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Undergraduate Research

In 2018, several undergraduate students conducted research across SGS's 14 programs, including those enrolled in the International Relations Honors Program, as well as the Global Studies and Human Rights Minor programs. Below is a snapshot of undergraduate research from this past year:

Diplomatic Breakthrough: Politics, Reform, and Trust in the Restoration of U.S.-Cuba Relations

By Samuel Garcia, International Relations '18

What explains the re-establishment of U.S.-Cuba relations under U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro?  Conventional wisdom points to public opinion shifts within the Cuban-American community and domestic reform within Cuba.  These two factors, while important, are insufficient to account for the re-establishment of U.S.-Cuba relations.  This thesis argues that the development of a working trust between Obama and Castro was critical to diplomatic breakthrough.  Decades of animosity fueled a deep mistrust between the United States and Cuba.  As this thesis details, Obama and Castro communicated a series of cooperative and trust-building signals – aided by Pope Francis and the Catholic Church – that allowed diplomatic breakthrough to emerge.

Read his thesis here.

Israel's Founding in Words: Israeli Speeches at the UN and the Palestinian Refugee Crisis

By Zoe Goldblum, International Relations '18

The state of Israel was founded on May 14, 1948.  For those who had fought for the creation of a Jewish state, 1948 represented a triumph after centuries of Jewish experiences of oppression, displacement, and most recently, genocide. However, in most Palestinian narratives, Israel’s founding is called the Nakba, or ‘catastrophe,’ due to the resulting displacement of around 700,000 Palestinians and the creation of an ongoing refugee issue.  This thesis seeks to understand how the Israeli historical and collective memory of 1948 was constructed and communicated in the early years of Israeli statehood.  In particular, the thesis examines how Israeli leaders portrayed the refugee crisis to the international community through speeches to United Nations General Assembly.  I examine the speeches of Golda Meir and Abba Eban, two important orators and politicians in Israel’s early history. In doing so, this thesis will examine the formation of narratives to describe the outset of the Palestinian refugee crisis that are still in use today. 

Read her thesis here.

A Recommendation on Establishing a Comprehensive Anti-Trafficking Legislation in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

Alexis Kallen, Human Rights Minor, '18

In this policy proposal research, I examine the patchwork of policies that are available to help human trafficking current victims and survivors in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China (HKSAR). I then assert that this patchwork is not currently doing enough to protect people from being human trafficked, and give my own policy proposal for how to solve this issue. My focus on the HKSAR specifically is due to my internship with the Justice Centre Hong Kong, a human rights law firm in Hong Kong. I hope that by exploring this issue in-depth now, I will be more prepared for my internship.

View her capstone.

A Stain on Our Souls: The Darfur Genocide During the Obama Presidency

By Campbell Howe, International Relations '18

Since 2003, the Sudanese government and its Arab militia proxies have conducted a genocide against Africans in Darfur, killing roughly 500,000 people and displacing 2.7 million. Public outcry compelled President George W. Bush to take diplomatic measures to end the atrocities, though they achieved little success. In 2007, then-Senator Barack Obama included Darfur on his presidential platform and denounced the genocide as a “stain on our souls.” Nevertheless, during his presidency, Obama not only failed to address the genocide, but also lifted sanctions that had been imposed on Khartoum for its criminal activities in Darfur. This thesis examines why the Obama Administration’s foreign policies in relation to Darfur were so weak. In particular, I focus on four main factors that constrained U.S. action in the region: lack of political salience, South Sudan's creation and subsequent implosion, humanitarian crises elsewhere, and China's and Russia's economic interests in Sudan. By understanding these policy constraints, we might learn how to end this long and violent genocide, as well as other humanitarian conflicts in areas with little national strategic import.

Read her thesis here.

Gaza Stripped: Palestinian Refugees within an International and State Context

By Alyssa Liew, International Relations '18

The ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict has created one of the longest standing refugee populations in the world: Palestinian refugees.  Yet Palestinians are excluded by name from the 1951 Refugee Convention, which is responsible for outlining the international legal protections that most refugees are entitled to access.  Instead, Palestinian refugees fall under the protection of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).  Why are there two separate entities for managing Palestinian refugees and all other international refugees?   How does this system impact the protection of Palestinian refugee rights, and does it lead to variations in the treatment of Palestinian refugees by geographic location?  This thesis analyzes the international treatment of and protections granted to the Palestinian refugee population by investigating both the international institutional frameworks—in particular, through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and UNRWA—as well as state-level responses, with a specific focus on Jordan and its policies towards Palestinian refugees. 

Read her thesis here.

The Effect of Interpersonal Relationships on Intervention: A Case Study on United Kingdom and United States Heads of State

By Rachel Morrow, International Relations '18

The relationship between the United States and United Kingdom has long been referred to as “The Special Relationship,” a remarkable alliance based upon a shared language, an interwoven history, and largely homogeneous traditions. Historically, the U.S. President and the U.K. Prime Minister have enjoyed a distinctive personal relationship of their own, and the nuances of their rapport may impact how the two states interact in substantive ways.  For example, during the Iraq War, many argued that British Prime Minister Tony Blair sent British troops into Iraq largely in order to preserve Britain’s special relationship with the United States and due to Blair’s affinity for President George W. Bush.  This raises the central question of this thesis: Does the personal relationship between the U.S. President and the U.K. Prime Minister affect the likelihood of joint military intervention? To analyze that question, this thesis examines the effects of the interpersonal relationship on four cases of military interventions during the post-World War II era: Vietnam, the Falklands, Bosnia, and Iraq.

Read her thesis here.

When Home Exists No Longer: Climate Change and Forced Cross-Border Migration

Sophie Stuber, International Relations '18

Is the right to a healthy environment a fundamental human right? Climate change is predicted to exacerbate negative environmental phenomena, including drought, rising sea levels, and the prevalence of severe natural disasters.  How can and should international institutions, such as the United Nations, aid persons displaced due to climate change?  First, the thesis traces how the international community’s definition of refugees has evolved in the past century, in order to argue how and on what grounds persons displaced due to climate change may considered refugees in the future.  The UN and international legal community do not yet recognize persons displaced due to climate change as refugees with rights that accompany that designation.   Second, the thesis explores international organizations’ responses to previous high magnitude natural disasters, which generate comparable population displacements as those predicted by the climate change.  Finally, this thesis investigates three case studies of regions already experiencing the effects of climate change: Indonesia, the Solomon Islands, and the Sahel region in Africa. These cases provide insights regarding how climate change could affect global migration patterns and will serve as guidance for how the international community should address the challenges of forced displacement due to climate change.  This thesis argues that the international community must design a legal framework that is flexible and adaptable. Moreover, as an international framework may take years to implement, in the interim states should form regional agreements to address the specific challenges of climate change in their respective localities. Forced displacement due to climate change is a complex and deeply rooted challenge that will need to be addressed through a combination of scientific and legal innovations.   

Read her thesis here.

Leapfrogging Coal: An Analysis of the Future Potential of the Indian Solar Experiment

By Molly Montgomery, International Relations '18

Recent climate change predictions have left the world to watch nervously as countries like India, the world’s third largest producer of emissions, anticipate bringing over 300 million additional people onto the electrical grid.  If India continues to build coal power plants, the effects on global climate, particularly health in India, could be catastrophic.  In the next year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi holds the fate of the country in his hands as important energy policy decisions are decided, and his role as India’s leader will either push the tide of environmentalism forward, or cause it to flounder.  The country is now poised to bring its citizens onto the electrical grid using solar energy, thus leapfrogging coal.  Will India move forward with solar power or turn back to coal? This thesis argues that the success of solar power in India rests on the maintained prioritization of renewable energy by the Modi government, the continued stability in the trade relationship with China, and manufacturing capability in India today.  In order to analyze the future of the Indian solar project, this thesis will examine the demonetization movement of 2016 (in order to assess the Modi government’s capacity to stick with policy priorities), the China-India trade relationship and a comparison of India’s most successful solar parks (in order to assess India’s manufacturing capabilities).  Each of these cases elucidate different aspects of the solar initiative, its political promises and its political limitations. 

Read her thesis here.