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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Mearsheimer Profile

Back in 1990, in the Atlantic Monthly, prominent neorealist IR theorist John Mearsheimer published a popular version of one of his best-known academic arguments: "Why We Will Soon Miss the Cold War."
The next forty-five years in Europe are not likely to be so violent as the forty-five years before the Cold War, but they are likely to be substantially more violent than the past forty-five years, the era that we may someday look back upon not as the Cold War but as the Long Peace, in John Lewis Gaddis's phrase.

This pessimistic conclusion rests on the general argument that the distribution and character of military power among states are the root causes of war and peace.
His argument was based on the difficulty of assuring stability among a larger number of great powers -- and the higher chance that states would have different amounts of military power. Of course, Mearsheimer was also quite skeptical about the role democracy and economic interdependence might play in assuring peace, though he was also pessimistic that realist prescriptions could avoid war.

In short, the essay reflected most of the important ideas associated with Mearsheimer -- a pessimistic (if not tragic) realist emphasis on great power competition and the enduring prospects for war.

In the January/February 2012 issue of The Atlantic, Mearsheimer is profiled by the magazine's frequent contributor Robert Kaplan: "Why John J. Mearsheimer Is Right (About Some Things)." Kaplan highlights the University of Chicago scholar's ongoing interest in the threat of major power war. The essay gives a great deal of attention to the potential rising threat from China, a point Mearsheimer has been emphasizing for over a decade.

If you follow IR theory, none of the political science discussed by Kaplan is new. The piece does include several photos.

Because of my interests in political communication and deliberation, I'm including this quote from one of Mearsheimer's ex- students:
As Ashley J. Tellis, Mearsheimer’s former student and now, after a stint in the Bush administration, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment, later tells me: “Realism is alien to the American tradition. It is consciously amoral, focused as it is on interests rather than on values in a debased world. But realism never dies, because it accurately reflects how states actually behave, behind the fa├žade of their values-based rhetoric.”
Here, Tellis is echoing a point Mearsheimer has frequently made.

Again, for scholars, the article is filled with redundancies like that. If you've read several pieces by Mearsheimer, chances are you did not learn anything from this article.

Yet, it is kind of interesting that a national magazine profiled Mearsheimer at this time. If the U.S. soon enters into a long cold war with China, he'll be credited (or blamed) with framing the logic behind the competition. Alternatively, if the U.S. or Israel launches war against Iran out of concerns about nuclear proliferation, then Mearsheimer will likely emerge as a vocal critic (as he was in the Iraq war case) and so this article helps to establish his credentials to a wider audience outside the academy.

In short, the article is (mostly) an effort to rehabilitate Mearsheimer after he and Steve Walt published their article and book about the role of the Israeli lobby in American foreign policy. Kaplan says that work is polemical and not objective, so the piece does not serve as a complete rehabilitation. Indeed, within the media Kaplan says that The Israeli Lobby has "delegitimized" Mearsheimer.

Kaplan is occasionally described as a neocon and apparently served in the Israeli armed forces, so he may not be the most objective observer of Mearsheimer. Notably, neocons have long shared Mearsheimer's worries about China.

In short, the subtext makes for an interesting read.

Note: I updated the post March 1 to provide a real conclusion.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012


I have made a couple of blog posts elsewhere that may interest you:

On February 20 at the e-IR Climate Politics blog, I posted, "To Santorum et al: What would Reagan do?" I examine the climate comments of the remaining Republican candidates for President and compare then to Ronald Reagan's environmental record.

On February 9 at the Duck of Minerva, I posted "Walmart Still Isn't Green."

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

China & Cars

Chinese traffic logic
Photo credit = kalevkevad via Flickr.

In 2006, the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers reported  that "China became the world’s third-largest car market." That was thanks to a nearly 40% increase in sales over the prior year. By 2009, Chinese sources noted that China was the #1 car buyer -- a status partly based on 44% growth in China's market and a 21% plunge in US sales that same year.
China's passenger vehicle market ended last year with a 59 percent year-on-year sales increase to surpass the United States as the world's largest auto market for the first year, thanks to the central government's stimulus package.
Journalist Richard McGregor noted at the end of 2010 that China's auto market had exploded from 1 million domestic vehicles sold in 2002 to about 10 million in 2010. McGregor quoted consultant Michael Dunne to simplify the numbers with a comparison: "China has added the equivalent of two Japan markets in less than a decade." One-half million of those 10 million new vehicles are luxury cars like Porsches.

In any event, the implications of this change are profound. World oil demand will continue to increase as the Chinese buy more cars. In coming decades, Chinese petroleum demand will apparently match US demand. CIA data currently reveal that American oil imports are nearly double China's -- meaning that new demand for millions of barrels of oil per day will put huge pressure on international oil markets. Obviously, increased competition for oil, a potentially scarce resource, could have profound implications for geopolitical rivalry -- and energy prices. Michael Klare reports that "the conservative National Defense Council Foundation" found that "the 'protection' of Persian Gulf oil alone costs the U.S. Treasury $138 billion per year." 

The climate implications are also potentially disastrous. In the US, more greenhouse gases are emitted from cars than from burning coal. China is now on a dangerous pathway:
The vehicle boom is also pushing up China’s greenhouse gas emissions. Transport emissions of carbon dioxide, the major warming gas, have at least quadrupled since 1990, to more than 350 million tons per year.
This means the transport sector is now about 5% of China's greenhouse gas emissions.

Some analysts suggest that China's rising demand for oil could make the state more likely to cooperate with the international community:
"China is learning that owning equity oil in risky regions may not be as effective an energy security strategy as it had previously imagined," said Amy Myers Jaffe, an author of the study and the Wallace S. Wilson Fellow for Energy Studies at the Baker Institute. "China is now finding itself mired in more energy-related foreign diplomacy than it bargained for.

"But this could be good news for the United States," Jaffe said. "It may mean China will be more inclined to act in concert with other members of the international community in conflict-prone regions."
Can the world really count on that happening?

Unfortunately, at least from an environmental perspective, recent growth in Chinese car sales is likely just the tip of the iceberg. China's vehicle ownership rates now stand at US levels from 1916. In 2008, people in China owned 37 cars per 1000 people. Some scholars predict that the rate will surge to 269 per 1000 by 2030, an eight-fold increase.

The US rate is about 825 vehicles per 1000 people.

Incidentally, here's more cause for concern in new markets -- India's car ownership rate is about 6 per 1000 people...

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Media bias

Does mass media have a liberal bias? Conservatives, of course, frequently claim that it does have such a bias.

However, as I've taught my students in American Foreign Policy for many years, talk-radio is dominated by the right, newspapers and television are increasingly corporate, Fox News is obviously right-leaning, and "regular" liberal reporters embrace norms of fairness that cause them to report balanced information even when there's no justification -- such as on climate change.

I previously meant to blog this Paul Waldman item, which speaks to media quoting of conservative or liberal think tanks. From The American Prospect, October 2010:
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a progressive group that opposes media bias and censorship, reports that progressive groups have seen their proportion of media citations steadily rise in recent years.

But the left is still chasing the right. The Center for American Progress is probably the signature success of recent liberal institution building; its 2008 budget was $26.3 million. But the Heritage Foundation, its closest competitor on the right, spent $64.6 million that year. The left's think tanks get quoted more than they used to, reports FAIR, but the right's think tanks still get quoted more than the left's. In 2008, conservative think tanks made up 31 percent of all think-tank citations, while progressive think tanks made up 21 percent. The gap has narrowed but not disappeared.
Waldman actually provides a good deal of interesting information about progressive attempts to build a media network to counter the conservative successes. However, as Waldman notes, Air America's failure demonstrates one huge hurdle faced by those making the effort to build liberal counterparts to Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. Progressives
seek out outlets like National Public Radio that are less combative and more factual. It shouldn't be surprising that a substantial body of social-psychological research has found that conservatives tend to be less tolerant of ambiguity than liberals.
In one of my college Communications classes, the professor gave students a test that determined one's degree of dogmatism. It turned out that I was the least dogmatic person in the class.

My debate colleague at the time, incidentally, was the most dogmatic person in the class -- though he wasn't a conservative so far as I know.

Note: This item was pulled at random from my huge stack of "to-be-blogged" material. Sorry for the lack of blogging lately. I've been fairly active on Twitter, which makes me a better reader, but I just have not been in the mood to blog. I'm going to try to reduce the stack of items pulled from magazines and newspapers because it would be nice to have someplace to find these items when I try to recall where I put something.

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