Last Week in Foreign Affairs (January 21 - January 27)
Venezuela Becomes a Proxy War
The Venezuelan presidency is currently being claimed by two figures, and international powers are falling in line behind their preferred politician. One of them is Nicolas Maduro, who won the recent presidential election amidst claims of tampering and election fraud. Maduro publicly denounced the United States as having “committed a coup in Venezuela” by recognizing President of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, as the country’s new leader. Spain, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom have all delivered Maduro an ultimatum: they will recognize Guaidó as President if Maduro declines to call a new election within eight days. Maduro had already rejected the deadline as of Sunday. Russia and China, on the other hand, have proclaimed their full-throated support for Maduro. The two countries likely view Maduro’s authoritarian and heavy-handed political tactics as an asset as they attempt to gain political influence in Central and South America. Still, the key tipping point in this political standoff will be the Venezuelan military. While Maduro began with a majority of the military’s support, Guaidó has gained some important backing from a Venezuelan military attaché in Washington, D.C. Considering the global divide this election has created, with a variety of global superpowers backing both candidates, Venezuela’s woes appear less like a domestic issue, and more like an international proxy war leaving its citizens caught in the middle.
Japanese Supreme Court Upholds Law 111
In 2003, Japan implemented Law 111, requiring that those identifying as transgender be sterilized before legally changing their gender on official documents. In a unanimous decision, the highest court in Japan rejected an appeal to change that law. In their decisions, the Justices wrote that while the law is technically constitutional, the legislature should review its draconian measures. Human Rights Watch, an international NGO, noted that while the country has made some strides in providing a safe environment for its LGBTQ+ citizens, this particular law “remains a stain on Japan’s record.” The law, according to the Court’s interpretation of the legislative decision, was designed to “prevent problems” in parent-child relationships, which would avoid “societal confusion” and avoid “abrupt changes.” The legislature has not necessarily strayed from this view over time. Last year, lawmaker and Liberal Democratic Party member Mio Sugita of the ruling Liberal Democrats claimed “support for LGBTs has gone too far,” even after recent polling data indicated that over 70% of Japanese citizens said they supported stronger legal protections for LGBTQ+ people.
Queen Elizabeth Issues Rare Political Statement
Queen Elizabeth II issued a rare political statement on Thursday at an event in Sandringham, partially wading into the caustic debate over how the United Kingdom should leave the European Union. Much like her 2018 Christmas message, the Queen called for unity and a “coming together to seek out common ground.” The message is especially poignant after a series of fast-paced events on Brexit in the past few weeks. Not only did Parliament vote down Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan by a historic margin, but the New IRA is believed to have set off the car bomb in Derry, a town in Northern Ireland. While the Queen is technically head of state, she has no ability to act in that capacity. In her seven decades of rule, she has rarely issued political messages, garnering her much respect from Parliament. She has become more involved recently as a national figurehead, often when the country turns to her during times of celebration or crisis. In the case of Brexit, however, further involvement might further damage the already shattered political landscape of current British politics. If she appears to endorse one policy over another, any goodwill that she has curated over the years might be diminished and could potentially spawn another constitutional crisis.
Israel and Iran Exchange Rocket Fire
As part of a conflict that has persisted for over five years, Israel launched rockets into Syria at Iranian military targets. This came after the Iranian military fired Iranian-made rockets into the Golan Heights. The Iranian missile was fired approximately 50 kilometers from the Golan Heights, clearly breaking the promise Russia made to Israel that Iranian forces would never be that close to Israeli land. The back-and-forth between the two nations could potentially precipitate a wider conflict. Israel has passionately defended its right to protect its claimed territory, while Iran has on multiple occasions threatened to bring harm to Israel. The Head of the Iranian Air Force has even claimed that “the young people in the air force are fully ready and impatient to confront the Zionist regime and eliminate it from the Earth.”