great powerings


Chris Dierkes

Chris Dierkes (aka CJ Smith). 29 years old, happily married, adroit purveyor and voracious student of all kinds of information, theories, methods of inquiry, and forms of practice. Studying to be a priest in the Anglican Church in Canada. Main interests: military theory, diplomacy, foreign affairs, medieval history, religion & politics (esp. Islam and Christianity), and political grand bargains of all shapes and sizes.

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11 Responses

  1. Avatar Katherine says:

    It’s interesting to see that the Gap and the Core correspond relatively strongly to the economic terms of Periphery and Core – the Periphery being former colonial or quasi-colonial states whose economies have been oriented towards the interests of the developed world. Under this theory it is not the lack of free-trade and neoliberal economic policies that keep these nations in their current state, but the overabundance of them. Virtually every major industrialized developed nations became so not by free trade but by managed protectionist measures – from the United States to East Asia. (The exception is Britain which, being the first industrialized nation, had little competition during its industrialization.) Without protectionism, South Korea would still have a rice-based, not a technology-based, economy.

    These non-state actors realize that they can not win a war against a great power. So the insurgents lure the big army great power into the conflict zone–until the great power declare mission accomplished in the war phase–and then begin their insurgency, bleeding them out and forcing the occupying army to withdraw.

    One minor and one major correction to Barnett here. The (relatively) minor one is that the Soviets in Afghanistan were defeated by a wide range of Afghan resistance groups and the Taliban didn’t become predominant until after the Soviets left. The major one is that this is an almost mind-boggling case of victim-blaming. The US was not purposefully “lured” into Vietnam nor the Soviets into Afghanistan so that the resistance movements could employ asymmetrical warfare to defeat them – both chose to intervene, but both were also the clear aggressors; the Vietnam and Afghanistan respectively had no interest in starting any war with them. Hezbollah may fit his statement – they act in a way meant to provoke Israel into intervention – but I don’t see any others in his list in the previous paragraph that do.

    I would say that is the basic flaw in Barnett’s reasoning – such invasions will always provoke resistance. Korea and Iraq I were successful because they fulfilled reasonable objectives: repelling aggression by one state against another. The US would be wise to restrict itself to such defensive wars and avoid entirely the problems Barnett highlights.Report

  2. Avatar Chris Dierkes says:


    You’re right about my rather sloppy use of Taliban as a catchall for the various resistance movements-who largely called themselves mujihadeen. Thanks for the reminder. On the “lure” question he means more in the sense that they don’t take the bait of trying to fight groups at the border. Obviously you’re right that the Soviets and the US intervened on their own. What Barnett is saying is that they play defeated in the first round. Since they are already being invaded, no point in trying to fight them during the invasion (really) so act as if you are defeated, drawing them into the country (now usually urban zones, like in Iraq) and then pounce, attack, and then slip back into the crowds. If the occupying army has to go around kicking down doors and breaking into homes, rounding people up, and then dumping them off at some prison, all the better, as it will turn the local population against the occupying force. Again see Iraq from 2003-2007 for this phenomenon.Report

  3. Avatar Chris Dierkes says:


    On your other point (periphery, too little vs. too much globalization/trade), one while they are dependent they are not really connected. Middle East is a classic example. There is a huge amount of oil and money flowing in and out of the region. But it doesn’t grow wealth. It doesn’t grow social wealth. e.g. Look how many articles that get into major peer-reviewed science journals come out of the Middle East (answer: not many).

    Obviously that part of the world got caught up in the Cold War and were given huge amounts of cash (by either the Americans or Soviets or both) but no real political mechanism to evolve (there were only two options us or them), no desire for them to evolve (since the fear was they could only turn into an ally of your enemy), nor any real capacity/know how about how to manage the money.

    Barnett is really focused on the time period following the Cold War. Though you are correct (and I’ve blogged about it here on the League before) rather than the Clinton-Bush IMF “Washington Consensus” of the 90/2000s those states would be better to follow a connected but somewhat protected nationalist economic course. And actually Britain did do that for sometime. I recommend Bad Samaritans by Ha Joon Chang. Brilliant book. His ideas are largely coming to pass as China is now guiding most of the foreign aid and some countries are routing around the World Bank/IMF to follow the Chinese route. This is labeled in the US as crypto-fascism or the waning of the democratic tide or some other neocon nonsense when actually as you mentioned (and Chang details) they are more closely following the US policy of the 19th century. Barnett’s book btw has some amazing parallels between the US in the 19th/early 20th century and China, Russia, etc. My favorite might be calling Vladimir Putin the Andrew Jackson of Russia.Report

  4. Avatar Jon says:

    Just because we used to do something doesn’t mean we were right.

    How did it help the US to be good at making steel, when US consumers had to pay more for steel products and got worse steel products as a result? That meant our battleships, for example, had to cost more and were worse quality steel that we would’ve gotten otherwise. Wouldn’t we’ve done better to find more globally competitive things to specialize in? It’s not as though we were short on inventiveness, and IMHO, it would’ve been easier if imported goods’d been cheaper.

    Now, high tariffs certainly helped fund the gummint well while staying out of most peoples’ faces. But there was a cost to be paid, as I see it.Report

  5. Avatar Cascadian says:

    I’m not sure that the US is actually internally in a position to continue its trajectory. I don’t think there was ever a time of rosy unity in the country, but I think now it’s as bad as it has ever been. There’s certainly a degree of fatigue with both military adventures and grand national moral crusades. I think it would be better to back off the world stage to focus on internal problems… developing a more decentralized working government while fixing our obvious economic structural problems.

    Some bit of protectionism may be beneficial. I’d suggest that one effect of globalization is to create economic mono cultures. There are obvious advantages to economies of scale but there are also dangers and weaknesses. Many practices which may initially be high yield are ultimately unsustainable. I’d encourage regions to look at their self sustainability and to take this time of global recession to fill in the holes.

    Now is not the time to even be thinking of spending resources abroad.Report

  6. Avatar Chris Dierkes says:


    I agree that the old style was not without cost (see the robber baron history of the 19th c. as an example). That said, I think the main portion of Bad Samaritans is correct–that it makes no sense for countries like the US (through IMF/World Bank) to take what is a developmental economic sequence going on for about 200 years in the West (England and US particularly), take the most up to date version of that and then force entry into the global order based on getting 200 years worth of development in in about oh say 2 years. It’s called The Washington Consensus and it failed which is why a number of countries are now going to follow China’a lead on development (which used to be the US version). Again as you say not without flaws (hence the evolution beyond this phase) but you don’t skip stages in my mind. Let them work it out at their own pace.Report

  7. Avatar Chris Dierkes says:


    This is an important point you are raising that I plan on addressing in one of the later posts (in the critiques of Barnett). To be fair he is looking to a 20 year window. I think he does downplay the need for spending at home (but again he’s a foreign policy thinker). More on that in a later post.Report

  8. Avatar Katherine says:

    Chris –

    Thanks for such a long answer! I’ll check out Bad Samaritans when I get a chance. The Washington Consensus seems to still be basically in place as regards free trade (and with all the new money given the IMF, the rest of it – capital market liberalization, cuts to services, etc. – is likely to be strengthened too), so the more voices criticizing it the better.

    You’re right that the Middle East is something of an exception to the core-periphery model. There’s a lot of money in the region (at least some parts of it) that ought to be going to better use than it is. But it’s a description of connected political and economic factors – as you said neither side was greatly interested in their successful economic development, and another point that relates to non-democracy in much of the periphery is that so many of the leaders had power not because of popular support but because of funding from the great powers; there was no real incentive for democracy (as the US put a higher priority on anti-communism, and the Soviets weren’t too interested in democracy either) and the strong disincentive of having to deal with an opposition and looking weak to whatever power sponsored the government. And the Middle East still has that system, more or less – the US sends Egypt and Saudis a great deal of money, and did the same for Musharraf.Report