‘Demography is destiny.’ Ben Wattenberg and Richard M. Scammon
In 1825 the world’s population reached, for the first time, the figure of 1 billion with a doubling of the population 100 years later and on to 5.3 billion in 1990. It stands today at 7.5 billion.
A demographic transition is taking place worldwide but at different rates. Seven per cent of the world’s population is over 65, and this is unevenly spread, with. Africa has the world’s youngest population, with Europe and Japan harboring the smallest number of children.
By 2050, the world’s population is expected to number 9.5 billion, assuming present trends continue, at which time the population of the developing countries will be 6 times larger than that of the developed countries due to higher fertility rates. The increase in the world’s population will be identical to the number of people on the entire planet back in 1950.
In Africa, some countries will see their population triple, requiring the building, each week, of a town of a million inhabitants.
On the other hand, in East Asia, the birth rate is collapsing. China and Japan have among the world’s lowest birth rates – Hong Kong’s is below 1 – and in Japan 14% of the population is over 65 years old. At the present fertility rate of 1.25 child per woman, the country’s population will be of only 60 million in 2100.
China’s population is also forecast to decrease to less than 20% of the world’s population but the country will have 25% of the world’s senior citizens.
A sustained fertility rate of 1.3 means that, over a century, a country would lose 75% of its population.
Europe’s declining birth rates
Over the past three centuries, Europe’s population multiplied fivefold and if you include the population of European origin that immigrated worldwide, we are led into a sevenfold increase.
The main reason for this increase was due to a reduction of mortality. At the beginning, this decline was gradual and ascribed to a more productive agriculture, trade that enriched European nations, the industrial revolution, advances in medical knowledge, better nutrition, a more relaxed lifestyle and better public order. Starting in the nineteenth century, a drastic reduction of mortality of infectious and contagious disease to nearly zero increased life expectancy at birth from 35 years to 70 years.
Other contributing factors for this increase were the decline in female fertility as women entered the professional world in ever larger numbers. They also had easy access to birth control methods.
The number of working-age adults increases and the economy grows as not only the economic contribution of the population increases, but also the social contributions decrease. This is called the ‘demographic dividend’. It is, however, at this stage that the state must undertake productive investments such as in education and health infrastructure in particular to support old age.
Birth rates increased in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, but remained below that of other parts of the world. European population was always constrained by the use of traditional birth control methods, a low number of extra-marital births, a late marriage age and a fairly large percentage of unmarried persons.
Low birth rates are a worldwide trend, and if every woman will only have a single child, the world’s population in 2075 will be of 1.6 billion. Europe, in particular, is suffering, and is forecast to continue to suffer of depopulation. Its present population of 740 million is expected to drop to 707 million by 2050 and of 646 million by 2100.
For a population to remain stable, the total fertility rate – the number of children a woman will have in her lifetime should be of 2.1. In eastern and southern Europe, the figure is presently of 1.3, and in some areas has dwindled to 1. In Germany, nearly 30% of the women born in 1960 have not had any children. Russia is losing half its population every 40 years and its underpopulated large land mass could be seen as an invitation by China.
When birth rates eventually decreased, they brought about a new vision of the family, with women succeeding in roles other than that of wives and mothers and with reduced coital rates. Fertility was increasingly controlled by females rather than males.
Urbanization played a leading role in the drop in birth rates. The smaller family became the reference in Europe first, and then spread to many other countries. Urban couples did not have the social pressure that rural families had, of having children rapidly becoming economic contributors.
In an urban environment, individual success is important and family ties lose their primary role as education, health and employment is ensured by institutions other than the family. Children become a cost rather than an asset.
This led to a demographic transition of low birth rates and long life expectancy which helped the population of Europe and of the world grow.
The transition normally starts with low child mortality; children being the first beneficiaries of increased survival. In Europe, today, nearly all births occur in a hospital environment with a large number of precautions taken including for premature children.
In Europe, the countries that were rich at the end of the Second World War, such as in Scandinavia and North-West Europe, saw the number of traditional families decline as women had satisfying employment opportunities and individualism was on the rise. Everything was postponed, from leaving school to dying. Postponing births eventually results in women being too old to be pregnant.
Professional women tend to cheat more, divorce more often, have fewer children, and more often than non-professional women feel sorry of having married and having had children.
Women concentrating on their careers find the stress of caring for children – which, in today’s society takes an increasing amount of parents’ time as well as a change in the relationship between parents – a burden, particularly if the household work – usually considered as a low-level type of work – is not shared with the male parent. Women have a major decision to make as to whether they pursue a career, marry or build a family. They will select cohabitation as against marriage if they believe that being married will hinder their possibilities of career advancement. Investments in child care infrastructure and a balance between life and work lead to increased birth rates. Women must have the possibility of returning to their jobs after a pregnancy and maternal leave.
Women pursuing careers may study for long periods of time and therefore they will have their first child at an advanced age, thus limiting the number of children they will have. Mothers having their children at a more mature age translates into older grandmothers, if they would still be alive, who may not be able to assist their daughters or grand-daughters. The non-availability of this care may reduce even further the propensity of women to have children.
Increasingly they may not want to mate, preferring to enrich their lives financially and intellectually, or will select low-fertility partners. They may find there is a lack of desirable partners. Pressure put on by media as the looks of women, slim and a canon of beauty, may also lead women to opt for a slimmer look to the detriment of family formation or even partnership and sex with a man.
In the Mediterranean countries where family values were supported by culture and governments, the transition took place later. In Southern Europe, as children stay with their parents until marriage, by the time they leave home, they are at a more advanced age than adults from Northern Europe, and therefore are more likely to have fewer children. They are also less likely to take financial risks by taking responsibility for a family. This has been called the ‘delay syndrome.’
In Central and Eastern Europe where communism collapsed and with it went the allowances and a large number of free services, families hesitate to assume the burden of a child.
As societal pressure is determinant in defining the number of children a couple will have, a smaller family became the social norm. It fulfilled in a minimalistic manner the social pressure to have children.
One of the most important elements in social pressure is religion and all religions encourage a strong birth rate. Hence, in industrial societies, as religiousness wanes, so does the size of families.
A theory suggests that as children survive, there is no need for families to have ‘replacement’ children in case of death and the child become the child-king. Another theory proposes that since children no longer look after their parents, they do not need to bear the cost of bearing them. A third theory proposes than in resource allocation, families today prefer spending their funds on matters other than raising children which they will have only if the benefits outweigh the costs. The benefits are essentially emotional and a response to societal demands including that of creating new networks such as with other school parents and later in time with the in-laws. The costs have their origin in education, the purchase of food and other products, and possible tensions between the parents as the fathers concentrate on their professional activity to create wealth for their family, which often translates in absences from the family.
Job instability has also had a negative impact on the willingness of couples to start a family.
Women’s libido appears to be on the wane and men’s sperm count is decreasing and the spermatozoids are less active probably due to the chemicals absorbed in the diet. Obesity in both men and women also affects their fertility.
The large number of leisure activities easily available and the ideas that freedom and personal development are essential to a happy, productive life are major distractors and inhibitors to starting a family. The ubiquitous nature of erotic and pornographic images leads men to view their companions as exclusively a sex image and not a partner with whom to establish a family. At the other end of the scale an ever increasing number of men have opted out of sex altogether.
Education, in turn, impacts fertility in a number of ways. It allows reaching a better status and material conditions, it improves the ability of women to select the right partner who has the same level of education and may also be reluctant to have a large family, and it leads to better informed women and therefore larger use of contraceptives, and increases the opportunity costs of childbearing.
Financial issues are also a hindrance to starting or expanding a family. Educated couples may also prefer to concentrate their wealth, during their lifetime or through inheritance, on a single child.
Increasingly, in an unstable world, would-be parents, particularly younger couples, are afraid of conceiving children in what could be a very different and dangerous world.
The availability of contraceptives and the legalization of abortion have also been contributing factors. They not only enabled women to postpone pregnancies but also sharply reduced unwanted pregnancies.
In Southern Europe, as children stay with their parents until marriage, by the time they leave home, they are at a more advanced age than adults from Northern Europe, and therefore are more likely to have fewer children. They are also less likely to take financial risks by taking responsibility for a family. This has been called the ‘delay syndrome.
The one population segment that is growing in Europe is the Muslim population that, even though it averages only 5% of the population, with the notable exception of Russia where it reaches 15% and France with 10%, may eventually bring about major changes in society as their culture is essentially very difficult from the permissive and liberal European culture. if Muslims maintain a high fertility rate, we could witness a repeat of what is believed to have taken place with the Christians in the early days of the church in Rome, with a small group rapidly gaining in importance and leading the emperor himself to convert.
However, the fertility of Moslems in Europe is declining rapidly, adjusting itself to that of the native European population, and thus showing that immigration is not a viable alternative to stop population decline. Migration does, however, contribute to replace an ageing workforce.
Nearly 50 million migrants will have to be admitted to the European Union by 2050 for the population to remain stable. For the retirement benefits to be maintained at their present level of 4 active persons per pensioner, the figure for migrants is even higher, reaching 13 million a year. Presently there are 11 million migrants in Europe and an unknown number of illegals.
There are other ways through which this decline could be halted. One of them is through the entrance of candidate countries which, like Turkey, have a growing demography.
As birth rates decline, due to personal choices, both the number of children and the population, over time, shrinks. The working age population decreases and fertility declines even further. Eventually there is the third transition period with all age segments of the population declining.
An ageing society
In the world today, for the first time in human history, old people outnumber the young. In developed countries, 20% of the population is older than 60. Worldwide, 1% of the population is over 80 and, being the fastest growing age group, is due to reach 4% by 2050.
Since the middle of the 19th century, life expectancy has increased by 3 months every year, leading to the forecast that by 2060, it will have reached 100 years and possibly even higher if life-extension drugs or technologies are developed.
Europe has the world’s oldest population, with 22% being over 60, and 1% being older than 80, this last figure is expected to reach 4% by 2050.
Women still have a longer life expectancy than men, but the difference is narrowing and may not be sustainable over the long term. Smoking by women, together with the adoption of social habits that used to be reserved to men, is believed to be the major culprit in allowing this difference to narrow.
While the average sex ratio at birth favors males by approximately 105 boys to 100 girls, the ratio reverses itself with age as women have a longer life expectancy than men. For the population over 60, the figures are of 82 men for 100 women and decreases to 55 men for 100 women at age 80. The ratio at these older ages is even lower in Europe with 69 men per 100 women at the age of 60, and 42 men per 100 women at the age of 80. One of the reasons for the difference between Europe and the rest of the world is the large number of young men who died during the Second World War.
Explanations for the longer life expectancy abound. One of them is that the present generation that is retiring is the first to have known both antibiotics and vaccines. They also received a better nutrition as food prices decreased.
Economic and political issues
All the models indicate that economic growth can only take place if there is demographic growth.
Several countries have introduced pro-natal policies such as the financing of day-care centers, fiscal advantages, payments at birth, etc. Research has shown that these policies incite families to have children earlier, but not to have more children.
Older persons are conservative and risk-averse. Therefore it is more than likely that entrepreneurial actions will decrease. Savings will also be on the decrease and lead to higher interest rates increasing the cost of investments. Inheritances, except for the wealthy, will be paltry, leading the younger generations to have reduced wealth.
Pensions and health care costs will soar as the number of people gainfully employed shrinks compared to the number of elderly retired. The increase in the pension and health care budget for France, for instance, is set to increase by 13% and reach five times what the country spends on defense.
Health care for older people is an expensive undertaking, particularly in the treatment of terminal diseases such as the setting of implants and cancer, both of which are a common occurrence on people over 65. A solution to curb these rising costs is to reduce reimbursements or increase insurance premiums or taxes but there is a limit to the acceptance by the tax payer of new increases. Another option is a strict limit set by the government on prices of medications and hospital equipment as is the case in Japan.
As the workforce will decrease, employment of older people may be encouraged by governments through the removal of social contributions and other social payments from corporations, through investments in lifelong learning and by applying penalties on corporations discriminating on the basis of age.
On the positive side, however, new opportunities for employment and for entrepreneurs will be created by the so-called silver economy. These relate to new products and employment in areas as diverse as health care, assisted domestic living, education, travel, spas, etc.
However, even if a number of these urgent measures are applied, the relative importance of Europe in the world will no doubt diminish.
Another action European governments could take to help slow population decline, is to reduce the number of preventable deaths due to alcoholism, car accidents, suicide and smoking for persons under 65 years of age.
Forecasting not being an exact science, there are several forecasts as to the future population of the world and of Europe.
One suggests that future fertility rates will vary, depending on the country, between 1.35 to 2.35 children per woman, leading to a world population in 2030 of between 7.7 and 10.6 billion.
By 2050, Asia’s population will be of over 5 billion and that of Africa nearly 2 billion. India will be the most populated country with 1.4 billion inhabitants.
The world’s population of over 60 will double to 22% of the total population by 2050 and will be larger than the number of children and in the developed countries will be twice the number of children.
Europe’s population is expected to drop by 7 million between now and 2050 and it will only represent 7% of the world’s population in spite of the fact that the populations of France and Great Britain are expected to continue to grow. The countries with the sharpest growth will be Romania and Croatia.
The European continent appears to be moving to an empty land populated mainly by older persons who will sink into poverty as the number of working people decreases. Should large waves of immigrants or the introduction into the EU of Turkey be allowed replace the existing population, European culture will disappear.
Goodbye Europeans, Farewell.
From Russia with Love: Controversy Around the Russian Aid Campaign to Italy
As Winston Churchill said in the mid-1940s as the end of World War II approached, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” At the time, the British Prime Minister was presumably referring to the Yalta conference and the resulting alliance between him, Stalin, and Roosevelt, the trio that would lead to the founding of the United Nations, thus generating opportunities within a crisis. Although the statement dates back more than 70 years, it continues to be relevant even today. In recent years the Kremlin has not hesitated to make a crisis fruitful, using it to regain its position as a significant player on the global scene (i.e., Libya, Ukraine, Syria). And the global health emergency triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception.
On March 22, Italy began to receive the first Russian aid, following a telephone call between Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Russian President Vladimir Putin. A goodwill gesture labeled “From Russia with Love” in honor of one of the most successful films in the 007 sagas. Along with the mission and medical material, however, came a military contingent led by General Sergey Kikot, head of 104 health workers and other assistance personnel.
Although welcomed with great appreciation, the reception of the Russian aid operation has raised several doubts concerning the authenticity of its objectives. In this regard, it is necessary to stress that until the beginning of April, Italy faced the crisis almost entirely on its own.
Initially, Europe and its member states revealed themselves to be reluctant to cooperate. Instead of showing solidarity towards their then most affected member state, the allied governments reacted through the closure of the borders, a move that resulted in the delay of the arrival and exchange of necessary medical equipment on European soil, thus worsening the Italian situation. The apology addressed to the peninsula by EU President Ursula Von Der Leyen is dated April 1 (“Ursula von der Leyen: Scusateci ora l’Europa è con voi”). In the letter addressed to the newspaper “La Repubblica”, the President apologized for the lack of promptness of help from the European community, calling Italy a source of inspiration in the fight against COVID-19 and stressing its importance as a member state of the European Union. Besides, in the letter, it is repeatedly stated that although the European response was initially delayed, Europe is now more united than ever in the fight against the virus. A battle that cannot be won if not together.
Faster in the solidarity response, conversely, proved to be third countries, including not only Russia, but also China, and Cuba. Pending a European response, and just when the number of casualties exceeded that of China, a series of aid from the communist giant arrived in Italy. Between 12 and 18 March, an equipe of medical experts landed in Rome and Milan along with supplies and technical support, including respirators, masks, and protective suits and dressings. Similarly, on March 26, Cuba sent a medical team consisting of 52 healthcare professionals.
While not much has been spoken about the other foreign aid, and although Italy was facing great difficulties and was in definite need of help, the arrival of the Russian contingent has caused quite a few perplexities. Questions were raised concerning the consequences of the Russian aid campaign to Italy. Did the Kremlin expect anything in return? What would be the cost to the Italian government of these disinterested contributions, and what the strategic motives behind the humanitarian mission? Alexander Baunov, senior fellow at Moscow Carnegie Center, in the article “Is the Kremlin using the crisis as an opportunity to score propaganda victories?”, pointed out how, for countries that would like to see the world order turned upside down, this pandemic presents an excellent opportunity.
Prior to discussing the underlying motives at the heart of the Russian aid campaign, it is of interest to observe how the same information has been presented by the two respective governments. While in Russia the press focused on the gratitude shown by the Italian people for the assistance received, in Italy, media appeared more critical, questioning the implications of the campaign.
More specifically, La Stampa, one of the longest-selling and oldest newspapers on the peninsula, expressed its doubts about the matter, in particular through the work of the journalist Jacopo Iacoboni. (“Nella Spedizione dei Russi in Italia, il generale che negò i gas in Siria”, “Militari di Mosca acquartierati nella foresteria dell’esercito italiano, i timori di un’“occupazione” russa in Italia” ). The correspondent voiced his perplexity over the quality of the aid received, pointing out that about 80% of the material was obsolete and not working. The usage of the Aventa-M fan model (at present, there are 150 fans of this type on Italian soil) has, in fact, been suspended in Russia after having caused the death of 6 people, between 9 and 12 of May, for catching fire. In addition, the journalist, given the large number of military presence in the contingent, expressed his fears for the security of the country’s sensitive data, depicting the aid more as a geopolitical move than as an act of solidarity.
The diatribe became more heated when Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashankov intervened, accusing the journalist of russophobia and spreading false information.
Tensions culminated in an appeal to Russian institutions from Rome by Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio and Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini to respect freedom of the press, including the right of criticism, defined as a fundamental value at the base of the country.
On the other hand, the Russian media decided to focus their attention on the appreciation expressed by the Italians. Alongside the news of the mission’s arrival on Italian soil, media reported flags displaying the message “Spasibo Bolshoe” (thank you very much) held by smiling Italians gazing at the camera from their balconies. “Thank you, Russia, we won’t forget” “Dear Merkel, thank you for abandoning us” these the recurrent headlines on the subject (Baltnews, RT, BBC Russia, Rya Novosty, VestyRu, TsarGrad). Among the most well-known personal expression of gratitude, it is worth mentioning the former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s private message to Putin and a video posted by the Italian singer Pupo, in which the singer tries to pronounce a few words and sings in Russian.
From the Russian media, however, the Italian response to Russian aid seems to have found more support than what appears to have actually happened. According to EUvsDISINFO weekly report – “Coronavirus: BBC challenges pro-Kremlin reporting from Italy” – Italians have been portrayed replacing European flags with Russian ones, as proof though only an isolated video was found. Another recurring narrative denounced by the EU taskforce portrays Italian citizens engaged in playing the Russian anthem from their balconies during the lockdown. However, again, only one video to confirm the statement. The video was filmed outside the UGL Workers’ Union, a section of the extreme right-wing Italian political party Casapound.
Let us now turn to the controversies surrounding the interests behind the Russian aid contingent.
Amidst the most commonly discussed assumptions, one wonders whether, as a result of the disinterested aid, Russia does not expect something in return.
A common belief is that the Kremlin, having in Italy its closest ally within the European Union, could count on its help to put pressure on Brussels to review the question of sanctions, imposed following the illegal annexation of Crimea. A strategy that had already been employed in the preceding years with regard to Italy unsuccessfully (Following a unanimous vote held in December 2019, the European Council had extended the sanctions until July 31, 2020). As alleged evidence to this would seem to be the letter dated April 27 from the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Russian Duma, Leonid Slutsky, forwarded to the Italian senators. The letter expressly asks for help on the issue of sanctions. In order to avoid misinterpretation, clarification was promptly provided by the President of the Foreign Commission of Palazzo Madama, the senator of the 5 Star Movement Vito Petrocelli, who stated: “The appeal of my Russian counterpart Leonid Slutsky did not concern at all the European sanctions against Moscow linked to the Ukrainian issue, but the international sanctions that prevent countries such as Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and others from adequately combating the spread of COVID-19, creating further risks of contagion for the entire planet.” The letter would, therefore, refer to the UN General Assembly decision, which rejected the Russian resolution presented on March 25, also signed, among other countries, by China, Iran, and Venezuela, to suspend the sanctions due to the current health emergency.
Although there was some controversy following the letter’s receipt, it seems, nonetheless, quite far-fetched for the Russian mission to Italy to be solely dictated by the possibility for the latter to provide help concerning the suspension of sanctions against the Kremlin.
In this regard, it is of interest to remark that during its most critical moments (WWII, Cold War), Italy has always sided against Russia. On the contrary, the most probable scenario seems to be the Kremlin’s aim to gain credit with Rome in those areas of friction where bilateral relations prevail, i.e., the energy market and the Libyan question.
Italy is the fourth Russian trade outlet after the Netherlands, China, and Germany, and the fifth source of imports. In this regard, the Italo-Russian Chamber of Commerce (CCIR), founded in 1964, is very operative, bringing together the main Italian companies operating in Russia and vice versa. Russia is also the leading supplier of energy in Italy: from the latter, it purchases oil for about 15% of imports and gas for 30% of total imports. Italy acts, therefore, as the natural bridge between Russia and the European Union. This role, among other things, is witnessed by the massive Italian presence at the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg, which, in addition to the political presence, sees the participation of all the most significant Italian companies and their chain of small and medium enterprises. Not to mention the investments of the two major Italian banks, Intesa Sanpaolo and Unicredit. Italy and Russia live in a relationship of economic symbiosis, as evidenced by the ever-increasing commercial exchange (EUROSTAT).
Simultaneously, the ongoing instability in Libya presents several challenges for Italy. Among the broad spectrum of interests in ending the Libyan crisis, in addition to energy and security issues, the issue of migration is undoubtedly the most urgent. Indeed, the migratory flow on the Italian coast risks having a significant impact on public opinion and political developments in the country. In this regard, Russia, which is also involved in the country, would thus play a key role in the negotiations to end the conflict.
In addition to whether the bill would have been presented to Italy once the aid had ended, further concern relates to security. Due to the presence of a large military convoy, the motive behind army personnel deployment and not just medical staff was questioned. Widespread speculation was that Moscow, accessing various hospitals’ databases, was engaged in a data-mining mission. Now, that would seem more like a scenario worthy of the Cold War era. What seems more reasonable, especially given that, at the time, Russia was still one of the countries less affected by the virus, is that, in the Kremlin’s perspective, the Italian situation presented itself as an excellent opportunity to gather useful information about COVID-19 and its possible mutations.
Thus, Italy would have represented both a study opportunity to train and test the capabilities of Russian departments specializing in chemical, radiological and biological defense, as well as a chance to examine the data stored in the national health system, collecting all the information needed, in order to gain a better understanding of the virus. To suggest the hypothesis, the fact that Russian convoys, consisting among others of an entire department highly specialized in bacteriological containment operations, were located in Bergamo, Lombardy, the most affected area in Italy.
Even though some have regarded the Russian aid campaign with fear and criticism, including Josep Borrell head of the European Union’s foreign and defense policy, who warned against Chinese and Russian propaganda, the Italian government has been clear about the matter. To reiterate the Italian position and avoid further ambiguity, the foreign minister Luigi di Maio in a recent interview for the newspaper “Il Corriere Della Sera” reported that there was no new geopolitical scenario. In what he described to be a matter of “realpolitik,” he stated, “There is only one country that needs help and the other countries that are giving it.”
A few weeks after the end of the Russian mission (May 7), one wonders whether there will be any consequences on the international geopolitical scene. Nonetheless, when addressing Russia’s attempt to re-establish itself on the international stage, in Italy’s case, it appears erroneous to refer to the mission as of an attempt to penetrate new geopolitical spaces. Russian solidarity should rather be regarded as an effort to maintain a political status quo already considered favorable. From the friendship of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi with Vladimir Putin, to Enrico Letta, the only EU leader at the inauguration of the Olympic Games in Sochi, to Matteo Renzi, former Prime Minister, and Matteo Salvini, leader of the right-wing party “The League”, who openly criticized the European Council for the renewal of sanctions against Russia, to an intense series of agreements and protocols of economic, political and cultural cooperation, Italo-Russian relations appear well-established.
Italy has long stood as the founding country of the EU closest to the Kremlin, and bilateral relations seem to be facilitated by the presence of shared interests based on economic cooperation (CCIR) and the lack of historical political and social issues (Siddi). Relations are determined not only by commercial interests but also by the fruitful cultural and social exchanges between the two countries. Italian institutes of culture are very operative in the Federation, as well as the Dante Alighieri Societies, particularly active in the teaching of the Italian language, along with various cultural and tourist exchange initiatives. Despite the consequences and the underlying motives behind this humanitarian mission remain hence difficult to be predicted, it is nevertheless interesting to stress that a link between the two countries already existed. And although Italy has been part of the western economic and military structure (EU and NATO founding member) since the first post-war period, positive dialogue with the Kremlin has continued and continues to evolve.
From our partner RIAC
UK’s post-covid foreign policy
UK’s foreign policy post corona is likely to be driven by some crucial economic factors. On the one hand, it is likely to work closely with countries like US, Japan Australia and India, to reduce its dependence upon China. On the other, UK can not totally bank on the US for achieving its economic goals, given the unpredictability of US President, Donald Trump.
UK needs to look at new Free Trade Agreements (FTA’s) and also be part of arrangements, such as the Trans Pacific Partnership which enable it to diversify it’s supply chains
Important economic decisions of UK with a bearing on UK-China economic ties
UK has taken some important steps with an eye on enhancing self-sufficiency, and reducing reliance on China given the changing environment.
The Boris Johnson government has set up a committee — ‘Project Defend’ — which seeks to study UK’s economic dependence with hostile countries (with a specific thrust on China) especially for sensitive imports. Based on the findings of this report, UK will work towards relocation of pharmaceutical companies. While changing supply chains over night may not be an easy task, this is an important decision which the Boris Johnson Administration has taken.
UK’s recent decision on Huawei
The Boris Johnson Administration has also recently taken a decision to reduce Huawei’s participation in the 5G network to zero by 2023. In January 2020, Boris Johnson had given a go ahead to Huawei’s participation in the ‘non-core’ element of the 5G network, with important restrictions, as well as a 35% market share cap. This decision drew flak from a section of Conservative Party politicians, who for long have been arguing that the UK needs to be cautious with regard to close economic ties with China, since this has serious security implications. The Trump administration had also expressed is displeasure with the Boris Johnson administration. The US President and senior officials in his administration had expressed their unhappiness, saying that this decision could have an impact on security cooperation between both countries.
In the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, ties between UK and China have gone downhill (senior officials of the Johnson administration have criticized China for suppressing information with regard to the outbreak of the pandemic), and Johnson’s decision was driven by two factors. One increasing pressure from Conservative MP’s who had threatened to vote against the government’s decision and second the fact, that UK is keen to go ahead with an FTA with the US (there have been differences between the US and UK however on the issue of the FTA, with the US urging UK to make a choice between China and the US)
Apart from this, the recent US sanctions imposed on Huawei, have also played a role in Johnson’s decision of reducing Huawei’s participation by 2023 (the Trump administration has made it compulsory for foreign manufacturers using U.S. chipmaking equipment to obtain a license before being able to sell chips to Huawei).
D 10 network
Interestingly, the UK has also proposed, that a group of 10 countries, dubbed as D10, joins hands to provide an alternative to Huawei’s 5G network and other technologies with the aim of reducing dependence upon China. The proposed grouping should consist of US, UK, Japan, South Korea, India, New Zealand, Australia,
UK has thus taken the lead in providing an alternative. Significantly, US President Donald Trump has also stated, that he is keen to expand the G7 and include not India, South Korea but also Russia.
UK also keen to play an important role in the TPP
While on the one hand, the UK is trying to reduce its dependence upon China, by joining hands with the US and like minded countries, on the other UK is also seeking membership of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) which consists of 11 members (Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam).
While the idea of the TPP was proposed by former US President, Barack Obama, though the first decision taken by Trump was to withdraw from the agreement. Japan has been playing an important role in the CPTPP, given it’s strategic importance. Efforts are also being made to expand its membership, so that dependence upon China is reduced.
The UK faces numerous challenges, while on the one hand it does need to reshape the economic relationship with China, on the other hand this can not be done overnight, so enhancing FTA’s and joining the CPTPP is important in this context.
From a purely strategic perspective, the UK-US relationship has been important and with Johnson and Trump at the helm, and increasing convergence on attitudes vis-à-vis China, this is likely to get further strengthened (though there could be differences on both economic and geo-political issues). The idea of the D10 grouping mooted by UK has also sent a clear message, that in spite of numerous economic challenges, the UK is keen to emerge as an important player, in its own right, in the post covid world order.
What is Multilateralism in European Terms?
The term “multilateralism” is not specifically elaborated in Russian international relations theory. For a long time, it has remained in the shadow of the much more popular term “multipolarity,” although the latter is gradually being replaced in Russian literature by the term “polycentrism.” Sometimes, it seems that “multilateralism” and “multipolarity” are used in Russian scientific and political discourse as synonyms, both reflecting the democratisation of the international system that began with the collapse of the “unipolar world” at the beginning of the century.
Yet, “multipolarity” is obviously not the same as “multilateralism.” The former denotes pluralism in the distribution of power in the international system among three or more independent decision-making centres, while the latter describes a possible way for these centres to collaborate. Without multipolarity, there can be no multilateralism, since a unipolar or bipolar system simply does not provide enough actors for multipolar interaction. But multipolarity does not necessarily imply multilateralism, since relations within a multipolar system can theoretically come down to a set of bilateral relations between individual centres of power.
In the United States, at least prior to the Trump administration, multilateralism was formally considered the preferred foreign policy practice, especially in relations with allies. For example, NATO is a multilateral military-political alliance and the North American free trade area (NAFTA, recently superseded by USMCA) is a multilateral trade and economic integration initiative. Yet, the United States has acted as the undisputed leader in all multilateral agreements, which has raised questions as to how multilateral these agreements really are. As for Donald Trump, he has expressed doubt as to whether multilateralism is an effective means for promoting American interests at all, preferring, wherever possible, to negotiate with partners in a bilateral format.
Unlike the United States, EU countries consider multilateralism not only a convenient format for foreign policy but one of its fundamental principles. This principle is embedded in many official EU documents, including the Treaty on the European Union (Article 21). The commitment to multilateralism was once again reaffirmed last spring when France and Germany announced the creation of the international Alliance for Multilateralism, already joined by about fifty countries from various regions of the world. “Multilateralism” in European political discourse is, however, often little more than a uniting slogan, representing one of the basic values of the European Union that distinguishes the EU from other global players who prefer a unilateral foreign policy (USA, Russia, China).
That is why the essay Multilateralism: Variants, Potential, Constraints and Conditions for Success, authored by one of the pillars of modern German foreign policy thought, Professor Hanns Maull, and published by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), merits careful reading. For over twenty years, Hanns Maull has held the Foreign Policy and International Relations Chair at the University of Trier in Germany and is now a professor at the Johns Hopkins University in Bologna. Let us discuss the main points of his essay.
Interpretations of the Term
The author of the essay offers the reader three levels of understanding of multilateralism. The first level of understanding, designated by Maull as Multilateralism I, reduces this concept to diplomatic interaction between three or more states (or other actors) in international politics. This understanding does not present any difficulties or controversies: multilateralism comes down to formal issues and is contrasted to unilateral and bilateral formats. Nor does this understanding offer any substantive content: participants in the multilateral format can pursue any goals and base their cooperation on any principles that suit them. From the essay, we may conclude that, for example, the three agreements made in the second half of the 18th century between Russia, Prussia and Poland on the partition of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth fall well under the definition of multilateral diplomacy, since all three parties participated in all the agreements.
Modern German foreign policy employs a broader interpretation of multilateralism, designated by the author as Multilateralism II. The essence of the German understanding is that multilateralism, in addition to formal criteria, should also include substantive criteria. Therefore, it includes interaction of more than two actors with action within the framework of international organizations, oriented towards the principles and norms and carried out in accordance with the rules and regulations that underlie those organisations (such as, for example, the United Nations Charter). In this version, a multilateral foreign policy stands not only for a specific diplomatic approach but also for a commitment to certain principles, substantive goals and methods of foreign policy. Ultimately, we are talking about a limited set of common values that do not exclude conflicts between individual participants. A possible example of Multilateralism II is probably the way European countries cooperated within the framework of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) in the 1970s and 80s, while maintaining a mostly competitive relationship between two different social and political systems.
Historically, this understanding of multilateralism is closely connected with the concept of the Western liberal world order, the foundations of which were laid in 1945 and which began to claim universality after 1990. Yet, this does not mean that Multilateralism II must inevitably disappear along with the decaying liberal world order. It may be based on other values and principles; the main element is the creation of common norms in world politics, to be agreed in a multilateral format. In fact, multilateral mechanisms should enable us to agree on common norms and values, a universally desirable world order and regulatory practices acceptable to each individual participant in multilateral negotiations.
Multilateralism III represents a more radical understanding of the term. Whereas the main task of Multilateralism II is to achieve the broadest possible compromise on the basic issues in the regulation of international life, despite significant differences in the interests of the participants, Multilateralism III is to find “right” or “appropriate” solutions to the problems of world politics, i.e., achieve a transition to “effective global governance.” If Multilateralism II proceeds from what the participants in the system think achievable, Multilateralism III operates in terms of what is desired and what should be done. In the first case, we are talking about a tactical alliance of players with very different aspirations and, in the second case, about a strategic partnership of like-minded parties who interact with one another to achieve common goals.
Accordingly, in order to move from Multilateralism II to Multilateralism III, two complex problems must be resolved. First, tactical allies should become strategic partners, that is, agree on a general picture of a desirable future, on practical steps to make this future possible, on an equitable distribution of the burden and costs associated with this transit, etc. Second, international institutions must be established that are capable of ensuring effective coercion of independent players in the international system to implement multilaterally adopted decisions. As history shows, for example, in the case of multilateral efforts to combat climate change, even a general agreement on the principles, values and goals of cooperation does not necessarily guarantee that the international community will move towards its stated goals.
Why is a “Multilateral” Foreign Policy Necessary?
Proponents of multilateralism (any of the above variants) rely in their reasoning on three interrelated assumptions: regarding the magnitude of impending global challenges; the persistence of a trend toward power diffusion in world politics; and the great potential of multilateral cooperation.
The first assumption, according to Maull, needs no detailed justification. Some of the global challenges — from climate change and a possible environmental disaster to uncontrolled development of new technologies and the threat of a global nuclear war — call into question the continued existence of mankind. Another thing is equally obvious: many of these challenges place extremely high demands on the quality of global governance, including not only cooperation between states but also involvement of non-state players — private businesses, international organisations and civil society. Constructive co-operation, even between such large states as China and the United States, will not in itself suffice to solve the problems. Within the framework of today’s predominantly Westphalian international system, achieving a new quality of global governance does not appear feasible.
Power diffusion is likely to continue. Consolidation of the world based on a revival of a unipolar or even rigid bipolar system seems unlikely. Nation-states will remain the main players in world politics, with preservation (at least formally) of the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity. At the same time, the number and international activity of non-state players will continue to grow, undermining the hierarchy in world politics and economics. Traditional formats of international cooperation will increasingly prove ineffective and the need for complex new multilateral and multi-level formats will grow. A multitude of multilateral schemes crop up in international relations, which could not have existed even theoretically throughout human history.
Proponents of multilateralism suggest that the transition to a new level of global governance will make it possible to use resources more efficiently, streamline strategies and priorities, avoid duplication of efforts, etc. Maull, however, entertains serious doubts about this assumption. First, transferring even some of the functions of national states to multilateral structures is already difficult since the states themselves have long become much less omnipotent on their own territory. Second, the effectiveness of existing multilateral structures — from the United Nations and the European Union to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank — is also controversial. Global governance based on multilateralism has yet to prove its worth.
Multilateral Diplomacy: Benefits and Challenges
The obvious advantage of multilateral diplomacy, according to the author, is its inclusive nature: only multilateralism allows the broad coalitions necessary for resolving complex problems to be formed. In addition, multilateralism enhances the international legitimacy and sustainability of any agreements. Of course, this only applies to situations when the multilateral coalition is sufficiently representative, that is, when the problem is solved bearing in mind the positions and interests of all significant players.
On the other hand, it is precisely these features of multilateral diplomacy that, in some cases, turn out to be its downfall. It can be difficult to focus the agenda in multilateral negotiations, as each of the participants has its own priorities. Multilateral negotiations usually require more time and resources than bilateral ones, not to mention unilateral actions. Procedural issues are much more difficult to negotiate in a multilateral format than a bilateral one.
Decisions made following multilateral negotiations often turn out to be half-hearted, fuzzy and declarative, as negotiators focus on the search for the “lowest common denominator,” allowing them to keep the support of the maximum number of contracting parties. Multilateral negotiations can be blocked by any of the participants. There is an inverse proportion between legitimacy and effectiveness: high legitimacy is achieved at the cost of low effectiveness and vice versa. The same correlation usually applies to the time needed to reach an agreement and its stability: agreements concluded in a scramble are generally less stable and reliable than ones resulting from lengthy negotiations.
As a general rule, we can conclude that multilateral and representative formats have no alternative when it comes to fundamental systemic problems in world politics or economics. Even so, when it comes to the need to respond quickly to a sudden challenge, the actions of small groups of players who are more interested in solving the problem may be more effective. Of course, you have to pay with a part of legitimacy for efficiency and effectiveness.
There are many other problems and difficulties associated with multilateralism. For example, it is not entirely clear how to distribute the responsibilities and burdens associated with implementing an agreement “fairly” among all the participants in multilateral negotiations. The question of what measures should be taken with respect to those who take a selective approach to multilateral agreements or even sabotage their implementation is also not a simple one.
In multilateral negotiations, mutual confidence between participants is more critical than in bilateral negotiations because there is always a fear that groups of participants might coordinate their negotiating positions behind the scenes so that the others will have to face a consolidated opposition promoting unilateral interests in a coordinated manner. Digressing for a moment from the discussion of Maull’s essay, we may note that it was precisely such a problem that arose in the work of the Russia–NATO Council, established at the NATO–Russia Summit in Rome in May 2002. The Russian side proceeded from the Council becoming a fully-fledged multilateral organisation with each participant acting in its individual capacity. Western countries turned the Council into a mechanism for bilateral cooperation between NATO and Russia, de facto abandoning the principle of multilateralism. A similar situation arose over time in the Group of Eight, after it was joined by Russia. On many fundamental issues, Moscow was forced to confront a combined coalition of the other seven members of the G8. The transformation of a formally multilateral format into a virtually bilateral one significantly reduced the effectiveness of the two negotiation platforms, both for Russia and, ultimately, for its Western partners.
Conditions for Effective Multilateralism
Given the above problems, we can formulate several conditions that might allow multilateral negotiation to be successful. These conditions relate mainly to the approaches and expectations of negotiators. First, participants should be interested in achieving sustainable results, not winning a diplomatic “victory” over partners by securing tactical advantages. A diplomatic “victory” of this kind could undermine the agreement at some point and turn it into a defeat.
Second, participants must be orientated on compromise, including a willingness to make concessions. Practice shows that violation of a reasonable balance between concessions by the parties inevitably undermines the stability of the agreement.
Third, negotiators should proceed from the principle of “diffuse reciprocity,” that is, be prepared to demonstrate solidarity with partners in difficult situations, sacrificing their immediate interests for the sake of longer-term gain, if necessary.
Fourth, negotiators must have “internal legitimacy”, that is, be able to make commitments on behalf of those they represent. This means that only strong leaders with broad political support in their own countries can be successful negotiators.
Fifth, implementation mechanisms should be identified from the outset. If these conditions are not met, multilateral negotiations will prove useless at best and harmful at worst, acting as a smokescreen masking the unilateral actions of certain players.
The author emphasises that the success of multilateral diplomacy paradoxically depends on the willingness of participants to make unilateral and bilateral steps. Practice shows that, behind any success of multilateral efforts, there is always a leader or group of leaders who take the initiative in determining the agenda, prioritising its issues and maintaining the negotiation schedules, as well as acting as mediators in reaching a compromise. The multilateral format does not cancel out and will not replace the bilateral format but it is a necessary addition to or prerequisite for the latter. An example of such a combination is the bilateral German–French negotiations on creating the Alliance for Multilateralism.
Alliance for Multilateralism
The Alliance for Multilateralism, as an informal association of countries promoting multilateral approaches to resolving international problems, remains a flagship foreign policy project of Germany. Although this initiative has a very brief history, its work allows us to draw some conclusions about the possibilities and limitations of Multilateralism in world politics.
First of all, the initial meeting of interested countries was held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York in September 2019 by seven states: Germany, France, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Ghana and Singapore. These countries are very different in size, economic development and political systems. For example, according to the Freedom House classification, Mexico and Singapore are among the “partly free” countries. So we may conclude that the desire for multilateralism (perhaps even in the format of Multilateralism II) is not a feature inherent exclusively in liberal democracies.
In addition, the first practical steps made by the Alliance confirm the assumption that multilateral structures tend to focus on relatively uncontroversial, technical issues, where there is more chance of developing a common position. One such issue was the Alliance’s proposal to ban lethal autonomous weapons systems (even though the countries most actively working on such systems did not participate in the Alliance). More complex issues, such as freedom of trade, the future of international law and international organisations, human rights, etc., were left on the periphery of the Alliance’s attention. We should add that most of the decisions taken by the Alliance are to be implemented by the interested players on a voluntary basis.
Such a choice of priorities raises the fundamental question of whether the transition to a new level of global governance can go from bottom to top — from specific, depoliticised and relatively simple issues to more complex, sensitive and politically loaded problems, or whether it should go from top to bottom — from general, politically determined, fundamental problems to technical details. If we assume that a bottom-up transition is feasible, the Alliance’s work should be welcomed and supported in every way. If the only possible transition is top-down, then the Alliance’s work may even be counterproductive because it creates the illusion of moving forward where, in fact, no progress is being made. Replacing strict international legal rules with voluntarily assumed obligations, for all its attractiveness, can erode the foundations of the modern world order without creating any effective alternative.
It Is Not That Simple
The essay by Hanns Maull leaves us with the feeling that only the very first steps have been taken so far in studying the complex problems of multilateralism and the number of questions that arise significantly exceeds the number of available answers. In any case, it seems obvious that multilateralism (just like, for example, multipolarity or polycentricism) can in no sense be considered a universal mechanism for resolving all international problems. The multilateral format, as the author rightly notes, has many significant drawbacks: it is cumbersome, complex, slow and often has disappointing results. Multilateralism cannot and will not replace the bilateral approach and unilateral foreign policy actions.
Even so, one may agree with the author that multilateralism has its obvious comparative advantages. It would be a mistake to ignore or downplay such features of multilateralism as democratism, representativeness and the legitimacy and sustainability of the results of multilateral negotiations. Multilateralism is a chance for relatively weak players to make their voices heard and their interests taken into account. It is also an opportunity for relatively strong players to make their leadership more civilised, less burdensome and less intrusive for all other participants in the international scene.
Ultimately, however, multilateralism, like any other format of diplomatic activity, will always be as effective or ineffective as the players who practice them want. So far, most of these players are guided by an understanding of multilateralism somewhere between Multilateralism II and Multilateralism I, gradually sliding from the first to the second. Reversing this negative trend to start moving towards Multilateralism III will require tremendous efforts.
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