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

  1. [1] Ivo Daalder and Robert Kagan, “The U.S. Can’t Afford to End Its Global Leadership Role,” Brookings Institute, April 25, 2016.
  2. [1] Thomas E. Donilon, “Examining America’s Role in the World,” The Council on Foreign Relations (statement prepared at the Committee on Foreign Relations of the United States Senate, 2nd Session, 114th Congress, May 12, 2016).
  3. [1] Barbara Conry, “U.S. ‘Global Leadership’: A Euphemism for World Policeman,” Cato Policy Analysis No. 267, February 5, 1997.
  4. [1] Scott Horsley, “Trump’s ‘America First’ Agenda Marks Sharp Break in U.S. Economic Policy,” NPR, February 28, 2017
  5. [1] Ian Bremmer, “The Era of American Global Leadership Is Over. Here’s What Comes Next,” Time, December 19, 2016.
  6. [1] Luke Coffee, “Keeping America Safe: Why U.S. Bases in Europe Remain Vital,” The Heritage Foundation, July 11, 2012.
  7. [1] Ian Bremmer, “The Era of American Global Leadership Is Over. Here’s What Comes Next,” Time, December 19, 2016.
  8. [1] Barbara Conry, “U.S. ‘Global Leadership’: A Euphemism for World Policeman,” Cato Policy Analysis No. 267, February 5, 1997.
  9. [1] Ivo Daalder and Robert Kagan, “The U.S. Can’t Afford to End Its Global Leadership Role,” Brookings Institute, April 25, 2016.
  10. [1] James Masters and Katie Hunt, “Trump Rattles NATO with ‘Obsolete’ Blast,” CNN Politics, January 17, 2017
  11. [1] Scott Horsley, “Trump’s ‘America First’ Agenda Marks Sharp Break in U.S. Economic Policy,” NPR, February 28, 2017
  12. [1] David Francis, John Hudson, and Dan de Luce. “Will Foreign Aid Get Cut on Trump’s Chopping Block?” Foreign Policy, November 23, 2016.
  13. [1] Ian Kullgren, “Will Trump Keep ‘America First’ with USAID Pick,” Politico, February 13, 2017.
  14. [1] Thomas E. Donilon, “Examining America’s Role in the World,” The Council on Foreign Relations (statement prepared at the Committee on Foreign Relations of the United States Senate, 2nd Session, 114th Congress, May 12, 2016).
  15. [1] Colby Goodman and Michael Drager. “Military Aid Dependency: What Are the Major U.S. Risks Around the World?” Security Assistance Monitor, March 8, 2016.
  16. [1] David Francis, John Hudson, and Dan de Luce. “Will Foreign Aid Get Cut on Trump’s Chopping Block?” Foreign Policy, November 23, 2016.
  17. [1] Ben Blanchard, “Diplomat Says China Would Assume World Leadership if Needed,” Reuters, January 23, 2017.
  18. [1] Ben Blanchard, “Diplomat Says China Would Assume World Leadership if Needed,” Reuters, January 23, 2017.
  19. [1] Josh Lederman, “If Trump Ends America’s World Leadership Role, Who Will Step Up?” PBS Newshour, January 23, 2017.
  20. [1] Josh Lederman, “If Trump Ends America’s World Leadership Role, Who Will Step Up?” PBS Newshour, January 23, 2017.
  21. [1] “Merkel Critical of US Immigration Ban, Spokesman tells Spiegel,” CNBC, January 29, 2017.
  22. [1] Claire Jones, “German Economy Grows at Quickest Rate in 5 Years,” Financial Times, January 12, 2017.

Arthur the Aardvark, Brexit, and the Global Force of Anti-Intellectualism

By Adithya Sivakumar

Do you all remember Arthur the Aardvark? The eight-year-old who cruised around with his friends through the streets of Elwood City navigating the struggles of being a third-grader? If you have no idea what I’m talking about, just take comfort that Arthur has been lauded as one of the finest examples of children’s television programming in the last decade, as well as being “just straight up awesome” (Sivakumar et al., 2006).

 

However, I’d like to turn your attention to one particular episode of this show. “Prove It,” episode four from the fourth season of Arthur, which concerned Arthur’s wonderful sister D.W. and her attempt to get her brother to take her to a science museum. In order to do so, she starts a museum in her own backyard, promoting theories such as the H in H2O stands for hose, and the ocean is created by sand moving so fast it turns into liquid. Annoyed and terrified about the effect D.W.’s “science” is having on the impressionable neighborhood children, Arthur takes her to the museum to show her how science actually works, thereby fulfilling her ulterior motives.

 

When I first watched this show as a young child, I have to admit, I was angry. How could D.W. promote such bogus science? How could people believe her? She had turned her back on reasoning and the very pillars of the discipline she claimed to espouse, all in order to achieve a mischievous end goal. No one would actually do that in real life, right?

 

Fast-forward a decade later to June 23, 2016. As the votes for Britain’s decision to leave the European Union (E.U.) came towards a close, I experienced many of the same emotions as I did when I was in elementary school after that Arthur episode. How could the “Leave” campaign promote such grand anti-immigration sentiment? How could the British believe them? Why did they not follow the advice of countless organizations, foreign governments, and heads of state to stay for their own economic security? Was the attempt to bring Europe together after World War II all for nothing?

 

In both instances, I never realized the magnitude of the inequality that led to these drastic actions. For the children in Arthur, they had not been educated about all the intricacies of science, causing them to find some sort of refuge in D.W.’s explanations. In Britain, analysis showed that the town that had the most percentage of residents in favor of leaving the European Union, Boston, earned low incomes and had only 1 in 3 people carry formal qualifications. Leaving the European Union was not a large loss for these voters, as they had failed to see the benefits of European integration. In the town of Lambeth, where voters chose overwhelmingly to stay in the E.U. , incomes were more than 10,000 pounds more than the average voter in Boston, and there were twice as many professionals. These results indicate a widespread gap in socioeconomic status and education, a gap that in turn has affected how people respond to political commentary.

 

In one instance during the Brexit campaign debates, when confronted with reports that respected organizations and groups had pointed out recommended against leaving the European Union, “Leave” campaigner and U.K. Justice Secretary Michael Gove said, “I think the people in this country have had enough of experts from organizations… with acronyms saying they know what is best and getting it consistently wrong.”

 

And that, folks, speaks volumes.

 

This statement elucidates a large factor in the majority of the U.K. rejecting the overtures of U.S. President Barack Obama, Prime Minister David Cameron, Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn, and other seemingly respected individuals and institutions: anti-intellectualism. The establishment commonly uses academia and intellectualism to support their claims, which may or may not lead to good results. The establishment might use scientific data to push forward claims of global warming or the efficacy of vaccines, but those opposed to the establishment conflate these scientific positions into a larger establishment narrative, and therefore reject them in alarming numbers. That being said, academia and government do not always have a beneficial goal in mind. The theory of eugenics pushed in intellectual circles in the early 20th century can be regarded as a driving factor for the implementation of the discriminatory Immigration Act of 1924 in the United States.

 

Additionally, socioeconomic gaps exist worldwide and have manifested in similar ways politically, mainly in a distaste for the establishment and for experts. In the Philippines, this led to the election of Rodrigo Duterte, whose campaign was based on his anti-crime campaign to purge the nation of criminals in any manner possible, implying the reintroduction of vigilante death squads that he oversaw as mayor of the city of Davao.  Disgusted with crime and perceived inaction by establishment parties, voters swept Duterte into office, despite calls to stop him from the incumbent government and human rights organizations concerned with his previous record of extrajudicial killings. In Austria, a far-right candidate who proclaimed “Islam has no place in Austria,” lost the presidential election by 0.6%, a movement attributed to anti-immigration sentiment in the wake of the influx of refugees into the European Union; his opposing candidate, also an outsider was backed by the chancellor of Austria, as well as the supporters of the two major parties in the country. In fact, an Austrian constitutional court has just invalidated the election results, leading to another potential grab for power for the aforementioned candidate.

 

Why should all this affect you? If you are a college student at Vanderbilt University at this moment, you are a target of anti-intellectualism. An academic institution such as Vanderbilt is largely seen as elitist, even with the diversity of opinions that are harbored on this campus. We have the privilege of being educated here, but that does not mean we have the privilege of flaunting our education over others. Education can bring us into respected positions, but these positions often may give off an air of elitism that goes widely unrecognized, so whenever we attempt to espouse a position, we fail to realize that our opinion will inherently carry more weight than one given by a person that did not have an opportunity to pursue an education. This, in turn, causes resentment and rejection of those considered “educated.”

 

These actions have dire consequences, especially in light of how the UKIP, the major party in favor of leaving the European Union, convinced many voters to chose to leave the EU by primarily emphasizing fears of immigration. Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP, stated in response to a question about the similarity of his campaign and that of Donald Trump that “The problem you’ve got in the U.S. is illegal immigration. Our problem is legal immigration to half a billion people.” Compounded with posters proclaiming refugees as undesirable, many voters choosing Brexit did say their decision was influenced by immigration, a sentiment that certainly reverberates across the Atlantic. By using scapegoating instead of educated, well-reasoned arguments, political forces are able to tap into inner prejudices and divisions between different groups (evidenced by the uptick in hate crimes against minorities and immigrants across the U.K. after votes were counted),  and therefore using them to achieve a political goal.

 

Education is a privilege. Our best goal and hope for this generation and the broken political world is to prevent academia from being distorted and being derided, a hope that can only be accomplished with discarding a sense of elitism, recognizing our privilege, and attempting to have thoughtful, civil, and educational debates with others concerning issues surrounding politics and other disciplines. The longer we disregard populist sentiments, the easier it is for groups and individuals to exploit divides within communities, causing false information being fed not only to the innocent neighborhood children of Arthur, but also to vast segments of our population, leading to life-changing moments like that in Britain.

A Scandal of Olympic-Sized Proportions

By Adithya Sivakumar

 

As the world closely watches chaos unfold in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, another nation in the bottom half of the hemispheres is grappling with crises involving its elected officials: Brazil. Slated to host the Summer Olympics later this year, Brazil has already been swamped with concerns about the environment for visitors, especially with the prevalence of the Zika virus. However, a new problem of political instability could lead to massive negative effects on the Brazilian economy and major events such as the Olympics.

The current president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, was elected in 2011 to oversee a booming economy after the popular presidency of her mentor, Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva (Lula).  As the first female president of the Latin American nation,  she  is known as having a hard line on corruption, even removing six of her own cabinet members due to graft allegations. Her effective management of the government has won her praise from various sectors of the public.

Her honeymoon stage with the public’s opinion, however, began to see its end in late 2014,  when details of a massive corruption scandal involving Brazil’s state-owned energy company, Petrobas, were released. The premise of the scandal was that government officials enjoyed massive kickbacks from the energy company in exchange for contracts, a process that largely happened in Rousseff’s oversight of the company as head of board of directors. At first, it appeared Rousseff was safe from any real attempt at impeachment, as the Senate found her to be clear of benefiting personally from any of the aforementioned exchanges.

In early 2015, the scandal became even worse, engulfing politicians across party lines and those in Rousseff’s inner circle, which exacerbated the force against the President who was also facing high unemployment rates and a stagnant economy. Demonstrations ranging in the millions have been organized to protest the government, and Rousseff’s approval rating has dropped to abysmal levels. More arrests of senior figures began to cause Rousseff’s walls around her to slowly collapse, and the threat of impeachment was slowly becoming more viable which each new development in the scandal and products of the economic recession.

Then, after months of back-and–forth discussion, impeachment proceedings finally began against Rousseff in late 2015, and not even due directly to the Petrobas scandal; in fact, she was indicted based on possibly doctoring accounting to hide the extent of deficit in her reelection campaign. Additionally, the impeachment was approved by the speaker of the lower house, who himself was facing corruption charges from the Petrobas scandal, which may have given him political impetus to impeach Rousseff or fall just like countless politicians around him.

Interestingly, dissent against Rousseff mainly stems from the middle class, white, and privileged segments of society, not necessarily the poorer, less white segments. This divide may stem from the fact that Rousseff and her left-wing party pushed for relief for poorer Brazilians, which may have caused a loyalty among these segments toward Rousseff’s party. Nevertheless, the segments on the street have played a large role in pressuring lawmakers to do something about Rousseff, indicating the power these privileged groups hold in Brazilian elections.

Unfortunately for Rousseff, even with this group’s backing, her position in the government hit a new low in the past week. The earlier impeachment charges had died out, indicating that Rousseff could escape the imminent threat of dismissal. However, once Rousseff’s mentor and predecessor Lula was put under investigation for corruption, alarm bells went off for the Brazilian public who knew the two worked in conjunction. Their fears appeared to be realized when, in a surprise appointment, Rousseff appointed Lula to the chief of staff position in her cabinet. Subsequently, a judge heading the Petrobas scandal investigation released a phone call between Lula and Rousseff that implies that the appointment was to put Lula out of prosecutors’ reach; this is due to the stipulation that cabinet members can only be tried by the Supreme Court, not prosecutors like those heading the Petrobas scandal investigation. After the release of these calls, many Brazilians once again took to the streets, demanding Rousseff’s ouster. Impeachment proceedings were opened again, and a Supreme Court judge blocked Lula’s appointment due to the contents of the phone call. At this juncture, Rousseff has walked into what appears an inevitable demise. Her ruling coalition does not appear to be able to defeat a move for impeachment in the lower house, which would lead to near-certain conviction in the senate.

Despite the political upheaval that is likely to come about due to these developments, Brazil hosts a whole barrage of other issues, especially the new onset of the Zika virus. Many towns are unable to control the virus due to the lack of funding for medicine and prevention, a condition that is widely blamed on the recession. And with the eyes of the world already upon Brazil due to the Summer Olympics, it appears that without a change in governmental policy, instability will be the word of the year in Latin America’s most populous nation.

 

The Pope and the Patriarch: Mending the Schism

By Isabelle Sagraves

 

On February 12th, 2016, the world watched as a historic meeting took place between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church. The two leaders held discussions in Cuba in order to discuss the persecution of Christians, especially in the Middle East and Africa, by the Islamic State and its affiliates. The first meeting between a Russian Patriarch and a Pope, this was a highly controversial and much-anticipated discussion, one that the Papacy has been attempting to instigate for many years now. The Russian Orthodox Church is the largest branch of Orthodox Christianity, which broke with the Catholic Church during the East-West Schism of 1054; a schism based on theology and the primacy of the pope. Since then, there has been a great deal of tension between the two Churches, and especially in the 20th Century, specifically between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church due to the events of the Cold War and subsequent world politics. Yet this historic meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill marks an important transition in their policy, from one of competition to cooperation. Although hopefully their aim of defending Christianity from the Islamic State and other terrorist groups will be successful, the tensions between Russia and the West may prove difficult in maintaining this alliance.

There is little doubt that the persecution of Christians is a significant problem that should be addressed by the Pope and the Patriarch. A new report by Open Doors USA, a Christian nonprofit organization, to TRUNEWS found that last year was the most violent for Christians in modern history: more that 7100 Christians were killed in 2015 for ‘faith-related reasons’, which marks a 40% increase from the previous year. The report found that the most dangerous countries for Christians are North Korea, Iraq, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Syria, and Pakistan. In the face of the Islamic State and of other oppressive regimes, Christians (as well as many other groups – Christians are not the only ones being persecuted) are indeed suffering. A Pope-Patriarch coalition to work towards alleviating this seems like a good step forward in creating a cooperative, unified force. This cause was the primary outcome of the meeting: “Thousands of victims have already been claimed in the violence in Syria and Iraq, which has left many other millions without a home or means of sustenance,” the Pope and patriarch said in a joint declaration. “We urge the international community to seek an end to the violence and terrorism and, at the same time, to contribute through dialogue to a swift return to civil peace.”

Although this cooperation seems like a mutually beneficial one, it is complicated by the legacy of the Cold War and its lingering effects on Russian/Western relations, most importantly the current situation under Putin. Kirill is close to Putin, and it has been suggested that this meeting will be used as propaganda to boost Russia’s public image despite general Western criticism of Putin’s regime. Yury Avvakumov, an assistant professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, commented that At this moment, it would be useful for Russian leaders to have any public figure who would approach Russia with a ‘business as usual’ attitude.” Essentially, Professor Avvukamov is suggesting that the Pope’s visit with the Patriarch may be interpreted as Western approval of the Russian government and its actions that are not necessarily supported by the Papacy.

On the other hand, Patriarch Kirill has experienced backlash from more conservative voices – because of this alliance, he has been accused of cooperating too much with the West. Chad Pecknold, a theologian at the Catholic University of America, stated that “Conservative forces within Moscow have said we don’t like this reunification with the west … (it) weakens us.” This statement comes amid a fraught past of conflict between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, most particularly over the Ukranian Greek Catholic Church, which practices Orthodox rites but answers to the Pope. The two churches have disagreed over who should have more influence over this sect, and this debate is still not settled. Aside from this specific conflict, the meeting between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis has sparked general attacks from Russian conservatives afraid of Russia’s Westernization.

It is impossible to separate the political and historical conditions surrounding Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church’s relationship with the West and the Papacy, even when the cause worth cooperating for seems clearly beneficial for all involved. Even the choice of meeting place, Cuba, has political undertones: an ex-Soviet country with a past of Western European colonization, Cuba has ties to both the Patriarch and the Pope. This further demonstrates how deeply political conflict resounds throughout this alliance, and how the conflict truly has the potential to strain it. This could be especially problematic when discussions begin about how exactly to proceed with their cause, because in order to stop the violent persecution of Christians, political support will probably be necessary in order to be successful.

Spray or Spay? Zika and the fight for women’s reproductive rights

By Josh Ulino

 

On Monday, February 1 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global emergency over the increasingly rapidly spreading Zika virus, calling it an “extraordinary event” and that it poses a threat to the entire world. That has never been truer than now, as the first European Zika virus pregnancy case was confirmed in Spain, nine cases were confirmed in Florida, and one case was confirmed in Texas in addition to the thousands of confirmed cases of the virus in South America.

 

At first glace, Zika doesn’t seem like a virus that should be that concerning. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Zika is spread through the bite of any mosquito of the Aedes genus. The typical adult who is infected with Zika experiences fever, rashes, joint pain, and conjunctivitis for as little as a few days to as long as a week. However, the disease seems to be much more harmful than once originally thought. Since the first case of Zika was confirmed in Brazil in May of 2015, scientists have realized that there are many unanticipated and previously unknown problems associated with Zika. One such problem is directly affecting pregnant women and their partners.

 

When the Zika virus infects women who are pregnant, their babies are born with birth defects, most specifically microcephaly. Microcephaly is a neurological disorder in which the head of the child is significantly smaller than the body of the child. The disorder may lead to developmental delays, dwarfism, hyperactivity, mental retardation and/or seizures. In Brazil, more than 4,000 babies have been born with microcephaly since October. In a normal year, there are less than 200 cases of microcephaly in Brazil. Many Central and South American governments have responded in ways that can be described as no less than sexist, essentially telling women to not get pregnant and delay pregnancy for a certain length of time. These responses have started debates on abortion, birth control, and sex education, debates that will no doubt last longer than the Zika outbreak. The outbreak has not only caused pestilence, but has highlighted social tensions and gender issues.

 

The amount of time Central and South American governments are waiting for women to delay pregnancy vary. Colombia, the country with the second highest amount of cases of microcephaly behind Brazil, is telling women to wait six to eight months, while El Salvador is telling women to wait until 2018. According to medical historians, this is the first time in history in which governments have advised something like this; however, there are some people who think it could work. Dr. William Schaffer, the chief of preventative medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and other preventative disease researchers have suggested that if women can wait two years before having children, there may be a vaccine and Zika will no longer be cause for concern. While from a medical standpoint this may be an effective solution, it ignores some of the realities the women who live in these countries have to face.

 

Women’s groups throughout Central and South America are fighting back against the government’s suggestions and are using this as an opportunity to argue for greater access to birth control, more sex education, and legal abortions. Health care workers almost never provide contraceptives to teenagers or women who have not yet had a child. Sex education is essentially non-existent because of the religious foundations of a majority of these countries, and these countries have some of the strictest abortion laws in the world. In El Salvador, a place where women are advised to wait until 2018 to become pregnant, a woman is not allowed to have an abortion even if her life is at risk. Moreover, the suggestions made by Central and South American governments essentially ignore the fact that a majority of births in Latin America and the Caribbean come from unintended pregnancies. The Guttmacher Institute, a think-tank that does research on reproductive health issues, has found that 56 percent of births in this region are from pregnancies that are unintended and unplanned. Many of these unintended pregnancies are a result of teenage pregnancy, incest, and rape. In a interview with Reuters, Monica Roa, vice president of strategy at Women’s Link Worldwide, said, “In El Salvador, the recommendation to postpone pregnancy is offensive to women and even more ridiculous in the context of strict abortion laws and high levels of sexual violence against girls and women.”

 

Until the governments of these Central and South American countries legalizes abortion, improves sex education for teenagers, and makes contraceptives easily available for all who wish to acquire them, there is little to no chance that pregnancy rates will be reduced. Governments need to focus on the only viable option and follow in the footsteps of Brazil. The Brazilian government is handing out insect repellant to 400,000 expectant mothers as health workers and soldiers are traveling around the country and teaching Brazilians how to keep workers at bay. They are also going to teach women contemplating pregnancy how to avoid being bitten by a mosquito. At a time where the world is potentially going to have to face a global health emergency, the last thing governments should be doing is further suppressing women and their health. Rather, Central and South American governments should empower and teach women and men alike how the global community can get through this potential epidemic together.

A Brief Analysis of COP21

By Bella Jones

On November 30th, a total of 195 countries convened for the Paris Climate talks (COP21) to reduce carbon emissions. Its focus was on whether the agreement should be legally binding, how to help developing countries construct low-carbon technology, and how to address long-term climate goals. The success of the deal will depend on wealthy nations, who should provide adequate funding for developing countries to grow sustainable economies and mitigate effects of climate change.

On December 12th, an agreement was reached. Some highlights of the agreement include plans to:

  1. Achieve a long-term goal of limiting global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels
  2. Enforce new climate commitments through a transparent framework
  3. Reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and promote forest conservation and sustainable management.   
  4. Mobilize public funds using a variety of strategies to address the climate needs of developing countries
  5. Avert and minimize the adverse effects of climate change on vulnerable populations using public funds

The resulting agreement did not include a measure to implement a carbon tax, a strategy to curb carbon emissions that has already shown much success in 40 countries. President Obama describes it as a more direct policy approach, as  “the most elegant way to drive innovation and reduce emissions.” A likely reason a carbon tax was not implemented is because many governments, especially those in developing nations, determined that carbon taxation would have a crippling effect for economies seeking to industrialize. India, for example, highlighted the need to operationalise the principle of equity and fair distribution of the remaining carbon space. The developing nation never supported domestic carbon emissions cuts but called on developed countries to take greater responsibility in cutting emissions. For instance,  United States, which emitted 12% more of total greenhouse gas emissions than India from 1990-2011, would be called upon to reduce its emissions. India, on the other hand, will seek to invest in green energy while expanding its use of coal in the next 5 years. It plans to do this while reducing the intensity of its carbon dioxide emissions by 33 percent to 35 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, yet not actually reducing the volume of production. The exclusion of a universal carbon tax reflects the principle of common but differentiated responsibility.

The results of the Paris Agreement showed a change in the architecture of the international fight against climate change. Instead of assigning targets and regulations, nations proposed their own plans, or “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs). Nations will be required to update the plans every five years beginning in 2023. The Paris Agreement mobilizes political pressure through transparency and accountability. To ensure compliance, NDCs and its progress will be periodically reviewed in a facilitative dialogue. This model utilizes international pressure, because currently no robust supranational governing body exists that can extend international jurisdiction over national governments to impact global climate change. This year’s Paris Agreement applies a lateral approach, incorporating collective force and pressure to ensure the agreements enaction.

The Paris Agreement’s two-prong approach that mobilize international pressure through transparency and accountability seems promising, but whether or not nations will stick to their respective pledges and effectively appropriate funds will depend on how well they will follow through in the following months and at the next summit.

Overall it is too soon to judge the effectiveness of Paris Agreement, though many aspects of its stipulations are promising for international progress on climate change. The results will unfold in the coming months and the body will reconvene for COP 22 Morocco at the 2016 UN climate summit.

 

 

Celebrities and Philanthropy

By Soo Min Jeong

What is the similarity among the following people?—Oprah Winfrey, Angelina Jolie, Madonna, and Sir Richard Branson. Not only are they world renowned celebrities, but they also actively utilize their popularity, talents, and media exposure to raise awareness of humanitarian issues. Some participate in philanthropic campaigns, volunteer activities, and directly donate money to non-governmental organizations. Recently, the number of celebrities who demonstrate interest in humanitarian issue has increased. As a result, the Time Magazine coined a new term describing these type of celebrities: “Celanthropist,” the combination of the words “Philanthropist” and “Celebrity.”

Charities seek relationships with celebrities because of their ability to raise public awareness and promote donations. While the most common way of celebrities participate in charity is directly donating money to foundations, celebrities can be spokespersons, board members, or even founders of charities. Angelina Jolie, an Oscar-winning actress, is the best example of celebrity who spends a great deal of time doing extensive humanitarian work. Jolie has not only supported over twenty charities but was also appointed as a UNHCR Goodwill ambassador and founded the Maddox Jolie-Pitt foundation in 2003.

As Jolie’s active role in the promotion of human right issues demonstrates, philanthropic activities of celebrities are prevalent. Even though these celanthropists are often praised for drawing individuals into donations and giving sense of local or global community, they are also harshly criticized by some scholars. Critics argue that celebrities turn charities into “Charitainment,” perverting philanthropy into acts of consumption and leisure. The commercialization of philanthropy separates problems from the real root causes, merely demonstrating the superficial aspect of philanthropy. Therefore, governments only feel the necessity of covering up problems, so they become irresponsible for resolving broader political, cultural, and social causes of human rights issues. Furthermore, some scholars claim that instead of condemning human rights violations by multinational corporations, celanthropy rather promotes the consumption of “good cause.” In short, celanthropy treats capitalism as an answer, not a cause for global problems.

Granted, indiscriminate use of celebrity in philanthropy may taint the true meaning and deceive the general public with oversimplified images of philanthropy. However, it does not mean that celebrities in charities are totally ineffective. According to a study conducted by Baxter and Ilicic, celanthropy indeed promotes positive images of celebrity, charity organization, and even donation intention; it encourages charitable donation. In addition, celebrities further take roles in international policy-making. For example, Midge Ure and Bob Gelof’s Live Aid and Live 8 raised not only millions of dollars for food aid but also caused the G8 to address debt relief, HIV/AIDS, and other humanitarian crises to the global audience. Another case of a celebrity bringing positive outcomes is Pu Cunxin, a Chinese actor, in light of HIV/AIDS awareness projects. Ever since HIV was detected in the mid-1980, the contagious virus has rapidly spread throughout China. However, local governments inadequately implemented policies that are greatly differed from one province to another. Furthermore, the general public was uninformed about transmission and cause of the disease. This vacuum of knowledge sparked panic and fear, and ignorance further led to violent discrimination against HIV positive Chinese. This hostility disappeared when Pu Cunxin started HIV/AIDS activism and advocacy. His activism promoted various awareness projects and made government to produce educational materials, such as pamphlets, articles, and comics. Furthermore, the government used to conduct confidential HIV tests, but his popularity and activism brought the socially concealed disease to light.

Celanthropy may be problematic at times, but it is clear that it  can also have positive outcomes. Because of its effectiveness, a number of non-profit organizations around the world implement philanthropic programs which feature celebrities. One example is “The Philanthropists,” a non-profit organization founded by Korean students. The organization aims to promote strategic and sustainable social development. Every year, the organization hosts “The Philanthropic Concert,” which consists of performances by artists who showcase their talent for free. Through the concert, “The Philanthropists” tries to implement celanthropy and further develop a charitable culture in Korea. All the profit goes to resolve humanitarian problems, and last summer, the organization raised approximately three thousand dollars to help Syrian refugees by providing water purifications tablets.

Celebrities are becoming more active in charities, and media is widely used to promote philanthropy. This mere commercialization of charity through media can taint the true meaning of charitable act. However, regardless of a few drawbacks, studies are showing that celanthropy indeed yields positive outcomes—it promotes donations and positive attitude toward charities. Therefore, celanthropy has been widely accepted by non-governmental organizations, and will likely remain a mainstay of international and domestic philanthropy for the foreseeable future.

 

The Battle of Bacteria: Antibiotic Resistance and its Consequences

By Telyse Masaoay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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