First and foremost it is important to remember that state interest or state preference operates in an anarchic environment. The international system is inherently unstable and is aptly characterized by widespread anarchy. Due to the absence of a suprastate or overarching Leviathan authority, states are placed in inevitable and perpetual competition, described as the security dilemma. This has been evidenced by the state of European affairs since 1789. Because of the anarchic nature of international affairs, states are perpetually concerned with their survival.
For realists, the international system is a “dog-eat-dog world” and ensuring survival is paramount for any and all states. According to Hans Morgenthau, pioneering German political scientist and an early proponent of realist thought, due to the inherent instability of the international system, the fundamental national interest of all states is to “protect [its] physical, political, and cultural identity against encroachments by other nations” (Morgenthau, 1952). Specifically, threats to states are determined by their relative power vis-a-vis one others in the international system.
The structure of the system – the distribution of power and capabilities state wide – is important because threats or challenges facing a state which affront the national interest should be “calculated according to the situation in which the state finds itself” (Waltz, 1979). Thus, power and security requirements are paramount in attempting to define state interest and what motivates states to act. Furthermore, Power and wealth supply the means for states to survive, to meet their security requirements, and thus to continue to compete in a system in which other states are necessarily either actual or potential threats.
State officials ad policy analysts are therefore advised realistically to asses the distribution of power; they should overcome their ‘aversion to seeing problems of international politics as they are’ in order to objectively asses the national interest in light of the distribution of power. Every state, that is, must pursue its national interest “defined in terms of power” (Morgenthau 1952) because this is the surest road to security and survival (Weldes, 1999).
If we apply the realist conception of states power and apply it to the future of the international world, conflict over resources and war will be a defining feature of the international system. Europe has been plagued by conflict since the late 18th century and despite global interdependence and the existence of multilateral organizations in the form of the UN and the European Union, there is little evidence to suggest that armed conflict is not the future of international affairs.
Nationalism, a concept created in Europe, has been responsible for much armed conflict over the past three centuries. Nationalism in International Affairs Nationalism is an important force in international relations and has been so for centuries. As a basic principle of the international order, concepts of state sovereignty are intrinsic to our understanding of the world system. Accordingly, the international system is predicated upon the existence of nation-states and nationalism is a belief or sense of identity within the nation.
The Treaty of Westphalia established the principle of state sovereignty, another fundamental principle of the international order which established the nation-state as an autonomous political entity. Similar to tribalism or a sense of social kinship, nationalism as a potent political force began in Europe in the late eightieth century and was connected with a decline in overall religiosity, the development of industrialization, Enlightenment thoughts and a concerted effort by political elites to “build states”.
By inculcating a sense of nationalist fervor in the citizens of their respective countries, elites have been able to manipulate nationalism for political purposes. Mass mobilization towards a variety of specific causes through an appeal to nationalist sentiment has been used as a political tool for centuries. Although not exclusively a negative force, nationalism remains an important ordering principle of the international system and a force to be reckoned with (Waltz 2000). Concluding Remarks
Keeping in mind our realist conception of state interest, conflict will be an inevitable feature of the international system in the next 50 years. Europe has descended into bloodshed and armed conflict and has been the feature of the European continent for centuries. When global war broke out in 1914 dreams of world peace and prosperity were shattered. Accordingly, the First World War was arguably one of the most traumatic episodes in the history of international affairs. Geopolitically speaking, the First World War (also described as WWI in this essay) was unprecedented in both scale and sheer loss of human life.
Never before had the world witnessed such carnage and violence perpetuated through the use of modern technology. The First World War touched much of the world the implications of this conflict reverberated across the globe. In addition to WWI, Europeans states fought dozens of wars and were home to countless revolutions aimed at changing the political order. From the French Revolution to the Spanish Civil War and the “War to End All Wars”, World War II, the history of Europe since 1789 has been wrought with conflict with nationalism playing an important role in the outbreak of violence.
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