The Quiet Communism of Modern Italy

Sarah Taylor, Staff Writer

 Though commonly considered to be a thoroughly Western and modernized country, a look into Italian politics sheds light on the deeply rooted cracks in the system created by underlying communist ideals. Smaller cities in Italy experience lower living conditions and struggle to develop sustainable local economies, leading to commonplace power outages, high unemployment, and low salaries. The unemployment rate in Italy is around 11%,[1] with the average salary less than 1400 euros per month.[2] For contrast, the United States’ unemployment rate as of October 2017 is 4.1%[3] with an average salary of around $3400 per month.[4] In the case of Italy, these conditions are representative of a more deeply rooted and intricately difficult political history. Many of the central regions in Italy have maintained close ties to the communist ideology that was once reflected in the local power of the Partito Communista Italiano (PCI). The depressed living conditions of many historic cities and towns stems from a history of political complexity, spurred by the everlasting search for power of the Italian communists.

Many elements of the particular brand of communism predominant in Italy differ from the traditional Stalinist origins of the ideology. Compared to the Bolshevik-driven birth of communism in the Soviet Union, Italian communism and the PCI specifically were not revolutionary in origin, and operated within a capitalist regime, adapting to the system in place.[5] Italian communism encouraged political pluralism, and worked to actively attract new members to the party by acquiescing to the extant ideology of the Italian people. A country steeped in Catholicism, the Church posed a potential, and sometimes real, threat to the legitimacy and operations of the PCI. After World War II, Communists and Catholics alike participated in the Resistenza (Resistance) against Fascism, working to topple Benito Mussolini’s dictatorship. Italians who felt allegiance to both Catholicism and Communism formed the Party of Communist Catholics.[6] As the Christian Democrat party started to take shape, however, the possibility of cooperation between Catholics and Communists dissipated. The tensions between the Catholic church and the Communist faction in Italy reached their height in 1947, leading up to the 1948 election. In May of 1947, Alcide de Gasperi, the leader of the Christian Democrats, drove the Communist party representation out of government.[7] The election of 1948 pitted devoted Catholics against staunch Communists. The victory of the Christian Democrats was seen as a victory of the Church over the USSR. Relations between Catholics and Communists began to improve after the 1948 election, however. Pope John XXIII (1958-1963) brought in a new era of political freedom within the Church, encouraging Italian Catholics to make their own political choices, and supported cooperation between the Socialist and Communist parties.[8] The elections of 1948 in Italy brought great concern to the United States and Great Britain, who feared that the feverish communism would spread from the USSR and Eastern Bloc into Italy. In order to prevent a full transition into a communist Italy, the CIA allegedly worked to sway the elections against communism, supporting a rising Christian Democrats party that would continue to rule in Italy until 1992.

One of the major points that makes Italian communism unique in the international community is its survival after the fall of the Soviet Union. The PCI developed a unique brand of Communism from Soviet Communism, maintaining a much larger degree of internal differentiation in terms of structure, ideology, and behavior.[9] The elites and the mass population were brought together under the common ideals of Communism, and the existence of a party that encouraged this pluralism the way the PCI did enhanced the general stability of the Italian political system as a whole, thereby legitimizing the spread of Italian Communism. While the ideology of different communities and different people varied greatly, leading to conflict between regions and individuals, the PCI kept radical leftism in check and pushed for more left-leaning policy under the Christian Democrat rule.[10] Achille Occhetto, a prominent Italian Communist politician, was responsible for the major reforms that aimed to place a larger emphasis on individual liberties, environmental protection, and women’s rights. These changes led to the official dissolution of the PCI in 1991, permanently transforming Europe’s largest communist party (second only to the Soviet Union).[11] The party was officially renamed to the Partito Democratico della Sinistra (Democratic Party of the Left, or PDS), though this rebranding was merely that: a curtain over the still-existing communist ideology of the party in the face of the fall of the Eastern Bloc. Interestingly, many of the similar elements of Communism in Italy are seen in the conservative parties farther right. The prevalence of Communism enabled the Italian people to think of politics in terms of anti-institutional and anti-establishment sentiments. The rising populist party, Lega Nord (Northern League), draws on these same sentiments translated into conservatism and federalism.

Though the Christian Democrat party was the majority party for half a century, the PCI and communist ideology had a lasting impact on the social structure and functioning of Italy. The communist following in Italy developed a cultural dictatorship to compensate for their political losses, a facet of Italian culture that has remained heavily ingrained in present-day culture. PCI brought high culture, literacy, personal dignity and an enhanced sense of self to many Italians.[12] Tensions within and between the political parties that dominate Italian politics have created an uncertainty among the Italian people over whose cultural program to follow. For a country with an already deep divide between the regions, these competing ideologies and cultural elements have only strengthened the regionalism of the country. Different regions represent different political ideologies that produce rivalries between regions and disunity over the entire country, such as the rising populism of the Lega Nord in the northern regions and prevalent communism in the central and southern regions. With these tensions drawing most of the focus of the competing parties, little attention is paid to the real underlying problems that have been caused by the political infighting and erroneous wealth distribution. The regions of Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, and Umbria in particular still show strong allegiance to the communist ideology, as the PCI had a stronghold in local and municipal government administration in these regions, establishing a “red belt” through the country.[13] The cities remain the same aesthetically as they did in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries as a testament not only to the importance of beauty and history in Italian culture, but also to the stagnant growth and reluctance to spend money on public works. The cost of living is high while the salaries are low, and the youth unemployment rate of over 35%[14] is forcing most people under the age of thirty to move back in with their parents. When the PCI was dissolved, the provincial and local governments that had relied on Communist leadership in these key regions were left with gaps in their administration. The resulting political instability left the regions stuck in a 1980s time-loop, unable to resolve the poor living conditions and properly allocate resources. Communism in Italy underlies many of the problems with polarization and conflict at the government and regional levels, as well as the slow economic growth of the country as a whole. Interregional tensions and a Western aversion to Communism make it unlikely that the problems caused by this political instability will be resolved with definitive, comprehensive policy.

Footnotes:

[1] “Italy Unemployment Rate 1983-2017.” Trading Economics. Accessed November 10, 2017. https://tradingeconomics.com/italy/unemployment-rate.

[2] 2

[3]“Bureau of Labor Statistics Data.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Accessed November 10, 2017. https://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS14000000.

[4] Doyle, Alison. “How Much Is the Average Salary for US Workers?” The Balance. October 24, 2017. Accessed November 10, 2017. https://www.thebalance.com/average-salary-information-for-us-workers-2060808.

[5] Bosquet, Michel. “Aspects of Italian Communism.” The Socialist Register. 1964. 83.

[6] Carrillo, Elisa. “The Italian Catholic Church and Communism, 1943-1963”. The Catholic Historical Review, 77 (4), 644-657. 1991. 644.

[7] Carrillo, “The Italian Catholic Church and Communism, 1943-1963”, 650.

[8] Carrillo, “The Italian Catholic Church and Communism, 1943-1963”, 654.

 

[9] Tarrow, Sidney. “Political Dualism and Italian Communism”. The American Political Science Review, 61 (1), 39-53. 1967. 42.

[10] Tarrow, Sidney. “Political Dualism and Italian Communism”. The American Political Science Review, 61 (1), 39-53. 1967. 40 – 41.

[11] Eubank, William Lee, Gangopadahay, Arun, Weinberg, Leonard. “Italian Communism in Crisis”. Party Politics, 2 (1), 55-75. 1996. 55.

[12] Baranski, Zygmunt G. The Cambridge Companion to Modern Italian Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

[13] Breschi, Danilo. “From Politics to Lifestyle and/or Anti-Politics: Political Culture and the Sense for the State in Post-Communist Italy.” Telos, 2013. 113 – 114.

[14] https://tradingeconomics.com/italy/youth-unemployment-rate

The Flight of the Rohingya

Emma Donahue, Staff Writer

Behind the Name

The term “Rohingya” refers to a religious ethnic group which practices a form of Sunni Islam who have historically inhabited the Burmese (or Myanmar) state of Rakhine. Their name is controversial because it derives from “Rohang,” their word for “Arakan,” the former name for the Rakhine State, the region of Myanmar which holds the majority of its Muslim population. Since this title is essentially a claim to a portion of Myanmar’s land, the government and majority Buddhist population are extremely wary of its usage by a Muslim group who are not officially recognized as citizens.[1] Despite having their own language and cultural practices, these technicalities and years of conflict with their Buddhist neighbors have left the Rohingya as one of the largest stateless groups in the world.[2]

Tensions flared in 1982 when the Burmese government identified 135 ethnic groups who were entitled to citizenship, yet the Rohingya were not included on this list, despite having been granted equal rights as citizens in the country’s independence from Britain in 1948.[3] Following the implementation of this legislation, the Rohingya were almost immediately stripped of their previous rights. Persecution ensued over the next several decades, including the enforcement of a two-child law, the banning of interfaith marriage, and a lack of access to government-funded education and healthcare.[4] Violence emerged in 2012 after Muslim men allegedly raped and murdered a Buddhist woman, and over 100,000 Rohingya were displaced as a result of the assault. In response to the crisis, the Myanmar government offered to grant the group a reduced level of citizenship if they would register as Bengali rather than Rohingya, an offer not taken well by a group so connected to their identity and the suffering faced because of it.[5]

 

Continuing Violence

            In October of 2013, a group of Buddhist men carried out a series of attacks on Muslim villages throughout Rakhine. Three years later, an insurgent group formed within the state of Rakhine known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). ARSA attacked a number of Myanmar’s security outposts as a response to the recent violence towards the Rohingya and the fallout from these offensives caused the military crackdown that has displaced hundreds of thousands of Muslims in the past few years.[6] Over the next four months, Myanmar’s army, known as the Tatmadaw, (which is unaffiliated with the civic government) was responsible for the alleged killing and gang rapes of countless Rohingya, who were forced from their homes with a scorched earth policy.[7] On August 25, 2017, ARSA attacked several police posts and an army base, spurring the most current influx of refugees into Bangladesh in light of the vicious counter attacks against the civilian population: rape, killing, brutal beatings, and more burning of villages.

According to Tom Malinowski, U.S. diplomat and former Assistant Secretary of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, the Burmese military made the mistake of responding to extremist group ARSA with force towards innocent civilian populations, thereby using a religious conflict between the majority and minority populations to preserve their political authority over the Myanmar Buddhists.[8]

 

Myanmar’s Response

            Historically, the Burmese have been wary of the Rohingya claim to an autonomous area of land, which would be taken out of Rakhine territory near the Bangladesh border. The military believes this desire for sovereignty would create a breeding ground for ARSA-like militant groups.[9] While the Rakhines are also an ethnic minority in Myanmar, they are a predominantly Buddhist people, placing them on the same side as staunch Buddhist nationalists who do not want their country overtaken by Muslims (despite the fact that the overall Muslim population is 4%).[10]

Some responses to these issues have included the proposition of joint military action between Bangladesh and Tatmadaw against ARSA, as well as Myanmar’s UN commision under former Secretary-General Kofi Annan to review the 1982 citizenship law and issue recommendations.[11] While Myanmar’s civic government leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, embraced these recommendations, ARSA unleashed further attacks following the release of the government report which caused another military crackdown and further revenge violence towards the Rohingya.

Suu Kyi has faced much criticism from the international community for her silence regarding the ongoing persecution and subsequent refugee crisis. At one point, the Myanmar government slowed humanitarian aid to Rakhine, leaving those remaining with scarce food and water.[12] This action was explained as being a necessary counter-insurgency precaution rather than a human rights crisis, and Suu Kyi has been avoiding public statements because her power hinges on not being overthrown by the military, which she has no governance over.[13] Her office leaked a phone call made early this September to the President of Turkey, during which she is recorded saying that misinformation about the crisis is being spread to promote the interests of terrorists in Rakhine. Soon afterwards, she cancelled her planned visit to the UN. Many have remarked on the fact that she is in a difficult situation politically, as the military is backed by the majority of the country, while others have called for the recall of her Nobel Peace Prize.[14]

Despite this, she recently made a statement calling for a relief plan for the Rohingya Muslims. She wishes to set up a civilian-led agency to give aid and resettle those displaced from their homes by the violence- a number now greater than 500,000, most of whom are currently residing in Bangladesh.[15] Some have arrived in recent days, which is inconsistent with the Tatmadaw claim that it halted actions against the Rohingya in early September. One of Suu Kyi’s advisor’s claimed that the leader is attempting to make her government more transparent to the international community by accepting foreign aid to help with the migrant crisis, and that her previous silence was due to her precarious situation with the military rather than a lack of acknowledgement.[16]

 

Refugee Situation

            Currently, about half of the refugee population is residing around the Bangladeshi city of Balukhali in tent cities, and the rate at which it has grown over the past several months has made this the quickest mass exodus since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.[17] They are living next to Kutupalong, another refugee camp home to the first wave of Rohingya who fled Rakhine in the 90s’. To say the Bangladesh government is overwhelmed would be an understatement; only a fifth of the newest arrivals have access to food rations (which consist of rice and biscuits), and aid agencies say water sources could run out in a few months. Furthermore, only 100,000 of about 288,000 children have access to any sort of education.

Both local and international organizations have been helping the government with humanitarian aid: the World Food Program and UN agencies set up relief centers in the camps, and local Bangladeshi groups have filled trucks with food and clothing and distributed the aid.[18] The government itself has set aside 2,000 acres in Balukhali for their military to set up a more organized camp, but construction has barely begun and it has been reported that the land is nearly uninhabitable. Refugees also need biometric forms of identification in order to receive aid distribution, and the process of creating these IDs could take up to half a year.

The level of poverty and disease within these camps are unthinkable. Besides the shortage of food and water, there is an absence of latrines or any form of sewage, so the ground is covered with waste and human feces. To prevent the spread of disease and further chaos, the government imposed travel restrictions on the Rohingya so that they are not permitted past a certain checkpoint; essentially, they are trapped in these camps and largely unable to return to Rakhine. Many claim to have seen landmines being installed along the border to prevent their return, and others are certain they would not be permitted re-entry as they are not identified as citizens.[19]

 

Possible Resolutions

            A local government aid coordinator for Bangladesh recently stated that the refugees only have a temporary home in their country, and that while they will feed and aid the refugees for as long as they can, it is not a permanent home.[20] Suu Kyi’s recent unveiling of her plan for the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees is a step in the right direction, assuming she can keep the military at bay and protect her own authority in the process. However, a long term, comprehensive strategy needs to be determined regarding Myanmar’s treatment of their Muslim population, along with more thorough investigations into the soldiers’ behavior towards civilians to prevent the same tragedies from repeating themselves in the future.

 

Footnotes:

[1]  Megan Specia, “The Rohingya in Myanmar: How Years of Strife Grew Into a Crisis,” The New York Times,  September 13, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/13/world/asia/myanmar-rohingya-Muslim.html

[2] Ibid.

[3]Krishnadev Calamur, “The Misunderstood Roots of Burma’s Rohingya Crisis,” The Atlantic, September 25, 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/09/rohingyas-burma/540513/

[4]Megan Specia, “The Rohingya in Myanmar: How Years of Strife Grew Into a Crisis,” The New York Times,  September 13, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/13/world/asia/myanmar-rohingya-Muslim.html

[5]Krishnadev Calamur, “The Misunderstood Roots of Burma’s Rohingya Crisis,” The Atlantic, September 25, 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/09/rohingyas-burma/540513/

[6] Megan Specia, “The Rohingya in Myanmar: How Years of Strife Grew Into a Crisis,” The New York Times,  September 13, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/13/world/asia/myanmar-rohingya-Muslim.html

[7] Ibid.

[8]Krishnadev Calamur, “The Misunderstood Roots of Burma’s Rohingya Crisis,” The Atlantic, September 25, 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/09/rohingyas-burma/540513/

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12]Megan Specia, “The Rohingya in Myanmar: How Years of Strife Grew Into a Crisis,” The New York Times,  September 13, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/13/world/asia/myanmar-rohingya-Muslim.html

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15]Patrick Wintour, “Aung San Suu Kyi unveils relief plans for Rohingya Muslims,” The Guardian, October 13, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/13/aung-san-suu-kyi-unveils-relief-plans-for-rohingya-Muslims-myanmar

[16] Ibid.

[17]Max Bearak, “One month on, a bleak new reality emerges for 436,000 Rohingya refugees,” The Washington Post, September 25, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/one-month-on-a-bleak-new-reality-emerges-for-436000-rohingya-refugees/2017/09/25/acbb2ff4-9d7e-11e7-b2a7-bc70b6f98089_story.html?utm_term=.2472dead6204

[18] Ibid.

[19] Bearak, The Washington Post

[20] Ibid.

“Cool Japan” and the Sources, Extent, and Implications of Japanese Soft Power in the United States

Thomas Bell, Staff Writer

From our Print Edition, 2017-2018

  Throughout most of history, international relations have been largely defined by hard power.  Hard power is an element of national strength, centered around the basic functions of the nation-state: military force and economic action.¹ This historical reality is logical, given the limitations on communication and transnational exposure for much of the pre-20th century world, with hard power oftentimes being the only way to interact between states.  In the diplomatic arena before instantaneous communication, it would be difficult to exert national will in any other way, with the target country often seemingly distant and mysterious. Contrarily, soft power  is a relatively modern phenomenon, especially since the end of the Second World War. It also centers around achieving national objectives, but is more concerned with using cultural and societal means to persuade other nations to share their goals.²  This requires a high level of interconnectedness between civilizations to allow for cultures and ideas to be traded and to have an effect. Such a high level of cultural exchange was impossible before the advent of modern technology and global connectedness.

  This is not to say that all countries have been able to maximize this new element of international relations.  The culture of Kyrgyzstan, for example, is relatively unknown in the United States. That country’s morals, goals, and societal structures are difficult to understand for most non-Kyrgyz, and thus, their soft power is largely nonexistent on an international scale.  One of the countries, however, that has best adapted to this new element of the global arena is Japan.

  The reasons for Japanese dominance of soft power are arguably not by choice.  The Japanese have been largely forced down this road, and the reasons why are best exemplified in the current Japanese constitution, adopted after World War II.  Article 9 of that document states that “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation,” as well as “the threat or use of force.” It further decrees that “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.”³ Though Japan maintains a “self-defense force,”⁴  its ability to project itself internationally is virtually nonexistent. This means that even economic hard power is curtailed, as the implicit threat of force is not present. As we have seen since 1945, it can be difficult for a nation to adequately wield hard power when its ability to use force is effectively eliminated.  

  Adapting to this new reality has been a tremendously successful endeavor for the Japanese.  Now unable to conquer nations with its once formidable military, it has had to rely on cultural domination.  The government has emphasized the idea of “Cool Japan,”⁵ in order to improve the economy and national image. Japanese society has seen itself stretch far beyond its borders, a remarkable development for a nation known for its historical isolation.  A new era of international affairs was born, and the Japanese soon found themselves exporting their culture at an absolutely unprecedented rate.

  In the United States, this has manifested itself in a number of important ways.  As an example, Japanese food has become immensely popular; or at the very least, Japanese-inspired food.  Ever since the California roll was invented in Los Angeles in the early 1970s,⁶ Americanized sushi has become a modern staple of the United States, spreading further to other countries.  Japanese food is available in most American supermarkets, and it is estimated that there are approximately 9,000 Japanese restaurants operating in the country today.⁷

  Japanese popular culture is also a critical player in the American psyche.  Media franchises such as Super Mario, Hello Kitty, Godzilla, and Final Fantasy sell a multitude of products in the United States, from video games and movies to lunchboxes and t-shirts.  Japanese manga and anime, though a relatively niche category, have become increasingly popular in the United States, with series such as Dragon Ball, Naruto, and Pokémon achieving high levels of success.  There is a level of acknowledgment of Japanese influence, and it has embedded itself in the fabric of modern American popular culture, especially among younger generations. It is the actualization of “Cool Japan.”⁸

  The impact of Japan transcends even obvious exemplars of culture, as a sampling of the largest Japanese corporations reveals dozens of household names⁹.  Americans drive cars made by Toyota, Honda, and Nissan, fixed with Bridgestone tires. They use Canon and Nikon cameras, and buy electronics from Panasonic, Toshiba, and Sharp.  Their pianos come from Yamaha, and their video games from Nintendo, Sony, and Sega. The products of Japanese corporations fill American households and workplaces, bringing a level of cultural intimacy that the soldiers on either side of the War in the Pacific could never have imagined in 1943. Ultimately, this is the point of soft power.  To imagine that a country like Japan could flip the script, from mortal enemy to supplier of cars and televisions, from militaristic empire to pop-culture hegemony, points to the influence and importance of Japanese soft power. In a 2015 Chicago Council Survey, 88% of Americans recognized that bilateral relations with Japan were either very important or somewhat important.¹⁰ As opposed to the sharp edge of military force or economic action, Japan has made its former enemy into its now-biggest supporter, while staying mostly constrained to the realm of non-forceful action.

  The extent of Japan’s soft power has even become so influential that it permeates the international community.  This was apparent in a brief video played during the closing ceremony of the 2016 Rio Games, touting the upcoming 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.  Amidst a flurry of sporting events and scenic shots of Tokyo prefecture, cultural figures such as manga character Captain Tsubasa, a cheerleading Hello Kitty, and a racing Pac-Man featured prominently,¹¹ tying the most famous elements of Japan’s popular culture to the capital city itself.  Most telling, however, was a scene when the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzō Abe, was digitally transformed into Mario, before emerging in Rio de Janeiro, red cap and all. This scene represented not only a metaphorical, but a physical connection between Japanese culture and the government. It best demonstrated the desire to use Japan’s wide portfolio of cultural assets, such as the internationally known Mario, for the benefit of the Japanese nation itself and its image.  The implicit message was that to love Japanese culture is to love Japan, as embodied by the Prime Minister.

  However, this message has not worked with everyone.  This is most true in Japan’s own neighborhood, where 67% of South Koreans believe that Japan’s influence is negative, and 74% of Chinese say the same.¹²  Though the easy answer is to say that the legacy of the Second World War is to blame, ultimately nations like the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and Indonesia fought long wars against the Japanese, and suffered under them, only to now have a positive outlook on the country.  Could the greater extent of devastation in China and South Korea explain the reluctance to support Japan, or does soft power simply have its limits? It is likely that the real reasons lie in the pages of history, where centuries of rivalry and conflict have poisoned the status of East Asian relations.  It can thus be argued that soft power, though effective in improving bilateral relations, is perhaps incapable of reversing centuries of tension. Soft power works as a deterrent and a healer of international wounds, but cannot heal the deep gashes of history – at least, not without more time.

  Ultimately, Japan’s ability to project and improve its national image through its soft power has opened up an entirely new element of international affairs, and a different way of measuring the dominance of states.  Writer Douglas McGray, in a famous essay, described Japan’s ability to manipulate its soft power as its “gross national cool.”¹³ Though obviously not a quantifiable statistic like gross national product or the human development index, this new term represents a variation in what it means to be a great power in the post-World War II era.  For Japan, this has meant a rise in soft power and in its ability to shape its own national image and the international perception of that image. Americans born in the years since World War II have been raised in a society where it is common to travel to the store in a Japanese car, buy Japanese inspired food and a Japanese television set, and use that set to watch Japanese cartoons and movies.  The two cultures have grown increasingly interconnected, and this has proven to be beneficial for both countries – Japan in particular. A nation once looking to heal itself and redefine its national identity after the most devastating war in human history, it has proven capable of using its soft power to not only survive in the post-war community, but to thrive as one of the world’s true great powers.

Footnotes

1) Nye, Joseph S. “Propaganda Isn’t the Way: Soft Power.” Belfercenter.org. Last modified             January 10, 2003. https://www.belfercenter.org/publication/propaganda-isnt-way-soft-     power.

2) Nye, Joseph S. “Propaganda Isn’t the Way: Soft Power.” Belfercenter.org. Last modified             January 10, 2003. https://www.belfercenter.org/publication/propaganda-isnt-way-soft-     power.

3) The Constitution of Japan. Tokyo, Japan: Japanese Government, 1946.

4) Pike, John. “Japan – Introduction.” Global Security. Last modified February 27, 2016.

https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/japan/intro.htm.

5) Iwabuchi, Koichi. “Pop-culture diplomacy in Japan: soft power, nation branding and the    question of ‘international cultural exchange’.” Taylor and Francis Online. Last modified June 23, 2015. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10286632.2015.1042469.

6) Renton, Alex. “How sushi ate the world.” The Guardian. Last modified February 26, 2006. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/feb/26/japan.foodanddrink.

7) Lee, Jee Hye, Johye Hwang, and Azlin Mustapha. “Popular Ethnic Foods in the United States:     A Historical and Safety Perspective.” Wiley Online Library. Last modified December           17, 2013. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1541-4337.12044/full.

8) Iwabuchi, Koichi. “Pop-culture diplomacy in Japan: soft power, nation branding and the    question of ‘international cultural exchange’.” Taylor and Francis Online. Last modified June 23, 2015. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10286632.2015.1042469.

9) EW Content Team. “Forbes Global 2000: Japan’s Largest Companies.” Economy Watch. Last       modified July 3, 2013. http://www.economywatch.com/companies/forbes-list/japan.html.

10) Friedhoff, Karl, and Dina Smeltz. “Strong Alliances, Divided Publics: Public Opinion in the    United States, Japan, South Korea, and China.” The Chicago Council on Global           Affairs. Last modified October 19, 2015. https://www.thechicagocouncil.org/publication/strong-alliances-divided-publics-public-            opinion-united-states-japan-south-korea-and.

11) Easton, Yukari. “Tokyo 2020 and Japan’s Soft Power.” The Diplomat. Last modified August    31, 2016. https://thediplomat.com/2016/08/tokyo-2020-and-japans-soft-power/.

12) BBC World Service, ed. “Views of China and India Slide While UK’s Ratings Climb: Global     Poll.” BBC. Last modified May 22, 2013.  https://www.globescan.com/images/images/pressreleases/

    bbc2013_country_ratings/2013_country_rating_poll_bbc_globescan.pdf.

13) McGray, Douglas. “Japan’s Gross National Cool.” Foreign Policy. Last modified November          11, 2009. http://foreignpolicy.com/2009/11/11/japans-gross-national-cool/.

Mexican Presidential Elections 2018

Thomas Bell, Staff Writer

In 1990, Peruvian writer and Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa famously said that “México es una dictadura perfecta”, or “Mexico is a perfect dictatorship”.  The relevance of his statement is not immediately apparent.  The country, after all, has had elections since the implementation of the current Constitution in 1917.  However, those elections have not proven to be democratic.  In 1929 the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI for the Spanish acronym, won the presidential elections as the Revolutionary National Party.  Their victory claimed over 93% of the vote.  Starting with another PRI win in 1934, there were federal elections to select the new President of the Republic every six years.  With regular elections and a constant flow of new presidents, as the incumbent could not (and still cannot) run for reelection, Mexico possessed the appearance of an efficient democracy.  But the political history of the country, leading up to the present day, reveals the characteristics of dictatorship and corruption that Mario Vargas Llosa referenced in 1990.

The success of the Institutional Revolutionary Party in 1929 would turn out to be long-lasting.  In every presidential election between 1929 and 1994, PRI won, and oftentimes in unanimous landslides.  Before 1988, all PRI candidates won with more than 70 percent of the vote.  This was because opposition forces did not have the same opportunities to participate, with PRI dominating the government, news infrastructure, and the economy.  In fact, former President Miguel de la Madrid said in 2009 that PRI lost the presidential election in 1988, and committed massive electoral fraud to fake the victory.  In 2000, though, hope finally seemed to be on the horizon.  The National Action Party, or PAN, won the presidential election, and there was tremendous optimism that the country would change.  But after twelve years, conditions in Mexico had not improved, and the current President, Enrique Peña Nieto, won as a PRI candidate in 2012.

After years of governmental corruption and vast instability, a new party of the left, Morena, has the chance to contend for the presidency.  The elections this year could fundamentally change the country, and Morena could be a powerful new force for the political history of the nation.  Morena is a new party, unlike its competition.  It was founded in 2012 by Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or AMLO as he is called.  AMLO is a popular politician in Mexico, and was the head of the Government of the Federal District (Mexico City) from 2000 to 2005.  In 2006 and 2012, AMLO was a candidate in the presidential elections with the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), a leftist group.  But with Morena, AMLO is seeking to introduce a new movement to Mexican politics, separate from the old parties.  He is a populist, and his rhetoric is often anti-establishment.  Additionally, AMLO has voiced strong criticism of the American President, Donald Trump.  Enrique Peña Nieto has not had the same vigor in his opinions on Trump.  Ironically enough, the fiery rhetoric of the U.S. President can help AMLO, as many Mexicans experience a surge in nationalism against what they perceive as a threat to their society and culture.  Regardless of left vs. right wing, Morena offers a new approach to politics and governance.  With the legacy of corruption in PRI and PAN, a substantive change is necessary for the development of Mexican democracy.

But a simple argument against corruption will not be enough.  The party’s liberalism would represent a change from the policies of PRI and PAN.  PRI is a centrist party, but uses nationalism and a level of corruption to govern.  PAN is a conservative party, but they failed to change the basic structure of the country in their twelve years in power.  Morena’s platform offers a departure in ideology, which could prove popular.  For example, they want to improve access to basic public services.  Mexico’s healthcare system is universal, but the quality of care is well below that of the United States and Europe.  There are not many public hospitals, with the majority being reserved for people with private access.  In a country where there is a tremendous amount of poverty, it is necessary to improve access to medical care.  The party also wants free access to education and improved academic standards and quality.  Especially in southern Mexico, the education infrastructure is weak, with only about 45% of students completing high school.  Additionally, only 25% of students go on to complete their studies at a university.  With a sluggish national economy, the country needs more young people with an education to compete in the global economy.  Morena also wants access to the Internet for the entire population as a right of citizenship.  This would again be a sign of modernization and could contribute to Mexico’s economic competitiveness.

But none of these proposals matter if Morena cannot win.  This is the problem that other parties have had throughout Mexico’s long political history.  They could very well have the support of the people, but corruption could lead to electoral fraud.  During the era of PRI domination, the incumbent president selected the candidate of the party, leading to elections that were largely a formality.  This process was called “el dedazo”, which has no direct translation in English but essentially refers to the unilateral selection of the next leader by the incumbent.  With the current President being a member of PRI, there is a level of concern that history could repeat itself.

However, the polls suggest an opportunity for Morena and AMLO.    Enrique Peña Nieto is the most unpopular President in recent history, with an approval rate of 6%.  In an October survey by El Universal, a Mexican new agency, Morena had 24.0% support in the upcoming election.  This polled higher than PAN’s 14.3% and PRI’s 13.9%, the two parties that could realistically pose a threat to Morena.  The creation of alliances, though, can lead to different results, something which has been done a number of times in the past.  Therein lies the danger to Morena and AMLO.  Morena has at this point formed an alliance with the Labor Party (PT), a group that supports socialism and anti-imperialism.  But PT is not a very large party, with no members in the legislature or serving as governor of a state.  AMLO was the PRD’s candidate, but they have formed an alliance with PAN, a right-wing party, and the Citizen’s Movement (MC), a left-wing party.  This alliance is not politically consistent with two parties on the left and a large conservative party.  In what likely amounts to a simply vote-grabbing ploy, the substantially sized PAN and medium-sized PRD combined could defeat Morena and PT.  Besides these two, however, it is crucial to remember that PRI is the dominant party of government.  They will likely create an alliance with the medium-sized Green Ecologist Party of Mexico (PVEM), and two small groups in the New Alliance (PANAL) and Social Encounter Party (PES).  With a new standard-bearer in José Antonio Meade, PRI can be competitive in 2018.  It should be noted that PES is actively considering abandoning its alliance with PRI and joining with Morena, although this likely will not impact the polls in any substantial way.  El Financiero, a Mexican newspaper, published a survey of support for the alliances in November, and the results were closer than a grouping of the individual parties.  Morena-PT had 24% support, PRI-PVEM-PANAL-PES had 22%, and PAN-PRD-MC had 18%.  With 21% who said “none” and 15% who said “I don’t know”, any of the alliances could win in 2018.  But if Morena can detail the corruption and incompetence of PRI and PAN, especially relating to their time governing the country, they could earn the support of the Mexican people.

The political history of Mexico is a long saga of corruption and fraud.  When PAN won in 2000, undoing a decades-long regime, the change that many Mexicans expected did not take place.  Now, Morena and its leader have an opportunity to present a new legacy for Mexico.  With the nationalism and corruption of PRI and PAN, the country has not taken its place as a great power in the international community.  In a new regime, with more access to education, healthcare, and the Internet, Mexicans could develop the economy, the political system, and society that they have craved since 1929.  And, after nearly a century of waiting, the long-lasting “perfect dictatorship” could finally come to an end.

The Transition of Sri Lanka

 Leah Field, Staff Writer 

The South Asian island nation of Sri Lanka is currently in the midst of a difficult transition following the end of a decades-long civil war. The legacy of the Sri Lankan Civil War, which officially came to an end in May 2009, continues to cast a shadow on the country’s future. More than 100,000 civilians were killed over the course of twenty-five years in the violent conflict between the Sri Lankan government and minority Tamil militant groups. The outbreak of war was a culmination of longstanding ethnic tensions in the region. The majority of Sri Lankans, about seventy-five percent, are ethnically Sinhalese. However, Tamils make up a significant minority—between 10 and 15 percent of the population are Tamils. Sinhalese and Tamil Sri Lankans have their own cultures, languages, and traditions. The island is heavily segregated between the two groups, with the majority of Tamils living in areas in the north and east of the island. Religion is another key contention between the two groups, as Sinhalese Sri Lankans are Buddhist while Tamil Sri Lankans are predominantly Hindu. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, colloquially known as the Tamil Tigers, emerged as the most prominent Tamil militant group in the country in the 1970s, and war officially broke out when clashes between the Tamil Tigers and government forces erupted in 1983.

What followed was a bloody and violent civil war with mass human rights violations committed by both sides. The Sri Lankan government regularly committed massacres of Tamil civilians—committing torture and causing disappearances of their enemies. Likewise, the Tamil Tigers tortured, used child soldiers, and committed massacres against Sinhalese civilians. The war came to an end with the adoption of a ceasefire in 2009, but the aftermath consists of heightened ethnic tensions, violence, and discrimination.

In October 2015, the U.N. Human Rights Council passed a resolution calling for the pursuit of truth, justice, and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Yet, more than two years after the resolution’s passing, the government of Sri Lanka has taken no substantial action to remedy the nation’s ongoing crisis. On the contrary, many recent government policies have only exacerbated tensions and violence. Thousands of internally displaced Tamil Sri Lankans receive no aid from the government, which has instead implemented a policy of moving Sinhalese citizens into formerly Tamil areas. Tamil regions remain largely militarized, and any protests are met with quick and brutal repression by police. One of the government policies most strongly condemned by the international community and human rights groups is the oppressive Prevention of Terrorism Act. Passed in the 1970s to allow the government to indiscriminately detain and torture Tamil Tiger members or their suspected supporters, the Prevention of Terrorism Act is still in effect today. The act is used today to detain people without due process for years at a time, and under the act, torture and sexual abuse are rampant. Political opponents and peace activists are common targets of the PTA, which is disproportionately used against Tamils. These policies only scratch the surface of the continuous injustices in Sri Lanka.

In 2016, a Consultation Task Force was appointed by then prime minister Ranil Wickremasinghe with the purpose of making recommendations on how Sri Lanka should advance justice and reconciliation. In 2017, the CTF released a detailed report that extrapolated upon the policies recommended by the 2015 UN resolution. Like the resolution, the Sri Lankan government has refused to consider any of the CTF’s suggestions. However, in spite of the government’s obstinacy, the recommended mechanisms are crucial if Sri Lanka ever hopes to move past the violence and tension of its civil war.

One of the most important recommendations made by the CTF report is that of a truth commission. A truth commission, one that can formally hold perpetrators accountable and bring closure to mourning families, is an essential step towards justice and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. In recent decades, truth commissions have been used across the world as a method of moving past conflict and into the future. Most famously, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission implemented a combination of investigations, witness testimonies, and trials to cope with the country’s violent apartheid past. Truth commissions are certainly not perfect, and they cannot solve all of a country’s problems on their own. However, a truth commission is sorely needed in Sri Lanka as a first step in a transition toward democracy and peace.

In the case of Sri Lanka, an effective truth commission is perhaps even more necessary because of the nature of the country’s past conflict and civil war. Unlike in other truth commissions, such as in the South African TRC, a Sri Lankan truth commission will have to investigate and hold accountable human rights abuses perpetrated by both opposing sides of the war. The sensitivity of this endeavor is enormous, and the concept makes Sri Lankans on both sides fearful and angry. However, the alternative to accepting the civil war’s reality is much grimmer. Already the Sri Lankan government has begun to rewrite history in their favor. The government’s official stance is the denial of any human rights abuses perpetrated by their forces during the war, and they additionally continue to ignore hundreds of forced disappearances that affect families to this day. Perhaps the most obvious subversion of history by the Sri Lankan government was in the form of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) carried out by the government in 2010. Nominally, the LLRC was a truth commission intended to investigate and corroborate the human rights violations that took place during the civil war. In reality, the LLRC did no such thing. Both human rights groups and the international community have lambasted the LLRC as inaccurate, hopelessly biased, and destructive towards peace- a political tool used by the Sri Lankan government to exonerate themselves of all crimes while allowing them to claim that they pursued accountability.

False attempts to remedy the past such as the LLRC only inflame tensions in the country and emphasize the need for an accurate and sincere truth commission in Sri Lanka. While this goal is seemingly far away, it is still possible. This past fall, the Sri Lankan government caved to international pressure and established an Office of Missing Persons in order to investigate unresolved cases of forced disappearances. While many accuse this action of being merely another instance of “cosmetic maneuvering” for the sake of international actors, it nevertheless proves a point: with the combination of continued international pressure and the persistent internal outcry for justice, the implementation of a truth commission and other transitional justice mechanisms is possible in Sri Lanka. 

Controversial Australian Welfare Plan Sparks Criticism

Derek Brody, Staff Writer

  In an age of large welfare states and massive government entitlement programs, some countries are taking steps to increase accountability in the distribution of these benefits. Late last summer, the Australian government announced plans to randomly drug test welfare recipients in an effort to do just this, but this has been met with immediate pushback from those on the center-left who claim the program simply reinforces existing social and political power gaps. This has been a common proposal across the world from those who claim to have conservative political ideologies, supported by unfounded claims that these welfare recipients use their vouchers to purchase illicit substances. Minister for Social Services Christian Porter released a statement detailing the rationale behind the program, saying, “The aim of the policy is to help job seekers to receive the help they need to get on a path towards securing a job and building a better future for themselves and their families.”

The program, which took effect in January of this year, will begin by randomly selecting 5,000 people who receive welfare payments from the federal government. The government will perform urine, saliva, or hair tests on the randomly selected pool to search for traces of meth, ecstasy, heroin, or marijuana. If a recipient tests positive for one of the substances, the Australian government will convert 80% of their welfare payment to a “BasicsCard,” which is only eligible to be used for food, rent, or childcare. A second positive test will automatically trigger a medical visit and addiction counseling program for the recipient. If the recipient fails to engage in treatment at this point, their welfare payments could be stopped. This effort is being undertaken to reduce government social welfare spending, as well as a motivating factor to encourage low-income residents to re-enter the workforce.

  After a two-year trial period, the program will be reevaluated by the federal government for effectiveness and cost-efficiency. As a part of the pilot program agreement, the government will only implement this procedure in three locations: Canterbury-Bankstown, Logan, and Mandurah. These areas were selected based on their relatively high levels of unemployment and drug use. Approximately 12,000 residents of Canterbury-Bankstown are currently receiving welfare payments, and the new program plans to test about 1,750 of them by next February.

  Liberal Senator Eric Abetz utilized age-old rhetoric regarding welfare reform and fiscal responsibility in an attempt to promote the plan. Abetz touted the plan, saying, “I think most Australians are aware of some, not all, some welfare recipients that actually sadly use the welfare system as a hammock, as opposed to a safety net, and as a good, competent government looking after the welfare of those individuals as well as the taxpayers, it makes good sense that you look at policy options to encourage people into work, into self-reliance and relieve the burden on their fellow Australians.”

Randomly drug testing welfare recipients has not been widely adopted across the globe, but there are several examples of other governmental agencies carrying out similar programs. New Zealand implemented a similar program in 2015 with startling results. Armed with a $1 million budget, the country drug tested 8,000 welfare recipients. Only 22 tested positive, indicating the flawed logic behind the program itself. Likewise, the state of Florida also randomly drug tested their welfare recipients, and only 2.6 percent tested positive for any of the four substances. Recent estimates in the United States have found that about one in five welfare recipients had used illicit drugs in the past year, which makes drug use 50% more common in welfare households than the general population. The study went on to find, however, that less than 5% of welfare recipients met the diagnostic criteria for having a substance abuse problem, further providing evidence to refute many of the claims made by the Australian government.

  The Australian Green party, which holds 1 of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives and nine of the 76 seats in the Senate, came out in fierce opposition to the proposal. The Green Party is a left-leaning organization whose largest commitment is to environmental rights and protections. A release from the party stated, “the legislation completely ignores the advice and evidence from both medical professionals and social security experts. The Australian Greens are deeply concerned by the government’s repeated rejection of the expertise and evidence given by stakeholders in their continued pursuit of harsh cuts to income support.”

  The Green Party went on to criticize the cost of the program, pointing to several similar attempts in the United States. A program in four American states over an 18-month period tested over 200,000 individuals at a cost of over $1 million. These tests went on to disqualify 847 recipients, equaling a cost of over $1,100 per disqualified individual. At this cost per disqualification, it is clear that programs similar to this are a poor use of public funds.

  Likewise, the response by several Australian medical groups have clarified the negative consequences of this program. Australian Medical Association (AMA) President Michael Gannon released a statement voicing his displeasure, noting that, “The populist idea is that there are armies of drug-addled people bludging off the welfare system. But the reality is, we’re talking about some of the most vulnerable people in the community who need a hand up. These proposed measured will only serve to marginalize and stigmatize an already-impoverished group.” The negative response from medical professionals, policymakers, and private industry indicate the potentially negative ramifications of this program’s implementation.

  Human Services Minister Alan Tudge responded to the criticism of the program in early August, noting that, “This is a trial in every sense of the word, where we want to try something new, evaluate it, and if it works then we might roll it out further. If it does not work then we adjust. That is how you do a trial. By the way, all medical advances are done on this basis, of trial and error. And if it is good for health policy, why isn’t it good for social policy to do it this way?” Mr. Tudge’s analogy, however, fails on numerous accounts. Clinical trials in the health field are traditionally carried out systematically and with the consent of patients, while this trial period will occur with little input from the public. Likewise, medical clinical trials are subject to strict oversight from grant funding programs, while a similar system of responsibility has not been established in this program.

  The program has also received pushback from those in private industry, including a damning statement from Jobs Australia CEO David Thompson. In a statement from this August, Thompson noted that some may stop asking for welfare assistance altogether, “Simply because they feel that the whole process is really quite demeaning and humiliating.” He went on to state that many would turn to other measures to receive the financial backing they so desperately need. He noted that some may turn to charities for this assistance, while others may resort to crime or prostitution. Fiona McLeod, the president of the Law Council of Australia, reacted similarly to the news. She went on record saying, “What we don’t see here is evidence that this will be beneficial, and we don’t see a benefit that outweighs the imposition or the punitive effect on a certain group of people. It interferes with people’s liberty and it certainly interferes with our responsibility to protect those in our community who are not so well off.”

  The round of criticism led to a response from Liberal backbencher Ben Morton, who advocated for the passage of this program. “I can’t believe there are organizations that are closing their mind to something that could work,” Mr. Morton said. “I think some of the policy officers in some of these peak bodies need to stop focusing on ideology.”

  The program also includes a secondary provision, which introduces major changes to the compliance regime for welfare recipient jobseekers. By utilizing a demerit point-style system, the government claims it will save over $200 million. It also eliminates several pension payments programs, including those for individuals who are unable to lodge a full claim or those receiving bereavement allowance. This is done as a means of reducing government spending and cutting down on social welfare programs, a conservative ideological goal.

As the government readies itself to implement the program by the beginning of next year, it must continue to respond to the harsh criticism levied from all sides. Critics have raised several questions regarding the effectiveness, cost-efficiency, and morality of the program, and the Australian polity now has 24 months to answer those queries. Regardless, it will provide important and powerful context to worldwide drug policy in the future. After careful consideration of the responses of other policymakers and health experts, as well as the results of similar programs in the United States and New Zealand, it is increasingly clear that this program’s implementation is an assault on members of Australia’s lower class. Rather creating an honest system to increase accountability in the process of welfare distribution, Australia’s polity is instead attempting to widen the existing class divide and further punish those at the lowest rungs of its socio-economic ladder.

The Debate on Global Gun Policy

 

 Emma Donahue, Staff Writer

  Columbine. Virginia Tech. Sandy Hook. From the years 1996 to 2012, there have been ninety mass shootings in the United States. The runner up is the Philippines, with only eighteen. Recently, we have backtracked rather than progressed with regards to gun policy. In February, President Trump rolled back an Obama-era regulation that was aimed at preventing the mentally ill from purchasing guns. Despite being home to less than five percent of the world’s population, we own thirty-five to fifty percent of its civilian owned guns, making us the number one firearm per capita nation. We also have the highest gun homicide and suicide rate, although a Pew study showed that the majority of Americans own a gun for personal protection.

Legislation to ban semiautomatic assault weapons was recently defeated in the senate, in spite of the bill’s popular support in the wake of the Las Vegas and San Antonio shootings. Currently, we have bans on concealed and specific categories of weapons, as well as restrictions on sales to certain groups of people. The Gun Control Act of 1986 prohibited under eighteen year olds, convicted criminals, the mentally disabled, and dishonorably discharged military personnel from buying firearms. In 1993, The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act required those without a gun license to go through a background check before purchasing a gun from a federally authorized dealer. There have also been setbacks, like when the Supreme Court retracted the law that banned handguns in Washington D.C., or when Idaho, Alaska, and Kansas attempted to nullify federal gun legislation.

Many analysts believe that the United States could benefit by modeling our gun policy after certain countries with lower gun-related crime. In Canada, major gun reforms were passed following a school shooting in 1989 where the perpetrator used a semiautomatic rifle. Now, there is a twenty-eight day waiting period for gun purchases, mandatory safety training, more thorough background checks, bans on large capacity magazines, and increased restrictions on military grade weapons and ammunition. Their three categories of firearms include non-restricted (rifles and shotguns, which don’t need to be registered), restricted (handguns, semi automatic rifles and shotguns), and prohibited (automatic weapons). Australia is another prime example of how restrictive policies can decrease violence: since their recent implementation of new gun control laws, there have been declining gun deaths and no mass shootings. Their murder rate due to guns has fallen to one per 100,000, compared to our five per 100,000. Additionally, armed robberies occur half as  frequently there as they do here.

In the United Kingdom, gun control reform was spurred by the Hungerford massacre in 1987. The direct result of this tragic event was the Firearms Amendment Act, which expanded the list of banned weapons and increased registration requirements. The Scotland Dumblane shooting in 1996 lead to the Snowdrop Petition, which was instrumental in pushing legislation to ban handguns and implement a temporary gun buyback. Japan is known for having among the most strict laws, and have a very low gun homicide rate as a result. Most guns are illegal there; under the Firearm and Sword law, the only guns permitted are shotguns, air guns, and specific, situational exceptions which require a series background, drug, and mental health tests. In Germany, any gun purchaser under the age of twenty-five are subject to a psychiatric evaluation that they must pass in order to obtain a firearm. License applicants in Finland can only purchase guns if they can prove that they are an active member in shooting or hunting clubs, pass an aptitude test, a police interview and be in possession of a safe storage unit. Similarly, Italian laws also require purchasers to establish a legitimate reason for their need of a firearm. French applicants for guns must have no record and also pass a background check which takes into account reason for the purchase.

Perhaps the reason we have failed to progress as much as these countries is due to a certain mindset created by forces like the NRA. Supporters of increased gun-rights tend to argue that high rates of ownership don’t directly correlate with the strictness of gun laws. The NRA has been continuously opposing safe storage laws, saying it is pointless to own a gun if you can’t reach it in time to defend yourself. However, only a small amount of victims are able to actually use a gun in their defense. A national crime victimization survey showed that 99.2% of 6 million victims (from the years 2007-2011) involved in non-fatal violent crimes did not protect themselves with a gun. Furthermore, in a study of 198 cases of unwanted entry into family homes in Atlanta, it was found that the invader was twice as likely to obtain the homeowners’ gun than to have it used against him/her. There is also a debate surrounding right to carry laws (RTC), as the NRA has been pushing for a Supreme Court decision that would make this right a matter of the Constitution. But, research conducted at Stanford University found that the thirty three states that have adopted RTC laws between 1979-2014 experience gun-related crime rates fourteen percent higher than if these laws had not been adopted.

So, despite the significant evidence that more restrictive policies (both internationally and domestically) have resulted in less gun violence, it seems that the American mindset towards what we views as a right must shift before any real progress can be made.

The Middle East’s Vietnam

Casie Slaybaugh, Staff Writer 

 The civil war occurring in the country of Yemen since 2014 has harbored the most overlooked and devastating civilian tragedy since the Vietnam War. This fight between the Hadi government, supported by a Saudi-led coalition; Houthi rebels, backed by Iran; and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), an uncharacteristically bold terrorist organization, has killed over 1,600 soldiers and led to the loss of countless military assets. However, the true victims of this brutal war are the Yemeni civilians caught in the crossfire. Some see the war as a struggle by the Houthis to be treated fairly by the government, while others perceive it as a power play by both Iran and Saudi Arabia to gain control over the Middle East. The United States has been supplying the Saudis with weapons, refueling their planes mid-flight, and providing intelligence on potential enemy strongholds. The United States intervening in this conflict is—for both practical and reputational reasons—a risky move.

An Iranian-controlled Yemen, granted, would be very detrimental to the interests of the United States. Yemen has control over the Bab al Mandab Strait, a narrow body of water connecting the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean. 3.8 million barrels of oil pass through this strait daily. If Iran were to gain control of Yemen and of this strait, the Middle East would become even more unstable, oil prices would rise dramatically, and the strength of the United States would be undermined. Additionally, Iran has historically been supported by Russia, which plays a similar role as the United States in Yemen, albeit supporting Iran instead of Saudi Arabia. The long-lasting tension between Russia and the United States has manifested in multiple similar proxy wars and other smaller conflicts in the Middle East, including Syria, Turkey, and Egypt. For these reasons, it is understandable why America feels the need to remain involved in supporting whichever side is not Iran and whichever side does not promote terrorism. The only problem is that the only remaining faction happens to be committing heinous war crimes and displacing millions of civilians.

This third combatant, Saudi Arabia and its coalition, has been condemned by the Human Rights Watch, the United Nations, and even the United States House of Representatives, as of November 13th. Despite this, the United States still remains embroiled in the conflict. While the threat of an Iranian-controlled Yemen is certainly strong, the threat of the formation of anti-American terrorists and the loss of American lives should vastly outweigh this, in terms of US interest. By allying ourselves with the group mainly responsible for countless civilian deaths and human rights violations, America opens itself up to the hatred and antagonism of the people of Yemen. Lack of food, medical supplies, and other basic necessities has led to struggling civilians gladly taking such resources from anti-West terrorist organizations in exchange for service. What does it say about the United States that it fights a “War on Terror” in Iraq and Afghanistan, but allows for terrorists to be recruited in Yemen on the means of its own actions?

The war crimes committed by the Saudi coalition are numerous and have been officially recognized and condemned by many organizations and governing bodies. These war crimes include deliberate attacks on civilians—bombings of schools throughout the war, a large funeral procession in October of 2016, three civilian apartment buildings in August of 2017—denying transport of humanitarian aid by bombing and blockading Yemeni ports, failing to protect innocent children from attacks, and many other offenses. By refueling Saudi planes in the air, the United States allows for extended missile-dropping flights, letting the Saudis perform “double tap” strikes, one example being in October of 2016, where one bomb is dropped on civilians and a second is dropped after rescuers come to those wounded in the first strike, wiping out civilians in two savage strings of attack. The bombs dropped on Yemen by the Saudis are typically of US manufacturing, acquired more readily, now, through increases in weapon sales to the country brought on by the Trump administration. By directly aiding in these war crimes, the United States could be maligned on the world stage for aiding and abetting the coalition’s crimes. The implications of these charges could be catastrophic to the global authority and reputation of the United States.

Completely withdrawing US support of the Saudis in this conflict could irreparably damage the relations between the two countries. However, one must ask if this would truly be a bad thing. Surely, all relations would not truly end, as trade between the two nations is vital to each economy—the US is largely dependent on Saudi oil and the Saudis are largely dependent on US weapons sales—but American support of every Saudi action should certainly be ceased. The difference of fundamental values between the two countries is so vast that one can wonder why the US even began supporting Saudi Arabia in the first place. Saudi Arabia is an absolute, theocratic monarchy which adheres to strict Sharia law and tolerates no kind of opposition or disapproval from its citizens. Everything the United States has fought to spread and support—democracy, civilian freedom, human rights—are completely ignored and neglected by Saudi Arabia. Additionally, the Saudis have opposed the United States numerous times in Middle Eastern diplomacy, including during the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak of Egypt in 2011 and, more recently, the Arab isolation of Qatar, in which Saudi Arabia held a leading position. For these reasons, it is completely reasonable for American military and political support of Saudi Arabia to end. Pulling US support of the Saudi coalition may weaken bilateral relations between the two countries, but these are ties that warrant weakening.

While some reasons to withdraw from the Yemeni conflict directly benefit the United States, the most substantial argument for complete disengagement is simply to protect the innocent people of Yemen. Saudi airstrikes and blockades, Houthi landmines and artillery rocket attacks, and hostile AQAP action in the region have all contributed to what has been deemed by many the “worst humanitarian crisis in decades”. Millions are displaced, cholera is sweeping through medical camps, children are malnourished and suffering from treatable diseases, and freedom of speech is being violently oppressed. The Secretary-General of the United Nations has placed the Saudi coalition, the Houthis, and AQAP on the annual “list of shame,” yet nothing has been done to end the violations against children in conflict that earned each group this placement. The United States’ Congress has passed a resolution stating that the Saudis are fighting an unlawful war and that America should withdraw from it, but the American political atmosphere at the moment is so divided that bipartisan support can’t be reached on a law to pull out all support. The people of Yemen have been utterly failed by the international community, populated by citizens who barely know that the country exists. These innocent civilians deserve to have someone stand up for them for they cannot stand up for themselves. Yemen is too small a country to be the fighting ground of a proxy war between two of the greatest powers in the Middle East and, ultimately, two of the greatest powers in the world. Something more needs to be done on an international scale, but must begin with the end of American support of the Saudi coalition.

The Case for Greenlandic Independence

By Thomas Bell

In the past few weeks, the independence crisis in Spain’s autonomous region of Catalonia has captivated the international community.  A complicated tangle of history, regionalism, constitutional law, and Spanish retaliation to the referendum culminated to create a divisive and complex debate.  Many international observers supported independence, despite low voter turnout, while others emphasized the strength of a united Spain.  It was the first intensive global look into separatism since the Scottish referendum of 2014.

The Catalan issue for many has been a reminder of other separatist movements around the globe.  Most of these are politically and culturally significant, from Taiwan to Texas.  However, one such regional independence movement that does not frequently enter the conversation is Greenland.  It is the world’s largest island, and it is dominated by its imposing glacial ice sheet.  Realistically, however, that fact is all that most people know about the nation.  Articles about Greenland tend to be about climate change, polar bears, or both.  That lack of media attention concerning its political history leaves a complex story undiscovered and unexplored by many.

Greenland has been occupied by native peoples for thousands of years, but the harsh Arctic climate has made settlement largely inconsistent.  Groups migrated from Canada, died out, and were replaced by subsequent individuals.  In fact, for a number of centuries in the first millennium, the island was completely uninhabited.  Europeans eventually reached the island, most famously when Erik the Red sailed from Iceland and established, in the 980s, the first Norse settlement in Greenland, or Grœnland as he called it.  But this group of settlers was also doomed to succumb to the climate: the Norse were gone by 1450.  Eventually, as navigation and technology improved, Greenland became increasingly inhabited by its native Inuit people and was subsequently colonized by Denmark.  Despite a 100 million dollar offer from the United States to buy the island in 1946, it remains Danish territory to this day.

Yet Greenland has a history that suggests that it does not approve of this reality.  It was not until 1951 that Greenlanders received representation in the Danish parliament, something that embittered the island for decades.  In 1979, Greenland took its ambitions a step further, voting for home rule in a critical referendum.  All internal matters from that point on were made in Greenland, with Denmark being responsible for foreign affairs, defense, and constitutional issues.

However, the biggest strides towards independence have come quite recently.  In 2008, Greenland voted on another self-government referendum, which proposed granting the home-rule government control over law enforcement and the courts, as well as the coast guard.  The referendum also included changing the official language from Danish to Kalaallisut, better known simply as Greenlandic in the west.  A staggering 75% of the population supported the measure.  In 2014, the most recent parliamentary elections were held, granting a pro-independence coalition of parties a commanding 26 seats in the 31 member unicameral legislature.  As if more evidence was needed, a 2016 poll showed that 64% of Greenlanders wanted full independence, which tops the support for Catalan independence by nearly 25%.

However, despite the obvious popular support for independence in Greenland, a clean break from Denmark would not be easy.  The principal reasons for this are economic concerns.  According to the United Nations, Greenland had a total nominal gross domestic product of about 2 billion dollars in 2015.  To put that figure into perspective, it is nearly a third smaller than the same figure from Danville, Illinois.  That might be acceptable if the economy was diverse and robust, but the reality is that 94% of Greenlandic exports consist of fish.  A down year or some environmental threat to the marine life would be a complete disaster for the economy, and without Danish support, the results could be catastrophic.  Deeply connected to this situation is the fact that Denmark largely funds the Greenlandic government’s operations as it is, handing a block grant subsidy to the island worth about £400 million every year.  This amount accounts for roughly 55% of the island’s annual state budget.  Though part of the 2008 referendum was to phase out this grant, doing so all at once would leave the new country with a massive deficit, one that Greenland would likely be unable to compensate with its fish exports.  Under current conditions, the country’s quality of life could go down remarkably if independence was immediately granted, and despite widespread support for independence, 78% of Greenlanders oppose it if it means a fall in living standards.

However, there are signs that the Greenlandic economy can change and diversify.  Massive amounts of mineral and oil deposits have been discovered beneath Greenland’s ice sheet or off the coast, representing a new industry that could drastically increase the wealth of the nation.  The new coalition government has allowed for uranium mining, while corporations such as BP and Shell have been granted licenses to explore for oil and gas.  Understandably, environmentalists worldwide have condemned such steps, declaring that it will ruin Greenland’s pristine environment.

Many Greenlanders, however, have a different view.  The simple reality is that climate change will have notable positive effects on the Greenlandic economy, and by extension, the independence movement.  Shrinking ice caps reveal much of the mineral wealth that has been hidden beneath them for so long, and allows for easier offshore drilling.  Fishing hauls have also improved, as warmer oceans drive more fish north towards Greenland’s coasts.  Additionally, rising temperatures will allow for more agricultural opportunities in the country’s south, not to mention a longer tourist season as well.  As one Greenlander puts it, “we are more concerned about the Maldives”.

Greenland occupies a unique position in the international sphere.  As tensions between Arctic states such as the United States, Russia, and Canada become more intense, the island holds a strong foothold in this new arena.  Global warming, heavily denounced at lower latitudes, could open up a myriad of economic possibilities for the nation, creating new jobs and a more diverse economy.  And historically, territories have been let loose with less going for them.  Decades after the collapse of the old imperial system and colonialism, Greenland seems to have become the last vast colony left behind.  While islands across the globe remain under European control, none are so visible as Greenland.  Despite this, it is among the world’s most ignored places, referenced mournfully in climate documentaries, never to be discussed further.  Yet while the world remains engaged and captivated by Catalonia, a region that lacks a simple majority in support of independence, the world’s largest island marches on.  As the economy continues to grow and separatist support intensifies, it will grow increasingly difficult for the Danes to restrain their northern territory, should they decide to crack down as Madrid did last month.  

Pro-independence campaigners have pointed towards the 300th anniversary of Danish colonization, 2021, as a possible goal for separation, meaning that Greenland could vie for statehood in only a few years.  Regardless of the exact date, the world’s biggest colony wants its freedom.  That much has become obvious, with referendums, opinion polls, and parliamentary elections all pointing in the same direction.  It has become a question not of if, but of when?  The question remains of how Greenland will step towards the future as an independent state.  Though it may be years off, it is likely that the world’s newest country will come not from northeastern Spain, but from the farthest reaches of the Arctic.

Iraqi Kurdistan: To Free Or Not To Free

By Casie Slaybaugh, Guest Writer 

The Kurdish Freedom Referendum that took place on September 25th, 2017 brought to light the long-enduring plight of a stateless nation. The Kurdistan Region of Iraq has been semi-autonomous since 1970. Recent developments in the fight against the Islamic State and advances of the Kurdish government have given rise to intensified nationalism and the belief that a free Kurdistan could not only survive as a nation but thrive. Despite many sources’ belief that this prediction could ring true, the Trump administration has put itself in agreement with Iran and stated that the United States does not support a free Kurdistan. I would argue, however, that this administration is mistaken in its disapproval of the independence of the region. A free Kurdistan would not only be beneficial to the Middle East but to the United States as well.

The Middle East is a region teeming with political turmoil. Between oppressive governments, Islamist militant organizations, and more armed conflicts, the Middle East is in dire need of a strong government to serve as a peacekeeping force. Iraqi Kurdistan has shown its military competence time and time again during the fight against the Islamic State. Kurdish forces, called the Peshmerga, played an influential role in the retake of Mosul, as well as in the Battle for Kobane in Syria. Not only can the Kurds hold their own militarily, but the region had been experiencing a decade-long economic boom prior to the rise of the IS. Technology in the Kurdish capital of Erbil is said to be “light years ahead of Baghdad.” The Kurdish government also serves as an example in modern diplomacy and trade: often holding meetings between Iraqi-Kurdish and Turkish leaders, for example, as well as negotiating trade deals with corporations including Exxon Mobil. Clearly, the Kurds are capable of leading their own people into a thriving democracy that is capable of serving as an example and strong military power in one of the most turmoil-stricken regions of the last two centuries. For these reasons, the United States has every reason to support the formation of a free Kurdistan.

Additionally, the American tradition of supporting democracies that share our values must not be ignored. In the decades since the start of the Cold War, a fundamental pillar of American foreign affairs has been a commitment to supporting fledgling democracies. It has been proven time and time again that democratic nations are less likely to engage in war with each other and generally foster good relations with and perceptions of each other. By setting up democracy in a region as chaotic as the Middle East, the Western perception of the area as a whole will evolve into considering it a more similar entity to the West itself, lessening the numerous negative stigmas associated with the region. Helping to establish a democracy that has proven its capabilities to be successful, as Kurdistan has done, in such a turmoil-stricken region could only improve relations between the Middle East and Western nations. The Kurdish people have more than earned the support of the United States and other large democracies and they deserve for their struggle toward full autonomy to be defended.

American must give support because the Kurdistan people share many fundamental values. Compared to other countries in the region, Kurdistan has shown a remarkable commitment to gender equality, with Syrian Kurds passing over 20 “equality decrees” in the year of 2014 alone, allowing women to hold political office, entitling them to equal pay and inheritance, and outlawing non-consenting marriage of women under 18. The Peshmerga is also one of the sole fighting forces in the area to allow female soldiers. Kurdish political parties also strongly favor the separation of mosque and state, clearly similar to the United States’ own separation of church and state. Kurdistan has also been known as a protector of minorities in the region, with many minority populations supporting the formation of a free Kurdistan, even those outside of Kurdish territory. Protection of Christians, Yazidis, and other minorities in the Nineveh Plain and around the Middle East has become a hallmark of Kurdish policy and a large reason for much of the local support of Kurdish independence.

Some would argue that a free Kurdistan would irreparably fracture the fragile political system of the Middle East even further. I would argue against with an analogy to a crumbling building. If the current situation in the region is collapsing ceilings, shattered windows, decaying drywall, wouldn’t it make sense to ensure that the foundation of the building was as strong as one could possibly make it before starting to add reinforcement to the interior? By ensuring the creation of a stable democratic institution in the heart of this “building,” the walls can be more easily rebuilt and the windows more easily replaced.

Certainly, the region would become unstable in the short term, but the high odds of long-term stabilization make this temporary destabilization a risk the West should be willing to take. The numerous issues that a free Kurdistan would immediately bring up—Kurdish revolts in Turkey, minority groups in other countries gaining confidence against their governments—should not be ignored, but instead, be weighed against future benefits that a stable democracy in the region would create.

After September 25th, Iraqi Kurdistan was thrust abruptly into mainstream news. The argument of whether a free Kurdistan should come to exist is one of complex political dynamics and colossal implications. Kurdistan has proved extensively their capability to become a thriving democracy despite their location in the center of one of the most turmoil-stricken regions of the world. This fact combined with the many values they share with the West and the American tradition of supporting fledgling democracies give numerous reasons for the United States to give its support to this prospective nation. While the chaos of the Middle East will likely remain for decades to come, it certainly will not harm the region in the long term for there to be a stable democracy at its center. The United States should support an independent Kurdistan to implement stability and prosperity in an area where these two concepts are seldom present.