foreign policy

By Gideon Rachman
The sheer triviality of the German election campaign is a tribute to the success of the country. Only a nation that is secure and prosperous could afford to have a political debate that is so focused on the little things of life. “It’s funny,” says one of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s senior advisers, “foreigners want to know what the German election will mean for the Middle East or for the future of Europe. But we are debating ‘veggie day’ and road tolls.”

By Gideon Rachman

Edward Snowden seems like a bright chap. So he will probably have noticed the irony of voicing his complaints about persecution by the US legal system from the confines of Moscow airport. There are few governments in the world that abuse the law, for political purposes, with the ruthlessness and cynicism of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Russia’s role in world politics
Under the second Putin presidency, the Russian government seems to have become even harder to deal with, be it in seeking to forge international agreement on Syria, spy scandals, energy diplomacy, or neighbourhood diplomacy. Charles Clover, Moscow bureau chief, and James Blitz, diplomatic editor, join Gideon Rachman to discuss the best ways to understand the Russian government.

Francois Hollande (R) and Mario Monti in Paris on February 3 (BERTRAND LANGLOIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Mario Monti with Francois Hollande on February 3 (BERTRAND LANGLOIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Italy’s foreign policy has long been founded on supporting its western allies in times of need.

Unlike the French, Italy backed the US invasion of Iraq in 2003; it has troops in Afghanistan and, unlike Germany, it supported – though with some foot-dragging – military intervention in Libya in 2011.

But electoral considerations have trumped solidarity with France over Mali, forcing an embarrassing u-turn.

Mario Monti’s foreign and defence ministers last month pledged logistical help in the form of transport planes and refuelling for the French. “We are beside you, Paris,” newspapers proclaimed. But on Sunday, in Paris, Italy’s technocrat prime minister had to explain to François Hollande that no such support would be forthcoming after all.

Franco Frattini, former foreign minister and member of Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right party, is particularly disappointed, having passed a resolution in parliament on January 22 – with support from members of the centre-left Democrats and the centrist UDC – that backed Italian logistical intervention.

“Because of the election campaign we run the risk of not fulfilling our European duties of solidarity,” Mr Frattini told the FT. Read more

As we begin 2013 in drizzly rain and chill temperatures (at least in the UK), we thought it would be a good time to share our thoughts on some of the best books we read in 2012 to help see you through to spring. The FT Weekend published its Books of the Year before Christmas, but let’s face it, you probably polished that list off over the festive break and are now, like us, desperately scrolling through amazon reviews to find your next tome. Call off the search! Here are some special recommendations from two of our regular bloggers. You’re welcome.

Gideon Rachman: As President Obama reshuffles his foreign affairs team, it makes sense to look back at the record so far. A good place to start would be “Limited Achievements: Obama’s Foreign Policy” by Zaki Laidi (Palgrave Macmillan). It’s a new study by a French scholar, based at Science Po in Paris. The conclusion is in the title, but this is a systematic and thought-provoking examination of the gap between aspiration and achievement in US foreign policy, dealing with all the major topics from the war on terror to the Arab Spring.

Lest this seem like a harsh verdict from France, its worth noting that a similarly cautious verdict is is reached by “Bending History” (Brookings), which came out last year. The muted verdict is notable because this is a study by three scholars at the Brookings Institution – a think-tank that has probably provided more foreign-policy officials to President Obama than any other. Read more

Esther Bintliff

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Way back in June, Gideon offered the books below as his summer recommendations.

We thought it would be worth republishing his list, and also appealing to you, our cherished world blog readers, for additional recommendations as we pass the mid-point of August and move ever nearer (whisper it) to The End Of Summer.

So, what are the best non-fiction books that have kept you awake at night this year (in a good way)? Please let us know:

a) in the comments section below

b) by tweeting @fttheworld, or,

c) by writing on our facebook page, www.facebook.com/ftworldnews

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Gideon’s picks: 

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty, by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, Profile, RRP£25, 464 pages

A much-discussed and influential new study takes on one of the biggest and oldest questions in economics and politics. The authors start in Tahrir Square and reach conclusions that should be comforting to a crisis-hit Europe and an anxious America: sustained prosperity is much harder without strong institutions, nurtured by a democratic society.

Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World, by Ian Bremmer, Portfolio, RRP£14.99, 240 pages

Bremmer, a leading geopolitical analyst, tackles the issue of American global leadership. He argues that changing economics means the US and its key allies are less able to direct and control world affairs, but new powers are not ready to step up. As a result, we are facing a “leadership vacuum” – catchily defined as a “G-Zero world”. Read more

AP Photo/Patrick Kovarik, Pool

AP Photo/Patrick Kovarik, Pool

By Tony Barber in Paris

The temperature of France’s presidential election debate shot up on Thursday night when Nicolas Sarkozy snapped at François Hollande that he was “a little slanderer”. Up to that point, Sarkozy had contented himself with the rather more tame accusation that Hollande was telling lies. But “a little slanderer” – that stood out.

Otherwise, the really striking feature of the debate, I thought, was how little the two candidates had to say about international affairs. Read more