08/08/2014

Didier Burkhalter’s Way With Words

As President of the Swiss confederation, as Foreign Minister, as Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE, Didier Burkhalter is required to give many speeches. He probably has at least one person helping him prepare the texts. Be that as it may, the introduction to his national day August 1 address, although little commented upon, bears particular attention. Much like his “Cher Collègue” greeting to President Putin during a May visit to Moscow (see my blog of May 9), Mr. Burkhalter said a great deal in very few words.

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04/08/2014

The Revolution of the Saints Revisited From Geneva

In the West, there is tremendous fear of Islamic fundamentalism taking over the Arab world. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), often described as “extremist” and “militant,” continues its march towards Baghdad; in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood remains an important actor. Surprisingly, there should be a particular understanding of this phenomenon from a Geneva perspective.

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30/07/2014

The End of Humanitarianism?

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2013. Started in a small apartment in the Old Town of Geneva, the ICRC crystallized and codified the first international norms dealing with the laws of war. After watching on the news the bombings of hospitals and schools in Gaza with innocent women and children among the victims as well as the difficulty for outside forensic experts and family members of passengers to inspect the site of downed MH17 in eastern Ukraine, I ask: Is humanitarianism still pertinent today?

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25/07/2014

MH17 and Gaza: Who Is Responsible?

Responsibility is central to moral philosophy and law. On the negative side, justice demands that we find out “Who did it?” “Who is to blame?” On the positive side, we want to know who should be praised, who should be rewarded. But beyond moral philosophers and lawyers, we often debate in the simplest conversations about who was responsible for a given act or situation. Even if we hold responsible a heavenly being or fate, we still want to know who is responsible.

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18/07/2014

Reconciling Peace and War: In But Out

The sun shines in Geneva during glorious summer days. Swimming pools are crowded with excited children; some have left for their chalets in the mountains, others have left or are planning to leave on vacation to the beaches of southern Europe or Asia. “Summertime and the livin’ is easy” as George Gershwin wrote. But newspaper headlines scream otherwise: “Israel launches ground invasion of Gaza,” “Jet brought down by missile in Ukraine”. How to reconcile “the livin’ is easy” with the horrors of the headlines? And with other tragic events that don’t make the front pages.

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15/07/2014

Reflections on Non-Violence at the World Cup

The World Cup has ended. An orgy of flag waving and anthem singing has concluded for at least another four years. Germany won, as could have been expected. What wasn’t expected was how the threats of street violence and protest within Brazil over the lavish preparation did not materialize.

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11/07/2014

The Human Brain Project Controversy: Let the Taxpayer Beware

When asked if it was difficult to govern during a world war, the American President Woodrow Wilson famously replied; “Not at all. I have been chairman of a political science department and president of a university.” The quotation referred to notorious conflicts among academics, and in many ways reflects what is currently taking place surrounding the Human Brain Project (HBP).

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07/07/2014

Can One Be Heroic In Defeat?

Roger Federer is being lavishly praised for his heroic battle with Novak Djokovic in this year’s Wimbledon final. The Swiss football team is being lavishly praised for its heroic battle with Argentina in this year’s World Cup round of 16. Federer and the national team were both close to victory but they both lost. Can one be heroic in defeat?

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04/07/2014

What if the U.S. Won the World Cup?

The World Cup dominates front pages. Forget Sarkozy’s problems; the war in Syria has disappeared; Russia and Ukraine are far from Brazil; ISIS and Iraq are not competing on the pitch. Even stories about incomplete stadiums and social protests in Brazil can’t make the news. Rabid nationalism in the best sense has broken out all over. Even in the United States. 

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30/06/2014

Is Iraq Déjà Vu All Over Again?

The recent announcement that the United States was sending some 300 advisors to Iraq should have sent shivers up the spines of many Americans with historical memory. It did at least for me, someone who vividly remembers that the original engagement of the U.S. in the Vietnam War began with a similar seemingly simple gesture by President Kennedy. While this time the advisors will be arriving at what was announced as the winding down of involvement, the parallels are no less striking.

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16/06/2014

A Tale of Two Heidis

The story of Heidi is a Swiss and international classic. It is a fictional account of a young girl and her grandfather in the Swiss Alps and the virtues of living with nature. Today there are two Swiss Heidis intimately involved in real time with the real tension between Russia and Ukraine. While the idyllic Heidi finds refuge with her grandfather in mountain pastures, the two Heidis are trying to settle one of the thorniest political problems since the end of the Cold War between Moscow, Kiev and Western leaders.

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A Tale of Two Heidis

The story of Heidi is a Swiss and international classic. It is a fictional account of a young girl and her grandfather in the Swiss Alps and the virtues of living with nature. Today there are two Swiss Heidis intimately involved in real time with the real tension between Russia and Ukraine. While the idyllic Heidi finds refuge with her grandfather in mountain pastures, the two Heidis are trying to settle one of the thorniest political problems since the end of the Cold War between Moscow, Kiev and Western leaders.

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10/06/2014

Swiss Nature vs. American Wilderness

Why are the Swiss so fascinated with one bear roaming the Grison? Why are the Swiss so fascinated by the introduction of a wolf or lynx into the countryside? While these may seem superficial questions, the answers reflect fundamental attitudes toward nature as well as subtle differences with the Sister Republic, the United States.

The role of nature in Switzerland is obvious. From small, public garden patches outside metropolitan areas to weekend and holiday retreats in the mountains, the Swiss adore being in nature. Romantic poets and artists throughout Swiss history have written about and painted the virtues of being in the state of nature. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, after all, was born in Geneva.

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06/06/2014

Brady Dougan is the quintessential, successful, modern man

Brady Dougan is the quintessential, successful, modern man. Dynamic, wealthy, media-savvy, he is at the head of one of the world’s largest banks. He is the envy of an entire generation who want to be sitting on the top of the corporate totem pole. He has it made. His total compensation package for 2013 was close to $10 million.

Mr. Dougan testified before a United States Senate Committee. During his testimony he made two simple statements that are perfectly clear, and totally contradictory. 

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16/05/2014

“Rebranding” the United Nations Office in Geneva

A serious effort is being made by the Acting Director-General of the United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG) to “rebrand” his organization. Michael Møller, a Danish diplomat with extensive experience in the United Nations system, is energetically trying to give new life and a new image through a host of activities and presentations.

He is to be commended. Not only does the historic Palais des Nations need a serious face-lift if not major cosmetic surgery including implants and replacements, but many of the organizations associated with the UN in Geneva, such as the Conference on Disarmament and the World Trade Organization’s Doha Round, could use some massive adrenalin (testosterone?) injections. Add to that the growing role of NGO’s, the private sector and competition from other cities for hosting conferences and organizations, and one can see that Mr. Møller has a lot on his plate. And he is officially only an Acting Director who says he is not actively competing for the regular position!

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10:44 Publié dans Geneva, Genève, UNO | Lien permanent | Commentaires (1) |  Imprimer |  Facebook | | | |

09/05/2014

The Importance of Didier Burkhalter’s ”Cher Colleague”

During his recent visit to Moscow, Didier Burkhalter referred to Vladimir Putin as “Cher Colleague” before the cameras. While this might not seem like a monumental step towards de-escalating the violence in Ukraine or resolving the crisis, it was a highly symbolic gesture that warrants more attention than it has received.

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02/05/2014

The Myth of the Nation-State

The idea of the nation-state is one of the most powerful paradigms in modern political thought. It means that within given borders and under a legitimate government there resides some form of homogeneous group, ideally ethnically similar. The philosopher Ernst Gellner once quipped, “Each nation should have a country and each country should have a nation, and hopefully they are the same”.

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20/04/2014

Ukraine, Switzerland and the f-word

The future of Ukraine revolves around its very identity if not its borders – member of the EU and NATO or part of the Russian Federation and its Eurasian association, with Crimea or without, with its eastern section in tact or not. Another alternative, put forward by Moscow, would have Ukraine minus Crimea remain one entity ruled from Kiev as a loose confederation. But for the present government in Kiev as well as for most western leaders, federalism for Ukraine is a dirty f-word.

 

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14/04/2014

The Davis Cup and Switzerland: Pourquoi Pas ?

Switzerland is world famous as a financial center as well as home to multinational companies like Nestlé and Rolex. The city of Geneva is famous as the global human rights and humanitarian capital. In multilateral diplomacy, Switzerland is often said to punch above its weight, hosting major conferences such as the recent one on Syria. In sports, especially in skiing, Switzerland is among the top countries in the world. But in tennis?

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05/04/2014

John Kerry and RBM

When I was playing for my high school tennis team, I once walked off the court after losing a match and began giving excuses to my coach about why I had lost. He cut my arguments short by pointing to an L on his scorecard. “See this,” he said. “It’s an L. You lost. That’s all I care about.”

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20/03/2014

Blowback: Putin’s Diatribe Against the West

President Vladimir Putin’s recent speech announcing the annexation of Crimea to the Russian Federation was the most important presentation by any world leader since the end of the Cold War. While the speech is being analyzed from the perspective of domestic politics, geopolitics, military strategy, energy strategy, diplomacy and international law, the defining particularity was emotions. No more axis of evil, no more subservience to carpetbaggers telling lowly Russia how to organize its government and society after the end of the Soviet Union, no more pivot to Asia forgetting Russia, no more end of history. Putin announced to the world, “Russia is back,” and it’s back on its own terms.

 

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14/03/2014

The Birth of Nations: The Contrasting Cases of Kosovo and Crimea

 

“The Birth of a Nation” is a legendary 1915 American film directed by D.W. Griffith that became a classic because of its innovative film techniques. In spite of its extremely racist message, it was selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry. The title of the movie raises difficult questions that are particularly relevant in Ukraine today: How are countries born? How do countries die?

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07/03/2014

The March of Folly in Ukraine and Switzerland

 

There are ideas that once expressed become crystallized into paradigms that become very much part of how we see the world. The Swiss Jacob Burckhardt pioneered the field of cultural history by opening our eyes to the radical changes taking place during the period he named the Renaissance, a definition that endured. In a different way, the American historian Barbara Tuchman described a series of historical events from Troy to Vietnam in “The March of Folly” that highlighted how leaders can perform in ways that they know are diametrically opposed to their own interests. Recent events in Ukraine and Switzerland may fit her description.

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25/02/2014

Switzerland, Ukraine and the Limits of Binary Thinking

 

Many years ago my then wife and I were told by our friendly local doctor that she was half-pregnant, much to our bewilderment. Ever since the Enlightenment, western thinking has been dominated by binary reasoning: yes or no, 0 and 1, inside and outside, are fundamental paradigms. We are all familiar with Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” and C.P. Snow’s “The Two Cultures”. While binary thinking may be extremely helpful in certain areas – computer programming and establishing borders are prime examples – its obvious clarity may have limitations that can have negative consequences. Recent examples in Switzerland and Ukraine highlight the disadvantages.

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18/02/2014

Did Social Media Help the UDC Referendum?

There is certainly much to be said about the recent Swiss vote on “immigration de masses”. Certainly much will be said in the future since the exact nature of the operationalization of the positive vote on the referendum is still very unclear. What can be said at this moment, however, is that a majority of Swiss voters felt that there were too many non-Swiss in the country. Whether it was because of housing difficulties, unemployment, lack of security or a perceived loss of national identity, 50.3% of the voters wanted more restrictions on foreigners

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