Travelling on the Schulzzug

Last week, I have travelled through Germany and campaigned  together with the Jusos (young socialists, the party youth affiliated to the social democratic party (SPD)) for the upcoming federal elections. Besides offering support to my party, it was a good occasion to gather some impression of the current political mood in Germany. The following article reflects mainly my own opinion and impressions that I have formed during this trip.

Travelling on the Schulzzug

Last weekend, the Jusos Brussels – a section of the German party youth affiliated to the social democrats party (SPD) – organised a campaign action called the ‚Schulzzug‘ (German for ‚Schulz train‘) in which I was involved. The idea was to travel by train from Brussels to Berlin with stops in all sixteen regional states in Germany. There, we met with local sections of the Jusos and the SPD, took pictures and made videos with red paper train frames and masks of Martin Schulz for our social media, supported them in one of their campaign actions and interviewed them, asking them why they support Martin Schulz. The pictures and videos were uploaded on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

The action was inspired by the saying that went round in social media when Martin Schulz announced his candidacy for becoming chancellor that there was a Schulzzug rolling from Brussels to Berlin straight into the chancellor’s office. With no breaks. We thought that we could contribute by making something real out of it – a real train rolling from Brussels to Berlin. And who would be better placed to organise such a campaign action than we were in Brussels?

https://twitter.com/tagesschau/status/826841984149180420

Motivation and supporting young candidates 

The aim of the Schulzzug was obviously not to have a direct impact on the opinion polls. It would have been pretentious to think that we could come from Brussels for less than one week and convince people in about twenty different places that they should vote for the SPD. Maybe, we had a positive effect on the opinion of one citizen or another we met during local campaign actions. But the more tangible effect was that of motivating people who are campaigning for the same cause.

During our trip, we met many other members of our party who greeted us with much enthusiasm. Many complimented us for our commitment and might have felt inspired. Moreover, our trip somehow created a link between all the local sections that we met. We all felt part of a bigger project, symbolised by the Schulzzug – the train that rolls from Brussels to Berlin with no breaks. Everyone was somehow involved in our campaign, either by appearing on our social media or simply by talking with us, exchanging opinions and impressions.

One important contribution is that we managed to offer support to young candidates for the Bundestag by interviewing them and publishing the interviews on our Facebook and Instagram pages. Our social media pages – which are known all over Germany now – would give them a lot of visibility. Thus, we could help raise awareness about the concerns of young people and show that there is something at stake for us too. And, besides this, we could show that going into politics is not only something boring for old people, but it can actually be fun.

schulzzug_trappenkamp
Meeting the local section of the SPD in Trappenkamp

An impression of political numbness

This last point is crucial. In a way, our broader mission was to show how to engage with politics in an original and enjoyable way – make it more fun without however loosing the content of our political stance out of sight. Besides singing, making pictures, videos, distributing flyers and making interviews, we also had a lot of discussions and questions: What can be done to offer young people an easier access to education and a perspective for the future? How can it be made easier for a young couple to found a family without having to give up their professional projects? What can we do to live in a more just society? In what kind of Europe do we want to live?

It is important to highlight this process of political reflection because I have a feeling that too many people in Germany have lost their interest in politics. On our trip, I could not help having the impression that many people we met simply didn’t took notice of the electoral campaign. Very often, people simply ignored us, didn’t seem to care about the ongoing elections. Some people even told us explicitly that they would not vote because in the end it wouldn’t make a difference.

I cannot blame these people too much. There is a reason why people are turning their back on politics: With a grand coalition that has brought the two leading parties much closer and a weak opposition in the Bundestag, there is little dissent in German federal politics. The TV debate between Merkel and Schulz, which we watched at our final destination on Sunday, illustrated this very well. It seemed that both candidates almost didn’t differ on the issues that were discussed: the need to integrate refugees, fight extremism, return migrants who do not fulfil the conditions for asylum, the stance toward North Korea, etc. As rightly pointed out by Sebastian Stölting in his blogpost, Schulz failed to use the TV debate to create a momentum and enter a more confrontational debate with Merkel.

schulzmerkel1
The TV debate between Merkel and Schulz on 3 September failed to show significant points of dissent between the two leading candidates of CDU and SPD

Of course, this is not least due to the circumstance that many important topics such as education, health care, pensions or working conditions were simply left out of the debate. Yet, it is also due to the fact that the differences between the parties are difficult to recognise: both agree that the education system or digital infrastructure need to be improved, that the pensions system needs to be adapted to an ageing society, that some taxes need to be reduced, etc. And how could it be different? Even though Schulz was not part of the German government – he could not have come up with radically different positions because he would directly have been confronted with the question: So why didn’t your party act differently during the last term?

Time for a revival of Germany’s political culture

No matter what the outcome of the elections will be – I sincerely hope that there will not be a grand coalition again. The assimilation of our leading parties is detrimental to our political culture. I have recently learned a new word which describes the political mood in Germany very well: “Infantilism“. It describes the process of political detachment in which people have a feeling that everything is going well and let themselves lulled into complacency, not caring about political differences and alternatives. They are behaving like spoiled children who are happy with what they get and don’t want to take up any responsibility. The nickname “Mutti“ (German for „mommy“) commonly given to Merkel is symptomatic for how this trend is even celebrated in Germany’s political discourse.

No matter what the outcome of the elections will be – it is time for a stronger opposition, clearer differences between the parties and a revival of a more vibrant political debate culture. Prosperity and social justice are not the only aim of politics. Politics should also aim at democracy. And for democracy to work, we need responsible citizens who are able to form themselves an own opinion through discussion and reasoning. Political indifference is the first step to authoritarianism. That’s why I urge everyone not only to go to the ballot, but also to get involved in politics – be it in a party, in an association or a sport club. And that’s why I jumped on the Schulzzug in the first place – because I don’t want to leave decisions about the society I live in only to others and because I want to fight for political alternatives.

Laurin Berresheim, 2016 graduate of democracy

Disclaimer: This article reflects the author’s opinion it might not reflect the whole group’s opinion. The article can also be found at the Author’s blog, The Squirre’s Thought Box .

 

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16 years on… A reflection.

Today marks 16 years since one of the most tragic days in recent history. On the morning of Tuesday 11th September 2001, the world woke up to the tragic news of one of the most horrendous terrorist attacks on western soil in years. We pause to remember those 2,977 innocent victims who lost their lives, to send our prayers to their families & to pay tribute to the heroism of the first responders and volunteers who responded to New York’s time of need with courage and dedication.

Countless lives lost in an instant. Hijacked planes flying into the World Trade Centre – it was something no one had imagined in their wildest dreams. 2,977 lives were lost and a further 6000 others were injured. Families shattered, loved ones lost. It still sends shivers down the spine. The images of the collapsing towers engulfed in flames, the smoke and debris still feels fresh to this day. President Bush declaring in response

Terrorist attacks can shake the foundation of our biggest building, but they cannot touch the foundations of America.

He wasn’t the most loved President at the time and still continues to divide opinion; but at the time, his words provided assurance to people all over the world and helped show defiance to terrorists who tried to break the spirit of our freedom and tolerance.

I still recall – being a 9 year old child at the time. Hearing about the incident, going into school the next day – still deeply disturbed by the events of the day before. Only to see a devastated teacher at school who’s son had gone to New York on holiday. The look of desperation on his face was something I had never seen before. Glued to his phone – he was anxiously trying to get hold of his son but was having no luck. We learned from him a few days later that his son had been admitted to a New York hospital suffering from smoke related injuries but was safe.

This single fateful day reshaped the world we live in drastically. The idea of terrorist attacks on such a large scale in the West were unthinkable – especially at the turn of the new millennium, when significant world events had occurred to aid our quest for world peace. Peace in Northern Ireland had just become a reality – with the Good Friday agreement just a few years prior. A jubilant Tony Blair as British PM in Paris in 1997 had declared proudly:

Mine is the first generation able to contemplate the possibility that we may live our entire lives without going to war or sending our children to war.

Little did anyone know, that just a few years later – the attacks on September 11th would reshape global geopolitics in such a way that the western world would once again be plunged into a endless conflict with the Gulf states. One who’s effects still seems to continue to this very day.

Not only did the attacks on September 11th redefine America, but also the whole of the western world. The resulting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq paved ways for radical preachers to capitalise on the casualties of these wars and use the deaths of civilians as a fuel to ignite their fires of hatred in the hearts of many young people throughout the west. We continue to see the effects of this even today. After September 11th, terror attacks became more common throughout the west. From the 7/7 bombings in London the following year, to the recent attacks in Paris, Brussels, Manchester and London once again. Terror attacks on western soil orchestrated by home grown terrorists have become a sad but regular occurrence in our lives. While the root cause behind these can be attributed to many factors – ranging from hate preachers brainwashing innocent youth to lack of integration and hatred for western values. One thing remains true – the attacks of 9/11 have deeply scarred the world and its dark legacy continues to haunt us to this day.

On my visit to New York in 2012 for a conference, I decided to take some time out and visit the 9/11 memorial on ground zero that had just been newly opened at the time. Despite being 11 years on since the attacks, the area still has a deeply unsettling feel to it. As soon as you step into the vicinity of the grounds where the tall and grand towers once stood – every other thought escapes your mind. You can’t help but feel overcome with emotion. The scenes of suffering and terror that you once saw on the TV start to flash through your mind. The monument houses two fountains honouring those innocent lives that were lost, with plaques hearing the names of all those 2,977 kind souls who lost their lives in 2001 and the 6 who lost their lives in a bomb attack on the World Trade Centre previously in 1993.

Despite all these years, countless military operations and arrests; justice still remains elusive for the families of the victims of this tragic atrocity. The five men accused of masterminding these attacks remain in US custody – awaiting trial. Despite hoards of evidence stacked up against them including tapes of their ring leader boasting of orchestrating the attacks to press media in 2002, a date for the trial remains provisionally set to start in 2019. Despite there being enough evidence to convict, the trials have been repeatedly put off potentially due to some of the methods used to obtain information – with one of the convict alleged to have been given the controversial “Waterboarding” treatment 183 times in a single month alongside rectal rehydration. Thus potentially jeopardising the Prosecution’s claims.

The biggest disservice in all of this is to the families of the victims – seeking closure. From what it seems – Justice is a long way away for these families.

The 2,977 individuals who lost their lives on that tragic day act as a reminder to us all of our duties to fight any form of extremism – especially in these times where we are seeing a rise in extremist ideologies across our nations.

On behalf of everyone at Graduates of Democracy, I, as President of the board would like to pay my respects to all those who lost their lives, their families and loved ones. I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all the first responders and volunteers who responded in the toughest hour in New York’s history. Their heroism and selfless acts are a testament to the unwavering spirit of New York.

By Mu-Hamid Pathan

 

– President – Graduates of Democracy

– Former Member of UK Youth Parliament for Leicester South & Media representative for UKYP East Mids

– Mentor to Leicester Children’s Council

– Freelance Politics, policy and participation advisor

– Young Advisor to O2 mobile on youth strategy and Think Big CSR

– Steering group member for Young Researchers network

 

Twitter- @Muhamid_Pathan

Turning the tide? German Elections 2017: TV Debate Merkel vs. Schulz

The German federal election is held on the 24th of September, with its results highly anticipated in the European Union Member States, due to Germany’s significant influence on collective decisions. Recent polls, before the debate, suggest a win by Angela Merkels Christian Conservative party (CDU) over the Social Democrats (SPD), led by Martin Schulz, the former President of the EU Parliament, with a sizeable margin (CDU 38%; SPD 24%). Her fourth consecutive win, would extend her reign, since 2005, for another four years term and then match in length only with former chancellor Helmut Kohl (CDU, 1982-1998). The debate was therefore referred to as a possible turning point or even the last chance for Martin Schulz to maintain a viable chance in winning the upcoming election.

No-one less than the ‘new Leader of the Free World’ is sought

Former US President Barack Obamas last call in office was dedicated to Angela Merkel, which led the Independent and subsequently other media outlets to conclude, that she is the ‘new Leader of the Free World’. At least it might be so in the opinion of Obama, who praised her leadership frequently after the election of Donald Trump. However, several experts and pundits across the world aligned with these remarks. Especially fostered through Trump, often as reckless or childish proclaimed, policy decisions and manners, which deteriorated the image of the President of the United States in an unprecedented way.
If this claim to the honorary title is not only to understand as a personalized one, to Merkel’s often as prudent described leadership skill, but in a broader sense related to Germanys position as a leading state, boosted by a solid and strong economy, which provides effective leverage on multilateral decisions made in Europe and beyond, this title travels ex officio to the next chancellor in charge. This truly would justify a huge attention to the contest for power in the central European state. On the contrary, the campaign so far and its non-producing of exciting theme complexes, nor contested arguments about anything is widely perceived in the public as ‘boring as usual’. For the electorate it seems hard to distinguish between the positions of the biggest parties in German politics. They are wildly observed as alike, which might be explained through the reoccurring of a ‘big coalition government’ by the same in the past. This apparently makes it hard for politicians to single-out their very own achievements in the past and alleged difference policy approach pursued in the future.

Strategic restraint vs. a whiff of populism

A TV debate between the two most promising candidate for chancellorship in Germany is already a fixture in an election year. Angela Merkel (CDU), is infamously known for her very slow reaction to breaking news and non-surprisingly therefore refused again, after 2005, 2009 and 2013, to contest in more than merely one TV debate. Martin Schulz (SPD) appeared in the campaign once in a while willing to put some populist twist into his approach of challenging Merkel and by this unsuccessfully tried to win over public support. Infamously he accused Merkel to be ‘anti-democratic’, in the understanding that she more or less purposely refuses to make clear policy statements and campaign pledges, which would foster a lively debate in Germany about different pathways, on which society and state could evolve. Furthermore, brought up by observers, Merkel strategically avoided to name Schulz in any regard, which helps her to appear actually uncontested. Several direct confrontations are therefore seen as an advantage for the contender Schulz from the Social Democrats. Anyhow, as this is not happening, the debate on last Sunday shall have attracted an even higher attention. It was viewed live by more than 16 million people. In regard of general given attention, Merkel’s tactic admittedly works, in 2013 17,4 million and 2009 even 21 million Germans followed the Live TV Debate.

Debate topics vs. interest of the public

The most disappointing participants at the debate have certainly been the four interviewers by the various German TV channels and their highly selective questions. It was quite astonishing to realize that about two thirds of the 90 minutes debate time was used up for the topic migration and Islam. Additionally was the last third overshadowed by a huge portion spend on the relation to Turkey and even the international tensions around North Korea and the handling of it through US President Trump. How all this lays at the heart of interest of the general public and not only of right-wing driven factions is questionable. Media critics said it seems the interviewers have apparently feared criticism of being not harsh enough on the contestants with controversial topics and therefore showed predisposed obedience.

The integration of slightly more than one million asylum seekers is certainly a challenge posed to the German society and state, even though a well-balanced perspective shall be maintained. Germany has a population of 82 million people, faces a looming demographic crisis due to constant low reproduction rates paired with a constant growing demand for labor, boosted by a solid and strong economy.
The debate constantly circulated around questions about how to deport people who have been denied asylum and furthermore, how to thwart the influence of foreign powers and especially the ones with Islamist interests onto migrants living in Germany. From here the debate drifted apparently seamless also to the four million Muslims currently living in Germany. The positions here did not differ at all. Both contestants tried to show their decisiveness, in combating extremism and deny those adherents any foothold in Germany, while expressing that respect towards all citizens is crucial. Merkel repeated a former German President’s famous sentence that Islam is a part of German society, she stressed that these citizens as well form the base for economic prosperity.

Schulz tried to expose Merkel with his bold statement of canceling completely the EU-Membership negotiations with Turkey. Merkel responded, arguing on technical matters, that this decision can be taken only unanimously among all EU member states. She added, a bit contradicting herself and therefore confusing, that she wants to state clearly that she has opposed Turkish membership from the very beginning.

Well, all these more or less petty fights made it easy to overlook that education and infrastructure have not been mentioned at all. While the unsustainable retirement and social system, rising social inequality and prevalent low-paid jobs got devoted only one sentence each – in the final ‘do you agree with this statement’- round. Quite a shame if we consider that there are more than 8,3 million pupils and 2,8 million students in Germany, who, and their respective families, would like to had their issues addressed. On Schulz side, this would certainly had gave him the chance to repeat his campaign promise to increase the federal student grant and increase state spending on educational infrastructure. While for the car driving population Schulz at least managed to sneak in his position to repeal the already parliamentary approved, bi-partisan as Merkel pointed out, Autobahn toll system.

The lack of addressing a wide range of topics and problems which many Germans might experience more on a daily basis caused a public outcry through social media channels, which led to severe criticism of the four interviewers.

Foreign policy, statesmanship and Europe

In its final moments the debate ran bizarre, when questions circled around the North Korean crisis, what Germany is doing and say could be in it and how to keep the western world on track in opposition to Donald Trump lack of leadership skills. Merkel keenly recalled all the foreign state leaders she is in constant contact with, to avoid any military escalation, which she as well as Schulz firmly opposes. On this, both candidates knew the general public in Germany decidedly agrees. In his regard Schulz, as experts claimed, failed to keep up with Merkel’s foreign policy experience. However, it has to be mentioned that across the debate he repeatedly called for European approaches to problems. He strongly condemned eastern European states and their lack of solidarity and support to foster those solutions. He declared himself in favor of tighten the grip on fellow member states that benefitted for years from the EU and now sabotage its common efforts. However, he blames Merkel and her unilateral moves in the heat of the 2015 migration crisis to be the origin of current misunderstandings and lack of coherence within the EU. Even though Schulz would have acted doubtless similar, for instant he declared it unfeasible and undesirable to close down any borders. Anyhow, Schulz condemned therefore Merkels statement, given to a newspaper, that she ‘would do everything again as she did in 2015’.

Still undecided

The debate was followed up by immediate polls, to declare as soon as possible a winner of the debate. The results named Merkel as winner, because she came across more experienced and less excited than her opponent. However, before the debate every second German voters declared to be still undecided, who to vote for. New polls show now, this debate has not changed much on that fact. It can be concluded that the clear trend to a re-election of Angela Merkel however remains unbroken.

Schulz needs to start a momentum to keep a win a viable possibility and end Merkel’s drowsy approach to politics. To do so he needs to find a way in attracting the attention of the electorate and convince them of a necessary change. A way would be to make them aware that Merkel has effectively over the last ten years not once accurately tackled systemic problems of the German economy and tax laws, which only reinforce the strong trend of a growing social inequality and financial unsustainability in the health care and pension scheme. Through the complex German election process and the wide variety of possible governing coalitions the German Election 2017 nonetheless stays a promising political event to follow.

 

(An analysis how the left might argue to win over public support and what preconditions have to be met, also electoral results wise, to achieve a parliamentary majority for a Leftist-Coalition has the author published at an earlier date.)

Sebastian Stölting studied Political Science in Dreden and Cairo and currently follows the Research Master in Social Science: Specialization in Comparative & International Politics at the University of Amsterdam.

Disclaimer: This article reflects the author’s opinion it might not reflect the whole group’s opinion. Picture Screengrab by Reuters

The curious case of North Korea

  1. Overview

North Korea, considered to be one of the last communist regimes on earth and one of the most secretive; was seen with a certain curiosity and fun how such a ‘self isolated’ country survives in a globalized world like the one we have today. North korea was originally united with her “sister” South Korea being a single Korea, however as a result of the cold war in 1948 they were split in two, with two separate governments.

However that division was never really accepted by both Koreas, each one of them believed they had the legitimacy to govern all Korea. This friction escalated, and on 25 June 1950 North korea, supported by the communist regimes of China and Soviet Union, moved south and started what would be called as the Korean war. On 27 June, 21 countries from UN constituted an UN force, with the vast majority being american troops, to help the south korea against what was considered to be the communist faction (north korea, soviet union and china). The war would last 3 years with more than 2 million fatalities, the most being South and Northern Korean soldiers.

After that the North and South became more distant than ever. The North allied with China and Soviet Union – the communist faction, while South Korea became an ally of US, Japan and other UN member states. This alliance with the communist factions was really important, not only in terms of geopolitics and defense against the south korean allies, but also as a source of financing since the Soviet Union was a major source of money for the North Korean communist regime. This alliance however would get weaker, as Deng Xiaoping became the 1st chinese leader to visit the US in an attempt to open it’s country to the outside and foreign investment what would be called China’s capitalist revolution. In 1991 came the collapse of the soviet union, which was a major source of financing to North Korean regime. The combination of these events led to the isolation of the North Korean regime and its continuing closure.

As many people state this country is not simply a communist state as it represents the mixture of communist ideology, nationalism, Juche and Songun philosophy. This combination was set up by what are considered to be “eternal leaders of north korea” Kim Il-Sung and his son Kim Jong-Il. The country fell in a repressive and authoritarian regime that used, and still continues to use nowadays with Kim Jong-Un, the cult of personality where everything that has been made or planned was an act of “divine intervention” by the supreme leaders.

It’s 25 millions inhabitants are believed to live under extreme poverty, that many human rights are violated – something it’s defectors tell to the outside world, and the fact that human rights organizations like International Amnesty do not get a permit to visit the country shows that these aren’t just rumors and western propaganda. Under the many accusations, it’s the fact that this is one of the few countries in the world who still conduct public executions, just for “committing the crime” of not agreeing with the regime and supreme leader.

 

  1. A rising threat

At first sight we are to believe we are in the presence of some crazy dictatorship that lives under the cult of personality, is a closed country that violates human rights but poses no threat to the world. However in 2006 that started to change as North Korea managed to carry out its first successful nuclear explosion, in 2009 it carried out its second and more powerful nuclear test. Subsequently, they continued with their research and tests but no one seemed to believe they were really making progress in terms of Nuclear power. Many said some of the nuclear warheads we see in North Korea military parades are made of paper, or that they had soviet technology that was completely outdated.

But since Kim Jong Un got in charge in 2011, their nuclear research and activity seemed to boost. Despite having a hard time in terms of economics, specially with the tougher economic sanctions, 16% of GDP is dedicated solely to military activity – having one of the largest paramilitary organizations (roughly 25% of the north korean population are military). By mid 2016 they started to show major developments which culminated with the launch of ICBM missiles this year during summer and the creation of what is supposed to be thermonuclear weapons, way more powerful than the nuclear bombs US launched on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945.

NorthKorea_Missile_testing_update_08.17-01

(source: Center for Strategic International Studies )

This obsession with military and nuclear power is above all the result of the Songun philosophy North korea has, which is basically “Military first policy”, in other words the state priority should be to achieve a powerful and mighty military force so no nation even thinks of challenging its regime. Something that Kim Jong Il saw happening in Iraq with US intervention in 2003, and regime change that led to the execution of Saddam Hussein and the execution of Gaddafi after he was overthrown in 2011. This was probably one of the reasons north koreans reconducted their nuclear research in 2003 after a 5 year break and in 2006 had their first nuclear weapon test with success.

Geographically speaking, we can see it as a “child trying to show he is a grown up as well”, its neighbours are all world leading economies China is the 2nd largest economy in the world, Japan the 3rd largest and South Korea, the eternal rival, is the 11th largest economy in the world according to the IMF and Work Bank data from 2016.

Unsurprisingly, the nuclear pursuit is used by the North Koreans as a show of force to their neighbours – in order to display that despite their languishing fiscal condition, the North remains a strong nuclear force to be beckoned with.

The reason behind North Korea’s constant show of force is simple. It’s used as a deterrent to their neighbours and helps consolidate their position in the area as a force to be beckoned with – despite their fiscal degradation.

Due to their isolationist attitude towards globalisation over the years, the North has constantly been at risk of falling into obscurity and nothingness. However, their strategy over the years has been simple – to remain in the news through whatever outlandish story they can pump out to the world. Thus they have constantly made outlandish claims of having found miraculous drugs to cure terminal illness amongst other things.

What initially remained a harmless yet comic display of faux aggression from the reclusive nation over the years, has slowly developed into something more sinister. The North’s experimentation with high grade Nuclear weaponry has alerted the international community.

The North’s lack of regard for the international community makes it a dangerous wildcard in a strategic location for the West. Whilst the North has nothing to lose from any of this, their maverick attitude towards conflict can have devastating effects on the world both in regards to trade and environmental reasons.

Recently, Japan endured incredibly large unnatural tremors due to what can only be guessed as military experimentation from their North Korean neighbours. This has further ramped up the need for the international community to band together in dealing with the North Korean threat.

The danger remains simple – North Korean recklessness with Nuclear and thermonuclear weaponry that is potentially beyond their capacity to control, put the whole region at the risk of an apocalyptic scenario where a fall-out causes millions of lives to be lost within minutes and global levels of catastrophes ensuing from the conflict. The lives would not only be lost by the military weapons used – but also from the environmental disasters that would follow. In recent years – we have come very close to seeing a nuclear melt down at the Fukushima Power Plant. This would undoubtedly trigger that and a whole load of similar scenarios.

But North Korea has now boldly made claims they have missile capabilities of reaching the US – which can be loaded with their new thermonuclear Hydrogen Bomb stronger than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It’s a scenario of the worst kind. Something that you only get to see glimpses of in apocalyptic action movies from Hollywood – but it’s now become a real possibility.

 

  1. Trump foreign policy

This brings into question what role America plays in dealing with this dangerous scenario. The North has remained a bone stuck in the throats of many previous Presidents – from the Bush father and son to Bill Clinton, Obama and now Trump.

Previously, despite the North being very vocal in their desires for Nuclear supremacy, there hasn’t been much of a display of aggression physically. Just a mere war of words – which previous Presidents have responded to with ridicule, humour, sanctions and other not too complicated means such as mediation through China and other regional partners.

However, with the election of Trump – a firebrand in the Oval Office. It seems Kim Jong Un has found his match. Both share similar characteristics of being outspoken, often outlandish and having little regard for diplomatic dialogue.

Despite Trump’s campaign focussing on establishing China as his enemy No. 1 for their trade malpractices and its impact on US economy. Ever since his election, Trump has had to change his direction. Softening his stance on China and trying to forge a friendly relation with President Xi Jinping. It is evident to the Trump administration that their best hopes of dealing with North Korean problem is by optimising China as a mediator – even if that means giving up some ground on the on-going fiscal war between China and the US to become the next fiscal Hegemony for the new age.

But the problem doesn’t end here for the Trump administration. The real issue here is that they lack a clear and coherent strategy or direction in regards to how they hope to deal with this crisis.

Despite Trump trying his best to cosy up to the Chinese – including his infamous anecdote about eating ‘Chocolate cake’ with President Xi while America launched missile strikes. Former Trump Election Chief Steve Bannon proudly went on record to ‘The Prospect’ stating that:

We’re at economic war with China,” he added. “It’s in all their literature. They’re not shy about saying what they’re doing. One of us is going to be a hegemon in 25 or 30 years and it’s gonna be them if we go down this path. On Korea, they’re just tapping us along. It’s just a sideshow.

Furthermore, Trump pledged to respond to North Korea with “Fire and Fury”. only to once again be contradicted by Bannon – who in the same interview, went on to say:

There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.

Many would have argued that these views are Bannon’s own and thus he has subsequently been removed from office and relieved from his White House duties by President Trump.

However, it doesn’t end there. Trump’s Defence Tsar Nikki Haley at a UN Emergency Meeting regarding North Korea made the bold statement that; North Korea’s “Abusive use of missiles” displayed that Kim Jong II was “Begging for war”. Only to be followed by Trump’s Defence Secretary; General ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis briefing the Press at the White House through a self contradictory statement saying “We are not looking to the total annihilation of a country, namely North Korea, But as I have said, we have many options to do so.”

If this wasn’t enough, the President decided to take it one step further himself. In a display of having absolutely no clue at all in regards to dealing with international military conflict or the North Korean issue that is escalating, Trump decided to answer a reporter who shouted out a question to him as he was walking to his ride “Mr. President, will you attack North Korea”. Rather than remaining diplomatically coy about it like other statesmen and women would, Mr. Trump decided to break his stride, turn to the reporter and reply “We’ll see”. before smiling, waving and walking off again in true Trump fashion.

 

  1. Bottom Line

What remains certain is that whatever the real capability of Nuclear warfare that North Korea may possess, the threat is now more realistic than ever.

Despite the well known fact that North Korea has a habit of making exaggerated and outlandish claims, their recent test results display not only a real desire for the reclusive nation to develop, improve and create Nuclear warheads, but also display the fact they have finally refined their research and become capable of achieving their nuclear dreams.

This makes the scenario a very dangerous one for the international community as North Korea can no longer be dismissed as a Political Parody of a state with an eccentric but foolish leader, it is now a unhinged state with Nuclear capabilities – catapulting the world into a dangerous scenario.

Alongside this, what isn’t helping is President Trump’s approach of lacking a clear strategy and his constant displays of amateurish antics which can only be compared to Kim Jong Un.

The stark reality is that we live in a world where two egomaniacs are displaying their masculinity to each other through a war of crass rhetoric and insults. On one hand we have a cartoonish Dictator who revels in killing or jailing political opponents and anyone he sees as a threat to him – including students visiting his nation, and on the other hand we have a US President who takes to twitter 3am in the morning to insult those who oppose him with childish slurs. Yet these two men hold the codes to some of the most powerful Nuclear artillery in the world.

 

Luís Carvalho, Graduates of Democracy Editor in Chief

Mu-hamid Pathan, Graduates of Democracy President

 

Disclaimer: This article reflects the author’s opinion it might not reflect the whole group’s opinion

Charllotesville tells a tale of two Americas

 

The episodes of violence in Charlottesville, Virginia were sad and unfortunate.  It’s always upsetting to see a country that fought nazis having them gaining influence, but to look to Charlottesville and only see the rise of the radical right is to only focus on a part of a much wider and historical problem – a cultural conflict.

Right when the United States of America were founded, culture  the North, especially the Northeast, developed quickly due to commerce and a rising industry, something that developed the big cities we all know today the south was the opposite; essentially rural with little immigration. These distinct demographics led to the development of two opposite concepts of life that also influence the interpretation of the constitution and attitudes towards culture and traditions. Southern elites, dominated politics for decades but as the north grew supported by high birth rates and high immigration levels, northern elites became stronger and eventually clashed with their Southern counterparts. They disagreed over tariffs, slavery, immigration, labour among many others issues. One of them was the Missouri compromise which tried to solve the slavery issue by outlawing it above the parallel 36º30 north and allowing south of this parallel. Later, in 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska act broke this compromisse by allowing new states(whether they were above or south of this parallel) to choose freely whether they would allow slavery or not. This enraged many northerners, who saw this move as a southern unilateral revision of the previous agreement and were alarmed for the possibility of new slave states in the north. Their reaction was to form a party that had the sole objective of representing northern interests and had initially no presence in the South – The Republican Party. The victory of the republican Abraham Lincoln in 1860 without carrying a single Southern state triggered the south who start officially pursuing secession.

 

missouricomprimiseThe line of the Missouri compromise which allow the expansion of slavery south of the parallel 36º30 north.

 

We can talk all day long about the problems of racism and race relations in the United States but the bigger picture is the culture conflict. It’s the historical confrontation of the rural vs the industrial and also north vs south but nowadays it’s also young vs old and highly educated vs poorly educated. This conflict is about social identity. Of course, social identity always played a role in every culture and society but it’s assuming a more important role now, in the age of globalization, in our period of history where people move everywhere and do business with every country. Most people respond to this by becoming more defensive and protective of their own communities, culture and way of living. It goes way beyond politics, it’s about the way you define yourself  and it influences the friends you have, the person you expect to marry, the media you follow, the neighborhood you choose to live, the type of President you prefer to have, and of course, your side in the demonstrations of Charlottesville. Nowadays, things are polarizing dramatically, with politicians, the media, lobbies using the strategy to divide and conquer.  People from both sides have no choice but enter the ideological bubble that only drift them apart from the reality and radicalize individuals. The incidents of Charlottesville, like those in Baton Rouge or Baltimore in 2015 are no more than different kinds of confrontation by these factions. Both factions feel threatened, and both have reasons to feel that; conservatives control the political power, in many occasions, thanks to gerrymandering(a process in which politicians set the boundaries of their own electoral districts for their own benefit),  but on the other way Liberals control mainstream media, college campus and pop culture.

But what’s the role of the left in this conflict?  Lamentably, the left in America is not showing enough to unite the country. In the past, despite all this never-ending historical conflict the left did manage to unite the country with big ideas that brought people together like the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt or Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, by big investment projects in airspace and technology that put everyone working together. Now the left is reduced to a debate of micro identitarian issues like the apparent little representation of black people in ‘’Dunkirk’’ or in the oscar’s,  transgender bathrooms of if christian businesses should be forced to sell their products to gay people.  When there are movements to take down confederate statues with decades of existence or confederate flags, that will only trigger a reaction from a part of the country that already feel their culture and way of living is under threat and further it will only contribute to make those statues a real symbol, bringing ghost’s from the past instead of fading in people’s memories. Those are not the issues that will bring people together anyway, the fixation in these sort of issues only encourage people to become closer and more defensive towards their self defined identities, instead of looking yo what really bring us together. Politicians can talk all they want about building bridges but untill they see their countries as a big homogenous community instead of the sum of groups and micro-identities; until they start encouraging  the feeling of belonging for their country instead of celebrating differences people have, they will only build walls.

rooseveltFranklin Roosevelt – The most successful Democratic President.

Questions of identity have its importance but when pushed too much they only divide instead of uniting, they individualize when the left should be more about the group as a whole and they are in many times, distractions that keep us from changing the big picture. What the United States are going through mirrors 1860: Weakened political institutions, increasing political radicalization and sense of despise for the elite. Of course that doesn’t mean that there will be a civil war, but it seems likely that the violence between the two sides will continue to escalate.  If the American left really wants to present themselves as the alternative of the so much criticized presidency of Donald Trump they should focus on a big unifying and patriotic message that makes sense to every citizen, lift the country as a whole enlightening a common identity.

André Branco Pereira

Don’t throw the firecrakcers yet

If you’re one of those cheering for Steve Bannon’s getting fired and believe this will mean change inside the Trump administration, you’re probably not seeing the whole picture.

donald-trump-steve-bannon-ffc84d1d-0af3-4bb4-a4c9-dd88de8f30f0

Bannon’s presence inside the WH as Chief Strategist was always seen as the “source of evil” behind Trump’s policies. Others saw him as a troublemaker inside the WH, even going as far as accusing him of leaking insider info. However, truth be told, “evil” didn’t start with him.

Having been officially aiding Trump with his campaign only since August 2016 – after Trump got the Republican nomination, most of the controversial policies/statements had already been made before Bannon got in. The first of those ideas – which is now currently on hold, was the wall at the US-Mexico border to stop Mexican immigrants to come to the US – who according to Trump, were coming over “committing serious crimes like rape, killing and selling drugs”. By the end of 2015, the new flavour of the month was the Muslim ban, in which Trump proposed temporarily stopping all Muslims from entering the country “Until we know what’s going on“, something that is now being seen by the Supreme Court.

Bannon is no moderate, in fact he is a well know right-wing nationalist and the reason why Breitbart became what it is today; a website that spreads alt-right propaganda with immense exposure in doing so. His world views are no secret of his, he warns of an incoming apocalyptic war between Islam and Christianity and warns that if the US doesn’t act, China might outpace the US both in terms of economic and military capacity. Something that can be seen in his interview at ‘The American Prospect’.

This interview of his was quite scandalous because of the old “on-off the record” controversy, but also because of what he said in that interview, especially about North Korea:

“There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us”

Something that might have not gone well with his former “chief”, but Bannon’s mistakes didn’t start here. If we go back to April we could see that clashes between Bannon and Trump’s most sacred treasure, his family, started to come up especially with Jared Kushner, who was accused of being a “Democrat” – aka soft republican, and a “Globalist”. Trump tax cut plan; typical of Republican establishment, might have been a stab in the back for Bannon – who’s a fierce economic nationalist and clearly saw the impact that would have on the electoral base that got Trump elected – leading to Bannon remarking in his interview at The Weekly Standard:

“What Trump ran on—border wall, where is the funding for the border wall, one of his central tenets, where have they been? Have they rallied around the Perdue-Cotton immigration bill? On what element of Trump’s program, besides tax cuts—which is going to be the standard marginal tax cut—where have they rallied to Trump’s cause? They haven’t.”

For those who are trilled and happy with Bannon’s getting fired don’t throw the firecrackers yet. There is more than meets the eye in this administration. Bannon might have gone, but if we can learn something with this is that Republican establishment and Trump’s nepotism are alive and well.

 

Luís Carvalho, Bsc graduated in Economics and proud 2015 graduate of democracy

Disclaimer: This might not reflect the whole group’s opinion

 

Is Trump boosting the Economy?

US June Jobs report has come out, and unlike the previous mistrust from Trump  regarding the official numbers of unemployment rate he and his supporters seem to be astonishingly happy for a unemployment decrease that according to experts is just an extension of the trend that was observed in 2016 under the Obama administration in terms of Job Creation.

According to data, in June nonfarm payroll employment, which is any job with the exception of farm work, unincorporated self-employment, and employment by private households, the military and intelligence agencies, increased by 220,000 in June. The unemployment rate suffered little changes, considering the 2 previous months (4,4% in April and 4,3% in May) being now at 4.4 percent. Special highlight for the Health Care, Social Assistance, Financial activities and mining, in terms of jobs creation.

Many Trump supporters, and specially his vice president Mike Pence believe this Jobs report just show Trump’s commitment to create “tons of jobs” is being delivered. At the same time there is an urge by some people to believe investors and economic agents are confident on the economy and the way things will evolve.

Captura de ecrã 2017-07-09, às 12.08.07.png

Employment by Selected Industry, source: US Labor Statistics

Taking into consideration the chart above we can clearly see that the Education and Health Services was the industry that had added more jobs to the economy in June, around 59,100, not the type of industry that depends on business owners feelings but more on the needs of the population. Retail Trade which only added around 8,100 jobs in June and Utilities, which added 1,800 jobs, this past month are betters examples of industries driven by economic feelings and weren’t that much expressive as it was Education and Health Services, even if take into consideration their added jobs together.

This happens for a reason, optimism towards the economy is seeing a decline, referring to pre-election levels, as we can see in the chart below.

Captura de ecrã 2017-07-09, às 12.28.36

Source: New York Times, Neil Irwin’s article

This decline in optimism between consumers can be expressed in their practically stagnant wage. As the June Jobs reports states, in this month average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 4 cents to $26.25 in comparison to May. However if we look from June 2016 to June 2017 average hourly earnings rose only 63 cents, around 2.5 percent. This is an important factor to take into consideration because if consumers don’t have a reasonable disposable income or aren’t pretty confident on their future economic conditions they won’t consume which won’t create a Demand for business owners to invest and hire more people to meet the demand for more products/services.

In the end a question still has to be answered, “Is Trump boosting the economy?”

Not even 6 months have passed since his inauguration and even though there is a urge to say this economic evolution is due to the “Trump factor” to justify the argument that “He isn’t so bad after all” I do believe it’s really early to make such assumptions. Yes he already signed legislation to roll back some regulations to promote jobs creation and expressed his intention to cut taxes, even though trickle down economics has proven to be mislead, but some things take time to start affecting the economy this is just one of them, we’ll probably have to wait the first year or two to see if he is really boosting the economy or just continuing the trend that started under the Obama administration.

 

 

Luís Carvalho, economics bachelor student and proud 2015 Graduate of Democracy

Catalonia: A new state in Europe?

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Localization of Catalonia in Spain and Europe

On the next first of October it will be held in Catalonia the referendum to its independence. This referendum was considered illegal by the Spanish government but the outcome of this referendum can be very important for the future of Spain and of the European Union. To better understand this referendum we need to understand the reasons that are behind it.

Catalonia is an autonomous region located in the Northeast of Spain, bordering both France and the Mediterranean Sea as you can see in the map above. It has several distinctive factors from the rest of Spain most notoriously the Catalan language (that is also spoken in other regions of Spain, Andorra, and in small parts of France and Italy), and several cultural traits like building a human tower, called castell (meaning castle in catalan) or the ‘sardana’, a type of circle dance. Historically the region was part of the Crown of Aragon, which even had a Mediterranean empire including a Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, Southern Italy and even a portion of Greece. However in 1469 the Aragon and Castilian crowns united under Ferdinand the first, and this led to a centralisation of power in Madrid that led to the Catalan Revolt in 1640-1652. Afterwards in the War of Spanish Succession (1702-1715) they supported the Austrian Habsburg pretender Charles VI against Phillip V from the French house of Bourbon. Eventually they lost the war and the region became under Spanish or more exactly Castilian control. During the XIX century Catalonia endured a process of industrialization while Catalan nationalism developed. Later, during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), Catalonia fought alongside the republicans that eventually lost the War against the fascist Francisco Franco. His dictatorship was particularly harsh for Catalans since their culture was heavily repressed and Catalan language banned from public use. Despite that, industry and services developed a lot during this period attracting many migrants from other regions of Spain. Since 1975, after Franco’s death, Catalonia recovered its autonomy, restoring the parliament in 1977. It’s also important to note that Catalonia, and the Catalan countries, are not the only regions of Spain with important differences from Spain, like the Basque Country and Navarra, two regions in the North of Spain with a language that has no other known relative as well as other cultural differences. They have also been fighting for independence and more autonomy, including violent acts done by the terrorist organization, ETA.

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The ‘estalada’, the flag of catalan separatism

There are two many reasons that justify the independence of Catalonia, the economic reason and the sociocultural reason:

Regarding the economic argument, Catalans state that they are being treated unfairly by the Spanish state. The region has 16% of the Spain’s total population but accounts for 19% of its GDP. Data from 2011 showed that the region paid €8,5bn more in taxes than what it got back, a tax deficit from the Spanish state of around 8%. State investment in Catalonia is also decreasing, from nearly 16% in 2003 for 9,5% in 2015. They also have the third largest trade surplus in EU being Luxembourg and Ireland. So despite Catalonia being the fourth Spanish region with an higher GDP per capita and the richest Spanish region in terms of total GDP, many Catalans feel that the region could be even better economically if it was not integrated in Spain. Public infrastructures that are under central government jurisdiction are also in worst conditions than others in other regions, like it happens with the connections to Barcelona Airport, that don’t have a metro connection, has a poor train service and old roads while Madrid Barajas Airport has a metro and train connections and more recent roads. So there is a feeling that Catalonia is being forgotten by the central government.

Regarding the sociocultural argument, Catalonia is indeed a territory with unique characteristics when compared with the rest of Spain. The Catalan language is spoken by 9,5 million people the majority of them in Catalonia. Unlike what many people think, this is not a dialect of Spanish but rather a true Romance (Latin) language that is the brother language to Occitan, a minority language spoken in the South of France. Catalans have a lot of pride on their language, the 14th most spoken in European Union, specially because they were forbidden of doing so during Franco’s dictatorship, and they think an independent Catalonia will make it easier to protect it as well as other traditions like the castell or the sardana. Catalonia has also some quite distinctive aspects like the fact that Bullfighting, a big tradition in the rest of Iberian Peninsula, was banned in 2010.

Politically Catalonia autonomous community is governed by the Junts per Si (Together for yes in Catalan), a coalition that joins centre-right (the Catalan European Democratic Part, the biggest party and the Democrats of Catalonia) and leftist parties (like the Republican Left of Catalonia and the Left Movement). All of this parties favor, albeit with some differences among them, the independence of Catalonia. In the last regional elections they gained a total of 62 seats and a percentage of 39,6%. In second place it came, the Ciduadanos ( Citizens) with 17,9% and 25 seats, a liberal party that is against the independence of Catalonia, but curiously founded by a Catalan, Albert Rivera. In third place, came the PSOE (Socialist Party) with 14,4% and 16 seats won, in fourth the Catatlunya Si que és Pot, a leftist party linked to Podemos, with 8,9% and 11 seats won, in fifth the Partido Popular (Popular Party), the right wing party that governs Spain had 8,5% and 11 seats. Finally in fifth place it came the CUP, with 8,2% and 10 seats, a radical left part that defends the idea of a Great Catalonia which means not only the independence of Catalonia but also of other Catalan speaking regions (Països Catalans), the Valencian Community and the Balearic Islands.

Among the main Spanish political parties, the Popular Party is clearly against the independence of Catalonia as well as the referendum and also giving more autonomy to the region, they rejected a proposal of fiscal autonomy by the Catalan government. The socialist party also rejects the independence and the referendum to the independence of Catalonia but they are willing to give them more autonomy, integrated in a federalist Spain. The Citizens is anti-independence and anti-federalist as it can be seen is this statement from its leader Albert Rivera: ‘Catalonia is my homeland, Spain is my country and Europe is our future’. They also defend strengthening the powers of the Spanish central institutions and decreasing the powers of regional administrations. Meanwhile Podemos does not officially support the independence of Catalonia, although some members are in favor like their Catalan wing, the Catalunya Si que és pot, but they support the referendum to the independence and more powers to autonomous governments across Spain.

19866192_1927501420826371_1964456276_n

Map of the Catalan speaking regions

Regarding the possible outcome of the referendum the Yes and the No seem to be neck and neck on the last polls. Out of the four polls done this year, three of them give the victory to yes and the other gives the victory to the no, although the maximum difference between the two outcomes is just 4,6% and there are still a sizeable amount of undecided voters that can change the final outcome, so the final result should be very close. Some important remarks that are important to make are the following: the Catalans that have a Catalan origin tend to support more the yes independent Catalonia while the Spanish origin people that live in Catalonia, tend to support more the no and the yes tends to have more support in rural areas where live older people that still remember the oppression their culture suffered under Franco’s dictatorship. Another interesting thing is that the refusal of the Spanish government, unlike the UK one, to accept this referendum is probably increasing the number of people that wants to vote yes because Catalans can see that Spain is a democracy with many flaws. However, even if the yes wins in this referendum that will not automatically mean an independent Catalonia, because this referendum was considered illegal by the Spanish state. If the yes does indeed win, this can lead to Catalan institutions trying to separate the region from Spain which could mean, Spanish central government giving more autonomy to Catalonia, like the long-sought fiscal autonomy or if central government doesn’t yield this can end with the Spanish military being used to suppress the Catalans will to self-determination which would be a grievous attack to the international law.

Another very important question is that if an independent Catalonia would have to apply to EU membership or if because it’s already a region of European Union, it would still continue to be a part of the European Union, now as a country. It’s important to reach a conclusion about this because this question could be decisive to the final outcome of the referendum, having in consideration that the vast majority of Catalans are pro-EU. Unlike what some international press says the self-determination process in Catalonia as in other nations like Scotland is not a danger to Europe, and not a sign of its division, but a clear demonstration of healthy democracy. This referendum, especially if the yes wins can also give more strength to other pro-independence /self-determination movements like the Basque, the South Tyrolean, the Northern Irish, the Flemish and the Bavarian.

 

Wrote by Pedro Diogo, Economic’s Bachelor graduate

 

Bibliography

Texts

La Vanguardia

http://www.lavanguardia.com/politica/20170514/422577266884/europeos-independencia-espana-catalunya.html

El Món

http://elmon.cat/noticia/209219/el-40-dels-espanyols-vol-que-sapliqui-larticle-155-si-es-convoca-el-referendum

BBC

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-29478415

The Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/09/catalonia-calls-independence-referendum-for-october-spain

The Telegraf

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/09/tensions-grow-spain-catalonia-independence-referendum-confirmed/

Images

Catalonia in Spain and Europe

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34787795

Catalan independence flag

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Estelada

Catalan speaking territories

http://politica.e-noticies.cat/la-cup-encara-creu-en-els-paisos-catalans-71916.html

 

 

The renaissance of young progressive activism

I often read that the youth are uninterested in politics; that young people believe that politics has become irrelevant, and that our generation might be willing to share posts on social media, but many of us will not cast our vote and decide an election. Generally, I am afraid much of this is true. Not many young people ever took part in a political rally, and many of us are probably less ideologically driven than earlier generations. From an electoral perspective, not only we are less numerous than the elderly, but we are also less likely to vote.

General Election 2017

Continue reading “The renaissance of young progressive activism”

Seven Nation Army

“In peace, there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon…”

 

It has become some kind of European routine: confronted with an increasing number of citizens displeased by the Union’s policies, lack – or excess – of shared programs, European leaders revive the idea of a European army from time to time. There’s nothing new about using the military to reassure people, for it’s both a useful tool and a symbolic object of the utmost importance: in France, politicians are after all still debating about re-establishing a military service and arguing about its ability to mix social groups ([1]) within a single, united corp. But as Russia seems to be revaluating its strategic orientations to promote a more active approach to security issues while revitalising its military industrial complex, Europe, now forced to act by The Donald’s erratic way of handling foreign affairs, might have no other choice but to go “once more into the breach.”

Still, obstacles are various: even though interoperability have been promoted for quite a long time, European armed forces still use different material, especially in strategic realms such as the air force – the French Armée de l’Air uses Rafale and Mirage, while the German Luftwaffe uses Eurofighters, for instance. Moreover, shared industrial program such as the A400M one ([2]) – which aimed at providing various European armies with a common transport aircraft – met surprising difficulties, costs skyrocketing without any apparent progress being made. In addition to those technical, industrial issues, the sole idea of a common European armed force raises many more issues, from political ones to military ones: what would the missions be of such a force? By whom would it be commanded? What about language and structure? Where would its bases be located? In order to rationalise all of these rightful inquiries, one has to draw the line somewhere: it is almost impossible, if not simply bizarre to imagine that 28 countries will ever come together to form an armed force capable of designating its capacities, foes, theatres of operations and missions in a clear way.

The French Armed Forces, created in 1792, are currently divided into five branches: the Armée de Terre, the Marine Nationale, the Armée de l’Air, the Gendarmerie and the National Guard. Recently deployed in Sub-Saharan Africa (3,000 troops) in Iraq (3,200 troops) the French Armed Forces are also taking part in various peacekeeping missions by mobilising nearly 1,000 blue helmets. Besides enjoying the world’s only nuclear-powered carrier completed outside of the United States Navy, the French Armed Forces can rely on highly functional tools as various as fifth-generation aircraft (Rafale) and ultramodern frigates (FREMM) Yet, the French Armed Forces are suffering from the same drawbacks as most of their European partners: a chronic lack of funding which currently sever its ability to carry out  missions on its own and this has resulted in a lack of strategic airlift and unmanned aerial vehicles. However, recent reforms have been announced: they include investing in the modernisation of the Rafale, investing in the French special forces and speeding up the modernisation of France’s armoured vehicles

While discussing military integration, less is more. It is always easier to merge a small number of forces into one than to try and design a European military based on twenty-eight countries’ will to create something shared and common. ([3]) In fact, common characteristics exist between some militaries in the Union: German and French forces, for instance, are reaching an almost similar level of operational capacity, France’s main asset being that they have  acquired important experiences on theatres as diverse as South America, Sub-Saharan and Central Africa, Levant and Middle-East and own combat-proven aircrafts (Rafale) self-propelled howitzers (Caesar Canon) infantry fighting vehicles (VBCI) tactical transport helicopters (Caracal) and attack helicopters (Tigre) the latter being the result of a European military program and therefore used not only by France but also Germany and Spain.

 The Spanish Armed Forces aren’t as important as the French or Italian ones, but they still represent forces to be acknowledged, members of both NATO and the Eurocorps and representing around 130,000 men and women divided between the Ejército de Tierra, the Armada Española, the Ejército del Aire and the Guardia Civil. Though only carrying modest missions and relying on small battlegroups, the Spanish Armed Forces enjoy modern and various equipment including German MBT (Leopard II) European and American helicopters (Tigre, Chinook) and Austrian-Spanish IFV (ASCOD Pizarro) asserting its capacity to act in coordination with other western forces. Yet, and as many European forces, the Spanish ones suffer from a lack of investment resulting in poor operational abilities based on aging tools and gears, which was made even worse by the political turmoil faced by the nation a year ago

 This, for instance, came from a simple thought: “We all need a similar tool to carry out similar missions on similar theatres of operation. Why not share the costs of production as well as future, prospective benefits?” such a model of military cooperation being encouraged by the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation ([4]), which currently supervises no more than twelve military programs, from armoured fighting vehicles (Cobra) to multi-mission frigates (FREMM). Its most active members include France – with nine shared military programs – Italy – seven – Germany – three – and Benelux – three. Seven military’s therefore sharing highly efficient tools and reaching an almost unmatched interoperability capacity; seven countries active on shared battlegrounds such as Mali or Iraq and who could, at one point, start to exist as a Seven Nation Army.

As far as organisation is concerned, the Forze Armate Italiane can be compared to the French one. It is divided into four corps: the Esercito Italiano, the Marina Militare, the Aeronautica Militare and the Arma dei Carabinieri and represent nearly 300,000 men and women. Recent reforms in the Italian military included a decrease in the number of the army personnel meant to reallocate military funds to instruction, training and armaments. Its main assets include: owning two STOVL aircraft carriers – short takeoff and vertical landing – meant to carry short-range missions in the Mediterranean Sea, having at its disposal a vast number of military aircrafts – the most recent being Eurofighter and F 35 – and an even more impressive number of soldiers. This military strength furthermore relies on two things: an efficient arms-industry – Leonardo, Beretta – and a satisfactory operative level based on experiences acquired in Afghanistan

But as important as industrial cooperation might be, their sine-qua-non conditions remain to share strategic orientations and goals, and that’s where the rub is. Italian and French objectives include controlling the Mediterranean Sea or having the means to carry out short-range missions, but France has interests in North and Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. It therefore needs slightly different tools, including the ability to carry out long-range missions, such missions relying, for instance, on tanker aircrafts and light warships. But why would Germany need those? Its most recent military doctrine has been designed after the Ukrainian Crisis and mostly revolves around countering any Russian aggression in Eastern Europe. ([5]) Such a threat isn’t to be deterred by tools designed for long-range projections, but rather by mechanised and armoured vehicles, anti-aircraft weapons, intelligence and counterintelligence assets or artillery systems. But what would France make of those in Mali’s desert, or in Bangui’s unstable streets? That’s when the dream of a European army meets a dead end.

With military budgets barely superior to 1% of their GDP, the Belgian and Dutch Armed Forces aren’t as impressive as the French or German ones. Though mostly equipped with modern equipment, they are both in need of more recent planes, the Royal Netherlands Air Force having already settled for American Lockheed Martin F-35. This of course came as a surprise, since such an investment would have been a perfect occasion to support Europe’s military-industrial complex. Moreover, the Composante Terre/Land Component suffers from the same flaws as the French Armée de Terre as it is currently used to patrol the streets which weaken the soldiers’ morale while damaging its military budget. Though modest in strength, the Belgian and Dutch Armed Forces are still members of the European military cooperation programs, with one each: the A400M Atlas and the Boxer

Finally, the idea of a European military poses another issue: the one of nuclear defence. In its recent article The Case for a European Nuke, Foreign Affairs’ Doug Bandow ([6]) perfectly explained how the perspective of a shared nuclear programme could benefit both the European and the American military interests by reducing Washington’s expenditures on our soil while increasing our influence in the West’s military decisions. As noted by Ulrich Kühn of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “it would be far too expensive for Europe to match Russia’s store of 2,000 to 3,000 tactical nuclear weapons” but Europe could, by using France’s nuclear doctrine settle for a deterrent force. “Europe,” notes Doug Bandow, “is also the most obvious place for Washington to close at least one of its nuclear umbrellas. None of the United States’ Asian allies possesses nuclear weapons, and their development would have unpredictable regional effects and be more likely to trigger proliferation” making this issue of a European Nuke a priority of the utmost importance.

Such a European military revolution would nevertheless have to be handled with care. Creating a European Nuke and therefore increasing the number of nuclear weapons possessed by European nations could arguably have an important impact on non-proliferation. It would also pose a very concrete question: to whom should fall the ultimate decision to fire those weapons? This has been established by many specialists: the first and main strength of a nuclear deterrent is its credibility. Not only do you have to let your prospective enemies know about your weapon, you also must absolutely erase any possibility to let them think you might not be prepared or ready to resort to those weapons of mass destruction. In the French case, the president has the possibility to order the use of nuclear bombs without referring to any counter-powers. This of course goes with him constitutionally being the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and raises some political issues, but it is also ultimately there to assert France’s ability to punish any important attack on its most vital interests. In the event of a European Nuke, who shall we entrust with the possibility to unleash weapons so powerful one might think of them as blasphemous ([7])? Here, the military idea of a shared weapon meets the political necessity of a common executive power.

The almost romantic idea of a European Army, let alone of a Seven Nation Army, is no dream nor illusion, but a strategic necessity. Yet, the obstacles to be overcome in the process of creating such a tool are both various and imposing: beyond the inherent need to build it around shared military objectives, orientations and tools, it would furthermore require a common sense of politics, a remarkable – almost unreachable in those modern times – pedagogy and the insurance that this device, while being controlled by civil authorities, would not be neutralised by them. In the meantime, humble industrial cooperation appears to be the main way forward in designing the collective tools upon which unity shall, one day, be accomplished.

 

Hugo Decis is currently studying International Relations i Paris and is the current Communication Officer. This article was previously posted on Mercoeur, a french blog specialised on International Relations, at this address:  https://mercoeur.wordpress.com/2017/04/30/seven-nation-army/ 

 

[1] Le Creuset de l’Armée : Un Mythe de l’IntégrationJean-Dominique Merchet, Libération

[2] Airbus : Le Programme A400M est-il en danger ?Michel Cabirol, La Tribune

[3] Samuel Beckett’s European ArmyDaniel Keohane, Carnegie Europe

[4] Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation, official website – available at: http://www.occar.int/programmes

[5] In a Reversal, Germany’s Military Growth Is Met with Western ReliefAlison Smale, The New-York Times

[6] The Case for a European NukeDoug Bandow, Foreign Affairs

[7] Towards the Nuclear Sublime: Representations of Technological Vastness in Postmodern American PoetryRob Wilson, Cambridge University