Defense and Diplomacy

Rise of the Far Right in Europe

By Michael Pusic

Meeting Recap: The Rise of The Far Right

On February 6th, the Roosevelt Institute met to discuss the widespread rise of far right parties in Europe and the U.S. Given Trump’s rapid ascent to power and the polarizing effect of surging immigrant populations in Europe, few issues seemed more pressing or relevant. Though many were familiar with the nature of such movements at home, discussion shed light on the intricacies and parallels that could be found in countries ranging from France to Hungary. Center Director for Defense and Diplomacy Ademali Sengal and Journal Editor Jordan Singer set out three major issues for discourse: the causes behind this rise in extremism, obligations regarding the refugee crisis, and the possibility of nations exiting the EU.


Sengal opened the discussion by observing two similarities between the far right in the U.S. and Europe: First, both used strongly anti-immigrant and even anti-Muslim rhetoric, and second, both were led by ‘outsider’ candidates who were not part of the existing establishment. From this, discussion naturally flowed to how these aspects revealed the similar causes behind both movements. In Europe and the U.S. recent terrorist attacks have led to gross generalizations about Muslims and foreigners as a whole. This has been especially true in Europe, where millions of refugees are pressing at the borders of such nations, and their economies are struggling to bear the according welfare costs. Many also argued that the movement away from traditional candidates in recent elections reflected a popular disenfranchisement with mainstream politics. Economic turmoil in Europe and political gridlock in the United States has eroded faith in the establishment and made many more willing to support extremist movements.


From this, Singer moved the discussion towards the burden that the U.S. and Europe hold in regards to the international refugee crisis. Concerns were raised about reports of immigrants committing crime in their host nations, but others argued that these claims were largely anecdotal and that given Europe’s aging demographics, the surge in a younger population would be largely beneficial in the long run. The main issue of discussion was whether or not European economies would be able to bear the welfare cost of immigrants and if deteriorating economies might further the rise of political extremism. Policies were then proposed regarding what the U.S. could do to alleviate this burden. While some recommended providing aid tied to the acceptance of refugees, others believed that we should take in the immigrants ourselves given our larger and more robust economy.


Finally, Roosevelt discussed popular movements in Britain and Greece to exit the European Union. In May 2015, David Cameron acquiesced to a referendum on EU membership in order to prevent the rise of an extremist party and to ensure the Tory vote. Though it is very unlikely that the UK will leave the EU, members largely agreed that this sets a dangerous precedent and harms the image of the European Union. With an unemployment rate of 26% and a GDP-to-Debt ratio of 177%, Greece is similarly considering exiting the EU. This economic desperation is exacerbated by the fact that they are the first, and often last, stop for refugees travelling by boat from Turkey. Again policy proposals largely centered around means to alleviate these economic woes, in order to maintain stability and political centrism.


Ultimately, the discussion found that the rise of the far right stemmed from fragile economies threatened by large influxes of refugees. However unlikely, a solution to this issue must deal with the financial woes that have pushed so many to support radical solutions.

The Syrian Refugee Crisis

By Guy Raber

With hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees seeking shelter around the globe, the topic of discussion on our September 22nd meeting was how to address this growing crisis. Center Director for Defense & Diplomacy Ademali “Adem” Sengal focused the discussion onto the roles different nations should take, specifically referencing the United States and members of the EU.

Key questions for discussion included: Do states have an obligation to the refugees? If so, which states? Should EU member states have sovereignty over their immigration policies? How does xenophobia play into policymaking in the EU? What role can the UN play in aiding refugees? What is a systematic policy we can create from lessons learned from this and previous refugee spikes? Would military intervention in Syria alleviate the crisis?

The conversation began with a general discussion on morality, attempting to define the existence of state obligations to refugees. While most agreed that states are obligated on a humanitarian basis to provide what aid they can, several members mentioned that the protection and needs of citizens within their own states should come first. Even though the two trains of thought are not mutually exclusive, the different priorities came into play later when considering options that were worth taking.

Essentially, if the priority was to help the refugees, then the corresponding processes were to accept and provide for a larger number of uprooted Syrians. The solution then was primarily diplomatic; as a few individuals pointed out, our previous military interventions have played a significant role in causing these developments to begin with. Words, rather than weapons, would be used to offer aid to refugees and avoid a war at all costs.

An alternative priority was placed on the security of non-refugees. For example, one person brought up that the instability of this region was a national security threat, as ISIS continues to grow in power within the political vacuum. He, along with multiple others, strongly advocated providing weapons and military aid to the Kurds as they fight against our enemies in the Middle East. Another concern for this side was that among the massive number of Syrian refugees could be hidden ISIS members, capable of terrorism and other heinous acts.

Perhaps most striking about this debate was the difference in characterization of the issue. One side painted refugees as potential terrorists, while one praised them for being talented and educated youths. Another contention was between the individuals who sincerely dread the thought of any military conflict, and those who see the troubling radicalization of this region as a need for action. Our differences in opinion not only about the ramifications of a military course of action, but about the nature of this crisis, is a concern. We have carried a proverbial “big stick” ever since the days of Teddy Roosevelt. However, when it comes to the Middle East, we often can’t seem to figure out if we’re using the stick to play baseball or whack-a-mole.

Free Speech, Government and the Military

By Ned Brose

For our first meeting of the year, Roosevelt discussed the extents of free speech in the context of the events in France, the distinction between offensive and hate speech, and the government’s role in protecting state secrets from journalists.

We had a very spirited debate about how we define free speech and ultimately if government has a role in the regulation of offensive cartoons. Ultimately the conversation revolved around the ideas that while speech can offend and marginalize communities, that the right to free speech is important for a liberal society. Instead, government should provide more concrete protections to minorities rather than just worrying about speech. For example, trying to integrate Muslim communities and adding police protections to Jewish and Muslim minorities would be a more helpful aid to society.

In regards to classification laws under President Obama’s administration, there was a broad consensus that the legal definitions of protected information were sufficient, but that the government could not necessarily be trusted to obey them. On the side of free speech and protecting government secrets, in view of leaks such as Edward Snowden, the debate focused more around how journalistic integrity works in the modern world. The group agreed to leaving journalists to have integrity with sensitive information, while acknowledging that with today’s incentive to break the story the first, crucial information shouldn’t be shared out of government circles.


The Threat of ISIS

ISIS: the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria
A week following President Obama’s speech announcing his intention to root out ISIS fighters “wherever they are,” Roosevelt society members met to discuss the terrorist organization that controls territory spanning Iraq and Syria and has assumed markers of a sovereign state. Following a detailed introduction by Ned Brose, Defense and Diplomacy center leader, discussion migrated among four principal questions:

– Could the U.S. have prevented ISIS’ establishment and growth? If so, how?
– Should the U.S. be working with allies in the region to root out ISIS, allies who were complicit in the group’s rise?
– Is ISIS in fact Islamic?
– What should be done?

Predictably, the two heftiest questions–prevention and prescription–generated the greatest input. I will piece these apart below.

Opinion varied significantly with regard to preventive measures, variations that can be assessed by looking at perspectives on what the U.S. should and should not have done. Chief among these, the U.S. should not have invaded Iraq. ISIS developed in the aftermath of the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Its ranks were primarily fed by a different insurgency group, Ansar al-Islam (“Partisans of Islam”), that sought to cripple and expel American occupying forces by targeting U.S. troops and Iraqi sympathizers, obstruct civil reconstruction programs, and foment unrest among Shi’a Muslims, with the purpose of drawing U.S. in to a protracted Sunni-Shi’a civil war. Looking beyond this, the U.S. should not have propped up Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Maliki’s exploitation of sectarian tensions alienated Sunni Muslims, many of whom later joined ISIS’ ranks.
Conversely, the U.S. should have confronted the crisis in Syria early on, when it could have stifled the stream of Sunni extremist fighters now loyal to ISIS. It also should have cut ISIS’ financial supply chain–fed by oil wells and gulf powers such as Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.

Prescription: What should U.S. do?
We can divide the range of policy recommendations into three broad categories: direct attack, soft power, and abstention.

(1) Direct attack
The U.S. should attack via airstrikes and/or ground troops. Alternatively, it should cut ISIS’ sources of economic funding. In particular, it should block ISIS’ access to oil wells and world markets, and obstruct Gulf financing

(2) Soft power
The U.S. should focus not on engaging in the fight, but on assisting those trapped within it. This means humanitarian aid to civilians in Iraq and Syria. In the long term, the U.S. will gain influence in the region through the attraction of its core ideals: democracy and respect for personal liberties and individual rights.

(3) Nothing
The conflict is beyond our purview and, as history has demonstrated, involvement is not in our or Iraq’s interests. The U.S. should step back and leave Iraq to sort out the conflict itself. Alternatively, it should bolster Kurdish power, encouraging the Kurds to root out ISIS themselves.

The U.S. is now seeking to solidify its own course of action, determining the extent of its coordination with allies and force employed. When tracing out the country’s anticipated degree of involvement, it is useful to think about the questions considered and recommendations offered above. The landscape and accompanying questions and responses will vary considerably in the coming years.

-Thanks to Rachel Bercovitz for writing this outstanding review!

Brief that was handed out during meeting:

The Future of the Defense Industry Panel

On Thursday, April 10, the Roosevelt Institute hosted three panelists for a discussion on the future of the United States’ defense industry and its impacts on the American economy and foreign policy.

The panelists included:

Austin Long, Assistant Professor, Columbia SIPA

Ken Nevor, President, National Defense Industrial Association Tri-State Chapter

John Schiffer, Vice President, Columbia Milvets

Katie Haller, Roosevelt’s President, and AJ Stoughton, Roosevelt’s Vice President, moderated the panel.

The discussion began as the panelists characterized the relationship between private industry and US national defense. The speakers then discussed the impact of the defense industry on the economy – there are differing views of how many jobs large firms like Lockheed Martin and Boeing provide. The panelists pointed out that besides providing job, the defense industry stimulates the economy in other ways – for instance, Professor Long pointed out that we use GPS thanks to the military and the defense industry. All panelists seemed to agree that, regardless of jobs, the national defense industry produces a significant economic benefit in the form of technology.

Next, the panelists spoke on the effects of the sequester and reductions in the defense budget. While all three expressed their disappointment in the cuts produced by sequestration, none seemed particularly concerned with future strength or vitality of our armed services. These cuts, coupled with those present in Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s new defense budget, will lead to some reductions in personnel, and a fair amount of reduction in the development of some new technologies such as warplanes or aircraft carriers. John Schiffer, also, pointed out the difficulties that might arise in personnel training. Citing his extensive time in Afghanistan, Mr. Schiffer emphasized that it was important for our nation’s armed services to produce more highly trained individuals, even at the expense of personnel volume. Though he could not comment on how these cuts might affect training, he did express fears that new steps would not be taken to train more of these specialists and soldiers.

Talk then turned to foreign policy. In the wake of 9/11 and the subsequent War on Terror, non-traditional warfare and combating terrorism have significantly altered the industry. The panelists further discussed how the United States’ position as a leading producer and exporter of arms affects the country’s defense goals. Both Professor Long and Mr. Nevor highlighted a number of benefits that our nation’s tradition of exporting weapons has produced. America has a strong understanding of its allies’ and enemies’ military capabilities as a result of selling them weapons. Beyond that, it creates a dependent relationship between the U.S. and its buyers, as replacement parts and upgrades must be purchased from America, as there are no other providers of the same technology. Lastly, and perhaps most obviously, it makes money for the country, and produces jobs. Though Mr. Schiffer acknowledged these points, he respectfully disagreed. Discussing incidents in which American-trained Afghan soldiers took the lives of American servicemen with American-made weapons, Mr. Schiffer expressed doubt that selling weapons was a particularly safe or productive endeavor for our national defense.

The discussion concluded with a look at Eisenhower’s warning against the “military-industrial complex.” Citing a variety of statistics and dynamics, our speakers expressed optimism about the current state of our national defense industry. National defense takes up less of our budget now than it did under Eisenhower. Military issues do not preoccupy our economic organization; and lobbying does not strongly affect our nation’s policy. The panelists also provided their opinions on where the defense industry would go in the future, saying that we could expect our national defense to continue its trend towards fewer personnel, greater training, and more sophisticated technology.

Thank you to Alex Chang for taking photos.

Cosponsors included Columbia Political Union, Journal of Politics and Society, CU Libertarians, Columbia Democrats, and Columbia University College Republicans. Thanks as well to DeltaGDP and CORE.

The Sochi Olympics

This past week the Center for Defense and Diplomacy of the Columbia University Roosevelt Institute led a discussion on relations between Russia and the United States in the context of the Sochi Olympic Games. Conversation revolved around the provocative use of openly LGBTQ athletes as part of the official U.S. delegation to Russia. While many agreed that this decision sent a message to Russia in light of recent ban on “Homosexual Propaganda,” others disagreed with the idea that the U.S. could be a leader on LGBTQ issues because of the majority of states in the U.S. that either ban or discriminate against LGBTQ people, as well as these state’s resistance to granting full marriage equality. Others didn’t feel that the Olympic games were an appropriate venue for such a statement, as the games should be a time where the world comes together, not divides itself. Almost universally the body agreed that a boycott of the games would have very negative consequences for everyone involved. It was a really great discussion, and I hope everyone attends more meetings in the future!

-Ned, D&D Center Leader and Kunal Shah, Education Center Leader