The Dartmouth Observer
Sunday, March 09, 2003
Europe, America and the International System
In the issue before last of the Free Press, there was a particularly good article by Jordana Steinman.
The Austrian ambassador she was quoting in the first paragraph needs to be nominated for the Noam Chomsky award (for the opinion least encumbered by knowledge: "He suggests that Europe represents the peaceful, feminine side of the symbol, characterized by Yin, and that Yang best describes the more martial, masculine United States."
Jordana adequately deprograms (Tom Sowell nominee) the excessive and empty rhetoric throughout her piece: "It does not do justice to one of the most important and likewise tumultuous relationships in modern world history, and it need not be stressed that the chances of world peace and prosperity are at their best as long as the US and Europe pull together. It is an unavoidable reality that ever since the Second World War, Europe has been militarily dependent on the U.S. Even with some of the most powerful economies in the world, (and the E.U. to make it even easier to share the costs of a strong military) Europe seems to refuse to build up a significant military force of its own, and as a result, it cannot take any major military actions without American assistance.
Europe’s flaw is...its inability to remain a strong player on the global level, failing to adjust its more idealistic approach to fit the political realities of today’s world. The eagle in the US seal has arrows in one claw and an olive branch in the other. Perhaps that is the American version of Yin-Yang, not as old or ideal as the Chinese concept, but old enough, nevertheless. It symbolizes that in some cases, peace must be defended."
However, the intellectual clarity seems to end when confronting the US's role in world affairs. (Hemant Joshi award nominee for exessive leftist rhetoric) "The United States, meanwhile, remains mired in a tediously outdated, realpolitik world of its own perpetuation—a world where international laws are deemed unreliable and where true security, and even promotion of liberal ideals in general, depend on having and using military might. Concepts like the interrelatedness of all nations mean little to this American mindset, which still clings to notions of world domination through proverbial games of political cowboys and Indians."
Some problems for those on the left and those critical of realist approaches to foreign policy is 1. the use of force in international politics, 2. the inefficacy of international laws and norms, and 3. the morality of war and peace.
Jordana suggests that realpolitick is tediously outdated. If anyone knows of any empirical evidence that would demonstrate that a situation has existed where a nation had a choice between realpolitck and international law, chose international law and prospered better than if it had chosen realpolitick. Since I am considering doing a thesis on this, I had run this question by a few IR profs and they were unable to suggest any examples were the international law was strong enough to prevent realpolitick in a situation where they was choice. For those who have invested their faith and hope regarding prospects of peace in the power and relevance international organizations, lawyers and jurists, the suggestion that the world is a messy place is disturbing. Since nations do exist in a state of anarchy (their exists no overarching body of governance over the international arena), it is difficult to see how force, mechanism of self-help, are not relevant today and will always be relevant minus the creation of a world government.
Moreover, international norms are not very strong in the sense of being able to modify state behavior in any meaningful way. A non-proliferation norm exists, incarnated in the Non-Proliferation Treaty, but that hasn't prevented certain states from building and/or pursuing nuclear technology. These countries include but are not limited to North Korea, India Pakistan, Iraq and Israel. If we lived in a world that wasn't dominated by 'cowboys and Indians', why do these states feel it necessary to build nuclear weapons?
Now some would respond to this argument by suggesting that the internal composition of the regimes in question, whether they are liberal or not, to a large part determines whether they do these things. I would have to disagree. The material capabilities of states, that is their power arrangements relative to other states, explains more about state behaviour that the values they expose. I call upon one example to show that while values and ideational factors are important, they ultimately have very little effect on the international system unless the material capabilities are there. In the 1830s, there were many factions within Britain that wanted to end the slave trade. The basic story is that a British government is elected by the Religious Right and began to stamp out the slave trade using its Navy and military forces. Whereas the ideas came from matters of religious identity, the actual ability to affect change was largely dependent on the fact that Britain was top dog among the naval powers at this time. Had Portugal opposed the slave trade, I'm not sure much would have been done. In summary, the material capability of states explains more than the ideational factors present, regime type in power and international values espoused.
Lastly, the opposition has a tough time with the morality of war and peace. As Jordana pointed out, the American eagle has both an olive branch and arrows in its claws. War is sometimes the only moral option available. In terms of the specifics of the Iraqi war, I am not sure that the Administration has made a compelling case that war is the sole moral option but the facts on the ground do heavily suggest that war is a high moral option. While it would be nice to have peace, we must ask "Peace at what risk? Peace on whose terms? Peace for how long?" Using this framework it is easy to see how war is the moral option for countries like Israel whose participation in negotiations to end the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict is undermined by the strategic realities of enemies bent on its destruction and elements within it whose post-war vision isn't entirely consistent with the facts on the ground.
It is less obvious where Sadaam fits in. However, the past twelve years of obfuscation by Iraq and sabotage by France and Germany on the inspections regime have proved that non-war alternatives are becoming increasingly untenable, immoral and costly. So I would caution Jordana to temper her rhetoric and take a hard look at how the international system works. We may be surprised to find that peace and justice are often opposed; that war is sometimes necessary and that the lines between war, peace and diplomacy are not as hard and fast as we would like to think. Reality is, alas, such a murky subject.