The Election and Russian-American Relations

By Jackie Olson

When America elected a new president on November 8th, we were not only choosing the next president, but also deciding a business deal, one that even state officials in Moscow would have a hard time making. While unable to change Putin (he is here to stay) America did, in some ways, decide if she wants to see a newly-constructed Trump Tower on a street in Moscow, along with a new style of Russian-American relations.

Since the 1980s, Trump has made numerous business deals and created financial ties to Russia. In addition, Trump wants to build a Trump Tower in Russia’s capital, but he has been snubbed at each turn. His latest attempt, during the Moscow-hosted Miss Universe Pageant in 2013, left him close to a deal with Aras Agalarov, a friend of Putin often dubbed Russian-‘Trump’, but it was halted. This close success also coincided with a failed invitation to Putin to attend the pageant. While ultimately unsuccessful from a business and political perspective, the event seems to have heavily influenced Trump’s favorable opinion of Putin’s Russia, despite growing criticism from the US government.

Though Trump was not important to him prior to the election, his clear desire for business ties and willingness to respect Putin makes Trump by far the better candidate, in the eyes of Russia, for President of the United States. Hillary Clinton, by contrast, is a threat. She is an outspoken woman who takes a strong liberal-democratic stance on foreign affairs and was not going to revoke her talks of a “no-fly” zone over Syria anytime soon, let alone formally recognize Crimea as a part of Russia, something that Trump has supported several times this fall.

In 2011, Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State at the time, was blamed riots in Moscow, when people took to the streets in near-zero temperatures to protest the supposed ‘rigged’ re-re-election of Putin. Putin lamented Clinton’s interventionist messages, especially when she proclaimed, “the Russian people, like people everywhere, deserve free, fair, transparent elections.” Putin since then has made it his goal to openly condemn Clinton, the results of which have been seen this election season. Russian media has portrayed Clinton in a negative manner by continuously playing footage of her coughing on state television and reminding Russians of her botched “reset” attempt of relations in 2009, yet the fact that Trump has a 28% higher approval rating than Clinton in Russia does not mean much to any legitimate poll, Russia did not elect our president.

Regardless of America’s choice in candidates, nothing will change. America has put so much emphasis on the Putin state, that Russia is becoming a relic of the past, a trigger word for individuals born in the 1970s-1980s who only know of it as the Federation presided over by Yeltsin. Even Hillary Clinton has separated “Putin” from “Russia,” declaring in 2015 that the U.S. “needs a concerted effort to really up the costs on Russia and in particular Putin.”

American policy has increasingly isolated Russian policy from Putin’s policy, which is entirely problematic for the mentality in solving overseas tensions. Indeed while Putin has turned relations sour, even this year, Russia itself pulled out of the Plutonium Disposition Agreement and did not participate in President Obama’s Nuclear Security Summit talks. Yet if America stops focusing on Putin’s physical appearance, such as his infamous shirtless photos, and his banter about the American election, and considers the true Russian state, it would be beneficial to not only our understanding of their increasingly aggressive foreign policy, but the faults within Russia’s domestic conditions.  

Since 2014, Russia has been facing a harsh recession from the fall in the price of oil and from economic sanctions. The economy has not grown for six straight quarters and real wages have dropped by 10%. While minimum wage has increased by 20% and Putin cut his own salary by 10%, the IMF projects the Russian economy will shrink by another 1.2% by the end of this year before a projected growth period.

During this predicted growth period, America should be fully ready to grasp and acknowledge the threat Russian corporations, not Putin, will serve to the United States security. For example, 2013, Rosatom, a Russian corporation, took over Uranium One Inc., a corporation in Canada, giving them direct control of 20% of all American uranium. Ironically, investigations found that from 2006-2011 over 40 million dollars from U1 advisors and associates was donated to the Clinton Foundation, a potential cause for concern as Clinton was Secretary of State at the time of the deal. Yet while Clinton did not become the president-elect, Russian corporations such as aggressive Rosatom, a state-run “non-profit”  business out of Moscow will be more than eager to use the cover of  ‘friendly’ Putin-Trump relations to garner a larger acquisition of natural resources, indirectly making the U.S. weaker as an international force.

Yet, our obsession with Putin and consequently his banter with Trump, is just a distraction from the real issue; Russia is going to rebound and with that in need of natural resources to grow its previously stagnating economy. The U.S. needs to realize that Russia is not just Putin and the threat is truly derived from economics. The more willing the U.S. is in understanding the country’s issues than the man in power, the better the country will be in tackling her ultimate foe, one that has arguably been brought down before through economics.

Russia on the Rise

By Javan Latson

The world was shocked on Christmas of 1991, as the hammer and sickle was lowered for the last time in the Kremlin. After a series of relatively peaceful events throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the Soviet Union collapsed. The U.S. and other nations were optimistic and eager to help the new Russian Federation, under the leadership of Boris Yeltsin. Russia could finally be integrated into the world system. The Cold War was over, or so we thought.

Twenty-five years later, the world is watching as Russia, under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin and various oligarchs, is morphing into a rogue nation whose actions need to be addressed. It’s time to treat Russia as an international pariah, the same as Gaddafi’s Libya, Iran, and North Korea, for their reckless actions and constant violations of international norms and laws.

Cybersecurity is one of the most pressing issues in our society, and many critical industries are vulnerable to the threat of a cyber-attack. Russia is a major cyber power and has invested a lot of money into computer science and cyber technology R&D, which can be seen in the level of sophistication and inventiveness their hackers display. The Russian government also has utilized and contracted hackers for operations, and turned the blind eye to criminals as long as their attacks serve national interests. These attacks cause billions of dollars worth of damage as seen in a 2007 attack on Estonia, and attacks on major financial companies such as JPMorgan Chase & Co.  The most recent allegation of Russian hacking involves the leakage of emails from the DNC, which has caused speculation that the Kremlin is trying to manipulate the U.S. presidential election. This willingness to conduct espionage and attack critical infrastructure, combined with their technological capabilities, makes Russia a major threat to our allies and us.

Another area of concern is Russia’s constant violation of international law/norms. Putin is taking desperate measures to gain global influence, especially in former Soviet states. Russia treats these countries as client states and uses them as a buffer against NATO.  The Kremlin has used harsh tactics to maintain regional supremacy and to prevent neighboring countries from adopting pro-Western positions. These measures have included cutting gas exports, embargoes, and fueling internal conflicts. The most blatant disregard of international standards can be seen in the 2008 invasion of Georgia following a bid for a NATO membership action plan, and the 2014 annexation of Crimea after Ukraine’s pro-Russian president was deposed. All of these actions, including the reckless bombing campaign in Syria and the arming of pro-Russian separatists in the Ukraine, have done nothing but destabilize those regions.  

Tough action against Russia will help drive reforms and prevent future escalated confrontation. Sanctions against Iran crippled their oil industry and greatly damaged their economy, which subsequently increased American negotiating power. Likewise, tough sanctions against Libya pressured the government into making reforms. In the case of Russia, military action would be foolish due to their large army and nuclear stockpile. Russia isn’t Iraq or Panama, and cannot be forcibly coerced. Hurting their wallets, and Putin’s in particular would have the effect of causing them to reevaluate their current policies, especially if the people of Russia are negatively affected by the consequences of their decisions. Putting pressure on the Russians this way could change popular opinion, and the prospect of financial ruin could cause the ruling party to change their policies.

Some don’t believe Russia is a threat to the U.S., and think it’s simply a regional power. This is partially true because it is not as powerful as the Soviet Union was – it is no longer a state that possesses equal parity with the U.S. The decision for the various Soviet Republics to leave hurt because Russia lost significant amounts of territory, access to natural resources, and control of warm water ports. Today, Russia’s global influence comes through membership in the G8 and UNSC. Russia also possesses a nuclear arsenal, strong military, and advanced cyber capabilities which make them a force to be reckoned with. Another argument against taking a stronger stance against Russian aggression is that we should let Putin continue his expansionist policies because eventually, they will cause his end. This sounds logical because over-expansion and financial problems lead to the USSR’s dissolution. However, Russia’s centralized government keeps Putin and his cronies in power, and there isn’t a strong multi-party political system capable of making a significant change in domestic policies. The Russian Federation is no longer a brutal dictatorship like in the days of Stalin, but it’s definitely not a democracy. Also, his approval ratings are currently very high which means that there may not be a change in regime anytime soon. Lastly, the rising price of oil along with growing partnerships with China, Iran, and other Eurasian states may help bolster the economy, but military endeavors in Syria and Ukraine may negate that gain. Stronger sanctions against state-owned energy companies could have a positive impact, as could boycotting the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup, declaring Russia a state sponsor of terror for supporting separatists in Ukraine, and placing a travel ban on chief Russian leaders. These actions could send the necessary message that such behavior from the Russian Federation will not be tolerated and that changes need to be made.  Russia’s actions must be addressed, and how our nation responds to this behavior will be an important aspect of foreign policy for the next presidential administration.

Brexit: What happens now?

By Bella Jones and Gabrielle Timm

On June 23rd, Britain held a historic referendum to decide whether to remain in the European Union and 52% of the British public decided to leave the European Union (EU). This significant and surprising decision produces many questions as to the future of the global economy in terms of not only the United Kingdom (UK), but the EU, and there are no clear answers for anything yet.

 

BACKGROUND: BRITAIN’S HISTORY WITH THE EU AND THE RECENT DILEMMA

The EU traces its roots to the aftermath of World War Two, with the idea that increased trade and cooperation would decrease the likelihood of nations going to war with each other. The European Coal and Steel Community was the first step, with six countries deciding to form a common market for coal and steel. This was followed by the formation of the European Economic Community (EEC), which was built on the idea of a common market and a customs union between the same six countries. While Britain was not one of these initial countries involved in building the foundation of what would become the EU, it was a part of the first wave of expansion of the EEC in 1973. Though Britain joined in 1973, the matter was submitted to public vote in 1975. At that time, Britain decided to join the rest of Europe with a resounding 67% in favor of EEC membership. However, several key factors were different at that time . The EEC was a much smaller and less bureaucratic organization than the current EU.  In the 1970s, Britain was economically weaker in comparison to other European countries, while today it is doing relatively well in comparison to other EU countries.

This context brings us to the recent debate over Britain’s participation in the EU. Those against Britain’s departure from the EU, the Remainers, argued that EU membership made trade with other EU members easier, benefitting the British economy. Furthermore, the influx of immigrants benefits the economy, as they are mostly young, looking for work, and help pay for public services. Finally, they argue that Britain will have more influence on the international stage as a member of a larger group than the country would as an individual actor. Those in favor Britain leaving the EU, the Leavers, argued that the EU imposes too many restrictions on businesses and that membership fees are large in comparison for what Britain gets in return. They also argue that Britain has lost control of its borders and want to reduce influx of immigrants, who they say are a threat to security and are straining public services. Finally, they argue that increasing size of the EU has diminished Britain’s voice in the discussion of international affairs, as well as its sovereignty.

 

WHAT HAPPENS NOW

In the short term, this will negatively affect the global economy. The value British pound plummeted by about 8 or 9%; it is currently at its lowest point in three decades. Though Britain never used the Euro,  the multinational currency has been affected as well with its value dropping about 3%. Stock markets around the world are also declining as a result, as investors shy away from uncertainty. Markets in Spain, Italy, France, Germany, and Japan have experienced the most serious turmoil in the day after the vote, with percentage point declines ranging from -13% percent to -7%.

However, Britain’s departure from the EU will not happen overnight as they begin to negotiate their exit from the EU, making long term tracking a bit murkier. David Cameron, the Prime Minister of England, who resigned this morning, had promised before the referendum that Britain would immediately invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty should Britain chose to leave the EU. This Article sets a two year timetable for negotiations of departure, which will be agreed upon by the other 27 countries in the EU without a British vote. However, due to Cameron’s resignation, Britain will likely wait to invoke this article, moving for informal negotiations with the EU before setting this specific time frame.

As for immigration, which was a major debate topic prior to the referendum, there is the question of how much immigration policy will actually change, and much of that has to do with how Britain negotiates its exit and future relationship with the EU. One possibility could be that Britain becomes a part of the European Economic Area (EEA), like Norway. However, in this scenario, along with contributing to the EU’s budget Britain would still be required to allow the free movement of people. The other possibility would be to opt out entirely and trade with the EU under the rules of the World Trade Organization, which would not benefit Britain’s economy. A third option would be negotiating an entirely new deal, of course, but that would take time. The EU’s trade agreement with Canada took 7 years and it still isn’t ratified. Britain faces a situation of extended political gridlock while dealing with economic downturns all the while.

In addition to new challenges with its external relationships, the UK faces internal political turmoil as well. In response to the British referendum results, leaders in Scotland and Northern Ireland have made calls to leave the UK. If you break down the numbers by region, 62% of the Scots and 55.7% of the Northern Irish voted to remain. Today, Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, reaffirmed earlier comments, saying that it was “highly likely” that Scotland would call for another vote on independence from the UK. In 2014, the Scottish referendum for independence failed, with 55% of the population voting against leaving the UK.  For Northern Ireland, it will have the only border in the UK that touches the EU after the split. Currently, the free movement of people along that border is dictated by the Common Travel Area, which predates the EU, but there are questions of whether that will be able to continue without the agreement of other EU countries. Additionally, because the EU provides Northern Ireland with a great deal of financial support, Northern Ireland may face serious economic problems as a result of the departure. The vote has reignited anti-unification sentiments in both regions and may be a sign of internal political turmoil for the UK in the coming months.

In turn, this will also affect the internal politics of the EU in several ways. Britain is a large trading partner for a number of EU countries, notably Ireland, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. These countries will likely experience some economic pains. France and Germany are also large trading partners, but can weather the shock better. For Luxembourg, France, and Germany, the potential relocation of some financial institutions could potentially benefit their economies. However, where the Brexit could hurt the EU the most is politically. Strong Eurosceptic voices, which have been growing in recent years, will be emboldened by Britain’s departure from the EU. Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands have the strongest Eurosceptic voices, with several right-wing parties now calling for referendums of their own. France’s resurging Eurosceptic voices will also receive a boost.

This unprecedented decision has brought with it many political and economic questions that will cause chaos for both Britain and the EU. For Britain, it will be a question of how it will now relate to Europe. For the EU, political unity and economic relationships will be affected by this departure. Only time will tell whether the long term effects of the Brexit will be worth the current turmoil for Britain and how successfully the EU will be able to respond to losing its first member.

From Russia with Love: Putin’s Involvement with Organized Crime

 

By Sarah Taylor

 

The Russian government has had a long relationship with organized crime and is deeply embedded in revenge killings. These actions have specifically revolved around the KGB, Russias secret service organization primed to target those who speak against the government or country. A recent investigation by British officials into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, a KGB defector who died of a mysterious poisoning incident, has unearthed the revelation that the Russian government, specifically Vladimir Putin, has had a strong role in organized crime and assassinating foreign dissidents.

Vladimir Putin has had a long-standing love affair with organized crime and suspicious activities. He was a KGB agent himself before being promoted to head of the organization in 1998 by the sitting president of Russia, Boris Yeltsin. It was later revealed that his PhD dissertation in strategic planning was plagiarized from a KGB translation of a U.S. professors work. In light of this, he was still promoted to run the KGB, suggesting that he was not being promoted solely based on his work or merit. There is also evidence suggesting that Putin was involved in the murder of the Russian Attorney General who was investigating corruption in the Kremlin at the time. Four months later, he was named Prime Minister of Russia. There was much speculation over the bizarre, spontaneous promotionsthat resulted in Putin being named prime minister. In August of 1999, Putins first major action as Prime Minister was to order a carpet bombing of Chechnya and invade the country in a ploy to resurge the Russian military. The Chechen war brought into question many human rights violations by Russia against Chechnya. Following this, opposition journalists started being blatantly assassinated for reporting the conditions in Chechnya. In 2004, Viktor Yushchenko, an anti-Russian candidate for Ukraine president was poisoned by Dioxin, a chemical weapon used by the Soviets in Afghanistan. Putins history with organized crime is embedded with mysterious episodes of his enemies being mysteriously disposed of by criminals.

Alexander Litvinenko was a KGB agent before he was dismissed for making accusations of illegal Kremlin activity in 1998. He then went on to write a book titled Blowing Up Russia, in which he accused the Kremlin of masterminding apartment bombings in 1999 that were blamed on Chechen terrorists to gain support for the war against Chechnya. In 2003, 3 years before Litvinenko was poisoned, Sergei Yushenkov was gunned down for investigating Putins KGB involvement in planting the bombs in the apartments. On November 1, 2006, Litvinenko became suddenly sick and subsequently died on November 23, 2006, from an illness his doctors were unable to diagnose. Recent advances in technology led to British officials to recently declare that Litvinenko died of polonium-210 traces in his tea. Earlier in the day on November 1, Litvinenko sat down to have tea with two KGB agents, Lugovoi and Kovtun, at the Pine Bar in the Millennium Hotel in London. Later investigations have proved that there were traces of polonium-210 in the drainpipes of the Millennium Hotel. British investigators have claimed that Putin ordered the two agents to poison Litvinenko, leading to his death. Most of the evidence that has been collected on Litvinenkos death is strong, but does not prove a connection with the top Russian leadership. That said, their actions surrounding the death is more than suspicious.

Russia has refused to grant Britain the extradition of KGB agents Lugovoi and Kovtun in the murder of Litvinenko. The two agents have instead been granted immunity and a medal from Putin himself. There have been questions about the implications of the investigation into Putins involvement in the murder harming Britains relationship with Russia. The information has had no effect on the Russian publicmost of the citizens have a deep distrust of the West. Putins involvement in Litvinenkos death is a likely conclusion when considering the personal dimension Litvinenkos work has for Putin, which included denunciations of his leadership and even accusations of pedophilia.

The KGB’s killing of Litvinenko is significant for multiple reasons. First, it proves that Russia is willing to go to extraordinary lengths to silence “loose ends”, even those under the protection and on the soil of foreign governments. Second, Litvinenko made serious allegations of Putin’s connections to organized crime. While those accusations could be blown off as conspiracy theories from a disaffected exile, his death gives them merit: clearly, the Kremlin, or at least a higher official inside the KGB, viewed him as a serious threat. The question remains as to whether what Litvienko said was true, but based on the retaliation he received, the world would benefit from remaining watchful of Russia’s overseas activities, and from an EU investigation into the Kremlin’s vast connections with organized crime.

Britain’s EU Negotiations

By Daria Berstell

The United Kingdom’s future membership in the European Union has, in recent years, come into question, with “Brexit” – Britain leaving the EU, becoming increasingly probable. In 2013, in a bid to appease the Euro-skeptics in the UK, David Cameron, Britain’s Conservative Prime Minister, promised that if his party was reelected, he would renegotiate the terms of the UK’s membership in the EU and hold a referendum regarding the UK’s continued membership in the EU by 2018. The referendum is expected to be held in June or July of 2017 assuming a deal is reached by the EU Summit in February 2017. Since the Tory’s reelection in 2015, Cameron has been working to renegotiate the terms of the United Kingdom’s membership in the EU. Cameron laid out his main objectives in a letter to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council in November of 2015. Cameron’s main objectives in his negotiations are protecting the single market, competitiveness, immigration, and sovereignty.

Regarding economic governance Cameron is lobbying for recognition of multiple currencies within the European Union in an effort to safeguard the UK’s use of the pound, to protect the single market, and to prevent the UK from being forced to use the euro or assist in bailing out eurozone countries. Cameron also hopes to increase competitiveness by reducing excessive regulations. In addition, in response to the high levels of immigration that Britain experiences as well as the recent rise in refugees seeking asylum in Europe, Cameron hopes to restrict welfare payments to EU migrants until those individuals have been a UK resident for at least four years. Finally, Cameron is also negotiating to allow Britain to be exempt from forming an “ever closer union” with the rest of Europe, in a bid to resist further political integration, opting out of one of the founding goals of the European Union.

Cameron’s negotiations to reduce regulations on the UK come on the heels of the Conservatives lobbying to free businesses from interference and to remove trade barriers on the service and digital sectors. The Tory’s goals are the creation of a true single market, however, one with protections for the City of London, the UK’s trading and financial industries. While Cameron’s goals include limiting welfare payments to workers who have recently arrived in the UK, he and his party do support the enlargement of the European Union, as long as there are restrictions in place to prevent unlimited travel within Europe. The overarching goal of Cameron’s EU negotiations is to reclaim some of the power that the EU has over UK law. Cameron’s party is also planning to attempt to repeal the Human Rights Act which requires the UK to use the European Court of Human Rights as legal precedent rather than the British Bill of Rights. Cameron has stated that if necessary he would support a law to assert the power of the UK Parliament over that of the EU. The overall angle of the reforms involves divesting power away from Brussels and back to London.

Cameron’s negotiations to prevent recent migrants to the UK from receiving welfare payments and social support is mostly aimed at decreasing the amount of EU nationals who move to the UK seeking work. In addition to delaying benefits for recent migrants, Cameron is also lobbying to restrict migrants from receiving child benefits for dependents who do not reside in the UK, removing individuals from the UK if they have not found work within six months, speeding up deportation of criminals, and restricting entry for citizens from newly joined EU countries for a period. These restrictions all affect freedom of movement within the EU, one of the founding principles of the EU. The changes the Prime Minister is seeking, if they succeed, would dramatically change the EU’s principles.

Freedom of movement also plays a key role in how the EU is meant to work as a single market. Freedom of movement is enshrined in EU treaties, however, with recent influxes of migrants to the UK, both from Eastern European countries as well as due to the Syrian civil war, the Tories are looking for ways to bypass the basic freedom of movement within the EU while still holding back welfare payments from recent migrants. This issue has received pushback from some EU leaders and nations such as Hungary and Poland who see those changes as discriminatory towards their nationals, many of whom migrate to the UK for work. While David Cameron is working to negotiate a new deal for the UK within the EU, some members of his party want more aggressive changes; such as allowing the UK to “opt-out” of some EU laws or simply for the UK to leave the EU entirely, no matter what the results of Cameron’s negotiations. With such massive pressures, securing greater freedom within the EU is one of the few compromises the Tories can offer to placate Euro-skeptic parts of the country.

On February 2nd, Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, circulated a letter to the 28 EU member states regarding his proposal for a new settlement for the UK. This new deal falls short of the “fundamental reform” that Cameron originally promised his party he would accomplish. The four year freeze on benefits to new migrants has now become a four year phased introduction of benefits. The emphasis has moved to the phased in benefits rather than the curbing of migration that Cameron had originally promised his party’s MPs. Cameron will have to continue to fight for concessions ahead of the summit in February if he is to maintain the support of the many Euro-skeptics in his party.
For Cameron to secure the deal ahead of the EU summit in February, he will have to convince the countries of Eastern Europe to agree to the deal, and he must also convince his own party that his deal is a true victory for Britain. For many leaders in Eastern Europe, Cameron’s proposals, which would severely limit benefits available to recent migrants to the UK, are seen as a direct attack on their nation’s nationals, especially in countries such as Hungary and Poland. Several days after Cameron’s proposals were published, Cameron traveled to Poland in a bid to convince the Polish leadership to support his negotiations. While Cameron needs a dramatic victory to appease his party at home, the Polish government needs to show calm but strong resistance to the deal to appease the Polish public. Cameron will continue to lobby for his deal, while negotiations will continue concerning freedom of movement for EU nationals and the UK. Whether the UK can convince its partners to accept its deal will determine its future relations with the continent. 

How to wipe the tears from the attacks of Daesh (ISIS)

By Adithya Sivakumar

The Sinai.

Beirut.

Paris.

        The world watched in horror this past week as these places, usually abuzz with tourist activity, went into a state of shock and horror due to terror attacks. On October 31st, a Russian passenger plane exploded mid-air, killing all 224 on board, with intelligence strongly suggesting the responsible party is the Islamic State of the Levant (Daesh or ISIL), or one of its affiliates in the Sinai Peninsula. This Thursday, at least forty-three people were killed and more than 200 were injured in suicide bombing attacks, also claimed by Daesh, in Southern Beirut. A day after the events in Beirut, initial reports suggest that more than 100 people were killed and 350 were injured in a coordinated attack on various targets in Paris, and yet again, Daesh declared it was responsible. Many now question why these attacks were perpetrated, and how affected nations and their allies should respond.

        Although the crash in the Sinai Peninsula has not been confirmed as a definite terrorist attack, Daesh’s affiliate in the Sinai has claimed responsibility, and various intelligence sources seem to confirm that claim. There certainly could be a linkage between the air disaster and Russian involvement in the Syrian Civil War. Russian airstrikes against Daesh only started a month ago, and they have certainly made Russia a prime target for attacks, demonstrated by a recent Daesh propaganda film directly references Russia in plans for a future attack. Essentially, the reasons for the attack on the Russian jet would be to hurt Russian morale and prove that Daesh’s reach extends far beyond Iraq and Syria.  

        The bombing in Beirut came in an area where violence, unfortunately, has happened before, as al-Qaeda conducted several attacks there in 2014. This area of Southern Beirut has a predominantly Shia Muslim population; it is also a stronghold of Hezbollah, an organization with significant power in Lebanon. Hezbollah is a primary player in the Syrian Civil War, being a solid supporter of the Assad regime, and Daesh is one of the groups fighting against Hezbollah (and Assad).  Additionally, Daesh is a group with a clear sectarian goal in mind, as it wants to establish a Sunni Islamic State. In the past, Daesh has exploited the Sunni-Shia divide in many ways, especially in Iraq. Therefore, the attack in Beirut on Thursday could be an attempt to inflame sectarian tensions in a country where the Muslim population is nearly evenly split on Sunni-Shia lines. It could also be a warning to Hezbollah on not to fight Daesh in the Syrian Civil War, as further involvement would bring further attacks by Daesh and thus weaken Hezbollah’s morale. Most likely, it’s both.

        For Paris, the attacks on Friday come just nine months after another period of terror in the city. In January, twenty people were killed in a series of attacks carried out by members of al-Qaeda’s affiliate in the Arabian Peninsula, as revenge for cartoons published by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for its depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. Details on Friday’s attacks are scarce, especially as the situation is still unfolding and rather chaotic.  Two facts, however, are quite clear: the death toll is above 120, and the attacks are the deadliest in France’s history since World War II. This time, Daesh has claimed responsibility, but the main question for the world is why France? Why again? The message from Daesh that claimed responsibility points to France’s involvement in the U.S.-led anti-Daesh coalition in Iraq and Syria. This indicates that the group attacked for very similar reasons as in Beirut and the Sinai: to weaken French morale and demonstrate their far reach into the global sphere.

        As these nations reel from these attacks, many wonder as to what is the next step in fighting Daesh. Even as airstrikes and offensives against the group are heightened, the organization always seems to strike terror into each nation it attacks, provoking more fear and chaos. French President Francois Hollande said in response to the attacks that his nation will go after the perpetrators with full vigor, while other world leaders, including those from the United States, Germany, Iran, and the United Kingdom, expressed solidarity with the French people and condemned the attacks. Similar responses from these countries were given in terms of the attacks on Beirut and the Sinai. With this high degree of solidarity, it is highly likely that all anti-Daesh coalitions will be ramping up airstrikes and other attacks on the organization.

        One of the most important responses may be to not fall for Daesh’s efforts to create fear and divide populations. Just after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo’s offices in January, far-right parties, such as The National Front in France, assailed Islam and its supposed incompatibility with democracy, demagoguery that came in conjunction with attacks on mosques and other institutions in France. If xenophobia, Islamophobia, and/or sectarianism take hold in these nations, there is a prime possibility that populations may be divided even more, causing Daesh to once again exploit the resulting splits for its own benefit, as it did in Iraq by tapping into oppressed Sunni populations.  An effective response would be stop associating Daesh’s actions, as well as any extremist group’s actions, with the tenets of Islam, any kind of Islam, and its followers. These groups do not represent the ideals of the religion, but rather serve to heighten tensions between people and exploit power. To begin the process of disassociation, it is imperative to not refer to the supposed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant as ISIS or ISIL, but rather Daesh, an acronym that roughly means “bigots who impose their views on others.” Denying the group legitimacy in terms of adherence to Islam not only weakens their authority, but also serves as a step in minimizing xenophobic sentiments and allowing nations to harness their populations to exterminating these extremist threats. As the affected nations mourn their fallen, the world must band together and remember the atrocities in the Sinai, Beirut, and Paris, not only to mourn, but also to take action, making a cohesive effort to defeat the menace that is Daesh.

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.

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.