April 20, 2011

In Defense of Cluster Munitions, Part II

Richard K. Betts, writing in the National Interest:

Ikenberry faults Bush for rejecting the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the “Germ Weapons Ban” (Ikenberry must mean the compliance protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention, not the treaty itself, which Washington ratified in the 1970s). Yet although Clinton signed the ICC treaty, he immediately thought worse of it and recommended against ratification. Clinton also refused to sign the Mine Ban Treaty, a favorite of global-governance enthusiasts—although not because, as Ikenberry suggests, “unipolarity leads to demands by the lead state to be treated differently.” Rather, it is because states with serious national-security policies keep the military capabilities they believe they need. The land-mine treaty is a perfect example of an institution that looks strong on the surface, but weaker in substance. It is a perfect example too of how governments pick and choose which rules they want to accept (and reject) in the vaunted rule-based international system. Indeed, the treaty includes more than 120 signatories. But most of this membership consists of countries without pressing military concerns. The smaller number of states that have not participated are ones that do have such concerns (various vulnerable actors like Pakistan, Iran, Israel, Vietnam, Georgia, Cuba and the two Koreas) and most major powers (China, Russia and India as well as the United States). The nonsignatories represent the most important countries, and more than half the population of the world.


Ikenberry compliments Obama for returning to norms of liberal order after the Bush defection, yet the difference for national-security policy is far from dramatic. Obama too rejected all the accords just mentioned.

Obviously enough, what Betts writes here pertains to the somewhat controversial post that kicked off the week. But you should read the entire review essay, because Betts makes a number of other good points and raises many other questions in what is a courteous if brutal review of John Ikenberry's Liberal Leviathan. Among the criticisms of the book advanced by Betts, I find it interesting how even some of the most internationally minded Americans more or less assume U.S. interests to be the same as the interests of the world at large. (This leads to all kinds of problems, you might have read, in third-party military interventions where we assume our interests match up with those of the host nation.)


Speaking of the National Interest, the staff there have really outdone themselves in putting together a marvelous May-June issue. As my followers on Twitter are aware, I spent last night and much of this morning reading and digesting some of the essays, including Jacob Heilbrunn's essay on Samantha Power and liberal internationalism. Heilbrunn chastises Power for "dramatizing history through people rather than considering broader forces," and ironically, I think he might be guilty of doing the same here in choosing to focus so exclusively on the words and texts of Power in the context of our military intervention in Libya. But he deserves much credit for taking exception to the content of an individual's arguments without ever resorting to argumentum ad hominem, and his broader criticism of humanitarian intervention is a good one.

Elsewhere in the National Interest is an essay by Eugene Rogan, author of The Arabs: A History, on the revolutions of 2011. Rogan focuses on the region-wide variables that have led to uprisings, so his essay should be read in tandem with Lisa Anderson's brief essay in the new Foreign Affairs parsing the differences between what has thus far transpired in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. (In light of yesterday's discussion of quantitative methods in conflict analysis, by the way, Anderson remains a living, breathing advertisement for the continued value of area studies in political science: how many other scholars out there have such deep knowledge of not just Libya, Tunisia or Egypt but all three countries?)