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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.



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


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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The 2017 Snap Election: What Does it Mean?

Posted By IRC, Monday, June 5, 2017
Updated: Monday, June 5, 2017

This Thursday, the United Kingdom will be holding a “snap election” – an election called before the end of the Prime Minister’s traditional five-year term. After the turmoil of last year’s referendum that affirmed the desire by a (slim) majority of Britons to leave the European Union, often called “Brexit, current Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May sought to strengthen her mandate to lead the divided country through the legal processes that will eventually result in the separation of the UK from the European Union by calling this early election. As May was never elected by the people, but instead was chosen by the sitting Conservative parliament to replace departing PM David Cameron, who stepped down in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, her authority as Prime Minister is arguably weaker than usually seen in modern democratic nations.

The Prime Minister’s main opponent in this week’s election is the leader of the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn. Based on polling, neither candidate is especially popular, though the Conservative party is expected to win the election by a substantial degree, which would see Theresa May continue on as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, though with a much stronger mandate for her leadership. This greater authority to make and carry out major decisions is considered by many to be crucial for the British Prime Minister’s ability to strike a deal with the EU regarding the terms on which the UK departs the European Union.

As of now, Theresa May has cultivated a strong working relationship with US President Donald Trump; Labour leader Corbyn has been strongly critical of both PM May’s relationship with President Trump, and of the President more generally. In the unlikely event that Labour wins the June 8th election, the future working relationship between our two countries may be fairly significantly impacted. In addition to questions arising about the future relationships between Britain and Europe, as well as Britain and the United States, domestic policy in the UK is also a growing concern of the government. In the wake of the recent slew of terrorist attacks taking place across the United Kingdom, many debates have started over the most suitable candidate for tackling not only critical international topics, but dangerous domestic counterterrorism issues.

Overall, though the Conservative party is expected to remain in power, this election will be key in choosing who leads the United Kingdom through a series of international decisions and in grappling with international tensions among Western nations, affecting not only the British people, but the entire world.


The New York Times
The Independent


Lora Uhlig is a fourth-year student at the University of Edinburgh in Edinburgh, Scotland, and is studying for a degree in International Relations.

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The South China Sea

Posted By IRC, Monday, May 29, 2017
Updated: Monday, May 15, 2017

I’ve always had an obsession with playing around with and looking intently at maps. I possess a collection of state highway maps from all over the United States. Sometimes, I would spend time playing around with Google Earth. So it was comforting to know that my professor for Intro to International Studies last semester also had the same nerdy map obsession. Dr. Stevens would regularly set aside twenty to thirty minutes of some classes to look at geostrategic locations around the world, and how each location was usually accompanied by some military installation or base, usually belonging to the United States or some other military power.


One of the areas we looked closely at was the South China Sea. The South China Sea is a body of water in the western Pacific Ocean bordered by five countries: Malaysia, Vietnam, People’s Republic of China, Brunei, and the Philippines. The sea is void of any sizable islands, with isolated archipelagos, like the Spratly Islands, scattering islands, reefs, and atolls (most of which are sand bars just barely above the water line) throughout the area. However, zooming in on these islands, as my professor demonstrated in front of the class, reveals something quite astonishing. Naval bases and airstrips have been constructed on islands barely surpassing a square mile in area. Some of the islands » that have been transformed into military settlements in the past few years. Why are these islands being transformed into military bases?




The sea is of great geostrategic importance as one-third of global trade (mostly consisting of oil on its way to East Asia) passes through the South China Sea. On top of that, there are rich opportunities for fishing and speculation of vast oil and natural gas reserves under its seabed. The neighboring countries are eager to claim the resources that the South China Sea has to offer. This is reflected by the overlapping territorial and maritime claims by each of these countries. The most notable claim is China’s Nine Dash Line, established after World War II to reflect claimed historical ties to the region, which overlaps all other claims and constitutes about ninety percent of the entire South China Sea.


The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) declares that sovereign states have an exclusive economic zone in any international body of water extending 200 nautical miles from their shore. By building military bases on islands in the South China Sea, countries can claim that their sovereignty extends to these islands, extending their exclusive economic zone to encompass the area around these islands. This creates an incredible mess for sovereignty and economic rights between these countries, and while an arbitral tribunal ruled that China’s claims had no historical basis and violated UNCLOS, it is unenforceable.

Looking at maps can be an interesting hobby, as shown by the discoveries one can make when just looking around. However, some countries would prefer many people not discover the interesting and questionable things that they are pursuing.


United Nations Convention on Law and Sea »

Youtube »

Wikipedia »

The South China Sea Arbitration »

Wikipedia »

Peter Fortunato is a freshman at the University of Miami Ohio, pursuing a Bachelor degree in both International Studies and Statistics, while minoring in Spanish.

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Keyontae Richardson: What Study Abroad Taught Me

Posted By IRC, Monday, May 22, 2017
Updated: Monday, May 15, 2017

The most rewarding experiences I’ve gained in life have been in other countries. Growing up in the ghetto of St. Louis, Missouri, I was hardly exposed to anything outside of the city limits. As a sophomore in high school, I made the decision that I would not be another statistic. With the help of a Biology teacher, my first college visit was at the University of Central Missouri. Stepping on to campus that first day, I didn’t realize the opportunities I was about to encounter.


One of those opportunities I am forever grateful for is study abroad. The thought of higher education in another country was an opportunity I could not let pass by. The first program I was scheduled to attend did not happen. I planned to go to London, but I had never been outside the country, in fact, I hadn't been outside Missouri. So unfortunately, my fear allowed the opportunity to slip away. However, all was not lost! I got my determination back, but this time I landed a spot in Jamaica. London would have been nice, but hot sand and a cool breeze just sounded more appealing! Being in Jamaica opened my mind to a world of possibilities.



In this day and age, traveling abroad is necessary. Travel helps you become a well-rounded global citizen. The experiences you gain abroad allow you the ability to contribute to the global conversation that can change the world. Since Jamaica, I have been to Cuba, and I am headed to Spain this summer!

Keyontae Richardson is a senior at the University of Central Missouri (UCM), pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology with double minors in Africana Studies and Political Science.

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Kansas City’s Role in US-Mexico Relations a Result of 200-Year-Old Mexican Community

Posted By IRC, Monday, May 15, 2017
Updated: Tuesday, May 2, 2017

A healthy diplomatic relationship between the United States and Mexico is crucial for the prosperity of both nations. The various successes of the North American Free Trade Agreement have made Mexico the United States’ third largest trading partner, and the United States Mexico’s largest trading partner, accounting for over 80% of Mexico’s total global trade. Mexican-Americans make up over 11% of the United States 320 million individuals. Suffice it to say, it is imperative that the new presidential administration does everything it can to maintain the special relationship. 


Kansas City has been a center of interest for the Mexican government since the days of the Santa Fe Trail. The first Mexicans to arrive in the area were traders traveling along the trail coming to Independence in the 1820’s and 1830’s. Around the turn of the 20th century, migrant workers from all over Mexico relocated to Kansas City to work for several railroads, including the Chicago–Rock Island and Santa Fe railroads.


Continuing through both World Wars, more Mexican immigrants came to supply the labor needs in the meatpacking and railroad industries. During World War I, when Eastern Europeans were passed over for labor needs, factories and rail yards recruited Mexican labor. In 1942, the United States approved the Bracero Program to allow Mexican laborers to work in the US, and as a result, more Mexicans came to the Kansas City area in search of work.


Most immigrants settled in the Armourdale and Argentine neighborhoods in Kansas City, Kansas, and Westside neighborhood in Kansas City, Missouri. Each neighborhood has a number of restaurants serving authentic Mexican cuisine. Cultural institutions, such as the Mattie Rhodes, El Centro, and the Guadalupe Centers, provide various programming that includes art galleries, workshops, and festivals for holidays.



The prosperity of Kansas City has come not only from the cultural enrichment of Mexican immigration, but also from the economic ties between Kansas City and Mexico. Kansas City Southern, whose headquarters are located in Quality Hill, is the smallest of the remaining major North American railways yet the only one to own track in both Mexico and the United States. The railroad and its subsidiaries provide arteries for the flow of trade between the two countries, running a total of $534 billion in 2014.

Recognizing their emigrants finding cultural and economic prosperity in a city greatly contributing to bilateral trade with its northern neighbor, the Mexican government established the only non-honorary foreign diplomatic missions in Kansas City. The Mexican Consulate in Kansas City reflect Mexico’s belief in the region to be economically and culturally important in the overall prosperity of the relationship between it and the United States.


The diplomatic relationship between the two countries maintains their relative ranking of major global actors in terms of trade. On January 25, 2017, President Donald Trump signed a Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements executive order, directing the Department of Homeland Security to commence securing the US-Mexico border by constructing a physical wall. Disputes between the two governments over who would fund building the wall has caused the Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto to cancel a meeting with Trump, leading to diplomatic stagnation. The Republican-controlled executive and legislative branches must be wary of a downturn in its working relationship with another democratic government, or they risk losing great sums of trade.


Whatever the diplomatic situation is between Mexico City and Washington, D.C., Kansas City will continue to provide a venue for Mexican culture to flourish. El Camino Real in Kansas City, Kansas, will keep serving tacos al pastor, and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce will continue to host the yearly Fiesta Kansas City in Crown Center. 2017 will be another year of growth and enrichment in the Mexican community.


Visit Kansas City »
Kansas City Public Radio KCUR »
Kansas City Public Radio KCUR »
Wikipedia »
Wikipedia »
Wikipedia »

Peter Fortunato is a freshman at the University of Miami Ohio, pursuing a bachelor's degree in both International Studies and Statistics, while minoring in Spanish.

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Member Spotlight: Treaux Jackson

Posted By IRC, Monday, May 8, 2017

Treaux is new to the IRC and became a member because of his interest and recent studies in Asian languages and cultures. Treaux is a current junior at Blue Valley West High School, leads the BV Chinese Club, and promotes Asian languages through his nonprofit, Fortune Cookie Kid. Treaux is a dedicated scholar who, in addition to an already accelerated class schedule, finds the time to learn Mandarin and Japanese.

Over the summer, Treaux studied in Beijing, China, with Education First and then returned to the U.S. to study intensive Chinese at Stanford High School Summer College in California. He was recently awarded the 2017 Reischauer Scholarship by SPICE (Stanford's Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education) and this spring will attend the virtual online program to learn more about Japan and its political relations with the United States. After graduation in 2018, Treaux plans to study Engineering and East Asian Languages.


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

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China and the Two-Child Policy

Posted By IRC, Tuesday, May 2, 2017

A little over a year ago, China’s central government announced the abolition of the one-child policy. Minor easements have weakened the restriction throughout the years, such as allowing rural families a second child and the change in 2013 that allowed a second, if one of the parents is an only child, but the decades-old restriction was finally finished on 1 January, 2016 - the policy now allows two children.


The birth-limiting program was enacted in 1980 to curb the rapid population growth of the time, but fears surrounding China’s current demographic situation inspired the new change. Mei Fong », author and former Wall Street Journal reporter, summarized the problem: “The reason China is doing this right now is because they have too many men, too many old people, and too few young people,” andif people don’t start having more children, they’re going to have a vastly diminished workforce to support a huge aging population.”


Critics are worried that a two-child policy won’t stop what are seen as human rights violations. Keeping the two-child policy means that the government will retain its enforcement tools, including fines and forced abortions.


“Provincial sampling suggests that the Chinese government collects about 20 billion yuan ($3 billion US) per year in family-planning fines,” according to Pei Minxin », professor of government at Claremont McKenna College.



As long as the quotas and system of surveillance remains, women still do not enjoy reproductive rights,” said Maya Wang ». In fact, couples seeking a second pregnancy must still submit an application for a birth permit.


Many argue that the policy wasn’t the main reason for the decline in fertility in these past 30 years. In that time China has seen huge economic growth and some many millions of individuals have climbed out of poverty, which some say is the greater factor at play.


“[T]he most effective path for preventing a population explosion is prosperity. It works much more successfully than sending out police to arrest and fine citizens, something even Chinese officials, to their growing consternation, are discovering. Couples naturally decide to have fewer children as they move from the fields into the cities, become more educated, and when women establish careers outside the home,” according to Frida Ghitis », world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review.


While previous efforts to loosen the policy were expected to cause spikes in fertility rates, China’s younger generation feels that a small family is ideal. Social media response to the two-child system was unspectacular and birth rates aren’t expected to really bloom any time soon. “...more than 20 million young men will not be able to find marriage partners in the coming decades. The most sobering lesson from this tally of the one-child policy’s toll on China lies in the simple fact that the authorities were able to enforce it for so long,” said Pei.

Benjamin Buffa is a senior at the University of Missouri–Kansas City (UMKC), pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in French.

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