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Monday, May 02, 2005

Realists for Social Change

Today, in separate events, I saw presentations by two members of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy. Each gave an academic talk summarizing highlights of their new books.

At lunch, Harvard's Stephen M. Walt talked about the unpopularity of American foreign policy around the world and recommended limiting America's global military footprint in order to reduce costs and to avoid negative feedback. Walt suggesting that the US should pay a lot more attention to questions of legitimacy, pursue a grand strategy of offshore balancing, and better marshall tools of "soft power" (including an improved public diplomacy program). His new book, Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy (W.W. Norton), is forthcoming this fall.

At the end of the day, Boston University's Andrew J. Bacevich talked about the undesirable rise of militarism in American society. Bacevich traced the roots of militarism to the post-Vietnam effort by security elites to resurrect faith in American military power and technology. From Tom Clancy to Top Gun, Americans started to embrace militarism and now it is endemic in American society. He recommends that Congress again be required to declare war, that military spending be dramatically reduced and that the US find a way to achieve a more socially representative armed force. Bacevich's book, The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War was published by Oxford University Press in April 2005.

Both Walt and Bacevich called for the renunciation of the Bush administration's doctrine of preventive war.

Interestingly, realists Walt and Bacevich, who should be concerned primarily with relative differences in material power among nation-states, are primarily worried about adverse social developments: loss of legitimacy and the rise of militarism.

Their solutions, however, mostly entailed material changes (with more modest social commitments).

I'm not 100% sure that the problems they describe can be resolved via their main material remedies.

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