Dec 7 2010

2009-2010 MSc Dissertation Prizewinners announced

The IR Department is pleased to be able to announce the MSc dissertation prizewinners for the 2009-10 session:

MSc International Relations Philip Windsor Dissertation Prize
This was awarded to Robert Hart for his dissertation entitled The new expansion of international society?  The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership through English School Analysis.

Click here to read a summary of Robert Hart’s dissertation

MSc International Political Economy Susan Strange Dissertation Prize
This was jointly awarded to Jessica Schulberg for her dissertation entitled Between Coercion and Discourse: Developing Countries and the Adoption of Elevated Intellectual Property Standards and Nino Landerer for his dissertation entitled The End of Swiss Bank Secrecy? A Case Study on the Domestic Legitimization of International Norms.

Click here to read a summary of Jessica Schulberg’s dissertation

Click here to read a summary of Nino Landerer’s dissertation

MSc International Relations Theory Fred Halliday Dissertation Prize
This was awarded to Leopold N D Von Bulow-Quirk for his dissertation entitled The Fallacy of Progress as Consensus.

Click here to read a summary of Leopold Von Bulow-Quirk’s dissertation


Summary of Robert Hart’s dissertation: The new expansion of international society? The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership through English School Analysis
Bull and Watson’s English School classic The Expansion of International Society depicts the institutions and norms regulating international relations emerging in the early European states-system and emanating to the Ottoman Arab world. Particularly in Europe, those classical institutions of international society are today being modified or displaced by post-Cold War trends towards economic liberalism, regionalisation, multilateralism and human rights. Southern Mediterranean states have often resisted or been alienated from many of these emerging institutions, leading to a new asymmetry in international society. This dissertation uses the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP) between the EU and its southern Mediterranean neighbours as a case study to explore whether the recent development of international norms is being followed by the ‘new’ expansion of international society from the EU to the Arab world.

By pursuing economic, political and socio-cultural initiatives that are strongly influenced by European norms, the EMP is ostensibly well designed to encourage southern Mediterranean states to integrate into these evolving institutions. However, the EMP simultaneously adopts a securitisation agenda that designates the EU’s southern neighbours firmly outside contemporary European international society: the EU pursues economic protectionism as well as liberalism, unilateral assertiveness alongside multilateral diplomacy, and it forfeits its human rights initiatives for its security concerns in the southern Mediterranean. As this analysis of recent Euro-Mediterranean relations tries to show, international society today therefore stands at a cross-roads between the logic of expansion and the logic of exclusion. How this tension is resolved in subsequent Euro-Mediterranean initiatives may give further course for the English School’s recent resurgence in IR theory.
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Summary of Jessica Schulberg’s dissertation

Summary to follow

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Summary of Nino Landerer’s dissertation entitled The End of Swiss Bank Secrecy? A Case Study on the Domestic Legitimization of International Norms.

This paper aims to provide an insight into the mechanisms interacting between conflicting international and domestic norms by analyzing the debates on tax evasion in Switzerland. It is argued that a process of domestic legitimization of an international norm is necessary in order to ensure a country’s long-term commitment to that norm. Domestic legitimization is the evolution from a pre-existing misfit between the domestic and the international norms towards a reinterpretation of the norm at the domestic level that is both in accordance with the international norm and perceived as authentic domestically.

The Swiss case is interesting insofar as a clear misfit between the international and the domestic understanding of tax evasion resulted in a number of reservations made by Switzerland to international agreements. Despite its small size, Switzerland is an important global wealth manager: in 2007, it was the largest manager for private assets, holding $2 trillion (27% market share) in off-shore private banking. When the Swiss government announced in March 2009 that it would withdraw its reservations to the OECD Model Tax Convention, this decision was therefore depicted as an important victory of the OECD and the G20 in their campaign against uncooperative jurisdictions in tax matters and as the end of Swiss bank secrecy.

The withdrawal of the Swiss reservation represents a puzzling change away from a conflicting status quo and raises questions as to the reasons why Switzerland accepted the OECD Convention. The underlying question is whether Swiss politicians felt coerced to withdraw the reservations and hence will try to find new loopholes in the international legal framework in order to privilege the privacy of bank clients over the exchange of information in tax matters, or whether the international norm has indeed persuaded Swiss politicians as to its appropriateness and legitimacy in dealing with tax evasion and is therefore unlikely to be challenged domestically in the future.

The debates in the Swiss parliament highlight both the constraining and constitutive functions of norms, indicating that norms can be analyzed both in a rationalist and a constructivist perspective. Members of parliament (MPs) perceived the Swiss acceptance of the international norm as coerced by the OECD and G20 states. Consequently, a majority of the MPs continues to consider bank secrecy and the right to privacy as more important than the prosecution of tax evading foreign clients. Nevertheless, international pressure has also revived a domestic debate on the legitimacy of tax evasion as a pillar of Swiss financial policy that might lead to long-term reorientation in the future.

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Summary of Leopold N D Von Bulow-Quirk’s dissertation entitled The Fallacy of Progress as Consensus.

The quest for moral progress in International Relations is conflated with the project of finding some form of stable cross-cultural consensus from which moral critique can proceed. Such a consensus will, it is hoped, provide a backdrop against which the inadequacies of the present world order will come into sharper focus, and it will serve as a guiding light for reform in the global arena. This conflation has a corollary. For should progress as consensus fail, the implication is that we must forfeit our ability to critique other societies. Without consensus, it is assumed that we must adopt a position of relativism or argue for an international morality that prioritizes the current order between states over other conceptions of the good. Thus the question of morality in the international is framed in terms of a binary choice: progress as consensus on one side, relativism and the preservation of a conservative order on the other. Moreover, these positions aggravate each other. For, in the light of brutal regimes and economic inequality, relativism and the preservation of order over justice appear wholly inadequate. However, attempts to establish some form of moral consensus are invariably condemned as prioritizing the interests of certain hegemonic groups. Thus, the problem appears to be that we are caught in a bind, where pursuing relativism/conservatism strengthens the case for consensus, and vice versa.

This essay argues that the reason we cannot resolve this dilemma is because the conflation of progress with consensus is fundamentally flawed. Any plausible normative agenda in International Relations must have contestability at its core. The argument proceeds in five sections. Section 1 argues that as knowing subjects, we cannot apprehend the world in a value-neutral way. Discourses are infused with our normative preferences, which legitimize certain ways of being whilst marginalizing others. Therefore our preferences are always at their root contestable. Section 2 shows that attempts to theorize moral progress premise themselves on the ability to find some form of stable consensus from which to proceed. Given the potential for contestation that lies at the core of human social existence, such agreement can only be achieved through the exercise of some form of disciplining power. A viable conceptualization of moral progress in the international must therefore incorporate contestability, not consensus, at its heart. Section 3 argues that William Connolly’s agonistic ethic, whereby we continually contest the practices of others while simultaneously problematizing our own ethical assumptions, does exactly this. Crucially, section 4 demonstrates that the cultivation of agonistic care for life in all its diversity promotes pluralism without descending into nihilistic relativism. Moreover, section 5 argues that the emphasis on contestation in this agonistic ethic takes us far beyond the conservative preservation of order over justice. Thus, in overturning the assumption that progress must rest on stable consensus, Connolly’s work allows us to move beyond the unsatisfactory binary choice that has hampered moral theorizing in International Relations for so long.

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