Event Recap | Russia 2018: Preparing for a Post-Putin Era

Russia 2018 John Beyrle
Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Beyrle
gives a lecture at the Tower Center Jan. 23.

Spoiler alert: Vladimir Putin will win the 2018 Russian presidential election (if it can even be called an election), but is his support really at an all-time high? Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Beyrle, the final guest of the Russia Series, visited the SMU Tower Center to discuss Putin’s standing in Russia and world politics. He started his lecture with three reasons why Russia is still, and always will be, a crucial component of global politics:

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Recap | The Rohingya Crisis: Racism, Politics and a Fragile Transition

More than 650,000 Rohingya people have fled the Rakhine State of Myanmar across the border to Bangladesh since a security crackdown began in August 2017. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson referred to the actions of the Myanmar armed forces as ethnic cleansing. This is the fourth wave of forced migration of the Rohingya population since the country began its democratization process in 2011. Dr. Jacques Bertrand, professor of political science at the University of Toronto, discussed the roots of this crisis and what might happen next at the SMU Tower Center Jan. 10.

Roots of Racism

To understand the resentment and hatred the Burmese feel toward the Rohingya, Bertrand argues we first need to understand colonial Burma. The British Empire began to colonize Burma in 1824.

Rohingya Crisis
Dr. Jacques Bertrand gives a lecture at
the SMU Tower Center Jan. 10.

The Rakhine state was the first land to be annexed into the empire, and therefore experienced the highest levels of immigration of people from British India. These Indians became landowners and then continued to hire more Indians to work their land. The Burmese responded to the influx of Indian immigrants with a growing sense of nationalism and xenophobic sentiments.

Burma gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1948, and according to Bertrand, it was during this period that the Muslim Indian population in the Rakhine State identified themselves as Rohingya. The Rohingya enjoyed credibility in the democracy of the 1950s, but lost all their rights under the military regime of Ne Win in 1962. Ne Win attempted to remove all Indians from Burma in 1963-1964, claiming that they were foreigners and remnants of colonial rule. The Rohingya were then excluded from citizenship with the adoption of the 1982 citizenship law. By this law, residents had to prove they were living in Burma before colonial rule (1824) to gain citizenship. The law only recognized 135 ethnicities as national races, excluding several other minority groups from citizenship as well.

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Recap | Asia’s Nuclear Challenge: North Korea, China, & the Role of Extended Deterrence

North Korea has developed nuclear capabilities that the United States assumed was out of reach for the isolated country in such a short period of time. Its advancement has changed the dialogue of policy toward the country for both the United States and China. Ken Jimbo, associate professor at Keio University, visited the SMU Tower Center to discuss Asia’s nuclear challenge in the first event of the semester Jan. 8.

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Event Recap | The Impact of the U.S. Leaving the Paris Agreement

US leaving Paris Agreement
Jonah Busch, Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development, gives a lecture at the SMU Tower Center Dec. 8.

Jonah Busch, Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development, gave a lecture at the SMU Tower Center on the impact of the U.S. leaving the Paris Climate Agreement Dec. 8.

The Paris Agreement is a universal global climate deal that allows each country to determine its own pledge to reduce carbon emissions, with the goal to limit climate change to below 2 degrees Celsius. The agreement, first established at the Paris climate conference in 2015 and ratified in 2016, is now signed by every country (except for the United States) and has been ratified by 170 countries. President Trump announced the United States withdrawl from the agreement in June.

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Event Recap | Explaining Russia’s Contradictory Policies Toward the U.S.

Russia's contradictory policies toward the U.S.
Kimberly Marten speaks at the Tower Center Nov. 28.

Russia proved it understands American politics through its successful election interference campaign in 2016. Russia also proved it has a sophisticated knowledge of U.S. public opinion through its carefully disguised, yet effective, social media posts that have both Facebook and Google scrambling for solutions to fake news. However, Russia has also made moves suggesting it’s clueless to American interests and motives. Kimberly Marten, director of the Program on U.S.-Russia Relations at Columbia University’s Harriman Institute, visited the SMU Tower Center Nov. 28 to explain why Russia is so inconsistent. She has four theories.

To help understand the theories, Marten laid out Russian President Vladimir Putin’s two goals. To maintain power for as long as possible, and to go down in history for making Russia great again.

Theory one: Putin has psychological biases and makes all of the decisions.

Marten argues that Putin’s background in the KGB enforces his view of the U.S. as an adversary, and fuels his fear of internal revolt. As a judo black belt and hockey player his style of fighting is tactical rather than strategic. This means he wants immediate success and doesn’t necessarily consider the long view. In this theory, Putin’s spontaneity is what leads to some of Russia’s spot-on decisions, as well as to others, as Marten said, that appear utterly “bone-headed.”

Theory two: Nobody dares contradict Putin.

For this theory, Marten referenced Saddam Hussein’s leadership in Iraq leading up to the U.S. invasion in 2003. It is now clear that Hussein’s advisers warned him to give up the rouse of possessing weapons of mass destruction. They told him the U.S. would invade, but he refused to listen. She argues the same situation could now be true of Putin and his advisers. While Putin isn’t known to murder dissidents as Hussein was, he does have the ability to exclude them from the patron-client system he controls. This power could leader to a culture of non-dissent.

Theory three: There are internal rivalries in Putin’s network.

This theory suggests Putin is influenced by those in his inner circle. Groups such as those responsible for arms sales, like Rostec CEO Sergey Chemezov, stand to benefit from foreign conflict. Chemezov has financial interest in supplying weapons to Syria, Iran and Turkey. These arms deals have increased tensions between the U.S. and Russia. Conflict also gives the siloviki (high-ranking politicians who were KGB men or military officers) an expanded mission and keeps the Russian military distracted from domestic politics. However, on the other side, the finance and commerce sectors benefit from international cooperation. These conflicting interests result in a push-pull effect that could be causing Russia’s fluctuating actions.

Theory four: Russian intelligence officers have gone rogue.

There is a blurred line between Russia’s intelligence and politics, unlike in the United States. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, money was in short supply from the government. Russia’s intelligence merged with private commerce in order to make up the difference, and the merging never went away. This suggests, Russian intelligence officers could be working to please the highest bidder rather than serving the nation’s interest.

An upsetting conclusion

Marten left the audience with an upsetting conclusion: U.S. policies have no effect on Russia’s actions. She argued everything in Russia happens internally, behind closed doors, without consideration of research or expert analysis.

For further reading, take a look at Marten’s latest article in New Republic.

Recap | Legacies of the First World War in the Middle East

Event Recap Middle EastMichael Provence, historian and expert on Syria, gave a lecture at the SMU Tower Center with Aimee Genell, assistant professor of history at the University of West Georgia, about the impact the resolution of the World War I had on the Middle East. Provence and Genell argue the source of the instability in the region today dates back 100 years, to the signing of the Sykes-Picot agreement and the League of Nations mandate system. (The Sykes-Picot agreement was secretly reached between Great Britain and France in 1916 to define their spheres of influence in their newly conquered lands, which are now the Middle East.) Provence’s lecture focused on the mandate system designed by the Great Powers (Great Britain, France and Russia) at the close of the war to replace the authority of the Ottoman Empire. Genell looked at the Ottoman perspective, and how their proposed solution — developed out of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s 12th point — could have been more in line with Western promises.

The League of Nations mandate system explained

The First World War, according to Provence, was not just a European war. It was designed in part with the hope of colonizing the lands dominated by the Ottoman Empire. The Great Powers used the “mission of civilization” as a cover to expand imperialism. This self-deception on behalf of the Europeans gave the Middle East the institutions it has today.

At the close of the war, the League of Nations created a mandate system for territories that were no longer under control of the same leader as before the war. The league decided that the people in these lands were incapable of governing themselves, and therefore required foreign assistance. Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Palestine, were all declared mandates in 1919-1920. The people in these mandates were not asked to give consent to this new order, and they were not permitted to represent themselves in Geneva. But they all desired independence.

The British and French faced a crisis of legitimacy in these mandates because they were so unpopular. The people repeatedly claimed rule under the Ottoman Empire had been more just. The response to the legitimacy crisis was mass violence, under the facade of attempts at liberalization.

“The mandates regimes undermined the appeal and credibility of civilian leadership,” Provence said. He argues the institutions developed during this period were not meant to function properly, by delivering justice and order, but rather to be a facade for control of the region.

“The Middle East needs institutions citizens can trust, and the reason that it doesn’t have them, is because they were designed not to be trustworthy,” he said.

What the Ottoman Empire Wanted

Aimee Genell followed Provence’s lecture by looking at what the Ottoman Empire wanted at the conclusion of the war. They clung to Wilson’s 12th point, which outlined autonomous control for the Turkish part of the Ottoman Empire. Under their interpretation, the Ottomans would keep their empire and develop autonomous regions within it, using the United States as an example. The Great Powers rejected this proposal, however, saying that the Ottomans were unfit for an empire.

The mandate solution that was instead implemented, the Turks argued, went against Wilson’s promises and provided a legal basis for the expansion of imperialism.

Event Recap | Why Russia interfered in the 2016 Presidential Election

Why Russia interfered
Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, Russia.

A year later, the intelligence community has no doubt Russia did everything it could to interfere with the 2016 United States presidential election. Andrew Kuchins, senior fellow at the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University, visited the SMU Tower Center to explain Russia’s motives and explore how successful its campaign was.

What did Russia hope to gain from its efforts? Russian President Vladimir Putin has hated Hillary Clinton since she was secretary of state under President Obama. From watching Trump on the campaign trail, it was easy to conclude Trump, who went as far as to praise Putin for his strong leadership, would be a softer opponent than Clinton. The Russians wanted to do more than help Donald Trump; they wanted to disrupt. Hackers backed by Russia targeted various election systems, and even though the intelligence community concluded that no votes were affected, Russia had succeeded in their real goal: decreasing Americans’ trust in the democratic process. According to Kuchins, Putin thought even if Clinton won, at least people would question the legitimacy of her election.

US-Russian Relations: A History Lesson

Why Russia interfered
Andrew Kuchins, research professor at Georgetown University, gives a lecture at the Tower Center on Russian motives to interfere with the election.

The United States and Russia are fundamentally different in every aspect. The U.S. is a classic sea power, while Russia is a continental power concerned with border security. “Centralized power is in Russian DNA,” Kuchins said. Russia values and promotes stability abroad, while the U.S. has decentralized power and believes in and promotes democracy abroad.

To understand why Russia launched this campaign in the first place, Kuchins went all the way back to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Overnight Russia was no longer a super power; it was bankrupt, and forced to accept humanitarian aid. Putin still looks back on this as humiliating.  The Soviet Union believed if it disbanded, it was implicitly agreed that the U.S. would not take advantage of its geopolitical weakness. The United States, on the other hand, thought a victory  in the Cold War would mean a democratic, Westernized Russia. Both sides were unrealistic, Kuchins says, and both were disappointed. This mutual disappointment set the stage for sour contemporary American-Russian relations.

NATO Expands

Kuchins argues several moments gradually led to the ice-cold relations the U.S. now has with the Kremlin. The first, and maybe most notable, was the expansion of NATO in 1999 (Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic) and then again under George W. Bush in 2004 (Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia). Even though the former Warsaw Pact countries were the ones to initiate and push for NATO membership, Kuchins argued the U.S. underestimated the consequences.

Libya: 2011

Putin was furious with the U.S.’s involvement in Libya and with the death of Muammar el-Qaddafi. In his view, the NATO airstrikes on the convoy of loyalists that eventually led to Qaddafi’s murder violated the UN security council resolutions. Putin saw that Qaddafi gave up his weapons of mass destruction and was then punished for it. He was further infuriated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s nonchalance in regard to the disaster in Libya, as she famously said “We came, we saw, he died!” after Qaddafi’s death was announced. Putin promised he would not let Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad meet the same fate. “Putin drew a red line,” Kuchins said.

Ukraine: 2014

Ukraine holds historic and strategic significance to Russia. In 2014, protesters filled the streets to voice grievances against Ukraine’s pro-Russia Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych was overthrown by the uprising and fled to Russia. It looked bad that Putin’s candidate was forced out, and Putin still believes the U.S. was behind the coup. Putin responded by annexing the “least Ukrainian part of Ukraine,” the Crimea, Kuchins said. This move was widely supported by Russians. Kuchins even described it as “cathartic” for them.

All of these turning points, and more, led to today’s state of American-Russian relations. Russia interfered in the election with the hope of gaining a strategic advantage and compromising the United States’ status in the geopolitical sphere.

Did Russia get what it wanted?

According to Kuchins, yes and no. Yes, President Trump won. But, he is unpredictable, which goes against the stability Putin is known to favor. As Kuchins put it, only Putin is allowed to be spontaneous and unpredictable. Yes, the Russians were successful in creating disruption and mistrust in both mainstream media and mainstream politics.  However, there was a backlash to the election of Trump in Europe. Kuchins argues French President Emmanuel Macron and German Prime Minister Angela Merkel both would most likely have been less successful if it weren’t for a vehement European rejection of Trumpism and alt-right politics.

Recap | How China Escaped the Poverty Trap

China's rapid economic development
Yuen Yuen Ang presents findings from her new book “How China Escaped the Poverty Trap.”

China’s rapid economic development has stunned theorists everywhere. After all, economic success isn’t supposed to be possible under a dictatorship, and yet over the past 30 years China has managed to pull 800 million people out of poverty through national development alone, while still maintaining its autocratic regime. In 1980, China was an impoverished country, with a GDP lower than traditionally poor countries like Chad and Malawi. Today, its global prowess has Americans worried about losing their number-one slot.

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Student Blog | 5 Take-aways from “Global Health Diplomacy”

Panelists discuss Global Health Diplomacy at the Tower Center Oct. 18.

The Tower Center hosted the panel discussion “Global Health Diplomacy” Oct. 18 featuring the former President of Nigeria H. E. Olusegun Obasanjo, Bishop Sunday Onuoha, the founder and president of Vision Africa, Fiemu Nwarkiaku, associate dean at UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Office of Global Health, and Eric Bing, professor of global health at SMU.

The panel, moderated by Frank Roby, a Gallagher Healthcare Practice Leader, discussed the state of Nigeria healthcare, past, present, and future, and how healthcare problems in developing nations can impact the rest of the world. They also spoke about the U.S.’s past interactions with developing healthcare in Africa, and how recent political choices, like the cutting of funding for various programs, will impact the African continent and the international community.

Here are my five take-aways from the panel:

1. Nigeria’s Success has Old Foundations

Healthcare and educational foundations built by missionaries combined with the country’s willingness to admit to health-related problems have helped Nigeria to lead Sub-Saharan Africa in healthcare.

2. The Importance of Interfaith

Interfaith approaches are of paramount importance for successful African healthcare; in communities where religious institutions are one of the greatest ways to positively impact the community, building a healthcare solution with only the input of one segment of the religious society can lead to disaster for everyone.

3. Technology Brings Hope

Improving technology is one of the greatest causes for hope. Machines that allow for more mobility, like drones, and tech that makes medical professionals more efficient are helping to increase not only the level of care that can be provided, but also the speed at which it can be administered.

4. Helping Africa Helps Everyone

Assistance from the international community is not only incredibly helpful, it is in the best interest of those countries that send the help. Diseases that start epidemics in Africa don’t care about the nationality of whom they infect, so it makes sense for countries to help solve healthcare problems in Africa as soon as they’re an issue, instead of letting them spread to other regions.

5. How to Make Assistance Effective

International assistance is generally the most successful if it starts by focusing on one problem and then expands its focus as it becomes necessary to better provide for the community. Programs should be open to primary healthcare by any and all members of the community that can provide it, and should focus on the long-term goal of improving Nigeria’s facilities so that all Nigerian citizens can be comfortable staying in country for their health needs.

Destiny Rose Murphy is a junior at SMU triple majoring in political science, English, and philosophy, as well as minoring in Human Rights and Public Policy and International Affairs. She is a Highland Capital Management Tower Scholar.

Event Recap | The North Korean Missile Threat

Daryl G. Kimball. executive director of the Arms Control Association, presents “The North Korean Missile Crisis” at the Tower Center Oct. 12.

President Trump threatened to “totally destroy North Korea” in a speech at the United Nations Sept. 19. Sen. Bob Corker, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, responded that this rhetoric could lead the United States to World War III.

Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, visited the Tower Center to present his lecture “The North Korean Missile Threat” Oct. 12. Kimball argues that tensions are as high as they were in October 1962 — the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Though North Korea has been a nuclear state for roughly three decades now, the rate of missile testing has increased exponentially under the regime of Kim Jong-un, who became Supreme Leader of North Korea after his father’s death in 2011. President Trump inherited this missile crisis when he took office in January, Kimball argues, but his administration, and specifically his tweets, have only increased the risk of conflict and worsened the relationship between the United States and North Korea.

The Trump administration’s strategy toward North Korea has been “maximum pressure and engagement.” Kimball believes that yes, the pressure has been applied, but in the form of empty threats and without the balancing act of engagement.

The North Korean threat 

As of now, after several tests of the Hwasong-12 missile, we know North Korea has the capability to strike South Korea, parts of Japan, and the U.S. island territory of Guam with a nuclear-tipped short to medium ranged missile. North Korea also tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) for the first time in July, the Hwasong-14, which would theoretically make Western U.S. cities like Seattle and Los Angeles potential targets, but analysts disagree on the missile’s exact range. If North Korea continues to test, Kimball claims they could have the capability to confidently strike the continental U.S. within one to two years.

What Kim Jong-un wants

The highest priority of Kim Jong-un and the Worker’s Party of Korea is regime preservation; they want the Kim dynasty to remain in power. Kim himself is paranoid. He is convinced that the United States wants to invade North Korea and fight a war in order to force regime change.

What we can’t do

The U.S. strategy so far has been to impose sanctions and to build up missile defense (which aims to strike down a missile launched by an enemy before it reaches it target), but we can’t rely on either, according to Kimball. Though sanctions are a useful tool they will not stop Kim from testing nuclear missiles. Additionally, while missile defense is helpful in specific situations, it is not developed to help in a surprise attack, which is the most likely scenario in this case.

Some military experts advocate for a precision first strike to neutralize the nuclear threat. (A precision first strike is an attack on an enemy’s nuclear arsenal to eliminate the enemy’s ability to retaliate.) But U.S.  intelligence on North Korea is not excellent, making it almost certain that at least one of North Korea’s missiles would be left standing after the strike. As far as conventional options go, the U.S. could absolutely succeed in a military conflict, but it would come at a great cost — millions of lives.

“Are there military options?” Kimball asked. “Of course. But we don’t like them.”

What we can do

Kimball advocates for third-party diplomacy. He argues that no progress can be made between a leader who has never heard “no,” Kim Jong-un, and a leader with an over-sized ego, President Trump. He said in order to engage North Korea in discussions, the United States must acknowledge North Korea’s security concerns. The U.S. should send someone else in to initiate dialogue, whether it be French President Macron (who has volunteered for the job), a religious figure, or someone else. In the meantime, Kimball argues, President Trump must tone down his rhetoric.

He closed his lecture with a quote from President John F. Kennedy after the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962: “Above all, while defending our own vital interests, nuclear powers must avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to the choice of either a humiliating defeat or a nuclear war.”