POL326Y1 Lecture Notes - Lecture 1: Comparative Politics, Dependent And Independent Variables, Kenneth Waltz

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21 Sep 2017
POL326 – Week 1 Sept. 11th, 2017
Kenneth Waltz – realist
Realists see IR as anarchy vs anarchy – anarchic
Kenneth Waltz
oHe looked at what caused war
Three different images that explained war
o1. War was the result of individuals
Came to the conclusion that war could not be explained by just individuals
o2. Nature of states
Ex: certain types of states were more prone to war than others
Boils down to the democratic peace theory – democracies keep peace while authoritarians
are more likely to be war prone
He rejected this thesis as well
o3. International system
He believes the international system best explains the emergence of wars
The international system is a system of anarchy – a system in which there is no higher
authority to which individual states can appeal in protecting their basic interests and
States are responsible for their own security, and do so through authority and power
The imbalances in the IS make war inevitable
Most important in explaining conflict in IR for realists because of the anarchy he described,
which he understood to be permanent
International system
Waltz wrote at a time of international bipolarity
oMany considered multi-polar systems to be more stable (balance of power to avoid war)
oOthers argued bi-polar is less likely to sustain a balance of power due to shifts in the
international system
The bi-polarity ended in 1989 after the Cold War, giving rise to a unipolar system
Waltz recognized how things were different under a unipolar system
oStates are rational actors – not because they consists of rational individuals but because they do
not have the luxury to indulge in irrational acts
o“A war of choice is irrational… for then you would lose resources for a war that is not of choice…”
– Obama
Rational vs irrational
States that indulge in irrational projects are likely to disappear from the international system and be
overtaken by rational states
oWe can assume that the dominate states are relatively rational
oBut has a state like the US always been rational with its foreign policy approach
Vietnam war has been considered a war of irrationality
Spent an enormous amount of military hardware on Vietnam than in WW2 combined yet
ultimately lost the war
The reason they went to Vietnam never worked in the end (domino theory)
Irrational act in hindsight
Post-cold war environment, the US faced no real threat – thus faced no need to get involved in war/
oEx: Iraq invention – lacks a real justification
Created more chaos and threats
In the absence of threat, policy becomes capricious
oIt is not the nature of states that makes states rational but it is the international system that
forces states to be rational
Reality was US faced no threats, and with no threats, they wanted to advance US dominance
US’s role
John Inkberry – the current environment had to be revised
oWhat seemed obvious to realists, that only the international system can explain war, has to be
oIn the absence of a major adversary in the unipolar system, the US defined the nature of the
international system
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