Contributions were received from Alberto Aspidi, Silvia Menegazzi, Nicolò Sartori and Andrea Sorbello.
- European Union
Living with a reluctant hegemon : explaining European responses to US unilateralism / Caroline Fehl. - Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2012. - xiii, 254 p. - ISBN 978-0-19-960862-1
Caroline Fehl opens this book, originally conceived as a doctoral thesis project, with a reflection concerning the transatlantic relations in the wake of the post-Cold War era. The author points out how, since the mid-1990s, the US has moved towards a unilateral attitude which represents a remarkable inversion of the long-standing US tradition of hegemonic leadership in global institution-building. The effect of this policy shift has been a transatlantic role reversal. The US become the "reluctant hegemon", displaying scepticism and opposing multilateral initiatives advocated by European partners increasingly committed to creating a multilateral world order. Disagreements have emerged over the usefulness and scope of new global multilateral agreements addressing important global issues, and European initiatives have been confronted with firm US opposition towards their more stringent solutions. This fact is creating a fundamental dilemma for European governments in front of a fundamental dilemma, and this is the focus of the book: giving in to US demands to have Washington on board even if that means watering down the provisions of an agreement or opting for non-hegemonic cooperation, pursuing their more ambitious agenda without trying to obtain US support and participation?
Indeed, Europeans have reacted differently to conservative US stances, sometimes accommodating while some at others times excluding the reluctant hegemon. Fehl seeks to understand and explain the driving forces underlying the varying European strategic choices. To this purpose, she first discusses the shortcomings of the realist account on the matter (Chapter 2); then elaborates an alternative theoretical framework integrating a rational institutionalist approach with some elements from constructivist international relations theory, with a view to identifying the key factors shaping European choices for and against non-hegemonic cooperation (Chapter 3). Within this framework a "rational baseline hypothesis", by which effectiveness in addressing the specific problem at hand is considered the main factor influencing European responses to US policy, is combined with several other constraints external to the basic calculus of treaty effectiveness which might impact European conduct. These include economic assessments as well as ideational constraints, and socially constructed norms and identities. The more the US stances are perceived as unfair or violating fundamental diplomatic norms, the more Europeans are likely to opt for non-hegemonic cooperation.
Moreover, the idea of transatlantic community vs transatlantic rivalries may play a relevant role vis-à-vis certain issues, in particular security. This theoretical argument is tested in the following chapters of the book, where five cases of transatlantic conflict are analysed: the convention on anti-personnel landmines (Chapter 4); the International Criminal Court (ICC, Chapter 5); the Kyoto Protocol (Chapter 6); the Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons (Chapter 7); the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC, Chapter 8).
The result is of this study is a comprehensive explanation of how, why and to what extent identified factors can affect the European strategy and thus the outcome of global multilateral negotiations. For instance, in the case of the Kyoto Protocol, concerns for the potential implications of non-hegemomic cooperation on the competitiveness of European industries contributed to European governments' decision to initially accept several 'softer' American proposals in order to take the US on board. As for the BWC, given its security nature, the idea of transatlantic community contributed to Europe's consensus-oriented posture. Conversely, France's refusal to compromise with US on the ICC exemplifies how single rivalries can affect negotiations. The integrated model established by Fehl in this work is effective in combining different theoretical approaches with practical socio-political elements.
This book makes a substantial and potentially pioneering contribution to the debate on the transatlantic relationship and the effectiveness of multilateral cooperation without hegemonic leadership. The innovative explanatory framework and the possibility of testing it further on past, ongoing and future controversies regarding other policy areas undoubtedly represent the added value of this book. Last but not least, despite the rigorous and systematic structure required by its academic approach, the book is particularly reader friendly. (Alberto Aspidi)
Global governance and the role of the EU : assessing the future balance of power / edited by Carlo Secchi and Antonio Villafranca. - Cheltenham ; Northampton : Edward Elgar in association with ISPI-Istituto per gli studi di politica internazionale, c2011. - xxii, 190 p. : ill. - ISBN 978-0-85793-304-1
The EU is currently in the midst of a financial crisis that its institutions were unprepared for. When the sovereign debt crisis first broke out, it was immediately clear for most observers and scholars that Europe was not only surprised, but that its institutions and treaties were only half-way along the road to designing an effective system of economic governance. The original design was not complete, hence the EU was particularly exposed to a world - the world of speculation - that can suddenly turn its back on something it trusted the minute before. A rapid and effective decision-making system is essential for coping with these challenges. And this was something the EU simply did and does not have, relying on the contrary on a very slow integration model of treaties negotiated for years, if not decades.
The book edited by Carlo Secchi and Antonio Villanfranca is a collection of short essays by different authors that address a number of questions that have emerged with the crisis related to EU governance. It puts them into a global perspective and asks what the role of the old continent will be in the coming years: how can that role maintain its relevance and how can it be strengthened?
The first part of the book examines post-crisis global economic governance. Franco Bruni briefly describes the difficult conditions of European monetary integration that underlie all those well known shortcomings of the monetary union, starting with the ambiguous role of the European Central Bank (ECB). Bruni's proposal is to reform EU monetary governance as well as global financial governance (with a specific focus on the IMF), currently too weak to cope with financial and debt crises. His suggestion is to call a new 'Bretton Woods' summit. Jacques Mistral's chapter tackles different elements of global governance, pointing out that better coordination is needed and that the transatlantic linkage should be reinforced to pursue financial "re-regulation". The last chapter looks at a new actor on the global scene, China. Considering PRC's economic weight and the significant role it is acquiring, Xiaozu Wang states that it is China's interest to play a major role in economic stabilisation and to dialogue with international partners: this is all the more important because domestic stability in China is deeply intertwined with economic conditions.
The second part discusses why the EU is such a weak actor when it comes to growth and debt restructuring and how the Union, and especially the Eurozone, can overcome these limits so as to stabilise the financial situation and grow again in the near future. Vanessa Rossi provides useful insight on the management of debt among EU member states and offers different recovery scenarios. Although interesting and constructive, the analysis dates back to 2010, while the situation has in the meantime evolved for the worse. Daniela Schwarzer deals more effectively with the new instruments (i.e. Eurobonds, debt-sharing, etc.) that the EU can put in place to reshape its economic governance mechanisms. Economic cooperation must be enhanced write Carlo Altomonte, Francesco Passarelli and Carlo Secchi, who claim that the macro economy should promote growth, and present a singular analysis of productivity and labour markets. Similarly, Fabian Zuleeg describes Europe's problems with growth, which predate the crisis and have several different roots, not least the ageing of population. The final essay, by Antonio Villafranca, summarises the efforts made to address global warming. According to the author, a more concerted effort is needed to involve both new and old economies in the fight against climate change: only by doing that can Europe avoid the risk of unfair competition from emerging economies.
Overall, the book provides readers with a functional summary of different aspects of the current crisis, trying to look at them in a global perspective. Shortcomings could include the lack of a comprehensive standpoint, as well as the absence of practical suggestions, but on the whole, the book's qualities make up for these limitations. (Andrea Sorbello)
War and state building in the Middle East / Rolf Schwarz. - Gainesville [etc.] : University of Florida Press, 2012. - xiv, 155 p. : ill. - (Governance and international relations in the Middle East). - ISBN 978-0-8130-3792-9
Written over a period of seven years, but published right after the events of the Arab Spring, Schwarz' book contributes to shedding light on the state-building processes in the Middle East. According to the theoretical model first elaborated by Charles Tilly, war and military competition contribute to the centralisation of political power and the creation of strong bureaucracies. Schwarz investigates whether the assumptions of the "war-makes-state" theory - successfully applied to the early modern European context - can be used to explain the state-making processes in the Middle Eastern region.
The author argues that state formation in the Arab Middle East challenges such assumptions. Despite the high number of wars that characterised the region in past decades, Middle Eastern countries have not been able to establish legitimate political rule and develop institutionally strong states. Schwartz highlights the role of exogenous factors in modifying the traditional state-building patterns, paying particular attention to the 'rentier' nature of these regimes. Rentier states are those states that do not generate government revenues themselves, but derive them from external sources such as oil exports, remittances, transit fees and international aid payments. Rentierism is commonly believed to prevent or slow down the formation of states that legitimately represent their citizens, leading - according to Schwarz - to the emergence of institutionally weak regimes. These states survive only buying off social discontent with redistributive welfare policies and establishing vast military apparatuses.
While rents in the Middle East encourage militarisation as a strategy of state building, the author concludes that this tends to weaken and eventually destroy states, rather than strengthen them. These conclusions emerge from the analysis of the three case studies from the twentieth century - Iraq, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) - deemed to provide a representative picture of the entire region. None of these countries relies on the domestic generation of resources, and Iraq and Jordan underwent wars.
The case of Iraq under Saddam's rule demonstrates that the combination of rentierism and war proves particularly deadly for states. Indeed, the abundance of external rents encouraged an exceptional degree of militarisation which did not match the state's institutional strength, and progressively led to destruction.
As in Iraq, Jordan's conflicts produced an institutionally weak regime. There, while the availability of external rents - along with the presence of a cohesive elite, the loyalty of the military-security establishment, and the support of foreign powers - contributed to some degree of stabilisation, Jordan remains a weak, surviving state.
Finally, the UAE experience demonstrates that, when war making and militarisation are not used as a strategy of state building, oil rents can foster the creation of a modern state with a robust bureaucratic apparatus. However, Schwarz justifies this conclusion with the introduction of a new variable. In fact, it is the expansion of self-generated revenues, made possible by the economic diversification policies adopted by the UAE ruling elite, that strengthens the state-building processes.
Although it provides an illustrative analysis of the role of external rents in the formation of weak Middle Eastern states, the book raises some questions. In particular, its results diverge from the main assumptions of the rentier state theory, which attributes greater stability to regimes depending on exogenous rents. This discrepancy could be explained by Schwarz' 'peculiar' selection of case studies. In fact, on the one hand, he selects Iraq as an example of highly militarised rentier state, while in reality much of the country's military strength was long overestimated. On the other hand, he chooses the UAE as an instance of a non-militarised country, despite the fact that the Emirates have regularly been among the largest military spenders in the world in the last decades. Based on these selection criteria, it is not surprising that Schwarz' analysis ends by highlighting Iraq's trajectory towards state failure and the UAE's success in building sustainable statehood. (Nicolò Sartori)
China's environmental challenges / Judith Shapiro. - Cambridge ; Malden : Polity Press, 2012. - xxi, 205 p. - (China today). - ISBN 978-0-7456-6090-5 ; 978-0-7456-6091-2 (pbk)
China's current ecological crisis is of significance for the well-being not only of Chinese citizens but also for everyone on the planet. Judith Shapiro's recent book enriches our understanding of China's environmental situation by analysing how today's complex challenges are tied to China's domestic political structure, its rapid economic growth and the intense globalisation to which the country has been exposed since the Mao years.
As clearly exemplified in the introductory chapter, the author investigates China's environmental situation using five core analytical concepts, which at the same time constitute the main five chapters of the book: the implications of globalisation, the challenges of governance, the contested role of national identity, the evolution of civil society and the growing problems related to environmental justice.
Shapiro asserts that in order to achieve long-term environmental sustainability it is crucial to identify the key forces determining environmental change. China's current globalisation trends, such as population increase, the rise of the middle class, export industries, changes in land use and climate change have clearly contributed to exacerbating domestic environmental conflicts. Nevertheless, environmental changes in China tend to be gradual, with an indirect impact that is not always immediately visible to the population. As such, they are unlikely to be perceived as a real threat to people's everyday lives. Although discussion on environmental challenges in top policy-making circles is much more open than before, now including intellectuals, think tanks and environmental NGOs, Shapiro claims that promoting sustainable development in China will only be possible if and when government agencies and bureaucrats are ready to engage more directly with China's nascent civil society. This means raising awareness among Chinese citizens and cooperating with international institutions to reduce ongoing environmental degradation, thus balancing centralised control with increasing political participation.
The author points out that the cultural and historical contexts in which China is pursuing its path towards sustainable development are also affecting its prospects for success. In this sense, China's identity crisis - vacillating between a great-power identity, the historical legacy of the ancient Middle Kingdom, and a disheartened identity exemplified by the "century of humiliation" - helps to explain why China's search for new models of sustainable development often end up transforming its natural landscape with mega-projects that threaten the social and economic stability of its citizens, thus undermining the living standards of both present and future generations.
Shapiro argues, however, that it is important not to generalise too much about China's political system. Although public participation is restricted and controlled, China's environmental civil society is growing. The modes of political participation are nonetheless profoundly different from Western ones: advocacy groups, activists and environmental non-governmental organisations (ENGOs) often need the central government's approval and the media's support to achieve their goals, thus highlighting the fragility of China's civil society. In the final chapter, the author concludes by describing how China's thirst for development has contributed to enhancing environmental injustices in China's peripheral areas, particularly towards the most vulnerable and politically weak area and peoples (Inner Mongolia, Tibet). Shapiro suggests that even though most of these challenges can be solved by the Chinese people, developed countries should engage closely with China with regard to environmental justice, sharing ideas, experts and technologies, and should avoid labelling China's behaviour as 'good' or 'bad'.
On the whole, the books makes an important contribution to the body of literature that seeks to improve knowledge of China's environmental situation, especially in terms of civil society and national identity. The volume is well structured and each chapter concludes with a list of questions for discussion and a list of additional resources, most of them accessible online. In conclusion, Shapiro's book is an excellent reference for students of international politics and Chinese studies and a pleasant read for anyone interested in learning about China's environmental challenges. (Silvia Menegazzi)