Pandora’s Box

Traveling from an East Asian sea port, like Busan, South Korea to a European one like Rotterdam would take the average European cargo ship about 45 to 60 days- a journey that would circumvent all of Asia and Europe, passing through the Suez canal. Moreover, for such a journey, with an assumed speed of about twenty knots, traveling the 12000 nautical miles between these two ports would consume about 5000 tons of fuel. Not only does this cost a fortune, it also causes severe damage to our environment – increasing the rate of global warming and upping global smog levels. What if there was a shorter way, one that could effectively cut distance, time, cost and the carbon footprint of this journey? Introducing the fabled North-West passage.

In fact, this passage remained a myth until the year 1906, when Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen became the first to traverse this passage over the course of three years. Further successful attempts by Henry Larsen in 1940 and Willy de Roos in 1970 opened up a whole world of opportunities for further traders. However, this passageway remained seasonally open and difficult to navigate even in the best of circumstances therefore using it as a commercial trade route remained unfeasible.

Eventually with the coming of the 21st century the world saw a rise in global temperatures, triggering a phenomenon we all know as global warming. This global warming saw a gradual melting of ice in the polar regions – leading to the complete opening of routes that hadn’t been easily accessible prior to the 21st century- namely, the northeast passage, the transpolar route and the northwest passage. Geographers predict that the northwest passage will be open to commercial use by the early 2030s – an event that would result in the reduction of thousands of miles of travel on major shipping routes. This would allow shipping companies to transport much larger ships in lesser time than the Panama Canal- the sea route that is currently in use- saving them millions of dollars in transportation. However, the opening of the north-western passage poses just as many problems as it does solutions.

One of these, a problem which has been a source of controversy since the journey of the SS Manhattan through this passage in 1969, is Canada’s claim to it. Since this strait passes through the Canadian archipelago, the Canadian government has claimed these waters as their own. They state that Canada reserves the right to decide which ships are granted transit through this strait and it can debar any vessel from traversing along the north-western passage. This is in stark disagreement with the United States of America and the European Union, who view this as more of a “transit passage”- where, although Canada retains the right to the resources, it can’t control which ships are allowed through. Inevitably, this has since led to conflict between Canada and the rest of the world.

One of the first instances of this conflict dates to 1985 when the US coast guard ship Polar sea passed through the strait en route from Greenland to Alaska. This infuriated the Canadian public despite the fact that the ship submitted to checking by Canadian officials. Tempers flared and a rift was formed between the United States and Canada. Later, in 2005, a fresh round of controversy was sparked when US nuclear submarines were alleged to have traveled through Canadian waters without any form of governmental approval. One of the first moves by Canadian prime Minister Stephen Harper as he was elected into office was to adopt a firm stance on the arctic issue, claiming that the strait was to be classified as Canadian internal waters and be referred to as such by all Canadian forces as of April 9th, 2006. In July 2007,Prime Minister Harper finally announced the building of a deep-water port in the far north, strengthening Canada’s position over the strait.

And it isn’t just the United States and Canada being affected by the opening of this passage. Consider the Russian Federation. After having planted a flag in the arctic seabed- claiming it as their own in 2007- they recently traversed this passage in an oil tanker between Norway and South Korea, taking just over 19 days. A similar journey over the Suez canal would have taken a significantly larger amount of time, marking this as the first of 15 such Russian expeditions. Even the Republic of China has laid eyes on the passage as it sees this as an amazing opportunity to minimize costs and hence increase revenue. Although neither of these countries have chosen a side in the ongoing conflict and hence could be persuaded in either direction, both have shown signs of inclination towards the United states/EU block.

Environmentalists, on the other hand, have a completely different take on the situation. They believe that we should focus on how the strait will impact nature, instead of who owns it. While on one side of the coin, the opening of the passage results in a newer shorter sea route that vastly reduces shipping distances and hence fuel; on the other we have a myriad of problems- from increased number and size of ships (leading to damaged ecosystems), oil spills, chemical leaks and general damage to flora and fauna caused by human activity. In fact, the opening of the passage itself can be discussed from an environmental standpoint as it points to increasing global warming and carbon emissions. With this multitude of problems surrounding this region, we can only hope that the powers involved take the right steps and think about the entire world community in any of their decisions, and plan for the years coming ahead.

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The Swinging Wings

centrist_logo_by_kingofcong

A couple centuries ago, at a meeting – one of dramatic importance, as it turned out– the attendees’ seating was divided according to what or whom they believed in. A trivial simplification of matters, as it might have seemed back then, turned out to define, for perhaps all of following history, the labels of the political spectrum. The legend of the Estates General of 1789, apart from the following French Revolution, recounts how it gave the world the idea of a the Right – the section that believed in conserving the order as it had always been; and of the Left – the part of the order that believed in change and equality.

Time passed, and the pendulum swung, from the right end. Time seemed to be of change and revelry, until the bob went further left. The ugliness that seemed characteristic of the existence of the orthodox seemed to manifest itself alongside the ideas of the liberals.  And with the spread of democracy people witnessed their leaders, who once promised them a free world open to ideas, now churn their votes to become the new elite, knee deep in corruption and hypocrisy.

The pendulum now began it’s journey back to where it started from.

And on went the clock.

The swings have ever since – and perhaps even before – been periodic, with each society having its own clock. Newer groups formed, taking ideas from both sides, eventually leaning toward one of them, to varying extents. One party promises cleansing of the bad the the previous did, comes into power, builds the nation the way it wishes, creates its own mess and eventually succumbs to the opportunity another party strikes in that mess. In this gamble, the people may both gain and lose, depending on factors ranging from the strength of the ruling group and its will to elevate the State, to the constructiveness of the opposition’s strength and its detachment from anarchy.

Today more than ever, these pendulums seem to be intertwined across the globe. The closer the societies, the greater is the number of threads connecting their polities. Geographical proximity might be one of the most influential way two societies are close, but it quite definitely isn’t the only one, as exchange of resources isn’t bound by physical adjacency anymore. Energy, raw material, services, trade and increasingly, immigrants, can be traveling between nations diametrically opposite on the globe, perhaps with much greater an ease than they would flow between bordering nations. These exchanges further expand into the exchange of ideas and ambitions, therefore constituting the many threads that pull the strings in either country. So, it shouldn’t be surprising to see a sudden surge in the Left winning elections across Europe; why then should the opposite seem unreal?

The human mind fetches hope. Change is both, the cause as well as the consequence of hope. Movements erupt when populations feel something needs to change, hoping for the wrongs to be rectified by a new leadership. And this alone, is enough to fuel the perpetual see-saw of power, between the Left and the Right.

Solace In Death ?

When life gives you lemons, as per society’s advice you’re expected to make lemonade out of them. But what if you do not want any lemonade? Maybe the lemons seem way too sour for any sugar you know of? Maybe you don’t find yourself left with any resources or energy to make any? Or, maybe you’re simply not interested in lemonade, and just want to let go. Does the society have a right to infringe upon your right to choose?

It’s an age-old debate that we are looking at here, i.e., whether or not a person has the right to end his or her own life, and further, whether or not another person may assist or even decide upon one’s life or death, for one’s sufferings to end. The dilemma here is popularly between two views, that constitute the basis of this moral paradox: first, that the right to die and the choice of which are extremely personal, thus demanding for the non-interference of the State; and the other, that constructing a system where the exercise of this right, without its abuse being minimized is impossible. Euthanasia, has been and is being legalised in numerous nations across the globe. What remains is the question over the morality of euthanasia. Should we let a person die if we see no scope of improvement? Or should we leave it to time?

Can we choose for people who cannot themselves?

We have of course chosen for other people in the past. Be it conquering lands to rule people we deemed unfit for self-governance, or granting people special statuses, thinking they would perish otherwise; be it burning women alive, worrying about their survival post their husbands’ death, or reserving political opportunities for them, sceptical of their acceptance as leaders otherwise; or  be it banning same-sex marriage thinking homosexuals couldn’t choose rightly;; people have taken decisions for other people thinking that those other people could not decide for themselves. And as much as one can see, the correctness of these choices was directly dependent upon the correctness of the judgement of the decision makers, about whether the people were capable to choose for themselves or not.

Perhaps, so is the case with morality in the domain of euthanasia. Determine first whether or not the person can elect his or her own fate. There are innumerable cases in which despite doctors having given up, the patients, due to mere will power have made it through the severest of conditions. This can be capitalised upon, by pushing for a psychological encouragement of the patient, to have his or her will kept strong.

But what if the patient wants release? Hope is the greatest God humans have ever known. What if the person sees none left in survival? What if he sees hope in release? No one, obviously has any right whatsoever to hold him back from pursuing this hope. The question here is, how may we determine with surety, if the person really wants to die? Until humanity finds out a way to accurately determine the strength of one’s intentions to die, the legality of euthanasia shall remain a dilemma, perhaps subjective to the cases themselves.

Seeking Pseudo-Salvation

“No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.”

                                                                                       ― Warsan Shire

People from North Korea who travel for so many miles through such horrific conditions to free themselves from the chains of misery cannot tactfully be portrayed as lazy benefit scroungers. Regardless, the asylum seekers from North Korea are treated as economic migrants by China. Almost all the repatriated defectors are subject to inhumane treatments but they still choose to boldly cross over the river to see the distant lights flickering everyday as rays of hope.

China, a permanent member of the UNSC,  flagrantly disregards the North Koreans’ refugee rights in China despite knowing that sending them back to Pyongyang would mean torture or even death.Under the Article 33 (1) of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees :“No Contracting State shall expel or return (‘refouler’) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”

China believes allowing North Korean refugees not only jeopardizes diplomatic ties with North Korea, but also affects national interests. The main concern of China is governing the stay of a large amount of refugees along with the country’s own mammoth population.

Why would someone risk being tortured, arbitrarily detained, into forced labour, raped or even being killed and migrate to a place where they aren’t even welcome – miles away from home – if it wasn’t their absolute last resort? Thinking about Thomas Jefferson on the Declaration of Independence and the part about our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, denying someone the right to escape the clutches of a gory abyss, the ‘axis of evil’ created by Kim Jong is simply ridiculing the untold norms of humanity.

The Jews hid from Hitler for they feared being shoved into concentration camps. The North Koreans flee their homeland for they know very little of what it’s like to live outside of a concentration camp. China is safeguarding the interests of its citizens, its economy and political ties and though it sympathises with the refugees, it chooses not to tackle the problem. Is that the going rate for a human life today? Haven’t our brothers and sisters already paid the price for freedom? If you can’t extend a helping hand, at least let them be.

Since when did all the pseudo-comfort zones we created for existing consume our humanity and conveniently rid us of it?

A Clash Of Cultures

‘Ew!’, cried little Mike, ‘what are you even doing?’

‘I’m just eating, can’t you see?’, retorted little Om, with a frown.

‘Yikes! You’re disgusting!’, Mike went on, loudly enough to gather the attention of the entire class.

‘You’re really mean!’, fumbled little Om as he burst out crying, ‘what’s wrong with me eating?’

‘You’re eating without a spoon, with your hands,’ said little Tim from behind, ‘and that’s just awful.’

And so, little Om went home crying on the first day of school.

Finding out who’s at fault here shouldn’t be very difficult, as one might spontaneously accuse Mike or even little Tim for this grave a felony. Although, why? Is it wrong that Mike thought that eating with one’s hands was bad? Is it wrong that he was taught to eat with spoons? Is it wrong that Tim thought like Mike did? Or is it wrong that they spoke their minds?

They’re only kids – who’d just begun schooling – who’d seen and heard whatever they had until then within the confines of their homes. They’d perhaps seen their parents only eat with cutlery for as long as they had lived and thus naturally believed that it was the only, or rather, the ‘good’ way to eat. After all, what we believe, what we think and consequently, what we do, is heavily dependent on our experiences. These experiences build the ‘eyes within our eyes’, making us see the world the way we do. As in the case above, the ‘homes’ we live in as individuals can be a euphemism for family, locality, culture, tradition, religion, country and various other similar divisions of an organised society.

When we come across people we analyse them, or more frankly, we judge them. This could well be a potential evolutionary trait, as it sets up an idea of the possible opportunities or harms a person might harbor. The parameters for this judgement are provided by the eyes within.  So, when people from other ‘homes’ come by, they are subject to this mental scrutiny, designed almost entirely by these ‘homes’ we belong to. This evaluation of an individual’s personality or motives juxtaposed against one’s own standards, comprises the central ideology of ethnocentrism.

It might seem backward amidst today’s strides for global cultural acceptance, but what we need to understand is that it is a naturally ingrained mental phenomenon and is nothing wrong, at least not in its basic definition. It’s what we do with it that makes it correct or incorrect. Stereotypes exist and there’s no denying that, so the sooner we accept this and realize the need for eliminating the negativity associated with being judgmental, the better it is for our future.

The question is, how shall we identify and then eliminate this negativity. For the former, the problem lies with how we treat people once we’ve gauged them. If you think it’s weird when a Muslim man bows down in a garden in the evening, no one’s stopping you. Instead if you go on to stop him from doing so, just because you don’t find it normal, you’re being questionable. If you think it’s inappropriate for two men to love one another, you’re free to think so. But if you try to deny them their rights due to this, just because you find it unusual, you stand on morally grey grounds. If you think it’s wrong for a woman to roam the streets late midnight, you absolutely can, but if you justify that as reason for her getting raped, you need help. Understanding that you may be the ‘others’ you’ve been judging all along for someone else; putting yourself in their place and realizing how your actions could affect those ‘others’; and that we are all diverse forms of the same living species, solves the latter half of the question.

Your ‘normal’ is only yours. So it’s best you keep it to yourself!

A Plan to Save the World

The 2016 edition of IITG MUN saw some of the sharpest minds from all over India participate in heated, intellectual debates over international issues such as unregulated arms trade and Reforms of the UN. IITG MUN in association with UNICEF held a pre-conference article writing contest on the topic “What are the key challenges for India with regard to Children (0-18 years) and/or adolescents (10-19 years) outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals”. We are proud to announce the results of the pre contests article writing contest:

First Place: Saurav Kumar Dutta

Article: Role of Children in Making India Developed and the Accomplishment of SDG

Second Place: Priyamvada Jain

Article: Priyamvada Jain

Third Place: Barasha Priam Nath

Article: Barasha Priyam Nath

 

IIT Guwahati Model United Nations Conference