The U.N. Security Council. What’s Up With That? | Foreign Policy

Thanks to Stephen Walt for taking time to itemize truisms of international relations that should have been done away with a long time ago because they have been proven to be patently false, useless, and even dangerous–with the UN featured prominently on no. 2 (but we could add many more):

Some of these absurdities persist because they’ve been around a long time, or because powerful interests defend them vigorously, or because they align with broader social prejudices. Some of them may in fact be defensible, but we should still bring such oddities out into the open air on occasion and ask ourselves if they really make sense.

Hence this column. As part of my self-appointed effort to ventilate the stale discourse of contemporary foreign policy, I offer up my list of Top 10 Truly Absurd Features of Contemporary Foreign Affairs. To make it a challenge, I’m excluding any mention of John McCain.

via The U.N. Security Council. What’s Up With That? | Foreign Policy.

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Creating a New Europe in Vienna, 1814

Ballhausplatz, the Austrian seat of power and location for 1814’s meetings (as well as some bad boy behavior in the extreme).

History allows us to look back and create convenient categories, rightly or wrongly. One such set of bookends could include the 19th century’s run of peace and cooperation ending with the Great War in July 1914 and starting in Vienna, 1814.

Was this party in Vienna such a game changer? Some sigh with apathy–or debate the notion, but as Stephen Walt writes in, many rightly see this as a key turning point in global affairs:

After the Napoleonic Wars, diplomats and officials from all over Europe convened in Vienna to negotiate a peace settlement to resolve the various issues that had arisen after over two decades of war. Sure, there was a lot of hard-nosed haggling over borders and other arrangements, but historical accounts of the Congress also make it clear that the participants also engaged in months of energetic revelry, much of it of a decidedly lubricious sort. Historians who regard the Congress as a great success might argue that all this frivolity helped; those who believe the Congress left many critical issues unresolved probably think the assembled plenipotentiaries should have spent less time partying and more time on their work.

via Top 5 parties in world history | Foreign Policy.

Follow this animated map of 19th century Europe through the Congress to WWI to see how events evolved in the aftermath of Napoleon and how power was maintained by the victors, with clear losers being nationalistic aspirations and French revolutionary ideals in Poland, Belgium Norway, Italy, Germany, and among Balkan Christians (Serbs, Christians, Greeks, and Bulgurs).

click for animated explanation of how European powers divided up the Continent post-Napoleon.

click this animated explanation of how European powers divided up the Continent post-Napoleon.











No less than Henry Kissinger, the realpolitik living dean of international relations cut his teeth on the Congress of Vienna, writing his dissertation on Metternich the statesman. But an exciting new book on the topic by historian Adam Zamoyski takes on Kissinger’s conclusion directly, as noted in this Guardian book review:

For those who believe that jaw-jaw is more interesting than war-war, this is an exhilarating book. Zamoyski starts with the exhausted emperor hustling back to Paris after the retreat from Moscow to try to keep French domination of Europe alive. He finishes with a demolition job on Henry Kissinger, whose doctoral thesis on the diplomat Metternich praised the Congress of Vienna for giving Europe a century of peace. Zamoyski has no time for Kissinger or his Austrian hero, Metternich.

The system that came to be called the Concert of Europe, Zamoyski writes, “imposed an orthodoxy which not only denied political existence to many nations; it enshrined a particularly stultified form of monarchical government; institutionalised social hierarchies as rigid as any that existed under the ancien régime; by excluding whole classes and nations this system nurtured envy and resentment, which flourished into socialism and aggressive nationalism.”



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Even Hitler Practiced Public Speaking

As Roger Poorhouse (and others) observe, Hitler was an absolutely spellbinding public speaker. Newly revealed photos show effective oratory required pratice–and we can see him rehearsing hand gestures, facial expressions, posture, and other non-verbal elements.

We can understand how he was able achieve so much as a speaker, particularly in terms of “psychological coercion” from his own writings in Mein Kampf. He writes:

1. Keep the dogma simple. Make only 1 or 2 points.
2. Be forthright and powerfully direct. Speak only in the telling or ordering mode.
3. As much as possible, reduce concepts down into stereotypes which are black and white.
4. Speak to people’s emotions and stir them constantly.
5. Use lots of repetition; repeat your points over and over again.
6. Forget literary beauty, scientific reasoning, balance, or novelty.
7. Focus solely on convincing people and creating zealots.
8. Find slogans which can be used to drive the movement forward.


Piketty: ‘Germany Has Never Repaid its Debts. It Has No Right to Lecture Greece’

The superstar French economic theorist takes on German austerity and its case against Greece:

Piketty: To deny the historical parallels to the postwar period would be wrong. Let’s think about the financial crisis of 2008/2009. This wasn’t just any crisis. It was the biggest financial crisis since 1929. So the comparison is quite valid. This is equally true for the Greek economy: between 2009 and 2015, its GDP has fallen by 25%. This is comparable to the recessions in Germany and France between 1929 and 1935.


Cory Leonard

Neuroscience and Mapping Empathy in the Brain

In Charles Kupchan’s important book, How Enemies Become Friends, he explores rapprochements involving Brazil and Argentina, Anglo-American negotiations in 2the 1800s as well as breakdowns in the creation of Singapore from Malaysia and crumbling of the Concert of Europe post-1848. Diplomacy is the solution, he concludes.

What if we could better understand the empathic responses necessary to negotiate–rather than flight–by tracking these instincts in the brain? Jeneen Interlandi explores this in an interesting article in the NYT Magazine, looking into the case of Roma in Hungary and how neural focus groups can unlock the key understanding bias and ancient hatreds.

But the picture remains incomplete. We still need to map a host of other empathy-related tasks — like judging the reasonableness of people’s arguments and sympathizing with their mental and emotional states — to specific brain regions. And then we need to figure out how these neural flashes translate into actual behavior: Why does understanding what someone else feels not always translate to being concerned with their welfare? Why is empathizing across groups so much more difficult? And what, if anything, can be done to change that calculus?

So far, Bruneau says, the link between f.M.R.I. data and behavior has been tenuous. Many f.M.R.I. studies on empathy involve scanning subjects’ brains while they look at images of hands slammed in doors or of faces poked with needles. Scientists have shown that the same brain regions light up when you watch such things happen to someone else as when you experience them or imagine them happening to you. “To me, that’s not empathy,” Bruneau says. “It’s what you do with that information that determines whether it’s empathy or not.” A psychopath might demonstrate the same neural flashes in response to the same painful images but experience glee instead of distress.

via The Brain’s Empathy Gap – The New York Times.

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Thucydides On the Greek Crisis

Sparta as the EU, and the Greeks resist mightily:

When Thucydides declared his work was “a possession for all time,” he meant that its relevance was as fixed and unchanging as was human behavior. Like his friend, the tragedian Sophocles, he would not be surprised that the blindness and hubris that undid ancient Athens remain with us today, and that the noble and humanist aims that once animated the European project have given way to unbending technocratic impulses. The ironist in Thucydides would appreciate that the very monuments in Athens, largely funded by its imperial mastery, might end up as collateral offered to new imperial masters by its battered and bemused descendant.

The Victoria Nuland Way of Diplomacy

Sometimes being a diplomat is not what we think it means. Irritating Germany (twice). Dissing the EU. And talking tough against Russia.

“Many Europeans, and certainly Moscow, hate Nuland, which is just one more reason why her political base on Capitol Hill adores her,” said a congressional aide familiar with the issue.

via The Undiplomatic Diplomat | Foreign Policy.

Tough Times for the ICC

What just happened? And does it confirm that the ICC has it out for African leaders?

One reason is that every indictment issued by the ICC has been in Africa. The court’s jurisdiction is somewhat hobbled by the non-participation or non-cooperation of many countries, most notably the United States. But the fact remains that Africa has been the focus of a court based in Europe, and given that memories of colonialism are in some places still fresh and very raw, that raises hackles.

via the

Or, more likely, does this reveal “a fundamental flaw” in the institution, namely that universal jurisdiction doesn’t exist–making it impossible to have individual enforcement–as noted by Nesrine Malik in The Guardian.

The ICC has hit a wall as South Africa appears to have allowed Omar al-Bashir leave the country, avoiding arrest. This international institution “will only be as relevant as the international community allows it to be,” according to Alex Whiting, a law professor at Harvard and former ICC prosecutor–quoted by Somini Sengupta in the NYT.

See Omar al-Bashir Case Shows International Criminal Court’s Limitations – The New York Times.

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Ethical Negotiation: Not an Oxymoron

From a Carnegie Council podcast on the behavioral insights into keeping ethics a part of negotiations.

Ethical Negotiation: Not an Oxymoron.


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