“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.


2 comments on ““Bad behaviour will not be rewarded…”

  1. frassminggi says:

    Ryan, I agree with you that IR theories work well to describe situations better than they work at describing and predicting state action in all circumstances. It is because IR theories draw on paradigmatic assumptions about how is best to find “social truths.” Secondly, it is also because IR theories over relied on material assumption which is derived from limited external observance in time and space. On the whole, what we call as scientific procedures are for ascertain these truths (i.e. to follow tools to find validity and reliability) which are constantly unfolding and need to be interpreted empirically. I think IR theories are good to find near truth. From my light, I think we need a new epistemology to interpret event that unfolding in today’s world to equip our external observance together with internal observance by spiritual insight derived from branch of knowledge known as eschatology. With this then we can see phenomena with two eyes.

    As for ROK and DPRK case, I think as the political status quos still exists on the peninsula both of them are still divided. but the ROK has a new strategic orientation toward the North. Seoul will pursue the complete dismantlement of nuclear programs and weapons by Pyongyang. A denuclearized North will be only the first step for the peninsula’s future normalization. But it is extremely difficult task since DPRK distrusts ROK. Both of them are victim of liberal imperialism as the land of morning calm has been divided for 67 years.

  2. mir2012blog says:

    Ryan, nice post. One way to think about realism and liberalism in the DPRK context is to weigh the relative emphasis on carrots and sticks. It could be argued that a ‘liberal’ approach would assume that the DPRK can change and given the right incentives could be persuaded and encouraged to take a less confrontational position with the South and with other states. A realist on the other hand would argue that deterrence and reliance on overwhelming force is the only reliable strategy. Similar debates play out in US-China policy, sometimes framed as ‘engagement’ versus ‘containment’. Liberalism a la Moravscik is also more useful than many models of realism at allowing us to look at the way interests emerge from domestic politics. It was notable that Obama’s “hot mike” comment at the Nuclear Security Summit confirmed what we all intuitively know, ie that in an election year, a president has much less freedom to maneuver in foreign policy, than they do, the year after an election (especially in Obama’s case, the year after your final election).

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