Quite some time ago, American international politics scholar, Kenneth Waltz, averred that “Denmark does not matter”. Waltz, of course, was not interested in belittling the little European nation. Rather, his position was that in the world of international politics, as distinct from international relations, only power counts. Waltz and other scholars, such as John Mearsheimer at the University of Chicago, belong to the neorealist school of thought.
These thinkers hold the view that it is distribution of capabilities in the international system that matters most of all in how states define their interests, and how they relate to each other. While the neorealists share a common ancestry with classical realists going all the back to Thucydides (Peloponnesian War), they differ from writers like Hans Morgenthau or even Henry Kissinger who give considerable weight to internal factors, such as the nature of the political system, or the quality of democracy. For the neorealists, internal considerations may be important but what is primary is the structure of the international system.
Note that realists, including the neorealists, have further differences. Waltz, for instance is a defensive realist, meaning that the strategy of Great Powers, such as the United States, should be focused on avoiding imperial overreach. This comes down to adopting a military posture, strategic thinking, and diplomatic conduct that defends the status quo. In contradistinction the “defensive neo-realism,” “offensive neorealism” insists that Great Powers are obliged to strive for hegemony.
Accordingly, while the former seeks to avoid wars and conflict, the latter believes that the drive for hegemony is rational.
Let us compare realism and neorealism to those of liberalism and neoliberal institutionalism. Whereas the realists and neorealists believe that human affairs are driven by fear and self-interest, and national interest by power, liberals think that conflict and war are the result of poorly designed institutions. For classical liberals, a Great Power like the US, should focus on promoting the “democratic peace.” Neoliberal institutionalism is a variant of classical realism. It holds that foreign policy of Great Powers, and specifically the United States, should be to build “international regimes” in different issue areas (trade, international finance, climate change governance) in order to reduce the cost of international transactions. Note that neoliberal institutionalists do NOT necessarily support neoliberalism. While the former accepts free market enterprise as the central articulating principle of economic activities, it does not necessarily support supply side economics or monetarism.
Now, we all know that theory both helps explain real life phenomena and also influences actors’ behavior. This point is relevant to Guyana and especially as a small state that will soon receive the Secretary of States of the Unites States, Antony J. Blinken. In light of what I have outlined above, I can say that Secretary Blinken may be best described as someone who believes in preserving American global position in the current structure of world order.
He believes that this could be done best by using constructive tools of diplomacy, but if pushed, the United States should employ its structural power to change the behavior of actors and institutions in the international system.
By all accounts, Blinken is a pragmatic liberal, in many ways much like President Irfaan Ali, Vice President Jagdeo, Prime Minister Phillips, Foreign Minister Todd, and Secretary of State Robert Persaud. The practice of diplomacy by Ambassador Sarah Ann Lynch also places her in the category of constructive pragmatism.
While Guyana is clearly a small state lacking extensive material power, it does have qualities and new resources to enable it to play a decisive leadership role in the Caribbean, and perhaps beyond. There is already evidence of our leadership with the election to the Security Council of the UN.
President Ali has also been a powerful and influential voice on food security in the Latin America and the Caribbean. Further still, our new hydrocarbon assets, combined with our well-established LCDS model built around our tropical rain forest will embellish our ability to win new friends and allies, and strengthen relations with states, including the United States with whom we have had historically strong ties.
Secretary Blinken is no doubt already aware of these developments, and of our capacity for regional leadership. The opposition in Guyana, and especially the APNU-AFC should know that Mr. Blinken does not suffer those with a penchant (and history) of rigging votes and stealing elections. The opposition press that routinely prevents fair commentary through biased management of their Letter Sections, should know that Mr. Blinken was a newspaper contributor since his undergraduate days at Harvard.
Further, I doubt that the Secretary of State would have any understanding for Kaieteur News columnist GHK Lall labelling of Alistar Routledge (of Exxon) a Field Marshal, knowing fully and well that the construction conjures up images of militarization. Mr. Blinken is the stepson of a Holocaust survivor who was an adviser to John F. Kennedy.
In terms of the theories outlined above, Antony J. Blinken clearly falls on the liberal side of things. He is keen on promoting the democratic peace, and on strengthening international institutions that promote trade, investments, good governance, and human rights. If I may say so, Mr. Blinken is to the ‘left’ of President Binden on some of the human rights issues.
Way back in the 1980s when Mr. Biden was deep in the Cold War mindset, a young Antony J. Blinken severely criticized US policy in Central America, South Africa, and even in Israel. Mr. Blinken was born to Jewish parents.
That said, and as noted by Jesús A. Rodríguez (Politico 01/11/2021) Blinken’s diplomacy is best characterized as “…a sober and moderate form of liberal interventionism.” More specifically, he is takes seriously “…the importance of U.S. engagement in the world—especially harmonizing relations with adversaries and holding strongmen accountable—while also decrying more overt and aggressive forms of American imperialism.” (Ibid).
When Christian Phalange militiamen massacred hundreds of Palestinians at Sabra and Shatila (Beirut) in 1982, the then undergard at Harvard wrote “Israel is not, has never been, nor will ever be the irreproachable, perfectly moral state some of its supporters would like to see” ((
He reportedly cried when he saw the killing of a young activist by the regime Salvadorian dictator Roberto d’Aubuisson.
These points are important for Guyanese to ponder as we await the Secretary of State. His visit is in many ways a stamp of approval for the current stewardship of the PPP/C administration. It may also (though only inadvertently so) be seen as a thumbs-down for writers like GHK Lall who have spent so much time excoriating American Ambassador Lynch, and Exxon executives, with special abuse for Mr. Routledge.
These are unforgivable breaches of protocol and Secretary Blinken’s presence here will go some way in saying – Stop it!
In the context of WWI and WWII Waltz may have been correct that “Denmark does not matter.” In the current conjuncture, however, Guyana does matter. Welcome Secretary Blinken.
Dr Randolph Persaud