The CSS Blog Network

Detours of Swiss Foreign Policy

Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey / Photo: Wikipedia

Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey / Photo: Wikipedia

A new analysis by the ISN’s mother organization Center for Security Studies (CSS), Swiss Foreign Policy 2009: Crises and Challenges, discusses current issues of Switzerland’s foreign policy. Before the backdrop of conflicts over banking secrecy and the infamous clash with Libya, it looks at corner stones of Swiss foreign policy. Daniel Möckli especially highlights the domestically unpopular issue of a possible future EU membership.

You can download the paper here.

Costs of War: Peace Prize Politics

Obama at a town hall meeting / Photo: The Official White House Photostream, flickr

Obama at a town hall meeting / Photo: The Official White House Photostream, flickr

The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama astounded critics and supporters alike, but it also highlights a gap between the way the world sees the US and the way Americans think about their own homeland.

Read more of what ISN Security Watch’s Shaun Waterman has to say in Costs of War: Peace Prize Politics.

You can also find the Dalai Lama’s acceptance speech for the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize in our Primary Resources along with Al Gore’s speech from 2007.

Gaddafi and Ahmadinejad: Beyond Provocation

Gaddafi's speech at the UN General Assembly

Gaddafi's speech at the UN General Assembly

Much of western media reports reacted with outraged dismissals to Ahmadinejad‘s and Gaddafi‘s UN speeches on Wednesday. However, despite their populist and provocative style, the message should be taken seriously.

While their lack of political correctness and exaggerations might have put you off, they shouted what a significant proportion of the world’s population believes.

The Huffington Post analyzes the main arguments in Gaddafi’s speech in five slides: the Palestinian plight; the unjustified Iraq war; unequal representation at the UN; the UN as a western product; and world domination by Security Council veto powers. This doesn’t sound particularly radical; these arguments are all over academic papers, too.

Ahmadinejad calls for everybody to drop their nuclear weapons instead of excusing himself for his own nuclear program. But it makes sense if you put yourself in his shoes. Why should Pakistan be allowed nukes and not Iran? In his speech at the Durban Review conference earlier this year, Ahmadinejad insisted strongly that Israel was a racist regime. You can find all sorts of explanations as to why Israel pursues the policies it does, but you can’t resent the Arab Israelis and the Palestinians for feeling discriminated against.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t necessarily agree with the Iranian and Libyan heads of state. I just want to warn against dismissing them too quickly as authoritarian madmen. Western self-righteousness offends many, and they may choose to react in violent ways. Think al-Qaida, for example.

Indeed, the West would be wise to engage with Ahmadinejad and Gaddafi’s criticisms. These days, belonging to the liberal democracy club doesn’t necessarily equate moral superiority.

Democratic Fundamentalism in Switzerland

Imagine you are asked to vote on a treaty concluded between your home and your neighboring country. The treaty aims at improving cooperation in border control matters between the two states. Would you vote in favor of or against adopting the treaty? Or would you not go to the polls at all?

How much democratic control of foreign policy? Photo: courtesy of Kanton Glarus

How much direct democracy in foreign policy-making? Photo: courtesy of Kanton Glarus

The Action for an Independent and Neutral Switzerland (AUNS) launched a popular initiative, which, if adopted by Swiss voters, will amend the Constitution so as to require a popular vote on all but the most trivial international treaties. What sounds like empowerment from a committed democrat’s point of view sounds like handcuffs from a foreign policymaker’s perspective.

Yet, the motivation behind AUNS’ initiative is not so much democratic as politically strategic. The group’s main goal is to prevent Switzerland from joining the EU, overtly, or as they fear, covertly. AUNS members, which unsuccessfully vowed against Switzerland joining the UN in 2002, lament that the Swiss political elite is too open-minded toward the world. The strategy they employ is an old one: If you think the majority of the people is behind your cause, you ask them, if not, you ignore them. » More

The Consequences of German Decisions

Small button, big consequences / Photo: Steven De Polo, flickr

Small button, big consequences / Photo: Steven De Polo, flickr

After the German-directed ISAF air strike on two fuel vehicles stolen by the Taliban reportedly cost civilian lives, public calls for clarification are accompanied by both palsy and hectic in Berlin. Federal elections will take place in less than 3 weeks.

What often happens when things go very wrong is that people engage in speculation and search for a scapegoat. Too seldom though, we see people take responsibility, especially in politics. Clausewitz wrote that war never is an end in itself and always serves a political purpose. Imagine now a trigger in the hands of a German soldier serving in an army with a heavy legacy; an army from a pacifistic, self-traumatized post-war state, in which military planning, strategy and even tactics are subject to widespread emotional discussions. How much politics can efficient tactics bear? » More

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