Principia Discordia > Aneristic Illusions

Picking Cain's Brains

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Jasper:
If I hadn't already settled on a subject, IR would look pretty appealing right about now...  I'm hearing a lot of fascinating things here.

Jasper:
1.  Posit a successful US world hegemony, if not in name, then functionally so.  Who benefits?  I'm not counting on benefiting, but it would be nice to think so. 

2.  Is there a situation where there are an optimum number of certain types of centers of power, such that there will be as few wars as possible?  If so, could this be proven objectively and put into practice?

3.  Even though all the current main powers are very similar, what types might exist otherwise?

Cain:
Thanks.  It is a pretty interesting topic, once you get past certain parts of bullshit (which I wont bore you with).

a) A successful US hegemony was, effectively, the post Cold War world.  Even before, the smart money was always on the US outperforming the USSR, because the US was better at building international institutions, had a more powerful naval force and performed far better economically.  After the Cold War, the USA was undisputedly the most powerful nation in the international system, and while a few malcontents (Somalian warlords, Saddam Hussein, Milosevich) might make a show of defying them, the name of the game was "what we say goes".

As for who benefits - mostly Americans of its own upper class.  Weapons manufacturers, for example, since you need the might to back up your threats.  Investment banks, both to invest in critical industries and to bring foreign industries under de facto US control.  Anyone involved in international trade, since the US was effectively "keeping the peace" now.  Anyone involved in the business of empire, of keeping America at the top of the world, are those who benefit the most.

2) It really depends who you ask, since the evidence is far from conclusive.  Usually though, people say multipolarity is the worst, and unipolarity or a bipolar international system keep the peace the best.  Personally, I believe all are as bad as each other, and only differ in the type of conflicts they cause, but I don't have much in the way of evidence for this.

3) Well really, I tend to adhere to the realist principle that the internal politics of most states matter very little to their foreign policy.  Of course there is going to be some effect, to claim otherwise would be stupid, but by and large continuity is the watchword of foreign policy ministries.  The main variations would be Marxism, Fascism and Neoconservatism, I would guess.  Marxist governments are generally committed to the aim of worldwide revolution, targeted against capitalist states in addition to those which are a security threat.  Though the USSR eventually settled down in some ways, in others it was very active right up to the fall of the Berlin Wall (look up "Active Measures" for more on that).  Equally, fascist states, with their racism and valorization of warfare, are more likely to act belligerently, and more likely to engage in atrocities than defensive wars or imperialism.  Finally, Neoconservatism is essentially Marxism for liberals, targeting non-democratic states in order to push it's worldwide revolutionary agenda.

Jasper:
Thanks!  Now, to expose some more of my ignorance,

I'm concerned about two things:  The "bubble" of the Chinese economy and how it affects America, given how much we import from them and how much of American money they control.  The other thing is the teapartiers, who (I think) are threatening the existence of sane political discourse.  With China out of the picture and insane people in power, America will burn, won't it?  Gee, that's too bad.

Wish I could respond to all of this more cogently.  This is a lot to think about.

Cain:
It could do, yes.

I suppose it depends on exactly how the Chinese bubble bursts.  Outside of Beijing, organised crime has a lot of power, and there is a school of thought, popular among modern day criminologists and some IR theorists (I include myself in that, despite not actually having a theory yet) that the state is essentially organised crime, codified and writ large.  Protection rackets, private militias and local detachments of the PLA may be able to keep order where the central government cannot.  While this would definitely put a dampener on Chinese military spending, defensive weapons are a lot cheaper than offensive ones, and Chinese doctrine emphasizes asymmetric, unconventional attacks, and low-tech weapons designed to undercut more advanced American systems (look up the "Assassin's mace) sometime.

Either way, China still spends much less than America on its military, so I doubt this would make much of a difference on a military level.

However, the economic level is the worry, and you're right to be concerned there.  As I understand it, China welcomed American investment to make consumer items to sell to America, and buying up enough debt and dollars to keep the US afloat, so it could continue to keep buying Chinese made goods.  However, increasingly, China is cutting America out of the picture and selling to its enriched population.  America and China have also had a tense trading relationship for about a year and a half now.  There could be a move towards protectionism in both countries, and while decreasing trade is linked to war, the more immediate worry is the economic impact.

That will create a populist backlash, and since in modern day America populism is exclusively rightwing, that means a climate friendly to Teabaggers and the GOP.  I'm pretty convinced that in 2012 or 2016, whenever the Republicans win, there will be war with Iran, as a final military "stimulus" to jump start the economy, regardless of what actual reasons they give.  However, even if China does collapse or somehow become less powerful due to internal tensions, there are other nations willing to take advantage of that.  Namely, India and Russia.  The Russians are smart, very smart.  Their leadership is mostly made up of ex-KGB men who went on to make fortunes in the new capitalist Russia, so they're mostly pragmatists, not ideologues.  They also think in terms of geostrategy.  Russia's still a declining power in the long term, but in the short term, their army is in much better shape than at any time in history and they're sitting on 3,300 nukes.  Their weapons systems are also in high demand in the Middle East and Africa, giving them a fairly steady income.  Not to mention their use of energy resources.

Russia is also fairly chummy with Germany.  Putin's plan from 1999-2004 was to use a European-Russian alliance to reign in American unilateralism.  He pretty much abandoned that after Beslan though, due to some of the circumstances around that attack (Chechen terrorism is affiliated with some very pro-American and European groups).  But the friendship with Germany remains, and with Europe needing energy from any quarter willing to sell, the Russians might start playing their old trick of "lowering oil prices for friends".

OK, that got a little off course, but hopefully I answered the main questions.

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