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The Bear Is Back!

Thanks to Eugene for inviting me to join this blog. Let me start with a prediction. When historians write about the post-cold war era, which began in 1989, the date of its termination will not be 9/11/2001, as has been frequently claimed, but 8/7/2008, when Georgian forces attacked separatists in South Ossetia and Russia responded with an invasion. August 7 marks the end of American sole-superpowerdom, or hyperpowerness, or hegemony, or whatever you want to call it, an interval somewhat longer than but still very similar to the periods of global preeminence the United States enjoyed for a few years after World War I and World War II.

There are other notable similarities. In all three of these periods, Americans and others believed that an era of the rule of international law had begun, and in all of these periods, the United States was initially lauded for its leadership and then criticized for putting its interests first.

There are some differences, however. In the great powers era that ended with the world wars, national governments derived their authority from unembarrassed chauvinism — their peoples' instinctive belief in their own ethnic, racial, or national superiority. With the cold war, the conflict was not between competing nationalisms but between competing ideologies — democracy versus socialism, capitalism versus communism. Today, the conflict is shaping up as one between an ideology, on the one hand, and a bunch of different nationalisms, on the other. On one side, we have American/European commitment to democracy and rights. On the other side, we have Russian and Chinese nationalism, and who knows what other countries with similar agendas will emerge over the next few decades.

These differences play out in many ways. Americans believe that every country should have our system or at least a constitutional democracy; Europeans similarly believe that every country should respect human rights. The Chinese and Russians, by contrast, are preoccupied with restoring or promoting national greatness — something that few Europeans and even Americans would say about their own countries. The Americans and the Europeans -- well, the west, I guess -- are willing, at cost to themselves, to pressure states (like Sudan) that violate western values. Russia's main concern is protecting -- Russians, those who live in neighboring countries. China seeks to do deals with other countries, not to convert them to the Chinese system.

Of course, America's ideological goals serve its interests; they are just the goals that American governments believe that Americans ultimately support. It will be hard for future historians to see the post-Cold War period as anything other than a series of steps that the United States took to expand its sphere of influence, in Africa, in the Middle East, in Eastern Europe, and in Central Asia, into the vacuum left by the collapse of the Soviet Union. But each step was accompanied by a consistent ideological agenda: we are doing this for your own good! China's rise has slowed down this agenda in Africa, and Russia's recovery will almost certainly defeat it in Central Asia. The United States won the battle of ideologies in 1989, but its global power was only a temporary thing, as is becoming clearer every day.

The implication for international law is troubling. The busy international legal activity that occurred during the post-Cold War era -- the establishment of international courts, the involvement of the Security Council, the advance of international trade law -- will slow down and perhaps even reenter the deep freeze into which it was shunted during the Cold War. The irony is that liberal internationalism could advance only as long as the United States was the sole superpower and in the mood to advance it.

Elliot (mail):
Question professor - how long will Russia "rise" for? While it does have a large chip in its favor (energy supplies), its crony system seems likely to squander it. Then with its demographic and other problems, it seems tough to imagine it going as strong fifty years from now.
8.20.2008 4:59pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
I'm afraid I wouldn't mourn, very much, if your thesis is correct, that "international law" is declining or entering a "deep freeze." Of late, "international law" has mostly centered around either anti-Americanism or an inability to actually stop any of the evils going on in places like Iraq, Iran, the Sudan, or elsewhere. I don't see any fundamental difference between the impotence of international "legal" bodies to stop Russia from invading Georgia and the same impotence to stop the slaughter in Darfur, the (actual) torture and murder of dissidents in Saddam's Iraq, international terrorism, etc., etc.

Our military power remains unchanged; we continue to have the most powerful, most effective military in the world. What's changed is the willingness of Russia (and others) to risk that power, and to thwart it by taking advantage of our greater distaste for risk and our greater regard for innocent lives. Russia can get away with invading a sovereign nation (and make no mistake, that's exactly what it did) because they know full well that the "international community" remains as toothless now as it was during the Cuban Missile Crisis... only this time, the U.S. is far less politically prepared to risk military action against them, particularly over "just" one little region of a former Soviet country.

Yes, there was a lot of "busy international law activity" during the post-Cold War era, but how much of that actually accomplished anything? How much actually deterred dictators and rebel groups from slaughtering innocents? U.N. "peacekeeping" forces were utterly unable to stop either the Hezbollah attacks from Lebanon into Israel or the Israeli retaliation. Neither party will be hauled before any international tribunal for such activities. I'm sorry, but I just don't see any actual "law" there. Just much ado about, ultimately, nothing.

I do agree with your analysis of the Western ideology versus Chinese and Russian nationalism, though of course I would add that we also are combating the radical Islamic ideology as well, which is hostile to both us and the Russians and the Chinese.
8.20.2008 5:07pm
The Unbeliever:
How long will Russia remain a defining superpower, if oil drops back down to $15/bbl?
8.20.2008 5:22pm
OrinKerr:
8.20.2008 5:25pm
donaldk2 (mail):
War, which is wanton killing, is a supreme evil. There are a few things that are worse; the issue of territoria integrity of Georgia is not one of them.

Georgia is our client. It should have been made plain that we were NOT going to go to war on its behalf. They should have been happy to cede those two territories if it came to that.
8.20.2008 5:32pm
DangerMouse:
"Russia's recovery will almost certainly defeat it in Central Asia"

Heh. Yeah, sure. Russia is aborting itself into oblivion. They're losing tons of people every year, and there's no equivilent gain. At least Europe is replacing its population with Muslims, who are smart enough to have kids to ensure the survival of society. Russians haven't figured that out yet, and no one is moving to Russia to replace them.
8.20.2008 5:33pm
ejo:
you missed the UN peacekeeping forces actively aiding the hostiles or simply doing nothing. other than actively working to harm democracies and hamstring them, what purpose did "international law" serve? the poster above who noted the many failures is exactly correct. international law is about on the same level as peace activist-neither does much and both are only vocal when the West can be blamed for a problem. You'll notice a lack of activity on the part of ANSWER and its ilk in regard to this Russian invasion.
8.20.2008 5:41pm
donaldk2 (mail):
And by the way, my opinion is that the Iraq invasion WAS justified, in view of Saddam's (what amounted to a boast) that he had WMD.
8.20.2008 5:41pm
David Hecht (mail):
"China seeks to do deals with other countries, not to convert them to the Chinese system."

Well, this statement is only correct if we elide the Chinese "near-abroad": China apparently takes the (classically nationalistic) view that anyplace that was ever even close to being part of "greater China" should be so, now and forever. See, e.g., Tibet, Taiwan, Chinese Turkmenistan, and others too numerous to mention.

Similarly, the argument that "Russia's main concern is protecting -- Russians, those who live in neighboring countries" can only be taken at face value if we recognize that Russia's view of this is, ahem, rather more expansive that the statement suggests at face value. It would perhaps be more accurate to say that the Russians have reverted to their Pan-Slav antecedents, and are more than willing to expand into places that are not very Russian, or indeed not Russian at all, in support of this agenda: Georgia, Ukraine, the Baltics, perhaps presently Poland and other central European nations. Certainly Russia has taken up the cudgels on behalf of Serbia more than once.

Finally, I think it is a mistake to conflate the post-nationalist European and "Davos Man" agenda with that of ordinary Americans. Liberal internationalism--which I happen to support--isn't what ordinary Americans want: it's perfectly clear that they want to be left alone and not to be bothered with the world at large. There's virtually no support among ordinary Americans for a long-term mission of spreading democracy abroad, as current public opinion on, e.g., Iraq should make manifestly clear.
8.20.2008 5:46pm
David Warner:
"The Chinese and Russians, by contrast, are preoccupied with restoring or promoting national greatness — something that few Europeans and even Americans would say about their own countries"

Except, you know, for the guy inching into the lead for President of the latter. Pay no attention to the man in front of the curtain...

"There's virtually no support among ordinary Americans for a long-term mission of spreading democracy abroad, as current public opinion on, e.g., Iraq should make manifestly clear."

Again, except for those ordinary Americans on the front lines risking their lives to do just that. What is their approval rating again?

If liberal internationalism is rightly integrated into a nationalism that celebrates the unique contributions - past, present, and future - of the one nation constituted alone by liberal ideals it can be confident of wide appeal on these shores.
8.20.2008 6:00pm
Frater Plotter:
I am a little surprised by the denial of American nationalism that is implied in claiming that China and Russia are motivated by nationalism but America by ideology. American nationalism has been a strong part of both the popular support and the elite justifications for the present conflict.

On the elite side, this goes back to the Project for a New American Century, which explicitly called for renewed American nationalism as a force in world politics. On the popular side, look no further than the flag-waving, the adhesion of popular religion to politics, and the elevation of a soldier to a major political candidate on a war-hero footing. (I'm not saying McCain wasn't a war hero. I'm saying that looking to soldiers rather than diplomats, legislators, or other groups for political leadership is a sign of nationalism.)

Another example of American nationalism is the broad acceptance of the eradication of other nations' sovereignty for the purpose of securing America: the "magnet" justification for the Iraq war, known also as "fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them over here". This is an explicitly America-First position: no, Iraq wasn't our enemy, they didn't have WMDs, and they weren't arming the terrorists, but it's morally right to convert Iraq into a war zone in order to draw fire away from America's cities.
8.20.2008 6:10pm
Sarcastro (www):
America never goes to war for its own interests! That's how Commie China and Secretly Commie Russia roll! We in America only fights to spread Democracy! And Freedom! Democracy and Freedom!

Anyhow international law sucks! It's all biased against us, even though we wrote it. I blame the UN.

I would be worried about the corrupt broken infrastructure country that is Russia, but abortion is totally going to cause serious infrastructure and corruption problems there!

And China would be scary, what with it's being totally Communist and not needing out dollars at all, but gay marriage will somehow bring it down!
8.20.2008 6:10pm
Curious Passerby (mail):
donaldk2: War, which is wanton killing, is a supreme evil....They should have been happy to cede those two territories if it came to that.

International anarchy of countries seizing neighbors' territory (and citizens) is worse than war. War should be used to put a stop to that.

What pacifists never realize is that appeasement just leads to more death and loss of innocent lives than war does.

A quick smackdown of Hitler in 1938 would have prevented WWII. And if Russia is allowed to start seizing neighboring territories it will just lead to WWIII.
8.20.2008 6:49pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
And by the way, my opinion is that the Iraq invasion WAS justified, in view of Saddam's (what amounted to a boast) that he had WMD.

Of course Saddam claimed (a claim that turned out to be true) that he had destroyed his WMD. Our invasion was based on deeply flawed intelligence (if you are credulous and kind).
8.20.2008 7:04pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Another example of American nationalism is the broad acceptance of the eradication of other nations' sovereignty for the purpose of securing America: the "magnet" justification for the Iraq war, known also as "fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them over here". This is an explicitly America-First position: no, Iraq wasn't our enemy, they didn't have WMDs, and they weren't arming the terrorists, but it's morally right to convert Iraq into a war zone in order to draw fire away from America's cities.
Strawman. Iraq was our enemy. At least one of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers ended up getting sanctuary in Iraq. Iraq tried to assassinate a formmer president. They remained a continuing threat to U.S. allies in the area (such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Israel).

Iraq certainly did have WMDs into the early 1990s--and gave us reason to think that they still did. We now know that their motivation was to bluff their neighbors--but it wasn't like Iraq didn't have a long history of using WMDs on its neighbors, and its own population.

Iraq was cleary supporting terrorists, providing funding to families of suicide bombers in Israel. These weren't the 9/11 terrorists, but they were supporting terrorists.

How many more errors can you make in one comment?
8.20.2008 7:08pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

I'm saying that looking to soldiers rather than diplomats, legislators, or other groups for political leadership is a sign of nationalism.
McCain, in case you haven't noticed it, has been a legislator for more than 20 years--quite a bit longer than Mr. Wet Behind the Ears.

It isn't "nationalism" that drives the support for McCain. My wife is, I suspect, pretty typical of many of those who grudgingly support McCain. She wants someone who is perceived as a warrior in charge--not someone who terrorists are going to perceive as a wimp. The perception of weakness encourages more attacks--as Osama bin Laden has made clear, when he explained that the Blackhawk Down incident demonstrated that Americans would not fight to protect their interests.
8.20.2008 7:11pm
steveH:
JFThomas, you shouldn't stop at only part of Saddam's actions.

He also resisted efforts to verify that Iraq had indeed destroyed their WMD programs and assets (which claim, it turned out, was only partly true), while at the same time assuring his own government and military leadership that Iraq still possessed WMD warmaking capability.

Even as the Iraqi Army was in collapse, division leadership believed that the weapons would be brought into play at any time... But that it was some other division that had the weapons, just not their own.

With all the shellgames going on inside Iraq, and their demonstrated ability and willingness to employ chemical weapons against internal and external opponents, not to mention invading neighbors multiple times over a period of several decades, why in the world would expect any result other than that reached by several nations' intelligence services; Iraq probably had WMD, and if they did, they'd probably use them.

20-20 hindsight and all that; something you don't have the luxury of bathing in until after the event.
8.20.2008 7:15pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

War, which is wanton killing, is a supreme evil. There are a few things that are worse; the issue of territoria integrity of Georgia is not one of them.

Georgia is our client. It should have been made plain that we were NOT going to go to war on its behalf. They should have been happy to cede those two territories if it came to that.
Yes, right after giving up the Sudetenland.
8.20.2008 7:15pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

A quick smackdown of Hitler in 1938 would have prevented WWII.
After the war, German generals asked why the French and British didn't send troops into the Ruhr after Hitler remilitarized it in 1936. At the time, Germany was not yet ready to fight and win such a battle, and at least in some circles, it was believed that Hitler might have been so embarrassed as to be forced from power. There were still powerful forces in the German General Staff that held Hitler in contempt, and would have required little provocation to remove him from power.

Unfortunately, the J.F. Thomas's of of the 1930s had become dominant forces in most Western nations. "Goodness, what has war ever accomplished?"
8.20.2008 7:20pm
David Warner:
"I'm saying that looking to soldiers rather than diplomats, legislators, or other groups for political leadership is a sign of nationalism."

Like, say, George Washington. Or would you prefer we had remained under the Articles of Confederation.

There is a fascinating account in Winston Churchill's The Gathering Storm of the run up to Munich. According to Churchill the German general staff had finally concluded that Hitler was mad (based on his plan to invade Czechoslovakia, leaving the western front nearly bare to a French invasion), and had ordered a division near Berlin to arrest him. Two hours before it arrived, Hitler received a phone call. It was Chamberlain caving to his demands.
8.20.2008 7:32pm
zippypinhead:
Frankly, a resurgent Russia that supplies much of Western Europe's oil and gas, has a pretty good long-term hand. Given Putin's demonstrated willingness to run roughshod over his neighbors, it's not at all inconceivable that he might take a hankering to play with the pipeline spigots when it serves his purposes (as he has already done with former Soviet republics like Belarus and Ukrane).

And today Russia is making unpleasant noises about "non-diplomatic" retaliation if Poland and the Czech Republic permit installation of U.S. missile defense systems. As fellow NATO members, we have an obligation to come to their defense if Russia decides on a more violent self-help remedy (not to mention avenging the probable death of U.S. personnel if Russia acts militarily to take out the systems), in addition to whatever bilateral defense obligations the U.S. just assumed as part of today's Polish agreement.

Entangling Alliances, here we come...

I have to confess, I'm thinking of re-writing that old Prince dance tune with a modified title: "Party Like It's 1914." And that's even without also humming a more ominous version of "Georgia On My Mind."
8.20.2008 7:54pm
NotFred:
Is anyone else flabberghasted at the assertion that U.S. foreign policy for the last severn years has been based on a belief in strengthening international law and cooperation?
8.20.2008 7:58pm
Captain Ned:
International law needs not be strengthened, it needs to be strangled in its cradle. Nations may temporarily agree to cooperate in certain ways but these agreements must never take a status that overrides the internal political processes of a nation.

Sorry to go all Metternich on you, but IMO his system worked a whole lot better than the UN and "international law".
8.20.2008 9:43pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Unfortunately, the J.F. Thomas's of of the 1930s had become dominant forces in most Western nations. "Goodness, what has war ever accomplished?"

Honestly Clayton, where you get the idea I am a pacifist is beyond me. Just because I think the war in Iraq was foolish, unnecessary, and based on deliberate misreading of the intelligence (if not outright lying) doesn't mean that I don't think war is ever necessary. As for Hitler, I don't know where you ever got the idea that I thought appeasement was a good idea. Your credulousness in believing the word of a bunch of self-serving German generals who were trying to save their own skins after the war by claiming they never liked Hitler and if only the French and British had saved them from themselves in 1936 everything would have been hunky dory displays a naivety that is sweet.
8.20.2008 10:58pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Sorry to go all Metternich on you, but IMO his system worked a whole lot better than the UN and "international law".

Oh yeah, it worked wonderfully in propping up the oppressive dying empires of Central Europe and aided Prussian expansionism, which of course led to the deaths of 100 million or so Europeans in the first half of the twentieth century.

Yeah, the system of international law since World War II really sucks. It was so much better before.
8.20.2008 11:04pm
trad and anon:
Dear God, do you people really want us to start WWIII by attacking the holder of the largest non-American stock of nuclear weapons in the world? For the purpose of protecting Georgian pseudo-sovereignty over South Ossetia? Count me out.

Not all places are Munich; neither are all years 1938.
8.20.2008 11:10pm
Bleepless (mail):
If Europeans support human rights, why do they invariably back tyrants against democracies?
8.20.2008 11:16pm
trad and anon:
Also, politicians' rhetoric aside, I find it hard to buy that the U.S. government's foreign policy has been based on any kind of general support for democracy. We've long been happy to play nice with authoritarian autocracies as long as they're sufficiently pro-U.S. autocracies.
8.20.2008 11:17pm
Fat Man (mail):
The busy international legal activity that occurred during the post-Cold War era -- ... -- will slow down and perhaps even reenter the deep freeze into which it was shunted during the Cold War.


And you thought there was no good news.
8.20.2008 11:53pm
David Warner:
"Your credulousness in believing the word of a bunch of self-serving German generals who were trying to save their own skins after the war by claiming they never liked Hitler and if only the French and British had saved them from themselves in 1936 everything would have been hunky dory displays a naivety that is sweet."

One thing about our German colleagues - they keep meticulous records. The records show that the generals despised (i.e. both hated and looked down on) but used Hitler for their own purposes until exactly the moment they realized his mad plan was working exactly as he had foreseen (i.e. the conquest of Czechoslavakia and the crucial Skoda works following Munich). At that point, the generals followed the German people in swinging wildly behind Hitler. Strong horse and all that.

The relevance to the thread being the copious opportunities for the Allies to prevent this from happening before this point.

If you have records showing otherwise, I'd be happy to see them.
8.21.2008 12:02am
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):

War, which is wanton killing, is a supreme evil. There are a few things that are worse; the issue of territoria integrity of Georgia is not one of them.


Sigh. Another silly ass.

I suggest you ask the survivors of Janos Kadar, the Russian Revolution, the Cambodian Intelligensia (defined as anyone who wore glasses), the Founding Fathers, the French Revolutionaries, the French Resistance, die Weiße Rose, Freemasons in Fascist Spain, or most anyone with a number tattooed on the forearm whether there are in fact things worse than war.

And come back when you grow up.
8.21.2008 12:05am
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):
Also, politicians' rhetoric aside, I find it hard to buy that the U.S. government's foreign policy has been based on any kind of general support for democracy. We've long been happy to play nice with authoritarian autocracies as long as they're sufficiently pro-U.S. autocracies.

Ah, there's the rub, isn't there? We can't ever seem to find anyone to take our side who is sufficiently pure.

But somehow that always works out that there is no one sufficiently impure to be against.
8.21.2008 12:09am
David Hecht (mail):
American support for liberal democratic values abroad has a long pedigree: at least as far back as Woodrow Wilson, proclaiming that he intended to teach the Mexicans to "...elect good men." I would certainly not suggest that it hasn't been commingled with a large dose of self-interest, but...that's kinda the point, isn't it?

Yes, we have gotten into bed with a lot of smelly characters, too: it was FDR who famously said of Trujillo that he was an S.O.B. but that he was *our* S.O.B. In most if not all instances, this represented--like it or not--a prudential judgment that the bad person we were supporting was preferable to the worse one who might replace him. Instances where we chose to follow a more "idealistic" approach include our abandonment of Batista in Cuba, Somoza in Nicaragua, the Shah in Iran, and the Muzorewa-Smith government in Rhodesia: in every instance, I think it safe to assert that the replacement was worse than the original.

Distinguishing good from bad is easy: what's harder is to distinguish bad from worse. This is, however, the essence of statesmanship.
8.21.2008 12:32am
Ritvars (mail) (www):
Russia's main concern is not protecting Russians who live in neighboring countries - there are no Russians in South Ossetia but those behind barrels. Kremlin's main concern is spread of Russian imperialist rule. Russians who live in neighboring countries are protected as much as powder is kept in dry.
8.21.2008 3:28am
mik (mail):

The implication for international law is troubling. The busy international legal activity that occurred during the post-Cold War era -- the establishment of international courts, the involvement of the Security Council, the advance of international trade law -- will slow down and perhaps even reenter the deep freeze into which it was shunted during the Cold War.


And not a day too soon. Sorry professor, sophisticates in faculty lounge will have to find other toys.
8.21.2008 5:10am
mik (mail):

The implication for international law is troubling. The busy international legal activity that occurred during the post-Cold War era -- the establishment of international courts, the involvement of the Security Council, the advance of international trade law -- will slow down and perhaps even reenter the deep freeze into which it was shunted during the Cold War.


And not a day too soon. Sorry professor, sophisticates in faculty lounge will have to find other toys.
8.21.2008 6:23am
Andy Freeman (mail):
> The irony is that liberal internationalism could advance only as long as the United States was the sole superpower and in the mood to advance it.

What's ironic about that?
8.21.2008 1:01pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Your credulousness in believing the word of a bunch of self-serving German generals who were trying to save their own skins after the war by claiming they never liked Hitler and if only the French and British had saved them from themselves in 1936 everything would have been hunky dory displays a naivety that is sweet.
You might want to read James P. Duffy and Vincent L. Ricci's Target Hitler: The Plots to Kill Adolf Hitler. It turns out that there were a lot of German generals who disapproved of Hitler and National Socialism. There's a memorandum circulated at the time of the Sudeten crisis:


Vital decisions for the future of the nation are at stake. History will indict these commanders [who blindly follow Hitler's orders] of blood guilt if, in light of their professional and political knowledge, they do not obey the dictates of their conscience. A soldier's duty to obey ends when his knowledge, his conscience, and his sense of responsibility forbid him to carry out a certain order. [quoted on p. 49 of Target Hitler
Chapter five is devoted to the efforts of the plotters on the German General Staff to get Britain to not give in at Munich, in the hopes that it would allow a successful overthrow of Hitler. Of course, count on the pacifists to make that impossible.

J.F., one of these days, you really ought to read something more than The Nation. You will be amazed how much knowledge there is, once you get past your ideological blinders.
8.21.2008 2:44pm
ejo:
no, the sum total of human wisdom can be found in the Nation and by watching Olbermann. as to the bear being back, we can be sure that, even as we waste our time here, ANSWER and the leftist groups who mobilized against our efforts to defeat/depose Saddam Hussein are getting ready to launch their efforts against Russia.
8.21.2008 6:11pm
Hoosier:
ejo:no, the sum total of human wisdom can be found in the Nation and by watching Olbermann

I don't see Alan Colmes on that list . . . ?
8.22.2008 6:43pm
Lazlo Holyfeld:
"The Chinese and Russians, by contrast, are preoccupied with restoring or promoting national greatness — something that few Europeans and even Americans would say about their own countries."

If ever there was a quote that revealed the utter bankruptcy of what passes for sober foreign policy analysis in this country this is it.
8.25.2008 4:04pm

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