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Nuclear Decision-Making And Covid19 Impairments: Existential Perils Of The Trump Presidency

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“In a surrealist year….some cool clown pressed an inedible mushroom button, and an inaudible Sunday bomb fell down, catching the president at his prayers on the 19th green.”Lawrence Ferlinghetti, A Coney Island of the Mind (1958)

It is no longer just a casual or gratuitous apprehension. Now, following US President Donald Trump’s Covid19 diagnosis and treatment, an impaired or irrational nuclear command decision is entirely plausible. Though nothing can  be determined about the actual mathematical probability of any such once hard-to-imagine scenario,[1] there are amply good reasons for concern.

               Several serious questions arise, though some not directly related to the Covid factor. In view of strange and risky personal behaviors pre-dating Trump’s medical diagnosis  – hardly a controversial or narrowly partisan assessment any longer – there are several forms of dissemblance worth noting. Should these normally separate debilities begin to intersect in variously specific ways, whether predictable or unpredictable, they could produce profound synergies.

               By definition, these particular intersections would produce cumulative harms that exceed the sum of their injurious parts.

               Leaving aside Donald J. Trump’s evident venality and his continuing disinterest in science, law and history, an overriding query must finally be raised:

               Should this president still be allowed to decide when and where to launch American nuclear weapons?

               In the early days of the Nuclear Age, when strategic weapon-survivability was still markedly uncertain, a conspicuous capacity for immediate firing command was presumed necessary for credible nuclear deterrence. Today, however, when there no longer exists any reasonable  basis to doubt America’s durable second-strike nuclear retaliatory capability (sometimes also called an “assured destruction” capability), there remains no good argument for continuing to grant the  president such overwhelming decisional authority.

               As corollary, more general questions now also arise:

               In our expansively imperiled democracy, should an American president ever be permitted to hold such precarious life or death power over the entire country?

                Could such an allowance still be consistent with a Constitutional  “separation of powers?”

               Can anyone reasonably believe that such existential power could ever have been favored by America’s Founding Fathers?

               The correct answers are apparent, obvious and uncomplicated. To wit:

               We can readily extrapolate from Articles I and II of the Constitution that the Founders had expressed a profound concern about Presidential power long before the advent of nuclear weapons. This concern predates even any imaginationof apocalyptic warfare possibilities,[2] before there could even be the poet’s “inaudible Sunday bomb.”

               As a legal and strategic scholar, I have been personally concerned about such fearful issues for exactly fifty years, though in a generic rather than president-specific sense. On 14 March 1976, in response to my detailed query concerning  American nuclear weapons launch authority, I received a letter from General (USA/ret.) Maxwell Taylor, a former Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. The focus of this letter concerned assorted nuclear risks of US presidential irrationality. Most noteworthy, in this handwritten letter (attached hereto), was the riveting warning in General Taylor’s closing paragraph.

               Ideally, Taylor had wisely cautioned, presidential irrationality is a grave problem that should be dealt with very early on; that is, during the actual election process.

               “….the best protection,” I was informed about an irrational American president, “is not to elect one…”

               Of course, regarding America’s current nuclear security problem, the realistic prospect of a tangibly impaired American president, it’s already too late to heed General Taylor’s advice. We must inquire, therefore, with a more narrow but still fact-centered focus: “What is current US governing policy on nuclear weapons launch authority?” This query is not only vital per se, especially when Trump is being given anti-viral therapeutics that can produce genuinely manic effects, but also because  of this president’s strange and problematic attachment to his dominating Russian counterpart.

               Why does Donald J. Trump always take such great pains to exonerate Vladimir Putin from even any hint of interference or wrongdoing?

               In principle, at least, there are extant safeguards against presidential impairment. To be sure, pertinent protocols are seemingly in place. Among other things, assorted structural protections are already built into any presidential order to use nuclear weapons, including substantial and reinforcing redundancies. Nonetheless, virtually all of these safeguards are designed to become operative only at lower or sub-presidential  nuclear command levels.

                In essence, therefore, these safeguards do not apply to the Commander-in-Chief; that is, to the elected President of the United States.

                What relevant protocols do obtain? At present, there likely exist no permissible legal grounds to disobey a presidential order to use nuclear weapons. Plausibly, certain senior individuals in the designated military chain of command could sometime choose to invoke applicable “Nuremberg Obligations” (law-based obligations to disobey), but any such last-minute effort to thwart a presidential nuclear command directive would almost certainly yield to more recognizable commands of US domestic law.

               Given the vast levels of legal illiteracy in the United States, it is unlikely that a clear-thinking participant anywhere in this country’s nuclear chain of command would place sufficient personal confidence in the relatively “soft” norms of international law. This is the case even though such norms are already “incorporated” into the laws of the United States,[3] unambiguously and convincingly.

               Appropriate scenarios must now be suitably postulated and examined. Should President Trump, operating within another bewildering chaos of  his own making, issue an impaired, intemperate, irrational or even seemingly irrational nuclear command, the only way for the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the National Security Adviser and several possible others to effectively obstruct this potentially catastrophic order would be “illegal.” Under the very best of circumstances, such informal safeguards might somehow manage to work capably for a limited time, but there could be few compelling grounds for any longer-term optimism.

               Accepting the unrealistic assumption of  a “best case scenario” would represent a foolhardy approach to US nuclear security. This is especially the case at a time of worldwide microbial assault, a time when the “pandemic variable” could quickly become overriding or determinative.

                Already, the US is  navigating in “uncharted waters.” While President John F. Kennedy did engage in personal nuclear brinkmanship with the Soviet Union back in October 1962, he had then calculated his own odds of a consequent nuclear war as “between one out of three and even.” This curiously precise calculation, corroborated both by JFK biographer Theodore Sorensen and by my own private conversations with former JCS Chair Admiral Arleigh Burke (my colleague and week-long roommate at the Naval Academy’s Foreign Affairs Conference of 1977) suggests that President Kennedy was either (a) technically irrational in imposing his Cuban “quarantine;” or (b) wittingly acting out certain untested principles of “pretended irrationality.”

               This was not during a bewildering time of “plague.”

                What are this country’s  present-day analytic “coordinates?”

               Currently, the most urgent threats of a mistaken, irrational or effectively deranged US presidential order to use nuclear weapons flow not from any “bolt-from-the-blue” nuclear attack –  whether Russian, North Korean or even American – but instead from a potentially uncontrollable process of escalation. Back in 1962, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev “blinked” early on in the “game,” thereby preventing any mutual and irrecoverable nuclear harms. Now, however, certain escalatory initiatives undertaken by US President Donald J. Trump could express uniquely unstable decision-making processes.

               And all of this could unravel in the blink of an eye.

               What shall be done? Above all, Trump should be brought to understand that a great deal is unknown. No one can yet adequately decipher  the unprecedented risks of being locked into an escalatory dynamic from which there could be no choice save outright capitulation or nuclear war. This would not be the same crisis-setting Trump previously encountered in more narrowly commercial real-estate matters. Although Donald Trump might be well advised to seek “escalation dominance” in selected crisis negotiations, he would also need to avoid any catastrophic miscalculations.

               Is this president prepared for such daunting constraints?

               At some time or other, whether Americans like it or not, Donald Trump may have to play the challenging “game” of nuclear brinksmanship. This will not be a contest for the intellectually faint-hearted or for the analytically unprepared. To best ensure that this too-easily-distracted president’s strategic moves will prove rational, thoughtful and cumulatively cost-effective, it will first be necessary to enhance the formal decisional authority of his most senior military/defense subordinates.

               How shall this be operationalized?

               At a minimum, the Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Security Advisor, and one or two others in appropriate nuclear command positions should prepare to assume more broadly collaborative and secure judgments in extremis atomicum. Although it is reasonable to assume that some such preparations are already underway, there is also good reason to assume that this president’s  multiple insecurities and personal derangements would gravely obstruct any needed progress.

               In all such multi-layered matters, terminological distinctions must be made explicit and refined. Accordingly, whether applied to any adversarial decision-maker or to Donald J. Trump himself,  “irrational” does not mean “crazy” or “mad.”  Fateful expressions of US presidential irrationality could take various different and subtle forms. These traits, when expressed, could remain indecipherable or latent for a very long time, and include a disorderly or inconsistent value system; computational errors in calculation; an incapacity to communicate correctly or efficiently; random or haphazard influences in the making or transmittal of particular strategic decisions; and the internal dissonance generated by any pertinent structure of collective decision-making.[4]

               From the singularly critical standpoint of US nuclear weapons launch authority, legitimate reasons to worry about the dissembling Trump presidency need not hinge on any accurate expectations of “craziness” or “madness.” Rather, looking over the above list of problematic decisional traits, there is good cause not just for undefined worry (that would not represent any rational or purposeful reaction), but for visible non-partisan objectivity and for a carefully developed analytic  prudence. On this last valued criterion of presidential decision-making, Donald Trump would need to bear in mind certain  core conceptual distinctions between (1) deliberate and inadvertent nuclear war and (2) inadvertent nuclear war by accident versus inadvertent nuclear war by miscalculation.[5]

               Whatever the particular nuclear-war scenarios for which this US president must make himself prepared, a common feature would be complexity. Back in March 1976, US General Maxwell Taylor advised me by letter that the “best protection” against an irrational American president is “not to elect one.” Regarding the plainly incoherent presidency of Donald J. Trump, this optimal level of national protection is no longer available. All that we can do now is take steps to better ensure a capable and properly authoritative nuclear decisional posture.

               This stance would be one wherein a continuously misguided, Covid19-impacted  or literally deranged Donald J. Trump could be forestalled and reliably held in check. Although, in the past, any juxtaposition of “derangement” with an American president would have seemed both disrespectful and implausible, these are very different times. Now, it is the willful disregard for such a troubling juxtaposition, not its expressly purposeful suggestion, that defies US citizen responsibility. Looking ahead, such disregard could prove both unconscionable and unforgivable.


[1] This is because (1) any statement of authentic probability must be based upon the determinable frequency of pertinent past events and because, in this case (2) there are no pertinent past events.

[2] One of this author’s earliest books was (Louis René Beres) Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (The University of Chicago Press, 1980). His twelfth and latest book dealing with such issues is Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016 (2nd ed. 2018). https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy

[3] .  In the words of Mr. Justice Gray, delivering the judgment of the US Supreme Court in Paquete Habana (1900): “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained and administered by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction….” (175 U.S. 677(1900)) See also: Opinion in Tel-Oren vs. Libyan Arab Republic (726 F. 2d 774 (1984)).The more specific incorporation of treaty law into US municipal law is expressly codified at Art. 6 of the US Constitution, the so-called “Supremacy Clause.”  For pertinent earlier decisions by Justice John Marshall, see: The Antelope, 23 U.S. (10 Wheat.) 66, 120 (1825); The Nereide, 13 U.S. (9 Cranch) 388, 423 (1815); Rose v. Himely, 8 U.S. (4 Cranch) 241, 277 (1808) and Murray v. The Schooner Charming Betsy, 6 U.S. (2 Cranch) 64, 118 (1804).

[4] More technically this means assemblies of authoritative individuals who lack identical value systems, and/or whose organizational arrangements impact their willing capacity to act as a single or unitary national decision maker).

[5] See, by Professor Beres, at The Hill: https://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/foreign-policy/344344-risks-of-accidental-nuclear-war-with-north-korea-must-be  See also, Louis René Beres:  https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2019/10/22/donald-trump-foreign-policy-incoherence-and-inadvertent-nuclear-war/

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth and most recent book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (2016) (2nd ed., 2018) https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy Some of his principal strategic writings have appeared in Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard University); Yale Global Online (Yale University); Oxford University Press (Oxford University); Oxford Yearbook of International Law (Oxford University Press); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon); Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); World Politics (Princeton); INSS (The Institute for National Security Studies)(Tel Aviv); Israel Defense (Tel Aviv); BESA Perspectives (Israel); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The New York Times and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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Maximizing Biden’s Plan to Combat Corruption and Promote Good Governance in Central America

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Authors: Lauren Mooney and Eguiar Lizundia*

To tackle enduring political, economic and security challenges in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, the Biden administration is attempting to revitalize its commitment to the region, including through a four-year, $4 billion plan submitted in a bill to Congress.

In its plan, the White House has rightly identified the root causes of migration, including limited economic opportunity, climate change, inequality, and violence. Systemic corruption resulting from the weak rule of law connects and entrenches the root causes of migration, while the increased devastation brought about by climate change exacerbates economic hardship and citizen insecurity. 

The renewed investment holds promise: previous foreign assistance in the Northern Triangle has shown results, including by contributing to a reduction in the expected level of violence. As the Biden Administration finalizes and begins implementing its Central America strategy, it should include three pillars—rooted in lessons learned from within and outside the region—to maximize the probability that the proposed spending in U.S. taxpayer funds has its intended impact. 

First, the Biden administration should deliver on its promise to make the fight against corruption its number one priority in Central America by supporting local anti-graft actors. The sanctions against officials which the United States is considering  are a step in the right direction, but lasting reform is best accomplished through a partnership involving regional or multilateral organizations. Guatemala’s international commission against impunity (CICIG) model was relatively successful until internal pushback and dwindling U.S. advocacy resulted in its dismantlement in 2019. Though Honduras’ equivalent was largely ineffective, and El Salvador’s recently launched version is marred by President Bukele’s campaign against judicial independence, there is room for learning from past mistakes and propose a more robust and mutually beneficial arrangement. The experience of Ukraine shows that while external engagement is no silver bullet in eliminating corruption, the role of foreign actors can lead to tangible improvements in the anti-corruption ecosystem, including more transparent public procurement and increased accountability for corrupt politicians.

In tandem with direct diplomatic pressure and helping stand up CICIG-like structures, the U.S. can harness lessons from prior anticorruption efforts to fund programs that address other aspects of graft in each country. This should involve empowering civil society in each country to monitor government compliance with anti-corruption laws and putting pressure on elected officials to uphold their commitments. While reducing impunity and improving transparency might not automatically persuade Central Americans to stay, better democratic governance will allow the three Northern Triangle nations to pursue policies that will end up expanding economic opportunities for residents. As Vice President Harris recently noted, any progress on addressing violence or food insecurity would be undermined if the environment for enabling corruption remains unchanged.

Second, the United States should support local initiatives to help reverse the deterioration of the social fabric in the region by expanding access to community decision-making. Given the high levels of mistrust of government institutions, any efforts to support reform-minded actors and stamp out corruption at the national level must be paired with efforts to promote social cohesion and revitalize confidence in subnational leaders and opportunities. In the Northern Triangle countries, violence and economic deprivation erode social cohesion and undermine trust in democratic institutions. The U.S. government and practitioners should support civic efforts to build trust among community members and open opportunities for collective action, particularly in marginalized areas. A key component of this is expanding sociopolitical reintegration opportunities for returning migrants. In so doing, it is possible to help improve perceptions of quality of life, sense of belonging, and vision for the future. While evidence should underpin all elements of a U.S. Strategy for Central America, it is particularly important to ensure social cohesion initiatives are locally-owned, respond to the most salient issues, and are systematically evaluated in order to understand their effects on migration.

Lastly, the U.S. should take a human-rights based approach to managing migration and learn from the pitfalls associated with hardline approaches to stem migration. Policies rooted in a securitized vision have a demonstrable bad record. For example, since 2015, the European Union undertook significant measures to prevent irregular migration from Niger, including by criminalizing many previously legitimate businesses associated with migration and enforced the imposition of legal restrictions to dissuade open and legal migration. Not only did this violate freedom of movement and create adverse economic consequences, but it also pushed migration underground, with individuals still making the journey and encountering significant threats to their lives, security and human rights.

A welcome realignment

Acknowledging the role of push factors is key to responding to migration effectively. Most importantly, putting political inclusion and responsive governance at the center is critical for ensuring vulnerable populations feel rooted in their community. A more secure, prosperous, and democratic Central America will pay dividends to the United States not only in terms of border security, but also in the form of improved cooperation to tackle global challenges, from climate change to the rise of China. 

*Eguiar Lizundia is the Deputy Director for Technical Advancement and Governance Advisor at IRI

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Sinophobia grows in Argentina: The relations still the crucial one

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Since COVID-19 came up in Wuhan, China followed by the growth of anti-sentiment China especially in Argentina. In late November 2020, the crowds happened in the capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires that involved the two Chinese entrepreneurs who have a supermarket chain and the customers speak loudly if the owners spread COVID-19 pandemic. According to a recent article, the slogan of ‘China out’ is available to speak up against the government.

At the same time, the Representative of the United States expressed similar concerns over the increasingly close relationship between China and Argentina, which come on top of attacks against Chinese immigrants whose country is blamed for the COVID-19 pandemic. The US also concerns that ‘the close relationship’ would limit Argentina’s economic autonomy.

Despite the troubles and the response from the US, the Argentine government still has incredible ties with China on several sides such as economic, military, and politics.

Economic side is crucial with Chinese government. Since President Xi introduced the ambitious project, Belt and Road Initiative, he imagined it can lift China’s economy. One of the developing countries and a member of G20, Argentina. During 2005-2019, Argentina received a maximum investment from China $ 30.6 billion, which accounted for 39 per cent of total Chinese investment in South America. Besides, the Chinese corporations also gave the proposal to build 25 industrial pig farms in Argentina, which will significantly increase pork exports to China. The project involving investment of $3.8 billion, is expected to generate annual production of 900,000 tons amounting to $2.5 million in annual exports.

Even captured by COVID-19 that caused an economic and health crisis, the government has several agreements within China. At least, Argentina has 15 infrastructure projects on the list that can be presented to Chinese corporations. The projects that Argentina prioritizes for investment from China are the rehabilitation plan of the San Martín Railway system, improvements to the Roca Railway line, infrastructure works on the Miter and Urquiza railway, and the redefinition of the Belgrano Cargas railway network.

A Marco Press reported Chinese government and Argentine government discussed the possibility of selling to Argentina the Sino-Pakistan’s resultant force, JF-17 fighter jets. In the history of both countries noted it was not the first time to have an arms deal. In 2015, the two countries signed a deal for Argentina’s purchase of several weapons systems. Estimated at US$1 billion, the deal included warships, armoured vehicles and fighter jets. These agreements were signed during the presidency of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (2008–2015), the left-wing and Peronist leader who built close ties with China. Despite, the retired right-leaning, Mauricio Macri in 2015 having cancelled these projects, the Peronist government in 2019 tried to revive it.

In late May 2021, The Argentinian government have announced an Ascention Technologies SA will have a collaboration with China’s counterpart, Satellite Hard to install a satellite ground station at an industrial park, The Southern city of Rio Gallegos. But before, since 2017, Argentina also hosted a Chinese military-run space station in Neuquen province. The facility signed between the PRC and the prior government of Cristina Fernandez, is largely operated by Chinese military personnel.

The station’s location and known dish characteristics appear consistent with China’s need for facilities in the hemisphere capable of continuously tracking objects in space, in support of its lunar and planetary space program. While the telescope facility does not have an overtly military purpose, the head of the U.S. Southern Command has mentioned it as an item of concern, as it is conceivably capable of intercepting signals from American or other overflying satellites, or supporting other Chinese strategic missions.

The Chinese space radar telescope is not, however, the only instance of China collaboration with Argentina on issues related to space. Great Wall Industrial Corporation has helped to build and launch 13 satellites for the commercial Argentine company Satellogic. Additionally, the state satellite company ARSAT also maintains commercial service contract relations with Chinese-based firms.

The several relations led by the Argentine government depend on China’s potensial. Instead of the protests that have grown up in Argentina, the government needs to upgrade their economic growth. But, for some reasons, the government should set an alarm if China steps up their acceleration. Besides, the government should be careful and must have more consideration to Chinese firms because the West analysts have stated that China’s foreign policy has an unseen reciprocal, the debt-trap. It had been proven that Sri-Lanka’s port, the Hambantota, went to the China side.

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The Gendered Effects of COVID-19 in Mexico

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Authors: Andi Dahmer, Kerby Gilstrap, Timothy S. Rich*

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated many existing problems and inequalities in societies around the world. Informal labor, loosely defined as “productive activities that are not taxed or registered by the government” has suffered more job losses due to the pandemic. These jobs, such as fruit market vendors or hospitality workers among other lower-paying professions, are less likely to have remote working options which increases the exposure of their employees to COVID-19. According to the International Labor Organization, Latin America and the Caribbean region saw the largest reduction in hours worked in the labor market, estimated at a 20.9% loss in hours. In Mexico, women have experienced unemployment at higher rates than men. In March 2020, the unemployment rate was just under 3 percent, but due to shutdowns during the course of the pandemic, the unemployment rate has fluctuated between 4 and 5.5 percent since then. COVID-19 also largely accounts for a GDP decline of 8% in 2020.

Due to the pandemic and the rise of working remotely from home, many workers have found the lines between work and home blurred. According to Pew Research Center, in a survey about how Covid-19 has impacted working Americans, one third of respondents who work from home all or most of the time now work longer hours than before the pandemic. Results are similar for those who rarely or never work from home (23%) and for those whose work cannot be done from home (21%). In total, 24% of respondents said they are working more hours, 59% said about the same or did not know, and 17% said they are working fewer hours than before the pandemic.

This disparity is also true in Latin America, where women have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Already, men were more likely than women to both participate in the labor market and hold jobs in “high-paying sectors”; however, even before the pandemic, women in Latin America and the Caribbean faced high levels of unemployment.

Women who did work often did so in sectors most affected by the pandemic (e.g. tourism, restaurants) and in which one could not work remotely, which exacerbated already high levels of unemployment across the region.

According to the LAC COVID-19 High Frequency Monitoring project, 56 percent of women lost their jobs either temporarily or permanently between May and August 2020, a rate 44 percent higher than that of men. Even as men began returning to the workforce in 2021, the gap in job losses by gender remained. Two of the largest factors to blame for this include: childcare and household responsibilities in combination with gender norms, and reliance on work in industries that require face-to-face interaction and are thus vulnerable to social distancing measures. Many could not transition to work from home, and those who could often did so while balancing traditional caregiving responsibilities for children and family members which ultimately became too burdensome to successfully balance, and contributed to an exit from the workforce.

To assess both views of the government’s response to COVID-19, but more importantly the shifts in work and household responsibilities due to the pandemic, we conducted an original web survey June 22-24 via Qualtrics, using quota sampling. First, we asked respondents to evaluate the statement “I am satisfied with the national government’s response to COVID-19”. Overall, 45.44% agreed with the statement, compared to 42.4% disagreeing. Men were slightly more likely than women to state they were satisfied with the response. Broken down by party, only supporters of the ruling MORENA party had a majority of respondents satisfied, consistent with the broader public opinion literature on the role of partisan lenses.

Next, we randomly assigned respondents to one of two prompts regarding responsibilities since COVID-19.

Version 1: Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, would you say that your work responsibilities have decreased, increased, or stayed about the same?

Version 2: Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, would you say that your household responsibilities have decreased, increased, or stayed about the same?

In terms of the work responsibilities version, we see that men were far more likely to say responsibilities had increased rather than decreased (41.52% vs. 16.96%), whereas women were more evenly divided (36.05% vs. 34.01%) However, when asked to evaluate the increase of household responsibilities, we see almost identical responses between men and women, with nearly two thirds of both (64.71% of men, 66.27% of women) stating responses increased.

These findings on their face may seem odd at first glance, when considering that household responsibilities, especially childcare, tend to fall disproportionately on women. However, this may be a case of men overestimating the time spent on housework, as seen elsewhere prior to the pandemic. Likewise, our survey cannot capture the extent to which household responsibilities increased, only that male and female respondents claimed increases. For example, according to a 2015 study, after the birth of their first child, a woman’s total house work (including unpaid labor and childcare) increases 21 hours per week whereas men’s increases to slightly more than 12 hours. It is not unreasonable to assume similar differential increases due to the pandemic, especially in light of gender role expectations in Mexico.

Finally, this analysis does not take into account the single mothers who are barred from re-entering the workforce as they are unable to find sufficient childcare to monitor their children when they work outside of the home. This is especially true of the gig economy and informal labor sectors which cannot be completed virtually. For example, according to the United Nations, women in Mexico before the pandemic performed 39 hours per week of unpaid labor (nearly the same amount as a full-time job) and the number is increasing due to COVID. This does not include increased homeschooling responsibilities as public schools In Mexico closed. Men, by contrast, performed only 13 hours of unpaid labor, and the inequity was especially stark for single mothers. In Mexico City, for example, record numbers of women have been forced to enter the sex trade in order to afford food, rent, and provisions for their families. The Associated Press estimates that nearly 40 % of the women new to sex work are single mothers who lack any other alternative.

How to reintegrate millions of women forced to exit the workforce during the pandemic will be a challenge to Mexico, but one faced by most developing and developed countries alike. The New York Times has labeled this mass exodus of women as a “shecession” and foreshadows long term implications of women’s exit throughout the global economy. There are many possible policy solutions to the inclusion of women in the workforce but none of them are short-term fixes. A simple start would be ensuring that women have access to childcare. If children are home alone, it is impossible for low-wage workers to return to informal labor sectors outside of the home. The second and third are increasing access to higher education for women around the world and closing the gender pay gap so that women’s rates of unemployment and employment in low-wage sectors are not substantially higher than men’s. While, during the 2010’s, Mexico implemented a Federal Daycare Program for working mothers, this program still did not have the capacity to address the rampant need in all parts of the country. Then, in February of 2019, citing austerity measures, President López Obrador permanently ended the program, resulting in more than 1.8 million parents living without access to childcare. Moreover, Mexico has one of the largest gender employment gaps as well as gender pay gaps in the OECD. Though policies are enacted to alleviate these economic stressors, policy rollbacks, like those listed above, have consistently communicated to women and indigienous women that their needs are not prioritized. The pandemic has exacerbated this gap and it is unclear to what extent the government will act to offer solutions.

Andi Dahmer is the Exchange Program Manager at the World Affairs Council of Kentucky. She is a 2019 Honors graduate of Western Kentucky University and a 2018 Truman Scholar.

Kerby Gilstrap is an Honors Undergraduate Researcher at Western Kentucky University. She is majoring in International Affairs, Arabic, and Sustainable Development

Timothy S. Rich is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the International Public Opinion Lab (IPOL) at Western Kentucky University.

Funding for this survey work was provided by the Mahurin Honors College at Western Kentucky University.

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