Debating IR

Probing the philosophical underpinnings of the international system and anything else of interest.


Saturday, February 11, 2006

Reflection: Danish cartoons

Since finding out about the Danish cartoons/burning embassies while a little out of the loop and sincerely believing that my roommate was just joking around, I've been very interested in the goings-on surrounding the controversy.

Someone remarked in class that the reactions illustrate the cooperation favored by liberalism. Regardless of country, offended Muslims are uniting to express their displeasure over the cartoons. However, it would appear that realism has no explanation for the intense protests, which do not appear to be done with the intent of securing power. However, on Deutsche Welle, I came across this article, which calls the protests a "calculated political response" designed to undercut the influence of the West.

Initially, on hearing the class discussions of liberalism and realism, I preferred liberalism, which claims that states have many interests besides seeking power, and avoids the narrow focus inevitably associated with realism. However, I'm increasingly pressed to find examples of state interests that do not, in some way, come back to power. For example, the illustration of public goods liberalism -- i.e. the United States's role in Kosovo -- admitted that the United States wanted to increase its power by building a presence in eastern Europe, which sounds more realist than liberal.

The best conclusion I can arrive at is that some hybrid of the two (liberalism and realism) would be better suited to explaining IR -- something close to public goods liberalism and the theory that states cooperate to secure private goods and can, in the process, create public goods. However, I think my understanding of the two theories is still shaky at best.


Friday, February 10, 2006

Jonathan Berman Likes Economics Too Much to be Mad at Public Goods Liberalism

Well, perhaps I'm the victim of too many economics courses. I like economics and economic theory so I'm open to what Public Goods Liberalism has to say. Clearly, the public good problem is a serious one in economics though it is usually overcome by the state.

International relations isn't so lucky though. Having no central state to organize the distribution of public goods, leaves states with the need to form other ways of getting around the problem. I wish the author of the public goods chapter had gone over summation and weakest link which I think would have given a more complete picture of the theory.

However, from what I know of game theory it is possible in the international system to solve collective action problems based on the fact that states have to interact with each other repeatedly. Repeated interaction allows states to choose the socially optimal choice instead of defecting on a tit-for-tat basis. As long as no states defect every state will choose the better choice.

This is where the principle of reciprocity comes in and why it has been a staple of international relations for so long. It allows things to get done.


Thursday, February 09, 2006

Is this really its own theory?

Shep and Kat adequately explained Public Goods Liberalism, so I feel no need to do so here. What I do feel the need for is asking the question, "Is this really its own theory?" The way Butler and Boyer present Public Goods Liberalism made me feel that it was more of an explanation of general realism, than its own special theory. I have always seen Liberalism as states' pursuit of a larger public good through international cooperation. And that seems to be exactly what Butler and Boyer describe in Public Goods Liberalism. A group of states, NATO, decides to pursue a public good, human rights. What follows is a largely arbitrary assessment of their needs.

To be honest, this assessment of the causes for each state in following the US lead seemed fairly irrelevant to me. Since the authors assumed that the US was the only actor pursuing a public good, it seemed as if the authors did not attempt to explain the US rational for involvement. They seemed content to leave it as the US taking the lead, just as Keohane had predicted in the quote on 77. The followed this with assessments of the individual rationales for Germany, France, and Italy. I felt that the arguement was weak. They chose to ignore private US gains, but focus on private European gains, which helped to prove their point. However, ignoring the US private gains and the European public gains left me feeling that I had just witnessed a parlor trick. The evidence was in front of me, but I suspected magician of hiding something. To assuage any doubts as to the validity of the arguments, Butler and Boyer end the piece saying that while this may not be proof of the theory, it is evidence. And eventually, evidence will mount which shows the truth of Public Goods Liberalism.

To me this theory is no different than Huntington's Clash of Civs. It makes bold claims but fails to back them up. However, the theory cannot be disproved, because it leaves open the door for future evidence to vindicate its supporters.


Public Goods Liberalism (Kat)

Public goods liberalism, as the name implies, concerns providing public goods for other nations. To explain it, Sterling-Folker uses the example of Kosovo, where NATO intervened to provide the humanitarian goods of security, well-being, and justice. Originally, NATO was unable to agree on whether raw power or soft power should be used to achieve its goals, but it ultimately to adopt a more "coercive" position.

Sterling-Folker argues that individual countries' desires for private goods brought about this reversal. Every country expected to reap a reward specific to their needs; in other words, NATO's activity in Kosovo became the means to a greater end. Ultimately, this culminated in a public good being provided in Kosovo, but it did not derive from what could be referred to as "pure" intentions -- a humanitarian effect, but not necessarily humanitarian motivations. This sounds like a realist perspective; Sterling-Folker insists that it is actually "evidence of the changing nature of the international system" and that "liberal international values and structures are developing in incremental ways that will ultimately lead to greater levels of cooperation over the long term" (89).

What struck me was that, at a certain point of global interdependence, realism and liberalism converge; while pursuing your own security and advantages for your own country, you could actually create better security and better advantages in another country. In Kosovo, for example, the United States intended to "establish... an economic and political presence in Eastern Europe as a significant counterweight to the EU" (89), among other benefits, but in the process it brought the aforementioned public goods to another country.

Obviously, what helps one country does not always help its neighbors. Powerful nations have often oppressed weaker ones in pursuit of their own goals -- as we've heard so often in the past few weeks, "the strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must." Although the campaign in Kosovo had certain positive results, there were negative ones as well. However, it seems intuitive that as nations become more interdependent, it will become less and less profitable for one to make gains at the expense of another.


Public Goods Liberalism

Public Goods Liberalism examines the dynamics of group decision making. At the international level, this type of liberalism is interested in things like security and pollution that are positives or negatives for everyone. It is important who will bear the costs of both public goods and public bads.

Public Goods Liberalism is also concerned with the private gains that each party can expect to receive as the result of a decision. This is particularly important in security decisions, as countries that are closer to the action will receive greater benefits than those further away.

When applied to the need for collective action in Kosovo, Public Goods Liberalism can help to explain why three European actors eventually placed their support behind the bombing campaign. For France, the public good was a sort of pan-europeanism. For Italy, it was preventing a refugee crisis. For Germany, it was a desire to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe and also a desire to shed the legacy of the Second World War.


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Evidence of Liberalism?

I've been thinking a lot about my last comment in class on Monday. For reference, I basically stated the liberal position that the burning of the Norwegian and Danish Embassies in Syria could possibly be explained by an information/communication breakdown where Danish and other Western officials have been unable to properly inform many Middle Eastern people about freedom of the press and the fact that most Western governments have little to no say in what is printed in newspapers and other media outlets.

As I look more into this issue, it is apparent that this explanation doesn't work. Governments in Iran and Syria, who can be presumed to be more educated and possess a greater understanding of Western media freedoms, have reacted in similar ways to the angry mobs. Instead of torching embassies,, they have cut of diplomatic relations with Denmark, which is basically the same since its evidence of placing blame on the governement instead of the independent newspaper. In fact Iranian elites (friends of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who own a newspaper) have issued a contest asking for cartoons about the Holocaust in order to test Western principles of freedom, basically giving evidence of their understanding.

I don't know what theory best explains the events of the past week. I like to think that by allowing protesters to burn the Danish and Norwegian embassies, even after police had set up barricades, was a power-play designed to demonstrate how morally offended the Syrian people were and win the Syrian government a little more moral power, to make up for its abysmal record on human rights and the recent debacles in Lebanon. But who knows?


Sunday, February 05, 2006

Jonathan Berman Discusses Anarchy: The Way Locke Would Have Wanted It

I have to disagree with you Kat that the definition of anarchy is just "being able to do what you want without fear of punishment." In international relations today there is anarchy but that doesn't mean states just go around and do what they want.

When we define the term punishment it simply means a negative consequence imposed for a wrongdoing. Nothing in the defintion implies that the authority enacting the punishment or the receiver of the punishment is in the same hierarchy. In fact, in international relations states punish each other all the time. The embargo on Cuba, being condemned by the UN, or the former no-fly zones in Iraq are all examples of states punishing one another. If your definition of anarchy is true then we could not honestly say the international system is in anarchy because states get punished all the time.

Too often when people discuss anarchy they only think of something similar to Locke's state of nature where he says that in the state of nature men are in a "a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of Nature, without asking leave or depending upon the will of any other man."

However, Locke doesn't stop there when discussing the state of nature. For even as he says that the state of nature is a state of absolute freedom, he also says it is not one of absolute license. Lock then goes on to say that there are natural laws that no man can break.

Our friend Locke says, "but though this be a state of liberty, yet it is not a state of licence; though man in that state have an uncontrollable liberty to dispose of his person or possessions, yet he has not liberty to destroy himself, or so much as any creature in his possession, but where some nobler use than its bare preservation calls for it. The state of Nature has a law of Nature to govern it, which obliges every one, and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions." (II.6.)

Now we can bicker over whether there are actually natural laws but that is not the main point here. The main point is that in enforcing these natural laws every man is capable of acting as the executive power. There is no central authority to enforce these natural laws but every man is in a position to enforce them.

Lock says, "...that all men may be restrained from invading others' rights, and from doing hurt to one another, and the law of Nature be observed, which willeth the peace and preservation of all mankind, the execution of the law of Nature is in that state put into every man's hands, whereby every one has a right to punish the transgressors of that law to such a degree as may hinder its violation. For the law of Nature would, as all other laws that concern men in this world, be in vain if there were nobody that in the state of Nature had a power to execute that law, and thereby preserve the innocent and restrain offenders; and if any one in the state of Nature may punish another for any evil he has done, every one may do so. For in that state of perfect equality, where naturally there is no superiority or jurisdiction of one over another, what any may do in prosecution of that law, every one must needs have a right to do."

As a result, we can see that in anarchy, states, like people in a state of nature, are their own enforcers. There is punishment in the international system but it is just up to every state to provide it for themselves. Putting an end to anarchy is not stopping people from doing what they want to do, that would be impossible. Rather, ending anarchy requires taking the executive power from each of the states and putting it within one body. In that manner, if China wrongs Taiwan, Taiwan does not have to defend itself but can go to a higher power to demand justice. Just think of it like the US legal system. The law cannot stop people from murdering people, however, should a crime occur there is an authority that citizens may go to which will give them justice and ensure that they don't have to do it themselves.

Consequently, the anarchy that presides over international relations today allows states to do what they want but it also allows every state to be the executive. As Locke tells us if we want to escape the state of nature or anarchy then we merely need to put all of the executive authority that each individual state has and give it to one body exclusively. In this manner, a higher power acts as the dispenser of justice.