I've made this point before -- here and here -- and I suspect I'll have to make it again. But whatever you think of the outcome of yesterday's Super Bowl, the unexpected second half power outage was a small blow against U.S. power and influence.
Why? Because one of the reasons states are willing to follow the U.S. lead is their belief that we are competent: that we know what we are doing, have good judgment, and aren't going to screw up. When the power goes out in such a visible and embarrassing fashion, and in a country that still regards itself as technologically sophisticated, the rest of the world is entitled to nod and say: "Hmmm ... maybe those Americans aren't so skillful after all."
Or maybe we've just spent too much money building airbases in far-flung corners of the world, and not enough on infrastructure -- like power grids -- here at home.
P.S. The other lesson of the Super Bowl is that strategy matters. As in: the abysmal play-calling by the 49ers when they had first-and-goal inside the ten yard line, trailing by less than a touchdown. Four dumb plays, and the Ravens were champs. Sigh.
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Here's a little fantasy for you to ponder: what if one of our senior foreign policy officials accidentally swallowed some sodium pentothal (aka "truth serum") before some public hearing or press conference, and started speaking the truth about one of those issues where prevarication, political correctness, and obfuscation normally prevail? You know: what if they started saying in public all those things that they probably believe in private? What sorts of "inconvenient truths" might suddenly get revealed?
In that spirit, here's my Top Five Truths You Won't Hear Any U.S. Official Admit.
#1: "We're never gonna get rid of our nuclear weapons." U.S. presidents have talked about disarmament since the beginning of the nuclear age. According to the 1967 Non-Proliferation Treaty, we're formally committed to "to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control." It has even become fashionable for retired foreign policy experts like George Shultz, William Perry, Sam Nunn, and Henry Kissinger to call for eliminating nuclear weapons too (even though they would have strenuously opposed such actions while in office) and of course Barack Obama made some speeches about it early in his presidency. And now some folks are trying to make a big deal about Chuck Hagel's involvement with Global Zero, a respectable international campaign to get rid of nuclear weapons.
But let's get serious for a minute. Although the United States has reduced its nuclear stockpile sharply since the end of the Cold War, it still has thousands either on active deployment or in reserve. Nobody in power is seriously advocating getting rid of all of them anytime soon, and even modest reductions (such as those stipulated by the most recent arms control treaty with Russia) are politically controversial. U.S. leaders have to pay lip service to the goal of total disarmament, and a few of them might privately favor it, but they understand that these weapons are the ultimate deterrent and that the United States isn't going to give them all up until it is confident that there is no conceivable scenario in which it might want them. Which means: not in my lifetime, or yours.
#2: "We don't actually care that much about human rights." Presidents, diplomats, and other politicians talk about human rights all the time, and both Congress and the Executive Branch often bully small countries over their human rights performance, especially when we have other differences with them). But when human rights concerns conflict with other interests, our ethical concerns take a back seat nearly every time. Most Americans didn't care when the U.S.-led sanctions program against Iraq caused the deaths of several hundred thousand Iraqis (many of them children), and none of the senior officials who authorized torture during the Bush administration has faced indictment or even serious investigation (Just imagine how much we'd be howling if we suspected some foreign government had been waterboarding captive Americans!). The United States has plenty of allies whose human rights performance ranges from questionable to awful, and we continue to trade and invest in China despite its own lax human rights standards. I'm not suggesting that the U.S. government is totally indifferent to such concerns, of course; what I'm saying is that we are rarely willing to do very much or pay significant costs in order to advance human rights, unless our strategic interests run parallel. Like most countries, in short, we talk a better game on human rights than we actually deliver. But you're not going to hear many American politicians admit it.
#3: "There's not going to be a two-state solution." For official Washington insiders, the politically-correct answer to any question about the Israel-Palestine conflict is that we favor a two-state solution based on negotiations between the two parties, preferably done under U.S. auspices. Never mind that there's not much support for creating a viable Palestinian state in Israel (surveys in Israel sometimes show slim majorities in favor of a 2SS, but support drops sharply when you spell out the details of what a viable state would mean). Never mind that the Palestinians are too weak and divided to negotiate properly, and the failure of the long Oslo process has diminished Fatah's legitimacy and strengthened the more hardline Hamas. Never mind that the latest Israeli election, while it weakened Netanyahu, did not strengthen the peace camp at all. And never mind that the United States has had twenty-plus years to pull of the deal and has blown it every time, mostly because it never acted like a genuine mediator. But nobody in official-dom is going to say this out loud, because they have no idea what U.S. policy would be once the 2SS was kaput.
#4: "We like being #1, and we're going to stay there just as long as we can." Most U.S. leaders like to talk about global partnerships and the need to work with allies, and they try not to speak too glowingly about American dominance. But make no mistake: U.S. leaders have long recognized that being stronger than everyone else was desirable, and nobody ever runs for president vowing to "make America #2." That's why U.S. leaders have always been ambivalent about European unity: they want Europe to be sufficiently unified so that it doesn't become a source of trouble, but they don't want it to cohere into a super-state that might be powerful enough to stand up to Washington.
The problem, of course, is that openly proclaiming global primacy irritates other governments and makes them look for ways to keep Washington in check. That's why the first Bush administration had to disavow an early draft of the 1992 Defense Guidance; it was way too explicit in laying out these familiar aims. But dropping that draft didn't alter the ambition, and despite what you might think, neither Clinton, Bush Jr., or Obama has abandoned the basic goal of keeping the United States #1. Whether their policies advanced that goal is another question.
#5: "We do a lot of stupid things in foreign policy. Get used to it." Everyone knows that U.S. policy toward Cuba has been a failure since the early 1960s -- that's half a century, folks -- but it never changes because the stakes don't seem worth it and it would tick off a handful of influential people in Florida. Everyone knows the foreign policy side of the "war on drugs" has been no more successful than the anti-drug campaign here at home, but you didn't hear Kerry say that during his hearings last week and you won't hear Hagel (or anyone else) say that either. Everyone knows that most U.S. allies around the world have been free-riding for decades and taking advantage of our protection to pursue their own interests, but saying so out loud wouldn't be ... well, diplomatic. More and more insiders know that the Afghan war is a loser, but we're going to pretend it's a victory because that makes it getting out politically feasible. It's obvious that our basic approach to Iran's nuclear program has been misguided, and that we've spent the last two decades giving Iran more reasons to want a nuclear deterrent and digging ourselves into an deeper diplomatic hole. But don't expect officials to acknowledge that simple fact, and certainly not in public.
Like I said, this is just an idle fantasy. I don't really want to see what Kerry or Hagel or McDonough or Lew or others would be like on truth serum (though I sometimes wonder if somebody is slipping a smidge to Biden every now and then). But it is kinda fun to imagine what they might blurt out in an idle moment, especially if the normal inhibitions and constraints were removed. What would you expect them to say?
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When Andrew Sullivan announced last week that he was taking his uber-blog, The Dish, independent and relying solely on reader subscriptions to fund the operation, the first thing I thought of was...
Not because the announcement made me yearn for a nice IPA, but because it made me wonder whether what is happening to the media environment is in some ways analogous to the extraordinary improvements in brewmaking over the past couple of decades, especially here in North America.
Back in my youth, beer in America was a consistently bland and homogeneous product. Watery lagers predominated, because the big brewing companies all sought to appeal to the median drinker. There just wasn't much difference between Bud, Miller, Schlitz, etc., which is why beer like Coors -- which had even less flavor but was hard to get in much of the country -- could become a fad for awhile. Beer snobs sometimes drank imports like Beck's or Guinness, but the major U.S. brands were boring, conventional, and competing to be more-or-less like each other. Kinda like Detroit's Big Three automakers or the three major TV networks.
Enter the microbrewery revolution. Beginning in the 1980s, enterprising Americans in search of good beer began drawing on artisanal brewing traditions and techniques from Europe, leading to an explosion of small craft breweries whose main selling point was creativity and diversity. Not to mention taste. Instead of trying to be like everyone else, microbrews thrived by presenting unique and interesting products that could actually hold a beer fan's interest. Instead of putting out a cheap product to be swilled in front of the TV or at a football game, microbrewers sought to produce something you could savor, discuss, and get seriously passionate about. No wonder I haven't sipped a Bud in years. Even the Obama White House has caught the bug, producing its own Honey ale in recent years.
So too with blogs. As Sullivan has realized, you don't have to be connected to some big media giant like the New York Times or the Economist in order to have a significant readership. It helps to be part of a well-known brand, of course but it's not essential, especially if you're more interested in appealing to a smaller group of engaged readers than in grabbing as much market share and advertising revenue as you can.
Furthermore, as the diverse set of writers that Sullivan often features on his blog illustrate, those who work primarily in the blogosphere are usually more interesting, provocative, willing to experiment, and well-informed than the mainstream commentators and pundits writing for the big media outlets. There are exceptions, of course, but I'm constantly impressed by how many smart people and good writers now inhabit the internet, and I frequently find myself in awe of how well so many of them use language and how much genuine pleasure one can get from reading them. By contrast, outstanding writing is becoming harder to find in a lot of mainstream media platforms, and its almost an endangered species in the hallowed halls of academe. It's not that they are bad writers, it's just that they are mostly so cautious, predictable, and bland. You know: like PBR.
Given the effectiveness of modern search engines, interested citizens can get lots of information from the web if they're willing do a little bit of dedicated trolling, which in turn makes it harder for governments, interest groups, or big media conglomerates to control discourse anymore. And that's why authoritarian governments in countries like China or Iran have worked so hard to slap restrictions on this free-wheeling environment, lest their own actions and legitimacy get undermined by the unconstrained flow of ideas.
None of this is big news by now, and Sullivan isn't the first blogger to rely solely on reader support. He's just the most visible and prominent, and his experiment reminds us that the information revolution that we are all living through is still in its early stages. But I hope Sullivan's venture succeeds and that others follow his lead. I don't know what the information industries will look like a decade or two into the future, but it's certain to be different than it is today and a lot different than it was when I was a kid. I'm already reconciled to the fact that I'll eventually have to give up my cherished morning newspapers and get almost everything in digitized form. I'll heave a nostalgic sigh when that happens, but in the end I think it will be for the best. Why? Because I also believe that the open exchange of information and ideas eventually leads to greater collective wisdom and better public policies. For this reason, the break-up of big media oligopolies and the proliferation of independent voices is a good thing.
And on that happy note, I think I'll have a beer.
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So 2012 is coming to an end and you're busy planning how to ring in 2013. Are you aiming to host a world-historical event? If so, you might want to think about the impact that some past festivities have had on international affairs. And be careful: sometimes a poorly planned party can have all sorts of unintended consequences. As both inspiration and public service, therefore, today I provide my own list of Top Five Parties in International History.
#1: The Boston Tea Party. As a loyal American, I gotta start with this one, which helped kick off the War of Independence and free the American colonists from King George III's cruel yoke. I know, I know: it wasn't really a party, it was an act of political protest by the Sons of Liberty. It didn't even get the name "tea party" for decades. But c'mon: do you really think the participants were all sober, and that tossing all that English tea in the water wasn't fun? And in retrospect, it had far more positive effects than the plutocrat-financed shenanigans of the 21st century namesake (the "tea party movement").
#2: The Congress of Vienna. After the Napoleonic Wars, diplomats and officials from all over Europe convened in Vienna to negotiate a peace settlement to resolve the various issues that had arisen after over two decades of war. Sure, there was a lot of hard-nosed haggling over borders and other arrangements, but historical accounts of the Congress also make it clear that the participants also engaged in months of energetic revelry, much of it of a decidedly lubricious sort. Historians who regard the Congress as a great success might argue that all this frivolity helped; those who believe the Congress left many critical issues unresolved probably think the assembled plenipotentiaries should have spent less time partying and more time on their work.
#3: The "2500 Year Anniversary of the Persian Empire." In October 1971, Shah Reza Pahlavi of Iran presided over a lavish celebration to mark the supposed 2500th anniversary of the "Persian empire." Dozens of world leaders and celebrities assembled at an elaborate tent city in Persopolis, where they dined for over five hours on quail's eggs with caviar, roast peacock, and a host of other delicacies, served on custom Limoges china and accompanied by some of the world's most expensive wines. The whole blowout reportedly cost over $100 million, and was condemned by the exiled Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as the "Devil's Festival." The contrast between the Shah's pretensions and extravagance and the poverty that many Iranians still endured was all-too apparent, and the ill-conceived party played a small but not inconsequential role in undermining the legitimacy of the Pahlavi regime.
#4: The Field of the Cloth of Gold. In 1520, Henry VIII of England traveled with most of his entire court to France to meet King Francis I. The purpose of the visit was to negotiate a treaty of alliance, but the summit soon degenerated into a testosterone-fueled competition, with each king trying show the other who was wealthiest. Encamped in two nearby villages, the two monarchs put on increasingly ostentatious displays including fireworks, the building of a temporary fountain that dispensed wine and water, elaborate arrangements of silks and gems, and sporting contests. The extravagance nearly bankrupted both monarchs, and the rivalry exacerbated the other obstacles to the alliance and the two leaders ended up enemies instead. The moral: if somebody wants to bring a really expensive bottle of wine to your party tonight, just let them.
#5: Woodstock. The enormous outdoor rock festival at Max Yasgur's farm in upstate New York in August 1969, both symbolized the youth movement of the 1960s and is now seen as its apotheosis. It wasn't the first outdoor rock festival or even the biggest, but it was undoubtedly the most memorable and had the most lasting cultural impact. You don't hear people talk about the "Lollapalooza Generation," do you?
These five historical parties can provide either inspiration or a cautionary lesson for your revels tonight. My advice: party responsibly, and get ready for 2013. Even if U.S. foreign policy follows the minimalist path I predicted in my last post, the rest of the world will provide us with plenty of things to worry (and blog) about.
Happy New Year!
I've finished my holiday shopping (at last), which means it's time for another round of hypothetical gift-giving for some important world leaders and political figures. If it were in my power, here's what I'd be sending some notables this year.
1. For Barack Obama: A dartboard. No, not so he can pin a picture of John Boehner on it, but so he can make some hard choices about his second-term priorities. Energy independence? Gun control? Rebuilding infrastructure? Middle East peace? A real negotiation with Iran? Climate change? Tax reform? The list is endless. Obama tried to do way too much during the first year of his first term, and I'm hoping he's learned his lesson and will focus more in the second term. Maybe a dartboard can help.
2. For Syrian tyrant Bashar al Assad: A one-pound bag of Arabian coffee to wake up and smell. Or better still: a one-way ticket for himself and his immediate family to anywhere they want. As an added bonus, a recording of this classic song. Just go. Now.
3. For Dick Morris, Karl Rove, and all the other people who called the election for Romney: A copy of Nate Silver's The Signal and the Noise. Because it's never too late to learn.
4. For defeated GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney: Nothing. You've got five houses, a fleet of cars and boats, and a loving family. What could I possibly give you except my vote (and I'm afraid it's too late for that)?
5. For the people of America, and especially its children: A ban on assault weapons, and a Congressional resolution declaring that all the 2nd amendment guarantees is the right to keep a muzzle-loading musket.
6. For Benjamin Netanyahu: A signed copy of Peter Beinart's The Crisis of Zionism. And a mirror.
7. For Hillary Rodham Clinton: A one-year membership in the spa of her choice, and a book contract that takes until 2017 to complete.
8. For the Republican Party: A roundtrip ticket to see the Wizard of Oz. Because the party desperately needs a heart, a brain, courage, and a way to get back home to its true conservative roots.
9. For the beleaguered people of the eastern Congo: A miracle. Because it appears that is what it will take to end their suffering.
10. For my readers: My thanks for continuing to engage with this blog (and now @StephenWalt on twitter). I wish you all a joyful holiday season, the warmth of love from friends and family, and a New Year that turns out better than realists normally expect. I'll be back online after Xmas.
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If you read this blog, you've probably heard about the various "isms" in the field of international relations. There's realism, of course, but also liberalism, idealism, and social constructivism. And don't forget Marxism, even though hardly anybody claims to believe it anymore. These "isms" are essentially families of theory that share certain common assumptions. For example, realists see power and fear as the main drivers of world affairs, while liberals place more weight on human acquisitiveness and the power of institutions.
But there's another major force in world affairs, and sometimes I think it deserves an "ism" all its own. With tongue in cheek and apologies to a famous Chinese sage, I'll call it "Confusionism." For Confusians, ignorance and stupidity are the real key to understanding state behavior, not fear, greed, ideals, class interests, or any of those other things that people think drive world affairs. When Confusians seek to explain why states act as they do, they start by assuming that leaders do not understand the problems they face, have only a vague sense of where they want to go, and no idea at all about how to get there. Instead of starting with the rational actor assumption beloved by economists, realists, and most liberals, Confusians hone in on all the reasons why humans typically get things wrong.
Confusionism is the opposite of the assorted conspiracy theories that you often read about. Some people believe that the world is run by a shadowy network of elites (e.g., the Trilateral Commission, Bilderberg, Council on Foreign Relations, etc.). Other people think everything is ultimately the product of some secret Zionist conspiracy, or the machinations of oil companies and the military-industrial complex. Islamophobes are convinced there is some sort of well-oiled Muslim plot to infiltrate Europe and America, impose Sharia law, and stick all our young women in harems. If you read enough Robert Ludlum, watch The Matrix too often, or spend enough time patrolling the nether regions of the blogosphere, you might find yourself thinking along similar lines. If that happens, get help.
These warped world-views all assume that there are some Very Clever People out there who are busy implementing some brilliant long-term scheme for their own selfish benefit. But if you've actually met a few real politicians, run a small business, or merely tried to get a dozen family members to a wedding on time, then you know this is not how the world really works.
Which is where Confusionism comes in. It begins by recognizing the limits of human reason, as well as the inherent uncertainties and accidents that accompany all human endeavors. Because men and women are fallible and because our knowledge is imperfect, screw-ups are inevitable. Why do you think the first two letters in the acronym SNAFU stand for "situation normal?" Clausewitz taught us "in warfare everything is simple, but the simplest things are very difficult," but his insight was not limited to the battlefield. Leaders rarely have accurate information, they are usually guessing about the results of different choices, and even well-formulated plans often go wrong for no good reason. For Confusians, world leaders aren't Megaminds implementing fiendishly subtle stratagems; they are mostly well-meaning ignoramuses stumbling around in the dark. Just like the rest of us.
Evidence that supports Confusionism is easy to find. What explains George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003? Simple: he was deeply confused, and so were the people advising him. How are we to understand Mao Zedong's disastrous decision to launch the Great Leap Forward? Easy: his head was full of goofy ideas, he had no idea what he was doing, and he didn't realize how badly he'd blundered until millions had starved. The Russo-Georgian War of 2007? Clearly the product of rampant confusion on both sides. The Euro crisis? Isn't it obvious that the people who created the Euro were confused about the feasibility of a common currency that lacked the institutional framework to sustain it in hard times.
Confusionism doesn't explain every case, of course. There are times when countries identify clear interests, devise effective strategies for achieving them, and implement those strategies more-or-less as intended. Realism is right to emphasize the importance of insecurity and fear, liberalism is sometimes correct in pointing to institutional arrangements that can facilitate cooperation, and social constructivists have a point when they argue that norms and identities also affect state behavior. But we shouldn't forget the important role of human folly, which is where Confusionism shines.
When will Confusians see things more clearly than others? Watch out for the following deadly warning signs:
1. New circumstances. When leaders are facing a completely new set of problems, it will take them awhile to figure out what it all means. Until then, confusion will reign. It took a decade or more before Americans and Soviets understood the full implications of the nuclear revolution, and even then a lot of idiotic things were published and uttered on that topic for decades afterward. And because both sides were deeply confused about how deterrence worked, they spent trillions building well over 60,000 thermonuclear weapons, more than enough to destroy each other many times over.
2. Unfamiliar environments. It is hardly surprising that the United States has been stumbling its way over the past couple of decades, as we've wrestled with the politics of places that are vastly different from us. We were confused when we sallied forth to Afghanistan, Iraq, and a handful of other places, and no country as ignorant of world history and as linguistically-challenged as America is likely to sort these places out. It's the downside of American exceptionalism: if we're as unique as we like to think we are, then the rest of the world is very different and is bound to confuse us. A lot.
3. Overflowing in-boxes. Policymakers are bound to be confused when they are constantly rushing to put out today's new bonfire and don't have time to think about what they are doing or saying. (This is what got Susan Rice into hot water, right?) Confusionism helps you understand why ambitious great powers get into trouble: they are always trying to do too many things in too many places, and that inevitably leaves them operating with a flawed understanding of most of the problems with which they are contending. Getting involved everywhere also makes you a prisoner of the locals on whom you have to rely for advice, and they'll work 24/7 to convince you to do what they want. Needless to say, this is a good way to maximize one's state of confusion.
4. Taboo topics. Nations are more likely to sort out problems when information is readily available and alternative views can be debated freely. It follows they will get confused when secrecy abounds, or when topics become taboo and hard to discuss openly. Small wonder, therefore, that totalitarian societies commit some of the biggest blunders (collectivized agriculture, anyone?), or that governments in open societies get confused whenever they start shielding their actions from public scrutiny and accountability (see under: Gitmo, drone warfare, covert action, etc.).
5. Ideological blinders. Rigid and all-encompassing world-views are a fertile source of confusion. A simple set of dogmas can provide great psychological comfort to believers, but they invariably clash with reality and thus provide a poor foundation for policymaking (or for running a national election, as today's GOP seems determined to prove). Whenever you hear anyone offering up universal and unquestioned truths about politics or society, your Confusion-detector should start pinging and you should hope that they never get close to power.
6. Success. Paradoxically, states can be more vulnerable to confusion after victory, because it often fosters over-confidence. "Victory disease" is a familiar wartime phenomenon, as a string of successes increases the appetite and encourages leaders to believe they can do no wrong. And once leaders stop thinking with their heads and start operating with their hearts and hopes alone, they are bound to stumble.
More seriously, I don't really think Confusionism will become a school of thought in IR, and there is already a pretty extensive literature on the closely related phenomenon of misperception. But the label reminds us when we are puzzled by what national leaders do, an obvious explanation is that they are just as confused as we are. And sometimes more so.
I saw the documentary film "Searching for Sugarman" over the weekend, and it got me thinking again about the dearth of popular, mass-market political protest music these days. In case you haven't seen it (and you should!), the film is about a Mexican-American folk singer from Detroit named Sixto Rodriguez, who recorded a couple of albums in the early 1970s. His songs (which are featured on the soundtrack) are pretty interesting, but the albums flopped. He dropped out of the music business after that, but in one of those cosmic bounces that no one can foresee, ended up becoming a cult figure in apartheid-era South Africa. Progressive musicians there saw his music as revolutionary, and it helped inspire their own anti-apartheid artistry. I won't spoil the various revelations of this wonderful film, except to say that it does capture how music can transcend boundaries and have unexpected political repercussions. It's also a fascinating human story.
Meanwhile, over in Moscow, the punk band Pussy Riot got sentenced to two years in jail for "hooliganism," all because they had the temerity to poke some harmless fun at Vladimir Putin and made the mistake of doing it inside a Russian Orthodox Church. Now there's a real threat to public order! And the government's lame response is revealing: throwing young female musicians in jail is like taking out a full page ad in the world's leading newspapers announcing "We are afraid of independent thinking and have absolutely no sense of humor." In a world where success increasingly depends on tapping into the energy, imagination, and initiative of the citizenry, Putin is telling young Russians to be dull and conformist. I think he's also betraying a profound sense of insecurity: when a three-person punk band is a threat to society, you know that the government has lost all perspective. He's got Madonna ticked off too, although I'm not sure that matters all that much.
But as I've written about before, I'm still struck by the apolitical nature of modern popular music. Plenty of artists continue to record songs with serious political content, but none of them seem to have much popular resonance. Protest songs get recorded, but they don't make it to the top of the charts and they don't inspire much political action by their listeners. A mega-star like Bruce Springsteen can record an entire album like "Wrecking Ball" -- clearly inspired by the financial crisis and the declining fortunes of the middle-to-lower class -- but I'll bet most of the people attending his concerts jump out of their seats for "Thunder Road" and "Prove It All Night."
But I'm not sure why that's the case, especially given the contemporary context of two lost wars, persistent economic problems, and widespread contempt for politicians of all kinds. You'd think this would be a moment where at least one or two artists would be writing political songs and attracting a huge audience, and maybe even using their art to inspire political change. But I get little sense that contemporary musicians are shaping political attitudes or behavior as they might have in earlier eras.
It might be because there's no draft, and so anti-war songs don't hit home with a population of young people who don't have to serve if they don't want to. It might be because the digital/internet revolution has carved the listening audience into smaller and smaller niches, so that it's harder for any artist to write something with broad appeal and a political message. You get political messages inside each genre (i.e., in hip-hop, alt-country, folk, etc.) but nobody commands a platform as large as Dylan, the Beatles, or even Creedence Clearwater did back in the days of AM and FM radio saturation. It could be that other art forms have superseded music; younger people are too busy playing Wii or downloading Jon Stewart reruns to pay any attention to the lyrics of the songs on their iPhones. Maybe it's just simple demographics: the counterculture movement of the 1960s was fueled by the sheer size of the baby boomer bulge. Or perhaps it's because there is no real Left anymore -- which is where the good songs came from-and because the Right thinks Mike Huckabee is cutting edge.
Sadly, I'm not expecting this to change in 2012. A bland suit like Mitt Romney isn't going to inspire noteworthy songs of protest or praise, and groups like Rage against the Machine have already complained about Paul Ryan's transparent attempt to give himself a hip patina by saying he likes their music. As Rage guitarist Tom Morello explained:
Ryan's love of Rage Against the Machine is amusing, because he is the
embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two
decades. Charles Manson loved the Beatles but didn't understand them. Governor
Chris Christie loves Bruce Springsteen but doesn't understand him. And Paul
Ryan is clueless about his favorite band, Rage Against the Machine."
"Ryan claims that he likes Rage's sound, but not the lyrics. Well, I don't care for Paul Ryan's sound or his lyrics. He can like whatever bands he wants, but his guiding vision of shifting revenue more radically to the one percent is antithetical to the message of Rage."
Barack Obama has revealed a certain tame affection for blues and soul music (and even an unexpected singing ability), and his 2008 campaign got a boost from a number of sympathetic artists. But I'll be surprised if will.i.am decides to record a follow-up to "Yes We Can," this time around, unless he's willing to focus the lyrics on drone strikes and the raid that got bin Laden.
I was at a book party last night, and a colleague and I started talking about our favorite books in the field. I remarked that one of the odd things about IR (and most social science, for that matter) is that it is rarely entertaining. To be sure, a lot of the work is interesting, and when you read a really terrific book, there can be a genuine sense of intellectual excitement. But how often does one read a work of political science or international relations and find it a genuine pleasure to read? And in particular, how many scholars in the field of IR are truly amusing or entertaining writers?
I can't think of many. Make a list of the big names in the IR field: Waltz, Huntington, Mearsheimer, Nye, Jervis, Simmons, Wendt, Keohane, Krasner, Katzenstein, Waever, Sikkink, etc., etc. Most of them are lucid prose stylists, but with the partial exception of Waltz (who gets off some acerbic sallies on occasion), you'd hardly call any of them a particularly witty writer.
This may be partly due to the subject matter (it's tough to make a lot of jokes when you write about war and peace), but I think it also reflects the normal academic desire to Be Taken Seriously as a Social Scientist. Indeed, the conventions of most academic journals seem deliberately designed to encourage a dry, leaden prose style that is devoid of any personality whatsoever.
So here's my question: who are the most amusing, entertaining, or witty writers in the field of international relations and foreign policy? I don't mean books or aticles that are "funny" because they are wildly off-base; I mean scholars who are a joy to read because their prose is lively, they offer amusing asides, and maybe even manage a laugh-out-loud witticism on occasion. And to narrow the field a bit more, let's exclude journalists (who are rarely all that amusing but usually have livelier writing styles).
My nominees would be John Mueller, James Scott, and Thomas Schelling. Honorable mentions might go to Dan Drezner (for his book on zombies), and Geoffrey Blainey (for his The Causes of War, though Blainey is really a historian/journalist). My three main nominees are all serious academics with long records of scholarly achievement, but each of them is also a joy to read, in part because their prose styles are relaxed and unpretentious and because each is capable of genuine wit.
So nominations are now open. "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Who's the wittiest IR scholar of them all?"
This is a guest post by Sean Kay of Ohio Wesleyan University.
As the world goes green for St. Patrick' Day, it is good to reflect on what Ireland's experiences teach us. We might ask, why should a realist care about Ireland? What might be learned from the experiences of this small Island in the North Atlantic -- home to just 4.5 million people?
Realists care about strategy, of course, which is one good reason to ponder Irish history. Ireland was for centuries a key component of England's rear defense against the risk of foreign enemies. Realists also are keen to understand new tactics in warfare and anyone wishing to get a sense of how guerilla campaigns proceed -- and how state responses to them can backfire would be well advised to study Michael Collins and the Irish quest for independence. Add to that the personal risks to those who negotiate an exchange of land for peace -- Michael Collins to Yitzhak Rabin show this only too tragically. The Irish experience in managing its strategic relationship with Britain after independence -- by building tight transatlantic advocacy networks and by integrating into the European community -- also demonstrates how creative diplomacy can achieve major strategic goals.
Ireland is also an interesting case of a state applying realism and ideals in its foreign policy, a topic that realists and others have debated for decades. Ireland remained neutral in World War II because it wished to consolidate its independence and avoid conscription of its people into the British army. Nonetheless, Ireland cooperated in both overt and secret assistance to the allied powers -- likewise during the Cold War. Ireland also advocated the cause of self-determination for all nations at the United Nations -- out of moral sympathy, but also as a way to keep its own views towards Northern Ireland on the agenda of global politics. Ireland managed to show how small nations can lead on a range of issues from peacekeeping to nuclear proliferation. It is often forgotten, but the origins of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty can be found in speeches by the Irish foreign minister at the United Nations in the late 1950s.
This is the time of year when pundits (and party-goers) get asked to offer predictions for the New Year. I'm going to resist the temptation, because as Yogi Berra warned, "prediction is really hard, especially about the future." He was right.
In 1849, for example, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that "war is on its last legs, and universal peace is as sure as is the prevalence of civilization over barbarism." In 1911, British scholar G.P. Gooch wrote that "even a successful conflict between states can bring no material gain. We can now look forward with something like confidence to the time when war between civilized nations will be considered as antiquated as the duel, and when the peacemakers shall be called the children of God." And we all know about the famous forecast that humanity had reached the "end of history," or the claim that globalization would eventually force other states to copy America's farsighted combination of markets, financial innovation, and "rule of law" if they wanted to enjoy economic prosperity. Yeah, right.
But it's not just these optimistic forecasts that turn out to be off-base; fortunately, some pretty pessimistic predictions did not pan out either. In 1950, a smart guy named Albert Einstein warned that "unless we are able, in the near future, to abolish the mutual fear of military aggression, we are doomed." In 1961, physicist and novelist C.P. Snow predicted that "The nuclear arms race is accelerating: within at the most ten years, some of these bombs are going off. I am saying this as responsibly as I can. That is the certainty." The late Herman Kahn, another physicist and self-proclaimed futurologist, offered a similar forecast at about the same time, declaring that "unless we have more serious and sober thought we are not going to reach the year 2000 -- or even 1965 -- without a cataclysm."
These failed forecasts might lead you to conclude that you simply shouldn't listen to predictions by physicists, but even a good realist like Hans Morgenthau got it badly wrong at times. In 1979, Morgenthau predicted that "the world is moving ineluctably toward a third world war -- a strategic nuclear war. I do not believe that anything can be done to prevent it. The international system is simply too unstable to survive for long." All I can say is that I'm glad he was wrong.
For a longer list of failed predictions about war and peace, check out the appendix to John Mueller's Quiet Cataclysm, which was my source for the quotations offered above. I'm not saying that scholars, pundits, and prognosticators don't get it right from time to time, but trying to offer specific predictions for the next year or so strikes me as a harmless but not very serious exercise. Social scientists can forecast certain broad trends, and our theories can certainly identify recurring tendencies that can help us anticipate broad features of the emerging strategic landscape. But the combination of human imagination, agency, contingency, and unanticipated consequences generally plays havoc with efforts at crystal ball-gazing.
Case in point: at a New Year's Eve party two years ago, I predicted that at least one country would leave the eurozone within the next year. I was clearly wrong about the specifics, but not about the general problems that the euro would face. Which merely goes to show that you can be broadly right but still be precisely wrong.
In any case, I'm not going to offer any predictions this year (at least not until I've had a glass or two of champagne). Instead, I'm taking the social scientist's normal cop-out and will look in the rearview mirror instead. And instead of just gazing back at 2010, here's my Top Ten Global Events of the past decade, in no particular order of importance:
1. January 2001: The inauguration of President Gore (oops, I mean Bush). The contested U.S. presidential election in 2000 proved even more momentous than we realized at the time, because it brought George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and a gaggle of neoconservatives to power. I'm not saying Al Gore would have made a great foreign-policy president, but it's hard to imagine anyone doing a worse job than Bush and Co. All in all, a hell of a way to start a decade.
2. 9/11. No surprise here, of course. 9/11 altered the course of U.S. foreign policy as dramatically as Pearl Harbor in 1941, and mostly for the worse, and because the United States is so powerful, its response to 9/11 had far-reaching implications all over the world. As horrific as that day was, the real damage came in the form of self-inflicted wounds (such as the invasion of Iraq) that proved even more costly than al Qaeda's original attack.
3. The Beijing Olympics. I pick this as a symbol of China's emergence as a major player in global politics, which is of course precisely what the Chinese government intended. One could also argue that it marked the end of China's self-effacing strategy of a "peaceful rise," and the beginning of a more self-assertive approach to advancing Chinese national interests. In other words, they're starting to act a lot like the great powers of the past, which implies increased great-power security competition in the decades ahead.
4. The Crash Heard 'Round the World. When the history of the 21st century is written, the financial meltdown that began in 2007 is bound to receive plenty of scrutiny. Unless, the same institutions whose greedy machinations helped produce it -- and who are still largely in place -- manage to generate something even worse in the years to come.
The late George Carlin was a brilliant comedian and social critic, especially in his obsession with how language can be used to distort or deceive. He's also a lot funnier than Derrida or Bourdieu.
In one of his best routines, Carlin began by noting:
You can't be afraid of words that speak the truth. I don't like words that hide the truth. I don't like words that conceal reality. I don't like euphemisms or euphemistic language. And American english is loaded with euphemisms. Because Americans have a lot of trouble dealing with reality. Americans have trouble facing the truth, so they invent a kind of a soft language to protect themselves from it. And it gets worse with every generation. "
He then proceeds to trace how the same combat-induced condition once known as "shell shock" (two syllables, clear and evocative), gradually evolved into "battle fatigue" (four syllables), then "operational exhaustion" (eight syllables) and then into today's "post-traumatic stress disorder." (eight syllables plus a hyphen!). And in the process, its nature is concealed and its impact is quietly diluted.
The spirit of Carlin is probably smiling ruefully right now, because this tendency appears to be alive and well. According to the Associated Press, the Army has now dropped the term "psychological operations" (nine syllables, unless you use the two-syllable label "psy-ops").
The new term is -- are you ready? -- "military information support operations" (a whopping fourteen syllables). Both the old term and the new one are euphemisms, but the latter is precisely the sort of bland and neutral phrase intended to conceal what is really going on.
You know, just like saying "enhanced interrogation" (seven highly misleading syllables), instead of "torture" (just two syllables; clear, on point, and illegal).
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Remember the old T-shirt slogan: "There is no gravity. The Earth sucks?" Given what just happened over in Iceland, I guess we have to say that it spits too.
For some reason this unexpected volcanic event reminded me of the late George Carlin's rant about the "save the planet" rhetoric of the environmental movement, and the earth's ability to take care of itself:
Besides, there is nothing wrong with the planet. Nothing wrong with the planet. The planet is fine. The PEOPLE are f***ed. . . .Compared to the people, the planet is doing great. Been here four and a half billion years. Did you ever think about the arithmetic? The planet has been here four and a half billion years. We've been here, what, a hundred thousand? Maybe two hundred thousand? ... Two hundred years versus four and a half billion. And we have the CONCEIT to think that somehow we're a threat? That somehow we're gonna put in jeopardy this beautiful little blue-green ball that's just a-floatin' around the sun?
The planet has been through a lot worse than us. ... Been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sun spots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles ... hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors, worlwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages. ... And we think some plastic bags, and some aluminum cans are going to make a difference? The planet isn't going anywhere. WE ARE ..."
You wanna know how the planet's doing? Ask those people at Pompeii, who are frozen into position from volcanic ash, how the planet's doing. You wanna know if the planet's all right, ask those people in Mexico City or Armenia or a hundred other places buried under thousands of tons of earthquake rubble, if they feel like a threat to the planet this week. Or how about those people in Kilowaia, Hawaii, who built their homes right next to an active volcano, and then wonder why they have lava in the living room."
Add to that list all the people whose lives have just been disrupted by flight cancellations due to the volcanic ash drifting across Europe. And no, I'm not saying we ought to ignore climate change, acid rain, deforestation, endangered species, and other environmental issues. We just ought to remember that our environmental concerns are mostly about us, and not about some abstract concern for the chunk of rock that we happen to live on.
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One year ago, I offered a Valentine's Day post on "IR Theory for Lovers," a tongue-in-cheek summary of the lessons that international relations theory could offer to anyone in a romantic relationship. There's no need to update it (i.e., the IR field hasn't changed that much in a year), so this year I present instead my Valentine's Day Guide to International Relations(hips): a typology of inter-state pairings suitable for pondering with your partner. (Word of warning: this is international relations we're talking about here, so what follows isn't very romantic, schmaltzy, or even encouraging).
1. Odd Couples and Strange Bedfellows. International politics can be a rough business, and the necessities of statecraft often bring unlikely partners together (See under: Realism 101). Remember the Grand Alliance in World War II: a ménage-a-trois between England (a constitutional monarchy), the United States (a liberal republic) and Soviet Russia (a communist dictatorship)? Americans may have been sold the wartime image of Stalin as the benevolent "Uncle Joe," but Roosevelt and Churchill knew it was a marriage of convenience all along. FDR told the U.S. Ambassador to the USSR that "I can't take communism nor can you, but to cross this bridge I would hold hands with the devil," and Churchill famously remarked that "if Hitler invaded hell I would at least make a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons." Now that's sweet love talk for you. Other odd couples include U.S. support for Tito's Yugoslavia, the U.S. tilt to Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War, and its close ties to a bevy of Third World dictators like Zaire's Joseph Mobutu. And let's not forget the "axis of evil" -- a trio of dangerous enemies whose unity existed only in the overheated mind of a White House speechmaker and included two states, Iran and Iraq, whose leaders detested each other. (BTW: the topic even seems to have inspired a conference at Oxford last year; see here.)
2. Failed Marriages: Sometimes states get so besotted that they decide to try living together, or even decide to get hitched. This sort of experiment seems to be even harder for modern states than it is for people. The United Arab Republic (a marriage between Egypt and Syria) lasted but three years (1958-1961) and ended with a bitter divorce; a subsequent attempt in 1963 (the so-called "Tripartite Unity Agreement" between Egypt, Iraq, and Syria) never got past the first date. And then there's the Sino-Soviet split, a nasty schism that put paid to the idea that the communist world was tightly unified monolith of like-minded and mutually supportive partners. One could add the long Soviet alliance with Egypt, which ended when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat got a better offer from Uncle Sam.
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No profound thoughts to offer today;
instead, ten rapid-fire, shoot-from-the-hip impressions -- some of them snarky -- from
my current road trip. Readers who want to discount what follows can chalk
it up to some serious jet lag.
1. British Airways has mastered the art of predatory pricing. First, they canceled my initial flight to London, which meant I couldn't make my connection to Paris in time for my first commitment. So I had to buy a separate one way ticket on Air France to preserve my schedule. But did BA offer to refund the unused portion of my itinerary (which was unused because they canceled the flight)? But nooooooooo! If I wanted a refund, I had to cancel my entire itinerary (which involved four more flights) and then rebook all four of the remaining legs under a new reservation number, but at a new, higher price that cost more than the original ticket. Heads they win, tails you lose. Resolved: avoid BA whenever possible in the future.
2. Alas, Air France is not an appealing alternative; it's no longer a great airline but instead is merely adequate. I still have vivid and glowing memories of flying first class to Paris on my honeymoon (a gift from my mother-in-law, who had a gazillion frequent flyer miles back then). I wasn't in first class this time, but even taking that into account, it was a pretty mediocre experience. And the "tournedos" they served for dinner would have made Escoffier tear his hair. Some poor vache died for no good reason.
3. Public transportation. On the other hand, there were a few experience on the road that put les États-Unis to shame. In Paris, there's a direct train from the airport into Paris, or you can take an Air France bus that leaves frequently, is cheap, and gets you to one of several convenient Metro stops. In London, the "Heathrow Express" rail line is equally convenient, and a virtually seamless way to get from the airport to central London. As you leave customs, there's a guy standing there with a credit card swiper. Thirty seconds later, you have your ticket, the trains leave every 15 mins., and they get you to Paddington in about 20 mins.. Consider that you can't take a train to Dulles or JFK and it reminds how bad most public transport and infrastructure is in the Land of the Free(way).
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Tongue firmly in cheek, Notre Dame political scientist Michael Desch offers this Swiftian solution to the threat of another underpants bomber:
How we can most cost effectively respond to the underwear bomber? I think that I have finally come up with the solution. Now that extraordinary rendition is in retirement, we've put all these CIA proprietary airlines out of business. We could just turn over the airlines to them and we'd have absolutely perfect security.
Here's how: a flight would begin with every passenger stripped and water-boarded. Then they would all be given those orange jumpsuits, blacked out goggles, and adult diapers, which eliminate the need for in-flight service, video entertainment, and bathroom breaks during the flight. Finally, all flights would be to "undisclosed locations" so any terrorist who got through the system would have no idea when to light his or her BVDs on fire.
In addition to the finally achieving absolute airline security, we'd also keep an important part of the defense industrial base in business at the same time. Do you happen to have Janet Napolitano's email?"
As for me, I guess I'm relieved that my next plane flight is on British Airways, where presumably the danger of water boarding is nil. On the other hand, I lost my luggage the last two times I went through Heathrow, so even Desch's proposal won't solve all our problems.
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Like some of you, I ran out of time to shop for a few people this year. But I wanted them to know what I would have gotten them if I had more time. Here are a few holiday presents that I offer in spirit (or if you prefer, in theory).
1. For Rebecca Frankel, my ace editor at FP, a new edition of Photoshop. She picks all the great pictures that accompany my posts: just imagine what she could do if she could take a stock image and alter it. How about Obama's head on Angela Merkel's body or a photo-shopped picture of Dick Cheney, Hugo Chavez, and Ayatollah Khameini swapping stories about civil liberties? Becky's done a terrific job of making this blog visually striking, and I appreciate her efforts greatly.
2. For Barack Obama, a signed copy of Taming American Power, with a bookmark at chapter 5: ("Foreign Policy in the National Interest"). Given the pounding the president took this past year from Benjamin Netanyahu and his American friends, there's nothing I could teach him about the Israel lobby, so no need to send him that one. Plus he has probably read it anyway, but just can't admit it.
3. For David Rothkopf, a DVD of Yoav Shamir's terrific documentary on anti-Semitism -- Defamation -- which he should find educational. I probably ought to include a valium with the card.
4. For my students, a promise to grade your exams in a benevolent frame of mind. That means that I promise not to start grading until at least one hour after reading the morning papers. And if I happen to read the op-ed page of either the Washington Post or Wall Street Journal, I'll wait a good two hours.
5. For my readers: a pledge to keep trying to enlighten, amuse, and confound you in 2010. I've learned a lot from writing this blog, and I hope many of you have too. I wish you all a warm and joyous holiday, and may 2010 be more benign than a realist would expect.
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It's the holiday season, and with it comes the tradition of gift-giving. These acts of generosity warm the cold months of winter and provide us with tangible signs of affection from our loved ones. Although a spirit of kindness and altruism is part of the process, an element of self-interest is often present too. Parents sometimes give their kids presents designed to encourage some worthy activity (e.g., a new musical instrument, a worthwhile book to read, a new camera for a child interested in photography), and spouses sometimes give presents intended to repair a rift or from which they expect to benefit either directly or indirectly. (Confession: I have on a few occasions given my wife CDs that were secretly intended for my iPod. Not that I got away with it....).
Given that international politics is a competitive realm-and sometimes brutally so-you wouldn't expect to see a lot of selfless generosity. But it does occur at times, and the week between Hanukah and Christmas seemed like the perfect opportunity to offer up a list of the "greatest gifts" that one country ever bestowed on others. I make no claim that this is a complete list-or even the best one-and I hope readers will send in their own alternative suggestions. Also, because this is foreign policy, some noteworthy "gifts" were wholly unintended. In international politics, some gifts are actually blunders rather than deliberate acts of generosity, even if others benefited greatly from them.
So in no particular order, here are ten of the "greatest gifts" in modern foreign policy.
1. The British Campaign against the Slave Trade, 1807-1867. High on any list of foreign policy altruism would be Great Britain's lengthy campaign to eradicate the slave trade. As ably analyzed by Robert Pape and Chaim Kaufmann, this may be the clearest case of "costly moral action" in international history. At its peak the anti-slavery campaign may have cost the British roughly two percent of GDP, even though Britain derived few, if any, strategy or commercial benefits from the effort. Instead, it was done for essentially moral reasons, reflecting the critical influence of abolitionist forces in British domestic politics.
2. The Marshall Plan, 1947. There was an obvious element of self-interest here, as the U.S. officials understood that European economic recovery was essential to prevent the spread of communism and to America's own economic growth. Yet the decision to provide $13 billion in additional economic assistance (at a time when U.S. GDP was roughly $250 billion), was nonetheless a far-sighted and creative act of statesmanship. Sometimes giving gifts to others does leave you better off. Can you imagine the U.S. Congress pledging a similar percentage of national income (i.e., more than $600 billion) to an economic relief program today?
3. Hitler's Declaration of War against the United States, 1941. This falls under the category of "unintended gifts." Although President Franklin Roosevelt wanted to get the United States into the fight against Nazi Germany, isolationist opinion stymied his efforts until Pearl Harbor. Yet after the Japanese attack on December 7, a "Europe first" strategy would have been difficult to sell had Hitler remained strictly neutral, and had he been clever enough to adopt a conciliatory position towards Washington. Public anger at Japan would have forced Roosevelt to focus on the Pacific, despite its lesser strategic importance. Thus, Hitler's declaration of war was in fact a great gift to Roosevelt, thought it was hardly an act of deliberate generosity.
4. The U.S.-Israel "Special Relationship." I'm sure readers would be disappointed if I left this one out, and it belongs on the list in any case. There's been self-interest involved here too-at least during the Cold War-but providing an annual subsidy equivalent to about $500 per Israeli citizen, along with consistent diplomatic backing, is a remarkably generous gift, especially when one considers the other costs it imposes on the United States (alienated friends, heightened risk of terrorism, more complicated regional diplomacy, etc.) The late Yitzhak Rabin said it best: American support for Israel is "beyond compare in modern history." It is also be one of those gifts that now does more harm than good, because it enables policies that are jeopardizing Israel's long-term future. At this point, it's a bit like loving parents who give a teenager a high-powered Harley and promise to replace it no matter what: they shouldn't be surprised if some reckless driving follows.
5. The Presidency of George W. Bush. Another unintentional gift, in this case given to America's adversaries around the world. The Bush team downplayed the risk of terrorism and was caught off-guard on 9/11, missed Bin Laden at Tora Bora and starved the Afghan recovery effort, went to war on false pretenses in Iraq and bungled the occupation, tarnished the U.S. image by mishandling Katrina and making torture an officially sanctioned policy, and led us into the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. I wonder if they ever got a thank-you note from America's current and future rivals, who must have looked on with a mixture of shock, awe, and gratitude.
6. Martyrs in the Cause of Peace and Justice. A list of this sort should also take note of those who gave their lives in the service of peace and justice. In addition to soldiers who have fought for just causes, and leaders like Nelson Mandela who ended apartheid and avoided the civil war that many feared for South Africa, there are also a legion of diplomats and private citizens who sacrificed their lives--the ultimate gift--attempting to advance the cause of peace and understanding. The names are far too numerous to mention and some remain obscure, but I am thinking of heroic figures such as Raoul Wallenberg, Dag Hammarskold, Folke Bernadotte, the eight Jesuit priests murdered in El Salvador in 1989, Dorothy Stang, Rachel Corrie, papal envoy Michael Courtney, Francisco Mendes, and many, many others.
7. Generous Givers. No country today is really generous in providing development assistance, but credit should be given to those who devote a relatively large percentage of their national income to this task (at least compared to others). Sweden, Luxembourg, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands head the list of aid donors as a percentage of national income, devoting between .8 to 1 percent of national income to this mission. The United States ranks 22nd, by the way, coughing up a measly .18 percent of gross national income.
8. Nuclear Weapons and the "Long Peace." Nuclear deterrence doesn't make war impossible, but its hard to argue that it has not been a formidable barrier to it. Unlike John Mueller, I think the Cold War could easily have gone "hot" without the sobering effects of nuclear weapons, even if both superpowers amassed far larger arsenals than they needed, and they are a major reason why the second half of the 20th century was much less bloody than the first half. And while we're talking about the "long peace," I'd give an honorable mention here to Mikhail Gorbachev and the "new thinkers" in Soviet foreign policy, whose initiatives were central to ending the Cold War itself, even though the end-result (i.e., the breakup of the Soviet Union) was not exactly what they had in mind.
9. The Post-war "Truth-tellers" in Germany. German power posed a problem from Europe from 1870 onward, and a fatal combination of flawed institutions, dangerous ideas, and-in the person of Adolf Hitler-a murderous individual, plunged Europe into two catastrophic wars. Yet in the aftermath of World War II, scholars, artists, and visionary leaders came together to confront Germany's past and revise the self-justifying history that had fueled its earlier misconduct. Had intellectuals in Germany acted in the 1950s as they did in the 1920s, and devoted their efforts to white-washing Germany's role in starting both wars and trying to deny responsibility for the Holocaust, the entire history of postwar Europe would have been different. Instead, historians like Fritz Fischer and Imanuel Geiss offered unvarnished and damning accounts of Germany's misdeeds, a process reinforced by other scholars like Jurgen Habermas and novelists like Heinrich Boll and Gunter Grass. The idea that history should be "de-nationalized" has grown in other contexts as well-from the "New Historians" in Israel to men like Saburo Ienaga in Japan-and constitutes a potential barrier to the xenophobia that has caused so much suffering in the past. A nation may be a "group of people united by a shared mistaken view about the past," but correcting the self-serving myths that sow the seeds of future conflict is an invaluable gift.
10. The International Civil Aviation Organization. Even realists understand that institutions can help states with compatible interests coordinate their behavior and achieve more desirable outcomes, and anyone who boards an airplane benefits from the work of this relatively obscure organization, which oversees the complex arrangements that regulate air traffic in a world where the thousands of planes take off and land every day. Why do I include it today? Simple. If somebody wasn't managing global air traffic, how could Santa fly safely?
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I've posted on Valentine's, Father's Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day and Halloween, so at this point I assume a few readers are expecting me to offer up some thoughts on Thanksgiving. I'm happy to oblige, because Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Not only do I enjoy helping produce a feast and welcoming friends and family, but I like the idea of a day to reflect on whatever blessings we may have received. In my own case, I've been blessed with a wonderful family and a lot of undeserved good luck, and I probably ought to be even more grateful than I am.
So in that spirit, here are the Top Ten things I'm thankful for this year. (For the "official" FP version, check out Josh Keating's list here). I've limited myself to items that relate in some way to foreign policy or international affairs.
1. The Foreign Policy team. First off, I'm grateful for the invitation to write this blog, and especially for the terrific backup we get from the editorial and production team at FP. Special thanks to Rebecca Frankel (who finds all those great photos), to Susan Glasser, who keeps the whole operation running, and of course, the boundlessly inventive and fearless Moises Naim.
2. Free Speech. Every writer lucky enough to live in a country that protects free speech ought to give thanks for that good fortune every single day. Compared to the millions of people who risk persecution (or worse) if they dare to express their own ideas, intellectuals in the United States have it pretty soft. We should never take that luxury for granted.
3. Great Power Peace: Throughout history, wars between great powers have been one of the most potent causes of human misery. Just think about World War I, World War II, and the Cold War, which together killed over 85 million people and impoverished millions more. Yet today, great power rivalries are quite muted and the danger of a true great power war seems remote. There are plenty of other problems still remaining, of course, but I'm grateful that one of the big ones isn't troubling us right now. Let's try to keep it that way, ok?
4. Nuclear Deterrence. Unlike some writers whose work I nonetheless admire, I think nuclear weapons did contribute to peace during the Cold War and remain a stabilizing force today. As Churchill put it, safety has become the "sturdy child of terror." So despite some lingering reservations, I'm glad that nuclear weapons exist. But I'm not giving thanks for the number that we have, which is far in excess of what is needed for deterrence.
5. Critics. Some of my recent work attracted a lot of criticism, and I'm genuinely grateful for it. First of all, my co-author and I have been fortunate that our most vehement critics chose to misrepresent our work and to smear us with various baseless charges, thereby confirming some of our central arguments and helping us win over a lot of readers. At the same time, scholars who have challenged my various writings over the years in more serious ways helped me refine my ideas and gain a fuller understanding of numerous topics. And I'm always thankful for students who don't accept ideas at face value and push back, because we need more independent thinkers and vigorous discussion helps us all learn.
6. Supporters. The controversy over The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy also brought me a legion of new friends, some of whom I would never have met otherwise. My thanks to inspired writers and activists like Phil Weiss, Tony Judt, M.J. Rosenberg, Jerome Slater, Avi Shlaim, Uri Avnery, Sydney Levy, and many, many more. I'm also grateful to the various people who faced pressure to cancel speaking engagements and didn't succumb to it, as well as the many friends who offered their support privately, in countless small ways. You know who you are, and I won't forget.
7. The Fruits of Globalization. I don't know about you, but I'm grateful to live in a world that is increasingly interconnected. Indeed, this aspect of the modern world still strikes me as nearly miraculous, and I feel enormously lucky to be able to enjoy it. I've eaten hummus in Tel Aviv, camel in Abu Dhabi, fish head curry in Singapore, and tapas in Barcelona. My iPod contains music from all over the world, and the last two novels I read were by Orhan Parmuk (Turkey) and Haruki Murakami (Japan). My children attend a public high school where students speak over fifty different languages at home, and there are students from over 80 different countries where I teach. Cultural differences often create awkward tensions (or worse), but I'd feel terribly impoverished if I lived in an isolated mono-culture.
8. Bullets Dodged. I am also thankful that we have thus far avoided some even more dire events in recent years. The world economy may have tanked in 2007-08, but we seem -- knock wood -- to have avoided a complete replay of the Great Depression. Swine flu has been a serious problem but is not a true global pandemic. Terrorists still conspire and sometimes succeed, but another 9/11 (or worse) has not occurred And we have not been so foolish as to attack Iran (at least so far). We should not forget that many are suffering in today's economy, roughly 5000 people have died from H1N1, both soldiers and civilians are still dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there are still influential voices clamoring for more war. But things could be much worse and for that we should all be grateful.
9. The Internet. Boy, am I glad that Al Gore invented this! After all, this blog wouldn't exist without it. Not only has it revolutionized how many of us do research (and in a good way), but it is becoming the main engine of accountability in a world where it is often lacking. Bloggers are exposing the flabby fatuousness of mainstream media and politicians everywhere live in fear of their own "YouTube moment." And whether it is a brutal crackdown in Tehran, torture at Abu Ghraib, or possible war crimes in Gaza, the Internet is helping bring misconduct to light in ways that governments cannot easily suppress. I say: let the sunshine in!
10. Readers. Finally, a heartfelt thanks to all of you who've been reading this blog since its inception, and especially those who've taken the time to offer words of support. I've learned a lot in the process-including some of the more constructive comments that readers provide -- and I intend to keep going until the tank is empty. Tomorrow is a holiday, however, and I'm going to take the day off. You should too, and don't forget to give thanks.
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Halloween is a big event in my neighborhood, and tomorrow night our street will be filled with lots of scary monsters. They aren't really monsters, of course; it will just be a bunch of kids trying to look as frightening as possible. And that got me thinking: what are the "scary monsters" that have haunted foreign policy debates in the past, and which turned out to be not so scary after all?
So, in honor of tomorrow night's revels, here's my Halloween list of "scary monsters:" those overblown threats, dubious nightmares, and (mostly) fictitious demons that people dreamed up to frighten us unnecessarily.
1. The "Domino Theory." This hardy perennial posits that a single defeat in one area will trigger a cascade of similar defeats elsewhere, either because allies "bandwagon" with the enemy, enemies become emboldened, or status quo forces become disheartened. It was famously used to justify prolonged U.S. involvement in Indochina, but variants were also invoked in Central America and the basic idea is making something of a comeback in debates about the war in Afghanistan. If we win, Islamic radicals will be on the run everywhere; if we lose, it will be hailed as a great victory and will spawn new troubles throughout the region and beyond. As Jerome Slater and others showed, both the internal logic and the empirical evidence for the theory was always paltry, but the idea that the fate of the entire free world might hinge on a single marginal event in some far-away land was an effective way to scare people into overstating the importance of otherwise peripheral conflicts.
2. Y2K. Remember the widespread fear that the world's computers would simply stop working at midnight on Dec. 31, 1999, when their internal clocks ran out of digits? Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre called it "the computer equivalent of El Nino" and said there would be "nasty surprises" around the world. In fact, it was a virtual non-event, even in countries that hadn't taken significant precautions. It's one of those episodees that makes me suspect that the growing hype over "cyberwarfare" and "cyberterror" is being exaggerated too. It's a legitimate concern, but watch it get over-sold in the months and years to come.
3. "Rogue States." This phrase become popular in the 1990s, in a period when the U.S. faced essentially no significant great power threats. So national security worriers started to talk about the threat from "rogue states" like Cuba, Libya, Syria, Iran, or Iraq, even though their combined capabilities were paltry compared with the United States (let alone the U.S. plus its allies). Specifically, the combined GDP of all the potential "rogues" was less than the size of the U.S. defense budget, and most of these states weren't even in cahoots with each other. The same was true (but even more so) for the Bush administration's famous "Axis of Evil," a conceptual monstrosity intended solely to scare the American people into launching an unnecessary and tragic war.
4. "Monolithic Communism." The Cold War was a fertile source of exaggerated dangers, and this dubious idea was one of the best. Many people in the West believed that all Marxists (and maybe even a few socialists) were reliable tools of the Kremlin, despite the abundant evidence of deep rifts within the international Communist movement and the repeated tensions between Moscow and its various clients. The belief that the Kremlin controlled a potent world-wide revolutionary movement fueled the insane fear of communist subversion during the McCarthy period, and even led some highly placed U.S. officials to view the Sino-Soviet split as a clever communist plot to lull us into a false sense of security. Not only did we exaggerate the threat, but we missed opportunities to wean leftists away from Moscow and fought foolish wars in places that didn't matter, like Indochina.
5. "Strategic Minerals and Resource Dependence." The United States and other industrial powers have repeatedly exaggerated their dependence on so-called strategic minerals (cobalt, chromium, manganese, platinum, etc.), and used the fear of cartels or cutoffs to justify a more interventionist foreign policy and greater power-projection capabilities. Alarmists point to the fact the United States imports most of its consumption of these materials from Africa and other conflict-ridden places, but this simplistic view ignores the reasons why this is the case and the various options we have for dealing with possibility of a cutoff. One option is stockpiles (which the U.S. possesses), and another is the fact that additional supplies often exist, albeit at higher prices. We import most of our consumption because these sources are the cheapest, not because they are the only ones available. Moreover, the danger of a complete and lasting cutoff is remote. With the (partial) exception of oil, strategic minerals are an issue that deserves a modest degree of attention, but are hardly cause for alarm.
6. Immigration. Throughout U.S. history, people who had made it here from abroad have tended to panic over the next group to arrive after them. The Anglo-Americans opposed the large-scale German migration in the mid-19th century, and every subsequent group -- Irish, Italians, Poles, Jews, Chinese, Puerto Ricans, Muslims,. etc. -- seems to have provoked nativist alarm declaring that this latest group will never assimilate and will gradually destroy whatever it is that past immigrants have come to value. This sort of thing can even lead formerly sensible people like newsman Lou Dobbs to rail against illegal immigration now, and it inspires militia groups seeking to patrol our southern borders.
In fact, immigration has long been a great source of strength for the United States, and it will probably remain so for many years to come. And the dirty little secret here is that American society -- and especially certain American businesses -- aren't upset at all about having a low-wage workforce to exploit. Keeping a lot more people out of the United States wouldn't be that difficult if we really wanted to do it-but we don't. That's a good thing, by the way, because it means the United States won't face the same demographic problems that Japan, Europe, and Russia will (i.e., a shrinking and progressively older population).
7. Soviet Military Power. Don't get me wrong: the Soviet Union was a serious adversary and it possessed considerable military power. But lots of people tended to portray it as a monster that was ten feet tall, and capable of seemingly magical feats of military deering-do. Richard Pipes famously told readers that the Soviet leadership genuinely believed it "could fight and win a nuclear war," other hawks seriously declared that the Red Army could easily defeat NATO and overrun Western Europe (in perhaps as little as two weeks), and Caspar Weinberger's Pentagon used to use U.S. tax dollars to produce a glossy document -- Soviet Military Power -- containing various ominous descriptions of Soviet weaponry and capabilities, much of it exaggerated. Of course, what they portrayed as the ultimate scary monster turned out to be a colossus with feet of clay.
8. "Bogeymen from Latin America" As befits a regional hegemon, the United States has long exaggerated the threat from various not-very-powerful forces in the Western hemisphere. The list of bogeymen is a long one: Venustiano Carranza and Pancho Villa in Mexico, Augusto Sandino in Nicaragua, Fidel Castro in Cuba, Juan Jose Arevalo and Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, Salvador Allende in Chile, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, the New Jewel Movement in Grenada, etc., etc., right on up to Hugo Chavez in contemporary Venezuela. One might concede that some of these individuals or groups were an annoyance or even a regional problem, but U.S. officials often depicted them as mortal threats to U.S. security. Remember when Ronald Reagan declared that the Sandinistas were but "a two-day march from Harlingen, Texas?" In other words, we were supposed to fear an invasion from an impoverished country whose total population was less than that of New York City. What's really scary is that some of Reagan's listeners probably believed him.
9. "Declinism." Fueled by books like Paul Kennedy's The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, many Americans thought that "imperial overstretch" in the 1980s was going to lead to the rapid erosion in America's global position. A corollary to this argument was the fear of Japanese dominance, as illustrated by Ezra Vogel's Japan as Number One and other similar works. This view even infected the international relations literature, as when Robert Keohane called his major work on institutions After Hegemony and realist Robert Gilpin offered a similarly gloomy forecast in War and Change in World Politics.
Of course, we now know that it was the Soviet Union whose decline was imminent (as others realists, notably Kenneth Waltz, had foreseen) and the Japanese Godzilla that many feared soon succumbed to a combination of speculative bubble at home and a sclerotic political system. But might one sound a cautionary note: were these fears dead wrong, or just premature? I'd say wrong, unless we keep doing a lot of stupid things abroad and don't get our economic house in order back home.
10. "Islamofascism." No list of scary monsters would be complete without neoconservativism's bedrock bogeyman: the claim that there is a powerful, cohesive, ideologically united movement of Islamic radicals, backed by assorted Islamic governments, seeking to re-establish the medieval caliphate, subjugate the West, and impose Islam on all of us. One thing is clear: the people who make this claim don't understand Islam very well and don't understand fascism at all; "Islamofascism" may in fact be the most misleading neologism in contemporary political discourse.
Sure, some Islamic radicals harbor wild fantasies about transforming and uniting the entire Muslim world under their banner; the good news is that they are as likely to accomplish this goal as I am to flap my arms and fly to the moon. Let's remember that Osama bin Laden isn't leading an vast army of followers to overthrow the existing Arab governments; he's hiding in some remote part of Pakistan and praying we don't find him. And surveys suggest that Al Qaeda's efforts aren't winning them any mass support; just recruits among a small number of disaffected. But the more we fear this monster and overreact to it, the more sympathy they may win and the more trouble they can cause....even if its nowhere near the amount they would like.
I could go on and discuss the fear of fluoridation and flu vaccines, paranoia about foreign ownership of U.S. assets, the "window of vulnerability," China's "foreign aid offensive" in Africa, the fear of subversion that led to the shameful incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II, and so forth. But I'll stop with these ten, and just make two final points.
First, we are often told that international politics is a dangerous business, and that it makes sense to prepare for the worst case. This is nonsense, because there are real costs to exaggerating various potential threats. Not only may this policy lead us to ignore more likely and more legitimate problems and to waste resources addressing fantasies, but it can also lead a country to take active steps that either make minor problems worse or lead to enormous self-inflicted wounds (see under: Iraq). Fixating on scary monsters can leave you ill-prepared when real problems arise.
Second, even if these foolish fears led us to undertake various boneheaded policies on occasion, we should nonetheless be thankful that these various monsters turned out to be far less fearsome than we often believed. But given that Nov. 26 is the official day to give thanks this year, maybe I'll just hold that thought until that holiday arrives.
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When I offered my "IR Theory for Lovers" guide back on Valentine's Day, I said I might follow up with some IR-inspired reflections on parenthood for Father's Day. I try to keep my promises, so here goes the "IR Theory Guide to Parenting."
First off, modern realist theory focuses on the structure of the system and especially number of major powers in it. Right off the bat, this perspective can tell you a lot about the dynamics parents face as the size of their family increases. When parents have one child, the balance of power is in their favor. They can double-team the lucky kid, and give each other a break by taking turns. Life is good.
But if you have a second child the dynamics shift. If one parent is alone at home and both kids are awake, the balance of power isn't in the parent's favor anymore. Instead of double-teaming them, they get to double-team you. And once the kids are mobile, you learn about another key IR concept: the window of opportunity. You're feeding or changing Kid #1, and Kid #2 makes a bolt out the front door, just like North Korea tested a nuclear weapon while we were busy with Iraq. Or you're in the middle of a crowded department store and they each decide to head down different aisles. The potential complications of a multipolar order were never clearer the first time this happened to me.
Moreover, once your children learn to overcome sibling rivalry and form alliances (e.g., by backing each other's alibis), your problems get even more complicated. Plus, children quickly master "divide-and-conquer" diplomacy -- "But Mom said I could stay up until midnight!" -- and soon learn that if they don't get the right answer from one parent, just ask the other. Of course, if you decide to have three, four, five (or more), you'll face even more complicated diplomatic dynamics and dilemmas of collective action, not to mention complete exhaustion. Yes, there are probably some economies of scale and maybe you'll learn from experience, but expanding NATO and the EU didn't make them easier to govern. If you decide to raise your own platoon, good luck to you.
Moreover, realists from Thucydides have stressed the destabilizing effects of shifts in the balance of power. This dynamic is built into family life: kids grow up, get older and smarter and bigger and more independent. Their parents get older, slower, more tired, and eventually dependent on the children. If you're lucky, your kids will help out when you're past your prime. Hmmm…is that what the United States has been doing for Great Britain?
Second, as Tom Schelling described in Arms and Influence, the closely related subjects of deterrence and compellence are central to the parenting experience (just as the use of "salami tactics" is central to being a kid). Most of us love our children deeply, which puts real limits on the amount of punishment we are willing to inflict. Total war just isn't an option, and the ability to use force is limited, so we're stuck with coercive diplomacy. And kids quickly figure out which threats are credible and which are not, and they are geniuses at probing the limits of our resolve.
Moreover, no parent can monitor everything a child does (and you'd end up with a pretty neurotic kid if you tried), and you eventually reach a point where physical restraint (in IR terms, "pure defense") isn't practical. So we all rely on deterrence -- "if you hit your sister/brother, I'll take away your X-Box for a week." But we all know the various subterfuges that states (and siblings) employ to negate a deterrent threat. Remember classics like: "It's not my fault….he started it!" Or "I didn't hit him, I just poked him." (Sounds like the Middle East, doesn't it?) And when parents get desperate, they turn to foreign aid (aka bribes): "If you finish your homework, I'll take you out for ice cream." Schelling was probably right: you can learn just about everything you need to know about this subject by raising a child.
Third, the whole field of asymmetric conflict can prepare you for another aspect of child-rearing: your superior education, physical strength, and total command of financial resources will not translate into anything remotely resembling "control." A two-year old who is barely talking can destroy a dinner party or a family outing just by being stubborn, and a smart, loving, strong and wealthy parent can be damn near helpless in the face of a sufficiently willful son or daughter. Read Andrew Mack, Ivan Toft, or James Scott on "asymmetric conflict" and the "weapons of the weak" before you have kids, and at least you'll be forewarned.
Network theory is still underdeveloped in the field of international relations, but it tells you a lot about your social life once you have children. You used to pick your friends based on common interests, professional associations, or simple serendipity; now you'll find that your children are in effect choosing some of your friends for you, depending on who they like in school or who's on their soccer team. This is actually one of the unexpected benefits of parenthood; just don't be surprised if your social circle looks a lot different by the time your child reaches ten.
Fifth, the IR literature on norms and socialization is obviously relevant, because there's a lot of socialization and norm development involved in trying to raise a reasonably well-adjusted child. Regime theory tells us that states create norms in part to reduce the transaction costs involved in cooperation, and that's exactly why parents set bedtimes and (try to) impose other general rules. My kids might like to negotiate every single aspect of their lives, but who has time? And as with most norms, failures in the short-term are less important than success in the long run. The fact that some states violate some norms doesn't mean that norms have no impact at all, and the fact that kids sometimes break the rules doesn't mean that they aren't internalizing a lot of the core principles over time. At least that's the hope that I cling to.
And then there's adolescence. Once again, we are back in the Jervisian world of misperception, reinforced by linguistic barriers, cultural gaps, hormonal eruptions, and the like. My teenaged kids are both pretty terrific, but there are those days when I think I am suddenly dealing with a creature who is as predictable as Kim Jong Il, as honest as Pinocchio, and as amenable to compromise as Torquemada. And the scary part is that on those days, they probably see me as the reincarnation of Joseph Stalin, with a bit of Mussolini thrown in. Bottom line: after you've raised a teenager, you'll never have quite the same confidence in the rational actor assumption.
There's a whole constructivist dimension to parenting too. For me, marriage merely institutionalized a relationship that was already well-established and formalizing it didn't feel like a momentous change. But parenthood felt like an instantaneous and overwhelming transformation of identity: there in the delivery room, I went from the comfortable role of "husband" to a new and frightening identity -- "Dad." And as the constructivists like to remind us, identities shape behavior in all sorts of unpredictable ways.
But to be honest, IR theory comes up short in one big dimension. I don't know of any body of IR theory that adequately explains why parents love their children, even when they are driving us bananas. But it's a good thing that we do, and for most of us, the joys outweigh the vexations. Happy Father's Day!
Tomorrow is Valentine's Day. As a public service, I would like to remind FP readers of the important insights that international relations theory can provide for people in love.
To begin with, any romantic partnership is essentially an alliance, and alliances are a core concept on international relations. Alliances bring many benefits to the members (or else why would we form them?) but as we also know, they sometimes reflect irrational passions and inevitably limit each member's autonomy. Many IR theorists believe that institutionalizing an alliance makes it more effective and enduring, but that’s also why making a relationship more formal is a significant step that needs to be carefully considered.
Of course, IR theorists have also warned that allies face the twin dangers of abandonment and entrapment: the more we fear that our partners might leave us in the lurch (abandonment), the more likely we are to let them drag us into obligations that we didn't originally foresee (entrapment). When you find yourself gamely attending your partner’s high school reunion or traveling to your in-laws for Thanksgiving dinner every single year, you’ll know what I mean.
Realists have long argued that bipolar systems are the most stable. So if any of you lovers out there are thinking of adding more major actors to the system, please reconsider. As most of us eventually learn, trying to juggle romantic relationships in a multi-polar setting usually leads to crises, and sometimes to open warfare. It's certainly not good for alliance stability.
IR theory also warns us that shifts in the balance of power are dangerous. There's an obvious warning here: relationships are more likely to have trouble if one partner's status or power changes rapidly. So that big promotion that you both celebrated may be a good thing overall, but it's likely to alter expectations and force you and your partner to make serious adjustments. The same is true if one of you gets laid off. Bottom line: it can take a lot of patience and love to work through a major shift in the balance of power within a relationship.
Even the best relationships have their bumpy moments, of course, because even human beings who love each other deeply can have trouble figuring out what the other person wants and why they are acting as they are. IR theorists have written lots of smart things about misperception, and it's good to keep some of them in mind. We tend to see our own behavior as constrained by our circumstances, for example, while attributing the behavior of others to their own attributes and wants. "I'm doing this because I have to, but he's acting this way because that’s just who he is!" This sort of perceptual bias is potent recipe for conflict spirals, something IR theorists have long warned about. A small disagreement occurs, and each person's attempt to defend their own position starts to look like an aggressive and unjustified attack. And so we discover another core IR concept: escalation.
I'm hoping a few readers are nodding their heads in agreement at this point.
Which brings me to an especially helpful IR concept: appeasement. The term has been unfairly denigrated since Munich, but it is a critical strategy for preserving any romantic relationship. And if you don't believe me, ask my wife, who made me put this paragraph in.
So maybe learning some IR theory can actually help your love life. If it does, and you're lucky enough to find the right person, and then you might decide you want to institutionalize the relationship by getting married. (This assumes that you're straight, of course, or fortunate enough to live in a part of the world that recognizes the rights of gay people to marry as well).
And then the two of you might also decide to mobilize your combined resources and grow your own alliance network -- i.e., have kids -- either via the traditional method or by adopting. If you do, you'll get to learn about a whole new set of IR concepts, like deterrence, coercion, salami tactics, and overcommitment. But that's another set of problems, and maybe I'll wait till Father's Day to blog about them.
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Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.