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Tag: Sanford School of Public Policy

What Comes Next for the Law of the Sea Treaty?

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More than 40 years since its signing, the United States still has not ratified an international agreement known as the “constitution of the oceans.” In a webinar held April 2, two of the world’s leading ocean diplomacy scholars met to discuss its history, challenges, and the U.S.’s potential role in the future.

The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea was truly revolutionary for its time. Unraveling against the backdrop of decades of conflict pertaining to maritime affairs, the significance of this conference and its attempts at negotiating a comprehensive legal framework cannot be understated. Key figures in this development include the members of the United Nations, coastal and landlocked states, the scientific community, environmental community, and developing nations. Yet, with the conclusion of this unifying conference, a singular question remained: What comes next? 

This question is what David Balton, the executive director of the U.S. Artic Steering Committee, and David Freestone, a Professor at George Washington University and the Executive Secretary of the Sargasso Sea Commission, aimed to address in a webinar titled, “The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea at 40.” In this discussion a range of topics were discussed but the primary focus was providing viewers with a comprehensive understanding of the events of this convention and the way this history plays out in modern times. 

Picture of Ambassador David Balton (Obtained from the Wilson Center)

The 1982 convention was one of multiple attempts at setting parameters and guidelines for maritime control. In 1958, the council met for the first time to discuss growing concerns regarding the need for a comprehensive legal framework regarding ocean governance. In this they brought multiple representatives worldwide to discuss the breadth of territorial waters, the rights of coastal states, freedom of navigation, and the exploitation of marine resources. This conversation laid the groundwork for future discussions. However, it was largely ineffective at generating a treaty as they were unable to reach a consensus on the breadth of territorial waters. This first conference is referred to as UNCLOS I. 

Following 1958, in 1960 the members of the council and associated parties convened once again to discuss the issues brought forth by UNCLOS I. The purpose of this conference was to further discuss issues pertaining to the Law of the Sea and build a framework to begin ratification of a binding treaty to ensure that conflict regarding the sea diminishes greatly. This discussion was set in the context of the Cold War. This new setting complicated discussions as talks regarding the implementation of nuclear weapons under the deep seabed further elicited great debate and tensions. While the aim of this meeting was of course to reach a general agreement on these subjects, major differences between states and other parties prohibited UNCLOS II from producing said treaty. 

UNCLOS III served as the breadwinner of this development, yet this is not to say that results were immediate. Negotiations for UNCLOS III were the longest of the three as they spanned from 1973 to 1982. UNCLOS II was particularly special due to its ability to produce revolutionary concepts such as archipelagic status and the establishment of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ), granting coastal states exclusive rights over fishing and economic resources within 200 miles of their shores. In addition, this led to the development of the International Seabed Authority and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. Despite the limitations and unfinished agenda that preceded this, the treaty was officially ratified in 1994 at Montego Bay. The convention initially received 157 signatories and currently holds participation from 169 parties. Absent from this group are the United States, Turkey, and Venezuela. The convention was designed to work as a package deal and required nations to fully commit to the agreement or abstain entirely. For this reason, the United States retains a nonparty, observer status despite to their adherence to the rules and guidelines of the treaty. 

After this explanation, Balton and Freestone addressed the big question: What comes next? As of right now, the United States is still not a signatory of this treaty. However, this is not to say that they are in violation of this treaty either. The United States participates in discussions and negotiations related to UNCLOS issues, both within the United Nations and through bilateral and multilateral engagements. In addition, the Navy still upholds international law in dealings concerning navigational rights. The one factor many claims prohibits the United States from signing is the possibility of their sovereignty being challenged by certain provisions within the treaty. In spite of this, many continue to push to change this reality, advocating for the United States to ratify this agreement. 

Picture of Professor David Freestone (Obtained from Flavia at World Maritime University)

The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea remains a pivotal moment in the history of international maritime governance. This Convention led to many insightful and necessary developments which will continue to set precedent for generations to come. While imperfect, the efforts put forth by many nations and third parties to ensure that it remains consistent with modern day times is very telling of the hopeful development of this treaty. Furthermore, while the future of U.S. involvement in the treaty is uncertain, the frameworks established by the three UNCLOS’ provide a solid foundation for addressing contemporary challenges and furthering international cooperation. 

Post by Gabrielle Douglas, Class of 2027
Post by Gabrielle Douglas, Class of 2027

Casting roles, casting votes: Lessons from Sesame Street on media representation and voting

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Elmo greets the audience during a Sesame Street Live children’s show at Naval Support Activity Naples. Credit: U.S. Navy

La la la la, la la la la, Elmo’s world. La la la la, la la la la, Elmo’s world! 

After listening to Dr. Claire Duquennois, it’s come to my attention that we might actually be living in Elmo’s world. On February 29, Duquennois, an assistant professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Pittsburgh, spoke at the Sanford School of Public Policy about her research on the impact of “Sesame Street” on voter turnout and behavior. As the first of a series of papers on child media representation, Duquennois and her co-author Jiangnan Zeng examined the impact of the highly popular television show on voters born in the 1960s.

For those who didn’t have “Sesame Street” as a cornerstone of their childhood, the show first aired in November 1969, and quickly attracted a large audience of young children from 2-5 years old. The show was unique in its academic and socio-emotional curriculum, as well as in its diverse and integrated cast. Duquennois described the show as having two intents: the first was to create academic curriculum for preschool age children. But the second, more implicit goal was to improve children’s self image, increase their racial tolerance, and highlight the importance of different perspectives, cooperation, and fairness. This is exhibited by the amount of documentation from the creation of the show, as well as the consultation of psychiatrists like Dr. Chester Pierce, who was an expert in the consequences of racism and television’s impact on the portrayal of minorities.

Whereas other shows like “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” featured a more white and suburban cast and setting, “Sesame Street” aimed to relate to kids in more urban or low income areas. For example, both the adult and adolescent cast featured numerous people of color, and the show’s set was reminiscent of Harlem brownstones. The show also brought on numerous diverse guest stars, many of which were important figures in the Civil Rights movement. For many children living in white-dominated suburbs at the time, “Sesame Street” was their first introduction to people of different cultural backgrounds. This “hidden agenda” did not go unnoticed by more conservative governments. For example, the Mississippi commission for education TV vetoed the airing of “Sesame Street” due to the messaging of integration and diversity, although this decision was later overturned due to popular support for the show. Duquennois and Zeng wanted to know: Can child media reduce prejudice in the long-run, impacting voter preferences and behaviors in adulthood?

There had already been a lot of research on mass media in terms of short-term voting outcomes, Duquennois said. In particular, she spoke about research on the news and mass media creating a negative impact on racial and ethnic tensions. However, there was a lack of research on both child media and its impact on later life voting, as well as media’s ability to reduce biases in the majority group. In particular, Duquennois frequently referenced a paper by Melissa S. Kearney and Phillip B. Levine titled “Early Childhood Education by Television: Lessons from Sesame Street.” Duquennois also spoke on the previous research done on contact theory, which has proven that interactions with other groups can help to reduce biases. For example, research done on random college roommates has found that introducing college-age students to people from differing cultural backgrounds has a positive impact on reducing prejudice. 

To any readers still waiting to hear the connection, here it is. Duquennois used a difference in difference model with four different segments (really, a scale of low to high coverage, but she simplified for our sake). The treatment group is identified as children younger than six (“Sesame Street’s” target audience, as well as kids who would be home the majority of the day instead of at school) and with high coverage. This methodology is primarily based on Kearney and Levine’s 2019 study mentioned earlier. Since it’s impossible to tell which children were actually watching “Sesame Street,” Kearney and Levine relied on the statistic that nearly 50% of children were watching the show if it was available to them. They also controlled for general patterns in a particular cohort in that particular state like migration and attenuation bias. 

Kearney and Levine’s difference in difference chart referenced by Dr. Duquennois.
Kearney and Levine’s Sesame Street Coverage Map

In terms of getting voting reports, the study used election year responses from 2006-2020 on the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) as well as Implicit Association Test (IAT) scores. Specifically, the report used data in major party ballots for US House elections. 

In terms of results, Duquennois broke elections into various different demographic compositions. This included elections between two white men, a Republican white man and Democrat woman of color, vice versa and et cetera. 

The results were quite interesting. In the case of electoral participation, an increase in coverage by one standard deviation (20 ppts) increased the treated cohort’s voter turnout by 2.8 ppts (4.4%). Voter registration increased by 1.8 ppts (2.4%), and treated cohorts were more likely to know whether they were registered or not.

Additionally, those with more television coverage in their childhood later on expressed increased political knowledge, including more interest in public affairs, better recognition of elected officials’ names, and increased engagement for marginal voters. There was also increased identification with a party and political ideology. However, there were null effects on more costly forms of political engagement like protesting or primary turnout rates.

The most interesting part to me, however, is the impact on voter preferences. Duquennois found that former watchers of “Sesame Street” are more likely to vote for minority and female candidates, regardless of political party.

Dr. Duqennois’s data on voter patterns for minority candidates
Dr. Duqennois’s data on voting patterns for women candidates

Even more interesting, the decreased race and gender bias in voting patterns does not translate to policy views. There’s evidence that “Sesame Street” viewers both support gay marriage and restrictive immigration policies, which are often seen as opposing political views. That said, what is consistent is that those in the treated cohort were more likely to have an opinion, regardless of what the opinion actually is. 

Moreover, it appears that the hidden messaging of “Sesame Street” was effective in decreasing bias. According to the IAT score results, one standard deviation increase in television coverage reduced the race IAT scores of white subjects by 0.013 standard deviations. However, it had null effects on non-white respondents. There was no evidence of selection bias of taking the race IAT in treatment versus non-treatment groups. As for the gender-career IAT test scores, there was no clear change on bias results, but there was evidence of a selection bias with the treated cohort more likely to take the gender-career IAT.

Duquennois concluded her presentation with a few final takeaways: “Preschool age exposure to child media portraying an inclusive, egalitarian and diverse America reduced prejudice in the long run, with consequential implications for voter preferences.”

Written by Emily Zou, Class of 2027

Acknowledging America’s Unspoken Caste System

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Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson took the Page Auditorium stage on February 22 to discuss her most recent book, “Caste,” and its implications for modern-day America. Co-hosted by the Sanford School of Public Policy and the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture, the event featured a lecture and Q&A section.

A caste system is an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups.”

Isabel Wilkerson

When Wilkerson first published “Caste: The Origin of Our Discontents,” it spent 55 weeks on the U.S. best sellers list. Barack Obama put it in his 2020 reading list, and Oprah Winfrey sent the book to Fortune 500 CEOs around the world. Since then, it has sold over 1.56 million copies and has become a #1 New York Times best seller.

In other words: “Caste” is the Beyoncé of books.

Pictured: Author Isabel Wilkerson and her book, “Caste.”

Wilkerson began by reminding the audience of the recentness of our country’s progress. “In recent times it’s not been unusual to hear people say something along the lines of ‘I don’t recognize my country,’ Wilkerson began. “And whenever I hear that I’m reminded that tragically not enough of us have had the chance to know our country’s true and full history.” She described the U.S. as a patient with a preexisting health condition, asserting that America has been plagued by racism since its inception. Like a chronic disease, these roots continuously persist and flare up.

Pictured: A visual timeline of Black oppression in the United States

For context, the United States is 247 years old. A full 89 of those years were spent in slavery and 99 were spent in the Jim Crow era. For 227 years, race was considered an innate, factual construct (until the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003). Racial injustice isn’t a period of history in this country, it is this country’s history.

Wilkerson furthered her point by detailing the dehumanizing customs of the Jim Crow caste system in the South. “You could go to jail if you were caught playing checkers with a person of a different race,” Wilkerson said. “That means that someone had to have seen a Black person and a white person in some town square… And they felt that the entire foundation of southern civilization was in peril and took the time to write that down as a law.” Before the late 20th century, there was even a separate Black and White Bible to take an oath in court. “That means that the very word of God was segregated in the Jim Crow South,” Wilkerson said.

She described this system of racial oppression as an “arbitrary, artificial, graded ranking of human value” – in other words, a caste system. She highlighted how race was weaponized by early colonists to determine “who would be slave or free, who would have rights and no rights.”

This caste system wasn’t just a “sad, dark chapter,” Wilkerson said. It’s “the foundation of the country’s political, social, and economic order.”

For 6 million Black southerners, the caste system became so suffocating that migrating across the country (a movement called The Great Migration), seemed like the only path to freedom. “No other group of Americans has had to act like immigrants in order to be recognized as citizens,” Wilkerson said. “So this great migration was not a move. It was not about moving. It was a defection. A seeking of political asylum within the borders of one’s own country.”

But the U.S. caste system extends far past slavery and Jim Crow. Take the vastly different police response to the January 6 Capitol riot compared to BLM protests during the summer of 2020. “We alive today are tasked with explaining to succeeding generations how…a rioter could deliver the Confederate flag farther than Robert E. Lee himself.” The United States has never adequately dealt with its racist history, which is why it keeps repeating itself.

Photo Credit: NBC

In a powerful call to action, Wilkerson urged the audience to honor these histories and “teach the children so that we can end these divisions now with the next generation.” She shared the aspiration of novelist Richard Wright: “To transplant in alien soil…and perhaps just perhaps to bloom” in a more equitable world.

Want to learn more about Isabel Wilkerson’s work? Click here.

Written by: Skylar Hughes, Class of 2025

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