Recently a friend and colleague wrote me to say:
“The SS piece is actually really useful to me as a model for dealing with
by Brandon Valeriano and Andy Owsiak
What follows is a dialog between us on John Vasquez’s contributions to the field of IR based on a recent roundtable honoring his work at the Annual Meeting of the International Studies Association in Toronto in March, 2014. Our remarks are cribbed from our statements on the panel.
[Note: This is a guest post by Jarrod Hayes, assistant professor of international relations at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His first book, Constructing National Relations: US Relations with India and China was published by Cambridge University Press in 2013.]
Jeffrey Stacey has already discussed the issue in Crimea with alacrity, as have his interlocutors in the comments section. My agenda here is to argue that what is going on in Crimea is not a story about which Realist theory in international relations has much to say. My specific foil here (probably at some professional peril) is John Mearsheimer. Mearsheimer is perhaps most known for his forceful support of Realist IR theory (there is that Israel thing too), specifically a variant called offensive realism. According to that theory, great powers are constantly predatory, seeking to boost their power (military capability and economic capability that boosts military capability) whenever benefits exceed the costs. It is a materialist and rationalist approach to international security, grounded in a logic of power and appealing in its simplicity. And Mearsheimer has not been shy about commenting on the crisis in Crimea, arguing that Ukraine should have kept its nuclear weapons after the end of the Cold War and that Russia’s annexation of Crimea makes perfect sense as the actions of an insecure state seeking to prevent immediate neighbors from falling into the orbit of the West.
The story is an appealing one, and on the surface it looks compelling.
So this post is a bleg to those of you who know more about alliances than me. I am considering writing this up for an article, so I thought I would ‘crowd-source’ early comments on the basic argument. I also wonder if someone elsewhere has already suggested this idea in the vast alliance literature. So please let me know. The motivation is inductive – the deepening tension between Japan and Korea has suggested the addendum to alliance theory I am proposing here. But I wonder if others have said this before.
Put briefly, I don’t think entrapment or abandonment captures the US position between allies in dispute, like Japan and Korea, or Greece and Turkey (perhaps - I know that latter case less well). Instead, each seems to use the US alliance patron to: a) compete with each other, because b) the US alliance relieves external pressures (China and North Korea, and the USSR and chaos in the Balkans and Middle East, respectively) that would otherwise incentivize a rapprochement. These four states are not trying to ‘entrap’ the US so much as leverage it for an intra-alliance squabble, with the shared patron as referee. I’ve not read this theorized elsewhere, so here is an effort to do so.
General David Petraeus advises Americans and their allies to be coldly realistic about what force can achieve. Oddly, he also advises them to prepare for a future where small wars are pretty much inevitable, where America must intervene early to prevent worse things happening later on, and where ‘stabilisation’ is a core part of war itself. Because, ultimately we sometimes have no choice.
Looking back on the ‘lessons’ that have been ‘written in blood’ in America’s wars since 9/11, Petraeus thinks he can see the greatest lesson, but repeats a common fallacy:
Our enemies will typically attack us asymmetrically, avoiding the conventional strengths that we bring to bear. Clearly, the continuation of so-called “small wars” cannot be discounted. And we should never forget that we don’t always get to choose the wars we fight.
To the contrary, countries like the United States almost always do get to choose. Not only the wars they fight, but how they fight them. That’s the thing about being an offshore superpower with a nuclear arsenal, friendly neighbours, overwhelming naval and air power shields and a strong army and marine corps to boot. If ever a state existed that usually, emphatically, does not have to accept war being imposed by others, it is this one. ‘Vital’ interests should mean just that – interests that are necessary for life.
The style of this piece deviates from what I usually put up here. By way of explanation: I wrote this after some initial indications of interest by Foreign Policy in running a response. But they've got a lot on their plate and they no longer seem intrigued. Frankly, that's for the best; this is now about as long as Tom's initial piece. So I'm posting it at the Duck. Full disclosure: I served on Tom's dissertation committee and co-authored an article, "What's at Stake in the American Empire Debate," with him. So this should be viewed as a friendly, if spirited, rejoinder. For another reaction, see David Schorr's piece at Democracy Arsenal.
Thomas Wright's "Neocons vs. Realists is so 2008" gets a lot right about the emerging grand-strategic debate in the United States. He argues that it stretches between two poles. One is composed of "restrainers" who "believe that the United States is overcommitted in the world" and seek some kind of retrenchment combining "nation-building at home" with a reduced emphasis on shaping the global environment. The other is occupied by "shapers" who advocate a continued--or even expanded--American commitment to ordering international affairs. He contends that Obama's second term will likely be dominated by a specific breed of "restrainer," one that "want[s] to preserve America's core alliances" but also "to avoid any new entanglements that go beyond core commitments" and relies on allies to shoulder a greater burden in future interventions. Although the administration has "been a shaper in East Asia and a restrainer in the Middle East," the impulse for restraint looks poised to dominate future foreign-policy decisions.
Wright paints a plausible picture of the current ideological balance in the Obama Administration. It clearly prefers to "invest" in long-neglected capital projects over maintaining current levels of defense expenditures. Given the current fiscal-political environment, pursuing such a preference will require continuing efforts to convince allies and partners to accept a greater share of the military burden. Wright also offers an important corrective to the assumptions of some of the "restrainers." We should not over-interpret the long-term implications of current US economic performance and the general fatigue created by the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts. India, Brazil, China, and the rest of the rising-powers crowd face their own challenges. Some of these may prove more intractable than the self-inflicted wounds created by Washington's current dysfunctions.
Moreover, the odds suggest the formation of the kinds of foreign-policy coalitions Wright anticipates--including the increasing alignment of liberal and conservative "shapers." This entails situational alliances among neoconservatives, primacy realists, and muscular liberal-internationalists. All three camps fit within the "shaper" rubric insofar as they believe that the United States can, and should, maintain international primacy--what scholars call "hegemony"--for as long as possible. However, they disagree about many things. Primacy realists are constitutionally skeptical of placing the maintenance and expansion of liberal order at the center of American foreign policy. When they conflict, the argument goes, realpolitik considerations should always trump the promotion of liberal values--whether human rights, democracy, or multilateral international governance.
The eighteenth Duck of Minerva podcast features Stefano Guzzini of the Danish Institute for International Studies and Uppsala University . Professor Guzzini discusses, among other things his intellectual and educational background, his important work on power in international affairs, realism, and geopolitics.
This podcast is a bit more "bare bones" than usual. I didn't put in introductory remarks; I have not produced an m4a version at this time. The file located here is the mp3 version. Explanation: I am bit pressed for time right now.
I should reiterate important change to procedures. From now on, the Minervacast feed will host mp3 versions of the podcasts. The whiteoliphaunt feed will host m4a versions of the podcast [note: see earlier remarks about the m4a version of this podcast]. Unless I hear otherwise, we will continue this approach into the foreseeable future.
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