Category Archives: Politics

What is the Function of International Law?

What is the function of International Law?

International law is the framework through which the world attempts to achieve far reaching goals – such as human equality – worldwide and increase the quality of life for the human population.

While international decisions which are disregarded (such as that by the ICJ in 2016 when China rejected the court’s decision regarding the South China Sea) are often highlighted as the prime examples of international law (and therefore its failure), international law is not solely the decisions of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) or the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA). Rather, international law is predominantly the treaties and agreements to which the vast majority of nations regularly obey, such as the Law of the Sea or the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

It is important to note that international law is not like national law (wherein all citizens of a respective nation are subjected to the laws of said nation).  Rather, international law is drafted by a group of nations, sometimes with competing interests, and includes a series of compromises which are agreeable to the majority of the participating nations. Once the law is drafted, nations can decide whether to ratify it or not – therefore signaling their intention to be bound by said treaty. It does happen that participating nations chose not to ratify the new law (such as the United States’ failure to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child). However, once a nation has ratified the treaty, that nation is required to comply with it.

International law lacks a vertical form of enforcement, meaning there is not police or military force that enforces international law. Because of this, international law relies on horizontal enforcement (i.e. sanctions and social enforcement by other nations who have also ratified the international treaty). Sometimes this enforcement comes from the United Nations Security Council in the form of a resolution condemning the violating nation (such as when Russia invaded Ukraine). Other times, enforcement comes from the ICJ or PCA (as well as other international judicial bodies) which exist to litigate any potential violations of international law.

Overall, the vast majority of international law is complied with and respected by those who have ratified the respective treaties. International law, therefore, functions as a regime through which nations can mutually agree to terms to which all will be subjected, essentially acting as a farther-reaching, modern form of national pacts.

Is Global Zero Just a Utopia Impossible to Attain?

As President Obama stated in his address to the Security Council on 24 Sept 2009, the United Nations (UN) “was founded at the dawn of the Atomic Age in part because man’s capacity to kill had to be contained.”[1] Since its creation, the UN has been tasked with one of the most difficult processes of our area – total nuclear disarmament. For example, both the General Assembly and the Security Council, in articles 11.1 and 26 respectively, are tasked with the regulation of armaments for the purpose of maintaining international peace and security.[2] To date, ten nations have obtained nuclear weapons – the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Israel, and South Africa (not including former Soviet Union states who possessed weapons at the fall of the Soviet Union.) Only one of these nations, South Africa, has yet to fully disarmed its nuclear stockpile.[3]


At the beginning of the nuclear age, Albert Einstein wrote a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt warning of the dangerous of this new weapon. “A single bomb of this type,” he warned, “carried by boat or exploded in a port, might very well destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory.”[4] This warning was effectively disregarded. Instead, after the devastation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the global superpowers of the time began a global arms race to create and stock pile as many nuclear weapons as they could. In 1949, the Soviet Union (USSR) became the second nation to successfully test a nuclear bomb. Shortly after, in 1952, the United States took nuclear weapons a step further and successfully tested the hydrogen bomb, followed shortly by the USSR’s first successful test of the hydrogen bomb in 1953.[5]


But quickly scientists raised the alarm, alerting politicians to the potential negative affects nuclear weapons testing could have on the air, soil, and water supplies.[6] This lead to the creation of the Partial Test-Ban Treaty (PTBT), negotiated through the auspices of the United Nations in 1963, calling for the end to all nuclear weapons testing. However, despite the PTBT, China and France – neither of which ratified the treaty – continued to test nuclear weapons for many years.[7] Thus began a long history of nations limiting aspects of nuclear weapons use, though never actually banning nuclear weapons in totality; and nations choosing not to ratify or comply with the treaties, therefore disregarding the international law and effectively classifying the treaties as functionally rhetorical documents.


After the PTBT, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was creating in 1968, and came into force in 1970. Currently, 191 states have joined the treaty, including all five permanent members, which is the largest number of states party to any arms limitation and disarmament agreement.[8] In theory, this largest participation would be a signal of the treaty’s success; however, four nuclear-weapons-possessing states are currently not states party to the treaty – Israel, DPRK, India, and Pakistan. Unfortunately, these are also four of the world’s nations which are most likely to use their weapons due to current conflicts in their region (or, in the case of the DPRK, current policy by the ruling government).


In addition to the efforts of the international community during the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union entered into a series of bilateral agreements with each other. These include the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT) in 1972, which led to a ban on ballistic missiles and limitations on offensive nuclear weapons; and the SALT-II negotiations in 1979 to strengthen and finalize SALT-I. However, it is notable that the SALT-I negotiations were limited to offensive nuclear weapons only – therefore allowing both nations to continue research on and stockpiling of nuclear weapons for ‘defensive purposes’. Further, SALT-II was never ratified by the US Senate (and therefore never entered force) due to concerns over the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons in Cuba.[9]


In the 1980s, the United States and the Soviet Union entered into bilateral negotiations again with the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which banned all nuclear armed ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, and their infrastructure. This was the first nuclear agreement to reduce arms numbers, rather than establish ceilings that could not be exceeded, and led to the destruction of about 2,700 weapons.[10] However, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the INF Treaty had to be multilateralized to apply to the twelve successor states of the USSR. Six of these states – Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan – contain inspectable INF facilities in their territory. Of these six nations, however, only four – Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine – are active participants in the INF implementation process.[11]


The 1990s also saw bilateral negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union. In 1991, the two states signed the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-I), which reduced the strategic nuclear weapons by 30-40%.[12] The second round of negotiations, START-II, furthered the reductions. However, the Soviet Union ratified START-II under the condition that the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty of 1972 remain in force.[13] In 2002, the Bush Administration withdrew from the ABM, causing Russia to no longer be bound by START-II.[14]


This was of little importance, though, as the START-II had never entered force – it was effectively superseded by the Moscow Treaty on Strategic Offensive Reductions (SORT), which was negotiated on May 24th, 2002.[15] While SORT contained provisions similar to that of START I and START II, and went further by calling for the destruction of warheads, SORT lacked a timetable for reductions, simply stating both the US and Russia would implement their reductions by December 31, 2012 – the date that the pact expires. This has lead some to conclude that the treaty was technically impossible to violate.[16] As international law’s coercive enforcement mechanisms can only be used should a state violate a treaty, SORT effectively becomes solely rhetorical – there is no way to ensure implementation.


As SORT had superseded START, the New START negotiations of 2010 superseded SORT. Under the New START, the United States and Russia have until 5 February 2018 to meet the limitations in nuclear arms set out by the treaty. The treaty does not, however, limit testing, development, or deployment of current or planned missile defense programs or long-range conventional strike capabilities.[17] As of September 1, 2017, six months before the treaty is to lapse, both nations have declared their arms capabilities to be within the agreed upon limits.[18]


After the Cold War, while the United States and Russia have been conducting bilateral agreements with each other for the reduction of nuclear weapons, the United Nations has been used to complete two important nuclear arms agreements. In September 1996, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) was opened for signature. However, the treaty states it will not enter into force until “all 44 States listed in Annex 2 of the Treaty have ratified it.” This has caused serious complications that have led the treaty, 20 years after opening for signature, never to enter into force. Today, 8 of the required 44 nations continue to refuse ratification of the treaty, namely: China, DPRK, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, and the United States. This list also includes 6 of the 9 nuclear-weapons-possessing states. Despite regular conferences to persuade these nations to sign and ratify the CTBT, held in 1999, 2003, 2007, 2001, 2005, 2009, 2011, and 2013, the CTBT still lacks the ratifications required to enter into force.[19]


The next attempt by the United Nations for a multilateral agreement banning nuclear weapons worldwide occurred 20 year later, in July of 2017. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons prohibits ‘all efforts to develop, test, produce, manufacture, acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, as well as the use or threat of use of these weapons.’[20] With 122 nations voting in favor of this treaty, it would appear to be a success. However, this overlooks the nations who chose to be absent from the negotiations of the treaty, namely: the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and the DPRK. As you will recall, these are all of the nuclear weapons possessing states. Also absent from the negotiations were many of the ally states of these nations, who could – in theory – persuade the governments of these nations to assent to the treaty. In a joint statement, the United States, the United Kingdom, and France clearly declared their intention not to sign, ratify or ever become part of the treaty, stating that the treaty is “incompatible with the policy of nuclear deterrence, which has been essential to keeping the peace in Europe and North Asia for over 70 years.”[21] This statement summarizes the current reality of the international stage – no matter how long the international community works towards nuclear non-proliferation; no matter how many treaties are negotiated for this purpose; as long as nuclear weapons nations maintain nuclear deterrence as a cornerstone of their foreign policy, these nations will retain their nuclear weapons.


A further complication for nuclear weapons use is the reality that nuclear materials are not solely used for creation of weapons; these materials are also used for the creation of an alternate form of energy, for medical uses, for agricultural uses, and for industrial uses. In the late 1990s, around 17% of the world’s electricity was nuclear-generated.[22] Today, that number has decreased slightly to 11%; however, some countries, such as France, are almost completely reliant on nuclear energy.[23] While there is controversy towards the risk of the use of nuclear energy that has led to the decrease in its use, there is little controversy towards the use of nuclear techniques in treating medical diseases, such as cancer.[24] Nor is there much controversy towards the use of nuclear techniques to improve agricultural techniques, or to advance our industrial capabilities with new products created through the use of nuclear materials.[25]


As long as the use of nuclear technology pose some benefits to the world that cannot be achieved by other means, nuclear materials will continue to exist. And as long as nuclear materials exist in the world, whether they are currently used for weapons purposes or not, there is a risk of the materials being weaponized. This therefore casts serious doubt on the possibility of global zero for nuclear weapons being achieved. After all, even if all nuclear weapons are disarmed and disassembled, as long as the materials exist it will be possible for powers – either state actors or non-state actors – to reconstruct the nuclear weapons. And as long as there is a risk that an enemy of a state can obtain nuclear weapons, nations – such as France, the United Kingdom, and the United States – will maintain their foreign policy of nuclear deterrence, therefore refusing to relinquish their defensive nuclear weapons.


As outlined in this essay, despite extensive efforts to limit nuclear testing, offensive nuclear weapons stockpiles, and to ultimately completely eliminate all nuclear weapons, there have always been obstacles too great for the international law to ultimately succeed. Further, the world relies on nuclear materials to achieve important advancements in agriculture and industry, and to treat deadly diseases like cancer. However, until the day that all nations are willing to completely relinquish both their offensive and defensive nuclear weapons, and nuclear materials are no longer used in any capacity in any part of the world – two preconditions that are highly unlikely to ever be achieved – a global zero for nuclear weapons will remain a utopia, impossible to be achieved.




[2] UN Charter


[4] Albert Einstein’s Letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt



[7] Ibid.




[11] Ibid.


[13] Ibid.



[16] Ibid.





[21] Ibid.

[22] Blix, H. (1997) The Good uses of Nuclear Energy. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Vienna, Austria.


[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

A Preventable Death Sanctioned by the US Health System

A few weeks ago, one of my close family friends, a woman I view as a second mother, lost her husband. Why? Because the American health system didn’t bother to test him for cancer in the beginning, and only found the cancer when it was stage 4 and he had little to no hope left.

It all started when he went to the doctor complaining of shoulder pain. The doctor took a look, and sent him off to the physiotherapist assuming it was just a muscle strain. When it didn’t get better, he went back to the doctor again – and again the doctor believed it to be nothing and again sent him off to the physiotherapist without running further tests. Finally, the pain became too hard to bear, and my family friend had to check himself into the hospital (which, by the way, is exponentially more expensive for both taxpayers and  insurance companies than simply running the diagnostic tests that other nations run.) Only in the hospital did the doctors take him seriously. Only in the hospital did they run the diagnostic tests they should have in the first place. And only in the hospital did they find the worst of news – he had stage 4 lung cancer. He needed chemotherapy immediately to treat it. But despite the immediate treatment, he unfortunately lost his battle, devastating a family I hold very close to my heart.

This is a story of a preventable death. Had the US system been focused more on prevention than treatment, my second-mother would not be facing every wife’s worst nightmare. The American health care system already dooms people to die. This man, one of the sweetest people I have ever met, could have been saved. But he wasn’t. And that is on the American health care system, the American government, and the politicians (and the citizens who voted for them) who think the right to survive treatable diseases is only for those who can pay for it.

There are so many issues with this new health care bill on the Senate floor. If this new healthcare bill becomes law, had my family friend survived and tried to change insurance companies – the companies should charge him more or even deny him because ‘cancer is a pre-existing condition’. The current US government has ignored the calls of the people – many of whom support the ACA (as of April 4th, 2017, Gallup reports the ACA has a 55% approval rating) – and instead insists on repealing it to ‘meet campaign promises’.

Rather than focusing on how to remove health care from 24 million people, the US government needs to focus on how to reform health care so that this preventable death and others like this will not happen. Because in a land that purports to be the ‘greatest nation in the world’, no one should die of a preventable disease. No wife should have to face what my second mother has. It’s immoral, unjust, and a testament to the failures of the ‘land of the free’.

The REAL North Carolina – and My Third Tattoo

Whenever someone asks me, “Where are you from?” My response is rarely ‘the United States of America.’ More often than not, I will quickly answer ‘North Carolina’, assuming that whoever has asked will know that NC is part of the USA. This is a strange habit, though – when asked where they are from, most people will normally respond with the country, not the state or city in which they live(d). Any people who know me will also know: I often have to explain the strange behaviors United States citizens have. This is one of them.
SHORT HISTORY LESSON: When the US was formed, there was a large debate between two factions – the federalists and the anti-federalists. The federalists believed there should be a Federal government which is responsible for many things – like what you see in Canada. On the other hand, the anti-federalists believed the federal government should be kept as small as possible and regulations should be left up to the state governments with little or no federal interference. This is ultimately where the bill of rights came from – it was a compromise between the federalists and anti-federalists for how the US government would work (specifically note Amendment 10 – “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”[If you want more of a history lesson, more information can be found here.]


So this leads me to my point. Why do I always answer ‘North Carolina’ first? In short – the struggle between the federalists and anti-federalists has left a lasting impression on the American people (especially the South, where most of the anti-federalists were from – ask me about it if you want another history lesson). So now: first and foremost, I see myself as a North Carolina native, born and bred within driving distance of both the breathtaking Appalachian mountains (Canadians – APP-AH-LATCH-EN, not that stupid/wrong way you pronounce it!), and the awe-inspiring Outer Banks.


Moreover, my mother’s family, the Scott Family, was one of the first to settle in NC, and established themselves as one of the most prominent families in NC. In edition to owning huge farms in Alamance County, the Scotts established schools across NC (my name sake, Elizabeth Scott Carrington, helped raise the funds for UNC’s Nursing School, which is why there is Carrington Hall at UNC-Chapel Hill). The Scotts were also pillars in the Medical Community (my grandfather was in the first graduating class at UNC’s Dental school, and my great-grandfather delivered over 6,000 babies in his lifetime – including my childhood best friend’s mother) and devoted themselves to public service (my great-uncle Kerr Scott and his son Robert Scott both served as governors of NC). Robert (Bob) Scott was the governor who “oversaw the creation of the 16-campus University of North Carolina system” and worked heavily to make post-secondary education accessible for all in NC. The Scott family were also huge into religion – Samuel Scott and his wife Nancy Bryan Scott helped start the Hawfields Presbyterian Church in 1755, a church which is still in existence today (it is where all the Scott Family is buried). So, as you can see, my family has a ton of history in North Carolina. No wonder I recognize myself as a North Carolinian first, right?


Fast forward to nowadays. Seeing NC struggling as it is – our representatives have specifically refused to attend town hall meetings and have claimed the constituents who are constantly calling, trying to get the representatives to listen to the people who they are suppose to represent, are paid and are bots trying to create ‘denial of services’ for ‘real’ constituents.  Our education system is devolving, with NC’s public education failing (in 2016, in a ranking of the best High Schools in the country, NC was ranked 38th out of 51 states [because DC counts a state in this ranking, even though it is really a district]; we also have one of the lowests pay rates in the US for our teachers). Higher education is no longer easily accessible in NC – I attended university at UBC over an in-state school because I could receive a better education for less money by attending school internationally instead (which I am sure caused my great uncle, Bob Scott, to roll over in his grave). The icing on the cake: after this recent election (and years of shady politics), NC is no longer considered a democracywith our “overall electoral integrity score of 58/100 for the 2016 election, which places us alongside authoritarian states and pseudo-democracies like Cuba, Indonesia and Sierra Leone.”

All of these horrible things happening to the state my family helped create truly breaks my heart… So, over the summer, I made a choice. It became a reality to me that I would not be returning home, because – to be honest – this current North Carolina does not feel like home. But the current North Carolina is not the real North Carolina, in my opinion. The real North Carolina is the 250 years of progressive history that the Scott family helped contributed to. The real North Carolina is the one whose government representatives value its people over the representative’s party politics. The real North Carolina fights for democracy, and sets examples for the rest of the nation on how to prevent discrimination – not how to implement it (I don’t like cursing in blogs but I’mma say it – fuck HB2 and NC’s extremely unconstitutional voter ID laws.)  The real North Carolina believes in accessible, quality education for all. Because education is not a privilege of the elite, it is a necessity for a country to succeed. The real North Carolina understands this – the current North Carolina does not. 

So in September of this year, I decided to get a tattoo: my North Carolina, the real North Carolina, on my side by my heart, as a symbol of my love for the state and my hope that one day the real North Carolina will return.

My tattoo: an outline of NC, with a heart around my city (Raleigh, also the capital), blue waves by the coast and mountains where the Appalachians are.

Now, to be honest, after the past few months, I really question whether the real NC can return. But I am sure of two things – James Taylor’s song ‘Carolina In My Mind’ will always remind me of home, and my tattoo will always remind me that NC once was a progressive state, and maybe, one day, we can be one again (electing Roy Cooper was a great start! Attempting to remove his ability to govern, on the other hand, not so much…)

The UN is an Amazing Organization – But It Still Has Many Problems

Three of the most striking observations made during my two weeks at two different UN conferences were: a) the amount of people at least in their 60s or 70s talking about issues which directly affect youth, while there are hardly any youth in the room for the discussion; b) the extreme resistance to change by those who claim to have been participating in the UN for years, ultimately pushing the agenda: ‘This is the way we have always done it, so this is the way we will keep doing it’; and finally, c) the amount of people who blatantly stated ‘I’ve only been here a short period of time, and I really don’t understand how the UN works – but I want to make this one point that, if I actually knew anything about the UN, I would know makes absolutely no sense.’

My friend Karol repeatedly warned me: “There are things wrong with the UN; there is a reason I returned to Mexico to work with a project that has direct involvement on the ground.” Many of my friends who have previously worked with the UN have also warned me: “The UN is not has glamorous as our experiences in Model UN make us believe.” But still in my head I wanted to think the UN would be different than my experiences in Model UN (most of which were ultimately the reason I retired from MUN). The reality, though, is that those people who are so outrageous in MUN end up in the UN. Or worse, the people involved in the UN have little to no previous knowledge of how the UN really works so they end up making the same mistakes that new MUN delegates make – only this time it actually has an affect on the international stage.

I try to think of solutions to the three observations, and I honestly come up with a lot. For example:

A) A lot of Youth try to get involved in the UN through Missions from governments, without realizing there are more ways. There are Youth Forums; there are NGOs; there are IGOs; there are millions of ways to become involved, we just have to look harder to find them. Thankfully the UN is seeing many more Youth becoming involved (my theory is the exponential increase in Model UN participation since the 1990s), but it is imperative that this trend continue. Want to come to the UN? Want to be involved in international policy creation? Find a way! Because there always is one. (If anyone wants help finding possible avenues to become involved, message me and I can help!)

B) An organization that does not evolve, dies. That is a reality. Even the UN is a product of evolution of International Politics: before the League of Nations (the UN’s predecessor), there had never before been an organization that had all the world’s governments dicuss internaitonal policies, especially not with the involvement of civil society. And when the UN was created, it made the necessary changes to prevent the same fate as the League.

C) If you are going to work with the UN, you need to take the online free courses that teach you about how the UN works; and most importantly  do not speak if you are going to first state that you have no idea what you are talking about. If you do not know about a topic, you are not qualified to comment on it. This is an issue worldwide; it was something I saw in classes at UBC, and it is a mistake people continue to make all throughout their lives. And it is something we must recognize that we do and stop ourselves before we make such a mistake. True high level discourse cannot occur if those speaking lack a basic knowledge of a topic but chose to speak anyway.


If passionate, intelligent people can work together to implement these suggestions (and many others, because there are plenty of improvements that any organization can make), the United Nations could be an organization that maintains peace and security in the world for decades to come. It just takes the willpower, and pure stubbornness, of a good group of people – then we can change the world (again).

What is An Nongovernmental Organization (NGO)? (AKA What Is Lena Working With This Week?)

When most people hear ‘the United Nations’ (and this applies to Model UN people too!), most will think: “A place where governments meet together and talk.” Well yes, on a basic level that is what the UN does. But it goes much deeper than that.
The United Nations is composed of 193 ‘Member States’ (nations which have ratified the United Nations Mandate and have been first recommended for membership by the Security Council, then later accepted by the General Assembly vote.) As the UN Charters says, memership “is open to all peace-loving States that accept the obligations contained in the United Nations Charter and, in the judgment of the Organization, are able to carry out these obligations.” But Member States only make up a small portion of the representation at the UN; there are two other big groups: permanent observers and civil society.

Permanent Observers: this category includes non-member states, meaning nations that have not been accepted as UN Member States but are recognized by the UN (specifically the Holy See and Palestine; there are also nations not recognized by the UN that are not given status at the UN, namely Taiwan and Kosovo); and Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs), which are basically organizations that work towards specific issues by acting as a facilitator between governments and civil society  (here is a list of all the different ones).

Civil Society: this is the category that I am working with this week. It includes two groups: Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Both are given ‘observer status’ which can be revoked should a member state object to their classification with the UN (hence why they are not part of the ‘Permemant Observers’ – civil society’s status is not permanent). I would provide a list of CSOs and NGOs working with the UN, but honestly there isn’t a single list. Why? Because each branch of the UN has their own list of CSOs and NGOs which they work with (technically all NGOs/CSOs are issued UN passed through ECOSOC [because of how the UN is organized] but they work with different groups underneath the 6 main bodies of the UN, and each of these groups have different lists of CSOs/NGOs they work with.)

What exactly is an NGO then? Also known as civil society groups, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are similar to lobbyists groups in the US government. Specifically at the UN: NGOs are organizations which work to advocate for their causes to be addressed on the international stage via the UN, and will work with the UN to advocate for their positions on said causes.  NGOs are non-profit organizations whose staff are largely civilian volunteers who work towards specific goals (some work on poverty, some work on stabilization in post-conflict zones, some work on education; if you can think of an issue the world is facing, there is probably an NGO which addresses the issue.) In the US alone, there is an estimated 1.5 million NGOs. (This link also has a ton of technical information on NGOs if you would like to learn more!)

How are NGOs funded? Normally NGOs are funding through private donors (individuals, foundations, or corportations) and/or grants provided by governments and IGOs. Sometimes NGOs are even be funded by other, larger NGOs. It is imperative for NGOs to fundraise because the projects an NGO will be able to do depends on how much funding the NGO receives. For example, an NGO I volunteered for a few years ago – My Ugandan Child – had a group of people (myself, Karol, and two other volunteers) draft a document of all the possible grants and funds the NGO could apply to in order for MUC to fund its pojects.  Important note – some NGOs will refuse funds from governments or corporations if they feel accepting the donation would impede their ability to remain neurtral.  For more information on how NGOs are funded and how funding sources may affect NGO’s operations, click here.

How do NGOs achieve their goals? There are actually two types of NGOs. The first works on the ground in the areas that need the most help, therefore working directly with civilians (MyWorld works with civilians on the ground in Mexico to increase education about the SDGs while also using their volunteers to complete tasks which help achieve the SDGs). The other type, though, works on the policy level (meaning they work only with the UN or with governments, without having projects that work with civilians.) Important note – it is possible for an NGO to work on both levels. MyWorld, for example, has their work on the ground in Mexico, but also attends UN conferences (like CSocD) to discuss the issues it is addressing on the ground, and works with the local and federal governments to implement policies which better help the implementation of the SDGs.

Summary: NGOs are independent lobbyists groups which work with international organizations and national governments. They can be used to advocate for their causes to be addressed on the international stage via the UN and work with the UN to advocate for their positions on said causes, or they can work on the ground in communities to address their causes through specific projects.

Final note – to be perfectly honest, when I first started writing this post I thought it would be super easy to explain NGOs. But really, NGOs are such a big beast on the international stage; they are super difficult to explain because there are so many different types and they do so many different things. So, if you think I have missed anything or if there is more information that you would like to know, tell me and I’ll fix/add it.

What is Social Development? (AKA What Does ‘Commission on Social Development’ Mean?)

So, funny story. A little over a year ago, I came to the UN with my best friend (shout out to Joy!) who is a super smart human being and was invited to the UN to take an exam for a job with the Young Professional Programme at the UN. Basically this is a programme that recruits young professionals in order for them to start a career as a civil servant at the UN. And Joy’s preferred UN department: Social Development. What I didn’t realize, though, is what Social Development means. And being the type of person that I am, I never actually bothered asking Joy what it meant. Fast forward a year and two months – I’m sitting at the UN at the 54th Session of the  UN Commission for Social Development being taught what I was too stubborn to ask about before.
Social Development sounds like it would mean fixing poverty and gender inequality and other social problems that plague the world. It doesnt. And I looked like a fool when I realized this (thank you Joy for not laughing too hard at my ignorance!)

Yes, Social Development does discuss the issues mentioned above, but it is actually the discussion of how to mobilize change on different social and government levels via NGOs and youth involvement. This mobilization is designed to address issues like poverty, gender inequality, indigenous issues, etc. As my amazing friend Karol (founder of MyWorld Mexico, and Sustainable Development expert who inviting me to CSocD) – “How do we work together through the different sectors to achieve progress on these issues, while ensuring we protect the environment and close the inequality gap.”

Turns out I’ve actually been working on Social Development for years (through MyWorld and other projects Karol and I have worked on together) and I never realized it! Whoops 😅 haha

What are the Sustainable Development Goals? (AKA What is Lena Discussing at the UN this Week?)

One of the largest topics on the international stage – and the focus of the conference I am attending this week – is the ‘Sustainable Development Goals‘ (SDGs). Now, I totally expect everyone who has never been in Model UN not to understand what this means – the SDGs are rarely mentioned in national politics. But the SDGs are one of the leading driving forces for national policy. So what exactly are they?
First, a history lesson:

At the turn of the century (2000), the world banded together through the United Nations to create a series of eight goals -agreed  to be reached by 2015 – named the ‘Millennium Development Goals‘ (MDGs). The first of their kind (the world had never before set a series of goals that every nation was expected to help achieve) these goals were: ending extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and empowerment of women; reducing child mortality; improve maternal health; combating HIV/AIDs and other devastating diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and developing a global partnership for development. And underneath each of these goals were 18 ‘targets’ and 48 ‘indicators’ that were designed to measure the progress of the implementation of the MDGs.

To be perfectly honest, by 2015 (when the goals were due to be completed), the majority of the goals had not been fully met [a fact which leads many people to say ‘Look! The UN has failed!’] But no. The UN did not fail. Because due to the MDGs, there was a mass movement worldwide to increase the quality of life worldwide. Example: While universal access to sanitation had gotten worse in the 15 years, universal access to clean water has increased to 91% of the world’s population. The United Nations actually released a report which states both their failures and successes.

So summary: No, the MDGs were not fully met. But yes, they were a success because they did make a difference. (World Vision, a NGO at the UN has a very good article on this.)

When the national governments saw the successes of the MDGs, they realized there should be something to replace them: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (aka the SDGs). These goals included the millennium development goals which had not been reached, and extended them by adding 9 more goals. The list:

  1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
  3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all age
  4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
  5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
  7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
  8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
  10. Reduce inequality within and among countries
  11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
  13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
  14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
  15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
  16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
  17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

Common questions:

Are the SDGs legally binding?  No. But nations implement these goals because they help increase the nation’s citizen’s quality of life. Often there are non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which work to shame nations into implementing the goals if the nations are failing to do so. (What I am actually doing this week is working with an NGO which does exactly this in Mexico, ‘MyWorld Mexico’.) Ultimately these goals embody national accountability towards increasing the quality of life for their citizens.

How are the SDGs implemented? Two ways – governments passing laws that implement policies which achieve these goals, and grassroots NGO movements (aka ‘boots on the ground’: volunteers implementing the policies with fellow citizens in the communities that need it most). MyWorld Mexico is actually a network of people and NGOs which work through both of these avenues: it mobilizes volunteers in Mexico to help their fellow citizens by completing tasks (like taking clothes to the homeless) that will help achieve the SDGs; and it also polls citizens to find out which SDGs are most important to them, and lobbies the government to implement policies which achieve the most valued goals.

How were the SDGs created? The SDGs were actually created through long discussions between governments and development experts in a process that started in 2011. They were created through a multi-year consultation of all parties involved (UN officials, governments, NGOs, civilians, basically a ton of different people – including millions of votes collected by MyWorld to show what civilians believed they needed) and a 2 month drafting process. The final document was passed by 193 world leaders in September 2015, and went into effect on January 1st, 2016.

If the MDGs weren’t reached, why did we bother implementing the SDGs? Again – yes, the MDGs were not fully met. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t make an effect. Instead of having all the work done by the MDGs be given up when they were finished, the international community decided to create this wider set of goals to continue the amazing work the MDGs sparked. Plus, the SDGs give a clear set of goals for many of the UN organizations to work towards (like the conference I am attending).

Final note: This is a super basic description of the SDGs (and MDGs), so if anyone is interested in a more in-depth description, let me know!

How Is International Law Enforced?

Contrary to what many may believe, there is not actually a military branch to the United Nations (there is something called the ‘UN Peacekeepers’ but they are only deployed by the Security Council and are mainly responsible for helping countries stabilize after conflict or after natural disaster. And they are not allowed to use force.)  So if there is not military or judicial enforcement unit for international law, how does the international community enforce international law? Through three concepts: ‘Reciprocity’, ‘Collective Action’, and ‘Shaming’.

Reciprocity‘ is the international community’s fancy word for ‘If you won’t, I won’t.’ And it is what it sounds – the basis of International Law relies on each country maintaining their promise to each other that they will not break whatever agreement is in place. A perfect example of this is the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC): at the time the BWC was created, the world was still in the midst of the Cold War. Unfortunately this meant that the international community had yet to agree on a method through which enforcement of international treaties could be verified. The result of this was many countries agreeing to fulfill their commitments to the BWC – as long as everyone else maintained their commitments as well. This is called agreeing to the treaty ‘with reservations’ (specifically: should a country be attacked with a Biological Weapon, they would reciprocate towards the offending party with a Biological Weapon of their own.)  And this has prevented nations from using Biological Weapons – both fear of retaliation and the uncertainty of what would be used during a retaliatory attack deter nations from being the first to strike.

For a more recent example – when the Trump Regime banned Iranian citizens from entering the US, Iran reciprocated by banning US citizens from entering Iran.


‘Collective Action’ is also what it sounds like: several nations ban together against an offending state to punish the offending state for their breach of international law. A good example of this would be the Gulf War – when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the UN Security Council passed a Resolution (which is binding international law – if you would like to know why, let me know!) calling for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. When they did not, the United States and its NATO allies, as well as Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations joined together in a collation to retaliate against Iraq.

While Collective Action is one of the fundamental methods of maintaining international law, it does pose a significant issue (aptly named the ‘Collective Action Problem‘). Summary: While nations may agree to come to each other’s aid, when the time does come some nations may decide to break the original agreement of mutual protection.


Like the others, ‘Shaming’ is again what it sounds like. By nature, nations do not like having negative press related to their actions and will respond in order to prevent further bad press. Example: the US’s investigation into torture practices after the April 2004 CBS News report showing leaked photos and reports from Abu Ghraib prison proving torture and prisoner abuse. This method is most commonly used for violations of international law which are widely regarded as deplorable by both governments and civilians (i.e. human rights abuses, use of chemical weapons, the use of any weapons of mass destruction in general, etc.) This method is not commonly used by fellow governments, though, but rather by international organizations such as Human Rights Watch [if you would like to learn more about this incredible organization, I will happily explain more – just let me know!] In the case of the Abu Ghraib prison photos, it was in fact a news organization which spread the negative press that changed the US policy on torture (side note – torture has been outlawed since 1948 via the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and the 1984 Convention against Torture or Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. All of these are ratified by the United States, meaning the US must abide by them.)


Too long, didn’t want to read? Here is a summary – application of international law relies on three concepts (Reciprocity, Collective Action, and Shaming) in order to hold nations responsible for their commitments made in international law. Each of these are basically pressure tactics by other nations.

BUT WAIT! Is there a court which settles disputes of international law when they do happen? Yes, it is called the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and it is a principal body of the United Nations. There is also the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) which was created 1899, nearly 50 years before the ICJ. (I’ll write a post about the difference between them as well.) But even the decisions by these courts have no real enforcement techniques – they each rely on the 3 techniques discussed above.

Interesting right?

2017 Economic and Social Council Youth Forum

As the US has desended into mass protests, I sit in one of my favorite places on earth – the United Nations – and listen to hundreds of youth from around the world actively discussing one of the most pressing issues on the international stage: implementing the Sustainable Development Goals worldwide.

For those that don’t know much about the UN, here is a basic overview:

Contrary to what the new US regime believes, the UN is a forum where individuals from around the world – not just world leaders, but also non-governmental organizations (NGOs) – meet to discuss topics of interest to nations around the world (not just “a club for people to get together, talk, and have a good time“). Trump did get one thing right: the UN is a forum through which people are able to get together and talk, but it is not pointless. The UN is the only forum in the world – and in the history of the world – where national governments of every nation in the world (exceptions being Palestine, Taiwan, and Kosovo which are all disputed territories [if you are interested in why, let me know and I’ll happily explain!])  and civil societies (aka NGOs) are able to meet and discuss issues of importance to them.

Through the UN, the world has been able to pursue a wide variety of projects to better the quality of life worldwide. In honor of the UN’s recent 70th birthday (Octoer 24th, 2015), they released a list of 70 successes the UN has had. These include: preventing nuclear proliferation, clearing landmines, combating sexual assault in conflict zones, fighting hunger, improving global trade, acting as a global thinktank, improving literacy and education, ending apartied in South Africa, promoting the rights of disabled peoples, providing safe drinking water, helping disaster victims and refugees, eradicating diseases such as polio and small pox, etc. People can easily look at the UN and say: “Look at the world; there are conflicts all over; the UN has clearly failed.” But this is an ignorant conclusion – no, the UN has not prevented all conflicts. The world still has many issues, but those issues would be exponentially greater without the work of the UN. As previous UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld said, “It has been said that the United Nations was not created in order to bring us to heaven, but in order to save us from hell.

Over the next two weeks, I will be participating in the UN Economic and Social Council Youth Forum (Jan 30-31) and the UN Commission on Social Development (Feb 1-10). In honor of this, I will be creating a new series on my blog: “Getting to Know the UN,” outlining the UN,  how it works, and why it is so incredibly important to support. [Side note: if you have any topics you want me to specifically address, let me know. I’ve spent the last 13 years of my life studying the UN, and I’ll happily teach anyone anything they want about it!]

Also, fangirl moment: OMG I HAVE A UN GROUNDPASS AND IT HAS MY NAME AND PICTURE ON IT OMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOGMOMGOMG THIS IS ALMOST AS GOOD AS SEEING BAN KI MOON (previous UN SecGen) SPEAK AHHHHHHHHHH 😁😁😁😁😁😁  Okay, enough fangirling, but really though. UN Groundpass. So happy.