Rationalist Approaches Essay
International relations (IR) are ‘the diplomatic strategic relations of states, and the characteristic focus of IR is on issues of war and peace, conflict and cooperation’ (Brown and Ainley, 2009). Many different theories exist within IR to define and analyse certain situations. Rationalism is classified as the major in IR analysis theory (Baylis, et al, 2011). The study of IR according to a comprehensive and scientific methodology became a key demand after the First World War, resulting from a desire to clarify international politics. Following the First World War, international relations were initially taught in different fields, such as international law and diplomatic history and international organisations. The importance of studying international relations as an independent rapporteur emerged after the Second World War, precipitated by unprecedented US involvement in global affairs (both during the war and in the subsequent Cold War) and the decline of the European empires in the post-war political situation (Hook and Spanier, 2007).
International relations seeks to interpret the phenomena of international reality and reliably and realistically conceptualise and analyse international events for the purpose of building theory and prediction and the study of IR itself. IR aims to reach analytical exact facts of the international situation by recognising the power that controls the formation of various approaches of States with each other and by determining how they dynamically interact, and their consequent impact on the conditions of the international community (Burchill, 2011). International relations are changing constantly under the influence of international politics and pressure, which affect the content and characteristics of IR. The problem of correlation between domestic and foreign policy of the most complex and controversial problems precipitates debate in many theoretical trends in the science of international relations, such as neo- realism (Baldwin, 1993).
The theory of international relations is a homogeneous group and methodology of assumptions that seeks to clarify relations, which we call internationalisation. This essay will demonstrate critically some of international relations theories and the interpretations of some key concepts, for example power, state and world order, by using historic and contemporary examples in terms of: firstly, realism and neo-realism; secondly, liberalism and neo-liberalism; thirdly, decision-making theory; and finally, to evaluate the extent to which the rationalist approaches are appropriate in the study of international relations and to illustrate the weaknesses and the strengths of rationalist approach in the study of IR, to bring out the essence of various social entities through epistemological approaches grounded in rationality and interpretation based on the event goal finding forms of social organisation.
The events of September 11th, 2001 (hereafter referred to as ‘9/11’) and the subsequent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001 and 2003 respectively have alerted researchers in international relations to the role of ideological factors in the behaviour of states, something that contributed to the enrichment of the debate and opposed some fundamental assumptions of Western sociology, especially those relating to humanitarian actions based on rationality and social councils, and the associated view that the world is moving towards a common destiny of liberal democracy and market economy, overriding the self-specificities of peoples and cultural differences (Baylis, et al, 2011).
Many researchers have tried possible analyses of reality and built theories from to enable a preview of variable events in international reality, and others used these models for intellectual and contemplative purposes in an attempt to extrapolate theoretical exchange, leading to a different understanding of reality and perception and overcoming the impact of the analysis of external behaviour with proposed forms and formats of relations and international transactions; this is the so-called war of paradigms. In addition, the most important reasons for the differences between these paradigms are due to the complexity of the field of international relations and the complex nature of these relations on the one hand, and the difference in perspectives and ideological motives from which each approach on the other.
There is no doubt that the selection of work by the term “paradigm” is the most effective and beneficial, as the hallmark of this field is relative to these paradigms that do not live up to many researchers’ level of theory, but there are poles of paradigms to serve the interests and certain objectives which sometimes may not be available in scientifically objective conditions, and which facilitate the ideological framing of the general orientation of groups or individuals. Firstly, the theory of realism called for overcoming differences among nations through the international rule of law. The most prominent representatives of this trend, such as Morgenthau, considered that the international system is by nature chaotic and driven by a single law (Schuett, 2011). Realism has interests and is supported by historians.
However, the theory suffers from uncertainty because it lacks universally supported definitions for example “power”, and it assumes that state officials act for national interests in accordance with the interests of power; if this is true, this indicates that the state is in a constant struggle (Brown & Ainley, 2000). Morgenthau was mostly concerned with his concept of power. The policy is determined in relation to the power, and aims to own and keep them and their development. The power is always the ultimate goal of the policy. For Morgenthau, sovereignty is authority over the thought or actions of other human beings; he accordingly rated different countries depending on their political objectives (Cozette, 2008). This category consists of four sections: rated countries seeking to adopt the status quo with any exposure to the existing arrangement; rated countries seeking to develop their strength, practicing a policy of imperialism; and states seeking fame.
Three forms of power parallel these categories: to retain power, power development, and highlighting power. The classification uses Morgenthau’s concept of power in a relative sense, a classification that lacks rigour in terms of the definition of terms and reference problems posed by the application of this classification (Turner & Mazur, 2009). However, he also warned that common errors can occur when assessing power, resulting in the following recommendations: first, one should not deal with the power as an absolute concept, and should use a relative analysis; second, power should not be regarded as something acquired; and third, one should not restrict focus to one of the power components, rather all should be carried by the dimensions of this concept. Kenneth Waltz diverged from the realist school and added the experience of new realism in his development of the theory of international relations in his book Theory of International Politics (1979).
His new concept of foreign policy is based on the understanding of the system and systemic dynamics, and not of peoples or countries, Waltz pioneered realistic visualisation alongside his focus on the study of manifestations of international economics, with the development of the theory of stability to maintain the status quo, when superpowers impose their concepts that are antithetical to some parties such as the initiative to establish neoliberal international financial institutions to support imaginable ideological outlooks (Waltz, 1959). According to Waltz, the main actors that unite on the basis of securing their survival are states. Neo-realism is an alternative vision. Waltz tried in his book to refine the theory of realism by searching for “essence.” The theory concerns the international system, and maintains this level of analysis as the only way to understand the actions of the actors who make up the elements of this system, which impose specific restrictions on acts.
In this sense, Waltz does not have any hostile vision of international relations. The only issue of importance is the system; albeit other factors such as religion, psychology and internal politics and the economy are considered to some extent in a secondary capacity, he believes that the essence of international relations is located above the other factors. Moreover, the appreciation that the chaotic situation of international relations obliges states to pursue policies that are realistic renders the theory of Waltz a revolutionary one that abrogates a number of factors to permit a general theory of international relations. Waltz stresses on properties that are analysed at the level of the base units and conducts classification systems for example (Islamic, democratic) to enable the interpretation of international relations. Waltz claimed that the foreign policies of states are not the most important elements in the interpretation of international relations; opponents say that the global system is the sum of the states and mutual decisions and actions (Waltz, 1959).
The most famous example of the new realistic analysis was conducted by Mearsheimer (1990) on the future of Europe. The baseline of the scenario for analysis was the assumption that the end of the Cold War was absolute, and that the complete withdrawal of Soviet influence from Europe was imminent. It is noteworthy that in 1990 the dismantling of the Soviet Union could be a potentially destabilizing danger that could exacerbate the crisis situation and prospects of major wars for two main reasons: first, because the multi-polar system was less stable due to the increased diodes and the growing relations between states in the international system and the lack possible symmetry authorities, and miscalculations tensions and power; and second, because there was a change in conventional military force.
Mearsheimer identified four scenarios based on nuclear deterrence: nuclear disarmament of Europe, which was not expected because of the fundamental role of nuclear deterrence in consolidating international relations; to maintain the status quo, which would raise a number of countries such as Germany or Eastern Europe, and could also precipitate an escalation reaction to their possession of nuclear weapons, and resorting to internal action against threats to other countries owning nuclear weapons; nuclear proliferation in the hands of bad management, which could cause an increase in the potential for conflicts in Europe; fourth, nuclear proliferation in the hands of a good management policy associated with the balance of power led some key countries (Mearsheimer, 2007). The latter was the solution proposed by Mearsheimer. This entailed the provision of nuclear weapons to Germany, based on a balance of power engendered by the United States and Britain transferring powers to Europe.
His argument was based on the proviso that nuclear weapons are a stabilising factor and that Germany was seeking to consolidate its security. The criticism of Mearsheimer that can be addressed by specialists in the affairs of the institutions is that the policy of maintaining the status quo through organisations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was entirely possible. The counterpoint to the realist theory is the liberal approach, which is thought to be the dominant paradigm capable of producing dimensional explanation essential to international relations, with the evolution of scientific and technological progress and economic shifts, which laid the foundations of the liberal intellectual paradigm, which emerged with the seminal pioneers of international law such as Jean Bodin (1552-1608) in his book The Law of War and Peace (1625).
Pioneers of liberalism glorified personal freedom and inflated the status of the individual within the state and society and the rule of law against the caprice and tyranny they associated with states, a trend which continued into the era of Classical Liberalism during the 19th century, epitomised with regard to states by Richard Cobden’s argument that Free Trade engendered peace in international relations, and with regard to the individual by John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty (1869) (Grey, 1995). Modern neo-liberalism has outgrown the narrow framework of national sovereignty, focussing instead on the building blocks for international cooperation such as organisations and regional institutions supporting this ethos (Baldwin, 1993). One more recent development is that of the notable neoliberal Karl Doetsch, who moved from inside-loop integration to the role of communication and information between individuals and groups.
However, other theories calling for a different vision about international reality cannot be overlooked, such as the theory of dependency developed by some thinkers concerned with Third World countries, in parallel with which political theories and academic attempts to explain changes in the international situation after the end of the Cold War emerged, which predicted the type and nature of upcoming global conflicts such as the notion of the end of history (Francis Fukuyama) and the clash of civilisations (Samuel Huntington), which reduced future conflicts to the spheres of religion and culture (El Anis, et al, 2010). In fact, no single claim has the rigour to encompass and comprehend all dimensions of the complex characteristics of world politics, and a wide range of ideas compete away from the traditional theoretical paradigms, and this competition between theories exposes the strengths and weaknesses of each, and identifies the necessary modifications to be made.
In the process of decision-making in a rational manner, one of the logical operations follows a path that starts by defining the problem until a solution is reached, and revolves around the idea of the role of individuals’ ability to increase their own personal benefit; this self-interest of individuals is held to collectively produce the public interest. (Cuban) Rationality is restricted to a basis dependent on personal impressions as well as control methods that are followed in making and implementing decisions. Before turning to the theory of rational choice, studying each of the conditions of the emergence of the concept and definition of the theory of decision-making is necessary. Decision-making theory scrutinises the comprehensiveness of the various elements that must be taken into account when analysing a specific policy, whether in general or in a particular moment; the theory works between these variables, but hypotheses do not necessarily require the decision maker to work on this basis, and it is perhaps more appropriate that the latter consider the decision theory of partial theories rather than the theory of a school if they are focusing on the political system as a whole or specifically on certain private units.
Decision-making as an attempt to develop a systemic study of international politics began in the 1950s, led by Richard Snyder and Graham Allison, inspired by the international circumstances then prevailing. At the time, other theories appeared circumstantial and contingent to Cold War policies in the context of the international standoff between the Soviet Union and the United States of America and their allies. The Cold War was at one of its peaks during the 1950s, and led to the emergence of numerous critical scenarios worldwide, which erupted into proxy wars between the USA and USSR in numerous instances for instance the Korean War during the 1950s, and the Vietnam War during the 1960s, fuelled by the competition for military, economic or ideological influence between these two states.
This led theorists of international relations in that period to find theories that kept pace with the tense reality of life, and thus came the theory of decision-making in order to determine who makes the decision taken and what frameworks affect relationships between states, and how crises can be managed. Richard Snyder focused his search of international relations on attitudes and reactions and interactions between states, and this theory converged with the theory of realism in some dimensions due to its common identification of the state as the main determinant in international relations (Krasner & Stephen, 1976). Finally, rational analysis has an important place in the analysis of strategic traditionalists who deal with the actors’ behaviours according to the data and plans calculated (military school) that deal with states as the actors seeking to achieve the greatest benefit at minimal cost ( ).
This perspective of rationality was enhanced by Hans Morgenthau’s study of rationality aspects relating to the behaviour of states. Morgenthau stressed that countries collide externally and internal variables do not contribute to the external behaviour. The theory is linked in some forms to the stream of the political right, but the 1980s saw the emergence of a school of Marxism espousing the theory of rational free choice, which constitutes an example that there is no necessary link between theory and the political situation. It is clear that the theory of rational choice in the social sciences in general, which first appeared and grew up in sociology, but later separated into different fields of knowledge in the social sciences, had room for application in all the social sciences, particularly political science, and in particular relations in international decision-making foreign policy, and in the profit and loss theories, specifically game theory (Myerson, 1991).
This means that the options for each of the parties to the game options and priorities, and in front of opportunities to choose alternatives available to them. However, every alternative is open to each party to affect the value achieved by the other players. If these choices are available for any player, they are available to all other players. This theory helps researchers, especially as they deal with the international strategic situation, in clarifying the alternative options before the decision-makers and helps them understand the problem and the ability to solve systematic analysis more deeply. Rationality in decision-making theory is based on determining rational behaviour, intended behaviour of decision-makers and which player can win. It does not address what route people actually take, and individuals may behave contradictorily and irrationally at times. The advocates of this theory used rational behaviour on the basis that it is most able to make the fittest theory of interpretation, and rational behaviour means that each player in international politics has a set of values and goals and decides its policy accordingly, without errors.
This is analogous to the analysis of sports, but this game theory is a method of analysis that provides evidence to choose the best route to work; states are required to look for the best ways to work and the attitudes and the results of this appear in the actions of others. The goal is to identify potential irrational acts that can and do lead to decisions and the most convenient work in order to achieve goals. Rational decision links the objectives and means thinking about the results, and rational analysis analyses the relationship between means and goals. Rationality provides full information in advance, so actors are able to stop their analysis when the results they expect are produced.
However, the results of rational decision-making are not necessarily useful. It could be argued that one of the signs of an irrational decision is not using the information available. But we experimentally note that the decision is a rational decision in terms of the integration of the goals and objectives, including any tuning account of costs and benefits for explicit values given, and states should take into account the various means at their disposal and also analyse and evaluate the results. In conclusion, neo-realism along with neoliberalism can be categorised as rationalist approaches in IR. While neo-realism is a concept of foreign policy based on understanding the system not the individual states, neo-realists cannot explain change in the system or in some circumstances predict potential dangers (Keohane, 1986).
Neoliberalism refers mainly to economic liberalisation, and the facilitation of trade throughout the globe, with the onus on the development of the private sector. To this fundamentally economic programme, a vague concept of political freedom is appended much less forcefully than in Classical Liberalism (Doyle & Michael, 1986). However, the reforms of neoliberalism focus on increasing competition and achieving high economic growth and ignoring the influences that could affect such activities. Although they differ in many aspects, they both look to determine phenomena requiring explanation, for instance, the new realistic analysis conducted by Mearsheimer about the future of Europe, and both approaches identify the key actors. It is clear that they are demonstrating how the findings would be under given conditions if the actors function rationally.
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Subject: Cold War,
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 13 November 2016
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