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Realism: Power and the Security Dilemma in International Relations

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  1. Realism: Power and the Security Dilemma in International Relations PO 201: Introduction to International Studies and Political Science

  2. Power and Mistrust in the Realist Worldview • Last class we discussed the importance of mistrust and power (inherent to human nature and the individual struggle in the state of nature) to the realist view of international relations. Today, we expand upon our discussion of these concepts • What exactly is power? How do states get it, and how does it determine relations amongst them? • How does the mistrust and animosity inherent in the international system, when combined with the importance of power, lead to war in some instances and peace in others?

  3. Morgenthau’s Realism: Overview • IR should be concerned with two major themes: the roots of peace, and the “power politics” of war. For Morgenthau, these two concepts are inextricably related • The main impetus for war – and, for that matter, the main impetus for peace – is the constant and omnipresent struggle for power amongst states on the international stage • This conceptualization – which inherently considers peace to be only the absence of war – is the starting point for Morgenthau’s discussion of power and IR

  4. Morgenthau’s Take on Power • Political power, for Morgenthau, is the control over the minds and actions of others • What constitutes the capacity to wield control over the minds and actions of other states? • Geography: Natural barriers, large amounts of buffer territory, etc. • Natural Resources: Food self-sufficiency capacity, energy resources, military materiel resources • Industrial capacity: Enables military competitiveness, economic stability • Population: Strength in numbers • Military Preparedness (short term): Numbers, capabilities, training • “National Character”/Morale: Resiliency, military ethos, patriotism, etc.

  5. Morgenthau’s Take on Power • The optimal exercise of political power obviates the need for the use of military force. At the same time, however, the only way that a state can wield political power over others is to convince them that it is willing and able to defeat them militarily (roots of the balance of power)

  6. Morgenthau’s Take on Power • Therefore: • Peace results from deterrence through military strength, and NOT from human attempts to change the qualitative nature of the international system • In other words, the struggle for power is the result of the “laws” of the world in which we live (individually, domestically, and internationally); we are incapable of changing these laws, no matter how much we try • Like Machiavelli and Hobbes, Morgenthau believes that this results from the human desire to dominate • Domestic and international politics differ only in degree, not in kind • Peace is thus only the result of the skillful exercise of political power, and not of the attempts of humanity to remake the world • America’s “aloofness” from Europe’s power politics was contrary to the realities of IR – only possible because of geographic isolationism, not some moral ascendancy • “If the desire for power cannot be abolished everywhere in the world, those who might be cured would simply fall victims to the power of others” • War begins mainly as a disagreement over which state holds more political power, and is thus a failure of political power • War ends only when that disagreement is resolved through military “contest”

  7. Morgenthau, Power, and State Action • Because power is thus the “currency” of all politics, all state action is geared toward three goals, each of which is entirely concerned with power but which call for different foreign policy strategies • Power maintenance: Pursue policy of the status quo • Maintenance of the current distribution of power across states through deterrence, coercion, agreements, etc. (Concert of Europe, Monroe Doctrine; parallel to conservative domestic political agenda) • Power acquisition: Pursue imperialist policy • Must be geared toward restructuring of power relations by overthrow of status quo • More likely given the existence of weaker states/politically empty spaces • Likely calls forth a policy of imperialism by vanquished • Imperialism NOT determined by economics, but politics (contra Marxism) • Power demonstration: Pursue policy of “prestige” enhancement • Prestige rarely an end in and of itself; it is only through a “reputation for excellence” that political power can be exercised • Diplomacy is thus an important adjunct to power politics; but credibility can only be established when military might is present to back up diplomatic threats

  8. What Power Does TO States • Morgenthau teaches us what power does for states. But what power does to states – both one’s own acquisition of it and the acquisition of it by others – can tell us more about when war and peace is most likely • Specifically, given the “realist” notion that individuals are inherent suspicious and untrusting, state power is itself the root of additional suspicion, mistrust, and ultimately war, at the state level

  9. What Power Does TO States • Power, however it is defined, is essential to all realists for achieving the ultimate goal of states in the anarchic international system – SURVIVAL (Hobbes) • However, as Morgenthau notes, the particular distribution of power (if unfavorable in any way) can compel states to the conquest of others for the achievement of further security

  10. The Security Dilemma • The essential and intractable problem that results from this state of affairs is known as the security dilemma • Assume that a particular state seeks only to survive by pursuing a status quo policy (which necessitates the maintenance of power) • This state’s possession of power – no matter how much the state tries to assure others that it is for defensive purposes only – must necessarily result in fear/suspicion on the parts of others • Main reason: The same tools that are used for status quo and prestige policies are used for imperialist policies • Absent any enforceable guarantee against the use of force for expansion – and anarchy precludes the enforcement of any guarantee – the realist worldview stipulates that the global community is fraught with arms races and the constant threat of both imperial and preventative war • Thus, war is likely to occur even when political “reasons” for war – like revenge, but even territorial disputes, etc. – are absent

  11. The Security Dilemma in History: The Peloponnesian Wars • Evidence of the security dilemma can be found in the earliest examples of IR, as illustrated by Woodruff’s introduction to Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian Wars • Greece, 3rd Century BC: Athens and Sparta dominate • Two very different city-states • Athens: Sea-faring, commerce-based, democratic, home of the “new thinking” • Sparta: Land-based, self-sufficient, oligarchic, military ethos • Despite all these differences, there seem to be very few political reasons to go to war • Thucydides’ only answer: the Peloponnesian Wars were caused by Athens’ rise to power, and the fear that that power caused for Sparta – no more, no less

  12. Classical Realism Recap • All of the authors addressed today believe that the key to understanding state actions at the international level lies in a clear understanding of human nature and the state of nature • In general, the very activities that allow for individual survival in the anarchic state of nature allow for state survival in the anarchic interstate system • Power as the ultima ratio; need for power as the cause of mistrust, security dilemma • Only way to get what you want from others; only way to stop others from destroying you in the process of getting what they want (survival and more) • The laws of power are immutable; human beings cannot change them • The mere fact that power ensures survival results in the security dilemma • Morality largely insignificant; diplomacy and agreement are merely tools of power implementation • Peace can only result from deterrence, and is not a qualitatively different state of affairs than war • Balances of power thus ensure peace, but such balances are delicate, as they are always contested by those who do not benefit from them • Allows for analysts to treat states as though they are “unitary actors” (individuals) in the state of nature