International Security in Times of Uncertainty

February 22, 2017

Date of activity: February 1, 2017

Photos: Izawa Hiroyuki

Movie: International Security in Times of Uncertainty (2:28:46)

The Security Studies Unit (SSU) was delighted to organise a workshop on international security in two sessions, taking place at the Hyatt Regent Hotel in Tokyo on February 1st, 2017. The first session focused on “Populist Nationalism and International Order”, while the second one discussed “New Directions in Security Studies and Risk Management”.

Kiichi Fujiwara, Professor of International Relations at the University of Tokyo and Director of the Security Studies Unit at the Policy Alternatives Research Institute, opened the event by thanking the participants and the public. He immediately proceeded to recall that the world has entered an era of great uncertainty and anxiety on the international political front, particularly after Brexit and Trump’s victory in the US presidential elections during the momentous year of 2016. Not only is liberal international order under pressure from geopolitical crises worldwide, with a prominent role played by Russia and China, but we are also witnessing a major shift due to changes in the domestic politics of Western nations affecting their international political posture. This is particularly true because of the rise of populism and nationalism. How can this state of affairs be changed? There is no immediate answers to this question. The point of this workshop is, however, to better clarify what the situation is and how to understand it.

Part 1 - “Populist Nationalism and International Order”

Professor Fujiwara introduced the panelists for this session, namely: John Ikenberry, Albert G. Milbank Professor of Politics and International Affairs at the Department of Politics and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University; Zhu Feng, Professor and Executive Director at the China Center for Collaborative Studies of the South China Sea, Nanjing University; and Keisuke Iida, Professor at the Graduate School of Public Policy (GraSPP), the University of Tokyo.

Professor Ikenberry thanked the host for the invitation to talk at the event. He started his intervention by stating that we all are trying to make sense of what is happening. 2016 was really a year of change as a consequence of Brexit and Trump. This is clearly a moment of crisis, a crisis of liberal democracy and the international order built by democracies. It was only 25 years ago that the world was going in the direction of liberal democracy, but now something has changed, and the optimism of that relatively recent era has disappeared. Where did the crisis begin? The starting point can be identified as the financial crisis of 2008: that crisis impoverished many in the US and in the Western world, but also created the sensation that something was not quite right with the system as a whole. On the front of international and geopolitical competition we have Russia and China, both countries cracking down on their own liberal democratic domestic seeds. Putin has been described as “the Pope of the anti-democratic movement” for his restless activities aimed at undermining liberal international order. Other international actors are moving in that same direction of authoritarianism: Poland, Hungary, Turkey, and even India. In these countries you see democracy being bent. Europe was taken for granted as an area of liberal democracy, but this is no longer the case today. Then Trump’s election, which was completely unexpected, radically changed things in the US as well. If you take his words about what he intends to do at face value, you clearly have the end of the US as guarantor of international liberal order, with dramatic consequences. Many people working today in the White House are truly revisionists in relation to liberal democratic international order and institutions. How did this come into being? There is an economic story, and a political story. The economic story has to do with the stagnation of the middle classes in the West, namely those categories who have been traditionally the key supporters of liberal order. Inequality has been on the rise. The result is that there is now a constituency for populist appeals. The political story is a kind of long term erosion of democratic beliefs. Democracies are such because we have freedoms, rights, rule of law, institutions, but also because there is a civil society believing in the value of democracy itself. In the West there is a clear decline in the belief that democracy is the way to go, which is very concerning. We gained a lot from the international liberal system; we can also lose a lot. In order to change the current trajectory, we need to reconnect the liberal agenda to the lives of ordinary people and regain that constituency.

Professor Feng opened his intervention by thanking Professor Fujiwara for the invitation to speak. He stated that the international political landscape has become significantly more confused after the beginning of the Trump era. China is monitoring the situation and trying to envisage its place in this new order. Historically the Chinese are very suspicious of populist politics. During the decline of the Qing dynasty, populist movements like the Tai Ping and later the Boxers caused catastrophic damage to the country. The Chinese are therefore acutely aware of the possible negative implications of populism. We are expecting that there will be a more confrontational stance vis-à-vis China, for instance in the South China Sea. How can China respond to this? This will depend on how the whole relationship with China will unfold. Indeed, for Mr. Trump, China will be a very complex and multifaceted agenda to handle. There is little doubt that the liberal international order is weakening, and this is bad news for China. First, reforms in China have been historically aided by international pressures, but such reformist pressures are now no longer present in the context of a Trump presidency. Secondly, China’s integration in the world has been very good for the world as a whole. More integration is the only path for China, but now that path may be blocked, apparently. Third, Trump’s Asia politics are at the moment very unclear, but they can rapidly become complicated. Japan could adhere to a more aggressive US stance and antagonise China even more, which would be a mistake for everybody. Chances are at the moment that Trump will be more hostile to China than previous presidents. We will be able to observe China’s reactions at the upcoming CCP Congress this year. Space for manoeuvering is shrinking for both the US and China.

Professor Iida focused his presentation on what political scientists have to say about Brexit, Trump’s electoral victory, as well as the definitions of populism. He presented the results of a number of studies showing the divide in the UK and US between different geographic areas, age groups, races, level of education, income, and other parameters. Populism has been variously defined by political scientists as having authoritarian, anti-elite, anti-establishment traits. Professor Iida offered the interpretation that populist movements are defined and shaped by cultural change rather than by economic circumstances. Since culture is very difficult to predict, so is it equally difficult to predict how and when populist movements will emerge and evolve. It appears, however, that most anti-EU sentiment in Europe is tied to anxieties arising from excessive immigration.


Part 2 - “New Directions in Security Studies and Risk Management”

Hideaki Shiroyama, Professor of Public Policy at the University of Tokyo and former dean of the Graduate School of Public Policy, was the chair of this second part. Other participants were Jae Seung Lee, Professor at the Division of International Studies and KU-KIST Green School at Korea University, and Yee-Kuang Heng, Professor at the Graduate School of Public Policy, The University of Tokyo.

Professor Shiroyama introduced the session, which focused on the interconnections between risk and governance. He reminded the audience of the various emerging challenges in the current global situation, concentrating in particular in the interconnectedness of risks. He then proceeded to illustrate a module for the conceptualisation of risk for the sake of policy design, using four different examples taken from the discussion of nuclear technologies, space and cyberspace, infectious diseases, and climate change. For each example he illustrated the various kinds of risks involved, their nature and possible impact, highlighting the key point of complexity, often stemming from technology itself, and links to other risks.

Professor Lee illustrated in his intervention the question of non-traditional security (NTS). Security is traditionally understood in terms of military defence policies; however, in recent decades, the domain of that concept has expanded to numerous new areas, which are no longer narrowly concentrated around defence matters, but also terrorism, crime, and even the environment. There is also a shift from the security of the state/collective to the security of the citizen/individual, which has been a key feature of the human security agenda. NTS allows, under certain conditions, new forms of international cooperation, which may instead be particularly difficult to achieve in traditional security matters. Historically, cooperation on NTS matters, particularly of a technical nature, has had a positive impact in the long run on questions of high politics.

Professor Heng illustrated in his intervention the growing international awareness of risk as a concept for policy making, as demonstrated by the establishment of horizon scanning offices in Singapore, and the adoption of risk assessment strategies in the UK as well as other countries. However, the concept of risk is pervasive in the analysis even of individual behaviour, as we all accept and trade risks whenever we make use of any machinery, or device, or technology (technological risk), or incur in other forms for risks (financial, political, etc.). Professor Heng then recalled how the problem of risk in a complex and interconnected society, already explored in sociological literature since the 1980s, is now entering more prominently the area of policy making, and it is likely to become more prominent in the future.

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