Tunisia’s Struggling Democracy: An Unlikely Source of Hope

By Sarah Taylor

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

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

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

tunisia democracy chart (1)

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

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

A Nation Without a State: The Kurds

By Emma Dahill

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

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

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

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

Greece A Decade After the Recession: What Happened?

By Thomas Bell

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

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

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

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

The answer to this question is complicated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Irish Lobbying Laws Create Framework for EU Legislation

By Derek Brody

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

While the World Watches: The Plight of the Rohingya

By Javan Latson

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

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

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

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

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

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

China and India’s Difficult Relationship

By Yuhang Zhang

The Situation

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

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

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

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

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

China Alone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope and Potentials

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Dustin Cai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Populist Epidemic and 2017 Elections

By Isabelle Sagraves

In the past few years, political populism has been on the rise. Yet this is a difficult trend to quantify, since the term “populism” can represent a myriad of different policies and agendas.  The term itself dates to the 1890s, when the American Populist party championed the interests of the rural masses against the urban Republican Party. Since then, it has been applied to almost any political movement that is “popular” and therefore motivates the masses, yet the term is infinitely more complex than this. Cas Mudde defines populism as a “’thin ideology’, one that merely sets up a framework: that of a pure people versus a corrupt elite.” This term can then intersect with other, perhaps clearer ideologies, such as capitalism, socialism, nationalism etc. Considering populism in this light, it is evident that this “us-versus-them” narrative has exploded across the political scene in recent years, from Trump’s election in the United States to the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the E.U. (referred to as “Brexit” in this article). 2017 is an extremely important year in European politics due to the high number of elections occurring, and so this paper attempts to understand and evaluate the increase in nationalist populism and how it might affect the European political arena during and after these elections.

Why is populism so popular?

Several current issues have served to sharply divide politics in Europe, most notably the waves of immigration coming into the continent. This is coupled with underlying economic problems kick-started by the 2008 recession: in 2010, the IMF documented that workers were paid less for more work, as wage increases (1.2%) failed to stay on par with rising prices (6.5%). This economic stress has contributed to a diminished European quality of life, with 37.5% of Europeans reporting “low satisfaction with their material living conditions.” These economic conditions, that have clearly existed since the early 2010s, have since been compounded by the influx of immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East as a result of the various political crises and violence that have taken place there. As European nationals have experienced this economic downturn, they have also seen a huge increase in immigration, which provides them with an easy scapegoat. While the immigration and border control problems are very real and very complex, the anti-immigration sentiment has contributed to the rise of a nationalist populism as defined by Mudde: the “rightful” European natives have been stripped of their success by the immigrants arriving in their nations. From Farage in the U.K. to Wilders in the Netherlands to Le Pen in France, populist leaders have cultivated this “thin ideology” on the basis of anti-immigration and anti-European Union policies, both of which stem from dissatisfaction with the current quality of life and the nationalist resentment that accompanies it.

The Manifesto

In Time Magazine’s article entitled “Europe’s Populist Revolt”, Simon Shuster writes: “For more than a generation, the Western elites settled into a consensus on most major issues – from the benefits of free trade and immigration to the need for marriage equality. Their uniformity on these basic questions consigned dissenters to the political fringe – further aggravating the sense of grievance that now threatens the mainstream.” These dissenters have traction now, and have bounced back from the fringe in full force, riding the wave of nationalist populism as well as an anti-establishment sentiment that accompanies it. But what do most of these movements have in common in terms of policy? Most support removal from the European Union – which makes sense, since most are against the lax immigration laws under the Schengen Treaty. Strict immigration laws are present in almost every platform. Most are decidedly anti-Muslim and support deportation policies, spurred on by a majority of Muslim immigrants from Syria and the Middle East as well as ISIS terrorist attacks in Paris, Normandy and Brussels.  Most candidates, such as Nigel Farage of U.K.I.P, also tend to be far right economically, and support low taxes and a cutback in government spending. Along with these policies, the populist candidates utilize nationalist rhetoric to garner support for their campaigns: Marine Le Pen of France has promised to return France to greatness, claiming she will make it “nothing like you have seen in the last 30 years.” This nostalgic nationalism has struck a chord with populations that also feel threatened by the ethnic diversity that accompanies immigration.

First Steps: “Brexit”

The first victory for nationalist populism in Europe came with Britain’s 2016 decision to “Leave” the European Union, a policy rejected by its Prime Minister of the time, David Cameron. In a move that was decidedly anti-establishment, the nation rejected the E.U. and all of its benefits, citing immigration and economic imbalances as the key reasons to leave. Nigel Farage and the United Kingdom Independence Party spearheaded the Leave campaign: Farage has been campaigning for seventeen years for the United Kingdom to leave the E.U., and is now convinced that “the European project is finished.”

The United Kingdom, however, has always enjoyed a ‘special relationship’ with the European Union, as it has not adopted the Euro and is separated from the continent by the Channel. Interestingly, British nationalist nostalgia often points to World War Two, in “its Darkest Hour, standing alone as the British Empire against Nazi Germany in 1940-41,” which “informs a modern view of the U.K. as it’s own best friend.” Since British nationalism so clearly leans towards isolationism, the rise of nationalist populism as a way to “Leave” the European Union was clearly successful. Yet Farage does not hold executive office in the United Kingdom, and the more moderate Conservative Theresa May (who supported “Remain”) is expected to steer the nation away from xenophobic rhetoric during her term as Prime Minister.

“Failure” of Populism in the Netherlands

In March 2017, Europe saw another test of the populist movement, as demonstrated by Geert Wilders and the Party for Freedom (PVV) in the Netherlands. Wilders gained fame for “Fitna”, a film that placed footage of terrorist attacks alongside verses of the Quran – a provocative move that gained him fame in 2008. His campaign rested on many of the characteristic policies of the nationalist populist parties, such as “de-Islamization”, which includes “no Islamic headscarves”, “preventive detention of radical Muslims”, and a mandate to “close all mosques and Islamic schools and ban the Koran.” He also advocated for lower income taxes and for the Netherlands to leave the European Union.

On March 14th, incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s party, the VVD, gained the majority of seats at 33 of the 150 seats, while Wilders won 20 seats. With the necessity for a coalition in the proportional parliamentary system, Wilders’ policies are not going to be enacted; yet the PVV did gain five seats and Wilders has pledged that the Dutch Prime Minister has not seen the last of him.

Many have heralded Wilders’ loss as an optimistic defeat for the populist movements. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany commented, “I was very glad, and I think many people are, that a high turnout led to a very pro-European result,” while European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker claimed that the Dutch people voted for “free and tolerant societies in a prosperous Europe.” However, Mabel Berezin, a professor at Cornell University, diminished this victory: “Wilders does not represent a populist wave… how his party fares does not tell us much about European populism. The real bellwether election will be Marine Le Pen’s quest for the French presidency, starting April 23.” While Wilders’ defeat halts the pattern of populist victories in Britain and the United States, it does not ensure the subsequent defeat of other parties in the upcoming elections.

What’s Next: France and Germany

Marine Le Pen, 2017 candidate for the populist National Front in France, has stated: “I think the British, with the Brexit, then the Americans, with the election of Donald Trump, did that,” she tells TIME. “They made possible the impossible.” After Wilders’ defeat, one is left asking whether the rest of Europe will follow the Dutch or the British. Since each populist movement is decidedly nationalistic, this very much may depend on the country and the fervor of its individual nationalist tendencies.

Marine Le Pen is France’s populist candidate, and as of March 1st, was winning by several percentage points in opinion polls. She is challenged by center-right candidate Francois Fillon and centrist Emmanuel Macron; incumbent Francois Hollande has declined to run for another term. Le Pen’s platform includes a dramatic slash in legal immigration quotas from 200,000 to 10,000, as well as independence from the European Union (including the Schengen Treaty), mass-rearmament in military and police forces, and a ban on fundamentalist Islamic groups. France is an important player in the European Union as one of the more economically prosperous regions; however, it has also been the site of several serious terrorist attacks credited to ISIS, which has motivated much anti-immigration and anti-Muslim sentiment. For France, then, Le Pen may have a serious chance at victory.

Germany, the other major upcoming election in 2017, has a much less strong populist movement, but recent developments in Europe could signal policy changes within the major centrist parties that are more in line with other nations’ nationalist views. Incumbent Chancellor Angela Merkel will re-run with the Christian Democratic Party, and is expected to maintain the majority in September, although she is predicted to revise her ‘open door’ immigration policy soon. 42% of Germans want a referendum on E.U. membership. Germany’s far right party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) Party has struggled to maintain early support after their leader, Björn Höcke, implied that the Berlin Holocaust memorial was a “monument of shame.” This perhaps highlights the nuanced differences between nationalism in other nations such as France and Germany: for Germany, a nostalgic view of right wing nationalist pride cannot help but to evoke the painful history of Nazism – a past that Germany does not want to repeat. Although many in Germany may pressure Merkel and the other center and left-of-center candidates to crack down on immigration issues, it seems unlikely that a nationalist populist party will spring forward in the upcoming Germany election.

Regarding the 2015 referendum for Scottish independence, David Cameron remarked: “We’ve heard the noise of the nationalist few, but now it is time for the voices of the silent majority to be heard.” This “silent majority” of moderates may or may not exist – and it may exist in different numbers depending on the country – but they are the focus of speculation in the lead-up to this year’s elections, particularly in France and Germany. The populist movements are the media’s top stories, perhaps hiding a group of moderate voters who will make their voices heard come Election Day.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the rise of populist parties in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Netherlands and many more nations (such as Italy and Hungary, which are outside the scope of this paper), have threatened to drastically alter the European political landscape as they campaign on nationalistic and anti-immigration platforms. The European Union itself may be called into question as one or more of these nations vote to leave, thus making the Union less and less effective: it is a system that relies on unified cooperation in order to thrive. Additionally, the early policies of Trump administration, and the international evaluation of its success in the coming months, may also affect the outcomes of these various elections. Although the populist movements have very similar policies, their nationalist element – which, by definition is unique to each nation – makes the future of each European election difficult to predict and almost impossible to compare. We must wait to see whether Cameron’s “silent moderate majority” will make its voice heard – if it is even a majority at all.

References

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[ix] Shuster, Simon. “The Populists: Europe’s Populist Revolt.” Time. Accessed March 19, 2017. http://time.com/time-person-of-the-year-populism/.

[x] Wilson, Sam. “Britain and the EU: A Long and Rocky Relationship.” BBC News. Last modified April 1, 2014. Accessed March 19, 2017. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-26515129.

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[xiii] Holligan, Anna. “Dutch Election: Voters Return a New Reality.” BBC. Last modified March 16, 2017. Accessed March 19, 2017. http://www.bbc.com/news/topics/ 4e793c8f-8927-4e00-a7e5-3bed964303d3/dutch-general-election-2017&link_location=live-reporting-story.

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[xx] Shuster, Simon. “The Populists: Europe’s Populist Revolt.” Time. Accessed March 19, 2017. http://time.com/time-person-of-the-year-populism/.

[xxi] Kroet, Cynthia. “German Far-Right AfD Slumps in New Poll.” Politico. Last modified February 22, 2017. Accessed March 19, 2017. http://www.politico.eu/article/german-far-right-afd-slumps-in-new-elections-poll-merkel-leads/.

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Celebrating 150 Years of Canada

One staff writer reflects on Canada’s history during Canada Day festivities 

By Javan Latson

July 1st marked a very important milestone in Canadian history, the 150th anniversary of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Canada becoming a confederation. Every year, millions of Canadians gather in towns and cities to celebrate this anniversary, now commonly called Canada Day. The signing of the North America Act in 1867 put the then British colony on the path to becoming the prosperous nation that it is today. This piece of legislation not only created Canada as a nation, but also gave Canadians greater control over their internal affairs, although it was not until 1982 that Canada became fully independent from England.

Although a relatively young nation, a lot of change has happened in Canada in the past century and a half. Once a colony, Canada is now one of the world’s most successful countries and is ranked 10th on the United Nation’s Human Development Index. Thousands of brave Canadians fought and died alongside American soldiers in the First and Second World Wars, playing their part to help combat fascism and totalitarianism. When the world was anticipating a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union, Canada was one of the founding members of NATO in order to preserve peace. As nations around the globe descended into civil war and anarchy, the Canadian Government ended nearly a century of racially discriminatory entrance requirements with the passage of the Immigration Act in 1976. Ending years of quotas and exclusionary policies, this law opened the gate for non-Western Europeans to enter the country. Hungarians fleeing communism, Iranians escaping the Ayatollah, and Chileans seeking freedom from Pinochet found refuge on Canadian soil. The Immigration Act and the subsequent revisions have helped the lives of thousands and have transformed Canadian society into the diverse and pluralistic country that exists today.

This is not to say that the nation has been without problems. Canada’s history with its indigenous population is shameful and the relationship between the government and the First Nations is still rocky. A legacy of discrimination, land theft, and boarding schools has caused many aboriginals to associate Canada Day with white supremacy and injustice. Things have been only slightly better with the French population over the issue of sovereignty and the place of the French language in society. During the 1970s, things had gotten so bad that Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau had to enact martial law in Quebec following the murder of a government official by Quebecois separatists. Today, there is less unrest, and with the passage of the Multicultural Act of 1971, the Canadian government has officially recognized French as one of its two official languages.

I had the privilege to witness the Canada Day celebrations this year in the Canadian capital of Ottawa during a mission trip with friends it was truly remarkable. It was a vibrant display of the history and culture of the young nation, with the pomp of a formal event. Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, were there, along with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to celebrate the occasion. Millions of people descended upon Parliament hill to hear speeches, eat food, and enjoy live performances from U2, Alessia Cara, and Ruth B. While there I asked friends two questions: What does it mean to be a Canadian, and what makes Canada great?

I was told that to be a Canadian means, “being one in diversity in a land of diversity” while another told me being Canadian is “being a friendly citizen who is respectful of differences others might have.” In a time when nations are more divided more than ever, the common theme that I noticed in my conversations and in the festivities, was the importance of community. Whether someone is West Indian, Sikh, Quebecois, English, or Inuit, they are all Canadian and that diversity is something that many people take pride in. Although not without its problems, Canada shows that successful and diverse societies are possible if people have respect for one another. One of my friends told me that Canada is often referred to as a, “tossed salad” and this is an accurate statement. For my second question, the responses were more varied with some saying free universal healthcare, low crime rates, and beautiful landscapes are what make the country great. However, there was one person whose answer really stood out. She told me that she loved Canada’s “humble attitude” and the “friendly smiles and welcomes you’ll get from our fellow Canadians, and that Canada will be sure to make you feel at home.”

What makes Canada stand out as a nation? Is it its wealth, the Charter of Rights of Freedoms, poutine, or free healthcare? Yes all of these things are key things that many Canadians love and enjoy. However after 150 years the one thing that truly makes Canada great is the people whose efforts have helped build a successful and vibrant society.

Shifting Sands of Global Leadership

By Dustin Cai

Originally published in the Spring 2017 Print Issue

The United States has been in the forefront of international politics and leadership for more than half of a century and this position was only strengthened in the post-Cold War era. America has risen as a global leader through economical, political, and strategic success, gaining support and allies from all across the world. In the past seven decades, the U.S. has played an integral role in building and reinforcing Asian economic stability, campaigning for human rights around the world, pledging economic support for allies in Europe, and fostering peace in the Americas. Although this leadership has not drawn all positive responses, including comments on the U.S. acting more as a “world policeman” than a leader, the U.S. has been at the center of much of the international progress over the past several decades due to the values held by American leaders that global leadership and responsibilities were important to the U.S. The United States is one of the most respected nations in the world, and was recognized as the strongest through decades of international initiatives; however, this position has been threatened as a result of leadership and policy changes under the new President, Donald Trump.

One of Trump’s earliest and most prominent platforms since his election has been the “America First” agenda, which plans to change the focus of U.S. actions and prioritize the U.S.’s interests, goals, and citizens over the rest those of the rest of the world. This represents a stark contrast to the goals of previous U.S. presidents and reflects an isolationist sentiment that has not had such widespread support since pre-WWII cries of neutrality.

While the goal of this “America First” agenda may be to take care of its citizens and its nation first and foremost, it may have significant unintended consequences. Primarily, it reduces the legitimacy of a U.S. international leadership and global hegemony. The United States’ friendship with Russia and antagonistic relationship with NATO may cause many of its allies in Europe to find alternative security measures separate from the U.S. Losing European military allies would be severely detrimental to the U.S.’ strategic deployment overseas, as the U.S. has vital military bases in many European countries, which give the U.S. the important ability to deploy and mobilize quickly to respond to international situations and conflicts. Not only are European allies essential for U.S. strategic interests, but having major military allies in European countries allow for their military forces to share the burden of missions through a multilateral approach.

Rather than joining international initiatives because it might provide a benefit to other countries, the U.S. is taking a selfish approach to global affairs. Although the cost and risk of international leadership may be mitigated through and isolationist foreign policy approach, it hinders the United States legitimacy as a global superpower. For example, a majority of the American defense budget goes towards funding and supporting other parts of the world, including efforts in global counter-terrorism, training other military forces, and peacekeeping missions. The respect other nations have for the US is founded on its global leadership role, as creating a stable, international order through leadership initiatives led to “thriving international trade; the spread of democracy; and the avoidance of major conflict among greater powers.” Trump’s policy of “America First” was crafted to contain U.S. prosperity within its borders, but much of the prosperity America has seen since the Cold War and even WWII has been because of the global hegemony created by American international leadership. By reverting back to an isolationist stance, the US will find it even more difficult to win international allies, keep its military hegemony, and push a global agenda.

So if America steps away from its international leadership position, what’s next for global power?

President Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. away from a global stage has the potential to cause major international changes. First, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a military alliance formed after WWII to promote security and stability around the world, may lose a lot of operating power. Recently, President Trump denounced America’s relationship with NATO by calling the alliance “obsolete,” which reportedly led to “astonishment and agitation” within the alliance. The NATO alliance includes many significant alliances that the U.S. has, including the UK, France, and Germany. Maintaining a strong relationship with NATO gives the U.S. access to international airspace, the building of defense military bases overseas, and the ability to call on allies for international support in case of emergency or conflict. By threatening the relationship between NATO and the United States, President Trump may cause significant repercussions to U.S. global hegemony and support from European allies as they begin to look elsewhere.

Second, major international aid programs and initiatives may begin to fail due to lack of funding, creating greater instability in the most volatile regions of the world. Trump argues that the U.S. is “giving [prosperity] away” and he plans to reduce spending on global programs by a large margin. Programs such as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which has been around since WWII, are under threat as their budgets may be cut in the aftermath of Trump’s “America First” agenda. Currently, there is a budget of around $34 billion dedicated to international assistance. If the budget were to be cut and major programs ended as a result, Roger Thurow, senior fellow on the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, says it would be “catastrophic,” and that others would see it as “a withdraw or retreat of U.S. leadership.”

Although Trump has flip-flopped on his position to support or defund international aid, recent support of the “America First” proposal may point to Trump defunding aid programs. Highly volatile regions of the world, including countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Belize, Korea, Burundi, and Egypt, rely on US funding to support humanitarian campaigns, security measures, and regional stability.In addition, programs that help spread democracy around the world would be in danger if President Trump withdraws foreign aid. Withdrawing much needed international assistance that specifically helps the most volatile regions of the world would certainly not bode well for the U.S.’ image as a world leader or lessen the impact of statements from nations that are already calling the United States out on humanitarian issues.

Finally, the U.S. stepping down from its international leadership position will create an extended period of global uncertainty. Major allies in Europe and Asia may turn to other nations for leadership and partnership or look to stay within their borders as well; countries in need of aid will be severely harmed and look to other means to get aid; and a power vacuum will emerge at the global stage for someone else to step up as the major superpower. Countries like China, Russia, and Germany would be ready to overtake the U.S. as the global superpower and dominate in diplomacy, economic gains, and military alliances. Chinese diplomats have already responded to Trump’s “America First” agenda by saying “if China is required to play that leadership role then China will assume its responsibilities.” Even though China, according to director general Zhang Jun, does not want the global leadership position, they suspect America will leave that role open due to its withdrawal on the global stage, allowing another nation to take its place. China is increasingly becoming the dominate world economic power and threatens to overtake the U.S. in economic output in the near future. In addition, China has made significant investments in Africa and South America, regions of the world the U.S. would have had more influence in if not for Trump’s “America First” agenda, and has cultivated significant relationships in the developing world

Another prime contender for global leadership is Russia. Vladimir Putin, president of Russia, continues to make power grabs, such as Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Moreover, Russia continues to make moves in Syria by directing and controlling peace talks between rebel groups and the Syrian government, strengthening Russia’s position in the Middle East. Recent discussions around Russian involvement in the U.S. presidential election also do not help America’s image in the world.

A third player set to steal the show is Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel has been critical of President Trump from the start of his election campaign, specifically regarding Trump’s immigration policy and his distaste of NATO. While Trump has closed the U.S.’s borders to Muslim countries, Merkel remains on the moral high ground with Germany’s open border stance to refugees, ramping up Germany’s reputation in the world. If Trump continues to deteriorate the U.S. relationship with NATO, Germany would be set to become a more significant leader throughout Western Europe, drawing further support of major European allies. Aligned with China and Russia, Germany has also experienced a period of significant economic growth, allowing Germany to be seen as a greater international leader. As President Trump deliberately diminishes America’s role in world leadership, other countries are primed and ready to take center stage, with some countries, like Russia, more ready than ever.

President Trump’s agenda of “America First” really does represent a significant shift in global trends and leadership. Following a prolonged period of American hegemony, growth, prosperity, and diplomacy, new developments in Trump’s plan for America may change that. International security in the form of NATO may face significant changes, for better or for worse, and may even dissolve in the future as the main source of funding pulls out. The uncertainty associated with America’s actions may lead European and Asian allies to look elsewhere or adopt isolationist policies as Britain has already done. In addition, developing countries may face a significant blow to their growth as they lose foreign aid from the U.S. Aid that has fostered peace and stability in South America, Africa, Asia, and Europe may no longer exist under an “America First” agenda, causing these volatile regions to either look to other countries for help or turn to other means of action, including violence. Finally, a loss of American leadership will allow other countries to step up and create their own period of hegemony. Countries such as China, Russia, and Germany are all ready and able to replace the United States in a new era of global leadership. China, Russia, and Germany have made significant strides in the recent years on a domestic and international stage, giving them the opportunity to quickly overtake America if the U.S. chooses to halt its international plans.

In order for America to retain its prosperity and international hegemony, America should not look to isolationism. In the increasingly connected world, it becomes imperative that countries remain open to collaboration. Turning inward will not produce the economic, military, and strategic gains that Trump hopes to achieve; rather, active participation on a global scale will maintain and build upon America’s existing strength and will also serve as a benefit to countries world wide, from the developing countries that rely on international aid, to major countries that enjoy alliances with the United States. Otherwise, the stage will be set for other countries to take on the role of global leader and assume the title as the global superpower.

References

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