Debating IR

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


Saturday, February 04, 2006

Opposite of Anarchy

During Thursday's discussion there was some difficulty in reaching a definition for the opposite of anarchy. I decided to see what Google had to say about it.

I found that pretty much every conceivable form of government was mentioned as the opposite of anarchy, including hierarchy (which we eventually decided upon in class), laissez-faire capitalism and communism.

one group of anarchists used the term ochlarchy:

The Greek rooted word for mob rule is ochlarchy. Ochlarchy broadly defined may also be used as a common word for all the authoritarian evils mentioned in part 1. above, i.e. in general lack of security and law and order in a society as a public sector service. This is ochlarchy, the opposite of anarchy, i.e. based on libertarian law and order and security as public sector services, according to the anarchist (IFA) principle of social justice. The ones doing ochlarchy broadly defined are called ochlarchists, i.e. the opposite of anarchists.

I was unable to find this word used anywhere else. One of the advantages of being an anarchist, I suppose, is certain freedom to use whatever words you want.


Limits of Anarchy

On Thursday, the class discussed anarchy and what conditions it required to exist. It was a hard definition to nail down, because anarchy has always meant "being able to do what you want without fear of punishment" to me. However, applying this to the international system made me think more seriously about anarchy, as did Matt and Nate's comments about whether anarchy could ever disappear as long as humans had free will.

I was interested in the idea that anarchy always exists, as long as we have the ability to do anything that conflicts with the established law. I would have argued (did argue, I think) that as long as there was the promise of retribution/punishment, this state still couldn't be defined as anarchy. But retribution does not have to necessarily come from the government -- it could come from the victim or the victim's family. In my opinion, what separates enforcement from vengeance is the way in which it is administered: by a government-controlled organization, impartially, as opposed to by people personally touched by crime. This is a little idealistic, though; police, as was pointed out, can't catch everyone, and many crimes go unreported, let alone unsolved. Realistically, your odds of committing crime and getting away with it are pretty good -- and in areas with poor enforcement, it could be said that anarchy exists.

Applied to the international system, this begs the question: even if a supranational organization with the power to enforce its laws could be formed, could it be expected to enforce them well? Justice requires impartiality, and (perhaps too cynically) I can't believe that the judges of international crime would be able to separate themselves from the biases of their own cultures enough to arbitrate it properly, and creating some kind of international jury system would be difficult if not impossible to do. Personally, I don't think it's possible for the international system to move beyond a state of anarchy; I'd like to continue this discussion in a later class to hear opinions on how it could be done.


Friday, February 03, 2006

Reaction to the Anarchy Discussion

Sometimes I wonder what I truly believe. A person can read different articles, watch different TV shows or news coverage, and participate in arguments and feel certain that they have a specific view of the world. I know that I personally feel this way most of the time. I am sure that I believe in one thing or another. I am sure that certain ideologies are crazy and others make perfect sense. And yet sometimes I surprise myself and confuse myself. I will engage in arguments and find an ideology which I don't necessarily believe flowing easily and almost thoughtlessly from my lips, as if I believe it so strong that I don't need to think. This is where I found myself yesterday.

I consider myself a realist, insofar as my very loose understanding of the various disciplines of IR go. As such I believe in anarchy. However, I have never considered myself an anarchist. I don't know the word for what I considered myself is (structuralist?), but I believed that despite anarchy, a hierarchy always existed based on power. And I was convinced that because of the power displacements in that hierarchy, anarchy was virtually reduced to nothing. That is, in an international system, those on top have more anarchy, and those on the bottom less, since there are more hindrances to their motions (structural realism in short).

Then halfway through the argument yesterday, when I was arguing against a hierarchy as the end of anarchy, I heard myself say something to the effect that "As long as a person has the choice to obey the rules, and is only punished after they disobey, anarchy exists." Jesse followed my statement with the words, "Spoken like a true anarchist." And suddenly I had to take a step back. I had never really thought out, on my own the extent to which I believed in anarchy. I was shocked and have been ever since. I thoguth I believed in a hierarchical anarchy, but now I am questioning it. My biggest questions are, "To what extent does anarchy extend? How much anarchy exists at different levels of power? Do small states seemingly have more freedom since oftentimes they are the stimuli to a response by a bigger power?" Its interesting to me and proving to be good challenge to my preconceived notions.


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.



NOTE: Before I begin let me take the time to let everyone know that I have added links to the other group's blogs. This should facilitate communication between our disparate groups and hopefully unite our ramblings into one cohesive whole. I hope the other groups add links to their blogs too. The instructions to add links to a blog are here:


Thursday, February 02, 2006

Neoclassical realism

Neoclassical realism, according to Sterling-Folker, argues that relative power distribution and perceptions of this relative power profoundly impact, if not define, foreign policy. She applies neoclassical realism to the situation in Kosovo during the Clinton Administration, and also (briefly) to the Iraq war.

Neoclassical realism appears to me to be the most realistic (no pun intended) theory of foreign policy that we have studied so far. (I am in the process of taking World Politics now, and thus haven't heard of, well, any of these theories until this semester.) It strikes me as particularly realistic because it incorporates the human reaction to perceived power, rather than dealing with absolute power only. What a policymaker thinks about a situation has more influence on policy than what is actually going on, since his opinion will delineate his policies regardless of whether or not his opinion is valid. By arguing that policy is ultimately dependent on elite perceptions, neoclassical realism allows for the fact that these perceptions may be wrong.

For example, as Sterling-Folker points out, "fear of potential relative power loss and challenges to US prestige appeared to drive the administration's strategy" in Iraq (51); whether the actual impact on perceived US power would have been great enough to merit our investment in this war is debatable, but policymakers made the value judgment and involvement was necessary to prevent the US from being perceived as weak.

Although I believe that more factors are involved with such a tremendous decision as going to war, neoclassical realism appears to provide a solid base for examining foreign policy decisions. Power perceptions are vital to security -- after all, countries are less likely to attack a nation that appears more powerful than themselves.


Neoclassical Realism

Thursday's reading examines the US intervention in Kosovo from a neoclassical realist perspective. This perspective builds on structural realism by focusing on state strategies, and by including notions of elite perceptions. Thus neoclassical realism seems to move closer towards a bureaucratic or role based model.

When applied to the situation in Kosovo, the neoclassical realist model suggests that the driving force behind the US actions was a fear of losing its international prestige. Having pushed for the expansion of NATO and having claimed the dominant role in that organization, the US was faced with certain obligations. Thus, the US effectively forced itself to deal one way or another with the Kosovo problem.

I am not convinced that the US would have lost all that much prestige if it had decided to stay out of Kosovo, and had instead left the job to the Europeans. I think that US power was (and is) more genuinely threatened by the possible emergence of a European defense entity. Any concerns over prestige should be secondary to this threat.

This highlights one of the problems with neoclassical realism. One of the most appealing aspects of realism is that, through its single minded focus on power, it can reduce complex international events to very simple terms. By factoring in elite perceptions and state strategies, neoclassical realism becomes both more complex and more ambiguous than other branches of realism.



You know how you read something and sometimes it just feels like something is missing? That was how I felt after reading Taliaferro's article on Neoclassical realism. And, after reading Jonathon's post, I think I figured out the missing link. Rationality. If neoclassical realism, at least Taliaferro's, is based on loss of prestige as a motivating factor, I find a problem with his three propositions.

Taliaferro proposes that 1) officials will initiate action in the periphery to avoid losses in prestige, 2) officials will "gravitate toward the more risk-acceptant of available options", and 3) they will "continue and even escalate their commitment to risky, and often failing, intervention strategies in the periphery." The first two don't bother me too much, because they seem more like set-up for the third. In addition they seem more rational. If you want to avoid risk, while preserving prestige, then you would take your action against less-important, less-powerful states. The second propostion, that they will choose the more risk-acceptant outcome is rational insofar as Taliaferro explains that states are aware of the possible negative outcomes. To me this is because possible and probable are different, and I will assume that most high-level actors in great powers, have relatively high confidence in the ability of their diplomats and/or military to succeed in any mission given to them.

So finally I come to the third, and for me, problematic proposition. States will "continue and even escalate their commitment to risky, and often failing, intervention strategies in the periphery." Where is the the rationality in this? If a state continues or escalates risky strategies, which in theory could compromise the success of an intervention, they stand to lose more prestige by failing. Example: Vietnam. Continued escalation of a bad idea, which results in the loss of prestige, which in neoclassical realism would seem to be one of the main causes for Vietnam (loss of prestige due to violation of containment policy (Yay, George Kennan!)). I was always taught, and just reconfirmed through looking it up in Goldstein's International Relations Sixth Edition, that one of the principle assumptions of realism is that states act as rational actors in pursuing self-interest. Continuing to escalate an unsuccessful campaign is just irrational if it can completely defeat the purposes for which you started a war. Maybe I'm oversimplifying things, but I just cannot see how rationalism fits in with the third proposition of Taliaferro's neoclassical realism.


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Jonathan Berman Appraises Neoclassical Realism

Taliaferro, in MAKING SENSE OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS THEORY, defines neoclassical realism as a theory that identifies the relative distribution of material power as the main influence of a nation's foriegn policy (38). Yet, what differentiates neoclassical realism from other realisms is that the neoclassical theory believes a leader's perceptions and beliefs about the distribution of power and prestige drive their decisions (38). According to Taliaferro, great powers intervene in inconsequential areas of the world and take risks in order to protect their state's perceived prestige and power. Often times these adventures fail yet leaders still go forward with their plans (51).

I am hesitant to discuss the example of Yugoslavia because my familiarity with the region and with Operation Allied Force are sparse. However, what I do know about is Thucydides and the Athenian invasion of Sicily. It's interesting that neoclassical realism and the theme of the History of the Peloponnesian War is so similar. If one takes the Melian Dialogue and the campaign against Syracuse together we get the stong do what they can, they are prone to misjudge their relative capabilities, take on too much, and suffer catastrophe as a result.

Sound similar to Taliaferro? Clearly, Thucydides has had some influence.

The death of Pericles left the Athenians without a voice of reason. The Athenians were overcome with confidence that they could crush the Sicilians themselves and launched a campaign that would force them to use the majority of their forces in a far away land. Of course, they never expected that Sicily was actually quite large and well populated, and that the Sicilain navy would beat them. The campaign was a disaster and Athens was conquered soon after. The History of the Peloponnesian War stands as a counter argument to anyone who says any war will be easy and if more people took the lesson to heart we wouldn't get in trouble as often as we do.

Perhaps, it is human nature though. Yet, I am not so sure. Neoclassical realism I think is a step back from Waltz's MAN, THE STATE, AND WAR which decries first image (individual level) and second image (state level) analysis for third image (the international system) analysis. That is probably a good thing because, as the adage goes, "all politics is local."

It seems to me that as realism develops more and more it seems to get closer and closer to constructivism and liberalism. Analyzing a leader's perceptions and beliefs seems to emphasize process over structure. Wendt discusses in ANARCHY IS WHAT STATES MAKE OF IT the fact that social theory tells us "that people act towards objects and other actors, on the basis of the meanings that the objects have for them" (Wendt 396-7). Thus, US military dominance has different significances for the Netherlands and Iran. As a result, the Netherlands and Iran have very different policies in regards to the US.

This is a good thing because if anarchy and the distribution of capabilities were the sole source of conflict in the world then the human species would be doomed to an eternity of wars and violence because for the forseeable future there will always be strong and weak states. However, if as constructivists and liberals posit, process, namely interaction and learning, drive the international system, the possibility exists that we can "educate" ourselves to make peace. It all depends on whether we can teach ourselves to see the international system as a collective security system instead of a self-help system.


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".