Wednesday, February 21, 2007

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So what do IR specialists think, redux

Two years ago I blogged about a survey of international relations scholars and their attitudes towards IR theory and U.S. foreign policy.

Two years later.... they're back with another survey. You can access the summary at Foreign Policy magazine. [UPDATE: the full report is available here.]

Dan Nexon summarizes many of the significant findings, impugning the reputation of my home institution in the process.

One finding I found particularly interesting:

Contrary to popular belief, international relations scholars are not doves. Most believe that military force is warranted under the right conditions. Unsurprisingly, given the daily reminder of the challenges of going it alone in Iraq, academics favor using force only when backed by the full weight of the international community. If a military confrontation with North Korea or Iran emerges over nuclear weapons, scholars demonstrate an extreme aversion to unilateral American action. If the U.N. Security Council authorizes force, however, approval for action skyrockets.

This support for multilateralism is remarkably stable across ideology. In the cases of both Iran and North Korea, liberals and conservatives agree that U.N.-sanctioned action is preferable. More striking are the attitudes of self-identified realists. Scholars of realism traditionally argue that international institutions such as the United Nations do not (and should not) influence the choices of states on issues of war and peace. But we found realists to be much more supportive of military intervention with a U.N. imprimatur than they are of action without such backing. Among realists, in fact, the gap between support for multilateral and unilateral intervention in North Korea is identical to the gap among scholars of the liberal tradition, whose theories explicitly favor cooperation (emphasis added).

posted by Dan on 02.21.07 at 12:21 AM


Its a silly distinction. You could ask realists if they would be more likely to support an action if Santa agreed to bring the power of the North Pole to bear on the naughty nation in question, and of course the answer would be- sure, that would be an encourging sign.

Neither realists or anyone else are going to turn down free help or any level of moral authority... assuming its available. Thats the sticking point, of course. With the level of self-interest, corruption, short sightedness, and plain Western guilt rampant in the UN, Santa coming to the rescue is about as probable as the nations of the world ever agreeing on military action via the current UN set up.

A realist may embrace the perfect- in theory- but what makes him or her a realist is recognizing that we live in an imperfect world and must acknowledge is realities in a timely fashion.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 02.21.07 at 12:21 AM [permalink]

But Dan, the Tufts PhD is *not* from an academic IR department. There's nothing wrong with that, but it demonstrates that Tufts' sterling policy IR -- like, perhaps, some other institutions I might name -- is driving its position on the PhD list.

I noted the same thing, of course, about that finding. And I think my explanation makes sense; as I wrote: "I don't believe this is because realists have suddenly turned into Wilsonsians; rather, I suspect the data reflects how a broad cross-section of realist scholars have come to the conclusion that international legitimacy greases the wheels of power and makes counterbalancing less likely."

posted by: Daniel Nexon on 02.21.07 at 12:21 AM [permalink]

And, for fun, compare the purely reputational world with the purely "count publications" world:

(That's all political science, not just IR, but it would be mostly the same in each subfield.)

posted by: arthur on 02.21.07 at 12:21 AM [permalink]

To repeat the first post: of course everybody would prefer multilateralism to unilateralism (everybody would prefer to pay for half a war rather than the whole war).

The important question is: what do you prefer: unilataralism or no action? When "academics favor using force only when backed by the full weight of the international community*"- they are giving veto authority over the use of US power to that international community. No surprise that Realists don't like that.
*What do academics mean when they say the 'full weight of the international community'? They obviously don't mean the full weight of the international community-that has never existed in all of human history (absolute consensus from all nations?). Presumably, they really mean 'France'. Another thing no self-respecting Realist could like.


posted by: Sk on 02.21.07 at 12:21 AM [permalink]

Dan, thanks for the link to the survey results.

On the issue of realists being much more supportive of military intervention after the UNSC approves (and just as supportive as liberals), we can think of a variety of reasons why this might be the case. My hunch is that Mark Buehner is correct. Realists see this question and they infer that a UNSC resolution is a proxy for something else (more allies to help fight the war). So, they are not thinking of the "legitimation effect" of the UNSC, they are thinking that a military intervention will be cheaper or more successful. Of course, this is just a guess on my part and on Buehner's part. We have no evidence as to why realists answered this way. One could ask follow-up questions to get at the logic driving particular responses, but we did not. Next time.

Dan Nexon offers an alternative explanation that is also plausible. His answer suggests that you get more with a UNSC resolution than just allies. Approval sends a signal to foreign governments, foreign publics, and domestic publics, that the proposed intervention has the support of a variety of different powerful actors in the system. (Hence the persistent gap in public opinion polls between support for the same hypothetical war with and without a UNSC resolution). If this (or something like it) is going on in the head of realist respondents, then the puzzle is a real one. There is just not a lot of room in the realist ontology for "legitimacy" or "logics of appropriateness." Incidentally, and I know this is not definitive evidence, if you go back and listen to John Mearsheimer's interview on NPR before the Iraq War you will hear him making arguments that sound an awful lot like Dan Nexon and not much at all like Buehner.

For a really coherent and persuasive version of the legitimation argument, read Alex Thompson's work on the UNSC.

I speak only for myself and will let Sue, Dan and Amy offer their own interpretations if they like.


posted by: Mike Tierney on 02.21.07 at 12:21 AM [permalink]

I don't think the Mearsheimer NPR interview tells us very much. Mearsheimer's opposition to the Iraq war was well-grounded in strategic concerns about fighting a war over Iraq with or without the UN. Endorsement of the UN was a low order concern for him and most realists who opposed the war.

I'm most often described as a realist, I participated in the survey, and I distinctly remember answering these questions. So, here's my n=1. I think this finding about realists is, frankly, completely uninteresting. Realists argue that it is difficult for the UN to constrain great powers. Realists argue that we should not expect the UN to have a transformative impact on state interests. But I know of no realist who has argued that UN approval would be a *bad* thing.

All else being equal, sure, I'll take UN approval over no UN approval. It potentially promises burden-sharing, and, heck, it might even make an intervention appear marginally more benevolent. The question is how much does it cost for a country like the US to get this approval. If the US has to agree to pay the UN budget for the next ten years and send Zalmay Khalilzad to pick up the dry cleaning of all the other delegates, then it's probably not worth it. But if it's relatively costless yet may provide some tangible benefits, then, sure, why not? There's nothing there that is inherently contradictory with the major precepts of realism.

posted by: Realist on 02.21.07 at 12:21 AM [permalink]

The questions from the survey was not whether the survey taker would prefer UN support, but:

0066 If North Korea continues to produce material that can be used to develop nuclear weapons, would you support the U.S. taking military action against North Korea?

0067If North Korea continues to produce material that can be used to develop nuclear weapons and the UN Security Council votes to use military force against North Korea, would you support the International Community taking military action against North Korea?

The summary statement is misleading.

Many of the comments by "Realist," including that he or she "know[s] of no realist who has argued that UN approval would be a *bad* thing," are not relevant to the question actually posed.

It appears that Mark Buehner does not know what a Realist is. Hint: it is not someone who acknowledges realities.

In any event my conclusion is the same: I agree that its not surprising that a Realist would support intervention more often in the second scenario. UN backing and an (ill defined) "international community" make a war much less costly in US lives, less risky in outcome, and less likely to benefit any other (potentially adverse) nation at the expense of the US. UN backing also indicates that China supports the idea. This is obviously an important factor in the outcome of such an adventure.

posted by: c&d on 02.21.07 at 12:21 AM [permalink]

Realists not saying what most people would think they'd say? What a shock!

Like when Mearsheimer, Walt, Chaim Kaufman, et. al argued that SURELY Al Qaeda and Iraq would never work together b/c one is fundamentalist and the other is secular. Suddenly ideology matters to realists!

Or when Mearsheimer and Walt suddenly discovered the domestic politics drives foreign policy with the Israel Lobby?

Realism is dangerously close to intellectual bankruptcy. Their default position has become "do nothing" because they haven't had a new idea in nearly 2 decades. So in their quest to avoid any and all conflict and confrontation, they're willing to adopt any argument, no matter how much they would have scoffed at such an argument 30-40 years ago.

posted by: Dan on 02.21.07 at 12:21 AM [permalink]

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