Category Archives: Topics

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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Think Tanks & Co. — Do we need more analytical advice?

The magnitude of problems, challenges, threats and concerns for our global world may indicate that decision makers are more in need of sound advice than ever. And yes, there seems to be a blossoming of think tanks, NGO expertise and consultancies, news alerts and breaking news, let alone myriads of podcasts and listservers.

EU-Turkey relations, the domestic autocratization in Hungary and Poland, Russiagate and the US health system, territorial disputes in the South China Sea and concerns over human rights in China, ethnic issues in Myanmar, Basel 3 and the Paris Accord, Euro stability and the growing threats of terrorism and populism — are we in need of more sound assessments?

Two aspects may be considered here. Firstly, it seems that politicians, journalists and others are already drowning in studies, executive summaries and working papers. The problem is one of selection, rather than supply. So is there really even more demand for sound analysis?

Secondly, we want to be confirmed in our established mind sets and belief systems, not irritated. To be irritated is considered an impediement to making quick decisions and finding viable solutions. But blocking diverging voices also blocks learning.

So do we need more analytical advice from think tanks, advisory bodies and policy papers – or perhaps not?

– Klaus Segbers

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Hamburg, Violence, G20 – Is This a Viable Format?

The G 20 summit came to Hamburg, overwhelming the city, and has now moved on. As for high politics, it was partly 20 – 0 (everyone allegedly against terrorism), 19 – 1 (climate change), and an unclear constellation in trade matters (with some issues having not been clearly framed).

Along with 10,000 politicians, sherpas, journalists, and 20,000 police officers, there also were hundreds of thousands of demonstrators (at one point on Sunday), and some 1,000 or so hard-core violent fighters who enjoyed the opportunity to endulge their machismo and seed chaos and fright. Even judging the whole theatre with benevolence from a distant viewer’s seat, one can hardly can avoid having the impression that there was a gross mismatch between the enormous efforts, and cost, to prepare and implement and defend all this, on the one hand, and the outcome, on the other.

The absent veto players and electorates from the domestic scenery are always around. There are too many topics and way too many participants/ guests. If we assume that the 40 leading individuals (19 plus one participants, plus 20 high-level reps from international organizations and the like) only talk for five minutes each, then three and a half hours are gone.

So this week’s question is: Are these monster-meetings any good?

– Klaus Segbers

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Between Freedom and Security: How Can We Deal With Terrorism?

Apparently, this is the new normal: two terrorist attacks on one day (London and Brussels), the day before another attack in London and a week earlier – London again. In between such events, and not long before them, the world also witnessed attacks in France, Germany, and Russia, not to mention the frequent attacks occurring in Afghanistan and other MENA countries.

Western societies were exposed to domestic terrorism in the 1970s. But since that time, terror attacks seemed to be something that happened in faraway places — until 9/11 sent home a clear message: it can (and will) happen any place, any time. And after the carnage in Charlie Hebdo’s office in Paris, in January of 2015, it looks as if terrorist attacks, mostly committed by Muslim-related perpetrators, have become routine. Citizens have developed new ways of screening their environments, knowing that this can produce little more than a symbolic action.

While governments started to increase funding for police and intelligence operations, and CCTV cameras have proliferated, citizens seem to have become more fatalistic, continuing with their usual liberal lifestyles under the pressure ofincreased nervousness.

Is there anything liberal societies can do about this except adapt to new threat levels?

– 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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Academic Freedom Under Threat – Where do we go from here?

What actions can and need to be taken to safeguard universities as bastions of free thought and sources of innovation?

Not surprisingly, the growth of populism has been accompanied by shrinking spaces for intellectual life, especially regarding (but not limited to) educational activities in at least in some cases.

In Eastern Europe, the Hungarian government is actively involved in closing the Central European University, funded by the U.S. billionaire George Soros. Prime Minister Viktor Orban does not hide his aversion to Soros’s activities in Hungary. In St. Petersburg, the European University is, once more, threatened with closure, due to inspections by the state agency Rozobrnadzor, which has allegedly uncovered some formal rule violations. The School for Political Science at the second most important Russian University, the MGIMO in Moscow, will be closed due to ‘administrative reorganizations’ as of July 1st.

So what can we, more or less concerned observers and colleagues, do about this? We could accept it as a sign of changing global landscapes. Or we could send or sign protest lists online. Or we could give more or less critical interviews. But when there is a pattern in our observation of increasing harassment of certain, mostly liberal, schools and departments, this trend could sooner or later turn against ourselves.

This week’s question is simple (to ask): What can and should we do about these illiberal incidents?

– 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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To trade or not to trade?

 

To engage in exchanging goods and services is one of the oldest human activities, some even say – the oldest. In the last three or so years, trade has acquired an additional feature becoming a hot topic of global politics. Populists especially, maintain that the positive or negative balance of a nation’s trade reflect that nation’s strength – a hotly debated topic (without much support) in science, and an even hotter issue in politics.

After President Trump’s victory in the US (and even before), trade was one of those topics that served as a rallying cry for political agitators and angry people. Allegedly, trans-border trade was (also) responsible for the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs. As a result, TPP and TTIP were trashed by the US government after TTIP also fell prey to liberal and leftist suspicions while NAFTA is to be re-negotiated. All this is supposed to ‘bring our jobs back’, where the tricky issue is what ‘our’ stands for.

Following some of the most respected economists, like David Ricardo, there are not many more useful activities a nation can do other than trade. This leads to an equilibrium between strengths and weaknesses of national capabilities, and, on balance, increases wealth across the board. Things have been getting more complicated by the increasing effects of transnationalization of trade where it has become quite difficult to attribute certain features of a product to one country. Most specialists agree that while globalisation, liberalisation and technological developments have contributed to significant losses of (no longer competitive) jobs, they have also added millions of new jobs.

So how should responsible governments react to the current debate and rising expectations from ‘below’? Keep trading and foster innovation, no matter where? Or limit and control transborder trade?

– 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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