Tag: realism (page 1 of 2)

Theory as thought

Recently a friend and colleague wrote me to say:

 

“The SS piece is actually really useful to me as a model for dealing with Political Science post paradigm wars.”

 

Which prompts me (as if academics ever need such a prompt) to revisit an issue I raised almost a year ago: the role of theory in policymaking. In that long ago post, I mentioned that Patrick James and I had an article under review that addressed the relationship between theory and policy from a fairly novel perspective, and I am happy to say that article—entitled “Theory as Thought: Britain and German Unification”—came out earlier this year in Security Studies.

 

In the piece, we derive inspiration from analytic eclecticism in an effort to develop a more nuanced and useful understanding of how theory interacts with the real world. In pursuit of that agenda, we make a simple but potentially controversial claim: rather than represent objective descriptions/explanations of the world, theories of international relations represent different modes of thinking about the world. These different modes are intersubjective structures and discourses that enable shared efforts to understand and explain the world. Thus, theories are actually shared logics embedded in society that enable policymakers to make sense of the world. As such, IR scholars are embedded within and develop their theories from broader currents of social meaning-making.

 

To make the argument work, we distil the core operative logics underlying realism, liberal institutionalism, and constructivism. Rather than derive explanatory building blocks from theories and apply them to empirical sources, we analyze policy-makers’ modes of thought to investigate whether they contain patterns of IR theory. We realize that doing so is part of the controversial nature of the article, as scholars operating within these traditions may reject the simplifications we undertake, or in the case of constructivism that it has enough coherence to have a unifying logic. We spend some time justifying these decisions in the article, so I leave it to readers to look there for our defense.

 

After establishing the logics, we apply them to our case study—British policymaking toward German unification. We find that, contrary to claims that these theories only explain the international system, they actually represent modes of thought that shape how actors see the world. Moreover, all three logics play a critical role in the British policymaking process, interweaving to produce a complex constructed social reality. The logic of realism clearly played an important role in shaping the perceptions of top British leadership, particularly Thatcher, of German unification as a problem. This foundational assessment played a crucial role in shaping how the British understood the events of 1989 and 1990. But it did not play an important role in how the British responded to the process of German unification. By turning to NATO, the CSCE, and the EU to integrate an expanded and quasi-hegemonic Germany within the existing network of institutions, the logic of neoliberal institutionalism played a critical role in how British policymakers constructed their policy response. Why did the logic of neoliberal institutionalism prevail over the logic of realism in directing British policy? Here the power of the logic of constructivism is evident, particularly the role of identity and rhetorical entrapment. These logics constrained British policymakers to cooperative policy options.

 

A range of implications arise from our argument, and we spend considerable time in the conclusion talking about them so I only present a couple highlights here. One of the implications that comes out of our argument is that no theory of international relations is consistently applicable across space and time. Rather, the applicability of theory to events depends on the particular mix of theoretical logics in a particular time and space. These logics, like other socially constructed systems of meaning and relation (e.g. identity) may come to be sedimented (in strategic culture for example) and thus relatively stable over the short to medium term. But scholars would be well served to problematize what theoretical logics constitute the dominant discourses and narrative in the times and places they are interested in studying.

 

Another implication addresses the divide between material and ideational approaches to IR. Material versus ideational analysis emerges as what Brecher calls a “flawed dichotomy.” Regardless of the approach under consideration, it is not possible to comprehend how policymakers understood German transformation without both. The most convincing account is one that recognizes the contributions of multiple paradigms to understanding complex international events with intertwining logics. For such reasons, frameworks ranging from the streamlined realism to the more intricate constructivism should be regarded as complementary rather than competitive in resolving the mysteries of IR.

 

A final implication regards the separation between theory and reality, and the gap between academics and policymakers. If we are right about the basis of theory, that means that theoretical development corresponds with changes in the world and how state leaders and societies come to terms with those changes. But the influence is not unidirectional. Theories also shape the world, providing systems of meaning that are taken up and integrated into shared logics. Thus, at a fundamental level there is no gap between academics and policymakers even if on a day-to-day basis such a gap seems yawning.

 

Theory is thought, both in the minds of scholars as well as actors in the ‘real’ world. Incorporating that simple observation into research on international relations holds the potential of greater illumination—from theory development to analytical veracity to bridging the gap between IR scholars and practitioners.

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John Vasquez, Territoriality, and Staying Ahead of the Game

by Brandon Valeriano and Andy Owsiak

What follows is a dialog between us on John Vasquez’s contributions to the field of IR based on a recent roundtable honoring his work at the Annual Meeting of the International Studies Association in Toronto in March, 2014.  Our remarks are cribbed from our statements on the panel.  vasquez

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Crimea is not a Realist story

[Note:  This is a guest post by Jarrod Hayes, assistant professor of international relations at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology.  His first book, Constructing National Relations: US Relations with India and China was published by Cambridge University Press in 2013.]

Jeffrey Stacey has already discussed the issue in Crimea with alacrity, as have his interlocutors in the comments section.  My agenda here is to argue that what is going on in Crimea is not a story about which Realist theory in international relations has much to say.  My specific foil here (probably at some professional peril) is John Mearsheimer.  Mearsheimer is perhaps most known for his forceful support of Realist IR theory (there is that Israel thing too), specifically a variant called offensive realism.  According to that theory, great powers are constantly predatory, seeking to boost their power (military capability and economic capability that boosts military capability) whenever benefits exceed the costs.  It is a materialist and rationalist approach to international security, grounded in a logic of power and appealing in its simplicity.  And Mearsheimer has not been shy about commenting on the crisis in Crimea, arguing that Ukraine should have kept its nuclear weapons after the end of the Cold War and that Russia’s annexation of Crimea makes perfect sense as the actions of an insecure state seeking to prevent immediate neighbors from falling into the orbit of the West.

The story is an appealing one, and on the surface it looks compelling.  Continue reading

More on Moral Hazard in US Alliances: Explaining Japan-Korea Tension (and Greece-Turkey?)

domh

So this post is a bleg to those of you who know more about alliances than me. I am considering writing this up for an article, so I thought I would ‘crowd-source’ early comments on the basic argument. I also wonder if someone elsewhere has already suggested this idea in the vast alliance literature. So please let me know. The motivation is inductive – the deepening tension between Japan and Korea has suggested the addendum to alliance theory I am proposing here. But I wonder if others have said this before.

Put briefly, I don’t think entrapment or abandonment captures the US position between allies in dispute, like Japan and Korea, or Greece and Turkey (perhaps – I know that latter case less well). Instead, each seems to use the US alliance patron to: a) compete with each other, because b) the US alliance relieves external pressures (China and North Korea, and the USSR and chaos in the Balkans and Middle East, respectively) that would otherwise incentivize a rapprochement. These four states are not trying to ‘entrap’ the US so much as leverage it for an intra-alliance squabble, with the shared patron as referee. I’ve not read this theorized elsewhere, so here is an effort to do so.

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Sorry General, War is a Choice

General David Petraeus advises Americans and their allies to be coldly realistic about what force can achieve. Oddly, he also advises them to prepare for a future where small wars are pretty much inevitable, where America must intervene early to prevent worse things happening later on, and where ‘stabilisation’ is a core part of war itself. Because, ultimately we sometimes have no choice.

Looking back on the ‘lessons’ that have been ‘written in blood’ in America’s wars since 9/11, Petraeus thinks he can see the greatest lesson, but repeats a common fallacy:

Our enemies will typically attack us asymmetrically, avoiding the conventional strengths that we bring to                     bear. Clearly, the continuation of so-called “small wars” cannot be discounted. And we should never forget                   that we don’t always get to choose the wars we fight.

To the contrary, countries like the United States almost always do get to choose. Not only the wars they fight, but how they fight them. That’s the thing about being an offshore superpower with a nuclear arsenal, friendly neighbours, overwhelming naval and air power shields and a strong army and marine corps to boot. If ever a state existed that usually, emphatically, does not have to accept war being imposed by others, it is this one. ‘Vital’ interests should mean just that – interests that are necessary for life.
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The New Grand-Strategic Divide? A Response to Thomas Wright

Teddy_RooseveltThe style of this piece deviates from what I usually put up here. By way of explanation: I wrote this after some initial indications of interest by Foreign Policy in running a response. But they’ve got a lot on their plate and they no longer seem intrigued. Frankly, that’s for the best; this is now about as long as Tom’s initial piece. So I’m posting it at the Duck. Full disclosure: I served on Tom’s dissertation committee and co-authored an article, “What’s at Stake in the American Empire Debate,” with him. So this should be viewed as a friendly, if spirited, rejoinder. For another reaction, see David Schorr’s piece at Democracy Arsenal.

Thomas Wright’s “Neocons vs. Realists is so 2008” gets a lot right about the emerging grand-strategic debate in the United States. He argues that it stretches between  two poles. One is composed of “restrainers” who “believe that the United States is overcommitted in the world” and seek some kind of retrenchment combining “nation-building at home” with a reduced emphasis on shaping the global environment. The other is occupied by “shapers” who advocate a continued–or even expanded–American commitment to ordering international affairs. He contends that Obama’s second term will likely be dominated by a specific breed of “restrainer,” one that “want[s] to preserve America’s core alliances” but also “to avoid any new entanglements that go beyond core commitments” and relies on allies to shoulder a greater burden in future interventions. Although the administration has “been a shaper in East Asia and a restrainer in the Middle East,” the impulse for restraint looks poised to dominate future foreign-policy decisions.

Wright paints a plausible picture of the current ideological balance in the Obama Administration. It clearly prefers to “invest” in long-neglected capital projects over maintaining current levels of defense expenditures. Given the current fiscal-political environment, pursuing such a preference will require continuing efforts to convince allies and partners to accept a greater share of the military burden. Wright also offers an important corrective to the assumptions of some of the “restrainers.” We should not over-interpret the long-term implications of current US economic performance and the general fatigue created by the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts. India, Brazil, China, and the rest of the rising-powers crowd face their own challenges. Some of these may prove more intractable than the self-inflicted wounds created by Washington’s current dysfunctions.

Moreover, the odds suggest the formation of the kinds of foreign-policy coalitions Wright anticipates–including the increasing alignment of liberal and conservative “shapers.” This entails situational alliances among neoconservatives, primacy realists, and muscular liberal-internationalists. All three camps fit within the “shaper” rubric insofar as they believe that the United States can, and should, maintain international primacy–what scholars call “hegemony”–for as long as possible. However, they disagree about many things. Primacy realists are constitutionally skeptical of placing the maintenance and expansion of liberal order at the center of American foreign policy. When they conflict, the argument goes, realpolitik considerations should always trump the promotion of liberal values–whether human rights, democracy, or multilateral international governance.

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Podcast No. 18: Interview with Stefano Guzzini

guzzini_sThe eighteenth Duck of Minerva podcast features Stefano Guzzini of the Danish Institute for International Studies and Uppsala University . Professor Guzzini discusses, among other things his intellectual and educational background, his important work on power in international affairs, realism, and geopolitics.

This podcast is a bit more “bare bones” than usual. I didn’t put in introductory remarks; I have not produced an m4a version at this time. The file located here is the mp3 version. Explanation: I am bit pressed for time right now.

I should reiterate important change to procedures. From now on, the Minervacast feed will host mp3 versions of the podcasts. The whiteoliphaunt feed will host m4a versions of the podcast [note: see earlier remarks about the m4a version of this podcast]. Unless I hear otherwise, we will continue this approach into the foreseeable future.

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R2P and the “Double-Standard Problem”

Jean-Baptiste Jeangène Vilmer (writing at the Fair Observer) argues that there’s no double-standard problem because the Libyan intervention did not establish or reflect a generalized responsibility to protect.


The R2P is a slogan that has some media efficacy but a rather dubious legal existence. That does not prevent the majority of observers asserting that it was the basis of Resolution 1973, authorizing intervention in Libya. That is not true either. The Resolution reiterated the internal responsibility “of the Libyan authorities to protect the Libyan population”, but nowhere did it speak of an external responsibility of the international community to intervene. This does not imply that the concept did not play a role in the motivations of certain permanent members, only that it is not considered as a consensual “norm” worthy of being explicitly mentioned. 

The military intervention in Libya did not represent an implementation of a purportedly universal “responsibility to protect”, but an ad hoc consensus among powerful states. Moreover, it was motivated by both humanitarian reasons and national interests, as British Prime Minister David Cameron explained in his March 18 speeches evoking the security risk for Europe, posed by terrorist threats and potential migration pressure. It is also a question of moral image and political gain. Nicolas Sarkozy used the intervention to consolidate his presidential calibre and keep the failures of French diplomacy in Tunisia and Egypt out of the limelight.

I definitely agree that the intervention was an ad-hoc arrangement where a combination of principles, interests, and opportunities facilitated intervention, but I’ll leave the rest to international-law scholars.

Check it out.

Russia and Syria

Dan Drezner asks “Dear realists: please explain Russia“:

I raise all of this because a few days ago Charles Clover in the Financial Times wrote an interesting story about Russia’s foreign policy in Syria:
A respected Moscow-based military think tank has published a report that is likely to fuel more questions about the wisdom of Russia’s uncompromising support for the Syrian regime. It concludes that Russia really has few – if any – fundamental national interests to defend in Syria…. 

Russian support for Syria appears to be more emotional than rational, according to the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a consultancy with strong links to Russia’s defence community. It characterised the Kremlin’s Syria policy as a consensus of elites who “have rallied around the demand ‘not to allow the loss of Syria’ ”, which would cause “the final disappearance of the last ghostly traces of Soviet might” in the Middle East. 

“The Syrian situation focuses all the fundamental foreign policy fears, phobias and complexes of Russian politicians and the Russian elite” said CAST.
Russia’s actual stake in Syria is not massive, according to CAST. It described Russia’sarms exports to Damascus as a “significant, but far from key” 5 per cent of total arms exports last year, and characterised Tartus, Moscow’s last foreign military base outside the former USSR, as little more than a pier and a floating repair shop on loan from the Black Sea fleet.

Now, it sounds an awful lot like CAST is arguing that Russian foreign policy leaders are wildly inflating their interests and acting in a — dare I say it — neoconservative fashion towards Syria. 

To which I respond: it depends on the meaning of “realism.”

I suppose I could just stop there. We’ve known for quite some time that “national interest” is a slippery concept (a point I made a few hours ago, come to think of it) — if not best understood as a rhetorical element of the ‘foreign policy’ genre. But if we’re going to play this game, we might start with what I’ll call “realist materialism”– the view that security interests can be assessed simply by crude material indicators. This position is popular among some realists; it holds particularly widespread appeal to critics of contemporary realism.

From this perspective, it should be clear that Moscow has some security interests in Syria. For a country that can’t adequately capitalize its defense industry, five percent (apparently around $4b) isn’t a ton, but it isn’t exactly nothing. To the extent that Syria is Russia’s last ally in the region, that has to count for something as well. But the real question isn’t so much whether Russia’s “material” stakes in Syria are minor, but what costs Moscow faces for supporting the regime. My answer: virtually none. Pretty much all the Kremlin needs to is block UNSC resolutions. No great power is going to inflict material harm on Russia for its stance on the issue. Most of the costs people write about — to reputation — are pretty wooly if we live in realist-materialism land.

But what if we are less dogmatic in our crude materialism — and, I would argue, much closer to modal realism? Then we need to consider additional concerns. First, Russia has good reasons to oppose further erosions of sovereignty norms for repressive regimes. While Russia is a much more open society than many of the authoritarian states (electoral or otherwise) it often gets lumped together with, it is still quite willing to use repressive means to protect the regime and the state (cf. the North Caucuses, where a slow-burn civil war is underway). Second, Moscow is likely still smarting from the fact that it acquiesced to a UN resolution on Libya that quickly became a pretext for NATO-sponsored regime change. Unless something happens to change its calculations, I’m not sure why Moscow should want to do anything to promote western interests in Syria.

Finally, we might move to a more sophisticated realism — one that provides a more traditional, and accurate, understanding of the scope of realpolitik. The Kremlin, in many respects, has a very traditional view of what it means to be a great power. This includes having an acknowledged sphere of influence, extra-regional allies, and a significant voice in the “international community.” We could characterize these motivations as “emotional” or “identity-based” or whatever…. The fact is that they form a coherent, realist, approach to foreign policy. Being a “great power” — and being recognized as such via these trappings — directly enhances international influence, territorial security, and other power-political imperatives. 

Being realistic about (academic) realism

At the BISA/ISA panel on pluralism Jennifer Sterling-Folker stressed that realism is not the “dominant paradigm” of North American international-relations scholarship. Instead, she argued, neoliberal institutionalism rules the roost. How do we know this? Among other reasons, neoliberal institutionalists don’t spend a lot of time on ‘big theory’ — on thinking about the scientific ontology of world politics. They take their worldview for granted, and seek mainly to elaborate and test middle-range (explanatory) theory. It only looks like realism is dominant because realists control one very prominent journal — International Security — as well as the less prominent Security Studies.

I consider this line of reasoning about half right. Sterling-Folker is right to stress the comparatively weak position of realism in the field. Although control of one of the most influential journals — and one of the few read outside academia — doesn’t exactly render an approach marginal, realism simply doesn’t enjoy the academic dominance many Europeans think it does. Indeed, when I review and read European articles, I often see criticisms of some sort of strange realist-rationalist chimera, in which “realism” and “rationalism” are taken to be synonymous. I suppose one could trace this analytical mess to Richard Ashley’s famous criticism of neo-realism (read, Waltz’s structural realism) for abandoning the putatively richer tradition of classical realism.

Regardless, it does not really exist. A great many realists are soft-rationalists — insofar as they explain state behavior via fairly primitive cost-benefit calculations — but the real force behind rationalism are the embedded liberal assumptions in a great deal of IR theory, whether “bargaining theories of war” and their progeny or “open economy” politics approaches to International Political Economy (IPE). If one’s favorite target is “rationalism,” one needs to get this straight.

But Sterling-Folker gets the other part wrong: neoliberal institutionalism isn’t where the action is.* Open IPE has much more in common with Moravcsik’s version of liberalism than Keohane’s. Rational institutionalism, itself part of open-economy IPE — has a close family resemblance to neoliberal institutionalism, but it isn’t the same thing.

If there’s a lesson in all this, it is that we need better maps of the field. The ones we work with are ridiculously outdated.

*David Lake’s relational-contracting approach to hierarchy formation is, as Paul MacDonald (I think) once pointed out, is the closest thing we have to a contemporary incarnation of neoliberal institututionalism.

Mirror, Mirror upon the Wall — Who is the Realist of them All?

Despite Adam Elkus’s prodding, I avoided participating in the first-round beat down of Paul J. Saunders supremely stupid essay, “Giving Realists a Bad Name.” That’s okay, because Daniel Larison, Dan Drezner, and others piled on.

Saunders’s subsequent response to Drezner does make a very good point: just because you are a realist doesn’t mean you don’t have to care about “values.” Realism writ large is not logically equivalent to Meineke’s “Machiavellianism.” Unfortunately, Saunders’s justification is more Joseph Nye than E.H. Carr:

Realists understand well that perceptions are important in shaping international power and influence and, as a result, that policies disconnected from our values diminish the United States and weaken its ability to lead. Moreover, they recognize that such policies are not politically sustainable.

Dan Trombly, in turn, thinks this is the point when Saunders’s loses all credibility.

The first argument, that perceptions are important in shaping international power, is true in a sense. But it has really nothing to do with connecting our values to our policies. Realists generally choose to shape perceptions by dropping pretensions to morally grandiose visions that stake our influence or credibility on bringing the rest of the world into ideological conformity with the U.S. Realists recognize that ourvalues might not impress other governments. Indeed, policies that seem disconnected from our values, like non-intervention in other countries’ internal affairs, may be the most agreeable to foreign states. But of course, realists do morally justify their decisions – but they do it not by blindly accepting the narrative that the only policies which reflect American values require liberal intervention or democracy promotion, but by accentuating the values in American politics that have been articulated, say, by Washington, Jefferson, and John Quincy Adams rather than Wilson, Roosevelt or Reagan. Realists recognize that foolish or impractical policies of value promotion do far more damage to its international standards than its failure to be sufficiently liberal overseas, at least in the eyes of foreign powers which very often do not care about or actively oppose the kinds of American values under discussion here.

Put differently, most flavors of realism would agree that under some specific circumstances hypocrisy can be costly. But no self-respecting realist ever would make the general claim that “policies disconnected from our values diminish the United States and weaken its ability to lead.” That’s precisely the kind of wooly-headed nonsense realism stands against — the kind of thinking that, in their view, leads policymakers to engage in ideological crusades and other idiotic policies.

As Trombly concludes, paraphrasing Patrick Porter:

Hans Morgenthau argued that credibility was too often the rallying cry for pursuing an impossible enterprise to the point of diminishing marginal returns. Realists accept inconsistency as an inevitable part of foreign policy, especially moral inconsistency – and recognize the only way to reduce moral inconsistency is to be less sweeping in our moral claims and commitments about events outside our control.

Of course, none of this intellectual evisceration was ever really necessary. Saunders’s argument is, as I noted at the outset, transparently awful. Realism, for Saunders, is nothing more than a shibboleth for a hackneyed screed against the Obama Administration’s foreign policy. A screed that doesn’t make much sense even on its own terms. When I first Saunders’s original article, I thought that this was pretty divorced from reality:

In dealing with Russia, the Obama Administration courted former president Dmitri Medvedev at the expense of ties to his more influential predecessor and successor Vladimir Putin and appeared to support—with little evidence—the notion that Medvedev was more “modern” and, by implication, more “democratic.”

Because, in brief, U.S. policy toward Russia did nothing of the sort. But then I read his conclusion:

Since the U.S. economy is both an immediate and a longer-term challenge for America’s domestic health and its international role, one could argue that China, Russia and the Middle East should take a backseat to restoring sustainable growth; perhaps in current circumstances, avoiding international problems and minimizing their domestic consequences is the best the White House can do. That would not be a bold agenda, but it could be a defensible one—if President Obama were working to build domestic consensus to tackle the deficit and create jobs. The administration’s ineffective and uncoordinated half measures don’t promote either America’s security or its prosperity [emphasis added].

When an essay starts out with ‘the Obama Administration isn’t realist because it didn’t provoke a major diplomatic conflict with a rising power over a single dissident‘ and closes by pretending that the debt-ceiling crisis never happened… well, to borrow a phrase from Saunders, it is a pretty safe bet that such a person is “wholly unrealistic and un-realist.”

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

Flag-Pins-Japan-South-Korea

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.

In Defense of Particularism in American Foreign policy

[This is a cross-posting from Dart-Throwing Chimp.]

I’ve just finished reading John Lewis Gaddis’s terrific biography of George Frost Kennan, a towering figure in American foreign policy after World War II whom Henry Kissinger described as “one of the most important, complex, moving, challenging and exasperating American public servants.” Apart from recommending to the book, which I do without hesitation to anyone with an interest in world affairs, I wanted to talk about how Gaddis’ distillation of Kennan’s ideas helped me clarify some of my own thinking on the conduct of foreign policy.

Nowadays, discussions of grand strategy in U.S. foreign policy are usually framed as a battle between realism, which emphasizes power and encourages statesmen to focus shrewdly on their national self-interest, and liberal institutionalism, which emphasizes cooperation and encourages statesmen to build institutions that facilitate it. Kennan–who was not trained as an academic and apparently didn’t care much for formal theories of international relations–saw the same terrain from a different perspective, and I think his map may be the more useful one.

For Kennan, the crucial divide lay between universalists and particularists. Gaddis spells out this theme most clearly in his discussion of Kennan’s thinking about how the United States ought to respond to the successes of Communist revolutionaries in China in 1947. Mao’s gains posed an early test of the recently pronounced Truman doctrine, which had seemed to pledge the United States to do all it could to prevent Communist advances anywhere in the world. While Kennan was dismayed by that doctrine’s absolutist language, it overlapped with the containment strategy he had begun to advocate as a response to the global ambitions and aggressive nature he saw in the Soviet Union.

Even so, and despite loud calls in the U.S. to do whatever was necessary to defend Chiang’s regime, Kennan convinced Truman to provide only a bare minimum of support to the Nationalists. According to Gaddis (p. 299), Kennan had thought that

Americans had clung too long to the idea of remaking China, an end far beyond their means. The [State Department’s] Policy Planning Staff [which Kennan headed] should determine what parts of East Asia are ‘absolutely vital to our security,’ and the United States should then ensure that these remain ‘in hands which we can control or rely on.’

Kennan framed this recommendation within the need to choose between universal and particularist approaches in foreign policy. Universalism sought to apply the same principles everywhere. It favored procedures embodied in the United Nations and in other international organizations. It smoothed over the national peculiarities and conflicting ideologies that confused and irritated so many Americans. Its appeal lay in its promise to ‘relieve us of the necessity of dealing with the world as it is.’ Particularism, in contrast, questioned ‘legalistic concepts.’ It assumed appetites for power that only ‘counter-force’ could control. It valued alliances, but only if based on communities of interest, not on the ‘abstract formalism’ of obligations that might preclude pursuing national defense and global stability. Universalism entangled interests in cumbersome parliamentarism. Particularism encouraged purposefulness, coordination, and economy of effort–qualities the nation would need ‘if we are to be sure of accomplishing our purposes.’

Kennan’s recommendation on China seemed to contradict his own grand strategy, but this contradiction reflected his deeper beliefs about the importance of particularism. He understood that a Communist victory in China would be a setback for the U.S., but he didn’t think it would be a disaster, and he believed that even massive American assistance was unlikely to stop the Communists from winning.

In this history, I hear echoes of contemporary debates over the “responsibility to protect” (R2P) doctrine and whether or not the U.S. should intervene militarily in Syria to stop the mass atrocities occurring there. As in the arguments over China policy in the 1940s, universalists often make the case for intervention in Syria on both moral and strategic grounds. Mass atrocities are morally abhorrent, of course, but acting to stop or prevent them is also an essential function of America’s role as the producer and defender of a liberal global order, a universalist might argue, just as stopping Communism in its tracks was during the Cold War. In a recent call for more forceful U.S. action against Syria, Anne Marie Slaughter, a successor of Kennan’s as director of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, made just such a case. She wrote:

If you believe, as I do, that R2P is a foundation for increased peace and respect for human rights over the long term, that each time it is invoked successfully to authorize the prevention of genocide, crimes against humanity, grave and systematic war crimes, and ethnic cleansing as much as the protection of civilians from such atrocities once they are occurring, it becomes a stronger deterrent against the commission of those acts in the first place…If the U.S. says it stands behind R2P but then does nothing in a case where it applies, not only will dictators around the world draw their own conclusions, but belief in the U.S. commitment to other international norms and obligations also weakens, just at a time when the U.S. grand strategy is to expand and strengthen an effective international order. The credibility of the U.S. commitment to its own proclaimed values will also take yet another critical hit with every young person in the Middle East fighting for liberty, democracy, and justice.

After reading about his approach to China, it’s easy to imagine Kennan responding to this universalist argument by asking: “Yes, but how likely are we to succeed, and at what cost?”

To universalists, that kind of equivocation may seem immoral. Kennan, whom Gaddis portrays as a religious person and a philosopher, was not insensitive to these concerns. His rejection of universalism was not meant as a rejection of moral thinking. Instead, Kennan’s commitment to particularism was informed by his judgment that stark views about right and wrong were poor guides to foreign policy-making.

Could governments behave as individuals should? His preliminary conclusion, sketched out in his diary, was that politics, whether within or among nations, would always be a struggle for power. It could never in itself be a moral act…Foreign policy was not, therefore, a contest of good versus evil. To condemn negotiations as appeasement, Kennan told a Princeton University audience early in October [1953], was to end a Hollywood movie with the villain shot. To entrust diplomacy to lawyers was to relegate power, ‘like sex, to a realm in which we see it only occasionally, and then in highly sublimated and presentable form.’ Both approaches ignored the fact that most international conflicts were ‘jams that people have gotten themselves into.’ Trying to resolve them through rigid standards risked making things worse.” (p. 492)

As a frequent critic of the U.S. government’s attempts to provoke and promote democratic revolutions elsewhere–here and here are some blogged examples–I was particularly interested in how Kennan’s commitment to particularism was evidenced in his frustration with policies aimed at supporting the “liberation” Communist-ruled countries during the Cold War. In Kennan’s view,

“[A policy seeking ‘liberation’ in Communist-ruled countries] is not consistent with our international obligations. It is not consistent with a common membership with other countries in the United Nations. It is not consistent with the maintenance of formal diplomatic relations with another country. It is replete with possibilities for misunderstanding and bitterness. To the extent that it might be successful, it would involve us in heavy responsibilities. Finally the prospects for success would be very small indeed; since the problem of civil disobedience is not a great problem to the modern police dictatorship.” (p. 479)

Those concerns may sound cold, but Kennan was not indifferent to the liberationists’ cause. In fact, his views on the subject were also informed by a conviction that democracy would prevail in the end without active American support. According to Gaddis (p. 495), Kennan believed that

Democracy had the advantage over Communism in this respect, because it did not rely on violence to reshape society. Its outlook was ‘more closely attuned to the real nature of man…[so] we can afford to be patient and even occasionally to suffer reverses, placing our confidence in the longer and deeper workings of history.’

Like Churchill, who famously remarked that “democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried,” Kennan saw many faults in Western society in the 20th century, but he saw the available alternatives as even worse. Nevertheless, he firmly believed that any gains realized by pushing for liberation were not worth the entanglements, lost opportunities, and even wars that might result, especially when war could be nuclear.

Kennan saw himself as more of a “prophet” (his word) than a theorist or practitioner, and his views on “liberation” illustrate how he often thought about international relations on time scales that most people either don’t consider or consider a luxury. His containment policy was founded on the prescient expectation that the Soviet Union’s internal flaws would eventually lead to its own disintegration, but he did not expect to live long enough to see that happen.

When contemplating the plight of actual people suffering under actual dictatorships, the idea that democracy will eventually prevail can seem a little too convenient, like it’s just a way to absolve us of any responsibility for the injustices of the here and now. Is it really more convenient, though, than the belief that righteousness is always right? Where Kennan’s view is materially convenient, implying that we can achieve the desired result through inaction, the liberationist’s view is morally convenient, presuming that well-intentioned actions will always bring good results.

And there’s the matter of the historical record. Long-term trends clearly support Kennan’s expectation that democracy would keep expanding, albeit fitfully and with many reversals. More important, these advances have usually come either without direct U.S. support, or in places where U.S. involvement was incidental to the eventual outcome. The events that precipitated the collapse of the USSR and the end of Communist rule in Eastern Europe mostly caught the U.S. by surprise, and the U.S. response to them was generally modest and ambivalent.

Likewise with the Arab Spring. The wave of uprisings that swept the Arab world in 2011 started in Tunisia, where the U.S. had done virtually nothing to promote democracy. It soon spread to Egypt and Bahrain, where U.S. support for military “deep states” vastly outweighed its material and verbal commitments to opposition groups, and to Libya, where the U.S. had actually warmed to the dictator in recent years in response to his decision to give up weapons of mass destruction. In other words, theses revolutions were hardly American-made; if anything, they occurred in spite of American indifference and support for the status quo. In this sense, the Arab Spring supports Kennan’s expectation that American intervention is hardly a prerequisite for democratic revolution, and that democracy will advance on its own through the “longer and deeper workings of history.”

If universal principles aren’t the way to go, how, then, should foreign policy be conducted? For most of his adult life, Kennan owned and worked a small farm in southern Pennsylvania, and he often did the yardwork at his home in Princeton, too. It’s not surprising, then, that he may have best expressed his commitment to particularism and penchant for thinking on long time scales in a horticultural metaphor that envisioned a patient, process-oriented approach as the best way to strike a balance between moral ambitions and animal interests. This metaphor was offered up during a series of four lectures Kennan delivered at Princeton in 1954–lectures that became the book Realities of American Foreign Policy, and I think Gaddis’ summation of those lectures (pp. 494-495) it makes a proper coda to this post.

Americans could no longer afford economic advances that depleted natural resources and devastated natural beauty, Kennan insisted. Nor could they tolerate dependency, for critical raw materials, on unreliable foreign governments. Nor could they tear their democracy apart internally because threats to democracy existed externally. Nor could they entrust defenses against such dangers to the first use of nuclear weapons, for what would be left after a nuclear war had taken place? These were all single policies, pursued without regard to how each related to the others, or to the larger ends the state was supposed to serve. They neglected ‘the essential unity’ of national problems, thus demonstrating the ‘danger implicit in any attempt to compartmentalize our thinking about foreign policy.’

That lack of coordination ill-suited the separate ‘planes of international reality’ upon which the United States had to compete. The first was a ‘sane and rational one, in which we felt comfortable, in which we were surrounded by people to whom we were accustomed and on whose reactions we could at least depend.’ The second was ‘a nightmarish one, where we were like a hunted beast, oblivious of everything but survival; straining every nerve and muscle in the effort to remain alive.’ Within the first arena, traditional conceptions of morality applied; ‘We could still be guided…by the American dream.’ Within the second, ‘there was only the law of the jungle; and we had to do violence to our own traditional principles–or many of us felt we did–to fit ourselves for the relentless struggle.’ The great question, then, was whether the two could ever be brought into a coherent relationship with one another.

They could, Kennan suggested, through a kind of geopolitical horticulture. ‘We must be gardeners and not mechanics in our approach to world affairs.’ International life was an organic process, not a static system. Americans had inherited it, not designed it. Their preferred standards of behavior, therefore, could hardly govern it. But it should be possible ‘to take these forces for what they are and to induce them to work with us and for us by influencing the environmental stimuli to which they are subjected.’ That would have to be done ‘gently and patiently, with understanding and sympathy, not trying to force growth by mechanical means, not tearing the plants up by the roots when they fail to behave as we wish them to. The forces of nature will generally be on the side of him who understands them best and respects them most scrupulously.’  

Retrenchment & Liberal Internationalism don’t really Fit Together (2): R2P

:

Here is part one, where I argued that international relations as a field has become increasingly uncomfortable with the America’s post-Cold War hegemony and the level of force used in the GWoT, but…

2. We’re drifting toward R2P

Simultaneously, we are elated that the Libya operation worked, (against all odds given the Iraq experience and what we know about foreign intervention in LDCs generally). Lots of Duck writers supported the intervention. (I found Jon Western’s arguments last spring particularly persuasive; some of my writing on Libya is here and here.) Even if you didn’t support it, and worried that it meant more ‘empire,’ it still tugged at your heartstrings to see Libyans fighting and dying against a nasty tyrant. So you probably supported the NATO intervention even though you didn’t want to.


We realize that dictatorships are extremely vulnerable only in short windows which the regime will close as quickly as possible with as much blood as necessary. If there is anytime that Syria or NK might switch to more humane governance, it looks like now, when the center is weak. As with Libya, there is a window of opportunity that is deeply tempting, despite our broad sense that the US is doing too much and killing too many people. But given how rare revolutions like Libya are, it feels ridiculous, almost immoral, to miss such a unique, human rights-improving opportunity on behalf of a generalized principle like retrenchment (‘make me a non-interventionist, but not yet’).

Further, there is growing body of evidence that intervention can actually work pretty well and most crucially reduce the killing. How many more times can you teach the Holocaust or Darfur or the Khmer Rouge or ‘rape as a weapon’ in class before you personally agree with R2P? For me this has been fairly central. I worry a lot about US ‘empire,’ but I find teaching the material that we do in IR to be so disturbing sometimes, that it makes me an unwanted interventionist. I often wonder how undergraduates must think of us as we calmly explain the ‘nuclear calculator,’ or how to gauge who is history’s worst genocidaire. So even if we broadly want US retrenchment, we are keen enough to realize that R2P is genuinely appealing and that the opportunities for it to be effective are both rare and short. Ie, if we don’t move quickly to help places like Libya and Syria when the rare opportunity arises, we leave them to yet further decades of repression. Who wants to explain that away? And realistically the only state with the ability to push through meaningful R2P interventions is the US.

In brief, the bulk of IR scholars today normatively wants two things increasingly at odds, I think: 1. a slowdown, if not end, of the GWoT – torture, indefinite detention, Guantanamo, drones, Islamophobia, national security state overkill, domestic militarism, and the relentless killing. 2. R2P – taking advantage of the momentary weakness of truly awful regimes to push through desperately needed liberal changes in the name of humanitarianism. The former results in the (much-wanted) demilitarization of US foreign policy and domestic culture, while the second requires a large, interventionist US military, because honestly, no one else can do really R2P besides the US.

I guess if you are Walt or Layne or Ron Paul, these aren’t in conflict. Realist ‘retrenchers’ think the second goal is fairly illusory, so they are comfortable foregoing it to get the sorely needed de-militarization of US life. But the work of Pinker, Goldstein, Western, the democratic peace, even the end of history, makes me more confident that humanitarian action can work and that at least minimally liberalized states can get along without killing each other or their own people. It is awfully tempting to think that just a little bit more exertion, a little more defense spending, a little more covert assistance could help push through desperately needed change in places like Syria or Zimbabwe…

But that’s exactly the ‘utopian’ attitude toward force that realists from Morgenthau to Walt would disparage, right? One small step leads to another to another, and pretty soon you’ve got US empire to handmaiden democracy everywhere all the time, with all the militarization, killing and other unintended consequences such a project must inevitably entail.

Does anyone else see these goals as an irresolvable dilemma? And what is the answer?

Cross-posted at Asian Security Blog.

Hu’s Culture War

Building on PM’s earlier post, “Cultural Weapons and International Relations” I’d like to look at an example that helps to illustrate the ways in which Realism misunderstands the role of culture in global politics. In his blog post titled, “China’s War Against Harry Potter,” Stephen Walt analyzes President Hu Jintao’s attempt to defend Chinese culture by increasing its production of local culture. What is interesting is that Walt has plenty to say about culture, but he wants to separate cultural production from the state and to portray the state’s attempt to manage culture as irrational.

First, Walt argues that cultural and artistic production is something which authoritarian states cannot manage well. He writes, “What Hu doesn’t understand is that you can’t just order creativity up by fiat or by making a cheerleading speech.”  For Walt, the cutting edge of creativity comes autonomously from the state.

Walt’s argument is flawed because all states are involved to varying degrees in cultural production, including liberal democratic states. Canada and France are perhaps the most prominent examples of states that seek to enhance and shape cultural production through bureaucratic regulations. Other states effectively subsidize the arts and cultural activities through tax codes as well as national institutes and the US is no exception. Even the general income tax code can provide incentives for artists to be innovative and unique so that they can try to join the top 1% of the income bracket. The same tax code can provide incentives to patrons of the arts when they decide to donate their purchases so that they can be viewed by the plebeians. Moreover, cultural production does not have to be at the cutting edge of global culture to serve the interests of the state — particularly when the Chinese state’s main concern is to defend against a growing domestic preference for American popular culture.

Why might Walt view cultural production as ideally a distinct activity from the state? The answer probably lies in Realism’s relatively narrow and often materialistic conceptualization of power and its understanding of the proper functions of a statesman. Of course, we’ve known at least since Gramsci (and probably as far back as Plato) that states are not merely territorial actors; states must secure allegiance by colonizing the minds and  tongues of their inhabitants. This is why all states are concerned with the cultivation and preservation of culture, although some states may have a relatively more sophisticated and indirect approach.

Second, Walt depicts President Hu’s defense of culture as somewhat irrational or at the very least misguided.  Walt writes, “Forgive me, but China’s leader sounds a lot like a stodgy high school principal trying to stop teenagers from wearing gangsta rap T-shirts, and telling the Music Department to get more kids into the marching band instead. More importantly, this campaign is a losing game.”

I would argue that Hu’s speech is in no way irrational — far from it — it was entirely predictable. Hu Jintao is widely expected to retire in 2013 when he will most likely be replaced by Xi Jinping, the son of Xi Zhongxun, a founder of the CCP. Any China expert worth his salt would already have predicted that we should expect to see increased efforts to stabilize domestic politics (through the repression of dissent) and a non-confrontational foreign policy until the transition in power is complete. As an institutional actor and a value rational actor it makes sense for the President to ensure the longevity of the regime.

Hu’s focus on culture as a key mechanism to ensure domestic stability at a time when China is being rocked by protests is not at all an irrational impulse. The management of culture is at the heart of statecraft. Moreover, claiming that protesters are only protesting because they are misguided by foreign ideas is a classic deflection strategy. Even states in a global economy can manage the production of domestic popular culture and prevent much of the penetration of foreign cultural products through censorship, although perhaps not quite as bluntly as Hu may desire. Nevertheless, the attempt to reinvigorate Chinese popular culture at this point in time may ultimately prove futile as Walt argues, but one can understand why it is a pressing concern for the Chinese Premier President simply by adding culture to the domain of state power.

Clashing Networks and Foreign Policy

Anne Marie Slaughter and Dan Drezner had an interesting debate last week on the role of nonstate actors in foreign policy. AMS stakes out a “modern/liberal-social” position highlighting the role of nonstate actors, whereas DD takes a “subtle realist” view, maintaining the priority of states and national interests. DD sums up their differences this way:

I’m skeptical about the viability of transnational interests to effectively pressure multiple governments to adopt a common policy solution, and I’m super-skeptical that these groups can supply broad-based solutions independently of national governments.

My own take is that DD underestimates the extent to which transnationally-linked domestic coalitions affect policy, but that AMS takes too narrow a view of the civil society actors involved. I agree with DD that nonstate actors alone will not provide “broad-based solutions” themselves–although I don’t think that AMS would go that far anyway.

Most international issues do not pit states against nonstate actors, with each lining up on different sides of the issues. Rather, what we see are networks on each side, usually with states representing key components. Keck and Sikkink made this point years ago in a book that revived the scholarly debate on transnational relations. But the presence and importance of states in networks is often overlooked. States must be a major part of network studies because, in the end of course, they make policies.

On a day to day basis within networks, however, states are not necessarily the leading forces. When it comes to projecting the ideas and rallying the interests that go into policy outcomes, civil society actors play key roles. Acting as interest groups within states, they seek to shape governments’ preferences. Acting as NGOs across state borders and in international institutions, they exchange ideas, personnel, and money, affecting both domestic and international policy.

Notably as well, these networks are not all “progressive,” although most of the scholarly and journalistic attention has focused on human rights, environmental, and global justice groups. Rather, there is huge diversity among transnational advocates, with powerful right-wing networks fighting the left. Nor is it simply the case that conservatives ally with states to oppose changes in the status quo. In the ongoing battles that comprise most of international policy making, all sides support or reject change at certain times.

Finally, the means by which policy change happens transcend the staid “logics” of persuasion—framing, shaming, grafting, deliberation, dialogue, etc.–on which much of the literature has focused. Network members do use such tactics. But these are invariably countered by opposition networks. They smash frames and deploy their own equally resonant ones. They shame the shamers and honor those who the other side seeks to embarrass. They sever grafts while making their own.

In other words, these are policy wars, not one-sided persuasive campaigns aimed at changing state policy or public opinion. The tactics that opposing sides use extend well beyond the rhetorical. They seek to exclude one another from key institutions. They invent their own institutions to keep the other side out. They seek to silence one another’s voices. And they attack one another ferociously, for misunderstanding, misstatement, and downright evil.

I’ll take a few cases that I’ve written about in my forthcoming book. Admittedly, these are not frontline national security issues, but I’d say they are nonetheless important parts of international and domestic politics in many countries.

Gay rights has advanced tremendously in Western states over the past few decades. This has been led not by governments but movements that have effectively organized and been able to achieve political and cultural change. There has been substantial transnational interaction within the gay rights movement, with domestic groups learning from one another, receiving assistance, and exchanging personnel. They’ve also been active at the UN trying to affect policy.

All the while, however, they have faced resistance from a transnational coalition of conservative religious groups, what I call the “Baptist-burqa” network. In some countries, this has helped keep gay rights off the political agenda completely. In others, it has led to continuing conflict whose outcome remains unclear. At the international level, at least with regard to UN policy on gay rights, it has kept “progress” slow and minimal. The fight has been far from pretty, with the two networks and their national components engaging in all sorts of mudslinging and competition. The current stalemate at the UN stems from the respective power of these opposing networks, in particular their ability to affect state policy choices, even if in the final analysis it is states that vote on the policies themselves.

Small arms control is another issue pitting network against network. Human rights, gun control, and development organizations organized transnationally in the 1990s, seeking to stem the global trade in weapons. But they immediately faced opposition from a transnational coalition of gun rights groups, led by America’s National Rifle Association (NRA). The two sides, complete with powerful states on each side, have fought over controls on the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons (SALW) since then. In these battles, the nonstate actors on both sides have helped shape state policy, through both domestic and international politicking. The failure thus far to achieve significant controls stems in large part from the power of the gun network to influence ideas and policies in a number of states. This is an outcome every bit as important as policy change—and stemming significantly from civil society activism and clashes.

In other cases that AMS mentions, such as the landmines treaty and the ICC, networks of states and nonstate actors achieved much—but could have achieved much more but for the power of opposing states within larger ideological networks. The U.S. government was a major impediment to reaching the goals activists originally hoped for. But this was a U.S. government strongly influenced by NGOs and activists—and the outcomes are in large part a result of their ideas and sway.

Other interesting recent works that show the power of these kinds of networks, and especially their clash, include Orenstein’s on pension policy and Teles and Kenney’s on free market activism.

What about “major” international policy? DD puts it this way:

The kind of non-state actors that Slaughter embraces have not been shy in engaging issues like climate change, Israel/Palestine or macroeconomic imbalances — but I haven’t seen any appreciable change in global public policies as a result.

John M. Owen has written a fascinating new book arguing that clashing ideological networks have been a key basis for regime change for centuries. I’d argue that some of the most important foreign policy developments of the last decade stem from powerful civil society interests, affecting state policy. The role of neo-conservative networks in sparking the Iraq War is Exhibit A.

Regarding climate change, I see this issue not as involving a clash between powerful states and environmental groups but as one which again pits network against network. On both sides, there are an array of powerful states, corporations, foundations, and NGOs, supporting divergent views. The failure to reach agreement on climate change policy is a testament as much to network as to state power.

On Israel/Palestine, I’d argue that a major reason for the situation we now see is the power of internationally-linked domestic interests–in the US, a loose but real agglomeration of civil society groups, the Israel Lobby as Walt/Mearsheimer define it. Its activism has shaped perceptions of America’s national interest, notwithstanding increasing efforts to reshape that view by other civil society actors.

The end of all this interaction may not be easily predictable, certainly not in the way that structural realists purport to predict outcomes. Henry Farrell makes this point in talking about cross-border “contagion” and the unpredictability of policy outcomes that result. The “contagion” metaphor, however, with its overtones of hot zone diseases spreading spontaneously and uncontrollably only explains part of what is happening.

Often there is deliberate, strategic interaction among like-minded groups within different states. They seek to shape policy both within their own and other states, using demonstration effects at home or abroad to push for their own favored policy outcomes more broadly. True, as HF states, we may not be able to predict outcomes as easily as in a billiard ball world. But I agree with AMS here that we need to pay attention to these interactions.

Where I differ with many who highlight transnational relations is in their taking too narrow a perspective on the groups, networks, and tactics involved. To reiterate, these networks centrally involve states, sometimes politicians, sometimes bureaucrats. There is not a full-scale power shift to nonstate actors. Second, these networks by no means push only “progressive” solutions to global problems. Rather, there are conflicting networks following and often deepening the ideological divisions of modern societies. Finally, because the stakes are so high for the groups involved, the tactics they follow are bare-knuckled and hard-hitting—just like politics in any other sphere.

Understanding Zombie Comedy

Earlier this week, Tufts professor Dan Drezner tweeted that his Theory of International Politics and Zombies book has now sold more than 10,000 copies. That’s a huge total by academic standards and I sincerely congratulate Drezner on his success.

Fellow Duck of Minerva bloggers have previously written a good deal about zombies and Drezner’s book. For Foreign Policy, Dan Nexon wrote a brief comment about Drezner’s original article suggesting that we should think (naturally) about IR in terms of hierarchy and empire:

America’s unmatched global-strike capabilities will lead most other remaining states to acquiesce to U.S. leadership over the zone of the living.

The result will not, unfortunately, be Liberal Order 3.0, but a global Pax Americana supported by regional client-empires tasked with controlling and eradicating local zombie eruptions.

Likewise, Laura Sjoberg argues that Drezner reifies masculinization in/of IR.

Reviewer Adam Weinstein argues that the book is “a light, breezy volume” laced with “quick dry punch lines” (Drezner is said to have a “weakness for the cheap joke”). While Charli Carpenter conceded that “the book can and must be read as parody,” Vikash Yadav more critically writes that this hint of humor does not compensate for the mainstream thinking he finds both in Drezner’s book and the larger debate about it:

I do not see the discussions about zombies as a type of new or out-of-the-box thinking. If anything, the discussions of zombies that I have noted so far are completely “in-the-box” thinking, except with a touch of geeky humor, parody, and wit that is usually lacking in the discipline.

So what would constitute an out-of-the box critique of Theory of International Politics and Zombies?

In her most thorough Duck blog post about the book, Charli notes a potentially serious failing of Drezner’s work.

…the book actually scarcely mentions critical theory, post-modernism, feminist theory or pretty much any scholarship falling on the “reflectivist” side of the discipline, much less utilizes their tools. (Though to be fair, Dan doesn’t claim to do so, either.)

But if I have one critique of this otherwise brilliant little book, it’s that as a description of “the field” of IR, TIPZ’ relentless focus on rationalist theory to the near-exclusion of identities, language or embodiment frankly bites.

Broadly, Weinstein agrees with this assessment, as he claims that Drezner’s survey of the field is “prone to give short shrift to IR theories he clearly disagrees with [citing social constructivism], and to softpedal on those with which he sympathizes just a bit.”

While those are significant concerns about the book, they are likely not sufficiently unconventional to satisfy Vikash’s critique. Indeed, he suggests a potentially more critical approach — by thinking about the central role of threats in the discipline, especially ultimate “worst case” threats.

I would hypothesize that apocalyptic thinking functions to reassert the relevance of dominant modes of theorizing; apocalyptic thinking disciplines the discipline. Apocalyptic thinking is deeply conservative; it reasserts the relevance of theories which protect the status quo.

This is an especially important concern given some empirical evidence Drezner arguably misinterprets in his book — the meaning of a couple of comedic zombie films, Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland.

Some readers may know that my ongoing sabbatical project is about “the comedy of global politics.” As I have previously explained at the Duck, numerous realist and other IR theorists have long argued that the discipline is explained in tragic terms. Tragic stories traditionally focus on doomed heroic nobles who find themselves constrained by their situation. The stories tend to be set in the Great Hall or on the battlefield and end in death.

By contrast, comedy potentially provides an important alternative narrative perspective on the discipline. Comedies typically focus on ordinary people and emphasize their regular lives — the human security agenda, if you prefer that language. The stories end happily, perhaps in a marriage. Comedies focusing on elites typically satirize and critique those characters, revealing them to be self-interested buffoons. Satire, farce and black comedy can be subversive, reflecting critical rather than entrenched understandings.

Arguably, the makers of the recent comedic zombie films have both the concerns of ordinary people and subversive ideas about elites in mind. The threat from zombies is mostly played for laughs (Zombieland was criticized for its failings as a horror film) and the lives of the (ordinary) main characters provide alternative narratives that are not centrally focused on apocalyptic threats. The zombies seem relatively easy to slay — though, granted, their large numbers are somewhat worrisome. The lead characters spend a fair amount of screen time thinking about their love lives and families. Both Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland end relatively happily, suggesting romance, family, and a return to (a new) normalcy.

Elite characters in these films, by contrast, are often lampooned and criticized. Obviously, the zombie outbreaks in both films reflect a failure of established order — and the characters in these movies are thus left to construct their own rules and understandings in order to cope with their situations. While Shaun of the Dead relies upon the military to save the lead characters from their situation, the story’s final resolution remains nonetheless focused on the relationships among the ordinary people at the center of the film.

Bill Murray appears as himself in Zombieland , living essentially alone in his mansion and disguising himself as a zombie so that he can have a life outside his dwelling. He plays golf, an elite sport, thanks to his zombie disguise. This way of life proves unsustainable.

Comedic zombie films, despite Drezner’s take (rom zom com?), offer a meaningful pathway to discuss critical theory in IR.

Terrorism: A Problem for Realists

Whatever version of political realism you are dealing with, the sovereign state is still central to its universe. Which is one reason realists are uncomfortable with any world view that accords ‘non-state actors’ a pivotal or even significant role.

I’m a huge fan of the work of political realists such as John Mearsheimer, Robert Pape or Christopher Layne, especially of their warnings against our own self-defeating behaviour. But there is a contradiction, or at least a tension in some of their arguments that deserves further thinking.

They argue that we have inflated the threat of AQ-style terrorism, which in reality is not fundamental and may be little more than a nuisance. On the other hand, they argue that this nuisance is significant enough that we should not maintain a forward-leaning military and strategic presence in places like the Gulf, partly because it radicalises opinion and fuels terrorism.

Consider Measheimer’s views:

In the aftermath of 9/11, terrorism was described as an existential threat. President Bush emphasized that virtually every terrorist group on the planet—including those that had no beef with Washington—was our enemy and had to be eliminated if we hoped to win what became known as the global war on terror (GWOT). The administration also maintained that states like Iran, Iraq and Syria were not only actively supporting terrorist organizations but were also likely to provide terrorists with weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Thus, it was imperative for the United States to target these rogue states if it hoped to win the GWOT—or what some neoconservatives like Norman Podhoretz called World War IV. Indeed, Bush said that any country which “continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.” Finally, the administration claimed that it was relatively easy for groups like al-Qaeda to infiltrate and strike the homeland, and that we should expect more disasters like 9/11 in the near future. The greatest danger for sure would be a WMD attack against a major American city.

This assessment of America’s terrorism problem was flawed on every count. It was threat inflation of the highest order. It made no sense to declare war against groups that were not trying to harm the United States. They were not our enemies; and going after all terrorist organizations would greatly complicate the daunting task of eliminating those groups that did have us in their crosshairs. In addition, there was no alliance between the so-called rogue states and al-Qaeda. In fact, Iran and Syria cooperated with Washington after 9/11 to help quash Osama bin Laden and his cohorts. Although the Bush administration and the neoconservatives repeatedly asserted that there was a genuine connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, they never produced evidence to back up their claim for the simple reason that it did not exist.

The fact is that states have strong incentives to distrust terrorist groups, in part because they might turn on them someday, but also because countries cannot control what terrorist organizations do, and they may do something that gets their patrons into serious trouble. This is why there is hardly any chance that a rogue state will give a nuclear weapon to terrorists. That regime’s leaders could never be sure that they would not be blamed and punished for a terrorist group’s actions. Nor could they be certain that the United States or Israel would not incinerate them if either country merely suspected that they had provided terrorists with the ability to carry out a WMD attack. A nuclear handoff, therefore, is not a serious threat. 

When you get down to it, there is only a remote possibility that terrorists will get hold of an atomic bomb. The most likely way it would happen is if there were political chaos in a nuclear-armed state, and terrorists or their friends were able to take advantage of the ensuing confusion to snatch a loose nuclear weapon. But even then, there are additional obstacles to overcome: some countries keep their weapons disassembled, detonating one is not easy and it would be difficult to transport the device without being detected. Moreover, other countries would have powerful incentives to work with Washington to find the weapon before it could be used. The obvious implication is that we should work with other states to improve nuclear security, so as to make this slim possibility even more unlikely.

So far so good. We needn’t conflate them all, their capabilities are overstated, states have good reasons not to arm them with WMD, and we should make sure that the very unlikely calamity of nuclear terrorism is made more unlikely.

But later he goes on:

Specifically, offshore balancing is the best grand strategy for ameliorating our terrorism problem. Placing American troops in the Arab and Muslim world is a major cause of terrorist attacks against the United States, as University of Chicago professor Robert Pape’s research shows. Remember what happened after President Ronald Reagan sent marines into Beirut in 1982? A suicide bomber blew up their barracks the following year, killing 241 service members. Reagan had the good sense to quickly pull the remaining marines out of Lebanon and keep them offshore. And it is worth noting that the perpetrators of this act did not pursue us after we withdrew.

Reagan’s decision was neither surprising nor controversial, because the United States had an offshore-balancing strategy in the Middle East during this period. Washington relied on Iraq to contain Iran during the 1980s, and kept the rapid-deployment force—which was built to intervene in the Gulf if the local balance of power collapsed—at the ready should it be needed. This was smart policy.

After Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, the United States, once again acting as an offshore balancer, moved large numbers of troops into Saudi Arabia to liberate Kuwait. After the war was won and victory was consolidated, those troops should have been pulled out of the region. But that did not happen. Rather, Bill Clinton adopted a policy of dual containment—checking both Iran and Iraq instead of letting them check one another. And lest we forget, the resulting presence of U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia was one of the main reasons that Osama bin Laden declared war on the United States. The Bush administration simply made a bad situation even worse.

Sending the U.S. military into countries in the Arab and Muslim world is helping to cause our terrorism problem, not solve it. The best way to fix this situation is to follow Ronald Reagan’s example and pull all American troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq, then deploy them over the horizon as part of an offshore-balancing strategy. To be sure, the terrorist challenge would not completely disappear if the United States went back to offshore balancing, but it would be an important step forward.

Next is to address the other causes, like Washington’s unyielding support for Israel’s policies in the occupied territories. Indeed, Bill Clinton recently speculated that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is responsible for about half of the terrorism we face. Of course, this is why the Obama administration says it wants to achieve a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians. But given the lack of progress in solving that problem, and the fact that it is going to take at least a few years to get all of the American troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq, we will be dealing with al-Qaeda for the foreseeable future.

Now to be clear, I’m in sympathy with offshore balancing (hence my own blog’s rather kitsch title), as a more prudent, alternative grand strategy. But if terrorism, as Measheimer and others suggest, is at best a minor nuisance that can be pretty straightforwardly managed and contained, then it becomes less decisive as a reason to not do things that Mearsheimer opposes, such as supporting Israel, keeping troops and bases in the Gulf, or waging wars around the world. There are lots of other reasons to favour an alternative strategy, but on Mearsheimer’s analysis it becomes more marginal.

Putting it another way, if Osama Bin Laden and his affiliates and imitators can hardly hurt us now that we’re on the case, any more than “lightning, or by accident-causing deer, or by severe allergic reactions to peanuts”, then their burning objections to our foreign policies should matter less in the overall calculus about our grand strategy.

Assuming Mearsheimer’s causal hypothesis is right, that our policies abroad ’cause’ it and/or intensify it, breeding more terrorism still remains a ‘minus’ on the balance sheet. Its not a good idea to create a nuisance unless there are very good reasons that make it worthwhile. On his analysis, it takes terrorism closer to being an ‘acceptable’ cost of the very policies Mearsheimer opposes.

Ultimately, I agree that we have inflated the threat and allowed the declared intentions of AQ and their ilk to overshadow a clear-eyed assessment of their capabilities. But they remain dangerous in a more interactive/action-reaction sense, that a successful strike against us tempts us into self-defeating, self-harming behaviour. But whether or not I’m right, at some point realists have to reconcile their belief that terrorism is not terribly important with their claim that it is very important as a reason not to do things.

However, I’ve drunk way too many coffees today and its lovely and hot outside, so I could have found two ideas that are complimentary, not contradictory. Over to you!

A Different Take on the “Obama Doctrine”: Is Obama still a realist?

So President Obama has his own doctrine now, because Wolf Blitzer tells us so. It is basically what Ross Douhat of the New York Times called the “liberal way of war” in a column on March 20. Libya is the “beau ideal of a liberal internationalist intervention” – humanitarian, multilateral and limited. This is the same columnist who just six weeks before called claimed that the President’s “foreign policy has owed far more to conservative realpolitik than to any left-wing vision of international affairs.” So which is it? Is Obama a liberal internationalist or a realist, seeing as the two are generally seen as diametrically opposed?

Actually Obama is both, although we have to be careful by what we mean by both terms. Even the most liberal internationalist of American presidents, like Woodrow Wilson, never devoted themselves exclusively to a humanitarian or altruistic course for American foreign policy. Once we cut through Wilson’s soaring rhetoric, we find a President keenly devoted to the American national interest. He simply believed that multilateral cooperation yielded certain mutual gains that were impossible to reach unilaterally in a newly interdependent world. Obama sounded the same notes in his first speech before the United Nations.

Realists do not place nearly as much confidence in multilateral cooperation and have an even more narrow conception of the national interest than liberals. Humanitarianism should not be allowed to play too great a role. Fareed Zakaria has called Obama this kind of realist, but this is not really accurate. Obama is a realist in style but not in substance. His realism is evident in how he approaches decisions, not in the decisions that he makes. This type of realist has what psychologists call “cognitive complexity” – they weigh the pros and cons of a multitude of different considerations before settling on the proper course. This was evident in the recent speech on Libya that has been proclaimed the new Obama doctrine. America will consider both humanitarianism and strategic considerations when it judges whether to use force, just like Wilson did. It will consider whether there are allies to shoulder the burden and how the international community feels, but will act unilaterally if there is a compelling interest. It is cognitive complexity that drives Obama’s favorite rhetorical “tic”, that of the ‘false choice.’ It is not one or another; it is both, when it comes to race relations, abortion, or diplomatically engaging Tehran. Others have called it being an “intellectual.”
One might object that this is not a doctrine at all. In fact, it is the very opposite of a doctrine in that it approaches every situation de novo. Or one could say that this just splitting the difference, a middle course as some have framed it. The doctrinaire quality of it comes through in what considerations enter into the equation. Humanitarianism has never been a strong Republican suit, but this has obviously been a prime Obama consideration, even as he weighs it against other interests. In that sense he is a liberal internationalist. And we can think of cognitive complexity as ‘situationalism,’ a style (doctrine?) of decision-making that takes into account all angles, rather than some expedient to pacify both sides by throwing each a few scraps. So I think I disagree a bit with Dan Nexon’s post below, that the intervention and its justification do not tell us anything about how Obama thinks about foreign affairs as a whole, even if that was obviously not his point in giving the speech.

Random Thought

Modern realist theory contains no arguments (of significance) absent in the writings of Niccolò Machiavelli or Francisco Guicciardini.

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