Political Realism Essay

According to realists, the conduct of international leaders differs very little from the conduct of a leader of a criminal organization. Realists’ underlying assumption, i. e. that the international system is in the condition of perpetual anarchy, is close to how crime bosses perceive the neverending competition between different gangs, clans or “crime families”, like the one Tony Soprano heads. Just like in relations between competing crews or between criminals and the government, no progress towards lasting peace is possible in international relations.

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International relations are by definition conflictual, unlike domestic matters of a state, since there is no supreme authority over sovereign subject which would possess monopoly on force similar to the one a state has on its territory. Conflicts in international relations, according to realists, are always resolved by the use of force. Here the analogy of Tony Soprano is particularly applicable, since he has killed at least eight people. Similarly, power in international relations, according to realists, is associated with military superiority and ability to defeat enemies.

Crime families pursue their own interests using resources they command, but they are well aware of resources and capabilities of their competitors. The same way states in international relations make calculations of their power and interests vs. power and interests of their rivals. Therefore, intelligence information (everything that can be used against competitors) is equally valuable in international relations and criminal activity. Peace and stability is only possible when a durable balance of power exists that reflects actual standing of great powers on the international arena.

The same happens in the criminal world. Although gangs and crime families have no moral obligations towards each other, they can sometimes cooperate against a common enemy (states on their part form international alliances). Balance of power among criminal organizations is of a paramount importance for peace and quiet in a city or neighborhood. As Sullivan (2000) informs, criminal groups sustain “spatial or economic spheres of influence – ‘turf’ or ‘markets’” (p. 86). The states act the same way when they perceive certain regions of the world as their spheres of influence.

For the U. S. , the Middle East is a region of strategic importance, as its enduring military presence there clearly indicates. Similarly, Russia “is treating the former Soviet republics as a priority…in an effort both to obtain lucrative assets and to enhance its political influence” (Trenin 2006, p. 91). Realists also believe that there is a difference between private and political morality: for the public and private spheres, there should be different codes of ethical conduct, and some actions inacceptable in private morality terms can be indispensable in politics.

This argument can be perhaps extended further to state that different ethical codes are applied to domestic matters and international relations: some actions that would be deemed inacceptable by domestic publics are carried out in or against foreign states, sometimes with the approval of the population at home. Here, an interesting example is the involvement of Henry Kissinger in the uprooting of Allende’s democratic regime in Chile.

While it would be a plausible to assume Kissinger believed that democracy served the interests of American people (since he hasn’t made attempts to subvert the public order), he has been reported to comment on the Chilean election of socialist Alllende in the following way: “The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves” (cited in Zarembka 2006, p. ix). He has in fact denied that Chileans had a right to elect their own leaders, while Americans could teach other countries about right and wrong.

In everyday life, this would be referred to as hypocrisy; however, according to political realists, this is how politics is made on the daily basis. In a similar fashion, many crime bosses are good at maintaining two distinct sets of values, one to be applied to intra-organizational matters and another one for the rest of the world. Inside their “crime family”, gangsters exhibit such qualities as loyalty, honesty, and nobility. All criminal organizations have a code of conduct that is strictly enforced, although such codes have little to do with morality and ethics in the conventional sense.

That is why to the outside world, they appear as cruel, self-interested beasts. Similarly, political leaders have to maintain two sets of values: in their private affairs, they have to be an example of integrity and righteousness, as the scandal with Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky shows. Also, they have to be good to their electorates and even political rivals. However, in international relations, they are expected to defend vital interests of their country with determination and firmness. The Road to War This section will look into strange and unusual circumstances and events that lead to wars.

The extent to which types of government and domestic publics have an impact on war proneness of states will be discussed. At a first glance, the recent U. S. attack of Iraq is an example of a war between a democracy and undemocratic country, so it is not particularly applicable for testing the democratic peace theory. In fact, the official reason for going to Iraq, as Scowcroft (2002) reports, was regime change: Saddam Hussein oppressed his own people and posed a threat to international security. It was exactly the undemocratic nature of Iraq that made it a tangible threat to the U.

S. ; it was deemed that its democratization would automatically provide for peace. Saddam was portrayed as a leader that was impossible to deter by diplomatic means, sanctions, or the threat of force, therefore the invasion was deemed the only viable option for preventing Iraq from acquiring and deploying WMD (Mearsheimer & Walt 2003). However, even before the actual deployment, there were forces in the foreign policy establishment calling for a more careful balancing of various U. S. interests at home and abroad. The war on Iraq, as Scowcroft (2002) then argued, would divert U. S.

resources from other important pursuits such as the war on terror or resolution of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As the difficulties in Iraq have powerfully brought home, realism for the U. S. nowadays does not mean the use of force but rather refraining from it. The Bush doctrine implied going to war and falling out with allies for the sake of furthering American ideals (Rose 2005), on the aforementioned assumption that democratization is a necessary prerequisite for peace. This neoconservative line is sometimes referred to as “democratic transformationalism”, which is essentially liberal interventionism (Goldberg 2005).

In his second term, however, Bush has been increasingly more inclined towards realism and looking out for actual American interests. To that end, he mended relations with Europe and returned to negotiating with rogue states (Rose 2005). This is in line with the need to balance one’s power and interests against those of other great powers. Such a change in orientation once again suggests that changes in leadership have a significant bearing on the war-proneness of a democratic state, a conclusion Elman (1997) has reached after analyzing the 1982 war between Israel and Lebanon.

While no change of leadership has taken place in the U. S. , a change in President’s orientation and some reshuffle in the foreign policy establishment were responsible for the shift. While people like Henry Kissinger are vilified as amoral hypocrites, moralism in foreign policy has never led to anything good for the U. S. : Harry Truman was responsible for the Korean War, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson have initiated the Vietnam War, and Bill Clinton has presided over the Balkan conflict and a deterioration of relations with China.

However, right- or left-wing moralists have almost always been succeeded by realists and foreign policy pragmatists who helped to clear the mess (Rose 2005). This mirrors the discussion by Postel (2004) of how democracy-spreading ambitions of George W. Bush worry American realists (together with libertarians and traditionalists). Realism’s main assumption is the primacy of state sovereignty, therefore an interference into the affairs of another state is only justified if an existential threat exists to one’s own country.

Before that point is reached, “the internal organization of another country is [not] any of our business” (Goldberg 2005, para. 25). A far more important reason to worry about the spread of “democratic transformationalism” is the human and economic cost of it. As Johnson (2000) clearly shows, the U. S. is an overextended empire struggling to sustain its military commitments abroad, and “the people of the United States are neither militaristic enough nor rich enough to engage in the perpetual police actions, wars, and bailouts their government’s hegemonic policies will require” (p.

221). This argument suggests that populations at home ultimately have some say over foreign policy or at least over the economic cots of overseas military exercises. This point will be explored in greater detail further in this section. The supporters of “democratic transformationalism” think that the threat posed by Saddam at the turn of the century was the natural consequence of the limited nature of the U. S. intervention during the first Gulf War. Then the U. S. , in accordance with the U. N. mandate, focused on removal of Iraq from Kuwait and not the removal of Saddam from Iraq.

Neoconservatives called it “an unfinished job”: the focus on stability instead of democratization has lead to the current mess, in their opinion (Goldberg 2005). Some commentators believe that the sole reason why the U. S. did not go to Iraq then was the “Vietnam syndrome” (Ferguson 2004). While historical evidence is mixed wit regard to the democratic peace theory (and therefore the feasibility of “democratic transformationalism”), it is too early to dismiss it as trivial. This theory might as well be applicable in the 21st century, even if it has failed for most of the 19th and 20th centuries, for two major reasons.

First of all, with the advent of new technologies, the level of interconnectedness between peoples of the world has increased dramatically. Citizens of democratic states enjoy unrestricted access to the Internet and the ability to travel to other democratic countries, usually without a visa. Therefore, public opinion in a democratic country is unlikely to support a military action against another democratic country, since there are personal ties between citizens of both, or the consumption of cultural products from another country (e. g.

French cinema or Danish design) has created an emotional attachment to a foreign land. The EU can be held up as a prime example. The European continent has been at war for most of its existence. However, nowadays no one can imagine a war between two EU members. Perhaps it was not the participation in common decision-making institutions (which are still weak and contested) but the strength of people-to-people contacts (encouraged by student mobility programs, the rise of an international professional class, cross-border marriages, and even the proposed mobility program for military staff) that has delivered the change.

A valid objection to this reasoning would be that professionalization of armies has diminished the level of control publics have over armed forces. As Johnson (2000) explains, for most of the 20th century, national armies were formed by universal conscription, by volunteers, or by a combination of both. It was of paramount importance to sustain patriotic spirit among troops and persuade them by means of propaganda that an enemy poses an existential threat to their nation.

If states failed to maintain a firmness of purpose among soldiers, insubordination, desertion and sabotage render an army effectively non-battleworthy. However, professional soldiers perceive their mission merely as a special kind of employment. Although states still initiate massive campaigns to convince their publics of necessity of a war, like it was in the case of Iraq, professional soldiers would be ready to battle any enemy their state commanded them to.

Moreover, a state can hire private security providers to wage wars for them. Although there was no case when a war was waged by using such providers only, the involvement of private military companies (PMC) and private security companies (PSC) in Iraq has received a lot of attention (Singer 2004). Thus, a government can still wage a war against another country in opposition to domestic public opinion by relying on a professional armies or private security provides.

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