Category Archives: Topics

In a World of Disasters: Where are we heading until Year’s End?

Almost two thirds of this year are gone. Where is the balance, so far, in global politics? It is summer time, so it is time for reflection.

As last December—when we asked you for the last time for a prognosis, the liberal world order, established after 1945—is in disarray. An alternative is not in sight. The American president is a loose cannon, erratic and unstable. Midterm elections may cost him the majority in at least one chamber of the House. China’s economy looks slightly more stable, but it is entangled in a trade war with the U.S. A medicine scandal is tainting the highly centralized Chinese system, so the buck has to stop at the top.

In the EU, another country is moving away from the basic consensus of the Paris Charter in 1990 – Italy. Half of voters in recent elections voted populist. An impending trade war with the U.S. is on hold, and may (or may not) commence later this year. In Russia, the soccer championship was enjoyable for many, but a much criticized pension reform is shifting the allegiances of the electorate away from the current powers. Ukraine is still not considered to have moved beyond Russia’s sovereignty. Internally, political issues in Ukraine are significant. India and Brazil  are facing their own domestic issues.

Climate change is on the march. We are experiencing one of the hottest summers on record. Plastic is covering ever bigger parts of the oceans (and the earth). The big IT companies are still unsure how to address data protection demands. And how to balance the freedom of expression, and the protection against ‘hate speech’. Protectionism and mercantilism are en vogue, as are nonsense concepts such as ‘alternative reality’. The independence of media has to be defended every month.

What is your forecast for the rest of the year? What can be expected?

-Klaus Segbers

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New global tasks or persevering for a change?

Europe is watching with puzzlement and growing despair at how the world is changing. The liberal global order as it was established after 1945 is becoming weaker. The guarantor for this order, the administration of the United States, is turning away from this role. China, while implicitly
suggesting that it might take over this role, is far away from it, at least far from any support for a liberal order. Russia (a middle power with nukes and based on carbon-based energy resources) is far away from both: order, and liberalism.

The EU, the biggest economic bloc and with two permanent seats in the Security Council, is considering its options. While alliances with either China or Russia are out of the question, the 70 year alliance between the EU and the US is under threat.

What, then, is a higher risk to the EU? To muddle through and hope for a better U.S. president (possibly an erroneous tactic), or to finally take over more of its own responsibility—especially in security and trade?

-Klaus Segbers

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What is the right way to handle the migration flows in Europe?

Attitudes and policies toward migrants are a relevant issue across countries and continents. The issue of migration is amongst the most divisive of our political epoch, and there is constant debate about the practical and moral challenges of migration policies.

One philosophical question at the forefront of debate is whether states have the right to determine or select which incoming migrants have the right to asylum. Proponents of a selective intake have argued that this can help to protect existing cultural, economic and political communities from outside influence. In response, critics argue that the background and circumstances (such as birthplace) of potential migrants should have no bearing on their freedom of movement.

Practically, it is a challenge to properly categorize incoming people. This challenge is exacerbated by the fact that certain privileges or entitlements are tied to certain categories or statuses. For example, asylum seekers are generally accepted, refugee cases must be treated in accordance with the UNHCR regulation, and rejected (but not deported) individuals can retain a subsidiary status. Legislation and bilateral agreements also offer possibilities such as migration for the purpose of family reunion, or for labor.

On a logistical level, it is difficult to establish an effective system for processing migrant applications. Issues include creating registration centers and procedures, offering shelter while applications are being processed, and the especially pertinent issue of where asylum seekers should be resettled once their applications have been processed. The refusal of several EU states to accept their assigned quota of refugees has made the issue of resettling migrants especially difficult.  In Europe, additional issues are the role of the protection of the external borders by Frontex, the role of traffickers and NGOs, and the (mostly encouraging) effect of social media on the decision making of potential migrants.

For those incoming people who are legally accepted (and for some who are not), it has to be determined what the aim of their stay is: is the best approach for Europe to encourage incoming migrants to adapt, to integrate, or assimilate?  Should the option of ‘returning home’, for example after a civil war has ended, be kept as a real one?

All these issues are potentially and actually disruptive in many societies. Populist movements have bolstered their support around allegations of government mismanagement of immigration. What are both ethical and legitimate, but also effective, responses that  governments should consider?

– Klaus Segbers

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How to deal with populist power in Europe?

Following the Italian elections in March this year, we now have the opportunity to observe a newly elected populist government in action. One can argue that Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia have become increasingly populist under existing conservative and nationalist governments. Austria’s governing coalition uneasily incorporates many aspects of populism into their far-right platform. Italy, however, is the most explicit example of populist governance in action, because the election campaign was led with clear anti-EU and anti-Euro rhetoric, pro-Russian and anti-German messages, and a radical anti-immigration program.

A few days ago, the Austrian chancellor, Kurz spoke of a new ‘axis’ between Vienna, Rome and Munich. Decisions made in German politics this week may result in significant collateral consequences for the traditional German party system and for the stabilizing role that Germany has played under chancellor Merkel in the EU and beyond.

The current strategy of the acting German government’s majority is to address the new Italian government (and the Austrian government) by suggesting concrete solutions for factual issues, instead of fighting ideational battles.

Do you think that this is the right way of addressing populists in power?

Klaus Segbers

See also: Was denkbar ist – Klaus Segbers

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What kind of role does politics play in sport?

In a few days one of the world’s largest sporting events commences: the FIFA Football World Cup, this year held in Russia. With the recurrence of the World Cup in a new city every four years, we find ourselves debating how close or far politics should be from big soccer events.

Putin’s Russia (which is not all of Russia) is many things. Democracy, minority protection and international rule observance would not come to mind quickly when describing today’s Russia.

So when global soccer teams−with media, fans and commercial interests in tow−stream to Moscow and other Russian cities, we should think about how to frame this event:

Are these Putin’s games, or the festival for the youth of the world? Is this a gigantic media event, or will we encounter islands of authenticity? Can we separate the event from the Russian political context, or should we use the opportunity and talk on the spot about Crimea, Syria, and doping? And should political leaders of the world who care about values go to Russia and cheer for their teams, or not?

-Klaus Segbers

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How to deal with U.S. sanctions?

The current administration of the United States pursues the (not unprecedented) policy of ignoring substituting or bypassing global and international norms to a new level.  Recent examples include international trade treaties, the withdrawal from the Kyoto process, the pull-out from the 5 plus 1 Iran agreement, and the ongoing side-effects of these withdrawals.

It matters little whether current foreign policy is a continuation of traditional attitudes of exceptionalism, or if it is designed to win favour with certain domestic U.S. constituencies.

One of the more interesting issues is the phenomenon of secondary sanctions. This means that the U.S. administration does not only decide about which sanctions against who it wants to implement, but also tries to oblige companies from other countries to follow these ‘directions‘. If transnational companies do not accept this, they are threatened by sanctions themselves and may not be able to continue with commercial activities in the U.S., or with American partners.

While the global liberal order established after 1945 may be eroding, certain national regulations  are being preserved, or even strengthened, especially in the U.S.,  China  and to some extent, Russia.

This week’s questions are: a) is this acceptable? And b) what strategies and measures can be conceived to cope with this?

 

Klaus Segbers

 

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Germany, Cool?

Not long ago The Economist’s published a lead story entitled, ‘Germany is becoming more open and diverse. With the right leadership, it could be a model for the West.’ The lead commentary argued that ‘(m)any of the country’s defining traits – its ethnic and cultural homogeneity, conformist and conservative society, and unwillingness to punch its weight in international diplomacy – are suddenly in flux’ (April 14, 2018, p.9). Spanning 12 pages, the special report on Germany considers issues such as open and closed politics, the concept of ‘Heimat’, identity, social cleavages, and the advance of AI. The evolution of Germany into a reluctant and kind-of benign hegemon, and the state’s reconciliation with its history are also addressed, mostly in a sympathetic way.

This article forms the starting point for this week’s questions:

History never disappears. But are the horrors of the Holocaust and World War 2 becoming more distant, no longer immediately shaping current German policies? Is Germany becoming a ‘normal’ country, keeping its specific features but increasingly influential, with a clear liberal identity and taking over more responsibilities? And, if so, what does this signal to Germany’s neighbors? Ms Thatcher famously quipped after the collapse of the Berlin Wall:  “We’ve beaten the Germans twice. Now they’re back!” Giulio Andretti added “I love Germany so much that I prefer to see two of them”. Are these times gone for good? Is it acceptable for today’s Germany to define its political roadmap as pragmatically as most other countries are shaping theirs? Moreover, is there reason to assume that Germany may even belong to the few societies (maybe like Canada and the Scandinavian countries) serving as liberal role models, as the “West’s Last Stalwart of Enlightened Liberalism” (Haaretz, 11, 2017)?

 

Klaus Segbers

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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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