The purpose of this article is to see things more critically. Explaining (neo)realist theory of IR focusing on the questions about casues of war. I was inspired by Cynthia Weber’s book “International Relations Theory, A critical introduction” and I would like to give short view of her ideas trying to get picture of main thoughts one of most influential theorist of IR, Kenneth Waltz.
What causes wars, Kenneth Waltz asked himself in the early 1950s, and for this purpose I’m putting major focus on it. Question is as old as war itself, and many answers already existed. If we want to understand or explain how peace can be achieved, we have to understand war and its causation. Waltz explained it in a way of three categories. These three categories (explanations) are: the individual, the state, and the state system. He began with the first category – individual (man). The term “man” indicate the individual level and particularly an interest in human nature, forgetting big issue that all individuals aren’t man. The first image explanation of war goes like this: „the locus of the important causes of war is found in the nature and behavior of man. War results from selfishness, from misdirected aggressive impulses, from stupidity. . . . If these are the primary causes of war, then the elimination of war must come through uplifting and enlightening men or securing their psychic-social readjustment.”
This is the “men behaving badly” à “natural man” realist IR scholars. But some men seem to be good by nature – they act reasonably to pursue the common good. There is a fundamental goodness to man, and if that fundamental goodness could be universalized – if all men could access their fundamental goodness – then all men could behave well. Conflicts and wars could be averted altogether à idealist IR theory. Does the human nature by itself „alone“ causes war?
If human nature can’t be changed (good or bad), then we can’t diminish the occurrence of war by trying to change it. Social and political institutions should be seen as factor which is changing occurrence at least to decrease chances of war. If human nature can be changed, and if see it as changed because of interactions with social and political institutions, those institutions should be in main focus. Waltz is concluding that human nature isn’t sufficient itself when we want to explain occurrence of war. This leads to another image of explanation what causes war.
At this explanation, Waltz asks can be occurrence of wars explained by the internal organizations of states and societies, in other words, by state itself. As there are good and bad men, there are good and bad states. In connection with first explanation, we can assume that bad states make war, and good don’t. If we raise some questions as: What is making good states „good“ and bad states „bad“ and is possible to change from „bad“ to „good“? Waltz is saying to this that there is now guarantee that world of „good“ states will preserve peace between themselves. Once again, analysis is incomplete. As Waltz puts it, “the international political environment has much to do with the ways in which states behave.”
Waltz summarizes the third explanation as follows: “With many sovereign states, with no system of law enforceable among them, with each state judging its grievances and ambitions according to the dictates of its own reason or desire – conflict, sometimes leading to war, is bound to occur” (Waltz, 1959: 159). We can see direct links between anarchy, actions of states and conflict. In a situation of international anarchy as Waltz describes it, no “supreme authority” like an international government can stop states from forcefully pursuing their own interests. Waltz concludes that “war occurs because there is nothing to prevent it”. This is why Waltz describes international anarchy as “a permissive or underlying cause of war”. So, for Waltz, international anarchy explains both why wars ultimately may occur and why there are limits on cooperation among states in the international system. Without a leader to punish a hunter who defected from the stag hunt or an international government to punish a rogue state, cooperation can never be guaranteed and conflict is always a serious possibility. Waltz locates the immediate causes of war in either individual men or states understood as collective men.
Looking at all three views and explanations I would like to stress few things. Waltz connected all three main actors – men, state and international anarchy, focusing mainly on state as major actor of IR. First category, individual, is described as a part of structure that fulfills whole structure and describing it as a „good“ or as „bad“ is very assumptive. I could say that level of power given to an individual is usually showing true nature of man. That is also one big issue, here we are talking only about male population. Other two categories are showing that whole structure is missing something. Neorealism as a theory perfectly explains situation within international system during Cold war years and had Waltz had good ideas how to explain IR and how to finally put empiric and scientific approach that was needed so far. As I started this article with focusing on major question about wars, in my personal opinion this theory can’t stay by itself. It needs explanation from other perspective. That perspective I will bring in next article, focusing on liberal thoughts and idealistic Kegley’s ideas.
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