Tag Archives: Europe

The Instability of States

We tend to think of states as fairly stable and long-lasting institutions. But a new video tracing the rise (and fall) of states in Europe from 1000AD to the present highlights the importance of national boundaries. What’s of particular interest is the relatively brief period in which the map looks like it does today. At just over 3 minutes, it’s a fun way to introduce the concept of statehood in your IR and comparative classes.

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The Limits of Diplomatic Immunity

Bolivian President Evo Morales re-boards his plane in Austria.

Bolivian President Evo Morales re-boards his plane in Austria.

A plane carrying Bolivia’s President, Evo Morales, was forced to land in Austria after being denied access to French, Italian, and Portuguese airspace. Once on the ground, the plane was searched by Austrian officials to verify it was not carrying Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor accused of leaking the existence of a secret US surveillance program known as Prism. After it was determined that Snowden was not aboard, the plane was allowed to continue along its original route, ferrying the Bolivian President home from a conference in Moscow.

The move, which Spain hinted was the result of US pressure, was been widely condemned by other Latin American governments. Ecuador’s President, Rafael Correa, called the move “an affront to all America,” and Argentina’s President, Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, condiment the move as “a relic of colonialism that we thought was completely overcome.” A special conference attended by the Presidents of Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Uruguay, and Venezuela, and with representatives from several other countries in attendance, was convened in Cochabamba, Bolivia, to address the diplomatic row. And Bolivia announced that they may seek to close the US embassy in his country to protest the violation of international law.

While the conference attendees avoided any specific mention of the United States, their statement included a harsh condemnation and a demand for answers from France, Portugal, and Italy (who denied access to their airspace) as well as from Spain (who issued the original warning that Snowden could be aboard the plane). France subsequently sent an apology to Bolivia, but that apology was rejected by President Morales, who concluded that “apologies are not enough because the stance is that international treaties must be respected.”

There is a longstanding tradition of diplomatic immunity—that diplomats are given legal immunity and safe passage, and that they are not susceptible to lawsuit or prosecution under a host country’s law. These rights traditionally extend not just to credentialed diplomats, but also to heads of state. Such rights are recognized to ensure they can carry out the official duties of their office without intimidation or interference.

So was last week’s forced landing and search of President Evo Morales’ plane a violation of international law? The answer is not entirely clear, and arguments could be made on both sides. But at least one commentator, John Pilger of The Guardian newspaper, called the situation as an “act of air piracy and state terrorism” and described the situation as follows:

Imagine the aircraft of the president of France being forced down in Latin America on “suspicion” that it was carrying a political refugee to safety – and not just any refugee but someone who has provided the people of the world with proof of criminal activity on an epic scale.

Imagine the response from Paris, let alone the “international community”, as the governments of the west call themselves. To a chorus of baying indignation from Whitehall to Washington, Brussels to Madrid, heroic special forces would be dispatched to rescue their leader and, as sport, smash up the source of such flagrant international gangsterism. Editorials would cheer them on, perhaps reminding readers that this kind of piracy was exhibited by the German Reich in the 1930s.

The forcing down of Bolivian President Evo Morales’s plane – denied airspace by France, Spain and Portugal, followed by his 14-hour confinement while Austrian officials demanded to “inspect” his aircraft for the “fugitive” Edward Snowden – was an act of air piracy and state terrorism. It was a metaphor for the gangsterism that now rules the world and the cowardice and hypocrisy of bystanders who dare not speak its name.

But even if that were not the case, the move would certainly spark a sharp rise in anti-Americanism in Latin America, which has traditionally viewed the motivations of the United States with deep suspicion. Also writing at The Guardian, Stephen Kinzer concluded  that “In its eagerness to capture the fugitive leaker Edward Snowden, the Obama administration has taken a step that will resound through Latin American history” and observing that,

If it becomes clear that the United States was behind this action – it has not yet admitted responsibility – this incident will go down in history as the defining episode of US-Latin America relations during the Obama administration. It suggests that the United States still considers Latin American countries less than fully sovereign. Nothing angers people in those countries more.

What do you think? Was the decision to search Bolivian President Evo Morales’s plane a violation of international law? Will the decision have longer-term negative impact on US influence in the region? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

Radicalization: Inclusivity, Poverty, and other Factors

 

Michael Adebowale, one of the suspects in the Woolwich (London) murder.

Michael Adebowale, one of the suspects in the Woolwich (London) murder.

A British soldier was beheaded in an attack by two Muslims on the streets of London earlier this week. The two men who murdered Lee Rigby, a soldier in the British army, who had served in Afghanistan and Cyprus, were described as Nigerian-British who converted to Islam after college. The attacks have sparked concerns about the threat of reprisal attacks against Muslims in England, and raise concerns about a general anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe.

Muslims in Europe were already concerned about laws they perceive as undermining the practice of their faith. While the United Kingdom had historically avoided much of the attention, Muslims in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands had complained of discriminatory laws which they argue impinge on their religious freedoms. A 2004 French law, for example, banned the wearing of the conspicuous display of religious symbols in school, a move which French Muslims claimed was intended to prohibit wearing the burqa or hijab. In 2010, a more expansive law was passed, prohibiting the wearing of face coverings (like the burqa) in public. Belgium and the Netherlands have passed a similar “burqa bans” in public spaces.

Such bans have proven wildly popular among the electorates. Even in countries without such prohibitions—like Sweden and Denmark—public opinion polling regularly finds support for such bans exceeding 60 percent of respondents.

Why is there so much concern over Islamic religious practices in Europe?

Muslims in Europe are a growing and highly visible minority population. Across Europe, approximately 6 percent of the total population is Muslim. Many far-right European political parties have painted immigration—particularly Muslim immigrants—as a threat to the “traditional way of life,” arguing that immigrants pose a threat to national identity. Europe’s current economic instability no doubt contributes as well. And in the United Kingdom, British involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan likely also plays a role.

The nature of citizenship in Europe is an important underlying factor. In the United States, citizenship is based on is determined by birthplace. People born in the United States are American citizens, regardless of the citizenship of their parents. In international law, this is referred to as jus soil, the right of the soil. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, about 8 percent of all children born in the United States are born to parents who were not citizens of the United States. Many European countries, by contrast, base citizenship not on birthplace but on the citizenship of the parents. This is referred to as jus sanguinis the right of blood. Children born to German parents, for example, are German citizens regardless of where they were born. People born in Germany to non-German parents, by contrast, do not necessarily receive German citizenship. In the case of Germany, this has created a problem for millions of Turks born to parents who were guestworkers in Germany but who lacked German citizenship.

Some observers note that the differing conceptions of citizenship under such a system can help to radicalize the minority population. Because they are not accepted as “true” citizens, members of such minority populations may become more radicalized and embrace violence as a vehicle for addressing perceived grievances.

Radicalization, of course, is a far more complicated process than can be attributed to citizenship laws. Indeed, Britain is one of the most diverse countries in Europe, and London, its capital, is among the most diverse cities in the world, and Britain has been more accepting of immigrants—and their diverse identities—than has been the case in many other countries.

What do you think? What is the most important factor in explaining the radicalization of minority populations? Does citizenship play a role? Is citizenship and inclusion more important than economic factors? And what do you think will happen in Europe as Islam continues to grow as a minority religion? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

The Challenge of Nacro-States

A soldier stands outside military headquarters in Guinea Bissau following April’s coup.

It was reported last week that the government of Guinea-Bissau was likely providing shelter for expansive nacro-trafficking operations. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) for West Africa,  a large number of small planes have been making the transatlantic journey from Latin America to the West African nation, likely carrying cocaine which is then sent on to Europe. While West Africa has long been an important transit point for Latin American drugs moving to Europe, the UNODC now estimates that Guinea-Bissau accounts for at least half of all cocaine shipped through the region.

What makes this case particularly interesting is the role of the military coup. The West African nation has a long history of coups and coup attempts; in nearly forty years of independence, no elected leader has finished their constitutional term of office.

Last April, the country’s military staged a coup ahead of the second round of presidential elections. The new government is believed to have close ties to drug traffickers. According to a BBC report, top military officials are believed to be working with drug traffickers to facilitate their operations. The UN Security Council has sought to isolate the nation, imposing travel bans on coup leaders, and the US government has imposed financial sanctions on key officials under the Drug Kingpin Act.

The forces driving the development of the nacro-state are clear. Guinea-Bissau is one of the world’s poorest nations, with a gross domestic product of $970 million in 2011 (this works out to a per capita figure of approximately $600. This ties Guinea-Bissau at 172nd place (out of 191 countries) in the world. Nacro-trafficking brings provides a key source of income and revenue in an otherwise exceedingly poor country.

At the same time, drug trafficking illustrates (the admittedly shady side) of globalization. The drug trade accounts for an estimated 5-6 percent of all world trade, a figure slightly greater than that of agriculture and automobiles combined.Indeed, a UNESCO report concludes that it’s behind only the global arms trade (and perhaps now the global oil trade) in market size. It is driven by regional specialization and comparative advantage, and highlights the challenges of weak and failed states and the dynamics of global inequality.

What do you think? What can we learn from narco-trafficking about the dynamics of globalization and international relations?  And what should be done about the situation in Guinea-Bissau? How, if at all, should the international community respond to narco-states? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know.

Economic Globalization Meets Shaky Economies: Fasten Your Seatbelts

Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday, when the Dow plunged more than 500 points.

Dramatic developments over the last few days have once again highlighted the interconnectedness of the world’s economies and the ease with which economic problems in one corner of the globe can quickly spread to others. Globalization refers to the integration of markets, cultures, and information networks and it has accelerated in recent decades with advances in communication technologies and increased global trade.

As reviewed in this timeline from BBC news, the 2007-2008 global financial crisis began with the sub-prime mortgage collapse in the United States, but economic turmoil quickly spread to Europe and beyond as banks that had invested in mortgage-backed securities suffered serious losses.  Similarly, the debt problems of Greece, Ireland, and Portugal since 2009 led to a decline in the value of the euro and have thrown the entire 17-country eurozone into crisis.

On Thursday stocks plunged on Wall Street; the Dow fell over 500 points in the biggest single day loss since 2008. Interestingly, most analysts attributed the selloff not primarily to concerns about the American economy, but to fears about the solvency of Italy and Spain–the third and fourth largest eurozone economies behind Germany and France.  The threat of a “contagion” effect is highlighted in this explainer from CNN:

“…Anxieties over Italy’s economic future have led many to wonder what its default might mean for Europe and beyond, with the dreaded word ‘contagion’ on many lips. [Former IMF executive board member Domenico] Lombardi believes the current situation is serious. ‘If you affect Italy, you can really weaken the euro significantly,’ he says, describing it as the ‘weakest link’ among Europe’s big economies.  Worse, he says, the European Union, the IMF and the European rescue fund do not have enough money to bail it out as they did smaller European economies — sparking a potential domino effect. So far the crisis has been limited to Greece, Ireland and Portugal, he said.  ‘But of course if the crisis was to hit Italy, it would spread also to France, to the rest of the euro area, and of course you would have contagion to the U.S. through the banking system.’ The huge public debt held by the United States also would make it more vulnerable to speculators, he added.”

How Standard and Poor’s decision (announced late Friday) to downgrade the U.S. credit rating will affect the global economy is the subject of great speculation this weekend. Officials from the G-7 and G-20 groups of major economies are holding conference calls this weekend to plan for further turmoil in the financial markets.

Is there anything individual countries can do, in a globalized world, to limit the damage they may suffer from a possible global contagion, or are they and their citizens at the mercy of the world economy?  Could protectionist trade practices and other tools of economic nationalism safeguard the U.S. or would this only make problems worse?

Choosing the Next IMF Chief: a European Power Grab?

Disgraced former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the front-runner to succeed him, French finance minister Christine Lagarde.

The resignation of International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn after his indictment on sexual assault charges and the subsequent scramble to find his successor have ignited a controversy over Europe’s “right” to place a European at the helm of the IMF. Such a right is nowhere codified in the IMF’s founding document, but a longstanding “gentlemen’s agreement” between the U.S. and Europe–dating back to the creation of the IMF in 1944–says an American always gets the World Bank presidency and a European always heads the IMF.  The details of this arrangement are discussed in this explainer from Foreign Policy.  It is no secret that the world’s wealthiest countries control the lending decisions of the IMF and the World Bank due to these institutions’ weighted voting procedures, which give more votes to those who have contributed the most money (a measure that corresponds closely to the size of countries’ economies).  So on the one hand, a gentlemen’s agreement among the rich is not surprising.  But in a globalized world increasingly characterized by the rise of non-European powers (China, India, Brazil, and South Africa, among others) Europe’s prerogatives at the IMF appear outdated, counterproductive, and downright unfair to many

Some proponents of a European IMF chief have cited the IMF’s central role in rescuing countries such as Greece, Portugal, and Ireland during the eurozone’s current financial crisis.  In a scathing attack on Europe’s sense of entitlement, Paul Blustein quotes the Swedish finance minister as saying “We are in a very difficult European situation, and it’s quite natural that we would have a strong European influence in the IMF.”  Blustein then goes on to call this thinking unjust, unwise, and unethical:

“As the region most desperately in need of IMF loans — and IMF-guided discipline — Europe shouldn’t get to choose the person with the greatest influence over the terms. The blatancy of that conflict of interest ought to prick the conscience of even the most hard-boiled believer in realpolitik. And the handling of the eurozone crisis to date has already aroused widespread misgivings that Europe’s most powerful governments are using their sway over IMF policy to obtain deals that suit their political interests.”

Similarly, in response to the German government’s claim that the eurozone troubles require the new IMF chief to be familiar with the details of that crisis, Joshua Keating observes sarcastically: “Strangely, when the IMF was primarily giving loans to countries in Africa and Latin America, local knowledge didn’t seem to be quite as much of a factor.”

In contrast, David Bosco makes an interesting argument that it doesn’t really matter who heads the IMF given its decision-making rules, and that even if it did matter, officials appointed to positions in International Governmental Organizations are capable of acting responsibly and independently of national loyalties. 

Although a number of candidates from developing countries have been floated as potential successors to Strauss-Kahn, Europe seems to be coalescing around French finance minister Christine Lagarde. So at this point it appears unlikely that the streak of European IMF heads will be interrupted.

What do you think?  Is it fair that the Europeans have a perpetual lock on the IMF’s top post, to the exclusion of developing economies which are frequently affected most seriously by IMF conditionality, the practice of requiring strict adjustment policies (often involving tax increases and cuts to social programs) in exchange for loans?  Does this simply exacerbate the North-South gap and undermine the independence of the IMF? Or is this controversy much ado about nothing, given the limited power of the IMF head and the possibility that international civil servants just might be able to separate their national interests from the best interests of the international community?

The Future of the U.S. Global Position

A forthcoming report by Thomas Fingar, the U.S. intelligence community’s top analyst, has received little attention, but heralds some dramatic changes for the United States in the near future.  According to the Washington Post, Fingar’s report, entitled Global Trends 2025, observes that, “The U.S. will remain the preeminent power, but that American dominance will be much diminished” over the next 15-17 years, highlighting in particular the deterioration of U.S. leadership in “political, economic and arguably, cultural arenas.”  The major challenges?  Globalization, climate change, and regional destabilization brought about by shortages of food, water, and energy.  What’s more, in Fingar’s assessment, the extensive military resources of the United States will be our “least significant” asset because “nobody is going to attack us massive conventional forces.”

Fingar predicts a world in which the United States’ position is gradually eroded as other regional powers, including Europe and China, rise.  He also envisions a declining role for multilateral institutiosn like the United Nations and the World Bank.

Interestingly, the major concerns preoccupying U.S. foreign and military policy over the past eight years receive scant attention in the report.  Instead, Fingar emphasizes the impact of growing environmental crises on regional stability, particularly in the developing world.  Climate change and its associated conditions, including food shortages, drought, floods, mass migration, and political and economic upheaval—not al-Qaeda and Iran—represent the most significant policy challenges in Fingar’s assessment.

The award for best response to the report has to go to the Climate Progress blog, which says “Duh!”…but in a good way.  More generally, however, Fingar’s report does encourage us to rethink our understanding of security and foreign policy.  Is IR as a discipline too focused on military security and national foreign policy?  Do the (neo)realist and (neo)liberal approaches to IR help us to understand contemporary challenges in a meaningful way?  Or is it time for us to rethink our approaches?

Want to know more?  Read Fingar’s speech to the INSA Analytic Transformation Conference.  Unfortunately the report itself is not yet available for public consumption.