The U.S. government has endured great scrutiny as it tried to figure out what went wrong on September 11, 2001. The intelligence community needed critical restructuring; the military faced an unconventional enemy; a new agency emerged to address national security. While critique lay mostly with intelligence, one couldn’t keep from wondering if failure of the theory was a more significant contributor to September 11? ,
Familiar methods about how the world works still dominate the academic debate. Instead of radical change, academia has adjusted existing theories to meet new realities. But does this approach work? Do international relations theories still offer something more to policymakers?
Stephen M. Walt sketched out three dominant approaches: realism, liberalism, and an updated form of idealism called “constructivism.” Walt argued that these theories shape both public discourse and policy analysis. Realism focuses on the shifting distribution of power among states. Liberalism highlights the rising number of democracies and the turbulence of democratic transitions. Finally, idealism illuminates the changing norms of sovereignty, human rights, and international justice, as well as the increased potency of religious ideas in politics.
Policymakers utilize elements of all these theories to examine solutions to global security dilemmas. For example, President George W. Bush promised to fight terror by spreading liberal democracy to the Middle East. He reasoned that “America is always more secure when freedom is on the march.” Yet, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice explains that the new Bush doctrine amalgamates pragmatic realism and Wilsonian liberal theory.
Charles Krauthammer and Francis Fukuyama collided over the implications of these conceptual paradigms for U.S. policy in Iraq. Backing the Bush administration’s Middle East policy, Krauthammer, siding with the Bush administration, argued for a combination of liberalism and realism, which he called “democratic realism.” Fukuyama claimed that Krauthammer’s faith in the use of force and the feasibility of democratic change in Iraq blinds him to the war’s lack of legitimacy. He reasoned that such thinking “hurts both the realist part of our agenda, by diminishing actual power, and the idealist portion of it, by undercutting our appeal as the embodiment of certain ideals and values.”
Indeed, when realism, liberalism, and idealism enter the policymaking arena and public debate, they can sometimes become visual illusions of simplistic worldviews. However, proper examination suggests that policy implications are subtle and multifaceted.
Realism instills a pragmatic appreciation of the role of power and warns that states will suffer if they overreach. Liberalism highlights the cooperative potential of mature democracies, especially when working together through active institutions. Still, liberalism is cautious to note democracies’ tendency to crusade against tyrannies and the propensity of emerging democracies to collapse into violent ethnic turmoil.
Each theory offers a filter for looking at a complicated picture. As such, these approaches help explain the assumptions behind political rhetoric about foreign policy. You will need to read Stephen Walt’s “One World, Many Theories” and the notes and material in Module I, II, and III to formulate your opinion on the various approaches to events in international relations.
You should specifically aim toward addressing the following:
Is it advantageous to have all these theories or paradigms to explain past and current events or predict future relations among states? Why or why not?
Think of events/conflicts in recent history, and find an example (interesting to you) which you should analyze using two conflicting theoretical paradigms discussed in the course. Essentially, you should choose a theory you feel your views align with and a counterargument to your view.
For example: Consider the civil conflict in Syria. Many would say it is a messy, complicated, and costly conflict. When analyzed theoretically, you would consider how a war could be considered “complicated and costly” in what terms is it costly? For whom is it costly? What makes it complex? For whom? You would break apart the issue based on your chosen paradigm. (i.e., from a realist perspective, the cost would be associated with the loss vs. benefit to power/influence/self-interest. It would, of course, consider the loss of life; however, from a realist perspective, it is the material loss that carries significant importance.)