Category Archives: Conflict Management

Syria – Still a pawn in the hands of the powerful

Syria is back in the the headlines (not that it was absent in recent years) and the conflict has returned to the agendas of regional and global stakeholders. With the help of Putin and his regular and private military operations, Assad has regained chunks of the territories ceded in the prior six years.
An attack on the Idlib area seems imminent, which may produce new waves of migrants and possible new gas attacks. At this point in the conflict Russia remains supportive of the regime, Turkey is concerned because of the Kurdish role, and Europe is anxiously wringing its proverbial hands.

This week’s questions are: Do we have to accommodate to a lasting role for the Assad regime, forgetting about his war crimes or not, and accept that he will have a role in Syria’s reconstruction. Or should we deny this, keeping supporting the troubled and fragmented militias, trying to limit Russia’s and/ or Turkey’s influence? We can assume that U.S. and EU interference will be quite limited.

-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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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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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 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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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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