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.


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.

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…

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.

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.

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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