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Posts Tagged ‘international relations’

Is this the moment when the Trump administration decisively repudiates one of the great traditions of American politics, honoured by both parties for over a century? I’m not thinking of the executive order to denounce Twitter and Facebook, since all manner of presidents have sought to manipulate or gag the media over the years (but, hey, can they both lose?). No, this is a subtler but perhaps more significant shift in behaviour and attitude, signalled in a US State Department paper on Arms Control and International Security, published under the name of Dr Christopher A. Ford, Assistant Secretary for International Security and Nonproliferation and currently moonlighting as Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, on US National Security Export Controls and Huawei.

Now, I must admit that I don’t read a lot of State Department papers, but I may have to change that habit if this one is typical, because the opening section is hilarious. (more…)

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I’ve just had a review published on War On The Rocks (a reliably interesting website for analysis of foreign policy and strategy, from a viewpoint that is predominantly US-focused and frequently Realist), on the new book by Hal Brands and Charles Edel, The Lessons of Tragedy: statecraft and world order (Yale UP, 2019). As you can probably gather from the review, I found this rather an odd experience; indeed, half-way through the book I became increasingly convinced that I was a completely unsuitable reviewer, as after the first couple of chapters the ‘tragedy’ element largely disappeared, and B & E’s conclusion is not that US strategy people all need to start reading tragedy (that might be fun…), but that they need to review more recent history in the alleged spirit of tragic sensibility, which largely boils down to an assumption that bad things will continue to happen. (more…)

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It’s always going to be the case, I reassure myself, that when exploring the reception of a particular classical author or theme across the whole range of scholarship and other writing in a given period, you’re bound to miss loads of examples – at least until everything gets digitised and is easily searchable. All you can do is hope that new things coming to light don’t radically undermine what you’ve claimed, or, if they do, at least do it in an interesting way – and that it’s not utterly embarrassing that you didn’t find the reference in the first place. Beyond that, well, it’s one of the great advantages of having a blog that I can simply post an update to a previously published article (it would of course be even better if I could post a link on that article to the update), so I don’t have to feel too regretful that I wasn’t able to discuss this at the time… (more…)

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How should we imagine the Athenians at Melos – coldly rational technocrats, bombastic neocons, sardonic British imperialists..? (As I’ve mentioned before, one of my embryonic projects is to explore different ways of presenting the Melian Dialogue, to bring out different facets). One obvious – probably too obvious – possibility is the comic book supervillain, not least because this draws attention to the ultimate hollowness of their words – we know that there’s going to be a weak spot in their master plan, probably intimately connected to their arrogant self-confidence, even if there’s a lot of explosive special-effects destruction to come first. Conversely, comic book supervillains do have a tendency to talk like bad versions of the Melian Dialogue, in capital letters: “MWAHAHA! SOON MY DEATH RAY WILL DESTROY METROPOLIS! THE STRONG DO WHAT THEY WANT AND THE WEAK WILL BOW BEFORE THORAXIS!”

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Ever since the days of Thucydides, states have used force to get what they want, and have expected weaker states to comply with their wishes. Ever since the days of Thucydides, they have claimed that this is all perfectly justifiable as the way of the world. Ever since the days of Thucydides, men have made confident claims that war is easy, straightforward, risk-free, simply an opportunity to demonstrate one’s greatness and reorder the world in a more congenial manner. Ever since the days of Thucydides, international relations academics and military strategists have spouted cliches like “Ever since the days of Thucydides…” as a cheap source of borrowed authority and gravitas. I just don’t get the part where this is supposed to be reassuring, even if it is delivered by a chiselled jaw and Action Man stare. (more…)

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Brexit negotiations. Yes, we’re still replaying the Melian Dialogue, with the UK still stuck in the attitude of the Melians, offering the equivalent of “Surely there’s advantage to both of us in being friends rather than enemies?” and “Can’t you see that this will damage you as well as us?” as if these are knock-down arguments. My final-year Thucydides class has been having some really interesting discussions over the last couple of weeks about Pericles’ manipulative rhetoric and parallels to the Leave campaign – offered spontaneously by the students, before anyone puts me onto that government watch list – so I’m tempted to skip forward to the Melian Dialogue while these issues are still fresh. But, realistically, the negotiations aren’t likely to be going much better in February, when we’re scheduled to get to Book V, so the issues will still be fresh enough… (more…)

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When I first began putting together a research project on the modern reception and influence of Thucydides, and writing funding applications, the big ‘hook’ – the thing that was going to persuade reviewers of the contemporary relevance of the theme – was Thucydides’ infiltration of the G.W. Bush White House. Irving Kristol’s claim that he was the favourite author of the Neocons, the relationship between Donald Kagan and the Project for a New American Century, and – from a less bellicose perspective, Colin Powell’s love of the (fake) Thucydides quote about manifestations of power and restraint, were not intended to be the central focus of the project, but they showed the importance of understanding the context of such readings, the traditions of reception and reinterpretation that made powerful people think, or at least claim, that Thucydides speaks to the present.

Here we are again, with a new article on ‘Why everyone in the White House is reading Thucydides’ suggesting the Obama adminstration’s relative restraint in such matters (occasional references from Martin Dempsey when Chair of the Joint Chiefs) was just a blip.* (more…)

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