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Apocalypse Now
and Then
Theories of International
• Realism
• Liberal theory
• Economic theories: World Systems
• Constructivism
Causes of War
• War is so horrible that only an accident or
misunderstanding could would start one.
• Solution is to understand each other better and
communicate more.
• The problem is that the whole wars-are-accidents
explanation is that it is implausible. It is ridiculous to think
that wars are all accidents, e.g., the United States’ war
with Iraq.
• Wars usually occur between neighboring countries that
know each other quite well and have much in common.
• When there is a war, cultural differences are the
noticeable things that people’s minds latch on to.
• People fail to notice all the cultural differences that exist
between countries that do not go to war.
Causes of War
• War is no accident.
• The choice to go to war is consciously and
rationally made by at least one of the
participants, even if the war appears to be an
accident triggered by a minor event.
• People can often spot a visible, often dramatic
initial event.
• However, those events do not cause the war.
• The dynamics that actually cause war are far
more intricate and complex than the event that
sparked the conflagration.
• The predominant theoretical framework that underlies
most studies of war and international politics uses the
same concepts as those used to understand the origins
of government.
• These include the effects of an anarchical environment
on behavior, the security dilemma, alliances, and the
tragedy of the commons
• Because humans have never established a global
governed environment, anarchy is most commonly
assumed to be the underlying dynamic of international
• The theoretical construct of realism best demonstrates
how one can understand international politics in terms of
an anarchical environment.
World War I Was Unpleasant
• The realist theoretical perspective was
developed in reaction to a period of
• The war as an accident theme found in
literature parallels the early study of
international politics.
• The whole idea that war must be an
accident arose from the fact that World
War I was unpleasant.
The Horror
• The concerted academic effort to come to grips
with international politics was initiated by the
horrific experiences suffered during World War I.
• The “war to end all wars” greatly affected how
scholars approached the study of conflict.
• The technological advance of the machine gun,
unbearable trenches, diseases, mustard gas,
and long-range mortars all worked to make the
war catastrophic.
All Quiet on the Western Front?
• The war was also socially traumatic.
• British officers, particularly those in the trenches, were
elites and after the war the survivors became professors,
politicians, and artists.
• They were determined that such a hellish war would
never happen again.
• The modern study of international politics was born
during this period.
• One result was a body of academic study and theory that
is often referred to as idealism.
• The second is the belief that no rational leader would
choose to endure the massive destruction caused by the
Realism and War
• The big problem with idealism and the obsessive
quest for peace was that it did not work.
• Two decades worth of theorizing about perfect
worlds and the countless political actions and
efforts to create a world free of conflict all failed.
• Some aspects of the efforts to find peace at any
cost may have even helped bring about the
Second World War.
• European leaders wanted peace so badly that
they were unwilling even to use force against to
counter Hitler’s aggression.
Realism and War
Realism views war as a strategy game.
Although there is a great deal of diversity in
realist theories, they all are based upon some
form of three key assumptions:
1. States are rational unitary actors.
2. These unitary rational states interact in an
anarchical environment.
3. Power is the fundamental resource to be pursued.
Realism and War
• The result is a simplified image of international
politics that is remarkably similar to the game
– Each individual player is a country and the goal is
always more power, usually represented by more
territory, for which you need more armies.
– Within the rules of how armies move and conquer,
there is no referee to force the players to keep
agreements they make with one another.
– If you have the power to take out someone and take
all his stuff, there is nothing to stop you even if you
double-promised you would not kill him.
• Thinking back to the origins of government, there was one
obvious reason why someone in an anarchical environment
would choose to go berserk and take out someone else—
• The third assumption of realism, the assumption that power is
the primary resource to be pursued includes within it the idea
of going after gains when the opportunity arises.
• One can point to any number of wars and talk about them in
terms of a powerful country seizing an opportunity to use its
power to get something it wants.
• Countries can do this because the world is an anarchical
environment, and there is no world government to stop them
or punish them.
Fear This
• In 1967, a single week of fighting defined one of
the most stunning wars in modern history.
• Outgunned and out-manned, Israel used better
training, better equipment, and a masterful
combination of tactics to simultaneously attack,
Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and
Lebanon, defeating the whole lot in six days.
• Why would Israel attack, given that any measure
of power would have put them at a massive
Fear This
• The simple answer is fear; Israel feared an
• Its leaders were convinced that war would come
and that every day the Arab powers would have
to maneuver and prepare before they attacked
just made the odds worse.
• Given Israel’s disadvantage in terms of power,
the rational response was to attack.
• Instances when a country attacks out of fear are
rarely this obvious and they seldom work out
very well.
Balancing and Bandwagoning
• Balance of power might be best described in terms of
how the distribution of power across the international
system influences the pattern of alliances that tend to
form in an anarchical environment.
• It is the same idea of forming an alliance to counter—or
balance—against the power of others and protect what
you consider to be valuable.
• The primary motivation in international politics is
presumed to be fear.
• It usually occurs in a situation where alliances are
formed or alliances shift in response to the perception of
threat, small countries allying together to protect
themselves from the big bully.
Balancing and Bandwagoning
• One can also discuss international alliance dynamics in
terms of opportunistic motives.
• Instead of siding with another weak nation to thwart the
bully, a nation could ally with the bully to share the spoils.
• In a typical of instance of bandwagoning, one side is so
much stronger that victory is all but assured, and joining in
the alliance is opportunistic or desperate.
• In both balancing and bandwagoning, the key is power.
• A nation balances against a greater, threatening power.
• A nation bandwagons against a weaker power to gain part
of the spoils.
• In realism, power and anarchy act to define international
Challenging the
Realist Paradigm
• In spite of explanatory power, particularly related to war,
realism is, in many ways not realistic.
• It does not do a good job of explaining the cooperative
international behavior that is far more common than war.
• There are a tremendous number of refinements or
alternate theories that attempt to address realism’s
shortcomings and failings.
• Liberalism and constructivism are the two most popular.
• Marxism used to be a mandatory counterpart to realism
in any course on international relations, but it has fallen
out of favor.
The Not so Black Box
• Realism runs afoul of the real world with its presumption
that states behave as if they are rational unitary actors.
• From a strict realist perspective, the internal workings of
a state do not matter.
• The leaders, governments, processes, economies,
societies, religions, and all the other goings of a state
can be ignored.
• They can be put into a “black box.”
• The idea is that the output of all domestic governments
and societies must be the same regardless of how things
are done inside.
The Not so Black Box
• Foreign Policy Analysis (FPA) is a theoretical perspective that
directly challenges the realist presumption of the state as a unitary
rational actor.
• FPA argues that individuals, not states, make decisions.
• Understanding how these decisions are made within the structure,
process, and context of domestic politics is essential for
understanding international politics.
• Most scholars engaged in Foreign Policy Analysis do not challenge
the idea of an anarchical international system, but they place less
emphasis on the influence of anarchy, structure, the international
system, or power.
• FPA scholars argue that the system defines or limits leaders’
• Because no two governments and no two leaders are the same, any
study quickly runs into difficulty separating the general reasons why
things happen from the unique aspects within the countries in
Why Kant Democracies Fight?
• Opening the black box of government made possible the simple
discovery that a nation’s basic type of government structure can
have a significant effect on its choice to go to war.
• Immanuel Kant argued that democracies, such as the fledgling
United States, would be less prone to go to war than the kingdoms
and empires of Europe.
• He believed democratic leaders would only choose to go to war if
they knew they could justify the loss of sons and money to the
people who vote.
• Later scholars found that democracies did not seem to be any less
war prone than other forms of government.
• One study noted that democracies did not seem to fight one
• Apparently, there is something about the way democracies work,
something going on within the realists’ black box, that clearly and
consistently influences war and peace.
Why Kant Democracies Fight?
• Explanations range from economics and trade, to shared culture, to
news flows, to the influence of international corporations
• What goes on inside the black box matters.
• If something as simple as the basic type of government can have
such a clear effect, then other aspects of process and domestic
politics must also be important to the conduct of international
• It fits both within FPA’s commitment to opening the black box of
domestic politics, and it is one of the best examples of research
conducted liberalism theoretical perspective.
• Liberalism is hard to define, but it can be understood as the
cooperative counterpart of realism or as an embodiment of the
Western ideal of the enlightened individual.
• It is a collection of theories that presume people are generally
cooperative, that cooperation provides greater overall benefits for
everyone, and that the closer nations get to the democratic ideal of
informed individuals participating in policy, the more cooperative
politics becomes.
The Shadow of the Hegemon
• There are also challenges to realism’s assertion that the
world is anarchic.
• Anarchy is fleeting.
• Wouldn’t states in the international system try to
establish some form of international social and political
• Trade, exchange, and diplomacy are ancient and
• Many scholars believe that international economic
activity is far more important than war when it comes to
the international relations.
• Trade is common; war is rare.
• War may be dramatic but trade is pervasive; wars are
often fought over trade or economics anyway.
The Shadow of the Hegemon
• One of the simplest challenges to the realist presumption
of an anarchic international environment is international
• A hegemon is a dominant power, i.e., some country that
is powerful enough to dominate all others.
• Through this domination, the hegemon can impose a
structure on the anarchical system, which many
countries willingly accept.
• The underlying dynamic of the international system may
be anarchic, but there is seldom, if ever any real
• A hegemon creates and enforces rules that allow the
weak to invest and trade.
The Shadow of the Hegemon
• Predictably, the rules that the hegemon sets up are
biased to benefit the hegemon.
• The hegemon has to invest a great deal to keep the
system in place.
• Eventually, the costs of being the hegemon and
sustaining the system outweigh the benefits, and the
dominance of a hegemon begins to fade.
• Fading hegemonic powers can hold things together for
quite a while, but eventually a rising power will mount a
challenge and try to take control of the international
• The result might be referred to as hegemonic war or
system transition wars.
It’s the Economy, Stupid--World Systems
Theory and Anti-Globalization Sentiment
• Instead, we could assume that the core component of
global politics is economic, which is the basis of world
systems theory.
• According to world systems theory, politics occurs within
an economic structure defined by exploitative trade
relationships (corporate, class, and multinational entities
define the units of action).
• It is all about wealth and economic exploitation on a
global scale.
• Based in Marxist theory, world systems theory is based
on an internationalization of the exploitative economic
relations between classes.
• Marx argued that the exploitation caused by the capitalist
imperative to compete for efficiency would doom the
system to collapse.
It’s the Economy, Stupid
• Lenin argued that Marx failed to consider the
externalization of capitalism.
• Expanding from national economies to globe-spanning
colonial empires delayed the capitalism’s collapse.
• Continual growth allowed capitalists to buy off
disgruntled of workers with cheap imported goods.
• Although collapse was still inevitable, it was delayed until
Europe ran out of places to colonize.
• A half century later, Johan Galtung rethought the idea of
an economically-defined political world in his A Structural
Theory of Imperialism.[i]
[i] Galtung, Johan. 1979. “A Structural Theory of Imperialism,” in George Modeliski (ed.),
Transnational Corporations and World Order: Readings in International Political
Economy, 155–171. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman and Company.
It’s the Economy, Stupid
• Building on Lenin, Galtung wrote about a world-wide
capitalist system made up of hierarchical relationships
between cores and peripheries.
• Cores are economic elites, i.e., capitalists that invest in
the means of production that transform labor into wealth.
They control factories and corporations.
• The periphery is the working class; they are the laborers.
• Every country in the world is made up of a core and a
• Further, individual countries can be divided into the
same categories, a small core of wealthy, elite, capitalist
countries and a much larger periphery of poor, lessdeveloped countries.
• The result is a world economic system that replicates the
capitalism’s exploitative relationships.
It’s the Economy, Stupid
• The most obvious feature of this global capitalist system
is the flow of wealth from peripheries to cores, both
within and between countries.
• The capitalist elite core of every country exploits the
labor of its periphery, using control over the means of
production to extract wealth from their labor.
• This is replicated on a global scale by core countries
using control of international mechanisms of trade to
extract wealth from periphery countries.
• The extraction of wealth enriches the capitalist elite of
core countries, and it keeps the periphery countries
stuck in the periphery by taking the wealth they need for
investing in their own development.
• The poor are kept poor so they have to work for the core.
It’s the Economy, Stupid
• The core of the periphery stays in power because it
receives key resources from the core of the core, e.g.,
weapons and the training of police.
• Even more important is the way the system prevents the
periphery of the core and the periphery of the periphery
from sharing a common economic misery.
• The core of the core prevents a revolt by its workers and
prevents those workers from joining the workers from the
periphery by diverting a significant amount of the
periphery states’ wealth to the periphery of the core.
• The periphery of the core has no interest in changing a
system by which they benefit from the exploitation of the
periphery of the periphery.
It’s the Economy, Stupid
Galtung and other world systems theorists differ from other Marxist and
economics-first theories of politics:
– They not only explain why the system keeps poor countries poor
– They also show how the system is sustained and demonstrates why it does
not collapse.
Thoughtful anti-globalization demonstrators protest against the
fundamental unfairness of this global economic capitalist system.
The infrastructure of the global trade system benefits wealthy countries
much as the ownership of factories benefited early industrial capitalists.
By controlling the World Bank, monetary exchange systems, and
access to sources of investment capital, developed nations force less
developed nations to play by unfair economic rules.
They build economic infrastructures not for local development, but to
facilitate the core countries’ exploitation, and they tie developed
countries to debts that extract capital through interest payments at an
alarming rate.
It’s the Economy, Stupid
• Not everything about globalization is bad and evil.
• Global literacy rates are higher than ever before, and more people
have access to basic, advanced, and technical education than ever
• Access to basic health care, vaccinations, and the likelihood of
surviving childhood are higher in just about every country around the
world than they were in any country before capitalism became a
prominent economic phenomena.
• Many foods you enjoy do not natively come from the country in
which you live, but they are available through international trade.
• While there are some notable exceptions, basic rights for women,
almost nonexistent prior to the capitalist economic revolution, now
exist in some meaningful form for the vast majority of women.
• There are currently more democracies in the world and more people
living in democracies than ever before in history.
It’s the Economy, Stupid
• Globalization is a phenomena created, among other things, by
advancing technology, increasing world-wide education, and the
aggregate economic choices of billions of people around the world.
• Is there anyone, any country, or any group of countries that could
actually stop or reverse globalization? What alternative is there to
globalization? The technology is out there; can we take it away?
• There must be things that leaders or countries could do to reduce
the negatives and enhance the positives, but can the increasing
economic integration of the world be stopped? Can it be reversed?
• If you cut a country off from all aspects of international trade and
international communication would it be better off?
• Even if you are a leader who wants to give anti-globalization
protestors what they want, what is it that you could give them?
Dude, Think About the Fish
• The tragedy of the commons is another way that
international politics diverges from the simplistic model of
• Collapsing fisheries, disappearing forests, transnational
pollution, population pressures, plagues, these are all
issues the world has seen before.
• Many of these transnational or regional catastrophes,
however, occurred in the shadows.
• The overexploitation and collapse of communal
resources were usually discovered by archeologists
digging in the dirt rather than historians digging through
Dude, Think About the Fish
The struggle with the forces driving the tragedy of the commons has gone
global, and every year the number of ways that humans face problems—
e.g., population pressures, collapsing ocean resources, ozone depletion,
decreasing access to fresh water, acid rain, epidemic diseases—that
threaten the global commons increases.
One can attribute the global problems partly to the forces of globalization.
With capitalist pressures becoming ever more universal, people are driven
to overexploit common resources in an increasing number of ways.
Further, the economic pressure driving over-exploitation is now relatively
consistent around the world, driving everyone everywhere towards the
same tragedies.
One could also attribute part of the increased attention paid to the
exploitation of the commons to an increase in education and awareness.
Almost unheard of a half-century ago, environmental and shared resource
issues have become an integral part of education that in 2002, The EuropeWide Global Education Congress included international environmental
cooperation next to literacy, history, and mathematics in the definition of a
basic education.
Dude, Think About the Fish
• There is no theoretical perspective to the study of the political
dynamics of a global tragedy of the commons.
• A few dynamics are becoming apparent.
• First, it is difficult to label this as international relations.
• Rather than being part of the politics between nations, it extends
across nations.
• It also including groups and organizations.
• Subnational political units such as cities, political parties, states, and
provinces are acting across and beyond national borders.
• Multinational entities such as the UN, NAFTA, the International
Whaling Commission, and The World Bank are involved.
• Transnational organizations, entities that exist outside and across
the geographic definition of states, are involved, such as
Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Doctors Without Borders, and
international businesses.
• Additionally, economic dynamics, political dynamics, and issues of
science and research all come into play.
• It is difficult to capture it all in a theoretical perspective.
• Constructivism can be thought of in terms of its fundamental claim
that human beings construct the reality around them—the reality
upon which decisions and choices are made—through language
and communication.
• The conceptual framework used to describe something enables
certain actions and prevents others.
• The analogy chosen for thinking about something defines the logic
by which all current and future information on the subject is
• What is and what is not communicated drives politics, because we
cannot address the problems we do not hear about.
• International communication, both in terms of capabilities and in
terms of filters on the content, becomes the critical consideration in
the study of international relations.
In the study of international politics, constructivism is as significant as the earlier
It presents an unquestionable challenge to the realist perspective.
It has also been less than a decade since it first began coalescing as a coherent
approach, and there has not yet been enough time for academic research to
thoroughly sort out its strengths and weaknesses.
The enthusiasm inherent in many of its earliest studies may have distorted
assessments of its scope and applicability; the CNN-effect is the primary
The moment some suggested that the real-time global news media was driving
leaders into actions they would rather avoid, the idea was touted as a revolution
in the very nature of international politics.
Subsequent research has shown that the CNN-effect is extremely limited,
particularly in terms of how far it can push a leader against the flow of other
The news media has always had a modest but clear influence on international
In short, many of the elements of a constructed reality of politics are not new
things that have arisen out of the latest revolution in communication
Roaring Mice and
Vacation Hotspots
• Like everything else in politics, international relations is probably
best discussed not in terms of which theoretical approach is correct,
but instead in terms of how different ideas help us understand what
is going on.
• Why does Barbados exist?
• It has absolutely no power in the traditional, international-relations
sense of the word, no army, no navy, and no air force.
• The United States could conquer the island without mustering any
forces beyond the guys hanging around a typical Minnesota hunting
• If the world is anarchic and you can only survive if you have the
power to protect yourself, how can Barbados exist? Is the answer
economic? Is it a moral issue? Is it just something we haven’t gotten
around to doing?
• No theory of international politics appears to offer a satisfactory