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?
Like every year, we will have a look at the year to come:
what are the three most relevant, potentially destabilizing challenges the world is facing in 2018?
And what are the three developments you would welcome most in global politics next year?
Given the coming holidays, I would appreciate it if many of you would respond. It may be short.
Season’s greetings, and – despite your maybe skeptical forecasts: Happy New Year.
– Klaus Segbers
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
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
Exceptional events require exceptions. So let’s continue last week’s debate, after we discovered who won (at least the elections, if not the popular vote). But our focus now, will be on how to react to the new situation.
There is a puzzling variety of Western reactions following the election results in the United States. Some leaders (like the Japanese Prime Minister) seem to have bowed deeply. Others (Russia), expressed their (probably wee-founded) hopes to improve relations. But again, others like Chancellor Merkel, appear to be cooperative, based on some conditional expectations. The EU, all of a sudden, has decided to improve its cooperation in the external and defense fields, and even promises to spend more.
What is a viable strategy for handling a committed populist? Bandwagoning? Accommodation? Conditional cooperation? Kow-towing? Pragmatic restraint?
– 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
The U.S. primaries campaign confirms so far that populism is the dominant feature of this pre-election. One (out of three) Democratic candidates, and two and a half (out of 8 remaining) Republican candidates are explicit populists.
The caucus in Iowa demonstrated that out of the Democratic leaning electorate, exactly half support the populist Bernie Sanders. Among the Republicans, 52% supported clear populists (Cruz and Trump), and another 24% a populist impersonator (Rubio). The voices of relative constraint – Bush, Fiorina, Kasich, Christie – selected jointly less than ten percentage points. They were trounced.
It is too early to extrapolate these first results. But, in a few weeks, we may be left with four or five candidates, three (or four) of them being populists, suggesting that gating America against globalization is the proper answer to all urgent problems and uncertainties.
What does this indicate for the future American global position, and politics?
– Prof. Dr. Klaus Segbers
The inbuilt tension between legitimate security concerns (fighting terrorism and organized crime) on the one hand, and preserving individual privacy rights, data protection and companies’ intellectual property rights on the other hand, increasingly leads to international quarrels. German society and media, in particular, are sensitive about their historical background of Gestapo and Stasi intrusions. Interestingly, the international debates and conflicts are mostly staged between allies, especially the U.S. and the EU/Germany.
Related questions include whether the intelligence agencies, also in western countries, are as reliably controlled by governments and parliaments as expected; whether there is some discretion of cooperation between intelligence agencies underneath the radar of governments; whether there are any legal or technical working hedges against data collection, particularly of metadata; and what the respective legal frameworks are.
Fatah and Hamas have just overcome a seven year rift and agreed to implement a unity pact. Both sides now want to form a unity government within five weeks to prepare for elections within six months. Israel´s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already said that under these new conditions, he will terminate the peace talks.