To wrap up the week, the Summer Seminar students welcomed Dennis Unkovic, Esq., an international lawyer who is an expert on Asia. Today he discussed the continent’s history, its current risks and US interests in the region. During his talk, he invited a lot of participation from students, saying that his role was to help them connect the ideas from information that they already know.
He began by dividing Asia’s history up into three periods. First, from 1545 to 1945, Asia was dominated by colonial powers. The terrible treatment Asian nations received at the hands of the imperialists left a lasting impression that continues to underlie current relations with the West. Meanwhile, in reaction to imperialism, Japan entered a period of sustained isolationism. Japan was also important for the role it played in World War II, since the US joined the war after Pearl Harbor.
The second period from 1945 to 1980 saw the success of Japan as it rebuilt its economy after the end of the war. The government led this process, deciding which industries to fund, a process which was repeated to much success in other Asian countries later. The US also experienced declining influence on the continent, especially after the Vietnam War and economic recession of the 70s.
Finally, since 1980, the economies of Korea, the Asian Tigers (Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore and Malaysia) and especially China have experienced dramatic growth.India also followed this path, albeit somewhat later.
Should the US be worried that the Chinese economy is set to become the largest in the world by 2022? Read the rest of this entry »
Today’s Summer Seminar topic was Africa, and more specifically, Sustaining the New Wave in African Governance, led by Dr. Jean-Jacques Ngor Sene, a Senegalese citizen and assistant professor of History at Chatham University.
He began by emphasizing the importance of understanding the historical precedents to Africa’s current situation. Long ago, much of Africa was organized into communal societies that functioned quite well, until the dynamics of the slave trade crystallized authoritarian reflexes. Later on during the imperial era, Western powers “carve the cake,” dividing up Africa to prevent a war amongst themselves. However, between 1957 and 1964, 40 African nations gained independence. Unfortunately, many of these new countries came under authoritarian rule, while meanwhile the US and the USSR were fighting their conflict through proxy wars, often in Africa. Once the Cold War ended, this enabled a wave of political change to sweep across Africa.
Today, however, the conditions from country to country remain disparate. This was Dr. Sene’s second point: that each country in Africa is different, with its own history and circumstances. While democracy has taken place in some countries, many are ruled by an authoritarian leader. One factor that the speaker said explained why authoritarianism is prevalent in Africa can be summed up in an African saying: “You can never point to a man and say he’s a former chief.”
Good governance could be defined by three characteristics: First, that there is popular support for the state; second, that the government is legitimate; and third, that democracy has been consolidated. The following criteria can serve as a measure of a country’s governance level: emergence of an active civil society, a free and independent press, a parliamentary system, an independent judiciary, experimentation with federalism (that is, decentralization of power) and citizen satisfaction. The students were introduced to the idea of Mo Ibrahim’s good governance index, which ranks countries on a scale of zero to 100.
Today the Summer Seminar welcomed Dr. Christina Michelmore, chair of Chatham University’s History Department who specializes in modern Middle Eastern history, to discuss the Arab Spring and its implications for US Foreign Policy.
She began by providing some background on US policy in the region. Traditionally, that policy has been based on two primary interests: the security of the supply of Persian Gulf oil at reasonable prices and the security of Israel. However, often these two interests conflict.
Since the 1970s, the US has pursued three major policy tracks. First, it has sought a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Second, it has tried to exclude or at least contain hostile external or regional forces. Third, it has supported stable states; that is, those who are friendly towards the US and not overtly hostile towards Israel.
It may come as a surprise to some people to realize just how many allies the US has in the Middle East. Egypt and Jordan have been crucial partners in the Arab-Israeli conflict; Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and especially Saudi Arabia are key oil producers; the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet is located in Bahrain; Qatar is a center of media and education; Oman guards the strategic Straits of Hormuz, through which 20% of the world’s oil must travel; and Yemen has been important to the fight against terrorism. All of these countries have some sort of official alliance with the US.
On the other side of the equation, Iraq and Lebanon cannot be considered strong allies because their internal instability makes them unpredictable. However, both tend to be more focused on internal issues. Meanwhile, Iran and Syria are declared opponents of the US and Israel.
Dr. Michelmore also explained that the tensions between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims play into the instability in the Middle East. Whichever branch is not represented by the governing elite often faces discrimination, and many governments face large minority populations. Also, many citizens identify more strongly as either Sunni or Shi’a than with a national identity.
US policy has typically supported autocratic regimes in the Middle East if they served our interests, despite the fact that such governments did not share our values. After September 11, 2001, policymakers shifted more towards the idea of democracy promotion; however, this effort was soon frustrated when in some cases free choice led to instability or unfriendly governments (for example, violence in Iraq and the election of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories).
Dr. Michelmore then shifted the focus to the wave of popular protests that began last December in Tunisia and have since spread to most other Middle Eastern and North African countries, known as the Arab Spring. These protests have been led by young people (under the age of 35); have utilized civil disobedience (peaceful protests), social media and cell phones; and have common demands (replace autocracies with democracies, improve education, provide jobs, end favoritism, and protect rights and freedoms.)
She also outlined the principle challenges and risks. First of all, it is difficult for the US to support protesters when we are allied with their governments. Second, we don’t know how it will turn out. For example, is it likely to result in the establishment of democracies in the Middle East?
Today’s Summer Seminar speaker was Dr. Ray Raymond, a former Foreign Service Officer of the UK who is now a professor at the United States Military Academy and the State University of New York. He spoke about some of the issues facing Europe today.
He began by explaining what the European Union is. Unlike the federal system that organizes the United States, the EU is a loose confederation of sovereign states. In some cases, however, they have decided to pool their sovereignty in a supranational organization. This unusual body came about after World Wars I and II devastated Europe and the necessity to rebuild was paramount. Leaders recognized that the way to achieve peace would be to become economically intertwined. Importantly, the plan had to include Germany, which had to be embedded in Europe to avoid future wars and conflicts.
Dr. Raymond then turned to the Euro crisis. This was a crisis waiting to happen, he said. In 1989 when the currency union project was set into motion, European leaders were reacting to the fall of the USSR and especially the reunification of Germany. A reunited Germany was seen as a potential threat, and in order to avoid that threat, leaders sought to bind Germany in with the rest of Europe even more firmly. Thus, the Euro.
However, the EU did not create the mechanisms to enforce the rules and ensure that Eurozone members were managing their economies well. Another problem was that “one size does not fit all” regarding monetary policy. The Eurozone countries united their currency but did not unite their taxing and spending policies. When Greece and other peripheral countries began facing problems, it did not take long to become a crisis. These countries have had to be bailed out, and the funds came with harsh conditions. This is causing a tension between the peripheral countries and core countries, especially Germany which has born the brunt of the costs. Many Germans, who had managed their economy relatively well, do not see why they should be responsible for other countries’ mismanagement. The harsh terms of loans are seen by some in the core as a necessary punishment for irresponsibility, while people in the periphery resent the pain that has been inflicted on their economies.
The first day of this year’s Summer Seminar on World Affairs focused on the topic of Human Rights and US Foreign Policy. Dr. Michael Goodhart from the University of Pittsburgh started things off with a presentation on the history and nature of human rights.
The obvious first question that must be asked is: What are human rights, exactly? Dr. Goodhart explained that there are three criteria. First, human rights must be moral rights: from a moral standpoint, a right that people ought to have. Second, they must be equal rights, granted equally to all people. Third, they are essential rights, those of fundamental importance to living a basically decent life. Human rights may fall into a number of categories: social and economic, civil and political, fairness, and liberty and security.
The philosophy of human rights has been developing throughout hundreds of years of history. During the Reformation, the idea that all people are equal in the eyes of God began to take root. In the 17th Century, John Locke articulated the philosophy of natural rights in his various treatises, laying the philosophical foundations for our understanding of human rights. Locke’s philosophy influenced the French and American Revolutions, notably in the Declaration of Independence’s reference to “inalienable rights.” Finally, the end of World War II ushered in the “New World Order” under the United Nations system, which in addition to creating peace and stability in the world, has human rights at the core of its philosophy.
As the philosophy around human rights evolved, these ideas manifested themselves in political events. First, in the American and French Revolutions which challenged monarchial rule. Abolition and feminism also came from the idea of fundamental human equality. Later, international institutions were established to acknowledge these principles, most notably the United Nations.
Within the UN system – and indeed within discussions of human rights in general – there is one major contradiction. On one hand, one of the UN’s fundamental pillars is the protection of state sovereignty. This means that states have the authority to rule within their borders without outside interference. On the other hand, in order to protect human rights, the UN must necessarily interfere in a country’s internal affairs. Another way to look at it is the contradiction between making a law and enforcing it. The UN can make a law mandating that countries respect the rights of their people, but in order to enforce that law, it would be required to violate the offending country’s sovereignty.
Dennis Unkovic, the speaker for the day, taught us today about the issues facing Asia and America’s relationship. We were asked to answer four questions on how to solve the problem if asked by President Obama: blocking the sale of a military missile defense system by Boeing to Taiwan; a possible Congressional response to proposed legislation; whether or not send US aircraft carriers; and lastly a question dealing with oil supplies. Together our group discussed all four issues and came up with a common agreement for each. Our group felt that there should be a more aggressive approach to the situation, by military means if necessary. When we convened to share our decision on the matter, I saw that no two groups had the same take on the situation. In some cases, groups wanted to have a closer tie to China and in others it was Taiwan. Some of the groups had relatively similar decisions, but all shared a particular insight to how a conflict could be resolved. In other groups, there were issues that would not be resolved so easily. It became apparent that solutions to a problem could work in the end, or fail miserably. All of the groups discovered that with each decision made, there are particular consequences to follow; some minor and others major, but solutions to a conflict are always there.
In conclusion, the first day at the Summer Seminar on World Affairs was a truly educational experience. Though the issues presented today were highly controversial, all of us grasped the moral and economic sides to certain scenarios, and furthermore came to understand that there is always more than one solution to an issue. It became clear that the decisions political figures, leaders, and the people behind them make are controversial but essential in shaping our world into what it is today.
– Jettie, The Ellis School (Light Blue Group)
The speaker created for us a scenario in which the U.S. was placed in conflict with China over the possible sale of a defense system to Taiwan. When we all shared our group decisions, it was fascinating to see how such a small group could come up with such radically different policies. For example, while some groups gave in to China’s every wish and others threatened near war, my less radical group solved the conflict by making deals with China because of its involvement in our economy. I, the lone dissenter, strongly suggested that we side with Taiwan because of its support of the US and democracy in East Asia. Even though I disagreed with them on almost everything, my group encouraged me to share my minority report in front of the group, something that made me feel so much more comfortable with voicing my opposing views in the face of an overwhelming majority.
– Lauren, Oakland Catholic High School (Gray Group)
Each day of the Seminar focuses on a different region of the world. Participants hear from an expert on the day’s topic, then split into small groups to work on a policy scenario. This year’s topics included:
- Defining America’s Role in the World
- The Future of U.S.-European Relations
- A New Deal for Africa
- Pakistan and Afghanistan: New Strategies
- Changing Dynamics of America and Asia
If you are interested in seeing student feedback blogs and video, and reading the policy scenarios from this year’s Summer Seminar on World Affairs, please visit the Council’s wiki site. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post them to this blog!