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Archive of InternationalRelations.com

This website, InternationalRelations.net, contains an archive of material from Prof. Joshua S. Goldstein’s blog site at InternationalRelations.com, which is now inactive.  

Farewell InternationalRelations.com

I’m ending my blogging at InternationalRelations.com, which (as astute readers have noticed) has become very intermittent. My personal website remains at JoshuaGoldstein.com. I blog occasionally on  the Huffington Post, and the archive of material from this site will live on at InternationalRelations.net.

There are now several organizations tracking wars in progress, notably theUppsala Conflict Data Program and the Human Security Report Project.

Blogging was fun, but is time-consuming, and I’m pulled in many interesting directions these days and can’t do everything.

Prof. Fait Muedini at Butler University is planning a new site at InternationalRelations.com. The URL is dead; long live the URL!

Peace,

Joshua S. Goldstein

State of the World’s Wars

UCDP battle deaths to 2013 smallThrough the haze of horror and grief at war scenes around the world, systematic data collection can provide a needed big-picture perspective. The world’s experts on that, in Sweden, recently released the updated dataset on armed conflicts through 2013.

The bad news is that 2013 continued a trend in the wrong direction (so far clearly continuing into 2014), with war increasing in the world. The measure of total “battle-related deaths” refers to military and civilian deaths caused by violence during war fighting, which is only a fraction of total war-related deaths, but more reliable than other measures for tracking trends. The world total battle-deaths dropped dramatically from the Cold War era, with around 200,000 annually, to the low point of under 12,000 in 2005 (and typically for years in that period, around 20,000). Since then, it has trended up, reaching more than 45,000 last year.

How much more, we don’t know, because the data collectors could not come up with a “best estimate” figure for the war in Syria, and gave only a minimum, 22,750. That minimum is about equal to the battle-deaths for the rest of the world combined, and the real figure for Syria could easily be double that minimum, which would make Syria a strong majority of the world’s battle deaths. Another way to think about this is that if tomorrow a cease-fire took hold in Syria/Iraq (strictly hypothetical under current conditions), the world’s battle-death totals would drop by at least half, perhaps two-thirds or more, and return the world to the low levels of overall conflicts that characterized the early 2000s.

There is a policy message here: While other international dramas and tragedies flare up, don’t lose track of Syria. It is the world’s bloodiest conflict by far. The spread of the war to Iraq in 2014 has only strengthened this imperative.

Moving to the rest of the world, the 2013 data list six other “wars,” defined as producing more than 1,000 battle-related fatalities in the year. This is an arbitrary definition but one long used by political scientists, and effective in separating smaller, sporadic armed conflicts from more serious ones with regular ongoing fighting. Afghanistan had about 8,000 battle-deaths and the others all fewer than 2,000 – Iraq, Nigeria, South Sudan, Pakistan, and D.R. Congo.

Another 26 “armed conflicts” were recorded, in 18 countries (some countries have several insurgencies at once). The more serious of these conflicts, with more than 200 battle-deaths in 2013, were in India, Mali, the Philippines, Russia, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.  Today, Ukraine would be in this category, as would Israel/Gaza and Central African Republic. Others, however, could drop off the list as some progress toward peace is happening in India, Mali, and the Philippines.

The most positive trend that continues in the world despite the upsurge of the Syria/Iraq war, is the absence of interstate war in the world, a new development historically that has proven robust over the past decade. The war in eastern Ukraine has not escalated to a fight between the regular Russian and Ukrainian armies, a fight that would have crossed the red line against interstate war. Neither have the maritime disputes in the East and South China Seas. The world’s regular state armies still threaten each other, with 20 million soldiers worldwide and every conceivable weapon, but none have fought each in a war for 11 years. (Russia-Georgia in 2008 killed 500 in 5 days.)

I’ve revised my “Wars in Progress” page to reflect the new data.

Global Challenges in 2030

Photo of child playing in India

How will trends in international relations affect today’s young people over the years? This worker’s child in India plays in salt piles, 2009. [Reuters]

Welcome back to InternationalRelations .com! This fall, instead of being driven by daily events, I’m going to look at bigger, longer-term themes and concepts in IR that apply to today’s events and relationships.

For the 2010 edition of our textbook International Relations, Jon Pevehouse and I asked eight prominent IR scholars to write short essays on “Global Challenges in 2030.” As of this fall, these essays no longer appear in the print edition of the textbook, but instead will appear here on InternationalRelations.com. Each week I will post another of these excellent analyses and invite comments.

CONTRIBUTORS

JOSEPH S. NYE, JR. — Diversifying American Power
BETH A. SIMMONS — Institutionalizing Human Rights
SHIBLEY TELHAMI — Understanding Attitudes on Middle East Peace
JOHN GERARD RUGGIE — Governing Transnational Corporations
CHARLI CARPENTER — Securing the Seas
ANDREW MORAVCSIK — Affirming Democracy in International Organizations
DANIEL W. DREZNER — Regulating Global Complexity
MICHAEL W. DOYLE — Democratizing World Politics

INTRODUCTION

Every generation of students and practitioners of international relations confronts new challenges. Some of these issues, such as the challenges of globalization or human rights, arise from long-standing trends of which we are aware, but still struggle to confront for one reason or another. Other issues take us by surprise, coming onto our collective “radar screen” with little or no warning. Prior to 2008, for example, piracy had not been a particularly salient issue to students or policymakers, yet now we are well aware of the dangers posed by nonstate actors on the high seas.

This set of essays is an attempt to place (or re-emphasize) issues on our collective “radar screen.” We asked eight prominent scholars of international relations to imagine the challenges facing your generation as you evolve from students of international relations to more active practitioners. Looking forward to your future, we asked these professors to envision global challenges
in 2030. These scholars are all considered key figures in their areas of study, but in addition, they all have also engaged with policy communities throughout
their careers. Thus, they are not simply presenting you with academic problems, but with real-world problems that, as our textbook indicates, are the practical concerns of the field of international relations.

The answers we received from these scholars are quite varied, ranging from the challenge of creating new democracies to respect for human rights to Middle East peace. All of the writers point out challenges facing the international system for the next (and often the current) generation, while noting that none have easy answers.

We begin with Professor Joseph Nye outlining the challenges to the future of American power. Professor Beth Simmons then discusses a key challenge
in the area of global governance: the promotion and protection of human rights through international law. Shifting to the Middle East, Professor Shibley Telhami highlights trends in public opinion in the Middle East that will shape the prospects for peace in that region for years to come. Returning to the issue of global governance and human rights, Professor John Ruggie discusses the potential tensions between transnational businesses and human rights in the context of international anarchy— the lack of a central system of international governance.

Professor Charli Carpenter then highlights the challenges of an issue currently garnering significant global attention—piracy on the high seas. Professor Andrew Moravcsik then delves into the debate over whether the growing number of international organizations presents a challenge to democratic rule in the very member states that form these institutions. Professor Daniel Drezner reflects on the global implications of the 2008 recession noting that new ideas may be needed to understand how to prevent such events in the future. Finally, Professor Michael Doyle turns to the issue of domestic governance, suggesting the challenges inherent in attempts to further the spread of democracy around the globe.

Following each essay are references to sections of the textbook that discuss the issue raised in the essay. As you work your way through the book, recall these authors’ contributions and think about how what you have learned can help shed light on the causes of these problems or, perhaps more importantly, on the solutions that can address them.

We hope that these guest essays will not only educate you about challenges that will confront your generation, but will also inspire you to use the knowledge you gain in your course to begin to tackle these nettlesome issues. Indeed, while the steps needed to address these problems may be many, we hope that you will take the first one through your studies of international relations.

JOSHUA S. GOLDSTEIN AND JON C. PEVEHOUSE

 

Summer Break

With the end of the academic year, I have stopped blogging for the summer. Hope to resume in September. Meanwhile feel free to check out my Wars in Progress list, my recent book on the successes of peace and peacekeeping, my International Relations textbook, or my other academic work. Or the other fine IR blogs listed on this page (right side; scroll down). May we have a summer of peace, democracy, and currency stability.

Whither the Euro?

Top of the stack this week is Europe and the future of the euro. Since last week both France and Greece have thrown out leaders who backed “austerity” solutions to the euro crisis. With Greece unable so far to form a government and preparing for probable new elections shortly, it is unclear whether Greece will stick with the austerity agreement with the EU. Greece may leave the euro, go back to a national currency, and default on its debts.

There are two issues at play here. One is the question of austerity versus stimulus as the best response to a protracted recession such as Europe has experienced. Paul Krugman has been making a good case that much more stimulus was needed (a Keynesian approach). Imposing austerity on countries like Greece and Spain that are already economically depressed only worsens their economies and thus leaves them even less able to pay debts.

The more interesting issue is the structure of the euro currency itself. The edition of my International Relations textbook that came out in 2000 before the euro came into effect put it this way: “The creation of a European currency is arguably the largest financial overhaul ever attempted in history, so nobody knows how it will really work in practice.” The problem was that “in participating states, fundamental economic and financial conditions must be equalized.” The solution was to restrict membership to those countries who could meet standards of financial stability. With newfound fiscal discipline, 12 nations qualified, including Italy, Spain, and Portugal near the end and Greece at the last minute. Later it turned out that Greece had cooked its national books to appear to meet euro requirements (debt-to-GDP and such). But then it turned out that others, even France, had fudged their data a bit, so everyone moved on.

The euro currency creates the same problem, actually, as Argentina and China each did at one time by pegging their currencies to the U.S. dollar. The peg, like the common European currency, takes away monetary policy from national leaders but leaves them in control of taxing and spending. When two countries diverge — as China and the United States did over years of rapid Chinese growth — the currencies couldn’t adjust to reflect these changes. Both China and Argentina eventually dropped the dollar peg.

Argentina suffered four years of recession in the late 1990s during the dollar peg period, and racked up $100 billion in debt. The IMF demanded an austerity program as the solution — again the opposite of Keynesian advice during a prolonged recession. In 2001 Argentina’s economy collapsed and in 2003 it defaulted on billions of dollars in debt, eventually giving foreign investors pennies on the dollar. Since then, Argentina seems to have gotten back on track economically. Perhaps Greece will end up on a similar path if it leaves the euro zone. But for now, whatever path Greece takes is going to be a painful one.

Greece is too small to sink the euro, but Spain or Italy might. Still, I am betting that the Europeans stumble through again and that the euro will be OK, with or without Greece.

Is the Security Council Neutered?

This weekend the UN Security Council voted on a Syria resolution, and my prediction of success in passing one was 100% wrong. Both Russia and China vetoed it. Then a frustrated Hillary Clinton went off and said the Security Council was “neutered,” which is rather provocative, gendered and dated  language for a usually level-headed diplomat. She suggested forming an international coalition outside the UN instead, not for military intervention but to support the Syrian opposition. Presumably this could include supporting the Free Syrian Army with arms and supplies?

By contrast, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon seemed more sensible; he said: “This is a great disappointment to the people of Syria and the Middle East, and to all supporters of democracy and human rights. It undermines the role of the United Nations and the international community in this period when the Syrian authorities must hear a unified voice calling for an immediate end to its violence against the Syrian people.” As the drama unfolded in New York, violence in Syria escalated sharply. Government attacks sought to retake neighborhoods and towns controlled by the opposition. Hundreds more civilians were reported killed.

A lot is at stake here. We could go back and try again to work with Russia and China through the UN, or we could go to a coalition of the willing to help overthrow the Assad regime. It’s important to get it right. I have pretty much nothing good to say about the Syrian regime, but we should think carefully about Russia and China’s positions.

When the UN works, it can impede bad ideas that individual countries or groups of countries come up with. History looms large for the Syrian case, with both Iraq and Libya very much on Russian and Chinese minds. Nine years ago the United States came to the UN to demand action to oust Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Then as now the secretary of state showed up in person, Colin Powell waving around a test tube of white powder that was supposed to represent Saddam’s terrifying weapons of mass destruction. The Security Council refused to approve action to overthrow the Iraqi government, the United States formed a coalition of the wiling and did it anyway, and it turned out to be an extremely costly, painful mistake.

In the UN, the great powers act as a form of checks and balances on each other. Just as in the U.S. government, this diffusion of power is frustrating in terms of getting anything done. But currently there is no better system. This is the same system, by the way, that lets the United States veto resolutions critical of Israel, yet I’ve never heard American officials say they were neutering the UNSC in doing so.

If one country uses a veto, it’s easy to dismiss it, but when Russia and China both say no to something, we need to pay attention to their reasons. Their fundamental reasoning here was that the international community should not violate the sovereignty of a UN member to overthrow its government, especially when several Middle East regimes have already been toppled in recent years by the United States and its allies. Russia and China also see hypocrisy in western accusations against Syria’s government, when no action was sought against a U.S. ally in Bahrain that violently repressed its own uprising last year.

Russia and China also complain about Libya. Last year, the western powers asked for authorization of a no-fly zone to protect civilians imminently threatened by the Gaddafi regime. The UNSC said yes, and the western powers then stretched that authority into support for rebel forces battling Gaddafi. They won, Libya was spared a prolonged civil war, and the intervention turned out to be a good idea. Russia and China now say they were burned by allowing a resolution that the West would stretch, and won’t repeat the mistake in Syria. But there’s more to it than that. Syria is not Libya, and they are less comfortable with an effort to oust the government there.

Why is Syria not Libya? First, the Libyan strongman was nobody’s friend, so nobody particularly cared about his fate. In Syria, Assad may be behaving badly but Russia would lose a friend (and possibly a naval base) if Assad were overthrown. Second, in Libya the rebels were already in all-out armed conflict with the government, with control of a substantial territory. There was no question of averting a civil war. In Syria, the country is moving quickly toward a civil war but still the Free Syrian Army cannot permanently hold territory and much of the opposition is not armed. Third, Libya was isolated from the regional politics of the Sunni-Shi’ite and Arab-Israeli conflicts. Syria is in the middle of both. When the Arab League acts against Syria, there is an element of Sunni countries rallying against a Shi’ite-affiliated regime that oppresses its Sunni majority. By contrast, the Arab League call for action in Libya last year did not have any such element.

And then Russia and China have to be influenced by their feelings about recent U.S. actions that have almost seemed to gratuitously “dis” these two great powers. U.S. officials continue to extend their influence in Eastern Europe, making former Soviet allies into NATO members (Clinton spoke while in Bulgaria); they base new missile defenses near Russia; they give publicity and moral support to Vladimir Putin’s domestic opponents; and they back “independent” Kosovo (not recognized by Russia) which was wrested from Russian ally Serbia by military force more than a decade ago.

On the Chinese side, U.S. officials talk up a “pivot” from Iraq and Afghanistan to the Pacific, where they describe plans to beef up military capabilities to confront a rising China; they also continue to sell arms to Taiwan despite their formal recognition of Taiwan as part of China; and they constantly attack China’s currency and trade policies as though U.S.-China trade were a zero-sum game.

These U.S. policies may each make sense — I’m not judging them substantively here — but you can see how from a Russian or Chinese perspective the cumulative effect seems hostile and aggressive. Then the United States asks China to help with North Korea and Russia with Iran, to control dangerous nuclear proliferation that probably poses a greater threat to American security than any of the above issues. It doesn’t make sense.

So now the United States and its friends put a resolution on the table calling for Assad to leave power and the formation of a transitional government. After watering it down by eliminating economic sanctions and explicit calls for Assad to leave, the resolution still supported the Arab League plan, which calls for Assad’s departure. Russia and China still opposed it. At that point, the western powers had a choice — water it down further until Russia and China came on board, or push to a vote and make Russia and China veto it. They chose the latter. As the New York Times reported, “The resolution’s Western and Arab sponsors said they had compromised enough, and pushed the measure to a vote, virtually daring Russia to exercise its veto and risk international condemnation.” So that’s great, we can condem Russia. But Syrians might have been better served by a resolution that could pass, one that condemed the Syrian government’s violence and demanded that the Assad regime stop.

I wish China had not vetoed this resolution, but I can see some arguments on their side to take seriously. Looking forward, China wants to see negotiations between the Syrian government and opposition. The opposition currently says it will not negotiate while the killing goes on, but I hope they change their mind about that. The armed opposition in Syria has little chance of prevailing in a civil war, barring the kind of direct military help from the West that just isn’t going to happen. Another bit of history hanging over the scene is the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, when U.S. officials encouraged an uprising by Iraqi Shi’ites that was repressed with extreme violence while we stood by.

In Syria today, the worst U.S. policy would be one that encourages the opposition to use armed struggle but fails to back them up with effective military force, alienates the Russians and Chinese (whose help we need elsewhere), weakens the UN, and does not induce Assad to reduce or end his killing spree. Yet that seems to be the policy path we are on at the moment. Outrage at Assad’s mass killing is justified; now what can we do effectively to address it? Take a deep breath before answering that. Let’s get it right.

Update – Azerbaijan Makes the UNSC

Today was the Azerbaijan-Slovenia showdown over the Eastern European seat. After17 inconclusive ballots, Azerbaijan was in the lead by 116 to 77 but still 13 votes short of the two-thirds needed.  Slovenia, in a spirit of “OK already, we can’t win so let’s all go home,” withdrew from the race and Azerbaijan was elected. Congrats to the Azeris. As the saying goes, “the 18th time’s the charm.”

 

Costs of War

Ever wonder how much America’s wars cost and how we pay for them? I’m doing a radio show in the Bay Area tonight on that topic (subject of a previous book of mine), so here’s a summary of the big picture.

Most people get overwhelmed by the large numbers and their complexity, so let’s think about the average U.S. household. Every billion dollars in the national budget is equivalent to a ten-dollar bill for the average household. Now look how that translates…

The overall U.S. military budget is around $900 billion a year (15 percent of that is for veterans’ benefits). So, easy, that’s 900 of those little ten-dollar bills — whoa, that’s a lot of moola. Each household is paying $9000 a year for the military. Of that, about $1600 a year is for the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the “war on terror.” The bulk of the $9000 pays for heavily armed forces waiting around in case we need to fight a real war against another mechanized army. We probably won’t (see my next book in September). By the way, U.S. defense spending is nearly half the world total, way more than all the other great powers combined.

Cumulatively, over the decade since 9/11 the cost of these wars has now exceeded $1 trillion, or $10,000 per household — about $1000 a year over the last decade. Of that, nearly two-thirds has been Iraq, and one-third Afghanistan, according to an excellent new report from the Congressional Research Service. The Libya operation is small change; it has cost America $700 million to date, $7 per household.

Foreign aid is not in the same league at all — about 5% of military spending each year, and a similar share of the overall spending related to the “war on terror” in the past decade.  The current foreign aid budget, which is being reduced, is about $50 billion a year, 80 percent economic and 20 percent military aid. That totals $500 a year per household, and is a lot more cost-effective than the military budget.

The best bargain of all is UN peacekeeping. For a world total of $7 billion, or half of one percent of world military spending, the UN has more than 100,000 peacekeepers deployed in 16 operations worldwide. Since Americans pay only about a third of the cost, the average household’s share is $25 a year.

Before you grumble about that $25 let’s go back to the real problem, the $10,000 a year you pay for the U.S. military. Historically, we got that money from taxes, especially by taxing the rich. The tax rate on higher-income Americans (usually those earning more than a few hundred thousand dollars) was 70 percent in World War I, 94 percent in World War II, 92 percent in Korea and 77 percent in Vietnam. During the “war on terror,” for the first time ever, tax rates were lowered in wartime. The top rate is now 35 percent, and 15 percent for capital gains where rich people get a lot of their money.

So now military spending is sky high and tax rates are low. This is not the only main cause of the federal deficit, but it’s one of the main ones. Historically, poor Americans fought our wars and rich Americans paid for them. Today, poor Americans fight them and we are borrowing the money to pay for them. Our children and grandchildren will pay.

The solutions:  Reduce military spending and restore higher taxes on the rich, as part of an overall long-term deficit-reduction plan (which will also have to include Social Security and Medicare). Maintain foreign aid and increase support to peacekeeping. And when you hear “billion,” think of that ten-dollar bill.

 

 

Friday update

Syria, Libya, and Yemen remain the hotspots and nothing has changed significantly today. There were demonstrations after Friday prayers in Syria and Yemen, and the Syrian government began moving into Jisr al-Shughour as more refugees crossed the border into Turkey.  Have a good weekend!