Kissinger on morality, democracy, intervention and foreign policy.

Seeing we’re covering realism this coming week, who better to post about than the Dean of American realists, Henry A. Kissinger?  In this March 31 Washington Post op-ed, he weighs in on what he sees as changing American policy in the Middle East.  He argues that Washington is stepping back from basing its military presence in the Middle East policy on national security rationale, and  “is reengaging in several other states in the region (albeit uncertainly) in the name of humanitarian intervention.” For Kissinger, the key question is “will democratic reconstruction replace national interest as the lodestar of Middle East policy?” Should it?  Hmmm… I wonder how an avowed realist would answer that one.  (Sorry, no chocolate fish for getting this one right.)


April Fools’ Day in Burma


Tomorrow, parliamentary by-elections will be held in Burma, with participation of the National League for Democracy, the party that in 1990 won general elections with a clear majority. The regime refused to acknowledge the results back then, repressed the opposition and continued their reign which, despite sanctions imposed by most ‘liberal states’, managed to do just fine by inviting ‘non-liberal’ states to invest in the country’s energy and resource extraction industries.

Several Indian and South Korean corporations (some of them partially state-owned) also invested heavily in the energy sector, and thereby helped sustain a regime that advanced developments in resource extraction, such as the Yadana and Shwe gas projects, with little consideration for their citizens’ rights to life and freedom.

What does this make South Korea and India? And what of the on-going investment of Western private businesses and state enterprises in other ‘non-liberal’ states? How easy is it to draw the line between a liberal and a non-liberal state? And who decides when a non-liberal state ‘advances’ to ‘liberal state’-status?

If we go by the commercial liberalism argument, engaging non-liberal states in commerce and stimulating economic interdependence should lay the foundation for a peaceful future. Burma certainly appears ready for the opportunity.

But peace for whom? Are we just talking about peaceful co-existence of states? “Democracies don’t go to war with each other”! Where’s the point when internally these democracies are at war with their own citizens?

It will be interesting to follow developments in Burma (or Myanmar?). Aung San Suu Kyi herself seems not overtly optimistic, suggesting that the elections will neither be free nor fair. Is the regime just playing a joke?

“Bad behaviour will not be rewarded…”


U.S. President Obama’s visit this week to the DMZ seems to me a reasonably good example for demonstrating the notion covered in our readings that liberal states, though peace loving with other liberal states, are still happy to treat non-liberal states in the world as outsiders and not in the club. When it’s convenient for a state to be liberalist in it’s approaches to IR it will, and when someone (DPRK) doesn’t want to play ball a realist approach is taken.

When big brother (U.S.) says, “Bad behavior will not be rewarded,” it simultaneously infantilizes North Korea and establishes the balance of power as being firmly on the side of the the U.S. if not Western Powers in general. Further inflaming the situation is Japan’s consideration of shooting down a planned rocket launch by North Korea delegitimizing North Korea’s sovereignty.

This makes me think more and more that IR theories work well to describe situations, or periods of time, i.e. U.S./DPRK interaction or the Cold War era, better than they work at describing and predicting state action in all circumstances. Liberalist approaches when it’s convenient and serves to grow ties between states and realist approaches when those ties don’t exist or are resisted.

When liberal states look at North Korea i think they see a state unwilling to participate in a western notion of interdependence. This is threatening to the system, there’s no buy-in, no mutual understanding or assurance of security as a ‘club member.’

I’m curious to get to our constructivist readings to see what light they shed on IR theory and if they help me believe there’s any one theory that encompasses how states act today.

The ‘Arab Spring’ In Space…

If I recall rightly there were questions raised in our last seminar about the place of social (internet) networking as an actor in its own right as a globalizing force.  The comment was made that it was probably better thought of as simply a ‘medium’ for various actors.  It is then a globalizing force only in so far as it allows global actors to network.  All this was made with particular reference to the ‘Arab Spring’*.  I guess this blog is essentially a follow up on that conversation.

It got me thinking about social networking’s place in the Egyptian Revolution where it played a prominent role.  The Al-Jazeera Blogs played a pivotal role where the demonstrators at Tahrir Square used them to get strategic advice from anyone who bothered to read these public forums.  On a more local level text messaging helped galvanize the local population, quickly giving the uprising (the) mass(es) it needed.  What it effectively did was create a space for strategizing and therefore a sense of global activism.  This happened to a much lesser extent in the Libyan Revolution where the initial uprising quickly turned into a short, sharp civil war.  As far as I can see it, it is playing an almost insignificant role in shaping what is happening in Syria.

However, in addition to simply facilitating the flow of information, the Internet, and technology in general, also facilitated a different sense of space.  And I think this concept of ‘space’ has been incredibly influential in the machinations of these uprisings.  In a sense, all roads led to Tahrir Square and Benghazi during the respective Egyptian and Libyan uprisings/revolutions.  Both were ‘resolved’ in a finite time.  I wonder if there is a link.  Syria’s uprising looks as though it will become protracted and this might be because it lacks spatial focus; the Free Syrian Army is based in, and operating out of, Turkey and Lebanon.  The Syrian National Council’s leaders are based in Europe (and Paris in particular).  Added to this are small community uprising in towns and villages not affiliated with, or often even in contact with, either, of the aforementioned groups.  Basically there are no mass rallies in Damascus (for example), and much less networking that would provide a sense of cohesiveness.

It’s a completely untested theory of mine (more a hypothesis I guess).  But I think a movement focused spatially towards a particularly city/square/region is given an extra dynamic that helps drive it to it’s conclusion.

Perhaps this is where social networking comes back in.  It helped the movement in Tahrir Square achieve a global dynamic that gave the movement an epicenter and therefore a critical mass.  And it is this one of many things that is lacking in Syria.

From my own personal experience in Syria, and Damascus in particular, the internet is still relatively rare.  Syria having just embarked on aggressive modernizing ‘thanks’ to Assad 2.0.  Broadband is practically nonexistent, internet cafés are few and far between, and if you want to use Facebook, Twitter, etc. you have to know how to redirect to a proxy server (based in Lebanon) to get access as many of these sites are barred in Syria.  The last I heard Syrian authorities were now confiscating smartphones, etc., as they found them, to try and cut down on social networking (and they were only any good when you could get a signal).

Just my synapses firing off an idea…


*I think the term ‘Arab Spring’ is a particularly pernicious noun for such a large phenomena which has encompassed a relatively peaceful revolution in Egypt to that which unfolded in Libya and that which is still unfolding(?) in Syria.  ‘Spring’ denotes concepts of renewal and the burgeoning of something necessarily good.  Here people are dying.  Incidentally the Arab World is calling it for what it is; ‘Al-Thuraat Al-Arabia’ (obviously a transliteration), that is ‘Arab Revolutions’.  Much more preferable I think.

Liberal Dadaism: a deconstruction of the modern state.

I wonder of someone could provide some illumination on my conundrum. It is late and I have been reading theory minutiae over my stub of a candle –  so apologies and please bear with my train of thought…

The classical precepts of Liberalism, as defined by Locke, is a natural state in which all people are considered equal, free to act, and have an inherent natural right to ‘Life, Liberty, and  Property”. This individual property may be, for example, a house, car, big screen television, or land.

As we are all equal in our ability to labour for, and defend, the realisation of these rights, we look to the State for additional protection and security. As Nozick describes, citizens are ‘consumers’ or even ‘customers’ purchasing “impartial, efficient protection of pre-existing natural rights.”

That is, the state as a consensual extension of collective governance, is required to protect the Life, Liberty and Property rights of individual citizens – and nothing more. In particular, the control that a state can legitimately wield does not extend to any notion of a collective ”territory”. As Nozick explains, the land of a nation (read state) is not the collective property of its citizens. This would negate the notion of individual property rights.

As such, the Liberal State has no claim to any collective notion of land or territory.

The Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States formally established the definition of the modern state – as having a permanent population, a government, recognition by other sovereign states… and a defined territory.

How can we consolidate these two seemingly incongruous concepts!? Does the requisite delineation of a defined cohesive territory nullify any notion of a Liberal State? Or conversely, if we accept the premise of the Liberal argument – does this throw the formal definition of a modern state to the anarchic dogs of international relations!?

As I say, it is rather late… perhaps I have had a little too much theory…!?


Theory, globalization and chocolate fish

This week we’ll spend some time debating theories of IR and ask what a “good” theory looks like; what should it include and exclude, what should it aspire to?  Well, the KOF 2012 Globalization Index arrived in my inbox this morning, complete with scores for states for (a) their overall globalization, (b) their “economic”, (c) “social” and (d) “political” globalization — and the results got me wondering just what was being included (and wasn’t).

If I told you that the four states that won each category (a-d) were: Singapore, Cyprus, Italy, and Belgium, could you guess which state won which? What kind of values are inherent in the questions being asked?  (If you were wondering about New Zealand, we ranked #27 overall, #22 in economic globalization, #35 in social and a lowly #56 in political globalization, whatever that means. )  Chocolate fish for anyone who gets 4/4 without cheating.

The full data and methodology is here:  Critical comments about the findings should be written on the back of a copy of Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks, and sent to Prof. Dr. Axel Dreher,  Phone: +41 44 632 46 23


The social media IR story of the week was without doubt KONY2012, the 25 minute-long video produced by the NGO Invisible Children to draw attention to the use of child soldiers by the Lord’s Resistance Army in the conflict in northern Uganda.   Love it or hate it, there’s no denying it has been a truly remarkable example of viral marketing.  In the space of less than a week it was viewed by 112 million people. It prompted a KONY2012 drinking game and even Shane Warne tweeted about it!

What does any of this actually mean?  How should we judge the work of Invisible Children?  Have they succeeded in their mission simply by raising awareness of the war in Uganda?  Or have they perpetuated a myth of a helpless child-like Africa, dependent on the assistance of the white, liberal, rich world to save itself?  Do they send a message that the conflict can best be simply solved through military means, or that “saving Africa” can be done  one wrist band at a time?  Even if you think it’s well-intentioned, does Invisible Children actually make more difficult the work of people on the ground who have to deal with the LRA and the Ugandan government?

Did you get bombarded with KONY2012 stuff this week?  What did YOU think?  What does KONY2012 say (if anything) about the way the international agenda is shaped?  How does it frame the conflict and the range of possible responses?  I’ll keep my own views to myself for the time being, but must say I thought this particular Invisible Children Glee-inspired video was a crime against humanity all of its own.