The Russia-China Relationship: Authoritarian Axis?

After Russia’s Annexation of Crimea and the imposition of US-EU sanctions against Moscow in 2014, there has been an unprecedented increase in Sino-Russian cooperation. From these post-Crimea developments, Western analysts posit that Russia has ‘decisively aligned’ with China in an ‘Authoritarian Axis’ to oppose the United States and undermine the liberal international order. This article contends that conceptions of a Sino-Russian ‘Axis’ are not only inaccurate, but also prevent rational policy formulation by US policymakers. Drawing on Russian foreign policy discussions, this article outlines the pragmatic nature of the Sino-Russian relationship and will conclude with implications for US strategy. 

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Climate Change and its Impact on Businesses

Climate change has come to the forefront of global politics in recent years, with large scale protests led by international organisations such as Extinction Rebellion gaining considerable momentum. In particular, the protests at the end of September 2019 were the largest display of resistance against climate change in recent history, and were timed to coincide with the United Nations Climate Summit. This protest saw over 6 million people take to the streets in 180 countries to demand faster and stricter action on climate change. What made this movement unique was that it displayed not only the realities of climate change but it also demonstrated the widespread concern that consumers around the world feel for it. It is important to consider the impacts that this issue and the heightened awareness that surrounds it has on businesses around the world. 

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The Existing Structural Problems that Led to the Latin American Debt Crisis

The Latin American Debt Crisis of the 1980s (also known as the Lost Decade) was one of the most traumatic economic events in Latin American history. Before the 1980s, Latin American countries borrowed capital from foreign commercial banks to fuel their development. However, to soften the effects of the 1973 Oil Shock, the US Federal Reserve increased real interest rates. This increase led to a rapid rise of the real value of Latin American debt. In fact, by the 1980s, Latin America’s foreign debt amounted to nearly half of the region’s GDP. The crisis became evident when the Mexican government announced it could no longer service its debts in August 1982. Indeed, when foreign commercial banks halted the inflow of capital and demanded the repayment of existing foreign loans many other Latin American governments – including Brazil, Argentina, and Bolivia – also announced that they could not make payments on their foreign debts.

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The paradox of abundance: the future of work in the face of automation and degrowth

In the coming years, the climate crisis will present a myriad of problems and challenges for our societies to overcome. As humanity is forced to abandon perpetual economic growth, we will have to find new policies to ensure the fair and equitable distribution of resources among all people.

In recent years, the threat that automation poses to workers has risen to prominence within Western political discourse. This is nothing new. From the Luddites rebelling against the mechanisation of the textile industry to fears that the US’s ‘Green Revolution’ in agriculture would leave farm labourers destitute, technological change in our economic processes has always been met with fears of job losses. This presents a specific challenge to efforts to roll-out measures such as a ‘Green New Deal’, aimed at limiting further growth in order to mitigate the climate emergency.

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Iran’s Deal with China and its Implications for the United States

Washington is urging its Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) allies to put an end to the standstill with Qatar. The Saudi-led blockade has now lasted for over three years, and on July 26th 2020, US Special Representative Brian Hook stated that the crisis is a threat to security in the region. While Oman and Kuwait have initiated dialogue, it has not led to a promising resolution. The US has continued its attempts to mediate the conflict to no avail, and Hook believes this failure has hindered Washington’s efforts in pressuring Iran. In recent years, the US has supported a geopolitical coalition between Israel and several GCC members against Iran and the proxy-forces it assists in Syria and Yemen. When Saudi Arabia and several other states accused Qatar of excessively close relations with Iran in 2017, they severed ties with the country. The Trump administration appears to be more concerned about Qatar’s reunification with its former allies than before, and the change in perspective comes as China concludes a $400 billion economic and security deal with Iran. It is plausible that the US aims to restore Qatar’s relationship with its neighbours to revitalize the geopolitical pressure against Iran before its deal with China comes to fruition.

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Regulating Fully Autonomous Weapons

Fully autonomous weapons (FAWs), which are robotic systems that can select  and fire upon targets without any human intervention, have the potential to be an enormous revolution in military affairs. Proponents of FAWs believe that they will allow faster, more precise and more efficient military interventions. They additionally maintain that these systems will reduce the human risks connected with military operations since they will replace  soldiers with autonomous machines. However, despite these advantages, FAWs have been  denounced as killer robots and are widely criticized by society and the international community. Critics cite, among other factors, the lack of human supervision, the dangers of the robotic arms race, the limited ability of machines to estimate proportionality of an attack and distinguish legitimate targets from illegitimate ones, and the problems associated with accountability for robot’s actions. Despite these serious arguments against FAWs, a pre-emptive ban on this technology is unlikely because it is opposed by the superpowers mosted invested in the development of the weapons systems. A more feasible solution would be to establish  regulations that would alleviate the most harmful aspects of FAWs.  This policy proposal will introduce regulations that the international community, through the mechanism of the United Nations, should implement  in order to prevent the most harmful effects of FAW development and deployment.

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Letter from the Editors

We are excited to mark the 10-year anniversary of the founding of King’s Think Tank with the 10th issue of The Spectrum, a student policy journal that from its conception has striven to publish the most innovative policy proposals that students at King’s College London have to offer. Featuring the largest number of articles to date, this edition contains policy proposals and analytical pieces that address a broad range of topics, from EU immigration policies, to carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, to political upheavals in Hong Kong and Venezuela. 

As the past few months have shown, we live in a world of unprecedented change, reflected in developments including climate change-related disasters, the COVID-19 pandemic, and protests against systemic racism across the United States, Europe, and other parts of the world. While the articles in this journal span a wide variety of issues, they all seek to reconcile governments and wider society to the rapidly changing world we are witnessing. Many of them stress the importance of international unity and cooperation in addressing the increasingly transnational issues we face today.

None of our authors purport to advance complete or exhaustive solutions to the effects of algorithmic bias or the challenge of stimulating a developing economy along environmentally sustainable lines. However, as you read this journal, you will find papers that offer informed, logical, and creative measures in response to the issues they address, reflecting hours of research and careful consideration of multiple aspects of sound policy, from legal issues to those of implementation.

In a world in which the nature of human communication, social fabrics, and our physical environment are all changing at exceptional rates, well-founded and productive policy is more important than ever. As we conclude our time as Head Editors, we remain confident that King’s Think Tank will remain a powerful platform for students to voice their visions for progress and develop their skills in composing constructive, evidence-based policy. We hope you thoroughly enjoy the 10th edition of our policy journal, The Spectrum.

Julia Sandberg and Anais Herne

Head Editors

King’s Think Tank

Oil markets in intensive care: an incentive to decarbonate? Perspective from Saudi Arabia

On 12 April 2020, the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), along with Russia and other non-member oil exporting countries, agreed to a record oil production cut of 9.7 million barrels a day (mb/d) in an attempt to ease a global supply glut and boost crude oil prices. This decision was made against the backdrop of the global Covid-19 pandemic that has caused a steep reduction in the demand for crude oil and led to a drop in oil prices. These curbs will stay in place for May and June, after which they will reduce to 7.7m b/d for the rest of the year, and then 5.8m b/d from January 2021 to April 2022 if compliance with the quotas is enforced. Many experts remain legitimately concerned with the global demand decline as the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts an overall demand drop of 9m b/d in 2020 (29m b/d reduction for April alone) compared to 2019, erasing almost a decade of growth. However, this short-term surplus of oil shouldn’t overshadow the structural issues of oil markets and the concerns regarding future oil supplies. 

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Saving lives with language

Foreign aid is often associated with goods such as food parcels, medicine, and infrastructure. However, one of the most crucial services provided to areas suffering from natural disasters and pandemics is translation. Translation also plays a crucial role in conflicts, allowing differing narratives to spread and compete. Additionally, translation is often weaponised as a propaganda tool. Although English is often regarded as the global language, 6 billion of the Earth’s 7 billion people  ‘don’t communicate in English at all’.  As a result, appeals for aid from war zones or areas affected by natural disasters are frequently translated into English in order to resonate with anglophone audiences. Furthermore, with organisations such as Médecins Sans Frontières providing relief workers from all over the globe, language barriers multiply, and translation becomes ever more necessary. 

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Covid-19, my journey

Written 15 April 2020.

The recent coronavirus outbreak has undoubtedly taken the world by storm. It has affected the life of every individual, either directly or through disruptions it has caused to societal normalcy. Flights from London back to my home country, Bhutan, transfer through Delhi or Bangkok, and amidst fears that the cities were soon going to go into  lockdown, I had to travel home around mid March. I did not think for once that I would contract the novel coronavirus. This mentality can mostly be attributed to the way the British government was reacting to the situation while I was in London. For many Londoners, life continued as normal, despite the alarming rate at which Covid-19 cases were growing. At Heathrow Airport, staff were not wearing even simple surgical masks. I was not screened for symptoms before boarding, nor was it mandatory for me to wear a mask or protective gear on the flight. In short, protocol measures were severely lacking in the face of this global pandemic. 

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