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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Kagan’

In Robert Kagan’s excellent piece of early American history, ‘Dangerous Nation‘, a complex picture is painted of an exceptional country, whose growth endangered societies both near and far. In ‘Nation’, Kagan in great depth profiles how the people who founded and grew the United States had to deal with an enormity of challenges of the physical (great power rivals of Europe, Native American tribes, untamed frontiers) and ideological (as a liberal republic in world of monarchies and despots) nature. The superpower we see before us today was not just born that way, it had to become one. And it was not easy!

Kagan tightly ties together the seemingly contradictory notion of a United States as both a practical realist nation and one born with a revolutionary ideology that continues to shape how it sees the world. In Kagan’s words: ‘Americans did not form a nation and then embark on a foreign policy to protect and further its interests. They began a foreign policy in order to establish themselves as a nation.’ The American liberal, democratic republic was a challenge to the monarchies of Europe and the native peoples of the American continent, but as Kagan accurately points out, back then, as well as today, the American people did not view themselves as challengers or ‘dangerous’. In fact, most Americans still believe their nation’s natural tendencies are toward ‘passivity, indifference, and insularity’. Though Kagan may be going a bit over the top here, he is basically correct in noting that Americans view themselves as much more passive than the peoples of the world perceive us. ‘Dangerous Nation’s main themes of early US foreign policy are well laid out in this paragraph:

The statesman of the founding era were not unfamiliar with the ways of power politics, however. They were idealists in the sense that they were committed to a set of universal principles, the defense and promotion of which they believed would improve the human condition as well as further American interests. But they were practical idealists. In their moment of weakness they employed the strategies of the weak. They viewed alliances as necessary but dangerous. They denigrated so called power politics and claimed an aversion to war and military power, all realms in which they were far inferior to the European great powers. They extolled the virtues of commerce, where Americans competed on a more equal plane. They appealed to international law as the best means of regulating the behavior of nations, knowing that they had not other means of constraining the great powers of Britain and France. They adjusted themselves to an unhappy reality that they knew to be very much at odds with their aspirations. They looked forward to the day when, as a more powerful nation, they might begin to shape the world to conform more closely to their ideals. Fortunately for the young United States, the world was configure in such a way as to make this possible.”

Robert Kagan’s ‘Dangerous Nation’, Page 57

Besides a general analysis of the broad themes of American foreign policy from its colonial beginnings til the Spanish-American war at the turn of the 20th century, ‘Nation’ offers in-depth coverage of several crucial inner conflicts in American history. The three most intriguing conflicts detailed were the battle between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson in guiding the nascent Republic, the foreign policy schizophrenia of slavery, and the still under emphasized great power coming out party of the Spanish-American war.

Kagan devotes three extensive chapters on how slavery affected American foreign policy and stances for most of the 19th century. This coverage showcases another one of Kagan’s main themes; the prominent influence of partisan politics affecting American foreign affairs. For example, in the section ‘Northern Containment, Southern Expansion’, Kagan describes how the interests of the southern states differed from the northern states in almost all cases of territorial expansion, including the Louisiana Purchase. This is an important lesson for those who believe that partisan politics ends at the ‘water’s edge’. This theme can be vividly seen in the domestic debates to decide if the US should go to war with Spain over Cuba, with many Republican operatives being against the war, before they were for it.

The study of the America’s early foreign policy is still lacking, but ‘Dangerous Nation’ joins WR Mead’s ‘Special Providence‘ and Merrill/Paterson’s ‘Major Problems in American Foreign Relations‘ series in bringing light to a fascinating topic.

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'The name's Robert Gates, and I'm a damn fine Secretary of Defense'

In a speech to NATO officers at the National Defense University, US Secretary of State Robert Gates made this statement:

“The demilitarization of Europe — where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it — has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st.”

Gates went on to warn that the perception of European weakness could provide a “temptation to miscalculation and aggression” by hostile powers. These comments of course come on the heels of what appears to be a Dutch troop retreat from Afghanistan in the coming year. Gates went on to say that financial and man power shortcomings by many NATO members was “directly impacting operations” in Afghanistan. Also noted by Gates in his address, was the fact that only 5 of the 28 NATO members have reached the established target: 2 percent of gross domestic product for defense spending. Polls have shown a growing gulf between how Americans and Europeans see the world, and especially the use of force in international politics.

These are strong statements from a strong leader from NATO’s leading country and should not be taken lightly.

Looking from and IR theory standpoint, we have clear signs of realism and liberalism here. Realists would argue that of course the European states are bandwagoning and letting the United State foot the bill, both in lives and treasure. After all, it appears the Americans are willing to make the sacrifices in Afghanistan no matter the overall NATO commitment. Realists would also not be surprised to see Secretary Gates lament this situation. This current predicament also has strong IR liberal ties. To a certain extent, America’s European NATO partners live in a post-realist world, where international law, globalization of economic goods, technology, and ideas, and a greater emphasis on diplomacy are much more effective tools in fomenting world peace and stability. Of course, when one does not have a powerful military, promoting these facets, one’s you are strong in, just makes sense. As Robert Kagan has argued, the US wishes to live in this world with Europe, but is too busy facing a realist world with problems and actors that may require realist tools, such as the use of military force and deterrence. The US believes without the presence of such tools, as Gates states ‘achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st’ may not be possible.

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Pakistani-Indian Conflict: Rising Tensions

   Posted by: Pat    in Uncategorized   Print Print

Physical Remnants of the Mumbai Attack

Tensions between the states of Pakistan and India are increasing as the Indian government officially demanded that the Pakistani government arrest and turn over a list of 20 of its citizens who they believe were connected to the Mumbai Massacre.  No one has officially accused the Pakistani government or army in the terrorist attack, but the lone surviving terrorist is Pakistani and admitted that he was a member of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a terrorist group based in Pakistan that has strong links to previous terrorist attacks in the Kashmir region.  

It also appears that all ten of the Mumbai attackers were from Pakistan and the Indian police recently reported that all of the attackers came on boats, a further link to Pakistan.  In an earlier post, I mentioned that Pakistan’s government was to send their top ISI intelligence official to India to help with the investigation and show cooperation, but sadly this has not been followed through.  

For India, these days immediately following an attack which many average citizens and high officials regard as a major breach of their sovereignty and security, will be looked on microscopically by all the world’s actors.  What approach will they take to combat future terrorism?  How will they attempt to bring to justice those responsible for this attack?  Will they use this incident as a way to push Pakistan into making concessions?  

Here are two interesting analytical pieces about the massacre and its consequences, one by Robert Kagan, the other by Christopher Hitchens.

Tonight, I will discuss Obama’s new national security cabinet.

(Photo Source: New York Times)

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