Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Robert Kagan's realist irrealism

From Kagan's piece (h/t S. Lemieux) in New Republic (which I've bookmarked for actual reading, as opposed to skimming, later):
In fact, the world “as it is” is a dangerous and often brutal place. There has been no transformation in human behavior or in international relations. In the twenty-first century, no less than in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, force remains the ultima ratio. The question, today as in the past, is not whether nations are willing to resort to force but whether they believe they can get away with it when they do. If there has been less aggression, less ethnic cleansing, less territorial conquest over the past 70 years, it is because the United States and its allies have both punished and deterred aggression, have intervened, sometimes, to prevent ethnic cleansing, and have gone to war to reverse territorial conquest. The restraint showed by other nations has not been a sign of human progress, the strengthening of international institutions, or the triumph of the rule of law. It has been a response to a global configuration of power that, until recently, has made restraint seem the safer course.
The first sentence is obviously correct: the world is indeed an often brutal place. The second sentence, particularly the second part of it, is  more questionable. And the portion in which the "U.S. and its allies" are credited with the decline of territorial conquest is very, very incomplete (to put it charitably), and w/r/t the GW Bush admin, downright weird. Territorial conquest (of the 19th/20th-cent-and-before sort) has declined because most states (I said "most" not "all") are no longer interested in conquering territory. It's not something their leaders think about and plan for. They know (they have learned) that invading other countries does not, as a rule, tend to solve their problems. That's a main reason why territorial conquest has declined since WW2, imho, though there are also other reasons, which I've written about here before.     


Anonymous said...

We never went to war to prevent ethnic cleansing. We went to war because other nations attacked us.

LFC said...

well, no one *directly* attacked NATO/U.S. in March '99 in Kosovo (or earlier in Serbia). Unless you don't consider e.g. the bombing campaign over Kosovo to be 'going to war'. Libya 2011?

Putting aside specific pt re ethnic cleansing, yr assertion does not hold up. Invasion of Afghanistan Oct. '01? (yes, might have been 'self-defense' in a broad sense, but Afghanistan did not directly attack U.S.). An even more to-the-pt case --invasion of Iraq March '03. Spanish-American war 1898. Mexican war 1840s. etc. etc.

LFC said...

p.s. I allow anonymous comments but I wd prefer the use of some identifying label -- either a pseudonym or initials or whatever, if you don't want to use yr real name.

LFC said...

p.p.s. The 19th cent refs in my reply, above, might be out of place inasmuch as the quotation refers to the past 70 yrs. But it doesn't change the basic pt.