Tuesday, January 04, 2005

North, South, East and West Brits

I was amazed to discover that the latest incarnation of Magill magazine, which was founded and periodically revived by Vincent Browne, is an interesting departure from the norm of Irish media opinion. With Eamon Delaney, novelist and Accidental Diplomat in the editor's chair. It has some right-wingers I've heard of, such as economist Marc Coleman, who made a run for SU president when I was at Trinity, and Rory Miller, a middle east scholar at King's College London. I fear that it's likely to be short-lived, as in its previous lives, but it will be fun to see who appears.

Dr Miller writes on the Anglosphere, the theory, popularised by management consultant James Bennett, that the English-speaking nations should build institutions to underpin closer links, based on a common culture of economics, politics and international relations. I came across Bennett's Angosphere primer via Mark Humphrys' pages, which are always worth a browse.

I'd very much agree that America, Australia and Britain are taking the right approach in fighting against global terrorism and that they had strong interests and altruistic reasons for invading Iraq. However, I think that the Anglosphere concept isn't much use in understanding what makes this alliance work, as it ignores the important factors in its oversimple analysis.

Bennett gets history comprehensively wrong; even for the big events, he just doesn't know what every schoolboy knows. In the most important example, the similarities and cultural links between the three countries were much stronger in the past, but somehow this wasn't sufficient to prevent America systematically dismantled the British Empire, epitimised by Ike's humiliating coercion of Britain and France during the Suez crisis.

Second, he's guilty of what I'll call the big Bermuda fallacy. All these nations are isolated by water in different regions of the globe, meaning that the geopolitical factors that dictate their national security interests will be different, and not identical, as they might be if both Britain and Australia were located near Bermuda. I find the realist analysis of foreign policy put forward by Mearsheimer or Brzezinski than others and this would predict, as we observe, that the US will act to maintain its dominance and the others seek outside help to balance their weaker position vis a vis their neighbours. Since 1941, Australia has rejected Britain's meager capabilities for an alliance with the US, which has seen them fight together in Korea and Vietnam and now Iraq. Given the prospect of turmoil among Muslims in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Phillippines, Australia has little choice but to actively hunt down terrorists in the region. Rather than an Anglosphere, it's an Americasphere, with other medium-rank powers benefiting from the US military umbrella such as Japan, Poland and South Korea, joining the fight.

Third, Bennett's cultural assumptions are weak. If Anglophone culture explains domestic and international politics, law and economics, then the other strongly Anglophone countries - Canada, New Zealand and Ireland should share the same attitudes. All the later three - the Anglosphere theory's problem children, have a foreign policy that's distinct from, if not hostile too, America's, especially under the Bush administration.

The fourth, and crucial failure for Ireland, lies in failing to understand the exact nature of the Anglo heritage of each country making up the supposed Anglosphere. To put it simply, there ain't no green in the Union Jack.

As Huntington, and David Hackett Fisher before him have argued, the Anglophone cultures of America were either from England, Scotland or the settlements of Scottish Ulster, all defined by powerful animus towards Catholics and general and the Irish variety in particular.

In turn, the overseas Irish communities tend to reciprocate with a powerful Anglophobia; House Speaker Tip O'Neill spoke of playing at fighting the Redcoats when growing up in south Boston; Paul Keating, the working-class Irish bruiser, tried to redefine Australia as an Asian power and sever constitutional links to Britain.

So, overall, I don't rate the concept very highly, even ignoring Bennett's writing style, which makes comprehending his articles akin to making a close reading of a roll of toilet paper. What would you expect from a management consultant? If someone charges a thousand bucks an hour, one can hardly expect deep contemplation and brilliant expression. Perhaps it's a good thing that academic salaries are so uneconomic....

I've never before given the National Interest magazine much respect, but I've changed my mind after reading the Summer 2004 edition from cover to cover. Apart from the luminaries on the board - Brzezinski, Kissinger, Huntington, Eliot Cohen - it has a broad and detailed scope rivaling the best policy journals in the field, while mixing realist, neo-conservative and a pinch of nationalist themes. In an issue from four years ago, its founding editor, Australian diplomat and analyst Owen Harries casts a critical eye on Bennett.