September 2018

Hope for a New Transatlantic Relationship

An important transformation is occurring in Europe. Whether we call it a move toward “strategic autonomy,” “sovereignty,” or whatever else, it is forging a new trajectory of self-reliance.

Image of US and EU chess pieces on a board

By Adrien Abecassis

Since taking office, Donald Trump—the president of Europe’s greatest ally—has publicly castigated his counterparts in Europe, denounced Europe as being “set up to take advantage of the US,” and characterized the Europeans not as allies but as “foes.” 

The approach of not taking these statements seriously, or downplaying them, did not last very long. To the Europeans, they are serious. For them, the options were always to wait for the Trump storm to pass in the hope of reverting to a “normal” transatlantic relationship once he was out of office, or react and deal with the consequences. Increasingly, Europeans are moving toward the latter.

Growing calls for a “sovereign Europe”

“Europe can no longer entrust its security to the United States alone. It is up to us to assume our responsibilities and to guarantee European security and, thereby, sovereignty,” declared French President Emmanuel Macron in his annual grand speech on foreign policy earlier this month. “And we have only one credible European response: that of our strategic autonomy,” he continued. The French Ministry of Defense echoed him a few days after: “A European defense today is an imperative. We can no longer shelter under the American umbrella.”

A “sovereign Europe” has remained a key theme of Macron’s speeches since his election campaign began. One may say that a French president advocating for greater independence has been nothing new since de Gaulle. But other European leaders have joined Macron. Alluding to the American leadership, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that “the times in which we could totally rely on others are to some extent over. We Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands.” 

That statement caused some stir. Her foreign minister doubled down, suggesting in an opinion piece that after seventy years of depending on the US, Europe should pursue “a new world order” in which Germany, France, and its European partners should seek a “balanced partnership” with Washington. For good measure, he added, “Where the USA crosses the line, we Europeans must form a counterweight—as difficult as that can be,” and advised Europe advance “where America retreats.” Merkel had to downplay the tone by calling this comment a “personal expression.” However, her own spokesman immediately stressed that “the article conveyed much of what constitutes the common stance of the government towards the United States” and that it “presents observations that are preoccupying the government—namely stronger European unity and the question of Europe taking on more responsibility.”

In turn, two weeks ago, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker titled his annual State of the European Union speech, “The Hour of European Sovereignty,” asserting that the “geopolitical situation makes this Europe’s hour: the time for European sovereignty has come. It is time Europe took its destiny into its own hands. It is time Europe developed what I coined Weltpolitikfähigkeit—the capacity to play a role in shaping global affairs. Europe has to become a more sovereign actor in international relations.” Indeed, “strategic autonomy” is itself a goal defined in the last EU Global Strategy for Foreign and Defense Policy.... Read more about Hope for a New Transatlantic Relationship

History’s Apology: Sexuality and the 377 Supreme Court Decision in India

A landmark ruling in India not only decriminalizes same-sex relations but sees them as part of the natural human order. It could put into motion the reevaluation of colonial-era laws that police sexuality across the former British Empire. Professor of Women and Gender Studies Durba Mitra examines the language of the ruling in the context of the realities of being a sexual minority in India.

Cover image and opening preamble of Indian Constitution

By Durba Mitra

“History owes LGBT people an apology.” This was the statement from Justice Indu Malhotra, who, on September 6, with four other judges of the Indian Supreme Court, declared that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (broadly known as the law against sodomy) was unconstitutional. In the days that have followed the judgment, I have wondered what it means for us to demand that history apologize for its wrongs. Indeed, the harms of history appear to be too numerous for a simple apology to the minorities consistently and historically characterized as “unnatural” or “foreign” to India by an increasingly powerful majority. To demand an apology from history for its wrongs against sexual minorities requires that we know and teach the diverse histories of sexuality for India. 

Following an almost two-decade-long legal struggle to change the law, the Supreme Court’s judgment striking down 377 is remarkable. Looking over almost 500 pages of the judgment, one encounters a number of powerful interpretations of the Indian Constitution and the role of the courts in protecting minorities. Several parts of the judgment declare that “constitutional morality” must be held as a higher authority over “social morality.” But what exactly is “constitutional morality”? This phrase is likely to be defined and debated in different interpretations of this ruling in the years to come. According to an initial reading of the judgment, constitutional morality is a set of protected rights that may exceed the bounds of social norms defined by heterosexual sex and marriage. Using the language of the judgment, these rights include 1) privacy and the rights of the individual, especially with regards to consensual sexual behavior, same-sex or heterosexual, 2) the “immutable” sexual identity of LGBTQ peoples, one that is natural and normal, 3) further discussion of the meaning of “formal equality” under the constitution, and 4) the importance of dignity as a right enshrined by the constitution and to be protected by courts for the most vulnerable minorities. The judgment offers a critical apparatus to think not only rights for “sexual minorities,” such as queer, nonbinary, gay, lesbian, and gender-variant and trans people; it also provides a way to return to critical questions about social strictures and endemic issues of sexual violence and discrimination faced by women. It provides a chance to return to the meaning of formal equality under the law in India, more than forty years after Indian women’s movements in the 1970s challenged the bounds of constitutional equality.... Read more about History’s Apology: Sexuality and the 377 Supreme Court Decision in India