Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Recent IMF Criticism of Coalition Unlikely to Lead to Policy Shift

Liam Clegg reflects on the fallout from the Fund's recent trip to the UK, arguing that although the IMF's criticism of the coalition is unlikely to lead to a policy shift, it is still important. 

In fact, the IMF looks set to have a significant impact on UK politics in the lead up to the next general election, becoming a key ‘reputational intermediary’ in the battle for economic credibility between the Coalition government and Labour opposition. 

"Once a year, a Mission Team made up of a small number of IMF staff travels to each member state to conduct an audit of its current economic policies and prospects. After discussions with country authorities, the Team produces what is known as an ‘Article IV Report’. In general, these Article IVs tend to remain very low-profile affairs, read by few people outside of the IMF Boardroom. 

However, in times of crisis, Article IVs can become headline news. Typically, in times of economic malaise one of two factors will propel an Article IV into the realms of newsworthiness: either a government will draw upon a positive Report as an authoritative ‘stamp of approval’ for their policy agenda, or critics of a government will draw upon a negative Report as authoritative evidence of the failure of the government’s programme. We can see that both of these dynamics have been in operation in the UK in recent years.

Back in June 2011, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne sought to direct the public gaze towards the recently completed Article IV – particularly the opening sentence of the Mission Team’s Concluding Statement, which read: ‘Aided by the implementation of a wide-ranging policy program, the post-crisis repair of the UK economy is underway’. Indeed, through subsequent Budget and Autumn Statements, Chancellor Osborne sought to further highlight this boost to his, and the Coalition government’s, credibility as competent economic managers.

Fast-forward to the recently completed 2013 Article IV, and the story appears to be very different. Last month, before the Team had even arrived, the characterisation in an interview with Sky News from the IMF Chief Economist of the Chancellor’s fiscal policy as being akin to ‘playing with fire’ attracted widespread media comment. And this time, the Team’s Concluding Statement opened with the suggestion that ‘the UK could boost growth by bringing forward… spending on infrastructure and job skills’. Ed Balls, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, has been quick to capitalise on the IMF’s judgement. On the day that the Mission Team’s Statement was released, Balls boldly proclaimed that the IMF ‘backs the warnings we have made for three years that the government’s plans are a drag on growth and risk doing long term damage’. While the IMF intervention will be a source of irritation at Number 11 Downing Street, there are three reasons why it is highly unlikely that it will ferment any notable policy shift from the government.

First, the Coalition government’s claims to being credible economic managers rest heavily on making a sizable dent in the deficit. Rapid deficit reduction was the core yardstick of success laid out by the Chancellor in his Emergency Budget Statement of 2010, and the next election will in significant part be fought on this ticket. As the action recommended by the IMF would entail a short-term increase in the deficit (in the hope of attaining an improved growth trajectory over the medium- to long-term), it does not sit well with this core aim. 

Second, the IMF itself suffers from something of a ‘credibility gap’ in relation to its macroeconomic policy advice. Critical scholars have long complained of the sub-optimal outcomes associated with Fund-supported programmes, and its own Independent Evaluation Office queried the clarity and effectiveness of its guidance in a recent report. Finally – and a closely related point – there remains widespread disagreement over how governments should navigate the post-Global Financial Crisis landscape. By calling into question what had rapidly become the ‘conventional wisdom’ on the need to rapidly reduce government spending to try and keep government debt-to-GDP ratios below the 90 percent mark, the recent Reinhart-Rogoff controversy illustrates just how much policy-makers are in the dark over the ‘correct’ course of action. In such a context of extreme uncertainty, a significant policy shift is highly improbable.

This 2013 Article IV, then, probably won’t lead the Chancellor to make even minor alterations to his fiscal programme. However, if – as appears increasingly likely – the IMF becomes a key ‘reputational intermediary’ in the battle for economic credibility between the Coalition government and Labour opposition come May 2015 (or perhaps earlier), the organisation will have a significant impact on UK politics. This time next year, with the release of the 2014 Article IV, the picture will become a lot clearer". 

Issues surrounding the changing role of the IMF are explored in Liam’s Third Year module ‘Governing the Global Economy’.

Will Vittery (PhD Candidate, Department of Politics) and Liam will in June present a paper (‘Generating Credibility in a Time of Crisis: Chancellors of the Exchequer and the Reconstruction of Economic Competence, 2007-2012’) at the British International Studies Association Annual Conference, Birmingham, exploring issues touched upon in this blog.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Posthuman Security

Dr Audra Mitchell explains how the idea of ‘Posthuman Security’ challenges the traditional prominence given to human beings in matters of international security.

To what extent do we owe nonhumans protection in their own right? How should we respond to the threats raised by nonhumans? And how should humans relate to nonhuman aggressors? 

On the Uses and Abuses of Political Apologies

Apologies by public figures are not exceptional today. The last few decades have witnessed a sharp rise in the number of public and political apologies, so much so that some scholars believe we are living in an “age of apology”. 

In advance of her international workshop, The Uses and Abuses of Political ApologiesMihaela Mihai gives some background on state apologies for past injustices. What are state apologies? What are the validity conditions for such apologies? And what role do they play in democratic societies?

"It is estimated that, between the 16th and the 19th Centuries, Europeans traded approximately 8 million slaves out of Africa. Out of this number, 2.5 million were transported on British ships. On the occasion of the bicentenary of the 1807 Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, apologies by the Anglican Church, by the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, and by the City of Liverpool made it impossible for then Prime Minister Tony Blair to keep silent. In an article published in the New Nation in November 2006, and during subsequent commemoratory events at the Elmina castle in Ghana, Blair controversially expressed “deep sorrow” over Britain’s participation in the slave trade, a practice he equated with a crime against humanity.

Apologies by public figures are not exceptional today. The last few decades have witnessed a sharp rise in the number of public and political apologies, so much so that some scholars believe we are living in an “age of apology”. A gesture formerly considered a sign of weakness, has grown to represent moral strength and a crucial step towards potential reconciliation. Individuals, but more often states, churches, the judiciary, the medical profession and universities publicly issue apologies to those they have wronged in the past. Crimes ranging from personal betrayals and insults all the way to enslavement, land displacement, violations of treaties or international law, systemic discrimination, wartime crimes, cultural disruptions, or political seizures constitute reasons for public expressions of regret.

An international workshop examining state apologies for past injustices will takeplace at the University of York on the 6th of June. It comes at the end of a project entitled When the State Says "Sorry": An Interdisciplinary and Comparative Approach to Political Apologies, sponsored by the Government of Canada. The invited speakers will engage the following questions: What are state apologies? What are the validity conditions for such apologies? And what role do they play in democratic societies?

In addressing the issue of state apologies, we can speak of three contexts: domestic, international and postcolonial. 

In the domestic realm, Canada’s apology and compensation to Canadians of Chinese origin for the infamous “Chinese Head Tax“ law and US’s apology and compensation for American citizens of Japanese descent for the witch hunt they were subjected to during WW II are relevant examples. 

In the international realm we could discuss Japan’s “sorry” for the abuse of Korean and Chinese “comfort women” and Belgium’s expression of regret for not having intervened to prevent the genocide in Rwanda. 

Finally, in the postcolonial context, Australia’s and Canada’s apologies to their Aboriginal communities for forced assimilation policies, Queen Elizabeth’s declaration of “sorrow” for Britain’s treatment of the Maori community, and Guatemala’s apology to a Mayan community constitute important illustrations.

In interpersonal apologies an individual acknowledges and promises to redress offences committed against another individual. While there is great variation among authors on the number and exact role that different elements play within an apology, there is a growing consensus that an authentic apology implies: an acknowledgement that the incident in question did in fact occur and that it was inappropriate; a recognition of responsibility for the act; the expression of an attitude of regret and a feeling of remorse; and the declaration of an intention to refrain from similar acts in the future.

When applied to collective apologies for harms and wrongs featuring multiple perpetrators – oftentimes committed a long time ago – most of the criteria for valid interpersonal apologies don’t hold. Consequently, many have argued against the very idea of collective apologies, and especially against the idea of collective apologies for injustices that took place in the distant past.
Those who want to recuperate the idea of a state apology for democratic politics argue that we should give up the interpersonal model and think of collective apologies politically. Thus, many have argued that it is normatively sound to ascribe responsibility to collectives or institutions as continuous in time and as transcending the particular individuals constituting them at a certain moment. 

In addition, it has been pointed out that collectives are responsible for reproducing the culture that made it possible for atrocities to go on uncontested for a long time. Therefore, collective responsibility requires that political representatives acknowledge the fact that an injustice has been committed, mark discontinuity with the discriminatory practices of the past, and commit themselves to non-repetition and redress.

At this point, a caveat is necessary: collective responsibility must be conceptually distinguished from collective guilt. For example, a present government who has not committed any wrongs, can still take responsibility by acknowledging that wrongs have been committed against a certain group or person in the past, that it was “our culture” that enabled the abuses, that the abuses have repercussions in the present, and that they will not be allowed to happen again. A pledge to revise the very foundations on which the relations between various groups are established within the polity, as well as material compensations for the losses incurred by the victims give concreteness to the apology. 

In this sense, it can be safely said that collective apologies have both a symbolic function (recognition of the offended group as worthy of respect) and a utility function (the apology can be followed by reparations and might lead to better inter-group relations).

These are the complex debates that we will seek to contribute to on the 6th of June. Theoretical reflections will be calibrated through encounters with real-life case studies in an attempt to get at a more nuanced understanding of these frequently used practices." 

Workshop details.

Yemen: Navigating the Pitfalls of Humanitarian Aid

Dr Alexandra Lewis, Research Fellow at the Post-war Reconstruction and Development Unit argues that the effectiveness of humanitarian assistance in Yemen has been undermined by a lack of cooperation and communication between regional and international donors. This leads to a duplication of efforts in some instances, and stalled or inadequate aid distribution in others.

"International humanitarian assistance in Yemen has been seriously constrained by safety, under-funding, and lack of cooperation between multilateral and bilateral aid delivery agencies. Of equal importance, particularly under former-President Saleh’s leadership, has been the role of information distribution and manipulation. 

To address these issues, there is a need for greater cooperation between regional and international donors. International Organisations also need to use less confrontational language in humanitarian aid delivery, so as to promote project cohesion with the Government of Yemen and other important regional actors.

Information Manipulation
It has been difficult for the international community to access priority areas of Yemen. For instance, before 2011, Sa’ada proved only to be accessible through the sub-contracting of local staff. UN and affiliated agencies interviewed in 2010 noted that they had been unable to gain permission from the Yemeni state to travel to the governorate and deliver aid, due to security concerns.

Reports on safety levels, however, were treated with scepticism by local practitioners: information restriction in Yemen has a history of undermining the effectiveness of foreign interventions, with former-President Saleh having heavily restricted the presence of international press officers and journalists in his country (Finn & Webb, 2011).

Ironically, the Arab Spring has resulted in dramatic improvements to this situation, stabilising Northern governorates by allowing them to operate independently. This presents an opportunity for the international community to engage with Sa’ada, either by collaborating with local CSOs and NGOs, or by direct intervention. Such assistance, however, needs to emerge from independent security assessments.

The Language and Restrictions of Humanitarianism
Lack of state cooperation with international humanitarian aid delivery by the Yemeni Government has stemmed from political justifications and from the language of humanitarian action, which is built upon a framework of legal obligations to protect and uphold human rights. Supporting international instruments has previously delegitimised the state in the eyes of Northern, and (in some cases) Southern, communities, by aligning the Government with Western liberal values. 

The international community needs to be careful about restrictions on aid allocation that can damage perceptions of Yemeni national independence. There is scope for welfare, education and healthcare based interventions to be used to promote equality, without necessarily being based on confrontational narratives that might be seen as un-Islamic or un-Yemeni.

Lack of Cooperation
Regional donors have had more success in reaching problematic areas, due to their less restrictive programming guidelines. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Kuwait “lead the way among Arab nations in terms of providing development assistance” and humanitarian aid across the Middle East (Riddell, 2013).

However, the effectiveness of assistance has been undermined by a lack of cooperation and communication between regional and international donors, leading to a duplication of efforts in some instances, and stalled or inadequate aid distribution in others. 

Due to a lack of effective monitoring capacity in conflict-affected governorates, international stakeholders voiced concerns at the inefficiency and duplication of those projects that they were able to deliver. These issues are linked to competing narratives of humanitarian and development assistance, with regional donors tending to view foreign assistance packages as overly prescriptive and international donors viewing regional aid as insufficiently accountable (West Asia North Africa Forum, 2009)

In particular, it is recommended that North American and European Governments need to see regional donors as welcome partners in development, taking assistance at face value and offering guidance or coordination services where necessary, rather than striving to lead or manage all humanitarian interventions in Yemen".

These opinions are drawn from a book chapter, out later this year in Antonio DeLauri’s (Ed) anthology: Humanitarianism, Inc (I.B. Tauris).


Finn, T., & Webb, W. L. (2011, March 14). Yemen Expels Four Foreign Journalists Amid Fears of Clampdowns. The Guardian.

Global Humanitarian Assistance. (2013). Yemen. Retrieved March 14, 2013, from Global Humanitarian Assistance:

Riddell, P. (2013). Islam as Aid and Development. In M. Clarke, Handbook of Research on Development and Religion (pp. 17-30). Northampton: Edward Elgar Pub.

West Asia North Africa Forum. (2009). Report of the First Annual West Asia-North Africa (WANA) Forum. Amman: Wst Asia North Africa Forum.

Visions of Subsidiarity and the Curse of the British Political Tradition

In a piece recently posted on Whitehall Watch, Martin Smith (with Dave Richards and Patrick Diamond from the University of Manchester) argues that despite philosophical and practical differences over the nature and role of the  state, there have been underlying synergies in how New Labour and the current centre-right Coalition have approached reforming the organisation of government and its relation to society. 

"There is little doubt that the previous Labour Administration and the current Coalition government have discernibly different governing projects. Despite a rhetorical appeal to the contrary, Labour substantially increased both the size and role of the state, developing a new set of interventions in social policy and significantly increased government expenditure. The Coalition on the other hand has been focused on reducing the role of the state, decreasing government expenditure and making cuts of over 50,000 in civil service numbers.

However, despite philosophical and practical differences over the nature and role of the state, there have been underlying synergies in how they have approached reforming the organisation of government and its relation with society  Both New Labour and the present centre-right Coalition have been motivated by an inclination to reform the topography of the state, devolving and decentralising power, while initiating a more participative mode of governing in which citizens play a greater role on the development and implementation of policy. Prior to 1997, Tony Blair boldy stated that: 'The era of big, centralising government is over'. In a similar fashion, David Cameron announced shortly after taking office in 2010: 'Today is the start of a deep and serious reform agenda to take power away from politicians and give it to the people. 

Yet, what neither government has been able to do is to reconcile the tension between a desire for greater subsidarity by devolving power to local and regional bodies and the impulse to control all that goes on in politics..." 

Read more

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Trident - time to rethink Britain's nuclear future

The coalition government is pressing ahead with a long, expensive and controversial programme to replace the Trident nuclear weapon system beginning with the procurement of a new fleet of submarines armed with ballistic missiles. But serious questions have been asked about the necessity of staying in the nuclear weapons business and whether a like-for-like replacement of the current system is the most appropriate policy. 

In a recent piece for The ConversationDr Nick Ritchie asks whether it could ever be right to use our nuclear weapons to inflict devastation upon another society. We have made an abiding commitment that we would only ever use nuclear weapons in accordance with international humanitarian law applicable in armed conflict.

The significance of inequality

Dr Martin O'Neill has recently been awarded a grant from the Institute of New Economic Thinking for a project entitled The Significance of Inequality.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Clausewitz and the Politics of War

Tom is the recent author of War, Clausewitz and the Trinity (Ashgate).

Here Tom explains why Clausewitz’s famous dictum – ‘war is a continuation of politics by other means’ – embraces a complexity and depth that is often missed.

"Two hundred years ago, in early May 1813, a 32 year old Prussian officer was recovering from wounds sustained only days earlier during the chaotic Battle of Lutzen. He had led repeated cavalry charges as part of the allied German and Russian forces confronting Napoleon’s Grand Army. At one point, finding himself surrounded by French soldiers, he had had to fight his way out in desperate hand to hand combat. Also, his face was blackened from frostbite having spent the winter pursuing French forces during their disastrous retreat from Moscow, and he had personally witnessed the dreadful crossing of the Berezina River. This soldier was Carl von Clausewitz.  

Why is it that still even today, senior figures such as Colin Powell and General McChrystal publicly invoke the ideas of this man?  I will try and shed light on this question.

My central argument is simple: that the meaning of Clausewitz’s famous dictum – ‘war is a continuation of politics by other means’ – embraces a great deal of complexity and depth that is all too often missed. Clausewitz’s aphorism appears almost everywhere, but often only in passing, and it’s often mistakenly represented as the totality of his theorising, or used out of context in a simplistic sense. So, for instance, Martin van Creveld could claim that Clausewitz believed war was ‘a rational instrument for the attainment of rational social ends’.

However, in recent years there has since been something of a renaissance in Clausewitz studies and I think what we are seeing is a  shift from the idea of the primacy of policy to the primacy of politics. Clausewitz stated that, ‘Nothing is more important in life than finding the right standpoint for seeing and judging events, and then addressing them.’ War as a continuation of politics, properly understood, was for him precisely that standpoint.

I argue that there are three key political perspectives of war in Clausewitz’s thought. 

First, political conditions essentially provide the broad context and give meaning and form to the other two perspectives. For Clausewitz, political conditions represented the ‘womb of war’ from which it emerges; it largely explains the ways group fight, who they fight and, indeed, the objects they fight for. Second, war’s subordination to policy presents a unilateral, subjective perspective, and it is from this perspective that most of the mistaken assumptions of pure rationality derive. Here it is important to distinguish between Clausewitz’s prescriptive insights and those that simply seek to describe the phenomenon. Clausewitz claimed that in war there would be for the actors involved a definite if messy interaction between ends and means, that weaves a thread of reason through the whole, even if the tapestry hangs together only loosely given the many barriers to perfect rationality that exist in war.

Third, there is often a failure in reading Clausewitz to progress from the subjective idea of subordination to the wider implications of ‘continuation’. These two perspectives are interwoven in On War. In the crucial Chapter 6B of Book 8 of On War, the transition from one perspective to the other is almost missed. To take just one instance of this, he states, ‘When whole communities go to war the reason always lies in some political situation, and the occasion is always due to some political object. War, therefore, is an act of policy.’

So, essentially for Clausewitz war is both a continuation of the interactive political situation and the instrument employed by the actors that make up that situation. The two perspectives are inseparable and implicated in the meaning of the other. ‘Continuation’ thus embraces all three perspectives that I have identified and serves as holistic means of understanding the relationship between politics and war: war is a continuation of a multidimensional political situation comprised of the competing policies of those involved, both of which are shaped in important ways by preexisting political conditions.

There are four theoretical implications emerging from this. 

First, war can never be understood as autonomous but is always part of a wider whole, which is politics – war is itself a form of political behaviour, only it employs different means. 

Second, war is ensconced within a perpetually shifting ‘political web of war’ – the multitude of actors and relationships within, between and beyond belligerents. 

Third, during war there will be a continuous, simultaneous and non-linear reciprocal feedback between the use of force, politics and policy. 

Fourth, understanding the psychology of the politics of war brings all these perspectives and implications together – the role of perceptions are crucial to understanding the political effects of the use of force. War does not contain in itself the elements for a final settlement, but beyond situations where the enemy is completely destroyed (which is very rare), the enemy must be persuaded to submit. This all underlines the often ambiguous nature of military victory and the way in which politics has an unnerving habit of delivering its own verdict on events.

The complexity of the politics of war is too often ignored by theorists and commanders alike: war is conceived as unilateral, autonomous, linear, material and rationally controllable. It might be said that much of this is obvious, common-sense, maybe even banal. I would argue, in many respects it is. But it is staggering how often these basic points are forgotten or ignored. In Iraq and Afghanistan, Western states have struggled to employ their militaries as effective instruments of policy, and primarily I would argue due to political myopia, rather than to any major military shortcomings.

Force has often been employed as if in a political vacuum; little attempt has been made to understand the enemy, it’s objectives, character or psychology; policy has been incoherent, short-termist and introspective; political actors have failed to properly understand the wars they oversee or provide clear guidance as to objectives; the military has therefore dominated strategic decision-making in what are intensely political situations; and instruments of force have been used for their own sake, simply because they are available. And interestingly, what course corrections have taken place have primarily been of a political nature: the Sunni Awakening; the move towards reconciliation in Afghanistan and so forth. Most regrettably, troops on the ground have been repeatedly let down by strategic ineptitude and their efforts not translated into meaningful political effect.

The complexity of Clausewitz’s terse dictum calls for the sophisticated socio-political understanding and psychological intuition of genius – Clausewitz states that even ‘Newton himself would quail before the algebraic problems it could pose’. However, given that war is always an interactive phenomenon, perhaps the only real comfort is that the political genius required only needs be relative, not absolute. That Clausewitz recognised the fundamentally complex political nature of war in an age dominated by the annihilation battle is, I think, testament to his own remarkable genius".