It is often the most troubling and disturbing of stories that go untold in a nation’s history. The story of how hundreds of girls died of radium poisoning is one of those tales. Kate Moore takes nonfiction accounts and first-hand reports, using them to weave a story of how America’s young girls were exploited and in some cases, knowingly poisoned.
Moore chooses different protagonists across the United States such as Katherine Schaub, describing how she, like so many other women, joined radium dial factories. She did not know the danger of radium. In fact, no one did. The element was thought to be the new fix-it drug, a chemical meant to cure cancer, and a shiny sheen that could be added to any product, particularly watches.
Girls across the country joined radium factories, where they painted watches with diluted radium mix. They were taught that radium was harmless, even beneficial, many painted themselves with it so that they shone in the night. They licked their brushes to make the paint even finer, and without knowing it, poisoning themselves. Once the factories and corporations like the Radium Luminous Materials Corporation knew of these side effects of radium, however, they did nothing to help the hundreds of girls whose lives had come to an end so soon.
Not only did these organizations ignore the problem, they actively sought to hide the evidence of their past crimes. The fight by the radium girls to reclaim their rights and restitution was one of the most notable workers rights legal cases of the century. And The Radium Girls is a thrilling retelling of that journey towards justice.
Welcome to our third and final week of the defense budget! This post marks the third part of our defense budget breakdown. If you didn't get a chance to read last week's breakdown, check it out here and if you'd like to start at the very beginning, check it out here. If you have any questions or are interested about hearing us speak about this on a podcast, let us know in the comments or via email!
In the FY 2019 budget, $12.9 billion is allocated towards missile defense, with $9.9 billion of that going to the Missile Defense Agency (MDA). This is one of the few sections in the defense budget that explicitly discusses international partners and the importance of them, particularly in deploying missile defenses at their bequest. Some partners include the US Forces Korea, meant to protect the Korean peninsula, the Aegis Ashore site in Romania and a second site in Poland and Israel’s Cooperative BMD program. However, missile defense also includes the development of advanced missile defense technologies, increasing BMD capability and developing the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) program as well as systems engineering, and the necessary testing for these kinds of programs.
Space, Cyberspace, Science and Technology
While weapons and missiles might be the obvious recipients of DOD funding, other parts of defense are also included. Space-based defense systems are now in development, including the Air Force’s Next-Generation Strategic Missile Warning System as well as the Global Positioning System. Cybersecurity is also on DOD’s radar. There are 133 Cyber Mission Force teams, all of which defend the US, DOD networks and protect Commands in the field against cyber attacks. The DOD also funds Science and Technology (S&T), sending $13.7 billion, around 2.3 percent of the Department’s funds, towards the development and innovation of new products that can counter threats. Between FY 2018 and 2019, there has been a $500 million increase in funding towards research and development within the S&T sector.
Another large section of the defense budget goes towards maintaining readiness. In other words, the military wants to make sure it is ready for combat if the situation calls for it. However, each branch uses a slightly different model. The Navy uses readiness pillars to organize themselves - which can be applied to all four sections of the force: keyword PESTONI. PESTONI stands for Personnel, Equipment, Supply, Training, Ordnance, Networks and Installations. One of the key indicators for readiness is the level of training exercises. In the Air Force, for example, there was 25 full spectrum air force training exercises in FY 2018. These training exercises were also supplemented by the Combatant Command Exercises and Engagement and Training Transformation program (CE2T2), the only coalition training forces for wartime. In the budget, $602.2 million was allocated towards these exercises.
Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO)
One of the more visible funding operations of the DOD is their overseas operations. Whether the forces are deployed in Iraq or Syria, it is these forces that place their lives in danger and whose actions are the most widely broadcasted. For the FY 2019 budget, $69 billion was allocated for OCO spending. There are four main operations in this framework: Operation FREEDOM’S SENTINEL (Afghanistan), Operation INHERENT RESOLVE (Iraq, Syria and other ISIS operations), the European Deterrence Initiative, and other forms of security cooperation. Security cooperation can include troops in South Asia, and supporting US Central Command wherever they need assistance. Between FY 2018 and FY 2019, there was a 2.3 billion increase in funding for Operation INHERENT RESOLVE, a 1.7 billion increase for the European Deterrence Initiative and a decrease of 800 million for Operational FREEDOM SENTINEL.
Consider that for many of these missions — the budget not only supports dual counterterrorism methods, but also funds increasing troop levels and “in-theater” support. Also consider that in in Afghanistan there are 11,958 troops, while in Iraq and Syria there are 5,765 troops. While these numbers seem clear, the next figure of “In-Theater Support” which can refer to any support in Afghanistan, Iraq, Africa or Europe is at 59,463 troops. In total, there the budget requested an increase in troops to 93,796 troops in OCO operations, an increase of 34,333 troops These troops are most likely funded by the $3.2 billion increase from the FY 2018 budget of $65.8 billion.
The OCO Budget Request is also broken up by functional category:
To keep up with inflation and to remain competitive with the private sector, the FY 2019 budget also requests a 2.6 percent increase in basic military pay, which is the largest pay raise in 9 years. Personnel costs also include the cost of military health care and military family support. Costs are also broken down via department. The Department of the Army is increasing its budget authority by 23.6 billion in total; The Department of the Navy is increasing its budget authority by 21.1 billion; and the Department of the Air Force is increasing its budget by 23.9 billion.
Part Two of Three. Read Part One Here, Read Part Two Here.
Welcome to our second week of the defense budget! This post marks the second part of our defense budget breakdown. If you didn't get a chance to read last week's breakdown, check it out here. If you have any questions or are interested about hearing us speak about this on a podcast, let us know in the comments or via email!
When looking at these big numbers, it can seem overwhelming. What are these billions of dollars going towards? One spender is the continued modernization of the nuclear triad. The nuclear triad is a three-pronged military structure consisting of submarines, missiles and strategic aircraft, all of which have nuclear bombs attached to them. Even though nuclear bombs have only ever been used once in actual warfare, countries like the United States continue to modernize their tools. From FY17 to FY19, there will be a 3.84 billion increase in spending going towards modernizing bombers like the B-21 Bomber, COLUMBIA-class Submarines, Ground Based Strategic Deterrents, Long Range Standoff Cruise Missiles, Trident II Life Extensions (Submarines), F-35 Dual Capable Aircrafts and B61 Tail Kits (Aircrafts).
As one might expect, a large portion of funding for the DOD is going towards weapons development and modernization. For the Air Force, investment is being directed towards developing the F-35 program, which modernizes the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter and builds three separate variants of this aircraft for different uses. The budget also allocates funds for both the Air Force and Navy’s procurement of the AIM-120D Advanced Medium Air-to-Air Missle (AMRAAM) and the AIM-9X Block II Sidewinder short range air-to-air missile. The budget also funds the development of the new B-21 Raider, a long range strike bomber, and modernizing the existing fleet of B-52, B-1, and B-2 bombers. In total, the FY 2019 budget allocates $25.6 billion for all aircrafts.
For the Navy, the budget provides for a variety of nuclear aircraft carriers, amphibious warships and multi-missile warships. The budget also especially adds funding for two T- AO 205 Fleet Oilers, which act as power projectors in the sea. Their existence allows other ships to go longer without having to return to port to fuel as they provide logistical support to deployed ships. The Navy is also known for its usage of submarines, for which they are receiving an additional 154 Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles (TLAMs). The current OHIO-class submarines will begin to be decommissioned in 2020, hence, development for new kinds of submarines will also be underway. In total, the FY 2019 budget allocates $18.4 billion for ships and $18.3 billion for missile defense and deterrence.
According to budget documents, the DOD used more munitions than expected over the last few years. These munitions were largely used in Syria and other Middle Eastern countries to target ISIS. Because of this, the DOD has increased productions of munitions as a whole. From FY 2017 - 2019 the amount of Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems has increased by 6,013, Joint Direct Attack Munitions by 10,355 and Advanced Precision Kill Weapon Systems by 9,240.
Part Two of Three. Read Part One Here.
This post kicks off the start of our budget breakdown! We'll start with three weeks about defense spending and then move to other parts of the budget like healthcare and education. If you have any questions or are interested about hearing us speak about this on a podcast, let us know in the comments or via email!
For fiscal year (FY) 2019, the President’s budget request was for $686.1 billion US dollars. From last year, that’s an increase of 5 percent from the President’s 2018 Budget and an increase of 10 percent from last year’s Continuing Resolution (CR). Although the budget this year marks a reverse in a 7-year-decline, defense spending is still a relatively small amount of the US economy. Think back to World War II: defense spending was 35.5 percent of the US economy. Since the 1950s, it has hovered below 10 percent. In FY 2019, the budget reflects defense spending as 3.1 percent of US GDP. Any historical comparison, however, should be treated with caution. Due to inflation, pay raises and unforeseen circumstances —- it is likely that each budget is likely to be ‘the biggest ever.’ It is also difficult to place the current administration in either a wartime or peacetime environment as the US currently has over 90,000 troops abroad but is not engaged in serious combat as it was in World War 2 or the Vietnam War.
Under the Budget Control Act of 2011, discretionary spending was supposed to sink to historically low levels as a share of our national economy. This law imposed limits on such spending through 2021. Since the actual implementation of defense sequestration in 2013, defense spending has actually somewhat decreased. In the FY 2010-2012, the overall funding for the Defense Department (DOD) was over $640 billion. During the next four years, funding for the DOD dropped significantly to under $600 billion per year. While $600 billion is nothing to scoff at, the decrease of $40 billion is also no less important.
However, that is beginning to change. In FY 2017, defense spending came in at $606 billion, the next year $612 billion and in FY 2019, the budget puts defense spending at $686 billion. By 2023, spending for defense is expected to rise to $742 billion. That is $51 billion higher than the budget in 2010. In other words, the era of sequestration is over.
With every budget comes new priorities. For this President, one of his main priorities is investing in Defense. It follows, then, that defense spending would increase. From 2017’s continuing resolution, the budget for 2018 allocated $639 billion for the DOD, a $52 billion increase from the previous year. That money will be spent ”rebuilding, modernizing, and preparing our Armed Forces for the future so that our military remains the world’s preeminent fighting force and we can continue to ensure peace through strength.”
Of the many ways that the President can reinvest in Defense, budget documents have outlined three key strategies: reversing defense sequestration (triggered in 2013), filling critical gaps and building war-fighting readiness and implementing defense reform. As mentioned before, that includes a $52 billion increase in funding for the DOD and a $2 billion increase for national defense programs. That funding will go to implementing a full Readiness Review of the troops, which will cost $21 billion, depot maintenance, shipyard requirements, training and cyber warfare. The DOD also hopes to hire 56,400 more Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen. While all of this funding will be used for these purposes, the budget also called for reducing the costs of military programs and HQ activities by 25 percent.
Despite documents that state the increase in defense spending will be offset with targeted reductions elsewhere, this new budget will eliminate the defense sequester and raise the cap on defense discretionary spending, and in doing so, increase the deficit. Between 2018-2022, the deficit will have risen by $245 billion but between 2018-2027, it will have risen by $469 billion.
Part One of Three
Chances are high that the midterm elections have been covered in almost every newspaper and magazine throughout the course of this autumn season. There’s a reason why. Congressional elections that are held in the middle of a president’s term are essentially referendum on the president’s politics and there’s a distinct history of these elections not reflecting lightly on those policies. In fact, only twice has the sitting president’s party gained more seats in the midterm elections.
But why is that?
Surely if a president is elected through the democratic system, voters are likely to be satisfied with their policies and will want to continue to vote in that party. Unfortunately, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Most voters suffer from apathy, and think that their vote doesn’t matter (link to your article here, Jo). They believe that the presidential election is the most important and that therefore it doesn’t matter who is elected in Congress. Other voters are angry. They are the disenfranchised part of the population whose party was not elected to the presidency and they vote accordingly.
Here are some notable midterm elections:
1938: After campaigning for the New Deal, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt hoped to gain seats for his party, the Democrats. War loomed in Europe, and the American economy was just beginning to raise its head from the Great Depression. However, his pleas for support were ignored and the Republicans gained 81 seats, taking the majority
1974: In the wake of President Nixon’s resignation, President Gerald Ford was in office during the midterms of 1974, granting Nixon a pardon that September as the country was going through an energy crisis. In total, the Republicans lost 63 seats in Congress.
1994: President Bill Clinton lost heavily in his first midterm election as the Republicans campaigned for the Contract for America. The Democrats lost 60 seats in total in both the House and Senate. Keep in mind that his affair and subsequent impeachment took place in 1995 and had nothing to do with this first midterm loss.
2002: This midterm election was an exceptional year, completely bucking the trend of midterm losses. After the impact of September 11, President George Bush and the Republicans swept through the polls, winning ten seats in total.
2010: After his first two years in office, President Barack Obama received a referenda for his actions at the polls, and in his own words, it was a “shellacking.” In total, the Democrats lost 69 seats in the House and Senate.
2018: This year, we don’t yet know the outcome of the midterm elections and each side is convinced that their party will sweep the polls. History can tell us that it is likely that the Democrats will gain seats in Congress if more angry voters come to the polls than satisfied voters. However, this presidency has been anything but ordinary. Hopefully, we can rely on history to give us a better picture of what is to come.
Whatever your opinions on the polarizing political environment in the United States, there is no refuting the fact that disinformation is beginning to play a huge part in elections worldwide. In countries like Germany, France and even places like Ukraine — disinformation is the norm rather than the exception. But what is disinformation? Disinformation is not the same as misinformation, which is information that was unintentionally false like incorrectly attributing a photo to an event.
Disinformation is intentionally spread inaccurate information meant to deceive.
You might have come across it and not even realized that you were been deceived or lied to. The whole idea behind much of this disinformation is that it hides in plain sight, and attempts to influence your own opinions. That is why it is also often also referred to as information influence activity.
A country generally conducts information influence activities because they wish to undermine key democratic processes, social institutions and to sow doubt between groups and cause societal rifts. When a country is divided, it makes not only decision-making more difficult, but also means that country is less likely to interfere or make coherent foreign policy actions on the world stage.
But as a normal person, those big picture questions aren’t particularly relevant for you.
What is important for everyday communicators, whether you are a casual social media observer, a journalist or a media official, is to a) become aware of information influence activities, b) identifying these activities, and c) countering them. The first step is becoming aware of these deceptive measures. You might recognize them when political debates are exploited and instead of helping the argument, a user rather wishes to continue the argument and polarize the two sides so that compromise is more difficult.
The second stage, identifying disinformation, is the process of examining the information that you are given. It is no longer enough to simply read an article or post on Facebook without considering its origins. Disinformation narratives tend to be disruptive, oblique and polarizing. The problem is that there are so many different kinds and often, they come about together! Hostile actors will rarely stick to one technique because with more options comes more chaos.
But you’re probably more interested in countering these activities. Unfortunately, the reality of disinformation is that you’re always one step behind. You can always prepare, evaluate the risks, build public trust and raise awareness but once disinformation strikes — that is the best time to act. You can decide whether to react aggressively or simply let the matter fade to the side. You could choose to fact-check and post an official response. However, ultimately the best defense is a strong offense. So in times when disinformation strikes, rely on the ability to be aware of it and identify it so that you are able to counter it. If you first notice it, and understand its origins, your opinions and political debates to come will be more educated and rooted.
Read more about countering information influence campaigns with Countering information
influence activities: A handbook for communicators, a handbook published by the Swedish Civil Contingencies Industry or check out Katarina Kertysova's report on Russian disinformation.
During the latest U.S. Open women's singles final match between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams was first given a code violation warning followed by a point penalty and game penalty. She was later fined $17,000 for these three violations prompting Ms. Williams to call out the empire and the entire regime of tennis as sexist. We at Sub-Stances were interested in this event and wanted to share our individual thoughts with you, as women.
In almost every realm, women face some sort of double standard. People blame them for their partner’s use of drugs, most recently the case of Mac Miller and Ariana Grande. People declare that women cannot pursue their dream job while also being a rockstar of a mother. On the court, that also plays a role. Men are allowed to take off their shirts while Mia Hamm got bad press for years for her celebratory shirt take-off. This past weekend, Serena Williams was confronted with a variety of double standards, but does it justify her actions? While it is true that she may have been penalized more than her male counterparts, should she stoop lower or to their level to prove her point? I think not. While in many ways this world is shaped in a ‘men on top’ (man)ner, equality in or out of sports will only be won if women rise above those seeking to push them down. That means instead of criticizing an umpire for a questionable call, choose to take a deep breath over splitting a racket. It means winning with profound class. That is only way to make it to the top of society —to be so good they can’t deny you.
It is unfortunately not surprising that events like this still occur in many kinds of environments, particularly when it comes to sports. Despite advances being made to help give women equality in the workplace, sexism is still an ever-present challenge. It is in instances like the one faced by Serena Williams that such displays of sexism come out of the closet and into the light. However, in choosing to respond in the way she did, Serena Williams made a mistake. Losing control of her emotions has led to many pigeonholing her into the ‘hysterical women’ bracket rather than taking her complaints at the sexism seriously. The fact of the matter is that often men treat women differently. In sports, this can mean a different call or even a losing one. By remaining in control and not giving into urge to scream, women are better served by taking the high road. It may be a challenging route, but ultimately, it is the right one.
As a tennis player and tennis lover, I admire Serena Williams for the exceptional player that she is. She is a force to be reckoned with and is perhaps the greatest tennis player of all time. She breaks records and stereotypes. She fights racism, sexism, and the enormous pressure to remain on top. Not to mention, she nearly died giving birth to her daughter Olympia and then rose to play in this year's Grand Slam final, so soon after such a traumatic experience. So yes, I admire Serena for all that she is and achieves, as a woman and as a player.
Thus, my take on the incidents that unraveled at the U.S. Open women’s final is in support of Serena — to a degree. I do not think that the player should be penalized for her coach’s actions. She had no control over his actions, yet she was penalized for such. Not to mention, how much can a coach actually influence the game? After all, it only comes down to the player actually being capable to defeat his or her opponent. Plus, this is one of if not the only sport to prohibit such coaching. So, I think that the first code violation was on top of being subjective and difficult to enforce, unfair. However, I do believe that breaking or slamming a racquet is cause for penalty. When it came to Serena’s verbal response of calling umpire Ramos a thief, I do think that it was an overreaction by the umpire. A warning would have sufficed, not a game dock. This response by the umpire was not just unfair to Serena, but also to her opponent Naomi Osaka. No player wishes to win on an unfair technicality. This was a disservice to both women.
Despite all the controversy surrounding Serena’s actions and reactions, one thing is clear —how she addressed the crowd and her opponent, Naomi is laudable. She alone had the capacity to quell her supportive, angry crowd. She redirected their as well as her own frustration towards celebrating Naomi and her major achievement as the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam event. With the whole world watching, Serena used her platform to build her fellow female tennis player up, and not put down the umpire. For that, Serena is a champion to me.
If you’ve ever been in an argument with someone, you might know the feeling when the situation begins to devolve. The carefully formulated points you were prepared to make fall to the wayside of ad hominem. You’d rather point out the inadequacies of the person against you rather than actually fight about the issue in question. Why bother finding a compromise when you could just stick to your guns? The stakes raise higher and you find yourself more angry, more dramatic about your opinion. You find yourself a supporter who fuels your beliefs, and drives you to go argue further than you may have to begin with.
When a situation becomes polarized, it means that it is divided into two sharply contrasting sets of opinions. And unfortunately, that has become the case in many countries politics. There is no space for a middle ground because any move towards the center is seen as an inherent betrayal. Much as politicians and organizers might feel that polarizing their base serves to support their interest, it couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Choose your poison: abortion, immigration, the death penalty. Even though supporters might feel more ardent about their position, that very fact means they are less likely to come to a compromise. And politics… it depends on compromise to get things done.
In the United States, politics has become increasingly polarized. It didn’t just start in this administration or the last, rather, it’s been on the rise for decades. Admitting that you were wrong about any cause is next to impossible. Why? Because it means conceding. That also extends to lawmaking. Although Congress has experienced a remarkably productive year in 2017, we can attribute that to moment when one party controlled both houses. When the two houses are divided, little lawmaking ever gets accomplished.
In other words, polarization solves nothing. It simply divides and restricts the possibility that anyone can come to an agreement. When issues require agreement and compromise, such as funding the federal government and addressing emergency relief in places like Texas and Puerto Rico, polarization slows down the process considerably, leaving people in danger. The act of not acting because of stark differences in opinions affects real people, in real time.
Lawmakers should take a moment to consider the negative impact of their polarizing campaign strategies and actions within the government. Sticking to one’s guns might be commendable in theory, but in practice it couldn’t be more irresponsible. To take one Harry Potter quote, “the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters.” That quote is equally as relevant in that universe as it is within our own. You cannot divide the world into people who are on your side and people who are not. Politics and progress requires compromise, concessions, and hours of discussion. It requires the ability to look at your political opponent and see them as a person rather than a bodily representation of a political belief that they hold. Polarizing arguments will solve nothing, but compromise certainly will.
As the Brexit situation continues to claim headlines and whilst many others debate the survival rate of the European Union, it causes many Europeans to ask themselves - what exactly does the European Union (EU) do for them? Unfortunately, while the EU is successful at many things - publicity and marketing are not among them. Many do not recognize the incredible benefits that they receive as an EU citizen.
1. Freedom of Movement
Perhaps the most well-known trait of an EU citizen is the ability to live, to work and to retire anywhere you desire, in the European Union. That means a German can: live in France, work in Belgium and retire in Italy. It may seem commonplace to those who have grown up under this system but for those who hail from other countries - it’s an incredible opportunity to expand where you can live without the restrictions of a visa. In fact, it’s 28 opportunities.
2. Jobs, Jobs, Jobs!
Another underrated benefit of the European Union is the numerous jobs it sustains. The EU is a bureaucratic powered machine that requires millions of workers to run it. Simply put, by virtue of existing, the EU offers millions of jobs to Europeans that otherwise might have trouble finding work.
3. Safety while Traveling
Not only are Europeans free to travel where they wish across the vast continent, it’s also safer to do so than practically any other place in the world. Bureaucracy might seem like a pain but it’s that same system that makes sure airlines are safe, and that Europeans are secure when traveling. It is because of the cross coordination of all the countries that they can cooperate on fighting crime using Europol to ensure the safety of its citizens. This means less crime across all States. And not only are people physically safe, but their wallets are safe too. The EU offers a two year guarantee on all products and placed a ceiling on roaming charges across all member states.
4. Ease of Communication
Most recently, the EU passed a law meaning that any European phone number can text and communicate while abroad in another European state as though they were in their home country. This might seem like a small benefit but imagine traveling for a day or studying in another country. With this new rule, there’s no need to get a new number or plan.
The European Union is the incredible, yet often unnoticed collaboration of thousands of diplomats. Whilst it is challenging to coordinate amongst the 28 Member States, it’s even more difficult to manage monetary policy and have a strong communications strategy to show Europeans just how good they have it. Nevertheless, the benefits of the European Union for the world as well as for Europeans and travellers alike are multifold, and ought to be celebrated and shouted from the rooftops - for if they aren’t careful, the EU could fade onto just another page of a history textbook.
As news headlines inform readers about the upcoming summit between American President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, it’s not difficult to see parallels in the news coverage of the July summit with the very recent summit between Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un last June. Summits are again becoming popular terminology as they once were during the Cold War.
The term ‘summit’ was coined by Winston Churchill in 1950, where he stated that “the idea appeals to me of a supreme effort to bridge the gulf between two worlds, so that each can live their life if not in friendship, at least without the hatreds and maneuvers of the Cold War.” In other words, a summit offers a chance for two leaders, who view each other through an animosity-tinted lens, to meet. With technology such as air travel as weapons of mass destruction, summits became not only easier to coordinate, but also become necessary and urgent.
Despite these lofty goals, the history of summits is somewhat mixed. Some have led to great breakthroughs in diplomacy while others have not prevented the march of war. One of the perhaps most infamous failed summits is the Munich Agreement between Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler in 1938. Intending to forestall war, Chamberlain gave up parts of Czechoslovakia to Hitler, for so-called peace. As history shows us, this failed. Another failed summit was the meeting between American President John Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Rather than the informal meeting to discuss issues equally, Kennedy was berated for many American actions. Further, the calm brought on by this summit lasted less than a year with the outset of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
However, the outlook isn’t as bleak, as these two summits might lead one to believe. American President Richard Nixon met with Mao Zedong, the Communist party chairman of China, in a successful summit in 1972; thereby opening China to the world and ending much animosity between the two countries. American President Ronald Reagan’s summit with Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik may have not been successful in setting up new arms control measures, but it did set a precedent for the two countries to agree on new arms agreements two years later.
In the wake of the Cold War, summits became more than simply meetings between American and Soviet leaders. Instead, they rose to be global summits between economic powers. The Group of Seven (previously known as the G-8) began meeting in the 1970s. It laid the tracks for the inaugural meeting of the G-20 in 2008. These meetings are not nearly as adversarial as the previous summits might have seemed – but they are just as important in establishing amicable relations between cooperating countries.
The issue surrounding summits is the difference between rhetoric and reality. In the recent G-7 summit, President Trump spoke highly of the alliance, only to harshly rebuke it in the wake of remarks from Canadian President Justin Trudeau. Another contention is the wait time surrounding the summit’s impact. How does one know if the summit has done any good until many years after? Trump and Kim’s recent summit for example, may have gotten rave reviews in the media for opening the door to North Korea, but as of yet, there are no concrete steps towards denuclearization. Negotiations have gone nowhere – apart from Trump claiming he would pull out all of the American troops from South Korea. Instead, there is only coverage of the two leaders apparently having good rapport. While useful, rapport can only go so far, particularly if the goodwill is one-sided.
From July 11-12, Trump met with NATO for their annual summit in Belgium. As is with most summits, speculation is rampant about Trump’s tweets. This time they focused on increasing European NATO members’ military spending to four percent from the current goal of two percent of their GDPs. Katie Rogers of the New York Times noted the awkward family photo atmosphere that the summit had produced – leading many to consider the continued closeness of NATO allies to one another. With so many members at these summits, one has to ponder their usefulness in achieving goals besides maintaining the connection between member states.
On July 15, Trump will meet with Putin in Helsinki – a meeting that provokes different emotions on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Whether or not the summit is useful will remain up to the two leaders. British Prime Minister Theresa May suggested the summit could lessen tension between Russia and the West. This could be the case. However, given Trump’s recent history with Kim Jong Un, one has to wonder whether or not Trump will be goaded into a meaningless summit yet again. Because while no concrete negotiations have come from the Kim-Trump summit, what has come is the perception of an American President who is willing to risk political backlash at home for potentially nothing. For Putin, however, a summit with Trump is already a win. A summit shows the world that Russia has a status as a great power and that its interests must be taken into account. It allows Putin to claim that Russia is on par with the United States – something that many analysts claim has been an aim of post-Soviet Russia since the breakup of the Soviet Union.
So, let us return to the question at hand - summits – how useful are they? Their track record varies and who comes out on top depends on the situation at hand. They can be helpful for countries like Russia, who may want to use them as political fodder to come out of isolation. They can also fail as they did in the Munich Agreement. With this recent stream of summits, rest assured that they will continue to be relevant in the near future.
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