Category Archives: Topics

Emotions in International Relations – Advantageous or Detrimental to Problem Solving?

Sitting in countless conference rooms, together with (all in all) 5.600 other participants of this year’s international Studies Association (ISA) Convention in San Francisco, it was interesting to see the broad and colourful scope of topics discussed. The style and format of presentations also varied greatly: from open forums for the discussion and exchange of ideas (resembling the university discussion groups of the Student Movement of the 1970s) to more formal seminars and first-class lectures.

A few of the sessions were devoted to discussing the role of emotions in politics, international relations, and diplomacy. The relevance of emotions to world politics has been given little credence in academic discussion in the past, and the inclusion of these sessions in a prestigious international convention was barely conceivable a few years ago.    The panel ‘Emotions and Diplomacy’, investigated how concepts such as empathy, memories, identity, nationalism, grievance, guilt and victimization influence our political landscape.

Following this debate this week’s question is: Are emotions in politics, both on the side of the public and/ or among decision makers and leaders, something which may and does contribute to solving conflicts? Or is this detrimental for problem solving?

Please name a few instances where emotional considerations had positive results in IR (they did contribute to problem solving), and also a few negative patterns. Equally how did emotions among ordinary people affect IR outcomes?

– Klaus Segbers

 

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Are We on the Brink of a Trade War?

Since David Ricardo and other economists outlined the advantages of free trade about 200 years ago, it seems like recently, many of his lessons remain unlearned. In a time period where we see the advancement of populist movements on several fronts, “unfair trade” has become an easy scapegoat for right-wing grievances.

The suggested recipe – most recently proposed by the current U.S. President – is introducing higher import tariffs, which are protectionist tools against free competition. The effects of these measures are debated among economists, but the majority is skeptical that the potentially ensuing trade wars can lead to anything positive. On the contrary, sometimes they have led to real wars.

So now, at the threshold of a possible new trade war, what is the outlook? Will and should China and the EU react in kind to the introduction of new customs fees for steel and aluminium? Is it plausible that trade deficits are an issue of “national security”, as the U.S. president claims? Should concerned countries accept trade imbalances and customs fees, or should they risk further escalation by implementing further tariffs in response?

– Klaus Segbers

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What is the Effect of Mega Events on International Relations?

The Olympic Games in South Korea are just behind us, and the Paralympics will begin soon. Later this year, the World Soccer Championship will take place in the Russian Federation. In April, the annual Formula One car racing circus is going to be launched in Bahrain.

There is an ongoing debate on the pros and cons of mega-events like these: are the assumed advantages for the hosting countries (global attention, tourism, media as amplifiers, potential reconciliation between conflict partners) predominant, or is it the possible negative consequences (after-event empty sports venues, no lasting gains in employment, huge costs, sometimes corruption and negative environmental impact)?

In a couple of instances, prospective hosts have put the issue on a referendum, only to learn that a majority of the regional population concerned was voting an application down, or at least threatening to do so (Budapest 2017; Referendums have sunk five Olympic bids over the last two Olympic bidding cycles, and potential Olympic referendums ended the Boston bid and now many end the Budapest one. Some referendums curtailed a potential bid before it was submitted to the IOC, while others came at different stages during the candidature process.

In Germany, both Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Hamburg authorities experienced defeat by their respective populations. The IOC is experiencing problems finding suitable host states or regions, and was happy to find at least one bidder for 2022 and 2026, respectively.

So, are huge sports events like these not popular anymore? Or is it rather about a ‘Not in my backyard’ mood – people like to watch events on TV, but do not want them in their neighborhood?

The second aspect is about the original idea that during Olympic Games conflicts between states had to be put to rest, or at least for the duration of the games themselves. The apparent thaw between South and North Korea during the games in Pyeonchang seems to confirm that. The fact that Olympics were often boycotted seems to show the opposite (Berlin 1936, two boycotting countries;  Australia 1956 – eight countries; Japan 1964 – three countries; Canada 1976 – 34 countries; Soviet Union 1980 – 66 countries; USA 1984 – 18 countries; South Korea 1988 – 7 countries).

So this week’s question is: How do you assess the effect of big sports events on international politics?

– Klaus Segbers

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What Does the Present Era of New Weapons and Fear of Accidental Launches Bode for the Future?

In different countries all over the world, there are new and intensive efforts to strengthen (or achieve) new and better nuclear warfighting (or defensive) capabilities. This stands in striking opposition to at least the rhetoric of the first Obama administration, when the president (Potus) had declared that he was striving for a word free of nuclear weapons.

While this goal may be elusive (there is no technology so far that has been uninvented), the open and hidden efforts to achieve some access to a nuclear ‘button’ (the bigger the better) are now particularly intense. The U.S. is investing in modernization programs in the triple billion dollar range. New weapons and strategies are in the making in China and Russia. Iran and North Korea are trying to join the club, which may be followed by similar policies by Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Egypt and Turkey, as well as possibly Indonesia. India and Pakistan, Israel, the UK and France also are members of the club (though only five of all of them are also permanent members of the Security Council).

This week’s question is: Are we seeing here a ‘normal’ additional round of a competitive arms race, or does this indicate a new quality of insecurity on a broader scale? Do new weapons and warheads narrow the classical distinction between conventional and nuclear weapons? Is the danger of accidental launch growing? Has the Doomsday Clock’s hand rightly moved closer to midnight?

– Klaus Segbers

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When Does History Stop Fueling Current Interest in Compensation and Restitution?

History is a difficult thing. First of all, it is past. Second, there is rarely only one narrative reporting and reconstructing it – so, depending on the position of the observer or author, there are different, even conflicting stories on what actually happened. Third, history is often presented and used with clear current interests and purposes, which may come with twists, biases and inventions.

This helps explain why history still plays a role in current politics and IR debates. A few examples: The Polish government claimed (until quite recently) compensation from the German government for the destruction and atrocities inflicted by German forces in World War II. Currently, Namibia is suing Germany in New York, for slaughtering Hereros and other ethnic groups about 100 years ago, when Germany was a colonial power. Algeria is considering similar moves and is asking for an official apology from France for atrocities committed in the early 1960s, during the final years of France’s colonial rule. In the U.S., compensation is debated for slavery (which officially existed until 1863), and in Australia for the mistreatment of aborigines.

A separate, though equally difficult, issue is the question of restitution for property that was taken away from people or groups of people, mostly after regime changes – as, for example, the issue of compensating the few remaining Jews (or their families) for lost property after the Nazis were removed in 1945, and, and compensation for property appropriations committed by Communist regimes in Eastern Europe in 1917 and 1945, which came to the fore after those regimes collapsed in 1990.

So this week’s question is NOT about why, how and how long to produce memories and stories about history. It is about how much time must pass before his (or her) stories cannot be treated any longer as something fueling current interests in compensation and restitution?

 – Klaus Segbers

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“Partying Like It´s 1933”- What Did We Learn and Can We Do Better This Time Around?

There is an ongoing debate about the character of these years, 2017 and now 2018. Maybe stimulated by the recent change of years and nostalgic sentiments, there were some features added to this debate. The core issue suggested is that we are experiencing a major change in the global structure, an epochal rupture, a tipping point, or a Zeitenwende, away from the liberal global order established after the horror of the Second World War. The organizations and institutions of the Bretton Woods system are experiencing, so we learn, an erosion, a devaluation, and are partly supplemented by Chinese-led structures (AIIB, OBOR, etc.). The U.S. in particular is departing from organizations (UNESCO), and global treaties (Kyoto Protocol), giving up on trade regimes (TTIP, TPP) and customary rules (status of Jerusalem), and afflicting damage to other agreements (Iran Vienna agreement), reducing the credibility of established organizations (NATO), and addressing the EU with contempt and ASEAN with neglect. Although the Chinese are more polite, they may agree with the substance of a perceived or claimed need to build a new global (dis)order. Russia does not care much either way, violating rules if convenient. Most of the EU sticks to rules, but it is not united, losing with the UK an important member state, and is not strong enough to serve as a counterweight.

A second, more specific concern is the question of whether there are parallels between 1933 and 2017-18. What was the rise of National Socialism 85 years ago, is now, as some writers suggest, the rise of populism. One and a half years ago, Robert Kagan alerted the public with the piece ‘This is how fascism will come to America’. More recently, the President of the Australian Institute of International Affairs stated that ‘the global order that had shaped the world since the end of World War II was over’. The observer Alex Bayer wrote in Kyiv Post under the header ‘Partying like it’s 1933’ about a world that is ‘being launched upon some kind of destructive course and careening full speed toward as yet unknown disaster’, and sees a situation he compares ‘(i)n this respect … is similar to the year 1933 when the foundations of the subsequent momentous events in world history were laid but the events themselves were yet to take shape’.

The New York Times registers and comments on two new publications with the header ‘Will Democracy Survive President Trump? Two New Books Aren’t Not So Sure’. One of the authors, David Frum, who has a sound Republican background, is quoted as saying ‘if it’s potentially embarrassing to speak too soon, it can also be dangerous to wait too long’. USA Today published a piece by the former under-secretary of state Nicholas Burns under the title ‘America is on the brink of a historic break with Europe, thanks to Trump’.

It is very difficult during the course of ongoing events not to lose perspective. Very true. But most of the consequences of 1917, for example, were not quite anticipated, as was the trajectory of 1933. The end of the East-West conflict in 1989 surprised most professional pundits. The financial crashes of 2007-08 came over the world in a similar fashion. So this week’s question is: Do we think that we can do better now?

 – Klaus Segbers

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What are the three most relevant, potentially destabilizing challenges the world is facing in 2018?

Like every year, we will have a look at the year to come:

Dear experts,

what are the three most relevant, potentially destabilizing challenges the world is facing in 2018?

And what are the three developments you would welcome most in global politics next year?

Given the coming holidays, I would appreciate it if many of you would respond. It may be short.

Season’s greetings, and – despite your maybe skeptical forecasts: Happy New Year.

– Klaus Segbers

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The Chinese Way – Our Model?

Western perceptions of China were recently quite ambivalent. On the one hand, Chinese leaders were quick to exploit President Trump’s contempt for liberal organizations and institutions, and to offer Chinese leadership in defending liberal values, especially open trade (see President Xi’s speech in Davos last spring). At the same time, there are more and more indications that China is moving with breathtaking speed toward a more illiberal, authoritarian form of governance.

A new state agency against corruption will double the existing intra-party body addressing the same task, with competencies contradicting existing laws and the constitution. Apparently there are provisions allowing for arbitrary arrest (NYT, China anti-graft plan criticized, NYT, December 2, 2017). This has triggered an unprecedented wave of protests by Chinese lawyers – so far to no avail.  In an unrelated development, a harsh campaign against migrant laborers living and working in the Beijing suburbs is disrupting their living conditions, compelling them to leave on very short notice. This campaign is allegedly directed at preventing new fires in communities with hazardous fire protection, but its manner of execution is being criticized even by established Chinese citizens.

The conditions for external actors being active in China are worsening as well. The law on foreign NGOs is well known. And it gave headaches to many foreign organizations looking for one of the few available Chinese partners, and the new rules for their work. In addition, the Chinese government is now trying to stipulate that Communist party cells must be established in all mostly foreign owned private enterprises. The rights of these cells are impressive, up to co-deciding or overruling investment and other issues, thereby infringing on property rights. The normally quite hesitant chambers of commerce (like the German ones) sent out clear official warnings that German companies may have to withdraw from China if this policy is enforced. Along similar lines, academic cooperation also is becoming more difficult. President Xi gave at least two speeches stating that there are too many foreign professors and foreign textbooks in China, apparently ignoring the fact that Karl Marx also was (and remains) a foreigner, with lots of ‘textbooks’ still in use in China that carry an official imprimatur.

A very worrisome trend is the Chinese strategy of making international companies bow to special Chinese rules. Big U.S. IT companies are all under pressure to allow Chinese state authorities access to their customers’ data, a debate also common in Western countries. The big five are open to accommodating these ‘wishes’ to different degrees; if they do not comply they are blocked (like Facebook). What is more specific is that publishers, especially academic ones, are also under a lot of pressure to make certain journals inaccessible for Chinese customers. Last summer, Cambridge University Press agreed to remove 300 articles from its Chinese website. The same goes for Springer Nature publishers. Later this year, Cambridge UP reconsidered. Even more surprising, in Australia the publisher Allen & Unwin withdrew a book (Silent Invasion: How China is Turning Australia Into a Puppet State) from the Australian (!) market, after China ranted against the publication.

In the international arena, China is continuing to broaden its ‘One Road One Belt’ initiative. This ‘New Silk Road’ has implications far beyond economics, and is often tied to political interests. Recently, there was another meeting of the ’16+1′ format, where eleven EU members and five Balkan states, plus China, came together in Budapest. It is not stretching the imagination too much to claim that some of the Eastern and Central European participants enjoy the presence of China in this format – not only as an investor, but also as a partner who does not issue reprimands about their human rights practices and worsening separation of powers.

The most frightening trend is the introduction of an all-Chinese ‘social credit point system’, where not only social, health and work-place relevant data and parameters are collected and combined for each Chinese citizen, but also assessments of peoples’ social and political activities, opinions, and social network activities. When people move beyond a threshold of negative points, they are punished by, for example, being unable to buy train or plain tickets, or to send their kids to school. This is a combination of (in Western parlance) ‘big government’ and ‘big business’ data parameters and algorithms, leading to immediate consequences for the person’s well-being and mobility options. This resembles a super-Matrix, where hardly anybody can escape from total control. Orwell 3.0.

While properly assessing all these trends, we should not overlook that in some instances there are responses and criticism inside China. I do think one only can admire the risk-taking of these individuals.

But the question this week is: Are these trends now unstoppable, and is this what we have to anticipate for other parts of the world as well? Is this our future? I know that this post may be not so well suited for advent time; or maybe, it is?

– Klaus Segbers

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What Implications might the Threatening German Government Gamble have for Europe?

The German coalition talks collapsed recently. Achieving a ‘Jamaica’ coalition between the moderate conservatives, the Bavarian ‘real’ conservatives, the liberal party (just returned by the voters to the Bundestag) and the Greens, was apparently way beyond the capabilities of the four parties and over 70 people involved in four weeks of talks.

So as of now, the most influential country in Europe and the world’s third biggest economy is run by an acting government with limited rights. A government with a chancellor ranked as the ‘most influential woman of the world’—a prime example of soft power, a gifted mediator from the Iran to the Minsk negotiations,  a core player in the Euro and migration crises—is currently looking weak, insecure, and shaken. While never quite willing to take on a global role beyond Europe, and being impressed by but unwilling to accept the notion of the ‘last standing liberal power in the world’, German elites are now puzzled by the inability to bring together the only viable combination of parties in the parliament after the September elections.

While recently there were prolonged periods of government-building in both Belgium and the Netherlands, neither country was as relevant for the cohesion and renovation of the EU. A couple of new French initiatives are still waiting for answers from Berlin. And those who are skeptical about liberal orders and societies may cheer: Now even in Germany there seems to be a crisis of liberalism, partly triggered by the populist AfD on the right, and the left party on the, well, left, both of whom accumulated about a quarter of the votes for populist, partly ant-systemic parties.

Which leads to this week´s question: Is all this a risk for Europe?

– Klaus Segbers

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100 Years After the October Revolution – What Did We Learn?

100 years ago, the October (or, using the current calendar, November) revolution created at first a lot of chaos, and later on, a new regime, allegedly in an attempt to create some form of socialism or communism.  While this new socio-economic formation never materialized, the international repercussions were significant. While soviet Russia and, after 1922, the Soviet Union were relatively weak and isolated, a brutally enforced strategy of selective modernization and development proved sufficient to withstand the attack by Nazi Germany. After 1945, the USSR was one of the two cores of the bipolar cold war system. Two nuclear powers opposed each other, but they actually never engaged in a hot war. After the end of the east-west conflict, global politics became more unruly, uncertain, and dangerous.

Some people claim that the USSR, while never really resembling socialism, worked as some kind of corrective for capitalism, and with its (the SU’s) demise, global capitalism accelerated and became more unchecked. Others believe that the real history of ‘real socialism’ ruined the alternative potential of socialism forever.

This week’s question is: 100 years on, is there anything we may learn from the experience of the grand Soviet experiment?

– Klaus Segbers

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