Turkey at the Centennial – Part II: A Nation at the Crossroads of Continuity and Change

Read Part I of this series here.

Photo Credit: sulox32

By Shawn Rostker
Editor in Chief

It is from the rise of the AKP that Turkey’s current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, ascended to power. Erdogan’s emphasis on the horizontal ties of solidarity that bound together the people of Turkey rather than the vertical ties of obligation that bound society to state helped elevate him to political prominence. During his time as Prime Minister (2003-2014), the AKP pursued an aggressive reform agenda aligned with its contemporary vision. Economic stabilization programs continued, and ties between foreign commercial and private industry were expanded. Steady declines in the rule of law and fiscal health have led to a running five-year decline in overall economic freedom, and Turkey’s economy has consistently ranked near the bottom of regional and global indexes. It has rebounded from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, growing by 11% in the past year. Still, it remains plagued by inefficiencies across its vital sectors and susceptible to long-term effects of the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Continue reading “Turkey at the Centennial – Part II: A Nation at the Crossroads of Continuity and Change”

Turkey at the Centennial – Part I: A Product of Dyadic Interaction

Read Part II of this series here.

Photo Credit: sulox32

By Shawn Rostker
Editor in Chief

The year 2023 will mark the centennial anniversary of the Republic of Turkey. The nation has seen staggering growth, transformation, and absorption into the international community over the past century, as well as expanded influence over both regional and global affairs. Turkey has changed markedly from the Western-leaning and largely secular state that it was in its earliest days and has experienced several transformations spanning its political, social, economic, and religious dimensions. The battle between secularism and politicized religion has defined its social and political development, and the recent acceptance of a Muslim distinction within the concept of Turkishness has fueled an ongoing identity contest. Though still maintaining linkages to the Western world, Turkey has gradually cultivated relationships with Eastern powers such as Russia and China. These bidirectional ties have begun to manifest in ways that challenge both its domestic and foreign policies. It has experienced multiple coups d’état and has struggled to reconcile its outward democratic aspirations with its internal authoritarian shifts. Part I of this two-part series will explore Turkey’s foundational ideological dyad: Kemalism and Islamism, and probe how this relationship influenced Turkey’s political, social, and religious development over the course of the 20th Century in the face of economic turbulence and internal strife to produce the state that it is today.

Continue reading “Turkey at the Centennial – Part I: A Product of Dyadic Interaction”

The Long Game: Why Protraction Continues to Underpin Moscow’s Strategy to Reclaim Ukraine

Photo Credit: Ministry of Defense of Ukraine

By Shawn Rostker
Editor in Chief

Conditions were cloudy with a chance of showers as the sun rose over Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, on Thursday, February 24. The literal fog of war had set in across the nation of roughly 43 million people, and for residents in and around the cities of Kharkiv, Kramatorsk, Kherson, Dnipro, and Odessa, the showers raining down took the form of high-powered ordnance. In the waning hours of Russia’s Defender of the Fatherland Day—a holiday commemorating the inauguration of the Red Army—Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a national address stating that Russia would execute a “special military operation” in eastern Ukraine to “demilitarize” the nation. Though framed as an obliged response to Ukrainian aggression and ambitions of strategic capabilities, the actions amount to a deliberate invasion of Ukraine and a blatant violation of its sovereignty. A costly and protracted war is now likely to be in the forecast for the foreseeable future, but this has always been the Kremlin’s plan. Putin has always played the long game when it comes to regional ambition, and the strategy for reclaiming Ukraine has always been one of protracted conflict resulting in long-term economic strangulation. The storm of violence currently pummelling Ukraine is one of historical vendetta—one with the potential to threaten the prevailing security arrangements that have underpinned Europe and the international order for over a generation.

Continue reading “The Long Game: Why Protraction Continues to Underpin Moscow’s Strategy to Reclaim Ukraine”

Op-Ed: The NBA’s Recent Capitulation to COVID Skepticism and its Distortment of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Photo Credit: Paxton Holley

By Andrew Campos
Director of Operations

1992 was a simpler time. “The Dream Team” —  the outstanding 1992 U.S. Men’s Basketball Team that heralded the legendary likes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird — collectively sought to earn a Gold Medal after the American team had lost to the Soviet Union in the 1988 Summer Olympics. The “Dream Team”  went for gold and inevitably succeeded, and in doing so demonstrated the tenacity and formidable athleticism of American basketball players. The 1992 U.S. Men’s Basketball Team enshrined themselves as cultural leaders in the realm of basketball, inspiring basketball fans abroad. More importantly, at this time, a global pandemic had yet to dramatically alter the lives of billions of individuals across the world.

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The Rise of China Under President Xi Jinping: U.S. Challenger, Potential Ally, or Both?

Photo Credit: UN Geneva

By Merry Jiao
Staff Writer

The Chinese Communist party recently held its annual Central Committee Meeting, bringing together the elite officials of China’s Communist Party (CCP) to determine the future of the country. Behind closed doors, officials formally agreed upon a revisionist history of the CCP. President Xi Jinping is now being credited with the “tremendous transformation” of China’s economy and geopolitical status. He is being hailed by CCP members and supporters as an era-defining leader, directing China towards a new period of prosperity and elevating him to a political reverence akin to Mao Zedong. By emphasizing his ability to direct the country towards a new era of growth and prosperity, he is actively cementing his place in the history of the People’s Republic of China as one of its greatest leaders. As such, President Xi has effectively shaped a narrative that posits him as the only person capable of steering the country towards its next step: attaining global superpower status. After eliminating term limits on the presidency, Xi is on track to secure his third term next year, prompting discussion about the possibility of maintaining power indefinitely

Continue reading “The Rise of China Under President Xi Jinping: U.S. Challenger, Potential Ally, or Both?”

Is the Netherlands a Narco-State?

Photo Credit: Dennis Jarvis

By Yan Graf
Staff Writer

The year 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of Richard Nixon’s declaration of the “War on Drugs.” Since then, the United States has spent trillions of dollars fighting drug production and international distribution. Whether hunting down kingpins, destroying drug fields, or training foreign governments in drug eradication tactics, U.S. Government and pop culture attention has been predominantly focused on drug trafficking as it relates to impoverished Latin American countries like Mexico, Colombia, and Peru. Despite this imbalance, the winds of the global drug trade are shifting, and new countries have blossomed into centers of drug production and trafficking. The drug trade in Europe is increasingly centered around one country that many are calling the world’s newest “narco-state”: the Netherlands.

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Exploring the Roots of India’s Farmer Protests

Photo Credit: Cambridge Globalist and licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

By Harshita Chitti Rao Devavarapu
Contributing Writer 

Known for its size and diversity, India is one of the largest countries in South Asia and the largest democracy in the world. Despite having a multitude of cultures, languages and lifestyles, one commonality that unites the multiple strands of Indian identity is the economic enterprise of agriculture. Agriculture is the main source of livelihood for the Indian population and the harvest is celebrated through various festivals by all religions and cultures. Producing legumes, jute, spices, rice, sugarcane and many more crops, 70% of rural households are dependent on agriculture while 82% of farmers are small scale marginal farmers.

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Left in Limbo: Migrants Bear the Burden of EU-Belarus Tensions

Photo Credit: Kancelaria Premiera

By Irelan Fletcher
Contributing Writer

Currently settled at the Belarus-Poland border, migrants coming from the Middle East and Asia are awaiting entrance into Poland, while a geopolitical storm erupts around them. Why is this happening? The answer lies in a variety of contributing factors, involving disputes between the European Union (EU) and Belarus that have resulted in the humanitarian crisis faced by migrants at the border today.

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Op-Ed: From Bad to Worse: Afghanistan’s Approaching Apocalypse

Photo Credit: U.S. National Archives & DVIDS

By Yan Graf
Contributing Writer

There is another crisis brewing in Afghanistan. Although Western media coverage of Afghanistan has declined following the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops at the end of August, that does not imply that the situation is improving. The newly reinstalled Taliban faces two related crises as they attempt to centralize power in the country: a massive economic implosion and a lack of international legitimacy. Failing to address these problems would plunge the country back into chaos and would likely trigger a massive refugee exodus on the scale of the Syrian refugee crisis of 2015.

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Op-Ed: Reform of the United Nations Security Council: Problems and Proposed Solutions

Photo Credit: Boston Public Library

By Nicholas Tappin
Contributing Writer 

At the end of World War II, 50 nations signed the first United Nations charter. Thus, a new international body was established with the aims to serve as a mediator between multiple warring nations, advocate for global expansion of human rights, and to oversee the end of the vices that plagued humankind ranging from extreme hunger, poverty, and national militarism. However, in the span of 70 years, it has become apparent that the United Nations Security Council —the main body that possesses truly executive and substantive power regarding decision-making — is dysfunctional in its established purpose of protecting human rights and finding reconciliatory solutions to regional conflicts. 

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The Strategic Shifts Caused by Nord Stream 2 and What the United States Can Do Moving Forward

Photo by Chris LeBoutillier from Pexels

By Shawn Rostker
Staff Writer

The Russian Federation has a history of using energy policy as a coercive tool of foreign policy. This practice dates back to the late 1980’s before the collapse of the Soviet Union. It continued through the early years of the newly formed Russian state as it sought to rebuild from economic ruin. Moscow, in its contemporary form, continues to exercise this practice as it seeks to capitalize on its natural abundance of oil and natural gas reserves. Currently, Russia boasts the world’s largest proven reserves of natural gas with roughly 48 trillion cubic meters. According to the Central Intelligence Agency’s most recent figures it is also the world’s number one annual exporter of natural gas at over 210 billion cubic meters. While the playbook may not be new, the Russian state is not the same player that the Soviet Union was. The Soviet Union struggled to implement these tactics effectively due to an incompetent central planning system, disjointed leadership structures, and their failure to adequately maintain technological progress due to a lack of incentive schemes. Over the course of the last twenty years, however, Russia has consolidated its energy industries under state purview, established a vertically-oriented ladder of leadership, provided incentive and opportunity for innovation, and strengthened its economic might through integration into global markets. These characteristics enable Russia to behave more subversively within bilateral partnerships. 

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COVID-19 in The Philippines: The Case Against A Dangerously Inadequate Response

by Lauryn Lin
Contributing Writer

Police and armed soldiers now walk the streets of Manila as they try to keep people inside their homes. “Shoot them dead,” ordered Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in a national address after a protest in Quezon City. The protest occurred at the beginning of April after people had not received relief supplies and food starting March 15 when the COVID-19 lockdown went into motion. Duterte initially enacted a form of martial law back when he first declared the administration’s War on Drugs. Threatening to further this in a time of crisis is reminiscent of his extrajudicial killings that occurred before the pandemic. Duterte’s zero tolerance policy for illegal substances already has many frightened for their lives. The circumstances of COVID-19 are giving Duterte room to broaden his regime of cruelty. 

Duterte was granted emergency powers on March 25 with the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, a measure to allocate funds and direct hospitals to prioritize efforts that target the pandemic. Critics argue against this because of the extreme measures he took when he waged his drug war. Duterte’s orders allow security forces to shoot to kill anyone they feel is a threat. In a personal statement addressing the president’s overstepping of authority, University of the Philippines Law professor Jay Batongbacal said, “No to emergency powers. The existing powers are already being abused.” Duterte’s past points ontaking advantage of these powers  are widely regarded as a means of keeping the people in a state of fear. So far he has only asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) to work around the clock, never closing under the new twenty-four hour operation. These agencies work to find a vaccine and assess effective medicine for the virus. 

Even though the Bayanihan Act’s main purpose is for Duterte to redistribute funding for efforts against the virus, it contains provisions that would punish those who are spreading fake news about the virus. Some say that it could be used to target people opposing Duterte’s regime. “Under such emergency, local government officials risk being booted out from their post for merely adjusting their COVID-19 response to the specific needs of their jurisdiction,” says Rep. Arlene Brosas. As local governments try to figure out the best way to combat the virus, this provision will limit the possibility of exploring every option. 

There is one measure in the act however, that allows for Congress to examine Duterte’s actions and regulations in regards to his new emergency powers. Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros is keeping an eye on how this will be carried out, saying that “The Senate must exercise its oversight functions,” she affirms. “I’ll be very active that Bayanihan Law is exercised without abuse and funds will reach those who need it most.” In addition to this clause in the act, Duterte must also send weekly reports to Congress about how effectively he has utilized these powers. 

On May 5, the leading broadcast network ABS-CBN was forced to shut down by orders from the National Telecommunications Commision. Duterte has been targeting the network since his election in 2016 when they refused to run his presidential campaign ads. Since then, they have closely followed the cruelty of the drug war and more recently, have been communicating important updates regarding the current public health crisis. A statement from the network reads, “Millions of Filipinos will lose their source of news and entertainment when ABS-CBN is ordered to go off-air on TV and radio tonight (5 May 2020) when people need crucial and timely information as the nation deals with the COVID-19 pandemic.” The last time ABS-CBN was forced off the air was in September of 1972 during a time of martial law when President Ferdinand Marcos chose not to renew the network’s license. A controversial leader, Marcos was known for his brutality and corruption, quite similar to Duterte. A repeat of the past seems to be becoming a threat to the freedom of press and has even caught the attention of human rights activists

The United Nations has reported that such a “highly militarised response” from the Philippines with coronavirus restrictions is cause for concern. They also named China, Sri Lanka, and El Salvador as countries who instrumentalized the pandemic as a means to hide their human rights violations. Peggy Hicks, the Director of Thematic Engagement at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, warned that any restrictions enacted in these states as a response to the pandemic, must be absolutely necessary and of a temporary placement. The United Nation’s unease about how many countries are dealing with the pandemic is indicative not only of the change that needs to occur in the Philippines, but every country scapegoating the health crisis as a means to extend austerely draconian policies across the globe.


COVID-19 and the Deepening of Federalism in India

Linguistic map of India. Image used under Creative Commons License.

By Siddharth
Graduate Fellow Editor

Winston Churchill once advised to never let a good crisis go to waste. In the same vein, the present COVID-19 pandemic is a great opportunity for India to utilize this crisis by presenting itself as an alternative to China in the manufacturing sector. However, under the radar of the news broadcasting focused on COVID-19, there is another ongoing phenomenon manifesting itself in the Indian polity which is going unnoticed—deepening of Federalism in India. 

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After COVID-19: Implications on International Organizations and the Global Order

by Siddharth
Graduate Fellow Editor

Human beings are perhaps cognitively wired for reacting faster to events that come as a sudden shock or stimulate loyal sentiments connected with social identity (race, religion, nation, etc.) than to processes spread over a longer period of time. Thus, the urgency of response by governments across the world to the 9/11 attacks, the COVID-19 pandemic, and global warming lie along a line facing southward while these events unfolded or are unfolding in ascending order of time duration. This cognitive bias manifests itself despite the fact that the likelihood of these three events threatening the survival of our species varies from least to most likely respectively.

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Blockchain: An Unlikely Advocate for Women

By Tanvi Bajaj
Staff Writer

Blockchain has quickly risen in prominence as an impressively secure and technologically savvy way to record financial transactions. An immutable ledger of information, it was created in order to eliminate the third party source (aka the bank) that people are forced to rely on in order to transfer money. Premised on an agreement by a party of three or more people who record each transaction, blockchain is one of the safest ways to protect valuable financial information. After each “block” of transactions has been recorded, it is sealed by all members of the party using a hash function which not only keeps the information more secure, but also protects it from corruption and mishandling. 

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How Kurdish Women are Setting The World Standard for Feminism

A female Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighter works on her laptop after arriving in the southern Kurdistan city of Dohuk on May 14, 2013.

by Olivia Bryan
Staff Writer

From within the American female progressive movement alone, historic strides in the recent decade come to mind. Leading examples range from the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements against sexual misconduct, to the first Muslim and American indigenous women elected to Congress, and the traction of the nationwide Women’s March protests after United States President Donald Trump’s inauguration. While these are certainly no small feats, it should be noted that western women are not the only women at the cutting-edge of the feminist movement.

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Pegging on The Petro: Venezuela’s Crypto-friendly Strategy to Save a Failing Economy

With the rise of cryptocurrencies in the world market, many Latin American countries are now integrating the digital coins into their national economies. For Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, betting on crypto could be the last resort.

by Sebastian Preising
Staff Writer

What does a country do if they are suffering from hyperinflation, rampant government corruption, and are bordering on total economic collapse? Some states may choose to adopt another nation’s currency or elect anti-corruption politicians, others are starting to turn towards  unconventional solutions. In Venezuela, Bitcoin has already begun steadily replacing the hyper-inflated Bolivar as the nation’s primary transaction currency. In the last week alone, Venezuela reportedly traded over $350 billion Bolivars for Bitcoin, and continues to do so at an increasing rate. 

Continue reading “Pegging on The Petro: Venezuela’s Crypto-friendly Strategy to Save a Failing Economy”

China’s Paradox: Economic Stimulation vs. Climate Catastrophe Aversion

Environmental inspectors in northern China have found that seventy percent of the businesses they examined failed to meet environmental standards for controlling air pollution. (Photo by Ella Ivanescu)

By Rachel Chiang
Staff Writer

This is a familiar story: China is to blame for climate change, with twenty-seven percent of global greenhouse gases emanating from within its borders. Operating under the desire to generate capital, the “authoritarian” Chinese state condones crippling levels of pollution, to the point at which face masks are daily necessities embraced by residents of Beijing. Any efforts to be environmentally conscious in the United States are futile since China will continue the reckless expansion of its carbon footprint.

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AI: Changing the Tides of Water Sustainability

By Tanvi Bajaj
Staff Writer

In 2015, Senator James Inhofe confidently stepped onto the Senate floor, carrying a snowball. He then explained how global warming (and, in effect, climate change) could simply not exist since it was cold enough outside for the snowball he was holding in his hand to form.  

While laughable, Senator Inhofe’s argument is indicative of the centuries of neglect the environment has suffered at human hands. 

Today, sea levels are rising, glaciers are melting, forests are burning, and animals are dying. 

It’s clear that something needs to change. 

Continue reading “AI: Changing the Tides of Water Sustainability”

Hong Kong: Caught Between Foreign Fires

by Rachel Chiang
Staff Writer

Hong Kong is in the midst of political mayhem. Decades-long concerns are emerging as Hong Kong goes through the most tumultuous period in recent history. What began as a series of protests against an extradition bill has metamorphosed into a widespread opposition movement to police brutality, Beijing, and government ineptness. The presence of violence and foreign intervention has had damning implications for economic advancement and societal stability.

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China, Hong Kong, and Basketball: How One Tweet Started a Firestorm in the NBA

by Nicholas Kishaba

Staff Writer

In March, demonstrations began in the streets of Hong Kong, largely in protest against a bill which would essentially allow the Chinese government to extradite fugitives from regions they do not currently control, such as Taiwan, Macau, and Hong Kong. Since then, Hong Kong City Leader Carrie Lam has agreed to withdraw the bill, however, as protests have increased in both frequency and violence, protesters’ demands have consolidated into a call for democracy. Among other demands such as amnesty for arrested protesters, and an inquiry into police brutality, there are also demands for the resignation for Lam, who is believed by the protesters to be a pawn for Beijing.

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A Song of Withering Sakura: Japanese Multinational Corporations Struggling in the Global Market

Photo Credit: sofi5t

By Zerui Pan
Contributing Writer

Once as brilliant as Sakura, or cherry blossoms, the full bloom of Japanese Multinational Corporations (MNCs) in the 1980s and early 90s astonished the world. Corporations such as Mitsubishi, Mitsui, and Itochu swept the podium among the Fortune Global 500 in 1995, and nationally Japanese companies won 37 of the top 100 seats compared to the United States’ 28. Their global dominance seemed so entrenched that few felt it would wither in the future. Globalization would go on to conjure storms that challenged these corporate powers, yet they believed themselves prepared to weather them. But were they?

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Op-Ed: French Failures: A Warning to the Left Worldwide

Photo credit: Pierre-Selim Huard 

By Matthew Risley
Staff Writer

On Sunday, April 24th, French voters re-elected Emmanuel Macron for another five-year presidential term. For the second straight election, he defeated his far-right opponent Marine Le Pen, becoming the first president re-elected in France since Jacques Chirac in 2002. Running on a platform of centrist rhetoric, Macron won by a significant margin, even though the gap between him and Le Pen closed to 15.2%, demonstrating the waning appeal of the status quo in France. The French left missed out on a brilliant opportunity to publicize its positions and potentially take power, squandering the chance due to its inability to cooperate—a lesson for left-wing parties around the world. 

Extremist candidates—Eric Zemmour and Le Pen of the Far Right and Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the Far Left—received a majority of the vote during the first round of the election, taking 52.3%. Valérie Pécresse, who represented the center-right party of Les Republicains (The Republicans), received only 4.8% of the vote, despite polling at 12% percent in early March. This stands in stark contrast to the first round vote in 2017, where François Fillon, the representative for Les Republicains, received 20% of the vote, only missing out on the second round of voting by 1.3%.  

Mélenchon failed to reach the second round by a mere 1.2%, which could have certainly materialized if the other left-wing parties had dropped out and endorsed his campaign. Anne Hidalgo of the Parti Socialiste (Socialist Party) received only 1.8% of the vote, the lowest ever for a candidate for the Socialist Party and an abysmal performance compared to the 28.6% won in 2012. Yannick Jadot received 4.6% of the vote for the Europe Écologie Les Verts (The Green Party). Meanwhile, three other parties—Parti Communiste Français (French Communist Party), Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (New Anti-Capitalists), Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle)—combined for only 3.7% of the vote. 

Taken individually these numbers are meager, yet when combined, the candidates on the left earned a significant 32.1% of the vote. In fact, it is surprisingly higher than Macron’s 27.8%. If only half of the voters from these five left-wing parties had voted for Mélenchon, he would have moved onto the second round of voting in place of Le Pen. Yet, in lieu of uniting to endorse Mélenchon—or even simply withdrawing and letting the voters decide—the left ran four separate campaigns with 0% chance of advancing to the second round.

Of course, not all the voters from these parties would have voted for Mélenchon if the field had been vacated, but he only needed an additional 1.3 percentage points in order to qualify for the second round of voting. This also would not have guaranteed Mélenchon a second round run-off victory—in fact, he would have most likely lost—yet, simply forcing Macron to face a left-wing candidate, rather than a far-right candidate, would be a victory for the French left. The strength of the left would have proved more pressing than that of the right, and this certainly would have shifted Macron’s policy pursuits. 

Nonetheless, this election demonstrates the eroding appeal of the status quo for French voters. The massive rise in support for radical political parties unequivocally points towards discontent with France’s neoliberal, pro-EU stance. Even in defeat, Le Pen has won her own battle: her right-wing platform has been established as a serious threat to the political center. It is clear that many of Macron’s votes come from unhappy voters who would have strategically picked any candidate other than Le Pen, although far from their first choice.

To an extent, the left has realized its error since the election. A new coalition—the Nouvelle Union Populaire écologique et sociale (New People’s Ecologic and Social Union)—is forming, attempting to deny Macron a Parliamentary majority. Macron has rebranded his party the Renaissance, hoping to ally with the center-right to combat this newfound threat. The union under Mélenchon is commendable; the combined force of the left in France is significant, and Macron’s maneuvers demonstrate his fear and betray the confidence he publicly projects. Fracturing Macron’s power with a win in Parliament would mark an incredible accomplishment for a coalition that seemed unlikely to materialize only a few weeks ago. Though it remains to be seen if it will do so, this coalition is the perfect vehicle for the left to win. 

Although comparisons to the United States’ contemporary political battle are loose, the American left can learn from this election. The inability of French left-wing elements to cooperate during the presidential election remains a warning for the American left as well as other left-wing parties around the world. However, their speedy commitment to a coalition and seeming ability to unite for the purposes of a Parliamentary majority should give their counterparts in the United States and elsewhere good reason to think that they too can reconcile differences to avoid electoral defeat at the hands of their ideological opponents.

Despite the limiting nature of the U.S. political system and culture, one rule transcends borders in truth: you must take power in order to enact the change you wish to see. Ideological concessions are an unfortunate necessity in politics. The New People’s Ecologic and Social Union is an excellent response to the situation, and an exemplary display of leftist unity that will hopefully set an example for leftist parties worldwide going forward. 

Explosives to Electronics: Examining the Historical Dynamics of Chile’s Mining Industry to Modernity

Photo Credit: Municipalidad Antofagasta

By Mihir Shenoy
Contributing Writer

Chile’s newly-elected president wants to reform the way the nation’s resources are managed. President Gabriel Boric ran on a platform of standing up to private mining interests, supporting tax hikes, suing companies for exorbitant water use, and proposing a state-owned lithium company to compete with existing firms. Boric is seeking to reverse the detrimental effects that neoliberalism has had on Chile’s mining industry. This shift towards heightened government regulation would not just affect mining in Chile but also the world, as Chile’s resources are becoming increasingly important to sustainable global development. Currently, Chile supplies the world with 25% of its copper and 20% of its lithium, a component of the lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles. The administration’s desire to nationalize and redistribute profits from these essential resources stems from a legacy of Chile’s history of heavy foreign investment and financial speculation. 

Chile’s first major industrial mining operations extracted a relatively obscure material, nitrate, which is used in fertilizers and gunpowder. It is rather fitting then that the industry began a period of modernization following war. In the aftermath of the War of the Pacific (1879-83), Chile annexed Peruvian and Bolivian territory that bordered the Pacific Ocean. This region would become the country’s primary producer of nitrate and eventually copper and lithium. However, the territory spanned the driest desert in the world, Atacama. To this day, the water-intensive mining industry drives conflict, as evidenced by Boric’s recent lawsuits.

During the war, John Thomas North from Great Britain purchased collapsed Peruvian nitrate bonds. After Chile annexed the territory, North was granted control over the nitrate fields, allowing him to monopolize nitrate production, waterworks, and railroads that served the region. After North’s death in 1896, a public-private enterprise known as the Compañía de Salitres de Chile (Cosach) emerged that skewed heavily towards private leadership under the American Guggenheims. Synthetic nitrate competition then forced Cosach to dissolve in 1933, crumbling the nitrate powerhouse. 

North and the Guggenheims exemplify a form of foreign investment that continued throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, where locals benefited from the burgeoning industry but were simultaneously tied by the actions of foreigners. Nitrate built up the port city of Iquique, a city in Atacama, and modernized the Chilean mining system to compete with the rest of the world. However, the Chilean nitrate economy depended unitarily on British and American corporate management. North lobbied Congress to prevent competing firms from undercutting price hikes, and the Guggenheims convinced American President Herbert Hoover to persuade Chilean President Carlos Ibáñez del Campo to create Cosach. The fear of foreign and plutocratic interests controlling Chilean resources thus has its roots in the monopolistic struggle over nitrate production during this period.

Though nitrate’s global demand has fallen, copper’s has not, and considering its value as an electrical conductor, is unlikely to decline in the near future. In the 1930s, industrial copper smelting rose in popularity partly due to the Guggenheims’ vast financing of mining operations, including the Chuquicamata mine, which was sold to the U.S. firm Anaconda Copper in 1923. Che Guevara visited this mine in 1951, noting the workers’ deteriorating health and low wages. Strikes had become a regular occurrence, and regulation efforts culminated in the 1971 decision to nationalize copper under President Salvador Allende. The state-owned industry, Codelco, survived privatization efforts under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet and has remained the largest copper producer in Chile. However, today private companies collectively produce more copper than the state. 

The nitrate-copper sequence demonstrates a struggle between the Chilean government and foreign entities that continues today. Nitrate’s original privatization was ultimately split by state interests into a public-private partnership. Copper started off private, turned public under Allende, and then reverted partially to quasi-private control. Given Boric’s current plans to nationalize the lithium industry, the debate over private and public control remains an important but unsettled issue at a time when the world is entering an era of clean energy technologies which demands and depends on reliable and profitable resources such as lithium.

The future of Chile’s mineral industry remains uncertain, but its path will likely be different from that of the United States, another lithium-producing country. The United States has effectively entrusted the private sector with its mining needs, with companies such as Standard Oil, U.S. Steel, and Anaconda Copper dominating domestic and international markets. Yet, Chile’s major suppliers have historically shifted between public and private ownership, making a stable long-term economic strategy precarious. Additionally, the United States has historically been a larger financer than borrower regarding industrial development—something that cannot be said about Chile—which has facilitated American control over financial management decisions. Anaconda Copper’s prioritization of its copper profits over its workers and the Guggenheims’ collusion with the Hoover administration represent two examples of the effects that neoliberal imperialist interests have had on Chilean society. Chile’s nationalization efforts can be seen as a defense mechanism against American forces which could result in a different economic trajectory, one that prioritizes national well-being and security.

The battle between nationalization and foreign investment could also produce other modes of development. For example, domestic Chilean capital could gain influence in the lithium market and drive out international competitors that have historically owned nitrate and copper mines. Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile (SQM), one of the world’s top five lithium producers, began as a private-public enterprise, then became entirely publicly owned before privatizing fully in 1983, with controversial Chilean billionaire Julio Ponce Lerou the principal investor. This approach may allow Chileans to reap greater rewards from their natural resources, but the corruption associated with financiers like the Guggenheims and John Thomas North is unlikely to disappear simply with the transition to domestic private ownership.

As new mining projects emerge in Chile, economic and geopolitical interests raise prudent opportunities. Electric vehicle proliferation has resulted in a rapid increase in demand for lithium and a new age for Chilean mining. Most recently, the Boric-led government has adopted a nationalization strategy through regulation and tax hikes. Yet, Chile’s historical vacillation between private and public hands could breed lasting instability, which may engender geopolitical challenges between Chile and its trading partners. However, the history of wavering mining policy in Chile should not preclude investment into the Chilean mining industry, but rather encourage investors and politicians to study this history carefully to determine what development strategies work best for both Chileans and the rest of the world moving forward.