Meeting at IFRI (Institut Français des Relations Internationales)

Nov. 6, 2014, Paris

A meeting has taken place at the Institut Français des Relations Internationales, 24 Rue de la Procession, 750740 Paris (France), on Thursday November 6th 2014 from 10:00 to 12:00, between a delegation of the Policy Alternatives Research Institute (PARI) and of IFRI itself. PARI was represented by Professor Hideaki Shiroyama, Professor Hisashi Yoshikawa, and Dr. Roberto Orsi. IFRI was represented by Dr. Françoise Nicolas, Ms. Tatiana Kastoueva-Jean, Dr. Juliette Genevaz, Dr. John Seaman, and Mr. Quentin Boulanger.

After the initial greetings, Dr. Françoise Nicolas, Director of the Center for Asian Studies, has introduced IFRI, its structure and its research activities. Dr. Nicolas defined IFRI as a private think tank conducting independent research on questions of international political and economic affairs. IFRI has no official affiliation to the state and to any ministry. While it receives a subsidy from the Office of the Prime Minister, this only constitutes 20% of its funds, which come for the remaining part from private corporations, strictly under the scheme of sponsorship agreements, in order to secure the independence and neutrality of the institution and of its research activities. IFRI hosts about thirty researchers, and about 50 personnel if the administrative staff is included. There is also a small office in Brussels. IFRI accepts visiting researchers and scholars from partner institutions and can offer internships to students. The think tank is organised in geographical areas (Asia, East Europe and Russia, MENA, Africa etc…) as well as in trans-regional themes: energy, security, space policy, migration and so on. IFRI also manages its own periodical journal, Politique Etrangère, where also external contributions are welcome.

After the initial information exchange about IFRI, several researchers have introduced their current research interests and activities.

Ms. Tatiana Kastoueva-Jean has delivered a detailed presentation on the current crisis in the Ukraine and its actual and future, possible international implications. Ms. Kastoueva has described the crisis as the most serious geopolitical confrontation at least since the end of the Cold War, highlighting that the Russian leadership’s self-perception is one which sees the future of Russia as one of the three future superpowers alongside the US and China. However, Moscow is in reality self-isolated as it fears the US as much as China’s dynamism. Russia is in this particular instance rejecting the post-Cold War European settlement, thus showing the resilience of its essentially nineteenth century (geo-)political culture. The situation is having important consequences for Russia itself, as the confrontation is costly, and alongside with the tightening of Putin’s autocratic power, is leading to a halt of any modernisation process. Indeed, it appears that Moscow’s leadership has abandoned the goal of increasing the living standards of the Russian population in order to pursue geopolitical objectives. Another point of Ms. Kastoueva’s presentation focused on the Ukraine’s transition away from a post-Soviet political system, which is now assuming more Western traits, albeit Kiev’s situation remains uncertain and very precarious (de-Sovietisation). Finally, concerns have been expressed over the high probability of fighting being resumed in the Donbass region. Ms. Kostoueva is pessimistic about an early resolution of the conflict, which may last for very long time, even years. The implications for Europe are many, including a re-formulation of the European approach vis-à-vis Russia, and the restructuring of the European military instruments for the purpose of self-defence.

The ensuing discussion saw a broad agreement about the overall gravity of the crisis and the probable long-lasting struggle around the Ukraine’s separatists regions. On the other hand, the IFRI representatives expressed the view that Russia finds itself in complete isolation, which is not completely in line with the widespread belief (in East Asia) that Russia and China have been considerably strengthening their collaboration.

The second presentation was delivered by Mr. Quentin Boulanger and concerned the energy implications of the geopolitical crisis in the Ukraine. The presentation provided an analysis of the Ukraine’s prospects as transit country, which is however losing such status (and the related revenues) in consequence of the EU and Russia’s policy of energy route diversification. As a well-known fact, the EU is structurally dependent on the import of energy commodities from Russia, particularly natural gas, and the situation may change in the future but only gradually. This change will be conditioned and/or determined in essence by two main trends: on the one hand, Russia’s success or lack thereof in the diversification of its economy, and the broadening of its client portfolio (especially in Asia); on the other, the internal dynamics of production and consumption of the EU, including the diversification away from Russia for political reasons, the expansion of renewable sources, and of coal.

In the successive debate, Mr. Boulanger has also remarked that at the moment the question of nuclear energy is uncontroversial within the EU.

The two presentation exposed above were followed by third one delivered by Dr. Roberto Orsi concerning the PARI, its research activities, and particularly the activities of the Security Studies Unit. Dr. Orsi has described the PARI as a think tank operating within the University of Tokyo, and relying on the massive quantity of expertise available at such institution for the purpose of studying and formulating policy options, particularly in the areas of overlap between technological and social science questions, but also with reference to politics. The Security Studies Unit is especially concerned with the problems of security and international politics both in the East Asian region and globally. It currently runs several research projects, which focus on the Japan-US alliance and nuclear disarmament, as well as on the problem of historical memories and political reconciliation. Dr. Orsi has also described the SSU activities for academic exchange, particularly in the form of events, either designed around single presentations (SSU Forum), or as larger-scale conferences and workshops.

The last presentation was delivered by Professor Hisashi Yoshikawa, who illustrated a project for a sustainable power supply in rural areas of Myanmar. Myanmar has been recently undergoing a political change which allowed the opening up of to the country, rich in natural resources and untapped energy, to foreign investment. Professor Yoshikawa has illustrated in detail the potential of the country alongside with the risks, before explaining the project elaborated by his research unit for the study of electrification of the countryside (where the bulk of Myanmar’s population lives), by means of micro-grids. The project also encompasses the potential for the involvement of neighbouring countries in Myanmar’s development, notably Thailand.

The IFRI representatives have expressed great interest in Professor Yoshikawa’s presentation, its ambitious scope and scientific methodology, as well as several organisational aspects.

Professor Shiroyama has finally illustrated the structure and activity of the PARI, explaining more in detail its funding structure and its nature of think tank focusing on both questions of technology-society interactions, and on political matters.

The representatives of the two institutions have found solid common ground for further future collaboration, which shall develop by means of a more formal and systematic exchange of scholars. In particular, not only individual scholars from IFRI are welcome to deliver talks in the framework of the SSU Forum, but it has been agreed that the organization of a joint workshop with 2-3 scholars from IFRI to take place in Tokyo before the end of March 2015 will be started immediately.

Related Links

Institut Français des Relations Internationales (IFRI)
Security Studies Unit (SSU)
Global Energy Policy and East Asia Research Unit