Tag Archives: International Relations

Let’s talk about BRICS

Some time ago, aspirations were high for setting new standards for social, political and economic developments in the BRICS countries. The hope was that these developments would diverge from those of America and Germany, from an increase in authoritarian behaviors in China, and from the lack of cohesion observed in the EU.

But now, as we scrutinize the state of affairs in the BRICS countries more closely, we find that Brazil has become notorious for hyper-corruption. Russia has become well known for breaking international rules and for its addiction to energy resources. India currently stands out for its bureaucracy and a fundamentalist Hinduism revival. China shows evidence of increasingly volatile cultural cleavages, and South Africa is plagued by significant uncertainties in governance. In short, where we previously expected to see new models for the future, there are multiple causes for concern.

Our questions are thus: Does it still make sense to address these five countries as a group, to see them as having numerous and significant similarities?

And, given the current characteristics of populism in these BRICS countries, are there any indicators for future trajectories of development that may support our previous expectations?

-Klaus Segbers

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How significant for global politics is the outcome of the U.S. midterm elections?

Most observers suggest that these results, which were not really unexpected, will not have major effects on global politics and international relations.

Today’s first question is: Do you agree with this?

A related question is—how do we see the American-Western and American-Asian agendas for the coming two years, i.e. before the next presidential elections, and what might be their impact on the next election campaign?

What are the major issues on these agendas—trade, security, Iran, Syria, INF/nuclear armament, and what else?


-Klaus Segbers

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Is the EU finally under compulsion to reform?

Tensions in the EU have been simmering for some time. There were ongoing quarrels and contradictions during the Euro crisis, and then, as a consequence of unregulated immigration flows. In addition, the Italian government is planning to seriously run up their debts, violating all relevant stability rules. The EU reactions to Russian assertiveness in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine, Syria, the poisoning scandal in the UK (with fallout now in Switzerland) and, notorious violations of anti-doping rules also raised different levels of concern. The governments in Hungary, Italy and Cyprus have expressed understanding towards Russian leaders. More relevant, there are serious quarrels over perceived violations of the independence of the media, legal institutions and educational organizations in Poland and Hungary.

Until recently, the EU’s reactions have involved a mixture of talking and admonishing, but not much action. But now, both Poland and Hungary are exposed to different stages or Article 7 procedures which have been initiated by EU bodies. Even the conservative party grouping in the EU parliament is becoming agitated.

What is your expert view on these issues? Should the EU respond to rule violations by members in the same manner that they would when non-, or not-yet member states commit violations? What is the prospect of achieving success through further talks? What is the leverage of the EU? How do we factor-in the broader context of rising populism? Can the EU still defend its credibility against spoilers?

-Klaus Segbers

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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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In a World of Disasters: Where are we heading until Year’s End?

Almost two thirds of this year are gone. Where is the balance, so far, in global politics? It is summer time, so it is time for reflection.

As last December—when we asked you for the last time for a prognosis, the liberal world order, established after 1945—is in disarray. An alternative is not in sight. The American president is a loose cannon, erratic and unstable. Midterm elections may cost him the majority in at least one chamber of the House. China’s economy looks slightly more stable, but it is entangled in a trade war with the U.S. A medicine scandal is tainting the highly centralized Chinese system, so the buck has to stop at the top.

In the EU, another country is moving away from the basic consensus of the Paris Charter in 1990 – Italy. Half of voters in recent elections voted populist. An impending trade war with the U.S. is on hold, and may (or may not) commence later this year. In Russia, the soccer championship was enjoyable for many, but a much criticized pension reform is shifting the allegiances of the electorate away from the current powers. Ukraine is still not considered to have moved beyond Russia’s sovereignty. Internally, political issues in Ukraine are significant. India and Brazil  are facing their own domestic issues.

Climate change is on the march. We are experiencing one of the hottest summers on record. Plastic is covering ever bigger parts of the oceans (and the earth). The big IT companies are still unsure how to address data protection demands. And how to balance the freedom of expression, and the protection against ‘hate speech’. Protectionism and mercantilism are en vogue, as are nonsense concepts such as ‘alternative reality’. The independence of media has to be defended every month.

What is your forecast for the rest of the year? What can be expected?

-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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What is the right way to handle the migration flows in Europe?

Attitudes and policies toward migrants are a relevant issue across countries and continents. The issue of migration is amongst the most divisive of our political epoch, and there is constant debate about the practical and moral challenges of migration policies.

One philosophical question at the forefront of debate is whether states have the right to determine or select which incoming migrants have the right to asylum. Proponents of a selective intake have argued that this can help to protect existing cultural, economic and political communities from outside influence. In response, critics argue that the background and circumstances (such as birthplace) of potential migrants should have no bearing on their freedom of movement.

Practically, it is a challenge to properly categorize incoming people. This challenge is exacerbated by the fact that certain privileges or entitlements are tied to certain categories or statuses. For example, asylum seekers are generally accepted, refugee cases must be treated in accordance with the UNHCR regulation, and rejected (but not deported) individuals can retain a subsidiary status. Legislation and bilateral agreements also offer possibilities such as migration for the purpose of family reunion, or for labor.

On a logistical level, it is difficult to establish an effective system for processing migrant applications. Issues include creating registration centers and procedures, offering shelter while applications are being processed, and the especially pertinent issue of where asylum seekers should be resettled once their applications have been processed. The refusal of several EU states to accept their assigned quota of refugees has made the issue of resettling migrants especially difficult.  In Europe, additional issues are the role of the protection of the external borders by Frontex, the role of traffickers and NGOs, and the (mostly encouraging) effect of social media on the decision making of potential migrants.

For those incoming people who are legally accepted (and for some who are not), it has to be determined what the aim of their stay is: is the best approach for Europe to encourage incoming migrants to adapt, to integrate, or assimilate?  Should the option of ‘returning home’, for example after a civil war has ended, be kept as a real one?

All these issues are potentially and actually disruptive in many societies. Populist movements have bolstered their support around allegations of government mismanagement of immigration. What are both ethical and legitimate, but also effective, responses that  governments should consider?

– Klaus Segbers

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How to deal with populist power in Europe?

Following the Italian elections in March this year, we now have the opportunity to observe a newly elected populist government in action. One can argue that Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia have become increasingly populist under existing conservative and nationalist governments. Austria’s governing coalition uneasily incorporates many aspects of populism into their far-right platform. Italy, however, is the most explicit example of populist governance in action, because the election campaign was led with clear anti-EU and anti-Euro rhetoric, pro-Russian and anti-German messages, and a radical anti-immigration program.

A few days ago, the Austrian chancellor, Kurz spoke of a new ‘axis’ between Vienna, Rome and Munich. Decisions made in German politics this week may result in significant collateral consequences for the traditional German party system and for the stabilizing role that Germany has played under chancellor Merkel in the EU and beyond.

The current strategy of the acting German government’s majority is to address the new Italian government (and the Austrian government) by suggesting concrete solutions for factual issues, instead of fighting ideational battles.

Do you think that this is the right way of addressing populists in power?

Klaus Segbers

See also: Was denkbar ist – Klaus Segbers

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What kind of role does politics play in sport?

In a few days one of the world’s largest sporting events commences: the FIFA Football World Cup, this year held in Russia. With the recurrence of the World Cup in a new city every four years, we find ourselves debating how close or far politics should be from big soccer events.

Putin’s Russia (which is not all of Russia) is many things. Democracy, minority protection and international rule observance would not come to mind quickly when describing today’s Russia.

So when global soccer teams−with media, fans and commercial interests in tow−stream to Moscow and other Russian cities, we should think about how to frame this event:

Are these Putin’s games, or the festival for the youth of the world? Is this a gigantic media event, or will we encounter islands of authenticity? Can we separate the event from the Russian political context, or should we use the opportunity and talk on the spot about Crimea, Syria, and doping? And should political leaders of the world who care about values go to Russia and cheer for their teams, or not?

-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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