Friday, February 08, 2008
How U.S. Policy Is Undermining
the Prospects for World Peace
Hendrik van den Berg
UNL Professor of Economics
War is the failure of more cooperative forms of mutually beneficial interaction between groups. Despite the many gains from cooperating in trade, sharing the earth's common resources, and spreading useful knowledge and technology, nations have repeatedly squandered these gains by resorting to war. As an economist, I have studied the successes and failures of economic and social interaction at great length. The field of economics that has provided especially interesting insight into how humans can peacefully deal with each other more effectively is game theory.
Game theory looks at how specific sets of rules and strategies increase or decrease the gains from economic and social interaction among groups of people and nations. In the real world, we act under a wide array of rules, laws, customs, cultures, and other types of institutions that reward and constrain our actions. The large differences between wealthy and poor societies are largely the result of differences in the way members of societies play out their lives. Now, in our global society, the well-being of the world's 6.5 billion citizens largely depends on how nations deal with each other. By examining the outcomes under alternative sets of rules and strategies, game theory helps us understand how our global society might best achieve peace and prosperity.
Cooperation vs. Conflict
Humans are social animals. Given their particular abilities and characteristics, people survive and reproduce better as part of a group than they would living in isolation. Total output per person is greater when people work together, when they specialize across tasks, and when they put their heads together to solve problems. However, maintaining group cooperation is difficult because people face many short-run situations where they can improve their personal well-being by not cooperating with others. For example, thieves find stealing easier than working hard, the owners of Enron gained by defrauding others, and oppressors of all sorts continue to gain by forcing others to sacrifice their own interests in favor of those of the oppressor.
Economists have shown that, in the long run, a cooperative society provides a much higher level of well-being to its members than a society of thieves and oppressors. However, because individuals, groups and individual countries often find it beneficial to 'deviate' from rules of cooperation to, instead, steal or enslave, it is not easy to maintain a cooperative and peaceful world community. Why work hard toward the cooperative effort if it is easier to steal what others have worked to produce? People and countries quickly find themselves in an adversarial relationship, and resources are increasingly allocated to defense and preparation for conflict rather than welfare-enhancing productive activity. When countries do not trust each other, cooperative outcomes like specialization in production, trade and the sharing of knowledge are lost.
The Game of Tit for Tat
To find the strategies that work best to maximize human well-being in the "game of economic interaction," the economist Robert Axelrod organized a now-famous tournament for game theorists in 1984. Game theorists were invited to play each other in the Prisoner's Dilemma game. This game involves a pair of prisoners accused of having jointly committed a serious crime. Each prisoner is isolated from the other and offered the following choice: (1) confess and implicate the other in exchange for a reduced prison sentence of one year, or (2) remain silent and admit nothing. In the latter case, the prisoner will go free, provided the other prisoner also remains silent and does not confess. However, if the second prisoner does confess and testifies against the first, the silent prisoner will be sentenced to ten years behind bars. Obviously, the optimal outcome is for each prisoner to remain silent and walk out free. However, such an outcome is only possible if the two prisoners trust eac!
h other to remain silent. If either prisoner believes the other will confess in order to guarantee themselves a oneyear sentence rather than the possible ten-year sentence, the optimal strategy is to also confess and at least avoid the onerous ten-year prison term.
This prisoner's dilemma is similar to the example described above where people face the choice of (1) working hard to add to national production without worrying about anyone stealing the fruits of labor, or (2) devoting extensive resources to protecting themselves against theft. Everyone would be better off if they could trust each other - they would not have to waste resources on national defense and preparing for war. But, in the absence of trust, the best choice is to engage in a costly expansion of the military and prepare for the worst.
Axelrod had each pair of players repeat the game over and over in 100 successive rounds. Overall, hundreds of thousands of rounds of the Prisoner's Dilemma were played. The winner of the game was the one who accumulated the least amount of jail time over the 100 games played with each of the nearly 100 other players. The winner was an economist who played the game according to the strategy known as "tolerant tit for tat:"
a. Unless provoked, remain silent (that is, 'cooperate' with your fellow prisoner)
b. If the other implicates you, retaliate by doing exactly the same thing to the other player in the next round
c. Forgive and cooperate again on the subsequent round
The term tit for tat implies that a player responds by doing to the other exactly what the other did to her in a previous round. Thus, one player's silence and refusal to confess triggers similar cooperation by the other player the following round. A violation of trust triggers a confession and implication of the other in the following round. The game is tolerant because a player quickly forgives the other's lack of cooperation and goes back to not confessing after the one-time retaliation under the assumption that the retaliation made the other player see the futility in not cooperating.
The fact that the "tolerant tit for tat" strategy won the tournament surprised some observers. They had expected that tolerant tit for tatters would be exploited and repeatedly made to serve ten-year jail sentences. They should have realized, however, that the prevalence of the 'golden rule,' 'an eye for an eye,' and other similar tolerant tit for tat rules across all cultures throughout history suggests that societies have in fact found this game strategy successful.
Evolutionary biologists have in fact found that many animal species follow the rules of tit for tat. There is also overwhelming evidence that humans are 'pre-programmed' to not only accord some degree of trust to others, but also to retaliate when others do not cooperate. Most people naturally smile when they meet a stranger for the first time. And, you feel anger when someone takes advantage, cuts into a waiting line, cheats or violates what you perceive as the rules of the game you are playing. Such anger serves a useful purpose; if there was no retaliation, violations would quickly escalate and all would suffer. However, to keep society in a cooperative mode, the retaliation must be proportional to the violation. Overreaction causes an escalation of conflict and makes a return to cooperation more difficult. Psychological studies also show that humans have an innate biological tendency to forgive others, especially as time passes. Forgiveness has proved to be useful behavioral!
characteristic because the group gains when other players return to the fold and cooperate with others.
In general, international law has supported the principle that countries should not initiate war, but they are justified in retaliating against those who violate that principle. The tit for tat strategy effectively describes Cold War nuclear policy. Each side promised to refrain from using its weapons so long as the other side also refrained. It worked because the consequences of first strike and retaliation were so awful.
History also warns against an alternative strategy of overreaction to a deviation from the tolerant tit for tat strategy. When the retaliation exceeds the damage done by the initial deviation from cooperation, the overreaction involves both a 'fair' response and a new violation that must be retaliated against by an opponent. Hence, conflict tends to escalate when tit for tat principles are violated. An historical example is the imposition of reparations payments on Germany by Britain and France at the end of World War I even though there was little evidence that Germany was any more to blame for the war than some of the allied victors. Hitler not only exploited this 'injustice' to get elected, he also used it to gain support for retaliation through rearmament and eventual war. On the other hand, the willingness of the allied countries to admit Germany and Japan into the Western coalition after World War II, despite the obvious violations of trust by those countries, resulted in !
a long period of cooperation and peace that continues through today.
The 'pre-emptive' invasion of Iraq is a clear violation of the rules of tit for tat. Threats to bomb Iran are also a violation. Repeated violations of the rules by the U.S. constitutes war, and it may trigger aggression by other countries.
The Surprise of the 2004 Tournament
The Prisoner's Dilemma tournament was repeated in 2004. In order to better reflect the real world, participants were allowed to enter more than one player (strategy) in the competition. Players could form coalitions and carry out joint strategies with other players. A team from Southampton University in the U.K. submitted a whole set of players with distinct strategies and won the competition. When the Southampton players recognized each other, they assumed 'master and slave' roles under which one would sacrifice itself so the other could win repeatedly. If one of the 'slave' players did not recognize the other player as a Southampton player, it would immediately play the role of spoiler and do a lot of damage to the other player by not cooperating. Southampton ended up with the top performer, and a large number of utter failures at the bottom of the table. Does this then show that tit for tat is not the best strategy for countries to follow?
The lesson to be drawn from the 2004 competition is that when players do not play the game as equals - that is, when there is oppression or enslavement by some players of other players - the tit for tat strategy no longer works to maximize the well beingof all the players. The growth of colonial powers in the 18th and 19th centuries provides an example of this outcome. The colonial powers strived to control as many foreign colonies as possible so that they could 'serve' the colonist and thereby gain an advantage over other countries. The gains from international interaction were diminished for the colonized countries (except for a few leaders of colonized governments) and the other countries, but, of course, the winning colonial power gained cheap resources, a captive market for its industries and soldiers for its colonial army.
Today, we see the U.S. effectively using other governments to further its aims, to the detriment of the populations of the 'slave' countries and other competing countries. Tit for tat only raises all nations' wellbeing in a competition among equals, and without the possibility of forcing other players to act against their own interests.
How to Achieve Peace
The continued denial on the part of Americans that our government has done anything wrong, in part because the rest of the world is not powerful enough to retaliate against us for our actions, is most problematic. Americans tend to see the Iranian government's aggressive rhetoric in isolation and, therefore, as a violation of the rules of the game of tit for tat that we subconsciously play. Rather, we should see Iran's actions as their retaliation against our 1952 overthrow of their democratically elected government, the arming of Saddam Hussein to attack Iran in the 1980s, our unwarranted isolation of Iran as an "Axis of Evil" country, and the continual threats of bombing by the Bush/Cheney Administration. The danger is that we are likely to use the tit for tat retaliation that Iran sees as perfectly justified as a justification for our 'retaliating' against them.
Our own government and news media work hard to obscure history and discourage the American public from viewing Iran and global strategy from the more appropriate long-term 'repeated game' perspective. This constitutes a clear indication that our government has no intention of encouraging a globally beneficial strategy of tolerant tit for tat. We seem to have adopted an imperial strategy, in which 'slave players' support us. This is morally wrong, given human evolution and the tendency for people to behave in accordance with the tolerant tit for tat strategy. Our imperial strategy can be successful for a period of time, as the 2004 tournament showed, but in the long run it escalates conflict. Sooner or later, China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Iran and all other countries disadvantaged by our strategy will retaliate. It is human nature to do so. And we will pay the price.
Monday, January 28, 2008
I was watching coverage of Davos closely this year and enjoyed this from the AFP on the search for a definition of the new world order between the skiing and the debauched parties.
The link came via the IISS website.
24 January 2008: AFP
By Giles Hewitt
DAVOS, Switzerland, Jan 24 2008 - The spectacular rise of China and India coupled with a decline in US influence has prompted heated debate in Davos this year over possible scenarios for a new world order.
While the United States remains the undisputed military superpower, experts participating in the annual gathering of the world's political and business elite have highlighted its waning ability to set the global agenda on its own.
And with the UN Security Council struggling to provide a consensus on just about any major issue, the question of what nation, group of nations or international institution could command a leading role on the future world stage was floated to a widely varying response.
The only real point of agreement was that the current fluidity in the balance of world power carries a serious threat of instability and conflict, as well as concerns over how to build an effective international response to extreme abuses of power such as acts of genocide or ethnic cleansing.
"We don't live in a multi-polar world, we live in a non-polar world," said John Chipman, director general of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.
While the United States is clearly too strong to stay on the sidelines of world affairs, Chipman argued that it was also "too weak" to implement an agenda without wide international support.
Similarly China, while too strong to be seen as just a developing nation, is unable to shape its regional environment alone and India, while certainly a rising power, remains "diffident" about breaking with its non-aligned principles.
At the same time, Russia has accumulated great economic power, but, "wields it in a way that weakens its reputation and causes immense mistrust," Chipman said.
"The real question is whether the rising powers see themselves as the custodians of an international system and are willing to advance interests that go beyond their national ones," he added.
Wu Jianmin, president of the China Foreign Affairs University, argued that China's reticence to try and set a global agenda should be viewed against the tarnished history of Western interference in the sovereign affairs of other nations.
"You Western countries like to divide the world," said Wu. "You got into the habit of lecturing others. You want people to believe exactly like you. It's impossible."
Some delegates in Davos have predicted the development of a so-called "Chindia" power bloc that would see the two giant Asian neighbours taking a joint role in world affairs.
Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies at India's Centre for Police Research said the idea was an understandable one, but flawed.
"Everyone is talking about the rise of China and India. Two nations rising at such an unprecedented speed at the same time in history -- one third of the global population," Chellaney said.
"And it is true to say that how this situation evolves will very much shape security in Asia and beyond.
"But we tend to forget these two countries are new neighbours," he said, pointing back to China's 1951 invasion of Tibet, which had previously provided a buffer zone between the two countries.
"So they have been on a sharp learning curve. Both sides are trying to de-emphasise competition, but reality cannot be ignored. This relationship will be defined by managed competition for years to come."
If the threat of US intervention overseas no longer carries the same weight it did in the past, some voiced concern that a contrary policy of strict non-interference in the sovereign affairs of another state -- often espoused by China -- opened the door to a repeat of such horrors as the genocide in Rwanda.
For Gareth Evans, former Australian foreign minister and now president of the International Crisis Group, even those countries with a deep resistance to intervention were starting to recognise that egregious crimes against humanity could not go unchallenged.
"There is now the beginning of a global consensus that sovereignty doesn't mean a license to kill, doesn't mean a license to stand back and allow killing of that order to take place," Evans said.
"This is a very real phenomenon, that sovereignty is not what it was and can't be what it was," he added.
Nevertheless, the question remained as to what body could organise such intervention effectively while commanding wide international support.
Many pointed to the need for UN reform that would expand the Security Council and break the stranglehold of the five veto-wielding permanent Council members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.
Others, like Evans, focused on the potential of informal groupings -- like the Group of Eight industrialised nations -- which lack the executive authority of the Security Council but function well as consensus-building enterprises.
"The trouble with the G8 of course is that it's so selective in its membership," Evans said.
Monday, October 15, 2007
"THE OLD ORDER changeth," said the dying King Arthur in Alfred Lord Tennyson's 1842 poem "Morte d'Arthur," "yielding place to new."
He was right. "As I look at the countries that are chipping in here now, I think we do have a chance at a new world order ," President Bush told a news conference on Aug. 30, 1990.
He liked the sound of that phrase. In his address to the United Nations General Assembly a month later, he used it again in urging a worldwide ban on chemical weapons and a redoubling of efforts to stem the spread of nuclear and biological weapons. (The Defense Department lumped nuclear , biological and chemical together under the letters NBC, which is causing great pain at the National Broadcasting Company.) "It is in our hands to leave these dark machines behind, in the dark ages where they belong," Mr. Bush said, "and to press forward to cap a historic movement toward a new world order , and a long era of peace."
As the phrase caught on, Mr. Bush gave it a context of cooperative action to stop aggression. In his 1991 State of the Union Message, he called upon the world "to fulfill the long-held promise of a new world order -- where brutality will go unrewarded and aggression will meet collective resistance."
Where did he get it from? Possibly from James A. Baker 3d, his Secretary of State, who must have heard it often when he served as President Reagan's Treasury Secretary. At a 1985 meeting in Seoul, South Korea, when Mr. Baker lectured countries that "attempt to go it alone," the Peruvian Minister of Finance, Alva Castro, responded with a plea for a " new world order " to replace the International Monetary Fund and assume the debt of third world countries. On May 22, 1986, The Financial Times headlined a story on banking that grew out of this meeting "Towards a New World Order."
Another possible source was Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who told a conference of the World Media Association in the Kremlin on April 11, 1990, according to the Tass translation, "We are only at the beginning of the process of shaping a new world order ." For months, the Soviet leader had been using phrases translated as "unique world order" and "integral world" as well as new world order . Eight months later, he returned to the phrase in rejecting ideas of a loose confederation of Soviet republics, insisting instead on "our remaining a great country, one of the pillars of the new world order that is being built."
For the first time, the leaders of both superpowers were pushing the same phrase. (The closest previous pass at this phenomenon was when Richard Nixon tentatively titled his 1971 economic package the New Economic Plan but was stopped in the nick of time by my own vague recollection that this was the name Lenin used in 1921.) No wonder NWO (pronounced new-oh) caught on; if you resisted the phrase, you were out of order.
But our etymological dig is just getting started on this: where did the leaders of the U.S. and U.S.S.R. pick up the phrase?
It's United Nations diplolingo. In 1974, the General Assembly advanced a plan to redistribute wealth from rich to poor nations it called the New International Economic Order. That turned out to be a nonstarter (a word originating in British racing terminology) and led linguistically to the New World Information and Communications Order, a plan sponsored by Unesco to sanction government control of news organizations. Although the substitution of world for international helped the phrase, that notion was seen in the Western industrialized countries as a censorship scheme and faded away by the late 1980's.
Meanwhile, third world diplomats in the 70's had been pressing for a Law of the Sea Treaty; this was headlined in the May 5, 1975, U.S. News & World Report as "New Order of the Sea." The magazine reported that "American officials would prefer to negotiate a treaty establishing a new world order by general consent." However, this treaty was opposed by the Reagan Administration and its demise was helped by right-wing pundits who kept harping on its unfortunate acronym, LOST. U.S. News liked the phrase new world order and pioneered its use frequently throughout the 70's, although it wrote in that same May 5 issue: "You hear less and less talk these days of 'a new world order .' "
Henry A. Kissinger, as Secretary of State in the mid-70's, was hoping to build what he called "a new structure of stability, a new order of peace." That structural metaphor was picked up later by both Mr. Gorbachev -- perestroika means "restructuring" -- and James Baker, whose "New Architecture" never made it out of the basement. But any use of the term new order , without the interceding word world , is insensitive, because it has connotations that should cause diplomats to shudder.
Die neue Ordnung was Hitler's language for imposing a National Socialist regime throughout Europe, much as co-prosperity sphere was the Japanese phrase for their imperial plan. During a visit to Berlin in 1940, Foreign Commissar V. M. Molotov asked Hitler, "What does the new order in Europe and Asia amount to, and what part is the U.S.S.R. to play in it?" Two years later, Stalin was saying, "They have turned Europe into a prison of nations, and this they call the 'new order' in Europe."
But wait -- years before, at the 1932 Democratic convention, F.D.R. pledged "a new deal for the American people." His next line, drafted by Samuel I. Rosenman or Raymond Moley: "Let us all here assembled constitute ourselves prophets of a new order of competence and of courage." The newspapers (led by a political cartoonist, Rollin Kirby) chose new deal over new order .
The last spadefuls of the dig turn up a hyphenated world-order , meaning "an organized existence in this or another world," used by Archbishop Richard Trench of Ireland in 1846: "There is a nobler world-order than that in which we live and move," and finally, the Latin root ordiri , "to lay the warp," or to prepare the loom for the beginning of weaving.
All this digging shows how a famous phrase is not "coined," but rather updated or reconstituted or adapted. This one is worth watching; it may fit the same sort of linguistic need that enshrined cold war and Iron Curtain , which were popularized (but not coined) by Bernard Baruch and Winston Churchill.
The question "Where does new world order come from?" is easy enough to answer, as we have seen; the nice double meaning of new world and world order has yet to be remarked, as if the orderliness of the world is to be the responsibility of the New World, or Western Hemisphere. The next question is "What does new world order mean?" Sorry, that's beyond the phrasedick paygrade. For the definition, we political lexicographers must defer to political leaders; President Bush has not yet made his " New World Order speech."
Sunday, September 30, 2007
Here is the text of my crit. A bit long I know but its quicker to write long than short and time is of the essence! I would be interested to know what any one else thinks of Mearsheimer.
*John Mearsheimer teaches at the University of Chicago. Born in Brooklyn, NY, he is a West Point graduate (1970). He is proponent of nuclear proliferation and was a critic of the Iraq War. He recently raised controversy with his views on the power of the Israeli lobby in U.S. politics.*
In the post-Cold War debate about international relations, John Mearsheimer’s “Back to the Future” was an important contribution from the neo-realist camp.
At the time, realism, as a school of thought and a means of understanding the interaction between states, had been dealt a blow by the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, neither of which had been predicted by leading realists.
In an age when Bush Snr. was talking about a new World Order, a new multi-lateralist approach to international relations was taking shape, the realist focus on self-help, statism and survival were in question. Realism’s bleak view of human nature and its belief in the inevitability of conflict were out of sync with an American public who were hopeful for the future.
Liberal thinkers were looking at the end of the Cold War as the culmination of a process begun with the enlightenment, Napoleon or the French Revolution: with the decline of Communism in Europe came an affirmation of the values of liberalism, western democracy, market economics and individualism.
“[In the liberals’ eyes,] the possibility of conflict remained, but in an increasingly integrated economic system, the likelihood of its actually occurring was bound to diminish rapidly.”
Mearsheimer countered this idea. Against liberal optimism for a peaceful future, he presented a relatively bleak view of the future stability of the West, arguing that with the collapse of the bipolar system of the Cold War, the long peace of the period 1945-1990 had evaporated.
Mearsheimer’s point of departure is essentially the school of structural realist thought that was born from the Cold War. Taking Kenneth Waltz’s theory of self-help as his starting point, Mearsheimer argues that in a world where anarchy reigns, a state will seek to maximise its power, regionally.
“The goal for states is to dominate the entire system. To put it in colloquial terms, the aim of states is to be the biggest and baddest dude on the block. Because if you're the biggest and baddest dude on the block, then it is highly unlikely that any other state will challenge you, simply because you're so powerful.”
In contrast with traditional realism, where human nature is seen as the cause of conflict, structural realists like Waltz and Mearsheimer see conflict and competition between states as the inevitable result of a lack of any over arching authority.
In this realm of anarchy, Waltz saw states acting to secure their own security, hence the term defensive realism. Mearsheimer’s notions were categorised as offensive realism since he sees states acting to increase their own status and power over their neighbours. No one state will achieve a global hegemony, rather there will be regional leaders and a future condemned to watch them clash.
The inability for global hegemony to develop is drawn back to the stopping power of water in his later work “The Tragedy of Great Power Politics.” (Norton, 2001). Critics have questioned this.
The belief that Mearsheimer puts forward in “Back to the Future” is that without the balance of the Cold War bipolarity, Europe is doomed to experience uncertainty and therefore insecurity.
Mearsheimer’s realist approach not only ran counter to prevailing liberal views in the post Cold War environment, but also against the trend towards looking at the world in terms of globalisation.
The importance of states is challenged under globalisation theory, which says that in the modern world, where communications and markets connect countries to a greater degree than ever before, the significance of individual states is declining.
Mearsheimer disagrees with this: The fact of the matter is that the most powerful political ideology in the world today, and it's been the most powerful political ideology in the world for two centuries, is nationalism. Nationalism glorifies the state, and there are all sorts of people out there fighting for a state of their own. The Palestinians are just one example of that. So the state is here to stay for the long term.
A second theory behind globalisation is that cooperation is replacing conflict as the dominating feature of international politics. Mearsheimer rejects this also, arguing the relative peace of the 1990s (there were three wars after all), was in large part that the Americans were playing a pacifying role in Europe and Asia, controlling countries through stationed troops and NATO, while China and Russia were so weak as to not be able to cause trouble.
Much of the criticism that has been levelled at Realism hinges on its retrospective application to the world’s conflicts. It does little to throw forward new perspectives or to develop new theories: since it is rooted in a tradition that extends back to Thucydides, it tends to appear undynami and critics say that it is mathematical in its approach.
There is a logic to Realism but it can’t take into account developments that are not to do with states and their acquisition of power: developments like the spread of concerns about human rights or the emergence of non-state forms of conflict.
In some sense, Mearsheimer himself is aware of this in that while he acknowledges the significance of terrorism in the contemporary environment, he recognises that Realism has little to say about it: “There is no question that terrorism is a phenomenon that will play itself out in the context of the international system. So it will be played out in the state arena, and, therefore, all of the Realist logic about state behavior will have a significant effect on how the war on terrorism is fought. So Realism and terrorism are inextricably linked, although I do think that Realism does not have much to say about the causes of terrorism.”
His views on the strength of states lead him to conclude that China will become a major adversary to the United States should its current rate of economic expansion continue. He also uses the example, controversially, of the state of Israel as an example of how statism gives power to a people, especially when compared with the Palestinian people’s situation.
Mearsheimer’s view of the post-Cold War world paints a relatively bleak view of states’ ability to live side-by-side without conflict in an anarchic world. It discounts international institutions and favours nuclear proliferation as a means of assuring stability. It ran counter to a prevailing spirit in western democracies at the time of its publication that a new era of peaceful cooperation had begun.
Baylis, J., and S. Smith. The Globalization of World Politics. Oxford University Press, 2005.
"Conversation with John Mearsheimer." 2002.
Hoffmann, Stanley, Robert O. Keohane, and John J. Mearsheimer. "Back to the Future, Part II: International Relations Theory and Post-Cold War Europe." International Security 15.2 (1990): 191-9.
Mearsheimer, John J. "Back to the Future - Instability in Europe After the Cold War." International Security 15.1 (1990): 5-56.
By way of (re)introduction, I am a British journalist, 29, who has lived in German speaking countries for the last 8 years or so. I used to work at Reuters, as a correspondent in Berlin, Zurich, Vienna and London. I have an BA in languages but I was keen to broaden my horizons with this course. Like James, I don't see the MA as being part of my career development as such, rather it is something I have wanted to do -- for myself -- for a long time. This year brings some changes for me too. I was living in Berlin last year and fitting the course in around a relatively demanding full-time job. I decided to bite the bullet so to speak and do what I been meaning to do for a long-time: go freelance. Four months in, I can safely say its the best decision I have ever made. I now work twice as hard as I did before. And get paid half as much. But I am my own boss, I work from the home I share with my partner in Zurich and I get to choose what I do. One ongoing project for example is translating a book about Afghanistan: it's a good job I did that unit last year....
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
The discussion on Afghanistan focussed on the extent to which a discernable Soviet policy towards the Middle East could be seen in this period and whether their invasion of Afghanistan should be considered in relation to this. Giles suggests that Afghanistan should be considered on its own merits as a Soviet attempt, in a limited manner, to re-impose Marxist control on a country in which divisions were apparent.
By highlighting the limited and short-lived nature of the planned operation, it was argued that this was not part of a Soviet Grand Strategy to secure further buffer zones to the South of the Soviet Union or the East of Iran. The Cold War context must not be forgotten, however, and it could be argued – and has been argued by Western observers – that the Soviets were also motivated in part by the failure of SALT II in Senate and the deployment of Pershing Missiles in Germany.
A separate thread considered the U.S.’ wisdom in arming the Mujaheddin and also the consequences or blowback from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan for the period of détente which had been witnessed in superpower relations.
A view developed of Soviet policy at the time as being defensive and opportunistic which tied in with the original presentation’s argument that in fact Afghanistan was not part of a Soviet Grand Strategy.
A more nuanced view of the Soviet strategy in Afghanistan, as suggested by Sergio, would be to see it as part of a failed effort by the Soviets, begun by Khrushchev and continued by Brezhnev, to develop a Soviet profile in the Middle East by creating a front against imperalism and thus U.S. interests. A deal of effort and cash was spent for little reward.
The thread on the conflict in the Africa quickly becomes a debate on the nature of Soviet foreign policy in the Cold War and the extent to which a Grand Strategy can be determined from Soviet actions and interventions in the Third World.
Essentially, one can conclude that at this stage in the Cold War the interaction between the two superpowers had become a zero-sum game in which tactical and reactive measures were taken to counter similar by one’s opponent at the expense of strategic and proactive moves which would have appeared more logical with the benefit of hindsight. Observing the Cold War moves from a contemporary perspective reveals a seemingly disjointed narrative.
The need of the two superpowers to exert their influence beyond their immediate geographical vicinity was apparent throughout the 1970s and 1980s. As the extent of the U.S. failure in Vietnam became apparent, there was a feeling in Washington that the U.S. was steadily losing its global influence. This was compounded in Africa with the Angolan Civil War and the Ogaden War.
While the Soviet Union appreciated the dangers represented by the process of de-colonialisation along the southern perimeter of its sphere of influence (broadly speaking), there is little evidence of a Soviet Grand Strategy in the Third World as perceived by the U.S.
Sean argues that Soviet involvement under Brezhnev in Africa in the 1970s (cf the fall of Haile Selassie, Portuguese withdrawal from the continent) was opportunistic, as could be witnessed by the variety of means by which it supplied its aid. That Gorbachev reduced Soviet involvement in the region demonstrates its marginal role in Soviet foreign policy objectives. Dropping the African objective when it became too costly demonstrates that the Soviets were less interested in winning Africans to the Communist cause then acting as a thorn in the side of the west which had traditionally through its role as colonial power held sway in the region. The Soviet design, if there was one, was to stir up conflict and prevent Africa from becoming a pro-western bloc.
In the discussions, Paul draws out the point that throughout the Cold War there is very little evidence to suggest the presence of a grand strategy in Soviet thinking – much of Moscow’s foreign policy decision-making can be seen to be opportunistic, the involvement in Vietnam as a means of drawing the U.S. in being the clearest example.
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
The conference was designed as an opportunity for NGOs and academics to discuss non-proliferation with representatives from the German government as well as the United Nations. This was all within the context of the recent warnings that the world is standing before a new atomic age, if indeed a new arms race has not already begun and the eight-point plan put forward by Kissinger et al earlier in the year.
One of the interesting questions posed was the extent to which steps taken by the U.S. and Russia recently, not to mention the UK, to modernise their nuclear weapons arsenals were a blow to the NPT at a time when it is being used to rein in North Korea's military usage of the weapons. The steps by the nuclear nations are sending the wrong message, commentators * in Germany say, especially when one could engage Iran using the same means.
* i hope you appreciate the source!
Sunday, January 28, 2007
While away, I read a great short guide to the Vietnam war: Vietnam: A War Lost and Won by Nigel Cawthorne and also finished Zubok and Pleshakov's Inside the Kremlin's Cold War which gives an interesting version of events based on Soviet archives and thus rounding out my understanding of the period.