Category Archives: Middle East

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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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

No (military) solutions for the Syrian conflict?

The Syrian conflict resembles an ever more unsolvable bloody quagmire with (too) many stakeholders whose interests, and behaviors, are not compatible. This is the case with the Assad regime and its opponents, but also for different groupings from the opposition. This also applies to the infighting between Saudi and Iranian interests, as well as for Sunni vs. Shia forces in general. In addition, the newly emerging Russian assertiveness is increasingly in contradiction not only to American and Western values, but also to the hesitant and partial involvement of the U.S.A.

The laudable efforts by dozens of NGO’s on the ground are more and more, rendered helpless against the never-ending raids of official Syrian and Russian fighter planes and the bombs. Collateral damage caused by American raids are not helpful either.

The rest of the world is watching this evolving catastrophe in shock and awe, not knowing what to do or how to react. We can just watch the unbearable TV footage of citizens, digging through the rubble of collapsed homes with their bare hands, trying to search for surviving folks.

What can be done apart from hand-wringing? Sometimes, it is overlooked that a clear victory on one side, caused by exhaustion of the other, often does lead to the termination of hostilities. Which side, then, should be the winner? Does it matter? As long as external stakeholders are involved, the engagement of ground troops also has to be discussed. Sending in airplanes and drones may be good for domestic consumption, but does not lead to a decisive shift between the fighting camps.

What are our respondent’s ideas regarding where to go from here?

– Prof. Klaus Segbers

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Can Coups Ever Be Acceptable?

World history couldn’t be written, or understood, without the history of coups (real and attempted ones). So last weekend’s events in Turkey fit into a pattern. 25 years before, in the hot summer of 1991, another attempted coup in Moscow was the beginning of the end of the Soviet empire.

It always is difficult to properly assess these extra-constitutional, mostly (but not necessarily) violent moves. The clove revolution in 1974 in Portugal certainly brought a harsh and unpleasant dictatorial regime to an end. It may have been illegal, but was it illegitimate? The attempted coup against Hitler by a group of Wehrmacht officers belongs into the same category. And what about the events on the Tiananmen Square on June 4th, 1989? In Turkey, the officers trying this not quite professional attempt claimed to serve democracy and human rights, but they opened the doors for a much more autocratic regime than before (which may have materialized anyways).

So this reminds us that history is often written by the victors. But, in addition, many events, like coups, are quite ambivalent. Do we have any clear criteria for sorting out coups, into acceptable ones and clearly bad ones?

– Prof. Klaus Segbers

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The Most Important Political Issues of 2016

 

Global Matters has polled our select group of experts on what political issues they believe will be the most important in 2016. In order to do this, we provided a list of eleven major issues, and asked each expert to select 3 issues which they believed would be important in the year ahead. Of these, the most important issue was given 3 points, the runner-up 2 points, and the final issue 1 point.

The eleven issues which they selected from were as follows:

  • The emergence of populist movements
  • Daesh/ the Islamic State, and related terrorism
  • The rise of artificial intelligence/cyborgs
  • Climate change
  • Unregulated migration
  • The erosion of the EU
  • The meltdown of China’s economy
  • A collapsing Russia
  • A populist republican administration in the US
  • A new financial crash
  • Military action in the South or East China Sea

Following our poll of 12 experts, this was the result:

Global Matters Graph UpdateAs can be seen several issues dominated our experts’ concerns. Among these the threat posed by the Islamic State (also known as Daesh) was viewed as the most important and pressing issue for 2016. Following closely behind was the issue of ‘unregulated migration’ relating to the large number of refugees who have entered Europe over the last year.

Climate Change, a hot topic following the Paris Conference, also was viewed as an important issue for the year ahead, as nations begin to implement policies which will tackle this global problem. A final issue which has emerged as important was the risk of a new financial crash, perhaps triggered by a slowdown (or meltdown) of China’s economy.

Do you agree with our experts? Which issues would you score as the most important in 2016, and why? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

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The Changing Political Climate on Global Warming

 


Against all odds and expectations, the Paris Conference on climate change was a partial success. For the first time almost 200 governments agreed on reduction targets for emissions, on external controls, and on an aim to limit global warming to less than 1.5 degrees.
While according to many experts these results are not good enough, they nevertheless constitute significant progress.

So, the questions are:

Why did this happen now?

And how can we navigate between the unrealistic expectation that the postindustrial countries will agree to reduce their living standards to make energy consumption more sustainable, and the equally unrealistic assumption that developing countries should agree to slow down their growth?

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Defeating Daesh Post Paris Attacks

Here we go again, and fall, and fail again.

Last Friday, organized fighters who march in the name of the prophet produced carnage at six sites in Paris.

This follows earlier attacks in Paris in January, Copenhagen later this year, then Sharm El Sheikh, Beirut, and now Paris again. If there are still people thinking we have to talk to those ‘warriors’ it would be sad. We – the Western societies thinking of themselves as liberal ones – have to act.

Three issues are particularly relevant:

One, we should not compromise on our liberal values and behavior. Whoever wants to come to our societies has to accept our general rules of living.

Two, we have to improve massively intelligence capabilities and external border controls in the EU.

Three, we have to organize a negotiation process including, for the time being, Russia, Iran and representatives of the Assad regime. This won’t be easy, nor nice, but we have to eradicate the Daesh threat with all available means.

Do our experts think that this is achievable now?

Syria: A transnational free-for-all

One of the messiest spots in global politics is Syria. No one seems to know what to do, or what not to do, to stop the civil war with all its international and transnational spillover.

There are different fault-lines converging, and addressing just one of them doesn’t do the job. First, relatively peaceful and secular Syria has been turned into a sectarian fighting place. Increasingly, people identify themselves culturally. Second, and related, this is a space where Shia (the Alawites) and Sunni (IS and other militias) groups clash violently.

Third, this trend is exacerbated by the meddling of two competing regional regimes – Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Fourth, all but one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council are militarily involved. Fifth, some neighboring countries (Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey) may soon not be able to absorb the pressure of the fighting next door as well as the millions of refugees that have already arrived, or are on their way to Europe.

One of the core problems is that almost all of the external actors involved (except the Islamic State) are not so sure how decisively they want to be engaged. There is neither decisive intervention, nor clear non-intervention, but, mostly, meddling.

Do you see any option for progress, however small?

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What is a viable solution to Europe’s refugee crisis?

While the EU is overwhelmed by the tasks of containing Russia, redirecting profligate southern governments, and by blocking terrorism, it is more attractive to hundreds of thousands of migrants than ever before. Whether this is a fatal, or welcome attraction, is hotly debated.

Germany, which for many played the role of the bad cop during the so-called Eurocrisis, appears now as the good angel in the migrant crisis. While the EU may be technically able to take in more than 1 million refugees and labor migrants in 2015 alone, even superficial extrapolations for the coming years clearly show that the EU cannot alleviate ongoing and deep crises in the MENA area as well as the Balkans by accepting millions of people.

So what could a viable solution look like?

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Will the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action survive US ratification? Could this agreement lead to a new role for Iran and serve as a stabilizing factor for the region?

The agreement between Iran and the ‘5 + 1’ group (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany) has been signed.

This seems to be good news for all parties involved for the following reasons: First, the economic sanctions against Iran will be lifted gradually. Second, the break-out options of a nuclear bomb for   Iran will be reduced. Third, western and Russian economic cooperation with Iran now has the ability to blossom. And lastly, some people are now able to visualize potential for a more moderate influence by Iran in the neighborhood of MENA.

BUT, it is not quite clear if the agreement will actually be ratified. In Iran the highest leader Khamenei has verbalized some critical remarks, but he seems to be in overall support of the agreement.

The Israeli government is openly ranting about their unwillingness to form any agreement with Iran, just as they have in the past. The most difficult impediment the final ratification is facing is coming from Washington. Congress is very skeptical, and may try to de-rail this agreement after all.

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