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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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What Interventionists get wrong about Venezuela

Venezuela IR Today Photo

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.

The ongoing crisis in Venezuela has received mass media attention across the West, particularly in the United States (US). The crisis began following a Supreme Court attempt in March to dissolve the legislative branch and the subsequent protests against this decision. This event is seen as the origin of the crisis, with the death toll for the following five months amounting to around 130 people. The death toll, human rights violations, and lack of access to basic commodities has caused outcry from countries in the Americas and Europe and supranational organizations like the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations (UN). Some human rights advocates have even gone so far as to call for humanitarian intervention, or for the UN to invoke Responsibility to Protect (R2P). US President Donald Trump, in particular, has not shied away from the possibility of military intervention, even while others in the administration show a level of caution. This brash language shows a misunderstanding of R2P, a misunderstanding of the crisis and of the political landscape in Venezuela.

R2P

R2P relies on three pillars, the first being that the state holds the primary responsibility to protect its population from genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. For pillars two or three to be fulfilled, one of these crimes would have to be occurring. Analyzing these four atrocities, it is clear that the violence in Venezuela has not reached the threshold to move past the first pillar. War crimes require the state to be in a time of war, which Venezuela is not. Acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing both require the targeting of a specific population, with ethnic cleansing specifically requiring the targeting of an ethnic or religious group, which has not been documented in Venezuela. While some may argue that a particular political group is under threat, political affiliation or orientation is not a ‘protected’ status under the 1948 Genocide Convention. The only crime which R2P advocates may utilize as evidence of a breach of Pillar One, then, is crimes against humanity, but crimes against humanity have a less established definition than the three other crimes. To prove that crimes against humanity should not be the defining term used for the violence in the Venezuelan crisis, it is important to understand the cases where it already has been used.

Officials have been prosecuted for crimes against humanity in multiple trials, starting with the infamous Nuremburg Trials. The definition of the crimes has shifted over time, particularly following the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and has therein reached a broad definition under customary international law. Crimes against humanity span murder, rape, enslavement, imprisonment, disappearance, persecution, and other heinous crimes. The requirement that has been repeated across all three trials was that the crimes were systematic and widespread. This is the main problem with defining the violence, specifically state-led violence, as crimes against humanity. While murder, disappearance, and imprisonment have all been utilized by the Venezuelan government, these crimes have not occurred in the past five months at a widespread level. The 130 deaths include pro-government protesters and police officers, not only counter protesters killed by their government. Although the majority of the deaths are citizens, it does not constitute a level that could be conceived as widespread. Given the bulk of killings committed yearly by government forces across the globe, particularly in this region, it seems odd for Venezuela to be such an outstanding case of crimes that it merits intervention. While this should not be a case of what-about-ism, finite resources should bring into question which countries are worth intervening in and where the largest human rights abuses are occurring. Is Venezuela the worst current global humanitarian crisis?

It is important to note that the lack of existence of crimes against humanity does not make these deaths any more bearable by the deads’ loved ones or by the citizens of Venezuela. Criticism and protest of this government should be expected when governmental use of force is excessive and violence fills the streets. What it does show, instead, is that these murders do not constitute any crime that R2P is based upon. Intervention based on R2P, therefore, seems a moot point.

Some sources have seen evidence of widespread and systematic violations of human rights. For instance, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein lambasted the Maduro regime with accusations of torture, arbitrary detention, and the responsibility of at least 70 murders during the crisis.

Yet even if the international community were to decide that there is proof of crimes against humanity in Venezuela, collective use of force would be unlikely to succeed—the general crime rate, separate from the government’s crackdown, has skyrocketed over the last two years, making it difficult for forces to adequately enforce a peace between the government and its citizens. Indeed, Caracas was named the most violent city in the world outside of a warzone in both 2015 and 2016. The inability to predict a successful intervention should cause pause for those advocating intervention as a stoppage to the violence.

US Intervention in Latin America

While the US is unlikely to intervene in Venezuela unilaterally, the history of US intervention in Latin America does not bode well for a positive response to intervention by the Venezuelan public or by other countries in the region. Since the US sits on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as one of the permanent five (P5) members, the US would explicitly vote in favor or against military action in Venezuela, most likely voting in favor. This would send a clear message to US allies and non-allies alike in the region that the US is not done meddling in regional affairs. For context: the US has supported, financially, militarily, and with clandestine intelligence, paramilitary groups and governments that have been accused and, in specific cases, convicted of genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, including forced disappearances, extrajudicial murders, massacres, and political persecution. This includes, but is not limited to, the Dirty Wars under Argentina’s military regime, the murderous Pinochet regime in Chile, the genocidal military counterinsurgency mission in the Guatemalan Civil War, and countless other exposed covert operations. This pattern has made Latin American governments, particularly Leftist ones, hostile to US involvement in their countries.

On the 13th of August US Vice President Mike Pence traveled to the region to meet with Latin American leaders. President Trump’s commentary on intervention in Venezuela loomed large. The response could not be clearer. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, a regional ally, candidly said:

“Since friends have to tell them the truth, I’ve told Vice President Pence the possibility of military intervention shouldn’t even be considered. The Latin American continent, every country in Latin America, would not favor any form of military intervention and that is why we are saying we are intent on looking into other measures some of which are already underway and others to be implemented in the future.”

A US-associated intervention would begin at a deficit in popularity with the local population and regional governments, making the future for peace even more arduous. The current administration’s stance on the crisis is unlikely to create any real change, either.

Divisive Venezuelan Society

One of the main barriers to understanding the crisis is the current narrative, which propagates a bifurcated choice between the Maduro regime and the innocent population. The Maduro regime has made steps to consolidate power socially and politically. It has shut down independent press organizations, most recently two Colombian news channels, and with its newly founded Constituent Assembly has begun stripping the Opposition-controlled legislature of its powers. Earlier this month, Mercosur suspended Venezuela indefinitely on charges of breaching democratic norms and the deepening crisis. The ongoing food and medicine shortages have caused crises within hospitals and multi-hour queues at state-run grocery stores. Basic commodities, like bread, are difficult to find. Corruption charges continue. Neighboring countries Colombia and Brazil have seen large migration flows, Colombia seeing hundreds of thousands in the last two years.

And yet three million people still voted in the constituent assembly election for pro-regime candidates. A lack of support for Maduro is not a lack of support for socialism, nor a condemnation of Chavismo. This is the main sticking point. Much like young Cubans fleeing Cuba in search of opportunities in the US, the majority of Venezuelans are not fleeing oppression but rather fleeing hunger. The lack of food and the radical levels of inflation, leaving the bolivar worthless, are the primary reasons for migration and discontent. As Opposition lawmaker Gaby Arrellano has recognized, missteps by the political class, both Left and Right, has not given the Venezuelan population much choice.

While the Opposition gained a majority in the legislative branch in 2016, the first time in 16 years, it was swept in on anti-regime sentiments, not necessarily pro-Opposition ones. This distinction means that an intervention that would replace the Maduro regime with an Opposition controlled regime would not be inherently more popular. The Opposition has not stayed fully unified throughout the crisis, either: the group fractured over whether to take part in the constituent assembly. In the end, they held their own unofficial plebiscite, but still did not take part in the Constituent Assembly. The ongoing political crisis is not simply a difference between the Maduro regime and the Opposition’s governing decisions.

So?

The crisis in Venezuela has not bettered through the battering of the Venezuelan economy. The Maduro regime has only further dug in its heels, making cries of US imperialism and threats to Venezuela’s sovereignty to the public. An intervention that seems almost inherently based in regime change would not be welcome by the Venezuelan population nor by countries in the region. The focus should be on mitigating widespread suffering, primarily on medical cases and cases of starvation.

The Venezuelan-Colombian border is already very porous. While the Maduro regime will not accept aid from the United States nor make any major economic shifts, regional leaders and the UN could assist by creating food banks on the Colombian side of the border so that Venezuelans could have access to necessary goods without paying for them. Furthermore, medical camps in neighboring countries could also begin to help the sick. Concerns of the expanding crisis could be further mitigated by financially supporting neighboring states so they are better able to handle the influx of Venezuelans looking to temporarily migrate or access the market.

The upcoming October election should also be a focal point: the UN and regional leaders should look to negotiate with the Venezuelan government so as to support a free and open election that could see the possibility of peaceful and democratic regime change. There is much more that can be done to support those suffering from the crisis without the cost of intervention.

 

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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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Equality – irrespective of sexual orientation. A privilege of the developed world?

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By Lukas Jansen, a second year International Relations Undergraduate at King’s College London.

On the 29th July 2017, 43 men were arrested and charged for homosexuality in Lagos, Nigeria. This is one of the latest events which shows the institutionalized anti-gay resentment in Africa. This is the continent where most countries criminalize homosexuality [1]. In 2014, Uganda signed into law the ‘Anti-Homosexuality Act’, which condemns homosexuals to life in prison if caught for ‘aggravated homosexuality. [2]’ However, there are exceptions such as South Africa, which has legalized it. Uganda is ranked 151st on the Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International[3] and one of the poorest economies in the world, while South Africa is 64th[4] on the index and was ranked as an upper-middle income economy by the World Bank.[5] One may wonder if there is a relation between economic development and the acceptance of gay rights. Interestingly, it has been found that there is indeed such a relation. Different school of thoughts have been debating how that causality can exist. And this brings us to the question, whether gay rights should be at the forefront of national agendas or if, in the first place, political and financial elements should be considered in order to bring about change.

The two schools of thoughts, this article will be inspired by, are the post-materialistic values approach and the human capita approach, which contrast in their view of minority rights.[6]

The former states that political and financial development leads to a long term increase of minority rights as the economy. Having guaranteed survival of its individuals with the help of its economic development one can focus on other matters such as minority rights and the expression of individuality

The example of South Africa may be summoned as the expression of this theory. The Apartheid government used a sexual discrimination policy in order to further ground its racial discrimination so that the ‘white nation’ be ‘sexually and morally pure’. [7]  Thus some lesbian and gays group also joined the fight against Apartheid and lobbied the African National Congress (ANC) in order to include rights for gays in the newly established constitution. Consequently, in 1992, the ANC officially recognized gay and lesbian rights.[8] Thus this may be a clear example of minority rights being attained through the development of political rights leading to the post-apartheid period.

While South Africa may be summoned as a successful expression of Inglehart’s theory, it may also be argued that the Apartheid movement was quite unique for its time and was made into a world problem through the internationalization of the issue. Certainly, some ANC leaders who were critical of the gay rights movement, met protest from the international anti-Apartheid movement, which may also have contributed to the acceptance of the gay right movement within the ANC[9].  Thus it may be argued that the international involvement in the rights issue led to its acceptance rather than the sole political development of the country.

In contrast, the “human capital theory” states that human capital (a collection of traits of an individual which gives its economic value) gains from adopting minority rights first[10]. Thus, an individual which will feel completely at ease within society will expand his opportunity to broaden his human capital through increased access to health or education. Meanwhile, the individual will be more productive as a labor force as it will work in an environment where he will not fear any discrimination. When considering all  individuals who will gain from the institution of gay rights its cumulated aggregate of human capital will be a pushing force for the economy and will lead to an increase of the economy on the macro-level. [11]

In 2016, businesses all around the world came together to make a stance for LGBT inclusion, making the case that LGBT rights were better for the economic growth of the state[12]. While the study is business-biased, it still shows how the institutionalization of gay rights may lead to an increase in trust from major companies, which will have less hesitation to invest in a gay friendly country, boosting the respective country’s economy.

However, the interest of major groups may go against the collective sentiment of the respecting society. Developing societies are faced with a large part of the population having religious faith. Most developing Islamic countries condemn homosexuality with heavy sentences and sometimes death penalties such as Nigeria or Mauritania[13], while local Imams may not often accept of gay rights. Meanwhile Christian missionaries in Africa, such as the American activist Scott Lively[14], who is outspokenly anti-LGBT, also try to shift the balance on the continent to be critical of gay rights. Religious faith having a major influence, unpopular measures may lead to a further decrease in state authority, which developing countries, who do not have the same power of centralization and fiscalisation as their European counterparts, already try to get to grips with.

Adding to the religious element of developing societies, the belief that giving in to gay rights is a form of new colonialism coming from the West. A speech by president Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe in 2000 may be considered an expression of this: ‘We have our own culture, and we must re-dedicate ourselves to our traditional values that make us human beings. … What we are being persuaded to accept is sub-animal behavior and we will never allow it here’[15]. The belief that accepting homosexuality is giving in to the West may also lead to a difficult acceptance of gay rights by people, and comes as an addition to the religious factor.

Consequently, one can argue that in the case of Africa, political and financial measures should be taken first in order to boost economic growth, which in turn will lead to a higher acceptance of gay rights. While major businesses may be interested in investing in gay friendly countries, the backlash for policymakers may not be worth the cost as they are faced with an increasing religious population which does not trust government and gets under influences. Indeed, accepting gay rights may be a positive sign for the economic wealth of a country in the long run but the political short term might be destructive for the power in place. Furthermore, Africa being faced with a very unstable political climate, the institutionalization of gay rights may be used against its nations’ leaders by other political groups.

 

Bibliography:

[1] http://ilga.org/downloads/07_THE_ILGA_RIWI_2016_GLOBAL_ATTITUDES_SURVEY_ON_LGBTI_PEOPLE.pdf

[2] http://edition.cnn.com/2014/02/24/world/africa/uganda-anti-gay-bill

[3] https://www.transparency.org/country/UGA#

[4] https://www.transparency.org/country/ZAF

[5] http://data.worldbank.org/country/south-africa

[6] M.V. Lee Badgett, Sheila Nezhad, Kees Waaldijk, Yana van der Meulen Rodgers; The Relationship between LGBT Inclusion and Economic Development: An Analysis of Emerging Economies (Los Angeles: The William Institute, UCLA School of Law)

[7] Gustavo Gomes da Costa Santos, Decriminalising homosexuality in Africa: lessons from the South African experience Chapter 11, pp. 313–37 of Corinne Lennox & Matthew Waites (eds.) (2013) Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in The Commonwealth: Struggles for Decriminalisation and Change (London: School of Advanced Study, University of London).

[8] Gustavo Gomes da Costa Santos, ibid

[9] Gustavo Gomes da Costa Santos, ibid

[10] M.V. Lee Badgett, ibid

[11] M.V. Lee Badgett, ibid

[12] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/lgbt-rights-open-for-business-coalition_us_56d07514e4b0871f60eb199d

[13] https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/world/gay-rights/

[14] https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/individual/scott-lively

[15] https://southernafrican.news/2014/03/20/africa-rejects-cultural-imperialism/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The anatomy of TERROR

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By Diana Ecaterina Borcea, a first year War Studies Undergraduate at King’s College London and European Editor for International Relations Today.

 10:35pm Monday, May 22nd 2017. Massive explosion taking place at the Manchester Arena, shortly after the end of 20.000 people packed concert.

Two months earlier, on March 22nd, a 52-year-old British citizen drove a car into the pedestrians on the south side of the Westminster Bridge.

The timeline of the UK terrorist attacks started to count more and more incidents and deaths of the innocent since the beginning of the year, leading the detectives into the hunt for a terrorist network, especially after the Iraqi Islamic State’s responsibility claim over the bombing which happened earlier this week. However, the public proved itself to be increasingly confused in the attempt to contour a broader understanding of what the terrorists are looking for in their operations – or even better – what the real terror is meant to achieve.

Considering that UK has just been through the worst attack since 2007, the polarization of a pure anti-humanity agenda, successfully restored under the international spotlight since the beginning of the year proved once again, its underlying permanent influence over the global society, regardless of the geo-political targeting of the attacks. Therefore, what is actually primarily important to understand is the concept that describes best the perpetrators’ intentions in their offensive procedure, which essentially relies on the very definition of terror. They aim for publicity (which by its own means both attracting other individuals or groups on the side of the perpetrators and breaking the rational will of the targeted mass), they generally intend to deteriorate the image of a recognized government in the eyes of both the world and their own citizens, they inspire a super-wave of collective guilt amongst the individuals and ultimately, strive for a socio-political (and sometimes economic) paralysis of the targeted state-system, once the faith and the support of the masses are completely lost. From this point of view, UK’s constant response to the attacks can be theoretically interpreted as being antiterrorist, because it mainly relies on collective national security measures meant to keep sheltering the rights of the citizens and the rule of law. However, the increasing density of the attacks does raise some vital questions about the state’s protective capability, given the large numbers of casualties caused only since the beginning of this year. The more successful attacks, the lower the people’s faith in their own security and safety and implicitly, the lower the trust in the state’s protective ability. So what will happen next?

It is clear that unlike the Unites States, the British government does not see terrorism as warfare, nor does it look at it through the crime analogy. What UK has actually done so far is considering terrorism as being a matter of disease, which implies a cause-symptom treatment based on arrests and increased prevention through additional security measures. It is certainly important to note the achievements of this approach, as so far the danger of a social paralysis has been avoided and regardless of the extent of the destruction caused by the perpetrators of extreme violence, life went on. But how long will this last for?

A more relevant idea to bear in mind when dissociating terrorism is that due to the ever-changing nature of the phenomenon (including the targeting vision, the conduct of the operations, the tactics and devices used etc.), there is not and will never be a clear, comprising and universally valid definition for the case. This fact itself plays an important role in the broad understanding process of how and why the perpetrators act the way they do against the society. The psychological view of the attacker prototype does explain the individual’s perspective before and during the ‘pull of the trigger’, as it acknowledges the psychological map and processes taking place in human mind, which are, to a certain extent, quite similar to the ones of a soldier on the battlefield. It fails, however, to identify the vague transition between the ideological, religious, political, economic or personal motivation of an individual to carry out an act of extreme violence and the actual process of making it happen. In other words, there is no clear link between the theory and the practice of inducing terror. What is more, the group cohesion theory can barely justify the determination and outstanding operational focus of the terrorist groups and yet, it does not even reach the lone wolves’ case studies. Perhaps, this is one element that makes the latest London attacks stand out in the series of the recent attacks, because if the individuals acted on their own, one can hardly identify – not to mention understand – the mental realm of the terrorist. Thus, there is a general state of confusion between the target and the shooter. Unlike traditional warfare, the war on terror is not just asymmetrical from the grand strategic point of view, but it is also extremely irregular when it comes to the individual level of analysis.

Therefore, the thinner the correlation between the victim and the killer, the more endangered the conditions of life, regardless of the geographical zone discussed. What is certain, though, is that the continuation of the attacks against the human society has become in the past decades, an inherent matter of reality. Whether the hits similar to the one Britain took earlier this week will intensify or not, it is important to remember that terrorism is now a big part of the world we live in. The attackers are not prone to fundamental changes on any level of analysis, but what needs consideration is how (from the citizens to the states and to the international community) the society will ‘digest’ and cope with this traumatizing reality and the first step on this path is actually deciding whether the surviving mechanism of the world as we know it is actually that bulletproof against terror as we thought it was.

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Marine Le Pen and women’s rights: a personal opinion

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By Elise Lauriot Prevost, a second year Undergraduate studying International Relations at King’s College London.

Women’s rights have not been central in the French elections, as they are not in most elections. They never seem to be a priority even though women statistically represent 50% of the electorate. However, there is a chance that in two weeks a woman may become President. This woman is Marine Le Pen. Her opponent, Emmanuel Macron, a man, has pledged to do more about women’s rights than Le Pen. This is easily explained by looking at the party she represents, the Front National. Nonetheless, what is concerning is not only that woman’s rights are so absent from her program but more so how she frames her ‘slight’ concern.

A quick comparison of the two candidates programs on women’s rights shows us that:

  • Emmanuel Macron wants there to be parity in the candidates running for the legislative elections and in the directors of state agencies.
  • Marine Le Pen does not mention this.

 

  • When it comes to equal pay Macron would like to ‘name and shame’ companies that do not pay men and women the same and enforce by conducting regular checks.
  • Marine Le Pen does mention equal pay and does not give any concrete measures on how she would achieve this. Still she is against positive discrimination.

 

  • When it comes to women’s rights Emmanuel Macron would be stricter on ‘small infractions’ such as cat calling and other ‘antisocial behavior against women’ by imposing “on the spot” fines.
  • Marine Le Pen wants to defend women’s rights by fighting against Islamism which, for her, is the biggest threat against women’s fundamental rights. [1]

 

It is on this last point that I would like to focus on. This idea of Islamism and a repression of women rights has its roots in the colonization of North Africa by the French. The French quickly developed an obsession with veiling and unveiling woman which is obviously still the case with the recent ‘burkini’ scandal. Additionally, the 2005 ‘Loi contre les signes religieux ostensibles’ was passed as a matter of ‘laicité’ but would never have made it through had it not been for the campaign by French feminists that headscarves are just a sign of a Muslim woman’s oppression. Many authors have justifiably argued against this[2]. This removes a Muslims woman agency and her right to choose for herself. The headscarf also has a long history of being used as a form of rebellion against colonial authorities. Obviously, the headscarf does not equal fundamental Islam but for Marine Le Pen it seems to. By reducing Muslim women to their headscarves it completely removes their agency.

On top of this discourse with colonial and purely racist undertones there is another problem with what she is saying. As a French woman, I personally have never felt that Islamism was the biggest threat to my rights. Far from it. I feel that my reproductive rights are more threatened by the ‘family’ lobby (La Manif Pour Tous) in France which is mostly Catholic. I personally have been more put down, belittled and on the receiving end of lurid comments by white ‘French’ men than by the people Marine Le Pen blames, ‘immigrants’.  Obviously, I am generalizing here but my biggest concerns are everyday cat calling, being belittled by male peers and most importantly the fact that I still have to work twice as hard to get a job, an interview or even just to be taken seriously because I am a woman. And this has absolutely nothing to do with Islamism. What shocks me the most is that Marine Le Pen is arguably the most powerful woman in France today and to get there it must not have been easy.

I dislike her with every fiber of my being and would never excuse anything she says but, woman to woman, I am certain that she has felt the same sexual discrimination that I have. She has had to work twice as hard to get where she is, she has had to answer questions which a man never gets asked such as why have you put your career in front of your family? etc. I do not agree with her ideas but I am sure that she has been victim to as much and even more sexual harassment because of her prominent position. I am sure that people questioned her taking over from her father on the basis that she was a woman. With all this said I still struggle to understand why she does not take women’s rights more seriously. I am sure that she has had her rights questioned by way more non Islamic fundamentalists than Islamic fundamentalists. Women’s rights may not appeal to all her voters but she has tried to soften her image and distance herself from her father and party. How can a woman who has definitely experienced sexual harassment reduce it to Islamic Fundamentalism. You can be blinded by your ideas but work place harassment, belittlement is an everyday reality for woman and for her too.  How can you vote for someone who is so blinded by their racist and extremist ideology that they do not even take into account what affects them on a daily basis?

Bibliography:

[1] <http://www.rtl.fr/girls/identites/macron-le-pen-le-match-des-programmes-pour-les-droits-des-femmes-7788256778&gt;.

[2] Najmabadi, Afsaneh. “Gender and Secularism of Modernity: How Can a Muslim Woman Be French?” Feminist Studies 32, no. 2 (2006): 239.

 

 

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Is Romania finally making its first steps towards democracy?

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By Luca Patriniche, a first-year History undergraduate at King’s College London

The newly-appointed Social-Democratic (PSD, now in coalition with ALDE) government of Sorin Grindeanu approved an emergency ordinance (OUG13), during the night of 31 January 2017, which alters the Romanian penal code and reduces penalties for abuses of power. The order stipulated more lenient punishments for corruption. There was also an amnesty for those convicted of certain corruption offenses, which amounts essentially to the legalization of corruption. PSD proposed further measures that would ban protests deemed to be of “extremist nature” and free from jail those serving sentences of up to five years for offenses including abuse of power. All these measures would be a clear breach of democratic principles – they bear an uncanny resemblance to the new measures passed secretively in the night by the illiberal Law & Justice (PiS) government in Poland. Similarly to PiS, PSD’s first line of defense to criticism is their pro-social measures to ‘help the poor’, that are ‘the will of the people’.

The main beneficiary of PSD’s ordinance would have been the PSD president Liviu Dragnea. PSD won parliamentary elections in December 2016 with 46% of the vote, but President Klaus Iohannis (of the National Liberal Party, or PNL)’s anti-corruption drive since 2014 bars those with convictions from public office, thus preventing a Dragnea premiership. Dragnea has a suspended two-year sentence for vote-rigging and is being prosecuted in a separate case for abuse of power. The proposed changes would likely be made with the intention of making Dragnea prime minister. The changes would pardon and shorten the sentences of those convicted of corruption, including of many PSD politicians, and allow future abuses of power.

For a week after 31 January 2017, there was every night (in temperatures often below minus 10 degrees Celsius) between 300,000 and 600,000 people protesting in Romania (population of 20 million), making them the biggest protests since the Revolution of December 1989 against Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu. The protests have continued, albeit in much smaller numbers, as protestors want to ensure the Grindeanu government does not try to introduce a watered-down version of the ordinance after the proposals were withdrawn and Justice Minister Florin Iordache resigned. They call for the resignation of the entire Grindeanu cabinet. There were large protests outside Romania as well, in the Romanian diaspora of 4 million (compared to 20 million in Romania).

“Awaken, Romanian, from the deadly slumber into which the barbaric tyrants have sunk you!”[1] These opening lines of the Romanian national anthem, a song often sung at the protests for its message of liberty and patriotism, show the cynicism of the protestors and the mismatch between the reality of political, economic and social life in Romania and the optimism that followed the 1989 revolution. Corruption continues to pervade everyday life in Romania, and many are dissatisfied with the current state of affairs, the country’s trajectory in the past 28 years and its prospects, particularly in relation to neighbouring countries that are perceived to have transitioned more successfully since 1989. The protests are in favour of well-functioning, transparent and accountable institutions.

Other popular slogans showed the same bitterness. Referring to the defensive way in which former Justice Minister Iordache avoided uncomfortable questions 24 times at a single press conference with “altă întrebare” (“another question”, in English), there were also cries of “altă întrebare, altu’ între bare” (“another question, another one behind bars”), calling for Iordache’s imprisonment. Protesters denounced the PSD as the “red plague” and declared that Ceaușescu was not, in fact, dead, but alive and simply disguised as Dragnea. References were also made to the 1990 ‘Golaniad’ protests against the transitional National Salvation Front (FSN) government of Ion Iliescu, during which the protestors often sang: “Better to be dead than a communist!” That 1990 protest called for the barring of former Communist Party (PCR) officials from public office; people have the grievance today that old members of the party, or those who formed advantageous connections pre-1989, are still privileged, or even that the style of governance today and lack of transparency and integrity resembles the old days.

Other popular slogans refer to the PSD’s late-night decree signings (“like thieves in the middle of the night”) or the anti-democratic nature of the decrees (“in a democracy, thieves stay in jail”) , but they all use the idea of this PSD government and many before them since 1989 having consistently stolen and blighted Romania’s chances to improve herself. Cynicism and bitterness reflect the national feeling about politics since 1989.

To understand this latest bout of anger at politics, one should consider the last year and a half in Romanian politics. The fire in the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest in October 2015 killed 64 people. Already lax safety regulations were said to have been avoided by way of a bribe to the local council, thus helping the fire to spread. Corruption had killed. This sparked a wave of anti-government protest, eventually resulting in the resignation of then prime minister Victor Ponta (PSD), himself facing allegations of tax evasion, money-laundering, plagiarism of his doctoral thesis, and of being involved in the suspicious ‘suicide’ of a prosecutor. The National Anti-Corruption Agency (DNA), under Laura Kövesi, continued Iohannises anti-corruption drive with renewed strength, arresting many politicians. After one year of technocratic government, the December 2016 parliamentary elections returned the PSD to power. The fact that a new party, the urgently-named Save Romania Union (USR) came third, being led by Nicușor Dan (an academic turned activist) and Clotilde Armand (a French businesswoman turned activist), shows the dire situation in Romanian politics. PSD then proposed Sevil Shaiddeh for prime minister, which President Iohannis vetoed on the grounds of her inexperience and thus vulnerability to being exploited by Dragnea, as well as because of her husband’s previous role as a minister for tropical and subtropical fruit in the Syrian Agriculture Ministry from 1988 to 2010, the government of Assad. This sparked a minor constitutional crisis which ended with the eventual formation of the Grindeanu government in January 2017, whose actions have provoked the recent protests.

he above does not answer the question but is essential to understanding the nature of the protests and having an idea of how successful protest can be. The fact that hundreds of thousands, a sizeable chunk of the Romanian population, turned out to protest peacefully, often in bitterly cold weather, shows great determination. The fact that the government soon backed down on its proposals and that Iordache resigned shows that protest can have a significant impact on policy. This would appear to be the first step towards true democracy and rule of law. The effectiveness of protest in causing political change depends on local conditions such as the flexibility of rulers and the determination, co-ordination, and mobilization of protesters. In Romania’s case, these factors in 2017 were, at least at face value, very much in favour of the protesters. However, the victory for the protesters is provisional; there is a long battle for them to safeguard Romanian democracy.

Romanians’ resilience is commendable given 28 years of underwhelming political development and proposed political changes that are clearly anti-democratic, and which endangers much-needed attempts by Iohannis and the DNA to fight the corruption that is endemic and damaging to the Romanian economy and society.

The protests inspired civic creativity. Considering again the protest slogans, one can see they show bitterness, but they also show humour and creativity; a hint of positivity, in other words. They show a unique Romanian style of protest. The protest has been common in Romania since 2012. Protesters are therefore energetic, enthusiastic and organized. Volunteers provide protesters with food and tea and keep peace amongst the protesters, so as to avoid attracting police responses. The streets can thus act as the main guardians of democracy if the politicians are not so keen to protect it. The Romanian culture of protest since 2012 has tended to be less conflict-based than elsewhere and it makes use of modernity. The protesting becomes humorous – funny custom-made posters were used. A good example of this is a play on a Coca-Cola advert: “Enjoying Coca-Cola since 1886” became the sarcastic “Enjoying corruption since 1989”. Video projections of Romanian flags onto buildings and huge puppets, particularly of Dragnea in a prisoner’s uniform, have also been used. These show cynicism but also creativity and satire – protest is not about displaying anger, but it is satire instead. The protesters show passion but are good-natured and fun. “Distracție plăcută!” (“Have a good time!”) was often wished to those going to the protests. The protests’ humour and good-naturedness are advantageous because it makes the protests less obviously ideological and less antagonizing and more an occasion for unity against a clear problem of corruption.

Protesters have made good use of technology. It helps their cause as well as it has helped to gain significant international attention for these protests. Social media can be used to further deride incompetent politicians. Social media enables a leaderless, inclusive and fairly spontaneous movement. The protests have also echoed modern tastes; many slogans and signs resembled Facebook messages or tweets. #rezist has become synonymous for the 2017 protests. Iohannis’s election in 2014 was aided by many sharing a “keep calm and vote Iohannis” photo and by making him the most “liked” European politician on Facebook.

Romanian protests have also managed to unite those fed up with corruption and poor governance, providing unity across different socioeconomic groups. A Facebook video of an elderly Bucharest street cleaner went viral, as she was shouting passionately at the young protesters to rise up and to be brave Romanians and take back their country after the politicians stole it. A desire for the rule of law unites these people who previously might have been politically detached by disillusionment. They have consolidated their unity in the last few years since it has been more or less the same demographic that has been protesting at each wave. As these people tend to be young, there is an element of being different from mainstream society, often associated with the older generations and the poor, rural population, particularly as these groups are seen as voting PSD and seen as having been paid by PSD to stage counter-protests in PSD’s favour.

he humor, unity, creativity and modernity of the protests may well be able to cause real political change, but that would require a real grassroots anti-corruption movement, similar perhaps to Beppe Grillo in Italy. Despite the undeniable Romanian energy for protest, there is no such movement with the level of impact that Grillo has. There are further problems; the protesters were not united on certain issues, such as how to engage the police, after a few incidents of hooliganism. PSD remains dominant in Romanian politics also, despite all the bad press for it.

The DNA and Iohannis are spearheading the anti-corruption drive, but they are not innocent either. Iohannis risks politicizing the protests by declaring himself explicitly on the side of the protesters against the Grindeanu government, and the DNA’s quick prosecutions suggest it benefits from a privileged but questionable network of information-sharing.

A reform of public services and government institutions is needed for there to be a truly democratic political class. This would mean local authorities, national and state institutions need reform, like the army, police or postal service. Local and national authorities must be created such that they are compatible with a competent and honest Western EU state. This would mean cutting through the networks of influence, nepotism, and corruption that make up Romanian ‘godfather capitalism’, which combines several elements. First, there is the renewed influence of the Orthodox Church (Romania is currently building the largest Orthodox cathedral in the world in Bucharest), arguably primitive, unwanted and unnecessary. Second, there is almost exclusively non-violent corruption (bribery) and incompetence among untrained politicians. Third, the lack of training of politicians, exacerbated by a poorly-paid political class in a country where voters and politicians alike are not so much ideological as simply looking to make some extra money where possible, leads to incompetent, incoherent government. This puts the political class in conflict with the justice system, but collusion between the two sides blocks the transition to a truly democratic political class.

The minimum gross monthly salary in Romania is 1450 lei (about 235 euros); the average gross monthly salary is 3130 lei (about 685 euros). A deputy in the lower house of parliament has a starting monthly salary of 5400 lei (about 1180 euros), not including perks. Perks include a certain immunity from prosecution, which is useful when the justice system would otherwise pursue corrupt politicians. People are left with little money after their living costs, so find it difficult to save. Thus many voters are tempted by PSD promises of higher salaries and pensions. The politicians are better off, but still poor by European standards, and given their position of power, are likely to abuse it and try to make extra money where possible. This problem affects all. The only political ideology becomes to make extra money where possible. Politicians have frequently migrated across the political spectrum to different parties, including between PSD (centre-left) and PNL (centre-right). The result of prioritizing personal profit itself is the outcome of a lack of funding and incentives, leading to incompetent, incoherent and dishonest politicians and political parties.

This is added to the social problems that entrench the old power networks. The Romanian diaspora numbers almost 4 million. The younger generation is tempted to leave but the old and the poor (many of them PSD voters) remain and continue to vote PSD, which as the largest party, attracts the networks of corruption and dishonesty. The other parties are not necessarily less corrupt, but PSD enjoys an unhealthy political dominance. The inter-generational rift does not help. Furthermore, the quality of the education system, apart from a few good schools, is declining. Like other public services, quality is stagnant because of lack of funding and incompetence. As many jobs are in the public sector, Romania also has many individuals dependent on those in power, which only further entrenches dishonesty.

Protests are undeniably effective in Romania in bringing about the short-term change of policy and politicians. OUG13 was cancelled and Iordache resigned. That brought some relief from endemic corruption and satisfied citizens’ dissatisfaction with corrupt politicians. The magnitude and ingenious methods of the protests consolidate the street’s role as a visible and influential actor in politics and politicized many. International attention on Romania, partly a result of Romanians’ use of technology to make others abroad elsewhere aware of the situation, would certainly have pressured the government to act as it did. However, there are many rifts in Romanian society, as shown by the mostly old people who were at the pro-PSD counter-protests, having been told Iohannis would cut their pensions. Deep reform is needed to stem corruption and entrenched networks of elitism and dishonesty. The political system would have to become more coherent and honest as well. There are also the very tricky demographic problems to solve. The population is ageing and declining, and the young and skilled go abroad, so the result is that it is very difficult to put more funding into services like education. Political parties like USR offer hope of a more honest future, but there is still a long way to go before such parties become large enough to have influence. If the current young and educated generation keep to their ideals of honesty, then that is encouraging for the future. However, this should not disguise the fact that deep reform is needed. The protest was able to cause political change, but without deep reform, the post-1989 situation of stagnant political development may well continue, in other words, “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”.[2] A large grassroots political movement for honesty, of which these protests are a small first step, would surely be a step towards that. The protesters’ determination alone won’t bring true democracy, but one has to wait to see whether their determination can develop into a serious political movement to challenge the status quo.

 

Bibliography:

[1] Romanian National Anthem, Desteapta-te, Romane!, (lyrics by Andrei Muresanu)

[2] Daltrey, Townshend, Won’t Get Fooled Again, 1971

 

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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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TTIP, CETA & Co.: BOON OR BANE?

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By Julia Huentemann, a 1st Year International Relations Student and Editorial Assistant for International Relations Today.

Strasbourg. On 15th February, 2017 the European Parliament ratified the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between the European Union and Canada, best known by its acronym CETA. According to the EU Commission, this is supposed to be the most modern, advanced and progressive free trade agreement ever constructed, since it goes beyond just removing customs duties and takes people and the environment fully into account. By doing so, it will set a new global standard for future trade agreements.

“It will help to generate growth and jobs by boosting exports, lowering the cost of the inputs businesses need to make their products, offering greater choice for consumers, and upholding the EU’s strict standards for products.”[1] This is how both the European Union and the Canadian government are currently advertising CETA to the public. The underlying optimistic and innovative tone seems quite convincing and implies that the free trade agreement will mean a significant step forward for Canada and the EU.

In his speech, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talked about better incomes for workers, entrepreneurs who will have access to new customers, consumers paying less at the checkout counter, manufacturers who can expand their global reach, and more predictability and transparency for the “engineering, architecture, and information technology” sectors. In short, he said “CETA is a framework for trade that works for everyone”[2], from the companies level all the way down to consumers.

If  CETA is obviously so beneficial, why is it so unpopular among the European public?

There are still many remaining skeptics who forecast that instead of soothing nationalism, the ratification of CETA will actually encourage populist movements across Europe, since the benefits of the trade agreement will disproportionately accrue to upper income earners, leaving working class people behind. If you do some research on the matter, you can easily encounter websites promoting a European-wide petition against CETA and TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), the pending trade deal between the US and the EU, which already caused a lot of unrest recently. Those websites refer to CETA and TTIP as “dirty deals”[3] and is presented as the cause to global poverty, inequality and injustice. But, what exactly sparked this upheaval about TTIP and what does this have to do with CETA?

TTIP negotiations began in February 2015 and, once information was leaked, the content was  considered somewhat alarming, especially with regard to TTIP’s ‘regulatory convergence’ agenda which will seek to bring EU standards on environment and food safety closer to those of the US. But US regulations are much less strict, with 70% of all processed foods sold in US supermarkets now containing genetically modified ingredients while the EU does not permit GM food. The same quality gap exists in the environmental standards as well. While the EU’s regulations are stricter towards producers, obliging them to prove a substance’s safety before using it; in the US quite the opposite is the rule: any substance can be used until it is proven unsafe. It does not come surprisingly that, once it was leaked, this information caused some doubts about the benefits of such a trade agreement.

However, what appears to be even more essential is the fact that the process of negotiations has been highly secretive, with nearly all information on negotiations coming from leaked documents or Freedom of Information requests. For the public, who has no say in whether the treaty goes through or not, this issue necessarily raises some questions about the democratic nature of the decision-making processes and thus of their governments’ self-conceptions.

Following TTIP, CETA now raises these same questions, as again the European citizens did not have much of a choice on whether to ratify this agreement or not. Decisions are being taken on behalf of the citizens without even asking or informing them on crucial matters. In the context of the current crises Europe is going through, this could encourage the lurking, constant rise of nationalist populists. Anxieties, be they irrational or not, about jobs being lost to Canada due to competitive advantage foster the dissent towards national governments as well as the EU and at the same time pose the risk of creating a framework for populists to rise.

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Only the future can tell whether CETA, TTIP & Co. mean a boon or bane for Europe, because a reliable prognosis seems impossible in our globalised and complex world. But irrespective of future economic effects, and even though such agreements are likely to have very beneficial spillover effects upon political relations, the controversial discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of CETA reveals one aspect very clearly, namely that the EU commission should pay more attention to the concerns of the European civil society when constructing future trade agreements. The fact that more than 3.5 Million people (almost 7% of the European population) have already signed the petition against CETA and TTIP undoubtedly sends a clear message to the EU Commission including all its member states, implying an urge to change policy direction.

 

Bibliography:

[1] European Commission. Trade; Policy; In focus: Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). Retrieved 26th February, 2017 from <http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/in-focus/ceta/&gt;.

[2] National Observer. Baloney Meter: Will free trade with the EU benefit everyone in Canada? Retrieved 26th February, 2017 from <http://www.nationalobserver.com/2017/02/23/news/baloney-meter-will-free-trade-eu-benefit-everyone-canada&gt;.

[3] War on Want; Fighting Global Inequality. What is CETA? Retrieved 27th Feubrary, 2917 from <http://www.waronwant.org/what-ceta&gt;.

The Independent. What is TTIP? And six reasons why the answer should scare you. Retrieved 27th Feburary, 2017 from <http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/what-is-ttip-and-six-reasons-why-the-answer-should-scare-you-9779688.html&gt;.

 

 

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