Tag Archives: Donald Trump

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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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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MOAB’s and Afghanistan – Another Day, Another Munition Dropped

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By William Reynolds, a 2nd year undergraduate studying War Studies. 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 (MENA).

The recent deployment of a GBU-34 Massive Ordinance Air Blast (MOAB) munition over ISIS territory in Afghanistan has grabbed headlines and sparked debate on President Trump’s strategy. Many attribute this deployment to a more muscular approach and possible signalling to both Syria and North Korea that the current administration is not messing around. This, of course, is reliant on one massive assumption: That Trump gave the order for the strike.

The MOAB is indeed one of the largest non-nuclear weapons that the US possesses in their inventory. However, the GBU-43 (MOAB) that was deployed has been incorrectly labelled as the most powerful in the US armoury. That honour falls to the GBU-57A/B Massive Ordinance Penetrator (MOP) at 30,000 lb (or 14,000 kg). Nevertheless, the MOAB cannot be considered to be in a ‘special category’ such as that which nuclear weapons inhabit. To the planners on the ground, the MOAB is simply another tool for the job. Indeed, during the Vietnam campaign is was not uncommon for the MOAB’s predecessor, the BLU-82 ‘Daisy Cutter’ to be deployed regularly against the National Liberation Front (NLF) and North Vietnamese Army (NVA). The MOAB simply falls into the same category as a Hellfire missile or 2,000 lb JDAM.

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It is with this in mind that we must question whether Trump explicitly ordered the deployment of such a munition. In general terms, an air strike is called in through a Forward Air Controller (FAC) who is deployed forward with the combat troops. FAC’s don’t necessarily control what ordinance is dropped. Close Air Support (CAS) strikes are not tailored fit for the platoon’s on the ground, rather they make do with whatever assets are assigned to that area of operations. Now a MOAB is most certainly not a munition deployed in the CAS role. Thus, there was pre-planning involved, possibly placed as a useable asset for the push into the ISIS-held region. Such munitions have proved valuable in the past when clearing out insurgents from rough terrain. The Tora Bora mountains in Afghanistan and Ho Chi Minh trail in Vietnam springing to mind.

Ultimately, the buck could have theoretically stopped anywhere along the chain of command. It could have gone as far as CENTCOM Commander Votel, the regional commander in Afghanistan or simply the acting commander of the occurring operation. Whoever did indeed give the go ahead, it does not signal a clear change in strategy. The US has always been focused on killing the insurgent. Whilst not particularly favourable in population-centric warfare, they are certainly good at it.

What commentators on the Afghan war should be looking at was the recent deployment of US Marines back into Helmand province. Whilst numbering only 300, the deployment of Marines usually signals an urge to regain the initiative and go on the offensive. Marines are shock troops first and foremost. Their deployment may signal a change in strategy in the region. Indeed, the deployment to Helmand in itself is a signal of sorts. Helmand has always been the stronghold of the Taliban post-2004, with multiple British, American and Dutch offensives turning up little in terms of major gains for ISAF. The deployment of Marines in the region can only mean the focus shifting away from the maintenance of Kabul’s security.

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This possible change in strategy has further intrigued commentators who note that as of today (09/05/17) NATO has requested additional troops from the UK to be deployed in Afghanistan. This will not mean another British Battle Group will place their feet on the tarmac of Camp Bastion again. But it does signal a possible resurgence of military power into the graveyard of empires.

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Bibliography:

https://www.mca-marines.org/site/styles/gallery_photo_image/public/importedFiles/files/1_461.jpg?tok=ONvy9loy-USMC

https://ichef-1.bbci.co.uk/news/624/media/images/78130000/jpg/_amoc-cct-2014-151-062.jpg-CampBastionMemorial

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The day Australia woke up Asian.

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By Pierre Dugué, a second year BA War Studies student with specific interest in the strategic policies of the United States and its closest allies, particularly the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. Pierre is a former intern at the U.S. Embassy in Paris and has most notably written for ‘Atlantic Community’, a NATO-sponsored think tank based in Berlin.

Last week, distinguished former diplomat and first Australian Ambassador to Beijing Dr. Stephen Fitzgerald overtly stated that Australia should drift away from the United States and seek an ever-increasing rapprochement with China. ‘We are living in a Chinese world’, he said. This controversial statement revives a cultural, political and strategic debate in Australia: where does this country belong? What should its role be?

Australia is not an Asian country, and should not become part of the Asian regional order. Rather, it should seek to play the role of a balancer between Washington and Beijing while asserting its influence and interests in Asia.

Dr. Fitzgerald’s argument does have certain legitimacy. In fact Australia’s current relationship with the United States is dangerously undermined. Australia has recently been tough on border issues, passing restricting laws for illegal migrants coming from neighbouring countries. In the last months of his presidency, Mr. Obama committed America to taking more than 12.000 migrants to relief Australian detention areas. This agreement has been questioned by President Trump, whose endeavour to protect American border from potential terrorists led to diplomatic tensions with PM Malcom Turnbull in late January. Likewise President Trump’s decision to void the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has been a great source of friction. Now looking to Asia, Australia finds in Beijing its most reliable commercial partner. Exports to China are a high source of revenue that represents five times the income of trading with the United States. Furthermore, access to the Chinese market is essential to the maximisation of Australian goods and culture. Besides, Chinese tourists come to Australia en masse and grandly contribute to the economy. This, nonetheless, is far from being enough to engage in a diplomatic rapprochement.

Australia’s Anglo-Saxon identity has pushed it towards the Western world, fighting in two world wars alongside the ‘free world’ and contributing to keeping the Soviet Union at bay through the Five Eyes program during the Cold War. Today it remains one of the key NATO partners. Australia has, nonetheless, remained committed to regional issues in South Asia, but only under security imperatives. In fact the attack on Darwin by the Japanese Empire in 1942 – whose cultural impact equals that of Pearl Harbour – has framed Australia’s strategic principles in the long term and created a historical inertia whereby the stability of Asia remain paramount to Australia’s security. The recent emergence of China is not without reminding policy makers of the existing threat from the North, as highlighted in Australia’s 2013 White Paper on Defence. China’s aggressive moves in the South China Sea and disregard for international law clearly undermine Australian national interests and core beliefs. The expansion of China’s sphere of influence threatens Australia’s power in the region and ultimately its territory. The current defence policies and the purchase of $40bn submarines show Canberra’s commitment to countering China and asserting its dominance over South Asia through the deployment of a power-projecting Navy. Australia cannot side with a threat to its security.

Dr. Fitzgerald’s argument is too engrained in a ‘rise-and-fall’ reading of history and assumes Australia’s passiveness at a time where great powers scramble for control in Asia. Australia does not have to be a second-hand buffer power stuck between China and the United States, facing the dilemma of who to side with. In fact, the picture should neither be black nor white but a shade of grey whereby Australia should stand as an equal third party in the struggle for power in Asia.

On the one hand, Australia should seek a strategic partnership with China that would ensure access to the Chinese market, and freedom of navigation for Australian ships in the South China Sea. This claim should be backed by a mighty Navy as to impose Australia’s monopoly and polarization of the most Southern part of South Asia and set the tone of regional interactions in the face of China’s expansionist doctrine. On the other hand, Australia should champion human rights and Western liberal values alongside the United States, condemning China’s rejection of the ICC rule on the South China Sea’s islands and opposing China’s order in Asia. Sustaining friendly relations with the United States is vital to Australia’s security, America being a nuclear power and militarily the most powerful country in the world by far. However, Australia should not completely fall into the realm of the United States and should, rather, prevent America from intervening in Australia’s potential sphere of influence. Canberra should instead encourage a regionalisation of the dispute in lieu of interference from Western great powers. Australia should distance itself from isolationist policies and start shaping the South Asian order according to its own principles as to maximise its interests.

Australia does have a unique cultural, political and strategic identity, halfway between Asia and the West. It should continue to play on that pivotal role in Asia-West relations with the grand strategic objective of controlling regional issues in mind. China might be gaining extensive power, however, one can doubt Australia will ever stand by a power with which it shares no ideological ground.

Picture Copyright: Alan Moir, Sydney Morning Herald.

 

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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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How Refugee Admission could save, and not destroy the UK

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By Paula Koller-Alonso, a first year History & International Relations King’s College London undergraduate

Trump’s travel ban has urged us to take a second look at the refugee crisis and the new cataclysm of migration diaspora. Politics and opinions on the topic are generally split between conservatives believing that the immigration influx will create a security breach and liberals encouraging the intake of refugees as a chance to be humanitarian heroes. Yet between the polar opposites, one consequence of the crisis has not been substantially analysed: the idea that mass refugee intake might just be what saves the UK demographic and economy.

The British parliament voiced a plan in 2015 to take in 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next years, which seemed reasonable and morally noble. However, this plan was mainly limited to unaccompanied children, at times, as Amnesty International’s newest campaign reveals, tearing families apart and prohibiting the entry of these kids’ parents. Furthermore, 20,000 refugees is a marginal number compared to what the UK’s neighbours are accepting: In one weekend in 2015, 20,000 refugees were welcomed in the city of Munich. 13,000 refugees alone arrived on a Sunday, more than the total number of refugees seeking asylum in the UK in the whole of 2015. To put that into perspective, 20,000 people are only equivalent to 0.03% of the total population, whilst Germany expected 800,000 asylum seekers in 2016, which was a total 1% of their population. So then it has to be asked – why is the UK so afraid to be more generous in their humanitarian aid to give asylum to refugees fleeing civil war?

Having watched the media in recent months gives a partial answer to the question. An increased number of terrorist attacks, many linked to radical terrorist groups, in Western Europe creates an atmosphere of fear and an increase in security protocols. Trump’s travel ban itself forbid the entry of citizens from targeted Middle Eastern countries, stating that it was “about terror and keeping [the] country safe”. However, apart from discriminating against a religion and ethnicity, the travel ban and the refusal of a higher number of refugee intakes, also obscures the advantage a country can gain from receiving asylum seekers.

Considering OECD statistics, the birth rate in the UK has gradually decreased in the last 45 years. As a result, concerning the demographic development, there has been an increase of 4.23% in the elderly population, and a decrease of 6.3% in the young population. Admitting refugees in the UK would therefore strengthen the demographic gap in the population, which would benefit the country in a long-term perspective. Consequently, it would reinforce economic productivity, as its increased labour supply would fuel the GDP and taxation backflows. The UK could then be placed on a higher power basis in the international system, through its increased economic strength – a necessary and welcomed step in the wake of the post-Brexit Sterling devaluation.

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Reference: OECD.org

Although it seems morally incorrect to refer to refugee asylum as an economic policy to strengthen the country, it may be necessary to highlight these advantages in order to urge politicians to turn a humanitarian crisis into a political requirement. There are still more than 4 million Syrian refugees displaced in the Middle East, and now is the time to welcome them, rather than reject them – not only because it is inhumane not to do so, but also because it could highly benefit the UK.

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Is Putin being ‘Trump-ed’ by the Media?

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By Gloria Trifonova, a first year War Studies student at King’s College London.

Vladimir Putin has been in power in Russia for over a decade now – from Prime Minister to President and back again, he has become a symbol for the post-communist Russian political system. Recently, he has been taken out of the spotlight as the media has found a new villain, Donald Trump, who took the world by storm by winning the US Presidential election in 2016. Has the media truly abandoned their beloved Russian scapegoat for everything that is wrong in international relations? 

Given that we now live in a world where executive orders and tweets provoke a similar outrage in the public, it seems Putin is only a side character in the new season of American Horror Story: The White House. We hear about him as if he is the irreverent best friend that is only there to push the development of the main character forward with snooty comments and late night phone calls we never get to hear.

 

While the media has been concerned whether Trump and Kanye had tea or coffee, Putin has been on the move. His recent visit to Hungary seems to have strengthened Russo-Hungarian relations and may result in Hungarian support for the lifting of EU sanctions imposed on Russia. Furthermore, with pro-Russian socialist electoral victories in Bulgaria and Moldova in 2016 it is likely that EU stability may be experiencing turmoil other than BREXIT. Moreover, Russia has managed to keep its relations with Turkey relatively stable thus far, despite a few hiccups along the way resulting in taking down of a Russian war plane in 2015 and a few Turkish soldiers dead by a Russian military jet air strike in 2017. The two historically antagonistic states have taken up a common campaign against ISIS and this is decreasing diplomatic pressures of the past.

 

Military cooperation in Syria has also helped better Russia’s relations with Iran and many independent media sources suggest that Putin is going to attempt to dissuade Trump from his hard stance on Iran, as Trump has recently threatened further sanctions and of course employed his supper villain catch-phrase “nothing is off the table” in regards to further action if Iran doesn’t stop testing missiles. It would be interesting to see Putin’s strategy regarding Iran, traditionally in opposition to key US allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, instead of theorizing about how the Russian leader will handle this delicate diplomatic issue, the mainstream media is concerned with the crisis of the day – why did Nordstrom drop Ivanka Trump’s line indeed?

Perhaps it is a positive development that Putin has been outshone in the media. For too long the West, which likes to presents itself as a beacon of democracy and human rights in the face of the “borderline fascist dictatorships” of the East, has exerted hypocrisy in criticizing his every move and the election of Donald Trump only reveals this further. The US, which for years has deemed Russia racist, homophobic and radical has elected a man, who is the poster child for all those terms. But this is not all about Trump. It seems the moral code the US has applied to Russia over the last decade evaporates when it comes to Saudi Arabia. Not once has the US condemned their oil donor, which enforces punishments for homosexuality ranging from imprisonment and fines to corporal and capital punishment. Furthermore, crimes based on racism occur just as often in the West, but the US, for example, seems to forget its own Trayvon Martins and Mike Browns, while patronizing Russia for being racist.

Also, it seems mainstream media in the West never truly grasped the position of Putin in Russian politics. The tendency to glorify leaders in Russia has deep historical roots. Modern Russia is a produce of both its Tsarist and communist past. In both cases, whether we speak of Ivan the Terrible or Stalin, a strong leader, whom the people believe in, seems to be an intrinsic part of keeping such a vast country together and Putin has ensured the resurgence of Russia in world order and this has secured him the support of the public. Culturally, Russians look for strength in their leader more than anything and Putin is a “killer” as Trump himself has referred to him.

Thus, maybe given that the spoon-feeding of propaganda by the mainstream media does not solve any problems; it only creates a smokescreen for the gullible Western public, who needs a moustache-twirling villain, it is time we start analyzing Putin’s agenda objectively. As he even said in his 2007 Munich speech – “Just like any war, the Cold War left us with live ammunition, figuratively speaking. I mean ideological stereotypes, double standards and other typical aspects of Cold War bloc thinking.” It is high time we let go of such thinking.

 

Bibliography

Donald Trump seeks a grand bargain with Vladimir Putin, The Economist, Feb. 11th 2017, http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21716609-it-terrible-idea-donald-trump-seeks-grand-bargain-vladimir-putin 

Russian Foreign Ministry Following Putin’s Orders on Boosting Embassies Security, Sputnik News, Feb. 12th 2017, https://sputniknews.com/world/ 201702121050595855-russia-embassy-security-measures/

 

‘US-Iran tensions could be defused during Putin-Trump meeting’, Routers, Feb. 11th 2017, https://www.rt.com/op-edge/377079-iran-sanctions-trump-revolution/

 

The new power couple: Russia and Iran in the Middle East, European Council on Foreign Relations, Sep. 13th 2016, http://www.ecfr.eu/publications/ summary/iran_and_russia_middle_east_power_couple_7113

 

Putin Swaggers Into Hungary as Europe Wonders About U.S., New York Times, Feb. 2nd 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/02/world/europe/ vladimir-putin-hungary.html?_r=0

 

Pro-Russia presidential candidates tipped to win in Bulgaria and Moldova, The Guardian, Nov. 13th 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/ 13/pro-russia-presidential-candidates-tipped-to-win-in-bulgaria-and-moldova

 

‘Wars not diminishing’: How Putin’s iconic 2007 Munich speech sounds today, Reuters, Feb. 10th 2017, https://www.rt.com/news/376901-putin-munich-speech-2007/

 

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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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God bless America and the rest of the world in times to come

By Julia Huentemann, 1st year student from Germany studying BA International Relations at King’s College London.

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Even though I wished the results of the presidential elections were different, I do not find the outcome surprising.

After Brexit, these elections once again reveal how well established parties/politicians have obviously failed to sufficiently acknowledge the needs and sorrows of a broad range of the population. I believe that – just as with Brexit – the majority of the Trump supporters used their vote in order to express fear.  They have reached a point at which they have nothing to lose anymore.  The desire for change has become the driving force for their actions and decisions, no matter how questionable the candidate running for presidency and the consequences might be.

The United States is not an individual case. My home country, Germany, is experiencing a similar development with the German government not actually having a realistic understanding about what is an acceptable burden to place on its citizens. Obviously, a well- earning and well-educated citizen is able to deal with the constant influx of refugees in a much more relaxed way than a member of a low-earning, less-educated class. After all, the members of a well off upper class do not live next door to the refugee camp. They do not have to compete for employment and their children do not have to be afraid of not getting allocated to the favoured kindergarden/school etc.

Anyway, this privileged position is not enjoyed by a vast majority of the population and the influence this vast majority can have is obviously being underestimated. Despite general commitment shown towards the refugees by the general public, we should not neglect the fact that this influx of “strangers” is causing huge fear and envy among the citizens being worse off than the average. They fear of being deprived from privileges and now having to compete against an enormous number of newcomers. This fear is universal in its nature and applies to both Americans in their anxiety about immigrants from Mexico & Co. as well as Germans and their anxiety about refugees from Syria & Co. No nation simply exists of wealthy and privileged. There always exists an equal proportion (if not even more) of poor, uneducated and narrow minded. And still those less privileged have to be considered as equal, especially in their right to vote.

The outcomes of the elections show that the gap between rich and poor, educated and uneducated is becoming wider and wider. Here I see the most urgent need for action not only in America but also in Europe. Education, and with it the opportunities for social upward mobility is, among other things, a prerequisite for a functioning and sustainable democracy.

Democracy in itself has its limitations. It assumes every citizen to be mature, to make rational decisions to promote the common good but this is rather an unrealistic illusion. As long as everyone is content, values such as tolerance, freedom and solidarity are being promoted, but as soon as there is a tendency towards misery, rather negative sentiments move to the focus of attention. And those sentiments are very unlikely to conform to such honorable values as tolerance, etc.

Without social equality it will become increasingly difficult for liberal-democratic governments to acquire a majority in governmental elections and the presidential elections in the US is just one example revealing this ugly truth. We should acknowledge the fact that Trump, other than Hillary Clinton, has managed to see and incorporate the desires of the so-called “silent majority” into his campaign. We should acknowledge the fact that Trump was able to use the weaknesses of democracy (namely the dissatisfaction of the people) to his advantage, which is not illegitimate as a means of acquiring power, and that this has made him a successful candidate.

If we truly believe in the concept of democracy, we still have to respectfully accept what the people in the United States have voted for. There is no point in complaining about the outcome of the 2016 elections, even if it is tempting to do so, to join the ones proclaiming a global apocalypse. Future politicians can actually learn a lesson from the recent developments, may it be Brexit, the refugee crisis or the presidential election. There is an urge for an increasing awareness of the needs of the less privileged who feel neglected by the establishment. Too many events have proven this social group to be underestimated in its actual impact upon the outcome of public votes from which they must and cannot be excluded.

Instead of complaining about the past, we should attempt an optimistic outlook into the future as things never turn out to be as bad as they might have seemed. We should have faith in the American population, we should have faith in the survival of democracy and we should understand it as a chance to return to more solidarity in Europe. I strongly believe that the outcome of those presidential elections provides enough motivation for European nations to form a closer union in order to withstand Trump´s America and to be considered as a serious partner on equal level. God bless America and God bless the rest of the world.

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