UKRAINE: A WESTERN DIVIDE IN THE EAST

By Marvin Andrade
Staff Writer

Many old tensions from the Cold War have resurfaced in the current Ukrainian security dilemma as the Iron Curtain is redrawn across Europe. The conflict in Ukraine has instilled deep concern in all parties involved since violence erupted during protests in 2013. The protests are the result of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to cancel preparations to sign an association agreement with the European Union (EU). This agreement would have continued an ongoing process of Ukrainian integration with the EU by opening Ukraine to more trade from the EU and setting a foundation for more freedom of movement across EU member nations. Russia, a former global hegemon, feared further encirclement as Ukraine began to tilt toward Western Europe. Unsurprisingly, Russia took actions to prevent this process and secure strategic interests, such as Crimea which housed the Russian Black Sea Fleet. The eastwards movement of western institutions is a process that Russian leaders have frequently witnessed since the end of the Cold War. During negotiations in 1999, 2004 and 2009, former Russian satellite nations and allies were incorporated into NATO. This goes against several high level discussions near the end of the Cold War. NATO claims, however, that there have “never been political or legally binding commitments” that NATO would not expand eastward.

The parliamentary ousting of president Viktor Yanukovych, which had resulted from the pressure protesters placed on lawmakers, was viewed as a “bandit coup” by Russian leaders that had favorable relations with the Ukrainian president. Leaders from the EU and the United States are concerned, however, about further Russian aggression due to the violence that has transpired during this civil and international conflict. Ukraine now stands deadlocked between two opposing sides that have divided the country. In the east, rebels supported by the Russian government find themselves in open conflict with those that want to side with the West. The Ukrainian government faces incredible hurdles in order to re-assert its sovereignty and maintain its original borders; Ukraine must negotiate with newly independent regions in East Ukraine and Russia for Crimea. The strongest supporters of restoring Ukraine’s borders, the United States and the European Union are divided over how to achieve this objective.

For much of this crisis, the United States and Europe have attempted to cooperate in order to form a strategy that unites Ukraine under democratic principles that would allow progress toward closer integration with the West. The United States has the ability to construct a coherent strategy to combat Eastern separatists in Ukraine through the use of very strong sanctions and military support. In the EU, however, there is a lack of policy coherence due to the fact that the EU is not unified in its response to the crisis. While the member nations of the EU can choose to act unilaterally, a combined response from the entire EU would produce an outcome that would signal strength and solidarity to Russia. This lack of cohesion has enabled the Russian government to strategically pull smaller European states away from action in Ukraine that would harm Russian interests. For example, in late January, the new Greek government showcased its ties with Russia in order to gain more bargaining leverage in upcoming debt talks. The Greek case is one among many others where EU member nations have opted to take less punitive measures for Russian involvement in Ukraine. The lack of unified action from the EU comes from how it makes its decisions. The EU must make decisions through a combination of supranational and intergovernmental institutions consisting of the Council of Ministers, European Commission, and the European Parliament. Since little consensus exists among EU member states, the EU is gridlocked over the security decisions it will take to confront Russian aggression.

The current situation in Ukraine begs the question as to whether or not the EU still gains economic or political advantages from pursuing intervention in this conflict. Prior to Russian intervention, Europe’s benefits of gaining Ukraine as a trading partner were minimal compared to now. Prior to Russian intervention, the EU would have needed to make marginally small investments into infrastructure that could facilitate trade and decrease corruption. However, due to recent military actions, costs have risen significantly. In times of conflict, nations have several considerations when deciding how to respond to aggression. Building defenses or training and arming individuals in Ukraine is costly and increases the risks of confrontation with Russia, a catastrophically high cost in and of itself. By arming rebels in Ukraine, Russia is implementing a strategy with a higher risk of war, but the gains that have been made since late 2013 are clear. Russia now holds Crimea and is in a good position to maintain a buffer from the West through rebel-held regions in Eastern Ukraine. On the other hand, if Europe and its allies wish to help Ukraine reclaim sovereignty, significant amounts of money would need to go into military spending. Given an expected 12% contraction of the economy this year alone, additional spending would also need to be made for reconstruction to make Ukraine viable again. Given how the EU’s cost expectations for closer association with Ukraine have increased significantly, the West is walking through a proverbial minefield as it makes future decisions. Despite sanctions, which have contributed to the devaluation of the Russian Ruble by more than half and produced a 3 percent contraction of the Russian economy in the last 12 months, many member nations are now questioning whether further sanctions would actually have any effect in curtailing Russian aggression. Putin’s approval ratings were at 85% at the start of the year. With this information, EU nations are skeptical that sanctions will have any effect in the current situation.

The question of deploying EU ground personnel in Ukraine is an entirely different matter altogether. Many have asked the European Commission to strengthen the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) mandate in Ukraine. With some hesitation, the OSCE’s mission in Ukraine was extended for an additional 6 months in March. The mission calls for monitoring of the situation as well as facilitating talks between parties in Ukraine. The OSCE mission is to go in tandem with the second Minsk Agreement that was signed in February that called for a ceasefire in Ukraine. Few nations are willing to strengthen the mandate to go beyond monitoring and observation.

Since the start of hostilities in Ukraine, NATO was quick to respond with missions spearheaded by the United States. Given the United State’s military contributions to NATO, it played a large part in strategy design. Because of the efforts of NATO and the United States, member states around Ukraine have been armed and continue to train for the possibility of future Russian aggression. Additionally, very expensive war games are ongoing in the Black Sea. While the war-games do little to de-escalate violence in Ukraine, they serve to signal to Russia the consequences of further aggression in other Eastern European states. The United States has pressed forward with some reluctance from its EU counterparts, but given the massive military contributions provided by the United States, few states can form a cohesive bloc that can disagree and prevent action. German commanders are not pleased with the large divide between its commanders and those of NATO which are taking more aggressive military stances. Other Western European members such as France also believe the US is behaving in a manner which is too hawkish. A response from members of the European community has formed. The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, announced on March 12 the need for an exclusive EU military force. There are several reasons why an exclusive EU military is necessary and unnecessary. The suggestion by the Commission President and Germany’s backing points toward the rift in the strategic partnership between the United States and the EU. The United States pushed forward initiatives through NATO that would arm rebels in Ukraine. While the United States has pushed for increased armament, the European community, led by Germany and France, wants to prevent further escalation of conflict and spillover into neighboring regions. This is clearly observable in the diplomatic route that was taken February in the signing of the second Minsk agreement negotiated by Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany. Through the suggestion of an EU military, observers can see the strain that the Ukraine crisis has had on the US-EU relationship. The creation of this force would give the EU more control over forces in the region and could allow the institution to move further away from US influence through NATO. The mere suggestion of an exclusive EU military force by high level officials outlines an apparent fault line between the EU and US. The EU and the US have generally worked together in a unified manner to resolve security concerns, but this recent turn of events in Eastern Europe highlights the divergence of preferences between all sides that has been becoming more apparent in the last decade since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. To the benefit of the United States, the creation of an EU military force is politically unfeasible in the EU due to the fact that few members would be willing to agree to pay for these forces and set the EU on a course that could lead to further detachment of the US from Europe. Although these conditions are always subject to change, this is not a foreseeable option for the duration of this conflict. While the strengthening of the OSCE mission is difficult to pass through EU legislation, it is nowhere near as politically unfeasible as an exclusive EU force.

The current matter in the Ukraine stands as a frontline for many world superpowers. Since the end of the Cold War, president Clinton and Bush have taken steps to expand NATO beyond the comfort levels of Russian leaders. Unsurprisingly, Russia did not stand by idly while Ukraine, one of the most important states within the USSR, began to tilt westwards. President Putin has already shown his willingness and commitment to maintain a buffer from the west. Given the violent turn of events as the EU and US attempted to incorporate Ukraine into their framework, both powers must consider the ramifications of further expansion. It is clear, however, that the US and EU have divergent preferences. The United States is much more willing to risk war than Europe. This comes from the fact that the United States was willing to give the EU a blanket of defense while it formed so that the EU could focus on other domestic policies. While respectful of the United State’s contributions to the creation of the EU, many EU states have not been as willing in the last decade to support the United State’s military actions. This rift has become much more apparent in the last few months as the US has taken hazardous steps to ensure its preferences are achieved within the Ukrainian security crisis. Russia has been fast to respond to this and has successfully prevented more severe action against itself by dividing Europe through bilateral negotiations. While Europe battles itself and the United States, Russia’s strategy has successfully ensured that Ukraine will not side with the west for a considerable length of time. At the end of the Cold War, the line between East and West was temporarily blurred, however, as Russia regains economic capacity and military strength, the world will find out to what extent Russia will permit the line to move.

Photo by Sasha Maksymenko

WHY IT’S SO HARD FOR THE U.S. AND IRAN TO MAKE A DEAL

John Kerry meets with Iran's Vice President

By Rebecca Emrick
Staff Writer

Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the relationship between the United States and Iran has been rocky at best. One aspect of the rocky relationship between the two countries has been Iran’s nuclear program. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which was ratified in 1970 was created in order to outline that “countries with nuclear weapons will move towards disarmament; countries without nuclear weapons will not acquire them; and all countries can access peaceful nuclear technology.” According to the NPT, all countries are allowed to use nuclear capabilities, but only for peaceful purposes, such as energy production. However, states are not allowed to acquire nuclear capabilities past the point of peaceful purposes because that would mean that these nations could create nuclear weapons. Iran has not signed onto this treaty, and therefore didn’t formally commit to pursuing purely peaceful nuclear capabilities. Furthermore, in 2003 there was evidence that Iran had pursued and successfully created enriched uranium past what is needed for peaceful applications. However, Iran claimed that their enrichment of uranium was and has stayed at peaceful levels and that the evidence brought before the International Atomic Energy Agency was fabricated because they claimed that “the source of the uranium is imported equipment.”

Despite the circumstantial evidence that Iran was enriching uranium past peaceful uses, the U.S. Department of State has stated that “in response to Iran’s continued illicit nuclear activities, the United States and other countries have imposed unprecedented sanctions” in order to “prevent its further progress in prohibited nuclear activities, as well as to persuade Tehran to address the international community’s concerns about its nuclear program.” Although these were not the first sanctions ever imposed on Iran by the U.S., the Iranian government and economy has nonetheless felt the economic pressure. According to the World Bank “the business environment [in Iran] remains a challenge with the country ranking 130th out of the 189 countries surveyed in the 2015 Doing Business Report” Iran’s private sector isn’t as successful as it should be for being the second largest economy in the Middle East. Iran is being economically challenged by the sanctions being imposed on them in the private sector because private businesses are extremely limited with regard to whom they can do business with.

On the other hand, Iran has seen economic growth from 1.7 percent in 2013 to 3 percent in 2014 “as a result of the temporary and partial easing of sanctions imposed on Iran’s oil exports.” As a result of some sanctions being lifted from Iran, their overall economic growth has almost doubled in one year. This is no easy feat, and it shows that the sanctions that have been imposed on Iran greatly affect their economy. So if Iran’s economy has nearly doubled in the last year, why would they want to work with the U.S. to lift more sanctions? A big ticket economic problem that Iran faces is unemployment. In Iran “unemployment remains elevated and is expected to be a central challenge for the government”, which gives the Iranian Government motivation to work toward some kind of nuclear agreement with the U.S. in order to lift further sanctions in the hope of creating more jobs for Iranian citizens.

On Jan. 21, 2015 U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken claimed that the U.S. “still [has] a credible chance of reaching a deal that is in the best interest of America’s security, as well as the security of our allies” which was the first time that the U.S. had publicly stated that it was in its own national interest to cooperate and work with Iran on some kind of nuclear arrangement. Since then, the U.S. and Iranian diplomats have come to a preliminary agreement (the deal isn’t sealed until the end of June) which was made available to the Ayatollah Khamenei. Unfortunately the Ayatollah’s reaction to the nuclear deal has been less than satisfactory. For example, in a press conference in Tehran the Ayatollah demanded that economic sanctions be lifted as soon as the negotiations’ final papers were signed and that military sites were completely off limits to foreign inspectors and inquiries. These are two sticking points for the U.S. It is important to both President Obama and John Kerry that the U.S. lifts the economic sanctions on Iran gradually so that they are able to ensure that Iran has been “[complying] with its obligations” to reduce its stockpile of uranium so that they cannot enrich it for nuclear weapons. Additionally, most nuclear sites are also military bases, so if no inspectors were allowed in those facilities than there could be no guarantee that Iran was “following through on their commitment to vastly reduce their uranium stockpile.”

The Obama Administration is also facing criticism from the GOP, and their disbelief that Iran will continue to enrich uranium at levels that are in compliance for peaceful purposes. John Boehner has publicly stated that “it would be naïve to suggest the Iranian regime will not continue to use its nuclear program, and any economic relief, to further destabilize the region.” Members of the GOP are reluctant to allow a deal with Iran to go forward because they are skeptical that Iran will hold up their end of the bargain and enrich uranium at the appropriate levels for peaceful purposes. John Boehner also invited Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, to congress where he expressed concern over the deal with Iran and said in a statement “this is a bad deal — a very bad deal”. John Boehner wanted to invite Netanyahu to Congress to speak in order to show how this nuclear deal would affect Israel, a long standing ally of the U.S. Were Iran to go back on their agreement with the U.S., a nuclear armed Iran would be a large threat in the Middle East weapons and would most likely trigger an arms race in the Middle East. Iran and Israel are known for having an extremely tense relationship, so if Iran were to have nuclear weapons, one can assume that it would push their relationship over the edge. Boehner and the GOP wanted to use Netanyahu’s speech in order to show Obama what could go wrong if the U.S. decided to go through with a nuclear deal with Iran.

In Iran, the Ayatollah claims that he neither supports nor opposes the nuclear negotiations, he did end his speech saying that he “has never been optimistic about negotiations with America” which implies that he may be leaning away from supporting any kind of nuclear deal with the U.S. Although the President of Iran is directly elected by the people of Iran, it is the Ayatollah that has the final say in political matters. If the Ayatollah doesn’t agree with or support a bill, then the bill won’t pass. It will be important to take into consideration what the Ayatollah wants from these nuclear talks in order for the talks to be ultimately successful.

Image by the U.S. Department of State

THE TICKING EMBARGO

Havana

By Alejandro Inzunza
Staff Writer

On Dec. 17 last year, President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced a historic shift in relations between the United States and Cuba. After extensive negotiations brokered by the Canadian government and authorities in Vatican City, the presidents revealed that the U.S. and Cuba had agreed to normalize relations and would begin implementing policies to fully restore diplomatic channels in the coming months.

The talks commenced with a prisoner swap that included spies from both nations and the release of Alan Gross, an American subcontractor who had been imprisoned in the island since 2009. The swap has since been followed by negotiations pertaining to the normalization process which will include the establishment of an American embassy in Havana, a review of Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, easing travel restrictions to the island, and raising limits on remittances by Cuban-Americans and their businesses. In exchange, the Cuban regime has released 53 political prisoners and pledged to improve access to the Internet and other telecommunications technology.

Although initial rapprochement efforts have encountered diplomatic difficulties and domestic criticism, they are widely expected to be resolved in time for the 2015 Summit of the Americas to be held in Panama City this month. Cuba will attend the summit for the first time in history after a vote by Latin American countries resulted in unanimous support for the island-nation’s participation. The United States has consistently opposed Cuba’s attendance and actively lobbied members of the Organization of American States (OAS) to refrain from inviting Cuba in the past. This year’s summit will mark the first time both countries will share the hemispheric stage and will present an important opportunity for both nations to showcase diplomatic progress and update their bilateral relations. The American stance on Cuba has long been a source of tension and disagreement between the U.S. and countries in Latin America and has gradually eroded American influence in the region. The recent rapprochement developments provide an opportunity to improve ties with these nations and rethink American policy towards them as well. Furthermore, the 2015 Summit sets an appropriate stage for negotiations to begin on the biggest issue in U.S.-Cuban relations: the Cuban embargo.

In place since the early 1960s, the Cuban embargo is the longest-lasting trade embargo in the modern era. It was enacted with the purpose of ousting the Castro regime and outlaws most bilateral interaction between the United States and Cuba. It is outside the reach of presidential executive orders and requires Congressional action to be lifted or modified. Although the embargo has endured more than five decades thanks to its support by a powerful political machine, the social and demographic forces that have kept it in place are steadily eroding.

Most of the support for the embargo stems from older cohorts of voters and first-generation Cubans who immigrated to the United States after the Cuban Revolution, mostly to Florida. As these voter blocks start to dwindle and their political power begins to fade, politicians will have decreasing incentives to vociferously defend the continuation of the embargo and explore the alternatives. Already, a majority of Americans favor restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba and are becoming increasingly supportive of lifting the embargo. The trend is even stronger among younger Cuban-Americans in Florida, the state whose representatives have been the most ardent supporters of the status quo. The bloc of Cuban hardliners still represents an influential force in state and nationwide politics, albeit less so today than during any period in contemporary political history.

Arguments in favor of lifting the embargo have been widely discussed and detractors are increasingly falling flat. After all, it is hard to argue that a policy that has been in place for more than fifty years will only now begin to produce the intended beneficial outcomes. If anything, the embargo presents the perfect excuse to stir anti-Americanism in the region and excuse poverty and inequality in Cuba as a product of Yanqui oppression. The American tourism and business dollars that critics fear will flood Cuba and further empower the Castro regime are more likely to reveal the totalitarian corruption that actually oppresses the Cuban people. Poverty and struggle will be harder to justify once limits on trade and finance are lifted and will only serve to pressure failed economic policies to change.

In its quest to isolate Cuba, the United States has been slowly isolating itself instead. It remains the only major country without relations to Cuba and the only advocate for a policy that belongs in the years of the Cold War. It is time to pursue engagement and disavow isolationist policies that have led nowhere. The Cuban embargo is counterproductive and ultimately undermines American influence and interests in the immediate region.

Regardless of the merits or drawbacks of the embargo, the steady shift in American public opinion is undeniable and will inevitably alter the political landscape in time. Although a complete reversal of the embargo in the near future is unlikely given the current Republican control over both houses of Congress, prominent political figures are publicly advocating its end. The debate might set the stage for 2016, when the U.S. Senate is likely to change hands again. In the end, the Cuban question reflects an outdated policy whose revisiting was inevitable given enough time. Barring an international crisis, demographic trends favor a Cuban détente. Unless the Castro regime purposefully sabotages efforts to restore diplomatic relations, the end of the embargo is likely to happen in the coming years.

Image by Alejandro Inzunza