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The Uncertain Future of US & NATO Relations

February 14, 2017
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President Trump’s recent comments about NATO have left many to speculate on the future of US/NATO relations under Trump’s administration. In an interview with the London Times, President Trump was critical of numerous NATO members who do not meet the expected 2% of their GDP standard on defense spending.

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As of April 2016, only 5 of the 28 members are spending this expected 2% of their GDP on defense, including the United States, UK, Poland, Estonia, and Greece. This has led many to question the commitment of the other 23 countries in NATO.

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Additionally, the Trump administration appears to be cozying up to Putin and Russia, which brings up further questions about NATO’s future and the role the US will have in NATO. For years NATO has been a point of contention for Putin; especially after the inclusion of the former Warsaw Pact countries into NATO took place in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. The inclusion of the Warsaw Pact countries, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia, threaten Russia in two ways. First, geographically speaking, the proximity of Russia to these countries, specifically Poland who as noted before spends over 2% of their GDP on defense, is seen as a threat in Russia. Additionally, under the Obama administration, Poland was and still is currently being used for a US/NATO strategic missile defense. While the US has been adamant that the proximity of these missiles is to protect Europe from ‘rogue’ states, Moscow views these weapons as an attempt by the West to disrupt the security balance in Europe. Secondly, the inclusion of the former Warsaw Pact members is perceived as a slight against Russian prestige and honor. Putin has publicly declared his disapproval and hatred for Russian foreign policy decisions made during the 1990’s. Many scholars believe that Putin is on a mission to increase his influence over European affairs to regain Russian esteem.

There is widespread speculation about the future of US involvement in NATO under Trump’s administration. To put it simply, we do not know what President Trump will do. He is unpredictable, and this unpredictability is terrifying European leaders. It is the hopes of many, myself included, that a clear and concise strategy for continuous US involvement in NATO will be formulated after President Trump meets with NATO leaders this coming May.

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-nato-idUSKBN15L04L?il=0https://www.theatlantic.com/news/archive/2016/07/trump-nato/492341/http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/11/politics/nato-missile-defense-romania-poland/http://money.cnn.com/2016/04/15/news/nato-spending-countries/

Clash of Philosophy in German Soccer

February 7, 2017
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football

When Borussia Dortmund and Rasenballsport Leipzig met over the weekend, there was much more at stake than just 3 points. The two clubs represent a stark difference in philosophy. Borrusia Dortmund is part of German soccer’s old guard, a true Traditionsmannschaft (traditional team). Somewhat similar to what the Green Bay Packers or Chicago Cubs are in American sports. Dortmund boasts the biggest standing terrace in Europe, develops plenty of homegrown players, is a staple in the community and the region, and their vibrant fan-scene and culture is among one of the most respected in Europe. Rasenballsport Leipzig, playing in the Bundesliga for the first time in their short history, has caused outrage among German soccer fans.

The Austrian energy-drink maker Red Bull is behind the sudden emergence of RB Leipzig as a soccer power. The DFB (German soccer association) would not allow the club to name themselves explicitly after the energy-drink, so the club settled for another term, which would allow them to market their product. They settled on Rasenballsport Leipzig. Translated literally it means “lawn ball sport” and sounds equally silly in German as it does in English. The move allowed the club to call themselves RB Leipzig and adopt a club crest with an uncanny resemblance to that of Red Bull’s corporate logo. The company has bankrolled the club and managed to overthrow the traditional status quo in under 10 years, unseating historically successful clubs such as Borussia Dortmund, Hamburger SV, and VfB Stuttgart. RB Leipzig currently sit 2nd in the standings, just 4 points behind superpower Bayern Munich. If they hold their current position, they will play in soccer’s most prestigious competition next season, the UEFA Champion’s League.

To many Germans, Rasenballsport Leipzig, or RB Leipzig, represents everything they believe soccer should not be. For one, the club has circumvented the hallowed 50+1 rule, which makes the sport in Germany so unique. The rule ensures that the members of the club have majority control. This keeps commercial interests in check.  In Germany, for example, you could never have a situation like that of Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich at Chelsea.

RB Leipzig has managed to circumvent the 50+1 rule by making it extremely difficult to acquire a membership. Those who do go through the trouble and financial burden of attaining a membership still do not have voting rights. A select few members, who have direct ties to Red Bull, hold the voting rights.

Germans until recently had been immune to the commercialization of the sport, which has hit their neighbors Spain, England, and to a lesser extent France and Italy particularly hard. Red Bull Leipzig is a threat to this sense of traditional security. Other multi-national corporations have taken notice of what Red Bull has achieved, a marketing scheme wrapped up in the guise of a football club, a very successful one at that. The worry for fans is that RB Leipzig represents a crack in the foundation, and more like-minded clubs could follow suit, threatening the organic, traditional, fan-driven and fan-centric nature of the sport in Germany.

Over the weekend, Borussia Dortmund went on to defeat RB Leipzig 1-0 in front of their home fans, who were not shy about voicing their displeasure of what RB Leipzig has done to their beloved sport (see photo above.) Unfortunately, some resorted to extreme measures.

 

Bucharest Nightclub Burns Down

January 27, 2017
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Lady shoes lay abandoned on the snow following the evacuation of a club after a fire broke out in Bucharest

 © Reuters

On January 21, 2017, a fire caused the Bamboo nightclub in Bucharest to burn down. Around 40 people required hospitalization, but no deaths were reported. One person was in serious condition, while others suffered from smoke inhalation or minor bone fractures.

Prosecutors have opened an investigation as to  the cause of the fire that occurred on that Saturday morning. According to the ISU which deals with emergency situations, the club lacked proper fire permits. In 2005, the club had burnt down, and throughout 2015 the club was fined multiple times.

This fire brought back memories of one of the most recent devastating events that occurred in Romania. In 2015, a fire at the Colectiv nightclub resulted in 64 deaths and 100 injuries. That fire was the result of fireworks used during a concert at the club, which did not have the proper fireproof insulation. Furthermore, the club had only one main exit with nearly 400 people who gathered for a free concert.

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The Colectiv tragedy sparked some of Romania’s biggest protests in years over failed oversight, and led to the resignation of Prime Minister Victor Ponta. No deaths occurred at the Bamboo club fire, but Romanian President Klaus Iohannis stated, “Rules and laws were apparently broken again. Until we understand once and for all that the law is for everyone, society will always be in danger.”

It looks as if history continues to repeat its self in Romania. The Romanian government must figure out a way to improve safety regulations and increase sanctions for repeat offenders. Unless the government is adamant about true reform, citizens will remain pessimistic about any signs of future improvement.

 

 

 

Earthquakes Continue to Plague Italy

January 19, 2017
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A recent avalanche, set off by an earthquake in Italy has completely buried a ski resort, leading officials to fear the worst for the 20 to 30 hotel guests staying at the resort.

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Rescue teams are hard at work searching for survivors

Officials and rescue teams are working hard to search for survivors; however, many are feared dead. One resort guest told reporters of how he walked to his car to grab something he had forgotten. Upon returning to the resort, the building leveled with his wife and child inside.

This avalanche brings back recent memory of earthquakes that shook Italy’s central region and killed hundreds. This past fall, four earthquakes were reported, much more than over the past few years.

Unfortunately, Italy lies on what seismologists refer to as the “Apennine red belt,” an historically active seismic region. This area is known to have had some of the most devastating earthquakes in Italy’s history. In 1915, an earthquake in the area killed approximately 32,000 people.

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Avalanches, which can be triggered by earthquakes, are particularity difficult to plan for. Officials tell civilians to stay inside during heavy snowfall; however, when an earthquake triggers an avalanche, officials advise civilians to leave their homes. Often, it is too late for civilians to flee their homes, trapping them inside.

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The ski resort can be seen nearly completely buried in snow

Sources:

http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/31/europe/italy-earthquake-norcia-explainer/

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/19/italy-earthquakes-avalanche-hotel

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-38674788

https://www.thestar.com/photos/the_daily_beast_by_wanda_goodwin/2014/01/avalanche_dog_aico_.html

https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/2652582/what-caused-the-avalanche-in-italy/

 

Security issues take center-stage in the wake of Berlin attack

January 12, 2017
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Truck crashed into a Christmas market in Berlin

Police officers next to the truck at Breitscheidplatz, in Berlin | Britta Pedersen/EPA

 

Last month’s terror attack in Berlin shook the country to the core. The attack was the first of its kind in Germany. Policy-makers are responding with a series of hardline security measures.

Some of the proposed measures include: deportation reforms, traceable ankle tags, more comprehensive negotiation and cooperation with dangerous individual’s country of origin, new grounds for incarceration, an increase in surveillance for individuals who may pose a threat, and cutting development aid to countries that refuse rejected asylum applicants.

The proposed  measures were agreed on by both the CDU (Christian Democratic Union), represented  by interior minister Thomas de Maizière, and the SPD (Social Democratic Party),  represented by justice minister Heiko Maas. The joint press conference comes just days after the CDU and SPD traded jabs over how to proceed in the wake of the Berlin terror attack. In an interview with Bild am Sonntag,  de Maizière placed blame on the SPD for the lack of willingness to cooperate with their grand coalition partners, the CDU. SPD general secretary Katarina Barley dismissed de Maizière’s comments, saying they only meant to, “distract from his own failures.”

Sigmar Gabriel, chairman of the SPD and vice chancellor, recently spoke out in favor of tighter security measures. Gabriel is shaping up to be one of Merkel’s biggest challengers for the chancellery in 2017, though he is trailing big in most early polls.

Gabriel is an advocate of increased video surveillance and a ban on Salafist mosques. In a recent interview with Der Spiegel, Gabriel took a strong stance on combatting terrorism and radical Islam in Germany, stating he has, “zero tolerance” for such things.

The Green Party is opposed to the tighter security measures. The party is viewed by many as weak on security, a label that could cost the party votes in next fall’s elections. Party co-chairman Cem Özdemir said the Greens, “….are not participating in the parties’ efforts to outdo one another.” One of the biggest points of contention for the Greens is the idea of increasing survelleincae. Party co-chairman Simone Peter stated that, “Surveillance has no basis in the constitution.” Surveillance is a difficult issue for Germany to grapple with, due to its prominent role in the oppressive regime of the GDR.

Opinion:

Cem Özdemir rightly called out the recent actions of both the SPD and CDU for what they really are, little more than political jockeying. Both parties are trying to stave off voters defecting to the AfD (Alternative for Germany Party), a problem the Greens do not face. Additionally, both parties realize that security is the hot issue of the moment in Germany as well as the entire European Union. The AfD has found success emphasizing the importance of security and linking it to migration issues. Pew Research Center found in a survey on global attitudes taken in the spring of 2016 that 85% of Germans consider ISIS a major threat to the country, while 66% say that cyberattacks from other countries represents a major threat to the country. Pew Research Center Found in another public opinion poll from the fall of 2016 that 61% of Germans believe that refugees will increase the likelihood of terrorism in Germany. The SPD and CDU each have eyes toward fall’s federal elections. Both know that issue of security will play a central role, a deviation from the 2013 federal election in which the economy took center stage following the European debt crisis. In 2016 Germany’s GDP grew by 1.9 percent, and the biggest issues facing the European Union are the refugee crisis, security issues, and Brexit, not failing economies.

The reality of the terror attack in Berlin was that the correct security measures were in fact already in place. Anis Amri was well-known to German authorities. Yet, the proper authorities ignored all the warning signs, allowing Amri to carry out the deadly attack, citing a lack of hard evidence against him. Amri had committed multiple crimes since coming to Europe, served a jail sentence in another European Union country, used up to 14 different identities, and mingled with known radical Islamists. Is all that not evidence of someone who fit the description of a potentially dangerous individual? Increasing surveillance, ankle tags, these things will do little to prevent further attacks. Authorities had all the information they needed, they failed to act.

German authorities thwarted a planned terror attack in October. While police did receive aid from Syrian refugees in apprehending the suspect, they also deserve praise for how they handled the situation. Intelligence services identified the suspect as a potential threat and had him under surveillance for months prior to his apprehension. However, the suspect committed suicide while in custody, a costly human error and institutional failure.

One measure that should help increase security in Germany, that has been proposed, is amending deportation practices. There must be ground for the deportation of rejected asylum seekers deemed a danger to German society from the Maghreb countries  (Algeria, Morroco, and Tunisia) to their country of origin. Not only would this aid in preventing large-scale terror attacks, but also events similar to the 2015-2016 New Year’s eve attacks in Cologne.

Germany must change the conversation surrounding their national security debate. The wake of an event like the one in Berlin is not a time to score cheap political points. There is too much blame being thrown around, from all sides of the political spectrum. The blame lies not with a certain political party or politician, rather with isolated failings of law enforcement individuals. Now is the time for Germany to analyze the misdoings of the lead-up to the attack on Breitscheidplatz and learn from the mistakes in order to prevent a similar attack from happening in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Political Turmoil: The Rise of Populist Rhetoric in Austria and Italy

December 9, 2016
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Austria

On December 4, 2016, Austrians went to the polls to cast their votes in a rerun of the presidential elections. Since the aftermath of American elections, calculations on the electability of radical candidates have changed. The campaign of right-wing Freedom Party member, Norbert Hofer, was similar to that of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump. Supporters of Hofer say that he represents the next pillar in a “new world order”. Campaign slogans of “Make Austria Great Again” popped up across the internet. Some individuals even posted memes displaying the country’s former borders during the period of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

In contrast to Trump’s blunt speaking style, Hofer comes off as more neighborly. When asked about Trump’s election campaign, Hofer stated that, “I’m happy that we don’t have anything like this in this style in Austria.” Nonetheless, Hofer embraced a similar platform to Trump in regards to his pro-Russian and anti-immigrant sentiment.

Although Hofer did not win the Austrian presidential elections, the recent poll displayed how well populist candidates may fair across Europe. Hofer accumulated 46.7% of the votes compared to the 53% garnered by his opponent Van der Bellen. In spite of his lost, Hofer’s Austrian Freedom Party still remains a formidable force in Austrian politics.

 

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Italy

After the defeat of Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s constitutional revision plan, Renzi decided to resign from his position. Anti-immigrant and anti-euro populists on both sides of the political spectrum have taken this opportunity to gain access to their nation’s highest office. Parties such as the Five Star movement are polling similar percentages to Renzi’s center-left Democratic Party. Five Star lawmaker in the lower house of the Italian Parliament, Manilo Di Stefano, sees a trend that is spreading all over Europe. Citizens are no longer satisfied with the status quo. Besides the the same old politics, Italian votes have felt alienated by Renzi for over two years.

The recent referendum resulted in 59% of voters opposing the revisions proposed by Renzi. Choosing a successor to Renzi will now lie in the hands of Italian President Sergio Mattarella. Renzi was asked by Mattarella to postpone his resignation until the government passes the budget. In the meantime, Renzi will act as a “caretaker prime minister”. Although this delay may provide more time for succession planning, the political situation will not drastically change. Allies of Renzi saw the rejection of the constitutional changes on Monday as a momentous setback. Brexit started the process of disintegration, and many believe that the European Union must diverge from the status quo.

 

 

East-West World Chess Championship Rivalry

December 2, 2016
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This past Monday, two grand master chess players, Sergey Karjakin of Russia, and Magnus Carlsen of Norway, the defending World Chess Champion, faced off in downtown Manhattan in a best of twelve games World Chess Championship. Both players went into Monday’s match having won one win each and drawing the other nine games. While this chess match may not be as widely covered as Bobby Fischer’s 1972 “Match of the Century,” where Fischer defeated the Soviet Union’s Boris Spassky during the height of the Cold War, becoming the first American to ever win the title; there are similar political undertones of East-West tension and worldly uncertainty.

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Karjakin, seen here, has been an outspoken supporter for Russian President Vladimir Putin

Karjakin has publicly supported President Vladimir Putin, particularly in regards to the Russian occupation of Crimea where Karjakin himself is from. Carlsen, fearful of the possibility of Russian hackers giving Karjakin information on his strategy has employed Microsoft Norway to help strengthen his personal cyber security. Furthermore, throughout his campaign, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has openly expressed interest in strengthening relations with Russia and Putin, while simultaneously calling into question current NATO members such as Norway. This has led to wide speculation on security strategies in Europe, and the future of NATO.

 

 

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Carlsen, pictured here, defeated Karjakin in the overtime match on Wednesday.

After 35 minutes of play and 30 moves, game twelve ended in a draw. Karjakin and Carlsen met again on Wednesday where Carlsen won decisively in a best of four-overtime match. Carlsen’s win was not surprising as he was the heavy favorite to win, however much can be said for the playing style of Karjakin, who consistently forced draws and earned the respect of those watching the match. Carlsen’s defeat over Karjakin, continued the drought of a Russian World Chess Champion, a sport traditionally dominated by Russians,  particularly in the Cold War.

While the world waits to see if the East-West chess rivalry continues on in the future, the world will also have to wait to see how US-Russian relations play out and the future of NATO.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/27/nyregion/world-chess-championship-magnus-carlsen-sergey-karjakin.html?_r=0

http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-world-chess-championship-is-going-into-overtime/

http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/nato_countries.htm

http://www.biography.com/people/bobby-fischer-9295608#synopsis

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/11/05/king-of-chess-magnus-carlsen-calls-in-microsoft-to-fight-off-rus/

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/30/nyregion/magnus-carlsen-defends-title-in-world-chess-championship.html