Obama vs. Globalization

Learning lessons from WWI: how domestic politics determine peace in the international order; A talk with Prof. David Rowe

News | Lauren Brassaw, Ingrid Salazar | July / August 2009

The origins of the First World War are often explained by a few cameos of emerging crises. It was after those shattering two shots piercing the Gräf & Stift Bois de Boulogne touring car in which Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were riding at the time of their assassination that brought about the disintegration of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and threw the great European empires into a frenzy of self-destruction.

But this history lesson, according to some, doesn’t encompass the structural problems that could have been at fault in the lead-up to the conflict. Improved institutional management and better military control, for example, could have played an important role in curbing the rise of radical nationalism and seemingly inevitable armed conflict.

"The internal dissolution of Austrian-Hungarian Empire was caused by a lack of [that] order," David Rowe, a visiting professor from Kenyon College in Ohio and expert of American Foreign Policy and Social Order, said in an interview with The Vienna Review in June.

"We need to be able to invoke violence and force to enable order," Rowe said, and went on to explain how "order stems from capturing, channeling and controlling violence."  For Rowe, domestic social order was the only way to allow for a peaceful international structure.

Classical liberal theory has held that globalization tends to pacify international relations. In the case of WWI, the argument goes, globalization was "simply too weak to contain the pathologies of the European state system." Rowe argues the opposite. In his point of view, globalization was in fact too strong.

By the turn of the 20th century, European powers had been experiencing decades of prosperity in trade and social wealth, leading to an overall interest in maintaining peace, constraining the build up and use of military force.

According to Rowe’s thesis, these constraints "heightened systematic insecurity, undermined the credibility of the threats and promises about the use of force, and destabilized the relative balance of power in the international system."

These interpretations of globalization matter today in understanding how domestic issues influence the international order. On recent political stages, the anecdotes offered to explain global conflict often ignore the social balance necessary to achieve this order.

Take the Iraq War. "We lost Iraq the moment Baghdad was looted and U.S. soldiers stood by and did nothing," Rowe said. "We showed that the U.S. could not maintain order." Not to mention how they did not care about the cultural treasures that gave meaning to their world.

The shift in U.S. foreign policy today is marked: While former president George W. Bush used the conflict of the moment to push his politics forward, the new U.S. President Barack Obama’s diplomacy is focused on "transcending conflicts."

"Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good," Rowe advised, and spelled out how such an ideology highlights Obama’s saving of political capital by creating a strong, working dynamic between the Democrats and Republicans. It brings the executive and congressional branches closer together and creates a sort of transparency between them.

Rowe is "very hopeful for the future," but said he was worried that "Obama had to deal with others having too high expectations of him."

Similarly to the turn of the 20th century, Rowe suggests that along with the health of domestic political processes, it is crucial today to consider the strength of international institutions.  Strong military force may indeed be the key to international security, but it needs to be regulated by these institutions of international governance. Strengthening the domestic polity is simply a prerequisite to the underlying stability of the international system.

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