Structual Realism since 1945
Structual Realism since 1945
Today we meet under terrible circumstances. Five days ago, the entire world watched as our nation was viciously and deliberately attacked by militant extremists. One of the victims included my dear friend and colleague Kenneth Waltz. I can assure everyone that our thoughts and prayers are with the families and individuals affected by the recent tragedy. Mr. Waltz was chosen to speak here at this conference today, yet I will do my best to fill in for my late friend.
Hans Morgenthau once stated “the main signpost that helps political realism to find its way through the landscape of international politics is the concept of interest defined in terms of power.” I believe that the pursuit of power is what has always driven international relations between states. Yet, it should be determined what drives this pursuit for power. One theory in particular has helped me and others understand important historical events and reveal a state's lust for power. The theory of Structural Realism demands that the structure of the system is of utmost importance in determining any outcome. Structural Realism is imperative to understanding International Relations since 1945.
There are a few assumptions the theory of Structural Realism makes about the world. First, Waltz and Structural Realists, presume that the system is largely anarchic. This means that each unit (state) will have to ultimately find ways to deal with the existence of other units. This leads to a self-help system in which each unit seeks to survive at the least and at the greatest dominate. Secondly, Waltz claims that, “International political structures are defined in terms of states…states are alike in the tasks they face, though not in the ability to perform them. The functions are similar, the distinctions arise from the varied capabilities of states” Finally, Waltz argues that, “Power is estimated by comparing the capabilities of a number of units. Although capabilities are attributes of units, the distribution of capabilities is a system-wide concept.” This means that states always look at other states to judge their power in the greater structure of the system.
Viewed through the paradigm of Structual Realism, the world has seen two main structures since 1945. The first consisted of the bi-polar structure of Cold War, in which the main powers were the Soviet Union and the United States. This structure lasted until 1989 with the fall of the Soviet Union. The second system consists of a uni-polar structure, with the United States as the sole world superpower. However, many predict we have seen the slow emergence of a multi-polar system in which states (more than one) will seek to counter United States influence and power. I will now go into greater detail analyzing how the structure of system has influenced the actions of the great states in international relations since the end of World War II.
Since 1945, until the fall of the Soviet Union we lived in a bi-polar world. To Kenneth Waltz, the bi-polar world was the most stable arrangement. This arrangement can explain the absence of a major war between the great powers in that time period. First, Waltz claims that in a bipolar world there are no peripheries. This means that any international event involves the interests of the two great powers. A great nation has a particular interest in the actions of the opposing nation, and both understand the potential to do great damage to one another. Secondly, Waltz states that in a bipolar world because the range of interests increases so does the competition between the two great powers. Finally, Waltz claims that a bi-polar world is more stable because there is the “nearly constant presence of pressure and the recurrence of crises” and that “Rather a large crisis now than a small war later is an axiom…that to fight small wars in the present may be the means of avoiding large wars later.” A large war is avoided because small crises develop, which lower the chances of a great war between the two superpowers. Waltz concludes that these three factors are among the most important characteristics of international relations since the end of World War II.
Although tensions in the Cold War resulted in numerous crises, a great war between the great nations was ultimately avoided. This was made possible in two distinct ways. First, the structure of the bipolar system acted as a sort of deterrence for the two great world powers. In 1956, military forces of Israel, Great Britain and France attacked Egypt. The following engagement was known as the Suez Canal Crisis. Great Britain looked towards the United States for help. However, America decided not to support their NATO allies economically or militarily. This was because the United States understood such actions could elevate anti-American sentiment in the region, and upset the balance of power in the world. The United States feared such intervention would spark tensions in the regions leading to a greater war. The United States ultimately used their position as a world power to force a ceasefire. The powers of multiple smaller states to effectively wage a prolonged war were diminished within the bi-polar system.
Secondly, the structure of the bi-polar system, forced each great power to counteract each others aggression. American military presence in Vietnam began to intensify throughout the 1960s. With 58,159 casualties, the prolonged conflict proved costly for the United States. With help from the Soviet Union and their allies, the United States backed government fell to the Vietcong. American expansion was checked by forces back by the Soviet Union. Likewise, in December 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The nine year conflict would prove to be a fatal military excursion for the communist nation. With help from the United States and their allies, the Soviet Union backed government fell to Islamic militants. Soviet expansion was checked by forces backed by the United States. In both circumstances, the structure of the system greatly determined the outcome of international events. Moreover in these particular two circumstances, the two major powers (United States and Soviet Union) were forced by the system, to counteract each others aggressive actions.
Counteraction and deterrence was exemplified by the nuclear arms race between the Soviet Union and the United States. Each nation sought to increase their military, hence also increase their stockpiles of greatest deterrent of all: nuclear weapons. During the Cold War, Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev explained that,
“They frighten us with war, and we frighten them back bit by bit. They threaten us with nuclear arms and we tell them: ‘Listen, now only fools can do this, because we have them too, and they are not smaller than yours, we think, even better than yours. So why do you do foolish things and frighten us? This is the situation, and this is why we consider the situation to be good'”
To both great nations the prospect of nuclear war was undesirable and ensured mutual assured destruction. The Suez Canal Crisis, the Vietnam Conflict, the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, and the constant nuclear arms race between the two nations were a product of the bi-polar structure in the system.
Since the end of the Cold War, and the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States emerged as the world's sole superpower. This structural change of the system has altered the actions of the units within it. These changes greatly affects the relationship between the hegemon and such organizations as United Nations and NATO. According to former Reagan official Francis Fukuyama, the UN is “perfectly serviceable as an instrument of American unilateralism and indeed may be the primary mechanism through which that unilateralism will be exercised in the future.” Moreover, according to Edward Luck, director of the Center on International Organization at Coumbia University, “if lesser powers contrive to turn the (security) council into a fourm for counterbalancing American power with votes, words, and public appeals, they will further erode its legitimacy and credibility.” Both men make the case that the United Nations is a tool through which the United States has the potential to achieve its strategic interests. Regarding NATO, Kenneth Waltz states that “The survival and expansion of NATO tell us much about American power and influence…the ability of the United States to extend the life of a moribund institution nicely illustrates how international institutions are created and maintained by stronger states to serve their perceived or misperceived interests.” Moreover Canadian Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff states that now “the United States is multilateral when it wants to be, unilateral when it must be; and it enforces a new division of labor (within NATO) in which America does the fighting…” The existence of NATO ultimately serves to promote the wider interest and power projection of the United States. The continuation of an alliance such as NATO highlight that we currently live in a uni-polar world. The present effectiveness of both the United Nations and NATO depend upon the United States.
Throughout the history of civilization, great powers were ultimately met by opposing powers. The anarchic structure of the system forces a balance of power. Sometimes the rise of an opposing power has been quick and sometimes it has been slow, yet a balance of power does ultimately emerge. Today, many argue that we are seeing the emergence of a multi-polar system. It is mere prediction, yet it is not foolish to suggest that China, and the re-emergence of Russia will ultimately rise to meet American power and influence. Realist Hans Morgenthau once stated “military power is the most important expression and guarantor of survival and the most important issue-area in the field is the threat or actual use of force.” I believe the military strategists of the United States understand the potential emergence of a multi-polar world structure, and are trying to guarantee current military power and hegemony. This is a defining trend in contemporary International Relations. The U.S National Security Strategy states that, “our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equalling, the power of the United States.” The United States understands its current position of world hegemon, and is acting in a way any hegemon would. In numerous ways the United States wishes to prolong its dominance in a uni-polar world. Multiple American administrations have been reluctant to sign any international agreement banning the weaponization of space and to sign any international agreement to ban chemical and biological weapons.
The structure of the system greatly influences the policy choices of the United States. Ignatieff states that,
“On the one hand, the semi-official ideology of the Western world…the principle of self-determination… was the ethical principle that inspired the decolonization of Asia and Africa after World War II. Now we are living through the collapse of many of these former colonial states.”
With the vacuum of power resulting from the fall of past empires, the United States has perhaps reluctantly fallen into the role of upholding world order. This has been with accentuated by the collapse of Soviet Union. According to Ignatieff, “gradually, this reluctance has been replaced by an understanding of why order needs to be brought to these places.” The recent attacks upon our nation remind us again that insecure areas abroad can lead to security threats at home.
Kenneth Waltz once said "structures cause actions to have consequences they were not intended to have" In the uni-polar system of the world today, the recent terrorist attack on our nation will be emphasized the unilateral reaction to come. As the sole superpower in the world today, it is the responsibility of the United States to take action. The present structure of a uni-polar system gives the United States the opportunity to take the lead on issues of importance to them, and to disregard issues which go against its interests. The world will judge America accordingly on how it tackles the most pressing issues of our time. Structural Realism gives us an understanding why in a bi-polar, or multi-polar world, such a reaction to the recent attacks would be limited to the constraints of the structure. However, there will be no restraint. For better or for worse, as long as the United States of America is the lone superpower in the world, Structural Realism dictates it will unilaterally defend its nation and extend its military influence.
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Quoted in V.D Sokolovskii, ed., Soviet Military Strategy Herbert S. Dinerstein, Leon Goure, and Thomas W. Wolfe, translations and English editors (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1963), p. 43.
“Statistical Information About Casualties of The Vietnam War” http://www.archives.gov/research/vietnam-war/casualty-statistics.html. The National Archives, n.d. 24 November 2009.
Waltz, Kenneth. “International Conflict and International Anarchy: The Third Image” The State and War: A Theoretical Analysis. New York: Columbia University Press, 1959.
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White House, The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, released 17 September 2002.
Morgenthau, Hans J. Politics Among Nations: the Struggle for Power and Peace, ( Boston, Massachusetts: McGraw-Hill, 1993) 5.
Waltz, Kenneth. Theory of International Politics. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979) 97.
Waltz. Theory of International Politics. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979) 97.
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Chomsky, Noam. Hegemony or Survivial: America's Quest for Global Dominance. (Metropolitan Books, 2004) 148.
Waltz, Kenneth. The Stability of a Bipolar World. (American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1964) 882.
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Waltz. The Stability of a Bipolar World. 907.
Waltz. The Stability of a Bipolar World. 907.
 Pearson, Geoffrey. Seize the Day: Lester B. Pearson and Crisis Diplomacy (Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1993), 140.
 For more information regarding casualties of the Vietnam war visit: http://www.archives.gov/research/vietnam-war/casualty-statistics.html
 Quoted in V.D Sokolovskii, ed., Soviet Military Strategy, Herbert S. Dinerstein, Leon Goure, and Thomas W. Wolfe, translations and English editors (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1963) 43.
 Curtis, Mark. The Ambiguities of Power: British Foreign Policy Since 1945.( London: Zed Books, 1985). 183.
 Luck, Edward, “Making the World Safe for Hypocrisy.”New York Times, 22, March 2003.
 Waltz, Kenneth. Structural Realism After the Cold War. (Cambridge: Mit Press, 1994) 20.
 Ignatieff, Michael. American Empire: The Burden, (cover story), The New York Times Magazine, 5 January 2003.
 Chomsky.Hegemony or Survivial: America's Quest for Global Dominance, 232.
 Allen Sens, and Peter Stoett, Global Politics: Origins, Current, Directions,( Canada: Nelson Education Ltd., 2005)14.
 White House, The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, released 17 September 2002.
Chomsky.Hegemony or Survivial: America's Quest for Global Dominance, 232.
Chomsky. Hegemony or Survivial: America's Quest for Global Dominance, 232.
 Ignatieff. American Empire: The Burden
 Ignatieff. American Empire: The Burden
Waltz, Kenneth. Theory of International Politics. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979) 107.
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