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onsdag 27. november 2013

Richard Betts on realism

Colombia University Date: September 24, 2007
Course number: U6800 Course title: Conceptual Foundations of International Politics
http://new.sipa.columbia.edu/sites/default/files/styles/profile_photo_290x390_portrait/public/Richard%20Betts.jpgRealism is a messy theory if you take the whole tradition, spanning millennia, thinking about international relations. As one of the major compelling ideas like Christianity or Marxism, original precepts spawn a lot of sects which develop in various directions. They share some basic principles, but they differ a lot on many related issues. Realists disagree with each other frequently. There are classical realists and structural or neo-realists, offensive realists and defensive realists, variations of other kinds. Some realists are democrats, some republicans, some Marxists, some libertarians. So realism does definitely not provide a formula for policy in any detail. And this would lead some practical people to be impatient with the notion that grappling with the theories necessarily is worth the time. My bias is eclectic. I’ve been accused in print by an realist of being a non-realist and by a non-realist of being a realist. I do believe that realism is inadequate in many respects, but I view it as Winston Churchill viewed democracy; I think realism is the worst theory of international relations, except for all the others.

Now remember these paradigms we deal with, and insist on inflicting on you at Colombia, are generally predispositions. Few people’s views fit very snugly in any of the paradigms, except for a few fanatics. And note E.H.Carr’s reflections on the limitations of realism, which includes in a book which is otherwise a consummate statement of realist thought. Some people believe realism is a scientific theory, and others that it is really just an attitude to the human condition. I incline more toward the latter view. In any case, realism is a general theory about how the world usually works, but it is not a formula for predicting how things will work in specific cases where particular circumstances, idiosyncrasies of political leaders or other sources of chance may produce decisions by governments that don’t accord with the tenets of realist theory.

Classical realism we usually think of in terms of in the tradition of Thucydides, Machiavelli, Hobbes, and in more recent times Hans Morgenthau, E.H.Carr, Reinhold Niebuhr. It emphasizes the flaws in human nature, the natural prevalence of conflicts of interests, power-seeking motives, the dominance of material interests over legal or moral norms in determining the actions of political units, mainly nation states, but within fractured polities that are undergoing civil war, contending groups that want to create or replace regimes and build new states. Robert Gilpin notes three assumptions of realism: First the essentially conflictual nature of international affairs. Second, that the essence of social reality is the group, not the individuals of liberal thought and the classes of Marxism. Homo Sapiens is a tribal species, he says. And third, the primacy in all political life of power and security in human motivation. This is not to say that power and security are the sole or even the most important objectives, Gilpin writes. He says we prize beauty, truth and goodness. What the realist seeks to stress is that all these more noble goals will be lost unless one make provision for one’s security in the power struggle among social groups.

More recently, structural realism or neo-realism associated with Kenneth Waltz and John Mearsheimer tried to present a more rigorously scientific formulation of the realist tradition, and they emphasize even more the causal effect of international anarchy. In another book that you're not assigned for this course at least, Waltz’s “Man, the state and war”, he talks about the difference between permissive and efficient causes. A permissive cause is what makes something possible, though not inevitable. And the efficient cause is what makes it happen in a particular instance. The permissive cause is the international system, defined in terms of anarchy. There is just no sovereign above the level of states, or as he quotes Rousseau: “Wars occur because there is nothing to prevent them.”
And note; in this, anarchy does not mean chaos or constant violence. It means simply the lack of a sovereign, the lack of enforcement authority above the level of the state. Without world government, anarchy makes states or groups within countries without coherent or effective functioning states… makes them the ultimate judges and enforcers of their own rights and interests, moral or material rights and interests, as they see them. When states or groups in civil conflicts disagree about whose claims are legitimate, power determines which of the claims will prevail. Nothing but counter power can prevent the use of force by a state or group that considers the status quo unacceptable. For the efficient cause, Waltz says, look to the levels of analysis below the international system; domestic politics, particular leaders and ideologies. There is a prevalent misconception that Waltz believes that domestic factors don’t matter. He thinks they matter a great deal if he is trying to explain why something happens at a particular time, and he makes an important distinction which is lost on many people between a theory of international politics and a theory of foreign policy.

A theory of international politics is about average outcomes over time, why wars recur. A theory of foreign policy is one that explains why a government makes a decision for or against war in particular circumstances for particular reasons. Waltz says in “Man, the state and war”: “War may result because state A has something that state B wants. The efficient cause of the war is the desire of state B. The permissive cause is the fact that there is nothing to prevent state B from undertaking the risks of war.” He goes on: “If an effect is produced by two or more causes, the effect is not permanently eliminated by removing one of them. An endeavour launched against one cause to the neglect of others may make the situation worse instead of better. Thus, as the western democracies became more inclined to peace, Hitler became more belligerent. The increased propensity to peace of some participants of international politics may increase rather than decrease the likelihood of war.
 Anarchy defines political order in the international sphere because there is no world government. No legislature, court or executive complete with police force to arrest those who violate the law and threaten public order. That’s why Waltz calls the international system a self-help-system. Or as John Mearsheimer says: “What happens when a country calls 911? – Nothing. There is no one on the other end of the line.” There is no 911 in the international system. Well wait a minute, you might say. There is the UN 911, or NATO, or Uncle Sam. No, it is not the same. Those organs are like a friendly neighbour you can call on to ask for help if you're getting burglarized. They’re only organisations with member countries who may or may not come to your aid if it suits them. Ban Ki-moon has no troops of his own, and never will have, at least until the UN becomes some form of world government. You can try calling a friendly neighbour, another country you want to ally with that supports you. But whether that neighbour comes to your aid is up to her. When Kuwait called in 1990 we answered and came. When Darfur called last year or this year we said sorry, can’t make it this time. There is no organized institutionalized enforcement authority always standing by in the international system that you can count on to make governments or groups do the right thing.

As we’ve seen, the UN and the World Court in The Hague don’t fit the bill. When the World Court gave a verdict against the United States on the mining of Nicaraguan harbours in the 1980’s, the Reagan administration said “get lost!”, and nothing happened to the United States. Nobody arrested the United States and sent it to prison. Maybe somebody should have, but no one, no international institution; no other government could, so no one did. In the international system, you're on your own. You and your friends have to act as your own court and your own police, or else submit to whoever else is willing to do so. Multilateral enforcement, for example NATOs action against Serbia in 1999 on the war over Kosovo is not analogous to domestic law enforcement by courts or legal authorities, rather it is more analogous to vigilantes organizing a posse. The same logic can apply to conflicts within states; The civil wars or revolutions, when central government institutions collapse, or when large segments of populations no longer consider them legitimate and seek to overthrow them or secede from them. At that point you can say there is anarchy within the state, until order is re-established by a new regime or partition that comes out of the civil war. Just like anarchy, that is the permanent condition in the international system.

Realists are most focused on the problem of war and peace. Unlike liberals or constructivists who are at least as interested, and probably more so, in some other issues, such as economic development and trade, ideology, the character of the domestic regimes and other big issues that affect human welfare. How do they, as opposed to other schools of thought, see the problem of war? Well, one difference I think that defines the instinct a lot of people bring to this question, is the difference between seeing the cause of war in evil or in tragedy. To oversimplify very roughly, liberals tend to assume the problem of war comes from evil, and realists tend to assume that it comes from tragedy. Evil in the sense of aggression, aggression comes from human nature and sin. Bad people commit aggression. Aggression is a crime. Or aggression comes from bad states, bad regimes. Well, good states only defend themselves; Autocracies make war, democracies make peace, and so on. The view that emphasizes tragedy tends to believe that war comes from genuine conflicts of interest. Sometimes in which both sides have reasonable claims, or certainly claims that they themselves see as reasonable. Or it can come from misunderstanding, misperception, miscalculation, the problem of the security dilemma.  

The security dilemma image means that you have two states, neither of whom want war with each other, but who are suspicious of each other’s intentions. So state A, in order to guard against the worst possibilities, starts arming itself so that state B can’t take advantage of it. State B sees state A arming, and so, uh oh, we’d better tool up too, and starts increasing its armaments. State A than sees that and says “Aha, we knew it, they’re out to get us!” – and you get this figurative cycle or escalation of action and reaction, a competition that increases suspicion and tension, causes arms races, may make crises more likely, and at worst potentially inadvertent war.
Well, which is the main danger? The security dilemma, or aggression? And in a way, these notions are capsulized in the prevalent images people have of the origins of WW1 and WW2. In 1914, the image many have is that a cycle of action and reaction got out of control and the states of Europe were unable to escape the escalation that led to war, even though none of them really wanted what followed, whereas in 1938 at Munich, people seeking to avoid exactly that problem of escalating tension solved the problem they thought in a different way by reassuring Germany, but turned out to be wrong about the German’s ambitions and the limits of those ambitions, and ended up allowing aggression to succeed. But how do you know which situation you're in? That is often what the most intense national security debates are about, the risks of misperception in either direction. You can try to deter a state you're worried about, but then risk provoking it. If you assume aggression is the danger, while the reality is the security dilemma, as in the popular image of 1914. Or you can reassure that state and be victimized if its real intent is aggressive, as with Germany at the end of the 1930s.

I also find it useful to sort of clarify some images, to make analogies to domestic law and the adjudication. Those who focus on the problem of evil or unprovoked aggression tend to see war as a matter figuratively of criminal law. One transgressor is at fault, like a murderer or thief who threatens domestic peace. That transgressor has to be stopped and taken out of action. Instead of a Charles Manson or Ted Bundy in domestic arenas, it is an Adolf Hitler or Saddam Hussein. Those who focus on tragedy or misunderstanding tend to see war as a problem more akin to civil law, where disputes over contracts or divorce or similar matters have two sides, where right and wrong are not always clearly divided, where both sides believe themselves to be in the right. Whichever the case may be, why do political disputes produce war rather than litigation? Because litigation only resolves problems when either both parties to the case accept the legitimacy and finality of the court’s decision, even if it goes against them. Or, if either of the parties does not accept it, the court can enforce its decision. It does that by dispatching police to arrest offending parties and put them in jail, or by garnishing a salary to pay a judgement or by ceasing property and transferring it to the party who won the suit. Litigation would have worked in the regard to the mining of Nicaraguan harbours if the world court in the Haig could have punished the United States. The point is, within a state a court can make its writ stick, because there is an executive authority to enforce it. There is no comparable structure of accepted legitimate authority or enforcement power in the international system, to repeat myself, or within failed states, or ones riven by rebellion. And this is above all what realism emphasizes about the meaning of anarchy. 

In fact, war is the real analogue 
to litigation in the
international system. Peaceful settlements are analogous to settling out of court in domestic legal disputes. In the domestic legal system, if you're getting a divorce or challenging the interpretation of the bequest of a will, or suing a contractor for fraud, it is in everyone’s interest normally to reach a settlement out of court, because litigation is expensive, and it could leave both parties to the dispute worse off, and if they can agree on a resolution of the dispute, they don’t have to pay all that money for lawyers for years on end. But sometimes it proves impossible to settle out of court and litigation and ensues. The same in international disputes; usually the parties in international disputes settle peacefully, because they know war would be awful, might leave them both worse off. But sometimes they can’t agree, and the equivalent of litigation – violent contest – ensues. Some at some times have hoped that the UN would be that super national authority that could enforce international law, that so-called global governance would supersede self-help in the international system and rein in the resort to war. But exactly what is the difference between global governance and world government? I know, there are political scientists that will make very clear what the difference is, but in my obtuse way I just went to the dictionary and looked, and the dictionary doesn’t distinguish the two very clearly. In any case, the UN is not a world government. So should warriors now proclaim that the UN is in crisis because the United States ignores it when deciding to wage war? No, or at least, not the current crisis as newer or deeper than in the past. I’d say the UN recently has just reverted to what it has been for most of its history, that is, during the cold war. And the real unmasking of the UN overreaching the post-cold-war-era, came long before the United States ignored it in attacking Iraq. And this I think illustrates some of the criticisms that realists level at idealists who don’t pay attention to power.
And that is, I’d say, the real unmasking of the limits of the UN came in 1995 in Srebrenica. When the UN boldly proclaimed a safe area for Bosnian Muslims to be protected from attack by Bosnian Serbs, problem was that the UN had no means to enforce it. If I recall correctly, there was one puny Dutch battalion, which, when faced with the Serbian army, just melted away. As a result of that approximately 7000 Bosnian Muslims by the prominent estimates were rounded up and murdered. I think it is a shameful but classic example of what realism sees as folly, the reliance on law or rhetoric to protect people without backing by military power.

Realisms argument is if you make demands or assurances that you can’t backup with power, you're foolish at best, and at worst horribly destructive. There has been a lot of rhetoric about the rule of international law, but a realist would say the only law that rules, is the interpretation of international law by the most powerful states in the system. Where they disagree about what international law really says, as prosecution and defence attorneys disagree in domestic courtrooms, the law has no effect independent of power. Claims of universal jurisdiction, which should have become more popular in recent times, are really statements of aspiration or wishfulness, rather than reality in this view. When a great power refuses to sign a treaty, it is not bound by the treaty, despite what some of the Serbs observers now assert when they claim that treaties like NPT, the Non Proliferation Treaty, become binding once they passed a certain threshold and a number of ratifications, even binding on those who don’t adhere to them. But the United States is not going to be bound by the international criminal court, whether they should be or not. In fact, the United States is using its power to induce other countries to back off from their adherence to the international court by exempting Americans in those countries from the jurisdiction of the ICC. Power trumps law in other ways in international life that differs profoundly from the role of law inside stable societies, realists would argue. For example Belgium was compelled to scale back its own war-crimes law in order to appease the United States after the US-Government threatened to move NATO headquarters out of Belgium. 

What about realism and morality? There is a prevalent image of realism as amoral. In one sense this is true, but not really. Instead I think it has to be understood in terms of utilitarian or consequentialist versions of morality, where ethics are shaped by the imperatives of survival. […] Hans Morgenthau would emphasize that you should focus on the difference between what is and what ought to be, between the desirable and the possible. If what is desirable is not possible, trying to do what is desirable may be at best futile, at worst counterproductive and destructive. Realists worry about paving the road to hell with good intentions. Srebrenica yesterday, Darfur tomorrow. E.H.Carr argues that idealists let wishing dominate thinking, and that realists make thinking dominate wishing. Robert Gilpin writes: “Moral commitment lies at the heart of realism. What Morgenthau and many other realists have in common is a belief that ethical and political behaviour will fail unless it takes into account the actual practice of states and the teaching of sound theory. Machiavelli argues in various ways that sometimes the prince has to do evil in order to do good. Thus, in the liberal tradition of the west, Machiavellian has a pejorative kind of connotation. And it is often said the ends do not justify the means. Well of course, the ends don’t always justify the means, but they must sometime, if you ever believe in waging war for any purpose, because the decision to wage war including in self-defence, simply resisting an attack, means the decision to get a lot of people killed who might otherwise live. A decision that that is the lesser evil, a decision that defending some value, whether it is humanitarian relief for benighted populations or your own political integrity or anything else, is the lesser evil compared to war at that point. If you believe the end never justifies the means, than it seems to me you can never believe in any war, however noble or just the asserted purpose might be. No war against Hitler to prevent National Socialism ruling all of Europe. No war against the confederacy in United States in the 1860s to free the slaves. No war for anything. But if you believe in that some things are worth killing for, some values are so important, self-defence or other values, than you're on that slippery slope of deciding exactly when and how much certain ends may justify certain means.  
Morgenthau emphasizes that realists aim for the lesser evil, and they subordinate abstract principles to material interest. Essentially a pragmatic argument. In essence, also the difference between what Max Weber calls the ethic of absolute ends and the ethics of responsibility. In other words, a realist would say no principle should be honoured to be absolute if it has awful consequences.

So in a way, one thing that illustrates this argument starts going in a way that may be surprising to modern sensibilities, is that of the controversy of the lying Baptists. I don’t remember the details, but essentially it is, if I recall somewhat correctly, there is a controversy in the 19. Century between different sects of Baptists over this hypothetical situation: If a family on the frontier is attacked by Indians, native Americans, and the parents tell the kids to go out and hide in a culvert behind the barn, and the Indians take the parents to prisoners and ask if there is anyone else there, should parents tell the truth and say the children are out behind the barn, or should they lie and say no one else is here? And the argument was for some; the absolute principal that you must not lie had to be honoured, because you couldn’t compromise the principle. The pragmatic counterargument is that is ridiculous because then that gets your children killed. Well that may seem a simplistic form of the argument, but in more complex ways that is a part of the realist critique of taking principles too far. Or the example Morgenthau gave about the Soviet invasion of Finland in 1939-40, after the outbreak of war over Poland. British wanted to aid the Finns against the soviets and where prevented because Sweden wouldn’t allow troops to transit their country. And Morgenthaus argument was how insane it was for the British to think about going to war with the Soviet Union at that point to defend Finland, just over the principle of aggression, when they already, as it where, fighting for their lives against Germany. This would have been cutting their own throats. Would it had been moral to invite defeat in war at the price of letting the Nazis rule Europe, just to uphold Finland’s legal rights? In a certain way one might argue, an Ill maybe reveal my biases, you see something of that with neo-conservative arguments about Iran today. There are some arguing that the United States should attack Iran, despite the fact that we happened to be bogged down in a catastrophic war in Iraq already. Realists would criticise that at unwise at best.

Realists view on the use of force as an instrument of policy is sometimes misconstrued. There is a prevalent notion that realists are hawks and like to use force. No, at least not all the time. They are hawks about preparing capabilities for war, but much less so about fighting wars when they can be avoided. There is no simple correlation between ideological values or international relations theories and opinion on the use of force. During the cold war, both realists and liberals where split on the matter of the Vietnam war. You had realists like George Kennan opposing the war, and realists like Henry Kissinger supporting it. Similarly you had liberal senators like Scoop Jackson and George McGovern on opposite ends of that issue. Some people forget that Jacksons ADA-rating was higher than George McGovern, Jackson was a big supporter of the war.
Well, on balance, the question is what’s the standard for going in to war? Realists would tend to say, that it’s when important national interests in a material sense, or the maintenance of the balance of power is at stake, whereas liberals would tend to say that it should be when political values or moral principles are at stake. One of the exceptions to the simplistic formulation, I think that is sort of crayon version of the difference. In a post-cold war era, who is most often calling for the use of force by the UN for intervention with military means? I think it is more often liberal hawks. You didn’t find many people identified as realists clamouring to go to war in the Balkans or Iraq. And then you have the phenomenon of the president of the United States who started out as in some rough sense more or less a cautious realist, saying the United States shouldn’t be involved in nation building and interventions here and there, but then was converted overnight by the events to September 11. into a liberal crusader.  

Why do realists focus so much on military power? War is never a first choice instrument in policy, but it is always an available instrument. It is preferred when other instruments fail and the alternative of peace poses unacceptable losses. Force is the ultima ratio regen, that is, the final arbiter of disputes when all else, all peaceful means of negotiation and bargaining, fail to resolve it. Most disputes are settled without violence, because no one wants to spend blood and treasure if it can be avoided. But occasionally conflict of interest proves intractable, compromise proves infeasible, and neither side would rather concede than fight. Then force or the threat of force determines who rules on the matter. Countries need military power not because war is likely, but just because it is possible. They need to keep military forces at the ready in peacetime because they never know when things may go bad, when an adversary may change his intentions. And intentions can change quickly, overnight, in an election or coup d’ etat or a cabinet shuffle. But modern military capability cannot change overnight. It takes many years to field the modern army, navy and air force. It takes time to convert resourses into mobilised force structures, to recruit, organize, equip, train and deploy them in forms capable of combat. So if you want the option to fight next year, you need to have begun preparing many years ago. And here I am talking about modern warfare, not primitive low-tech warfare that has characterized much of recent conflict in international system, in the Balkans and Africa in the 1990s or insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan today.

One statement compatible with realism was used graphically by someone who is generally identified as a critic of realism. That is Joseph Nye, who was a Harvard professor and served in the Carter State Department, and in the course of the rebirth of the cold war in the 1970s began adjusting some of the ideas he had become famous for in academia, declaring that declining utility of force and the obsolesce of realism. And he later served as assistant secretary of defence in the Clinton administration. But Nye said: “Security is like oxygen. You never worry about it until you don’t have it. And then it is all you worry about.” So military power in a sense is the emergency oxygen tank for the rare occasions when an adversary may suck security away.
Realists believe that war is natural. Natural meaning what occurs in nature, not meaning good, just natural. And states are also subject to natural selection. Now it is true, in recent years not many states have gone out of business completely, although historically a number did. But a lot of them suffer a great deal. Germany lost a third of its territory in the 20. Century as a result of trying to enlarge itself. In the last century, Mexico lost almost half its territory to guess who. And there are other examples.

So, states need military power to prevent war if possible, and if they cannot prevent it, to win it. Military power may also hopefully prevent war via deterrence. That is, by making clear to an adversary that if she attacks, either your successful defence or your devastating retaliation will make her wish she hadn’t. It means here that the costs succeeds the gains, and therefore prevent the resort to war. In this sense military power need not be used to be useful. In fact the most successful use of military power is one that remains in the background and never has to actually be employed in combat. It is always in the background of diplomacy on significant international disputes, even when the option to use force doesn’t appear to be on the table. Now this is not true of all negotiations of course. Not trade negotiations or disputes on many matters, but regarding ending disputes over who will make the final political decision and on a matter of vital political interest.

Clausewitz said: “The combat is like cash payment in commerce. There are a lot of interactions and deals that occurs without any money actually changing hands. But always in the background of all these deals is what would happen at the end of the day when money does change hands.” Similarly, many deals are made, many coercive actions undertaken in international affairs that are shaped by the estimates of what would happen if it where to come to blows. Military power may keep some grievances from being pursued, since it is clear that the weaker party can’t do anything to force a rectification of injustice. Why has Mexico stopped complaining about all the territory the United States grabbed from it in the 1840s? Well I suspect one reason is they know they can’t do anything about it. Realism focuses on military power because it determines who’s claims prevail when disagreements can’t be resolved by negotiations.

So war is about who rules, who controls the disposition of whatever states are in dispute. Who calls the tune in peacetime, after the shooting stops? For realists, this usually means which countries will, or - more importantly – will not control the international system, or which groups will control the government within a country in a civil war. For liberals usually this means which type of regime will rule within countries. Thus realists generally prefer not to intervene in civil wars unless the result is likely to effect the balance of power among states, while liberals believe the ultimate stability of the international system depends on the quality of governments within it, and thus are more interested in promoting democratisation and improvements of governments, sometimes by force. Consider Bosnia. Why did some oppose western intervention and other support it? Liberals tended to see the Serbs as culprits guilty of aggression and war crimes, realists tended to see the moral claims as less clear or more mixed, and saw the issue as being in a grey area rather than one of black or white. Liberals in the west in the early 1990s wanted to intervene to stop bloodshed and roll back Serbian conquest, but few wanted to pay very significant costs for doing so. Liberals want enforcement, but often back away if the price is much bloodshed. Finally in 1995, NATO did some serious bombing, which in combination with the unilateral Croatian offensive on the ground in Krajina put the Serbs on the defensive, and we got the Dayton-agreements which appeared to settle the war peacefully. But how? By incorporating mutually contradictory provisions that aimed in principle to re-establish an integrated unitary Bosnian state, but also recognized de facto the partition of the country among the three contending ethnic groups. The settlement thus did not settle the political question, the question of who rules, and rested on a continuing presence and policing by outside occupiers. So I can only wonder how Iraq and we will avoid that fate. 

Can the United States really shape and control some rocky transition toward democracy in a way that doesn’t leave the Shiites attempting to impose tyranny on the majority and leaving the Kurds determent to exclude the rid of Bagdad’s authority, leaving the Sunnis desperate to prevent their marginalisation? Can such a situation be brought about without going from current low-grade civil war to all out civil war? Realists would be sceptical that it is going to be possible to do that without a much larger war. Liberals would be more hopeful that the process of government developments and reconciliation may avoid that.
And all this also indicates that war is usually about states. The relations between them in the international sphere, war regarding civil wars or revolutions or wars of independence, about how states would be formed and organized and controlled, whose state it will be, under what conditions. Is realisms emphasis on states passé? There was a lot more sentiment in that direction perhaps right after the cold war, before a number of things started going sour again. But also the conflicts of post-September-11-world are not so clearly about states. The perpetrators of those attacks were a transnational group concerned mainly with opposing the effect of American power and perhaps western culture on numerous societies. So this evokes the question of new cleavages in world politics, argued by Samuel Huntington’s book, “The clash of civilisations and the remaking of world order”, which I see as a constructivist argument about international conflict and order. But states certainly are a critical ingredient in any political violence. The formation of an anti-terrorist coalition for example, depends on states. US military action against the Taliban and Al Qaida in the Middle East depends on relations with governments that supply bases and cooperate in anti-terror-campaigns, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Saudi-Arabia and others.

It is often said that states has become much less important in world politics. That globalization reduces the abilities of states to control things. Does this mean then that war is become less important, perhaps it is becoming even obsolete? Well first, there is less to the decline of the state than meets the eye. In some respects states now have less control over some important aspects, especially of economics, than they once did. Yet states remain alive and kicking, and it is interesting how many people in so many places around the world since the end of the cold war have been fighting like hell to get and shape their own states. And some, who see globalization as an unprecedented wave of the future, perhaps exaggerate how much control states had traditionally. And indeed, states loom larger in the lives of their citizens than they did in earlier times. Kenneth Waltz likes to point out that western states now dispose of a far larger proportion of Gross Economic Product of their societies than ever before. And for some reason there been more people organized and organized groups in the world in the passed few years, as I said, fighting fiercely to establish their own states or take control of them than ever before in the past century, whether it is Bosnia, Tadzhikistan, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Rwanda, Kosovo, Sudan, East-Timor, Chechnya… and the list goes on. Some contemporary wars take place in weak, failed or non-existent states, for example Somalia or Congo. But they are about states. Attempts to create states, take control of them and reshape them or develop them into functioning authorities, or at least if not in the sense of some elaborate articulated modern nation-state, at least a political unit that at least provides opportunities for kleptocracy.

Well, is realism a guide for policy? I said it is not a formula for policy, and there is also always been an argument about whether realism is an empirical theory or a normative one. And I’d say the answer is both. Essentially it is an argument that the odds are over time if states or groups do not act in a certain way to watch out for their power position, they are going to be vulnerable and suffer for it. And therefore, since that happens as a matter of reality, states have to act in accord with those principals to survive, and therefore they should to it. That is a somewhat circular and confusing argument, but I think that is essentially what most realists would say when they’re charged with… making an argument that it is both the way the world works and criticizing governments for not acting in the way that realism dictates.

Sometimes realists and liberals or constructivists agree on what policy choices should be made, but for different reasons. And sometimes realists disagree among themselves about what should be done in a specific case, as much as they do with other schools of thought. The main point that differentiates realists is their focus on how policy options depend on and will affect the balance of power in the international system as opposed to what the legal or moral principles in dispute are, which are the priorities to the idealists. Some examples of situations where realism and idealism diverge: I mentioned the winter war in Finland in 1939-40, or Nixon and rapprochement with China in 1972. Nixon was conservative and China was at that time in the midst of the Cultural Revolution, Maoism was the ultimate anti-liberal ideology, viewed at that time at every bid as wild and crazy as North Korea or Iran or Saddam Hussein’s Iraq have been viewed in your lifetimes. But the realist argument that Nixon/Kissinger had was essentially in order to counterbalance a rising Soviet Union – yes, at that time the Soviet Union was seen as rising – that the ideological differences, the differences in values that where so profound between the United States and China, had to be disregarded in order to form a task of reliance against the Soviet Union. Iraq in 1991, after the first Persian Gulf War, you had the realist view that was dominant in Daddy Bush’ s administration; People like Brent Scowcroft, or the old Dick Cheney before his heart operations, making the prudent argument that it was not a good idea to try to overthrow Saddam Hussein because that would threaten to break up Iraq, make Iran more powerful. The opposition, maybe most articulately voiced by Paul Wolfowitz, saying that we had encouraged the Iraqis to revolt, we put them out on a limb, and especially what happened with the Shias in the south after the end of the war and the Kurds in the north, and that we were morally bound to support them and to do everything we could to overthrow Saddam Hussein because his regime was so awful. I also mentioned Srebrenica in 1995, UN legalism without backing by military power ending in massacre.

What about in the future, what would realism and liberalism suggest about how to handle US-Chinese relations if China continues to rice economically? Should the United States want China to develop economically, to become rich and prosperous as it has been doing for the past 25 years? Well liberals would generally say sure, economic interdependence fosters peace. Now this opposed to the argument in Waltzes book, that interdependence causes conflict. But in liberal ideology the trading system based on comparative advantage and peaceful competition makes both the United States and China richer and better off. So a rich China would be a bigger market for American products, more Chinese military power won’t matter because mutual interests in cooperation for economic purposes - to profit through peaceful exchange rather than destructive conflict - will prevent military conflict, which would only seem irrational. Realists though, would be probably more inclined to say probably not, United States should not be happy about an economically developing China. The argument being that a rich China would be powerful and more able to throw its weight around and threaten the interests of the United States and its allies in the region, that growing power creates growing ambitions, and that there is nothing bad or evil or wrong about this, it’s natural. Robert Gilpins argument, that a rising challenge to a hegemonic power often produces a war and a hegemonic transition.
Is realism a guide for dealing with the war on terror? Well, it is not a perfect framework for understanding radical Islamic reaction against the west, Al Qaida’s militancy or other aspects of the problem. Al Qaida is a collection of transnational non-state actors. Al Qaida and many other terrorist groups are idealists more than realists, and the conflict with the West is in large part a conflict of ideals. So perhaps constructivism and realism in some combination might be better than liberalism for diagnosing the Islamist terrorist threat. Liberalism would tend to emphasize the importance of spreading western democracy and values as a way of getting at the root causes of terrorism. I am not trying to tar all liberals with this, given the unpopularity of the current president, but I’d say this is in large part the argument of Bush the younger’s administration after September 11. Their argument is that American values are really universal values and that the challenge is to do in the evil-doers in order to solve the problem. Of course, the counter-argument then is that western values are in part what provokes the problem and energizes the opposition from radical Islamists.

What about constructivism? Well most of the constructivists we read in academia tend, at least in the norms they value, to be liberal in some form or other. The Huntington variant is somewhat different. Where Huntington argues in favour of non-intervention in other cultural areas as necessary to keep the clash of civilizations – which he believes is real – from becoming a war of civilizations, which he wants to avoid. And by the way, if, like so many people, your view of Huntington’s argument is what appeared in the original article in Foreign Affairs 15 years ago, bear in mind that people often infer things from that that are not what he argues if you read the whole book, especially the last chapter. Sometimes realism and idealism converge, and sometimes realists are split. Convergence, for example the titanic struggles against German fascism and Japanese militarism in the 1940s and against Soviet Communism in the cold war, united realists and liberals, because all of those enemies combined both great military power and alien ideologies in values. Realists where concerned with might, and liberals where concerned with right, both pointed to a militant western policy of war against the axis and containment against the Soviet Union. This was not true after the cold war. One the reasons for the decline of realism in favour, it tends to follow events in the real world, after the cold war there was no major military threat to the West, no globe-spanning ideology to compete with western liberalism on the same scale that Marxism-Leninism did.
The issue is should powerful states stand down and remain vigilant but restrained in intervention abroad, or should they take the opportunity to use force to advance Western values and reshape other countries in our image? Realist tend to the former non-interventionist view, as I argued, though they’re not united in that, and liberals tend toward the latter, Wilsonian use of force to reform non-liberal regimes or create a safer liberal international order. There are splits among realists, some interventionists believing that bad regimes abroad will come to threaten western security in the future. So for example in 2003, most realists probably opposed the American invasion of Iraq. But some, who believed Saddam Hussein was crazy and might use Weapons of Mass Destruction once he had enough, favoured war. This was symbolized on the op-ed page of the New York Times on September 22. 2002, and there was a quarter-page anti-war add signed by 33 scholars of security studies, mostly identified as realists, next to a huge op-ed essay by Ken Polack, a disciple of Barry Posen, oneof the signers of the add, but recommending invasion. 

And sometimes anti-interventionist realist misjudge threats. E.H.Carr endorsed appeasement. Indeed, that was one of the principle motives behind that book. And Chamberlain was probably more realist than Churchill. Churchill was of anything an idealist. So, where I and 32 others who signed that anti-invasion add in September 2002 Chamberlains and Polack Churchill? I don’t think so, but you never know for sure, until you get the verdict of history. I mean, we all think of Churchill as a saviour of western civilisation now. But in June 1940 it didn’t look like a very good bet. Britain was alone, Germany ruled the continent of Europe. What sense did it make to fight on when they might have struck a deal with Germany? And there is evidence that Hitler was willing to let the British keep their empire as long as Hitler could keep the continent. But Churchill said no, you know, we will fight on the beaches, we will fight on the hedgerows, we will never surrender. And there is one famous line of his that is really grizzly, he says: “If this island story of ours must end, let it be when all of us are lying on the ground choking in our own blood.” Not a realist rationale that puts material interest above all. No, the basic problem was that E.H.Carr and Chamberlain  - and most other people – at the time of the Munich-agreement in 1938 believed it was a great triumph because it avoided another catastrophe like WW1, and that Hitler, well he is a nasty, opportunistic statesman,  was not crazy, and therefore you could do a deal with him. What they didn’t recognize was that he was not a normal opportunistic realist statesman; they didn’t realize that Hitler was an idealist who put his principles about the German Volk and expansion to the east and other rights of the Germans [above everything.]
 […]  The only political debates in the United States are between contending schools within liberalism. So realism is not an answer to positive things that you want accomplish to make the world a better place. But realism, I think, helps to suggest what is necessary to prevent negative developments that threaten to cripple your ability to do good.  

The lecture is transcribed by Ivar Bakke, who owes a great deal to Nick Ingham for his courteous help in navigating between the many pitfalls of this for me strange and foreign language. Thanks a lot, Nick!