The state and International Relations

The state and International Relations

The state and International Relations

Realism offers a state-centric account of the world, and, because realism takes the state to be central to international relations, topics such as the study of foreign-policy decision-making or the analysis of the components of national power loom large; for the same reason interstate ‘war’ is taken to be sui generis, unlike any other form of social conflict. This state-centricity suggests that realism ought to have a clear theory of the state and that this should be the natural jumping-off point for the rest of its thinking. As it happens this is not the case; the lack of such a theory is an important problem at the heart of realism, indeed of International Relations as an academic discourse. It is striking that there are so few good studies of ‘the state and IR’ – John M. Hobson’s excellent recent volume is the first introduction to the subject to be published for many a year (Hobson 2000). However, although theory is missing, realism offers quite an elaborate description of the state and of its emergence. The state is a territorially-based political unit characterized by a central decision-making and enforcement machinery (a government and an administration); the state is legally ‘sovereign’ in the sense that it recognizes neither an external superior, nor an internal equal; and the state exists in a world composed of other, similarly characterized, territorial, sovereign political units. These criteria can each best be established by reference to alternative modes of political organization, some of which were the points of origin of the modern state. Thus we can see what the state is, by contrasting it with what it is not.


The state is a territorial political unit, and there is clearly no necessity that politics should be arranged on a territorial basis. In classical Greece, the political referent was the inhabitants of a place rather than the place itself – hence in the writings of the day it is never ‘Athens’ that is referred to, always ‘the Athenians’. Obviously, the Athenians lived in a territory, but they were the focal point rather than the territory as such, and although the walls of the city were well defined, the boundaries of the wider territory occupied by the Athenians were not. In the medieval European world out of which the modern state emerged, political authority was personal or group-based rather than necessarily territorial. While a ruler might, in principle, claim some kind of authority over a territory there would always be other sources of authority (and indeed power) to contest such a claim. The universal Church under the authority of the Pope operated everywhere and its members, lay and clergy, were obliged to deny the secular ruler’s writ in a number of critical areas of policy. Guilds and corporations claimed ‘liberties’ against kings and princes, often with success. Many individuals owed allegiance to powerful local magnates, who might in turn owe allegiance to ‘foreign’ rulers rather than to the nominal king of a particular territory. All of these factors fed into issues such as ‘political identity’; any particular individual was likely to have a number of different identities of which territorial identity might well be the least politically significant (see Chapter 10 for a discussion of the re-emergence of non-territorial identities in the twenty-first century). For the average villager, being the bondsman or woman of a particular lord would be of far greater significance than being ‘English’ or ‘French’, as would one’s identity as a Christian. Moreover this latter, wider identity was a reminder that once upon a time in Europe the political order as well as the religious order had been universal; the Roman Empire cast a long shadow, understandably since, at its peak, it had offered more effective rule than any of its medieval successors.


The emergence of a system of states is the product of the downfall of this world, usually dated to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; the Peace of Westphalia which ended the Thirty Years War in 1648 is often seen as a convenient starting-point for the new order. The new system emerged for a number of reasons. New military techniques and technologies – especially the professionalization of infantry and improvements of siege-craft – favoured larger political units and undermined the defensive viability of towns and castles. Economic growth, connected to, but also promoting, the conquest of the Americas and voyages of exploration to the East, also allowed for the development of larger political units. On the other hand, administrative techniques and the technology of communication did not favour continentalwide political organization, and the break-up of the universal Church undermined the ideological basis of European unity. The result was the emergence of relatively strong territorially-based political units, capable of exerting control domestically, but obliged to accept the existence of similarly formed political units externally. This is the Westphalia System, and over the centuries it has reproduced itself successfully throughout the world to create the modern global system.


This is the story of the origins of the system that state-centric International Relations tells and a good story it is, with plenty of opportunities for variation in the re-telling. Thus Marxists (and political economists more generally) can tell the story from a materialist perspective, stressing changes in the world economy and the processes of production. Technological determinists and military historians can point to the impact of new weapons technology and improvements in ship design. Others look to the importance of ideas, in particular to the revival of classical learning (the Renaissance), including classical ideas on politics, and the emergence of the Protestant religion and the concomitant break-up of the universal church. Most likely, some combination of these factors led to the emergence of the Westphalia System. In any event, whichever version is adopted, even if we can tell where states come from, it still remains for us to say what states actually do. The standard account of the origins of the system does not offer a theory of the state – and this is a crucial omission since if, for example, we wish to understand ‘foreign policy’ and ‘statecraft’ we will be seriously handicapped in this ambition if we do not have a clear sense of what it is that states are motivated by, what their function is, how they work. In practice, of course, state-centric International Relations does have something approaching a theory of the state – the problem is that because this theory is largely implicit and not clearly articulated it pulls together a number of contradictory elements which need to be sorted out if progress is to be made.


One answer to this question is that the state is purely and simply a concentration of power, of brute strength, of basic (military) force. This is the Machtpolitik conception of the German thinker Treitschke in the nineteenth century, and it does, indeed, correspond quite well to the realities of stateformation in sixteenth-century Europe – or, for that matter, in parts of the Third World today (Treitschke 1916/1963). As described by, for example, Charles Tilly, what states did in the sixteenth century was raise taxes and make war, activities which complemented each other (Tilly 1975, 1990). States that made war successfully expanded their territory and hence their tax base; with the expanded tax base they could raise more money to expand their armies and thus conquer more territory and so on. The idea that the state is essentially a military entity has a certain plausibility, and has recently been reinforced by the work of historical sociologists such as Michael Mann and social theorists such as Anthony Giddens. Mann suggests that ‘societies’ are artificial constructs held together by force, and the story of the Westphalia System is the story of militarism and successful conquest, while for Giddens the role of the nation-state and violence has been an undertheorized topic, an omission he wishes to rectify (Mann 1986/1993; Giddens 1985).


Some realist writers have signed up to this militarist account of the state, with approval (more or less) in the case of Treitschke, resignedly in other cases. The pacifism practised by Christian realists such as Niebuhr and Wight stemmed partly from their sense that, once one understood the working of the state and the states system, the only moral attitude that could be adopted towards international relations was one of detachment from the struggle. However, in both cases, things are not clear-cut. Niebuhr did believe in the possibility that the state could be based on something other than force, while Wight’s ambiguity on the matter allows us to see him as an intellectual leader of the English school as well as the leading British postwar realist (Bull 1976). More characteristic of realism than a simple military account of the state has been a Weberian notion of power coupled with responsibility. Weber stresses that, ideally, the state should possess a monopoly of violence, but what it actually possesses is a monopoly of legitimate violence. This opens up a second front with respect to the theory of the state – the idea that the state is an institution which is legitimated by its people, because it represents them, acting on their behalf at home and abroad.


Whereas the idea that the state is a pure expression of power fits comfortably with absolutism and the pretensions of the princes and kings of early modern Europe, the idea that the state has this representative function is resonant of contract theory and the ideas of the Enlightenment, but perhaps especially of the post-Enlightenment emphasis on ‘community’ and the ‘nation’. German thought is crucial here; it is to Herder that we owe the idea that the proper basis for political authority is the nation, the pre-given identity of a ‘people’ expressed in their folkways and, especially, their language (Barnard 1969). In Hegel we find the idea that the constitutional Rechtstaat is the forum within which the tensions and contradictions of social life are resolved (Hegel 1821/1991). Combined with the revival of Roman-style republican patriotism promoted by French revolutionaries after 1789, these German ideas feed into the nationalist movements of the nineteenth century, and out of this mix emerges the ‘nation-state’ – the idea that the only legitimate form of state is the state which embodies and represents the nation.

Clearly, this is an account of the state that can be filled out in at least two directions. On the one hand, the nation-state could become simply a new manifestation of the Machtstaat. Instead of collecting and employing power in the name of the Prince, the power of the state is wielded on behalf of the nation. National glory and national honour replace the personal glory and honour of the ruler. Raison d’état, the logic of Realpolitik, power politics, is replaced by the national interest as the driving motivation of state conduct – but little else changes. Although not given to ruminations on national glory, Carl Schmitt, with his notion that the concept of the political is about a division between friends and enemies and that the modern state is an entity which rests on the externalizing of this dichotomy, can also be seen in this light (Schmitt 1932/1996). On the other hand, once the idea that the state represents the nation is current, the possibility exists that the state will come to see the welfare of its people, rather than its power as such, as central. The warfare state comes to be superseded by the welfare state. National wellbeing rather than national honour or glory defines the national interest.


Neither is this simply a theoretical possibility; it is striking that some of the contemporary European states who have the strongest reputation for being peaceful, non-threatening, cooperative, good neighbours are also states which have a very strong sense of identity as nation-states – the Scandinavian countries are obvious examples here of countries which seemed to have been able to harness the sentiments of nationalism away from the drive for power, towards a concern for the welfare of the people.


However the influence of the nation/community makes itself felt, it is clear that this conception of the state is different from that of the state as simply a concentration of power. There is, however, a third conception of the state that stands somewhere between both the idea that the state is simply an accumulation of power, and the idea that the state has a positive role in promoting the interests of the people. This is the notion that the state does play a positive role in social life, but a role which is facilitatory rather than constructive, enabling rather than creative. This is a conception of the state that could be termed ‘liberal’ – so long as one were prepared to accept Thomas Hobbes as a proto-liberal – and which is certainly characteristic of English social contract theory and the thinking of the Scottish (as opposed to the French or German) Enlightenment. The thinking here is that individuals have interests and desires that drive them to cooperate with others, but that this cooperation is either impossible (Hobbes) or likely to be achieved only at suboptimal levels (Locke) in the absence of some mechanism for ensuring that agreements are adhered to, that is, without the coercive power of the state.


This is a theory of the state which makes it of very great importance in social life, but which denies it a creative role in forming the national interest – indeed, it denies that the ‘national interest’ has much meaning beyond being a kind of catch-all description of the sum of the individual interests of citizens. It is a theory of the state which has been the dominant line of thought for several centuries in the English-speaking countries – a fact of some significance given that International Relations is an academic discipline that has always been predominantly British and American in inspiration – and which has obviously influenced liberal internationalist theory. Indeed, it could be argued that one of the weaknesses of liberal internationalism was its inability to grasp that within some political traditions the state is given a far more exalted role than it is in liberalism, while from other perspectives the state is simply a concentration of power. The Anglo–American liberal account of the state is actually closer to a theory of ‘administration’ than it is to a theory of the state in the continental European sense. Some of the Anglo–American realists, especially continentally trained Anglo–Americans such as Morgenthau, were conscious of this difference, but it is noticeable that the neorealists and neoliberals, possibly because of the debt they owe to the economics profession, largely operate within a liberal theory of the state. Robert Gilpin’s remark that the role of the state is to solve the problem of ‘free riders’ is a perfect expression of this point.


Finally, one the most compelling modern alternatives to this liberal theory of the state is the Marxist conception of the state as the executive arm of the dominant class – under capitalism, the ruling committee of the bourgeoisie. Marxism shares with liberalism the notion that the state is a secondary formation but rather than seeing it perform a valuable function for society as a whole, Marxists argue that the state cannot be a neutral problem-solver, but will always represent some particular interests – radical liberals such as the earlier John Hobson would agree, as would the very influential modern anarchist, Noam Chomsky, whose critiques of US/Western foreign policy rest upon the notion that state power is exercised on behalf of an unrepresentative elite (Hobson 1902/1938: Chomsky 1994). Although Marxism is no longer the official ideology of one of the two superpowers, Marxist ideas remain influential, especially when filtered through figures such as Chomsky; in fact, since many Marxist theorists now stress the ‘relative autonomy’ of the state, Chomsky and his followers are the main contemporary group of theorists who adhere to a crude Marxist account of the role of the state. Finally in this connection, it should be noted that the practical result of this crude position is usually to align Marxist/Chomskyan ideas with the ‘hard’ realist notion of the state as simply a concentration of power – Chomsky shares with realism a total rejection of the idea that the state could represent the ‘people’ or a community, much less be some kind of ethical actor; Chomskyans, Marxists and realists all agree that such talk represents liberal obfuscation. More than anything else, it is perhaps the opportunity he offers to be a ‘left-wing’ realist that accounts for the extraordinary popularity of Chomsky’s conspiracy theories. In Chomsky the saloon-bar, cynical realist can find justification without having to abandon progressivist sympathies.


Foreign and domestic policy: the ‘decision’ as focus

These theories of the state are obviously very different, and it might be expected that they would generate different theories of foreign policy and statecraft. Yet on the whole this has not happened; as we will see, most accounts of foreign policy do not relate back to an explicit theory of the state, somewhat to their disadvantage. Rather, a vaguely liberal account of the state as a problem solver exists in the background of a great deal of foreign policy analysis (FPA) but is rarely articulated.


The working assumption of most FPA is that the state as a social institution exists in two environments: on the one hand, there is the (internal) environment that is composed of all the other institutions located in the territory demarcated by the state and their interactions with it and each other; on the other, there is the (external) environment composed of all other states and their interactions with it and each other. Conventional International Relations theory assumes that the state is constantly involved in attempts to intervene in both environments, that is, engages in ‘domestic’ and ‘foreign policy’. Realist theory, as distinct from, for example, pluralism, assumes that these two forms of policy are different; in the case of domestic policy, the state is, in principle, capable of getting its way having decided on a course of action; that is to say, it possesses both the authority to act, and the means to do so. In foreign policy this is not so; outcomes are the product of interdependent decision-making. The state cannot expect that other states will respect its authority because in an anarchical system no state possesses authority, and whether or not the state has the means to get its way is a contingent matter – whereas domestically the state, in principle, possesses a monopoly of the means of coercion, internationally no state is in this position. What this means is that we can distinguish two aspects of the study of foreign policy; the way in which foreign policy is formulated – which might be rather similar to the way in which domestic policy is formulated – and the way in which foreign policy is implemented, which is likely to be very different. The latter is largely treated in the next chapter, policy formulation in this.


On the traditional account of foreign-policy formulation, what is involved is recognizing and articulating the ‘national interest’ in so far as it affects a particular issue. Thus, for example, in the years prior to 1914 the British foreign-policy establishment had to formulate a policy with respect to the changing pattern of forces in Europe, in particular the perceived growth of German power and the attempt by Germany to project this power on a world stage. British diplomacy already had a long-standing view with respect to the pattern of forces in continental Europe – namely that it was against any concentration that might control the Channel ports and the North Sea and thus undermine the Royal Navy and oblige Britain to develop a large enough army to defend itself from invasion – and the policymaking process of the decade prior to 1914 can be seen as a matter of adapting this view to new circumstances by shifting the focus of concern away from the traditional enemy, France, and towards the new challenger, Germany. Rather more dramatically, in a few years in the 1940s the United States abandoned its long-held policy of ‘isolationism’, and, for the first time, became committed to an extensive range of peace-time alliances.


One way of answering these and similar questions is by employing the methods of the diplomatic historian. Assuming the relevant documents are available, this may give us a satisfactory account of particular changes, but it is not really what we want. As students of international relations we wish to possess a general account of how foreign policy is made and the national interest identified. We are looking to identify patterns of behaviour rather than to analyse individual instances. We may sometimes employ the methods of the historian in our ‘case studies’, but our aim is to generalize, whereas the historian particularizes. How do we achieve generalizations about foreign-policy formulation? Analysis of foreign policy for most of the last 50 years tells us that the best way to do this is to break down the processes of foreign-policy-making into a series of ‘decisions’, each of which can in turn be analysed in order that we may see what factors were influential in which circumstances. Thus a general theory of foreign-policy-making may slowly emerge.


The originators of the foreign-policy decision-making approaches were American behavioural scientists working in the 1950s, who saw themselves as effectively ‘operationalizing’ the idea of the national interest, developing large-scale classificatory schemas in which a place was made for all the factors that might have gone into making any particular decision, from the influence of the mass media to the personality of decision-makers, and from institutional features of the policy-making body to socio-psychological factors about threat perception. These schemata were impressive, but a classification is not the same as an explanation; a list of all factors that might be relevant is much less useful than a theory which predicts which factors will be relevant. Moreover, putting a schema in operation, filling all the boxes, was a horrendously complex task. What was required was not so much a classification scheme as a model which would simplify the myriad factors involved; this was provided in 1971 by Essence of Decision, Graham Allison’s outstanding case study of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, one of the few genuine classics of modern International Relations (Allison 1971).


In fact, Allison provides three models of decision, each of which is used to provide a different account of the decisions that characterized the crisis – which are simplified to first, the Soviet decision to deploy Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBMs) on Cuba, second, the American decision to respond to this deployment with a blockade and third, the Soviet decision to withdraw the IRBMs. His point is that, contrary to his title, there is no ‘Essence of Decision’, only different ways of seeing the same events. His first model is the Rational Actor Model (RAM). This corresponds to the kind of analysis favoured by traditional accounts of the national interest. Foreign-policy decisions are assumed to be rational responses to a particular situation, formulated by a single unitary state actor. Rationality is seen in ends/means terms; that is to say, it is assumed that states choose the course of action that maximizes their gains/minimizes their losses in the context of a given set of values. Decisions can be studied by a process of rational reconstruction, armchair analysis in which the analyst puts him- or herself into the position of the decision-maker, and attempts to simulate the processes of reasoning which might have led the decision-maker to act as he or she did. Thus, in order to explain why the Soviet Union deployed missiles when and where it did, one must specify the goals the Soviets wished to attain and the chain of reasoning that led them to think that such a deployment would meet these goals – always bearing in mind that the goals may not be those that are actually explicitly stated; indeed, the best way of approaching the real goals may be to work back from the actions taken. Rational reconstruction is a difficult business; a full ‘simulation’ would require the analyst to have all the information available to the decisionmaker, and only this information – which is a tall order. Nonetheless, we engage in this kind of reconstructive thinking all the time and can usually come up with a fairly plausible account of how decisions are taken. Allison suggests there are two kinds of problem with this model. First, the notion that action is fully ‘rational’ poses problems. The requirements for rational action are never actually met. They involve a fully specified set of values to be maximized, an account of all the possible courses of action available to the decision-maker and a set of algorithms that allow us to predict the consequences of each action. Perfect information such as this simply is not available – not to the original decision-maker, or to later analysts. Such information would be the equivalent to, say, a fully specified decisiontree for a game of chess; still a practical impossibility even for the fastest computer. In fact we make decisions in much the same way that we play chess – we have some rules of conduct which help us, especially in the early stages of a game when we face known situations, and later, when faced with unknown situations, we explore what we take to be the most promising moves, and act when we are satisfied that we have found the best move we can give time constraints. This is a ‘rational’ way to play the game or make decisions – although the possibility always exists that the next option we might have examined will be better than our actual choice – but reconstructing a game played like this is extremely difficult. Intuition may be more use than purely rational processes of thought, and one of the things that will need to be simulated is time pressure. We cannot assume that a move is always the best move even if made by a grandmaster; even grandmasters make terrible mistakes when the clock is ticking. The RAM assumes that states always intend the consequences of their actions, but the real circumstances under which decisions are made may falsify this assumption.


A second problem with the RAM is more practical. Even when we come to a conclusion using rational reconstruction there are almost always anomalies left unexplained. Thus Allison suggests that the most plausible RAM explanation of the Soviet IRBM deployment is that it was designed to close what they perceived to be a widening gap in capabilities between themselves and the US, but this leaves unexplained some of the features of the actual deployment which seem to have been almost calculated to encourage early discovery by the US. The alternative view that they were indeed designed to be discovered covers the anomalies but explains less overall than the missile-gap explanation.


Possibly a better RAM explanation could be found, but Allison suggests instead that we shift to another model of decision. The rational actor model assumes that decisions are the product of calculation by a single actor; the Organizational Process Model assumes that decisions are made by multiple organizations each of whom have characteristic ways of doing things – organizational routines and standard operating procedures – and are resistant to being organized by any kind of central intelligence. Not by accident, this fits in with earlier comments about coping with the lack of perfect information. When faced with a problem, organizations such as the KGB, Soviet Rocket Forces, or the American Navy and Air Force do not attempt to solve it by starting from scratch; rather they delve into their institutional memories and try to remember how they dealt with similar problems before. Thus, when tasked with building a missile base in Cuba, Soviet Rocket Forces (SRF) use the same basic layout they use in the Soviet Union, because experience suggests that this is the best way of building a missile base; the fact that it is identifiable to US air reconnaissance as such is not something that occurs to them. Conversely the KGB transport the missiles in secret in the dead of night, because that is how the KGB does things. This looks anomalous in the light of the almost publicity-seeking methods of the SRF – but it is only an anomaly if one assumes that someone is directing both organizations to behave in this way. On the contrary, it is possible that if the overall directors of the Soviet effort had known what was going on, they would have been horrified. It might be thought that this exaggerates the autonomy of organizations, but a US example reinforces the point. The US Air Force under General Curtis Le May actually wanted to bomb the missile sites, but the report of probable casualties they produced was horrendous and they could not guarantee 100 per cent success; as a result the attack was put on hold by President Kennedy. A later investigation revealed that the Air Force had simply taken an existing plan to attack Cuban installations and added the missile sites – hence the predicted high casualties. Moreover, they had assumed the missiles were mobile and that some would be missed; in fact, the missiles were only ‘mobile’ in the context of a time scale running into weeks, and an attack could well have produced a 100 per cent success rate. This is an interesting example precisely because the US Air Force were actually in favour of the operation; usually when the military provide high casualty estimates it is because, for one reason or another, they wish to dissuade the politicians from using force, a point which leads to the next of Allison’s models.


The organizational process model downplays the idea of rational central control of decisions. In his final Bureaucratic Politics model, Allison deconstructs rational decision-making from another direction, stressing the extent to which political factors external to the overt international issue may affect decision-making. One aspect of this is the way in which bureaucracies see the world from the perspective of their own organization. As the slogan has it, ‘Where you sit determines where you stand’. In the United States, the State Department usually favours negotiation, the UN Representative action by the UN, the US Navy action by the US Navy and so on. It is not to be expected that organizations will promote courses of action that do not involve enhancements to their own budgets. More important is the fact that leaders have their own political positions to protect and defend. During the Cuban Missile Crisis President Kennedy knew that his actions could have posed severe political problems to his chances of re-election, and, more immediately, the Democratic Party’s prospects in the mid-term Congressional elections in November 1962 – although, interestingly, research now suggests that this was not a determining factor in his actions (Lebow and Stein 1994: 95). The assumption of the Rational Actor Model (and of realism in general) is that foreign-policy decisions will be taken on foreign-policy grounds. The bureaucratic politics model suggests that this often will not be the case. The conceptual models Allison established in Essence of Decision have survived remarkably well, even though his case study has been superseded by later work drawing on Soviet and American sources available since the end of the Cold War. It is, however, clear that the models need to be supplemented. The biggest lack in Allison is a sufficient account of the sociopsychological, cognitive dimension of decision-making. Decision-makers interact with their perceived environment, and it may well be that their perceptions are incorrect (Jervis 1976; Cottam 1986). It might be thought that one way to correct misperceptions would be to hear as many voices as possible when making a decision, but Irving Janis in Victims of Groupthink demonstrates that collective bodies of decision-makers are just as likely to be vulnerable to misperceptions as individuals (Janis 1972). It is the lack of a good account of these issues that has caused Allison’s case study to become outdated – later research emphasizes the extent to which the Soviet decision to act was based on fears created by US policy, ironically, in particular, by policies designed actually to deter the Soviets. US warnings of the consequences of deploying missiles on Cuba were interpreted as threats and signals of an intent to undermine Soviet positions (Lebow and Stein 1994). An emphasis on cognitive processes is also present in recent work on the role of ideas and ideologies in foreign-policy decision-making (Goldstein and Keohane 1993); again, the ending of the Cold War has provided much stimulus to this work (Lebow and Risse-Kappen 1995).


There are other general problems with Allison’s models. The emphasis on crisis decision-making is one such; crises – situations in which high-value stakes are played for under pressure of time – may produce patterns of behavior that are very different from those in operation during ‘normal’ decisionmaking. Allison’s elaborate models may only work in countries which have highly differentiated institutional structures; certainly, it is difficult to apply the organizational process model in those countries which do not have extensive bureaucracies. However, it would be surprising if a 30-year-old case study were not to be superseded in some respects, and Allison’s models themselves are still employed. There are two ways in which one could read this. It may be that this demonstrates how well designed the models were; on this account, foreign-policy decision-making is one of the best established areas in International Relations and the lack of recent innovation in this field is a point in its favour. On the other hand, this longevity could be seen as a sign of weakness, an indicator that this is an area of International Relations theory where not much is happening – where a few basic points have been made and there is little else to say. Similar points could be made with respect to a number of other areas of FPA. For example, the study of public opinion and foreign policy, or pressure groups and foreign policy, also seem to be areas where there have been relatively few recent innovations. Most of the work being done takes the form of empirical case studies which shuffle and reshuffle a small number of ideas rather than create new theories – although Brian White offers a number of reasons why this judgement might be contested (White 1999).


A key factor here may be the dominance in recent years of neorealist and neoliberal modes of thought. Both approaches emphasize analysis of the international system at the expense of analysis of foreign policy. Although Waltzian neorealism pays lip service to the importance of the study of foreign policy, it offers a top-down account of international relations, an account in which the supreme skill of the foreign-policy decision-maker lies in recognizing the signals sent by the system. The decision-maker is a skilled craftsman rather than a creative artist. Neoliberalism also offers an account of international relations which works from the top down, albeit one that emphasizes the possibilities of cooperation. In each case the assumption that states are rational egoists operating under conditions of anarchy limits the space available for foreign policy as an autonomous area of enquiry. Effectively the rational actor model is being reinstated, even if under new conditions. One of the ironies of the dominance of rational choice in contemporary mainstream International Relations theorizing is that it appears to be antithetical to FPA. One might have thought that ‘choice’ and ‘policy’ would go together, but in practice the way in which rational choice thinking is expressed in neorealism and neoliberalism undermines this potential partnership. The system is the focus, and the behaviour of the units that make up the system is assumed to be determined by the system; as Waltz puts it, any theory to the contrary is ‘reductionist’ and patently false because the persistence of patterns over time in the system is unconnected with changes in the units (Waltz 1979). On this account, traditional components of FPA such as ‘public opinion’, the influence of the media, pressure groups, organizational structure and so on can do little more than confuse the policymaker, deflecting his or her attention from the real issue, which is the relationship between the state and the system.


A key battlefield for the contest between FPA as conventionally understood and neorealism concerns the relevance or irrelevance of ‘regime-type’. From a neorealist perspective the nature of a domestic regime, whether liberaldemocratic, authoritarian or totalitarian is of relatively little significance. A state is a state is an egoistic actor attempting to survive under the anarchy problematic. All else pales into insignificance in the face of this imperative. Consider, for example, a highly influential essay by the leading neorealist John Mearsheimer; in ‘Back to the Future: Instability in Europe after the Cold War’ (1990), Mearsheimer envisages a reappearance of the old pre-1914 patterns in Europe, and suggests that one way of controlling and stabilizing this process would be to assist Germany to become a nuclear-weapons state. This is an interestingly counter-intuitive suggestion, but what is striking in the present context is that the fact that virtually all sections of German public opinion, bar a neo-Nazi fringe, would be wholeheartedly opposed to this policy troubles Mearsheimer not at all. If this is the ‘right’ policy, then the assumption is that it will be adopted – ‘right’ in this context means appropriate to international conditions (i.e., the requirements of the balance of power) rather than domestic pressures. There is a problem of ‘agency’ here – more prosaically put, a problem of finding a German government that could introduce this policy without being hounded from office – but this is a secondary matter. Foreign policy on this count becomes analogous to completing a crossword puzzle – we have the grid and the clues, the task is to get to the right answer; the policy-maker/solver cannot influence or determine this answer, only discover it, and implement it as effectively as possible.


From virtually every other perspective (with the possible exception of that of Chomsky) the idea that regime-type is of no significance is seen as plain silly. It seems intuitively implausible that the leaders thrown up by liberaldemocratic political systems will react to external stimuli in the same way as the makers of military coups or the leaders of totalitarian mass parties. There may be pressures pointing them in the same direction, but, surely, their own values will have some impact on the decisions they actually take – as the example of modern Germany and nuclear weapons illustrates. Moreover, it seems inherently implausible that domestic social and economic structure is irrelevant to foreign policy – that the shape of a nation’s society has no influence on its international behaviour. One, very controversial but interesting, investigation of these intuitions comes from the so called ‘democratic peace’ hypothesis – the proposition that constitutionally stable liberal-democratic states do not go to war with each other (although they are, in general, as war-prone as other states when it comes to relations with non-democracies). The reason this is particularly interesting is because, unlike some other challenges to the neorealist mode of thinking, it is an argument that employs the same kind of positivist methodology as the rational choice realists employ – it, as it were, challenges the neorealists on their own ground. Although the idea was first popularized as a somewhat unconventional extrapolation by Michael Doyle of the work of the political philosopher Kant to contemporary conditions, its main developers in the 1990s were empirical researchers employing the latest statistical techniques to refine the initial hypothesis and identify a robust version thereof (Doyle 1983; Russett 1993; Gleditsch and Risse-Kappen 1995; M. E. Brown, Lynn-Jones and Miller 1996).


If democratic peace thinking were to become established it would – and to some extent it already has – reinstate and relegitimize a quite traditional research programme with respect to FPA. Institutions, public opinion, norms, decision-making – these were the staple diet of foreign-policy studies before the dominance of structural accounts of international relations shifted them from centre-stage. The ‘Democratic Peace’ has brought this older agenda back as a potential central focus for contemporary International Relations and it is interesting that its main, and vociferous, opponents have been neorealists and Chomskyans, both of whom recognize how important it is for their position that the proposition be refuted or defeated (Layne 1994: Barkawi and Laffey 1999). Moreover, and returning to the starting-point of this chapter, it should be noted that here, more than with any other topic in FPA, we have a theory of foreign policy which grows out of an explicit theory of the state. Although attempts to widen the scope of democratic peace thinking have been largely unsuccessful, the core proposition that constitutionally stable liberal democracies do not go to war with each other remains unrefuted – the worst that can be said about this proposition is that it may be that this highly specific kind of peacefulness is the product of some factor other than regime-type, or a statistical artefact produced by generalizing from too few cases. If this core proposition remains unrefuted, then we are left with a large anomaly in contemporary International Relations theory – because although the practical implications of neorealist thinking on these matters seem to be challenged by a successful argument that is clearly ‘reductionist’, the logic of neorealism remains untouched. The two bodies of thought seem to point in opposite directions. We have here, in effect, something quite similar to the discontinuity that exists in Economics since ‘microeconomics’ has a dominant theory of the firm which does not seem to gel very well with the ‘macroeconomic’ theories concerning the economy as a whole. Whether or not we should regard this as a problem is a moot point; economists seem not to be too worried by their particular problem, and perhaps their strategy of moving on on all fronts and hoping that eventually some unifying notions will emerge is the sensible one to adopt.

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