Defensive Internationalism: Providing Public Goods in an Uncertain World

Defensive Internationalism: Providing Public Goods in an Uncertain World

by Davis B. Bobrow, Mark A. Boyer

"The authors' carefully crafted analysis will influence thought and the policy debate on the tradeoff between unilateralism and multilateralism for decades to come."
-Todd Sandler, Robert R. and Katheryn A. Dockson Professor of International Relations & Economics, University of Southern California

"Boyer and Bobrow's well-written, data-rich analysis of such

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"The authors' carefully crafted analysis will influence thought and the policy debate on the tradeoff between unilateralism and multilateralism for decades to come."
-Todd Sandler, Robert R. and Katheryn A. Dockson Professor of International Relations & Economics, University of Southern California

"Boyer and Bobrow's well-written, data-rich analysis of such pressing issues as development assistance, debt management, UN peacekeeping, and environmental protection makes Defensive Internationalism a highly original and provocative contribution to the study of global governance."
-Yale H. Ferguson, Co-Director, Center for Global Change and Governance, Rutgers University

In this pathbreaking study, authors Davis B. Bobrow and Mark A. Boyer argue for "muted optimism" about the future of international cooperation. Leaders of a growing movement that integrates constructivism into traditional international studies concepts and methods, Bobrow and Boyer analyze four key international issues: development cooperation, debt management, peacekeeping operations, and environmental affairs. Their approach integrates elements of public goods theory, identity theory, new institutionalism, and rational choice. Defensive Internationalism is a well-written, creative and coherent synthesis of ideas that have up to now been considered irreconcilable. It is appropriate for upper-level undergraduate and graduate students in international relations, conflict studies, and political economy, and promises to become a foundational work in its field.

Davis B. Bobrow is Professor of Public and International Affairs and Political Science at the University of Pittsburgh.

Mark A. Boyer is Professor of Political Science at the University of Connecticut.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"An excellent book. Bobrow and Boyer's goal of explaining why 'privileged' states contribute to global order is a critical issue and their 'club theory' answer is inventive and enlightening. So is their approach: a blending of rational choice and constructivist perspectives, solid empirical evidence, and the integration of international politics with domestic political issues. Reading this work is essential for understanding the future contours of international politics."
-Tom Volgy, Executive Director of the International Studies Association and Professor of Political Science, University of Arizona

"Rejecting the pessimism that often characterizes serious debate on the prospects for systemic reform, Bobrow and Boyer raise our hopes for the future. . . . This exemplary, multidimensional book deserves a wide readership, both inside and outside the academy."
-Louis W. Pauly, Director, Center for International Studies, University of Toronto

"Bobrow and Boyer have done a great job in thoroughly analyzing the G7's thoughts and actions with nuance and dexterity. A must read."
-Takashi Inoguchi, University of Tokyo

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University of Michigan Press
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Defensive Internationalism
Providing Public Goods in an Uncertain World

By Davis B. Bobrow Mark A. Boyer
The University of Michigan Press
Copyright © 2005

Davis B. Bobrow and Mark A. Boyer
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-472-09879-8


Some years ago, Harold Lasswell (1936) defined politics as "who gets, what, when, how." As we survey the world around us, however, a more appropriate definition of politics seemingly would place equal emphasis on "who gives, what, when, how." Giving affects what is received in all its connotations: providing, contributing, supplying, transferring, and even gifting. And what we expect to get back when we give to others affects what we give. For us, these conceptions of giving and receiving hold for international and domestic policy and politics as well as for interpersonal relations. We also believe that better understanding of "who gives, what, how, when" is at the heart of many current global policy challenges for states and other actors in the world system. This position does not depend on an assumption that global actors are inherently generous. It does, however, involve embracing two fundamental views about global affairs. The first was well put by Stanley Hoffman (1989, 277) when he wrote that when "working in a field in which violence, deceit, injustice and oppression are in full display, beware of illusions, but never give up hope-by which I do not mean a faith in progress, only the modest belief that it is not impossible." This position underlies an expectation that we label muted optimism. In other words, we have hope about the prospects for coping with international and global problems, but that hope is tempered by a grounding in the reality of politics in a state-centric world.

The second position, which we label defensive internationalism, has its basis in Kenneth Boulding's The Economy of Love and Fear (1973). As he summarized the position some years later, "grants, that is, one-way transfers, have two sources. One is love, or at lower levels, respect, legitimation, and so on, but the other is fear, which is why I pay most of my income tax" (Boulding 1989, 111). Doing the "right thing" does not always result from unselfish motives but can also be a product of fear and concern about one's security, narrowly defined.

These positions on our part are ones we took before the 9/11 attacks and even before the articulation and application of the national security doctrines of the second Bush administration. As we finished this book in the contemporary context of the American invasion and occupation of Iraq, most of the systematic empirical data available predate those events. As we argue in the conclusion, those developments certainly cast further doubt on a view of international affairs that is characterized by humanity-embracing, generous philanthropy. Yet for us, these events make a commitment to muted optimism even more necessary and validate the practical importance of defensive internationalism.

We began our writing (all too long ago) with an interest in why rich countries with resources sufficient for large volumes of giving often end up reluctant to give with the quality or quantity widely thought necessary to reduce current problems experienced by large sections of the world. This pattern of undergiving seems to continue even when current problems could also apparently harm the globally rich themselves. Our initial question was why the North does what it does for the South, even if what is done is often not enough. This question in turn led to related questions. Why do some northerners give more than others? Why do countries increase or reduce what they give at different times? Why do they give with more or less generous terms? Why do they choose to give more to achieve certain goals or outcomes around the world rather than to achieve the many other worthy goals? Why do they direct their giving to some troubled populations and regions more than to others? In light of the answers to those questions, how clearly does recent history lead us to project one or another set of expectations about future giving?

Giving and getting in policy and politics are not, of course, just about the deliberate or inadvertent transfer of desirables, or "goods," but also concern the deliberate or inadvertent transfer of undesirables, or "bads." In fact, many contemporary headline stories and controversies in world affairs focus on such negative transfers-diseases from Africa, financial instability from open capital markets, or deaths in New York from Middle Eastern terrorists. Positive transfers are less likely to make the headlines but surely constitute part of the ongoing policy rhetoric and calls to action about such goals as accelerating economic development or promoting democracy and human rights.

Thus, our subject is about much more than academic concerns, although we will explore the topic in an academic way. Policy cooperation and conflict on transnational matters centrally involve who ought to, who has, and who will give and get what, when, and how. The centrality of giving and getting in contemporary global policy proposals is readily evident in the flood of rhetoric citing moral ideas and pragmatic expectations and recommending particular allocations of tangible resources.

The rationales we hear for global giving involve many of the same assumptions that underlie the arguments for and against domestic social welfare programs. For example, "moral hazard" arguments contend that some giving provides "perverse incentives"-that is, encourages behavior that compounds a problem (e.g., perpetual living off welfare payments) rather than promotes behaviors (e.g., seeking job training) that lessen the problems of the underprivileged. Other positions have more to do with motives for giving and how they impel similar or different behaviors about transfers of the same commodity. They too are familiar concerns in purely domestic settings (e.g., blood donations, as analyzed by Titmuss 1971). Other arguments concern the distributions of benefits and costs in the giving-getting relationship. We are all familiar with enjoinders capturing different judgments about distributions: "Beware of foreigners bearing gifts" versus "Do not look a gift horse in the mouth." We will explore how these different positions play out in approaches to global giving and appraisals of particular giving policies and situations. For now, we note only that numerous examples are available for different positions.

The broadening and deepening of global interdependence make transnational giving and getting matters of growing activity, controversy, and consequence. Whatever the weight of their good and bad aspects, internationalization and globalization technologies and processes have brought us far into a world of bows across national, international, and regional boundaries. Boundaries are not what they used to be, and distance is not what it once was. We think that attempts to reestablish traditional border security are likely to be very costly and eventually ineffective in critical ways.

Arnold Wolfers's now almost fifty-year-old observation about the impingement of a "milieu" condition on "possession" goals surely is even more apt in the contemporary world than it was during the height of the Cold War. He wrote that a participant in international affairs is

selfish or shortsighted if he puts all his efforts into the accumulation and protection of his possessions while remaining indifferent to the peace and order, the public health and well-being of the community in which he resides or works. It is one thing to be in good physical or financial condition within an orderly and prosperous community, but quite another thing to be privileged by the wealth of one's possessions in surroundings of misery, ill health, lack of public order, and widespread resentment. (1962, 75)

Many of our previous assertions are, then, hardly great discoveries. We also have no illusions about our ability to provide complete and fully satisfying answers to our questions, at least in terms of providing clearcut evidence one way or another. Our aspirations are far more modest, and we thus will try to accomplish four things in sequence.

The first is to set out an approach integrating the implications for international giving from several intellectual frameworks of great current interest in the academic study of international relations. The central elements of each framework are drawn from, often in crude and oversimplified ways, policy debates and campaigns for adoption outside of the academy-in governments, the media, and interest group lobbying and citizen mobilization efforts (including those conducted by "public interest" groups). The theoretical frameworks are those of public goods theory and its variants, identity-based constructivism, and multilateral institutionalism. We think that the attention given to those several frameworks implies that each has some intrinsic merit as well as explanatory and predictive inadequacy. We want to exploit the strengths and compensate for the limitations of these approaches as they help us understand and analyze the subject at hand. Chapter 2 does just that.

The second is to characterize the domestic belief systems that provide incentives and disincentives for rich-country governments to engage in particular forms and degrees of giving. We think that competitors for high national office try to associate themselves and their policies with prevailing citizen beliefs and avoid contrary courses of action. That is not to deny the importance of domestic and transnational voluntary organizations (i.e., nongovernmental organizations) or private sector arms (e.g., multinational manufacturing and services companies). We do assume, however, that the impacts of nonstate actors depend on degrees of compatibility and contradiction between what they would have states do and what domestic publics prefer, tolerate, or oppose. Chapter 3 reports generally relevant beliefs, while those more specific to particular issues are considered in chapters 4, 6, and 7.

The third is to explore the at between our conceptual expectations and prevalent domestic beliefs, on the one hand, and what has actually been given in four issue areas of international policy, on the other. The issue areas are those of international development assistance, debt management and relief, peacekeeping, and environmental protection. Those are surely not the only issue areas where international giving matters, and some observers certainly would argue that these are not the most important topics. For our purposes, it is not necessary to cover the entire waterfront of international giving and getting or to treat the issue areas currently of the greatest salience to major power elites and publics. What is necessary is that our issue areas have characteristics that make them useful for tracing and understanding the implications of our concepts and identified beliefs. It is obviously desirable that the issue areas manifest strong giving and getting interactions and matter for the well-being of much of the world in a way that is of more than fleeting or localized importance. We think that our chosen issues meet those criteria. Our four issue areas are examined in detail in chapters 4-7.

Finally, more speculatively and less rigorously, chapter 8 draws out what are for us the major implications of our analysis in terms of international giving and getting. This involves a summary of behavior in the relatively recent past as well as certain expectations this behavior suggests for future policies. We will in comparative fashion suggest implications for the three major international sources of giving relevant to our cases: the United States, the European Union and its members, and Japan. We will, however, pay somewhat more attention to the United States, not because we view it as the extreme outlier among the rich countries in terms of generosity or stinginess in international giving but rather in the spirit of the Mexican saying that living close to the United States is like sleeping in the same bed with an elephant. The elephant's movements, whatever their motivation, matter a great deal. Much of the world views itself for better or worse as living close to the United States in the sense of being profoundly affected by it. The American share of resources relevant to the transfer of goods and bads makes it the global elephant. Those realities may erode in the long run of history, but they surely characterize the recent past, the present, and the proximate future of global affairs.


We began our work with some convictions. Readers can judge the extent that those convictions have biased our analysis. By now we also know what is in the following chapters. Accordingly, we will not engage in coy pretenses that we began with fully open minds or are ignorant of what our analyses have found.

We believe that most players in international affairs share two common preferences. The first is for basic order in the sense of sufficient regularity to enable predictions about what others do and the consequences of those actions. Actors are not attracted to surprises and uncertainty. As opposed to a more chaotic policy environment, a context of regularity allows players to pursue progress (as they define it) and to avoid regression. By progress, we refer to improvements in actual and perceived conditions in fundamental terms-physical security, economic prosperity, ecological sustainability, and cultural continuity. Regression amounts to worsening conditions in one or more of those respects. Both involve combinations of probabilities (likelihoods) and absolute and relative conditions. Assessments of conditions involve historical retrospectives and forward-looking estimates of what is in fact happening to those fundamental conditions.

We also assume that most international affairs actors increasingly view their conditions as sensitive to and possibly determined by events and trends in a world outside of their national territory and/or citizenry. Thus, the regularities of substantial interest for these players are increasingly global yet remain significantly domestic and local. These recognitions spur efforts to form international clubs, groupings across borders intended to help assure regularity, facilitate progress, and limit regression from existing conditions. We expect that when formed, those clubs will play important roles in international giving and getting.

Our premises do not claim universal love of the status quo or uniformity of views about what will enhance global order and progress. Our assumptions do suggest that a policy line seen to have a reasonable chance of enhancing the prospects for both order and progress will often be chosen over alternatives seen as inferior in those respects. That applies with respect to achieving improvements, avoiding regression, and countering looming threats or precedents of disorder and shock. Most participants in international affairs, at least most of the time, will, within the limits of their understandings and capabilities, try to avoid negative capital formation and accumulation with the parochial and collective problems they involve (Keller, Lowi, and Gendlin 2000). An illustration of our premises was the prevalent, although not universal, initial reaction to the September 11 events in the United States. The targets of those events in both physical and symbolic terms were two pillars of current international regularity, one economic (the World Trade Center towers) and one military (the Pentagon).

What different actors will do on behalf of regularity or to avoid regression and achieve progress in their conditions depends on a host of factors. We do not view most actors as dedicated, unselfish philanthropists. We also do not reject in principle the merits of "tough love" approaches. We do believe that those who and the current order and its projected path into the future more attractive than recognized alternatives will try to do something in its defense, expansion, or acceleration. What they do, however, may be of large or small magnitude relative to their resources or even limited to encouraging what are thought to be conducive courses of action by others. This latter policy approach may be a selfish move of burden dodging, or it may follow from convictions that what others do will in large measure make the difference in outcomes. We expect those who have the greatest stakes in global order and progress and who perceive those stakes as threatened to be especially likely to exert themselves. If they also have large material and nonmaterial resources-as such countries often do-then they are capable of making large efforts directly and providing incentives and disincentives for others to follow even if those other players are less interested in the goals of order or progress.


Excerpted from Defensive Internationalism by Davis B. Bobrow Mark A. Boyer
Copyright © 2005 by Davis B. Bobrow and Mark A. Boyer. Excerpted by permission.
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