Friday, January 6, 2012

The end of "big realism"?

From Dan Nexon's review (in Perspectives on Politics, Dec. 2011) of Barkin's Realist Constructivism and Glaser's Rational Theory of International Politics:
...Glaser's book occupies an important Janus-faced position. It stands as a (possibly definitive) coda for a series of debates that dominated the security subfield in the 1980s and 1990s. In its self-conscious transcendence of realism and presentation as a strategic-choice theory (albeit with realist roots), it may reflect the beginning of the end for "Big Realism" as a substantively distinctive mode of inquiry.
By "big realism" here, I assume Nexon means 'grand theory' of the last 30 years à la Waltz, Gilpin, Mearsheimer, and some others.

For other reactions to Glaser's book, see the video of the APSA roundtable which I linked in this post.


hank_F_M said...


Well the article has some good points, but I think he is missing some more important points. The essential problem with the article is that it is conflating two issues.

China, should dealt with as a friendly competitor, but of course while maintaining power balancing at a soft power level with other nations in the area.

Our military acquisition and development should be against the generic first class military not against a specific country. Naming a specific country does not tend toward good relations and runs the risk of being to specialized for an unexpected conflict.


Starting about the late 1980's the Chinese army got politcal leader ship that did not think the Mao's Long march was the epitome of military theory and prtice, and started basic modernizations to make it a self-respecting 21st century force. This would happen no matter what China thought about the US.

There is currently a revolution in military technology. China would participate in this no matter what they thought of US policy. Given their resources they seem to making reasonably intelligent decisions on how to do this.

While the US is fortunate in having land borders with two firendly counties, every country that borders China is potentially hostile or a buffer between them and a potentially hostile country. Reasonable prudence would dictate a large armed force.

With the development of it's economy China is developing interests that could require armed force to protect that has noting to do with the US. (For example they are poviding a small but effective contingent to the anti-piracy force off Somalia.) There is a lotof room for diplomatic and econamic manuvering.

On the other hand.

The revolution in Military technology (which we started) is real, other countries besides China are participating we need to keep current if we are to have a self-respecting military force in the 21st century.

The effect of China's upgrade of military forces is the ability to maintain local dominance out to several hundred miles. But many counties besides China have or are developing or could purchase this capability. This is a real problem for the Navy and Air Force. We have defense obligations to counties inside that range.


You asked for a specific threat. Look at the lower end of our Unmanned Arial Vehicles (the miscalled drones) A number of countries have the equivalent and are working on upgrading. The question to asked for weapons development is how does one fight those things? Not how do we fignt country X?

LFC said...

I agree w/ some of what you say. I think you're right that China's military modernization would probably happen irrespective of its particular view of the US. Thus Friedberg may well be making too much of the so-called 'access denying' capabilities China is acquiring.

However, I don't think it is enough to say "our military acquisition and development should be against the generic first class military..." I'm not clear exactly what the "generic first class military" means -- is it a hypothetical construct, what hypothetical country X could develop given an
unlimited budget? Surely force structure and weapons acquisitions decisions have to be made in the context of an assessment of the cur-
rent geopolitical situation, the likely missions, budget constraints, and also particular strategic choices. I'm not an expert on weapons by any means (quite the contrary), and I can't go into the details now but I think you know what I'm talking about. The doctrine, recently articulated by Panetta, that the US has to be prepared to deal w (i.e. defeat) two adversaries simultaneously (his version of the two-simultaneous-wars assumption) seems rather disconnected from a world in which interstate war is rather unlikely (imo).

In the post I was trying to get at the question of exactly why China's becoming a "regional hegemon" or "peer competitor" would threaten the U.S. Mearsheimer has one answer to that question, Friedberg in this op-ed (and presumably his recent book) has a somewhat different one. I don't find either answer very persuasive.
P.s. to other readers: these comments go w the post called "The Asian pivot revisited," not the post "the end of 'big realism'?"