Day: June 6, 2011

Goldstein: The World Has Never Been More Peaceful

Joshua Goldstein has a must-read book in press entitled Winning the War on War. I’ve seen the advance version and like many things about it, not least of which is the easy-reading style pitched at an informed lay audience, the way he begins with a thought experiment rather than with a bunch of statistics, then draws the reader through available scholarly research in an entertaining way to develop his argument.

The thought experiment: imagine you’re in a time machine moving backward from 2011 to prehistoric times, comparing a) the past ten years with the past twenty; b) the past twenty years with the previous twenty; c) the past fifty years with the previous fifty, d) the past century with the previous centuries and so on.

The argument: though the media and twittersphere often make it seem that the world is an unstable, dangerous place, we are in fact living through the longest and deepest period of peace in human history. According to the promo website:

Read the newspapers, and you’ll be convinced war is worse than it’s ever been: more civilian deaths, more rapes, more armed conflicts all around the world. But as leading scholar and writer Joshua Goldstein shows in this vivid, dramatic book, the reality is just the opposite…

Part of the book shows this to be true, part of the book explains why it is true (with a heavy emphasis on the role of peacekeeping and peace-building missions worldwide). But my favorite part is where Goldstein explains many people are so convinced it’s untrue.

In particular he breaks down a variety of socially constructed narratives about war and peace that have been promulgated by scholars, practitioners and the media over the years, including the statistic that 90% of war’s victims today are civilians, that the Congo war has killed 5.4 million people and that Congo is ground zero for the world’s worst sexual violence epidemic. (To quote Goldstein, “Not.”)

Joshua is also blogging nowadays and I urge readers to check out his posts. I expect the book will get lots of press and some critical reactions this Fall, and will be interested in readers’ thoughts as well.

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Whither the Praetorian State?

As part of a forthcoming project to re-assess the analytical relevance of the concept of the “praetorian state” in contemporary South Asian and Middle Eastern politics, I’ve been fascinated by tracing the history of the phrase.

Although the term “praetor” or “Praetorian Guard” entered the English language from accounts of Roman history in the 13th century, the taxonomic concept (specifically as a Weberian ideal type) of the “praetorian state” first emerged after political upheavals following the Great Depression.  Max Lerner argued in 1942, for example, that a socialist state that becomes totalitarian indulges in the instabilities associated with praetorian states: a succession of garrisons and adventurist leaders (Lerner 1942, 44).  For the most part, however, Lerner associated the concept with the aggressive imperialism of fascism (Lerner 1942, 50). It is notable that while the modern concept of the praetorian state originated in discussions of what were then contemporary European regime types, in the post-war period the concept would only be applied to “underdeveloped states” that were striving toward “modernization.”

Chart 1: Google N-gram history of the phrase “praetorian state” in English language books and journals

Shortly after 1960 the phrase began to increase in usage  — although still clearly an obscure and technical term (see the Y axis in chart 1 which shows the prevalence of this two-word term or “bi-gram” out of all bi-grams in approximately 5 million books) — reaching a peak in the mid-seventies.  Of course, the concept was never as popular as other ideal type categories of authoritarian states such as the “garrison state” or “caudillismo” (see chart below).

Chart 2: Google N-gram history of the phrases praetorian state (blue), garrison state (red), and caudillismo (green) in English language books and journals

In 1961, L.N. McAlister used the phrase to describe a type of regime in Latin America characterized by “the frequent overthrow of governments by military revolutions or coups d’etat for nonmilitary purposes.”  McAlister added, “It tends to be associated with a high degree of social and political disorganization and  a low degree of professionalism within the armed forces,” (McAlister 1961, 343).  McAlister meant to distinguish the concept from both a Gendarmist State (a state in which a dictator or caudillo tames the military and uses it as a gendarmery to maintain power) and Harold Laswell’s concept of the “Garrison State” (a state in which the military attempts to militarize the state and society at large). What is of interest here is the notion that a praetorian state in 1961 was associated with a lack of professionalism in the military.

A separate school of thought which emerged around the same time is associated with David C. Rapoport and Samuel Huntington. In 1962, Rapoport published an essay — based in part on the ideas of his often cited but unpublished 1960 doctoral dissertation at Berkeley — titled “A Comparative Theory of Military Political Types” in Samuel Huntington’s Changing Patterns of Military Politics (1962) in which he used the phrase “praetorian state” to describe a military that maintains the rule of an oligarchy. Huntington would popularize Rapoport’s category a few years later in an essay in World Politics titled “Political Development and Political Decay,” in which Huntington likened the concept of the praetorian state to the Hellenic concept of the corrupt society. For Huntington, a praetorian society is characterized by political instability that oscillates between absolute monarchy and wild democracy and serves as “… the hallmark of a society where mobilization has outrun institutionalization,” (Huntington 1965, 417).

Building on the work of McAlister, Rapoport & Huntington, Amos Perlmutter significantly developed and refined the concept. His 1969 essay in Comparative Politics, “The Praetorian State and the Praetorian Army: Toward a Taxonomy of Civil-Military Relations in Developing Polities,” (which was based on an earlier article he had published in 1967 and a World Politics article on the Israeli Army he had published in 1968) helped to transform the concept by forgoing Rapoport’s emphasis on constitutionalism, consensus, and authority. In particular, Perlmutter emphasized the notion of the military as a core institution that supplies the political leadership of a society. He laid out the political and social conditions which contribute to praetorianism, placing the relevance of the concept in the “early and middle stages of modernization and political mobilization,” (Perlmutter 1969, 384). Perlmutter also created a differentiation between aribitrator-type praetorian armies and ruler-type praetorian armies.  Notably, the former type was considered to be more professionally oriented — thus broadening McAlister’s formulation to include professionalized militaries (Perlmutter 1969, 392).

[For contemporary South Asia scholars, it is notable that Pakistan, which is today considered by many scholars to be a quintessentially praetorian state, was not considered to be praetorian by scholars applying Rapoport’s defintion (Wilcox 1965. 150).]

However the popularity of the concept appears to have declined after the end of the Cold War. So… why did it decline? At this point I don’t really have an answer. If pushed, I would hypothesize (along the lines of Partha Chatterjee 1974) that the need to understand and distinguish between highly nuanced types of authoritarian regimes (i.e our sons-of-bitches from their sons-of-bitches) and to advocate for “political stability” during the process of socio-economic change to prevent a communist revolution became irrelevant to bourgeois scholars with the third wave of democratization and the triumphalist tone in support of liberal democracy and capitalism that emerged at the end of the Cold War… but that is only a guess.

In any case, with the new wave of popular unrest and insurgency in the Middle East and South Asia, it is clear that many scholars will be monitoring civil-military relations carefully and hence this concept may once again become prominent to explain the lingering or emerging impediments to democratization.

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International Justice Scholars and Advocates: One Big Happy Principled Family?

David Bosco posted “The Case for Impunity” today on his Foreign Policy blog, The Multilateralist. The central issue in the post is whether the ICC’s intervention in Libya has prolonged the conflict, by taking away Gaddafi’s option to go into exile, and whether international justice can credibly deter war criminals. I nodded my way through the first few paragraphs, until I got to the end. Bosco makes a sweeping claim about “international justice advocates”:

“It’s a bit disconcerting that international justice advocates rarely acknowledge the possible downsides of international judicial intervention or grapple with the evidence that cuts against their predictions. In sectors of the human rights community, there’s a messianic faith in the value of international justice. And that’s fine if the argument is essentially based on principle: justice is right, impunity is wrong, consequences be damned. But the justice movement makes the argument both on principled grounds and on consequentialist grounds. They have an obligation to honestly confront some of the possible negative consequences.”

I don’t completely disagree, but these statements are goading.

First, who are we talking about here? Are advocates only NGOs and human rights activists, or are scholars also advocates? Whether you call it a “field,” “network,” or “epistemic community,” there’s some sort of community of NGOs, policy experts, scholars, etc. that has coalesced around this central issue of international or transitional justice. But we’re not all on the same page and the fissures are cross-cutting.

Of course, the likes of Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) fall more in the principles camp. See HRW’s Selling Justice Short report, which counters arguments that justice has negative consequences for peace. Also, see the ICTJ’s recent short video on “Peace vs. Justice: A False Dilemma” (and my response to it here).

But we can’t ignore local level advocacy. Take civil society actors in Northern Uganda and Kenya. In Uganda, local religious organizations and human rights advocates have been highly skeptical of the ICC as it arguably has entrenched conflict by removing incentives for the LRA to negotiate. In contrast, Kenya’s strong civil society has been actively supporting the ICC and has pressured both the Court and national political elites for trials of the “Ocampo Six,” arguing that without such trials violence could resume around the next presidential election.

The United Nations, the central policy and negotiating forum for international justice, discursively promotes that peace and justice are mutually reinforcing, but in practice (and thanks to Security Council politics) takes an ad hoc and selective approach that belies any consistent commitment to principles or consequences.

In terms of scholarship, the principles vs. consequences dichotomy has mirrored the justice vs. peace dichotomy and overlaps with arguments about deterrence effects. For example, the scholarship of Jack Snyder and Leslie Vinjamuri (see here and here) is illustrative of the consequentialist side, and the work of Kathryn Sikkink and others who argue there is a “justice cascade”(see here, here, and here) is illustrative of the principles side. The few that make the case that international justice can deter, such as Payam Akahvan, do so arguing that if we commit to justice in principle it will have the desired consequences of preventing and ending conflict. But certainly these and other international justice scholars have shown empirical evidence that actors pursue, or not pursue, justice for both principled and consequentialist reasons.

Second, the potential negative consequences that advocates should confront need not be conflated with instability writ large. The when, where, and how of international justice can have a variety of perverse and unintended consequences. For example, international trials can displace or delegitimize local judicial processes and actors, reinforce collective guilt and innocence (if both sides are not held accountable), forestall reconciliation (if low-level perpetrators are not held accountable), and reinforce perceptions of judicial colonialism.

So we’re not one big happy principled family.

(cross-posted at Global Transitional Justice)

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China’s Challenges


There has been no shortage of focus on America’s budget stress and the apparent relative decline of American political and economic influence around the world amid the rise of China. But, as several folks have recently noted, China itself faces a set of significant challenges.

I just returned from a week in China where I attended a working conference for a project on China in the World at Shanghai University of Finance and Economics. The conference looked broadly at China’s rise with several scholars focusing on the internal challenges and contradictions of Chinese society and its economic and political development. Here are just a couple of highlights:

1. China will soon face an enormous aging demographic (and labor) crisis. Professor Yu Hong presented her research on demographic trends and the challenges of aging population. In 1990, 10% of China’s population was over the age of sixty. Today it is 18% and by 2050 it will be nearly 30% — that’s almost 500 million people. With the combined effects of massive rural to urban migration and the one-child policy, the family-based and informal community-based social security networks have weakened substantially. This will put enormous budgetary strain on the economy as it tries to develop and implement a formal public social security system. We’ve never seen an economy deal such a massive aging population. The government is currently struggling to cope with the challenges of pension reform and pension fund management practice. In many ways, America’s challenges with the future of Social Security pale in comparison to what China faces in the coming decades.

2. In less than a generation China moved somewhere between 350 and 500 million people out of poverty and into a middle class lifestyle. An astonishing feat — and one that has no historic precedent. Yet today, those middle class families struggle with three major household budgetary challenges — affordable housing, school tuition, and health care. Housing is become particularly acute. Professor Li Qiang presented his research on housing reform and privatization since 1978 and the current state of housing challenges. Prices have skyrocketed in the past decade — especially since 1998 when the government suspended its subsidization of China’s housing stock and stopped direct provision of housing opting instead to offer cash subsidies to workers to find private sector housing. This has led to rising inequality in housing consumption as well as a new homeless population. Furthermore, while the financial industry is largely protected because of strict regulations and high downpayment requriements (a problem that ironically exacerbates the challenges to reduce domestic savings rates and jump start domestic consumption among young males), the housing prices — especially in urban cities — are at all-time speculative highs and many analysts now anticipate major price corrections that could well send significant shock waves through the economy.

3. Although China’s domestic industry has grown more competitive throughout the world, there is some question about the degree and magnitude of technology upgrades in its domestic industries — a key requirement for future development and growth. Professor Shu Keng and Dong Jing presented two separate papers on government-supported sector wide technology upgrades initiatives. Shu found that local government policies often disrupt technology upgrades, and in fact, in the local communities he investigated, many of the policies have been counterproductive by spawning a wave of geographical transfer of industry rather than technology upgrades. Dong found that, within Shanghai, targeted government subsidies have produced a significant levels of firm-level technological upgrades. The question we were left with was whose results are the norm and whose are the outlier.

China is an enormously complex place and the contradictions of its growth and development are present everywhere. I was struck by it most evidently traveling between Shanghai and Hangzhou last week. There is a brand new modern super highway with manicured hedges along the entire 150 mile-long median that runs parallel to the overhead bullet train that races along above 150 miles/hour. Yet, right below the train and alongside the highway, small landowners harvested wheat using 1,000 year old farming techniques — harvesting and bundling by hand and then burning off the fields. The thousands of open field fires spewed massive dense smoke along the entire 150 miles and limited visibility to below a quarter of a mile for most of the trip.

These findings and impressions build on a central theme of a volume I co-edited two years ago with Eva Paus and Penny Prime, both economists, titled Global Giant: Is China Changing the Rules of the Game? Several of the contributors of that volume — Cheng Li, Iain Johnston and Sheena Chestnut, Susan Shirk, and Kelly Sims Gallagher all questioned the degree and pace of China’s rise by identifying a wide range of internal challenges and trends on demographic stress, environmental degradation, resource scarcity, social mobilization (and dislocation), and political stagnation and generational transition. It is clear that China’s rise is not linear nor will it occur without setbacks.

For us IR scholars, we tend to focus on the data points that suggest American decline — the US budget deficit, its military over-commitments, and the dysfunctional national politics and such. Yet, if we look closer at the internal issues within China, despite its impressive levels of economic growth over the past two decades, it’s not at all clear that we are on the verge of some kind of global power transition — at least not any time soon.

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