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Wars that “Must Never be Fought”—Nuclear Disarmament in the Wake of the Cold War

From the words of President Reagan to the fears of people all over the world, unease over world-ending technology being at the fingertips of two belligerent powers defined the latter half of the twentieth century. Even today, with the potential for nuclear arms to fall into terrorist hands and resurgent tensions between Russia and the West, nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament remain crucial international issues.

Inspection of Pershing II Missiles (14 January 1989) MSGT Jose Lopez Jr.| Defense Imagery
Inspection of Pershing II Missiles (14 January 1989) MSGT Jose Lopez Jr.| Defense Imagery

As the freeze of the Cold War began to thaw, however, leaders from both the United States and Russia began talks to limit their nuclear arsenals.

The first resulting treaty, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), which sought to limit the number of nuclear weapons and delivery systems each country could deploy, was signed in July of 1991 and entered into force in December of 1994. It remained active throughout the tumultuous negotiations and failed implementations of two other similar iterations until 2009. Other arms limitation treaties—namely the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), in place from 2003 until 2011—complemented START I until they were superseded by New START.

Signed by U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on April 8th, 2010 and entered into force on February 5th, 2011, New START represented an even more progressive stance towards nuclear disarmament. On top of requiring each country to reduce their number of active delivery systems by 50 percent, New START implemented reciprocal monitoring mechanisms, which included both remote and on-site inspections of nuclear facilities. While Russian leadership has vocalized a willingness to negotiate a new treaty, New START is due to expire in 2021.

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Pandemic Pandemonium: International Cooperation in the Face of Crisis

Several devastating pandemics have plagued human civilization throughout history. From the Black Death (1350) to the deadly Coronavirus, each outbreak has its own unique challenges and many human casualties. This was true for the virus that “shook” the beginning of the twenty-first century: the Avian Influenza.

Duck Vaccination (2009) USAID Vietnam | Wikimedia Commons
Duck Vaccination (2009) USAID Vietnam | Wikimedia Commons

Nicknamed the Bird Flu, the Avian Influenza had its beginnings in China (1997), but reappeared in 2003. The Bird Flu was evaluated as a potential pandemic, and continued to be a concern well into the 2010s due to its high mortality rate in humans. While the Avian Influenza can be contracted through contact with infected poultry, there have been instances where this pathogen has passed from human to human. Many health officials therefore feared that a mutated virus could easily transfer from human to human, thus potentially increasing the casualty count dramatically. Although there are still reports of poultry infected with the Avian Influenza—even in 2020—the threat of a widespread outbreak has subsided, thanks to international cooperation.

Despite the increased risk of infections spreading from country to country due to frequent travel, the international community has established serious measures to curb the spread of deadly viruses. In response to the Avian Influenza, affected countries used techniques—quarantines, vaccinating at-risk animals, treating infected individuals, and launching information campaigns—to contain the Bird Flu, prevent further spread, and keep media-induced anxiety at bay. While certain countries had more success than others at curbing infections, it is clear that the international community as a whole engaged in a highly collaborative campaign that prevented further Bird Flu casualties.

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The Un-Dithering—Releasing Reliable GPS to the Public

In 2000, the Clinton administration made the decision to release an undisrupted Global Positioning System (GPS) for civilian use. Since then, GPS has become an integral part of our commercial economy and everyday life. Hans Binnendijk, who served from 1999 to 2001

GPS Satellite (2006) NASA | Wikimedia
GPS Satellite (2006) NASA | Wikimedia

on the National Security Council, was involved in the decision making process.

GPS was developed by the military for military use during the 60s and 70s. The system has its origins in the Space Race era, when U.S. scientists observed the Doppler effect created by Sputnik. The U.S. Navy launched its first experimental satellites in the mid 60s to track their nuclear submarines. The Department of Defense embraced the Navy’s program, and in the early 70s began developing a military-wide navigation system called NAVSTAR. The then-24 satellite system would be fully operational by 1993.

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Siberia and Samizdat: Moscow’s Underground During Communism

Long regarded as a monolithic entity where any dissension was ruthlessly suppressed by the KGB, Western audiences often ignored the intellectual culture of the Soviet Union. However, this viewpoint dismisses the underground scene of Soviet dissidents who played a critical role in speaking out against and documenting the abuses of the regime.

Demonstration against arrest of writer A. Amalrik in front of Russian Trade Representation Building (1970) Rob Croes | Wikimedia Commons
Demonstration against arrest of writer A. Amalrik in front of Russian Trade Representation Building (1970) Rob Croes | Wikimedia Commons

Whether through human rights movements, subversive art and literature, or even religious protests, Soviet citizens fought back against the government in a variety of ways. One particularly notable method was that of “samizdat” where Soviet individuals reproduced contraband material by hand to escape government censorship and inform the everyday person. Nevertheless, these methods were fraught with risk, and only a small coterie of brave citizens worked tirelessly to continue the struggle.

A hotbed for this defiance was located under the feet of the Politburo, taking place in Moscow itself. Though disunified and disorganized to prevent their destruction, a multitude of Soviet intellectuals gathered in Moscow to protest for their chosen causes. A strange tolerance existed within this space as the government capriciously charged dissidents seemingly at random. Nevertheless, these writers, painters, and thinkers ran the constant risk of being sent off to Siberia or even killed outright by an authoritarian government that would do whatever was necessary to ensure its survival.

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The Velvet Divorce: A Peaceful Breakup in Post-Communist Czechoslovakia

Most divorces do not end well, and those between countries tend to be the messiest of all. The dissolution of the USSR was no exception to this rule as the nation itself, along with many of the individual states within it, fell apart in the early 90s. However, one country, the Federal Republic of Czechoslovakia, proved resilient to the tendency towards violence and conflict when a state splits.

Czech Senate (2011) Qaalvin | Wikimedia Commons
Czech Senate (2011) Qaalvin | Wikimedia Commons

The Velvet Revolution freed Czechoslovakia from communist control in 1989, and the first democratically elected government came to power soon after. However, tensions quickly arose between Czech and Slovak leaders as the later’s politicians demanded more decentralization while Czech politicians advocated for greater control from Prague.

Nevertheless, a split between the two groups was not inevitable. A strong majority of both ethnic Czechs and Slovaks opposed dissolution, and relations between the two groups were generally strong. Furthermore, remaining united also brought economic benefits for both sides, especially for the relatively less developed region of Slovakia. Yet, the two groups were relatively disunited even if there was no active dislike. Neither Czechs nor Slovaks had much media presence in the other region. Bratislava was viewed as a cultural backwater compared to Prague, and there was an undercurrent of economic resentment on both sides. However, none of these issues proved insurmountable in the early years of the newly liberated republic.

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Castro’s Cuba – The Early Days

On January 1, 1959, after a sustained armed revolt led by Fidel Castro and others took control over most of the country, Fulgencio Batista fled Havana, marking the end of one era and the beginning of another. With the departure of the despised dictator, there was initially hope that life in Cuba would improve. William Lenderking, arriving in Havana in March 1959, witnessed how optimism quickly gave way to fear and repression as the new government began indoctrinating youth and instituting widespread control over libraries, newspapers, and magazines. Lenderking concludes that Castro was never truly interested in good relations with the United States. Read more