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2014 Midterms Make Small Waves for Foreign Policy

Jeff Merkley, Jeanne Shaheen, Al Franken Win Re-election

The 2014 elections are over, and though we now know that the Republicans did take control of the Senate, any resulting policy changes in DC will not happen until January when the new Congress takes their seats. There has been a large amount of hype around this pending policy change, but what exactly are the policies that will change?

Yes, we know the Republicans would love to tear Obamacare to pieces, but we also know that’s never going to happen as long as President Obama is still in office. Like repealing the Affordable Care Act, Republicans may put many bills to a vote that are merely talking points, insofar that they would not be signed by President Obama.

For example, a Republican-controlled House and Senate is more likely to pass legislation to prohibit the US from paying its UN dues in full and funding UN initiatives. Nevertheless, we can be sure that Obama would veto such nonsense. Though not all Republicans vote for such irresponsible legislation, the more extremist ones unfortunately do. My recent analysis of Congress on global issues shows that foreign policy is absolutely under partisan sway. Additionally, Congressional candidates in midterm elections typically pander to their bases, which helps to create more extremist and partisan candidates.

Eastern Ukraine: The Elections that Might Reignite the Fire

Eastern Ukrainian Rebels carrying out a ballot box (Photo Credit: New York Times)

This past weekend, residents in Eastern Ukraine went to the polls to vote in leaders to pave the way for independent states in this war-torn region. Thousands came out to support creating an autonomous region with closer ties to Russia. The elections further illustrate the extreme differences felt by the people in Ukraine, raising tensions in the current conflict and worsening the relations between Russia and the West.

Already, Ukraine has witnessed many exacerbating events, from the annexation of Crimea to the downing of MH-17 and Russia’s meddling in the conflict. The conflict in Ukraine, according to the United Nations, has killed an estimated 4,000 people and has forced many to flee their homes.

With a fragile ceasefire in place, the elections only make this volatile situation worse. Many who came out to vote saw the elections as a first step towards peace, but also as an act of vengeance towards Ukraine for the damage caused by the war. The controversial elections took place in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions with backing from the Russian government, who say that this election serves as a way to facilitate dialogue between the two sides.

The Midterms and American Gridlock

Today is Election Day! And though I’m writing on a Tuesday and this won't get published until Wednesday, I still want to take a crack at a change that I am 99.9% sure will happen. I speak of the inevitability of the Republican Senate takeover. Cue the spooky music.

So with a Republican House and Senate and a Democrat in the White House, we could well assume that not much will get done in the next two years, right? Not exactly. A few experts have actually posited that Obama’s foreign policy goals could gain traction after the impending switch. Of course, it does help that many of his foreign policy goals are fairly in line with conservative values. The primary two issues are new trade deals with the EU and several Asian countries and a new-look strategy to combat the Islamic State.

From here it looks fairly standard. Leaders from both sides of the proverbial aisle agree, in principle, on the ways to handle these two issues. Will we see some action out of government gridlock after all? Obviously no one knows quite yet, but you would be hard-pressed to find someone who would favor it.

Climate Cynicism

Climate change is one of the bigger global issues of our time; just last month, over 400,000 people marched in New York City during the Climate Summit to call for immediate action. Despite the very real effects of climate change, and the various ways in which the issue has been framed71 percent of people say they “are less likely to take action on climate change because they’re unsure of the difference their actions will make.” As it turns out, skepticism over the solutions to climate change is just as big a barrier to action as skepticism over the science behind it. 

That is one of the main issues with climate change messaging: it tends to focus on the problem rather than the solution(s). This has a direct impact on the public’s opinion regarding climate change; polling showed that two out of three people would be more inclined to support climate action if they heard more about the solutions.

Missing in Action? The United States and the Rights of the Child Treaty

Portrait of Pakistani School Girl (Photo Credit:UN Flickr)

It might be hard to believe, but did you know that the United States, South Sudan, and Somalia are the only countries not to have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child? The United States prides itself on being a global leader and defender of human rights, but ironically, it seems that it has not lived up to this expectation in regards to the treaty.

Adopted on November 20, 1989, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) aims to defend the rights of children by addressing issues that deal with children’s political, cultural, economic, and social rights. With such high praise, the treaty has been the fastest ratified international human rights treaty in history. Such a feat is a clear example of global cooperation that aims to remedy the problems of our world.

But why does the United States not take part in such a monumental global achievement? It took six years for the United States to endorse the principles of the treaty by signing it in 1995. Despite not ratifying the treaty, the US does have many laws protecting the rights of children in our country.

However, the CRC comes with many benefits that will help our global society thrive. Such benefits include keeping children free from violence, hazardous employment, and exploitation, while ensuring free compulsory education, adequate healthcare, the right to express opinions, and more. These benefits only prove to strengthen and protect the rights of our children here in the United States. So what is the issue that is holding us back from ratification?

Re-thinking Foreign Aid

The US and other first-world countries could aptly be categorized as the world’s most generous countries concerning the distribution of aid to developing foreign governments. Foreign aid or investment is generally viewed as a win-win scenario for the US: while the receiving party gets money to (hopefully) further develop their economy, the US receives good press and greater international prestige. Unfortunately, many development economists are saying that foreign aid isn’t having as a great an economic impact as we originally might have thought.

William Easterly is one such economist who believes that if the goal of US aid is to develop foreign markets, then we are failing. Easterly and others who espouse these beliefs do not think foreign aid is a bad thing. However, they do believe that the goals of aid need to be properly adjusted to align with the scope of aid productivity. Throwing money at a developing economy will accomplish nothing unless they have the correct resources and know how to develop markets. To this effect, expecting large quantities of foreign aid and loans to increase the GDP of a country is far-fetched.

Progress on North Korea?

DPRK leader Kim Jong Un applauds during a photo session with soldiers

For the first time, a broad coalition of nations is pushing to refer North Korea, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for prosecution.

This development follows a series of efforts that began six months ago with a commission of inquiry report  documenting the rampant human rights abuses in DPRK.

Several entities, including Citizens for Global Solutions and the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, have called on the Security Council to refer DPRK to the ICC. Last week, Japan and the European Union distributed a draft resolution among UN member states asking for the same, to which 43 countries now have signed on in support.

This may signify progress on a previously stagnant situation: despite widespread awareness of and outrage at mass atrocities committed in DPRK—including torture, starvation, forced labor, execution without trial, rape, forced abortion, and infanticide—the government has remained indifferent to efforts from the international community to effect change, with Pyongyang threatening to walk out of nuclear negotiations if the issue was raised.

Will the Nigerian Government Actually #BringBackOurGirls?

The Nigerian government has stated that it has finally secured the release of the more than 200 hundred girls abducted from a school in northeastern Nigeria. Days after this news surfaced, all that remains is confusion and doubt as to its validity.

On April 14, the Islamic militant group Boko Haram raided the Government Girls' Secondary School in Chibok, kidnapping over 200 hundred pupils ages 16-18. Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is sin,” released statements claiming they planned to sell the girls into forced marriages.

News originally broke last Friday with the Nigerian military announcing that it had agreed to a ceasefire with Boko Haram and expected the release of the girls as early as Monday. Monday has come and gone, the girls have not been released, and Boko Haram’s leadership remains silent.

Despite the apparent ceasefire, reports have indicated that Boko Haram fighters carried out attacks over the weekend on two villages near the Niger border, killing at least eight.

The ceasefire is said to be the product of negotiations taking place in neighboring Chad, who was mediating the talks. The Nigerian government has come under heavy criticism for its response to the kidnapping, including reports that the government had advanced knowledge of the raid.

Deforestation: The Shrinking Forests of Our Planet

Illegal fires used to clear a forest

When we think of forests, we think of those in the Amazon, China, Congo, Canada and many more places throughout the world. People throughout history have been drawn to forests, intrigued by the mysteries, adventures, and animals hidden within them. Forests today cover about 30 percent of the earth's surface, but each year we lose an area equivalent to the size of Panama.  

Deforestation is the driving force behind the loss of our forests. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, deforestation can be defined as the “permanent removal of standing forests.” There are numerous reasons this occurs. These reasons do vary but deforestation can intentionally or accidently occur.

So how does this affect you? Deforestation has a tremendous impact on everything around us. The effects are plentiful and include loss of habitats, increased greenhouse gases, soil erosion, and the destruction of homeland for natives.

It estimated that in 100 years, there will be no more forests on our planet if we continue at the current rate. The benefits from these forests are irreplaceable and essential to our survival. For example, 20 percent of our oxygen comes from the Amazon, and these forests help regulate the water cycle and keep the soil rich with nutrients. The removal of forests caused by deforestation accounts for 12-17 percent of global annual greenhouse gases emitted into our atmosphere.

The Complexity of Turkish Inaction

kobane, syria, turkey, is, islamic, isis, isil, NATO

If you’ve been keeping up with the news about the Islamic State (IS), you know that there is a strategic battle taking place in Kobane, a Syrian city close to the Turkish border. Currently, local Kurdish forces are doing their best to repel IS militants from the city with the aid of Western air support. The battle is far from over, as the Kurdish forces and the Turkish government have said that more ground troops would most likely be needed to repel IS. This then begs the question of why the Turks aren’t doing anything to impede the progress of IS, as surely Turkey could be their next target.

In quite a childish back-and-forth scenario, the Turkish and US governments have each been prodding one another to take a more active role in the battle for Kobane. We are all well aware of the US’ reputation for intervening in crises such as this, so US involvement should not have shocked anyone. What might surprise some looking in from the outside is Turkey’s seemingly carefree attitude towards a strategic border town, which, if lost, could devestate them.