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Presentation on theme: "GREAT DEBATES IN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS THEORY"— Presentation transcript:


2 INTRODUCTION The discipline of International Relations (IR) emerged in 1919. The great subject of IR at that time was to understand the reasons of the war. According to IR scholars their duty is to discover the causes of the war so the world might avoid a similar catastrophe in the future.

3 INTRODUCTION In its effort to find answers to political and societal crises and problems, the discipline of International Relations, over time, has produced a number of different Grand Theories of international politics on the basis of different perspectives of perception/interpretation different sets of questions different anthropological different normative and ethical and different methodological predispositions and presuppositions

4 INTRODUCTION Grand Theories formulate different premises and assumptions regarding - the international environment, i.e. the characteristic outlook, quality, and structure of the environment in which international actors act - the quality, character, and substance of international actors themselves - actors’ aims and interests and the means which actors, as a rule, use in the fulfillment of their aims and interests.

5 INTRODUCTION These disputes throughout IR’s short history have come to be known as ‘The Great Debates’, and though disputed it is generally felt there have been four, namely ‘Realism/Liberalism’, ‘Traditionalism/Behaviouralism’, ‘Neorealism/Neoliberalism’ and the most recent ‘Rationalism/Reflectivism’. All have had an effect on IR theory, some greater than others, but each merit analysis of their respective impacts.

6 Realism vs.Liberalism •Realism, also known as political realism, encompasses a variety of theories and approaches, all of which share a belief that states are primarily motivated by the desire for military and economic power or security, rather than ideals or ethics. This term is often synonymous with power politics.

7 REALISM VS IDEALISM From the Peloponnesian War, through European poleis to ultimately nation states, Realist trends can be observed before the term existed. Similarly, the evolution of Liberalist thinking, from the Enlightenment onwards, expressed itself in calls for a better, more cooperative world before finding practical application – if little success – after The Great War.

8 REALISM VS. IDEALISM •The term "Realism" is used with such frequency that it appears to defy the need for definition - all that needs to be known about the concept seems to be encapsulated in the word. Yet closer examination uncovers a great deal of variation. Each of the principal Realist theorists - Carr, Morgenthau and Waltz - offer their own definitions, and often focus on the aspects they wish to emphasize.

9 REALISM VS. IDEALISM •Divisions of opinion exist between the classical (or traditional) Realists and the structural Realists (neorealists); and within these broad groupings there are further variations and shades of opinion.

10 REALISM VS IDEALISM Morgenthau’s theory is based on six principles he enumerates in his first chapter. In summary, these principles are: •1. Politics, like society in general, is governed by objective laws that have their roots in human nature which is unchanging: therefore it is possible to develop a rational theory that reflects these objective laws. •2. The main signpost of political realism is the concept of interest defined in terms of power which infuses rational order into the subject matter of politics, and thus makes the theoretical under-standing of politics possible. Political realism stresses the rational, objective and unemotional. •3. Realism assumes that interest defined as power is an objective category which is universally valid but not with a meaning that is fixed once and for all. Power is the control of man over man.

11 REALISM VS. IDEALISM •4. Political realism is aware of the moral signifigance of political action. it is also aware of the tension between moral command and the requirements of successful political action. •5. Political realism refuses to identify the moral aspirations of a particular nation with the moral laws that govern the universe. It is the concept of interest defined in terms of power that saves us from moral excess and political folly. •6. The political realist maintains the autonomy of the political sphere. He asks "How does this policy affect the power of the nation?" Political realism is based on a pluralistic conception of human nature. A man who is nothing but "political man" would be a beast, for he would be completely lacking in moral restraints. But, in order to develop an autonomous theory of political behavior, "political man" must be abstracted from other aspects of human nature.

12 REALISM VS. IDEALISM The most important assumptions of Realism:
•International relations are subject to objective study. Events can be described in terms of laws, in much the same way that a phenomenon in the sciences might be described. These laws remain true at all places and times. •The state is the most important actor of international politics. Sovereign states are the principal actors in the international system. International institutions, non-governmental organizations, multinational corporations, individuals and other sub-state or trans-state actors are viewed as having little independent influence. Thus the United Nations, Shell, political parties, interest groups, etc, are all relatively unimportant to the Realist.

13 REALISM VS. IDEALISM •The international system shows a structure of anarchy, with no common sovereign. According to Realists, the international system is anarchic. For the realist, anarchy signifies that there is no supranational authority that is able to provide security. International anarchy in this sense does not necessarily imply disorder or conflict. Rather, it is a framework for interpreting other “players” actions.

14 REALISM VS. IDEALISM •State behaviour is rational - or can best be approximated by rational decision-making. States act as though they logically assess the costs and benefits of each course open to them and then optimize/maximize their gains. Because of anarchy at the international level, states revert to “state of nature” and act in their own self-interest (think Machiavelli, Hobbes).

15 RealISM VS. IDEALISM •States act to maximize either their security or power. The distinction here often proves moot as the optimum method to guarantee one‘s security is frequently equated with maximizing one‘s power. •States often rely on the threat of or application of force to achieve their ends. •The most important factor in determining what happens in international relations is the distribution of power between international actors. •Ethical considerations are usually discounted. Universal moral values are difficult to define, and unachievable without both survival and power.

16 •States are rational unitary actors each moving towards their own national interest. There is a general distrust of long-term cooperation or alliance. •The overriding 'national interest' of each state is its national security and survival. •Relations between states are determined by their comparative level of power derived primarily from their military and economic capabilities. •There are no universal principles which all states can use to guide their actions. Instead, a state must be ever aware of the actions of the states around it and must use a pragmatic approach to resolve the problems that arise.

17 REALISM VS. IDEALISM •To sum up, realists believe that mankind is not inherently benevolent but rather self-centered and competitive. This Hobbesian perspective, which views human nature as selfish and conflictual, leads to a state of nature which can only be overcome by a social contract on the societal level. Thus establishing a Leviathan on the state level, the state of nature is freed to move up the ladder of analysis to the level of the international system. • Further, they believe that states are inherently aggressive (offensive realism) and/or obsessed with security (defensive realism); and that territorial expansion is only constrained by opposing power(s). This aggressive build-up, however, leads to a security dilemma where increasing one's own security can bring along greater instability as the opponent(s) build up their own arms. Thus, international and/or security politics is a zero-sum game where an increase in one party’s security means a loss for the security of others.

18 REALISM VS. IDEALISM •Liberalism or Idealism covers a fairly broad perspective ranging from Wilsonian Idealism through to contemporary neo-liberal theories and the democratic peace thesis. •States are but one actor in world politics, and even states can cooperate through institutional mechanisms and bargaining that undermine the propensity to define survival interests simply in military terms.

19 REALISM VS. IDEALISM •States are interdependent and other actors such as Transnational Corporations, INGOs, IGOs, and the United Nations play a decisive international role •The goal of liberal internationalism is to achieve global structures within the international system that are inclined towards promoting a liberal world order. To that extent, global free trade, liberal economics and liberal democratic political systems are all encouraged. In addition, liberal internationalists are dedicated towards encouraging democracy to emerge globally. Once realized, it will result in a 'peace dividend', as liberal states have relations that are characterized by non-violence, and that relations between democracies is characterized by the democratic peace thesis.

–Idealism/ Liberal Internationalism: A political theory founded on the natural goodness of humans and the autonomy of the individual. It favours civil and political liberties, government by law with the consent of the governed, and protection from arbitrary authority. Corporations, the IMF and the United Nations play a role. –Neoliberalism –Complex Interdependence –Democratic Peace Theory (Kant)

21 REALISM VS. IDEALISM After the First World War Liberalist thinking became dominant in International Relations . With Woodrow Wilson at the vanguard, the belief that conflict could be tamed and eventually defeated through institutional order was applied with the creation of the League of Nations. The League was immediately undermined by the failure of the American legislature to ratify participation in an organization that at least during its formative years enjoyed considerable public support.

22 RealISM VS IDEALISM Given that Realists had a long historical narrative of power-plays and conflicts from which to draw, it was little wonder they questioned the views of Liberalists during the later Inter-War period, labelling them Idealists or Utopians. Just as Liberalists regarded Realists as far too pessimistic about change and lacking in imagination to see the possibilities of cooperation and extension of law, diplomacy and security, so did Realists see their idealistic opponents as dangerously naïve.

23 Though Realists generally agreed that morality should be observed and even advanced, they felt these were best incubated in domestic environments made secure thanks to the state’s power. Loading security guarantees onto the weak shoulders of international bodies was seen as dangerous, given the risks posed to national survival if such arrangements failed. Indeed the very idea that the League could function as envisioned given the variety of states involved, their ideals and relative power, was suspect.

24 The actions of Germany, Italy and Japan throughout the 1930’s demonstrated the importance of the League in the face of aggressive expansionism by revisionist states. The credibility of both it and Liberalism were seriously undermined, then finished off with the commencement of World War Two. Realists had ammunition to effectively gun down the Liberalist case, and no one wielded the weapon more brutally than EH Carr in his text The Twenty Year’s Crisis.

25 Some dispute the need for such assaults
Some dispute the need for such assaults. Lucian Ashworth charges that basic idealist tenets applied to Liberalist writers of the time did not accurately describe them, that this distorted debates they conducted between themselves and exaggerated their differences with Realists; altogether drastically oversimplifying the issue to the extent that Ashworth even questions calling this a Great Debate at all.

26 Indeed it can be suggested that a more pragmatic Liberalism enjoyed a revival following the War with the formation of international organizations, such as the United Nations, NATO, the EEC and its descendants, which have enjoyed accomplishments despite inherent issues. Also John Mearsheimer points out that Idealism remains entrenched in the British school today – not the hallmark of a fatally undermined position.

27 Still, the bulk of the literature calls this Debate for Realists
Still, the bulk of the literature calls this Debate for Realists. The impact was that Realist theory found far greater respect in academic and policy circles than its rival, and indeed it is clear that Liberalism has since grown closer to Realist sentiment, as evidenced in the Neo-Neo debate discussed later. A negative impact was the effective ‘shutting out’ of alternative positions in the face of Realist dominance. This established a pattern in American and European academies, generally Realist and Liberalist respectively, where rebels were and are often given short shrift, ultimately doing no favours for the overall development of IR theory.

28 Traditionalism/Behaviouralism
Taking place in the 1960’s, this was essentially a methodological debate revolving around the belief of Behaviouralists that IR could only advance itself by applying the methods of naturalist science. They believed that the field was too dominated by historians, who they labelled Traditionalists (or Classicists), who took the view that IR should be developed through more interpretive historicist methods.

29 Behaviouralist focus was on the observation of systems and that those analyses, and any subsequent hypotheses and/or implying of causality, should be subject to empirical testing, mainly via falsification. That way knowledge in IR could be progressively built up, allowing for greater intuitions and progress in theory development.

30 The battle lines were drawn between the likes of Hedley Bull on the Traditionalist side, and Morton Kaplan on the Behaviouralist. There were other recognizable figures on either side, such as Carr and Schelling, as well as divisions within opposing camps, but Bull and Kaplan’s arguments get to the heart of the matter. Though acknowledging the swift rise of scientific methods in America, Traditionalists maintained that the ebbs and flows of global politics were necessarily interpretive, as one could not impose a neat system on a field with so many variables. An opposing Bull wrote of the method, that with such ‘‘strict standards of verification and proof there is very little of significance that can be said about international relations’’.

31 Kaplan countered that Traditionalism’s inherent breadth of analysis meant that its ‘‘generalizations are applied indiscriminately over enormous stretches of time and space. They are sufficiently loosely stated so that almost no event can be inconsistent with them’’ and thus would do nothing to enhance understanding or develop theory. For Behaviouralists, a theory that was not falsifiable was not a theory at all, more a subjective notion to be believed or disbelieved as suited.

32 Behaviouralism was also critiqued over what its perceived weaknesses could bring to IR study. It had roots in positivism and so strict application would mean rejecting factors that could not be measured, such as human perception and motivation and would also prevent the development of normative theories since they focused on empirically non-testable ‘what ought to be’. As well as a charge of failing to grasp societal nuances, criticism was also leveled at Behaviouralism’s early practice of supposedly separating theory and values from observations.

33 Behaviouralists countered these criticisms by largely recognizing the potential value of knowledge produced by other methods of research, such as Kaplan’s acknowledgment of Bull’s contributions to arms control literature for example, but they reserved the right to test their own assumptions empirically. Behaviouralists even recognized their own perceived weaknesses, such as Hempel and Popper’s criticism of ‘narrow inductivist’ views and the impossibility of some kind of theory or values remaining absent from observation, thus placing positivism on a more deductive than inductive path.

34 Behaviouralism never sought to be a replacement theory, but a means of discovering one and facilitating Thomas Kuhn’s idea that ‘‘a new area of research spins off from an established one on the basis of a new exemplar’’. Whether its proponents intended it or not however, Behaviouralism became orthodoxy, its key strength over Traditionalism being the ability of researchers to replicate and analyze their colleagues’ processes and findings, with impacts including the encouragement of diligent and detailed work by IR theorists, and that positivist America came to be seen as a greater engine of political theory discourse.


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