Monday, May 21, 2007

Balance of Power in the Third World

Balance of Power Theory in the Third World

Most of the wars in the world since 1945 have occurred in the Third World[1], a mixture of both intrastate and interstate conflicts have dominated foreign discourse in Third World politics and in deed the International System[2]. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union many a foreign policy discussions have revolved around third world nations, in deed, the conflicts that have occurred in this relatively short time period have had at least one third world state involved[3]. The major foreign policy discussions in contemporary American politics, do revolve around primarily third world nations[4] why do Third World nations seem to be predisposed to conflict? And can realist theories effectively describe, explain and predict Third World foreign policy?
These are the primary questions that this paper is concerned with, in particular the application of Balance of Power Theory in the Third World. This analysis shall be done through the lens of a Balance of Power critique: Omnibalancing[5]. By assessing the arguments put forth by Omnibalancing theorists, I hope to come to a conclusion about the applicability of Balance of Power in the Third World context.

“Third World”, “The Periphery”, “Global South”. “Developing Nations” These are all terms applied to a rather large group of nations that make up the plurality of all the nations on the earth. There seems to be no agreed upon definition of the term “Third World” and there exist a number of ways to conceptualize the group, David ascribes to the most expansive conception of the term arguing that the third world are all the nations in the world except: “The United States, the Soviet Union, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the European States and the People’s Republic of China”[6] Bobrow and Chan further classify these nations in to: “Goliaths”, “Achievers” and “David’s” based on their population size, economic development and military capabilities[7] Buzan[8] on the other hand, divides the world in to “Post-modern”, “Modern” and “pre-modern” with most Third world nations occupying the latter category.

Whereas there is no agreed upon description of the “Third World”, it is widely acknowledged that the term refers to the underdeveloped, poor, weak states of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. There is a greatly deal of diversity in the “Third World”, but there are some shared characteristics: “The prototypical Third world state can be seen to possess certain basic characteristics. The most important of these are a lack of internal cohesion, in terms of both economic and social disparities and major ethnic and regional fissures; lack of unconditional legitimacy of state boundaries, state institutions, and governing elites; easy susceptibility to internal and interstate conflict; distorted and dependent development, both economically and socially; marginalization, especially in relations to the dominant international security and economic concerns; and easy permeability by external actors, be they more developed states, international institutions, or transnational corporations.”[9] In essence, Third world nations tend to be weak, vulnerable and insecure, and share a common history of colonization, artificiality of borders[10]

It is argued that these unique internal characteristics and history lead Third World states to act differently in the International System than all other states would. Thus, meriting special consideration of Third World States in International Relations Theory.[11]

Balance of power theory is one of the most dominant “sub theories” in international relations[12] The theory holds that states will take measure to protect themselves against the power or threats from another state. These measures can either be internal (increasing size of military) or external (making alliances)[13] The theory assumes that the international system is populated by states, states driven by a will to survive in an anarchic environment. And this instinct to “survive” is the driving force behind state behavior: “This Theory argues that states align to protect themselves against the power of or threats from other states….Balance of Power theory emphasizes that the determinants of alignment come overwhelmingly from the structure of the international system, particularly the actual and potential external threats that states face.”[14]

There are many arguments between those who adhere to the Balance of Power Theory, primarily on “System outcomes” versus “Unit foreign policies”[15] However, one particular critique, that bears on Balance of Power application is of particular interest.

Omnibalancing shares some common precepts with realism and Balance of Power Theory (existence of anarchy in the international system, survival most important factor in foreign policy decisions, use of force always an alternative to conflict resolution) However, omnibalancing aims to “correct”[16] some of the flaws in realism (and Balance of Power theory in particular) by clarifying some issues that make the Third World unique and thus, weaken the explanatory and predictive abilities of the Balance of Power theory.

Omnibalancing was first proposed as a theory in Steven R. David’s 1991 article “Explaining Third World Alignments”[17] it was refined and expanded upon in the book “Choosing Sides: Alignment and Realignment in the Third World”[18] In both David argues that the uniqueness of the characteristics and history of third world states, bring forth some additional dimensions/issues that need to be taken into account when analyzing Third World foreign relations. He points out that Third World states are not only faced by external threats, but INTERNAL ones to, with the internals were often being the most pressing[19] It is not – as Balance of Power theorists argue – a situation of anarchy in the international system and order at home, but anarchy in both realms.[20] Therefore, third world states have to balance against a multitude of threats, both internal and external, thus, the need for a theory that takes in to account all “omni” balances that Third World leaders consider.

David also questions the Balance of Power theorists’ emphasis on the state as the primary unit of analysis.[21] He argues that most Third World leaders come to power illegitimately, and are more concerned with their own “survival” than the survival of the state: “[T]hey will sometimes protect themselves at the expense of promoting the long-term security of the state and the general welfare of its inhabitants.”[22] Thus, the appropriate unit of analysis would be the “leadership” and not the “State.” In addition, David questions the wisdom of applying Eurocentric conceptions – developed and applicable to 19th century Europe – on the Third World. This argument again refers to the uniqueness of Third World societies and experiences under colonialism and later.

David argues that, by introducing the internal dimension, as well as, regime type, provides a more accurate way to describe, explain and predict Third World behavior. He argues that third world leaders will align[23] with the superpower they believe will enable them resist all the threats (internal and external) to their regimes. The leaders may go as far as to appease the opposing superpower in order to undermine their primary threats.[24] He uses the example of Ethiopia[25] under Mengistu Haile Miriam as one of his case studies to illustrate his point. In particular he focuses on Mengistu’s dealignment with the U.S. and simultaneous realignment with the Soviet Union. When Mengistu took over the country in 1974, Ethiopia had been a long time ally of the U.S. and continued to be so until the realignment in 1977. Mengistu faced a number of serious (primary) challenges to his rule; one was an external threat from an irredentist neighbor (Somalia) and secessionist province (Eritrea). The Soviets were the primary backers of both threats and were – according to David – thus, a secondary threat. David argues that the U.S. provided only enough arms to deal with the Somalian threat, but not enough to deal with the Eritrean threat. Thus, Mengistu decided to appease his secondary threat (Soviets) by aligning himself with them, and therefore, undermining his two primary threats.[26] It worked and Mengistu was able to eliminate both threats.[27] David argues that though this may look like bandwagoning, it is not. He rests his case on the fact that Mengistu never tried to appease his primary threats. But he did appease one threat in order to balance against other threats. Thus confirming his theory.

The Ethiopian example does raise some interesting questions about Omnibalancing. David focus is primarily on alignments between the third world and superpowers, and here his theory would seem to be correct and Balance of Power wanting. However, he fails (or gives only cursory treatment) to potential regional/ third world-third world alignments. It would be worth knowing what aid other regional powers gave to Mengistu, especially in light of Somalia irredentist claims, which also targeted Kenya and Djibouti. In his discussion of Egypt[28] under Sadat, he does hint at a potential regional alignment (Syria and Egypt against Israel) but seems to ignore the possibility that this alliance confirms Balance of Power. As Ayoob points out: “There is undeniably an autonomous regional dynamic that also affects the security of developing states and regions and is related to the regional balance of power…”[29]

On the matter of external threats (Soviets) support for internal threats (Eritrea), it is not clear whether the latter would be sustainable – thus a credible threat – without the assistance of the former. This calls in to question which of the two is the primary threat. As David notes, Ethiopia was able to eliminate the Somalian and Eritrean threats with little trouble. It is possible that due to the immense assistance that the Soviets gave to Somalia and the Eritrean forces, that the Soviets were actually Mengistu’s principal threat, therefore, when he aligned with the soviets he was indeed bandwagoning with his primary threat. Again Ayoob provides a cautionary note: “In many conflicts that have originated as intrastate conflicts, the relationship between internal and external factors is symbiotic in character, in the sense that one set of factors cannot thrive without the presence of the other and vice versa.”[30]

Moreover, the Ethiopian case also calls in to question the wisdom of the “leadership” level of analysis. He argues that the leader do not fear the loss of the State[31], bit fear the loss of their power, however, in certain parts of the third world internal threats can threaten the very existence of the state. As Krause[32] notes, in South America the threat is to the leadership, while in most of Africa the threat is to the existence of the State. The Ethiopian experience is again illustrative of this point. The primary threats to Mengistu[33] were not Eritrea or Somalia; these threats wanted to take land away from the state of Ethiopia and were not necessarily concerned with who was in power in Addis Ababa. Therefore, Somalia and the Eritrean threats were to the State (state breaking) and not Mengistu.

There are fundamental disagreements about the applicability of IR theories in the Third World[34] and in particular the neorealism emphasis on “systemic outcomes” versus “Unit foreign policies.” The utility of considering the Third World as having an impact on the International System is also arguable. On the matter of Balance of Power we see that there are some problems with applying the theory as currently conceived, especially without taking into account the internal characteristics of a Third World State. The quest for simplicity would seem to hinder Balance of Power’s ability to explain and predict and explain third world behavior.[35] Omnibalancing, on the other hand, provides us with a wider and deeper understanding of how and why third world states act as they do. Notwithstanding its potential pitdalls, the theory does provide us with a tool to better analyze the third world, especially the “multiple threats” that states face. Whether the theory continues to be of much use is in question, as Third World states slowly move toward more democratic, and equitable societies[36] David admits as much (though half heatedly): “Only the virtual elimination of internal threats to third world leaders as a factor in alignment would make omnibalancing irrelevant….”[37]

[1] Ayoob, M (a) “Subaltern Realism: International Relations Theory Meets the Third World” in International Relations Theory and the Third World” Ed. Stephanie G. Neuman, (New York, St.Martin’s press, 1998) 38
[2] It is worth bearing in mind that most of the “conflicts” between the superpowers during the cold war, occurred in the Third world.
[3] Consider the Persian Gulf War, Balkan Crisis, Second Persian Gulf war etc.
[4] Here I am primarily thinking of Iran, North Korea, Iraq and the threat of terrorism.
[5] Steven R. David (a) “Explaining Third World Alignment” World Politics, vol. 43, No.2. (Jan,1991) pp.233
[6] Steven R David (b) Choosing Sides: Alignment and Realignment in the Third World. (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991) 11
[7] Bobrow Davis, Chan, Steven “Simple Labels and Complex Realities: National Security for the Third World” in National Security in the Third World. Eds. Azar, Edward, Moon, Chung-in (Aldershot, England: Edward Elgar, 1988) 60-64
[8] Buzan, Barry, “Systems Versus Units in Theorizing about the Third World” In Neuman (fn1) [9] Ayoob, M (b) The Third World Security Predicament: State Making, Regional Conflict and the International System. (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1995) 15
[10] David, 13 (fn4)
[11] Ibid
[12] David, 234 (fn5)
[13] Elman, Colin “Appraising Balance of Power Theory” in Vasques, John and Elman, Colin eds. Realism and the Balancing of Power: A New Debate” (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall) 13
[14] David, 4 (fn6)
[15] For further discussion see Elman, 8
[16] David. 233 (fn5)
[17] fn5
[18] fn6
[19] Thus as Ayoob notes (fn1) most wars have not only occurred in the third world, but have predominantly been intrastate conflicts.
[20] Steven R David “The Primacy of Internal War” in Neuman (fn1)
[21] David, 7 (fn6)
[22] Ibid. This is partly based on his assertion that third world states are not threatened with external domination due to international norms, such as the inviolability of country borders
[23] Focus of his argument is on Alignments with the superpowers. Do to need for military equipment and other factor implements, third world leaders are forced to rely on External balancing, as opposed to internal balancing.
[24] David, 88 (fn6)
[25] He also considers Somalia under Siad Barre, Egypt under Anwar Sadat and Sudan under Nimeiri. This paper shall only look at Ethiopia. For a discussion on why David chose these four cases see. Pp. 26 (fn.6)
[26] David,88 (fn6)
[27] David, 129-140 (fn6)
[28] David, 82 (fn6)
[29] Ayoob, 50 (fn9)
[30] Ayoob, 51 (fn9)
[31] David, 14 (fn6)
[32] Krause, Keith “Theorizing Security, State Formation and the ‘Third World’ in the Post-Cold War Period” Review of International Studies (1998), 24, 129
[33] The primary threats to Mengistu the man, would have been his military and the communist party, David, 111 (fn6)
[34] Neuman, Stephanie “International Relations Theory and the Third World: An Oxymoron?” In Neuman (fn1)
[35] David, 253 (fn6)
[36] Ayoob, 44 (fn1)
[37] David, 193 (fn6)


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home