Crackdown on Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood

Muslim Brotherhood doctors showing photos of anti-coup protesters killed on July 8th 2013

Muslim Brotherhood doctors hold up a newspaper with photos of their supporters killed in a confrontation with the Egyptian military on July 8. VOA/Sharon Behn (Wikimedia Commons)

Last week, Egyptian courts sentenced 18 members of the Muslim Brotherhood to imprisonment for inciting pro-Morsi riots. Punitive actions, including classifying the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, have become commonplace in Egypt after President Morsi’s deposal. Indeed, thousands of Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood members or sympathizers have been arrested, injured and killed as the government seeks to eliminate Islamist influences from Egyptian political and social life. Such actions have drawn the ire of NGOs operating in Egypt as well as sectors of the international community.

As General Al-Sisi seeks to become Egypt’s next president, it seems likely that the Muslim Brotherhood will face further crackdowns. While the Muslim Brotherhood certainly is an organization that should draw suspicion – especially after its poor performance while leading Egypt briefly under President Morsi – the military-backed government’s harsh treatment is likely to incite greater internal conflict.

Egyptian Minister of Defense Abdel Fatah Al Sisi

General Al-Sisi saluting. April 24, 2013. User:RogDel (Wikimedia Commons)

Throughout the past year, the Muslim Brotherhood has been the victim of severe crackdowns by Egyptian security forces. In one notable case, 529 Brotherhood supporters were sentenced to death on charges of assaulting and murdering police. While this particular court ruling may be overturned according to human rights lawyers, judicial proceedings regarding Brotherhood members have been generally suspect. Numerous NGOs have protested the use of military tribunals to charge Egyptian civilians, including Muslim Brotherhood members, with attacking military units. If these NGO reports are accurate, the Egyptian government is risking the integrity of the judicial system in favor of stability and short-term political gain. This imprudent strategy will likely encourage the Brotherhood to take extreme actions and have long-term negative effects for Egypt’s civil society.

Before discussing the potential effects of this crackdown, it is necessary to touch upon the history of the Muslim Brotherhood. First, in the past, the Muslim Brotherhood has used violence to advance political objectives. By the late 1940s, a division of the Muslim Brotherhood named the “Special Apparatus” committed violent acts against British occupiers to force a withdrawal. After the British exited Egypt, the Brotherhood faced persecution under Egyptian Presidents Nasser and Sadat. Since then, the Muslim Brotherhood has recognized the benefits of maintaining a low political profile and focusing on developing a social services apparatus to gain grassroots support. As the Brotherhood’s desire to gain political influence increased, the Brotherhood began to denounce violence and promote politically expedient ideas, such as equality for all Egyptians. Before assuming control, the Muslim Brotherhood actively de-emphasized its Islamist ideology in favor of democratic norms to gain parliamentary seats. Even when parliamentary participation was restricted, the Brotherhood refrained from violence and continued to build support among the Egyptian people through its vast social services network including hospitals and schools.

Now that the Egyptian military has initiated a total crackdown on the group, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s well-developed and non-political social service infrastructure, the Brotherhood is left with no political voice. I, and many area experts, believe that political silencing combined with a violent crackdown by government officials will drive elements of the Muslim Brotherhood to terrorism. If so, Egypt is vulnerable to greater instability, since the Muslim Brotherhood maintains a sizeable membership and influence. Although the Muslim Brotherhood may represent a threat to social order during the current political transition, utilizing violent suppression is unjust and shortsighted.

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

A Return to Hamilton and Roosevelt

Great Seal of the United States (obverse)

No image better captures the essence of conservative realism than that which graces all formal U.S. documents: the Great Seal of the United States. A united, vigorous nation, represented by the strength and grace of the bald eagle, ascends into the heavens to take its place among the nations of the Earth. Its commitment to the prudent management of power is depicted in its clutching the olive branch of diplomacy in its right claw, and in its left, the arrows of war. U.S. Government (Wikimedia Commons)

The Republican Party of 2014 is in a predicament. On the one hand, it is opposed by a lame-duck Democratic administration, many of whose policies might justifiably be described as “failed.” It is energized by massive grassroots populist waves unseen since the 1980s. And, it continues to attract some of the keenest political operators in the United States.

On the other hand, the party is below Democrats in national approval rating. In terms of legislation, it has largely behaved as the “Party of No” its critics deride it as. Perhaps most shockingly, largely due to its present deep internal divisions, the Republican Party has articulated several contradictory and rather arbitrary economic strategies, and no creative new foreign policy strategies.

This shortage of intellectual capital does not bode well for a party with such advantageous opportunities as the transition out of the “Old Blue Model Fordist” economy, the rapidly rising presence of socially conservative Hispanics in the Southwest, and the gradual commercialization of space. In each of these areas (and many others), the Republican Party could adapt its principles and policies to take advantage of present trends to better America’s future prospects; yet, in the party’s present state, it seems ever less likely that necessary reformers and insurgents will have a voice.

Currently, the GOP is internally divided, with each of its factions competing for the mantle of the legacy of Ronald Reagan. In truth, none of the various factions or leaders resembles the Gipper’s legacy either in policy or charisma. But even if any of them followed Reagan’s policy and philosophy, they could not save the Republican Party – different times call for different measures and different ways of thinking. Principles may remain the same, but policies never should.

Generally, there are two main camps struggling for control of the GOP, with innumerable interest groups and factions influencing their trajectories. In a nutshell, there are the main-line “establishment” Republicans, including John Boehner, John McCain, Chris Christie, and others occupying higher positions in Washington and elsewhere, while competing against them are the insurgent Tea Party-affiliated Republicans, including Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, and Marco Rubio, as well as many other relative newcomers to the political scene. The establishment Republicans tend to stick to the classic party line of deregulation, heavy-handed foreign policy, and moderate social conservatism; the Tea Party and the candidates it endorses tend to focus on fiscal responsibility and a cutback in the size of government. Thus, establishment Republicans are far more conciliatory towards Democrats than their Tea Party counterparts, who often brand themselves as the “true” conservatives battling a decadent national GOP establishment. Meanwhile, various subgroups, including religious social conservatives, foreign policy isolationists, and large corporate interests play prominent roles in the policymaking and discourse of the GOP, though none hold power themselves.

Theodore Roosevelt-Pach

Theodore Roosevelt. Pach Brothers (Wikimedia Commons)

The current squabbles over the true definition of “conservatism” exclude a tradition which has, for a century, been far underrepresented in American conservative discourse: the conservative realist tradition, best exemplified by Alexander Hamilton and Theodore Roosevelt. This pragmatic brand of political thought has proven to be as timeless as America’s ideals themselves, as it has undergirded America’s unity as a nation and its rise to power on the world stage in most of the country’s most transformative epochs. Though its followers have never held power for more than a decade or so, its opponents have always grudgingly (or unknowingly) adopted its most basic precepts and tenets in order to maintain America’s status as a united world power. It is therefore written into America’s political DNA as firmly as the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, though in most times it remains unspoken.

The core principles of conservative realism are the same core principles any would-be powerful nation-state must follow: a commitment to internal order and unity, effective external security, and sustainable national prosperity. These are the core elements of power – the meat of politics. The ligaments holding them together, especially a healthy civil society and social trust, are highly valued and praised by conservative realists, but are not the core of conservative realist philosophy. Meanwhile, conservative realists tend to have a particular view of how the three core objectives are to be attained and preserved: a strong and unitary government (as opposed to a confederation or an extreme decentralization) in order to maintain unity and order; a prudent, pragmatic realism based on the balance of power in foreign policy to secure an advantageous security situation; and effective government regulation, and investment in infrastructure and technology, to most efficiently and lucratively manage national resources. Though most political thinkers would not oppose the three primary objectives of conservative realism, many would oppose the means by which conservative realists seek to attain them.

Alexander Hamilton portrait by John Trumbull 1806

Portrait of Alexander Hamilton by John Trumbell, 1806. Washington University Law School (Wikimedia Commons)

Those following and practicing this mode of thought were effective in times of fracture and weakness, when the United States needed internal consolidation and external heft. The presidency of George Washington, and to a lesser extent that of John Adams, saw intense federal investment in infrastructure, along with unitary policies and a very pragmatic foreign policy. Thomas Jefferson and his successors, though they largely condemned such policies while out of office, invariably wound up practicing conservative realism when in office. The Jacksonian Revolution, and its subsequent weakening of the federal government and increasing regionalism in American politics, set the stage for the Civil War, regardless of Henry Clay’s neo-Hamiltonian policy proposals. Abraham Lincoln, another great nationalist, sought to save the Union by the same methods as those offered up by Alexander Hamilton decades before. America’s rise to prominence as a world power in the late 19th Century was largely due to the influence of statesmen and thinkers like Alfred Thayer Mahan, Henry Cabot Lodge, and Theodore Roosevelt, whose emphasis on pragmatic foreign policy and active economic involvement on the part of the federal government effectively created the America we know today. After the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, the movement died down quite a bit; however, come the Second World War, conservative realists in the State and War Departments crystallized their precepts for national security strategy, while corresponding trends in government, such as the establishment of New Deal programs, rendered basic manifestations of the imperatives for united governance and economic involvement essentially unquestionable. To a certain degree, the United States has been run on conservative realist principles for the better part of its history, if only explicitly at certain points.

Cowboy 20060805173639

Cowboy in Montana, 1910. Grant-Kohrs Ranch Historic Collection, bought by the National Park Service in 1972 (Wikimedia Commons)

In most situations in which conservative realists rose to power, the might of America increased, her cohesiveness was strengthened, and she reached new levels of prosperity. Moreover, she became increasingly capable of shaping and leading the liberal international order that has graced and cursed the world with ever-expanding trade, communication, and cultural exchange. In 2014, as America’s power stagnates while powers around the world rise and anarchy beckons, nothing could be more desirable than an America united at home, pragmatic abroad, and generating sustainable wealth.

There has been ceaseless talk about governmental and party reform in American politics. Most proposals have been doomed from the start, as they either long for the improbable (the redemptive electoral success of a moderate Third Party) to the downright impossible (the elimination of money from politics). Some pragmatic solutions have been offered, but none promise more than baby steps to remedy small aspects of America’s political dysfunction.

It is time for a practical and proven solution to be considered. The only executable events that have ever shifted the course of American politics have been party realignments. (Of course wars, elections, and economic crises have done their share, but for the most part, those happen on their own, impervious to human agency.) Why not create an insurgent force within a conservative party and strive to influence policy and politics from there, as the Tea Party movement has done? The difference between the Tea Party movement and the conservative realist voice, however, is that the Tea Party enjoys widespread grassroots support, while conservative realists think in line with many in the intelligence, diplomatic, and military establishments. Such populist support as the Tea Party enjoys would be crucial for the crafting of a national strategy based on alternative principles of politics; support from the foreign policy establishment, the most avowedly conservative realist faction in government today, is an essential starting point.

And ultimately, though Democrats would assuredly be involved, the GOP is at present the party most amenable to the proposals conservative realism would demand. Change ought to start from within.

Unfortunately, no major voices in the Republican Party today voice the aforementioned philosophy. Perhaps with time, as stress builds up on the system and around the world, new voices will emerge, and the true conservative realism will again shape our nation’s destiny.

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.

No SpaghettiO’s for you, Kim Jong Un

Why the most recent temper tantrum of the explosive young dictator of North Korea is not a big deal, and why he still won’t be getting what he wants

Kim Jong Un

By Tedumas (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

You can keep screaming and kicking. Hell, cry your heart out and shout at the top of your lungs until an avalanche erupts on Mount Everest. You still won’t get what you want.

For the past month now, Kim Jong Un has been floundering in his own seething anger as he continues to drag out his usual outlandish temper tantrum akin to one thrown by a child over a can of SpaghettiO’s in the canned foods section of the supermarket. Desperate for attention, the dictatorial tyrant has spewed yet another nuclear threat at the annual Foal Eagle military exercises between the United States and South Korea that he disapproves of so immensely. Consequently, two DPRK mid-range ballistic missiles originating from Pyongyang soared overseas for about a few hundred kilometers before plummeting into the ocean. This outburst takes place as the leaders of the U.S. and South Korea met with the president of Japan at the Hague,

Well, Mr. Kim, you’ve certainly grabbed the attention you were seeking. With unusual haste, the United Nations Security Council met behind closed doors on Thursday emerging with a unanimous condemnation of the missile launches. The Security Council’s North Korea sanctions committee is also investigating the possibility of expanding the U.N. blacklist to encompass more North Korean nuclear entities in addition to those already listed, although it will most likely take several weeks for an agreement on the action to be reached.

While South Korea, the United States, and the UN are interpreting his most recent antics as an international threat, this seems little more than another one of Kim’s outlandish outbursts of inconsequential aggression that will quickly blow over as Foal Eagle operations approach their close in April. One may recall last year’s Foal Eagle operations when Kim publicized threats of hurling nuclear missiles at the United States in retaliation to its warm relations with the South. To this threat, Washington responded by hurriedly deploying a series of missile interceptors to Guam, complementing those already stationed at Fort Greely, Alaska. But this action was intended only to warn North Korea that the United States is certainly capable of matching its bombastic rhetoric. Needless to say, no defensive action was necessary as Foal Eagle activities came and went without any intervention from the ballistic dictator. This year’s scenario is a carbon copy; we can safely assume that Kim’s most recent threats are as hollow as ever.

Unless Kim’s threatening actions transcend mere intimidation, we know well enough that there is no real threat at hand here. Each year, North Korea becomes enraged by these annual military drills ensuing in the South, and each year reacts with threats of nuclear action that dwindle to oblivion with the culmination of the exercises. Although it is estimated that the missiles launched Wednesday are capable of being launched to Japan, Pyongyang will stop short of sending the missiles over the Japanese islands. Moreover, everyone knows that even Psy’s “Gangnam Style” has more hits than North Korea’s faulty missiles ever will. So no need to take cover from the illusory war threat – Kim will surely simmer down as the coming weeks pass.

Is it worth considering that perhaps the troublesome leader has some new antics up his sleeve? Every year, there is the possibility that if Kim does not elicit the immediate reaction he wants from his enemies, he may attempt to launch a small-scale ground attack against the South. Knowing very well from previous tantrums that the playpen fence barring him from South Korea is far too strong to tackle, Kim may try throwing the ball over this time. What that ball would be – a missile, propaganda balloon, etc. – is anybody’s’ guess.

Even still, it is highly unlikely that Kim will match his rhetoric with reality. The plan is an ugly backfire waiting to happen. Chances that North Korea’s actions would be met with a response of equal nuclear force from the international community are slim to none. So the way that I look at it, as Kim’s outlandish pouting and grumpy attitude drags on, there are really only two options that the U.S., South Korea, and Japan, and the U.N. can take; these states can either look past his tantrums and troubling rhetoric or, in the case that North Korea does end up pursuing a ballistic strike, take military action forcing Kim into a timeout.

Nevertheless, North Korea’s nuclear capacity remains limited. The world will most likely yet again witness the disappearance of North Korea’s meandering threats with the culmination of Foal Eagle in early April. The annual military exercises will continue, despite Kim’s belligerent disapproval. The most to take away from this entire situation is that the only “explosive” thing at play here is Kim’s infantile temperament. We’ve seen this childish temper tantrum erupt and wane one too many times already. So stop banging your fists and causing a scene, Kim – you’re still not getting your SpaghettiO’s.

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

The Unknown Power of Shadow Monarchs

Belgian King Philippe and Queen Mathilde

Belgian King Philippe and Queen Mathilde wave to crowds in Brussels after Philippe’s swearing in as the new Belgian monarch. July 21, 2013. Michael Thaidigsmann (via Wikimedia Commons)

Do you know that Norway’s King can legally dismiss the Norwegian government with a simple stroke of his pen? In a world where international norms of democracy seem to reign supreme, it is easy to forget that 44 nations ultimately answer to sovereign monarchs as the supreme heads of state. While the degree of power associated with sovereign monarchs varies according to each type of monarchical system (absolute monarchy vs. constitutional monarchy), these royal sovereigns generally possess tremendous power relative to their countries’ elected officials. Sovereigns in constitutional monarchies generally do not exercise their powers, and their role in democratic countries has become largely ceremonial through legislation or convention. However, these monarchs still possess tremendous reserve powers and can legally invoke royal prerogatives at any time. I call these monarchs, “shadow monarchs,” as their roles and powers appear subservient to their countries’ elected leaders. In fact, this is often not the case as their powers are far-reaching. These often-underestimated sovereigns deserve our attention today – in 2014 – in a world where kingdoms and autocracy are often viewed as relics of the past.

There are generally two types of monarchies that exist today. The first type is as an absolute monarchy, in which the sovereign possesses supreme autocratic powers over his state and people. The second type is a constitutional monarchy, in which a system of government is established by a constitution or convention that mandates some form of an elected government overseen by a monarch. In almost all monarchies, succession is hereditary. Only a few monarchies, such as Cambodia and Kuwait, allow citizens to select a new sovereign from within the royal family. The majority of monarchies have an ironclad succession process. This continuous rotation of power and wealth among a select few royal families ensures the survival of an elite class that is inaccessible to the general population.

Absolute monarchies still exist today, but they are very few in number. These countries include Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Brunei, Swaziland, and Vatican City. In these nations, the sovereign has absolute control over his state’s resources and population. Powers include setting the country’s general direction, such as Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal, who directed Saudi Arabia’s budget to match his personal priorities of technological and economic progress to modernize society in the 1970s. On the other hand, monarchs may utilize their state’s resources to satisfy their personal needs and desires, such as the acquisition of luxury items such as Oman’s “Super Yacht.” In these societies, there is virtually no opportunity for representative government and all power is concentrated in the hands of one person. No wonder absolute monarchies frequently draw heavy criticism from the international community

Even if an absolute monarch’s dramatic level of power seems foreign and excessive to the democratically oriented observer, this level of authoritarianism is to be expected from such a system of government. More surprising and interesting are the powers reserved for royals of constitutional monarchies with democratic systems of government, or shadow monarchies. There is a diverse set of countries that fall into this category, including Norway, Belgium, Sweden, Thailand, Jordan, and Denmark. Perhaps the most significant and popular shadow monarch of the contemporary period has been the Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom (UK), who officially exercises authority over 15 Commonwealth realms in addition to the UK. Official descriptions regarding the duties of the monarch in England suggest a more “ceremonial” role as a symbol of “stability, continuity, and national focus” rather than an executive role. However, England does not have a written constitution, and many of the duties that have been undertaken by Parliament were delegated by the monarchy out of “convention.” In other words, the Queen has transferred some of her official duties as Head of State to the Parliament, although she can invoke her right to royal prerogative at anytime. The legislature in the UK can pass laws, but those possible affecting “the Crown’s interests” must receive the consent of the Monarch. The Crown has invoked the power of the royal consent and veto for at least 39 pieces of legislation in the contemporary period. The Queen also possesses other powers such as dismissing/appointing the Prime Minister and other ministers, declaring war as head of the Royal British Armed Forces (British soldiers swear allegiance to the Monarch), and making treaties. The royal prerogative in the case of the Queen of the UK and other Commonwealth realms is very robust, and her powers are clearly more than strictly ceremonial.

Not all shadow monarchies possess the same degree of power, however. Belgium and Sweden stand on opposite ends of the spectrum of constitutional monarchies. The Monarchy of Belgium is relatively powerful and similar to the Monarchy of the United Kingdom. The King is endowed with numerous powers according to the Belgian Constitution, such as signing and promulgating laws passed by the Federal Parliament, acting as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, and appointing/dismissing ministers of government. In addition, Article 88 of the Belgian Constitution states, “the King’s person is inviolable, his ministers are responsible.” This law basically means that the monarch possesses immunity from any type of prosecution. Clearly, the Monarch of Belgium is rather powerful and can dominate his elected counterparts if he so chooses. However, the Monarch of Sweden is much weaker in comparison. Sweden’s monarch was essentially stripped of his executive authority in 1975 by legislation, thus reducing the sovereign to a purely ceremonial role. Therefore, the King of Sweden is no longer considered a chief executive of the government and does not have nearly the same degree of reserved rights or privileges as the King of Belgium.

Besides conventional governmental authority and power, many monarchs also hold a position of religious or moral authority. The King of Thailand, for example, is designated as the “Upholder of the Buddhist religion and Upholder of all religions.” The British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, is awarded the title, “Supreme Governor of the Church of England” and is frequently referred to as the “Defender of the Faith.” These roles, while sometimes not well defined, endow various monarchs from across the globe with a sense of moral authority and superiority. By being placed at the head of religious life in addition to political life, these monarchs are afforded even greater power, influence, and legitimacy.

Shadow monarchies that permeate the globe are vestiges of a different era. As the United States seeks to foster a democratic world order, it is rather perplexing that some of these monarchs still possess such tremendous power today. Elected governments of constitutional monarchies seem to be chipping away at the authority of their respective sovereign monarchs through legislation or convention, but much power still rests in the hands of this elite class. Debating the moral implications and efficacy of these monarchical systems is a different matter, but it cannot be denied that the power of these monarchs is certainly underestimated and, perhaps more importantly, unknown.

Why This May Not be China’s Century

Shanghai Skyline

The Shanghai Skyline, by dawvon (Pudong) via Wikimedia Commons.

Over the past few centuries, China has suffered its fair share of embarrassments.  From the Opium Wars to the Great Leap Forward, its hailed position as the middle kingdom has been eroded time and again.  Deeply engrained into the psyche of China’s populous is the belief that China must reclaim its position as a world power.  This stark contrast between China’s idealized status today, and the ruinous state of China a mere half-century ago, resulted in a cognitive dissonance among its populous that has no doubt been a strong catalyst for recent economic reforms.

Gradually implemented reforms such as dual-track pricing, liberalization of socialist policies, and expansion of investment between China and foreign powers has brought about three decades of maintaining nearly 10% growth rates, an extraordinary feat for a nation that was on the verge of collapse fifty years ago.

Its recent ascension as the world’s second largest economy, coupled with potential increases in domestic spending and widespread domestic and foreign investments, have led many to call this century “China’s century.” Yet this optimistic forecast quickly sours when one considers the slew of imminent crises confronting China over the coming decades.

Implemented to curb China’s booming population growth rate, the one-child policy is sowing the seeds of China’s demographic and economic crises.  With the vast majority of families proscribed from having more than one child, China enjoyed an enormous demographic dividend – defined as the economic benefit a country experiences when it has a low ratio of dependent to independent workers – over the past three decades.

This dividend is already starting to expire.  By 2050, 25% of China’s populous will be above the age of 65.  Attempts to solve the demographic crunch by relaxing the one-child policy will prove futile, as any increase in China’s birth rate will only reap modest effects some two decades from now.  Furthermore, as a consequence of this policy, China’s gender distribution has already taken a heavy toll.  A well-established trend in China is the preference of male rather than female children, which has resulted in scores of sex-selective abortions. With an estimated 30-40 million more boys than girls in China, millions of young bachelors will now be unable to find wives.  Add sexual frustration to their already bleak economic prospects, and millions of disgruntled male migrant workers will be even more inclined to take to the streets in the name of political protest.

In addition to economic stagnation and political upheaval is a housing bubble throughout the PRC.  Fueled by greed and overly optimistic homeowners, price to rent ratios across China have skyrocketed past stable levels.  Flawed social expectations have only exacerbated this impending bubble.  Across China owning a home is a prerequisite for finding a wife.  With millions of only children, bachelors are in a position to seek financial assistance from both parents and grandparents, and pay grossly inflated prices for real estate acquisition.  It is unclear how the Politburo plans to address the housing market’s impending crisis.  What is clear is that whether the housing market encounters gradual deflation or a bubble burst, China’s economic prospects will suffer as a result.

Government action to address widespread pollution will bring about similar economic decline.  Two winters ago, China’s AQI (air quality index) broke records when it surpassed 800. Prior to this incident, measures of AQI had never exceeded 500.  Across China, pollution’s wrath has affected the health and economic livelihood of its population.  In Beijing it is now common for parents to select their children’s schools based upon the quality of their air filtration systems.  One particularly noxious chemical, PM 2.5, is found in hazardous doses across Mainland China.  Until China adequately addresses this affront to its citizens’ health and well-being, it will continue to pay increasing social and economic costs.

In spite of China’s woes, there remains a chance at redemption.  This may not be China’s century in terms of economic and geopolitical supremacy, but it may be their century to pave the way for environmental protection, sustainable development, and economic and political reform.  In the words of Churchill, “Failure is never fatal, success is never permanent.  The only thing that really matters is never giving up.”  This of course assumes that China’s population of 150 million migrant workers doesn’t take to the streets, overthrow the Communist Party, and support a military coup.  That could just be the straw that breaks the camels back.

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.

Checklist: Has President Rouhani Lived Up to his Promises?

Hassan Rouhani

Elected in June, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani formally assumed office in August. He has since made remarkable advances, including a push to ease nuclear tensions with the West in order to rid the economy of encumbering sanctions. (photo via Wikimedia Commons)

In early June, newly-elected Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, a moderate in comparison to his hard-line predecessor Mouhmad Ahmadinejad,emerged as a symbol of hope for a citizenry burdened by a catastrophic financial crisis brought on by Western sanctions. Prior to beginning his term, Rouhani vowed to direct governmental efforts towards mending Iran’s shattered relations with the West, reviving the Iranian economy, and articulating a desire to restore basic human rights within the country.

While the new leader was warmly met by the eager masses ready to move past the repressive Ahmadinejad era, there was no telling whether his words would bear fruit. Rouhani’s potential to affect such change was eclipsed by a shadow of doubt stemming from the supposition that he would serve as merely yet another slave to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and his Islamic regime. So has Iran’s “angel” Rouhani upheld his rhetoric presented during his campaign since entering office? Now, more than 6 months into his presidency, the gulf between his words and actions can be qualitatively tracked.

Appeasing the Hardliners

How has Rouhani performed thus far in winning the favor of governmental hardliners while working towards his progressive reform plans? At the start of his presidency, Rouhani took initiative to begin thawing strained US-Iran relations with a visit to the United Nations. You may recall his fifteen-minute phone call with President Obama during the trip, a call that garnered both support and criticism. Regardless of the critics, this phone call was a huge first step in the right direction towards reconciling US-Iran relations considering that the two states have not shared this level of contact since the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Furthermore, Khamenei approved of Rouhani’s October trip to the United States. Although unable to appease hard-liners on the issue as they derided his approach, as long as the President is able to maintain the Supreme Leader’s support, he will be able to ward off hard-liner criticisms in his advances towards a relaxed relationship with the West.

Catering to Reformists

During his reign thus far, Rouhani has been performing a careful balancing act; he has struck a careful balance between the hardline and reformist camps while avoiding alienating Khamenei and other key government players. The new President has successfully garnered and maintained support from notable predecessors, including popular former reformist President Mohammad Khatami and former President Akbar Rafsanjani, one of the pillars of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, who remarked that “Rouhani’s success in New York is the mark of the divine victory.” Although not to the degree which former president Khatami was able to mobilize the “Iranian street,” Rouhani seems to have been met with considerable success in galvanizing the reformist camp, namely the youth who have warmly accepted his overtures to reduce Internet censorship.

Ending Sanctions

Perhaps his most significant achievement thus far has been unveiled at the negotiation table with Western powers. Back in November, Rouhani was able to successfully reach a temporary deal with the United States while entering into a year-long negotiation period to construct a permanent deal to ease sanctions. The $7-billion USD received by Iran in sanctions relief created room for a rise in the Iranian Rial and a minor stabilization of the national economy. Both the initial agreement and the overtures by both parties have been called nothing short of “historic” in the media.

Economic Viability

As mentioned, some of the easing of sanctions has seen a rise in the purchasing power of the Rial thereby providing Iranian citizens with some relief. Analyst groups claim that “last year, with economic pressure at its peak, Iran suffered from severe hyperinflation, and the Rial became the least valued currency in the world. This is no longer the case, as the Rial has gained significant value in 2013’. However, further economic steps must be made; the nuclear deal with the West has yet to come into full form, and whether Obama will be able to convince Congress to further repeal sanctions will prove to be a major determinant of whether Rouhani’s reform efforts retain momentum.

Relations With Israel

Thanks to his reputation as the new face of Iran, Rouhani has garnered a considerable amount of positive press and, for the most part, positive attention from the West – which has acted as a negative force against Israel. Within a month of Rouhani’s holding office, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dubbed him a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” immediately dismissing him as nothing more than another mere slave to the Islamic regime. However, it seems that Israel emerged as the real loser in this love triangle between the United States, Iran and itself, failing to turn the West against its enemy as it had hoped. Within weeks after the Prime Minister’s fiery comment, Iran successfully brokered the temporary deal with the United States. Since then, public Israeli threats and comments against the country have subsided as the country now seems more preoccupied with the Palestinian question than the Iranian-nuclear issue at the moment.­­­

Human Rights

The human rights issue is arguably the weakest front of Rouhani’s presidency thus far. The leader’s promises on this subject seem to be little more than empty rhetoric, as notable action has yet to be taken to restore basic human rights and create equality among members of the citizenry. Premature optimism for Rouhani to improve civil rights issues has all but withered as the only observable change has been a steep rise in executions since he took office.

Another warning sign in his term stems from the detainment of prisoners within the country. The government’s minor gesture of releasing a few political prisoners in December did little to placate the mounting concerns of relatives and families of those still imprisoned, including activists of the “Iranian Street.” Additionally, despite early promises to address the house arrests of Green Revolution leaders Kharibi and Mousavi’s house arrests, not even a mention of the issue has been made. The president has remained silent even amidst mounting claims from close family and friends that their health is deteriorating significantly as a result of being confined within their households for several years now.

Whether Rouhani’s strategy to maintain popular support follows that of his predecessor Khatami’s path remains to be seen. In the middle of Khatami’s second term, his base fell apart due to youth and women disenfranchisement. Rouhani’s track record on human rights and freedoms may very well be what determines his support from his base.

Implications for U.S.-Iran Relations

Despite his shortcomings on the human rights dilemma, Rouhani’s successes have provided the Iranian regime with some degree of legitimacy it had been lacking for years, both in the eyes of the international community and the Iranian electorate. The real question for the Obama administration, however, is whether the Rouhani government’s newfound political capital and prestige is enough to placate conservative Hawks in Congress on both sides of the aisle who have been itching to introduce further sanctions. Any new congressional sanctions against Iran would not only spell the end of the current deal but would most likely set back nuclear negotiations by a number of years. Yet Rouhani, a veteran statesman and diplomat, is keenly aware that the halls of Congress are just as significant an arena for statecraft and diplomacy as the negotiating table. Rouhani’s foreign minister Javad Zarif has recently made a concerted effort to promote lobbying of their position to Congress via the small-but-growing Iranian-American lobby already present in the country.We will know soon enough how far Rouhani is willing to go to make good on his campaign promises in seeking to uplift the Iranian state.

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

How the Internet Works and Why the Answer is Alarming

A map of the global oceanic telecommunications network. Potential vulnerabilities of the Internet’s physical infrastructure are extensive and largely unknown. (Wikimedia Commons/Rarelibra)

Where does the Internet come from?

Think about this question for a moment. While the answer may seem obvious, the John Q. Public will likely stumble through an explanation of satellite technology and “Wi-Fi clouds” as though the Internet were some fantastical intangibility. In a way it is; the Internet is a remarkable human invention – used by 81% of Americans on a daily basis – yet our understanding is remarkably limited. This je ne sais pas quoi that makes the world go round is in fact a physical architecture; 500,000 miles of undersea fiber-optic cables connect the US and Singapore, Egypt and Brazil, Japan and India. These cables, which carry 90% of Internet data around the world, are vulnerable.

How do these cables work? On a micro scale, the email you send from a coffee shop in San Francisco to your colleague in Beijing travels overland to an Internet exchange facility operated by a telecommunications company, then through their facility, across the Pacific Ocean in two-inch fiber-optic cable laid along the ocean floor, out through another exchange facility in Shanghai, and overland to your colleague’s computer. And by the way, minute strands of glass carrying data via light at different wavelengths transmit that very email. For the technologically naïve, the process of sending an email certainly is magical, but it is also tangible.

What are probable threats to the cable system?

(1) Natural disasters. One would think that telecommunication cables are secure; however, the vast majority of cables lie on the ocean floor, exposed to everything from shark bites to cyclones. In 2006, an underwater landslide between Taiwan and the Philippines inflicted damage on 19 of 20 nearby cables. 90% of the region’s Internet capacity was cut for a period ranging from one to thirty days.

(2) Accidents. The most common cause of cable damage is an accident. For instance, fishing vessels often rip lines when removing cages and nets. Larger vessels slice cables with their anchors, accounting for 70% of all incidents. However, even the most innocent damaging of a cable can have major ramifications. For instance, a 75-year-old woman in Georgia (the country) severed an underground Internet cable while digging for copper in her backyard. The result? The entire state of Armenia was without Internet for five hours.

(3) Attack on the underwater cables. The image of an Al-Qaeda operative in scuba gear cutting wires off the shores of New York City is as fantastical as it is frightening. The cables transmit such high voltage that an attempt to snip the cable with wire cutters would be suicidal. However, the threat of a terrorist attack on cables is still very real. Terrorists could drag a ship’s anchor, deploy a bomb, or use some other means to impair the cables. The location of every cable is publicly available information (because ships and fishermen need to know where not to drop anchor), and thus targeting the cables becomes a matter of creativity and execution.

(4) Attack on the exchange facility. Cables typically emerge from the ocean at private telecommunication exchange facilities, which, despite being heavily guarded, are vulnerable to attacks. For instance, Verizon Terremark’s headquarters in Miami contain 90% of the telecommunication cables between North and Latin America, servers for Facebook and the US Department of Defense, and vital infrastructure for global financial transactions. Were Terremark’s facilities to be compromised, everything from your bank account to US national security would be threatened. In short, global operations on a micro and macro scale would be compromised.

Left: The New York Stock Exchange. (Kevin Hutchinson/Wikimedia Commons) Right: A Google server facility (Sivaserver/Creative Commons). An attack on the Internet’s physical infrastructure affecting either system would have disastrous global consequences.

Left: The New York Stock Exchange. (Kevin Hutchinson/Wikimedia Commons) Right: A Google server facility (Sivaserver/Creative Commons). An attack on the Internet’s physical infrastructure affecting either system would have disastrous global consequences.

How can American Internet security be bolstered?

Shortly after his first inauguration, President Obama highlighted the potential risks of a web-operated world: “America’s economic prosperity in the 21st century will depend on cybersecurity. And this is also a matter of public safety and national security. We count on computer networks to deliver our oil and gas, our power and our water. We rely on them for public transportation and air traffic control. Yet we know that cyber intruders have probed our electrical grid and that in other countries cyber attacks have plunged entire cities into darkness.”

An attack on oceanic cables could cripple infrastructure and threaten national security plunging the nation into darkness. So how can the US limit attacks? For one, the US must increase cyber security funding in both the physical and network dimensions of the Internet system. The US government is aware of threats of cyber attacks, such as malware infiltrating nuclear facilities or worms penetrating electrical infrastructure. However, physical attacks, though less likely, could be far more damaging. Thus, the protection of cables must be a priority, and at least the partial responsibility, of the US security community rather than private telecommunication companies. Second, redundancy of the cable system will limit the potency of any terrorist attack. Currently, when one cable is severed, telecommunications are routed around the crippled zone. Though Internet service may be delayed, the global system remains fully operational. At certain “choke points” throughout the world, such as near the Suez Canal where only three cables connect the Mediterranean to East Africa and South Asia, a series of cable breaks would be catastrophic. Thus, greater cable redundancy across a variety of geographic zones is imperative in an effort to eliminate the “choke point” threat.

In sum, the US government must pay greater attention to physical Internet security. As it stands now, an enemy with a boat may be the greatest single threat facing domestic – and global – operations.

Stepping out of Russia’s Shadow? Ukraine’s Next Moves.

A protester at Euromaidan. (Ivan Bandura via flickr)

This past week, Ukraine experienced the worst period of violence in its post-Soviet history and a stunning political development as President Yanukovych was forced out of power by the Ukrainian parliament. The cost of this political victory for the opposition has been great; aggressive clashes between government security forces and protesters resulted in at least 77 deaths and 577 injuries. Although a potential breakthrough peace deal emerged Friday calling for early elections this December, a lessening of the powers of President Yanukovych, and the establishment of a “national unity government,” the Ukrainian parliament voted Saturday to remove President Yanukovych from office and to hold elections on May 25th in a stunning rebuke of his regime. This political whirlwind places Ukraine in a vulnerable position. Although the opposition movement achieved a great victory in eliminating Yanukovych from power, its efforts may prove futile if a fair political transition is not undertaken in the coming months, especially if Russia continues to bully Ukraine into submission. If Ukraine is to move towards a freer and more just society, then the West must work with Ukraine to ensure fair and free elections while offering strong guidance and support during the upcoming political transition.

The unprecedented violence in Ukraine was appalling and indicative of a deteriorating security situation on the ground, suggesting significant gains in the opposition movement and feelings of insecurity on part of the Yanukovych regime. To combat demonstrators, Ukrainian security forces were issued combat-grade weapons and fired upon protesters . Opposition members attacked security forces with Molotov cocktails and possibly firearms . Although both sides have committed acts of violence, there should be no doubt that the preponderance of force came from government-sponsored security forces; reports indicate that government-sponsored snipers killed at least 20 protesters this past week. This suppression is unacceptable and revealed the true authoritarian nature of the Yanukovych government. Although the main perpetrator of the violence has been effectively removed from power, the West must continue to isolate those responsible and should take an active role in shaping the next phase of the political transition.

Even though the U.S. and EU are becoming more active in Ukraine’s political crisis, the most influential external actor in Ukraine is undoubtedly Russia. President Putin and his allies are taking bold steps to keep their Ukrainian puppets in power thereby preserving the status quo. Indeed, Russia’s provocative moves instigated the political unrest when it bullied Ukraine into rejecting a trade deal with the EU in favor of $15 billion dollars in aid and a tantalizing 33 percent discount on Russian natural gas. Naturally, Russia has many reasons to prevent Ukraine from developing relations with the EU. In his quest to restore the idea of a “Great Russia” and a sphere of influence similar to the former Soviet Bloc, Putin knows that Ukraine is the most important country in pursuit of this goal.

Historically, Ukraine has been known as “Small Russia.” The concept of a “Modern Russia” is said to have started in Ukraine, and Ukraine is seen as the birthplace of the region’s Orthodox Christianity. Linguistically, the two countries are also very similar as many Ukrainians speak both Ukrainian and Russian. The economic ties between Ukraine and Russia are also vital in gauging Russia’s interest. If Ukraine does not join Russia’s Eurasian customs union (which recently recruited Armenia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan), then the whole concept could disintegrate. Russian companies have a large investment presence in Ukraine accounting for about 7 percent of Ukraine’s total foreign investment in 2013. In addition, many Ukrainians have migrated to Russia providing a substantial labor force for Russian companies. Ukraine also has geostrategic importance for Russia hosting Russia’s Black Sea Fleet naval headquarters. If the naval base’s lease were threatened by a more independent Ukraine, Russia would suffer a significant loss in a critical region. Clearly, Russia has a substantial interest in keeping a pro-Kremlin government in Kiev. Although Russia has indicated perhaps a softer stance by sending in a more reasonable diplomat to conduct negotiations during this tipping point, this gesture should not be considered a serious change of intention or attitude. Russia knows that losing Ukraine to the West will be a momentous blow to its aspirations of restoring the idea of a “Great Russia.”

When evaluating the West’s efforts to support the Ukrainian opposition and influence the Ukrainian regime, it is important to understand that the U.S. and its Western allies are at an inherent disadvantage. Unlike the Russian state which has few reservations in actively supporting authoritarian regimes that suppress their own people, such as the Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria, the West generally does not support corrupt autocrats in such a brash manner. It also is difficult to provide assistance to an opposition that is not well defined. Nevertheless, the EU’s decision to place individual sanctions on Ukrainian officials , and the U.S.’s move to revoke 20 Ukrainian visas were positive efforts to punish President Yanukovych’s regime. These individuals must be held responsible for their actions, especially if they continue to receive guidance from Russia urging the state to resist tectonic reforms in the coming months. However, more must be done beyond sanctions to ensure a meaningful political transition and reform process.

More often than not, the West views elections as the end game of democratic reform, even when the elections in question are severely flawed. The West must actively monitor and offer guidance to the Ukrainian political transition team via diplomatic channels and civil society groups to ensure free and fair elections. Yanukovych and/or his allies may attempt to retain power in the upcoming months resulting in a Russian-backed political machine winning the elections. According to international observers, Ukraine’s 2012 election cycle was plagued with fraud, so it is likely that history could repeat itself if the election process is not regulated and monitored. Western countries should also keep an eye on rising leaders within the opposition movement that could be potential puppets for President Putin. Wealthy oligarchs such as Henadiy Boholyubov and Ihor Kolomoyskyy, who both have billion dollar plus holdings in the financial, media, and energy industries, have recently switched allegiances to the opposition movement even though they have traditionally supported the Yanukovych regime. These powerful actors could potentially hijack the opposition movement and resist any meaningful change that threatens their interests, which could include greater independence from Russia. Ukraine’s proposed political transition and reform could easily become a sham if the U.S. and the EU lose focus and decrease pressure.

Russia is bold to accuse the West of “puppeteering” in Ukraine via diplomatic support since the Kremlin has actively supported a bloody regime that has massacred civilians. While the current situation is not a proxy war, it is hard to ignore the emerging political divide and international political implications of Ukraine’s transformation. Western Ukraine supports further integration with the EU, and Eastern Ukraine is supportive of a strong Russian presence. Moving forward, it will be very difficult to reconcile these two viewpoints in a political transition that seeks a “national unity government.” However, the West and EU can continue to punish Ukrainian officials guilty of oppression and help support and shape meaningful political reform that keeps President Yanukovych and his cronies out of power. The ouster of Yanukovych by parliament, while a positive development, should be watched closely. The inevitable scramble and disorganization that follows such a momentous event could lead to the rise of another corrupt regime that seeks to ally itself to the highest bidder. Regardless of this possibility, those Ukrainians who desire a freer and more just society have won a substantial victory. Let us hope this victory is the first of many to come culminating in a Ukraine that aspires to be more than just a “Small Russia.”