Archive for the ‘Culture & Society’ Category

31
Oct

IR Guest Speaker_Tom Burns

On Oct. 30th, the IE School of International Relations welcomed Tom Burns, Journalist & Essayist, Managing Partner, Eurocofin for an engaging discussion on different aspects of nationalism. Mr. Burns began his lecture by identifying several key figures in the history of nationalism. He first mentioned Johann Gottfried von Herder, a German philosopher, theologian, poet, and literary critic who emphasized the importance of the German language. Herder rejected the influence of French, so prevalent in cultural circles at the time. He wanted the German people to be proud of their language and their heritage.

Mr. Burns then showcased Sir Walter Scott, a pillar of the Scottish establishment in the 18th century. In addition to being a prolific writer, Sir Walter Scott celebrated the folklore and ballads of Scotland. He made being Scottish acceptable, respectable. A little bit later in the 19th century and early in the 20th, Joan Maragall, a Catalan poet and journalist also took pride in the Catalan culture, and language. This was not necessarily a political movement but was more focused on celebrating the Catalan culture, in line with Herder’s canon earlier. These thinkers and poets sowed the seeds of nationalism in the 18th and early 19th century. Mr. Burns last identified Gavrilo Princep, the Bosnian Serb nationalist who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie. To this day, Gavrilo Princep is considered a hero in Serbia. His nationalism was political as opposed to cultural in the above examples cited by Mr. Burns.

Today the resurgence in nationalism in Europe, in Spain and Scotland, is largely due to the recent in economic crisis in 2008. A lot of those clamoring for independence are left leaning blue collar workers who reject big government, globalization, the IMF, austerity measures and the hardship brought on by the crisis. These movements, even if they fail short term, are unlikely to go away any time soon. The MIR students in the audience had many questions for Mr. Burns that he answered with candor and humor. On a more personal note, one student asked Mr. Burns why he had special interest in nationalism. “Because it’s a good story”, was his response. “One of the great stories of our time”. Spoken as a true journalist indeed. 

6
Oct

WWI Analogies: Missing the Role of Culture

Written on October 6, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Culture & Society, Foreign Policy

One hundred years ago began the war to end all wars. World War I, or the Great War, was a war based on unilateral actions, miscalculations and misunderstandings. This inauspicious centenary has been an opportunity for the foreign affairs commentariat to indulge in one of the things it is best at: drawing historical analogies.

It is true that aspects of the global landscape look eerily similar to a century ago. States push the boundaries of international law and act unilaterally, causing regional alarm and global unease. Events in Ukraine and East Asia suggest a return to old-school territoriality. The “Great Game” after all originally referred to Russia’s 19th century contest with Britain over central Asia, including Crimea.

Once again, there is a major redistribution of strategic and economic weight. New superpowers emerge and agitate for a place at the high table of international affairs. This time the shift is seismic, moving across entire continents. Today it is China, India, and other Asian states, as well as Brazil and South Africa. Alongside the growing multipolarity, many have pointed to the increasing great-power rivalry and divergence over major strategic issues like Ukraine and the South and East China Seas, economic cleavages with the BRICS’ New Development Bank and Contingent Reserve Arrangement, and India’s stance at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Countering these voices of doom is the argument that the interconnectedness of today’s world prevents a global catastrophe. It was in response to WWI that great minds like Leonard Woolf suggested the option of collective security, an idea that gained policy momentum, eventually culminating in the League of Nations. The League failed, in part due to disengagement by then rising powers like the U.S. Following World War II, nations tried again, leading to the institutional faces of today’s interconnected world order: the United Nations and economic institutions like WTO, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund.

Opponents of the WWI analogy argue that the integration of the global economy ensures that any state’s cost-benefit analysis regarding war is skewed towards the negative – it’s just not worth it. It could also be argued that modern technology, advances in intelligence gathering, and the ease with which global leaders can speak directly to each other, has made WWI-style “misunderstandings” near impossible. Media coverage of war has, since America’s involvement in Vietnam, meant the public are intimately aware of the realities of the battlefield, shifting the burden of justification further onto advocates for military action. In response to WWI, international pacifist Lord Bryce stated the “impossibility of war…would be increased in proportion as the issues of foreign policy should be known to and controlled by public opinion.”

Something that seems to have evaded the attention of both the voices of doom and the optimists, however, is that today’s power shifts have far more complex implications than last century’s. While Samuel Huntington’s famous “Clash of Civilizations” analysis may discount key factors, it draws our attention to an important and long-ignored aspect of international relations – culture. Unlike the United States and Germany in the 19th century, today’s emerging powers encompass entire civilizations – some with thousands of years of cultural continuity. While Japan’s modernization beginning with the Meiji restoration in 1868 included an adoption of existing foreign policy institutions, the same may not be true for China and India.

Culture is making a comeback as a factor in international relations. And it is not merely via chauvinism manifesting itself in the form of nationalist politics that we have seen since the end of the Cold War; not just states saying “my culture is better than yours.” Culture’s influence in the future will be more deeply felt. Its interaction with foreign affairs will be in a way that has long been shunned as too mystifying to serve as a basis for policymaking. Culture will make an impact through values.

Published on Oct. 5th in http://thediplomat.com/2014/10/wwi-analogies-missing-the-role-of-culture/

Dr. Kadira Pethiyagoda is a former diplomat whose PhD and upcoming book investigated Indian foreign policy. He was a visiting scholar at the University of Oxford. A shorter version of this article first appeared on East Asia Forum.

22
Sep

Warning: The 21st century may get a lot more crowded than previously thought.

In a paper published Thursday in Science, demographers from several universities and the United Nations Population Division conclude that instead of leveling off in the second half of the 21st century, as the UN predicted less than a decade ago, the world’s population will continue to grow beyond 2100. (Read “Population Seven Billion” in National Geographic magazine.)

And for the first time, through the use of a “probabilistic” statistical method, the Science paper establishes a range of uncertainty around its central estimate-9.6 billion Earthlings in 2050, 10.9 billion by 2100. There’s an 80 percent chance, the authors conclude, that the actual number of people in 2100 will be somewhere between 9.6 and 12.3 billion.

Chart showing new world population estimate including range of possible values.

NG STAFF. SOURCE: UN

That range “is the truly innovative part,” says John Wilmoth, head of the UN Population Division and one of the authors of the Science paper. “It’s a much more plausible analysis of uncertainty—but we may still be off by two billion.”

According to other demographers, the UN has missed the mark by just about that amount. In a paper in press at Global Environmental Changeand in a forthcoming book, Wolfgang Lutz and his colleagues at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Vienna, Austria, use a very different method—one that involves canvassing a large group of experts—to argue that population is likely to peak at 9.4 billion in 2075 and fall to just under 9 billion by 2100.

The UN team estimates there’s no more than a 5 percent chance of that rosier scenario coming to pass.

Both groups foresee India becoming the world’s most populous country, with its numbers peaking around 2070 and declining to around 1.5 or 1.6 billion by 2100. Where they differ most is in their estimates of the coming population decline in China and of the coming population explosion in Africa south of the Sahara—where most of the world’s growth is going to occur.

According to the UN, the population in that region could quadruple, from less than one billion to nearly four billion. Africa in 2100 would be as densely populated as China is today.

“These are not predictions,” says Wilmoth. “These are projections of what will happen if current trends continue. There is still an opportunity to intervene.”

Read more…

Robert Kunzig

National Geographic

PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 18, 2014

12
Nov
Children peek out from their makeshift shelter in Tacloban after Typhoon Haiyan tore through eastern and central Philippines on November 10th

Children peek out from their makeshift shelter in Tacloban after Typhoon Haiyan tore through eastern and central Philippines on November 10th

Weather forecasters had given warning before Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines that the storm was extraordinarily powerful. That it was extraordinarily destructive became clear to all when the typhoon landed on the east coast November 8th. Three days later it has become apparent that the storm was also extraordinarily deadly; the survivors will require an colossal relief effort just to stay alive.

Before the typhoon landed, meteorologists had detected wind speeds of 313kph (194mph) near the centre, gusting up to 378kph, making it one of the strongest storms ever recorded. It whipped up giant waves that crashed ashore. Between them, the wind and waves ploughed through coastal communities, crushing buildings as if they were cardboard, tossing boats and cars around like toys and sweeping people to their deaths. The storm charged across the middle of country from east to west, drenching everything in its path with driving rain. Homes and crops that the wind failed to destroy were left at the mercy of flooding and landslides brought on by the rain.

A picture of the amount of death and destruction caused began to emerge only after the storm had swept out over the South China Sea, heading towards Vietnam. Witnesses spoke of corpses littering the wrecked city of Tacloban, on the east coast, which felt the full force of the storm. They spoke of dazed survivors wandering streets strewn with debris, begging for help. “From the shore and moving a kilometre inland, there are no structures standing. It was like a tsunami,” said the interior secretary, Manuel Roxas, after inspecting the destruction from a helicopter. “I don’t know how to describe what I saw.”

The responsible authorities were powerless to find out the extent of the disaster, let alone bring relief. In Tacloban and elsewhere, the electricity supply, the water supply and telephone communications were among the first casualties. The local authorities were unable to help survivors as public servants were unable to report for duty. Fallen trees and power lines had blocked roads and floods had swept away bridges. More out-of-the-way places were beyond help. Read more…

As published in www.economist.com on November 11, 2013.

 

5
Nov

It is unclear whether a system that is geared to growth can also provide clean air and water

By Gideon Rachman

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Foreign commentators and local bloggers regularly predict that China is heading for an economic and political crisis. But the country’s leaders are in strikingly confident mood. They believe that China can keep growing at more than 7 per cent a year for at least another decade. That would mean the country’s economy – already the second-largest in the world – would double in size. And, depending on the assumptions you make about US growth and exchange rates, it would probably mean that China becomes the world’s largest economy by 2020.

Nobody embodies the leadership’s confidence better than the burly, imposing figure of Xi Jinping, China’s president. Last week, I was part of a group of foreign visitors – brought together by the 21st century Council, a think-tank – who met the Chinese leader in Beijing. Mr Xi’s manner is warmer and less formal than that of Hu Jintao, his slightly robotic predecessor. Yet the staging of the meeting had faint echoes of Chinese history, in which foreign barbarians paid tribute to the leader of the Middle Kingdom.

The president sat in an armchair in a cavernous meeting room in the Great Hall of the People, with a vast mural of the Great Wall of China behind him. Arranged in a semi-circle in front of him was a group of former presidents and prime ministers from other nations, including Gordon Brown of Britain and Mario Monti from Italy. In the semi-circle behind them were some western business leaders, and a smattering of “thinkers”. President Xi started his remarks by pronouncing himself “deeply moved by the sincerity you have shown”. He then proceeded to give a confident presentation of his vision for the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”.

In remarks that were widely picked up by the Chinese media, Mr Xi dismissed the idea that China risks falling into a “middle-income trap” that stalls its development and said he was confident that rapid growth could continue, without the need for further stimulus measures.

Exactly how China will sustain its growth and strengthen its global position is, however, the subject of intense discussion among the country’s leadership – as became clear in a series of other meetings arranged for our group with top military, diplomatic and economic policy makers. Read more…

As published in www.ft.com on November 4, 2013.

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