As an American student that has studied and traveled internationally, disagreeing with actions taken by my government is not a new phenomenon for me. I feel safe in saying that almost everyone has disagreed with the actions of their nation’s government from time to time, complete national cohesion and approval is not something that happens in reality (or without some strong kool-aid). But I will say that these past few days have been …. difficult to fully wrap my head around.
As a preface to my response in regards to the recent executive orders issued by President Trump, I am writing about how it has visibly impacted the international community that I have seen here in Vienna. I have many personal opinions on the recent actions taken by our new administration but I am not sure that I would be able to voice those as eloquently (and by that I do not intend to say that this will be eloquent by any means, just that a post on my personal opinions would most likely have been a combination of me nonsensically hitting the keyboard and swear words). Additionally, I did not start this blog with the intention to post about politics but since this is my nonproliferation travel blog and these events have a noticeable impact on the nonproliferation/international community I feel compelled to at least partially address it.
I will be starting an internship at the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency)… so the “International” part of that name should clue you into the fact from the start that the recent refugee ban from a “select” number of Arab countries is not a welcomed action by the community here. The US embassy in Austria assists in the processing of some of the refugee applicants when they are nearing admittance to the United States. So just as with many other countries that serve the same function, refugees (that had already gone through extensive vetting might I add) are stranded here. Not to mention the humanitarian issues with this action, it imposes a large burden on the host country. After reading the executive order and hearing from embassy employees, it is clear that the vague nature and lack of detail were not just in the wording but characteristic of the clear lack of thought put into its implementation. Those that are tasked with its application were given little instruction as to its specifics and the avenues that should be open for requests for clarification are unresponsive. This executive order was issued before the Secretary of State was confirmed and after Tom Countryman was asked to resign, and so the support system for our embassies and international liaisons was not in any condition to facilitate such a dramatic action. Additionally, I have heard from a number of individuals here that voice skepticism as to its effectiveness to prevent terrorism in the United States. Since more terrorist attacks in the US have been conducted by Americans than refugees (none), and they believe that it is more likely that the ban will only increase anti-American sentiment globally. Generally speaking, the academic and security community here seems to be continually trying to address the policy from a logical and reasonably impartial viewpoint but frustratingly unable to see any rationale or advantage to the decision.
Americans have typically had an international stereotype of being ignorant of other cultures and stubbornly incapable of making the effort to surrender some of their comforts in the pursuit of being understood. This is most commonly seen as a side effect of English being the global language. And honestly, in my opinion, this stereotype is not unmerited. In my travels, I have witnessed many Americans navigate the international community without a thought to attempting to adapt to the culture of the countries they travel to. Now I am by no means saying that all Americans do this, or that by not speaking the language of the country they are traveling to constitutes being ignorant of other cultures. But there are many who abrasively contribute to the stereotype, and these recent actions of our government are doing it no favors. I always do my best to learn as much as I can about the places I visit, even if that just means learning how to order a coffee in the national language, but recently I feel like I can have little impact on the damage our new administration is doing to our reputation.
Each sovereign nation has the right to dictate their international policies, but that does not make them exempt from the international and humanitarian impact of those decisions. The United States is arguably the most influential nation in terms of the global impact of their international policies. This being said, the international community here in Austria as well as around the world are reeling to determine how to respond to these recent executive orders. As the British Parlament debates whether or not to ban President Trump from entering the country, a member reminded her fellow dignitaries that President Trump did in fact sign the executive order for the “Muslim ban” on the Holocaust Remembrance Day. She put forth the notion that if ever there was the day that should remind us that we need to speak out against the immoral actions of a government, it was the Holocaust Remembrance Day. Now I find it highly unlikely that the UK will formally issue the same kind of fiery sentiments, particularly post-Brexit and before new trade deals are finalized, but I find the higher level debate encouraging.
Many that work in the Vienna International Center (which houses the IAEA, UN offices, and the CTBTO) are nervous about the future of their institutions. They are waiting with bated breath to see if the rumors about a looming executive order cutting US funding to international institutions such as the IAEA and the United Nations will come to fruition. For those that don’t know, the US contributes the majority of both institutions budgets and the withdrawal or dramatic reduction of US funding would cripple both. I attended a lecture today about the current state of Disarmament and Nonproliferation affairs and the resounding call was for increased dialog and cooperation particularly in light of increased tension between nuclear powers. These international institutions make dialog possible and encourage stabilizing steps to be taken from the global community. So in this, I am hoping the rumors are wrong. I am hoping that a decision such as the defunding of international organizations will not so rashly be forced through with a presidential executive order.
Even after the election, I held on to the now-realized delusional hopes that maybe what Trump tweeted would be different from what actually got implemented. That mental safety blanket has been rudely ripped away and I find myself, along with the rest of the international community here in Vienna, unsure of how to prepare for the next four years.
(this was only a reflection of what I have seen in Vienna and my own opinion)