Friday, May 31, 2013

End-of-month linkage

(better-late-than-never edition: most of this is from last month)

Climate change and divestment: here (scroll down to Act Three).

Extreme poverty: interview with World Bank pres. Jim Yong Kim (PBS NewsHour, April 18); the comments left on the transcript appear to be, um, interesting.

Jane Austen, game theorist: here.

Afghan Nat'l Army: WaPo's Kevin Sieff reports (from April 7) on Afghan Nat'l Army (ANA) battalions as they moved, on their own, into a Taliban stronghold, removed a lot of mines and explosives, conducted some firefights, and left; the ANA, at least in this case, has neither the money nor the men, he notes, to set up permanent outposts as the U.S./ISAF forces often did in insurgent areas they had 'cleared'.

Abstract of the day

Peter Haldèn, "Republican Continuities in the Vienna Order and the German Confederation (1815-66)," Eur. Journal of Intl. Relations, June 2013:
This article argues that the German Confederation — deutscher Bund — (1815–66) was a form of rule built on early modern republican political theory. It was a ‘Compound Republic’ form of rule constructed to prevent the emergence of a system of sovereign German states as well as a single sovereign German state. Its purpose was maintaining peace and stability in Europe and safeguarding the autonomy of its member polities. Contemporary statesmen, intellectuals and scholars saw these purposes as complementary. A non-sovereign, polycentric and republican organization of the German lands was regarded as a natural and necessary component in a stable Europe free from war and revolutions. This article analyses the origins, institutions and policies of the German Confederation, with particular regard to how the means of organized violence were organized. It thereby demonstrates the implementation of republican ideas and purposes in the Bund. The article situates the Bund in 19th-century thinking about European stability and sovereignty, further demonstrating the prevalence of republican ideas on international order. Republican political theories and institutions differed sharply from modern theories and models of international relations. Consequently, the history of international politics, the European system of states and state-formation must be re-conceptualized more in line with historical realities.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Gilbert on Kennan

In a blog post, Prof. Alan Gilbert of the Univ. of Denver praises Obama's recent speech on counter-terrorism policy, drones, and Guantanamo as a "turning point," while noting (among other things) that it should have come earlier and contending that presidents never do anything decent without mass pressure from below.

Toward the beginning of his remarks Gilbert, referencing his 1999 book Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, comments briefly and in passing on George Kennan:
In most foreign policy discussion and international relations as an academic field, realist theories - both official ones used in making/apologizing for American foreign policy and more sophisticated versions employed in the critical study of American errors and crimes, even systematic ones - abstain from the outset from looking at the consequences [of U.S. foreign policy] for democracy at home....
For instance, the leading post-World War II realist, George Kennan in American Diplomacy, pits sober, professional diplomacy against democratic crusades like Woodrow Wilson's in World War I.... But in the 1984 edition, responding to the disastrous American aggression in Vietnam, Kennan noticed the war complex, "our military-industrial addiction." He shifted to a more democratic, common-good oriented view without naming the shift.
Kennan opposed the Vietnam War from the start mainly on pragmatic grounds (he testified against it in congressional hearings in 1966), and Vietnam probably did influence his thinking.  There are tensions in Kennan's views deriving partly from the way in which moral considerations are often kept unacknowledged or beneath the surface, with the biggest exception to this being his increasingly passionate writings, starting in the 1980s, about nuclear weapons. But I think Kennan remained ambivalent, at best, about democracy until the end of his life. These tensions (or contradictions) run through much of his career, complicating the idea of an un-named shift "to a more democratic, common-good oriented view." Still, it is interesting that some of the language in American Diplomacy, originally published in 1951, changed in the 1984 edition.

P.s. A minor point: "One of the leading post-WWII realists" would have been better than "the leading," since Morgenthau, Niebuhr, and Kennan are usually given roughly equal billing as the key figures of post-1945 American Realism, with Arnold Wolfers, John Herz, and some others not far behind. (Generationally speaking, Waltz and Kissinger come after this group.)

Added later: It's possible to put a somewhat more uncomfortable (for lack of a better word) gloss on Kennan's position on Vietnam, which would note that, in addition to his (correct) judgment that Vietnam was not a vital U.S. interest, he just didn't care much about the Third World (as it was then called) and didn't think non-Europeans (or non-descendants of Europeans) had much capacity for self-government. But going into that would require another post.

[To find previous mentions of Kennan on this blog, type "Kennan" into the search box in the upper-left corner.]

Rome exhibit on The Prince

S. Poggioli reports. (It was written in 1513, hence the 500th anniversary exhibition, but was not published until 1532.)

Monday, May 27, 2013


From an article about an Air Force Sgt. who lost his legs and an arm in Afghanistan:
Deslauriers, 34, has come to Bellingham [Ma.] with his wife and 17-month-old son from Bethesda, where he’s still receiving medical treatment for his 2011 injuries. After the Memorial Day parade, he is hoping to talk to Boston Marathon bombing survivors about life as a triple amputee. He wants to tell them how hard it is to get used to strangers who fix their eyes on his missing legs or look away in disgust. On his worst days he wants to slap these people.
People are probably not looking away in disgust; more likely it's embarrassment, shyness, or not knowing exactly what to say. (One can always thank veterans for serving but that sounds trite; it's probably better than saying nothing but it's not necessarily easy to produce even a few words even when you know you should.) 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Vending machines, people-to-people diplomacy, and Queen Victoria as "figure head"

An advertising gimmick by Coke produced a Max Fisher post (h/t FP's AfPak Daily Brief [which, for those who like corporate charts, is also WaPo, since WaPo owns FP]) that is a mash-up of "the famous [sic] McDonald's theory of conflict resolution" (cough) and dem. peace theory.

The comment thread to the Fisher post is amusing. One "grantpaten," responding to another commenter's assertion that the American Revolution and the War of 1812 'disprove' dem. peace theory, writes:
England was not a democracy [i.e. at the time of the Am. Rev.] It was a monarchy with a weak parliament. That changed under Queen Victoria, which [sic] made the monarchy a figure head [sic].
Yup, Grant. Nailed it.

Cannes note

No, I'm not there, more's the pity; but here's Ann Hornaday on Redford:
Another of the festival’s strongest offerings — J.C. Chandor’s astonishing “All Is Lost” — addresses time’s passing more obliquely, with 76-year-old Robert Redford delivering a bravura performance as a man alone at sea on a sinking sailboat. A magnificent if harrowing example of cinema at its purest, “All Is Lost” contains almost no dialogue; instead, Redford communicates his character through action as he methodically battles the elements. The movie might be about one man against a world he can’t control but, as Chandor noted at a press conference, it’s also about a cinematic icon embodying his own generation’s turbulent passage into a treacherous next phase. “All Is Lost” is an exceptional achievement in every emotional, artistic and technical sense, and it represents a career-redefining moment for Redford. For some reason, it was passed over for competition in favor of far less impressive fare.
Probably good that Redford is doing this now as opposed to playing characters who are twenty years younger, which is what he did in his film The Company You Keep. (He pulled it off, for the most part, and so did Julie Christie, but maybe not entirely.) 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A rebuke to the misguided doctrine of endless war

I don't have a lot of time right now, so will confine myself to saying that a quick perusal of Pres. Obama's National Defense University speech reveals some important statements that he should have made in this way some time ago -- but mieux vaux tard que jamais.

Especially important, I think, is the paragraph where Obama says (I'm not quoting here, but giving the gist) that he will work to create  the conditions in which the AUMF (the Congressional 2001 authorization of military force against those who planned and carried out the 9/11 attacks or harbored them) can eventually be repealed -- because it will no longer be needed. The speech is a firm rebuke to the misguided notion of endless war, a notion that was reinforced by G.W. Bush's pronouncement that 9/11 required the U.S. to be at war with "all terrorist groups of global reach," whether they had had anything to do with 9/11 or not.

Obama's NDU speech is really the antithesis of the Bush Doctrine, which was an overweening, foolish, Manichaean conception of an endless global struggle between the forces of good and the forces of evil. It was a simplistic, ahistorical quasi-fantasy: foreign policy for people who think the world is a (bad) movie. One may not agree with all aspects of the NDU speech, but at least you can tell that most of it was written by grown-ups.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Critique, critique -- that is Moses and the prophets

[with apologies to Karl Marx] 

Roger Mac Ginty (h/t):
Where is the law (and it is followed so religiously that I’m beginning to think it is a law) that says we have to cite Nye, Morgenthau, Kaplan, Keohane etc. I’m sure they are/were extraordinarily nice people and excellent teachers and mentors. But I just find...this followership creepy.
There is no such law. If they're useful to you, cite them. If they're not, don't.
Are we doing enough in this ‘discipline’ to encourage independent thinking, critique, innovation, the breaking of traditions and boundaries? Of course not. Because that would threaten the fiction that there is such a thing as International Relations.
I'm not exactly sure who "we" are, but there is quite a lot of "critique" in "the discipline." Go back to the Ashley/Walker "speaking the language of exile" issue of ISQ (or whatever journal it was). How long ago? As a first-year grad student (somewhat older than my fellow students) in the mid-'90s, I had to read, among other things, Der Derian and Shapiro's edited volume International/Intertextual Relations. Why? Presumably because it aimed to disturb, to destabilize, to criticize 'the discipline'.

Der Derian's opening essay quoted Roland Barthes: "at a certain moment, therefore, it is necessary to turn against Method, or at least to treat it without any founding privilege as one of the voices of plurality -- as a view, a spectacle mounted in the text, the text which all in all is the only 'true' result of any research."

Oh yeah. Bring on The Text.

A dubious-sounding thesis

I'm not sure what's up with this, but it sounds somewhat disturbing (h/t). I'm familiar with the names of the committee members who approved Richwine's dissertation, but the only one a bit of whose work I've read -- many years ago -- is Christopher Jencks. (I'm not sure how Jencks's perspective and views have changed, or indeed if they have, in the last few decades so I'm not even going to try to get substantive here.) I would note as a cautionary matter, however, that committee members don't have to agree with a dissertation's argument in order to approve it; they just have to determine that the thesis passes a certain bar of acceptable scholarship.

Dialogue of the day

From Alan Bennett, The History Boys (pb. ed.), pp.46-47:

Dakin: It's consolation. All literature is consolation.

Scripps: No, it isn't. What about when it's celebration? Joy?

Dakin: But it's written when the joy is over. Finished. So even when it's joy, it's grief. It's consolation. 


Dakin: Actually it isn't wholly my idea.

Scripps: No?

Dakin: I've been reading this book by Kneeshaw.

Scripps: Who?

Dakin (shows him book): Kneeshaw. He's a philosopher. Frederick Kneeshaw.

Scripps: I think that's pronounced Nietszche.

Dakin: Shit. Shit. Shit.

Scripps: What's the matter?

Dakin: I talked to Irwin about it. He didn't correct me. He let me call him Kneeshaw. He'll think I'm a right fool. Shit.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

QOTD: Gates on eradicating polio

Excerpted from an interview with E. Klein:

Ezra Klein: How do you ensure you hit every tiny village in a mountainous, rural, poor country?
Bill Gates: We began using satellite maps and we’re finding particularly in Nigeria we were missing a lot of settlements, a lot of nomadic people. The thing we were missing the most was a village would be on a border, and one government would say, “Oh, that’s on their side,” and the other guy would say, “No, that’s on their side.” So your chance of getting polio was super elevated if you happened to live on the border between these local government administrative boundaries.

Then in terms of the teams doing their job, we now put a phone with a GPS sensor in it, every three minutes it says where this team is. It’s in the box with the vaccine so when they come in at the end of the day we plug that in and see if they really went where they were supposed to go.

Our biggest problems now are violence, which causes campaigns to be canceled, or people just not ... willing to go into various neighborhoods, and refusals having to do with bad rumors about the vaccine campaign. And these are both serious issues in both Pakistan and Nigeria.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Cheney's latest ironic absurdity

Tom Ricks, whose blog I should look at more often than once every six months, links to this about Cheney (from J. Klein).

Friday, May 17, 2013

What is Hezb-i-Islami?

In a piece from yesterday, Pamela Constable describes the tangled situation of the group that claimed responsibility for the latest suicide bombing in Kabul.

Quote of the day

Agatha Christie, in one of her witty books, The Moving Finger, introduces a girl fresh from school and lets her run on about what she thinks of it. "Such a lot of things seem to me such rot. History, for instance. Why, it's quite different out of different books!" To this her sensible elderly confidant replies: "That is its real interest."

--Pieter Geyl, Debates with Historians, p.9

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Waltz and his legacy: a few reflections

I feel I should add my two cents to the torrent of IR-blogospheric comment on the late Kenneth Waltz, if only to justify my existence as a blogger. I never met Waltz[*] but like virtually every student of international relations I have read his two key books (not the third one). This post is basically a spur-of-the-moment thing, not the product of sustained thought, and it should be read with that in mind.

Man, the State and War (1959), hereafter MSW, and Theory of International Politics (1979), hereafter TIP, are rather different kinds of books, even if they both endorse a "structural" view of international politics. MSW is an analysis of what Great Thinkers in the (mostly) Western tradition have said about the causes of war. The book famously sorts these writers into three camps: those who locate the causes of war in human nature ("the first image"), in the characteristics of individual states ("the second image"), or in the 'anarchical' (meaning, essentially, no-world-government) structure of the international system ("the third image"). Waltz concludes that the third-image view is the most convincing, famously declaring that (to paraphrase him) wars occur because there is nothing to prevent them.

MSW is a very perceptive book that treats a subject of intrinsic interest, and for that reason it will continue to be read. But apart from the fact that (some) students are still required to read it, I doubt it exercises all that much influence over the field today. Few Ph.D. candidates in political science who "do" International Relations will write a dissertation these days about what this or that Great Thinker has said about the causes of war. Such dissertations are still written but I think they are rare, especially in the United States. Someone who is interested in both political/social theory and international relations is more likely nowadays to do what might be called critical disciplinary history (which is, for example, what Daniel Levine's book Recovering International Relations is, or so I gather from hearing him speak about it on one occasion before it was published). Disciplinary history is, obviously, about the development of the discipline or the field of International Relations; it is rather inward-focused. Waltz's MSW is not disciplinary history in this sense. That is not at all to criticize MSW, merely to note the difference.

The other aspect of MSW perhaps worth mentioning is that the phenomenon with which it was concerned, namely traditional interstate war, is now increasingly rare. When MSW was published in 1959, the Korean War had ended only six years before, World War II only fourteen years before. The Cold War was in full swing and there was no guarantee that it would not become hot. Today, although wars are, unfortunately, still with us, traditional interstate wars have become unusual events (the last really big one was the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s), and wars directly between two or more great powers are unheard of. Uncovering the causes of interstate war had an urgency in the 1950s which, at least arguably, it no longer has. The 'hot topic' now is civil war, as will be apparent to anyone who glances through the list of political science dissertations completed in 2012 (in the U.S.) that was recently published in PS. I am not saying MSW is passé or no longer relevant; it will always be 'relevant' because its subject is of intrinsic interest, meaning it has inherent interest regardless of what is going on in the world, just as the study of history has intrinsic interest regardless of what is going on in the world. I'm simply observing that the focus of attention in the field seems to have shifted to other things.

Turning now to Theory of International Politics. The reverberations of TIP are still being felt in the field in a much more direct way than those of MSW. The emphasis in TIP on the "shaping" influence of structure -- meaning, in essence, the distribution of capabilities (power) among states under anarchy -- is still a starting point for many, though by no means all, scholars of international politics. However, TIP has come under several different kinds of criticism since it was published -- in fact, too many to catalog exhaustively here. A sampling: Ruggie charged that Waltz in TIP ignored questions of historical change and transition between different kinds of state system, something the English School had always been more attuned to, while Wendt criticized Waltz for not seeing that 'power' and 'interest' are mostly made up of ideas and that the effects of power accordingly depend on the distribution of ideas in the system. Other writers threw doubt on the notion of 'anarchy' and the states-under-anarchy model. And finally (for the non-exhaustive purposes of this post), many have criticized what is perhaps the central substantive proposition of TIP, namely the argument that balances of power recurrently form and that, in Waltz's words, "if there is any distinctively political theory of international politics, balance-of-power theory is it." The other major aspect of TIP was Waltz's views on what 'theory' is; his epistemological-methodological position continues to be both influential and controversial, but I will pass over it here.

Despite all the criticisms, TIP will remain required reading for students, if only so that they can follow the flood of critiques it unleashed. The  appearance as recently as 2011 of a collection of essays about Waltz's work, Realism and World Politics (ed. Ken Booth), suggests that Waltz's writings will continue to generate interest and discussion for quite some time to come and will continue to be seen as canonical works in the field.

(Note: Post edited slightly after initial posting.)

Added later: Waltz's 1988 APSA presidential address, "Nuclear Myths and Political Realities," as published in the Sept. 1990 issue of APSR, is available here (pdf).
*I did hear him speak on one occasion but that doesn't amount to 'meeting'. 

Waltz: r.i.p.

See here, here, and here.
And here.

Monday, May 13, 2013

A bad first sentence

Jerry Bowyer writing at the Forbes site (h/t):
If you pay attention to economic debates you know by now that a celebrity historian named Niall Ferguson made some off-hand comments at a financial conference in which he linked John Maynard Keynes’ homosexuality to some flaws in his economics. (italics added)
That is not what Ferguson did. What Ferguson did was to attempt to link Keynes's sexuality to a mistaken interpretation of Keynes's famous "in the long run we're all dead" line [italicized words added per TBA's comment]. As has been pointed out elsewhere, that line, when taken in context, was being used by Keynes to make a point against those economists who argued that a depressed economy, if left alone, would eventually recover on its own through the magic of the business cycle.

Thanks to a comment on my previous post, I now know that in 2004 two UCLA economists published an article in which they argued that if only certain New Deal policies, in particular the National Industrial Recovery Act, had not mucked things up by 'artifically' raising prices and wages, the Depression would have ended much sooner than it did. Live and learn, as they say.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A side note/question on the Ferguson uproar

This post does not address the main issues involved in l'affaire Ferguson (latest edition) because I think those issues are adequately dealt with elsewhere in parts of the blogosphere (CT, LGM, DeLong, etc. etc.) that have far, far larger audiences than this blog does.

I would like to raise one side point, however. To wit: when I was growing up, I was taught (or imbibed through osmosis, or both) that the clearest lesson of the Great Depression was that  governments' failure to spend in response to the crisis was the height of folly. The economic orthodoxy of the time opposed deficit spending, but that orthodoxy was proved wrong; pump-priming in a depression was obviously the correct policy. That's what I gathered from everything I read, in school and out of school, about the period, and I assumed, until fairly recently, that it was pretty much universally acknowledged to be true. Even as late as the 1990s, it was -- or such was my impression -- fairly unusual to find an academic economist (let alone historian) contending that governments were actually right and sensible in their failure to spend more vigorously at the onset of the Great Depression.

In recent years, however, this consensus -- or what I took to be a consensus -- has fallen apart to such an extent that Ferguson, in his 'open letter' in The Harvard Crimson, can write this:
Throughout my career as a historian, I have regularly written and spoken about Keynes, who had one of the most brilliant minds of the twentieth century. That, of course, is the most important thing about him. You may disagree with his argument that, in a depressed economy, the government should borrow and spend money to stimulate aggregate demand. But you cannot ignore it. (emphasis added)
I take "you may disagree" to mean, in effect, "it is reasonable to disagree."  In other words, Ferguson is saying that reasonable people disagree about whether governments should seek to stimulate aggregate demand in a depression by spending. Would any historian or economist of any reputation, including conservative ones I mean, have written this passage 25 or 30 years ago? If the answer is no, then this is a small sign of how much the prevailing intellectual and political winds have shifted in recent years. Of course, the entire debate about 'austerity' and the policies adopted by various European governments are a much louder signal of the same thing, but I nonetheless find this passage worth remarking.
Added later: Just in time for the WW1 discussion: A review of The Sleepwalkers (Clark) and July 1914 (McMeekin) in the current NYTBkRev. (Haven't read the review yet.)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Natural gas and political turmoil

Erik Voeten links to Charles Mann's article which is about, in Voeten's words, "the potential deleterious consequences of finding large quantities of natural gas (methane hydrate) underneath the seafloor." Voeten's post and Mann's article suggest that among these consequences could be increased political instability, as regimes now propped up by oil become weaker and -- this point is the one Voeten stresses -- as countries become less dependent on oil imports. Dependence on oil imports makes the dependent countries co-operative and leads them to behave like good international citizens, lest turmoil interfere with the international flow of petroleum on which they rely: so say Voeten and Michael Ross in a paper on SSRN to which Voeten links.

Having only skimmed Mann's article, my off-the-cuff reaction is that the more serious potential deleterious effect of methane hydrate discoveries is that they will slow down the shift to renewable energy sources (solar and wind). Mann mentions this at the end of his piece. That seems like a fairly certain consequence of new natural gas discoveries, whereas the argument about political consequences seems somewhat more speculative to me. For instance, I doubt that its current oil-dependence has all that much of a constraining effect on U.S. foreign policy. YMMV.

Friday, May 3, 2013

'Cold' boundaries and 'hot' boundaries

Journalistic discussions of issues involving land boundaries between countries (or between states, to use the rough synonym) sometimes fail to distinguish between two possible kinds of disagreement: disagreement over a boundary's location and disagreement over a boundary's status.

There are no longer many disagreements of consequence over state boundaries' location. Most boundaries are settled, or 'cold' -- to use a term one occasionally sees (or used to). Among the unsettled or 'hot' boundaries there is Israel/Palestine, of course, which is something of a special case. There is the disputed India-China boundary, which has just recently flared up again (see also here). And there are, no doubt, a few others, e.g. the disputed India-Pakistan boundary in the Siachen glacier. (There are also, notably, disputes about islands but those necessarily involve maritime boundaries and are therefore in a different category.)

More common, I think, than disputes about location are disputes about a boundary's status. These disputes don't have to do with where the boundary is drawn but rather about the status of the territory it marks out. Take the cases of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, mentioned here. Supporters of Abkhazian independence presumably don't want a different location for the boundary marking out Abkhazia; rather, they want a change in the boundary's status, from a provincial to an international boundary. When an article about secessionist or independence movements refers to "the rigidity of boundaries," this distinction can get lost, because the reader may infer that a secessionist movement wants to change a boundary's location when it doesn't. The Balochistan independence movement, for example, would presumably be happy with the current location of the boundary marking out Balochistan as a province of Pakistan, but it wants the status of that boundary changed to an international boundary. (Note however that some cases, such as that of an independent Kurdistan were it to be achieved, might involve changes in boundaries' locations.)

Then there can be tensions and disagreements that involve boundaries in some way but are not about either the boundary's location or its status. Two states that share a boundary can disagree, for instance, over how to manage the movement of people and/or goods across it. There can also be violence along a boundary that doesn't, strictly speaking, have much to do with the boundary itself but is an expression of hostility between the countries involved that happens to erupt along the boundary for various reasons.

For instance, the recent clashes between Afghan and Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan-Pakistan border may not have much to do with the border itself. According to a May 2 NYT story (h/t FP's AfPak Daily Brief):

Afghan forces claimed on Thursday that they had overrun and destroyed a Pakistani-held border crossing in a remote area, an event that provoked a spontaneous outpouring of nationalist sentiment here, sending thousands of students into the streets to demonstrate and setting off lively debate on social networking sites. A funeral for Qasim Khan, an Afghan border policeman who was the only confirmed victim of the clash, turned into a patriotic rally.

The NYT piece goes on to note that the outcry over the death of one Afghan soldier at the hands of Pakistani soldiers contrasts with the relative silence about the deaths of "eight Afghan Local Police officers [who] were killed on Thursday morning by a [Taliban] roadside bomb that blew up as their truck passed by in the village of Pashtunabad in Logar Province."

That young Afghans pour into the streets when an Afghan soldier is killed by Pakistani soldiers, but do not react similarly when eight American-trained Afghan local policemen are killed by the Taliban, is worth noting. One could draw several possible conclusions. But the  clashes between Afghan and Pakistani soldiers along the border may, to repeat, have little to do with the border itself, despite the NYT piece's mention of the Durand Line; in this sense it is different from the India-China border dispute. (I realize this is a debatable proposition, so reasoned disagreement is welcome.)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Reading notes, with movie postscript

Having embarrassed myself the other day on Crooked Timber (if indeed it's even possible to embarrass oneself in the blogosphere) by revealing that I'd never read The Social Contract, I've now picked up a used copy of the Norton Critical Edition of Rousseau's Political Writings. As an undergraduate I never took the standard course in the history of political thought because (1) I was stupid and (2) the course wasn't required by the program I was in, though it should have been. Consequently there are several canonical works of Western political theory I've never read.

Before I can get to Social Contract, however, I have to finish Iain Banks's Matter which, despite some witty moments and lovely descriptive passages, has turned into something of a chore. Which may explain, I suppose, why I don't read much science fiction.

Movie postscript: I see from the front page of WaPo online that a version of The Great Gatsby, with Leonardo DiCaprio, is coming this summer. It can't possibly turn out to be worse than the early 1970s version with Sam Waterston and Mia Farrow, which is on my worst-movies-ever-seen list.

Update: Have now ordered the recent Penguin ed. of Social Contract, trans. Q. Hoare, ed. C. Bertram. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May Day link

Since it's May Day, I'm linking this Boston Review forum on global labor standards (h/t), even though I haven't had a chance to read it yet.

Does the process of state recognition need to be 'normalized'?

The 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States sets out the minimum requirements for statehood in international law: "a permanent population; a defined territory; government; and capacity to enter into relations with the other States." A prominent international lawyer has written that several of these criteria boil down to "the existence of effective government...." (Ian Brownlie, Principles of Public International Law, 4th ed., p.73).

Not surprisingly, the rather vague criteria of the Montevideo Convention have not always been applied consistently. In a 2002 article, "Sovereign Rights in International Relations: A Futile Search for Regulated or Regular State Behavior" (Review of International Studies, 28:4), Ersun Kurtulus pointed out that, for example, Chechnya in the 1990s had most of the empirical attributes of statehood but lacked the legal status of sovereignty, whereas Bosnia-Herzegovina was widely recognized as a sovereign state while (arguably) lacking the empirical attributes of statehood. Bosnia was hardly alone in that respect, of course. There is a well-known distinction in the Int'l Relations literature, introduced by Robert Jackson, between "juridical" and "empirical" sovereignty. To take an example: Somalia has juridical but not empirical sovereignty, whereas Somaliland, one could argue, has empirical but not juridical sovereignty. (On Somaliland, see, e.g., Peter Roethke, "The Right to Secede Under International Law: The Case of Somaliland," Journal of International Service, 20:2, Fall 2011.)

The above remarks are prompted by reading Courtney Brooks's article, "Making a State a State," in the current issue of World Policy Journal. Brooks, the UN correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, argues that there is a "need for a mechanism to normalize the process of international recognition of a state."  UN membership, which requires a two-thirds vote of the General Assembly, is perhaps the closest thing to an official stamp of recognition of statehood, but it isn't quite that, and moreover any one of the five permanent members of the Security Council can veto a membership application. 

Brooks contends that no one country should be able to veto a UN membership bid and that a way should be found to bypass the veto power, perhaps by reviving a 1950 SC resolution that was used to break a deadlock over the Korean War by giving "the General Assembly the power to overrule the Security Council in some instances...." The likelihood of this occurring, I would say, is minimal, but it's an interesting proposal.  
However, in terms of the way it's organized, the problem with Brooks's generally good article is that it begins with a discussion of Abkhazia, a region in the west of Georgia (see map here) that declared itself independent in 1999 but is recognized as an independent state only by Russia and four other countries. (The four are Venezuela, Nicaragua, Nauru and Tuvalu, the latter two being tiny island states in the Pacific.) 

Abkhazia is thus not a case of an entity that would benefit from a 'normalization' of the recognition procedure or a bypassing of the Security Council veto, since virtually no country wants to recognize it except Russia. Brooks quotes a Russian spokesman as saying "we encourage everybody to accept the new geopolitical reality in the South Caucasus. Two independent states, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, exist there alongside Georgia." This is Moscow's position and (with respect to Abkhazia at least) Venezuela's and Nicaragua's position, and Nauru's and Tuvalu's, all of whose positions have, as one might delicately put it, been influenced by Russian financial largesse. But the other 180-plus sovereign states in the world aren't buying this "new geopolitical reality."    

Accordingly, Brooks tacks on a coda proposing that residents of "disputed territories" like Abkhazia should have their rights to travel freely, for example, guaranteed by some mechanism, perhaps a revival of something like the UN Trusteeship Council. Again, I don't know whether this particular mechanism is the right one, but the basic idea of enhancing the rights of Abkhazians and others similarly situated seems reasonable.

Two other quibbles with the piece: it uses "state" and "nation" interchangeably, which I think should be avoided if possible, and it refers at one point to the "rigidity" of territorial boundaries in negative terms. In fact the rigidity of boundaries has some significant benefits as well as some costs; for further discussion, see, e.g., here.

P.s. Be sure to catch the very short poem quoted at the very end of Brooks's article.

Further reading: Mikulas Fabry, Recognizing States (Oxford U.P., 2010).