The US empire and Northern Ireland

Humourously, Cox started his lecture with some alternative titles: “Bin Laden, Ballymena, and the war on terrorism”, or better yet, “Sinn Fein and the clash of civilisations”, with a subtitle, “The DUP and the end of history”.

Cox mooted whether the US government was still interested in Northern Ireland, especially post 9/11. His thesis was that its interest under the Clinton administration was unique, and not likely to recur. Cox presented his thesis under four themes:

1. US involvement in the 1990s

There are numerous reasons why the US would not get involved in NI: (a) there is no apparent US interest at stake (irrelevant strategic role, no need for Atlantic sea lanes, no economic interest); (b) the special relationship with the UK; (c) the Troubles were not significant enough, no humanitarian crisis, no NATO crisis, no imminent invasion (i.e. NI was the “cinderella” of regional conflicts).

So why get involved? First, there is the Irish-American vote. With Clinton, what is even more relevant is the Irish-American face of corporate America.

Second, there is the British Prime Minister’s, John Major, intervention with the 1992 US Presidential election. Here, Clinton’s willingness to grant Gerry Adams an entry visa was seen as a win-win situation.

Third, at a more macro level, George Bush Sr was oriented in the Cold War perspective, while Clinton was willing to beyond this, with the Cold War definitively over. This can be seen as part of a liberal globalisation theory, where under conditions of stability, new markets flourish. NI was a good test case.

Fourth, success in NI could have a “reverse domino” affect. Successful peace processes in one place would positively affect peace processes elsewhere.

Overall, Cox describes US involvement as a hegemonic process, but one with a human face.

2. Consequence of US role in NI

Cox essentially argues that with US involvement, the result in NI would have at least taken longer to achieve.

3. Post-Clinton US involvement

Under the Bush administration, NI is not as crucial to its own or US interests. Bush is not interested in pursuing a liberal globalisation theory of international relations. (Cox recommended “America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy”, by James Lindsay and Ivo Daalder.)

The Irish-American vote is not part of Bush’s voting base. This includes Irish-America corporate America, because Bush’s business interests are elsewhere, e.g. oil, chemicals. Bush has no need to highlight Irish-America business.

Post 9/11, the discussion about conflict is less compromising and less ambiguous. There is no more tolerance for fudging. Whereas the Agreement relied on “intentions not capabilities”, progress now will be more specific and concrete.

Cox also underlined the significance of the portfolio of NI returning to the US State Department with the Bush presidency, from residing with the National Security Council under President Clinton. The US State Department never favoured the granting of a visa to Adams. However, Prof Paul Bew later argued that the US State Department is not as Anglophile as before. Bew provided the example of US envoy Haas’ public objection to the postponement of the NI Assembly elections. Cox accepted this, but maintained that the shift away from the NSC demonstrated NI’s lesser significance to the Bush administration.

4. Conclusion

Post Cold War, President Clinton faced a world of strategic luxury, where he got to choose his next move. Now, especially after 9/11, this is no longer the case. We are back to the realist school of international relations, where NI is a luxury.

Cox’s final remark was that we no longer see the type of “daring diplomacy” exercised by Clinton.

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