From the 3rd to the 17th of August this year, SIB-Amsterdam – otherwise known as the Dutch United Nations Student Association – sponsored a trip for students within the organization to experience political and social stances in a critical region of the world. As an annual trip, the location is determined to be dissimilar each year to focus on a new region, with this year’s location chosen as Russia and the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Due to the history of the Baltic States being under Soviet rule, as well as having large Russian minority groups, there are still issues that affect both sides regarding local politics. As a group abiding by United Nations doctrines, we sought to create a non-biased understanding of the struggles and successes within each country.
Beginning our trip, we took a flight from Amsterdam to Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. After arriving, we began our introduction of the trip with a traditional Lithuanian meal and many games to acclimate to the new group. While in Vilnius, we took a historical walking tour around the city, learning about the geopolitical importance of the city in the region. We also visited the micronation, the Republic of Uzupis, which is based on the eastern side of the river running through Vilnius. We were able to gain insight on the reasons for the existence of micronations as a social or artistic interpretation of government. After a couple days in Vilnius, we took a coach bus north-west to the Latvian capital, Riga. Once there, we were welcomed into the Residence of the Ambassador of the Netherlands to Latvia. With a lovely presentation, we learned about the local involvement of the Dutch government, as well as the benefits and challenges it faces with diplomatic relations between the bordering nations. Spending a couple of nights in the city, we allotted time to visit historically important museums such as the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia and the KGB Corner House. We also allowed free time to travel around the Riga Central Market and the Art Nouveau district of the city, both giving a better insight to the cultural and architectural hubs of Latvia, respectfully. Before leaving the city, we traveled to the NATO Strategic Communications Center of Excellence to learn about the workings within the Baltic region in relation to the tension with non-NATO states.
We walked through the medieval old town of Tallinn to attend a meeting with local diplomats at the Dutch Embassy. The group learned much about local and national initiatives using digital alternatives for government, health, and residency. After the Embassy, we had a short break before heading to the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence. There, we were introduced to the world of cyber defense for potential large-scale attacks. With focuses on Cyber Law and Strategy, we learned of their operations and how military around the world benefits from their findings. The following day, our group had the decision between two different day trips: one to Helsinki and one to a village in the Lahemaa National Forest. For those who chose the Finnish capital, they imparted on a long boat ride in the morning before meeting with a fellow member who lives in the region. The students learned about local life, viewed government buildings, and visited important monuments within and around the city. For the students who visited Lahemaa, they departed later that morning toward the village of Käsmu, on the northern coast of Estonia. After learning about local life from the Maritime Museum in the town, they walked the forest trails while following guided signs teaching about local Estonian ecosystems.
On the tenth of August, we took a coach bus to Saint Petersburg, Russia. In the city, we visited the Hermitage Museum, learned about Peter the Great’s influence on Russian culture, and explored the Peterhof Summer Palace to understand the history of the government’s evolution. Before heading to Moscow, we met with diplomats at the Dutch Consulate to understand the involvement of government in assisting social programs throughout the northwest region. Taking a high-speed rail to the Russian capital, we formed an option for a day trip to one of the cities in the Golden Ring. A group of students took a tour through a monastery in the city of Sergiev Posad where Russian Orthodoxy planted its roots. The following day we took a tour of the Kremlin, the political hub of Russia., learning about how the fortress functioned since its conception. Time in the evenings was granted to explore, and some of our members chose to watch a ballet performance, one of the cultural pinnacles of the city.
Our last meeting with officials took place in the Dutch Embassy, where we held a large Q and A session about the political and economic standpoints of Russia and the Netherlands. After one last dinner together, we prepared for our early flight back to Amsterdam. Having no logistical difficulties, our group was able to travel across the Baltic States and the Russian Federation. Identifying the political stances of the two regions, we were able to form nonbiased understandings of the challenges that face each nation.
On the 26th of June, our members chose during the General Meeting the board for the next year 2018-2019. We are honored to present:
Chairman: Sean Nijlunsing
Secretary: Enrico Nuboer
Treasurer: Ryan Fernandes
Commissioner for Internal Affairs: Maxine Rubingh
Commissioner for External & Professional Affairs: Angela Barez
On Wednesday 6th of June, we held our Diplomat Drinks at the ‘Brug’ on Roeterseiland. We were honored to host diplomats from Germany, South-Korea, a Member of the House of Representatives, Achraf Bouali (D66) and representatives from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We began with an introduction speech by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about how to become a diplomat and what the work of a diplomat exactly entails. After that, we had four rounds in which more than thirty students could ask questions about international relations and diplomacy to high-level diplomats. During the conversations with the diplomats, we enjoyed drinks and snacks.
With the diplomat of South-Korea, we talked about the upcoming conversation between Kim Jong-un and president Trump. South-Korea is hoping to enter a new era with peace talks. Achraf talked about his career path and that he was asked by Alexander Pechtold to enter the second chamber. During the conversation with the diplomat with Germany and an employee of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we learned more about the ‘ diplomatic class’.
It was a good opportunity to get to know diplomats and learn more about the lifestyle of a diplomat. Afterward, we had some drinks and talked about this lovely evening.
Together with members of SIB-Leiden, SIB-Groningen, and SIB-Utrecht, SIB-Amsterdam went to the Netherlands Institute of International Relations Clingendael. Clingendael is an independent think tank and diplomatic academy which studies various aspects of international relations. Every year, around 2,500 international professionals from over 60 countries participate in courses at the Clingendael Institute.
In September Clingendael starts its 73rdCourse International Relations (LLB), which will get young professionals ready in 12 weeks for an international career. Alumni from LBB can be found at embassies, at the UN, NGOs, in politics, and in international business.
We were at Clingendael Institute on the invitation of Nils de Mooij, a training and research fellow at the Insitute, but above all a former SIB member! De Mooij was going to give us a training in negotiating.
He started with giving us a small exercise, which aimed to explain the importance of procedures during negotiations. The next assignment was to come up with a definition of International Negotiations. At the Institute they use: a process of communication between two or more parties that aims to reach a mutually acceptable agreement that satisfies their interest. The mutual acceptability forms a key to reach the goal of satisfying each other’s interests. In this process, it is of absolute importance not to show the other party your mandate (how far you can go). Furthermore, it is important that parties can deliver a deal which is acceptable: if the other party can only deliver a non-acceptable deal than there is no deal. It is, thus, crucial that parties find out what the bottom line is. Before you start negotiating, parties should be aware of their BATNA: Best Alternative To a Negotiated Deal. BATNAs are critical to negotiation because you cannot make a wise decision about whether to accept a negotiated agreement unless you know what your alternatives are. By setting out your BATNA, you will have a clear position during the negotiations. De Mooij provided us also with some tricks which you use during negations.
After learning the theory behind negotiating, we were given some exercises to apply our newly acquired knowledge in practice.
After the negating session was finished, we made a picture in front of the manor house of the Institute.
On the 17th of May, we organized a Masterclass on the Dark Web. During this masterclass, we learned a lot about the working of the hidden internet. First among others, the deep and dark web are different things. The former is a part that is not found on search engines. The latter a very small subset of the deep web (hidden internationally). Additionally, access through standard web browsers is impossible as it is comprised of individual networks (darknets).
The access to the dark web is through different layers of encryption. You pass hubs and each hub has a key to open one layer of encryption. This is called Onion Routing. Something which is more commonly known is the Tor Network, which uses this type of routing. It is being used by different actors to embed themselves into a cloud of protection. ProPublica, the online investigative journalism platform that won a Pulitzer Prize, uses this kind of protection to hide, for example, their sources.
However, hidden services make use of this network. Such examples are online markets that sell, next to legal, illegal products. Silk Road is a famous example. It got shut down because of the illegal substances that were being sold.
As you might suggest, it is difficult for law enforcement to enter these hidden networks. But, there are ways. Almost always through human errors. When the dark net community scrambled after Alphabay (the then-largest online market) got taken down a significant migration took place to Hansa. Hansa saw its users multiply by 8. Unfortunately for the users, Interpol had seized Hansa for a month, but kept it running to extract information. As such, all those who migrated gave away their personal info to Interpol as it found a way to deanonymize users who made a transaction on Hansa.
Decentralization has three major benefits: (1) fault tolerance, (2) attack resistance, and (3) collusion resistance. The first basically means that when a server goes down, another server stays up. The second captures the high costs of attacking such online markets and dark-web websites. Lastly, the third point is about the difficulty of trying to manipulate, for example, an online market place.
Thus, the law enforcement aims at finding mistakes that they can exploit. Alphabay got taken down thanks to an identified error in the opening message. Furthermore, law enforcement also tries to scare users away by revealing information, like the Dutch police does. Nevertheless, it remains difficult for law enforcements to even seem to being successful. This is mainly because the owners of Alphabay and Silk Road, for example, had only three people running the whole business. Finally, it is not always the police who takes down website. Infrastructural errors and mistakes, but also rivalry is a source of taking websites down on the dark web.
I hope you enjoyed this piece and you are always very welcome to join our future masterclasses as well!
Last Monday, SIB went to the Palestinian Mission in The Hague. At 11 o’clock we entered the premises and coffee and tea was offered to us. After a few minutes the Head of Mission, Mrs. Rawan Sulaiman came in and welcomed us. She started with introducing herself and told us something her personal life and how she became Head of Mission.
After that, she started telling about the current situation in Gaza. On Thursday, a memorial would be held at the Mission, for all the victims and the dead caused by Israeli violence in Gaza.
Mrs Sulaiman was very delighted hearing that the ICC prosecutor opened a preliminary investigation into alleged crimes committed by the Israeli army in occupied Palestinian territory. Furthermore, she was glad that the Prosecutor had released a Statement in which said: “any new alleged crime committed in the context of the situation in Palestine may be subjected to my Office’s scrutiny”. Mrs. Sulaiman emphasized that the crimes committed by the Israeli forces should not go unpunished and that justice should prevail.
Having discussed the recent events, Mrs Sulaiman started explaining the broader political scope of the Mission. A two-state solution between Israel and Palestine should be reached fast. Although the fact that Mrs. Sulaiman is an optimistic woman, she was not very hopeful that this would happen anywhere soon. The asymmetrical relation between both parties, by which Israel is occupying Palestine, is the reason for that. The growing numbers of settlements on Palestinian territories is not an indication for peace, according to Mrs. Sulaiman.
Furthermore, the occupation imposes a heavy cost on the economy of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which might otherwise reach twice its current size. A report of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) noted that: “Fifty years have passed since Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem; five decades of de-development, suppressed human potential and denial of the right to development, with an economy incapable of employing one third of its workforce and featuring extremely high unemployment among women and youth“.
Finally, Mrs. Sulaiman pointed out that the Netherlands can play an important role in the conflict. The Netherlands is an important player within the EU and since it is a member of the Security Council it can do even more. The Head of mission hopes that the UN will do more to help the Palestinian people, but she is afraid that nothing will come out of the Security Council, because the United States has a veto.
At the end, there was a lot of room for questions, especially relating Palestinian refugees. Some people even told about their personal experiences with individual refugees. Mrs. Sulaiman explained that the Palestinian Mission can help these people and they should contact the consular section.
After an interesting session at the Palestinian Mission, we went to Café Dudok for a nice cup of coffee.
Voters faced a difficult decision last March, Vladimir Putin or Vladimir Putin. On March 18th, Putin won the Russian elections for the fourth time and following this unsurprising victory, SIB organized a lecture to discuss the future of nation. To aid our lecture, we invited Tony van der Togt. Besides being a former member of our association, Van der Togt works as a Senior Research Fellow at the Clingendael Institute. He established the first Dutch Embassy in Kazakhstan and is extremely knowledgeable about Russia and its leader. Our second speaker of the day was Andre Gerrits, a former colleague of Van der Togt, as a Senior Researcher Fellow at the Clingendael Institute, and currently active as a professor of International Studies and Global Politics, based in The Hague.
Tony van der Togt gave an overview of the current situation and internal affairs of Russia, referring to the 2018 elections as a “peculiar” one. Even though there were eight candidates, there really was no alternative to Vladimir. However, Van der Togt highlighted the future potential of Ksenia Sobchak, the young star, who was out campaigning in the U.S. and other western states to increase her foreign credibility. Nonetheless, she only received around 2% of the votes. Putin aimed at 70-70, getting 70% of the votes and a 70% turnout. The majority he got indeed, with over 77% of the votes, however, the turnout was not as good, and Van der Togt linked this to Putins strategy, which was really focused on international affairs with the West, military strength and perceived victories abroad, especially in Crimea. Moreover, Putin only very late announced that he was going to run again, potentially trying to not raise the public’s expectations to high.
Still, Putin won without any problems, so, what’s next? Van der Togt highlighted two scenarios. The first scenario would be a period of stagnation coupled with renationalization because of a fear of instability. The second scenario focuses on modernization, following a generational change and coupled with better relations with the West. Currently, Van der Togt argued that this need for a change can already be seen in the Generation P(utin), a group of youngsters who grew up under Putin’s reign and are becoming “a-political” and “fed up with the current political system.” Furthermore, due to the stagnating economic growth they could potentially be a force for change. Currently, this group is a very small minority and hence causes no fear amongst the sitting government. Moreover, Van der Togt highlighted the fact that the Putin administration aimed to modernize its technology industry using a top-down approach. For example, their efforts to heavily investing in their own Silicon Valley, Zelenograd, which has definitely not yielded the same results as its American competitor.
Andre Gerrits followed up Van der Togt’s talk and immediately stated his reservations about the potential of the second scenario and argued that the current Russian economy is not doing bad at all. He strongly argued that we shouldn’t look at Russia applying a Western lens. Gerrits focused more on the external affairs and foreign relations regarding Russia, the West, China and the Middle East. The election results, he argued, “are a poor indicator of the political conditions” in the nation. The barrier against any democratic change does not necessarily come from above, as the reality is that in Russian society there is very little widespread ambition for western reforms; “an unspoken agreement between the elite and a large part of society. Most Russians are in favour of the decisions that Putin has made and his
foreign policy decisions. Gerrits, furthermore, argued that Putin uses his foreign decisions to create and maintain a Western “evil” to keep the Russian distracted from the internal struggles of the nation.
However, Putin might have taken this strategy too far. His relations with the West are at an all-time low. Even though Putin won Crimea, he lost Ukraine and since 2014 his relatively pragmatic approach to foreign policy seems to be getting the best of him. Following the debacle with the UK, many EU member states have shown their teeth and moved out Russian diplomats and increased sanctions. So, what is next for Putin? Gerrits explained the importance of having power in Russia and linked this to one of Putin’s first decrees as acting president by granting Mr. Yeltsin immunity from criminal or administrative investigations, including protection of his papers, residence and other possessions from search and seizure. “If you lose your power you lose your wealth.” You can also see this in the main political figures and the current Russian elites, most are friends of Putin holding a vested interest in the continuation of the current system. It seems likely that Putin will appoint his own successor behind the scenes to insure he receives the same immunity he granted to Yeltsin.
Gerrits also highlighted some options Putin has to increase his relations with the West, without losing his internal power. Where Van der Togt argued that Russia should focus on promoting free media, Gerrits states that scaling down the anti-western propaganda seems an unlikely decision to take for the Russians. He argues that Russia can retract its interventions in the internal political affairs in Ukraine, however he also stated that it is still uncertain whether Moscow actually overpowers the separatists. Another option is Korea, where Russia fears being marginalized by China, where by working together with the West they can increase their relations without becoming marginalized.
Both Van der Togt and Gerrits agreed that the current situation in Russia is stable, but externally Russia is stepping on many toes and its own population does not seem to attribute a lot to the global power position of Russia anymore. What’s next remains to be seen, but Russia has many options to increase its relations with the West and vis-versa there are opportunities as well. Nonetheless, the future of Putin’s Russia is still to be seen, but seems unlikely that Putin
will hand over his power anytime soon.
Next month we organize another lecture: The Future of Space Exploration, on May 14th . This lecture will focus on the current and future developments in the great beyond and the ways in which nation states and multinational actors are shaping our future.
On Monday the 12th of March we had a lecture about International Cyber Security and the ‘Sleepwet’. Below you can find a summary of this evening.
Will it be YES or NO? That was the big question that the Netherlands population could vote on, besides the municipal elections, on March the 21st . The AIVD and MIVD need better tools to protect us, but is the WiV or the Sleepwet the tool we want to give them? This was the topic of debate during the SIB Lecture on International Cyber Security and the Sleepwet on the 12th of March at CREA.
“Scaring people with myths stating that every single person will be watched following the ‘Sleepwet’ does not get us anywhere.” – Peter Koop
Peter Koop, our first speaker, is very well acquainted with the topic and has been writing blogs on the secret services, cryptography and communication surveillance in the Netherlands and the world since 2012. Following the Snowden-revelations he is one of the few people who critically analysed these documents and he shared his intricate knowledge of the topic. Regarding the ‘Sleepwet’ he has been very critical of the language that many media outlets adopted, without really informing the people of its merits. “Eavesdropping is not the right terminology, in most cases the Sleepwet is focused on internet communications being intercepted, filtered and analysed.” Peter explained how the secret services will effectively be able to use the “OnderzoeksOpdrachtGerichte” (OOG) interception, which basically is collecting data on a big scale, using existing telephone and internet tapping systems. This is one of the points of critique that the Sleepwet faces. As the Sleepwet, dragnet, will not only focus on gather data on specific targets, but drag everybody in a certain area into the database. Peter explained the difficulties with realizing this system as the shear amounts of data would be too much to handle for the servers in place. Hence, the Sleepwet, will filter a lot of the data and only save metadata and use “contact-chaining” filtering the data to that “that is most relevant.”
Many, however, disagree with this dragnet method: “our freedom and democracy are being pressured as all our digital interactions are mediated. These values are worth protecting.” Hans de Zwart, director of Bits of Freedom and our second speaker of the evening, strongly opposes the Sleepwet. He argued that the Sleepwet allows the secret services to utilise too far reaching tools unproportioned to the issue they aim to tackle. He followed up Peter’s explanation of the dragnet, as “nobody is sure whether it is going to work and the necessity is not proven.” Moreover, he explained how the AIVD and MIVD can through cooperating parties can directly access vast amounts of personal data. Also, he introduced the concept of ‘zero-days’, unknown vulnerabilities of software, discovered without notifying the software developer, allowing those who know to abuse these loopholes. “Surely this is unethical for the government to legally apply.”
Following the two talks, the Peter and Hans went into debate, where Hans passionate opposition and Peter’s factual knowledge of the Sleepwet came to the same conclusion. There is definitely a need for a new Cybersecurity law in the Netherlands, however the current proposed law has a lot of flaws that need to be addressed adequately. Both Peter and Hans agree that the CTIVD needs to get the power to immediately stop the secret services if their conduct is not lawful. Moreover, we need more clarity on the what will happen with the collected data and the efficiency of the dragnet within the WiV. However, Peter explicity states that the only way to truly find out how effective this law can be, it needs to be put to practice, whereas Hans states that in its current form, applying the law is unethical.
For now, it is NO. Following the results of the Referendum, the population, with a small majority, voted against the law, which prompts the government to rethink the current proposal. It will be remained to be seen whether the law will be amended by the government, but at least the law lead to a heated discussion about the balance between security and
On April 9th SIB will follow up this lecture with a lecture on the Russian Elections and the
Future of Putin’s Russia. See our Facebook page for more information.