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

The Kissinger Effect on Realpolitik -War on the Rocks

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Henry Kissinger is closely associated with the term realpolitik and the IR school, realism. This article suggests that Kissinger did not fit neatly inside of these categories. The discussion is enlightening not only because of its insights into Kissinger’s thinking, but also because of the way it highlights the tension between abstract principles of foreign policy, moral beliefs and pragmatism in American policy making.

Some of the more interesting points:

First: “Stanley Hoffmann, a Harvard professor and contemporary of Kissinger, claimed that Kissinger’s career was “a quest for a realpolitik devoid of moral homilies,”…but….. “One of his professors at Harvard, Sam Beer, later recalled that Kissinger “had an intuitive grasp of the importance of ideas in world affairs,” particularly religion.”

Second: “In addition to the history of ideas, Kissinger was as much interested in statesmen and statesmanship — and the role of the individual in managing and mitigating trends in international relations.  …his doctoral thesis….  set itself against a “scholarship of social determinism” that “reduced the statesman to a lever on a machine called ‘history.’”

Third, Kissinger criticized realism and its proponents, such Kennan, for having a doctrinaire mechanical understanding of politics. What he referred to as ‘absolutist tendencies’. “He saw in Kennan’s later writings an unwillingness to “manage nuance” and accept ambiguity as irreducible components of political life.” And claimed later: “The challenge of statesmanship was “to define the components of both power and morality and strike a balance between them.” This was not a one-time effort but required “constant recalibration.” It was “as much an artistic and philosophical as a political enterprise” and demanded “a willingness to manage nuance and to live with ambiguity.”

Of course, Kissinger’s many critics would be unimpressed by how he practiced this “artistic and philosophical enterprise”. Indeed, as the article points out, Kissinger’s handling of the Vietnam war and the bombing of Cambodia was criticized by fellow realists such as Hans  Morgenthau “who wrote to Kissinger directly, just as Kissinger was about to take up his position as national security advisor, to denounce him for not coming out strongly enough against the war or signaling his intention to bring it to an end.” He later said, once Kissinger was in office, “The incompetence and pathology is really shocking.” Morgenthau’s critiques were practical rather than moral, but it demonstrates that in practice, realism and realpolitik come in many different shades.

http://warontherocks.com/2015/12/the-kissinger-effect-on-realpolitik/

Obama: The Conversation -VOX

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In the second part of an in depth interview with VOX (the first part dealt with domestic politics) Barak Obama discusses foreign policy. There are a number of interesting dimensions to the interview. In this post I am highlighting his discussion of realism in US foreign policy.

Question:
“This is a really sort of big-picture question, but over the years, I’ve heard a number of different members of your team refer to your kind of philosophy in foreign affairs as “realism.” 1 Is that a term you would use?

Barack Obama:
You know, traditionally, a lot of American foreign policy has been divided into the realist camp and the idealist camp. And so if you’re an idealist, you’re like Woodrow Wilson, and you’re out there with the League of Nations and imagining everybody holding hands and singing “Kumbaya” and imposing these wonderful rules that everybody’s abiding by. And if you’re a realist, then you’re supporting dictators who happen to be our friends, and you’re cutting deals and solely pursuing the self-interest of our country as narrowly defined. And I just don’t think that describes what a smart foreign policy should be.

Quesion:
You seemed to resist the realist label earlier, but when you talked about your goals earlier, you seemed very concerned about disorder, and you didn’t mention anything like democracy and human rights. And the countries you mentioned partnering with, it’s places like Egypt, where they came to power in a military coup; Saudi Arabia, with public beheadings; Bahrain, where during the Arab Spring they were beating nonviolent demonstrators and repressing that violently. Do you have any concerns about the sort of long-term sustainability of those kind of partnerships?

Barack Obama
“This is a perfect example, Matt, of where the division between realism and idealism kind of breaks down. I think any realist worth their salt would say that any society that consistently ignores human rights and the dignity of its citizens at some point is going to be unstable and not a great partner. So it’s not just the right thing to do; it’s also very much in our interest to promote reforms throughout the Middle East. Now, the fact that we have to make real-time decisions about who are we partnering with and how perfectly are they abiding by our ideals, and are there times where we’ve got to mute some of our criticism to get some stuff done, are there times where we have an opportunity to press forward — that doesn’t negate the importance of us speaking out on these issues.”

http://www.vox.com/a/barack-obama-interview-vox-conversation/obama-foreign-policy-transcript

Overlapping contests and Middle East international relations: The return of the weak Arab state – pomeps.org

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Interesting article examining the gaps in realist explanations of Middle Eastern international relations exposed by the Arab Spring.
“The popular uprisings intensified the interplay between the domestic and regional levels in the making of Middle East international relations. Security and ideational threats are intertwined as regimes scramble to defend both their geopolitical interests and their domestic political order from a mix of domestic, regional and transregional actors and ideologies. Whether this long enduring interplay has found itself into IR theory is another matter, however.”
Overlapping contests and Middle East international relations: The return of the weak Arab state – See more at: http://pomeps.org/2015/08/12/overlapping-contests-and-middle-east-international-relations-the-return-of-the-weak-arab-state/#sthash.wA4XWIiC.dpuf

India and China’s geopolitics at play amidst Nepal’s ruins -Globe and Mail

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The earthquake in Nepal last week killed at least 5,800 people. As Nepal struggles to recover, it also “finds itself jammed between India and China in the geopolitical sense. Like the Himalayas themselves, Nepal lies between the two hulking giants of Asia that, from the days of Mao and Nehru, have historically had competing ideological visions for how to lead the poorer parts of the continent toward economic and political development.” Not surprisingly, both India and China are using the opportunity to try to extend their influence in the country. Once again, humanitarian aid has a political purpose.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/india-and-chinas-geopolitics-at-play-amidst-nepals-ruins/article24201619/

Why the Iranian Purchase of the S-300 Should Worry the Gulf States -RUSI

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The “security dilemma” in action: Iran wants S-300 surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) to defend itself against potential US or Israeli airstrikes. At the same time though, the S-300 systems make the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states feel insecure because they threaten GCC-based civilian and military air traffic. Undoubtedly the GCC will appeal to the United States for more/better air-power and support, creating more tensions between Iran and the US. In the end, everyone is less secure….

https://www.rusi.org/publications/defencesystems/ref:A554385A7EAF10/#.VUOl_pOrHSg