The Continual Cold War Redux

By Noah Butler

On December 26, 1991, the USSR officially dissolved when the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union voted the country out of existence. Since that historic day, which saw the end of one of the world’s most powerful nations and one of the two global superpowers, the United States has continued to pursue an antagonistic foreign policy towards Russia. Many U.S. legislators (if not practically all, considering a July 98-2 Senate vote to slap more sanctions on Russia) have actively rallied against and painted Russia as the biggest threat to global peace, only behind ISIS and North Korea.

Why should the United States not work with Russia or try to remedy relations that have long been neglected? Cooperation with Russia would be in the short and long term benefit of the U.S. by helping combat terrorism originating from the Middle East, creating more diplomatic unity on things such as pressuring North Korea, and stunting the ascendency of China.

The election of Donald Trump to the presidency saw an uncertain future for U.S. foreign policy, especially on the issue of Russia. Candidate Trump promised that he would attempt to remedy relations with the Russian Federation and seek partnership with President Putin. This came much to the dismay of neoconservatives and neoliberals on both the left and right who have continuously beat the drums of war whenever Russia is mentioned. One of President Trump’s main reasons for working with Russia is the fight against terrorism. This is common sense to anyone with a pragmatic view of the world. Defeating ISIS in Syria and Iraq is a top priority so why would we make it more difficult on ourselves just because some perceive Russia as a bad actor and our eternal enemy? President Bashar al-Assad has been painted as a vicious tyrant by Western media but he brings a strong and stable hand to a region wrought by volatility–acting as a stalwart defense against the expansion of terrorism. The previous U.S. policy of helping Syrian rebels was thankfully ended because it would have led to a similar situation like Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s regime fell if Assad was ousted. Coordinating has already proved fruitful with a July 2017 regional ceasefire brokered by the U.S. and Russia–reached by Trump and Putin during their G-20 meeting on July 7–that has largely held even when multiple Western analysts predicted it would fail. Working with Russia on things such as coordinated military strikes on ISIS targets would hasten the collapse of their rapidly shrinking territorial possessions.

The United States would create a formidable diplomatic front with Russia if relations were improved. Russia and China are North Korea’s main and most important economic partners. Both nations believe that if North Korea were to fall, the South would assume control of the peninsula thus putting the U.S. right on their respective borders. This would not be in either of their interests because of their current relations with the United States. If the U.S. were on more friendly terms with Russia, they would be more inclined–if not compelled–to completely cut off North Korea in wake of their recent belligerent stance along with nuclear and missile tests. This would effectively put their economy on life support and would place enormous pressure on China for being their last substantial trading partner. This leads into my next point that an alliance with Russia would be almost a nightmare scenario for China. Being surrounded by U.S. allies: India to the South, Japan and South Korea to the East, and Russia to the North, would greatly hinder the expansionist policy of the current Chinese administration. The U.S. would be able to refocus its efforts away from the Middle East and pivot to the Asia-Pacific region as President Obama attempted to do in his last few years in office with things such as the failed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). President Obama had the right intentions to refocus U.S. efforts in the Pacific because of China’s expansionist moves in the South China Sea and their attempts to form partnerships in the region; however, hostilities with both China and Russia greatly hinders the extent of U.S. influence in the region. Even though Russia is no longer the superpower it was, it is still one of the most powerful global actors and has been ascendant under Putin.

To those who believe that we should not work with Russia, I say that Russia has only been acting in their best interest and has not done anything to directly harm the interests of the U.S. Arguing that Russia should not be trusted because they meddled in our elections is pure political posturing since Russia did not change or alter anyone’s vote; also, it is quite hypocritical considering the U.S. has meddled in other countries’ elections for years. Russia’s annexation of Crimea was surprising in the international arena, but is of no means reason to isolate a nation claiming what was historically theirs. Officially acknowledging Crimea as a part of Russia, advocating for the return of Russia to the G8, and rolling back economic sanctions would put the U.S. and Russia on a path to a mutual relationship of cooperation and possibly friendship.

Trump’s Habit of Abandonment

By Jessica McHale

Traditionally, American presidents have encouraged diplomacy and peace through treaties and international agreements before resorting to threats or violence, as that is one of the most significant shared values demonstrated by democracies (regardless of whether the state being dealt with is also a democracy.)  However, American foreign policy has experienced a powerful and incredibly dangerous shift away from this established practice since the inauguration of President Trump. Although Trump’s foreign policy endeavors have often remained unexplained and sporadic, one focus of his has proved consistent throughout his 8 months in office: his habit of retreat, which runs contrary to America’s historical precedent for international affairs. This switch in America’s approach to foreign policy is incredibly harmful. From his abandonment of peaceful dispute resolution frameworks to his withdrawal from previously established international treaties, agreements, and organizations, Trump is actively weakening the United States and its position as a global hegemon.

To justify his international approach, Trump claims that Americans need to reclaim American jobs and set the example that America must put itself first. He discredits the notion that the United States has some sort of moral responsibility to help other, less fortunate states (which are often in their position due to toxic Western imperialist endeavors), mostly relying on the argument that American innovation and economic advancement is hindered by international interference.

Firstly, prematurely retracting from diplomatic means and resulting to threats and eventual violence posits significant economic consequences. Not only is war incredibly costly, but international isolation and protectionist policies are also economically harmful to the United States considering how heavily we rely on necessary resources (including human capital) from other states to fuel our own economy as well as provide raw materials and final goods to American companies. The current international world order is remarkably characterized by state-to-state dependency and one state’s reliance on another for economic means is not as zero sum as Trump would like to argue. The more the United States presents itself as unwilling to compromise with other states and promote peaceful decision-making, the less other countries are going to commit to economic partnerships that benefit the American economy.

In addition to economic considerations, Trump’s foreign policy agenda of retreat also demonstrates severe political repercussions. His complete dismissal of participating in any method of international cooperation that does not directly impact the United States in a positive manner has cut important strategic political allies and will continue to do so. As the United States has historically served as an exemplar of democracy and diplomacy, other states will soon begin to mock the U.S.’s new approach of disruptive behavior and political discord which can potentially become the new norm, resulting in little urgency to promote cooperation. The loss of life due to war and intrastate disagreements over politics is just one of the many severe consequences of states pursuing policies purely according to their own interests. At its worst, this tactic can lead to a dystopian disregard of state autonomy. At its best, it leads to a superiority complex and ignores the desperate need of assistance for states victim to extreme poverty, violence, and turmoil. Although cooperation and the prospect of peace through diplomatic means is one of the core tenets of liberalism, pro-Trump realists should also discover the need to eschew support for Trump’s routine abandonment, as mediation and partnership increasingly become a matter vital to state security and survival, and as Trump’s retreat has often allowed for other countries to gain economically and politically.

Trump’s policy of retreat is also socially harmful. His persistence in building a wall along the US-Mexico border, blocking US travel from Middle Eastern citizens, and rejecting DACA have demonstrated his disregard for foreigners, especially those who can offer little to the United States and who have historically been discriminated against. This sort of retreat has caused especially harmful relations regarding race and citizenship status throughout the United States. Whether he intended a negative impact or not, his desertion within this realm of foreign policy has caused severe domestic issues aimed toward normalizing harmful behaviors toward immigrants and minorities, especially those connected in some way to the countries he attempts to distance from the United States.

The arguments put forth by Trump and his supporters that foreigners and international involvement are hindering the U.S. economy are simply untrue. Not only do immigrants complete a significant portion of jobs within the United States economy deemed as unwanted by Americans, but they also (unfortunately) provide this work for lower wages than American citizens, allowing companies to benefit from larger profits which ultimately supports our overall GDP. Additionally, as was discovered after the disturbance ensued by Trump’s desire to alter the HB1 visa provision (predominantly from tech companies that chiefly rely on the minds of foreign engineers and innovators), the American economy is greatly dependent on foreign employment for our own success and technological advancement over other states. Ultimately, Trump’s tendency to retreat from the global community actually does not in fact put “America First,” but rather it weakens our stance within the global community while providing economic, political, and social consequences.

The Fragile State of U.S. Cybersecurity Policy: Is it enough?

By Sarah Taylor

Google the word “hack” these days and thousands of hits come up regarding large, multinational companies being hit by attacks that you think shouldn’t have happened in the first place. In the current media frenzy focusing on the North Korean missile crisis, hurricanes and natural disasters, and humanitarian crises, cybersecurity threats and attacks fly relatively under the radar. Only when the attack threatens an election or millions of identity thefts does the news of a detrimental hack make headlines. Most recently, the Equifax hack released the private information of 143 million of Americans that resulted in many having their identity stolen and leaving their credit ruined. The United States has been the subject of thousands and thousands of cybersecurity threats, and yet the policy (both domestic and foreign) regulating them is relatively undeveloped. The investigation into Russian cyber-meddling in the 2016 Presidential election seems as though it has stalled at best. At worst, it has been completely forgotten in the sidetracking hearings of former F.B.I. Director James Comey. What should have been a hallmark case in foreign cyber attacks turned into a political tête-à-tête.

Cyber attacks are nearly impossible to predict, and even harder to prosecute after the fact, as there are no fingerprints or DNA  evidence left behind in a purely digital invasion. Thus, the policy surrounding cybersecurity is notably lacking in specificity, especially with regards to foreign entities performing the attacks. Often times, the attacks are a result of pure human error, which makes policy formulation that much harder. For example, in the Russian hack into the DNC emails, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta clicked a link to reset his password that he thought was sent by “the Gmail team”. This very basic phishing email gave Russian hackers full access to Podesta’s emails and sent the final months of the 2016 presidential campaign into a frenzy that included the word “emails” being exhausted in every debate. By the time the breach was even discovered, the irreparable damage had already been done.

Thirty-nine states have found evidence of invasions by Russian hackers into software systems and voter databases, using this data to attempt to delete or alter votes. While this is clearly an extreme situation, little has been done to our relationship with Russia to ensure this doesn’t happen again, or to at least show that we are taking this as seriously as we should be. The implications of Russia hacking into the election are far-reaching. If they are able to alter voter data to alter to outcome of the election, then the entire integrity of the American political system is at danger. It is as though the fears of the Red Scare and the anti-communism nightmares of the mid-twentieth century are being realized as technology has made them an available possibility. Currently, the Department of Homeland Security has a “Framework” for private sector businesses to investigate and respond to cyber threats. Most multi-national corporations have an information security department that handles these matters as well. However, the United States’ body of foreign policy is lacking specific measures to identify and stop or respond to attacks from foreign nations that have malicious intentions. These attacks are especially dangerous when the attacks are backed by the government, as is suspected in the Russian election intrusion.

While I argue that Homeland Security should develop a similar framework with more specific details on how the United States’ public and private sectors should respond to foreign attacks, it is understandable how this goal can be significantly roadblocked by gaps in capabilities and detection. For obvious reasons, government entities are not quick to lay claim to an attack, especially when it impacts the political integrity of another country or hundreds of millions of Americans. DHS is making positive strides in identifying potential threats. Most recently, they identified a Russian cybersecurity firm, Kaspersky Lab, as using antivirus software to spy on the government. The firm likely has ties to the Kremlin. Though these are steps in the right direction, these incidences are still found when it is likely too late. In the case of Kaspersky, their ties to the Kremlin should have been an automatic red flag and disallowed business in or with the United States. Cybersecurity threats by foreign nations have been proven to have irreparable and unthinkable damage on the core of the United States, whether it be a presidential election or the credit of half the country.

Corruption in the Rainbow Nation

By James Raubenheimer

The idealism, optimism, and hope that spurred from post-apartheid South Africa brought the country ahead and away from its recent dark past. Such a trend can be seen across many countries and history such as global idealism following World War I and the Cold War. In recent years, forces of corruption have risen in the ranks of the South African government. The corruption that exists is only a symptom of several underlying problems. The main issues identified are lack of education, widespread economic inequality, and a lack of government infrastructure. The Rainbow Nation has focused on integrating those damaged by the apartheid regime and uniting the country after the racial divide.  However, post-apartheid South Africa has yet to fully develop a new era of governance, and this change needs to happen in order to secure a stable and successful future for South Africa.

South Africa is a fledgling democracy currently ruled by the African National Conference. The party has won all of the post-1994(post-apartheid) elections. The one-party state nature of the South African government and the people’s historical support for the ANC has led to the numerous elections where the ANC nominated candidate cruises to a victory. South Africa’s current president, Jacob Zuma, is infamous for laughing off all questions as seen in the above comic. As President Zuma states “my laughing’s not hurtful, it’s healthy” even when this laughter is in response to serious issues ranging from South Africa’s drought to unemployment to mob murders.  Most notoriously though President Zuma has received 783 payments worth more than 4 million rand from his financial advisor and his associate companies. Zuma’s financial advisor has also been convicted of two corruption charges relating to the cover-up of an investigation into a previous arms deal. Surprisingly, corruption charges have yet to be brought up against Zuma amidst years of an alternating between corruption and cover-up.

The most current political scandal in South African revolves around the wealthy and elite Gupta family. SAP, the German software corporation, has leaked emails showing that the company is involved in paying the Gupta family to gain key business positions. Four executives in the company have been fired as it has launched further investigation into the scandal. The chief executive of Bell Pottinger, a British relations firm, stepped down and four workers were fired amidst an investigation into the firm’s connection with the Gupta family.  The Guptas have been accused of using their ties to Jacob Zuma and the South African government to secure contracts for the Gupta’s mining empire. The Gupta’s business is thriving due to special government assistance, and there exists a great tone of secrecy regarding this issue.

The South African government has a history of addressing complex issues with simple solutions, which inevitably results in many unintended consequences. If people are poor, the government prints more money. If people are not getting educated, the government makes education free.  If the employment rate is low, the government makes government jobs. In some countries, such solutions can be implemented very successfully, but South Africa lacks the infrastructure to ensure such solutions are implemented properly. This leads to a lack of successfully implemented solutions and a government, which refuses to hold accountability for failure. A government, which refuses to hold accountability will inevitability abuse its power and stretch the boundaries of what is considered honest and just. A non-transparent government lacks trust and the South African government lacks transparency.

The African Union is tasked with promoting unity, solidarity, and creating a prosperous Africa. In order to fix the widespread corruption prevalent not only in South Africa but existent in many African states, the leaders of African nations need to be held accountable for their actions. The African Union can serve as a body, which governs and supports the mission in order to help African nations prosper. A government in which officials are not held accountable for their actions cannot possibly prosper even with widespread support and a commitment to succeed.

In a speech in 2013 at a memorial for South African soldiers, President Zuma stated: “The problem in South Africa is that everybody wants to run the country. The government must be given the space to do its work of running the country to implement the policies of the ruling party that was voted into office by millions of our people.” This mindset in governance results in an excess of power given to those government officials ruling the country and an increase in power taken away from the citizens of the country. A cloak is placed over the inner workings of a government, which results in secrecy and allows for the abuse of power. In order for South Africa to reach its full potential, the issue of corruption must be addressed first in order to ensure other solutions to prevalent problems can be implemented.

Angela Merkel is no liberal

By Vikram Chaudhuri

With the election of Donald Trump as the President of the United States, many liberal pundits found themselves in shock as a man who blatantly disregarded our constitutional norms and questioned America’s place in the global order was elected President of The United States. This led to some liberals dubbing German Chancellor Angela Merkel as the new “Leader of the Free World.” The contrast between Trump and Merkel made by the English speaking punditocracy is easy to make although, as it will be shown later, is a faulty one to make. As Trump pledged to temporarily bar Muslims from the United States, Merkel invited refugees arriving in Europe, many of whom are Muslim. However, Merkel’s stance was not born out of liberalism, but based on what she perceives to be in Germany’s national interest. For example, she contributed to the imposition of harsh austerity measures on Greece in order for the Greeks to receive a bailout package from the European Commission, European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, a policy Germany had significant influence in creating. The austerity cuts to Greek government programs were deep and inflicted heavy costs for Greek citizens. By the same token as her refugee decision, Merkel was acting out of what she perceived to be Germany’s self-interest. Merkel’s reasoning behind her refugee policy was that Germany has an aging population and young workers with high birth rates are needed to fill in jobs as more Germans reach retirement age. The refugee crisis was a blessing in disguise for Germany from the perspective of addressing future labor shortages.

Merkel is willing to change her tune based on public sentiment. When German public opinion was favorable to helping refugees, Merkel declared that “We can do it” in response to the potential difficulties that could come with absorbing so many newcomers. As public opinion has turned negative on immigration, Merkel has been willing to propose drastically authoritarian measures such as a ban on the burka, the traditional head to toe covering worn by ultraconservative Muslim women. Regardless of one’s stance on women wearing such garments, such a measure can be seen as pandering to the German far right who have rallied hard against the new influx of refugees as a threat to German culture. It is hard to imagine such a proposal being enacted in the United States due to how blatantly unconstitutional it would be. When one dives into Merkel’s career, it becomes harder to conceive of her as a liberal.

One of liberalism’s foremost values is secularism, the separation of Church and State. Merkel has lamented that there is too little Christianity in Germany today. These are not the words of a progressive liberal but rather of a conservative Lutheran.  Moreover, Merkel’s political party, the Christian Democratic Union, centers around Christian values and is a bulwark of mainstream German conservatism. As expected from a mainstream conservative, Markel has publically declared marriage to between a man and a woman. This is a position we might expect to hear from someone like Vice President Mike Pence. This belies the portraits of Merkel in the English speaking world as a defender of liberal values, such as when she lambasted Vladimir Putin’s Russia for its anti-LGBT policies. At the time, she was trying to stonewall on the legalization of gay marriage in Germany. When gay marriage finally came up for a vote in the German Bundestag or parliament, Merkel voted against it.

With the aftermath of the Charlottesville violence, President Donald Trump has been criticized for a failure to appropriately condemn neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Yet Merkel has faced a neo-Nazi related scandal of her own. Between 2000 and 2006, a neo-Nazi organization, the National Socialist Underground, murdered 9 immigrants. The German police failed to properly investigate these murders which they lazily attributed to gangland feuds. After the murderers were caught, Merkel promised a thorough investigation about how they were able to operate for so long. However, German security agencies obstructed the parliamentary investigation to protect their own image. Politicians on the investigative committee reported that files on specific people of interest had been destroyed by security agencies. The committee also uncovered a failure by the authorities to question people when murders happened in the vicinity of known neo-Nazi bars. Furthermore, it was found that security agencies had paid informants associated with National Socialist Underground who were protected from scrutiny. With German taxpayer money, these informants were able to fund neo-Nazi activities. Up to forty informants were discovered to have been associated with the core trio who committed the murders. Moreover, it was found that the security agencies were aware of the trio’s ties to nazism and their procurement of weapons during the occurrence of the murders. Merkel’s promise for an account of the truth was broken and although there is no evidence that she was directly involved in any coverups and misconduct; she ultimately bears responsibility for government function While she certainly does not offer sympathy and defense for the behavior of neo-Nazis, unlike Trump, her unwillingness to push for accountability shows a concern for the government’s image take a higher priority than understanding how neo-Nazis eluded and took advantage of the security agencies and making changes to ensure that it never happens again. Furthermore, it shows that promises especially to families of those murdered by the National Socialist Underground are too inconvenient to follow through with when the political heat turns up. Playing politics and preserving her government take precedence over any values that one would expect from the “Leader of the Free World”.

While many feel revulsion towards Donald Trump and his actions as President, it is erroneous and uninformed to rebrand foreign conservative leaders such as Angela Merkel into champions of liberalism and progressivism. Criticisms of the President must not devolve into false lionization of figures who become more questionable the more one critically evaluates them. Liberals who oppose Trump should look to people who actually ascribe to their values and not sink to the intellectual dishonesty that characterizes Trumpism. The opposition must have the intellectual high ground over the government. For conservatives who are opposed to Trump should give Merkel a second look for an example of relatively stable conservative politics. Overall, the discourse around Merkel in English speaking media usually mischaracterizes her and it’s important to have the proper understanding of foreign leaders. Merkel is a shrewd politician excellent at working for partisan and national interests but should not be seen as as a beacon of liberal values by either her admirers or her detractors.

Tunisia’s Struggling Democracy: An Unlikely Source of Hope

By Sarah Taylor

Tunisia is quite possibly the last hope for the success of the Arab Spring that brought a possible Fourth Wave of democratization; though it is currently struggling to maintain this title. Imed Trabelsi, a prominent Tunisian businessman who was imprisoned for 108 years in May for embezzlement and corruption, taped a video testimony speaking to the level of corruption in Tunisia. In his statement, he said “There has been a revolution but nothing has changed. According to what I hear, the same system is still operational.” This sentiment is echoed through the country as it struggles to maintain the democracy established after the Jasmine Revolution. Rampant corruption, weak economic growth, high unemployment, and wide protesting entice the country to backslide into another authoritarian regime, which would thus diminish the perceived success of the Arab Spring in general.

Though Tunisia is making strides in the right direction to provide a democratic setting that fosters participation and accountability, the system still struggles to qualm the political infighting and tension between parties that defines the country’s politics. Prime Minister Chahed replaced thirteen ministers in his cabinet recently, six from the Nidaa Tounes party, a secular party that some argue is anti-Islamist. The Ennahda party, the Islamic and religious conservative party, managed to keep three seats in Chahed’s overhaul. Three were given to ministers who were in office during the regime of past authoritarian leader Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. The Nidaa Tounes party, of which Chahed is a member, has been trying to get more representation with the hopes of quelling the religious Ennahda party. The changes by Chahed in the composition of the cabinet have tried to reduce the tension by granting the Nidaa Tounes party the representation they desired. Due to the Ennahda party’s close ties with religious conservatism, the tension between the two goes past pure political competition. The religious suppression that some say underlies the Nidaa Tounes party’s contention with the Ennahda party is a threat to the democracy the country wishes to foster. While healthy competition between political parties is vital to free and fair elections (and thus the integrity of democracy), this battling between parties has caused instability in the government system. Youssef Chahed’s cabinet changes were part of a larger program to reduce corruption in Tunisia. He has made extensive strides toward prosecuting corrupt officials and limiting the influence of mafia bosses, calling for a “war on corruption”. The fight against corruption has been so intensive that Chahed has called a state of emergency surrounding his investigations, justifying his use of military tribunals to try those implicated in corruption scandals, specifically mafia bosses. These tribunals have been a source of controversy intra and internationally, as to many they seem too harsh and simply a way to skirt the court system in place.

The graph below from the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) website shows the scores among many dimensions of democracy that Tunisia falls on between 2008 (under the previous authoritarian regime) and 2016 (after the Arab Spring revolution). Though the country is definitely performing much better on these dimensions than it was under the authoritarian rule of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, the consistency that helps new democracies grow and be deemed as a success is lacking in the dimensions of party competition and state ownership of the economy. The latter dimension’s lower level is likely what is leading to the instability within the country associated with the poor economic growth.

tunisia democracy chart (1)

The tirade against corruption is harming the economy as well, as it costs money to go after and put to trial such individuals. The economic conditions of Tunisia have exposed many of the existing strains on democracy, some as a result of the cornerstone revolution. The conditions after the Arab Spring made the system vulnerable to terrorist attacks, leading to economic difficulty, and political and civil tension. After the revolution, there was a relaxation of state control and freedom of religion sharply increased due to the new democratic system in place. However, this gave Islamic extremism a space to grow and join forces with the extremist political prisoners who were released after the fall of the dictatorship. Multiple attacks on U.S. embassies and tourist destinations by extremist groups such as the Islamic State have left the country unstable and with increased economic pressure.

Although the country is thought to be in a weak state, it still must be interpreted in the context of a democracy rather than authoritarian rule. The people of Tunisia are still widely and immensely supportive of democracy in general and maintaining the relative freedom that was gained in 2011. This makes it unlikely that the government will actually backslide into authoritarianism from democracy, and helps it maintain its status as the last hope for a country that successfully came out of the Arab Spring with a somewhat successful democracy. Despite clear growing pains, the country is still strong in its pursuit of democratic ideals, unlike many of the countries that experienced the “Arab Winter” counter-revolution. This wave of democratic backslide in the region led to another rise in authoritarianism and wartime conditions in countries such as Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen in 2014. Though Tunisia did experience some effects of this second movement, including a change of government and acts of violence, they managed to emerge with a sustained democracy. Tunisia serves as a hopeful precedent for a rare case of democratization in the Middle East, North Africa region gone right, as Chahed makes positive strides toward maintaining this status.

A Nation Without a State: The Kurds

By Emma Dahill

All across the globe there is evidence that nationalist movements are on the rise. The most famous example is, of course, the Brexit vote, but that is far from the only one.  In many European countries, including Germany, Italy, France, and others, populist political movements are gaining support.  But what happens to nationalist movements that aren’t tied to existing states?  That is the question that has brought the Kurdish people to the place they are today.  As a group of people, bound by common heritage but divided by geopolitical borders, the issue of Kurdish autonomy has remained unresolved.  This matter has resulted in numerous bloody confrontations over the years – and just last month it led to a referendum for independence.  The future of the Kurds remains uncertain, in spite of their peaceful vote.  Yet one thing remains clear, the Kurds are not willing to remain divided and powerless to dictate what lies ahead.

The history of the Kurdish people has not been one of harmonious existence.   For nearly a century, the Kurds have sought to gain autonomy in order to bring an end to the marginalization and persecution that they have faced.  In the early twentieth century, following the fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, arbitrary borders were drawn to create the Middle East as it is known today.  The nations established by this mandate represented different cultures and ethnicities, but that was not fully considered when these geopolitical divisions were constructed.  Thus, the Kurds were dispersed into four separate countries, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey.  Although the Kurdish people remain geographically connected, as well as bound by common culture, they have been forced by larger world powers into an artificial multinational construct.  The Kurdish people are instead joined together through shared race, language, and heritage, but separated by the borders of four countries.  Despite being the fourth largest ethnic group in the Middle East, the Kurds have had their autonomy denied – leading to a series of clashes with existing authorities.  During the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, Saddam Hussein conducted the mass killing of thousands of Kurds.  Subsequently, Iraqi Kurds were driven into Turkey to flee brutality and persecution, thus provoking the United States to impose a no-fly zone in Northern Iraq to protect the Kurds.  Over the years, various programs have been aimed at displacing the Kurdish people from their homelands and bringing an end to their political influence.  However, current instability in the region has provided the Kurds with the opportunity they’ve been waiting for to hold a referendum and move towards eventual autonomy.

There is no question that the state of the Middle East is incredibly turbulent.  Unstable governments and violent civil wars have created a power vacuum in which extremist groups have seized power and influence.  In light of these circumstances, the rise of Kurdish nationalism is not a surprising result.  However, the referendum held on September 25, 2017 in Iraq has pushed this group of people one step closer to autonomy.  93% of the votes were in favor of independent statehood, but the ultimate outcome is yet to be determined.  Iraqi leadership has rejected the results on the basis of unconstitutionality, claiming the Kurds held a unilateral vote.  The Iraqi government even shut down flights in and out of the Kurdish region in Iraq, effectively punishing them for holding the vote.  In the face of the referendum outcome, surrounding nations have threatened the use of force if actions are taken towards unifying the Kurds under a new nation.  The prospect of a true Kurdistan threatens the power and influence of Turkey and Iran, thereby throwing them into a state of panic.  Both countries have assured retaliation in the event of further action towards independence.  Turkish president, Erdogan, promised to intervene militarily and cut off oil flow between the Kurdish regions of Iraq and Turkey.  Iran, although historically able to preserve better relations with the Iraqi Kurds, have also promised to intervene in light of the possibility of Iranian Kurdish steps towards independence.  International reaction has been less than positive as countries around the world fear the potentially destabilizing repercussions this vote could have on the entire region.  The Kurdish fighters have been crucial in the fight against ISIL.  The United States sees them as a key ally in the fight against terror, yet the current US administration denounced the referendum as a move that will further complicate the region.  Further political instability in the Middle East could work to potentially benefit terror groups in the region.  Amidst all these reactions, the reality of the results of the referendum remains precarious.

Only time will tell if this referendum will bring about validation for the Kurdish people.  The consequences of Kurdish independence and ensuing statehood could destabilize an already tumultuous region of the globe or create a strong nation of people who have struggled to define themselves since World War I.  The Kurdish people have a rich history and culture that, up to this point, has been subjugated and oppressed.  They have been denied autonomy and recognition, in spite of their contribution to the fight against ISIL.  They deserve their own place in history, yet the circumstances of today’s world are such that independence could breed disaster.

Greece A Decade After the Recession: What Happened?

By Thomas Bell

In 2001, Greece adopted the euro as it integrated itself into the European Union.  While the government accumulated substantial debt to pay for expensive social programs, further growth occurred throughout the first decade of the 21st century.

Then, the Great Recession struck, and Greece’s success story quickly turned to modern economic tragedy.

Much of what could go wrong in Greece, did. It was revealed that the government had been misreporting financial data, making the country’s deficits and debts seem much smaller than they really were.  This incentivized investors and bond buyers, who would otherwise have been put off by such heinous financial figures, to invest in the country. In 2010, Greece’s bonds were downgraded to “junk” status by Standard & Poor, leaving the country in danger of defaulting on its loans and obligations.  The Troika, made up of the European Commission, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund, handed Greece a bailout worth €110 billion, followed by revised and expanded loan deals. Though the costs of this handout were high, the Troika knew that if Greece collapsed further, it could endanger the euro as a whole and all the countries that rely upon it as their monetary backbone. In order to receive this assistance, Greece has passed fourteen controversial austerity programs, slashing public spending and raising taxes. Unemployment, poverty, and unrest have skyrocketed. In short, Greece has been decimated by the economic downturn.

But this all started around a decade ago. Other countries, like Ireland, Portugal, and Italy, faced similar crises, and all recovered by about 2013 or 2014. Meanwhile, between 2008 and 2015, Greece was in recession for all but 2014, when it saw a paltry growth rate of 0.35%. Last year, growth was limited to an insignificant 0.01%, while this year may well be the first since 2007 to see an expansion of the economy by over 2%. Why has Greece been left behind in Europe’s recovery?

The answer to this question is complicated.

Greece’s handling of its finances before the crisis has made it uniquely incapable of responding to the recession. By masking its budgets and deceiving the international community, it made investors unwilling to trust the government’s figures on the economy. High deficits and debts caved under the pressure of economic downturn, and the realization that those elements were higher than anticipated only made things worse. The country soon found its credit rating plummeting and its bonds rendered useless. Realizing that it could not pay its bills, it had to take money from the Troika.

But that money did not come without strings attached. Not only was it a loan that had to be paid back, but the aforementioned austerity measures were required by the Troika. These curtailments on spending and increase in taxes did not go well at all in Greece, with protests becoming a regular occurrence in Athens and elsewhere. Shops burned down, nationwide strikes were called, violent clashes with police occurred. One retiree, who saw his pension reduced to a tiny fraction of what it was before the legislation, committed suicide as an act of protest. He has become a martyr for many Greeks who believe that this time of suffering should inspire further government assistance, not a reduction in that aid.

But the fundamental issue has largely been Greece’s poor fiscal policies, dating back to before the recession.  Upon joining the eurozone, Greece spent tremendous amounts of money on social welfare programs, attempting to emulate the generous policies of western and northern Europe.  But unlike those countries, Greece was nowhere near able to pay for it all.  The government happily added up the debt, with only minor attempts to reduce the deficit.

This lack of fiscal responsibility is also seen in military spending.  Of the nations in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Greece pays the second most of any country in regards to spending as a percentage of GDP, allocating 2.46% for the military in 2015.  This figure doubles German spending and easily tops the British and French, while only trailing the United States.  And this occurred while the country was in recession, with figures looming higher before the crisis.

This poor decision-making in Athens led to the current dilemma, and solutions have not been particularly beneficial either.  The bailouts have gone a long way towards helping Greece repay its debts, but the austerity programs enacted in the interim have been devastating.  Wages for public employees were slashed, while the national minimum wage dropped by nearly a quarter.  New tax increases targeted the VAT, landowners, luxury goods, gasoline, and more.  All this, while the billions of euros in bailouts were used to pay back banks and financial entities.  This has largely meant that average Greeks have sacrificed numerous benefits, without necessarily seeing any direct aid.  These policies are what has prolonged the suffering for so many and mired the recovery effort for so long.

However, it seems that the future may not be quite so bleak.  Indications show that the Greek economy will grow this year, and likely by over 2%.  An effort to privatize certain industries, such as transportation, has resulted in increased business enterprise in the country.  Unemployment, while still high, is falling; the government predicts that it will match the European average near 2020.  Tourism, one of Greece’s most important industries, has increased substantially.

In the end, it will be a difficult road for Greece.  Despite the improvement, the country still remains far below its pre-recession heights in terms of economic size.  With the economy only just barely expanding, it will be a long time before it resembles its former self.  The crisis serves as one of the most telling and chaotic legacies of the Great Recession and serves as an example for the future.  Greece, a decade after the crash, is only just beginning to find its footing again and remains a country defined by its struggle to survive.