Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Blame Clinton? North Korea acting exactly as experts predicted, the "spiral vs. deterrence" theory

In the first year of any program in international relations there is one book all students are required to read: "Perception and Misperception in International Politics" by Columbia professor Robert Jervis. It's as basic as the Merck Manual if you are a scientist. The book explores, at great length, how aggressive national behavior intended to deter can backfire, and set off a "spiral" of aggression. In a nutshell it explains why countries like North Korea and Iran are not the same as Hitler, and George Bush is no Winston Churchill.

The "spiral vs. deterrence" model shows us why right-wing attempts to blame Clinton for all this are a joke. The end results of Bush's foreign policy were entirely predictable. As long as we kept our focus on Afghanistan, no one was afraid of us. When Bush went off the deep end and invaded Iraq, everyone rushed out to get a "Bush deterrent." Whether you get deterrence or a spiral depends on whether the world respects you, or is afraid of you.

For a good short outline on spiral vs. deterrence see this MIT professor's lecture notes.

Here is a link to Jervis's classic. And here is a blog post I wrote back in March, on just this issue.


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