DAWID SKALKOWSKI, INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS DIRECTOR
The Alexander Hamilton Society at the George Washington University recently hosted a debate between Philip Gordon, of the Council on Foreign Relations, and Mark Dubowitz, Executive Director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Gordon has suggested that history shows it is unlikely for the United States and its partners to negotiate a better agreement than the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iranian leaders. Dubowitz argued that it is not only possible to acquire a better arms agreement, but that the United States and its partners must do so if they intend to ensure the stability of the region in the long-run.
This post will not examine details of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (more commonly referred to as the Iran Deal); Vox has an in-depth overview of the language within the agreement. Much of the discussion surrounding the agreement has pointed towards the same objective: removing the possibility for Iran to develop industrial-sized centrifuges that can enrich uranium to produce a bomb. Yet critics and proponents alike disregard a crucial component to the discussion: preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons compounds its desire to acquire them in the long-run.
Mark Dubowitz is correct to point out that the major flaw of the nuclear agreement rests in its ballistic missile restrictions being depleted over a fifteen year period, assuming Iran complies with all components of the agreement. To be sure, no agreement has the potential to prevent Iran from acquiring advanced centrifuges and building an arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles.
As Kenneth Waltz has contended, attempts to punish Iran for developing a nuclear program through economic and political sanctions further draw Iranian leaders to pursue the ultimate deterrent. Leaders have proven to the international system that Iran responds to sanctions and incentives like any other state would. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew announced in April that Iran’s economy was fifteen to twenty percent smaller than it would have been had it remained on its pre-2012 growth trajectory.
Clearly, Tehran has taken notice. Critics of an armed Iran often look to discredit the regime by portraying its officials as irrational fanatics who would utilize a nuclear weapon against Israel. Yet, if Iranian leaders were willing to join international negotiations to remove sanctions on its economy—what is to suggest they would accept self-destruction through the promise of Israeli retaliation?
History is on the side of nuclear states that the international community wanted to disarm. North Korea frequently utilizes bellicose rhetoric towards other actors on the international stage, but has not employed use of its ballistic missile technology against another state. A nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union revealed that the promise of mutually assured destruction has served as the primary deterrent from states utilizing their nuclear programs.
If the United States and its partners find it in their interest to stabilize the region, the foremost consideration to be made is to recognize an Iranian withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Next, the United States and the international community should draw back its sanctions against Iran. As Daniel Drezner has indicated, sanctions against Iran have the potential to weigh heavily on Iran’s economy—they do not, however, have the ability to alter Iran’s willingness to concede on arming itself with a nuclear weapon. By some accounts, sanctions make Iranian leaders more likely to perceive an external threat, and provide them with an even greater incentive to pursue a nuclear program.
The United States, and its partners in the region, should take steps towards drafting treaties that prevent the targeting of nuclear facilities—an initiative that was successfully accomplished between India and Pakistan in 1991.
We will have to accept that Iran’s regime will eventually gain nuclear capabilities, and we need to turn the discussion surrounding Iran towards what a world like that will look like, and how the United States and its partners can prepare to accept that reality. In the question of whether or not states should have the potential to pursue nuclear weapons, the international community may attempt to delay the construction of nuclear programs, but ultimately cannot erase the desire for states to defend themselves on the international stage.
Whether or not allowing Iran to develop a nuclear program would make it a more responsible actor on the international stage is a topic for a different discussion. By providing Tehran the assurance it needs to secure itself against opposing powers in the region, the international community would be taking a step towards recognizing and fulfilling greater stability in the region. By gaining a nuclear program, Iran will be joining a community of other nations that have developed nuclear programs against opposition from the international community, and ultimately have been deterred from utilizing them.
ALEKSEJ DEMJANSKI, INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS
Almost twenty years ago, Fareed Zakaria published an essay in Foreign Affairs titled “The Rise of Illiberal Democracy” in which he explained a frightening new international trend. In his essay, Zakaria noted that, in recent times, democracy has been on the rise all across the world, but that this rise has not coincided with the civil, political, and economic liberties typically associated with it. In fact, he makes a very important distinction—democracy simply means that within a state there exist free, fair, and open elections, or what he calls “the procedures for selecting government.” The various liberties that we have come to believe democracy stands for are not part of the democratic political system; they instead come from the ideal of constitutional liberalism. This constitutional liberalism has been expressed by various philosophers throughout history and proclaims that humans possess many “natural or inalienable” individual liberties that Zakaria considers “the government’s goals.” As he points out, many in the West have associated democracy with this constitutional liberalism because there was a historic tendency for the two to materialize together. This coincidence is exceptional to the rise of democracy in the West and shouldn’t be applied to the democratization efforts of countries around the world today.
As a matter of fact, Zakaria declares that this tendency is not the reality for most newly democratic countries. He mentions that many of them are experiencing the rise of democracy without constitutional liberalism, a phenomenon he calls “illiberal democracy.” In these illiberal democracies, governments are democratically elected, but they are not ensuring their citizens the basic civil, political, and economic rights of a liberal constitutional system. In the conclusion, Zakaria warns the West to be mindful of political elites who consolidate power, hold free elections that are clearly unfair, repress media outlets, incite nationalist rhetoric to divide their societies, and suppress those aforementioned basic individual liberties. He also calls on the West to make an effort to rekindle constitutionalism around the world, as it is in the best interests of all countries and their citizens. Yet, if we look at the world today, it seems that the West and its leadership did not heed this warning. Illiberal democracy has spread like a wildfire, and today it’s in a phase of consolidation, particularly with the rise of right-wing leaders across East-Central Europe and its proximities.
Today, just as we had been warned, in the absence of Western influence, countries such as Russia, Hungary, Turkey, and Macedonia have all sparked flames of this fire. Zakaria himself opened his essay by mentioning the rise of illiberal democracy in the former Yugoslavia and even mentioned that in Russia, “Yeltsin's actions have created a Russian super-presidency. We can only hope his successor will not abuse it.” Ironically, the man to succeed Yeltsin, his handpicked protégé Vladimir Putin, has today consolidated the entire power structure of the Russian Federation under his leadership and created what is termed a “hybrid regime,” or an illiberal democracy, with media freedoms under attack and clearly unfair elections being held. In Turkey, the recent reelection of Reccep Tayyip Erdogan to the presidency proves just how far the consolidation of illiberal democracy has come. In his previous term, Erdogan even banned the use of Twitter and strongly suppressed media freedom. His rise to power and subsequent actions don’t seem to include liberalism anywhere on the agenda.
Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, during a speech at a university this summer, stated that the path his country will follow is that of Russia and Turkey. Orban explicitly states that “the new state that we are building is an illiberal state, a non-liberal state.” This proclamation raised concerns for many European Union leaders due to the fact that Hungary is a member state and its new path would contradict the core values of the EU. The Macedonian Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski, and his center-right ruling party VMRO-DPMNE, alongside their coalition partners, have been in power since 2006 and were recently re-elected in April 2014. Since gaining leadership of the country, the regime has taken to a higher level what their predecessors already started. This includes corruptly consolidating power in the elite apparatus, using state capacity to maintain authority in elections, reducing media freedoms, allowing for the judicial system to remain unreformed and inefficient, and expressing ethno-nationalist rhetoric, causing ethnic tensions within the country.
After the fall of communism in the 1990s, the United States and the West participated in the guidance of these regimes toward democracy and liberalism. Although democracy was achieved, liberalism clearly was not. Reiterating what Zakaria asserted in his 1997 essay, that the West must ensure the livelihood of individual liberties across the region and globally, I call on the West with great urgency to finish what they started. After having been the greatest promoters of democracy and liberalism in the 1990’s, the West, believing they have completed their goal, have recently begun weaning themselves away from the Balkans and East-Central Europe without considering the kinds of repercussions their inaction will have. If the spread of illiberal democracy is not a clear indication, then I don’t know what is.
Regardless of the Western-led efforts of the 1990s that have slowly been phased out, we must ensure that citizens have a voice in these countries and that their voice leads to active participation by supporting Western-led programs that engage citizens of the West with those of this region for an exchange of ideas. We must support the freedom of the media by holding these countries accountable to international law in order for truth and transparency to flourish. We must assist in the reform of judicial systems that are run by the state rather than independently through joint Western-led law initiatives and educational programs. We must help civil society organizations by creating a civil society partnership between our countries in an effort to help them cultivate a unified national conscious and not an ethnically divided one. We must guarantee citizens their basic liberties by once again advocating for constitutional liberalism. If not, the wildfire of illiberal democracy will not stop spreading--and we in the West will partially be to blame.
ERIN AGNEW, INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS DIRECTOR
Wednesday night, President Barack Obama addressed the nation on what he calls his “comprehensive plan to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL.” The plan includes the authorization of air strikes in Syria and Iraq and the deployment of 475 more American military personnel, whom President Obama consistently refers to as “military advisers,” carefully avoiding any implication that more active troops will be on the ground in the coming months. Talking around the issue of direct military involvement was a theme in President Obama’s speech, showing full awareness that he addresses a war-weary nation and must act in the face of a 40% approval rating and congressional stagnation acknowledged in his speech as “divisions and discord within our democracy.”
The challenge of this speech was the obvious dissonance between his opposition to “dumb war” upon taking office and his current intent to increase the number of American troops in Iraq and the Levant to 1,600. But for those who seek to contrast the legacy President Obama intended to leave internationally and that which he realistically will leave, his announcement comes with surprisingly careful timing and preparation. In 2002, then-Senator Obama assured an audience in Chicago, “ I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world... ” His speech Wednesday retained the same sentiment. After reiterating that American action comes in the form of calculated air strikes and partnerships with global forces on the ground, he drew parallels to operations “successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.” It is easy to view this particular comparison as tantamount to an admission. American action in both nations was not made public until both saw improved rankings in stability. That being said, it is not unwise to lay all cards on the table as President Obama asks for the support of a dubious citizenry and congress.
While building domestic support is still a hurdle for the president, his announcement was framed perfectly between announcements of NATO ally support and that of a coalition of ten Arab states, including Saudi Arabia. As of September 6th, the UK, France, Australia, Germany, Canada, Turkey, Italy, Poland, and Denmark have pledged significant support in the form of military assets, intelligence, equipment, ammunition, and/or weapons. They were joined by non-NATO affiliated nation, Georgia, which has previously sent troops to both Afghanistan and Iraq.
The end of President Obama’s 14-minute speech took a surprising turn towards exceptionalist language, perhaps in an attempt to appeal to a still-conservative-controlled Congress. His situation and word choice are both eerily evocative of President Bush’s 2003 declaration of war in Iraq. (President Bush saw an approval rating of 33% in the week preceding his declaration, to President Obama’s 40%.) Following a terse pause, President Obama fervently stated that “America is better positioned today to seize the future than any other country.” His later insistence that “American Power can make a decisive difference” and that “American leadership is the one constant in an uncertain world” echo President Bush’s declaration of America’s responsibility to “bring freedom to others.” Both speeches-turned-declarations dedicated significant time to thanking American military members and ensuring them of the necessity and worthiness of their deployment abroad. With somber parallels to the interventionism of 2003, the question of that declaration’s validity lingers.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT CENTER
At a conference at the Brookings Institute in February 2014, Shared Societies were defined as communities that strive to establish political and economic inclusion in all countries, so that the highest potential of each individual, regardless of their personal background, can be utilized in order to help nations develop.
Currently, in many developing nations, certain regions or groups of people are neglected when it comes to crafting and implementing policy. This results in social, political and economic inequality, with some groups benefitting from policies as others are left behind. As a result, there is a social capital deficit which may hinder many countries’ progress.
Policymakers the world over face the difficult question of how best to include communities and ensure that minority groups are not negatively impacted by policies that are constructed from a national utilitarian perspective. An example of successfully maneuvering this obstacle comes from the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius during the period of Cassam Uteem from 1992-2002.
In a speech to the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, Uteem explained his administration’s policy of working to subsidize all regions of the country. This strays off traditional development policies which focus solely on subsidizing and developing industrial and urban areas. These traditional policies often result in regions remaining underdeveloped or lagging behind in growth. By uniformly subsidizing industrial and rural regions, Uteem aimed for policies to include those living in remote areas as well as in towns in a move towards universal inclusion of all communities, with the hope that the entire country could progress as a whole.
A second policy Uteem implemented was progressive education reform. Uteem’s administration worked to ensure that education was provided for free, ensuring greater accessibility of a uniform curriculum to all communities in the nation. The reformed curriculum is secular and designed to unite students around Mauritius’ history, thus improving collusion amongst communities.
Adult literacy rates in Mauritius have increased by nearly 10% since the time the reforms were enacted, as more people gained access to schooling. This increased literacy rate shows progress and development in Mauritius resulting directly from more inclusive policies.
The antithesis of Mauritius’ success can be seen elsewhere in Asia, in the transitional government of Myanmar. The Economist explains that Myanmar’s government is attempting to carry out a census. However, in a country home to a diverse set of races, the census only presents ethnic-Burman options and neglects the wide range of minority groups that make up 40% of the country’s population.
This method raises suspicion that the government will use the census to make minority groups politically weaker. A census is the most basic means used by a government to allocate its limited resources. Therefore, such an improper census-taking method will reflect on development policies that inevitably neglect the needs of minority groups. At the same time, the census has already sparked ethnic conflicts in the western states. These conflicts have driven many to refugee camps and seriously hindered development.
Other developing countries face similar issues to Myanmar—a crisis of community inclusion in policy that leads to uneven development patterns. These development patterns often create a deeply entrenched inequality.
The idea of shared societies is to allow all communities in the country to play a part in developing the nation, which more evenly disperses the benefits of growth. This builds the future growth potential of the country, as all resources are geared towards progress. Over time, such societies are thus able to sustain long-term development that is all-inclusive and empowering to all communities across the nation.
MIHIR KHUBCHANDANI, DEFENSE AND DIPLOMACY CENTER
When one typically thinks of insurance, it is seen as a costly investment, rarely seen as a program to help alleviate poverty in developing nations. However, this is exactly what microinsurance programs aim to do: offer accessible insurance with low monthly fees to help improve the lives of the poor. The potential benefits of widespread microinsurance programs are a good way of giving developing nations a bigger leg up.
Microinsurance, called a “barefoot hedge-fund” by Abhijit Bannerjee, works in a very similar way to traditional insurance. A customer purchases insurance and pays a premium on a monthly or periodic basis. The amount collected is stored in a “pool” by the insurance company, to be used when a customer makes a claim. The key difference in microinsurance is that the premium is much lower than in standard insurance policies.
For instance, the lowest premium charged by the South African microinsurance organization AllLife is just $15 per month, a New York Times article explains. Such microinsurance programs are able to reach those who would not be able to afford traditional insurance.
Microinsurance covers those who are generally seen as more vulnerable due to poorer living conditions and the high risk environment in which they live and work. The average customer targeted by microinsurance is a low-income farmer, who is able to produce just enough every week to provide food, shelter, and basic necessities. Droughts, plagues, or diseases can create shocks to farm yields, leading the farmer without enough income to support his or her family.
If a farmer were to have insurance, the reclaimable payment would be enough to sustain a family in the event of a short-term shock. Microinsurance helps smooth out the risks faced by these poor entrepreneurs.
As a result, microinsurance removes the cost attributed with a poor yield and allows the buyer to take more risks such as allowing subsistence farmers to send their children to school rather than having to work on the land or allowing those farmers to widen the variety of crops they grow and sell different products, potentially helping them earn higher profits.
This program extends beyond crop protection, also providing medical coverage to those in need. In developing nations where living conditions are poor, the typical low-income earner is not able to afford even basic medical care. In a similar way to traditional medical insurance, microinsurance programs allow patients to be reimbursed on some part of their healthcare expenses, enabling more people to obtain the professional medical services they need, rather than treating themselves in often inefficient or even dangerous manners.
Implementation of microinsurance programs can be spurred by subsidies and grants to insurance providers, either by domestic governments or by foreign aid from governments and non-profit agencies. Such grants will allow insurance providers to lower the premiums charged, and will also enable them to reach in to more remote areas, ensuring many more can benefit from these programs.
Still a relatively new concept, microinsurers are still looking to find the equilibrium between charging low premiums and accumulating sufficient funds to cover clients when needed. Further, a lack of financial literacy among typical microinsurance beneficiaries may also mean that customers will be slow to purchase coverage.
Microinsurance programs offer great potential in helping nations develop. They enable clients to take risks in crop production, provide healthcare at a basic level to those who often need it most, and have enough lifestyle flexibility to send their own children to school. Microinsurance requires relatively small effort and comes at a low cost, making it a highly sustainable means of meeting many development goals in the coming years.
ERIN AGNEW, DEFENSE AND DIPLOMACY DIRECTOR
The financial crisis of 2008 left the United States with a national unemployment rate skyrocketing from 4.6% to 10.2% in a matter of three years. Workers from across the country began to struggle to feed their families, make mortgage payments on time, and save for retirement. Congress began to struggle to stabilize the economy, preserve jobs, and stay competitive with our biggest trading partners in the European Union. But as Germany and the US experienced similar GDP growth rates post-recession, Germany’s unemployment rate fell lower than it had been pre-recession, leaving the US to play catch up, let alone keep up.
The first attempted fix in 2008 extended Unemployment Insurance benefits to the newly jobless for a full year and allowed those already receiving unemployment insurance to do so for seven weeks past the original six month period. The bill offered $6 billion of benefits to job seekers, while making a disproportionate $700 billion available in direct bridge loans to banks and automobile manufacturers, to boost domestic manufacturing.Much of this funding went to technological development, though, leaving re-hiring workers out of the equation and actually eliminating future positions even as productivity increased.
The industries which were offered loans accepted them and maxed out the allocated funds, while unemployment remained consistently high. In fact, recovery from the US’s latest recession and financial crisis has been slower than recovery from any crisis in the nation’s history. After most other recessions, growth in the two years following the recession was greater than the decline from the beginning to the lowest slump of the recession. Studies in 2010 and 2011 suggest that this pattern didn’t repeat in 2009 and 2010 because of insufficient or misapplied stimulus spending, or more intriguingly, uncertainty about economic policy.
When the EU banded together to address the crisis-exacerbated unemployment rate of 9.7%, it was with a focus on increasing the employment market and worker adaptability. With a series of specific guidelines for different countries’ needs, the EU encouraged all members to “promote innovative forms of labor organization”, “facilitate workers occupational transitions”, and ensure that the “tax burden on the low paid [is] reduced”. In a section focused on improving human capital, the 2008 act encouraged “openness and equality” in educational systems, which are “accessible to all”, and provide “diversity of training opportunities and possibilities for mobility”. In the last two years, 84% of Europeans polled say they are confident they will retain their current job, while 70% are confident they will have a job in two years (this includes those just entering the workforce).
When applied in Germany, one of the US’s key EU trading and diplomatic partners, the employment policy guidelines did wonders. To address worker adaptability, the Bundestag instituted the policy of Kurzarbeit. Translating to “short work”, it offers job security to workers and lower operating costs to employers. While US unemployment insurance works retroactively to offer financial support approximating a salary, Kurzarbeit pays workers 60% of lost income when hours are reduced more than 10%. This pay keeps workers in jobs which they sought during better economic times. It increases genuine leisure hours and allows workers to spend time with family rather than working two and three jobs.
Germany’s current unemployment rate has fallen to 5.2%, while the U.S. still struggles with a rate of 7.3%. And the 5,600,000 Americans who receive unemployment insurance benefits saw their income cut between 10% and 20% during last year’s sequester and halted again during the government shutdown. Germany clearly identified their policy goal as keeping their workers from becoming victims of their economic circumstances. Current US unemployment policy merely purports to sustain workers short term, while they seek out jobs that have not yet been created.
As it stands, even the assurance of a safety net while seeking employment is in question as the Senate process a bill to extend long term unemployment benefits again. Were US policymakers to take a page out of Germany’s fiscal book, we could see improvements in quality of life and decreases in unemployment overnight. A subsidized salary and limited working hours program like Kurzarbeit would keep workers in jobs and keep productivity high. Redirecting federal funds for corporate research and development towards increasing accessibility to higher and vocational education would help to create a pool of workers equipped to contribute and not overly burdened by debt. Extending unemployment insurance now will keep the bottom from falling out under 5,600,000 Americans. Restructuring the American approach to job security in the coming years could have us caught up, and keeping up with the competition.
Learn more about the U.S. Unemployment Insurance program and sign a petition urging Congress to extend benefits.
Our members watched the State of the Union last night together. Here are some of their thoughts:
"While I was pleased to hear the announcement of an increase in minimum wage for federally contracted workers through an executive order, President Obama must also put in place limitations on the payrolls of corporate executives, which will hold them accountable for funneling taxpayer money into their own pockets. That sort of change will not come from the corporate-controlled White House, so progressives must shift their focus to the grassroots, bottom-up approach."
--Yasemin Ayarci, Chapter President (@DCyasemin)
"Watching the webcast with the corresponding graphs and diagrams, I was glad to see more substantive policy and slightly less rhetoric than past addresses, but some statements on progressive causes still felt shallow. On education, I was very happy to see the backing of a pre-K expansion, but dismayed at the few new ideas presented on improving college affordability."
--David Meni, Vice President (@TheDavidMeni)
"Any congressional action this year on issues progressives care about will depend on passage in the Republican-controlled House. Last night’s speech sought important solutions to our upward mobility crisis once popular with conservatives: education reform, job training, infrastructure, and a tax overhaul. Despite many important issues left unmentioned, the solutions proposed to reduce inequality may have the support necessary get through the lower chamber--and a chance at helping alleviate the many structural economic challenges too many Americans face."
--Zach Komes, Policy Director (@ZachKomes)
"Another beautifully crafted address by President Obama but as a Progressive, I found alarming the lack of any mention about unchallenged rape endemic in the military & his comments on foreign policy were largely anodyne. In fact, the 'Pivot to Asia' was notably absent, unless this is effectively his apparent support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. On that note, I wonder when Obama will elucidate the opaque contents of the TPP treaty."
--Francisco Alvarez, Energy and Environment Policy Center Member (@F_J_Alvarez)
"I felt that the President's agenda was too broad and scattered to achieve all, or even most, of the goals that he put forth. If he devoted more effort to a single issue and made that the single crusade of the year, it would have a better chance of actually leading to real, measurable good."
--Matthew Kasturas, Freshman Representative
"While I enjoyed President Obama’s encouraging overall tone about the importance of increasing opportunities for all Americans, I found some of his policy suggestions to be a little vague. For example, although the broad idea of gun control was mentioned, specifics about his gun control platform weren't present, which is disappointing considering the amount of school shootings that have taken place in the last month alone."
--Kinjo Kiema, Freshman Representative (@Captain_Kinj)
"I thought President Obama’s speech had several strong, substantive policy proposals. However, I sincerely hope that his 'All of the Above' energy policy prioritizes renewable sources such as solar and wind, and does not include the Keystone XL Pipeline."
--Eric Wolfert, Outreach Director (@EricWolfert93)
What did you think of the #SOTU? Comment below and let us know your perspective!
OUR OFFICIAL BLOG
The Roosevelt Reader is a space where RI@GW members discuss innovative policy solutions to the pressing political issues facing the District, the nation, and the world.
WRITE FOR US
Your ideas matter. And we want to help broadcast them to the world. Learn more how to become a blog contributor.