A Compendium of "The Rise and Fall of Peace on Earth"
From realism to American liberal nationalism
The strength of realism as a theory lies in how it is grounded within a conception of “the international” – even if this is defined narrowly as the existence of multiple competing states. Mandelbaum’s opposition to NATO expansion and the “liberal crusade” makes sense in realist terms. Imperfect worlds throw up political problems that cannot always be solved. Realism tells us to be sceptical of the claims of states to be acting in the name of universal interests, because this can disguise the interests that really motivate the policy. Good international governance therefore means balancing a world of competing interests and norms. Realism’s weaknesses, however, are equally in evidence across Mandelbaum’s work. Recognising national interests can lead to a self-fulfilling prophesy, essentially mandating states to pursue their interests come what may, regardless of the ethical issues at stake. Mandelbaum’s realism, in particular, provides a theoretical armoury that justifies a decidedly particularist view of the world, i.e. one that is based upon a specific national perspective even if it claims to be based on universal norms. Implicitly this comes down to political nationalism – as the basic mobilising device for elites in a fragmented world of competing nation-states. In 2005, these American nationalist mores even led him to write the seemingly highly “un-realist” book, The Case for Goliath, in which he claimed the United States had many of the functions of a de facto world government – something the rest of the world, he suggested, should really be quite pleased about as it was a force for stability and liberalism.
The Rise and Fall of Peace on Earth is a similarly unconventional piece of realist scholarship. For Mandelbaum sees the end of the Cold War as bringing about a Kantian-style peace based on the spread of democracy and greater economic interdependence, even positively citing Kant in this regard (p.144). He advances a version of the democratic peace theory which holds that liberal democracies will not go to war with one another (pp.6-7). Mandelbaum puts the blame for the destruction of these stable international relations firmly on the shoulders of foreign powers – principally, Russia, China and Iran. If these states were to become liberal democracies the possibility of a Kantian-style peace would again, he argues, resurface (p.144). This, however, conveniently disregards, the reluctance of the United States to accept a multilateral approach to global governance. From the Kyoto and Paris climate change accords, to the creation of the International Criminal Court and the Iraq War, the United States has been an, at best, questionable ally of a rules-based international order. American unilateralism has been its consistent foreign policy thread.