Sunday, January 9, 2011

Stephen Walt: Diplomacy at Work & the Value of Deterrence

I found this piece worthwhile, having some interest in diplomacy and international relations, among other things. I hold a particular interest in the workings of deterrence, which, by the way, is not of little consequence in law and life. In this particular speech, the conversation between Saddam Hussein and the U.S. ambassador before the outbreak of the Gulf War suggests that Saddam wasn't fully apprised of the U.S. opposition to an Iraqi invasion and the consequences it would bring to him. One hopes that the decision to go to war wouldn't rest on a single conversation, but sometimes great endeavors, including great mistakes, can flow from tiny causes. Perhaps tiny triggers might provide a better description. The assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand didn't "cause" the Great War, but it was a trigger, certainly. A match doesn't do much without a powder keg, but in the presence of such a keg, a big match isn't necessary.

Also of note in the piece comes Walt's distinction between the "spiral model" of conflict and that of deterrence theory. An interesting distinction to consider. I'm not sure which one is right (or either), or which of them in might prove most useful in different situations. However, given that life is a lot like IR, it's something worth thinking about.