The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Who said it?

May 22, 2008

Can you tell the difference between the views expressed by a human rights activist who worries mostly about humanitarian emergencies in Asia and those stated by a prominent neorealist American academic?

1: Realist thinking versus liberal talk:

A. “…oil and strategic interests are what dictate Western policies, not their professed liberal values. All the talk of humanism or humanitarianism is just for public relations.”

B. “…public discourse about foreign policy in the United States is usually couched in the language of liberalism. Hence the pronouncements of the policy elites are heavily flavored with optimism and moralism…Behind closed doors, however, the elites who make national security policy speak mostly the language of power, not that of principle…In essence, a discernible gap separates public rhetoric from the actual conduct of American foreign policy.”

2: What should be done about humanitarian emergencies?

C. “Now I chime in on the side of those who want to invoke the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine or humanitarian intervention because the suffering on the ground is massive and the regime leadership responded with extraordinarily mad behavior—holding this referendum on the graves of at least 70,000 Burmese cyclone victims.”

D. “…the Clinton administration…was filled with people who extolled the virtues of human rights regimes and the importance of the international community intervening to prevent mass murder, and so forth and so on. In the event, when there was evidence pouring in that a genocide was taking place in Rwanda, a real genocide, they behaved in the most despicable fashion. And this is consistent with how we have behaved over time. The fact of the matter is…states talk a good game when it comes to values, but they actually behave in a…rather cold and calculating manner when the money is on the table.”

3: American interests and intervention.

E. “Human rights interventions in the developing world…tend to be small-scale operations that cost little…The American intervention in Somalia between 1992 and 1993 is a case in point. Furthermore, the United States could have intervened to stop the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, which certainly would have been the morally correct thing to do, without having jeopardized American security.”

F. “I do not believe that under any circumstances should the United States go to war for the purposes of protecting the United Nations or simply making sure that United Nations’ resolutions are carried out. The United States should go to war under one set of circumstances, because you want to remember here, we’re talking about sending Americans to die. Right? We go to war when it’s in the American national interest. Right? When there are good, strategic reasons to put American lives on the line.”


For 1 and 2:

A & C are from “Zarni, a former Burmese activist who founded the Free Burma Campaign in the US and led the successful PepsiCo/ Burma boycott that resulted in Pepsi cutting all ties with the Burmese regime in 1997. He now lives in England where his research at Oxford University is focused on Burma’s political and economic developments.”

B and D are from Professor John Mearsheimer, a realist political scientist at the University of Chicago.

For 3:

It’s a trick. Both E & F are from Mearsheimer.

For more fun with neorealism, see this.

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Rodger A. Payne is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Louisville. He serves on the University’s Sustainability Council and was a co-founder of the Peace, Conflict, and Social Justice program. He is the author of dozens of journal articles and book chapters and coauthor, with Nayef Samhat, of Democratizing Global Politics: Discourse Norms, International Regimes, and Political Community (SUNY, 2004). He is currently working on two major projects, one exploring the role of narratives in international politics and the other examining the implications of America First foreign policy.