Thursday, May 26, 2005

Not so nasty, brutish and short as we were led to believe...

Dan Drezner links to a Greg Easterbrook story at the New Republic and provides some commentary.

It sounds like a fascinating article, which I can't read as I'm not a subscriber - but maye you can. To be honest I think I can predict fairly readily what it's going to say, as I've read a lot of the recent work to come out surrounding this issue and I suspect it's mostly going to be a synthesis of existing research.

Regarding the whole sunny optimism stance that can accompany an empirical demonstration of a general decline in mayhem and bloodletting Drezner makes an extremely important point in noting the role of the USA in all this:

First, he neglects to mention the biggest reason for why war is on the decline -- there's a global hegemon called the United States right now. Easterbrook acknowledges that "the most powerful factor must be the end of the cold war" but he doesn't understand why it's the most powerful factor. Elsewhere in the piece he talks about the growing comity among the great powers, without discussing the elephant in the room: the reason the "great powers" get along is that the United States is much, much more powerful than anyone else.

Zing, as they say. Regardless of the merit or otherwise of current US administration foreign and defence policy, people who wish to see the USA seriously brought down a few pegs in the general scheme of things ought to be compelled to read this book and take note. If one day they get what they want (and, overhasty retractions by Paul Kennedy aside, that day will come at some point) they are likely to find the alternative significantly less palatable.


Blogger Daniel Nexon said...

I agree with the thrust of your argument... but I can also still remember all the articles Colin S. Gray wrote in the late 1980s about Gorbachev's reforms. If memory serves me, the Soviets were engaged in some sort of ruse designed to lull the US into a false sense of security.

11:08 PM  
Blogger Anthony said...

Well while I think it is entirely fair to say that Mr Gorbachev was a man we could do business with, I think it would also be wrong to characterise him as some sort of lovable charity worker. There's not much doubt the Colin Gray got it wrong on the predictive front regarding the end of the Soviet Union (as can be seen in his otherwise still valuable War, Peace and Victory where it is assumed that the USSR will remain very much something of a going concern) but I think it's important to acknowledge that hindsight is 20/20 and that he was hardly alone in not predicting how things would turn out - in fact he was in excellent and large company. Notably less wrong, though than the Structural Realists, those crazy kids.

Anyway, we don't criticise Colin Gray on this site, just as we don't criticise small cuddly puppies, Magnum P.I. or the late Queen Mother.

As regards "The Sheriff" I personally think that it is one of the few books to have been produced since and largely in reaction to 9/11 that is likely to have a significant degree of enduring value once the current crisis is on the back burner.

1:32 PM  
Blogger Daniel Nexon said...

I wasn't criticizing Gray for arguing that the USSR would still be around. Very few people foresaw the collapse of the Soviet Union. Rather, I was criticizing him for, IIRC, believing that the reforms were a charade and that renewed detente was a bad idea. I may be confusing him with other Global Affairs types, but if my memory is correct then this was supremely bad advice from an ardent Cold Warrior.

But I'll abide by your rules...

11:11 AM  
Blogger Anthony said...

They aren't rules, so much as guidelines.

Except in the case of the late Queen Mother, obviously.

11:28 AM  
Anonymous Paul Robinson said...

I won't criticise Colin Gray since he gave me my job (though I find a lot of what he currently writes thoroughly mistaken)!!

But, where is the evidence that it is the USA which is keeping the peace and reducing conflict worldwide??? I don't see it, frankly. The decline in war since 1990 is surely due to the fact that during the Cold War, the USA and USSR promoted proxy wars, insurgencies, coups, etc. against one another's allies, and once the USSR disappeared, all that came to an end. The decline in conflict is, therefore, hardly a product of benign American influence (of course, indirectly it is a product of the fact that there is now only one superpower, and so no struggle for global supremacy spilling over into the 3rd world, but that would be equally the case if some other country, e.g. China, was the lone hegemon).

Anyway, surely the crucial point is that the incidence of war is declining, and this fact needs to be broadcast more widely given the endless repetition of the claim that the 'world is getting more dangerous'.

(I couldn't open the document you cite, not being a subscriber, but from the link it appears to be based on the University of Maryland 'Peace and Conflict 2003' report by Marshall & Gurr, which you can download off the internet'. There are other reports which say similar things, e.g. Project Ploughshares, SIPRI, Uppsala University and Heildeburg).


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