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World Affairs Council

El Salvador’s New President: Nayib Armando Bukele Ortez

Nayib Armando Bukele Ortez is the 43rd President of El Salvador and has recently been re-elected despite discussion of his re-election being unconstitutional. Prior to his time as President of El Salvador, Bukele served as Mayor of Nuevo Cuscatlan from 2012 to 2015 and then as Mayor of the capital of El Salvador. Nayib was expelled from his political party in 2017 and eventually formed his own political party: New Ideas. He ran for President in 2019, and won with a 53% vote. Bukele has made a name for himself at the international stage after implementing a plan to get rid of gangs and crime in El Salvador.


Bukele’s plan was implemented into phases and increasingly built up. Among a few of his phases was declaring prisons in a state of emergency after spikes in murder rates, territorial gain from gang territories, ‘mano dura’ (strong hand) policies, and crackdown of corruption within the government and police enforcement. Bukele’s actions drew notoriety from international human rights organizations after alarming reports of lack of due process of prisoners and treatment. Bukele targeted individuals boasting and fitting the profile of gang members; widespread gang tattoos over their bodies, namely around the face, head, chest, and back areas. Bukele in response said in 2022, “The focus is always on the rights of criminals, and for the vast majority of honest people? Nobody cares about their rights. In this country we spent thirty years being ridiculed, killed, raped, extorted, threatened, and living in fear, and no one said anything. But suddenly we grab them [criminals], and you have to consider the human rights of rapists. Yes, they have human rights, but the human rights of honorable people are most important.” 

Bukele’s crackdown on gang activity and crime decreased to 60% during his presidency in 2022, and further decreased in 2023 to 70%, the lowest homicide rate in any Latin American country. Bukele’s actions have brought a renewed sense of safety, stability, and security to many Salvadorans which has garnered him an impressive 90% approval rate among Salvadoran citizens. 

In late December 2023, Bukele announced he would be running for the 2024 Salvadoran General Election. Despite many Salvadoran citizens eager to have him as president once again, experts argued it was unconstitutional. Under the constitution in El Salvador re-election is prohibited under Article 154, in which it is stated that a President can only serve for five years. However, Bukele used a loophole under Article 155 that allowed him to step down from his presidency for the speaker of the assembly to take over as President in order for his term to not count completely. On February 4th, 2024, Nayib Bukele won the presidential election in a landslide vote.

Written by Events Intern, Diana Gonzalez

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Looking Ahead: Argentina Under Milei

One Man’s “Chainsaw Plan”

On Nov. 19, 2023, Libertarian Party presidential candidate Javier Meili defeated Union For The Homeland candidate Sergio Massa in a runoff election for the Argentine presidency with 55.7% of votes, the highest for any candidate in the country’s history. The far-right self-proclaimed “anarcho-capitalist” led a campaign based on state reformation to address Argentina’s economic challenges, specifically its high inflation and debt. His “Chainsaw Plan” consisted of cutting public spending, halving the government’s ministries from 18 to nine, eliminating the central bank and selling state owned companies.

Milei’s plans will demand pragmatic approaches. Milei’s party, La Libertad Avanza, has a minority in the senate with only seven of 72 positions and 38 of 157 deputies, forcing him to seek multi-party support. Since his inauguration, he has dropped some of his more drastic campaign messages, such as eliminating the central bank and switching from the peso to the United States dollar. Milei’s impact as Argentina’s president on the future of the country has yet to be determined.

Economic Shock 

Milei’s presidency comes at a time when Argentina is facing a severe economic crisis with inflation of 161%, a drought that is shrinking its agriculturally dependent economy, a devalued currency that has lost about 90% of its value in the past five years, as well as $45 billion owed to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Milei’s austerity measures are anticipated to be helpful for Argentina’s economy in the long term, but are met with anxiety due to the short term shocks it will cause. 

Economic Minister of the Argentine Republic Luis Caputo announced on Dec. 12, 2023, that the government would be cutting subsidies for transportation and fuel, and the Argentine Peso would be devalued by over 50% from 391 pesos to a dollar, to 800 pesos. For Argentinians, this devaluation will increase the cost of living as imported goods will become more expensive due to the decreased purchasing power of the peso.

However, this could benefit Argentina’s exports by making them more competitive in the global market and consequently stimulating its economy. This change was met with approval by the IMF for helping economic stability and laying a foundation for more private-sector driven growth.

International Implications

Prior to his presidency, Milei took hard stances on Argentina’s foreign policy. He promised to leave the Mercosur, a free trade area consisting of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay. His administration’s foreign minister, Diana Mondino, however, has since reaffirmed the administration’s desire for Mercosur’s growth and the administration has contributed to negotiation attempts for a free trade agreement between Mercosur and the European Union.

For the U.S., Milei’s presidency may indicate stronger U.S.-Argentine relations in the future. While campaigning, Milei vocalized his alignment with the United States and Israel. For his first trip after the election, Milei met with U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and highlighted his support for values of freedom. 
Milei’s sentiment of not wanting to “deal with communists,” throughout his campaign has insinuated a desire for reduced relations with China. On Dec. 19, China halted a $6.5 billion extension of the existing currency swap with Argentina’s previous president, Alberto Fernández. Argentina has benefitted from Chinese energy investment and consumption of Argentinian soybean and lithium exports. Additionally, despite receiving a letter from China’s President Xi Jinping, Milei has halted plans for Argentina to join BRICS– an Intergovernmental organization consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, and the United Arab Emirates. These actions could indicate more distant Chinese-Argentine relations in the future.

Written by Research & Development Intern, Eli Sepulveda

References:

Photo credit: Rory Elliott Armstrong & Katy Dartford with Associated Press

https://apnews.com/article/argentina-election-president-milei-massa-a4811c5229d35551f8dbf7056d87aae6

https://www.cfr.org/article/argentina-election-draws-wider-attention-embattled-economy

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/south-america/how-javier-milei-could-change-argentina?check_logged_in=1&utm_medium=promo_email&utm_source=lo_flows&utm_campaign=registered_user_welcome&utm_term=email_1&utm_content=20240129

https://apnews.com/article/argentina-inflation-milei-currency-cuts-peso-devaluation-beddb4f7fd0021463653af37908bcb78

https://apnews.com/article/argentina-economy-cuts-devaluation-dollar-186d74647d28c02572070d0ee973819f

https://www.batimes.com.ar/news/economy/milei-government-confirms-massive-devaluation-of-peso.phtml

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/south-america/how-javier-milei-could-change-argentina?check_logged_in=1&utm_medium=promo_email&utm_source=lo_flows&utm_campaign=registered_user_welcome&utm_term=email_1&utm_content=20240129

https://apnews.com/article/milei-argentina-white-house-b9834289a1c9abb8c897892977a4beab

https://www.voanews.com/a/argentina-not-joining-brics-despite-xi-s-personal-letter-to-milei/7380722.html

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The Maldives: An Intersection of Climate Crisis and International Politics

Turquoise water gently moves over soft, white sands. Palm trees dot the landscape. Boardwalks lead to over-water huts, showcasing its appeal as a favorite destination for tourists. Behind these picturesque beaches lies more than just natural beauty. The Maldives has emerged as a crucial battleground in the escalating struggle for influence between the U.S. and China, a conflict intensified by the rapid reshaping of the islands due to climate change.

Reflecting on this, Dr. Mohamed Muizzu, President of the Republic of the Maldives, stated at COP28, “In our island nations, every coral, every grain of sand, every fish, and every palm tree, carry value. Their loss is a loss to our economy. For our country.” This sentiment highlights the profound impact of climate change on the Maldives, where rising sea levels threaten not just its environment but its very essence.

By 2050, rising sea levels may render most of the nation uninhabitable. This environmental urgency intertwines with an expanding geopolitical struggle. For the U.S., national security interests extend beyond environmental concerns in the Maldives, largely due to its strategic position on key maritime routes. This is due to the nation’s strategic location along vital maritime routes. In this delicate balance of environmental and geopolitical interests, the U.S. has the opportunity to leverage climate change mitigation as a powerful diplomatic tool in the Maldives, creating a stark contrast with China’s approach. 

The U.S. can make a significant impact in the Maldives through targeted climate diplomacy, emphasizing local development and ecosystem preservation. Key initiatives could include blending traditional knowledge with modern science to support ecosystems and renewable energy, as well as responsibly scaling up sand dredging for island elevation, mindful of the ecological balance. Investing in research to minimize environmental impacts during island reclamation is also vital.

This innovative approach, focused on long-term climate adaptation, contrasts heavily with China’s infrastructure-centric strategy. Chinese infrastructure projects in the Maldives, a highlight of the Belt and Road Initiative, have prioritized fast construction. However, this rapid pace often overlooks the environmental cost, especially the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming, a critical concern for a nation like the Maldives. While boosting infrastructure, this strategy creates significant risks to the Maldivian people. The increased carbon footprint and potential ecological disruption from these projects don’t align with the Maldives’ urgent need for sustainable development. As a nation with one of the lowest elevations, the Maldives faces existential threats from climate change, and the environmental impact of large-scale infrastructure projects cannot be overlooked. 

The U.S., pivoting towards sustainability and adaptability in climate change measures, faces a complex landscape. China’s assertive presence in the region necessitates thoughtful implementation of the US’ climate-focused strategy. The recent appointment of a China-friendly President in the Maldives adds another layer of complexity. In this context, adopting a grassroots approach to climate change mitigation could prove effective. Aligning closely with the concerns of the Maldivian population, who are very conscious of their environmental vulnerabilities, underscores the importance of climate resilience at the local level.

When navigating these challenges, the U.S. stands at the forefront of defining how global powers can meaningfully engage in climate diplomacy in a rapidly changing world. By leveraging climate change mitigation as a strategic tool in the Maldives, the U.S. not only counters China’s dominance but also supports a sustainable path that resonates globally. This action goes beyond being a policy choice, it’s an ethical necessity in a world facing unprecedented climate challenges. As the Maldives struggles with the threats of climate change, the actions of the U.S. could set a standard for environmental protection and diplomatic innovation in the 21st century. 

Written by: Elizabeth Feller, a candidate in Northeastern University’s M.S. in Global Studies and International Relations.

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Ukraine: What is Currently Happening?

Soon, another year is coming to an end and the holidays are arriving but Ukraine and Russia are still at war. We are entering a time in the Russo-Ukrainian War where there is little to no coverage of major updates. The Russo-Ukrainian War started on February 20, 2014, with Russia invading Ukraine in early 2022, and from then on attacks and the number of casualties have escalated. 

UPDATES:

During the recent virtual G20 meeting, Vladimir Putin stated that Russia has always been ready to talk with Ukraine to bring an end to the “tragedy” of war in Ukraine. In this meeting, Putin gave the most pacifistic comments yet since invading Ukraine. Although his comments were peaceful, the Russian president proceeded with blaming Kyiv for having no intention of a peace talk about the Russo-Ukrainian War. 

In other recent developments, the Russian foreign ministry has said that relations with the United States of America have become extremely thin and are at risk of being torn at any moment. This is due to the U.S.A.’s involvement in supporting Ukraine in the Russo-Ukrainian War by providing $44.2 billion in security assistance. Russian foreign ministry’s spokesperson Maria Zakharova informed reporters that the actions taken by Washington can lead to “unpredictable consequences” which were not specified. 

Recent data collection from the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Office reported that more than 10,000 civilians have been killed in Ukraine since Russia’s full-scale invasion. More than 560 children have been killed, and more than 18,500 people have been injured since the start of the conflict on February 24, 2022. About half of the deaths in the past three months have taken place far behind the front lines. The UN Human Rights Office expects that the real toll is significantly higher than what was collected. 

The U.S. National Security Council spokesperson, John Kirby, presented the U.S.’s concern on November 21, 2023, that Iran may provide Russia with ballistic missiles for use in the war against Ukraine. He stated that this development would be disastrous for civilians in Ukraine. Iran already has been providing Russia with unmanned drones, guided aerial bombs, and many more weapons, and announced that Iran might be taking a step further into supporting Russia in the Russo-Ukrainian War. In return, Russia might be providing Iran with unprecedented defense cooperation and has been helping Iran develop and maintain its satellite collection capabilities and other space-based programs. Kirby mentioned how this burgeoning military partnership between Iran and Russia is harmful to Ukraine, Iran’s neighbors in the Middle East, and most importantly to the international community. 

Written by: Events Intern, Anahi Aguirre

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LTG H.R. McMaster (Ret.): Qualified for Duty

Who is LTG H.R. McMaster (Ret.)?

Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster (R.) (Herbert Raymond) was born in Philadelphia on July 24, 1962. Upon graduation from the US Military Academy at West Point in 1984, McMaster served as a commissioned officer in the US Army for thirty-four years. McMaster obtained a Ph.D. in military history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and later became an assistant professor of history at the US Military Academy. He is known for his roles in the Gulf War, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. 

What is LTG H.R. McMaster (Ret.) qualified for and why? 

On February 20, 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump nominated McMaster for National Security Advisor following the resignation of Michael T. Flynn on February 13. When he was nominated, McMaster was to remain in active duty while serving as the National Security Advisor. Some people might have had their doubts about H.R. McMaster becoming National Security Advisor but his experience has shown that he is more than qualified. McMaster has served overseas as an advisor to the most senior commanders in the Middle East, Iraq, and Afghanistan. In Time’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world released in April 2014, McMasters was described to be “the architect of the future of the U.S. Army.” 

Throughout his years in the army, General McMaster maintained that despite his forward-thinking approach, his understanding of military history remained a huge influence on how he made future decisions. During the Gulf War in 1991, McMaster was a captain commanding Eagle Troop of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment at the Battle of 73 Easting. Although his troop was significantly outnumbered, they encountered the enemy by surprise as McMaster’s lead tank crested a dip in the terrain, the nine tanks of his troop destroyed 28 Iraqi Republican Guard tanks without loss in 23 minutes. He has brought his knowledge to battle and has emerged victorious in countless situations. H.R. McMaster has also had a series of staff positions at U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM), including planning and operations roles in Iraq. 

In July 2014, McMaster became Lieutenant General and pinned on his third star when he began his duties as Deputy Commanding General of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command and Director of TRADOC’s Army Capabilities Integration Center. A few years later, H.R. McMaster retired as Lieutenant General in June 2018 following his resignation as National Security Advisor. Today, McMaster is the host of Battlegrounds: International Perspectives on

Crucial Challenges and Opportunities and is a regular on a video series called Goodfellows. He is also a Distinguished University Fellow at Arizona State University.

Written by: Events Intern, Anahi Aguirre

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The Shia Minority and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Threat

The Breakdown

Islam, one of the world’s major religions, has numerous sects among its following with Shia being one that is prominent in the Middle East. While states such as Iraq and Iran have a majority of Shia followers that mostly live in a peaceful coexistence among other Islam sects, Pakistan offers a noticeably different experience for the Shia. In Pakistan, the Shia are the minority. They are consistently met with violent threats, persecution, and discrimination, especially by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi group. By exploring the historical context, distinct discriminatory incidents against Shia in Pakistan, and prior efforts to find a peace, solutions surface that are well within the capability of the government of Pakistan and local communities to ensure peace and protection for this minority group.

The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the Widespread Shia Persecution

Shia Muslims in Pakistan represent only a small fraction, specifically 10-20%, of the entire population. Sunni Muslims, who significantly outnumber the Shia have maintained historically rooted antagonistic sentiments. This stems from centuries-old disputes around religious interpretations of sacred Islam texts. At the same time, parts of the Middle East, from the late of the 20th century to today, became a breeding ground for violence justified by religion. The region alone is responsible for 36% of worldwide terrorism, a statistic that alludes to the pressing need for more concentrated peace and reconciliation efforts.

The U.N., recognizing this escalating threat, rolled out the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy in 2006. Although well-intended, its primary focus was on the major terror outfits. As a result, smaller yet potent groups like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi were often sidelined in global counter-terrorism initiatives. This organization’s modus operandi is unique in that it doesn’t aim for significant political changes, it rather specializes almost exclusively in terrorizing Shia communities. Their atrocities since the onset of the 21st century are grim, causing around 700 Shia deaths, a number that is tragically high for any civil society.

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the controversy surrounding Osama Bin Laden’s concealment and subsequent death became a focal point for the world’s attention as it related to Pakistan. Questions arose, hinting at Pakistan possibly providing safe haven to the world’s most-wanted terrorist. Such allegations have added to concerns about Pakistan’s genuine commitment to combating terrorism. With the Prime Minister’s 2020 statement, where Bin Laden was referred to as a “martyr”, the water became murkier. Such developments rose genuine apprehensions that extremist groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi might be operating with impunity in Pakistan, subsequently threatening regional stability.

The Shia, an already vulnerable community in Pakistan, face heightened persecution, compounded by stringent blasphemy laws. An incident involving Syed Kareem, who voiced his sentiments online, served as a case in point. His comments against the killing of a historic Shia figure led to him being branded an extremist, resulting in blasphemy charges. This already volatile situation was exacerbated in September 2022 when widespread Sunni protests erupted with demands that were not only discriminatory, but also alarmingly violent.

Pakistan’s Shifting Political Landscape & Strategic Policy Recommendation 

Pakistan’s political trajectory, especially in recent years, appears to lean increasingly towards extremism. The events of 2017 and 2018, where hardline groups secured political influence, is a testament to this worrying shift. Their growing clout in the parliamentary corridors of power has many international observers concerned, particularly considering their alleged ties to terrorism.

To provide lasting solutions to the issues at hand, a dual approach is required: a strong domestic policy framework augmented by international support. Pakistan, with its intricate socio-political landscape, must design robust mechanisms to screen and disqualify potential office-bearers with extremist leanings or terror affiliations. A stringent governmental background check mechanism should be the cornerstone of this policy, ensuring that individuals with extremist associations are meticulously filtered out.

Emerging from anti-Shia sentiments of the 1990s, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s rapid evolution into a dominant extremist force in Pakistan deserves intense scrutiny. Their doctrine, rooted in a rigid Sunni interpretation, sees Shias as apostates. This not only endangers this already threatened minority but also poses significant challenges to Pakistan’s secular fabric. Their operational prowess is further bolstered by their connections with major terror networks, such as the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Effectively countering their influence demands a multi-faceted approach: a combination of military action, intelligence maneuvers, socio-economic development strategies, and proactive interfaith dialogues. For Pakistan’s national growth, stability, and enhanced international image, neutralizing such threats is non-negotiable.

With deep-seated historical prejudices intensifying, and the nation’s political trajectory seemingly favoring extremist ideologies, comprehensive policies are an urgent need to ensure the Shia community’s safety and the overarching stability of Pakistan.

Written by: Justin R. Boulanger, a MS candidate in the Global Studies and International Relations program at Northeastern University.

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Mexican-American Veterans: Post-World War II Struggles 

When looking back at World War II and U.S. veterans, the perspective of thousands of White and Black soldiers is heavily presented. Little to no perspective of the thousands of Mexican-American soldiers is known. Mexican Americans were either drafted or volunteered for the U.S. armed services, and at the end of the war received the highest percentage of Congressional Medal of Honor winners of any minority in the United States. History has not shown the struggles of returning to the U.S. with expectations of a better future for Mexican Americans but coming home to disappointment. 

During WWII, around 500,000 Mexican-Americans served in the U.S. military fighting for liberty and equality. They went to war to prove their citizenship and allegiance to the country that had taken them in. The war had offered them a new opportunity to be integrated with White soldiers and the opportunity to gain a higher rank within the armed forces and a relationship with White soldiers that they never had in their communities. When returning home, Mexican-American veterans came face-to-face with the same issues they had prior to the war. This time around they were no longer willing to accept second-class citizenship, limited opportunities, and segregation. The veterans had seen tyranny abroad and did not want to face it any longer at home. 

The beginning of the fight for Mexican-American veterans’ rights can be tracked to 1948 when Mexican-American war veterans created the American G.I. Forum, with the direct goal of helping War veterans and later Mexican-Americans’ civil rights. An example of their work in their early years involves a situation in which a Texan funeral home denied use of the chapel for the wake of Felix Longoria, a Mexican American who died in combat during WWII. The chapel offered his family a section in the “Mexican section,” a portion of the cemetery that was separated by barbed wire. This enraged the Mexican-American community and WWII veterans, who were tired of being treated as second-class citizens even after returning as war heroes. The American GI Forum dispatched multiple letters and telegrams to state and local officials condemning discrimination against a Mexican-American soldier who had given his life serving his country. This resulted in successfully obtaining a proper burial for Felix Longoria at Arlington National Cemetery. Unfortunately, there were far worse experiences that many Mexican-American veterans experienced after the war. 

Most discrimination against Mexican-American soldiers went unchecked and the history of Mexican-American veterans’ involvement in WWII has been ignored. Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge what Mexican-American veterans have done for our country and what current Mexican-American soldiers will continue to do.

Written By: Events Intern, Anahi Aguirre

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Hayat Tayrir al-Sham: The Wall Between Humanitarian Aid and Syrian Authorities

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) has occupied the northwestern provinces of Syria for almost five years, acting less as a terrorist organization and masking as a wannabe pseudo-government. The group was designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S., Turkey, and Syria, rightfully so, for their indiscriminate attacks, promotion of martyrdom in the name of jihad, and radical use of violence in opposition to President Bashar al-Assad. HTS gradually garnered quite the following, almost 20,000 strong and multiplying, as the group attacks and dominates other regional rivals. Recently, there were reports of military clashes between HTS and ISIS, leading to the capture and killing of ISIS leader Abu al-Hussein al-Husseini al-Qurayshi in April 2023. Initially denying involvement, it is believed the organization itself was responsible for the assassination, further solidifying its stance as Syria’s most tyrannical jihadist group. 

Over the years, HTS tried to manipulate its image and disassociate from groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS as a means to be viewed as a legitimate insurgency group and maintain their stronghold in Idlib and the encompassing border crossings with Turkey. Successful military advancements continue to block Syrian security forces from retaking the rebel-held provinces, and ruthless crackdowns on dissidents have eliminated any viable political competition. Whether this is viewed as a strong influence or forced concession, it is clear that HTS is the only authority in that region. 

As a result of HTS’ terrorist designation, Syria refuses to discuss diplomatic matters related to humanitarian aid or occupied border crossings, generating stalemates with UN aid workers and other international organizations. This issue is especially pertinent because of the earthquake that devastated Turkey and Syria earlier this year. The ability to get aid into the country is often halted at the Turkish border by HTS personnel restricting access. The ability to compromise with HTS on border crossings in their controlled territories is met with even more red tape due to Damascus’ stance that UN workers are not to work with designated terrorist organizations and HTS security denying entry into Idlib. Compounding the problem, HTS officials believe the Assad regime has and will manipulate the distribution of aid. The outgrowth of this is that they halt the passage through two key crossings and demand to be included in talks regarding distribution. 

Transporting humanitarian aid remains a significant issue for Syria, Turkey, and the millions of civilians in need. Moving forward, there needs to be a balance between appeasing HTS leadership, so as not to exacerbate tensions along the border, and cooperating with Syria’s counter-terrorism policies to reduce the likelihood of Syrian retaliation against HTS. Currently, there is a low threat that HTS forces would attack any UN aid workers; however, with more attempts to use occupied border crossings, that risk could also increase. However, the necessity of getting aid into the war-torn country is non-negotiable, and the fighting in the region will not stop, regardless of the group in control of the border crossing. The greatest chance for increased cooperation also comes with limiting the involvement of Turkey and Russia in these talks due to both countries’ vested interest in the outcome of the civil war.

Currently, most of the population does not necessarily support HTS occupation, but there is little alternative, and punishment for dissent keeps criticism to a minimum. With limited resources, the necessity to survive and support families outweighs the ideologies or terrorist distinctions a group may have. In other words, the people in these regions are willing to comply with the regime that provides necessary security and resources. There is a risk that involving HTS in aid distribution will bolster popular support. Another risk involving either HTS or Syrian officials is the chance both groups would redistribute to its armies, rather than civilians, to fuel their military advancement. 

It was reported in recent weeks that violence from both sides has ramped up. Increased Russian airstrikes, as well as bombings from Syrian forces, have targeted Idlib, leading HTS forces to adopt new defense strategies and fortify their front lines. If the situation at the border remains the same, the three million people living in the rebel areas will continue to suffer where they are or be forced to flee to neighboring countries, increasing refugee strain. Appeasing HTS and allowing them to continue their occupation of the border crossing could allow for swifter aid passage. However, doing so could also embolden the group to expand territorial control across the northern region. Doing nothing and continuing a lax security environment will encourage the organization to continue to absorb rival groups and challenge the Syrian authorities. With Syria’s recent return to the Arab League, perhaps now is the time to work with the Assad regime to regain control over this country riddled with conflict for over a decade.

Written by: Carley A. Smith is a MS candidate in the Global Studies and International Relations program at Northeastern University.

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A New Era of Banking: Bank of Korea’s Introduction of Digital Currency

As the world rapidly embarks on a modern technological revolution, a rising concern is the unprecedented digitalization and transformative practices of money. Entering into the era of the New Economy, the advances of the digital economy will presumably allow a decisive method of transactions universally. Adapting to the technological revolution and rapid digitalization has challenged many central banks, including South Korea. The Bank of Korea, the central bank of South Korea, has decided to meet the growing demand and adapt to the changes brought by the digitization economy. South Korea’s government confirmed its plans to implement a central bank digital currency (CBDC) in three test regions, not including the capital Seoul. 

The purpose of the test regions is to pilot and experiment with payments and distribution to the public and to secure businesses that would accept payments via CBCD. The CBCD will be equivalent in value to the state currency, divided into wholesale CBDC for institutions and retail for individuals and daily use. It is scheduled to take place by the end of 2023 likely in Jeju, Busan, or Incheon by the Bank of Korea, the nation’s Financial Services Commission, and the Financial Supervisory Service. The pilot will be primarily based on wholesale CBDCs which means primarily for the use of financial institutions for interbank settlements rather than everyday transactions. Retail testing is expected to begin in the following year, 2024, on a limited scale for individual users. 

The Bank of Korea has an advanced financial institution due to its financial accessibility and well-developed payment systems. However, completely transitioning into a world without fiat money and into a world of digital currencies and cryptocurrencies has its trade-offs. The Bank of Korea’s research highlights the positive perspective on how CBCD can address future challenges. Korea already has a sophisticated fast payment system along with ownership of bank accounts being one of the highest in the world at 95% of its population. Digital currency is believed to not completely disrupt the system in place. The innovation in the financial sector is accelerating the advancements and the ability to implement digital currencies nationwide

Digital currencies and their respective markets are continuing to develop and without change, digital currency will become very disruptive to the world economies.  Financial institutions and banking systems have to evolve and transition parallelly because economies will never be the same again. This is challenging the traditional paradigm of governments and banking institutions but opens doors to the new era of banking. 

Written by: Community Outreach Intern, Kiana Flak

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Why ETA Remains a Constant Threat

Basque separatist group, the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (Basque Homeland and Liberty or ETA), remains an ever-present shadow in Spain despite disbanding in 2018, infiltrating public life and discourse. While the present threat of bombings and assassinations are nil, the peril ETA poses remains a vexing issue that should not be ignored. That danger that it brings to the country today is one of factionalism, and the exploitation of wounds that can be expanded and left gaping if this persistent air of tension is left to fester. Continued use of ETA as political tools by those seeking to win votes will run the risk of exacerbating the fragile social fabric that Spain has attempted to strengthen when it returned to democracy in 1975. Those who believe that ETA’s threat has passed are sorely mistaken, as ignorance of the problem does not lessen the reality.

ETA supporters’ zeal towards an independent Basque Country has not dimmed, despite their operations grinding to a halt. In the past 25 years, the process of what Ubasart-Gonzalez called “social delegitimation,” left ETA with less power, influence, and social acceptability than what it previously enjoyed. Nowadays, Spaniards who sympathized with ETA’s mission no longer tolerate deviations from the norm of peace and support good faith efforts toward settling differences through reconciliation. The experiences of the Madrid train bombings in 2004 and the targeting and assassination of Partido Popular politician Miguel Angel Blanco in 1997, solidified Spaniards’ aversion to violence in promoting political and social aims. Despite some autonomy granted to Spain’s regional governments and the recognition of the plurality of its character as a nation, there are consistent calls in the Basque Country for not only additional reforms, but complete separation from the Spanish state.

Politicians and those that use these divisions for selfish objectives do nothing but sow chaos and contribute to ETA’s complicated legacy. Both of the political right and left cannot absolve themselves of the continued utility of invoking ETA, be it the right’s usage of the slogan, “Que te vote Txapote, or “Let Txapote vote for you,” or the left’s reliance upon EH Bildu (Euskal Herria Bildu, a pro-independence, leftist alliance of Basque nationalists) to pass legislation in parliament. An egregious gesture was EH Bildu’s inclusion of several convicted criminals, some formerly affiliated with ETA, in their electoral lists for recent general elections held in July 2023. These actions are not just political ploys to win elections, as if they were divorced from the contextual landscape they inhabit. They are a recognition of the power of ETA’s memory and the continued fracture of Spain’s seams. While further violence may not be a realistic outcome, these deeds do nothing in moving the  needle forward to actual healing for the general public and the victims in particular. 

What steps can the government take to reverse this division? One is a revamping of civics education within all schools. Civics education must include an appreciation and accurate representation of the peoples in Spain that includes their languages, customs, and traditions. With the emergence of national far-right parties like Vox, the argument against these programs has been reduced to defending Spanish unity and nationhood, as if the country was monolithic, devoid of diversity. Although one could argue these voices are necessary to combat a growing secession movement in Catalonia and the Basque Country, this is an opportunity to change how students learn about their fellow citizens, so they are not demonized. Regional languages can be taught alongside Spanish in places where it is not predominantly spoken and field trips should be organized so students have first-hand experiences with the people and practices of a region. It is difficult to hate and separate yourselves from someone or something you do not have close knowledge of.

Lastly, the central government must enhance their cooperation with regional governments in areas of agreement according to each other’s priorities. The conversation of increased autonomy in domains like fiscal issues will inevitably be contentious, but are necessary to avoid continued breakdown in collaboration. While the central government recognizes the plurality of the country and does not inhibit the use of regional languages nor their instruction in schools, there is a constant fear of edicts being imposed from Madrid. The quickest way for ETA sympathizers to rekindle any relevance would be the central government inciting voices of those who seek to eliminate the diversity of Spain’s identity. Continued cooperation amongst all is the only way that the threat of an ever-present conflict worsening can be avoided. 

References:

Ubasart-González, G. (2019). ETA and state action: the development of Spanish antiterrorism. Crime, law and social change72(5), 569-586.

Stephen Santos is a MS candidate in the Global Studies and International Relations program at Northeastern University. 

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