Irish Lobbying Laws Create Framework for EU Legislation

By Derek Brody

When one is forced to conjure up an image of the modern political system, it is likely that the illustration is rife with corporate lobbyists, bringing about the “Swamp” narrative that has become typical of American politics. This scene, however, is not the case in Ireland, where the Irish Parliament enacted extremely strict laws on lobbying transparency. The Regulation of Lobbying Act of 2015, put into effect in September of that year, is among the strongest anti-lobbying regulations in the world.

The law itself is fairly straightforward: “Any individual, company, or NGO that seeks to directly or indirectly influence officials on a policy issue must list themselves on a public register and disclose any lobbying activity.” The legislation ensures that all data collected in relation to lobbying activities would be published every four months, with mandatory disclosure standards that include all details of clients, the extent and type of activity, and the person of primary responsibility. Initially, there were concerns about the practicality of implementation. John Carroll, CEO of the Public Relations Consultants Association, commented that “There may be challenges of interpretation, especially ‘what is a technical matter.’” These concerns have dissipated in the intervening time period, as the government bureaucracy has decided on a more standardized understanding of the legislation.

Internally, support for this kind of transparency legislation had been growing in previous years beginning with the financial collapse in 2008. The effort was further emphasized in 2011 when a new government came into office and promised to “introduce a statutory register of lobbyists.” It was not until March of 2015, however, that Ireland became the 15th country with statutory regulations regarding lobbying activities. At the time, members of the European Parliament (MEPs) argued that this legislation was unnecessary and cumbersome. These MEPs, based in Brussels, complained that watchdog legislation focused too narrowly on member attendance at meetings of Parliament. In April 2015, the Committee on Budgetary Control issued an amendment that “decried the emphasis monitoring groups place on ‘quantitative criteria’ that may provide ‘the wrong kind of incentives and generate unnecessary work.’”

The success of the Irish watchdog program, however, has changed the tone of the discussion surrounding future attempts to regulate corporate lobbying. Sherry Perreault, head of lobbying regulation at Ireland’s Standards in Public Office Commission, has traveled across the continent in an attempt to demonstrate the success of the program. “Transparency is catching hold. To see this catching fire outside of Ireland is really terrific,” Perrault said. In fact, the lobbying industry itself has spoken out in favor of the legislation. Cian Connaughton, president of the Public Relations Institute of Ireland, further emphasized this point when he stated, “Lobbying has gotten a very bad name because of the actions of some individuals. What the register has done is clarify to people what is happening, who is doing what. The fact that the new regime has hopefully increased people’s trust in the system, it’s a big plus.”

Large parts of the Irish regulations were based off those already present in Canada, which first enacted lobbying laws in 1989. Canada has strengthened those laws four times since the original enactment, suggesting that this is a quickly-evolving industry that requires continual supervision. Using the basis of the Canadian system, the Irish law uses an extremely broad definition of the term “lobbyist,” referring to anyone who “employs more than 10 individuals, works for an advocacy body, is a professional paid by a client to communicate on someone else’s behalf or is communicating about land development.” The expansive nature of the legislation’s wording means that it also applies to NGOs and other civil society organizations, rather than being limited to groups representing multinationals or local industries.

As the European continent has been ravaged with allegations of corruption in the polity, requests for legislation similar to that of Ireland are becoming commonplace. Transparency International EU, an NGO that campaigns against corruption, has been calling on EU countries to enact similar policies. According to the organization, members of the Social Democratic Party in Spain, Italy, and Germany have begun discussions on possible legislation. Likewise, the bold “Sapin Law” is currently in the process of being rolled out in an attempt to eliminate much of the negative stigma surrounding the policy. The regulations are inconsistent across countries, however, with Ireland’s standing above the fray as the strictest. Some countries require disclosures of money, while others do not. Likewise, the definition of “lobbyist” varies widely across country lines, creating uncertainty when dealing with multinational organizations.

Regardless of slight issues in implementation, it is clear that the Irish policy has set a standard for transparency that other countries now feel more compelled to reach. By doing so, the entire EU moves in a more transparent, open, and understandable manner for its citizens.

While the World Watches: The Plight of the Rohingya

By Javan Latson

The Southeastern Asian nation of Myanmar (Burma) has been in the headlines… and not for the right reasons. The former British colony has had a very turbulent history rife with dictatorship, repression, and civil unrest. In 1988 people around the world watched as the citizens took a stance against the ruling military junta. Individuals like Nobel Laureate Aang San Suu Kyi became symbols of the country’s struggle for democracy and civil liberty. However, Myanmar has now joined the likes of Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, Darfur as ethnically targeted violence rages on in the border state of Rakhine.

The victims of these attacks are the Rohingya, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group concentrated in the poorest state in the nation. Members of this community trace their ancestry back hundreds of years ago to when large groups of Muslims came from present-day Bangladesh to what was then the Kingdom of Arakhan. For years the British governed the region as a part of India and during colonial rule, many Bengali workers were imported. As an Islamic community within a predominantly Buddhist state things have always been tense, but most attacks on the Rohingya refute their Burmese identity. In an effort to justify certain as illegal Bengali immigrants.

This xenophobic sentiment would soon gain a foothold within the government following Burmese independence in 1948. The Buddhist majority held some grievances against the Rohingya for their behavior during World War 2. This is because the group sided with England whereas the majority allied with Imperial Japan. Despite this, the Rohingya were mostly considered a part of Burmese society. It wasn’t until General Ne Win’s ascension to power in 1962 that things took a turn for the worse. With the backing of his military junta, General Win enacted policies that greatly restricted the rights of this minority community.  Three years into his reign all Rohingya language programs were removed from national television broadcasts despite the fact that ethnic minorities were granted slots to broadcast in their mother tongue. Removing the group’s presence from public media was one step, but it was the passage of the 1982 citizenship law that truly harmed the Rohingya community. This piece of legislation declared that the right of citizenship only belongs to members of the 135 ethnic groups recognized by the 1974 constitution. With the stroke of a pen, they became one of the largest groups of stateless people in the world.

Without the protection of the law, these individuals became increasingly vulnerable to extortion and abuse by their neighbors. Rohingya couples are prohibited from having more than two children, must obtain permission to leave their villages, and are denied access to higher education and certain professions. Just two years ago, when the world was praising Myanmar for finally having “free” elections, the Rohingya were stripped of their right to vote.  With this in mind, it is not surprising that there have been conflicts between them and the Buddhist majority. These clashes have left dark stains on Burmese history, especially during the events of 2012. Five Muslim men were accused of raping a Buddhist woman and this led to widespread violence. Radical figures such as Monk Ashin Wirathu fanned the flames of sectarianism through his fiery sermons that called for the Rohingya to be removed from the country to protect Burmese culture. When the dust had settled more than 280 people had died and thousands more lost their homes.

What happened in 2012 may have been detrimental, but what is currently happening is nothing short of a disaster. Following an attack by a group of Rohingya rebels in August, there has been widespread violence targeting members of the community. These attacks have been devastating and the main victims have been civilians. There have been reports of mass rapes, executions, and security forces working with local militias to burn down villages. More than one-third of the Rohingya community have fled the country since August with greater than 375,000 going to neighboring Bangladesh.  Over a hundred villages have been destroyed and there are even reports that the military has been installing landmines on the border to prevent them from returning.  This systematic oppression and persecution prompted the UN Human Rights Chief to label the situation, “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. Yet despite the cry of human rights groups and the UN, de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has said virtually nothing about the situation. Kyi, who gained worldwide support for her stance against the military junta and whose efforts earned her the Nobel Peace Prize, has failed to take a stand.  She appears to be dodging the pressure for her to condemn what is going on and to at least call the issue what it is… a humanitarian disaster. It could be argued that she is acting in this way because of the heavy influence the military still has on the government. However, the same woman that defied the status quo earlier in life for the sake of her nation and endured house arrest, should have the courage to stand.  

The election of Suu Kyi in 2015 seemed to mark the beginning of a new era for Burma.  Impressed by the apparent reforms President Obama, via executive order, lifted all existing sanctions on the Burmese government. Yet despite the so-called reforms that have occurred, Burma is far from free. Weapons continually enter the country from Israel and China even in the midst of the atrocities that are happening to arm the Burmese Security Forces. This is not a wise course of action because a lack of response by the global powers on the behalf of the oppressed could potentially lead to radicalism within the Rohingya population. There have already been reports of Al-Qaeda calling foreign militants to take up arms in Burma, stating that the government should be “punished”. Situations like these play into the hands of extremist groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda because it fuels the narrative of Muslims being oppressed by an infidel government. As observed in Afghanistan during the 70s, Bosnia and Chechnya in the 90s, and the current situation in the Philippines, there is a significant possibility for non-state actors to exacerbate the conflict.  As Dr. King once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.  It’s time for the global community to step up because if we don’t someone else will, and that someone may or may not share our same values and interests.

China and India’s Difficult Relationship

By Yuhang Zhang

The Situation

In World War II, the deadliest war in human history, it’s estimated that there were about 66 million deaths. As a conflict that drew in the entire developed world, occurred alongside mass genocide and famine, and involved the usage of nuclear weapons, the death number is sobering, yet expected.

There is another potential conflict brewing involving only two countries this time; between them, they share the worst famine in human history, pasts filled with ethnic and cultural atrocities, enough nuclear weapons to rip a continent in half, and one rugged 1650 mile border. If only 5% of their populations died during war (a stunningly conservative estimate given the concentration of their people, the presence of nuclear war, unstable governments, and tendencies towards famine), that would be 135 million deaths, or double that of World War II.

The two countries, of course, are China and India; the conflict, a multi-headed hydra that most recently reared its head at the Doklam Plateau. The tiny plateau, only about 89 km, is isolated within the towering Himalayas. Yet, it has been the point of fierce contention between the twin titans of China and India.

A bit of background: On June 16, China began constructing roads in disputed territory on Doklam, which India responded to by sending troops to halt construction. The two countries reached a stalemate position for a couple of months, with neither Beijing nor Delhi backing down on their stances. Eventually, the two countries reached a “consensus” when Modi (the Prime Minister of India) indicated that, unless China backed off of Doklam, India would skip the 9th BRICS summit; that threat seemed to be enough for China, who then withdrew the road workers.

And now, like ex-lovers trapped in an elevator alone, the two countries have redressed themselves in cheery diplomacy and shaky extensions of camaraderie.

China Alone

Here’s an interesting question- who is China’s ally? Of course, friendships and rivalries are always opportunistic on the global stage, and rarely stay static; for example, one would be foolish to claim that the United States and Japan have genuinely friendly attitudes towards each other.

An ally, often, is nothing more than a label, implying and bringing into existence bilateral feelings of amity. It is different than an alliance, which takes form as a unified opposition to something (usually war). It describes another country which can be relied upon to support the original country’s policies, even on issues that have little relevance to the ally. Both countries heavily benefit from the relationship; for example, the United States uses Japan as a crucial trading and tech partner, and as a regional counterpoint to China, whilst Japan relies on the United States for protection and a market.

China, however, does not have any true allies. It trades with the United States and much of the world, but hardly any of those countries would support China in a controversial policy situation. Regionally, it stands alone- to the East, the decidedly antagonistic Japan, and a horde of ambitious Southeast Asian nations nipping at its heels; to the North, the enigmatic Russia, which simultaneously confronts and cooperates with China regularly; to the West, India.

China seeks allies in Europe, South America, and the Middle East hoping to find a country willing to side with it opposite the sprawling American ally network; surprisingly, it finds little takers. There is Pakistan, much of Africa, and the People’s Republic of North Korea. Together, their GDP is 3.6 trillion (assuming all of Africa, which is not the case), about the GDP of Germany, and hardly 40% of China’s 11.2 trillion GDP.

What this means is that China is a massive and accelerating country that stands largely on its own- the aforementioned African allies are mostly one-sided beneficiaries of Chinese aid, and Pakistan and North Korea are hardly in a position to support them.

And so, like every other world power in this situation (The Roman Empire, the Mongols, WWII Germany and Japan, to name a few), China must expand to maintain its security. This operates both physically, as in China literally pushing the borders of its nation, and through exerting its hegemony within the region.

In other words, after decades of being trodden on, China has finally awoken to find an unfriendly world, where it must secure many of its own advantages and trade networks, prop up a hastily-constructed economy, and deal with political dissidence and cultural strife- all the while having to play the United States, and most of the West, in an international game of strategy that China seems destined to lose.

Hope and Potentials

Of course, neither China nor India desire a war; in fact, even barring the usage of nuclear weapons, it would easily be one of the most deadly events in history. But, as stated above, China’s survival strategy is to extend, and its border with India is contentious and full of potential strife.

The ideas here are my own, and probably won’t occur in real life, due to the fact it would require three superpowers to follow the advice of one Vanderbilt freshman. That being said, I think there are three solutions, with various degrees of impossibility.

First, and most impossibly, the root cause of China’s issues could be dealt with and the United States could relieve its multinational pressure on China. I say impossibly because it requires the United States to swallow its ego and open itself to vulnerability (highly unlikely underneath the current administration), and for China to accept this concession without exploiting it. These actions together would result in China being able to move outside of the current pressure cooker it’s been forced into- easily finding markets to sustain and grow alongside, losing much of the regional antagonism heaped upon it.

That situation will most likely never happen due to the incredible risks involved, and so we move on to the second option- improved relations between India and China, mediated and spurred on by the United States. Due to paranoia about the possibility of losing its grip in the Asian region, the United States is unlikely to support this action, and yet this would be the most logical- India and China already share many of the same goals, and if China agreed to concede the alliance with Pakistan and breaks ties, the two countries could easily work together rather than in opposition.

Neither of these are particularly likely situations, and in reality, China and India will probably stand at this stalemated cycle for years to come, two stone-willed forces separated by the jagged peaks of the Himalayas (and the helpless Bhutan). What comes next, whether it be death or reconciliation, is difficult to foresee.

Examining “Mutually Assured Destruction” in the Context of North Korea

By Dustin Cai

North Korea, under the leadership of Kim Jong-un, has historically made it clear that their goal is to become a nuclear power. The East Asian country has continued its intercontinental missile tests in the face of international pressure and sanctions and has further improved their nuclear capabilities. This has led North Korea to be cited by multiple countries as an imminent threat to world safety, including concerns from South Korea, China, Japan, and the United States. While North Korean leaders have made international threats throughout the past decade, their increased sophistication in nuclear power as well as more frequent tests of longer-range missiles have put more substance into their previously empty threats.

In early September 2017, director general Yukiya Amano of the International Atomic Energy Authority, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, officially designated North Korea as a “global threat,” up from its previous status as a regional threat. This came directly after a successful nuclear test and an aggressive missile launch over Japan. North Korea’s dedication to become a global nuclear power and its willingness to aggress upon other nations puts the country at the top of the list for international security concerns.

While the power of a modern nuclear bomb has not been witnessed in war, none will disagree about the destructive capabilities contained within a single warhead. Despite this potential for catastrophe, the Human Security Report Project finds that death and violence have declined in the post-WWII era–the war in which the first and only nuclear attack occurred–while peace has continued to grow.

Many theories and pieces of literature have been formulated since the 1950s to document and explain this concept, but the most prominent theory that developed is “mutually assured destruction,” otherwise known as MAD. Coined by Robert McNamara, the U.S. Secretary of Defense during Kennedy’s presidency in 1962, MAD refers to the idea that one actor would refrain from launching a nuclear weapon because the response of an enemy nuclear warhead would be too great, causing a mutual destruction to both sides. Essentially, this created the popular concept that nuclear warheads act as deterrents against war as long as both parties hold nuclear capabilities. Although nuclear arsenals spurred a dangerous arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union during the 1950s, supporters of MAD point to nuclear capabilities as the reason war never broke out between the two countries during this time.

McNamara was an early defender of U.S. nuclear arms and defended U.S. ability to launch retaliatory nuclear strikes as the “foundation of [U.S.] nuclear deterrent.” Modern proponents of MAD still find this 50-year old theory to hold true. Professor Kenneth Waltz from University of California – Berkeley explains that, thanks to modern nuclear weapons, “never in modern history… have the great and major powers enjoyed such a long period of peace.”

To contextualize this theoretical example, real world examples can show how nuclear proliferation actually deters conflict between certain nations. Political science professor Robert Rauchhaus of University of California-Santa Barbara performed a quantitative analysis and found that nuclear asymmetry between nations, defined as one nation having nuclear weapons while another does not, increases instability and conflict. On the other hand, a Journal of Peace Research article performs an empirical analysis on world conflict and concludes the addition of one nuclear actor to a situation that already involves another nuclear actor decreases the probability of full scale war by 9%. Each additional nuclear actor added to the situation further decreases the probability of war by even larger margins. The research goes on, and Waltz concludes his own analysis by stating, “the slow spread of nuclear weapons will promote peace and reinforce international stability.”

So, if this theoretical concept of mutually assured destruction and the bevy of research on international nuclear proliferation has been so prominent in guiding international defense policy for the past few decades, then why are people so worried about North Korea gaining nuclear weapons? Theoretically, North Korean nuclear capabilities should only stabilize conflict in the Korean peninsula by creating nuclear symmetry. However, one important caveat in MAD theory is the assumption that both nuclear actors are rational. In Waltz’s defense of MAD, he assumes that all nations are rational actors and will apply the most rational choice; therefore, no nation will choose to go to nuclear war because of its destructive implications.

This caveat is one of the main reasons why many are more worried about North Korea obtaining nuclear weapons than other current nuclear holders like Pakistan or Israel. Some political leaders, including U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, have publicly condemned North Korea for being irrational, citing North Korea’s escalating threats and repeated missile tests despite international condemnation. Other political commentators criticize Western views of North Korea as having a biased view on the sanity of Kim Jong-Un to skew perceptions in a certain negative way, and reduce the classification of North Korea as a crazy, but rational actor. For example, current U.S. CIA director Mike Pompeo sees Kim Jong-Un as a rational actor taking necessary steps to prolong his regime and possibly extend his rule the entire Korean peninsula. But other pieces of evidence gathered by the Human Rights Watch are typically cited in proving North Korea’s irrationality, with multiple systemic human rights violations including murder, torture, enslavement, oppression of free speech, widespread censorship, and public executions. Many typically look to these atrocities and conclude that no rational actor would do this to their own citizens.

North Korea continues to bolster its nuclear arsenal, increase its intercontinental missile capabilities, and make threats against the international community. Kim Jong-Un has continued to use self-destructive methods against his own citizens in order to gain political power, and once North Korea secures higher levels of military and nuclear sophistication, the trend of self-destruction is expected continue to international levels never seen before. If North Korea locks in a nuclear arsenal uncontested, their trend of irrational behavior would unravel decades of international nuclear defense theory and force nuclear powers to rethink the benefits and dangers of nuclear proliferation. Mutually assured destruction has proven itself to be a powerful tool in keeping peace, but perceived  irrational actors such as Kim Jong-Un have yet to get their hands on the big red button.