On science, social science and knowledge by Simmon Li

Descriptive and predictive functions. Newtonian physics is not a very good tool as a descriptive science, but is fantastic as a predictive science. Quantum mechanics, on the other hand, is a much better descriptive representation of the physical world. Social science, by nature, is less predictive than it is descriptive. Social science 'models' seek to describe processes by which things happen. This is particularly the case in IR. The three main lenses of analysis seek to describe the process by which decisions are made.

(more to come)

The West, Syria and the Endgame by Simmon Li

So, there's word that the West will finally do something to respond to the situation in Syria. After two years. Two years. First of all, the whole situation reminds much too much of Yugoslavia in 1999. What's in store? Humanitarian bombing? Somehow that whole debacle seems plausible, especially given the relationship between Syria and Russia in the context of the UNSC. I just don't know what they'd do aside from something like that because anything else would be committing (more or less) to boots on the ground. I mean, what happened in Libya amounted to an international air force supporting rebel ground troops against the regime. And look at the mess that's been left behind. I don't know why, over and over, the international community fails to grasp that political solutions are the best for stability. But then, perhaps the instability serves some purpose for someone. Who knows. Further, I think this is a huge travesty for R2P. To speak of "lost opportunity" is to simplify the situation, but there were certainly better chances to achieve a political solution that might not have reverberated as widely as this civil war has. Lebanon's sectarian violence has largely flared up again (from my understanding) due in part to the situation in Syria. Of course, this is all complicated by the quick moving situation in Egypt as well. But had a political solution been imposed, maybe things would have moved at a slower pace or differently all together. Who knows? Counterfactuals are just that.

The 'Free' Market, Information Economics & Bargaining Positions by Simmon Li

This is a half-baked idea, but it seems to me that so-called free market theories tend to consolidate bargaining powers in certain parties. So when one considers freedom from the point of view of ability to bargain a contract or transaction, does the 'free' market really lead to more freedom? This effect is compounded when one considers the economics of information and how access to information informs bargaining positions and negotiations of contracts and transactions. From this lens, it seems that the so called 'free' market position is, in fact, a monopolist position and is not free at all.

R2P Notes by Simmon Li

Short notes Debates over R2P generally come from two camps, I feel like. The jockeys and the naysayers. The debate seems to be over sovereignty and who the ultimate arbiter of sovereign status ought to be. The jockeys say the international community, the naysayers say the state. Both are problematic in different ways.

For one, there is no international community. At the very least, there is one that is free from geopolitical calculations that affect solidarity. The other allows terrible things to happen under the banner of a very power concept that just does not work as well in the 21st century.

The debate, it seems, can be boiled down to the level of analysis regarding sovereignty. Is it at the state level or the individual level? Part of my problem with the lit is that there doesn't seem to be any middle ground positions. Basically, R2P is normatively attractive, but is neigh impossible to operationalize in a political realm. Unlike the whole sphere of humanitarianism, there isn't even a veneer of apolitical cover. Everything is nakedly political, and I'm glad we've finally realized this. But this still leaves us the headache of R2P.

Who decides on sovereignty? R2P's reconceptualization of sovereignty as responsibility is a good first step, but it's not a credible reconceptualization. Obviously, it has failed in Syria. Diplomatic channels are being stretched to the limit as we see just how far a state can go before the sovereignty as responsibility principle kicks in. The caution is understandable, as the concept was invoked without much thought in Libya. Libya clearly was failing in its responsibility, but the exact opposite problem plagues that case: diplomatic channels were not utilized at all.

Part of the difference comes down to circumstance. The two cases are radically different in many regards, so it is hard to draw straight comparisons.

[May 8th] I think this musing of mine previously sheds light on some of the problems within a 'theory of R2P'. No one, it seems to me, has articulated a substantive theory of R2P. The Implementation document of R2P was a good first step (it gave birth to the pillars conceptualization of R2P) but I feel that it lacks a lot of substance that would help to resolve the tensions, or at least expose them, in R2P.

The following is a draft outline of a paper I plan on writing in my spare time this summer.

2009 Implementing Document

  • Rationalized responsibility and split it up as per the pillars.
  • However, this rationalized responsibility is still not connected to a conception of sovereignty that is similarly as flexible.
  • The question is whether sovereignty can be similarly rationalized (that is, compartmentalized) – I tend to lean towards the idea that it can be (as Krasner has shown, there are many kinds of sovereignty). How, then, can we work these differentiated kinds of sovereignty into the framework? Is it possible?
  • The standard language to describe R2P is “narrow but deep”, this ought to be examined. R2P has a narrow invocation scope, but a large operational scope. This is key.

2010 Early Warning, Assessment and R2P

  • This document focuses on the pillar 1 and 2 aspects of R2P. Recommendation of R2P Prevention office at the UN (this was recently, triumphantly mirrored by the US’s Atrocities Prevention Board). All in all, a safe report that was productive.
  • Deals with one of the operational modalities of R2P (that is, prevention). Seeks to provide operationalizable intelligence. (Operationalizable for whom? By what means?)

2011 Role of Regional Arrangements

  • Read

R2P - Theoretical vs Empirical

  • Theory of R2P (narrow but deep)
  • Empirical Operationalization (substantive R2P action in the face of manifest failure to protect, recent Annan peace initiative that failed may be a good place to start with an analysis of empirical operationalization of R2P principles)

Bridging the gap between the theoretical and empirical. The key is to articulate a ‘narrow but deep’ theory of R2P that (either) engages with the wide operational scope with the goal of facilitating Pillar 1 and 2 actions, or limits the operational scope of R2P to strictly deal with Pillar 1 and 2 actions. That is, how far do pillars 1 and 2 (for a lack of a better word) authorize international action? Keep in mind that I, following the lead from the 2009 Implementation document, want to keep the normative scope of R2P restricted. The question here is whether we can implement a wide enough operational scope (ie, deepen R2P).

Remember that R2P, from the inception, had 3 operating modalities that has been transformed into this pillar language: responsibility to prevent, react and rebuild. How do these modalities of R2P fit into the pillars language? I would like to suggest, first of all, that we rename the ‘rebuild’ modality to the ‘build’ modality and nest it under ‘prevent’. While this neatly removes the military invention bias in the original R2P document (that is, rebuild was thought of in relation to the react modality), it also highlights the reality that R2P has turned into a preventive doctrine. Does the 3 modes of R2P help to shed light on how the narrow normative scope of the listed crimes can be operationalized through a wider operational scope (vis-à-vis policy action)?


Globalization, Risk, and Responsibility by Simmon Li

Just some short notes for myself. Globalization as a process seeks to create an interdependent community of countries/supplier-producers/communities/etc. This sounds like a good thing (and it is for productivity and output), but there it also increases risk. What happens as people offload production and specialize is they take on risk. Whether that risk is the loss of general knowledge, the risk of depending on a volatile market, or the risk of dependency, what globalization does is two fold. It increases linkages of people while at the same time pooling their risk. Each specific community takes on more and more risk for presumably greater benefits. To be sure, globalization has its benefits, but the downsides are not talked about at all. This is a question that I don't think has been explored deeply enough. If prosperity follows from globalization, it is arguably distributed in a way that is disproportionate. But if some people prosper, others bear the risk that enables that prosperity. Who bears the risk? I would argue that the risk is disproportionately borne by the poor. Curiously, we see a pattern where prosperity and risk that comes with globalization seem to flow to different groups on a socio-economic spectrum. Systemically, the risk bearing groups tend to be those marginalized or diminished by the system. In 2008, the tax payers bore the risk. In world food markets, the Global South bears the risk. In domestic politics, it is those that are unable to participate in the system that bear the risks. Where does the prosperity go? I'd think that it tends to flow the opposite way.