On Saturday, the Michigan Foreign Policy Council hosted its Spring Conference. The student-led organization comprises undergraduate students who hope to “make meaningful, empirical contributions to American foreign policy” through research.

After being introduced by their executive board, the six groups — composed of the club’s 23 members — presented their research projects.

The first presentation discussed the impact of Saudi Arabia and Iran on the Syrian civil war. The presenters — LSA sophomores Jessica Ankley, Jacob Roodvoets and Ryan Rosenthal — hypothesized Saudi Arabia and Iran have intentionally escalated the civil war in order to deter each other’s regional influence.

They evaluated each country on three variables: increased militarization, socio-religious conflicts and financing. Evaluation of these factors confirmed the Syrian civil war is one of many proxy conflicts between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

William Woods, an LSA and Music, Theatre & Dance international exchange student, appreciated the project’s relevance and perspective.

“I was interested in the thing about Saudi Arabia and Iran’s support of the Syrian civil war, but that’s because it’s on the news all the time,” he said. “I always want to know what people’s takes are on it, or what kind of information is covered in it.”

Engineering freshman Mackenzie Abele, LSA freshmen Brielle Bonetti and Medha Krishen and LSA junior Kawthar Mohamud investigated the effects of international laws and policies in regard to child soldiers.

They used case studies from three different regions that had implemented laws to prohibit the use of child soldiers: Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Myanmar. Their hypothesis proposed these laws aimed at demobilizing and reintegrating child soldiers back into society were not being implemented effectively.

Through their analysis, they found significant decreases in the proliferation of child soldiers, but suggested all three nations would benefit from improved education. Their results led them to believe, given the complex political environments in these regions, involvement of outside actors would soon be necessary.

“Countries have been taking steps which is a completely different thing than they would have done 50 years ago,” Mohamud said. “We have to look towards the optimism of the future.”

One project directly discussed the Trump administration.

LSA sophomores A’ndre Gonawela, Michael Roth Jr. and William Solmssen and LSA freshman Corrina Lee wanted to understand the implications of President Trump’s plan to diminish the U.S. trade deficit with Mexico by imposing a tariff on Mexican imports.

They explored the effects of likely protectionist trade policies under the Trump administration through an analysis of 10 historical U.S. tariffs. They concluded the tariff could be detrimental, and could result in losses in political capital, retaliatory tariffs and rising consumer prices.

The fourth project covered the environmental policies of countries in the South China Sea. LSA junior Riley Plamp, LSA sophomore Nicholas Ranger and Engineering junior Ravi Shah created a graded scale to evaluate each country: China, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Their average score was better than they anticipated, though the Philippines was the only country with a positive net score. They suggested that innovative methods of prevention in the Philippines helped them to achieve this score.  

“One of the more interesting policies that they implemented was they put religious statues underwater to try to stop blast fishing so it would make people not want to detonate bombs underwater for fear of blowing up the statues,” Plamp said.

LSA freshmen Jonah Klausner and Sebastian Leder Macek, LSA sophomore Alexandrea Somers and Engineering student Yifan Yu investigated how transitions from closed economies to open economies affect education levels and income inequality.

They hypothesized the transitions in Vietnam, Egypt, Poland and Namibia would show improved education and increased income inequality. The group found openness in trade weakly correlated to better primary education and strongly correlated to better secondary and tertiary education. Furthermore, income inequality generally increased but might not be sustained in the future.

“When countries open up to trade, there are policies they can implement to soften the blow, to mitigate the income inequality that can come with opening to trade,” Klausner said. “If a government were to get their hands on our journal, they might know that sponsoring vocational training for folks with lower income can help.”

The final project by LSA sophomore Anna Haynes and LSA freshman Martha Abrams were motivated by common speculations claiming the Georgian invasion of 2008 and the Ukrainian invasion of 2014 are linked.

They sought to analyze the similarities in Russian war crimes across conflicts. The case studies of Georgia and Ukraine suggested war crimes committed by Russians are significantly similar. These findings, the presenters argued, could help inform policy and strategy for international intervention in future crises


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