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Sunday, April 6, 2003

THE WAR ON IRAQ: A PIVOTAL DEFINING MOMENT IN INTERNATIONAL LIFE. Some Theoretical Comments

Note that this commentary should be read after you've looked over the previous article or two that were published earlier today and yesterday. Those with decent memories will recall, if they've done so, that the previous article started out stressing a key set of points as a way of making sense of recent US diplomatic and security policies in the war on terrorism. In particular, the challenges that shape the nature of this war and its threats to the US and its allies are three in number, closely related and adding up to one of those defining moments in international relations history. The three interacting threats? [1] Islamo-fascist terrorism; [2] Islamo-fascist fundamentalisms, which support the various terrorist networks like Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Isalmic Jihad, and Hamas, and provide both ideological rationales and recruits for the terrrorists; and [3] Islamo-fascist states that actively support terrorism while they energetically strive to acquire Weapons of Mass Destruction: in particular, Saddamite Iraq, Baathist blood-soaked Syria, and clerical-fascist Iran. To this trio of Islamo-fascist states add, of course, Stalinist North Korea . . . itself non-Islamic, but only too happily inclined, as all the auguries suggest, to supply any Islamo-fascist terrorist network or state with its own WMD and delivery systems . . . which, as it happens, are their only exports. Period.

As for the "defining moment" in international history, think of similar turning-points over the last century. Specifically:

  • WWI, 1914-1918, and then the Russian Communist revolution followed later by Nazi and fascist revolutions in the interwar period, which created systematic ideological challenges of the extreme left and the extreme right to the democratic countries . . . the threats here all the greater because key great powers, Russia, Japan, Germany, and Italy, developed totalitarian political systems that were inspired by their ideologies, both at home and abroad. The result, of course, was WWII and 50 million dead, the democratic countries divided at home and unable to balance and deter and if need be wage preventive war until the catastrophes after 1939 in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere. With, of course, the appeasers in the democratic countries mouthing rationales and apologetic pacifism that have been reflected in the current controversy over Islamo-fascism, Islamo-fascist states with WMD, and Islamo-fascist fundamentalisms . . . though, at least in the US and UK and Australia, as well as East Europe, with minimal impact on policymaking itself. Fortunately.


  • The end WWII in 1945, followed by the cold war that led to the permanent global expansion of the US around the world --- politically, diplomatically, economically, and more recently culturally --- the cold war itself kept from full-scale war with the Soviet Union for a double reason: the simpler logic of bipolar balancing, including planning weapons R&D and arms control, as opposed to balancing in a multipolar system with three or more great powers; and even more, because of the shared threat of mutually suicidal nuclear warfare, later stabilized by arms control and confidence-building. It was in this 45 year period that the US developed its network of current alliances, especially NATO, even as it instituted a centralized intelligence agency, promoted the democratic revival of Japan and West Germany, later the democratization of Taiwan and South Korea, all the while seeking to shape a rule-based global economy as part of the larger process of globalization. In the upshot, since 1990 --- thanks to US efforts here in large part --- Mexico and the rest of Latin America have developed electoral democracies everywhere save in Communist Cuba, with varying success in institutionalizing a civil society and a rule of law. Similar developments have accelerated in the Philippines, Thailand, and even to an extent in Indonesia, a key country in the war on terrorism --- largely secular Islamic, but menaced by Islamo-fascist terrorism too.


  • Not least, too, the events since 1990 have been marked by the emergence of the unilateral distribution of power centered on American primacy --- something new in world history; nothing ever like it since the Roman Empire in its narrower world --- and by the simultaneous realignments of states of diplomatic orientations and friendships that prevailed during the cold war, which have picked up speed and begun to emerge in clearer outline in the diplomatic fracas over Iraq. With a few key second-tier states trying to balance against the US (mainly the French, Germans, and Russians), even as the German and Russian governments have sought the last few days to retreat from their premature and ineffectual balancing . . . especially with the lightening success of the war in Iraq to date. With other states, meanwhile, rallying to the US despite hostile public opinion --- Britain, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Holland, and Australia. And yet others, "the New Europe" --- once Soviet client states --- where public opinion is noticeably pro-American, all rallying to the US diplomatic position despite French threats and tantrums recently directed at them. And all in all, with the US enjoying better relations with Communist China and Russia than at any time before.


      • As for most of the 22 Arab governments here, note that they've been generally supportive or carefully quiet --- including the three former French-speaking colonies in North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia) with which the US has good diplomatic and economic relations . . . all this despite worries among those supportive or low-profile governments about their own political future as corrupt despots, along with hostile public opinion in most of them regarding the US-led war that they still cater to in traditional Arab double-dealing ways.


    Remember here, just to clarify: NEVER take seriously, at face value, what Arab governments say publicly about their diplomacy. Concerned chiefly with solidifying their despotic rule, which ultimately depends on the secret police, they will posture publicly and proclaim this or that as ways to manipulate public opinion and the so-called Arab street --- including the use of their state-run media for voicing hate-filled anti-American and racist commentaries by radical fundamentalists --- even as those public prouncements by the regime, never mind the paranoid fundamentalists, run counter to the actual diplomatic behavior being practiced. That's Arab diplomacy. It's part and parcel of the Middle East regional system and will not likely change soon, if ever.

     

    SOME THEORETICAL ILLUMINATION NOW

    Why States Balance or Bandwagon

    Note that the technical term for "rallying" is bandwagoning to the most powerful state in a region or globally --- the very opposite diplomatic practice of balancing. Balancing against the more powerful can be done in two ways: either unilaterally raising your own arms spending and acquisitions or aligning with others to check the powerful. Or both.

    More precisely, since it's clear that states generally balance not against superior power per se, but rather against threats, these two policies --- or both --- would be directed at a state that is itself seen as [1] increasing its own arms and military and diplomatic power, [2] doing so in "offensive ways" to the extent offensive weapons can be distinguished from defensive ones, along with the public pronouncements for using them; [3] doing so the closer the state you see as a threat happens to be geographically . . . a consideration that has been blurred in the existing global condition of rapidly advancing technologies in transportation and communications, with the US operating almost everywhere as a diplomatic and military influence of major import; and [4] --- the most important if most difficult exercise --- attributing hostile or menacing intentions to the state that fits these first three conditions.

    For the French, Germans, and Russians --- the latter two now scrambling, to repeat, to correct their premature balancing --- the expansion of US power and influence was the greater threat, not that of the fascist blood-splattered Iraqi regime that was arming itself with WMD and supporting terrorism (a country, moreover, all three did business with on a big scale, and that France and Russia have explicitly patronized, including the transfer to Iraq of nuclear reactors and apparently weapons-grade uranium). The countries in the EU that bandwagoned to the US, along with the 13 in East Europe (Poland and the Czech Republic actually sending small military formations to the war front in Iraq), obviously see the US in far different terms . . . especially on the level of intentions and overall motive-force in its global policies.

     

    Variants and a Third Option

    A key point prompts itself here. Besides balancing against threats or bandwagoning to a powerful country that isn't seen as a threat (both policies pursued, of course, out of national self-interest as defined by a state's political leadership), a state can also seek to remain neutral . . . the traditional policy, say, of Switzerland that, at least in WWII, led to essentially economic and financial policies that strengthened the power of Nazi Germany to continue the war probably several months longer than would have been possible without Swiss laundering of German money and large exports of munitions and chemical exports to the Germans.

    For that matter, even if states align with another state, the leadership can still try to manipulate the degree of support for the common cause. Thus in the current diplomatic coalition supporting the US war against Saddamite Iraq, the US and the UK have provided 99% of the military forces, with Australia, Poland, and the Czech Republic sending small special units. Spain and Italy, strongly supportive of the US diplomatic effort, have refrained from military contributions . . . not least, it appears, because of powerful domestic opposition.

     

    The Management of Alliances and Why Alliances Disintegrate

    What follows?

    Crisply put, besides needing to explain the origins of alliances, we need to deal with how they are managed even when there are current threats to all the member-states (as their leaders define them), and on which terms the various state-members, all sovereign and out to protect and promote their national interests, will curb their own freedom of action for collective alliance purposes and sacrifice as well expenditures of GDP on common military preparations. The tensions here can be intense at times.

    Consider France in NATO as an example. Even durign the cold war, the Gaullist government withdrew from the integrated NATO military command and ordered US and NATO forces off its soil, even as it continued to enjoy NATO protection: the technical term here for such a policy, illuminated by game theory (strategic interaction) is "free-riding." French governments since 1966 were and have been free to exploit the alleged independence of French policies to enhance French power, influence, and prestige --- all goals explicitly endorsed most recently two months ago by Villepin, the current Foreign Minister, himself an admirer of Napoleon I's expansionary policies to dominate Europe --- and simultaneously to rally national unity where it can in a country that de Gaulle especially regarded as prone otherwise to domestic ideological strife . . . even violent strife. Remember here: France has undergone four radically different systems of government since 1940: the 3rd Republic (1873 to the defeat by the Germans); the Vichy collaborating regime; the 4th Republic, 1945-1958, essentially overthrown by a threat of military rebellion by the French army in Algeria; and since 1958 the 5th Republic. In 1968, a year before de Gaulle withdrew from politics, the entire French country moved toward a domestic crisis when widespread student rebellions were joined by striking workers all over the country. Small wonder against this background that French foreign policy, more so than in any other democratic industrial state, is heavily conditioned by domestic considerations that come together to reinforce the pursuit of French power and influence and prestige, a policy orientation that brings it repeatedly into conflict with the US and many of the EU countries.

    Besides studying how and why alliances emerge and are managed, IR specialists have also striven to study the reasons they disintegrate.

    For realists, they disintegrate for one overriding reason: as a commonly defined threat recedes or disappears or is destroyed in war, realignments of states will take place willy-nilly. This may take time, years or decades, but such realignments are inevitable. The French-Russian-German axis that emerged this winter is an augury, but only that so far. Why only that? American power and the recent success in Iraq with its UK ally --- and strong diplomatic support in both West and East Europe --- are too overwhelmingly graphic for the three governments to challenge openly. Moscow and Berlin have already made clear statements at the highest levels that they hope to improve relations with Washington again. Berlin has even emphasized that a good relationship with the US is indispensable to German and EU interests. Paris has made sounds of a friendly sort too, overtures if you like . . . but, predictably, less vocal and explicit. In Germany, after all, there is powerful political opposition to the strident anti-American policies of the Schroeder government, even inside the left-wing coalition itself, and also in the industrial community that is fearful of upsetting a very favorable trade relationship with the US. In Paris, there is no such domestic opposition of a similar influence.

    Liberal institutionalists maintain, differently from realists, that once states who want to cooperate form an international organization --- in NATO's case, an entangling one with an integrated military system --- the organization itself will help maintain the allliance despite changes in the nature of a commonly perceived threat and related changes in the distribution of power, regionally or globally. If this is so, NATO would then survive the end of the cold war and the shift to a unilateral distribution of power in the world. The reality? Yes and no. NATO has survived, but with a far different mission: its expansion into East Europe, pushed by the Clinton adminstration and opposed by the more more wary, damage-limiting, anxious West Europeans . . . fearful, it seems, of any initiatives that alter a status quo that seems at least half-way comfortable. In this new role with new members --- there will be 11 East Europeans in NATO at the end of the year, not just three --- the aims of the alliance aren't the same as in the cold war. They are instead [1] to encourage democratic stability in post-Communist Russia, [2] to provide something like collective security to stabilize the Balkans, and [3] to reassure the post-Communist governments, even those on the borders of Russia, that Russia will never be a threat to their basic security again. Only the third reason looks like traditional alliances, and even then --- to offset Russian hostility and win over Russia as something of a diplomatic and military partner in the war against terrorism (a policy that Putin has explicitly re-emphasized the last few days in phone talks with Bush) --- the deterrence aspect has been blunted in declaratory policies and by making Russia an ad-hoc member of NATO with a prospect of full membership in the future.

     

    NATO Clarified

    Call that NATO II, as opposed to NATO I. So yes, NATO has survived so far, but not in ways that liberal institutionalists can explain without referring to a much different organization. Something else too intrudes here. NATO II has been threatened in the conflict over US policies toward Iraq to lose its identity and become NATO III: that is the significance of the recent German-French alignment with Russia, which, as we've noted, has lost its immediate impact because of US policies and success over Iraq, even as the trio managed to harm the UN Security Council's influence --- the only site where the three have much diplomatic leverage --- while plunging NATO itself into its biggest crisis since its origins in 1949.

    There is little reason to assume that there won't be further counter-balancing by the three in the future, joined maybe by others in West Europe. And especially since, whatever friendly governments might try to do in aligning with the US in future controversies of a major unsettling sort like the one over Iraq, these governments still face democratic publics, and you don't have to be a genius fortune-teller --- or a specialist on EU politics and the media --- to know that public opinion will likely remain wary and even hostile to the US for years to come. The US model of success --- limited governmental direction of the market economy, the adherence to relative free markets, an aversion to powerful central government, a dynamism that also engenders a noticeably commercialized society, and a loose freewheeling creativity across-the-board --- joins with US power and influence and massive intrusion culturally into the national lives of the Europeans to engender strong backlashes . . . especially among the post-modern media and intellectual elites as well as in education at all levels. This influence is unlikely to moderate in the years to come, short of a major imminent military threat to West Europe, say in the war on terrorism, that would swamp these domestic considerations.

     

    AN ILLUSTRATION: Why Japan Has Behaved Differently from Germany over Iraq

    Beyond that, note that the extent to which state leaders perceive a threatening regional environment has played a key role in shaping diplomatic alignments toward the US over Iraq. Take Germany and Japan, two key allies during the cold war period that have taken polar diplomatic stances toward the US policy in the Middle East. Why?

    For reasons that realism alone can explain --- in particular, the different threat environments the leaders in the two states, both said to be "civilian, non-militarist democracies" (a liberal-constructivist view, theoretically speaking), happen to perceive. In realism of any sort, security threats will prevail over domestic influences in shaping a response in foreign policy. [For the terms in quotes, see Thomas U. Berger, "Norms, Identity, and National Security in Germany and Japan," in The Culture of National Security: Norms and Identity in World Politics, Peter Katzenstein, ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), 317-356.]

     

    The German Case

    In the cold war, to clarify all this in plain, to-the-point language that constructivist liberalism obscures with its sociological talk about "state-identity changes", the Soviet threat to German democracy and independence was graphic and relentless. And so, from 1955 on --- when they joined NATO --- German governments of the left or right maintained large military forces and closely worked with the US and NATO to deter and contain the Soviet threat. The shared perception of a pressing threat was the overriding shaping influence. It far overshadowed the impact of the massive pacifist movements that swept West Germany in the early 1980s over the NATO decision to counter Soviet mid-range missiles with new US mid-range systems; and that was the case of both the Social-Democratic and Christian Democratic coalitions in power during that period.

    Since 1990, this has noticeably changed. The cold war has ended; the Russians are out of central Europe and have a new regime; the countries bordering Germany are all democratic and stable; and German governments --- all of them, but especially the Green-Social Democratic government in power since 1998 --- have drastically reduced German defense spending from about 4.0% of GDP during the cold war to an astonishingly low 1.2% . . . leaving the German armed forces good for little else than limited peace-keeping. German economic stagnation has also played a role here: specifically, slow German growth, the slowest in the EU for a decade, has left the German government with huge and rapidly mounting welfare burdens, and the Green-Socialist government of Schroeder has generally chosen to try squaring the circle by steadily starving Germany of defense spending. Not for nothing did the New York Times call German defenses a "basket-case" not long ago. Note too, as long as we're dealing with domestic influences, that whatever the domestic political motives for the Schroeder government's recent anti-American policies and balancing act with the French and Russians, the leap into the dreamland-utopian rationalizations about the UN --- which never seemed to influence the same government's calculations over Kosovo in 1999 when the UN Security Council was bypassed by Berlin and NATO and German troops went into battle for the first time since 1945 --- has been facilitated by the lack of what is seen as a directly threatening regional environment.

    In sum, despite domestic influences, the one time the Germans went to war and sent troops into battle for the first time since 1945 was when Berlin saw a serious security threat in the constant warfare in the Balkans, culminating in the Kosovo war of 1999. The same German government that has embraced pacifist utopianism over Iraq --- no support for a war whatever the UN Security Council did; balancing with Paris and Moscow against the US, repeatedly and in ways allies scarcely ever have done --- seemed utterly indifferent to the lack of any Security Council endorsement at the time. None would have been forthcoming. By contrast, the US and the UK and others can rightly point to Security Council Resolution 1441, adopted last fall, as giving sufficient legitimacy to any war action against the fascist regime of Saddamite Iraq.

     

    The Japanese Case

    By contrast, Japan --- which always maintained a low-profile during the cold war regarding the Middle East, from which it gets almost all its petroleum exports and where it sells a lot of its industrial products --- actually came out during the UN debates over Iraq and supported strongly the US position.

    Why? The perceived North Korean threat, itself preceded for years by an increasingly close US-Japanese bilateral alliance since the end of the cold war --- a response to the power-flux in Asia after 1990 and the rapid growth of Chinese economic and possibly military power.

    Japan's government takes the North Korean brinksmanship seriously. It has ever since 1998, when the North Korean Stalinists --- an Orwellian system of nightmarish proportions --- lobbed a missile over a Japanese island, a clear sign that North Korea has missiles (several hundred to be exact) that can target all of Japan. In the current brinksmanship the Stalinists are practicing, Tokyo has explicitly adopted a pre-emptive strategy --- not commented on by the critics of pre-emption adopted by the Bush administration in the war against terrorism (a policy also emulated by Australia) --- and warned that it will attack North Korea first if it foresees a North Korean attack as imminent. Nor is that all. Tokyo, which has actively collaborated with the US on a theater-missile defense program, has been explicitly reassured by Washington that it will use its existing Aegis-class destroyers and cruisers to defend Japan from any North Korean attack. Small wonder that Tokyo, besides supporting the US over Iraq, has also powerfully endorsed the overall US program of global missile defenses.