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Friday, October 06, 2006

The Security Trap

Professor G. John Ikenberry
(click here for the Romanian version)

There is a strong opinion that the war in Iraq weakened the American security, instead of improving it, and Bush Administration is blamed. The question is whether this is a Bush failure or a system failure. An article from October’s issue of Democracy – A Journal of Ideas covers this topic.

The title of the article is The Security Trap, and the author is G. John Ikenberry, Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton. The book he is currently writing is entitled Liberal Leviathan: The Origins, Crisis, and Transformation of the American System. His most recent editorial apparition is a collection of essays, Liberal Order and Imperial Ambition.

Prof. Ikenberry is a strong critic of the politics of the current Administration, but beyond the anti-Bush rhetoric he seeks the root causes: Bush's foreign policy is failing, and it's not just because of Bush. It's because the world has fundamentally changed.

The rise of America as unipolar power made it controversial and contested. Says the author, in a bipolar or multipolar system, powerful states rule in the process of leading coalitions of states in balancing against other states (which likewise usually have their own coalitions). When the system shifts to unipolarity, this logic of rule disappears. Power is no longer based on balancing and equilibrium, but on the predominance of one state, and unipolar power itself becomes a problem in world politics.

The end of Cold War, continues the author, has eliminated a common threat that tied the United States to a global array of allies, and it has meant that the United States does not need these allies in the same way as in the past. But it also means that other states do not need the United States as much, either.

What is the Security Trap? The author describes it in the following terms: when America tries to solve security problems by exercising power and wielding force, it triggers resistance and hostility that ultimately makes it harder for the United States to achieve its original security goals.

How to escape the security trap? In the author’s vision, this is possible if the United States binds itself to the international community and shows unequivocally that it is committed to promoting and operating within a rule-based international order. This would reduce the autonomy and freedom of action but would bring in return much more legitimacy.

It is the vision of a liberal thinker, whose focus is on the Euro-Atlantic frame. I think there are also other important actors and each one poses its own challenges. The Islamic World is one of them, and adds specific dimensions to the Security Trap. The various groups of Islamic militants constitute an unconventional enemy, based on some kind of grass roots principle, communicating via modern technologies, while having a large autonomy of decision – thinking globally and acting locally.

Prof. Ikenberry speaks in the article about the paradox of democracy, only I would apply this concept to today’s Iraq. The US put down a dictator and the scene was immediately occupied by a multitude of uncontrollable militias.

Using a conventional army against unconventional forces is totally inappropriate. The only result is the growth of hostility within the local population. Such unconventional forces can be contained only by a strong national government, fully committed to this task.


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