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Kenneth Waltz

[ 4 ] May 16, 2013 |

At the Diplomat I post my thoughts on the legacy of Kenneth Waltz:

On Sunday evening, Dr. Kenneth Waltz passed away at the age of 88. Waltz is best known for his books Man, the State, and War and Theory of International Politics. The first book set the terms on which researchers would approach the study of international relations, dividing theories between first image (individuals and human nature), second image (regime type, such as communist or democratic), and third image (systemic effects). Waltz himself preferred the third; Theory of International Politics formed the basis of Waltz’ answer to what he believed was the most important question of international relations: “Why do balances recur?” His answer: states in anarchy, whether communist, capitalist, or monarchist, sought security, and most readily found that security through balancing behavior.

Waltz hardly believed that states and individuals didn’t matter, as he regularly engaged in policy recommendation. Rather, he believed that systemic factors, largely beyond the reach of states and statesmen, explained the most important international phenomena. In part because of his belief in the robustness of balancing tendencies, Waltz had little patience with what he regarded as unnecessary military interventions. The United States would not lose the Cold War because it lost Vietnam; rather, we would expect that other states in the neighborhood would balance against Soviet, Chinese and Vietnamese power, and even that the three communist states would balance against one another. The developing relationship between Washington and Hanoi, based on concerns about China, vindicates this belief. Similarly, Waltz warned against America’s pointless war in Iraq.

Foreign Entanglements: Efrain Rios Montt

[ 11 ] May 15, 2013 |

On this week’s episode of Foreign Entanglements, long-time friend of the blog Colin Snider and I talk about the conviction of Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt:

See also Corey Robin’s review of “The Last Colonial Massacre.”

“Will Now Be Forever Linked with Militant Treason…”

[ 55 ] May 14, 2013 |

On the nose…

America’s leading Islamic organization took to the airwaves today in outrage after a local news station confirmed rumors that the deceased Boston Marathon bomber had accidentally been interred in a Confederate military cemetery…

As part of the error, Private Jesse Wilson of the 27 Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment is now buried in Tsarnaev’s grave at Al-Barzakh cemetary, oriented southeast towards Mecca. Though annoyed, his descendants also said they were willing to leave him where he is. “As long he’s not facing north, we’re fine,” said great-great grandson John Wilson.

Reactions by Tsarnaev’s family were equally indignant. “We don’t see why Tamerlan should have to be buried with these men,” a family spokesman complained. “He did something very stupid, but because of his burial location the Tsarnaev name will now be forever linked with militant treason,” he said.

In a related story, the United Daughters of the Confederacy has put out a press release welcoming Tsarnaev as “another fine outstanding young man who fought the tyranny of the federal government.”

RIP Kenneth Waltz

[ 4 ] May 13, 2013 |

It is with great sadness that I note that Kenneth Waltz, author of Man, the State, and War and Theory of International Politics, has passed away. Waltz’ importance to the discipline of international relations is immeasurable; MSW and TIP helped establish the frameworks under which political scientists would study IR for nearly four decades, even for those who bitterly disagreed with his perspective. Even now, Waltz’ work remains a crucial touchstone. While I never met Waltz, his work had an enormous amount of influence on how I think about international relations.

Rest in peace.

LGM Podcast: Canadian Security and Defence [sic] Policy

[ 9 ] May 12, 2013 |

A couple days ago I sat down with Dr. Paul Mitchell of the Canadian Forces College to talk Canadian military and procurement policy. We went on a bit about general issues of Canadian strategy, followed that up with a long discussion of Canada’s relationship to the F-35 project, moved on to a discussion of the future of naval aviation, and concluded with a few words about Canadian perspectives on the “Pacific Pivot.”

All images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Here’s a link to the .mp3 version of this podcast.

Saturday Night Linky

[ 1 ] May 11, 2013 |

Another week slips into memory…


[ 52 ] May 10, 2013 |

Josh Keating and Edmund Hugh ask some intriguing questions about national depopulation:

But Hugh’s question is an interesting one to consider. I suspect that even in the bleakest, Children of Men-style population scenarios, most countries would fight to the bitter end before surrendering their sovereignty. The exception might be places like Ukraine that have a relatively recent experience as part of a larger geopolitical entity and a large ethnic population with ties to a neighboring country.

A country couldn’t be liquidated quite as neatly as a company — even if the state goes away, there’s still a chunk of land and some people living on it to deal with. The main obstacle to countries being “dissolved” may be that other countries may not want to take on the responsibility of dealing with them — what country really wants to take on a new sparsely populated, economically stagnant region?

States can survive with remarkably low population densities, especially with modern transportation and communications technology. However, social institutions designed around the concept of stable or increasing populations got troubles. A relatively free immigration/emigration regime can resolve these issues for some countries while at the same time exacerbating them for others.

There are certainly upsides to living in a continent-spanning state. The prairie and the rust belt can depopulate themselves (although some of the aforementioned institutional problems crop up) without fundamentally unsettling the social contract.

Let’s Emote, and See What Happens

[ 2 ] May 9, 2013 |

For this week’s Diplomat column I delve into (gasp!) actual political science:

But what if even the leaders of states don’t know how they’ll react to certain events? A recent International Organization article by Jonathan Mercer investigated the role of emotion in decision-making. Although the theory is somewhat complicated, the argument boils down to the idea that we use our own emotional reactions to events as evidence of our interests and preferences. A classic experiment along these lines involves a coin flip, with heads deciding one course of action and tails the other. By flipping a coin, you determine whether you’re happy or sad about the outcome; accordingly, you know which path you really prefer.

Mercer argues that the leadership of the United States sent costly signals of disinterest in the fate of South Korea, withdrawing all forces and de-emphasizing the possibility of intervention in case of a North Korean attack in 1950. When the attack came, however, U.S. leaders had an unexpected emotional reaction of alarm, which led to concern about how the rest of the world would interpret inaction.  As Mercer points out, U.S. policymakers used their own sense of shock and alarm as evidence that the world would see the United States as weak.  Consequently, the United States intervened in contravention of its own expectations.

Disclosure: Mercer was my dissertation advisor at UW. It’s interesting work, and I recommend reading the full article.

Some Furious Revisions Coming in the Next Couple of Days…

[ 54 ] May 8, 2013 |

Well, now I’m well and truly fucked.  Thank you, Anton Scalia.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a shocking decision, declared the U.S. Air Force unconstitutional earlier today.

In a 5-4 decision, the high court mandated a complete redistribution of personnel, equipment, and funds, “in a more constitutionally permissible manner….”

The majority, led by Justice Antonin Scalia, reasoned: “This question is very simple. We must look to the text of the Constitution. That text is clear by its absence. The Constitution, despite establishing the Army and Naval Forces, says absolutely nothing about the Air Force. Our inquiry must end there.”

In a concurring opinion, Justice Kennedy elaborated, “the constitution is remarkably silent about any militarized air units. And it is not as if the drafters of the Constitution were unaware of flight. Lighter than air and dirigible technology were around at the time the constitution was written. If the founders knew about these things and did not enumerate Congress with the power to create an Air Force, we must assume that this is a power retained by the States as per the 10th Amendment.”

Seapower History Bleg

[ 19 ] May 6, 2013 |

Does anyone know of any good work on competition/conflict between the Army and the Navy in either the Civil War or the Spanish-American War? Most of the extant work on inter-service conflict treats it as a 20th century phenomenon, generated by the expansion of warfare into the third dimension, but it seems likely to me there were instances of conflict in prior wars. Would appreciate any suggestions in comments.

Monday Linkage

[ 25 ] May 6, 2013 |

To start your week:


Star Wars Didn’t Matter

[ 50 ] May 5, 2013 |

Given the coincidence of “May the Fourth be With You,” and the season finale of The Americans, this is worth a look:

The archival documents also help dispel the notion that the Star Wars program pushed the Soviet Union closer to the brink of an economic collapse. No one would argue that the Soviet economy was in good shape, and military spending was one of the factors dragging it down. But the cost of the arms race was very far down the Soviet leadership’s list of concerns at the time of the Reykjavik summit. Rather, it was the danger of a continuing nuclear buildup that motivated Gorbachev and his advisers to seek negotiated weapons reductions. While the Soviet Union did have a plan to respond to SDI with a similar program of its own, the documents show that work on that plan wound down long before the Soviet leaders came to appreciate the expense associated with missile defense.

US missile defense was never really an effective economic stressor on the Soviets — according to their estimates, technical counter-measures to defeat missile defenses would have cost no more than five percent of their SDI-like program. With these estimates in hand by the summer of 1987, the Soviet leadership felt confident that it could drop its opposition to Star Wars and go ahead with treaty negotiations and later disarmament talks. Although SDI remained a contentious political issue for many more years, the documents show that the Soviets did not believe it posed a danger to their nuclear forces, even after significant reductions in their arsenal.

Finally, the Soviet documents very clearly demonstrate the fallacy of the “dissuasion” argument advanced by American missile defense proponents. One of the ideas that emerged from the Star Wars debate and still circulates involves introducing uncertainty into calculations about the potential effectiveness of ballistic missiles. By creating such uncertainty, this argument goes, SDI demonstrated to the Russians that investing in missiles was futile. Instead, Star Wars had exactly the opposite effect. Far from being dissuaded from investing in missiles, the Soviet Union launched a number of projects in the mid-1980s that were designed to build new and better intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that would be able to counter an SDI-like system.

I’m not sure that there’s any defense program in modern history that’s founded more on fantasy and falsehood than BMD. The critical scene in The Americans was perfect:

It is incredible. From the Latin, ‘incredibilis.’ ‘In’ meaning ‘not.’ “Credibili’ meaning … The technology, it’s ‘incredibilis.’ At best, it’s 50 years from being even remotely operational. The whole thing’s a fantasy.

Incidentally, The Americans is so much better than Homeland that it’s no longer useful to compare the two. Noah Emmerich is the real star, playing an FBI agent that plausibly resembles in attitude and mannerism actual, human employees of the FBI.

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