Category Archives: Regions

Red Lines and Blurred Lines – When Do We Go to War?

Rhetoric and deeds are escalating, both in Washington, D.C. and in Pyongyang. It is clear that the regime of Kim Jong-un is trying to achieve nuclear status by all available means. And it is equally clear that the different voices from the Trump administration do not add up to a clear strategy.

Red lines are mentioned, but vaguely, and bombastic declarations (‘fire and fury’) are alternating with diplomatic invitations to negotiate.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is repeating the mantra that ‘there is only a diplomatic solution’. Similar words are used when it comes to China’s artificial reefs and new debates on sovereignty, and Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the continuing meddling in Ukraine’s affairs, which is a rather boring continuation of ordinary robbery.

The invitation to this week’s debate is to take positions on this mantra: That ‘there is no other solution’. Empirically, this is obviously wrong. There were and are military solutions to conflicts, and sometimes economic sanctions work as well. In addition, it is often not a good idea to take certain moves off the table, even when they are not preferred, because then an adversary can calculate how far the opponent will go in resisting him.

But to make things easier, let’s focus on the main problem: aside from matters regarding the DRPK, are there values or interests in the early 21st century for which it is legitimate (or even required) to go to war? Despite our sophisticated knowledge about escalatory risks and the disastrous effects of WMDs? If not, for what do we maintain armies, then?

– Klaus Segbers

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Saying Goodbye to American Hegemony – What’s next?

The U.S. is restraining from accepting and carrying out the position of global leader. Thus far, this new administration is continuing a line begun by the previous Obama administration, albeit for quite different ideological reasons. The common denominator, though, is the adverse reaction of a significant part of the American population toward continued leadership, including the acceptance of the necessary costs . The dominant narrative is one of failed attempts at nation building (Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya); of the detrimental effects of transborder trade, especially for domestic manufacturing jobs; and of the adverse effects of taking climate change seriously.

It is not likely that these perceptions will change any time soon. This leaves the world with a question: Where to go from here?

It would be easy to assume that China will take over in one way or another. But this is not likely from an economic point of view, and it has imposing domestic tasks to be addressed. Additionally, from a Western perspective, China would not be a liberal leader .

The EU doesn’t look like it is ready and available for a leadership role. Germany alone is not strong enough. So the world seems poised to move toward a multi- or even nonpolar structure.

What can we expect from this?

– Klaus Segbers

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Beyond Macron – Can we make liberal democracy great again?

After the election of Emmanuel Macron the question still remains: How will the liberal development of the EU continue in the face of the threat of right wing populism?

The media is volatile by nature, quickly shifting and twisting. After the first round of the French presidential elections, many commentators are declaring victory: The attacks of the worst populists (Le Pen, Mélenchon) have been blocked, and the liberal development of Europe (and the EU) can continue unimpeded.

This is a grave error. The populists’ wave is based on objective reasons — the complexities of globalization, the erosion of national and other identities, growing uncertainties, and weaker traditional narratives. This will continue. Also, populists always have the advantage of suggesting simple things like re-establishing borders, and reframing complex challenges as little irritants that can be easily managed by ranting against trans-border trade, migration, the EU, ‘the elites’, and mainstream media. Decision makers and academics cannot use these paths.

In other words: Even after Macron’s victory in the second round, the core problems won’t be fixed. Global liberals and moderates will gain some breathing space, that’s all. How can this maybe brief period be put to good use? In particular, how can a vastly ossified bureaucracy in Brussels be mobilized and activated in a way that EU citizens will find convincing?

– Klaus Segbers

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Diplomatic crisis – How to deal with Turkey?

 

Turkey seems to be on a rampage.

An aggressive rhetoric, diplomatic brinkmanship, and threats not only against Europe have made it ever more clear that this country under this leadership cannot become an EU member, and it is putting itself in an outsider role in Nato as well.

There is a problematic referendum calling for constitutional changes. While in normal times, this would not necessarily lead to an international crisis, Turkey presently plays an important role in the regional context, especially in the Syrian crisis, and in moderating flows of refugees.

So what can and should be done? Should Turkey’s neighbors and partners just leave it alone? Or rather, should they attempt to counter its policies?

– Klaus Segbers

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At the crossroads – How can Europe become a model for success again?

 

Recent visits by high-level guests (the Vice President, and the ministers for defense and the exterior) from D.C. to Europe were scrutinized as rarely a visit from the most important partner country has been before. Comments during and after the election campaign about NATO being ‘obsolete’, and the EU being ‘bound for a breakup’, in sync with welcoming anti-EU insurgents created an atmosphere of puzzlement.

As for defense matters, EU member state leaders suddenly rushed to assure their willingness to increase defense budgets to (a long ago agreed) 2% of their respective GDP, maybe until 2024. But they also started to get involved in number games – don’t we also have to consider development aid, expenses for refugees, or costs for stabilizing currencies? The guests from overseas were not visibly impressed. As for the EU, which this year faces up to four crucial elections (Netherlands, France, Germany, possibly Italy), ‘mainstream’ leaders (one of the populist battle cries) continued to borrow some topics from the populist activists: unaccepted refugee candidates shall be returned quicker, austerity policies should give way to state-sponsored spending for infrastructure, social niceties, etc.

Yes, the EU is undergoing its most serious crisis after it was created about 60 years ago, but it also remains a success story. The question is: what are Europe’s options for not just surviving, but regaining momentum and initiative?

– Klaus Segbers

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Tweets from the Oval Office – How should we react to Trump’s foreign policy?

As expected, the first two weeks of the new US government were erratic. While governance by Twitter (and intermittently by judges) is something of a new political science concept, these first economic, social and cultural decisions are quite consistent with pre-election statements.

There is an ongoing debate in western and Asian capitals on how to respond. Wait and see? Making bold statements to indicate limits of the accessible? Trying to be friendly? What is your take?

– Prof. Klaus Segbers

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Is liberalism to blame for populism?

Here we go. Europe may fail. This is the first time I am writing such a thing (partly) publicly. There are dozens of questions relating to this possibility. I suggest you focus on one today: Should we all be partially to blame? You may have heard about (or even read) the widely discussed New York Times article by Mark Lilla on ‘The End of Identity Liberalism’ (see reading below).

Lilla’s basic point is that liberals (he covers the US, but his point may be extended globally) have enjoyed the luxury of preaching liberal values, while huge groups of their fellow citizens were completely indifferent, or even felt threatened and excluded by these values. According to Lilla, this often went hand-in-hand with preaching to the ‘uneducated’ – for them to better understand things (international trade immigration, sexual and other identity politics), and to accommodate these liberal values.

He sees here, one of the major reasons for the apparently unstoppable success of populism:

‘The fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press had produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life’.

He suggests that a more careful liberalism would ‘quietly, sensitively and with a proper sense of scale’, address what for many people, are difficult issues like religion and sexuality. Lilla also suggests that such a re-invented (maybe more civilized?) liberalism would address that ‘democracy is not only about rights’, but also includes duties such as the duty ‘to keep informed and vote’.

Please join me in this discussion and let’s delve into this quite complex issue of liberals’ responsibility for the rise of populism.

– Prof. Klaus Segbers

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How to deal with an elected populist? Continuing last week’s discussion

Exceptional events require exceptions. So let’s continue last week’s debate, after we discovered who won (at least the elections, if not the popular vote). But our focus now, will be on how to react to the new situation.

There is a puzzling variety of Western reactions following the election results in the United States. Some leaders (like the Japanese Prime Minister) seem to have bowed deeply. Others (Russia), expressed their (probably wee-founded) hopes to improve relations. But again, others like Chancellor Merkel, appear to be cooperative, based on some conditional expectations. The EU, all of a sudden, has decided to improve its cooperation in the external and defense fields, and even promises to spend more.

What is a viable strategy for handling a committed populist? Bandwagoning? Accommodation? Conditional cooperation? Kow-towing? Pragmatic restraint?

– Prof. Klaus Segbers

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Why and How Shall We Study Global Politics?

Students of Study International Relations are required to be broadly informed about a number of different processes influencing international and global transformations, while at the same developing the ability to abstract and systemize these aspects in order to reach a generalized understanding of them. Consequently, there is a constant tension between theory development and decision making procedures in a world that is often too complex to be captured in a few explaining variables. Nevertheless, researchers have to try: without theory development and – by definition – reduction of complexity, there will be no scientific work, and no generalizations derived from the study of political cases that may, in turn, also help decision making. Coping with this tension and designing proper research while not forgetting about its applicability to decision making is both the greatest challenge and the greatest joy of “doing” IR.
To sum up, we study International Relations as an academic discipline because

  • it provides us with a broad understanding of world politics;
  • it provides us with the methodological tools and theoretical approaches to understand and explain international, transnational and global processes in a comparative fashion;
  • it helps us to abstract single events or outcomes in order to reach general statements about the functioning of the international system.

1. The Development of International Relations – IR History

In this chapter we will briefly look at the origins of IR as a discipline. We will then move on to how its research agenda has changed over time. Lastly, we will consider whether IR deserves to be regarded as a full-fledged academic discipline, and to what extent different regional understandings of IR exist.
Until World War I, there was no such thing as an academic discipline called “International Relations.” But the outbreak and unprecedented cruelty of World War I showed the limits of subjects like history and law, which until then dealt with international questions, to explain what happened. Against this background, the Welsh liberal parliamentarian David Davies endowed a Chair for International Politics at the University of Aberystwyth, Wales, in April 1919. Courses taught in the early years focused on international institutions (crucially the League of Nations), political philosophy, and questions of governance.
Until the late 1930s, the discipline was characterized by two phenomena. First, the varied academic backgrounds of scholars led to a diversity of writing on the subject. Lawyers and historians held an outstanding position within the field, and thus formulated the agenda and methodology for the first years of IR. Alfred Zimmern, appointed the first Chair in International Politics in Aberystwyth, was a historian by training.
Secondly, the discipline was not professionalized; so many writers were not academics. Mostly publicists, they did not care much about academic standards and scientific research but often delivered accounts full of ideology and populism.
Born out of the ruins of the First World War, academic IR was initially guided by the desire to foster an improved understanding of the interactions between states in order to control world politics and avoid future wars. Three topics dominated its early research agenda:

  • International Organizations. This part of the agenda was mainly dealt with by lawyers and focused on the constitutional structure of the League of Nations.
  • The State. Early theorists focused their research on the behavior and motivation of states and statesmen as well as the history of the state system.
  • Avoiding War. A large share of research was dedicated to normative questions of creating a peaceful world.

In summary, it is significant to note that the emergence of IR as a discipline was ambiguous. Despite the label international politics, it was in its early years much closer to history and law. The dominance of normative thinking in academic IR, combined with the wide practice of non-academics writing about international politics, challenged its evolution into a coherent academic discipline in the early years. Today, it faces new challenges regarding novel types of actors and issues for which IR has to develop meaningful analytical tools. In the following chapter, we discuss some of these new themes.

2. Important Issues, Topics, and Problems in International Relations

In the following, some major discussions in world politics will be introduced to give insight into the variety and complexity of the debates in the field. Naturally, in a field as diverse as IR, there is an indefinite number of debates, such that the issues introduced below are intended to serve as examples rather than a comprehensive overview. We will again connect these issues to the five-image categorization scheme introduced above to provide some orientation as to the level of analysis these issues are studied on.

2.1 Conflict and Cooperation

When IR emerged as an academic discipline after World War I, its natural points of interest were the causes for war and the prospects for stable peace. Idealists called for mechanisms to prevent future wars, maintaining that this lay also in the best interests of states and governments. Woodrow Wilson was the first in a long row of proponents of establishing rules to prevent war (institutions).

The liberal school of thought explained war as being brought about by undemocratic rulers pursuing their personal interests at the expense of the underprivileged population. Furthermore, they criticized that foreign policy was made behind closed doors and was thus not subject to the approval of anyone apart from the ruling elite. Therefore, liberals called for democratic governments accountable to their citizens. Liberal theorists claim that democracies do not fight each other, although they may remain aggressive to non-democratic states (see Doyle 1983, Russett 1993 on the so-called principle of democratic peace). Apart from that, liberals call for mechanisms of collective security to establish a monopoly of power beyond the nation state. [Third Image: State-Level]
For (Neo-)realists, the picture looked fundamentally different, as they understood conflict to be inherent in the international system. Due to the absence of an overarching authority, states are always insecure about the intentions of other states. The anarchical structure of the international system and the consequent security-dilemma give rise to conflict. As conflict is part of the system, the only way to deal with it is to always be prepared, and, when conditions allow for it, to build a system of checks and balances. However, such a system must be based on power, not on cooperation. States have to enter into short-term alliances in order to prevent other states from becoming too powerful. Realists believe that states only cooperate if they can benefit at least as much or even more than other states and that once cooperation is achieved it has only little chance of being sustained, as states are prone to cheat. This way of reasoning assumes that governments are out only to achieve relative gains by out-maneuvering other states. Although constructivists share much of the realist view of the current international system, they come to a fundamentally different conclusion regarding the possibility of avoiding conflict. They believe that a world without violent conflict can be created by sharing knowledge. [Fifth Image: System-Level]

So far we have been talking about war and peace, but it could well be argued that today the focus of IR should be a broader one. Inter-state war is not the major instance of violent conflict anymore, as it has been replaced by the so called “new wars” (e.g. Mary Kaldor, Christopher Daase), which can include state and non-state actors alike, and have only little respect for territorial boundaries. In the western world, violent conflict has become rare (but not absent, as conflicts in the Spanish Basque region or Northern Ireland demonstrated). Thus, conflict in the western world evolves less around questions of security than around trade (e.g. the “banana controversy” between the EU and the Americas) or political power (the British refusal to approve the 2005 EU budget due to farming subsidies overtly beneficial to French farmers). The arena of conflict between western states has in many cases moved to international forums, which have partly managed to internalize conflict. One of the most prominent examples for such internalization is the European Court of Justice, which will be discussed at greater length in the European Politics module. Taking these developments into account, one of the most relevant questions in global politics continues to evolve around issues of conflict (be it armed, political or economic) and cooperation.

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Homogenization of Global Culture

One of the most common arguments concerning the cultural dimensions of globalization is that processes of globalization are creating a homogenous global culture. This argument tends to come from a group of scholars who we referred to in Unit One as “hyperglobalizers”, scholars who view almost everything in domestic and global politics, economics, culture and society as being connected to and influenced by globalization. There are two perspectives on the homogenization of global culture within the hyperglobalizers’ ranks. One group is the pessimistic hyperglobalizers. They argue that a homogenous global culture is emerging, premised on Anglo-American values of consumerism and capitalism. This ‘soulless consumer capitalism’ (Barber 2007) is, according to pessimistic hyperglobalizers, overwhelming more vulnerable cultures and contributing to perceptions that globalization is in fact ‘Americanization’ or ‘Westernization’. In short, the cultural dimensions of globalization amount to little more than a cultural form of neo-imperialism spearheaded by the American ’empire’.

The values disseminated by transnational media feed the belief that globalization is in fact creating a homogenous global culture, a culture that is dominated by Anglo-American pop culture images, products and values (Crothers 2007). The formation of these transnational media conglomerates and the images and values they disseminate tend to lead to the depoliticization of society and the weakening of civic bonds. One of the most glaring developments of the last two decades has been the transformation of news broadcasts and educational programmes into shallow entertainment shows built around the branding and selling of consumer commodities like cars, watches, perfume, or handbags. Given that news is less than half as profitable as entertainment, the corporate media are increasingly pursuing higher profits by ignoring journalism’s traditional separation of newsroom practices and business decisions. Partnerships and alliances between news and entertainment companies are fast becoming the norm, making it more common for publishing executives to press journalists to cooperate with their newspapers’ business operations. A sustained encroachment on the professional autonomy of journalists is, therefore, also part of cultural globalization.

Optimistic hyperglobalizers, such as Kenichi Ohmae (1990; 1995), concur that a homogenous global culture is emerging but view this in a much more positive light than their pessimistic counterparts (Berger and Huntington 2002). They see the spread of Anglo-American values as promoting the rise of democratic politics and increases in personal freedoms in a variety of areas, including trade. While espousing the virtues of market values, these optimistic hyperglobalizers often do not consider the many negative effects of consumerist culture in numerous contexts around the world.
Some authors espousing a ‘cosmopolitan’ perspective (Held 2004) also view the emergence of homogeneity in global culture as a positive development. The rise of a global culture is promoting the spread of liberal cosmopolitan values concerning justice and democracy. Through the expansion of technologies in communication and travel, globalization is creating a global civil society, with increased participation and greater identification amongst people across traditional cultural and geographic divides, particularly in relation to ethics and politics, as we saw in the previous unit. Culture is no longer tied to fixed localities but is able to unite people across vast distances, contributing to the thickening of a progressive global social imaginary (Beck 2005; Held 2004).

But is a global culture actually emerging? It is difficult to deny the existence of powerful homogenizing trends like those outlined above or to deny that these trends are having a significant impact on local cultures, but does this mean that a uniform global culture in the American image is developing that will overwhelm and eventually diminish or wipe out traditional, historical local cultures?

Written by Manfred B. Steger & Erin K. Wilson