Academics know only too well how the new year brings with it the excitement of inspired project ideas; resolutions are determinedly written down and with renewed optimism we convince ourselves that last years’ plans will—this year—be achieved. As the international community holds its breath on what developments in global politics the new year will bring, the authors of this issue turn towards some key aspects of these pressing topics including, but not limited to, US–China trade relations, the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and European Union (EU) trade agreements post-Brexit. Featuring scholarship of pressing relevance, it is with pleasure that we welcome you to the first issue of Volume 32!
Tom Theuns, in the first article of this issue, analyses one of the most important tools employed by the EU in its foreign policy agenda: free trade agreements (FTAs). Modelling his article on an applied political theory approach, Theuns sets out to explore whether the EU’s strategy of using free trade deals as a means of democracy promotion is normatively coherent and normatively legitimate. Focusing on FTAs made by the EU with proximate autocracies, Theuns finds that these agreements are neither normatively coherent nor legitimate in promoting democracy. The article outlines several reforms but suggests that, given that free trade deals empower partners, the EU should by default remain sceptical of securing free trade agreements with autocracies.
The second article in this issue also explores a foreign policy tool, that of development cooperation. Janis van der Westhuizen and Carlos RS Milani study the complex phenomenon faced by second-tier and non-nuclear powers known as the ‘graduation dilemma’. In this dilemma, ‘graduation’ is defined as ‘a historical process of change in international hierarchy’ (3) which produces risks, uncertainty and tension. That is, the objective to deliver development cooperation projects in order to gain international recognition also produces obligations and moral responsibilities that are, in practice, challenging and sometimes best avoided. Turning to case studies of South Africa and Brazil, countries that have been both recipients and providers of development cooperation projects, the authors examine and compare the ‘graduation dilemma’ under the presidencies of Thabo Mbeki (1999–2012) and Lula da Silva (2003–2010), respectively.
Can litigation drive norm transformation? Defne Gönenç asks in the third article of this issue. To explore this question, Gönenç constructs a theoretical framework based on the litigation process of social movements, identifying four mechanisms: legal framing, legal interpretation, precedent setting and public attention. In the article this model is applied to the court proceedings in the Supreme Court of India on the case of the Sardar Sarovar Dam project. Despite strong opposition to building the dam, led by a social movement with global reach, the court, nonetheless, ruled in favour of its construction. Through this case study, Gönenç concludes that the litigation of the Sardar Sarovar Dam did not drive norm transformation. Rather, the impact of litigation on norm transformation depends on both the ‘process of litigation and how litigation mechanisms act in a given case’ (13).
The last article in this issue speaks to a subject of contemporary relevance in international politics, America’s strategy towards Asia. In this article, Michal Kolmaš and Šárka Kolmašová conduct a comparative analysis of this strategy under former US President Barack Obama and current US President Donald Trump. They identify a disconnect between rhetoric and action. Whilst Obama successfully devised a coherent pivot strategy towards Asia, he was unable to translate it into an effective policy with practical consequences. Conversely, President Trump has used belligerent rhetoric, declaring the pivot to Asia to be ineffective, whilst in practice he has continued to pursue many of Obama’s policies. Ultimately, the authors conclude, what unites the two administrations’ strategies towards Asia is that neither has succeeded in fulfilling the original objectives of the US pivot to Asia.
The editorial team at the Cambridge Review of International Affairs is delighted to offer a platform for such varied and innovative scholarship contributing to the fields of international studies and politics. We thank our readers for their interest in the journal and encourage further engagement with each issue through our blog CRIA Views hosted on the University of Cambridge Department of Politics and International Studies’ blog, In the Long Run.