It is my contention that the Realist viewpoint of Political Science would most aptly describe the state of international relations today. Although one could make a strong argument for other theories, I believe that Realism is a superior interpretation of the current political situation and I intend to show this through examples and a discussion of American foreign policy.
I believe that realism is also the main governing theory in practice in International Affairs today. However, I believe that this is specific to only a few of the nations, and that its popularity is based on the wealth and recognizable nature of those nations. The countries that I believe would be most benefited by liberalism or neoliberalism are those that require outside assistance the most, and are therefore rather poor and do not have as much power and therefore little voice.
In the current balance of power, America is undeniably the hegemon. And, I feel that it is a safe assumption that the political theory governing America would, at the least, permeate the governments of many comparable nations. Although it is not always true that the great actors will all agree on a political agenda, it is usually the case that they share a homogeny of ideals.
It is these ideals that I feel have been changing since the election of the new American president. When George W. Bush was elected president in November of 2000, we all expected some changes to occur. It is my belief that our governing theories have changed from fundamentally neo-liberal to a paradigm of ‘balance of power’ realism.
Throughout the Clinton Administration, the president was instrumental in furthering neo-liberal institutionalism by means of more involvement in international organizations such as the United Nations (UN). Clinton believed that, “…the cynical calculus of pure power politics… [was] ill-suited to the new era.” (Kegley-Wittkopf 39) Bush’s political agenda and Foreign Policy Decision Making (FPDM) could not differ more. His actions, even this early in his term, clearly illustrate many of realism’s fundamental assumptions about the international system (Kegley-Wittkopf 32).
An example of this can be seen in Bush’s obstinate dealings with some of the Intergovernmental Organizations (IGO’s). In a recent case concerning an attack on Iraq, he disregarded warnings and admonishments from the UN for his FPDM, and demonstrated an aggressive belief in the sovereignty and hegemony of the United States (Turnipseed 2002). These actions exemplify a fundamental tenet of realism, that the state should focus primarily and solely on its’ own interests and resist outside efforts to regulate international behavior through a system of global government (Kegley-Wittkopf 33).
To further illustrate this point, he has alienated many of his more liberal allies with the assertion that he will, regardless of international perspective and opinion, pursue America’s interests in eradicating terror without regard to the perceived impact on the world arena. Further, there has been little international support for Bush’s increase in military spending and arms buildup and some fear that this behavior might cause an arms race similar to the one that occurred between the United States and Russia during the Cold War.
A basic assumption of realism is that ‘The anarchical nature of the international system dictates that states acquire sufficient military capabilities to deter attack by potential enemies and to exercise influence over others.”(Kegley-Wittkopf 32) Bush’s recent decision to withdraw from The 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (Blaney 2001) and his intention to more than double our nation’s defense budget (Bush 2002) coupled with his statements such as “We are protected from attack only by vigorous action abroad and increased vigilance at home,” illustrate this.
Although some would argue that some of Bush’s economic policies and his support for global free trade organizations such as the Northern American Free Trade Association (NAFTA) are driven by neoidealism, realists maintain that “…institutions are based on the self-interested calculations of great powers.” (Mearsheimer 7) In this understanding, it would not be unusual for a realist government to support an organization such as this that provides such obvious economic benefit to it’s own state. In addition, since Realism claims that “institutions are basically a reflection of the distribution of power in the world,” (Mearsheimer 13) participation would allow a hegemonic nation to dominate such an organization and have more influence over the economies of the other participating nations.
The president has been criticized by his allies for the “simple and unilateralist “thinking (Turnipseed 2002) that led him to take the war on terrorism further than was previously intended and agreed upon. However, realism is unilateral. Realism encourages more powerful states to assert dominance on less powerful states through intimidation under the supposition that systemic stability will occur only when all states simultaneously seek to maximize power (Kegley-Wittkopf 33). Consequently, many other world leaders, in response to the overwhelming might of America’s military, are folding to Bush’s demands. They are sacrificing their own state sovereignty in the fear of being crushed by our far-reaching war on terrorism.
It is this sacrifice of state sovereignty which poses the biggest argument against realism as a dominant way of viewing the current world. Many states are sacrificing parts of their sovereignty out of fear, but some are sacrificing it willingly to become a part of something bigger such as in the case of the European Union (EU). Realist theory sees the gain in cooperating with IGO’s and supporting allies, but only for as long as it is clearly beneficial. From a realist perspective, these organizations were doomed to failure from the start and will only last so long as the balance of power does not shift too greatly (Mearsheimer 13).
Although I believe that other political theories play a large part in international relations, I feel that realism is a dominating force. Furthermore I believe that if the United States continues to act according to realist philosophy, that other nations will be forced to reevaluate their foreign policy and respond in kind. In conclusion, I believe that the realist theory most aptly describes the current state of world politics.
Blaney, Harry C. “Friends Apart: Europe And America.” American Foreign Service Association. Online. Internet. 2 February. 2001. Available http://www.afsa.org/fsj/oct01/Blaneyoct01.html.
Bush, George W. “President Delivers State of The Union Address.” Whitehouse. 12 February. 2002. Online. Internet. Available http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/01/20020129-11.html
Kegley, Charles W., and Eugene R. Wittkopf. World Politics: Trend and Transformation. 8th edition. Boston: Bedford, 2001.
Mearsheimer, John J. ‘The False Promise of International Institutions”. International Security, Volume 19, Issue 3 (Winter, 1994-1995), 5-49. Online. Internet.
Turnipseed, Tom. “The Bush Administration’s Folly: Arrogance of Arms Abroad and Access to Avarice at Home”. Common Dreams. Online. Internet. 13 February. 2002. Available http://www.commondreams.org/views02/0213-05.htm.