Friday, August 02, 2013

Anarchy and War in South America

Ahsan I. Butt, "Anarchy and Hierarchy in International Relations: Examining South America's War-Prone Decade, 1932-1941." International Organization 67, 3 (July 2013): 575-607.


This article questions the validity of anarchy as an assumption in International Relations theory. Powerful states often provide public goods to smaller states in return for their acquiescence on matters of interest. This transactional provision of public goods is analogous to how central governments behave in domestic environments; thus the hierarchic structure of domestic politics is replicated in international politics. The anarchy-hierarchy distinction, which rests on a neat separation of international and domestic structures, is therefore highly contentious. One public good that great powers provide, largely ignored by the literature on hierarchy, is justice. Powerful states can provide a forum for aggrieved parties to settle their disputes, and thus contain conflicts before they escalate to war. If such a forum is no longer provided, the system reverts to anarchy, where escalation—and therefore, war—is more likely. South America's war-prone decade can be explained by the variation in structural conditions on the continent. Due to the Depression, its Good Neighbor policy, and the onset of World War II, the United States was less interested in South American affairs in the 1930s, resulting in a more anarchic structure and a higher propensity for war.

This is an interesting article, which I am immediately drawn to because it makes extensive use of the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series, which is a cool resource, and I love the use of historical cases to test theories.

What seems problematic, though, is the application of this argument to the past decade or so. After 9/11 countless people have argued the U.S. has shifted its attention away from Latin America, focusing more on a shadowy War on Terror and the Middle East. Further, since 2008 the United States has been suffering the worst economic crisis since the Depression. The 2001-2013 period thus appears to be very similar to 1932-1941, which means we would expect war.

But beyond the Colombia bombing over its border with Ecuador to strike at the FARC, which was aggressive but one-time and aimed at a non-state actor, we aren't seeing that. In fact, Hugo Chávez and Alvaro Uribe didn't go to war despite rumblings and a deep mutual hatred. Peru is up in arms about its border, but it took the complaint to the International Court of Justice.


GA 10:57 AM  

Peace in Latin America is over-determined. Trade, investment, institutions, democracy, low security dilemma (geography), tiny security forces etc...

Anonymous,  12:39 PM  

I think the parallels to the 1930 and post 9/11 era are bogus. The 2008 economic crisis does not approach the magnitude nor intensity of the 1930s. In much of Latin America the commodities boom tapered off. The 9/11 conflicts (Iraq and Aghanistan) in particular are not analogous to the 1930s. The Nye Committee and the Congress of the United States was promoting non-intervention and isolationism due to their reading of WWI as a failure. This was a war that crippled great powers. In addition the high-minded left, angered over the social and economic crisis of capitalism, perhaps looking to the USSR as a potential model, repeatedly cited pacifism in agreeing to this agenda. The world paid a heavy price for a weak US foreign policy.

Anonymous,  10:33 PM  

I disagree that humankind is negatively impacted by US not intervening in other nations' affairs.

The US has been a major contributor toward stifling democracy and thuggish and repressive as this empire supported brutal dictatorships in the Americas for a many, many years. The trail of blood comes before WW1--and was developed I to a river after WW2.

US needs to "help" the millions being driven into peonage in its own country.

Not advancing misery and barbarity is the best 'help' Uncle Sam can provide the world.

The vast majority of humans on this abet, Earth, concur with this sentiment--as they/we are what we call 'sentient' as a whole, as a specie, a pattern of life.

Anonymous,  7:58 AM  

My point was in the 1930s America followed a weak foreign policy that prioritized the domestic crisis and deemphasized engagement in world affairs. The world was not better off w/o the leadership of the US. The left and the right both supported these policies for different reasons. The Spanish Civil War, increasing the militarism of Germany, Italy and Japan. We know what followed. Instead of a blanket denunciation of US foreign policy, the river of blood is a weak metaphor, maybe you should consider the alternative.

Justin Delacour 6:07 PM  

The Spanish Civil War, increasing the militarism of Germany, Italy and Japan. We know what followed.

The U.S. and British refusal to intervene in the Spanish Civil War would have happened regardless of whether or not there was isolationist sentiment at the time. The problem on the Spanish question was not isolationist sentiment but rather that the British and American foreign services leaned in favor of Franco. That's why the Western powers didn't provide the Spanish Republic with weaponry. In other words, Hitler and Mussolini's first victory in the lead-up to World War II was not due to isolationist sentiment but rather to U.S. and British distaste for a left-leaning Spanish Republic. The historian Douglas Little has done extensive research on this and published a book in 1985 entitled "Malevolent Neutrality: The United States, Great Britain, and the Origins of the Spanish Civil War."

To be sure, American power could conceivably serve as a force for peace, democracy and stability in the world. However, the problem is that the American state doesn't always deem it to be in its interests to defend democracy or to deter the old right from attacking it. In other words, once the isolationist sentiments are no longer prevalent, there's no guarantee that the American state will necessarily make sound use of its power in the world.

Anonymous,  7:17 PM  

The issue was not the direct military intervention of the United States in the Spanish Civil War. However, it was undeniably true that throughout the crises of the 1930s the Roosevelt administration was sympathetic to international coordination to deal with the various aggressions. As you note the diplomatic corps was riddled with people who did not see the looming threats and rationalized the actions of aggressive powers. However the laws prohibited US engagement after 1935. The various neutrality acts became a serious impediment to the US preparing for WWII (and acting as a potential deterrent). American military weakness and lack of engagement was understood by Hitler and Japan as another clue that they could proceed w/o serious consequences. For that we can thank midwestern isolationists and the pacifist and radical left. In effect, the two arguments were 1) pro-Nazi, and 2) pro-Stalin.

Justin Delacour 12:43 AM  

The left was not responsible for the fact that Britain and the United States refused to provide armaments to the Spanish Republic. Rather, the Left advocated quite the opposite. Thus, the Left cannot be held responsible for the fact that the United States and Britain failed to stand up to Hitler and Mussolini in Spain.

To be sure, there were no doubt leftists who had some isolationist sentiments at different junctures in the inter-war period, but to imply that the Left and Nazi sympathizers were the sole source of appeasement in the period would be erroneous.

Anonymous,  7:52 AM  

I did not say that, Justin. I am well aware of when the Popular Front strategy was in effect and when it was not. This is a straw man argument. Was the left responsible for the popularity of the pacifist thinking--the so-called Oxford pledge? Was the left responsible for promoting neutrality while the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was in effect and the USSR/Nazi Germany started the war on the same side? The time period is very confusing but my basic point remains. During the 1930s the US policy of weakness and non-engagement did not further the cause of international peace. Quite the opposite.

Anonymous,  7:57 AM

Justin Delacour 8:26 PM  

Was the left responsible for the popularity of the pacifist thinking--the so-called Oxford pledge?

It probably holds a bit of responsibility, but I wouldn't concur with the thesis that it holds primary responsibility for how the U.S. and Britain responded to the threats of the inter-war period because the Left never held much sway among the American and British political establishments.

Was the left responsible for promoting neutrality while the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was in effect and the USSR/Nazi Germany started the war on the same side?

Unfortunately, the American Communist Party was always in lock-step with Stalin on foreign policy issues, but I think that has very little bearing on the decisions that the Roosevelt Administration made.

During the 1930s the US policy of weakness and non-engagement did not further the cause of international peace.

Fair enough. My point is that the responsibility for that lies primarily with the political establishments of Britain and the United States at the time, not the Left.

Justin Delacour 11:27 PM  

the USSR/Nazi Germany started the war on the same side

And, by the way, it's important to get the historical facts straight. Stalin's pact with Hitler was indeed treacherous, but to say that that the USSR/Nazi Germany "started the war on the same side" is egregiously inaccurate because the Soviets didn't start the war and had no part in the conflict in the period to which you're referring. Nor is it accurate to say the Soviets were on the Germans' side because the Soviets were not initially a party to the conflict. Rather, Stalin's pact with Hitler was that the Soviets wouldn't enter the war in exchange for Hitler's assurance that the Germans wouldn't invade the Soviet Union. You ought to be more clear, though, that the Germans started World War II, not the Soviets.

Anonymous,  11:47 PM  

Ask Poles (and Finns) if Stalin joined Hitler's war in September 1939..

Justin Delacour 12:56 AM  

I don't think you could find one respectable historian who would consider it accurate to say "the USSR/Nazi Germany started the war on the same side" because the USSR didn't enter World War II until 1941. The Soviet annexation of eastern Poland and the invasion of Finland are separate events from World War II.

Anonymous,  10:05 AM

That was easy. Your painful defense of the USSR's actions (while condemning western actions in the 1930s) says it all. Where do you get this bs that the "Soviets had no part in the conflict" until 1941. The decision to sign the pact was what gave Hitler the final green light. He had no fear of a two front war and/or resistance from within the German high command. Every reputable interpretation, except by pro-Soviet historians, suggests Stalin believed in the pact and supported it actively. He was surprised and betrayed by the 1941 invasion. Of course your pro-Soviet thesis depended on denying the existence of the pact for 50 years and a brutal repression of Poland, Finland and the Baltic States. The pact was a foundational event of WWII and the Holocaust and can not be excluded just because it doesn't fit your argument.

Justin Delacour 3:58 PM  

Your painful defense of the USSR's actions (while condemning western actions in the 1930s) says it all.

That is absurd. I didn't defend anything the Soviet Union did. I certainly don't defend the Soviet annexation of eastern Poland. What I said is that it's wrong to misrepresent the historical facts. No respectable historian claims the "USSR/Nazi Germany started the war on the same side" because the Soviets didn't enter World War II until 1941. Robert Service is not a respectable historian. He's a ultra-right hack who sells books to other ultra-right sock puppets like yourself.

Anonymous,  5:09 PM  

Justin, You have 130 more historians to smear! Let’s look at this quote in detail.

“The attack on Poland by Germany and the Soviet Union in September 1939 marked the beginning of an unprecedented war of conquest and extermination, in which Germany inflicted immeasurable suffering on its neighbours across the whole of Europe, above all in central and eastern Europe and especially in Poland and the Soviet Union.”

Justin Delacour 5:31 PM  

Regardless of the horrors for which Stalin was responsible, the simple fact of the matter is that the Soviets didn't start World War II. The point is elementary. And the quote to which you refer doesn't lay blame on the Soviets for starting World War II.

By your absurd logic, the United States would be responsible for starting World War II as well because it wasn't willing to enter the war in 1939.

Anonymous,  5:48 PM  

Don't try to weasle. No one said the USSR started World War II. WWII was started when Hitler attacked Poland. The Russians were his allies as they joined in the attack three weeks later. The USSR denied the true nature of their alliance--why were the protocols kept secret after all-- for 50 years. The USSR also denied murdering 21,000 Polish troops at Katyn in 1940. According to your logic none of the USSR's actions until June 1941 are part of WWII. It is still painful for Putin and other non-communists to acknowledge the truth. The Russian participation in WWII was incredibly heroic and base at the same time. Just like the other great powers in the United Nations, only more so.

Justin Delacour 6:24 PM  

No, Mr. Sock Puppet, you're the one who's been acting acting like a weasel here by using very deceptive language designed to give the impression that Soviets were responsible for starting World War II. To write that "the USSR/Nazi Germany started the war on the same side" is egregiously problematic language, and you ought to acknowledge as much.

As for dirty old secrets, there's no doubt that the Soviets have a whole slew of them, but there's also no doubt that the American state also has a lot of dirty old secrets that it has never wanted to come clean about. Great Powers invariably have a lot of dirty secrets because their desire to maintain their position of power periodically causes them to do things that violate their professed principles.

Anonymous,  6:46 PM  

You've lost the argument on substance but won on name-calling points. You've even restated my last point. The issue of whether the USSR was an ally of the Nazis between Aug. 1939 and June 1941 is not deceptive language. It is rooted in the secret protocols and the lived experience of Eastern Europeans.

Justin Delacour 7:22 PM  

Nothing like a sock puppet who declares himself victorious.

setty 8:37 AM  

Guys, go start your own blog.

Greg: I haven't read the book, but I'd say that it's pretty silly to say Latin America is more peaceful when the US is there to offer a dispute resolution mechanism. The US has more often been the instigator of violence in the region. Today, there aren't interstate wars, but there are death tolls at wartime levels all along the cocaine corridor. And the guns and money for that largely come, once more, from the US.

In terms of interstate peace in Latin America, the countries of the region have shown over the centuries that they don't have much interest in major wars. That may be because they are all highly centralized, and the frontier regions are generally marginal to the success or failure of the states. Most of the countries have more resources than people know what to do with, so they don't have all that much to fight over.

If anything, having the US distracted and out of the picture is a big part of why Latin America has been at international peace for the last decade or so. If it would reduce the power of drug mafias, that would do even more for Latin America.

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