Tag Archives: liberalism

Liberal Nationalists and Liberal Internationalists on the Use of Force

US Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice

US Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice

The US United Nations Ambassador, Susan Rice, has come under increasing fire from Senate Republicans over her remarks surrounding the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi last month. In several television appearances, Ambassador Rice (following the information she had been provided by the administration based on “preliminary intelligence”) said that the attack was the result of protests over an anti-Muslim film. More detailed analysis later proved that the attacks used the cover of the protests but were in fact premeditated attacks by Islamic militants.

Blogging at Duck of Minerva last week, Josh Busby asks “Why Does John McCain Hate Susan Rice?” In doing so, Busby notes that Susan Rice has more in common with McCain than other potential nominees. Rice has been a strong proponent of American intervention in Libya, Syria, and Darfur. And she has advocated using military force in support of American interests and to prevent atrocities abroad.

Busby argues that liberal internationalists have more in common with neoconservatives like McCain, George W. Bush, and others, than they do with other realists like John Kerry. As Busby writes,

Where realists are quite conservative about the prospects for using force in defense of the country’s values, both liberal internationalists and neocons are optimistic about the ability to remake the world in the image of the United States. That is what makes them both liberal. Indeed, neoconservative is a misnomer. They really should have been called liberal nationalists. Where they differ from liberal internationalists is on means. Liberal internationalists prefer multilateral instruments to address foreign policy problems whereas neocons prefer national ones.

That distinction is an important one, and one that students often miss. Often assuming that realists are more likely to support the use of force and liberals less likely, we sometimes conflate the tendency to use force with the motivation for it. From this perspective, realists would likely oppose the use of American military force in Afghanistan and Iraq, because no clear national interest is at stake. By contrast, such wars could be supported by liberals because, from their perspective, the use of force to establish a more democratic international order is morally justified.

Perspectives become more complicated when we move from the abstract to the real world. Does the United States have a national interest in Libya? In Syria? In Rwanda? Should the lack of a national interest preclude us from intervening to prevent crimes against humanity, such as was the case in the 1994 Rwandan genocide?

What do you think? Should the US military be used in support of humanitarian intervention or to establish democracy abroad? Or should the United States limit its involvement to areas where it has a clearly defined national interest? Take the poll or leave a comment and let us know what you think.

The Cuban Missile Crisis

President Kennedy Pauses for Reflection During the Crisis

President Kennedy Pauses for Reflection During the Crisis

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. On October 27, 1960, a US U-2 spy plane was shot down over Cuba by a Soviet missile crew. The crisis began two week earlier, when CIA flights located and identified Soviet missile installations on the island. By October 27, the options had been considered, the blockade/quarantine had been imposed, and secret negotiations were underway.

On October 27, however, the CIA reported that at least five separate missile sites appeared to be fully operational. With tensions running high, both sides were on the brink of full-scale nuclear war. Indeed, “Black Saturday” as it came to be known, marked the closest both sides would get to a full-scale nuclear exchange during the Cold War. On several occasions on that day, we were a whisker hair away. For example:

After the first U2 plane was shot down, the US sent another. It was decided at the time that the second flight was ordered that because antiaircraft missile batteries in Cuba were under direct Soviet control, a second downed plane would represent an escalation on the part of the Soviets, and the US would respond with a full-scale attack against Cuba. This would have necessitated a Soviet response, likely by invading US allies in Europe. Fortunately, according to McNamara’s recollection, Soviet Premier Khrushchev had reached a similar conclusion and ordered the Soviet commander in Cuba to refrain from responding to US over flights of the island.

In an effort to dissuade Soviet submarines from reaching Cuba, the US Navy was

Vasili Arkhipov

Vasili Arkhipov

dropping “signaling depth charges” on the Soviet Foxtrot-class B-59 diesel-electric submarine. Unknown to the US Navy at the time, the B-59 was equipped with nuclear-tipped torpedoes and had orders to launch them if the submarine’s hull was breached. The decision to launch the nuclear torpedoes required the concurrence of the three ranking officers. While two concurred, the third, Vasili Arkhipov, refused, and the torpedoes were never launched.

Another U2 spy plane accidently made an unauthorized ninety-minute flight over the far eastern coast of the Soviet Union. This prompted the Soviets to launch interceptors from their bases in the region. The US similarly scrambled American fighters armed with nuclear air-to-air missiles over the Bering Sea. The U2 spy plane was recalled, and there was no engagement between the fighters.

The same day, Khrushchev received a letter written by Cuban President Fidel Castro in which Castro urged the Soviet Union to use its nuclear force to defend Cuba in the event of an attack. In the letter, dubbed “the Armageddon Letters,” Castro writes, “I believe the imperialists’ aggressiveness is extremely dangerous and if they actually carry out the brutal act of invading Cuba in violation of international law and morality, that would be the moment to eliminate such danger forever through an act of clear legitimate defense, however harsh and terrible the solution would be.” The US had active plans to launch an invasion of Cuba, and had already warned its NATO allies in Europe that, “the situation is growing shorter… the United States may find it necessary within a very short time in its interest and that of its fellow nations in the Western Hemisphere to take whatever military action may be necessary.”

The crisis itself was averted the morning of October 28, when Kennedy and Khrushchev agreed to deescalate the crisis. The Soviet Union agreed to withdraw its missiles from Cuba. In exchange, the United States agreed to issue a speech at the United Nations in which it promised to recognize the inviolability of Cuba’s borders, its sovereignty, and to refrain from interfering in its internal affairs. The United States also secretly agreed to remove US missiles from Italy and Turkey.

In a recent analysis of the crisis published in Foreign Affairs , noted political scientist Graham Alison wrote,

Fifty years ago, the Cuban missile crisis brought the world to the brink of nuclear disaster. During the standoff, U.S. President John F. Kennedy thought the chance of escalation to war was “between 1 in 3 and even,” and what we have learned in later decades has done nothing to lengthen those odds. We now know, for example, that in addition to nuclear-armed ballistic missiles, the Soviet Union had deployed 100 tactical nuclear weapons to Cuba, and the local Soviet commander there could have launched these weapons without additional codes or commands from Moscow. The U.S. air strike and invasion that were scheduled for the third week of the confrontation would likely have triggered a nuclear response against American ships and troops, and perhaps even Miami. The resulting war might have led to the deaths of 100 million Americans and over 100 million Russians.

So why were we able to avoid the devastation to which Alison refers? Realists and liberals offer competing explanations.

For realists, American military superiority made the Soviets less likely to follow through on their threats. At the time, the United States had a 17 to 1 advantage in nuclear capability. Assuming rationality, Khrushchev could not stand up to the United States nor force them to back down. Left with no other choice, Khrushchev backed down.

But what about personal motivation? Both Kennedy and Khrushchev understood that neither side could win a nuclear exchange. Both were afraid that once conflict started, it would escalate beyond control. Clear lines of communication (and thus empathy) between Kennedy and Khrushchev would allow them to recognize and overcome the no-win situation. Indeed, after the crisis was resolved, a red phone system was set up to facilitate direct communication between the White House and the Kremlin.

What do you think? Is the realist or the liberal explanation of the Cuban Missile Crisis more compelling? Or does another approach offer a richer understanding. Take the poll and let us know what you think.

Military Intervention in Libya: Moral Imperative or Foolish Misadventure?

The UN-approved and NATO-led military intervention in Libya offers a great case study on the differences between the realist an idealist worldviews, and how these fundamental ideological differences play out in the realm of foreign policy choices. Realists claim to deal with the world as it is rather than how one might wish it to be (the problem with the “idealists,” in their view). Given limited resources and the constraints of an anarchic world, realists contend, states must focus on the national interest and avoid the entanglements associated with moral crusades in foreign lands. Idealists (sometimes called liberals) on the other hand believe that a state’s foreign policy should be guided both by its interests and its values, and that certain moral outrages (e.g., severe human rights abuses) obligate the international community to intervene, with force if necessary. While realists are thus sometimes stereotyped as warmongers given their willingness to use coercive instruments unimpeded by moral reservations when the national interest demands it, idealists are in some cases the ones itching to “pull the trigger” on military intervention while realists caution them to stay out.

Such is the case with Libya, where the U.N. has authorized member states to use force to protect civilians and President Obama justified the intervention as “preventing a massacre.” Idealists have been quick to praise Obama’s decision, and Middle East expert Marc Lynch articulates this case well:

“…had the international community not acted when it did, thousands would have been slaughtered as the world watched. The effects of that decision would have been felt across the Middle East, where America would have been deemed to have abandoned the people struggling for freedom in the Arab world. And it would have quite simply been wrong. I have long been conflicted about the decision to intervene militarily, primarily because of the absence of a clearly defined end-game and the risk of escalation. I doubt that Obama’s speech will convince many of his critics. But I now think that he made the right call.”

On the other side are the realists, such as Stephen Walt, who contend that intervention does not serve a vital (American) national interest, and decry the instability and uncertainty that will result from casting aside the status quo in the hope of achieving something better: “…The US and NATO had better be thinking long and hard about what they are going to do if and when Qaddafi falls. As we are now seeing in some other contexts (e.g., Egypt), revolutionary change is usually chaotic, unpredictable, and violent, and it creates opportunities for various forms of mischief. These dangers loom especially large in Libya…So if the liberal interventionists who got us into this war want to make their decisions look good in retrospect, they had better have a plan to ensure that political transition in Libya goes a lot more smoothly than it did in Iraq.”

Realists are not a monolithic group, and if a realist believed that intervention in Libya served the national interest (perhaps through the security benefits of democracy promotion in the Middle East or the fall of Qaddafi’s regime) he or she would support it. However, most realists who have weighed in on Libya have viewed the intervention largely in humanitarian terms and have therefore opposed it as outside the scope of the national interest and potentially damaging to that interest given the lack of a clear end game, the seemingly ineffectual nature of much of the bombing, and the potential damage to U.S. and allied credibility.

Does the U.S. and the international community more broadly have an obligation to protect Libya’s civilians? Why have we taken action in Libya while seemingly turning a blind eye to human rights violations elsewhere? Is there an “end game” in sight or are we destined for a long and costly conflict, reminiscent of Iraq?

Eurovision as Perpetual Peace

German Pop Star Lena Meyer-Landrut performs at the 2010 Eurovision Song Contest

German Pop Star Lena Meyer-Landrut performs at the 2010 Eurovision Song Contest

The Eurovision Song Contest concluded Saturday night, with Germany’s Lena Meyer-Landrut winning the big prize. The annual contest was established by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) in an effort to bring together member countries of the EBU in post-war Europe. It brings together acts from 39 countries in three competition rounds, culminating with an extravaganza to rival American Idol. Since its creation in 1956, Eurovision has grown to become one of the most-watched non-sporting events in the world, drawing an estimated 400-600 million viewers annually. This year, the contest also provided a bit of relief from the ongoing economic challenges facing many members of the European Union.

The contest is regularly plagued by accusations of political bias. While the contest now uses tele-voting rather than judges, allowing citizens of all the participating countries to vote for their favorites performance, several studies indicate that countries tend to form cliques that regularly vote according to predictable patterns. While countries cannot vote for their own acts, they often vote for performances from countries with similar cultures, languages, or histories. For example, since 1998, Greece and Cyprus have regularly given each other the maximum number of points. The expatriate population also affects votes. While countries cannot vote for their own acts, they can vote for any other acts. Thus large ethnic minorities or diaspora populations living abroad will often vote for their own country. This phenomenon helps to explain, for example, the regularly high-ranking given to Turkey from countries like Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France, where large number of ethnic Turks reside.

The Eurovision Song Contest also provides some insights into international relations theory. As an effort to bring together countries into a common community, highlighting the interconnections (and ultimately, the interdependence) of countries, the contest provides an interesting example of liberalism in action. Now all we need as a “Eurovision hypothesis” to rival the Thomas Friedman’s “Golden Arches theory of conflict prevention”: no two countries participating in the Eurovision Song Contest have ever gone to war with one another.

Realism and Liberalism in U.S. Foreign Policy

Stephen Walt poses an interesting thought experiment on his blog. He asks, “What if Obama delivered Bush’s second inaugural address?”  In the speech, Bush advances all the claims of a liberal foreign policy, emphasizing the role of the United States in promoting democratization and liberty around the world. Based on this exercise, Walt arrives at three conclusions:

First, when you like a political leader, you’ll tend to like what he or she says no matter what the actual words are. Conversely, if you’ve already decided you don’t like someone, there’s little they could do to convince you. Second, liberal values are deeply infused into American political culture, which is why either Bush or Obama could use a lot of the same phrases and invoke the same sweeping language and get a lot of heads to nod in assent. Third, as long as the United States is very, very powerful, there will be a strong outward thrust to its foreign policy, even when vital interests aren’t at stake and even when meddling abroad could make things worse rather than better.

I think Walt’s conclusions are correct as far as they go. But he stops short of the most important (fourth) conclusion. U.S. foreign policy has often engaged in naked power politics, pursuing realist objectives couched in the rhetoric of liberalism. Throughout the Cold War period, the United States frequently justified foreign policy decisions in the name of “protecting democracy” and “promoting liberty” blended with concerns of fighting communism. This blending is certainly not unique to U.S. foreign policy, but Americans are perhaps distinctive in the degree to which we emphasize the role of the United States as the “city on the hill,” occupying not just a powerful position, but also representing a powerful moral force for good in global geopolitics.

The First 100 Days: Obama’s New Foreign Policy

Presidents are often (unfairly) judged by their accomplishments in the first 100 days of a new administration.  Rarely are any real policies enacted during this period.  Far more important is the tone that the new administration sets.

In this respect, the new Obama administration is off to a solid start.

President Barack Obama’s inaugural speech—the full video and text of which is available through the BBC website—set the stage for a dramatic shift in U.S. foreign policy.  Obama’s address played up themes of liberalism and idealism, of collective defense and security.  In the speech, Obama observed,

that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with the sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

In terms of policy, we’ve seen some similar shifts away from the neoconservative realpolitik that dominated the Bush administration to a more liberal foreign policy already.  In his first 36 hours in office, Obama has already issued orders to close the detention facility at Guantánamo and suspend the use of military commissions.  For the new administration, this move is likely seen as part of a larger plan to improve the standing of the U.S. in the global community. 

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s first day on the job was marked by similar overtures.  She noted that

I believe with all my heart this is a new era for America…We will make clear as we go forward that diplomacy and development are essential tools in achieving the long-term objectives of the United States.

But to be clear, the goal has not changed.  Obama’s speech was still clearly focused on the war on terror.  Obama still faces the same challenges Bush faced—global climate change, terrorism, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Israel, and a global economic crisis with the potential to rival the Great Depression—though  he may choose to deal with them differently.  Only time will tell if Obama’s foreign policy represents a return to the liberalism of Wilson and Roosevelt.

The Future of the U.S. Global Position

A forthcoming report by Thomas Fingar, the U.S. intelligence community’s top analyst, has received little attention, but heralds some dramatic changes for the United States in the near future.  According to the Washington Post, Fingar’s report, entitled Global Trends 2025, observes that, “The U.S. will remain the preeminent power, but that American dominance will be much diminished” over the next 15-17 years, highlighting in particular the deterioration of U.S. leadership in “political, economic and arguably, cultural arenas.”  The major challenges?  Globalization, climate change, and regional destabilization brought about by shortages of food, water, and energy.  What’s more, in Fingar’s assessment, the extensive military resources of the United States will be our “least significant” asset because “nobody is going to attack us massive conventional forces.”

Fingar predicts a world in which the United States’ position is gradually eroded as other regional powers, including Europe and China, rise.  He also envisions a declining role for multilateral institutiosn like the United Nations and the World Bank.

Interestingly, the major concerns preoccupying U.S. foreign and military policy over the past eight years receive scant attention in the report.  Instead, Fingar emphasizes the impact of growing environmental crises on regional stability, particularly in the developing world.  Climate change and its associated conditions, including food shortages, drought, floods, mass migration, and political and economic upheaval—not al-Qaeda and Iran—represent the most significant policy challenges in Fingar’s assessment.

The award for best response to the report has to go to the Climate Progress blog, which says “Duh!”…but in a good way.  More generally, however, Fingar’s report does encourage us to rethink our understanding of security and foreign policy.  Is IR as a discipline too focused on military security and national foreign policy?  Do the (neo)realist and (neo)liberal approaches to IR help us to understand contemporary challenges in a meaningful way?  Or is it time for us to rethink our approaches?

Want to know more?  Read Fingar’s speech to the INSA Analytic Transformation Conference.  Unfortunately the report itself is not yet available for public consumption.