26 March, 2006

Realists, the USA, and Israel (slight return)

A couple of things have struck me about that article by John Mearsheimer & Stephen Walt (now that I have actually read it properly):

i) Mearsheimer & Walt are International Relations experts. It's odd, therefore, that in this article they primarily apply themselves to domestic US politics. It might have been better if they had written a long article outlining why they feel the US-Israel alliance is not in the USA's interests, and then left it to others (like people whose specialities are the process of government policy formulation or interest group action or that kind of stuff) to analyse why this apparently dysfunctional policy had been adopted.

ii) Mearsheimer & Walt are Realists, whose views can be simplified as meaning that they believe states in the long run always act in their own interest. Yet in their article they are talking about how a state has adopted a policy inimical to its own interests for internal political reasons. This is odd, and it suggests that Mearsheimer & Walt's views are evolving towards those of the Social Constructivists, who see states as evolving "interests" through interaction with the world, rather than their having actual objective interests per se. Arguably the giving of unequivocal support to whatever Israel fancies doing is a core interest of the United States, simply because all its policy makers think it is.

iii) The emerging campaign against the two is entertaining, given that it seems to amount to saying "They say X, as do certain bad people, therefore they are bad". The removal of the Harvard logo from a study by one of their star academics is probably a better testimony to the strength of the pro-Israel lobby in the USA than anything in their article.

25 March, 2006

The International Monetary Fund

A lot of people do not like the IMF. I have decided that it is important to work out what these hataz want done about it - do they want it abolished, or do they want its lending rules changed?

To this end I have issued an e-mail to the Helicopterview mailing list , and started a thread about all this on ILX. You can read the ILX thread yourself (already derailed into discussion of some lamer pop group from the early 1990s), and if the Helicopterview list generates anything interesting I will summarise it.

19 March, 2006

Realists, the USA, and Israel

Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer are the leading academics of the Realist school of International Relations. They have written an article appearing in the London Review of Books, contending that the USA's blank cheque support for Israel is not in the USA's interests. The article is entertaining on a number of levels. Not least is the way they finger US domestic policy reasons for the USA's pro-Israel foreign policy - Realists typically regard domestic policy as not being a significant determinant of a state's foreign policy. My understanding is also that Realists do not believe that a state can indefinitely pursue a policy that does not pursue its interests.

I have problems with the idea that there is such a thing as an objective and knowable national interest, so I don't know if you can straightforwardly say that a given state's policy advances it or not. However, the article does a good job of suggesting that the United States would do well to pursue a substantially less pro-Israel policy.

12 March, 2006

The Democratic Peace hypothesis (part two)

Read part one of this fascinating analysis here.

So the point really is to try and explain this observable phenomenon. Obviously, it could just be coincidence, and maybe in a couple of years' time German soldiers will be marching on Paris once more. But that seems a bit unconvincing and an attempt to retreat from systematising world events. Yet the Democratic Peace is not readily explainable in Kantian terms either. Kant reckoned that republics would be pacific because a politically engaged citizenry would not send themselves off to be butchered. That's all very well, but would lead to republics being equally pacific towards both other republics and authoritarian states. However, in real life, the Democratic Peace only seems to extend between liberal democracies, and they remain perfectly willing to lay into other types of country.

One of my Helicopterview correspondents attempts to explain the Democratic Peace by saying that the open media of liberal democracies makes it easy for them to engage in virtual war with each other, undermining each other's hostile regimes through media subversion. This is an interesting proposition, and does at least have some basis in unique features of liberal democracies. However, I don't think it works. If you look at actually existing liberal democracies, it is hard to see cases where liberal democracy A has bent liberal democracy B to its will by subverting B's media. And given the plurality of views on major international issues held among the leaders of liberal democracies, one could not credibly say that they have all had their consent manufactured in one particular direction (see France & Germany's willingness to engage in symbolic resistance to the US invasion of Iraq, or the Western Europeans' willingness to buy Soviet gas in the early 1980s over the vitriolic resistance of the Americans).

So I think the Democratic Peace has to have another explanation. I am developing ideas as to what that explanation might be, but I may cheat and consult the extensive academic literature on the subject. One way or another I think Helicopterview will be back to this.

One side point made on the mailing list was that over how research on the Democratic Peace can be misapplied. The NeoCons, in their muscular ├╝ber-liberalism have married the Democratic Peace thesis to their quest for US dominance, and produced a wonderfully simplistic idea - that if the USA goes around invading countries and blessing them with pliant democratic regimes then the world will be at peace for ever, and Fukuyama's dream of history's end will finally have arrived. This NeoCon idea is basically a pipe-dream - history is not over-run with examples of countries where democracy was successfully installed at bayonet point.

I am suspicious, though, of the idea that because research into the Democratic Peace can be misused it is therefore dangerous. There is nothing dangerous about the truth, save to those who profit by lies, even if such people are the rulers of this world. Academia should never let itself by dissuaded from lines of inquiry for fear of how the fruits of research could be applied. Gangsterish politicans will always find excuses for doing whatever they want, whether or not there is available research that can be twisted to their purposes. Moreover, any research into anything can be misused by the powerful, so avoiding lines of inquiry that are twistable by the overlords would kill academia.

11 March, 2006

The Democratic Peace hypothesis (part one)

I mentioned the Democratic Peace hypothesis in my second posting on Liberalism. Some of my pals on the Helicopterview mailing list took issue with the idea, but I think they have got the wrong end of the stick and started talking about whether so-called democratic states are actually democratic, given their elitist nature and the role of the media in manufacturing consent etc. etc.. My own feeling is that for the purposes of the Democratic Peace hypothesis, such ideas are irrelevant. The point of the theory is not to get into a discussion of whether country A is more democratic than country B - anyone who has studied democratic theory knows that democracy is a scalar rather than binary concept, and also that modern liberal democracies are far less democratic than what might be considered an abstract ideal of what a democratic society should be like. The point really starts from an awareness that there are a certain type of country in the world which have been dubbed "liberal democracies". Maybe the name is not fully descriptive, just like the People's Democracies that once flourished in Eastern Europe, so think of it as a label attached to a certain kind of society... basically the countries of Western Europe, North America, Australasia and Japan. The Democratic Peace hypothesis is based on one simple and observable fact - that as the governmental systems of these countries have converged, they have shown less and less inclination to go to war with each other.

And again, in world historical terms, this is very strange. There has never previously been any sense in which countries with similar social systems resolved their difference through non-violent means while reserving war for those countries with different systems. The observation also runs counter to the Realist theory of International Relations which so many people are taken with, that states act in accordance with their interests, and that these interests exist independently of the internal political system of a country. To a Realist, a democratic Germany should have the same interests as a fascist or authoritarian Germany, yet the years after 1945 did not see Adenauer gearing up for a third crack at the French.

(The German-French example is slightly unfair, but only slightly. Realists would talk about erstwhile enemies uniting against a common foe, and arguably that's what West Germany and France did in the face of the USSR. However, with the removal of the USSR's threat, a Realist would assume that Germany and France's conflicting interests would drive them back to hostility)

Join me soon, when I will discuss explanations for the Democratic Peace.

04 March, 2006

Theorising International Relations: Liberalism (part two)

Could you handle the wait? When last I wrote, we were languishing in the 19th century, an era of free trade halls and the march of reason. Now fast forward to the 20th century.

Liberalism took a bit of a battering with the outbreak of the Second World War... maybe international disputes were not so peaceably resolvable after all. Paradoxically, the Cold War was good for Liberalism... if the other side had some big ideology they could wave in our faces then didn't we need something too? Realism and its pure power politics is too depressing as a basis for organising, and anyway leads to the worrying conclusion that we are no better than they, so Liberalism, or a somewhat weird version thereof, became the ideology of the West.

Still, in academia, things are maybe a bit more subtle. There are a couple of things you can see as at the heart of Liberal thought. Market economics as a good thing remains central. Democracy is also usually seen as a good thing. Like the Realists, Liberals see the state as the primary actor in international politics, and like them they also see states as having interests which may conflict with each other. However, Liberals see this conflict as being potentially manageable. Crucially, the world is not set up in a zero-sum manner, and it is possible for states to cooperate in such a manner that everyone benefits. International institutions come into being as ways of promoting particular types of inter-state cooperation while regulating state conflict. In certain circumstances international organisations can gain a life of their own, and become themselves serious players on the world stage.

The early 1990s saw Liberalism reach its high tide mark, with all that end of history stuff about how Liberalism had won and how there would henceforth be no serious challenge to its conceptual hegemony. More recent events have suggested that to the extent that Liberalism is identical to the West (whatever that is), there are many people in the world who want nothing to do with it. It is maybe also interesting that the intellectual cheerleaders for Bush's war on terror and the invasion of Iraq are essentially purveyors of Liberalism, albeit of a muscular and combative sort. Although classic Liberals would see democracy as being a fundamentally good thing for people to have, they may well not have thought that bringing it to them at good point was particularly likely to be successful, but this is life.

One final fascinating Liberalism fact arises out of something Kant predicted. I mentioned how he thought that republican regimes would eschew war. This has not obviously come to pass - many of the world's great warmongers are blessed with representative government. However, one thing is very striking, and demonstrable by empirical research - in general, representative democracies do not fight wars against each other. This contrasts with other systems of government, where there is no obvious sign of intra-system war avoidance.