In the past weeks, Tunisia elected a new parliament and a new president. Nine years after the so-called Arab Spring, the country has achieved considerable progress in terms of democratic institutions and processes. Yet, severe challenges call for the right balance between consensus and political dispute. A fragmented political landscape and public mistrust of elites are paralleled by grim economic prospects and high unemployment rates, which will demand serious reform efforts by newly elected president Kais Saied. Furthermore, structural issues like the lack of a constitutional court and the overdue dismantling of power structures established under former dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali still linger over the country. Mariam Salehi and Ilyas Saliba shed light on the problems faced by post-election Tunisia. Read the full article in German here.
There is an old rock station back in Boston which had a special knack for playing those lesser-known B side tracks. I am reminded of one, a late 70s pop song by Warren Zevon with the quirky title: Lawyers, Guns and Money. It chronicles the exploits of an English expat who finds himself ensnared by a Russian Mafioso after a late night gambling. Half way through the second stanza he sings ‘send lawyers, guns, and money!’ Partially for its whimsy refrain and partially because I happen to like obscure 70s pop, the track strikes me as the perfect namesake for a piece on the rise of crony capitalism.
In this episode of our interview series, Lynda Iroulo talks to Prof. Siddharth Mallavarapu from the Department of International Relations and Governance Studies at Shiv Nadar University, Uttar Pradesh, India.
Listen in, as Prof. Mallavarapu shares his thoughts on the current state of International Relations, how global the discipline really is and how IR can profit from incorporating perspectives from the Global South.
[Photo: Siddharth Mallavarapu]
Find a short abridged transcription of the interview below or listen to the full one here:
Public support for the European integration project can hardly be treated as given any more. Public opinion on the EU fluctuates heavily. Critical media reporting from and about Brussels increases. And Eurosceptic campaigns and parties flourish in most EU member states.
Both the public and the academic debates concentrate primarily on the strategies of the challenging actors in this regard. Yet, politicization is an interactive process. For the evolution of the debate about Europe, the political signals of the established actors are at least equally decisive.
For these actors – especially from governing or major opposition parties – political science mainly expects reluctant communication about European integration. The political ‘mainstream’ is expected to avoid internal partisan conflict on the EU while trying not to endanger supranational compromises. Thus clear political signals on the EU should be rare. Against surging public politicisation, however, this strategy is risky: a lack of competition about political alternatives within Europe may quickly lead to more fundamental opposition against Europe (for versions of this argument see here, here, here, or here). So, how do established political actors actually communicate on European integration?
[Photo: Kaja Smith]
The ancient Greeks and Plato had this idea of the philosopher kings. In their kingdom, the people enjoyed all freedoms and were governed by wise, benevolent rulers—and by them alone. In practice, this never happened because every supposedly benevolent ruler eventually came to a point where he saw his power under threat. If he is unwilling to share power, he cannot allow demonstrations, the founding of parties, or critical opinions. He needs to curtail the freedom of his citizens.
Today, autocratic tendencies are intensifying worldwide, with China under president Xi Jinping often being seen as a vanguard. The economic success of the People’s Republic has made autocracy a real option for some states. Even in the EU, where membership criteria prescribe a stable democracy, undemocratic values are experiencing a revival in states like Poland and Hungary, as well as in the thought of right-wing populist parties.
Paradoxically, in order to sustain their power, autocrats will resort to means usually associated with liberty and democracy. Take elections as an example. Virtually every autocratic state holds elections to uphold the pretense of participation, transforming people and opposition into accomplices. Whoever doesn’t play along becomes a target. A second example is internet access. In China, for instance, almost everything is being handled online. This renders life more convenient, but the state is eavesdropping, censoring, and intervening when it gets critical. Moreover, cooperation among autocracies has tightened. They join forces and help one another cope with sanctions.
The rise of autocracy has surprised many. After the fall of the Soviet Union, political scientist Francis Fukuyama proclaimed the “end of history”. He thought that sooner or later, every state on the globe will eventually democratize and people will live freely and in peace. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a premature assumption. It gives us a headache to think about the many people who still do not possess the right to speak and act freely. Our wish is to overcome the remaining autocracies one day. And to overcome them, we need to understand them.
Note: This text was originally published in the latest issue of Leibniz magazine. Read it in German here.
At the turn of the millennium, France had the best healthcare system in the world, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), and it became a Global Health leader by contributing to setting up and funding key Global Health initiatives, such as UNITAID and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Almost two decades later, the government faces an unprecedented strike in the emergency services, while experts worried about the decrease in French expertise and influence in Global Health. France’s health leadership thus seems to be challenged both at the national and international level. This parallel is quite striking because, traditionally, the Global Health literature is blind to health development in donors’ countries. Rather it studies primarily interventions by high-income countries in the Global South. In this blog post, I want to understand how these domestic and foreign health issues can be related through an analysis of the French case.
In this new episode of our interview series, our host Jakob Angeli talks to Prof. Dr. Jonas Tallberg, professor of Political Science at Stockholm University.
Listen in, as they discuss the legitimacy of international organizations, whether we are currently witnessing a crisis in global governance as well as Tallberg’s favourite books both in and outside Political Science.
Find an abridged transcription of the interview below or listen to the full one here:
[Photo: Stockholm University]
Students at a ‘Fridays For Future’ protest march in Invalidenpark, Berlin [Mika Baumeister/unsplash]
‘Basically nothing is being done to halt—or even slow—climate and ecological breakdown, despite all the beautiful words and promises’. Greta Thunberg’s damning speech before the UK parliament last month highlights that the greatest challenge to international climate agreements is inaction by governments. The Swedish climate activist’s central message was: ‘You did not act in time’.
The norms within the Paris Agreement on climate change are challenged not just by climate change deniers and other open critics. Perhaps more dangerously, as Thunberg pointed out, they are also contested by states like the UK that pay lip-service to the agreement but fail to reach their emissions reduction targets. To capture these diverse forms of norm contestation, the special section on the ‘Dynamics of Dissent’ in the May issue of International Affairs makes a distinction between discursive and behavioural contestation.
“A first for humanity and an impressive accomplishment” – when NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine took to Twitter to express his admiration in early January, it wasn’t to laud the most recent accomplishment of his own agency. Quite the contrary: Bridenstine congratulated China, one of the United States’ emerging competitors in the domain of space exploration, for successfully landing a probe on the far side of the moon – a feat that none of the traditional space powers has ever accomplished.
Five decades after Neil Armstrong first stepped onto the lunar surface, not everyone might share Bridenstine’s excitement over an unmanned moon landing. Yet, China’s successful mission undoubtedly constitutes a break in the geopolitics of outer space. By performing an unprecedented and highly sophisticated operation, China made an announcement to the world: We’re in space, too, and we’re here to stay. And indeed: In the years ahead, China plans to cement its status as space power through further missions, including a crewed mission to the moon that is planned for as early as the 2030s.
But there’s more to China’s moon landing than simply a desire for international prestige. Interest in the moon’s resources, in particular water, rare earths, and the potential energy source helium-3, has surged in recent years, fuelling the imaginations of governments and private enterprises alike. In the view of many observers, future manned landings will only serve as the precursor for the establishment of permanent lunar bases, which in turn could be used as gateways for both mining operations and exploration missions into deep space. While likely still years away, the prospect of a permanent Chinese presence on the moon has sparked calls for the U.S. to step up its own space program – in order not to play second fiddle to China in an emerging space race.
Given its object of study, one would think that the field of International Relations would be a particularly cosmopolitan and ecumenical discipline. In many ways it is. But in some respects it resembles a collection of warring tribes. This has probably declined somewhat since the Big Debates of the 1990s—the Neo-Neo Debate, epistemology wars between neo-positivists and ‘critical’ theorists—which still provide many of the key readings for students of IR theory. But these Big Debates didn’t really end in a definitive victory for one side. They mostly gave way to a Cold Peace amongst relatively insular scholarly communities. Well they maybe did – it’s hard to know for sure.
One of the interesting phenomena about how IR scholars talk about their field and their tribe is that they often refer to it as ‘mainstream’. Often, this is done by those who feel they are outside of the mainstream. (Interestingly, there does not appear to be an accepted metaphor to refer to those who are not part of the mainstream – backwaters? Counter-currents?) But what does this mainstream consist of?