1
Mar

By Timothy Palmer, current student in the IE Master in International Relations (MIR)

TJP

In Plato’s Parable of the Cave he tells a story of prisoners who grew up and spent all their lives inside a cave. The cave was all they ever knew or saw. Due to their conditions they became accustomed to the darkness and the occasional shadows of passersby. One day one of the prisoners was freed and allowed to leave the cave. After the initial shock of sunlight upon leaving the cave, he was amazed at all he saw…instead of shadows, there were real people walking, animals, buildings. Although upon his return to the cave, none of the other prisoners believed what this man had seen since all they knew and all they believed were the shadows.

Plato’s famous parable can be interpreted a number of ways, one of those is that what we don’t see what we choose to ignore (even though Plato’s prisoners weren’t exactly ignoring the outside world) It’s no national secret that the U.S. places high importance on its relationship with Israel. Since 1985, we have been providing over $3 billion annually to support Israeli defense efforts. We are their single largest trading partner and Congress just approved another 3-year extension on Israeli debt, signifying a boost to the Israeli economy and a sure sign that diplomatic ties between the two allies are just as smooth as ever.

Some would argue however that the United States’ cozy relationship with Israel is damaging American presence in the Middle East while creating a misguided U.S. foreign policy in the ever-increasingly important region. Surely there’s more to one of the largest regions in the world than Israel and oil. For example, the EU is the number one trading partner of Iran, making up almost 1/3 or Iranian exports. The 27 European Union nations make up nearly 20% of total Iranian trade, while the United States comprises just 0.1%. In 2010, the U.S. government reinitiated sanctions on Iranian agricultural and other goods.

There is also the little issue of nuclear capability. The United States government along with Israel has been sweating at the thought of a nuclear capable Iran. Even with a Democratic majority, Congress and the administration are taking a hard line on Iran, not so much for post-9/11 sentiment but for the U.S.’s ally in the Middle East. U.S. officials don’t want to see Israel take matters into their own hands, and in doing so are enacting foreign policy not in the U.S.’s best interest, but in Israel’s. We have screamed and hollered, and created an unnecessary enemy out of Iran, but there is opportunity to change. Much like Obama’s Russia reset, the nomination of John Kerry as Secretary of State, and Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense, offers the United States a window of opportunity to change course on Iran. Congress won’t allow too much divergence, but a lifting of certain embargos and tariffs could be a start.

Read more…

28
Feb

The Pope as Diplomat

Written on February 28, 2013 by Ángeles Figueroa-Alcorta in Culture & Society, Foreign Policy, International Law & Organizations

How the Vatican Does Foreign Policy

By Edward Pentin

Pentin_PopeAsDiplo_411

Pope Benedict XVI waves as he arrives to lead his weekly audience in Saint Peter’s Square.

As Pope Benedict XVI abdicates the papacy, retiring to a life of prayer and study, he leaves behind an admirable, if somewhat chequered, record in international relations.

His influence in foreign affairs — like that of all popes — has been considerable. As a truly global body with over a billion members, the world’s oldest diplomatic service, and a vast network of humanitarian aid organizations, the Catholic Church is arguably able to frame foreign policy in a way no other institution can.

That was perhaps most clearly evident during Pope John Paul II’s tenure, when the Vatican sided with the West in its struggle to topple Soviet communism. But the pope and the Holy See are not foreign policymakers as such — they can only guide world powers toward a particular vision of justice and peace.

To understand Benedict XVI’s approach to foreign affairs, it’s important to note his background as a professor. More at home with books than with the diplomatic corps (many of his recent predecessors had been trained statesmen), he primarily sought to bring the teachings of the Catholic Church to the world stage, rather than dwell on practicalities. It was an approach that in many ways proved to be an advantage: Unconstrained by the protocols of diplomacy, he could more forthrightly proclaim the Christian message to a global audience — and his methods bore fruit, although not without a cost.

His pronouncements, which often went right to the core of an issue, were regularly regarded as diplomatic gaffes. The most famous example occurred during his 2006 lectio magistralis at the University of Regensburg. In his speech, Benedict XVI memorably quoted a medieval emperor who implied that Muhammad had only spread Islam through violence. Although the lecture was primarily meant to show that contemporary militant Western liberalism and contemporary militant Islam share the same erroneous approach to truth, his quotation set off a firestorm, testing the Holy See’s relations with Islam-majority nations and forcing the pope to issue an apology for the reaction it caused.

And yet his comments struck a chord with many who began to debate in their own minds the problem of violence among certain Islamic groups, even if they were unwilling to articulate the issue publicly. His comments initiated reflection on what it means to love God and love one’s neighbor, and they gave urgency to an ongoing Catholic-Muslim dialogue: No longer was it about mere niceties but more about genuine encounter. Specifically, it led Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah to make an historic visit to the Vatican in 2007 and launch his own foundation aimed at improving interreligious understanding last year. Read more…

As published in www.foreignaffairs.com on February 27, 2013.

25
Feb

rolf-strom-olsen

Dr. Rolf Strom-Olsen, IE University professor and Academic Director at IE School of Arts and Humanities, will teach a free online course through Coursera. IE Business School has joined 61 other prestigious international institutions involved in the Coursera initiative, including Brown University, Columbia University, Duke University, Princeton University, Stanford University, University of Pennsylvania, Berklee College of Music and The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Coursera is the leading international platform for free online courses known as MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses).

Professor Strom-Olsen teaches Creative Management Thinking at IE Business School. This course is designed to provide students with the perspectives and tools informed by a humanities approach to confront the challenges of the modern business environment. As part of the IE-Coursera partnership, Dr. Strom-Olsen will teach a course on Critical Perspectives on Management, centered on different approaches to analysis and decision making in the field of business management.

For further information about the course please click here

22
Feb

By Diego Sánchez de la Cruz, alumnus of the Master in International Relations (MIR)Diego-SDLC2013.jpg(1)

A great deal of Spain’s current problems with public deficits were originated between 2007 and 2009. As the real estate bubble burst, the public sector went from a surplus of 1,91% of GDP to a deficit of 11,19% of GDP. Such budget breakdown equals to 13,1% of GDP.

The following chart shows this situation more clearly:

Chart 1

In 2009, Spain’s GDP amounted to slightly more than one trillion euros, which means that each percentage point equals to an increase in the budget deficit of around 10 billion. By then, public spending was higher than 46% of GDP, which means that the public sector was managing over 480 billion euros. If we compare the deficit with public expenditures instead of doing it with GDP, we find a gap of almost 30%.

Revenue data also shows how the end of the real estate bubble contributed to this scenario. Between 2007 and 2008, tax receipts fell from 41,1% to 36,7% of GDP. This drop of 4.4% is unmatched in any other developed countries, as seen in the following chart.

Chart 2

Falling state revenues amounted to 6,38% of GDP in just two years. However, during the same period, public spending rose by 6,7% of GDP. This means that half of the deficit can be blamed due to lower revenues while the other half is explained by additional public spending.

Nine of the thirteen points of the budget breakdown can be explained due to automatic adjustments in the spending associated with welfare programs. For instance, when unemployment goes up, so do unemployment benefits. However, 4,1 percentage points in this budget breakdown of 13,1% can be tracked back to higher spending that was non-related to already established government programs.

What does this mean? That final deficit number for 2009 could have been of 7,1%, which is almost 40% less than the 11,19% that was actually registered. In that scenario, an eight per cent cut in government spending would have been enough to lower public deficit figures below the 3% mark, which would be in compliance with Eurozone targets.

Diego Sánchez de la Cruz is an analyst at Libertad Digital. His work on international economics has been published in different media outlets.

20
Feb

By Leon Hadar

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Despite failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, some of the West’s most prominent intellectuals still operate under the assumption that liberal values are universal.

In his new magnum opus, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, Harvard psychology professor and Renaissance man Steven Pinker, highlights what he regards to be “the most important thing that has ever happened in human history.” Violence has declined and today “we may be living in the most peaceful era in our species’ existence.”

But Pinker’s decline-of-violence thesis reflects a more ambitious exercise: The professor aims to develop a grand theory, one that assumes that “we” or “humanity” or “our species” have all become part of “modernity,” defined as the sense that the old foundations of societies—family, tribe, tradition and religion—are being eroded by the forces of individualism, cosmopolitanism, reason and science.

In Pinker’s view, a global civilizing process is creating a new culture. This new way, which is more secular, more democratic, more commercial, more “feminized,” is becoming dominant worldwide, and explains why our civilization has become more conducive to peaceful coexistence. Forget the bloodbaths of the twentieth century, including two world wars, civil wars and genocides, Pinker argues. We are entering into the era of the New Peace, where violence against the “Other” national, ethnic, and religious groups, against women, children and even animals, will become a taboo. History has indeed ended and we’re all turning into one big, happy civilization.

If you have been residing for most of your life in the West and were educated and exposed to the dominant cultural currents, in places like the United States, Germany or Australia, the political civilization that Pinker is describing sounds familiar. Whether you are liberal or conservative, you would have to agree that our national societies have become less religious, more materialistic and effeminate—and that even (some) animals now enjoy legal protection.

To be sure, no one in his right mind would predict a war between the United States and Canada, or between Australia and New Zealand, or even between France and Germany anytime soon. Scotland may or may not secede from Britain in the near future. But the establishment of an independent Scotland (or Catalonia or Lombardy) will almost certainly not be preceded or followed by a civil war. Read more…

Leon Hadar, senior analyst at Wikistrat, a geostrategic consulting group, is the author of Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East

As published by The National Interest on February 19, 2013.

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