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The subject of foreign assistance is one that will remain at the fore in international relations and foreign policy long into the future. Foreign assistance has a long history as a tool for building positive relationships with other nations, for propping up allies who are threatened by a powerful enemy, or simply providing humanitarian assistance out of a sense of obligation. The United Nations is currently responsible for distributing a great deal of foreign assistance out of its own budget, and powerful nations like the United States, Russia, China, and France all cultivate relationships with smaller countries via offering foreign assistance.

Foreign assistance has traditionally been conceived of as a tool for influencing the outcome of international events in accordance with foreign policy needs. A famous and cogent example is the Lend-Lease assistance provided by the United States to Britain and the Soviet Union during the Second World War. Beset by an enemy in the Axis powers that threatened to overthrow the current system of states and possibly threaten the United States itself, Britain and the USSR received shipments of supplies, weapons, aircraft, and even ships for over a year before the United States officially entered the war. This aid played a significant role in keeping Britain and the USSR on their feet long enough for their combined efforts to stop the German and Italian assaults on them.

In modern times, foreign assistance is more commonly thought of in terms of humanitarian aid and assistance rendered after a natural disaster. After the Indonesian Tsunami of 2004 and the Japanese Sendai Quake and Tsunami of 2011 many nations around the world put together assistance packages designed to ease the suffering of disaster victims and help rebuild their economies. This type of aid can be essential in preventing additional harm from coming to those affected by such tragedies.

But even without such periodic catastrophes, foreign assistance still plays a major role in foreign affairs. International agreements are solidified by foreign assistance packages – both the relative Mideast Peace after 1973 and operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan are underpin by massive foreign assistance agreements that effectively pay nations to act in accordance with the wishes of the United States. These sorts of foreign assistance acts can be expected to continue as the United States seeks to obtain desired foreign policy outcomes under ever-growing military constraints. And other nations are getting into the act as well – in the future the greatest growth in foreign assistance may be between China and smaller nations in Africa and Latin America in order to secure vital supplies of raw materials to back up its growing economy.

Immigration is a sore spot with many people in the United States. The ramifications of topics ranging from the number of refugees the U.S. allows in each year to the future Hispanization of the country keep immigration at the forefront of American political discussion.

Some feel that the United States will be taken over by Hispanic individuals, and others feel that this is not ever going to happen. If it does occur, it’s not likely to happen soon. The number of illegal immigrants in the U.S., especially from Latin America, is a touchy topic with many. Some of the main issues of discussion revolve around whether U.S. citizens and legal immigrants should have to pay for schooling, housing, food and medical care for illegal immigrants who want free or reduced cost social services. States are also considering whether to allow children of illegal immigrants who are not U.S. citizens to take advantage of college financial aid.

Refugees are admitted to the United States after undergoing a thorough identity and background screening by the United Nations. The president’s office sets the cap on how many refugees are allowed in each year. The numbers often range from about 75,000 to 80,000 per year. However, the question many in social services ask is, “How are we going to provide for this many people?” Resettlement agencies are understaffed, and the money isn’t available to help refugees as much as many would like. Jobs are scarce for citizens and other immigrants, and trying to find them for refugees who may have little work experience or knowledge of English makes it challenging to meet government refugee self-sufficiency standards.

How to provide for illegal immigrants and refugees is a difficult topic that must be dealt with on a daily basis. Teachers, case workers, policy makers, administrators, volunteers and many others may want to provide for those in need no matter their immigration status. The exact ways to do so, however, is a question with no easy answer.

Whether American citizens can continue to take care of their families and other legal immigrants and citizens into the unforeseeable future remains to be seen. Eventually, a point may be reached where more difficult decisions may have to be made at the state and national level regarding immigration. Some states, such as Arizona, are already taking matters into their own hands to deal with the problem of illegal immigration.

The expansion of democracy has long been characterized as occurring in waves, a mode of thought popularized by prominent intellectual Samuel Huntington. Currently the globe appears to be either in an extended portion of the so-called Third Wave of democratic expansion, or perhaps in a new Fourth Wave brought about by the Arab Spring. Regardless of the nomenclature assigned to democratic development in the present and near-future, it is clear that democratic development will play a major role in foreign affairs for some time to come.

The implications of democratic expansion across the world are manifold. Of all forms of governance that have been developed and tried by humanity over the course of its civilization, democracy is arguably the most effective in preserving the rights of individuals and groups within society, and ensuring fair treatment of all citizens of a democratic system. Democracies tend to be the most economically dynamic and developed nations, with low levels of political violence and poverty. In addition, thus far few democratic nations have gone to war with one another, which brings security implications to the fore in discussions of democratic development. If democracies tend not to fight one another, it may mean that democratic development holds promise in the realm of establishing global security and peace.

Democratic development has other implications in foreign policy, however. Typically new democracies have experienced significant tendencies to backslide back into more repressive forms of government. Some current democracies like South Korea, Spain, and Greece were only recently still run by military regimes or dictatorships, even though all held major roles in the international system set up by the victorious powers of World War II on the side of the United States and its allies. Even long-established democracies are not immune to this backsliding tendency, as witnessed by the growing restrictions on civil liberties and citizen privacy in the United States and United Kingdom, two otherwise stellar examples of established, successful democracies.

In addition, the democratic development of long politically repressed or economically depressed nations has given them newly legitimized voices on the international stage. Long standing rhetoric in favor of democracy has forced powerful nations like the US to give additional credence to nations that have recently democratized, but often these very nations seek dialogue with the US and other powers to redress long standing grievances related to economic exploitation. If more nations become democracies and demand to be treated equally on the international scene, this may force current powers to re-evaluate their policies and relationships with other nations.

Few nations are as important in assessing foreign policy issues as Russia. Though the Soviet Union is now two decades gone, Russia’s position as a major resource producer who happens to be armed with several thousand nuclear warheads means that no country can afford to ignore the Kremlin.

Russia is a unique nation in many ways. It is the largest country in the world, spanning two continents and a dizzying array of geographic landforms. Its population is concentrated in the European half of the country, but its most important economic assets – its oil, natural gas, and coal – are predominantly located east of the Urals in sparsely populated Siberia. It grew from a minor power centered around the ancient port of St. Petersburg to a global superpower in little over two centuries, and from 1945-1991 the Soviet Union, with Russia at its core, provided the major international counterpoint to the US-led NATO alliance.

Although the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s reduced Russia’s prominence on a global scale, the rise in oil and natural gas prices of the early 2000s has brought Russia back to leading power status. Her military is undergoing expansion and modernization, and the leadership duo of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev recall the glory days of the Soviet Union. Russia fought a short, sharp conflict with the tiny nation of Georgia in 2008 and has begun to deploy warships to the Indian Ocean and even the Caribbean Sea.

Russia has also developed a strong relationship with China, whose economy is now heavily dependent on imported Russian raw materials. Together their economies are anticipated to give them the clout to counterbalance the United Stated by the mid 21st century. This growth threatens to once again bring the United States and Russia into political conflict, and perhaps even renew the nuclear standoff that characterized the Cold War.

Current major bones of contention between Russia and the United States involve the US deployment of ballistic missile defense systems in Eastern Europe, the NATO alliance’s expansion across Europe to incorporate states on Russia’s western border, and Russia’s backing of US-opponent regimes Syria and Iran. Over the long term Russia’s rebirth and America’s decline are expected to somewhat equalize the power imbalances that occurred after the Soviet Union dissolved, and the emerging economic power bloc of the BRIC nations – Brazil, Russia, India, and China – may one day translate to military and political power sufficient to challenge the western developed nations.

Questions of statehood. Walls. Possible human rights violations. Checkpoints. The conflict between Israel and Palestine is ongoing, and continues to mar both Israel’s record and ongoing efforts towards overall stability in the area.

At the heart of the problem is the creation of Israel itself. The Jewish state was carved out of land that, at the time, belonged to the Palestinians. The displaced population’s anger directed at the new country became entangled in the policies of several of the Arab states. Israel responded by displacing even more people and building new settlements in predominantly Palestinian areas.

In the long term, a Palestinian state is likely to be the only solution. But it is hard for the Israeli government to negotiate with terrorists – and terrorist acts have certainly been perpetuated by Palestinian extremists. Many Palestinians consider the Israelis to be terrorists. In some parts of the country, the conflict has the qualities of a blood feud. Each death breeds more deaths.

Making real progress, too, would require uniting the Palestinians, but that is harder than it seems. Divided in methods and even, in some places, in cause, the Palestinian people have no united front to present to Israel and the world. With the construction of the infamous fence, the Israeli government has taken a hard line stance that seems to show an unwillingness to even look at the problem.

Between all of these factors, it appears that the conflict is a long-term feature of regional politics. It has lasted for decades and is likely to last for decades more. As unstable as the current situation is, it seems to have an odd kind of equilibrium to it, as if it has become the way things are done around here. It might look to the outsider to be completely untenable, but it seems as if nothing is ever going to change.

Is there a solution? Perhaps the proverbial ‘take the leaders and lock them in a room until they come to some kind of agreement’ is the only answer, but sadly not one the leaders are likely to agree to. Meanwhile, the ordinary people have developed abiding hatreds that may make it almost impossible for them to live in peace.