Category Archives: Topics

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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Tweets from the Oval Office – How should we react to Trump’s foreign policy?

As expected, the first two weeks of the new US government were erratic. While governance by Twitter (and intermittently by judges) is something of a new political science concept, these first economic, social and cultural decisions are quite consistent with pre-election statements.

There is an ongoing debate in western and Asian capitals on how to respond. Wait and see? Making bold statements to indicate limits of the accessible? Trying to be friendly? What is your take?

– Prof. Klaus Segbers

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Why should we study International Relations today?

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

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Is liberalism to blame for populism?

Here we go. Europe may fail. This is the first time I am writing such a thing (partly) publicly. There are dozens of questions relating to this possibility. I suggest you focus on one today: Should we all be partially to blame? You may have heard about (or even read) the widely discussed New York Times article by Mark Lilla on ‘The End of Identity Liberalism’ (see reading below).

Lilla’s basic point is that liberals (he covers the US, but his point may be extended globally) have enjoyed the luxury of preaching liberal values, while huge groups of their fellow citizens were completely indifferent, or even felt threatened and excluded by these values. According to Lilla, this often went hand-in-hand with preaching to the ‘uneducated’ – for them to better understand things (international trade immigration, sexual and other identity politics), and to accommodate these liberal values.

He sees here, one of the major reasons for the apparently unstoppable success of populism:

‘The fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press had produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life’.

He suggests that a more careful liberalism would ‘quietly, sensitively and with a proper sense of scale’, address what for many people, are difficult issues like religion and sexuality. Lilla also suggests that such a re-invented (maybe more civilized?) liberalism would address that ‘democracy is not only about rights’, but also includes duties such as the duty ‘to keep informed and vote’.

Please join me in this discussion and let’s delve into this quite complex issue of liberals’ responsibility for the rise of populism.

– Prof. Klaus Segbers

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How to deal with an elected populist? Continuing last week’s discussion

Exceptional events require exceptions. So let’s continue last week’s debate, after we discovered who won (at least the elections, if not the popular vote). But our focus now, will be on how to react to the new situation.

There is a puzzling variety of Western reactions following the election results in the United States. Some leaders (like the Japanese Prime Minister) seem to have bowed deeply. Others (Russia), expressed their (probably wee-founded) hopes to improve relations. But again, others like Chancellor Merkel, appear to be cooperative, based on some conditional expectations. The EU, all of a sudden, has decided to improve its cooperation in the external and defense fields, and even promises to spend more.

What is a viable strategy for handling a committed populist? Bandwagoning? Accommodation? Conditional cooperation? Kow-towing? Pragmatic restraint?

– Prof. Klaus Segbers

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Why and How Shall We Study Global Politics?

Students of Study International Relations are required to be broadly informed about a number of different processes influencing international and global transformations, while at the same developing the ability to abstract and systemize these aspects in order to reach a generalized understanding of them. Consequently, there is a constant tension between theory development and decision making procedures in a world that is often too complex to be captured in a few explaining variables. Nevertheless, researchers have to try: without theory development and – by definition – reduction of complexity, there will be no scientific work, and no generalizations derived from the study of political cases that may, in turn, also help decision making. Coping with this tension and designing proper research while not forgetting about its applicability to decision making is both the greatest challenge and the greatest joy of “doing” IR.
To sum up, we study International Relations as an academic discipline because

  • it provides us with a broad understanding of world politics;
  • it provides us with the methodological tools and theoretical approaches to understand and explain international, transnational and global processes in a comparative fashion;
  • it helps us to abstract single events or outcomes in order to reach general statements about the functioning of the international system.

1. The Development of International Relations – IR History

In this chapter we will briefly look at the origins of IR as a discipline. We will then move on to how its research agenda has changed over time. Lastly, we will consider whether IR deserves to be regarded as a full-fledged academic discipline, and to what extent different regional understandings of IR exist.
Until World War I, there was no such thing as an academic discipline called “International Relations.” But the outbreak and unprecedented cruelty of World War I showed the limits of subjects like history and law, which until then dealt with international questions, to explain what happened. Against this background, the Welsh liberal parliamentarian David Davies endowed a Chair for International Politics at the University of Aberystwyth, Wales, in April 1919. Courses taught in the early years focused on international institutions (crucially the League of Nations), political philosophy, and questions of governance.
Until the late 1930s, the discipline was characterized by two phenomena. First, the varied academic backgrounds of scholars led to a diversity of writing on the subject. Lawyers and historians held an outstanding position within the field, and thus formulated the agenda and methodology for the first years of IR. Alfred Zimmern, appointed the first Chair in International Politics in Aberystwyth, was a historian by training.
Secondly, the discipline was not professionalized; so many writers were not academics. Mostly publicists, they did not care much about academic standards and scientific research but often delivered accounts full of ideology and populism.
Born out of the ruins of the First World War, academic IR was initially guided by the desire to foster an improved understanding of the interactions between states in order to control world politics and avoid future wars. Three topics dominated its early research agenda:

  • International Organizations. This part of the agenda was mainly dealt with by lawyers and focused on the constitutional structure of the League of Nations.
  • The State. Early theorists focused their research on the behavior and motivation of states and statesmen as well as the history of the state system.
  • Avoiding War. A large share of research was dedicated to normative questions of creating a peaceful world.

In summary, it is significant to note that the emergence of IR as a discipline was ambiguous. Despite the label international politics, it was in its early years much closer to history and law. The dominance of normative thinking in academic IR, combined with the wide practice of non-academics writing about international politics, challenged its evolution into a coherent academic discipline in the early years. Today, it faces new challenges regarding novel types of actors and issues for which IR has to develop meaningful analytical tools. In the following chapter, we discuss some of these new themes.

2. Important Issues, Topics, and Problems in International Relations

In the following, some major discussions in world politics will be introduced to give insight into the variety and complexity of the debates in the field. Naturally, in a field as diverse as IR, there is an indefinite number of debates, such that the issues introduced below are intended to serve as examples rather than a comprehensive overview. We will again connect these issues to the five-image categorization scheme introduced above to provide some orientation as to the level of analysis these issues are studied on.

2.1 Conflict and Cooperation

When IR emerged as an academic discipline after World War I, its natural points of interest were the causes for war and the prospects for stable peace. Idealists called for mechanisms to prevent future wars, maintaining that this lay also in the best interests of states and governments. Woodrow Wilson was the first in a long row of proponents of establishing rules to prevent war (institutions).

The liberal school of thought explained war as being brought about by undemocratic rulers pursuing their personal interests at the expense of the underprivileged population. Furthermore, they criticized that foreign policy was made behind closed doors and was thus not subject to the approval of anyone apart from the ruling elite. Therefore, liberals called for democratic governments accountable to their citizens. Liberal theorists claim that democracies do not fight each other, although they may remain aggressive to non-democratic states (see Doyle 1983, Russett 1993 on the so-called principle of democratic peace). Apart from that, liberals call for mechanisms of collective security to establish a monopoly of power beyond the nation state. [Third Image: State-Level]
For (Neo-)realists, the picture looked fundamentally different, as they understood conflict to be inherent in the international system. Due to the absence of an overarching authority, states are always insecure about the intentions of other states. The anarchical structure of the international system and the consequent security-dilemma give rise to conflict. As conflict is part of the system, the only way to deal with it is to always be prepared, and, when conditions allow for it, to build a system of checks and balances. However, such a system must be based on power, not on cooperation. States have to enter into short-term alliances in order to prevent other states from becoming too powerful. Realists believe that states only cooperate if they can benefit at least as much or even more than other states and that once cooperation is achieved it has only little chance of being sustained, as states are prone to cheat. This way of reasoning assumes that governments are out only to achieve relative gains by out-maneuvering other states. Although constructivists share much of the realist view of the current international system, they come to a fundamentally different conclusion regarding the possibility of avoiding conflict. They believe that a world without violent conflict can be created by sharing knowledge. [Fifth Image: System-Level]

So far we have been talking about war and peace, but it could well be argued that today the focus of IR should be a broader one. Inter-state war is not the major instance of violent conflict anymore, as it has been replaced by the so called “new wars” (e.g. Mary Kaldor, Christopher Daase), which can include state and non-state actors alike, and have only little respect for territorial boundaries. In the western world, violent conflict has become rare (but not absent, as conflicts in the Spanish Basque region or Northern Ireland demonstrated). Thus, conflict in the western world evolves less around questions of security than around trade (e.g. the “banana controversy” between the EU and the Americas) or political power (the British refusal to approve the 2005 EU budget due to farming subsidies overtly beneficial to French farmers). The arena of conflict between western states has in many cases moved to international forums, which have partly managed to internalize conflict. One of the most prominent examples for such internalization is the European Court of Justice, which will be discussed at greater length in the European Politics module. Taking these developments into account, one of the most relevant questions in global politics continues to evolve around issues of conflict (be it armed, political or economic) and cooperation.

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Homogenization of Global Culture

One of the most common arguments concerning the cultural dimensions of globalization is that processes of globalization are creating a homogenous global culture. This argument tends to come from a group of scholars who we referred to in Unit One as “hyperglobalizers”, scholars who view almost everything in domestic and global politics, economics, culture and society as being connected to and influenced by globalization. There are two perspectives on the homogenization of global culture within the hyperglobalizers’ ranks. One group is the pessimistic hyperglobalizers. They argue that a homogenous global culture is emerging, premised on Anglo-American values of consumerism and capitalism. This ‘soulless consumer capitalism’ (Barber 2007) is, according to pessimistic hyperglobalizers, overwhelming more vulnerable cultures and contributing to perceptions that globalization is in fact ‘Americanization’ or ‘Westernization’. In short, the cultural dimensions of globalization amount to little more than a cultural form of neo-imperialism spearheaded by the American ’empire’.

The values disseminated by transnational media feed the belief that globalization is in fact creating a homogenous global culture, a culture that is dominated by Anglo-American pop culture images, products and values (Crothers 2007). The formation of these transnational media conglomerates and the images and values they disseminate tend to lead to the depoliticization of society and the weakening of civic bonds. One of the most glaring developments of the last two decades has been the transformation of news broadcasts and educational programmes into shallow entertainment shows built around the branding and selling of consumer commodities like cars, watches, perfume, or handbags. Given that news is less than half as profitable as entertainment, the corporate media are increasingly pursuing higher profits by ignoring journalism’s traditional separation of newsroom practices and business decisions. Partnerships and alliances between news and entertainment companies are fast becoming the norm, making it more common for publishing executives to press journalists to cooperate with their newspapers’ business operations. A sustained encroachment on the professional autonomy of journalists is, therefore, also part of cultural globalization.

Optimistic hyperglobalizers, such as Kenichi Ohmae (1990; 1995), concur that a homogenous global culture is emerging but view this in a much more positive light than their pessimistic counterparts (Berger and Huntington 2002). They see the spread of Anglo-American values as promoting the rise of democratic politics and increases in personal freedoms in a variety of areas, including trade. While espousing the virtues of market values, these optimistic hyperglobalizers often do not consider the many negative effects of consumerist culture in numerous contexts around the world.
Some authors espousing a ‘cosmopolitan’ perspective (Held 2004) also view the emergence of homogeneity in global culture as a positive development. The rise of a global culture is promoting the spread of liberal cosmopolitan values concerning justice and democracy. Through the expansion of technologies in communication and travel, globalization is creating a global civil society, with increased participation and greater identification amongst people across traditional cultural and geographic divides, particularly in relation to ethics and politics, as we saw in the previous unit. Culture is no longer tied to fixed localities but is able to unite people across vast distances, contributing to the thickening of a progressive global social imaginary (Beck 2005; Held 2004).

But is a global culture actually emerging? It is difficult to deny the existence of powerful homogenizing trends like those outlined above or to deny that these trends are having a significant impact on local cultures, but does this mean that a uniform global culture in the American image is developing that will overwhelm and eventually diminish or wipe out traditional, historical local cultures?

Written by Manfred B. Steger & Erin K. Wilson

The US presidential election – What is ahead for global politics?

The end of the presidential election in the United States is fast approaching. Following it, are an abundance of domestic issues which need sorting – along with a few international ones as well. Let’s focus on the second group of challenges here.

What can the world expect from a new American administration? Externally, what are the fundamental new features of either a Clinton or Trump government? The interventions in failing or failed states, and for fighting ISIS and related threats – what effects will the new administration have on these? Will there be more isolationism, or more interventionism?  What about the pivot towards Asia? Will NATO be strengthened, or will it lose credibility? What will the trade, immigration and climate policies be? Will there be new ideas for transatlantic relations?

Let’s compose a list of first assessments.

– Prof. Klaus Segbers

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The Referendum – How much power to the people?

To hold a referendum seems to have become the newest way of externalizing difficult issues. For sure, there are countries with a long tradition of directly involving their citizens  with all kinds of issues, like accepting foreigners or not, raising taxes or not, or to add a train or not. In Switzerland, people are used to it, and one could make the point that the political system there may be flexible enough to digest it – though a while ago, the almighty people voted in favor of limiting the movement of EU citizens which produced a problem for the de-facto Swiss membership in the common market.

But otherwise, referenda are blossoming, and regardless of whether they create confusion or not, seem to be gaining in popularity. We do not have to mention the Brexit referendum that failed to meet the expectations of their organizers (and subsequently outed them from office), and the consequences of which the UK and EU officials now have to focus on for years to come. But there was however, one referendum on accepting a certain number of asylum seekers in the EU framework in Hungary (that equally failed), which will now be circumvented by the government. There was another referendum on the peace deal in Colombia a few days ago – that one failed too, and both government and the formerly armed opposition, FARC, now have to remedy the damage. In November, Italy will hold a referendum looking for the consent of the people to streamline their so-far awkward decision-making process which is predicted to probably fail as well. Let’s not forget the referenda on planned EU treaty revisions that went down: Ireland rejected Nice in 2001, Denmark and Sweden rejected Europe in 2000 and 2003,  France and the Netherlands rejected the EU Constitution in 2005, and so on.

The question for this week is: Why on earth are sane politicians continuing to put complex issues in the hands of voters who decide by whatever criteria, but rarely on the substance of an issue?

– Prof. Klaus Segbers

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Hard and Soft Bargaining – “The Applied Side: How to Bargain in Global Politics”

How do you actually behave in a negotiation setting? Which strategy do you intend to follow? Confrontational or cooperative? Are you willing to concede to the better argument?  Alternatively, will you be tough regarding your initial position? Do you perceive the other party/parties to the negotiation rather as opponents or as partners? Are you interested in the people and their underlying needs and interests? Will you give in eventually? These are some of the practical questions to be considered before entering a negotiation.

A first, rough distinction of strategic outlooks for negotiation is that between “hard” and “soft” strategies. It is often inexperienced negotiators that consider these to be the only existing alternatives while acknowledging that it significantly depends on the negotiator’s personal preferences (see unit 11) as well as on the context which of the two approaches is recommendable under which circumstances. (Fisher, Ury, Patton 1999, 8; Mastenbroek 1989)

Hard bargaining uses all instruments at hand in the pursuit of one-sided advantage. Pressure, threats, bluffing, tricks, etc. are tactics applied in order to outsmart someone or to make him or her do something that is not in his or her interest. Hard bargaining is about pushing through one-sided interests and it follows the competitive logic of zero-sum games in which one side’s losses are the other side’s gains.

Soft bargaining, on the other hand, recognizes the potential dangers hard bargaining styles have, particularly for the current and future relationship between the negotiating parties. According to Fisher, Ury, and Patton (1999, 8), soft negotiators see the other side as friends and instead of trying to reach victory at all costs, they aim at securing agreement by yielding to the other side and their demands if necessary. Cooperation becomes the leading principle whereas hard negotiation is based on competition. (Pfetsch 2006, 52-53) The result of soft bargaining will often be agreements that are reached quickly but that are not necessarily wise ones, as both sides might fail to reach their legitimate interests in the attempt to be more accommodating than the other side. Please see table 1 for a comparison of the characteristics of hard and soft bargaining styles.

Hard bargaining Soft bargaining
  • Participants are adversaries,
  • The goal is victory,
  • Demand concessions as a condition of the relationship,
  • Be hard on the problem and the people,
  • Distrust others,
  • Dig in to your position,
  • Make threats,
  • Mislead as to your bottom line,
  • Demand one-sided gains as the price of agreement,
  • Search for the single answer: the one you will accept,
  • Insist on your position,
  • Try to win a contest of will, and
  • Apply pressure.
  • Participants are friends,
  • The goal is the agreement,
  • Make concessions to cultivate the relationship,
  • Be soft on the people and the problem,
  • Trust others,
  • Change your position easily,
  • Make offers,
  • Disclose your bottom line,
  • Accept one-sided losses to reach agreement,
  • Search for the single answer: the one they will accept,
  • Insist on agreement,
  • Try to avoid a contest of will, and
  • Yield to pressure.

Source: Adapted from Fisher, Ury, Patton 1999, 9.

Most negotiation theorists, however, would reject this rather simplistic distinction between soft and hard bargaining. Many different terminologies exist in the literature, e.g. differentiating between distributive and integrative bargaining (e.g. Lewicki, Barry, Saunders 2007), and between the concession-convergence and the joint decision-making approach (Jönsson 2002), and many others. In this unit, we follow the distinction advanced by Fisher, Ury, and Patton (1999) between positional bargaining on the one hand and interest-based (or principled) negotiation on the other.