Keeping the gunpowder dry? -North by Northwest

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This brief op-ed discusses the securitization of the North. As the author,  Marc Lanteigne, points out, securitization does not mean that there is an imminent threat. Rather it means that an issue is being framed as a security issue, which usually means it seen in realist terms: It is conceptualized in terms of potential threats that need to be contained or perhaps leveraged, and the issue becomes the object of competition and a 0-sum thinking. The North has escaped securitization for the most part, but perhaps not for much longer:

  • “The Arctic, despite the unlikelihood of a military confrontation or unfriendly economic competition, has nonetheless been securitised by many Arctic and non-Arctic actors, including governments, as the region falls under greater international scrutiny. This securitisation process is coming from a variety of different directions:
    • Resources: Although oil, gas and commodity prices have remained largely depressed going into the new year, as more uncovered land and more open water appears every summer in the Arctic, the possibility of more resources being easier and cheaper to access grows in tandem. While most of these riches lie in uncontested areas, environmental strains and differences over demarcation in the central Arctic Ocean could still create future tensions.
    • Access: It is still largely a matter of guesswork as to exactly when the NSR and other Arctic sea routes will be usable to the point where transits become commonplace, and provisions are being put into place, including the Polar Code, which entered into force last month, but as long as jurisdiction over some of these routes remain disputed, the possibility of access becoming a source of insecurity and even conflict should not be dismissed. This matter may be further complicated as non-Arctic actors, such as those in Western Europe and East Asia, also vie to make use of Arctic sea routes to lessen travel time and trading costs.
    • Power: As the report stated, the Arctic has been distinguished as a place where adversaries can and have ‘checked their grievances at the door’. Whether that situation can continue indefinitely, however, is another question. The United States has recently expressed concern over Russian remilitarisation of its northern regions, and the two great powers remain at odds over the Ukraine conflict and possible future instability along Eastern European borders. Maintaining the Arctic as a cordon sanitaire in the face of these disputes is unlikely to get easier in the short term.
    • Governance: The Arctic, at present, has no dedicated security community despite various security issues appearing from many different directions on the margins. The Arctic Council is not (yet?) equipped to address emerging hard security concerns, such as those suggested above, due to its lack of a security mandate and its structure, which has begun to resemble a pyramid. Eight states form the core membership, but several major non-Arctic governments, including China, Germany, India, Japan and the United Kingdom sit as observers, with another, the European Union, possibly attaining that status in May. As the Munich report noted, ‘Arctic affairs have become a matter of global attention.’ This situation situation is unlikely to reverse itself even if a resource scramble never comes to pass. Differences between Arctic and non-Arctic actors over the direction of regional governance, and worries about the Arctic becoming a ‘closed shop’, could create tensions and strain the council’s ability to address future security issues.”

http://arcticjournal.com/politics/2939/keeping-gunpowder-dry

‘Why let ’em in?’ Understanding Bannon’s worldview and the policies that follow. – Washington Post

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The description of Bannon’s Islamophobia and general callousness is pretty much par for the course. There has been so much written on the Trump administration’s moral bankruptness that it is impossible to keep up with it all. This article digs a little deeper into Bannon’s psyche and his preoccupation with a particular understanding of the concept of “sovereignty”.

Bannon’s “worldview, which….laid out in interviews and speeches over the past several years, hinges largely on Bannon’s belief in American “sovereignty.” Bannon said that countries should protect their citizens and their essence by reducing immigration, legal and illegal, and pulling back from multinational agreements.”

This goes beyond typical realist thinking in its xenophobia and the belief that the “United States and the “Judeo-Christian West” were in a war against an expansionist Islamic ideology”. Further distancing himself from traditional realism, even ultra-hawkish realism, is his belief that this cultural threat is so pressing, it takes precedent over balance of power politics and the US’ deteriorating relationship with Russia:

“However, I really believe that in this current environment, where you’re facing a potential new caliphate that is very aggressive that is really a situation — I’m not saying we can put [Russia] on a back burner — but I think we have to deal with first things first,” Bannon said.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/bannon-explained-his-worldview-well-before-it-became-official-us-policy/2017/01/31/2f4102ac-e7ca-11e6-80c2-30e57e57e05d_story.html?postshare=1711485989417561&tid=ss_mail&utm_term=.b50125428f6a

 

What American Credibility Myth? How and Why Reputation Matters -War on the Rocks

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The concept of reputation is central to classical realist thought. States are not just judged by their capabilities but also their willingness to use them. Demonstrating resolve was therefore considered to be a key part of deterrence during the Cold War, for example. The threat of using nuclear weapons was only credible if the state and its leaders had a reputation for keeping their word. Similarly, alliances only worked, it was believed, if a state’s promise to protect its friends was reliable. If not, one’s allies would quickly look for new friends.

The issue of cost is also something to be considered when discussing reputation. Reputation was particularly important when it came to making costly or unpopular decisions. It is one thing to keep your word when it does not cost anything or if its the popular thing to do, but what about when it is not. Will a leader walk the walk when the price is “blood and treasure”?

The reputation question has been raised several times under the Obama presidency. First, he drew a line in the sand, so to speak, in Syria. He promised to intervene if the Syrian government used chemical weapons. When they did, Obama did not follow through. He allowed the Russians to broker a deal in which the chemical weapons were removed from Syria, but no punishment was levied against that Assad regime. Second, Obama struck a deal with Iran concerning the latter’s nuclear program. The problem here, Obama’s critics claim, is that undermined the US’ reputation among its allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Neither state feels it can continue to trust Washington, and the Saudi’s in particular have builyt up their military and become much more assertive in the region. Clearly they are no longer willing to trust the US to bail them out, or at least, so its argued.

The reputation argument however, is more complex. This article argues that reputation is often overstated and used for partisan rhetorical purposes, such as the criticisms levied at Obama. However it also argues that reputation should not be dismissed. Rather, context needs to be considered.

  • “…..the idea that Americans can safely discount reputation remains equally problematic. The importance of reputation varies for different countries and is most important for those that possess widespread commitments and interests, such as the United States. American leaders must worry about potential challenges in multiple theaters: Asia, the Middle East, and even Europe. Like Britain before it, the United States has the ability to concentrate its military at many points to deter aggression by, for example, Russia against the Baltics, North Korea against South Korea, China against Japan, and Iran against Israel. It cannot concentrate forces everywhere simultaneously, however. A strong reputation that deters initial challenges thus reduces the probability that the United States ends up confronting more simultaneous challenges than it can hope to manage, as Britain did as its empire dissolved.”
  • “At the same time, this conclusion implies that we should expect to see leaders vary in the importance that they attach to reputations for resolve. In an ongoing research effort, one of us found significant variations among American presidents in their concern about reputation for resolve. While President Carter resisted repeated calls from National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski to fight for reputation, President Clinton repeatedly invoked reputational considerations in his decision-making during crises. In contrast, President Obama said that “dropping bombs on someone to prove that you’re willing to drop bombs on someone is just about the worst reason to use force.” To explain this variation in leaders’ concern for reputation for resolve, one must look beyond situational or strategic factors to focus instead on the psychological dispositions and beliefs of national leaders.”

 

What American Credibility Myth? How and Why Reputation Matters

Frenemies: Why Rival Insurgents Work Together -The National Interest

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This article tries to explain the phenomena of “coopetition”, situations where groups simultaneously collaborate and compete. The article focuses on non-state actors in general, but with extra attention paid to the Syrian civil war, where groups like the Al Nusra front sboth compete and cooperate with other rebels groups such as the Free Syrian Army and Al Qaeda. The article suggests that the contradictions can be understood by looking at fragmentation that exists in these groups at a local level. Each off-shoot of the larger group has its own local needs and faces its own pressures. At times they will create conditions where cooperation, even with one’s enemies makes perfectly good sense.

It is worth noting there are other possible explanations for this type of behavior. On a more macro level, coopetition may simply be the result of balancing behavior in a complex threat environment. The logic of alliances based on traditional IR theory is that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, and alliances form to counter the biggest threat. However, in situations like Syria, instead of having one enemy state or alliance to balance against, each actor (both state and non-state) probably faces several. Therefore they have to re-balance and realign depending who is the biggest threat at any given moment. Today’ friend may be tomorrow’s enemy, and visa-versa. Or, as is often said in the context of the Middle East, “the enemy of my enemy is still my enemy”.

p.s. my apologies for the tacky adds surrounding the article. The argument is interesting, unfortunately the publishers are lame.

http://nationalinterest.org/feature/frenemies-why-rival-insurgents-work-together-15827

The Obama Doctrine -The Atlantic

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http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/04/the-obama-doctrine/471525/

This is a very lengthy article chronicling Obama’s thinking on a variety of foreign policy issues, many of which we have dealt with directly in class. Although there is no clear formulation of a formal policy doctrine, there is a guiding principle:

“Obama would say privately that the first task of an American president in the post-Bush international arena was “Don’t do stupid shit.”..”

While it is easy to dismiss this as a simple wise-crack, its telling given the way Obama is characterized as a cautious retrenchment  president:

“Obama appears to be a classic retrenchment president in the manner of Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. Retrenchment, in this context, is defined as “pulling back, spending less, cutting risk, and shifting burdens to allies,” Stephen Sestanovich, an expert on presidential foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, explained to me. “If John McCain had been elected in 2008, you would still have seen some degree of retrenchment,” Sestanovich said. “It’s what the country wanted. If you come into office in the middle of a war that is not going well, you’re convinced that the American people have hired you to do less.” One difference between Eisenhower and Nixon, on the one hand, and Obama, on the other, Sestanovich said, is that Obama “appears to have had a personal, ideological commitment to the idea that foreign policy had consumed too much of the nation’s attention and resources.”

Beyond this, the interview clearly illustrates his frustration with the Middle East and the constant drain it puts on US resources and political attention. He is also clearly a President who believes that the US needs to be the leader of the international community and that it is a force for good. Not surprising but interesting none-the-less given the degree he has been characterized as an atypical American President. His thinking also seems to demonstrate the typical hybrid of liberal and realist principles common to US presidents:

“I asked the president how he thought his foreign policy might be understood by historians. He started by describing for me a four-box grid representing the main schools of American foreign-policy thought. One box he called isolationism, which he dismissed out of hand. “The world is ever-shrinking,” he said. “Withdrawal is untenable.” The other boxes he labeled realism, liberal interventionism, and internationalism. “I suppose you could call me a realist in believing we can’t, at any given moment, relieve all the world’s misery,” he said. “We have to choose where we can make a real impact.” He also noted that he was quite obviously an internationalist, devoted as he is to strengthening multilateral organizations and international norms.”

Below are a series of specific points that stood out:

On not following through on the threat to use force against the Assad regime after it used chemical weapons:

“I’m very proud of this moment,” he told me. “The overwhelming weight of conventional wisdom and the machinery of our national-security apparatus had gone fairly far. The perception was that my credibility was at stake, that America’s credibility was at stake. And so for me to press the pause button at that moment, I knew, would cost me politically. And the fact that I was able to pull back from the immediate pressures and think through in my own mind what was in America’s interest, not only with respect to Syria but also with respect to our democracy, was as tough a decision as I’ve made—and I believe ultimately it was the right decision to make.”

This was the moment the president believes he finally broke with what he calls, derisively, the “Washington playbook.”

 

On the “Asian Pivot”:

“For years, the “pivot to Asia” has been a paramount priority of his. America’s economic future lies in Asia, he believes, and the challenge posed by China’s rise requires constant attention. From his earliest days in office, Obama has been focused on rebuilding the sometimes-threadbare ties between the U.S. and its Asian treaty partners, and he is perpetually on the hunt for opportunities to draw other Asian nations into the U.S. orbit…. Obama’s secretary of defense, Ashton Carter, told me not long ago that Obama has maintained his focus on Asia even as Syria and other Middle Eastern conflicts continue to flare. Obama believes, Carter said, that Asia “is the part of the world of greatest consequence to the American future, and that no president can take his eye off of this.” He added, “He consistently asks, even in the midst of everything else that’s going on, ‘Where are we in the Asia-Pacific rebalance? Where are we in terms of resources?’ He’s been extremely consistent about that, even in times of Middle East tension.””

This is not just realpolitik, but exasperation with the situation in the Middle East and what he seems to believe is a culture of violence:

“He then made an observation that I came to realize was representative of his bleakest, most visceral understanding of the Middle East today—not the sort of understanding that a White House still oriented around themes of hope and change might choose to advertise. “If we’re not talking to them,” he said, referring to young Asians and Africans and Latin Americans, “because the only thing we’re doing is figuring out how to destroy or cordon off or control the malicious, nihilistic, violent parts of humanity, then we’re missing the boat.”

 

On the Iranian-Saudi rivalry:

“Iran, since 1979, has been an enemy of the United States, and has engaged in state-sponsored terrorism, is a genuine threat to Israel and many of our allies, and engages in all kinds of destructive behavior,” the president said. “And my view has never been that we should throw our traditional allies”—the Saudis—“overboard in favor of Iran.”

But he went on to say that the Saudis need to “share” the Middle East with their Iranian foes. “The competition between the Saudis and the Iranians—which has helped to feed proxy wars and chaos in Syria and Iraq and Yemen—requires us to say to our friends as well as to the Iranians that they need to find an effective way to share the neighborhood and institute some sort of cold peace,” he said. “An approach that said to our friends ‘You are right, Iran is the source of all problems, and we will support you in dealing with Iran’ would essentially mean that as these sectarian conflicts continue to rage and our Gulf partners, our traditional friends, do not have the ability to put out the flames on their own or decisively win on their own, and would mean that we have to start coming in and using our military power to settle scores. And that would be in the interest neither of the United States nor of the Middle East.””

 

On Vladimir Putin and the Ukraine:

“Putin acted in Ukraine in response to a client state that was about to slip out of his grasp. And he improvised in a way to hang on to his control there,” he said. “He’s done the exact same thing in Syria, at enormous cost to the well-being of his own country. And the notion that somehow Russia is in a stronger position now, in Syria or in Ukraine, than they were before they invaded Ukraine or before he had to deploy military forces to Syria is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of power in foreign affairs or in the world generally. Real power means you can get what you want without having to exert violence. Russia was much more powerful when Ukraine looked like an independent country but was a kleptocracy that he could pull the strings on.”

Obama’s theory here is simple: Ukraine is a core Russian interest but not an American one, so Russia will always be able to maintain escalatory dominance there.

“The fact is that Ukraine, which is a non-nato country, is going to be vulnerable to military domination by Russia no matter what we do,” he said.”

……A weak, flailing Russia constitutes a threat as well, though not quite a top-tier threat. “Unlike China, they have demographic problems, economic structural problems, that would require not only vision but a generation to overcome,” Obama said. “The path that Putin is taking is not going to help them overcome those challenges. But in that environment, the temptation to project military force to show greatness is strong, and that’s what Putin’s inclination is. So I don’t underestimate the dangers there.”

 

On China:

“I’ve been very explicit in saying that we have more to fear from a weakened, threatened China than a successful, rising China,” Obama said. “I think we have to be firm where China’s actions are undermining international interests, and if you look at how we’ve operated in the South China Sea, we have been able to mobilize most of Asia to isolate China in ways that have surprised China, frankly, and have very much served our interest in strengthening our alliances.”

On the environment:

isis is not an existential threat to the United States,” he told me in one of these conversations. “Climate change is a potential existential threat to the entire world if we don’t do something about it.” Obama explained that climate change worries him in particular because “it is a political problem perfectly designed to repel government intervention. It involves every single country, and it is a comparatively slow-moving emergency, so there is always something seemingly more urgent on the agenda.”

 

 

 

Pre-Westphalian IR -Medievalists.net

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Here are two blog entries focusing on international politics in pre-Westphalian Europe. The first provides a realist balance-of-power analysis of of the city states and principalities of Europe in 1423, with military power based on the number of horseman each region could muster, and annual income measured in ducats, a currency worth slightly more than the Canadian dollar:)

The Power of Medieval States – A Report from the Year 1423

Map of Europe in 1430, created by Lynn H. Nelson

 

http://www.medievalists.net/2016/01/23/the-power-of-medieval-states-a-report-from-the-year-1423/

The second article is more in depth, and offers a more constructivist analysis by the author of Theorizing Medieval Geopolitics: War and World Order in the Age of the Crusades, Andrew Latham. While the first article suggests the continuing logic of realism across the ages, this article suggests parallels between the “identity-interest complex” of the Crusades and that of Islamic extremism.

Medieval Geopolitics: An interview with Andrew Latham

“My analysis of the crusades demonstrates how a distinctively religious “identity-interest complex” made possible the religious wars of the late medieval era.  This is a very specific historical case, to be sure, and I have endeavored to present it as such.  But there is no reason to suppose that the argument that religious identities (along with all of their entailments) cannot and do not motivate individual and collective actors on the international stage just as powerfully today as they did a millennium ago.  Indeed, as the works of scholars such as Olivier Roy and David Cook convincingly demonstrate, historical and contemporary Islamist political violence – to take one particularly salient example – is both made possible and motivated by a particular religious identity and its associated political project. Like the crusades, this violence cannot be convincingly explained by recourse to the “hidden logic” of the mode of production, the transhistorical logic of self-help under anarchy, or “second image” dynamics that explain violence in terms of the war-prone pathologies of certain actors on the international stage.”

http://www.medievalists.net/2013/12/06/medieval-geopolitics-an-interview-with-andrew-latham/

US’ Syria Policy ‘Paralyzed’ by Rhetoric that Assad Must Go, Says Hagel -Atlantic Council

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Agree or disagree, this is a pretty good example of a realist approach to US foreign policy and the situation in Syria. It is not particularly concerned with a pragmatic response to the crisis than Assad’s moral baggage, or his ideological posture which is anti-Western, anti-Israeli & pro-Iran:

“Former Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, thinks that the Obama administration has become “paralyzed” by its rhetoric that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must step down, said budget cuts have pushed the United States “perilously close” to being unable to maintain its military dominance, equated the Republican presidential campaigns to an amateur talent contest, and had some advice for Donald Trump: “focus on uniting this country, not dividing it.”

“We have allowed ourselves to get caught and paralyzed on our Syrian policy by the statement that ‘Assad must go,’” Hagel said at the Atlantic Council on January 13. “Assad was never our enemy. A brutal dictator? Yes.”

But, he added, important lessons should have been learned from the ouster of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Moammar Gadhafi in Libya. Following Hussein’s execution in December of 2006, former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s divisive policies deepened the sectarian divide in the country and contributed to the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). In Libya, the toppling of Gadhafi by rebels aided by a Western military campaign in 2011 plunged the country into a downward spiral of chaos from which it has yet to recover.

“You can take a brutal dictator out, but you better understand what you may get in return,” Hagel said. “We never asked that question: What is coming after Assad?”

http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/us-syria-policy-paralyzed-by-rhetoric-that-assad-must-go-says-hagel