Week in Review

2 November 2018

German Chancellor, Angela Merkel

German Chancellor, Angela Merkel


EUROPE’S IRON LADY. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the political survivor and Europe's Iron Lady, announced Monday that she will make way for a new leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). The move comes after the CDU and their sister party the CSU suffered significant losses in regional elections in Hesse and Bavaria. She has said she will continue on as Chancellor until her term expires in 2021, but internal party politics may hasten this process. Merkel has captained the country through the great recession, the Eurozone crisis, and the recent the refugee crisis. Her departure is meant to put new life into the increasingly unpopular party, yet in the short term it will undoubtedly destabilize Germany's already fractured party system. Such instability may curtail Germany's leadership potential within Europe, signaling a potential shift in the balance of power.

NORTH KOREA NEEDS A #MeToo MOMENT. Human Rights Watch published a report Thursday that details the sexual violence experienced regularly by North Korean women. As market restrictions have eased in the country over the course of Kim Jong-un's rule, more women have become the primary earners in their households as traders. Consequentially, they are more frequently exposed to male officials, who are taking advantage of their positions of power to engage in coerced or forced sex acts. The number of people convicted of rape annually, however, still sits in the single digits. This lack of justice silences the voices of North Korean women, and represents yet another mark against the country's disastrous human rights record.

IT’S BOLSONARO’S BRAZIL. Brazil’s presidential campaign came to its conclusion last Sunday with the victory of its far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro, winning with 55 percent of the vote. His campaign was highly controversial and garnered the attention of the world as a result of his shocking political rhetoric. Bolsonaro has openly admired the former Brazilian military dictatorship for its violent tactics and proudly proclaimed his support for the use of torture. In addition, he has been upfront about his sexist and homophobic views and has expressed his intention to abolish environmental protections. Bolsonaro’s rise can be attributed to multiple factors that have caused Brazilian citizens to lose faith in their government, including the recent uncovering of widespread corruption, resulting from Operation Car-Wash, and rising crime rates, which have left Brazilians fearful for their safety. Under these turbulent conditions, Bolsonaro has capitalized on his position as a political outsider, without ties to the corruption perpetrated by his opponents, and has presented himself as the strong law-and-order candidate that many Brazilians are looking for. However, if his campaign is any indication, Bolsonaro’s presidency should make Brazilians fearful for the fate of their democracy.

WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN TO THE AMAZON? Brazil’s far-right President-elect Jair Bolsonaro has announced plans to merge the ministries of the Environment and Agriculture, a move likely to result in the regulatory capture of the state’s environmental protection administration by industry, as Bolsonaro is backed by the agribusiness lobby. The Amazon region contains the world’s largest tropical rainforest, which in addition to being home to a vast array of rare and endangered plant and animal life, plays a vital role in planetary thermoregulation through the absorption of CO2. Vice President-elect Mourao’s claims that the “government would act responsibly by managing the spread of agriculture in the region” provide little reassurance, given that President-elect Bolsonaro has already floated the idea of withdrawing Brazil from the 2015 Paris Climate Accords because of the treaty’s impact on Brazil’s capacity to pursue economic development in the Amazon region. If Bolsonaro, a former paratrooper who has expressed admiration for the country’s prior dictatorial military regimes, follows through on ratcheting up development in the Amazon and on pulling out of the Paris Accords, it could set a dangerous precedent that may impact the global community’s attempts to reach C02 emission reduction targets.

SINO-JAPANESE DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS STRENGTHEN. Japan and China historically have had strained relations, given their economic rivalry, geopolitical dispute over the Senkaku Islands, and unresolved tensions from World War II. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited President Xi for a summit in Beijing this week, a historic turning point potential improved relations with China. This rapprochement can be seen in context of the US President Donald Trump’s decreased cooperation with and threats toward both China and Japan, drawing concern from both nations. During the summit, Abe and Xi met to explore a potential alliance that will be mutually beneficial for their economies, trade, and infrastructure. Although this does not mean that the nations will become close allies, this is the first step towards future cooperation between the two Asian superpowers.

BIRTHRIGHT CITIZENSHIP. Earlier this week Trump expressed the desire to end birthright citizenship. Birthright citizenship is guaranteed by the the 14th amendment of the U.S. constitution, ensuring citizenship to anyone born on American soil. Although this has long been the legal interpretation of the document, Trump has disagreed and argued that the process isn’t actually covered by the constitution. Trump’s desire to dismantle birthright citizenship stems from his belief that it incentivizes people to immigrate illegally in order to have children in the United States. This action would alter immigration policy as well as complicating the issue of citizenship. Children born in the United States after their parents have been settled for a long period of time will sometimes have no citizenship to their parent’s origin country, which would leave many without any citizenship at all.

Map of potential Northwest Passage shipping routes.

Map of potential Northwest Passage shipping routes.

ARCTIC SET TO BECOME A MAIN SHIPPING ROUTE? The ideas of shorter trips throughout the Northwest Passage in comparison to current routes that are heavily utilized, as well as the economic benefits are constantly brought up. Could global warming contribute to the success of a more economic sea route? In terms of international relations, a significant portion of the route is within Canadian waters, and thus creates a concern for the Canadian government. Despite the Canadian government taking possibly advantage of this opportunity, it could actually cause more problems in terms of the pollution of Canadian waters during a time where the government has made large strides toward a more environmentally conscious way of life. However, if the route proves to be successful economically, additional countries will seek to utilize it, possibly creating grounds for disputes between states. Yet, there is still disagreement among Arctic experts regarding the routes utilization as a commercially busy trade route, despite the safety concerns the areas presents.

WORSENING VENEZUELAN CRISIS. The economic crisis in Venezuela continues to persist. Extreme poverty has increased by 40% and child malnutrition is leading to a serious influx of deaths. President Nicolas Maduro is blamed by some for his socialist policies. Maduro denies that Venezuela is even experiencing an economic crisis. BBC’s Vladimi Hernandez showcased interviews with Venezuelan mothers who have been forced to give their children up to other families or the street in order to feed their other children. Food is becoming more and more scarce for all citizens.

NEW DIVISION IN AMERICA. Throughout a week plagued by news of pipe bombs being sent to prominent Democrats and anti-Semitic mass shootings, the United States has faced incredible divisive attitudes from not simply the media, but the President himself. The emphatic opinions of President Trump, channeled through Twitter as a platform of choice, echoed beliefs previously insisted upon by his administration. “The Fake News is doing everything in their power to blame Republicans, Conservatives and me for the division and hatred that has been going on for so long in our Country,” Trump tweeted in the evening of October 28, a mere 24 hours after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and days after the pipe bomb threatened prominent Democrats. Trump’s rhetoric on the issue and media influence on this issue will reflect greatly on the upcoming midterm elections, where currently, voter enthusiasm lies at 85%, claiming they are motivated to cast a ballot.

CUBAN PRESIDENT WANTS CLOSER TIES WITH PUTIN. The Newly “Elected” Cuban President, Miguel Diaz-Canel, has embarked on a tour of Cuba’s Soviet Era allies. He will be having close talks with Putin about military and economic ties between the two powers. Diaz-Canel will also visit North Korea, China, and Vietnam, among others. Putin has expressed interest in reinvigorating the relationship between his nation and its longtime friend Cuba. This is geopolitically significant because it could be the re-entry of Russia power projection in the Western Hemisphere, which historically has had destabilizing effects.