Thursday, October 27, 2005

Unique or not?

Charles Jones, head of the Latin American Centre in Cambridge was at ISA last night to present a paper on American (in the hemispheric sense) international relations. His thesis was that there was a distinctive form of such relations, compared to the old world form - at least until the establishment of the bipolar and more recent unipolar worlds.

He based his argument on several factors, including the desire to create a 'new world' (i.e. eliminating indigenous populations, societies and structures), the primacy of economic concerns over political ones and the rhetorical commitment to legalism and the reality of force. Indeed, this latter point was expanded upon by his presentation of the US as a formal empire using indirect means to maintain control, in stark contrast to earlier imperial systems. This is seen most evidently in the disproportionate force against its foes, including Grenada and Iraq.

I can see where he's going with this argument, but I'm not personally convinced of the logic. I'll concede that the 'American' state was weak at its foundation compared to the European one, that the 'new world' thesis is strong. But surely legalism has always been a norm at the centre of the international system, as has the tension between pressure to conform and force to ensure it? The more I think about it, the less I am persuaded of exceptionalism, not just for the Americas, but in other regions as well. I've always been sceptical of such specifics, since it's a slippery slope towards the political cultural arguments that individuals like Wiarda make.

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