100 years ago, the October (or, using the current calendar, November) revolution created at first a lot of chaos, and later on, a new regime, allegedly in an attempt to create some form of socialism or communism. While this new socio-economic formation never materialized, the international repercussions were significant. While soviet Russia and, after 1922, the Soviet Union were relatively weak and isolated, a brutally enforced strategy of selective modernization and development proved sufficient to withstand the attack by Nazi Germany. After 1945, the USSR was one of the two cores of the bipolar cold war system. Two nuclear powers opposed each other, but they actually never engaged in a hot war. After the end of the east-west conflict, global politics became more unruly, uncertain, and dangerous.
Some people claim that the USSR, while never really resembling socialism, worked as some kind of corrective for capitalism, and with its (the SU’s) demise, global capitalism accelerated and became more unchecked. Others believe that the real history of ‘real socialism’ ruined the alternative potential of socialism forever.
This week’s question is: 100 years on, is there anything we may learn from the experience of the grand Soviet experiment?
– Klaus Segbers
The current conflict in Myanmar has broad-ranging effects and side-effects. The core issue is the fate of the Rohingya group, a Muslim minority which in some respects is a leftover of British colonial times and the partition of this empire in 1947. Many Rohingyas are not entitled to elementary citizens’ rights, even today.
Although the immediate cause of Rohingyas fleeing and being expelled is actions by the Myanmar armed forces (or parts thereof), these actions rest on an apparently solid support by the Buddhist majority population in other parts of Burma. Violence is applied from all sides involved – there are armed Rohingya/ Muslim militias, and there is the (much more powerful) Myanmar army. Some aspects of the events in the last two months resemble features of ethnic cleansing. To chase out all of them – so far about 750,000 people – would ‘solve’ the problem from the perspective of the power circles in Yangon and Naypyidaw. It´s not quite clear what the role of the ‘Lady’ is exactly: Aung San Suu Kyi has wasted a lot of her considerable accumulated social capital by making no statements, or only ambivalent once, about this crisis. Obviously, she wants to avoid a situation where she would find herself estranged from the domestic Buddhist majority and from the military, even when, alternatively, she may be appreciated by some Rohingyas and the Western media. China is another factor, watching from the sidelines. More relevant, and often overlooked from our perspective, is the effect of all of this on Bangladesh. This poor country is clearly overwhelmed by the magnitude of the crisis, and the financial and political costs of the incoming hundreds of thousands Rohingyas. There are credible reports that the current government, not in a strong position anyway, is increasingly coming under pressure from domestic groups who are calling for stronger action against Myanmar’s policies. This issue also may work to strengthen radical Islamist groups in Bangladesh. All this looks, especially from Europe, like a major tragic disaster, and quite messy.
This week’s question is: Is there anything you may come up with that could be done from the outside, by Europeans or others, except handwringing?
– Klaus Segbers
The world is full of small political units aspiring to become full-fledged nation-states, with a government, sovereignty, their own currency, anthem, flag, a seat in the U.N. and in other international organizations, new license plates, inherent country extensions, etc.
In Europe alone it is not only proud Catalonia. Scotland is considering a new referendum, and Kosovo is still striving for full sovereignty, as is Macedonia. Northern Italy and southern Tyrol, the components of Belgium, two eastern provinces of Ukraine, three separatist units in Georgia – all of them are exercising Sinatra’s motto of doing it ‘my way’. Beyond Europe, there is the Rakhine state in Myanmar from which the Rohingyas are currently being expelled, as well as Tibet and Xingiang, there is also the issue of Kashmir, of Aceh in Indonesia, of Quebec in Canada, the recent referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan, and so on.
With rare exceptions (the dissolution of old Czechoslovakia), these calls for more autonomy or even secession provoke violent reactions from the host state. One reason is that we do not really have clear guidelines as to, if, and under what conditions, such processes can and should be implemented. The right of self-determination – guaranteed by the U.N. – does not provide criteria and procedural recommendations. The respective host state rarely is cooperative. The international community often looks the other way.
What would be good principles to act in cases where culturally defined minorities (mostly inspired by their elites) want to leave their host states?
– Klaus Segbers
The German elections to the Bundestag did not create much attention (so far). The campaign was a quiet one (some say it was boring), and there were not many emotions invested. Also, most topics raised were not extensively debated. Even the potential outcomes looked predictable: probably, for the first time, seven parties (in six factions) would be represented (and so it came to pass); very likely, Ms. Merkel would earn her fourth term (looks likely); there either would be another big coalition between conservatives and social democrats (now off the table), or a ‘Jamaica’ coalition (black/ conservative – green – liberal). So, limited entertainment value and limited options?
We still do not know if the partially significant arithmetic results (a loss of 13% for the parties of the big coalition; the AfD in the Bundestag with almost 13%, and around 20 plus% in Eastern Germany) will translate into policy changes.
The question this week is: Does the outcome of the German elections have any impact on neighboring countries, the EU, international conflicts and the world in general? Is there an external dimension that matters? Will there be more domestic pressure on the future ruling coalition?
– Klaus Segbers
Most experts have converged on the belief that North Korea (DPRK) now has (a) the ability to produce nuclear warheads, (b) the ability to produce carrier systems (medium and long-range rockets), and, (c) the willingness – under certain circumstances, to use these weapons. No one is delighted by this, not even also China, which always carefully weighs the options of a DPRK collapsing- due to serious sanctions or a military strike against having the nukes available. In Asia, there are conflicting assessments, as there are in Western capitals.
The options include:
— accepting the DPRK as a member of the nuclear club, even without the safeguards of formal restraint;
— sending a clear signal, such as crippling sanctions and/or a nuclear strike;
— muddling through, in the manner of the last 15 years of policy, with the result we described above.
What’s your take?
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
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
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
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
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