This is the second “full” entry in our ongoing “X-Men Foreign Policy” series, a dynamic look at the nuanced politics in the recent X titles. You can find part one here, or if you haven’t already, the handy introduction guide.
One of the challenges of analyzing Krakoan foreign policy is deciding which international relations philosophical lenses to process what we know about the mutant nation through. In the academic realm of international studies, there are a number of competing perspectives on why states act as they do. As in all social sciences, there is no definitive perspective that is universally accepted as being the definitive method to looking at the world; they each have their strengths and weaknesses.
In this essay, I intended to look at the leadership of Krakoa and discuss what the personal qualities and outlooks of its rulers mean for its foreign policy. To do this, I will apply the principles of leadership mapped out by the grandfather of classical-realism, Hans Morgenthau.
Morgenthau was a 20th century academic that wrote extensively on foreign relations. His books, Politics Among Nations (1948) and The Purpose of American Politics (1960) made a lasting impact on the field of international studies. Hans came to the debate with a distinct realist edge; he believed strongly that good leaders must not be idealistic and should be pragmatic with their country’s objectives. At its heart, Morgenthau believed that a good foreign policy minimizes risks while maximizing benefits (Morgenthau 1960). Leaders that took too many gambles were seen as risky sovereigns that would likely bring about ruin for their people.
At the same time, Morgenthau did not believe leaders should act selfishly or without a moral compass. Rather, they need to work within the moral framework available in their place and time. Morgenthau argued that a leader should exemplify the moral compass of a society (Morgenthau 1960, 177–88). That is why this approach to statecraft is called classical realism; it pushes for prudency from its leaders but recognizes that they must also be virtuous.
There are a couple reasons why Morgenthau and classical realism are a useful IR perspective to process comic books through. First, comics are fictional properties that don’t have to conform to quantifiable variables like other IR theories emphasize. Second, comics are character driven. The characters that make up any one book matter; they guide its direction and purpose. Having Magneto, Professor X and Apocalypse all on the Krakoan Council is meant to give the reader a sense of grandeur and pause. While there are other important players in guiding Krakoan FP, this article will focus on those aforementioned three and will be referred to as the Davos Leadership in reference to their triad diplomacy in the pages of X-Men #4.
There are aspects of the Davos Leadership that may be positive for the state of Krakoa. For Morgenthau, a good leader is not one that is quick to bring force and war against an opponent, rather one that relies on “diplomatic maneuver, political pressure, and sometimes even compromise and accommodation” (Zhang 2017). So far, we have seen our leaders showing some skill in this realm. While showing up to the Davos Conference and calling in diplomats from around the world to discuss Krakoa’s statehood, they have used physical force only behind the scenes. Their state is putting on a reputable public face (Apocalypse in a suite?!) while also finding ways to work covertly behind the scenes to achieve their aims (from clandestine piracy in Marauders to surreptitious civil defense in X-Force). While these underground actions buck the acceptable norms of statecraft in our modern age, they are also common among major powers, and assuming Krakoa does not bring great attention to these acts, they will likely go unpunished by the international community.
Yet, there is reason to worry about the leadership characteristics and temperaments of the Davos Leadership. Magneto may inspire great confidence in mutants and Apocalypse assuredly fetches awe, but neither man has shown much in the way of prudence throughout of the course of their lives (both have tried to conquer the world on a number of occasions). We don’t need to go through the litany of acts committed by both characters throughout the course of their careers, as the pages of HoX/PoX and the current X-books demonstrate that their core character flaws are still on display.
Morgenthau stressed that a leader must show determination and courage, they must also demonstrate “prudence” and “virtue” when making leadership decisions (Morgenthau 1954 & Morgenthau 1960). Political wisdom, in Morgenthau’s interpretation, meant a leader understood that there was a limited amount any state could achieve, and that compromise and flexibility are core characteristics needed to advance the interests of one’s country. This is where we should fear for the people of Krokoa. There is little doubt that all three of the Davos Leaders are intelligent and courageous, but they also seem very unwilling to compromise. At the beginning of Krakoa’s foreign relations, we see Magneto tell humans that mutants are their new gods. We have Apocalypse in X-Men #4 telling humans that they have no right to say his true name; that belongs only to mutants. They make very few attempts to appear equals to other states, even though that is their major demand. Rather, they appear to be projecting their own elevated sense of self in a way that is unlikely to produce positive results in global negotiations.
Clearly, there are good reasons for the detached and demanding approach these three have taken in recent issues. There has been a successful attempt at Xavier’s life and a hit team sent to kill them at the Davos Conference. Perhaps this show of strength and bravado is just a first step towards establishing a more equal relationship with other world leaders. Unfortunately, the historical track record of these three leaders does not support the theory that they will be able to check their ambitious aspirations for the sake of normalcy with humans.
These three leader do have one thing that Morgenthau noted as important to good leadership: foresight (Morgenthau 1948, 1951). Not only have they learned from the previous lives of Moira MacTaggert, Apocalypse has literally lived thousands of years (he boasts of causing the end of the Bronze Age in X-Men #4 will in negotiations). Biao Zhang interprets Morgenthau’s use of foresight as “the ability to see ahead and take the long-term view: leaderships would need to anticipate the adversary’s action, analyze emerging threats, address new configurations of interest emerging from the current situation, and accordingly prepare themselves for future threats” (Zhang 2017). The mutants have an incredible resource at their disposal that puts them in an incredible position of strength in this regard. If Krakoa’s leaders are able to avoid demanding too much from mankind (and the mutants of Krakoa as well), they may have the skills necessary to their state a success.
Hickman, J., Larraz, P., Silva, R., Gracia, M., Curiel, D., Benedetto, A. and Cowles, C. (2019). House of X / Powers of X. 1st ed. New York: Marvel.
Morgenthau, H.J. 1948. Politics among Nations, 1st ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Morgenthau, H.J. 1951. In Defense of the National Interest. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Morgenthau, H.J. 1960. The Purpose of American Politics. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Zhang, B. Hans Morgenthau, Realist Theory of International Leadership, and the Future of Global Order. Chin. Polit. Sci. Rev. 2, 512–530 (2017) doi:10.1007/s41111-017-0080-0