April 13, 2005

Pejman A Realist? (tip)

Apparently beloved blogger and libertarian-conservative Pejman Yousefzadeh is now a foreign policy realist: "Speaking personally, I am... a realist with libertarian inclinations." Of course, his blog would never know he's a realist.

I have to say, as someone who majored in IR in college, this is incredibly frustrating to explain to everyone all the time. I realize that it's a semi-obscure issue, but I feel the need to correct people every time they make such errors. I'll put the explanation in an issue article so I can just link people to it and maybe paste it every so often. I already explained this at the end of February here.

First of all, unlike what the typical pundit or political junkie will tell you, the most important division in foreign policy is NOT about engagement, military strength, patriotism or nationalism. It's about how you see the behavior of the world and of other states. There are a number of ways to break it all down, but I'll start with the first four groups (two divisions).

The first question you have to ask yourself is how do states behave? Are some states better than others? Are some forms of government better than others? Do all states act similarly?

A REALIST would answer that all states behave similarly, and that there's no major moral difference between governments. Democracy might be favorable to America for domestic concerns, but democracy in other countries - say, the Middle East, anyone? - is irrelevant. In fact, many realists tend to think that a non-democratic ally is better than a democratic one, allowing your friend to protect himself from criticism or opposition better.

All states are inclined to aggressive pursue relative power. Relative power means that if some development negatively effects several or all players, states will consider themselves winners if they can at least minimize the losses - thus ending up with a net gain against the other losing players. That's not all. There's a great deal of intrigue and backstabbery in realism. Alliances are meant to be fluid and flexible. The enemy of your enemy is your friend. State morality is irrelevant in this game, except perhaps as relates to domestic concerns. Free trade is generally a bad idea unless it's clearly in your interest and can be broken in the event that it becomes detrimental. Mercantilism is the rule of thumb for a realist trade policy.

Why do realists believe states behave this way? Because there is international anarchy, without any controlling entity to establish justice or make peace. Realists don't really think there ought to be one, though, since it would just be a tool of the constituent players acting for their state interests.

In this world, realists think the name of the game isn't power, it's survival. Power is the secondary concern, chief among a state's goals, only because it is supposed to be the most effective route to securing a state's continued survival. Realism is a fight to the death and there's only one rule: to win.

A LIBERALIST would say that there is definitely a distinction between governments and that not all states behave similarly. They believe that the expansion of democratic governance, values and practices is fundamentally good for other democracies. These representative governments aren't perfect, but they are more likely to have concern for freedom and peace, and more likely to respect other states and their citizens because they respect their own citizens.

Conversely, dictatorships, tyrants and communist states are more likely to lie, cheat, steal and kill in relations with other states. They so readily violate the rights of their own people, so it's no surprise they have even less interest in respecting the rights of others.

The liberalist solution to many foreign policy questions is then to encourage democracy. Where a realist might see chaos, unpredictability and incitements to state warfare, a liberalist would see peaceful protest, democratic sympathies and critical reforms. Because democracies are more trustworthy and behave better (at least with other democracies) it is best to have a democratic state than a non-democratic one. This include property rights and a general regime of free trade, since the liberalists were more or less entirely free traders.

The first major dispute between liberalists and realists is whether states behave differently as democracies. Realists say no, hence they don't consider democracy promotion valuable. Liberalists say yes, hence they consider democracy promotion critical.

The second question to divide these groups is whether institutions shape actors or actors shape institutions. By this, actors mean states and so forth. Institutions mean things like the UN, NATO, WTO/GATT, IMF, USAID, etc.

A CLASSICAL would say, whether a classical realist or a classical liberalist, that actors shape institutions. On a deeper level, this means that the behavior of states is fairly intrinsic and their nature is much more influential to their actions than the will of institutions. They're not going to change because they're UN members or because of WTO inclusion or the like. They will be what they are.

For classical realists, this means that institutions are largely a waste. If they can expand your power in some way, like the UN giving you the appearance of generosity or using a UN resolution to give you legitimacy, then they'd support it. But it would not be expected to change the nature of a state actor, nor would it be especially useful to a classical realist to bother with reforming a state actor.

Beyond that, classical realists would say the UN is a waste because all states are power-maximizers and survival-seekers. They will simply use the UN to serve their own state goals, so the UN is not going to fulfill some idealistic function. The UN might still be beneficial to classical realists if it serves their state's interests.

To classical liberalists, this means that institutions ought to focus on states that are already democratic or trying to become democratic. You can't really do much with a dictatorship just because you give it a seat at the UN. A dictator is a dictator, and reform is not going to come from these institutions.

The UN in general is not a very useful or well-structured organization to the classical liberalist. By including tyrants and dictators, you've thrown the bad in with the good. The UN will not likely reform these states, because they are simply, by their nature, tyrannical. Though eventually dictatorial states will likely come to embrace democracy, the UN will not be an important part of that process. In the mean-time, including tyrants and dictators in the Un is shaping the institution to be more tyrannical, rather than shaping those actors to become more democratic.

A NEO would say, whether a neo-realist or a neo-liberalist, that institutions shape actors. This stems from their belief that actors will tend to absorb tendencies and pick up behaviors from the organizations they're in and due to the structure they're following. Putting states in NATO or the EU will encourage economic progress and democratic structures, for example.

A neo-realist remembers that the international anarchy contributes to states behavior and misbehavior. Unlike the classical realist, he says we can try to fix state behavior by removing some of the structural deficiencies that cause conflict.

For example, a classical realist believes that certainty of another state's assets and weapons will lead to war, because you'll know how much it takes to beat that state. A neo-realist believes that only uncertainty leads to war, because you can't risk losing and uncertainty causes injudicious actions. The classical realist wants uncertainty, because the fog of war makes it too difficult to know if you could win. The neo-realist wants certainty, so that states can feel secure knowing there is no major or renewed threat of invasion or attack. Notice the obvious view of human nature: a classical realist thinks people want to go to war as a default; a neo-realist thinks people would want to sta at peace as a default.

To give structure to the world is a way to contribute to peace in the neo-realist view. They do believe international agreements, if obeyed, can assist in peace, but the bipolar world is their ideal. The Cold War, they say, created two pseudo-empires, and the core states of each could control and limit the behavior of the underlings. Because war between the empires en masse was unthinkable and horrific, they had incentive to keep the peace by restraining their allies and negotiating with each other.

In a neo-liberalist world, surrounding an un-free, undemocratic state with reforming institutions and democratic groups is going to encourage it to be better. Giving it membership in WTO, the UN, the IAEA and so forth is going to make states behave better. This happens through communication, interaction and trade with democratic people and states.

The idea is that reform is possible top-down, because putting tyrants and dictators in an idealistic or democratic environment is going to make them more amenable to both.

Few people have major opinions on the actors versus institutions debate, and most people use parts of each side or fall somewhere in the middle. It is very different in terms of strategy, but what you'll notice is that the groups are NOT defined by strategies but by philosophies. Strategy flows from philosophy, but it is the theoretical worldview and the perception of human nature that determines one's foreign policy identification.

There are other groups as well: Marxists, neo-conservatives, pacifists, radicalism, nationalists, isolationists, etc. These viewpoints are either discredited (Marxism, pacifism, radicalism), apply only to specific pre-state actors (Marxism, nationalism) or lack proper definition in the fundamental philosophical questions of foreign policy (neo-conservatism, radicalism). I am attempting to roughly define them here anyway.

The MARXIST is a fairly obvious designation. Everybody's heard of them; nobody likes them. They're the communists we used to hear so much about. They are essentially no more, although they used to have well-defined academic distinctions between neo-Marxists and classical Marxists, they are now a bizarre footnote to history. Most of them are now nationalists, pacifists or radicals.

The NEO-CONSERVATIVE is hard to identify by the above groups. Fundamentally, the neo-conservative values survival, but also values democracy. The primacy placed upon democratic allies suggests that most neo-cons are truly liberalists of some sort. They are aware of this, as they often pride themselves as "Wilsonianism on steroids," or liberalism with an active military. Other neo-cons, especially during the Cold War, believe that authoritarian allies are not only acceptable but more useful than democratic ones. This goes against the grain of today's neo-conservatives, who tend to relish pointing out the tyranny of our allies Saudi Arabia and Egypt. For those neo-cons that embrace the universality and utility of democracy and democratic allies, they are merely a subset of a liberalist foreign policy. They deserve mention because of their recent fame and because they embrace a tactic of robust pre-emption to foster democratic governance.

A PACIFIST doesn't really have a foreign policy. Most of them are socialists or anarchists, and tend to protest globalization and free trade as well as war. They don't really have any bearing on anything except the tone and size of protests.

A RADICAL is an important term for a fairly uninformed, ideologically-underdeveloped person. This encompasses the viciously anti-war types who aren't Marxists, aren't isolationists, and aren't ready to join the jihad. They love to make passionate stands on principle about war for oil and child labor in other countries but tend to fizzle out when it comes to real action or policy. They exist to rabble-rouse but without a clear goal. They are a combination of Marxist goals and liberalists sympathies that results in a big, fat, ideological nothingness. Their prevalence in the discourse on foreign policy, despite any defining philosophy or even policy platform, is more an expression of domestic squabbling than any serious foreign policy alternative. Sometimes they briefly masquerade as pacifists.

The NATIONALIST heading does not mean a patriot or a lover of country. It means the ideology of the nation and of creating a state to follow the boundaries of the nation. In political science, of course, a nation is NOT the same thing as a country. A nation is a group of people with similar culture and values who wish to be governed together and perhaps separately from others. The Kurds are generally a nation, since there is a longstanding desire to create an independent Kurdistan. The Palestinians are also a nation, since they wish for a state of their own. The nationalists tend to use more and more energetic tactics to get their state, often resulting in violence and terrorism. Marxists and radicals can be expected to empathize heavily with the nationalist struggle, even to the point of excusing their violence, which is the easiest to way to separate all three from the pacifist category.

An ISOLATIONIST is fairly easy for anyone to describe, and is more or less interchangeable with the dominant, orthodox-libertarian view of foreign policy. Disinterested in the rough and tumble world of power politics and national intrigues, the isolationists ask only to be left alone. They don't really have much interest in the affairs of other countries, except when it might comes to our shores. They don't believe democracy in other countries is especially relevant to us, though it might be a good thing for others. They're a cousin to the realists, except they take the same realists premises about world politics as a reason to avoid all but the most important engagements.

Want to find out which one you are? Take the Foreign Policy Philosophy Selector at SelectSmart, which I authored.

I also have to protest the over-usage of Hobbes, both by Pejman and the folks at QandO. Hobbes was an asshole and a coward. He even bragged that he was a coward. He was a sissy little mama's boy who wanted a monstrous tyrant to scare away the mean ol’ men. He's a horrible person to base your views of the world on. His only solution to the injustices in the world was to make a dictatorship that was (quite explicitly only) slightly nicer than the status quo.

Locke, however, believed that people are basically good, but it takes some effort to smooth out the violence and injustice through a good system. He believed in punitive justice, explicitly including the death penalty, to weed out criminals. He believed that representative government could solve many problems in the administration of justice and that ultimately we just had to be fair about meting out justice - but that strength and deterrence were critical to dealing with criminals.

Locke is a much better role model, because he wasn’t a sissy pansy, he actually believed in liberty, and he thought fair but robust punishment was the solution to crime, not an absolute dictatorship. As a libertarian, a student of philosophy and an IR major, I have to strongly protest the trend of many libertarian pro-war bloggers to identify as Hobbesian realists. Saddam is Hobbesian. Chirac is a realist. Bush is a Lockean liberalist in the mold of Reagan, and so am I.

UPDATE: This is now mostly formed into an issue article, available on my website here.


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