March 31, 2005

What's Wrong With The UN?

I was trying to write something about the Kofi Annan debate ("should he resign or no?"), but it's not coming out quite right, and I'm getting tangled up in a few IR theory things, or what we can call "naïve IR theory things," which is obviously the theme for this blog today. So, here they are, in jumbled order:

1. The usual liberal internationalist view is that well-designed international institutions make violent conflict among states less likely. This happens because all of the partners in the institution, among other things, develop shared norms, share information (which seems like it ought to prevent war), perhaps begin to share a common identity, and have more to lose by conflict (namely, the breakup of the institution). The problem is that it's hard to figure out which way the causal arrow points. You could just as plausibly argue that pre-existing congeniality among states leads those states to sign up for X institution. Also, two states will never join an institution if they think there's a chance of conflict with each other.

2. Economic, etc., interdependency means that states have a lot to lose from going to war with each other. It's easier and vastly more profitable nowadays for the U.S. to trade with Canada than to storm Ottawa, rape Canadian women and children, and force all able-bodied men to work in our coal mines. On the other hand, this fact is only likely to restrain the U.S. (or others) if the relevant businessmen actually have the ear of the war-makers. In the U.S., they obviously do, though that's not always the case. British and German businessmen in the 1910's were pretty clearly aware that Norman Angell was right and Great Power war would be an economic disaster. On the other hand, no one was listening to them. (It also wasn't the case for the U.S. in Iraq, or at least some business voices were overridden in favor of others.)

3. It seems to me that the ideal international organizations (sort of like the ideal liberal government, oddly enough) will be able to solve certain collective action problems around the world without becoming too centralized or concentrating governing power too heavily in any one place. Incidentally, the current tug-of-war over the UN and Kofi Annan seems mostly focused on deciding where that center of gravity should sit. But that seems like exactly the wrong way to look at it.
-- Brad Plumer 2:57 PM || ||