From a Revolution in Orange to Ukrainian Blues: Understanding the Ukraine Crisis

On November 6th, the Reiff center at Christopher Newport University in conjunction with the Alexander Hamilton Society and the Center for American Studies at CNU had a panel of experts give insight into the current conflict in the Ukraine. These experts were Christopher Newport University’s very own, Dr. Tatiana Rizova, along with Dr. Gerard Alexander, the Associative Professor of the Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics, and The Honorable David J. Kramer, President of Freedom House. These speakers lent significant insight into the constantly developing situation of Ukraine and the international response to it.

Dr. Tatiana Rizova, CNU, discussing the latest developments in the Ukraine crisis.

Dr. Tatiana Rizova, CNU, discussing the latest developments in the Ukraine crisis.

The first person to speak in the panel was Dr. Rizova who provided a brief overview of the history of the Ukraine. She began by providing details about how corruption was a huge issue within the country. According to her, Transparency International, an organization that monitors individuals’ perception of corruption in their own country, gives Ukraine a dismal rating. Additionally, she discussed how Russia and the Ukraine had close ties especially in regards to trade. One statistic stated that Ukraine’s exports to Russia were more than 25%. Lastly, she stressed the fact that Ukraine’s issue with corruption has been constant and despite efforts at reform, Ukraine still remained tied to Russia along with its illiberal tendencies.

Dr. Gerard Alexander of the University of Virginia.

Dr. Gerard Alexander of the University of Virginia.

The next speaker was Dr. Alexander and he explained how American Policy works in international relations. He began by saying that international relations is essentially anarchy because there is no higher government in which individual states have to answer to. Each state therefore has to contend with predatory actions made by other states upon them. His next point was that states have a concern with deterring this predation and one way of doing this was to keep states from engaging in predation in the first place. Some examples of this is by punishment, cultivating allies, and maintaining a healthy perception abroad. This, in theory, makes states that might consider predation (i.e. illiberal democracies, dictatorships, and autocracies) from attempting it in the first place. He ended his lecture in international relations with talking about how the post cold war climate is shaped. Essentially, with the theories of predation in mind, there is this fear of possibly jeopardizing alliances when America lets another state take territory. Other allies might then interpret this as no reason to stay in alliance with America if the U.S. doesn’t bother to do anything about predatory actions. Dr. Alexander related this to the Obama administrations current policy of “speaking loudly but not using a stick”. His belief is that condemnation requires some sort of physical action.

The Hon. David Kramer, President of  Freedom House.

The Hon. David Kramer, President of Freedom House.

The last speaker to present was The Honorable David J. Kramer, President of Freedom House. He began by stating that the current crisis in the Ukraine was comparable to the Cuban Missile Crisis and that everyone in the international community is carefully watching the events unfold. But what exactly set events in motion in the first place? Well first it is important to realize that Putin views democracy and the west as a threat. Recently, many Eastern European Countries have been pivoting away from Russia and towards the west, something that Putin sees as a challenge to Russian power and influence over the region. The irony of Putin’s logic is that NATO allied states are actually the safest borders for Russia but his logic is based upon perceptions and influence as opposed to physical threats.
Next, the Hon. David J. Kramer talked about Donetsk and Luhansk, the two eastern Ukrainian provinces. He believes that they did not support Russian forces in the most recent elections and that Russia influenced the results in its favor. Additionally, he argues that this current situation is not a civil war but a war between Russia and the Ukraine. It is his belief that the Obama administration’s actions were simply too slow in crafting sanctions and lacked adequate stopping power since they were not preemptive. Among these mistakes, he also believes that the situation shows what our limitations are as a nation and illustrates weakness in how we react. Lastly, he stressed the fact that we must protect the Ukraine and that the United States cannot stand idly by when an ally is suffering from such a monumental threat.

I personally believed that this panel was a superb addition to the Reiff center events for this year. What particularly enraptured the audience was the logical progression of the speakers and their topics. In other words, each speech flowed well from one speaker to the next. The panel also had some time for questions afterwards and the student body made full use of the opportunity. One particularly interesting question was whether or not the United States could recover from its low position in the current international climate. The answer was yes but we would have to make sure we send a message across that there will be no more Ukraine situations in the world. Some other interesting points brought up during the Q and A were Russia’s actions out of the conflict. For instance, recently there was a deal between China and Russia on constructing a pipeline between the two states, something that Russia desperately needed after international sanctions on oil. Instead of perceiving this action as the beginnings of friendship, one of the panelists argued that China and Russia still hated each other and China used its leverage over Russia to gain a lucrative deal since it knew Russia was in a poor bargaining position. Russia also seems to be expanding its operations in courting influence abroad. Apparently “RT” or “Russian TV” has been growing at a rapid pace in other countries. The panelists made clear that RT is a very crafty form of Russian propaganda that is cleverly orchestrated to look like an accredited news source. These efforts at expansion will inevitably attempt to foster a pro Russian identity around the world.

The Panelists during the Q&A session.

The Panelists during the Q&A session.

The final question that remains is very simple, what should the United States do? Many of our panelists believe that America has every right to intervene and should do so as soon as possible. Although I agree, I can’t help but wonder about Russia’s current position. After annexing Crimea, undergoing sanctions from the U.S. and the EU, and having been exploited by China in the most recent oil deal, I can’t help but wonder if Russia is in for some serious economic trouble. This is speculative but I seriously believe that although Russia might be succeeding in the short term, it has a rocky long-term future ahead of it.

Disclaimer: “The views expressed in this post solely reflect the author’s opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Reiff Center or Christopher Newport University.”

The Future of Armed Conflict – Lt. General McMaster

LTG H.R. McMaster, Director, Army Capabilities and Integration Center and Deputy Commanding General, Futures, US Army Training and Doctrine Command

LTG H.R. McMaster, Director, Army Capabilities and Integration Center and Deputy Commanding General, Futures, US Army Training and Doctrine Command

This past week, the Reiff Center had the great honor of hosting a spectacular event, regarding the future of armed conflict. We would like to thank all of the people who came together to make this event a success:

The World Affairs Council of Greater Hampton Roads, whose generous support is always greatly appreciated

Dr. David Fautua for an excellent introduction of our esteemed speaker

Lt. General H.R. McMaster who provided an amazing wealth of crucial information in record time




Armed conflict is something that puts peoples’ nerves on edge. There are many opinions surrounding war, which range from pure disgust to resounding support. War and conflict is as ancient as it gets. The development of truly complex societies, the rise of agriculture, and the technological revolution of the Bronze Age brought about the rise of mass conflict and warfare. In fact the earliest known standing militaries are found in Egypt and Mesopotamia, dating back to about 2100 BC. The Realist branch of political science attempts to explain this development in that Man is naturally self-interested and Man is naturally a social creature. These two facets of humanity join together to justify the idea that war is inevitable. Looking at historical and contemporary examples, it would seem that the Realists might be right, although many would and have argued their foundational principles. Still, the reality of the situation is that war pervades every era and every location of known history. Going through the ancients, the Persians, Hellenistic Greece, Rome, the Huns, The Crusades, The Caliphate, it becomes impossible to discuss their history without discussing the role of conquest and military. Into more modern examples the same fact remains with British and greater European imperialism, the various Wars of Independence, and the constant conflict in Europe, which culminated into WWI, the “war to end all wars.” Here, we see the creation of the League of Nations, the first large scale attempt at diplomatic means to avoid conflict, which obviously failed as two decades later WWII devastated the European continent. Now, the rise of the United Nations comes forth as the beacon of diplomacy and peace – could Man work out its problems without pointing a gun (and at this point very big guns). The answer to this question is of course still highly debated, but recent history tells us that the UN’s success in reducing conflict is limited. We see that war continues throughout much of the world, found in Vietnam, Korea, and now in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Ukraine, to name just a few. It comes to be seen that war is as much a part of humanity as culture, religion, science, and commerce, if not even more so during certain eras.

US Army in Iraq – 2011 Source: The Huffington post

War is constant, but how humanity fights its wars is dramatically different through the eras. From the early sharpened sticks to the mechanized infantry and UAVs of today, technology has evolved at a rapid pace making war deadlier and much more costly. Not only the technology, but also how we fight war has changed, as Dr. Fautua mentions, today we fight nuanced wars and avoid the ‘annihilation of the enemy,’ as seen in WWII. The nature of the enemy has changed as well, what were once great powers and nation-states fighting over territory and resources, has evolved into armed insurgents, terrorists, or “non-state actors.” So much has changed on the war field, and still the goals remain the same as Man hunts for power. What does all of this mean? What is the future of American and world armed conflict? These are the questions that Lt. General McMaster tackles on a daily basis – reinventing strategies and experimenting with multifaceted approaches, all to further American interests. As Fautua called him, the “most respected officer of his generation,” McMaster provided, what I found to be an indispensable viewpoint for understanding the future of American warfare.

LTG McMaster speaking at the Reiff Center/World Affairs Council Event at Christopher Newport University.

LTG McMaster speaking at the Reiff Center/World Affairs Council Event at Christopher Newport University.

Perhaps indicative of the military to be concise and consistent, McMaster asserts his major findings in groups of four. The first section addresses four continuities found in all of war across time and space. Firstly, war is an extension of politics. This interestingly has been expressed by a variety of military scholars, notably Major General Carl Von Clausewitz of Prussia. In his study, On War (1832) Clausewitz makes a claim that “war is merely the continuation of politics by any other means.” It would seem that when diplomacy fails, war is the next option to pursue political outcomes. Importantly, politics and power are the real drivers of war, even if they are masked by an ideological system. In order to be successful, McMaster believes that the military must reach a sustainable outcome in order to consolidate the political gains of conflict. It is when policy makers fail to understand this that gains are lost, institutions fail, and regions become a breeding ground for extremism. We must also remember that war is purely human. This goes back to the realist philosophy that I outlined previously- McMaster extends this idea by saying that humans fight for three things. They fight for they are fearful, for they seek honor, and for their own interests. War is also uncertain, as our actions will be met by opposing forces, which cannot always be foreseen. Finally, War is a contest of wills. As soon as a force loses the capability or will to fight, the opposing side will gain a great advantage in the field. Think of WWI’s “War of Attrition.”

US National Security Council Source: Wikipedia

The second segment focuses on four fallacies, which result in American leaders making similar mistakes between conflicts. The first of which is the Vampire Fallacy, as the fallacy routinely comes back into the forefront and cannot be killed. Our vampire is not Dracula, but rather the belief that such a complex political and human endeavor  as war can be solved by technology, from afar, as stated by the military theory about the future of warfare expressed in the Revolution in Military Affairs. Technological advantages are critical, but they cannot achieve what troops on the ground can, and relying solely on technology will result in severe repercussions. The second is the idea that Americans believe all we need is a raiding party to go in, complete an objective, and leave. McMaster entitled this as the “Zero-Dark Thirty” Fallacy, based on the popular film where American troops quickly completed the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, and then were out of harm’s way. While this is an ideal method, it cannot be considered feasible for all conflicts, even though it would make war so much easier. The next fallacy may require the younger readers (and me) to do some Googling. The popular 1960s-80s T.V Show, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, features a host who would have his dutiful sidekick play with Lion and Bears, while he sat back and supervised. McMaster proposes that like a T.V host, America finds it can order “proxy armies” to do the dirty work. While our military should work with other forces, it is necessary that the US Military take an active role in order to achieve long and short term goals on the ground. The last fallacy is the RSVP Fallacy, where some Americans believe that war is simply a cordial invitation, which one can accept or decline at will. The fact of the matter is that, war is unpredictable, and Americans should be ready for the inevitability of conflict.

Why do Americans fall for these fallacies? McMaster asserts that the American culture, its optimism and progressive thinking may be partially to blame. While this is a strength in America, it becomes a weakness when we allow our optimism to cloud our judgment in preparing for future conflict. The Military-Industrial complex also plays a role in maintaining policies that are guided by fallacious thinking. Those fallacies are the answers Americans want to the hard questions of war. We allow hope and short-term interests to guide long term decisions. Lastly, Americans often invoke a narrow view of world affairs, which degrades the power of the military. In order to win, all of the branches of the military must be properly empowered, so that America has its “rock, paper, and scissors” ready to go, as McMaster puts it.

McMasterFlyer2The future of armed conflict is bleak, as non-state actors will most likely continue to grow in capabilities and numbers. Non-state combatants will attack civilians, disrupt American capabilities, and emulate American technologies. America must develop new and creative strategies in order to combat this unique enemy, which is exactly what McMaster and his colleagues are hard at work to do. Technology will not save us, as there is no magic bullet – a countermeasure will always come about to contest new technologies. McMaster argues that the army is vital to the future of armed conflict. He asserts that the US army will be responsible for providing multiple options to the military form the ground, and then project American military power from the ground to the air, sea, and cyberspace. The US Army must continue to work diligently with multiple partners, including other branches of our military, multinational partners, and other Departments of the American government. Likewise, the army must learn to operate across multiple domains, by controlling land areas and the holding them in order to allow safety for other branches of the military. Lastly, the US military must offer unique and numerous challenges to the enemy on a variety of fronts. Only through these changes will the US Army and military at large be able to contend in the future of armed conflict.

Regardless of your views on war, the fact remains that it will stick around in the foreseeable future. Diplomacy and commerce may prevent some conflicts, but others will require war to achieve American policy goals. War is bloody, violent, and cruel, but it remains a necessary tool to protect American interests.  Let us take McMaster’s advice that war in the future must be looked upon with a frank and scrutinizing eye, using history’s lessons to guide our policies. We must abandon fallacious thinking, develop new strategies, and be ready for a future we cannot predict. The American Military is made up of great minds and honorable men and women – with the right tools, they will see this nation through the battles of tomorrow.

Disclaimer: “The views expressed in this post solely reflect the author’s opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Reiff Center or Christopher Newport University.”


The Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the aftermath of the Gaza war

Before I begin writing about the details of the speaker, I have to first relate a quick anecdote. I remember having a discussion with a friend about the recent bombing in Israel and Palestine and he said something that still registers with me today, “Its hard to pick a side to hate because both have some responsibilities contributing to the current day situation”. I think this statement is fairly accurate in highlighting a fundamental error of human thought, the propensity to compartmentalize two sides; a good and a bad. One has to remember that the Israeli Palestinian crisis is a twisted amalgamation of hatred, fear, and death on both sides. With this objectivity in mind, let me relate to you the context of the most recent Reiff Center talk in regards to this ongoing conflict.

Dr. William Quandt

Dr. William Quandt speaking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On September 11, the Reiff Center had the honor of having Dr. William B. Quandt speak about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and the efforts at peace. Winner of numerous awards and author of several books on the subject, Dr. Quandt was more than well equipped to speak about such a controversial topic. He began by talking about how the conflict originated and stated that he believed the current crisis is a result of “two nationalisms” starting a hundred years ago. The core of this issue is the question of who is entitled to what land and what would be a fair deal to ensure lasting peace.
After a very brief history lesson of the declining Palestinian territories due to West Bank settlers, Dr. Quandt talked about the current day peace talks. It should come as no surprise to the reader that they were extremely unsuccessful and resulted in significantly more casualties than other peace talks. Additionally, the destruction lasted longer and involved greater physical damage to Palestinian infrastructure. Sadly, the recent conflict led to greater Hamas support amongst the thoroughly disenchanted Palestinian citizenry. Netanyahu, on the other hand, had a spike in approval at the onset of the conflict (at roughly 80 percent approval) with a drastic downturn, which is currently around 30 percent.


Dr. Quandt discussing the difficulties of a peace process in Israel-Palestine.

Dr. Quandt discussing the difficulties of a peace process in Israel-Palestine.

He also explained how the current situation is hopelessly deadlocked. Although some contend that Israel will be able to envelope Palestine with their constant efforts at settling into the West Bank, Palestinians are rapidly becoming the numerical majority. As a counter to what Palestinians perceive as threats to their livelihood, many are procreating at a rapid rate so that they do not get “erased”. Its oddly fascinating and horrifying that both sides are resorting to such desperate measures so that they might be victorious. Israel is sticking to its military strength and U.S. support while Palestine is mainly reliant on demographics.
After his presentation, Dr. Quandt fielded a Q and A, which the crowd took full advantage of. One such interesting answer came from a question related to Obama’s efforts at establishing peace before the current violence. In 2009 Obama urged Netanyahu to cease new settlements in the West Bank. Netanyahu responded to this by taking a trip to America, telling Obama that he was wrong about the situation and then preceded to go to congress delivering a speech that netted twenty-nine standing ovations. Obama gave up soon after.
Modern U.S. support for Israel runs extremely deep. AIPAC, a lobbying organization in America for pro Israeli relations, is considered one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the nation. Opposing this lobby is often considered to be political suicide due to its overwhelming power. Interestingly, both the Senate and the House of Representatives were unanimous in a decision to support Israel against Hamas. Considering the current day political climate, a unanimous decision on anything is exceedingly rare and borders on the impossible.
Unfortunately, the situation looks exceedingly bleak on both sides. Palestinians are adamant about staying and are willing to produce more children as a way of retaliation against Israel. Many young people in Palestine, disillusioned by the caustic political and social climate, want to leave. Who can really blame them? Lasting peace has been attempted over and over again and has failed on every occasion. Dr. Quandt ended by saying that there were few times he was discourage more of peace than he is now and considering all of the factors leading up to the recent bloodshed, I have to agree.

Lessons From Ferguson, Missouri

This past week, The Reiff Center was honored to co-sponsor an event dealing with the sensitive, but critical issue of Race. An event entitled Lessons from Ferguson: Race, Law Enforcement and the Potential Abuse of Power explored various aspects of the issues of race and law in the Ferguson crisis, inviting perspectives from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds.

Panelists (left to right): Dr. Tina Kempin Reuter, Reiff Center Director, Dr. Antonia Randolph, Sociology, Dr. Pete Carlson, Government, Prof. Harry Greenlee, Government, and Dr. Patricia Hopkins, English

Panelists (left to right): Dr. Tina Kempin Reuter, Reiff Center Director, Dr. Antonia Randolph, Sociology, Dr. Pete Carlson, Government, Prof. Harry Greenlee, Government, and Dr. Patricia Hopkins, English

The Reiff Center would like to offer special thanks to our panelists: Dr. Pete Carlson, Government Professor Harry Greenlee, Government Dr. Patricia Hopkins, English Dr. Antonia Randolph, Sociology Their interesting perspectives and comments made for an exciting panel, with agreement, disagreement, and critical knowledge in understanding key issues facing the past, present, and future of this nation. I would like to take some time to outline some major ideas and takeaways from the panel in order to shed light on the issues found in Ferguson, MO and the greater issues of law enforcement.

Protesters claiming the injustice of Brown’s shooting Source:

This talk stems out of the larger national discussion regarding Ferguson, MO, and the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a law enforcement agent. The death of the alleged unarmed Male of Color resulted in a series of both violent and peaceful protests. The local and state government responded harshly to these protests, invoking a state of emergency and calling in specialized forces to quell the upheaval. The issues in Ferguson present questions on Racism in Law, the potential abuse of power by law enforcement, and ideas for preventing future Fergusons. Firstly, I found the discussion on Ferguson representing a greater trend in the national sphere critical to the discussion. Several professors explained an issue of “distrust” of law enforcement by people of color and distrust of people of color by law enforcement. This cultural issue dates back several centuries, and results in the “community of distrust,” as Dr. Hopkins aptly put it. Due to the suspicion, several deep and frightening implications arise from the field of law enforcement. Speaking rhetorically, Hopkins and Randolph both talked of the “fear of the black body,” where the only manner in which the threat – the fear- can be abolished is to “put it down.” This disheartening view demonstrates a monstrous problem that completely degrades the civil rights movement and the American Dream. When the solution to a problem is violence and lethal force, we see the failure of enlightenment, and the failure of human progress, resorting back to primitive aspects of human nature, as theorized by Freud and Hobbes. Along the same lines, Randolph provides several empirical issues in regards to racism and the law. On one hand, there exists no ‘official’ records on the issues of police and lethal force, thus demonstrating a problem in even drawing  substantive conclusions about race and law, as empirical evidence fails to support it. Thankfully, non-state actors have attempted to rectify this issue with their own research. Randolph presents data that clearly indicates a racial gap in the enforcement of law. Part of the problem, however, is the lack of official statistics by law enforcement on unjustified lethal force by its officers. A study conducted by ColorLines and the Chicago Reporter of lethal force by law enforcement over the scope of the 10 largest cities shows that the proportion of blacks killed by lethal force, are double the percentage of blacks in the population.  Likewise, there is clear evidence on racial gaps in arrests, prison sentencing, and death penalty use, where African Americans and Hispanics receive harsher punishments than their white counterparts. Now, granted, these statistics only tell a part of the greater story, but they do provide a general paradigm in which it becomes clear that race does play some role in the justice system, although more comprehensive research may done to provide empirical evidence. That role is often a negative one, resulting in a system of unfairness, which defeats what many would argue is the whole point of the “Rule of Law.” In the modern world, racism continues to slash at the core of American values, and qualitative evidence and personal experiences continue to drive the cultural divides of whites and blacks.

Heavily armed riot police at Ferguson, MO Source: Time

The second argument comes from the idea of abuse of power and potential abuse of power. All of the panelists agreed that the police response to the protests could in many ways be considered ‘heavy-handed.” One interesting point is that Dr. Carlson, a former Prison Warden, argued that these types of response by the police are actually considered “normal,” as public peace and security must be maintained at all times. He goes on to explain, in his experiences the best way to deal with certain situations is to muster up all the force you can, and quickly stabilize and contain the situation, to the best of your ability. Even so, there are some discrepancies over the legality of the arresting of journalists, the excessive use of force, and the treatment of peaceful protesters. Of course, cases exist outside of Ferguson – that is – unarmed persons being fired upon fatally, and otherwise. Carlson presents an interesting argument regarding this exact issue, the idea that the choice of using lethal force, is one of the most difficult decisions an officer of the law must do. They are placed in high stress situations, where their lives are at risk, and must choose whether or not to fire a weapon. The idea of taking another’s life, even if ‘for the greater good,’ is something that I and many of us cannot even imagine. The officer must risk his/her own life, and must risk others’ as well, all of which comes down to the pulling of a trigger. It’s not easy, I think we can recognize that, but the difficulty level fails to excuse any abuses of power, which become possible due to the system of American law enforcement. In order to mitigate and respond to abuses of power, America must further certain cultural and policy changes, which in the future could prevent another Ferguson, MO.

Source: Photobucket

The panelists offered some broad reform ideas, which could help remedy some of the issues plaguing our system. Dr. Carlson, among others, claimed that the major issue is accountability and transparency in the system. Meaning that, investigations of alleged crimes must be made open and fair. The officer, who gunned down Michael Brown, is currently under investigation, which is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, as Greenlee and Hopkins pointed out, can we be sure that the investigations and conclusions will be fair and justified, due to special interests of the prosecution, which favor protecting the officers. Professor Greenlee argues that we must cut this issue at its roots, meaning that we create a much more stringent system of hiring, in which we keep the uniform away from those who would abuse the power. Several panelists suggested that America dissolves the community of distrust, increases minority percentages on the force, and create positive connections between the police and the communities they protect.  Another promising point, is the fact that generational research identifies that those under 30 are more likely to consider the Michael Brown case as an issue of serious concern (PEW). It is often stated that younger generations are more open and progressive, so perhaps in the next few years, we will see a shift in policy and perception. Unfortunately, even with these ideas, the research is spotty, the facts are often biased and warped, the suggestions are idealistic and speculative, and any progress is stilted and limited. Obviously, there is a great deal of work that scholars, policymakers, and individuals still need to complete in order to address this issue comprehensively – if that’s even possible. Is there still hope? We are 151 years form the Emancipation Proclamation, 50 years from the Civil Rights Act, and still there is evidence of a prejudiced Justice System. Granted, as Dr. Greenlee makes it clear, “we are not talking about all cops,” but we are talking about the law enforcement, and the Judges, and the law codes that often tend to prejudice against various races or classes. Thankfully, we have not given up yet, many Americans are hard at work to rectify some of these issues, which result from systemic, cultural, and foundational facets. America is a nation based on basic human rights and a Rule of Law, and it’s not quite there yet. In order for America to be truly exceptional, we must strive to reach the endpoint, as promised by our forefathers, “Liberty and Justice for All.”

American Flag, Ferguson MO Source:

Disclaimer: “The views expressed in this post solely reflect the author’s opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Reiff Center or Christopher Newport University.”

The True Potential of Social Media

Facebook Logo

I am guilty of being a Facebook junkie, a Twitter fiend, and a Tumblr fanatic. I think many of us in this new century are. Social media has become an outlet for ideas, photos of cats, and a whole slew of other activities. In recent years, social media has evolved into something of a necessity for the technological age. Even more than that, social media exists as an instrument of social activism.

Cosmopolitanism is a Philosophical theory that has been critical in defining a wide variety of societal and moral outlooks. The word stems from the Greek word kosmopolitês, roughly translating to “citizen of the world.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines Cosmopolitan generally as the “idea that all human beings, regardless of their political affiliation, are (or can and should be) citizens in a single community.” As one community we then take on a duty to deliver those around the world from injustice, poverty, and other innumerous inhumanities.  I personally ground my ideas of Cosmopolitanism in the phrase “global citizen,” and I will often use these words interchangeably.

United Nations Logo

In the 20th and 21st centuries, the ideal of the sovereign State has come under fire. The growth of the UN, EU, and other regional bodies is a clear indication that society has come to find importance in the formation of international lawmaking to institute international norms on human rights . The underlying philosophy is actually much older than that, as found in the writings of the French philosopher Anacharsis Cloots who advocated “ that sovereignty should reside with the people, and that the concept of sovereignty itself, because it involves indivisibility, implies that there can be but one sovereign body in the world, namely, the human race as a whole” (1793).  These movements towards transnational institutions exist as an outcropping of Global citizenship, as they blur national borders. In order to be truly global, one must release nationalism from their psyche. In a purist theory, one must identify themselves as a global citizen before anything else. Still, I believe it is possible to exist as a citizen of a state, but also act in a manner which supports a global unity. Of course, others may disagree.

So why is global citizenship important? Why should you attempt to act as a global citizen? This question has many answers, and ultimately it is up to you to determine the real reason for YOU. One possible suggestion comes from a religious grounding. The Holy Bible reads, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” Galatians 3:28 NIV. The Holy Qur’an goes on to state “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair of a) male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may know each other” (Al-Hujurat 49:13). Almost every religion I can think of has some sort of claim to unity in a higher being. Even though these phrases are open to interpretation, I find there is some semblance of a global unity in them. There are more secular calls to Global citizenship as well. The US Declaration of Independence puts forth the ideals of inalienable rights of Man (capital M). The UN conventions have eradicated most forms of discrimination, and the UN charter states that one of the major goals of the UN is “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.” Oxfam, a nonprofit designed to fight poverty, claims that global citizenship is critical to the future as it:

  • “Acknowledges that we have power as individuals: each of us can change things, and each of us has choices about how we behave. But this power can be even greater when we work collectively.
  • Demonstrates how the world we live in is unfair and unequal, but promotes challenging and changing this.
  • Encourages us to recognize our responsibilities towards each other, and learn from each other.

    Oxfam Values Source: Oxfam America

Along with these examples exists a whole slew of others from every culture and paradigm, claiming that there is at least some good in the ideas of a global unity, through global citizenship. Lastly, there is your own moral conscience, which is created by a variety of experiences and institutions. I will almost guarantee that you can find something in your life that will force you to look at the world in a global light, and perhaps even foster the belief that you must take up the torch of helping those around world escape injustices.

Tunisian Uprising Source: The Guardian

Alright. Now why in the world did I start this conversation with Facebook and then throw us into a philosophical discussion of Cosmopolitanism? If you haven’t connected the dots yet, it is because social media has become one of the most vital ways to act as a global citizen. One of the first great successes of social media as a venue for global citizenship and fighting injustice comes from the Arab Spring. After a street vendor in Tunisia lit himself on fire in protest of government policy, the story went viral across news outlets and social media alike. The exposure, due to social media, partly led to the Arab uprisings of 2011-present. After that, it was a landslide. Stories, videos, and photos of human injustices were poured across social media, telling the world of the horrors that various groups were facing. Human rights groups, national and international entities responded in various ways, but the fact is they responded. The times of ‘reasonable doubt’ and ‘maybes’ came to an end with the dramatic rise of the camera phone, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other 21st century technologies. The technological revolution brought about a social revolution with dramatic consequences around the world. Social media allows for the diffusion of data across a wide area in a short time, and in the case of human rights, knowledge and exposure is THE power to bring about change.

Social media has continued to be a key player in the global citizenship movement, with more and more people being exposed to and finding themselves involved and invigorated by various ‘shares’ and ‘retweets.’ I found myself engaged in a heated debate over the Palestinian-Israeli conflict after someone posted an article on their wall. My colleagues, professors, and friends are constantly saying “did you see the article on BBC last night about ISIS in Iraq.” “OMG, how could you share something so blatantly biased.” “John, do you think the pictures from Yazidi will pull in the UN?” 10 or even 5 years ago, this sort of casual discussion of international affairs, human rights violations, and poverty reduction would have been impossible, but now is almost commonplace. Social media has disseminated information in a manner that allows us to become heavily engaged, if we choose to take advantage of it.


Am I ready to do marketing for Facebook or what? If you think I am overselling it, I’m not. Governments use social media every day to bolster support for various policies. Such as President Barack Obama’s use of social media in the 2012 elections, where he spent $47 million on digital ads, vs. his opponents $4.7 million, and well Obama won. He is often described as the “first social media president.” Conversely many governments are afraid of the power of social media. Turkey, earlier this year put a blanket ban on social media, after it was used to organize mass protests and bring up allegations against the sitting president. The ban was later overturned, but we can see that social media has real power. Countries, like China, proactively limit citizens’ use of social media in order to decrease the influence of dissidents within the political system. It is important to keep in mind that not all countries have the same abilities with social media, and for those of us who do have open access, we should use its full potential.

Through this, we can hold our government and other governments accountable for their actions. A clear indication of this possibility follows from the inspiration for this post, which comes from the town of Ferguson, Missouri, USA. After the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black teen, protests broke out throughout the city. Police officers responded to the protests in riot gear and began firing tear gas on protesters and journalists alike. The police also arrested several reporters. These clear violations of norms and laws (uh, first amendment?) flew around the world on social media. As an interesting side note, reports of Palestinians tweeting at the citizens of Ferguson on how to protect themselves from tear gas arose, demonstrating the wide reach of social media. Eventually, the national outrage turned against the police of Ferguson and the government. Social media allowed for these turn of events, causing the governor of Missouri was forced to call in the State Troopers to return the city to peace, after days of violent clashes. Social media is more powerful than we give it credit for.

While social media is not protected by any covenant, I find it to be a quasi-human right to have open access to it, as social media possesses a great deal of potential to better our world. Now, I am not stating that social media is the ends of cosmopolitanism; rather it is a means to reach the ends. Social media can help you garner critical knowledge, find an organization to volunteer at, intern at, or donate to. One can start a campaign to petition congressmen over various political matters, human rights violations, or environmental concerns.  The available options are almost limitless. With this in mind, I challenge you. I challenge you that for every cat picture or comic strip you post, post something that makes you a better global citizen. For every trending hashtag on twitter about #NFLScrimmages, foster conversation on #Syria. Do something, become something, find yourself in the paradigm of a global citizen, and we may just have a world worth living in for ourselves and future generations.


Ferguson , MO – 8/13 Source: ABC News

Disclaimer: “The views expressed in this post solely reflect the author’s opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Reiff Center or Christopher Newport University.”


ISIS Who? Understanding the current crisis in Iraq

To many people, the mere mention of Iraq conjures up an unfavorable war that dominated headlines for years. With the advent of the recent violence in Iraq, it comes as no surprise that people everywhere are fervently expressing their views on the subject. Even though many will inevitably draw comparisons between the Iraq conflict that they remember and the current violence, I believe that the present situation has a variety of important differences, the most notable of which is that the terrorist organization that is responsible, known as ISIS, is unlike anything the world has seen. Organized, wealthy, and well equipped, ISIS, “…is not your father’s terrorist group”. This should be a great cause of concern considering that ISIS already succeeded in capturing military equipment from the Iraqi army (equipment, I should add, given to them during the Iraq war). Thus, ISIS is an extremely organized force and is in possession of assets that far exceed other terrorist organizations. A scary situation.

ISIS forces gathered together (Photo Credit: Mohammed Jalil, EPA)

ISIS forces gathered together (Photo Credit: Mohammed Jalil, EPA)

Clearly, this extremist group poses a threat, but what is it and what exactly does it want? Notably, this terrorist organization can trace its origins from Al-Qaeda groups based in Iraq. The name of “ISIS” refers to the “Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham” but this acronym is a bit misleading; it only covers the territories that are currently under control of the terrorist organization and not the areas they aspire to control. This is why media accounts tend to deviate by calling the group either “ISIS” or “ISIL”. The later name stands for the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” and refers to the terrorist organization’s aspirations to control Iraq and all of the Levant.

Whether you call it ISIL or ISIS, both names refer to a terrorist organization that seeks to create an Islamic caliphate in the territory it controls. A caliphate is loosely defined as, “an Islamic republic led by one leader, regardless of national boundaries.” This type of government harkens back to the historical Ottoman Empire and its current “reinstitution” serves as a symbol rather than anything. Unlike the Ottoman golden age where math and the sciences flourished, ISIS is likely using nostalgia as a weapon for the hearts and minds of the people and will continue to implement strict Islamic law upon its citizens. Lastly, the organization is predominantly Sunni Muslim and this plays an important factor in the disputes that occur between the current Iraqi government and the terrorist group .

Iraq has had a poor record in dealing with this threat. Even though the Iraqi forces have the numbers, the terrorist organization has quickly seized numerous cities close to Baghdad . The prime minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, is predominantly being blamed due to ISIS’s ability to take over cities with little resistance. The prime minister reportedly assigned generals who were extremely ineffective, not to mention responsible for severe human rights abuses in secret government prisons over the Iraqi military. This inability to institute a hierarchy of effective leadership led to loss of faith in the Iraqi government and fragmentation of its army. This combined with Maliki’s habit of antagonizing Sunni tribes created a situation ripe for disaster. It should really come as no surprise that ISIS has had good luck in taking towns and cities and extending its deadly influence.

Picture depicting Kurdish Peshmerga forces attacking ISIS militants. The Kurds were recently able to take over the city of Kirkuk from ISIS but the Kurdish government has yet to express interest in further military action against the terrorist organization. (Photo Credit: Hussein Malla, AP)

Picture depicting Kurdish Peshmerga forces attacking ISIS militants. The Kurds were recently able to take over the city of Kirkuk from ISIS but the Kurdish government has yet to express interest in further military action against the terrorist organization. (Photo Credit: Hussein Malla, AP)

The next question on everyone’s minds is a simpler one: “What should be done?” There are several different options that I believe could be effective. The first involves the Kurds, an ethnic minority that has prospered after the recent violence wrought by ISIS. Currently they have laid claim to an area from Aleppo to the outskirts of Baghdad. From this area, they have set up a functioning government with a means of income from the wealth of oil reserves in the territory. According to one Foreign Affairs article, the Kurdish peshmerga forces (Kurdish troops) serve as, “…the best hope for those who want to stop ISIS in Iraq…”. Thus, the international community would be wise to attempt to try to gain their support in removing the terrorist group. Unfortunately, the Kurds have reason to distrust both the Iraqi forces (due to recent bombardment that resulted in the unintentional deaths of several peshmergatroops), to the history of abrasive dealings with the United States (one of the most famous, the 1975 Algiers Agreement, constructed by Henry Kissinger, resulted in the Iraqi Kurds suffering from the Baathists) .

Despite this potential roadblock, the United States have initiated efforts at mending the situation by recently sending 300 hundred military advisors to Iraq along with Secretary of State John Kerry. However, many believe that there is a lot more that can be done to fix the situation. First, there must be international support for a solution. Although the United States is certainly a powerful entity, having multiple states participate in the peace effort might take away the stress the U.S. would normally have if it were to shoulder the burden of a solution. Additionally, it is important to keep ISIS in perspective. Although some sources are fearful of its growing power, there are others who see it as not quite a fully realized threat. Peter Mansoor, a colonel who served in the Iraq war, stated that one of the reasons for ISIS success is that it took areas that did not put up much in the way of resistance. He further theorized that if ISIS tried to take over the heavily fortified city of Baghdad it would lead to a “Stalingrad moment” with massive casualties in the terrorist organization. Despite this hopeful outlook, he does believe there must be “boots on the ground” with America leading the charge.

It seems the best option for a solution to ISIS would be a combination of international intervention as well as local support. It might be possible to convince the Kurdish people that they have a vested interest in the stability of Iraq and therefore promote military involvement. Additionally, the international community should construct an adequate plan of restoring legitimate Iraqi governance (ideally Maliki would step down from power due to his numerous egregious human rights abuses against those of Sunni Muslim faith) as well as military action in removing ISIS. Although it is clear that ISIS is very opportunistic and is not yet a grave threat, time will inevitably change ISIS from a terrorist group into a terror organization with the resources and manpower to cripple the Middle East. For this reason alone, the United States and its allies should weigh its options carefully.

N.B. “The views expressed in this post solely reflect the author’s opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Reiff Center or Christopher Newport University.”

For those who want to learn more, check out this  interesting interactive map provided by the New York Times regarding the current situation.



The Arab Spring in Egypt: Not Done Yet

Tahir Square Protests, 2011 Source: Altahir

The Arab Spring denotes a series of uprisings throughout North Africa and the Middle East. The various revolutions stem from a Tunisian vendor setting himself aflame to protest the Tunisian government and the dreadful economic conditions of the state. Several other countries followed the Tunisian example and fostered street protests, peaceful and violent. Entire books have been written on the issue, its causes and results. In my experience, one of the most interesting case studies from the Arab uprisings, comes from the Egyptian example. Through research and historical examples, it is in my opinion that we have not seen the end of the Arab Spring in Egypt.

Egypt has a long history, one stemming back to ancient times. From the Pharaohs, through the Roman Empire, and under British Colonial Rule from 1882-1952. The history I would like to share begins with the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, which ended the monarchical system of King Farouk, and expelled the British ‘advisers’. Ultimately, the leadership of Naguib and Nasser, using the armed forces created the Republic of Egypt. General Nasser would lead the country of Egypt from 1956-1970. Nasser ruled with an iron fist, eliminating the multi-party system, freedom of speech, and other liberties. Sadat then ruled after Nasser, employed more liberal ideals, but was assassinated by military forces for his interactions with the Israelis and other policies. President Mubarak then led in an autocratic fashion for nearly 30 years, instituting several tyrannical policies, and created a close alliance with the military. Mubarak established anti-democratic and illiberal policies, created mass corruption, and failed the people of Egypt. All of this brings our short history lesson of Egypt near the present.

Protests in 2013 against the violence brought on by the coups Source: Reuters

The Arab Spring resulted in mass protests in Egypt, calling for the resignation of Mubarak. And in February of 2011, Mubarak turned power over to the Armed Forces of Egypt.  This is the time where I must introduce the theory of the “Coup Trap.” Firstly, a coup occurs when the military forces of a state take control from the current civilian government. The coup is a relatively widespread issue, occurring across much of the world and history. A group of scholars, led by Frabrice Lehoucq, developed the “Coup Trap,” which they define as “chronic instability,” which results in the eventual and recurring toppling of “civil institutions by military regimes.” The scholars limited their scope to Latin American cases, where the coup trap runs rampant, but I believe that Egypt before and during the Arab Spring subjects itself to the coup trap as well. Importantly, the coup trap often results from military unrest and recurring coups, as Lehoucq claims that “coups breed coups,” and/or from political instability and the gridlock that results from conflicting political ideologies. Egypt demonstrates both of the key indicators of the coup trap.

Firstly, the monarchical system was overthrown by Naquib and Nasser (1952), followed by the assassination of Sadat, by leftists in the military (1981). Mubarak then handed power back to the military in 2011. After several rounds of elections, President Morsi was sworn in as head-of-state in 2012. After Morsi’s failings as leader of the Egyptian people, the military once again stepped in and removed Morsi from office, establishing the government of the military, and the complete removal of civilian legitimacy. These coups coupled with the surrounding instability in the region pushed Egypt down the slippery slope into the coup trap. The Egyptian politic fails to put forth truly representative governments, thus the people turn to protest, and the military steps into the power vacuum created by the instability.

It is critical to understand that the military has always been a strong influence on the Egyptian political system. The first 4 presidents of the Egyptian Republic were ex-military officials. It is stated that even Morsi was following a public agenda ‘approved’ by the military. The military has often been allowed free reign in the Egyptian system, and when a leader, such as Morsi attempts to fetter it, even slightly, the military steps forward and clamps down on the civilian government and deposes those who stand against its wishes. This is seen as the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces completely controls the legislative and executive, and possesses some control over the ‘independent judiciary.’ Egypt remains under the control of the ‘interim government’ and the military after the fall of Morsi. Egypt will follow an illegitimate government until the upcoming civilian elections in July. The new Egyptian Constitution of 2014, which was approved by referendum, calls for a democratically elected government for Egypt.

I think this sounds great in theory, but there are several issues that Egypt has not addressed in order to escape its coup trap. Firstly, political groups, such as the Revolutionary Socialists, argue that the new constitution gives too much power to the military. Another issue is the removal of the Muslim brotherhood from the political system. The Muslim Brotherhood, under Morsi, were the most powerful political party, but the interim militaristic government declared the party illegal and a terrorist organization. In fact, the judiciary sentenced 529 members of the party to death, recently. Commentators claim that the courts have been “politicised and due process has been ignored amid a sweeping crackdown on Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood supporters since the military removed the president last summer.”

General Al-Sisi Source: The Guardian

As of spring 2014, the government of Egypt is still not run by elected officials, with much of the institutions still being controlled by the “old guard,” and in the upcoming elections in July; General Al Sisi will run as the frontrunner in the elections. Were Sisi to win, it would continue the tradition of rule by the military elite in the country, thus perpetuating the laws instilled by the military coups that plague the Egyptian politic. The autocratic foundations of Egypt make the creation of a truly democratic system difficult, and is the reason why Egypt lives in the coup trap. Lehoucq states that in order to end the coup trap, the political process must be opened and political competitiveness must be allowed to reign free in the system.

Unfortunately, the Egyptian system is still not free and fair, or representative of the entire population. I find that the government that is elected from this new constitution will fail to appease large sectors of the populous. Due to this fatal flaw, I speculate that Egypt could see another civil uprising, perhaps from the Islamic sector, resulting in the military dissolving the legislation or instituting ‘emergency measures.’  Another military coup is also possible if the next leader does not represent the will of the military. The end of Lehoucq’s coup trap and the start of a stable civil government will only come when the whole of the political spectrum of Egypt is represented and the military is brought under true civil control. The Arab Spring may be quiet in the region, but I do not think we have reached a conclusion in Egypt, because of the the perils of the coup trap.

Disclaimer: The opinions of this blog are solely those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect those of Christopher Newport University or the Reiff Center.


Angrist, Michelle. Politics and Society in the Contemporary Middle East . Colarado: Lynne Riener, 2013. Book.

Lehoucq, F. et al. “Breaking the Coup Trap.” Comparitive Politics (2013): 1-19. Web.


Investigating War Crimes: Bringing Demons to Justice


The ICTY in The Hague

The international community is a confusing one with political gridlock and national interests stalling imperative decisions. I find that the challenges facing the UN are daunting and will continue to plague the world for years to come. Even so, I am not a pessimist, I believe the UN and other international organizations complete incredible tasks that would have been unthinkable for the League of Nations or the early United Nations. One such accomplishment is the creation and execution of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (1993).  The ICTY is first court of its kind since post WWII. It has indicted 161 individuals, and sentenced 74 human rights violators, and is a massive step forward in international criminal proceedings.

UNSC Resolution 827 established the creation of a criminal court to properly deal with the horrid crimes that took place in the Former Yugoslavia, now including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Kosovo, and Vojvodina. The breakup of the USSR caused dramatic ramifications across the ex-Communist bloc, and gave way to the atrocities in Yugoslavia. These various territories were home to some of the worst Crimes against Humanity in the 20th century. Crimes perpetrated by many of the groups within Yugoslavia, which include ethnic cleansing, mass detention, systematic rape, and mass murder.  Looking at history, I thought we were done with ethic cleansing and other such crimes, but with Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the world came to see that the road for human rights was still going to be a bumpy ride.

Dr. John Cencich speaking about his experiences in the former Yugoslavia.

Dr. John Cencich speaking about his experiences in the former Yugoslavia.

This past week, The Reiff Center had the honor of hosting John Cencich, a UN Investigator for the ICTY and professor at California University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Cencich presented a firsthand account of many interesting and enthralling events that took place while he worked on the ground. I would like to point out some of the biggest takeaways that come from his talk.

Cencich worked on some pretty gruesome cases, attempting to bring the perpetrators of the crimes to justice. He said it correctly, “the UN had to get it right this time.” For the ICTY, the UN hired career investigators and prosecutors. Conversely, looking back at The Nuremberg and Tokyo Trials of WWII, the UN received a lot of flack for using lawyers as investigators, and not following proper legal procedures in the courts. The ICTY hired persons whose livelihoods are based on criminal investigation, and Cencich got himself on a team.  After receiving his briefing on the political and social landscape, he began his work in Bosnia. The UN investigators needed to prove several points in order to validate the use of an international court system. War crimes, crimes against humanity, an international aspect to the conflict, and that the victims were “protected persons” all had to be proved before the investigators could begin arresting perpetrators.

In order to prove the necessary legal standing of the UN investigation, investigators needed to travel throughout Yugoslavia, collecting anecdotal and forensic evidence. Cencich talked of elaborate exhumations that he was party to, as well as extensive interviews with victims and perpetrators alike. Cencich’s main goal was to connect the proven human rights violations to the “top dogs” of the various organizations responsible for the crimes against humanity. I will outline one of the human rights violations he investigated to give you an idea of the work he was doing. Cencich entitled this event: “Wooden Rifles.” The Bosnian Croats forced 4 Bosnian Muslims to dress as Croats, using them as a diversion.   Interestingly, these 4 men survived as they were able to convey that they were disguised to their brethren. The rest of the Muslims were used as human shields and were shot to death by the enemy. This is just one example of many that Dr. Cencich was tasked to investigate throughout the Former Yugoslavia.

Bosnia and Herzegovina, Srebrenica-Potočari Cemetery to Genocide Victims of Former Yugoslavian Wars.
Source: International Center for Transitional Justice

Muslims, Croats, Bosnians, Serbs, Christians; it seems like an ethnic or religious based conflict, which ideologically it could be argued as such. Still, in my findings, all conflict is to further power. Individuals at the top of the food chain wanted to expand their own influence, wealth, and power, using ideology as a cover. The quest for a “greater Serbia” may have been the start of a ‘noble’ ideology for the Serbs, but evil leaders warped it to match their own goals.

International cooperation may seem like a grand foreign idea to many of us, but Cencich worked first hand with many different groups in order to complete missions. He describes missions that involved Frenchmen, Italians, Spaniards, and Dutchmen.  2 tanks, 2 helicopters, and 200 men of various nationalities accompanied him on a mission to arrest a large profile target. He claims that in his efforts, the international team presented an impressive level of professionalism and cooperation. I find this to be an exciting example of how different statesmen can come together and do good for the international community. This is the future of how the international system will function (at least in an ideal world).

Being a UN war crimes investigator means relying on lots of different experiences - professional, personal, cultural, and instinct.

Being a UN war crimes investigator means relying on lots of different experiences – professional, personal, cultural, and instinct.

John Cencich allowed me and others a small glimpse into the world of a UN investigator. His experiences embody something that not many of us can imagine. He dealt with some of the world’s most infamous human rights violators, he was tailed by spies, and came back with several symptoms of PTSD. While not an easy job, Cencich demonstrated his capability in a critical position in the fight for international justice. Justice is worth fighting for, and the international field is vital to finding a path to justice for the victims of gross human rights violations.

The ICTY provided an early blueprint for the International Criminal Court (ICC). I, and the International community will not stand for continued human rights violations, and the ICTY and the ICC are the first steps to adding a deterrent to violators, and a punitive system for those who choose to violate human right norms. The Reiff Center is truly thankful to John Cencich for giving us the opportunity to share yet another facet of the quest for Justice. This journey is one the previous generation has started, and one that my generation must continue. The task will be arduous, but worthy of our very best efforts. Demons still pervade this world, and it is up to people like John Cencich and us to make sure they are held accountable for their actions.

To learn more about Dr. John Cencich, and his work in the Former Yugoslavia, check out his book, The Devil’s Garden!

The views expressed in this post solely reflect the author’s opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Reiff Center or Christopher Newport University.

Thinking about the genocide in Rwanda, 20 years later

President Paul Kagame and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon lit the torch that will burn 100 days (picture by AP)

President Paul Kagame and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon lit the torch that will burn 100 days (picture by AP)

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. Within 100 days, extremist Hutu killed 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu. The level of brutality still shocks today – on average 10,000 lives lost, day after day. Dignitaries from around the world commemorated the tragedy in this small African country earlier today. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and current President Paul Kagame lit a torch which will burn for 100 days – the length of the genocide.

The Rwandan genocide lasted from April to July, 1994 (picture:

The Rwandan genocide lasted from April to July, 1994 (picture:

The crash of President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane on the evening of April 6, 1994 – the starting point of the genocide – sparked what would come to be known as one of the most gruesome incidents of the 20th century. Decades of increased tensions, ethnic profiling, and low-intensity conflict preceded the genocide. The Hutu aversions of the once favored Tutsi led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands civilians. The killings only ended when the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) seized control of the country in July 1994. While current tensions are comparatively low, the consequences of the genocide can still be felt across most of Africa’s Great Lakes region.

Yet, we have to remember that the Rwandan genocide didn’t come unexpected. While each situation has its own root causes and dynamics, genocide and ethnic cleansing usually have clear signs. Tensions are rising, in-group – out-group thinking dominate the media and public speech, state institutions become more polarized and collapse, and first acts of violence are committed.

The UN Blue Helmet came to stand for the failure of the international community to respond.

The UN Blue Helmet came to stand for the failure of the international community to respond.

The international community failed to react appropriately in Rwanda and elsewhere (Bosnia and Darfur come to mind). As UN Secretary-General said at the commemoration today “We could have done much more, we should have done much more.”

Nevertheless, the international community of today is not the same as the one of 20 years ago. Big steps forward have been taken. The International Criminal Court (read our blog post) shows the world has united against impunity. A former head of state has been convicted of war crimes, and an arrest warrant has been issued for a sitting head of state. The deterrent effects of these actions has been proven. The international community has further endorsed “The Responsibility to Protect” or R2P, showing that absolute state sovereignty is a thing of the past. UN and regional organizations deploy human rights monitors to troubled areas and international NGOs report human rights violations to a broader public. And while peacekeepers in Rwanda were called back and told not to step in to protect the people once the genocide started, their mandate specifically allows them to protect civilians today.

Civilians crowd to enter the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission base in Bor, South Sudan. (picture CBS News)

Civilians crowd to enter the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission base in Bor, South Sudan. (picture CBS News)

It is this “new” international community that needs to be aware of the signs of genocide and mass violence. There are many cases in which international response is lacking. The situation in the Central African Republic, for example, comes to mind, or the one in Syria, Sri Lanka, and South Sudan. The world needs to move away from waiting and hesitating, putting national interests and the fear of risk and complexity involved with such missions before human life. The results clearly show the consequences of indifference and indecisiveness: Failing to uphold the promise “never again”.

Model United Nations: A Day in the Life of a Delegate

UN Logo

This past weekend I served as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Transnistria, Nina Shtanski. While this may seem unlikely to my readers, there is some truth to it. At Model United Nations, students at the middle school, high school, and collegiate level embody characters and countries in order to better understand diplomacy. While sitting in committee sessions, I found out just how difficult and important cooperation is with such a diverse group of people.

While Model UN is rather different than the actual UN, the lessons learned are invaluable for the delegates who attend the various conferences held across the world. Dealing with special interests is something that diplomats must contend with constantly. As Minister Shtanski, I attempted to work with the EU and the Russian Federation, playing both sides of the European continent. [For those of you who are unaware, there is some speculation that the territory of Transnistria, a de facto state within Moldova, is the next target for Russian annexation. Google it, seriously.]Unfortunately for Miss Shtanski, other members of the committee were not pleased with my efforts, resulting in the assassination of Transnistria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. This sequence of events may seem silly, but it was the culmination of 6 peoples’ efforts within the committee who did not agree with my policies. I am unaware of assassinations of UN delegates in Geneva, but the constant combatting of personal and national interests plague the UN. An excellent example of this is the Syria issue, where the Western nations and the East were at constant odds over the humanitarian issue and state sovereignty (at least that’s what they claimed). There is some evidence that special national interests kept UN intervention out of Syria, and these interests are indicative of a much greater problem for the international community.

Model UN attempts to create a “real-life” atmosphere at their conferences. Some host schools achieve this through a system called “Crisis.” The Crisis group allows delegates to complete under the table deals with other persons and groups. Crisis is also in charge of keeping the committee room in a state of tension and adds plot points to the committee moving it forward through a timeline. The plot and timeline is determined by actions of committee members, but is then interpreted by Crisis. As you can probably imagine, many delegates develop a love-hate relationship with the Crisis staff. For example, it is thanks to Crisis that I was able to contact both the Moldovan government and the Russian Federation, but it also the reason that an elaborate plot to assassinate me was successful. Once again, Model UN has attempted to create a realistic atmosphere, but it sometimes gets a bit screwy. Crisis is attended to mirror what real delegates are doing at the United Nations, working with their home governments and others. Thankfully, for world stability, there is not quite the movement towards assassination of committee members as found this past weekend.

Transnistrian Flag
Source: wikipedia

Although my time as Nina Shtanski was short lived, she taught me the importance of collaboration and coalition building. By working together on important directives, I built upon my knowledge of how to bring others’ opinions into a resolution. I can imagine that delegates in Geneva attempt to do the same thing. It is near impossible to pass a directive that is wholly your own ideas and interests, so collaboration becomes critical. Also important is the building of coalitions within committee. In order to feel secure about a certain position, a delegate needs to build up a coalition of like-minded people who will support him or her in decision making. As seen in the real UN and in domestic politics, competing coalitions often cause gridlock in the making and passing of legislation. It is up to delegates and politicians to cross these boundaries and create enough support among the factions to pass meaningful and helpful decisions. In theory, Model UN would help bolster this mindset, but in actuality it often fails to create a true “team atmosphere.” In fact, many committees fall into the same trap that can be seen in the P-5 of the UN. Distinct coalitions make it impossible at times to move forward on critical resolutions. The genocide in Rwanda demonstrates how the UN (and other international bodies) often fail to react quickly enough to stop impending disasters. The UN was too late in Rwanda, and must be more observant and willing to work together in order to prevent crises from occurring, OR to become involved after a crisis has begun. I, and others, are worried that the UN will drop the ball again in the Congo, as they did in Rwanda, due to conflicting views and interests.

Finally, the procedural methodology within the Model UN is critical to formatting debate. Committee delegates are forced to follow Robert’s Rules of Order in parliamentary procedure. While Model UN is somewhat relaxed, Model Arab League (a group that is based only of Arab nations) is more stringent on order and structure. I have participated in both types, and can say that is important to find a balance on the procedural rules, so that debate is fostered, but order is maintained. I will be the first to say that it completely sucks to miss your chance to speak on a resolution that is important to you, simply because of the rules. Of course the alternative is a screaming match between various delegations, which sometimes occurs regardless of parliamentary procedures.

Hilariously, many of our delegates come back “stuck” in committee-speak. As we walk around campus calling for “motions” and addressing others as “fellow delegates.” The best though is the way we students speak ‘diplomatically.’ For example, I am very fond of the expression “I agree with the sentiment of your speech my esteemed colleague, but…” Our time in Model UN has a lasting effect not only on our vocabulary, but our team building skills and public speaking abilities.

Former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, once stated “I think it’s fair to say that diplomacy today requires much more of that if you’re the United States of America than it did 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago.” I firmly stand behind in her in that sentiment. A war fatigued America needs better trained and better qualified diplomats around the world to further US and world security. We may still be a ways off from world peace, but by placing emphasis on diplomacy, there is a path to a more peaceful and stable world. Granted, I do not believe that Model United Nations is the proper training to become a diplomat. Even so, in my experience, Model UN can be a great teacher of many lessons critical to being a diplomat. For a young adult, it can become the first step to feeling called to a life of diplomatic work.

Model UN develops public speaking skills and collaboration techniques for students around the world. Here at CNU, we have a small but passionate Model International team, who loves the world of diplomacy. We thank the Reiff Center for their contributions to our club and their support of our vision. I would also like to thank the College of William and Mary for hosting an exciting conference, which will foster the diplomatic spirit for years to come. And as final side note to my character this past weekend, Long live Transnistria!

Christopher Newport University’s Model UN Team
Source: W&M Photography

The views expressed in this post solely reflect the author’s opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Reiff Center or Christopher Newport University.