Saturday, February 15, 2003

BBC Online has a great gallery of anti-war marches around the world. The New York Times notes that organizers claim that 400,000 people showed up in NYC; in the absence of any official count, they don't find the figure "improbable." Numbers elsewhere (Rome, London) are even bigger. For someone like me, who's against the war, it's heartening to see such an extraordinary turnout across the world. Still, I don't think that it'll do much to stop the war. Why? Because there are clear limits to the power of all protest movements, even "globalized" ones. Yes, the Internet and cheap international phone calls make it much easier to organize across national boundaries than it used to be. But who do these crowds hope to address? Who are the final arbiters of what gets done and what doesn't get done in the international system? States, that's who. Jeffrey Ayres and Sid Tarrow, who've spent a lot of time studying protest movements, get it right in a recent SSRC paper on transnational civic society after September 11. As they argue, globalization does make it easier for international protesters to organize, but it's not the only thing that's going on. Transnational political activity can have real international consequences, but only when it leads states to change what they're doing. Unfortunately, this time around, it's not going to work. All the protest marches in the world are unlikely to change the US stance on Iraq. Where these protests might have consequences is in the UK; Tony Blair is finding it increasingly difficult to juggle domestic opposition and his belief that the UK national interest is best served by sticking close to the American position. But even if the UK gets cold feet, it's unlikely to change US strategy; it'll just make it more difficult to justify to international and domestic critics.

Thursday, February 13, 2003

Peter Bagge is a great comic book artist - his "Hate" series has some wonderful riffs on losers, hysterics and local music-scene egomaniacs in early 1990's Seattle. Via BoingBoing, his equally caustic take on the anti-war movement. Hmmm ... hadn't realized he was a card-carrying libertarian.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Trusting America

Josh Marshall has an interesting piece on Bush and NATO. As he says, the allies would probably take their commitments more seriously if the administration hadn't been so contemptuous of NATO in Afghanistan. What are the long-term consequences of current US policy? Dan Drezner suggests that the Bushies have gotten a bum rap; despite some overblown rhetoric to the contrary, the current administration is multilateralist. If he's right, this is nothing more than everyday European incomprehension and griping. But Drezner underestimates the extent to which the US is undermining the foundations of the alliance. John Ikenberry has a pretty convincing account of the origins of NATO and associated institutions. Ikenberry argues that they were intended to redress the obvious asymmetry of power between the US and its allies in the post-War system. The US used NATO to restrain itself; to reassure its allies that it wouldn't trample over them or abandon them. The allies, for their part, used NATO to commit to cooperate with the US. It's this institutionalized mutual reassurance system that is now being undermined. The US is making it emphatically clear that it doesn't want to be constrained by its allies. It's only prepared to go through the motions of multilateralism if this will legitimize what it's going to do anyway. The allies, understandably, feel that they can't trust the US, which is much more powerful than they are, and doesn't seem prepared to take their interests into account. Hence, the unravelling of understandings which have been the cornerstone of the trans-Atlantic relationship since the late 1940's. Disproportionately powerful actors should restrain themselves if they want weaker actors to trust them, and if they rationally want to reap the fruits of cooperation. Instead, we're seeing how a powerful actor can systematically trash its reputation for trustworthiness, when it doesn't think it needs it anymore.

Update: Canada's PM, Jean Chretien has just made much the same point in a speech
Al Qaeda and Saddam

It's depressing to see Colin Powell and the administration using the Bin Laden tape as "evidence" of Al Qaeda-Iraq links. More than depressing - it's ludicrous (see Mark Kleiman's transcript of what the tape actually says). There used to be a card game called Illuminati, where you won by constructing grotesque, extended conspiracies of influence. The Illuminati lurked behind the Gnomes of Zurich, who in turn pulled the strings of the John Birch Society, who for their part were the eminences grises controlling the Boy Scouts of America and so on. Current US efforts to prove that Iraq is allied to Al Qaeda aren't very much more sophisticated, or convincing than this. Certainly, Saddam Hussein is an evil tyrant. Almost certainly, he has weapons of mass destruction squirreled away against the day. But the administration isn't doing itself any favors by manufacturing conspiracies out of smoke, heat, innuendos and thin air.

Update: Forget the Gnomes of Zurich; perhaps Willy Wonka is behind it all.

Monday, February 10, 2003

absence w/o ordered leave

Maria is on holiday in Egypt for a week, and so won't be blogging for a while.
Pol-sci Bloggers

Gratefully received - Dan Drezner, who teaches IR at the University of Chicago, has a post about this blog and political science bloggers more generally; there are two or three of us that I know of, depending on how you define political science (Jacob Levy, a political theorist, blogs with the Volokhs). Compared to lawyers and economists, we're light on the ground. Dan pays some compliments which I'll happily return; I can testify from personal experience that he's razor-sharp, and a stand-up guy. But lest this sound too much like academic back-scratching, he also mentions how we disagree on Internet governance. We share some common presumptions; we both start from rational choice theories of bargaining (although I, at a certain point, chuck them), and we both try to shoot down some of the crazier claims that the Internet and globalization are making states irrelevant. Neither of us thinks that states are becoming weaker just because they're delegating certain powers to private actors; this is just an example of state choice. Where we part ways is on what this means for international politics. Dan, who's an IR realist, argues that big states are still the 800 pound gorillas of international relations; private actors' influence on international outcomes, if not quite non-existent, results from certain constellations of state interests. I think that this is fine as far as it goes, but misses a lot of the point. Where private actors are likely to exert most influence on the international system is through influencing state preferences, bargaining positions, and bargaining strategies. And here, I think that increasing interdependence between states is affecting how states interact with each other in international negotiations, and in some cases at least, giving NGOs more tools to influence states' international behavior. The problem, of course, is specifying when this is likely to happen, and when not - IR theory as it stands isn't very helpful in helping us figure this out. Further, it's impossible to say who's right on the basis of current evidence - the evolution of the Internet's governance structures over the next few years will be a fascinating natural experiment for political scientists, and social scientists more generally.