TIME foreign affairs

Lifting the Embargo Means Cuba Can No Longer Play Victim

Many tourists visit Cuba despite embargo
The number of U.S. citizens increase despite embargo laid on since 1960 in Havana, Cuba on 2 May, 2014. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

Jose Miguel Vivanco is the Americas director at Human Rights Watch.

The status quo has allowed the Cuban government to exploit U.S. policy to garner sympathy abroad

President Obama’s new approach to Cuba diplomacy is a breath of fresh air and a chance to make some real progress on human rights if the U.S. government uses the policy wisely.

Some critics contend that President Obama’s decision to re-establish full diplomatic relations with Cuba means that the United States has abandoned its commitment to protect human rights in the island. Some even argue that Obama’s new approach actually rewards Cuba, giving up leverage the United States allegedly had against the Cuban authoritarian government. This view is profoundly mistaken.

The confusion arises from the U.S. government’s own misguided rhetoric to maintain a costly embargo. For decades, U.S. authorities stubbornly held that the embargo was necessary to promote human rights and democratic change in the island. In fact, though, the embargo did nothing to improve human rights in Cuba. Instead, it imposed indiscriminate hardship on the Cuban population as a whole, and provided the Cuban government with an excuse for its problems and a pretext for its abuses.

Rather than isolating Cuba, the policy has isolated the United States, enabling the Castro government to garner sympathy abroad while simultaneously alienating Washington’s potential allies.

Not surprisingly, advocates in Cuba and abroad, as well as a majority of countries in the UN General Assembly —188 out of 192 in an October resolution — have repeatedly called for an end to the U.S. embargo.

Meanwhile, despite some positive reforms in recent years, the Cuban government continues to engage in systematic abuses aimed at punishing critics and discouraging dissent.

In 2010 and 2011, Cuba’s government released dozens of political prisoners on condition that they accept exile in exchange for freedom. Since then, the Cuban government has relied less on long prison sentences to punish dissent and has relaxed draconian travel restrictions that divided families and prevented its critics from leaving and returning to the island.

But the Cuban government uses other tactics to repress individuals and groups who criticize the government or call for basic human rights. Arbitrary arrests and short-term detention have increased dramatically in recent years and routinely prevent human rights defenders, independent journalists, and others from gathering or moving about freely. Detention is often used pre-emptively to prevent people from participating in peaceful marches or meetings to discuss politics. Detainees are often beaten, threatened, and held incommunicado for hours or days.

The government controls all media outlets in Cuba and tightly restricts access to outside information, severely limiting the right to freedom of expression. Only a very small fraction of Cubans are able to read independent websites and blogs because of limited access to – and the high cost of – the Internet.

Let’s be clear: the responsibility for the crackdown on dissent in Cuba lies with the Cuban government. Yet, the status quo has allowed the Cuban government to exploit U.S. policy to portray itself as a victim.

Empirical evidence shows that it was irrational to continue insisting on a policy that never achieved its proposed objectives. The unilateral approach, a relic of the Cold War, has been ineffective for decades, and that’s precisely why this new policy by the White House provides a golden opportunity.

To promote human rights, judicial independence, free elections, independent unions, and free expression in Cuba, the U.S. government must understand that a multilateral approach is necessary. Involving key democracies in the region in reaching out to Cuba is much more likely to move the Cuban government toward respecting fundamental rights. It seems that Obama gets it.

No one should be under the illusion that the human rights situation in Cuba will improve overnight. On the contrary, it will be a long and frustrating process. But there is no doubt that with Obama’s new approach toward Cuba we are in much better shape to go in the right direction.

Jose Miguel Vivanco is the Americas director at Human Rights Watch.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME foreign affairs

The Wall Between the U.S. and Cuba Has Yet to Fall

Cuba And U.S. To Re-establish Diplomatic Relations
A Cuban man reads the Granma, a Cuban communist party paper, as he has his shoes shined, shortly after a live broadcast a speech by Cuban President Raul Castro about the re-establishment of official diplomatic relations with the U.S., on December 17, 2014, in Havana, Cuba. Sven Creutzmann/Mambo Photo—Getty Images

Armando Correa is managing editor of People en Español.

There is still no democracy in Cuba, but I'd like to think that day is just around the corner

I always like to look on the positive side of things.

On Wednesday, December 17th—the day Cubans venerate Saint Lazarus—when I received news from the White House of the upcoming announcement that the U.S. and Cuba would be restoring diplomatic relations, my mind went blank. I couldn’t call anyone. I couldn’t tell anyone because the announcement was “embargoed”—maybe more like “blocked” than embargoed—until President Barack Obama made it official with an address to the nation and the world at noon.

Was this a historic event? Yes. Will it change the course of history? That remains to be seen. I waited 24 hours before writing this blog because I wanted to keep my emotions in check and take in its impact.

What is clear in my mind, after the initial emotional blow, is that it’s time to shake off the political inertia that we found ourselves in. And I say “we” speaking as a U.S. citizen because, while I’m Cuban, I have lived as an exile in this country since 1991; I’m a U.S. citizen and have exercised my right to vote in all the elections in which I’ve been allowed to in this country.

The Cuban embargo is a fantasy, a double moral standard that the majority of exiled Cubans and businessmen experience because, as many of you know, whoever wants to travel to Cuba travels there, whoever wants to do business with Cuba does so. So it’s time for the masks to come off.

On January 3, 1961, the U.S. broke diplomatic relations with Cuba, two years after Fidel Castro took power by force. From that day on, there have been attempts to build a wall—the Torricelli law, Helms-Burton Act, etc.—to isolate a tyrannical government and its people until democracy is restored in the Caribbean’s largest island that is, if some of you don’t know it, only 90 miles from Florida.

The reality is that what we’ve done (and I continue to include myself here as “we”) by building this wall is to isolate, yes, but also to strengthen the Castros. Fidelismo was done with in 2008 when the “king” ceded his throne to his heir, his brother Raul Castro (I love that Cuban writer Zoe Valdes calls him Castro II). But as you can see, Castroism is still around.

Who really thinks that the embargo diminishes the Castro’s fortune? Neither the so-called Special Period nor any of the huge crises that Cuba has gone through have affected the Castro family or any of their courtiers.

It’s about time Cuba opens up to the world, that Cubans have access to information, that the wall falls. A first step has been taken by reestablishing diplomatic relationships. The first who will benefit will be Cuban families.

Let’s stop the politicking. Let’s be practical.

That Pope Francis was able to sit down (or connect through a phone call) the most atheist of leaders (at least publicly so) on the planet with his most powerful enemy is a sign of surrender by the Castros.

Castro II’s propaganda gibberish against the empire is toast. I don’t know what trenches he will try to dig in the middle of Havana now to protect the people against imperialist attacks when the imperialists will now live among them, in an embassy, as it ought to be.

Instead of spending energy protesting against President Obama’s measures, the organizations that make up the so-called Cuban Historic Exile should create a strategy to benefit from this change. It’s about time that Cuban exiles have a presence on the island. It’s about time that dissidents there officially demand to be heard.

In all the diatribes I’ve read against and in favor of the calamitous measures announced by Obama and Castro II, the most intelligent has been Zoe Valdes’ at the end of her blog: “It’s time for dissidents to act, this is the moment to take Raul Castro and Obama at their word. It’s the moment to present political projects so that the differences in thinking, in opinions and languages can be recognized inside of Cuba.”

The wall has yet to fall. There is still no democracy in Cuba. D-Day has yet to arrive, so there’s no reason to celebrate on La Rampa in Havana or on Calle Ocho in Miami. I would like to think that day is just around the corner.

This piece originally appeared on People En Español.

Armando Correa is managing editor of People en Español.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME foreign affairs

Obama Just Handed the Castro Regime a New Lease on Life

President Obama Makes Statement On U.S. Cuba Policy
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to the nation about normalizing diplomatic relations the Cuba in the Cabinet Room of the White House on December 17, 2014 in Washington, DC. Pool—Getty Images

Elliott Abrams, a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, was Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America in the Reagan Administration.

Nowhere in the announcement about a thawing of relations between the U.S. and Cuba was it evident that there would be incentives for Cuba to reduce its oppression

President Obama’s moves on Cuba represent an abandonment of the Cuban people and a lost opportunity to move that island toward democracy.

Assume for the moment that it was time to change the U.S.-Cuban relationship. Assume that the hostage/prisoner exchange was justified. The Obama moves still fail the test, because they gave the Castro regime everything—in exchange for nothing.

The President could have announced the opening of diplomatic relations and an exchange of ambassadors as a new day in the bilateral relationship. As to the economic relationship, he should have said it will develop as a political opening develops in Cuba. That is, as political prisoners are released, as Internet access is allowed, as violent repression of dissident voices like the “Ladies in White” ceases, our embargo will be cut back and perhaps disappear. This would have given the regime an incentive to reduce its oppression. But the way Obama proceeded, he announced all the regulatory and financial changes right now—unrelated to what Castro does. And it is notable that though Obama referred in his remarks to Internet access and a release of 53 prisoners in Cuba, Castro did not. He was dead silent about any internal reforms.

Defenders of the President argue, as he did himself, that an economic opening in Cuba will produce political reform. Really? Has it in Vietnam? Has it in China? There is simply no reason to believe that as the Castro regime gets more cash, it will become less repressive. In fact, the President could not have chosen worse timing. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Cuba was rescued by money and oil from Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Today Chavez is dead, his successor is reeling from the collapse in oil prices, and Castro could look forward to hard times and public pressure for change. Instead, he was rescued by Barack Obama. And to repeat, the money will flow into Castro’s hands whether there are reforms—or none at all.

The President said the United States would press for change in Cuba more effectively now, and with Latin American help. This is not a credible claim. The leftist governments of Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia have never pressed for political freedom in Cuba and they won’t start now just because Barack Obama has changed U.S. policy. Nor is it credible that the United States itself will now push harder. The Obama administration famously did not push for political reform in Mubarak’s Egypt, nor in the Muslim Brotherhood regime of Mohammed Morsi; it missed the chance to back the Iranian people when masses protested the stolen election of June 2009; it has done little to press for freedom in Venezuela or anywhere else in this hemisphere; and pressure for change in China has been weak. In fact, U.S. human rights policy has been limp during the Obama years and there is no reason to expect it to change now, in Cuba or anywhere else.

For over half a century Cubans have resisted the Castro regime and kept hope of freedom alive. In this they had the full support of the United States. In addition to the Cubans who were forced to flee, thousands have spent years in prison for the crime of seeking liberty. This week the United States abandoned them, seeking to engage not the Cuban people or the Cuban freedom fighters, but the Castro regime.

Obama argues that we were smart to change policy because the regime had not collapsed after more than 50 years of an American trade embargo. That argument ignores the growing pressure on Castro that an end to Venezuelan aid would have created. And it ignores history. In the 1980s, many analysts thought Ronald Reagan wrong, even dangerous, when he talked about the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1991, it was gone. But the Cuban regime has just been given a new lease on life by President Obama. It was a sad day for freedom in Cuba.

Elliott Abrams, a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, was Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America in the Reagan Administration.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME foreign affairs

Pakistan’s ‘War on Terror’ Only Encourages Jihadists

Funeral ceremony for the victims of the school attack in Pakistan
Pakistani people carry the coffins of the victims of a Taliban attack at an army-run school, prior to their burial, in Peshawar, Pakistan on December 17, 2014. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

Maajid Nawaz is Co-Founder and Chairman of Quilliam, a think tank focusing on matters of integration, citizenship & identity, religious freedom, extremism, and immigration.

The attack on a school in Peshawar was an act of revenge for the state's militarism

International media coverage of the school attack that shook Peshawar this week, carried out at the hands of the Pakistani terrorist group Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has been, for all intents and purposes, commendable. The news has resisted the urge to breeze over this abhorrent event as “just another terrorist attack in South Asia,” nor has it spared the world from the horrors of what took place that day. The barbarism, the sheer brutality, of those seven TTP terrorists has been well reflected.

However, as a British Muslim of Pakistani origin who has a deep connection to my ancestral roots, there’s a missed opportunity. Without shedding light on the ideology and context of these atrocious events, it is impossible for the rest of the world to begin to truly understand the unique cocktail of instability that is Pakistan today.

Let us address ideology first. It is a bitter pill to swallow, but the fact of the matter is that the seven terrorists responsible for killing more than 100 children on Tuesday were not madmen. They were not sociopaths, or psychotic. What they were is a victim of the most rejectionist, poisonous, and virulent of extremist ideologies – jihadism – something that they were likely exposed to from a young age.

Each child they shot and killed, these terrorists believed, was a righteous death. And, as they prepared to push to the button that would blow them up, they will have done so thinking that paradise was where they were headed.

At this heart of their unwavering belief that they were “doing the right thing” is the ideology that consumed them. That will not come as a surprise. However, what probably will is the fact that this same ideology is not as alien as we in the West might like to think it is. Similarly, nor is the ideology of a very different jihadist group, Islamic State, so distant.

What these two groups share is a desire to implement their form of Islam over society through the establishment of what they deem to be a “caliphate” that implements their interpretation of sharia as law. This desire is something that all Islamists share – whether they are “non-violent” or “terrorist,” a motivation that permeates across all Islamist movements. It is something that will always present a problem as once someone is convinced that they have a divine right to assert their belief system over that of others, they must exclude basic rights like the fundamental human freedoms of religion and speech. This is why undemocratic ideological beliefs need to be challenged head on, no matter which religion they claim to speak on behalf of.

But what could make such an appalling ideology alluring? There is no question that the TTP are one of the worst manifestations of violent fundamentalism. No one doubts the fact that they are ruthless and merciless, the perpetrators of countless unforgivable killings. However, this most recent attack did not just spring from their irrational hatred and rejectionism, nor was it driven simply by ideology.

Rather, what caused it, as much as anything else, was a desire for vengeance. Ideology just rendered the crimes permissible.

The TTP has made no effort to hide the fact that the massacre was, in a sense, blowback from the Pakistani Armed Forces’ military operations in the tribal lands. Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which translates roughly as “Sharp and Cutting Strike,” began over the summer around the same time as the Israeli operation in Gaza. While there was massive international outcry over Gaza, though, there was a near media blackout on Pakistan.

Therefore, the military was able to act with relative impunity, a level of ruthlessness even greater than Israel and more in line with the Sri Lankan state’s operation to wipe out the Tamil Tigers.

That operation was not the first of its kind. Indeed, it is symptomatic of a more deeply rooted problem for the Pakistani state, its militarism. Coupled with a dreadful human rights culture, the Pakistani establishment’s almost exclusively military approach to countering the violent extremist forces that run riot in the country renders the jihadist ideology embodied in groups like the TTP all the more persuasive and increasingly pervasive.

As the “War on Terror” has so clearly shown, what with the abject anarchy that is rocking the countries in which the U.S. sought to wage this “war,” a military approach will not work on its own. On the contrary, it will only make things worse. Bombs and bullets are not enough; Pakistan, just like most other countries too, is in need of complimentary, civil society-led, anti-extremism measures that champion the protection of human rights of all citizens. This means crossing a bridge that there is very little appetite for right now, and entertaining some uncomfortable conversations about the role of religion in public life.

It is not sufficient for us to merely condemn the TTP’s school attack and consider ourselves somehow absolved. No one deserves thanks for condemning the brutal murder of children. How low could our expectations have possibly sunk? Moderation is entirely relative to where others around us are on a scale. If the entire scale is so skewered towards the Islamist ideology that the Afghan Taliban appear “moderate” in their condemnation of this attack, or al-Qaeda appear “moderate” in comparison to ISIL in Syria, then we are a long way off from peace.

How could such a situation emerge where the “moderate” alternatives to such brutality seem only to be other jihadist terrorists? The entire framework of debate for those populations surrounded by jihadist groups is currently occurring within the Islamist context. Without a long-term approach to uprooting the Islamist ideology itself, through civil society activism, there’s not much hope of stemming such atrocities. At the same time, the Pakistani government must recognize that it cannot, and must not, simply bomb its way out of this quagmire.

Maajid Nawaz is Co-Founder and Chairman of Quilliam, a think tank focusing on matters of integration, citizenship & identity, religious freedom, extremism, and immigration. His work is informed by years spent in his youth as a leadership member of a global Islamist group, and his gradual transformation towards liberal democratic values. His autobiographical account of his life story, Radical, has been released in the UK and U.S.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME foreign affairs

Sydney Hostage Attack Is Not a Wake-Up Call

APTOPIX Australia Police Operation
A hostage runs to tactical response police officers for safety after she escaped from a cafe under siege at Martin Place in Sydney, Australia, on Dec. 15, 2014. Rob Griffith—AP

Peter Romaniuk is Associate Professor of Political Science at John Jay College and Senior Fellow at the Global Center on Cooperative Security.

Australia has been deeply invested in counterterrorism for years, and lone-actor terrorism is exactly the type of attack analysts had predicted

For Australians, the images of the police raid on a café in downtown Sydney, where hostages were being held by a lone gunman, were other-worldly. Like Americans, Australians are proud of our cosmopolitanism; but unlike the U.S., we take for granted low levels of gun violence. Shock, confusion, and anger are inevitable reactions. How should we make sense of such an event and what does this mean for the future?

In October this year, after a gunman attacked the parliament complex in Ottawa, many described the incident as a “wake-up call” for Canada. The same cannot be said here, for two reasons. First, this is the kind of attack that analysts had predicted. For several years now, lone-actor terrorism, wherein individuals embrace violence after consuming extremist content on the Internet, has been identified as a principal threat in Western democracies. Most recently, the voluntary passage of Western citizens to join the so-called Islamic State in Syria – the “foreign terrorist fighter” (FTF) phenomenon – has heightened the sense of danger from self-radicalization, not least because ISIS has implored would-be volunteers to also take action at home.

Second, Australia is deeply invested in counterterrorism and has been for years, especially since 88 Australians were killed by a terrorist bomb in Bali, Indonesia, in 2002. Domestically, recent high-profile arrests and further rounds of legislating attest to the prominence of counterterrorism in Australian public life. The fact that perhaps 70 Australian citizens have volunteered as FTFs is widely known and debated. State police forces have generally done well to enhance counterterrorism capacity while nurturing community relations. Governments at the state and federal level have advanced preventive measures to reduce the appeal of extremism. Australia has acted bilaterally and regionally to support counterterrorism initiatives among our neighbors. Internationally, Australia has used its term on the United Nations Security Council to advance multilateral counterterrorism, including recent action on FTFs.

At first glance, then, the siege may be interpreted to be the realization of Australians’ worst fears. But it would be wrong to conclude that everything has changed for Australia’s national security. For one thing, the gunman in question, Man Haron Monis, a self-styled cleric from Iran granted asylum in Australia, seems to be an atypical lone-terrorist actor, insofar as such a profile exists. Rather than blending into the background and self-radicalizing outside of public or familial view, Monis was well-known to the criminal justice system, was on bail for numerous violent offenses, and had been charged with others. Although Monis hung a flag with the Islamic Shahada in the café window – giving rise to mistaken concerns about a foreign connection – his attack seems to have been in the service of perceived grievances that are political but idiosyncratic and not in the service of global extremism such as that of ISIS. The bail system, more than levels of domestic radicalization, are rightly the immediate concern for journalists and others asking questions about the offender.

Moreover, the response to the siege gives some cause for reassurance. Details of events in the café are only now emerging but the tactical proficiency of law enforcement has already been widely noted. Perhaps more importantly, the tone of the response from government and civil society – and also on social media – has been measured, displaying a concern to maintain social cohesion. Self-conscious counterterrorism – that is, responses that reflect awareness that extremists profit from overreaction– is vital to preventing radicalization today and tomorrow.

Australians woke up on Tuesday morning to the sadness of lost innocents. But the threat environment facing the country remains unchanged. The parameters of Australian counterterrorism are generally sound. In the days and weeks ahead, it will serve us well to acknowledge that the response to violent incidents is a critical part of the effort to counter violent extremism.

Peter Romaniuk is Associate Professor of Political Science at John Jay College and Senior Fellow at the Global Center on Cooperative Security.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME world affairs

How Indoor Stoves Can Help Solve Global Poverty

Air pollution in China
Beijing's air pollution reached eight times World Health Organization-recommended safe levels. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

Clean cooking and better sources of energy can have a domino effect on health and education

Last week world leaders at the U.N. began a yearlong conversation about global goals for the next 15 years. Many will rightly talk about poverty, food, water and the environment. Few will mention energy. Yet we should.

The use of wood and coal in steam engines kicked off the Industrial Revolution, which led to today’s prosperous, modern societies. Reliable and affordable energy is just as vital for today’s developing and emerging economies. Driven mostly by its fivefold increase in coal use, China’s economy has grown eighteenfold over the past 30 years while lifting 680 million people out of poverty.

The energy ladder is a way of visualizing stages of development. This starts with what we call traditional biofuels: firewood, dung and crop waste. Almost 3 billion people use these for cooking and heating indoors, which is so polluting that the World Health Organization estimates they kill 1 in every 13 people on the planet.

The next step on the ladder is transition fuels, such as kerosene, charcoal and liquefied petroleum gas. The top rung of the ladder is electricity, which thankfully makes no pollution inside your home. Because the electricity is often powered by fossil fuels, it does contribute to the problem of global warming. Hence an alluring option could be to move to clean energy like wind, solar and hydro. Some are suggesting that developing countries should skip the fossil step and move right to clean energy. However, rich countries are already finding the move away from coal and oil to be a difficult one, and there are no easy answers for developing economies.

Today’s crucial question is: What should the world prioritize? Fifteen years ago, the world agreed upon the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals, an ambitious set of targets to tackle poverty, hunger, health and education. Those targets have directed lots of international aid and mostly led to a better world, although much still remains to be done.

For the future, some argue that we should continue pursuing the few, sharp targets from before, since we have clearly not fixed either poverty or health. Others point out that issues like the environment and social justice also need attention. My think tank, the Copenhagen Consensus, is helping bring better information to this discussion. We have asked some of the world’s top economists to make analyses within all major challenge areas, estimating the economic, social and environmental costs and benefits of different targets.

So, about the almost 3 billion people cooking with dirty open fires? Should they take higher priority than the broader, long-term objective of cutting back on fossil-fuel use? It turns out there are smart ways to help on both accounts, say Isabel Galiana and Amy Sopinka, the two economists who wrote the main paper on energy.

Burning firewood and dung on open indoor fires is inefficient and causes horrendous air pollution. More than 4 million people die each year from respiratory illness because of smoke from indoor open fires. Most of them are women and young children. Women and children are also the ones who have to spend their time fetching firewood, often from quite far away. Providing cleaner cooking facilities – efficient stoves that run on liquefied gas – would improve health, increase productivity, allow women to spend time earning money and free up children to go to school.

The economic benefits of getting everyone off dung and wood are as high as the human-welfare ones: more than $500 billion each year. Costs would be much lower. Including grants and subsidies to purchase stoves, annual costs would run about $60 billion. Every dollar spent would buy almost $9 of benefits, which is a very good way to help.

The economists also provide a more realistic target, which turns out to be even more efficient. Since it is awfully hard to get to 100%, they suggest providing modern cooking fuels to 30%. This will still help 780 million people but at the much lower cost of $11 billion annually. For every dollar spent, we would do more than $14 worth of good.

While clean cooking is important, electricity can bring different benefits. Lighting means that students can study after dark and family activities can continue into the evening. Clinics can refrigerate vaccines and other medicines. Water can be pumped from wells so that women do not have to walk miles to fetch it.

The value of getting electricity to everyone is about $380 billion annually. The cost is more difficult to work out. To provide electricity to everyone, we would need the equivalent of 250 more power stations, but many rural areas might best be served by solar panels and batteries. This is not an ideal solution, but it would still be enough to make an enormous improvement in people’s lives. The overall cost is probably around $75 billion per year. That still does $5 of benefits for each dollar spent.

If we want to tackle global warming, on the other hand, there are some targets we should be wary of, whereas others are phenomenal. One prominent target suggests doubling the world’s share of renewables, particularly solar and wind, but this turns out to be a rather ineffective use of resources. The extra costs of coping with the intermittent and unpredictable output of renewables makes them expensive, and the cost is likely to be higher than the benefits.

But the world spends $544 billion in fossil-fuel subsidies, almost exclusively in developing countries. This drains public budgets from being able to provide health and education while encouraging higher CO₂ emissions. Moreover, gasoline subsidies mostly help rich people, because they are the ones who can afford a car. To phase out fossil-fuel subsidies would be a phenomenal target because it would cut CO₂ while saving money for other and better public uses. The economists estimate that every dollar in costs would do more than $15 of climate and public good.

With such high-return targets, the economic evidence shows that if carefully chosen, energy targets should definitely be part of the world’s promises for the next 15 years.

Bjorn Lomborg is president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, a think tank ranking the smartest solutions to the world’s biggest problems by cost-benefit.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME foreign affairs

The Needs of Hong Kong’s Silent Majority Are Being Ignored

HONG KONG-CHINA-POLITICS-DEMOCRACY
Three men on a pedestrian bridge look at an empty six lane road blocked by pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong on October 1, 2014. PHILIPPE LOPEZ—AFP/Getty Images

Regina Ip is a Hong Kong legislator, the city's former secretary for security, and chairperson of the New People's Party

As Hong Kong’s quest for democracy rapidly descended into chaos upon the official kickoff of the Occupy Central movement on Sept. 27, world media united to condemn China’s handling of Hong Kong people’s demands for democracy. Rarely has China’s most international city been the cause of more schadenfreude in the West.

How did Hong Kong’s democratic odyssey come to this pass? China said, in a decision by its highest authority in December 2007, that Hong Kong’s chief executive may be elected by universal suffrage in 2017. But its Basic Law for Hong Kong, enacted in 1990, also says that the method for selecting the chief executive must be specified in the light of “the actual situation and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress.”

Hong Kong’s democracy advocates accuse Beijing of breach of faith, but Beijing officials stress that gradual and orderly progress and compliance with the Basic Law are paramount.

It is not as though Beijing were unaware of the potential for controversy. As 2017 approaches, the Occupy Central movement has been pressurizing Beijing into allowing politicians from the pan-democratic camp — the local term for pro-democracy politicians of different parties — to be nominated for the city’s top post. And since March 2013, Beijing has been sending a steady stream of senior officials to Hong Kong to draw a line in the sand: only those considered patriotic are allowed to be nominated. In a decision on Aug. 31, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee made a decision that the pan-democrats thought had all but ruled out their chance of securing a nomination.

In Beijing’s eyes, the pan-dems are after a form of independence. That is probably why authorities in Beijing took pains to issue a white paper in June, reminding Hong Kong people that the “high degree of autonomy” promised is a lower level of autonomy than full autonomy, let alone self-rule or independence.

Beijing understands too well that a democratically elected Hong Kong chief, who will be appointed by Beijing in name only, will not be answerable to it and might not be trusted to safeguard “China’s sovereignty, security and developmental interests.” Hong Kong’s chief executive is more powerful than a provincial party secretary and cannot be replaced at will by administrative appointment. The risks of installing a chief executive whom Beijing cannot trust in a porous, international city like Hong Kong are too great.

Thus, in Beijing’s eyes, the struggle for a more open system of nomination is a struggle for the control of Hong Kong. Beijing’s opponents will not take this lying down and are mobilizing large numbers of citizens, including many young people, to take to the street, causing massive disruption to the daily lives of Hong Kong people, economic losses and, above all, severe damage to Hong Kong’s image around the world.

Chanting democratic slogans and laying siege to major thoroughfares and government installations, the protesters appear to dwarf even the might of China. Yet, a core question has been left unanswered. What do the silent majority of Hong Kong really want? Do they really want an Umbrella Revolution that radically changes the nature of Hong Kong’s polity, or an open, free and stable environment to get on with building their lives? Will a democratically elected chief, irrespective of competence and relationship with China, be able to cure all ills?

As the two camps and two conflicting ideologies clash, the core interests of the Hong Kong people appear to be ignored.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME world affairs

Hong Kong Is Ready for Democracy, but China Isn’t Ready for a Free Hong Kong

HONGKONG-CHINA-POLITICS-DEMOCRACY
Police officers face off with pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong on Sept. 28, 2014 Alex Ogle—AFP/Getty Images

Anson Chan was a Chief Secretary of the Hong Kong government, both before and after the city's return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. She is also the founder of the Hong Kong 2020 democracy advocacy group.

China is not ready for a democratically governed Hong Kong it fears it cannot totally control

For me the most heart-breaking aspect of the current unrest in Hong Kong has been to see our police force, kitted out in full riot gear like Star Wars Stormtroopers with gas masks donned, firing pepper spray and tear gas indiscriminately into the faces of crowds of very young unarmed student protesters, most of whom had their arms in the air to show that they were not holding any weapon. These pictures have shamed our city and its government in front of the whole world.

Hong Kong has a long tradition of peaceful protest, dating back to the outpouring of grief following the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, and now including annual June 4 candlelight vigils, and pro-democracy marches that take place each year on the July 1 anniversary of the return of sovereignty to China. Hong Kong protesters don’t hurl rocks and Molotov cocktails, they don’t burn tires or set fire to police vehicles, they don’t smash windows and loot shops. Fulfilling their side of the bargain, they have trusted that the police will fulfill theirs by managing the demonstration with a light touch and supporting their right to peaceful demonstration.

In a few short hours last Sunday, our police sacrificed decades of goodwill; their mandate having clearly changed from one of supporting freedom of expression to acting as a tool of an increasingly repressive and authoritarian government that seems committed to rule by law, rather than the rule of law. These sorts of tactics may be par for the course in mainland China; they are totally unacceptable under the policy of “one country, two systems” laid down by the terms of the Sino-British Joint Declaration — the treaty signed by China and Britain that paved the way for Hong Kong to be handed back to Chinese rule in 1997.

As I write, the protest is ongoing. This is no longer just about the Occupy Central movement, which planned to block roads in Hong Kong Island’s main business district. Peaceful sit-ins have spread uptown and across the harbor to Kowloon. The numbers of students are being swelled by supporters of all ages and walks of life.

For the time being, our government seems to have recognized the error of its ways. Riot police have withdrawn and the mood of the crowds is more relaxed.

The question now is, Can trust be repaired? What will it take to defuse the current standoff?

First, the governments in Hong Kong and Beijing must acknowledge that Hong Kong’s people have a right to be angry. Our constitution, the Basic Law, promises that we will have the right to elect our head of government and all members of our legislature by universal suffrage. Yet, 17 years after the return of sovereignty to China, we are still being told that we are not really ready for full democracy. We can have one person, one vote — to elect our next head of government in 2017 — but the two or three candidates allowed to stand for election must all be prescreened by a nominating committee loaded with pro-Beijing sympathizers.

Having waited so long, Hong Kong people are outraged at this insult to their intelligence. Not surprisingly, it is young people, the students, who are most incensed. They can see that Hong Kong is slipping down a perilous slope toward becoming just another Chinese city. This is about their future, the preservation of their way of life and the core values and freedoms they want to be able to pass on to their children and grandchildren.

The truth is Hong Kong is more than ready for democracy; it is China that is not ready for a democratically governed Hong Kong it fears it cannot totally control.

Hong Kong’s government has paved the way for the current crisis by acquiescing in a phony process of public consultation on constitutional reform, the results of which were completely ignored by Beijing. The vast majority of protesters want nothing less than for our current head of government, C.Y. Leung, and his senior ministers, to step down. Realistically, this won’t happen — at least anytime soon. In the meantime, he and his team must come up with something that will give the protesters a reason to pack up and go home. And they must come up with it soon.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME foreign affairs

Dear Fellow Liberals: I’m Done Apologizing for Israel

Tensions Remain High At Israeli Gaza Border
Overview of a tunnel built underground by Hamas militants leading from the Gaza Strip into Southern Israel, seen on August 4, 2014 near the Israeli Gaza border, Israel. Ilia Yefimovich—Getty Images

Jennifer Moses is a writer and painter.

As a species, we don't seem to cotton to facts—especially when it comes to Jews

Some years ago, I was seated at dinner next to a British law professor, whom my husband, also a law professor, had invited to a conference that he’d organized. The conversation soon turned, as conversation often does among professional intellectuals, to Israel, specifically to the then-recent conflict between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters in the West Bank town of Jenin, which my dinner partner (and much of the European press) referred to as the “massacre of Jenin.”

Oops—forgot about it already? Here’s a refresher: in 2002, the IDF went into Jenin during the Second Intifada, after Israel determined that the town served as a launching pad for missile and rocket attacks against Israeli civilians. The 10-day operation claimed the lives of around 50 Palestinian gunmen, and 23 Israeli soldiers. My acquaintance, after repeating Palestinian claims of atrocities committed by Israeli forces—claims that had already been roundly debunked—capped off his assessment by saying, “What happened in Jenin was no more and no less than another Holocaust.”

Really?

As a liberal American Jew, I’m tired of apologizing for Israel’s actions regarding its own security, and as of last month, I’m done with it. I’m done for the following two reasons: my eldest child, Sam, motivated by a desire to do something more meaningful than argue about religion, policy and politics, is currently serving as a lone soldier in the IDF, and he spent much of July in Gaza, as part of a team dismantling terror tunnels. In New Jersey, where the rest of his family lives, we didn’t know, from one day to the next, if we’d ever see him again. The second reason is that Israel, despite its highly imperfect record (unlike that of, say, America or France or England or Pakistan or Kenya or Argentina…) is the world’s sole guarantee against another frenzy of murderous hatred against my people, a hatred that is once again raising its voice, and fists, not only among the dispossessed Muslim residents of Europe, but, most especially, in the official organs of the chattering, and highly influential, classes—so much so that the off-hand remarks of my long-ago dinner companion seem almost reasonable.

Facts are such nifty things, so solid, so sure. Yet we as a species don’t seem to cotton to them, especially when it comes to Jews.

In Pakistan, one human rights group estimates that 1,000 women are murdered in honor killings by their families every year. In Nigeria, Islamic militants have killed more than 1,500 people in 2014, according to Amnesty International. And the death toll from the slaughter in Syria—just spitting distance from Israel—adds up to a robust 191,000. But the world—or at least the world as personified by the British law professor with his fondness for exaggeration—doesn’t pay a lot of attention to these Muslim but non-Palestinian corpses. Nope: you’ve got to be a dead person in Gaza or Hebron to claim the world’s sympathy. Merely being an Arab, or a Muslim, doesn’t cut the mustard, because when Muslims are murdering other Muslims—like more than 2,400 Iraqis killed by other Iraqis in June of this year. The civilized world, or at least the chattering classes, does little more than shrug.

Instead, from the Telegram we get this “Gaza conflict ‘causing PTSD in children’ after seeing dead bodies and witnessing heavy shelling.” From the Times: “UN demands halt to Gaza incursion as tanks smash hospital.” A simple Google search will net you hundreds of like-minded headlines. By the way, guess how many citizens were killed during the second half of last year in Egypt? According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: 3,143.

But it’s more satisfying to focus on Israel, that miniscule sliver of desert with an equally miniscule population (some 6 million Jews and 1.7 million primarily Muslim Arabs), hemmed in on one side by hostile Arab countries whose Muslim populations add up to a healthy 320 million, give or take, and the other by the Mediterranean Sea. Because Israel isn’t just any other imperfect Democracy, with a host of domestic and international problems of its own. Oh no. Not to put too fine a point on it, but we’re talking a whole country filled primarily with Jews. So the whole place is only as big as the State of New Jersey, while the rest of the Middle East is about the size of 90 percent of the contiguous United States? So what?

Why is it so hard for the world to wake up to its blindness and see that once again it’s easier to focus on the moral shortcomings, real or imagined, of Jews, than to grapple with actual slaughter? From the point of view of the Muslim nations, I get it: let Israel take the heat for the crappy conditions and even worse governance under which vast numbers of Muslims live. Easier to blame Jews than to run your own country with a modicum of basic human decency.

I’m not suggesting that Muslim lives are worth less than Jewish ones. Nor that the mainly Arab occupants of Gaza and the West Bank don’t have legitimate grievances, including—especially—the deaths, mainly from aerial bombing, of citizens. Merely that the magnitude of Palestinian loss, when looked at through the lens of numbers alone, pales compared to that suffered by their co-religionists.

Put another way: what if Israel were a self-professed Maronite country? A country of mainly secular Protestants and lapsed Catholics—or a majority-Arab democracy? Would anyone give a rat’s ass if it used armed force against a terrorist group whose raison d’etre is the destruction of their country and the murder of its citizens?

It’s not just in left-leaning Europe that the anti-Jewish rhetoric is getting louder. Here in America, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), calling for self-determination of Palestinians while denying the right to self-determination for Jews, has offshoots on more than eighty campuses. And in New Haven, here’s what The Rev. Bruce M. Shipman, the (recently resigned) Episcopal chaplain at Yale University, wrote in a letter to the editor that was recently published in The New York Times: “As hope for a two-state solution fades and Palestinian casualties continue to mount, the best antidote to anti-Semitism would be for Israel’s patrons abroad to press the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for final-status resolution to the Palestinian question.” In other words, recent anti-Semitic violence in Europe, notably Paris, is the fault of Jewish moral failings. In other words: Jews deserve it. And what, after all, did the Jewish State of Israel do? It went after the terror tunnels. It said no to the bombing of its civilians. It said that they meant it when they said “never again.”

Jennifer Moses is a writer and painter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME foreign affairs

The State Department’s Twitter War With ISIS Is Embarrassing

A member loyal to the ISIL waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa
Reuters

Rita Katz is the director of the SITE Intelligence Group, which studies jihadi extremists’ behavior online.

An English-language outreach program is not only ineffective, but also provides jihadists with a stage to voice their arguments

Thirteen years into the war on terror, it is distressing to see certain ways the U.S. government is combating domestic radicalization by groups like al-Qaeda (AQ) and the Islamic State (IS). Among the more embarrassing of these ventures is the “Think Again Turn Away” campaign, launched in English in December 2013 by the United States Department of State as part of an effort to enter the war of ideas and win over hearts and minds of jihadists on social media. (Earlier efforts began in Arabic and Urdu in 2011.) And while the State Department is making a great step in the right direction by recognizing the importance of social media in jihadi recruitment, the Think Again Turn Away campaign has been anything but valiant—particularly on Twitter. This outreach by the U.S. government is not only ineffective, but also provides jihadists with a stage to voice their arguments—regularly engaging in petty disputes with fighters and supporters of groups like IS (also known as ISIS), al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab, and arguing over who has killed more people while exchanging sarcastic quips.

U.S. Department of State

The Think Again Turn Away Twitter account has over 7,300 followers and has made more than 1,900 tweets since it was created in December 2013—roughly six to seven tweets per day. The account uses two approaches: tweeting counter messaging material and addressing prominent jihadist accounts.

The account’s counter-message material is mostly taken from the media, with articles related to the jihadi threat. For instance, on September 15 the account sent tweets touting articles such as “Grassroots citizen effort to defeat #ISIS using technology to track them”; “US President condemns murder of David Haines; his brother says #ISIS not about Islam, only terror”; and “Girls marry jihadis, frequently widowed, subject to polygamy; see non-Muslim female slaves.”

Though these messages are unlikely to be effective coming from the State Department, I would accept the argument that they’re not actually doing any harm. However, the account’s second approach of directly addressing and engaging with jihadist accounts is where things start to get ridiculous.

Illustrating these discussions is, for instance, one initiated on September 4 when an IS-supporting account, under the handle @de_BlackRose, showed gruesome pictures of tortured prisoners from the Abu Ghraib Prison scandal in 2003-2004 along with the message: “REMEMBER HOW YOU AMERICA ARRESTED AND HUMILIATED OUR BROTHERS IN IRAQ AND HUMILIATED THEM IN THEIR OWN COUNTRY!!”

Following a couple of messages of support, the Think Again Turn Away account responded, “US troops are punished for misconduct, #ISIS fighters are rewarded,” along with a collage of U.S. soldiers interacting happily with children in the Middle East.

Not surprisingly, the user, along with other IS followers, jumped on the opportunity to drag the U.S. government in a discussion about the Abu Ghraib scandal. @de_BlackRose, along with likeminded others, rebutted to Think Again Turn Away’s response with such replies as, “loool in spilling their bloods only a misconduct? Well that’s not enough,” “poor children where Americans fooling them with their smiles,” and “well only in june did isis crucify one if its fighters for robbing civilians at checkpoint.”

Even then, Think Again Turn Away persisted through the conversation, tweeting, “This is what children see under #ISIS rule, this brand of honor and respect,” and included a picture of children standing around a crucified soldier in the street of an unidentified city. From here, over a dozen anti-American tweets were made at the account, most of which from @de_BlackRose, stating, “looool you dont know about shariah.. better think again and turn away..”; and, “i rather my children see this so they know whats their fate when they aganst shariah of ALLAH, than democazy.”

Now, while no one would doubt that the Abu Ghraib scandal was a brutal act of torture on the part of American soldiers in Iraq, the topic is one the U.S. government should probably avoid conversing about on Twitter—especially to an audience it is trying to sway. Yet, the State Department showed no such tact.

Think Again Turn Away’s involvement in counterproductive conversations has been a regular occurrence for some time now. Some of the most tragic of these conversations are often shared with “Amreeki Witness,” a pro-IS user and a follower of late jihadist Anwar al-Awlaki. Amreeki Witness’s Twitter account profile pictures directly mock that of Think Again Turn Away: the Arabic text from the IS banner inside of the Department of State seal and the IS flag on top of the White House. The page info section reads: “Dedicated to raising awareness about the upcoming conquest of the Americas, and the benefits it has upon the American people.

The State Department responded to an August 6 tweet by Amreeki Witness stating, “IS has flaws, but the moment you claim they cut off the heads of every non-Muslim they see, the discussion is over.” Though the discussion was not addressed to them, Think Again Turn Away replied, “#ISIS tortures, crucifies & shoots some- ISIS also gives ultimatums to Christians: convert, pay or die- Some flaws u say?”

Amreeki Witness, thrilled to be noticed by the U.S. Government, and given a stage on which to launch radical jihadist views toward Think Again Turn Away’s thousands of followers, provided a long series of rebuttals, some of which linking to form lengthy attacks. The Think Again Turn Away account, instead of ignoring the claims of a pro-IS jihadist, dignified them by responding, “#ISIS confiscated food, houses, stole millions from banks & has only brought suffering and death to innocents- Join reality!”

Of course, the State Department’s intent here is to hijack the audience of accounts like Amreeki Witness in order to address the moderate Muslims on the fence regarding jihad—their real target audience. However, these exchanges, as illustrated by the overwhelming response from Amreeki Witness as compared to that of Think Again Turn Away, frequently backfire by providing jihadists legitimacy and a stage on which to project their messages.

The State Department account is not only a gaffe machine, but in fact some of its tweets walk dangerous ethical lines. On September 11, for example, Australian cleric Abu Sulayman, an official leader within AQ al-Nusra Front in Syria, tweeted, “On this day, in 2001, the USA’s largest economic shrine, the idol of capitalism was brought to the ground..the toll of injuctice is hefty.”

To this tweet, by the AQ official, the Think Again Turn Away account jumped in, tweeting, “Nobody’s a bigger fan of the fruits of capitalism than so-called #ISIS Caliph” and provided a picture pointing out IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s watch, stating it was a “Rolex.”

Now, al-Muhajir, an AQ and al-Nusra Front religious leader, is among the most prominent opposing figures of Baghdadi and IS, who has been fighting IS and its leadership for more than a year, and constantly fight against the group physically and religiously. So why would the State Department tweet to the AQ leader bashing a figure he already opposes?

Even worse, Sulayman is not just another AQ supporter, but an AQ official! The irony is ugly: When State Department makes a series of tweets about the horrors of 9/11 and attacking those that committed it, it also tweets directly to an AQ leader, providing legitimization to the account of the same people who committed the attacks.

Any competent foreign policy analyst knows that the al-Nusra-IS feud is one all jihadists are attuned to, so the State Department’s tweet to Sulayman and his 18,000 followers could only suggest that the U.S. is clueless to the jihadi landscape.

On July 30, responding to an IS fighter discussing the training of newcomers at IS training camps, the Think Again Turn Away tweeted, “everything #ISIS does is hardest on their victims & families- #alqaeda ideology shames humanity,” and provided a link their video titled, “Welcome to the ‘Islamic State’ land (ISIS/ISIL).” The video, widely discussed by the media in recent weeks, is a grim parody of IS recruitment materials, sarcastically stating that Muslims should come to the Islamic State wherein one “can learn useful new skills for the Ummah [Nation],” which include “Blowing up mosques” and “Crucifying and executing Muslims.”

Videos like this clearly illustrate that the U.S. government lacks the basic understanding of recruitment of young Westerners, that these ghastly scenes of executions and destruction are exactly what groups like IS have been using as recruitment propaganda.

The video prompted anti-American responses, including a counter-spoof video, published on September 7, by jihadi Twitter account of “tawheedvlag,” telling viewers, “Run Do not walk to US Terrorist State…Where you can learn usefull new anti Islam skills.”

In order to counter a problem, one must first study it before adopting a solution. Had the people behind Think Again Turn Away understood jihadists’ mindsets and reasons for their behavior, they would have known that their project of counter messaging would not only be a waste of taxpayer money, but ultimately be counterproductive.

To be fair, I acknowledge that the State Department’s project, at the very least, may serve as a noble undertaking by those in power to fight an idea while preserving free speech. Sadly, though, that’s all the credit I can give it. I would much rather see the State Department’s online ventures involved in projects that explain the great things American policies have achieved—not arguing with jihadi fighters on who killed more innocent Muslims.

Rita Katz is the director of the SITE Intelligence Group, which studies jihadi extremists’ behavior online.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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