You are here

Foreign Policy in Focus

Subscribe to Foreign Policy in Focus feed
A think tank without walls
Updated: 51 min 52 sec ago

Don’t Forget: Nuclear Weapons Are an Existential Threat, Too

3 hours 58 min ago


There’s a growing awareness now that climate change is an existential threat to humanity. Inspiring movements are demanding solutions, and politicians are scrambling to offer them.

That’s good. But there’s another existential threat that gets a lot less attention: nuclear war. And a new study suggests it’s time to pay attention — and eliminate nuclear weapons before they eliminate us.

The study, published this October in Science Advances, warns that “rapidly expanding nuclear arsenals” could rapidly cause a “global catastrophe.” It examines the possible repercussions of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan, but it’s relevant to anyone who lives on this planet — and especially in a heavily nuclear-armed country like ours.

The study paints a grim picture. In a conflict between Indian and Pakistan, it says, up to 50 million people would die if 15-kiloton weapons are used. Almost 100 million would die if 50-kiloton weapons are used. And about 125 million if 100-kiloton weapons are used.

Casualties would occur not only in the nuclear explosions themselves, but also due to smoke emissions and other environmental damage resulting from the aftermath of a nuclear exchange.

Because of the dense populations of cities in Pakistan and India, even a war with the lowest-yield weapons could kill as many people as died in all of World War II. But unlike World War II, these casualties would occur within a single week.

“Perhaps for the first time in human history,” the authors conclude, “the fatalities in a regional war could double the yearly natural global death rate.”

The study’s release is particularly timely, given that India and Pakistan are currently locked in another tense standoffover Kashmir. But the authors also point out that their analysis could be used to model potential impacts of a nuclear war between any two nations.

Indeed, India and Pakistan aren’t the only countries increasing tensions and heightening the risk of a nuclear exchange.

A new nuclear arms race between the United States and Russia is giving young people like me a firsthand, time travel-free look at the Cold War era we were too young to experience. This year, President Donald Trump asked Congress to fund a new so-called “low-yield” nuclear weapon, which is touted as being “more usable.”

But if this study shows anything, it’s that no nuclear weapon should be considered “usable.” Any nuclear exchange anywhere is likely to have catastrophic consequences for the earth’s climate and human health everywhere.

The world can’t afford to ignore these disturbing findings, which emphasize the urgent need to prevent nuclear conflict and to reduce — and eliminate — nuclear arsenals.

Pakistan and India have only a fraction of the nuclear weapons possessed by the United States and Russia — and only a fraction of their potential destructive power. Right now, the United States and Russia are currently engaged in a super-high-stakes game of chicken of their own.

We’ve come very close to nuclear war in the past. Human health and survival are at stake in preventing what we cannot cure. No nation on earth can afford the catastrophic regional and global consequences of any use of nuclear weapons.

There is no such thing as a small nuclear war. American decision-makers at every level of government need to heed this study’s findings and work to advance commonsense policies to reduce and eliminate the nuclear weapons threat — before it eliminates us.

The post Don’t Forget: Nuclear Weapons Are an Existential Threat, Too appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Olivia Alperstein is the Media Relations Manager at Physicians for Social Responsibility. 

Trump’s Endless Wars

4 hours 11 min ago


Donald Trump loves to talk about ending the endless U.S. wars that he inherited as president. He tweets about it. He endlessly criticizes his predecessors for their martial mistakes.

But like the old saw about the weather, Trump talks a whole lot about endless wars but doesn’t do anything about them.

Just this month, he went against the advice of pretty much everyone to pull 1,000 U.S. troops out of northern Syria where they were protecting a largely autonomous Kurdish region. The result has been an immediate flare-up in the Syrian conflict as Turkey sent troops over the border to take advantage of the U.S. withdrawal. 

Then Trump turned around and sent an additional 2,000 troops to Saudi Arabia to help them defend against Iran or the Houthis or perhaps just internal critics of the regime. 

In fact, the Trump administration has deployed 14,000 additional U.S. troops to the Middle East since the spring. Compare that with the 1,000 troops that Trump is withdrawing from northern Syria. The president seems more focused on starting fires than putting them out.

Last month, Trump promised a grand deal with the Taliban that would allow the withdrawal of U.S. soldiers from Afghanistan. But that didn’t happen.

And what about the Kushner plan that was supposed to end the endless conflict between Israel and Palestine? Dead on arrival

America’s drone wars? By March 2019, Trump has launched more drone strikes (2,243) than Obama did in his two terms in office (1,878). 

Counter-insurgency campaigns in Africa? Trump has ordered a 10 percent cut in forces on the continent by 2022, but the total forces under the Africa Command actually went up by more than double that amount from 2017 to 2018 (6,000 to 7,500). 

Containment of China? The Pentagon, under Trump, has made China its “number one priority,” and much of the increase in military spending in the Trump administration has gone to preparing for war with Beijing.

Meanwhile, on the home front, Trump has declared war on Congress, on the mainstream media, on anyone who disagrees with him. A recent video shows Trump mowing down all of his critics in an altered outtake from the movie, Kingsman. As a meme, it’s disgusting. As a metaphor, it’s chillingly accurate.

Let’s face it: Trump is not against endless war. He is the embodiment of endless war. It’s the essence of his operating system. He went into politics because he understood that it’s endless war by other means (and he’s always been too squeamish to fight in endless wars by ordinary means). 

Once and for all, let’s bury the myth of Trump the dealmaker. He’s about as transactional as a heavyweight boxer. Remember: he was the host not of Let’s Make a Deal but of The Apprentice, in which he presided over a war of all against all with a single winner and lots of losers. He has simply brought that spirit of ungenerosity into the White House. 

The consequences have been devastating all around.

The Mess in Syria

Somehow Trump figured out the one geopolitical move he could make that could pave the way for a Turkish invasion of Syria, force a desperate alliance between beleaguered Kurds and the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad, improve Russia’s standing in the region, and revive the fortunes of the Islamic State. 

He seized on this strategy of withdrawing 1,000 troops from northern Syria probably because everyone warned him not to do it. Trump loves to defy expert advice. He’s convinced that he knows better. It’s unclear whence he derives this confidence since he has made disastrous decisions his entire life that have produced bankruptcies, unbuilt buildings all over the world, and a near total refusal of banks to provide him with loans.

The latest fiasco started with a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on October 6 in which Trump effectively endorsed the Turkish cross-border operation in Syria. 

David Sanger, in The New York Times, explains that Trump’s “error, some aides concede in off-the-record conversations, was entering the Oct. 6 call underprepared, and then failing to spell out for Mr. Erdogan the potential consequences — from economic sanctions to a contraction of Turkey’s alliance with the United States and its standing in NATO.” 

This was enough of a green light for the Turkish leader. Erdogan has been dreaming of invasion for some time in order to neutralize what he believes are a bunch of terrorists aiding Kurdish separatists in southeastern Turkey. He’d also like to relocate many of the Syrian refugees in Turkey to a new Turkish-controlled area in northern Syria. 

Until this month, however, Erdogan had been satisfied with a buffer zone. In a sense, U.S. troops were serving as peacekeepers in the region. There were not enough to launch significant military operations but just enough to stand between Turkey and the Kurds on one side and the Syrian government and the Kurds on the other. But no more.

The immediate victims of Trump’s latest decision are the Kurds, the ally that Trump relied on so heavily in his campaign against the Islamic State. The hope of Syrian Kurds for maintaining a peaceful and semi-autonomous state is now gone. The Kurds immediately signed a deal with Damascus that has brought Syrian government forces into the one significant part of the country that remained in opposition hands. When Trump’s callous move forced them to choose, Kurds opted for the devil they knew over the devil across the border. 

Turkey’s intervention has displaced tens of thousands of people from their homes. Kurdish refugees are flowing into Iraqi Kurdistan, and humanitarian organizations like Mercy Corps are pulling out their staff from northern Syria. Atrocities against civilians have taken place, including the execution of Kurdish politician Hevrin Khalaf. Turkey is also moving against domestic critics of the military operation, which also happen to be mostly Kurds. Erdogan’s move is motivated in good part by domestic considerations — his desire to silence his critics and generate a spike in nationalist sentiment.

Russia, meanwhile, has moved swiftly to take the place of the United States. Russian troops have flowed into northern Syria to serve as a buffer between Turkey and the government in Damascus. Perhaps it’s better for the Russians to play this role, particularly in the Trump era. But given Moscow’s support for the ruthless Assad, its willingness to sell anybody pretty much any weapon, and its general indifference to human rights, I’m not enthusiastic about an expanded Russian role in Middle East affairs. The United States was no great shakes, but Russia is worse.

Then there’s the Islamic State, which has not disappeared, contrary to Trump’s fanciful assertions. According to The New York Times

The White House statement on Sunday came as the Islamic State is gathering new strength, conducting guerrilla attacks across Iraq and Syria, retooling its financial networks and targeting new recruits at an allied-run tent camp, American military, counterterrorism and intelligence officers say.

Over the past several months, ISIS has made inroads into the sprawling Al Hol tent camp in northeast Syria, and there is no ready plan to deal with the 70,000 people there, including thousands of family members of ISIS fighters.

American intelligence officials say the Al Hol camp, managed by Syrian Kurdish allies with little aid or security, is evolving into a hotbed of ISIS ideology. The American-backed Syrian Kurdish force also holds more than 10,000 ISIS fighters, including 2,000 foreigners, in separate makeshift prisons.

In the chaos of the Turkish intervention, at least 750 Islamic State adherents escaped from a displacement camp in the Kurdish-held region. Trump has speculated without any proof that the Kurds deliberately released the prisoners in order to draw the United States back into military engagement. Nice try, Donald: the Kurds are no longer counting on the United States for anything. 

But the worst part is: it turns out that Trump didn’t end the war with the Islamic State after all. 

The War at Home

The president has been conducting a two-front foreign policy war ever since he took office. 

Overseas, he’s been involved in numerous conflicts with both allies and adversaries. But at home, he’s also been at war: with his own policymaking apparatus. He has chewed through foreign policy advisors of all types: Jim Mattis, John Bolton, Rex Tillerson, HR McMaster. As he retreats further into the mancave of his twitterverse, Trump has fallen back on the advice of someone with an even more paranoid and incoherent worldview than his own. 

It turns out that there’s an advisor even worse than Trump’s own gut: Rudy Giuliani. 

The impeachment hearings are every day revealing the real deep state — the shadow foreign policy orchestrated by Trump and Giuliani. Fiona Hill, who was responsible for Russia and Europe policy at the National Security Council, testified that Giuliani worked to get Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, removed from her post. He was also trying to dig up dirt on Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. He was even trying to prove that Ukraine helped the Democratic Party in the 2016 elections.

According to The Washington Post, Giuliani “said he believed Hill was out of the loop compared to Sondland and others involved with Ukraine. ‘She just didn’t know,’ he said. He added that he had never talked to her about Ukraine policy.”

Wake up and smell the facts, Rudy: that’s the definition of a shadow foreign policy. The person who knew the most about Russia and Ukraine was out of the loop? And you, Rudy Giuliani, whose knowledge of Ukraine can be boiled down to a handful of ludicrous conspiracy theories, presume to displace Marie Yovanovitch, who speaks the languages of the region, was deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Kiev from 2001 to 2004, and was determined to help root out corruption in Ukraine? 

And your chief ally in this endeavor, other than a president who has even less understanding of geopolitics than you do, is Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union? Sondland has only one qualification for his job: absolute fealty to Donald Trump. The guy’s nothing more than a glorified hotelier who has spent most of his time in Brussels overseeing an expensive renovation of the ambassador’s residence. 

Giuliani has emerged as this generation’s Oliver North, the architect of the Iran-Contra affair during the Reagan years. Like North, Giuliani has been running a covert operation under the noses of the foreign policy professionals. Rudy’s goal was much narrower and grubbier than North’s: the reelection of the president. Giuliani, in other words, was basically a CREEP (Committee to Reelect the President) unto himself. 

All of this is bad news for Trump on the impeachment front. But it’s also bad news for Giuliani, particularly if it turns out that he didn’t disclose his lobbying ties, which would expose him to criminal charges. After all, he actively lobbied on Turkey’s behalf to persuade the Trump administration to extradite the cleric Fethullah Gulen from Pennsylvania back to Turkey. Mike Flynn, Trump’s erstwhile former national security advisor, went down for almost the identical offense. 

Meanwhile, Rudy was pulling down half a million dollars for his consulting work with the aptly named Fraud Guarantee (or is that Guaranteed Fraud?), which just happened to be owned by one of the Ukrainians recently arrested for campaign finance violations.

It’s not looking good for the president and all the president’s men. Trump continues to try to fight his way out of his predicament. So far, he still has the Republican Party in his corner. But that might not last long. 

The impeachment will not be an endless war. It will be nasty and brutish, but it will be relatively short. Trump the putative dealmaker might make one last appearance in an effort to stay out of jail. But the more fitting scenario would be if the president goes down in flames as the most prominent casualty of his own endless war against the U.S. people.

The post Trump’s Endless Wars appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus and author of the dystopian novel Frostlands.

The #MeToo Movement Has Gone Global 

Tue, 10/15/2019 - 12:08pm


The #MeToo movement started with a single tweet — now, it has produced an international treaty. 

One in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes, while close to three in four report having been sexually harassed. Much of this violence occurs in the workplace, where power imbalances and economic pressures increase the risk of abuse. Yet 59 countries have no legislation specifically addressing workplace harassment.

This June, the International Labor Organization (ILO) —  the United Nations agency for workers’ rights — took a historic step to close this gap. In a landslide vote of 439 to 7, the ILO adopted the legally binding Convention Concerning the Elimination of Violence and Harassment in the World of Work, as well as a non-binding recommendation that builds out the details.

Following years of campaigning by labor unions, women’s rights activists, and human rights organizations, this was a landmark victory. But the fight is not over. Like most treaties, the convention is only binding for those that sign on. 

To further the struggle against workplace violence and harassment, both here and abroad, the United States should ratify this new convention, which commits its parties to “respect, promote and realize the right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment.” 

Under the new rules, states are obligated to ban violence and harassment, institute national prevention plans, establish substantive monitoring and enforcement mechanisms, ensure access to victim remediation, and more. Employers are required to work with employees to institute workplace protections, including complaint procedures, independent dispute resolution mechanisms, and whistle-blower safeguards. 

And, crucially for an agreement on labor rights, unions are championed for their essential role in combating abuse.

Some of the agreements’ greatest strengths are in the details: gender-based violence is highlighted as a unique, and uniquely insidious, challenge (though LGBTQ+ issues are not explicitly mentioned). Workers of all contractual statuses (such as trainees, contractors, and interns) and all sectors (public and private, formal and informal) are covered. The “workplace” is defined expansively, including travel, commutes, and meetings. 

States are also called upon to address domestic violence as it relates to the workplace — a particular win given that domestic violence is still legal in some countries. Vulnerable populations, such as migrant, hospitality, and domestic workers, are rightfully emphasized. 

Much of the implementation is left up to discretion. If the United States ratifies the convention, some existing regulations will be deemed sufficient, while others will require strengthening. Yet across the board, workers will gain a protective backstop and a powerful legal weapon in the fight for additional protections. Ratifying the convention would make all American workers safer. 

But the case for ratification extends beyond our borders. 

First, as the global hegemon, U.S. support sends a powerful message to other countries considering signing on, while providing leverage for the domestic civil society movements pressuring them to do so. 

Second, ratification is a precondition for other measures that may be used to improve global standards. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s recent trade plan, for example, would extend certain trade privileges only to countries that comply with international agreements like the Paris Accord. If similar methods are ever to be used for this convention, the U.S. must first sign on itself.

Third, the neoliberal model of globalization has allowed corporations to pursue opportunities for profits, and therefore exploitation, across borders. When countries are forced to compete to attract investment by weakening regulations, global treaties that establish minimum standards —  and the multilateral bodies dedicated to doing so — are essential. Ratification expresses a commitment to both.

Finally, the campaign for the convention has united major unions from around the world. Its ratification would be a victory for labor internationalism, and fuel for a growing movement with even higher aspirations.

Despite these benefits, ratification will be a struggle. The right wing is ideologically opposed to pro-worker regulations — especially when those regulations are embodied in an international treaty, a perceived restraint on unilateral American power.

With treaty ratification requiring the support of the president and two-thirds of the Senate, the U.S. has only ratified 14 of the ILO’s 190 Conventions. Under an administration resistant to multilateral cooperation, and with Republicans holding the Senate, the convention on violence and harassment is unlikely to be the exception.

But there is a chance. Of the ILO Conventions that the United States has ratified, one was a 97-0 vote in favor, and others have passed under a Republican majority. Further, while the U.S. delegation to the ILO was split on the recent recommendation vote, all four, including representatives of the government, employers, and workers, voted in favor of the convention. 

If past Republican senators and Trump administration delegates could bring themselves to support an ILO Convention, then a blue wave in the 2020 elections, leadership from the next president, and organized grassroots pressure may bring ratification within reach.

It won’t be easy an easy fight. But to address the scourge of violence and harassment in the workplace, to protect workers both here and abroad, and to enshrine the lessons of the #MeToo era into law, it’s a cause worth fighting for.

The post The #MeToo Movement Has Gone Global  appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Michael Galant is the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy 2019 Economics and Trade Fellow, and a recent graduate of the Master of Public Policy program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He is interested in building global solidarity for left alternatives to neoliberal models of globalization and “development,” and can be found on Twitter at @michael_galant.

Trump’s Betrayal of the Kurds Is Terrible, But the Answer Is Not Endless War

Tue, 10/15/2019 - 11:58am

Syrian Kurdish refugees, 2014 (Shutterstock)

The biggest problem with the U.S. withdrawal of forces from the Syrian border with Turkey is that they were there in the first place.

Trump’s decision hands over the Kurdish-run region of northern Syria to Turkey, a NATO ally with whom the U.S. has been conducting joint operations at the border. The move gave Turkey the green light to attack Kurdish communities in the region, which is currently held by the Kurdish YPG militia. The bombing has already begun, killing dozens and driving tens of thousands to flee the advancing Turkish assault.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has ordered an additional 1,800 troops to Saudi Arabia, putting lie to Trump’s claims that the withdrawal from northern Syria had anything at all to do with ending “endless wars” or troop deployments.

The Turkish government has long been awaiting an opportunity to attack this region of Kurdish autonomy, while some inside Turkey support the Kurdish struggle. The issue is also linked to the region’s burgeoning refugee crisis: Turkey is preparing mass deportations of Syrian refugees currently in Turkey to the Syrian side of the border.

Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds, U.S. allies who have fought ISIS at tremendous cost, has sparked bipartisan outrage — from Hillary Clinton to Trump’s own former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, who wrote on Twitter: “We must always have the backs of our allies, if we expect them to have our back. The Kurds were instrumental in our successful fight against ISIS in Syria. Leaving them to die is a big mistake.” Republican senators Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell, usually strong Trump supporters, also broke ranks with the president.

Yet the U.S. betrayal of the Kurds did not begin with Trump’s announcement. Trump is only writing the latest chapter in a shameful history.

Haley finished her tweet with the hashtag “#TurkeyIsNotOurFriend.” But the fact is that Turkey, a NATO ally that has long provided airspace and collaborated in various ways with the U.S. military, has been an important ally of the United States for years. Turkey’s violence toward the Kurdish people inside and outside its borders, and its government’s escalating repression at home, has not complicated this.

According to the Security Assistance Monitor, from 2002 to this year, the U.S. has given Turkey more than $300 million in military aid. Through the ups and downs of the U.S.-Turkey relationship, the aid keeps flowing and joint operations between the countries’ two militaries have continued. As Turkey begins its offensive in northern Syria, it is likely doing so with American weapons.

The Kurds are stateless people who have faced violence and discrimination in countries throughout the Middle East — not just Turkey. The U.S. has signaled support for Kurdish freedom before, only to turn its back on their struggles.

In 1991, after the U.S. defeated Saddam Hussein’s forces in Iraq, President George H.W. Bush encouraged Kurds and others oppressed by the Iraqi government to rise up and topple it — only for U.S. forces to give a green light for Hussein to crush the rebellion and stand by while his forces mercilessly slaughtered tens of thousands, preferring to negotiate a separate U.S. ceasefire instead.

That 1991 catastrophe came after Hussein’s forces used chemical weapons against the Kurdish city of Halabja in 1988 as part of the genocidal Anfal campaign, which was also a response to Kurdish resistance. Then too, thousands were killed. At the time, Hussein was an ally of the United States.

These atrocities should be seen in the context of broader U.S. violence in the region.

It is sickening that the U.S. would knowingly deliver the Kurds to Turkish violence again today. But our outrage should not lead us to embrace the U.S. presence in Syria. As in Iraq and beyond, that military presence — aimed at both defeating ISIS and jockeying for a seat at the table in determining Syria’s future alongside other regional powers — has been disastrous.

Amnesty International has investigated, for example, the Pentagon’s 2017 aerial siege of the city of Raqqa, where the Islamic State was headquartered. Amnesty concluded that U.S. forces acted with utter disregard for civilian life, killing and wounding thousands, and slaughtering whole families. Journalists Lama Al-Arian and Ruth Sherlock have documented the grim life for Raqqa residents since. The U.S. also abandoned these residents, freezing reconstruction funds after leaving 70 to 80 percent of the city’s buildings destroyed.

Trump may be especially brutish in the nakedness of his power calculations, and shortsighted in his outlook on U.S. strategy and relationships. But the U.S. has always been guided by what will advance its power on the world stage — and to the extent that there is a debate in Washington’s halls of power about foreign policy at all, it is usually about that.

If the U.S. wants to help the Kurds today, the answer is not more permanent war — that’s part of what’s made life so miserable for Kurds and so many others across the Middle East to begin with. Instead, it could suspend its military aid to Turkey, and end its racist exclusion of refugees.

Reversals and betrayals of allies are as common as long-term alliances. Patently uncommon are genuine commitments to democracy and human rights.

This article is a joint publication of Foreign Policy In Focus and

The post Trump’s Betrayal of the Kurds Is Terrible, But the Answer Is Not Endless War appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Khury Petersen-Smith is the Michael Ratner Middle East Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.