Tag: democratic peace

Debating Covert Intervention and the Democratic Peace

One reason that Patrick I stepped down as a permanent contributors to the Duck of Minerva was to develop ISQ Online as a forum for intellectual exchange surrounding International Studies Quarterly pieces.  I think readers of the Duck will find the exchanges there interesting, and so I’ll be using (abusing?) my ‘standing guest’ privileges to call attention to them.

ISQ recently published—on early view—a piece by Michael Poznansky entitled “Stasis or Decay? Reconciling Covert War and the Democratic Peace.” In the final round of review, two of the referees proved very enthusiastic but one still expressed significant reservations. So we offered him the opportunity to have ‘the debate’ in public by authoring a rejoinder. The result, Tarak Barkawi’s “Scientific Decay.”

ISQ Online offers us the opportunity to continue these sorts of exchanges. Hence, we now have a symposium, “An Extended Debate on the Utility of the Democratic Peace Thesis.” In it, Poznanski and Barkawi go another round.

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Classroom Activity: Shared Threat and Delayed Elections

This activity comes after students are to have listened to a lecture (slides) about domestic politics helps us understand variation in the likelihood of international conflict. I focused particularly on whether the spread of democracy explains Europe’s transformation from one of the most violent parts of the world to one of the most peaceful and how the the fear of coups and rebellion in Sub-Saharan Africa helps explain why there have been so few interstate wars there.

I closed out the portion focusing on the democratic peace by discussing how territorial disagreements both promote war and inhibit democracy, thereby creating a spurious correlation between joint democracy and peace (see this recent post of mine).

To help the students see how the nature of the threat a state faces might be related to the constraints placed on the government, which is a key part of that argument, I asked them to play the part of an opposition party that was being asked to allow the government to delay elections in each of two related scenarios.

The correct answer, as a relatively slim majority (?!) of them guessed, was the second scenario. I had expected this to be more straightforward. Among those who offered an explanation for their answer (which many did, though none was required), the correct answer was a clear favorite, and the reasoning was generally well in line with my expectations. But for some reason, a substantial minority still went with the first scenario, for reasons that are not clear to me. Perhaps they were just guessing at random?

At any rate, my hope was that by getting them to more or less reveal through their own behavior a core part of an argument that implies that the correlation between joint democracy and peace is spurious, I might have convinced some of them that there’s something to the alternative argument. I don’t how many of them connected those dots, and I’m fairly sure that no matter how many times I talk about correlation not necessarily implying causation, a good chunk of them will continue to draw invalid inferences when the conclusions fit their priors, but I think some of them got something out of this activity.

What Patterns of Trade Might Tell us About the Democratic Peace

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: it appears that wars between pairs of democracies are relatively rare compared to wars between other pairs of states.  Some people even think this relationship might be causal.

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Podcast No. 2: Phil Arena on Formal Models, Civil Wars, and the Democratic Peace

The second episode of the Duck of Minerva Podcast just went live.

A reminder: I am running the podcast feed on a separate blog. You can subscribe to our podcasts either via that blog’s Feedburner feed or its original atom feed (to do so within iTunes, go to “Advanced” and then choose “Subscribe to Podcast” and paste the feed URL). Individual episodes may be downloaded from the Podcasts tab.

UPDATE: no, the interview is not over an hour long. Most of that is dead space. Fixing now. Note that NBN handles the technical details on the SF podcast, so don’t expect this kind of amateur-hour theatrics on that side of things.

UPDATE 2: should be ok now. If you subscribe through iTunes, you may need to delete the feed and resubscribe.

Why don’t Korea and Japan Align, even though IR says they should?


For awhile I was collecting links and such to make an argument about Korea and Japan working together on big issues like China and NK, or finally clinching the much-discussed but little worked-on FTA. Both the realist and the liberal in me wanted to see two liberal democracies working together in a tough environment with similar structural threats. Initially I had written: “This may be the biggest news of the year if it actualizes: Japan is apparently considering real defense cooperation with SK. If you follow East Asian security, this is a revolution. Try here, here and here.” But this is sorta cheating on social science, right? Looking around for any scrap of data to support an outcome we like, even though it isn’t really happening?

Well, I give up. Instead of more normative, but ultimately speculative, essays on why East Asian states should align, found an Asian Union or Community, build a local alternate to the IMF, forge a common currency, take ASEM seriously, etc., I think we should start asking why Asian states cooperate so badly. (My short answer: they’re too nationalist.)

My students bring integration up all the time. Until the euro crisis got really bad, students used to tell me all the time that Asia needs an EU or coordination against the (much-loathed) IMF. And I’ve read lots of term-papers on this. But the more I look at the most important Asian IO, ASEAN, the more it just doesn’t impress me no matter how much hype it gets (which is a lot out here at the conferences and in business advertising in the media). ASEAN is around 60% of the age of the EU and has done maybe 20% of the integration/cooperation the EU has. I argued in ISR a few years ago that lots of IOs aren’t actually about integration at all, but rather the joint self-defense of weak and/or authoritarian elites (OAU, GCC, SCO). But that still doesn’t explain why Korea and Japan are so distant. And now for an r&r, I’m revisiting Walt’s Origins of Alliances. Balance of threat feels pretty persuasive too, but I think it would struggle with the Korea-Japan case, as would the democratic peace.

So if I had the time, I would write this up as a real journal submission. This case creates trouble for both standard realist and liberal arguments that have underlain my own personal (as well as USPACOM’s) enthusiasm for this alliance-that-refuses-to-be for awhile. I flagged this earlier as a good non-western puzzle for IR that doesn’t really get the attention it deserves, because we don’t know Asian cases very well (Kang is very important on this, IMO). Walt and Doyle tell me this alliance should happen, but Koreans stubbornly refuse to do what social science tells them to. (Cue your orwellian fantasy of intellectuals with their hands on the whip at last to force the world to fit theory.) When I mention idea this at conferences or to my students, I get lots of blasé disinterest.
In short, all three big paradigms of IR broadly seem to suggest that Korea and Japan should be much closer than they are. But Korea just won’t do it, and my sense is the Japanese don’t really want to either. Here’s the basic theoretical run down as I see it:

1. Realism: Korea and Japan face a very similar structural environment. They are geographically in basically the same place facing the same regional security complex. So if states balance power (Waltz), wouldn’t Japan and Korea be cooperating to hedge China, and mildly cooperating to more balance NK? If states balance threats, especially proximate ones with offensive power (Walt), shouldn’t Korea and Japan be pretty publicly aligning against freaky, unpredictable NK, and mildly cooperating to hedge China? But they really aren’t doing any of those things. Sure, they’re on the same side of the table in the NK talks, but there’s no real coordination. Diplomatically, Korea can barely talk to Japan, and Koreans can be downright japanophic if you get them going on Japan’s colonial history here. The Liancourt Rocks and the history issues constantly interrupt. As everyone knows, the US relationship with them is ‘hub-and-spoke’ bilateral rather than NATO-style multilateral. The US would love for them to cooperate, but they don’t. It’s more like Schweller’s ‘underbalancing’ than Walt’s balance of threat, even though Walt should fit here pretty well, no?

2. Liberalism: Shouldn’t two liberal democracies be friends, if not allies? The democratic peace, security community, and other liberal theory broadly tells me that Korea and Japan should be closer than they are. I guess one could say that the democratic peace explains why they don’t fight even though they don’t like each other much. That might actually be a pretty good finding: two otherwise hostile states are able to channel their disputes through conflict-dampening democratic transgovernmentalism. (But even that might be spurious, as one argue that it is the mutual US senior alliance partner that tamps down the conflict, as many would argue is the case between Greece and Turkey too.)

But the more norm-based, neocon, or ‘strong’ versions of the democratic peace anticipate a sense of ‘we-ness’ or community among democracies, like in NATO, or less so, the OAS. A few years ago, there was talk about formalizing a ‘community of democracies’ as sorta like a global NATO of liberal states. But I don’t see this here at all. When we think about the US-Canada relationship or EU relations, we see a reasonable amount of warmth that suggests that ‘we-ness,’ shared concern for the other’s well-being, and an unwillingness to exploit the other. I don’t see here. Korea and Japan are more like ‘frenemies’ than liberals in solidarity. Liberalism and democracy – and all the conflict-reducing things that are supposed to flow from that, like student exchanges, tourism, mutual language learning, lots of Track II interchange – don’t seem to be working. Germany and France managed to do this stuff and build a real alliance, as did the EU generally. But Korea and Japan are more like Greece and Turkey.

3. Constructivism/Culture: Shouldn’t culturally similar states find it easier to cooperate, like the US and Canada? In EJIR, I argued that Confucianism played a role in keeping an east Asian peace before the Opium War. The more time I spend in Asia, the more I think Korea, Japan, and China are more culturally similar than they want to admit. (My students bristle at that one a lot.) And if you look at Korea and Japan, they do in fact share a slew of cultural characteristics from the mundane – eating lots of fish with chopsticks – to the profound – long histories of Confucianism, Buddhism, shamanism, monarchy, social hierarchy, ancestor veneration, etc. (NB: This is one of the reasons why Huntington’s clash of civilizations didn’t go down too well in East Asia. Because he couldn’t very well lump China and Japan together for political reasons, Huntington was forced to parse out Japan as radically different based on Shintoism. This wasn’t really convincing.) Brian Myers argues that this cultural similarity is one the reasons why Japan was able to absorb Korea without too much difficulty.

But this doesn’t seem work either. (So maybe Huntington was right after all?) I find Korean students intensely dislike being compared to Japan and hammer away what Freud would almost certainly call the “narcissism of small differences.” If you didn’t know the differences between kiminos and hanboks, just about everyone here is excited to tell you in great detail.

In short, two states that share a lot of cultural characteristics, structural-geographic conditions, threat perceptions, and domestic institutions and values can’t ally and can barely talk to each other. To give a western example, imagine Canada saying the US was a greater threat to it than the USSR. As a rule, I find Koreans worry far more about Japan than China, or even NK (yes, that’s not an exaggeration outside of the foreign policy set), and there is a far amount of paranoia about Japan lurking beneath the surface. I know Japan less well, but Japanese colleagues I know from conferences tell me similar stories about how many Japanese look down on Koreans and secretly think Japanese empire was good for Korea, because it brought modernity.

So what would be a theoretically progressive way to explain this tough case? The actual empirical issues of territory and history that keep them divided are well-known, but it is important to not just tack them on as a transparent ad hocery, like ‘balance of threat only works when partners haven’t conquered each other in the last 50 years.’ I find this a tough one.

So if you’re a grad student, here’s a paper idea.

Cross-posted on Asian Security Blog.

Constructing the Democratic Peace

Democratic peace theory is featured prominently in the latest issues of two different major IR journals. First, in International Studies Perspectives, Jameson Lee Ungerer tells us that the democratic peace exemplifies in three respects the Lakatosian ideal of a progressive research program, and provides an overview of the research agenda from 1970s to the present. He describes many (though not all) of the key causal arguments claiming to explain the democratic peace, concluding that:

Of all the theories examines, two [are] the most progressive: the economic norms explanation, which proposed contract-intensive markets as a confounding variable that leads to both peace and democracy… and the reverse causality explanation based on the resolultion of territorial disputes… with limited resources available, scholars would be advised to address these areas.

He’s right that the new work by Mousseau on the “capitalist peace” and Gilber and Tir on settled borders and regime type is pretty interesting. But Ungerer’s implication that there’s not much left unexplored among earlier explanations rests on the fact that he declines to discuss constructivist work at all under his review of the “normative explanation.” In fact, it’s still unsettled precisely how this explanation (what Ungerer calls “T2”) works – whether through elite preference construction and international socialization or public restraint. And Ungerer discusses only the portion of the normative explanation that focuses on norm externalization. He omits constructivist scholarship that focuses on shared identity and perception. In fact, too few constructivist accounts exist that take seriously how precisely democratic “states” come to view others as part of a security community, and the jury is certainly out on precisely how this process works to constrain belligerency among democracies.

To examine this further, Jarrod Hayes‘ new article in International Organization explores a single “hard case” in depth. Hayes examines why Nixon and Kissinger were unable to persuasively cast India as a national security threat in the 1971 crisis despite the fact that they very much saw India as a threat. Nonetheless Hayes shows Nixon and Kissinger were limited in their ability to “securitize” the dispute. Hayes argues therefore that it is not elites’ own perceptions of democracies that lead to dyadic peace: it is the way in which they are constrained by the perceptions of their constituents and the cognitive dissonance that arises from appearing to pick fights with members of a putative “in-group.” Hayes’ article is based on a discourse analysis of the contrast between Nixon’s/Kissinger’s private meetings and their public statements about the crisis.

I think Hayes’ piece is a great example of where the DP literature needs to go. We know a lot about the quantitative correlation between regime type and dyadic peace, but to the extent that the “normative explanation provides a causal process for the empirical observation” as Ungerer claims, we need process-tracing of specific militarized disputes to build a qualitative understanding of how this works and why. In emphasizing that this “us-ness” is reproduced through the public imaginary rather than by elites, Hayes’ argument represents a helpful advance.

Yet I think Hayes analysis would also be stronger if he drew more directly on the constructivist emphasis on perceptions (Risse 1995, 30). Arguably, it’s not how democratic countries actually are, but rather how democratic they are perceived to be (apparently by the public in other democracies rather than elites themselves) that constraints elites in those democracies. Hayes’ mentions the constructivist literature on dyadic identities only briefly and almost as an aside on p. 71, but surely his work has a bearing on precisely the dynamic authors like Risse and Williams are describing: the maintenance of a shared sense of “in-group-ness” between democratic dyads. And constructivists would argue this is about perceptions not facts.

How are these perceptions created and sustained? Hayes’ case doesn’t answer this question. In fact Hayes himself skirts it: he writes about “democracies” rather than “perceptions of democracy” as if a certain package of attributes constitutes “shared democratic identity” – rule of law, human rights, a capitalist economy, etc. But if it’s not the attributes themselves but others’ perception of them that matters in social identity analysis, then we need more careful research on how such attributes are conceptualized, measured and communicated and how they take root in the public imaginary to really foreground the analysis he provides.

Indeed, Hayes’ data suggests an interesting way to reconcile the “normative” and “economic norms” explanations: political leaders (Nixon and Kissinger) saw India as a threat primarily because they saw India as possessing different economic norms (a tendency toward socialism and affinity for the USSR) and thus their preference construction, while inconsistent with the “democratic peace” is consistent with the “capitalist peace.” However the “capitalist peace” research agenda hasn’t (yet) been about perceptions or shared identities, but rather domestic-level social processes. Future work in Hayes’ tradition focusing on social identity analysis could clarify whose perceptions matter, and how different perceptions of different pieces of the “liberal identity” manifest and play out in different historical cases. In fact, Hayes is calling for just such a research agenda in his new review essay in EJIR.

I also think we need to give consideration to how much room elites have to maneuver in terms of reconstructing these perceptions in given crises. Clearly, Nixon and Kissinger were not effective at doing so, but based on the data Hayes’ presents, they also didn’t really try. The diplomatic record suggests they were constrained by the understanding of the public’s understanding of Pakistan and of India despite their own perceptions and preferences. But Hayes’ analysis doesn’t suggest that they gave much thought to how they might re-frame these understandings to pursue their own interess. This might mean that elites don’t really have the ability to do so; but it might also simply mean that these two particular actors simply weren’t as clever at wielding soft power as they were at blustering around angrily behind the scenes. To examine this further, we need a different kind of “hard case” – a case where public figures are actually good at this and made an effort at it, and failed anyway.

The Constructivist Peace: Shared Norms and Pacific Relations Among Human Rights Abusers

Timothy Peterson and Leah Graham recently published a study in the Journal of Conflict Resolution showing that, after you control for the democratic peace, similarities in human rights performance have an important effect on any two countries’ likelihood to go to war. The interesting caveat is that this finding holds true for states that abuse their citizens as well as those that don’t:

Although mutual norms of domestic non-violence are more pacifying than mutual disregard thereof, the authors argue that a wide disparity in norms is more aggravating than shared norms… that norm asymmetry is aggravating provides evidence for an “‘abusers’ peace…” Our results suggest the possibility for conflicts arising between newly democratic, human rights-supporting states and their more oppressive, authoritarian neighbors… It may be that installing an “outpost of democracy” within an authoritarian region and enforcing improved respsect for human rights on the domestic population will lead to increased regional violence.

Peterson and Graham are building on two earlier studies augmenting the democratic peace thesis by exploring the specific impact of human rights performance on war. IR scholars have long noted that democratic states almost never fight one another, but there is much debate over why. Although IR liberals have long treated “ideological commitment to human rights” as one of several “pillars” or indicators of the liberal peace, Mary Caprioli and Peter Trumdore showed that human rights performance alone is actually a good predictor of interstate violence even controlling for regime type. A separate study by David Sobek, M. Rodwan Abouharb and Christopher Ingram demonstrated that states with good human rights records, were more peaceful with one another regardless of democracy. Peterson and Graham’s study extends this finding in one more direction, arguing it is indeed dyadic norms that matter, but that there exists an “abusers’ peace” as well as a “human rights peace.”

The findings themselves should be critically analyzed and replicated further: among other problems they all rely on different and imperfect indicators of human rights performance (for a critique of quantitative data-sets on human rights see this article). However as a whole this line of research suggests two modest challenges to democratic peace theory.

First, it suggests that democratic institutions per se may be far less important in mitigating interstate war than a cluster of human rights norms that can include but are not limited to the “empowerment rights” associated with democracy. Second, it suggests that the causal mechanism translating adherence to these norms into pacific relations is not liberal but rather constructivist: a set of shared identities that can constitute shared interests among human rights abusers as well as champions, lessening the likelihood of violent conflicts. And at the level of policy, these studies do indeed encourage an emphasis on diffusing norms within neighborhoods rather than changing the regimes of specific states, if the goal is to achieve both rights and security.

Bad Predator?

Peter Singer has an op-ed in the Times which carefully makes the case against drones by carefully putting forth the proposition that their use undermines democracy:

What troubles me, though, is how a new technology is short-circuiting the decision-making process for what used to be the most important choice a democracy could make… We must now accept that technologies that remove humans from the battlefield, from unmanned systems like the Predator to cyberweapons like the Stuxnet computer worm, are becoming the new normal in war. And like it or not, the new standard we’ve established for them is that presidents need to seek approval only for operations that send people into harm’s way — not for those that involve waging war by other means… WITHOUT any actual political debate, we have set an enormous precedent, blurring the civilian and military roles in war and circumventing the Constitution’s mandate for authorizing it.

Well, as least this is a better argument than the other barbs against drones – the ones that focus on the weapons themselves as somehow uniquely offensive in terms of war law. (Last year, Lina Shakhouni and I bombed that set of arguments back to the stone age.)

But Singer narrows in on a different thread in this debate: that certain weapons are a game-changer not because they are useful, but because of how the conditions under which they are used affect our sense of how war is to be conducted, what it is, and who decides. It’s an interesting set of arguments.

But is it any better in terms of the causal claims on which it rests? Dissenting views are rolling in. The Atlantic’s Joshua Foust writes:

We should be criticizing Congress, not remote-controlled airplanes, for limitless militarism. Congress ceding all authority on lethal operations to the president is indeed a grave threat to democracy, but drones are only one tool the president uses to kill people. The bigger problem is that he was given the authority to do that.

Indeed, at Wings Over Iraq, Starbuck points out that the argument is older than the weapons system – the claim that remote-control weaponry facilitated devil-may-care foreign policy is at least as old as the Tomahawk Missile:

Though much ink has been spilled on “drone ethics“, these strikes are little removed from 1990s-era “Tomahawk diplomacy”. Though modern drones can loiter over the battlefield for hours–even days–at a time, and can hit small, mobile targets, they’re just another precision stand-off weapon. P.W. Singer’s op-ed might specifically target drones, he’s making a broader point that standoff weapons–missiles, drones, even computer viruses–might make warfare more common in the 21st Century.

As I’ve already written, I agree with Foust and Burke that “drones” are not problems in themselves but have become a synechdoche for a broader tension between the current security environment and the legal frameworks through which we’re accustomed to thinking about and legitimizing war. And I also agree with Singer that that tension is genuine and needs to be addressed (for example, by updating the War Power Act – something within Congressional control).

But is this mismatch between norms and policy bringing about the specific political outcomes he (and others) claim – especially the idea that drones cause a democratic deficit? As a social scientist I remain unconvinced, and want to see more than rhetorical arguments. In fact besides the claim Burke identifies above, I think Singer posits a number of additional causal claims about the political impact of stand-off weapons in his piece, all plausible but insufficiently backed up. He also posits some perhaps unsustainable claims about the relationship of democracy to war (though one might hope that democracy might stand on its own as a value to be preserved)… and especially, I think it’s a little fuzzy in his argument what aspect of “democracy” is really most at stake here and why.

Let’s think through the claims, and I’ll return in future posts to assessing them:

1) Proposition #1: Stand-off weapons make armed conflict easier and therefore likelier. For one thing this is a different dependent variable – war may be a public bad, but more more war doesn’t by itself undermine democracy. Also, I want someone to show me that on balance the number of militarized interstate disputes is increasing as a result of stand-off technologies, or that countries with access to these technologies are likelier to be involved in MIDs, controlling for other factors.

2) Proposition #2: Stand-off weapons are likelier to be used in ways that lead to a blurring of civilian/military roles. Civilian supremacy is a cornerstone of democracy as we know it, and certainly there has been some fudging of the civ-mil divide in recent decades, and certainly the use of CIA drone operatives is a good example of that, but can the blame really be rested at the doorstep of these weapon systems? And how would we know? Among other things, Singer’s own earlier writing on private military firms suggests this problem is not limited to stand-off weaponry…

3) Proposition #3: The availability of stand-off weapons increases the likelihood that democratic leaders will circumvent democratic deliberation about the use of armed force. It does seem to be happening in this case, but again is the technology causing this problem or simply making an old trend especially obvious?

4) Proposition #4: Democratic deliberation reduces the likelihood of militarized interstate disputes. Again, please, let’s treat this as a hypothesis rather than an assumption. I will have more to say about how convincing it is after I revisit the more recent democratic peace literature with my doctoral students this term but my sense as a political scientist is that this was always simplistic at best and has been problematized further by some new studies.

5) Proposition #5: Citizens’ and policymakers’ estimate of physical risk from war to the nation’s own citizens is a moderating influence over war initiation decisions. Makes intuitive sense, but I know too much about the strategies nations use to trick citizens into war to take this at face value. How true is this proposition in broad terms? If I wanted to find out, I’d probably look to compare democracies that did and did not have a conscription policy to find out whether institutionalized risks of war to citizens lead countries to be more risk-prone internationally, other things being equal. But I find myself doubting it, since historically war has declined along with conscription as a practice, so I wonder how this is presumed to work…

Point is, none of these propositions are obviously true or uncontroversial. I expect to explore several of them in more detail on the basis of the empirical studies I dig up in the next weeks. Readers: can you suggest sources, studies or other ways of testing these hypotheses to guide me as I dig? Or other testable propositions underlying the drone debate?

Olympic Dreams

The 2008 Summer Olympic games kicked off today in Beijing, on the same day as Russia and Georgia go to war. Correlation? Causation?

John Hoberman’s “Think Again” article in the most recent issue of Foreign Policy would have us believe that the Olympics are not only irrelevant to, but actually bad for world order and international cooperation:

“The real genius of the IOC is its ability to create and sustain the myth that it promotes peace. In reality… trapped by its grandiose goal of embracing the entire ‘human family’ at whatever cost, the IOC has repeatedly caved in and awarded the games to police states bent on staging spectacular festivals that serve only to reinforce their own authority.”

I am no expert on the IOC’s history or on any large-N studies that may or may not confirm Hoberman’s claim that the Olympics have a negative or at best zero effect on the frequency or intensity of interstate war. But I am able to see an important conceptual problem in Hoberman’s argument: he treats “internal human rights” as synonymous with “interstate peace.” For example, the first sentence of his abstract begins with the foil: “The Olympic Games were founded to bridge cultural divides and promote peace.” But the article primarily refers to the internal human rights abuses of certain Olympic-hosting states as evidence that this goal has not been met by the IOC. Hoberman derides the IOC’s official policy of political neutrality and Olympic diplomacy as an “old cliche”:

“What the Olympics promote instead is a form of amoral universalism in which all countries are entitled to take part in the games no matter how barbaric their leaders may be.”

But it is precisely this amoral universalism that has the capacity to promote peace – among, not within, countries. It is no different from the political neutrality espoused by humanitarian organizations who, like the IOC, lack coercive instruments and instead peddle universal norms; or by the United Nations, an organization founded on the sovereign equality of states moreso than on a commitment to clean up their internal politics. In fact, the tension between these two noble goals – international stability between states, and human rights within them – underlies many of the key debates about UN reform today. Hoberman treats these two goals as if they are the same and can be conflated, when in fact, achieving one often depends on undermining the other.

Do the Olympics promote human rights? I’ll buy his argument that they can legitimize offending governments. But does the IOC claim to be a human rights organization? No. Its avowed goal of “acting as a catalyst for collaboration between all members of the Olympic Family” does in fact, perhaps, sometimes depend on looking the other way when it comes to internal repression by governments who think of themselves as family members.

Bhutto–one more thing….

I was listening to the International Hour of the Diane Rehm Show Weekly News Round-Up on podcast while jogging yesterday, and I heard David Ignatius (as noted previously, a friend of Bhutto’s from their Harvard days…) make an interesting point.

He said that we in the US tended to see Bhutto as the future of democracy in Pakistan in large part because she seemed like one of us. Educated at Harvard, fully conversant in Western culture, history, and politics, darling of the media and political establishment, she charmed nearly everyone in Washington she met. But, in practice, she was not all that democratic. She was yet another example of dynasty politics, coming from a great feudal family of Pakistan. She had named herself chairperson of the PPP for life, and was dogged by corruption scandals from both her terms as PM.

His remarks reminded me of the continuing importance of Ido Oren’s critique of the Democratic Peace theory.
Oren concluded that:

The claim that democracies do not fight one another is not about democracies per se; it is better understood as a claim about peace among countries conforming to a subjective ideal that is cast, not surprisingly, in America’s self-image. Democracy is “our kind,” and the coding rules by which it is defined are but the unconscious representations of current American political values. These values are elastic over time, and their historical change is influenced by America’s changing international circumstances. The normative standards embodied in the present definition of democracy were selected by a subtle historical process whereby standards by which America resembled its adversaries have been excluded, while those that maximized the distance between America and its rivals have become privileged. In the process, not only has the perception of friends and adversaries changed, but so has America’s own self-perception. Democracy, therefore, is not a determinant as much as a product of America’s foreign relations. The reason we appear not to fight “our kind” is not that objective likeness substantially affects war propensity, but rather that we subtly redefine “our kind.”

Bhutto was “our kind” in Pakistan.

Concert of democracies: The liberal internationalist case

Ivo Daalder’s and Robert Kagan’s “Concert of Democracies” opinion-editorial has been generating waves of derision from the left coast of blogland.

I’ve already argued that Kagan’s ‘Cold War II’ outlook on the liberal-authoritarian divide amounts to a self-fulfilling prophecy–although the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s activities suggest that we’re already heading in that general direction. So I’m certainly not going to defend every aspect of the proposal. But I have been a bit frustrated with some of the criticisms coming from the left. In brief, while Kagan’s case for a Concert of Democracies certainly stems from neoconservative ideology, or what I’ve termed “Exceptionalist Internationalism”, there is an “Exemplarist Internationalist” case for a Concert of Democracies. Consider the Princeton Project on National Security’s endorsement of the Concert of Democracies idea (PDF):

While pushing for reform of the United Nations and other major global institutions, the United States should work with its friends and allies to develop a global “Concert of Democracies” – a new institution designed to strengthen security cooperation among the world’s liberal democracies. This Concert would institutionalize and ratify the “democratic peace.” If the United Nations cannot be reformed, the Concert would provide an alternative forum for liberal democracies to authorize collective action, including the use of force, by a supermajority vote. Its membership would be selective, but self-selected.

Members would have to pledge not to use or plan to use force against one another; commit to holding multiparty, free-and-fair elections at regular intervals; guarantee civil and political rights for their citizens enforceable by an independentjudiciary; and accept the responsibility to protect.


Neither America nor the world can wait forever for U.N. reform, no matter how desirable it is. The United States must take the lead and invest the time, energy, and resources to accomplish significant reform, on the principle of “mend it, don’t end it.” At the same time, however, we should work with our allies to develop a new global institution dedicated to the principles underpinning liberal democracy, both as a vehicle to spur and support the reform of the United Nations and other global institutions and as a possible alternative to them.

This alternative body would be a global “Concert of Democracies.” Its purpose would be to strengthen security cooperation among the world’s liberal democracies and to provide a framework in which they can work together to effectively tackle common challenges – ideally within existing regional and global institutions, but if those institutions fail, then independently, functioning as a focal point for efforts to strengthen liberty under law around the world. It would also serve as the institutional embodiment and ratification of the “democratic peace.”

This is basically a proposal for Kant’s “League of Nations.” Note that the Concert of Democracies proposal is intended, in this context, to accomplish a number of things:

First, to put pressure on the UN to abandon the Security Council veto and implement other reforms. The Concert of Democracies functions as a graduated exit option for the US and other democratic states.

Second, to provide a more robust constitutional order to bind the US to strategic restraint and provide enhanced voice opportunities for other powers. In theory, at least, a Concert of Democracies would be more difficult for US policymakers to ignore; a supra-majority system would make it more attractive to small powers and also diminish the ability of the US to revert to Bush-style unilateralism, e.g., adventures like Iraq.

Third, to increase the prestige and benefits of democratization in world politics.

I’m not endorsing a Concert of Democracies. My point is merely this: arguing for a Concert of Democracies does not require endorsing neoconservative foreign-policy principles.

UPDATE: James Poulus has a good–and critical–discussion of the issues raised here.

Image source: Freedom House

Bribery Redux

Peter Howard has some interesting comments on my post on bribing North Korea. Peter plugs his International Studies Quarterly article, “Why Not Invade North Korea? Threats, Language Games, and U.S. Foreign Policy”. As Peter knows, I believe he downplays the importance of military constraints. Attacking North Korea is a far more dangerous undertaking than attacking Iraq was. The US may have become “discursive entangled” into negotiating with North Korea, but the differing military capabilities of the two states explains a lot about why the Bush administration made the calculation that attacking Iraq was feasible, but has (so far) shied away from a military confrontation with North Korea. Indeed, similar factors should lead us to view rumors of an imminent US attack on Iran with a great deal of skepticism.1

Peter raises an important point when he writes, “what is at stake here, I think, is a question of US identity politics. Are we the type of country that negotiates with ‘terrorists’ and ‘illigitimate governments?'” For whatever reason, there does seem to be a norm in this country against negotiating with – or bribing – certain kinds of adversaries. That doesn’t mean the US hasn’t negotiated in the past, or won’t negotiate in the future, with tyrants and terrorists (we are perfectly willing to deal with tyrants in Central Asia, for example). But it does mean that policy makers usually have to go out of their way to find excuses for negotiating with the kind of people they often categorically refuse to deal with, particularly when the negotiations involve elements of bribery or blackmail.

Moreover, this “norm against bribery and blackmail” seems to operate at the international level.
Australia has refused to negotiate with terrorists in Iraq. There are, of course, conspicuous examples of states that have different norms of conduct. Some will engage in negotiations but not make serious concessions. Others will go futher. Italy, for instance, seems perfectly willing to pay for the release of their nationals. But even the Italians felt compelled to rationalize their departure from “normal principles” of statecraft – which is evidence for the existence of the norm:

Mr Selva, a member of the Northern League, one of the parties in Italy’s governing coalition, told French radio: “The young women’s life was the most important thing. “In principle, one should not give in to blackmail, but this time I think we had to give in – even though this opens a dangerous path because it is obvious that both for political or criminal reasons, this path can make others want to take others hostage to make some money.” (via Outside the Beltway)

This leads us to two puzzles:

• Are there conditions under which this norm is more likely to hold than others?
• Are there characteristics of certain states that make giving into blackmail more or less likely?

I am not aware of any systematic studies of these questions in either International Relations or related fields. Does anyone know of any? If they don’t exist, I think this would make an interesting article for probing deeper into the constitutive and causal impact of norms on foreign policy.

1Consider Kenneth Waltz’s snarky response to the findings of the “democratic victory” research program (the notion that democracies tend to win the wars they fight):

“In the debate between Michael Desch and his critics in a recent issue of International Security, a big point is overlooked. The ‘fair fight’ criterion, the critics say, is misplaced because their theories predict that democracies are good at choosing victims they know they can defeat. But why, when countries are mismatched, need a war be fought? The weaker can hardly threaten the stronger, yet democratic countries go to war against them.

If this is true, it tells us something frightening about the behavior of democratic countries: namely, that they excel at fighting and winning unnecessary wars.”

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