Archive for ‘Theory’

June 27, 2012

The Group of (X) is the Future of Multilateralism. Solve for X

After an unplanned descent into wearying illness, I find myself severely behind on the times. The month of June has been anything but slow at Turtle Bay and beyond, with multiple global flare-ups that I’ve wanted to cover. I plan on getting to most of those in due time, but for now, I want to take a look at a much the past few weeks from a much broader perspective. Further, I’d like to thank Sean Langberg for provoking this train of thought to the forefront of my mind at his excellent new blog.

The first week of June was spent, while simultaneously fighting off sickness, taking part in an annual event known as the G8 & G20 Youth Summits, as part of the American Delegation. There I was joined by peers from around the world, representing each of the states of the G20, and the European Union. Over the course of a week, I and seven others sequestered ourselves in a room in DC to discuss our various homeland’s opinion of issues of international law, and eventually hammered out a joint agreement of principles.

Serving as an undercurrent throughout the experience was the question of what purpose the various “Group of” bodies serve in the international sphere. The common consensus among those states from the G8 states was that smaller collaborations were the key to breaking through problems. Those from the wider G20 clearly believed that only greater representation at the table among those affected by decisions would prove effective in the long run. Both rolled their eyes at the inability of the United Nations to get anything done.

Their point seemed to be proven when the United Nations hosted the Rio+20 sustainable development summit on the 20th anniversary of the Rio Conference that fully launched the environmental movement among the international community. The conference failed to produce either the sweeping, binding commitments towards a green future that only the extremely optimistic had thought stood a chance, or any sort of new path forward at all.

And yet at the actual G8 and G20 summits, held weeks apart Camp David and in Mexico, there were also extremely few tangible outcomes at either. The hoped for breakthrough on Syria between the US and Russia failed to materialize, and those G20 states of the Global South can’t have been pleased with the excessive focus Europe received during Mexico. Both the G20 and Rio have been panned heavily for having too much in expectations and not enough in results, which begs the question: what good is having a seat at the table if nothing gets done still? And is there a model that’s able to actually live up to the pressures placed on it?

As a point of comparison between the two systems, one loose and one structured, the former is actually the older invention, dating back to before the Concert of Europe. The intergovernmental organization (IGO), with its state-based membership, governance by treaty, and dedicated set of civil servants working to serve the organization, above the fray of governments, is the younger on the international scene at almost two centuries old. Born of a novel approach to settling disputes over navigation in 1815, the Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine was the first to embody these ideals.

The idea was run with in the creation of the International Telegraph Union and found its calling in the League of Nations, seen by the last vestiges of the 19th century’s style of diplomacy as the hope for the future. Despite the failures of the League, this model has served as the basis for a wide range of IGOs, from the United Nations to NATO to relative newcomers such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Indeed, it’s striking that the last of these chose to follow in the footsteps of past organizations in its structure, considering the very Western history of the arrangement.

Despite the rise of formal IGOs, the determination of whether to have looser ties or more permanent structures is still fluid and based strongly on the preference of the states that make up the group and the purposes it seeks such a united front. For example, the age of decolonization saw the rise of the Group of 77, the confederation of developing states inside the United Nations that pushes the South’s agenda. Even this group, whose numbers now include 138 states, made sure to draw up a binding Charter at its founding, though eschewing forming a Secretariat.

This ambiguity is absent in the ad-Hoc “contact groups” that spring up around hot spots in international affairs. The 1990s saw the establishment of the Contact Group on the Balkans, whose influence lasted well into the Kosovo crisis. As the Arab Spring turned on Muammar Qaddafi, the Friends of Libya was established to coordinate an international response. And today, Kofi Annan announced that he is set to host a new “Action Group” on Syria this Friday in Geneva, the first confab at which China and Russia have agreed to attend. And yet even these very focused confluences find it difficult to achieve tangible goals or even aligned policies.

Paradoxically, as the world grows more closely interconnected, the states who have the power to affect wide-reaching change rely on each other for more things and are thus loathe to break ties or stress points at the expense of others. From climate change to counter-terrorism to human rights, the list of matters that link states inextricably seems to be growing, with attempts at prioritization among the US and its allies seemingly nonexistent, especially when compared to the comparative focus of China and Russia, who are more able to work via status quo arrangements. This inability to find points of consensus may be a less of a systemic issue and more of a strategic failure on the point of states, but is a reality nonetheless.

So how will things actually happen and move forward with all this gridlock? Surprisingly enough, Rio+20 may have the answer to that question. While various groups have panned the end result of the Rio Conference, as Mark Goldberg points out, what is almost more important is what happened on the sidelines. Various commitments and initiatives were undertaken and launched between the public and private sectors on the edges of Rio. Smaller NGOS and entrepreneurs like Uncharted Play were able to gain exposure they never would have to various power holders, be they government officials or representatives of larger corporations. It turns out things got done in Rio, just between people, not states.

This isn’t to make the mistake of claiming that states aren’t important as we progress; as the continuing primary actors in the international sphere, their action or inaction carries the most weight. However, the secondary and tertiary actors in the forms of international corporations and organizations of civilians have the ability to work around states at times to promote their own ideals and goals. The downsides of this, such as gathering of power by largely unaccountable corporations, are apparent, but the chance for positive influence being pushed upon decision-makers within governments can’t be ignored.

What’s more, states still require forums for leaders and representatives to come together to discuss issues that affect the interests of each and all. Open dialogue and communication of interests and red-lines are among the most under appreciated factors that allows for peace between states. Instances in history where states have tried to keep their neighbors or adversaries guessing, as Eisenhower did in the 50s with China, tend to backfire due to overreaction on either side. The United Nations Security Council, while also the target of efforts to have it expand its circle of Great Power states, constantly proves its worth by providing the only forum for the Permanent Five states to air their grievances and concerns related to their security to each other on a regular basis.

The international community and its various ills are too dynamic to have the luxury of a one-size fits all model of multilateralism. Some issues, such as tackling long-term poverty and hunger, require the permanent efforts of bodies such at the United Nations, a Group of 193. Some, like countering violent upheavals in the financial systems of the world, require the intervention of the Group of 20.  Others will require the United States and China to sit down as a Group of 2 to work out issues bilaterally. And still others will require the citizenry of the world to attempt to work together in whatever ways possible as a Group of 7 Billion. In attempting to solve the problem of which permutation of states will best be able to save the world, we may just find that the answer is limitless.

February 27, 2012

With Being a Great Power Comes Many Responsibilities

I don’t consider myself a realist, not truly. I believe that there are instances where motives other than power and gain thereof should promote policy-making. I believe that it’s part of the national good to work through multilateral organizations whereever possible and to share the burden of keeping the peace with friends and allies. I believe it’s possible to make moral decisions and good decisions and sometimes, just sometimes, have them wind up being the same thing. Which is why I’ve had such a problem with attempting to square myself with the ongoing problems in Syria. I’ve devoted more digital ink to the situation there than any other subject, barring the United Nations itself.

For observers of Syria in the Western world, the sense has been growing that the situation, if ever within the realm of possibility to control, is no longer within our ability to influence in a positive manner. To be frank, it hurts. It is frustrating beyond measure that the best we can hope for in this situation rapidly seems to be becoming “a short civil war”. It feels somehow wrong to even admit that possibility that there won’t be a solution that can be imposed from outside, as we sit here in front of our computer screens and watch atrocity after atrocity be committed. Today’s publication from Mother Jones on a “target list” circulated by the Syrian government, while well known to Syrian activists for months, is yet another look into the lengths the Assad regime is willing to go to cement its rule that is jarring to tuned-in liberals and conservatives alike.

A large part of this feeling comes from what has been a core part of our national identity for several generations now. The belief that the United States, due to its unique placement in the international system, is omnipotent and therefore can and should be able to fix all the world’s ills is a meme that has been proliferate and gaining strength since we charged to the rescue in 1917 and only grew with the end of the Cold War. However, that sort of belief, in ourselves and other states in us, is a falsehood that we should be quietly working to correct. The Syrian opposition may well have learned the lesson from Kosovo and Libya that eventually, the United States is coming. That we have to be coming, because that’s what the United States does. That belief can’t continue; as Robert Caruso made clear earlier today, the footprint for even a “limited” intervention would be far greater than many in the United States would be willing to consider. And no matter how gung-ho she may be in private, Secretary Clinton’s public concerns over arming the Syrian opposition are most certainly valid.

I don’t believe that this sort of thinking marks a belief in American Decline, or worry that we’re going to lose our status of preeminence in the international order. Rather, the exact opposite is true, that this viewpoint is one of a country that is finally comfortable with its role in international affairs. A large part of being a mature, responsible Great Power, or superpower even, is knowing that you can’t be everywhere at once. Even the world’s greatest power has limits and must reach a point where it determines whether its core interests are at stake. I truly want to have faith that the international community can unite to end the killing in Syria, and wish Kofi Annan the best of luck in his role as the joint United Nations-League of Arab States envoy in trying to strike a cease-fire. But the United States can’t do everything alone. Indeed, there are some lifts that are too heavy even for a coalition to achieve, as lack of consensus at the Friends of Syria meeting showed last week.

I haven’t given up hope that Syria surprises me in a positive way, clearing a path towards a solution. This became less likely than ever this morning with the announcement that the Syrian National Council, which the United Kingdom has indicated it will support as the legitimate government of Syria, has splintered with the formation of the Syrian Patriotic Group. The lack of a united opposition is just one of the reasons that United States is looking less and less likely to become directly involved, though indirectly providing material through our sales to allies. And it may be time for those of us who advocate for changes in norms, as represented by the Responsibility to Protect and other liberal international causes, to recognize that not every problem has a solution that can be pushed down by the United States. Or if there is one, there are associated costs and off-sets that we must be willing to accept. There are many responsibilities that Great Powers face, including one to their own people, and to the system at large, to maintain that status. To paraphrase a recent post by Jay Ulfelder, the moral response here may well be to act in the interest of the greater international community by forgoing intervention in Syria and be able to take on the world’s problems that we can solve.

February 21, 2012

The Enduring Myth of Monoliths

In this day and age, most convenient fictions are easy enough to spot, with a high level of cynicism running rampant and an active “peanut gallery” component to the discourse in the form of bloggers. Which is why it’s so troubling to me that some basic narratives remain virtually unchallenged, or if opposed, done so quietly and on a small scale. In this instance, my grief is with the propensity of commentators and policy-makers alike to rely on the convenience that monolithic perceptions of institutions provide.

There are times where the concept of a monolithic institution is expedient, when attempting to give broad overviews of situations. There’s also a level of analytical use to seeing things from a zoomed-out, macro level, rather than examining the nuts and bolts of an institution. However, there’s a responsibility to investigate past the surface once that initial glance is achieved. In reality, monoliths are more often than not anything but unified once you delve into their inner workings, a lesson that the United States has been horrendously slow to grasp, sometimes leading to disastrous presumptions and bases for policy decisions.

During the Cold War, everyone knew that the Communist World was a group of states linked by the singular notion of communist domination over democracies. As should have been apparent as far back as Josef Tito’s expulsion from the Cominform in 1948, the idea of Communism being a single-minded organism, as opposed to a colony of individual thinkers, was a myth. Instead, the myth of a partnered Russia and China managed to hold on for decades, with the fact that the two were both Communist in their form of government making any differences in policy between the two dismissible. It took until the Nixon Administration to realize that the split between the People’s Republic of China and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was large enough to be able to use it to the advantage of the United States, prompting President Richard Nixon’s much heralded trip to China.

A distressing need to have simplicity in narrative is apparent when examining opposition movements, in this particular instance the uprising in Syria. For the last two weeks, we’ve been informed of the need to “arm the Syrian opposition” to take action against President Bashar Assad and the security forces of Syrian. Senators Lindsay Graham and John McCain came out recently in favor of running guns to the Syrian opposition, though they would put it a different way, and they aren’t alone in the Senate. Even the editorial board of The Washington Post has come out in favor of providing supplies to the opposition:

So how to stop the massacres? The most available and workable solution is tactical and materiel support for the anti-regime forces, delivered through neighbors such as Turkey or the Persian Gulf states. Opponents say that would increase the violence, but violence in Syria will continue to escalate as long as the regime believes it can survive by force. Others worry that radicals among the opposition will be empowered. But what will strengthen extremists the most is the failure of democratic nations to act and the entry of groups such as al-Qaeda into the vacuum.

Despite the weight of the Post’s opinion, it doesn’t circumvent the fact that beneath the thin veneer of unity in cause, the removal of Assad, there is no one opposition movement. The Syrian National Council (SNC), composed of exiles, dissidents within Syria, and the Local Coordinating Committees, has assumed the mantle of international darling of the same vein as the Transitional National Council in Libya. However, there’s a small hitch in that analysis; the National Coordination Committee, a divergent group based entirely within Syria, and composed of enough groups to deny the SNC sole legitimacy. Then there’s the matter of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which is itself a splintered group of former soldiers and transplanted fighters looking to take on Assad, as Marc Lynch points out in his new CNAS piece. Any semblance of a united front is a myth formed from their hatred of the Assad family.  I had a lengthy conversation with Adam Elkus, Dan Trombly, Rei Tang, Dan Solomon and Robert Caruso on this and other Syria topics on the Intervention podcast, so go listen for an in-depth conversation on the situation as it stands.

When speaking of opposition movements in general, it’s extremely easy to cast them as “the opposite of X”, X being whatever leader or idea has fallen out of favor at present. What has to be clear, however, is that the divergent views that may be allied together towards a certain goal in the short-term are likely to be fractious on the coalition once that goal is met or denied completely, if a goal can be decided on in the first place. As Trombly wrote in December on Russia’s at the time nascent protester movement, the streets of Moscow were filled with Russians from across the political spectrum. Leftist, far-leftist and nationalistic parties have come together in the goal of defeating Vladimir Putin, but they are no means united. In the strong likelihood that Putin wins the upcoming election in the first round, how likely is it that the coalition can hold together at the seams?

The same can be said for the Occupy Wall Street movement, which was viewed, despite extreme differences from city to city, and within cities themselves, as a singular entity. I recently had the chance to listen to an Occupier talk about why the system broke down, and came away with the belief that the educated elite sought to make changes in the system as it stood, but the group never coalesced around a united set of goals. Once winter set in, and the breadth of views, from reforming the political system to creating a system of shared wealth to the need to draw the state into crackdowns, led to a muting of the voice of the group in favor of complacency, exposing to all the lack of unity visible previously to many. The simplistic narrative that surrounds both of these movements prevents understanding of how they, and other movements, function, in favor of a broad-brush stroke.

Those working against state interests aren’t alone in being accredited with non-existent unity. The state itself is often seen as a monolithic institution, rather than a collection of individuals, at the risk of sounding overly constructivist. In developing strategies and plans of countering actions that go against American interests, the offending regime and state are the only components taken into account it would seem. This isn’t to say that states are falling out of favor as the preferred standard unit of international relations. No matter how the sands may be shifting, power is still held in state institutions, for good or for ill, and at a certain point attempting to map every variable that would affect a state’s decision-making process would become overly cumbersome to planners. However, there does exist a responsibility to not gloss over the effects of decisions taken against states on those people who reside within the border. There is a difficulty, I must admit, in reconciling the knowledge that policy-tools from economic sanctions to the use of force are legitimate protests against a state’s actions, when the people of that state have no agency in their state’s choices.

Nowhere is this sharper for me than the US’s policy in Iran. Following the effects of sanctions on the population of Iraq was covered extensively by the media in the mid-1990s, broad, sweeping embargoes fell out of fashion for a time. In their place, target sanctions against elites or “smart sanctions” were seen as the wave of the future, capable of inflicting pain upon governments  while sparing their people. Unfortunately, we’re seeing a reversal of that trend in Iran, with the potential for the same to be seen in Syria. It’s tough to realize that the collapse of the rial isn’t just preventing Tehran from replacing centrifuges in their nuclear facilities, but keeping families from being able to buy bread, when the democracy present in Iran exists so-far as the Ayatollah allows it. I’m not saying the Obama Administration’s policy of sanctions is a failed one. But Americans in general, and policymakers in particular, have to be cognizant of the multiple dimensions inherent in the many stages of conflict, and willing to be brutally honest about the effects of any action taken.

Finally, the concept of international institutions writ large, and the United Nations in particular, often face down the convenience of monoliths. There is a basis for this interpretation when considering the United Nations, but for a much smaller set of instances than the general population and many commentators are able to discern. When actions are taken by the Secretariat, the team of international public servants headed by the Secretary-General, this is a viable instance of the United Nations acting as an institution of its own. However, when critiques are lobbied at the UN, it’s often in reaction to perceived inaction, most recently following the Syria vote in the Security Council. Here we see the result of the United Nations as a collection of states, in that Russia and China voiced their displeasure with a prescribed action, and under the rules all have agreed to, vetoed said action. The easier idea to grasp is that the United Nations has its own flag and therefore is clearly the source of the problem; it’s much easier to separate the two tracks that the body has to balance.

Without that nuance, you get policy-makers and legislators like Rep. Dana Rohrabacher denouncing the institution as a whole and the works it performs on the basis of its inclusive membership. International institutions serve the will of their states, in allowing the powerful to set agendas, to dominate discourse, and push methods of actions. However, they also serve to amplify and enhance those aims. The United Nations is a collection of states acting in their own interest. The United Nations is a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Both statements are true, rendering more simplistic narratives false.

What this all comes to is a frustration with the simplest narratives gaining the most traction and amplification. Broad strokes are fine, so long as they’re quickly replaced with more thoughtful examinations of the issues and institutions being dealt with. If they aren’t, they become a crutch for policy-makers to lean on, continually surprised when they turn out to be made of rubber. I get that nuance is annoying; it gets in the way of quick and easy decisions. But I prefer difficult reality over convenient mythology any day.

December 29, 2011

Whither the Atrocities Prevention Board?

Back in August, President Obama signed into existence PSD-10, a Presidential Study Directive on Mass Atrocities. When it was first released, PSD-10 was well-received by liberal interventionists and those who believe that preventative diplomacy and coordinated action can head-off mass killings, Anne-Marie Slaughter and myself included. Paul States of the Council on Foreign Relations noted that PSD-10 had the potential to make it so “the inertia and neglect that has often characterized U.S. responses in the past can also hopefully be lessened, if not eliminated”. Granted, not everyone was convinced about the necessity for further study into mass atrocities, but you can’t please everyone.

The language used in PSD-10 strikes a tone of hope for the future, while acknowledging missteps of the past, and a desire for an early warning system against mass atrocities:

In the face of a potential mass atrocity, our options are never limited to either sending in the military or standing by and doing nothing. The actions that can be taken are many they range from economic to diplomatic interventions, and from non combat military actions to outright intervention. But ensuring that the full range of options is available requires a level of governmental organization that matches the methodical organization characteristic of mass killings.

Sixty six years since the Holocaust and 17 years after Rwanda, the United States still lacks a comprehensive policy framework and a corresponding interagency mechanism for preventing and responding to mass atrocities and genocide. This has left us ill prepared to engage early, proactively, and decisively to prevent threats from evolving into large-scale civilian atrocities.

And it’s true. The bureaucracy involved in identifying, let alone taking action, on potential acts of genocide is ridiculous in its scope and the length of time it takes to run its course. The Directive determined that an interagency study, led by the National Security Advisor, would be complete within 100 days, to determine the full mandate and make-up of the body, as well as its processes. The resulting Atrocities Prevention Board was to begin its work 120 days after the signature of PSD-10, on August 4, 2011. It has now been 147 days.

Since August 4th, precisely nothing has come out of the White House on the matter. There have been no stories written, in the mainstream media on the development of the Board since late August. None. Nothing on interagency squabbles that would prevent its creation, nothing on how close it is to launch, nothing on how David Pressman’s War Crimes, Atrocities and Civilian Protection directorate at the NSC is proceeding. Nothing. Certainly outside groups [PDF] haven’t forgotten about the promise of the Board. Even the Senate has been more interested in putting the Board in the spotlight; Sens. Coons and Collins are circulating a letter that welcomes PSD-10 and the coming Atrocities Prevention Board.

Silence is certainly not helping the Administration look like it is taking the lead on actually securing human rights abroad. The ad-hoc approach determining the level of aid to be given to the Syrian opposition, as being reported by Josh Rogin at The Cable, is how the government has always worked in the face of potential disaster, a process the Atrocities Prevention Board was meant to change. Ad-hoc processes have their time and place, but a formal mechanism to target and collaborate on responding to massive human rights violations is needed to codify those processes if anything is to get done the next time a crisis rolls around.

If the Board is, in fact, up and running, an announcement needs to be made to the world. If there are delays in its launch, they need to be overcome quickly. Actually granting potential mass killings the level of attention they deserve is more than just good posturing and a bolstering of arguments of moral standing in the eyes of the international community; it’s good policy that actually enhances the security of the United States.

September 5, 2011

Re-Introduction to International Relations

I will be the first to admit that as an undergraduate, I hated studying IR theory. Absolutely hated it. Why on Earth would I care about contradictory, oft proven wrong on a case-by-case basis pieces of mental flotsam that purported to layout cleanly how the world works? For my part, I was always much more interested in “practical” international relations. History and current events were all that matters; that and the form and structure of various nation-states and international organizations, all of this was my bread and butter. Ignoring the “why”, I admit, was stupid, but I cared much, much more about the “what”.

That changed recently. Maybe it’s that I’ve matured as a thinker since taking my Intro to International Relations course with Professor Yael Aranoff over four years ago at MSU. Maybe it’s that the world has become more complicated and I’m realizing that I need to understand the underlying nature of it in order to impact it. Maybe it’s just the proliferation of IR wonks on my Twitter feed reached a tipping point and I’m inundated on a daily with enough articles to keep me reading for several consecutive decades and can watch them debate live on my netbook screen.

No matter what the reasoning, I find myself actually paying attention to the arguments that IR writers are making, and agreeing or disagreeing on various points. I’m finally taking it to heart. Reading Anne-Marie Slaughter’s works on the evolving nature of sovereignty has given me a firmer grasp on my own thinking about the way the world does and should work.

For example, take this piece over the weekend in the Boston Globe by Thanassis Cambanis. The basic thesis is as follows:

Instead of a flurry of new thinking at the highest echelons of the foreign policy establishment, the major decisions of the past two administrations have been generated from the same tool kit of foreign policy ideas that have dominated the world for decades. Washington’s strategic debates – between neoconservatives and liberals, between interventionists and realists – are essentially struggles among ideas and strategies held over from the era when nation-states were the only significant actors on the world stage. As ideas, none of them were designed to deal effectively with a world in which states are grappling with powerful entities that operate beyond their control….

As yet, no major new theory has taken root in the most influential policy circles to explain how America should act in this kind of world, in which Wikileaks has made a mockery of the diplomatic pouch and Silicon Valley rivals Washington for cultural influence. But there are at least some signs that people in power are starting to try in earnest. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has openly integrated the search for a new paradigm into her policy making. In universities, think tanks, and the government, thinkers trying to grapple with this fluid world structure are finally getting attention in the circles where their ideas could shape policy.

Though it comes on the heels of what’s likely to be an unstoppable deluge of articles and pontification on what lessons we must take away from 9/11, the whole thing is phenomenal. As much as I love and am a student of Great Power politics, his case is well-made that to focus solely on the interaction between states at this juncture in time is to ignore a whole plethora of issues that carry an aggregate weight at times greater than that of the state. Acting in concert, these non-state actors possess the power to affect sweeping changes that the current structure of policy-making just isn’t in a place to handle at this time.

There is no folder or file  buried in the State Department, no matter the efforts of Secretary Clinton, on what to do in the event of, say, a shift in the policy of BP to work in conjunction with the Iranian oil industry, as unlikely as it is. The mechanations of these actors will continue to bedevil policy makers until there is developed a way to intertwine them into policy-planning from the early stages.

The term “smart power”, a combination of Joseph Nye’s conception of hard and soft power, has been bandied about for the past several years as an alternative to the overreliance of the former on the part of the United States, something I wholeheartedly agree with. But the fact of the matter is that as good an idea as it is, it has yet to full take root anywhere but the State Department. The Administration has not set it at the forefront of its presentation of the way the US can and will operate around the world.

The signs all exist of it being implemented in fits and starts, as can be seen in the President’s now annual Nowruz address, wishing Persians a happy new year, with a laser focus on the Persians of Iran. This sort of activity takes little effort on the parts of the US Government, but manages to engender goodwill towards the Great Satan in the hearts and minds of the civilians of Iran. That isn’t to say that all of our conflicts with Iran will be solved by so simple a gesture, but as part of a toolkit that includes economic sanctions on the government of Iran and individuals in power, multilateral actions taken by the US and the United Nations Security Council, and other levers that can be pulled, the chances of successfully influencing events in Iran is far greater than a proxy bombing spree by Israel.

In response to Mr. Cambanis, Dan Drezner has one small critique when it comes to those that were highlighted as new and forward thinkers when it comes to foreign policy:

No offense to Joseph Nye, Michael Doyle, and Steve Walt — these are Great Men of international relations thought.  The notions that Cambanis lists here, however, are not “new” in any sense.  Which leads me to wonder whether Cambanis has defined the problem correctly.  Is it that international relations theory has gone stale… or is it simply that the wrong set of existing theories are in vogue today?

I’m prone to agree that no matter how good the ideas that Mr. Nye puts forth are, the authors themselves are not by any stretch of the imagination new. I most certainly read Nye, Doyle, and Walt as an undergrad, and undergrads will continue to read them for a long time hence. The more important part of the equation isn’t who puts forward the ideas, but whether they can be applicable in today’s world. In that instance, I think that Nye, Doyle, and Walt should continue to attempt to innovate, so long as they are prepared to no longer be the predominant voices in their field.

To directly answer Mr. Drezner’s question, I do believe that international relations theory has gone stale. There’s no two ways about that. When considering the best way to move forward with a new strategy, falling back simply on the broad strokes of “realism” and “liberalism” or rehashes of those concepts is simply impossible.

In my first post, I called myself a constructivist, but that’s merely because nothing else fits. In the search for a Grand Unified Theory of International Relations, nothing even comes close to being able to fully take into measure the complexities of the world today. In the old days, you knew who you were fighting, you were assured that the mistreatment of diplomats was anathema. The sort of relationships that existed during the Cold War between states can no longer be the baseline assumption. In a world where a group composed of no more than several hundred can bring the most powerful country, in terms of economic, military, and cultural strength, to its knees, it’s time to find a new theory.

I’ve mentioned Anne-Marie Slaughter several times, and I will readily admit that I have something of an intellectual crush on her. The ideas she puts forward about new ways of thinking of the relationship between the governed and the governing and the notion of sovereignty through that frame seems novel at times, but truly reflects the compact that the Framers of the Declaration and the Constitution sought to instill. Rather than being a unidirectional monopoly on the use of force, the ties that bind a state and its people should be seen as going two-ways, that the governed agree to follow the rules placed upon it by the state, while the state agrees to take care of those who reside within its borders. To me, that sort of thinking is precisely what is needed in moving forward towards something bigger and greater.

There are intellectual heavy-weights like Ms. Slaughter and Mr. Nye who are considering the new ways that the jigsaw puzzle of states, non-state actors, and individuals can be better aligned, people with a purpose who are attempting to form some sense of order out of the chaos that international relations has and always will be.

In my opinion, that has the be our new goal. Rather than attempting to completely delete the chaos of the world, as the state system has sought since the days of Westphalia, maybe the new way of thinking about the world is instead to determine the ways in which chaos can best be mitigated at times, harnessed and channeled in others.

We live in a time now where information is traded freely and serves as the currency in the world. The value of this currency has been deflating as we become more connected and access becomes easier but while states are left with precisely the same amount of data at a devalued rate, individuals are showered with more than they could have possibly hoped for three decades prior. With this glut of information comes the ability to act more decidedly based upon that knowledge and with that ability to act comes a very real increase in the amount of chaos in the world.

The governments of the world need to understand that the genie is out of the bottle in this instance. The only way to place it back is with massive amounts of force, as you can see in the attempts to suppress the wildfire of revolutions in the Middle East. The amount of force truly required, however, has been deemed unacceptable by the West and its allies, and more importantly by the people whom that force is being used against. The people of Yemen, Bahrain and Syria have managed to maintain the force and volumes of their protests for months despite a dedication to not intervene militarily by the West and hundreds to thousands gunned down by the regimes in those states.

Rather than attempting to quell this spread of information, the world needs to find ways to harness and direct it. As when we first learned as a people how to channel lightning itself into a useful purpose, so to we must discern how to do it with knowledge. Electricity remains dangerous but only to those that do not respect it.

The new conduits to harness this chaos that states build have to take into account one and only one basic fact in this world: information finds a way. As was said in the completely under appreciated film Serenity, you can’t stop the signal. You can do all you can to cut off ties and links that have been forged between individuals, but you will find that increasingly impossible as they become more and more adept at circumventing this. Video from Homs in Syria has spread across the world, graphic and brutal, increasing the isolation of Bashar’s government. Even the Great Firewall of China can’t stop all data from coming and going. Information will find a way.

While states will remain in control of their physical borders so long as they are able to hold them militarily and using their authority to use force, what crosses those borders is much harder to pin down. Unless your country is willing to completely sever ties with all around it, no flow of people or of products as in the case of North Korea, there will be what may seem as a chaotic element present within your borders.

These conduits have to be able to take the energy that comes from this spread of information and focus into ways that can be harnessed for the benefit of all instead of some. A state’s objective is no longer the control of information that’s released but what to do with it once it is dispersed among the masses. The results can be a net positive as is seen with the rise of microloan campaigns transferring capital from the developed to the developing world. Or they can be a net negative as is the case with protests that lead to wholesale slaughter of those in possession of this knowledge and attempt to spread it. The similarity exists in the root cause of both of these paths.

Only through developing conduits of channeling this information can states avoid the trap of falling back solely on hard power, their economic and military strength, to maintain control within their own borders and influence external events. As Wikileaks has shown us, even sensitive information cannot remain secret forever. I have no love for the group but they have made a very solid point when it comes to the ability of the non-state actor to acquire the self-same information that it was thought that only states have the ability to obtain through espionage networks and covert operations.

In creating a new strategic vision, the United States has to find the ability to harness the creative and at times chaotic energies of its people and those of non-state actors within its borders and around the world and form conduits towards them bettering the US’ stance globally. This should involve using what can be seen as an electronic akido to turn the efforts of others to constrain data to their citizens, pushing forward ideas and ideals considered improper, while at the same time promulgating information that enhances others views of the US. Rather than propaganda, this can be seen as the harnessing of forces already at work, such as the State Department insisting at the height of Iranian protests in 2009 that Twitter delay a scheduled maintenance to allow the Green Revolution to continue its coordination.

Now, this can’t be the only tier or the sole component of a US strategy. But to ignore it or leave it as secondary would be a foolish move that would deny the US the ability to have a far greater influence for far less blood and treasure.

So there you have it. My first attempt at the strategic thinking of the next generation. Whether the current great thinkers of the world will agree with me or whether I’ll be consigned to the review my thoughts and form a re-re-introduction to international relations will be seen in the future. But it definitely feels good to take a stab at it.