Looking back to the anniversary of the start of the Korean War, on June 25, 1950, and looking ahead to potential crises in Asia, there is much to ponder on the question of military intervention.
Will the hopeful Korean summit lead to a prolonged period of peace?
Are the entrenched geopolitical positions of China and Taiwan likely to trigger U.S. involvement in the Taiwan Strait?
Is there such a thing as a “just” war?
Does the United States’ insistence on developing an expensive and unproven missile-defense system presage acceptable deterrence or an arms race?
Should more reliance be placed on the United Nations in solving international disputes?
What about the international manufacturers and sellers of military weapons? Can they be counted on to cooperate in the downgrading of weapons systems and nonproliferation?
A recent and intellectually challenging book “U.S. Foreign Policy in the Twenty-First Century: The Relevance of Realism,” by Robert J. Myers (Louisiana State University Press, 1999) does not provide complete answers to such chilling questions. But it does provide a context for thinking about these critically pertinent themes.
Recognition of its astuteness is a reason the book has been nominated for the Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award, which is presented by the American Political Science Association. The award is given for the best book published in the U.S. during the previous calendar year on government, politics or international affairs. The recipient will be announced in August during the organization’s annual meeting.
Myers should be introduced not as an academic but as a “Renaissance man.” He currently hangs his hat at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, where he is a research fellow. But he also served for 16 years in the Central Intelligence Agency, is a former publisher of New Republic magazine and also a past president of the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs.
He strikes me as a man who would be equally a home leading a seminar on “political morality in the developing world” or standing in a raincoat on a remote Asian airport tarmac, requesting an aide to “round up the usual suspects.”
The Chinese, too, are realists, Myers tells us. “The West is largely newly aware of China because of its economic success, its remarkable ability to seize and integrate the market economy into a communist political framework. This was not supposed to be possible.”
On the question of how to deal with China, Myers writes: “The ascending power will be a preoccupation of American diplomats, scholars and soldiers during the coming century.” (And of international political columnists, he might have added.)
Machiavelli, Kant, Thucydides and Plutarch are old names whose enduring thinking is invoked in Myers’ book, along with the intellectual contributions of modern analysts like Stanley Hoffman, Francis Fukuyama, Donald Kagan and Henry Kissinger, for better or worse.
“Appeals to justice will continue to be heard; every war will be a ‘just war,’ ” Myers sums up after sifting through the relevant scholarship and factoring in human inclinations. “The calculation of consequences will become refined enough, one might expect, so that not going to war may clearly be in everyone’s self-interest, as the long nuclear truce so far has demonstrated.”
And finally: “America will presumably continue to stand on that side, making its preference for peace heard but knowing that it might become the victim of its own ego and self-righteousness.”
In other words, the possibilities for peace into and through the 21st century may be prolonged by using political realism to choose the lesser of evils.
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