Wednesday, May 29, 2013

International Relations Theories

International Relations Theories Introduction Realist theorists normally have their intellectual roots in Thucydides’ classical explanation of the Peloponnesian War in the 5th century BC. However, it took almost 25 centuries before the field of international relations came to be an institutionalised academic field and for the pioneer realist theorist in the institutionalised discipline to emerge. In the study of international relations, realism refers to a worldview of international politics that focuses on its conflictual and competitive side. Realists view the state as the major actor in international politics. Realism takes different approaches and claims a long hypothetical history . Some of the mentioned founding fathers include: Thucydides, Machiavelli and Hobbes. These are the names that are commonly mentioned in relation to realism. Among the pioneers of classical realism was Hans Morgenthau, a German-Jewish immigrant to the U.S. his work, Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace formulated an explanation of political realism that came to dominate the international relations studies . Ultimately, the scholarly domination of Morgenthau was taken over by neorealism. Neorealism or structural realism is one of the theories of international relations. This theory was founded by Kenneth Waltz, who is also one of its greatest proponents. His ideas are best explained in his book, Theory of International Politics . This paper discusses these two theories in international relations, their strengths and weaknesses, and goes ahead to give a comparison of the two. Neorealism From the orthodox perspective, realism looks at the world the way it is actually instead of the way it is supposed to be. Neorealism holds that the definition of international structure is by its ordering principle as well as by its distribution of abilities. The ordering principle in this case is the anarchy . The abilities are measured by the amount of great powers in the international system. Supporters of this theory suggest that the anarchic principle of ordering of the system is decentralised, without any legitimate central authority . The participants in the international structure are equal independent states. The participating states operate according to the reason of self-help. This means that the states are after their own self-interests and none will agree to be subordinate to other states. This is the driving force that is the main factor that influences the behaviour of the states and ensures that they create offensive military abilities, for foreign interventionism and as a way of increasing their relative strength . Given the argument that the agents can never be sure of the future interventions of other agents, a lack of trust exists between the agents which necessitate their protection against losses of power. Such losses of power would make it possible for other agents to threaten the survival. Security dilemma is the term that is used by the theorists in reference to the lack of trust . Neorealist theorists consider the agents similar on the basis of the needs, rather than the abilities to achieve those needs. The distribution of abilities is determined by the positional placement on the basis of the capabilities. Cooperation among agents is limited by the structural distribution of abilities. This is based on the fears of relative gains that are made by other agents as well as the likelihood of reliance on other states. ‘Balance of power’ constrain on each other resulting from the desire and relative capabilities of each agent to optimise relative power . The international relations are generally shaped by the ‘balance of power.’ This also results in the ‘security dilemma’ that is faced by all states. Internal balancing and external balancing are the two means of balancing power by the states. Internal balancing emanates from the growth of states in terms of economic development and/or the capability to increase military strength. External balancing emanates from entrance into alliances with other states to test the strength of stronger states or alliances . Neorealist theorists agree that there are basically three likely systems on the basis of the changes in distribution of abilities. Such are defined by the amount of great powers that are available in the international structure. One of them is a unipolar system containing a single great power. A bipolar as the name suggests consist of two great powers. A system with more than two great powers has been referred to as a multipolar system . Neorealist theorists suggest that the bipolar system is more stable than the other two. This is because it is less vulnerable to systematic change and great power war. In such a system, there is only the possibility of internal balancing because of the lack of other powers with which to create alliances. Neorealist theorists argue that since the anarchic international structure is the cause of war, there is the possibility that it will persist into the future. As a matter of fact, the theorists argue that anarchy has not changed fundamentally since the period of Thucydides to the introduction of nuclear warfare. This is the point of view that lasting peace is not likely . Strengths of neorealism In the current world that is filled with conflicts and wars, neorealism proposes such ideas as balance of power as well as the security dilemma, which becomes important analytical tools in the international relations. Neorealism theorists construct a more scientific and analytical approach to international politics making it more applicable in the modern-day studies of international relations . Weaknesses of neorealism The point of view that war might persist in the future, or that lasting peace is not likely has been criticised by other theorists as a pessimistic perspective of international politics. Democratic peace theory is one of the many theories that challenge the neorealist theory. Supporting researches like the book, Never at War, also challenge this point of view. It is seen as being pessimistic and puts an emphasis on the recurring patterns of power politics as revealed by ongoing wars, conflicts and rivalries . Classical realism This theory holds that it is basically the nature of human that pushes individuals and states to act a manner that puts interests before ideologies. This theory has been defined as the “drive for power and the well to dominate (that are) held to be fundamental aspects of human nature .” Modern realism started as a major discipline in the US during and after the Second World War II. As mentioned in the introduction, the theory was introduced by Hans Morgenthau who was a European war migrant, in his book, Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, first published in 1948. Another notable contributor to this theory is Reinhold Niebuhr. From classical realism perspective, human beings are fundamentally egoistic as well as self-interested to a point that this self-interest supersedes moral principles. One of the theoretical supports of classical realism is Machiavellianism. This is a principle that denies the role of morality in international politics. This theory claims that every mean is justified in achieving certain political ends . Hans Morgenthau influenced by theorists such as Hobbes among others, places power-lust and selfishness at the center of his image of human nature. According to him, the greedy human desire for power, general and timeless, is the main cause of war and conflicts in the international system he asserts in his book, Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, that “international politics, like all politics, is a struggle for power .” He synthesizes IR based on six principles. The first one principle states that realism is founded on the basis of objective laws that are rooted in the human nature. The second principle is the concept of power, the idea that political leaders “think and act in terms of interest defined as power .” He explains in the third principle that interest that is defined as power of a generally valid category, and as a matter of fact a basic element of international politics. In the fourth principle, Morgenthau looks at the relationship between ethics and realism. He explains, “Universal moral principles, cannot be applied to the actions of states in their abstract universal formulation, but …they must be filtered through the concrete circumstances of time and place .” the fifth principle emphasizes the importance of prudence. He suggests that the other principles must be accompanied by prudence. He suggests that “there can be no political morality without prudence; that is, without consideration of the political consequences of seemingly moral action .” In the sixth principle, he suggests that even if interests defined as power is the idea that defines international politics; the latter is an independent sphere. Though politics cannot be inferior to ethics, ethics still have a major role in international politics. He explains this by arguing that “a man who was nothing but ‘moral man’ would be a fool, for he would be completely lacking in prudence .” Strengths of classical realism While classical realist theorists focus on the idea of national interest, it is not the doctrine of Machiavelli “that anything is justified by reason of state .” Additionally, they do not glorify conflict or war among the states. The classical realists do not completely deny the likelihood of moral judgment in IR. Instead they criticize moralism, that is, theoretical moral dialogue that does not consider political realities. Classical realists give supreme importance to successful political actions that are founded on prudence. Prudence in this context is the capacity to tell the rightness of a particular action from different alternatives based on the possible political results. Classical realists give a rational picture of modern-day international politics . Morgenthau sought to develop realism into a political art as well as a theory of international politics, making it an effective device of foreign policy. Political art suggests that human nature, morality and power are considered in international relations. Regardless the criticism that Morgenthau's principles have inconsistencies and repetitions, the following picture can be derived from them: interest defined as power is the main idea that makes politics an independent discipline. A rational theory of IR can be constructed from these principles. Such a theory would contain morality, motives religious beliefs, or ideological predilections of political leaders in the international system . Weaknesses of classical realism The approach taken by classical realists to the study of international politics tends to be subjective evaluations of international relations. The theorists are opposed to scientific and analytical approach to international relations. Another weakness of this theory is the emphasis it puts on the human nature as the only source of conflicts in the international system. By overemphasising on human nature, the theorists deny the past played by any other factor in the conflicts . Similarities All realist theories agree that the state is the main agent or actor in the international relations. Additionally, they agree on the role played by those states that are referred to as great powers as having more leverage in the relations. Both realists and neorealists agree with the element of each state pursuing its own interests, being concerned with their individual security and struggling for power. National interests control the state behaviour because they are basically logic egoists and are directed by raison d’état. The two theories agree in that the independent states that participate in the international system are seeking to guarantee their own survival. The assurance of personal survival is considered a requirement in pursuing other goals. The theories also agree in that the distribution of abilities or power determines results in the international relations . Both neorealism and classical realism, just like other realism theories have a negative side in their focus on power and self-interest which makes them sceptical concerning the importance of moral standards to relations among the actors. National politics is a sphere of law and authority, while the international arena, they at times claim, is a realm of injustice, typified by ongoing conflicts among the actors . Differences Neorealism disagrees with classical realism’s application of essentialist ideas like ‘human nature’ in explaining international politics. Rather than use this idea, neorealist theorists suggested a theory that supports structural restraints over motivations and strategies of the agents. Another major difference between neorealism and classical realism is their views on the reasons for conflicts in the international relations. Neorealists argue that the conflicts in the international relations can be explained ordering principle, that is, anarchy. This is the lack of a legal central authority in the international structure that causes the participating agents or states to pursue power, or the system than can be seen as a self-help system. On the other hand, classical realists view the self-interested as well as unchanging human as the source of conflicts in the international relations. This is the nature that makes states to be self-interested and power seeking agents . Another difference between the neorealism and classical realism is that in classical realism the agent is ontologically superior to the international system, and as a result allowing more space to the state. On the other hand, in neorealism, the international system is more superior to the state. Another factor that differentiates the two theories is the classical realist theorists give a difference between revisionist powers and status-quo powers while neorealist theorists consider state as a unitary actor in the international system. While Neorealist theorists seek to develop a more scientific and rigorous approach to studying the international politics, influenced a lot by the behaviourist revolution of the 60s, classical realist theorists confide their analysis of the international politics to subjective analysis of international relations . Conclusion It has emerged from discussion that realism is an important theoretical view of international relations. Regardless of the various criticisms that have been proposed by other theorists, the realist tradition in IR continues to be a very important tool in the study of international relations. Realism suggests a warning against moralism, progressivism, legalism and other theories that do not consider the reality of power and self-interest in international politics. Neorealism particularly warns against the overoptimistic and unrealistic belief in international cooperation. Realism gives a real picture of the international politics thus being applicable even in the modern-day IR. BIBLIOGRAPHY Axelrod, Robert & Keohane, Robert O. Achieving cooperation under anarchy: strategies and institutions, World Politics 38(1) (1985) pp. 226-254. Baylis, John, Smith, Steve & Ownes, Patricia, The globalization of world politics, (Oxford University Press, USA, 2008) 95 Bell, Duncan. Political realism and the limits of ethics (London: OUP, 2010) pp. 93-109 Bull, Hedley. The Theory of International Politics 1919–1969, in International Theory: Critical Investigations, J. Den Derian (ed.), (London: Macmillan, 1995) pp. 181–211. Keohane, Robert & Nye, Joseph, S. 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