January 28, 2012
Our Values are Changing When it Comes to Warfare
Today, especially in the United States, there is less and less tolerance for war. Take, for example, the lead-up to the Iraq War and compare it to more recent opinions on the state of American intervention in the Middle East. After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centers on September 11, 2001, Americans overwhelmingly expressed support for intervention in Iraq. Despite the fact that Saudi Arabians instigated the attacks, the general consensus in America was that we must band together against a dangerous future enemy in order to stop potential future threats from becoming realities. And the way to do this, so we thought, was to engage in a preventative war with Iraq. Available evidence today shows that much of the premise for war was false when we entered Iraq in 2003. Nonetheless, we could not have known this at the time, and the Bush administration honorably pursued its duty to protect the United States from its enemies. Evidence that Iraq was concealing weapons of mass destruction has been virtually rebuked, but the unity of Americans during a time in which we were scared of future terrorist attacks from the Middle East pushed us toward the only logical option: war. We did not want Iraq to obtain dangerous weapons that could be used against us on American soil. So, logically, naturally, and rightfully, the Bush administration used the preventative argument hat it would be easier to oust Saddam Hussein before he had fully developed these capabilities than to pursue that outcome after he had succeeded in deploying them in his arsenal.
Of course, we know that today, a majority of Americans question the acts of aggression that we used in Iraq without being truly “justified”. In 2003, nearly 75% of Americans were supported the war in Iraq. However, by 2009, polls showed that 58% of Americans believed that the invasion of Iraq was a “mistake” – and this number has risen significantly in the past few years. The irony that I see here is that most Americans were supportive of the war at the time it began. But as the war dragged on, and we were not out of Iraq within a few months as intended, we completely changed our minds. We chose to blame the Bush administration rather than America as a whole. We refused to take ownership of a bad situation, a common and dishonorable quality that too many Americans display today. Nevertheless, there has been a reversal in American views of foreign relations in the last ten years. Although people today tend to argue that beginning the Iraq War in the first place was a “mistake”, this is nothing more than a normative view based on the information we have today that was not available back in 2002. This revisionist history suggests that things did not turn out as planned, and that the war might have been avoided or pursued in a different way. However, we have to deal with what is, not what could have been. And those who reminisce on the woes of the past do nothing positive for the future of our nation. Complaining about what happened in the past regarding the war is not a way of encouraging future successes. This sentiment only furthers negative views that Americans are war-prone and war-driven, and have no respectable values – especially in criticism of Republicans.
Based on my previous argument, I believe that people today value the costs and benefits of war differently that they did during the Cold War or during the Age of Imperialism. In both of these periods, America and the Western world viewed itself as a force to be reckoned with by all. While we still take this position today, we are less likely to forcefully assert our dominance because we are worried about the public perceiving the nation as war-obsessed. The fact that America was so sure of itself during the Cold War is not bad. In fact, this is what gave us the will to contain the Soviet Union, contain the spread of communism, and emerge as the sole superpower of the world. Partially motivated by the fear that the communists were going to take over, Americans found the strength to counter and prevail over an equally-significant power. We were certain that the benefits of going to war (even without much direct combat) would be best, and would far outweigh the costs of such a war. Today, on the other hand, Americans live in a state of fear of being viewed as powerful and uncaring dominators by the rest of the world. While it is important that we maintain peaceful relations with our allies, it is equally important that we protect ourselves and maintain our position of dominance. To many Americans today, the risk of going to war in order to create a better outcome for the entire world is just too dangerous. We would rather sit happily at home (and in turn, possibly see nations surpass our greatness) and do nothing. The same comparison can be made for the world situation during which imperialism was an important matter – but with a different British approach. The British Empire was bent on attaining as many colonies as possible in order to ensure that they maintained their economic dominance throughout the world. Britain and the other European colonizers recognized the possibility of increased influence among nations as worth the risk of creating conflicts. Whether this is ethical or not is not the question. But it is clear that values of the costs and benefits of war are certainly changing in the minds of all peoples, and especially Americans, and not necessarily for world peace and security.
January 27, 2012
Nature of Warfare Prompt (Jan 27- Feb 5)
In FLS, chapter three's analysis of war infers that people across history have had similar thoughts and values about using violence to achieve national goals.
-Do you think that people today value the costs and benefits of war differently than they did during the Cold War or during the age of imperialism?
-As Prof. Stam implies in (an upcoming) lecture, the outcome of warfare is just the "same damn thing after another." In what respects do you agree/disagree?
January 24, 2012
UN Security Council: Hypothetical Future Membership
The UN Security council is currently comprised of the five permanent members with veto power, which are the United States, France, Russia, the UK, and China, and the other ten nations elected by their regions for temporary two year terms. This arrangement obviously favors the victors of WWII, giving those five nations alone the power to dictate military action and international collective security issues.
Whether this organization is fair or efficient is debatable; on one hand, by limiting access to veto power to several very strong nations the Security Council avoids gridlock and inefficiency caused by factions and conflicting interests. On the other hand, it's not necessarily valid that the winners of one war should dictate matters for the next one hundred plus years. Should policy always be decided by the wealthiest nations? And wasn't the Security Council missing qualified members from the start? If the Council's permanent members are the strongest in the world, at the time of WWII Germany and Japan, although beaten, were still some of the strongest in the world. Their success today shows that defeat is only temporary.
In the future, if the permanent members were to change, I would say that growing nations such as Brazil and India should be considered due to their considerable economic power and their enormous populations relative to the rest of the world. Also, Japan and Germany should be considered. The German economy is currently supporting the failing Euro, a currency millions depend on. This is just one way in which the nation exemplifies the substantial power required for the Security Council's permanent members. Japan also has a very strong economy--number three in the world, according to economy watch. The other three nations I've mentioned are all in the world's top ten economies also. Brazil is 7th, India 4th, and Germany 5th. Excluding these nations and also Italy, all of the world's top ten economies are permanent members.
The number of permanent members is another matter. The number should not be large; if many nations were given the power to single-handedly shoot down critical decisions the result would be chaos. However, if you alter the veto process you subject the Council to gridlock,which is the last thing such an organization should have due to its critical pertinence to international security. Perhaps it would be better if the permanent members were no longer permanent, but instead the nations with veto power could only be pulled from an elite, exclusive group on some kind of rotation. I picture this happening in a similar way to the US Senate, with new members being elected in waves so that terms of individual members overlap eachother and no one member is ever accompanied by the same combination of nations.
The topic of Security Council membership is a difficult one. The current arrangement has worked thus far, but certain irregularities exist (for example, in the past thirty years the US has used its veto power more than ten times more frequently than the UK or Russia, and more than fourteen times more frequently than China or France). It appears that the United States takes advantage of the Council's power to a much greater extent than any other nation. If another system were developed with different member nations, maybe this inequality would become less pronounced.
January 23, 2012
In many cases, institutions continue to follow the power distribution that was agreed upon when they were created. This is particularly evident in the United Nations Security Council considering, the victors of the Second World War: the United States, Great Britain, France, China and Russia have the ability to veto propositions brought into the UN due to their heightened world status at the time of the inception of the institution. However, it is interesting to note that although these five powers hold a considerable amount of power within the institution, it is highly unlikely, given fundamental differences in interests that they will ever all agree on a matter of international security. For instance, in the case of the Iraq War, the United States’ proposition to invade the country was not supported by other Nation-States. Resulting in the unilateral actions carried out by the United States government in order to acertain if there were truly WMDs in the Middle East.
With this in mind, I would argue that although international institutions are vital to the cooperation of nations, their choices do not always represent each nations best interest. So, even if the UNSC power balance were to change, it might not make as large of a difference as people might think. The likelihood that states will agree is slim, no matter who has the power. Despite the inevitability of disagreement, International Institutions like the UN or IMF at least provide a forum in which these disputes can be resolved, in this sense, a shift in power within the instituion might provide an important change. If a smaller nation has the support of a more powerful nation on an issue that is particularly concerning, the supportive powerful nation could veto on behalf of another nation etc. Essentially, international institutions increase our sense of international interdependence, of course trade of goods is essential to most nations but the trade of diplomacy is something that is becoming increasingly important on the world stage. States are much more hesitant to act without the approval of other nations, alliances are key, even within institutions.
January 22, 2012
Modern Institutions: Roots of the Past
While some institutions are flexible in their assessment of the particular interests of nations that had not been previously considered, and have rules that can be modified, most institutions are heavily biased toward nations that were most influential in their creation. Take, for instance, the legislative bodies in the United States Congress: the Senate and the House of Representatives. Smaller states today tend to agree that the Senate is fairer in its representation methods because each state holds two seats in the Senate, regardless of the state's population. On the other hand, larger states tend to favor the vast amount of influence they enjoy in the House because the number of seats each state holds in this chamber is proportional to the states’ population size. Roger Sherman proposed that House representation be based on the population of the state while Senate representation would be equal among the states. These rules were established in the Great Compromise of 1787 and remain in force today, despite changing ideals among states and conflicts that have emerged from this plan. This is a simple example of an internal developmental process exclusively within the United States. This issue did not implicate the broader world, but the example of how difficult it is to change long-running institutions is applicable beyond America. Of course, another reason why we would not be open to changing the rules of representation in Congress today is because the bicameral institution works. The Great Compromise was an act of cooperation illustrated by the use of the term “compromise” in its title. I agree with this analysis because both large and small states benefit in some way from this compromise solution, although smaller states may feel ultimately at a disadvantage. The two-chamber legislative arrangement represents a policy that made at least some of the states better off relative to the status quo without disadvantaging other states.
There is also an international issue that bothers many nations today. The International Monetary Fund ("IMF") has achieved a disproportionate method of influence over global monetary policy as a result of past bargaining. The IMF was created in 1945 with the goal of stabilizing exchange rates and assisting the reconstruction of the world’s international payment system. Today, the organization is comprised of nearly 200 nations working to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty. With these important contributions to maintaining world stability in mind, it is undeniable that the IMF is unduly influenced by a few nations. These nations are therefore able to drive and direct policy decisions and to that the organization pursues. Major decisions by the IMF require a supermajority of 85%. However, the problem that many nations suggest sis that the United States carries so much sway in the IMF that it has the ability to almost completely dominate the organization. The amount of the quota, or payment, to the organization by a nation determines that nation’s voting weight as well as other important accessibilities to influence. The United States has nearly 18 percent of the votes in the IMF, and therefore enjoys the most influence in the system. Of course, that is in recognition of the disproportionate economic contribution of the United States to the IMF. The United States enjoys this influence. Other nations, however, disagree with the system and believe it is unfair to have a system in which the influence a country has depends on its ability to contribute money to the cause. The other nations argue that their level of participation and influence should not be proportional to their monetary contributions. Perhaps the sway of the United States and other nations in the IMF stems from the institution’s 1945 creation in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. This choice of location for the initial meeting was a signal that the United States was going to have a disproportionate amount of influence in the system.
Do I believe that a world in which the influence of institutions is based on the contributions of the actors at the time they were created is a bad thing? No. And I do not form this conclusion because this type of system allows the United States to have significant influence over the IMF. While this policy is favorable to the United States in the IMF, there are other international institutions in which the United States is at a disadvantage based on the rules at the time of the institution’s establishment. It is too risky to rely on fleeting changes in the modern world order as a primary influence as to how institutions function. Certain institutions were created originally and agreed upon by many nations for distinct policy reasons that had disparate impacts on different nations. That fact cannot control how these international institutions function, and international institutions should not be subject to modern tampering based on the self-serving interests of particular nations. If nations could gain economic influence and simply be able to mold institutions to their liking without regard to the purposes of the institutions, then bargaining and cooperation would be nonexistent.
This is not to say that I believe all efforts at change are dangerous. Certainly, some institutions are inherently flawed and deserve a careful review. Additionally, change in the current world structure could result in minor adjustments as to how institutions function. For instance, China is creeping up the ladder of economic influence and is gaining more influence over the IMF. So in a way, market forces act within the working model of this organization to create change. Although China’s economic expansion has not yet changed the rules of the IMF, it may soon fundamentally alter how the organization functions. In 1978, China launched its reform agenda and strategy to expand externally, and it is now the world’s second-largest economy, the world's biggest exporter, and an increasingly important global investor. These changes are monumental, and are bound to cause shifts in the way international institutions function and make decisions. Yet, in my opinion, how institutions function at the national and international levels are still firmly grounded in their origins, especially if these origins were particularly thoughtful and created a history of success.
Institutions and the interests they reflect
Institutions, in most cases, continue to support the interests of the states who were powerful actors when the institution was created. Institutions serve a purpose , in that they aid in the cooperation of states. If states are cooperating, no one state should end up worse off than it was before, but this does not mean that all states involved are equally benefitted. For example, the UNSC gives more power to the U.S., Great Britain, France, Russia, and China because they are able to veto any proposition for action by the institution. This reflects the power that these five states had when the UNSC was formed, since they were the major victors of WWII.
January 19, 2012
Institutions (Jan 19 to Jan 26)
Institutions reflect past political bargains, with the winners getting to write the rules or, at least, having a disproportionate say over the rules. (P. 68)
Some questions you might want to address are:
-Is it the case that institutions change to reflect a new prevailing world order, or do they continue to reflect the interests of powerful actors at the time they were created?
-If the United Nations Security Council membership was to change today, how many permanent members should there be and who should they be? What effect would this have on cooperation?