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How the US Benefits from Foreign Aid to IranMany times, governments overshadow the amount of compensation they receive from humanitarian acts. Often, in some way or another, governments will be compensated for their actions, whether through monetary funds or through access to resources. Along with hundreds of other countries and communities, the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Iran in many ways.

In 2016, the American government provided $3,350,327 in aid to the Iranian people. This money is portioned out into multiple areas, but the majority of it has been paid to Iran by the U.S. Department of Energy for the purpose of removing and destroying nuclear-grade weapons from Iranian civilians and other civilians who may have access. Although the U.S. has had uncertain relations with Iran in the past, the amount of aid the government has given them is fairly average in relation to how much aid they give to other countries in the region.

There are other ways that the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Iran as well. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. received nearly $54.8 million in imports from Iran last year. Iran’s major export is in crude petroleum, along with ethylene polymers and acyclic alcohols. However, what is surprising is that the United States does not even rank as one of Iran’s top exporting partners. Iran relies on the U.S. funds for certain processes such as energy regulation, but the U.S. does not receive quite so much financial gain in return.

So, what does the United States receive?  To some extent, the U.S. government receives diplomatic relations from the money it spends. For supporting Iran, and for interacting in an international trade society, the United States receives not only imports and surpluses from the Iranian government, but it also receives a certain level of compromise and commitment from Iran when it comes to aid and foreign interaction.

The United States has maintained diplomatic relations with Iran since 1979, when Iranian rebels held U.S. employees hostage in the U.S. embassy in Iran for 444 days. After that series of events, new sanctions and agreements were created by the joint governments in an attempt to salvage relations. Since 1981, the U.S. government has maintained diplomatic ties quite well, until recently.

Currently, with a deteriorating situation involving Iran in Syria, and Israel on the defensive in the same region, the U.S. has some serious decisions to make. These decisions will determine not only the ability of the United States to keep Iran as an ally, but will also change the dynamics of U.S. foreign relations in the Middle East as a whole. While the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Iran on a monetary and diplomatic basis, there is definitely a delicate balance at stake for the United States and Iran both. Diplomatic Ties

– Molly Atchison

Photo: Flickr

Taiwan Travel ActThe U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee recently passed the Taiwan Travel Act, allowing official travel between the U.S. and Taiwan. The State Department had previously placed restrictions on travel that prevented government officials from traveling to or from Taiwan. The enactment of the Taiwan Travel Act denounces these restrictions, encouraging diplomatic relations between Taiwan and the U.S.

Taiwan was previously a highly impoverished and war-torn country. Its development towards economic stability happened rapidly after the Taiwanese government began promoting the exportation of goods and global trade in the late 1960s. Since then, quality of life in Taiwan has increased substantially. Forbes even awarded Taiwan the number one destination for people who are interested in moving to live in another country, naming it “the best place for quality of life as well as for personal finances” above any other country. However, the number of Taiwanese citizens relying on social welfare is continually increasing, and in 2012 the number of people living below the poverty line shot up nearly 30 percent.

 

Taiwan Travel Act: An Economic Enhancement

 

The Taiwan Travel Act enactment will help improve Taiwan’s falling economy by improving its economic relationship with the U.S. Taiwan’s economy relies heavily on exports, and the U.S. is Taiwan’s most important market for trade. However, Taiwan’s exportation of goods to the U.S has been steadily declining. Faced with a rapidly changing global market, Taiwan’s inability to compete with other countries stems from its inability to negotiate better trade agreements and forge more mutually beneficial partnerships.

The Taiwan Travel Act states that it is now the policy of the U.S. to encourage the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, and any other instrumentality established by Taiwan, to conduct business in the United States. This includes activities that involve participation by Members of Congress, officials of Federal, State or local governments of the U.S, or any high-level official of Taiwan. This change will drastically improve the economic potential of Taiwan, allowing its leaders to negotiate on behalf of their best economic interests and stop trade decline.

– Jenae Atwell

Photo: Flickr

The Role of Unofficial Diplomacy in Peacekeeping
The role of unofficial diplomacy, also known as Track II diplomacy, became increasingly helpful for state crafting. This method of diplomacy started in the U.S. by a group of academics, state department bureaucrats and public intellectuals during the 1970s.

The methods grew out of the conflicts of the Cold War including Soviet-U.S. spy scandals and the Arab-Israeli conflict. By the 1980s and 1990s, many individuals and public institutions were taking part of unofficial diplomacy. Currently, Track II diplomacy is taught in several graduate programs.

The method encourages negotiators and private individuals to meet in an informal and unofficial setting to make common ground where normal diplomatic negotiators can’t.

Governments started worrying that Track II diplomacy is taking over freelance diplomacy but scholars insist that unconventional problems require unconventional solutions. Track II diplomacy efforts help to bring solutions to problems such as in Kashmir, China and North Korea.

An example where Track II diplomacy is used to resolve conflict is in India. For decades, India and Pakistan are fighting for the disputed Kashmir. The tension could escalate again into a conflict between the two countries.

In order to prevent such a situation, Track II diplomacy could bring more stakeholders to the negotiations table. According to the Diplomat, a genuine people-to-people approach would only help reach long-term peace among the two nuclear countries.

In order for unofficial diplomacy process to succeed in the conflict of Kashmir, Track II efforts should include groups who are not necessarily on either side. This includes diverse media and not just local media of both sides.

Also, diplomacy efforts should be conducted in local areas of the conflicts. This includes suburban towns that are not major cities. Agendas for prospective agreements should be open and not limited to biased goals.

A more practical example of the use of unofficial diplomacy is the resolved disputes between the U.S. and Iran. The tensions were high after the Iranian revolution and the hostage crisis.

However, during the time from 1997 to 2005, Track II diplomacy efforts were taken to provide space for productive talk. These talks provided ground to discuss topics that government officials were not ready or willing to discuss. This was unique since the governments were not willing to discuss many issues.

Through implementing frequent use, the role of unofficial diplomacy will aid in the ability to civilly resolve disputes.

Noman Ahmed

Photo: Flickr

Ferry-Between-Cuba-and-Florida
For the first time in half a century, diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S. are being restored. Ferry operators in Florida are quickly receiving the approved licenses to begin offering transit to and from Havana. It is estimated that as early as this coming fall, the once popular U.S. travel destination will no longer be off limits for tourists after more than half a century.

During this time, hundreds of thousands of Cubans have attempted to brave the 90-mile ocean journey between Cuba and Florida. In lieu of proper aquatic vessels, many of these migration attempts have been made on makeshift rafts and old converted cars.

Since the renewing diplomatic discussions, there has once again been a recent surge of Cubans attempting to make the voyage to the U.S. This past year alone, the U.S. Coast Guard detained almost 4,000 Cubans in the waters off the coast of Florida. In fact, during the past two years, the number of Cubans attempting the journey has doubled.

In 1965, Fidel Castro opened the port of Camarioca, which allowed almost 3,000 Cubans to flee, before he suddenly announced its closure and revisited restrictions. Once more in 1980, Castro opened the port of Mariel, and a mass exodus of over 125,000 Cubans took their chances in the open water.

In 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, a severe economic downfall in Cuba happened. This resulted in hundreds of thousands fleeing the country and making the perilous sea journey. This influx of immigrants and detainees caused President Clinton to amend the Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA) in 1994.

The revisions effectively limited asylum to refugees who were not intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard. Refugees who made it to dry land were allowed to stay; all others were detained and sent back to Cuba. This distinction became known as the “wet foot-dry foot” policy.

In 2013, Cuba altered its own travel policy, allowing Cubans to travel and work abroad for up to two years without losing their citizenship. While this policy provided leeway, it did not provide transportation due to the travel ban, and Cubans were also subject to the “wet foot-dry foot” policy in the U.S.

For a long time, hopeful refugees had been left with few options: brave the seas themselves in homemade water crafts or rely upon human smuggling networks who charge upwards of US$10,000. Since Cuba’s annual GDP is approximately US$6,000, the former option proved to be the most common. Cubans had to wait for months to save enough money to buy parts and to build their own makeshift water crafts.

Like migrants from many poor countries, Cubans have been fleeing their country in efforts to find economic opportunities and escape Communist oppression. Many also have been seeking to provide for their families who still reside in Cuba. These severe risks that come with the journey combined with the adverse conditions clearly state the desperation of Cuban citizens. These ferry services offered are symbolic of the new era of cooperation and could signal the end to a tragic side effect of the 50-year standoff.

Renewed relations between the two nations will provide Americans a chance to visit Cuba, but, more importantly, desperate Cubans will have the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families. One-way tickets will be starting at around US$150. The combination of the relatively inexpensive ticket price coupled with Cuba’s reformed travel policy provides desperate Cubans better chances of economic opportunity.

– Frasier Petersen

Sources: Daily Signal, BBC, Miami Herald, The New York Times
Photo: Tampa Bay Times

Foreign Policy
Foreign policy is the manner in which a country behaves toward other members of the international community. It involves a state setting an agenda and using its resources to achieve established goals. Nations strive to achieve foreign policy goals with a combination of the instruments discussed below.

 

Effective Tools for Achieving Foreign Policy Goals

 

Diplomacy
Diplomacy is the act of working and negotiating with representatives of foreign nations to reach consensus and set the stage for future rules. This can involve working on the development of accords, treaties, alliances and conventions. Diplomats form relationships with officials from other countries to understand their perspectives, while simultaneously portraying and promoting the values and position of the United States. Although there are many images in the media depicting diplomatic meetings regarding large-scale foreign policy decisions, most diplomatic relations — especially those of particular importance — occur behind the scenes through private discussions and negotiations. In addition to discussing issues with foreign officials, diplomats meet with many other members of foreign societies, ranging from business officials to representatives of nongovernmental organizations. By cultivating connections throughout civil society, diplomats can gain a better understanding of a country’s culture in order to find common ground on which to base relations and actions.

Foreign Aid
States can use foreign aid to achieve foreign policy objectives abroad, build relationships with other nations and address issues of humanitarian concern. There are various forms of aid, including foreign military aid, humanitarian assistance, food aid and general development aid. Foreign military aid involves augmenting another nation’s supply of military equipment and technological capabilities. Military aid can help a state indirectly influence the balance of power in areas abroad, therefore increasing a country’s sphere of influence. Military aid can also serve to help another country defend itself based on commonly shared ideals and values. Alternatively, states can give economic aid to other countries in order to stimulate growth or help with specific project development. The United States currently spends less than one percent of its budget on foreign aid.

Sanctions
Countries can use sanctions in an attempt to change another country’s behavior. Sanctions can be used to express dislike for a current behavior, limit opportunities for such behavior to continue and deter other countries from taking similar courses of action. Different types of sanctions include arms embargoes, trade embargoes, asset freezes and travel restrictions. Historically, sanctions have been put in place in an attempt to take a stand against human rights violations.

Military Force
Using military force — or hard power — in foreign relations involves states using their military to influence the behavior of weaker nations or directly involve themselves in the c0untry. The United States currently has the most powerful military in the world.

Deterrence
States can deter other states from taking an action by convincing opponents that the costs will exceed the benefits. This can happen through diplomacy or the threat of military action.

When making decisions that affect the international community, as many decisions do, states either behave unilaterally, bilaterally or multilaterally. Unilateral action indicates that a state is acting alone, independent of common norms or rules of world order. Unilateral actions tend to be based on self-interest rather than on international standards of behavior. Meanwhile, bilateral action indicates that two states are acting together. Finally, multilateral actions indicate a multiplayer coordination of efforts based on commonly shared norms. A nation’s approach toward cooperation with other nations in dealing with its foreign policy agenda is very influential in the effectiveness of each of the tools.

The foreign policy tools actually used are largely dependent on a nation’s foreign policy agenda. Most contemporary issues are seen to be multifaceted in nature, and will thus need to be approached with a combination of these instruments. The established goals of a state’s foreign policy agenda will also affect the choice of tools. In reality, the actual usage of these tools is not only dependent on what goals are being pursued, but on what resources are available.

– Arin Kerstein

Sources: Global Issues, Government of the Netherlands, United States Diplomacy Center
Photo: Council on Foreign Relations

history of diplomacy
Diplomacy is a crucial aspect to the success of any modern society, and it has existed since the inception of even the earliest civilizations. But the political activity and history of diplomacy go beyond harboring friendships abroad; diplomacy is used as a pathway to negotiate and exchange ideas, strategies and goods. In an increasingly globalized world, it is easy to see why diplomacy has become such a fundamental aspect of governments around the world.

What began as sending high-ranking officials to foreign entities via ship or horse-drawn carriage has turned into the existence of thousands of permanent embassies worldwide. In the times of ancient Greece and Rome, diplomats were often sent to negotiate issues related to war, peace and commercial tactics. Today, however, diplomats remain in designated countries in order to constantly negotiate issues of peacekeeping, trade, environment and human rights.

In the United States, the history of diplomacy stretches back to the revolutionary period, during which figures like Thomas Jefferson maintained a great legacy by serving as the Minister to France from 1785 to 1789 and as the first Secretary of State from 1790 to 1793. America’s diplomatic relationships during this period were essential, as they gained the U.S. the credibility that it needed coming out of the American Revolution.

While government officials were responsible for maintaining diplomatic relations around the world in the post-revolutionary period, the Constitution was interpreted in such a way that using the taxpayers’ dollars for foreign aid was disallowed. Since then, however, foreign aid has been adopted and convincingly used as a political tool that brings great results to the U.S.

Today, partly as a result of Jefferson’s early diplomatic successes, there are only a small handful of nations with which the U.S. has no relations. At the same time, there has been a ton of political contention over what the focus of U.S. foreign policy should be. Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio stated in a speech last year his belief that diplomacy and foreign aid should be the backbone of American foreign policy rather than the precedential focus on military intervention.

Each year, the U.S. doles out approximately $50 billion to foreign aid, with roughly a third of that money going into training, supplying and aiding foreign militaries. If the government pulled just half of this foreign military assistance budget and allocated it to USAID–about $10 billion–clean water could be provided to the world’s entire population.

That $10 billion is half of what the U.S. spends on pet food each year. One-tenth of what Europe spends on alcohol. Solving the issue of global poverty is not a matter of money; it is a matter of priority.

It was said in the U.S. State Department’s 2014 budget proposal, which was approximately $48 billion, that “deploying diplomats today is much cheaper than deploying troops tomorrow.” As bipartisan an issue as it may be, being on the same page about American diplomatic efforts can shift a lot of focus toward the foreign aid necessary to maintain everyone’s best interest, solving the poverty that is plaguing billions around the world.

Conner Goldstein

Sources: U.S. Office of the Historian, Huffington Post, NY Times, U.S. Department of State
Photo: NPS

Open Hands Initiative

Silver Scorpion is not your average superhero. His crime fighting activities may seem run of the mill for a comic book protagonist, but his story has a twist. Silver Scorpion is a Muslim boy who lost his legs in a landmine accident and is forced to use his mind control powers from the confines of a wheelchair. Silver Scorpion, along with a variety of other cultural, creative, and media based projects, is the work of The Open Hands Initiative. Inspired by the famous pledge by Barack Obama to “extend open hands of friendship and dialogue to all people of the world,” The Open Hands Initiative is a non-profit that aims to improve people-to-people understanding and international friendship. “Diplomacy” is the creed of Jay T Snyder, the founder of The Open Hands Initiative. In October of 2010, Snyder flew to Damascus with 12 disabled Americans to meet with their Syrian peers and create a new superhero. Snyder’s goal was to foster mutual respect between two groups of people that may ordinarily harbor hatred for each other. On May 7th, 2011, Comic book stores gave away thousands of free copies of Silver Scorpion, published in both English and Arabic, courtesy of Liquid Comics. To date, more than 20,000 people have read the comic online. To those at The Open Hands Initiative, and to kids across the world, Silver Scorpion is more than a superhero; “he represents a new phase of US-Arab and Muslim public diplomacy efforts and serves as a cross-cultural hero for the world that promotes tolerance, inclusion and equality.” Since that inaugural project, The Open Hands Initiative has championed a variety of causes. These programs range from facilitating the production, distribution and exchange of local art and music across cultures, to sponsoring journalism fellowships for young students. Student reporters who participate in the Open Hands Fellowship gain real-world experience in countries such as Egypt and Burma. Working with seasoned journalists and experts in media, politics, economics and culture, these students gain knowledge and networking connections. Not only does the program foster budding journalists, it supports democracies in transition by promoting free speech. The Open Hands Initiative does not practice cultural assimilation. Instead, they share the best parts of each society. “In doing so, we enrich each other, deepen our independence and respect, and build a reservoir of goodwill that can withstand even the most fundamental policy differences.” With hope, the reservoir of goodwill promoted by The Open Hands Initiative will bring a more peaceful world in generations to come. – Grace Flaherty Sources: Open Hands Initiative, Huffington Post

chinese_diplomacy_isreal
Israel is but a pawn on the playing board of the massive Chinese economy. But it is a strong and able pawn.

On April 8, Israeli President Shimon Peres made the first trip to China by an Israeli President since 2013. He met with his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping, in order to improve economic and diplomatic ties between the countries and to bolster a mutual commitment to opposing the spread of nuclear and other non-conventional weapons throughout the Middle East. According to Peres, China has the ability to strengthen safety and stability in the region.

Just last year, in 2013, Xi met with both Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. China has made a point of urging a revival and reinvigoration of peace talks, giving Israel confidence in cooperation.

A member of the United Nations P5+1, Xi comforted Peres with a pledge from China to continue supporting international nuclear negotiations with Iran. He said China understands Israel’s security concerns with Iranian nuclear proliferation and that he wants to help prevent Iran from obtaining those weapons.

China’s stance on Iran, however, is a bit complicated. A customer of Iranian oil and thus a backer of Tehran, China has resisted imposing heavier sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Consequently, in an effort to achieve diplomacy in all corners of the ideological world, China hopes to both maintain ties with Iran and to improve relations with Israel simultaneously. Israel shares these hopes.

If China manages to retain its close ties with Iran, Israel can potentially utilize those connections and push its own initiatives through the Chinese hand. Peres, for example, claims that China can significantly help in the Middle East, particularly in light of the present tumultuous circumstances of the Arab Spring aftermath. China has brought millions of people out of poverty without relying on foreign aid and assistance and, as such, Israel believes China can bring its expertise to the region.

Though circumstances may not be the same in reverse, China is Israel’s third largest trading partner and Israel can use China’s desire for diplomatic ties in the region to its advantage. In order to solidify ties, Israel is even considering setting up a model farm in southern China. That way, China can study and make use of Israel’s agricultural technology while asserting its power in the Middle East.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: The Jerusalem Post, The Diplomat, The Times of Israel

usaid_foreign_aid
Every year, the United States spends more than $30 billion on foreign aid. This figure appears to be substantial, but comparatively on average, Americans spend more than $45 billion on pet care and more than  $30 billion on candy each year. Foreign aid accounts for only less than one percent of the federal budget. However, foreign aid is the combination of both diplomacy and development in other countries. The actual budget for poverty is only 0.55 percent of the federal budget.

Poverty is not only a concern in developing countries. Developing countries’ economies have direct effects on the world economy; if developed countries want to grow their incomes and expand to other parts of the world, erasing global poverty is the first step to achieve these objectives.

The objective of foreign aid is to fight poverty and to spur or speed up the growth of economies in developing countries. Foreign aid activities vary from providing clean water, helping local farmers, and supporting the healthcare systems, to increasing education level for the people in poverty. If the global economy is stable, the human race can help one another to reach higher goals.

Even though the success of foreign aid is different from country to country, the most successful stories generally come from countries that have low corruption levels and good political policies. In this sense, diplomacy plays an important role in helping these countries develop policies that will attract investment from around the world.

By increasing education levels and decreasing child mortality rates, foreign aid will help produce skilled workers who are ready to capture the opportunities in the promising but challenging environment.

The foreign aid budget is heavily influenced by the legislature, so legislators need to be aware of the real situation and garner support from the public. Our duty as American citizens is to bring these matters to the attention of legislators and give them our support for a better life, not only for poor people, but ultimately for all of us as Americans.

Phong Pham

Sources: OXFAM America, NYT, The Guardian
Photo: New Security Beat

rodman_un
Dennis Rodman is set to visit North Korea for the third time, meeting with its current ruler, Kim Jong-Un, with whom Rodman has established a friendship.

The primary reason for Rodman’s visit is to help train North Korea’s national basketball team, an American sport that the North Korean ruler enjoys. The training is said to last for four days.

Rodman’s visit comes at a time when Jang Song-Thaek, Kim’s uncle, was recently executed by the state on charges of treason and conspiring against the state. The execution was allegedly demonstrated in front of other would-be conspirators of the coup d’état.

The Daily Mail reports that this would be only the beginning of a possible purge set against members of the old regime, under Kim’s father, Kim Jong-Il. Such a display would make room for a newer crew under the new regime.

Furthermore, old state records are being erased, including those of Jang Song-Thaek. The deleted online records were estimated to range upwards to 35,000 documents.

Rodman himself is set to coach the national team in preparation for a match against former NBA players that will be held in the near future. The game, called “Big Bang in Pyongyang,” is to be hosted by Paddy Power, an online gaming company from Ireland.

For the upcoming exhibition match, Rodman hopes to recruit Karl Malone and Scottie Pippen, his former Chicago Bulls teammate.

As for the Obama administration’s response, Marie Harf, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, cites that the only comment is the official State Department caution on traveling to North Korea. U.S. citizens should refrain from traveling to an isolationist country – a country with which the U.S. does not have current diplomatic ties.

Rodman’s NBA career consists of five NBA championships. Rodman won his first two championships with the Detroit Spurs between 1989-1990. The latter three were won as a part of the Chicago Bulls between 1996-1998 alongside Michael Jordan.

– Miles Abadilla

Sources: Daily Mail, ESPN, Huffington Post, New York Times, Time Magazine
Photo: World News