Britain and the Future of Human Rights

By Issie Sagraves

In 1215, a group of revolutionary English barons met to create a document that would transform the nature of civil liberties. The Magna Carta limited the power of the monarchy in order to advance the rights of the individual, which it accomplished through a series of regulations. Exactly eight centuries later, it seems as if this same issue of individual rights is up for debate. In a sort of birthday present to the Magna Carta, the Conservative U.K. government has announced plans to scrap the Human Rights Act in favor of a British Bill of Rights. By abandoning the Human Rights Act, however, the British government takes a risky gamble, endangering both the integrity of the United Kingdom’s own human rights policy and the operation of the European Human Rights Court as a whole.

The Human Rights Act, signed in 1998, aims to incorporate the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights into the U.K. legal system. The Act has two major elements: it states that British public bodies (such as the courts, police, and NHS) need to abide by the basic human rights set out in the convention, and requires that the judiciary branch take into consideration the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. The Court, based in Strasbourg, hears cases in which a state has breached one or more of the human rights set out in the convention. Through the Human Rights Act, human rights cases presented under the European Convention of Human Rights can be heard in British courts, but the British courts must listen to the rulings of the Strasbourg Court. In essence, the Human Rights Act maintains the authority of this European court throughout the British justice system.

British PM David Cameron has put forward plans to abolish the Human Rights Act in favor of a new British Bill of Rights. David Cameron’s most outspoken objection to the Human Rights Act is the very presence of an international voice in Britain’s justice system: he is opposed to the Strasbourg Court’s power to enforce rulings over the British Supreme Court. Additionally, abolishing the Human Rights Act plays a role as part of Cameron’s greater political plan to make the UK more independent from the European Union and other European political entities (like the European Convention on Human Rights). Other reasons for creating the British Bill of Rights involve Conservative objections to certain demands of the Strasbourg Court, such as prisoners having the right to vote, and deportation cases such as Abu Qatada, who used the provisions under Strasbourg to delay his deportation to Jordan on terrorism charges.

The idea has come under mass criticism from a variety of opponents. Tim Hancock, the director of Amnesty UK, has pointed out the danger of altering the Human Rights Act because it allows politicians the opportunity to change said rights. Hancock asserts, “It’s exasperating to hear the prime minister vow to tear up the Human Rights Act again – so he can draft ‘his own’. Human rights are not in the gift of politicians to give. They must not be made a political plaything to be bestowed or scrapped on a whim.” It is also unclear exactly which rights (if any) would be specifically changed by the proposed British Bill. If no rights are changed, the Bill would be irrelevant. If some human rights are changed, however, this puts in jeopardy the current human rights standard upheld in the U.K., and officials like Hancock are concerned that the standard will deteriorate as rights are removed or altered as decided by the government.

In addition to awarding the government the power to potentially draft a new set of human rights standards, the action would break the formal link between the Strasbourg Court and the British courts. Cameron has two options if he does manage to pass his plans: either he can abolish the HRA – thus decreasing the authority of the Strasbourg Court – and still maintain membership in the European Convention of Human Rights, or he can pull out of the convention altogether. If membership is maintained, people who wanted to bring up human rights cases under the European Convention of Human Rights would have to go to Strasbourg to do so instead of presenting in front of a delegation in Britain, which would be a much more inconvenient and time-consuming process.

If the UK pulled out of the European Convention altogether, scrapping the Human Rights Act could also have serious international repercussions. Dominic Grieve, a Conservative MP and former attorney general, suggests, “Our [Conservative party] intent, if pursued, threatens to make the [European Convention on human rights] inoperable. In order for [the convention] to work, it is dependent on peer group pressure. If the UK will not observe and promote its terms, why should other member states?” The United Kingdom is a world leader, and so its example matters. If it were to get rid of the Human Rights Act, and put in place its own Bill of Rights, other countries with less stable governments (and less of a universal perception of which human rights are necessary) might do the same, with catastrophic consequences for the international upholding of human rights.

It seems clear that abolishing the Human Rights Act presents more problems than it would solve. Human rights are promised to all British citizens and residents without question, something that makes their democratic country so special. Europe is in chaos already, with the refugee crisis and economic problems. It is not the time for a human rights overhaul that would have continental repercussions. Why mess with a system that is, for the most part, working? It’s important to remember that it is not 1215, it is 2015 – and Britain already has a means of balancing governmental power with the rights of the individual without signing a new charter.

Syria – Russia’s Next Power Grab?

By Adithya Sivakumar

In the fall of 2013, the United States faced the possibility of initiating military action in yet another Middle-Eastern country. This time? Syria, specifically against Bashar al-Assad, whose regime reportedly employed chemical weapons to attack opposition strongholds in the Syrian Civil War, killing thousands.[1] However, the Syrian government accepted a deal that prevented direct US involvement at the time, as this deal stipulated that the Syrian government would agree to destroy its chemical weapon stockpile.[2]. The lull in official foreign involvement in Syria changed due to the rise of the Islamic State of the Levant (ISIL); led by the United States, a coalition began to conduct airstrikes in Syria in the September of 2014. For a time, this appeared to be the only official international effort against ISIL. Then, on September 30, 2015, another world power decided to get involved in Syria, launching coordinated airstrikes against not only the infamous ISIL, but also other groups opposed to the Syrian government.[3]

That world power? Russia, the U.S.’s perennial competitor.

        The timing of the attacks seems quite convenient. According to The Economist, the Russia’s decision to attack occurred when the overall non-ISIL Syrian opposition was in its best shape since the war began in 2011. And indeed, rebel groups traditionally backed by Western donors have taken notice of this timing, asking for more aid to fight what they deem as a second occupation by the Russians (the first being from Al-Assad’s other ally, Iran). This occupation, however, has many observers puzzled.  Russia’s last direct military involvement in the Middle East occurred in Afghanistan, when the Soviet Union still existed. Its result was a massive defeat that likely factored into the demise of the once dominant super power.

        Some experts point to the relationship Russia has with the Syrian government. It is a relationship that stretches back to 1967, when the Soviet Union assisted Syria in its war against Israel; in return, the Soviet Union gained a port access to the Mediterranean, and ever since Syria has remained sympathetic to Russia. Additionally, Russia has firmly backed the Assad regime, even in the face of chemical weapons allegations, and despite numerous global calls for its end. In effect, by forming this implicit military alliance with Iran, a country that has officially backed  the Syrian government, and now even Iraq, with its Joint Military Operations Command stating its intention to share intelligence with both Russia and the Al-Assad’s government,  Russia is not necessarily focused on fighting ISIL, but rather strengthening Al-Assad’s regime, a tactic that appears to be working in light of an apparent ground assault in the works. [4]

        Another motivation for the Russian government’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War could be its thirst for international credibility, especially due to heightened tensions with its number one competitor, the United States. Due international uproar over Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine crisis (supplying military aid to separatists that may have brought down a passenger airline, as well as taking over the Crimean peninsula), Russia has certainly built a negative image globally. This has made the nation more keen to involve itself in matters of global stability, such as the Iran nuclear deal, that increase its global influence and perhaps builds a more positive image.

Furthermore, it appears that the United States is losing its global influence, especially in terms of the Syrian conflict. The CIA’s program to train and equip moderate rebels failed miserably.  In exasperation, members of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL have started to give military equipment to their proxies in Syria, without giving much thought to American objections, indicating the lack of adherence to American leadership. Additionally, the coalition-led airstrikes have not been particularly helpful for coalition-backed Syrian rebel groups either, as the attacks are aimed to attack  ISIL, not the Assad regime, giving the government time to regroup and strengthen itself as its other major enemy is under fire. These weaknesses caused by the Americans are easy for the Russians to exploit, allowing for Putin’s government to have a greater say in what group stays in power at the end of the Syrian conflict.

         No matter what Russia’s logic is, global attention will be on Russia’s next move in the conflict, which includes the possibility of ground troops and continued clashes with American interests. Run-ins already have been reported between Russian and American planes, and tensions continue to grow between the two countries.[5] In essence, Syria appears to be becoming a proxy battleground between two rival countries. As Mouaffaq Nyrabia, the Syria National Coalition’s (the organization recognized as the legitimate government in Syria by a variety of nations)  representative to the Benelux and European Union, describes to the Huffington Post, an ISIL-only approach by the U.S.-led coalition has emboldened the Al-Assad regime, causing many deaths due to civilian targeting, a factor that drives more people from Syria into the arms of ISIL. This situation is further exacerbated with Russian involvement, as these airstrikes are specifically aimed to help the Assad regime.[6] With competing interests between the United States and Russia, the likelihood of a comprehensive solution to end the conflict seems slim, despite meetings between Russian and American diplomats. Until such a solution can be created, however, Syria will continue to be a land where complex alliances, interests, and violence resides.







The Battle of Bacteria: Antibiotic Resistance and its Consequences

By Telyse Masaoay

Global attention seems centered on subjects like the conflicts in the Middle East, the politics behind the Iran nuclear deal, the economic threats of China’s financial stability, and even the 2016 United States’ presidential election. As a result, other critical topics appear to be sidelined, such as antibiotic resistance, an issue that “is now a major threat to public health” according to the World Health Organization.  No longer an impending concern, antibiotic resistance is an important problem communities are currently facing.

        Antibiotics were first introduced quite primitively through the practice of using molds of microorganisms to fight microbial infections in ancient societies in India, China, Greece, and Egypt. In 1928, Alexander Fleming, a Scottish biologist, discovered penicillin through his work with the fungus Penicillium notatum. Mass production of penicillin in 1945 and the discovery of a host of other antibacterial drugs led to a revolution in medicine in the 20th century. The Allied Forces in World War II used penicillin to treat soldiers with gangrene, which reduced the likelihood of limb amputation, fought off infections, and increased the probability of survival for many injured combatants. Following the war, antibiotics flooded the medical market and as the National Center for Biotechnology Information explained, “A surge of discovery of several such antibacterial and antifungal antibiotics accompanied with a new generation of semi-synthetic drugs initially led to euphoria that any infectious disease could be successfully controlled using antibiotics.”

        Today, antibiotics are prescribed and used at unprecedented levels around the world; many countries even provide over-the-counter access to some treatments.  Additionally, using antibiotics to supplement livestock feeding is a common practice globally.  This leads overuse of antibiotics in medicine and agriculture, which becomes problematic when considering the dangerous effects of antibiotic resistance, or, the ability of microbes to grow in the presence of a chemical (drug) that would normally kill them or limit their growth. The explanation of antibiotic resistance at the biological level is complex, but the sum of it all is that at their simplest level, bacteria are able to mutate and adapt to antibiotics. Over time experts have shown that increased consumption of antibacterial drugs has a positive correlation with increased resistance.

This phenomenon was most recently outlined in the first global report of antibiotic resistance. Conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO), it gathered data from 114 countries. Experts have warned for years that increased dependency on antibiotics would have disastrous effects on the ability of entire populations to combat infections that we have not viewed as major threats for decades; these predictions are coming to fruition with a few examples outlined by the WHO’s study. For example, in countries such as the U.K., Canada, Australia, France, Japan, Norway, South Africa, Slovenia and Sweden, Gonorrhea is being treated primarily with antibiotics that were once considered last-resorts. Simultaneously, these last-resort antibacterial methods have been increasingly linked to the appearance of aggressive, drug-resistant strains of the sexually-transmitted disease, which make the aforementioned antibacterial approaches less effective. The WHO’s report also mentions that similar issues have been recorded with influenza, HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis treatments on a global scale.

Even developing countries, which are not using antibiotics at the same level as developed nations, are still being touched by the drug-resistance. As Susan Brink  of NPR notes “MRSA, a dangerous staph infection often contracted in hospitals that does not respond to many antibiotics, is found at high rates in the United States, Romania, Portugal, Vietnam and India — rich, middle-income and poor countries alike.”

Due to its clear global presence, it is important to examine the extent to which antibiotic resistance can and will cause problems. Dr. Keiji Fukuda, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Health Security, explains why antibiotic resistance is so consequential, “Without urgent, coordinated action by many stakeholders, the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill.” We are entering a time period in which modern medicine could be setback, ironically, because of the use of modern medicine. Those who have contracted infections are now at risk of being sick for longer interludes with an increased risk of death because of the developed drug-resistance of microbes. This issue has the potential to increase hospital stays and medicinal costs—putting the ill out of work for longer periods and affecting the health of whole groups exposed to these evolving strains.

Fortunately, there are steps that can be taken by individuals, healthcare providers, and public officials to address antibiotic resistance. At the most basic level of deterrence, people can avoid using antibiotics unless they are prescribed them, refuse to share medicine with others, and follow all prescription instructions laid out by their doctors.  The solution with respect to healthcare providers and policymakers lies in the regulation of antibiotic prescription and dosage.  It is essential to decrease the use of antibacterial drugs for simple infections and invest in new methods for disease control and prevention. Dr. Ramanan Laxminarayan, director for the Center for Disease Dynamics reminds the public “In the absence of antibiotics, resistant bacteria more easily die out… In many cases, if we stop overusing antibiotics, resistance will go substantially down.” It is time to alter the mindset that antibiotics are miracle medicines; if not used appropriately they can be as harmful to global health as they are helpful.

The United State’s Responsibility to Fight Climate Change

By Dustin Cai

Amidst the more visible problems currently going on in the world, the relative invisibility of climate change is no excuse to ignore the ever-looming problem. In fact, the world has already seen its effects: The UN’s former secretary general Kofi Annan released the world’s first comprehensive study on global warming and found that 300,000 people die each year as a result of climate change with an extra 300 million people negatively impacted.[1] Even small increases in global mean temperature of 2°C can negatively influence the market sector in developing countries, increase the frequency of heat waves, increase the transmission of infectious diseases like malaria and dengue fever, and destroy agricultural production and increase the amount of malnourished people in the world by 10%.[2] Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive and a world leader in technology development recently gave a speech in Berlin citing the world’s climate change as the direct cause of the mass refugee problem that we will see in the future that will dwarf the Syrian crisis we see today.[3] Musk explains that climate change will only exacerbate the current problems of water shortages,[4] food insecurity,[5] and the displacement of people due to rising sea levels.[6]

In the face of such crisis, it becomes a moral imperative for the most developed countries, namely the United States and others in Europe, to mitigate these effects in an attempt to prevent the greatest crisis of the century. If, in a relay race, I were to run a terrible segment, the blame of our team’s atrocious time would certainly not be on the guy I passed the baton onto; similarly, the blame of the world’s climate problem should not be put on the countries currently in the develop cycle. Rather, countries that have historically owned the largest shares greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – to the tune of 75% from 1705-2005[7] – should carry this weight.

Thus, in terms of a moral responsibility, it falls upon the rich and developed nations to ensure a stable future for global development. Because these developed nations in the industrial North created the majority of the problem in GHG emissions and climate change, they therefore bear the same proportional responsibility in cleaning up after themselves.[8] It would be a great injustice to those who are most affected by climate change in the Global South to also bear the responsibility of mitigating its effects. It is already a moral imperative to act on climate change in the face of its devastating effects with the responsibility falling on the shoulders of the industrial North. Now, the question deals with feasibility and timing.

Some people like Nicholas Stern argue that countries like China and India are the ones that need to step up to the plate as a result of their current state of GHG emissions, which now are responsible for the bulk of global emissions.[9] However, developing countries, most notably China, have already taken pacts to act on climate change, but their promises are only in the future. China has pledged to reduce their carbon emissions by 65% in 2030.[10]

With all this in mind, what can the US do to ensure the globe acts now? Lead by example. A cap and trade policy, which sets limit on carbon emissions for companies while also allowing companies to trade their unused portions of their limits to other companies, has shown promising effects: The EPA reports that a Clean Air Interstate Rule, a cap and trade system in 27 American states, has reduced GHG emissions by 70% in seven years.[11] The Center for Environmental Journalism analyzes the effects of a cap and trade policy like this one if implemented by the entire United States and finds that it translates into the entire world avoiding 1.75°C of warming by 2100.[12]

But change from one country alone won’t offset or stabilize the current condition of global climate change. While developing countries have pledged to take action in the future, it comes upon the Global North to take action now. Ethically, the industrialized nations can no longer afford to remain ignorant to the problem of climate change that we face now and potentially will face in the future; rather, it becomes a moral obligation to stabilize Earth’s condition while developing nations are given their equal right to develop in the same ways that developed nations did decades ago.













The Forgotten Crisis in Yemen

By Gabrielle Timm

Recently, the world’s attention on the Middle East has been focused on Syria due to its long running civil war and the resulting refugee crisis in Europe. Largely overlooked however, is the violent conflict that consumes the Middle East’s poorest country, Yemen. Already troubled, this current conflict is making living situations worse and displacing many people, some of whom have fled into Djibouti and Somalia. With the seemingly endless conflict and existing internal threats from Al Qaeda increasing, the war in Yemen has the potential to become just as devastating as the conflict in Syria, with profound negative implications for the international community.

Since September of 2014, the political situation in Yemen has been tumultuous. Houthis, a militant Shi’a group, has long been fighting against Yemen’s government and finally seized control of Sana’a, Yemen’s capital that month. Following the takeover of the capital, the Yemeni government still retained nominal control over the country, though Houthis did exert great influence over it. This changed in January 2015, when Houthis forced President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, among others, to resign following disagreements over a proposed new constitution. Following these resignations, the Houthis placed Hadi under house arrest. Officials in Aden and other cities across southern Yemen stated they would refuse to accept orders from a new government in Sana’a, and there were rumors that they would seek an independent South. (Yemen had formerly been separated into a northern and southern country, until unification in 1990, with Aden being the capital of South Yemen, and Sana’a the capital of North Yemen.)

In February of 2015, Hadi escaped from house arrest, fleeing to Aden. With Houthi forces rapidly advancing in the South and surrounding Aden, Hadi fled the country in late March and called on foreign powers to intervene and restore its legitimate government. The Arab League agreed, initiating the start of the broader conflict that engulfs Yemen today. The Saudi-led coalition acted promptly, initiating airstrikes against the Houthi insurgency and instituting a naval blockade around all Yemeni ports. In April 2015, the United States announced it would be providing logistical and intelligence aid to the coalition.  Other Western powers, notably Great Britain, have also supported the coalition.

The coalition has been making some progress against Houthi forces in the South, though Houthis still occupy Sana’a and heavily populated regions in northern and western Yemen. Saudi Arabia and the coalition continue to conduct airstrikes on northern territories, and now have a troop presence on the ground.

This war has dangerous implications for the entire region, as it has the potential to exacerbate regional tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iran has been accused of aiding Houthi forces, as both are Shi’a. While Iran has denied this, intelligence indicates that Iran has supported the group for years, and, more recently, the Arab coalition seized an Iranian fishing boat loaded with weapons meant for Houthi forces. Saudi Arabia has long viewed itself as a defender of Sunni Islam, in contrast to Iran’s defense of Shi’a Islam, which has made the two countries hostile on religious grounds. Moreover, Iran considers Saudi Arabia a wealthy, ambitious proxy of the United States, and Saudi Arabia views Iran as a major source of instability in the region. Thus, with Saudis backing Hadi, there is a very real danger of Yemen turning into a proxy war between the two regional giants.

Additionally, Yemen’s strategic location could have a negative impact on international trade, particularly on the oil industry.  The Bab el-Mandeb, a narrow chokepoint with Eritrea and Djibouti on the west and Yemen on the east, connects the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. It is located on a vital sea-lane between Europe and Asia, and trade that goes through the Suez Canal must pass through this area. The US Energy Information Administration estimates that 3.8 million barrels of oil and refined petroleum products pass through the Bab el-Mandeb each day en route to European, Asian, and American markets. This makes it the world’s fourth busiest chokepoint, so even the thought of a potential shutdown could have huge consequences on the oil market. While Houthis did gain control of this area in March, it was recently recaptured with the help of the Saudi-led coalition.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) also stands to benefit from the war. US intelligence considers AQAP to be one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist groups, and the most threatening branch of Al Qaeda.  AQAP was already a very strong force in Yemen, particularly in the eastern province of Hadramawt (Osama bin Laden’s father’s homeland), and it currently controls some territory within Yemen. The group could exploit the current conflict to increase its power; this has precedent in Libya, where al Qaeda-affiliated extremists have made major advances following the overthrow of Gadhafi, as infighting plagues moderate forces. Success in weakening Houthi forces could strengthen AQAP, since Houthis have been an effective fighting force against AQAP. This is one reason why some in the US intelligence community are against the idea of the US helping the Saudi led coalition, in addition to their overriding belief that the coalition is doomed to failure.

AQAP currently operates (somewhat) as a Sunni ally of Saudi Arabia in Yemen, both fighting against the Shi’a Houthis.  AQAP consists of about 5% Yemenis working with Saudi Arabia, with the rest split evenly between southern Yemen secessionists, former government troops loyal to Hadi and pro-Saudi and ultraconservative Salafi Islamists. However, AQAP also hates the al-Sauds, the royal family of Saudi Arabia, since they believe that many of their actions are un-Islamic. Given all the serpentine and sometimes conflicting interrelationships, it is more likely that AQAP and the Saudi-led coalition are cooperating with an informal and somewhat shaky nonaggression pact, which is unlikely to continue indefinitely. Strategically, Houthi forces and Iran are using this as propaganda, saying the Saudis are allied with AQAP; many Yemenis are against AQAP, and are already upset with Saudi Arabia and its allies due to the large civilian death toll caused by coalition airstrikes.

The United Nations estimates that 5,400 people have been killed since the major conflict started in March of this year, including over 2,300 civilians. The UN estimates that almost two-thirds of reported civilian deaths are caused by coalition airstrikes, though indiscriminate shelling by Houthi forces kills large numbers of civilians as well. Coalition airstrikes are also responsible for about two-thirds of collateral damage to civilian public buildings.

Recently, the Dutch spearheaded a UN proposal to send experts to Yemen to investigate the conduct of the war. The proposal called for warring sides to allow humanitarian access to deliver aid and for the commercial import of goods like fuel to keep hospitals running. While initially supportive, the proposal was blocked by Western governments, including the United States, and by strong, vocal Saudi opposition. Instead, a Saudi-led resolution was backed to support Yemen in setting up a national inquiry into human rights violations.

This conflict has understandably exacerbated previously existing problems in Yemen. Prior to the March conflict escalation, almost half the Yemeni population lived below the poverty line, with basic social services on the verge of collapse. Almost 16 million people (about 61% of the population) were in need of some form of humanitarian assistance. At the end of August, the BBC reported 4 out of 5 Yemenis in need of aid and 1.4 million displaced. 20.4 million people now lack access to safe drinking water, an increase of 52% since March. This worsening crisis is largely due to restrictions on fuel imports, needed to maintain the water supply, as well as war-related damage to pumps and sewage treatment centers.

Further, 12.9 million are considered food insecure, an increase of 20% in six months, according to the World Food Program (WFP). Yemen usually imports about 90% of its food, and naval embargos and fighting around ports have prevented many imports. Lack of fuel, damage to markets and roads and general insecurity have prevented the distribution of supplies. 15.2 million people also lack access to basic healthcare, which is a 40% increase since March.

Humanitarian aid organizations within the region are attempting to combat all of the issues that plague the general populace; however, they are struggling due to lack of funding and access constraints caused by the conflict and blockade. “The images I have from Sana’a and Aden remind me of what I have seen in Syria,” said Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, one of the most active humanitarian aid organizations in the country. “So, Yemen after five months looks like Syria after five years.” Maurer attributes this to entrenched poverty, months of intensified warfare, and limits on imports. The heavy firepower employed, in particular, is causing more suffering due to already weak and inadequate infrastructure.

The cost of the conflict in Yemen is incalculable on a national and an international scale. Without worldwide attention and political pressure, the long-term implications of this war could be devastating for international trade and security and shameful in terms of the scale of humanitarian disaster. Unfortunately, regardless of the speed of conflict resolution, the Yemeni populace will be recovering for a long time. While the instability and crisis in Syria and other longstanding issues in the Middle East continue to be important, the crisis in Yemen is of paramount importance and demands the world’s immediate attention.

South Korea, Censorship, and the Legacy of the Vietnam War in South East Asia

By Danielle Williamson

In 2001, a series of articles published in Hankyoreh Sinmuh, a South Korean magazine, featured eyewitness accounts of Korean involvement in the Vietnamese war. They detailed Korean atrocities in a manner unprecedented in Korean society. Hankyoreh is a cry against the status quo of the cloud of silence surrounding the over 300,000 South Korean troops who fought in the Vietnam War, known as the “forgotten soldiers” of a forgotten war. This silence has been intentional, the result of concentrated efforts by both the Korean and Vietnamese governments to consolidate power as well as integrate their countries into the global economic sphere. Official commentary on the war has been limited to subtle recognitions and slight gestures of regret in the name of economic progress for the region, leaving the history of Korean involvement in the Vietnam War obscured behind a curtain of fabricated history.

The seeds for the silence can be found in the conclusion of the Korean War. Left governing an unstable infant of a nation thrown into the context of the Cold War and facing not only forming an entirely new government, but also maneuvering within the context of complex and charged geopolitics, South Korea’s leaders turned to autocratic rule, censorship, and a chain of diplomatic decisions that often came at the expense of the country’s citizens. This was done in order to consolidate power and solidify Korea’s place on the world stage.

Syngman Rhee took the lead in establishing a precedent for censorship, enacting the National Security Law in 1949. This gave the government the authority to punish citizens for thoughts, specifically those that aimed to undermine the state and private property, by “preventatively detaining” individuals suspect of “being dangerous and processing unsound thought (Lim 85). In 1950, the Joint Investigations Committee was established with the directive of scouring the countryside for communists and Northern spies. With “no clear legal basis” (Kim Ji 30), the committee prosecuted, and, in extreme cases, executed these suspects. Though the JIC was shut down after the war, it, in addition to the National Security Law, preceded a general trend in Korean politics to use the fear of the public to alter legislative and judicial processes to strengthen leaders’ grips on power in a tumultuous political environment.

Such censorship laws—what many scholars refer to as “thought-control laws” in the context of Korea—picked up in velocity and frequency after Paris Peace Accords, especially during the reign of Chung-Hee. Upon assumption of power in 1961, Chung-Hee immediately added to the canon of thought-control legislation by passing the Korean Central Intelligence Agency Law and the Anticommunist Law (Lim 88). The phrasing of these laws was even more easily abused than their predecessors’ language. They allowed for the prosecution for not only those suspected of conspiring against the state, but also any suspected collaborators or associates—even membership in the conservative party made one vulnerable to being prosecuted under the laws (Lim 85).

Censorship solved the issue of maintaining a leader’s hold on power. An entirely different issue—and perhaps a more pressing one—was how to maintain South Korea’s sovereignty in the shadow of hostile neighbors.  This issue was dependent primarily upon the support of the United States, one half of a peculiarly codependent relationship that ultimately led to Korea’s involvement in the Vietnam War. In American eyes, South Korea remaining capitalist was key to preserving the United States’ legitimacy in Southeast Asia. Note that the United States’ Cold War foreign policy prioritized economic freedoms, not social freedoms. This distinction was evident in post-war Korea’s development into a society that deeply distrusted communism—but lacked the concept of freedom of thought and speech existing as a fundamental right to be guaranteed by the government. By the time South Korea entered the Vietnam War in 1963, it had been an independent country for a mere 18 years, 14 of which had included thought-control laws as a part of normal government legislation.

And South Korea was dependent on the United States not only to maintain a military presence in the region, but also to maintain a viable economy. The war left South Korea poverty stricken, dependent on American aid to survive. Good economic conditions were not just a matter of higher standards of living, they were a matter of national security—in the Cold War era, an unstable economy was considered a breeding ground of Communism (Choi 338). Critical analysts argue that the United States, well-aware of this fact, forced Korea into entering the war by cutting back on South Korea’s desperately-needed financial aid in 1960 and then offering substantially increased foreign aid with the precondition of Korea becoming involved in America’s next front against communism. For this reason, said critical analysts have taken to calling Korean soldiers in Vietnam “mercenaries” (Kim 634).

Korea, of course, took the United States up on its offer, sending the afore-mentioned 300,000 troops abroad, a portion of its population comparable to the American force. Yet the experiences of these two forces was fundamentally different, primarily due to the culture of censorship in South Korea, which drastically altered the domestic reception to and perception of the war.

Korean veterans’ problems stemmed from not societal disgust, but rather governmental negligence—their pain, both mental (post-traumatic stress disorder was common in Korean veterans) and physical, was a dirty stain on the clean image the Chung-hee regime wanted to project. Their stories were casualties of this image, as Hwang Myung Chul, Vice President of Vietnam Veteran’s Association in South Korea, recounts: “We wanted the media to relate our pain and difficulties, but they were told not to. The Government virtually ignored our problems” (qtd. in Sterngold). This included exclusion from a 1984 court decision that guaranteed compensation for Agent Orange-inflicted damage to American, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand veterans.  The government responded to the veterans’ pleas for representation with a flat denial (Sterngold).

Though Chung-Hee was eventually deposed and assassinated in a 1979 coup, discussion of Korean involvement in the Vietnam War remained muffled until the late 1990s (Sterngold).  While the continued existence of censorship laws plays some role in this phenomenon—the National Security Law remains on the books to this day (Lim 99)—it is also due in part to a widespread perception in Southeast Asia that Vietnam has “forgotten about the war” (Kim 627). In order to facilitate the friendly diplomatic relations with neighboring countries essential to modernization, Vietnam has adopted an official policy of “closing the past” (Kim 627).

Doi Moi, the Vietnam government’s economic policy that aims to integrate Vietnam into the world market and facilitate economic growth, has accompanied this. South Korea is among the governments Vietnam has reached out to—and South Korea has reached back, actively pursuing an economic partnership with Vietnam to facilitate mutual economic growth. Open discussion of the dark past of Vietnam and South Korea’s relationship is seen as an unnecessary hindrance to this economic development—a figment of the past that would only hamper the potential of the future. Thus, the Vietnamese Ideological and Cultural Commission ordered the Vietnamese press to “not draw attention to the war atrocities on the Korean troops” (Kim 631). On South Korea’s end, a Korean official recently declared “the massacres by the Korean soldiers of Vietnamese civilians should not arise as an issue” (Kim 631).

The end result of these economic policies and half-hearted attempts at reconciliation is the downplaying of the suffering that occurred during the Vietnam War, both as a result of the atrocities committed by South Korean troops and the sacrifices that South Korean “mercenaries” were obligated to make by their government.

The cloud of silence pervades.

Yet Hankoreh stands strong, joined in its mission by the Korean Truth Commission, a grassroots organization, which went so far as to sponsor the authorship of “Forgive us, Vietnam,” a song they proceeded to present as an unofficial apology to the Vietnamese, featuring lyrics such as “We as perpetrators, and you as injured victims/ Tomorrow’s dreams were thrown into the shadows of history” and “Forgive us, Vietnam/ For the tears that you shed in the darkness,/ For the shame that we left in the darkness” (Kim 632).

Until the culture of censorship in South Korea changes, shame of all sorts will continue to be left in the darkness. The government must remember that pushing things under the rug can only go so far—because, as Hankoreh and the Korean Truth Commission prove, people are bound to point out the lump in the carpet eventually. And when they do, they will uncover the discontent of a neglected people.

Lim, Chae-Hong. “The National Security Law And Anticommunist Ideology in Korean Society.” Korea Journal 46.3 (2006): 80-102. Historical Abstracts. Web. 31

Kim Ji, Hyung. “Political Dynamics in The Execution of Suspected Collaborators during the Korean War.” Korea Journal 52.2 (2012): 30-61. Historical Abstracts. Web. 26 Apr. 2015.

Sterngold, James. “South Korea’s Vietnam Veterans Begin to Be Heard.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 09 May 1992. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.


Quantitative Easing and the European Central Bank: A Primer

By Andrew Abell

The European Central Bank’s quantitative easing (QE) program has it buying up 60 billion euros of assets every month, and they are likely to continue to do so until 2017. The U.S. Federal Reserve has employed several rounds of QE in the years since the 2008-2009 financial crisis. Talk of QE is everywhere in the news, but an adequate explanation of what it is seems harder to find. What is QE? Why are central banks turning to is for answers to lagging growth? Where is the money coming from?

Quantitative easing is a process by which central banks hope to stimulate economic growth by swapping assets banks hold for cash.

For credit markets to work, money has to flow freely between banks and from banks out into the economy. Citizens need access to money to expand their businesses, start new ones, buy homes, buy cars, etc. When access to money dries up, this economic activity goes with it and the economy and its financial markets contract.

Typically a central bank can keep banks lending by lowering interest rates. If you slash interest rates, it makes it cheaper for banks to lend between each other and get that capital to the citizens looking to grow their businesses, etc. In the wake of the recent financial crisis central banks did just that: slashed rates. But what they found was that near-zero rates were still not enough to encourage banks to keep lending. Banks had so little faith that they would get their money back from loaning to businesses and citizens in the weak global economy that they began taking that money that they could get at a near-zero rate and putting it in low-risk treasury bonds. In a tough economy it’s attractive to take a huge chunk of money at 0.25% and get something like a guaranteed 3% return.

Money can’t get cheaper than 0%, so central banks had to come up with something over and above low interest rates to keep banks lending out into the economy. Quantitative easing suggests that there is an answer in that central banks also control the supply of money. If central banks simply pump cash into the banks, those banks are going to have to make a new round of investments, hopefully this time giving it to those money-hungry businesses and individuals out in the economy. Central banks are getting this cash out there simply by buying up assets that the banks own like those 3% bonds. But why won’t the banks just buy more bonds like they did before? The hypothesis is that when the central banks are buying up the bonds, they are taking them out of the market and reducing supply. Reduced supply will drive demand up which drives interest rates on those bonds down, making bonds a less attractive investment. This time maybe banks will invest in the wider market through something like regular business loans.

How is somewhere like the European Central Bank coming up with sums like 60 billion euros a month? The answer is that they aren’t in a traditional sense, they’re simply creating it. What they are doing is swapping new money for an equal value in assets, so the net change in financial assets out in the economy is actually zero. All that is happening is that the value of these assets that are tied up are being ‘swapped’ for highly liquid assets (cash). No matter how the banks spend the cash, they will be replacing their old assets by buying new ones which will boost stock prices and keep interest rates low, all feeding into a macro-scale boost in investment.

There are two problems here, however. First, if QE doesn’t work then the central banks are left with a situation where they have pumped a ton of money into the economy that no one wants. A big cash influx like this devalues the currency (which admittedly can spur growth by making it cheaper for consumers to buy your products abroad). But if the value of say the euro is dropping, people begin to lose confidence in having euros because that money is just evaporating if the value continues to fall. In this situation central banks have served only to lose investor confidence with a program designed to do exactly the opposite—encourage investment. The second problem is that in buying up these assets central banks have developed rather fat balance sheets. Several rounds of QE in America, for example, has increased the Fed’s balance sheet from less than $1 trillion in 2007 to more than $4 trillion today. Eventually central banks are going to have to off these assets they’ve acquired, and it’s unclear what effect it will have when they do. It would seem like that process will drive interest rates through the roof, making lending difficult and leaving central banks back where they started, or perhaps even deeper in the quicksand. For now its effects are unclear, but a layman like myself can’t help but look at this non-traditional strategy with a hint of skepticism.

Europe’s Other Migration Problem

By Christopher Zhang

Imagine a place where you can travel between almost two dozen countries with no visa requirements and no passport and find work in any of them with minimal regulations. This dream is the reality in the European Union’s Schengen Area, a place that values the principle of “free movement of peoples”. Recently, however, the economic crisis and illegal immigration are turning that dream into a nightmare.

Three main problems have risen out of Schengen. The first deals with its basic economics. Eastern Europe and Portugal poorer than Western Europe, and visa-free travel and work opportunities have resulted in richer countries being swarmed with immigrations. This is only intensified by the ease EU residents not in the Schengen area – a handful of poorer countries like Croatia, Bulgaria, and Romania – can obtain visas. Only one country has to give a visa for a migrant to be able to travel in all countries in the Schengen area. With the average Norwegian making fifteen times the average Bulgarian, the incentive is powerful for Eastern Europeans to leave their homes and go West, creating an influx of legal immigrants.

An even greater problem deals with illegal immigrants. With open borders, controls are at a minimum, and it is difficult to catch migrants when they have entered the area of “free movement”. The situation has become so desperate that Hungary, receiving a stream of migrants from non-Schengen countries in the Balkans, has erected an electric fence across its Southern border, complete with “attack dogs” and “watchmen”, mainly to keep Syrian refugees out of Schengen. Meanwhile, the strategy of getting a visa from a poorer Schengen country, then overstaying that visa in a richer country, has become a common route to illegally immigrating to Germany, the UK, and Norway. Since policing is minimal and visas from any single Schengen country apply to all of them, the free movement zone is a drawback in the fight against illegal migration.

The third and final problem is that Schengen is being used as a bargaining chip by desperate politicians. Unlike more contentious political environments such as the United States, the EU functions on a principle of consensus. This means there are few defined checks and balances rogue countries with radical governments can use the threat of their control over regulations to damage others. For example, any country in the EU can grant illegal migrants Schengen visas, and the recently deposed Greek SYRIZA government even threatened to make “members of ISIS” Greek nationals, giving them full rights to go anywhere in the European Union.

Due to these problems, Schengen is under attack all through the EU; many countries are defying the protocol, while others are using it as a bargaining chip. “Austria and Hungary are threatening to close their borders to migrants, and France and Switzerland are refusing them entry from Italy. Police are patrolling international rail traffic, flouting the passport-free travel rules governing Europe’s Schengen area.” The French government defended its conduct by claiming that if it followed the Schengen area’s rules, it would be a “victory for ISIS”. Worse yet are the threats that some leaders might exploit Schengen for leverage. Italian Prime Minister Renzi threatened that “Rome would start issuing migrants with temporary visas allowing them to travel elsewhere in Europe” if Northern Europeans refused to help Italy block Mediterranean migration. With leaders taking advantage of Schengen or shielding themselves from those who do by leaving the protocol in all but name, free movement seems to be collapsing.

That perception, however, is deceiving, as the defenders of the Schengen Area have stood strong. A large majority of EU parliament reaffirmed the principle, and German Chancellor Merkel, widely viewed as the EU’s powerbroker, has declared the principle as important above all others. They have clear reasons: intra-EU migration helps European economies far more than it hurts: “Recent studies by the European Commission and University College London show that intra-EU migrants are in fact net-contributors to their new places of residence. There is thus currently no evidence that intra-EU migrants are disproportionate users of the welfare systems in their countries of residence, let alone that they are ‘welfare tourists’”. Economically, Schengen helps.

The issue then lies in solving the immigration problems. One Irish paper states, “In particular, the migration crisis has exposed the flawed logic of setting up a common travel area without a functioning common asylum and immigration policy”. The root cause of these also has to do with Schengen, but in its asylum policy, not in its movement policy. Currently, the so-called “Dublin Convention”, which allows the EU to decide which countries should take refugees, is no longer respected as a convention. Ironically, it is not Greece and Italy, the worst affected countries by illegal immigration, who are breaking free, but better off countries such as Germany. To prevent countries like Italy threatening to give visas to illegal immigrants, and to open the door to legal immigration, will require a fairer asylum policy.

Fortunately for European leaders, fairer asylum policy may be coming. Recently, Angela Merkel said: “If we don’t arrive at a fair distribution then the issue of Schengen will arise – we do not want that”, and announced that Germany will receive 800,000 refugees in 2015, four times the number of 2014. Despite German prejudice against migrants and Islam, Germany is taking the lead in lifting the pressure off Greece, Hungary and Italy. Gradually, European leaders are coming to realize that illegal immigration is not just a Greek and Italian problem, but a problem for all of Europe:  only by stopping the flow of migrants into all countries can any of them have peace.

In this regard, Hungary’s border wall has an ironic element to it. European leaders may have condemned the structure, with Romania’s Prime Minister equating it to “the 1930s”. But the wall has totally stopped the flow” of migrants, admits one journalist writing against it. It is growing increasingly difficult to control migration once someone has penetrated the border defenses of the Schengen Area of the EU. In the future, EU leaders may be faced with the need to build walls around the EU, so that they do not need to build walls inside.

Evelyn, Ersanalli. “Mass-migration Fears in Europe: Some Facts about Intra-EU Mobility.” May 22, 2014.

“EU Scorns British PM over Bulgarian Migrants ‘Xenophobia'” Sofia News Agency, March 31, 2013. Accessed September 17, 2015.

“France Says Taking All Refugees Would Be Victory for Islamic State.” Cyprus Mail, September 8, 2015. Accessed September 17, 2015.

“Hungarian Police Clash with Migrants at Serbian Border.” AP Online, September 16, 2015. Accessed September 17, 2015.

Kureková, L. (2011) The effects of structural factors in origin countries on migration. The case of Central and Eastern Europe, IMI working paper WP-45-2011,

Kureková, L. (2011) ‘The role of welfare systems in affecting out-migration: the case of Central and Eastern Europe’, IMI working paper WP-46-2011, “Migrants Defy Hungary and Cross the Border; Hundreds of Refugees, Many from Syria, Stream to the EU on Foot.” The Saturday Star, September 5, 2015. Accessed September 17, 2015.

Suzanne, Lynch. “Schengen Area: History and Significance of the Border-free Zone.” Irish Times.

Op-Ed: In Defense of the Iran Deal

By Gregory Bernstein

Is the world any safer? This question is at the heart of the debate over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, more commonly known as the Iran deal. Proponents of the deal argue that yes, the agreement which was reached between the United States and Iran will make the world safer because it contains the unprecedented level of monitoring and verification necessary to achieve the long sought after goal of ensuring that Iran cannot develop a nuclear arsenal. Those who oppose the deal argue that easing sanctions will only serve to reward and embolden Iran in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. One element which has been relatively absent from the discussion over the Iran deal is serious consideration about what other courses of action are available to the United States if the Iran deal falls through due to Congressional opposition.

The course of action concerning Iran’s unrepentant pursuit of nuclear weapons can be broken down into three broad categories: 1) a negotiated agreement such as the one reached last week by Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif, 2) the continuation or expansion of existing national and international sanctions, or 3) some form of military action. Since each course of action is designed to achieve the same end, they can all be evaluated using the same metric – how feasible and effective they would be at preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons in the near future. When evaluated using this metric, it’s clear that the first option, and the current deal in particular, is far and away the most likely course of action to yield a successful outcome.

Those who advocate for continued or expanded sanctions do so in the hope that increased pressure will weaken Iran’s negotiating position and enable the United States to reach a more favorable agreement sometime down the road. The logic used to support this line of reasoning is tenuous at best and dangerous to America’s national security interests at worst. Even if one were to assume that there is a positive correlation between international sanctions and a willingness on the part of Iran to concede to U.S. negotiating demands, there’s little evidence to suggest that the United States could have any success in expanding the existing sanctions regime. This May, Peter Wesmacott, the British Ambassador to the United States, told journalists that sanctions against Iran had reached their “high water mark” and that if the United States and Iran couldn’t reach an agreement by their self-imposed deadline, it was likely that there would be “sanctions erosion”. These sentiments were echoed by Peter Wittig, the German Ambassador to the United States who claimed that “sanctions might unravel” if diplomacy were to fail.

As the support of America’s European allies for the existing sanctions becomes ever more tenuous, the number of countries which are exempted from having to comply with U.S. sanctions regarding Iran continues to grow. In March of 2012, ten European Union countries (including France, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom) as well as Japan were given six month waivers from U.S. financial sanctions which target countries that trade with Iran. Similar waivers were also given to South Korea, China, India, and Turkey and were reissued in December 2012 and June 2013. These waivers are intended to recognize that many European and Asian economies covet Iranian crude oil and are unwilling to fully halt their importations. It’s no coincidence that Iran’s largest trading partners – China, India, Turkey, and South Korea – all appear on the list of countries which have been able to continue trading with and importing from Iran. Their presence seems to suggest that sanctions, no matter how vigorously they are enforced by the United States and its European allies, are unlikely to have the full effect that many had hoped for when the United States first announced new sanctions in 2010 and 2013.

Another alternative to the negotiated agreement is some form of military action or, at the very least, the “credible threat of force”. This is the course of action most frequently preferred by hawkish conservatives who believe that President Obama has signaled weakness to the Iranians by agreeing to the terms set forth in the deal. This, of course, is not a particularly novel idea. The centerpiece of Mitt Romney’s Iran policy when he was running for president was his criticism that President Obama had yet to establish a credible threat of force and his promise to do so. Military action is also a possibility which has been implicitly endorsed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who, after this deal was announced, reiterated his willingness to defend Israel at any cost – including the use of Israeli special forces to carry out an aerial attack of suspected nuclear sites in Iran. While military force or the threat of military force is an oft-talked about solution, is it a realistic one?  Most likely not. Jeffrey Goldberg, an American-Israeli journalist writing for The Atlantic opined that in a best case scenario, a successful military attack along the lines of a “surgical strike” would only serve to delay the amount of time until Iran can obtain a nuclear weapon. He writes “three things would happen in the event of an American military strike: sanctions would crumble; Russia would become Iran’s partner; and the ayatollahs would have their predicate to justify a rush to the bomb.” At that point, only a sustained military campaign would be sufficient to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and such a campaign would result in an all-out regional war which would promise to cause the Middle East to descend into chaos.

The evidence makes it overwhelmingly clear that the two most highly touted alternatives to the current Iran deal are impractical to say the least, but what about the deal itself? In the same way that detractors of the deal bear the burden of proposing alternatives, the deals proponents surely bear the burden of enumerating and defending the specific elements of the deal which will lead to a marked improvement of the current state of regional and global security as well as nuclear non-proliferation. There might be no better person to accomplish this task then Ernest Moniz, the current Secretary of the Department of Energy and former head of the Department of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Secretary Moniz, one of the nation’s foremost experts on nuclear technology, not only played a hands-on role by negotiating directly with Iranian atomic energy minister, but he has offered, in multiple statements, complete assurances that the negotiated agreement blocks every possible path by which Iran could obtain the nuclear fissile material necessary to create a nuclear weapon. His reassurances carry more than just the weight of his own word, however – twenty-nine of the most preeminent nuclear scientists have signaled their support for Secretary Moniz’s detailed claims regarding the more technical aspects of the agreement. Negotiating a peaceful solution to Iran’s nuclear aspirations didn’t require a rocket scientist. But it did require a nuclear scientist. A nuclear scientist who was able to help the United States reach an agreement which has the wholehearted support of his most well-respect peers.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is far from a perfect deal and it would be disingenuous for anyone to describe it as such. Negotiating with the leaders of a country which has spent much of the previous four decades cursing the United States is far from palatable. But it’s necessary. It’s more necessary now than it has been at any point in the past. As Iran inches closer and closer to achieving the deadliest invention in human history, we’ve crossed the Rubicon and reached the point where inaction will no longer suffice. The United States must act to prevent a nuclear Iran. If not this deal, then what?