Is NATO Still Relevant?


For the last two decades, NATO has been conflicted about how and where to act. This identity crisis has led to inter-alliance strife, messy operations, and inaction. Currently, NATO is paralyzed in responding to the Syrian Crisis due to—among other reasons—an uncharacteristic rift between the American and British governments. In light of such shortcomings, along with a perceived United States pivot away from Europe, increased European Union security engagement after the Lisbon Treaty of 2010, and shifting methods of warfare (i.e., drones and computers in place of land forces), pundits and politicians have disputed the continued relevance of NATO.

Yet NATO is unquestionably relevant today. First, NATO provides a forum for world leaders to discuss matters of global defense and security. Second, NATO is currently engaged in operations around the world from anti-piracy missions in the Horn of Africa to nation building in Afghanistan, the alliance is directly connected to today’s issues. Third, NATO actively shapes transatlantic—and consequently global—foreign policy. For instance, Article V of the NATO treaty (‘an attack on one is an attack on all’) serves as a deterrent to those considering harming a member of the alliance. Most recently, the intervention in Libya exemplified how NATO’s military involvement has real ramifications, serving as a partial catalyst for the subsequent full-scale revolution seen in the state.

NATO’s relevance is incontrovertible. However, proving relevance seems unsatisfactory to pundits and politicians. Perhaps, the crux of the dispute is NATO’s continued value.

NATO’s value lies in the absence of an alternative. NATO is the most formidable and sophisticated military organization in the world, thanks in large part, but not exclusively, to the US. As Ambassador Ivo Daalder and former Supreme Allied Commander Europe James Stavridis explained: “Some countries have significant military reach. But when a group of countries wants to launch a joint intervention as a coalition—which confers political legitimacy—only NATO can provide the common command structure and capabilities necessary to plan and execute complex operations.” Moreover, the EU has shown an inability to pool the security and defense resources of its member states. If the alliance were to disband, no member state besides the US would be able to assume full responsibility for their national defense.

The future for NATO will certainly be challenging. NATO faces various threats, from shrinking budgets to intra-alliance friction and changing political environments. Further, the coverage of Article V is unclear. Consider a hypothetical Russian cyber attack on the British banking sector. Would this constitute an act of war? NATO has this and other critical questions to answer. Can and should NATO act without unanimity? Should the Europeans establish military autonomy or continue to rely on the equipment and chaperoning of the US? And most fundamentally, is NATO an alliance that truly wants to act outside of its borders? NATO must answer these questions in order to stay relevant in the 21st century.

To address modern security challenges, NATO must embrace non-military capabilities. As Afghanistan revealed, terrorism cannot be eradicated with missiles. Errant drone strikes only further incentivize people to join terrorist organizations, and brigades of troops cannot dismantle global wireless organizations. Piracy too requires a more comprehensive approach. The best way to fight crises such as terrorism and piracy is to deal with the root causes, such as food insecurity, lack of access to education, and corrupt state leadership. This holistic theory for crisis management is not revolutionary, yet NATO (especially the US) has forgotten that war is a long-term humanitarian and security project. To NATO’s credit, reforms are in place to fuse civilian and military crisis management capabilities. These reforms must continue, as well as continued cooperation with the UN and EU.

A retreat of NATO to its historical role of defending European territory is outdated and ignores the global and diverse nature of 21st century conflict. Non-state global issues such as cyber and energy security, piracy, and climate change require a response for which NATO is uniquely prepared. Armed with demonstrated military capabilities and global transnational partnerships, NATO is already well positioned for carrying out integrated “hard security” and “soft security” operations. If NATO can unite under a new strategic framework, and stand determined to tackle the “hard” and “soft” security challenges presented in today’s environment with more than military force and surveillance, the alliance will remain both relevant and valuable.

Why Wendy Davis’ Pink Sneakers Mean Much More Than Late-Term Abortion


On June 26, 2013, Texas State Senator Wendy Davis executed an eleven-hour filibuster to stop a GOP-led effort to impose strict abortion limitations. Adorned with a back brace, skirt suit, and pink running shoes, Senator Davis was not allowed to sit down or use the bathroom; she had to continuously stay on topic for twelve consecutive hours in order to stop the bill. In a controversial call, GOP senate leaders attempted to prohibit Senator Davis’ filibuster on a procedural technicality an hour before the filibuster would have proven successful. The GOP’s efforts were quickly overtaken by a boisterous crowd of Davis and reproductive rights supporters delaying the GOP’s vote long enough to kill the bill. (See the video here).

This video went viral and sparked enormous media attention with the new “Stand With Wendy” slogan emerging. Her pink running shoes quickly became the most searched and sought after sneaker.  Senator Davis was interviewed by, and will be featured in, the highly coveted September 2013 issue of Vogue. Not surprisingly, an onslaught of op-eds and interviews by people in both the pro and anti abortion camps soon followed. There is, however, a secondary lens which must be utilized in observing Senator Davis’ filibuster, and that is the lens of empowerment.

It is difficult to conjure up another time when a female led a filibuster of this magnitude; Senator Davis gained national attention for her incredible achievement. She stood up, literally, for what she believed in. The topic that inspired her to should not be the sole source of debate. Senator Davis’ initiative is the real story; in a political scene paralyzed by inaction, her movement was refreshing and should be both celebrated and explored. Her pink sneakers represent a much larger picture: female leadership in the 21st Century.

In the US, there are a record 20 women serving in the Senate and 81 in the House, and more recently both the US House Minority Leader and US Secretary of State have been females. While this is a milestone well worth celebrating, the fact is that women are still greatly underrepresented. Yes, there are currently female heads of state, business leaders, and Nobel Peace Prize winners throughout the world, but they are few and far between compared to their male counterparts.

As Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times so eloquently pointed out in his recent article, female empowerment is not just another political buzzword, nor just a “woman’s issue or a man’s issue”. Female empowerment is a global issue. It can boost national GDPs, it can cure social ills, and it can lead to healthier societies. So what is preventing this global change? Apart from the clear social and educational hurdles, a large part of empowerment is having role models for guidance and support. When women come together in support of one another it can be hugely powerful, but the female leadership team in the global game of empowerment still remains small and runs the risk of being easily marginalized. Thus, Senator Davis’ stand should be seen as one more step towards greater female involvement. She is one more teammate and one more role model for future generations of female leaders.

The Shale Revolution: July’s Snapshot

July was an exciting month in the energy sector. The world’s second largest oil company, Chevron, signed a 1.24 billion dollar deal with Argentina – the world’s second largest holder of shale gas reserves – to develop their oil and gas opportunities. The total scope of Chevron’s investments could exceed 15 billion dollars. Chevron isn’t the only company jumping at the promise of shale. Dow Chemical Company and Bridas Corp., an Argentine-Chinese joint venture between CNOOC Ltd and the Bulgheroni family, have also signed development deals with their South American partners.

Across the pond in Europe, global consulting company Navigant Consulting released a new study backing UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s claim that shale expansion could cut gas prices by a quarter: “… estimates suggest northern England could provide enough shale gas to meet the UK’s needs for more than four decades.” Nonetheless, Cameron still faces an uphill battle. His continental partners in the EU have expressed concern with the potential environmental implications linked to the process of extracting shale oil and gas, known as fracking. Despite the European Union being known for its stringent environmental practices, some EU countries such as Romania and the Netherlands seem to be tiptoeing towards the idea of fracking and its encompassing economic benefits, while others states – France stands as a prime example – are sprinting in the opposite direction. Despite Europe’s unnerving reliance on Russian energy, the EU’s potentially game-changing relationship with fracking continues to move at a glacial pace.

In Asia, the effects of the North American shale boom are being felt. American shale oil opportunities have enticed national midsized energy companies producing abroad to come back home. After being drawn into untapped energy hubs in Asia, companies like Anadarko Petroleum Corp and Newfield Exploration have begun to sell their billion dollar Asian portfolios in Thailand’s natural gas hotspots and China’s Bohai Bay. Subsequently, these companies are beginning their triumphant return to American soil.

Recently predicted by the International Energy Agency to be the world’s top oil producer by 2017, many countries are jumping aboard the American energy bandwagon early. Highlighting the energy-starved nature of today’s world, Chile has shown how serious they are about its American shale gas interests by establishing a chancery in Philadelphia earlier this month. On a three-day trade trip to Pennsylvania, Chilean energy executives not only celebrated the opening of the Chilean Philadelphia consulate with Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, but they also discussed Chilean interests in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale gas. Chile, a country whose energy demand is growing at five percent yearly, is preparing for increasing energy consumption rates. Governor Corbett, having visited Chile last April, reiterated to the Chilean executives that he is happy to export Pennsylvania’s natural gas: “As Chile’s manufacturing sector grows, she is clearly going to need energy […] we have it in abundance and we’re blessed by that.”

The global shale boom, supported almost wholly by American reserves, has continued to shake up the positioning of the world’s energy producers. While other countries may move to avoid the fracking boom, most governments seem pleased with America’s progress. Europe may still have the opportunity to ease their reliance on Russian energy with new American natural gas imports; North American energy companies are starting to come back home, which could boost America job creation statistics; and countries are beginning to open consulates in what would otherwise be obscure states. The shale revolution has begun, and it’s a game-changer for global energy.

Obama’s Delay on Syria and Why the Response is a Little Too Late

Last summer, President Barack Obama vowed to employ a military intervention in civil war-stricken Syria if either side resorted to use of chemical weapons.

This summer, there has been confirmation that the conflict has crossed that “red line.” It’s your move now, Mr. President, but remember – whatever you decide to do, it’s a little too late to avoid checkmate.

Instead of drawing a line and waiting around playing the “sitting duck” game, the United States should have provided the Syrian rebels fighting in the civil war with military aid from the start. By passively watching the progression of what started as a peaceful protest of President Bashar al-Assad met by harsh government crackdowns, the international realm has allowed the situation to escalate into a full-scale civil war. The incumbent Assad regime – backed by Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Iran and Russia – is fighting a rebel opposition backed by al-Qaida. By remaining inactive in the civil war, the West has played a clear role in allowing the death toll in Syria to continue to skyrocket. So the way I see it, the White House will tolerate the appearance of radical Muslim organizations in the conflict, and will tolerate the countless numbers of civilians killed daily, but the moral compass for some reason only prevails when the use of chemical weapons is introduced into the situation.

So what exactly will the Obama Administration do? Well, the answer is simple: do what has always been done. The White House has decided to supply military support through arming the rebels with “light” weapons. The United States is going to arm al-Qaeda-backed rebel forces who have already faced an astronomical death toll and most probably view the US with little credibility, thanks to our delay. Does anyone else see the obvious problem here? President Obama needs to take a note from history and consider the repercussions of what he is planning to do. Remember when the United States decided to arm Bin Laden and his supporters in the 1970s to push the Soviets out of Afghanistan? Those forces were then used to build up al-Qaeda as we know it today, which turned swiftly against its creator and spawned a massive terrorism campaign met by President George W. Bush’s infamous and seemingly endless “War on Terror“.

Is it too far-fetched to suppose that the Syrian rebel fighters will undoubtedly turn on the United States with animosity for its delay in assistance? Perhaps. But I don’t think it’s throwing the ball too far out of the park to say that with nearly 100,000 civilians already dead, from a humanitarian standpoint it may have behooved the White House to act more promptly. But then again, there is that consideration that the United States doesn’t really feel any sort of humanitarian obligation to the international realm, and particularly to the Middle East. Not only that, but our intervention within the region has been sporadic and confusingly contradictory. For instance, while the Obama administration saw no problem in thrusting its military forces into Libya in 2011, and liberally continues to dowse Yemen and obliterate countless innocent citizens with drones, it holds reservations in assisting the Syrian people from what appears to be escalating into a new-age genocide. Likewise, the administration has worked effortlessly to combat al-Qaeda by locating and killing Osama bin Laden, yet it continues to bolster al-Qaeda bases by arming al-Qaeda-backed rebel fighters in Syria.

Had the United States decided to act two years ago, in 2011, when the civil unrest began, it may have actually had a legitimate shot at quelling the war against Bashar al-Assad and his regime while at the same time preventing the rise of extremist groups such as al-Qaeda. That time has passed, so all we can hope for is that the Obama administration decides to intervene strongly enough. So let’s hope the White House is going to arm the Syrian rebels with more than just light weapons; without supplementing mere ammunition with antitank rockets and antiaircraft systems, there is little hope that the Syrian rebels will be able to finally put an end to this bloodshed and emerge victorious. With vital United States national security interests – namely containing al-Qaeda and preserving the security of Israel – being threatened by the civil war, it is now more urgent than ever for the Obama administration to take action to protect not only national interests but also human dignity and put a stop to the coldblooded carnage plaguing Syria.

Why U.S. Russia-Centric Nuclear Policy is Obsolete

This past month, President Obama put forth America’s new global nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament strategy in Berlin. In his remarks, the President included proposals for various initiatives including a new bilateral nuclear stockpile reduction plan with Russia, a pledge to initiate new treaties banning fissile material production, support of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and the usual commitments to contain Iran and North Korea (Obama 2013). While these initiatives are productive for moving towards a nuclear-free world and containing short-term threats, the Administration’s new nuclear strategy fails to sufficiently address two pressing issues that represent great threats to long-term U.S. national and global security interests: the nuclear standoff between Pakistan and India, and the tactful development of China’s nuclear arsenal. It appears the U.S. is still operating in an immediate post-Cold War mindset where bilateral reductions between Russia and the U.S. remain the central theme of U.S. nuclear policy. However, if the U.S. is to ensure long-term global security, it should stop focusing on Russia and instead make Pakistan, India, and China top long-term priorities of global nonproliferation and disarmament efforts.

Negotiated bilateral reductions with Russia should no longer be the core of U.S. disarmament efforts. While the U.S. and Russia still maintain the greatest number of nuclear warheads- 7,700 and 8,500 total inventory, respectively- both sides have established command and control structures including advanced warning systems, vastly improved safeguards to prevent theft by transnational actors, and an established communication hotline to ameliorate any potential misunderstandings (Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation 2013). The former nemeses have learned valuable lessons from the Cold War and no longer represent a great threat to global security, especially as each state continues on a successful 20-year reduction in nuclear arms. The U.S. should instead direct its attention towards two countries that are engaged in a situation that may be much more dangerous than that of the Cold War: Pakistan and India.

Unlike the U.S. and Russia, both Pakistan and India are increasing the number of tactical nuclear weapons and lack the aforementioned communication and warning measures (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute 2013). Pair these alarming developments with Pakistan and India’s tumultuous history and a shared border, and the world has a serious threat of nuclear conflict. Indeed, a border skirmish or misinterpreted military training exercise could very well escalate to a nuclear conflict. In addition to the more traditional threat of nuclear war, Pakistan represents a dire nuclear proliferation threat. Some experts have asserted that Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world due to the possibility of transnational actors gaining access to its nuclear material (Cirincione 2012). Indeed, the Nuclear Threat Initiative ranks Pakistan 31/32 out of countries that possess weapons-usable nuclear material in terms of nuclear materials security (Nuclear Threat Initiative 2012). India lacks sufficient safeguards as well and therefore has received a poor rating of 28/32 (Nuclear Threat Initiative 2012). The U.S. should be making this potential hot zone a top priority of its nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament policy, not the Kremlin’s more secure, declining nuclear arsenal.

As Russia and the U.S. work towards decreasing their nuclear stockpiles, China is the only one of the five original nuclear weapons states that is increasing its nuclear arsenal (Kristensen and Norris 2011). Expert assessments of the number of Chinese nuclear warheads vary dramatically due to the opaque nature of China’s nuclear program. While the majority of experts agree that China maintains at least 250-300 nuclear warheads (Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation 2013), other reports indicates China maintains as many as 3,000 nuclear warheads (Wan 2011). China is also estimated to have produced enough plutonium and highly-enriched uranium for up to 1,660 warheads (Kristensen 2011). These estimates should be very alarming, but China’s growing arsenal is often under-addressed in public U.S. nuclear policy circles. Why? Certainly the entrenched economic relationship is a deterring factor from addressing China directly, but this should not prevent the U.S. from engaging China bilaterally and multilaterally on this issue. China is a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and can be easily brought into the disarmament conversation. Pakistan and India represent a greater challenge since they are not part of the NPT, but both countries could be included in the international nonproliferation regime through other less restrictive bodies, such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group, for further engagement aimed at encouraging peaceful development of their respective civilian nuclear programs in exchange for reductions in nuclear warheads.

Current U.S. nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament efforts are ineffective at addressing long-term nuclear concerns. The U.S. Government is taking positive steps by hosting international forums such as the Nuclear Summit every 5 years, but these chat shops are not enough. The situation between Pakistan and India demands immediate attention and China needs to be called out on its growing nuclear weapons arsenal. As part of its overall nuclear strategy, the U.S. needs to make a central shift away from Russia in order to bilaterally and multilaterally engage China, India, and Pakistan. This pivot will be tricky because of competing U.S. strategic interests in Asia, and because India and Pakistan are not members of many established nonproliferation treaties and agreements. However, the U.S. should recognize that its long-term security interests necessitate inoculating these problems in their early stages rather than waiting for a nuclear disaster in South Asia or the emergence of an even more heavily-armed China.

The author would like to thank Bradlee McAuliffe and Matthew Woo for their contributions to this piece.

President-Elect Rouhani Brings Hope to the Citizens of Iran

Will Iran’s new moderate “Superman” Rouhani be able to withstand the forces of Ayatollah Khamenei and his theocratic kryptonite?

Last month, some salvation was finally delivered to the tense and oppressed citizens of Iran with the victory of newly elected president Hassan Rouhani. Under former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranians were subjected to his abusive policies, most notably demonstrated by the harsh crackdown of the 2009 Green Movement.

Although Rouhani, who will officially replace the current hotheaded president in August, has been termed a relative moderate in comparison to Gung-ho fundamentalist Ahmadinejad, the Iranian people have already received him as an angel on earth. The so perceived “savior” has verbalized his intentions to improve the country’s international reputation. And this may even be the first time since the onset of the Islamic Revolution of 1979 that we may see a resurrection of limited aspects of western society within the country, as Rouhani has expressed his desire to restore basic human rights beginning with the improvement of women’s rights and the gradual deregulation of the strict national dress code.


But don’t tear your headscarves yet, ladies –– while I am sure that you are more than eager to sport your fashionable new hairdos, there is still something dodgy going on here. Despite Rouhani expressing his personal wishes for reform, he remains at best merely another puppet of Supreme Leader and master puppeteer Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Although the voting process within Iran may bear a democratic façade, it is simply a hollow disguise masking a deviously controlled and complex method of strategically inducting figureheads who will ultimately serve to carry out the wishes of the Ayatollah. Here’s a quick breakdown of how candidates are selected for participation in the presidential race:

The Guardian Council is fully responsible for filtering potential candidates and selecting those who they feel fit to run. The Council is composed of six clergymen, who are selected by the Ayatollah himself, and six jurists, selected by the head of the judiciary (also appointed by the Ayatollah). The entire Council is thus essentially appointed by the Supreme Leader and reflects the same fundamental ideals as him: all candidates bear complete loyalty to the Islamic Republic and all of its fundamental assets. Following a three-week campaign period after candidates are announced, voting takes place. If a single candidate does not take a simple majority, then the top two candidates will face off in a runoff election.

Doesn’t seem so egalitarian anymore, does it? With the Supreme Leader virtually controlling all aspects of the elections, up to the voter’s free choice of casting a ballot, the citizens of Iran are no more than spectators trapped in the “Ayatollah Khamenei Show,” starring Khamenei and Khamenei, and featuring Khamenei.

The understanding of the Supreme Leader being the central power holder and final arbiter of Iranian governmental policies is essential to understanding Iranian politics. There has been some jubilance over the fact that Rouhani has promised to give transparency to Iran’s hotly-disputed nuclear program, which will hopefully serve to ease tensions between the country and the rest of the world as well as break Iran free of its international isolation. In February, incumbent Ahmadinejad suggested the national nuclear program may see changes as evidenced by his statement that he would be willing to discuss the program in detail with the United States so as long as the West stopped pressuring the regime. However, the acidic rain of truth pierces umbrella shields of optimism once the realization is made that these statements of hope are emptier than outer space itself. As long as Khamenei remains the final authority on major state decisions, he remains the supreme ringleader of the chaotic circus that is Iranian politics; no vital information regarding the country’s nuclear program will be spilled to the West, and that is final. In terms of Rouhani’s plans to restore basic liberties to the country, being that the current Supreme Leader was the one responsible for the 1979 Islamic Revolution, replacing an autocratic monarchy with largely western ideals with a stringent Islamic theocracy, it seems highly doubtful that the new president elect will be met with success in his quest for social and political reform.

To the Iranian citizenry, I say celebrate now, for it is still too early to tell whether the Angel Rouhani and his plans for reform will fall prisoner to the devilish iron fist of Khamenei. Only time will tell how the new Rouhani-Khamenei dynamic will play out. While the Iranian citizenry initially will almost certainly be met with a minimal degree of improved autonomy and treatment under the new president, as long as Khamenei remains, the streets will continue to be lined with revolutionary guards executing the will of their Supreme Leader. So sit tight, Iran, because things aren’t going to change while Khamenei is still around, and await instead the day the tyrannical leader is succeeded, for only this holds the dawn of a new beginning for the country plagued by an era of dark and oppressive theocratic rule.

Should Food Fill Stomachs or Gas Tanks?

Under a new U.S. Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) program, created by the Energy Policy Act in 2005, the US became the world’s largest producer of ethanol fuel. By 2007, a second government mandate, the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), was passed which expanded the RFS program requiring 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel be used by 2022.While corn ethanol is not directly outlined under these policies, 98% of the biofuels produced and blended into gasoline in the US originate from corn. This de facto directive for corn ethanol has had negative impacts on global food market prices. In 2012, we experienced the worst global drought of the last half-century. With the US being the world’s largest exporter of corn, and their mandated 40% allocation of its corn for ethanol use, the already pressured corn prices skyrocketed.

In the past decade, prices of oil and food have significantly risen to historic levels. Because of the inextricable link between food and energy markets, the grain market has experienced volatility over the past six years. As a commodity susceptible to weather, it is apparent how much recent climatic events have distorted global grain inventories. This consumption mandate has turned out to be the most significant driver of ethanol demand, corn demand and corn prices as we can see the global food crisis correspond with the US expansion of corn ethanol in 2007. Agricultural commodity prices broke record highs in ’07-’08, in ’10-’11, and again with the US drought in 2012.

The most ethically heated issue with the RFS mandate is that corn is diverted away from the global food supply and towards the US’ domestic energy chain. This policy has had harsh repercussions on developing countries, which spend a much greater portion of their income on food and energy than the developed world. While the world’s wealthy states can substitute higher priced foods from elsewhere, the world’s poor cannot. As a country that sends almost a billion dollars annually in food aid to help the developing world feed itself, why does the US divert food into their energy chain and consequently increase the global price of food? Is putting food in gas tanks an ethical energy policy, food policy, and foreign policy? Pitting food policies against energy policies is illogical and proving to be destructive, thereby increasing vulnerability to weather risks suggesting the EISA/RFS is an unpredictable law.

The RFS/EISA has become a source of debate amongst Americans: some want it repealed; others want it left untouched. There is, however, little discussion on what a repeal would look like apart from a complete shutting down of the policy. Phasing out the RFS year by year – effectually reversing the policy over time – could provide a concrete policy solution.

Powerful industries and advocates have been created under US ethanol production, and with the current rise in vocal opponents of the RFS, these industries and advocates sense a direct threat. Removing newly engrained policies is politically difficult. However, if the US were to phase out the EISA year by year, it would help mitigate the economic and political shock currently felt by corn farmers and ethanol reliant industries. Reducing US ethanol commitments over time, thus reducing the amount of corn in gasoline, would also help alleviate pressures on global food prices.

An emerging development in America’s energy landscape, that poses a legitimate challenge to the use of food in gas tanks, has been the discovery of significant new natural gas reserves. This immense supply has been identified and tapped, subsequently forcing US natural gas prices down to attractive levels relative to both oil prices and international natural gas spot rates. The security, predictability and location of this supply are by far superior to that of global oil.

Already there are industry efforts to convert engines to burn natural gas and establish infrastructure to distribute it. This will take time and investment but represent a kind of phase-in calendar that could offset the phase-out use of ethanol. Moreover, converting vehicles to natural gas would create jobs: drilling, distribution, infrastructure and conversion. It would not encroach on food supply, or on American foreign policy, other than to reduce a reliance on foreign oil.

While there are some environmental concerns, natural gas is the cleanest burning and most efficient of all hydrocarbons and offers an environmentally preferred alternative to higher carbon emitting gasoline. While understanding the recent moratoriums on fracking in certain US states, US shale oil expansion has OPEC members and Gazprom taking notice.

In an energy hungry world, America has the opportunity to phase out ethanol and phase in an abundant, available, cleaner and less expensive fuel that is more secure. It might alleviate pressure on energy for others worldwide, as a gallon of gas not consumed in the US becomes available to others. Moreover, it would return the use of corn to the food chain where it belongs.

The IR Implications of the South Carolina Graduation Speech

There has been a slight stir in the headlines in the wake of a South Carolina High School graduation incident. Defying his school district’s newly-instituted policy of replacing the traditional prayer at graduation with a moment of silence, valedictorian Roy Costner IV tore his graduation speech to shreds and recited the Lord’s Prayer, proceeding to detail his passion for his religion and justify his opposition to the school district’s ruling.

The incident, perhaps worthy of immortalization by Hollywood (or at least the cast of Saturday Night Live), is indicative of one of the most salient features of American domestic politics in the Information Age: the so-called “Culture War” which pits the knights of tradition against the crusaders of progress. More practically, this ideological conflict is part of the latest in the all-American debate over national identity. At the moment, the most vocal factions seem to be those on the Far Left and the Far Right: the traditionalists versus the progressives, the religious versus the secular, the Tea Party versus the Occupy Movement, Fox News versus MSNBC, etc. Though it is tempting for individuals who identify with these factions to characterize the state of affairs to be an apocalyptic battle of Right and Wrong over the “Soul of America” (and indeed both movements have heritages deeply critical to the general American heritage) it is likely that historians in the future- perhaps a mere couple of decades from now- will describe them as general movements in a pluralist mosaic of interest groups and identities whose interactions drive the general historical development of the Republic.

Given that these movements are integral to the fractious fabric of contemporary American society, it would be prudent for the student of American foreign policy to understand them, if they would understand the relation of American domestic politics to American foreign policy. The movement which the South Carolina graduation speech case represents, generally, is the populist, conservative, religious, and traditionalist faction of American society which, in the present day, tends to vote Republican, support family values and small government, and support strong-armed (though not necessarily neoconservative) foreign policy measures.

The graduation speech case is a demonstration of the power of this faction in certain geographic areas of the United States. After the requests and complaints of church-and-state groups caused the Pickens County School Board to replace graduation prayers with moments of silence, the deeply religious valedictorian at Liberty High School chose to protest the policy by quite literally bringing prayer back into the ceremony. Many in the crowd cheered as he did so; and the school pursued no disciplinary action against him. Though there has been much secular criticism of the valedictorian’s action, equal numbers of the faithful congratulate and support him. Regardless of the moral or legal implications or consequences of the event, and whatever the moral judgment ought to be upon the student or the school district, the incident clearly shows that religious factions in South Carolina- and indeed, in the United States in general- are strong and numerous enough to wield great domestic political power. Given that elected politicians in the United States must respond to their constituents, this power must exert some effect upon American foreign policy.

In his excellent piece The Tea Party and American Foreign Policy, Walter Russell Mead explores how populist movements have affected foreign policy throughout American history. While he ultimately concludes that systemic constraints and strategic priorities have been more considerably important than domestic demands, Mead explores certain tendencies which populist movements- the Jacksonians, the Populist Party, etc.- have exerted upon foreign policy. Expansionism and protectionism (and isolationism) have been among these, and they have typically accompanied critical structural changes in American politics.

In the modern iteration, it is common to see the present generation of populist conservatives advocate strong, moralistic foreign policy and a general skepticism towards international institutions. Indeed, their great hero, Ronald Reagan, seemed to exemplify this approach to foreign policy, and many followed the neoconservative Bush regime into supporting the Iraq and Afghanistan wars (though, again, those involved more war fever, and it is dangerous to characterize conservatives in general as neoconservative.) The policy-making power of this faction, however, is checked by the existence of that large faction which tends to be more pluralistic, secular, and supportive of international institutions, which often votes along Democrat lines. This faction shall be examined in a later post; for now it will suffice to say that however powerful it is, it exists alongside that faction which is generally supportive of Roy Costner IV in that bipolar balance which has defined American politics, and affected American foreign policy, since the nation was born.

The Emerging Threat of Cyber Espionage Against US Economic Interests

Major Issues and Recommendations for a Stronger US Cyber Defense Capability

A comprehensive report recently released by Mandiant, a private information security firm, has confirmed China’s expansive cyber espionage operations against US private industry. This report has aroused debate in the public sphere regarding US cyber vulnerabilities. However, state-sponsored cyber espionage has been well documented as early as 2006 and has resulted in at least hundreds of terabytes of data theft (Mandiant 2013, 20). The main perpetrators have been identified as China, Russia, France, Israel, and most recently, countries in the Middle East such as Iran (Booz Allen Hamilton 2012, 8). Due to the increasing number of monthly cyber attacks on US economic interests, information security professionals in the private and public sectors have criticized the US Government’s inability to effectively address this growing concern. While the threat of catastrophic cyber warfare is often overhyped, the threat of economic espionage through cyber attacks is not, and public criticism of US cyber security vulnerabilities is valid.

Cyber espionage endangers America’s global economic prowess and national security. China, Russia, and other states continuously steal many years worth of R&D from private US companies to expedite their economic development. It is estimated that these efforts to increase political and military power via cyber espionage have resulted in the loss of tens of billions of dollars from US firms (Nakashima 2013). If left unaddressed, this growing threat could result in the theft of sensitive trade secrets that would severely impact national security, especially if the companies and data involved contain sensitive military secrets such as classified aircraft designs.

One of the greatest challenges in addressing cyber espionage is the current lack of effective attribution methods. This critical absence of sufficient detection techniques allows both state and non-state actors to conceal their roles in cyber espionage and therefore avoid public reprimands from the US Government and the international community (Economist 2012). In Russia, for example, the unique nexus between government, organized crime, and business makes Russian cyber attacks very difficult to track, especially since the government purportedly employs underground youth hacking networks to achieve its cyber espionage objectives (Smith 2012, 3). The US Government needs to increase its coordination efforts with private industry to develop more sophisticated cyber attack attribution techniques in order deter state actors from committing further economic espionage.

Efforts at collaboration between US Government entities and the private sector are hampered by a secretive and inconsistent US cyber policy. The Obama Administration has apparently begun drafting internal cyber security policy and has directed certain agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security, to allocate more funding for cyber security initiatives (Sanger and Shanker 2013). However, many outside experts have indicated that the US Government and the private sector are not sufficiently collaborating to ameliorate the cyber threat (Wolf 2012, 11). The US Government cannot expect private businesses to defend themselves against the penetration efforts of foreign intelligence services. Therefore, policymakers and private industry leaders need to forge closer relations, develop a more coherent cyber defense policy, and share information regarding current threats and trends to provide for a stronger US cyber defense capability.

The Lady’s Not for Turning: Paying homage to the Iron Lady of IR

On October 10, 1980, Margaret Thatcher stated to her fellow Conservative party members that “To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase, the U-turn, I have only one thing to say. You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning.”

Margaret Thatcher was the British Prime Minister from May 1979 to November 1990, winning the three consecutive general elections to become the first woman to lead a major Western democracy.  Lady Thatcher was so influential in British politics that she even got her own “-ism.”  Yeah, that’s right, there is such a thing as “Thatcherism.” Don’t you wish you were that cool?

Thatcherism represents a belief in free markets and a small state.  Government should be restricted to defense of the “realm and currency,” and individuals should be left to exercise their own choices and take responsibility for the rest of their lives. During her time as Prime Minister, Thatcher worked to privatize state-owned industries, lower taxes, cut back heavy industry, and encourage the rise of the free market economy.  Critics say that her work in office led to the destruction of traditional working-class communities, which caused a more divided society.  With regards to international affairs, Thatcher partnered closely with President Ronald Reagan (they were sort of like BFFs) to push free-market conservatism.  She led Great Britain through the Falklands War of 1982 and championed the fight against the spread of communism.

But there could be no Thatcherism without the woman herself.  She has been described as “headstrong, obstinate and dangerously self-opinionated.” Her steadfast opposition to communism even earned her the nickname Iron Lady.  And while she may have divided opinions during her political career, there is no denying that she was a “truly formidable prime minister whose policies defined a political generation.”  And you know you’ve made it when your life gets turned into a movie, and you are played by Meryl Streep.

I have always been a big fan of Lady Thatcher.  I won’t go so far as to say that Maggie is the reason why I am an IR major, but I will say that she was an incredible politician who greatly impacted the world.  Her legacy is seen in all aspects of British society, from the free market economic system to crumbling housing market.  And while I can’t say that I completely agree with her on everything, such as her strong opposition to European integration, I do admire her conviction and refusal to bend to public and political pressure.  Whether she was leading her country through war, staring down the threat of communism, or raising her two young children, Margaret Thatcher was a badass.  Don’t believe me?  Check this out.

For more information on the life and work of Margaret Thatcher, head to and enter “Margaret Thatcher” in the search bar at the top.  Or use any of these helpful links:

For a look at the local reaction to her death, see this segment from USC’s ATVN.  I am featured in this story, but that is so obviously not why I mentioned it here.  #AnnenbergFamous