January 29, 2016
Most political theories are based around the actions of states, seeing as they have a dominance in global affairs, even with the recent growth in importance of non-state actors. The two largest political theories are classical realism and liberalism, and both focus heavily on state actions.
Realism has been around for a long time, with famous adherents such as Thucydides and Machiavelli. People have always seen international relations and wars, and tried to observe it over time. How to avoid or win wars is always a major driving factor in this observance. Classical realism has existed for 2000-3000 years, so it's an old tradition of thought, the first attempts at trying to understand why states interact in the way they do.
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The first major assumption in classical realism is that the state is a single, unitary actor, and exists in an anarchic nature with everything else. There is nothing above states to enforce order, so states can do whatever they please based on their resources and abilities. The ethics and morality of the people can affect state decisions, but this can get in the way of making sure the state survives. It is not always a good thing.
Three main elements come out of realism: statism (state-centric outlooks), survival and self-help. States are trying to survive and it's everyone for themselves, so you have to ensure your own survival.
Statism is a line of thought associated with classical realism, although it is also relevant to liberalism. The main focus of everything is on state actors, because politics is based on groups and not individuals. The state itself is seen as an individual that is self-interested. The internal makeup of a state has nothing to do with international politics. States are rational actors, they assess situations and consider the facts before making a decision. A state will consider other states' reactions to their actions. Of course, information can be misunderstood or just missed, maybe the actors don't have the same information. Mistakes can be made, and the state is not seen as purely rational and always right. The assumption is that the state is making the most rational decision it can in its context, with what it has.
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Sovereign states are seen as the "boundary of community". At the international level, the natures of morality, justice, and other values is very different.
Realists tend to look at politics in a holistic way, using in-depth case studies of each event and analysing the actions of each state involved. They see a close relationship between the domestic and international realms, understanding that the two are closely linked. The danger from this, in a realist's eyes, is ethics and morality affecting state actors on the international level. History, in this view, is not a changing thing, but a cyclical nature, the same things happening over and over.
A major issue in realist views is power. States pursue power to sustain aggrandise themselves. The goal in the international field is to have power. There's a finite amount of power available so in order to get some, you have to take it from someone else and stop others from taking it from you. Power is key to survival. A lot of this school of thought centers around human nature and greed. States take power by themselves, for themselves. There is no external source of power that will give it to a state. If you want to learn more check out Who invented a seed drill that was a breakthrough?
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A balance of power is when there isn't just one state with a lot of power. If there are two powerful states this prevents a hegemony, but a large amount of powers will lead to alliances and coalitions trying to tear each other down.
This leads to a security dilemma. Everyone wants power, and everyone wants to protect themselves. If everyone is also a rational actor, they're going to assume other states are ready to pounce on them. To ensure stability, you want to make sure your security is a deterrent to other belligerents . If you have a weak defense, there's a chance that a stronger state will come in and take over. So you build a small We also discuss several other topics like Why did john adams disagree with thomas paine?
army (militaries are usually called defense forces, not invasion forces). Other states see you building an PSCI 2601 Page 1
army, and are concerned that you plan to attack, so they build a larger army. Arming yourself causes everyone else to arm themselves more, and that's the security dilemma. You cant try to get out of it by researching new technologies no one else has and putting yourself ahead, or by making alliances. Of course, that's going to have consequences of its own.
Classical Realism--Case Studies:
First case study: Iraq War. Taking a classical realist perspective, this played out like a Greek tragedy. The US had a hegemony because after the Cold War they were the only world power. With this hegemony, they thought they could do whatever they wanted and decided to invade Iraq. The power went to their
head, you could say, leading to hubris among their leaders. The operation itself was not well thought out, and it was based more on expectation than reason. The results of this point to the classical realist idea that major powers can be their own worst enemies, and all hegemonic empires collapse.
Second case study: WWI. The war has many, many reasons behind it, and led to so many issues. In terms of a security dilemma, there were two major alliances, the Triple Entente and the Triple Alliance. From a classical realist perspective, the independence movements in the Balkans were a major threat to Austria-Hungary, who wanted to retain as much power as possible. Russia wanted control of Constantinople for economic reasons. Germany wanted to gain status as a world power, and France wanted to regain Alsace-Lorraine, which Germany had conquered a long time ago. Britain wanted to maintain the currant balance of power. If you want to learn more check out What is an atom with its electrons in the lowest possible levels?
The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by the Black Hand led to an outbreak of tensions. Austria-Hungary threatened Serbia. Russia had a treaty with Serbia and declared war. Germany had a treaty with Austria -Hungary and attacked Russia. France attached Germany because they had a treaty with Russia, Germany went to France through Belgium which drew Britain into the mess.
Classical realism would explain WWI through an examination of the states maintaining huge armies. Flaws of the specific leaders can be seen as directing the whole nations. The belief that speed was paramount to success in their militaries created a sense of urgency, although this led to major miscalculations. Military mobilisation took priority over political discussion, and everything got swept up. The conflict wound up lasting a lot longer than anyone expected, and led to roughly 17 million deaths. There were many far-reaching consequences birthed at the Paris Peace Conference, after the ending of the war.
In essence, classical realism explains WWI through nationalism, basic passions of leaders, and irrational confidence in one's own abilities. This is interesting, because states are supposed to be considered to be rational actors in classical realism, but obviously they can be irrational at times too, much like people.
Classical realism is a conservative line of thought, believing that policy should be made to reflect reality, not to change things. It's very status-quo based. However, realism is not necessarily expansionist, even though it supports states fighting each other. Realism is based on a state's survival, and an expansionist mindset can cause many problems for a state.
There is criticism of classical realism, of course.
• The peaceful end to the Cold War was very unexpected, and realism had no explanation at the time. One of two major powers just disappeared without an armed conflict.
• Regional integration and intervention for human rights, as well as non-state actors, are difficult to explain in a realist perspective.
• Civil wars, as well, cause problems for realism (although this is only true to an extent). • Foreign policy-wise, it's hard to balance planning for later consequences with strategising for what is going on at the time. Alliances with dictatorial regimes for instance, can be good at the time but cause problems down the road, but they're good at the time. The final criticism, while not necessarily a problem in the framework, is important. While realism is good at simplifying events, it may be a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. It sees the world as static, making thought of change difficult.
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The second major theory is liberalism. Liberalists use a lot of the ideas or assumptions that classical realists do, but have a very different view on what these mean. A major difference is their thoughts on what causes conflict and what, if anything, can be done to stop it.
There are four fundamental aspects of liberalism: all citizens are equal and have rights. Ultimately it's about individuals; legislative assemblies only have the authority that the people invest in them, and they must not abuse these people's rights; the individual has the right to own property and productive forces; and the market is the biggest system of economic exchange, and it's a possibility of making relationships without the authorities of states.
Liberalism considers states to have different characters, instead of all being the same. Some have different cultures, some are more belligerent, some are more peaceful. Anarchy is present at the international level, but that isn't what causes strife (although some argue that a world government is necessary).
Imperialism is often cited as a cause of conflict, while other authors blame the balance of power or undemocratic regimes. Undemocratic states are often called more prone to war. Liberalist thought often looks at how to prevent future conflict. This has led to the notion of collective security as a means to stop future war. Some say expanded trade relations would do it, some say a world government. But the idea that it can be fixed is central to liberalism. Liberalism sees peace as something that can be constructed, rather than seeing history as just a cycle.
Kant is probably the oldest liberalist, having said liberal states would be inherently more peaceful. Democratic regimes are expected to be better, according to the democratic peace theory. However, democratic states are more war-prone when dealing with non-democratic states, and this causes a lot of debate. Common laws and increased trade have been pointed at as leading to peace. Transnational actors are seen as very important, and in this way liberal thinkers sometimes move away from statism.
Interdependence is a growing phenomenon that erodes the idea of state distinctions. Two groups can work together to build each other up, rather than having to take things from each other. This is contrary to the realist belief that one state must take power away from another.
There's a lot of disagreement over what is necessary to push forward these changes. Many liberalists want to see a convergence of states and eroding of boundaries. Another major disagreement is on intervention and restraint, whether it leads to more conflict.
Liberalism, too, has its criticisms. The 1990s saw a hegemony, with the US being belligerent in general and dominating much of the world, but it's a liberal democracy. A lot of liberal institutions may have made things worse by providing aid, or by working with authoritarian regimes. When democracies see themselves as the ideal form of government, they are sometimes willing to destabilise or invade a state in order to institute it.
Case study: European Union. This was put together after WWII, in an attempt to break the old pattern of European nations violently clashing with one another and drawing everyone else in.
Three basic principles were put forward for the foundation of the EU, based on liberalism. 1. Stable democracy is more peaceful (at least with other democracies). The principle is to make stable democracies, and root out old authoritarian ideologies (guess who'd won and who'd lost the last war). 2. Economic integration in essential to regional stability. Because the great Depression had caused security issues and partially led to WWII, a reinforcement of economic relations was thought to make conflict less appealing during a crisis. This integration began with the European Cold and Steel Community, and led to nuclear ties and a much more integrated economy, leading to the euro.
3. An international institution must ensure that that the member states share policies and act on the EU's laws. There are some supernational bodies that can hold EU member states accountable . There are some limits, but the EU has still seen 50 years of growth, and now it doesn't seem to make sense for the European states to be at each other's throats and ready to go to war.
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Overview and Critiques of Both:
These theories have good and bad points. They both provide a good way to simplify things and make it easy to understand complex issues.
A critique for realism is that is often takes a static view, that change doesn't happen. In the case of liberalism, it sees the world as evolving, but it sees strict constraints in the frameworks, with a to of focus on states. For both, this turns into a critique of the major focus being on states. Sates decide on actions that states take.
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