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Member Spotlight: Holly Nielsen, Baring Vostok Capital Partners

Posted By IRC, Monday, August 14, 2017
Updated: Monday, July 17, 2017

Life is a journey; and careers can be too. Coming of age in the 1970s meant a fascination with the Soviet Union. President Nixon’s visit to Moscow made quite an impression. In college during the years of U.S.-Soviet détente, I chose to study Russian as my foreign language. After KU Law School, I joined a law firm in Houston with energy clients. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and then the Soviet Union dissolved at the end of 1991, I worked with our energy clients on early commercial projects in Russia, and then excitedly moved to Moscow to open a branch office for the law firm in 1992.

For twenty years, I had a front-row seat at one of the most interesting historical events of my lifetime – Russia’s transition from a communist system and planned economy to a democratic system and commercial market economy. I worked in the Moscow offices of three U.S. law firms, and spent three years in the late '90s working with the Harvard Institute for International Development as an adviser to Russian government officials developing the securities market and securities regulation. Eleven years ago, I joined a client private equity firm as general counsel. Our investors are institutions in North America, Europe, and the Middle East, and the portfolio companies in which we invest are businesses operating in the former Soviet countries primarily in the areas of financial services, consumer goods, telecom and media, and minerals and mining.

My daughters began their education in Russian public preschools and primary schools, and I wanted them to transition to U.S. high schools and English language education for their secondary years. In 2010, we repatriated to Kansas City, but with a wonderful work arrangement: I continue to work as a lawyer for the international private equity firm, but from my home office in Kansas City, and with travel to Europe every couple of months.

The world is interconnected and virtual today; with the advantage of technology and early mornings, I happily work from the middle of the U.S. with my colleagues in Moscow, London, and Channel Islands and our investors around the world. I’m glad to have found the IRC community in Kansas City to share my love of foreign policy and all things international. 

 

To nominate another IRC member or to share your own story as it relates to international relations, please click here ».

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The Search for ISIS

Posted By IRC, Monday, August 7, 2017
Updated: Sunday, July 2, 2017

The United States continues the search for ISIS leaders; two of the most recent being pursued are Fawaz Muhammad Jubayr al-Raw and Turki al-Bin’ali. Another example comes from late April when American commandos intercepted Abdurakhmon Uzbeki, who had been tracked by United States Special Operations forces for months. The helicopter-borne commandos had hoped to take Uzbeki alive, but a firefight broke out resulting in his death. Despite missing the chance to gather human intelligence, the commandos collected cellphones and other materials that proved useful for U.S. intelligence and military services.

 

 

Despite these successes and the continued hunt for ISIS leaders, the supreme leader and caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, remains at large as far as the U.S. is aware. The Russian government maintains that Baghdadi may have been killed in a Russian airstrike in Syria, but the U.S. military is unconvinced. Colonel Dillon, the spokesman for the international coalition fighting ISIS, affirms that there is no concrete evidence on whether or not Baghdadi is still active. Military officials say they don’t care whether Baghdadi was killed by Russians or the American-backed coalition.  

 

If Baghdadi is dead, one of his two lieutenants will likely take his place. Both former Iraqi army officers under Saddam Hussein, they are the War Minister Obaidi and head of ISIS's Amniya security agency, Jumaili. Ironically, Jumaili is in a similar situation to Baghdadi, with his death affirmed by some, but questioned by others. On April 1, Reuters reported that a statement from the Iraqi directorate of military intelligence confirms Jumaili’s death. However, U.S. military officials told NBC that the Iraqi military report was unconfirmed.

 

In summary, the U.S. and coalition forces, as well as Russia and its allies, are continuing attacks on ISIS and its leaders. However, there is a degree of uncertainty in the ongoing war. The first and second in command of ISIS could still be alive and well, directing ISIS and its atrocities from unknown locations.

 

References:

 

New York Times 1
New York Times 2
NBC
Reuters 1
Reuters 2

 

Jake Janeiro is a senior at the University of Kansas and is majoring in Political Science with a concentration in International Relations.


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China Goes Green

Posted By IRC, Monday, July 31, 2017
Updated: Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Handling the horizon threat of climate change has been on the international community’s agenda for quite some time now. Western powers have taken the lead in pursuing ‘green’ policies to combat climate change. Most of the backlash on the topic of climate change is aimed towards developing countries, particularly China. In the final days of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in 2009, negotiations between the U.S. and China eventually collapsed. Observers looked at the climate summit as disheartening and unproductive.

During this time, China’s coal consumption had been increasing for decades as their government pushed for industrialization. Four years after the Copenhagen conference, China went so far as to add 500 new 600-megawatt coal plants, accounting for more than 40% of global coal consumption in 2009. On January 17, 2010, popular Chinese television host Larry Hsien Ping Lang devoted an entire episode of his current affairs talk show, Larry’s Eyes on Finance, to global warming. Lang went on to tell millions of viewers that the goal of Europe and the United States at the Copenhagen negotiations was to prevent China from being a global leader by forcing developing countries to lower carbon emissions and halt industrialization processes. Lang’s provocative statements led to more than half a dozen books on the West’s climate conspiracy to be published, as well as many social media posts. Looking from the outside in to China’s push for industrialization it was clear they had no interest in any sort of environmental considerations.

                                                 

China’s sudden embrace of climate science came in 2012 when Beijing’s Renmin University of China, with assistance from Yale University, conducted a national climate survey that resulted in contradictory findings. The survey suggested that 93% of Chinese people believe climate change is happening, and the majority of respondents believe it “will harm themselves and their own family.” A similar survey in the U.S. found that only 70% believe in climate change, and a far smaller portion says it will affect them. At the same time, 55% of Chinese people think humans are the primary cause of global warming, a percentage comparable to the percentage of US citizens who think similarly.

These statistics revealed an unknown truth in China – a large majority of the public disagrees with climate skeptics. The survey brought light to climate change, driving skepticism from China’s mainstream. By China’s 12th Five-Year Plan in 2011, a green strategy had begun, proposing to turn low-carbon industries into a major driver of the economy. China, who was once dependent on coal to drive industrialization, has committed $761 billion by 2020 to transition off fossil fuels. In an effort to increase public awareness concerning climate change, China’s new climate policies are accompanied by extensive state outreach and education for the 45% of the population who were unsure if humans are to blame for climate change. 

 

References:

Foreign Policy

Avery Dorsey is a third year senior at American University in Washington D.C., and is studying for a degree in International Relations with a minor in Chinese.

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What I Found in Jordan

Posted By IRC, Monday, July 24, 2017
Updated: Monday, June 26, 2017

What do you expect when you visit a place such as Jordan? Different climate? Different food? You expect some "culture shock," right? However, while studying abroad I noticed one thing in particular that was very strange; Jordan may be very different, but the parts that stood out the most weren’t the food, the climate, or the language, but in fact the tiny aspects of the way that people live their everyday lives. Through my visit to Jordan, I discovered that this country and my homeland aren’t that different after all, and the similarities might be even more surprising.

This might sound like an oxymoron, but Missouri and Jordan are simultaneously very different and very similar. Waiters don’t expect a tip, and restaurants serve refreshments only out of bottles and cans, not from the tap. There’s also the whole communication system of honks and horns in the midnight streets of Amman. On the other hand, Jordanians are frequently out and about, shopping, just like we do here on weekends. There are taxis everywhere, and people enjoying their lunch in the same spot every day. There are friends walking up and down the streets to greet one another just as you might see in Missouri.           

So what do you get when you visit Jordan? All the hummus you can eat? Yes, absolutely. The best hummus you’ll ever have? Right again. But, hummus aside, you’ll also find the realization that we, as humans, aren’t so different from each other, even if we’re halfway across the world. It’s in the tiny differences that make us human where we can find how similar we all truly are. I’ve come to the conclusion that we have much more in common than we actually believe. That’s what I found in Jordan.

 

Zachary Walker is a sophomore attending the University of Central Missouri, majoring in Political Science and International Studies.

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Travel Ban Round Two: Looking Ahead to National and Local Change

Posted By IRC, Monday, July 17, 2017
Updated: Sunday, July 2, 2017

On January 27, President Trump issued his first executive order, instituting a travel ban that prevented citizens from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen from entering the U.S. for ninety days. The original order was ultimately blocked by the courts, but on June 26, the Supreme Court agreed to put part of the new travel ban, excepting Iraq, in place. The full case will be heard in October. In the meantime, the ban will exclude those without a "bona fide relationship with any person or entity in the United States."

In the past few decades, the United States has become home to an increasing number of immigrants born around the world. Kansas City mirrors this national trend. The number of citizens in the Kansas City who are foreign-born has quadrupled from approximately 33 thousand in 1994 to nearly 135 thousand in 2015. Nationally, the number of foreign-born citizens in the U.S. has increased from nearly 20 million people in 1990 to almost 40 million in 2015.

In 2015, Kansas had more than 800 immigrants from Iran and more than 15,000 immigrants from a number of African nations. Missouri at that time was home to more than 1,500 Iranian immigrants and 135,000 foreign-born citizens from Africa. Though these statistics do not specify particular African countries, surely immigrants from Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen are among those included in these numbers.

In fact, immigrants from nations now part of the travel ban play an increasingly important role in Kansas City’s two states. Emporia, Kansas, has experienced an influx of refugees from Somalia in recent years. Many of these refugees, for whom entry into this country would now be prohibited, have entered into the Kansas workforce. Across the state line, immigrants from Somalia and Sudan comprise a large portion of the workforce of the Tyson Foods plant in Noel, Missouri. On both sides of the state line, immigration from travel-ban-affected nations has been influential.

The travel ban will doubtless diminish immigration from the seven nations, each of which are predominantly Muslim. This will likely influence American sentiment and existing animosity regarding Muslims in the U.S. as a consequence. The travel ban will certainly affect immigration, but only time will tell how profoundly this policy will shape our nation and our city.

 

References:

Brookings
Migration Policy Institute
CNN 1
CNN 2
KCUR
Springfield News Leader

Liz Orr is a senior at the University of Kansas, double-majoring in Global and International Studies and French with a minor in Economics.

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Member Spotlight: Summit International Studies Academy

Posted By IRC, Monday, July 10, 2017
Updated: Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Summit International Studies Academy (SISA) is the International Studies program within the Summit Technology Academy. Students enrolled at SISA are passionate about world cultures, languages, and diversity. SISA is a unique classroom experience that simulates an intercultural consulting firm, creating a corporate environment with students taking on multiple business partners as "clients." These clients work with students to develop in-depth projects that address real-world challenges faced by businesses as they work internationally. SISA students also experience international culture through a variety of field experiences, including job shadowing at the IRC and working with recent immigrants as "conversation buddies" at the Don Bosco Language School.


The International Studies program has been actively supported by many metropolitan organizations including the IRC, Global Ties Kansas City, World Trade Center, and People to People International. Numerous SISA students have gone on to serve as college interns at both the IRC and Global Ties Kansas City as they pursue degrees with an international focus. Students at SISA also participate in Model United Nations and have attended the Metropolitan Kansas City Model UN hosted by Johnson County Community College.


Summit Technology Academy (STA) is a shared campus of junior and senior students who come together for a half-day program as an extension of their home high school.  STA is available to students of most public schools, as well as a number of private schools, throughout the metropolitan Kansas City area.


STA and SISA business partners include many IRC members such as Black & Veatch, Burns & McDonnell, Commerce Bank, and Garmin. We are also working with Bio-Microbics to create student projects.

 

STA has been nationally recognized by President Barack Obama, and also has been named an “Exemplar School” by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.


STA is always looking for business and academic programs to work with students through projects, classroom visits, or in a mentorship role. For more information, contact Curtis Cook (ccook@teamsisa.org »), visit the website (www.teamsisa.org ») or speak to an STA student at an IRC event.

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The Death of Manuel Noriega

Posted By IRC, Monday, July 3, 2017
Updated: Monday, June 12, 2017

As an American citizen, it can sometimes be hard to keep up with international affairs. This is often due to many different factors, the greatest being that many news stories naturally center around our own country and its problems. When I saw the recent headline that Manuel Noriega had passed away, I recognized the name and was aware of some things associated with him, but still did not know exactly who he was or what his death meant. Feeling uninformed, I took to Google to see who exactly Manuel Noriega was and what his death means for Panama.

After graduating military school in 1962, Manuel Noriega started his career working in Panama’s intelligence services. As he began to climb through the ranks, he became an informant for the United States. For over a decade, Noriega provided the United States with intelligence on drug trafficking and military-weapons trade. During this time, he continued to be a major cocaine trafficker himself.

                                                   

In 1983, he promoted himself to general of Panama’s armed forces, and began his dictatorship. He routinely fixed the results of Panama’s elections over the years, continuing to play both sides of the drug war, and carrying out acts of violence in Panama. He was indicted on several counts of drug trafficking by the United States in 1988 and was eventually captured in 1990. He spent the next 17 years imprisoned in the United States. After his time in the U.S., Noriega was extradited to France, where he spent three years in jail, and was subsequently imprisoned in Panama until his death.

Juan Carlos Varela, the current president of Panama, stated that Noriega’s death closes a chapter in the country’s history. This notion seems to be the consensus around the country. Without a former dictator still living in the country, albeit in prison, Panama can finally have closure on this part of its history.

 

References:

New York Times
Biography
Wikipedia

 

John Pawlewicz is a senior at the University of Kansas studying Economics.

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Interpersonal Relationships Build International Relations

Posted By IRC, Monday, June 26, 2017
Updated: Monday, June 12, 2017

In our increasingly globalized world, it is easy for international relations to seem distant and impersonal, both intangible and ambiguous. On the contrary, however, international relations begin with just that: relations. At the International Relations Council, we hold that in order to be international, one must also be interpersonal.

In order to foster international relations, it is necessary to achieve a personal connection and an understanding of humanity. I found this to be particularly true in my recent study abroad experience. While studying in Angers, France, I learned a great deal about French culture. Furthermore, I discovered how the intricacies of the society in which I was living and its unique ideas and beliefs related to my life back home in the United States. However, it was more than my studies that provided me with a deeper understanding of a new culture and international relations. My international knowledge began with interpersonal relationships.

It was the dinners with my host family in which I was able to truly divulge personal ideas about French politics. Conversations held over plates of local cheeses taught me about the French educational system and the struggles their teachers faced. Discussions accompanied by French wines gave me a glimpse into the life of a French government employee.

Making apple juice with a group of locals taught me about the importance of agriculture in my region and provided me with a firsthand look into livelihoods that are central to the people in this region. Understanding how people live allows us to understand what is important to them and how they relate to others. Thus, this knowledge and these relationships foster an environment suited to international relations.

It was not simply in museums and history classes that I broadened my understanding of French heritage, but in a weekly folk-dance class where I was able to discover unique aspects of French culture and cultivate an appreciation for the history of the region in which I was living. Talking about elections occurring around the globe is far more engaging when you’re waltzing with a native than when you’re reading a newspaper by yourself.

The elderly woman at the laundromat taught me about the importance of communication as she shared her stories about international correspondences that she kept up for decades. The relationships she created with people from around the world were not only long lasting, but gave her the opportunity to gain new perspectives as well. A simple conversation with a stranger not only opened my eyes to the importance of personal communication across international boundaries but helped break down the boundaries between us.

This interpersonal concept applies to Kansas City as well. As we seek to foster an international culture in our community, we must begin with interpersonal relationships. Conversations and personal connections open our eyes to understand the world. From Kansas City to Angers, interpersonal relationships shape international relations.

 

Liz Orr is a senior at the University of Kansas, double-majoring in Global and International Studies and French with a minor in Economics.

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National Withdrawal, Local Support

Posted By IRC, Monday, June 19, 2017
Updated: Monday, June 12, 2017

On June 1, President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Agreement. The agreement was signed by the United States on April 22, 2016, ratified on September 3, 2016, and entered into force on November 4, 2016. Its goal is to combat climate change and to deal with its effects.

                           


The exit has proven divisive, with traditional party lines somewhat blurred. There are Republicans who are opposed to the exit and Democrats who support it. Despite withdrawal from the Paris Agreement at the national level, several mayors and governors remain committed to the Paris Agreement. There has also been a strong negative response by the private sector. Prior to the withdraw, on May 10, 30 CEOs wrote an open letter to President Trump stating their support for the Paris Agreement. These companies included 3M, Coca-Cola, DuPont, General Electric, Pacific Gas and Electric, and Disney. Apple CEO Tim Cook maintains that the U.S. should have stayed in the Paris agreement, and even went so far as to attempt to convince the President of this. Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk left the President’s council when the news of withdrawal broke.  

 

Kansas City is also not ready to give up the Paris Agreement. Mayor Sly James signed an article on Medium, along with 245 other U.S. mayors, stating that they "will adopt, honor, and uphold the commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement."

 

 

 

Public and private opposition has also united in the form of the "We Are Still In" campaign. Supporters of this campaign include cities, counties, entire states, higher education, and businesses. This coalition "declared their intent to continue to ensure the U.S. remains a global leader in reducing carbon emissions." Kansas City may count itself among the ranks of cities represented by "We Are Still In," with Mayor Sly James affirming his commitment to the Paris Agreement.

 

References:

Foreign Policy
New York Times
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
The Verge
Engadget
We Are Still In
Medium

 

Jake Janeiro is a senior at the University of Kansas and is majoring in Political Science with a concentration in International Relations. 

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Member Spotlight: Ram Iyer

Posted By IRC, Monday, June 12, 2017

Ram Iyer has led the discussions for the Great Decisions Group, which meets in Overland Park, for over ten years. For those of us who have attended his discussions, I can honestly say that he is like a fine wine, and has improved with time.

Born in Thrissur, India, Ram provides a truly unique and global perspective. His academic background of a B.S. in electrical engineering, M.S. in computer science, and M.S. in political science also probably shaped his thoughtful and very rational approach to international relations.  

Most Great Decisions participants have well-established views, and it is possible for discussions to digress from the topic and become fractious. Ram's civility, graciousness, and analytical skills have kept us on track many times so that differing views can be expressed. He invariably comes well-prepared with supplemental information.

Ram is married, has two sons in college, and is a computer professional.

Those of us who have benefited from Ram's commitment of time, energy, and enthusiasm to the IRC for many years feel very fortunate. We look forward, in these times of great change, to having a forum to share thoughts and insights with him.

Ram was nominated for the Member Spotlight by Jack Shelton. To nominate another IRC member or to share your own story as it relates to international relations, please click here ».

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9/12/2017
IRC Book Club: The Retreat of Western Liberalism

11/9/2017
2017 Global Honors Evening

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