About the Author
"John Massey has a B.A. in political science and history from the University of Alabama. His primary interest is in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but he also finds time to study French and political theory. "

The US Government Has Failed The World On The Ubiquitous Use of Cluster Bombs

In conflict zones spanning the globe, several factions are utilizing various types of “cluster munitions”.

Unlike ordinary explosives, which are a one and done affair, cluster munitions are a type of warhead that is far more insidious. They disperses bomblets, thus peppering an area with the loaded munitions.

This is problematic due to the tendency of some of the bomblets to not detonate immediately.

These unexploded ordinance can later detonate, and shred civilians in their wake.

Laos for instance has suffered heavily from unexploded cluster bombs in the decades since the American war in Vietnam.

As a result the UN passed a resolution banning the use of cluster munitions in 2008.

As is often the case, the United States is not a signatory to the convention, but has desisted from using cluster munitions, and the White House has blocked the sale of cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia, who has been using them in the war in Yemen.

This was after damning accusations by Human Rights Watch, claiming that Riyadh was even using cluster bombs in urban areas.

However, Saudi Arabia is joined by: Russia and Ukraine, the Libyan National Army, Sudan, and Russia and Al-Assad in Syria, who are potentially field testing a new variety of cluster bomb, according to War is Boring.

The American Government, has been largely silent on the use of cluster munitions.

While the sale of cluster munitions blocked by the President was nearly unnecessary due to a close fight in the House, this slight reaction was only triggered following Saudi airstrikes on urban centers.

A slap on the wrist for a customer and ally, but no condemnation for the many other actors who use cluster munitions on civilian centers.

Whilst the United States is not a signatory to the Convention on Cluster Bombs, this would not be the first time the United States has acted to enforce international law it is not a de jure party to.

The dispute in the South China Sea is one largely over the arcane minutia of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), of which the United States is not party to, due to vague arguments regarding sovereignty.

Nevertheless, the United States largely abides by the conditions of UNCLOS, and has demonstrated its determination to not recognize China’s maritime claims, based on the text of UNCLOS.

In the words of the late International Law scholar Lewis Henkin;

“Almost all nations observe almost all principles of international law and almost all of their obligations almost all of the time.”

If the cost of doing business is to adhere to certain laws and norms, then states will adhere to those laws and norms in all but extraordinary cases.

It then should be surprising that the United States has not used either the Convention on Cluster Munitions, or its own invented doctrine of no use in civilian areas, as a rhetorical stick to hit its adversaries hard and often.

Fear of hypocrisy has not deterred the American Government from criticizing bad actors before, and even more so when decades of damage to civilian populations is guaranteed by inaction.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in the world. You can write for us.

Photo Credit: Mario Micklisch/Flickr (CC by 2.0)

“Why Die for Danzig?”: What Trump Has In Common With Other Far Right Leaders

Throughout the Western world, there have been groups sympathizing with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s return to “traditional values” and utilization of bellicose activity to alter conditions in other countries.

This has included a rejection of anything remotely “Western”, be it existing borders, or the well established fact that condoms severely limit the transmission of STIs.

This appeal to “traditional values” jives very well with other populist right parties in the West, who believe their way of life is under assault from: immigrants, the LGBT+ movement, and the world order established in the aftermath of the Second World War.

France’s National Front has advocated for: overturning French recognition of same sex marriages and adoption, severe strengthening immigration controls, and a strong rolling back free trade in favor of French made products.

The National Front also advocates for reorienting away from most of its European allies in favor of Russia.  Incidentally, Russian banks have loaned National Front millions of euros.

The American nativist movement, including the infamous “Alt Right”, share many of the views of their French counterparts.

The American nativist movement has a strong interest in carrying out Mr. Trump’s proposed: temporary ban on Muslim immigration, general tightening of the southern border through increased barriers to immigration, skepticism of the merits of free trade, and hostility to honoring American security guarantees in both Europe and in East Asia.

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UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party), is one of the least radical of the populist Right parties, as one of its only defining issues is withdrawing from the EU.

However, party leader Nigel Farage has expressed some admiration with Vladimir Putin in the past, and an appreciable fraction of rank and file UKIPers share this view.

Other populist right parties share these views, and methods.  Some, like National Front’s Jean-Marie Le Pen have endorsed their colleagues in other countries.

This mutual affinity among ideological fellow travelers carries over to Vladimir Putin.

A well documented game of international footsie has taken place between Putin and Trump, due to their mutual dislike of the European security system, and appreciation of “strong leaders”.

On other issues the populist right concur, to the detriment of European security. Trump has given some signs he would be open to Brexit, Marine Le Pen, intends to campaign in Britain for Brexit, and while the Kremlin has been largely silent, disintegration of the European system may lead to an unraveling of other portions.

On the issue of the war in Syria, the populist right stays in relative lock step.

Nigel Farage, who has previously expressed disdain for R2P inspired efforts, has supported cooperation with both Al-Assad and Russia in combating Islamic State, despite the Syrian regime being consistently the number one killer of non-combatants. Donald Trump has also said he “back’s Putin 100%”.

As the civil war in Syria is ongoing, and the Putin backed Assad regime continues to target civilians, this vast coalition is endorsing the continuation of the refugee crisis, which fuels anti immigrant sentiment in the West.

All parties benefit from this arrangement.

Europe’s far right gets into power, and the Russians create fissures in the Western security apparatus.

The words of French Neo-Socialist, and Vichy France official, Marcel Déat may be repeated with their original intent if the collaboration movement continues on its dangerous path.  “Why die for Danzig?”

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.

Kicking Turkey Out Of NATO Would Be A Massive Mistake

Read the companion piece to this one: Why Turkey Should Be Removed From NATO

First, the obvious; there is no mechanism in the North Atlantic Treaty to remove a member without their consent.

The only conceivable workaround is for the other twenty seven member states to deposit their intent to leave the Alliance in Washington D.C., and then form a new Alliance. However, this “solution” has problems.

The credibility of the alliance would be compromised. Public’s on both sides of the Atlantic are growing ambivalent to collective security.

Collapsing and reforming the alliance to exclude one of the oldest and most strategically relevant will inspire a lack of confidence in collective security. The whole house of cards comes crashing down.

Read More: 10 Days In Turkey: An American Student Comes Face To Face With The Islamic Crisis Of Modernity

For the sake of argument, let’s say that excluding Turkey is possible, and won’t create a tremendous credibility gap; NATO would still be shooting itself in the foot in terms of its deterrence value.

Even ignoring that Turkey has the second largest military in NATO, its geographic position is invaluable in deterring Russian aggression against the alliance, and negating the Black Sea Fleet.

The Black Sea Fleet, recently reinforced by ships stolen from the Ukrainian Navy, would be free to do as it pleases, were it not for the Bosporus and Dardanelles, which act as a tremendous nautical choke point.

The Bosporus Bridge. Photo Credit: Güldem Üstün/Flickr (CC by 2.0)

The Bosporus Bridge. Photo Credit: Güldem Üstün/Flickr (CC by 2.0)

This severely limits the ability of the Russians to act aggressively in the Mediterranean, as they must utilize this passage.

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Turkey is a guarantor of good behavior on behalf of the Russians in NATO’s southern flank, and gives the alliance a second front to project over the Black Sea.

If Turkey is so important, why would anyone want to be rid of it?

A reasonable criticism is that Turkey is increasingly undemocratic due to President Erdoğan, among other things, silences media at home and abroad, and continues to deny the genocide in Armenia.

Photo Credit: Hyeong Seok Kim/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Photo Credit: Hyeong Seok Kim/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

While these instances are wholly undemocratic, and contrary to the democratic ethos of the Atlantic Alliance, it would not be the first time an alliance member was behaving badly.

Both the United States and Belgium, for instance, fueled the Congo Crisis of the early 1960s, leading to the deaths of about 100,000 people.

The British and the French attempted to seize the Sinai Peninsula in a shameless imperialist land grab in 1956. Poland’s ruling party is also curtailing democracy in much the same way Erdoğan has.

Yet all of these parties remain in the alliance.

Instead of ostracizing an old and strategically invaluable friend, utilizing the existing alliance architecture to influence Turkey back onto the path of liberalism is the far more reasonable reaction.

Read the companion piece to this one: Why Turkey Should Be Removed From NATO

Do you with agree with this view? Give us your take in the comments below. 

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: ResoluteSupportMedia/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

In Hong Kong, Young Demosistō Activists “Greet” Chinese Official In Tense Encounter

Chairman of the Standing Committee of the People’s National Congress, Zhang Dejiang spent three days in Hong Kong, between May 17th and May 19th.

Zhang is a member of the Chinese Politburo (the central governing organization of the CCP and therefore the country), and chief official in affairs related to both Macau and Hong Kong.

Zhang was met with some resistance from democracy advocates, including the youth led organization Demosistō.

Activists took actions to voice their displeasure with Zhang, such as displaying large banners with pro democratic messages.

Large scale protests were largely foiled by the impressive security measures taken, which ranged from utilizing divers and scores of police, to confiscating yellow towels and umbrellas; symbols of the 2014 Occupy Movement that gripped Hong Kong.

Read More: Here’s Why This Hong Kong College Student Scares The Shit Out Of The Chinese Government

The most dramatic of these protests was a premeditated “ambush” of Zhang’s convoy outside his hotel.

Several Demosistō members took part in the attempt, standing on the side of the highway or in the median. The police response was swift.

 #NathanLawKwunChung@demosisto was pressed down to ground and others were oppressed by police during protest#HongKong

The activists were detained for a short while, reportedly receiving further abuse, as shown below.

Though all the activists were released today, the trouble seems to have not ended in relation to this incident.

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Demosistō’s Facebook page reports that five activists related to this display had their residences raided by police.

Zhang has been described as a rising star of the CCP by the Brookings Institute, having studied at Kim Il-Sung University, and been integral in Chinese policy towards that country in the early 1990s.

During Zhang’s visit, he made claims that the CCP was not attempting to subvert Hong Kong’s unique identity, or the principle of “one country, two systems”.

Despite these reassurances to the group of banquet invitees, security officials do not seem to think these arguments are compelling to a significant number of Hong Kongers, due to the significant police presence, and the gluing of bricks to the sidewalk to prevent their use as improvised weapons.

Are you in Hong Kong and have a tip about this story? Send us an email to [email protected]

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: 羅冠聰 Nathan Law/ Facebook Video (Screengrab)

Donald Trump “Does” Europe: He Has No Frickin Clue About NATO

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, has made several claims regarding the utility of NATO in relation to its costs.

This is a strange claim indeed.

While Trump has said he would through the sheer will of his personality achieve Defense Department reform, which was tried and failed by the last two presidents, simultaneously increasing the size of the military across the board seems to indicate the result would be an increased military budget.

Regardless of the hypothetical effects on defense spending of a Trump administration, and the missing logic as to why the United States would need a larger military when it would be disengaging from the world, accurately assessing how much the American contribution to European defense actually costs would be a worth while endeavor.

Donald Trump has not taken the time to do this.

First, lets look at the easiest metric to measure American contributions to NATO, the direct funding of the alliance.

According to the funding page of NATO’s website, direct funding for the alliance is decided “in accordance with an agreed cost-sharing formula based on Gross National Income” of which the United States has agreed to foot 22.1446% of the bill.

So what is the grand total of NATO’s budget? The budget is divided into three sectors: civil, military, and the NATO Security Investment Programme (NSIP).

The civil budget broadly covers both PR and diplomacy. The military budget provides funding for staff colleges, communally owned assets like deployable radar, and administrative functions.

The NSIP provides for constructing various military assets which could not be reasonably funded by national defense budgets, including harbors and runways.

The budgets set forth in June of 2015 indicate that the civil budget is about €222 million ($251 million), the military budget at €1.16 billion ($1.31 billion), and the NSIP at €690 million ($780 million).

Adding these all together we get a total budget of about €2.03 billion ($230 billion).  Already this is a very small number in terms of US spending, but the US only foots a little over one fifth of this, which comes out at around $500 million.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC by S.A. 2.0)

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC by S.A. 2.0)

In contrast, Mr Trump has claimed that his border wall would cost in the range of $8 billion, not including maintenance.

This claim is also largely understood to be underselling the true cost for a fixed fortification, of which his apparent idol General Patton is noted as remarking on such structures as a “monument to the stupidity of man”.

Regardless, it seems that between the build up within United States, and the $8+ billion ineffectual wall, the United States’ $500 million to NATO seems downright microscopic.

Perhaps then Mr. Trump is referring to the nearly $600 billion US defense budget, which outspends the next few countries combined, including a number of allies.

North American allies provide about three quarters of total defense spending in the alliance, and Canada’s hilariously atrophied military is not a big boost to the North American value.

So this must be what Mr. Trump is referring to, right? The US spends close to as much as the rest of the alliance, therefore the United States is being ripped off.

This is certainly a reasonable viewpoint, if you consider the 25th Infantry Division based in Hawaii, United States Forces Korea (USFK), or the US 7th Fleet based in Yokosuka, Japan as contributing to European defense.

While these assets might be used in a large conflict in Europe, if it were to last long enough, they are of little deterrent value in the Pacific.

A Reasonable appraisal of the American footprint in Europe will look at assets in or around Europe.

Using the Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) cost as a rough average, we can begin the calculate the costs of the US Army in Europe. At 16 brigades, and our rough approximation of $285 million for full readiness over a year, leaves us $4.56 Billion.  Note we are making the annual cost of the European Dental Command as expensive as a combat unit.

The one battalion of US marines in Europe can also be easily factored in, at $55 million.

The US Air Force combines its commands in Europe and Africa.  As a result we will count Air Force assets in Djibouti in addition to Europe.

This gives us 26 squadrons, which for simplicity’s sake we will count universally as F-16s, despite Pavehawks being less expensive to fly, and F-15s slightly more expensive to fly. Our DoD numbers give us $135 million per year, resulting in annually $3.51 billion per year.

This number may be fudged based on the limited information available on maintenance costs for various aircraft, but will do well as a stand in for our purposes of a rough estimate.

The cost of US Navy forces is even less readily available The Center for New American Security claims that a Carrier group costs $6.5 million per day to operate, which comes out at about $2.37 billion per year.

The US Navy had twelve surface ships in the Mediterranean in October of 2015, which for our purposes we will equate to two Carrier groups, which include two attack subs, four to six surface ships, plus an aircraft carrier with a compliment of aircraft.

The cost for our substitution is $4.74 billion.

The total cost of American assets in europe is about $13.36 billion per year.

That includes all the indirect costs of European defense, and direct NATO funding.  This is of course not the exact value.

This is a rough estimate through open source channels that is willing to substitute jets for helicopters, and two carrier groups for a dozen surface ships.

That’s a small chunk of the overall defense budget, that is of significant strategic value. For reference, that’s in the ballpark of Italy’s contribution to European defense, and less than half of much maligned Germany’s contribution.

The Americans are not being taken for a ride by NATO.

This begs the question; why is the presumptive Republican nominee not able to have someone crunch publicly available numbers to assess the bargain price that the United States buys a Europe whole free and at peace for?

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: Holger Vaga/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Fighterjocks From Portland Are In Finland Right Now, Spooking The Russians

Some American flyboys are in Finland this month, in an effort to remind Russian President Vladimir Putin where his country’s borders really are.

The 123rd Fighter Squadron, based out of Portland, Oregon, is participating in exercises in Finland over the course of this month.

The F-15Cs of the 123rd will be assisting in improving the readiness of the Finnish Air Force, who has seen an increase in its necessity due to an increase in Russian airspace violations of sovereign airspace.

Finland is not a member of NATO, but has been a participant in the Partnership for Peace program, as well as assisting in ISAF operations in Afghanistan, and participating in NATO exercises, as demonstrated below.

The ongoing crisis in Ukraine has solidified North American and European security interests to a degree that may even exceed that of the height of the Cold War.

This in turn has lead to an interest among some to extend the NATO security umbrella.

This has led most recently to Montenegro’s invitation to the alliance, and some suggestions that Sweden and Finland consider alliance membership.

Both Sweden and Finland have historically followed a policy of neutrality, but this has not been entirely adhered to.

Sweden has had intelligence sharing agreements with NATO states since 1954, as well as relying on NATO capabilities in the event of war against the Soviet Union, and in more recent times against simulated Russian airstrikes.

Both countries participate in NATO exercises, and operations, as well as having strong relations with both Denmark and Norway; both founding members of the Atlantic Alliance.

However, the two countries are not equally open to formally joining the alliance.

The Swedish public has rapidly shifted in favor of NATO membership, with 41% in favor, 39% opposed, and 20% undecided as of late 2015.  While Finnish support for NATO membership is at a historical high, only 27% support membership.

This is why the American deployment of aircraft into non ally Finland is such a strong signal.

 The Americans may be showing a preview of the kind of commitment they would offer if Finland joined NATO.

By creating stronger military and diplomatic ties with Finland through interactions between the 123rd with Finnish units, and other NATO-Finland interactions, the case for affiliation becomes more concrete.

That does not make the Portland based unit’s sale easy.

Greater affiliation with the EU and NATO has historically lead to an increase in likelihood for Russian counter actions, ala the 2008 Russia-Georgia War, and the two year old ongoing fiasco in Ukraine.

It is essentially out of the question that Finland join without Sweden, or vice versa. In addition to the two countries having strong historical ties, as well as sharing a highly convenient border to ferry troops and material over in the event of Russian intervention into Finland, while Sweden joining with Finland might trigger a response against neutral Finland, in order to guarantee buffer space against the perceived NATO threat.

The Oregon Air National Guard is thus pulling double duty in appealing to both the remaining non aligned Scandinavian countries, as well as improving Finland’s unilateral readiness.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.

Photo Credit: cryogenic666/Flickr (CC by SA 2.0)

To Be Mandela Or Amin? New Video Game Lets You Try To Build Democracy In Africa

Democracy 3: Africa, is the latest standalone game in the indie game darling “Democracy” series, by Positech Studios.

The “Democracy” series places the player in the position of the head of government for a country, and gives the player the ability to tinker with policies, with the eventual goal of being reelected, and maybe solving a few social problems.

This is complicated by the existence of several mutually exclusive, or otherwise contradictory interest groups vying for your attention, i.e. Conservatives and Liberals, Capitalists and Socialists, etc.

“D3:A” takes several creative and technical leaps from the more “vanilla” Democracy 3.

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 10.27.13 AM

An example of Democracy 3: Africa’s gameplay. Photo Credit: EnterElysium/ Youtube (Screengrab)

Positech Studios is in fact a one man show; the brainchild of developer Cliff Harris.

RISE NEWS contacted Harris via email to expound on some of these additions, and how they reflect the realities of policy making in the variously depicted African countries.

Central to what Harris wants players to take away, is the caveat that Africa is not homogeneous.

” Its not just how you see it portrayed in the media, especially the US media,” Harris said. “The continent faces some really tough problems that are far harder than the problems that Western Democracies face.”

Some of the problems in “D3:A” do crop up quite often, and central to that is the addition of a new game feature- Stability.

“Pretty much everything else becomes an irrelevance unless you have stable government.”

“I think the one thing that I have learned from the modeling of these countries is the importance of stability,” Harris said. “Pretty much everything else becomes an irrelevance unless you have stable government.

“Nobody invests in a country where they may lose their whole investment in a coup, or a currency devaluation. Nobody takes a holiday somewhere where there are riots or a civil uprising. It’s something that we absolutely take for granted in the West.”

Managing stability becomes more so pressing when capital deprived environments are unable to attract investors.

This led Positech to make Foreign Policy a more active component of the game.

WATCH: Trailer for Democracy 3: Africa

“We have tended to skirt around foreign policy in the original game… We felt that it would simply be impossible to do this with African states, because the impact of foreign policy, especially when it comes to foreign investment is so large,” Harris said. “There is an assumption that corruption is low, stability is good and there are no major human-rights abuses that may reflect poorly on investors, but none of those statements are true for certain African states, so it would simply have been inaccurate not to be able to reflect that in the game.”

This line of thinking lends itself to institution building, a commonly echoed theme in   addressing floundering democracies in the region.

Harris illustrates an inherent contradiction in efforts to build institutions:

“Essentially, it’s easier to fix a countries problems if you are an all-powerful dictator, because things just ‘get done’ without argument, so there is a temptation to keep hold of power to make the job of government easier. Obviously the end goal is to fix a countries problems AND have a functioning Democracy, but there is tension between these two goals when your country has real problems, and I think that gives some insight into how so many dictators originally feel they are acting ‘on behalf of the people’ and then cannot let go of power.”


President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (right). Photo Credit: Bundesministerium für Europa, Integration und Äußeres/Flickr (CC by 2.0)

This kind of paradox is perhaps most prevalent in the rule of el-Sisi in Egypt, who simultaneously is backed by the military, but has arguably improved the standing of women in Egypt and taken some measures to secularize education.

While “Democracy 3: Africa” is not a survey of African politics, it does offer a cursory look at the challenges that affect countries on the continent in an accessible interactive platform.

Perhaps most importantly, and optimistically, the game can be seen as a lesson for those that care about democratic institutions.

“Ultimately all political problems *can* be resolved given the will to do so,” Harris wrote in an email.

Democracy 3: Africa is available on Steam, GoG, and Positech’s own website.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.

Photo Credit: Harvey Barrison/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Here’s Why This Hong Kong College Student Scares The Shit Out Of The Chinese Government

On April 10th, the Hong Kong based political party Demosistō was formed by some of the youth leaders that led the 2014 Umbrella Movement.

The highlight of the party’s platform is the desire to hold a referendum on Hong Kong’s autonomy prior to 2047. It is a revolutionary desire in the eyes of the Chinese government and many pro Chinese political figures in Hong Kong.

When RISE NEWS  learned about the creation of Demosistō, we reached out to them in order to share their story.

After all, they are some of the most politically influential millennials that the world has seen.

We eventually secured an interview with Agnes Chow, the party’s Deputy Secretary General, and veteran of the student group Scholarism, which proved highly influential in the 2014 Umbrella Movement.

She is also a second year student at Hong Kong Baptist University, studying politics.

Chow first became involved in Hong Kong politics in 2012, after being exposed to Scholarism via Facebook.

The group was founded in opposition to the highly controversial Moral and National Education Curriculum, which was claimed by opponents to be pro Communist Party of China (CPC) brainwashing.

One of the more compelling pieces of evidence to this claim is one of the key seven priorities of the curriculum being “National Identity“, which is to say an identity indistinct from that of mainland China.

Scholarism, and its allied groups were ultimately successful in defeating the Moral and National Education Curriculum, but also in demonstrating that a grassroots movement of millennials in Hong Kong can make political change.

However, Scholarism’s next big outing, as well as other liberal organizations, proved even larger than the opposition to the Moral and National Education Curriculum.

The Umbrella Movement was a mass protest spanning several months in Hong Kong. Thousands of protesters gathered in opposition to constitutional reform imposed by the National People’s Congress (NPCSC). These reforms give a nominating committee, with purportedly strong ties to the CPC, the authority to pre-select a handful of candidates prior to a territory wide election.

The “suffrage” presented by Beijing outraged a tremendous number of Hong Kongers, and in particular, large swaths of young people, many of whom were in secondary school.

In particular the student group Scholarism was the centerpiece of what little international media attention was put on the Umbrella Movement.  It was largely out of the ranks of Scholarism that Demosistō emerged.

However, size of opposition did not prove decisive in the Umbrella Movement, as the ultimate objective of the protesters was thwarted.

When asked if the three month event was a failure, Chow told RISE in a Skype interview;

“in terms of political goals, i think it was a failure, but it also had lots of influence on people’s minds.”

Indeed, there is something to be said of the conditions being created in which a handful of university students can exercise a considerable degree of influence in politics.

To those familiar with the Occupy Movement in the United States, the idea of using the political capital gained through the Umbrella Movement to work within a broken system may seem strange or counter intuitive.

“It is difficult to fight some things through the Parliament, or through the Legislative Council, and while I can understand these kinds of feelings, because in our legislative council now half of our council is not democratically elected, because of the Functional Constituency,” Chow said. “I still believe we can enter the Legislative Council, we can do something… because our aim is to not just work within the Council.

“Through the election we want to promote our ideas to more people. What we have to do is connect the Legislative Council and the Civil Society outside.”

The intentions of Demosistō and other liberal actors within Hong Kong has not gone unnoticed.

Earlier this year, Chow brought attention to the abduction of a man selling books that criticized the Communist party, or were otherwise banned in Mainland China.

Chow has also had the shadow of the CPC come upon her as well.

Limits on withdrawals were placed on her bank account which was intended to be used to accept donations on behalf of Demosistō, as they have thus far been unable to register as a company.

This has resulted in Demosistō relying on crowdfunding via Paypal.

Chow was more concerned with Demosistō’s hurdles in registering as a company. Bernie Sanders wouldn’t like this very much.

” In Hong Kong we do not have the legislation for political parties,” Chow said. “They all have to register as a company instead.”

These financial problems likely do not improve Demosistō’s opinion of the Hong Kong establishment.

” Of course the government and the companies will not support us, because we are opposing the government, and the business sectors are also always standing on the government’s side,” Chow said. “They have to cooperate with the Chinese side.”

Demosistō then will be relying on their proven ability to utilize grassroots tactics to gain wins in the Legislative Council, especially students, but not exclusively.

“We have involved a professor teaching in one of the arts schools… We believe that the new political party, because it’s not a student’ s organization anymore, and it’s important for us to involve more people from the older generations.”


A Demosistō social media banner showing members of the party. Photo Credit: Demosistō/ Facebook.

She also notes that for future plans, the party will:

“Try to recruit them [volunteers], through our website, and different forums, and public locations we will try to send our message to Hong Kong People, and hope that they can join us later on.”

Spreading the message of a referendum on Hong Kong’s self determination by 2047, the year the Sino-British Joint Declaration expires, is the clear center piece of Demosistō’s platform, but is far from the only position taken.

Scholarism was deemed ill fitting for elevation to Demosistō’s status as a political party in part due to a lack of political cohesion, according to Chow.

Demosistō heavily invests in individualist language to describe their proposed policies, broken down into the ” Four Selves” :Self Initiating, Self Standing, Self Autonomy, and finally Self Determination. These are intended as steps over a ten year period.

” Self Determination does not mean dissolution of the Social Problems in Hong Kong”

” Even after self determination we still have lots of: education problems, housing problems, property hegemony, etc,” Chow said. “We still have a lot of problems to solve before the self determination of Hong Kong. Resources such as food and water heavily rely on the supply of the mainland China. No matter if it was an independent country or a city under a country, it has to have self sufficiency.”

Not only does Demosistō insist on self sufficiency for the city of Hong Kong, but also an advancement of Hong Kong’s unique identity.

” It is also important to build up the identity of Hong Kong People, so we propose a Hong Kong History subject be implemented,” Chow said in the interview. “Hong Kong people do not really know much about Hong Kong history; in our education system there are only World History and Chinese History.”

This idea of an independent Hong Kong identity seems pivotal in the dispute between Hong Kong and Beijing.  As previously noted, establishing a national identity was one of the objectives of the Moral and National Education Curriculum.

Beijing specifically does not want there to be any distinction between China and Hong Kong, and may be trying to begin laying the groundwork for 2047, and end this “salutary neglect” like relationship.

Chow concluded our chat by telling us about her vision of Hong Kong’s identity, saying;

“For me, the identity of Hong Kong people, or the characteristic of Hong Kong, is diversity. We have lots of different kinds of people, who believe in different core values, who came from different countries, who are different races, etc. It’s very important to emphasize the diversity, and not to exclude the others who disagree with us.”

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: Agnes Chow Ting/ Facebook

What The Heck Is Turkmenistan Up To? (Spoiler Alert: We Should Care)

On March 28th, Eurasia Net, reported that Turkmenistan launched large unannounced exercises “in the dead of night”.

These movements consisted of: Land, Air, Naval, Air Defense, and Special Operations forces.

But what the heck were they doing with all of that firepower?

The Turkmen Military is largely a land based force based on the Soviet Model, as evidenced by utilization of the “Motor Rifle Division”, of which there are four, as well as breaking aid defense into its own branch.

As such, training and morale tend to be low, but utilization of massive amounts of artillery, T-72s, the infamous ZSU-23-4 “Shilka, and other highlights of the 1980s make up for the doctrinal rut Turkmenistan finds itself in.

After all, a country that has a holiday to celebrate its neutrality is not likely to pick a fight.

One can rule out a show of force to intimidate a state actor.

Turkmenistan, unlike Kyrgyzstan  and Uzbekistan, is largely devoid of conflict with its neighbors.  It has friendly ties with both Russia and China, and provides the United States with an air corridor to Afghanistan, which makes deterring one of these actors unlikely.

The move could possibly be an attempt to reassert claims over the Caspian Sea, the dispute over these maritime borders with Azerbaijan, Iran, and Kazakhstan have been largely diplomatic in nature.  It seems unlikely this is a shift to more bellicose policy regarding control of the Caspian Sea, as the Turkmen navy is composed of a few coastal defense craft.

It is conceivable that this exercise is not a demonstration of power against a state aggressor, but rather a demonstration to both Turkmen and Turkmenistan’s concerned neighbors, of Ashgabat’s border defense capacity.

Recent skirmishes have occurred along Turkmenistan’s Afghan border, including several Taliban militants being stuck being Turkmen and Afghan forces.

This is not an isolated incident, and Ashgabat has responded with the construction of fixed fortifications along the border.

Of perhaps greater concern than Turkmenistan’s formerly cordial neighbors, is the developing Islamic State (IS) affiliate in Afghanistan.

While there are only 1-3,000 IS fighters in Afghanistan, the appearance of weakness along the border may draw the attention of Moscow, who would understandably be concerned.

Thus, it seems likely that this show of force by Turkmenistan is a message to Moscow of Ashgabat’s ability to rapidly mobilize against a Iraq/Syria style IS takeover.

Is is not clear if Moscow will be convinced by this display, who has historically assisted Ashgabat in border control.

In any event, we should pay attention to what happens in Turkmenistan in the coming months.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us!

Photo Credit: Gilad Rom/Flickr (CC by 2.0)

Militarism Is Back In Vogue Around The World And It Should Scare The Shit Out Of Us

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, published its most recent report on world wide military expenditures earlier this week.

Two headlines of the report pop out as significant.

The first is that Saudi Arabia has overtaken Russia in military spending, with $87.2 billion to Russia’s $66.4 billion, being behind only the United States and China, at $596 billion and $215 billion respectively.  The second is that, beyond the Western Hemisphere and Africa, worldwide military spending is on the rise.

These figures can be paired with known geopolitical trends and instances in order to project what particular actors may be thinking, as well as what is the world’s security zeitgeist.

First, the somewhat surprising figure of Saudi Arabia overtaking Russia in defense spending.

Russia has been working to modernize its armed forces through: professionalization, doctrinal evolution, and working to achieve technological parity with the West (particularly, but not exclusively, in electronic warfare, unmanned vehicles, and force projection).

Indeed, Moscow has been consistently increasing its defense spending since the 2000’s, into the current year.

However, in real terms, the Russian military budget has remained largely stable.  This is due to the fact that the Ruble is approximately half its value at the onset of the Ukrainian adventure.

A Ruble just isn’t worth what it used to be.

As a result, Russia’s modernization efforts are slowed for the foreseeable future, perhaps to be completed in the 2020s.

This is in contrast with Saudi Arabia’s large scale investment in weaponry to balance against Iran.

This is most noble in the three year old Royal Saudi Strategic Missile Force, first displaying this deterrent power in 2014, as well as procuring nearly $1.3 billion in American munitions.

These purchases seem to indicate that Saudi intends to keep Iran at arms length in the event of hostilities, utilizing its overwhelming number of missiles.

Iran in turn, due to the lifting of EU and US sanctions, will likely attempt to counter these Saudi gains.

Of course, Saudi and Russia are not the only ones preparing for conflict.

Asia leads the way in new defense spending, with $436 billion in new spending region wide.

This is driven in large part China’s need to deter American intervention in its periphery.  Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam also increased their spending in response to China’s bellicose enforcement of its territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Afghan National Army soldiers drill in Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan, November of 2008. Photo Credit: Afghanistan Matter/Flickr (CC by 2.0)

Afghan National Army soldiers drill in Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan, November of 2008. Photo Credit: Afghanistan Matter/Flickr (CC by 2.0)

Europe is also continuing its trend of increased spending, in light of the Ukraine Crisis.  NATO’s biggest European spenders, Germany, France, and the UK, did not drive any growth.

But some of the Baltic states have built up their militaries.

This is likely due to the perceived threat of future Russian attempts to secure buffer space against the stronger alliance members, and unease about the Americans honoring their security agreements.

The outliers also a tell a story of the global arms buildup.

The Western Hemisphere is largely conflict free due to an end of the Cold War, and other imperialist interventions into Latin America largely subsiding after the Roosevelt administration’s attempt at being a “good neighbor”.

American hegemony over the region is uncontested.

Africa, despite being rife with conflict in: Libya, the Sinai, the West Coast, Somalia, Sudan, and the Congo, is largely devoid of great power politics.  Thus, large scale trends of regional military investment are not necessary.

These trends seem to indicate that military spending is increasingly becoming an acceptable investment of revenue in light of perceived dangers for nations from activist states.

This is potentially worrying, as periods of militarism tend to precede periods of conflict.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us!

Cover Photo Credit: Quinn Dombrowski/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

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