IR Professor Interview Series: Rick Fawn

In the final IR Professor interview of the Fall semester, the Editor-in-Chief sat down with Senior Lecturer Rick Fawn, who specialises on security and democracy in Central and Eastern Europe.  If you enjoy this interview, be sure to listen to the much longer unedited audio at the bottom of the page.

Image courtesy of Rick Fawn, some rights reserved.

Image courtesy of Rick Fawn, some rights reserved.

FAR: Can you tell us a little bit about your academic background and areas of expertise?

RF: Well, originally I did History, which I think is extremely important for students of international relations. History is a distinctive subject from international relations. I later did a masters in Comparative  Politics, and then a PhD in International Relations. Both through the masters and the PhD, I had a very strong focus in a particular region (of communist rule, in Eastern Europe and East Asia), and that involved continued language study (Russian and Czech). Languages are absolutely fundamental to our understanding and indeed our ability to do research.

FAR: How did you come to be interested in Eastern Europe?

RF: It arose out of a curiosity about how extreme regimes could come about. As a youngster, the communist regimes in Eastern Europe still existed. I began to pursue it as a part of much later studies at university, and then it crystallised into opportunities to work in the region.

FAR: A lot of the countries in Eastern Europe carry on a legacy of anti-Russian sentiments that affect their foreign policies in the present. Is this on-going suspicion justified in your opinion?

RF: First of all, I’m not sure that’s it’s quite right to say that there is a general sense of anti-Russian sentiment. It varies considerably, even from government to government within one country. Second, it is understandable that if there is the sentiment, it exists for very palpable reasons, such as occupation and policies of utter brutality.  In many ways, these countries behave very mercifully toward Russia.  I think there is an element of pronounced concern about Russian behaviour, and that comes from a historical legacy and an appreciation of human rights. The Baltic and Central European countries, for example, were far more aware and more critical of Russia’s two wars in Chechnya.

FAR: Would you say that the accession of the Central and Eastern European countries to the EU has brought more pragmatism to the EU’s policy toward Russia?

RF: Probably the most prevalent feature we see coming out of the post-communist countries in the EU is advocacy for the countries between the EU and Russia. These governments are very proactive in asserting European Union values towards what are now called the Eastern Partnership countries (Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova and the three Caucasus countries).

FAR: Would you say that it is not a coincidence that a Central European country (the Czech Republic) received the Enlargement portfolio in the current EU Commission?

RF: No, it’s probably not.

FAR: What do you perceive are or should be the limits of EU enlargement?

RF: The Western Balkans are getting closer and closer to the European Union. The Western Balkans are very different from the post-Soviet countries, however. Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova have intrinsic challenges that make EU relations very difficult. If there were regime change in Belarus, I believe there would be tremendous overtures to it almost immediately. Ukraine is on a kind of knife edge, it is a cleft country divided about its own views [Editors note: this interview took place before the recent outbreak of protests in the Ukraine]. Moldova is smaller and in some ways more manageable, and I think EU influence there could be quite substantial.  The Caucasus are more complicated, and each country there needs to be treated differently. Georgia is a very Euro-Atlanticist country and clearly wants integration. The principal difficulty there are the two conflicts in Ossetia and Abkhazia.  Armenia was a very likely candidate for a trade agreement at the Vilnius summit, and that has been put in serious jeopardy by the very surprising integration of Armenia into the Moscow-lead customs Unions [Editor’s note: this interview took place before the Vilnius summit, where the trade agreement was indeed not signed].  Azerbaijan is tremendously energy rich, but it seems much less interested in the normative aspects of the Eastern Partnership. Azerbaijan is interested in the trade and technology dimension, but not the whole package.

FAR: Do you think the states in the Caucasus should pursue NATO membership? Is it in their interests, and is it in NATO’s interest to acquire a foothold in that region?

RF: Georgia was extremely keen to join NATO, but the decision was scuttled at the Bucharest summit [in 2008].  I think Georgia remains interested.  I think it would be difficult for NATO to countenance membership of Armenia or Azerbaijan on account of their on-going conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.

FAR: Could you tell us a bit about your current research?

RF: I’ll say something about research which I just finished, which is a large book about conditionality.  A great deal has been said about the conditionality that the EU and NATO imposed on the post-communist countries, but I think the far more intriguing question is what do you do about organisations that do not have the incentives and resources of the EU and NATO, and that have no coercive instruments, and that take in countries that rhetorically say they share the values of the organisation, but in practice do not. It’s a question of how international underdogs can still win.  The book is called International Organisations and Internal Conditionality: Making Norms Matter.

FAR: Now the Sarah Palin question – what news sources do you regularly consult to stay up to date on current events?

RF: There’s actually quite a long list: The New York Times, the BBC website, which I’m fond of but I think is relatively limited in material, the Financial Times which I would absolutely recommend for world coverage.  On a weekly basis, I read The Economist. I think for the number of words printed, The Economist is probably the best value for news and insight.

RD: Have you recently read any good books that you’d recommend to students?

RF: Reading non-academically is extremely important. A book that I’m re-reading is The Castle by Franz Kafka, and it was indirectly recommended to me by a senior foreign ministry official in Central Europe. It’s quite a book, and I’m dreading the fact that the book is not only unfinished, but in fact ends mid-sentence!