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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
See also: Was denkbar ist – Klaus Segbers
Not long ago The Economist’s published a lead story entitled, ‘Germany is becoming more open and diverse. With the right leadership, it could be a model for the West.’ The lead commentary argued that ‘(m)any of the country’s defining traits – its ethnic and cultural homogeneity, conformist and conservative society, and unwillingness to punch its weight in international diplomacy – are suddenly in flux’ (April 14, 2018, p.9). Spanning 12 pages, the special report on Germany considers issues such as open and closed politics, the concept of ‘Heimat’, identity, social cleavages, and the advance of AI. The evolution of Germany into a reluctant and kind-of benign hegemon, and the state’s reconciliation with its history are also addressed, mostly in a sympathetic way.
This article forms the starting point for this week’s questions:
History never disappears. But are the horrors of the Holocaust and World War 2 becoming more distant, no longer immediately shaping current German policies? Is Germany becoming a ‘normal’ country, keeping its specific features but increasingly influential, with a clear liberal identity and taking over more responsibilities? And, if so, what does this signal to Germany’s neighbors? Ms Thatcher famously quipped after the collapse of the Berlin Wall: “We’ve beaten the Germans twice. Now they’re back!” Giulio Andretti added “I love Germany so much that I prefer to see two of them”. Are these times gone for good? Is it acceptable for today’s Germany to define its political roadmap as pragmatically as most other countries are shaping theirs? Moreover, is there reason to assume that Germany may even belong to the few societies (maybe like Canada and the Scandinavian countries) serving as liberal role models, as the “West’s Last Stalwart of Enlightened Liberalism” (Haaretz, 11, 2017)?
The German coalition talks collapsed recently. Achieving a ‘Jamaica’ coalition between the moderate conservatives, the Bavarian ‘real’ conservatives, the liberal party (just returned by the voters to the Bundestag) and the Greens, was apparently way beyond the capabilities of the four parties and over 70 people involved in four weeks of talks.
So as of now, the most influential country in Europe and the world’s third biggest economy is run by an acting government with limited rights. A government with a chancellor ranked as the ‘most influential woman of the world’—a prime example of soft power, a gifted mediator from the Iran to the Minsk negotiations, a core player in the Euro and migration crises—is currently looking weak, insecure, and shaken. While never quite willing to take on a global role beyond Europe, and being impressed by but unwilling to accept the notion of the ‘last standing liberal power in the world’, German elites are now puzzled by the inability to bring together the only viable combination of parties in the parliament after the September elections.
While recently there were prolonged periods of government-building in both Belgium and the Netherlands, neither country was as relevant for the cohesion and renovation of the EU. A couple of new French initiatives are still waiting for answers from Berlin. And those who are skeptical about liberal orders and societies may cheer: Now even in Germany there seems to be a crisis of liberalism, partly triggered by the populist AfD on the right, and the left party on the, well, left, both of whom accumulated about a quarter of the votes for populist, partly ant-systemic parties.
Which leads to this week´s question: Is all this a risk for Europe?
– 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 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
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