January 19, 2006
Speaking at Georgetown University, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced a major transfer of American diplomatic resources away from Europe, and toward the Middle East and other strategic parts of the Third World. This was a long-overdue move that will help the United States cope more effectively with the wide variety of challenges we face in this rapidly-evolving world. What was particularly interesting was the way Ms. Rice tied this move to a broader intellectual framework for guiding policy, i.e., "transformational diplomacy":
The greatest threats now emerge more within states than between them. ... The fundamental character of regimes now matters more than the international distribution of power. (SOURCE: Washington Post)
In a nutshell, this brief quote distills the essence of what distinguishes "neoclassical" realists, with whom I identify, from the traditional "state-centric" realists, such as Ken Waltz. I saw him on a panel at the APSA meeting in Washington in early September, and everyone agreed that the war in Iraq was a disaster. To me, the lack of serious debate over this issue indicated a profound intellectual blind spot, a sign of stagnation within the discipline. It so happens that my dissertation explicitly dealt with the ambiguous structure of the international system to which Rice alluded: "anarchic" (corresponding to traditional sovereignty) vs. "hierarchic" (which allows for varying degrees of state consolidation within the system, as is the case in today's world). Perhaps the time is ripe for those of us with an unconventional take on international relations...
It is interesting that this historic de-emphasis of Europe in American diplomacy comes so soon after Angela Merkel, who was just sworn in as the first woman chancellor of Germany, visited the White House. Her conservative government is a welcome breath of fresh air after the chilly relations that were brought about by her predecessor, the Social Democrat Gerhard Schroeder. Lacking a majority, however, she must tread lightly in foreign affairs, so her desire to restore traditional warm German-American relations is constrained by domestic politics. This may be why she made a major point about urging the United States to close down the Guantanamo prison for terrorists. Bush demurred, with good reason, but I really think he should have taken the opportunity to reward Ms. Merkel's outstretched hand of friendship with a concrete gesture of reciprocity. For a transcript of the joint press conference, see whitehouse.gov.