Tag Archives: United States

The Fruits of a Popular Presidency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Pyrrhic Victory on Syria’s Diplomatic Front

by Lincoln Pigman, a student of War Studies at King’s College London and an organising member of KCL MENA Forum.

 

Nine months after Russia took the West aback with its entry into the Syrian conflict, the United States finally changed its tune, proposing an unprecedented level of military cooperation with Russia: coordinated attacks on Jabhat al-Nusra in exchange for the grounding of Syria’s air force. The offer, it seems, has been received warmly. Some in the West will welcome U.S.-Russian partnership in Syria, including prominent scholars and former U.S. diplomats. However, Washington’s reversal may prove counterproductive and even disastrous.

 

 

Committed to ousting Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, the Obama administration long maintained a position of disapproval, condemning Russia’s contribution to the refugee crisis and accusing it of ‘directly enabling’ Islamic State. Given the notable decline in refugee arrivals to the E.U. since December, the former may no longer hold true, while the latter is challenged by Professor Max Abrahms of Northeastern University. In Abrahms’ view, which he shared in private correspondence, that ‘unoriginal and never documented’ accusation reflects an ‘ideological’ refusal to acknowledge ‘Russian contributions against Islamic State.’ Even so, other objections to Russia’s conduct in Syria remain valid, and give cause for reconsideration of closer ties.

 

One of the most obvious is Russia’s unfaltering deception. The Kremlin’s main lie concerns the aim of its intervention. Although coalition voices quickly realised that Russia’s principal target in Syria was the opposition, not Islamic State, Russia continued to state otherwise. In October 2015, Sergei Ivanov, chief of Russia’s presidential administration, promised that Russia was simply ensuring that ‘no ISIL members were left to travel to Russia, and that all fighters would end up lying in the ground in Syria.’ Crucially, Ivanov neglected to mention which fighters.

 

Five months later, Putin unexpectedly declared Russia’s withdrawal from Syria. Since then, Russian involvement in Syria has expanded from air strikes to special operations and demining efforts, while reported Russian casualties near Palmyra and Raqqa point to increased ground presence. Russia’s tireless disinformation efforts, always accompanied by calls for U.S.-Russian cooperation, offer no grounds for trusting Putin to enforce the stillborn cessation of hostilities or pressure the Assad regime to ground its air force. (That the proposed agreement mentions no compliance mechanisms makes Russian non-compliance even more likely.)

 

Two grave problems doom such a demand. The first is the condition of Russian ‘pressure’ on Assad. Rather than insist that Moscow force Damascus to stop targeting rebels, making clear that only an end to attacks on the opposition can satisfy the agreement, the proposal’s language is moderated to such an extent that Russia could feasibly do nothing and claim that it had. Mere pressure does not equal success in bringing Assad to heel, and can amount to nothing more than a diplomatic slap on the wrist should Assad persist in his suppression of the opposition. Unless the U.S. operationalises pressure, specifying what forms it is to take, it may as well abandon the condition altogether.

 

Worse still, it is possible that ‘pressure the Assad regime’ is all that Moscow can do, making the U.S.’ demand impossible to satisfy. Some Syria commentators question whether Russia truly dictates developments on the ground, dubbing it Assad’s ‘hostage.’ A growing consensus admits that Russia seeks a diplomatic resolution to the conflict: one preserving Syria’s current government institutions but not necessarily Assad himself, as reasoned by the Carnegie Endowment’s Aron Lund. Now emboldened by Russia’s decisive intervention, Assad clearly refuses to accommodate Russia’s diplomacy and its post-conflict plans for Syria, violating the cessation of hostilities in April 2016 and defiantly insisting on retaking ‘every inch’ of Syria in June 2016. Both positions reflect maximalist goals and a rejection of Russia’s relatively limited objectives, an intransigence that would surely apply to demands that Assad cease targeting rebels.

 

The demand’s second flaw lies in its identification of roles in Syria. By exclusively attributing complicity in the targeting of rebels to Assad, the U.S. tacitly denies Russia’s role in bombarding the opposition. According to Airwars, a project that consults open source intelligence to map the impact of air strikes in Iraq and Syria, Russian air strikes have inflicted up to 5,686 civilian casualties as of July 4th. Russia maximises the lethality of its air strikes by targeting densely populated areas and hospitals, and using incendiary munitions: weapons whose use against and around civilians is prohibited by the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, to which Russia is a signatory. The portrait of the war painted by Washington erases these casualties, and enables Russia to continue attacking rebel groups and non-combatants alike with impunity. U.S. silence legitimises Russia’s many transgressions, and is irreconcilable with a purported concern for Syrians’ welfare and advocacy of a rules-based international order.

 

In light of Russia’s disregard for collateral damage, Syrians will inevitably see U.S. support for Russia’s intervention as a betrayal. The first such betrayal, Obama’s failure to enforce his ‘red line’ after the sarin gas attacks of August 2013, ‘boosted Islamists … devastated the credibility of [opposition] officials who had tried to work with the West,’ and conveyed a clear message to Syrians: ‘No one’s coming to save you, not in any circumstances,’ writes Robin Yassin-Kassab in Burning Country. Similarly, today, supporting a belligerent viewed as ‘a colonial invader,’ Yassin-Kassab remarked over email, would consolidate the U.S.’ image as ‘another imperialist supporter of the regime which is tormenting [Syrians].’ Any peacemaking legitimacy possessed by Washington would forever vanish, in no small part thanks to its main concession to Russia: coordinated air strikes against al-Qaeda affiliate and anti-government militia Jabhat al-Nusra.

 

Although Russia and the U.S. both list the Islamist Nusra as a terrorist organisation, the intensity with which the two intervening powers attack it has differed greatly, creating a conflict of interests best highlighted by vocal complaints from Moscow. The U.S.’ new proposal to bilaterally coordinate air strikes against the organisation could be aimed at narrowing the diplomatic chasm between Russia and itself. Alternatively, its rationale could be restoring coherence to the U.S.’ position as an enemy of terrorism, removing all doubt by visibly targeting Nusra.

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However, a policy of partnership is unlikely to improve diplomatic relations with Russia. Despite Russia’s stated interest in continuing bilateral cooperation on issues such as counterterrorism, no peripheral concession can resolve the fundamental disagreement over Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, which will continue to define U.S.-Russian relations until a consensus on the future of Ukraine’s security is reached. Coordinated air operations in Syria alone cannot cancel out the diplomatic hurt caused by years of sanctions, and are near useless as a diplomatic bargaining tool.

 

Nor will the proposed U.S.-Russian partnership advance Washington’s fight against terrorism. In fact, attacking Nusra with Moscow could prove completely counterproductive. Those suspecting the U.S. and Russia – widely viewed as having appeased Iran’s nuclear programme and given it free rein in Iraq and Syria – in backing the Shia side of a perceived geopolitical-sectarian confrontation are likely to see joint attacks on the Sunni Nusra as yet another sign of a seemingly pro-Shia Western agenda. Consequently, ‘many … who previously tolerated Nusra for pragmatic reasons … will become more sympathetic to the group and its ideology,’ warns Yassin-Kassab, adding that ‘the U.S.-Russian coalition will undoubtedly provide a boost to Nusra’s recruitment and help it to embed more deeply in Syrian society.’ At the tactical level, striking Nusra only to bolster it is a waste of military resources. However, at the strategic level, transforming an actor in Syria so powerful that it currently controls entire swaths of territory is reckless. In the succinct words of Yassin-Kassab, it threatens to ‘greatly influence the future trajectory of violent jihadism on a global level.’

 

The proposed U.S.-Russian partnership in Syria brings to mind a number of outcomes. These include Russia duping the U.S.; Assad continuing his attack on the opposition; legitimisation of Russia’s transgressions; discrediting of the U.S. among anti-regime Syrians; and empowerment of Jabhat al-Nusra. Pursuing a military victory against the al-Qaeda affiliate without considering the partnership’s political ramifications reflects nothing less than the absence of a U.S. strategy in Syria.

 

If the U.S. is to work with Russia at all, it should focus on securing the Kremlin’s assistance in combating Islamic State, a peripheral matter to Russia, rather than make concessions on the vital interest that is the Syrian opposition—especially if there is no visible benefit in doing so. As Islamic State greets ‘the beginning of the end,’ weakened by over seven hundred days of coalition bombardment, the U.S. should not court disaster by entering into counterproductive unions. The future of Syria demands it.

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The 2nd amendment isn’t going anywhere

Carly Greenfield is a Second year International Relations student in the War Studies department at King’s College London. Her main interests center around conflict resolution and corruption, with a special focus on the Americas.

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Amendment II: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.[1]

            No mass shooting in our time will end the American people’s’ freedom to possess firearms. This is not a radical opinion: while our European peers may balk at a citizen’s ability to buy a gun, it is ingrained in American history that an individual has the right to protect themselves, likely from the state itself. There are multiple reasons for keeping this right in place, but in my mind, the way to understand our 2nd amendment is through the history of the formation of the United States, the National Rifle Association (NRA) as a lobbying group, and the American culture of individual freedoms.

           The right to bear arms is included in the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights spells out the first 10 amendments to the American constitution, and was necessary to the constitution being passed. They encompass the freedoms that each American citizen has and that the government cannot condemn. Of course, each amendment has limitations, but overall, they are not to be heavily doctored. For instance, within this same bill exists the right to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and to a “speedy and fair trial.”

            After the Revolutionary War, the American colonies were wary of a strong central government and the Bill of Rights was a way to limit Federal power over individual states. It is important to remember that the United States did not form like other countries did: each state still had vast influence over its own territory and the federal government was rather weak, especially compared to European states. There were even arguments held over having a central bank or a federal debt. This history affects present day gun legislation because it means that most gun laws are decided at the state level.

          Gun laws vary drastically from state to state, and in Florida, where the deadliest mass shooting in history recently occurred, buying a gun is not made difficult. According to the NRA Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA), there is no permit or registration necessary to purchase a rifle, shotgun, or handgun.[2] While there is a permit to carry and a 3-day waiting period installed to buy a handgun, and background checks are installed for every firearm purchase, an AR-15 style rifle used in the Pulse shooting in Orlando can be purchased the same day as the handgun. This is exactly what the shooter did, and he passed Florida’s background checks.[3]

         Even though Omar Mateen, the shooter, had been interviewed on three different occasions by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), no charges were brought against him and therefore he was still allowed to purchase the guns.[4] Because the right to bear arms is seen as a civil liberty protected through the Bill of Rights, Mateen could not be denied his rights without any proof or through the American judicial process. If we believe the right to bear arms is an individual freedom that must not be infringed upon, then we cannot ask the FBI to only infringe upon the rights of those they consider terrorists. Americans do not have access to the FBI terror watch list, they do not know how they end up on the list or are removed from it, and do not face a jury of their peers to confirm their guilt. Due to the usurping of the judicial process, the legislative branch of the federal government, mainly Republicans in Congress, have refused to give the federal government the power to block gun sales to potential terrorists.

          The NRA plays a heavy hand in this. The lobbying group has over 5 million members and boasts a strong financial wing to both combat anti-firearm politicians and donate money to campaigns that will further their cause. This has led to congressmen receiving millions in donations from the NRA to keep gun laws loose. They are against any type of national firearm registry, for fear of something similar to the Nazi Germany seizing of guns, and believe that terrorists and ‘bad guys’ will get a hold of guns whether the government wants them to or not, so limiting gun sales only hurts legally abiding citizens who want to protect themselves. The amount of money that the NRA can spend influencing politicians is unlimited, according to the Supreme Court.

         In 2010, the Supreme Court decided on Citizens United v. Fec, which gave corporations the right to act as people; a corporation can donate as much money as they want to any given cause under its ‘personal freedoms.’[5] This allows the NRA to put on millions in contributions along with target ads against certain congressmen and women that are seen as trying to limit the scope of the 2nd amendment.

       Finally, the 2nd amendment will not be abolished because of American culture: it is focused on the freedom of the individual citizen and not of the collective. While this oftentimes infringes upon the civil liberties of minority groups like African-Americans and the LGBT+ community, America at large has yet to pull away from this ideal. Our country has about as many guns as people, both over the 300 million threshold.[6] The infamous ‘Don’t tread on me’ flag, pictured below, has been held hostage by the Tea Party in recent years but represents a wider swath of the American public: there is general distrust of the federal government and individual freedoms are not to be infringed upon, which includes a citizen’s right to own a firearm.

        This culture is changing, of course, as more and more people call for gun control legislation after the onslaught of mass shootings in recent years, but we have to ask the question: is the death of 49 people in a gay club like Pulse really going to change it? Why not 27 six and seven year olds at Sandy-Hook in 2012? Why not 32 college kids at Virginia Tech in 2007? What makes this shooting different?

      In truth, it is not so different when only looking at the guns. It is a hate crime, similar to the shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina just last year, but the gun culture will not change so rapidly. The continued calls for more guns versus less guns has only further polarized the gun debate, and partisan politics has never been a stepping stone for radical change. The largest mass shooting in American history will not lead to an abolishment of the 2nd amendment: we have yet to even limit the sale of semi-automatics. Baby steps, America.

 

 

[1] http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/bill_of_rights_transcript.html

[2] https://www.nraila.org/gun-laws/state-gun-laws/florida/

[3] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-36522570

[4] http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/06/orlando-terrorism-fbi-omar-mateen-213971

[5] https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/08-205.ZS.html

[6] http://www.npr.org/2016/01/05/462017461/guns-in-america-by-the-numbers

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Dear Hillary

by Jackson Webster, a Los Angeles native, currently in his final year of International Relations in the King’s College London Department of War Studies.

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Dear Hillary,

 

Congratulations. The Democratic nomination is all but yours, and the GOP faces an existential crisis which has caused its voters to choose a loud-mouthed human toupee as their nominee. You’re likely to take the reigns of power next January, and then it’ll be out with the campaigning and in with the governing. Here’s a few humble observations from yours truly about our broken yet salvageable national security strategy and how best to fix it. Let’s get down to business.

 

  1. Ok, so here’s what you have to do:
    1. maintain American pre-eminence through cooperation with new mid-level allies,
    2. establish connectivity with the global economy as our top national security priority,
    3. use of American military power to back the norms of the liberal world order when institutions fail to do so.
  2. And here’s why:
    1. unquestioned US dominance is fading, and this power is transferring to mid-level states,
    2. the global economy is increasingly interconnected,
    3. hundreds of thousands have died in Syria and territory has been annexed by force in Ukraine, and the UN Security Council has done essentially nothing about it.

 

OUR NEW PARTNERS

 

The unipolar global system created at the end of the Cold War, where the US’ power stood unchallenged, is no longer a realistic worldview upon which to base our strategy in the 21st century. Equally, American strategy has been bastardized over the past two decades into dealing with old rivals and old allies. We’d best heed Washington’s warnings against unconditional alliances, and revaluate the costs and benefits of our partnerships. Moreover, we have become distracted by threats which do not pose serious existential danger to the US or its interests, such as locally-focused religious extremism in Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Iraq. We have dangerously overplayed the importance of combating terrorism. This calculus must change to recognize the dynamic nature of power distribution in the 21st century.

 

American power projection is based in strong alliances backed up by material assistance. The US can be a regional kingmaker. This power is unique in political history. This ability of US patronage was used to create the regional powers of West Germany, Japan, and Israel during the Cold War. The US must be prepared once again to double-down on mid-level allies in this century, though the allies we must court differ from those of the last century. Such states include Poland, Turkey, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, and Argentina. Each of these states faces serious internal issues which would be best combatted with our assistance. Patronage for Poland can be used as leverage over the current government, which has spent its time in office thus far flouting the rule-of-law. Turkey faces a serious separatist and terrorist threat in its Kurdish southeast. Malaysia faces slow growth from falling oil prices and multiple regional refugee crises. Mexico is fighting well-armed and well-financed drug cartels. Nigeria faces an Islamist insurgency in its northern provinces, with spillover effects into the territories of other US partners like Mali and Chad. Argentina continues to face serious national debt problems. All these countries need assistance, and with our patronage comes an integration of American interests with these states’ interests. Through our aid, and through closer cooperation and inclusion in the liberal international order, we can ensure these states’ partnership for decades to come, just as Marshall reconstruction at the end of the Second World War solidified US partnerships with West Germany and with our East Asian allies.

 

While Russia has previously presented a geopolitical challenge to the US, and Moscow has successfully countered our interests in Syria and Ukraine, Russia does not present a serious long-term threat to American pre-eminence due to Russia’s own internal weaknesses. A kleptocratic political system centred around President Putin himself, combined with a gas-dependent and sluggish economy, do not provide strong nor stable bases for Russian power. In the short-term, Russian power can be best countered through existing alliances, namely with increased NATO armoured deployments in the Baltic States. A return to conventional deterrence is prudent in this instance. Indecisive acquiescence to Moscow is not. A strengthened American commitment to our allies in Eastern Europe will amply halt Russian ambitions in that region. Russia today is not what the Soviet Union once was: it is not a great power competitor on-par with the depth or breath of American power, despite Mr. Putin’s ego often arguing the opposite.

 

China, however, provides a direct revisionist threat to the liberal world order. The strength and diversity of the Chinese economy, combined with a decade of robust Chinese diplomacy in their near abroad and in Africa, have lead to extensive gains in Chinese economic and diplomatic influence. This influence is shown in the popularity of the Chinese-lead Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. However China, too, is best contained through existing institutions. China’s willingness to work within the international system allows its rise to be less conflictual than historical revisionist powers. China is not a rogue state. It seeks legitimacy as a member of the international community. The US must continue to place resources and faith into our alliances with Japan, Australia, and South Korea as the best regional counterbalances to Chinese ambitions, and must work to increase cooperation with and amongst these allies. Equally, the maritime stability provided by the US Navy will remain crucial to all East Asian export-based economies well into this century, including China’s.

 

IT’S THE GLOBAL ECONOMY, STUPID

 

At the creation of the American Republic, the only permanently standing element of the Federal military was the Navy. The Department of the Navy was created to maintain daily connectivity to the global economy, a lifeline the new Republic desperately needed. The US needs this lifeline today more than ever. Freedom of navigation maintains both current global order and US primacy, which are synonymous. The American Navy’s unquestioned dominance underwrites American hard power more than any other branch of the military. Equally, it ensures that American power can be projected anywhere in the globe within hours of a crisis.

 

Bill was right, when we’re talking about the bedrock of global order, “it’s the economy, stupid.”  The world’s economy is more interconnected than ever before, and it’s only getting more so thanks to the Internet. Global free trade remains the central priority of US national security strategy. For this reason, the US Navy will be the key branch of the armed forces into the 21st century in terms of power projection. Whereas investment in land-based counterinsurgency techniques and equipment has characterized the last decade, investment in naval technology, basing, and logistics must be the central priority of the national security budget in the coming decades. The American population no longer has the political will to launch large land-based occupations, and these kinds of actions can often be a poor long-term investment with very little stability produced in return. Investment in our Navy will ensure American dominance of the seas into the next half-century, will counterbalance China’s new blue-water navy, and will guarantee that global chokepoints of trade remain open to our nation’s imports and exports.

 

UNDERWRITING THE LIBERAL ORDER

 

America is not as all-powerful as she was when your husband took office, however the depth and breadth of US power still must not be underestimated. The American military outclasses all our competitors and our allies combined in every measure of strength, the American economy is still the largest in the world despite our relatively small population, and the US possesses a geographically advantageous location: we are literal oceans away from threats to the homeland.

 

hill 2

 

The US must use its power projection to be the guarantor of the liberal world order. This rules-based order is beneficial to the US economy, to our allies, to our continued primacy, and to our values. Supporting norms, weapons prohibitions, international treaties, free trade, and institutions of due-process upholds the liberal world order. As the US is the creator and natural leader of the liberal world order, the maintenance of this system is of paramount interest to the US. Even if this support comes at a cost and forces restraint on American actions abroad, the long-term benefits outweigh the short term shortcomings.

 

As was done in the Persian Gulf in 1991, the US must use our power to punish states who do not play by the rules. We must continue to use our overseas military deployments as guarantees to our allies, who must have no doubt we will defend their sovereignty. When states break international norms or violate the sovereignty of our allies, the US must have a credible threat of the use of force against these rogue actors. While not every violation of the system alone constitutes a direct threat to US national security, the maintenance of the global system of norms and institutions is a central priority of US national security. Therefore, a violation of these norms or a defiance of these institutions constitutes a credible threat to US national security and thus warrants decisive action.

 

Mrs. President, I wish you the best of luck in the next four (let’s be honest, with the current state of the GOP, probably eight) years. Here’s to hoping for an easy end to what was an excruciatingly long —though certainly unique— election cycle. I hope Bill doesn’t get into too much trouble as our nation’s first First Dude.

 

Respectfully yours,

 

Jackson Webster

Proud member of the California Democratic Party

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The Dragon visits the land of Uncle Sam

By Yiming Yu, a Shanghai native currently studying International Relations at King’s College London. 
Obama v Xi

When President Xi Jinping cited Sleepless in Seattle and The Old Man and the Sea in his inaugural visit to the United States, the kindness he portrayed attempted to wash over increasing hostilities in Sino-US relationship. Though Xi and Obama tried to create a façade of genuine friendship, the visit by the premier continues his predecessors’ concentration on the economy with little progress made in other areas. With solutions to issues such as cyber security and the South China Sea disputes yet to be found, along with US contempt for Xi’s authoritarian control over China there are question marks over whether these two super powers can live in harmony.

The economy appears to be the area where the most common ground can be found, something to be expected given the importance of these connections in the bilateral relationship. Indeed, just last year China’s trade with the US was almost 600 billion dollars1. Xi’s choice of Seattle rather than Washington as his first stop in the US demonstrates that he continue his predecessors’ focus on economic issues. However, this strategy may backfire for Xi as he must assure US entrepreneurs that the Chinese economy is suitable for investment and trade. The Chinese economy has been slowing down in recent months, and was confirmed by the decline of China on the official purchasing managers’ index (PMI) to a low of 49.82. To get an understanding of what this means a figure below 50 suggests that the manufacturing sector is contracting. While the government still maintain that they have met their growth rate target of 7%, this is doubted by many analysts who estimate that the figure is much lower3. Whether or not this statistic is correct, this is the slowest growing pace of the Chinese economy for over 25 years4. If Sino-US trade is indeed worth over 600 billion dollars to the two nations, Xi had to make sure that the Chinese economy is still an attractive option for American businesses which would strengthen the Chinese economy, and with it the ruling class who rely heavily on a strong economic performance.

There were other positive aspects to the trip with the most important being the climate change deal, where Xi announced that China would set up a cap-and-trade programme to control Carbon Dioxide emissions starting from 2017 and would allocate 3.1 billion dollars to help low-income countries6. In addition to this, the Chinese and the Americans showed that they have common interests in sectors including, but not limited to, nuclear programmes in Iran and North Korea, Afghanistan, peacekeeping and global sustainable development7 and 8. This shows China’s commitment to take the responsibilities of a great power and as David Shambaugh, a famous scholar on Chinese politics point out, this signals China’s willingness for more active cooperation with the US in global governance9.

However, despite many areas of progress, there is still no consensus on long-existing issues, issues that are crucial to the future dynamic of Sino-US relations such as cybersecurity and the South China Sea disputes. It must be noted that Obama clearly expressed dissatisfaction and concern over China’s cyber activities and showed contempt towards the construction of artificial airstrips in disputed territory while Xi denied and defended both of these activities as you would expect10. In the field of cybersecurity, there was little progress, though both parties nominally agreed to refrain from state-sponsored cyber theft for commercial gain. They also promised to establish a high-level dialogue mechanism between the two countries and to work on international rules of cyber conducts11 and 12. Nevertheless, it is noticed that the agreement left room for difference where Obama claimed stop of cyberespionage for commercial gains against companies while Xi only mentioned cybercrime13. Richard Bejtlich, a fellow at Brookings Institution, also points out that there are four ways to interpret this agreement, where China’s subsequent action may range anywhere from an authoritative robust policy restricting cyber theft on intellectual properties, to the continuation of hacking against US governmental departments as claimed by the US government recently14. At the same time as the visit, a high ranking Chinese official lambasted the US for a hypocritical cyber policy15 showing the conflict is not resolved yet, especially with rumours that the US could impose sanctions on China if the hacking continues. While it could be believed that China and the US have found some common ground on the cybersecurity issue, it seems that both sides refuse to compromise on disputes in South China Sea. Though both have signed the little-noticed Annex of the Rules of Behaviour for Air-to-Air Encounters to prevent potential collision and to show their determination to avoid conflicts16, there seemed to be no consensus in the joint press conference and more tension is expected to exist in South China Sea.
Following the end of the summit, there were questions raised as to whether this meeting was successful or not with conclusions ranging from success to failure to satisfactory. However, with so many uncertainties in the conflicted areas and even areas where progress has been made in the summit, it is safe to think it too early to conclude whether Xi’s visit was successful. After Xi took the throne, his assertiveness and revisionism satisfied the population’s ambition of ‘rejuvenation of the Chinese nation’. This fervent nationalism is precisely the thing that keeps the Chinese Communist party in power.

When Xi met with American business leaders in Seattle to promote trade and Chinese economy, it should not be overlooked that favourability towards the Chinese investment markets  in the American business circles is reducing, creating an environment where only 24% of business executives surveyed felt optimistic about doing business in China. Comparatively, 5 years ago this figure was nearer 67% 17. The change of attitude could be largely attributed to the Party’s enhanced national security policies, which include the requirement of passing critical data and intellectual properties on to the authority18. It is believed by the US Chamber of Commerce that these laws would bar American businesses from fair competition with Chinese counterparts19. Also, the Chinese government’s heavy but failed intervention to stimulate stock market in August left a bad impression on these business leaders tarnishing China’s reputation20. Similarly, it is reported that between one fifth and one third of Chinese CO2 emissions are produced by export industries21. Although China is advocating reform of industry structures, considering the economy’s great importance to the Party’s ruling as well as local government officers’ position, would China be willing to potentially sacrifice the growth rate of the economy to fight against climate change, especially in the time of economy slowing down?

The phrase a ‘new type of great-power relations’ may be one of the most frequently quoted words in the Chinese statement on the Sino-US relationship. Domestically, this sentiment could be regarded as the effort to acquire the population’s confidence and support towards the ruling party Party as it recognises the peasantries dream to be a great power. This could explain why some media outlets allege that China took symbolic gestures as China’s primary goal as it ensures Xi’s security and dignity22, which could prove to domestic audience that China is a respected great power. Interpretations of this phrase vary from equal treatment and win-win cooperation to respecting each other’s interests as great powers to US’ accommodation of China’s core interests23. How both sides perceive this description of bilateral relationship may greatly decide progress of diplomacy in the future while also produce many uncertainties.

After all, no one wants to see China and the US walk into the Thucydides Trap which is another phrase used by Xi to explain conflicts between a status quo power and a rising power. Some commentaries claim that the Sino-US relationship has reached a tipping point and could be seen to start a new Cold War. However, when Xi’s predecessors met with the US leaders, despite conflicts over some issues, the bilateral relationship kept progressing24. With the foundation of economic connections and both sides’ willingness to continue diplomatic dialogues, it could be believed that Xi would not be an exception and there will still be a relatively positive relationship between two states. Nevertheless, a new US president will take office next year, which will potentially change their foreign policies towards China. Furthermore, with the Chinese economy in turmoil it may be less alluring to US businesses and Xi’s effort to consolidate the Party’s rule may mean a more assertive foreign policy and more restrictions on foreign business’ activities in China. These factors are likely to lead to more uncertainties in the future. How both sides deal with these uncertainties will eventually shape the future of Sino-US relationship.

  1. “Collision course? Rise of China a stress for the US,” BBC, accessed October 2, 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-34368249
  2. “Chinese manufacturing continues to contract in September,” BBC, accessed October 1, 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-34409196
  3. ibid
  4. ibid
  5. “Xi Jinping of China to Address Wary U.S. Business Leaders,” New York Times, accessed October 1, 2015, http://cn.nytimes.com/china/20150923/c23xijinping/en-us/
  6. “China takes a lead on global climate change,” Financial Times, accessed October 1, 2015, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2014-10-09/not-so-empty-talk
  7. “Collision course? Rise of China a stress for the US,” BBC, accessed October 2, 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-34368249
  8. “FACT SHEET: President Xi Jinping’s State Visit to the United States,” The White House, accessed October 5, 2015, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/09/25/fact-sheet-president-xi-jinpings-state-visit-united-states
  9. “Reserving differences while finding common ground,” New York Times, accessed October 3, 2015, http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2015/09/28-xi-us-visit-common-ground-shambaugh
  10. “Obama and Xi Jinping of China Agree to Steps on Cybertheft,” New York Times, accessed October 5, 2015, http://cn.nytimes.com/china/20150926/c26prexy/en-us/
  11. “Collision course? Rise of China a stress for the US,” BBC, accessed October 2, 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-34368249
  12. “FACT SHEET: President Xi Jinping’s State Visit to the United States,” The White House, accessed October 5, 2015, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/09/25/fact-sheet-president-xi-jinpings-state-visit-united-states
  13. “Obama and Xi Jinping of China Agree to Steps on Cybertheft,” New York Times, accessed October 5, 2015, http://cn.nytimes.com/china/20150926/c26prexy/en-us/
  14. “To hack, or not to hack?,” Brookings Institution, accessed October 3, 2015, http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/up-front/posts/2015/09/28-us-china-hacking-agreement-bejtlich
  15. “Chinese Official Faults US Internet Security Policy,” New York Times, accessed October 2, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/30/technology/chinese-official-faults-us-internet-security-policy.html?_r=0
  16. “Obama-Xi summit produces landmark deal to reduce dangerous military encounters,” The Interpreter, accessed October 5, 2015, http://www.lowyinterpreter.org/post/2015/09/29/Obama-Xi-summit-produces-landmark-deal-to-reduce-dangerous-military-encounters.aspx
  17. “Xi Jinping of China to Address Wary U.S. Business Leaders,” New York Times, accessed October 1, 2015, http://cn.nytimes.com/china/20150923/c23xijinping/en-us/
  18. ibid
  19. ibid
  20. “A very long engagement,” The Economist, accessed October 4, 2015, http://www.economist.com/news/china/21665034-xi-jinpings-state-visit-washington-will-do-little-resolve-growing-tensions-very-long
  21. “China’s Exports Are Closely Linked to Its Emissions,” New York Times, accessed October 1, 2015, http://sinosphere.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/10/01/chinas-exports-are-closely-linked-to-its-emissions/?module=BlogPost-Title&version=Blog%20Main&contentCollection=World&action=Click&pgtype=Blogs&region=Body
  22. “Watching the signs: Can honesty and candour define Xi Jinping’s first state visit to the US?,” Financial Times, accessed October 4, 2015, http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/1860413/watching-signs-can-honesty-and-candour-define-xi-jinpings
  23. “Not-So-Empty Talk,” Foreign Affairs, accessed October 3, 2015, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2014-10-09/not-so-empty-talk
  24. “Chinese state visits are always hard: A historical perspective,” Brookings Institution, accessed October 4, 2015, http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/order-from-chaos/posts/2015/09/17-xi-jinping-state-visit-politics-bader
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It’s Time to Face America’s Gun Problem

by Callum Nicolson, a second year War Studies student from the UK. 

Does America have a problem with gun control? Do guns need to be heavily regulated or are the current restrictions good enough? Questions of this sort are asked frequently in America especially in the wake of a mass shooting as at Sandy Hook three years ago. It is my opinion that these are the wrong questions to ask, and people should be asking if the USA has a problem with how they view guns. Thus if Americans can correct the manner they perceive firearms then the wide spread possession of guns in America will become less of a problem. For example, the rate of privately owned firearms in Switzerland per 100 people is 45.7 and their rate of gun deaths is 3.04 deaths per 100,000 people in 2011[1] while in America had are 101.05 privately owned guns per 100 people and 10.38 gun deaths per 100,000 people in 2011[2]. These figures do not include firearms which are technically owned by the government or military but are kept by off-duty personnel. If those figures were included then the ratio for Switzerland would be higher due to all male citizens being reservists whose firearms are military owned but are kept at home[3]. The figure for gun deaths includes deaths by accidents and gun homicide. A telling difference between these two nations is how they perceive and treat guns. In the USA, a person can buy a gun if they pass a criminal record and a mental health check, are a citizen and are over 18[4], whereas in Switzerland citizens have to receive basic military training upon reaching a certain age.[5] This means that everyone who has access to firearms in Switzerland understands exactly what guns are capable of and have been checked to not have the mental issues which could lead to them trying to kill other people.

Guns use chemical reactions which create large amounts of gas. This expanding cloud of gas is contained in a chamber. The resultant gas pressure forces a metal slug out of the chamber over the speed of sound, except for specialist sub-sonic rounds which travel slower but work the same. This bullet causes a lot of damage on contact on soft objects, such as people. Any person who is directly hit from a bullet fired by a gun is either seriously wounded and in need of urgent medical attention, which may or may not be able to prevent the person from dying, or in rare cases they are killed outright. Guns thus must been seen by those who use them as a lethal weapon, even if they are being used as a hunting tool or for recreational purposes. As long as the user is mindful of this fact, and acts with appropriate care then there should be no problems with guns being used for entertainment. Entire sports have derived from careful gun usage such as clay pigeon shooting, target shooting and various Olympic competitions. However, problems arise when such care is not taken such as an incident where a 9 year old girl was allowed to shoot a sub machinegun at full automatic on a firing range. She was unable to control the recoil of the gun and ended up killing an instructor at the range.[6] These accidental deaths are much more frequent in America due to the lack of respect with which some people treat guns.

The aforementioned lack of respect of the capabilities of firearms derives from how common place guns are in American culture and history. The original settlers of the American continent needed to possess weapons not only to hunt for food around their settlements but also to help secure their homesteads from attacks from the natives. Thus for the original settlers, the possession of guns was a necessity to their survival and their livelihoods. Although private possession of firearms were common during this time as many people would carry some sort of weapon for protection from criminals or animals. As more colonies were started in the Americas by competing European powers, all people in the colonies were expected to own a firearm to help create civilian militias if needed. These civilian militias would later help form the colonial army or the minutemen militia units of the rebellious Thirteen Colonies when they decided to become independent from the Kingdom of Great Britain. These minutemen militias were a reaction to the naval dominance of Britain which allowed them to land troops at will over the east coast of America. Unable to deploy regular units over the whole coast, the minutemen would be local men who assembled to delay any British incursions while a regular force was assembled to face the British. The minutemen would also be expected to supplement the army with light irregular infantry. The second amendment was formulated in the decade after the end of war of independence and The Thirteen Colonies being recognised as an independent nation known as the United States of America. The Second Amendment states “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” A popular interpretation of this amendment is that it grants individuals the right to own firearms at will or at least prevents legislation which excessively inhibits firearm ownership. This legislation was sensible at the time as all nations in this time period had some form of civilian militia, such the British fencibles or the Prussian Landwehr, to aid in defence or bolster numbers. Furthermore the firearms of the day were muzzel loading muskets which were notoriously inaccurate and slow to load, good troops were expected to fire three to five rounds a minute, which meant that disciplined troops and weight of numbers was important for infantry combat.

However the capabilities of firearms available to the general public have massively advanced since the war of independence. Instead of a flintlock musket, people can now buy assault rifles which are extremely accurate and could fire several hundred rounds in a minute if it could somehow be provided with enough ammunition to do so. This means that instead of a madman firing a single shot which is likely to miss, this same person could fire thirty bullets from an assault rifle, accuracy of these bullets dependent on the shooter, then rapidly reload another thirty bullets and continue fighting. The increased potency of firearms has likewise increased the damage a single person could do in an unexpected attack. Furthermore it is harder to stop the gunman as previously the local guards or even the attacked civilians could overwhelm this attacker. In modern times some either has to manage to make an accurate shot while under heavy return fire from the gunman, a difficult task even for trained military personnel, or wait until gunman’s weapon becomes unusable or fire off even more bullets at the attacker. This increases the risk of allowing the general populous free access to firearms. Considering that the USA has the highest military budget in the world and one of the largest militaries in terms of personnel, the rationale of the Second Amendment is irreverent a militia formed of the armed population of a state is no longer necessary for its security.

The above demonstrates how ingrained guns are to American culture which makes it much more difficult to legislate more gun control laws which means that other answers need to be found to reduce gun deaths in America. One small change, but the hardest to implement, would be to stop private gun ownership being a right for all citizens but still allowable by law. This allows for people to own guns for private use but removes the implication that guns are common item which are owed to people. This may help to reduce the nonchalance with which some people treat guns and thus help to reduce accidental deaths. This can be aided with changing acquisition laws to so that people looking to buy a firearm has to get a licence in a similar manner to a drivers licence. To get this licence people would need to prove that they know how to maintain a gun, how to use it safely and understand the consequences of a person being shot. Therefore this change would aid in decreasing accidental deaths from gun mishandling and the process of getting a gun license should aid in preventing dangerous people from easily acquiring a dangerous weapon.

A second change which would aid in reducing the amount of gun deaths would be to campaign to remove the stigma of mental health problems and increase mental health treatment. By removing the stigma of mental health problems, people will be more likely to seek help for issues rather than feeling alienated and isolated. Therefore more people will receive treatment to solve their problems rather than being overcome by their health problems. This would reduce gun deaths in two methods. Firstly less people would seek to commit suicide. Secondly it would reduce the amount of gun homicides as it would decrease the likelihood of people snapping and causing a mass shooting event like the aforementioned Sandy Hook Elementary shooting.

[1] http://www.gunpolicy.org/firearms/region/switzerland

[2] http://www.gunpolicy.org/firearms/region/united-states

[3] http://crimeresearch.org/2014/03/comparing-murder-rates-across-countries/

[4] http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/18950937/newsbeats-guide-to-us-gun-law

[5] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-24195870 Swiss military conscription

[6] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2014/09/02/girl-who-accidentally-shot-her-instructor-with-an-uzi-said-the-gun-was-too-much-for-her/

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6 Reasons why the American Presidential Election is a Circus

by Kate Dinnison and Millie Radovic. Kate is an American second year student of BA International Relations at King’s, North America Editor of IR Today, and Academic Secretary of the War Studies Society. Millie, an Anglo-Serbian native, is also reading IR at the War Studies Department, the Chief Editor of IRT, and VP of the War Studies Society. 

1. Fox ‘News’

An entire article, nay book, could be devoted to the sheer absurdity of Fox ‘News’. The second word of that name is unlikely to come out of quotation marks any time soon, as the channel is more of an entertainment centre for those perpetually bored, deprived of education yet loaded on pills Americans than anything relating to a news centre. Certainly, the mere existence of Fox makes the entire media world of the States a circus. But the fact that the channel is being used to broadcast Republican debates makes the election itself one. I can just imagine president Lincoln turning in his grave as the party he once lead in abolishing slavery continues to intellectually deteriorate. Do they genuinely want to seem ridiculous to the rest of the world? Even if a Republican candidate was to win next year, how could they expect to be taken seriously by the rest of the international community when there is a clip out there of them debating on a ridiculous television channel such as Fox? The debate I’m talking about was of course widely recognised as a circus itself, and to quote Mark Levin from a site called Polistick, “it was [like] a cross between Jerry Springer and House of Cards”. Now there are two TV show titles that should never be in the same sentence. All jokes aside, while it is indeed entertaining to read the latest outbursts on Fox all the way from across the Atlantic, the size of their viewership and support is no laughing matter. There comes a point when even though it’s fun to ridicule a major election, the fact that it is one in the most powerful country in the world is more than scary.

2. Electoral College Imbalances

The electoral college is an institution that aims at accurately and fairly representing voters in the United States through 538 electors. Small states are given additional power to prevent politicians from only focusing on issues which affect the larger states. The initial fear was that without this power, politicians would completely ignore small states and only focus on large urban population centers. Sounds ideal in theory, doesn’t it? In practice it greatly distorts the electoral system and has resulted in four presidents being elected who did not win the popular vote in the 56 elections in United States History. This system caused controversy in the 2000 when George W. Bush  won the nomination for president whilst Al Gore won the popular vote by a narrow margin, exposing its flaws and leading the US on a very different path than it would have otherwise. The EC causes some problems in representation in that nearly 40 states are written off by parties knowing they either can’t win or lose it, with nearly all the focus and campaign dollars spend on those key swing states like Florida and Michigan.  The cherry on top is how the EC perpetuates the solid two-party system, with no room for the greens or independents that have the chance to cut the bi-polarity. But that, my friends, is a whole issue in itself.

3. No Donation Caps

America is infamous for its liberal views, and this especially comes into campaign donations. One is at ‘liberty’ to contribute as much as they want to any given candidate or party. In 2012, individual contributions to the main candidates totalled at over 1.15 billion dollars. Compared to the total of £8 million being contributed by individual to all of the UK parties in the General Election of 2015, this is a downright waste of money. How can after the 2008- financial crisis people actually contribute these amounts of money with a straight face? To be frank, the British figure is not impressively low itself, and indeed the UK is a much smaller country than the US. But personal endowment is genuinely a less common occurrence in European politics even when considered in proportion to size.

Frankly, the lack of donation caps is simply not just strange because it doesn’t match our policies here. It’s strange (read – ridiculous) because the elections then turn into more of an auction than a genuine competition to win over the people with best policy proposals. Candidates with the most money can invest the most in campaigning (especially in the ‘swing’ states) and thereby reach more people. As candidates reach out to more people, contributions to their campaigns are more likely to grow. And before you know it it’s a race between wallets rather than ideas.

4. % Voter Turnout

The United States general election is no doubt the most watched and heated cycles internationally, yet, it has one of the lowest voter turnout rates among modern democracies. U.S. turnout in 2012 was 53.6%, based on 129.1 million votes cast for president and an estimated voting-age population of just under 241 million people. In 2014, the mid term elections were the lowest they’d been since 1942 during WWII. These low numbers can be blamed on a number of factors – education, large rural populations, among others. Registration to vote is an individual responsibility, which is maybe why only about 65% of the U.S. voting-age population (and 71% of the voting-age citizenry) is registered, according to the Census Bureau, compared with 96% in Sweden and 93% in the U.K. How can the United States claim to be a democracy when little over a half of the electorate actually votes?

5. Party Imbalance

Next, and in my opinion really not sufficiently discussed in the media, comes the stark difference in the number of declared candidates features in main polls by each major party. The Democratic Party so far has 5 of these, and the Republican 16. That’s over three times more. Whether there is insufficient interest, or whether Joe Biden’s bid is in the works, or whether no one wants to run against Hillary – currently there is little to choose from on the Democratic side. Meanwhile the Republican camp is frankly overflowing with hopefuls. This certainly means one thing: whilst the Republican race is anybody’s game at the moment, candidates are going further and further into extremes to win over votes, and 060415coletoonthe Democrats (read – Hillary) don’t have to try nearly as hard. Sure, whoever wins will have the current president’s support, but they are simply not being challenged enough to justify their claims and promises. Hillary especially, despite her email scandal is still most likely to win. The way that the American primaries are supposed to work is that even though only one candidate comes out of them, the pressure imposed by the competition of their own colleagues shapes their campaign into one that more widely represents their entire party. Right now, Hillary is still barely challenged – and even if she does indeed win, it will appear that she won more on the account of 1) being the lesser of two evils and 2) simply being a woman. And whilst a woman is definitely due a spot in the that presidential seat, winning simply on account of gender once again makes for more of a circus of an election, than a legitimately suitable president.

6. Celebrity Candidates

This year we are seeing some familiar names on the ballot – Bush, Clinton, Paul have all been household names not necessarily because of their careers, but their fathers’, husband’s and brothers’ before them. I think in all cases, such precedence has the chance to damage each of these candidates as the American population fears the dynastic sentiment that comes with electing another Clinton or Bush as president. It seems that with every election cycle Americans are looking for a fresh start, which is why carrying these names will prove to be a challenge for these candidates in the primaries and eventually in November 2016.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have those who have made names for themselves in other capacities. Business mogul and infamous a**hole Donald Trump has taken far too much space in headlines for months now because of his bold stances on immigration and self-proclaimed war on political correctness. Why, as americans who hopefully wish the best for our country, are we giving him any attention or consideration? Kanye West and Trump throwing their names in for the next few elections, whether or not they believe they can effectively run the country, is simply a PR stunt to shake things up, to fill hotel rooms, and to sell albums.

SOURCES:

http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2015/07/14/fox-news-is-not-real-news-see-what-happened-when-fox-reporter-confronted-san-fransisco-officials/http://politistick.com/mark-levin-fox-news-debate-was-an-embarrassment-and-they-owe-americans-an-apology/

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