Promoting World Affairs

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German elections – 2009

In Elections, Europe, Germany on August 31, 2009 at 1:59 am

For those of you who missed it, elections are well underway in Germany.

Alex Harrowell over at Fistful of Euros, has a good description of what the heck is going on, as well as a good overview of how the election process works in the country, in terms of coalition building.

I will just shed a little light on a few interesting tidbits.

In the eastern realm of the country, there always exists a pretty good turnout for die Linke (“The Left” – the old communist party of yore) and the NPD (the NSDAP, or so one could argue, in its current form). These elections hold true so far. Die Linke is showing a strong performance in both Sachsen and Thüringen, and also, which is always an interesting case study, in Saarland, giving the SPD a run for their money. The NPD are making an appearance in the election results in Thüringen and Sachsen, which shows that they are garnering enough votes to be counted in the results. This will without a doubt be comparable to the other Bundesländer in the east.

The financial crisis has hit Germany very hard because its economy is mainly focused and driven on exports. Therefore, the rather poor performance of the SPD mirrors the troubles that they are having in terms of identity. The CDU has been leaning left, and it seems the German population views them to be doing it a lot better than the traditional workers’ party.

Local European elections always sort of mirror the main issue on the continent today, or rather two issues at present. The first is immigration and the second is of course the financial crisis. There have been talks of a fortress Europe systematically emerging, which is a debate in its own right, but the fact is that Europe is having a lot of difficulty with integrating its large immigration population. Being a social-welfare state, government institutions are just not built to allow easy movement of peoples between various classes, and social mobility for immigrants is rather low, compared to the United States whose institutions are founded upon it, though they are obviously not perfect.

There have been comments that globalization is the United States, and globalization is Americanization, to use it in the negative sense. Immigration policy is a major reason why the U.S. has benefited quite a lot. It still attracts the brightest students from abroad, and still dominates the globe in terms of advanced education, (though the U.S.’ secondary education is in a dire state) which is a major drive for entrepreneurship that increases its ability for innovation. Though after 9/11 there have been major setbacks in this endeavor, and any non-U.S. citizen wanting to work or reside in the country for longer than three months will be able to attest to the rigorous (and outright embarrassing) application process, nevertheless Europe has a tougher job. It has to reform itself entirely from a country that is based on homogeneous principles, to accepting those who become naturalized citizens, who have newly acquired a European passport, to also be German, British or Italian.

Read Harrowell’s article. But in essence, the SPD and CDU (Angela Merkel’s party)  are going to lose a few seats, but the latter will still be the dominant party. The biggest winner will be the FDP, Germany’s “catch-all” party, which really shows confusion and a bit indifference regarding the state of affairs in the country. Without the SPD being able to fully capitalize on the financial crisis, which truthfully makes it difficult to point the finger at the other party that they happen to be in a grand coalition with, the status quo will be more or less upheld. What is important is how many votes the FDP will acquire, and what sort of direction they will take when the time comes to build a coalition.

Die Zeit is keeping a tally on the scores for the Bundesländer, in which voting is underway. You don’t need to have a knowledge of German to understand the graph and the results.

A multilateral nightmare

In Afghanistan, European Union, Foreign Policy, NATO, Russia, The United States on August 28, 2009 at 11:10 am

Reading Zbigniew Brzezinski’s new essay from the September/October publication of Foreign Affairs on the future of NATO, inspired me to write my own thoughts regarding this multilateral security organization.

Brzezinski essentially outlines, more or less, the same arguments regarding NATO’s role and future in the post-Cold War era as Henry Kissinger did in his extremely foretelling book, Does America Need a Foreign Policy? They both outline the extreme importance of the Trans-Atlantic relationship, and how global power is slowly shifting away from the Atlantic to the Pacific, which makes NATO extremely important as a security organization. Additionally Kissinger asserts that the great danger lies not in the emergence of a new European identity in the form of the European Union, but rather the cause of this identity acting as a counterweight to American cultural influence. In Uncouth Nation, Andrei Markowitz outlines this same problem, and views an emergence of anti-Americanism to be so prevalent in Europe that a new European identity is emerging to counteract the weight of the United States. He is even as provocative as stating that George W. Bush should take his place among Jean Monnet, Robert Schumann, and Jacques Delors, as nothing before the U.S. led invasion of Iraq has ever produced a unified European identity in direct opposition to the United States. For me, the fate and purpose NATO is based upon four fundamental questions.

1. Need for purpose

First, the question must be asked regarding what NATO is supposed to be in this post-Cold War period. During the Cold War NATO had a distinct purpose; to create an alliance in Europe that would dissuade any military action by the Soviet Union and to stop a third World War coming into being. However, no longer do we live in a balance of power mentality, where wars are fought for the geopolitical advantage of territory, rather conflicts are more complex and predominately internal. Some, such as Mary Kaldor, have termed these New Wars, while others have termed them simply asymmetrical conflicts, pointing towards the way they are fought. Regardless, these wars are not a question of State vs. State, but involve non-State actors, such as warlords, that have emerged and do not respect international institutions, the rule of law, or even international law such as the Geneva Conventions. This has created a complexity that NATO must deal with, but so far has not. Additionally Kissinger views this more as a problem of a mission statement, as well as the multilateral character that NATO has acquired, paving way for the need of a consensus and not leaving room for those States with true hegemonic power, such as the United States, to take a substantial lead.

2. Improvement of the EU/NATO relationship

This leads to the second question: How can NATO play nicely with the EU? Though official rhetoric has been that the EU does not intend to replace NATO nor see the organization’s importance decrease, the way the EU decision making process works as well as NATO’s role in the region, has proved otherwise. It has always been argued that the need for the EU to have a common foreign and security policy is essential, the path toward this goal however is hotly debated and left unanswered. The EU has established European Battlegroups that are meant for rapid deployment and deal mainly with peacekeeping and “humanitarian missions.” Unfortunately with the European countries not having homogeneous weapons systems, the contributions by different countries in terms of forces and weapons have proven to be a logistical nightmare (this has however been identified, and plans to make homogeneous types of weapons as well as the means to transport them are in development). Additionally, the confusing nature of the EU in terms of who has what jurisdiction over which pillar, makes NATO’s ability to combat terrorism, or root out the sources that are funding the Taliban in Afghanistan, that more difficult. Information regarding the movement of peoples, bribery, organized crime, weapon smuggling, fraud, etc, are no longer under the jurisdiction of NATO member countries, but under Brussels. This creates a scenario that slows down the decision making process when a NATO action may be needed. Instead of creating a homogeneous, information sharing network that is used toward the completion of a goal, infighting and sore spots emerge under allegations that a territory has been inappropriately crossed and toes have been stepped on. NATO is no longer able to respond together as one unit, but must now go through unnecessary bureaucratic red tape that make its actions ineffective and has proven to divide the alliance rather than strengthen it.

3. NATO’s role in Afghanistan

This leads to the third question of whether or not NATO’s role in Afghanistan is politically sustainable in European countries. Thus far, the ability to properly frame the war in Afghanistan by Europe’s politicians as a serious potential threat to Europe has failed. Many argue that Europe is at a dangerous period of insecurity as it fails to properly integrate its large immigration population. Many point to the fact that many of the terrorists responsible for hijacking the planes on 9/11 were schooled and resided in Europe. Others show the growing resentment of Muslim populations in France and the U.K., as a result of large disparities of income and restrictions to education that disallow social mobility that further endanger Europe’s national security. Regardless of the argument, Afghanistan is as much geopolitically important to Europe, if not more so, as it is to the United States. Thus far, the failure to convey this essential fact to the European public has been dismal. In Germany, where even a limited mandate in Afghanistan exists, the upcoming elections and German passivity to anything regarding the notion of war, are making people nervous and questioning whether or not the number one economic power in Europe will have a future presence in the country. Furthermore, the increasing casualties of British soldiers are making many in the United Kingdom vocally question Britain’s engagement in Afghanistan (a situation that is presently occurring in the United States as well), and could danger the future of the NATO alliance if the U.K. decides to withdrawal. Looking at the wording of news web-sites, such as the BBC, there exists a failure to control the flow of information while offering counterpoints and explaining that such sacrifices are needed. I even remember a lecture I attended at the Chatham House in London concerning just this topic, and it was surprising to me how many were in favor of Britain withdrawing.

4. The Russian question

Finally, the question of how NATO should negotiate and act toward Russia should finally be agreed upon. There is a split among European countries regarding this matter. Many, such as the former Eastern European countries, are just as concerned with an emerging, hostile Russia and its current stranglehold on Europe’s energy security as the United States. Others, such as Germany, view Russia to be a key component in its energy security, and sometimes view it politically acceptable to move closer to Russia and act as a counterweight to U.S. influence.

The future is unclear

NATO is in danger of collapsing. Will it collapse with Afghanistan? It is very unsure. What is certain however is that NATO must define its strategic goals more clearly, and the United States must delicately balance its stance toward an emerging European identity without splitting Europe further and pushing some states more to the East. Above all, it is finally time for Europe to take more of an active role in its own external security, which cannot be achieved without a secure, confident Europe that can act as one unit. There does exist presently a tragedy of the commons, especially regarding Afghanistan, where some countries are not sacrificing as much as others. This, unfortunately, is the cause of any form of collective good. It must be combated and NATO member states must be persuaded to engage conflict areas just like everyone else, if and when NATO decides to act. This is the main task of the United States. The U.S. must lead the call that if a country is a member of NATO it must put in as much effort as everyone else based on its military capabilities. One country cannot make the sacrifice of its citizens, while others are allowed to sit up north and enjoy the Afghan countryside drinking a cold beer. Europe must act as one, and it is up to the United States to allow Europe to make important vital decisions, and make more of an impact in the region. The United States must use its soft power through culture, economics and diplomacy, per Joseph Nye, to strengthen the Trans-Atlantic relationship, while developing a clear, concise foreign policy, per Henry Kissinger, that leaves room for no surprises and gives everyone a fair deal. This will result in the United States to further strengthen the NATO relationship, create a solid framework in dealing with Russia’s worry over NATO’s expansion eastward, and create an environment where NATO’s members can define the role of the most powerful security alliance this world has ever seen. This, naturally, is easier said (or written) than done.

Nepotism at its ugliest

In Civil Society, Culture, International Organizations, United Nations on August 23, 2009 at 2:07 pm

Ask any recent graduate and they will tell you that the job market is not what you would call alive and well, especially employment in the international relations sector. Governments are forced to cut back aid and focus tax-payer money on domestic stimulus projects. This not only means less money for international organizations, but also a restructuring on how these organizations employ recent graduates.

Sadly, these practices are strengthening the ineptitude of multilateral institutions, and are promoting nepotism at its ugliest.

Look for any “entry level” position and you will find that the minimum requirement is 3 or 5 years of experience, in a very specific region of study, mainly in terms of actual field work. This high barrier of entry is making it very difficult for individuals without any actual experience, recent graduates for example, to get their foot in the door, despite how passionate one may be about a certain issue. So how do recent graduates get into the world of tax-free salaries? Simple. Unpaid internships are widely available that are full time, and last anywhere from 3 months to a year. Unpaid internships are common, especially for institutions that do not have a lot of funding, such as those that are doing business without a thought for profit, (supposedly NGOs) or those who find themselves in industries that are seeing their profit margins drastically decreasing. (American newspapers).

Despite this rather ugly trend of paying educated people little to nothing, it is actually not a very good practice for one simple reason. It is nepotism at its worst, and nepotism just breeds more inefficiency, something that IOs are notorious for having.

Many qualified individuals coming out of universities had to work full time in order to finance their studies. Let’s not forget to mention that many had to take out large amounts of student loans in order to keep up with the slight increases of tuition that universities installed each year, and they have 6 months to find meaningful employment before the governments calls the loans in. Also, these individuals cannot afford to do unpaid internships, for the simple argument that many of these organizations, such as the United Nations, have offices in cities with extremely large costs of living. New York City, Geneva, Brussels, Luxembourg, Paris, London, Tokyo etc, make it nearly impossible for most recent graduates to not only work without a salary, but to even find a place to live and eat three solid meals a day. You thought student life was rough with ramen noodles and peanut butter sandwiches, wait till you work for free.

Instead, the trend seems to be that the large number of those unpaid internships are being filled by those individuals whose families were more than willing to pay for their education, and who are also willing to fit the bill to have their children work for free. This is slamming the door shut in the faces of many qualified, highly educated individuals with a fierce passion for wanting to better the world in some way. They do not want the status quo, they want to change it. They’ve sat through the NGO classes, and those dealing with the United Nations. They know about their inefficiencies, as well as their good traits, the same or perhaps even better than their fellow colleagues who had patrons. Instead, the door remains open for a distinct group of people, despite their qualifications, their grades received, or the quality of the thesis they wrote, who can simply afford to work for free.

Therefore it is puzzling to me why this system exists the way it does. The obvious reason is simply there just is not enough funding. But this is a cop out. Unless every person in a given office in a given institution does not partake in any training activity whatsoever, then yes, there is not enough funding to employ someone without any experience. The other reason is that maybe international organizations merely like the current system the way it is. Perhaps it is a form of keeping the old guard in place, no matter how inefficient they seem to be. If they can continue to draw their current salary and fly first class to impoverished areas, stay in Hiltons and eat at fancy restaurants while reporting on the state of the country’s economy they are studying at that time, than why should it change?

Nepotism exists to keep a certain group in and a certain group out. Yes, there are always exceptions to the rule, and it is a general statement to make regarding international organizations, as some do pay their interns and there does exist opportunities for recent graduates outside of unpaid internships. Nevertheless, this is quite common and if people who have the means and are willing to work for free, why change it? Why pay educated people to work 8 hours a day doing the same job that someone else did a few years ago who drew a yearly salary? Nepotism like this does not provide a way for innovation or for improving the efficiency of an organization, it just keeps a distinct type of class in and another type of class out.

Sadly, this argument is assuming that there exists a civil society who can make a difference. This has been debated from both sides. The core argument is whether or not the world is better or worse off with international organizations. I believe that it is better off. However, if one is in this world to make a positive difference to civil society, I would ask all these individuals to look at your government first and if the options are not available, do something independently second. All this talk of reforming the Security Council, or needing something better than the UN is very redundant, if these organizations do not first employ individuals based on their merits and accomplishments, rather than whether or not they can afford to work for free.

A remark on the relaunch of EI

In EI on August 23, 2009 at 2:01 pm

For those of you who have checked this site periodically, and continued to do so despite there not being a new post in almost a year, I welcome you back and am extremely grateful for your interest. For those who have somehow stumbled upon this blog for the first time, welcome.

Being a graduate student and having to write 20 page papers, while working on a thesis, I sadly did not have any time to dedicate myself to writing periodically about current affairs, something that this blog requires. Instead, EI had to collect dust. But it is back, and hopefully better than its predecessor.

I’m frustrated because I just do not have the time to learn the code and make the blog distinct in its own way, in order to express itself and allow it to transform and become its own as it develops. Instead, I am forced to rely on pre-made templates that best represents how I have envisioned this site to be. We are almost there.

I’m not going to divulge the whole plan that I have for EI, but just to say that there is one. The main purpose of the site is to act on what the likes of Henry Kissinger, Joseph Nye, and John Stewart have observed. There is a recent trend of many Americans to be ambivalent to world affairs. Instead, focus seems to be on pop culture, entertainment and domestic events. Now, this site is not just for Americans, its existence is to serve the populations residing on this planet. While all three of these do have their merits, world affairs are nevertheless just as important, especially when the United States is the world superpower. If foreign policy will be made by my generation, then it better be made by an astute, educated generation that has a profound knowledge of world politics. This project hopes to contribute to that learning experience.

To all of you I give a warm welcome. As time will pass, the posts on this blog will increase. I am always on the look out for contributers who have the same passion of world politics as I do. Please make yourselves known. Send me an e-mail at chris.osman@gmail.com and let’s have a conversation. I hope all of you further enjoy the contributions on this blog. I enjoy making them.