By: James Brown

North Korea’s Nuclear Milestones
2017 was a milestone year for North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program.  These tests launched North Korea and its infamous brand of brinkmanship back onto the world stage, and reignited long simmering tensions between North Korea and the United States and its regional allies.  The following represents a sample of the most noteworthy advancements in North Korea’s weapons program this year:
  •       In July, the successful launch of two ballistic missiles showed with relative certainty that North Korea was capable of striking parts of the United States.
  •       In September, North Korea completed an underground test of a nuclear bomb, with yield estimates ranging from 108 to 160 kilotons, or roughly the equivalent of seven to ten times the blast size of the bomb dropped by the United States on Hiroshima during World War II.  This is estimated to be the most powerful nuclear bomb North Korea has tested to date.
  •        In November, another successful missile launch, this time of a more advanced model, indicated that all of the U.S. mainland fell within range of North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). 

Kim Jong Un’s Reinvigorated Quest for Nuclear Weapons
Experts in 2017 seemed to agree that Kim Jong Un’s dogged pursuit of nuclear-capable ICBMs is intended not only to secure a seat at the negotiating table, but to ensure his own continued existence.  The logic behind this rationale is illustrated by the fate of Muammar Gaddafi, the late leader of Libya who, after agreeing to nuclear disarmament in 2003, was ousted from power and summarily executed by rebel troops after a NATO military intervention in 2011.  That turn of events, experts say, has both driven Kim’s quest for nuclear expansion and made him drastically less likely to disarm in the face of threats of military action.

Donald Trump and the U.S. Response
2017 was a notable year in U.S. – North Korea relations for another reason: Donald Trump.  Unlike past U.S. presidents, Donald Trump has enthusiastically engaged in North-Korean-style rhetoric, including threatening in front of the U.N. to “totally destroy” North Korea if need be, and promising “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” Trump has also taken to the unprecedented strategy of publicly undermining his own diplomats to bolster his expressed view that diplomacy has been, and will continue to be, ineffective.  However, despite President Trump’s more bellicose tendencies, key players within the Trump administration appeared to favor a more even-keeled response to denuclearization.  It remains to be seen whether the seemingly chaotic clash of approaches displayed by the Trump administration is more indicative of an impulsive, disorganized leader, or a 3d chess-master playing “good cop, bad cop” and bluffing his way to a denuclearized Korean peninsula. 

By Jesse Van Genugten

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Constructed as efficient and impartial adjudicative bodies for the resolution of international disputes, arbitral tribunals issue globally enforceable awards as a positive alternative to litigation in domestic courts. At least in theory. Faced with public criticism that as a practical matter the tribunals are neither impartial nor efficient, the system has come to a crossroads. This past year, in response, various international bodies have endeavored to address concerns with the current structure of international arbitration.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS)

In July 2017, at the annual United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) in Vienna, the 60 member states resolved to open up a new forum to first determine if the current ISDS system needs overhaul and if so, what that improvement process entail. UNCITRAL’s newly inaugurated Working Group III will discuss, compile, and reflect on interested parties’ experiences with the current system—particularly focusing on a publically perceived lack of legitimacy associated with the proceedings. (See UNCITRAL WGIII). UNCITRAL Rules on Arbitration have been used in more than 30% of all ISDS cases, (see UNCTAD), and therefore the new framework for state-led reform will likely shape the landscape of the field for years to come.

Furthermore, the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) has sought out, in the last year, member-state and expert opinion to reform its arbitration rules. (See ICSID Amendment Process). In the next few months, the Centre promises to publish background papers on several topics to improve its arbitral proceedings, including expanding the arbitrators’ code of conduct and providing a means for efficient consolidation of similar arbitral proceedings. These academically oriented pieces will serve as a springboard for a modernizing debate, and specifies a lens through which one can forecast future amendments to the ICSID rules.

International Commercial Arbitration

Diverse in both the industries involved and nature of the underlying disputes, international conflicts driving the use of commercial arbitration around the world show no sign of decreasing in number. (See Global Arbitration News). Given the latest statistics published, the Chinese International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission administered the most commercial arbitrations in 2016, but that number incorporates both domestic and foreign disputes. On the other hand, the International Centre for Dispute Resolution (ICDR), based in New York, served as the organization responsible for administering the most foreign commercial arbitrations. Support by ICDR, as a division of the American Arbitration Association, for reform therefore proves significant in gauging developments in the field. Spearheading an initiative to bolster the cyber-security measures necessary to protect commercial arbitration disputes, as well as seeking to streamline the creation of arbitral panels, ICDR has set its sights for reform high. (See 2018 Agenda) If these changes prove effective, it could serve as a model for other international arbitration institutions—particularly the largest few that share the bulk of the proceedings—but that remains to be seen in 2018.

By Alexandra Moffit

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United Nations

Under a new Secretary-General, the United Nations took several new steps based on studies in 2017.

·       Antonio Guterres begins role as Secretary-General of the United Nations in January.
·       The United Nations Security Council unanimously voted to issue new sanctions to North Korea. These sanctions were in response to its burgeoning nuclear program and its ballistic missile program.
·       The United Nations’ agency that deals with aviation proposed a global drone registry that would aid local law enforcement agencies. This registry would be a step towards global regulations dealing with the small crafts.
·       Russia and China vetoed resolutions that would have sanctioned Syria for its use of chemical weapons.
·       United Nations agencies reported during 2017 that 2016 was the first time in the 21st century that hunger increased. Possible reasons offered by the United Nations for this increase were climate change and conflict. These would cause an increase in food insecurity around the world. There are currently around 815 million chronically malnourished people around the world.
·       The United Nations and other organizations began investing in blockchain technology. Organizations like the World Food Programme launched pilots that use blockchain in delivering food.

The United States and International Organizations

With the United States changing leadership as President Trump began his tenure in office, the United States changed its relationships with various international organizations significantly during 2017.

·       The United States, in one of Donald Trump’s first acts as President, declared its intention to abandon the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The previous administration had negotiated the large free trade deal with various nations but had not come into effect yet.
·       The United States withdrew from the Paris Climate Accords in June, becoming one of the only countries not party to the climate agreement.
·       The United States, Canada, and Mexico began to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement following President Trump’s dissatisfaction with the agreement. A relocation or dissolution of the agreement would cause major changes in the economies of each nation, as well as trade laws.
·       The United States withdrew from UNESCO, the United Nations cultural organization, in October. “At the time when conflicts continue to tear apart societies across the world, it is deeply regrettable for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations agency promoting education for peace and protecting culture under attack,” Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova said. The United States indicated its reason for leaving as the organization’s inclusion of Palestine as a member in 2011.

Refugees and International Organizations

As refugee numbers increased in 2017, various international organizations took steps to combat problems.

·       Security in Burma has been conducting ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims. Some have sought asylum in Bangladesh. The crisis has had a global impact and is ongoing. A new UN pilot program could provide refugees in Bangladesh with work permits.
·       International Organizations like the World Bank used their leverage to try to push Burma to stop its persecution of Rohingya Muslims. The World Bank announced it would be withholding a $200 million loan it had promised to the country.
·       The United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees announced that there are over 3 million stateless people around the world. The agency urges countries to grant citizenship to these stateless people, which would provide them with basic health and personal rights.

By Maura Sokol

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2017 marked the end of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which closed out its existence with high profile convictions. Although international justice may have been achieved in these cases, a number of international crimes were committed across the globe in 2017, many of which will remain a threat in 2018.

International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia

In November, the ICTY Tribunal in the Hague brought its prosecutions to a close. The ICTY was first created in May 1993, under Resolution 827 by the United Nations Security Council to prosecute international crimes committed during the Yugoslav Wars. This creation of an international, ad hoc tribunal has left an enduring legacy on international criminal law. During its 25 years of existence, 161 individuals have been charged with crimes and 151 have faced trial, with 90 convictions that included major generals and political leaders. All unresolved cases will now be handed over to another ad hoc criminal court, the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT).

General Radko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb army chief known as the “Butcher of Bosnia” was one of the last war criminals convicted in the ICTY. In November, the tribunal sentenced him to life in prison for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Mladic was responsible for thousands of deaths, engaged in ethnic cleansing, and was responsible for the 1995 genocide of Srebrenica and the three-year siege and bombardment of Sarajevo.

During the last hearing of the ICTY, the convicted Bosnian Croat war criminal Slobodan Praljak drew much of the media’s attention by committing suicide in the courtroom after ingesting potassium cyanide. The hearing had been part of an appeal by six Bosnian Croat political and military leaders who were convicted in 2013 of persecuting, expelling and murdering Bosnian Muslims. Praljak ingested the cyanide after the tribunal announced he had lost his appeal. Praljak had been sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Genocide in Myanmar

The government in Myanmar, once known as Burma, committed horrific violence against the Rohingya, Myanmar’s minority Muslim population, in what the United Nations high commissioner for human rights called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Beginning on August 25th, more than 626,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar and an estimated 9,000 were killed by late September. Hundreds of villages have been destroyed or burned to the ground, and the Associated Press has reported a campaign of mass rape, robbery and torture. Despite widespread condemnation, there has been little action from the international community.

Syrian War Crimes

Efforts to investigate and bring to justice the many war crimes committed by Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s regimes continued throughout 2017. In November, Amnesty International published an extensive new report that detailed the regime’s massive campaign of sieges, unlawful killings, and forced displacement through use of “surrender or starve” tactics. The Islamic State has unlawfully killed civilians and used them as human shields, and the US-led coalition has also carried out attacks that led to the death of civilians, in violation of international humanitarian law. By the end of 2017, more than 400,000 people have died and more than 11 million people have been displaced.

Courts in Spain, Germany and Sweden have all attempted to bring individuals to justice for war crimes committed, and in October the first individual was convicted in the conflict and sentenced to eight months in prison in Sweden. 2017 also saw the beginning of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Those Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes in Syria, which was established by UN General Assembly at the end of 2016.
By Anna Jarman

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Last year, the “refugee crisis” experienced a political reckoning, as governments around the world sought to tighten boarders and curtail refugee-friendly policies where they had previously existed.  At the same time, the number of displaced people continued to climb in 2017, after it reached its highest number ever at 65 million people at the end of 2016.  The below events chronicle 2017’s most significant developments in the refugee crisis and the policy responses to it.

Travel Ban – Shortly after taking office, President Trump signed an Executive Order titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” which greatly reduced the number of refugees the U.S. would admit -- including blocking admission of all Syrian refugees -- and suspended entry of nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days.  The order was met with immediate protests, international criticism, and legal challenges by those who saw the order as a “Muslim ban.”  A nationwide temporary restraining order was issued in the case Washington v. Trump, and upheld by the Ninth Circuit.  The first order was replaced by a second and then a third order which revised the original list of countries, clarified the effect on green-card holders, and made the 90-day ban permanent.  The Ninth Circuit upheld a lower court decision finding the order unlawful in Hawaii v. Trump; the Supreme Court granted cert in January, and allowed the administration to implement the travel ban while legal challenges were pending.

Refugees Cross U.S. Border into Canada – the number of asylum seekers illegally crossing from the U.S. into Canada spiked to more than 15,000 people last year.  The refugees, many of whom fear Trump’s immigration policies, were met by both opposition by anti-migrant groups and a supportive response by Canada, which granted asylum at increasing rates.

South Sudan Displacement from South Sudan’s war became the largest refugee crisis in Africa.  More than 2 million people had fled to neighboring countries by the end of the year, with another 2 million displaced inside the country.

Rohingya Refugee Crisis – After a group of militant Rohingya Muslims attacked police bases in northern Myanmar on August 25, the army responded with a brutal show of force, burning villages, killing civilians, and raping women.  Within weeks, over 420,000 Rohingya refugees had fled, leading to a mass exodus “unprecedented in terms of volume and speed,” according to the International Organization for Migration.  Over 700,000 Rohingya have now fled to squalid refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh.  The U.N.’s human rights commission described the retaliation as ethnic cleansing and possibly genocide.

German and Austrian Elections – Radical right-wing populist parties performed well in both the Austrian and German elections.  The newly elected Chancellor of Austria, Sebastian Kurz, earned his reputation as foreign minister for tightening Austria’s borders during the refugee crisis, when Austria was taking in more asylum-seekers than any EU country except Sweden.  Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel has tightened her asylum policy under pressure from the far right and in response to backlash against her initial welcoming stance.  Germany resumed deporting Afghans whose asylum claims were rejected after stopping deportations in May when a bombing near the German embassy in Kabul killed around 150 people.

Manus Island Removal – Hundreds of asylum seekers held for years in an Australian-run detention center on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island were forcibly removed in November, three weeks after Australia officially closed the camp.  Afraid to leave the camp, the refugees had remained, despite Australia cutting off electricity, food, and water.  Security forces eventually stormed the camp destroying the refugees’ shelters and belongings. 

Climate Change Spurs Migration -- Research published last year suggests that changing weather is spurring people to seek asylum in Europe, and predicts that trend to continue as temperatures are projected to rise.  The research has sparked discussions on the appropriateness of the current definition of “refugee,” which includes people fleeing persecution but not those forced to leave by climate change.

East Congo Eleven Congolese refugees were killed by Rwandan police responding to a protest over reduced food rations in a Kiziba camp.  Over 17,000 Congolese refugees inhabit the Western Rwanda refugee camp.  Violence in Eastern Congo has worsened recently due to clashes between government soldiers, local militias, and foreign rebels.

Looking ahead, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments on the travel ban this year, and the new Austrian and German governments are likely to further articulate their more restrictive immigration policies.  At the same time, the international community will grapple with how to respond to the world’s ever-increasing number of displaced persons fleeing conflict, ethnic cleansing, and changing climate.
By Erika Suhr

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A Rocky Start

At the start of 2017, the International Criminal Court (ICC) seemed to be experiencing an existential moment. Russia had withdrawn itself from the process of ratifying the Rome Statute internally in protest of the ICC’s ruling that Russia’s 2014 takeover of the Crimea peninsula had been an armed conflict between it and Ukraine, making the annexation fall under the court’s jurisdiction. In January, a non-binding African Union resolution called for its members to withdraw en masse from the ICC, with some countries arguing that the ICC, beyond subverting their sovereignty, disproportionately targets African countries. The African Union supports instead, a regionalization of international law, where there would be a war crimes court, specifically devoted to Africa. Opponents worry about the independence of such a court, and that the risk of violations of war crimes in African states would rise as a result. The Foreign Minister of Nigeria noted the vital role that the ICC plays in holding leaders accountable, and stated that Senegal, Cape Verde, and other countries would speak out against the resolution to withdraw.

Burundi Withdrawal

Burundi, The Gambia, and South Africa all decided to withdraw from the ICC, but ultimately, only Burundi carried out its threat. The Gambia, under new leadership, announced its reversal of the decision to withdraw on state television, citing its “commitment to the principles enshrined in the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court”. South Africa also revoked its decision to withdraw from the ICC, citing a recent court ruling that declared the withdrawal “unconstitutional and invalid.”
On October 27, 2017 Burundi, a year after declaring its intentions, became the first country to withdraw from the International Criminal Court.  The timing of Burundi’s withdrawal coincides with a report released by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry. The report recommended that a criminal investigation on crimes committed in Burundi be initiated in response to evidence of torture, sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, disappearances, and illegitimate arrests and detentions sponsored by the regime of Burundi’s president, Pierre Nkurunziza.

A Reinvigorated Court

Perhaps as a response to the criticism of the African Union and others, the ICC’s prosecutor has publicized a shift away from Africa towards other regions. She announced that she is opening preliminary investigations into crimes perpetuated in the Philippines, Afghanistan, and Venezuela. The Philippines probe will focus on allegations reaching back to July of 2016, relating to the government’s war on drugs, which has since killed thousands of people, many under dubious circumstances and justifications. The Venezuelan probe will likewise focus on government and police forces, in that case, that the government forces “frequently used excessive force to disperse and put down demonstrations,” and tortured and abused members of the opposition who were unlawfully detained by the government, indefinitely.

Most controversially, the prosecutor called upon the court to open an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan. The scope of that investigation could encompass U.S. troops. No specific parties or events have been named, but a report released by the prosecutor’s office says that there is a reasonable basis to believe that the following crimes have been committed:
  • "Crimes against humanity and war crimes by the Taliban and their affiliated Haqqani Network;
  • "War crimes of torture and related ill-treatment by Afghan government forces, in particular the intelligence agency (National Directorate for Security), and the Afghan National Police;
  • "War crimes of torture and related ill-treatment, by US military forces deployed to Afghanistan and in secret detention facilities operated by the Central Intelligence Agency, principally in the 2003-2004 period, although allegedly continuing in some cases until 2014."

By Navneet Binning

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In 2017, the Law of War saw many new developments. These include: the closure of the ICTY, the increased threat of cyber warfare, attempts to eliminate nuclear weapons, and a movement to fight the spread of chemical weapons.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Republic of Yugoslavia (ICTY) formally closed on December 21st 2017.  The ICTY was created to adjudicate claims of war crimes that occurred in the Balkans in the 1990’s. The ICTY was open for twenty-four years, delivered 161 indictments, and sentenced ninety individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, and other crimes.

The closure is particularly significant because it marks a shift in international law away from specific criminal tribunals; previously, individual criminal tribunals have been used to prosecute war crimes in the Balkans and Rwanda. International law experts hope that the closure of ICTY will be a catalyst towards the goal of establishing universal jurisdiction for war crimes in the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Cyber Warfare
In recent years, there has been an increasing fear of the threat of cyber warfare. In 2017, cyber warfare has threatened physical destruction of civilian and military assets. For example, terrorist groups could gain control of cyber switches and use them to derail trains.

However, most of cyber warfare has focused on undermining institutional integrity. In 2017, allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election created mass distrust in the American political system. Cyber warfare used to undermine institutional integrity is particularly concerning because it is difficult to defend oneself from and retaliate against such attacks.

Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
In March and July 2017, the United Nations General Assembly met for a conference aimed to prohibit and, eventually, completely eliminate nuclear weapons. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was approved on July 7th.

The treaty requires signatories to abstain from developing, possessing, and threatening the use of nuclear weapons. The treaty would also prohibit nations from transferring nuclear weapons between one another.

122 nations signed the treaty, but the nine nations who are known or believed to possess nuclear weapons did not. These nine nations are the United States, Russia, United Kingdom, China, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel. A joint statement from the United States, United Kingdom, and France states that the nations do not intend to join the treaty.

Opponents of the treaty believe that it “disregards the realities of the international security environment” and fails to address the growing threat of North Korea’s nuclear programs. Opponents instead propose strengthening the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which was enacted in 1970 prohibits nations other than the five original nuclear powers (United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, and China) from pursuing nuclear weapons and directs the five original nuclear powers to work towards nuclear disarmament.

Syria Missile Attack
On April 7, the United States, directed by President Trump, carried out a missile strike in Syria that killed more than eighty civilians. The attack was in response to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons against its civilians and to signal the United States’ disapproval of Syria’s use of chemical weapons.

The attack prompted wide criticisms, particularly from Russia. A spokesman for President Putin stated that the strike was a “significant blow” for the relationship between the United States and Russia and had no impact on combating international terrorism. Rather, the attack undermined efforts to establish an international coalition to fight the use of chemical weapons.

By Yucai Yu

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A surge of revitalized unilateralism in international economic policy making:

European Union was facing increasing internal pressure on its unity as well as the original effort on globalization.
·       Brexit is on irreversible track. EU and UK formally started negotiations relating to Brexit arrangements, with early focuses on EU’s and UK’s citizens’ rights, future of Ireland/Northern Ireland border, and UK’s funding commitments. EU has appeared to gain an upper hand so far. The next phase of negotiation will deal with the more difficult issue of trade between EU and UK.
·       Elections in Europe showed a rise of protectionism and populism. In Netherlands, a leader favoring globalization successfully held on to his spot, yet over the challenge by a candidate against immigration. In France, voters were split between those who embrace globalization and those who feel left behind. The far-right anti-immigration party in Germany also made a historic breakthrough.

“Make America Great Again” with new international deals, or without deals.
·       President Trump initiated the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, aiming to modernize the agreement, invigorate American manufacturing, eliminate certain dispute resolution mechanism, and raising labor standards.
·       President Trump also pulled US out of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement in the first month of 2017. Negotiation of the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) was put on hold.
·       US withheld its support for a new selection process for WTO Appellate Body Members, resulting in an impasse and possibly logjam.

While multilateralism held on certain grounds:
·       Despite US’ withdrawal, the rest eleven countries of the TPP continued negotiation and will likely sign it without US’ participation.
·       China continued to implement its $900 billion “One Belt, One Road” Initiative, aiming to lend as much as $8 trillion for infrastructure in 68 countries. While US seemed to be retreating from globalization, China seemed to catch up and act as a firm globalization supporter.
·       Latin America kept pushing globalization effort through regional organizations, including Pacific Alliance and Mercosur.
·       African countries were seeking to build a giant free-trade area.

These all happened in an era of technology development:
·       Bitcoin went bananas, which fueled development of other cryptocurrencies and block-chain-based technology. Countries reacted differently to this: China banned Bitcoin transactions and so-called Initial Coin Offering (ICO), while US and Europe actively imposed regulations.
·       FinTech had become a hot topic and continued to develop. With mobile payment replacing traditional payment methods in China, people started to see what a marriage between finance and technology can do.
·       Artificial intelligence (AI) continued to develop. People began to ponder more and more how it was going to reshape the landscape of employment and people’s life in general. AI even became a prioritized industry in China’s development plan.