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International Relations CSS Blog

From Realism’s Disciplinary Dominance to a More Global IR

Image courtesy of TheAndrasBarta/Pixabay.

This article was originally published by E-International Relations on 23 July 2020.

Realism’s dominance may be particularly pertinent at a time when International Relations’ Western-centrism is under renewed scrutiny and scholars and students call for the development of a more global International Relations (IR). This requires interrogating realism’s role in IR, how it may contribute to a more global IR, and what realism’s future holds. If realists forgo exploring new avenues to address this criticism, they may miss opportunities to contribute to a more global discipline and to better explain foreign policy and grand strategy beyond the West. Addressing its critics, realism can do useful things to develop a more global IR.

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International Relations

The ‘Regime Security Dilemma’ in US–China Relations

Image courtesy of The White House/Flickr.

This article was originally published in The Strategist by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) on 21 March 2019.

Today’s debates on whether US–China relations are deteriorating towards a ‘new cold war’ often involve disagreement over the extent to which there’s an ideological dimension to this competition. By some accounts, it’s purely about power and security, resulting from the historical inevitability of rivalry, if not outright conflict, between rising and ruling powers near a moment of transition.

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History Conflict

The Myth of Accidental War

Image courtesy of Jak W!/Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This article was originally published by the World Policy Blog on 28 September 2017.

As the rhetoric and warlike maneuvers of the U.S. and North Korea accelerate, the media are increasingly considering the prospect of “accidental” war between the U.S. and North Korea. But if war does start, it will not be accidental. It depends on deliberate choices by both sides about whether to escalate violence or pull back and reassess. Those choices are made by politicians, who are often swayed by domestic political pressures.

The myth of accidental war is a pernicious consequence of liberal international relations theory, which argues that since the consequences of war are so horrendous, no sane person would willfully choose war. Therefore, war occurs only when “madmen,” like Hitler, are in power, or when otherwise rational leaders miscalculate the consequences of their actions. My blog last week argued that the U.S. may be slipping into war with North Korea, but it is important to understand that if it does happen, it is not accidental. It is a product of choices being made now that people and leaders need to be responsible about.

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Security

Do Realists Need to Check Their Idealism?

Courtesy of Thomas Hawk/Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This article was originally published by Political Violence @ a Glance on 16 May 2017.

In this series we often focus on what academic studies can tell policy makers, but these days I find myself thinking more about what the policy environment should tell academics, particularly when it comes to their assumptions about American national interest and the public good.

Many who study security, particularly in the United States, assume that we can objectively know what US national interests are, and that protecting the national interest is beneficial to the US as a whole – the ultimate public good (this is the case whether one is arguing that US engagement  or US retrenchment is the key to protecting those interests). In analyzing the impact of the Trump administration, scholars commonly impute a public benefit to protecting national interests, whether they are critical (arguing that the Trump administration should learn the lesson of the limits to military power, that his budget threatens US counter terrorism, or that his incompetence undermines US credibility) or more supportive (claiming that his military build-up promises to correct past failures) of current trends and policies. At a recent meeting focused on national security, I was struck by the certainty of those who discussed US national interests, and their assumption that protecting them would benefit “us” – especially given the contrast between that certainty, the divergent reactions to the periodic Trump tweets, and the uneasy break-time conversations about our fraught political environment.

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International Relations

A Reply to Mearsheimer

‘I want magic no realism’ on the street, courtesy Barnaby_S/flickr

Realism is divided into defensive and offensive realism. Defensive realists, such as Kenneth Waltz, claim that states pursue only as much power as the states around them have. They don’t want to dominate the international system but merely to be able to survive. Offensive realism, proposed by John Mearsheimer, challenges this perspective and maintains that states want to dominate the international system, at least to the point of becoming a regional hegemon. This is because, if they dominate, they will be secure from threats, as no other state will dare to challenge the hegemon. Defensive realists caution against this view, arguing that hegemony gives rise to balancing. Other states will do all they can to hold the hegemon in check. Power, in other words, creates counter-power. The international system strives for equilibrium.