Friday, March 28, 2008

International Relations - Free Essay -

The Use of Force in International Relations

Does the use or the threat of the use of force ultimately determine `who gets what' in international politics? Answer in light of the theories examined in class.

A prince who is of average capabilities will always keep his state unless an extraordinary and excessive force deprives him of it, and should he lose it in such a manner he will repossess it at the first setback suffered by the conqueror.

-- Niccolo Machiavelli

This quote from Machiavelli's The Prince expresses the classic realist idea that force will ultimately get you what you want on the international stage. War and the use of force are today, and have always been the main feature of world politics. This is largely due to the fact that the world has been operating on realism since ancient times - from the writings of Thucydides. To quote Joseph Heller's Catch-22 - the man with the firepower is the one who will draw it. This sums up the way international relations usually works - that anyone will use force at any time, so states must always be prepared to strike preemptively. Out of the three theories of world politics; Liberalism, Realism and Marxism, Realism is the one I will be concentrating on most in this essay as it is the one which dominates the international system and which advocates most firmly the use of force to achieve your goals. In the following paragraphs, I will discuss the answers given for the use and threat of force in relation to the three main theories of international relations and to what extent its use will benefit a state.

For centuries, people have argued as to why the threat and the use of force seem to pay off. War is an issue that is the cause of much suffering and devastation world wide, but despite centuries of bloodshed, wars still go on. There are three proposed answers as to why the use of force proliferates: the belief that human nature is inherently evil; the self-help nature of the state; and that ultimately the international system forces state behaviour. These three answers all follow a realist train of thought: Basic realist ideas and assumptions are: 1) pessimistic view of human nature; 2) a conviction that international relations are necessarily conflictual...and are ultimately resolved by war; 3) a high regard for the values of national security and state survival.

Realists claim that because humans are essentially evil, this means that they are constantly competing with each other and this therefore leads to competition and conflict between states. Following this, realists believe that the state is the most important actor and it is the only legitimate representative of the people. In turn, this means that the international system is in a state of anarchy - this absence of world government ensures that international politics is a virtual `free for all'. In this anarchic system, states can decide for themselves whether the benefits of the use of force outweigh the costs, and if this is the case, it is the preferred option.

The core of realism is national security and state survival and so a state may act in any way it sees fit in order to not only get what it wants but to protect itself. The ultimate goal of the realist states, is power. They believe that when the balance of power is achieved, peace will then be achieved. But, when countries become too powerful, this can alarm other states and they may react preemptively against an as yet unused threat of force. Kenneth Waltz says: Countries that wield overwhelming power will be tempted to misuse it. And even when their use of power is not an abuse, other states will see it as being so. A prime example of realism in action, and the use of force to get what you want, is the United States and their dealings with Iraq over the past few months. The U.S. feels unguarded and vulnerable, and as a realist state, they must employ policies of self-help and survival. The anarchy of the world system means that they have the right to behave in a way that will benefit the American nation most: this undoubtedly means using force to achieve their aims. They are alarmed at the strength of Iraq, and their suspected weapons capacity, the U.S. therefore ready themselves for war.

It is essentially a vicious circle - Iraq are a very dangerous enemy; attacking them or appeasing them could have equally disastrous consequences. The U.S. will use its dominant economic and military position in the world to force not only its enemies but also its `allies' in the United Nations to comply with its demands. Waltz cites Fran�is Fenelon, who died in 1715, and remarked that no country wielding overweening power can be trusted to act with moderation for more than a short time. This is still true today and is demonstrated through the threat of force posed by the U.S. here. The U.S. is only one example of a state using force to achieve its aims. It can be seen in the policies of the USSR especially towards its `satellite states', and in Bismarck's unification of the German states, where he effectively used the threat of a French invasion to force the smaller principalities to join Prussia. The overarching logic for the use of force is that the international system forces state behavior and the ultimate reason for the use of force is because of the realist conception that there is no legitimate world government.

This idea of world anarchy, as well as the idea of state sovereignty is incorporated in the neo-Liberalist theory. They believe however, that these concepts can be used to generate co-operation between states, rather than force them into conflict. Liberals and neo-liberals truthfully declare that democracies do not attack each other, but they believe that democratic states are justified in the use of force towards non-democracies in the interest of the creation of more democracies. They claim that this use of force to change the nature of the state to one of a more democratic nature is the only way to a peaceful world. But how fair is it for one state to declare another to be a bad state just because they do not agree with its system of government? This brings us back to the realist conception of international anarchy. The liberals will claim that organisations like the U.N., the World Trade Organisation and even NATO have the higher power when it comes to decisions over the use of force between states, but we have seen as in the case of the U.S., that powerful states will override these organisations in their own self-interest. Once again, force determining `who gets - or does, what'.

Marxism never really developed a theory of international relations as it was confined to a mainly domestic basis. In theory, Marxism claims that there will be no need for the use of force as the people will willingly accept what it has to offer, and will see it as the next step, following the failure of `oppressive liberalism'. Marxism does however, promote conflict if it is going to liberate people - an idea similar to that contained within liberalism. The crux of the issue of forceful means in the justification of political ends lies in the fact that they [statesmen/women] recognize the inevitability of moral dilemmas in international politics: that evil actions must be taken to prevent a greater evil . The moral rights and wrongs of domestic politics are abandoned in the international arena, because the only way to achieve your aims or gain the most power is by acting ruthlessly and forcefully. This is practiced by the states who purport to be liberal and Marxist, as well as realist. Politics and especially international politics boil down to the basic fact that human nature is self-centered, self-regarding and self-interested . Humans and therefore states will do anything in their power to get what they want, and the most effective way of doing this has proven to be by force. This means that the use and the threat of the use of force does ultimately determine `who gets what' in international politics. More force equals more spoils, and I shall conclude with Machiavelli's justification for a prince's employment of `evil acts': A prince...cannot practice all those things which gain men a reputation for being good, as it is often necessary, in order to keep hold of the state, to act contrary to trust, contrary to charity, contrary to humanity, and contrary to religion.


Jackson, R. and Srenson, G. Introduction to International Relations. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Milner, Stephen trans., ed. Niccolo Machiavelli: The Prince. London: Everyman, 1995

Rothgeb, J. Chapter 4: Coercion and non-Coercion in exercising power in Defining Power: power and influence in the contemporary international system. New York: St. Martins Press, 1993.

Waltz, Kenneth. The New World Order in Millennium: Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 22, n.2, 1993

by Anonymous Student



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