Climate Change Long Form

Engineering vs. Ecosystems: Evaluating Climate Adaptation Approaches

This report sets out to answer the question – when it comes to climate adaptation, are engineering-based solutions (e.g., sea walls) more effective and economical than ecosystem-based approaches (e.g., coastal revegetation)?

I first look at the environmental drivers of adaptation, current international efforts, and dive into a case study of a town in the Fiji Islands that’s specifically wrestled with these competing approaches to adaptation.

The goal of this work is to help institutions like the U.N. Adaptation Fund and Green Climate Fund prioritize which adaptation approaches have been most successful to inform their financing decisions as the world has little time to plan for how they will brace for the inevitable environmental impacts of a 1.5 to 2C rise.

About The Author

Chetan Hebbale is currently a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C. focused on international economics, climate change, and sustainability.

Prior to this, he spent over 4 years at Deloitte Consulting working on technology and strategy projects at the CDC and U.S. Treasury Department.

He is a native of Atlanta, GA and attended the University of Georgia.

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Climate Change Long Form

Do Renewable Portfolio Standards Work?

The Biden administration has pledged to achieve a 50-52% reduction from 2005 levels in nationwide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030. As part of this goal, the administration has stated that they would like to see 100% of the nation’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2035 – up from roughly 20% right now.

The signature policy support mechanism for renewable energy in the U.S. has been state-wide renewable energy portfolio standards, hereby called RPS. The goal of an RPS is to increase the use of renewable energy in electricity generation by requiring electricity suppliers to provide consumers with a minimum share of electricity from eligible renewable resources (e.g. 20% of electricity generated needs to come from renewable sources).

The two states that generate the most renewable energy in the U.S. – Texas and California – have made an RPS a central part of their renewable energy policy strategy. However, the two states differ quite substantially in their implementation philosophies and supporting policies.

California has a much more hands on approach with increasingly ambitious RPS targets over the years with a plethora of diverse, and targeted statewide policies for specific renewables, while Texas has a more hands-off approach, setting a low renewable target and providing comparatively fewer state-wide incentives and regulations.

This paper seeks to explore the differences between Texas and California and assess changes in each state’s overall CO2 emissions from the electricity sector and generation of renewable energy since their RPS went into effect. The paper concludes with lessons learned and recommendations for how RPS policies can be improved nationally to ultimately achieve Biden’s goal of a carbon-free electricity system.

About The Author

Chetan Hebbale is currently a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C. focused on international economics, climate change, and sustainability.

Prior to this, he spent over 4 years at Deloitte Consulting working on technology and strategy projects at the CDC and U.S. Treasury Department.

He is a native of Atlanta, GA and attended the University of Georgia.

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Climate Change Long Form Politics and Government

What Public Health Emergencies Can Teach Us About Climate Adaptation

We will be watching videos of life-threatening climate disasters every day on our phones until one day it’s our phone recording the next one.

Major environmental and health emergencies used to be rare, one-off occasions. Now being in a state of emergency is the new normal. Mega-hurricanes, massive floods, heat waves, inferno wildfires, even global pandemics, are now a regular part of our lives every year.

As the environment deteriorates, we will lurch from one emergency to another in a perpetual state of disaster response as the Earth becomes more and more uninhabitable every year. In order to survive humanity will have to both rely on and become our own emergency first responders.

Where we stand now is reason for pessimism. Even if we miraculously reduced all the world’s carbon emissions to zero by tomorrow we still couldn’t stop many of the environmental changes set in motion, only limit their worst effects. This is because more than 93% of the heat humans have generated is trapped in the oceans and atmosphere where it will linger for centuries.

The time for arguing about who is to blame is over. Now it’s time to figure out what happens when it’s our homes that are flooded, AC systems overwhelmed, or an even deadlier pandemic comes along.

For a few years I worked in the world of emergency response at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). I witnessed the response to the Zika virus in the Americas, the Ebola virus in the Congo, Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, and most recently the COVID vaccine distribution.

In each of these emergencies, I’ve learned something new about how these shocks are handled by some of the largest public and private institutions tasked with responding. It’s this same networks of health partners and first responders who will be called upon week after week when the next disaster strikes.

This article/personal reflection is for anyone who is interested in learning more about the world of emergency response and wants tangible solutions to advocate for with their friends, family, and public officials to better prepare for humanity’s fight to survive climate change.

Lessons Learned

1. 2020 COVID – Computers call the shots.
2. 2019 Ebola – Assume people won’t listen to you.
3. 2017 Hurricane Maria – The money is there, if you know where to look.
4. 2016 Zika – Sometimes you have to make it up as you go.

Lesson #1 – Computers call the shots.

In November 2020, the Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines neared the finish line for FDA emergency use authorization. In preparation for nationwide distribution, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services formed a partnership with retail pharmacy chains to administer the vaccine. Drugstores like CVS, Walgreens, and Rite-Aid were to be the frontlines of the largest vaccination campaign in human history.

It was a simple and common-sense partnership. The federal government wanted to get the widest reach possible with the lowest effort. More than a third of Americans get their annual flu shot at a pharmacy and more than 80% of Americans live within 10 miles of a CVS or other community pharmacy.

For the pharmacies, the vaccine was to be provided at no cost to them and to be administered at no cost to the recipients. The pharmacies would benefit from increased traffic in their stores as well as positive PR on their vaccination efforts.

Pharmacies like CVS formed a partnership with the federal government to distribute the COVID vaccines but faced a complex data reporting environment that delayed the roll out. Photo by Anna Tarazevich on

In order to become an approved pharmacy to receive the COVID vaccine they had a few rules they had to follow, namely how they would share data with the CDC on their vaccination efforts.

Every 24 hours, pharmacies had to submit data on things like how many people they vaccinated, the number of doses they ordered, and how many doses they had on hand in their inventory. This information would be fed into a larger system called Tiberius managed by Operation Warp Speed. In Tiberius, the federal government would allocate the scarce doses of the vaccine to each state based on demographics, demand, and availability.

This process working well had a lot riding on it. In December, the U.S. was in the midst of its deadliest month of the pandemic with the alpha variant from the U.K. rampantly hospitalizing and killing thousands of people every day.

Unfortunately, within the first few weeks of the vaccine rollout the wheels started to come off the track. States began complaining that the actual amount of vaccines they were allocated were far less than what they expected, in some cases more than 40% less. As a result, pharmacies and other vaccination sites in those states had to start cancelling thousands of appointments.

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee announcing the unexpected cut to the state’s COVID-19 vaccine allocation.

Our team in the CDC Vaccine Task Force was working with the pharmacies and needed to explain to them what was going on. This led us to wrapping our minds around the messy process that COVID data was coming into and out of the CDC.

The culprit was a faulty data synchronization between the CDC’s vaccine ordering system, VTrcks, and the allocation system Tiberius.

While vaccination providers were planning appointments based on what they ordered, it wasn’t until that information matched up with Tiberius that the right number of doses would arrive at their facility. The issue was diagnosed and fixed, but it held up vaccine distribution at a critical time.

Technology hurdles like this were one of many early missteps that were not only responsible for the U.S. ending 2020 nearly 18 million vaccinations behind schedule, but also resulted in failures to quickly identify hotspots and prevent outbreaks early in the pandemic.

The lesson is despite the best laid plans of mice and men, sometimes it’s the computers that are calling the shots. Literally. More than people agreeing on what needs to be done the harder work is ensuring that the information systems behind the scenes are also in agreement on what needs to be done. Getting the I.T. piece right can be in the biggest determinant on whether life-saving care can be administered in a timely way.

This is the largest and most important vaccine program that we have ever undertaken. We would have liked to have seen it run smoothly and have 20 million doses into people today, which was the projection. Obviously, it didn’t happen.

Dr. Anthony Fauci on the beginning of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, December 31st, 2020

Things to advocate for:

Investing in standardized application programming interfaces (APIs) across healthcare and emergency response systems.

The two biggest challenges facing interoperability in our healthcare system today are data usability and public health data exchange delays. Health data right now are not readily available in a format that can be easily ingested and incorporated by different healthcare providers and public health systems.

More work and investment is needed in adopting the HHS Standardized application programming interface (API) for patient and population services across hospitals, laboratories, first responders, and meteorological services to make it easier for disparate systems to share information quickly in an emergency.

Development of a standardized “health passport” for individuals to manage, control, and protect their health data.

Do you know what you would do if you lost your paper vaccine card? Depending on where you live the process can be shockingly complicated to get physical or electronic proof of vaccination from your state immunization registry.

Imagine now that an immunocompromised person is brought to a large stadium for shelter after having their basement home flooded. One of more than 150 million people that will become climate refugees in the next 30 years. How will they attest to their exact prescriptions, vitals, and medical history with all their documentation under water?

Equipping individuals to have sovereignty over their own health information has been a challenge for years despite having the technology to do it in a way that protects privacy and ensures portability. Investing in a solution now that leverages advances in distributed data storage and biometrics will vastly improve healthcare in a rapid response setting.

Take Away
There will be no successful response to climate change without relying on technology. When it comes to quickly identifying and triaging an emergency situation our I.T. infrastructure needs to be nimble, portable, and interconnected – COVID has proved that it’s not there yet.

Lesson #2 – Assume people won’t listen to you.

The Ebola virus flared back up in the Congo in 2019 prompting the WHO and CDC to rush medical personnel to contain the outbreak. They feared a repeat of the 2014 outbreak that spread across West Africa, then the largest Ebola outbreak in history.

As medical staff arrived and began treating and isolating patients, they faced a series of attacks by the hardest hit communities. People began throwing stones at doctors and burning down medical facilities. One day, two gunmen barged into a medical staff meeting and opened fire.

At the time, our team at the CDC’s Division of Emergency Operations was developing resource plans for the Ebola response. The deployments of CDC health workers being processed had to be immediately cancelled until the stronger security arrangements could be made. In total, there were 386 attacks against Ebola first responders in the Congo.

When asked why they were hostile to the medical workers, many responded by accusing the health workers of making up Ebola as a ruse to make money off the population. Some declared that it was a hoax perpetrated by the government to drum up foreign aid, cancel local elections and takeaway their rights. Religious officials and politicians stoked these fears.

Ebola doesn’t exist! You’ve invented the disease.

Gunman who fired on Ebola workers in the Congo

The skepticism and misinformation about Ebola bears obvious resemblance to COVID-19. Whether it was downplaying the threat of the virus, politicizing masks, watering down CDC recommendations, or letting unfounded fears of the vaccine abound, there was no shortage of conspiracies that undermined public health messaging.

The misinformation around COVID has similarly led to violence against healthcare workers and government officials. Most famously, the plot to kidnap Michigan governor Gretchen Witmer in retaliation for strict lockdown orders. Globally, hundreds of healthcare workers and contact tracers in the last year have been threatened and attacked.

This underlies a more fundamental issue with health emergencies, including climate change – successfully communicating science remains one of the most pressing challenges to overcome.

Many times, we assume that the compelling nature of scientific assessments – especially ones that are apparent right in front of our eyes – are sufficient to spur action.

It’s smarter to assume that there will always be some countervailing political, social, or economic force which will turn the public against you, even though you are trying to help them. The imperative must be on health authorities to be proactive rather than reactive and drive the message through diverse, independent, and non-partisan channels.

Ideas to advocate for:

Partner with singers, athletes, actors, and social media influencers across the political spectrum in unified messaging campaigns.

Celebrities have a tremendous influence on the information we retain, the attitudes we adopt, and the decisions we make, including those related to our health. This is a known fact, otherwise companies wouldn’t be paying them millions of dollars to be brand ambassadors. There is already evidence that celebrities have influenced our perceptions of climate change and have driven participation in climate activism.

In a health emergency, celebrity messages can be “especially important if trust in government/official sources is quite low,” according to Tracy Epton, a psychologist at the University of Manchester in Britain. Indeed, despite weeks of CDC warnings about the impending arrival of COVID early in 2020, the first real wakeup call for the public was when actor Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson tested positive.

“Public health figures who have credibility must partner with social media influencers who have the reach. Harnessing the wide reach of local, regional and national influencers from a wide swath of sectors both within and outside of the public health community is necessary to counter the large volume of misinformation thrust into the information ecosystem.”

Dr. Amir Bagherpour and Dr. Ali Nouri – Fellow and President of the Federation of American Scientists

Response authorities should set standards on what constitutes false or misleading information in real-time, especially during a declared public health or disaster emergency.

There has been no greater driver of misinformation about scientific information than from social media. What many have called an “infodemic“, a deluge of fake news about the virus circulates on platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and YouTube at a dizzying velocity.

These companies are reactive rather than proactive and slow to flag or remove content before thousands have already seen them. Last April, 59% of posts about COVID rated as false by fact-checkers remained up on Twitter. On YouTube, 27% remained up and on Facebook 24% of false-rated content remained up without warning labels.

There is a strong association between the use of WhatsApp and Facebook and believing COVID misinformation.

September 2020 joint study from Harvard, Northwestern, Rutgers and Northeastern universities on COVID misinformation

Disaster response officials must form stronger partnerships with social media companies to identify common sources of misinformation and enable speedy removal. With the poor track record of tech companies being able to self-regulate, response authorities may need the power to remove content in real-time, especially at the early stages of an emergency.

Learn from the advertising industry on how to identify, engage, and influence the behavior of your target audience.

The ad industry is incredibly powerful because of its ability to understand the preferences of its audience and use them to subtly influence, even manipulate people into taking a desired decision. Credit their innovative use of behavioral economics, marketing analytics, and empowered creative departments.

While public health mass media campaigns have worked successfully on issues like reducing smoking, there is clearly much to be learned in terms of how to change individual behavior in the context of a health emergency. Recruiting from and partnering with the top advertising and public relations firms could provide some fresh thinking and new tools on better ways to win over the audience and nudge the public to prepare more proactively for climate change.

Take Away
Misinformation and conspiracies derail every public health emergency – science can’t be expected to be listened to on its own merits. For scientific guidance to be communicated more effectively there needs to be a re-thinking on the public faces of an emergency, the tactics to remove false information online, and how best to target and influence the average citizen.

Lesson #3 – The money is there, if you know where to look.

On September 20th, 2017, a high-end Category 4 hurricane slammed into Puerto Rico. Hurricane Maria flattened entire neighborhoods causing unprecedented damage to structures, roads, the power grid, and healthcare facilities. The entire population of 3.7 million people was left without electricity overnight.

More than 100,000 Puerto Ricans did not have clean food, water, or reliable electricity for more than 6 months. It is considered the worst natural disaster in history to hit the island.

The response from the U.S. government was haphazard to say the least. Part of the reason was that this was the third consecutive mega-hurricane to hit the U.S. in a stretch of a few weeks: Hurricane Harvey, Irma, and now Maria. This precarious situation left FEMA, CDC, and other emergency response agencies even more strapped for resources.

The Trump administration was not only slow to take the crisis in Puerto Rico as seriously as the recovery efforts in Florida and Texas, but badly bungled the logistics and operations of getting relief to the island. This even prompted a personal feud between Trump himself and the mayor of San Juan.

Ultimately, Puerto Rico received 1/9th of the emergency meals, half the amount of water supplies, and 1/20th of the tarps provided during the responses to Harvey and Irma.

The Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General found that FEMA “lost visibility” or failed to fully track nearly 40% of shipments to Puerto Rico with a value of nearly $257 million in meals, water, blankets and other supplies.

ABC News

It was in this environment that our team at the CDC’s Office of Financial Resources was tasked to find money, wherever it may exist within the agency, to help fund the public health emergency response operation in Puerto Rico.

One thing I quickly learned on this fiscal hunting trip is how much government money goes unused every year. When federal agencies don’t spend the funds Congress appropriates to them within a specific timeframe, the funds are “cancelled” and returned to the U.S. Treasury Department General Account (known as the TGA).

Once funds are cancelled, they are legally not allowed to be used for anything else. According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study, roughly $24 billion dollars in government-wide budget authority is cancelled every year – enough to pay for an annual universal pre-K program.

The reasons for canceling government appropriations can vary. Sometimes agencies just run out of time to implement a program. Many times, they simply don’t have the capacity to effectively find organizations, projects, or things to buy to use up their appropriated funds.

Before having to cancel appropriated funds, some agencies have authority to redirect this money for other purposes – this is a process known as “re-programming”.

One specific spending mechanism we looked into for the possibility of reprogramming was “unliquidated obligations”. Basically, the government agreed to set aside money to pay for some purpose (obligation) but ended up not incurring any expenses for that purpose.

After diving deeper into the numbers, we uncovered $6 billion in unliquidated obligations on the CDC’s accounting books. Money that could be re-programmed not just for the response in Puerto Rico, but several other public health operations.

Ideas to advocate for:

In a recent GAO study almost 70% of the agency officials interviewed reported that they ended up cancelling unused government funds because they could only be used for very specific purposes and did not have the legal authority to re-direct them to related/adjacent activities.

Rather than returning the money, agency officials need increased acquisition flexibilities, increases to warrant thresholds, new approving authorities, expansion to purchase card flexibilities, and the ability to use Inter-Departmental Delegation Authority (IDDA) and Inter-Agency Agreements (IAAs). These tools will give policymakers enhanced flexibility to respond to health emergencies in a forceful way.

Otherwise, agencies need to go through a process of review and congressional notification to take re-programming actions which can take several months. Because of the “use-it-or-lose-it” nature of these appropriations, a flurry of federal spending happens in the last week of the government fiscal year (last week of September) even if it results in lower quality projects or for issues that are not as urgent.

Federal agencies spend an average of 4.9 times more in the last week of their fiscal year than in a typical week during the rest of the year

National Bureau of Economic Research
Direct the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to target undisbursed balances by streamlining the project closeout process.

Nearly a fifth of all government spending (~$800B) goes to disbursing grants. The very first work project I worked on was helping manage the Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) grant throughout all its phases: pre-award, award, implementation, and closeout.

The closeout portion of a grant’s lifecycle is where a lot of the hidden money may lie. Closeout procedures are designed to ensure that the grantee has satisfied the terms of the grant and submitted all required financial and performance reports to the awarding agency. In this process, money that was given to a grantee but was never actually used is often discovered. That’s not always the case though.

In 2011, the GAO identified that the total amount of unused grant money can represent anywhere from 2.7% to a jaw-dropping 34.8% of an agency’s or program’s grant funding. More than $794 million in funding remaining in expired grant accounts for just one agency. Stronger action to improve systems and policies for reconciling payment accounts and monitoring grantee spending can be critical to maximizing available dollars to respond to emergencies.

Take Away
Disasters and emergencies are the last time you want to be getting thrifty. Rather than asking “how are you going to pay for it?” realize that we probably have already paid for it! Millions of dollars are sitting in unused or expired accounts or are being returned to the government because of lack of capacity and poor management. Granting increased flexibility to use government funds and rooting out idling money during a project’s “closeout” phase can refill coffers when responding to multiple, concurrent emergencies.

Lesson #4 – Sometimes you’re going to make it up as you go.

As the Zika virus began to spread across the Western Hemisphere in 2016 there was a scramble for reproductive health experts. Pregnant women infected with Zika were having babies born with deformed brains – a condition so terminal that women in South America were encouraged to postpone pregnancy for almost a year.

The CDC’s National Center of Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities was called up to lead the emergency response at the agency. Unfortunately, most of the experts from the Center had no previous emergency response experience.

Early on epidemiologists were being asked to design communications flyers. Clinicians had figure out how to finance a laboratory task force. Unsurprisingly, things were delayed getting out the door to the populations that needed them most.

Staffing during an emergency response requires careful planning and tracking. But more often than not, at the beginning of a crisis an ad-hoc team of subject matter experts and support staff are pulled together, some of whom who may have never been trained for the unique environment of emergencies.

Because of the speed and voluntary nature of recruitment, skill sets are often misaligned or altogether missing for the precise needs of the response. This results in those on the frontline having to learn on the job at a time when inefficiencies and mistakes can have lethal consequences.

Ideas to advocate for:

Predict your needed workforce rather than reacting.

The U.S. has been in enough emergencies to know roughly what to expect whether it’s a domestic natural disaster or international pandemic response. By mining data from previous responses on information like: the number of people deployed, the roles needed, length of deployment, etc. agencies can create a predictive workforce based on specific emergency scenarios. This approach would not only enable more rapid identification of the right people when standing up a response but getting ahead of training those who have not been in a response before but have a frequently needed skillset.

Create a public health reserve – a gig workforce of dedicated emergency responders.

Disaster response agencies could develop a roster of response alumni and on-call workers that can be rapidly deployed without having to pull staff from other departments. This public health reserve would be similar to a “bench” in the management consulting industry but filled with government employees and volunteer citizens whose main role is to be emergency response specialists.

Versions of this exist currently in different cities known as a Medical Reserve Corp (MRC). MRCs were crucial in recruiting citizen volunteers to assist in COVID vaccination efforts. I was able to join the Fulton County MRC in Atlanta and assist in the logistics at Mercedes-Benz stadium (and luckily got my first dose out of it).

Make emergency exercise-based trainings mandatory for all health domains.

Many believe an emergency will not happen to them in their specific field and thus pass up the voluntary trainings on emergency operations. Zika struck reproductive health, COVID came for respiratory health, in which health domain will the next crisis strike? There’s no way to know, which is why these trainings should be mandatory and regularly exercised across health domains with an eye towards high priority scenarios, like:

  • Pandemic influenza
  • Vector-borne diseases (e.g., malaria, bubonic plague)
  • Natural disasters (e.g., hurricanes, wildfires)
  • Environmental hazards (e.g., chemical/oil spills, radiological incidents)

These trainings should be supplemented with YouTube-like clip series of short, discrete, actionable lessons would be designed to provide guidance and reinforce necessary skills in less than 5 minutes (e.g., how to use a test kit or fill out a report, etc.)

Take Away
Public health or medical expertise does not always translate to disaster response expertise. The most critical impact of inadequate training and staffing during an emergency response is that lives are at risk. Response staff needs access to the knowledge and support required to be prepared for their role and be able to deploy the necessary skills as soon as possible.


While the world is still caught up in the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s critical that we do not view this in isolation of the larger ecological crisis at play between nature and humans.

While our imagination may be limited to floods and wildfires, mosquito-borne diseases like malaria and Zika will become more prevalent as the planet’s hot zone around the equator expands by 5.5 feet everyday. Pathogens, dormant for centuries in the Arctic permafrost, are being released as the ice melts.

Regardless of where the threat comes from, the lives of billions of people will be at the whim of how effectively their government can marshal the necessary resources to put out the next fire (in a very real sense).

When it comes to disaster and emergency response, most of us have no idea where to begin. And no, stop-drop-and-roll does not really count. For those on the front lines of responding, there is little time to look back – the next emergency is already upon them. The strain of a constant cycle of emergency activations and deployments have drained our public health and disaster response authorities. They need our help.

Responsible citizens have an opportunity and an obligation to demand action on the longstanding inefficiencies in our emergency response operations. If left unaddressed, they will continue to rear their head when the world can least afford them.

About The Author

Chetan Hebbale is currently a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C. focused on climate and sustainability.

Prior to this, he spent over 4 years at Deloitte Consulting working on technology and strategy projects at the CDC and U.S. Treasury Department.

He is a native of Atlanta, GA and attended the University of Georgia.

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Long Form Technology

Combining the Power of Robotic Process Automation and Blockchain

As federal organizations increase their exploration into the uses and applications of emerging technologies, opportunities for synergy between these technologies increase in tandem. Specifically, the combined effect between blockchain and robotic process automation (RPA) can be readily explored as adoption increases throughout the public sector.

Briefly defined, blockchain is a digitized, distributed ledger that can be public or permissioned, composed of “blocks” of records and linked together using cryptographic hashes. New blocks are appended to previous blocks based on consensus amongst peers, thus forming a chain that serves as a digital ledger of trusted transactions maintained among and across participants.

In place of multiple independent and isolated ledgers, there is a single shared record of events distributed across all blockchain ledger participants. While blockchain is used to store information, RPA is used to aggregate, clean, and transform it. RPA is a form of business process automation that utilizes software robots, or “bots”, to perform tasks through interactions in an application’s graphical user interface (GUI). Bots replicate human actions through performance of rules-based and manual tasks.

A 2018 Gartner CIO survey shows that 13% of U.S. federal organizations are in short-term planning and/or actively experimenting with blockchain. While the same report indicates that 6% of U.S. federal CIO respondents have already invested and deployed smart robot (i.e. robotics) technologies.

Additionally, a 2018 CIO Agenda: Government Insights report indicates that 7% of Government respondents rank process automation as a top business and mission objective. Given these statistics, technological collaboration amongst emerging technologies should be explored as possibilities for impactful solutions. Specifically, the impact of RPA across highly complex peer-to-peer business processes could be facilitated by blockchain providing a network effect of impact

Blockchain Today 

Blockchain, also known as distributed ledger technology, is becoming more widely accepted as an innovative way of storing and transferring data across a distributed network. Photo by Pixabay on

Blockchain’s potential virtues have been touted widely for a number of years. The peer-to-peer, distributed nature of blockchain allows for near real-time settlement of recorded transactions without the need for trusted third-party verification.

Federal agencies have begun to explore how blockchain implementations can enhance rapid information sharing, facilitate real-time asset tracking, or enable federated digital identities. Since blockchain ledgers contain cryptographically secured, verifiable records of each transaction in a chain—which have all been validated by a network-wide confirmation process—the technology helps to prevent double spending, fraud, abuse, and transaction manipulation.

Additionally, blockchain can be used to facilitate transactions through smart contracts. Smart contracts are pieces of code that can execute predefined tasks when specific conditions are met. Smart contracts further increase the capabilities of blockchain applications because they can digitally mediate, corroborate, enforce the negotiation of, or monitor the performance of a contract.

This can significantly augment data infrastructure, as demonstrated by organizations such as the Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation using smart contracts in the clearing and settlement of $1.5 quadrillion worth of securities in 2015. These strengths have reinforced blockchain as an opportunity for growth in both the public and private industries — forecasted to be a $20 billion global market by 2024.

While blockchain adoption is becoming more widely accepted as an innovative way of storing and transferring data across a distributed network, blockchain systems still depend on a user interface or an external system interface to capture this data.

If the blockchain interfaces directly with raw user inputs, then the blockchain will capture those raw user inputs. When blockchain is combined with an intelligent data ingestion process that can sift through a large set of noisy data, users on the network can benefit from this shared, digitally verified repository of data.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Today

Robotic process automation, known as RPA, is a technology that automates rules-based, manual processes. It has gained momentum in recent years as a promising solution to both improve speed and accuracy of various workplace challenges.

Federal organizations are continuously challenged by unfunded mandates, a shrinking workforce, pressure to deliver improved cycle times, and legacy systems housing valuable data that can be difficult and expensive to access or extract.

Implementation of RPA not only produces tangible results, such as improved processing times by up to 80%, improved accuracy by up to 99.9%, and increased throughput by 3-5x, but also leads to positive intangibles such as increased employee morale due to shift from low-value to high-value work activities and happier customers due to improved response times and accuracy of responses.

Blockchain and RPA as a Packaged Solution

While each technology has its own merits in addressing business challenges, utilizing the two technologies in conjunction with each other allows for innovative solutions that leverage the strength of both technologies, beyond the benefits of isolated implementations.

As government organizations graduate from experimental proofs of concept and look to build production-ready solutions, a common challenge they face involves the integration of a blockchain proof-of-concept prototype with existing RPA systems, processes, and interfaces. This point of integration can serve as an opportunity to demonstrate what happens when you combine the value of blockchain and RPA.

Case Study: Medical Record Consent Management

Medical information is one of the most intimate forms of data that exists. It can describe a person’s identity at a level that reflects one’s genetic history, lifestyle, and even their future. As a result, medical information has now also become a sought-after commodity. An electronic health record (EHR) is now more valuable to a hacker than a credit card number, as these records typically contain names, birth dates, billing information, and medical history.

Despite the importance of securing and managing control of medical data, this information can be scattered across medical centers, physician offices, health plans, and other entities. Often these health care organizations store this sensitive data in different digital formats and EHR systems, which makes the task of securing and sharing this information very difficult for patients.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health Information Technology is at the forefront of tackling this challenge in their efforts to promote of nationwide health information exchange to improve health care.

An integrated RPA-Blockchain solution could be particularly valuable for ONC when it comes to patients providing consent for medical providers to share health records across organizations.

When going to a new doctor today, the process of requesting medical and consent records from your previous provider is time intensive and disparate across different providers. With time being of the essence, a lengthy consent verification process could delay a life-saving diagnosis or procedure. Photo by MART PRODUCTION on

Current State – A Slow and Fragmented Process to Share Patient Data

Today when a patient visits a new doctor the physician may not have access to any of the patient’s historical medical records. In order to access them, the doctor must make a request to the patient’s other health care providers asking them to share the individual’s data. To complete this exchange, the patient must sign a medical release form to establish their consent for their previous providers to share their health records with their new provider. Once a patient’s consent is verified, the record is transferred and the receiving provider intakes and parses the data.

The process of requesting records, verifying consent, consolidating information, and transferring data is time intensive and disparate across different providers and provider organizations. With time being of the essence in certain care scenarios, a lengthy consent verification process could delay a life-saving diagnosis or procedure.

In addition, the current health record sharing process does not allow for the customization of sharing permissions or efficient audit trails of those permissions. For example, a patient is typically not able to set specific opt in and opt out preferences when giving access to specific medical information, e.g., mental health, substance abuse, and sexual and reproductive health records.

Health organizations not only need ubiquitous access to all consent permissions when it comes to the sharing of protected information under HIPAA, but they must also be prepared to immediately respond to patient changes to these preferences.

Appropriate and timely sharing of vital patient information better informs decision-making at the point of care and allows clinicians to:

  • Decrease duplicate testing
  • Avoid medication errors
  • Avoid readmissions
  • Improve decision making

Traditional solutions and technologies have not been able to completely solve these issues, leaving patients in a position where they face challenges in taking advantage of their own medical information to improve their health care. A game changer is needed.

Future State – Leveraging RPA and Blockchain to Improve Interoperability, Speed, and Security When Sharing Patient Data

Imagine a world where all members of the health care ecosystem across health plans, providers, pharmaceutical firms, and patients could be connected on a single health care information network. All players know the rules of operation and can freely exchange information digitally between one or more parties without fear of data leakage or compromise.

A packaged RPA-blockchain solution could make this vision come true by enabling an efficient, trusted mechanism for verifying patient consent, increasing interoperability between health information systems, and providing auditable record sharing. How?

On the most basic level, RPA can be used to bridge integration gaps between legacy software. Bots can push and pull patient data from existing systems owned or stored by providers, provider organizations, electronic health record aggregators, government entities, or insurance companies and then convert the data into a consumable format.

Blockchain accelerates the integration speed and value of RPA by providing “smart contracts” that enshrine the permissions and automate the processes surrounding what type of health data is allowed to be shared, with whom, and under what circumstances. Furthermore, the blockchain logs a digital record of exactly when an action happens so it can be audited for compliance and be verified by any party participating in the blockchain network.

In a dual deployment of blockchain and RPA, blockchain serves as the solution’s backbone, supplying the rules-based information sharing platform, while utilizing RPA optimizes the solution’s output. The benefit of RPA bots is that they can operate exponentially faster than humans with near perfect accuracy across IT infrastructure and can effectively bridge multiple disparate systems to the blockchain.

Blockchain and RPA would be combined as a packaged solution for integration into an organization’s current IT infrastructure.

Essentially, RPA enhances the blockchain’s data ingestion and extraction processes across the many dispersed and detached legacy systems that dot the health record infrastructure landscape. This concept is summarized in Figure 1 above where an RPA-driven blockchain solution can seamlessly integrate pre-existing data collection points across an enterprise or network to consolidate permissions and act as the single source of truth for patient consent.

By utilizing RPA, organizations can maintain their current systems without overhauling their IT infrastructure to achieve integration with blockchain. Thus, the RPA solution transforms data into usable formats, eliminating the need to replace legacy systems. This packaged solution allows organizations to reduce investment costs, implementation time, and the impact of technological transformation, keeping the transition near invisible to the consumers of affected IT systems while allowing organizations to reap all benefits of blockchain.

In contrast to the existing method of having administrative staff conduct database queries, track down paperwork, or contact other health care providers via phone, fax, or courier, a consent management system that leverages RPA and blockchain-based smart contracts could verify patient consent preferences near instantaneously.

The table below summarizes the current state of patient consent management, and a future state where RPA and blockchain technologies can come together and work in tandem to realize efficiencies and automate the consent management process. 

Current StateFuture State
Patient signs medical release paperwork at each individual health care provider or provider organizationA patient visits one provider or provider organization that uses an electronic health record data sharing platform with all other providers and provider organizations in the health care ecosystem. The patient can manage their consent preferences for each provider or provider organization on one platform, including managing what information they consent to share at a more granular level (e.g. mental, substance abuse, and sexual and reproductive health records) or macro community level (e.g. full hospital group or full care network)  
Health care organizations communicate via e-mail, phone, fax, or courier to request and transmit health recordsWhen one health care provider or provider group needs data from another, RPA bots will query the platform’s database for the patient’s consent preferences, then the blockchain smart contract initiates an automatic execution of record sharing based on the validated permission settings
Receiving health care provider or provider organization compiles and parses records in various digital formats and data structures, sometimes manuallyRPA efficiently consolidates and parses all the available data into one consolidated, uniformly structured and formatted record
All health care organizations maintain an individual, sometimes paper-based, often manually managed, record of when health record data was shared and whom betweenThe blockchain maintains an incorruptible electronic record of all health care data exchanges that occur between network participants and is auditable by everyone in the ecosystem  

Deep Dive: RPA as a Mediation Layer

As organizations look to implement blockchain, they must also examine methods and strategies for tying in the technology with their existing infrastructure. Two places in which integration occurs is the process for which users attempt to “write” data onto the blockchain and the process for which users attempt to “read” data from the blockchain.

While organizations could elect to directly access and write data from and to existing IT systems through an Application Programming Interface (API), raw data may not always live in a usable format. This restriction is especially true for the case of smart contracts. Smart contracts are built with specific data standards that must be contextualized and formatted properly to be written to the chain.

Selecting RPA as the bridge between blockchain and existing IT systems addresses both the issue of cost and user familiarity. From a data ingestion perspective, the end-user would input data with their existing standard operating procedures using an already accustomed system and UI. This removes any cost and time associated with a new user interface and allows for a simpler implementation of blockchain into the day to day processes.

The bot would then locate the input data through the existing system’s data endpoint, whether that be a database, flat files, or other storage formats. Once located, the bot will filter for relevant information and transform the data to a blockchain consumable format to be passed through the configured API and added to the blockchain, as depicted in the figure below.

Process for data ingestion and extraction with the use of RPA as a mediation layer

From a data extraction perspective, a bot would scan the blockchain and locate relevant data on the blockchain to be pulled. The bot would then transform the data, cross-referencing any ancillary database, into a format digestible by the consuming IT system. An end-user would be able to access the data within their familiarized systems without any modifications to their standard operating procedures.  

In the case of patient consent, HIPAA compliance authorities, such as HHS could participate in health information exchange networks to verify whether parties in the network comply with HIPAA requirements. These scenarios increase the transparency and accessibility of information between parties and across systems.


Implementing RPA and blockchain as a packaged solution allows organizations to reap the benefits of blockchain while reducing costs, implementation time, and need for users to adapt to new systems and processes. In a future state, RPA and blockchain could reduce communication channels, the need for third-party exchange networks, and automate portions of the electronic health record management process.

As other emerging technologies mature, possibilities of collaborative solutions, such as the relationship between RPA and blockchain, should be considered. These packaged solutions may offer unique approaches to challenging problems, expanding the realm of what is possible through digital evolution.

About The Author

Chetan Hebbale is currently a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C. focused on international economics, climate change, and sustainability.

Prior to this, he spent over 4 years at Deloitte Consulting working on technology and strategy projects at the CDC and U.S. Treasury Department.

He is a native of Atlanta, GA and attended the University of Georgia.

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Investigative Report Long Form Politics and Government

But Her Emails: A Deeper Look At The Legal Issues Behind Classified Information

Upon assuming the role of Secretary of State in 2009, Hillary Clinton and her aides struggled with how to separate her work and business related communications in an increasingly digital and mobile age. The result was the set up of a private email server forgoing the use of an official email address altogether. Thus, the Hillary Clinton email scandal was born.

Even though this scandal has been going on for over a year, a vast majority of Americans are still unsure of what exactly she did wrong. Many in the Democratic Party believe this whole controversy has simply been a partisan, Republican attack to damage her Presidential campaign. That view has been reinforced by Sen. Bernie Sanders who has refused to raise the issue in the 2016 Democratic primary thus far – something both potential Republican nominees have promised to do in the general election. So what is going on here?

In August 2015, the FBI officially launched an investigation into Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server while she was Secretary of State. The primary issue that FBI investigators are looking at is whether or not Clinton knowingly retained, transmitted, or deleted classified information from her private server. Communicating this type of information through unsecure means could put highly classified government secrets at risk by making them susceptible to hackers and spies. 

FBI Director James Comey to date has not spoken publicly about the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail server

As of January 2016, the State Department has withheld 22 emails from Clinton’s server as “top secret” and too classified to release to the public.  Two of these emails surround the movement of North Korean missiles, and the specifics of a drone operation.

There are several laws surrounding the mishandling of classified information which are spelled out under Title 18 US Criminal Codes and Procedures. The two statutes federal investigators are most interested in are Title 18 U.S. Code § 1924 and Title 18 U.S. Code § 793.

Title 18 U.S. Code § 1924 : Unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents or material

(a) Whoever, being an officer, employee, contractor, or consultant of the United States, and, by virtue of his office, employment, position, or contract, becomes possessed of documents or materials containing classified information of the United States, knowingly removes such documents or materials without authority and with the intent to retain such documents or materials at an unauthorized location shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both.

Title 18 U.S. Code § 793 –  Gathering, transmitting or losing defense information

(f) Whoever, being entrusted with or having lawful possession or control of any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, note, or information, relating to the national defense, (1) through gross negligence permits the same to be removed from its proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in violation of his trust, or to be lost, stolen, abstracted, or destroyed, or (2) having knowledge that the same has been illegally removed from its proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in violation of its trust, or lost, or stolen, abstracted, or destroyed, and fails to make prompt report of such loss, theft, abstraction, or destruction to his superior officer

Section 1924 and 793 establishes that anyone that possesses classified information and knowingly, or through “gross negligence” removes it without authority or retains it in an unauthorized location shall face punishment.

Clinton Defense:

  • Clinton has denied wrongdoing by saying these emails have all been retroactively classified, and she neither sent nor received information “marked classified” while Secretary of State. More importantly, as the head of the agency she was the ultimate arbiter of what information would or wouldn’t be considered classified at the time.
  • There is no law that prevents federal employees from having a non-government, personal email as long as relevant work-related documents are preserved. She points to several other public officials who used private emails while in office, including former Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell and that the current Secretary of State John Kerry is the first to primarily use a email account.
  • The campaign has argued that her work-related emails were captured on government systems because she was emailing with folks with government email addresses, and as far as deleting or destroying relevant records, she says the emails that were destroyed on her server were personal correspondence that she has the legal right to decide what to do with.

What the FBI has to decide:

  • Did Clinton knowingly remove classified information when she wiped her server?
  • Did Clinton know that the emails being sent from her private email address through her private email server contained classified information?

Below are 3 scenarios where the FBI and DOJ will have to make an assessment on these questions.

Will Hillary Clinton’s e-mails with Clinton Foundation employee Sidney Blumenthal meet the threshold that she knowingly retained “classified information” on her private server and also communicated information of “the national defense” with someone “not entitled to receive it.”?

Clinton’s use of a private server was unveiled as a result of the Congressional investigation into the 2012 terrorist attacks which killed 4 Americans at the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya. In December 2014, Clinton turned over all the emails deemed “work-related” to the State Department and the Benghazi investigation. During the review of these emails it was revealed that she had extensively corresponded with someone by the name Sidney Blumenthal while Secretary of State.

Sidney “Sid” Blumenthal was a former journalist at the New Yorker who became one of the Clinton’s closest aides and confidants during Bill Clinton’s administration. At the time of the Benghazi attacks, Blumenthal was not a State Department employee, despite having tried, he worked at the Clinton’s large non-profit organization, The Clinton Foundation.

Once his correspondence with Hillary Clinton came to light, Blumenthal was summoned to testify before the Congressional Benghazi committee in June 2015. In a closed door meeting with the committee members, Blumenthal turned over 60 emails that he had exchanged with Hillary Clinton. Once the committee crosschecked the emails that Blumenthal had turned over with the ones Clinton had handed over to the State Department, they found that she had not turned over nine emails and portions of six others – 15 emails in all were unaccounted for.  After accusations that she deleted these emails, the State Department released a new 1,500 pages of Clinton’s emails in September 2015 that were previously undisclosed to the Benghazi committee.

Clinton advisor Sidney Blumenthal subpoenaed by Congress in May 2015

The additional tranche of emails revealed at least 84 containing classified information, including ones she sent. Several email between her and Blumenthal have had select paragraphs and even entire pages redacted.  This June 2012 memo has been completely redacted, and this September 2012 memo even has the subject line hidden.  

Blumenthal in fact prefaced many of his intelligence memos to Clinton by saying they came from “an extremely sensitive source” and the information “should be handled with care”.  This throws into doubt Clinton’s argument that she could not know information was classified because it was not “marked classified”. Clinton repeatedly forwarded these emails to her aides, thanked Blumenthal and encouraged him to continue sending her information.

The most incriminating email from Blumenthal to Clinton is a memo where he reveals the name of a CIA intelligence operative in Libya.  In a March 2011 memo, Blumenthal wrote “Tyler spoke to a colleague currently at the CIA, who told him the agency had been dependent for intelligence from [redacted due to sources and methods].” Despite the email not being “marked classified”, information about a current CIA asset which was illegally obtained would likely fall under the purview of a 2009 Non-Disclosure Agreement Clinton signed which stipulates that “classified information is marked or unmarked classified information.”

John Rizzo, a former general counsel at the CIA, said of the memo “it’s the most sensitive kind of classified information — the true identity of a human source.

J. William Leonard, a former director of the U.S. government’s Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) who worked for both the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations said of the information “It’s born classified”…for the State Department to say otherwise was “blowing smoke.”

Clinton, by law, was supposed to report this improper disclosure of classified information to Department of State Inspector General. But interestingly during her tenure, there was no Inspector General for the State Department, the longest there had been an absence in that position since 1957. Clinton is one of ten members of the US government which determines what is classified information, yet still forwarded this email to one of her aides – debunking her claim that she never sent classified information through her private server.

“This is a serious breach of national security and a clear violation of the law”, said Army Col. Larry Mrozinski, who served almost four years as a ­senior military adviser in the State Department under both Clinton and Condoleezza Rice.  “It’s hard to imagine that in her position she would fail to recognize the obvious…anybody else would have already lost their security clearance and be subjected to an espionage investigation,” Mrozinski added.

If the FBI concludes that the identity and location of this CIA operative was authentic then this could be considered a violation of Section 1924 for possessing “documents containing classified information” (even if it was not marked classified) at an “unauthorized location” (on her private server). Furthermore, this would prove that Clinton was corresponding about information “of the national defense” with an employee of The Clinton Foundation, even though Blumenthal was never given a security clearance to deal with such sensitive information in the first place. 

Clinton forwarding his email to others and encouraging additional information be sent could be considered a violation of Section 793, Section 798, and the 2009 Non-Disclosure Agreement for “knowingly and willfully” communicating sensitive information with someone who was not “properly authorized by the United States Government to receive it“. However, the case to prosecute Clinton under Section 793, “The Espionage Act,” is far weaker than the other statutes. It is easy to piece together certain behavior and claim that she has violated the law, but intent is important when deciding to prosecute. 

There is an argument to be made based off of a 1941 Supreme Court case that in order to be prosecuted under The Espionage Act, the disclosure of this information would have had to be done in “bad faith” and with “intent” to injure the United States. It is not currently possible to say Clinton intended to injure anyone by forwarding the e-mail, and that likely would not be true anyway. The FBI will have to assess what additional information her deleted emails may contain with regards to her “intent” when using her private email to discuss classified information.

Does Hillary Clinton’s failure to encrypt her private server for the first two months as Secretary, along with other security lapses, constitute “gross negligence” while possessing information of “the national defense”?

Once Clinton turned over her server to the FBI in August 2015, reports began to emerge that it was extremely vulnerable to hacking attempts because the server permitted remote-access connections directly over the Internet. Not only that, Clinton did not encrypt any of her emails for the first two months as Secretary of State.

Before becoming Secretary of State in 2009, Clinton purchased a private email server to be installed in her home in New York. On this server she used the email address for all work and personal correspondence throughout her 4-year tenure as Secretary. She did not use, or activate, an official State Department “” email account throughout this time. Hillary Clinton’s email server and address ( were not sanctioned by the State Department as one of the agency’s authorized electronic recordkeeping systems under the National Archives and Records Administration‘s (NARA) regulations.

This separates her case from former Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice who had a private email address, but primarily used their work email. They did not go as far as to have all their communications flow through a private server which only they controlled, nor were they sending highly classified information through their private email. Colin Powell had only two of his e-mails retroactively classified, that too at the lowest level.

One of Clinton’s primary defenses has been that her predecessors Rice and Powell also used private email addresses

After scanning the “clintonemail” domain, a private cybersecurity firm found that from January 2009 to March 2009 the domain had no digital certificate issued by an authority. Without what’s called an “SSL” certificate, data flows through in the form of plain text. This means all of Clinton’s web browser, smartphone and tablet communications would not have been “encrypted,”  which allows any hacker to read that information.

Marc Maiffret, who has founded two cybersecurity companies, called her set up total amateur hour” and that “real enterprise-class security, with teams dedicated to these things, would not do this.” “An attacker with a low skill-level would be able to exploit this vulnerability,” said a Homeland Security Department’s U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness team.

Clinton has so far refused to answer questions about how well her system was secured, the types of safeguards on her server and whether, or how frequently, security updates were applied. Clinton’s first email sent from the server was on January 28th, 2009, but the Clinton’s server wasn’t issued an SSL certificate until March 29th, 2009 – contradicting her claim that this system wasn’t used till after March 2009. During those two months, Clinton’s travel logs show that she visited China, Indonesia, Egypt, Israel, Japan and South Korea and discussed issues about North Korea, Mexico, Afghanistan, military advisers, CIA operations and a briefing for Obama.

There are now reports that, Asian governments may have been reading Clinton’s information during the 3 month window when her server did not have an SSL certificate. While Clinton has claimed there is no evidence that her private server was successfully hacked, there have been two confirmed hacking attempts into Clinton’s email server:  one in 2011 from Russia and a second one in 2012 from Serbia. There are now reports of dozens more hacking attempts into her server, some even originating from allies like China, South Korea and Germany.

While the specific safeguards for her email server are still unknown, we know these two things for sure. First, the State Department was aware of these lapses, warned Clinton and attempted to provide her with a secure “” email account, but she chose not to use it. Second and more damningly, Clinton tried to modify existing State Department security protocols so she would be able to use her unsecured Blackberry in a secure facility (called a SCIF) to view classified information. The NSA said no.

Does the lax security for her private server and attempted circumvention of security protocols while there were confirmed hacking attempts into her server demonstrate “gross negligence” while retaining information of the national defense? The FBI will have to make the call.

Does Hillary Clinton transferring the data from her private server to Platte River Networks and then wiping the server constitute retaining “classified information” at an “unauthorized location”, having information of the “national defense” be “lost, stolen, abstracted, or destroyed“, and an obstruction of justice?

Whether or not Clinton’s private email server itself violated The Federal Records Act, The National Archives Regulations or the Freedom of Information Act remains the subject of legal debate. But what she chose to do with her data after leaving office has not received as much attention.

After Hillary stepped down as Secretary of State in February 2013, she chose to upgrade her private email server. In June 2013, a small IT company in Denver called Platte River Networks won a contract to provide information technology services to Bill and Hillary Clinton, which included taking possession of Hillary’s email server while she was Secretary of State. The role of Platte River Networks was to “upgrade, secure and manage the e-mail server for both the Clintons and their staff beginning June 2013.”

This was a huge contract for a company that had actually never held a federal contract before, had no prior relationship with the Clintons, and who’s most notable accomplishment at the time was winning the 2012 Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business of the Year award. In June 2013, the company took Clinton’s server from her home in New York and transferred it to a secure facility in New Jersey. It was here the data from her original server was “migrated” to a new server for the purpose of making the transition to Platte River Networks.

After leaving office, Clinton had the data from her private server transferred to a private, not well known, IT company in Denver called Platte River Networks

Platte River Networks did not have clearance to handle classified government information. Cindy McGovern, a spokeswoman for an agency within the Defense Department that vets companies for security clearances, said her office had not extended one to Platte River Networks. The company has admitted that as far as it knows, their employees never held formal government-issued security clearances.

Given the existence of classified information on her private server, Clinton’s decision to transfer this information to a private IT company with no security clearance could be violation of Section 1924 for housing sensitive information at an “unauthorized location,” but could even fall under Section 793 for “gross negligence” in handling information of “the national defense.”

Then there is the question of the wiping of the email server. Clinton claims the emails she deleted were personal and not work related, and its up to her if she wanted to get rid of them, even if she decided to do so 2 years after leaving the State Department. Because all of her correspondence is in her control and not the government’s, it is difficult to verify the claim.

However the FBI has attempted to do so by approaching Platte River Networks to retrieve Clinton’s original server. There are reports that employees at the company began to fear a cover-up as they received a letter from Clinton Executive Service Corp instructing them to “cut the back up”.

The employees did not do so and the FBI has now recovered deleted emails which they considered to contain work-related information. This debunks her claim, which she made under the penalty of perjury, that she turned over all her work-related emails to the State Department.

In addition, if they find find highly classified emails then she could be considered attempting to obstruct justice and be in violation of Section 793 for having information of the “national defense” be “lost, stolen, abstracted, or destroyed”.

What will happen next?

Bryan Pagliano, Clinton’s IT staff member who managed the private server, has been granted immunity – likely signaling that he will be providing testimony to a grand jury.

Last month the Justice Department granted immunity to Clinton’s IT staff member who managed her e-mail server, Bryan Pagliano.  A witness is usually granted immunity if he/she will be giving testimony to a grand jury about evidence that relates to an investigation, and usually implicates themselves in a crime. Until now, Pagliano has been pleading the 5th Amendment and has refused to cooperate with the investigation surrounding how the e-mail server was set up and the safeguards put in place. There are even suspicions of fraud involving his hiring and payment, which were all done by the Clintons, and not reported to the State Department.

Many have said a granting of immunity is not evidence of guilt, rather a competent lawyer who is seeking protections for their client before cooperating with an investigation. Pagliano receiving immunity may ultimately be inconsequential, but one former FBI official said, “you don’t start granting people close to Clinton immunity unless you are seriously looking at charges against your target.

The FBI is expected to officially announce the findings from the investigation around May or June. The Democratic National Convention will choose the party’s nominee for President at the end of July. If Clinton is found guilty of any charges she must either withdraw her name from the Democratic primary, or continue to deny/downplay wrongdoing and hope that she will still collect enough delegates in the remaining primary states to secure the nomination. If a heavy charge is brought down and she chooses to withdraw from the race, Bernie Sanders would likely become the nominee. However, there are rumors there could still be a contested convention because of the party’s high number of super delegates.

About The Author

Chetan Hebbale is currently a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C. focused on international economics, climate change, and sustainability.

Prior to this, he spent over 4 years at Deloitte Consulting working on technology and strategy projects at the CDC and U.S. Treasury Department.

He is a native of Atlanta, GA and attended the University of Georgia.

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Health Long Form

Incentivizing Kidney Donations: A Tax Credit Scheme


There is an organ crisis in America. Currently, hundreds of thousands of Americans are on waiting lists to receive organ transplantations for livers, hearts, and kidneys and fewer and fewer organs are being donated every year. The most egregious of these shortages is being seen in the kidney market where an estimated 50,000 Americans will die waiting for a kidney this year alone.

This failure of supply to keep up with demand has its roots in a failure to provide incentives for individuals to donate their organs. It is currently illegal to sell ones kidney and receive monetary compensation. The current proposals around this involve tweaking current laws to acquire ones organs after death, or repealing the ban altogether and allowing for direct compensation.

There are several practical and moral flaws with both of these initiatives, thus this paper proposes a tax-credit scheme to incentivize individuals to give up their kidneys as an alternative. This tax-credit would not violate the ban currently in place to compensate those for donation and would avoid the flaws in previous proposals to give America a fighting chance to overcome this organ crisis.


In 1984, the National Organ Transplant Act was passed in the United States which deemed it illegal for anyone to sell or acquire an organ for “valuable consideration”. The passage of this law set the precedent for any and all organ transplantations to occur only if the organ was received through donation; purchase or sale of organs resulted in five year prison sentence and a hefty fine (FindLaw).

Unfortunately, only 30-40% of Americans have listed themselves as organ donors on a driver’s license or through state run donor registries (Satel), and the gap between those on the waiting-list to receive organs and the amount of organs donated annually continues to widen (

In 2006, 70,000 Americans were waiting for life-saving kidney transplantations and around 10,000 kidneys were donated that year (Satel). As of September 8th 2014, over 120,000 Americans are waiting for kidneys and around 16,000 kidneys have been donated (National Kidney Foundation). To this day, someone on the list waiting for a kidney dies about every 90 minutes (Satel) with a staggering rate of 50,000 individuals expected to die this year still waiting for a kidney (Beard, Kaserman and Osterkamp).  

If there is no structural change in either the system of organ procurement or the technology of transplant medicine, the likelihood of resolving current shortages in kidney donation looks very bleak. A simple simulation model based on current data around US renal waiting lists predicts that by 2015 the amount of Americans waiting for a kidney will balloon to over twice the amount in 2006 to 160,000 and lives lost to kidney shortages will exceed 100,000 (Beard, Kaserman and Osterkamp).

This problem is compounded by the current health crisis in America where the conditions that give rise to renal failure such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity are increasing exponentially (Beard, Kaserman and Osterkamp). America will see a greater demand for kidneys in future and the current rate of donation is already not meeting the demand, thus the impending organ crisis in this country has made one thing clear – relying on altruism is not enough.

Literature Review

The solution is obvious – increase the overall kidney supply pool in some way. There have been several methods discussed to increase the supply, but they have split along two camps: those that work within the National Organ Transplant Act and those that seek its repeal. Those that wish to work within NOTA have pushed two main initiatives – expanding organ donor eligibility to patients who have died of cardiac arrest (currently outlawed) and adopting the European practice of “presumed consent” whereby citizens are considered organ donors upon their death unless they have explicitly signed an anti-donor or opt-out card (Satel). However, the total amount of organs that would be added to the pool from implementing either of those strategies alone or together would fall far short of the booming demand (Abadie and Gay).

Those that wish to repeal NOTA have championed legislation that would remove the ban on the sale or purchase of organs and would allow direct cash compensation in exchange for kidneys, hearts, livers etc. Economists globally have supported this method with over 70 percent favoring the legalization of organ sales (Beard, Kaserman and Osterkamp). From their perspective, the shortage of organs is a result of a failure to provide incentives – there is really no incentive for someone to give up a non-vital organ such as a kidney before their death if their only motivation is the desire to help someone else.  Economists argue that by opening a free-market for organs both the demand and supply side of the equation would be helped. 

On the supply side, given that demand is so high for the organs there would be a huge incentive to sell one’s own organs or those of a deceased family member and collect a very good price. Economists argue that legalization could single-handedly eliminate the shortage for organs given that the average cost for a kidney transplantation is $259,000 and even a fraction of that as compensation would skyrocket supply (Becker and Elias). On the demand side organ exchange businesses would arise and begin selling organs at lower prices. As competition to buy organs increases given the increasing demand, companies would continue to slash prices to capture the market demand leading to overall lower prices for those in need of organs as well (Andiew and Block).

The push-pack to this proposal has been strong from many fronts, in particular the Institute of Medicine cautioning that this will lead to a slippery slope of treating the body as if it were “for sale”. Studies have shown that financial incentives may actually lead to a decline in the supply of organs because it distorts the signal about preferences that organ donation gives which is meant to be purely altruistic in nature and perhaps “cheapens” the process (Byrne and Thompson).  

Proponents of the legalization of organ sales argue that that form of thinking is outdated given that America has already accepted a free market approach for human eggs, sperm and surrogate mothers (Satel). However, there is legitimate concern that the legalization of organ sales could spur unethical and even criminal exploitation of vulnerable donors (Danovitch and Delmonico). Opponents argue that legalization will set off a global race of “transplant tourism” where organized crime rings would travel across impoverished areas in the United States and around the world to capture and harvest organs from powerless individuals and sell their organs on the market for a profit (Danovitch and Delmonico). This possibility has shown to be uniquely likely for kidneys. In Hong Kong and Israel where the sale of kidneys had been legalized, there was a sharp increase in unnamed or unidentified kidney sales (Danovitch and Delmonico).

Given these risks, this paper argues for a third option as an alternative to legalization and methods that still maintain NOTA – providing a weak economic incentive to donate organs. Thomas Søbirk from the University of Roskilde in Denmark has argued that individuals are more likely to donate to a particular cause the more of their donations they are able to deduct from their taxes. Extrapolating from this conclusion, a tax-credit mechanism to compensate individuals for organ donations may be able to satisfy the demand for kidneys. If individuals can only receive deductions in their taxes in that country that should theoretically eliminate the risk of foreign organ sellers who would not be able to collect the benefits of harvesting illegal organs, but still able to increase the supply of the overall organ and kidney pool.


A tax-credit scheme as a solution to the current shortage in kidney donations, in particular the one I am proposing, will take form in two separate ways. The first is offering an annual tax credit (~$500) for an individual agreeing to be an organ donor upon their death. The second is receiving a tax credit for donating a kidney as a living donor. There are two components to this as well – the first is that there is a fixed rate of a $5,000 deduction in taxes per kidney donated. Humans cannot survive with less than one of their two kidneys so this will be a one-time deduction. The second component is where any costs incurred as a result of donating the kidney (the procedure, recovery, travel etc) will be deducted from their taxable income.

To prevent against abuse and exploitation of this system, I propose a $15,000 cap on deductions as well as all expenditures being cleared by a medical doctor as an expense derived from the removal of the kidney.  This tax-credit should theoretically increase the pool of kidney donations in two ways. First, it works to address the negative impacts of donating an organ by compensating individuals and secondly it attaches a positive incentive to donate with the promise of future deductions in their taxable income. If all individuals in this economy are seeking to maximize their utility, this measure ensures that individuals are not worse off after donating their kidney and are in fact better off in the future.

According to the Grossman Model, health is an investment that can accumulate or depreciate over time. The choice to donate an organ is detrimental to one’s health even if only in the short-term since there are costs associated with recovery. The equation below projects an individual’s lifetime utility. The individuals discount date, δ, is a measure of much they value utility now more than in the future. In this scenario, an individual choosing to give up a non-vital organ like a kidney in exchange for the reward of tax reduction (indirectly compensation) indicates that they value utility in the future more than they value utility now and thus have a large δ.

I now want to address potential concerns with this proposal as opposed to the ones discussed in the literature. The first concern is that the tax-credit will ultimately have no effect on increasing the rate of kidney donation and may actually decrease the number of people willing to donate. The idea that the tax-credit proposal would be counter-productive in increasing donation draws from the Byrne and Thompson paper that financial incentives distort the signal of organ donation and cheapen the process – this is formally known as the Titmuss objection.

Richard Titmuss established the framework of blood donation using payment as an incentive versus a system of altruistic unpaid donors (Buyx). In his work, he alleges that paying for giving up your blood changes the social meaning of giving blood because it denies those individuals the ability to gift those who are in need and makes them less likely to donate. The proposal may succumb to this criticism as a tax deduction in exchange for kidney donation would make the donation no longer a pure gift, thus depriving donors the ability to make a moral choice and theoretically making them less likely to donate.

While Titmuss bases his conclusions empirically, they may not apply to organ donation as they do to blood donation.  As mentioned earlier, studies have shown that individuals are more likely to donate to a particular cause the more of their donations they are able to deduct from their taxes, and in particular studies suggest that even a modest cash payment would increase the number of organ donors (Kittur and Hogan).

However, a tax-credit does not have to be compulsory and could avoid the Titmuss objection all together. Individuals can choose to donate their organs without receiving the tax deduction and could in fact give monetary value of the tax-break to a charity of their choice, thus retaining the donation as purely an altruistic act. Ultimately what is more important is preventing people from dying on waiting-lists for organs and if a tax-credit can help reduce these needless deaths we have a moral obligation to pursue it even if may rob some of the ability to perform an altruistic act. The kidney shortage has compounded into a crisis precisely because of the failure of altruism to provide the necessary impetus to donate organs.

The second objection is that this tax-credit scheme could lead to exploitation of the poor. Tax benefits are intuitively less appealing to the wealthy since they are already retaining a sufficient amount of their income to live comfortably, thus this policy will disproportionately affect those in lower income brackets trying to take advantage of the promise of lower taxes. This, however, is not really an argument against the efficacy of the tax-credit if it ultimately increases the number of kidneys donated to the pool. More importantly, the action of giving up ones kidney is a voluntary choice and as long as the poor can benefit from this proposal while also helping others in need it should not be considered exploitative.

The more important question is if this proposal is able to address concerns of transplant tourism as a form of exploitation of the poor. As mentioned before, one of the principle concerns of legalizing organ sales is the fear that individuals may forcibly remove organs from the poor domestically and internationally to sell both in legal and black markets. This proposal works against such insidious acts in two ways. First, in order to claim any tax deductions the organs must come from the claimant’s body itself which can be verified with simple medical scans. Secondly, if there is an influx of organs donated following the implementation of this tax-credit this would eliminate the value of illicitly obtained organs abroad or domestically because supply is already catching up to demand and registered, “legally obtained” organs would already be available.

The idea of legally obtained organs begs the question of the final concern – is a tax-credit for donating organs legal under the National Organ Transplant Act? I believe it is under certain legal interpretations.

First, NOTA explicitly prohibits donors from transferring human organs for “valuable consideration”, but the tax-credit does not give deductions based on the expense of the organ itself but on the expenses incurred in donating the organ. In other words, the donor is not being compensated for the value of their organ, but rather being compensated for the travel, lodging, lost wages, recovery costs etc associated with donating the organ.

Second, NOTA’s jurisdiction extends only as far as inter-state commerce is concerned, if states implement this policy at the local and state level in ways that would have no bearing on inter-state commerce then it should remain perfectly legal. Preventing the tax-credit from interfering with interstate commerce could occur in a few ways – recipients can only receive organs from donors within their state, donors can only receive a deduction in their state taxes not federal taxes etc.  Despite these work-around methods, more should be done to help those dying every day on kidney transplant waiting lists and political action to repeal NOTA maybe what is truly needed to make a substantial dent in organ shortages.


As is, supply will not catch up with demand in the organ transplant market and hundreds of thousands will die every year waiting to receive a kidney. Unfortunately this trend will only grow as more and more individuals are succumbing to the epidemic in diabetes, obesity etc which is leading to increased kidney failures. In order to change the market there needs to be a change in incentives.

This paper proposes a weak economic incentive, a tax-credit, to encourage individuals to donate their kidneys for those in need. This tax-credit works two-fold: a smaller tax-credit (~$500) every year for agreeing to be an organ donor upon their death and second larger tax-credit which compensates individuals for the costs incurred to donate their kidney. While this is certainly not the silver bullet needed to close the large gap for organ transplants, it will go a long way. Though many have reservations about this proposal, both from a legal and moral perspective, it is the most viable option compared to the alternatives.

Initiatives that work purely within the National Organ Transplant Act would not be able to contribute enough organs and primarily require waiting on individuals to pass on before acquiring their organs – this is time we do not have. Initiatives that ask to repeal NOTA and allow direct compensation for organ donation, although popular, risk “transplant tourism” where individuals may kidnap the poor and helpless and harvest their organs and sell on the market. In addition, full legalization and compensation faces the Titmuss objection that alleges compensation commodifies the social meaning of purely altruistic donation and will turn people against donation.

A tax-credit proposal avoids most of these concerns. Empirical research has shown that charitable donations increase if they are tied to reduction in taxes, and more so any form of compensation is an impetus to donate organs – this should allow tax-credits to increase organ donations in the short-term. Tax-credits are able to avoid the Titmuss objection because it retains the donation of ones organ as purely a gift and only compensates the individual for the costs they incur in bestowing the gift, not awarding them anything in addition for doing a good deed.

Tax credits are also able to avoid fears of transplant tourism by ensuring that those who receive the deduction can only provide organs from their own bodies and additionally the increase in supply in the market will reduce the inclination to accept organs from unidentified donors. Finally, this proposal is able to skirt questions of legality under NOTA. First, it is not directly compensating donors for the value of their organ but the cost undertaken by the donor to give up their organ, and secondly it can be implemented by the states as to avoid issues of inter-state commerce – where NOTA is able to enforce its jurisdiction.

Ultimately, someone is dying every hour and half from needing an organ transplant. By next year, over 100,000 individuals will die in the wealthiest country in the world waiting for a kidney. We have a moral obligation to prevent these needless deaths from occurring and a tax-credit scheme to incentivize individuals to donate their kidneys is a promising first step.

Works Cited

  • Abadie, Alberto and Gay, Sebastien. “The impact of presumed consent legislation on cadaveric organ donation: A cross-country study”,  Journal of Health Economics 25 (2006) 599–620
  • Andiew, Scott and Harold, Block. “Organ Transplant: Using the Free Market Solves the Problem”, Journal of Clinical Research in Bioethics, May 2011
  • Beard, Randolph, Kaserman, David & Osterkamp, Rigmar. “The Global Organ Shortage: Economic Causes, Human Consequences, Policy Responses. Stanford University Press, page 68-71 and 207-212 (appeared in a review in the Journal of Political Economy)
  • Becker, Gary S., and Julio Jorge Elías. 2007. “Introducing Incentives in the Market for Live and Cadaveric Organ Donations.” Journal of Economic Perspectives, 21(3): 3-24.
  • Buyx, Alena. “Blood Donation, Payment, and Non-Cash Incentives: Classical Questions Drawing Renewed Interest”, Transfus Med Hemother. Oct 2009; 36(5): 329–339
  • Byrne, Margaret and Thompson, Peter. “A positive analysis of financial incentives for cadaveric organ donation”, Journal of Health Economics. Jan2001, Vol. 20 Issue 1, p69-83. 15p.
  • Danovitch, Gabriel and Delmonico, Francis. “The prohibition of kidney sales and organ markets should remain”, Current Opinion in Organ Transplantation: August 2008 – Volume 13 – Issue 4 – p 386–394
  • FindLaw, “Can I Sell an Organ”,
  • Kittur DS, Hogan MM, Thukral VK, et al “Incentives for organ donation?”, Lancet, 1991; 2:1441.1991;2:1441
  • Satel, Sally. “Death’s Waiting List”,
  • “The Need Is Real: Data”,

Foreign Policy Long Form

Why the United Nations Acted in Libya But Not Syria


            The Arab Spring marked an era of political and social turmoil across the Middle East that left the region, and world, changed forever. Between 2010 and 2012 a revolutionary wave of riots, demonstrations and protests broke out across thirteen Middle Eastern and African countries resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths, collapsed governments and in some cases all out civil war. Two of the most pivotal events of the Arab Spring were the 2011 uprisings against Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya and Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.  

            Libya had been ripe for domestic turmoil since the inception of the Gaddafi regime. In 1969, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and his military entourage called the Free Officers, deposed of the sitting government led by King Idris[1]. In what was a “bloodless coup”, Gaddafi abolished the monarchy and established the Libyan Arab Republic. However, Gaddafi’s consolidation and expansion of power sowed the seeds for what would ultimately become the Libyan Revolution of 2011. The Free Officers proclaimed themselves as the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) and under the leadership of Gaddafi began purging the moderate and secular voices in the government.  Following his ascension to power, Gaddafi eliminated the Libyan constitution and began subtly instituting sharia law through the legal system. Alcohol was banned, night clubs and Christian churches were removed and the official language of all government documentation, road signs etc. became Arabic[2]. Dissent against government became illegal under government law and Gaddafi even asserted that if anyone was found guilty of forming a political party they would be executed[3]. Coupled with radical social and political reforms, the RCC banned trade unions, outlawed workers strikes, nationalized the oil industry and even went as far as to temporarily suspend newspaper circulation[4]. Gaddafi tactically placed his inner circle of friends and family members into all major sectors of the economy and government in order to retain a tight control over all the on-goings in Libya. A leaked US intelligence cable later observed of Libya’s economy that it was “a kleptocracy in which the government – either the Gaddafi family itself or its close political allies – has a direct stake in anything worth buying, selling or owning”[5].

By the mid-1980’s, Libya’s oil sector began plunging in revenues from $21 billion annually to $5.4 billion – a fourth of its size[6]. As a result, internal dissent that had been brewing in Libya for years against Gaddafi’s regime began to ramp up both in scope and intensity.  Gaddafi in response created the Ministry for Mass Mobilization and Revolutionary Leadership to restrict their communications and planning and leading to hundreds being taken as political prisoners. Between 2009 and 2011, the Freedom Press Index had actually rated Libya the most censored state in both the Middle East and North Africa[7].  A number of failed assassination attempts against Gaddafi became symptomatic of the popular opinion against Gaddafi as food prices began to skyrocket, unemployment surged and political repression was at an all-time high[8].

As the Arab Spring unfolded in Tunisia in January 2011, Gaddafi began to fear that revolutionary fever would begin to spill into his borders and tried implementing preventative measures – subsidizing food costs, releasing prisoners etc[9]. His attempts, however, were to no avail. Revolutionaries seized this opportunity to organize the decade’s long dissatisfaction against the Gaddafi regime and initiated mass protests across the country. Social media played a critical role in this organization as location, dates and times broadcasted across the internet resulted in massive protests not only in the capitol but in all surrounding cities. On February 17th, protestors organized a “Day of Rage” across the cities of Benghazi, Tripoli, Ajdabiya, Derna, Zintan and Bayda resulting in Libyan security forces firing live ammunition into the crowds killing dozens of protestors, including those unarmed[10]. The National Transitional Council (NTC) was formed following the Day of Rage to consolidate the various groups pushing for regime change in Libya, thus marking the beginning of an all-out civil war for control of Libya.

 As the protests raged on, the government’s violent response continued to escalate. Gaddafi forces reportedly used “snipers, artillery, helicopter gunships, warplanes, anti-aircraft weaponry, and warships against protestors and funeral processions”[11]. In response to police forces surrendering and in some cases joining rebel forces, Gaddafi began to hire mercenaries from other African countries who began to publicly rape, mutilate, and execute captured fighters[12]. Amnesty International reported that Gaddafi forces went as far as targeting paramedics helping the injured, targeting ambulances and reported evidence of torture from prisoners released from prison sites[13].

The international community responded promptly to what it saw as violations of human rights in Libya. On March 17th, 2011 (one month after the Day of Rage), the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1973 to authorize international military intervention to resolve the violent civil war raging in Libya[14]. By invoking the United Nations “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine, the international community was able to justify impeding Libya’s sovereignty for the sake of civilian protection. Resolution 1973 called for an immediate cease-fire, a no-fly zone over Libya’s airspace, an arms embargo with forcible inspection of all ships and planes that entered its sea and airports as well as a travel ban and asset freeze on Gaddafi and his inner circle. Within days, 19 countries in total mobilized against Libya to topple the Gaddafi regime. American and British naval forces fired over 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles along the border. The US led the air-bombing campaign with support from the French, British and Canadian air forces before passing control to NATO[15]. By the end of the summer, Gaddafi’s forces had retreated from most major cities and only had control over Tripoli. In August, Gaddafi’s forces surrendered at the Battle of Tripoli with rebel forces storming Gaddafi’s compound[16]. Muammar Gaddafi himself was not found and killed till October, but the Gaddafi regime had been toppled at the conclusion of this battle. When the dust had settled, it is estimated that approximately 30,000 Libyans were killed in the effort to remove Gaddafi[17].

A 3 hour flight away, events had transpired very similarly in Syria. In 1963, the government of President al-Quwatli was deposed in a bloodless military coup by Syrian Ba’athist officers, which included Captain Hafeez al-Assad, to form the Syrian Arab Republic[18]. The sitting government instated was led by the Arab Socialist Ba’ath party, but another coup in 1966, this time led by then Defense Minister Hafeez al-Assad, over threw the traditional leaders of the Ba’ath Party and placed him as President[19].  The inception of the new Syrian state was tumultuous as it was embroiled in conflict in the region with Israel and Lebanon. The new Assad regime played a central role in the Yom Kippur War against Israel and the ensuing occupation of Lebanon which lasted until 2005[20]. Following the death of Hafeez al-Assad in 2000, his son Bashar al-Assad assumed power. His ascension to power quickly put to rest promises for democratic reform in the country as Syria had essentially been ruled as a single-party state since Hafeez had come to power. The Assad family, like Gaddafi’s, retained a tight control over all the on-goings in Syria’s affairs by placing family members and friends in critical positions of power. This cronyism fueled discontent as Bashar’s younger brother Maher and brother in law Assef Shawkat who served as Ministers of Defense were known to target Sunni Muslims and Kurds by using their police powers to marginalize their cultural and language rights[21] Bashar had inspired hope for political reform, but security crackdowns began taking political activists who called for democratic elections prisoners. The state of human rights continued to deteriorate as public gatherings were banned, security forces were granted sweeping powers for detention and arrest and rampant censoring of the media[22]. These actions squashed any hope for governmental change and set in motion the discord that led to the 2011 uprising[23]. The situation in Syria worsened as time went on as socio-economic inequality increased sharply and by 2011 the country faced record high rates of unemployment, steep deterioration in the standard of living and sharp increase in food prices[24].

As revolutions took place in Tunisia, demonstrations in Syria broke out modestly. Assad too attempted to make concessions to the public to calm tensions to no avail – releasing political prisoners, cutting taxes, increasing job opportunities etc.[25]. As demonstrations against the government increased in size, the Syrian government began capturing and arresting tens of thousands of protestors, organizers and activists without warrant. Organizers even planned their own “Day of Rage” using social media that never bore fruition unfortunately due to these arrests. Security forces began cutting power, water supplies and phone lines to prevent activists from organizing. The Syrian Army began moving into cities like Daara, Homs and Baniyas – hot beds of revolutionary fever – and began blockading the cities. The overwhelming suppression of protests through violent means by the Assad government is what kept the escalation of demonstrations limited from March to the end of the summer while the revolutions raged on in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Reports began emerging of thousands being held in prison sites subject to torture, rape and execution. Human Rights Watch reported that bodies discovered “were emaciated, bloodstained and bore signs of torture. Some had no eyes; others showed signs of strangulation or electrocution”[26]. The conflict took on a new form in July after seven Syrian Army officers defected to form the Free Syrian Army (FSA), whose sole purpose was to bring down the Assad regime – thus attempting to organize all the different opposition groups under one name. By September 2011, Syria was in full-fledged civil war as the FSA was engaged in active insurgency in multiple cities across Syria with the fiercest battles occurring in Homs and Idlib. By the end of 2011, following months of bloodshed between the government forces and the Free Syrian Army, approximately 10,000 Syrians had been killed with almost twice as many injured or imprisoned[27].

The international community’s reaction to the violence in Syria could be described as lacking at best. As violence continued to mount in the spring of 2011, the United Nations only issued statements condemning the violence and encouraging dialogue[28]. By the end of March, the UN established a commission to investigate human rights violations occurring[29]. In October (7 months after violent suppression of protests began), the United Nations Security Council attempted to pass a resolution condemning the Assad government and threatened sanctions if there was continued military action against protestors (no military plan to intervene), but it was vetoed by Russia and China[30]. The United States took unilateral action to impose sanctions on the Assad regime and banned imports, but it was not until it was revealed that that government had used chemical weapons against the opposition in 2013 that the United Nations took any concrete action which only entailed forcing Syria to surrender its chemical weapons[31].  To this day, there has been no approved international military intervention to halt the bloodshed between civilians and the government despite almost 200,000 Syrians being killed, evidence of torture, chemical weapons use and a litany of human rights violations[32]. Above all, 3 years since the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War, Bashar al-Assad remains in power.

            The disparity in action, both in scope and timeliness, taken to address the Libyan Civil War of 2011 and the Syrian Civil War of 2011 is understandably confounding to the casual observer. The history of both of Libya and Syria, the path to revolution and the government response bear strikingly similar chords, yet how the international community responded to both of these crises remains staggeringly different. Why did the United Nations feel a responsibility to militarily intervene to protect civilians in Libya in their struggle against Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, but has not invoked that same responsibility in the face of similar and potentially even more egregious atrocities occurring in Bashar al-Assad’s Syria?

Research Question

Why did the international community take decisive action to intervene in the 2011 Libyan Civil War but not in the 2011 Syrian Civil War?

Literature Review

            Scholars and analysts have also recognized this disparity in action by the United Nations with regards to Syria and Libya and have centered their research around the United Nations “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine.

            The concept of R2P emerged after the international community’s failure to prevent mass atrocities in Rwanda amongst other places in the 1990s. Its establishment was revolutionary to international politics in that it reconceptualized the relationship between sovereignty and human rights where for the first time sovereignty could not be considered an absolute right, but a responsibility it had to uphold. The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty Report in 2001 outlined the three principle goals of the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine: the responsibility to prevent a population from suffering serious harm, the responsibility to react if such harm occurs, and the responsibility to rebuild after an intervention[33]. If the host state was perpetuating “serious harm” to its population or was “unwilling or unable” to cease the violence, the international community would assume the responsibility to protect. “Serious harm” had been defined as actual or imminent “large scale loss of life” or “large scale ethnic cleansing”[34].

Military intervention as part of R2P was considered a measure under extenuating circumstances. The report outlined four scenarios in which military action was justified: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing[35]. It was no surprise that the military intervention clause drew the most criticism from members of the United Nations. Countries like Russia and China viewed this clause with suspicion, fearing that it was merely another tool of Western powers to use as a mask for pursuing other strategic military, political or economic objectives in a given region. To assuage fears of abuse of military power, the R2P laws were amended.  The decision to militarily intervene was placed solely within the hands of the United Nations Security Council, non-coercive means like diplomacy and humanitarian assistance would be the primary modes of action and the threshold to intervene was raised to not just a state being unwilling or unable to halt the violence, but a more difficult standard of “manifestly failing” to protect[36]. Following these changes, the R2P doctrine was adopted unanimously by UN member states at the 2005 conference.

As is, R2P is not a law, nor is it part of any international treaty or gained the status of customary international law. The Responsibility to Protect is more of a concept whose political endorsement by states signals a commitment to respond to humanitarian crises. However, it should be emphasized that this commitment is grounded in an ad-hoc fashion – there is no obligation to take action against humanitarian crises in every instance but rather the willingness to consider action on a case-by-case basis. This ambiguity, unfortunately for Syria, allows the international community to turn a blind eye to atrocities occurring if it does not deem intervention necessary based on its subjective determination of the situation on the ground.

Upon outbreak of violence in Libya, the United Nations Security Council acted swiftly and decisively. Within days of reports of violent crackdown on protestors, the Council sent a warning to Gaddafi condemning the violence and calling on his government to “meet its responsibility to protect its population”. Ten days after the Day of Rage, the Council adopted Resolution 1970 which explicitly referred to the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine, saying that the Gaddafi regime was not upholding its responsibility to protect its citizens by both inflicting serious harm on them and being unable to cease the violence, thus they would be subject to arms embargos, travel restrictions etc. As the violence continued to escalate, the Council passed Resolution 1973 which created the legal basis to allow for military intervention for civilian protection purposes. It is important to note that the Security Council was able to pass this resolution with 10 affirmative votes and abstentions from China, Russia, Brazil, India and Germany. The notable abstentions included China and Russia who were suspected to certainly veto any proposal for military action. Observers claim this abstention from voting was far from an implicit endorsement of Resolution 1973, thus their ensuing rejection of measures to take action in Syria come as no surprise[37].

In the immediate aftermath of the resolution’s adoption, the divides between the members of the Security Council on how to approach the crisis in Libya became evident as Russia and China both openly expressed misgivings about the language and spirit of the resolution. China stated it had “serious difficulty with parts of the resolution” preferred to resolve “the current crisis … through peaceful means”[38].  Russia complained that it had received no answers to its questions about “how the no-fly zone would be enforced, what the rules of engagement would be and what limits on the use of force there would be” and warned against “unilateral military intervention under the pretext of protecting civilians”[39].

Despite this opposition, law professor Andrew Garwood-Growers argues that three factors forced the hand of the United Nations Security Council to take action. First, there was a clear and immediate threat to the civilian population in Libya. This had been crystallized by Gaddafi’s own statements including him saying that “officers have been deployed in all tribes and regions so that they can “purify all decisions from these cockroaches” and “any Libyan who takes arms against Libya will be executed”[40]. Second, there was a regional consensus for the need for external intervention. Gaddafi was massively unpopular in the Arab world and the Arab League, Gulf Cooperation Council and the Organization of the Islamic Conference all supported external military action and even explicitly called for the creation of a no-fly zone over Libya[41] – this made is especially easy for the Security Council to garner support to take action. Lastly, important defections from Gaddafi’s regime, including Libya’s Ambassador to the UN had called on the Security Council to take decisive action – thus placing further pressure on the international community. The combination of these events placed countries like Russia and China who opposed military action in a difficult position for fear of damaging their international reputation and thus these states “abstained because they believed that they could not legitimize inaction in the face of mass atrocities”[42]. The military intervention in Libya represented an unusual moment in history where strategic interests collided with humanitarian needs to allow the Security Council to take action as quickly as it did.   

In comparison to Libya, the Security Council certainly failed to quickly and decisively stem the violence in Bashar al-Assad’s Syria. Despite three attempts by the Security Council to pass even modest resolutions proposing non-forcible measures against the Assad regime, China and Russia vetoed these drafts every time. On October 4th, 2011 Russia and China vetoed a resolution condemning Assad’s government. The resolution would have threatened the Syrian government with targeted sanctions given continued military actions against protestors[43]. The second veto came on February 4th, 2012 which would have allowed UN military action in Syria to protect its citizens[44] and the final veto came in on July 19th, 2012 on a resolution that would’ve threatened to place economic sanctions on Syria for refusing to follow the terms of a peace plan the international community had endorsed in Geneva[45]. For international observers, the optimism surrounding the UNSC’s willingness to exercise its R2P powers to prevent civilian atrocities post-Libya seemed misplaced and naïve. These disagreements within the Security Council were grounded in how the two sides interpreted the situation on the ground. Instead of viewing the conflict in Syria as a repression of political protests for democratic reform, as it had in Libya, Russia and China viewed the violence as a “legitimate government response to attacks on state infrastructure by armed opposition groups”[46] and thus they saw the invocation of the R2P doctrine as unnecessary. However as the violence wore on and reports of torture and chemical weapons use surface, it is hard to believe that Russia and China continued to believe that Assad’s response to the opposition groups was in anyway legitimate or justified. Diplomats have tried to make sense of Russia and China’s seemingly night and day approaches to Libya and Syria given their tacit approval to take some sort of action in Libya versus rejecting resolutions simply condemning the Assad government. 

First, it is suspected that the failure to achieve political consensus from Russia and China may have been a form of blow-back against the way events had transpired in Libya with what Russia saw as abuses of military power when intervening in Libya. According to one Russian author, the “way the R2P and the UNSC mandate were abused during the Libyan operation has taught Russia and many other states a lesson, which they will not forget easily”[47]. Russia had always been opposed to regime change in Libya and saw the implementation of Resolution 1973 merely as an excuse for removing the Gaddafi regime – exactly what it feared Western powers would do when the R2P doctrine was first proposed. Secondly, the strategic and geopolitical factors surrounding intervention in Syria vis-a-vis its relationship with members of the Security Council were certainly more complicated than those in Libya – a reality this paper asserts is the central factor in preventing the UNSC from taking any action. But lastly, many observers found Russia and China’s rejection of taking any action in Syria as consistent with their position in Libya. Neither country ever explicitly approved military action in Libya since they had abstained from the vote, opting rather to pursue dialogue and negotiation as a way to resolve the conflict. These sentiments had not changed upon the outbreak of civil war in Syria – both countries maintained that they wanted a diplomatic solution to the violence and this time were willing to put their foot down on military action which they believe was abused in Libya.

For Russia and China apologists, they view inaction as ultimately competing visions with the West over intervention and the international order. The two countries have historically always been suspicious of the West’s strategy of “muscular humanitarianism”[48] as a civilian protection strategy and suggest that the action taken in Libya was the result of a perfect storm of events rather than a concrete movement of world powers to agree on a universal set of civilian protection measures. The lesson from Syria is that international military intervention to humanitarian crises, like in Libya, is likely to remain the exception in international politics, the political paralysis surrounding international consensus in Syria is more likely to be the norm.



Hypotheses and Unit of Analysis

Syria’s close economic and military relationship with Russia prevented the international community from taking military action against Assad’s regime like it could against Gaddafi’s.

            This paper argues that Bashar al-Assad’s relationship with Vladimir Putin acted as the principle barrier to any international action being taken to intervene in Syria. Rather than being based on principle for opposing humanitarian intervention or acting in retaliation for military action in Libya, this paper suspects that above all Russia had too much at stake in its economic and military relationship with Syria to risk upsetting and was able to stymie international discussion as a result. While China also vetoed UN action in Syria, Russia’s role was far more crucial in preventing action. China lacked the diplomatic clout to unilaterally oppose international action and recognized that without “the buffer and political protection provided by Russia, it would not be able to pursue a relatively ‘independent’ foreign policy or withstand pressure from US”[49].

            This paper presents an alternative hypothesis for why action was not taken Syria.

The United States and world powers preferred the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria over an unknown successor, possibly backed by a terrorist organization.  

The resistance to taking action in Syria may not have just been based in the inability to get the full support of the UN Security Council, but rather the fear of a vacuous Syria that would be overtaken by an even more brutal regime. An imperfect Assad regime may be preferable to a much more imperfect Hezbollah or Hamas controlled regime in Syria.

Variables and Operationalization of Concepts

The dependent variable (explanadum) is the degree of international intervention in both Libya and Syria

Intervention – Application of military, diplomatic or economic pressure from an external power(s) to initiate a change in behavior in the host nation

The independent variables (explanans) are the international alliances of Libya and Syria and the international community’s confidence in a replacement regime to overtake the host government

Alliances – the relationship between two or more states establishing a mutually understood security, trade or diplomatic arrangement with each other.

Confidence in replacement regime – do the organizations that seek the overthrow the host government have affiliations with terrorist organizations/anti-Western agendas?  Did these organizations use similar tactics (chemical weapons, torture, and execution) as the regime they were attempting to replace?

The basis for the first variable is explained in the previous section, but what would be considered a worse regime needs to be defined. A “worse regime” is likely one that had close connections with a terrorist organization and/or committed war/humanitarian crimes as part of its revolutionary agenda. Strong affiliation with a terrorist group like Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Hamas, or Hezbollah likely entails a fundamentalist Islamist philosophy towards governance. Based on the Taliban rule in Pakistan and implementation of forms of sharia law in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Indonesia it has resulted in subjugation of women, child marriage, violence against individuals of different faiths, persecution of the LGBT community, restriction on education etc.  While it could be argued that many of these acts were already occurring in Assad’s regime at the margins, it certainly was not institutionalized in the law like it would be if a regime backed by one of these groups came to power. More so, this regime would openly oppose Western powers and would likely ramp up terrorist plots and missions against Western troops and attacks on our soil or our allies.

The addendum to what’s considered a “worse regime”, if they had committed war crimes as part of the fight for freedom, is meant to act as a litmus test for how this group would treat its own citizens if there were further domestic unrest after the inception of its rule. If this rebel group had also been using chemical weapons against the opposition and/or civilians or had carried out torture campaigns at prison sites etc, I believe it would not be any more fit to rule over the population it was attempting to liberate. If people began to call for regime change again, it is likely these same tactics would be used on demonstrators as they had been used previously. 

Casual Mechanism

            It’s difficult to establish definitive causality with the variables being explored here since they are qualitative in nature, but despite that we can still look into official statements from UN and Russian diplomats to determine how all of these various factors played out during the debates to consider intervention. We can establish causality as opposed to correlation effects for our variables by observing the timeline of bilateral relations between Syria and Russia in the months leading up to the outbreak of civil war and as the violence carried on in relation to when the United Nations began to try and initiate action against the Assad regime. If we can establish a pattern between defense or energy trades between Russia and Syria or platforms/policies they mutually support in multilateral regimes it is possible that the two are tied together – rather their alliance that intertwines their security interests and their economies strongly influenced Russia’s decision to veto any Security Council Resolution.


            First, I will try and disprove the alternative hypothesis that the fear of a worse regime overtaking al-Assad’s acted as deterrent to international action in Syria.  To determine if this is true, it’s important to ask if the Security Council expressed the same concerns before moving to topple the Gaddafi regime in Libya. After the Day of Rage in Libya, the National Transitional Council (NTC) had been formed and was poised to act as the de facto government – calling itself the “only legitimate body representing the people of Libya and the Libyan state”[50]. The leadership of the NTC was primarily made up of defectors from Gaddafi’s regime, even including some of the Free Officers who led the original coup in 1969 putting Gaddafi in power but also included educated elite like Libya’s premier lawyers and university professors[51].

Reports began emerging as the revolution raged on that members of the Muslim Brotherhood, a group officially listed as a terrorist organization by Russia, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, retained positions of power in the NTC[52]. Even more so, Abd al-Hakim Belhadj, a prominent member of Al-Qaeda assumed a senior position in the NTC[53]. This reality, however, did little to change the international community’s stance on intervening in Libya. When asked whether there are men inside the NTC that are affiliated with terrorist groups, a senior US defense official admitted, “Yeah, probably”[54]. Though it seemed abundantly clear that the regime that was poised to take over Muammar Gaddafi had explicit connections with terrorist organizations, it did not deter the international community from moving to remove Gaddafi. Drawing from this, it seems unlikely that members of the UN Security Council like Russia and China could credibly argue that their reservations about removing Assad drew from their fear that a terrorist backed regime would assume power.

            The Free Syrian Army had an even more troubled history with terrorist organizations with reports that it was explicitly cooperating with Al-Qaeda affiliates and was being armed by them[55] In spite of this the United States passed domestic legislation to begin moderately arming and supporting the FSA to topple Assad[56]. Russia and China had a different set of fears regarding the Free Syrian Army overtaking Assad’s government. According to Rajan Menon, a political science professor at CUNY, Russia in particular was worried not about an even more repressive Islamist regime taking over but that that regime would not maintain the economic relationship that it currently had with the Assad government[57]. The importance of Syria and Russia’s economic relationship was highlighted when Russian diplomats began saying that it was not married to keeping in Assad in power, but in keeping Syria stable[58]. Thus it became clear that Russia saw Assad as disposable, but saw him as their best bet to maintain their strategic interests in the region. Their interpretation of a “worse regime” was vastly different than the one this paper takes, while the new regime may have been worse for the people of Syria, Russia was more concerned about whether the new regime would be worse for them.  This leads into the crux of this paper – understanding the relationship between Russia and Syria and how that manifested itself in preventing international action in their civil war.

            The bilateral relationship between Syria and Russia dates back to 1946 before the declaration of an independent Syrian state from French rule where the USSR and Syria signed a secret agreement where the USSR agreed to help Syria in its formation of a national army[59]. This relationship was cemented in 1950 upon signing a non-aggression pact with Syria and quickly aided them during the Suez Crisis[60]. Since the signing of the non-aggression pact, Syria has considered Russia the “main source” of its political and military support in the region[61].

Russia’s relationship with the al-Assad family dates back 4 decades to Hafeez al-Assad. It was Hafeez who negotiated Syria’s first large trade agreement with Russia with a $2 billion arms deal in 1999[62]. Since that agreement, Russia has become the largest arms dealer to Syria. Their military relationship preceded this agreement as the Soviet Union had built a naval base in the Syrian city of Tartus in 1971 and has continually expanded it to increase Russia’s size and presence in Mediterranean waters. More so the Assad family has sent thousands of Syrian officers and military generals to study in Russia, resulting in marriages and mixed families that have tied the two countries together[63]. However, the modern Russia-Syria relationship is far from limited to military transfers – Russian industries have a substantial presence in Syria’s infrastructure, agriculture, telecommunications and above all energy. In 2010, Russian energy giants established a stronghold in the Syrian market. Russian natural gas company Stroitransgaz has begun working on Syria’s largest natural gas processing plant and is also involved in technical support for the construction of the Arab Gas Pipeline across the Middle East. Another Russian energy firm Taftnet began a partnership with the state owned Syrian Petroleum Company to pump Syrian oil and plans to spend over $12 million on exploring new wells.  As of 2010, Russia has an estimated value of $19.4 billion worth of investments in Syria, excluding a multitude of arms contracts worth almost $5 billion[64].

Based on this relationship alone, Russia’s hesitancy to approve military action to topple Syria’s standing government is unsurprising. Leading up to the violence, the inter-connectedness of the two economies grew exponentially – from 2007 to 2010 the value of Russian arms deals with Syria more than doubled from $2.1 billion to $4.7 billion[65]. At the onset of civil war breaking out in Syria, there were calls for Russia to cease its arm sales to the Assad government and its support for the regime. After refusal to do so, claiming to honor these business contracts, a senior Russian official remarked that Russia had lost $4 billion in Libyan arms and other contracts following the collapse of Gaddafi’s regime and thus with the “prospect of losing an equal amount in potential Syrian trade, Moscow has no other choice but to take a hard line” [66]. Rajan Menon notes that the overseas arms contracts are very important people to the Russians themselves. He argues that, “there have been significant cuts in the size of the Russian military budget relative to the Soviet period, so if you want to keep people employed in the military-industrial complex, you need exports of armaments.[67] The timing of these losses would be critical as Sarah Michaels, the chief Russia analyst at Oxford Analytic, points out that with Russia’s presidential election looming and factory workers’ votes up for grabs, Putin sees these arms sales as crucial to maintaining his reign[68]. The potential economic losses of an Assad collapse go far beyond arm sales and Russia knows this. According to Daniel Treisman, a Russia specialist at UCLA, the Kremlin is acutely aware that $20 billion in Russian industry investments in Syria are at stake and has made promises to these companies that their contracts would be honored[69], in a post-Assad state can it be sure they will? We can contrast this economic relationship with the one Russia had with Libya. While Gaddafi and Putin shared a close relationship due to their mutual opposition to Western policies, Russian industries never broke ground in Libya. Russian gas giant Gazprom had tried on multiple occasions to establish itself in North Africa, but Libyan oil companies refused to grant them access. Gazprom referred to Libya as a “closed market” and these entry barriers have acted as deterrents to other Russian industries interested in Libya[70] While Russia was able to secure lucrative arms contracts with Libya as it had with Syria, it could not do more. If it is true that one of Russia’s primary reasons for preventing international action is maintaining its economic relationships, then it clearly did not see its value in Libya to a sufficient degree to use its veto power in the UN Security Council.  

Even more at stake for Russia to support the Assad regime is its strategic foothold in its access to the Mediterranean. As mentioned above, Russia’s Tartus naval base in Syria is its only connection to this vital body of water and Assad’s fall would mean losing it. Numerous Russian officials and Putin himself have declared the base, and Syria, as critical to Moscow’s security strategy, with one even calling the country Russia’s “last foothold in the Middle East”[71] – something they explicitly never said about Libya. A month before vetoing the second UN resolution to take action in Syria, the Russian Defense Ministry announced upcoming naval exercises in the Mediterranean Sea, which Russian officials described as “the biggest in Russian history” [72] This move was coupled with plans to expand its existing facilities at Tartus to be able to dock nuclear submarines so it can accommodate the Russian Navy’s flagship — the “Admiral Kuznetsov” aircraft carrier after 2012. While Russia did not give any indications that the exercises were related to the Syrian conflict, US analysts and Russian observers noted that the timing of the exercises and base expansion plans is a strong indication that Russia does not intend to back out of its support for Assad’s regime because it fears that an opposition government replacing Assad would likely try to strip away Russia’s rights to use Tartus[73].

Conclusions and Implications

            International politics is messy. As with any conflict, every country has different agendas, fears and goals. The Arab Spring will remain as a series of events that continually challenged world powers to understand their own global interests and its intersection with support for democracy and free protest.  Ultimately, Russia and China choosing to ignore and even perpetuate human rights violations in Syria, or anywhere for that matter, is not breaking news. What is interesting however is its willingness to do something (or not stop others) in Libya but virtually do the opposite in Syria. Libya and Syria share a virtually identical history as nations borne out of military coups, regimes establishing order through repression and dispelling calls for democratic reform through violence and inhumane tactics. This paper explores the tension in how the international community responded to these two different crises and unveiled a host of economic and military interconnections with Russia and Syria, connections that it did not have as strongly with Libya, thus establishing a causal relationship to its vetoing of any international military action to replace Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

The majority of the international community sees a regime torturing its citizens, using chemical weapons on its people and refusing to allow for democratic reform in Syria, but Russia sees a very different picture. Putin’s global interests do not align with the international community here – it sees billions of dollars in investments and arms contracts and a strategic naval base at stake if it were to support the collapse of Assad’s regime. Veto power in the UN Security council is capable of shaping how the entire international community is able to act/not act in the face of any crisis/conflict. By understanding the motivations behind Russia’s refusal to take action in the humanitarian crises in Syria, we can now have a better understanding of how the international community will react the next time events like this occur. If this case study of Russia’s reaction to the Syrian Civil War of 2011 is any indication, it is likely that self-interest will dictate future action rather than humanitarian purposes.

Works Cited

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[2] Bazzi, Mohamad (27 May 2011). “What Did Qaddafi’s Green Book Really Say?”. The New York Times, 28 October 2011,

[3] Ibid. 2

[4] Ibid. 2   

[5] Ibid. 2

[6] Blundy & Lycett 1987, p. 31; Vandewalle 2008, p. 23; Kawczynski 2011, p. 104; Bruce St. John 2012, p. 192

[7] Ibid. 6

[8] Asser, Martin. “The Muammar Gaddafi story”,, 21 October 2011

[9] “Three Scenarios for End of Gaddafi: Psychologist”. Al Arabiya. 26 February 2011.

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[11] Ibid. 11

[12] Ibid. 11

[13] Ibid. 11

[14] “Security Council authorizes ‘all necessary measures’ to protect civilians in Libya”. United Nations News Centre. 17 March 2011.

[15] Batty, David. “Military Action Begins Against Libya”. The Guardian. 19 March 2011.

[16] Erdbrink, Thomas and Sly, Liz. “Battle for Tripoli not yet over as Gaddafi loyalists strike back” 22 August 2011.

[17] Libyan Crackdown ‘Escalates’ – UN”. BBC News. February 25, 2011.

[18] “Syria Profile”. BBC. 13 September 2013. 13 September 2013.

[19] Ibid. 19

[20] Ibid. 19

[21] “Syria Kurd leader vows to keep up democracy struggle”. Reuters. 7 April 2011

[22]Almond, Kyle. “Syria explained: What you need to know”, 24 August 2012.

[23] Ibid. 23

[24] Ibid. 23

[25] Ibid. 23

[26] “World Report 2010 Human Rights Watch World Report 2010”, p. 555.

[27] Ibid. 27

[28] “UN chief slams Syria’s crackdown on protests”. Al Jazeera. 18 March 2011.

[29] “UN calls for Syria probe as hundreds protest”. Al Jazeera. 22 March 2011.

[30] “China and Russia veto UN resolution condemning Syria”. BBC. 5 October 2011

[31] “Security Council Requires Scheduled Destruction of Syria’s Chemical Weapons, Unanimously Adopting Resolution 2118”. Retrieved 2013-09-29.

[32] Photos from Syria Allegedly Show Torture, Systematic Killing, Newsweek,



[34] Ibid. 33

[35] Ibid. 33

[36] Ibid. 33

[37] Ibid. 33

[38] Cronogue, Graham. “Responsibility to Protect: Syria The Law, Politics, and Future of Humanitarian Intervention Post-Libya”, International Humanitarian Legat Studies 3 {2012) 124-159

[39] Ibid. 38

[40] Ibid. 38

[41] Morris, Justin. “Libya and Syria: R2P and the spectre of the swinging pendulum”, International Affairs 89: 5 (2013) 1265–1283

[42] Ibid. 41

[43] Brown, Hayes. “FLASHBACK: How Russia Has Blocked International Action On Syria”, 9 September 13

[44] Ibid. 43

[45] Ibid. 43

[46] Ibid. 38

[47] Ibid 41

[48] Ibid. 34

[49] Chang, Jennifer. “China’s Evolving Stance on Syria”. 18 February 2013.

[50] “Ferocious Battles in Libya as National Council Meets for First Time”. NewsCore 6 March 2011

[51] Power, Susan. “The role of the National Transitional Council in the Economic

Reconstruction of Libya – Some Legal Challenges”, 2012.

[52] Ibid. 51

[53] “Libya: The New Al-Qaeda Stronghold”, 18 January 2912.

[54] Lawrence, Chris. “Libya the  new terrorist haven”. 14 September 2011,

[55]McCarthy, Andrew. “The Free Syrian Army, Our ‘Moderate Islamist’ Ally, Continues to Ally with Al-Qaeda in Syria”

[56] “U.S. Congress approves arming Syrian rebels, funding government”,

[57] Menon, Raj. “A Syrian Standoff”, July 12th, 2012.

[58]Lipson, Joshua. “’Russia concerned with stability, not keeping Assad’”

[59] Kreutz, Andrej (2007). Russia in the Middle East: friend or foe?. Westport

[60] Ibid. 59

[61] Ibid. 59

[62] Ibid. 59

[63] Peel, Michael; Clover, Charles (9 July 2012). “Syria and Russia’s ‘special relationship'”. Retrieved 11 July 2012.

[64] Herszenhorn, David. “For Syria, Reliant on Russia for Weapons and Food, Old Bonds Run Deep”, 18 February 2012.

[65] Ibid. 64

[66] Trenin, David. “Why Russia Supports Assad”, 9 February 2012

[67]O’Toole, James. “Billions at stake as Russia backs Syria”, 10 February 2012

[68] Ibid. 67

[69] Ibid. 67

[70] Katz, Mark. “The Russian-Libyan Rapprochment: What has Moscow Gained”,

[71] Ibid. 67

[72] “Russia’s Many Interests in Syria” 13 January 2013.

[73] Synovitz, Ron. “Why Is Access To Syria’s Port At Tartus So Important To Moscow?” 19 June 2012