Thursday, April 24, 2014

Bad day in Afghanistan

The killing by an Afghan policeman of three Americans at a hospital in Afghanistan, including a pediatrician, Jerry Umanos, who had been there nine years, seems perhaps especially outrageous, though every death there in these sorts of circumstances is outrageous. But the deaths of Westerners who are in the country in the capacity of, say, doctor, journalist, or teacher -- I think for instance of the young American scholar Alexandros Petersen, killed last January in a restaurant bombing in Kabul; he had just gone to teach at the American Univ. in Kabul -- will, as they should, garner attention. It's hard to give equal attention to all the pointless deaths, but at this juncture they all seem pointless.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Housekeeping note

I've just turned off (at least I think I have) the word/number/captcha/whatever-you-call-it feature of the commenting function, so commenting should be marginally easier now. (If spam results, I may have to consider turning it back on.)  Posting will be light here for the remainder of April, but a couple of semi-meaty posts are in the works for sometime in May.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Quote of the day

I was skimming the other day a two-year-old article by Pratap Bhanu Mehta, "How India Stumbled" (Foreign Affairs, July/August 2012), and these bits might be worth quoting in light of the current Indian election:
Most Indian political parties, the Congress included, have archaic decision-making structures that are controlled by small groups of elites.... There are no transparent processes by which decisions are made or party platforms are shaped, which means that there are no real checks on party leaders.... The silver lining for the Congress is that the BJP is struggling with succession and organizational issues of its own.... The next major face-off between the Congress party and the BJP will be the general elections of 2014.... The side that understands that India is fundamentally changing and that old modes of governance no longer work will have the best chance of winning.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Once more with the Asian pivot

A WaPo piece by David Nakamura -- quick reading because so much of it is what might be called 'mainstream-media foreign-policy boilerplate' -- concludes that the Obama admin's Asian pivot is falling short of expectations. The, by implication, obstructionist Dems are blocking the TransPacific Partnership 'free trade' pact (did it ever occur to the WaPo that maybe the TPP has problems?); the State Dept, according to a recent Senate report, is not focusing much of its resources on Asia; and as a result (gasp, what a surprise) the pivot has come to be seen in the region as militarily-focused, the piece informs us.

Also (how shocking), the Chinese believe the aim of the pivot is containment, the Obama administration's protests to the contrary notwithstanding. Of course the piece does mention, in quick passing, the placement of a rotating contingent of U.S. Marines in Australia that was announced shortly after the pivot was launched. What if China placed a rotating contingent of its soldiers in, say, Cuba or, less plausibly, Jamaica? Wouldn't the U.S. admin think China's aim was containment of the U.S.? The distinction between containment and hedging, mentioned in the article, seems not worth wasting all that much time on: China likely will view the redeployment of U.S. military assets to the region as containment, regardless of what the U.S.'s  preferred label is.

There is however at least one success story, or semi-success story, from the pivot, and that is Burma. Hillary Clinton made two trips there as Sec. of State, the second time accompanied by Pres. Obama, and Burma is on what seems to be a gradual path to political liberalization, with emphasis on "gradual." (Jeffrey Brown on the NewsHour had a report from Burma/Myanmar the other day, which I heard on the radio but haven't watched yet.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Quote of the day

A post-disability world is closer than we think. When soccer’s World Cup begins in Brazil in June, a paralyzed teenager will rise from a wheelchair on the field to make the ceremonial first kick. The teen will be wired into an exoskeleton, with electrodes in his brain that will make the machine respond to his desires, and move the immovable.
Via.

Monday, April 14, 2014

C. Rice speech controversy

See here.

Book note

They don't make paperbacks like they did in the good old days (TM). I recently chanced upon (and bought for practically nothing) a beautifully manufactured paperback copy of Roberta Wohlstetter's Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision (1962), a book I'd seen cited many times but had never looked at. It remains to be seen how much I'll read of it.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A.M. linkage

-- S. Radchenko on understanding Putin in light of history (here).

-- S. Vucetic has an 'autobiographical take' on the causes of WW1.

-- There are now one million Syrian refugees in Lebanon (via). 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Journal note

The March 2014 issue of International Theory is currently available for free (here). It includes a symposium on "Theories of Territory beyond Westphalia."

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Quote of the day

From Corey Robin's 2004 review of Greg Grandin's The Last Colonial Massacre: Latin America in the Cold War, republished in Robin's The Reactionary Mind [link], pp.156-57:
Arguably the most audacious experiment in direct democracy the continent had ever seen, the Agrarian Reform [in Guatemala] entailed a central irony. The legislation's authors -- most of them Communists -- were not building socialism. They were creating capitalism. They were scrupulous about property rights and the rule of law. Peasants had to back their claims with extensive documentation; only unused land was expropriated; and planters were granted multiple rights of appeal, all the way to the president.... Guatemala's socialists did more than create democrats and capitalists. They also made peasants into citizens.... When anti-Communists put an end to this democratic awakening in 1954, it was as much the peasant's newfound appetite for thinking and talking as the planter's expropriated land that they were worried about.... Guatemala's archbishop complained that the Arbencistas sent peasants "gifted with facility with words" to the nation's capital, where they were "taught...to speak in public."

Friday, March 28, 2014

Jonathan Schell remembered

Jim Sleeper writes about the late Jonathan Schell, proponent of nuclear disarmament, student of non-violence, author of, among other books, The Village of Ben Suc, The Fate of the Earth, and The Unconquerable World.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Note: light posting

Posting is going to be light (or absent) here for a while.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Self-determination and "the clash of norms"

Putting aside the specific circumstances surrounding the Crimea referendum -- circumstances that make it impossible to say that the vote was conducted under fair conditions -- the fact remains that it seems reasonably clear that most Crimeans want to leave Ukraine and join Russia. Thus this is a case, and not the first by any means, in which the principle of self-determination comes into conflict with that of preserving the territorial integrity of extant, recognized sovereign states.

In this case the U.S. and EU have plumped for territorial integrity over self-determination, and the particular circumstances, i.e. the Russian invasion that preceded the referendum, have allowed them to claim the legal and moral high ground in doing so. But in the past the U.S. and many of its allies have occasionally made the opposite choice, recognizing states that have resulted from the breakup of existing ones (e.g., Eritrea, Bosnia, Kosovo), and while it is possible to paint some of this as simple acquiescence to faits accomplis it would be difficult to maintain that a wholly consistent, high-minded, and principled stance has guided all such past decisions.

Indeed, it would be surprising to find complete consistency in anything having to do with state behavior, since it is a truism that the world is complicated and that states navigate it by a messy mixture of interest, calculation, and principle, a mixture that is unlikely to yield completely consistent results. Scholars may try to discern a consistent thread that determines, for example, when the U.S. recognizes secessionist movements and when it does not (see, e.g., Jonathan Paquin, A Stability-Seeking Power, 2010), but without casting aspersions on the particular book just mentioned I think it would be wise to retain some skepticism about whether these often tangled situations can be tamed by a nice theory.

The problem is not only that states are guided by a mixture of considerations but that principles themselves, as mentioned at the beginning of this post, come into conflict. In an article published almost twenty years ago ("The Crisis of Liberal Internationalism," Foreign Policy, Spring 1995), Stanley Hoffmann put the point this way:
It is precisely in the realm of chaos I described above -- the realm of disintegrating states -- that the clash of norms is the most evident and paralyzing: Sovereignty (as a principle of order and, still, a barrier against aggressive or imperial designs), self-government or democracy, national self-determination (with all its ambiguities and flaws), and human rights (which are not devoid of ambiguities of their own...) are four norms in conflict.... Human rights...often cannot be protected without infringing upon another state's sovereignty, or without circumscribing the potential for a "tyranny of the majority" entailed by national self-determination and by Jacobin versions of democracy. The trouble-making potential of self-determination, both for interstate order and for human rights, is not so obvious that many liberals want to curb it or even get rid of it, yet the demand for it simply cannot be ignored, and denying its legitimacy would rarely be a recipe for order or democracy. Inconsistency is the result of this confusion: the international "community" has recognized Croatia, Bosnia, and Eritrea, but not Biafra, Chechnya, or the right of the Kurds and Tibetans to states of their own.
Scholars emerging from graduate school with PhDs in political science or international relations are unlikely, I would guess, to find jobs these days if their work prominently features words like "inconsistency" and "confusion." The field tends to value work that purports to bring theoretical order out of apparent chaos. But confusion and inconsistency are often pervasive in the real world of international relations, and although "it's confusing" will not cut it if one is writing a dissertation, for those whose priority is understanding the real world "it's confusing" is not a bad place to start -- and, sometimes, it's also not a bad place to end up.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Nation-building and modernization as persistent themes in U.S. foreign policy

'Nation building,' as the phrase is used in U.S. foreign policy circles, has long been closely tied to the notion of modernization.  Michael E. Latham traces this connection from the Truman to the G.W. Bush administrations in The Right Kind of Revolution: Modernization, Development, and U.S. Foreign Policy from the Cold War to the Present (Cornell Univ. Press, 2011; link).          

Aspects of modernization theory had antecedents in classical social theory, notably Weber and Marx, even if the debt to the latter, at least, was not one that U.S. modernization theorists of the 1950s and '60s were generally eager to acknowledge. 
As it took shape in the Cold War-era academy, modernization theory assumed, as Latham notes, that all societies passed through essentially the same gate from tradition to modernity and further assumed that the correct policies, properly implemented, could speed up the passage.  The premise was that the U.S. could simultaneously contain Communism and spark a transformation of the 'developing' world, rapidly improving living standards and propelling it into the twentieth century by means that would avoid the brutal coercion that marked, for instance, Mao's efforts to transform China. 

Modernization theorists saw the supposedly universal transition from tradition to modernity as stressful and, thus, unsettling to individual psyches.  The MIT political scientist Lucian Pye's 1956 book Guerrilla Communism in Malaya argued that Communism's appeal was not primarily ideological but psychological; Pye contended that Communism appealed in particular to young men from the countryside trying to escape from the anxiety and "personal uncertainty generated by the jarring social transition from tradition to modernity" (Latham, p.48).  The emphasis on psychology reflected the influence of Harold Lasswell, who had taught both Pye and Gabriel Almond (47).      

If the problem was the psychological strain of the transition to modernity, then the prescription, especially for poor societies in which revolutionaries mounted armed challenges to the government, was "a pattern of nation building that would replace the institutions of the insurgency with those of the state and give the peasant caught in the 'transition'...a renewed sense of the potential for personal advance" (138).  As applied in Vietnam in the early '60s, part of this prescription involved trying to expand the central government's reach into the countryside.  Somewhat like the king's agents in the medieval France of Philip Augustus, Ngo Dinh Diem's provincial and district chiefs would travel around their domains and supposedly "bridge the gap between the central government and the rural masses" (134). 


Another aspect of attempted nation-building in South Vietnam involved relocation of the rural population.  This was the strategic hamlet program, designed to move about 15 million people into fortified villages where the NLF (Viet Cong) would be unable, so the thinking went, to get at them.  As Robert Packenham writes, the program "reflected a curious mix of forced-labor and liberal-constitutionalist tactics," although "[t]he first element...seems to have been implemented more consistently than the second" (Liberal America and the Third World, pb. ed. 1976, p.83).

In America's Rasputin: Walt Rostow and the Vietnam War (Hill & Wang, 2008; link), David Milne describes the strategic hamlet program as follows (p.105):

The director of the State Department's bureau of intelligence and research, Roger Hilsman, presented the program's blueprint -- "A Strategic Concept for South Vietnam" -- to [President] Kennedy on February 2, 1962.... Hilsman correctly identified that South Vietnam's villages provided sustenance, recruits, and a safe haven for the NLF. To prevent the insurgents from requisitioning these vital commodities -- often through coercion -- he...proposed that a series of fortified hamlets be established with bamboo-spiked ditches dug around the exterior and barbed wire attached to the hamlet itself. South Vietnam's villagers would then be removed from their traditional homes and relocated to these fortified oases of non-communist security.
The program was not a success; by "the spring of 1963, only 1,500 of the 8,500 strategic hamlets remained viable" (107).  Milne observes that the "implementation of the strategic hamlet program was like watching an infant attempt to hammer a square plastic block through a triangle-shaped hole" (109).  The U.S. escalation decisions of 1965 changed the character of the Vietnam war, and by "January 1968 the intensified war in the countryside created approximately four million refugees" (Latham, 142).  By 1970 rural 'pacification' programs had been dropped entirely.  

As Latham observes, modernization theory and nation-building waned in the late '60s and '70s but made a comeback, albeit in altered form, in the late '80s and even more after the end of the Cold War. After the U.S. invaded Panama in Dec. 1989 and removed Noriega, whom it had previously supported, the first Bush administration embarked on nation-building via "Operation Blind Logic, the appropriately named plan for the reconstruction of Panama," which "was extremely ambitious and deeply flawed" (195). The Clinton administration's plans for Somalia were equally ambitious, with UN Ambassador (as she then was) Madeleine Albright stating that "we will embark on an unprecedented enterprise aimed at nothing less than the restoration of an entire country as a proud, functioning, and viable member of the community of nations" (quoted, 197).  After the Somalia mission led to 'Black Hawk Down,' the Clinton administration retreated from this sort of rhetoric.  (Also, as Martha Finnemore notes [in The Purpose of Intervention, p.83], the Somalia intervention was partly prompted by defensiveness over charges by then-UN Secretary General Boutros-Ghali "that powerful states were attending to disasters in white, European Bosnia at the expense of non-white, African Somalia....")

George W. Bush opposed nation-building as a presidential candidate in 2000, but that changed with 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq.  Bush declared in a Nov. 2003 speech that "[t]he establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution" (quoted in Latham, 204).  Of course the Pentagon basically ignored planning for the reconstruction of Iraq and cut the State Dept. and other agencies, which had conducted such planning, out of the loop. (Where nation-building or postwar reconstruction has proved more successful, it is likely to have been the result of UN or other multilateral peacekeeping missions with broad mandates.  Latham says that such peacekeeping missions have "rarely met expectations" [199], but I think that statement's too sweeping; some haven't but some have.)

What about the present?  Latham sees "the ghosts of  modernization" hovering around the activities of the U.S. and its allies in both Iraq (at least up until U.S. forces withdrew) and Afghanistan.  Clearly the U.S. and NATO/ISAF have defined their Afghanistan mission not just in military but also in socio-political ('development') terms.  The context (corruption, the effect of decades of war, etc.) ensured that Afghan development was going to be extremely hard and, as Latham observes, the effort has not been funded at the levels of post-war reconstruction in e.g. the ex-Yugoslavia or E. Timor (if one takes population sizes into account).  Moreover, too much emphasis was put on 'the market' as opposed to building a strong central government, in line with prevailing neoliberal doctrine.  While there have been some successes (e.g., in opening up more opportunities for women), the overall picture seems not very encouraging (e.g., a recent WaPo headline mentioned roads built in Afghanistan with U.S. funds that are now crumbling for lack of maintenance).  Today the U.S. and its allies probably would settle for an Afghanistan in which the level of violence is kept under control; the Taliban, if brought into the government, is kept to a subordinate role; and the government is able to control key cities and transport routes.  Whether even this outcome will be achieved is an open question.


On the broader issue of approaches to development, Latham is right to emphasize the wisdom contained in some of the late-1970s emphasis on 'basic needs' and distributional issues, which challenged the then "dominant narrative" (215) that the rising tide of growth would lift all boats.  Even in China, where millions in recent years have left rural poverty for  factory employment, a more egalitarian growth path would have reduced poverty more.  The 1970s critics of modernization were also right to raise questions about the environmental implications of growth, even if some of the specific predictive claims might have missed the mark.  It's hard to disagree with Latham's view that development should focus on "locally centered" (216) efforts directed at "the problems of poverty, inequality, and environment, and combining them with a renewed focus on an expanded conception of human rights and social justice" (215), tempered by the acknowledgment that it will not be easy.

Added later: Jennifer Clapp (Univ. of Waterloo) reviewed Latham's book, along with Nick Cullather's The Hungry World: America's Cold War Battle Against Poverty in Asia (2010), in Perspectives on Politics 11:2 (June 2013). 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

More on Crimea

From a post at a new blog (found courtesy of Reddit):
Much like in 2008, Putin has fashioned the narrative underlying his expansionist maneuver into Crimea on the basis of ethnicity, rather than territory. The reason why China objected to South Ossetian and Abkhazian independence then, and is objecting to Crimean independence now, is...  because it sets the wrong kind of precedent. Rather than paving the way for a Chinese incursion into Taiwan, a territory to which China argues to have a historical claim, it underlines and legitimates the political cleavages between ethnicities. This runs directly counter to the CCP’s domestic policy, which has historically been to nip all claims to independence made by ethnic minorities (of which over 55 exist in China) firmly in the bud....
And speaking of Putin's claim to be protecting ethnic Russians from discrimination/oppression, Charles King's March 1 op-ed in the NYT ended with this:
...Mr. Putin’s reserving the right to protect the “Russian-speaking population” of Ukraine is an affront to the basis of international order. Not even the alleged ultranationalists who Mr. Putin claims now control the Ukrainian government have tried to export their uprising to Ukrainian speakers in Poland, Moldova, or Romania, or indeed Russia itself. It is Mr. Putin who has made ethnic nationalism a defining element of foreign policy.

Russia was in fact a pioneer of the idea that, in the jargon of international affairs, is now called R2P: the responsibility to protect. Under Czar Nicholas I, Russia asserted its right to guarantee the lives and fortunes of Orthodox Christians inside the territory of its chief strategic rival, the Ottoman Empire. In 1853 Russia launched a preemptive attack on the Ottomans, sending its fleet out of Sevastopol harbor to sink Ottoman ships across the Black Sea. Britain, France and other allies stepped in to respond to the unprovoked attack. The result was called the Crimean War, a conflict that, as every Russian schoolchild knows, Russia lost.

The future of Ukraine is now no longer about Kiev’s Independence Square, democracy in Ukraine or European integration. It is about how to preserve a vision of Europe — and, indeed, of the world — where countries give up the idea that people who speak a language we understand are the only ones worth protecting.
King's statement that Russia "pioneered" R2P by "guaranteeing the lives of Orthodox Christians" in the Ottoman Empire is extremely misleading. Whatever one thinks of R2P, one of its basic features is that it is not limited to the protection of those who share ethnicity, religion or language with the intervenors.

Secession and 'norm-skepticism'

Prof. Steve Saideman's post on how countries react to secessionist movements elsewhere cites some scholarship, including his own work and Jonathan Paquin's 2010 book on U.S. policy toward secessionist movements, but the post doesn't offer much in the way of a substantiated argument on a couple of points, or so it seems to me. Saideman asserts that a key factor is ethnic ties (as argued in his book The Ties That Divide), and he also says that when ethnic ties are absent, strategic interests will matter. But he pooh-poohs precedent and norms, declaring himself to be a "precedent-skeptic" and a "norm-skeptic."

Maybe the reason for this skepticism is made clear in his book and articles, but it doesn't really appear in the post. It seems reasonable to me to suggest that the territorial-integrity norm (which I believe is a real thing, continuing disagreement from some readers notwithstanding) would imply a baseline of opposition to most secessionist movements most of the time. And I would guess that if one surveyed all the secessionist/separatist movements active in the world today, one would find relatively few of them enjoying much support from states/governments. Certainly I'm not denying that ethnic ties matter in this context (not having read The Ties That Divide, it would be extremely rash of me to do that), but it does seem to me that a flat statement that one is a "norm-skeptic," with the subtext "if you want to find out why, you'll have to read my book," is not all that helpful. But maybe the evidence Saideman has in mind does not lend itself to summary in a sentence or two, in which case the flat statement is somewhat more defensible, I suppose.

ETA: This forthcoming book also takes an approach to secession that appears, according to the publisher's summary, to be 'norm-skeptical.' 

Note: Post edited slightly after initial posting. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Quote of the day

The Victorian Protestant British scorned Hinduism’s polytheism, erotic sculptures, spirited mockery of its own gods and earthy mythology as filthy paganism. They also preferred the texts created and perpetuated by a small, upper-caste male elite, and regarded as beneath contempt the vast oral and vernacular literatures enriched and animated by the voices of women and lower castes. It is this latter, “alternative” Hinduism that my book celebrates throughout Indian history.
-- Wendy Doniger, in the NYT [link]

What caused the decline in interstate war?

In a recent post, Eric Posner (prof. at Univ. of Chicago Law School) writes that he sees little evidence that the UN Charter, which dates from 1945, has caused the decline in interstate war. Although I don't share what I take to be Posner's general view of international law, this particular point seems right, inasmuch as Art. 2(4) of the UN Charter is best seen as having codified an already-developed consensus rather than having instituted a 'new' rule. And it wasn't really new anyway: "The League of Nations Covenant specified that the highest purpose of the organization was to protect the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of its members. The Stimson Doctrine (1931) declared that the United States would not recognize as legal any territorial changes brought about through the use of armed force. The League of Nations subsequently adopted this position as a new rule of international relations." (K.J. Holsti, Taming the Sovereigns, 2004, p.134)

As I've mentioned before, I lean to John Mueller's argument that the seeds of the decline in interstate war, or at least in major-power war, were sown in 1914-1918. I'm not saying this is the whole story re the decline, but I think it's part of it. 

Here's a passage from Mueller's Retreat from Doomsday (1989), pp.55-56:
That World War I was a watershed event in attitudes toward war in the developed world is clear. Exactly why is less clear.... The impact on war attitudes of the Great War's physical devastation and of its horrifying weaponry should not be discounted.... But the bone-deep revulsion it so widely inspired and and the very substantial blow it administered to the war spirit so prevalent just a few years earlier should be credited at least in part to the insidious [I might have chosen a different word] propagandistic efforts of the prewar peace movement. The war proved to be a colossal confirmation of its gadfly arguments about the repulsiveness, immorality, and futility of war and of its uncivilized nature. Of course, the war also shattered the peace movement's airy optimism, and it certainly undercut its proposition that Europe was becoming progressively more civilized; but that was nothing compared to what it did to the notion that war was progressive -- as well as glorious, manly, and beneficial.... Since the peacemakers of 1918 were substantially convinced that the institution of war must be controlled or eradicated, they tried to apply some of the devices and approaches the peace movement had long been advocating.
He continues:
For reasons that seem in reflection to have been special, it didn't work out so well. In Germany a leader arose who almost single-handedly brought major war to Europe, while Japan, a country that had not substantially participated in World War I nor learned its lessons, set itself on a collision course in Asia that was to lead to national cataclysm.
If one accepts this narrative and explanation, the UN Charter formalized a change in attitudes that had been well underway for more than two decades, which could partly explain why the trend line of decline in interstate war does not track neatly with the UN Charter's adoption.

ETA: If Mueller is right, an underlying normative evolution is mainly responsible for the decline of major war in the 'developed' world, rather than the use-of-force rules themselves. Whether the argument can be extended to cover the decline of interstate war in general is something one could debate.

Note: Edited after posting to fix a grammatically challenged sentence.