The breakdown of the Saudi-US ‘special relationship’

Flickr/Tribes of the World - U.S. President Barack Obama greets Saudi's Haj Minister Fouad Al-Farsy

Flickr/Tribes of the World – U.S. President Barack Obama greets Saudi’s Haj Minister Fouad Al-Farsy

In November 2015, the P5+1 signed an agreement with Iran to resolve the nuclear crisis that had caused a great deal of consternation across the Middle East over the past decade. Yet in signing the agreement, another serious issue would come to the fore that could have an equally damaging impact upon regional relations that are becoming increasingly frayed.

Regional security in the Persian Gulf has been shaped by competition between Saudi Arabia and Iran, whose rivalry after the revolution in 1979 has shaped the nature of politics in the Middle East. This rivalry, while occurring along sectarian lines is predominantly driven by geopolitical – or national – interests. One area of difference is over the organisation of regional security. While Iran sees itself as uniquely qualified to ensure regional security, Saudi Arabia relies upon the US to guarantee its security.

Moreover, following the fragmentation of state-society relations across the Middle East after the Iraq War and the Arab Uprisings more broadly, both states have attempted to increase their influence across the region, believing that the other is manipulating events. This is perhaps best seen in Riyadh’s attempts to speak to the US and suggest that Iran is behind unrest across the region.

Indeed, in US diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks, Saudi efforts to securitize the threat posed by Iran feature prominently. As one cable notes:

the King’s frequent exhortations to the US to attack Iran and so put an end to its nuclear weapons program.  “He told you to cut off the head of the snake,” he recalled to the Charge’, adding that working with the US to roll back Iranian influence in Iraq is a strategic priority for the King and his government.

Yet despite Riyadh’s efforts to frame Iran as a threat to the US, Washington has avoided the type of military action that many in Jerusalem and Riyadh would have desired.

Moreover, in an article for The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg sets out ‘the Obama doctrine’, which outlined Obama’s vision of foreign policy. The article also touched on how the president viewed the organisation of Gulf security:

The competition between the Saudis and the Iranians—which has helped to feed proxy wars and chaos in Syria and Iraq and Yemen—requires us to say to our friends as well as to the Iranians that they need to find an effective way to share the neighborhood and institute some sort of cold peace. An approach that said to our friends ‘You are right, Iran is the source of all problems, and we will support you in dealing with Iran’ would essentially mean that as these sectarian conflicts continue to rage and our Gulf partners, our traditional friends, do not have the ability to put out the flames on their own or decisively win on their own, and would mean that we have to start coming in and using our military power to settle scores. And that would be in the interest neither of the United States nor of the Middle East.

Given Saudi Arabia’s long-standing reliance upon the US to guarantee their security, such suggestions are a cause of much concern.

In addition, the suggestion that 28 pages of the 9/11 report would be declassified – allegedly detailing foreign complicity in the attacks – coupled with the threat of litigation against Saudi Arabia from the families of victims, would further fracture relations. In response, Turki Al Faisal, a Saudi prince argued that “America has changed, we have changed and definitely we need to realign and readjust our understandings of each other.”

Al Faisal also spoke of the need to recalibrate “our relationship with America — how far we can go with our dependence on America. How much can we rely on steadfastness from American leadership? What is it that makes for our joint benefits to come together.”

In an effort to mend relations between the two states, Obama visited Saudi Arabia in April. In a press conference after meeting King Salman, Obama stressed

the friendship and cooperation that exist between the United States and the Gulf countries has been consistent for decades […] so what is true between the United States and the GCC, as is true with all of our allies and friends, is that at any point in time, there are going to be differences in tactics.

Yet if Al Faisal is correct then perhaps changes have shifted the structural nature of the relationship, which may be beyond the normal hurdles in diplomatic friendships.

Quite how much either side has changed – and is ready to listen to the other – is, of course, a question to be answered in time.



Are international talks on global warming just hot air?


Flickr/Khuroshvili Ilya

Research by: Phillip Baker, Sam Fletcher, Jonathan Parker, Josh Kneale and Abi Simons.

Global Warming is a term rife throughout media – be it mainstream, counter-cultural or social. Coverage of issues surrounding climate change is as such that nigh on everyone has an opinion. Its ever-presence in the political world is seen, in one Guardian article, as a means of ‘fear mongering by governments’. Yet scientists have inarguably learned that there are several Greenhouse Gases responsible for warming on our planet.

Discussing the issue in detail would require conjecture of great depth. Regardless, attention seems to have turned to how best to respond. This article will focus instead on Climate Agreements and how they’re (mis)represented in many fields of media.

Political posturing in Paris

As it stands, extensive scientific observation and attention from political sects lead to a yearly convention that consider responses to the ongoing issue. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) emerged in 1992, and each year the represented countries gather to evaluate and update development plans. The convention that took place in Paris in December 2015 was the 21st such meet and is referred to as COP21. It resulted in The Paris Agreement, the goals articulated in the Agreement are:

  • Limiting the rise in global temperatures to less than 2 degrees Celsius, with further hope of this number being 1.5 degrees
  • Achieving 0 net anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions by second half of 21st century
  • To increase the capability of countries to adapt to the effects of climate change
  • For developed nations providing $100bn annually to developing nations to help them combat climate change

The third objective there seems like a wholehearted, unoriginal, over zealous and over-hopeful generalisation of the previous two, when achieving them seems to be in question. The global temperature rise in relation to pre-industrial levels reached the 1 degree mark in 2015. Internationally, we have passed the half way mark for a goal set out by numerous COP agreements. Considering the delay on implementation of these deals, limiting the rise may be insurmountable by the time COP21 comes into action.

The Paris Agreement received widespread and largely favourable media attention following its announcement. The fact is that these are not a legally binding set of goals that the ‘World’, or at least the collective 196 countries that participated, are obligated to achieve by a certain time.

The Paris Agreement, as it is now, is little but a hollow threat of action; it’s little more than loosely pursued numbers and tasks. Until 55 countries that constitute 55% of the world’s emissions agree to ratify the agreement, there exists no strict control over their pursuit. For this to occur, as can be seen in the image below, the U.S and China’s ratification will be required. Although President Obama and General Secretary Xi Jinping ‘agreed’ to limit greenhouse emissions in 2014, the stark industrial re-shaping that this would require in the short term is scarce imaginable.

the top 40 CO2 emitting countries and related in the world in 1990 and 2012, including per capita figures. The data is taken from the EU Edgar database.

The top 40 CO2 emitting countries and related in the world in 1990 and 2012, including per capita figures. The data is taken from the EU Edgar database.

Each country that contributed to the agreement (if not its ratification) submitted a Nationally Determined Contribution: a voluntary climate plan specifying their own goals and targets. Once again, these are not binding and are likely that way to have ensured the participation of major emitting countries. As of February 2016, only Fiji has formally ratified the Agreement.

A history of inaction

It’s worth exploring briefly the results of previous Climate Committee meetings, and how they have developed into the most current set.

The Kyoto Protocol, agreed at COP3 in 1997, has to this date amassed 192 signatures of ratification. Actual implementation of the agreed changes did not occur until 2005. That’s 8 years of lag-time between promise pledge and firm framework. This has continued. China ratified and agreed to the protocol’s cuts. The U.S. however, did not.

It seems to corroborate comments that judge Kyoto as a failure, down primarily to “countries not actually living up to their commitments or staying with the Agreement”.

Revisions of the protocol and general Climate responses, in terms of application and monitoring at least, have been in a state of perpetual delay. This includes The Doha Amendment, which was similarly troublesome. The ratification of the Paris Agreement will occur from 2015-2020, and only in 2021 will it come into action. At the Doha conference (2012), executive director of the UNFCCC, Christina Figueres, noted the “ever increasing gap between the actions of countries and what the science tells us”. Her words mark the insignificant changes that occur – post UNFCCC’s pledge – to reduce and stabilise anthropogenic changes to the atmosphere.

Greenhouse Gases, and limiting their effect, has been and continues to be a major aspect of geo-political relations ever since COP was established. Since then, despite each Conference being termed a ‘last hope’ of global response, the progress of the pursuit has shifted merely from unspecified desires to specified desires – without at any point implementing a plausible framework for completion. What we were subjected to in mainstream media was the crest of a powerful wave, a promise of imminently implemented change. The wave itself seems to be less assured.

As of now, we can only hope that the UN are right – they claim over 130 countries (including the U.S and China) are poised to sign in late April, thus ratifying and legally binding their involvement in the agreement. If this rings true then the perpetual delay regime of prior agreements may be overturned.

This post is written in collaboration with The Richardson Institute. 

Why does the West turn a blind eye to Eritrea?


Flickr/Roberto Maldeno refugee camp at Tsorona Eritrea


Research by: Phillip Baker, Sam Fletcher, Jonathan Parker, Josh Kneale and Abi Simons.

Eritrea is a country that seldom makes the headlines, indeed it is a state that most Europeans haven’t even heard of, but Eritrea currently has huge implications for the future of Europe. Amidst the migrant crisis that is bringing millions to the shores of the continent, it is often overlooked that a large proportion of the refugees are not fleeing form the more widely known crises in Syria, but from the incredibly oppressive and brutal regime that governs Eritrea – a state from which 5,000 of its citizens flee from each month.

Located in the Horn of Africa, Eritrea forms a long strip of coastal land bordering Ethiopia, a country which it was governed by for many decades. A 30 year long war of independence devastated the country until the final victory over Ethiopian forces in 1991. Independence was recognised by the international community in 1993, and the Eritrean struggle for freedom has been hailed as a “major feat of a people’s fight for self-determination.

But in the years since independence no national elections have been held. They are repeatedly postponed, and the country has fallen under the grip of an oppressive regime in which only one political party is allowed to function – the ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice – and all independent private media was closed down.

This has meant that the rest of the world is subject to an information blackout about the country, and independent accounts of what is happening there are incredibly hard to come by. What little is known about the country’s internal affairs indicate the existence of what has been described as a ‘totalitarian state’ that carries out constant surveillance of its people, causing the population to live in constant fear.

Human Rights Watch reports that the abuses committed against the Eritrean people include; “forced labor during conscription, arbitrary arrests, detentions, and enforced disappearances. Other abuses include torture, degrading treatment in detention, restrictions on freedoms of expression and movement, and repression of religious freedom”.

There is no freedom of movement, and permits are required for people to move out of their communities. Religious persecution is also rife. The government officially recognises four religions; the Eritrean Orthodox church, the Catholic church, the Lutheran church and Sunni Islam. But followers of all other religious beliefs are subject to harassment by the state and can be subject to arbitrary arrest, which is not a pleasant fate especially considering the appalling conditions reported in Eritrean prisons.

But the main cause of the mass exodus of Eritreans is usually held to be its system of conscription. While many European nations still practice conscription, this is only a few years national service. But Eritrean conscription is in reality a form of slavery; most of the population spends their life on national service with no given end date. A scathing UN report on the subject stated that conscripted Eritreans are subject to “the systematic violation of an array of human rights on a scope and scale seldom witnessed elsewhere in the world.”

There seems to be little prospect of the situation in Eritrea changing, the President has explicitly denied democracy will be introduced and in 2014 he stated that “[I]f there is anyone who thinks there will be democracy or [a] multiparty system in this country … then that person can think of such things in another world.

International criticism of the Eritrean regime has not been especially forthcoming, if western nations think of the country at all they think in terms of the unwanted asylum seekers it brings to their borders. The European response so far has been to try and stem the flow of asylum seekers by preparing a large aid package to develop the country, and not to try and dismantle the repressive government which is causing the exodus. Meanwhile the tragedy that is the plight of the Eritrean people continues unabated.

This post is written in collaboration with The Richardson Institute. 


British arm sales and human rights abuses

Flickr/Defence Images

Research by: Phillip Baker, Sam Fletcher, Jonathan Parker, Josh Kneale and Abi Simons.

British arm sales will be subject to an inquiry by a cross party committee, as well as a high court challenge by the European Union, to see whether UK sales break EU arms export laws. Of particular concern are British arm sales to Saudi Arabia, who is currently the UK’s largest weapons consumer, and their use against Yemen.

Saudi Arabia began bombing Yemen in March 2015, in an attempt to push back rebels supported by Iran who have taken control of the capital, Sana’a. Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) says that bodies including the UN panel of experts, the European parliament and humanitarian NGOs, have all found that Saudi Arabia has failed to comply with international humanitarian law to take all precautions to prevent civilian harm.

Andrew Smith from CAAT has said: ​“It is totally inconsistent for the government to be talking about human rights and democracy at the same time as it is actively promoting arms sales to authoritarian regimes like Saudi Arabia.”

It seems that the British government is ignoring its strict criteria on arms sales in order to benefit from increasing profits. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, as of 2008, Britain became one of the world’s leading developers of arms through BAE Systems and in 2014 the UK ranked 3rd in the top 100 arms-producing and military services companies.

It isn’t just Britain’s sales to Saudi Arabia which has been criticised but data from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills revealed that in the first six months of 2014 the UK granted licences worth £63.2m of arms sales, to 18 of the 28 states on its official blacklist, including Israel, the Central African Republic, Sri Lanka and Russia. The UK has even granted six licenses worth £180,000 to sell teargas to Hong Kong which was used against civilians during pro-democracy protests in 2014.

The European Parliament recently voted in favour of an EU-wide ban on arms being sold to Saudi Arabia, because of its heavy aerial bombing of Yemen, which has been condemned by the UN. The vote does not force EU member states to comply but it increases pressure on national governments to re-examine their relationships with Saudi Arabia.

Oliver Sprague, Amnesty International UK’s arms controls director, has said:

“Mr Cameron should stop acting as a cheerleader for BAE’s reckless arms sales and stop the flow of weapons to the Saudi war machine, pending the outcome of both a UN inquiry into the bloody conflict in Yemen and the UK’s own review of its arms exports to Saudi Arabia.”

There does not seem to be any sign of the government restricting its arm sales anytime soon however, especially with the upcoming Home Office-sponsored defence fair in Farnborough, which will be held behind closed doors and hidden from the public. The list, released under the Freedom of Information Act, reveals that police and security personnel from 79 countries are expected to attend the event. They include delegations from Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UAE, countries whose human rights records are controversial to say the least.

The big question is why the British government is supplying these weapons that are being used to bring chaos and destruction to innocent people’s lives and the only answer I can think of is because they can. Yemen is a forgotten war and fails to get the attention it deserves. This means the government can get away with supplying these weapons with very little press coverage or public criticism. It is also difficult for the public to know what really goes on behind closed doors, as events like Farnborough are so secretive.

Although the government continues to deny that they have breached any international law the evidence against this is slowly piling up. In an age of terrorism and extremism our government’s continued support of Saudi Arabia could be argued to be irresponsible, as Owen Jones stated:

“The assault on Yemen is not only killing, maiming and inflicting mass suffering. It is also building up bitterness. With our government fully behind its Saudi allies, resentment towards Britain is surely growing, resentment that can be all too easily manipulated by extremists.”

Hopefully this inquiry will result in continued pressure from international bodies and the public, in order to try and stop our government’s irresponsible arm sales and put human rights first.

This post was written in collaboration with The Richardson Institute.

What happened to the Ebola crisis?


Flickr/Global Panorama

Research by: Phillip Baker, Sam Fletcher, Jonathan Parker, Josh Kneale, Abi Simons.

What happened to the Ebola crisis?

In 2014 UK newspapers decided to designate many of their front covers to the prospect of Ebola coming to the UK. As time went on and this fear faded away so did the newspaper headlines and so to the news coverage of the crisis.

What is the Ebola Crisis?

By the end of July 2014, WHO statistics showed 1,603 cases and 887 deaths. By 3rd February 2016, the World Health Organization reported a total of 28,638 suspected cases and 11,315 deaths. The countries most affected were Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The Ebola virus is devastating and people who contracted it often died in severe pain and in undignified way. The early symptoms included the sudden onset of fever, general weakness, muscle pain, chills, headaches and sore throat. And as the disease progressed, the symptoms worsened and included nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea, bloodshot eyes, rash, chest pain, stomach pain, severe and rapid weight loss, bruising, bleeding from various orifices (most commonly the eyes), internal bleeding and impaired kidney and liver function.

Ebola is a zoonotic disease, meaning that it can be transmitted between animals and humans. It’s introduced into the human population through contact with bodily fluids of infected animals. It has been reported that the origin of the Ebola crisis may have come from a tree in Guinea which children used to play on which was home to thousands of bats. The children used to cook and eat the bats and this is where the spread of the disease is likely to have begun.

The aftermath of the crisis

Although there finally appeared to be some good news on January 15th 2016 when West Africa was officially declared free of Ebola transmission. New cases were still discovered in Sierra Leone just hours after the World Health Organisation made this statement. They claim that it is likely that we will see continuous flare ups as the virus continues to remain present within survivors up to a year after contracting the disease.

Even though new cases of Ebola are now becoming increasingly rare, the aftermath of Ebola is also devastating. This includes the thousands of now orphaned children where one or both parents have died of the virus. UNICEF reported that over 22,000 children lost one or both parents in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. These children are traumatized and will continue to be stigmatized in their neighbourhoods. Furthermore, during the crisis millions of children had to go without education as schools refused to teach because of the risk of the disease spreading leading to a possible lost generation in Africa.

There is also the risk of what is known as the Post-Ebola syndrome which sees people who are reportedly cured of the disease still suffering from long term effects. These can include body aches, vision impairment and even blindness, headaches and extreme fatigue. These symptoms are so severe that it might mean that survivors of the disease may continue to need treatment for months or even years which raises questions of the long term effects of the aftermath of the crisis.

What can we learn from the Ebola crisis?

The World Health Organisation was criticised for not declaring the crisis earlier and not sending vaccines quicker. For example, according to the New York Times Scientists from the U.S. and Canada said in 2005 that they had developed a cure for Ebola which appeared to be 100% effective on monkeys. But the drug was not licensed for mass production as it was considered too expensive at a time when an Ebola outbreak seemed unlikely. Thousands of deaths could have been avoided if vaccines had been sent quicker, so this is an area which governments will be or should be focusing on in the future.

President Putin of Russia has now also claimed to have created a vaccine to cure Ebola.  Russia’s Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova, has said scientists have developed two vaccines to treat Ebola. “The first vaccine is unique and is not on the level of anything else in the world,” she said, explaining even a small dose of the vaccine provides “100 percent neutralization” of the virus. Although not everything Russia claims can be trusted.

A research by the Science and Technology Committee as explained by the BBC has unfortunately shown that the UK is vulnerable to epidemics such as Ebola because of a gaping hole in the country’s ability to manufacture vaccines. The research claimed that the UK lacks the capability to manufacture enough vaccines to vaccinate UK citizens in an emergency.

This is particularly worrying as the likelihood of another deadly virus is definitely expected, as there has already been another outbreak of a separate virus – Zika in Latin America. The virus is spread by mosquitos and is most dangerous to pregnant women as it can cause birth defects to their unborn children. Although the virus is not a threat to the UK because the mosquitos need hot temperatures to survive, warnings have already been announced that the Zika virus could be as disastrous as Ebola. There have also been reports that Zika can be sexually transmitted.

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust, a biomedical research charity, has said: “There is a long road ahead. As with Ebola, Zika has once again exposed the world’s vulnerability to emerging infectious diseases and the devastation they can unleash.”

So although the news stories on Ebola have begun to fade away from the media, the crisis still continues and the aftermath is being felt. As new viruses appear and begin to spread, we just hope the world has learnt the lessons of dealing with such a crisis so that hopefully less lives will have to be lost to infectious diseases in the future.
This article is in collaboration with The Richardson Institute.

The vicious cycle of Western foreign policy


Flickr/Alisdare Hickson

The British government has voted in favour of joining the fight against Daesh in Syria and begin bombing alongside its allies. This has occurred in large part as a result of the attacks in Paris in November – this course of action seems all too familiar to 11th September 2001.

After a horrific terrorist attack on American soil the US government reacted by announcing a War on Terror. One which has cost trillions of dollars, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives and fanned the flames of the threat it so keenly set out to defeat – extremism.

In the Middle East suicide bombings have gone through the roof, destruction has exponentially grown and fundamentalist groups such as Daesh and Jabhat al-Nusra have experienced an almost constant swell in members. The reason for this is often seen as a complex and nuanced one, yet the principle explanation is due to the consequences of Western military intervention.

Military intervention has perpetuated, particularly since the announcement of the War on Terror, an unforeseeable and unprecedented level of collateral damage within Middle Eastern societies. Invasions, drone strikes, imprisonment without trial, Guantanamo bay, Abu Ghraib, the propping up of Western backed leaders – have all resulted in breakdown of natural society in the Middle East.

Many have come to see the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the War on Terror itself, as a huge failure from the Western world to curb the rise of terrorism. Instead it has increased extremism by quite some distance. Yet on the 1st December 2015, eleven years after the announcement of the War on Terror, the UK along with the rest of the Western world stand on the precipice of the same fundamental mistakes.

The voices of dissonance towards Daesh are strong from all sides, the condemnation of this “vile cancer” and “poisonous ideology” that Daesh peddles is criticised by the world over.  But, subsequent actions of Western governments are still knee-jerk, profoundly confused and insufficient for tackling this “so-called Islamic State”.

David Cameron and the majority of his Conservative MPs make the case that bombing the problem “over there” will by default keep us safe “over here”. This neglects and glosses over the glaring explanation as to why the Paris terror attacks even occurred – as Daesh has stated themselves they are a direct response to the French bombing campaign in Syria.

Despite this obvious explanation, the British government is also ignoring prior evidence that military intervention in the Middle East does not solve the issue of fundamentalism. The US, Russia, France, Turkey and other major Arab powerhouses are already bombing Daesh in both Iraq and Syria – the UK has also been bombing Iraq since last year. Does the government really believe their extra bombs will be the nail in the coffin to defeating Daesh?

The confusion explained

It is this incoherent, international meddling by the West which leads to an escalation in violence and terrorism. World superpowers seek to cling on to geo-political power in the region, by supporting whichever group has the most power at that specific time. There has even been discussion of Britain backing President Assad, who has been responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent Syrian’s for years. And Cameron continues to peddles misleading figures about pro-western “boots on the ground”, such as 70,000 free fighters who wish to support us in defeating Deash.

Once again this brings back an eerie déjà vu to the 1980s, when Western powers funded and armed Al-Qaeda to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan. Can we really be sure that those we are currently arming in Syria to help us defeat Daesh won’t become the next Al-Qeada in 10 years’ time?

Western foreign policy towards the Middle East is first class short termism; we bomb extremists and invade states, arm rebels and claim to have defeated the problem. Then, in a cycle that is repeated again and again a new extremist group, which holds grievances against the West from the previous bombing campaign or invasion, springs up and poses a new threat.

The passing of this vote, has once again demonstrated Western short termism and our hot-headed style of foreign policy. Bombs may well kill the terrorists but they will not destroy the ideology. The West will once again bomb in the Middle East, it will claim victory against Daesh and then realise that it has no exit strategy and no long term viable solution to rebuild the region. It will cause more collateral damage and again grow more extremism.

What can be done?

To resolve the never ending cycle of extremism and violence in the Middle East there needs to be a well thought out, creative and diplomatic solution. In a first instance we must give control back to the Middle Eastern states; we can no longer be the puppeteers to their future whilst simultaneously cutting off the strings. We must ensure that it is them and not us who control their future.

But we can support these countries in this effort, after all when Europe defeated the Nazis it helped to rebuild Germany to be one of the best economies in the world. We must help resolve the Syrian crisis, ensuring peace in both Iraq and Syria, whilst principally understanding that we can no longer be the driving force in achieving this.

The Western world must be involved in an open debate. It must listen to all sides, make compromises and shut down the growth of the current Islamophobic foreign policy narrative put forward by some. We must understand why young men and women feel disaffected within society, with their only and most appealing option being to join Daesh.

If we cannot understand the reasons for radicalisation, we will never be able to find the solutions.

One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and again and expecting different results. The UK government’s decision to bomb Syria is the next round to a vicious cycle which began after 9/11, are they really expecting a new outcome this time? I for one believe it is time for change; Western powers need to wake up to the reality that their interventionist foreign policy no longer works. As Jimmy Carter once said: “We’ve fought fire with fire, never thinking that fire is sometimes best quenched with water.”

Why the US won’t repeal its gun laws


Flickr/Steve Rhodes

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”

The Second Amendement

On October 1st 2015 the worldwide community once again despaired at the lack of gun control in America, when news broke of the shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, which left 9 people dead and another 9 injured. Each time I read about these shocking events I always have the same thought: “How is there not more gun control in the US?”

The horrific shooting at Sandy Hook in 2012 actually shocked me into studying American politics, in a bid to understand why American “fundamental rights” included access to guns. These shootings are all tragedies, however American politics is so complex that any discussion often leads to a dead end – thanks to the Second Amendment, the Republican Party, and the NRA.

The Second Amendment is frequently quoted when gun control is discussed in the US. Its purpose is to restrict legislative bodies from prohibiting firearm possession, and has formed the basis of recent Supreme Court decisions in both 2008, and 2010 (both times strengthening the amendment). Unlike in the UK, the constitution is much harder to change in the US. It forms the supreme law of the land, ultimately providing power to all branches of government.

The Second Amendment in particular is special as it falls under the “Bill of Rights” – it is one of the first ten rights which make up the “Massachusetts Compromise”. Put simply, the Massachusetts Compromise were a set of 12 recommendations which must have been discussed in order for the final 4 states to sign the constitution. As part of a compromise which led to the Union, the Bill of Rights are viewed by many as essential Civil Rights, and this is quite often why the right to bear arms is so passionately defended.

The Republican block

A party well known for its passionate defence of the Second Amendment is the Republican Party.  Republican policies are often based on the idea that a smaller government, with less regulation, is the most efficient way to run a country – this stance does not waver. The Civil Rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights should not be interfered with by the government and this is central to understanding the Republican stance on gun control.

It isn’t about liking guns, rather, it is about “upholding certain rights that the nation was built upon”.  Not only this, but the areas where the Republicans are most popular, the Midwest, the Bible Belt, and the Deep South, are areas where hunting and recreational shooting are popular – a tradition honoured by the party.

The philosophy of the Republican party is strong and very clear on many issues, but particularly gun control -and this philosophy has dictated the attitudes of Congress since 2010.  Despite a Democratic President in the White House, the Republicans wield significant power in US politics because they are the majority party in the legislature. This means they can exercise near complete control over the laws that are passed, or blocked. The majority of the legislature holds firm the belief that gun control is something federal government should not be interfering with.

Cash for guns

Regardless of Republican philosophy, there was a lot of shock when nothing changed following the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012. A lot of this is because for many Representatives and Senators their stance on gun control is more than philosophy, it is also their funding.

Statistics show that 60% of all House and Senate members have received funding from the National Rifle Association (NRA) in their career. The list of beneficiaries include influential members such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the chairman of the House Rules Committee Pete Sessions. Sessions in fact is the third highest recipient of money from the NRA – having received at least $64,000 in his career.

NRA influence doesn’t end at political funding, the organisation also grades politicians based on their voting records on gun issues, on a scale from A+ to F.  Unsurprisingly, the Republicans average at an A in the House and A–  in the Senate, with the Democrats averaging a D in both houses.

I wholeheartedly cannot agree with the view point of the NRA, who argue they are passionately defending the Second Amendment – but that is mainly due to the culture I’ve grown up in. I can’t imagine living in a society where most people walking past me on the street could be carrying a gun. However, I understand the mess that America is in when it comes to gun control.

I remember being horrified when I heard the news about what happened at Sandy Hook, and even more horrified to learn that nothing had changed as a consequence. But I’ve learnt it’s not simple.

There are many reasons why the US isn’t repealing its gun laws right now. A lot of it lies in the way these laws are enshrined, and the power of the party that passionately defends them. However worryingly this isn’t the only reason. Instead of attacking gun culture itself attention must be focused on the NRA, and the influence it has in Congress. Public opinion is slowly shifting on the issue and its time that Congress, as their elected representatives, follow suit.