A Dire Love Triangle (I): the EU, Russia & Ukraine

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I. The path to Ukraine: EU’s overstretching phenomena 

The post-soviet space saw from 1991 the struggle for two different projects in Europe: Wider Europe, led by the EU’s enlargement project, and Greater Europe, led by the Russian Federation, a defeated power knocking on need’s door. As the enlargement project emerged as the only possibility pushed largely in the former Soviet space and ignoring Russia, the country entered the decade of humiliations: ‘stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok’ didn’t become an option.

Within that logic and with the EU’s blessing, the relationship between the former Soviet space and Russia quickly deteriorated. Within Wider Europe, the EU developed the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) as a previous step to membership and launched its most geopolitical branch: the Eastern Partnership (EaP). In 2004, the ‘big-bang enlargement’  gave full membership to  8 Eastern European countries.  However, this expansion effort has had consequences within the consolidation and democratization of EU institutions, particularly regarding Poland and Hungary. EU’s winner complex and enlargement at all costs in Russia’s ‘near abroad’ has made tangible the widening vs. the deepening dilemma in the European Union.

Regarding the ENP, many Eastern countries such as Ukraine have institutionalized the European destiny for decades, fueled by EU’s policy and promises through the EaP and hatred against Russia. Following this path and according to the  Strategy of Ukraine’s Integration to the European Union, Ukraine would have gained EU membership by 2007. However, it didn’t; and today one might wonder if there are any indicators of any EU plan to further integrate Ukraine.

The year 2014 heightened tensions within Europe to a point of no return. Following the events of the Maidan, Crimea’s annexation by Russia and the war in East and Southeast Ukraine, the EU finally realized that it had been overstretching, and thus pushed for a reform of the ENP, acknowledging that ‘the EU cannot alone solve the many challenges of the region (…) there are limits to its leverage’. It has further emphasized, intra-EU, the need to consolidate the democratic principles and common rule of law of those already members.

However, this state of affairs posits great challenges for the EU and the European continent. Is membership still an option for EaP countries? What kind of relationship does the EU want to have with Russia? What do we do with the situation in Crimea? What are the EU failures in relation to the situation in Ukraine?

 

 

Geopolitics beyond the mainstream: how are violence and war normalized?

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War videogame

Coined by Rudolph Kjellén, geopolitics was associated with Nazism throughout most of the 20th century and was only rediscovered within IR scholarship from the 70s.  Renewed, geopolitics reemerged along with the rise of the Realist view of world politics, accepting the connection between geography and power as natural, the geographical writing of the world into bounded spaces as neutral, the state as the only actor, or the inevitability the Rise and Fall of Great Powers. In short, what is commonly understood as geopolitics appears as the field of formal, high politics that has nothing to do with ordinary people.

Against this approach, ‘critical geopolitics’ has gained ground in the past decades with authors such as Ó Tuathail and a focus on reexamining core concepts and definitions of the geo- and the -politics, in order to question classic, Realist assumptions. In this regard, critical scholars developed a typology of the geopolitical aiming at overcoming the formalist understanding of geopolitical thought: the practical, related to the state; the formal, related to groups of states, and the popular, related to artifacts of pop-culture such as video-games, movies or cartoons.

Efforts in popular geopolitics have researched the impact of geopolitical thinking on our most consumed cultural products, enquiring about how geopolitical reasoning has permeated them. Movies such as the James Bond saga have been said to produce liberal ideology in Cold War years but also, recent scholarship has focused on video games. Popular games like Call of Duty or Assasin’s Creed involve playing to -and enjoying- the logics of war and violence, helping in normalizing a geopolitical imaginary of conflict contexts, military interventions or the use of weapons. Within the popular effort, feminist geopolitics has gone further and underlined how this thinking doesn’t stop at pop-culture but is rather incorporated into the everyday of the lives of people across the world in items such as fashion or even food. 

Critical scholarship is clear: the impact of geopolitics in pop-culture is not neutral, as it helps in shaping our interpretations of the international, and of global politics. Thus, popular geopolitics becomes a key to overcome the formalist frame;  to a better understanding from where our cultural artifacts emerge, and, most importantly, to understand how violence or war are perpetually normalized into our lives.

Dialogue of Civilizations: a path towards peace?

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Alliance of Civilizations

The United Nations declaration of 2001 as the ‘Year of Dialogue among Civilizations’ saw its efforts diminished as the 9/11 opened the path for global discourses and policies pivoting around the Clash of Civilizations, as discussed in a previous post. Since then, civilizational scholars, intellectuals and activists of all backgrounds have emphasized the political discourse of  a new endeavor, the ‘Dialogue of Civilizations’, posited as a paradigm shift in IR. This Dialogue aims at enhancing an inter-civilizational climate of mutual understanding that might lead to global peace.

The end of the Cold War brought new debates on the next political dimension to define the world to come. Fukuyama’s End of History  (1989) proclaimed that history had reached its peak, as ideological evolution from Western liberalism was deemed impossible. Contra Fukuyama, Huntington’s  Clash of Civilizations claimed that the next conflictual lines would be in civilizations and not in ideologies or states. Huntington warned about the risk of pursuing a Western/liberal order, not to acknowledge and overcome a Western-dominated world order, but to call for Western cultural conservatism as he defined the West as ‘unique’. His views have been therefore considered as essentialist and cultural reductionist he advocates for a civilization-based world while avoiding domestic multiculturalism.

Against the Clash, the Dialogue of Civilizations takes as its premise the paradigm of the ‘multiple modernities’ (Eisenstadt, 2000), in which civilizations despite being different from each other can reach common understandings, cultural exchange, and cooperate, both in domestic and global politics. The Dialogue emerges from an interpretation of our contemporary world as potentially conflictual but nonetheless capable of collaborating in approaching global solutions. It is in this regard that the Declaration of the UN emphasizes civilizational cooperation and initiatives such as the Alliance of Civilizations have taken place within the international community.

As the International Day of Peace this past 21st of September has seen a world heading to more conflictual, uncertain situations and contexts; the rise of far-right politics or a global climate crisis among others, it is perhaps important to recover the politics of the Dialogue of Civilizations and pursue it. In a world marked by a culture of war, weaving a culture of peace is a multidimensional holistic endeavor that must be pursued encompassing efforts within all forms of societies, religions, or cultures.

What is Peace anyway?

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Today is World Peace Day.

Except there is no peace for 69 countries in the world. Four ongoing wars have casualties toll above 10,000 people. Not all of them are soldiers. Some of the wars are intrastate, some are interstate. Many more cold wars are being lead. Armed conflicts or not, they all have one thing in common.

They are the opposite of peace.

Photo by Nowshad Arefin on Unsplash

But what is peace anyway? And how is it achieved? Some authors consider peace to be an outcome of the process of reconciliation. Some consider it to be a process that leads to reconciliation. It is one of the imperatives of international relations. But defining it is so difficult. There have been research that have shown that peace is defined in different terms in different regions of the world. Some of the factors are common across all or most of the regions (e.g. absence of armed conflict), but many are context specific and dependent (e.g. absence of terrorism). That means that we have to abandon talking about peace in abstract terms and create models for building and keeping peace for each specific conflict, society, context.

When Johan Galtung established the first peace research journal in 1964, he went along and defined two types of peace: negative peace, that involves the absence of violence, and positive peace, which is the integration of human society (Galtung, 1964: 2), these being two separate dimensions. For example, in the case of Bosnia & Herzegovina, negative peace is achieved, however positive peace is still lacking. On the other hand, this year Sweden celebrates 215 years without a war. Yet, it scores 18 on Global Peace Index, while, for example, New Zealand proudly takes 2nd place, but their definition of peace has certainly changed in the light of the latest terrorist attack.

We must define how peace feels, smells, looks like, how we would recognize it, what we want from it, in each specific case and context, in order to be able to achieve it. Generic definitions and imposition of abstract concepts cannot lead us to achieving peace. We may call it peacebuilding, conflict resolution, social reconstruction, normalization of relations, conflict transformation, what is important is to know exactly what is meant by it and to be striving for accomplishing it.

Because conflicts don’t work.

Everybody should be talking about “Conflict Analysis”. Part I

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If there is something most of us can agree with is that we don’t like conflicts. However, conflicts are a part of life, they just happen! As a matter of fact, in many times conflict leads us to grow up. Some people go to extreme lengths to avoid conflict. If you’re in a leadership position you might know that an unresolved conflict leads directly to unreached potential.

Without understanding the context in which interventions are situated, organizations implementing them may unintentionally fuel conflict. While conflicts are too complex for a single process to do them justice, key features of analysis are conflict profile, causes, actors and dynamics.

Therefore, I have to start this post with one of the most basic and important understandings by Norwegian theorist Johan Galtung, one of the pioneers of the field of Peace Research on ‘Positive Peace’.

Definitions

Peace as absence of violence is called the traditional notion of peace. Later the definition of peace has been extended to include human rights, equality between mean and women, social justice and ecological balance which is now considered as positive peace. Therefore, the understanding of peace is as the followings:

  • Absence of war and violence.
  • Respect for and promotion of human rights.
  • Establishment of good governance and rule of law. 
  • Presence of democracy and power sharing.
  • Protection and preservation of environment.  
Conflict analysis is the systematic study of the profile, causes, actors, and dynamics of conflict.
Conflict Analysis helps development, humanitarian and peace-building organizations to gain a better understanding of the context in which they work and their role in that context. Conflict analysis is not an “objective” art. It is influenced by different world views, and therefore three approaches are frequently used:
Harvard Approach Human Needs Theory
Conflict Transformation
approach
It emphases the difference between positions (what people say they want) and interests (why people want what they say they want). It argues that conflicts can be resolved when actors focus on interests instead of positions, and when they develop jointly accepted criteria to deal with these differences.
It argues that conflicts are caused by basic “universal” human needs that are not satisfied. The needs should be analyzed, communicated and satisfied for the conflict to be resolved. This sees conflicts as destructive or constructive interactions, depending on how conflicts are dealt with or “transformed”. Conflicts are viewed as an interaction of energies. Emphasis is given on the different perceptions and the social and cultural context in which reality is constructed. Constructive conflict transformation seeks to empower actors and support recognition between them.

In reality

The understanding of the context of interventions and acting upon this understanding to maximize positive impacts is what CA is about. It helps define new interventions and conflict-sensitize existing interventions at the planning stage. It informs project set-up and decision making at the implementation stage. At the monitoring and evaluation stage, CA helps measure the interaction of interventions and the conflict dynamics in which they are situated.

We invite you to learn more about our unique training on Conflict Analysis and Foreign Policy.

We invite you to learn more about our unique training on Conflict Analysis and Foreign Policy. It is going to be held in Madrid, 11-13 October 2019

Therefore, at the World Youth Academy, we aim to increase the building capacity within the youth for conflict analysis may involve: Helping them better understand the context in which they work, prioritizing and integrating conflict analysis into established procedures and budgeting for conflict analysis.

CA can be undertaken for a number of purposes: Promoting participation in social and impactful projects, developing a strategy for engagement, decisions on further project activities and project monitoring. These determine who conducts the analysis: Members of the community, local project staff, national or international staff.

In practice

If you are already into a CA project, remember:

  • Gather information from a wide range of sources and listen to many different actors to broaden understanding of context. Not all information will be available, reliable and unbiased. Research methods such as triangulation aim to reduce such limitations.
  • Conflict analysis itself needs to be conflict-sensitive. It is good practice to get stakeholders on board early and avoid antagonizing potential spoilers.
  • When planning to use a specific conflict analysis framework, consider strengths and weaknesses. Tools are not a substitute for detailed local knowledge and should not stifle creative thinking.
  • Organizations can customize tools to specific needs, objectives, and capacities.

 

 END OF PART I

Feminist IR. Why does it matter?

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Sara González MerineroSpecialized in geopolitics & pop-culture, civilizational analysis, and feminist theory. I recently finished my MA in Geopolitics and Grand Strategy at Sussex uni. I did my undergrad in Political Science and Law in Madrid. Currently doing my Master of Laws.