Tag Archives: winter 2018-2019

Introduction to the Issue

Welcome to the inaugural online issue of American Foreign Policy magazine- Princeton’s only undergraduate foreign affairs publication. Founded in 2001, AFP has provided a forum for undergraduates to debate policy decisions facing the United States today, and to analyze how current events today will shape the geopolitical landscape of tomorrow.

On our front page, and equally under the “Featured” section, you will find articles ranging from Chinese-Vatican relations and Chinese Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) along the Silk Road, by Maggie Baughman ‘21 and Kisara Moore ‘22, respectively, to a media analysis on Kazakh alphabet reform by Leora Eisenberg ‘20. Many of these pieces reflect similar, underlying questions- how has American isolationism emboldened or affected other powers, or prompted realignments among smaller states? If globalism is needed to solve our most pressing collective action problems, what are some consequences of today’s “anti-globalism” in politics? Read Ben Gelman ‘22’s piece on climate change, and find out.

After years of print editions, a year-long hiatus, and then a print re-launch in Winter/Spring 2018, we are proud to announce our new website, gratefully hosted by Princeton University. We hope to offer future seasonal and even monthly editions on the world, so please stay tuned for more!

We look forward to growing the undergraduate foreign policy community at Princeton, and beyond. Our social media pages are also back in action, and ready to join the conversation.

For inquiries, interest in writing for us, or other points of collaboration (particularly intra-Princeton or inter-collegiate), please contact us at afp@princeton.edu.

A sincere thank you to Jason Wee, who resurrected AFP last spring!


Nicole Don,


Donald Trump’s ‘I’ Presidency and American Foreign Policy

By Allie Spensley ‘20

According to a database of President Trump’s tweets, the issues that Trump has claimed he and he alone can fix include the situation in Israel, illegal immigration, U.S. infrastructure, unemployment, ISIS, the movement of jobs to Mexico, slow GDP, and global terrorism. This individualism rewrites the history of the executive’s relative power in American government. In Trump’s view, America’s policies—for better or worse—often hinge on his actions alone.

What are the implications of what Michael Steele has called “the ‘I’ presidency” in the realm of foreign policy? Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, said in June that Trump believes the presidency will achieve success or face failure only because of his own personal efforts, so he’s often unwilling to consult advisors. This viewpoint is supported by the level of turnover in the administration, which the Brookings Institution found is higher than the five most recent presidents.

One consequence has been the shifting nature of the presidential summit as a tool for diplomacy. As foreign policy expert Richard N. Haass has pointed out, the summit is Trump’s “favored approach to diplomacy,” perhaps because it reflects the personalist, relationship-based nature of the small meetings that bring about real estate success. Trump has refashioned the modern summit by throwing out the script. He has exchanged the carefully planned, largely symbolic affairs common in recent presidencies for a brief, hyper-productive model–the kind often used in the Cold War.

Examining Trump’s most controversial summits—the North Korea-United States summit on June 12, 2018 and the Trump-Putin summit on July 16, 2018—shows the benefits and drawbacks of this approach. Prior to both meetings, Trump set ambitious agendas and claimed their ultimate success or failure would be due to his personal performance. He eschewed preparation and refused to communicate with his closest advisors.

Before, during, and after, Trump described both summits as historic victories in which he quickly hashed out sustainable solutions to a wide range of issues—a kind of foreign-policy magic bullet. As Trump tweeted one day after the North Korea summit: “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat.” Or, a day after Helsinki: “Big results will come!”

With his words and the inherently individualistic format of a summit, Trump asked the world to judge these meetings’ successes through his display of personal diplomatic strength. And the world complied, with mixed results.

In North Korea, this approach paid off among Trump’s own supporters: a Monmouth University poll found that 96 percent of Trump voters approved of the summit, making it one of the most popular actions of his presidency. Yet after the Russian summit, it backfired dramatically. After meeting with Putin, in a joint press conference Trump refused to endorse a report by US intelligence groups finding that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election, and he was quickly criticized by media on both sides of the aisle. Even his typically vocal supporters—Newt Gingrich, Fox News—lambasted the President for seemingly putting as much trust in Putin as his own intelligence agencies. In both cases, too, sectors of U.S. media criticized Trump for lending respect and prestige to authoritarian leaders.

As a populist president, Trump needs to keep his supporters happy by presenting out-of-the-park successes. The forum of a summit seems to offer a perfect solution: as in the case of North Korea, a photo op, a self-congratulatory tweet, and a 90-minute private meeting can win voter approval with no real policy changes. But the one-on-one nature of the summit can highlight apparent divisions within the Trump government, as in the aftermath of the Helsinki press conference.

Either of these outcomes might repeat itself after Trump’s second summit with Kim Jong Un, to be held in late February. With a partial government shutdown and continued controversy over Russia and the US elections, Trump may be seeking a quick win along the lines of his June tweet that the nuclear threat was over. But how closely he will work with his aides in advance of the summit remains an open question, and one that’s important not only for Trump’s standing at home but for the balance of power in East Asia.

A Moral Balancing Act: The Vatican’s Deal with the CCP

By Maggie Baughman ‘21

In late September, the Vatican and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) finalized an agreement that both allows for the Vatican to regain some degree of legitimate access to Chinese Catholics, and for the CCP to gain the Pope’s stamp of approval on state-nominated Catholic bishops. The deal can serve as a case study in Xi Jinping’s “Sinicization,” a process of altering ideologies, products, or other foreign imports to make them compatible with the Chinese socialist ideology, asserting a degree of CCP control over the foreign organization seeking a presence in Chinese society. In fact, this deal suggests a specific set of steps that the CCP regularly undertakes to force Western organizations (specifically businesses or nonprofits dependent on access to China such as tech companies, movie studios, universities, scholars, or aid organizations) to the negotiating table.

To examine what “Sinicization” means for the compromises Western organizations have to make to gain or sustain access to China, we can look at the complexities of the Pope’s deal with the CCP as an illustrative example of the contexts in which Western actors are compelled to make such compromises, and the nature of the sacrifices they must make to gain access to China. The moral sacrifices the Vatican chose to make – bluntly labelled “selling out” by various Western media agencies and Catholics in mainland China and Hong Kong – may have more nuanced implications, as proposed in a basic outline of the moral costs and benefits, which may be used to understand the choices made by other Western actors attempting to negotiate with the CCP. These “moral costs” can be more broadly understood as sacrifices of principles and ideals central to the organization’s value system, mission statement, or purpose, which allows for the translation of a “moral” code to a for-profit organization.

The first aspect of the agreement to consider is its political context, which is crucial to understanding both the urgency of the deal, and why any act of compromise at present can be framed as a “betrayal.” This deal comes at a fraught time for religious communities in China, including Catholics, who have experienced a severe tightening of restrictions on religious practice in conjunction with unprecedented implementation efforts. The sweeping scope of these religious activity laws has been the legal basis and policy impetus for much of the religious crackdown visible in China over the last year, most visibly the targeting of underground “house churches,” including the largest Protestant house church in China, and the incarceration of hundreds of thousands of Uyghur Muslims (an issue with religious links, but largely identified as an ethnic and cultural conflict with religious extremism posed as an excuse). The legislation covers every aspect of religious organizations and their regulation, with notable clauses providing basis for financial crackdowns, interference with “large-scale religious activity,” even legalized groups, and the demolition of houses of religious groups “due to the needs of public interest.” It is in this climate, where government officials have been encouraged to crack down on religious activity, especially underground activity, that the Vatican and the CCP entered this most recent round of talks.

It appears that the increased level of conflict between Catholics in China and the CCP can be connected to the impetus to arrive at a negotiating table – the talks began in February, the month that the new religious regulations took effect. The increased repression of Catholics signaled a need for the Vatican to intervene – an act that may prove to have beneficial implications for the protection of Chinese Catholics, who can now rely on a legal relationship with the Pope for protection. The sequence of events, however, may suggest that the CCP has an incentive to crack down on vulnerable populations to draw international actors to the negotiating table. Without a crackdown, the Vatican would have had no push to compromise with China. Additionally, the Vatican’s choice to compromise immediately abandons the religious resistors who fought CCP oversight with papal blessing – with the Pope ordaining secret bishops and communicating with them in regards to their duties in China – for decades. This deal suggests that, in the short term, heightened political tensions may push actors to compromise moral standards in order to ensure a degree of legitimacy or influence (however limited) in China. However, the long term implications of making these deals under pressure may serve to incentivize CCP crackdowns on vulnerable populations. In essence, “Sinicization” may happen more often under pressure, but have more long-term consequences in these contexts.

Secondly, we can look at the contents of the deal as a reference point for what “Sinicization” means in practical terms. The implications of the deal for both sides are important to fully understand, but given that the text remains confidential, only speculation has been available so far. The rough outlines of the agreement appear to be that the CCP will have the right to nominate bishops for the Chinese Catholic Church, which the Vatican will then have the right to approve or veto – this much has been confirmed by a variety of Western media sources. The Pope’s immediate confirmation of seven CCP-nominated bishops, including two who are deputy chairmen of the CPCA and BCCCC (state-run Catholic organizations historically independent of the Vatican), suggests the veracity of this hypothesis.

The contents of the deal suggest that “Sinicization,” like most forms of authoritarian compromise, will inevitably serve the interests of both actors, but the effects on the Chinese population are harder to deduce. In this case, the deal evidently serves the interests of both sides – the Vatican, in normalizing relations with China, reclaims a level of control over some 10 million Catholics, while the CCP not only gains the Vatican’s stamp of approval, which legitimizes its previously independent Catholic organizations, but will likely receive help from the Pope in forcing “underground” churches to accept CCP-approved bishops. However, the implications of the deal on the overall welfare of the Chinese Catholic community are less certain.

It is also clear that “Sinicization” requires a specific set of compromises – the acceptance of CCP oversight and censorship, the role of CCP actors in mediating messages to the Chinese public, and the moderation of message and language to become compatible with not only authoritarianism, but also the specific requirements of “socialism with Chinese Characteristics,” the CCP adaptation of Marxism-Leninism devised by Mao Zedong. Any organization that wants access to China will by necessity accept these “Sinicization” guidelines, or risk expulsion and condemnation by the CCP, losing all access to the Chinese populace.

The implications of the Vatican’s compromise with the CCP will not be truly manifest until the full text of the agreement is publicly released, and the Vatican’s influence on protecting or undermining the religious freedom of Chinese Catholics is examined over the course of the following years. However, the deal provides a concrete example of Xi Jinping’s plans for “Sinicization” of outside organizations in China, and can be used to tease out the moral balancing act any foreign organization must consider when seeking to operate in China. From NGOs to overseas universities to religious organizations, all foreign actors must make sacrifices to gain access to China. From Google to Hollywood producers to Princeton University itself, every organization working in China must consider whether the benefits of continued access to the resources of the Chinese population are outweighed by the moral sacrifices demanded by collaborating with an authoritarian regime.

D1g1tal Stateh00d: Silicon Valley’s Obligations to Users

By Misha Tseitlin

One of the key turning points in ancient history was the Phoenician invention of currency: a trading empire made up of colonies dotting the Mediterranean Coast, they were the first that managed to commercialise the trade of goods and services. Civilisations long after continue to use this model, valuing everything from silver to copper to aluminium as a currency to facilitation international flows. Today, we are faced with a phenomenon as novel as the invention of initial currency—the commercialisation of data and its transformation into a new form of “currency.”

Social media networks have transformed the way we interact with the world around us. However, their unique decentralised and international model poses challenges to regulation, a growing necessity given the dangers of uncontrolled monopoly, something Americans have discovered over the past year. While the domestic conversation is still trying to move past what Facebook is, I contend that to allow this technology to continue developing, we need to treat data as a human right, imposing an international court system to regulate only the data portion of these internet companies.

Now at this point, I’m sure everyone from small government conservatives to staunch internationalists has concerns. However, it is imperative that such a system be international for a variety of reasons. Why should a Briton have a “right to be forgotten” while Americans struggle to even secure access to net neutrality? The degree of freedoms individuals should have should not depend on their location, especially given the international nature of these platforms: a Facebook user in Bulgaria interacts with the platform as similarly as one in Australia, and so inequities ought to be addressed on an international scale.

The clear question is one of sovereignty—why can’t countries decide what’s best for their citizens? After all, up to now platforms like Facebook have been able to comply with regulations while internally choosing when to refuse compliance with particularly onerous demands from countries like Russia and Turkey. Such thinking, however, is dismissive of the change such developments bring to our economy. Technology and the spread of data is uniquely dispersed. The engineer designing the platform, customer support personnel processing complaints, server for data storage, and end user might be distributed over multiple countries. Which regulations should the platform comply with? An international solution allows for diffuse access to information without introducing mountains of legal hurdles.

More importantly, an international solution would protect both the business model of such companies by avoiding a precedent for unilateral enforcement. Google cannot be expected to comply with different legal standards in various nations and still maintaining profits that enable it to continue functioning. That’s why industry leaders like Mark Zuckerberg have already called for a solution. Ultimately, business struggles in a world of uncertainty—the status quo with vaguely defined statues on state-technology interaction, cyberwarfare, and informational acquisition makes operating difficult for these corporations.

The main alternative to solve these same problems is a national court system. Though a unilateral court in the US might do wonders for Americans, there are two main problems. First, countries can justify a unilateral imposition of demands on these platforms and use them to monitor their citizens, much like Russia already does with VK and Odnoklasniki. Second, individual country actions might determine the shape of a global platform. After all, why would Facebook have 190 different versions of its platform, when it could change its practices across the board after a particularly salient court case.

Both of these have already manifested—the former with the shutdown of Google Dragonfly after a 5-month ordeal surrounding the company’s acquiescence to Chinese Communist Party demands for access to data and control over the platform. However, had it not been for unusual government pressure in the US, the project would have gone through; certainly, this doesn’t exclude the opportunity for similar future projects by Google and others. On the other hand, European regulators have emerged as the primary protectors of privacy, establishing the General Data Protection Regulation, going after first Google and later Amazon for antitrust violations while heavily scrutinising deals like Apple’s Shazam acquisition, and even sorting through tax evasion like Apple’s dealings in Ireland. Nonetheless, such a system that requires deference to some national (or supranational depending on your views on the EU) political system that has its own imperfect incentives is obviously flawed. We’re happy when Europe keeps tech companies accountable, but when its copyright protections, specifically the publicised Articles 11 and 13 that are accused of “banning memes”, seem overzealous, there are few options because of previous international ambivalence and especially the US FTC’s recent laissez-faire attitude. And should Europe ever go the route of the US and loosen the reigns, all current protections would disappear along with the checks they provide.

In comparison to other options then, such an international legal solution is particularly salient. It presents a significant improvement over the current system where an uneducated legislature toothlessly investigates a monopolistic platform that controls the entirety of their user’s experience, from security to content. Additionally, it avoids domestic political pressures: an independent judiciary would first move slowly, as international organisations tend to do, but would have the independence to make decisions irrespective of shifting political tides, as properly-constructed judiciaries do.

Ultimately, something needs to change. Tech companies right now function as monopolies exempt from regulation—their effects are simply too diffuse. The industry has become self-regulating, meaning large profit-driven companies with shareholder obligations are responsible for safeguarding our data. Some like Denmark have taken action, launching “tech ambassadorships,” recognising that individual companies are more important than some small countries. However, these actions are too few and too insufficient to make the necessary impact. Silicon Valley got to where it is by thinking big. It’s time for D.C. and the Hague to catch up.

The Dangers of Anti-Globalism

By Ben Gelman ‘22

“Around the world, responsible nations must defend against threats to sovereignty not just from global governance, but also from other, new forms of coercion and domination… That is why America will always choose independence and cooperation over global governance, control, and domination” said President Trump in September at the United Nations’ 73rd annual General Assembly. This statement is emblematic of a rising discontent with so-called “globalism,” an ideology defined by a willingness to conduct foreign policy through coordination with other nations, and one associated with international systems of governance like the United Nations and the Paris Climate Accord. “Globalist” has become a dirty word, used to describe those who purportedly put the interests of outsiders above those of their fellow citizens and their country, turning the phrase into a smear against politicians who embrace international participation. This negative attitude towards globalism represents a massive difficulty: current problems such as worldwide climate change, or growing global refugee crises require coordination between states around the world to be properly addressed.

Examples of increasingly popular anti-globalist politicians and policies abound. The recently elected president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, has criticized the Paris Climate Accord, even pledging to withdraw from the agreement before reversing his position. President Trump has continued to enact policies consistent with the skepticism he expressed for international institutions during his campaign, such as withdrawing from the Iran Deal, the Paris Climate Accord, and the United Nations Human Rights Council. British voters too delivered a strong anti-globalist message in 2016 when they decided to leave the European Union, and voters in other nations voiced similar anti-globalist sentiments, evident through the election of Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines and the popularity of Marie Le Pen in France.

This anti-globalist sentiment has arrived at an exceptionally unfitting time. While the need for global collaboration is nothing new, crises levels surrounding a variety of global issues increasingly require mutual efforts between nations. These efforts cannot be simply bilateral, as the issues at hand such as climate change and refugee crises affect and are affected by a multitude of different nations in continents around the globe.

To focus on just one, a prejudice against globalism would leave the world even more vulnerable to climate change. According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we only have about 12 years until global warming surpasses 1.5 degrees Celsius, at which point the effects such as rising sea levels, droughts, and mass extinctions could become catastrophic. The impacts of climate change have already been apparent through the drought in Cape Town, and in the increasing number and severity of hurricanes.

Agreements such as the Paris Climate Accord are humanity’s best hope at avoiding disaster, as the only feasible way to limit global warming’s negative effects would be for governments to coordinate measures such as carbon taxes, prioritization of renewable energy, and limiting deforestation. To leave countries alone to address climate change individually would be immensely ineffective and likely to fail, as without guarantees of a worldwide effort no nation will be incentivised to incur the costs necessary to combat climate change. Such an effort would require placing self-imposed limits on fossil fuel based industries and job opportunities in order to prevent the negative environmental impacts of carbon emissions. No country would willingly do so without guarantees from the international community that they will not be undercut in the global economy by other countries who refuse to abide by emissions limits. Therefore, any effective system to fight climate change requires a robust set of enforceable rules that ensure each nations’ cooperation. Of course, there is always the risk of free-riders slipping through the cracks of regulations, but this is an externality that we must accept in order to have any reasonable chance at preventing future climate disasters. Additionally, any individual effort by any one nation to limit their own emissions, no matter how genuine, does not make much of an impact on Earth’s global temperature unless this behavior is copied by the rest of the international community.

The U.S withdrawal from the Paris agreement and President Bolsenaro’s threat to do so are therefore severely misguided. Donald Trump outright denied his own government’s dire report on climate change’s  potential harms to the United States, saying “I don’t believe it.” President-Elect Bolsonaro recently pulled Brazil out of a successful bid to host the next international climate summit, a symbolic gesture that sent a message of non-cooperation and skepticism of climate science to nations hoping to include Brazil in a multilateral solution. Mr. Bolsonaro even recently threatened to strip his own government’s environmental agencies of their authority to impose, in his words, “fines all over the place.” In his book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, the historian Yuval Noah Harari commented on this phenomenon of right-wing nationalist leaders being hostile to any sort of remedy to climate change by stating that “since there is no national answer to the problem of global warming, some nationalist politicians prefer to believe the problem does not exist” (121).

Climate change may be the single most dangerous threat the world faces today, and those running for office must treat it as such and begin to propose the appropriate solutions. The case must be made by more sensible candidates in elections across the globe for engaging with the outside world as a means of defending against things such as rising sea levels and droughts that endanger citizens of all nations.Though dire, climate change is only one example where nuanced multilateralism is badly-needed in contemporary geopolitics; there exists a historically unprecedented refugee crisc zones in places like Syria and Yemen to name a few others. This being the case, it is clear that some of the world’s most severe problems require a new wave of pro-globalist diplomats and politicians that understand the virtues of globalism as a tool for improvement.