Monday, November 18, 2013

A tidbit to ponder: credible threats and credible promises

Steven Walt, a Harvard international relations prof, asks: what does it mean when heads of state, especially our Presidents, insist we must keep use of military force "on the table"?

One of the most common phrases in contemporary foreign-policy discourse is the declaration that the threat to use military force must be kept "on the table." Pundits and policy wonks say this all the time, and so do prominent politicians from both political parties. These days it's most commonly found in discussions about the U.S. relationship with Iran, but that's hardly the only place where we are constantly being reminded about the need to keep our powder dry and our finger on the trigger.

The more I think about it, however, the dumber that expression sounds. Why? Because for the United States, the option of using military force is always on the table, especially when we're dealing with weak states like Iran....

Of course, people do not use this admonition to keep force "on the table" in a serious or sophisticated fashion; it's just an easy way for politicians and pundits to show they're tough-minded and not averse to using the pointed end of the stick. In other words, it's a way to maintain your inside-the-Beltway street cred. But it's really a meaningless phrase, because countries like Iran (and others) are well aware that the option of using force is right there and could be used if U.S. leaders ever decided it would accomplish a genuine positive purpose. ...

Given the many options that America's vast military power creates, the bigger challenge might be figuring out how to convince others that force is off the table. If we want Iran to forgo nuclear weapons, for example, we should try to convince Tehran we're not going to bomb Iran and not going to try to overthrow the government. ...

This one is a classic read the whole thing. What with all the random spying, drone attacks, frequent military adventures, and a tendency to shut down our own government over domestic arguments, how would the United States convince other peoples that this is not a rogue nation and our assurances could trusted? Worth thinking about.

This post was queued up before I left for Bhutan.

2 comments:

Rain Trueax said...

as they say about carrying around a gun with your finger on the trigger, makes it far too easy to use accidentally or otherwise.

amspirnational said...

http://www.moonofalabama.org/2013/11/just-a-few-links.html#c6a00d8341c640e53ef019b0149da91970b

"The situation is that Obama and his corporate democrats have so effectively neutered the progressive wing of the party that its support, which has come to be defined as its silence, its legislative pacifism, is no longer worth having.

For the past five years, as wars have raged around the globe, as thousands have been assassinated by drones and death squads, as conditions in Guantanamo have deteriorated, as excuses for its existence have evaporated, as the actuality of the long suspected Panopticon project has been dramatically confirmed, as the economy has crumbled and living standards plummeted, the "left" in America, and elsewhere, has thrown its vast energies into campaigns to allow homosexuals the rights of marriage, from white weddings to survivor's benefits."

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