Will Domestic Politics Paralyze World Politics in 2012?

As revelers in New York's Times Square celebrated the arrival of 2012, pundits and scholars gazed into their crystal balls to make forecasts about the new year.

As the world turns the page to 2012, watchers of world politics have unleashed an array of forecasts for the new year, ranging from the optimistic to the pessimistic to everywhere in between.  One interesting prediction is contributed by Financial Times blogger and foreign affairs expert Gideon Rachman. Rachman writes that efforts to achieve international cooperation–particularly on global economic issues–will be hindered in 2012 by a “perilous political paradox.”  Rachman describes this dilemma as a frustrating catch-22:

“But as the economic position deteriorates, the actions demanded of national leaders become ever more drastic and harder to sell at home: take part in big bail-outs of indigent nations, subsidise wildly unpopular bankers, work patiently with countries that large parts of your own population believe are bankrupt or dishonest.  In 2012, the world’s most important leaders are likely to be asked to do all of the above — and will find it ever harder to deliver. The conditions of recession, instability and panic that demand international co-operation also make voters angrier and less generous.”

This dilemma is exacerbated by the fact that leaders in many major powers will be preoccupied with elections and leadership transitions at home in 2012.  These domestic developments will both (a) decrease the time and energy available for diplomacy and (b) increase the pressure for leaders to “pander” to domestic groups’ parochial concerns rather than engaging in far-sighted efforts to save the global economy.

These forecasts highlight an argument that political scientists have been making for decades: though they are sometimes treated as distinct spheres, domestic and international politics are intertwined in innumerable ways.  And the “causal arrow” runs in both directions: domestic political factors, including regime type, interest groups, and public opinion, shape states’ foreign policy behavior, while international economic and political factors affect political outcomes at home.

What do you think?  Will domestic politics trump international considerations as leaders make decisions in 2012?  How might that affect outcomes in world politics, in areas ranging from security to economics to the environment?  Do you find Gideon Rachman’s arguments persuasive, or does he exaggerate the power of domestic politics?

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