Debating IR

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

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Friday, February 03, 2006

Jonathan Berman Reflects on Anarchy in International Relations

In class we had an interesting discussion on anarchy. In past IR classes anarchy has always gotten a mention but I have never really discussed it. I think the ongoing debate in IR on whether structure (anarchy and the distribution of material capabilities) or process (interaction and learning) is an interesting one.

I never realized that some realists believe that anarchy is a permissive cause of state behavior in international relations. Anarchy allows war to occur but may not actually cause it, in fact in anarchy it may be just as likely to allow peace to happen. As a result, I think this highlights the important role that process can play. Interaction and learning which encompasses ongoing practices and common knowledge can play an important role in mitigating whether states decide to make war or peace.

I was kind of suprised by the neoclassical reading because, as I said in class, it seemed like a Pandora's Box that gave too many points to the liberal and constructivist branches of international relations. By looking at a leader's perceptions and beliefs you are looking at things that are directly impacted by process. How those leaders interpret the actions of other states can directly affect what foreign policies they enact. If they interpret state actions as peaceful they will be likely to embark on a peaceful foreign policy (unless they are a revisionist state). In addition, should they interpret actions as hostile, they will embark on hostile policies to counteract them. Thus, this highlights the importance of looking at how a state's actions are ascribed meaning by other states and use that to tell us the nature of the international system.

2 Comments:

Blogger Kat said...

If they interpret state actions as peaceful they will be likely to embark on a peaceful foreign policy... In addition, should they interpret actions as hostile, they will embark on hostile policies to counteract them.

This was the most interesting part of neoclassical realism for me, and it reminded me of a term that was just introduced in my World Pol class (which I really should have taken as a freshman but put off way too long): "security dilemma," or a situation in which a state is trying to ensure its own safety by, saying, building up arms, but its actions are perceived as threatening by other nations. It's really irrelevant what the state intended to do; what matters is how the other states will treat its actions. If states don't follow the accepted processes, other states won't have the proper context to interpret their actions.

1:21 PM  
Blogger Johnny B. said...

I don't think you can say intentions aren't important. When one state charactarizes another state's actions as friendly or hostile it expects the other state to act a certain way. As long as the state fits this characterization the relationship between the states will be maintained or reproduced, however, once one state acts out of character then this begins to change the relationship.

Thus, in the situation you mentioned in your comment if a state intended to be hostile and the other state didn't interpret the state's actions as hostile then the two probably wouldn't go to war. However, this doesn't stop the first state from continuing its hostile actions. As time goes on the second state is going to learn that the first state is hostile and begin to change its posture towards the first state. Thus, intentions play a role in what goes on but interpretations shape how the state views those actions, it doesn't stop the first state from doing what it is doing.

2:42 AM  

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