Category Archives: North America

Opinion | The Importance of Diplomacy in the Era of Trump

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Jack Lashendock is a Second Year student at Gettysburg College in America. He currently serves as the President of his school’s International Affairs Association and Model United Nations team (IAA/MUN) and a Senator in the Gettysburg College Student Senate. He is pursuing a double major in International Affairs and Political Science and a double minor in History and Middle East and Islamic Studies. His area of academic focus includes global diplomacy, international peacekeeping, Middle Eastern politics and history, and American government. He can be reached for discussion at lashja02@gettysburg.edu.

Recently, a friend of mine told me the story of an encounter she had on an international flight while traveling back to the United States via a stop at some foreign airport. Sitting on the plane, she met a man who worked for the United Nations. This man was by no means a top diplomat in the upper echelons of the organization, however, he was a United Nations diplomat nonetheless. Talking to a colleague, he discussed his disapproval of President Trump and made comments on the consequences of his actions in regards to international diplomacy. Unfortunately, the story ended here without specifics or direct expert thoughts, however, it invites one to ponder the importance of diplomacy in the era of President Trump. This opinion piece is inherently partisan– even just the notion of Trump and his policies elicits differing responses from political parties, interest groups, and most especially, Americans. I too have my own partisan beliefs on this subject, however, for the sake of this conversation, I will suspend them (and I hope you, dear reader, will do so as well) and present the facts of the matter and my opinions based on them.

I have the pleasure to serve as the President of Gettysburg College’s International Affairs Association which acts as a facilitator of international discussion and debate, in addition to organizing Model United Nations events and conferences. Since the election of Trump last November, our meetings have always included discussions of Trump’s actions– either directly or indirectly, depending on the discussion topic. Moreover, last Spring when our team traveled to London for our international conference many Londoners asked me to rationalize Trump’s behavior or, given my American citizenship, explain to them what the foreign policy of my nation’s chief diplomat was. More than a year following his inauguration, I still haven’t a clear answer for either question.

Trump’s rise to power on the campaign trail, and the foreign policy (for lack of a better term) during the first year of his presidency has been largely focused on two agenda items: reversion to the isolationist policies of pre-World War II and a seemingly aggressive push to abandon policies, agreements, and actions implemented during the Obama administration. According to Trump, and those who make up his base, allies and adversaries alike have been deliberately weakening the United States; this viewpoint holds that the multilateral agreements negotiated by the past administrations are in the best interests of everyone but the US citizen. Instead, Trump is a staunch advocate of bilateral negotiations where he believes the one-on-one atmosphere reduces the opportunity for foreign nations to take advantage of America and he has vowed to conduct foreign negotiations in this manner moving forward. For multilateral agreements that already exist, Trump has noted that he wants to leave them in favor of being more isolationist or renegotiate them in a more bilateral setting. In President Trump’s first year in office, the United States has announced plans to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, the Iran Deal, NAFTA, TPP, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

With isolationism and a focus on ‘America First’, it would seem there is no need for American diplomacy in the era of Trump. In the past year, we have seen diplomatic protocol breached by the Chief US diplomat: at the G20, Trump shoved the Prime Minister of Montenegro so he could stand in the front row of a photo; his Twitter taunts and belittling nicknames directed at world leaders create unwelcome tension; and his expletive laden comments about nations in other parts of the world reflects poorly on our global image.

Despite this, diplomacy is still important – especially given President Trump. American Ambassador to Japan under President Obama, John Roos, once said of diplomacy: “Diplomacy is fundamentally working with people, bringing people together to deal with difficult issues.” In today’s era, there are innumerable issues that plague the world and no state, however powerful they may think themselves, can solve them alone. From global warming, to world health, to international security, to human rights, the world now, more than ever, needs to come to the negotiation table. Not everyone will agree, and contrary to popular belief, diplomacy doesn’t have to be appeasement– just respect and something to stand for.

This belief in diplomacy, and peace in general, is in no way naïve or over optimistic, rather history has demonstrated the inherent desire for humans to achieve either, even in states of conflict. Examples that come to mind include the impromptu Christmas Truce of World War I and the ekecheiria that occurred during Ancient Greek Olympics. Perhaps the most pivotal role diplomacy has played in recent historical memory is the Cold War– a war which was overwhelmingly fought with words. The standoff at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, the U2 Spy Incident, and the Cuban Missile Crisis highlight events in which a lack of diplomacy would have led to the outbreak of war between the two nuclear superpowers of the world. Even when the fate of the world doesn’t hang in the balance, diplomacy is often the first (and most successful in my opinion) step toward ensuring it never will. Nixon’s “ping-pong” diplomacy opened US- Chinese relations; the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) negotiations improved not only US-Soviet relations, but limited the threat of nuclear annihilation by either; and the Apollo– Soyuz Test Project highlighted the power of soft diplomacy to bring together opposing sides for the benefits of humanity as a whole.

Even on non-security related issues, diplomacy has achieved success– notably the global effort that has helped to eradicate smallpox, with Polio most likely being next, and overwhelming will of nations to commit to reducing their reliance on non-renewable energy and focus on ways to recycle natural resources.

However, there is much to be done and the United States has always been on the forefront–championing the world to achieve greatness. With the rise of Putin’s Russia and the growing wave of nationalism, the world today is beginning to feel like a redux of the Cold War. Leaders across Africa, South America, Asia, and Europe (well, just Russia for now) will not hesitate to use violence to achieve their end goals and global superpowers (now three of them) seem to be at odds over more than ideology. World leaders with unchecked nuclear weapons stockpiles may activate their arsenals at the slightest hint of provocation, while even leaders of more experienced nuclear states hurry to dust off their silo doors.

These threats mandate increased diplomatic activity and a greater respect for the power of multilateral statesmanship. Diplomacy allows world leaders to communicate and clarify misunderstandings so that dialogue isn’t misinterpreted as a threat or provocation. Diplomats serve as a powerful and crucial check to the sometimes heated and inflammatory things these leaders say and do. Regardless of how the Trump presidency effects America’s global reputation, our nation will always be a major international actor, even if our role is diminished in the next three years. The White House and Republican members of Congress must not be so close-minded to the effectiveness of diplomacy, for even when it appears to fail, success can be salvaged from the ashes.

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What the death of a US Border Patrol agent says about the state of the Southern Border

Carly Greenfield is a third year International Relations student with an interest in non-wartime violence, gender theory, and organized crime, especially in Latin America .

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Four weeks ago, United States Border Patrol agent Rogelio Martinez died in the Big Bend, Texas area of the United States (US)-Mexico border. His partner was critically injured in the incident. Border patrol deaths are rare compared to other law enforcement bodies— the last murder of an on-duty agent was in 2010, making this case national news. The cause of death remains murky: while the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott (R), has called it a murder, others remain unsure of the circumstances surrounding Agent Martinez’ death. The agents were allegedly ambushed by a group of migrants crossing the border illegally and were then attacked with rocks. This storyline, however, becomes complicated by the fact that Agent Martinez’ body was found with both his gun and his wallet and his wounds may indicate a fall. Culberson County Sheriff Oscar Carrillo has said it could have been an accident, meaning weeks later, the cause of death remains unknown. While we still await a clearer narrative, the death has already revealed the importance of the US southern border across many fronts. The border plays the two-fold role of both being a material manifestation of US-Mexican collaboration and being a striking physical divide between the two countries. It is also an area that sees constant movement and exchange in its own local space and at the national level. All of these factors complicate the border, the role of the US Border Patrol, and the reactions and actions taken following the death of Agent Martinez.

The border plays a key role in the Conservative imagination. State and federal Republicans visualize the border as an impenetrable and controllable line that separates the United States from Mexico. This is seen through the constant calls for increased funding to both the Border Patrol and to the structural border— currently made up of fences, walls, sensors, checkpoints, and the like. The view of ‘Fortress America’ separates the national conversation from the daily interactions seen on the ground. Texas Senator Ted Cruz (R), for instance, tweeted this statement:

 “This is a stark reminder of the ongoing threat that an unsecure border poses to the safety of our communities and those charged with defending them. We are grateful for the courage and sacrifice of our border agents who have dedicated their lives to keeping us safe. I remain fully committed to working with the Border Patrol to provide them with all the resources they need to safeguard our nation.”

This view of border communities as separate from one another furthers the conservative narrative of an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ and denies the major links in the region that exist below the state level. With 10% of the US population having Mexican roots, and the border being former Mexican territory, heritage in the area crisscrosses the border. More than 14 million people crossed the border in just El Paso in the first six months of 2017 alone. But still, the Border Patrol is a strong image of a force protecting our border and our people from them. It began as a makeshift group patrolling the Southern border— this is important in understanding its politicization. While the agents now patrol both the Northern and Southern border, the Southern border has always been the primary target. This partition is emphasized even though the Southern border features many cities that are only bifurcated by the border itself. President Trump’s rhetoric has furthered this division. Following Agent Martinez’ death, he tweeted:

       “Border Patrol Officer killed at Southern Border, another badly hurt. We will seek out and bring to justice those responsible. We will, and must, build the Wall!”

 Although information about the situation was not yet available, it was already assumed that a non-American took part in the assault and that a wall would have prevented Agent Martinez’ death. The Border Patrol’s labor union quickly stated that they believed the agents were attacked with rocks by ‘illegal aliens’ or members of drug cartels. This shows the language around the border to be that of a hard, controlled space. President Trump has automatically assumed that the violence is from the outside and not an internal occurrence. This stands in contrast to how the governments of both Mexico and the US communicate behind closed doors, where the conversations around border violence and security churn constantly in a collaborative effort. President Trump, instead, has positioned himself as a protector of the American people against those of Mexico, summoning false images of both a monolithic American population and Mexican one, respectively. This rhetoric has strained his relationship with the US’ Southern neighbor, along with marking a massive shift in tone from former presidents.

Agent Martinez’ death, and its quick politicization, is evidence of President Trump’s departure from previous administrations’ policies towards Mexico and also makes the background bureaucratic work between the two countries more difficult. While the current administration uses heavy language when discussing the border, government agencies continue to operate behind the scenes in close collaboration. The border, especially in the last decade, has been a place of communication on an institutional level. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a department formed in 2002 under President W. Bush’s watch, has its closest foreign partnerships with Mexico. The department, which brought together formerly separate agencies, is the third biggest in the US and comprises major components such as Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the US Coast Guard (USCG), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). All of these components communicate daily with the Government of Mexico (GOM), with one of the first occurrences following Agent Martinez’ death was a call from Mexico to see if the possible killer was a Mexican national. More so, following the Merida Initiative in 2006, the US has contributed millions of dollars to better securitize Mexico and work in close collaboration to fight transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) based in the region. This has led to extradition agreements, initiatives such as the Border Violence and Prevention Council (BVPC), law enforcement training, and re-integration plans for deported Mexican nationals.

Charting further back, the creation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994 raised trade between the two countries and led to many US companies building their factories on the Mexican side of the Southern border. The raised purchasing power of local Mexicans and the cheaper goods on the Mexican side then saw high levels of civilian crossings for consumer purchases. These numbers continue to be high for both work and pleasure purposes. As of 2016, 81% of Mexican exports went to the United States. Most of these go through the border— again emphasizing the importance of the border in economic and security terms.

The border is a complex region due to its institutional and local significance. It is the main port of entry for illicit drugs into the US, but also serves as a main entry-point for Mexican products. Its population oftentimes straddles the border, living on both sides and sharing heritage with both sides. There is also the complication of indigenous lands and populations— creating yet another structural difficulty for American administrations.

This is why Trump’s rhetoric can have serious repercussions for the border and for both countries’ politics. As Mexico heads into an election year, anti-Mexican sentiments from the sitting US president fuel anti-American sentiments in Mexico. It makes collaboration more difficult as it is hard to keep the day-to-day work of bureaucrats separate from the hyperbolic speech at the national level. Even President Trump has admitted this— in a phone call to Mexican President Peña Nieto in August, he said that the wall was a large political problem but hardly the focus of the US-Mexican relationship. For President Peña Nieto and his party, the answer is not so clear: the  Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), will have a hard time defending close relations with the US when President Trump speaks so brashly and uses the wall as a symbol to pander to his supporters. The impact of the President is far reaching. Illegal crossing arrests are at their lowest in years, with many saying this is due to President Trump’s hard language. This may not show the whole picture, however; fear of arrest could simply be pushing migrants to try and reach further into the interior of the US, fueling the smuggling business around the border. When the layers of local and state interaction are added, as both the US and Mexico have federalist systems, it is plain to see why the border is a region that should be treated with attention to detail and an understanding of its history. The death of Agent Martinez’, however, tells a different story, and is another example of this administration’s one-dimensional approach and the future of the border.

The Iranian Irritation:​ President Trump’s menace to the Iran Deal

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Clément Briens is a second-year undergraduate student in War Studies & History with an interest in Cybersecurity and Nuclear Proliferation.

On October 15th, Donald Trump must decide in front of US Congress whether to certify that Iran is complying with the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) signed in 2015. After more than 20 months of negotiations, P5+1 countries (the Security Council Permanent 5 members+ Germany) signed a deal with Iran limiting their nuclear weapons development program in exchange for tightened economic sanctions. The JCPOA became integrated into US Law with the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act passed in May 2015.

This act asks for re-certification from the US President every 90 days that Iran is, in fact, complying with the deal; if the POTUS refuses to certify, then a period of 60 days opens up in which US Congress may decide to reintroduce sanctions against Iran, hence formally marking an exit of the United States from the JCPOA. President Trump has recently made headlines by threatening to decertify the deal during the next hearing this October, which might lead to a collapse of the deal with Iran.

Donald Trump has always strongly opposed this deal and has been extremely vocal about his opinions regarding the regime, especially during his presidential campaign. However, President Trump’s first UN speech in September was particularly brutal and was of unprecedented violence: he described the Iran deal as being “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.” He even qualified Iran of being a “corrupt dictatorship” hiding as a democracy. “Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it”, he warns.

A potential exit of the United States from the deal would be disastrous for all parties. This includes US firms seeking to conduct business in Iran, America’s allies, as well as provoking irreversible damage to an already strained relationship between Iran and the United States.

It is also foolish to believe that it is the JCPOA’s aim to completely stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons; our best hope is to slow down Iran’s program while we repair relations with what used to be a crucial regional ally. As declared by, Robert Einhorn, a US academic who was partly behind the American negotiation of the deal, “opponents have had to scale back their criticism, in large part because the JCPOA, at least so far, has delivered on its principal goal—blocking Iran’s path to nuclear weapons for an extended period of time.” Therefore it is important for us to review what this deal’s objectives as they were designed by policy-makers are before threatening to cut it off and measure the benefits and shortcomings before assessing whether President Trump should jump the trigger of decertification.

Can we really stop Iran from gaining nuclear weapons?

Signed in Vienna on July 14th 2015, the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action marked an agreement between P5 countries and Iran that it would limit its nuclear enrichment activities (that would eventually lead them to gaining access to nuclear weaponry) in exchange for the lifting of various embargos and economic sanctions put in place by the Security Council since 2006. Here are the simplified terms of the agreement[1]:

  • Arms embargo until at least until 2020. Ballistic missile technology embargo until at least 2023.
  • Limitation of Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium to 300kg until 2030.
  • Redesigning of the heavy-water Arak Reactor so it does not produce weapons-grade plutonium as waste. No building of further heavy-water reactors until 2030.
  • Inspections and security measures until 2040.
  • End of economic sanctions on Iranian assets and end of embargo (UN Resolution 1737)
  • Redesigning of the heavy-water Arak Reactor so it does not produce weapons-grade plutonium as waste. No building of further heavy-water reactors until 2030

So what sense can we make of these terms? Do they stand to actually stop Iran from developing nuclear devices in the near future?

Firstly, the most obvious and the most alarming to some is how these agreements are limited in time, with quantitative limits over-enrichment and ballistic weapons research that last until approximately 2030, effectively delaying Iran’s “breakout time” instead of avoiding it. Adversaries of the deal, such as President Netanyahu, have called these limits a “sunset clause”. Former Israeli ambassador to the US Michel Oren declared in July that Israel and the US would cooperate “to ensure that the sun never sets on the sunset clause until there is a different Iranian regime.”[2]

Secondly, one may wonder how it would be possible to enforce these measures. While redesigning a reactor might be possible to be publicly proven by Iran, what stops them from building secret, undetectable reactors or nuclear enrichment facilities under mountains in the Iranian countryside?

This is where the IAEA[3] comes in. This international agency is a key factor in the enforcement of this deal, as they are the ones that provide the reports concerning Iran’s compliance with the deal. Their main framework for these reports is the Additional Protocol (AP) a treaty signed by Iran in 2003 in supplement to the NPT[4] which allows IAEA inspectors to visit any nuclear facilities in a very short notice (as to avoid hiding evidence of nuclear enrichment) and most importantly is legally binding for the signatory. [5]

Therefore, trust is an inherent factor in Iran’s compliance with security measures. This may explain the West’s approach at the Vienna summit: if the West successfully negotiates a delay in Iran’s nuclear programme, then it buys time for the West to rebuild economic and diplomatic ties with Iran, in order to ultimately persuade Iran that it does not need nuclear weapons, to begin with. Real change comes within. Being coercive with a key regional power is not the solution to achieve nonproliferation.

Upholding the agreement is a divisive question even in the POTUS’ camp. Both Rex Tillerson, Trump’s Secretary of State, and General James Mattis, his Secretary of Defence, are both rumoured to defend the deal. Mattis, in particular, has been very vocal about his support of his deal, despite his beliefs that it can be reinforced. “Iran is not in material breach of the agreement, and I do believe the agreement to date has delayed the development of a nuclear capability by Iran,” Mattis claimed in front of a Senate hearing.[6]

So is the Iran deal really one-sided?

To many observers, this deal stood out as being mutually beneficial, as Iranian compliance allowed for peace of mind for Western leaders regarding Iran’s nuclear activities as well as dropping economic sanctions which effectively opened Iranian markets to foreign investment. Boeing is poised to make an estimated $16.6bn from a first deal made in December 2016 for more than 80 planes, with a project for a second deal worth $3bn in the works.[7] European rivals Airbus have also exploited this golden opportunity and have passed a similar deal worth $20bn. Of course, what President Trump will omit from his speech on October 15th is the 18,000 jobs that are said to be created from this deal for American workers in Boeing plants all over the country.[8] His 2016 campaign was, of course, heavy with slogans of “bringing jobs back to America”.

Many private actors in other domains have also benefitted from this opening, such as rail and road infrastructure, potentially $25bn and $30bn markets respectively. Iran has also benefitted from this economic opening: they have claimed to have made “more than $100bn” from the end of economic sanctions.[9]

One look at the Iranian economy tells us why: oil represents more than 80% of the country’s public revenues.[10] The Iranian economy is volatile, as any country whose economy depends on market prices for natural resources- this is why they would also benefit from a situation of trust and stability, as it is easier to find clients in a time of crisis.

Conclusion

Iran is not only valuable as a potential geopolitical ally, but also a potential customer and economic partner. Trust is not only the key to diplomatically persuade them from developing nuclear weapons. It is also the key to the stability of their economy. An economy that, if it finds the right diversification under the right leadership, can transform Iran into a global power, and a powerful ally to the United States.

President Trump is right in that the international community should be uncompromising concerning Iran’s violations of human rights and sponsoring of terrorist groups such as Hamas, which are issues that should not be ignored and need to be solved. America’s commitment to its alliance with Israel is also crucial in the President’s decision. However, threatening to decertify the only sensible solution to Iran’s nuclear ambitions should not be on the United States’ agenda, and is of an unprecedented magnitude of violence concerning his speech.

Unfortunately, the West will not be able to stop Iran from getting the bomb short of invading them. The economic and political benefits to the JCPOA far outweigh any sanctions, as well as having the potential to make Iran reconsider their bright future as one without nuclear weapons. Trust is once again a key factor in both economic relations but also in the ability for the IAEA to enforce its security measures, hence allowing the international community to verify Iran’s compliance. Trump’s comments about Iran being a “rogue state” was detrimental to this effort and clearly shows his intent in decertifying- one may only hope that the remainder of the P5 powers will remain sensible and attempt to uphold the agreement despite America’s divided leadership.

 

Bibliography:

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/03/31/world/middleeast/simple-guide-nuclear-talks-iran-us.html

[2] http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Politics-And-Diplomacy/Israeli-MK-calls-on-US-to-scrap-sunset-clauses-of-Iran-deal-500097

[3] International Atomic Energy Agency

[4] Non Proliferation Treaty

[5] https://www.iaea.org/topics/additional-protocol

[6] http://edition.cnn.com/2017/10/03/politics/mattis-iran-nuclear-deal-national-security/index.html

[7] http://nypost.com/2017/06/10/iranian-airline-finalizes-deal-to-purchase-60-boeing-planes/

[8] https://www.seattletimes.com/business/boeing-co-says-it-signed-new-3b-deal-with-iranian-airline/

[9] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/feb/3/iran-claims-100-billion-windfall-from-sanctions-re/

[10] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iran/8996819/Iran-threatens-new-war-games-in-the-oil-lanes-of-the-Gulf.html

 

 

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Relieving the Disaster: Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean

 

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Airport in the British Virgin Islands trashed – Taken by 70sqd offloading Royal Marines

By William Reynolds, a third year War Studies undergraduate. From a British Armed Forces background, William follows the military capabilities of the West and the security issues in the Middle East with great interest, placing special emphasis on COIN and the experiences of individuals on the ground. William has worked as a Research Fellow for Dr Whetham in the Centre of Military Ethics and is a spammer of many articles on the King’s Middle East and North Africa Forum.

Intro

 With Hurricane Irma now departing the Caribbean and making landfall at Florida, it is time to take stock of the situation and analyse the responses. At least in the UK the news cycles continue to be dominated by the topic and a tale of two narratives are developing. On the one hand, a tale of a rapid and effective response by the UK government in dealing with the situation. On the other, of an ineffective and uncaring Britain leaving it to the last minute before mustering any sort of response.

 This article hopes to put much of this debate to rest and deliver an analysis of the situation, resources and response of the UK government to the disaster. Furthermore, this case offers an excellent example of explaining more on how disaster relief, the government and the military works in the UK- otherwise known as ‘Military Humanitarian Assistance Disaster Response’ (HADR). Apologies if this article is rather UK-centric. My knowledge of the French and Dutch response is limited and this is not meant to be seen in anyway as an ‘us vs them’ argument.

 The last vestiges of Empire

 Currently the UK response is being compared mainly alongside France and the Netherlands. On face value this comparison makes sense. All three states still have territories in the area, they all possess somewhat similar capabilities and they all are of a similar distance away from the region.

 However, the logic stops there. For France and the Netherlands, these territories form an integral part of their ‘homeland’. Politically these territories enjoy entirely different relationships with their European capitals than those possessed by the British. They have parliamentary representation, or at the least equivalent of, and are enshrined in their separate constitutions. By contrast, the UK governs their islands via defence and external affairs with some bespoke differences between the islands and varying degrees of assistance (for example, some islands rely on the UK for legal assistance). Other than that, most affairs are governed by local administrations.

 The key difference however is in geography and populations. The Dutch Antilles has a population of 300,000 spread over a small number of islands in close proximity to each other and the French West Indies has a population of around 850,000 on 7 islands, again in close proximity. By contrast, the UK governs 5 island groups; the Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla and Montserrat – all of which are spread out across the entire Caribbean and housing a population of around 100,000 between them. This is very much a product of Empire and de-colonisation. Whilst France and the Netherlands pursued integration, the UK eventually opted for granting independence. Many of these islands in fact separated from their established ‘colonial administrations’ in order to remain affiliated to the UK rather than follow their administrations into independence (such as Anguilla). This is a very simplified explanation, but it shall suffice for the context of explaining the HADR response.

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An example of just jaw spreads out the islands are. Compared Turks & Caicos + British Virgin Islands with the French West Indies.

 The UK response – too slow?

 The initial response to the incoming Hurricane Irma was already on station. RFA (Royal Fleet Auxillary – a separate organisation from the Royal Navy) Mount Bays was in the vicinity for Hurricane season. As an auxiliary landing ship dock (LSD(A)), she is fully kitted out for working from the sea onto land. Rather than carrying the equipment necessary for an amphibious landing, this bay-class LSD(A) has been fitted out for humanitarian relief, carrying a Wildcat helicopter (capable of underslung loads), 40 Royal Marines and a contingent from the Royal Logistics Corps (RLC).

RFA Mount Bay in the Caribbean

 This singular ship is currently being compared to the French and Dutch response by the media. The French have an infantry regiment based in Martinique, coupled with a small contingent of corvette (and possibly one frigate) sized ships in a small naval facility. The Dutch maintain a support ship and escort in the region with a further detachment (of around 1,000) personnel at an airfield which doubles up as a US Air Force forward operating base. Naturally, all of these resources were available instantly during the hurricane. Yet, it is also worth noting that they were also exposed to said hurricane.

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It is natural therefore to state that the British initial effort is poor in comparison. A singular ship vs the low thousands deployment of French and Dutch. However, this does not accurately reflect the defence posture of either group. The British islands, as mentioned, are spread out across the entire theatre. Some islands only number in the low thousands unlike the heavily concentrated, both geographically and population wise, French and Dutch groupings. There is no point in the UK having a military garrison in the region for security purposes. Thus, the deployment of a specialised vessel by the UK made sense. It could sit in the middle of the British islands and prioritise the most heavily affected regions.

 Following the initial devastation, HMS Ocean a Landing Platform Helicopter amphibious assault ship (LPH), was re-tasked from acting NATO flagship in the Mediterranean to the Caribbean. This became the crux of the next false accusation levelled at the UK government, that the response was too slow. Ocean will arrive in the disaster zone in roughly two weeks. Many have called this unacceptably too slow. Unfortunately, the Mercator projection (a nautical cylinder like map highlighting distances and courses) is revealed bare for all to see here. The Atlantic is huge. Any relief effort via ship will take a while.

 So why not focus by air? The Caribbean has very few airfields, and even fewer rated for the larger aircraft the size of C-17’s, and many of these will have been wrecked by the hurricane that transited through. Even then, with the islands spread out so far, this forces the relief effort on singular islands with little capacity to airlift it to the smaller islands, something that would require helicopters. The Turks & Caicos islands for example have 8 main islands and 299 smaller ones housing 31,500 people. Thus, a maritime response is the most efficient in this area of the world

There is an issue, at least in this commentator’s mind, of instant gratification here. With 24hr news, instant messaging and Hollywood many believe that responses, especially military ones, are rapid and fast (just look at the Game of Thrones cast teleporting around Westeros). One newspaper ran with the headline of a British couple complaining they were stranded for 72hrs before a rescue came. Even the military suffers from this portrayal. Both Gulf Wars were conducted at a rapid pace with the media witnessing action and reaction in a matter of hours. There was little to convey that it took half a year to get all of these assets in the region. Thus, when a response takes more than a couple of days to a major natural disaster, it is criticised and ridiculed. This goes without even mentioning that there was only a 48hr window between the first warning of an incoming major hurricane and it making landfall.

 A case study in disaster Response

 Now for some positivity. Little has been said on just how amazing the response has been from the UK. Let’s be honest we’re not a major power anymore. Yet in little under 3 days the UK has gone from identifying a ‘bad hurricane’, identified the relief on sight is not enough and then airlifted hundreds of personnel, their equipment and supplies into a devastated region half way across the globe. It’s incredibly hard to explain how impressive, purely from a logistical and planning sense, this is.

 The military, an organisation whose modus operandi is not disaster relief, has conducted a truly joint effort enterprise. Again, this is hard to put into words how impressive it is. The ability for separate organisations (the Army, Royal Navy, Royal Fleet Auxiliary and Royal Air Force) to work together in such a joint enterprise takes much professionalism and training to conduct. Just for an example, RAF chinooks will deploy army RLC personnel from a Royal Navy platform to conduct disaster relief. Furthermore, this occurs whilst continuing to coordinate British forces in Eastern Europe, the Black Sea, patrolling the Med, conducting operations over Iraq and Syria, working across the Middle East, delivering support from Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams (OMLT) in Afghanistan and continuing to garrison sites across the world. This is truly a joined-up collaboration and is not the mark of a minor military power.

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RLC deploy via amphibious barge from RFA Mount Bay to Anguilla

 The UK government should also get a pat on the back for their response. Between last weekend (written on 10/09/17) and Wednesday, a significant amount of planning, preparation and getting folks up to the line of departure occurred. This may be a statement of the bleedin’ obvious, but it’s a remarkable example of joined up government. The government was able to get the Cabinet Office, FCO, DFID, Home Office and the MOD to all work together to conduct the planning and implementation of disaster response. Not only do all of these organisations have their own quirks and rank structure, but they also all vie for funding from the Treasury on a regular basis and thus it would be understandable if teamwork was not in their nature. Yet these military and civil offices worked rapidly and efficiently to oversee the Operation. One great example was from DFID. “It had to work with charities to identify what emergency response was needed, to pull coherent asks together and get the supplies ready to move and sort out a £32 million shopping list of items required to get moving…[all of this] happened in 72 hours.”[1] Even the 72hr waiting couple, mentioned previously, were found and rescued in 72 hours. The FCO were able to realise there were British citizens there, track them down, notify a local responder and rescue them from a country which has essentially been damaged by something with the strength of a nuclear bomb, in 72 hours.

 Whilst not a perfect case study by any stretch of the imagination, the initial preparation and response is a great example on how effective disaster response is done. For those of us interested in the relationship between the military and civil government, it further provides a clear example of how impressive a well oiled civil service at work is.

 Conclusion

 There should always be analysis of the response of a government to an out-of-the-blue situation such as a natural disaster. Holding such actions to account is equally important and is clearly in the purview of the media. However, these recent news cycles highlight that sometimes the media does get it wrong. Judgements are given without context and headlines are formulated in a ‘click-bait’ish manner (such as the 72hr couple). This is somewhat excusable as they’re not expected to generate military, political and civil experts on the matter. But it can still be avoided. What is not excusable is the politicisation of such things. Many an MP has already taken to Twitter and question PM’s time to deliver a ‘stinging rebuke’ to the ‘inadequacy’ of the government’s handling of the situation. This is truly inexcusable. It offers further fuel to the media fire and galvanises and misinforms their followers on twitter, deepening divides along party lines or ideology. More importantly, it begins to offer confirmation bias to misinformed pundits.

 It was with this in mind that I hoped to at least offer the facts, the context and then my own opinion on the topic. Even if my opinion is wrong, I hope that my offering of the facts and context allows you to develop your own opinions which you can at least claim are informed by evidence.

 Bibliography

[1] https://thinpinstripedline.blogspot.co.uk/2017/09/is-uk-still-failing-in-west-indies-part.html – Thin Pinstriped line – ‘Is the UK still failing in the West Indies (Part Two) – summarised perfectly.

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Is Trump’s Afghan strategy going to work?: Evaluating its perks and pitfalls

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by Derek Eggleston, a third year International Relations Undergraduate at King’s College London, focusing on US. Foreign Policy

With the Mueller investigation and outrage over the lackluster response to Charlottesville hanging over the President’s approval ratings like the sword of Damocles, last Monday, Trump decided to try something new: behaving like a President. Around 9 PM E.D.T the President rolled out a guiding path (dare I say strategy?) for how his Administration will be dealing with the nearly 16-year ongoing American military presence in Afghanistan.

The speech Trump gave represented a new thing for the President, the prioritization of the opinion of experts above his gut instinct. This was apparent, implicitly, with his meetings at Camp David the previous weekend as well as explicitly mentioned in the speech. His campaign rhetoric of pulling out as quickly as possible is no longer a legitimate reality for Trump who is operating under a continued U.S. strategy that maintains leaving a void for extremism and terrorism to breed is an unacceptable outcome. But as to the specifics of his strategy, what do they represent? Will they work? This article will take a cursory glance at some key elements of the Trump Administration’s South Asian strategy and conclude with the implications of these findings and how they should be engaged.

A first facet of Trump’s strategy is that “Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on”. From a military perspective, this is a sound statement. Time and time again, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) progress on the ground has been stifled due to the unpopularity of conflict at home. A good case study of this is the Moshtarak Campaign, whose efficacy amongst the British-led incursion into Nad-e-Ali was blocked due to domestic uproar over the disproportionately televised coverage of the failures of the American-led incursion into Marjah. American domestic opinion (fresh with memories of failed conflagrations in the Middle East) is a concrete barrier to tactical advancement on the ground, so Trump’s willingness to not allow it to dictate terms has the potential for success. However, this success is not guaranteed. Despite indicating the U.S. will use its economic, diplomatic, and military apparatus to have a cohesive focus on achieving strategic outcomes in South Asia, he also indicated we are there to ‘kill terrorists’ and not nation-build. The question which naturally follows is how Trump defines nation-building. Does he make the common mistake of conflating nation and state building or will the two be differentiated? This is an important question to ask, does this include development of the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) as well as domestic services such as the Afghan National Police (ANP)? Whilst their advancement has not gone perfectly and significant issues such as desertion and drug abuse remain, ISAF’s willingness to work towards their development and build the state security apparatus has been one of the few things essential to a successful future. Trump wants the U.S. to stay the course and not leave a vacuum, to do so requires necessary state building and development which one would hope is certainly present in Trump’s strategy despite a desire to not involve the United States in nation building. These concerns only deal with the military side as well. It is safe to say using these conditions rather than public opinion deciding foreign policy will certainly mean heavy opposition to Trump domestically who will see prolonged presence, regardless of situations on the ground, as nothing more than the bellicose markings of a hawkish President. He will have to address these concerns domestically.

A second key pillar made very apparent in his speech was ambiguity. The days of America announcing dates and numbers are no more under his Administration. Whilst the number argument could go either way, as one could argue releasing the numbers can be used to intimidate the enemy, his refusal to announce dates does represent an improvement upon existing U.S. actions in the area. Obama infamously announced the U.S. surge in Afghanistan, but in doing so added time constraints, indicating the U.S. would begin their withdrawal in 18 months. Although the withdrawal was eventually slowed down towards the end of his second term, such a statute of limitations handed a clear strategy to the enemy: leave the country, go hide in the FATA or Balochistan, then return in 18 months once troop presence has gone down. Obama made a conscious choice to please his Democratic base with a promise of a specified pull out, ultimately to the detriment of tactical success. He would later have to reverse his position, which left his game of balancing domestic support and tactical success a house of cards in which he could sustain neither. The ambiguity of American presence is one of the more legitimate aspects of Trump’s new strategy.

A final key point in the speech was how Afghanistan played into a broader South Asian strategy, particularly how the role of Pakistan and India would be innately linked with America’s goals in Afghanistan. As for Pakistan, Trump’s strategy leaves a lot to be desired. Despite being an official partner of the U.S., Pakistan’s complacency in a strong terrorist presence in both its own country and Afghanistan has put it at odds with the West. Trump has thrown out the carrot and sharpened the stick to coerce Pakistan into falling in line. However, this is nothing more than asking Pakistan to work against its own strategic interest. Instability breeds anti-Western and Indian terrorism, both of which the Pakistani Government (dominated heavily by the security apparatus) has long tacitly supported. The stabilization of Afghanistan into a stronger state integrated into South Asia both politically and economically has long been India’s goal. The realization of such a state, which would likely be more sympathetic to India who is fostering such an end, would place Pakistan in a pincer grip between India and a state sympathetic towards India. It does not take expertise to realize this is not a strategic end Pakistan will support. Furthermore, Trump does not have expendable amounts of leverage in coercing Pakistan to accept such an undesirable outcome. Pakistani reliance on American aid has reduced significantly in recent years, and Chinese investment provides a crutch for Pakistan to fall on should the demands of the U.S. become unbearable. In Pakistan, Trump is pushing for the government to work against its own interest, and he has reduced leverage to force them to do so. It will certainly take a deal-maker as good as Trump thinks he is in order to sort out the complications of this request.

All in all, the President’s speech left a lot to be desired. Many of the particulars need to be worked out, and the strategy remains unclear and its success remains dubious. In the end, he will probably make similar mistakes to his two predecessors, who made the mistake of straddling between commitment to tactical success on the ground, and maintaining enough distance to placate Americans. Without a clear end goal, military presence will continue with neither enough will to fully withdraw nor enough to truly commit the massive resources that would truly be required to effectively eliminate the Taliban from the region. However, an attempt at a coherent foreign policy strategy is a remarkable improvement from equivocating neo-Nazis and people who do not like neo-Nazis. But then again, Trump is the President of the United States and should not be given kudos or points just simply for acting like a President and doing the bare minimum. There is also an onus on civil society to proactively engage with his strategy. Rather than being weighed down in analysis discussing whether or not the strategy is a distraction tool to shift focus from domestic failures, there is a necessity to engage the strategy critically and examine its efficacy in such a hostile region. As an American, I hope for the best, but in the end there is still a long list of people I would rather handle our geostrategic conflicts and interests in South Asia than Donald Trump.

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‘We can combat populism.’

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By Imogen Parker,a first year student at King’s College studying International Relations.

 Populism, as defined by the Oxford dictionary, is a belief in the power of regular people, and in their right to have control over their government rather than a small group of political insiders or a wealthy elite.

David Cameron’s remarks on the need to “combat populism” have been met with outrage by media outlets, such as the Telegraph and Guardian. But ignoring his inflammatory language, was he so wrong? Populism, as it is manifested in today’s politics, is no more representative of the people’s will than the ‘political elite’ it aims to counteract. Populism carries the ability to be a force for good, and a force for evil. In its current form populism will not change the way that politics is enacted. Whilst ever populism is carried on a wave of misinformation and deceit it will only serve to change the face of the ‘elites’ who control nations. For example, Donald Trump has been a part of the ‘elite’ for decades, yet was elected on a populist, anti-elite surge.

The idea of populism is inherently good for politics, it encourages public engagement and involvement in the political process. However, populism needs democratising. On its current trajectory populism will allow opportunistic, self-obsessed individuals to capitalise on the misinformed, reactionary masses.

We can see populism triumphing across the world with the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, the election of Donald Trump, the ‘No’ vote to the referendum in Italy, and 2017 promises to provide us with more examples of populism at work with the imminent French and German elections. The problem isn’t in the outcomes of the aforementioned votes, but rather the manner in which victory was grasped. Political opportunists were more than happy to harness the power of the populist psych, manipulating the fears and concerns of the population to political advantage and propelling them to victory.

But is this not the way our politics operates? The answer is a simple yes. For decades politicians have manipulated voters, for example David Cameron promised to give households more ‘money in our pocket’ before the 2015 election through tax cuts if the Conservatives were re-elected. What is different in 2016, is that the effects of populism are often far more extreme than tax cuts. When people criticised Cameron for wanting to “combat populism”, they replaced ‘populism’ with ‘democracy’. Cameron was not trying to argue against democratically listening to the voice of the people, but instead arguing for the democratisation of populism. Populism needs to become more representative, less reactionary, and more informed.

The social media age gives rise to undemocratic populism. People gather most of their information from the unrestricted, ungoverned and, therefore, free internet. However, internet freedom is a myth. There are algorithms that tailor users’ preferences, this is harmless in advertising where the user only sees products that they are interested in. However, in the realm of politics, it is far more dangerous. Unbeknown to users, news preferences are also tailored. The internet makes it easy to get caught up in a web of similar minded users, fueling each other’s ideas with emotive posts, creating a strong, vocal, but blinkered, community. When these ideas are simplified and projected onto the national stage undemocratic populism is born.

Populism also expects immediate results without the appreciation that change takes time. Sudden, dramatic change is no better for a nation than remaining with the status quo. This urgency is a further by product of the social media age. Twenty-four-hour news channels, live videos, tweeting etc. allow news to be instantaneous. People who engage with this media, expect all aspects of life to be immediate – including politics. Yet one of the virtues of our political process is the time it allows for thought, analysis and scrutiny. It is not brash and reactionary. Undemocratic populism threatens this. People who don’t understand the complexity of the issues at hand, because their horizons have unknowingly been shortened due to the internet and opportunists, vote without consideration of the full impacts.

Without the democratisation of populism politics becomes fashion. The job of the politician becomes one of a showman, advertising their viewpoints to the internet-nation, grabbing attention with flashy gaffs and clever soundbites. The element of ‘celebrity’ becomes far more important than the traditional exercise of government. Whilst this style of politics is more engaging, it is not more informative, people trust that they comprehend the larger picture but the reality is far from that. Policies are broadcast with the aim of utilising emotion, creating a media storm that could generate a hashtag and have large impact in media circles, rather than advertising the depths of policy.

It cannot be denied that the populist movements that have won referenda and elections have a mandate. Populism has cleverly captured the electorate and the reward is a mandate to govern. However, it is not to say that the process by which the populists achieved a mandate was democratic, nor will it change the ‘elite establishment’, a factor that so many of the recent votes has boiled down to. The notion that Donald Trump or Nigel Farage are less ‘establishment’ and more representative of the average citizen is nonsense. They are a fundamental part of the establishment.

There will always been a separation between the people and the government, but that does not mean that the governments don’t govern for the people. However, true representation takes time. Politicians who are women, ethnic minorities or working class cannot be conjured out of thin air – their development takes time and changes have to occur. Westminster and Washington need to be more accessible, the stigma surrounding ‘sleazy’ politicians needs to disappear, and there needs to be more political education. Only through these means can the general will of the people be portrayed in politics, only then will populism be democratic rather than opportunistic

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The Fruits of a Popular Presidency

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Matthew Shoemaker is an analyst for BAE Systems at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Matthew specializes in nuclear war strategy as well as American, British, and NATO security issues. He holds a BA in Political Science and International Affairs from George Washington University, an MA in Philosophy from Mount St. Mary’s University, and is completing his Ph.D. in War Studies from King’s College London.

Admiration for the office of the American presidency, though perhaps not for the present incumbent, would seem, at face value, to be nearly universal amongst practically all sections of the American populace. In the era of 24 hour news, the press minutely reports the comings and goings, agenda, and even the wardrobe of members of the first family. Broadcasters tirelessly and even unctuously described the dresses and gowns of Melania Trump and her consort at the Inauguration Day festivities. President Trump’s children Ivanka, Tiffany, Eric, Donald Jr., and Barron have already become public figures. They became front page news even before President Trump raised his hand to take the oath of office.

There ought to be little doubt that all this attention evinces an authentic public interest. Editors at CNN and MSNBC will likely assume that features about the Trump family, however tired and repetitious, will restore their falling ratings. Exposés of Melania Trump and her supermodel career or humble upbringing will assuredly never fail to increase clicks for the news agencies. It would be fair to speculate that in time Ivanka’s driver or Barron’s former teacher could command for their reminiscences sums which any mortal might envy. Even if the new president’s politics and personality divide American public opinion, tourists to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will be sure to stare through the iron railings like that of pious old women who shuffle through dark, deserted churches.

The particular expressions in which popular esteem for the presidency and for the person inhabiting that office have evolved and adapted through the centuries. The first presidents exercised significantly weaker power than their contemporaries do today yet they monopolized the American consciousness during times of upheaval. Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln in particular enjoyed relative popularity during their presidencies: Jackson as a war hero, whereas Lincoln eventually was held in awed regard by the end. At the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901, The Washington Times wrote on the occasion:

‘The President breathed his last at 2:15 o’clock this morning. Words of consolation to his wife were the last that passed his lips. They came as a gentle farewell to the American people whom he loved so well, and of whose manhood he was so fine a type…Only three times from the moment he received his death wound did he speak of him who so wantonly struck him down, and it was characteristic of the President’s magnanimous character that in each instance his words were those of pity for what he, in his broad charity, regarded as the delusion of a misguided youth.’

The obituary continues in the most prolific and glowing terms of the late president’s saintliness. His memory was accorded the sonorous adulation which had and has even at the present age come to be regarded as due to a deceased president.

It was during the presidency of Bill Clinton that the popular presidency as we know it today took shape. In previous administrations, presidents were at the mercy of voter sentiment during election season; however, the Monica Lewinsky scandal thrust the president’s personal life into the homes of American citizens to examine, debate, and gossip over well beyond the slated election cycle. The effect was that the president had become the star in an American soap opera.

At the time of his impeachment proceedings, Bill Clinton is said to have told his advisors that he was contemplating resigning as Richard Nixon had in 1974. Nevertheless, he confronted his political adversaries and defeated the impeachment accusations. For this, his party was rewarded in the 1998 midterm elections with gains in the House and Senate. As events unfolded, he realised that the voters held him in affectionate regard as a man, as distinct from holding him in respect, or even awe, as a president.

From an outsider’s view, one could easily be forgiven for expecting demonstrations of hostility or at any rate ridicule against a president who cheated on his wife with a 22 year old college intern in the Oval Office. Instead, to the political establishment’s amazement, he was acclaimed with delight in American homes. If the majority of people sympathized with and took the president to their hearts in spite of, or perhaps because of, the similarities in American marital and sexual mores, then, surely, it might be confidently assumed that the whole population were solidly behind the president. Louis XIV of France made the claim: ‘L’état, c’est moi”. I and the state are one and the same. Bill Clinton found himself in a position to claim: ‘I and the people are one and the same.’

If Bill Clinton found himself the unexpected object of authentic popular affection, Barack Obama was idolised as few men ever have been. For millions of Americans, he was more than the inhabitant of the White House—the most powerful office in the world. He represented their own hopes of a better, kinder, more left-wing way of life than they had hitherto known. His personality became a sort of utopian drama against which global events and world leaders were measured. His fame and the time in which he became president were indissolubly connected. After the extraordinarily contentious Bush years, Obama, like so many of his contemporaries, was apt to confuse aspiration and achievement—to assume that human ills would all dissolve in the sunshine of good intentions. When he said, in the course of a visit to depressed areas of Detroit, that “something” must be done, everyone fallaciously assumed that something would be done. Had his presidency been more prosperous, he might have achieved Kennedy-esque stature, but he lacked the humility to be a president who turned thoughts and intentions into reality. Instead, he basked in the spotlight as his people’s idol, unwilling to upset the apple cart and risk unpopularity by getting into the muck of governing.

Yet, in attempting not to upset the cart, upset it he certainly did. In leaving his people and relinquishing the destiny upon which he so dazzlingly embarked, he confronted the presidency with what seemed an insoluble problem of how to transition from an idolised man by the establishment to a brusque billionaire, an arduous septuagenarian. To the surprise of the American establishment, the transfer as we have seen over the past months, was achieved without significant difficulty, though perhaps raucous grumbling. The new president attended what has become a de facto coronation and is beloved by Middle America. President Trump, along with his wife and family, held the center stage. Despite Obama’s withdrawal from the cast as its leading actor, the show went on playing to a packed house. Today, a solid majority, nearly 60%, of the American populace approves of President Trump according to a Rasmussen poll.

For months, President Trump and his supporters announced that a new Age of Trump was to be expected. Such a prospect, in the circumstances of minimal economic or foreign policy successes, was alluring and Trump and his consort fit well into the expectation of a new springtime in public affairs. President Trump alone constitutes a kind of a presidential soap opera unto himself, whose interests never seem to flag even though the successive installments might be somewhat monotonous. Sophisticated observers might marvel at the appeal of so invariable a theme, but the general public continues to be enthralled almost to the point of hysteria.

Such is the popular presidency. It has its charm and utility. A largely materialistic society like ours has a natural propensity to hero worship, and the image of a presidential family is not a bad way of satisfying it. The presidency in a way provides a sort of substitute or ersatz religion. One could almost be forgiven for thinking the president practically ruled through divine right. Today, with the imperial presidency creeping into legislative affairs via pens and phones, Congress struggles to remind presidents that Congress does not advise but rather legislates. However, in an era where presidents are hailed as ‘The Anointed One’, he is practically God’s viceroy, and, as such, is not susceptible to interference by mortal men. When a president rules over the hearts of men, it is inevitable that the focus of interest should be transferred from the office to the person.

For the current occupant of the White House, it is Trump, himself, his family, and his way of life which holds the public attention. The presidency has amassed such power both socially and constitutionally that the person inhabiting the office becomes, in himself, wondrous. If he were ordinary, he would be nothing. Almost two dozen Republicans ran against Donald Trump in the primaries and quickly melted away when they were deemed mundane or banal by the public. Now, President Trump’s raison d’être is to be president and presidential. That is to say, he must be alluring, removed from the necessities and inadequacies of ordinary men—a creature of this world in the sense that he has a home, a wife and children, and yet not quite of this world in that he is president.

Yet it would be a mistake to assume from the adulation shown the presidency, the security of the office. Popularity, like patriotism, is not enough. Any earthly image is an extremely unsound focus for hysterical feeling. History shows that institutions survive only to the degree that they fulfill an authentic purpose. The American presidency indeed fulfills a purpose though perhaps too large a purpose in a system with coequal branches of government. Conversely, the presidency theoretically provides a head of state transcending the lower politicians who tend to ‘ebb and flow by the moon’ as King Lear so wonderfully said. The past three presidents all won second terms which expresses that continuity which has enabled America to survive the French and Russian Revolutions, a civil war, and two ruinous world wars without being torn asunder. But the function of the presidency must not only be fulfilled, it must be seen to be fulfilled. The president, in other words, must be put across not only as an effective businessman who is able to win hearts through his achievements. He must be put across, as well, as a useful unifying element in a society full of actual and potential discord.

Are his present advisers and his own temperament capable of doing this? In all fairness, it is too early to pass judgment. He will, however, need men and women who understand what the twenty-first century is about and what the role of a president at such a time ought to be; men and women who can deal with the internet and news cycle side of his existence subtly and sensibly, without losing sight of the great symbolic utility of the institution he embodies; men and women who are living in the present age which has been shaped by the fleeting desires of the populace. The American people are the authors of their own leadership; they anoint their own ruling class. They need only thank themselves for the fruits of a popular presidency.

 

 

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CIA Russia hacking report, Twitter Sarcasm and the Prospects of Russia-U.S. Relations

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By Aleksandra Serebriakova, a 3rd year International Relations student at King’s College London with a strong interest in post-Soviet Union space and Russia in particular.

On the 6th January the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released the unclassified report that openly accused Russia of interfering in the U.S. presidential elections. The report argued that findings were based on the “understanding of Russian behavior” in its “longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order” and preconditioned by Russia’s “clear preference for President-elect Trump”, but nevertheless did not argue that hacking affected the election results.

The whole language of the Report was supported by the logic of ‘judgements’ rather than hard evidence through analyses of the CIA and two other agencies (FBA and NASA). This absence of strong evidence was explained by inability to “reveal sensitive sources or methods and imperil the ability to collect critical foreign intelligence in the future”. Thus, the Report has stated that the campaign to undermine U.S. presidential elections was ordered directly by Vladimir Putin who wanted to “denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency”. What is more, Russia’s military intelligence agency and its Main Intelligence Agency of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (GRU) has been accused for directing the hacks into the emails of Democratic Party officials and released them with a help of Guccifer 2.0 hacker through Wikileaks and DCLeaks.com beginning in March 2016. Notwithstanding the fact that this kind of reporting would be ridiculous in any other democratic country, as it would confirm that administration itself had a “clear preference” for the Presidential candidate ignoring the desires of its own population, two interesting points can be picked up from this Report: U.S. open advertising of ‘Russia Today’s’ (RT) ability to influence American population and reaction of Russia’s officials to these findings that has often been sarcastic and undiplomatic.

Firstly, due to inability to provide strong evidence the Report had to explain Russia’s alleged influence through its ‘covert intelligence operations’ and ‘over propaganda efforts’ with a help of Russian Government agencies, paid social media users (internet ‘trolls’) and state-funded media, with RT and Sputnik news outlets being examples of this ‘propaganda machine’. Seven pages of unclassified version of the Report were devoted to assessing RT America TV’s activities in relation to “undermine faith in the US Government and fuel political protest”. Without profoundly discussing RT’s efforts to meddle in the current election and only briefly touching upon its ‘negative’ portrayal of Hilary Clinton and open support for Donald Trump, the short Report devotes a substantial part to the discussion of the channels attempts to “fuel political protests” during Occupy Wall Street movement and rise criticism on the U.S. economic and political systems. Overall, the Report presents RT America as some kind of international criminal syndicate with enormous power and financial connection to Russian Government. The argument that “RT recently was the most-watched foreign news channel in the UK” and the tables of comparison that present this channel as the most popular on YouTube out of foreign broadcasting companies (image 1) has caused a stream of comments and jokes from the Russian officials.

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Image 1: Comparative Tables from ODNI Report, Appex A

Thus, the Russian Embassy in London claimed that the Report findings have been the best advertising for RT (image 2). Indeed, RT preferences for Trump were clear from the start but how can the coverage of one channel that has a clear connection to the foreign government be argued to have such an enormous power to indirectly influence election process in a sovereign country? While RT should definitely be grateful to this Report for its promotion, we still should be willing to get some more evidence in support for the existing accusations. Otherwise, it all too sounds more as a Cold War scare.

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Image 2: Twitter of the Russian Embassy in London, 7th January 2017

What is more, the reactions of Russia’s officials to this Report were not at all surprising. Seen as another groundless attempt to discriminate Russia in the eyes of international community following the traditions of doping scandal and McLaren report, CIA report was met with sarcastic comments from Russian officials. Thus, Dmitry Peskov, the Press Secretary of Putin, called the accusations on Russia’s involvement in hacking a “witch hunt” and said that Obama’s administration is “behaving like an elephant in china shop”; while Maria Zakharova, a Director of the Press Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called Obama’s team in Facebook “a group of foreign policy losers, anxious and short-sighted”. At the same time, Russian Embassy in the UK called the Report a “pathetic attempt at tainting American’s vote by innuendo coached in Intel new-speak” (image 3) but also posted a bunch of memes in Twitter mocking the Report and Obama administration for its efforts to unleash the Cold War.

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Image 3: Twitter of the Russian Embassy in London, 7th January 2017

What is so telling about such an active engagement of Russian officials with Twitter and Facebook in such an ‘undiplomatic’ way? In 2015 Andrew Hoskins and Ben O’Loughlin have argued that Russia was one of the most successful countries to accommodate the chaotic dynamic of social media and user-led content that for some time upset policy-makers ability to influence and control information. In particular, they argued that Russia was successful in “arresting the mainstream media” through its engagement with Twitter, Facebook and VK by allowing only certain parts of the conflict, such as the one in Ukraine, to be visible and framed in a certain way. Russia’s open engagement with social media allows mediatization of conflicts and disagreements and is trying to be especially proactive in promoting its own definitions of how certain disagreements should be seen and which side should be blamed for their existence (well, definitely not Russian). The Twitter and Facebook comments of Russian officials on hacking claims has signified a change in the platform for diplomatic exchanges and showed how influential it might be for promoting a particular view especially when sarcasm, the competition of memes and social media logic of shareability are present.

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Image 4: Twitter of the Russian Embassy in London, 29th December 2016

All of these raise a question over the prospects of future Russia-U.S. relations. While during the last press-conference Barak Obama called Russia “a smaller and weaker country”, which nevertheless was able to meddle with the U.S. elections through hacking processes, new sanctions against Russian officials and diplomats summed up the last two years of Obama’s administration unsuccessful politics towards Russia. At the same time, Trump’s position over Russian involvement into the election process was ambiguous. While his Twitter praised Putin’s decision not to expel the U.S. diplomats in reciprocal measures by tweeting that he always knew that Putin was very smart, at the same time condemning findings of the hacking report, his positions somehow changed after few days when he actually agreed that the hacking took place, but due to the “gross negligence by the Democratic National Committee” that would never happen again when he becomes the president. Russian press such as independent Novaya Gazeta news outlet has suggested that such change in the rhetoric is occurring mainly due to the pressures Trump is experiencing from his own Republican party and other officials that take hacking report seriously and do not share his admiration for Putin. Overall, it is clear that unpredictability of the next American president and the pressures he will be experiencing in the White House might force him to completely change the rhetoric in a more anti-Putin and anti-Russian way that will definitely be followed by reciprocal tweets and Facebook posts from Russian officials in even more sarcastic manner.

Bibliography:

 

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Culture Counts

Benjamin Nielsen is a conservative student at the Department of War Studies. His academic interests include diplomacy, the history of European international relations, comparative European politics, and Western philosophy.

 

churchill.jpegWhen the United Kingdom, in June, decided to leave the European Union, most of my teachers and fellow students reacted with a mixture of bewilderment and anger. “How can more than 17 million people find the European Union so repulsive?”

When the American people, last Tuesday, elected Donald John Trump as the next president of the United States, the anger and bewilderment among teachers and fellow students returned with even greater force. “What makes more than 59 million Americans vote for this racist, sexist, homophobic person?” (Apart from the prospect of getting to see more of his incredibly beautiful and elegant wife, obviously).

Baffled and visibly disgusted by the outcomes of the EU referendum and the US election, students and teachers are now searching for explanations as to how all this could happen. But where should we start? In the unreadable, empty and fatuous writings of Foucault? In the pseudo-scientific scholarship of Saïd? Do we start with a bit of Gramscian nonsence? Or just the blatant drivel of Deleuze? Surely, these neo-marxist turtlenecks would tell us that it’s all about the bourgeosie versus the suppressed workers. Not surprisingly, some ‘intellectuals’ have already framed the election of Trump in terms of class politics.[1]

The only problem with this explanation is that neither Brexit nor the election of Trump have much to do with economic circumstances or inequality. As Professor of Politics at Birkbeck, Erik Kaufmann, clearly illustrates the far most important issue for both Brexiteers and Trump voters was/is immigration. In order words, Trump-voters and Brexiteers are primarily people who first and foremost prioritize cultural continuity and reject fundamental socio-ethnic change. The real explanation for Brexit and the election of Trump is thus to be found in the realm of culture.

How do we respond to this “anti-immigrant movement of exclusion” which now includes if not the majority then a very significant and ever increasing part of the Western population? Well, being a student in this day and age, I’ve come to learn some of the most typical solutions:

1: We could arrange a ‘Tolerance and Anti-racist protest march” in Shoreditch during which we will shout abuse at people who don’t have the same opinion as us.

2: We could try and make #fuckPatriotism trending on social media.

3: We could write another angry facebook-rant about neoliberalism. Or Bush. Or Blair. Or Israel.

4: We could all gather in an organic coffee shop in Soho and write a blog on hetero-normativity, stereotypes and structural sexism while we eat gluten-free avocado wraps and listen to 84 hours of non-stop Tracy Chapman.

5: We could arrange a panel “discussion” – of course only with participants we agree with.

Are any of the 5 solutions above useful? Of course not. But maybe they can give you an idea of why the liberal-left is about to become even more disliked than Piers Morgan.

The only real solution is for all – including the most unworldly parts of academia – to accept and acknowledge that culture counts. In every nation-state, there will come a point where the uncontrolled influx of immigrants and the continuous breakdown of traditional norms and values will begin to threaten the very foundation of the nation – the shared cultural identity and heritage among its citizens. And the first people to feel this threat are the ordinary men and women who live normal lives. This is not an extreme nationalist theory – it’s a moderate conservative observation. Until the established political parties in the Western world begin to value, protect and acknowledge their nations’ cultural basis, more and more people will see no other option than voting for otherwise extreme and unappealing persons like Trump and Le Pen.

[1] See e.g. http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-fall-of-the-unions-paved-the-way-for-donald-trump-1478886094 or https://twitter.com/JohnBew/status/796296245849497600

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Black and Blue: Repairing the Bruised Relationship Between the Police and African-Americans in America

by Derek Eggleston, a second year International Relations student. He is currently interning on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. and focuses on U.S. Foreign Policy. Connect at https://www.linkedin.com/in/derekeggleston

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As an African-American student in Europe, I am always asked about the apparent racial animus that permeates news from my country. Experiencing the recent events from a place of juxtaposition—one who fiercely loves his country but as a black person is painfully aware of its shortcomings—I have been forced to reconcile what I see on the news with the supposed ideals of liberty and equality that America has stood for. These seemingly contradictory ideals can be reconciled, however, if we take the time to listen and articulate a path forward. This article will first outline some of the problems with the legal system before analysing the shortcomings of movements such as Black Lives Matter (BLM) before discussing a possible framework for the advancement of civil rights in the U.S.

Time and time again, the black community is thrown into mourning. Whether it is over to the countless lives lost in urban America centres like Chicago, or the lives lost to those meant to be serving and protecting us, our present is not hopeless but is to an extent the continuation of the plight we have lived through in America’s history. The personal experiences of racism I have encountered as well as the extreme rates of poverty, incarceration, and police brutality appear to paint a bleak picture for a society founded upon its ideals of inclusiveness and liberty for all.

How is this allowed in the U.S. justice system? The answer is that laws are largely based on perception—the cop’s perception, that is. The cop’s perception of danger—substantiated or not—is, in the current legal system, a legitimate defense to avoid prosecution in many instances [1]. However, perception is clearly an arbitrary concept that is open to bias: “When almost 90 percent of white people in America who take the Implicit Association Test show an inherent racial bias for white people versus black people, that means something” [2]. These numbers make it very plausible that when a cop performs his routine duties, interactions with black citizens will be perceived as more threatening than they may be. This perception is then accepted as a legal defense. Effectively, racial bias is indirectly accepted as a legal vindication of the actions of cops.

The other issue is that of proportionate responses—or, the lack thereof. This one is not just a legal issue, but is a mindset one as well. In an international student orientation event with the UK police, one key thing we were told about all interactions with others and the cops is that the response must be proportionate. Seems reasonable, right? In the minds of many in the U.S. regarding cop interactions, this does not exist. Whenever a black man is gunned down there seems to be this false dichotomy that we must determine whether he was completely innocent or guilty and these are black and white. In some instances, such as Philando Castile, the court of public opinion decides he did absolutely nothing wrong therefore did not deserve his fate. However, in other situations people look at the smallest shortcoming as justification for brutality. In response to Mike Brown people said, “He may have stolen a cigar, he should have been following the law”. For Walter Scott people said, “He shouldn’t have run from the cop and should have complied”. And for Laquan McDonald, they say, “He shouldn’t have had a knife”. I am sorry, but since when did theft, running away, or simple possession of a knife warrant the death penalty? Common discourse is seriously flawed and needs to discover a sense of respect for proportionate responses. These scenarios are not black or white where either the suspect is innocent or deserves to die. There are many shades of grey in-between the two, which justly represent a way to deal with black Americans who are doing something they should not be—other than unloading a gun into their body.

These are the problems, so why don’t we fix them? The answer is, we are trying, but not doing so effectively. The problem has to do with the structuring of society which allows for innate biases to permeate society so greatly that they can be present in numbers at 90%+ and can give way to legal justification of murder. However, to combat this, movements have largely gotten it wrong. There are plenty of motivated, brilliant, loving members of BLM who want to see a better future. I myself support the movement in theory: Black Lives Matter and the way our society is structured does not always recognise this fact. However, the movement gets it wrong on many fronts. First off, we must ask: why do so many people disagree with BLM or respond with ‘all lives matter’? People believe the movement is a collection of angry individuals with no end goal in sight, a guise for anti-cop hatred. In the 1960’s extremist groups such as the Black Panthers existed but were not able to drown out the peaceful and just cause of civil rights under Dr. King, so why today is it that concern over the extreme, anti-cop wings of the movement have over-shadowed the legitimate calls to action by millions of sane minorities with legitimate grievances? The movement lacks: moments, leadership, and end goals. Dr. King shook the nation and mankind when he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and proclaimed to the world his dream of equality. Moments like this and leadership which relentlessly worked with government ultimately manifested itself in clear end goals: most notably The Civil Rights Act of 1964. Who is that voice today for BLM? Who will step up and take a place in the halls of history to firmly proclaim and echo the sentiments of famous abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison that we will not equivocate a single inch until equality is recognised? Leadership in BLM is unorganised at best and, furthermore, there is a refusal on the part of many to engage with mainstream institutions. Advancement for our people in history has not come through shying away from the mainstream institutions we perceive to be the oppressor but rather through direct engagement with these institutions. BLM cannot turn its back on law enforcement and politicians if it is to achieve any of the goals it claims to have.

Then what is the way forward when the country has a clear racial bias, and those on the wrong end of this stick have been failed by the movements of social change which seek to rectify their oppression? First off, clear reform is necessary. Cops have a hard job and a dangerous one. As Obama noted recently, the fear blue families have for their loved ones is not dissimilar to the fear black mothers and fathers feel when their teenage son goes out at night. However, the danger of the job should not be a justification for a legal system based on perception. Furthermore, the perception in the first place needs to change, 90% of Americans should not hold intrinsic bias against African Americans. If those numbers exist, how can we get fair treatment when applying for a job or putting our hands on a cop car? However, this bias cannot be dealt with until it is accepted. People stipulate we have come a long way, but this should not be a catalyst for stagnation. We came a long way from 1860 to 1960 but it did not justify Jim Crow laws. We have come a long way from 1960 to 2016 but it does not justify the bias and discrimination our data trends indicate. We must accept this bias to combat it structurally. Furthermore to accept it people have to believe that the message of change isn’t an extreme, Panther-like one but is a peaceful, King-like one. To do this BLM and similar groups must organise and take centre stage. Make clear your demands and demand them.

America has come a long way in 240 years. Nothing worth fighting for in its history has ever been achieved through abandoning the principles which make us American. The founders wrongfully left out many groups of the civil society they created; however, it was the methodology employed by the founders which could be used as a framework to later expand these rights, that they wrongfully limited, to new groups [3]. Citing the Constitution, loving American ideals and engaging with society is how suffragettes got women the vote, abolitionists got freedom and civil rights supporters got legal recognition. We must embrace these things ingrained in who we are and the foundations of our institutions. We must engage with society around us and not isolate ourselves. We must be forceful, persistent, and not equivocate a single inch in order to heal the bruises that plague America today and the bruises that have plagued us African Americans for so long.

Sources:

[1]Goldstein, Joseph. “Is a Police Shooting a Crime? It Depends on the Officer’s Point of View.” The New York Times. July 28, 2016. Accessed August 06, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/29/nyregion/is-a-police-shooting-a-crime-it-depends-on-the-officers-point-of-view.html?_r=0.

[2] Nesbit, Jeff. “America Has a Big Race Problem.” US News. March 28, 2016. Accessed August 02, 2016. http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-03-28/america-has-a-big-race-problem.

[3] Stein, Jeff. “The American Revolution Was a Huge Victory for Equality. Liberals Should Celebrate It.” Vox. July 03, 2016. Accessed August 02, 2016. http://www.vox.com/2016/7/3/12062334/american-revolution-liberals.

 

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