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POLB80 Lecture 1 Notes

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Political Science
Robin Ramcharan

Key points of Lesson 2: Cold War and Realism • Key questions on the Cold War are: What was it? When did it start? Who Started? Your answer to such questions reveals your assumptions about the nature of international relations. Do States or other forces govern the relations between its main actors? • The story of the Cold War can be told as being a massive geopolitical struggle between the US and the USSR. In this view two large States collide in search of power. In this view the Cold War began after WWII, specifically 1947, when the US decides upon a policy of containment of perceived “Soviet aggression”. • Another story can be told of the Cold War as an ideological struggle. The origin of the Cold War must then go back to 1917, when the Bolshevik regime emerged USSR. In this view ideas/ideology matters and drives state policies and action. This view, however, must take account of the fact that the US and the USSR co-existed peacefully prior to WWII. They also cooperated during WWII. What caused the change in 1947? This is a matter of ongoing historical examination. The simple thesis of Soviet expansionism as a cause of the Cold War is questioned in this view. • The policy of containment was rooted in a view of the world perpetuated by realist thinkers who dominated scholarship on IR after the War. In their examinations of the causes of WWII, they noted that there was insufficient attention to the element of power between 1919 and 1939. Containment, the policy of George Kennan adopted by President Truman in 1947, suggested that the US must use its power to confront the USSR and to check Soviet expansion. • One of those post-war realist scholars was Professor Hans Morgenthau who offered the following six principles of classical realism: Politics is governed by objective laws rooted in human nature; the concept of ‘Interest’ governs political realism; realism assumes that the main interest is power; political action has a moral significance, it is not immoral; moral aspirations of one nation can not be equated with moral laws that govern the universe; political sphere operates autonomously..separate from other spheres of humans (economy, morals etc.). Realists trace the intellectual origins of realism (power relations between states) as far back as ancient Greece. They point to Thucydides’work and the Melian dialogue. • In the realist view States are primary a
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