Theories of International Politics and Zombies

A classic example of realist IR theory at work.

In the late summer of 2009, Dan Drezner came out with a delightful piece in Foreign Policy called “How International Relations Theory Would Cope with a Zombie Uprising.” It’s really quite clever, exploring the effects of a zombie apocalypse as seen through the eyes of  a structural realist, a liberal institutionalist, a social constructivist, and so forth.

Apparently, Drezner was so pleased with the idea that he ran with it and turned it into a book: Theories of International Politics and Zombies. And for the launch of the book, he’s doing some sort of speaking tour. I had the pleasure of seeing him talk last night, courtesy of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. There’s no way I could have passed it up – it combines two of my great pleasures in life. International relations theory and the walking dead.

Having an open bar was an excellent call for an event like this. There’s only so much gravitas you can hold while discussing the finer points of the constructivist critique; namely, that zombies “are what we make of them.” No single paradigm can accurately model zombie behavior, of course. Realism assumes that somewhere down the line zombie states will emerge. Liberalism sees the possibility of cooperation with the zombies. Constructivism thinks that the zombies can be socialized. None of these will hold true; the closest real-world comparison for the tactics and effects of massed zombies would include assymmetrical warfare, global transnational terrorism, and the spread of communicable disease.

Drezner was great, peppering his talk with clips from Night of the Living Dead, both the original Dawn of the Dead and the remake, Shaun of the Dead, and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video. Also getting heavy mention was Max Brooks’ World War Z, which I was especially glad to hear as it meant I could ask a question about the Battle of Yonkers being a failure of RMA without having to explain the former. (Answer: not a failure of RMA, but a reflection of the bureaucratic morass at the Pentagon – the intransigence of Standard Operating Procedure.) Here are Drezner’s general conclusions:

  • Thucydides is still relevant in a post-zombie world
  • The zombie canon is too pessimistic (from Patient Zero to the apocalypse always takes about ten minutes)
  • International relations paradigms probably suffer from intellectual rigidity
  • Analytic eclecticism has its advantages to explaining a zombie uprising

And now, some highlights from the Q&A. Drezner’s zombie contingency plan:

If you don’t hear from me for a week, pack up and move to New Zealand.

The zombies’ effect on existing conflicts:

If zombies broke out in Belgium, you know the Flemish would throw the Walloons under the bus.

We would see a large exodus/mass migration from urban centers to far more rural areas:

Richard Florida would be devastated. And eaten.

A protracted counter-zombie campaign would most likely lead to a ‘counter-zombie policy fatigue’. We might, perhaps, come to take the same view of such a strategy as we eventually did of Prohibition. Drezner also suggested his next book, in keeping with Keohane’s After Hegemony, might simply be titled After Aliens.

Anyways, it was a great event, and many thanks to the Chicago Council for putting it on. Especially as a Young Professionals event. I picked up a copy of his book there (and had him sign it. “To Graham: hope you survive!”); expect a review soon.

More Island Chains

Courtesy of The Globe and Mail (and via Information Dissemination) comes this infographic of the range of Chinese naval operations:

Now, if both this map and the “Island Chain Theory” of Chinese strategy are accepted as true, then perhaps China is not as far along as recently thought. China has uncontested control of neither the South China Sea nor the Luzon-Okinawa-Kiyakyushu chain. But is that slow progress the result of capabilities or intent?

The PLAN has grown more than was previously thought, but much of that growth has come from additional submarines – not the most effective offensive weapon to claim and hold territory. Still, it would not be especially difficult for China to assert themselves more unilaterally in the South China Sea especially – the other ASEAN nations have virtually no navies and little recourse to international fora to decry Chinese expansionism.

And still, while Chinese leadership seems to disdain international standards and mores, there is some respect for general global sentiment towards the country. Isolated instances of repression, jailing dissidents, and other such common phenomena in the People’s Republic barely make it to the A section of major newspapers, and usually just as a sidebar item. Most people would hardly notice unless they were looking for it.

But if a major operation were launched – like one to take and secure the Paracels and the Spratlys, and to start building on them – you can be sure the international outrage would be deafening. And that seems to be what CCP leadership hates the most. Not necessarily being lectured or talked to about human rights, but being yelled at. Regardless, the Chinese position vis-a-vis the first island chain should be seen as soft. It may look underdefended and contested, but the PLAN could easily seize key points along it in a heartbeat. For the moment, at least, there is just no need to do so.

Kids’ Table No More

President Obama dropped a bombshell and a “guaranteed applause line” on his passage to India: he will back an Indian seat on the UN Security Council.  And quite frankly, it’s about time. The only two countries opposing it were China and the US, so while this doesn’t completely clear the path for Indian accession, it does smooth it.

The other question is how this will remake the Security Council as a whole. Tom Ricks has his own solution:

It also probably is time to kick out France and Britain and instead give the EU one seat, which would make the permanent members:

  • United States
  • Russia
  • China
  • India
  • Japan
  • EU

Japan makes sense, but adding/subtracting members is going to irritate virtually everyone no matter how it’s done (which explains why none of it has been done before).

I think we can agree right off the bat that losing members is a non-starter. No one will voluntarily give up a seat, and thanks to veto power, it’s hard to see France or Britain ruling themselves into irrelevance, no matter how much that might make sense. If they both stay then, why would Germany not deserve a seat? As the largest economy and most populous country in Europe, there’s little reasonable objection to their membership.

Then we get into regional representation. If Russia, India, and China all have a seat, why doesn’t Brazil get one? Or if we go the route of an EU seat, why not UNASUR? And/or the African Union? Will the Middle East get its own seat? Would Pakistan demand one?

It is an excruciating set of compromises that would have to be made in order to change the membership of the Security Council at all. Perhaps the largest barrier, though, is the scale of enlargement. The G8 didn’t evolve into a G10, and then a G12, and so forth – it went straight from G8 to G20. And if the Security Council is to add any of the up-and-coming powers, it will probably have to add them all.

Underground Testing

Recently, France and Britain concluded a defense agreement which, among other things, provides for increased joint nuclear research between the two. In the spirit of that nuclear cooperation – and also in the spirit of getting things done while Congress has their heads up their asses – I have decided to reprint my essay “Underground Testing: Anglo-American Nuclear Cooperation, 1946-58.”

The mushroom cloud over Hiroshima, August 6, 1945.

In 1946, atomic collaboration between Great Britain and the United States screeched to a halt. The fruitful partnership between the ‘Tube Alloys’ team in the United Kingdom and the scientists of the Manhattan Project had grown increasingly one-sided, with the United States’ research contributions far outstripping those of the British by the end of World War II. Two atomic bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945, demonstrating the arrival of nuclear hegemony. The British were merely informed of the decision, to which they acquiesced with “little or no debate.”[1] As the technology gap across the Atlantic Ocean continued to widen in the immediate postwar period, Britain was increasingly thrust into a lesser, subordinate role.

With the passage of Senator Brien McMahon’s Atomic Energy Act in 1946, Anglo-American collaboration in the field of nuclear power and weaponry appeared to be at a congressionally-mandated end. Much of Thatcher-era historiography views that collaboration as entirely dormant until the McMahon Act’s repeal in 1958, and that in the meantime Britain forged on as the jilted partner in the ‘special relationship’.[2] While true on an official level, this ignores the underlying reality of close continuing cooperation on atomic weaponry between 1946 and 1958. Nuclear cooperation did not hit a wall in 1946; it merely endured ‘underground’ for twelve years.

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“The 15 minutes I spent imagining what I’d name it were perhaps the happiest 15 minutes of my life.”

If the Royal Navy really does decide to sell HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2020, who might buy it? And even more importantly, what would they name it? Robert Farley handicaps the race, giving odds and possible names to potential suitors:

China
Empress Dowager Cixi
Odds: 99-1

Russia
Imperitsiya Ekaterina Velikaya
Odds: 50-1

France
Carla Bruni
(R92)
Odds:  20-1

Canada
HMCS Queen Elizabeth
Odds: 15-1

India
INS India Gandhi
Odds: 15-1

Japan
JDS Empress Michiko
Odds: 7-1

Australia
HMAS Queen Elizabeth
Odds: 9-2

South Korea
ROKS Empress Myeongsong
Odds: 4-1

Brazil
NAe Empress Isabel
Odds: 3-1

If I were a gambling man…

Also, guess what the source of the title is. Then check your answer here.

Perles Before Swine

Peter Beinart wrote a pretty decent appraisal of Ronald Reagan’s more moderate and dovish tendencies for Foreign Affairs recently. For anyone at all to approach the Gipper with a modicum of even-handedness is impressive these days, and for some of those facts to damn near inspire me; well, I guess that just speaks to Reagan’s better qualities.

Anyways, moral of the story is that of all people, Foreign Affairs somehow ended up with Richard Perle writing a rebuttal. Yes, that Richard Perle, the ‘Prince of Darkness’, who argued for invading Iraq with 40,000 troops. The same Perle who got tired of being credited with planning the Iraq War and passed the buck up to President Bush . The same Perle who called Seymour Hersh a terrorist , proposed a national biometric ID card program, and demanded an invasion of Syria (at this point it should of course be noted that Perle attended the London School of Economics for a time). Perle’s latest gem is called “Against Evil,” with a tagline of “Only liberals like Peter Beinart think that Ronald Reagan was a dove.”

Yes, and only Richard Perles like Richard Perle think that Richard Perle is in any way still relevant or qualified to comment on anything.

Trouble in Paradise

And by paradise, I of course mean NATO. Turkey has called an emergency meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in order to discuss the recent Israeli attack on the Gaza-bound flotilla. It’s a fairly routine response to such an event, except for what it might actually mean for the alliance and for Israel. As a refresher, Article Five of the treaty:

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

Now, consider Article Six – and keep in mind that one of the flotilla ships, the MV Mavi Mamara, is Turkish-flagged:

For the purpose of Article 5, an armed attack on one or more of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack:

[…]

  • on the forces, vessels, or aircraft of any of the Parties, when in or over these territories or any other area in Europe in which occupation forces of any of the Parties were stationed on the date when the Treaty entered into force or the Mediterranean Sea or the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer [emphasis mine].

There is a whole world of possibility here, virtually none of it good. Whatever the justification is for Israel’s actions, it’s clear there are going to be consequences, the severity of which have yet to be determined.

Unfortunately, I cannot recall the exact source I saw this in (if you know it, remind me), but if there was an “international aid flotilla” steaming for Turkey with its supplies bound for the Kurds, would Ankara act much differently? It’s a good point – but the current membership of NATO renders such a hypothetical mostly irrelevant.

This could very well mean the beginning of the end for the Atlantic alliance. It will at least pose a serious dilemma in terms of composition. After all, who right now is more aligned with policy and public sentiment in Europe: Turkey, or America?

Victory!

C Company, 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment marches in the Victory Day Parade in Red Square for the first time.

Saturday marked the 65th anniversary of V-E Day in most of Europe, but for Russia – being several time zones removed – Sunday, May 9th was V-E Day.

Throughout the Soviet era, a yearly military parade was held in Red Square to commemorate victory in the Great Patriotic War, but after the Soviet Union’s dissolution these parades were reduced in scope and grandeur. Vladimir Putin restored the Victory Day Parade to its former prominence in 2008, and this year’s parade was possibly the most epic yet.

For the first time, Allied and CIS forces also marched in the parade – an American company from the 18th Infantry Regiment, a British company from the Welsh Guards, a Polish battalion, a French aviation detachment, and troops from nine other countries – commemorating the global effort it took to rid the world of Hitler and Nazism.

French troops march in the Victory Day Parade in Red Square.

While there was certainly some resistance to Western troops marching in the holiest-of-holy Russian secular holidays, it mostly ascribed to the Communists and ultranationalists. Many veterans welcomed the other Allied troops:

“This parade unites all those who participated in the war,” said Iosif Efron, 85, who recalled that his Soviet division encountered American forces at the Elbe River in Germany at the end of World War II. “The invitation was absolutely proper. We fought together, and they helped us.

“Of course, without Russia, no one would have defeated Germany,” he added.

There are a ton of stunning (and not a little bit intimidating) photographs of the parade at Wiki Commons – including a real, live T-34! – and the BBC.

Reagan, Thatcher, and the ‘Tilt’

The British election has decided in favor of no one in particular. The possibilities seem confined to a Conservative minority Government or a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition one. With so much going wrong for Britain (just look at the accidental disenfranchisement), the last priority of whatever the new British Government is will be their friend across the pond.

At the same time, Rockhopper has claimed to have discovered oil in the area of the Falkland Islands, reversing the disappointment felt by Desire Petroleum earlier this year. With these two events in mind, it seems like a perfect moment to look back at the last time the special relationship really came to the fore, while the Falklands were in the news.

 

The Falkland Islands

One of the last vestiges of British empire, the likelihood that the Falkland Islands would ever become a household name – let alone the site of a major twentieth century conflict – seemed slim at best. Yet when the military government of Argentina dared to invade in April of 1982, the successful British retaking of the Falklands entered into the realm of legend and revitalized both Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Government and Great Britain as a whole.

The extent to which American assistance was a crucial part of the British war effort is still debated. Paul Sharp claims that “Britain’s success in the Falklands War…would not have been possible without US support.”[1]Then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger downplayed the role of American aid, characterizing himself as a mere “assistant supply sergeant, or an assistant quartermaster.” He placed the glory of victory solely with the British:

Some said later that the British could not have succeeded if we had not helped. This is not so – I think the decisive factor was Mrs. Thatcher’s firm and immediate decision to retake the Islands, despite the impressive military and other advice to the effect that such an action could not succeed.[2]

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan's cabinets meet at the White House, 1981.

While the revival of the wartime Anglo-American ‘special relationship’ did not necessarily ensure a British victory, the effects that American support had on British and Argentinian morale and indeed, world opinion, were significant. As Sharp explains, “had the Americans decided to oppose Britain’s recovery of the Islands, then the war would have been impossible and Thatcher’s political demise all but assured.”[3]

The sophisticated weaponry supplied by the Pentagon, such as the Sidewinder air-to-air missile and the Stinger man-portable surface-to-air missile, helped to minimize British casualties. Especially crucial was US intelligence. That support was all the more surprising as it constituted a near-complete reversal of the centuries-old Monroe Doctrine demarcating the western hemisphere as an entirely American preserve.

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Whither the Special Relationship?

There’s an interesting debate going on over at Harry’s Place as to which British political party has been and would be most conducive (or accommodationist, if you like) to the ‘Special Relationship’. “Norflondon’s” article, in particular, claims that Labour is the “true Atlanticist party.” I would have to disagree.

If you take the three major personal relationships throughout the twentieth century, you have FDR and Churchill, Jack and Mac, and Reagan-Thatcher. All three Prime Ministers were Tories and two of three Presidents Democrats.

This is not meant to imply that the most fruitful partnership would necessarily be Obama-Cameron (i.e. a Democrat and a Tory), but rather that Labour has until recently never been a particularly stalwart half of the Special Relationship. Indeed, America was rather fearful when Clement Attlee and Labour came into power – they were seen as ‘red’ socialists, and socialism was naturally a bad thing (a contemporary cartoon by David Horn in the Evening Standard showed Attlee surrounded by a circle of U.S. Congressmen all asking themselves “no hooves? No tail”)?

The article mentions the Major Government and divides over the Balkans , but considering that was a highly contentious debate within the Clinton Administration itself – not to mention a low-risk bombing campaign – the absence of British support wasn’t seen as a low blow in the same way that say, the Wilson Government’s silence was in Vietnam. Then, of course, there’s Major’s wholehearted British contribution to the first Gulf War.

The change could be pinned on Blair and New Labour, but also keep in mind the nature Blair-Clinton relationship: new center-left incarnations of their old selves.

However, when it comes down to it, does the United States really want a Blairite United Kingdom as part of the special relationship? Patrick Porter has made this point much more eloquently than me; he reminds us of Britain’s pretensions to Great Power status, but then points out the absurdity of Britain trying to do so much:

Geography comes up in the Strategy, but only in a perfunctory and generalised way. It asserts that Africa matters wherever there is extremism or violence, not a very discriminating test; Eastern Europe matters because Britain is engaged there; the Middle East matters because it is central to security and ‘totemic’ to extremists, and Afghanistan-Pakistan for its links to domestic terrorism. Central Asia, Eastern Europe, large chunks of Africa and the Middle East: these four spheres would strain a superpower, let alone Britain.

If at least a portion of an alliance is for figuring out what’s best for an individual country, isn’t the New Labour approach of ‘America first, British national interest second’ pretty bankrupt at this point? Prime Ministers in the past have easily subordinated their Atlanticism to the national interest of the United Kingdom – Thatcher being a notable example – but the times the call for spartan budgets and austerity measures, and those will have to translate into defense cuts as well.

Sadly, I don’t know which prime minister would be the most healthy combination for the Special Relationship and the United States. Perhaps Britain itself must reduce it to no more than a ‘special partnership.’