Cold Turkey: The Gradual Freezing of Turkey’s EU Prospects

Protests again Turkey primeminister Ergonan on Trafalgar Square in London, spring 2013 (2)

Solidarity rally in London against Prime Minister Erdogan and in support of the Taksim Gezi Park protests. June 8, 2013 (Chmee2/Wikimedia Commons).

Gaining membership to the European Union (EU) has been a frustrating process for Turkey. The Near East nation began its campaign for EU membership nearly 30 years ago under the EU’s predecessor, the European Economic Community. In 2005, 18 years after beginning the application process, Turkey was finally invited to enter accession negotiations. The protracted delay was a result of unfavorable economic conditions in Turkey as well as Turkey’s tumultuous relationships with EU members Greece and Cyprus. Yet, the question remains: why hasn’t Turkey been granted membership to the EU?

The answers are many and complex. First, geographically, Turkey is located between the East and the West, yet only 3% of Turkish territory actually lies within Europe. The rest of the nation borders hostile neighbors such as Iran, Iraq and Syria. Second, Turkey is culturally aligned more with the East than with the West. The majority of the Turkish population is Muslim, whereas most EU nations are home to a Judeo-Christian cultural tradition. Third, EU leaders are wary that Turkey’s fragile economy could place a heavy financial strain on the EU. In recent months, Turkey’s inflation has reached 7%, the value of the lira is slipping, and foreign investors are fleeing. However, the most glaring explanation for Turkey’s delayed entry seems to be its increasingly autocratic government.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regime has committed countless human rights violations, and thus jeopardized Turkey’s chances of joining the EU. Last summer, peaceful demonstrators staged a sit-in to show their disgust with the government’s encroachment on civil liberties. The government responded with violence, using water canons and tear gas to forcibly remove the protestors. The police killed four and injured thousands. Since a major criterion for admission to the EU is high human rights standards, the government’s brutality elicited a negative response from EU officials and prompted German leaders to question Turkey’s eligibility. Further, EU leaders voted to delay accession talks that had been months in progress. Presently, corruption is corroding the government and Prime Minister Erdogan’s reputation. Last month, the Turkish government blocked websites such as YouTube and Twitter. Yet, censorship of social media platforms is but a fraction of the abuses in Turkey – a nation where journalists are routinely arrested and incarcerated for criticizing the party.

While the EU is not ready to accept Turkey, the Turkish public is hesitant to join the EU. Recent polls have shown public frustration toward the accession movement. Additionally, Turkey has experienced spurts of economic growth in the last decade thanks to a customs agreement with the EU that has facilitated, among other things, the development of a sophisticated export trade. Turks might feel that the country doesn’t need the EU to be successful. Prime Minister Erdogan and other top Turkish officials have recently expressed disdain toward the EU, with one minister even being quoted as saying: “Turkey doesn’t need the EU, the EU needs Turkey. If we have to, we could tell them ‘Get lost, kid!’” Although Turkey has seen considerable economic growth in recent decades, the economy is still underdeveloped and could benefit greatly from EU accession. However, the rhetoric of Turkish leaders indicates a turn away from Europe. 

It is clear that Turkey’s gradual abandonment of democratic principles is likely to hinder the progress of their EU membership bid. Regardless of posturing by Turkish leaders, the economic benefits of EU membership are undeniable. Yet, it is clear that the Turks have a long way to go before they will be able to join the EU, if ever.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the Glimpse from the Globe staff and editorial board.

Combating Modern Slavery with Fairtrade

“I dedicate this award to all the people who have endured slavery and the 21 million people who still suffer slavery today.”– Director Steve McQueen, on accepting the Oscar for 12 Years a Slave.

Steve McQueen at TIFF 2013

Director Steve McQueen at the Premiere of “12 Years a Slave” at the Toronto International Film Festival. September 6, 2013. Chris Cheung (via Wikimedia Commons)

At last month’s Academy Awards, Steven McQueen accepted the golden statue for Best Picture, one of the night’s most coveted awards. McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave is a historical drama based on the true story of Solomon Northrop, a Northern free man kidnapped and enslaved in the antebellum American South. McQueen chose to use the Oscar platform to illuminate an issue that is often overlooked in modern society: slavery. His quote, found above, was broadcast to 43 million viewers and merits discussion.

The word slavery often evokes, among other things, historical images of the East India Company, the transatlantic slave trade, and Southern plantations. Unbeknownst to many, slavery has experienced a resurgence in the last half century. Today, it is estimated that anywhere from 21 to 30 million people around the world are slaves. People forced into prostitution or uncompensated labor, children forced into marriages and war, and victims of human trafficking all qualify as modern slaves. Moreover, not only does slavery exist in today’s society, it is also a thriving industry. In fact, there are more slaves today than at any other time in human history.

Developed nations typically experience a low rate of slavery due to a number of circumstances including national wealth and political stability. Factors such as enforced rule of law and low rates of corruption can ensure harsher penalties for perpetrators and reliable protection for victims. Stable, developed nations, like the United States, Canada, and Australia, all have low rates of slavery (i.e., below 0.05% of the population). Although comparatively low, this rate is nevertheless significant and embarrassing.

Modern incidence of slavery

Modern incidence of slavery, as a percentage of the population, by country. Data taken from the Washington Post and Walk Free Foundation. October 19, 2013. Kwamikagami (via Wikimedia Commons)

On the other hand, many developing nations face poverty, political instability, and war, and thus are likely to have a high rate of slavery. Inadequate law enforcement and rampant corruption allow perpetrators to go unchecked and undisciplined. The world has experienced exponential population growth, mostly in developing nations, which, coupled with rapid development, has resulted in over-crowded cities and many jobless citizens. Those citizens living on the margins of society are more vulnerable to slavery. For example, states within the Sub-Saharan African, South-East Asian, and Eastern European regions are home to some of the highest rates of slavery in the world. In particular, India has the world’s highest population of slaves at 1.1% of the population, or 14 million people.

McQueen is an advocate for Anti-Slavery International, one of the many organizations dedicated to combating slavery with the implementation of an unorthodox approach. Since slavery is strongly associated with poor economic development, organizations like Anti-Slavery International are using “Fairtrade” to help eradicate slavery by creating stable incomes and improved working conditions for farmers and their families. Fairtrade employs cooperatives and independent small farmers, and thus, unlike foreign development aid, seeks to establish self-sufficient communities. Further, Fairtrade is a market-based strategy that encourages sustainability by elevating trading standards. World commodity prices tend to be volatile and in response, the Fairtrade minimum price was established to ensure that farmers are paid for the cost of their sustainable product, regardless of market prices. Consumers pay a higher premium on products, which allows money to flow into impoverished places. The producers of these goods are able to earn a fair wage and support themselves through their work.

Fairtrade helps to develop higher social and economic standards in places that and for people who need it most. It is the hope that these people will be given the opportunity to provide for themselves and avoid exploitation. Buying goods through Fairtrade will halt the cash flow to companies that maintain low production costs with the use of slave labor. Although the problem of modern slavery is a deeply complex issue, one can only hope that Fairtrade will be a factor that contributes to its eradication.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the Glimpse from the Globe staff and editorial board.

The Vatican’s New Groove

Pope Francis in March 2013

Pope Francis in March 2013 via Wikimedia Commons.

 One year ago the reigning head of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVII, did the unthinkable: he resigned. With a troubled tenure defined by criticism and controversy, Benedict cited deteriorating psychical and mental health for his departure. It was the first time a Pope had resigned in 600 years, leaving some 1.2 billion followers of the Catholic Church without a leader.

In search of a new leader, the conclave of cardinals met in Rome with determination to fill the void. Huge crowds amassed in St. Peter’s Square anxiously awaiting the secretive vote. Crowds hummed with anticipation as white smoke poured from the chimney after a swift deliberation. Jorge Bergoglio, Cardinal and Archbishop of Buenos Aries, emerged to a cheering crowd in papal white to take hold of the highest holy office as the 266th Pontiff, Pope Francis.

Pope Francis lays claim to a number of “firsts” for the papacy.  The native Argentinian is the first non-European pope in nearly 1,200 years, as well as being the first Jesuit Pope, the first Pope from the Americas, and the first Pope from the Southern Hemisphere.  With over 40% of Catholics hailing from Latin American states – the largest region of Catholics in the world – this was an exciting opportunity for nearly 500 million people to be represented in the Vatican.

Since Pope Francis’s appointment, he hasn’t wasted any time becoming a renowned international figure.  Named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in December and being generally approved by even the toughest of critics, Pope Francis has had a whirlwind first year.  On the Pope’s one-year anniversary of taking leadership, here is a look back on the last year and a glimpse forward as to what lies ahead for the Vatican.

A global perspective.

Pope Francis is the first Pope from the Southern Hemisphere and, consequently, his appointment can be viewed as a way in which many are chipping away at the North-South socio-economic divide. Following his appointment, the Pope named 19 new cardinals predominantly hailing from poorer countries. The Pope has also been quoted commenting on economic policy, one area where Catholicism is particularly liberal.  Francis denounced trickle down economic theories and raised concerns about the growing gap between the poor and the rich. Having lived and preached in the slums of Argentina, it is clear that he has feels for, and connects with, those less fortunate.

A change in tone.

In an interview last June, the Pope asserted, “Who am I to judge” when asked about homosexuality.  His statement encompassed a definitive and pragmatic shift away from judgment and toward a new attitude of mercy. Although Pope Francis assured the world that the church’s doctrine is not going to be undone, he also asserted that conflict over issues, such as homosexuality, distracts from the greater goals of the church.  Putting aside differences and finding common ground has been at the top of Pope Francis’s achievements.

A shift in priorities.

Pope Francis’s chosen papal name is in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi who was a champion (and patron saint) of the poor.  It should come as no surprise then that the impoverished masses sit at the heart of the new Vatican agenda.  Pope Francis has never been one for luxury; in Argentina he was known for taking the bus and not chauffeured cars, and spending time with the poor. It is even rumored that since becoming Pope, Francis slips out at night to tend to the poor personally, although the Vatican denies this rumor. 

An exile of corruption.

Focusing on those with less, the Vatican has proposed large spending cuts.  With an audit on finances of the Vatican Bank and a reshuffling of leadership, the Pope aims to flush out any corruption. One part of this initiative called for removing four of the cardinals that preside over the Vatican Bank and naming new Cardinals and officials to refresh Vatican leadership.  Although he has made it clear that the Vatican is not a political state, he has not been removed from politics. Rather, he has recently called for an end to violence in Ukraine and champions peace worldwide.

The Pope Francis Effect.

The international influence of the Pope is undeniable. With a following that rivals the population of China, many people look to the Pope for both moral and spiritual leadership. What might be even more important is the influence the Pope can have on developing countries. In particular, Pope Francis’s emphasis on the value of women in the church and society sends an important message to developing countries. Some of these countries, especially those in Latin America and Africa where Catholicism is rapidly growing, face conflict over women’s rights and society. The pope’s advocacy for women’s role in the church and broader society could lead to a profound impact on societal perceptions, and treatment of, women. In short, the Pope’s actions are an encouraging step for the Vatican.

The Correspondents Weigh in: Crisis in Crimea

The Crimea Region is highlighted in Red on this map of the Ukraine (via Wikimedia Commons)

This piece will be the first of a special “Weigh In” series that is going to be started on Glimpse, which will focus on momentous current events.

Thomas D. Armstrong:

Recent op-eds have labeled Putin as a mastermind or a megalomaniac fool. I am of the opinion that Putin is a megalomaniac mastermind exploiting a disempowered US. However, debating Putin’s psychological profile is less constructive than analyzing the economic foundation of his regime. Putin and his Russia survive on energy revenues, and war is only making him richer. Unlike 2008, when Putin invaded Georgia, oil prices have held steady. In fact, the threat of sanctions on Russia have only driven oil prices marginally higher, up $2 dollars to $110.8/bbl as of writing. Putin is financing expansionist dreams (and his own savings account) thanks to his near-monopoly on Russia’s energy industry. Therefore, the best way to rein him in is to drive global energy prices down. The US can accomplish this quite easily with a reformed national energy policy. Currently, the US is sitting on an unused 727-million-barrel underground cache of crude oil, and is producing more and more natural gas by the day. If the US were to supplant Russia as Europe’s primary natural gas provider, and flood the global market with American oil exports, energy prices would plummet. A decrease from $110/bbl to $80/bbl would cost the Russian oil industry alone an estimated $120 billion, plus billions more in foreign exchange earnings. Putin is a deft leader, but even he could not survive such a sustained economic collapse.

Nick Kosturos:

Russia’s move to deploy soldiers in Ukraine is indicative of feelings of insecurity rather than confidence. Putin knows that such a large loss of influence in Ukraine, a critically important country in economic, cultural, and geopolitical terms, would be devastating to Russia’s ultimate goal of increasing its regional sphere of influence and international prestige. Putin’s domestic considerations and tensions can also shed light on these aggressive actions. If a small country like Ukraine can successfully stand up to the Kremlin by ousting its man from Kiev, what will Russians think of a leadership unable to control their “Small Russia?” Russia is acting out of desperation, not strength. Putin’s clownish justifications for Russia’s military actions do not hold up to scrutiny and are made under a façade by what I recently labeled an “imitation democracy.”

While the West has multilaterally condemned this act of aggression, which is a positive first step, it should now increase pressure on Russia to relent. In order to force Russia to withdraw and accept Ukraine’s sovereignty and a chance at a peaceful political transition, the West must maintain a multilateral and wide-ranging coalition of rejection, isolating Putin via sanctions on both his allies and competing oligarchs (including their overseas funds and visas), and by supporting Ukraine’s new government through assistance and advisement. At this point, conventional military power projection against Russia is not a viable option – no matter how tempting – as it could spark an unintended military provocation leading to conflict. The current situation is very difficult to manage, although the international community should know that the West ultimately has the upper hand. Russia’s desperate authoritarian strategy based on oppression is doomed to fail in the long-run.

Luke Phillips:

The situation in Crimea is nothing more than the Russians managing their own geopolitical periphery, and so far as it has to do anything at all with expansion, it is only due to the fact that Russian power is presently contracted to levels far below what Moscow would like. America would do and has done the same thing in the event of revolutionary unrest in our neighbor states, as is evidenced by our interventions in Mexico a century ago and in Cuba a half-century ago.

The question here, I think, is what the United States is going to do about it. Part of our grand strategy since the end of the Cold War has been to keep the Russians from establishing formal or informal dominion over the former U.S.S.R. Another part has been supporting the thin veil of liberal international order that girds the power politics flowing subtly underneath in an effort to at least grant a semblance of order and harmony in international affairs. These imperatives have come under increasing pressure in recent years, but in 2013 and 2014 more than ever before. I don’t know what the proper policy response should be, but I hope it isn’t more of the lectures, gestures, and silences with which President Obama responded to the Russians in the Snowden and Syria affairs.

Jacob W. Roberts:

America is in no position to intervene nor should it.  To the western world, Putin’s actions appear nefarious, but from the perspective of many Russians he is acting well within the parameters of international law.  Professor Tatiana Akishina of USC argues that, since the prime minister of Ukraine’s semi-autonomous Crimea region has called upon Putin for military support, his intervention is in accordance with international law.  Moreover, America has intervened with greater frequency and intensity over the past century, thus it is highly hypocritical of US authorities to castigate Russia for meddling within its region.  That being said, it is somewhat disturbing to witness Russia fail to respect the sovereign rights of an independent nation.  One can only hope that Putin’s intervention into the region will be short lived.

Alessandro M. Sassoon:

There is a risk of ethnic cleansing. It starts with classification. Weeks before this conflict made the front pages of the New York Times, reports emerged that Russian-Ukrainians in Crimea were being given Russian Passports. Russians have lived in Crimea for some 200 years, and Ukraine has held the territory for half a century. Then there are the Tatars, the people for whom Crimea is an ancestral home dating back to the Mongol Khan Empire. The Tatar population, which accounts for 13% of Crimea’s inhabitants, is predominantly Sunni Muslim. Under Stalin’s Russia, the Tatars were accused of collaborating with Nazi Germany and deported en masse to other parts of Russia (read: Siberia). It should come as no surprise then that they are more keen on being governed by Ukraine than by Russia. As things stand, there are three populations with strong ethno-nationalist tendencies who inhabit a geographic area they all feel they have a historical, political, or legal claim to. Of the eight stages of Genocide, we’ve passed #5: polarization. That means preparation, extermination, and denial are next.

Sabrina Mateen:

Before this conflict, my knowledge of Ukraine consisted solely of “ex-USSR”. I assumed the region consisted of Russian natives, and that they were considered to be allies with their ex-country. However, with the news of an outbreak of civil war, it has become apparent that there are opposing nationalities, languages, and mindsets that are all helping to tear Ukraine into pieces. The conflict seems to be reaching increasingly dangerous heights as Russia begins to put pressure on Ukraine in the form of planned military drills and in one case, an unspecified military presence that looked to be Russians supporting Crimeans. Although the conflict is being called a civil war, it is beginning to seem like one of the many moves Putin has been making to restore Russia to its USSR-era square footage. It is important to see what the United States plans to do, as the Obama Administration is already under scrutiny after the ill-advised response to the crisis in Syria.  Any move from the newly war-shy United States will be seen as an escalation in a conflict that has all the makings of a new Cold War.

Kerry Collins:

Recent developments in the volatile Ukraine situation show the autonomous Crimea region voting to join the Russian Federation. Crimea has a Russian ethnic majority and is predominantly Russian speaking, so it might not come as a surprise that the region is in support of the secession. If it is what the people want, then perhaps the region should have never been a part of Ukraine to begin with. These recent moves that Crimea has made are violations of international law, which puts the United States in a tough response position. The President has been making frantic calls to Putin urging a diplomatic end to this crisis, but to no avail. Meanwhile, Putin doesn’t seem particularly concerned with US warnings. What the EU and the US bring to the table are economic sanctions, and it will be interesting to see if those “sticks” are enough to make Putin falter.

The Amazon on Life Support?

Deforestation in the Amazon as seen by satellite (by NASA, via Wikimedia Commons).

Every minute, an area the size of 50 soccer fields is destroyed in the Amazon Rainforest.  Over the past 40 years, nearly 20% of the forest has been destroyed – an area roughly the size of Alaska. Simply put, in less than half of a century more of the rainforest was destroyed than in the previous 450 years – combined.  High-resolution satellite images tell a story of devastating deforestation in the planet’s largest and most diverse rainforest. Many areas that were once a sea of lush greenery have been transformed into a barren, muddy landscape.

The Amazon represents more than half the remaining rainforest on the planet.  Humans depend on these ecosystems as a source for the planet’s carbon, water, and climate systems. Thus, it isn’t surprising that losing 2.3 million square kilometers of forest in a mere 13 years, as new research indicates, is of great concern to both environmental groups and national governments. While the majority of the Amazon is located in Brazil, the forest expands across nine countries making deforestation an international crisis.

With 20% of the forest already cut down and another 20%, as expected by scientists, to be on the chopping block over the next two decades, it is only a matter of time until the Amazon’s ecology will begin to collapse. Adding global warming to the mix makes the outlook seem worse. Over 100,000 miles of illegal roads, forged by loggers who aim to reach the prime hardwood trees deep in the forest, snake through the labyrinth of vegetation. Consequences of these new roads turn out to be equally as destructive as the actual logging. Land sharks slide in unnoticed and claim the land making land thievery a common crime. As is the case with many lucrative businesses, with high profits comes violence and corruption. Armed guards, hired gunmen, and corrupt government officials all help to facilitate these illegal activities.

It isn’t all bad news for the Amazon, however. Since the devastating revelation in the early 2000s, Brazil and other South American countries have committed to reversing the damage. New data shows that while Brazil still suffers from very high rates of forest clearing, the country has cut the annual rate of forest loss to half of what it once was. In turn, many of the strategies that Brazil has implemented as a deterrent to deforestation will help policymakers in other countries respond to the troubling rates of forest decline.

Nonetheless, the deforestation rates of 2013 were far from encouraging. It is clear that changes have to be made, as deforestation is threatening the local populations’ basic needs. In the most recent Amazonia Security Agenda, it was reported  “compromising Amazonia’s ecosystems, deforestation is now threatening not only the wellbeing and rights of the region’s people, but also the economic sustainability of the very industries that it has enabled.” Scarcity of food, water, and even energy are all threatened by exploitation of the Amazon.

Escalations in forest clearing are primarily being blamed on the weakening of legal protections in the Brazilian Forest Code that were passed under Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. The reform was riddled with controversy, and was heavily supported by members of the farmer’s lobby known as the ruralists. In Brazil, where agriculture accounts for 5% of the country’s GDP, lobbyist influence has indirectly led to increased deforestation by loggers and farmers. At the United Nation’s Summit on Climate Change, the environment minister, Izabella Teixeira, chose to focus on Brazil’s triumphs, noting the overall trend was has been positive. She attributed the elevation in deforestation to organized crime and acknowledged that the government had taken steps to fight back, saying: “What is happening are crimes, we have 3,921 police investigations, some of them involving civil servants. We are cutting into our own flesh.” Teixeira strongly emphasized that eliminating illegal deforestation remained the goal in the eyes of the government and the crimes of loggers would not be tolerated. Going forward, it is up to the Brazilian government and their counterparts, as well as the global community, to secure the future of the world’s most important forest.