All posts filed under: Foreign Affairs

The South China Sea: The Politics of ‘Worthless’ Islands and Why They Matter 

  By: Benjamin Jakabek   Introduction The last few years have been marked by a series of bizarre activities in the South China Sea. Large sea forts are being built on pillars in the middle of nowhere, islands are being created for no apparent reason, and hundreds of premeditated boat collisions have occurred between various nationals. These events have been gaining the attention of a growing audience since the late-1990s; some scholars even claim that the South China Sea will be the epicenter of future global conflicts. I first became acquainted with the conflict after spending several days locked inside a hostel in Hanoi, Vietnam in early June. There was no escape from the noise outside as heavy scooter traffic flowed through the narrow streets like giant schools of fish. The heat was stifling, and I was stuck in bed with a rather nasty flu. My only companion was a small television and the state broadcasting company known as VTV. At the time, China decided to move an oil rig into the middle of a …

Reflecting on the Global Arena

  Recently very little has been going on in the world. The faux conflict in Syria and Iraq has continued while the US has increasingly relied on Iran to support its round mission there. The Pentagon continues to live under some fantasy that Shiites will suddenly agree to share power with Sunni former ISIS Daesh subjects. Expect atrocities, published or not, to occur as Shiite militias occupy more territory. Still this issue will continue to drag on.  The same is true of Ukraine where the Russians have made some progress but not enough to set the world on edge. Major European leaders meanwhile seem one part uninterested and another part impotent. The Pentagon is continuing to languish under sequestration even as it comes up with new designs to make ever higher budget overruns possible. New defense secretary Ashton Carter will have to wrestle with these issues. The US détente with Cuba has made initial progress but is being held up by differences on matters of substance rather than pride for the first time. With a …

Why the Obsession with ISIS?

Recent headlines have centered around the potential parameters of the AUMF (Authorization for the Use of Military Force) being considered by the U.S. Congress. While all parties seem to agree on the necessity of waging a forceful campaign against ISIS whackos, there are substantial differences regarding the potential use of ground troops. What makes no sense is the broad consensus in favour of a large-scale air campaign and the obsession with the situation amongst pundits. ISIS may be subhuman barbarians but that does not change the fact that they are relatively podunk and insignificant in a macro context. Their Syrian holdings would be filled with war and genocide anyway while the poor and unpopulous parts of Iraq they control are not of substantial importance to anyone. The obsession with ISIS probably results from their attention grabbing stunts and the fact that once many people are talking about something others continue to do so. Hence, ISIS is more of a Lord Voldemort than a Josef Stalin. They seem more frightening rather than threatening. However, this merely justifies the …

Was Obama Sending a Message?

In Defense of Defense: An Attempt to Jolt Europe out of its Stupor Lately there has been a lot of controversy about the failure of any senior US official to travel to Paris in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack. The media has called this “a lapse of judgment” and “a mistake”, but was it really? It seems incredible that everybody in the White House and senior levels of the executive branch would fail to notice a major terrorist attack and the subsequent journey of most NATO leaders to Paris. If high school kids can tell which events everyone is showing up to, why can’t the president’s staff. Of course there is a more intriguing possibility than that of the White House committing an epic mea culpa. For years NATO and the DoD have been urging European countries to pull their weight on national security. Almost none of them spend the official minimum 2% of GDP on defense, much less the roughly 4% the US spends. Currently, the US is in the midst of its …

Honest Reporting: An Unfortunate Paradox

Sophie Barnett discusses the implications of integrity in journalism, or lack thereof, in matters concerning Israel and Palestine. On November 18th, 2014, four Israeli men were viciously murdered in a Jerusalem synagogue in what can only be deemed as a hate crime. The worshipers were peacefully immersed in their usual morning prayers when two Palestinian men stormed into the holy place of worship with guns and butcher knives in hand. While many were injured, four were murdered and another policeman killed. The terrorists were also later shot by police . If the barbarous nature of the crime, along with the terrorist organization Hamas’ endorsement of the murders  is horrifying, the media coverage — BBC, CBC, and CNN among them — was more so. Hours after the terror began, a CNN broadcast released the headline: “Deadly Attack on Jerusalem Mosque.”  This inaccuracy of the title of a well-respected news agency’s broadcast is shocking. Notwithstanding, CNN, in later submissions, corrected the inaccuracies. Unfortunately, one of their later headlines claimed that “4 Israelis, 2 Palestinians Dead in Jerusalem.”  …

In Defense of Defense: Week Two- Those Ungrateful Pacifists

Should Europe be more invested in protecting itself from an increasingly aggressive Russia? Europeans are spending less and less on defense. Amid talk of broad military integration and the expansion of the EU to 28 member states with a cumulative GDP larger than that of the United States, one would expect a united Europe to be considered one of the most potent political-military powers in the world. This, of course, is not at all the case, as European and especially western European countries have continually pared back there defense budgets to remarkably low levels. NATO recommends that its constituents spend at least 2% GDP on defense. Among EU countries, as of 2012, only Estonia and the UK meet this target. By comparison, while also paring back defense spending, the United States still spends around 4% of its GDP on defense. The weakness of our European allies both ensures that they are less and less capable of engaging in minor operations around the world, in addition to growing weaker in the face of an increasingly aggressive …

Hope and Despair for Europe’s Ethnic Minorities

Xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and the resurgence of far-right, neo-Nazi sentiments are growing in EU countries. Are these movements here to stay or just a phase in response to growing complaints directed towards member states’ governments?   As violence spilled across European borders this summer, ethnic minorities became its victims. Amidst fighting in Eastern Ukraine, separatists broke into the homes of Romani peoples, beating and robbing the inhabitants; Molotov cocktails were thrown at a synagogue in Mykolaiv; and Crimean Tatars were assaulted for speaking their own language. Meanwhile, protests opposing Israeli policy in Gaza often blurred the line between anti- Zionism and anti-Semitism. In Germany, protestors shouted that Jews should be gassed. In Paris, Jewish teens were chased by protesters carrying axes, pepper spray, and tear gas. In Belgium, four people were murdered in a Jewish museum. Were these violent acts against minority groups part of a temporary surge, or are they indicative of a deeper trend of discrimination? Nonna Mayer is an emerita professor at Sciences Po university in Paris. Her latest report for France’s …

In Defense of Defense: Week One

Jeffrey Schulman, The Foreign Observer’s newest opinion columnist, will be writing a column about American defense in the context of foreign policy, which will be published every Friday. His areas of interest include US politics, public policy and strategic relations in the sphere of military-based topics.   This is my inaugural weekly column for the Foreign Observer. Every Friday, I intend to discuss an important matter in US security policy. I will address every matter with a given objective in mind, to answer this question: How can a US-led unipolar world be preserved and strengthened in this age? The decades since the collapse of the USSR have been the most peaceful and prosperous in the history of our world. This is the result of an order that has been able to enforce uniform rules and standards across the globe with moral, rather than practical, matters serving as its guiding force. So long as one power can force its will without question, there is no possibility of escape for their influence. In a multi-polar world, rogue …