Foreign Affairs Newsletter #2

Global News


Welcome to the Foreign Affairs Newsletter of the 2018/19 academic year, edited and written by the members of IDSA Budapest and IDSA Szeged! This newsletter is a weekly recap of events from different parts of the world, mainly revolving around the topics of international politics, diplomacy and economy.




South Africa


Land expropriation and constitutional amendment?

The African National Congress (ANC) is planning to expropriate approximately 139 farms without compensation, however, the present constitution would not allow them to do that.
Negotiations and disputes had already started in August, but it was announced only recently, on the 1st of November, that the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) is going to prepare the amendment of Section 25 of the constitution, in order to allow the expropriation of land without compensation.
But how did South Africa come to this point?
In August, when the idea of land expropriation came up first, the media’s main question was what will be the criteria of getting on the list of farmers, whose land will be expropriated without compensation. The government assured the agricultural sector that it didn’t have a special list as it would be ”highly irresponsible, unfair and unprocedural”-Maite Nkoana-Mashabane the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform claimed.
On the other side, banks which are bonded to such farms and lawyers like Hans-Jurie Moolman argued whether South Africa was ready for certain changes. Moolman highlighted the fact that there was no precedence of changing the constitution, despite welcoming the idea personally.
The government, which stated that it would pay no compensation only in special cases, had its first appointment with AgriSA, the South African agricultural industry association in late August and already in the first week of September, the president of AgriSA was satisfied with the results. ”I feel that the ANC heard our concerns”, Dan Kriek said.
The fruitful negotiations between AgriSA and the ANC led to the present list of 139 farms. Fikile Mbula, head of ANC’s delegation, pointed out that all stakeholders had to participate in efforts to rebuild the country, so that redistribution of land can happen.
Now the committee has to discuss a draft report which consists of submissions of public hearings, oral and written submissions. On the basis of this report, the parties will have to present their recommendations on next Thursday.
The conclusion of the report is awaited to be ready for 15th November.

-Benedek Kiss






China reverses 25-year-old tiger bone and rhino horn trade ban


In China, rhino horn and tiger bone may now be legally used in medical research or traditional medicine following a controversial announcement by the government.
According to the announcement, the specimens may only be obtained from farms, but conservationists say this surprising move may open the floodgates for a surge in illegal activity and threaten vulnerable animal populations. Rhinos and tigers are both endangered in the wild, and their trade is prohibited.

WWF has urgently called on China to maintain the ban on tiger bone and rhino horn trade which has been so critical in conserving these iconic species. This should be expanded to cover trade in all tiger parts and products.
China’s action stands in sharp contrast to the country’s moves to combat poaching in recent years. The country has had a 25-year-old ban in place preventing the import or export of these products and the World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies—the official group that dictates what can be used in traditional medicine—also removed rhino horn and tiger bone from its list of products approved for use on patients (though the market still existed for them).
Rhino horn is made from keratin—a protein found in fingernails and hair—and the product is falsely said to help treat everything from cancer to gout when consumed in its powder form. There are no proven medicinal benefits in humans from either product. The most sparing evidence has been brought to bear claiming that rhino horn may somehow help lower fever, at least in rodents. Certainly, cheaper, more readily available medicines such as acetaminophen or aspirin are far more effective.
Tiger bone crushed and made into a paste has been said to be usable to treat a variety of ailments, including rheumatism and back pain. But this is not supported by Allopath. The announcement came on the very same day that WWF's living planet report revealed that humanity has wiped out 60% of wildlife since the 1970s and that the Earth is losing biodiversity at a rate seen only during mass extinctions.

- Lipsa Rani Panda



Donald Trump wants to create an Arab NATO


The Trump administration is continuing to push forward with plans to establish a so-called "Arab NATO". The military alliance is supposed to include the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members - Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) - in addition to Egypt and Jordan.
Officially referred to by the Trump administration as the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), the new eight-member "Arab NATO" is meant to confront Iran, while bringing "stability to the Middle East."

To make such a vision a reality, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with his counterparts from these eight Arab states at the United Nations General Assembly. US officials have yet to provide a timeframe for the formation of such an alliance. The US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Arabian Gulf Affairs, Tim Lenderking, thinks it will be possible to launch the alliance at a summit in the US scheduled for early 2019.
Washington's interest in establishing such an Arab security alliance dates back to the Obama administration. When Barack Obama was the president, the White House discussed this idea with US allies in the Arab world, both in the form of a Saudi-led "Islamic Force" and an Egypt-led "Arab Force".
However, think tanks believe MESA is something which can never come true, despite the US administration’s strong support. The blockade on Qatar, Oman and Kuwait's unease with Saudi Arabia, the UAE's aggressive foreign policy and tensions between Egypt and Saudi Arabia over the Syrian crisis among other issues will continue to be major stumbling blocks. Moreover, the US has many bilateral ties with each of these Arab countries, which would not be replaced by such a coalition.
An “Arab NATO” of Sunni Muslim allies would likely raise tensions between the United States and Shi’ite Iran.
Whether this alliance can be reached, key questions arise when it comes to discussing this idea.
Firstly, we don’t know whether these Arab states have the military capabilities to make this alliance a realistic source of security and a bulwark against Iran's expanding and consolidating influence.
Furthermore, could they ever set aside political and ideological differences to unite and cooperate in such a capacity?

What is also still unclear is how NATO, including Turkey, would cooperate with such a transnational Arab institution.

-Eszter Ványa





Venice under water


This week Italy has been plagued by destructive dangerous weather. The Italian Government has sent out safety precautions to its citizens as well as tourists. It has been reported that eleven people have lost their lives so far on the Apennine Peninsula and many more were injured.

This bad weather is due to violent thunderstorms and small tornadoes that are wreaking havoc on many Italian cities.
Venice was hit extremely hard by this bad weather, with reports of the water level rising to 156 cm above the average sea level and 75% of the entire city being submerged by water. This is one of the highest levels ever recorded and the highest of the last decade. Venice has always had problems with keeping water out of its city due to it being built beneath the sea level, which has resulted in the city slowly sinking lower and lower every passing year.  Scientists estimate that by 2100, Venice will be completely underneath the sea.
The city of Venice has come up with a plan nicknamed “Project Moses”, which will attempt to build a blockade around the city in order to protect the city from flooding when the sea level rises. These barriers would have protected the city from this week’s flooding; however, due to many corruption scandals and bribery accusations, this project has still not been completed.

-Richard Benussi



Catalan leaders remain jailed


One year after Catalonia’s independence referendum, former Catalan leaders are still in prison and their trials are about to start.
Last year, Spain experienced a significant political crisis with Catalonia holding an unauthorized independence referendum on the 1st of October. As a consequence, some of the main Catalan leaders were imprisoned or exiled. Their situation remained the same since then.
After the first anniversary of the referendum the issue got into the media spotlight again – the relatives of the nine arrested politicians and civil society leaders spoke out about last year’s happenings and the current situation, demanding freedom for their loved ones. Catalan citizens also showed their support on the 21st of October, when 300 farmers with tractors appeared outside Llenoders prison – where seven of the nine officers are jailed – and formed a big ribbon in solidarity with them. Another demonstration was held on the 1st of November when thousands marched outside the prison protesting against the imprisonment.
Politicians and iconic musicians also joined the event and a letter written by the former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras was read out loud. The current vice president, Pere Aragonés, also stated that the only acceptable outcome of the situation is freeing the jailed officers. However, Pedro Sanchez – the new prime minister of Spain - rejected the idea of freeing the prisoners, saying that it is not a political but a judicial issue.

-Lili Szentkirályi



New Judicial Crisis in Romania


Recently, a new crisis has hit the judicial system of Romania due to the decision of the Minister of Justice, Tudorel Toader, to seek the dismissal of the general prosecutor – Augustin Lazăr. The decision has surfaced after the prosecutor has been alleged exceeding of authority and mismanagement of the activity of the anti-corruption agency, DNA. Mr. Toader stated that ”the prosecutor-general has certainly taken note of deviations at DNA, but has not taken any action in this respect."
Augustin Lazăr refuted the Minister of Justice’s claims of mismanagement and replied that the alleged claims are false. The decision to undertake actions against the general prosecutor comes 3 months after the dismissal of Laura Codruța Kovesi, the former head of DNA (National Anticorruption Directorate), under whose leadership several investigations against members of previous governments and current ruling party (PSD) were accused of corruption charges, including the leader of the party – Liviu Dragnea.
Furthermore, several Romanian opposition figures from the USR (Save Romania Union) party have criticized the move of the Minister of Justice and have accused him of following the indications of his party leader in their pursuit to decriminalize several corruption issues related to him. Furthermore, EU officials consider that the dismissal of Kovesi and any decision regarding the prosecutor Lazăr represent a backtracking on Romania’s progress in the judiciary fight against corruption.
In regards to the European Union’s position, earlier this month, European Commissioner for the Rule of Law, Frank Timmermans has addressed the situation in Romania, stating, “What is at stake is of huge importance for the future of our European Union. But what is at stake is of even greater importance for the future of the Romanian people. So if the Commission needs to be brutal in our assessment we will be, if we need to use other instruments at our disposal. We will use them.”
The upcoming month will be crucial in regards to the ongoing decision to dismiss Lazăr. On the 13th of November, he will be summoned at the Superior Council of Magistrates (CSM) to discuss the accusation. Afterwards, a consultative position will be sent to the President, Klaus Iohannis who will have to take the decision.
Today, confusion still surrounds the case of the general prosecutor, yet it is obvious that the final decision rests upon the president’s decision. Klaus Iohannis, who is a representative of the opposition, was summoned by several public figures to take a hard stance on the issue. Journalist Lucian Mîndruță stated that ”it is the moment for the President to risk his peace, holidays, Christmas, maybe even the New Year Celebration. He was voted to undertake several moral decisions, to show an example of moral decisions”.

-Emil Burinschi




About The Author

The editors of this newsletter are the members of IDSA Budapest and IDSA Szeged.