The society welcomed Lord Patten of Barnes, Chancellor of the University of Oxford and former governor of Hong Kong, on Friday 22nd of January. The event, which was co-hosted with the Blavatnik School of Government, was held before a packed audience in the brilliant setting of the BSG's new building.
On June 3, the highly influential American political scientist, international relations scholar and University Distinguished Service Professor at Harvard University Joseph Nye came to speak in a joint event hosted by the Oxford IRSoc and the Oxford Martin School, to discuss the topic of his most recent book titled “Is the American Century Over?” and to answer one of the most pressing issues of IR today: will China pass the U.S. by 2030? Throughout his talk, he gave compelling reasons as to why he believed that China will not surpass the U.S., despite the concern of many Americans that it will. Nye mentions that in one U.S. poll, about fifty percent of the American people believe that China has passed or would soon pass the U.S. in overall power. But, Nye explains, in order to make accurate policy choices, it is essential to have a correct assessment of the relative strengths of the different powers that are China and the U.S. instead of being guided by fear. Especially after the Great Recession in 2008, and as China put forth its stimulus package to keep its growth rate at 10%, many Americans believed that the U.S. was in a decline while China was on the rise. However, even though the Great Recession represented a relative decline, it did not mean that the country was (or is) experiencing an absolute decline. He attempts to support his argument by explaining why the U.S. is leading (and will lead in the future) in terms of military power, economic power and soft power.
Nye discusses the comparison that is made by many that the U.S. situation is similar to that on Ancient Rome. To compare the gridlock in the American political system and the issues facing the American economy to the decline of Ancient Rome would be a ”misuse of history” according to Nye, because the American economy does not have much resemblance to the Ancient Roman economy. The U.S. leads on many aspects of the economy including its demographic health, energy, technology, and education structure. In terms of the U.S. demography, Nye insists that the country has healthy statistics, with it being ranked third in the world in terms of the size of the population. By 2050, UN demographers project that the U.S. will maintain its position. Energy-wise, contrary to the belief of many, the U.S. is not becoming increasingly dependent on imported energy. Nye points to the projections made by the International Energy agency, which projects that by the 2020s, North America will not be importing any energy because of the technological innovation that is currently being advanced, including horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Furthermore, other types of technological advances will be key to further growth in the 21st century and the U.S. is in the lead in terms of biotechnology, nanotechnology and information technology. The U.S. is also highly ranked in terms of higher education. Because of all these reasons, Nye believes that the U.S. is highly dissimilar to Ancient Rome because it is not experiencing an absolute decline and this analogy is merely used by many as a rhetorical tool to express frustration over the political gridlock in America.
The U.S. is, however, in a relative decline, which sometimes misleads people into thinking that it will eventually be overshadowed by China. Indeed, the U.S. share of the world economy will be decreasing as other countries such as China, India, Brazil and Indonesia (amongst other countries) have a greater share in it. The U.S. had between approximately a 25%-50% share in the world economy at different times during the 20st century, whereas the IMF predicts that in 2020, the U.S. will have about a 17-18% share. While this is still a significant share, it means that the U.S. may not be as dominant as it once was because of the greater amount of countries that will have power and participate in the world economy. The greater issue with the “rise of the rest” is dealing with entropy and trying to produce enough collective goods because of the free rider problem leading to underproduction. One of the main issues with the relative decline of the U.S. is that China will become a free rider as the U.S. was in the ‘20s and ‘30s after World War I. The challenge will be for China and the U.S. (and other countries) to work together to address collective issues in the international system, such as climate change, international monetary stability and countering terrorism.
Besides overstating the decline of the U.S., there is also the problem of aggrandizing Chinese power, according to Nye. Even though China has had a good economic record for the past 30 years, it is important not to see that straight line and “extrapolate it indefinitely into the future”. He mentions the work of his fellow colleagues at Harvard-- economists who have studied the patterns of countries who have also had double digit growth, where the norm is to have a “regression to the mean”. This means that China’s projection for growth in the next 10 years would go down from its current 7% to approximately 3.9%. Even though it is difficult to predict the future, it is also not wise, according to Nye, to assume that China will keep going upwards based on its current economic situation. And even if China is to have a larger economy than the U.S. by 2030, this does not mean that China will be more economically powerful than the U.S., since market size is only one aspect of economic power. What is also important is per capita income, since that “measures the sophistication of the economy”. China’s per capita income, Nye argues, will not be equal to the U.S. in 2030. Much of China’s trade also has a low value added, and Nye gives the example of the iPhone import from China, where most of the elements of the product come from other countries and thus results in only a small percentage of profit going towards its economy. The U.S., on the other hand, has much more sophistication in its economy. Additionally, it is leading in terms of military power and soft power.
The pressing challenge that both China and the U.S. have to face in the near future is to work together in order to prevent a period of entropy and to avoid the free rider problem. As China’s capability increases, it must take part in solving collective and international issues. Even though there will be both “competitive” and “cooperative” aspects to the relationship between China and the U.S., the latter should not be too preoccupied with the competitive aspects and instead focus its attentions towards working together with China and other countries. Nye contends that it is most definitely not the end of the American century and that the U.S. should not feel too threatened by the prospects of China’s growth. As Nye says, “China is not likely to overthrow the [global] system [comprising of the IMF, WTO, UN, etc.] as much as increase their role in it.”
On May 26th 2015, IR Soc hosted Her Excellency Ruth Elizabeth Rouse, former High Commissioner for Grenada to the United Kingdom. In a first for IR Soc, the talk was conducted via a live video conference call with Rouse seated at her desk in Grenada, the Caribbean Sea in view behind her.
Rouse’s talk was entitled, ‘the challenges faced by women in the diplomatic service’ and was based on her masters and doctoral thesis of the same name. She began by explaining that before the 1970s there were very few female diplomats and their only role within embassies or overseas mission were as secretarial or support staff. Though opportunities have since opened up for women in the last 40 years, the bar remains high for women, who need to prove themselves just to be considered for a posting.
Once becoming a chief of mission, women from small island nations have to juggle running the domestic and official sides of their lives. Male chiefs of mission would bring their spouse to run the residency or be able to hire staff. But the husbands of female diplomats rarely travel with their wives as they have careers back home or are unwilling to follow their wives around the world and the female heads of mission are not given the resources to hire a large staff. Rouse and women like her were expected to do it all and often had to sacrifice their family life in order to serve their country.
Despite this Rouse believes there is a future in diplomacy for women. She helped establish the ‘Women in Diplomatic Service Group’ which works to improve the situation for women in diplomacy and provide scholarships for young female diplomats. But regardless of gender being a diplomat is a very difficult job and as Rouse stated, diplomats must put “country before self.”
On Wednesday, May 20, IR Soc hosted a talk from Jonathan Rugman on “My Middle East Journey”. Now Foreign Affairs Correspondent for Channel 4 News, Rugman has previously worked for the BBC covering Turkey, as well as serving several international roles for Channel 4 News before his current position, in which he has reported from events such as the famine in Somalia, the Eurozone crisis, and most recently the various uprisings and revolutions of the Arab world.
Rugman began his talk examining the broad issues pressing many of the states of the Middle East, particularly their varying attempts to create a feeling of national identity and statehood, looking to the example of Turkey as a country that has achieved this, but only through the “ruthless but brilliant” policies of Atatürk. Comparing the successes of Atatürk to the current crises sweeping the Middle East, Rugman claimed that he looks even more successful in hindsight than he did at the time, particularly with the recent “deal” reached between the Turkish government and the Kurds in the south-east. A further comparison was between the humanitarian interventions from the West in the early 1990s, and the more jaded and cautious policy of today.
Rugman also drew links between the Arab Spring and the rise of an educated middle class in countries like Tunisia, in which socially progressive dictators created the very group of people who would most want to bring them down. However, while social change effected by dictators had led to these events, he also said that the Middle East had in some cases rejected democracy, commenting that with the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt had decided that “it hated the Muslim Brotherhood more than it loved democracy”. Also speaking about the reactions of the Iraqi people to IS, Rugman expressed concern about the lack of national cohesion, with nobody uniting Iraq to deal with the threat and the possibility rising that the country will fall apart.
While acknowledging the problems created at the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Rugman cautioned against a deterministic view of how the aftermath of the First World War had affected the Middle East. He emphasised that it now lay on the people of the respective countries to move forward and develop as nations, with a “knowledge revolution” necessary to empower a new generation of Middle Easterners to stand up for themselves.
Questioned on the future of foreign correspondents, and their role in conflicts, Rugman said that the role of the foreign correspondent as a gentleman amateur, arriving in new situations, is being eclipsed by the prominence of 24 hour news coverage, brought to the news agencies by local reporters, as has been done for the recent Nepal earthquake.
On Thursday, May 14 IR Soc welcomed Ahlam Akram to Keble College to deliver a stirring and opinionated talk entitled “Why Women are Veiled in International Relations”. Ms. Akram is an activist and the founder of an organisation named BASIRA (British Arabs Supporting Integration, Recognition and Awareness), which aims to bring light to the discrimination and injustices faced by women in the Middle East and North Africa regions. Throughout her talk, Akram discussed how there is an “absence of justice and equality for women in the Middle East”, and how the social, religious and political climate in the MENA region intensifies this discrimination. Akram strongly believes that much of this prejudice in the legislation that is being created and enforced in many of these countries such as Tunisia and Jordan is due to many of the religious clerics whose biased interpretations of religious texts have a strong impact on the legal system. Akram’s concern is that women are not being incorporated enough into decision-making processes and conflict negotiations. She believes this is a mistake because women have opinions and sensibilities that can be complemented with those of men and she believes that both women and men can work together to resolve many of the issues that are being faced in the post-Arab Spring political and social arena. She asserts the importance of a partnership rather than dominance between the genders. Even after the adoption of Resolution 1325 by the UN Security Council, which “urges all actors to increase the participation of women and incorporate gender perspectives in all United Nations peace and security efforts” as well as calling on actors to protect women from gender-based violence, Akram believes that women are still not considered equal in many societies especially in the MENA region and she attributes a lack of political will to this inequality. Akram believes that it is absolutely essential to help women in the Middle East to “change the mindset of religions and cultures that empower an unjust legislation system”.
How do we resolve this issue? Akram believes that BASIRA is going to help provide a start to the dialogue about how we can change the political and social climate for women. She plans on making documentary films in order to bring awareness about the issues that women are facing including the violation of women’s rights through legislation and with that, inspire people to work together to bring about a positive change. Through her films, she hopes to provide a different lens and understanding of the situation. As far as the immediate issues she feels needs to be resolved on the ground, she believes that some laws such as female genital mutilation and childhood marriage, which encourage female oppression, should be criminalized. She encouraged the audience to become more active and educated about these issues and to become more sensitive to the unique climate that is being faced by many women around the world. As Akram said, “an absence of equality is a hindrance to democracy”.
With the next Strategic Defence and Security Review imminent, Major General Jonathan Shaw’s talk, ‘The executive deficit at the heart of Whitehall: the systemic failings of UK government’, to IR Soc and the Oxford Martin School on Tuesday 12th May held special pertinence as stories about the new Conservative government’s ideas about risks home and abroad filled the news. Major General Shaw has had over 30 years of experience in the British Army, culminating in his directorship of the cyber security programme at Whitehall. His talk offered an insider’s view of how our government policy-making works or, more often than not, doesn’t work.
Major General Shaw talked of the issues of cohesion within government, claiming that there was no ‘unifying language’ between the plethora of experts and departments within the building. He also criticised the involvement of ministers who put gesture and personality over good government, and advised the removal of politics from key challenges that face the country, namely the impending energy crisis, to ensure a rational response.
Shaw stated that Whitehall’s departmental model is incapable of dealing with contemporary hybrid threats, such as Russian expansionism in Eastern Europe or ISIS’ recruitment of British nationals; the UK’s foreign policy is lacking leadership and is ‘deductive rather than inductive’.
Questioned on the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent, the Major General described the programme as ‘the icing on the cake, but without the cake’, suggesting that the twenty billion pound replacement project is an act of macho posturing on the part of Prime Minister David Cameron.
Major General Shaw stayed behind at the end of his talk to sign copies of his book, "Britain in a Perilous World: The Strategic Defence and Security Review We Need", and to talk to IR Soc members.
On Wednesday 6th May IR Soc hosted Natalie Martin in a joint event with the University of Oxford European Affairs society. Having worked as a broadcast journalist for the BBC for just under a decade, she is now a Politics and International Relations Lecturer at Nottingham Trent University. Her talk was titled “The President, the preacher and the Turkey - EU accession process.” The event landed on the eve of the UK general elections and but a few months before the Turkish population head to the polling stations, thus her presence in Oxford could not be more significant.
For those unfamiliar with the political climate of modern Turkey, Natalie provided a neat synopsis of the country bounding leaps towards illiberalism and away from a society compatible with the founding principles of the EU. This change, she argued, is propelled by the present AKP leader and President of Turkey; Tayyip Erdoğan.
Both Erdoğan’s undemocratic clamp down on dissent and the EU’s failure to address it are not secrets to the international community. However, the nuanced insight that the talk really offered was the analysis of the interplay between the AKP’s political shift and the Sufi cult figure Muhammed Fethullah Gülen.
As the world focusses on the misogyny and conservatism of Erdoğan, she portrayed how the spread of Gülen brand schools around Turkey, the Caucasus, Central Asia and even Western Europe is subtly building the preacher’s influence and power globally. She brought into question whether Erdoğan’s popularity could hold firm against a religious and political revolution sparked by what is now commonly known as the Gülen movement.
Regardless, while the international community grapples with the rise of IS, the talk underlined how this crisis is emphatically irresolvable without healthy dialogue between Turkey and the EU. Part of forming this dialogue, she showed, demands asking: is Turkey European?
On Wednesday of first week, Hilary Term 2015, IR Soc welcomed BBC Africa Correspondent Andrew Harding to Exeter College. With over 20 years experience as a foreign correspondent he spoke about some incredible experiences he has had reporting on some of the most important events of the last two decades. From driving through war torn Chechnya in the late 1990s to meeting a woman who’d escaped after being kidnapped and forced into marriage by al Shabab in Somalia to interviewing President Robert Mugabe, Harding had some fascinating experiences as part of his rich career. However the heart of his talk and the discussion afterwards was about the job of being a foreign correspondent more broadly.
His message was that foreign correspondents face a host of challenges but that their role remains highly important. A foreign correspondent must escape from behind the laptop in their office and avoid the bubble of foreign journalists and instead try to meet ordinary people. If they can overcome these challenges he argues then they can be very worthwhile.
Unlike a London based journalist who flies into a country when a crisis breaks out, foreign correspondents have local knowledge and extensive contacts on the ground. Harding praised local journalists and individuals reporting on events on social media. However he argued that foreign correspondents can still be helpful in providing an outside, broad perspective on an issue and backed up by the resources of organisations like the BBC or al Jazeera, have the wherewithal to go places like Somalia and Syria where ensuring your own security is costly.
Harding admitted that the era of the 5 minute correspondent’s report on the 10 o’clock news may soon come to an end but whatever becomes of the foreign correspondent he provided us with a fascinating insight into the profession.
Sir Richard visited the society on March 13th, 2015
Deborah is the Defence Editor of the Times, having reported form a number of hostile environments, such as Libya!
She is certainly a reporter that has made concrete differences in her reporting, having won the inaugural Rat Up a Drainpipe Award for her work on Iraqi interpreters facing the threat of death after working with British forces. Her series of articles for the Times led to Britain offering hundreds of former Iraqi employees compensation or asylum.
Sir Roderic Lyne was a member of HM Diplomatic Service from 1970 to 2004. He served as British Ambassador to the Russian Federation from 2000 to 2004; as UK Permanent Representative to the World Trade Organisation, the UN and other international organisations in Geneva from 1997 to 2000; and as Private Secretary to the Prime Minister for foreign affairs, defence and Northern Ireland from 1993 to 1996.
From 1990 to 1993 he was head of the Soviet and then Eastern Department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and from 1987 to 1990 Head of Chancery at the British Embassy in Moscow. In his earlier career he served in the Soviet Union, Senegal and at the UK Mission to the United Nations in New York, as well as in the Soviet and Rhodesian departments of the Foreign Office and as Assistant Private Secretary to the Foreign Secretary.
Sir Roderic is Deputy Chairman of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) and a non-executive director of Petropavlovsk plc and of JP Morgan Bank International (Russia).
Simon Smith has been the British Ambassador to Ukraine in Kyiv since September 2012.
He joined the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1986. He was posted in Moscow as Counsellor (Economic/Commercial), responsible for the promotion of trade and investment, from 1998 to 2002. From 2007 until August 2012, he was the British Ambassador to Austria, and the UK’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other international organisations in Vienna, and Governor on the Board of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
In a 23-year career at the Daily Express, Mr Hitchens served as a foreign correspondent in both Moscow and Washington before becoming one of the paper’s leading columnists. Since 2000, Mr Hitchens has written a weekly column for the Mail on Sunday. He has been described as "a forceful, tenacious, eloquent and brave journalist” and was awarded the Orwell Prize in 2010.
Gideon Rachman (born 1963) is a journalist who has been the Financial Times chief foreign affairs commentator since July 2006. He started his career with the BBC World Service in 1984.
From 1987 to 1988, he was a visiting fellow and Fulbright scholar at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
During the next two years he became a reporter for The Sunday Correspondent, stationed in Washington DC.
He spent 15 years at The Economist; first as its deputy American editor, then as its South-east Asia correspondent, stationed in Bangkok. He then served as The Economist's Asia editor before taking on the post of Britain editor from 1997 to 2000. Following which he was stationed in Brussels where he penned the Charlemagne European-affairs column.