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POLI 243 Is Realism Dead?.docx

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McGill University
Political Science
POLI 243
Mark Brawley

POLI 243 “Is Realism Dead? The Domestic Sources of International Politics” Structural realism is deeply and perhaps fatally flawed, but continues to inform the IR community – it will continue to be the cornerstone of IR theory unless a viable alternative is developed  Attention to the emphasis of domestic policy provides a richer and more reliable analysis of international affairs  Realism cannot explain the end of the Cold War or the failure of states to “balance” power as predicted  Structural realism is but a starting point for explaining foreign policy  BUT realism is not dead because no viable alternative exists If “domestic sources” theories are to work, they must…  Be able to explain the domestic politics  national decisions  international outcomes relationship from the “inside out”  Be generalizable beyond case studies  Be made more parsimonious  Acknowledge that both systemic international pressures and domestic politics play a role in foreign policy (MODIFY and SPECIFY structural realism rather than replace it) From a theoretical point of view, the strongest competitor for structural realism is democratic peace theory  Not a true “theory” – based on observations rather than causal logic  Even if causal logic was present, this “theory” would have trouble explaining the relationships between democratic states in areas like trade and finance… threats and coercion characterize international economic dealings between democracies, and the success of institutions at mitigating these may be overrated  BUT a world full of democracies would likely avoid the “security dilemma” that occurs when authoritarian regimes are present – democracies regard each other as trade partners rather than military adversaries  REGIME TYPE IS A MORE SIGNIFICANT DETERMINANT OF INTERNATIONAL POLICY THAN POLARITY OR THE DISTRIBUTION OF POWER  E.g. despite the similarities of the Weimar and Nazi periods at the systemic level, very different international outcomes were obtained owing to the differences in regime types (unwillingness vs. willingness to use direct military force in the quest for international relevance) Social science theories are historically and culturally contingent – they often explain the past better than they predict the future  Fail to account for change – structural realism is guilty of this Domestic Politics and War: Bueno de Mesquita and Lalman – “War and Reason”: “General welfare concerns the connection between the goals of the citizenry and the objectives and actions of… statesmen. Have the leaders chosen the best course of action… to enhance the welfare of the people?”  Do states go to war b/c the external pressures on them are such that they must in order to survive (the structural realist perspective), or b/c domestic political factors have led states to aggression (the domestic sources perspective)?  Model built on 6 assumptions common to realist and domestic political models: 1. Strategies are chosen to maximize expected utility 2. Ultimate change in welfare resulting from war or negotiation is uncertain 3. Losses in war are certain 4. Nations prefer to attain their objectives through negotiations rather than war 5. Acceding to foreign demands is less desirable than the status quo, which in turn is less desirable than attaining one’s ends 6. Each outcome has an associated set of costs and benefits  According to realist assumption that leaders are unconstrained by domestic political forces, the only rational options are negotiation or maintenance of the status quo – but wars DO happen!  THE STUDY OF WAR AND PEACE MUST HAPPEN THROUGH THE LENS OF DOMESTIC POLITICAL FORCES – in short, if war arises from a crisis it must be because of factors located at the unit level, since structural pressures generate a status quo preference o There are several problems w/ this argument, though it is still somewhat valid…  Realists actually suggest that leaders might rationally start a LIMITED war if they do not expect a balancing coalition to be formed immediately (or at all, unless the international order is upset; states do not necessarily prefer negotiation to war)  War offers the strategic advantage of surprise, the achievement of broader strategic ends (i.e. demonstration of force/power), and the potential creation of a bandwagon effect favourable to the aggressor  The question is then, why do states sometimes “go to far”, provoking formation of these counterbalances? Domestic Politics and Overexpansion: Snyder – “Myths of Empire”: overexpansion of the great p
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