13 July 2008

Realism or Hawkish Realism in the "New World"?

I subscribe to realism: I'm pragmatic and concerned with solving the problem I am faced with. Give me the facts, answer my questions, and then let me put on my thinking cap and furnish a solution. Beyond such a cold and calculated approach, I have a heavy dose of idealism. Though notably it is not the other way around--idealism with a dose of realism.

In Foreign Affairs July/August 2008, Dr. Condoleezza Rice writes Rethinking the National Interest: American Realism for a New World. The article certainly had an eye-catching title and furthermore is written by the current Secretary of State espousing her and the administrations model of the world and what are more-or-less axioms to act by, making it an exciting read.

Rice's argument breaks down as follows:
American realism and idealism is about strength and values. On the (Machiavellian)-realism end of business we want to continue thriving. In the idealism sphere we want to live and act by our values as we conduct international relations. During the short term
these two isms can come into conflict. For example, the United States maintains relations with the globally important powers of Russia and China, even if we may frown upon some of their ideologies and actions. In the long term though our idealism is aligned with our realism as I summarize below.

Our ideals are freedom, human rights, open markets, democracy, and rule of the law. Through supporting these ideals (i.e. democratic development) we further our national interest, such that our idealism and realism need not be mutually exclusive. Importantly, Rice notes that with globalization a states problems becomes the worlds problems. As such, our national security depends on other states being able to meet the full range of their sovereign responsibilities. Therefore, "Democratic state building is an urgent component of our national interest".

Scrutiny 1
There are a number of assumptions made in this argument which deserve scrutiny. First, are our American ideals of freedom, human rights, open markets, democracy and rule of the law well founded?
1. Freedom--the choice of self determination generally a good thing. Personal freedoms versus curbing freedoms so as to protect the liberty of others is a balancing act (e.g. having a police force and laws versus anarchism.) The focus though is on personal choice.
2. Human Rights--Linked to freedom. All humans are created equally. We all share the same rights with no individual having greater or special rights. Equality is only fair.
3. Open markets--tied to the idea of human rights though this is a dubious ideal in and of itself. The questions then becomes are open markets necessary for human rights to exist? The answer there is no. So long as everyone pays the same price for goods and services equality exists. Free markets will create greater wealth though arguable create inequality. There may be moral (religious or otherwise) groundings for freedom and human rights though I don't think the bible specifies open markets.
4. Democracy--Under the ideals of human rights and being created equally we need political organization which supports this. With a democracy every citizen has a voice. Democracy is good.
5. Rule of the Law--harking back to freedom, some rules are necessary if we are to preserve the rights of others and maximize personal freedom for all.

Of the five American Ideals, four of them are well founded. The fifth, open markets, is strongly linked to the other four. Understandably it is encouraged. Interestingly enough, human rights are in some ways tied to the open market in that as the market builds wealth the sophistication of health care also increases. What was considered excellent health care 100 years ago would now be considered a violation of human rights if that was all that was offered to a population.

Scrutiny 2
The general push for these five ideals is grounded in modern thinking, though the post-modern view in me is screaming out that our universal truths are so likely merely a product of our time and place, and who are we to push them upon others? A work-around to this objection is holding governments to their promises/beliefs summarized in documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights (the Islamic version of the UN one).

Scrutiny 3
The last hurdle we must overcome before conducting democratic state building is to ask, To what extent can we encourage or coerce such development? Can we conduct total war; can we resort to military intervention; can we impose economic sanctions; can we recommend certain courses of actions; should we stand by and do nothing? Realism is anathema to any dogmatic view. The quick response to the above is that all are in the realm of possibility with all but the two extremes very fair game depending on the situation. For instance, genocide in Sudan with all citizens except for the political elite of Khartoum interested in outside intervention seems to justify sending troops in. (Though not before all other avenues have been exhausted!) The first step would of course be understanding the situation followed by recommendations.

A Hawkish Realism
As we have seen through my analysis, Dr. Rice's line of reasoning falls in the bounds of realism. There is though strong tendencies towards a "hawkish realism". With phrases such as, "It is our national interested to promoted democratic development" and "[with an international order envisioned as Democratic States] we must defeat challenges to this vision," it is easy to see the hawkish tendencies. This tendency is greatly aided by the strong belief that the promotion of our very western ideals better ensure our national interests. We must ask, What if the promotion of our ideals weakened our international hegemony? Would we then see them applied with such zeal? As we look forward, we must proceed with utmost caution as we conduct economic sanctions and war with what we believe to be moral license on our side.


revjht said...

Dear Anda: Greetings. My wife, Kathy, and I were the Nixon Foundation couple on your wine country tour on Tuesday. I enjoyed your blog and especially your comments on Dr. Rice's article. If you're interested in enlightened realism as the basis for U.S. foreign policy, you might check out the Nixon Center:


Also, we have a blog at the Nixon Foundation:


Keep reading!

Yours ever,

John Taylor

Anda said...

Hi John,
It was great having you on the tour and I did enjoy talking to you and Kathy. I will talk a look at enlightened realism. I'm not too familiar with the term though it does sound like my exact brand of tea.

revjht said...

Dear Anda: FYI on South Ossetia, etc. All best, John