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
Two years ago, I posted this text:
“At the beginning of 2015, the world looks more confused than ever. So one would assume that we do need a lot of good specialists to bring a sense of clarity and transparency to what is happening in Global Politics. Alas, what we see is that a lot of people in most countries give up understanding the chaos, resigning in the face of too much complexity. This includes decision makers who are skeptical re. the interference of self-appointed specialists. Plus, media reporting on global affairs is about as simplistic as the reality is complicated.
So why should young people today start a career by studying International Relations/ Global Politics? What can they expect from such a degree? What can taxpayers expect from such an investment? And politicians from these experts? The postings you sent them, and the resulting debate was one of the most successful in the history of ‘Global Matters’.”
So let me repeat my question in a slightly modified form:
‘Global Politics’ both as a subject and a discipline, looks messy. There is less cooperation between governments and all kinds of actors, plus increased populism (U.S. elections, Brexit, Russia, the Philippines, referenda in the Netherlands and Italy, etc.). The world has not seen this degree of conflict with even slimmer prospects of problem solving, since after the Second World War.
Why should we, and how could we encourage young students to get into this field now?
– Prof. Klaus Segbers
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
Under the radar of the big news items, fueled by the migration and Russia crises, populism and the threat of Brexit, terrorism and (once again) the Eurocrisis, another issue is emerging: trade. Now while this seems pretty boring, tens of thousand ds of people assemble on squares in Europe to protest against the TTIP, the planned trade agreement between the USA and the EU, and its sibling, the TPP, the related treaty between the U.S. and ASEAN countries, also suffers from a mixed reputation. All current U.S. presidential candidates have positioned themselves more or less against these trade agreements.
And indeed, there is data that suggests previous trade agreements have cost industrial workers in America jobs. On the other hand, David Ricardo would argue even today that nothing better may happen to a country then healthy trade relations. As well, these deals have geopolitical benefits, serving as a way of tightening links between the US and EU in the case of the TTIP, and the US and its ASEAN partners with the TPP. Nonetheless, there are two major issues turning people against these negotiations: first, that there are useful or ‘just’ standards that would have to be reduced for assuring consensus among signatories; and second, that there is an inbuilt trend away from national legislation, towards arbitration in the case of conflicts.
Now how do we, the experts, assess these two treaties? Should they be finalized soon, before there will be a new U.S. administration, or does it pay off to let the talk linger indefinitely?
– Prof. Dr. Klaus Segbers
The EU is in a difficult situation. One could also say: in a deep crisis.
There is an ongoing and unresolved Eurocrisis. There is the permanent threat of terrorist attacks. There is an ongoing wave of immigration hardly controlled by anybody, and putting in danger the Schengen rules. There is a Russian regime that keeps behaving assertively. There is a wave of populism especially in the Visegrad group in Central Europe, but not limited to it. At the same time, in the U.S. two populist candidates are gaining traction with voters, and China is escalating a crisis in the South China Sea. Germany’s chancellor, recently lauded as ‘Person of the Year’, is experiencing her most serious crisis so far.
The question is: Do you think that the dissolution, or collapse of the EU is a realistic possibility?
– Prof. Dr. Klaus Segbers