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New book by Dr Charlie Laderman "Sharing the Burden"

last modified Sep 16, 2019 09:12 PM
Charlie Laderman provides a new perspective on the United States's rise as a global power and international humanitarianism by examining British and American responses to the Armenian genocide within the context of international order during the World War I era.
Released 6 December 2019

Forum Director launches thought-provoking new book on Hitler

last modified Sep 13, 2019 05:11 PM
Forum Director launches thought-provoking new book on Hitler

Join us for the Forum on Geopolitics's inaugural annual lecture on September 30 to celebrate the launch of Professor Brendan Simms new book Hitler: Only the World was Enough

A Westphalia For the Middle East: Workshop Report

last modified Sep 13, 2019 05:12 PM
WESTPHALIA FOR THE MIDDLE EAST Workshop Report: Lessons in Diplomatic Techniques and Peacemaking Mechanisms from the Congress of Westphalia for the Middle East Pembroke College, Cambridge, 16 May 2019


Workshop Report: Lessons in Diplomatic Techniques and Peacemaking Mechanisms from the Congress of Westphalia for the Middle East

Pembroke College, Cambridge, 16 May 2019

The Forum on Geopolitics’ research project and events series ‘A Westphalia for the Middle East’ held a workshop at Pembroke College, Cambridge on 16 May 2019. The project aims to suggest lessons for today’s conflicts in the Middle East, from the way in which the arguably very similar Thirty Years War was ended at the congress of Westphalia. The workshop was funded by the DAAD-Cambridge Research Hub for German Studies. It was attended by senior practitioners and academics  think-tank directors, and Middle East analysts from Europe, the Middle East and North America, who were convened in order to discuss the possible lessons in diplomatic techniques and peacemaking mechanisms from the congress of Westphalia (1643-49) for today’s Middle East.

Full report

Forum on Geopolitics merges with the Centre for Rising Powers!

last modified Apr 10, 2019 05:52 PM
Two part event on March 11th marking the merger of Forum on Geopolitics and Centre for Rising Powers included a round table discussion on China programmes in UK academia and public lecture on Rise of China's comprehensive.
Forum on Geopolitics merges with the Centre for Rising Powers!

Profs. Shirley Lin & Harry Harding

This event marks the merger of the Forum on Geopolitics and the Centre for Rising Powers in the Department of Politics & International Studies, the University of Cambridge. The joint effort will deepen the study of geopolitics and grand strategy at the University of Cambridge, offering innovative opportunities for collaboration with practitioners and delivering impactful engagement with the wider world.

 The first part of the event was a closed Discussion “Reflections and Future Directions for China Programmes in the UK”

The second part was a Public Lecture by Prof. Harry Harding (University of Virginia) and Prof. Syaru Shirley Lin (Chinese University of Hong Kong): “The Rise of China’s Comprehensive Power”.

Technology and Democracy: A Nightmare?

last modified Mar 19, 2019 11:05 AM
The Forum on Geopolitics was pleased to host a Nightmare Lecture focusing on technology and democracy in Magdalene College with the generous support of Absolute Strategy Research.

On 22nd January the Forum on Geopolitics (POLIS) at the University of Cambridge hosted ‘A Nightmare Scenario: Technology and Democracy’, a lecture that addressed the effects technology could have on the functioning of contemporary democracy with the generous support of Absolute Strategy Research. Each of the speakers shared with the public their own nightmares – dystopian scenarios that democratic societies may face – as technologies play an ever-central role in every aspect of our lives.

The Lecture was chaired by Charles Arthur, a freelance Tech Journalist and former technology editor at The Guardian. The panel’s speakers included: Silkie Carlo, Director of Big Brother Watch; John Naughton, Emeritus Professor of the Public Understanding of Technology at the Open University and Director of the Press Fellowship Programme at Wolfson College; and the technology columnist of The Observer, David Runciman, Professor of Politics at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Politics and International Studies and Dr. Nóra Ni Loideain, Director of the Information Law and Policy Centre (ILPC) at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies.

As per tradition in the Forum on Geopolitics' Nightmare Series, the panelists all addressed their personal 'nightmare' scenarios regarding technology and democracy, which included a second Brexit referendum, the continued growth of data protection policies driven by a profit focused culture, and more. 

Those interested can read a summary of Dr. Nóra Ni Loideain's remarks on the ILPC website here

COGGS hosts Prof. Carlo Scognamiglio Pasini for 2019 Cook Lecture

last modified Feb 18, 2019 10:03 AM
Forum on Geopolitics was pleased to welcome Prof. Carlo Scognamiglio Pasini, Professor Emeritus in Applied Economics and former chancellor of the Luiss University of Rome, and former President of the Italian Senate and Minister of Defense to give second of its annual Cook Lecture at Corpus Christi’s McCrum Lecture Theatre.


Prof. Pasini began his lecture by drawing the audience back to John Maynard Keynes’ and the ‘Keynes’ Circus” of Richard Kahn, James Meade, Joan Robinson, Austin Robinson, and Piero Sraffa. Prof. Pasini detailed the immense contributions Keynes made to the formation of the International Liberal Order from the post-war period to the present day, highlighting in particular his role in the British delegation preparing the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, the Bretton Woods Conference, and his seminal works The Economic Consequences of the Peace and The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money.


Taking the audience up to the present day, Prof. Pasini noted the incredible impact of Keynes’ thinking on the global economic order in the century. The former President of the Italian Senate highlighted the danger posed by the separation of the U.K. and Europe through Brexit, and predicted the global economics will either move towards a duopoly between China and the U.S., or a tripolar equilibrium with China, the U.S., and a strong Europe. Prof. Pasini ended the lecture quoting Jean Monnet: “Europe will be forged in crisis, and will be the sum of the solutions adopted for those crisis”.


The Engelsberg Programme for Applied History, Grand Strategy and Geopolitics

last modified Feb 14, 2019 02:24 PM

We are excited to announce the Engelsberg Programme for Applied History, Grand Strategy and Geopolitics at the Forum on Geopolitics, generously supported by the Axel and Margaret Ax:son Johnson Foundation. We will soon advertise a series of events designed to explore how the lessons of history can shed light on some of today’s most perplexing problems.

COGGS hosts Audit of Geopolitical Capability Workshop

last modified Dec 13, 2018 12:17 PM

On 11th December, the Forum on Geopolitics hosted James Rogers, Director of the Global Britain Programme at the Henry Jackson Society. James outlined the framework and methodology for the Audit of Geopolitical Capability, an index of capability of twenty major powers he has developed and compiled. In particular, the workshop focused on:

  1. Improving and clarifying the indicators of geopolitical capability, particularly in relation to the military, economy and culture;
  2. Better justifying the 'weights' afforded to each indicator;
  3. Establishing limitations for the Audit, not least its utility in the event of the emergence of radically different strategic environments.

In addition, James presented the findings of the Audit of Geopolitical Capability and answered a number of methodological questions.

Celebration of the Publication of 'Towards a Westphalia with the Middle East' with Hurst Publishers

last modified Nov 07, 2018 07:05 PM
The Forum on Geopolitics was pleased to celebrate the launch of Towards a Westphalia for the Middle East by Forum Affiliates Dr. Patrick Milton, Dr. Michael Axworthy, and Forum Director Prof. Brendan Simms.

COGGS' "A Westphalia for the Middle East?" research strand has celebrated the publication of a new book based on the first phase of the project with Hurst Publishers, Towards a Westphalia for the Middle East. COGGS held events at Westminster and Peterhouse  with the authors, Dr. Patrick Milton, Dr. Michael Axworthy, and Prof. Brendan Simms, together with panelists, including Dr. Samir Al Taqi of the Orient Research Center, the Rt. Hon. Andrew Mitchell MP, Ms. Elisabeth von Hammerstein of the Körber Foundation, Mr. Ralf Beste of the German Foreign Office, and Dr. Ayse Zarakol of the Department of Politics and International Studies. COGGS is grateful for all who participated and celebrated with us. 

The Westphalia for the Middle East project asks the central question: what lessons can be learned from the way the Thirty Years War was ended in central Europe— in order to promote peace in the Middle East now? Our newest book, Towards a Westphalia for the Middle East, published by Hurst explores these questions and guides readers through moments in the foundation of the Peace of Westphalia that may be instructive for addressing some of the globe’s most intractable contemporary conflicts. 

Of course the world was a rather different place 400 years ago. But the book argues that the analytical justification of using a peace settlement from early modern Europe, as a source of inspiration for a new peace settlement in the Middle East now – is the remarkable set of parallels between the two contexts.

The analogy between the two scenarios consists of two main groups of similarities: structural parallels, and the role of religion.

The book argues that in light of these parallels it makes sense to look at how the Thirty Years War was ended in the 1640s in order to draw lessons for the Middle East.

Dr. Patrick Milton at the launch held in Peterhouse Importantly, these lessons are intended to serve as a series of inspirations for a possible new peace settlement in the Middle East; not by imposing an external Eurocentric model— but rather by trying to encourage a settlement reached by local actors themselves with the help of a set of mechanisms and techniques that proved effective in the historical experience.

There are two main types of lessons: firstly and most importantly, diplomatic techniques and peace-making mechanisms. Secondly, the treaty content itself.  

With regard to diplomatic techniques, the core lesson is the value of an all-inclusive multilateral congress: the Thirty Years war (just as the wars in the Middle East now) had been so multifaceted, and the various lines of conflict so interwoven – that the component conflicts of the wider crisis could not be solved piecemeal. Instead what was needed was an all-inclusive congress which tried to settle all interrelated sets of conflict at the same time.

Precisely because the component conflicts were so interlocked, earlier attempts to solve individual parts of them (such as a settlement only for the civil war within Germany, or only for the Catholic powers) were bound to fail. A settlement in one area would inevitably be destabilised by continuing tension or conflict in a neighbouring one. The war had already become irreversibly internationalised and all major combatants and other states involved would need to be drawn into a negotiated harmonisation of their respective interests. In the end the universal congress at Westphalia failed to achieve the universal peace for which it had been convened because one of the numerous sets of conflicts – that between France and Spain – continued for another 10 years. But the settlement was successful in ending the main conflict, and in uncoupling the central European theatre from the ongoing war in the West, while also shielding the Empire from being sucked back into that war. 

Another crucial technique which enabled the congress to reach a successful settlement was the innovative instrument of the mutual guarantee: each contracting party would mutually and reciprocally guarantee every aspect of the settlement – even those that did not affect them individually. During our workshops most participants agreed that this mechanism could usefully be transferred to the Middle Eastern context.

The guarantee creates a collective security system for the region in question whereby it is remodelled as a neutralised security zone and taken out of ongoing great-power conflict in other parts of the world. The guarantee was helpful in addressing each party’s fears of being attacked again post-war and thereby helped the treaty endure.

The Westphalia for the Middle East Seminar at Westminster with Dr. Samir al Taqi, Ms. Elizabeth von Hammerstein, the Rt. Hon. Andrew Mitchell MP, Dr. Michael Axworthy, and Dr. Patrick Milton

Other lessons that we highlight in the book include the recognition that one could start negotiating despite the absence of a ceasefire (although a truce would be desirable), and despite a state of exhaustion not necessarily having been reached by all parties.

Also: the absence of trust need not prevent negotiations from getting started—the peace process itself has to generate trust, not the other way round. Another lesson is that each negotiating party should set out its core security interests as transparently as possible, so that there can then be a more effective process of harmonising these interests – and crucially there should be a focus on power-political interests as opposed to such intractable things as settling questions of theological truth.  

In addition to these peace-making mechanisms, the treaty content itself can also be instructive, though the differences of time and space mean one must proceed with caution. But the improved power-sharing arrangements that Westphalia brought to the Empire – particularly among the three main religious groups – helped to prevent another religious war breaking out, and we believe that these can also supply some lessons for similar arrangements in Middle Eastern states.

More generally, we believe the idea which derives from Westphalia, that an overall, grand-bargain style settlement for the whole Middle East should not only regulate relations between states, but also within the states that have been racked by war and instability, provides salutary lessons.


COGGS hosts Lord Andrew Adonis

last modified Nov 06, 2018 09:29 AM
COGGS welcomed Lord Andrew Adonis for a lecture in the Old Library of Pembroke College.
COGGS hosts Lord Andrew Adonis

Lord Andrew Adonis

Lord Andrew Adonis joined the Forum on Geopolitics for a lecture titled "Can Brexit be Stopped?" Lord Adonis focused on the many challenges facing the U.K. in the ongoing Brexit negotiations, including issues relating to the Irish border and Good Friday Agreement. 

Inaugural Recipient of Cambridge Security Initiative Bursary

last modified Oct 14, 2018 06:47 PM
The Forum on Geopolitics is pleased to announce that Mr. Timothy Less is the first recipient of a PhD bursary generously supported by the Cambridge Security Initiative.

The Forum on Geopolitics is pleased to announce that Mr. Timothy Less is the first recipient of a PhD bursary generously supported by the Cambridge Security Initiative for a doctoral student at the University of Cambridge's Department of Politics and International Studies studying European geopolitics, past or present. Mr. Less' doctoral work focuses on Bosnia and Herzegovina, and how the West's diminished presence in the region has allowed for the Croats and the Serbs to reassert their 1990s goals and divide up the country. 

Forum Celebrates Publication of New Book: Towards a Westphalia for the Middle East

last modified Oct 14, 2018 06:38 PM
The Forum on Geopolitics is pleased to present two events to mark the publication of Towards a Westphalia for the Middle East, co-authored by Dr. Patrick Milton, Dr. Michael Axworthy, and Prof. Brendan Simms.

The ‘Westphalia for the Middle East’ is a collaborative project initiated by the Forum on Geopolitics at the University of Cambridge, which has gathered politicians and senior administration members from the Middle East, Europe, and the US, as well as historians of early modern Europe, in order to discuss previously unexamined avenues towards peace. The project seeks to provide much-needed new perspectives and to thereby open innovative, creative approaches for resolving conflict in the Middle East by looking at solutions that worked at the Peace of Westphalia. It takes the remarkable parallels that exist between conflict constellations in the Middle East now and the Thirty Wars then as its analytical starting point, in order to consider which diplomatic techniques, principles and mechanisms inherent in the 1648 settlement might serve as an inspiration for a new region-wide holistic settlement.     

On the occasion of the publication of a new book on the results of the project to date, Towards a Westphalia for the Middle East (London: Hurst Publishers, 2018), co-authored by Patrick Milton, Michael Axworthy, and Brendan Simms, the Forum is pleased to present two events, one in London on October 30 and one in Cambridge on October 31, to mark the occasion. We encourage you to register using the details on the events' pages. 

The role of France in producing and guaranteeing a new Middle Eastern settlement

last modified Oct 11, 2018 09:46 AM
We are pleased to present a summary of Ambassador Michel Duclos’ lecture at the University of Cambridge in the Peterhouse Theatre on the 9th of October

In France, there is a double tendency either to glorify what we used to call the "Arab policy", perceived as a grandiose plan deeply rooted in De Gaulle’s foreign policy, either to consider that France has no influence anymore in the region because of the Arab springs. My stance would be to say that it was never that grandiose, nor it is that bad today.

This "Arab policy", funded by President De Gaulle and later followed by his successors, was based on three elements. First, this policy was to promote a balanced position on the Israelo-Palestinian conflict starting with the famous press conference by De Gaulle in November 1967. Second, it was based on good relationships with all the dictators due to our belief that "enlightened despots" could modernise their countries. Finally, France extended her reach from her traditional backyards (Maghreb and Levantine) to the Gulf, exploiting skilfully opportunities and circumstances.

The Arab springs have profoundly undermined the traditional pillars of France’s Arab policy. The Palestine cause is not as central as it used to be, Islamism is on the rise, authoritarianism is challenged everywhere in the region. In spite of these setbacks, France is still regarded in the Middle East as an important player by all regional actors,  though her position is more fragile today because of the deep fractures of the region.

A lesson to be drawn from the Westphalia peace process is that there is a need to promote innovative formats today. This is especially true in a context where the US are retreating from the region, Russia has come back in the Middle East through Syria and tensions are escalating between Saudi Arabia and Iran. France is too big to be a mediator not taking sides, and not big enough to be a broker imposing a solution. But she could be a pathfinder in this context, acting as an intermediary promoting dialogues including China and India on a macroscale, as well a civil society actors on a microscale.

In a contemporary context, external guaranties cannot be exclusively military. There is a need for « civil guaranties »  and nation-building in any peace settlement, and the EU is ideally positioned to play that role. France can be part of a military guaranty alongside the US and other allies, and part of the civil guaranty through the EU. She should play an active role thanks to her permanent seat at the Security Council to make sure that there is good articulation between these two dimensions. This would allow us to make sure that civil and military guarantors would work hand in hand in the Middle East.

There are four sets of situations, involving two countries in each case, where such ideas could be applied. Tunisia and Libya call for our immediate attention and require a huge effort. They are indeed essential countries for the security of our homeland, and we have to show that contrary to the Russian narrative, a successful democratic transition is possible in Tunis and Tripoli. The rivalry between Tehran and Ryad may well last for decades, and France will have to be part of an effort to ensure that Iran does not take reckless positions in the current situation or that Saudi Arabia will not get into the way when Tehran and Washington will start to talk again to each other. A third couple is Iraq and Syria. There, the EU could fully unfold its potential as a civil guarantor helping reconstruction, in the short-term in the case of Iraq and only when conditions will be met in the case of Syria. Finally, Egypt and Turkey are key countries for the security of the region. France and her allies should not let Turkey look eastward when we have so many interests in common. An equally big risk would be an implosion of Egypt; no effort should be spared to prevent further deteriorations of the current state of this country."

Cambridge International Relations and History Working Group

last modified Oct 08, 2018 11:52 AM
Formed in 2016, the Cambridge IR & History Working Group provides a forum for the production and discussion of scholarship located at the intersection of the 'historical turn in IR' and the University of Cambridge's traditional strengths in the history of political thought and international/imperial/global history.

Formed in 2016, the Cambridge IR & History Working Group provides a forum for the production and discussion of scholarship located at the intersection of the 'historical turn in IR' and the University of Cambridge's traditional strengths in the history of political thought and international/imperial/global history. The remit of the group is broad, covering a variety of different approaches and methodologies, including historical sociology, theoretically informed historical scholarship, the history of international political thought, and the history of international law.  While members of the group work across a wide range of regions and historical periods, we have particular strengths in the study of empires, hierarchies, and international orders. 


Keep up to date on their events here.

The New Geopolitics of Eastern Europe

last modified May 10, 2018 01:34 PM
On 24th April, the Forum on Geopolitics held a panel discussion on the New Geopolitics of Eastern Europe. The panel consisted of Professor Aleks Szczerbiak from the University of Sussex, Dr Antonia Colibasanu from Geopolitical Futures, Mr Laza Kekic, formerly of the Economist Intelligence Unit and Ms Yulia Osmoloskaya, a former Deputy Head of Mission at the Embassy of Ukraine in London.
The New Geopolitics of Eastern Europe

The Forum's Timothy Less with panelist Yulia Osmoloskaya

The discussion focused on the impact on a shifting international environment on the internal politics of eastern Europe. The key conclusion was that a power vacuum is emerging in the region resulting from the decline in the authority of the European Union, the steady decline of Russia and the re-pivoting of the United States towards Asia. This is having a number of malign effects inside eastern Europe, from democratic backsliding in Central Europe to a fracturing of fragile 
states in the Western Balkans as the process of Euro-Atlantic enlargement comes to a halt. The region is also becoming a battleground in the so-called New Cold War as Russia’s fears about its long-term survival put it on the defensive.

The panel discussion formed the first session of the Forum on Geopolitics’ public colloquium on the New Intermarium which will continue in autumn 2018 and into 2019.


The Forum wishes to thank Cambridge Polish Studies for its generous support of this event. 

New Military Intervention Series

last modified May 01, 2018 04:28 PM
The Forum on Geopolitics is delighted to announce a new series on military intervention, convened by Dr. Stefano Recchia and Dr. Aaron Rapport. Look out for events in this series in Michaelmas 2018.

Powerful states have intervened militarily abroad for centuries to advance their interests and promote their preferred forms of political and economic order. In modern times, military intervention reached its high point during the Cold War; but military intervention has far from disappeared in recent years. The United States and its Western allies, but also Russia and other powerful states, have continued to intervene in their neighbourhood and sometimes beyond to protect human and ethnic minority rights, secure access to natural resources, and promote and uphold their preferred forms of political order. This speaker series will bring international experts to Cambridge with the goal of illuminating the politics and ethics of contemporary military interventions. Questions to be addressed include: How has the legitimacy of military intervention changed in recent years, and does it matter? How can we theorize and better understand current military intervention decision making by the major powers? What are the implications of the current “intervention fatigue” among Western powers in particular? As the nature of military interventions changes due to social, political, and technological transformations, this series aims to shed light on these important developments with real-world implications.

The Russian Revolution & its legacy for today

last modified Nov 20, 2017 11:06 AM
A summary of our most recent event marking the anniversary of the Russian Revolution.

On 2 November, the Forum on Geopolitics was pleased to welcome Sir Tony Brenton and Oksana Antonenko for a panel chaired by the Master of Peterhouse and former Senior Diplomatic Correspondent for the BBC, Bridget Kendall, titled “The Russian Revolution and its legacy for today” in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the Alison Richard Building. Sir Tony, who he served as the UK Ambassador to Russia from 2004-2008, noted Vladimir Putin’s general ambivalence towards the Russian Revolution despite its profound global consequences.

Sir Tony noted that popular memory often limits Lenin’s legacy is the Soviet Union, despite the fact that the Russian Revolution heralded the rise of the one party communist state in China. Importantly, Sir Tony highlighted that this aspect of the Russian Revolution’s legacy has not been lost on China’s leader, Xi Jinping. Indeed, in his October address to the Chinese Congress Xi stated: “A hundred years ago, the salvos of the October Revolution brought Marxism-Leninism to China. From that moment on, the Chinese Communist people have had in the party a backbone for their pursuit of national independence and liberation, prosperity and happiness.” Sir Tony additionally highlighted parallels between the Russian Revolution and the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, noting that both were swiftly followed by a retreat to authoritarianism. Finally, Sir Tony noted that observers tend to overlook the very personal elements of the Russian Revolution. This neglect of both the personal, and Russian, elements of the Russian Revolution may additionally have consequences for contemporary Russia: in a September 2017 poll the Levada Center found that 75% of Russians found the president of the Russian Federation “completely trustworthy”, while only 35% of those polled found the Russian government completely trustworthy (40% found the Russian government “somewhat trustworthy”). A survey run by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VCIOM) in the same month yielded similar results.

Oksana Antonenko, a visiting Senior Fellow at the Institute of Global Affairs at the London School of Economic and Political Science, responded to Sir Tony’s lecture by noting that the anniversary of the Russian Revolution was an uncomfortable for contemporary Russian government. The Revolution, Antonenko noted, remains generally understood through both personal and family narratives as opposed to an overarching state narrative. Antonenko additionally cited a recent poll by VCIOM that found that while 75% of Russians are aware that political persecution tool place during the Russian Revolution, VCIOM found that education level impacted understanding of the events. Antonenko noted that Russia’s discomfort with the anniversary signalled the lack of a single dogma within the country while the Kremlin—and Putin—search for a new social contract to offer the Russian people. The fact that Putin has yet to officially announce his candidacy in the March 2018 elections further bolsters this assertion, Antonenko argued. The Kremlin leader’s conspicuous silence as to his inevitable 2018 run indicates that he still has not settled on a platform and a message for the Russian people. 

The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism in British Politics

last modified Oct 17, 2017 01:59 PM
The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism in British Politics

Julia Ebner of ISD

The Forum on Geopolitics was pleased to host, together with the Community Security Trust, a panel event titled The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism in BritishPolitics at Caius College on 16 October as part of its Anti-Semitism and European Geopolitics series. Last year, the Community Security Trust recorded 1,309 Anti-Semitic incidents, including 307 violent instances of Anti-Semitism, higher than any year since the Trust began recording the phenomena. In this panel event, the Forum on Geopolitics explored why Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Britain, its impact on the British political climate and how best to tackle this noxious trend.


Featuring Lord Rowan Williams, Dr. Dave Rich of the Community Security Trust, Julia Ebner of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, and Detective Superintendent Dave Stringer of the Met, the event sought to probe anti-semitism on the extreme right and left of British politics in a contemporary context. The speakers addressed the sustained rise in anti-semitic hate crime in London, CST's most recent report on Anti-Semitism in Britain, contemporary challenges relating to education and Anti-Semitism, and the relationship between the extremism and Anti-Semitism. The Forum wishes to express its gratitude to the panelists and Caius College, and looks forward to the next instalment in this important series. 

Related Books by Panelists 
The Left's Jewish Problem, by Dr. Dave Rich 
The Rage, by Julia Ebner 


New Geopolitics in Eastern Europe Reading Group

last modified Oct 05, 2017 02:41 PM

The Forum on Geopolitics is running a reading group this year on the New Geopolitics in Eastern Europe. Each session will examine a different aspect of the region's shifting geopolitics and encourage a lively discussion based on short suggested readings.

The group is open to anyone with an interest in the politics of Eastern Europe today and will meet fortnightly from 1-2pm, starting on 18th October in Room 119 in the Alison Richard Building.  

The group is led by Timothy Less, the director of the Nova Europa political consultancy, a former British diplomat and an associate researcher at the Forum on Geopolitics, where he is leading a project on The New Intermarium. 


Guaranteeing the Peace—International actors and their role in a peace settlement for the Middle East

last modified Aug 02, 2017 10:28 AM
Workshop Report of the Westphalia for the Middle East Project Berlin, 27-28 April 2017.

The Cambridge Forum on Geopolitics and the Körber Foundation held their latest collaborative workshop of the joint project A Westphalia for the Middle East on 27-28 April in Berlin. The project seeks to draw inspiration from the Peace of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years War in 1648, in order to determine new approaches towards conflict-resolution and confessional co-existence in the contemporary Middle East; not by imposing an external model, but rather by trying to encourage a settlement reached by local actors with the help of a toolbox of mechanisms and techniques that proved so effective in addressing analogous geopolitical challenges in the historical experience of the 1640s. Following the previous meetings, in which we elaborated on the elements and nature of a hoped-for regional settlement for the Middle East, the latest workshop was dedicated to discussing the international dimensions to such a settlement. In particular, we assessed the merits of a possible system of regional and international guarantees of the settlement, modelled loosely on the Westphalian guarantor system, which contributed significantly to the successful conclusion of a comprehensive peace treaty in 1648, as well as to the long-term safeguarding of the peace. The workshop was attended by around twenty high-profile participants from the Middle East, Europe, the United States, and Russia. Represented among them were politicians, academics, journalists, and senior figures from the UN, the Arab League, the EU and other institutions.


Executive summary

The lessons from the Westphalian historical example include the following:

  • In order for a future peace settlement to be effective in the longer-term, it needs to be placed under a two-tier system of regional and international guarantee. The guarantee can help to ensure that the Middle East is reconfigured as a neutralised zone, in which armed force is largely banned and which is taken out of ongoing geopolitical rivalry
  • The guarantors should include regional powers who have a pressing interest and a stake in the peace. These might include powers that are currently warring parties, and that are not necessarily militarily powerful
  • International guarantors will be more effective if they also share a self-interest in upholding the peace settlement and its terms, such as preventing a spill-over effect of disturbances from the region
  • The regional and international guarantors must not only police norms of behaviour between states, but also within the states of the Middle East covered by the peace settlement and hence the guarantee


A ‘Westphalian’ guarantee for the Middle East?

Participants learned that France and Sweden’s early signalling of their willingness to guarantee the whole settlement was important in persuading the smaller actors, particularly the Protestant princes of the Holy Roman Empire, that the peace treaty was viable, and that the external powers would return to Germany to force the Emperor and the Catholics into line lest they renege on their treaty commitments agreed upon during the peace negotiations. The resulting adoption of the mutual guarantee in the peace treaty was also a highly effective peace-conserving tool, which deterred breaches of the peace and violations of rights enshrined at Westphalia in the longer term. The guarantee was simultaneously the most innovative, the most controversial, the most seemingly impractical, but also one of the most vital and ultimately successful aspects of the treaty:

  • the notion that warring parties and treaty signatories themselves become guarantors in a mutual and reciprocal set-up was a novelty;
  • many commentators especially the Catholics were wary of giving the external ‘crowns’, especially France, a legal title to intervene in the German Empire;
  • the sequence of steps required for an activation of the guarantee were rather cumbersome;
  • but the guarantee was instrumental in ensuring the longevity of the Westphalian order in central Europe, which permanently banished religious war from the Empire.

The participants recognised that a future peace settlement for the Middle East would similarly need to be guaranteed, by a combination of regional states and powers further afield. On the whole, the appraisal of the notion of foreign involvement in general, and an external guarantee in particular was very positive, with several participants from the Middle East calling for more positive engagement by the US in particular, as a guardian of norms.

But before discussion turned to the nature of a guarantee system, there was some debate about what kind of settlement should be guaranteed, with some participants arguing in favour of a series of individual territorial settlements which deal with Syria, Libya, Yemen etc. separately, while others argued in favour of a comprehensive macro-settlement, a ‘grand bargain’ which covers the whole region - or at least that those conflicts are inextricably interconnected. Over the course of the workshop many participants argued that, as was the case in early seventeenth-century Europe, the range of conflicts and grievances in the Middle East now is too complex and interwoven to be successfully solved with piecemeal negotiations aimed at addressing individual territorial parts of the broader regional crisis. Therefore, what is needed is an inclusive peace congress that draws in all parties to conflict, to negotiate a new security order for the region under regional and international guarantee, as occurred at Westphalia after about 5 years of negotiations, in what was at the time the first multilateral peace congress of its kind. Just as the French had aimed at a ‘universal’ peace treaty for the whole of (Christian) Europe, rather than a particular settlement just for Germany, but had instead received an intermediary, ‘Westphalian’ solution, so one could also aim for a neutralised ‘de-toxified’ Middle East which is taken out of international geopolitical competition, while international rivalry continues elsewhere, just as the Franco-Spanish war continued in Western Europe until 1659.

The Westphalian model of getting negotiations started without allowing continued fighting to derail the peace process was also received positively by participants from the region, with the Astana and Geneva processes already taking on such forms. Some of the participants noted that the negotiators should similarly stay at one location and negotiate until they have thrashed out a settlement, even if this takes months or years as was the case in Münster and Osnabrück. Others agreed that the process itself can over time sort out the ‘end-state’ which is to be aspired to – which is what occurred at Westphalia, where the congress participants did not from the outset share a clear vision of the kind of peace that was to be achieved.


The role of the regional guarantors

 Contrary to early modern theories of international law, which posited that guarantors ought to be powerful and neutral, the solution adopted at Westphalia provided not only for powerful, non-neutral guarantors (France, Sweden, and the Habsburg Emperor), but also weaker non-neutral ones namely the German princes, who had been most severely affected by the war. Many of these formed a unprecedented cross-confessional ‘third party’ united only by a shared desire for peace at almost all cost, which drove the peace process forward in its final phase and which constituted an activist guarantor for peace after the war. Participants at the workshop recognised that local, regional actors themselves need to similarly guarantee their own peace settlement, as they would be most interested in the upholding of its terms and the securing of the peace in their region. There was a general agreement that Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and Egypt would need to form the core of a regional guarantee structure. There was also discussion of the important role that Jordan might have especially in southern Syria, while some argued that Russia should be considered a regional, rather than a global actor. Regarding the role of the regional guarantors, it was argued that they would be tasked with securing the peace especially in light of the anticipated continued existence of numerous militias, ensuring the integrity of existing borders, providing assistance in the rebuilding of more inclusive regimes, and protecting the rights of minorities within states.


The role of international guarantors

Turning to the possible role of international powers such as the US and Russia in a future guarantee system for a Middle Eastern peace settlement, the discussion centred on the question of what would move global powers to take on the responsibilities of guarantors for the peace of the region. Here the parallel with the external guarantee of Westphalia by France and Sweden proved to be instructive. The foreign crowns, particularly France, were aware of the critical importance of the Holy Roman Empire in the European state system and were intent upon preventing the Empire falling under the dominance of the Habsburg Emperor, while also ensuring that he would not provide assistance to Habsburg Spain in its continuing war against France, as stipulated in the peace treaty. France’s external guarantee furthered both of these goals. Similarly, the Middle East today cannot be ignored by global powers not least on account of its geostrategic salience, its oil reserves, and its dangerous capacity as a geopolitical flashpoint. It would be in the interests of the USA and Russia for the Middle East to be taken out of ongoing international rivalry, and to prevent a spill-over effect of conflict in the Middle East spreading beyond the region, just as it was in the interests of the ‘foreign crowns’ to prevent a spill-over effect from central Europe by neutralising the Empire. Although participants recognised that international guarantors were essential to complement the regional ones, the US was argued by some to be less willing to sign up to the commitments of a guarantor than many regional powers would be, despite the greater apparent readiness of President Trump to take risks than his advisors or predecessors. The Westphalian experience shows that self-interested warring parties such as Russia and the USA in the Middle East can take on the mantle of effective guarantors of peace in the post-conflict era if the settlement is calibrated to be mutually acceptable. The Westphalian example also demonstrates that the guarantee can be effective even when guarantors included former enemies (France and the Emperor), just as relations between some of the proposed guarantors today are poor (USA and Iran; USA and Russia). 

The discussion also focussed on the possible role of the EU as a potential guarantor; the spill-over effect (the refugee crisis; Islamic terrorism) of conflict in the Middle East also affects European countries to such an extent that the EU has a genuine self-interest and a stake in a regional settlement, although relatively less so than the neighbours of Syria, Yemen and Libya. However, the reluctance of EU states to engage militarily in the region (the willingness to use force as a last resort being a necessity for a guarantor) would undermine their credibility as a potential guarantor.

There was some disagreement over the necessity of regime change in Syria. Many of the participants from the region in particular (except Iran), insisted that this was a sine qua non of any settlement, while others pointed out that a compromise settlement along Westphalian lines might entail Assad’s retention of governmental powers although under imposition of strict limitations that would need to be guaranteed by outside powers, just as the authority of princes over the confessional rights of their subjects (ius reformandi) were severely limited at Westphalia, limitations to governmental rule which were, crucially, placed under international guarantee and therefore potentially subject to international, collective enforcement. According to a Westphalian solution, therefore, it would be important for guarantors to not only police norms of behaviour between states, but also within states where necessary in pursuance of stability. There was less hostility to the concept of conditional sovereignty implicit therein, than at previous workshops, perhaps due to the recognition that states such as Syria, Iraq and Yemen already lacked sovereignty de facto, if not de jure. Then and now, as argued by some participants, there was and would be a certain hypocrisy in the institution of the guarantee (at least on the part of states such as Saudi Arabia), as the external guarantor upholds and enforces rights in other regions which are being denied under the guarantor’s own domestic arrangements.


Mechanisms and instruments

It was pointed out that the procedure of the guarantee stipulated in the treaties of Westphalia were rather impractical and lengthy. Following a breach of the treaty terms, three years of failed remonstrations, good offices and litigation would first need to pass before a military effort could be launched by the guarantors, either collectively or individually. This unrealistic three-year grace period was perhaps the reason why the guarantee was never implemented in this form, although its deterrent effect remained. One of the elements missing from the Westphalian guarantee was an adjudicating body or instance to determine when a breach of the treaty terms had indeed taken place, and whether the guarantee could therefore be activated. In the contemporary scenario, participants discussed the role that the UN might play in this regard. Several platforms or fora already exist under the UN umbrella, including the International Syria Support Group, the Lausanne Group, and the Astana Group. The UN could help to guarantee a possible hybrid settlement between a UN sponsored peace deal and the creation of separate zones of influence in Syria. While the UN structure had a high degree of legitimacy this to some extent came at the cost of effectiveness.   

The Falklands/Malvinas 35 Years On

last modified Jul 12, 2017 08:45 AM
The Forum on Geopolitics hosts a special seminar on the Falklands/Malvinas.

The Forum on Geopolitics, together with the Centre for Latin American Studies, was pleased to present this special seminar with Professor Federico Lorenz of the Museum of the Malvinas and South Atlantic Island and Dr. Grace Livingstone of the Institute of Latin American Studies at the University of London, and Dr. Charles Jones, Emeritus Reader in International Relations at Wolfson College, as discussant. 

In this retrospective on the Falklands/Malvinas 35 years after the outbreak of conflict. Professor Lorenz offered thoughts on the legacy of the conflict, as well as the contemporary implications of memory in the Falklands/Malvinas. Dr. Livingstone previewed some of the connections between British government and business explored in from her most recent research project. 

Forum on Geopolitics hosts former Catalonian president

last modified Jun 26, 2017 12:46 PM
The Forum on Geopolitics was honoured to host Artur Mas, the 129th president of the Generalitat of Catalonia.



On the 19th of June, President Mas gave a lecture entitled "The geopolitical significance of the Catalan referendum" to the Forum on Geopolitics. He explained some of the tensions between the Catalonian and Spanish government as regards the upcoming referendum, called for 1 October by Catalonia's current president, Carles Puigdemont. Mas was additionally careful to emphasise that the purpose of this referendum was to measure support to pursue independence, and that the finer details of an independent Catalonia would need to be subject to negotiation in the future. 

In discussion with the audience, Mas emphasised that Catalonia greatly valued its relationship with the European Union. He further went on to state that while Catalonia is responsible for nearly one-fifth of Spain's gross domestic product, it receives under 10% of Spain's national budget. This, according to Mas, illustrated that Catalonia could thrive as an independent state. Indeed, Mas expressed hope for Catalonia to become the "Mediterranean Denmark", with robust--yet sustainable-- social support and thriving infrastructure. 

Forum on Geopolitics Triple Bill on Brexit Report

last modified Jun 06, 2017 09:12 AM
The University of Cambridge’s Forum on Geopolitics is pleased to present this report of a series of three events held in May focusing on Brexit as part of its “Britain and Europe” research projects.

The British-European economic relationship after Brexit

 YouGov’s Director of International Projects, Marcus Roberts, opened up this spring’s Triple Bill lecture series by presenting the latest annual results from an ongoing survey collaboration between the Forum and YouGov, tracking British attitudes to the perceived Brexit effect on the UK’s economy and position in the world (the 2016 survey here and the 2017 follow-up here). Roberts suggested that while the Brexit vote ended up as 52/48, post-referendum politics have settled into a less even balance, with the rise of the “Re-Leavers” –  namely those who voted to Remain in the EU but think the government now has a duty to leave. A Tory victory in June, Roberts indicated, would further indicate that many voters now accept the reality of Brexit, at least in principle, despite potential negative consequences. According to the findings, roughly four in ten think Brexit will leave both Britain and Europe worse off economically, and nearly four in ten think Britain will have less influence globally after Brexit. It is, according to Roberts, an example of British resilience and a “just get on with it” attitude. 

In the main billing, a lecture entitled ‘The Cost of No Britain’, Prof. Clemens Fuest of Ifo focused particularly on the trade relationship between Britain and the EU, noting that 44% of British exports go to EU member states such as Germany, France, and the Netherlands. Similarly, 55% of British imports come from the EU. Having highlighted the particularly intertwined nature of trade relationships between Britain and the EU, Prof. Fuest advocated for a ‘deep and comprehensive’ Free Trade Agreement between Britain and the EU, but noted that negotiating such agreements takes anywhere from 3-10 years. As such a timeline does not comport with the two year window stipulated under Article 50, Prof. Fuest expressed hope that the parties might agree to a longer ‘divorce’ period in order to better enable such negotiations. 

Effects on Real GDP
Table generously provided by Professor Fuest and Ifo

Prof. Fuest further outlined four possible Brexit scenarios, highlighting that the two hard Brexit scenarios would mean either (1) that World Trade Organization (WTO) rules would govern relations between the EU and Britain or (2) that relations between Britain and the EU degrade to such an extent that the parties escalate to non-cooperative trade policy instruments provided by the WTO. According to the ifo trade model, all four of these scenarios would leave Britain decidedly worse off than the EU 27, which, as highlighted above in YouGov’s work, the British public appears to understand. Nevertheless, EU states would need to increase their EU contributions or face spending cuts in order to make up for any shortfall caused by Brexit. Cuts in spending would most negatively affect Poland and other countries on the EU’s eastern border. Despite these considerable costs for the EU, Germany and France’s priority of keeping the EU 27 together means, according to Fuest, that they will most likely be willing to contribute more to the EU budget.

Sir Andrew Cook, a major and veteran British industrialist, provided a response that detailed the challenges he had initially faced with EU trade law in particular, noting that he had not initially been a supporter of joining the EU. The EU, noted Cook, had not always provided the legal recourse it had promised businesses. Nevertheless, Cook highlighted that while he had been disappointed with the outcome of the vote, he, too, was sure the British would survive despite Brexit.


Rethinking the European Order in the Age of Trump and Brexit

Former German Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor Joschka Fischer began his lecture by highlighting many of the dramatic changes that distinguish the twentieth century, including astronomical population growth and the changing role of China and India in geopolitics. Fischer stressed that the world outside of Europe may not be interested in Europe’s future, and that Europe is facing a potential decline in relative and absolute influence. Nevertheless, Fischer warned against the dangers of abandoning the EU model and returning to a state-centric model. This state-centric model, argued Fischer, had once forced Britain to the forefront of the fight against Nazism and fascism in Europe, and later Britain, along with the United States, to found the North Atlantic Alliance in order to guarantee European security.

Fisher posited that Brexit was the first of three attacks on Europe, followed by the increasingly isolationist stance of the United States. According to the former Vice Chancellor, President Trump’s stance on NATO serves to further undermine the security guarantees in Europe. The third attack, symbolized by the far-right threat in France’s recent election, was recently stymied. The election of Macron, noted Fischer, helped steer the EU away from complete disaster and created havoc on the continent.

On Britain’s exit, Fischer stated: “We know how to make an omelette out of eggs, what we don’t know is how to make eggs out of an omelette.” The fact that Britain is not a member of the Eurozone means that this process is only slightly less complicated than it might otherwise be. On the neutralization of debt Fischer noted that the question is not if, but instead when and how, as neutralization will be integral to stabilizing the Euro. Should Macron and the European Union fail to take significant steps in this process, the European Union will face a second wave of hyper-nationalist candidates in elections. Fischer cited the conflict in the Balkans, or “the old ghosts of European nationalism”, in order to warn against the potential consequences of such catastrophic destabilization in Europe.

Fischer closed by again highlighting the importance of stabilizing the Euro as well as  investing in European security so as not only to combat growing terrorist threats, but also to prevent Russia from continuing to exert a zone of influence intended to destabilize its neighbors and undermine the EU’s influence.


Brexit and Trump in Light of History and Network Theory  

As with Fischer, Professor Niall Ferguson, a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford, and the Center for European Studies, Harvard, began his presentation also by highlighting change: an increasingly networked world. Ferguson noted that ‘Technoptimists’ such as Twitter co-founder Evan Williams had once believed that the rise of cyberspace would better allow free exchange and ‘automatically’ improve the world. According to Ferguson, such techno-utopianism and cyber-optimism illustrate a general misunderstanding of networks and ignorance of network theory. Network theory, according to Ferguson, has wrongly been relegated to the fringes of most research on politics and political history. This is partly due to the fact that, despite the ubiquity of networks, historians tend instead to focus on hierarchies, leaving the study of networks largely to conspiracy theorists. Hierarchies and networks are often understood as opposites, although Ferguson noted that in reality a hierarchy is a specific type of network, in which a central node controls access to all other nodes in the network. Adding only a few “edges” (links between nodes) can destroy the hierarchical structure of the network.

The Nixon-Ford Network, by Prof. Ferguson
Generously provided by Prof. Ferguson.

 Individuals such as Henry Kissinger (about whom Ferguson has already published one volume, with a second forthcoming) understood the growing importance of networks in the 1970s and positioned themselves as central nodes (or “hubs”) within networks.

Ferguson argued that the increasing importance of networks since the 1970s was not necessarily a function of changes in technology, noting that revolutionary events from the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe in 1989 to the 9/11 attacks of 2001 were carried out with relatively primitive technology. By around 2008, however, new information technology had created a far higher level of interconnectedness than previously possible. The financial crisis, as illustrated by the Bank of England’s chief economist, Andrew Haldane, is best understood as a network “outage”.

Understanding networks—in particular their structure—allows observers of contemporary politics and historians alike better to understand power and understand how to protect or disrupt the structures that institutionalize power. The events of 2016 – notably the British vote for “Brexit” and the election of Donald Trump – are best understood in terms of network effects.



In addition to the speakers, the Forum wishes to extend its thanks to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, the Project for Democratic Union, Gonville and Caius College, and Dr. Anita Bunyan for their support of these events.


Michael Gove gives talk to Forum on Geopolitics

last modified May 12, 2017 12:31 PM
The Forum on Geopolitics hosts Michael Gove
Gove gives a talk at the Alison Richard Building The Forum on Geopolitics was delighted to host Michael Gove in the Department of Politics and International Studies for a talk to an audience of faculty and students entitled "My Vision for Europe after Brexit". Mr. Gove focused particularly on the merits of the nation-state governance model, noting that the dream of a unified Europe was used by autocrats against nascent nationalist movements and creates a political elite that can hamper institutional change. 

Conversely, noted Gove, the model of nation states acknowledges that while empires can bring unity, and a pleasing authority for some, empires cannot provide for institutional change at the same speed as the nation state. The post-WWII European compact sought to ensure a high standard of living to citizens, and in exchange rulers in Europe would be drawn from an open elite. As with other models of empire, the European elite have fallen out of sync with Europe, leading to the sense of alienation that has enabled the rise of extremist parties. 
Prof. Simms in conversation with Michael Gove
The nation state model, argued Gove, forces leaders to be responsible for their electorate. Brexit, argued Gove, will continue to rejuvenate democracy in Britain. The post-Brexit government will be capable and accountable to the British electorate in a way it has not been since 1973. Britain must, noted Gove, continue to respect its commitment to international development and the multilateral institutions that play a role in ensuring its security. Brexit places upon Britain a duty and an obligation not to leave Europe. Brexit was a vote upholding democracy, and not a retreat from it. 


Westphalia for the Middle East Berlin Workshop

last modified May 07, 2017 09:06 PM

The Forum on Geopolitics, in collaboration with the Körber Foundation, held the third workshop of the second phase of its joint project, ‘A Westphalia for the Middle East’, in Berlin on 27-28 April 2017. The project seeks to draw inspiration from the Peace of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years War in 1648, in order to determine new approaches towards conflict-resolution and confessional co-existence in the contemporary Middle East; not by imposing an external model, but rather by trying to encourage a settlement reached by local actors with the help of a toolbox of mechanisms and techniques that proved so effective in addressing analogous geopolitical challenges in the historical experience of the 1640s. Following the previous meetings, in which we elaborated on the elements and nature of a hoped-for regional settlement for the Middle East, the latest workshop was dedicated to discussing the international dimensions to such a settlement. In particular, we assessed the merits of a possible system of regional and international guarantees of the settlement, modelled loosely on the Westphalian guarantor system which contributed significantly to the successful conclusion of a comprehensive peace treaty in 1648, as well as to the long-term safeguarding of the peace. The workshop was attended by over twenty high-profile participants from the Middle East, Europe, the United States, and Russia. Represented among them were politicians, academics, journalists, and senior figures from the UN, the Arab League, the EU, and various NGOs. A full report on the event will be forthcoming in the next two weeks.

Report on Workshop- 'Elements of a Regional Peace Settlement for the Middle East'- Amman, Jordan 22-23 January 2017

last modified Mar 14, 2017 10:46 AM
Report on Workshop- 'Elements of a Regional Peace Settlement for the Middle East'- Amman, Jordan 22-23 January 2017

Sunrise over King Abdullah I Mosque, image credit Andrew Moore

The Forum on Geopolitics of the University of Cambridge and the Körber Foundation are pleased to present this report of the January 2017 workshop 'Elements of a Regional Peace Settlement for the Middle East' held in Amman, Jordan as part of the Westphalia for the Middle East project


Opening Remarks by Prince Faisal Ibn Al Hussein 

The Workshop opened with a statement of welcome from Prince Faisal Ibn Al Hussein, who praised the aims of the Westphalia project, and noted the award of the Westphalia Peace Prize to King Abdullah in October 2016. The Prince emphasised the need for religion to inspire the best motives of humanity, compassion and constructiveness, rather than the worst, of divisiveness and hatred.  He also expressed concern about the uncertainties around the new presidency in the US; especially the possibility of the US embassy moving to Jerusalem.

Opening Presentations

This was followed by a presentation from Michael Axworthy and Patrick Milton which recapped the history of the 30 Years War and the Westphalia Treaty, pointed up some of the key parallels with the present situation in the Middle East, and suggested four main areas for development in the workshop:

  1. The geographical scope of a possible treaty;
  2. The need for parties to the treaty to set out their core security interests openly and transparently;
  3. Measures to harmonise clashing interests (rights of ruled vis a vis rulers, mechanisms for resolution of disputes, regional assembly, provision for guarantor powers); and
  4. The question of which powers could act as guarantors. 

On 23 January His Excellency Dr Fayez Tarawneh (Chief of the Royal Hashemite Court) made a presentation, passing to the participants the best wishes of King Abdullah. In his statement he emphasised the plight of refugees; 1 in 5 of those now living in Jordan were Syrian refugees (along with a larger number of Palestinians who had been there longer). It was necessary to include justice for the Palestinians in any future settlement in the Middle East, on the basis of a 2-state solution; it was a mistake to see the Daesh problem as somehow separate. It was also highly desirable for Egypt to take a greater role. But peaceful resolution was possible just as Westphalia had been possible. In answer to a suggestion from two participants, Dr Tarawneh was cautious about the idea of Jordan hosting a possible new peace initiative; possibly after the forthcoming Arab summit, to be held in Amman in March 2017. Later it was suggested that if Jordan were to do such a thing, the initiative would have to be shared with others.

Session One

Much of the first session focused on the real and perceived security interests of regional states. Saudi Arabia was on the defensive (the comparison was again drawn, as in previous workshops, with Habsburg Austria), following the perceived contraction of US interest in the region. Iran’s stance was based on defensive attitudes derived from the period of the Iran-Iraq war 1980-88, plus the long-standing effects of sanctions and the fear of encirclement by US power projected into the region; but was perceived as aggressive by many of her neighbours. Russian intervention had created an opportunity for Iran, and the two countries had prevailed in Syria; Russia was now a major regional actor. It was sometimes more difficult to change perceptions than to change facts; but it could be possible to make progress if each country could make plain what were and what were not their prime security concerns, tied in to what each considered to be legitimate zones of influence (and non-influence).

It was suggested that for Iran, prime interests were the removal of the US military threat, the establishment of a regional security structure in the Gulf region (including Iraq), and then Afghanistan/Pakistan. As for zones of influence, Iran was primarily concerned with her immediate neighbours; not Yemen or Libya, but Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon, possibly with Lebanon in a somewhat different category. Iran had observed the acceptance – or encouragement - by Arab states of US intervention over the years. Now that IS/Daesh were the most pressing threat, Iran had little confidence that the Arab states could deal with it.  There was also a concern in Iran – both in government and among the people – that Israel was now manipulating Arab states to its own ends.

In parallel, Saudi Arabia’s core interests were suggested as the achievement of regional stability, and removal of the Iranian threat. Yemen, the GCC states, Syria and Jordan were necessary parts of the kingdom’s zone of influence.  But the self-defined interest of Iran should not simply be allowed to override the wishes of the Syrian people. In Iraq, the Saudis had concerns about the direction of Turkish policy but felt central Iraq was more a matter for Turkey. 

For Turkey (whatever ‘romantic’ aspirations had appeared in the past), the prime concern was that no Kurdish state should emerge, whether as such or in de facto form through arrangements for regional autonomy. Later it was suggested that Russia was looking for an exit strategy in Syria (though no Russian participant was present this time): Russia wanted the port at Tartus, and to have a continuing oversight, but for the fighting to be over and a stable settlement in place.

In further discussions, a number of participants noted that the area of conflict between the stated interests of Iran and Saudi Arabia did not seem all that great. Both confirmed that their other interests were more pressing to them than Lebanon or the Palestinian issue, for example (for Iran it was more a question of influence than interest as such). It was noted that the leadership of Hamas had changed direction and (by implication) Iranian involvement had lessened. There was some discussion of Hezbollah in Lebanon; it was suggested that for some in the GCC, there was no difference between Hezbollah and IS/Daesh as non-state actors. Others argued that there was a difference; IS/Daesh were likely to disappear but Hezbollah would stay. One view suggested that events had forced a contraction of Saudi demands; previously they had wanted confederation in Iraq and partition is Syria, but the latter at least was no longer practicable. There was perhaps a parallel with Habsburg acceptance of the abandonment of earlier maximalist demands at Westphalia.

Session Two

In session two, it was argued from the point of view of the GCC states that whatever might be said about interests or perceptions by others, the fears the GCC had about Iran were not just perceptions – they were based on facts. People there believed that Iran was building a new Empire; building its own security at the expense of the security of others, and creating non-state actors to do its bidding.  People in the GCC states would be looking to the new administration in the US to put Iran ‘back in its box’.   From the Iranian point of view, it was necessary to find security solutions within the region, rather than looking to solutions from outside; if external guarantors were needed, the right and legitimate guarantor was the UN. One participant said that it would be necessary for regional states to take responsibility for past mistakes and for the future; over the years it had become tiring to hear regional voices portraying themselves as victims. Others recalled the widespread view in the region that a degree of external involvement was necessary if a peace settlement were to prosper. 

Session Three

In session three, participants were reminded that two essential mechanisms that had brought success at Westphalia were the idea of a universal peace congress (it was vital that such a congress be as inclusive as possible), and the arrangement whereby all contracting parties were guarantors for all articles of the treaties. In addition, prompted by the scepticism from some about the chances of peace in the Middle East now, and the obstacles in the way of it, another suggested that it was perhaps useful to remember that Westphalia had succeeded despite the fact that not all the warring parties were exhausted by the conflict (France and Spain fought on until 1659), despite the fact that the parties certainly did not trust each other (trust was not really established for a generation or more) and the treaty did not even benefit from a ceasefire (fighting continued even while the negotiations were going on).

Discussion turned to the question of norms or principles that could make a starting-point for a possible treaty negotiation. Consensus over common norms in the Middle East was weak; to make peace it would be necessary to create institutions and monitor compliance also – there had to be scepticism as to whether all this was possible (it was to be expected that some parties might sign up to principles and then flout them later, when other pressing interests appeared to override them), but it was necessary to try.  It could be that some of the discussions in the earlier Arms Control and Regional Security (ACRS) forum, in which several of the present participants had also taken part (though no Iranian had taken part), could be of help – before those talks finally broke up, they had produced a list of norms similar to what was being talked about here. One suggestion was to draw up a list of common principles to use as a starting-point, and then to begin work on relatively uncontroversial sub-regional issues; maritime security for example. 

These ideas were addressed mainly toward the rivalry between Iran and the GCC states.  Among the norms listed from the GCC side were – state monopoly on the use of force; non-intervention in other states; counter-terrorism; counter-piracy; combating drug trafficking.  This was complemented later from the Iranian side with the following suggestions for a draft document of principles: mutual respect, including for security interests; the preservation of territorial integrity; peaceful settlement of disputes; arms control and disarmament, and a WMD-free zone; open trade and investment, business; free navigation, free flow of oil. 

Session Four

In the fourth and final session the participants were again reminded of the difficulty of the Westphalia process; the ‘rough wind’ of Westphalia. Some participants there would not sit in the same room as others, and there were some killings in the cities where the talks were held. Crucial was the final push for peace by the ‘third party’ of German princes and cities after the original French initiative lost momentum; the third party were effective not because they were tolerant or secular-minded, but because they prioritised peace above everything else.  The key to success was the mutual guarantee of the treaty provisions by all parties, across state and religious boundaries.

There was some scepticism that Iran for example would be trusted or accepted by other regional states and peoples as a guarantor; but it was pointed out later that the peace process had to create trust, not the other way round; the Westphalia peace had succeeded not because its guarantors had been generally trusted (they were not) but because their concerns were woven into the treaty provisions in such a way as to make it their interest to uphold the peace. Others suggested that Iran’s stronger position in the region had come about not by any Iranian aggression, but through the action of the US and other Western powers, and to some extent, the Arab countries’ own actions or inaction.

From the Iranian point of view, the best way to proceed could be to go for sub-regional settlements; the Palestinian/Israel question on one side, possibly with the US and/or others as guarantors; and on the other side, Saudi Arabia, Iran, the GCC, and Iraq, with the UN Security Council as a guarantor (though others suggested that the UNSC could not operate effectively as a guarantor – hence the attractiveness of an interlocking system of guarantors from the region that were also parties to a treaty, as at Westphalia). Another suggestion was to look at what was happening in Astana. There, Iran, Turkey and Russia had positioned themselves as guarantors for a possible future settlement on Syria – but there were risks if others – the GCC and the US for example - were not involved (others suggested that a durable peace would need to answer the concerns of all in Syria, including the opposition groups). Building on the results of the workshop in Amman, the next workshop to be held in Berlin in April will mainly focus on the role of external actors in a peace settlement for the Middle East.

Donald Trump: The Making of a World View

last modified Jan 27, 2017 12:45 PM
“When Donald Trump enters the White House, he will do so with a worldview that has been constantly advanced and relatively consistently articulated in countless statements over the past three decades. Don't say he didn't warn you.”


On November 8, 2016, Donald Trump won the American presidential election, to the joy of some and the shock of many across the globe. Now that Trump is Commander-in-Chief of the most powerful country on Earth, Americans and non-Americans alike have been left wondering what that means for the world. It has been widely claimed that Trump's foreign policy views are impulsive, inconsistent and that they were improvised on the campaign trail.

Drawing on interviews from as far back as 1980, historians and the Forum on Geopolitics's own Charlie Laderman and Brendan Simms show that this assumption is dangerously false in their new e-book Donald Trump: The Making of a Worldview

Laderman and Simms reveal that Trump has had a consistent position on international trade and America’s alliances since he first flirted with the idea of running for president in the late 1980s. Furthermore, his foreign policy views have deep roots in American history.

Trump will not necessarily enact these positions at once when he is sworn in. Many presidents reverse positions when faced with the responsibility for high office. However, as Henry Kissinger emphasised, there is little time to learn on the job and policymakers will primarily consume the intellectual capital that they bring to the office. This book sketches out the worldview that Trump brings to the Oval Office, assembling the sources so that readers can also form their own view of it. And while Trump has shown remarkable consistency over time, there have been some major policy shifts over the years.

Donald Trump: The Making of a World View will reveal on what basis and under what circumstances Trump changes his mind. For Trump, almost every international problem that has confronted the United States is explained by the idiocy of its leaders. After decades of dismissing America’s leaders as fools and denouncing their diplomacy, Trump now must prove that he can do better.Over the past three decades, he has been laying out in interviews, articles, books and tweets what amounts to a foreign policy philosophy.

This book reveals how the worldview of the 45th President of the United States was formed, what might result if it is applied in policy terms and the potential consequences for the rest of the world.

Series report: "A Westphalia for the Middle East Phase I"

last modified Oct 13, 2016 09:10 AM

Report on Phase One of the seminar series and project “A Westphalia for the Middle East”

Dr. Michael Axworthy (University of Exeter)
Dr. Patrick Milton (Freie Universität Berlin)
Prof. Brendan Simms (University of Cambridge)


  1. Summary of themes and main results  
  2. The Middle Eastern Problem  
  3. The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation  
  4. Crisis and War in early seventeenth-century central Europe and in the current Middle East  
  5. The Peace of Westphalia: peace negotiations at the congress towns of Münster and Osnabrück  
  6. Westphalia: applicable to the Middle East?  
  7. Westphalia’s impact in Central Europe, and the implications for a possible ‘Westphalian’ settlement in the Middle East  
  8. Lessons for the Middle East   
  9. Impact   

1. Summary of themes and main results

‘A Westphalia for the Middle East’ is a project and seminar series convened by Michael Axworthy (Exeter), Brendan Simms (Cambridge), and Patrick Milton (FU Berlin), with financial assistance from the DAAD-Cambridge Research Hub for German Studies, and Institution Quraysh for Law and Policy. It constitutes one of several ‘Laboratories for World Construction’—policy-oriented and collaborative research projects which are run by the University of Cambridge’s new Forum on Geopolitics, established by Prof. Simms in 2015 at the Department of Politics and International Studies. The Laboratories assemble informed multi-disciplinary teams of academics and practitioners with the aim of tackling the most pressing, and seemingly intractable, current international geopolitical challenges through rigorous analysis, deep historical knowledge, and research.

As one such Laboratory, ‘A Westphalia for the Middle East’ investigates how lessons from the experience of confessional and power-political strife in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Central Europe can be used to inform steps toward the resolution of contemporary conflict in the Middle East, given the analogous nature of the conflicts and constellations in both epochs. Specifically, the aim is to determine how seventeenth-century central European conflict-resolution models relating to the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation – chiefly the Peace of Westphalia (1648) which ended the Thirty Years War, and its mechanisms of politico-confessional co-existence – could serve as an inspiration for attempts to solve the geopolitical and sectarian challenges of the contemporary Middle East. A particular concern of the analysis has been to avoid (and refute) the widespread and tenacious myth that Westphalia inaugurated a system of state sovereignty and non-intervention in domestic affairs.

Phase One of the series consisted of four seminars and took place between March and May 2016 at the University of Cambridge, and at King’s College London. The purpose of this phase was to investigate the early modern European experience in depth, in order to extract key insights and questions for Phase Two (planned for 2017), during which the outlines of a Westphalia-inspired peace settlement for the Middle East will be developed in greater detail. The seminars brought together three constituencies which have hitherto operated largely independently of each other: experts on Early Modern German history, specialists on the Middle East, and policy practitioners, in order to create an innovative forum for discussion and to explore and test the application of history laterally and counter-intuitively. Each speaker’s presentation on the Thirty Years War and Westphalia received commentary by a respondent with Middle East expertise. The three seminars focussing on early modern central Europe were preceded by an introductory session identifying the main Middle Eastern problems that need to be addressed. As was the case with the subsequent sessions, each presentation by experts on the Middle East had an assigned early modernist as a commentator. This set-up served to integrate the two parts of the project, constantly stressing the comparative aspects of the analysis.

The speakers demonstrated that far from enshrining a system of independent state sovereignty and non-intervention, the treaties of Westphalia actually increased the scope for appeal from within states to supra-statal legal institutions, and for external intervention in domestic matters, while also securing minority religious rights on a more secure footing. This occurred through the opening up of domestic confessional matters and rights to international scrutiny, and by empowering external guarantors to intervene in defence of stipulations which often dealt with local inhabitants’ liberties. Just as the legal norms established by Westphalia served to dampen conflict, provide means for the settlement of disputes and outlaw violence even, to some extent, when they were breached, so the establishment or re-establishment of similar norms through a treaty, with similar mid-to-long-term effects, must be the aim of a settlement in the contemporary Middle East.  The conflicts leading up to the conclusion of the peace of Westphalia and those affecting the Middle East were found to be broadly analogous; in many cases the closer we examined the detail, more parallels emerged. Therefore the project concept, of using Westphalia not as a blueprint for a new treaty for the Middle East, but rather as a toolbox of potential elements toward a future solution, appeared justified. Objections and challenges from regional experts were met and welcomed: rather than presenting findings, the purpose of the series was to create a space for the exchange of knowledge, and for debate, and to arrive at new insights together. Speakers and commentators included Ronald G. Asch, Ali Ansari, Volker Arnke, Michael Axworthy, John Bew, Philip Bobbitt, Guido Braun, Maria-Elisabeth Brunert, Malik Dahlan, Ralf-Peter Fuchs, Payam Ghalehdar, Martin Jacques, Laura James, Michael Kaiser, Christoph Kampmann, Frank Kleinehagebrock, Raphael Lefevre, Toby Matthiesen, Patrick Milton, Jonathan Powell, Michael Rowe, Mohammad Shabani, Brendan Simms, Andreas Whittam Smith, Gareth Stansfield, Andrew C. Thompson, Anuschka Tischer, David Trim, and Peter H. Wilson.

2. The Middle Eastern Problem

Before diving in to the details of early modern German history to identify which features and mechanisms could be useful for future peace-making in the Middle East, we needed first to set out the nature of the problem, to establish why something like a Westphalian solution is needed, and how it could be applied.

The prime current trauma is plainly the continuing strife in Syria, which draws in both regional actors and powers beyond the region to fight a proxy war, while facilitating the rise of Islamic State/Daesh. But that conflict has linked up with the continuing strife in Iraq, where IS/Daesh have made major gains: it was necessary to recognise that IS/Daesh enjoyed substantial support from some Sunni communities. There is serious fighting elsewhere in the wider region, notably in Yemen and in Libya; the situation in Bahrain is still tense and there is concern that conflict could spill over into other states where the confessional and ethnic balance is delicate, such as Lebanon and Jordan. The long-running dispute between Israel and the Palestinians is still unresolved.  Above and beyond the immediate local conflicts and tensions, the regional rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and the related confessional tension between Sunni and Shia, have become a major factor in fuelling conflict. The confessional disputes, the use of proxies and the way outsiders are drawn into conflict out of a perceived need to protect their own security all echo the historical experience of Europe, and particularly Germany, in the seventeenth century.

It was striking that just as historians debate the role of religion in the conflicts of seventeenth-century Europe, so also, while some analysts argue against religion as the motivating force in contemporary conflict in the Middle East, favouring the influence of underlying geopolitical or economic factors instead, others continue to stress the direct effect of sectarian hostility. Speakers observed that external intervention had lost credibility since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but others pointed out that a Westphalia-style peace conference, or indeed any lasting settlement, was hard to envisage without the facilitating role of external powers. The P5+1 talks with Iran had been a constructive precedent for diplomatic engagement by external powers with the region.

The European-style state system established in the Middle East after the demise of the Ottoman Empire was widely perceived to have broken down, without any adequate replacement having emerged. Participants recognised that the Westphalia myth, in appearing to support a European-based model of independent nation-states, may have contributed to this failure. The agency of local actors should not be overlooked; the tendency to blame outside intervention for all the problems of the region was too prevalent. Although the current crisis in the Middle East was unmanageable in its severity and complexity and had gone beyond the capability of external forces to control it, both too much and too little outside involvement in the region could be detrimental to stability and chances for reconstruction. One of the prime messages of the Westphalia settlement, the success of the concept of conditional sovereignty, is of great relevance and potentially of great benefit in the Middle East context.

3. The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation

The Peace of Westphalia was simultaneously an international peace treaty between the Emperor and the crowns of France and Sweden, along with their respective princely allies at the end of the Thirty Years War, and a fundamental constitutional law for the Holy Roman Empire. Its peace-conserving terms and constitutional mechanisms thus applied first and foremost to the specificities of that polity. For this reason, any discussion of whether, or how, to apply lessons from Westphalia to a contemporary context requires a basic grasp of what kind of an entity the Empire was.  The absence or relative absence in the Middle East of such an overarching legal-political framework was noted at various points during the discussions, though others noted that the region should not be regarded as a blank slate, and that there were traditions and structures that could form a basis for future development.

Despite an unresolved historiographical debate about whether or not the Empire was a state, and if so, what kind of state, most historians now agree on the basics. It was a mixed monarchy in which functions of statehood and sovereignty were shared among complementary levels: 1. The complex hierarchy of hundreds of Imperial Estates (Reichsstände - princely territories or Imperial cities) at the lower level; 2. The ten regional districts (Reichskreise) encompassing several neighbouring Imperial Estates at the intermediary level; and 3. The handful of central Imperial institutions—the Imperial Diet (Reichstag), the supreme Imperial judicial tribunals (Reichshofrat and Reichskammergericht), the Imperial chancery (Reichskanzlei), and the office of the Emperor—at the higher level. At least among the political and social elites of the Empire, there was a strong sense of belonging and of proto-nationhood which developed over the course of a millennium, and in which the recognition of the Emperor’s overlordship was virtually unchallenged for most of the Empire’s long history. The overlordship of the office of the emperorship existed in three capacities: as the head of a political hierarchy of Estates, as the judicial apex of a legal system whereby the Emperor was the highest judge, and as the feudal overlord over all other fief-holders in the Imperial realm.

But the Emperor was by no means an absolute ruler over a centralised monarchy. According to the protean body of treaties, laws and customary practice collectively constituting the Imperial constitution, the numerous constituent parts of the Empire—the Imperial Estates, i.e. territories ruled by princes of varying ranks, or city-councils—possessed considerable prerogatives associated with statehood. These included the ability to conduct individual foreign policies (including the right to wage war, conclude peace and alliances, dispatch embassies), and the right to rule over their subject populations (including the administration of territorial justice and the raising of taxes according to customary practice). The Emperor himself was an Imperial Estate in his hereditary lands of Austria and Bohemia (the Habsburg Monarchy) and was elected by the seven, later nine, highest-ranking Imperial Estates, the prince-electors. The Imperial Estates were the ‘immediate’ subjects of the Emperor (their subjecthood to the Emperor was not mediated through any intervening lord), while the population groups within the Imperial Estates were subjects both of their territorial prince, but also the ‘mediate’ subjects of the Emperor.

4. Crisis and War in early seventeenth-century central Europe and in the current Middle East

The fundamental problem behind the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) was competing visions of constitutional balance, which occurred on two levels: between the prerogatives of the emperor and those of the princes, as well as between the princes (including the Habsburg emperor as an Imperial Estate) and their respective subject populations within their territories. The question of how the confessional divisions caused by the Reformation should be managed and accommodated by the Imperial constitution was related to both of these issues. The speakers highlighted the Imperial-constitutional and confessional, as well as the international dimensions of the crisis which plunged central Europe into three decades of destructive warfare, prolonged and exacerbated by external interventions (Denmark 1625, Sweden 1630, France 1635).

The analogy between the two epochs and periods naturally demands an imaginative leap, in light of the intervening four centuries and contrasting political, socio-cultural and economic contexts. Nevertheless, many of the basic constellations were found to be remarkably similar: the length and intensity of conflict; the staggering complexity of the disputed issues; the importance of internal rebellions escalating into wider conflicts; the sucking in of foreign powers and exporting of instability; the intensity of religious animosity among militants; the multipolarity of the international context; the existence of numerous non-democratic monarchical princely dynasties; the fusion (and confusion) of confessional and political/constitutional matters; the terrible intensity of human suffering; the exploitation of new forms of information technology to exacerbate sectarianism; the fading of a unifying effect of hostility to the Ottomans and to Israel. Participants also discussed the phenomenon of the return of religion as a destabilising factor in both contexts: early seventeenth-century Europe and in recent Middle Eastern history. Despite structural deficiencies (chiefly the ignoring of subjects’ concerns in what was a state-centric solution), the 1555 Religious Peace of Augsburg had established a durable working compromise between Catholic and Lutheran princes (inaugurating the second longest period of peace in German history, surpassed only by 1945—present), but Imperial politics became confessionally confrontational again from late-sixteenth century, as have sectarian relations in the Middle East in the last thirty-or-so years.

The participants recognised the relevance of often contentious historiographical debates among experts on the Thirty Years War to the accuracy and persuasiveness of the Middle East/early modern European parallels. On one side of the debate, the interpretation of the Thirty Years War as not being a religious war, but instead resulting from competing interpretations of the Imperial constitution in which confession was enmeshed with law and politics—an Imperial Civil War—seems to paint a picture less analogous to the Middle East than other interpretations of the Thirty Years War, which stress the role of growing confessional antagonism and polarisation in the road to conflict, and the importance of incremental internationalisation in its perpetuation.

5. The Peace of Westphalia: peace negotiations at the congress towns of Münster and Osnabrück

Having established the broadly analogous nature of conflict preceding the Peace of Westphalia in central Europe and that in the current the Middle East, the main parts of the seminar discussions turned to the nature of Westphalia as a possible inspiration for a future Middle East settlement.

The speakers demonstrated that peace negotiations continued throughout the Thirty Years War, in parallel to hostilities. Although there were several important breaks in the fighting when it seemed as if peace had been achieved (1623-24, 1629-30, 1635), peace-making proved to be a more challenging task than expected, and it took five years of negotiations (1643-48) at the Westphalian congress towns of Münster and Osnabrück for definitive treaties to finally be concluded. A lasting peace was so elusive because there was a repeated failure to engage in effective crisis containment. As the war was fought over competing visions of the chiefly confessional elements of the constitutional balance of the Empire, the Habsburgs’ practice of punishing and dispossessing enemies (both noble subjects in their hereditary lands, and Imperial Estates) as ‘notorious rebels’, created an altered constitutional balance in favour of a more hierarchical, centralised Imperial monarchy. This in turn triggered foreign (Danish, Swedish, and French) interventions by powers who saw the transformation of the Empire into a power potentially capable of power-accretion and -projection as a threat to their own interests (especially given the Emperor’s family alliance with Habsburg Spain). The expropriation and displacement of rebel nobles produced large exile communities around which other Habsburg enemies could rally, and helped to recruit troops for use by the foreign intervening powers. Because systems of regular war financing collapsed from the 1620s, rebel lands and territories needed to be redistributed to allies to ensure their continued assistance. The inability to return these as concessions without losing the means to achieve victory perpetuated conflict. The belligerents fought on not to exterminate the enemy but to achieve an acceptable settlement, which paradoxically made it more difficult to end the war.

The eventual success of the peace negotiations at Westphalia was in no small measure due to the participation of most Imperial Estates, which made it a ‘universal’ (i.e. general, multilateral) congress, and permitted the achievement of a compromise settlement which was satisfactory to all members of the Empire. An all-inclusive congress on this scale was unprecedented and it was the willingness of the participants to explore unknown diplomatic terrain that helped the congress succeed. The role of informal discussion among the envoys and dignitaries in developing more formal structures, and eventually, treaty provisions, was important to the success of Westphalia. Also vital was the late arrival on the scene of a core grouping of princes from both religions who were prepared to compromise and who acted as informal mediators between the emperor and foreign crowns. Such a cross-confessional party was unprecedented and greatly propelled the peace process forward in its final phase. The increased activism of the Imperial princes to the peace process in 1647–48 amounted to an ultimatum to Emperor Ferdinand III (r. 1637–57), forcing him to reach a settlement or risk losing their support entirely. This intervention occurred at a crucial moment when the congress risked complete collapse as it had become clear that the Spanish–French peace accord, which was also being negotiated, would not be achievable at Münster (it was only concluded at the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659). The intervention of this “third party” thus ensured that, although a universal peace accord would be unattainable, peace would be secured in the crucial central European theater of the Empire.

The settlement reached at Westphalia consisted of three main elements: a reformed Imperial constitution; related to this, a revamped religious settlement for the Empire; and an international peace treaty. The peace treaties re-activated the ‘Eternal Territorial Peace’ that had been proclaimed throughout the Empire in 1495. This Eternal Peace, together with the simultaneous establishment of a supreme Imperial judicial tribunal whose jurisdiction extended between and within the Imperial Estates, and at which ruling princes could be convicted, had arranged the Empire as an order of peaceful legality. This order of collective security had outlawed inter-territorial violence and provided for the judicial—as opposed to the military—settlement of conflicts. The Religious Peace of 1555 had been an attempt to integrate the confessional factor into the constitutional framework predicated upon peace and the rule of law. It embodied, for the first time, the recognition of the importance of managing religious coexistence legally and politically within the framework of the Eternal Peace, while bracketing out intractable questions of theological truth. It was this basic framework that was optimised at Westphalia, by extending the protection of the Eternal Peace to Calvinists as a third recognised confession, and by reducing the excessive authority of princes over their subjects in religious matters.  

The participation of the Imperial Estates affected the eventual balance between the Emperor’s and the princes’ prerogatives that was reached with the adjusted constitutional settlement of 1648. According to the compromise, the princes’ ‘territorial superiority’ was enshrined, giving them a degree of political autonomy, as was their right of participating in decisions on major Imperial policy areas, concluding alliances with other Imperial Estates and foreign powers, maintaining armies, waging war and making peace. On the other hand, their alliance-making capacity was limited by the caveat that alliances must not be directed against the Emperor, the Empire or the peace settlement. The princes remained subjects of the Emperor as their feudal and judicial overlord, and the Empire and its supreme courts retained judicial oversight over their territories and jurisdiction within them. The still-widespread view of an ‘Westphalian system’ that supposedly created an order of equal, sovereign states that do not intervene in each other’s domestic affairs is therefore fallacious.

The true diplomatic masterstroke of the peace settlement was its optimised religious constitution, which laid the foundation for an improved ‘juridification’ of sectarian conflict. After long negotiations and numerical haggling, 1624 was selected as the ‘normative year’ according to which the confessional possessions, rights of public (demonstrative) worship, and the confessional status of each territory were frozen. The princes’ ability to impose their faith onto their subjects through the ‘Right of Reformation’ was thereby effectively abolished. Princely conversions (a possible parallel in the Middle East being revolutions) should no longer have consequences for the subject populations’ religious liberties. A graded form of toleration was applied to all adherents of the recognised confessions. The success of the normative year derived from its gradual acceptance, during the 1630s and 40s, as a benchmark for the re-setting of confessional conditions to a mutually agreed, negotiated point in time. It can be rated as a successful peace-seeking effort on the part of electoral Saxony and other Imperially loyal, Lutheran princes. It was an innovative vehicle for the re-establishment of trust, which had been eroded between the confessional groups from the later sixteenth-century.

As an international peace treaty, Westphalia granted the foreign crowns a limited amount of territory from the Empire as ‘compensation’ for their efforts at defending ‘German Freedom’ (princely prerogatives) on behalf of the Imperial Estates. While Sweden, and indirectly France, had also championed Protestant rights at the peace congress, both crowns were frustrated at the tenacious loyalty of the Imperial Estates to its Empire, a factor which scuppered proposals of radical curtailments of the Emperor’s prerogatives and authority. The external guarantee of the peace settlement by France and Sweden was of long-term significance because it provided the crowns with a right to intervene in the Empire, after a certain sequence of steps, in order to defend Westphalian terms and stipulations.

6. Westphalia: applicable to the Middle East?

The relative absence of normative consensus on legitimacy and an overarching political framework in the Middle East was noted as an impediment to a successful implementation of an analogous peace settlement; centuries of co-existence under the feudal-political and legal umbrella of the Empire produced a tenacious sense of belonging despite civil war, and the Imperial constitution was a shared reference system in Germany. These factors explain the continual willingness among most belligerents to countenance peace and contributed to the success of the treaties, which were explicitly conceived as a pax christiana (Christian Peace). The development of a comparable framework in the Middle East merits consideration; indeed the widespread desire in the Middle East for the achievement of a stabilising and pacifying overall structure was noted. The former Ottoman Empire had historically functioned as an overarching order; as had the idea of a unitary territory of Islam, going back to the time of the Abbasids in the eighth and ninth centuries.  The institutions of the United Nations were widely accepted as legitimate across the region.

Despite undeniable contextual contrasts, much can be learned from the successful settlement of a highly complex and challenging set of problems in the 1640s. Given the importance of inclusivity at the Westphalian peace talks, the question of granting a seat at the negotiating table to entities such as IS/Daesh becomes salient. In the Westphalian case, non-state actors such as the Bohemian and Austrian exiles sought representation but were excluded as their participation would have been intolerable to the Habsburgs. Similarly, the Habsburg negotiators successfully exempted (with minor caveats) the Emperor from the duty of respecting subjects’ new Westphalian confessional rights within his own hereditary lands, where the Emperor as a territorial ruler retained a virtually unfettered Right of Reformation. Through a series of such opt-outs and exemptions, as opposed to blanket applicability, similar challenges in the Middle East could possibly be overcome—be they the question of admitting IS/Daesh as a negotiating partner, or the probable unwillingness of the King of Saudi Arabia, like the Emperor in Vienna before him, to countenance legally grounded interferences or interventions in his kingdom.

A graded form of religious toleration of this kind, guaranteeing a minimum level of rights and security for minority groups, yet still recognising a dominant, official confession in most territories, could possibly have a greater chance of general acceptance and therefore practical success in the Middle East, than an attempted blanket imposition of full universal toleration.

In light of the strong mistrust of external intervention among local actors in the Middle East, one would need to consider carefully who the external guarantors of any Middle Eastern settlement should be, so as to ensure success—the importance of the general acceptance of the guarantee among inhabitants of the Reich after 1648 (although less so during the sole rule of Louis XIV) is relevant in this context.

Discussion also centred around the question of whether the negotiation process at Westphalia might serve as a useful model for a Middle East peace process. Mediators played a role at Westphalia, and in the Early Modern period mediating could be seen to bring prestige, whereas a stance of neutrality often had negative connotations. The length of the congress had advantages as well as disadvantages; as military conduct became locked into the peace negotiation. Pre-modern European concepts of honour prescribed the insistence upon achieving an ‘honourable peace’ (pax honesta), and the willingness to continue fighting in pursuit thereof in the hope of achieving one more victory so as to improve one’s bargaining position at the negotiating table, largely accounts for the longevity of the congress.

7. Westphalia’s impact in Central Europe, and the implications for a possible ‘Westphalian’ settlement in the Middle East

A crucial aspect of assessing the success of any peace treaty and its suitability as an inspiration for future settlements, is an examination of its long-term impact. Along with investigating the effects of Westphalia in central Europe over the subsequent century and a half, the participants also discussed the implications for framing a long-term solution to the challenges faced in the contemporary Middle East.

An important aspect of the Peace of Westphalia’s long-term impact was the innovative guarantor system, whereby the settlement and its terms were guaranteed by the signatories: it set up a collective security system encompassing the internal guarantors (Emperor and princes) and the external guarantors (France and Sweden). The external guarantee integrated this system into the broader international order of Early Modern Europe.

The guarantee became most salient when the integrity and the constitutional balance of the Empire was under threat. This threat often emanated from one or more of the guarantors themselves (Emperor/French king). Remaining guarantors would then usually step in and defend the Westphalian order—either out of ideological conviction, or geopolitical self-interest (these considerations often merged). As the Emperor could not be forced to adhere to Imperial law through internal judicial mechanisms, the external guarantee was widely seen among Germans as a necessary complement to the existing structure. This additional level of external control encouraged restraint on the part of both Emperor and princes, deterring obvious breaches of the peace and the law, and incentivising the respect for confessional rights and princely prerogatives extended and confirmed at Westphalia. The guarantor system also proved able to evolve and grow in response to shifting international currents: Sweden’s geopolitical decline over the course of the 18th century made it less capable of exercising the guarantee effectively (although in formal terms it retained that status until the demise of the Empire in 1806), while Russia’s growing power was reflected in its acquisition of the guarantor status in 1779. A guarantor system for the Middle East would need to be similarly flexible in order to adapt to changing circumstances.

In short, the system of a pacific, pacifying, non-expansionary European centre policed by flanking guarantor powers depended on the guarantors’ non-abuse of their position for the advancement of power-political self-interest. Despite abuse of the system (notably by Louis XIV), the norms established by Westphalia exercised a restraining influence; when abuses or breaches took place, they were considered in the light of the provisions of Westphalia, and were judged accordingly.

There was a widespread normative acceptance in the Holy Roman Empire of the principle of outside intervention for the protection of rights/liberties, and a corresponding entrenched tradition of Germans seeking foreign assistance: this, along with the decentralised nature of the Empire, was possibly a pre-condition for an effective external guarantor system, as was the guarantors’ own restraint.

Despite the application of this principle being the most loaded in the context of the Middle East, many participants believed that an analogous external guarantee would need to be central to a future settlement. In order to find appropriate external guarantors for a future Middle Eastern settlement, one would need to establish mechanisms that reflect prevailing power distributions, but that also possess legitimacy. Some suggested that Europe in the Early Modern period had a greater degree of cultural homogeneity than the Middle East now. In that sense Sweden and France as guarantors were not as ‘external’ as the USA and the EU would be to the Middle East, for example. The UN might be the only potential external guarantor with sufficient legitimacy as it contains Middle Eastern representation, although its legitimacy to some extent comes at the cost of effectiveness. For an external guarantee system to be effective it needs to be backed up by military force, even if that force is never used. While the US and the EU might now be reluctant to sign up to a guarantee entailing a potentially military commitment, Saudi Arabia and Iran might be less hesitant; and Turkey might also be willing to take a greater role., In this context one must face the risk of guarantor interventions exacerbating existing tensions on the ground, not least for being perceived to be guided solely by self-interest, as was the case in France’s guarantee under Louis XIV. Therefore, establishing a structure in which guarantors’ perceptions of their interests closely match what is necessary for the maintenance of the structure, is crucial. Interventionism has always been a feature of the Middle East, as in Early Modern Central Europe, and the contribution of the lessons of Westphalia and its guarantee could include the development of a rules-based framework for intervention. In the contemporary Middle East, depending on the case in question, there is often either too much or too little intervention. A failure to intervene can have more disastrous consequences than intervening (migration crises, humanitarian disasters, and the expansion of militant-held territory)

While the external guarantee of Westphalia was important for the longevity of the settlement in central Europe, its internal guarantee was at least as important. In safeguarding the optimised Imperial constitution, the Empire and the princes guaranteed each other in a recalibrated set-up. A central aspect of this was the improved religious constitution, which successfully banished religious war from central Europe from then onwards.

The long-term value of the framework established at Westphalia was that it protected minority rights (of the three main recognised confessions) throughout the Empire. This helped to transform the perception of toleration from a vice to a virtue, and further strengthened a political culture based on the primacy of legality, rejecting the principle that might is right.

Instead of confessional conflict being eradicated, it was transformed into legal processes – another example of the ‘juridification’ of conflict characteristic of the Holy Roman Empire. Litigation became crucial in defusing tensions and turning hot conflict into moderate tension, notably during the German confessional crisis of 1719, which did not result in armed hostilities.

The prince-bishopric (Imperial Estate) of Osnabrück was examined as a case-study where special tailor-made arrangements were devised to ensure successful peaceful cohabitation of the confessions. As a compromise, it was determined that the ruler (who governed for life from the time of his appointment) would alternate between a Catholic elected by the local cathedral chapter, and a Protestant appointed by neighbouring Brunswick-Lüneburg. While confessional disputes continued on the ground, these were largely defused through litigation, negotiations and diplomacy, rather than being settled by force.

From the Middle East perspective this could help provide guidance on how to translate chaos into pluralism through legal and institutional structures – something that is still lacking in the region (although it was noted that there are legal traditions that could serve as a basis,). But we also recognised the risk of institutionalising confessional antagonisms and binaries by embedding them into legal structures. One of the chief triggers of confessional disputes in the post-Westphalian Empire was princely conversions; a phenomenon which is absent in the Middle East. The potentially fruitful application of Osnabrück-style sharing arrangements at the micro-level in the Middle East, such as in Jerusalem, was noted. In fact, such carefully calibrated local-level sharing arrangements that were conducive to confessional co-existence did formerly exist in places such as Syria and Yemen, but have now been swept away.

The existence of two supreme judicial tribunals as high courts of the Holy Roman Empire was a crucial aspect of the defence of the peace terms of Westphalia, and of the juridification of conflict in general. The courts served more as mediators between princes in conflict than as definitive suppliers of verdicts (although this also occurred) – another instance of less formal conflict resolution often working better than formal. By including both Catholics and Protestants among its judges, the courts regained a degree of confidence among both religious groupings (although the latter often complained of bias).

By accepting appeals from subjects who could sue their rulers at the courts, the Imperial judiciary acted as a safety-valve against pent-up popular discontent which could have erupted into Arab Spring-style unrest. The courts helped to maintain the status quo and in particular the conditional sovereignty that limited Imperial princes’ freedom of action in confessional and other matters, by overseeing and policing their conduct, including their treatment of subjects. This recognition that ‘Westphalian sovereignty’ is a myth is important as a belief in the Westphalian myth has a deleterious practical effect on policy-making today. It was also noted that the UN already has a courts system with international competence as well as conflict-resolution mechanisms.

It is sometimes claimed that the heterogeneity of actors in the Middle East undermines the chances of reaching an effective settlement. But the Holy Roman Empire also contained diverse actors. There was a greater degree of normative consensus in the regions affected by the Thirty Years War than in the Middle East now, but the Westphalia treaties were successful in developing that consensus and building norms to a new level that prevented conflict. The success of Westphalia shows what can be achieved if all parties can be brought to focus on mutual confidence-building and norm-establishment.  

8. Lessons for the Middle East

Allowing for a natural range of views, and healthy criticism notwithstanding, the expert participants agreed that the fundamental idea of the project, of history informing ideas for practice in the present, had been validated in this case.

One cannot expect to transport solutions wholesale as blueprints or templates to the present, but the experience of Westphalia shows, importantly, that peace can always be brought about in spite of the complexity, duration and intensity of any conflict.

Achieving peace:

The main lesson derived from the European experience in the 1640s is that an effective settlement should be preceded by a conference or congress in which the main regional actors come together to negotiate a settlement. Participation should be as inclusive as is possible—however, certain disruptive or otherwise unpalatable actors may be excluded (Habsburg rebel exiles; IS/Daesh). Participants must be willing to work flexibly and break new diplomatic ground in order to achieve peace. If they are as yet unwilling to do so in the Middle East, the experience of the Thirty Years War suggests that yet more bloodshed will eventually compel this willingness.

The initiative recognises that a central part of the problem is Saudi/Iranian rivalry. Accordingly, a major part of the initiative, if it is to succeed, must necessitate bringing representatives from both to participate actively and constructively. In this connection, the parallel between Saudi Arabia’s centrality to Sunnism in the contemporary Middle East and the Habsburg emperor’s centrality in the Holy Roman Empire and in the Westphalia settlement, may be useful.

The peace terms:

A new settlement must build on traditional religious, legal and other structures native to the region, just as Westphalia was squarely based on a pre-existing but re-negotiated Imperial constitution.

While there is no desire to impose a European template, application of the underlying principles of Westphalia to the Middle East merits consideration. According to a close reading of the 1648 treaties, this might take the following shape:

  • A limitation of sovereignty for most states/rulers in the region—this would result from giving subjects and citizens the right to appeal to a higher legal authority – some form of court - as was the case in the Holy Roman Empire. Respect for basic rights of religion, property and due process could be enforced collectively or by external guarantors. States would not be obliged to introduce a fully free press, democratic reforms or gender equality (though these could be stipulated as aspirations for the medium term) and existing rulers could be entitled to rule for life. Crucially, though, this prerogative would be conditional upon their respecting subjects’ mutually agreed basic rights, as well as their non-use of military force against other states, or of arbitrary violence or arrest of their own subjects. In the case of transgression, subjects or other rulers could take an offending prince/government to court, and serious or persistent offenders could be deposed from power and replaced, through a collective effort, possibly with the help of the guarantors
  • While the settlement must be palatable to most of the powerful actors in the region, an important lesson from Westphalia is that if it is to work, it must also be guaranteed by external powers. These must be willing to enforce the settlement (including, in extremis, militarily) out of a natural combination of self-interest and conviction. Enforcing a right of intervention for the protection of the peace and its terms might therefore entail a degree of coercion, at least with regard to some of the local actors.
  • A ‘normative year’ for the Middle East – local states and actors identify a mutually agreed point in time to which the rights of public worship and dominant confession would be set. Minority rights would be safeguarded (This might entail, depending on which date is chosen, for example, the return of Sunni, Shia, Christian, Yazidi and other communities that have suffered displacement and/or genocide in Syria and Iraq). No subject/citizen could be legally excluded from civic office on the basis of religion.
  • The normative year provision would also imply the principle that established borders between states in the region would be preserved and upheld as part of the settlement, as was the case at Westphalia.

The seminars of Phase Two (2017) will address the practical political consequences of the fallacious myth of Westphalia in the post-1945 period, before considering in greater detail the features that might form the basis of the internal, and the international dimensions of a new peace settlement for the Middle East. The final seminar will be treaty-drafting exercise in which the main topics (or treaty paragraph headings) of a final peace treaty are identified. 

9. Impact

The main themes and ideas behind the project were set out in an article that appeared in the New Statesman magazine on 21 January 2016, by Michael Axworthy, Brendan Simms and Patrick Milton, entitled ‘Ending the new Thirty Years War’. The project was also mentioned in an interview conducted by Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft/Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung with one of the leading German professors specialising in early modern Germany, Siegrid Westphal, as well as several online blogs and articles.

Officials from of the German Federal Foreign Ministry attended several of the seminars (as did some British officials, and diplomats from European and Middle Eastern embassies in London). The German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier delivered a speech at the Osnabrücker Friedensgespräche on 12 July 2016 during which he endorsed the concept:; he did so again in an article in Foreign Affairs that same month, and in another speech, at the Hamburg ‘Historikertag’ in September. In addition, the convenors were invited to participate as moderators at a workshop at the German Foreign Ministry’s annual Botschafterkonferenz (a conference in Berlin for German ambassadors and senior diplomats, at the end of August 2016) on the themes of the project, in order to present its findings and stimulate new policy ideas.  The concept was also mentioned by King Abdullah of Jordan in his acceptance speech when he was awarded the Westphalia prize in Münster in October 2016.  Phase Two of the project will be undertaken in cooperation with the Hamburg-based Körber Foundation, which will also provide full funding.  

The United States would survive a Trump presidency – but what about the rest of the world? - New Statesman, 7 Oct 2016

last modified Oct 13, 2016 09:15 AM

This article first appeared in the New Statesman, 7 October 2016.

The United States would survive a Trump presidency – but what about the rest of the world?

It would be wrong to hope that either domestic or international checks and balances will constrain Trump abroad. Geopolitically, the result would be unpredictable – at best.

By Brendan Simms

The conventional wisdom about Donald Trump runs something like this. Trump is a buffoon. His solutions to world problems are not policies at all, but merely a set of contrarian reflexes. They will soon be ­exposed in the next televised presidential debate against his rival Hillary Clinton, who put in a strong performance during the first round. He is, critics say, a mere pied piper whose "deplorable" followers suffer from false consciousness about their true economic interest. Trump's election would be a disaster, the argument runs, but his policies will soon prove impracticable.

The conventional view is wrong. Although his personal behaviour is often clownish or boorish, and he has shown astonishing ignorance of some important international issues, Trump has a perfectly coherent world-view and strategy which are rooted in certain established American traditions, even if these are now largely defunct. Most of his followers know exactly what they are voting for and they are right to believe that he will deliver, or at least attempt to do so. As for the idea that a Trump presidency would be a disaster, that is completely wide of the mark. It is actually much worse than most people think. President Trump has the potential to be an unmitigated catastrophe – if not for the United States, then certainly for the rest of the world.

Far from taking a leap in the dark, Trump supporters know that they will be voting for a clearly defined package of domestic and foreign-political measures. With Trump, in ways that are not really true of his predecessors, or of Hillary Clinton, the two spheres cannot be usefully separated. He stands for the protection of American jobs at home, and therefore for a restrictive trade policy abroad. He wants to get tough on terrorism by having recourse to torture, in both the United States and the rest of the world. He wants to increase military spending. He wants to "put America first" and increase investment in schools and infrastructure in the United States, and therefore eschews "nation-building" abroad.

We should not assume that this is just rhetoric. First, because Trump has been saying all this, or much of it, for years in his writings and in off-the cuff statements. He is no mere opportunist. Second, because we know from scholarly analysis of recent campaigns, such as the one carried out by the former White House adviser and political scientist Steven Schrage, that presidential policies often quite closely track those advanced during the campaign. Third, because Trump emerges from the confluence of two long-dormant but now resurgent American political traditions: the blunt, early-19th-century appeal of Andrew Jackson to the "common man" and the protectionist isolationism that produced the Smoot-Hawley tariffs and the Charles Lindbergh of the 1930s.

When contemplating Trump, critics often focus on his domestic consequences. They foresee an empowering of white supremacist discourses and a surge in hate crimes, especially against Muslims. These are reasonable fears, but the threat Trump poses to politics within the United States is probably overstated. There will certainly be an increase in racial tension and other forms of unpleasantness, but American society is resilient, diverse and fundamentally decent, even if some of it is currently trying to prove the opposite. The US is not seriously at risk of lapsing into the kind of populist authoritarianism we see in many other parts of the world. Moreover, the nature of the American constitution is such that Trump will be very constrained in what he can do at home: by Congress, by the courts and various other checks and balances.

There are far fewer impediments, however, to presidential power in foreign policy. As so much of Trump's domestic programme depends on what he does abroad, the rest of the world will be much more exposed to a Trump presidency than the Americans themselves.

Trump's impact on the world will initially be a matter of style. He has shown himself to be misogynistic, vindictive, xenophobic and unafraid to trample on the feelings of veterans or the bereaved. This would be neither here nor there – tastes differ, after all – were it not that Trump's personality will translate internationally into an instinctive rapport with other "outspoken" leaders such as Vladimir Putin in Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey or Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines. In the event of disagreement between them and Trump, we might expect a degree of vituperation on both sides in ways that are not compatible with the long-established dignity of the presidency of the United States.

Style will soon become substance. At best, a Trump presidency will lead to the "Berlusconification" of international politics, which will become extended reality-TV events, at least in so far as they relate to the United States. More seriously, his antics will empower and encourage a coarsening of the discourse between states and about world problems. Here, the contrast with Presidents George W Bush and especially Barack Obama, whatever one thinks of their policies, could not be sharper.

Trump's style will matter in international politics for another reason. First, despite all his rhetoric about deal-making, where his business experience is considerable – and he has sometimes shown a capacity to compromise – he seems to have a very limited and belligerent idea of what constitutes a successful diplomatic negotiation. Rejecting notions of "win-win", Trump views a political "deal" as the imposition of his will on the other side. "In the end," he writes of one successful transaction in his bestselling book The Art of the Deal, "we won by wearing everyone else down." It is therefore no surprise that he cleaves to an essentially mercantilist view of world trade in which, say, Japan's gain is America's loss. Given his severe anger management issues, the great danger is that a clever adversary will get under his skin, provoke outbursts, and either make a laughing stock of the greatest power on Earth or precipitate a confrontation.

Second, Trump favours a particularly intuitive style of decision-making. He has gone on record as saying that people "are surprised by how quickly I make big decisions, but I've learned to trust my instincts and not to overthink things". Of course, it is true that international politics often requires leaders to make speedy decisions, yet it is deeply worrying to think what Trump's instincts will lead to when he has the proverbial finger on the button. This problem has already been commented on by a phalanx of Republican national security experts, none of whom thinks he should be entrusted with the nuclear codes.

No reliance should be placed here on the restraining force of his advisers, or of the bureaucracy in the US state and defence departments. Trump has already signalled that he will not listen. When asked a few months ago to identify those he consulted most often on foreign affairs, he replied: "I'm speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I've said a lot of things." The foreign policy "team" he has produced during the campaign is the weakest and most obscure that anybody has encountered in living memory.


NW Simms.jpg 


The essence of Donald Trump's vision for the world is the revival of American national greatness. He wants to "make America great again". "Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo," he says. His slogan "America First" is an unashamed borrowing from the isolationist platform of the 1920s and 1930s.

By contrast with every single Democratic and Republican president since the Second World War, including George Bush, Jr, Trump rejects the international liberal order. In office, this will be reflected in his opposition to global human rights initiatives, whether that be the banning of torture, or collective action to help Syrian refugees (whom he sees not as victims but as an Islamist national security threat). He will ride roughshod over human rights sensitivities when building his wall with Mexico. On the environment, Trump is likely to abrogate the Paris accord on greenhouse-gas emissions and to press ahead with work on the disputed Keystone oil pipeline between Canada and the US, as well as other projects.

He may well also play fast and loose with the national debt, having suggested that he may not repay it or the interest in full. "I've borrowed knowing that you can pay back with discounts," he explains, adding that "I would borrow knowing that if the economy crashed you could make a deal". But he may find that his ability to bounce back no fewer than four times from business bankruptcy may not be a transferable skill.

The other area in which Trump plans to tear up the international rulebook, and here the parallels with his opposition to gun control are evident, is the field of nuclear non-proliferation. He has repeatedly welcomed the idea of a Saudi, or South Korean, or Japanese nuclear bomb. The thinking is that this will achieve a balance of terror, which will keep the peace better than costly American intervention.

Cumulatively, all this will cause considerable disruption. It will unravel many of the webs of international society carefully woven over the past six decades or so. It may well make the Korean Peninsula or the Gulf even more unsafe. It will certainly make life unpleasant for Mexico. And it will lead to the end of the United States acting as the world's policeman. The US will step up the number of global snatch-squads in the war on terror, certainly, but will cease to exercise a general superintendence over the defence of democracy and human rights. No Iraqs, perhaps, but also no interventions in Bosnia or Kosovo. The worst, however, is yet to come.

At the heart of Trump's revolt against the liberal order, undoubtedly, is economics. Reviving the national economy is essential to his vision of making America great again. Central to that project is a revision of the terms of trade. Trump is convinced that the US is getting a raw deal, not only from its enemies, but also – and most importantly – from its friends. He might well overturn the North American Free Trade Agreement, will probably disavow the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and is most unlikely to go through with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, assuming it is not killed off first on the other side of the Atlantic. He would not be above leaving the World Trade Organisation altogether. Above all, Trump will take on China, which he accuses – with considerable justice – of currency manipulation and sharp practices. At the very least, he will instruct the US ­department of commerce to take cases against China and he may well embark on a full-scale trade war.

If Trump's grand strategy will begin with economics and trade, it will not end there. His measures will unleash their own, essentially geopolitical dynamic. At the moment, the Chinese are contemplating the prospect of a Trump presidency with remarkable insouciance. They seem to regard him as one of their own, a man who will not bother them with human rights sermons, and with whom they can do business. In some ways they are right: he is one of them. That, however, is the problem. Trump shares their ­zero-sum view of the world, and he explicitly intends to prevail at their expense.


Nobody has ever looked inside the "black box" of an all-out trade confrontation between China and the United States. Even if one thinks – as this author does – that some form of reckoning with China is necessary, Trump is surely the man temperamentally least suited to lead it. His strategy may revive American manufacturing, but modern supply chains are such that China is inextricably stitched into the US industrial ecosystem in ways that could defy safe unravelling. Yet one thing is clear: China, which holds a huge chunk of the US federal debt, will bitterly resist any attempt to repudiate it. Moreover, if unplugged from the US market, particularly at a time of falling European demand, China will face vast economic dislocation and consequent internal unrest. One way or the other, the reaction to any such measures by the Americans will be violent, with a countdown to conflict comparable only to the one triggered by Franklin D Roosevelt's decision in 1941 to freeze all Japanese assets in the US and impose an oil embargo on Japan.

Another arena where Trump will give the kaleidoscope an almighty kick is Europe. His hostility to the European Union – the principal instrument of the continental order hitherto strongly supported by the United States – is well documented. This will add yet another problem to the long list already confronting Brussels and the national governments. As if that weren't bad enough, Trump will encourage the European "deplorables": Alternative für Deutschland in Germany, Jobbik in Hungary and the French Front National. His xenophobia and authoritarian personality will chime with them; his protectionism may even resonate on the European left. He will therefore be much less isolated in Europe than many like to think.

Worse still, the example of a wall with Mexico may well inspire similar endeavours in Europe – in the Balkans and the Mediterranean (where some barrier is necessary to defend the external boundary of the Schengen passportless travel zone), but also in central Europe and perhaps even within the core of the EU, thus destroying free movement of people on mainland Europe. The period from 1989 to 2016 may become known as "the interwall era". The walls will go up across Europe and we may not see them brought down again in our lifetime.

But the deadliest threat to European security is Trump's attitude to Nato. He has repeatedly questioned whether the United States should continue to protect Europe, most of which fails to pay its agreed contribution to the common defence. Here – unlike in the cases of South Korea and Japan, which largely pay their way on defence – he has a point. It is negated, however, by his undisguised admiration for Putin, the single greatest threat to the stability of the European order. One of Trump's top military ­advisers, Michael T Flynn, a retired general, is a Russia enthusiast. One of his most trusted former confidants, Paul Manafort, served as a long-term political consultant to the disgraced ex-president of Ukraine and Russian stooge Viktor Yanukovych. One of his few named foreign policy advisers, Carter Page, also has close links to Russia.

Everything points to a President Trump lifting sanctions on Putin before time and recognising Russia's annexation of Crimea. He is also highly likely to undermine the value of Nato's Article 5 guarantee of collective defence, which will place the Baltic and Black Sea states and Poland in the firing line. Yet he seems oblivious to this danger, largely because he does not take Russia seriously in economic terms. It is one of the many failings of his foreign policy, and a surprising one, given his general belligerence, that he
does not take other factors, such as ideology or raw military power, much into account.

Geopolitically, the results of all this are entirely unpredictable and could lead to a different global strategic balance. In effect, Europe will be left on its own to stand against Russia and defend Western values worldwide. Putin may be emboldened to take risks, in Ukraine, in eastern and northern Europe, and elsewhere. On the other hand, he may prefer to explore a strategic partnership with Trump. That will surely begin with a joint effort to support the Assad regime in Syria, and probably develop into an alliance against China. In that case, we will be in a genuinely tripolar or even quadripolar world, in which the relationship between the Russo-American alliance, the British-European confederation and the other Eastern dictatorship, China, will be one of unstable equidistance.


Finally, it would be wrong to hope that either domestic or international checks and balances will constrain Trump abroad. The executive will be bound to obey most of his orders in theory and probably all of them in practice. It is true that the military, the CIA and law-enforcement officers might, as the former National Security Agency and CIA director Michael Hayden has suggested, refuse to follow an "illegal" order. It is also possible that Congress might hold up international trade measures in so far as they relate to treaties. The EU may even be so appalled that it rallies in the face of Trump.

Yet this is wishful thinking. Crucial questions, such as whether to deliver on a Nato Article 5 guarantee in Europe, are matters to be decided by the executive alone, and for good reason. Moreover, Trump will have much of the United States behind him in making his initial foreign policy moves. Demand that the Europeans "pay up" for their own defence? Why not? Beat up on China's protectionism? What's not to like? As for Isis, even Homeland's Peter Quinn thinks that the solution is to "pound Raqqa into a parking lot". It would take superhuman moral and political courage to stop Trump early on. And with Europe, the idea that it will show resolve in the face of an external threat is, sadly, a sign of the triumph of hope over experience. Many Europeans, in fact, will cheer him on. At home and abroad, Trump will the harvest low-hanging fruit first, and then invest the capital gained in riskier enterprises. When he does really overstep the mark, it will be too late.

There is a very thin silver lining in all of this, at least for Britain: Trump is a known enthusiast for the United Kingdom. He has come out strongly against Scottish independence. He will almost certainly favour London over Brussels in trade matters. Above all, with him in the White House, Theresa May will be the only grown-up left among the major military powers of the West. The EU will almost certainly try to compensate for the loss of an interlocutor in Washington by moving closer to London. Britain will probably also benefit from an outflow of American "creatives" after a Trump victory – at least, of those for whom Canada isn't far away enough. Britain may well also attract talent from around the world that would otherwise have gone to Silicon Valley or other centres of innovation in the United States.

In short, President Trump is likely to deliver a severe shock to both the US and the rest of the world. Although at home there are clear limits to what he can achieve, there are far fewer constraints abroad. There is little doubt, therefore, that the Americans, and probably the British, will survive Trump. The question is: will the rest of us?

Brendan Simms is an NS contributing writer. His latest book is "Britain's Europe: a Thousand Years of Conflict and Co-operation" (Allen Lane)


Recent event: 2016's Race to Change the World: How the U.S. Presidential Campaign Can Reshape Global Politics and Foreign Policy

last modified Sep 28, 2016 10:21 AM

On 11 and 12 July, CRASSH, POLIS and the Forum on Geopolitics hosted a major international conference focusing on the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the implications that this will have for future U.S. foreign policy.

The conference took place shortly before the Democratic and Republican Party nominating conventions, and right at the height of a protracted period of post-Brexit uncertainty in British politics. Sessions focused on the global challenges facing the next president, the role that a president can personally play in an international context, and the state of the 2016 campaign itself.

The Forum on Geopolitics chaired a panel on 'Europe and the United States: priorities for cooperative action'.

The discussion was greatly enriched by the central participation of Secretary Madeleine Albright and Congressman Vin Weber in each of the panels across the two days, along with that of a number of key U.S. allies and trading partners.

Speakers included:

  • Madeleine Albright (former U.S. Secretary of State)
  • Vin Weber (Republican Party strategist and former Congressman)
  • Ambassador Peter Ammon (German Ambassador to the United Kingdom)
  • Sir Richard Dearlove (former head of MI6)
  • Sir Malcolm Rifkind (former Defence and Foreign Secretary)
  • Baroness Julie Smith (House of Lords)
  • Prof. Stef Halper (Cambridge)
  • Dr. Nigel Bowles (Oxford)
  • Peter Hill (FCO Director for Strategy)
  • Prof. John Bew (King's College London)
  • Prof. Simon Goldhill (Cambridge)
  • Prof. David Runciman (Cambridge)
  • James Rublin (Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State)

2016's Race to Change the World: How the U.S. Presidential Campaign Can Reshape Global Politics and Foreign Policy

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