State: United States, Uni-polar Hegemon or Defensive balancer in the Asia-Pacific?

International Relations arose out of the notion of the world being divided into soverign states and a cursory look at any world map would seem to add credence to this claim.

Throughout history, the trend seems to be states pursuing self-interested political relations abroad. But is is this a good way in which to view the operation of power?

Theorists such as Stephen Walt argue that realist theory is alive and well, aptly describing the disorder of things. Yet in the interlinked, globalised world is this state based notion of soverignty still able to to be used to understand the world?

Realism, focuses on the primacy of the nation state, which must rely on its own power accumulation to maintain its security, and therefore survival.

The epitome of the modern state in the traditional conception is the United States. It dominates the settlements of the global economy and defines the terms of international development. It is the state looked to in times of international crisis, and to lead in addressing global challenges. It attempts to organise an anarchichal world through its power projection.

Many believe that the post cold war international arena is one of uni-polarity, dominated by the United States. Or is it?

The United States throughout the 21st Century has first hand experienced the limitations of its power. Most recently in Syria, where Obama’s assertion of american intervention in Syria fell flat when Russia, who has an ideaological interest in balancing U.S. blocked their attempts at intervention. A discourse which favours the concept of U.S. Hegemony and uni-polarity would be sorely misled if it did not recognise this as a significant and effective balancing act against U.S. Power.

The Rise of China perhaps presents the biggest challenge to US primacy through its effet on an international redistribution of power. Barack Obama, has in some ways aspired a shift away from U.S. uni polarity stating “Now more than ever, diplomacy and engagement are critical to rebuilding our alliances, repairing our relatiionships arounf the world, and actually making us more safe in the long term”. (Cite).

The balance of power theory (BoP) suggests that in a bi-polar world, each superpower is the only threat to the security of the other and each must balance against the other. When one looks at the United States Pivot towards the pacific and asian regions through this analysis seems readily applicable.

BoP predicts that rapid alteration of a states power and status will provoke counterbalancing actions maintaing the stability of relations between states. The drastic rise of china and its growing influence in the Asia Pacific challenges american hegemony in the area.

The Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) when viewed through such a lense can be seen as a balancing act by the United States. Through this formal partnership, the United States is able to increase its sphere of influence and power projection capabilities abroad through twelve pacific rim states.

In a globalised world, the US, although a dominant force militarily, culturally and economically, cannot act without the consent of other states. Thankfully, in a globalised world with Americas economic well being dependent upon China the motivations for peace and stability are increasingly important. Integrated commercial relations makes war less likely under liberalism. Those who benefit from strong, mutually beneficial tradings relationships will be far less likely to wage war. In this way, the treatment prescribed by liberals since the 18th Century has not changed. The illness of war can be treated through free trade and commerce which will unite the world in a globalised community.

In the globalised world balancing requires a more nuanced approach rather than projecting pure military force as is reminiscent of the Cold War. This perhaps shows an evolution in traditional thinking about international relations and the interactions between states. The bringing of order through balancing through soft power in the anarchichal international system may work to the benefit of international law, justice and economies.

The TPP will leverage US power in a way which avoids coercive, military actions in the region. The TPP, if signed, would secure US power embedding the fundamentals of a western-oriented political and economc system within the Asia–Pacific region such that China is incentivised to integrate rather than oppose it.

The TPP and corresponding US rebalance to Asia can be understood as a balancing act in an globalised world with many different meaningful actors. It is an attempt to institutionalise a western-oriented system within the region securing US structural power. The TPP is thus a realist balancing act which restructures the broader international relations within the Asia-Pacific region imposes a US-centred framework to contain the rise of China and secure US Hegemony into the future.

The TPP may herald the replacement of coercive destruction with diplomacy when it comes to interactions between superpowers in the international system.

War: Drones, Robots and the Republic.

Vietnam-War-Protests-H

October 21, 1967. 100,000 protesters gather at the Lincoln war memorial to protest the mounting American casualties in the Vietnam War. Over 15,000 American lives lost with the number rising each day. The taxpaying American public had had enough. The populace vocally questioned the accountability of the U.S. Government and military. Never again cried the American people.

Immanuel Kant hypothesised that Republicanism mitigates societal support for warfare due to the costs of war accumulating within the populace. ‘When the citizens who bear the burdens of war elect their governments, wars become impossible’.

However, it seem this barrier to warfare, fundamental to the global military hegemony, the United States, is circumventing this barrier to warfare adeptly. United States Military Interventionism has come to define the early 21st Century, bringing freedom and democracy to all through Hellfire.

The United States espouses a form of international altruism, which drives their military action, at least in the public gaze. The roots of this responsibility need to be problematised in order to subjectively assess the effect it has on the subdued and those subduing alike. The particular rhetoric used to justify warfare in the present context by the powerful relies on a specific representation of ‘facts’ that justifies practices of warfare making certain ethical and political outcomes possible. Top officials are now planning their twenty first-century wars in a way to insure against a revisiting of Vietnam era popular outrage. To this end the Drone serves as a perfect weapon, projecting power whilst remaining invulnerable.

Warfare in the Twenty-First century under the guidance of the United States Hegemon has taken on a subtly pernicious form. The Drone, the golden child of current United States military strategy has replaced the citizen soldier with machinery. Citizens now immunized against the miseries of warfare which a body count represents.

When CIA Director Leon Panetta called drone warfare the “only game in town” the destruction of individual’s lives without due process was likened to a game. The legitimation of drone based security policies through language such as this constructs warfare in the international arena as a game, something to be played and enjoyed, this clearly attests to the tactics and strategies of power that are at play.

In Drone based warfare only one side can be hurt, its “signature” is slaughter, not war, no matter how carefully it may be used.  Drone warfare is essentially execution by air. The United States has created a specific ethical, legal and policy constructs to legitimise such actions.

On the other side of the coin, those who are being killed are subjected to extreme dehumanisation to the extent where their deaths are likened to a “bug splat”. The dead of our new wars are nameless.

The question of who counts and in warfare is an important one. American lives certainly count when they are killed in a drone strike. If you are an innocent Western citizen killed then you count. If you are an innocent, Iraqi, Syrian or Yemeni you don’t count living or dead.

In the current conception of warfare, it is no longer the citizens of the war making country whom are dying. And thus the citizen’s no longer feel the reverberations, in the form of a death toll, in their midst. There are no body bags coming home, no glare of media attention at the loss of ‘our’ lives. The exhilaration military strategists thus have with there being none of our bodies in the battle zones renders the Kantian aversion to warfare meaningless. Before one can understand the violence of warfare one must understand the violence behind the language used to justify it.

As the body count of the lives that ‘matter’ to the global military hegemon reduce and the people whom are being targeted are further dehumanised the barriers to warfare surely must diminish.

The law has been constructed and reimagined as an enabler of warfare rather than a limiter. The U.S. Administration has produced several white papers used to blur the lines of legality and illegality of its operations. Effectively, legitimising its actions. The powerful are thus able to construct a world that is aligned with their interest, to the detriment of the less powerful. Does the process of redefining the meaning of warfare in the twenty first century lead to a more peaceful world? Or, does it lead to reduced barriers and thus more death and destruction.

The US military still faces one serious problem with the use of Drones, the human agency still required to operate them. A human soldier retains the fallibility of the human condition. A human can reject orders, a robot cannot. The rapidly changing weapons industry is fast out pacing the international norms, which govern warfare effectively, providing a blank space for the operation of new technologies of death. Building on the base of laws and bodies currently in place to justify drone warfare, The United States is trialling the potential for fully autonomous war systems. Autonomous robotic weapons would allow a small amount of political elite to go to war on their own, coupled with the secrecy enveloping the political arena the implications are dire for Kant’s notion of the impossibility of war. Drone bases now stretch the circumference of the earth. America is capable to project power globally, with the coming weapons systems of the future and the secrecy which shrouds American militarism it appears as if we are beginning to live in a world where the civilian populace can no longer restrict, or even criticise military overreach.

Warfare is out of sight and therefore out of mind yet the bodies keep piling up.

Anarchy: The European Refugee Crises and its challenge to the state.


Anarchic visions fill our TV Screens. Humans, dark-skinned and scared shock us out of our comfort. Refugee’s, the antithesis of the European civilian, clamour for entry into the European political community whilst Europe attempts to secure itself against the potential corruption of the European state by the Muslim other.

The bodies of the refugee are no longer removed from the gaze of Europe. They have drifted ashore in their droves to define their existence. Yet, rather than reaching peaceful shores, refugees continue to be subjected to violent domination and othering.

European leaders and civilians have heralded the refugee crisis as requiring a state of emergency to address it. Fences are being constructed and national militaries are being mobilised to contain the threat. Interestingly, it is only a crisis when the Refugees start washing up on European shores.

Coercive measures may stem the flow of refugees briefly. However, you can build a dam until all of a sudden the river overflows or diverts its course.

The value laden calls to action by Viktor Orban frame the refugee crises as a battle to preserve Europe’s prosperity and Christian identity. Shoring up European borders from the barbarians at the gate. By constructing the refugee as a lesser we ignore their existence and deny any legitimacy to their motivations of their actions. However, what Viktor Orban fails to recognise is the very existence of European prosperity is reliant on the violence, which the refugee is a symptom of. European colonial histories are very much the antecedent for the instability in the Middle East from which the refugees are fleeing.

Both sides of the refugee debate in Europe are guilty of parochial assumption, which lead to the construction of the refugee crisis of white versus coloured peoples. Proponents who welcome the refugees can be guilty of a contemporary white man’s burden to help the refugees.

Responding to the refugee crisis in a narrow state based manner is ill equipped as a strategy of humanitarian action on behalf of refugees. The paradigm of international relations that equates interest with power seems ill suited as a source of inspiration for strategies of humanitarian action on behalf of refugees. This soft power of humanitarian aid is pushed to the side in place of the coercive violence of dog’s, fences and the military. Refugees hold a different relationship to space than citizens. They are defined by their transversal capabilities problematizing the territorial sanctity of the sovereign state.

Realists not only doubt the likelihood of costly altruism in international relations, but they are also wary of what they see as its dangerous pretensions of acting self-interestedly in the interest of others. The institutional gap in the ill treatment of refugees is a by-product of the self-interested world system.

Thus in order to address anarchy when it washes up on your shores the current system has an ingrained presupposition towards sovereign action. And the action that tends to take shape is that of coercive control to the detriment of the rights of the refugee. In the face of unclear guidelines upon the European community the process of refugee governance often takes a pernicious form. Governmentality and the practice of domination exemplify western approaches to refugee management. Refugees are governed not under the protection of the law but in a space of exception outside the traditional legal framework. In camps refugees are reduced to a bare life where they are excluded from legal protection.

The institutions and laws that currently manage refugees enable disciplinary coercion. The sovereign is able to decide a space of exception under emergency measures. The invocation of a European state of emergency leads to a states ability to suspend the law as it applies to refugees. This allows the sovereign to decide who is in and who is out of the political community or who lives and who dies.

Many argue that existing institutions require reform to be more malleable to the pressures imposed by refugees. However, what is ignored in this analysis is the fact that state-centric thinking is still likely to be mobilised to address the transnational refugee crisis. Refugees due to their transversal capabilities exemplify what might be the future world citizen.

The necessity for an approach based on the individual has never been more pressing. Understanding the gendered and colonial roots of the refugee crisis is a fundamental necessity if European leaders are to truly engage with the issue. Refugees must be humanised and treated like people. In a globalised world, borders are becoming ever more porous. In light of significant transnational climate, economic or military threats, the refugee may become the norm.

The refugee crisis is not new, and cannot be solved by some small gesture from the European union. The refugees coming upon Europe’s shores represent only a small proportion of the global situation. Yet, it is constructed as a crisis when the Refugees start washing up on European shores. This belies the Eurocentric assumptions, which restricts any meaningful individual based approach to the refugee crisis.

Europe has the opportunity to redefine the way in which refugee’s are created. The importance of doing this in an individualised light has never been more pressing if we are to secure a future for ourselves to manage future flows of people.