COMMENTARY
 
Hayward Alker: The Death of a Legend
Weekly Pulse
August 31-September 5, 2007
Hayward Alker, one of the great souls in the discipline of International Relations, has died. May God bless his soul! A Professor of International Relations at the University of Southern California and the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University, Hayward Alker served as President of International Studies Association, of which I am a member. He had visited Pakistan for a couple of weeks in November 2006.

The Higher Education Commission of Pakistan had funded the trip, during which he spoke at Quaid-i-Azam University, Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), University of Peshawar, and the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad.

Professor Alker’s talk at the Quaid-i-Azam University centered on findings of the Dialectics of World Order Project, covering the evolution of major international political debates about security, economy, community and environment in the 20th Century. The project analyzes how alternative “world order” debates have evolved over the course of the century—particularly from empires to post-Westphalian state forms at the end of the Twentieth Century.

A collaborative effort among Professor Alker, Watson Professor Thomas J. Biersteker, Tahir Amin, Chairman of International Relations Department, Quaid-i-Azam University, and Takashi Inoguchi of Chuo University and the University of Tokyo, the project was to conclude with a synthesis of contrasting visions of world order and world disorder and a discussion of the dialectics of civilizations.

Professor Alker had also been interested in the development of information resources for anticipating, preventing, managing violent inter-group and interstate conflicts around the world. He had recently published a book titled Conflict Early Warning Systems. His other recent works include Journey Through Conflict (2001), Rediscoveries and Reformulations: Humanistic Methodologies of International Studies (1996), Mathematics and Politics (1965), World Politics in the General Assembly (with Russett, 1966), and Analyzing Global Interdependence (with Bloomfield and Choucri, 1976). He also published articles in several scholarly journals such as American Political Science Review, World Politics, International Studies Quarterly, and American Society for International Law.

Professor Alker had special attachment with Pakistan, with Prof Amin and Ijaz Shafi Gilani, Chairman of the Gallup Pakistan Survey organization and Professor of International Relations at International Islamic University, being two of his former Pakistani students at MIT.

During his December 2006 TV talks in Pakistan, Professor Alker pointed in particular to former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami’s proposal for a “dialogue among civilizations,” an idea also floated recently by Pope Benedict XVI, rather than the oft-cited “clash of civilizations.” While endorsing this dialogue, though, he underscored how difficult it would be to achieve such an ideal given today’s global politics.

During the visit, Professor Alker interviewed Pakistani students and faculty about their views on the United States. Back in the US, he wrote about what Pakistani students and faculty thinks about the United States in a thought-provoking article carried by a local Californian paper, Block Island Times. Here is what he wrote in the paper:

“The students and faculty (in Pakistan),” wrote Professor Alker, “felt that in pursuing its ‘War on Terror,’ the US had betrayed its democratic ideals, its belief in International Law and its commitment to judicious fairness, a trait especially desirable in a superpower capable of influencing outcomes in all parts of the world. As to US commitment to democracy—articulated so forcefully in President Bush’s second inaugural address and repeatedly cited as a reason for our interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq—the continued support by the U.S. government for Pakistani President Musharraf against the will of majority Pakistanis was regularly mentioned. Also, American willingness to overlook India’s acquisition of nuclear weapons seemed unfair to the Pakistanis when compared to the continued American sanctions imposed on Pakistan for its own, defensive nuclearization. US biases in favor of Israel, and against Muslims, were also regularly mentioned. The US support for a month of Israeli bombing in Lebanon, including anti-personnel cluster bombs in heavily populated areas, was cited by several people.

“Having heard these views, I was better able to understand the nation-wide public opinion result released by Gallup International just as I was leaving Pakistan, and reported in the national press there. Although 76 percent of Pakistanis surveyed agree that terrorism is a major threat to their country, 61 percent of their population sees the U.S. as playing a negative role in the fight against it. From such a broader perspective, were my Pakistani conversational partners a microcosm of the world at large? According to Gallup world surveys, the U.S. is seen as contributing positively to the growth of the world economy by 46 percent of the world’s population, a point no one mentioned during my visit. But only about 30 percent of world opinion sees the US as making a positive contribution to peace in the world, to the fight against poverty, and to the protection of the environment. Here Pakistani viewpoints were more representative.

“Personally, these encounters left me impressed with the degree to which Pakistanis feel themselves to be in solidarity with Muslims around the world. Despite their uneven successes in political and economic development, they are proud of a civilization which too few Americans understand and respect. They are crying out for US people to learn more about them and to appreciate their own struggles toward their own forms of modernity.”

Professor Alker had a great passion for International Relations, devoting all of his life in teaching and researching in this discipline. He is considered as one of the world’s leading authorities of International Relations Theory. Just a month ago, a friend asked him about the reasons for the Soviet collapse—and, in his informal response, a number of serious observations that he made are worth quoting here, as they tell us about the depth of knowledge that this great man possessed.

“You ask about the collapse of the Soviet Union. If you mean that narrowly, the actual events of the state’s disintegration, then some would say that it was ‘not’ inevitable or doomed, but rather ended as the result of a self-interested decision of a handful of republican leaders, chiefly Russia’s Boris Yeltsin, who sought to push Gorbachev aside and increase their personal power by becoming individual heads of states of independent countries, not just provincial/republican bosses in one larger country…The system could have been preserved, with further reforms, but was not given the chance.

“Others would approach the USSR’s collapse less literally, meaning they would focus not so much on the proximate causes of the state’s final dismembering as on deep, structural problems that they believe would have made collapse inevitable sooner or later in any case, no matter who was at the helm. The failing economy would be mentioned first…The Soviet economy was already approaching crisis in 1985, Gorbachev’s attempted reforms only made things worse, and some kind of collapse was thus inevitable.

“Now exactly how this precipitated state break-up is another matter. Some would point to the collapse of party-elite solidarity and the rampant grabbing for assets and plundering of the state that was already underway during late perestroika. Others would say that economic problems were more important in inflaming popular discontent, or national-secessionist dissatisfaction. In other words, growing economic hardships fueled national-secessionist movements, as local leaders used Moscow’s failures to rail against the center and promise that independence held the best chance of recovery, Western aid, rapid market transition.

“Whatever the case, economic failure was also a pointed ideological problem as the entire basis of the one-party regime’s legitimacy was its promise that socialism would bring prosperity, full employment, material advantages over capitalism. The party could be forgiven for its corruption, its occasional brutality, and a host of other problems or mistakes so long as it delivered on its material promises. When these so manifestly failed, its legitimacy evaporated.

”Still another school focuses more directly on ideology, on morality, even spirituality. (Some scholars) emphasize that the real underlying cause of the USSR’s collapse was its ideological-ethical failures. Party corruption, lies, millions of needless deaths, the attempt to replace ‘real’ spirituality (religion) with a ‘false god’ (Marxism) not only left people empty in the end, it left a society thoroughly corrupted from top to bottom.

“After decades of lies and deception, and the shortages and privations that turned everybody into bribe takers (or bribe-givers) and larger or smaller black marketers, Soviet society was uniquely morally bankrupt. So, when the ethical-idealist Gorbachev set people free, instead of preserving the best of socialism and working to reform the system, most just used their new freedoms to grab whatever they could. Former big shots and people with high-level contacts abused them to hijack privatization.

“Mid-level officials descended into an orgy of bribery, twisted new laws and freedoms to their corrupt advantage, leaving ordinary people to carve out whatever advantage (also usually illegal) they could. Gorbachev thought freedom would unleash the best in people, but instead it unleashed the worst. This is all under perestroika, by the way, things only got worse under Yeltsin and ‘shock therapy.’

“Finally there are those like me who see perestroika as a nobly conceived but failed attempt to humanize, liberalize, and ‘Westernize’ the country. Institutional opposition was viciously strong, Gorbachev’s haste and mistakes were many, and the West didn’t exactly help much either (both politically and economically stingy--we found $ 94 billion overnight to bail out Mexico in 1994, but could not come up with a fraction of that to help Gorbachev when he needed it most a few years earlier).

“Of course, the reasons for the West’s and America’s skepticism and stinginess were many too--from ignorance and arrogance to Cold-War suspicions that just wouldn’t die. Even in 1989, when Gorbachev had proved his sincerity a hundred times over and put everything on the line, Bush I advisers like Brent Scowcroft were actually still arguing that perestroika might all be a trick, the cause us to let down our guard. Of course, I also argue that, sadly, this skeptical ‘realist’ attitude at the Cold War’s end became a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is, by advising Washington to keep up its guard and warning that Russia couldn’t be trusted, was ‘genetically’ imperialist (George Will, among others) and would soon be an adversary again, we acted in such a way to cause precisely that to happen.

“As for the original intentions of the founders of the Soviet state (Lenin, et al.), they were a varied crew, but all committed Marxists who probably would have been horrified at the police-garrison state that "real existing socialism" had become by Brezhnev’s time. They certainly would have been shocked and distressed to see what an economic failure it turned out to be--they had the highest hopes for rational central planning, maximal allocation of resources, and of course for a more just distribution of benefits to motivate workers of all sorts to produce more, be happy and productive, etc. They did not understand the market/competition’s benefits very well, and certainly did not foresee the transition from extensive-old industry-labor based economics to intensive-high tech-knowledge based economics.”

Before his death, Prof Alker had donated part of personal library collection to the International Relations Library at Quaid-i-Azam University. Now the rest of the collection has also been donated to this library.