Showing posts with label international relations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label international relations. Show all posts

Wednesday, 13 July 2022

Taking Decolonization Seriously Means Recognising the Moral Agency of Non-Western Political Actors

In the context of the current decolonisation movement it is rather strange that whenever bad things happen in a non-Western country they are still routinely analysed as the moral responsibility of actors in the West - (former) governments, companies, ideologues, consumers, etc.  For example,

  1. War: If a Western country is involved in a war (or an ally - as in the case of Saudi Arabia in Yemen) then they are routinely assigned the entire responsibility for that war, including for all the terrible things done by those they are fighting.
  2. Illiberalism: Government oppression of religious and sexual minorities, political opposition, free press, and so on is routinely attributed to 'colonial era laws' or continuing Western ideological influence. 
  3. Misgovernance: Government dysfunction and corruption are routinely blamed on Western consumers/companies' demand for natural resources; terrible environmental and labour regulations (or enforcement) are likewise blamed on Western demand for cheaper products 
This way of looking at the world is unfounded, patronising and unhelpful. It betrays a pernicious asymmetry in the recognition of moral agency between Western and non-Western actors. Western actors are assumed to have the power to make decisions that matter and to bear moral responsibility for their choices. Non-western actors are not. Although many of those who are so ready to blame Western actors may think they are opposing 'colonisation', this asymmetry actually continues rather than repudiates the patronising moral hierarchy that characterised the West's unfortunate colonial history.

In reality non-Western political actors make important decisions all the time that affect many people's lives, and these are not merely overdetermined reactions to external forces but actions initiated by them for their own reasons. There is no good reason why they should not be held as morally accountable for their choices as they would be if they were making such decisions in a Western country. 

Monday, 18 April 2022

Why Governments Failed the Challenge of Covid and Capitalism Succeeded

Capitalism has had a good Covid. While governments of every political hue seem to stumble from one crisis to the next, for profit corporations stepped up to deliver our food and consumer goods to our doors, reroute disrupted supply chains, manufacture huge amounts of PPE, and develop multiple safe and effective vaccines in record time. I put this triumph of capitalism over statecraft down to two factors in particular. 

  1. Corporations are better at globalisation than national governments 
  2. Political incentives are less well aligned with the public interest than those for corporations

Saturday, 12 March 2022

There Is No Such Thing As Countries

As any map will show you, the world is divided by political borders into spaces called countries. People and things can live in, come from, or go to these places.

But countries are not any more than that.

Firstly and most obviously, countries are merely a social construction. They are collectively produced fictions (like money, or religions) rather than mind-independent objects (like stones). Being fictional does not mean that countries do not matter, but it does mean that they only exist so long as enough people agree to act as if they do.

Secondly and more significantly, countries are places not agents. Places on a map cannot have interests or goals or take actions to achieve them. To think otherwise is to confuse the properties of one kind of thing with another. This category error infects not only general talk, but also much otherwise careful journalism and even academic analysis. For example, the influential Realist school of international relations is founded on the axiom that countries do (or ought to) act only in their national interest. This trades on two category errors: that countries (rather than governments) can act and that they have interests. The result is confusing and unfalsifiable nonsense about buffer zones, access to resources and so forth that is about as helpful for understanding, predicting, and managing conflicts as an astrological map.

Sunday, 20 February 2022

Invading Ukraine Can Only Be Bad For Russia

If Russia invades Ukraine this will be very bad for Ukraine. This has led many commentators to assume that invading Ukraine would be a great victory for Russia and a great defeat for the US and its allies. Actually the opposite is true. Ukraine doesn't matter geopolitically, and therefore the suffering of Ukraine also doesn't matter. What Ukraine does represent is a huge military distraction for Russia (as Iraq and Afghanistan were for the US) and a huge advertisement for NATO membership.

Thursday, 19 August 2021

If our governments won’t help refugees, they should let us sponsor them ourselves

Guest post by Brecht Weerheijm

As of 2020, over 80 million people are on the run from war and persecution. Of this group, over 26 million are refugees looking for a safe haven outside of their home country. Most of these are from countries torn by civil war or governed by authoritarians, to whom human lives seem not to matter. The burden of caring for these million falls squarely upon the shoulders of developing nations; 86% of all refugees are hosted by developing countries, with the UN’s 46 least-developed countries taking in more than a quarter of all refugees. Millions are living in inhumane conditions in refugee camps across the globe, in nations that lack resources to take proper care of these refugees. Even if there are means to stay alive in these camps, there is often no access to public services or a path to citizenship. Refugees are neither politically represented nor provided with education, and this status is often inherited by their children and grandchildren.

Wednesday, 18 August 2021

The Moral Case for Guest Worker Programmes

The United Arab Emirates is a small but rich rich country with a million or so citizens and nearly 9 times as many foreign migrants, mostly from poor Asian and Arab countries. In 2019 remittances home from these guest workers amounted to $45 billion (12% of GDP). In comparison, total overseas aid from rich countries in 2019 was $145 billion (an average of 0.3% of donors' national income). 

Another way of putting this is that one small country's entirely self-interested transactional relationship with the poor world is responsible for transferring 30% as much wealth as all the high minded moral principles of the whole world turn out to be worth. The lesson I draw from this astonishing statistic is that anyone who really cares about reducing global poverty should be looking at how to make more countries like the UAE, not vice versa.

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

What Good are Nuclear Weapons to North Korea? Analysing Kim Jong-un

North Korea's development of fission bombs and ICBMs is very worrying. Unfortunately the analysis of it in the news media is woeful. Some commentators assume that North Korea works like a normal country (like their country); some clearly don't understand how war works; some believe the regime's propaganda; some seem unable to think in a straight line at all. Some manage to make all those mistakes at the same time and more. One can only hope that the US, South Korean, and Japanese war ministries have better experts. In the meantime, at least we can throw out the worst nonsense.

Friday, 27 July 2018

Tyrants Aren’t Smarter Than Democrats. Just More Evil

Tyrants like Vladamir Putin and Kim Jong Un seem to win a lot of their geopolitical contests against democratic governments. How do they do it?
A common explanation is that these tyrants are better at playing the game. They are strategic geniuses leading governments with decades of experience in foreign affairs and characterised by single-mindedness and a long-term horizon. Of course they are going to make better geopolitical moves than democratic governments riven by political factionalism and only able to think as far ahead as the next election.
This explanation is wrong. Tyrants don’t succeed because they are especially skilled at the game of geopolitics, but because they are baddies. Tyrants make bold moves because they are willing to subject their country (and the whole world) to more risk. They can do that because they care less than democrats, and hence worry less, about bringing harms to their people. Like a hedge fund manager, they can afford to take big risks because they are not playing with their own money. When tyrants win it is because of luck, not brilliance. This is easier to see when tyrants lose – as they nearly all do in the end, when their luck runs out.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

A Team Approach to Intergenerational Justice

We have difficulty living up to our obligations to future generations. To be precise, our problem is not not that we don’t care about what happens to the world after we're gone. It is that we can’t explain why we should care, and therefore cannot systematically think through and institutionalise the responsibilities implied. That might not matter so much - it hasn't mattered too much before in human history - except that we face at least one big intergenerational problem that just can't be muddled through: Climate Change.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

What Terrorists Want - and How to Stop Them Getting It

After every new atrocity or catchy ISIS video the armchair psychologists and amateur Islamic theologians take to the air. Their low grade psychobabble turns tragic events into compelling TV narrative and brings mainstream attention to political opportunists. But even if it made better sense it would still be irrelevant. All these pundits are focused on the wrong thing: how particular individuals are recruited to terrorist groups and causes.

Terrorism is not a personality type, a psychological illness, a theology, or a goal in itself. Terrorism is a technique, a particular form of warfare that the weak wage against the strong.

If we want to stop terrorism we have to first understand it. That means acknowledging its rationality as a means to an end. The question we should be asking is, what are terrorist acts supposed to achieve and how?

Monday, 4 January 2016

The Brain Gain: Why Smart People Should be Encouraged to Leave Developing Countries

Guest post by Denise Coenegracht

Skilled workers emigrating from developing countries are good for us, but bad for the developing countries At least, according to the received wisdom. When considering the facts, a different picture emerges. One with many economic upsides for the migrant's home country. Meet the brain gain.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Rich countries are not to blame for global warming but they should still pay more to stop it

An unfortunate side effect of the moralisation of global warming is the blame game. A large number of people seem to think it makes sense to address the enormous problem of global warming by putting various rich countries on trial for their crimes against the atmosphere over the past 200 years. This project is a foolish one, a backwards looking side-show that - perhaps conveniently - distracts political attention from the pragmatic policy debates we need for actually addressing the problem (previously). But even if we were to take it seriously it wouldn't give the answers one might expect.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

The Asshole Theory of International Relations: Why some countries are so ghastly and what to do about them

Some countries are assholes. They trample on international norms about human rights, weapons trafficking, maritime borders; sabotage negotiations to end civil wars; bully their weaker neighbours; and so on. They make and break promises repeatedly and shamelessly, and complain with violent indignation if they are challenged for it, all the while declaring their commitment to the highest ideals of international peace and cooperation.

You know the kind of country I'm talking about. The kind that believes in its own moral exceptionalism: Not only does it not feel bound by the ordinary rules; it even demands that other countries acknowledge its moral right to set its interests above their own or the international peace. Russia is an obvious current example. I'm sure you can think of others.