Gay Rights in Ireland

Ireland yesterday became the first country in the world to approve same-sex marriage via popular referendum. Voters in the Roman Catholic nation turned out in droves, with more than 60 percent of voters turning out, and 61 percent of voters approving the referendum. Only one of the country’s 43 constituencies voted no on the measure. All of the country’s major political figures—on both the left and the right—offered their support to the measure.

What do you think? Does Ireland’s popular referendum make approval of same-sex marriage in other countries more likely? Will it have any impact on countries that continue to criminalize same-sex relationships? Why?

Migration and International Law

As the Rohingya refugee crisis in Southeast Asia intensifies, regional actors are moving slowly to address the issue. Thousands of migrants remain stranded at sea as other governments (primarily Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia) refuse to permit them entry into their countries. An additional 100,000 Rohingya live in camps in Myanmar as internally displaced persons. And despite pleas from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, regional governments are refusing to accept the refugees, leading some to declare that a humanitarian disaster is at hand.

The Rohingya are an ethnic minority who practice Islam and historically lived in northern Myanmar. The population historically presented a threat to the professed identity of the government of Myanmar, which justifies its military rule through a mixture of Burmese nationalism and Theravada Buddhism. The government stripped the Rohingya of citizenship in the early 1980s and are barred by law from having more than two children. Despite these restrictive measures, the government of Myanmar officially does not recognize the Rohingya as a population, and this week stated it would not attend a regional conference to address the ongoing crisis if the word “Rohingya” is mentioned at the conference.

What do you think? What should be done to address the refugee crisis? What obligation, if any, do regional actors have to accept Rohingya migrants? What obligations, if any, do non-regional actors like the United States or the European Union, have? Is Ban Ki-moon correct that international law establishes “the obligation of rescue at sea” and therefore implies governments in the region should accept Rohingya refugees? Why?

The Ongoing Fight Against ISIS

Fighting between the Iraqi government and Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) intensified over the weekend, as ISIS apparently captured the center of the city of Ramadi west of Baghdad. Ramadi is the capital of Anbar province, and the Iraqi government had thought it was making progress in driving ISIS from the area.

At the same time, US Special Operations forces announced on Saturday that an operation in Syria had resulted in the killing of Abu Sayyaf, the Chief Financial Officer and second in command of ISIS. The operation also resulted in securing several prisoners and “reams” of data on ISIS’s financial operations.

What do you think? What strategy might be successful in countering the growing influence and reach of ISIS in the region? Should the United States use its military in support of operations? Or should it leave primary responsibility for dealing with ISIS to regional actors? What would you advise?

The Domestic Politics of the Trans-Pacific Partnership

President Obama’s free trade agenda suffered a setback yesterday after the Senate was unable to reach the 60 votes needed to close debate on legislation granting President Obama fast track negotiating authority. The bill, supported by the White House and Congressional Republicans, would have made approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership—a free trade deal encompassing 14 countries and widely seen as a counterweight to Chinese influence—a foregone conclusion. But sharp divisions between President Obama and Congressional Democrats, including Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), scudded the motion.

At issue are concerns over the scope of the agreement and protections afforded for workers and the environment. Congressional Democrats, leery of the deal in light of what they see as a mixed record for NAFTA and other free trade agreements, are demanding increased protections. They are also Congressional Republicans oppose such measures, while the White House claims they are unnecessary.

What do you think? Would the Trans-Pacific Partnership be beneficial or detrimental to the US economy? Would you support measures proposed by Congressional Democrats to include increased protections for workers and the environment as a precondition for approving the new deal? Why?

Women in Combat Operations

In January 2013, the US military formally lifted the ban on women serving in combat, allowing the 196,000 women on active duty to serve in all military roles. But in war zones without a formal front, women had already long served in combat—as truck drivers, doctors, and other official service roles. The 2013 directive, however, opened all branches of service to women soldiers.

A new book outlines the role female soldiers played operating with Special Forces units in Iraq. Special Forces operators were concerned that cultural traditions prohibiting contact between women and men in Iraqi society were undermining their ability to gather intelligence and conduct operations in the country. And so, ahead of the official lifting of restrictions, they recruited female soldiers to serve alongside Special Forces units in search operations.

What do you think? What does the video suggest about the unique role of women in combat operations in Iraq? Most opposition to permitting women to serve in combat roles has centered on differentials in physical capabilities between men and women. What does this video suggest about the importance of those differences?  Should women be permitted to serve in combat roles? Why?

Security vs. Privacy in an Age of Terror

A federal appeals court in New York today determined that the mass collection of metadata from cellphone calls by the National Security Agency was illegal because it “exceeds the scope of what Congress had authorized” under the Patriot Act. The program, originally publicized by Edward Snowden’s leaks in 2013, had been the focus of widespread criticism and several lawsuits. This suit, originally filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, had been dismissed by a lower court. Today’s decision orders the lower court to re-hear the case. Separate appeals challenging the constitutionality of the program are being heard by other courts. Split decisions by any of the courts could result in the issue being taken up by the US Supreme Court in its next session.

What is at issue in the cases is the scope of privacy in an electronic age and the proper balance between security and liberty in a time of ongoing threat.

What do you think? Was the appellate decision the correct one? Is the NSA program collecting cellphone metadata without a warrant be illegal? Or was the lower court decision that the collection of such data under the Patriot Act was a reasonable effort to protect national security correct? What is the proper balance between security and privacy? And who should decide?

Anti-Government Protests in Turkey

Turkish protestors in Istanbul clashed with police yesterday as protestors attempted to push through police lines and march to Taksim Square to highlight the importance of workers’ rights in the country. Turkey has a long history of labor protests, but in recent years the pro-labor marches have merged with anti-government movements. Yesterday’s May Day protests marked the first major protests since the government expanded the authority of police to detain protestors. Protestors yesterday were met with rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannons as police attempted to prevent them from reaching the symbolic Taksim Square.

Critics of the government contend that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has engaged in repressive tactics ahead of elections in June. Erdogan’s government has enacted policies liberalizing the economy which have been widely unpopular with the left. At the same time, he is seen as socially conservative figure, and secularists have opposed his religious agenda. Such conflicts have also intensified debates over Turkey’s desire to join the European Union.

What do you think? How might Turkey’s ongoing political challenges—symbolized most dramatically by yesterday’s clashes—affect Turkey’s ambitions to join the European Union? If you were an EU official, would you support Turkish membership? Why?