On the deep flaws of the pre-Trump “liberal international order”

Paul Staniland has a great piece over at Lawfare on the need to see post-war Pax Americana for what it has been:

Pushing back against Trump’s foreign policy is an important goal. But moving forward requires a more serious analysis than claiming that the “liberal international order” was the centerpiece of past U.S. foreign-policy successes, and thus should be again. Both claims are flawed. We need to understand the limits of the liberal international order, where it previously failed to deliver benefits, and why it offers little guidance for many contemporary questions.

…. analysts have persuasively argued that these accounts create an “imagined” picture of post-World War II history. Patrick Porter outlines in detail how coercive, violent, and hypocritical U.S. foreign policy has often been. To the extent an international liberal order ever actually existed beyond a small cluster of countries, writes Nick Danforth, it was recent and short-lived. Thomas Meaney and Stephen Wertheim further argue that “critics exaggerate Mr. Trump’s abnormality,” situating him within a long history of the pursuit of American self-interest. Graham Allison—no bomb-throwing radical—has recently written that the order was a “myth” and that credit for the lack of great power war should instead go to nuclear deterrence. Coercion and disregard for both allies and political liberalism have been entirely compatible with the “liberal” order.

internationalcommunityStaniland makes great points throughout the piece, especially when he looks at the so-called liberal international order from the perspective of people in the Middle East and Asia. The same would be true if he were to look at it from Africa. The Continent’s Mobutus, Bongos, and Biyas have always been loyal water-carriers for the “liberal international order”, which existed primarily to advance the interests of the “international community” as seen in the image above. For this reason, keen observers from countries not considered to be part of the “international community” have repeatedly argued that the current U.S. administration merely presents a congruence of American rhetoric and action on the global stage. For better or worse, the mystique is dead. Western Ambassadors can no longer claim the moral high ground to give lectures on democracy, human rights, and good governance while also facilitating corrupt contracts for natural resources and security assistance to dictators.

Read the whole thing here.

The Place of Race and Racism in International Relations

In case you have not read Susan Pedersen’s review of Robert Vitalis’ White World Order, Black Power Politics: The Birth of American International Relations, you should.

Here is an excerpt:

The Journal of Race Development, established in 1910, was one of a spate of academic journals, associations and institutes founded as American social scientists came to grips with their country’s expanding global and imperial role. The journal’s title, jarring today, reflects perfectly the centrality of the category of ‘race’ to political science at the time. During the ‘Wilsonian moment’ of 1919, the journal was rechristened the Journal of International Relations without much disturbing its contributors or character. A few years after that, it was bought and renamed again by a New York-based association of internationalist businessmen, officials and academics, the Council on Foreign Relations. Yes, that’s right: it becameForeign Affairs, the pre-eminent journal of the foreign policy establishment.

This is just one of the startling and illuminating genealogies Vitalis pieced together during the ten years or more he spent researching this book. White World Order, Black Power Politics does two things. First, it provides a critical history of the institutional development of the field of international relations in the United States, from its founding at the turn of the century through to the Cold War. This history is radically unfamiliar: the ‘origin story’ taught on undergraduate courses, which traces the field’s core concepts (realism, liberal internationalism) back to Thucydides or Machiavelli or Wilson is, Vitalis insists, a post-1945 invention. Instead, at the moment of its American birth, ‘international relations meant race relations.’ Races, not states or nations, were considered humanity’s foundational political units; ‘race war’ – not class conflict or interstate conflict – was the spectre preying on scholars’ minds. The field of international relations was born to avert that disaster.

A blunter way to put this, and Vitalis is blunter, is that international relations was supposed to figure out how to preserve white supremacy in a multiracial and increasingly interdependent world. Segregation and Jim Crow had done the trick at home, where non-white populations were in the minority, but how could white America govern its newly annexed and overwhelmingly non-white territories without losing its republican soul? A few white scholars thought the task impossible. Indeed, one of the most famous – John Burgess, founder of Columbia’s School of Political Science and of the Political Science Quarterly – opposed President McKinley’s imperial adventuring precisely because it threatened the democratic institutions he thought suited to ‘Teutonic’ peoples alone. ‘American Indians, Asiatics and Africans cannot properly form any active, directive part of the political population which shall be able to produce modern political institutions,’ he warned. Unless it wanted to go the way of Rome, America should leave empire alone.

Something to think about for students of development and liberal international institutions, both big and small.

The book is available for purchase here. I can’t wait for my copy to arrive.

A medieval sociology of IR

HT Melissa.

I found this rather fun to read. Here is my favorite bit of it all:

Like medieval priests, or oratores, the formal theorists in international relations claim special access to divine knowledge, available not through observation of the corrupt and impure world but though revelation and contemplation of the perfection of the divinity. Highly respectful of learning and abstract debate, the high formal theorists do no work whatsoever, other than to study the sacred dogma and refine ever more minutely the laws and teachings of the Holy Theory. Their debates on such arcane questions as, “How many angels can dance on the head of a subgame perfect equilibrium?” can get quite heated, but remain largely incomprehensible and irrelevant to the laity. Their function is to reveal the will of God to the lesser mortals, and to guide them in walking the correct path towards rational choice.