Category Archives: World Events

Marginal Costs in Intl. Affairs

Zero Marginal Costs SocietyLast week, Jeremy Rifkin presented his current book here in Berlin. In The Zero Marginal Costs Society, he argues that the marginal costs of production in many sectors are moving (close) to zero, leading to economic shifts on the scale of the industrial revolution. Three forces make this possible according to Rifkin:

  • a truly integrated global internet (communication + logistics + sensors)
  • abundant renewable energy
  • 3D printing as extremely cost-efficient mode of producing physical goods

No matter how you think about the details of Rifkin’s predictions, he makes persuasive points on what very low marginal costs can entail. This is obviously true for the areas he addresses (the economics of production, welfare, labor, automation, consumption).

But in addition,  marginal costs are worth  attention when we think about international relations and and transnational political affairs more generally:

  • If we buy Rifkin’s arguments, IPE scholars and others who care about economic power and growth prospects will put less emphasis on traditional metrics of factor endowments. If the Netherlands are just much better at making use of renewables than Russia, size is a bad predictor of success. How do you model something like the political will to embrace the future?
  • The marginal cost of reaching one more pair of eyes applies to political mobilization. No matter how high your PR budget, you can reach millions of potential recruits if you’re willing to be excessively cruel and upload an execution video. And how does having a single “viral” idea (involving buckets of ice) measure up against having a more traditional structure of supporters?
  • I’ve covered intelligence activities here on the blog, in particular the  large-scale surveillance conducted by the NSA and other agencies. Consider the logic of technology-driven surveillance: The marginal cost of targeting one more person is virtually zero. Keeping that person’s data for one more unit of time is free. And there is no physical or technological limit in sight.
  • Similarly, I suspect that “cyber war” skills probably scale at close to zero marginal costs. Once you managed to infiltrate a crucial bit of IT infrastructure (and still have plausible deniability to mitigate political repercussions), deciding about the amount of damage you want to inflict will not be a matter of costs.

I’m sure there are many more examples. And if you’re willing to bear the cost of adding one more book to your reading list, consider Rifkin’s.

#FutureNATO Storify

Since April 2014 I have been a member of the NATO Emerging Leaders Working Group, a project run by the Atlantic Council. The group, consisting of 15 diplomats, scholars, and business leaders under 35, was one of three groups tasked to develop recommendations to the NATO Secretary General in the run-up to the Wales Summit in September 2014. In mid-June, we presented our ideas in Brussels. You can find more information about the three reports here.

In order to keep the discussion going and involve more (young) people we decided to experiment with the idea of a Twitter debate. I had hoped that – given the support by some partners including the Atlantic Council and its blog NATOSource as well as Chatham House – we would bring together a number of people interested in discussing some of the topics we raised in our report. Nonetheless, I have been quite surprised that it turned out so well when we launched our first debate yesterday. The debate dealt with NATO and its relationship to Finland and Sweden, two countries that are members of the EU, but not of NATO, and have often contributed more to NATO missions than some allies. In the report we suggested NATO offer them a fast-track membership option. Now we wanted to know what people in Finland and Sweden thought about it. Would such a public offer be seen as constructive for triggering a more intensive domestic debate or would it be counterproductive (if considered as interference)? And why did Sweden and Finland contribute so much to NATO missions without being able to count on NATO defending them as non-members (Art. 5).

Of course, we’re still learning (for instance, it might be better to focus on one single question, rather than a set of questions; it might also be helpful to have a short blog post as a starter instead of a number of background articles on our Facebook page), but my feeling was that many enjoyed the debate and learned new facts and discussed aspects they had not been aware of before. And I got to “know” a few new people working on similar topics… A sort of “summary” can be found below.
As the Atlantic Council staff told us, the debate had 2,463,736 impressions reaching 339,471 accounts, with 231 users posting 712 tweets. Not too bad a start I would say.

Next week, we’ll discuss the (in)famous 2 % target for defense spending.

StorifyPlease check out the summary of our debate.

Additional discussions will be announced via @FutureNATO and on the respective Facebook page.

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.

Bavarian Nepotism (“If it Happened There…”)

This post pays homage to Joshua Keating, who has written a number of articles for Slate in which he describes news events from the U.S. “using the tropes and tone normally employed by the American media to describe events in other countries.

CSU leadership in Bavaria, 1976 (CC Wikimedia Commons)
CSU leadership in Bavaria, 1976. CC-BY-SA Wikimedia Commons

BERLIN, Germany — Observers familiar with the political process in the German South were not surprised: after the details of a high-level nepotism scandal in the West European country’s most populous state were uncovered a few weeks ago, very little has happened.

The affair started in fall 2013, with a book published by university professor Hans Herbert von Arnim. While academic publication usually garner little attention in the country  –a number of tabloids dominate the market in the South– the book’s claims of nepotism were sufficient to spark interest at least among political opposition figures, who demanded an investigation. After several months of refusing to comment on the issue, the Bavarian government gave in to a ruling from a local court and published some findings. (Initially, these were accessible through the Bavarian public broadcasting service, but that site no longer appears to be functional.)

According to the report, Bavarian minister of education Ludwig Spaenle has dished out a grand total upwards of 810,000 USD to his wife since 1997. That equals 30 years of the current median household income in Germany. Altogether, members of the conservative-religious CSU party, which rules Bavaria since 1957, handed out almost 1.8 million USD of taxpayer money to their spouses over the last years.

Local officials point out that this is not illegal. The group of CSU silver-backs simply took advantage of a loop hole in the state’s laws (which the insular Bavarians are proud to defend against influences from the federal government). Since the year 2000, politicians have been banned from hiring family members and spouses — but lawmakers allowed for a continuation of existing contracts. This is why the current Bavarian prime minister, a veteran of the CSU who has weathered many scandals in the past, insists that none of the people involved will have to leave office.

The case appears symptomatic of broader problems in Germany. In the Southern state of Bavaria, a small group of elites have had a grip on power for almost 60 years. They are supported by a powerful business and agricultural lobby (the latter of which employs only a small fraction of the workforce, but receives lavish subsidies from the European Union). Traditionally, politics in the Southern state are shaped by social conservatism, local business interests, and a latent xenophobia. No wonder, then, that few people seem to care about a waste of taxpayer money at the top.

Perhaps the problem runs even deeper: one should not forget that Germany, despite its economic might and seemingly unquestionable democratic credentials, has yet to ratify the 2003 UN Convention Against Corruption. After more than ten years of dragging their feet –because of reluctance to curtail the freedom of members of parliament– federal officials have recently indicated that this might happen before the end of the year. Judging from recent events in Bavaria however, the prospect of real change remains slim. Instead, it seems likely that local customs remain entrenched, and  German politicians will find ways to bend the rules in their favor.

German Grundgesetz & Asylum

kermani-bundestag
(c) Deutscher Bundestag / Achim Melde

On Friday, German-Iranian writer Navid Kermani gave a speech in German parliament. His remarks were part of a longer ceremony to celebrate 65 years of the constitution (Grundgesetz).

Kermani’s powerful speech [here, in German] focuses on the unique role played by the 1949 constitution in the German language area, “comparable maybe only to the Lutheran bible”. He shows how elegantly designed and politically consequential several parts of the Grundgesetz were at their time (and still are). Equality before the law, and between women and men, for example.

Overall, the speech makes an excellent case for what Germans call Verfassungspatriotismus: patriotism based on pride in our constitution. One aspect of the speech, however, was meant to provoke – and promptly led to criticism.

Kermani sharply criticized GG §16a, which deals with the right to asylum. The initially very short paragraph was amended in 1993, and now the right “is practically abolished” according to Kermani.

Others were quick to point out that Germany is in fact the European country receiving the most requests for asylum.

Considering that there might be more debates on this issue in the future, I collected some data from Eurostat. The table below shows:

  • the number of positive decisions on asylum requests per 100,000 inhabitants
  • the total number of positive asylum decisions 2008-2013

Asylum statistics

As you can see, Germany accepted 7.3 asylum seekers per 100,000 inhabitants in 2013, but was clearly below the EU-28 average in earlier years. Germany was the #3 host country over the last six years. But others are much more generous: Sweden, Austria and recently Norway come to mind, as does tiny Cyprus. But the UK and France in particular have a far more generous record than Germany, both in total and in relative terms.

In case someone wants to play around more, here’s my quick and dirty data file (MS Excel). I recommend two Eurostat documents on the topic: Country-specific figures 1998-2011 (including information on how many requests were rejected versus accepted) and a brand new report on the 2013 developments. Both could help to create a more instructive comparison.

I’d also be interested in links to articles on this topic.

Corruption, Elections and Political Turmoil: Is more ahead for Turkey?

2013-06-16 01.16.08
Protests in June 2013. Source: Digdem Soyaltin.

In a recent article, Marko Klasnja and Joshua A. Tucker provide evidence from the experiments in Moldova and Sweden to show there is a relationship between the economic perceptions of the voters and their reactions to corruption in their respective countries [gated version, ungated version]. They argue that in low corruption countries such as Sweden, voters punish the corrupt politicians in the elections regardless of the state of the economy. However, in high-corruption countries such as Moldova, voters tend to be less concerned about corruption when they are satisfied with the government’s economic policy performance. I wouldn’t hesitate to add Turkey to the group of high corruption countries, especially after the corruption investigations started in December 2013, revealing illicit money transfers to Iran and bribery for construction projects. Some have called the charges the biggest corruption scandal of Turkish Republican history. Very briefly, Turkish police seized shoeboxes stashed with $4.5 million in cash at the home of a state-owned bank’s chief executive and arrested sons of four cabinet ministers and several high-profile businessmen. Continue reading Corruption, Elections and Political Turmoil: Is more ahead for Turkey?

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 Putin, the Atlanticist

Links: Grad School Pros and Cons; Job Search; Understanding Putin

He studied law, but seems interested in IR. (Source: Kremlin.ru via Wikimedia)
He studied law, but seems interested in IR. (Source: Kremlin.ru via Wikimedia)

In an article from 2011, Karen Kelsky (who works as a consultant to graduate students) criticizes academic supervisors. According to her, professors often fail to advise their grad students on planning publications and their career choices.

Another more recent piece introduces a new approach for university career centers. Basically, the idea is to break up the division between the job markets inside and outside of academia: “If graduate students are to maximize their efforts, then academic departments and career services need to pool theirs and work together”.

But should you even be working towards a PhD? Foreign Policy just published a very interesting discussion with people from American IR departments and foreign policy schools. The subtitle: “Do policymakers listen? Should you get a Ph.D.? And where are all the women?” It also has a fascinating graph on which IR scholars are valued by foreign policy practitioners, which reminded me of last year’s discussion about IR and the public sphere.

Dan Drezner wrote about whether to go to grad school in 2012. His piece focuses on women in academia, but also has a couple of interesting links to the discussion in the American blogosphere.

OK, so (against a lot of good advice) you have decided to pursue an academic career. The bad news is: from now on, your writing style will be terrible. The good news is: nobody will notice, since most papers are hardly read after publication. [Note that the article implies that the number of citations equals the number of readers, which is not fully convincing.]

Now, to something completely different. I enjoyed these two pieces about Vladimir Putin: First, Tyler Cowen offers four different ways to “model” Putin’s behavior, pointing out that “[a]ssumptions about Putin’s rationality will shape prediction”.

Second, Eric Posner analyzes the claims made in the Russian president’s speech to the Duma: “Vladimir Putin, international lawyer”. The crucial bit of analysis: Putin has signaled that “the United States claims for itself as a great power a license to disregard international law that binds everyone else, and Russia will do the same in its sphere of influence where the United States cannot compete with it”.

Trade Agreement Trends

Three expansive and controversial trade agreements – the Trans Pacific Partnership, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement – are currently in the negotiation or ratification stages. These three (with some overlap with the EU, US and Canada) involve some of the world’s biggest economies and, if successful, will implement rules that critics claim go far beyond traditional trade agreements. However, the fate of all three agreements remains uncertain. CETA still needs to be ratified by the EU parliament as well as 28 member states, while TTP and TTIP are bogged down in negotiations.

All these acronyms can get confusing, so, who is involved in these agreements and what are the points of contention?

Trans Pacific Partnership

The TTP began as a proposed agreement between Chile, New Zealand, Singapore and Brunei. In January 2008 the US joined negotiations, followed by Australia, Vietnam, Peru (2009) and Malaysia (2010) and Canada and Mexico (2012). In 2013 Japan entered negotiations and Taiwan, South Korea and even China have expressed interest. All told, these countries make up 40% of the world’s GDP.
Continue reading Trade Agreement Trends

Links: Sex Work and Free Choice; ISA Conference 2014; Data Journalism

Roman fresco (Pompeii) via Wikimedia Commons
Roman fresco (Pompeii) via Wikimedia Commons

Sophia Gore discusses whether sex work can be an “expression of women’s  choice and agency”. She specifically focuses on prostitution and considers both liberal and radical feminist arguments.

I expect we will have more debates on the issue in the near future. Right now, policies in the European Union range from abolitionist (with Sweden’s policy of prosecuting customers but not prostitutes as best practice), to ignorant / dysfunctional / antiquated, to liberal as Germany, where prostitution is legal and (poorly) regulated. (As other researchers have pointed out, there is a lot of variation even within Scandinavia.)

Seeing how human trafficking and organized crime are increasingly discussed and fought across borders, I think at some point we will see international efforts to harmonize laws on sex work, in the EU and elsewhere.

On a lighter note, the folks at Duck of Minerva are getting ready for the 2014 ISA conference. Everyone, please go to the Blogger Reception on Thursday, March 27! To get you in conference mode, here’s Megan MacKenzie on how to improve the ISA experience, and then there is Amanda Murdie on how ISA resembles a family reunion:

Deviled eggs or no-bake cookies are my go-to dishes for a Kansas family reunion.  Half-baked empirical papers are typically what I present at ISA.  For either “dish,” I’m typically scrambling right until the last minute.

I won’t be in Toronto, but if anyone wants to meet up at MPSA in Chicago the weekend after that, please let me know.

New York Magazine has an interview with Nate Silver, who has taken his FiveThirtyEight brand from the NY Times to ESPN, where the new site will launch on Monday.

He criticizes pundits and columnists for their anecdotal, ideology-driven style, and at the same time promises that his new venture will rely on lots of data and stay clear from advocacy. (If you haven’t heard of the fox and the hedgehog by now, don’t worry, they explain it again in that interview.) Tyler Cowen is skeptical because Silver implicitly shows a bias against principled opinions and seemingly obvious claims, both of which aren’t necessarily bad journalism or policy.

I say: Silver should make sure to hire as many political scientists as he can. That should lead to lots of data points (of varying quality) and ensure that clear opinions are nowhere to be found…

Edit: I just found this piece by Brendan Nyhan, who shows how a number of political scientists have recently been hired to do journalism. (Brendan is part of that group, and also proof that my cynical comment above should not be taken at face value.)