Friday, December 30, 2016

The New Kaiser?

In an argument about monarchy, someone pushed back and pointed at Trump, suggesting that inheritance might be just as good of a way to select leaders as elections in democracies.  A lousy argument, of course, but it came back to me this morning when I saw that Trump's "doctrine" might be "Peace Through Strength." 

Sure, it sounds Reagan-esque except for a few things:
  • Reagan was really only dealing with the Soviet Union in a bipolar world, so confronting the other superpower was not as complicated as confronting many potential adversaries (more on that in a minute).
  • Reagan went from being confrontational to cooperative pretty damned quickly, trying to radically reverse the arms race during a walk in Reykjavik
  • The US might have been in a better position then to run up huge deficits in an arms race.  Now?
The key now is that the US faces multiple adversaries--mostly Russia and China (one could toss in Iran, North Korea, and non-state actors I suppose).  Which means multipolarity--that misperceptions and reactions to reactions can be all so complicated.  Fundamentally, the problem with pushing too hard, being a bully, to engage in the Kaiser's risk theory, is that countries will react.  The fundamentals of IR have not changed--the security dilemma remains operative--that any effort to increase one's security unilaterally threatens others, leading them to react, causing the first player to be less secure.  Being aggressive in such a situation exacerbates the basic tendencies of international relations.  The Kaiser ended up provoking the creation of a coalition against his country and paid an enormous price. 

The US has benefited from a liberal international order based largely on positive reciprocity, which has meant peace among the great powers and prosperity.  Antagonizing those whose help we might need to fight terrorism, to contain North Korea, to sanction Iran or whoever is simply a bad idea.

Oh, and of course, this peace through strength thing seems to run directly counter to the love fest for Putin's Russia, so there's that as well.

Of course, Trump has no education in international relations, and his primary foreign policy advisers seem to be blithely ignorant of the security dilemma and the basic reality that being a bully does not pay in international relations.  General Mattis may try to instruct Trump, but, so far, he has largely been neither seen nor heard as Trump builds his team and enunciates his "grand strategy" which is neither grand nor much of a strategy.

So much for ending 2016 on a happy note.

No comments: