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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Mr. Trump

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By coincidence, the UN and the USA came to ‘elect’ their respective leaders, Antonio Guterres and Donald Trump, at the same time. In both cases, there was not much of an election if the term is meant to designate the selection of a political person through the means of fair competition and general elections in which the will of all the people is properly translated into votes. In the USA, many voters, especially African Americans and from minorities, were disenfranchised on more than hollow grounds before the elections with the effect of low voter turnout in poor areas, and the popular vote was, to say the least, in blatant contradiction to the electoral college vote. The problem with the popular vs. electoral college vote is not so much that there are two electoral mechanisms, for this is, actually, quite common in many democracies; the problem is that these two institutions are not linked to each other or even coordinated in any way. The electoral college vote does not reflect the demographics of present-day USA and its demographic bias reduces particularly the vote of African Americans, and there is no obligation whatsoever for Great Electors to take the popular vote into account. Additionally, the election took place in a highly loaded atmosphere with incessant threats of violence from the Trump side, and a continuous flow of fake news, propaganda and extremely aggressive trolling.  The US elections did not only reflect the deep divisions running through the country but also the fragility of institutions that rely heavily on unwritten norms of civility, respect and dialogue.

Compared to the spectacle of the US elections, Antonio Guterres’ appointment as Secretary-General of the United Nations appeared as a rather civilized yet highly staged, hypocritical and fundamentally undemocratic process. But then, the UN does not pretend to be the oldest modern democracy. It actually not even pretends to be democratic, at least not in the modern sense of the word. The Secretary-General is chosen by a mixture of backroom bargaining and ballot by the Security Council members. It effectively represents the smallest common denominator of the preferences of the five permanent members of the Council because preferences, choices and rankings of all selectors will never match up, and it is mathematically impossible that any candidate would ever get a clear majority (especially not if there are more candidates than selectors; this is called the Condorcet voting paradox and is also behind the IOC’s absurd choices of Olympic cities).

The Secretary-General is also not the leader of a world government despite conspiracy theories that claim the contrary. The Secretary General of the United Nations is the ‘chief administrative officer’ of the UN yet with large leeway for advocacy and the potential of an important diplomatic role in the world. Whether the Secretary-General really takes up this later role, for instance by independently bringing matters of world peace onto the agenda of the Security Council, depends entirely on his stature. Secretary-Generals like Dag Hammarskjöld, Xavier Perez de Cuellar, Boutros Boutros-Ghali or Kofi Annan interpreted their role largely and widely and engaged in numerous initiatives to bolster the role of the UN as peacemaker in the world; others like U Thant, Kurt Waldheim or Ban Ki-Moon made the UN almost entirely disappear from the world political scene.

It remains to be seen in whose footsteps Guterres will step, Moon’s or Annan’s.

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Trump’s USA and the United Nations

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Reacting to the UN’s recent resolution condemning Israel for its continued occupation and settlements in the West Bank, Mr. Trump immediately tweeted his rather reduced view of the United Nations, calling it a ‘club where people talk’. If that were not enough to show once again his utter ignorance of the world he lives in, T apparently also thought that the idea to ‘leave’ the UN was not an entirely bad one. Nobody seems to have told him that there is one major problem with this idea: The USA cannot leave the UN. Nope. They can’t. No, not after January 20th. No, not even with a referendum. No, not even if California secedes and the US descend into civil war. No. Simply: no.

Imagine UN membership like citizenship of a country. You can rail against the state, you can jump up and down, you can crash your explosive loaded truck into a government building like Tim McVeigh did and be hanged for it, but you will remain a US citizen. Well, the UN is the same: the US can jump up and down, they can rail against the UN, they can smash their most vicious right-winger against its edifices… the USA will remain member of the UN.  Their seat in the UN would remain empty, if they chose not to attend meetings, yes, but nobody would screw the chair from the General Assembly or Security Council floor. Every sovereign state of this world is automatically member of the United Nations. And the United Nations, someone should tell T, was actually founded by the USA. With an international treaty. Signed, ratified, done…a long, long time ago.

Of course, the USA can decide  to stay away. No representative, no attendance at General Assembly or Security Council sessions. But even T might understand that that’s not really a smart thing to do. The Soviet Union tried that in 1949. They thought ‘Hey, that’s just a club where capitalists talk, let’s not bother going there’ and then the General Assembly voted a resolution authorizing military action in Korea in its absence. The Soviet Union paid a high political and economic price for the Korea War. And guess what? The Soviet Union never again missed one single day of General Assembly or Security Council meetings.

The USA can also stop paying for its membership and maybe, if it is too outrageous in its snobbery, get its voting rights suspended — although to be fair that never happened even when Republican dominated Congress voted for years and years not to pay their dues to the UN. But then the US will still be member of the UN. Because the UN is exactly not some club where non-paying members get expelled. And of course, the outstanding membership fees remain on tab until a more reasonable Congress votes to pay them, or part of them at least.

So, no, sorry T, the USA cannot leave the UN. And that might be a greater pity for the world than for the USA.

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Why it is important to decolonize and feminize reading lists

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This post was written before the passing of Thomas Schelling on 12 December 2016. It is not an obituary.

When I was an undergraduate student I took a political economy class in which we read exclusively white, male, mostly US American scholars. One of them was Thomas Schelling. Remembering my two childhood years in a mixed Philadelphia suburb I was particularly intrigued by his model of neighbourhood segregation. According to Schelling, not one group in a society wants to be a minority and hence, once a neighbourhood becomes predominantly ‘red’ or ‘green’ the minority neighbours will move away…to a neighbourhood where their group is strong and likely to become a majority, hence, pushing out the other group that is becoming a minority. Obviously enough, this model is easy to criticize from within its own thinking, most particularly with respect to the presumption that clearly delineated groups exist, that people think in racial/ethnic patterns and that what is supposed to be an autonomous ‘rational’ choice is, in fact, an intersubjective and socially constructed reaction to social dynamics…

Yet, Schelling also missed (or ‘forgot’) that a pretty hard materialist political economy that makes racial segregation possible in the first place, especially in the USA, as Keeanga-Yamattha Taylor’s research shows. Before the 1960s, ethnic minorities in the US, and in particular African Americans, were barred in various ways of buying houses, either because they were simply denied the right to move out of their designated neighbourhoods (Chinatown!), or  because they had no access to mortgages. In many places, public authorities in the 1960s set up public-private partnerships to offer finance for low-income house buyers, most notably from ethnic minorities — Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for example, two key actors of the 2008 financial crisis were such organizations, were transformed from entirely federal public institutions into public-private enterprises which needed to produce profit. This had at least two effects on the housing market: first, these mortgage companies had a huge influence on where lenders could buy, hence, playing on the market value of neighbourhoods; second, many of these organizations became deeply marred in corruption and speculation, hence, creating repeated mini-crises which led to default and dispossession, again dragging down the housing market in those neighbourhoods where these occurred (think The Wire).

Schelling’s assumption that moving in and out of a neighbourhood based on ethnic preferences (birds of a feather flock together) is an example of rational choice is, in the light of the political economy of the segregated market for mortgage lending and house buying, not tenable. Of course, one can argue that the individual decision of a white houseowner to sell their houses in those neighbourhoods where filthy financed new homeowners move in might be rational in the indivdualistic and utilitarian sense of rational choice theory. However, that the market is segregated, i.e. the structural precondition of this kind of market, and that, a priori, black home ownership (or Asian or Italian or…) devalues a neighbourhood is the result of the political institutions of excluding ethnic minorities and its associated political economy of finance.

That someone like Schelling would have not taken racial segregation into account can only be explained by either ignorance or arrogance. He either didn’t know about the political economy of segregation, or he decided that it was simply not relevant to his thinking. In either case, Schelling could develop his argument about rational choice house buying only because he moved intellectually (and personally) in a white, male bubble (we can make the same argument about the political economy of housebuying for female home owners, by the way, as women’s right to own property in their own name is relatively recent, yet earlier than for ethnic minorities in the US). We can only imagine that he would have thought differently if he had been exposed to colourful reading lists which take racial and gendered political economies into account.

 

 

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Decolonizing and feminizing reading lists

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In summer 2009 Stephen Walt published in Foreign Policy Magazine a reading list “My ‘top ten’ books every student of international relations should read” which only contained books of white American men. As shocking his narrowness of mind is he arrogantly asks at the end of his list is he has missed anything. Well, he has! He has missed contintental, women’s, feminist (not the same thing, mind you), queer, post-colonial, de-colonial, critical, Critical, IPE, sociological and post-structuralist books of international relations, and that’s HUGE! Basically Walt has ignored every single scholar who is not white, male and American, and everyone who cannot agree with US foreign policy as practiced by the Kissingers and Bushs. That’s pretty much the rest of the world.

If we want our students to be critical, empathic and interested in the rest of the world we need to propose other reading lists. On this blog I propose a couple of books I would put on my ‘top ten’ books every student of international relations should read. More importantly I will publish suggestions of colleagues so that we can collectively put together a reading list that reflects the multiplicity and colourfulness of the world we live in.

So this will be hopefully the first of a series of posts. To start, my top twelve books every students of international relations should read would look like this:

Dezalay, Y. and B. G. Garth (2011) Lawyers and the rule of law in an era of globalization, Abingdon, Oxon ; New York, Routledge.

Enloe, C. H. (2014) Bananas, beaches and bases : making feminist sense of international politics, Berkeley, CA, University of California Press.

Grovogui, S. N. Z. (1996) Sovereigns, quasi sovereigns, and Africans : race and self-determination in international law, Minneapolis, Mn, University of Minnesota Press.

Gruffydd Jones, B. (2006) Decolonizing international relations, Lanham, Md. ; Plymouth, Rowman & Littlefield.

Jahn, B. (2013) Liberal internationalism : theory, history, practice, Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire, Palgrave Macmillan.

Li, T. (2007) The will to improve : governmentality, development, and the practice of politics, Durham, Duke University Press.

Mazower, M. (2009) No enchanted palace: the end of empire and the ideological origins of the United Nations, Princeton university press.

Mudimbe, V. Y. (1988) The invention of Africa : gnosis, philosophy, and the order of knowledge, Bloomington, Indiana University Press.

Sassen, S. (2006) Territory, Authority, Rights. From Medieval to Global Assemblages, Princeton, Princeton U.P.

Teschke, B. (2002) The Myth of 1648. Class, Geopolitics and the Making of Modern International Relations, London/ New York, Verso.

Vitalis, R. (2015) White world order, black power politics : the birth of American international relations, Ithaca, Cornell University Press.

Weber, C. (2014) International relations theory : a critical introduction, London ; New York, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. (actually I haven’t finished reading Queer International Relations, yet but I guess when I will have I’ll replace the International relations theory book with the Queer one).

 

I have chosen twelve because I didn’t quite know which two to throw out of this list…and I still have missed masses. All suggestions welcome this list is meant to grow!

And first wonderful suggestion:

Sjoberg, L. and C. E. Gentry (2007) Mothers, monsters, whores : women’s violence in global politics, London ; New York; New York, Zed Books; Palgrave Macmillan.

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That fabulous politician recycling machine that is the United Nations (example #1): Philippe Douste-Blazy

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In 2001, a local social movement in Toulouse called ‘Les Motivé-e-s’ won four seats in the French municipal council elections. Their campaign song ‘Allez Ouste! (Douste-Blazy)’ became a national hit and made the movement known across France. The target of the song and campaign was Toulouse’s mayor Philippe Douste-Blazy who was accused of managing the pink city’s fortunes in all too obscure fashion. Douste-Blazy managed to stay in power in these elections but he gave up his position as mayor three years later when he became, first, Minister of health and family under Jean-Pierre Raffarin, then Foreign Minister under Dominque de Villepin and Jacques Chirac. Like others who were close to Jacques Chirac he has disappeared from France’s political scene after Chirac’s fiercest rival Nicolas Sarkozy was elected French president in 2007. He didn’t fall hard, though. Since 2008 he is Special Adviser on Innovative Financing for Development at the United Nations, at the rank of an Under-Secretary-General, and Chairman of UNITAID. The innovative financing in question is a levy on airline tickets to finance HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis drugs in developing countries. UNITAID sees itself as facilitator. It does not have own projects but supports programs of other organizations. The creation of the organization goes back to an initiative of Jacques Chirac — does someone else hear the bells ringing?

In 2011, Jacques Chirac has been, by the way, sentenced to two years of prison (on parole) for the creation of feigned employments at the City Hall of Paris when he was mayor of Paris from 1977 until 1995. The scandal of ’emplois fictifs de la mairie de Paris’ is only one of several financial scandals involving Chirac and his closest aides; the obscure financing of his party and electoral campaigns, on national, regional and municipal level, have also been since long in the eye of the prosecutors of the French republic. There is no doubt that Chirac and his ‘clan’ (as his close party mates were often called) have solid experience in ‘innovative financing’… honi soit qui mal y pense…

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Women at the UN: what is at stake?

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Since Helen Clark is in the race for the next Secretary-General of the United Nations, everyone talks about gender equality at the UN (and international organizations more generally). The UN is certainly one of the places in the world where the discrepancy between the discourse of equality and its reality of gender and race based marginalization is absurd. Indeed, it needs a white woman from a high-income OECD country to make a female UN Secretary General imaginable. In 2016, the UN is still far, far away from what has become possible at the British National Student Union, namely the election of dark skinned woman of ‘Muslim’ origin (inverted commas as the category ‘Muslim’ is a really silly rubbish bin category to squeez all those people in who have not been to Brownies). Helen Clark’s female competitors (Irina Bokova from Bulgaria, Susana Malcorra from Argentina, Maria Angela Holguin from Colomba) have received much less attention from Western media even though their track record as workers for humanity is at least as good as Clark’s if not better; one wonders why…

Apart from the fact that she is from a rich country, one reason Helen Clark is so spoilt by many Western media is that she is considered to be able to promote women’s issues and equality at the UN. She herself plays the women card very loudly in her campaign by claiming that women are a force of peace or that by giving TED talks about women and leadership. She emphasises how much she has done herself to promote women in government while she was New Zealand’s prime minister and chair of the World Council of Women Leaders.

But being a woman and woman senior leader does not automatically lead to greater gender equality in an organization. The UN is a particularly stubborn place when it comes to the promotion of women. This article on the opendemocracy website has some really uncomfortable charts to show this. As the article says: “At the current rate of increase [of women in senior positions] during the current Secretary General’s tenure—from 20 percent in 2007 to 22 percent in 2015—it would take another 112 years to reach 50/50 gender parity in the UN’s senior leadership.”

In peace missions, however, the share of women has noticeably risen. In 2006, not one single mission was led by a woman. Today, the UN misisons in Haiti (Sandra Honoré), Lebanon (Sigrid Kaag), Côte d’Ivoire (Aïchatou Mindaoudou), South Sudan (Margaret Løj) and Burundi (Karen Lindgren) are headed by women. Before this there had been only one mission that had been led by a woman, the first UN peace mission in Angola under Margaret Joan Anstee (a vivid account can be found in her memoirs and Marrack Goulding’s).

Most of these women are in sort of mid-career stages and it is probable that their current position as special representative will lead to further advancement. Even though overall the share of women has not increased in UN senior management in recent years, there is a little hope that in peacebuilding, at least, women’s presence might well be just taking off. Having a female secretary general, whether Helen Clark or someone else, does intuitively make believe that the careers of these female Heads of Missions would not be stalled in the same way Anstee’s career came to an end after the Angola experience and Boutros-Ghali’s installation as Secretary General.

However, the problem is that we don’t know. Having a woman at the top of the UN might as well have no effect whatsoever on the gender gap in international organizations. To start with, the UN is not doing particularly worse than any other socio-professional or political sector; it is actually doing better than many countries, including advanced industrial countries. Worldwide women hold only 12% of seats on executive boards of major business corporations (same page). Men still earn about twice as much income as women. According to the World Bank, worldwide parliamentary representation of women has increased to 23%, however it is a bit puzzling to see particularly high representation of women in parliaments that are utterly dysfunctional (e.g. Cuba or Iran). One explanation is that some countries generously count in these statistics female representatives in parliamentary chambers that have not direct legislative powers (e.g. Bolivia which has about 50% women in its lower chamber but none in its higher parliamentary chamber). Having a female head of state or government has not had any direct impact on women’s representation in parliament as the case of Germany for instance shows. According to the UN women programme, 11 women served as Head of State and 10 served as Head of Government as of August 2015 and only 17% of ministers worldwide were women.

Compared to this, the UN is actually doing ok with its 22% of women in senior leadership positions. But this also means that there will be a hell of resistance to take active measures to further increase women’s representation at the UN. For many male-dominated organizations, one woman in a room represents already parity. The best means to increase women’s representation has been up to now the introduction of quota. However, in an organization like the UN that is already riddled and divided up by numerous formal and informal quota it is unlikely that such a proposition would get anywhere even if it were seriously on the table. There are, of course, numerous other ways of supporting promotion of women in organizations like flexible working times, child care support (which in the case of the UN should include family friendly expatriate arrangements) and active support for promotion for instance through mentoring and gender sensitive promotion structures.

It’s in this last respect that much is expected from a female UN Secretary General. However, simply having a woman at the top cannot by itself lead to better support for female colleagues; on the contrary, single women leaders have shown a tendency to frustrate junior female careers rather than to support them. This has become known as ‘queen bee’ phenomenon and a well-known plot of Hollywood films. In mild forms the queen bee effect can be seen in female leaders’ refusal to support any kind of active policies to reduce gender gaps (‘we do the same work as men’), whereas more aggressive forms can take the form of active obstruction, for instance by precisely asking more effort and better results from women colleagues. The reasons for queen bee’s existence have been explained in various forms but some research argues that it is, actually, a result of gender inequality, and not a cause.

Researchers point to two factors that determine the severity of the queen bee phenomenon: the ‘maleness’ of the organizational culture and the socio-cultural socialization of the female leaders. Simply said the more sexist an organization is the more it is likely that a woman has complied with and assimilated gender stereotypes. She will apply these sexist standards to female junior staff in order to get her own achievements acknowledged. From other contexts, we know that an organization is the more sexist and gender discriminating the more it is dominated by men only. There is, hence, a vicious circle between male dominated organizational cultures and queen bee syndrome. Unnecessary to emphasize that sexist organizational cultures are more likely to exist in settings in which gender equality is less developed and where women generally participate less in the workforce.

Consequently, one of the surest ways of breaking through the vicious circle of queen bees and male organizational culture is female leaders’ awareness of this and other stereotyping phenomena. If female senior leaders lend active support to end gender discrimination, the effect on the organization is overall positive (not only for women!). Women who come from gender egalitarian backgrounds show less incidence of the queen bee syndrome than women who were socialized in gender discriminating cultures (whether national cultures or sector-specific cultures).

Hence, when looking for a UN Secretary General who will promote female careers, the actual fact of being a woman does not by itself promise change. Rather it is necessary that this woman is committed to promote junior women and that she actively engages in combatting discriminatory culture, policies and practices. This is easier in an environment in which women are already well represented and on the rise (as it is the case of the UN in the past decade). That means, however, that women like Irina Bokova from Bulgaria where the employment rate of women is high and the income gap comparable to New Zealand (13.5% in Bulgaria, 11.8% in New Zealand), and who has two children of her own (unlikely Helen Clarke who is childless) might even be a better choice to promote women in the UN. But then, Helen Clarke is not the candidate supported by Russia…

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The lazy bugger myth

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The Guardian just published a list of 11 tips how to make a career in the UN, most of them giving advice on how not to work. Of course, the list is a satiric take on the myth of the UN’s lazy buggers who only pretend to save the world when they are actually playing minecraft or hanging out at the pool, or even worse, abusing the power they have. There are many such lists and articles (here and here); ineffectiveness or stupidity is also commonly laughed at on the very popular blog ‘Stuff expat aidworkers like’ (which has seriously lost speed in the past years); and there have been a number of books written on the UN’s ineptitude (see for instance the highly tainted and disputed memoirs of Pedro Sanjuan).

But the laziness of UN staff thus decried is a myth. UN workers do work their bottom off. Especially in field missions Un staff usually does not have 9 to 5 working hours or a four-day working week. On the contrary, stress is a major problem of UN work. In my 2012 survey of civilian staff in peacebuilding missions which I did for my book project, a third of the respondents said that they felt extremely or very often stressed. More than 40% of the respondents found it very difficult to balance family and work life.

2012 survey of civilian staff in UN peace missions

2012 survey of civilian staff in UN peace missions

So, the problem is not that UN staff doesn’t work. If it is not the real laziness of UN staff that is at stake, then the myth has another foundation. The problem is that their work is not very visible to the outside world. As this graph shows from the same survey, most staff is in regular contact with other UN agencies or international organizations during their working day, however they deal little with, however defined local agencies. They also draw their information and ideas less from locals than from international sources. Even though many read local newspapers or say that they are in regular contact with people living in the country and that they know many since a long time, they still privilege international newspapers and expert advice as information sources.

UN work (and probably also of any other international agency) is highly self-referential. Hence, it might appear irrelevant and remaining aloof of the reality of the goals to be achieved. The world seems to go on very well without the UN. The 2015 Millenium Development Goals for instance were successfully met largely because of China’s formidable economic growth that took place entirely independently from any UN work (and with economic policies which, according to some, defied the development politics’ wisdom).

Yet, this is only part of the story. As it is true for all administrations and bureaucracies the UN is most successful if not seen or heard. Ideally, the UN (and its affiliated organizations) is in the background and provides the conditions of possibilities for other– NGOs, national or local governments, local organizations etc. – to act. The critique that the UN is bunch of lazy buggers, hence, also expresses extreme unease with the organization’s elusiveness. The UN appears unaccountable, byzantine and far removed from the people it is supposed to serve. The contradiction is particularly disturbing where the UN is engaged in ‘empowerment’ or ‘democracy’ projects; whoever is the beneficiary of UN aid is her/himself utterly powerless and excluded from any major decision-making (despite the rhetoric of ‘consultation’) – an impression which is reinforced by the self-referential nature of UN work where the views of headquarter officials are more important than the views of the people on the ground.

 

 

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What if the template for the Greek crisis would be Yugoslavia?

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There are many historical parallels being conjured since the Greek referendum was announced and looking for ‘historical’ lessons is as usual a favourite pastime of media comments. But one historical case has as far as I can see not been mentioned at all: the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) in the 1980s. Clearly, the narrative that the wars in former Yugoslavia were all about ethnic-nationalist hatred still overshadows any political economy analysis. Yet, a closer look at Yugoslavia in its last hours reveals many disquieting parallels to the mess Europe and Greece are in today as the bloody wars of the 1990s were, in fact, triggered by the debt crisis of the FRY in the 1980s.

Like Greece the FRY had been piling up international debt that had been given mainly for geostrategic and ideological reasons and although the political and economic system had become highly dysfunctional, leaving the federal and some (not all!) republican institutions without far lower revenues than their expenses required (for all sorts of reasons that I cannot discuss here but which are well discussed in the very fine edited volume of Nabojsa Popov, or in the analyses of Susan Woodward here and here).

Like for Greece today, creditors at the time (the IMF, the US and the European Communities) became highly intransigent and nasty, requesting neoliberal restructuring and building up more and more pressure to oust the ‘socialist’ governments. And just like in Europe now, all sides fell back into nationalist-aggressive macho rhetoric’s to defend their position. The questions who or what had caused the Yugoslav debt, which republic had to repay just how much and who had to bear the brunt of the burden of restructuring were the key problems to be solved in the Federalist institutions of Yugoslavia; the response, however, was the rise of nationalist populists like Milosevic and Tudjman who, instead of proposing political programmes by which to rebuild one functioning welfare market economy in Yugoslavia, jumped around like a bunch of Kangaroo males sticking their tiny fists into each other faces.

The Yugoslav population was left out of the picture despite all sides claiming to represent ‘the people’. As David Dyker showed, concrete information on the debt burden and on the restructuring plans rarely reached the wider public; and if information did go out, it was clad in such a bureaucratic and technical language that it was perceived as insulting simply by the fact that it was incomprehensible. In last Sunday’s referendum, too, the technical aspects of the question were entirely irrelevant to the debate over the referendum, which became the stage of a highly ideologized confrontation between anti- and pro-neoliberal policies as well as anti- and pro-Europeans. The two cleavages are not congruent and also do not match up well with more classical socialist-conservative divides – again, like in former Yugoslavia where the divisions within the FRY did not follow simple patterns of liberal reformists vs. communists, federalists vs. nationalists or between those who argued for debt relief vs. those who aggressively used the debt question for their nationalist-populist agendas. In the end, the nationalist rethoric crushed all other voices, at gunpoint when needed, so that the multiplicity of voices and interests that these multiple cleavages reflected did not transform into a pluralist democratic debate but into nasty chauvinist warfare.

In the case of Yugoslavia the populists won over the real political debate on the rebuilding of Yugoslavia’s economy and political institutions. They then did exactly what macho nationalists have always done, they made war. In the Manichean logic of populist Kangaroo fighting there is no other way to keep in power. The nationalist boxing suited well the ‘international community’ whose harsh debt repayment conditions had thrown the FRY’s leadership into those ring fights in the first place. The initial question on the table, namely how to reform a failing economy in order to save guard high levels of social justice, i.e. the quarrel between welfare market economies and neoliberal policies, was brushed away by the ethnic-nationalistic bickering over whose great-grandfather had killed whose great-grandfather two or more generations ago or whether strong, concentrated black coffee is to be called ‘Croatian’, ‘Bosnian’ or ‘Serb’ coffee. No need to rethink neoliberalism, it was all ancient ethnic hatred.

Unless last Sunday’s ‘No’ is taken as invitation to think collectively about a common solution to Greece’s debt – and debt relief certainly seems as the solution which makes political and economic sense – and unless all sides drive back the nationalist populist rhetoric of the past weeks the risk is that the parallel with former Yugoslavia becomes ever more real. Varoufakis’ resignation and the toning down of aggressive breast banging it will bring, is a clear Greek step in the latter sense. Now it’s the EU’s turn…

 

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Globalization buzzwords

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Scopus has this really nice analysis tool with which one can quickly get an idea how fancy some buzzwords really are. Out of curiosity I looked up ‘cosmopolitanism’ and its generic ‘cosmopolit*’ as well as ‘civil society’, ‘global civil society’ and ‘global governance’. Interestingly, global governance and civil society as well as cosmopolitanism seem to follow each other. Their high time seems to be over as their use has been falling since 2012. Maybe the sobering experience of the 2008 crash and crisis, after the popping globalization champagne of the 2000’s?

buzzwords

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Why the South is not in the East, some reflections on postcolonial studies at the recent International Studies Association annual convention in New Orleans

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With this post I want to start reflecting on other topics than peace and conflict research strictly speaking. To the extent that my research has turned away from conflict research and (hopefully) will turn away from peace research for some time after I have finished this */&%$”***book I’ll use the blog as notepad for other reflections on IR and global studies. 

 

The International Studies Association’s annual convention, which just came to close last Saturday in New Orleans, is probably the largest academic international relations conference, in terms of people but also in terms of topics and approaches. Thanks to the great work of the programme chairs Pinar Bilgin and L.H.M. Ling this year’s conference was an extra-ordinary showcase for alternative approaches, notably postcolonial, queer or gender studies and other critical and alternative ways of thinking about world politics. Many of this was new to me and it was really exciting to be able to explore so many different ways of thinking about world politics and global society. And yet, a lot of puzzling impressions, too…. And one of them was the question why the farthest east postcolonial studies get is India. The sinosphere (Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Korea, Mongolia) are apparently not part of the postcolonial world; only one paper out of more than 260, which deal with China referred explicitly to postcolonial thought. Singapore or Malaysia are also absent from postcolonial studies maps. And Japan, anyway, is entirely absent from the agenda as if it would have always been the high-tech, American vassal state that is only interesting for liberal IPE or Asian realist conflict analysis and not one major example of orientalist thought and colonial warfare (on the receiving and sending side). Indonesia and Thailand might be more often subject of postcolonial analysis but at this conference such were equally conspicuously absent. Why?

It is strange that postcolonial IR should neglect an entire region of the world, which was just as much object of brutal, exploitative and estranging colonial practices, although in highly variable forms and in which a huge number of inequalities, racisms and structural exploitations continue to be reproduced. Why is it that this region should be excluded from the questions that postcolonial studies have so successfully formulated for India, Middle Eastern and African countries and societies. This is particularly striking as literature studies, area studies or historians like A. Dirlik have extensively used Orientalist analyses to expose 19th and 20th century writings about East Asia. One just has to think of the ways Ruth Benedict’s ‘The Chrysanthemum and The Sword’ or the film (and book) ‘The Geisha’ have been torn apart by postcolonial scholarship (and media). The big absence of postcolonial analyses of East Asia at ISA is something particular to international relations and global studies, not to social sciences and humanities in general.

I don’t think this is a coincidence but intimately linked to the fact that East Asia simply does not fit very well the economic narratives that underfeed postcolonial studies. The economic success of East Asian countries, particularly of Japan but also of Korea, Singapore and China (and to a lesser extent of Malaysia), rattles too uncomfortably on the socio-economic ontology of postcolonial studies. An essential argument of postcolonial studies is that orientalism is the cultural manifestation of the South’s material exploitation and oppression. Sometimes this is explicitly linked to (neo)Marxist readings of imperialism or colonialism but more often than not the assumption remains implicit that the world is marked by a fundamental bipolarity of the capitalist modernity of the West and the exploited, colonized ‘otherness’ of the South. In fact, the economic narrative looms large behind post-colonial ventures into IR but it is rarely explicitly discussed. The economic success of East Asian countries and their strong developmental states are therefore hard to explain from a postcolonial point of view and attract only attention as examples of model students of the West or for what remains in poverty and exploitation (a lot). The economic history of East Asia is at once a refutation of the provincialism assumption, apparently confirming rather classical (neo)Marxist assumptions of globalization (see Robinson or Harvey), and of the resistance assumption, i.e. that integration into world processes will go through upheavals of resistance. These difficulties of inscribing East Asia past forty years into a postcolonial frame are additionally compounded by the historical complexity with which the East Asian ‘subaltern’ has created and continues to create ‘subalterity’ in Asia and around the world.

Yet, the narrative that East Asia has become simply another manifestation of the ‘West’ appears too simplistic to me and somehow profoundly contradictory to cultural studies’ interests in the orientalisation of East Asian societies and cultures. It would be an interesting exercise of reflectivist scholarship if the lack of postcolonial studies of East Asia’s politics and economics were to be explained in a postcolonial framework.

 

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