Wednesday, May 26, 2004

British Imperialism, Africa, and the Power Gap between America and everyone else

having skimmed two thirds of the reading for Sebastian's class tomorrow morning, and having little desire to plunge feetfirst into a constructivist take on German Identity, i'm gonna take a couple of minutes out of my busy reading schedule and blog about a couple of things i read/thought about today.

i highly recommend, as 'light summer reading' (as Mearsheimer likes to put it) for anyone even remotely interested in the topic, Niall Ferguson's Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power, despite the long and cumbersome title (reminiscent of Jonathan Swift). as the Wall Street Journal proclaims: 'Scrupulous scholarship [and] a rattling good tale', the second in particular is true. it's a hilarious yet informative read, perfect for the summer.

and as an end result of having to read the entire thing for class tomorrow i now know far more about Africa than i ever did, including the fact that nation-states in Africa are basically arbitrary lines drawn by 19th century power politics between England, France, and Germany. which explains both the constant turmoil the entire continent is in, since it wasn't made to fit the lines that have been drawn across its face, and the abiding interest the Europeans take in Africa (colonial/imperial guilt).

also, pstan and i went downtown today for a panel discussion titled "Balancing Diversity and Unity: The Role of the EU and the UN in World Diplomacy" at the Gleacher Centre, organised by the Harris School here at the U of C. while the speakers were interesting, i was disappointed to hear a lot of talk about Iraq and the US, but fairly little about both the EU and the UN, and their continued roles (or lack thereof) in world politics today. sitting there i wandered off into jeanette-land for a while thinking about the future of said institutions, prompted by something the former French Prime Minister had remarked about a European foreign policy/foreign affairs ministry and its plausibility. and its organisational structure - the degree of autonomy national governments would have and so forth.

lastly, (and mostly for my benefit so i don't forget,) here're some preliminary thoughts on the Mearsheimer Final: Why Is There No Balancing Against the United States?

Answer: Primarily Walt's 'balance of threat' theory - the question of geography, of offensive capability, of power, and of intent, i believe are the four elements of 'threat'. while the US certainly has power and offensive capability in spades, geography keeps it from being really scary a la Germany in Europe, and it hasn't displayed much aggressive (imperialistic) intent, at least until recently. also Ikenberry's institutional lock-in is providing signalling of benign intent -at least until it stopped cooperating.

what's the future for balancing against america? perhaps if America keeps up behaviour that the rest of the world sees as threatening: unilateral action in the face of active world disapproval, the rhetoric of preventive war (rather than preemptive war), etcetcetc ad nauseum, we will see some balancing start to happen. already the allies are drifting: dissention in the European ranks, Japan's dual hedge strategy in East Asia and so forth. Ken Waltz's 'it's coming but slowly' idea may not be far wrong.

oh, and alex drove pstan and i downtown for the discussion this afternoon in weekeong's car. it was awesome! =) i like having a boyfriend who drives -grin- because i don't like to!

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