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columbia political review

vol. xiii no. 2


International: Senkaku, I Choose You! By Sam Aarons

Domestic: An Impoverished Debate By Kunal Mehta

By The Numbers: Designing for Disaster

by David Silberthau and Sofi Sinozich

when the sky was red

by Narayan Subramanian 1


Volume XIII, no. 2

Editor-in-Chief Publisher Managing Editors

Web Editor Senior Editors

Associate Web Editor Arts Editor Copy Chief Assistant Copy Editors

Geetika Rudra Malini Nambiar Gregory J. Barber Taylor Thompson Jordan Kalms Jamie Boothe Monica Carty Joshua Fattal George Joseph Julian NoiseCat Lucas Rehaut David Silberthau Tommaso Verderame Eliot Sackler Sida Chen Tommaso Verderame Anushua Bhattacharya Nicolas Sambor Sofi Sinozich

Head Design Editor

Alejandra Oliva

Design Editor

David Blackman

Editor’s Note Summer 2013 marks my eighth issue at the Columbia Political Review, and in that time, my fellow editors and I have read dozens of pitches from Columbia students. It is my experience that the most successful authors are those who take on the day’s issues from a unique, and sometimes surprising, perspective. In our cover story, “When the Sky Was Red,” the Review’s editor emeritus, Narayan Subramanian takes us to the South Pacific, where we look at what has been left behind by US nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands (19). The Senkaku Islands have been at the center of a conflict between China, Japan, and Taiwan for hundreds of years. In this issue, Sam Aarons re-examines the conflict through the lens of nationalism in the aptly named, “Senkaku, I Choose You!” (16). He argues that the situation reveals more about Asia’s political climate than previously thought. Kunal Mehta explores poverty in the United States, labeling the problem a growing epidemic in “An Impoverished Debate,” (29). By looking back at initiatives during the nineties and the early twenty-first century, Mehta answers why poverty was not a “hot topic” issue during the 2008 elections. And it is in this spirit of new perspectives that I am so proud to introduce two new bi-annual features for our magazine. The first, called “By the Numbers,” will illustrate topical issues and ideas in perhaps the most concise medium possible: statistics. Coupled with beautiful graphics and design, I hope that “By the Numbers” will make accessible some of the more complicated and, at times, confusing issues of the day. And in the spirit of looking forward with an eye to the past, I introduce “CPRetrospective,” an opportunity to look back at the annals of CPR history and learn what was once being said about today’s most pressing issues. We can learn a lot from past ideas. But we can learn more by realizing that past ideas are always present in today’s conversation. I hope you enjoy this issue of the Columbia Political Review as much as we have enjoyed working on it. Enjoy your summer, and we’ll see you again in the fall!

Geetika Rudra Editor-in-Chief

Artists: Anushua Bhattacharya (pages 29, 30) Sida Chen (cover, pages 20, 22, 27, 28) Alexis Huseby (pages 7, 8) Tiffany Kim (pages 10, 12) Lena Ji (pages 5, 6) Xin Xu (pages 17, 18)

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this magazine belong to their authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Columbia Political Review, Columbia Political Union, or Columbia University.


SUMMER.2013 table of contents Cover Story


19 When the Sky Was Red America’s Nuclear Legacy in the Marshall Islands

23 Giving Up the Gun Two Supreme Court Cases Bring Gun Control Back Into the Crosshairs

By Narayan Subramanian

By Sam Roth (CC ‘12)

By The Numbers 14 Designing for Disaster Is New York City Prepared for the Next Sandy? By David Silberthau and Sofi Sinozich

Features | Domestic 26

Rain Check on Reform Fixing Federal Hurricane Relief

By Constance Boozer 10

An Impoverished Debate Ending America’s Apathy Toward Poverty

By Kunal Mehta

Features | International 4

The Great Leap North Greenlandic Independence Amidst Changing Arctic Geopolitics

By Mikå Mered 7 With Arms Wide Open The Growing Threat of Iranian Arms Trafficking By Greg Graff 29 Refugee Aid, Syrians Betrayed Humanitarian Aid’s Failure in the War Against Assad By Brina Seidel 16 Senkaku, I Choose You! Examining Sino-Japanese Territorial Disputes By Sam Aarons


features :: international

columbia political review :: summer 2013

The Great Leap North

Greenlandic Independence Amidst Changing Arctic Geopolitics

By Mikå Mered


une 21, 2021. Sunny blue skies, 40 degrees Fahrenheit onshore, 35 degrees in the water. Celebration is in the air as thousands of tourists and foreigners of Inuit descent join the locals in the streets of Greenland’s capital city, Nuuk. The world’s elite have flown in during the past few days to pay tribute to the 18,000 inhabitants of the northern capital. Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II of Denmark is here, accompanied by Crown Prince Frederik, and Danish members of Parliament. Also invited are numerous representatives from NATO, Norden, the ICC, Nordefco, the European Union, the United Nations, and special emissaries for northern issues from a plethora of multilateral organizations. European, American, and East Asian heads of state have each brought along their own cohort of multinational CEOs: ExxonMobil, Alcoa, Chevron, RioTinto, DONG, Cairn, Statoil, Areva, and many more. They’re all standing up today to pay tribute to history in the making. On June 21, 2021, Greenland, if activists have their way, may become an independent nation after 300 years of Danish colonization, and in this context of promises and widespread enthusiasm, critical questions remain: Which foreign power has been able to earn the newborn state’s trust in the past decade and through what means? What are the implications of these celebrations for the Arctic regional and world order? In September 2009, the twentieth anniversary of the Arctic Centre at the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi, Alexander Stubb, then foreign minister of Finland, remarked: “the Arctic is evolving from a regional frozen backwater into a global hot issue.” Indeed, with the Arctic’s melting, regional states have had to adapt to the changing terrain – how to foresee, pre-


vent and channel the new uncertainties and threats resulting from the ocean’s melting. In order to avoid being caught off-guard, they quickly poured millions of dollars into state-of-the-art research programs aimed at rethinking economics, diplomatic strategies, and security effects at the national and regional levels – Rovaniemi’s Arctic Centre is one of those strategic programs. In this context of change, the critical issue was to figure out what the global geostrategic dynamics of the post-polar world would be. This is precisely the idea that Alexander Stubb addressed in his keynote speech in Rovaniemi: “We are facing a new Arctic era,” he concluded. With maps centered on the North Pole instead of Europe becoming more commonplace, Foreign Minister Stubb showed from a practical perspective how the geopolitical order will be completely reworked in the post-polar world.

“Greenland is about to matter. Three times bigger than Texas, Greenland is an nearly autonomous province of the Kingdom of Denmark that sits at the northern tip of the planet, making it the Arctic’s control tower.” The Arctic has long been deemed impractical and unnavigable rendering it insignificant in grand strategy. However, because of climate change, that landscape is about to be altered. In fact, by 2035, when much of the Arctic will be ice-free seasonally, traditional twentieth century grand strategies will

be challenged or even irrelevant. Indeed, since the Arctic Ocean is expected to be “militarily practicable” yearround by 2035 (as a recent US Navy study shows), the area would not only be an area of commercial activity, but also a power projection theater with stakes like no other. If global domination in the twenty-first century world is more than ever about applying pressure at critical points, the Arctic will be crucial. The Arctic ties the whole Northern Hemisphere, where all superpowers are located, together. America’s political credibility and, consequently, its regional leadership are not unrivaled. Greenland is about to matter. Three times bigger than Texas, Greenland is a nearly autonomous province of the Kingdom of Denmark that sits at the northern tip of the planet, making it the Arctic’s control tower. Greenland and the surrounding area is thought to sit on anywhere from 90 to 200 billion barrels of oil, 50 to 150 billion metric cubes of natural gas, and large amounts of gold, diamonds, copper, iron ore, and many other strategic resources. By comparison, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela’s oil reserves are measured at around 250 billion barrels. But Greenland is a tricky case. Indeed, if the country wants to be fully independent, it has to generate enough revenue to give up on the annual subsidy of 3.2 billion kroners (over $500 million) supplied by Copenhagen. Given that Greenland’s economy actually has no industry beside fishing and scant tourism, this figure currently accounts for more than 90 percent of Greenland’s GDP. Therefore, Greenlanders have no choice but to tap into their underground wealth in order to finance their independence. And so the Greenlanders will do so, no matter what the most convincing environmentalists tell them.

columbia political review :: summer 2013 However, even if Greenland is an autonomous province with full control over the management of onshore and offshore natural resources, it still cannot exploit its two main and most profitable resources: rare earth elements (REE) and uranium. Under the last administration led by far-left Greenlandic Prime Minister Kuupik Kleist, Greenland awarded 20 offshore oil exploration and production permits and more than 100 onshore mining concessions. Yet, production has not started in Kvanefjeld, the world’s second-largest rare earth elements and sixth-largest uranium field. Located at Greenland’s southern tip, the Kvanefjeld field was awarded to GME, an Australian mining company, which has now been waiting for years to start digging up both metals. Here’s the catch: Greenland needs REE money to finance its independence. But REE extraction implies extracting uranium at the same time, since both metals are inextricably mixed underground — for every gram of REE extracted, one-tenth of a gram of uranium is extracted too. Given that Danish Commonwealth law bans uranium extraction on Greenlandic soil, production cannot start at all. So, should Greenland opt out of the Commonwealth? Perhaps, but how can it finance such a move without the annual Danish subsidy? That is where foreign powers come into play: in an attempt to benefit from the Greenlanders’ eagerness to become independent, many have lobbied Kuupik Kleist’s administration hard in the past years. Indeed, China has so greatly intensified its presence through industrial and diplomatic means in Greenland that Swedish analysts from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute have started branding China in 2012 as a “Near-Arctic state.” Though lacking any formal territorial claim to the Arctic and any sort of public Arctic strategy, China has had an aggressive policy in the Arctic over the last decade. From its investments in icebreaking naval capabilities, to the exponential increase in Arctic research funding, and through diplomatic meas developed in Greenland and Iceland, China has managed to become an unavoidable interlocutor at the Arctic ta-

ble. As China rose in the region, Europeans became lost in their environmental sentimentalism, and Russia was prone to grandiloquent announcements and spectacular jingoistic moves – like the planting of a titanium Russian flag under the North Pole’s seabed just outside Greenland’s waters in 2007. And as for America, right after World War II, the United States offered $100 million to buy Greenland from Denmark. Since then, it has, despite operating the Thule airbase, rested on its laurels (at best) in Greenland. At worst, it has actually neglected Greenland’s evolution. Quite significantly in the scheme of American policy planners’ failure to understand the aforementioned philosophical shift in grand strategy thinking, Capitol Hill policymakers failed to fully account for Greenland’s evolution in their risk mitigation recommendations. In the past decade, blinded by some kind of liberal naïveté, a large majority of risk analysts thought that China’s energy and development-related moves towards Greenland, Iceland, and even the Canadian Arctic were just regular expressions of a developing country with big energy needs. What they failed to understand is that Beijing policy planners did not seek dominance in the Arctic just to

features :: international

quench their country’s energy needs. Rather, China sees economic preeminence as an early step towards making tangible diplomatic and security inroads from military power projection in the region by mid-century. Indeed, by achieving strategic partnerships with countries geographically situated at the heart of the Arctic, China receives a critical long-term geostrategic advantage vis-à-vis the United States. Even worse: because uranium extraction in Greenland by Chinese-backed companies have scared off some terrorism analysts who think Al-Qaeda, Iran, or North Korea might get uranium as a result, it is only now that some policymakers are concerned that a China-friendly Greenland might pose a great threat to US interests at large. Therefore, provided with diplomatic and economic space in Greenland, Beijing has reinforced its Arctic capability by closing scientific research and private mineral deals. Betting on soft cooperation on indirect interests, Chinese lobbyists have managed to convince former Prime Minister Kleist that Beijing could be Greenland’s angel in the near future. The Chinese question was undoubtedly a core issue in Greenland’s 2013 general election. Leading the opposition to PM Kleist’s Chinese-backed,


features :: international

pro-independence policy, Aleqa Hammond, head of the social-democratic party Siumut (“Forward!”), argued that China’s soft power domination over Greenland would be good neither for Denmark’s interests in Greenland, nor for Greenland itself. Particularly, she accused Kleist of replacing the historic Danish domination with a Chinese economic colonialism. Yet, over its 30 years of dominance up to 2007, Siumut had always preferred partial autonomy to full independence. It is the historic electoral setback in 2009 that changed the game. Then seen as a nepotistic party that only protected Danish interests to secure its own, Siumut had been defeated by a motley coalition supported by Inuit Ataqatigiit (“Men and Solidarity”), Prime Minister Kleist’s radical left-wing pro-independence party. According to Hammond and her allies, the Kleist administration, far from promoting the intransigent policy it promised in 2009, sold off natural resources and social stability to ensure the interest of foreign investors. By satisfying their every demand, Kleist thought he would be able to finance Greenland’s independence in a faster manner. For instance, the Kleist administration awarded operating licenses to foreign multinationals without


columbia political review :: summer 2013

subjecting them to outstanding taxes. Moreover, foreign multinationals were nearly allowed to import thousands of workers from abroad and apply those workers’ native labor laws, despite working on Greenlandic soil. The government had already imported some Mandarin-language teachers for kids and adults to be able to eventually interact and integrate foreign Chinese workers amongst the Inuit population. The key to Greenland’s future lies in its ability to ensure its political independence. That is, finding allies that could support it at the regional and world tables, particularly when Greenlandic uranium and REE exploitation are poised to destabilize the Chinese monopoly on those markets. China now supplies more than 90 percent of the global market for these materials, but with the development of Kvanefjeld alone, China’s REE global market share could fall below 50 percent by 2020. Indeed, one of the reasons why China was so proactive in Greenland was to protect its monopoly in REE. In 2013, Aleqa Hammond, in interview after interview, explained how a virtuously financed independence would be possible through a sort of economic affirmative action towards Danish and Nordic energy and mining companies.

Yet on the other hand, she showed the public how the influx of at least 5,000 Chinese or Polish workers to man the country’s mines would put the Greenlandic culture, social structure, language (Kalaallisut, with 50,000 speakers), and even direct security in jeopardy. Aleqa Hammond eventually gathered on March 12 almost as many votes on her name alone than all of PM Kleist’s Inuit Ataqatigiit candidates together — a peculiarity of Greenland’s single-round, uninominal, yet proportional electoral system. Associated with the notorious pro-uranium party, Atassut, and with the nationalistic Kalaallisut (the Greenlandic language) defenders, Partii Inuit, she was inaugurated on April 5, becoming Greenland’s first female prime minister. Now that there has been a change in power and the Arctic is entering the spotlight, maybe the United States will succeed where the Europeans have failed: flexing its muscles and curbing China’s increasing influence in the far north with the help of an independent and NATO-backed Greenland. “I really want to see Greenland become independent in my lifetime, and right now, I think I will,” recently-elected PM Aleqa Hammaond said in an interview with Greenland’s main television channel KNR. Perhaps, then, the world’s elite will gather in Nuuk to see the red-and-white Erfalasorput wave independently in the Greenlandic skies on June 21, 2021, after all. cpr

Mikå Mered, GS’13, is CEO at POLARIIS, a Paris-based consulting firm specializing in Arctic & Antarctic political risk. Contributor to several think tanks and columnist on Arctic & Antarctic affairs for periodicals in France and abroad, he is currently writing his first book on the impact of the Arctic’s melting on global geostrategy and grand strategy thinking (expected 2014). Follow him on twitter @mika_polariis.

columbia political review :: summer 2013

features :: international

With Arms Wide Open

The Growing Threat of Iranian Arms Trafficking

By Greg Graff


n February, the United States Navy and Yemeni security forces seized a shipment of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, allegedly made by Iran, heading to Houthi insurgents in Yemen. Far from a one-time incident, it is symptomatic of a larger and more disturbing trend in the region. Through the Quds force — a mix of an intelligence agency and special forces — Iran has begun providing significant support to various groups across the Middle East. The immediate origin of Iran’s renewed attempts to export its revolution lie in its rather awkward and precarious strategic position. During the American occupation in Iraq, Tehran faced the reality that

“the Great Satan” had military forces on its western and eastern borders. Across the Gulf lies Saudi Arabia, another ideological and geopolitical rival. In Afghanistan, the Taliban are enemies of the United States yet also enemies of Iran. Indeed, Afghanistan is one of three countries — including Iraq and Pakistan — that could potentially destabilize, inundating Iran with refugees and threatening its overall security. Arguably, Iran’s civilian nuclear program, and their alleged nuclear weapons program, is one strategy of ensuring their own security. Nevertheless, since the start of the new millennium, Iran has also provided varying levels of financial and military support to both state and nonstate actors in the region in an effort to create a network of alliances that will secure its national security and preserve Tehran’s regime. Historically, Iran’s biggest threat has been Iraq, and that continues to be the case today. Saddam Hussein’s regime undoubtedly caused more damage and inflicted more loss of life in the Islamic Republic during the IranIraq War than anything done by the United States. The loss of life was in the hundreds of thousands on both sides, and the psychological scar this war inflicted on Iran has important policy considerations. Iraq has a demonstrated ability to cause significant harm to its eastern neighbor. Thus, Iranian national security policy will do all it can to prevent a powerful Iraqi

government. In the 1990s, this was easy: Saddam Hussein suffered a tremendous blow from the 1991 Gulf War and throughout the period, the United States and its allies were enforcing a no-fly zone and sanctions. Iraq was, from Iran’s perspective, neutered. When the US military toppled Hussein’s regime in 2003, all bets were off. Operation Iraqi Freedom changed everything, and assuming Iraq would no longer be a threat was no longer an acceptable policy. At worst, the United States could have completely succeeded: it could have created a functioning democratic government with a strong US-equipped Iraqi military force. This would be an incredibly powerful, likely pro-Western state, right on Iran’s border. The potential for a second, more destructive Iran-Iraq war existed, at least in the long-term. At best, the United States would completely fail: the Iraqi government would either simply collapse or be so corrupt and inefficient as to not matter anyway. The resulting chaos would threaten Iran’s security. No state likes it when their neighbor is in the throes of a deadly civil war; refugees and armed rebel groups both have their own unique security challenges. Not to mention Iran had already been dealing with this exact issue on their eastern border with the Taliban. Even before the US military invaded, Iran had started preparing to confront American forces. Up to that point, the Iranian Quds force had already been sheltering various Iraqi Shiite resistance groups in Iran, the largest of which was the Badr Corps. Iran also hedged their bets by backing another new Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army, led by Moqtada al-Sadr. One of the ways Iran militarily supported these groups was by providing training in Iran, often in conjunction with Hezbollah. Groups of new recruits, brought together into a cohesive unit called a Special Group, would learn how to use explosives and conduct intelligence, sniper, and kid-


features :: international

napping operations. According to Dr. Michael Knights at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, these groups focused on anti-US operations, directing mortar and rocket attacks against US bases and using advanced improvised explosive devices (IEDs) with explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) to blow up coalition vehicles. Special Groups were also involved in planning and executing assassinations against key Iraqi leaders. In today’s Iraq, these Special Groups continue to exist and operate. As asserted in Knights’ report, “If Iraqi government policy crosses any ‘red lines’ (such as long-term US military presence in Iraq, rapid rearmament or anti-Iranian oil policy), the Special Groups could be turned against the Iraqi state in service of Iranian interests, showering the government center with rockets or assassinating key individuals.” These Special Groups have allowed Iran to accomplish its security goals by preventing nationalist forces within the Iraqi state from fully developing, thus preventing the Iraqi state’s total resurgence. However, Iran is also at-


columbia political review :: summer 2013

tempting to gain influence through the legitimate Iraqi political process. The Shiite militiamen that participated in the Mahdi Army and Badr Corps now make up a large part of the Iraqi security forces, and leaders of those organizations, such as Moqtada Al-Sadr, have turned their resistance against US forces and protection of Shiite communities into political capital. Further, Iran has repeatedly attempted to unite Shiite Iraqis (roughly 60 percent of the population) into one cohesive political party, and while this might difficult to achieve, success would mean Iran would have added influence in the Iraqi political process. Essentially, it would turn Iraq into an ally, if not a vassal, of Iran. This dual strategy is also appearing in, of all places, Afghanistan, where Iranian weapons have been discovered and, in 2010, NATO forces captured a Quds force operative. Further, the US military has attributed the influx of EFPs, money, and advanced weapons systems in Afghanistan to Tehran, although they point out that the support has been measured. That Iran would

even provide support to the Taliban is puzzling, given their less-than-amicable history. The most obvious reason for their support would be to bog down NATO forces, with the natural result being a faltering and ineffective Afghan state. The US policy of regime change is certainly a threat to Tehran, and limiting NATO influence in the country would help assure the survival of the regime. On the other hand, a failed Afghan state means the resurgence of the Taliban, a dangerous situation for Iran. The key to understanding this paradox, according Dr. Sajjan Gohel, Director for International Security at the Asia-Pacific Foundation, is looking at Iranian investment in Afghanistan. Tehran has put significant sums of money in one particular Afghan province, Herat. Today, it is one of the more stable and economically booming regions of the country, precisely because of Iranian investment in infrastructure projects such as roads, bridges, power generation, and telecommunications. It is becoming an integral part of Iran’s economy, and Stephen Carter at the Gregg Center for the Study of War and

columbia political review :: summer 2013 Society posits it may even be necessary for a future natural gas pipeline connecting Iran to countries such as Pakistan and India. Because Afghanistan does not have a majority Shiite population, the risks to Iran of it becoming a collapsed state are far greater. The return of Sunni militants may become as much a threat for Tehran as for the United States, but this consideration has only resulted in limiting Iranian support for the Taliban, rather than eliminating it. Carter points out that Iran’s measured support is intended as a warning: Iran perceives the possibility of strikes on its nuclear facilities to be a very real threat. Their networking with the Taliban might be intended to cultivate an ability to strike back at the United States in case of such an attack, thus making the costs the United States stands to receive too high to warrant a strike. This may also be the reason why Iran has cultivated an ambiguous relationship with Al-Qaeda. Seth Jones, a senior political scientist at RAND, points out that following the US invasion of Afghanistan, the Quds force transported several hundred Al-Qaeda-linked individuals into Iran. These operatives set up a “management” council with clear ties to Bin Laden, but in 2003, Tehran detained all of these individuals. In 2009 and 2010, it eased its control over them, but it has adhered to strict red lines, forcing the operatives to keep a low profile. Iran is playing a very dangerous game in supporting both the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, but Bruce Riedel at Brookings suggests that, despite this, “Tehran may consider the price worth paying in the face of Western aggression against its nuclear program.” Of course, the idea is to make the costs of a first strike so high that it never happens. US strategic planners would have to weigh the potential blowback from the Taliban and Al-Qaeda that such a strike would bring. The United States is not, however, the only “Satan” that Iran must face. On the other side of the Middle East lies the ayatollahs’ other arch-nemesis: Israel. Since Iran has no border with Israel, to keep itself relevant in the Arab-Israeli conflict and continue to stoke the flames, it has to rely on its proxies, namely Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hezbollah is perhaps a textbook case of how

Iran operates with various nonstate actors to extend its influence. Formed three years after the revolution that ousted the Shah, it continues to receive significant financial, organizational, and military support from Iran. This has made Hezbollah a potent military threat to Israel, which bloodied their nose in the 2006 war. The American Enterprise Institute reports that Iran has supplied Hezbollah with over ten thousand ground-attack rockets and missiles, as well as advanced anti-aircraft, anti-ship, and anti-armor missiles, and the training to use them. These weapons are all designed to counter the military power of Israel and neutralize its ability to operate in Lebanon. Further, in the Gaza Strip,

“The US policy of regime change is certainly a threat to Tehran, and limiting NATO influence in the country would help assure the survival of the regime. On the other hand, a failed Afghan state means the resurgence of the Taliban, a dangerous situation for Iran.” Iran has recently begun providing these same weapons, albeit in smaller numbers, to Hamas and to Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the West Bank. By diversifying the number of anti-Israel militant groups it is funding, Iran is increasing its capability to continually strike at or distract Israel, and tangentially the United States, “without having to sacrifice the same proxy continuously.” Towards that end, Iran also currently supports the embattled Assad regime. Syria is not only a longtime ally of Iran; it is currently its only state ally in the region. Losing Assad means losing a key friend, but it also means losing the ability to funnel weapons to Lebanon and Palestine. The Iraqi government has refused to stop Iranian cargo flights, likely carrying significant quantities of weapons, to Syria. The killing of a Quds force commander in Syria also shows their direct presence on the ground, to which Iran fully ad-

features :: international mits on the basis that they are there in an advisory role. In addition to advising and equipping Syrian military forces, it is likely that they are doing the same to pro-Assad paramilitary forces, specifically the Shabiha militias. As has become Quds force doctrine, they seem to be spreading their resources rather than putting all of their eggs in one basket. Losing influence in Syria is too devastating a loss for Iran. When considering the broader issue of Iran’s rise to power in the region, and Western responses to it, the activities of the Quds force may be as significant, if not more so, as Iran’s nuclear program. The list of groups and countries with ties to Iran is significant and diverse: Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Hezbollah, Assad’s government, various Iraqi insurgents, the Taliban, and even Al-Qaeda. They form the core of a shadow war Tehran wages against the West, and it is a war that has only been escalating, with dangerous implications for the United States and Israel. Iranian EFPs have killed American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Iranian rockets and missiles continue to pose a deadly threat for Israel. Should Washington consider a policy of containment toward Iran, it is important to consider the ability of Iran to strike back via these proxy groups. As long as Iran exists with serious national security concerns, it will continue to fund these groups, and as long as that continues these groups will pose a significant threat to the United States. Iran’s operations stem from their sense of insecurity, and this leaves open the diplomatic option of a more conciliatory foreign policy toward Iran. Yet, the most placating and appeasing foreign policy on Washington’s part will not resolve the very real security challenges Tehran faces with regard to Iraq and Afghanistan, nor will it ameliorate relations between Iran and Israel and Iran and Saudi Arabia. While US actions may have started this shadow war, it is doubtful any diplomatic policy will bring a quick resolution. cpr

Greg Graff, CC ‘15, plans to study political science and history. His interests include international relations and military history, science, and strategy. He can be reached at ggg2118@


features :: domestic

columbia political review :: summer 2013

An Impovrished Debate

Ending America’s Apathy Toward Poverty

By Kunal Mehta


he protracted economic crisis that has entangled America since 2007 has produced an uproar of political reaction, galvanizing the public consciousness to demand answers to the bigger questions of our time: the role of government, the challenges of globalization, and the rapid rise of inequality have all been furiously debated. Furthermore, the pitch of political discussion and action has remained particularly feverous and ferocious, whether manifested in the polarization of Congress or the anti-establishment outrage in the Tea Party and Occupy movements. Yet in the midst of this political cacophony, there has been a deafening silence concerning something that should be identified as a key national concern: the growing epidemic of poverty in America. Poverty has always been a complicated, challenging issue, but changing social and political attitudes towards poverty in the wake of the 1996 welfare reform compromise, coupled with the disruptions posed by the Great Recession, have converged to shut out talk of poverty from the national discourse. Figures released by the US Census Bureau in late 2012 have shown the astounding extent to which this epidemic has gained ground in America over the past few years. The proportion of Americans living in poverty has risen from the 11 percent pre-recession low to 15 percent, a peak not witnessed in 20 years. The figure is set to increase further to 15.8 percent by 2014, according to projections made by the Brookings Institute and The Economist, resulting in an additional 10 million Americans joining the ranks of the poor over the course of this decade. To add to this depressing set of statistics, the poverty count increases dramatically from an already record high of 46 million to 66 million if the federal poverty line (drawn at $24,500 for a family of four) is redefined at only 25 percent above its current value.


Given the severity of America’s poverty crisis, it would be reasonable to expect that politicians, the media, or even citizen groups would raise the issue in the public forum. Yet, a puzzling and pervasive lack of debate on the subject has come to pass. The presidential race of 2012 is a perfect illustration of just how little attention the issue has been receiving from the public at large. While candidate Mitt Romney passed off poverty as problem adequately solved by the safety net, famously admitting he is “not concerned about the very poor,” President Obama proved even more reticent on the topic; he spoke euphemistically of vague aspirations to join the middle class and neglected the topic entirely in his inaugural address. Such a reluctance to bring up the issue during recent general elections is an anomaly in post-war America, and speaks to the broader apathy of most Americans towards the subject. After all, campaign pitches are merely a reflection of the issues that the majority of Americans and media outfits deem important for discussion. Several studies on public

opinion and media studies support this hypothesis of widespread indifference. The Pew Research Center found a severe downward trend in the percentage of Americans who consider poverty alleviation a public priority. Figures fell from 63 percent in 2001 to 59 percent in 2005, and finally 52 percent in 2012. In a separate poll that Pew conducted in 2011, 51 percent of Americans agreed with the claim, “The government can’t afford to do much more to help the needy,” marking the first time that a majority endorsed the statement since the survey began 15 years ago. The media seems equally culpable in eschewing the fight against poverty. A report by the non-profit organization Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting found that across major media outlets including CBS, ABC, NPR, and The New York Times, only 17 out of 10,489 campaign stories directly addressed poverty. Recent trends and statistics make two things clear: poverty is a troubling and growing phenomenon in the United States, and no one is willing to talk about it. But it is crucial to understand the web of social, economic, and cultural factors

columbia political review :: summer 2013 that drive this reticence. Modern political perspectives on how society should deal with the poor can best be measured by the last decisive action society took to address poverty – tellingly, this occurred 17 years ago in the form of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (PRWOA), also known as welfare reform. Although PRWOA may not necessarily be a failed poverty alleviation tactic in itself, a brief historical analysis reveals that it was both the effect and consequence of a period in history where the debate on poverty was considered decisively closed, sowing the seeds for future apathy on the topic. Welfare reform, signed into law by President Bill Clinton, was the result of a half-decade-long experiment with poverty alleviation programs in the United States. After President Lyndon B. Johnson’s declaration of “War on Poverty” in 1964, accompanied by a raft of anti-poverty measures, the issue immediately became a center of focus in Washington. The Johnson presidency saw the establishment of widespread employment support, welfare, and education initiatives, kick-started with a historic and veritably publicized tour of poor, rural Kentucky. Although these programs were widely credited with slashing poverty in half from a high of 22 percent, they soon faced criticism from the public and animosity from Congress on account of multiple reports of misallocated funds, scandals, and rising expenditures. The political scales eventually tipped in favor of anti-welfare thinkers, and by the time of Nixon’s administration, which received much advice from the noted free-market proponent Milton Friedman, several welfare initiatives were either closed or reformed in an effort to avoid inefficient government intervention. President Reagan’s term in office, which coincided with a large conservative backlash against the remnants of

the welfare movement, set the stage for the future debate on poverty. Influential thinkers like Friedman and the libertarian political scientist Charles Murray advanced the view that the War on Poverty had actually retarded poverty-alleviation efforts by making recipients dependent on assistance and de-incentivizing work. Though poverty levels remained stubbornly high at 15 percent, the conservative attack on welfare intensified. Declaring that the War on Poverty had been won – by poverty – Reagan radically restructured welfare, cutting cash assistance to dependent families in favor of offering income tax credits to low-income earners. The conservative count-

er-vision had been stated and boldly so; government welfare created a cycle of dependency, trapping generations within poverty. The government’s role in combating poverty was best served by creating jobs and assisting the working poor in limited measure. Now accorded the due responsibility of working towards bettering their own future, the poor would no longer be characterized as ”welfare queens” and ”lazy drunks.” Such a message caught on quickly in America, as the public became increasingly disillusioned with the failures of the welfare system of earlier years. By the 1990s, even Democrats grudgingly surrendered their advocacy of large welfare systems, reaching a compromise position of “workfare.” This concept, pi-

features :: domestic oneered to a large extent in the United States by Tommy Thompson, the Republican governor of Wisconsin during the late 1980s, was predicated upon the idea that government aid should operate with an aim to move as many recipients into the workforce as possible, and hence reduce reliance on state assistance. The success of this effort, along with the political mainstream’s dissatisfaction with existing programs, meant that welfare had turned into a political liability. An economic boom that brought poverty rates down by the mid-1990s only sharpened this view. And in 1996, President Bill Clinton reached across the aisle to “end welfare as we know it,” signing into law the groundbreaking Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (after having vetoed two Republican bills on welfare reform) that completely restructured federal aid to low-income groups. Welfare expenditure in the form of the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program was greatly reduced through several different measures and renamed Temporary Aid to Needy Families. Cash assistance was limited to five years and was tied to a willingness to search for work. Discretion over federal funds on poverty alleviation passed to the states, and federal funds were no longer adjustable, but were instead handed out in fixed grants. By and large, welfare was no longer considered an entitlement program, but had become a system of workfare. Conditions at the time bolstered the view that the correct formula to tackle poverty had been found. Around 2000, the poverty rate in the United States reached a low of 11.3 percent – within a hair’s breadth of the historical low reached in 1973. Welfare caseloads shrank throughout the decade by 2 million; there was a 30 percent increase in employment of low-income single mothers, income of low income families rose by 25 percent, and welfare payments


features :: domestic constituted a dramatically smaller share of income received by the poor. Summing up the sentiment of the times, a 2002 New York Times editorial began with the line “Welfare reform has been an obvious success,” while a 2006 Brookings Institute report on the topic was titled “It Worked.” The 1996 reform had been etched in stone – to fight against it would be political suicide, and even mentioning welfare had become taboo, for what remained to be said? An uneasy truce kept both parties silent on welfare ever since, described as an “off the table political issue” by a 2008 New York Times article that ran “Do Americans Still Hate Welfare?” The left and the right agreed; discussion on poverty was closed. Or so it would seem. The benefit of hindsight shows us that all was not as rosy as it appeared. The unusually low poverty rates experienced over the past 20 years have had less to do with foresighted policy and more to do with an unprecedented economic boom that could not have been continually sustained. The Great Recession has exposed the inability of the welfare system to protect the poor when they most need it. America’s poverty reform needs to be redrawn to better suit the unique circumstances that the poor face and will continue to face over this decade. Policy and public response to the issue, however, seems stuck in the past. The low levels of concern for the poor evidenced earlier in this article seem to stem from the belief that America’s methods of poverty fighting need no adjustment. The social and political conceptions frozen in time by the welfare deal have impeded any new insight on the topic. All opposing viewpoints have been bullied out by prevailing views set in place in 1996, and any effort to speak of changing direction since then has been met with a harsh political and social backlash. On the political front, the left seems inhibited from bringing up changes in the fight against poverty, while the right is content with the gains it was able to secure in 1996. Scarred from its experience of falling on the wrong side of public opinion on poverty after the 1994 mid-

columbia political review :: summer 2013 terms, the Democratic Party considers its pro-welfare past a major liability. Its vulnerability on the topic prevents the left from speaking out on a pro-poverty platform, focusing instead on rhetoric aimed exclusively at the middle class. This sensitivity to being caught speaking on the issue can easily be seen both in how conservatives have tried to label the Democratic Party a welfare party, and how Democrats have tried to distance themselves from this notion. When President Obama announced that states could apply to replace certain work requirements under TANF in favor of new pilot projects last July, a conservative firestorm erupted, accusing Democrats of “gutting welfare” (in the words of a Washington Post editorial). Governor Romney’s campaign was quick to run a series of attack ads claiming that the president had silently ended the 1996 welfare reform and that

fare, implying that they needed to work more. The popularity of this notion may explain why the public discourse refuses to admit the growing problem of poverty in and of itself. Despite the structural challenges and systematic discrimination they face, the poor are viewed as no different from wealthier working groups and, consequently, do not require a political space of their own outside the current discussions on inequality and economic growth. With little social interest in discussing the plight of the poor, it’s unsurprising that no noise has been raised on the political stage about their condition. Ultimately, poverty is an incredibly complex and often intractable problem that societies across the world face. Whether conservatives, liberals, or centrists have the best formula to carry the war on poverty forward is hard to gauge. What remains certain, however, is that the anti-poverty mechanisms we have in place are woefully inadequate to meet today’s needs as well as those of the near future. The public conscience needs to be roused from the stupor it has fallen into since welfare reform and face the reality of today. Society’s efforts to fight poverty should be under constant scrutiny and renewed assessment. Even if substantive change can’t immediately be applied to today’s policies, America stands to gain much from a vibrant debate on the topic. The responsibility for rekindling discussion on one of America’s most fundamental problems rests firmly with our journalists, community leaders, and politicians. But it is primarily the duty of the average voter to end the apathy that quietly destroys the lives of millions of their fellow citizens each and every day.

“Declaring that the War on Poverty had been won – by poverty – Reagan radically restructured welfare, cutting cash assistance to dependent families in favor of offering income tax credits to low-income earners.”


his policies were favoring a return to the cycle of welfare dependency. Although numerous news organizations including CNN and ABC News called these claims false, the damage had already been done. President Obama was forced to make clear that he championed the causes behind welfare reform, even employing ex-President Clinton’s backing to attest that his views were perfectly in sync with 1996 thinking. The conservative tactic of calling out Democrats as proponents of welfare has been a key factor in keeping the left reluctant to talk about poverty. The politics of poverty and welfare, however, can only reflect popular social views on the issues. The workfare concept that grew out of the 1990s was symbolic of a view that low-income groups were just like ordinary employees who had to work their way out of poverty. According to a report by the Salvation Army conducted in 2012, half of all Americans believed that poverty could be entirely overcome with a good work ethic. Pew polling also found that an incredible 71 percent of Americans believed the poor were too dependent on government wel-


Kunal Mehta, CC ’15, is a student from Mumbai, India currently majoring in Economics-Mathematics. His interests include politics, history, and amateur cycling. Kunal hopes to one day work with a foreign affairs/economic policymaking institution. He can be reached at

opinion? Why not share it? CPR is always looking for more contributors for our website. If you have a topic you feel passionate about, send an article pitch to:

And Read More at: CPREVIEW.ORG


by the numbers:

Designing for Disaster

Is New York City ready for the next Sandy? NYC Federal Block Grant Allocations for Disaster Relief

graphs by Alejandra Oliva 14

by David Silberthau and Sofi Sinozich On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy made landfall on the southern tip of Manhattan. While Columbia students may remember the resulting extended weekend, the storm was not pleasant for most. Hurricane Sandy was the second-costliest storm in US history, destroying an estimated $75 billion worth of property, taking almost 300 lives, and leaving New York City devastated. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers lost power for days, if not weeks, many in Staten Island, and Queens lost their homes to fire, water, and wind damage, and 48 New Yorkers lost their lives. Mayor Bloomberg suspended all modes of public transportation, and closed the tunnels and bridges into New York during the storm. The New York Stock Exchange suspended trading. Quite literally, life in New York City drew dangerously close to a complete stop before, during, and in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The economic damage was considerable. And yet the psychological damage is just as significant. Hurricane Sandy was unprecedented. New York City had never seen a hurricane as costly in the modern era. Images of oil tankers beached on the Staten Island shore, or cratered pathways in Brooklyn parks are inconsistent with New Yorkers’ daily experiences. The largest metropolis in the United States – the center of the US financial sector, and a lynchpin of American culture and art – was humbled in a severely destructive way. Moreover, Sandy’s physical impact still lingers. Sandy obliterated an estimated $18 billion of New York City’s GDP that cannot be retrieved. A program to rapidly repair homes damaged during the Hurricane only wrapped up its work on March 26. Even Manhattan, home to more than one miracle story, maintains damage. Only on April 4th, almost six months after Sandy, did the South Ferry subway station re-open. Without doubt, the recovery effort in New York City and the surrounding area was the high point in an otherwise abysmal situation. New Yorkers remember Mayor Bloomberg’s swift action and competency. Pictures of Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican Governor Chris Christie embracing and touring the ravaged New Jersey landscape still resonate with Americans all across the country. Concretely, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) pledged almost $6 billion to New York City for costs associated with Sandy reparation. More broadly, the federal government passed a $50 billion aid package for Sandy related repairs. But the question persists, can and will a storm like Sandy strike again? Many scientists claim climate change will only make storms like Sandy more common in the future. Is New York City prepared for another Hurricane Sandy, and can it afford another $6 billion recovery?

American Society of Civil Engineers The eye-opening aftermath of Hurricane Sandy exposed the inadequacy of New York City’s infrastructure in the event of natural disasters. In a study commissioned by Governor Andrew Cuomo, we see a lack of redundancy in our energy systems, an overdependence on an aging pipeline system, and the ineffectiveness of our current pumping system. The city’s location on the coast puts it at an inherent risk for floods which, given the rising sea level due to climate change, are becoming increasingly more intense. The city is also at a moderate risk for earthquakes, with the weak soil foundations and unreinforced masonry construction of many older structures in lower Manhattan making them particularly susceptible to seismic forces. Traditional fixes such as sea walls and flood barriers may, on their own, prove insufficient given the severity of storms like Sandy, which are becoming more common. One alternative is to implement more widely structures that are already extant (and have been shown to work), such as man-made dunes along the shoreline and floodgates to close off tunnels before surges occur. There has also been a rising trend to design structures that can adapt to changing conditions and are “safe to fail,” as opposed to fail-safe. Examples include floating water treatment plants and dikes that are engineered to fail when conditions become too severe and instead direct the flood harmlessly away to a designated area. In all likelihood, there will be no single response and a more holistic solution will be necessary, one that can include the use of natural buffers, better evacuation schemes, and plans for removing generators from basements. Indeed, the knowledge exists to mitigate or even prevent the effects of natural disasters. The politics, however, of even these solutions are a formidable obstacle; before we can fix the challenges posed by these natural disasters, it seems we must first overcome a deep-seated culture of institutional fragmentation. At the end of the day, we can only count on some constants – our population will continue to multiply, our infrastructure will continue to deteriorate if left unchecked, and money will always be an issue. With each passing day, the risk of a catastrophic natural disaster grows larger, as does the potential local impact and, given the nature of NYC, long-term global influence. Fortunately, the federal government has finally recognized this trend, with President Obama including the improvement of infrastructure in his State of the Union speech in February. If we are to function as a nation and remain competitive globally, we must make the investments now. In political terms, that means significant savings in dollars and the creation of jobs in the future; to the rest of us, it means lives saved and a rising standard of living.



columbia political review :: summer 2013

features :: international

Senkaku, I Choose You! Examining Sino-Japanese Territorial Disputes By Sam Aarons


lames billow up into the sky from the charred shell of a black Honda. The owner walks away, guilty of having just set fire to his own car. Behind the man is a sign written in Chinese which reads “Defeat the Japanese Demons.” This is just one of many scenes capturing the zeitgeist of the riots last September in China that occurred after the Japanese government nationalized three uninhabited islands that lie off the coasts of Japan, China, and Taiwan. Paying a little over 2 billion yen ($26 million) for the privilege, the government assumed financial ownership on September 11, 2012 over the desolate rocks that, together with five other isles, comprise the Senkaku Islands. The archipelago sits a mere ninety-three miles from Japan, one hundred and five miles from Taiwan, and two hundred and ten miles from China. Despite being the farthest away from China, the fervor it invoked among Chinese citizens could not have hit closer to home. Cars were burned, factories destroyed — anything bearing a Japanese name became a fair target. Even though the riots genuinely reflected the strong anti-Japanese sentiment of participants, the intensity and timing came at an interesting time. In the heat of national elections in both China and Japan, the riots diverted attention away from important domestic issues in both countries, capturing their respective national dialogues. The territorial dispute had quickly become a valuable political tool for the region China, Japan, and Taiwan have feuded intermittently since 1972 over which country maintains the proper territorial claim to the Senkaku Islands. His-

torically, the islands lacked any concrete territorial claimants and in 1895 were formally annexed by Japan. After World War II, the still-uninhabited islands came under the control of the United States during the occupation of Japan. Under US control, the islands were administratively lumped together with the Ryukyu Islands, another archipelago stretching south from Japan’s mainland. Throughout the occupation, the US military used one of the islands for missile tests while also paying rent to the island’s proper owner. From the perspective of the United States, this cemented the idea that at least some of the islands were private property that fell under the territorial rights of Japan. Control over the Ryukyu and Senkaku islands was formally returned to the Japanese government in 1972, though China and Taiwan took issue with this transfer of sovereignty. Both China and Taiwan had accepted the United States’ control over the islands during occupation, and it was only after sovereignty was transferred to Japan that both countries expressed grievances. While the handover was made successfully and without modification, the exchange marked the beginning of the dispute and China’s entrance into the conflict.

their names for the islands. In China, the islands are known as the Diaoyu Islands and are referred to exclusively by that name. The Chinese government claims that the islands were associated with their territory as far back as 1372, a historical and territorial claim that is referenced in numerous Chinese travelogues and books. The Chinese claim relies on the Treaty of Shimonoseki, which ended the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895. According to the text of the treaty, “the island of Formosa [Taiwan], together with all islands appertaining or belonging to the said island of Formosa should be ceded to Japan.” However, this language leaves ambiguous which islands “belong” to Taiwan, as such important details were left to the consensus of the signatory nations. Thus, the Chinese claim that the Diaoyu Islands do not belong to the historical area of Formosa and therefore have always belonged to China. While these countries’ claims to the islands differ, their political and economic interests do not. In 1969, the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East published a report suggesting an abundance of oil and gas reserves near the islands. In 1971, one year ahead of the scheduled handoff of the islands from the United States to Japan, China protested the impending transfer, defending their claim through the Treaty of Shimonoseki and attempting to demonstrate that open loopholes — however narrow or ridiculous — represent economic opportunities. However, despite Chinese protests, the transfer went ahead as planned. Since then, Japan has main-

“By focusing internal dissent outwards towards a common enemy, domestic dissent in these countries is essentially nullified and in its places comes solidarity centered around a common entity—real or imagined.”


The Chinese tell the story of the Senkaku Islands differently than their Japanese counterparts. Deep-rooted differences are even demonstrated in

columbia political review :: summer 2013 tained an effective administrative control over the islands and, until recently, has avoided territorial conflicts. At first blush it would seem China entered into the dispute with an eye on the island’s supposed oil and natural gas reserves, yet due to the dispute, no additional scientific research has been performed to verify the claims in the original report published over forty years ago. In fact most of the islands’ current commercial appeal is related to their value as an abundant fishing area. Although the islands are generally considered to fall within Japan’s exclusive economic zone, a deal was struck to allow Chinese and Taiwanese fishermen rights to fish in the zone as long as they agreed not to bring the islands into their own exclusive economic zones. This agreement, however, is purely focused on trade and does not address issues related to sovereignty. It has been reported that fishing trips originating in China are unfeasible because of the distance from the islands to the mainland. The same is not true for Taiwanese and Japanese fishermen who frequent the area. Given the islands’ isolation and disputed status not much else besides fishing is economically feasible; the islands are a haven for rare mole species and albatross, but not human activity. The islands’ political value thus stands apart from their economic value Undeterred by the lack of economic incentives, both Japan and China continue to devote part of their busy foreign policy agendas to these islands. For both countries, the dispute over

the islands has increasingly become a way of providing political cover for important domestic issues. In order to achieve this, both countries openly admonish the other, hoping to gain popular support. By focusing internal dissent outwards towards a common enemy, domestic dissent in these

countries is essentially nullified and in its places comes solidarity centered around a common entity — real or imagined. This, in essence, is a “fake” nationalism, or rather nationalism as a response to a perceived injustice. In fact, major incidents regarding the islands are a relatively recent phenomenon and have become an increasingly frequent media mainstay on both sides of the dispute since 2006. This rise in media coverage can be correlated with a number of important domestic issues in both countries in recent years. Not coincidentally, last year’s anti-Japanese riots coincided with Chi-

features :: international nese national elections. Members of the National People’s Congress, China’s only national legislative body, were elected over a five-month cycle by local congresses for five-year terms. During the time of the riots it was unclear who would become the new leader of the Communist Party causing great concern amongst citizens. The Chinese government began focusing its media coverage more heavily on the islands and began using increasingly strong rhetoric when talking about the islands. In 2006, a first group of activists set sail to the islands from mainland China but were ultimately turned away. The local media exalted the crew upon their return. Four years later, a Chinese fishing boat collided with a boat from the Japanese coast guard, causing the crew to be taken into Japanese custody. The Chinese government met this action against its citizens sternly, with government officials deriding Japan’s actions publicly. Over time, repeated and emotional Chinese responses to an insignificant Japanese threats on these remote islands created a powder keg of anti-Japanese sentiment; dissent was thus focused externally towards Japan while also framing the government in a positive light as “defenders” of the islands. When the islands were eventually nationalized, the dispute was packaged in a way that intentionally created public outrage. Japan is also prone to the dangers of fake nationalism, albeit in a slightly different way. In the case of Japan, fake nationalism can be seen as more


features :: international of a politicking tool rather than public misdirection. Last September, the government’s sudden nationalization of three of the islands created an upswell of support for the dispute among Japanese nationals. During Japan’s general election three months later, the Liberal Democratic Party won a landslide victory over the incumbent government, the Democratic Party of Japan. This victory also secured the Liberal Democratic Party’s pick for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Part of Abe’s allure to Japanese voters was his stance on the Senkaku Islands, which, in the run-up to the election, he called Japan’s “inherent territory.” After being elected, Abe went even further to claim that the Senkaku Islands “clearly belong to Japan.” While a variety of factors played into Abe’s take-all victory, his stance on the dispute allowed him to take on an even bigger political battle. Elected once before in 2006, Abe is known for his particularly conservative views on national defense. During his first term, Abe upgraded the Ministry of Defense to “full ministry status,” bringing it in line with other powerful ministries. Particularly noteworthy is Abe’s stance on Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, which forbids the country from maintaining a standing army – a legislative vestige of post-war occupation. Throughout his career, Abe has argued for a constitutional amend-

columbia political review :: summer 2013 ment to eliminate this particular restriction. Such an amendment would allow Japan to resolve any disputes it has by means of force. Any amendment to the constitution, however, requires a two-thirds majority of the legislature before it can be ratified. By taking a popular stance on the Senkaku Islands, Abe is attempting to build up the support needed before he can propose such an amendment. Coincidentally, Abe’s call for a “bold review” of Article 9 coincided with the first major incident concerning the islands in 2006. It is no accident that for his current term, Abe made his hardline stance on the islands a major focal point of the campaign. By focusing on the threat of Chinese aggression, Abe was able to both build up support for his campaign as well as shape the national dialogue around the Article 9 issue in his favor. While Taiwan does play a role in the dispute over the islands, recent actions have signaled the government may be willing to partially concede the issue. In recent negotiations with Japan, the Taiwanese government stated it will not claim the islands in an upcoming fishery agreement. Taiwan claims that its stance on the islands remains unchanged, but in order to disencumber dialogue, Taiwan has forgone placing that claim in this specific agreement. The action is a radical departure from Taiwan’s previous rhetoric over the

islands and is even more striking considering the hostile confrontations between both countries’ coast guards in recent years. It is reported that these recent concessions were made with the hope of receiving fishing rights in waters close to the Senkaku Islands, which the Japanese government has said it is willing to do. Apart from the domestic implications of the conflict for Japan and China, in many ways the Senkaku dispute is just another wrinkle to be ironed out in Sino-Japanese relations. It is no coincidence that China’s increasingly harsh rhetoric regarding the islands comes on the heels of its emergence as a global superpower, while at the same time Japan struggles to maintain its economic footing. In 2010, China surpassed Japan to become the second-largest economy in the world. Based solely on its handling of the islands, it would seem China is using its foreign policy agenda to position itself as the dominant player in the region, flexing its muscles in front of old adversaries. This is just one conflict of many. In fact, China has numerous ongoing conflicts with other countries in the region over territory ranging from underwater rocks to small tropical reefs. Japan is also no stranger to territorial disputes and maintains longstanding conflicts with South Korea and Russia over islands that are actually populated. By understanding these issues and how these countries use them to achieve certain goals, we can predict how future conflicts in the region might play out. Such understanding also allows us to study the social ramifications of these disputes and how they function not just as ways for countries to exhibit international strength, but also to achieve important domestic and foreign policy goals. Whether it’s to win an election or control public opinion, how much might a nation pay for that privilege? cpr

Sam Aarons, SEAS ‘14, is currently studying Computer Science at Columbia University but wishes he could just be traveling in the Far East. In addition to being mediocre at Starcraft, Sam also runs and maintains a majority of Columbia’s popular websites. He is not using these for nefarious purposes.


columbia political review :: summer 2013

cover story

When the Sky Was Red

America’s Nuclear Legacy in the Marshall Islands

By Narayan Subramanian


he sky turned red and it rained for four days straight. If there was ever a time you thought the world was going to end, it was that day.” These sound like lines straight out of a sci-fi thriller but, in fact, they are Minister Tony de Brum’s personal account of the effects of Castle Bravo, the largest nuclear test in US history. This was just one nuclear test out of the 68 that the United States conducted over a 12-year span (19461958) in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Measured by their power, these nuclear tests amounted to 1.6 Hiroshimas per day over that period – a fact little known to the world community. The Marshall Islands is part of the Micronesian island chain in the Pacific Ocean extending from Hawaii to the Philippines, and consists of 34 volcanic islands that are home to around 70,000 people. The country, strategically located just south of Japan, played an important role in World War II, and the United States officially wrested control of it from the Japanese in 1944. In the aftermath of the conflict, the Marshall Islands was admitted to the United Nations as a Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, along with most of Micronesia. But the fate of the Marshall Islands would soon change. In 1946, the United States decided that the islands would become its official nuclear test site. The objective of this testing was twofold: first, to gain a better sense of the nature of nuclear bombs; and second, to serve as a deterrent to the Soviet Union. From the beginning, the Marshall Islands had little say in determining the policies that were carried out by the United States in its territory.

This is reflected in the fact that, prior to even speaking to the Marshallese about the proposed nuclear tests, the US Senate had already passed Joint Resolution 307 authorizing the testing of atomic weapons in the Marshall Islands. When Commodore Ben H. Wyatt finally approached the Marshallese on behalf of the US Navy, they were entirely misled. Knowing the Marshallese were extremely religious people, the first request made to the people was couched in Biblical terms. The Marshallese were com-

scenarios associated with the tests, and this information was intentionally withheld out of fear that it would deter the islanders from going along with the plan. The United States swiftly began the preparations for its testing program, removing the local islanders from the various testing sites. All kinds of nuclear tests were conducted between 1946-1958, from standard aerial tests to underwater tests. In the process, entire atolls were vaporized or rendered completely uninhabitable, such as Bikini Atoll. One of the most famous mushroom cloud pictures was taken during an aerial test over Bikini Atoll in 1946. The most well known test, Castle Bravo, was carried out on March 1, 1954 – the largest nupared to the “children of Israel” who clear test to date in US history, with a were saved by the Lord and led to the blast 1000 times greater in power than “Promised Land.” The Marshallese the Hiroshima bomb. What made the people would be helping to create Bravo test especially significant was peace for the “betterment of human- the fact that the detonation was carried ity,” insofar as the nuclear tests would out despite repeated warnings that the serve to “silence the evil forces” in the winds were blowing in the direction of world. Having endured suffering un- inhabited islands. Furthermore, the der the Japanese and disoriented by effects of the lithium isotope present their newfound “freedom” under the in the fuel was severely underestimatUnited States, the islanders ended up ed, resulting in an explosion that was accepting the proposal. A leader of the three times greater in magnitude than Bikini Atoll people even went so far as what was predicted by scientists. The to proclaim that “if the United States… explosion itself could be seen up to want[s] to use our…atoll…which with 250 miles away and left a crater a mile God’s blessing will result in kindness in diameter on the atoll. and benefit to all mankind, my people The impacts of Castle Bravo were will be pleased to go elsewhere.” immediate and devastating. The fallDespite their illusions of freedom, out drifted hundreds of miles, afhowever, the Marshallese were never fecting populated islands. Rongelap informed fully of the potential dangers Atoll experienced a snowfall of ash, that would arise from nuclear testing. which at first was a “wondrous sight” The US government and its scientists, to many of the inhabitants, but quickon the other hand, were fully aware ly became alarming as the islanders of the effects and possible doomsday began to experience radiation burns

“The most well-known test, Castle Bravo, was carried out on March 1, 1954 – the largest nuclear test to date in US history, with a blast 1000 times greater in power than the Hiroshima bomb.”


cover story from it. Within 72 hours, hundreds of Marshallese were evacuated and began to receive emergency treatment for hair loss and severe skin burns. Shortly after the tests, the US Atomic Energy Commission issued a public statement claiming that Castle Bravo was a “routine atomic test” with some Americans and Marshallese “unexpectedly” exposed to some slight radiation. No mention was made publicly about the serious injuries that were endured. Even worse, other residents were left largely unaware that everything they were drinking and eating was contaminated. The day of the Bravo test would later become known as “the day of two suns.” Perhaps the most chilling response to the test by the US government was Project 4.1, a study of the humans exposed to significant beta and gamma radiation due to nuclear fallout. The Marshallese were divided into two groups (“exposed” and “control”) to observe the short- and long-term effects of the nuclear contamination. The 1954 study was highly secretive and only declassified in 1994, in order to avoid negative public backlash. The US response to the nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands fit with a general pattern of denial that was seen in the aftermath of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear events. When Japan released reports describing the radiation injuries experienced by the survivors of the blasts, the US government quickly labeled the reports as “anti-American propaganda.” The US scientists even went on to insist that there could be no conceivable deaths other than the ones that occurred during the initial explosion. Despite the clear negative effects of the nuclear testing, the testing continued until 1958. Just two months after the Castle Bravo test, the Marshallese filed a petition stating that the people were “fearful” of the dangers of the weapons testing and “concerned” with the human displacement that was oc-


columbia political review :: summer 2013

curring. They went on to demand that all lethal weapons testing in the area be “immediately ceased.” The United States continued the nuclear tests, paying no heed to the first petition. A second petition was filed two years later in 1956. A US government representative responded stating that as long as a threat of aggression existed, “elementary prudence require[d] the United States to continue its testing” and future testing would be “absolutely necessary for the well-being of all the people of this world.” This unilateral control over policy in the Marshall Islands precluded the possibility of fair and equitable negotiations about how to adequately compensate the Marshallese for their suffering. Estimates suggest that only $350 million in the 50 years after the nuclear testing has been provided as compensation for the nuclear testing. This amounts to $15 per person annually. This level of compensation hardly accounts for the many secondary effects of the nuclear testing, such as the contamination of fish reserves and harbor areas, which are central to the island economy. Throughout the testing years, the Marshall Islands was still a UN Trusteeship, meaning it never had the full rights of a sovereign country. Under the trusteeship agreement, the United States was expected to help the

Marshall Islands attain self-government or independence. This, however, was never the objective of the United States, as revealed by the declassified National Security Action Memorandum No. 145 (NSAM No. 145), signed by President John F. Kennedy on April 18, 1962. Kennedy writes in NSAM No. 145 that it is “unlikely that the Trust Territory could ever become a viable, independent nation” and therefore, “it is in the interest of the United States that the Trust Territory be given a real option at the appropriate time to move into a new and lasting relationship to the United States within our political framework.” In NSAM No. 243, signed in 1963, Kennedy approved a mission to “gather information and make recommendations” on US policy moving forward in the region to achieve the objectives stated above. The mission’s report is quite damning. From the outset, the report states that it aims to lay out recommendations which would “secure the objective of winning the plebiscite and making Micronesia a United States territory.” A plebiscite is a vote held in a country in which the people express an opinion on their choice of government. The report goes on to urge the President and Congress to come to agreement on the guidelines for US action in the next few years, and specifically cautions that, “the Unit-

cover story

columbia political review :: summer 2013 ed States will be moving counter to the anti-colonial movement that has just…completed sweeping the world.” Unequivocally, American’s goal was to develop a policy that would leave the Marshall Islands with no choice but to submit itself to the control of the United States. This is precisely what occurred in 1983 with the signing of the Compact of Free Association (COFA). COFA gave the Marshall Islands access to many US domestic programs, the ability for the Marshallese to freely immigrate to the United States, and general financial assistance. For the United States, COFA meant that it would be able to conduct military operations freely within the Marshall Islands territory and, specifically, Kwajalein Atoll would become a missile-testing base. When COFA went into force in 1986, the Marshall Islands officially attained independence, contrary to President Kennedy’s prediction, but in a de facto sense the island nation was still far from independent. The people of Bikini Atoll, displaced by the nuclear testing for almost 35 years, filed a suit against the US government in Juda v. United States. The case was at first suspended in 1983 because COFA negotiations were ongoing; the hope was that COFA would adequately address the reparations issue. Later, when COFA entered into force in 1986, the court dismissed the case on the grounds that it lacked jurisdiction, because section 177 of COFA was to govern all claims related to the past, present, and future of the nuclear testing program. COFA provided a fixed $150 million settlement and a Nuclear Claims Tribunal was created to “adjudicate claims for personal injury and property damage.” Marshallese citizens thus no longer had access to the US judicial system for any future claims due to the precedent established by the Juda ruling. To make matters worse, the Nuclear Claims Tribunal has been severely underfunded and the US government has largely ignored most of its rulings. To date, there is a $17 million short-

fall for personal injury claims and $1.1 billion shortfall for property claims that have been awarded by the tribunal. Moreover, the United States has consistently refused to release all classified documents related to the nuclear testing such as Project 4.1 (note that Project 4.1 was only declassified in 1994, 11 years after COFA was signed). Even in the declassified documents

The Marshall Islands in fact filed for a “changed circumstances” petition in 2000 to the US Congress, claiming that declassified information by the US Department of Energy and the US Department of Defense revealed new information indicating the magnitude of the testing had been greater than what was previously known. The US government filed a counter-petition asserting that the Marshall Islands petition did not “meet the set criteria for changed circumstances.” Moreover, the US government continues to assert that section 177 legally exempts it from owing any further reparations. Contrary to the United States’ previous statements regarding the nuclear matter, President Bill Clinton in 1994 appointed the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments to investigate any unethical human experiments that were undertaken by the United States and make recommendations to prevent such an occurrence from happening again. The committee concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prove intentional human testing in the Marshall Islands. The committee did conclude, however, that there was demonstrated cultural insensitivity and an unwarranted conflation of patient care and research on the part of the United States in the Marshall Islands. For this, the committee recommended that the US government issue individual apologies along with financial compensation, something that has, tellingly, yet to be done. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the committee’s report was its concession that that the greatest harm from the US nuclear testing was the “legacy of distrust” that it created due to the US government’s intentional denial of access to previously classified documentation on the matter. As recently as September 2012, the Marshall Islands has continued to press the United Nations to help rectify the human rights violations it endured due to the nuclear testing. Calin Georgescu, the UN Special Rapporteur on the effects of toxic and dangerous waste on the enjoyment of human

“How, then, was the Marshall Islands ever supposed to fairly negotiate with the United States if it was never given the vital information it needed to hold the United States accountable for its actions?” provided by the US government, thousands of pages have been blacked out or deleted. Among these documents is the radiation exposure data for all sixty-seven tests the United States carried out. How, then, was the Marshall Islands ever supposed to fairly negotiate with the United States if it was never given the vital information it needed to hold the United States accountable for its actions? A closer look at section 177 of COFA leads to complex legal questions. Article IX of the agreement addresses “changed circumstances,” allowing additional funding to be requested from the US Congress if new injury is “discovered after the effective date” of the agreement, and if the “injury could not reasonably have been identified” prior. However, in Article X, the Marshall Islands agreed to an “espousal provision,” which terminates all legal proceedings against the United States related to nuclear testing. COFA, according to Article X, was supposed to provide a full settlement of all past, present, and future claims via the Nuclear Claims Tribunal. How was Article IX supposed to be invoked if Article X settled all nuclear-related claims? And why would the Marshall Islands government agree to a provision that legally shut the door on all future claims? Minister de Brum explains that “espousal was ultimately the price of freedom…without espousal the US government threatened the veto of trusteeship termination and to perpetuate colonial status.”


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rights, released a report detailing his findings on the effects of the nuclear contamination in the islands and their human rights ramifications. His report confirms that the Marshallese are still affected by the nearly irreversible environmental damage caused by the radiation. The report also goes on to endorse the claim that the US government hampered the Marshall Islands’ ability to adequately negotiate the terms of its independence by withholding key information. The US response to the report was not surprising. A US representative stated that the United States “acknowledged and acted responsibly upon the negative effects of the nuclear testing” through “the full and final settlement of all claims related to the testing contained in the 1986 Compact of Free Association.” By relying on such a legalistic formality, this response allows the United States to get away with ignoring the continuing appeals by the Marshallese for justice. So what legal recourse does the Marshall Islands have moving forward? According to Columbia University law professor Michael Gerrard, a frequent advisor to the Marshall Islands government, the Marshall Islands has little to no legal recourse. He states, “The courts have held that it’s mostly a political question whether the United States pays more compensation. The Marshall Islands have lost at every turn in court.” Gerrard argues that the recent report from the UN Special Rapporteur creates “if not a wedge, at least a sliver, which could


columbia political review :: summer 2013

allow someone to argue that it was a human rights violation for the United States not to have carried through on the recommendations of the Nuclear Claims Tribunal.” Even in this circumstance, however, the United States wields much more power in the United Nations system than the Marshall Islands, not to mention the fact that the Marshall Islands still depends on the United States for much of its funding. The only hope for the Marshall Islands is to garner support from other countries to put pressure on the United States to take steps to address its nuclear legacy. Thus far, Algeria, Australia, Cuba, Malaysia, Maldives, and New Zealand have all expressed support for the Marshall Islands’ cause based on the Special Rapporteur’s Report. While the United States possesses considerable power in the United Nations, the collective pressure from these countries could at the least push the US government to further declassify some of the vital information related to the nuclear testing. The declassification of information is necessary not only for the Marshall Islands to receive justice on the nuclear issue but also for its current residents to seek preemptive medical attention to address the harms of lingering radiation. The woes of the Marshall Islands unfortunately do not end at the nuclear issue. Today, the country exists barely meters above sea level, making it one of the most vulnera-

ble countries to the effects of climate change-induced sea level rise. With its very physical territory threatened, the Marshall Islands is now faced with questions that even the most powerful countries such as the United States would not be able to answer. Where will the Marshallese people go? What would their legal status be if they were to relocate? Will the country be able to retain its statehood or the distinct culture to which its citizens are accustomed? Many of the same themes that play out around the nuclear issue play out here as well. The United States refuses to take accountability for being the largest emitter of carbon and, once again, the victims are countries like the Marshall Islands that have played little to no role in contributing to the problem. It is possible that the nuclear legacy may, in fact, end up helping the Marshall Islands navigate the developing climate crisis. As part of COFA, the United States agreed to let Marshallese people freely and indefinitely immigrate into the United States without a visa. As a result, Springdale, Arkansas today happens to be home to over 4,000 Marshallese. This unfortunately puts the Marshall Islands government in a political catch-22: should the government continue to press for justice on the nuclear issue and thereby risk the current benefits the US government provides, or should the government pivot to focusing exclusively on dealing with the climate issue? In either case, the nuclear legacy is one that will never be forgotten by the Marshallese people for generations to come even if their land is lost. The physical and mental wounds – and the cultural memory of a deep historical injustice – will persist far beyond the small islands that were repeatedly battered by nuclear bombs. cpr

Narayan Subramanian, SEAS ‘13 is a former editor-in-chief of CPR. He has long been passionate about climate change and small island issues. This past summer, Narayan worked for the Marshall Islands Government at the UN Mission in New York and served as an official delegate to the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development. He can be reached at

columbia political review :: summer 2013

CPRetrospective This article was originally published in the March 2010 issue of the Columbia Political Review. In this, our inaugural CPRetrospective feature, we hope to highlight the longstanding and continuing relevance of the gun control debate in American politics.


n the morning of March 30, 1981, President Ronald Reagan waved to the crowd as he departs a speaking event at a Washington D.C. hotel. Grinning characteristically, he holds out his hands to greet cries of “President Reagan!” with his benediction. John Hinckley, then, attempts to impress his idol Jodie Foster by firing six bullets at Reagan at point-blank range, and the statuesque figure of the President disappeared instantly from the scene. Watching the press footage of the incident, one barely gets a glimpse of his barreling limousine. Hinckley, a twenty-five-year-old from Ardmore, Oklahoma, who had stalked Foster for over a year, is hidden from view beneath a huddle of Secret Service agents. The most prominent figure on the scene is a squat-looking man in a three-piece grey suit and brown leather shoes, who bellows commands at the crowd. Press Secretary James Brady, Washington, D.C. police officer Thomas Delaharty, and Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy all lie limp on the sidewalk and need an ambulance. There’s no car to deposit Hinckley into, and the press keep trying to get a good look at the gunman’s face. In his right hand, the grey-suited man hoists aloft a

large submachine gun. Several polls sponsored by Time Magazine in the run-up to the 1984 election asked Americans to identify issues that would influence their vote in November. Not surprisingly, between 42 and 52 percent of registered voters said the question of gun control would influence their decision “a lot,” and between 82 and 86 percent said it would have some effect on their ballot. But when asked the same question in 1996, only 4 percent of voters identified gun control as an important issue. In 2000, that number reached only 17 percent, despite the infamous shooting at Columbine High School the previous year. An MSNBC exit poll of the 2004 election didn’t even include gun control as an option. Neither did the “Talking to America” survey of the electorate prior to the 2008 election. Why not? Incidents at Columbine and Virginia Tech, after all, were far grislier than John Hinkley’s failed assassination attempt, and lacked a smiling Presidential victim joking with surgeons in pre-op. In February 2010, Amy Bishop’s murder of three of her colleagues in the biology department of the University of Alabama in Huntsville bore sad witness to the continuing

power of gun crimes to captivate national attention, as did Jiverly Voong’s April 2009, shooting spree at an immigrant center in Binghamton, New York, and US Army Major Nidal M. Hasan’s armed assault on Fort Hood in Texas last November. Can it be that, in spite of these isolated tragedies, the issue of gun control has been largely resolved? Since 1984, the number of US households with guns has declined from 47.5 percent to 36 percent, perhaps because violent crimes, too, have slowly declined since their 1990 peak. And 2,262 New Yorkers were murdered in 1990, compared to 471 last year. Perhaps it’s not just the political weight of the gun control issue that’s in decline, but the actual social gravity. “Fewer Americans see a … benefit in getting a gun for their personal protection,” remarks Robert Spitzer, chair of the political science department at SUNY-Cortland and author of The Politics of Gun Control. “Most gun purchases are made by people who already own guns,” Spitzer said, with the caveat that a paucity of good statistics makes definitive characterizations difficult. Meanwhile, high-profile political candidates have moderated their views



accordingly. While Democrats had put stronger gun control at the center of their platform for decades, President Bill Clinton in his 1992 campaign moderated that talk with references to the popularity of hunting in his home state of Arkansas. In the run-up to the 2008 election, Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Joe Biden spoke proudly of his guns and promised fellow owners of firearms that they had little to fear from then-Senator Barack Obama (D—Illinois). Even Senator John Kerry (D—Massachusetts) found it necessary to awkwardly trot out his hunting gear shortly before the 2004 contest,


columbia political review :: summer 2013

although he got someone else to carry the dead goose. Placatory messages from left-wing figures, meanwhile, have given the right little to campaign on. “Democrats have been stepping away from the issue, so it fades from public view,” said Spitzer. Thus, over time, the political debate became resilient to even the most public tragedies. In late July 1998, Russell Eugene “Rusty” Weston, Jr. jumped into his father’s Chevy pickup and drove from Valmyer, Illinois, to Washington, D.C., in a single day. He didn’t stop until he reached the Capitol. Inside, he tried to skirt the metal detec-

tor, and when Capitol Police officer J. J. Chestnut confronted him, Weston produced a .38 revolver and shot Chestnut in the eye. As civilians dove for cover, Weston marched on to the offices of Rep. Tom DeLay (R—Texas), then the House Majority Whip, where staffers were celebrating a recent legislative victory. Inside, Special Agent John Gibson was waiting for him. Both fired. Gibson died, while Weston was incapacitated. Walking outside the Capitol after the shooting, Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R—California) was asked what effect the shooting might have on gun control laws. “After an incident like

columbia political review :: summer 2013 this, I’m sure there’s going to be some reflection,” he remarked, but by no means could Congress “take guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens.” Two years ago, however, the moderate consensus was dealt a major blow. At the time, the District of Columbia Official Code prohibited residents of the city from keeping functional firearms at home. Dick Anthony Heller, a D.C. police officer who wanted to keep a gun in his residence, sued to overturn the law on the basis of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which states, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” The Supreme Court, voting 5-4, concurred with Heller, voiding the ban. While the court endorsed a broad range of acceptable limitations on the right to bear arms, such as the power of the government to ban guns from felons or the mentally ill, it ruled a that general prohibition violates the Constitution. With D.C. v. Heller, the court broke a 70-year silence on the Second Amendment with a strong endorsement of the right to bear arms. The decision, in and of itself, had little effect: because DC. v. Heller struck down a law of the District of Columbia, it applied only to the federal government. But the Court has set the stage for a much greater change. Contrary to public belief, the Bill of Rights initially did not apply to the states, limiting only federal powers. Starting in 1925, the Supreme Court began applying individual Constitutional amendments to strike down state and local laws. This selective “incorporation” of Constitutional freedoms, which relies on the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of “due process of law,” has required state governments to abide by many of the guarantees of the Bill of Rights. The Second Amendment, however, has never been incorporated against the states. Now, a pair of cases, National Rifle Association v. Chicago and McDonald v. Chicago, seems poised to accomplish just that. A host of legal experts, including Spitzer, concur that the Court will incorporate the Second Amendment against the states after McDonald v. Chicago’s oral arguments in March. The National Rifle Association, which hesitated to back Heller’s case out of concern that the Court would rule against their interests, has since worked tire-

lessly to share in the spotlight of McDonald, signaling their newfound confidence. They, and allied organizations, have promised a host of legal challenges in McDonald’s wake. The consequences are potentially wide-reaching. “The NRA and the [libertarian] Cato Institute have made clear through their actions that they oppose

“For those who campaign for stricter limits on how and where guns may be acquired and used, the new legal challenges will create troublesome delays, if not outright roadblocks.” essentially all gun laws,” said Spitzer. To be sure, the District of Columbia’s handgun ban and similar state laws addressed by McDonald mark some of the nation’s toughest regulations. Nevertheless, many jurisdictions, including New York, could see changes in firearms policy. For example, a representative of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association said that his organization could use McDonald to challenge a law that gives the NYPD broad discretion in granting handgun licenses. D.C. v. Heller makes allowances for “reasonable” restrictions, but much will rest on lower courts’ application of that vague standard. For those who campaign for stricter limits on how and where guns may be acquired and used, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the new legal challenges will create troublesome delays, if not outright roadblocks. D.C. v. Heller marks a victory for all advocates of looser gun laws, including many civil libertarians, recreational hunters, and other law-abiding citizens. “Most [gun-owners] own guns for hunting and sporting reasons,” commented Spitzer. For one more worrisome group of citizens, however, the change could not come at a better time. In the 1990s, militias and conspiracy theorists directed a grim campaign of violence with government institutions and of-

CPRetrospective ficeholders as the primary targets. The “Patriot” movement, which had largely vanished during George W. Bush’s tenure in office, now seems to be making an aggressive return to the American landscape. According to a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, over 50 new militia training groups have formed in recent years. Their rhetoric centers around a deep distrust of President Obama and of African-Americans more broadly, but the 2008 election alone does not explain the new rise in paramilitary activity. Controversially, in 2009 the FBI launched a new investigation of the links between Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and the new militias. Meanwhile, swirling theories of immigrant conspiracies further radicalize the militia movement, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports. The rise of more mainstream right-wing populist movements have also had their impact. “Some of the people who are gravitating to the Tea Party movement belong to this radical fringe,” said Spitzer. Certainly, the new militias are to some extent temporary and a product of changing conditions. Spikes in gun purchases after Sept. 11 and Obama’s election did not mark sustained trends, suggesting that paramilitary activity is driven more by short-term fears than long-term planning. More to the point, fears surrounding 2009’s economic depths likely drove some of the uptick in militia membership. A recent pronounced decline in illegal immigration should also serve to belie some of the anti-immigrant movement’s claims of a building crisis. But at a time when even non-violent conservative movements play explicitly on ideas of revolution and uprising, recent developments in America’s gun culture demand the public’s attention. As Ronald Reagan, James Brady, Thomas Delaharty, and Timothy McCarthy discovered, peace can be shattered in an instant. With thanks to Professor Richard Pious of Barnard College and Professor Robert Spitzer of SUNY-Cortland for their assistance. Samuel Roth, CC ‘12, is a triple-major in economics, history, and political science. He first wrote about gun control in pre-school, for which he was taken to the principal’s office. He can be reached at


features :: domestic

columbia political review :: summer 2013

Rain Check on Reform

Fixing Federal Hurricane Relief

By Constance Boozer


ith his feet planted firm on the sand, Hank Iori squinted as he scanned the beach shoreline – spotting ramshackle homes, transplanted utility pipes, and scattered debris in every glimpse of his hometown Rockaway, Queens. “FEMA and the federal government have done a marvelous job cleaning up the blocks and getting sand off the streets, but that money dries up,” he told reporters at Newsweek. Out-of-pocket costs quickly became a daily reality for Iori post-Sandy. “I probably spent a minimum of $2,000 in Home Depot and each day I’m still finding more things I need to replace: new lawn mower, power washers, tools, table saw, snow blower.” Iori, nevertheless, considers himself lucky, as he was able to afford repairs for his home himself. Most aren’t. “Every family I know has burned through whatever money has been provided,” said Matt Doherty, Mayor of Belmar, New Jersey. “People are staying with family and friends. It is wrecking lives.” Seven years ago, Gulf Coast residents were also reaching their hands deep into empty pockets after Hurricane Katrina. Not only was Katrina the third-deadliest hurricane of the past hundred years, but it was also the largest natural disaster in terms of personal insurance claims in American history. The Insurance Services Office (ISO) defines a catastrophe as an event that causes $25 million or more in insured property losses. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina generated privately insured property losses of $41.1 billion. To put this in perspective, Hurricane Katrina caused $22.3 billion more in insurance losses than the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon combined, which generated $18.8 billion in insured damage. Estimates after Superstorm Sandy pegged the costs


covered by insurance companies at no less than $10 billion. While demonstrative of the general size of the damage and recovery efforts that super-hurricanes leave, these numbers can never truly reflect the financial punch in the gut that Sandy and Katrina have dealt countless Americans within the past decade. Within the delicate dance of the local, state, and federal governments planning for and responding to natural emergencies, the dilemma of “who pays for what” is often the central drag that slows recovery efforts. The most recent saga of dispersing federal funds to hurricane victims started to unfold days after Sandy struck – with elected officials of all shapes and sizes heralding a collective call for Congress to pass a bill of aid for the stricken tri-state area. Congress passed $62.3 billion in aid 10 days after Hurricane Katrina hit, and that’s not including the additional

“In short, the federally-subsidized flood program is incapable of fulfilling its central role — paying flood insurance claims — without going into severe debt and without hiking premiums after major hurricanes.” $20 billion that was appropriated in 2006. In contrast, it took 91 days for Congress to pass two Sandy relief bills. Albeit not suggested by the long wait, the effort to pass aid was not without multitudinous public threats from governors and congressional members. Part GOP ideological resistance to what conservatives called “pork” and part congressional preoccupation with the unpleasant dilemma that the whole nation’s economy could possibly col-

lapse beneath us, the Sandy relief bill became a political football of blame this past December and January. After the Senate passed the bill in mid-December, Republican House leadership had “promised” that they would vote on the Sandy relief package before the 112th Congress ended its session the first week of January. This, of course, did not happen. On January 1, once the House passed the bill to avoid the fiscal cliff, Boehner, despite the pleas of tri-state area House members, did not allow a vote on the Sandy bill that same night. New legislation would have to be introduced and voted on in the next session of Congress. The reasons for Boehner’s decision could be hashed out for hours (Boehner had just voted on a lot of spending with the fiscal cliff; Boehner was worried about Republicans publically splitting on another piece of legislation; Cantor is really the one responsible for the decision and the one to blame). Whatever the reason, “Boehner’s betrayal” — punting Sandy relief to the 113th Congress — resulted in newspaper headlines evoking the classic “Ford To City: Drop Dead” and in local officials telling the House of Representatives that they should be ashamed, with Representative Peter King (RNY) even calling the legislative move “a cruel knife in the back.” Days after New Jersey’s and New York’s public scolding, the House and Senate finally passed $9.7 billion in aid to temporarily cover the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). At the end of January, Congress passed an additional $50.5 billion of aid money, which is being used today to repair public transportation systems, rebuild public housing, and to even fix up the Statue of Liberty — now slated to open on the Fourth of July. While Congress eventually passed greatly needed recovery funds, the case of Sandy demonstrates

columbia political review :: summer 2013 that federal disaster relief funding is far too susceptible of becoming a legislative hostage in partisan and ideological deficit battles or of simply getting gummed up in congressional procedures — to the considerable detriment of communities who can’t afford to sit and wait to rebuild. Another option to fund natural disaster recovery is for states to pitch in aid as they did in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. While not an issue during Sandy because most of the damaged structures were still remaining onshore, a key question blocking Katrina recovery was whether the damage was caused by wind-driven storm surges or flooding. The media quickly coined this as the “wind v. water” debacle. In addition to the ambiguity of whether a storm surge counts as flood or wind damage, most hurricane contracts had “Anti-Concurrent Causation” (ACC) clauses. If wind and flooding both caused damage to a home, insurers could interpret the ACC clause in a way to assert that the presence of flooding nullified payment of damage covered in an all-risk hurricane policy. Instead, insurers would only pay wind damage, accompanied with water damage, under flood coverage, if it is available. Since most damage to homes included both wind and water damage, a homeowner would have to have flood coverage to receive money that could be used to repair wind damage. While overall, all-risks policy appear to offer broad coverage, the exceptions – such as floods – take away some more, and then the anti-concurrent clause takes most of what was left, unless the claimant has flood insurance. At the time, however, nearly 75 percent of Mississippi homeowners did not have flood insurance. These homeowners may have not been aware of this program or, as disputed in many Scruggs-Katrina Group lawsuits, may have been assured by the insurance agent that purchasing separate flood insurance outside a designated flood zone was not necessary. For example, James Lucas, a resident of Gautier, Mississippi has asserted that after asking if he should buy additional flood insurance when purchasing his hurricane policy, an Allstate agent allegedly

informed him “that he was covered for any damage incurred during a hurricane, including storm surge.” As a result of these insurance disputes, many homeowners brought their denied claims to the state government to mediate. In total, the Mississippi Insurance Department reported that over 380,000 insurance claims were filed in response to Katrina, and the Insurance Institute estimates 1.75 million claims were filed across the region. In order to rectify disputes that did not have jurisprudence to be heard in court and were denied by insurance companies, the state’s “wind-pool” was used. Mississippi’s wind-pool was created in 1969 due to the problems that arose in Hurricane Camille. A wind-pool, sometimes referred to as “beach plans,” is a program created by state statute and regulation to provide wind insurance coverage in high-risk areas when insurance companies can no longer provide or refuse to provide coverage. As a result, a wind-pool can be considered a residual market plan, where home and business owners buy into the pool through their premiums. When damage exceeds the money collected in premiums, the companies that do business in the state have to pay the difference. As insurers stopped issuing wind coverage after Katrina, the windpool had a 150 percent increase in policies – 16,000 to 40,000 — and suffered a $745 million loss, which was four times greater than the $175 million it

features :: domestic had as assets. Even now, this rapid expansion has left the state’s wind-pool underfunded, which has resulted in a rapid jump in rates for wind-pool premiums. Another glaring problem in government-funded hurricane relief today is the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which is managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Until the Mississippi River flooded in 1927, most insurance companies nationwide regularly offered flood coverage in a basic homeowner’s insurance policy. As a result of this natural disaster, private insurance companies increasingly dropped their flood policies, which then led Congress to create the NFIP in 1968. Under current legislation, residents who live in designated flood areas are required to buy federal flood insurance, while voluntary coverage is available to all homeowners. According to FEMA, the NFIP has at least $45 billion in flood policies in the tri-state area recovering from Sandy. Although the exact number of flooded homes and flood insurance claims are not yet available, in mid-November, Edward Connor, FEMA’s deputy associate administrator for federal insurance, told a meeting of the Federal Advisory Committee on Insurance that FEMA estimated the number of Sandy-related losses under the program would be somewhere between $6 billion and $12 billion.


features :: domestic As a result, with only $900 million in cash and $2.9 billion remaining in NFIP’s borrowing authority, Sandy victims were not be able to settle claims and thus recover until the federal government bailed out NFIP once again in January. Further, FEMA has yet to fully repay the $18 billion Treasury-financed loan that bailed out the program in 2005. While nothing can be done to prevent this bailout, reforming how homeowners are insured against flood damage while the issue of hurricane home insurance is still on the public’s agenda is a step the government can and should take in the next year in order to make the latest bailout of the NFIP the Treasury’s last. With the evidence that is available to us now, NFIP most likely will go into debt again during or after paying Sandy-related claims. Furthermore, this past summer, Congress passed the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act of 2012 that reauthorized the NFIP until 2017, created an advisory council to modernize 100-year-old flood zones that went into affect at the beginning of 2013, and granted FEMA the authority to raise premiums up to 25 percent per year until the program is set to expire again five years from now. One result of the updated maps is that it will force more homeowners to buy mandatory NFIP policies next year, which could be considered a good thing since so few Gulf Coast homes were flood-insured before Katrina.

columbia political review :: summer 2013 In requiring more mandatory coverage in flood-prone areas, the government would be able to spread its risk among a larger pool of homeowners. A problem of this, however, is that the increased premium hikes under the 2012 reforms may lead many residents to move away from coastal and flood-prone areas to avoid the costs of storm-proofing new homes along with higher premiums — ultimately leaving fewer homes in the NFIP pool. Another approach is to encourage most of these residents to leave the area, as seen in New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s buy-back program. Nevertheless, as evidenced in the post-Katrina Gulf Coast region, large departures of middle-class families from areas like Long Island, Queens, Staten Island, and the Jersey Shore would deal a devastating blow to the region’s local economy. While large-scale coastal departure would fix NFIP’s solvency problem, it would greatly hinder the tri-state as well as the national economy. In short, the federally-subsidized flood program is incapable of fulfilling its central role – paying flood insurance claims – without going into severe debt and without hiking premiums after major hurricanes. In order to break this cycle of frequent bailouts at the expense of taxpayers across the country, the federal government needs to reform NFIP. One alternative is to modify NFIP so that it provides – in addition to flood – wind and other hurricane-related damage coverage

through voluntary policies so that it expands its pool of covered homeowners and increases competition in the private insurance market. While some would decry the federal government’s offering of optional comprehensive hurricane insurance as Obamacare’s inbred spawn of Satan, the current system isn’t looking any better. As we’ve seen in the aftermath of Sandy, having congressional members pass federal aid on a case-by-case basis to fund NFIP has not only been penny wise and pound foolish, but also has only been a drop in the bucket. “Never let a crisis go to waste,” as former White House Chief of Staff and current Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said. When hurricane relief funding comes up on the national agenda once again, most likely through another large-scale hurricane, these problems need to be considered in order to have a better chance at formulating new policies that could permanently improve coastal insurance markets and save families from financial ruin. We cannot rule out governmental regulation on grounds that the private market will return to recover on its own. It is true that a comprehensive federal rainy day fund could address these problems in an ideal world. In the real world, however, finding revenue to pay for it – along with numerous other problems – makes it a rainy day dream away. Nevertheless, discussion and debate are always the first steps to finding practical and commonsensical solutions to the existing problems, including natural disaster recovery funding. That being the said, let’s keep the conversation going — we shouldn’t take a rain check on reform. cpr

Constance Boozer, CC ’13, is an editor emeritus of the Columbia Political Review and IvyGate – or as she has failingly tried to coin it “editor emiriti.” Like Winklevii. Graduating this May with a degree in American studies and political science, Constance unwittingly has been confronted with the stark reality that numbers exist and are useful – leading her to enroll in a masters of public policy program that ends in 2015. You can reach her at


columbia political review :: summer 2013

features :: international

Refugee Aid, Syrians Betrayed Humanitarian Aid’s Failure in the War Against Assad By Brina Seidel


s the number of Syrian refugees climbs rapidly beyond 1 million, the need for increased funding to address the crisis is obvious, but the motivation for nations to actually provide those funds is not. The United Nation’s relief plan requests just over a billion dollars to fund its operations from January 2013 to June 2013, and a variety of donors pledged to meet those needs. Yet somehow, the latest report on the inter-agency regional response cites an $800 million shortfall in the promised funds thus far, rendering the United Nations and its partner organizations incapable of meeting the basic needs of the refugees, who are dispersed across Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt. From afar, this lack of funding seems like a choice on the part of the potential donor nations. But the world is still in a global recession, and losing valuable taxpayer dollars to foreign aid is simply impractical. Spending money abroad during an economic slump at home is never a popular decision. Yet the international political ramifications of humanitarian aid are impossible to deny, and they must come to the forefront of the world’s consciousness when addressing the issue of the Syrian refugees. By providing aid to refugees who have fled beyond the borders of Syria, donor nations can actually promote the cause of the opposition and hasten the fall of the Assad re-

gime. This is because the refugees are, in essence, a part of the opposition movement. From the onset, the Syrian opposition has made little distinction between its soldiers and the civilians for whom they are fighting. Although the organization of the Free Syrian Army is becoming more formalized, the force remains focused on guerilla tactics that rely heavily on the support of local communities. The strength of this continued link between t h e armed r e -

sistance and the Syrian civilians amplifies the political impact of humanitarian aid. Those who remain in Syria are closer to the front lines of the conflict and more directly involved in the opposition efforts, but humanitarian aid can be delivered more efficiently and more effectively in Syria’s neighboring countries than inside the nation itself. Such external aid will be felt inside Syria, serving to delegitimize the Assad regime in a way that the international community currently cann o t


features :: international achieve through aid to internally displaced refugees alone. This is due in large part to the United Nations’ continued recognition of the Assad regime, maintained almost entirely by Russia’s obstinate support for the dictator. Because the United Nations still officially recognizes the Assad regime, the United Nations and all of its dozens of partner organizations are essentially immobilized within Syria. They are required by international law to administer all internal aid through official channels. The money from foreign donors must pass through Damascus before reaching those for whom it is intended. Accordingly, most humanitarian aid inside Syria goes to regions still controlled by Assad, leaving the opposition-held areas bereft of support. It is no coincidence that these opposition-held areas are the regions in which the most violence has occurred and the most aid is needed. Though Assad-controlled regions are still experiencing critical food supply challenges and medical issues, the practice of providing humanitarian aid provided to those areas alone deemphasizes the regime’s failure to provide basic services to Syrian citizens. In addition, any perception that such aid stems from the capital legitimizes the regime and eventually serves to prolong the conflict. Syrian refugees outside Syria also have a huge impact on the opposition’s ongoing effort to formalize and define its organization and ideology. Though a vast array of groups oppose Assad, history has proven that a strong anti-establishment sentiment is nowhere near enough to guarantee that a stable government emerges from the conflict. The refugee camps have become a fertile recruiting ground for splinters of the opposition movement looking to increase their clout. As humanitarian studies scholar Hugo Slim notes, “insurgents, counter-insurgents and liberal [humanitarian] agencies” all similarly “claim to know what is best for the people and seek to improve their lives accordingly.”

columbia political review :: summer 2013 Because worse conditions increase dissatisfaction with the current tilt of the opposition, increased humanitarian aid would undermine such splinter groups and facilitate the opposition’s solidification. For the United States and its allies, any whispers of Islamic extremism in the refugee camps brings the Syrian

of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) of UN actions in Libya to specify that the “lack of access to conflict-affected areas, as well as the need to manage operations remotely from Tunisia, led to some delays in the humanitarian response.” Because the Syrian civil war has already dragged on for years longer than the Libyan revolution, the roots of such “delays” in the humanitarian response in Syrian opposition-held area are far more difficult to overcome. The assumption that a fullscale military intervention is off the table has fundamentally changed the nature of the international response to Syria. If the situation is interpreted through the United Nations’ doctrine about the “responsibility to protect” the world against mass atrocity crimes, such military intervention should be an option for the international community, if still a last resort. Yet in Syria, the weapons and allies available to the Assad regime mean that military intervention is not under consideration. With the international community acknowledging that there are binding limits on the extent to which it will aid the Syrian populace, there is less urgency to provide even humanitarian aid. This disregard of the “responsibility to protect” policy once again proves the limits on the United Nations’ power to actually guide the actions of sovereign states. If potential donor nations direct their efforts to Syria’s neighbors, their funds will have a political impact not just in Syria but also in the rest of the region. Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey stand out as particularly crucial recipients of international aid. With over a million registered refugees flooding refugee camps and urban areas alike, these host nations have long called for the international community to support them. In a region perpetually labeled “unstable” and “volatile,” the rest of the world must recognize that the burden of hosting refugees is especially worrisome. Jordan feels the strain of hosting about one-third of the Syrian refugees.

“For the United States and its allies, any whispers of Islamic extremism in the refugee camps brings the Syrian conflict into the scope of the war on terrorism, making Syria less of a nation struggling for freedom and democracy and more of a breeding ground for terrorists.”


conflict into the scope of the war on terrorism, making Syria less of a nation struggling for freedom and democracy and more of a breeding ground for terrorists. The counter-insurgency mentality of the coalition nations that entered Iraq in 2003 is not so different from the liberal values held by the UN organizations and NGOs conducting humanitarian aid. Haunted by the long and costly years in Iraq, the United States is unlikely to take any direct ground action in Syria, and it has instead delivered more funds for humanitarian aid than any other nation to date. Though recent military training and supply initiatives have indicated that the United States is departing from its initial humanitarian focus, it is still expected that the international community will refrain from sending troops to Syria. This is a stark contrast to the recent revolution in Libya, which was ended by a NATO-led military intervention in support of the opposition movement. The Arab Spring uprising against the Qaddafi regime and the ensuing turmoil caused a refugee crisis that can serve to clarify the need for external aid to Syria. According to the United Nations, the Libyan revolution spurred the movement of over 550,000 internally displaced refugees and around 750,000 externally displaced refugees over the course of 2011. As in Syria, the existing regime was careful to allow humanitarian groups access to only the areas under its control, leading the self-assessment

columbia political review :: summer 2013 A recent analysis from Chatham House emphasizes that as “a poor country relying heavily on money from the [United States] and the Gulf [states] to balance its budget, Jordan is worried about the economic impact of the refugee crisis.” Its infrastructure is barely able to keep up with the increased demand for everything from classrooms to waste management. Though Jordan often plays host to refugees from its conflict-ridden neighbors, the plight of the Syrians is more serious and more contentious than that of the Palestinians. Conditions in places such as the Za’atri refugee camp in Jordan are at times so bad that riots have broken out and aid workers have been attacked. Though King Abdullah II of Jordan has remained popular throughout the Arab Spring and looks likely to remain so, Jordan’s status as one of the most steadily developing oil-free Arab nations is at stake. Lebanon is perhaps struggling the most under the burden of hosting refugees. As of March 2013, Lebanon’s population had increased by ten percent due to Syrian refugees alone. The scale of the crisis has lead to ramifications beyond there strain on infrastructure felt in Jordan. With the influx of aid money, however insufficient, the economy has experienced a spike in inflation and a fall in wages. Lebanese citizens have long since begun to resent the Syrian refugees, noting that all aid previously devoted to helping Lebanese citizens is now directed solely towards Syrians. A recent study by De-

velopment Management International found that the major concerns for “Lebanese households burdened by Syrian refugees are related to decreased space available to Lebanese, increased household expenditure on food and non-food items and the minimal space left to allow for segregation between sexes.” Last year, this frustration turned into violence in several clashes between groups divided by in large part by their support of Assad, conflicts that were often declared a “spillover” of the Syrian conflict. With such clashes continuing sporadically, the sectarian tension that is always present in Lebanon is likely to worsen as the refugee crises continues. Turkey, a far wealthier nation than either Jordan or Lebanon, is facing very different stakes than its neighbors. Initially able to fund much of its aid to Syrian refugees without international support, Turkey’s humanitarian efforts were lead by Turkish organizations in a display of national competency. However, a nation that has worked since its inception to shove religion and ethnicity outside the realm of politics cannot long remain aloof of the impact of tens of thousands of highly politicized refugees. For example, the influx of Syrians has meant an influx of members of the militant Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), threatening the Turkish government’s recent attempt at peace talks with t h e

features :: international Turkish PKK to end decades of violence. As Turkish citizens become more and more frustrated with the refugee crisis and begin to take their opinions on Syria to the voting booths, Turkey’s proud secular tradition will come into conflict with its citizens’ views on Syria. Because the political impact of humanitarian aid is much less obvious than the impact of armed soldiers, garnering domestic support for humanitarian aid is a different game entirely for the leaders of potential donor nations. The paths by which humanitarian aid will both promote the opposition and stabilize the region can be clarified and emphasized in order to spur greater international support for externally displaced refugees. Humanitarian aid is never merely humanitarian. Potential donor nations must recognize that the long-term returns to their investment in the fall of the Assad regime far outweigh the dollar value of providing foreign aid. Though there exists a moral imperative to provide aid for all refugees, aid must currently be directed towards the crisis of the masses of refugees outside Syria for greatest impact. cpr

Brina Seidel is a sophomore in Columbia College majoring in Economics and Political Science. She can be reached at



Summer 2013  

Summer 2013