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The rationale of foreign policy

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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 “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. 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 “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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French Senator Allizard: Mediterranean – Theatre for future Europe

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On the historic date of March 08th – International Women’s Day, a large number of international affairs specialists gathered for the second consecutive summit in Vienna, Austria. This leg of the Vienna Process titled: “Europe – Future – Neighbourhood at 75: Disruptions Recalibration Continuity”. The conference, jointly organized by the Modern Diplomacy, IFIMES and their partners, with the support of the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, was aimed at discussing the future of Europe and its neighbourhood in the wake of its old and new challenges.[1]

Along with the two acting State Presidents, the event was endorsed by the keynote of the EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Excellency OlivérVárhelyi. The first, of the three-panel conference, was brilliantly conducted by the OSCE Sec-General (2011-2017), current IFIMES Euro-Med Director, Amb. Lamberto Zannier. Among his speakers, the first to open the floor was French Senator Pascal Allizard, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Vice President (and its Special rapporteur for Mediterranean issues). Discussing regional issues of the southern Europe, its relations with the black sea and with North of Africa, this is what Senator outlined in his intervention:

As 2021 is the ten-year anniversary of the Arab spring, Senator Pascal highlights that a decade later, the events of the Arab Spring are crucial to the problems of today. Europe should reevaluate the region through European lens. Excellency Alizard criticizes Europe, due to the fact that it tends to take a step back from the region of the North African affected area of the Arab Spring conflict as there is an abundance of issues which are unlikely to be solved with ease. One must still do its duties difficult or not to question the region. Turning a blind eye to the problems there is something that Senator says Europe tends to do to elevate their consciousness.

However, one must look at the problems head-on. The biggest concern is that there is an explosive growth in population, a rise in radicalism and the Black Sea is what separates that northern conflict region of Africa and the Mediterranean coast of Europe.

The Mediterranean Sea is known to be one of the most crucial routes to transport illegal cargo such as drugs, hydrocarbon and human trafficking into Europe, specifically through Spain and Italy. It’s crucial for Europe to have a discussion and plan for this region as it is a necessity to keep Europe safe. The different countries along the Mediterranean must come together to create a cohesive, inclusive yet firm diplomatic strategy to answer all the challenges. The region along the Mediterranean Sea is a strategic area for Europe as there are many ships that come from around the world into those ports.

Senator Pascal proceeded by stating that the eastern Mediterranean region escalated after the discovery of significant oil and gas reserves. It is also the ongoing war in Syria, and the destabilization of the region with yet unsettled situation in Libya (with presence of multiple external players which generate instability).

Senator reminded the conference audience that Europe must also mention the actors in the Mediterranean on the European side;

‘’The European Union is a leading player, at least for the display of its normative ambitions, also for its diplomacy of the checkbook and its discourse on human rights. However, the EU is not a power in the state and sovereign sense of the term, and it systematically curbs the sovereign aspirations of its own member states. The EU does not yet project itself sufficiently as an international actor capable of implementing a foreign policy. The EU appears, I believe, seen from the Mediterranean at most as a soft power which, in word, watches over the balance of power in the region. And the hopes placed in EU policy dedicated to the Mediterranean have been in vain, to the extent that they do not seem effective, neither economically nor politically, at least from my point of view, insufficiently. And if on the northern shore a few countries are interested in the Mediterranean area, we can see that this is not the center of European concerns and that no common vision is really emerging.’’

Unification of that region is vital, because if the Mediterranean nations do not collaborate as a union and show their strength, control of that area could fall into the hands of Turkey, Russia and China. Turkey walks bold on the so-called Exclusive Economic Zone in Euro-Med, which would – if accepted – project its power in the Mediterranean, giving it a more prominent regional political role. Russia, which is once again becoming a key player in the Middle East, in the Black Sea area, in the Mediterranean and even in Africa walks bold too. Lastly, China which mainly projects itself through its trade, investments, and its bilateral agreements is pressing on maritime space too. Lately, Chinese military navy can be also seen.

The navies of the regions are preparing for a hardening of relations at sea in a strategic area where world trade flows, but also now, for the exploration, the exploitation of hydrocarbons. This is why questions of sovereignty are once again emerging, naturally in the sense of our concerns.

Hopefully the new US administration will also pay attention to the Mediterranean Sea and not just the Indo-Pacific. 

The only way to establish more of a grip in the Mediterranean theater is cooperation. This is also the key to success for all the European nations gathered around unified code of conduct and rule of law.

Concluding, Excellency Pascal stated that the European Union must recognize realities of unresolved conflicts that are interwoven, as well as to understand the new challenges that can threaten the very fabrics of the Union: security, demography, unregulated immigration. If not equal to these challenges, the universalist European model might lose its grounds beyond point of return – warned Senator.

*the above text is based on the informal French language transcript as per conference recordings, which may have no intentionally caused minor omittances or imprecisions in the reporting.


[1]This highly anticipated conference gathered over twenty high ranking speakers from three continents, and the viewers from Australia to Canada and from Chile to Far East. The day was filled by three panels focusing on the rethinking and revisiting Europe and its three equally important neighbourhoods: Euro-Med, Eastern and trans-Atlantic (or as the Romano Prodi’s EU Commission coined it back in 2000s – “from Morocco to Russia – everything but the institutions”); the socio-political and economic greening; as well as the legacy of WWII, Nuremberg Trials and Code, the European Human Rights Charter and their relevance in the 21st century.

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Vienna Process: Re-visiting and Re-thinking the Euro-MED

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On the historic date of March 08th – International Women’s Day, a large number of international affairs specialists gathered for the second consecutive summit in Vienna, Austria. This leg of the Vienna Process titled: “Europe – Future – Neighbourhood at 75: Disruptions Recalibration Continuity”. The conference, jointly organized by the Modern Diplomacy, IFIMES and their partners, with the support of the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, was aimed at discussing the future of Europe and its neighbourhood in the wake of its old and new challenges.[1]

Along with the two acting State Presidents, the event was endorsed by the keynote of the EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Excellency OlivérVárhelyi. The first, of the three-panel conference, was brilliantly conducted by the OSCE Sec-General (2011-2017), current IFIMES Euro-Med Director, Amb. Lamberto Zannier. Among his speakers were academics, government and IGO representatives of different yet complimentary backgrounds. Following is the brief, yet not conclusive, overview of the discussed. 

Although not new, the EURO-MED cooperation matter remains a distinguished area where the field of possibilities is immense, and where progress vis-à-vis this transregional collaboration would tremendously impact all involved parties’ crisis management abilities. Thus, re-discussing EURO-MED with, if necessary, a novel overall geometry is rightfully referred to as a both compelling and heat-on point of the agenda by the conference panellists.

Admittedly, the Barcelona Process of 1995 and PEM Convention having entered into force in early 2012 were remarkable initiatives aiming notably at introducing institutional frameworks and promoting deeper economic integration based on the “rules of origin” concept. However, the initiatives did not blossom as was hoped, and this is due to several reasons that keynote speaker Monika Wohlfeld (German Chair for Peace Studies & Conflict Prevention) and Ettore Greco (Vice-President of the Institute for International Affairs) have touched upon during the 8th March international event. Given that our awareness and understanding of the lack of prosperity having surrounded those first initiatives is key to re-thinking, re-calibrating and, in turn, re-engage in an auspicious direction, this piece will be taking you back to the salient message vehicled by Wohlfeld and Greco respectively.

First, Monika Wohlfeld took the floor and opened up by acknowledging the past attempts at reaching cooperation security agreements as well as their relative deficiency up until now. Equally as important to recognize are the causes of such failings: actually, little traction was brought on following the emergence of the first initiatives due to, notably, an absence of lasting peace climate and old relational patterns within the involved regions. The context having been set, she moves onto the juicy bit: the inherent inadequacy of the multilateral approach whose prints are all over the 90s and 2000s proposals. What is more, she brings to the table a counter-approach as the path to engage in: minilateralism.

The aforesaid concept offers an alternative cooperation modus that is more selective, flexible and mostly more conscious of, and focused on, the fact (or rather the reality) that States can participate in various ad-hoc frameworks with fluctuating membership. The latter would then be assessed through case-by-case interests, shared values and pertinent capabilities. In that sense, by contrast to a multilateralist angle, a minilateralist attitude would be oriented towards the sub-regional rather than the international; would be a voluntary undertaking rather than a binding one; would concern fragmented but specialized fields of application rather than general comprehensive ones; would tend to be multi-stakeholders rather than State-centric; and would proceed from a bottom-up thinking rather than top-down. Monika’s suggested shift in approach answers an important need, backed-up by local expert voices, which is that of the serious taking into account of sub-regional diversity in the process. By doing so, the odds of reaching cooperation agreements with MED countries – and moreover the chances of those agreements panning out – would be extremely favourable.

As a matter of fact, Ettore Greco endorsed a consubstantial view in his intervention during the conference. More specifically, he believes that a looser approach based on an empowered co-ownership and greater attention to actual regional dynamics and situational constraints ought to be adopted.

Drawing on the Barcelona Process experience, which rendered apparent its shortcomings and the recent state of deadlock having affected the EURO-MED coop, Greco equally provides alternate lines of thinking. What is clear to him is that the integrationist approach and the idea according to which cooperation should equate to structural convergence makes for an unworkable avenue. Indeed, he also pointed out that one main issue encountered with regard to earlier cooperation models (whether in the Barcelona Process or even in the ERANET Project of 2013) was the transfer and, by way of symmetry, the reception of Western policies in the Middle-East and North Africa. This cannot help but to ring an old bell; that of Watson’s concept of the ‘legal transplant’ and related limits. His famous metaphor of the mountain plant being uprooted and planted back in the desert, incurring changes to the plant’s nature remains particularly striking and timely. This goes to show, or rather to remind some, that purely transplanting policies that are specific to a certain ethos without adjusting to the new local particular context can often prove inefficient.

Consequently, is it well-advised that the EU places more emphasis on, and deploys more energy towards, stability and resilience as goals set out for the cooperation in lieu of democratization along with institutional reforms. That being said, Greco concedes that in the absence of profound transformation – and hence, reforms, to some extent – stability in itself is seldom achievable.

Setting aside the MED inner conflict dynamics over which the EU has very little if no control over, new forms of partnerships should be relentlessly explored and promoted in a world where the concurring, mutually-reinforcing challenges can only be optimally addressed through wider pan-regional operative frameworks. In that spirit, Ettore Greco, as emissary for the IAI, lays out some ground requirements we need to achieve as a roadmap to making successful advances. These are:

  • The promotion of a comprehensive concept of security. That is, one more inclusive and of broader scope – and thereby more realistic.[2]
  • The creation of better synergies between the different cooperation frameworks (NATO-MED dialogue, OSCE MED partnership, Union of the MED) and clarification of each initiative’s own added-value.
  • The involvement of valuable non-EU actors such as Russia or the United States of America.

Those guidelines, whether proposed by Monika Wohlfeld or by Ettore Greco, prove that the re-thinking of the EURO-MED cooperation is a breeding ground already being cultured. Besides, this political activation or mobilization towards re-shaping a functional and tighter cooperation scheme can be observed across the board of regional and sub-regional players directly affected by the issue. But mostly, there is one common thread in the discourses of those airing opinions to lead the best way: acknowledgement of the omnipresent diversity and pluralism at play. Only by factoring in the diversity of the partners and their sub-regions can there be beneficial arrangements and progress be made. This, of course, has to be understood as a central remark directed to the European side of the table. All and any relic of hegemony need be completely done away with, so as to fully respect and integrate the diverse identities in the process. And in fact, this shouldn’t be hard to comprehend and assimilate from a EU perspective considering the various cultural bundles interacting within the EU block itself. What is more, the European Court of Human Rights is King as revering and upholding the national particularism of its Member States – it makes it a point of honour in the crushing majority of its judgements whenever harmony flirts too close with a homogeneity requirement that comes short of negating a region’s tradition.


[1]This highly anticipated conference gathered over twenty high ranking speakers from three continents, and the viewers from Australia to Canada and from Chile to Far East. The day was filled by three panels focusing on the rethinking and revisiting Europe and its three equally important neighbourhoods: Euro-Med, Eastern and trans-Atlantic (or as the Romano Prodi’s EU Commission coined it back in 2000s – “from Morocco to Russia – everything but the institutions”); the socio-political and economic greening; as well as the legacy of WWII, Nuremberg Trials and Code, the European Human Rights Charter and their relevance in the 21st century.

[2] On that, see the OSCE model proposal

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U.S government’s own negative impacts in eroding human rights and media freedom in Bulgaria

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The US State Department’s annual human rights report is out and just like every March, critical voices and activists around the world rush to their own country’s section to see what’s included and what they can use openly, with the stamp of criticism by the US government.

This year, the State Department’s report on human rights violations in Bulgaria covers the usual ground and what’s publicly known. There were no surprises. The section on Bulgaria includes very prominently violence against media and journalists, and excessive use of force by law enforcement.

What the US government does not include in the Bulgaria section is the US government’s own role in the erosion of human rights and media freedom in Bulgaria through US government agencies such as the FBI, the CIA and even the US State Department. This is not something that US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, is willing to admit – at least not yet.

Ever since the US Ambassador to Bulgaria, Hero Mustafa, stepped into office back in 2019, the US Embassy in Sofia has maintained media freedom as a main theme. And what was not to like about that? Many of us over here cheered. But not so fast.

The US government construes media freedom only in the narrow sense that only speech praising the US government and going after US enemies should be free and protected. “Direct your freedom of speech against them, not us” is not freedom of speech. That’s not a rights-based approach; it’s authoritarianism. This was my first-hand experience with the US government when I was a top finalist for UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of speech in 2020. This is also my experience with the US government, as I try to spearhead the debate on the joint European position on China, and as I criticize the new US confrontational policy on China in pumping a new unnecessary Cold War with China, while expecting Europe to follow blindly. When the US is provoking China into a military and defense race at China’s own door step, while pointing to the Chinese reaction as “aggression”, hoping to draw Europe also into this, European voices have to speak up and warn about what’s coming on the horizon.

The FBI and the CIA operating under the hat of the US Embassy in Sofia make sure that independent, politically critical voices are kept under check through a variety of illegal means that the US government somehow believes it can allow itself to use on EU soil. The US State Department is happy to tag and sing along with the US intelligence agencies, here in Bulgaria. The Bulgarian authorities are also happy to help the US government in the US government’s repression against progressive, politically critical voices in Bulgaria.

The key take-away for the US government in Bulgaria has to be that the history of US human rights infringements in Europe shows that things like that only drive the transatlantic bond further away, and don’t bring it closer. This is also something that US President Joe Biden is about to learn very soon.

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