Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Basic assumptions, Geopolitics

How do we sensibly (or even semi-scientifically) discuss the geopolitical issues amongst varying opinions? In Klaus Rhode's entry:Iraq war casualties and Iran, he takes a court-case type of paradigm for analysis. There is an apportionment of blame for, say deaths in Iraq since the war, proven crimes formerly by Iraq, current suspected and proven crimes by Iran and Iranians. This is then taken as a basis for what actions various countries should take, including the US, and whether these actions would be legal, and the likely consequences of taking action or not. My greatest objection to this paradigm is that it doesn't come close to reflecting reality. There is no world court to speak of, laws of nations are still competing with the law of the gun, misdeeds related to war-like actions cannot be brought to justice 999 times out of 1000. Apportionment of blame is realistic in situations (within borders of countries) that have good separation of powers, lots of resources for justice compared to the number of crimes, and little motivation for state-sponsored crime. These three things are not anywhere near happening in the middle east or geopolitically in general, making the paradigm nearly useless as a tool for discussion and analysis.
An example in point I can make for clarity is the use of human shields in Serbia during the war in Kosovo. If civilians are placed in strategic locations that are known to be bomb targets; is the country that dropped the bombs or the country that put them in harms way to blame if they die? Discussions quickly turn from who is to blame to how successful the strategy is. I am the kind of person that can think at the same time that an action is wrong and immoral, and also that if I was placed in that position, that it would be the best move to make. When leaders make decisions based solely on strategy rather than because international laws tell them to, a court case analogy loses all its predictive power and therefore its relevance. When strategy is the main motivating factor for discretionary decisions, game theory gives the best predictive qualities. This is why I can seem to be a game theory ideologue. To take the Iran (potential for the US to make bomb strikes on them) issue: To say that it would cause mass deaths, and would be illegal under international law misses the point entirely. Whether the powers that be decide to go down that path also depends on what Iran does (or "their move"). That Iran would continue toward a nuclear threshold even though they realise that there is an invisible line over which if they cross, the risk of war continues to rise, even if they don't quite know where that line lies, means that they are not afraid of war. The future of their citizens (and in the long term themselves), is also partly in their hands and the provocations they make. The Iraq example should demonstrate that the US is not that afraid of casualties, nor of a protracted conflict. Even if it doesn't deter Iran, it would probably deter others.

3 comments:

Dr. Clam said...

Do you ever notice that the posts that you spend the most time on and are most interested in discussing are the ones that nobody ever comments on?

I should like to say something constructive about your geopolitics post, but can't think of anything. Oh, except that the problem of incomplete information is always serious. And that as citizens of free-ish societies we will always have much better information about our own nation's misdoings than about our enemies' misdoings, which will encourage us towards an unhealthy self-loathing.

Marco said...

Yep - that about covers it. Posts that generate numerous and varied comments are a complete and pleasant surprise.
Unhealthy self-loathing seems to be an accurate description of our disgust at the US's sins (and our support of the US)
Game theory - IMO more predictive, no apportionment of blame.

Blame Game - tendency for blame to rest with entities that are the most open with their information - more than likely unfairly.

One can certainly make best guesses about misdeeds by entities that are opaque, but then cannot be proven.

Klaus Rohde said...

"he takes a court-case type of paradigm for analysis. There is an apportionment of blame for, say deaths in Iraq since the war, proven crimes formerly by Iraq, current suspected and proven crimes by Iran and Iranians. This is then taken as a basis for what actions various countries should take, including the US, and whether these actions would be legal, and the likely consequences of taking action or not. My greatest objection to this paradigm is that it doesn't come close to reflecting reality."

I refer to my latest post: On Aggression. It is not a case of a court-like sort of argumentation, it is a question of survival of the human race. Each species on Earth has had a limited "lifespan", we are close to the end of that lifespan (??I have to look it up and defer this to a later post on my blog, where I will present quantitative data). Each species has had its own way to terminal exit. Ours may well be the foolish actions of a superpower that has lost all respect for others and takes aggressive unprovoked actions ("power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely"). I would suggest that, whether realistic or not, we better change our ways and take a more "global" view of how we should behave. And here game theory comes in: we generally and consistently misinterpret the motives of our partners in the game, any reliance on a simplicistic interpretation of game results is highly dangerous. In fact, it is not difficult to find references to the Nash equilibrium and other equilibrial solutions that specifically warn not to apply them to everyday life and politics. If you want to have a closer look at how rare equilibrium "solutions" are, have a look at my book Nonequilibrium Ecology. Developments are very erratic and largely unpredictable in such a world, a minor mistake may lead to exitus.