Friday, March 19, 2010

Notes for Politics 2010 POLS 201


Many variants of Liberalism / Pluralism

Principles underlying all liberal thinking:

o Idealist underpinnings of optimism, moralism and universalism
o pluralist assumptions
o cooperation and interdependence as opposed to conflict
o strategies such as institution-building, international regimes and collective security

Main Themes:

o Human beings are perfectable
o Democracy is necessary for this to develop
o Ideas matter
o Belief in progress

War ≠ natural condition of world politics

o State is NB  but question idea that the state is the main actor

o MNCs, TNAs (e.g. terrorist groups), IOs = central actors in some issue-areas of world politics

o State ≠ unitary actor (rather a set of bureaucracies each with its own interests)

o No such thing as a national interest
o Liberals stress the possibilities for cooperation

o Key issue = devising international settings in which cooperation can be achieved

o World politics = complex system of bargaining between many different types of actors

o Order emerges from the interactions of many layers of governing arrangements

o Interdependence between states = NB feature of world politics

Liberalism holds that state preferences, rather than state capabilities, are the primary determinant of state behaviour.

Unlike realism where the state is seen as a unitary actor, liberalism allows for plurality in state actions.

Thus, preferences will vary from state to state, depending on factors such as culture, economic system or government type.

Liberalism also holds that interaction between states is not limited to the political (high politics), but also economic (low politics) whether through commercial firms, organizations or individuals.

Thus, instead of an anarchic international system, there are plenty of opportunities for cooperation and broader notions of power, such as cultural capital (for example, the influence of American films leading to the popularity of American culture and creating a market for American exports worldwide).

Another assumption is that absolute gains can be made through co-operation and interdependence - thus peace can be achieved.

Many different strands of liberalism have emerged; some include commercial liberalism, liberal institutionalism, idealism, and regime theory.

Two forms of liberalism predominate, liberal institutionalism and idealism:

Liberal Institutionalism suggests that with the right factors, the international system provides opportunities for cooperation and interaction.
Examples include the successful integration of Europe through the European Union or regional blocs and economic agreements such as ASEAN or NAFTA and perhaps even SADC.

Ramifications of this view are that if states cannot cooperate, they ought to be curbed, whether through economic sanctions or military action.

For example, before the invasion of Iraq by the United States and United Kingdom in 2003, the governments' claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction could be seen as claims that Iraq is a bad state that needs to be curbed rather than an outright danger to American or European security. Thus, the invasion could be seen as curbing a bad state under liberal internationalism.

A variant is Neo-liberal institutionalism which shifts back to a state-centric approach, but allows for pluralism through identifying and recognizing different actors, processes and structures.

Idealism holds a view to promote a more peaceful world order through international organizations or IGOs; for example, through the United Nations (UN).

While liberalism increases the scope of study, it makes no attempt to question the status quo. It holds international institutions as benevolent forces - when in fact, they may act in pursuit of rational self-interest which may be at odds with those for peace.

Realists argue that liberalist arguments can be grounded in realism - and raw economic and military power still trumps cultural and other broader notions of power.


Realist theories share the following key assumptions:

• The international system is anarchic. There is no authority above states capable of regulating their interactions; states must arrive at relations with other states on their own, rather than it being dictated to them by some higher controlling entity (that is, no true authoritative world government exists).

• Sovereign states are the principal actors in the international system. International institutions, non-governmental organizations, multinational corporations and other sub-state or trans-state actors are viewed as having little independent influence.

• 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.

• In pursuit of national security, states strive to amass resources.

• Relations between states are determined by their comparative level of power derived primarily from their military and economic capabilities.
In summary, realists believe that mankind is not inherently benevolent but rather self-centred and competitive.

[This Hobbesian perspective contrasts with the approach of liberalism to international relations which views human nature as selfish and conflictual unless given appropriate conditions under which to cooperate.]

Realists 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 (especially in attempting to ensure a state’s security), however, leads to a security dilemma where increasing one's own security can bring along greater instability as the opponent(s) builds up its own arms. Thus, security is a zero-sum game where only relative gains can be made.


Main Actors = States (legally sovereign actors)

o States  unitary, rational actors

o Sovereignty means that there is no actor above the state that can compel it to act in specific ways

Other actors (e.g. NGOs, MNCs) have to work within the framework of inter-state relations.

o Human nature = centrally important
= fixed & selfish

o Realism  represents a struggle for power between states (each trying to maximise their national interests)

o Order exists because of the balance of power (whereby states act so as to prevent any one state from dominating)

o International Relations bargaining and alliances
 diplomacy = key mechanism for balancing various national interests
 most NB tool re. foreign policy = military force

o Global Politics = anarchy  self-help system (states must rely on their own military resources to achieve their ends)

o Often these ends can be met viz cooperation (alliances)  but potential for conflict remains

o Neo-Realism  structure of the international system NB in affecting the behaviour of all states
[e.g Bipolarity of Cold War World]

All schools of Realist Thought subscribe to what are referred to as the 3 Ss:

o Statism: Centrality of state and its monopoly to legitimately use force

o Survival: All states are concerned with survival, and hence security is the most important item on the agenda

o Self-Help: In the international system, the state’s structures are the only form of preventing and countering the use of force and each state has to have its own mechanism of doing so, hence the necessity of having defence systems and ensuring a balance of power

Model of the International System


Type of Model: Classical – descriptive and normative
Modern – deductive

Central Problems: Causes of War
Conditions of Peace

Conception of current
international system: Structural anarchy
Structure conceived in terms of material capabilities

Key Actors: Geographically based units (tribes, city-states, sovereign states, etc)

Central Motivations: National interest

Loyalties: To geographically based groups

Central Processes: Search for security and survival

Likelihood of system
transformation: Low (basic structural elements of system have revealed an ability to persist
despite many other kinds of changes)

Sources of theory,
insights & evidence: Politics
Economics (especially modern realists)

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