importantly transforming the mindsets that lead to them. It’s about distinguishing between feel-good work and truly effective work, urging us to confront our flawed systems directly.

Our foreign policy choices should not be ensnared by false binaries between anti-imperialism and anti-authoritarianism. Opposing US hegemony, great power competition and the risks of unnecessary military escalation does not require us to excuse the human rights violations committed by the Chinese government or similar others.

The US still can and should adopt a constructive role globally without resorting to hegemony. Meanwhile, we must dispel the naïve misconception that relinquishing US hegemony will automatically lead to the ascension of powers aligned with our principles. This overlooks the potential impact of the dominance of authoritarian powers like Russia, China, and others moving in an unjust ultra-capitalist direction, posing distinct challenges.

To counteract the dangerous consequences of great power competition, our choices should not revolve around which governments should overpower others. Instead, we should focus on empowering people first, preventing their countries from becoming battlegrounds in states’ struggle for power.

 

With all these challenges, what are our priorities?

This understanding of interrelated challenges has informed the intersectional priorities we address through analysis, convening, and advocacy. These priorities include:

  1. Combating transnational racism and sex & gender inequality,
  2. Reducing global inequality and economic precarity through equitable trade, labor, and investment rules,
  3. Defending democracy and countering rising ultranationalism, autocracy, kleptocracy, oligarchy, and corruption,
  4. Promoting transformative action for global climate and environmental sustainability. However, none of these objectives would be achievable without
  5. Rightsizing the defense budget, and
  6. Ensuring accountability, transparency, and rights protection in the export and use of arms and emerging technologies, particularly lethal autonomous weapons, and
  7. Most importantly, strengthening diplomacy and adherence to a rules-based international order.

But you don’t need me to tell you all this. Many in this room are already identify these priorities and have dedicated years to them. However, without collectively working towards the necessary paradigm shift and a clear agenda, this valuable work risks not reaching its full potential.

 

So what does paradigm shift entail?

Looking at those issues, and their interrelated nature, it became crystal clear that we need a paradigm shift. That helped us articulate what we call our “Five R” strategy for change. They are a set of goals or set of approaches that we need to have in order to address the structural and problematic framing of US foreign policy.

  1. Redraw the Stakeholder Map: We aim to change rigid and exclusionary policymaking structures, addressing racism and discrimination for more equity and inclusivity in policy formation and communication, and ensuring that those directly affected by our foreign policy have a seat at the table and have their voices heard. You can take a look at the work of my colleagues Terrell Jermaine Starr and Negar Mortazavi and their podcasts that bring really diverse voices into the work that we do.
  2. Redefine Security: To encompass threats to global human safety and well-being that fall outside—and are often exacerbated by—the conventional militarized approach to national security.  I refer you to the work of my colleagues Ari Tolany, Hanna Homestead, and Jeff Abramson on the Security Assistance Monitor and Climate and Militarism Program, and the Forum on Arms Trade.
  3. Reframe US Foreign Policy: Moving beyond outdated nation-state analyses to include the impacts of non-state actors, emerging technology, and other factors unique to today’s power configurations while challenging great power competition and domestic/foreign divide.
  4. Restore Accountability: By enhancing oversight at home and abroad, as corruption and authoritarianism hinder our collective ability to address global threats. Last year, many people were shocked by the allegations that Senator Bob Menendez had received bribes of gold bars from the Egyptian government. I was not shocked, but I was a bit offended, because when the Egyptian government tried to bribe me, they sent me a basket of mangoes to my office. Is this my price?
  5. Revive Diplomacy: The reason peace is getting a bad name and ceasefire is becoming a taboo is because in people’s minds it means just a halt, and what will happen before that is just water under the bridge. That’s why diplomacy should be directly based on the values of accountability. Through research and convening to identify barriers to peaceful solutions, drawing on lessons learned to prevent war escalation and nuclear threats.

These principles are not merely idealistic theories. Today, you will hear from exceptionally talented leaders who are actively engaged in this important work, just as many of you in this room are. For our efforts to achieve optimal impact, it’s crucial that we collaborate within a structured framework and openly debate our agenda priorities.

Because the truly frightening moment isn’t when we are not in power, but when we possess it and still fail to make a discernible difference. We can’t afford to wait or we have no excuse to fail. With our talent, power, and resilience, we are more than capable. Yet, resilience without a clear direction only leads to the depletion of energy and resources. At CIP we aspire to be the hub that clearly defines what progressive policy entails and build a community around it.

We must challenge at all costs the belief that we can bomb our way to peace, we also cannot legislate our way out of crises without addressing the fundamental systemic imbalances and elite capture in foreign policy. But our efforts should not be consumed by fighting back, but moving forward, driven by a proactive approach to forge an affirmative agenda and a new consensus.

Most importantly, as we deliberate on our agenda and priorities, it’s imperative to honestly confront the reality of trade-offs head-on; they are plentiful in today’s world. Acknowledging the costs involved is crucial, but we must discern which costs are bearable and which are not. No matter the expense, investing towards an achievable goal is infinitely more valuable than the futile attempt to amend irreversible damage: lives that cannot be restored, injuries leaving children permanently disabled, and human catastrophes that history will judge us on.

I wanted to paint a rosier picture, to spotlight the good in the world, and the good that the Biden administration has done—and indeed, there’s plenty. But, you can simply Google those, because any achievements pales against the backdrop of catastrophic loss of life and our eroding humanity. Yet, here is the good news: you are here, and you are brilliant. We are here to debate, collaborate, and sculpt together a progressive agenda that resonates with our values and the remarkable talent present in this room. This conversation didn’t start today, nor will it end here; it continues through our analytical work, convenings, and notably, in our newly launched International Policy Journal.

Our clarity begins by identifying the roots of the problem and systemic imbalances, and ours are starkly clear. We need to face them bravely and honestly, and I’m honored to be doing that with you. Thank you so much.

Watch the speech as originally delivered below: