Tag Archives: berlin

Observing the 2017 elections in Germany

Since 1993, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has sent observers to more than 150 elections in its member states. This reflects a broader trend: Election observation missions (EOMs) have become very popular among international organizations, as we found out in a collaborative research project. This year marked the first time that parliamentarians from the OSCE states observed a federal election in Germany.  Eager to get a first-hand look at EOMs in practice, I signed up to accompany one of the teams in Berlin (and act as interpreter if needed).

During election day, our group visited a good number of polling stations in the Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf district. At each stop, the observers asked a set of questions: How many voters are registered, how many have voted so far, did anything out of the ordinary happen? We then usually stayed for a while and observed the voters come and go; while the morning was relatively quiet, we saw significant traffic in the afternoon (overall turnout was 76%).

Things I learned about elections in Germany

All polling stations were similar, which should not come as a surprise given Germany’s reputation as obsessed with rules and procedures. We still saw some interesting deviations. Some polling stations were set up in spacious rooms while others felt overcrowded. The smaller and less accessible locations were also those in which the volunteer staff was under more stress and the lines were much longer.  It seems pretty trivial to point out that polling places should offer sufficient space, but apparently this is an issue even in a country as rich as Germany. (Side note: Even in the most crowded place, nobody was complaining. “We have to work with what is available”, one staffer told us.)

OSCE PA Election observation
The author with one of the OSCE PA election observation teams in Berlin on September 24, 2017

The volunteers running the polling stations (usually in teams of eight) were focused, well-organized and friendly. Still, some teams were more efficient than others when it came to double-checking voter records and setting up the room in the most favorable way. This suggests that the pre-election briefings held by the election authorities could be a little more practice-oriented.

In addition, a few of our interview partners were surprised to be visited by observers, sometimes to the point of being suspicious. In the most memorable moment of the day, we were led to a small room to await further instructions; it almost felt like an interrogation as depicted in spy novels, only that it happened in a German primary school. I guess the lesson here is that future briefings should mention the concept of EOMs and the existence of the OSCE…

What’s the point of observing elections in a consolidated democracy?

Election observation missions are only conducted with the consent of the respective government. The German federal government invited the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) in 2009, 2013 and 2017. But why send teams to one of most consolidated democracies among its 57 member states? In their 2017 pre-election “needs assessment” report, the OSCE experts mentioned campaign finances and the neutrality of media reports as potential issues — but strongly expressed their overall confidence in the electoral process. In contrast to 2009 and 2013, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly then chose to send a full-fledged delegation.

In the IR literature, it has been noted that international observers have become a fixture of elections around the world. Judith Kelley has argued that “once many honest governments had invited monitors, not doing so became a self-declaration of cheating”. Even for those intending to cheat, it might be more rational to invite observers and risk being caught than to face blanket criticism for the lack of transparency. Election observation thus triggers interesting cost/benefit calculations for individual states.

For front-runners, such as Germany in the case of elections, opening themselves to scrutiny strengthens claims to moral leadership. Assessing all group members in the same way also counters accusations of double standards. But what happens if observers find even minor shortcomings in the procedure of self-proclaimed leaders? The laggards in the group could now point out that nobody’s perfect and accuse their critics of hypocrisy. Moreover, autocratic states could send delegates to participate in election observation abroad, signaling adherence to democratic norms without incurring real costs.

It seems important to go beyond individual cost-benefit calculations and rather consider the group dynamics of peer review and potential norm internalization. Peer review is often used in international forums: not just regarding democratic elections, anti-corruption and other governance issues, but also with respect to more technical implementation issues.

My day with the OSCE leaves me wanting to learn more about signaling, reputation and peer pressure in the context of heterogeneous groups.

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 …

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.

Why the German Intelligence Community Infuriates Me

One and a half years ago, I wrote the following about the German (BND) and the U.S. (CIA, NSA…) intelligence services in comparison:

(…) I think there is a marked difference in self-perception between the two nations. I don’t think anyone in Germany even wishes to have an equally powerful and expensive intelligence apparatus. Maybe I’m extremely naive, but I doubt wiretapping foreign heads of state is high on the BND’s agenda. (…)

Of course this was written in the context of the revelations about NSA and CIA operations that infringe on civil rights around the world. I still believe that (i) German agencies probably are less intrusive than their “Five Eyes” counterparts, and (ii) that public opinion in Germany is more critical of surveillance than in the United States.

Sign at the BND construction site (2008), CC-BY-SA by Schmidt/Richter on Wikimedia Commons

Recent news, however, have led me to re-evaluate my standpoint. While I still wish for “my” intelligence agencies to respect civil rights and the rule of law, most importantly I would really appreciate more professionalism on their side. I mean, you really can’t make this stuff up:

  • The construction site for the new BND headquarters in the center of Berlin was vandalized: after thieves removed a couple of faucets (!!!) from the upper floor, water kept leaking for hours
  • …leading to millions of euros in property damage (FYI: the new HQ is expected to cost >1.3 billion)
  • Nobody noticed anything. And this is not the first incident: In 2011, the top-secret construction plans were stolen or “went missing”…

Ironically, there is a German figure of speech that refers to particularly tight security as “wasserdicht” (waterproof). Of course people on Twitter are having a lot of fun with this and other bad puns. Check out the #watergate and #BNDleaks hashtags. Another particularly fitting yet hard to translate one is #läuftbeimBND.

On a more serious note, I am deeply worried about what goes on in the German intelligence community.

  • Domestically, the investigation of the NSU terrorism against immigrants suggests that the “Verfassungsschutz” (homeland security) was paying informants who not only failed to prevent or investigate any of these terrible crimes, but were present at the scenes of murders and then lied about it at court.
  • Internationally, it seems clear now that there is no concerted effort to curtain U.S. activities on European soil, despite all the symbolic outrage. The “no-spy treaty” was hot air, which is not surprising. New revelations about the British GCHQ or the U.S. services violating the rights of European citizens have not led to any serious response as far as I can tell.
  • (My working hypothesis is that several past German governments owe a lot to U.S. support in Afghanistan, which makes it very difficult to criticize these agencies.)
  • The parliamentary investigative committee on NSA/CIA surveillance is under multiple lines of attack:
    • witnesses and experts are extremely tight-lipped, and the BND routinely “forgets” and “loses” documents
    • three members of the committee have stepped down for unclear reasons
    • everything is obscured by lawyers and engineers claiming ignorance of each others’ field, which leads to almost farcical Q&A sessions
    • the security of the committee’s internal lines of communications is questionable: someone intercepted the package carrying the encrypted phone used by the committee chairman on its way to be serviced.
    • (Netzpolitik.org offers very extensive coverage of these events [in German], often supported by leaked documents.)

I am no conspiracy theorist, I am not against intelligence services per se, and I also know that politics are complicated. But this combination of blatant negligence when it comes to civil rights (in the country that spawned both the Third Reich and the Stasi!) with strategic and operational incompetence is infuriating.

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.

CfA: 2014 Berlin Summer School

I just received the call for applications for the 2014 Berlin Summer School in Social Sciences. It’s run by Humboldt University’s Graduate School and the Social Science Research Center (WZB).

The call for applications is on their website, and if you click again you can find the program in more detail. Sadly, the site is not as pretty as the poster:


Links: Graduate Conferences; Betrayers’ Banquet; Blogging Awards; Compliance

Two calls for graduate conferences

Today, I’d like to share two calls for applications for graduate conferences:

  • First, our colleagues at the Graduate School of North American Studies hold a conference on “Trust Issues. Community, Contingency, and Security in North America”. It’ll take place here in Berlin on May 9 and 10, 2014. The full call is on their website, and you can apply until February 9.
  • Second, a group of graduate students at Georgetown’s Center for German and European Studies organizes the 2014 Transatlantic Policy Symposium on “Hot Wars and Cold Wars: Europe’s Near Abroad“. The deadline is on the coming Monday! Again, all information can be found on their website.

Then, there is an intriguing case of applied game theory. A company in London organizes an event called The Betrayers’ Banquet. For £ 99, you can spend an evening enjoying a “32 course banquet with an embedded implementation of the iterated prisoner’s dilemma”:

The event works as follows:

A banqueting table is set with 48 chairs, 24 on each side, at which players are seated at random. For a period of two hours, the food is served in small portions every fifteen minutes, and varies in quality; at the top end of the table, it is exquisite – food you could expect at a fancy restaurant. At the bottom end, the food is charitably described as unpalatable. In between, it is a spectrum between these two extremes.

At regular intervals, pairs of opposing diners are invited to play a round of the prisoner’s dilemma with each other; They are each provided with a small wooden coin with symbols on each side representing cooperation and betrayal, which they place on the table concealed under their palms, and then simultaneously reveal:

• If they both cooperate, then they are both moved up five seats towards the good food.
• If they both betray, they are both moved five seats down towards the worse food.
• If one betrays and one cooperates, the betrayer moves up ten seats, and other down ten seats.

If any of our readers were in London and willing to go, I’d love to hear their experiences. In the comments at Marginal Revolution (where I learned about this), the game designer chimes in: “People are cutthroat, especially when they’re drunk and hungry.”

Somehow I had missed that the Duck of Minerva crew has announced the 2014 Blogging Awards and Reception at ISA. Please make sure to nominate excellent bloggers and/or go to the show, which was a lot of fun last year.

Also at the Duck: Burcu Bayram discusses Lisa Martin’s recent article “Against Compliance”. This discussion is relevant for several of my colleagues and I hope we will be able to follow up on this… (yes, this is a hint to a certain co-blogger)

Links: Transparency Intl.; Financial Secrecy; Social Sciences Funding

First, a warning to all visiting researchers in Germany, who might entertain false hopes based on this year’s relatively friendly October:


OK, back to business… three links today, and all of them are about money:

Transparency International celebrates its 20th anniversary in Berlin. Tomorrow there will be a conference followed by the ceremony for this year’s “Integrity Awards”. The full program is here. As far as I know, the event is fully booked, but there will be a live stream. On Twitter, they use the hashtag #TIat20

The Tax Justice Network published the 2013 Financial Secrecy Index (FSI):

The Financial Secrecy Index ranks jurisdictions according to their secrecy and the scale of their activities. A politically neutral ranking, it is a tool for understanding global financial secrecy, tax havens or secrecy jurisdictions, and illicit financial flows.

The ranking covers many of the usual suspects, but its design is geared to put pressure on countries that are not usually called “tax havens”. Germany and the U.S. get spots among the top-10 offenders because the FSI ranking reflects two factors: (1) how much secrecy a jurisdiction offers, and (2) how big the country’s share of global financial services is. This leads to lower ranks for very secretive, but tiny places. So if you have a lot of cash to hide, you should rely on the fourth column, not the third.

From the PDF version of the Finanscial Secreacy Index 2013. Unfortunately, the online version isn't prettier.
Slightly cropped screenshot from the PDF version of the Financial Secrecy Index 2013. Unfortunately, the online version isn’t prettier. Maybe they could hire a designer for 2014?

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren wants to help secure federal funding for research in the social sciences.  Henry Farrell at the Monkey Cage summarizes:

As Warren points out, people are prepared to pay for social science data. The problem is that the buyers aren’t interested in finding out what is true. They are interested in pushing results that will promote their economic interests.

Is there a middle ground between ivory-tower academics (who have a long record of producing practically irrelevant output) and politically motivated donors (who cherry-pick researchers and results in line with their agenda)?

As illustrated by the fact that I’m posting this directly after two reports about advocacy groups publishing social science research, this is an important debate!

Keohane’s Counter-Multilateralism


Yesterday, Bob Keohane gave a lecture at the Berlin Social Science Research Center (WZB). He presented a new paper co-authored with Julia Morse, who is a PhD candidate at Princeton. (Keohane, in case you somehow don’t know, is famous for his work on neoliberal institutionalism / the cooperation paradigm.)

Instead of summarizing the talk step-by-step, I’ll be a bit lazy and point you to the WZB’s announcement of the event:

“Counter-multilateralism” is an apt phrase to describe a pervasive contemporary phenomenon: the strategic use of multilateral institutions to challenge the rules, practices, or missions of multilateral institutions. States and non-state actors, intergovernmental organizations or non-governmental organizations form coalitions that respond to dissatisfaction by combining threats of exit, voice, and the creation of alternative institutions.

Keohane and Morse essentially claim two things:

  1. International politics is mainly about “cooperation in a crowded institutional space” (instead of, say, anarchy). That means that for any given problem, there will probably be a high degree of existing institutionalization, i.e. international regimes and/or organizations in place.
  2. When actors are dissatisfied with the status quo (and can’t change it from within), they will try to form a coalition in order to establish another institution that better suits their interests (instead of trying to act unilaterally).

In reference to the late Albert Hirschman, Keohane argued that actors will try to amplify their potential voice by “using multilateralism against itself”. This act of “counter-multilateralism” (“C-M”) can take one of two forms: Regime shifting (the coalition pushes issue X from institution A to institution B) or competitive regime creation (the coalition creates institution C to take over from A).

Keohane then gave a number of examples of successful and failed attempts for both types. Together with the remarks by the WZB’s Sonia Alonso (who was the first discussant), these cases did a good job of illustrating the many faces of counter-multilateralism and that Keohane’s framework offers a useful typology.

Nonetheless, the talk fell a bit short compared to the claims in the abstract:

[These coalitions’] intention is not merely to choose different venues for collective action (“forum-shopping”) but to change the practices or restrict the authority of the status quo institutions. (…) What are the condition that tend to generate counter-multilateralism? What does counter-multilateralism mean for Global Governance?

First, it’s not entirely clear to me how counter-multilateralism differs from forum-shopping and just general bargaining strategies. What’s the value added by using the concept? Also, there are some analytical problems. If the coalition’s demands are met before they really pursue the exit option, how will we know C-M when we see it? And in case it really comes to either regime shifting or competitive creation, what happens next?

Second, the conditions under which Keohane predicts C-M aren’t exactly precise: Actors need to be dissatisfied with the status quo (but just how much?), perceive C-M as a viable option (based on what?), and in order to succeed they should be powerful (how powerful?). Overall, C-M will become more common (to what effect?), as global politics are highly institutionalized while power is very dispersed (really?) and acting unilaterally is just not what states do anymore (really?)…

Don’t get me wrong: I think this is a great framework to think about the dynamics of international institutions. It’s just that – from what we’ve heard yesterday – Keohane seems to offer “just” a typology, but neither testable hypotheses nor precise indicators. I’m looking forward to the paper(s) on this idea.

Social Media for Academics

Some in the audience were applying lessons on-the-fly... #wzbhypo
Some in the audience were applying lessons right away…

This morning, I went to a talk (#wzbhypo) by Mareike König and Sascha Förster – who are involved in the European blog portal hypotheses.org – about social media for academics: How can we use Facebook, Twitter and blogs?

The session covered some introductory stuff about social media as well as concrete tips for academics seeking more exposure online. I will focus on those points that were new to me. Obviously, we share the general opinion that more academics should consider blogging, tweeting etc.!

  • Germany is a developing country when it comes to producing content online, but also with regard to using social networks and blogs as a source of information. (Yes, there was a #neuland joke.)
  • König convincingly argued that beginners should consider joining an existing portal like hypotheses.org, scilogs.com or scienceblogs.com, since those will help you find readers. (Yup, it’s really hard to build an audience from scratch!)
  • Instead of using a couple of platforms half-heartedly, focus on one or two! You should consider, however, that Google+ might increasingly matter for Google web search. (Addendum: Did you know that you can ‘claim’ your Google scholar page?)
  • This is not really news, but: Twitter accounts that do little more than post links to their own stuff will have a hard time attracting followers. Human interaction is key. (We’re working on it.)
  • Some data on German-speaking academics on Twitter: There are (at least) two interesting sources of data in that regard. Marc Scheloske has a list of academics and institutions, and Beatrice Lugger collects data on institutions and media covering scientific topics. Both were last updated in 2012. (I’m working on a list of German IR/polisci scholars…)
  • Depending on the topic and the selection committee, you might not get invited to a job interview if you have no professional social media “fingerprint”…
  • On Twitter, links that are positioned in the middle of a tweet apparently achieve more clicks/attention than links at the end. I did not know that but will give it a try!
  • Even if the visitor and commnets count is low, don’t give up: It’s very likely that some people will comment on your contributions once you meet them in person, and reaching the right audience is more important than ‘big’ numbers…

Overall, it was a stimulating session. You can find Mareike König’s slides online (in German). I was glad to see a very interested and mixed crowd at the event. Many thanks to the WZB press people for organizing it, and of course you should all follow @WZB_news, @mareike2405 and @sascha_foerster!