The Debate on Global Gun Policy


 Emma Donahue, Staff Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Middle East’s Vietnam

Casie Slaybaugh, Staff Writer 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Case for Greenlandic Independence

By Thomas Bell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iraqi Kurdistan: To Free Or Not To Free

By Casie Slaybaugh, Guest Writer 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How ISIS Changed History’s Cultural Landscape

By Sarah Taylor

Palmyra, Syria used to be a city of magically stoic Roman ruins, steeped in ancient history: a city that bore the scars and wrinkles of a storied civilization. The landscape of ancient Assyria and Mesopotamia was once the pinnacle of civilization, home to the most ancient cities and the dawn of humanity. Palmyra itself represented the fluctuating artistic and architectural influences of the major imperial powers of antiquity, as it went through various periods of independence and control under the Roman Empire. Today, the land is marked by destruction and stands not only as a monument not of historical significance but also of the tragedy that the Islamic State has brought upon Palmyra. One example is the Temple of Bel, a structure that is almost two thousand years old, and was the last remaining early Roman pilgrimage complex. It was completely razed in 2015, as it represented the polytheism of Roman pagan religion. There are countless other examples of destruction that have swept across the Middle East. The library of the Great Mosque in Aleppo was burnt down, causing it to lose rare religious manuscripts. The once-well preserved porticoes and Byzantine mosaics of Apamea in Western Syria have been replaced by complete desolation. ISIS has taken up a program of destroying historic and once-sacred sites in order to clear the area of symbols that go against their Islamic extremism, hiding behind their radical interpretations to justify the destruction of ancient cultures in Syria and Iraq.

Dura Europos is considered the oldest and by some accounts the first, true Christian city of the ancient world. It represented a blending of cultures and religions, with Christianity, Judaism, and Roman paganism influencing each other and producing unique works of antiquity. It is home to not only the world’s oldest synagogue but also the first Christian house church, the predecessor to the development of churches and cathedrals throughout the Roman Empire. Once a truly sacred site to the Christian community, the house at Dura Europos has been taken under control by the Islamic State. ISIS has ransacked over 70 percent of the city, destroying archaeological evidence, and reaping the profits of their looting. Perhaps what is most devastating about the destruction of Dura Europos is the loss of future excavation. When the city was co-opted by ISIS it was still relatively unexplored, having been abandoned in the third century AD and re-discovered in the twentieth century. The future hope to uncover more about how the ancient civilization led to the development of a greater Christian culture is now lost.

Mosul is another example of the extent of the destruction wreaked by ISIS on cultural landscapes. Once standing as an exemplar of rich cultural heritage and some of the oldest historical sites in the world, the city now lies as Iraq’s Ground Zero, the most devastating destruction at the hands of ISIS.  In Mosul, they have not only destroyed Christian communities, but also Sufi and Shia temples and mosques, demolishing archaeological sites from the Ottoman imperial period. Mosul also sits at the crux of ancient civilizations; at different points in time, it was the heart of the Assyrian, Parthian, and Sumerian empires. The Nouri mosque, built in the 12th century, was the seemingly indestructible soul of the city as it withstood regime changes and civil unrest. In June 2014, ISIS declared its capture of Mosul from the mosque. Three years later, the mosque ceased to exist and was replaced by rubble, fear, and a fierce realization of the new reality. ISIS’s destruction, in this case, was spurred by political rather than historical motivations. Since the mosque was a landmark of the city, destroying it would effectively destroy the cultural epicenter of the city, sending a message of authority to the citizens of Mosul.

Rebuilding these cities will be no easy task. The landscape that once stood as the backdrop for the development of all humanity is now irreparably reduced to rubble. These projects are often mismanaged by the governments attempting to restore what once was, as corruption, financial mismanagement and waste, and the existing political and social conflict, prevent them from focusing on rebuilding these lost cities. The rubble and ash marks stand as permanent reminders of the new reality of the remaining citizens now living in fear. Their houses of worship, an institution needed more than ever in this time of despair, have been ripped from the ground. Archaeologists have asked experts to refrain from acknowledging ancient sites, as it will only attract the attention of ISIS to another site to demolish. These sites are also subject to bombing from the powers fighting ISIS, namely the United States and Russia. The new field of “cyber archaeology” is working to create digital reconstructions of lost artifacts, hoping to create digital renderings of not only lost items but entire museums and cities. Though these strides bring us closer to restoring the evidence of such sites, it will never repair the damage done to the landscape itself, which has now lost its uniqueness. The unbroken history of humanity that once stood at sites like Palmyra has been broken by the inhumanity and radicalism of ISIS.

Sudanese Sanctions Lifted

By Javan Latson

For much of the nineties Sudan was very much an international pariah. The regime of President Omar Al-Bashir and the National Islamic Front tested the patience of its neighbors and the global community. The Islamist party was connected to various terror groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and Jamaat al- Islamiyya. Sanctions were imposed by the UN Security Council after the Sudanese government provided refuge for individuals who tried to assassinate Egyptian President Mubarak. This action, in addition to the regime’s support for armed rebels in Eritrea, Uganda, and Ethiopia, made other African states loathe any engagement with the Sudanese state. However, the action that sealed Sudan’s isolation was granting Osama Bin Laden refuge in 1991 following his expulsion from Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda associates were ideologically similar to the government in  Khartoum which had recently imposed Islamic law upon the citizens. Under the protection of President Al-Bashir, Al Qaeda flourished as it conducted bombings against US troops in Yemen as well as embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.This led to the Clinton Administration placing Sudan on the list of state sponsors of terror in 1993 and a trade embargo being created in 1997.

Twenty years after the creation of economic sanctions, the Sudanese government has reason to celebrate. President Trump officially terminated the embargo on October 12th marking the final stage in a diplomatic thaw that began during the Obama Administration. The gradual normalization of relations between the two states can be seen even further in the revised travel ban which no longer features Sudan. Proponents of this course of action argue that the sanctions have failed to drive any significant change and that the government has made significant strides in combatting terrorism in the region. However, this does not consider the possibility that ending the embargo will simply embolden a regime that frequently violates human rights.

Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir is president in name only, and has ruled the country since he took power in 1989. He is not the only autocrat in the region nor is the only government leader that imposes authoritarian rule. The thing that differentiates Al-Bashir from the others is the fact that he is the only head of state in the world that is wanted for genocide. A warrant for his arrest was issued by the International Criminal Court back in 2009. In addition to genocide, he is charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes. These allegations stem from the role President Bashir played in the tragic Darfur Conflict which killed over 300,000 and displaced over a million. The situation was so dire that then Secretary of State Colin Powell referred to it as genocide back in 2004, marking the first time the US Government has used this term in reference to a conflict. With Al-Bashir’s permission and support an Arab militia known as the Janjaweed engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Sudan’s black Christian and Animist tribes. Torture, subjection of women to rape, indiscriminate bombing of civilians, and the intentional contamination of water supplies in non-Arab villages, are all crimes that fill President Al-Bashir’s resume. Human rights doesn’t seem to be a part of the African leader’s vocabulary as he frequently violates international norms without any fear of repercussion. Most recently Amnesty International published a report documenting the use of chemical  weapons by the government throughout 2016 that killed more than 200 people. More concerning should be the revival of the Janjaweed, which was rebranded as the Rapid Support Forces. An act of total defiance, this revival goes directly against a 2004 UN Security Council resolution that called for the militia to be disbanded. Instead, the name of the group was changed and it was incorporated into the state apparatus to personally serve the president.

It would be inaccurate to describe Al-Bashir as the only one responsible. Other prominent regime officials such as former minister of the interior Abdel Hussein and current governor Ahmad Harun currently face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for their support and funding of the Janjaweed during their time in office. Without international sanctions in place there is a new opportunity for Al-Bashir and his cronies inflict more damage unless certain regulations are reinstated. The Office of Foreign Assets Control, a part of the Treasury Department, has a list of individuals and companies referred to as Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs) . Under US law companies are prohibited from conducting business with anyone on the list making this an effective mechanism for targeting the wallets of key officials without negatively harming the populace. Some of the more notable names on the SDN list include Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. However if one were to search for President Al-Bashir they would not find his name listed on the sanctions list nor would they find Abdel Hussein. Two international criminals that are charged with crimes against humanities are somehow not listed. The removal of the embargo allows US companies to export goods to Sudan and make investments in the nation’s economy. On the surface it is hard to see how this is could have negative effects. Ironically, Sudan still remains on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terror, which makes it hard for the regime to obtain foreign aid, blocks arms imports and exports, and restricts the importation of goods that could be used for military purposes. Though these measures are in place, the ability for the Sudanese government to earn revenue and reclaim frozen assets will likely just put money into the hands of the regime. Afterall Sudan was ranked the 6th most corrupt nation on earth out of 176 in the 2016 by the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index. Unless the aforementioned individuals are included on the SDN list they will likely receive a financial windfall that tightens their grip on society.

Sudan may not be exporting extremism as much as it did during the nineties, but the government is certainly creating an atmosphere of terror domestically especially in Darfur and the southern regions. Though the flames of the Darfur conflict have fanned out a bit Sudan is far from a pluralistic society. Freedom house has declared the African nation not free and Open Doors ranks Sudan as the fifth worst place in the world for Christians due to the Arab supremacist policies enforced by the government. The winners of this deal are not the people of Sudan but the government and companies that stand to benefit from the removal of restrictions. There’s a reason why Khartoum hired D.C. law firm Squire Patton Boggs LLP to lobby the government for $40,000 a month. No one seems to care that millions of dollars will be pumped into the hands of a genocidal authoritarian regime. The Trump Administration is happy Sudan has cut off ties with North Korea, the CIA is content with new partners in the counterterrorism efforts, and businesses are excited with potential profits to be made in oil possessing nation. Yet the plea of the oppressed falls on deaf ears.

Same Problem, New Solution: President Nieto’s Approach to Drug Trafficking

By Naveen Krishnan

From the entertainment realm with Netflix’s Narcos to the political stage with Donald Trump’s proposed border wall, the subject of drug trafficking has grown to demand greater attention within public discourse in America. Annually, drug cartels receive around $19 to $29 billion USD in revenue from sales within the United States causing countries in the Americas to grapple with the destruction caused from their violence. Regarding the issue of combating drug trafficking, President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico announced a departure from the policies of his predecessor President Felipe Calderón. As Calderón famously declared war on the cartels in 2006, with a ‘kingpin’ strategy which involved directly targeting the leaders of cartels, Nieto ran on the platform that he aimed to reduce the violence which results from drug trafficking and not engage the cartels directly.

With President Calderón’s initiation of the Mexican Drug War with missions like Operation Michoacán, which deployed federal troops to combat drug cartels, the country suffered approximately 120,000 homicides during his tenure. His efforts resulted in the capture or assassination of twenty-five out of thirty-seven of the top drug leaders within Mexico while the carnage extended into the civilian sphere as nearly one hundred current and former mayors were targeted in cartel violence. The uptake in kidnappings, murders, and general violence due to drug trafficking caused many within the Mexican political spectrum to look for new alternatives to the current policy against the cartels. With the sharp increase in the homicide and no end in sight to the current cycles of violence, the political climate turned to Nieto who advocated an indirect approach to the cartels.

Nieto’s term has brought about a gradual decrease in the homicide rate, (with a recent uptake in 2016 which some individuals attribute to territorial conflict due to Guzman’s recapture by authorities), despite seeing numerous large cases such as the disappearance and presumed murder of forty three college students in 2014. Furthermore, in June 2017 Nieto legalized medical marijuana through a decree with support from the Senate and Lower House of Congress. With regards to other criminal legislation surrounding drugs, Nieto announced efforts to increase the number of grams of drugs in an individual’s possession which would warrant prosecution.

However critics have quickly pointed out that extrajudicial killings by Mexican forces still present a major problem. Yet Nieto has maintained that his hardline strategy was successful and indicates that there will be little change in the future. The capture of “El Chapo” and his subsequent extradition to US authorities has boosted Nieto’s perceived clout within the realm of drug trafficking as he has maintained strict stances on Trump’s proposed border wall and other issues, holding opposition to US military involvement in Mexico with regards to combating drug trafficking. While the demand of drugs in the United States continues to draw from south of the border, there is no immediate end in sight to the violence within Mexico as the world awaits to see how President Nieto will navigate his country into the future.

The Looming Crisis in the Heart of Africa

By Thomas Bell

Africa as a continent has a complicated history, but its modern past has been unstable and violent.  African countries, unable to cope with the ethnic, political, and economic constraints imposed by European imperialism, have proven largely unable to industrialize and modernize since independence.  Civil wars, genocide, and massive poverty are all traits commonly associated with Africa, for good reason.  The Democratic Republic of the Congo, or the DRC, and formerly Zaïre, is one of the better examples of this reality.

The Congolese saga began with colonialism.  Much of the first contacts with Europeans involved trading, eventually for slaves.  Belgian colonial control later spread, leaving the nation subjugated under the weight of direct imperial rule from 1908 to 1960.  Since independence, the DRC has not enjoyed a single peaceful transfer of power, with assassination, civil war, and even invasion being the catalysts for political change.

The current Congolese President, Joseph Kabila, has been in power since January of 2001, with his second and final term under the constitution having expired in December last year.  Under the constitution of the DRC, Kabila is limited to two terms and should have stepped down.  This, however, did not happen; Congo’s electoral authority announced that the election would be postponed to allow time for a census to take place, an invalid reason under the country’s laws.  Predictably, that decision plunged the DRC into chaos.

Protests in December left dozens dead, resulting in an increased police presence and the blockage of social media.  The government has delayed the elections until at least December 2018, though in principle that could stretch further.  In the meantime, mediation by the Catholic Church has proven moderately successful at quelling the immediate threat of violence, while the appointment of an opposition leader as Prime Minister is a step in the right direction.

However, the risks in Congo are horrifyingly apparent.  Past power shifts have not only been violent, but often catastrophically so.  In 1996, the overthrow of Mobutu Sese Seko’s government by Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and rebel groups left up to a million dead and led to an even more cataclysmic conflict only two years later.  The Second Congo War, linked directly to the 1996 overthrow, killed more people in any conflict since the Second World War.   It brought nine African national armies into conflict in Congo, plus over twenty rebel groups.  It also led to the political involvement of nearly half a dozen other African nations.  It has been appropriately dubbed by historians and journalists as “Africa’s World War”.

Simply put, the Congo is a volatile, dangerous place, where continental warfare was waged barely over a decade ago.  Rebel groups still roam Eastern Congo, killing and raping countless people.  Political instability could lead to the growth of these groups, and perhaps even the involvement of national governments again.  The DRC is a place where widespread, tumultuous violence is commonplace both now and in the recent past.

This is why Kabila’s actions could be so disastrous for Congo.  The lack of a successful transition of power in national history sets a poor blueprint to follow, especially for a leader in power for so long.  Since Mobutu, Congo’s leaders have proven autocratic and unwilling to relinquish control.  Tales of Mobutu’s “Versailles of the jungle”, a spectacular marble palace, is just one example of the corruption that made Congo famous.  If Kabila is seeking a long reign such as that, it could similarly dissolve into disarray and war, just as Mobutu’s did.

But many feel that not enough is being done to stop Kabila.  Belgium and France, two of the most important influencers in Congolese policy, both merely stated that they would review their respective relationships with the DRC.  The United States and the United Kingdom both offered similar statements, if a bit more strongly worded.  The point is, none of the countries most able to hurt the government, both politically and economically, have bothered to take steps in that direction.  A fairly widespread lack of media and public interest among western populations in African affairs likely has something to do with it.  The aforementioned Second Congo War, though being the deadliest conflict since World War II, is seldom discussed in academic settings, let alone the public square.  A history of American inaction in Africa dates back to the Clinton presidency when the administration knew about the Rwandan genocide yet chose to ignore it.  The sad reality is that not enough people in the west care and intentional ignorance could again be the policy of the west.

All the while, Joseph Kabila sits in his massive Kinshasa palace, reportedly playing video games and collecting motorcycles.  Outside those walls, millions live in abject poverty, violence plagues the streets, and an oblivious world looks the other way.  As Congo descends further and further towards chaos, it is anyone’s guess how the crisis will play out.  A country with such a dark history, however, cannot afford to allow that history to repeat itself.

A Problem Like Maria

By Anne Hicks

Just two weeks after Hurricane Irma, Puerto Rico was struck by Hurricane Maria, a smaller yet significantly more devastating storm. The destruction of the island, in the wake of Maria’s massive winds and heavy rains has overwhelmed the city’s infrastructure and caused significant damage to the environment and raised concern over the accurate portrayal of death tolls in the aftermath of disaster.

While Irma was a powerful Category 5 hurricane, it passed West and did not directly hit the island of Puerto Rico. Maria, on the other hand, although categorized as a smaller category four hurricane, proved more devastating than Irma because it passed straight over the island and hit at its most intense moment. After Irma, one million Puerto Ricans were left without power. By the time Maria hit on September 20th, thirteen days after Irma, 60,000 of those one million people were still without power. Now, in early October, many of the 3.4 million U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico are still missing power. According to a statement made by the Department of Defense on October 11th, three weeks after Maria, only 16% of the population has electricity. Unfortunately, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority suspects that an outage at a Puerto Rican nuclear plant may have decreased that number to 10%. Maria’s 150 mph winds have destroyed the island’s infrastructure and rendered the people powerless, waterless, and with limited fuel and access to communication services. Without electricity, it is impossible for water to be pumped into homes for drinking, bathing, and flushing toilets. Access to clean and fresh water has become a predominant problem. Because the energy system on the island was already poorly established, the storm destroyed an estimated 80% of the island’s power lines and it is projected to take from four to six months to restore power. It is understood that the implications of such prolonged power loss are many for a hot, tropical climate that will be left without air conditioning or electric water pumps, hospitals running on generators and limited fuel, and for anyone attempting to leave the territory.

All of the infrastructures on the island has been shocked. Because the main dam was structurally damaged in the storm, water supply became immediately threatened. Without electricity, generators on the island are relying on gas and a shortage of fuel and difficulty distributing fuel has become a major concern of officials and residents. As previously mentioned, the poor management of the government-owned power company has complicated the reconstruction of connection to power lines. It is approximated that 80% of the “transmission and distribution infrastructure” has been lost. Further complicating the mess, the fact that Puerto Rico is an island has made it extremely difficult to deliver relief. In response to the limited operation of hospitals, the U.S. Navy brought its floating hospital, the USNS Comfort, to Puerto Rico last week.

In addition to massively damaging the territory’s infrastructure, Hurricane Maria destroyed much of El Yunque, the only tropical forest in the U.S. and one of the island’s main tourist attractions, bringing in 1.2 million visitors each year. The overwhelming defoliation of the forest poses risks not only for the animals who inhabit the forest but for the people who rely on the health of the ecosystem to direct the water. Research suggests that 20% of the water used for drinking on the island comes from the capturing of water by plants in these forests which direct the water towards streams and rivers. The efficiency of this process is now at risk, especially considering the destruction of tree mosses like Bryophytes that used to help collect water that is drained into rivers. Animals who made their habitats in the forest, especially birds and bats, will face a long battle to establish new homes and sources of food. Although much of the forest vegetation has been decimated, the pre-established biodiversity of the forest is suspected to aid in the recovery of the ecosystem over time.

An emerging concern in the wake of Hurricane Maria is over the reported death toll and how that number might vary across sources.  How fatality counts are decided, and when certain deaths are deemed directly related to the hurricane have become topics of debate. The cause of death is left to be determined by the individual’s coroner or doctor, making many deaths that have resulted from the hurricane instead labeled as the result of other contributing health factors. The way a death is interpreted, then, is often open to a variety of conclusions. This grey area is perpetuated further by the infrastructural incapacity to accurately count death tolls, the hesitance of families of illegal immigrants to report deaths, and the politics behind the numbers reported. President Trump, for example, made a point of comparing the low death toll in Puerto Rico to that of Hurricane Katrina in order to defend the administration’s response to disaster relief efforts. In a developing country, on the other hand, the death toll may be dramatized to muster more support and donations for relief efforts. Regardless of the motivation, it is clear that death tolls for this disaster and disasters to come may never be truly telling of the actual situation on the ground.

Hurricane Maria has devastated the people of the island of Puerto Rico, leaving in its wake the destruction of the territory’s infrastructure and environment, as well as raising questions about the ability of any government to report death tolls accurately after a disaster has occurred. As the territory begins to rebuild, it will be important to continue to support Puerto Ricansand the environment that they call home.

The Continual Cold War Redux

By Noah Butler

On December 26, 1991, the USSR officially dissolved when the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union voted the country out of existence. Since that historic day, which saw the end of one of the world’s most powerful nations and one of the two global superpowers, the United States has continued to pursue an antagonistic foreign policy towards Russia. Many U.S. legislators (if not practically all, considering a July 98-2 Senate vote to slap more sanctions on Russia) have actively rallied against and painted Russia as the biggest threat to global peace, only behind ISIS and North Korea.

Why should the United States not work with Russia or try to remedy relations that have long been neglected? Cooperation with Russia would be in the short and long term benefit of the U.S. by helping combat terrorism originating from the Middle East, creating more diplomatic unity on things such as pressuring North Korea, and stunting the ascendency of China.

The election of Donald Trump to the presidency saw an uncertain future for U.S. foreign policy, especially on the issue of Russia. Candidate Trump promised that he would attempt to remedy relations with the Russian Federation and seek partnership with President Putin. This came much to the dismay of neoconservatives and neoliberals on both the left and right who have continuously beat the drums of war whenever Russia is mentioned. One of President Trump’s main reasons for working with Russia is the fight against terrorism. This is common sense to anyone with a pragmatic view of the world. Defeating ISIS in Syria and Iraq is a top priority so why would we make it more difficult on ourselves just because some perceive Russia as a bad actor and our eternal enemy? President Bashar al-Assad has been painted as a vicious tyrant by Western media but he brings a strong and stable hand to a region wrought by volatility–acting as a stalwart defense against the expansion of terrorism. The previous U.S. policy of helping Syrian rebels was thankfully ended because it would have led to a similar situation like Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s regime fell if Assad was ousted. Coordinating has already proved fruitful with a July 2017 regional ceasefire brokered by the U.S. and Russia–reached by Trump and Putin during their G-20 meeting on July 7–that has largely held even when multiple Western analysts predicted it would fail. Working with Russia on things such as coordinated military strikes on ISIS targets would hasten the collapse of their rapidly shrinking territorial possessions.

The United States would create a formidable diplomatic front with Russia if relations were improved. Russia and China are North Korea’s main and most important economic partners. Both nations believe that if North Korea were to fall, the South would assume control of the peninsula thus putting the U.S. right on their respective borders. This would not be in either of their interests because of their current relations with the United States. If the U.S. were on more friendly terms with Russia, they would be more inclined–if not compelled–to completely cut off North Korea in wake of their recent belligerent stance along with nuclear and missile tests. This would effectively put their economy on life support and would place enormous pressure on China for being their last substantial trading partner. This leads into my next point that an alliance with Russia would be almost a nightmare scenario for China. Being surrounded by U.S. allies: India to the South, Japan and South Korea to the East, and Russia to the North, would greatly hinder the expansionist policy of the current Chinese administration. The U.S. would be able to refocus its efforts away from the Middle East and pivot to the Asia-Pacific region as President Obama attempted to do in his last few years in office with things such as the failed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). President Obama had the right intentions to refocus U.S. efforts in the Pacific because of China’s expansionist moves in the South China Sea and their attempts to form partnerships in the region; however, hostilities with both China and Russia greatly hinders the extent of U.S. influence in the region. Even though Russia is no longer the superpower it was, it is still one of the most powerful global actors and has been ascendant under Putin.

To those who believe that we should not work with Russia, I say that Russia has only been acting in their best interest and has not done anything to directly harm the interests of the U.S. Arguing that Russia should not be trusted because they meddled in our elections is pure political posturing since Russia did not change or alter anyone’s vote; also, it is quite hypocritical considering the U.S. has meddled in other countries’ elections for years. Russia’s annexation of Crimea was surprising in the international arena, but is of no means reason to isolate a nation claiming what was historically theirs. Officially acknowledging Crimea as a part of Russia, advocating for the return of Russia to the G8, and rolling back economic sanctions would put the U.S. and Russia on a path to a mutual relationship of cooperation and possibly friendship.