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Thursday, January 29, 2004

International Legitimacy

The paperback version of Robert Kagan's book, Of Power and Paradise, is now available. He works at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and writes regularly for The Washington Post. Of course, Kagan is better known as a neoconservative who was a founder of the Project for a New American Century. In January 1998, he wrote an op-ed for the New York Times called "Bombing Iraq Isn't Enough."

Here's the first paragraph of that piece:
Saddam Hussein must go. This imperative may seem too simple for some experts and too daunting for the Clinton Administration. But if the United States is committed, as the President said in his State of the Union Message, to insuring that the Iraqi leader never again uses weapons of mass destruction, the only way to achieve that goal is to remove Mr. Hussein and his regime from power. Any policy short of that will fail.
Kagan has long called for missile defense, applauded America's "benevolent empire," and has been pretty hawkish on China.

Why am I establishing Kagan's credentials?

Well, his new book includes a very interesting new "Afterward" that focuses on the importance of legitimacy in world politics.

The book in hardback was pretty thin and basically expanded on a much-circulated article he wrote in June 2002 for Policy Review, "Power and Weakness." In that piece, Kagan famously declared that
It is time to stop pretending that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world, or even that they occupy the same world. On the all-important question of power — the efficacy of power, the morality of power, the desirability of power — American and European perspectives are diverging. Europe is turning away from power, or to put it a little differently, it is moving beyond power into a self-contained world of laws and rules and transnational negotiation and cooperation. It is entering a post-historical paradise of peace and relative prosperity, the realization of Kant’s “Perpetual Peace.” The United States, meanwhile, remains mired in history, exercising power in the anarchic Hobbesian world where international laws and rules are unreliable and where true security and the defense and promotion of a liberal order still depend on the possession and use of military might. That is why on major strategic and international questions today, Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus: They agree on little and understand one another less and less.
A lot of analysts embraced Kagan's argument to explain the rift between the US and most of the Europeans on the issue of Iraq.

Many Bush-supporters referenced Kagan to explain why the US had to act unilaterally (or with only a small number of states) to attack Iraq, fight terror, and stop WMD proliferation. Trying to get French and German approval would be futile.

The new "Afterward" (warning, this is a pdf file), however, argues that the US needs Europe -- to provide legitimacy for the war on terror. If a number of democracies refuses to accept the legitimacy of US actions, then the actions are not legitimate. America, in fact, faces a "crisis of legitimacy" according to Kagan.

Kagan says legitimacy has material implications, which is why the US is paying most of the costs in Iraq. But this isn't his main thesis. Kagan thinks that the US needs legitimacy and should be prepared to grant Europe some authority over its decisions (he approves of NATO) -- but only after the US and Europe agree about common threats. If the US acts without legitimacy, its power will ultimately be isolated and exhausted.

For the most part, Kagan is still engaged in an argument about power (Europe uses multilateral measures because it lacks power) and he continues to argue that Europe just doesn't appreciate threats that the US does (terror and WMD). But the argument in the afterward is new and provocative.

It certainly seems to encourage genuine dialogue about threats and responses among the US and its closest allies.

I saw Kagan on Charlie Rose Wednesday night, debating Harvard's Joe Nye (of "soft power" fame), and they didn't seem all that far apart. For those that want a condensed version of his latest argument, see the New York Times from January 24.

Much of my own work focuses on legitimacy in global politics. Unfortunately, my new book with Nayef Samhat is still at the printer and won't be out for almost a month (it was originally due today). We argue that order built on coersion and material self interest isn't legitimate -- it must be established through consensual dialogue.

Hey, that sounds a bit like what I'm reading in Kagan.

We'll all know more in two weeks. On February 12, 2004, I'm interviewing Kagan for the campus version of "Kentucky Author Forum."

Maybe I'll run in to him the weekend before that when I'm hanging around the halls of Carnegie, talking about preemptive war with some other scholars and analysts.

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