Debating IR

Probing the philosophical underpinnings of the international system and anything else of interest.


Monday, January 30, 2006

Reflecting on Today

This post may not be necessary, but I felt the urge to write it anyway. After going through the structural realism exercise, I began to wonder if it was necessary. The basic summarization of structural realism we used was that, "the strong do what they can; the weak do what they must". And in this anarchic world view that generally translates to an awareness and tendency for military conflict. In class we were asked to differentiate between anomalies and examples of structural realism, but after reflecting on the exercise I can't find the purpose.

My main problem is that we generally based our examples on successful uses of force, and anomalies (at least in my group) on unsuccessful uses of force. Germany invading Poland vs. Italy invading Ethiopia (The first time). If thats the standard we used does it prove anything? Structural realism says that the strong does what it can. It never says that it must be successful in that action. Maybe the strong country employs an idiot general or maybe it fights a war it is unprepared for, does that necessarily mean that structural realism isn't a valid way to examine the international relations? In my mind, the answer is no. It just means that sometimes force is not as important as the application of that force. In some instances, invasion may be the best strategy and in other instances a naval blockade may be best. It doesn't invalidate structural realism because the stronger power still has the ability to engage the weaker country. In other words it still "can". I guess the only thing I really have to say is that I am unsure if the basis of structural realism is in the success of a strong state in its actions or whether it is the ability of those states to take action as they choose.

Sorry about any rambling, just thought I might start a little debate. My thoughts on this aren't really clear; they are more "under development".


Blogger Johnny B. said...

Definitely it is easier to associate realism with conflict based on its emphasis on relative capabilities and military power. However, I don't think structural realism just explains force, it explains how the internaitonal system operates. Therefore, structural realism should be able to be applied to any event in international relations and explain why it occured.

Probably, the great thing about being a Great Power is that everyone knows your a Great Power. As a great power states just tend to do what you want because they know that if they don't you'll just crush them. In that manner, it is convenient that things like the formation of the Security Council, is the only part of the UN that happens to have any power and the great powers of today happen to completely control.

The lesson of structural realism is not that the international system is inherently violent but that those states with the most power tend to get their way. In today's world, the liberal democracies have the most power having the best militaries and best economies. Thus, it is no surprise then that international law and international organizations like the IMF and WB reflect their interests.

2:57 AM  

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