Trump’s Habit of Abandonment

By Jessica McHale

Traditionally, American presidents have encouraged diplomacy and peace through treaties and international agreements before resorting to threats or violence, as that is one of the most significant shared values demonstrated by democracies (regardless of whether the state being dealt with is also a democracy.)  However, American foreign policy has experienced a powerful and incredibly dangerous shift away from this established practice since the inauguration of President Trump. Although Trump’s foreign policy endeavors have often remained unexplained and sporadic, one focus of his has proved consistent throughout his 8 months in office: his habit of retreat, which runs contrary to America’s historical precedent for international affairs. This switch in America’s approach to foreign policy is incredibly harmful. From his abandonment of peaceful dispute resolution frameworks to his withdrawal from previously established international treaties, agreements, and organizations, Trump is actively weakening the United States and its position as a global hegemon.

To justify his international approach, Trump claims that Americans need to reclaim American jobs and set the example that America must put itself first. He discredits the notion that the United States has some sort of moral responsibility to help other, less fortunate states (which are often in their position due to toxic Western imperialist endeavors), mostly relying on the argument that American innovation and economic advancement is hindered by international interference.

Firstly, prematurely retracting from diplomatic means and resulting to threats and eventual violence posits significant economic consequences. Not only is war incredibly costly, but international isolation and protectionist policies are also economically harmful to the United States considering how heavily we rely on necessary resources (including human capital) from other states to fuel our own economy as well as provide raw materials and final goods to American companies. The current international world order is remarkably characterized by state-to-state dependency and one state’s reliance on another for economic means is not as zero sum as Trump would like to argue. The more the United States presents itself as unwilling to compromise with other states and promote peaceful decision-making, the less other countries are going to commit to economic partnerships that benefit the American economy.

In addition to economic considerations, Trump’s foreign policy agenda of retreat also demonstrates severe political repercussions. His complete dismissal of participating in any method of international cooperation that does not directly impact the United States in a positive manner has cut important strategic political allies and will continue to do so. As the United States has historically served as an exemplar of democracy and diplomacy, other states will soon begin to mock the U.S.’s new approach of disruptive behavior and political discord which can potentially become the new norm, resulting in little urgency to promote cooperation. The loss of life due to war and intrastate disagreements over politics is just one of the many severe consequences of states pursuing policies purely according to their own interests. At its worst, this tactic can lead to a dystopian disregard of state autonomy. At its best, it leads to a superiority complex and ignores the desperate need of assistance for states victim to extreme poverty, violence, and turmoil. Although cooperation and the prospect of peace through diplomatic means is one of the core tenets of liberalism, pro-Trump realists should also discover the need to eschew support for Trump’s routine abandonment, as mediation and partnership increasingly become a matter vital to state security and survival, and as Trump’s retreat has often allowed for other countries to gain economically and politically.

Trump’s policy of retreat is also socially harmful. His persistence in building a wall along the US-Mexico border, blocking US travel from Middle Eastern citizens, and rejecting DACA have demonstrated his disregard for foreigners, especially those who can offer little to the United States and who have historically been discriminated against. This sort of retreat has caused especially harmful relations regarding race and citizenship status throughout the United States. Whether he intended a negative impact or not, his desertion within this realm of foreign policy has caused severe domestic issues aimed toward normalizing harmful behaviors toward immigrants and minorities, especially those connected in some way to the countries he attempts to distance from the United States.

The arguments put forth by Trump and his supporters that foreigners and international involvement are hindering the U.S. economy are simply untrue. Not only do immigrants complete a significant portion of jobs within the United States economy deemed as unwanted by Americans, but they also (unfortunately) provide this work for lower wages than American citizens, allowing companies to benefit from larger profits which ultimately supports our overall GDP. Additionally, as was discovered after the disturbance ensued by Trump’s desire to alter the HB1 visa provision (predominantly from tech companies that chiefly rely on the minds of foreign engineers and innovators), the American economy is greatly dependent on foreign employment for our own success and technological advancement over other states. Ultimately, Trump’s tendency to retreat from the global community actually does not in fact put “America First,” but rather it weakens our stance within the global community while providing economic, political, and social consequences.

The Fragile State of U.S. Cybersecurity Policy: Is it enough?

By Sarah Taylor

Google the word “hack” these days and thousands of hits come up regarding large, multinational companies being hit by attacks that you think shouldn’t have happened in the first place. In the current media frenzy focusing on the North Korean missile crisis, hurricanes and natural disasters, and humanitarian crises, cybersecurity threats and attacks fly relatively under the radar. Only when the attack threatens an election or millions of identity thefts does the news of a detrimental hack make headlines. Most recently, the Equifax hack released the private information of 143 million of Americans that resulted in many having their identity stolen and leaving their credit ruined. The United States has been the subject of thousands and thousands of cybersecurity threats, and yet the policy (both domestic and foreign) regulating them is relatively undeveloped. The investigation into Russian cyber-meddling in the 2016 Presidential election seems as though it has stalled at best. At worst, it has been completely forgotten in the sidetracking hearings of former F.B.I. Director James Comey. What should have been a hallmark case in foreign cyber attacks turned into a political tête-à-tête.

Cyber attacks are nearly impossible to predict, and even harder to prosecute after the fact, as there are no fingerprints or DNA  evidence left behind in a purely digital invasion. Thus, the policy surrounding cybersecurity is notably lacking in specificity, especially with regards to foreign entities performing the attacks. Often times, the attacks are a result of pure human error, which makes policy formulation that much harder. For example, in the Russian hack into the DNC emails, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta clicked a link to reset his password that he thought was sent by “the Gmail team”. This very basic phishing email gave Russian hackers full access to Podesta’s emails and sent the final months of the 2016 presidential campaign into a frenzy that included the word “emails” being exhausted in every debate. By the time the breach was even discovered, the irreparable damage had already been done.

Thirty-nine states have found evidence of invasions by Russian hackers into software systems and voter databases, using this data to attempt to delete or alter votes. While this is clearly an extreme situation, little has been done to our relationship with Russia to ensure this doesn’t happen again, or to at least show that we are taking this as seriously as we should be. The implications of Russia hacking into the election are far-reaching. If they are able to alter voter data to alter to outcome of the election, then the entire integrity of the American political system is at danger. It is as though the fears of the Red Scare and the anti-communism nightmares of the mid-twentieth century are being realized as technology has made them an available possibility. Currently, the Department of Homeland Security has a “Framework” for private sector businesses to investigate and respond to cyber threats. Most multi-national corporations have an information security department that handles these matters as well. However, the United States’ body of foreign policy is lacking specific measures to identify and stop or respond to attacks from foreign nations that have malicious intentions. These attacks are especially dangerous when the attacks are backed by the government, as is suspected in the Russian election intrusion.

While I argue that Homeland Security should develop a similar framework with more specific details on how the United States’ public and private sectors should respond to foreign attacks, it is understandable how this goal can be significantly roadblocked by gaps in capabilities and detection. For obvious reasons, government entities are not quick to lay claim to an attack, especially when it impacts the political integrity of another country or hundreds of millions of Americans. DHS is making positive strides in identifying potential threats. Most recently, they identified a Russian cybersecurity firm, Kaspersky Lab, as using antivirus software to spy on the government. The firm likely has ties to the Kremlin. Though these are steps in the right direction, these incidences are still found when it is likely too late. In the case of Kaspersky, their ties to the Kremlin should have been an automatic red flag and disallowed business in or with the United States. Cybersecurity threats by foreign nations have been proven to have irreparable and unthinkable damage on the core of the United States, whether it be a presidential election or the credit of half the country.

Corruption in the Rainbow Nation

By James Raubenheimer

The idealism, optimism, and hope that spurred from post-apartheid South Africa brought the country ahead and away from its recent dark past. Such a trend can be seen across many countries and history such as global idealism following World War I and the Cold War. In recent years, forces of corruption have risen in the ranks of the South African government. The corruption that exists is only a symptom of several underlying problems. The main issues identified are lack of education, widespread economic inequality, and a lack of government infrastructure. The Rainbow Nation has focused on integrating those damaged by the apartheid regime and uniting the country after the racial divide.  However, post-apartheid South Africa has yet to fully develop a new era of governance, and this change needs to happen in order to secure a stable and successful future for South Africa.

South Africa is a fledgling democracy currently ruled by the African National Conference. The party has won all of the post-1994(post-apartheid) elections. The one-party state nature of the South African government and the people’s historical support for the ANC has led to the numerous elections where the ANC nominated candidate cruises to a victory. South Africa’s current president, Jacob Zuma, is infamous for laughing off all questions as seen in the above comic. As President Zuma states “my laughing’s not hurtful, it’s healthy” even when this laughter is in response to serious issues ranging from South Africa’s drought to unemployment to mob murders.  Most notoriously though President Zuma has received 783 payments worth more than 4 million rand from his financial advisor and his associate companies. Zuma’s financial advisor has also been convicted of two corruption charges relating to the cover-up of an investigation into a previous arms deal. Surprisingly, corruption charges have yet to be brought up against Zuma amidst years of an alternating between corruption and cover-up.

The most current political scandal in South African revolves around the wealthy and elite Gupta family. SAP, the German software corporation, has leaked emails showing that the company is involved in paying the Gupta family to gain key business positions. Four executives in the company have been fired as it has launched further investigation into the scandal. The chief executive of Bell Pottinger, a British relations firm, stepped down and four workers were fired amidst an investigation into the firm’s connection with the Gupta family.  The Guptas have been accused of using their ties to Jacob Zuma and the South African government to secure contracts for the Gupta’s mining empire. The Gupta’s business is thriving due to special government assistance, and there exists a great tone of secrecy regarding this issue.

The South African government has a history of addressing complex issues with simple solutions, which inevitably results in many unintended consequences. If people are poor, the government prints more money. If people are not getting educated, the government makes education free.  If the employment rate is low, the government makes government jobs. In some countries, such solutions can be implemented very successfully, but South Africa lacks the infrastructure to ensure such solutions are implemented properly. This leads to a lack of successfully implemented solutions and a government, which refuses to hold accountability for failure. A government, which refuses to hold accountability will inevitability abuse its power and stretch the boundaries of what is considered honest and just. A non-transparent government lacks trust and the South African government lacks transparency.

The African Union is tasked with promoting unity, solidarity, and creating a prosperous Africa. In order to fix the widespread corruption prevalent not only in South Africa but existent in many African states, the leaders of African nations need to be held accountable for their actions. The African Union can serve as a body, which governs and supports the mission in order to help African nations prosper. A government in which officials are not held accountable for their actions cannot possibly prosper even with widespread support and a commitment to succeed.

In a speech in 2013 at a memorial for South African soldiers, President Zuma stated: “The problem in South Africa is that everybody wants to run the country. The government must be given the space to do its work of running the country to implement the policies of the ruling party that was voted into office by millions of our people.” This mindset in governance results in an excess of power given to those government officials ruling the country and an increase in power taken away from the citizens of the country. A cloak is placed over the inner workings of a government, which results in secrecy and allows for the abuse of power. In order for South Africa to reach its full potential, the issue of corruption must be addressed first in order to ensure other solutions to prevalent problems can be implemented.

Angela Merkel is no liberal

By Vikram Chaudhuri

With the election of Donald Trump as the President of the United States, many liberal pundits found themselves in shock as a man who blatantly disregarded our constitutional norms and questioned America’s place in the global order was elected President of The United States. This led to some liberals dubbing German Chancellor Angela Merkel as the new “Leader of the Free World.” The contrast between Trump and Merkel made by the English speaking punditocracy is easy to make although, as it will be shown later, is a faulty one to make. As Trump pledged to temporarily bar Muslims from the United States, Merkel invited refugees arriving in Europe, many of whom are Muslim. However, Merkel’s stance was not born out of liberalism, but based on what she perceives to be in Germany’s national interest. For example, she contributed to the imposition of harsh austerity measures on Greece in order for the Greeks to receive a bailout package from the European Commission, European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, a policy Germany had significant influence in creating. The austerity cuts to Greek government programs were deep and inflicted heavy costs for Greek citizens. By the same token as her refugee decision, Merkel was acting out of what she perceived to be Germany’s self-interest. Merkel’s reasoning behind her refugee policy was that Germany has an aging population and young workers with high birth rates are needed to fill in jobs as more Germans reach retirement age. The refugee crisis was a blessing in disguise for Germany from the perspective of addressing future labor shortages.

Merkel is willing to change her tune based on public sentiment. When German public opinion was favorable to helping refugees, Merkel declared that “We can do it” in response to the potential difficulties that could come with absorbing so many newcomers. As public opinion has turned negative on immigration, Merkel has been willing to propose drastically authoritarian measures such as a ban on the burka, the traditional head to toe covering worn by ultraconservative Muslim women. Regardless of one’s stance on women wearing such garments, such a measure can be seen as pandering to the German far right who have rallied hard against the new influx of refugees as a threat to German culture. It is hard to imagine such a proposal being enacted in the United States due to how blatantly unconstitutional it would be. When one dives into Merkel’s career, it becomes harder to conceive of her as a liberal.

One of liberalism’s foremost values is secularism, the separation of Church and State. Merkel has lamented that there is too little Christianity in Germany today. These are not the words of a progressive liberal but rather of a conservative Lutheran.  Moreover, Merkel’s political party, the Christian Democratic Union, centers around Christian values and is a bulwark of mainstream German conservatism. As expected from a mainstream conservative, Markel has publically declared marriage to between a man and a woman. This is a position we might expect to hear from someone like Vice President Mike Pence. This belies the portraits of Merkel in the English speaking world as a defender of liberal values, such as when she lambasted Vladimir Putin’s Russia for its anti-LGBT policies. At the time, she was trying to stonewall on the legalization of gay marriage in Germany. When gay marriage finally came up for a vote in the German Bundestag or parliament, Merkel voted against it.

With the aftermath of the Charlottesville violence, President Donald Trump has been criticized for a failure to appropriately condemn neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Yet Merkel has faced a neo-Nazi related scandal of her own. Between 2000 and 2006, a neo-Nazi organization, the National Socialist Underground, murdered 9 immigrants. The German police failed to properly investigate these murders which they lazily attributed to gangland feuds. After the murderers were caught, Merkel promised a thorough investigation about how they were able to operate for so long. However, German security agencies obstructed the parliamentary investigation to protect their own image. Politicians on the investigative committee reported that files on specific people of interest had been destroyed by security agencies. The committee also uncovered a failure by the authorities to question people when murders happened in the vicinity of known neo-Nazi bars. Furthermore, it was found that security agencies had paid informants associated with National Socialist Underground who were protected from scrutiny. With German taxpayer money, these informants were able to fund neo-Nazi activities. Up to forty informants were discovered to have been associated with the core trio who committed the murders. Moreover, it was found that the security agencies were aware of the trio’s ties to nazism and their procurement of weapons during the occurrence of the murders. Merkel’s promise for an account of the truth was broken and although there is no evidence that she was directly involved in any coverups and misconduct; she ultimately bears responsibility for government function While she certainly does not offer sympathy and defense for the behavior of neo-Nazis, unlike Trump, her unwillingness to push for accountability shows a concern for the government’s image take a higher priority than understanding how neo-Nazis eluded and took advantage of the security agencies and making changes to ensure that it never happens again. Furthermore, it shows that promises especially to families of those murdered by the National Socialist Underground are too inconvenient to follow through with when the political heat turns up. Playing politics and preserving her government take precedence over any values that one would expect from the “Leader of the Free World”.

While many feel revulsion towards Donald Trump and his actions as President, it is erroneous and uninformed to rebrand foreign conservative leaders such as Angela Merkel into champions of liberalism and progressivism. Criticisms of the President must not devolve into false lionization of figures who become more questionable the more one critically evaluates them. Liberals who oppose Trump should look to people who actually ascribe to their values and not sink to the intellectual dishonesty that characterizes Trumpism. The opposition must have the intellectual high ground over the government. For conservatives who are opposed to Trump should give Merkel a second look for an example of relatively stable conservative politics. Overall, the discourse around Merkel in English speaking media usually mischaracterizes her and it’s important to have the proper understanding of foreign leaders. Merkel is a shrewd politician excellent at working for partisan and national interests but should not be seen as as a beacon of liberal values by either her admirers or her detractors.

Tunisia’s Struggling Democracy: An Unlikely Source of Hope

By Sarah Taylor

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

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

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

tunisia democracy chart (1)

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

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

A Nation Without a State: The Kurds

By Emma Dahill

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

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

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

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

Greece A Decade After the Recession: What Happened?

By Thomas Bell

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

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

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

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

The answer to this question is complicated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Irish Lobbying Laws Create Framework for EU Legislation

By Derek Brody

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

While the World Watches: The Plight of the Rohingya

By Javan Latson

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

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

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

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

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

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

China and India’s Difficult Relationship

By Yuhang Zhang

The Situation

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

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

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

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

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

China Alone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope and Potentials

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

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

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

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

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