International Relations


The Industrial-era nation-states were a marriage of convenience. The central government took too much power from local states. It’s distant and unresponsive yet it gobbles up money and runs up an unsustainable debt. So why not break-up? In today’s world with free trade and currency unions, why bother with the central state anymore? Power is shifting back to the regional communities.

Even in Europe, the nation-state is facing breakup.
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Empires have been the most historically stable form of government. The purpose of historical empires was to create and secure an economic zone.

Empires were not about the acquisition of land, much less looting. It just extended a unified political and legal system over new territory and provided the means to defend it against criminal and foreign predatation. Societies need an economy of scale and specialization needed to create a complex economy.
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I want to make a conjecture about international relations. This is a work-in-progress model that combines two theories – Complex Adaptive Systems and Self-Organizing Criticality to explain power law distributions of major events and social structures.

These two theories may describe the non-linear dynamic systems in human relations. Men self-organize into scale-free networks to gain resources and meet their needs. Humans and the environment interact in such a way that major events are phase transitions which follow power law distributions. The phase transition happens when a socio-economic change reaches a critical point and cause an avalanche in the “sandpile.”

If so, this could be a theory of history. If not, I’ll try again…
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Ian Bremmer has a good article about the limited prospects for Russian-Chinese cooperation.

The Great Powers are looking at Central Asia and the Pacific as the economic center of gravity. There are new exploratory alliances starting – The Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Quad Initiative. Basically, the Quad controls the Pacific and the SCO controls Central Asia. Yet this has not hardened into a bipolar rivalry like the old NATO-Warsaw Pact standoff.

Both alliances have common interests in protecting trade and suppressing Islamist insurgencies throughout the region. Over the long term, there are more potential conflicts. The Russians and Chinese may not be able to continue cooperation for much longer.

There is also considerable interaction between the states. China wants to trade very little with Russia – most of Chinese trade is going to the US, EU, and India. Likewise, India maintains ties with everyone and it buys cheap Russian military equipment. Economic interdependence doesn’t ensure peace but it helps keep tension in perspective.

This is a brief conceptual model of “Long Wars” as socio-economic phase-transitions. I’ll draw an analogy with sandpiles. The wars are the avalanches on the slopes of the sandpile.

Wars like the Peloponnesian War and World War I elude easy explanation. Thucydides tried to explain it, but the local causes seem insignificant to the scale of the multi-decade long wars.

Instead, the wars are caused by a large number of small events because of changing economies and political ideas.
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This is just a thought. Congress is the most imperial branch of government in the US. They represent a domestic constituency who holds them accountable for domestic policies. In international relations, they are not held accountable by their constituency nor do they engage in any form of diplomacy.
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The WTO keeps coming under criticism for not doing anything about labor and environmental practices. I want to challenge that assumption.

The WTO manages trade between states, not the domestic production and laws of states. Activism should be directed at individual states to change their domestic laws and regulations,
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The US-India-Japan-Australia-Singapore Navies just concluded a joint-naval training exercise called “Malabar.”

The world’s economic center of gravity is shifting from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Development in East Asia has made the region more geopolitically significant than Europe and Russia. The “Quadrilateral Initiative” is the transformative Pacific Alliance that is already surpassing NATO in relevance.

America’s economic and political future depends on how well it manages this new world. The US has created a four-way alliance with India, Japan, Australia and it also expanded its alliance with the smaller ASEAN states. These are the most important allies for the US in today’s world.
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Network commonwealths may become a powerful and viable alternative to transnationalism. James C. Bennett argues that the Anglosphere is one such network. The Anglosphere is the set of English-Speaking, common-law countries with shared cultural norms.

Anglosphere Primer I, Primer II, Primer III
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It’s been a while since Francis Fukuyama declared an end to history. His thesis was simple: Liberal Democracy triumphed in the Long War over all possible alternatives. Just a decade after that victory, I think the idea that political evolution came to an end is discredited.

Islamism is not a potent enough force to tear down Liberal Democracy. The challenges arise elsewhere, like the authoritarian capitalism of East Asia and Russia. In Europe, John Fonte describes the rise of “Transnational Progressivism” (pdf) (shorter version here).

Transnationalism is a merger of classic socialism with international legalism, both of which are failed ideologies on their own. Transnationalism as an ideology is spreading and evolving in Europe to challenge the legitimacy of classical Liberalism.
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President Kennedy’s famous order of preferences:

“There are three possibilities in descending order of preference, a decent democratic regime, a continuation of the Trujillo regime or a Castro regime. We ought to aim at the first, but we really can’t renounce the second until we are sure that we can avoid the third.”

Take a moment and lay out rational choices available to you. What seems like a desirable move at first may turn out to be a disaster. Other actors are also behaving rationally and sometimes not so rationally. You have to take into account their responses. Play the ‘game’ out as many moves ahead of time to see how it may play out. Then take your first move. Like Kennedy, you’ll find out that the Trujillo Regime option is the most feasible and desirable given your constrained options.
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Ralph Peters describes seven signs that states will be losers:

  • Restrictions on the free flow of information.
  • The subjugation of women.
  • Inability to accept responsibility for individual or collective failure.
  • The extended family or clan as the basic unit of social organization.
  • Domination by a restrictive religion.
  • A low valuation of education.
  • Low prestige assigned to work.

He also describes the “New Warrior Class” and how it differs from the soldier class.

Putin appoints Russia’s provincial governors and now he doesn’t want to be bothered with a Parliament. So he dissolved it for now. This is because of “a desire to give the president full freedom in making decisions.” Yes, clearly.

Do they know what they call a President with full freedom in making decisions?

International law is a pragmatic tool and a junior partner of diplomacy. George Kennan, in the 1950s, slammed the growing glorification of international legalism as one of the greatest mistakes in international relations. Legalism is based on idealist philosophies and ignores the empirical effects of these so-called laws.

I’ve discussed why diplomacy is more important before in Conflicts of Interest and laws pragmatic utility in regulating customary cooperation.

When international law becomes an idealistic venture to reshape the behavior of nation-states, imposes static moral values onto an anarchic world that is contantly changing. This encourages revolutionary earthquakes to overturn the world order.
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Or at least they promise to. They promise they will dismantle their nuclear program by the end of 2007. Seems like a lot of effort to extort more food and oil, but it worked.

I mentioned before than any progress comes from
Chinese pressure. The multilateral talks were necessary to leverage power over North Korea through China.

International law is less useful when there is a conflict of interest or it needs to solve a collective-action cooperation problem. In those cases, diplomacy is more important.

A Distribution Problem is where states do not agree on how resources are allocated. States manage scarce resources with alternative uses. Power resolves this issue, not law. To the extent that law is created, it is made by the powerful state to permanently impose its will on the losing state.
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I’ve noticed that “transnationalism” is trying to change the meaning of international law. Whenever I read a debate over law, I realize we are using two different definitions. I see the laws as a man-made construct that is non-binding and has no moral value.

International Law functions best when it resolves coordination problems, but is usually fails to resolve conflicts of interests. This is why the Laws of Transaction work better than the Laws of War. Laws help cooperation in special cases but are too inflexible to handle conflicts, where diplomacy is more useful.
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Heartland has a list of good geopolitical maps.

For example: Jihadi Bases, World Energy Flows, Iran’s strategic provinces, A possible Iran War, and many more.
Here’s one that makes an important point: Iraq Sunnis control the oil pipelines and energy flows in Iraq. The oil and gas fields are in the Kurdish and Shia portions of Iraq, but the flow passes through Sunni dominated territory.

The WTO ruled that the US ban on internet gambling violated the rights of Antigua.

Congress passed a stupid law to ban online gambling, which includes gambling sites run from the small island state of Antigua. Antigua responded that this law violated its rights as a member of the WTO.
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International law has significant limitations. It’s “laws” are non-binding and unenforced. Most states use law as a framework to normalize diplomatic behavior.

Rulings from the GATT and the WTO adjudication courts are not obeyed the majority of the time. These international arbitration courts rule on trade disputes, which is supposed to be one of the more established and respected international legal branches.
In Adjudication without Enforcement Eric Reinhardt gathered empirical evidence in an attempt to solve the “puzzle” in GATT.
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