In 1812 Napoleon Bonaparte, at the heights of his power, set out for the most adventurous, and ultimately fatal, military campaign. Napoleon’s Grand Army of over 500,000 men, the largest force ever mobilized to that date, was led to the lands of Russia. Historians have long investigated the misjudgements of this campaign and the question of hubris emerges as an underlying factor for Napoleon’s vehemence to pursue a disastrous campaign. Hubris is exaggerated pride, often combined with arrogance. Excessive confidence and reassurance, inspired from his established conquests and grandiosity, further inflated by narcissism, led Napoleon to conduct a military campaign that could be allegedly classified as irrational because it took place against the backdrop of a series of warnings and unfavorable forecasts from his lieutenants. The motivations for setting to conquer Czar Alexander’s Russia were less driven by the geopolitical necessity of defeating a rival power as by the impetus “to satisfy a hubris-infected personality” and an insatiable “hunger (…) for applause from others”.
Robert O. Keohane is Professor of International Affairs, Princeton University. He is the author of After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy (1984) and Power and Governance in a Partially Globalized World (2002). He is co-author (with Joseph S. Nye, Jr.) of Power and Interdependence (fourth edition 2011), and (with Gary King and Sidney Verba) of Designing Social Inquiry (1994). He has served as the editor of the journal International Organization and as president of the International Studies Association and the American Political Science Association. He won the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order, 1989, and the Johan Skytte Prize in Political Science, 2005. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the National Academy of Sciences. He has received honorary degrees from the University of Aarhus, Denmark, and Science Po in Paris, and is the Harold Lasswell Fellow (2007-08) of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.
Where do you see the most exciting research and debates happening today in the field of international relations?
I think that the field of international relations – which should be called “world politics” for reasons that will become obvious below – has historically been most interesting when one of two developments occurred in the world: 1) there were new activities and processes to describe and attempt to explain; and 2) events took place that called into question existing theories – that created anomalies. In the first category I would include the appearance of systematic balance of power politics that appeared to create a sort of stability in a decentralized system, in the 18th and especially the 19th centuries; the creation of important intergovernmental institutions, especially after World Wars I and II; and the increasing levels of activity and significance of non-state actors, apparent in the 1970s and occurring at an accelerating rate after 1991. Also in the first category is sustained attention to human rights (most apparent after about 1975), as well as the so-called “democratic peace,” which received attention from the early 1980s on. In the second category are the stability of the post-World War II bipolar system (anomalous for balance of power theory), which led to more attention to structural theory, especially in the work of Kenneth N. Waltz; and the generation and persistence of substantial international cooperation, which were anomalous for Realist theory, including structural theories.
Over a decade of securitised transnational approaches to combatting terrorist activity and propaganda have shown that such approaches are ineffective on their own. Sometimes, these ‘hard power’ measures can actually damage efforts to roll back the appeal and participation in violent extremism.
While such steps may be justified in domestic contexts where threats are critical or imminent, failure to accompany these with robust ‘soft power’ initiatives will prove fatal in the longer-term. If we are to succeed in countering violent extremism, these are some key strategies to invest in:
Impunity is not simply a juridical, technical problem, or some sort of loophole in the law that lawyers, politicians, bureaucrats, and activists can close with greater effort. Impunity lies at the heart of a dispositive that encompasses, neutralizes and even recuperates almost all attempts to redress it. We have come to this disturbing realization on the basis of both empirical and theoretical attempts to understand how contemporary legal, political or civil-society practices run the risk, despite their benevolence, of falling into the propagandistic rhetoric, social conformism and bureaucratic indifference that feed impunity.
The concept of economic warfare has been traditionally used for addressing the complementary economic tactics of armed conflict. In the near future it could represent a way of conducting war per se.
The balance of forces amongst states is no longer only measured by assessing the strength of conventional armed forces. The years since 1990 are often defined as the “geo-economics’ era”. Following the end of the Cold War, the economic domain has become the main criterion of measuring the state’s power, at both the regional and global level.[i] The current trend sees the balance of forces measured by economic indicators rather than by military capabilities. Hence, the confrontation amongst competitors in a certain region is often played by exploiting the points of weakness and dependencies of the opponent/s as well as putting in place financial measures aimed at damaging it or limiting its influence rather than threatening it with military means. In short, geopolitics seem to be experiencing a renaissance, heavily impacting–at times dominating–the realm of international relations due to a decrease in the likelihood of full-scale military escalations.
In effect, without the constraints of a defined world order, risks of local military escalations have become great at the point that full-scale military actions are very few while more limited interventions and/or wars by proxy have increased.