Tag Archives: Global Politics

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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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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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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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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How should we view the staging of historical memory?

Anniversaries come and go, but now and then some are elevated to a specific interest, and play the role of a crucial date. This year, 2015, makes the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. In May the Russian authorities organized a huge parade on Red Square in Moscow. Then, for the 3rd of September, the Chinese ruling party have planned something similar on Tiananmen Square in Beijing. In both cases, some foreign governments faced the quandary of whether or not they should attend and participate.

The reason for this is not some small historical squabble over this or that detail, but rather the value of these commemorations within the current paradigm. In practice, history is not what has been, but rather what we need it to be today.

So what attitude should governments hold towards the staging of historical memory?

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Was anything serious ever solved during a summit?

There is a proliferation of summit meetings all over the world. Representatives of international organizations, governments and NGOs, among other stakeholders, are on the world’s roads and in the skies to address and, allegedly, solve global problems. And global problems we have plenty, some of which are looking threatening. But the question is what the outcome of all these meetings might be.

The recent G7 summit in Bavaria provided photo opportunities and promises to reduce emissions. Binding obligations, though, were difficult to find. The whole event cost the German taxpayer around €260 million – well invested money? There was and continues to be an apparently never-ending chain of meetings to finally settle the Greek insolvency. Each of those meetings is connected to a qualification like the last chance, or 2 minutes before 12. Alas, no solution so far. A similar rush of get-togethers is registered for the otherwise not-so-noteworthy city of Minsk (addressing the Russia/ Ukraine problems), Tel Aviv (debating the near east crisis), and Geneva (whatever has to be addressed).

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Are the problems at FIFA issues for international relations?

In recent weeks and days, sports politics have dominated the headlines. The world football association, FIFA, was and is accused of being corrupt, untransparent, and hopelessly dominated by a group of old men and thugs.

Part of the problem is the huge amount of money coming in from TV stations and sponsors, and redistributed apparently at Fiat. The decision-making regarding whose application will be supported for the world championship competitions seems to be not very rational. Decision-making procedures follow the principle of one country/one vote, resulting in the unsatisfying situation that the Tongan Football Association has the same influence as the biggest association, the German DFB, representing almost 7 million players. As a result, corruption is rife.

What would make the rules more democratic and transparent?

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What are the risks and opportunities connected with the protests in Hong Kong?

Pasu Au Yeung/Flickr/Creative Commons

During the last weeks, tens of thousands took part in demonstrations in Hong Kong, demanding – in different ways and forms – more democracy. The protests were set in motion when China’s National People’s Congress announced that candidates for Hong Kong’s 2017 chief executive elections would have to be approved by a Beijing-controlled committee; this, according to the protesters, contradicts the principle of universal suffrage that was established in the handover agreement in 1997. More recently some of the protest leaders became more daring and called for “self-determination” and “independence”.

So far, no meaningful procedure of conflict resolution has been established. The Beijing leadership tries to remain invisible, but calls the shots behind the curtains. The local administration is general powerless and clueless. Increasingly, ‘ordinary’ Hong Kong citizens feel embarrassed and harassed by the ongoing blockades of main thoroughfares and businesses.
In the mainland, many mid-level officials explain their conviction that the current form of governances is not sustainable. Against this background, Hong Kong could also be treated as a laboratory. But currently, the dominant position seems to be to prevent by (virtually) all means a June 4, 2.0. From the outside it is not clear what, if any, spaces for compromise exists.

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