International Relations Theory

Submitted by admin on Fri, 09/02/2016 - 21:58

International Relations (IR) theory and practice

As I have (belatedly) begun to be interested in the academic world, one of the things that has most interested me has been International Relations Theory. I have not yet gone in to it as deeply as I want to, but it seems of key importance to me - some of the things the academics are writing about seem to be directly about 'human nature' and the 'collective unconscious'.

The Normal Realist View

"One might conveniently summarise the Realist position as follows :

  • The maintenance of the national interest is the 'prime directive' of all nation-states. This is the procurement of power and the desire to dominate and subjugate other states
  • There can be no political position which is neutral
  • All states have an ethics of responsibility - state leaders must maintain the security of the state at ALL costs, even if this means threatening or using force.
  • The anarchical state of international relations forces the escalation of military strength sufficient to act as a deterrent against attack.
  • Economics is subordinate to military might, the former being only useful in promoting the latter
  • The state is the source (communitarianism) and condition of all values"

quoted from "Beginning Postmodernism", by Tim Woods, Manchester University Press, 1999, p 242.

Clearly, this traditional approach is

A. not sustainable

B. a view which is still being applied and practiced by many states

C. difficult to counter by anyone who disagrees or takes a different approach

Inside – Outside, some quotes

…. Walker and Richard Ashley have argued in several issues that IR has historically been based upon a sophisticated binary opposition of international-domestic politics, where the representation of international relations as the domain of violent, hostile, anarchic activity relies upon the opposite picture of the domestic arena as one of peace, domesticity and orderly progress. …….

…. State sovereignty has a special status within IR theory because it has been so important in founding modern concepts of political identity, as we have seen with Realist theory. Often defined as the exercise of power within a delimited territory, state sovereignty implies an oppositional model of an inside/outside for political government. Consequently, the state on the 'inside' is seen as a stable community and is given positive priority over the anarchical, unruly and turbulent international 'outside'. 'Inside' is regarded as a sphere of steady electoral politics, while the 'outside' is construed as the disturbance of politics. Although this model has been a powerful idea in providing us with political identities by erecting boundaries between 'us' and 'them', Walker is concerned to deconstruct this illusory dichotomy and move beyond state sovereignty. Yet he poses no simple alternative to the modern state, since he argues that the opposition of time-space is so deeply rooted with in the modern state that this dichotomy itself would have to be deconstructed before a new conception of the state might emerge.

both from "Beginning Postmodernism", by Tim Woods, Manchester University Press, 1999, p 246.

Comment. - This clearly shows the problem for world peace and development - how can these come when even the poorest countries firmly believe that their politicians, legal systems, and nationhood is 'better' than those of their nearest neighbours 'outside'. They may simultaneously have totally unrealistic dream and fantasies about the 'far away' nations like the USA . These are the challenges of development goals and international systems.

Postmodernism and IR theory

Whether there is a new age or post-modern era or not, there have been massive changes in the world recently which are major challenges to the International systems and to International relations in general. To mention the major changes:-

  • The collapse of the Eastern bloc
  • The 'triumph of capitalism'
  • The development of international society
  • The growth of global news media and communications systems
  • The unrestrained international trading of currencies and commodities
  • Global warming and other un-managed environmental changes and resource usages
  • The opening up of China
  • The industrialisation of almost all countries, and agriculture.
  • The 'capitalisation' of the remaining areas of land and activities (such as leisure)

This is an extensive list, and International Society has not responded well to most of these changes.

There is a post-modern way of thinking about these changes, (which is 'opposed' to the 'realist view'):-

  1. There is a 'crisis of representation' in politics - who gets elected, and how they can truly represent their constituencies. It is a logical impossibility to fully represent all ones constituents.
  2. This is one of many paradoxes in public life which are becoming more obvious
  3. To rethink the questions of empowerment, power and resistance to power
  4. To question the political functions of knowledge, memory and history (e.g. we are fed 'official' history, which we may accept even though our own personal, family and friends' experiences contradict it)
  5. To provide new interpretations of the relation between part and whole, localities and totalities, nationalities and inter-nationalities, time and space, pace and place, and boundaries and breaches of them
  6. To raise the question of 'subaltern voices'. History is usually in the past been written by and for the Generals. Is this more true or useful than history written by a Corporal ? Most history is also euro-centric - and this raises issues of race, gender, ethnicity, nativity, exile, migration, needs and rights. Which is the REAL reality of history ?
  7. Modern statecraft tries to tame resistances, domesticate or exteriorise excess, and to create a semblance of an exclusive space that the state can then claim to represent
  8. Traditional practices of international law and diplomacy have taken for granted that they represent stable communities with fixed identities

I have adapted this from "Beginning Postmodernism", by Tim Woods, Manchester University Press, 1999, p 247.

I find this very interesting - how can we adapt our thinking to fully encompass these changed conditions ?