Tagged: foreign policy


Why is Ethiopia’s the most under-reported conflict in the world?

German chancellor Merkel in Addis Ababa (October 2016)
German Chancellor Merkel in Addis Ababa, October 2016 (Photo credit: Bundesregierung/Steins)

According to Chris Blattman, the situation in Ethiopia is the most under-reported conflict in the world right now. This is rather true. (Although some media outlets reported on the recent political turmoil in Ethiopia, such as some German press in the context of the recent visit by Chancellor Merkel to Addis Ababa.)

In November last year, the first protests against the Ethiopian Government unfolded in the Oromia region when the government wanted to expand the margins of the city of Addis. As this implied the resettlement of the local Oromo population, this was considered by the Oromo – the largest ethnic group in the country – as a further expression of their political and economic marginalization.

The situation calmed down a little over spring this year and erupted again in summer, when the Amhara people in the North started anti-government protests. The military was deployed and further unrest unfolded again in the Oromia region. For the first time, an alliance between the Oromo and the Amhara was built. Since November last year, at least 500 people have been killed by security forces and tens of thousands have been arrested according to Human Rights Watch. What started as protest against the expansion of Addis turned into an expression of general dissatisfaction with authoritarianism and lack of public participation in the past two and a half decades.

On October 9, the Ethiopian Government declared a state of emergency for the first time in 25 years. This was after more than fifty people died at an Oromo religious festival in Bishoftu (close to Addis). A week after, further details on the state of emergency were made public. Now, the government can arrest and detain for six months (the duration of the emergency state) any person contravening the emergency prohibitions, and conduct searches without a court warrant.

There are now severe restrictions to the freedom to assembly and protest, and any communication with foreign governments or foreign NGOs “that is likely to harm sovereignty, security, and constitutional order” as well as any communication with “anti-peace groups” is prohibited. Moreover, the Government can monitor and restrict “messages transmitted” through different sorts of media outlets. This is reflected in cutting off the internet access through the mobile network, which is a major internet access route in Ethiopia, as well as the disabling of social media.

On October 15, shortly after declaring the state of emergency, the Ethiopian Government also announced reforms, including a reform of the electoral system from first-past-the-post to proportional representation. A change of the cabinet has already taken place, and tackling corruption has been declared a priority.

So why are these developments in Ethiopia the most under-reported conflict in the world?

To reiterate: Ethiopia is experiencing political unrest over an extended period, and the  state of emergency has been declared for the first time in 25 years. This could be reason enough to report on the situation, but there is more: Ethiopia has the second largest population in Africa (with nearly 100 million inhabitants), only topped by Nigeria. Secondly, Ethiopia’s GDP grew rapidly over the last years, with a growth of 9.6% in 2015. Thirdly, Ethiopia is considered by many as a bulwark against Islamist movements on the Horn of Africa. Despite recently retreating some forces, Ethiopia has been very active in the fight against al-Shabab in Somalia.

The importance of Ethiopia (for the West) is a good reason to follow the current political events. At the same time, it provides at least a partial explanation for the lack of coverage. Looking at the increasing levels of development assistance (ODA) to Ethiopia, most notably the United States and the United Kingdom, it seems as if the West buys into two arguments by the Ethiopian Government: Political participation and democratic rights are less important than (1) Ethiopia’s economic development and (2) regional stability in the fight against terrorism.

For the U.S. and the United Kingdom, this is also reflected in their national focus on the “war on terror” and their own balancing of national security in relation to human rights. A similar dynamic exists with regard to the World Bank’s and other donors’ prioritizing of poverty reduction over issues of political governance when they decide on Ethiopia’s ODA levels.

Though it has to be mentioned that the U.S., among others, expressed that they were “deeply concerned” over the situation in Ethiopia, actions speak louder than words. It needs to be seen whether or not Western ODA levels continue to grow. In the same manner, we should all observe (and report on!) whether or not the Ethiopian government will really deliver on its reform promises.

Mathis Lohaus

Dahrendorf Symposium: Discussing EU foreign policy

Dahrendorf Symposium

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending (parts of) the 2016 Dahrendorf Symposium hosted by Hertie School of Governance, LSE and Mercator foundation. The event focused on European foreign policy. I was unable to attend any of the workshops, but will try and summarize the debates on the final day. Please also see my previous post on the scenarios for Europe in 2025.

Panel #1: Europe in the World 2025

Panelists:  Ahmed Badawi (Free University Berlin), Frances G. Burwell (Atlantic Council, Washington), Fabrice Leggeri (FRONTEX Executive Director), Daniela Schwarzer (GMFUS Berlin), Sylke Tempel (DGAP).

The panel did not directly address the scenarios, but rather focused on current challenges for the EU that have long-term consequences. Not surprisingly, the three main topics were challenges related to refugees/migration, the rise of European populism, and the consequences of Brexit.

[By the way: This and the other discussions will be available on YouTube soon.]

Panel#2: EU Global Strategy: game changer or wish list?

Panelists: Robert Cooper (British diplomat/adviser), Anne-Marie Le Gloanec (Sciences Po), Sebastian Heilmann (Mercator Institute for China Studies MERICS), Andrey Kortunov (Russian International Affairs Council), Alfredo Conte (Head of the Strategic Planning Division, European External Action Service EEAS)

The second panel of the day addressed the forthcoming EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy, which will be the successor to the EU’s 2003 strategy (“A Secure Europe in a Better World”). Three European/Russian academics plus two practitioners (the skeptical veteran Cooper and EEAS planning official Conte) turned out to be a good mix.

(Very selective) summary and reflections

I’m not an expert on any of these issues, but I found the following bits the most interesting:

Who is leading EU (foreign) policy-making? Echoing the famous “which phone number do we call?” argument, Frances Burwell adopted the American perspective and asked Germany to step up its leadership, including a bold decision in favor of mutualized debt and increased defense spending. Daniela Schwarzer pointed out that German leaders might think they did the Eurozone a favor over the past few years, but people in Athens see it differently. (Nobody made an attempt to defend German foreign policy choices…)

With an eye to the looming Brexit referendum, panelists suggested the UK might no longer be a reliable partner for European cooperation. Mr. Conte (EEAS) said that Brexit would mean losing one of the few members “with a strategic vision for the whole world, not just some regions” — but also result in one veto player less.

What about the European Union’s credibility and “soft power”? Andrey Kortunov described the EU as long-term “focal point for intellectual aspirations as well as material envy”, but said that the feasibility of the European model is now being doubted in Russia. Still, he urged European diplomats to focus on their comparative advantage: linking development and security (rather than trying their hand at geopolitics).

Anne-Marie Le Gloanec asked: “Do we still have the resources and soft power we thought we had when we wrote the first strategy in 2003?” Her diagnosis, citing the EU-Turkey deal on refugees and the EU’s actions in the MENA region, was rather negative. For the EEAS strategist Conte –not surprisingly– the answer was to develop a strategy revolving around “flexibility” and “credibility”, that is, member state activism and cash.

What role for the EU External Action Service? Not surprisingly (again), the EEAS representatives were confident about their ability to act and speak for the Europeans. Other panelists seemed skeptical regarding the service’s mandate and operational capabilities. Robert Cooper pointed out that “strategy” documents often amount to “bullshit”, and also said that EU members must invest in their foreign services’ day-to-day capabilities.

At a more fundamental level, the aforementioned call for national leadership seems at odds the very idea of the EEAS. Stuck between unwilling member states and external actors that don’t take her seriously, the high representative Mogherini indeed seems to face an “impossible task” (Le Gloanec).

What and where is our border again? Mr. Leggeri from Frontex, who seems to be a social constructivist, emphasized the need for a “credible external border” that is “emotionally perceived as ‘our’ border”. He added that he was “appalled” by the precarious situation in Lesbos “last year”, but said things were improving on the ground. Frontex, in his view, needs more resources and a mandate to plan for the future and do things other than emergency responses.

Some panelists made related points about what the EU can and should do beyond its external borders, but ultimately with a view to stabilizing them. On MENA, Sylke Tempel urged policymakers to work on good governance issues, as people there had “neither taxation nor representation”.

Should we embrace multi-speed Europe on social issues? Closely related to the idea of borders, some parts of the discussion addressed differentiation within Europe. Francess Burwell urged EU leaders to make a choice on migration: Ultimately, are the Syrian refugees going to be ‘visitors’ or ‘citizens’? (Her advice was crystal clear: Europeans need to work on turning them into the latter!)

The old debate about multi-speed Europe applies to social policy — which, in Europe and beyond, inevitably has consequences across borders. A member of the audience suggested to just accept the fact that Hungary, Austria and other do not wish to support Chancellor Merkel’s humanitarian policies. In response, Daniela Schwarzer instead called for a push-back against illiberal developments.


In sum, the panel discussions at the Dahrendorf Symposium raised many interesting questions (although, as usual at such events, they could have been even more focused). It was great to have practitioners, advocates and academics illuminate different aspects. With the Brexit vote around the corner and half a dozen crises ongoing in the neighborhood, readers of this blog are well advised to keep an eye on the EU …

Mathis Lohaus

Scenarios for European External Relations in 2025

Dahrendorf Symposium

Last week I had the pleasure of attending (parts of) the 2016 Dahrendorf Symposium hosted by Hertie School of Governance, LSE and Mercator foundation. The event focused on European foreign policy. I will summarize the debates on the final day in a separate blog post.

A few months ago, Hertie School hosted a scenario planning workshop as part of the Dahrendorf project. It focused on the EU’s relations to other world regions, trying to draw up scenarios for the year 2025. Meeting in five different working groups, the participants developed scenarios for the future relations between the EU and the U.S., China, Russia and Ukraine, Turkey, and the MENA region. Given my interest in forecasting and curiosity about scenario planning, I gladly signed up and contributed to the EU/U.S. working group.

At the Dahrendorf Symposium last week, Monika Sus and Franziska Pfeifer (who are coordinating the scenario project) briefly described our method and results to the audience. The publication with our 18 (!) brief scenarios is available via the Dahrendorf blog: European Union in the World 2025 – Scenarios for EU relations

The results are interesting and I really encourage you to download the document! Personally, I particularly enjoyed the process. It was a great exercise to think about  basic assumptions we have about transatlantic relations; to identify key drivers relevant for change; and to come up with scenarios that reflect the most relevant combinations of key drivers taking particular directions.

Transatlantic mistrust on tech
Illustrations for the scenario report by Jorge Martin

Let me indulge in a bit of self-promotion and quote the intro to my group’s scenario:

“In the years up to 2025 there will be a situation of balkanised technological regulation in the EU, driven by political debates which emphasise the need to shield national markets and societies against the uncertain effects of technological progress. On the other side of the Atlantic, political leaders will continue to embrace new technologies, with an emphasis on keeping the competitive edge also in terms of offensive capabilities in the cyber and AI realms. Only after a series of trigger events, increasing the pressure on decision-makers, will transatlantic leaders be willing to invest in a new institutional framework to manage the political problems associated with technological progress.” (‘Transatlantic Frankenstein’ scenario)

Then, of course, there was the Dahrendorf Symposium, which included a couple of workshop sessions (that I couldn’t attend) and two round-table panels on the final day. I will put my summary of these discussions into a separate post.

Vincent Dreher

Seven years in crisis: Some questions for the Eurozone

DER SPIEGEL 29 2015Recently, German media entered uncharted territory. While conservative newspapers have always identified the Greek government’s profligacy as root cause of the ongoing crisis, the liberal press had maintained more balanced positions. Yet on July 9, 2015, the weekly DIE ZEIT asked: ‘The Greek trap – the crisis-ridden country has a culture inimical to achievement. How can it be overcome?’ DER SPIEGEL proclaimed (in its July 11 issue) the necessity of ending the German romanticization of its arcadia in Attica. The title read: ‘Our Greeks – rapprochement with a strange people’.

Since when has culture advanced as main explanation for a country’s (economic) misery? How can shortcomings in a state bureaucracy be taken to explain an entire people’s failure of achieving prosperity and societal welfare?

In logical consequence of this narrative, the subsequent Eurozone-Greece agreement of July 13, 2015 figured as ‘the most intrusive economic supervision program ever mounted in the EU’ (FT). The drastic measures alongside the required ‘ownership’ of reforms revealed the deep mistrust in Greek institutions. The source of most, if not of all, failures was located in the Greek government’s incapacity, or reluctance, to accept conditionalities and implement reforms.

Unit labor costs and competitiveness in the Eurozone

This is yet another instance of misinterpreting the symptoms of a disease rooted in the fundamental misalignments within the Eurozone. There have been idiosyncratic issues in Greece (reporting failures, unsustainable debt since 2010), just as there have been home-grown issues in other crisis-hit member states contributing to the current escalation. However, these problems represent only the tip of the iceberg. It is not the misbehavior of individual governments, let alone cultures, which underlie the seven-year-old crisis. It is persistent failures in the economic governance of the Eurozone. Recent data from other Southern members are hailed as heralding the end of misery (EC, Reuters, FT, WSJ). The following discussion will demonstrate to the contrary: as long as the shortcomings in the institutional set-up of the Euro and the failures of member state coordination of fiscal policies persist, the crisis will continue. Greece today, who tomorrow?

Unit labor costs, the ratio of total labor costs to productivity, are interpreted as the best approximation of an economy’s competitiveness. Judged by these standards, today’s Germany is competitive. This is not merely due to its superior productivity though. German multinationals as well as the famed Mittelstand are very capable. But the great divergence of unit labor costs compared to Southern European economies was due to wage restraints and welfare cuts, beginning with Schröder’s Agenda 2010 in the early 2000s (Mickey Levy, Flassbeck, Spiecker, The Economist). Addressing ‘the sick man of the Euro’, the reforms (and other factors) put the German economy ahead. This was achieved, however, at the cost of society’s lower strata and its Euro partners, as evidenced by subsequent divergences in balance of payments across the Eurozone (Gavin Davies). Bound by the Euro, others could no longer devalue their national currencies to improve competitiveness. During the decade of the European boom, no one seemed to worry. Southern economies expanded strongly, while Northern capital was flowing in and financed investments and consumption. Consumption of Northern, of German goods for that matter. Apparently unnoticed, Eurozone’s North and South diverged.

Since the onset of adjustment programs across Europe, however, unit labor cost convergence has moved center stage. Yet this is not a joint effort – i.e. via wage restraint, reforms and export-orientation in the South combined with wage increases, fiscal expansion and domestic consumption in the North. Instead, the benchmark has been set by Germany and Northern Europe, and the others are asked to adjust. During the past years, Southern economies have undertaken enormous efforts. Greece, above all, is the star pupil (OECD, Economonitor). But to little avail. And even if the recent recovery across Europe (except Greece) proved sustainable – when every Eurozone member strives to become  ‘competitive’, who will act as counterpart? The German ‘Sparpolitik’ in the 2000s was offset by Southern expansion. Who is buying now, when everyone is saving?

The structure of the Eurozone and the European Central Bank

Divergences of unit labor costs, clouded by the boom, were further reinforced by the ECB’s single nominal interest rate. Paul de Grauwe and Notre Europe argue that increasing inflation in booming Southern economies lowered real interest rates, thereby rewarding further economic expansion. The reverse was true for the North, which still profited of huge export-gains. Additionally, due to increasing real exchange rate spreads the prices of comparable products across member states diverged, making Northern manufacturing more and more attractive (Vistesen, Dadush, Wyne). Hence economic dynamics pushed states further into imbalances, not merely the often denounced human fallacies. Where is the public discussion about these curious, and obviously significant, dynamics?

A second issue identified by de Grauwe is the lack of a lender of last resort. Since the late 19th century, any central bank’s mandate has included the provision of unlimited liquidity in times of financial panic; not so in the Eurozone. When the financial crisis hit Europe, each member had to clean its own doorstep. Capital fled to presumably safer Northern countries and Southerners dried up. The lack of affordable refinancing forced spending cuts, thereby inducing immediate austerity programs. The cuts diminished GDP, which made servicing debt even harder. And only then the European austerity programs were devised and implemented. The question arises: were state budgets ultimately unsustainable and Southerners righteously punished for profligacy? Or did they simply look weaker relative to Northern neighbors, which were favored by investors in times of uncertainty? Evidence points to the latter. Nevertheless, these are the discussions we Europeans should hold.

The Eurozone is not ready for the challenges ahead

Despite improvements in financial governance, such as the banking union or the ECB’s perennial setting of precedents, the economic structure of the Eurozone has seen little of the desperately needed changes (e.g. Hans Tietmeyer, Euractiv). As long as there is not some kind of fiscal union, as long as there are not some kind of common Eurozone debt instruments, the inherent fragilities persist. Furthermore, the majority of European policymakers remain bound to their national constituencies – why should they care for the whole of Europe, when their electoral mandate stems from a fraction of the people?

We need a European debate. A debate about the flawed narrative that the Greek government’s profligacy is said to have caused the economic and political crises; a debate concerning the interpretation of the crisis as a mere lack of competitiveness (what about the European welfare state by the way?); and a debate with regard to the absurd claims about “cultural” limits to economic growth.

Vincent Dreher is a PhD student at the Berlin Graduate School for Transnational Studies. He works on the Political Economy of International Money and Finance, with a focus on international institutions.

Kai Striebinger

Neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’ – Re-Focusing the debate on Coup Outcomes

Dadis Camara, who led the Coup in Guinea 2008 and briefly was the country’s president (Image credit: Public Domain via Wikimedia)

Recent blog posts by Sebastian Elischer and Alexander Noyes have revived the debate whether Coups d’Etat – the accession of the military to the presidency of a country – are ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ I argue that this discussion is not very fruitful. While those who argue that Coups can be ‘good’ sometimes refer to the consequences of Coups for the overall political regime, most of those who say that they are ‘bad’ make a principled argument saying that perpetrating a Coup is, in itself, bad – regardless of the consequences.

Only the first understanding allows probing into the effects of Coups. In order to evaluate their effects on the (violated) core feature of democratic regime (the selection of a head of state or government), it is useful to understand how and why military governments stay in or withdraw from power. This opens the research agenda to include military internal, domestic, and international factors.

Principle versus consequences

The confusion in evaluating whether Coups are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ stems from two different points of measurement. In one perspective, the act is evaluated; in the other, its consequences are measured. If the core of democracy is defined as accession to the presidency via free and fair elections, then the act of a Coup itself cannot be democratic. It is a violation of a democratic principle and therefore – by definition – ‘bad for democracy’. But if the purpose of a Coup is considered, then a Coup might make a regime more ‘democratic’ after some time at least.

This latter point warrants expansion: most countries where top executive leaders are determined through elections have a constitutional provision to use violence to prevent the abuse of power. Article 20(4) of the German Basic Law, for example, reads: “All Germans shall have the right to resist any person seeking to abolish this constitutional order, if no other remedy is available.” This is an attempt to prevent the rise of another autocratic regime. Such clauses recognize that formally democratic systems (selection of head of state via elections) may erode into political systems where the rights and institutions that the democracy is supposed to protect are systematically violated. In such a situation, a Coup d’Etat can theoretically lead to a system where fewer violations take place. While the act itself violates democratic principles, the purpose aims to protect them, and therefore can be justified. If this second understanding is adopted, then it is an empirical questions what effects Coups d’Etat can have on the nature of political systems.

While it is relevant to inquire about the overall effects of military government on the liberty of the press, the respect for human rights, or economic performance, for example, the main question in order to determine whether there is a chance for establishing a democratic form of government via free and fair elections is whether the military stays in or withdraws from power. The question is thus no longer about an overall effect on ‘democracy’ (which is determined by many other factors as well such as the independence of judicial institutions or a free press), but rather centered on the military itself.

When does the military stay in power after a Coup d’Etat, and when does it withdraw?

When re-centering the attention on this question, three explanatory factors come to the fore. The first concerns the role the other soldiers play. Whether a military is united and features values of civilian supremacy is likely to impact on whether it will reduce its involvement in government after a Coup d’Etat. In the thirteen Coups d’Etat in West Africa from 1990-2014 (without the Coups in Guinea-Bissau), this explanation does, however, only have limited leverage. In about half the cases, the setup of the military does not explain its continued rule. A clientelist military in Guinea in 2008 withdrew from power, while a similarly constituted military in Togo in 2005 held on to power and the Coup President is still ruling today, for example.

Other domestic actors, especially the extent to which they can exert pressure on the military in government shapes the governments’ decision to withdraw from or stay in power. The examples of Guinea and Togo show, however, that extended pressure by civil society actors is necessary but not sufficient to enable a military withdrawal. This is only possible in conjunction with the involvement of external actors who are jointly voicing their preference for military withdrawal.

External actors do play an important role. They can, for example, use coercive power in order to remove the military leadership from government – as has been done after Coups in Sierra Leone in 1997 and Guinea in 2008. But they can also adopt a variety of negative material incentives (such as an arms embargo or travel and financial restrictions) but also positive material incentives (such as an increase in Official Development Assistance or unconditional loans) as well as positive and negative immaterial incentives. They also engage the military leadership in processes of persuasion appealing to their considerations of appropriate behavior.

Domestic and external actors need to be united in their responses

The effect of such instruments depends, however, on the unity among external actors. When China provides a 100 million dollar grant to the military government in Guinea, then the suspension of official development aid by the US, the EU, and EU member states to the fraction of this amount is unlikely to have any (material) effect on the leadership. But it is true that China does not always support military governments (in Mali, for example, it contributed troops to the UN peacekeeping mission). Neither is it the case that ‘Western’ powers and organizations always support military withdrawal (France’s involvement in Niger 1996 is a case in point).

Next to individual countries, international organizations have to be considered as well. African organizations like the African Union or the Economic Community of West African States have far-reaching mandates to react to Coups d’Etat and have used these extensively to contribute to a decrease in the degree of military involvement. They act on par with the traditional external actors on the continent.

Whether Coups ‘are good or bad’ is thus not the most interesting question. It is more fruitful to ask under what conditions and how the military leadership withdraws or stays in power after a Coup d’Etat. Especially the unity of a domestic opposition and external actors are shaping this decision – almost regardless of military internal factors. Under what situations military withdrawal contributes to free and fair elections or broader results such as economic development, good governance, or more equality would need to be subject of another research agenda.

Kai Striebinger wrote his PhD dissertation on the question how and under which conditions international actors contribute to the decision by military governments to either withdraw from or stay in power after Coups d’Etat in West Africa (1990-2014). He is currently a researcher at the German Development Institute.

Jizhou Zhao

Power Decides Order?

GEAS_poster_Acharya_930On June 24, 2014, Prof. Amitav Acharya gave a talk on his new book “The End of American World Order” at Freie Universität Berlin. Interestingly, this event took place in the Henry-Ford-Bau, which was constructed (1952-1954) with American funding and where John F. Kennedy gave the programmatic speech associated with his iconic declaration: “Ich bin ein Berliner” in 1963.

In the same building, the topic now was “Rising Powers and the End of American World Order”. A timely and provocative talk, as domestic critics in the US, such as Senator John McCain, blamed President Obama’s administration’s “naïve” approach to Russia in the Ukraine Crisis. Also, look at US impotent reactions recently to a turbulent Iraq with the rise of ISIS. As the US can no longer co-opt rising powers to support its own strategies and approaches, Amitav Acharya wrote in The Hindu of May 29th that Ukraine was not so much a failure of Obama’s foreign policy, but a sign of general decline of the U.S. to many outsiders!

Generally, Prof. Acharya’s talk deals with a fundamental question of what the world order looks like today, and what it will be in the future. According to the author, the US remains a major force (with its huge military advantage) in the world yet it has been gradually losing its ability to shape the world order. Subsequently, the US-dominated liberal world order is over with the emerging other anchors, including rising powers like the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), and regional forces (like the AU, ECOWAS, Mercosur and ASEAN) which have become more sophisticated organizations with multiple purposes and expanding functions.

In this way, a concert of the old powers (esp. the US) and the mentioned new powers is believed to shape the world order. Instead of following such tags as “multipolar,” “bipolar”, “unipolar,” or “G-Zero” (as Charles Kupchan argued in No one’s world), Prof. Acharya likens the emerging world order to a “multiplex theater”, where movies are showed simultaneously but don’t necessarily share many characteristics. According to the talk, “multiplex” refers to multiple plots (ideas), directors (power), and action (leadership) under one roof, while complex interdependence happens at multi-levels while facing multi-restrictions. The US thus should share with the rising powers its leadership in world affairs.

However, I have at least two questions inspired from this interesting talk.

Firstly, where is the EU’s position, or how to see the EU’s role, in the world? Prof. Acharya seems to see the EU as an Old Power rather than an emerging global player with significant overall economic strength, and unique civilian and normative capacities in world affairs and global governance. He argued that the EU has many faces, but can hardly be considered as a real “power” due to its lack of hard power (military forces, assets and let alone strong political wills). Many of the EU member states also joined NATO, and even today they don’t want to or can’t develop credible security capabilities. Prof. Acharya also pointed out EU weakness in responding to the recent crisis in Ukraine, which the emerging powers (like the BRICS) don’t see as a global problem but one of Europe and Europeans, nor do they care about it.

This negative view of the EU seemed a bit confusing to the audience of Acharya’s talk of “Rising Powers and the End of American World Order”. While emphasizing the emerging regional organizations like the AU, ASEAN, and their growing roles, the EU as the model of regional integration and most mature regional organization (even with common foreign, security and defence policy) is somehow humbled by the emerging other regional powers!? If the EU is categorized as one of the Old Powers (along with the US), that means the world order so far is not purely dominated/shaped by the US alone. If the EU is seen as one of the many emerging powers (actors), it has also benefited from and been challenging the “American World order” after WWII. So, what kind of power (actor) is the EU in the current and future world order?

Related to the first one, my second question concerns an old and new debate of “power” in IR theories. What does “power” really mean in the 21st century, especially for political scientists? Is there a commonly accepted evaluation standard of power, for example, the number of military troops as one of the physical and visible power resources, enjoyed by different actors in the world? And if so, what about those non-physical and invisible resources of power, like ideas, strategies, political will and international legality of different actors? It is commonly believed that an actor’s power refers to its ability to achieve desired outcomes, which depends on not only physical assets like national population, economic wealth, natural resources and armed forces, but also whether and how an actor can mobilize these assets to achieve its various goals in different context (concerning time and areas). That means, power is not simply a static matter; it is also about dynamic process and consequence. According to Joseph Nye, converting assets into outcomes is a process in which politics and strategy regulates how power can or should be exercised, with what assets, for what goals and in what context as well as possible back-ups once failing to produce desired “power”/ “influence”.

This said, if the world order is like what Prof. Acharya called the “multiplex cinema”, it might be good to bear in mind that there exist different levels of power assets among the large number of Old and New powers (actors), even between the US and the EU; more importantly, who can give a definite statement that all the new rising powers, or just the BRICS, would work jointly for a common goal to overturn the “US-lead” or American world order, and by using what kind of power? And will the rising powers compete among them for more power out of individual interests?

Amitav Acharya’s “The End of American World Order” is not an American-centric analysis of the 21st century world order. At the same time, it not anti-American, either. But it’s very likely that his arguments serve as good food for thought to policy makers and academia about US hegemony/leadership, and any alternative order for global peace, stability and development. Prof. Acharya warned in his presentation that no single rising power would be able to replace the US to dominate or lead the world in the short and even medium- term. Previously he made a similar argument in “Can Asia Step Up to 21st Century Leadership?”. He suggested “sharing leadership” for the US to face the rising powers in the “multiplex” world. But questions come up again, what is “leadership”? Does the US really want to share its leadership with others, who would also like to shoulder their part? And if so, to what extent will a sharing be like? It’s hard to tell; maybe we could just quickly think about the EU and the US within the NATO: is there some “leadership sharing” in effect?

To conclude, Acharya’s “The End of American World Order” is worthy to put on desks of policy makers; but his prescription and suggestion (leadership sharing) may be unlikely to persuade them. What I would argue, finally, is that leadership is more of a soft power consisting of elements like values, norms, culture and policy, and it can shape the global governance framework rather than change the world order on its own. Soft power does not always work well for an actor if without backups such as hard (military) power, and more importantly strategic thinking. Therefore, a comprehensive understanding of “power” in today’s world needs to be developed, and it’s better to bear in mind that “leadership” and “sharing” are two things that might not easily happen together.

In this way, terms like “American world order” or “multiplex” or any other alternative to label the world are not what people really care about. It’s “power” (in complete sense) that shapes and decides the fundamental structure of the anarchic international system, on which the world is based to appear in some “order”. Yes, both the US and the rising others enjoy their resources of power, but usually politics and strategies determine under which context (when, how and why) these resources are used. History has, and will continue to witness the process of how “power” defines and decides world order.

Jizhou Zhao is a Research Fellow at the NFG Research Group “Asian Perceptions of the EU”. Further inquiries are very welcome. Jizhou would like to thank Olivia Gippner, from whose input this blog post benefited.

Daniel Clausen

Policy Entrepreneurs and IR

Koizumi in Graceland (Wikimedia)

It was not too long ago that I found myself elbow deep in articles with titles such as “Toward a theory of the political entrepreneur” and “A general theory of entrepreneurship.” I was becoming more and more convinced that policy entrepreneurship–as a powerful and potentially disruptive kind of 21st century leadership–was becoming more relevant than ever in International Relations.

Definitions of “policy entrepreneurship” have often highlighted the qualities of risk-taking, the ability to introduce new ideas, and a willingness to work with unique resources and methods that other actors ignore. In addition to these traits, I have found it important to highlight the qualities of alertness and creative discovery.

In my own research on Japanese defense politics, I saw the “entrepreneurial spirit” in many of the endeavors of former Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro. His bold political strategy allowed him to overcome significant political obstacles and implement important changes in the US-Japan security relationship and to achieve his chief political goal of postal reform. Few who watched Japanese news at this time will forget reports of Koizumi serenading President George W. Bush with Elvis’s “I Need You, I Want You, I Love You”.

I could see a similar appetite for risk and the use of unusual resources in the activities of Ishihara Shintaro, former governor of Tokyo. Ishara’s attempt to purchase several of the Senkaku islands from their private owners in 2012 spurred the national government to nationalize the islands before he could get his hands on them. This action in turn has sparked increased hostilities with China that have led to spiraling nationalism in both countries.

Perhaps this was simply a case of a researcher diagnosing a phenomenon where he we looking for it, and I had to caution myself against over-estimating the influence of these upstarts.

I am still convinced, however, that the current era is ripe for policy entrepreneurs. Whether the current period is still the “post Cold War,” or whether we have entered the Asian Century or a post-international world or a new interwar period, one thing is certain—policy entrepreneurs are more relevant in times of uncertainty. Their appetite for risk, their ability to recognize and exploit hitherto underutilized resources, to stir the pot and try to open up new policy spaces can have consequences–both good and bad.

Policy entrepreneurs will be just as influential through their dramatic failures as they will through their dramatic successes.

Nevertheless, against the backdrop of this increasing policy entrepreneurship, I remain skeptical that policy entrepreneurs can or should be theorized, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I’m skeptical that they can be theorized beyond a certain point. At a basic level, this observation follows logically from a definition of the subject matter. Policy entrepreneurs are interesting because of their differences. They are often products of very unique environments, thus our ability to generalize about them across different policy contexts may be limited even within their unique subgroup.

I also draw my skepticism and pessimism from the attempts of others who have written in the field of leadership more broadly. As James MacGregor Burns wrote in his book Leadership (1978):

Leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth.

Or, as Patricia Maclachlan wrote in a paper presented at the Stanford Conference on Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Japan in 2010:

Leadership matters deeply in political studies, but the social scientist who cares about theory and methodological purity would be well advised not to touch it. As most scholars would agree, the definition, causes, and consequences of political leadership are conditioned by a complicated web of variables ranging from the leader’s individual psychological characteristics and his relationship with his political constituency, to the structure of the institutional arena in which he operates.

To an extent, theorizing about policy entrepreneurs has not been a completely fruitless affair. Principles developed thus far in leadership studies more generally will be relevant to understanding policy entrepreneurs. Authors have been able to hypothesize (and find solid evidence) for several general principles: that leaders matter more in times of crisis; that leaders matter most when they are more risk-accepting; and that the more dramatic the means by which leaders come to power, the more potential for dramatic impact once they are in power.

However, rather than seeing policy entrepreneurs as objects of theorization and hypothesis testing, perhaps it is better to view them as sources of new insights about the world. Thus, rather trying to explain the emergence of policy entrepreneurs or identify their constitutive features, researchers may find it more useful to ask questions such as: “What motivated policy entrepreneur A to try action B? Was the actor acting irrationally or capriciously, as others contend, or was there another underlying motivation?”

Since alertness and creative discovery are key qualities of policy entrepreneurs, their bold new actions can often serve as natural experiments. Not all of these experiments succeed, of course. But even an exploration of failed policy entrepreneurship can yield insights into how policy environments are evolving or what opportunities leaders expect to see in the future. Paying close attention to why they act, what assumptions drive their actions, and what limitations they are testing can yield valuable new insights about the policy space they inhabit.

In addition, attempting to “see the world like a policy entrepreneur” may provide the habits of mind that can more easily bridge the gap between policy and research.

This was a guest post by Daniel Clausen, who is a graduate of Florida International University’s PhD program in International Relations. He graduated from the University of Miami with a Bachelor’s Degree in English and American Studies. His research has been published in Strategic Insights, Asian Politics and Policy, Culture and Conflict Review, and the Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies. You can follow Daniel’s work at Academia.edu.

Tobias Bunde

Putin, the Atlanticist

Putin wins a prize
Image credit: “Siggiko”

Since 1997, the American Academy in Berlin has awarded the annual Henry A. Kissinger Prize “in recognition of outstanding services to the transatlantic relationship.” Taken literally, this means that the next recipient can only be one person: Vladimir Putin.

Just a few weeks ago, even the most committed Atlanticists would not have predicted a spectacular comeback for NATO in 2014. At this year’s Munich Security Conference, often dubbed the transatlantic partnership’s “family meeting”, the mood was quite pessimistic. [My detailed conference report, in German, will appear in the next issue of the Zeitschrift für Außen- und Sicherheitspolitik.] The Europeans, and especially the Germans, were upset about the fact that Senator Kerry gave a speech about the “transatlantic renaissance” without mentioning the NSA affair at all. As some observers noted, the Americans “just don’t listen to us anymore, they only listen in.”

On the other hand, the U.S. representatives were frustrated that the Europeans were not eager to discuss other topics they deemed more relevant. Again, the old burden-sharing debate resurfaced – but with more urgency. In contrast to earlier debates, the U.S. administration has actually followed through and significantly reduced their troops in Europe while ramping up their forces in the Asia-Pacific (the “rebalancing” FKA “the pivot to Asia”). Quite symbolically, after 69 years, the last Abrams tanks left European soil in 2013, which many saw as a “historic moment”. [It should be noted, however, that a number of refurbished Abrams tanks have returned to Germany in 2014.]

Under Obama, the United States has made clear that it does not expect to lead every military mission the transatlantic partners undertake. In Libya, the Europeans had to realize that they lacked the capabilities to run an intense air campaign alone. In early 2013, when the Europeans discussed the crisis in Mali, NATO’s Deputy Secretary General, Alexander Vershbow, bluntly stated: “The US and NATO cannot be everywhere.”

In earlier years, U.S. politicians would have been furious if the Europeans had planned for an operation without the United States. But the new message was: Europe, it’s your job, get used to it. Yet, given that these debates were about “wars of choice” in a “post-interventionist era”, few Europeans pushed for a major overhaul of Europe’s defense planning – much to the dismay of Washington.

Waiting for the “transatlantic renaissance”

It didn’t help that a conversation between Victoria Nuland and a U.S. ambassador was leaked, in which the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs used the F-word in respect to the EU. Ironically, Nuland is one of the few remaining committed transatlanticists in Washington and had coined the notion of a “transatlantic renaissance”. Now, that whole concept seemed to be a non-starter.

Enter Vladimir Putin. Thanks to the Russian annexation of Crimea and the ongoing threats from Moscow, the transatlantic partnership, and with it NATO, is back again.

With his actions in the past few weeks, Putin has actually provoked what he had successfully avoided for a long time: the rapid rapprochement of NATO members’ policies towards Russia. He might not have provided a “solution” to one of the core challenges in the internal debate about the Atlantic Alliance in the twenty-first century: How do we define our relations with Russia? But at the very least, he has made a new consensus among NATO member states much more likely. Continue reading


“Ukrainian Games”

It’s hard to keep track of events in Ukraine, and we feel that commenting on them should be left to those with more expertise on the region and international security.

Having said that, we interrupt the usual programming for a cartoon by our guest contributor (or should we say: resident cartoonist?), Siggiko.

Ukraine _text_small(Click to enlarge.)

Mathis Lohaus

Steinmeier on Transatlantic Relations


This morning, I went to see German foreign minister Steinmeier’s speech at the Brookings Institution. Under the heading “Transatlantic Ties for a New Generation”, he argued that to be attractive for young people, the European-American partnership has to be based on shared values and standards of governance. The text is on the ministry’s website. In addition, Brookings published the audio and video recordings of the speech and the Q&A.

To be fair, this speech was more interesting and better prepared than the last foreign policy speech delivered by a Social Democrat that I have attended. Still, if you go beyond the personal anecdotes and jokes he made, Steinmeier said very little, let alone . The Q&A, regrettably, was hurt by the fact that Steinmeier – who had given the speech in English- answered in German. So a lot of time was spent on translation and we only covered four or five (pretty harmless) questions in total.

So, here are the few concrete things I took away from this event. (Plain English translation in italics.)

  • The “no spy” treaty is a non-starter. Instead, Steinmeier wants to have several rounds of talks between U.S. and European officials, which should cover both eavesdropping on government leaders and large-scale surveillance of general population. These talks should include civil society and academia. (We know that’s kind of embarrassing, but what are we gonna do? Nobody wants to kill TTIP because of civil rights.)
  • On the choice to spy: the U.S. government should realize that their surveillance/ spying practices are inappropriate in a setting of close partnership. It must be made clear that democratic bodies have the last words rather than corporate or intelligence interests. (Please be a little bit nicer, for old time’s sake, OK?)
  • Europeans and in particular Germans are committed to show more leadership in foreign policy (“expand the toolbox of diplomacy”). As head of the G8 group in 2015, Germany will push for climate change politics. (But please don’t mention Syria, because we really don’t know what to do.)
  • On Europe: Between Germany and the UK, fundamental disagreements remain about the general trajectory of EU integration. We might see more subsidiarity in select issue areas, but no reversal of integration. (Those ***** Brits! As if we didn’t have enough problems already. Oh, and maybe we should tweak those austerity policies in Southern countries, but please don’t ask about specifics).
  • While the Russian human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin played in a constructive role in the talks with German, French, Polish FMs last week, Steinmeier is just as puzzled about Crimea as everybody else. (Nobody knows what’s going on in Ukraine, and even if we knew, we probably couldn’t do much about it. It’s not like we’re a  superpower or anything.)

So, as you can see, no grand commitments or surprise announcements were made today. German foreign policy remains, ahem, underwhelming.