What if Realists were in charge?

Paleocon wrote:
CheezePavilion wrote:
Paleocon wrote:

You are correct, sir. I am talking about IR Realism.

The thing that jumps out at me is that one of the attributes listed is:

Realist theories tend to uphold that:

...

Sovereign states are the principal actors in the international system and special attention is afforded to large powers as they have the most influence on the international stage. International institutions, non-governmental organizations, multinational corporations, individuals and other sub-state or trans-state actors are viewed as having little independent influence.

and considering the effect of the non-sovereign trans-national actor known as al-Quaeda on the events of the last decade, shouldn't that cause us to think twice about how accurate this school of thought really is?

Not any more than the examples of Pancho Villa or Sitting Bull do.

Well, why shouldn't those examples cause us to think twice? Heck, why shouldn't the Catholic Church cause us to think twice about the idea that trans-state actors have little independent influence if we're going back into history like that?

CheezePavilion wrote:
Paleocon wrote:
CheezePavilion wrote:
Paleocon wrote:

You are correct, sir. I am talking about IR Realism.

The thing that jumps out at me is that one of the attributes listed is:

Realist theories tend to uphold that:

...

Sovereign states are the principal actors in the international system and special attention is afforded to large powers as they have the most influence on the international stage. International institutions, non-governmental organizations, multinational corporations, individuals and other sub-state or trans-state actors are viewed as having little independent influence.

and considering the effect of the non-sovereign trans-national actor known as al-Quaeda on the events of the last decade, shouldn't that cause us to think twice about how accurate this school of thought really is?

Not any more than the examples of Pancho Villa or Sitting Bull do.

Well, why shouldn't those examples cause us to think twice? Heck, why shouldn't the Catholic Church cause us to think twice about the idea that trans-state actors have little independent influence if we're going back into history like that?

I think what I said may still apply to the Catholic Church. Its power was directly measured against those states which supported it. Catholicism was nigh irrelevant before Rome converted.

CheezePavilion wrote:
Paleocon wrote:
CheezePavilion wrote:
Paleocon wrote:

You are correct, sir. I am talking about IR Realism.

The thing that jumps out at me is that one of the attributes listed is:

Realist theories tend to uphold that:

...

Sovereign states are the principal actors in the international system and special attention is afforded to large powers as they have the most influence on the international stage. International institutions, non-governmental organizations, multinational corporations, individuals and other sub-state or trans-state actors are viewed as having little independent influence.

and considering the effect of the non-sovereign trans-national actor known as al-Quaeda on the events of the last decade, shouldn't that cause us to think twice about how accurate this school of thought really is?

Not any more than the examples of Pancho Villa or Sitting Bull do.

Well, why shouldn't those examples cause us to think twice? Heck, why shouldn't the Catholic Church cause us to think twice about the idea that trans-state actors have little independent influence if we're going back into history like that?

Largely because states (and particularly rich, powerful states) possess far more power, resources, and influence than non-state actors. There isn't, for instance, an international criminal conspiracy with the resources necessary to put together enough power and gas centrifuges to build a nuclear weapon. And when it comes to grave threats to American interests, al Qaeda doesn't even register when compared with historical threats like Britain, Mexico, Spain, Japan, or Russia.

Grubber788 wrote:

I think what I said may still apply to the Catholic Church. Its power was directly measured against those states which supported it. Catholicism was neigh irrelevant before Rome converted.

Yet it was very relevant long after (western) Rome fell (or whatever you want to call it).

Its power may be directly measured against those states which supported it, but there's a difference between being supported by and depend upon the patronage or mercy of. The puppet master depends upon the puppets, but the power is he who pulls the strings. The Wikipedia page states independent influence, not independent direct action.

Paleocon wrote:

Largely because states (and particularly rich, powerful states) possess far more power, resources, and influence than non-state actors. There isn't, for instance, an international criminal conspiracy with the resources necessary to put together enough power and gas centrifuges to build a nuclear weapon. And when it comes to grave threats to American interests, al Qaeda doesn't even register when compared with historical threats like Britain, Mexico, Spain, Japan, or Russia.

Just because states have far more power/resources/influence, that doesn't mean non-state actors have little influence.

I mean, according to International Realism, shouldn't realists always be in charge, whether those people know they're realists or not? They might tell themselves they're Neo-Cons or Liberal Interventionists, but their choice according to IR will amount to just "unitary actors each moving towards their own national interest."

In other words, let's say I'm an IR guy running a country outside the U.S. I'm trying to figure out how the U.S. is going to behave. IR tells me the U.S. will do things in their national interest, but that article listed 10 things it argues were NOT in the national interests of the U.S. If I was the President of Uzbeki-beki-beki-stan-stan ten years ago, and I appointed an IR guy as my Foreign Minister, my country would have made a lot of bad calls at this point in trying to handle the U.S.

Yeah, that thought process doesn't work anymore. Individual people have enormous power, and as technology continues to advance, that will only increase. bin Laden, with just a few hundred guys, managed to convince the US to spend a couple of trillion dollars hunting him. That individual man was clearly the most important shaper of events in the world in the last two decades, because the conservatives took his bait hook, line, and sinker.

The fact that he was killed is irrelevant... trading his life, plus that of a few hundred followers, for trillions of dollars in damage to the US is probably the single largest victory in history.

Well, if state primacy is diminishing, I guess we don't have to worry about police states, right?

Ultimately, no one kind of international political theory can explain everything that happens on the international stage. Liberalism explains why an inter-connected global economy might be the best thing for world peace, but realism will explain a lot of Sino-American relations for the next century. It's all a great big mix bag of explanations.

Malor wrote:

Yeah, that thought process doesn't work anymore. Individual people have enormous power, and as technology continues to advance, that will only increase. bin Laden, with just a few hundred guys, and the support of Afghanistan, and Pakistan; managed to convince the US to spend a couple of trillion dollars hunting him. That individual man was clearly the most important shaper of events in the world in the last two decades, because the conservatives took his bait hook, line, and sinker.

The fact that he was killed is irrelevant... trading his life, plus that of a few hundred followers, for trillions of dollars in damage to the US is probably the single largest victory in history.

FTFY

WizKid wrote:
Malor wrote:

Yeah, that thought process doesn't work anymore. Individual people have enormous power, and as technology continues to advance, that will only increase. bin Laden, with just a few hundred guys, and the support of Afghanistan, and Pakistan; managed to convince the US to spend a couple of trillion dollars hunting him. That individual man was clearly the most important shaper of events in the world in the last two decades, because the conservatives took his bait hook, line, and sinker.

The fact that he was killed is irrelevant... trading his life, plus that of a few hundred followers, for trillions of dollars in damage to the US is probably the single largest victory in history.

FTFY

Leaving aside the issue of what "support" means in this context, I don't think you did: it is more accurate to say and the support of the Taliban, and elements within Pakistan's military and security forces Considering those are sub-state actors (and trans-state, hence the term 'AfPak'), that actually reenforces the point instead of detracting from it.

CheezePavilion wrote:
WizKid wrote:
Malor wrote:

Yeah, that thought process doesn't work anymore. Individual people have enormous power, and as technology continues to advance, that will only increase. bin Laden, with just a few hundred guys, and the support of Afghanistan, and Pakistan; managed to convince the US to spend a couple of trillion dollars hunting him. That individual man was clearly the most important shaper of events in the world in the last two decades, because the conservatives took his bait hook, line, and sinker.

The fact that he was killed is irrelevant... trading his life, plus that of a few hundred followers, for trillions of dollars in damage to the US is probably the single largest victory in history.

FTFY

Leaving aside the issue of what "support" means in this context, I don't think you did: it is more accurate to say and the support of the Taliban, and elements within Pakistan's military and security forces Considering those are sub-state actors (and trans-state, hence the term 'AfPak'), that actually reenforces the point instead of detracting from it.

I've got some counter-points to those specific points:

1) I think many of us would agree that Al-Queda's hard power peaked with the Taliban. After the fall of Afghanistan, Al-Queda simply was not as powerful as it was before. I think that shows the importance of a state benefactor, even if it's just a physical place to hide.

2) Pakistan's sub-state actors are still representatives of state power. They still have certain military and governing authority, which still makes it a relevant factor in the realist balance of power.

3) Realism doesn't preclude short term alliances, so even if someone was contending that a strong trans-national alliance was responsible for Al-Queda's ability to survive, it wouldn't necessarily put a really big hole in the theory that state actors are still ultimately the most important actors on the international stage.

HOWEVER, let me make your argument for you for a second

Hypothetical situation:

Al-Queda manages to operate without state support and detonates a nuclear or biological device in a major American city. If casualties could reach conventional war levels, then I think there would be a much stronger argument for the growing irrelevance of states in international relations, with a greater emphasis on norms and non-state actors. At that point, what would a realist do if a state actor was not even indirectly responsible? I think that's a very interesting question (one of course I hope we don't have to answer).

and the support of Afghanistan, and Pakistan

Almost none, and it was largely irrelevant. We invaded Afghanistan within weeks.

Malor wrote:
and the support of Afghanistan, and Pakistan

Almost none, and it was largely irrelevant. We invaded Afghanistan within weeks.

I don't think it's a coincidence that once the Taliban were overthrown and the US pressured other countries to stop supporting Al-Qaeda, the organization became significantly weaker.

Yeah, but it didn't matter. We still spent trillions.

Malor wrote:

Yeah, but it didn't matter. We still spent trillions.

Sure... but what does that have to do with what we're talking about?

Malor wrote:

Yeah, but it didn't matter. We still spent trillions.

And we had trillions to spend. Superstates do. That's what makes us superstates.

I recall watching the movie La Bataille d'Alger in which a terrorist answered an allegation that he was barbaric for sending women with suicide bombs to kill markets full of civilians by saying that the French military bombed his civilians with jet planes with napalm and that he would gladly trade their capabilities.

States are able to spend $10,000 on a Javelin missile to take out a $10 Tabby. It's not a contest of cost efficiency. It's a contest of political will and disproportionate capability. And until ass backward medieval religious fundamentalists who paint windows black so women can't see the world can get their hands on a functioning state with a functioning economy, we will continue to enjoy that disproportionate capacity.

Grubber788 wrote:
CheezePavilion wrote:
WizKid wrote:
Malor wrote:

Yeah, that thought process doesn't work anymore. Individual people have enormous power, and as technology continues to advance, that will only increase. bin Laden, with just a few hundred guys, and the support of Afghanistan, and Pakistan; managed to convince the US to spend a couple of trillion dollars hunting him. That individual man was clearly the most important shaper of events in the world in the last two decades, because the conservatives took his bait hook, line, and sinker.

The fact that he was killed is irrelevant... trading his life, plus that of a few hundred followers, for trillions of dollars in damage to the US is probably the single largest victory in history.

FTFY

Leaving aside the issue of what "support" means in this context, I don't think you did: it is more accurate to say and the support of the Taliban, and elements within Pakistan's military and security forces Considering those are sub-state actors (and trans-state, hence the term 'AfPak'), that actually reenforces the point instead of detracting from it.

I've got some counter-points to those specific points:

1) I think many of us would agree that Al-Queda's hard power peaked with the Taliban. After the fall of Afghanistan, Al-Queda simply was not as powerful as it was before. I think that shows the importance of a state benefactor, even if it's just a physical place to hide.

Were the Taliban ever really a state in the sense IR uses that term? The Taliban emerged during an Afghan civil war that was still going on at the time--that doesn't sound like sovereignty.

2) Pakistan's sub-state actors are still representatives of state power. They still have certain military and governing authority, which still makes it a relevant factor in the realist balance of power.

I'm questioning how representative they are of that state power. On paper, sure--but in reality, if they're off playing their own games, they've become a de facto sub/trans national actor.

3) Realism doesn't preclude short term alliances, so even if someone was contending that a strong trans-national alliance was responsible for Al-Queda's ability to survive, it wouldn't necessarily put a really big hole in the theory that state actors are still ultimately the most important actors on the international stage.

Considering the importance of that event, I'd disagree on the size of the hole.

HOWEVER, let me make your argument for you for a second

Hypothetical situation:

Al-Queda manages to operate without state support and detonates a nuclear or biological device in a major American city. If casualties could reach conventional war levels, then I think there would be a much stronger argument for the growing irrelevance of states in international relations, with a greater emphasis on norms and non-state actors. At that point, what would a realist do if a state actor was not even indirectly responsible? I think that's a very interesting question (one of course I hope we don't have to answer).

That's certainly a case where we'd agree on the tragic size of the hole.

In any event, the point behind the article was not to state that IR is a policy world view without weakness. It was to say that the world would be a much better place today had Realism been injected into policy when compared to the glaring failures of Liberal Interventionism and it's retarded cousin Neoconservatism.

I would hope that on that point we can at least find some agreement.

And we had trillions to spend. Superstates do. That's what makes us superstates.

That's what turns us into non-superstates.

Malor wrote:
And we had trillions to spend. Superstates do. That's what makes us superstates.

That's what turns us into non-superstates.

When spent improperly, yes. It's hard to argue that the adventure into Iraq was a wise expense. Once again, that is why injecting a bit of policy Realism into our own actions and divorcing ourselves from the magical thinking of Liberalism or Neoconservatism is so important.

I mean, if you can even buy into the framing that you can use soldiers to fight a tactic, you are delusional, full stop.

Malor wrote:

I mean, if you can even buy into the framing that you can use soldiers to fight a tactic, you are delusional, full stop.

I recently read Bernard Fall's Street Without Joy about the French debacle in Vietnam, and his very good point was you can't fight an ideology with technology; no matter how many trained troops and advanced technology you pour into that kind of conflict, some guy who really believes in his cause will do anything to keep fighting, regardless of how fancy your weaponry is.

Actually, nevermind.

It's hard to argue that the entire War on Terror was a wise expense.

Again: one guy, with a few hundred followers, got us to spend WAY more money than we spent on World War 2.

This was always a matter best handled by policing, never soldiers. We are among the all-time stupid large empires.

And your whole assertion that your thinking isn't magical, while everyone else suffers from delusion, is world-class arrogance.

and his very good point was you can't fight an ideology with technology

Sure, but that's orthogonal to what I'm talking about.... soldiers and armies are designed for two basic purposes: to break things and kill people. Our armed force is the best at breaking things and killing people that has ever existed in all of human history. There probably isn't any target you could point at that those guys couldn't destroy.

But the problem is, you can't point at terrorism, so you can't fight a war against it. You can point a finger at a terrorist, but that's just an accusation, and that sort of thing should be handled by police, not soldiers.

Soldiers cannot break or kill terrorism, because it's a tactic, not a thing. You can only declare war on things. That's a fight they can simply never win, because no matter how many people they break and countries they kill, someone else can always start using the terrorism tactic.

The whole idea that the nation-state is the important actor is grounded in WW2-era thinking. It is outdated and, frankly, kind of stupid. With modern technology, individual people, or very small teams, can have enormous destructive power.

bin Laden did more damage to us than Hitler. Well, that's not quite true. More accurately: he tricked the American government into damaging itself. A couple trillion dollars have gone down a black hole in the desert, while our infrastructure rots, and our cities decay.

bin Laden was not a nation, but he hurt us worse than any nation ever has. This whole "Realist" idea is demonstrably bullsh*t.

The major way that they went wrong was failing (perhaps deliberately) to understand that terrorism is a crime, and has to be fought with police and investigations, not invasions and fighter jets.

Perhaps it would make more sense to evaluate specific examples of realist foreign policy versus a specific example of an idealist foreign policy.

For example: President George H. W. Bush and his National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft wrote a book explaining their policies: http://www.amazon.com/A-World-Transf...

One chapter, also published earlier in Time Magazine, explained why they chose not to remove Saddam in the first Gulf War.

To paraphrase: we would have liked to remove Saddam, but the practical consequences of attempting to do so would outweigh the benefit of any potential benefit.

Compare this to the nation building ethos that drove his son, George W. Bush and his advisors in the second Gulf war. (I don't have a handy primary source here, can someone find a good gloss?) Which I would paraphrase as: removing Saddam is The Right Thing To Do, and we have the moral courage to do The Right Thing, regardless of the consequences.

For those of us who have lived through the disaster of this idealist-driven US foreign policy, it might be easy to say that we should always be realists, or pragmatists, or be willing to compromise what we want for what we can realisticly achieve.

On the other hand, the World War 2 generation can point to Neville Chamberlin and his policy of appeasement as a counter-example of what happens when we allow practical considerations to cloud our commitment to first principles.

I don't think anyone here is defending the Bush/Rumsfeld/Rove foreign policy. What seems to be argued is in what way did they go wrong? Were they not realist enough? Did they repeat the mistakes of The Best and the Brightest in Johnson's White House? Where a homogenous group of really smart people made stupid choices because they lacked dissenting views and outside perspective? Or was there some other failing?

In any case, it seems that the Realist contribution to this question is not whether or not non-state operators are important, but rather, whether or non data and perspectives from outside one's ideological perspective are needed to make wise evaluations and decisions.

With regard to the earlier comments on the influence of non-state actors such as al Qaeda, let me ask this: what really changed the world more, the actions of al Qaeda or the reactions of Sovereign states?

Quintin_Stone wrote:

With regard to the earlier comments on the influence of non-state actors such as al Qaeda, let me ask this: what really changed the world more, the actions of al Qaeda or the reactions of Sovereign states?

Isn't that kind of like asking whether the coin landed heads up or tails down?

Who changed the world more, Obama, or Assange?

Obama sure didn't cause the toppling of governments all over the Middle East.

I can't tell why the conversation keeps on getting split in two here... Anyway...

CheezePavilion wrote:
Quintin_Stone wrote:

With regard to the earlier comments on the influence of non-state actors such as al Qaeda, let me ask this: what really changed the world more, the actions of al Qaeda or the reactions of Sovereign states?

Isn't that kind of like asking whether the coin landed heads up or tails down?

Sometimes, I think this is the case. With 9/11, the event itself was more important to Americans than the international activities that followed. But this isn't the case for every event. Think of how WWI started with an assassination; ultimately, I think how the states reacted to the event carried a lot more importance than the event itself, especially when you consider how eager those countries were to go to war with each other. Any small event from an individual could have caused that cascade. One wonders if it was a similar case with 9/11. Would a similar attack have given the US an excuse to invade Iraq (I contend that the invasion of Iraq was something that policymakers wanted since the Persian Gulf War)?

I think something to consider when looking at non-state actors impacting world events is how much states have to gain or lose based on the events and then question how much the non-state actor drove the state response or how much state actors used the non-state actor action as an excuse (to appease allies or citizen constituents) to pursue its own goals.