Our series on International Relations (I.R.) ends here with the last two essential approaches. They are alternative theories which have developed during the end are useful instruments in the toolkit of any student of I.R. because they offer both new, radical explanations of international politics and bring complementary ideas. This brief paper sets out to discuss two of these alternative theories, Marxism and Constructivism.
In the 19th century, Marx and Engels wrote that the main source of instability in the international system would be capitalist globalization, more specifically the conflict between two classes: the national bourgeoisie and the cosmopolitan proletariat. Historical materialism was going to be Marxism’s guideline in understanding the processes both in domestic and international affairs. Thus, for Marx human history has been a struggle to satisfy material needs and to resists class domination and exploitation.
Despite ideological criticism, Marxism has strong empirical advantages on its side. Firstly, by emphasizing injustice and inequality it is very relevant to every period of time, as these two failures of the human society have never been absent. Marxism is a structural theory just like neorealism, but it focuses on the economic sector instead of the military-political one. Its analysis reflects the relation between the base (the modes of production) and the superstructure (political institutions). The source of structural effects is not anarchy, but the capitalist mode of production which defines unjust political institutions and state relations.
This economic reductionism is considered also to be a central flaw. As a solution, the neo-Gramscian school proposed a further development. By combining global capitalism, state structure, and political-economic institutions they managed to create a theory of global hegemony (ideological domination). According to this theory, hegemony is maintained through close cooperation between powerful elites inside and outside the core regions of the world system. Global governance is constituted by political and economic institutions that put pressure on the less developed and unstable peripheral countries.
From an epistemological point of view, Marxism created the foundations for critical theory, and it is superior in this sense to the dominant approaches of Anglo-American I.R., that are problem-solving theories. Marxism, as any other critical theory, has a normative interest in identifying possibilities for social transformation and how theory is instrumental to power. This is why Marx wrote about capitalism with an interest in the social forces that would bring about its downfall hoping that humanity would be free from domination and exploitation. Realists in particular see this to be politically motivated and not objective and neutral. The normative disadvantage of Marxism is that it can be seen as Eurocentric by promoting the Enlightenment ideal of cosmopolitanism.
Another challenging alternative approach is Constructivism which rose as a school of thought with the end of the Cold War. It can be seen as the continuation of critical international theory, even though it differs from the first wave of critical theory due to its emphasis on empirical analysis instead of philosophical contemplation.
The main purpose of constructivism was to challenge rationalism by proposing a radically different ontological perspective based on three main propositions. Firstly, ideational structure is just as important as the realist material structure in shaping the identity and ultimately the actions of the actors. Second, as opposed to the rationalist conception of a priori interests, constructivists are interested in how self-perceived identity determines interest-formation. Thirdly, agent and structure are mutually constituted (a structurationalist theory, not a structuralist one). Therefore, the core of constructivism is its contrast with rationalism.
Nevertheless, this approach can be perceived as complementary to rationalism. The former focuses on how norms shape identities and interests (interest-formation) and the latter on how actors pursue the given interests (interest-satisfaction). Based on a scholarly division of labour, constructivism would try to explain how actors gain their preferences, while rationalism would explore how they realize those preferences. This would be a process of bridge-building between the two.
One of its admitted limitations is that constructivism is not actually a theory : these scholars’ main aim is to interpret and explain different aspects of world politics, not to create a general theory of international affairs. It is more of an analytical framework. Constructivists think that there is no such thing as a universal, transhistorical, culturally autonomous idea or identity. Everything is socially constructed, hence the name of the approach.
Finally, despite this limitation, the undeniable contribution of constructivism to I.R. theory is that it brought back into discussion the social, historical and normative aspects of political thinking. This way it succeeded in further develop the English School approach and in better explaining the mainstream theories’ problematic issues like for example, the fall of the Soviet Union.
For a detailed study of IR theories the following sources and scholars are recommended:
- Burchill S., Linklater A., Devetak R., Donnelly J., Paterson M., Reus-Smit C. and True J., Theories of International
- Relations, Third edition, 2005, Palgrave Macmillan;
- E.H. Carr, The Twenty Years’ Crisis 1919-1939. An Introduction to the Study of International Relations, 1946;
Mearsheimer J., Waltz K., Keohane R., Morgenthau H., Buzan B., Wendt A., Bull H., – articles, books, interviews.
Congress’s Electoral Enervation
Lately, the Grand Old Party of India has been suffering from severe political lacerations. It is bleeding profusely but it still refuses to recognize and feel the pain of its grisly wounds. The Congress party is obstinately practicing political podsnappery and this is further eviscerating its relevance. Slowly and steadily, its ideological roots are being chipped away. We are witnessing a kind of dilemmatic democratic party, which is strangulating in the ever-shifting tectonic plates of Indian politics. The fresh act of defection by Jyotiraditya Scindia foregrounds the ideologically weak aura which now surrounds the Congress.
In every period of its history, a particular type of ideological encrustation surrounded the Congress and illuminated its charm among the Indian voters. This ideology rooted it firmly in a vast network of ideologies. This ideology, for the most part, has been secular and liberal and acted as a strong bulwark against a xenophobically framed anti-secular strategy. But now, this prodigious party has shrunk to a miniscule group. This cataclysmic contraction has happened primarily due to the elitist imagery to which it was tethered. Congress’s political rivals portrayed it as an inherently elitist group by harping on its corruption scandals like the Satyam Scam, Coal Scam, Chopper Scam, Adarsh Scam and Tatra Truck Scam. All this overemphasis on the financial impurity of the Congress led to the citizens believing that the Congress party is an aristocratic admixture of kleptocracy and bogus secularism.
The political dynasticism of the Congress further solidified this elitist imagery and soon, Congress became the ‘suit, boot ki Sarkar’. The usage of the aforementioned epithet successfully established the presence of the Congress party as a technocratic liberal party, accustomed to high-handed bureaucratic methods of administration. The attribute of a ‘pro-people party’ was snatched away from the Congress and it was represented as a technocratic group, largely unconnected from the material conditions of the citizens.
Apart from the political and financial palm-greasing, the Congress has also been disemboweled due to its confounding ideological quagmire. The Grand Old Party is stuck in a regal fort, where it is continuously wavering between a secular strategy and a thinly-veiled contrivance of religious pandering. It has already flip-flopped on its ideological plank by pitching Rahul Gandhi as a religious leader which actually backfired because people at once understood that he had suddenly become a synthetically Hinduized leader.
And now, it is lending its support to the Anti-CAA protests and has all of a sudden, arrived like a knight in shining armor, chaotically shouting secular slogans. Opportunistic acts like these cause severe trust deficit and the party incurs widespread odium for its electoral opportunism. So, due to the Congress’s ideological shilly-shally, its attempt to provide guidance to the Anti-CAA protests is seen as a crude act of politically hijacking the protests. To say succinctly, the Congress has been utterly passive in reacting to some major political events and has not even tried to extend its sinews to drag itself out from the quicksand of financial dissoluteness and ideological vacillation.
Due to all the above mentioned iniquitous inadequacies, Congress is withering and losing its elephantine presence on the electoral platform. This is the most appropriate time for the Congress to recognize its Achilles heel and try to overcome this deficiency. The defection of Jyotiraditya Scindia highlights the fact that now, an ideological string no longer ties any Congress member and the party needs to alter its highly feudal organizational structure which is identical to a form of royal structure, based on monarchical munificence. The Congress party can utilize the following remedial measures to perform the medical operation which is indispensable for it to regain its health.
It should try assiduously to interconnect itself with the common masses and change its political behavioral pattern by staging what can be called ‘constitutional struggles’. These constitutional struggles will essentially be democratic demonstrations, aiming to recover the lost sheen of the constitution. These protests should be able to blend constitutional patriotism with a Gandhian non-violent idea of struggle. In this way, the Congress party would be successful in politically fructifying its vast receptacles of historical significance and will harmonize its history as a torchbearer of freedom with the present calamitous conditions. One important reason behind the need to make Mahatma Gandhi the vanguard of Congress’s recuperation struggle is the vast space which he occupies in the collective imagination of the Indian citizens. By spotlighting Gandhi, the Congress party can easily initiate a resistance movement whose objective will be to find the Gandhian truths in this age of political prevarications and fabrications.
Change Organizational Configurations
The Congress party needs to change its organizational configurations. The sybaritic structure of dynasticism should be superseded by a bottom-up approach which is decentralized. The present organizational architecture is extremely centralistic and all the members of the Congress party are seen as the supine members of a sycophantic entourage, revolving around the singular nucleus of nobility, which has invariably been the Gandhi family. The senior members of the Congress party such as Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ahmed Patel and Manmohan Singh are depicted as the servile stooges of the Gandhi family who possess an unbreakable fidelity to the dynastic autocracy of the Congress party. The congress leadership is also currently rudderless. During the elections, it played the role of a dabbler. After Indira Gandhi, all the Gandhis (Except Sanjay Gandhi) were reluctant politicians. They were compelled because the Nehru – Gandhi name was associated with the party. All these aspects of party functioning need to be radically changed so that non-Gandhi members are not seen as mere appendages of the supposed undisputed overlord which is the Gandhi family. (3) A coherently unified ideological political programme needs to be built. The lumbering party is in a state of delirium and is unable to properly specify its political stance. It should solidly settle this predicament by choosing to continue with its former political posture as a truly secular and democratic party, committed to constitutional values. If this operation is not undertaken, the Congress will be finally consigned to the political graveyard, where it will die with its shambolic ideological structure.
Strategic transport fleet: Achilles heel of French armed forces
One of the first indicators of an army’s performance is its logistical capacity. When high-intensity operations are deployed, there simply are few countries which have the operational capability to transfer immense quantities of equipment, safely and quickly, across the planet. ICS (International Chartering Systems), a small French airlift company, has made meeting this military challenge its specialty.
ICS, International Chartering Services, is a small French company which specialized, in the 1980s, in a very specific type of chartering: top-size. Using close contacts to the Russian and Ukrainian worlds of aviation, CEO Christian de Jonquières obtained access to Antonov 124s, the biggest cargo jets in the world, and started the commercial venture. The arrival on the market of ICS was a game-changer. With commercial airlifts available on the market, France was not only able to extract itself from NATO’s rigid airlift-sharing plan (known as SALIS), but also greatly expanded its transport capacity, well beyond those provided by the new Airbus A400. This outstanding transport capacity was an understandable part of France’s expeditionary culture, as described by the Rand corporation, and represented the way in for ICS. Reporter Dominic Reed explains: “ICS started doing business with the French army through both channels. Both the Army and ICS got lucky by doubling their agreement capacity, because transport capacities were overstretched between 2012 and 2015, with the simultaneous withdrawal of Afghanistan and the deployment in Mali, and things had already been tight before.”
ICS built its worth in reliability, by keeping a small and highly specialized workforce, able to work out all the details of such highly specific flights, and by simplifying operations to the maximum, on the client size. Flight hours were sold, including all overheads (such as maintenance, ground fees, personnel training and empty return flights), unlike SALIS flights, which sold flight hours at a far lower rate, but then added many extra costs, resulting in a fatter bottom line. Because military airlift missions are almost by nature unique, they are difficult to streamline and industrialize: every mission will come with a set of new parameters and complications. Each flight is crucial, as it conditions the military operations down the stream, and must be secured, loaded, calculated and processed through necessary authorizations, not to mention the fact that many will land in hostile environments. A task force of highly skilled, committed and specialized people was therefore necessary to provide services in line with operational requirements. With a peak workforce of 15 people in 2012, ICS was able to provide, for a fraction of the standard price, airlift capacities towards high-intensity operations, at a moment’s notice, with a successful-mission rate of a 100%.
France, as a NATO-member, already had access to strategic airlift capacities, through the SALIS contracts – run from Luxemburg and signed with Russia’s Volga-Dnepr company. However, the sizable limits were then placed on France’s sovereignty, as explained by specialist Katia Vlachos-Dengler, from the Rand corporation: “Significant barriers exist to adopting multinational, integrative solutions for the more efficient use of European lift capabilities. These barriers include, among others, divergent interests and threat perceptions among European countries; concerns about national sovereignty and dependence on other nations; institutional and organizational inertia; and problems with establishing burden sharing relationships.” The first is that NATO handles the distribution of flight hours purchased from Volga-Dnepr. Each country has credits which cannot be exceeded, within the total number which was pre-negotiated with the airlift company. Army Col. Patrik Steiger, spokesman for the French joint chiefs of staff, details the tricky situation: “It is not a total dependence, it is cooperation among allies. We are allies with the Americans, we are engaged in the Sahel region, Levant, and there is the principle of a ‘mutualization’ of available assets.” SALIS contracts being multi-year agreements, they cannot account for last-minute operational requirements. The second limit to sovereignty affects not only France, but all of NATO, and blew up in NATO’s face just months ago. Following US sanctions on Russia, Volga-Dnepr announced its unilateral decision to cease providing strategic air transport to NATO, leaving Western armies to rely on their much smaller cargo planes, such as the Airbus A400, and US C5s and C17s. This new setting excludes, as was probably Russia’s goal, many military items such as heavy armored vehicles, out of the air routes, and considerably slows military deployments. Through its specific business relationship with the Ukraine, ICS is able to save its access to Antonov 124s and preserve its clients’ access to large-scale strategic arilifts.
France, however, also placed itself in harm’s way, when members of parliament were lobbied into denouncing the side agreement with ICS, by large competitors which became fed up with the little challenger’s success. In a 2017 feud which left observers puzzled, Paris separated itself from ICS, and therefore placed itself entirely under the rule of NATO SALIS contracts, themselves at the mercy of Russia. As a resulting move, ICS has extracted itself from the French market, to sell its highly-demanded airlift capacities abroad, namely in Africa and for UN operations – also submitted to high-intensity operations and operational urgency. The scarcity of such offers is such that it explains why ICS was able to rebound immediately on the international market – France’s loss being everyone else’s gain. Namely, the UN’s mission in Sahel was quick to hire ICS for its major logistics needs, which foresee the delivery of large amounts of peace-keeping equipment. Jean-Pierre Lacroix, head of UN peacekeeping operations, recently announced that “Major equipment shortfalls, capability gaps, insufficient infrastructure and a lack of secured operational bases continue to delay its full operationalization”, before ICS was chosen to provide the necessary logistics for the operation.
Russia, the European Union, the UN, and the United States all have dedicated vectors for large-scale cargo, and the administrative structures to operate them. What NATO, and now France, lack, is a small and nimble structure able to address urgent and flexible deployment needs. That capacity did exist for France, but has now befallen the UN, to help with its African operations, leaving all NATO members within the gridlock of SALIS contracts.
Weathering the Storm: How Political Climates Affect the Financial Markets
There are numerous factors that can potentially have an effect on financial markets and which traders have to be aware of. They can range from extreme weather events, terror attacks, corporate announcements, all the way to the political climate of a country. In most of these scenarios, the ramifications for an economy and the subsequent reflection in the stock markets can be relatively predictable – we expect to see a drop in stock prices when a disaster hits , for example. When it comes to the political climate, however, things become a whole lot less predictable. This is due to various reasons, not least because of the inherently fickle nature of politics itself and the sometimes vast differences in the political cultures and traditions of different countries.
To get a sense of just how a country’s political climate can affect various aspects of a nation’s economy and its financial markets, we’ll take a practical recent example of the USA following President Donald Trump’s election in November 2016. It serves as an interesting case study due not only to its unexpected nature which highlighted the basic unpredictability of political climates, but because it brought about some very interesting reactions and results from businesses and the financial sector in general.
A general statement can be made to the effect that a country’s political climate and its economic environment are closely related. Investors, no matter how large their risk appetite, like to have a reasonable assurance of their money’s safety, which is why stock markets are usually the first industries to react to any political climate changes. In fact, research suggest that stock markets follow a predictable general pattern along a four-year cycle punctuated by the Presidential Elections in the USA and perhaps many other countries worldwide, with the market showing signs of increased caution as election season comes around.
Following President Trump’s unexpected victory, many organizations held the hope that the bold fiscal proposals he had talked about during the campaign – including increased spending and tax cuts – would serve to boost the country’s economy. The Federal Reserve actually went ahead and increased interest rates in anticipation of the changes, showing how even the promise of a policy change will directly be felt on the financial market.
Anticipated Regulatory Changes
When a country undergoes a significant political change of pace, it is expected that this will come with significant regulatory standards and practices. It is widely acknowledged that increased government regulation and bureaucratic interference in a country’s economy and industrial activity will usually result in a slowing down of the economy in question.
President Trump had poised to relax the regulatory framework in the country as well as consolidating the numerous bodies tasked with formulating the regulations to make it easier to do business in the country, and this came as good news to organizations and their stakeholders.
Political Stability Concerns
Political stability has a very real effect on the state of businesses within an economy, as we can all agree. While many business owners and stakeholders were encouraged by the promise of deregulation and fiscal policy reform, many were also given cause for concern when it came to the President’s apparent pattern of unexpected and inconsistent policy decisions.
His stance on immigration, promise to wall of the USA’s southern border with Mexico, and his abandonment of previous trade deals all went into fueling anxiety and a sense of uncertainty in the financial markets. This was especially felt in the case of organizations with a global business presence. These feelings decrease investor confidence and often lead to a depreciation in stock market values as the more risk-averse investors keep away.
When looked at in totality, countries all over the world face the same types of political risks. We’re not talking about complete government collapses such as might occur in times of a coup, but relatively smaller yet high-impact moves and policies by governments on matters such as regulation, currency valuation, taxes, spending, minimum wage laws, labor laws, environmental regulations, and the like.The financial market of a country, being highly sensitive to such shocks, can register an impact when such actions are merely proposed, without their implementation having taken place yet. The impacts may be long or short-term, but they are definitely felt throughout the financial markets.
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