The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Friday Nerdism, A Day Early

June 23, 2011

Charli Carpenter has thrown down the gauntlet.  She has pondered (on facebook) whether/why IR folks have not been blogging about Game of Thrones.  Why?  Because we are tired.  Every episode is such great TV that we are left in awe.  Our brains are so focused on getting the names straight, understanding the dynamics within each family and between them, that we no brainpower left to use.

Spoilers lurk below:

Ok, that was an excuse.  The real reason is that I have not read the books yet, so my spelling of all of the names would suck.  But, let me use some simple IR theory to predict the next season’s key patterns (note that I am completely ignorant of what will happen since, again, I have not read the books).

First, we ought to see some balance of power dynamics with the various contenders shifting alliances.  We now have multiple contenders for throne: the Winterfell folks led by Robb, whatever forces Dany can bring together with her cute dragons, the two different brothers of the dead king, the Lannisters (easy to spot with their blond hair–and Charli is, suspiciously blond), and who else?  So, we might see King Robb ultimately bargain with Dany to join forces against the Lannisters, with Robb seeking a promise of allowing the north to secede.  If Dany is a rational actor, seeking to maximize her chances of successfully taking the throne, then she might go for this.  Of course, each side will face the problem of credible commitment as alliance partners often betray each other.  Once Dany wins (if she does), she could easily renege and refuse to recognize Winterfell’s independence.  It would not be the first time that a secessionist movement is betrayed.  (More on the IR of ethnic conflict applied down the road).

Second, there are other actors out there that might become greater threats.  Dany soon, yes, but then the walkers.  The Wall and the Rangers may not be enough to contain them.  Could perhaps an alliance be formed among the various forces when the Zombie threat becomes too great?  Drezner raises this possibility but presents too many theories for us to be certain.

Third, does democratic peace apply at all?  None of the actors has anything close to democracy (unless the Walkers have a representative political system, which I doubt).  But clearly Robb’s forces have willingly given consent to his leadership.  He originally compelled them via obligation, but now they have chosen (too much mead?) to give support to his secessionist effort.  So, if we focus on normative democratic peace arguments (as opposed to those focusing on structures or transparency), we might see what?  Well, given the absence of pseudo-democratic partners, um, never mind?

Fourth, first level analyses that focus on cognition and decision-making may be most appropriate because we have several actors that seem to be relatively unconstrained by institutions and norms.  Dany has only her dragons and a small coterie of ex-slaves and fallen horse folks, and she is in an alien world.  She does not know enough about the dragon past to have any clear set of normative restrictions and the identity is still pretty weak (what is implied by been a Dragon Queen in terms of adversaries, appropriate behavior and such?), so it is likely that her emotions (revenge for the assassination attempt) will drive her on.   Ned, late Ned, was imprisoned by his worldview.  The boy king is too young and too spoiled to buy into what is appropriate (no intersubjective identities and norms constraining him), demonstrated by rubbing his future consort’s face in the death of her father.  I am not sure that the Hand (Tyrian) will be able to restrain him, but, then again, the boy can be easily manipulated, right?

I will, for the moment, not apply constructivism since my previous musings at the Duck have proven that I am lousy constructivist.  I will say that identities matter. much in all of this  “A Lannister pays his debts.”  Ned and his honor.  That the ties of kinship bind the alliances thus far.  As I would expect.  But identities can be complex, containing multiple threads.  Will conflicting imperatives arise from a complex set of identities? Thus far, the only characters I can think of who fit this are Jon Snow (a semi-Stark and a Ranger) and Sansa (a Stark and soon to be married into the Lannisters).  Who else?  Oh, the bastard of the old King?  Hmmm.

As I have to catch upon on Obama’s Decision (almost as significant as Lebron’s), that is all for now, but please suggest to me alternative ways to apply IR theory.

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Steve Saideman is Professor and the Paterson Chair in International Affairs at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. He has written The Ties That Divide: Ethnic Politics, Foreign Policy and International Conflict; For Kin or Country: Xenophobia, Nationalism and War (with R. William Ayres); and NATO in Afghanistan: Fighting Together, Fighting Alone (with David Auerswald), and elsewhere on nationalism, ethnic conflict, civil war, and civil-military relations.