Why not at least the European flag?

A critical comment.

From a cynical point of view Hashtags like #PrayForParis and the Tricolour-Feature for profile pictures on Facebook seem like marketing strategies to profit from a momentary social media buzz. As well as other (news) media cycles, the Web 2.0 deals in numbers of traffic, views, clicks and hits. So, from an unemotional – maybe even heartless – position these aspects of a tragedy seem like opportunities to indirectly cash in on grief. But for those posting, liking, sharing and changing their profile, it represents a statement of solidarity with victims, their families and the city of Paris in this case.

One critique often brought forward, is that especially the Tricolour-flag feature represents a nationalist narrative. A narrative that is one of the reasons that Europe, Middle East, Asia, indeed the whole World faces (civil) wars, terrorist attacks and international conflicts. On the one hand representing empathy and kinship towards somebody, on the other hand excluding others from that empathy. As the “World mourns 129 dead in worst-ever Paris terror attacks1 some pointed out, that attacks in Lebanon on 12th of November2 went relatively unrecognised. (Which is now made up for, but strangely in relation to the Paris attacks3.)

The Beirut bombings and other aggressions, like the attacks in Ankara in October4, did not get the same attention from the world. There were no Facebook-features that could change your profile picture and Hashtags were not as heavily used around the world. While Ankara’s tragedy was relatively well covered by news media, western populations could easily miss reports about the explosions in Beirut. Therefore, in this context, the world is limited to certain societies – (Western) Europe, US, UK, Australia. Which is very concerning, as one and the same group claimed responsibility for the killings in Ankara, Beirut, Paris and many others. So, while this world has certain limits, it’s issues go beyond those limits and borders.

Seeing the bigger picture and global relations of these incidents is vital to coordinate actions for a peaceful future. It might not seem relevant on first glance, but in order to understand broader connections and the need for cooperation, solidarity across borders is necessary. Solidarity helps us see other’s problems, identify with their suffering and search for solutions together. It is the fundamental starting point for the search of sustainable socio-political solutions and the basis for not giving into blind hate and terror.

As the European Union is facing tremendous challanges (Schengen, Dublin 3, refugee treatments etc.) to its core principles today – part of which are threats from violent groups – and a World-flag is not at hand, I suggest that we at least ditch the Tricolour – may it be representative of an old revolution – and paint our profiles at least in blue and yellow stars, representative for the start of a new revolution of global understanding and worldwide companionship, that crosses political borders. Although the European flag broadens solidarity, it is still an excluding symbol – unfortunately we currently lack meaningful global symbols for all humans. Refugees, Europeans, Arabs and Peoples of the World would need a solidarity-stance and the global awareness that comes with it. Maybe a new substantial symbol that shows even broader solidarity and empathy can originate from these critiques.

1 The Times of Israel 14.November 2015, “World mourns 129 dead in worst-ever Paris terror attacks”. Available from: http://www.timesofisrael.com/hollande-accuses-islamic-state-of-act-of-war-declares-national-emergency-as-127-killed-in-paris-terror-bloodbath/. [15.11.2015]. Highlight by author.

2 Botelho, G. 2015, “Beirut suicide bombings kill 43; suspect claims ISIS sent attackers”, CNN International 13.November. Available from: http://edition.cnn.com/2015/11/12/middleeast/beirut-explosions/. [15.11.2015].

3 Levine, J. 2015, “A Day Before the Paris Attack, Suicide Bombers Killed 43 in Beirut”, Mic World, 14.November. Available from: http://mic.com/articles/128551/terrorist-suicide-bombing-attack-on-beirut-lebanon-kills-43-and-injures-hundreds#.oI5GEd2TO. [15.11.2015].

4 Girit, S. 2015, “Ankara bombings: Turkish lives traumatised by twin attacks”, BBC News, 17.October. Available from: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34536974. [15.11.2015]



Post’s picture was taken at the start of France’s EU presidency on June, 30th 2008. Source: looking4poetry on flickr. Available from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/looking4poetry/2626949379. [15.11.2015]

Power Politics, Norms and International Society : A Neoclassical Realist Interpretation

Norms in Constructivist Tradition

Beginning with Alexander Wendt’s famous article “Anarchy is what states make of it” (1992: 391-425) the theory of constructivism has increasingly become more important in the study of international relations. Apart from meta-theoretical issues, including epistemology or ontology, constructivism also deals with independent variables which might affect the behavior of states. One of these independent variables is the impact of identity and norms on states‘ decision making.

The term norm can have different meanings within the scientific literature. For this purpose, however, it should be focused on the term as what Finnemore and Sikkink (1998: 887-917) call “evaluative or prescriptive norms”, meaning that norms imply some sort of collective moral judgement about what “proper” behavior is. The adoption of a norm by a state, as the argument goes, is closely related to a certain “state identity” within an “international society”, meaning that states adopt norms because they want to be a member of this international society. One famous example of the impact of international norms is Nina Tannenwald’s study of the  “nuclear taboo” (1999: 433-468), arguing that instead of nuclear deterrence an international norm has affected states‘ decision for a non-use policy. Other studies try to explain how norms affected regimes of chemical weapons (Price 1995: 73-103) or the abolishment of slavery (Ray 1989: 405-439).

The following essay will demonstrate how the complex links between international norms and power politics fit into a neoclassical realist approach. In doing so, two main arguments should be presented: First, norms and morality might be expressions of an international society but they only matter for a state as long as they are compatible with the regime’s survival (external and internal) and power considerations. Secondly, neoclassical realism can bridge the gap between power politics and international society by arguing that political elites actively construct norms and identities in order to mobilize material and human resources, in fact, not only from their society but also from other states.

Norms and Identity as Power Politics by Other Means

Neoclassical realism emerged as a theoretical response to liberalist and constructivist criticism to structural realism. Unlike neorealism, neoclassical realism considers anarchy as a “permissive condition” (Taliaferro et al. 2009: 1-41) under which governments can conduct a variety of grand strategies and foreign policies. This brings domestic politics and the state-unit level back into the pool of intervening variables, by emphasizing that states‘ behavior is not only determined by anarchy and the structure of the international system, as neorealists argue, but also by a government’s capability “to extract material and human resources from society for whatever purposes state elites determine are in the […] regime’s interests” (Schweller 2003: 311-348). Another important constructivist idea, which is incorporated into neoclassical realism, is that a foreign policy executive perceives international threats as well as its ability to mobilize material and human capabilities (2003: 311-348).

For neoclassical realists, governments are not only faced with different types of threats, as the balance of threats theory suggests (Walt 1987: 21-26), but also with different levels of threats which highly interact with each other, in particular threats at the systemic level (global), sub-systemic level (regional) or the state unit level (Lobell 2009: 42-74). The issue hierarchy of neorealism – survival comes first – remains, but not only in regard to external but also in terms of internal survival. Norms, therefore, cannot just be adopted as long as they are no threat to a country’s external security and the power distribution at the international level but also as long as they are no threat to a regime’s domestic power. In essence, Morgenthau’s famous assertion that “all politics is power politics” (cited in Williams 2004: 633-665) is nowhere else better suited than in neoclassical realism.

Basically, neorealists would argue that norms matter as long as they are no external security threat to a state’s survival or as long as they enhance a state’s security. It is hard to imagine, for example, that Hitler abstained from using chemical weapons during World War II because he had some moral obligations. For Hitler chemical weapons did simply not have any military strategic importance because of the blitzkrieg strategy (Legro 1995: 195). North Korea’s nuclear program, for instance, illustrates how a state can use an international norm as a tool to guarantee its external security. By joining the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1985 North Korea could receive international support to develop its civil nuclear program. But after its civil nuclear program attained a level which allowed the leadership to build a nuclear weapon, the state left the NPT regime in 2003. Today no state would attack North Korea because of the fear of an escalation.

The case of Israel’s policy on chemical weapons shows how a government can be faced with external as well as internal threats. The Israeli government refused to ratify the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) – externally, because Israel considered itself as being too weak towards its surrounding threats and, domestically, because the ratification of the CWC would need the approval of the Knesset, which could entail high political costs in the eyes of any ruling government. A similar point is made by Mark Purdon’s (2014: 301-338) neoclassical realist analysis on international climate change politics, arguing that states‘ climate change policy is not merely driven by international norms and awareness but rather by international and domestic constraints.

Neoclassical realism shows under which international and domestic conditions norms can be adopted by a government, however, it can also explain why governments actively pursue or construct norms. The construction of national identity, for example, has always been a product of rational calculations by political actors in order to mobilize the masses, whether to compete with other states for domination at the international level (Schweller 2009: 227-250) or to compete with other sub-state groups for domination within a state (Sterling-Folker 2009: 99-138). Why should international identity be an exception? Neoclassical realism could explain why states adopt, construct or pursue international identities and norms. Political elites, as I would argue, construct international identities, norms or ideologies with the intention to mobilize not only domestic resources but also to extract resources in foreign countries.

Lawrence Rubin’s study “Islam in the Balance” (2014) provides a perfect example of how states try to extract resources in other countries by creating an international identity. Egypt’s former President Nasser, as Rubin argues, used pan-Arabism in order to “mobilize domestic opposition in Western-aligned monarchies such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan as well as Iraq, whose monarchy was overthrown in 1958 due to this pressure” (2014: 26). Another example would be the “cold war” between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Threatened by Iran’s intention to “export the Islamic revolution”, Saudi Arabia has, in return, actively promoted its own interpretation of a proper Islam. In doing so, the Saudi government simply tries to extract domestic resources in foreign countries in order to increase its own influence and, at the same time, to reduce the influence of Iran. A similar logic can be seen within the context of NATO’s and EU’s containment policy on Russia and the Ukraine crisis that followed. In addition to the politico-military expansion towards Moscow, the EU and NATO have supported liberal values in Ukraine by financing and supporting civil societal organizations and other oppositional groups, such as the National Endowment for Democracy, intending to reduce Russia’s sphere of influence and to drag Ukraine into the Western orbit (Mearsheimer 2014: 1-12).

Neoclassical Realism as a Dialectical Approach

The theoretical divide between realism and constructivism is first and foremost due to different epistemological and ontological positions (Mearsheimer 1994/1995: 5-49). Whereas constructivists assume that power is a product of ideas, realism states that ideas are a product of power – a thinking that dates back to Machiavelli, Bodin and Hobbes (Carr 1949: 64). Nevertheless, divergent ontological and epistemological perspectives do not necessarily mean that the theories are mutually exclusive, but it needs neoclassical realism to resolve the contradictions because it emphasizes the complex relationship between the international and domestic level and between power politics and norms.

Constructivism has definitely brought a fresh perspective into the field of IR theory by re-emphasizing the importance of ideas and norms. But, as it is the case with neorealism, the greatest strength of constructivist theory, in particular its reductionism, is the biggest weakness at the same time. Neoclassical realism, which largely renounces a reductionist approach, comes into play as a bridge builder because it can solve open puzzles which neither of the two theories can severely tackle, while it acknowledges important insights of both neorealism and constructivism. In regard to neorealism it can give answers to why ideas and norms matter despite the anarchic structure of the international system. Concerning the weaknesses of constructivism, neoclassical realism can place identities and norms into a structural context. However, the biggest strength of neoclassical realism, in particular its complex theoretical framework, is its biggest weakness.




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Social entrepreneurship – capitalist social business or pragmatic win-win?

After hearing a talk from Kilian Kleinschmidt about refugee treatment and his work in the world’s 3rd biggest refugee camp in Jordan, I couldn’t help but wonder about the concepts of social entrepreneurship. In talking about his work as “the mayor of Zaatari”1, he described how the UN treated refugees as victims, who had to be feed (2100 kcal a day), a right to water access, sanitation and 4,5 m2 of space. All of these the UN provided for the inhabitants of Zaatari, everything a human being needs, it seems. But the “victims” revolted, had nasty fights with the staff, police and each other. They opened illegal shops, stole equipment and built by themselves in-house sanitation and kitchens, taped the electrical supply, moved and rebuilt their tents and so on. Based on his experiences Kleinschmidt’s message was, that refugees claim to be seen as individuals who are able to build a new life for themselves instead of being treated like a homogenous mass of victims. Thus, defining on paper what a human being needs to survive and the attempt to systematize the refugees lives could be regarded as a strategy from those outside of the camp: in order to keep an eye on the refugees more easily.

This view from above tries to arrange the camps and refugee handling neat and manageable from the outside. In an analogy it can be described as the bee-keeper’s need for organising the bee hive, so that s_he can extract honey – the bee’s needs are secondary to this venture2. Inhabitants of Zaatari revolted against the neat order provided by UN, NGOs and political actors. He continued that we have to see refugees foremost as individual people who want to provide for their own lives. We need to understand, he argued, that what we can do is providing them the possibilities to recreate a normal life. This should be a life that is build on work and integration (into a new society). Right now, the German government is changing – at least to some extent – its perspective on migration and refugees with possible changes in laws, integration and education programs, underpinned by an understanding that refugees can be seen as already needed work-force3. Although there is much political discussion and by far no consent on how to handle the refugee crisis in Germany – with special focus on border control – the idea that these refugees are much-needed workers for the national labour market is not questioned as much by (political) elites. The new attitude is that people who got asylum status are being integrated into the German economy and trained in order to benefit the economic market. Kleinschmidt stressed that on this course a win-win should be possible for the country’s economy, the state’s taxation and welfare system and refugees who want to build a new living away from life-threatening situation.

Aside from changes in the political field, seeing refugees as people with private interests, an argument for civilian involvement can be put forward for example Social Entrepreneurship. Some of my colleagues at this talk were enthusiastic about this idea. So was I. However some critical considerations stopped my initial call for immediate action and launching an initiative right away. It wasn’t the thought that a state actor should provide the basic means for refugees that made me consider social entrepreneurship less favourably. On second thought the whole concept of social entrepreneurship started to look flawed. If you are a social entrepreneurship your goal is to change something in the world, some injustice or social problem that bothers you – for money. On a small scale that means that your time, other resources and maybe the employees, you need to get things done, will be paid by a classical capitalist exchange model. The product produced will be paid with money from the consumer’s income. Although most social entrepreneurship businesses get some funding from other sources, they will try to achieve that kind of exchange. So you will model a business based on a social problem you are passionate about.

The first problems I see with Social Entrepreneurship are the lines between solving an issue or living off of it. Not just Kilian Kleinschmidt, but many others are pointing to the growingly public issue of Help organizations that need human or animal misery in order to survive as an organization. Along with that, comes an ever growing professionalism in these organizations that might even hinder direct and quick help or solving problems, which usually is the initial intention behind a Social Entrepreneurship model. Inflexibility, and a huge bureaucratic organizational apparatus is evidence to this as it restricts not only direct help but also regulates every action and contact on-site from above4.

Other issues lay in the core of the concept: Making money. Once any business model is successful and gets attention for that, others might try to copy it. Most of the time, companies, that have more resources, will be able to sell or offer the same product for a cheaper price or more convenient. Nothing different is happening to social entrepreneurship businesses. In the case of the “Micro credits” or a “Laptop per child” initiatives, bigger companies are taking over the business or change its initial plans5. Small social entrepreneurship models thereby become some sort of scouts for new markets and niches. Often even creating new products, that later on can be sold primarily to make profits instead of tackling a social issue. Although bigger companies are marketing taking over such a small social business as beneficial to the consumers (by that point people using the product will be viewed as nothing more), the problem with becoming a model for profit instead of solving social problems becomes evident: Solving something becomes secondary to either making money or image improvement. So decisions about the business, the product, labour and so on will be based foremost on these principals and not about answering a social issue.

Looking at the thousands of refugees currently seeking a better life in Europe, one social entrepreneurship business model might be to give these people work in your factory or shop, so that they can provide for themselves. Not only would this help to start a new live in a new society for them, but it could also help your business if you act like a clever entrepreneur. But is this really a win-win for all? Would you expect your refugee-employees to be extra grateful because you gave them a job? Maybe you would expect them to pay you more respect, invite you to dinner, do you a small favour or get paid less when times are though. After all, you where the one helping them. When is social entrepreneurship still about helping people and not exploiting them?

However, not all social business models try to give work to refugees or get caught up in money-making, but it highlights the big problem: Social Engineering models are still businesses. This means that they want or need to make money, at least in order to pay for resources. In a way Social Entrepreneurship businesses might be trying to make a difference, but they could end up creating new social problems.

With all these issues I pointed out, (social) problem-solving could become a secondary venture and economic considerations a primary goal for social entrepreneurship. Still, it doesn’t mean that social entrepreneurship or civic involvement are to be avoided. It just means that we have to question our/these initiatives and to critically look at the consequences of our/their (business) actions. What is written bigger in our/their model: SOCIAL or ENTREPRENEURSHIP?

1 Würger, Takis (2013): Chaos and Crime: The Trials of Running a Syrian Refugee Camp. Der Spiegel. Available under http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/kilian-kleinschmidt-profile-running-a-syrian-refugee-camp-a-908146.html. [16.10.2015]

2 Scott, James C. (1998): Seeing like a state. How certain schemes to improve the human condition have failed. New Haven: Yale University Press (The Yale ISPS series).

3 Jones, Claire (2015): Refugees may ease Germany’s problem of a shrinking workforce. Financial Times. Available under http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/bfd6adfe-47e8-11e5-af2f-4d6e0e5eda22.html. [16.10.2015]
Denkler, Thorsten (2015): Germany’s Refugee Crisis and the remaking of Angela Merkel. Süddeutsche Zeitung International. Available under http://international.sueddeutsche.de/post/131092746340/germanys-refugee-crisis-and-the-remaking-of. [16.10.2015]

4 Ebrahim, Alnoor (2003): Accountability In Practice. Mechanisms for NGOs. In: World Development 31 (5), 813-829.
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The Journal of Policy Reform 5 (4), 223–250.

5 Nosowitz, Dan (2013): Has One Laptop Per Child totally lost its way? Popular Science Online. Available under http://www.popsci.com/gadgets/article/2013-07/one-laptop-childs-de-evolution. [27.10.2015]
Velazco, Chris (2014): Google buys design firm behind OLPC and Slingbox. Endgadget Online. Available under http://www.engadget.com/2014/08/22/google-buys-gecko-design/. [30.10.2015]

Karnani, Aneel (2007): Microfinance Misses Its Mark. Stanford Social Innovation Review Online. Available under http://ssir.org/articles/entry/microfinance_misses_its_mark?id=180400002. [15.10.2015}
Igiebor, Henry (2015): Reviving the Debate on Micro Finance as a Poverty Reduction and Development Policy Instrument: Edo State Micro Credit Scheme Revisited. In:
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Picture source: Tatjana Boczy, Innsbruck 09/2015