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The rationale of foreign policy

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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From the 1970s onwards, politics has undergone a very extensive and thorough conceptual transformation. I am not referring to the usual and trivial issue of the “crisis of ideologies” or the end of Right or Left all-encompassing narratives. Nevertheless the idea that the post-modern world – which was already on the horizon at the time – could do without what Wittgenstein called “super-orders of super-concepts” has been currently  wiped out by reality.

On the current political and philosophical scene there are much greater super-orders than those typical of the bipolar world.

Just think of the post-modern politics derived from Nietzsche’s philosophy or of the wide-ranging issue arising from the confrontation between the Western, secular and religious models and those typical of Islam (and the Chinese traditional culture).

Hence the first point to raise is that technique – positivistically regarded as an objective practice not influenced by value judgements – cannot even define its aim and its  scope of  action.

In fact, if we resort to a procedure to solve a specific political and social problem and we use only the technique, I cannot even define it and hence solve it. Where does the impact of new robotic technologies start and end? There is no limit that can define it materially. Hence each technique has its own defined set of values and every application of tèchnè is subjected to a series of conceptual, philosophical, historical and ideal approvals that are not written in the procedure, but are always there anyway.

If we had no philosophical criterion for defining social justice, we could equally accept the “Obamacare” or the Italian National Health System (NHS), but these are two radically different choices. Hence which  is the “health policy” par excellence?

Furthermore, the concept is always based on the recognition of its limit, which is not only applicative, but also descriptive. A limit we cannot define beforehand, but must be checked against reality, by applying the concept in a semi-casual way.

A thing is that thing and not another. If we lose sight of the designation of the idea – and hence of its natural limit – we have not a concept, but a flatus vocis identifying at least two different – and, maybe, opposing – things with the same sign. Hence the idea that in current politics there are no longer  effective conceptual limits is not just a resource of propaganda, but a real practical and ideal limit.

Unemployment cannot be solved with the “social wage” because its cost is borne by those who still work and pay taxes. The education crisis cannot be solved by making school curricula even easier, since this makes them even more useless. Unfortunately, however, a paradox prevails in all the current governments’ standard political procedures.

It is the paradox of the parts and the sum of these parts. I may also think  that Rosso Fiorentino’s “Deposition from the Cross” is just a set of brush strokes, but I can never exactly reproduce it. In politics, this means that I may also separate – by means of a pseudo-scientific (and useless) process – the traits of a phenomenon (provided that later this phenomenon is not turned into another), but I cannot solve it only by recomposing its parts differently.

I cannot solve the problem of falling population with immigration, because this phenomenon has a cost that would not be there if there were a normal population replacement rate – and for the additional reason that creating a workforce coming from other regions (net of transfer costs, which are certainly not negligible) is very different from creating it on the spot.

Hence Popper’s myth of “social engineering” is a false myth, considering that we cannot fully reproduce complex phenomena such as the political ones and also considering that no political fact can be completely isolated from the others. The “social engineering” myth also relates to the idea that the myths, ideas and motivations of the peoples and the ruling classes are completely irrelevant compared to the old “super-structures” in the Marxist meaning of the word. However, there are physical, chemical and biological reactions. Politics – and foreign policy, in particular – is a biological reaction.

This is another major mistake: politics – and foreign policy, in particular –  is made up of myths, perceptions, cultural patterns and symbols. There would not currently be Emmanuel Macron’s grandeur in France without  Charles De Gaulle’s. And the inferiority complex of the Italian politicians, when it comes to dealing with foreign policy, stems from the fact that they have naively accepted the narrative made by our former enemy turned into a friend after World War II. While Western Germans have never completely regretted the Third Reich, given the propaganda and the “repression of painful memories” which took place after the Allies’ occupation, the Italians were laid the blame for everything, obviously in addition to be considered “traitors” or “treacherous”.

Those who make others create their own identity, lose it. Not to mention the fact that Republican Italy has always avoided implementing foreign policy on its own, under the pretext – for fear of the largest Communist Party in the West – of the obligations arising from the Atlantic Alliance’s membership or, more recently, under the pretext of the comical peacekeeping activities where there are wars.

This currently applies to all Western countries: voters are no longer interested in foreign policy. They are interested in symbolic, but national actions (the fight against the so-called “caste”) or in equally national real benefits, such as  jobs or pensions. The current democracies do no longer stand the test of foreign policy, which requires brilliant minds and unprecedented prediction abilities. Nonetheless, in the globalization era, it is precisely from foreign policy that many of the symbolic and real benefits and assets, which appear to be typical of national policy, come.

Furthermore, foreign policy in Italy and abroad is currently implemented on the basis of fully archaic and clearly propaganda-oriented choices. It is also implemented at the lowest level – see the famous “spreading of democracy” – or in a slightly more structured way – see the “fight against terrorism”. Terrorism is one of the jihad techniques and this is precisely the real context of the asymmetric warfare launched against us, “Jews and Infidel”, by a vast part of contemporary Islam.

Nor does the usual paleo-Marxist inference apply – namely that the oil issue underlies the jihad. This is certainly true, but there is also the attempt to unify the Islam after the fragmentation of many Muslim “failed States”, as well as the Islamist struggle to conquer Africa and Asia, where the old “Cold War” countries do not operate any longer. Finally there is also the ideological and political management of the huge Islamic migration into Western countries. In foreign policy there is not only one single  “foundation”, but there are always many of them at the same time.

The sum of the parts does not provide the shape of the whole; the sequence of phenomena does not indicate their real relevance and the time when historical facts occur does not tell or indicate their importance.

Obviously, in the case of our politicians, the law of the old US Senator,  Tip O’Neill, still applies: every policy is local. And also Ian Budge’s thesis of rational choice applies: every politician tries – first and foremost – to be re-elected. As already noted, however, currently it is foreign policy that distorts the national one – it is no longer as during the “Cold War” when foreign policy in Italy was shaped and implemented by our allies.

Nevertheless, how should we currently think in terms of foreign policy? Firstly, the sequences and the most likely consequences of a particular choice should be defined – without ever forgetting exceptions. There is a conceptual mapping deriving from the traditional one – maps are a substitute for the territory. Secondly, the potential of each secondary phenomenon should be assessed: obviously we can send our soldiers to the Middle East with specific rules of engagement or alliances, but we must  also be able to “imagine” what would happen if our soldiers were attacked by Hamas or the Sinai Islamic Jihad. Different effects for the same phenomenon. Moreover, foreign policy has to do with alchemy: if we send soldiers to the Middle East, we must be able to use this political-military success to obtain less expensive oil contracts or even to sell our weapons to the local peoples or to become essential at the peace negotiating table.

Indeed, Cavour’s idea of sending the Piedmontese soldiers to Crimea was excellent.

Hence, foreign policy can be used on multiple fronts and negotiating tables, provided we are able to do so. Moreover, implementing foreign policy means creating an inevitably global phenomenon: those who deals with it, knows very well that every operation has multiple and sometimes unpredictable consequences, but always ranging from culture to the economy, from technology to arts. In principle, nothing is excluded from foreign policy.

Finally those who are not able to run are not even able to walk: the ruling classes that do not know how to develop a foreign policy line in keeping  with their goals do not even know how to implement domestic or  economic policy.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs "La Centrale Finanziaria Generale Spa", he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group and member of the Ayan-Holding Board. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d'Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: "A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title of "Honorable" of the Académie des Sciences de l'Institut de France

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Election Monitoring in 2018: What Not to Expect

Alina Toporas

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This year’s election calendar released by OSCE showcases a broad display of future presidential, parliamentary and general elections with hefty political subjecthoods which have the potential of transforming in their entirety particularly the European Union, the African Union and the Latin American sub-continent. A wide sample of these countries welcoming elections are currently facing a breadth of challenges in terms of the level of transparency in their election processes. To this end, election observation campaigns conducted by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the Council of Europe, the Organisation for American States (OAS), the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division, the National Democratic Institute, Carter Center and even youth organisations such as AEGEE and Silba are of paramount importance in safeguarding the incorruptibility of election proceedings in fraudulent and what cannot be seen with the naked eye type of fraudulent political systems, making sure elections unfold abiding national legislation and international standards.

What exactly does an election observation mission supposed to accomplish?   

An election monitoring mission consists of operational experts and analysts who are all part of a core team and are conducting their assignments for a period of time varying between 8 and 12 weeks. Aside from the core team experts and analysts, there can be short-term or long-term observers and seconded observers or funded observers. Joining them, there is usually a massive local support staff acting as interpreters and intermediaries. Generally, an election observer does not interfere with the process, but merely takes informative notes. With this in mind, it is imperative of the observer to make sure there isn’t any meddling with votes at polling stations by parties and individual candidates; that the people facilitating the election process are picked according to fair and rigorous benchmarks; that these same people can be held accountable for the final results and that, at the end of the day, the election system put in place by the national and local authorities is solid from both a physical and logical standpoint. Oftentimes, particularly in emerging democracies, the election monitoring process goes beyond the actual process of voting by extending to campaign monitoring.

In practical terms, the average election observer needs to abide by certain guidelines for a smooth and standardised monitoring process. Of course, these rules can vary slightly, depending on the sending institution. Typically, once the election observer has landed in the country awaiting elections, their first two days are normally filled with seminars on the electoral system of the country and on the electoral law. Meetings with candidates from the opposition are sometimes organised by the electoral commission. Talking to ordinary voters from builders to cleaners, from artists to businesspeople is another way through which an election observer can get a sense of what social classes pledged their allegiances to what candidates. After two days in training and the one day testing political preferences on the ground, election day begins. Since the early bird gets the worm, polling stations open at least two hours earlier than the work day starts, at around 7am. Throughout the day, observers ask voters whether they feel they need to complain about anything and whether they were asked to identify themselves when voting. Other details such as the polling stations opening on time are very much within the scope of investigation for election monitors. Observers visit both urban voting centres and rural ones. In the afternoon, counting begins with observers carefully watching the volunteers from at least 3 metres away. At the end of the day, observers go back to their hotels and begin filling in their initial questionnaires with their immediate reactions on the whole voting process. In a few weeks time, a detailed report would be issued in cooperation with all the other election observers deployed in various regions of the country and under the supervision of the mission coordinators.   

Why are these upcoming elections particularly challenging to monitor?  

Talks of potential Russian interference into the U.S. elections have led to full-on FBI investigations. Moreover, the idea of Russian interference in the Brexit vote is slowly creeping into the British political discourse. Therefore, it does not take a quantum physicist to see a pattern here. Hacking the voting mechanism is yet another not-so-classic conundrum election observers are facing. We’re in the midst of election hacking at the cognitive level in the form of influence operations, doxing and propaganda. But, even more disturbingly, we’re helpless witnesses to interference at the technical level as well. Removing opposition’s website from the Internet through DDOS attacks to downright political web-hacking in Ukraine’s Central Election Commission to show as winner a far-right candidate are only some of the ways which present an unprecedented political savviness and sophistication directed at the tampering of the election machinery. Even in a country such as the U.S. (or Sweden – their elections being held September of this year) where there is a great deal of control over the physical vote, there is not much election monitoring can do to enhance the transparency of it all when interference occurs by way of the cyber domain affecting palpable election-related infrastructure.

Sketching ideational terrains seems like a fruitful exercise in imagining worst-case scenarios which call for the design of a comprehensive pre-emptive approach for election fraud. But how do you prevent election fraud? Sometimes, the election observer needs to come to terms with the fact that they are merely a reporter, a pawn which notwithstanding the action of finding oneself in the middle of it all, can generally use only its hindsight perspective. Sometimes, that perspective is good enough when employed to draft comprehensive electoral reports, making a difference between the blurry lines of legitimate and illegitimate political and electoral systems.

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Can Europe successfully rein in Big Tobacco?

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Photo by Mateo Avila Chinchilla on Unsplash

In what looks set to become the ‘dieselgate’ of the tobacco industry, a French anti-smoking organization has filed a lawsuit against four major tobacco brands for knowingly selling cigarettes with tar and nicotine levels that were between 2 and 10 times higher than what was indicated on the packs. Because the firms had manipulated the testing process, smokers who thought they were smoking a pack a day were in fact lighting up the equivalent of up to 10, significantly raising their risk for lung cancer and other diseases.

According to the National Committee Against Smoking (CNCT), cigarettes sold by the four companies have small holes in the filter that ventilate smoke inhaled under test conditions. But when smoked by a person, the holes compress due to pressure from the lips and fingers, causing the smoker to inhale higher levels of tar and nicotine. According to the lawsuit, the irregularity “tricks smokers because they are unaware of the degree of risk they are taking.”

It was only the most recent example of what appears to be a deeply entrenched propensity for malfeasance in the tobacco industry. And unfortunately, regulatory authorities across Europe still appear unprepared to just say no to big tobacco.

Earlier this month, for instance, Public Health England published a report which shines a positive light on “tobacco heating products” and indicates that electronic cigarettes pose minimal health risks. Unsurprisingly, the UK report has been welcomed by big tobacco, with British American Tobacco praising the clear-sightedness of Public Health England.

Meanwhile, on an EU-wide level, lawmakers are cooperating too closely for comfort with tobacco industry executives in their efforts to craft new cigarette tracking rules for the bloc.

The new rules are part of a campaign to clamp down on tobacco smuggling, a problem that is particularly insidious in Europe and is often attributed to the tobacco industry’s own efforts to stiff the taxman. According to the WHO, the illicit cigarette market makes up between 6-10% of the total market, and Europe ranks first worldwide in terms of the number of seized cigarettes. According to studies, tobacco smuggling is also estimated to cost national and EU budgets more than €10 billion each year in lost public revenue and is a significant source of cash for organized crime. Not surprisingly, cheap availability of illegally traded cigarettes is also a major cause of persistently high smoking rates in the bloc.

To help curtail cigarette smuggling and set best practices in the fight against the tobacco epidemic, the WHO established the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2005. The first protocol to the FCTC, the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, was adopted in 2012 and later ratified by the EU. Among other criteria, the Protocol requires all cigarette packs to be marked with unique identifiers to ensure they can be tracked and traced, thereby making smuggling more difficult.

Unsurprisingly, the tobacco industry has come up with its own candidates to meet track and trace requirements, notably Codentify, a system developed by PMI. From 2005 through 2016, PMI used Codentify as part of an anti-smuggling agreement with the EU. But the agreement was subject to withering criticism from the WHO and other stakeholders for going against the Protocol, which requires the EU and other parties to exclude the tobacco industry from participating in anti-smuggling efforts.

The EU-PMI agreement expired in 2016 and any hopes of reviving it collapsed after the European Parliament, at loggerheads with the Commission, overwhelmingly voted against a new deal and decided to ratify the WHO’s Protocol instead. Codentify has since been sold to the French firm Impala and was rebranded as Inexto – which critics say is nothing but a front company for PMI since its leadership is made out of former PMI executives. Nonetheless, due to lack of stringency in the EU’s draft track and trace proposal, there is still a chance that Inexto may play a role in any new track and trace system, sidelining efforts to set up a system that is completely independent of the tobacco industry.

This could end up by seriously derailing the EU’s efforts to curb tobacco smuggling, given the industry’s history of active involvement in covertly propping up the black market for cigarettes. In 2004, PMI paid $1.25 billion to the EU to settle claims that it was complicit in tobacco smuggling. As part of the settlement, PMI agreed to issue an annual report about tobacco smuggling in the EU, a report that independent researchers found “served the interests of PMI over those of the EU and its member states.”

Given the industry’s sordid history of efforts to prop up the illicit tobacco trade, it’s little surprise that critics are still dissatisfied with the current version of the EU’s track and trace proposal.

Now, the CNCT’s lawsuit against four major tobacco firms gives all the more reason to take a harder line against the industry. After all, if big tobacco can’t even be honest with authorities about the real levels of chemicals in their own products, what makes lawmakers think that they can play a viable role in any effort to quell the illegal cigarette trade – one that directly benefits the industry?

Later this month, the European Parliament will have a new chance to show they’re ready to get tough on tobacco, when they vote on the pending proposal for an EU-wide track and trace system. French MEP Younous Omarjee has already filed a motion against the system due to its incompatibility with the letter of the WHO. Perhaps a ‘dieselgate’ for the tobacco industry might be just the catalyst they need to finally say no to PMI and its co-conspirators.

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Bureaucrats’ Crusade: The European Commission’s Strategy for the Western Balkans

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The European Commission set a target date of 2025 for some of the Balkan countries to join. However, Brussels sees only Serbia and Montenegro as actual candidates. The door formally remains open to Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia, but these countries have been put into a grey zone with no time frames and road maps. They have been put on hold with no tangible prospects for membership, left without any explanation of what makes them less valid candidates than Serbia and Montenegro, with these two being as poor, illiberal and undemocratic as the remaining four.

With a dose of instant cynicism, one might conclude that Serbia and Montenegro have been rewarded for their military aggressions on Bosnia and Kosovo, and Serbia’s permanent pressures on Macedonia, whereas the latter ones have been punished for being the former’s victims. However, a more careful look at the population structure of the four non-rewarded countries reveals that these, unlike Serbia and Montenegro, have a relative excess of Muslim population. So far, there have been dilemmas whether the European Union is to be regarded as an exclusive Christian club, bearing in mind the prolonged discriminatory treatment of Turkey as an unwanted candidate. After the European Commission’s new strategy for the Balkans, there can be no such dilemmas: the countries perceived by Brussels bureaucrats as Muslim ones – regardless of the actual percentage of their Muslim population – are not to be treated as European.

The resurrection of this logic, now embodied in the actual strategy, takes Europe back to its pre-Westphalian roots, to the faraway times of the Crusades or the times of the Siege of Vienna. It also signals the ultimate triumph of the most reactionary populist ideologies in the contemporary Europe, based on exclusion of all who are perceived as „others“. It signals the ultimate triumph of the European ineradicable xenophobia. Or – to put it in terms more familiar to the likely author of the strategy, the European Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn – the triumph of Ausländerfeindlichkeit.

Now, what options are left to the practically excluded Balkan countries, after so many efforts to present themselves as valid candidates for EU membership? There is a point in claims that some of their oligarchies, particularly the tripartite one in Bosnia-Herzegovina, have never actually wanted to join the EU, because their arbitrary rule would be significantly undermined by the EU’s rule of law. It is logical, then, that the tripartite oligarchy welcomes the strategy that keeps the country away from the EU membership, while at the same time deceiving the population that the strategy is a certain path to the EU. Yet, what about these people, separated into three ethnic quarantines, who believe that joining the EU would simply solve all their political and economic problems, and who refuse to accept the idea that the EU might be an exclusive club, not open to them? What are the remaining options for them?

They cannot launch a comprehensive revolution and completely replace the tripartite oligarchy by their democratic representatives. Still, they can press it to adopt and conduct a multi-optional foreign policy, oriented towards several geopolitical centers: one of them may remain Brussels, but  Washington, Moscow, Beijing, Ankara, Tehran, and others, should also be taken into account. For, a no-alternative policy, as the one which only repeats its devotion to the EU integrations without any other geopolitical options, is no policy at all. In this sense, the presented EU strategy has clearly demonstrated the futility of such a no-alternative approach: regardless of how many times you repeat your devotion to the EU values, principles and integrations, the EU bureaucrats can simply tell you that you will never play in the same team with them. However, such an arbitrary but definite rejection logically pushes the country to look for geopolitical alternatives. And it is high time for Bosnia-Herzegovina’s people and intellectual and political elites to understand that Brussels is not the only option on the table, and that there are other geopolitical centers whose interests might be identified as convergent with the interests of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Still, all of them should first demonstrate the ability to identify the interests of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which means that they should first recognize it as a sovereign state with its own interests, rather than someone else’s proxy.

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