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?
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?
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
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
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
The Syrian conflict resembles an ever more unsolvable bloody quagmire with (too) many stakeholders whose interests, and behaviors, are not compatible. This is the case with the Assad regime and its opponents, but also for different groupings from the opposition. This also applies to the infighting between Saudi and Iranian interests, as well as for Sunni vs. Shia forces in general. In addition, the newly emerging Russian assertiveness is increasingly in contradiction not only to American and Western values, but also to the hesitant and partial involvement of the U.S.A.
The laudable efforts by dozens of NGO’s on the ground are more and more, rendered helpless against the never-ending raids of official Syrian and Russian fighter planes and the bombs. Collateral damage caused by American raids are not helpful either.
The rest of the world is watching this evolving catastrophe in shock and awe, not knowing what to do or how to react. We can just watch the unbearable TV footage of citizens, digging through the rubble of collapsed homes with their bare hands, trying to search for surviving folks.
What can be done apart from hand-wringing? Sometimes, it is overlooked that a clear victory on one side, caused by exhaustion of the other, often does lead to the termination of hostilities. Which side, then, should be the winner? Does it matter? As long as external stakeholders are involved, the engagement of ground troops also has to be discussed. Sending in airplanes and drones may be good for domestic consumption, but does not lead to a decisive shift between the fighting camps.
What are our respondent’s ideas regarding where to go from here?
– Prof. Klaus Segbers
In ancient Greece, when the Olympic Games were running, weapons were silenced. Wars were put on hold. This is not something that we can observe anymore. The political implications of the Olympics are becoming ever more complex, but they do not appear to approximate the world in a more peaceful condition. In Rio, we encounter a ‘refugee team’ for the first time. A significant number of Russian athletes have been excluded due to notorious and state-induced doping. All Russian athletes have been excluded from the Paralympics. But Russia, though probably among the worst, are not the only dopers.
In previous years, some countries abstained from participating in Olympics organized by other states, due to political misbehavior or just inconvenience (Taiwan was excluded from the Montreal Games in 1976; the USSR invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 led to a Western boycott of the Moscow Games in 1980, while the Eastern Bloc retaliated with a boycott of the Los Angeles Games in 1984). The Berlin Games in 1936 were not boycotted. There were protests against the Beijing 2008 and Sochi 2014 Games, due to human rights issues, but no boycotts. The Olympics have also attracted terrorist attacks (a Palestinian commando killed Israeli athletes in 1972 in Munich) and during the Games in Mexico (1968), black power symbols were put on display.
So what is the role of the Olympics now? Should we stick to the notion that the Olympics are a politics-free zone? Or should we accept the unavoidable, and let politics impact the Games?
– Prof. Klaus Segbers
Authoritarian regimes with populist inclinations are becoming more viable. The dominant debate about a spreading democratization, so popular after the ‘Charter of Paris for a New Europe’ was adopted in 1990, is at least partly being replaced by the discussion of re-autocratization. Everyone following the news knows something about the current usual suspects: Russia, China, Turkey, Hungary, Poland, and, maybe, even the U.S. after the November elections.
Previously, there was a clear policy in many Western countries to go into ‘difficult’ societies and find partners in fields like education, law, finances, institution building, and civil society in general. Once the economies would take off, middle classes would emerge, and, so went the assumption, participation would spread, and democracy surely would blossom.
Now, we have more doubts than certainties regarding this classical ‘modernization’ thesis. Does it really make sense to keep trying and engage those countries in joint activities, projects and programs, summer schools, FDI with dubious property rights, support for Rule of Law training programs that officially are not welcome or even weakened, etc., including putting partners potentially at risk? Or should we be more realistic (if that’s what it is), pack up and leave for good?
– Prof. Klaus Segbers
World history couldn’t be written, or understood, without the history of coups (real and attempted ones). So last weekend’s events in Turkey fit into a pattern. 25 years before, in the hot summer of 1991, another attempted coup in Moscow was the beginning of the end of the Soviet empire.
It always is difficult to properly assess these extra-constitutional, mostly (but not necessarily) violent moves. The clove revolution in 1974 in Portugal certainly brought a harsh and unpleasant dictatorial regime to an end. It may have been illegal, but was it illegitimate? The attempted coup against Hitler by a group of Wehrmacht officers belongs into the same category. And what about the events on the Tiananmen Square on June 4th, 1989? In Turkey, the officers trying this not quite professional attempt claimed to serve democracy and human rights, but they opened the doors for a much more autocratic regime than before (which may have materialized anyways).
So this reminds us that history is often written by the victors. But, in addition, many events, like coups, are quite ambivalent. Do we have any clear criteria for sorting out coups, into acceptable ones and clearly bad ones?
– Prof. Klaus Segbers
Educating your people was one of the main prerogatives of governments. States preferred to teach students useful things – for the youngsters, and for themselves. This included certain perspectives on a state’s history, and politics. Today, these national perspectives are still around, but they are increasingly embedded into broader horizons. There is the Internet which is not particularly national, there are social networks, and there are media, transmitting
This is not necessarily to the liking of more or less authoritarian governments. Both the Chinese and Russian ministers for education have published statements according to which the activities and effects of foreign teachers, readings, and programs are viewed with quite some degree of skepticism.
What’s your take on this? Should governments continue to define the content (and its limits) of curricula for schools and universities – especially in the sphere of global politics and their own history – or should they give up and accept the role of global influences.
– Prof. Dr. Klaus Segbers