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Monday, December 23, 2002 - 08:03 AM Permanent link for WMD, Realists & Idealists
WMD, Realists & Idealists

Randall Parker aka Parapundit blogs about a recent OpEd from Jim Hoagland.   Randall states: law in its current form is becoming obsolesced by the technological advances which are putting increasingly dangerous weapons into the hands of failed states and terrorists.

"A new set of rules governing the use of force" that "takes into account phenomena such as failed states" and the easy availability of highly destructive weapons must be devised, says Tomas Valasek, director of the Brussels office of the Center for Defense Information. The same basic thought was expressed the other day by a senior administration official in explaining the administration's recent, embarrassing climb-down on a shipment of North Korean Scud missiles to Yemen.

By bringing about an order of magnitude shift in the quantitative destructive power of conflict, Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) necessitate qualitative changes in foreign policy ideology.   The Hoagland article that Randall quotes points at one such qualitative change in the doctrine of preemption.

However, WMD also have a broader impact in bridging some of the traditional gaps between the Realist and Idealist schools.   Historically the realist perspective has been something along the lines of "minimize our involvement in other nations' affairs and seek selective involvement only where there are clear benefits which accrue to us."   Realists had little problem supporting dictators or "semi-failed states" if the alternative was a hostile state or one which supported the Soviets (think Kissinger).  

By contrast, the classical idealist seeks a moral basis for foriegn policy along the lines of "be a beacon for freedom & democracy and help liberate peoples from regimes hostile to these ideals."  (think Wilson)  Interventions in places like Somalia & Kosovo were generally viewed as idealistic in motivation.

The Realist's primary criteria for intervention is if it makes life better for Americans.   For the Idealist it's if it brings American ideals to other nations.

Now, because WMD allow fringe elements to reach far outside of their national boundaries, we have a Realist-syle stake in the ideals of other nations.  Through the relentless march of technology, a group that doesn't share our ideals can inflict radical physical harm.  A remote nation (like Taliban-Afghanistan) which doesn't adhere to Freedom, Democracy, & Capitalism & no longer needs to field a carrier battle group to credibly cause us harm, they can simply purchase a nuke.

By contrast, other WMD powers like the UK, Russia, and France generally align with our ideals (France being an occasionally wavering exception ;-).  Even a nuke-armed China, is slowly and surely economically integrating which in turn is resulting in a progressive ideological alignment.

In cold war terms, we often spoke of the difference between capabilities and intentions.   The US, for example, has ample nuclear capability but no real intention to use that capability to secure our goals except in the most dire circumstances (we will NOT, for ex., resort to nukes to settle a score with Cuba).   It's great if only a few nations have the capability to wipe out cities because we've got a pretty good handle on just what the intentions of those nations ultimately are  (France, no matter how much it may despise us will never nuke NYC).  

Unfortunately, the march of technology is radically reducing the cost of WMD and bringing capability within reach of nations who have radically different intentions. 

Thus, the missionizing of Liberal Democracy is now consistent with both Realist and Idealist Foreign Policy.  (I'm not saying this is going to be easy to do)

Unfortunately, this epoch moment of unification between the idealist and realist schools is marred by a general De-Evolution of the (traditionally Idealist) Left into a perverse, nihilist and utterly cynical PoMo philosophy.   This philosophy starts with a fundamental denial of the universality of objective thought which leads to a denial of American ideals. (see here and here).

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