Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"Balance of power" 

There is a fair amount to digest in President Obama's speech to the United Nations General Assembly today, but one passage struck me as particularly puzzling:
"In an era when our destiny is shared, power is no longer a zero-sum game. No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation. No world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will succeed. No balance of power among nations will hold. The traditional divisions between nations of the South and the North make no sense in an interconnected world; nor do alignments of nations rooted in the cleavages of a long-gone Cold War."
(Emphasis added)

I think I understand what he is trying to convey in this part of his speech -- essentially the Rodney King plea or query, "Why can't we all just get along?" -- but isn't the statement about balance of power to the U.N. the equivalent of giving a talk to a group of astrophysicists and saying, "So, this whole concept of the force of gravitation and gravitational pull, we really have to reconsider whether it exists and whether it is necessary for our models going forward."

I suppose an alternative interpretation of what that line was trying to communicate is a more literal one -- that balances of power inevitably change and shift, which is true enough. However, it seems clear from the context of that paragraph and the paragraphs around it that President Obama is making a long-shot attempt and asking to overturn the patterns of thousands of years of human history as it pertains to how nation-states interact with each other. By all means, let's not use force unless it is necessary and chances for reasonable dialogue seem fruitless, or the world is dealing with an unrelenting expansionist totalitarian force, but maintaining a balance of power is usually a way to avoid violence.

UPDATE: The 'Stache concludes that the Rodney King-ism interpretation seems correct.


By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Wed Sep 23, 06:09:00 PM:

He just announced, voluntarily and in a world forum in front of representatives of every consequential state, that he has neither the understanding nor the balls to play in the international arena.

Warning: International Relations Theory Section ahead.

The key characteristic of international liberalism is that it is based on cooperation. It works fine, so long as everyone agrees with you. But if ONE major power plays by the classic, historical, realist, zero sum rules, (based on hostile competition) the liberal model is upended and can no longer apply; suddenly, there is hostile competition, not cooperation. In such a situation, the party which gets away with breaking the rules has an advantage.

This may not matter in hegemonic system, (i.e. now, where the US dominates everything) because the rogue element cannot challenge the hegemon. But if you remove the hegemon from dominance of the system, suddenly this rogue power has relatively more power and influence and other powers can no longer free ride on the hegemon's provision of security. Suddenly, they have to compete. And to compete effectively, they have to play by the old rules of hostile competition. Ergo, 'balance of power' politics.

I've argued to friends that this Presidency and its policies are driving the US down from its hegemonic status, the necessary condition for a new multi-polarity. It's entirely possible (though not sure, esp. given the possibility of a 180 degree political reversal in the next few years) that we will look back at this period in a generation or so and see this as the peak and decline of American power, not least because we're bankrupting ourselves on ridiculous frivolities.

The last two great multi-polar systems (the Concert of Europe and the League of Nations inter-war period) led to World Wars I and II, respectively. The previous (European) one before that ended with the Napoleonic Wars, and included numerous smaller wars. (including 7 Year's War, War of the Spanish Succession, et cetera)

Surely, the next multi-polar system will have some similar catastrophe (because they always do) and the hundreds of thousands of dying solders felled by that war will have no idea that they should be cursing, with their dying breaths, Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama.  

By Blogger Kinuachdrach, at Wed Sep 23, 07:03:00 PM:

There is a simpler explanation. Barrack Hussein was using the UN confabulation to audition for the soon-to-be-created job of President of the European Union. (All the Eurocrats have to do is squeeze past some silly Irish voters, and the position will be open for bids).

Why not Barrack? The EU has more people than the US, and a bigger GDP since Barrack drove the dollar down. Ol' Barry is more popular in Europe than in the US. His slow stilted manner of reading off the TelePrompter will be much appreciated by listeners whose first language is not English. And since he would be the First President of Europe, everything he did would be "historic". Obama would be right up there with that Washington chappie.

As for the US, we would have President Joe Biden. The more time goes by, the better that sounds.  

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