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International Relations History

Past, Present and Future Ways of Bounding Hard Power and War: An Eight-Part Blog

Photo: Steve Drolet

This week and the next, the ISN website will be concentrating on the problem of future forecasting. If the international system today is indeed undergoing core-level changes, then trying to understand where these changes might be taking us becomes important – not just in general, but in the case of how future belligerents might use what has become popularly known as hard power.

We know, however, that a robust contemplation of the future must be grounded in the past. Effective futurology, in other words, requires context. That is why before I contemplate the future of organized violence I’d like to perform a little history – i.e., I’d like to begin with a proposition that will also serve as my core theme over the next eight blog posts.

It goes as follows: Up through the late 20th century, concepts of military or hard power were inescapably entangled with the two characterizations of war that have dominated the modern era – 1) the “rational” pseudo-scientific approach of Renaissance and Enlightenment thinkers, and 2) the “irrational,” 19th century approach of military romantics. Both approaches are not totally “reality inclusive,” and because they first – and naturally – focused on the collision of hostile armies over disputed territory, they eventually trapped those who thought about the utility (or not) of war within a prison house of language. That trap lasted at least until the 1990s, at which point new ways of characterizing hard power appeared. These new ways, however, represented (and still do) a way back to the future, if anything else.

Categories
Uncategorized

ISN Weekly Theme: Twenty Years Since the Fall of the Wall

The Berlin Wall in 1987, photo: fjords/flickr
The Berlin Wall in 1987, photo: fjords/flickr

Two decades after the fall of the Wall the world and Germany itself is afforded a moment for self-reflection and an opportunity for analysis of the consequences of that momentous event. As well as providing us with a unique reference point in terms of the end of the Cold War and Cold War history more generally, the end of Germany’s division provides us with a benchmark for the analysis of the progress that Germany has made since its re-unification nearly two decades ago.

  • In our Links section we feature 20 Years After the Wall, a web page provided by Spiegel Online that offers articles, background and opinions on the anniversary of the fall of the Wall.
Categories
Government Culture History

ISN Weekly Theme: The Truth About ‘Truth’ Commissions

Photo: Athena Workman/flickr
Photo: Athena Workman/flickr

Truth commissions are usually formed to examine a country’s history, bringing to light the good, the bad and the ugly.

But, history belongs to the victors. Truth commissions can also be used to forward a particular political stance. In our weekly theme, “The Truth About ‘Truth’ Commissions, Ariel Cohen examines the new Russian ‘Truth’ Commission with a critical eye, stating that it has been intentionally designed to stop the pieces of history that would damage the carefully crafted image of today’s Russia from coming to the surface.

The ISN’s Linda Popova gives background information on truth commissions and offers evidence that bureaucracy can hinder even the most earnest attempts at finding the ‘truth.’

And as always, check our site throughout the week for more on the topic.