Week 12: The New International Relations From Crisis Management to Strategic Governance



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INTR13/71/72-310 R. James Ferguson © 2007
Week 12:
The New International Relations -

From Crisis Management to Strategic Governance

Topics: -

1. Political Realism as the Lessons of Conflict

2. Adaptive Change in Strategic Thought: From Human Security Towards Humane Governance

3. Diversifying Pragmatism in the 21st Century

4. Bibliography and Further Reading

1. Political Realism as the Lessons of Conflict
Realism and neo-realism (structural realism) has provided some genuine insights into the international system, and remains an important safeguard against 'wishful thinking' and 'utopian idealism', both of which can lead to disastrous failures in international policy, e.g. in the construction of European affairs after World War I, simplistic interventions on ideological or humanitarian grounds, e.g. the Vietnam War and the Somalia intervention through 1992-1995. As we shall see, how, realism provides an important but incomplete vision of the international system, especially during periods of globalisation and complex interdependence.
As we saw in lecture 2, the realist tradition in international relations is based on the central experience of conflict in human affairs, and in the centrality of power in global politics. This tradition was well established in ancient thinkers, both East and West. In ancient Greece, the historian Thucydides wrote one of the first realist accounts of the dire necessities of state leadership amid the problems of complex alliance systems and endemic warfare (concerned with the 5th century Peloponnesian War). Similar problems emerged in early China (8th-3rd centuries B.C.), and realist thought would strongly colour (though not dominate) Chinese thinkers such as Sun Tzu and Sun Ping, and eventually even influence modern leaders such as Chairman Mao (Sun 1991). Likewise, a realist tradition would emerge early in Indian thought in the type of statecraft recommended by Kautilya (for a range of such early systems of international relations, see Watson 1992). Interestingly enough, Chinese statements from 770 B.C. onwards tried a combination of statecraft, diplomacy, and defensive wars to limit the power of aggression, but this could generate a stable multi-state system (Creel 1970; Walker 1953).
Empire builders, of course, often relied on economic, military and religiously-defined power to create and hold their extended territorial states, e.g. the Macedonians, Romans, Chinese, the Muslim Caliphates, Persian, Mongolian, Spanish and British empires. In different ways, each of these empires relied on military, economic and political power to maintain themselves, though religious elements were often also used to launch phases of expansion or maintain ideological dominance. In the modern period, combinations of military ability, economic power, political leadership, and nationalist aspiration have been used to sustain powerful modern states. Nation-building, historically, often relied on the realist use of force, alongside the cultural forces of nationalism and the politics of national identity, a trend re-iterated in modern German, Italian, and Balkan history.
We can review some of the key layers of the realist position in international relations, which include:


  • The effort to look at actual 'real' situation in the world, including negative aspects.

  • An emphasis on power, and augmentation of power in international relations.

  • An emphasis on the state as the key actor in international relations.

  • An emphasis on national interests as the basis for the motivation of leadership groups.

  • An emphasis on behaviour and outcomes, not ideas.

  • A reliance on a negative view of human nature as being essentially self-interested

  • An emphasis on elite leadership, plus a mobilised mass following, though genuine participation is often limited.

  • Ideas and values are often used to support the regime, and thus are accorded a real but subordinate role in power formation and utilisation (see Morgantheau 1985).

  • An emphasis on strategy and power projection in the international system.

At the same time there are real dangers in becoming addicted to a narrow realist position, which can also be used as an ideology justifying the status quo. When survival or power dominance is at stake, or relative position within economic and diplomatic hierarchies, then self-interest may be both misunderstood and far from enlightened (for such psychological factor during periods of crisis, see Farrar 1988; Morganthau 1985). This means that leaders may over-react, in part due to domestic political pressures and the need to gain support within domestic audiences within democracies. The result can distort sober and realistic assessment of international politics. In such conditions, assessments of power and power balance may also become distorted. The key point, moreover, is that under conditions of intense conflict, excessive fear or hope, the realist use of power may not always just based just on rational assessments - a range of other factors including nationalism, stereotyping and demonisation may be brought into play, e.g. the range of such mis-perceptions in the public arena in relation to the cultures of Iraq and Iran, in part drawing on 'Persian' and 'Parthian' stereotypes, and to a lesser degree in relation to PRC (see Seymour 2004; Farrar 1998; Ferguson 2005).


In the same way, much of the international relations discipline today, though rightly concerned with problems of cooperation, strategic conflicts, political realism, and international competition, has been conditioned by the experiences of World War II and the subsequent experience of the Cold War period. Many institutions for global governance, e.g. the UN, UNSC, the IMF, World Bank and related agencies were born out of this period, and sought to promote peace, trade and one vision of development, but conditioned by the experience of war and the leadership of a core group of victor nations. In spite of some reform, extension and adaptation, e.g. of international financial institutions and new emphases on environment and development via UN conferences and agencies, it is not certain that these overlapping agencies can effectively implement the tasks they have set themselves, e.g. global financial stability, weak sustainability environmentally, or the Millennium Development Goals (see lectures 6, 7). Nor is it certain that Inter-Governmental Agencies (IGOs) are well suited to the all governance needs of the 21st century, including the diffuse transnational challenges of international terrorism, civil war, refugees and labour flows, economic instability, transboundary environmental problems or conflict over key resources (see Le Billon 2005; Klare 2002).
In other words, the intense and largely negative experiences of earlier periods have influenced the judgement of many practitioners in foreign policy, international governance and international institutions. The experiences and education of thinkers and actors, of course, influence their judgement and the assumptions used in analysis. But in some cases this experience can be so intense that it conditions people to carry forward models from an appropriate setting to new settings where they are no longer appropriate. A few areas where this has learning under new conditions has not occurred, or only evolved slowly, can be listed: -


  • The collapse of the Soviet Union has sometimes been viewed as signalling the end of Communism and Socialism globally, and end of ideologically driven conflicts and history (Fukuyama 1992). As a result, some have turned to look at China and argue that the same forces will fragment the People's Republic of China, or at least in the medium lead to the end of its unique political system and increasing pressure for democracy (for such expectations, see Terrill 2005; Schell 2004; Segal 1994; Segal and Goodman 1994). The two cases, however, are not that analogous: not only is Communism in China affected by what Deng Xiaoping called 'Chinese Characteristics', but China has much stronger ethnic cohesion with minorities less dominant in most of their homelands (92% of China is ethnic Chinese). Furthermore, 'institutional learning' (for this approach, see Haas 2000) would suggest that the Chinese leadership and many people in China have learnt from observing what happened in the Soviet Union and will intentionally avoid such transformations, allowing economic transition and greater political openness but no immediate transition into a democracy with opposition parties (for these issues see Schell 2004; Nathan 1993a & 1993b; Nathan & Shi 1993). For China itself, only Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan are likely to exhibit such trends politically, and the PRC has relative power preponderance within Tibet and Xinjiang itself. Some economic and cultural decentralisation is underway, is not likely to force rapid transition (for the problems of 'monoculturalism' in China, see Dreyer 1999). Furthermore, by allowing economic reform and sustaining growth, the regime has managed to meet some of the needs and expectations of key segments of the population (beginning with the 'peasants' but perhaps now failing many small farmers), thereby avoiding or delaying extreme political destabilisation. A similar path has been unevenly pursued with the cautious economic reforms and preparing for a future collective leadership in Cuba (see Robinson 2000), but followed by a harsh clamp down in the regime through late 2002-2004, suggesting increased pressure on the Castro government. We cannot directly move from the Soviet and Eastern Europe experiences to universal arguments concerning the fate of communism, socialism and other regimes (Palmer 1997). More generally, PRC has mobilised elements of culturalism, nationalism, and economic growth to support its regime domestically, while using elements of soft and hard power to gradually assert itself regionally and in global affairs. On this basis, it will be very difficult to either contain China, or to directly 'absorb' or 'socialise' it into the existing regime of international norms and institutions. At the same time, PRC has moved actively to secure its own network of permissive politics including the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), global (Latin America and Africa) and regional energy accords (Russia, Kazakhstan, Myanmar), positive trade and diplomacy with ASEAN (ASEAN-Plus-Thee, EAS), improved middle-level bilateral relations with India and Australia, and has sought wider engagement with Iran, much of Africa and Latin America. Whether this is a quiet network designed to offset US power remains to be seen, but this has been suggested by at least one writer: -

China's forays into Latin America are part of its grand strategy to acquire "comprehensive national power" to become a "global great power that is second to none." Aiming to secure access to the continent's vast natural resources and markets, China is forging deep economic, political and military ties with most of the Latin American and Caribbean countries. There is more to China's Latin American activism than just fuel for an economic juggernaut. China now provides a major source of leverage against the United States for some Latin American and Caribbean countries. As in many other parts of the developing world, China is redrawing geopolitical alliances in ways that help propel China's rise as a global superpower. Beijing's courtship of Latin American countries to support its plan to subdue Taiwan and enlist them to join a countervailing coalition against U.S. global power under the rubric of strengthening economic interdependence and globalization has begun to attract attention in Washington. (Malik 2006)


It has been argued that PRC's 'grand strategy' includes: -
China's activities in Latin America are part and parcel of its long-term grand strategy. The key elements of Beijing's grand strategy can be identified as follows:


  • Focus on "comprehensive national power" essential to achieving the status of a "global great power that is second to none" by 2049;




  • Seek energy security and gain access to natural resources, raw materials and overseas markets to sustain China's economic expansion;




  • Pursue the "three Ms": military build-up (including military presence along the vital sea lanes of communication and maritime chokepoints), multilateralism, and multipolarity so as to counter the containment of China's regional and global aspirations by the United States and its friends and allies;




  • Build a network of Beijing's friends and allies through China's "soft power" and diplomatic charm offensive, trade and economic dependencies via closer economic integration (free trade agreements), and mutual security pacts, intelligence cooperation and arms sales. (Malik 2006)

Although this seems impressive, we should also note that Mohan Malik has been along-term critic of China, at times writing from either an Indian or US perspective. It would also be possible for the US or other groupings to either accommodate or restrict each of these PRC moves in turn, depending on the costs and benefits for each policy by each 'player', e.g. resistance by Japan to such regional empowerment. In negative scenarios, this could lead to a 'Cold Peace' in the region that would entail the risk of future hot-conflicts. In the long term, however, PRC has emerged as a new pole of power in the international system that is deeply engaged in trade terms with the U.S. as well as with new global energy flows. On this basis, it has been suggested by Yang Wenchang, president of the Chinese People's Institute of Foreign Affairs, that it is now time for a new framework of relations between PRC and the US: -


Sino-US economic ties, for example, are moving ahead in big strides and have become a powerful factor cementing bilateral relations. The trade volume between the two countries stood at zero in 1972. It shot up to $14.2 billion in 1992 and hit $270 billion last year. American enterprises have poured into China, and the United States has become the biggest source of foreign investment in China. Though trade imbalances have become a big issue, efforts to consolidate and strengthen bilateral trade have become a powerful driving force for the development of the Chinese-US relations.
Also, China and the United States have common responsibilities to safeguard world peace and promote global development in a post-Cold War world that is far from secure. The world is currently haunted by a string of security problems, ranging from terrorism, local wars and nuclear proliferation to energy shortages and worsening environmental conditions.
There are disagreements as well as consensus between China and the United States on these important issues. The governments of China and the United States should define new areas for cooperation and come up with effective ways to settle the discords. (Yang 2007)
In turn, it seems that US policy has been driven by particular strategic concerns over relative dominance of power in the Pacific, and in the economic arena by uncoordinated economic policies driven in part by differences between the U.S. executive (president) and Congress, though in recent years the Bush administration has accepted the concept of China as a responsible stakeholder in the global system, a concept that engages China but also allows room for criticism (Garrison 2007).


  • Containment and competitive policies can also run together, creating a period of 'strategic ambiguity' in which policy can fluctuate across these two lines, leading to room to move in terms of policy but perhaps heightening international tensions (for the use of this term in relations to nuclear policy, see Deutch 2005). Tensions between the US and PRC, for example, tend to work along a cycle of mutual interests (trade flows, WTO entry for China, PRC support in easing the North Korea crisis through 2003-2007), then diverge as incidents remind the two leaderships of their different view of world order. The temptation to use the past strategy of containment, however, exists, because the strategy was seen (from one point of view) to work against an even stronger opponent, the USSR. It seems that the view of China as a 'strategic competitor' may have been reduced over the last decade (Bei 2001; Quinlan 2002), but have been resurrected in the last few years as China's diplomatic and military leverage seem to have increased in the wider Asia-Pacific through 2003-2007. Here, simplistic lessons from the past may have dangerous implications, including a possible round of military high-tech re-armament and modernisation in the region, as well as regional diplomatic competition. Rather different lessons seem to have developed in the prospects for a strengthening India as a regional nuclear power, with the US. ASEAN and Australia moving to cautiously accommodate this new reality, though serious concerns over nuclear proliferation remain even as India moves to provide greater safety of its nuclear power programs (for these issues and the Convention on Nuclear Safety, see Tellis 2002; Xinhua 2005a; Nason 2005). US policy here through 2000-2007 has gone beyond alliance-building and hegemonic coalitions, to a more powerful concept of engagement with new powers as they emerge (India, to a lesser degree China)




  • Other thinkers have taken the lessons from world wars and global competition in the military arena and simply applied them to the economic arena. Thus, visions of intensified competition in trade, investment and fiscal flows have led to efforts to increase trade and reduce the negative impact of trade deficits, debt default, market collapse, liquidity squeezes, and currency crises. This loose pattern of governance now partly run through several institutional arrangements such as GATT, WTO, the IMF, and the Bank of International Settlements, BIS (see Roberts 1998; Spence 2004). In spite of reform of the IMF, World Bank and BIS through 1998-2007, and the efforts of the G8 (2002-2007), UNCTAD and the United Nations International Conference on Financing for Development (2002) it is not certain that even with increased resources that these institutions can ensure national, regional and global financial stability due to the increase flow and speed of financial networks in the 21st century (see lecture 6). Although enhanced peer monitoring has occurred in some groupings (e.g. within ASEAN), there are still concerns that only a smaller group of currencies remain strong, with a wider network of vulnerable economies in many developing economies.




  • Countries such as India and China, precisely because of their growing economic strength, are viewed as sources of future threat but are themselves threatened by growing needs that can only be sustained by an international agenda. In this context, it is true that there now exists greater competition for strategic resources such as oil, gas (e.g. in the Persian Gulf, Caspian Sea region, South China Sea, as well as specific pressures on Nigeria, Sudan and Venezuela), fisheries, and even over control of river waters, as in the case of South Asia, Syria and Turkey.). Likewise, hot conflicts over resources might subject victors to penalties that might make resource extraction much less profitable (see Klare 2002), but elsewhere resource conflicts over diamonds, timber and to some degree oil have heightened internal conflicts and political instability, e.g in Sierra Leone, Angola, Nigeria (Le Billon 2005) and Sudan. In the long run, however, there may be a nexus between resource conflict, poor environmental protection, and reduced human security.




  • Likewise, competitive advantages can be gained through leverage applied through groups such as the WTO for those countries better suited to work with these institutional norms, e.g. tensions between Indian and the U.S. and China and the U.S., and the US and EU over trade liberalisation, piracy and non-tariff barriers. This has reached a partial blockages through 2006-2007 (though the US and Brazil have signalled a desire in future months restart the Doha round):-

The future of the W.T.O. is also uncertain. Without the trade agreement, the multilateral organization will lose one of its major reasons for existence. It will still play a role in deciding trade disputes, but because the organization is member-driven, it may fall apart if the major economies begin to resist its trade rulings. It can be expected that a barrage of litigation will hit the E.U. and U.S. farm sectors following the collapse of the Doha round and Brazil's success in challenging Washington's cotton subsidies in March 2005. As of now, Washington and Brussels have excellent track records of following W.T.O. rulings because they can use the same dispute panels to their advantage. If the United States and the European Union no longer see an advantage in following W.T.O. rulings, the organization's existence will be threatened. (PINR 2006)


These tensions have continued through 2007, with India being particularly concerned about US farm subsidies: -
The Doha trade talks, named after Qatar's capital where they were launched in 2001, aim to add billions of dollars to the world economy and help poorer countries benefit from new trade flows. Negotiations have been deadlocked because of wrangling between rich and poor countries over eliminating barriers to farm trade and, more recently, manufacturing trade.
The WTO draft agreements released Tuesday require the United States to reduce its trade-distorting farm subsidies to a level between $13 billion and $16.4 billion. In return, major developing countries such as Brazil, China and India will have to give greater cuts in industrial tariffs.
The proposal didn't make any major new demands for liberalizing farm markets in the European Union, which has already offered substantial cuts.
Diplomats from member countries of the world trade body will start discussing the proposal next week, though negotiators appear to have given up hopes of reaching a final accord by year-end. (Mahapatra 2007).
This can be viewed as a kind of 'war of norms' or conflict over institutional rules (Bell 2000) in which affluent countries deeply engaged in the international system since the end of World War II have a distinct advantage over poorer or less involved states. A wider, more diffuse conflict between the 'North and South' has been waged, first over issues of fair economic development and debt relief, but now over issues connected with protecting the environment, and fair trade, access to agricultural markets, and investment policies. Likewise, globalisation managed 'from above' by advanced nations and strong institutions has begun to be challenged by organised solidarity 'from below' which demands a say in how the life of local communities is managed (see Herod et al. 1997; Brecher et al. 2002). Globalisation, then, has become a highly contested area in terms of economics, cultural commodities and human rights in the broader sense (see Stiglitz 2002). Wider cross-impacts and the issues of accountability and responsible for negative impacts (on the poor, vulnerable local communities and the environment) have not yet been consistently allocated in the current pattern of 'global governance' (see lectures 5-11).

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