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Chapter 5

Chapter 5. guide. Mainstream theories. Realism and Liberalism.docx

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Chapter 5: Mainstream theories: Realism and Liberalism Chapter 5: Mainstream theories: Realism and Liberalism Theories enlighten. A theory is a set of related propositions that help explain why events occur the way they do. A theory is an abstract, conjunctural or speculative representation of reality. Thus one does not ask of a theory whether it is true or false; rather one asks whether it is enlightening. To theorize is to speculate with an intention to explain or understand. Knutsen, T. A history of international relations theory. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997) p.1. Aims of the chapter The aims of this chapter are to: • explain why and how scholars make use of ‘theory’ • outline the core mainstream theoretical approaches to IR, namely Realism and Liberalism • Illustrate ways in which these approaches might be used to better understand certain events or global phenomena through the presentation of examples. Learning outcomes By the end of this chapter, and having completed the Essential reading and activities, you should be able to: • explain what a theory is and why IR scholars use them • explain the core ideas used in Realist and Liberal theories of IR • make use of these theories in analyzing ‘real world’ examples • define the vocabulary terms in bold. Essential reading Dunne, T and Schmidt, B. ‘Realism’. Dunne, T. ‘Liberalism’. Lamy, S. ‘Contemporary mainstream approaches: neo-realism and neo-liberalism’. Further reading Dodge, T. ‘The ideological roots of failure: the application of kinetic neo-liberalism to Iraq’, International Affairs 86(6) 2010, pp.1269–86. Griffiths, M. ‘Introduction: conquest, coexistence and IR theory’ in Griffiths, M. Rethinking international relations theory. (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2011) [ISBN 9780230217799]. Hill, C., ‘1939: the origins of liberal realism’, Review of International Studies 15(4) 1989, pp.319–28. Ikenberry, G.J. ‘The future of the liberal world order internationalism after America’, Foreign Affairs 90(3) 2011, pp.56–68. 6 5 11 Introduction to international relations Lebow, R.N. ‘The long peace, the end of the Cold War and the failure of realism’, International Organization 48(2) 1994, pp.249–77. Moravcik, A. ‘Taking preferences seriously: a liberal theory of international politics’, International Organization 51(4) 1997, pp.513–53. Scheurman, W.E. ‘Why (almost) everything you learned about Realism is wrong’ in Scheurman, W.E. The Realist case for global reform. (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2011) [ISBN 9780745650302]. Schweller, R. and W. Wohlforth ‘Power test: updating Realism in response to the end of the Cold War’, Security Studies 9(3) 2000, pp.60–108. Walt, S.M. ‘International relations: one world, many theories’, Foreign Policy 110 1998, pp.29–47. Introduction So far in this course, we have skimmed over the surface of several IR theories. The time has come to delve into them more deeply, beginning with IR’s dominant approaches: Realism and Liberalism. One of IR’s distinguishing features – as opposed to an empirically-rooted subject – is its focus on generalisation and the search for broad patterns of behaviour in international affairs. History, on the other hand, tries to avoid speculation by weaving ‘facts’ into a coherent narrative. This is not to say that historians are atheoretical – meaning that they work entirely without theory. In the end, scholars in all disciplines employ some kind of theoretical framework to understand the world around them. The ‘real world’, when considered without a theoretical lens to prioritise evidence and highlight general patterns, is a baffling, even incomprehensible place. Theory allows us to discover causes, make useful generalisations from a limited number of cases, and look for broad patterns in world politics. Without theory to order our observations, the empirical world is reduced to a series of isolated events with neither pattern nor discernable links of cause and effect. It is certainly possible to analyse an event or action without being conscious of the theoretical assumptions upon which the analysis rests. Many go through their lives without taking the time to reflect on the assumptions that shape their world views. It is possible, but hardly desirable. Regardless of one’s intentions, analyses depend on theories that assume answers to some big questions about how the world works. Are material necessities, like natural resources, more important than political ideologies in driving states’ actions? Do fears about physical security always override the desire for economic profit? Does the makeup of a country’s government play a role in understanding its decisions, or do external pressures determine state policy? The purpose of theoretical thinking is to draw one’s assumptions out into the open. The real choice for any student is not whether there will be any theory in their analyses. That is unavoidable. Rather, the choice is whether your theoretical assumptions will remain implicit and unanalysed, or whether you will choose to think about them explicitly, clearly and consistently. In this chapter, we look again at two of the dominant schools of theoretical thought in IR: Realism and Liberalism. In the first part we look at Realist theory in all of its complexity, followed by a few case studies that explore the ways in which Realism can be used to make sense of international affairs. We then do exactly the same for Liberalism, reviewing its fundamental assumptions before looking at some of the issues it is best equipped to address. Realism and Liberalism serve different purposes. The goal of this chapter is to think more systematically about the different ways these different theories can be deployed by students of IR. 6 6 Chapter 5: Mainstream theories: Realism and Liberalism Realism: the basics Stop and read section 1 of Chapter 5, pp.86–89 What do Realists mean by anarchy? Why is it so central to how Realism understands the international system? Could the lessons of Realism hold true without an anarchic international system? In earlier chapters we have made several direct and indirect references to a particular school of thought that goes under the broad heading of Realism. As we have shown, Realism – which has many variants – is one of the oldest and most influential theories of IR; and is influential quite because it focuses on big issues such as power and its distribution, the notion of interests and why states claim to have them, the idea of anarchy (which in the field of IR points to a lack of an overarching global authority) and the inescapability of competition. Realist thought can also claim a pedigree that dates back centuries, encompassing the ancient Greek historian Thucydides and the seventeeth-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes. In the era of modern IR scholarship, however, it owes more to twentieth-century authors such as Hans J. Morgenthau, E.H. Carr and George F. Kennan. This generation of classical Realists came to prominence in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s – partly in response to the dangerous times in which they lived, and partly as a reaction to Liberal attempts to build a new world order around international organisations after the First World War. To Carr and Morgenthau, these attempts had deeply problematic consequences. In their view, the great crisis of the 1930s and 1940s was, in part, the result of earlier statesmen’s inexperienced belief that a harmony of interests between states could be achieved by gathering nations together in the spirit of cooperation and diplomacy. Such misguided idealism, Carr and Morgenthau claimed, had to be replaced by a more ‘Realistic’ appreciation of the world as it was, rather than how some hoped it might become. According to classical Realists, states naturally tend to serve their own interests and aggrandize themselves at the expense of others. Fundamentally, the top priority of every state is its own survival. This is best guaranteed by ensuring that its strength is sufficient to defend against – either alone or in alliance with other states – those who might seek to dominate it. Sensible statesmen, according to Realists, avoid putting their trust in paper agreements or goodwill to guarantee peace. The language of international politics is the language of power: how great are your military capabilities and how strong is the resource base that sustains them? Peace, which Realists define narrowly as the absence of war, can be expected only when there is a balance of power, where adequate power exists to resist the efforts of any one state to gain hegemony over all, or part, of the international system. Classical Realists tended to attribute much of this pattern of behavior to the natural tendency of people and states to be selfish and greedy. Stop and read to the end of ‘Classical realism’ in section 2 of Chapter 5, pp.89–91 Would it be true to say that classical Realism relies on a pessimistic understanding of human nature to justify its conflictual understanding of IR? Why or why not? 6 7 11 Introduction to international relations In more recent decades a new strand of Realism, called structural Realism, has placed more emphasis on the structural context in which states find themselves. Thinkers like Kenneth Waltz argue that the anarchic international system is itself responsible for producing state behavior. To use a well-known phrase, in the international arena, ‘when you call 999 (or 911), nobody answers’. As a result, even if states have the best of aims, they are forced into the suspicious, selfish and power- oriented behaviour as portrayed by classical Realists. The international system portrayed by Waltz is unforgiving, and will punish states unwise enough to behave in open, cooperative and trusting ways. In this anarchic world, states are victims of what has been termed the security dilemma or security paradox. As Waltz argues, the only rational course of action for a state in an anarchic international system is to invest in armed strength in order to be able to defend itself against aggression. If a state identifies the most likely sources of such threats within the system, it might seek alliances with others who, on the basis of a common threat, might come to its aid in a crisis. From the perspective of the states against whom such preparations are targeted, these rational efforts at self-defense can appear aggressive. The rational response of a state so threatened is to invest in its own material capabilities and, perhaps, form its own alliances. As a result of this dynamic, states’ attempts to defense their independence contribute to making the international arena less secure for everyone. However unfortunate it may be, Realists believe that this paradox is common to the anarchic international system. In the absence of a world government, states are condemned to exist in an environment of mutual suspicion. Moreover, any state’s declaration that it is seeking armed strength for only defensive reasons is bound to be met with suspicion. Not all Realists agree about everything. As we noted in Chapter 1, some saw the Cold War as being inherently dangerous while others thought it contained the seeds of a new and more stable international order. A few Realists welcomed the end of the Cold War; others feared it would make the world less orderly. Realists remain divided by some fairly important theoretical differences too. Some follow to the traditional notion that a balance of power is both possible and the most likely basis upon which some form of global stability can be constructed – hence their hopes for a new balance of power today to limit US power. Others think that such a balance is highly doubtful on the grounds that any normal great power will try to break free from the constraints of the system by becoming a hegemon. This analytical approach, normally called offensive Realism (as opposed to defensive Realism) has been most recently on display in the current debate on China – a subject we will return to shortly. Defensive Realists make the simple but important claim that states seek security and nothing more. They therefore argue that China and the USA will approach each other with great caution, as neither will want to annoy the other and risk a threat to its own security. Offensive Realists see things very differently. To them, a rising China will necessarily seek hegemony in its region and is therefore bound to clash with the USA, whose hegemonic position it will threaten. States’ competition for power, rather than their competing ideologies, is the roots of Realist international conflict. 6 8 Chapter 5: Mainstream theories: Realism and Liberalism Stop and read section 2 of Chapter 7, pp.117–20 Activity Now is the time to think about what differentiates classical Realism from the four ‘neo- Realisms’ discussed in Chapter 7 of the textbook. Using the table below, consider how each thinker would respond to the following question: ‘What impact will China’s rising economic and political power have on the anarchic international system? Classical Realism dangerous (Morgenthau) Structural Realism dangerous (Waltz) Neo-Realism dangerous (Grieco) Offensive Realist bad, it may harm others (Mearsheimer) Defensive Realist not bad, it will seek its security (Jervis) What sorts of things might Realist ideas help to explain? Stop and read section 3 of Chapter 5, pp.93–96 Activity In each of the sub-sections that follow, use the tables provided to consider how three of Realism’s most important concepts (statism, survival and self-help) influence its answers to the questions posed below. Let us now concentrate on the way Realist theory might be applied in practice by looking at five key questions that it seeks to address: 1. Why don’t international organisations work as idealists want them to? Many see international organisations as opportunities where states come together and set aside narrow self-interest to cooperate for the greater good. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC), for example, is supposed to address threats to international peace and security and enforce international law. In reality, however, it has often been impossible for states to agree on what security and the laws require in particular cases, especially when the states making the decisions at the UN are directly involved in the cases under consideration. Realism tells us that we should begin with low expectations for international organisations. States will never surrender their autonomy. To do so would be equal to surrendering their sovereignty and, with it, their independence. Realists argue that states use international organisations to further their own power and interests, and as barriers to block others when they try to do the same. For example, the UNSC has often been unable to act in response to important events, such as the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999, the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 or Russian invasions into Georgia (South Ossetia) in 2008. Realism explains that this is because – in each case – the major powers were divided over what course of action to take. Without a clear harmony of interests, the UNSC’s efforts to arbitrate were effectively blocked by the security dilemma. Impact onQuestion Realist assumption 1 Statism Survival Self-help 2. Why do promises made by states often fail to translate into reality? Realists have drawn many lessons of their own from the unfortunate fate that befell the international system between the two world wars. As they point out, several international agreements were formed in which states promised to refrain from war and aggression, most famously the Kellogg–Briand Pact. Adolf Hitler gave personal written assurances to the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain at Munich in 1938 that Germany’s ambitions would be satisfied by obtaining a part of Czechoslovakia. In the end these promises proved worthless, as a state with growing strength (Germany) launched a war to pursue wider territorial gains. Near the end of the Second World War, the Russians acted similarly, making agreements and promises that promised free and democratic elections in Eastern Europe. In reality, the USSR under Stalin imposed its own preferred governments on Eastern and Central Europe. Realists are not surprised by such cheating activity. To them, the powerful forces behind states are not their signatures on paper, but their hunger for power. While agreements may be signed and obeyed to in the short term, many Realists claim that they will collapse if, and when, they come into conflict with hard interests. When states have the power to do so, we should expect them to ignore their promises. As Kenneth Waltz would argue, only strong power can guarantee obedience. Impact on Realist assumption Question 2 Statism Survival Self-help 3. Why does international cooperation often fail to occur, even when it seems in everyone’s interests? There are numerous issue areas in which it seems as though a big problem can only be addressed through collective, cooperative action. The problem of climate change, for example, clearly demands binding agreements under which all states agree to sacrifice some aspect of their short-term gains (i.e. the profit that comes from ecologically-destructive economic activity) for a greater long-term benefit (reducing the harmful effects of anthropogenic climate change). To choose another example, many over the years have sought universal nuclear disarmament by all nations, or the placing of nuclear weapons under 7 0 Chapter 5: Mainstream theories: Realism and Liberalism international control. In each case, Realists tell us that the chances of success are remote, because states cannot or will not trust one another enough to sacrifice their own interests in the hope that others will do the same. Those with an advantage will always attempt to keep it, and will always fear that sacrifice on their part will be taken advantage of by others. This dynamic is captured by the Prisoner’s Dilemma, a thought experiment described in Box 18.3 on p.302 of the textbook. Impact on Realist assumption Question 3 Statism Survival Self-help 4. Why do states broaden/narrow the scope of their foreign policy over time? As we have now read, many neo-Realists think of states as functionally similar, meaning that each carries out similar functions regardless of where or when it exists. In the anarchic international system, only states’ material capabilities differentiate them from another. States that have limited material capabilities tend to define their interests narrowly. States that are stronger think ‘bigger’. That is what being a great power entails. Uruguay will have different views to Brazil on how widely its interests extend and what establishes a threat to its security. This is largely because of Uruguay’s more limited capacity to mobilize power on the international stage. American
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