TABLE OF CONTENTs
The International System
The United Nations Security Council
The Bretton Woods Institutions
Principal actors of the world politics are nation-states, but they are not the only actors. The international system consists of nation-states, international organizations, and private actors. The purpose of this essay is to discuss the view that International Relations continue to be the domain of a few powerful Western States. In doing so, the essay is divided into three sections. The first section explains the concept of international relations and the theoretical perspectives of liberalism and realism on international relations. The second section discusses the following; World/Power politics, UN Security Council and the Bretton Wood Institutions to support the view that International Relations is dominated by a few powerful Western States. The final section concludes the essay .
The International System
The international system is seen as a constellation of states interacting with one another. Alternatively, it might be a macro-level social interaction involving actors at multiple levels: the individual decision makers, the bureaucracy, and the interest groups. International relations (IR) is a branch of political science that deals with foreign affairs and global issues among the states within the international system, including the roles of states, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and multinational corporations. The field of international relations concerns the relationships among the various governments of the world. These relationships linked with other actors such as international organisations (IOs), non-governmental organisations (NGOs), transnational corporations (TNCs) and notable individuals make them interdependent (Islam, n.d). The history of international relations is often traced back to the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, where the modern state system was developed. Prior to this, the European medieval organization of political authority was based on a vaguely hierarchical religious order (Mnungu, 1978). Westphalia instituted the legal concept of sovereignty, which essentially meant that rulers, or the legitimate sovereigns, would recognize no internal equals within a defined territory and no external superiors as the ultimate authority within the territory’s sovereign borders.
Westphalia encouraged the rise of independent nation-state, the institutionalization of diplomacy and armies. This particular European system was exported to America, Asia and Africa via colonialism and the so-called, “standards of civilization”. The contemporary international system was established through decolonization during the Cold War ((Mnungu, 1978). While the nation-state system is considered “modern”, many states have not incorporated the system and are termed “pre-modern”. Further few states have moved beyond nation-state system and can be considered “post-modern”. The ability of contemporary IR discourse to explain the relations of these different types of states is disputed. “Levels of analysis” are a way of looking at the international system, which includes the individual level, transnational and intergovernmental affairs, and global level.
International relations theory attempts to provide a conceptual model upon which international relations can be analyzed. Each theory is reductive and essentialists to different degrees, relying on different set assumptions respectively. Theories are paradigms or models of interpretation in the context of International Relations; as Ole Holsti describes them, international relations theories act as a pair of coloured sunglasses, allowing the wearer to see only the salient events relevant to the theory. An adherent of realism may completely disregard an event that a constructivist might pounce upon as crucial, and vice versa. International relations theories can be divided into “positivist/rationalist” theories that focus on a principally state-level analysis, and “post-positivist/reflectivity” ones that incorporate expanded meanings of security, ranging from class, to gender, to post-colonial security. Many often-conflicting ways of thinking exist in IR theory including Constructivism, Institutionalism, Marxism, Neo-Gramscianism, and others. However, two positivist schools of thought are most prevalent: Realism and Liberalism (Mnungu, 1978).
The state is the central political community employed in the study of world politics. The discipline of International Relations was born from a desire to understand and prevent war between states and all the key paradigms, to a greater or lesser extent, continue to acknowledge the centrality of the state. Realism, the major school of thought gives primacy to the state as a unit of analysis, assumes that the principal actors in world politics are groups, rather than individuals (Buzan, 1996; Schweller & Priess, 1997). The primacy of the state is most evident in realist approaches, still the dominant paradigm in International Relations thought. Realists view international relations as the interaction of sovereign territorial states in a situation of anarchy in which states are driven by the pursuit of interests defined by some as power (Morgenthau, 1964: 5), by others as security (Holsti, 1995; Waltz, 1979: 91). While realism is not fixed upon the nation-state as a timeless and universal category, it is fixed in its view of the nature of the units in world politics. (Gilpin, 1979: 18; Waltz, 1979: 91). Therefore, while the character of the state may change, its basic nature in the realist schema of international politics does not. It remains the key unit of analysis operating under the logic of anarchy in pursuit of its own interest regardless of its cultural character. Realism recognizes the potential for associations between states, but this is based on issues of interest rather than necessarily on cultural identity. For instance, states may form an alliance to maintain a balance of power in the system. However, such alliances will be necessarily temporary and subject to states interests (Morgenthau, 1964:181). Realism makes several assumptions. It assumes that nation-states are unitary, geographically based actors in an anarchic international system with no authority above capable of regulating interactions between states, rather than IGOs, NGOs, or MNCs are the primary actors in international affairs. Thus states, as the highest order, are in competition with one another. As such, a state acts as a rational autonomous actor in pursuit of its own self-interest with a primary goal to maintain and ensure its own sovereignty and survival. Realism holds that in pursuit of their interests, states will attempt to amass resources, and that relations between states are determined by relative levels of power. That level of power is in turn determined by the state’s military and economic capabilities.
During the rapid growth of International Relations as a discipline since the mid twentieth century, realism has been the dominant theoretical paradigm. However, other strands of thought consider a broader range of actors in world politics. The most prominent of these paradigms is often labelled the pluralist or liberal paradigm. Like realism, liberalism is a broad, generic title used to describe a wide range of thinkers and positions. Despite this diversity, liberalism can be viewed as ‘an integral outlook’ (Gray, 1995:13). These strands of thought share core assumptions including a belief in progress towards greater human freedom through promotion of peace, prosperity and justice; the belief in the realization of human freedom through greater co-operation; and the belief in transformation of human society via modernization. At the heart of classical liberal thought are the principles of freedom and progress (Zacher and Matthew, 1995). The central subject of these processes is the individual. While much of contemporary liberal and neo-liberal international thought accepts the importance, if not the primacy, of the state as the most important collective international actor (Baldwin, 1993:9; Keohane and Nye, 1977; 1987), its attitude to the relationship between the citizen and the state differs from that of realism. It understands the state as a pluralist community composed of individuals (Keohane, 1989: 174). Liberal theorists have investigated how states learn to co-operate and how transnational structures and interests evolve through processes of interaction, interdependence and integration in both the economic and political fields (Baldwin, 1993:4). In emphasizing the potential for co-operation and interdependence, the liberal perspective also suggests that states may not be as hostile and self-regarding as realism implies. For instance, Karl Deutsch’s (1957:36) work on security communities indicated that factors which contribute to mutual identification, shared values and procedures, and ‘a trust bred of the predictability that mutual identification’ brings are important in world politics, suggesting these are important to the formation of political associations. Furthermore, liberal International Relations theorists, particularly the neo-liberals, have been more willing than realists to acknowledge a broader range of significant actors in world politics (Ruggie, 1983). This pluralist conception of world politics acknowledges the role of non-state actors such as multinationals and non-government organizations (Keohane & Nye, 1987). Therefore, liberal International Relations theorists do acknowledge a broader range of significant actors in world politics and conceptualize interaction as encompassing possibilities for change and integration (Krasner, 1983).
The transition from the Cold War certainly did change the geopolitical cartography. It took some years for pundits to decide that we did not just live in a post-cold war era, but in one best specified by the term globalization. It took much longer for the strategic geographies of all this to get much attention. Clearly "humanitarian interventions" were in order in a way that they had not been during the cold war as Somalia, the Balkans, Kurdistan, East Timor and other examples suggested. Only some maps were destroyed; the larger Westphalian assumptions of a world order of equal states remained, even as international practice suggested that in many key areas this assumption was highly dubious (Williams 2008). However, the new geographies of conflict and the emergence of what Mary Kaldor (2007) terms the political economy of organized violence in the "new wars" remained underspecified until she pointed out that they too were tied into the circuits of the global economy. No longer did the Cold War assumptions about front lines, battlefields, blocs and superpower rivalry between US and its allies and the Soviet Union over determine patterns of military confrontation. However, the cold war armies left over from plans for old-fashioned tank battles in Germany were slow to adapt to the new circumstances, not least because with their upgraded technological innovations, the American, British and French forces had apparently proven their worth in Iraq in 1991. Nowhere more so than in the hasty formulations of the Bush Doctrine wherein states that harbour terrorists are declared the enemy given the apparent inability of American forces to tackle al Qaeda directly or in any other manner. Not surprisingly, the military violence unleashed, and the intense political coercion used in Asia, suggested to many commentators the appropriateness of metaphors of empire (Kaplan 2005). U.S. action certainly looked imperial even if George Bush junior insisted, as he put it in the 2003 State of the Union speech that America is not an empire because it does not conquer territory.
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- Gideon Asante (Author), 2018, A Dominion of Western States? Theoretical Perspectives on International Relations, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/509727