Using at least two news articles from the last four weeks, provide evidence to support a position on which major theory of international relations best explains world events. Use and list at least two

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Using at least two news articles from the last four weeks, provide evidence to support a position on which major theory of international relations best explains world events.

Use and list at least two sources to support your post, and also write at least three substantive responses to classmates, and/or the professor.

Using at least two news articles from the last four weeks, provide evidence to support a position on which major theory of international relations best explains world events. Use and list at least two
This PDF is auto-generated for reference only. As such, it may contain some conversion errors and/or missing information. For all formal use please refer to the official version on the website, as linked below. International Organisations https://www.e-ir.info/2016/12/30/international-organisations/ SHAZELINA Z. ABIDIN, DEC 30 2016 This is an excerpt from International Relations – an E-IR Foundations beginner’s textbook. Download your free copy here. As you may have picked up in the previous chapter, we live in a world of laws. While sovereign states are the principal legal actors, international organisations are increasingly important in helping us govern our world. Today’s international system is made up of a cacophony of different voices and interests. In addition to states there are also non-governmental organisations, multinational corporations and hybrid organisations which are a mix of all the different categories. Imagine stepping off a plane into a foreign country. As you disembark you switch on your phone to check the messages that may have come through while you were in transit. You follow the sign that directs you to the airport’s exit, clear immigration, and then pick up your luggage at the designated carousel. You then head straight for the ‘nothing to declare’ green lane to exit the airport. Those routine actions would have already brought you into contact with the work of at least four different international organisations. The aircraft that you arrived in would have been one of the many planes under the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and regulated by standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO); that you were able to use your phone to check messages would have been courtesy of the work of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU); and your customs clearance would have been facilitated by the Kyoto Convention set by the World Customs Organization (WCO) to simplify the customs process. These are just some of the ways in which international organisations form an integral part of our everyday lives. Whether these organisations are working to build houses for the impoverished like UN-Habitat does, or working to ensure a standard of health for everyone like the World Health Organization (WHO) does, there is no running away from international organisations. Today, it is increasingly difficult to imagine an international system in which the only voices that matter are those of states. International governmental organisations An international governmental organisation (IGO), also referred to as an intergovernmental organisation, is an organisation with a membership of only states. The organisation is usually founded upon a treaty, or a multilateral agreement, and consists of more than two states. Member states determine the way in which the organisation is run, vote within the organisation and provide its funding. Established in 1945 following the end of the Second World War, the United Nations (UN) is a prime example of an international governmental organisation with almost universal membership. Only states can be members of the United Nations and membership is valued because it confers upon the member state international recognition of its sovereignty. As of 2017 there are 193 UN member states – but it is important to note that a small number of states are not members. Taiwan, for example, has repeatedly requested membership but has had its request blocked by China. This is because China regards Taiwan as a part of its sovereign territory and does not recognise it as an independent nation. Taiwan, of course, wants United Nations membership because this will mean that the international community fully accepts its sovereignty. The Taiwan example has gone unresolved for decades due to E-International Relations ISSN 2053-8626 Page 1/5International Organisations Written by Shazelina Z. Abidin the major role that China plays within the United Nations as one of its most powerful members. There are six main organs of the United Nations. Once a state is a member, it is automatically a member of the General Assembly. This is the most democratic organ where each state gets one vote, no matter how big or small, rich or poor the country. It is also the place where, every September, world leaders give their address to the international community from behind a dark green podium with the UN crest clearly visible. The other organs are the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the Trusteeship Council, the Secretariat and the International Court of Justice. By far the most powerful organ is the Security Council, which has 15 members. Five states – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States – are permanent members of the Security Council. The other ten are voted in by the General Assembly for two-year tenures. The Security Council is the only organ that can impose sanctions on states or deploy military forces on behalf of the international community to keep the peace in a certain area, region or country. The United Nations itself does not have its own military force, but it can muster military and police personnel through contributions by its members. These UN peacekeepers are distinguished by their trademark blue helmets, giving rise to the nickname ‘Blue Berets’. In order to be inclusive the United Nations has welcomed the participation (note participation, not membership) of civil society groups during some of its meetings, but never at the sessions of the all-important Security Council. Organisations may speak as observers to the General Assembly, or as organisations with ‘consultative status’ with the UN Economic and Social Council for example. There are civil society organisations on all issues, ranging from disarmament to oceanic noise pollution, and from mental health to refugees. There are also private individuals who are invited to speak at special United Nations meetings. It is therefore common to witness heart wrenching first-hand accounts of sexual abuses, torture, or discrimination. Such testimonies have the power to galvanise the international community. Yet, no matter how powerful these testimonies are, it is ultimately up to the member states to determine the course of action. The Secretariat, including the Secretary-General who leads the United Nations, cannot take action on its own and can only appeal to member states to ‘do something’. Because of this, the United Nations remains undeniably and irrevocably an international governmental organisation and not a level of authority above the states. Here, the other designation sometimes used to describe IGOs – ‘intergovernmental organisation’ – is helpful in appreciating the difference in ‘global governance’ (which IGOs bring to our international system) and ‘global government’ (which does not currently exist). Virtually all IGOs are intergovernmental. This means that their power rests with governments (the member states) not with the organisation. States are free to leave the organisations, or even in some cases to ignore them. There are usually consequences for both actions, but the fact remains that even in extreme cases – when an organisation like the United Nations imposes sanctions, or authorises war, on a state – international governmental organisations do not rule over states. Such punitive measures are only possible when the members of the UN Security Council are in accord, agree with such proposals, and a coalition of states agrees to finance and partake in the operation. Therefore, the power rests with the states themselves, especially the more powerful states, and there are regular examples of states rejecting a certain course of action because it was not in their national interest. Here, the failures of the United Nations to establish a coordinated response to the Syrian war comes to mind, despite hundreds of thousands killed and millions displaced since 2011. If an IGO was not intergovernmental, as explained above, it would be in the rare category of ‘supranational’. To have supranational powers means that an organisation is actually able to govern its members and have a degree of independence from its member states. The only clear example of a major organisation such as this is the European Union (EU). For that reason, it is often described as sui generis , or ‘unique’ in its own right. The European Union is unique because, unlike the United Nations and other international governmental organisations, it can actually be said to exercise a degree of sovereignty over its members via law-making powers in certain areas that its members agreed to relocate to the supranational level. It also has its own currency which, together with other capabilities, gives it some of the powers otherwise only seen in states. This is not without controversy in Europe and there is a rising tide of discontent with the growing power of the European Union and a desire in some political circles to weaken, or even dissolve, the organisation so that more of the power returns to the states. The ‘Brexit’ debate, when the British public voted in a 2016 referendum to leave the European Union, raised many of these issues and is an interesting instance of the idea of supranationalism being challenged. E-International Relations ISSN 2053-8626 Page 2/5International Organisations Written by Shazelina Z. Abidin Leaving aside bigger organisations like the European Union and the United Nations, international governmental organisations are typically more specific in nature – often dealing with just one particular issue or a specific geographical area. The work that they do is often clear from their names – for example, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) or the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL). These are issue-based organisations and their members are worldwide. Then there are organisations of states in specific regions, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the African Union (AU). These often emulate elements of the European Union, but none (as yet) feature supranational powers. Other organisations are neither geographically limited nor limited to a single issue. The Commonwealth of Nations, for example, is an organisation whose membership is restricted to former colonies of the United Kingdom. Having been around since 1949, the Commonwealth also has its own permanent secretariat. An international governmental organisation that does not have its own fixed secretariat is the BRICS – an intergovernmental organisation of only five countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) focusing on economic and financial issues of interest to its members. The point to remember is that as long as an organisation is composed exclusively of states, or governments (including government agencies), it is an international governmental organisation operating according to international norms. These international governmental organisations are outside the United Nations but are almost always tied to the UN in some way or another. For some, these ties are explicitly spelled out in the document that establishes them. For others, the simple goal of ensuring that their work is relevant ties them to the United Nations at least tangentially. Take the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), for example. The founding statute of the Agency dictates that its reports should go to the United Nations so that the Security Council may take action against any countries that fail to meet their obligations. This works out well for the international community – as the International Atomic Energy Agency monitors the use of nuclear technology while the UN Security Council enforces measures to ensure state compliance over nuclear safety and security. International non-governmental organisations and hybrid international organisations International non-governmental organisations (INGOs) are non-governmental organisations that either work at the international level or have international members. International non-governmental organisations are a mixed bag, best described as those organisations that are not intergovernmental, business entities or terrorist organisations (Davies 2014, 3). There is no exact figure for the number of international non-governmental organisations that are currently active. The United Nations lists over 4,000 with consultative status – which may only be a fraction of their true number. Some spectacular and headline-grabbing protests are organised by certain international non-governmental organisations. Images of Greenpeace protestors chaining themselves to ships, or of anti-globalisation protestors blocking streets, are usually well covered in the media. These are the organisations whose mission is to raise awareness among the general public on issues of concern. No less effective are those that carry out their missions away from the limelight. Mercy Corps, for example, helps disaster survivors in countries around the globe, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) is often the first highly skilled responder to a crisis and Oxfam is at the forefront of various poverty eradication programmes around the world. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan termed groups like these the ‘unsung heroes’ of the international community. Hybrid organisations are those international organisations whose membership comprises both states and civil society members. The states may be represented by government departments or agencies; while civil society, as we have seen earlier, can be just about anyone or any organisation. One such hybrid international organisation is the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which deals primarily with the preservation of the environment and whose members include government agencies from countries such as Fiji and Spain and non- governmental organisations from all corners of the globe. Individual members are often experts and affiliated to one of the IUCN’s six commissions. The number of hybrid organisations has increased as more and more partnerships are forged between states and civil society. There is now an understanding that hybrid organisations, where governments, non-governmental organisations and multinational corporations all have a say, can be highly effective E-International Relations ISSN 2053-8626 Page 3/5International Organisations Written by Shazelina Z. Abidin because of the reach, expertise and funding that such groupings can command. How international organisations shape our world One of the more visible international non-governmental organisations in the world is the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. Today, the Red Cross is synonymous with work with victims of humanitarian crises, but before its founding there was no organisation to carry out such work and no guidelines for humanitarian concerns arising out of war and conflict. In 1862, Swiss businessman Henry Dunant published a book describing the aftermath of the 1859 Battle of Solferino, which he had experienced first-hand. He wrote how the soldiers were left wounded on the field with no medical care even after the battle had ended. Dunant managed to organise the local population into providing assistance to the sick and wounded. Many were moved by his account and in 1863 Dunant founded the International Committee of the Red Cross. Dunant’s efforts prompted a push to provide for the care of wounded soldiers and civilians caught in places of conflict. This was the start of the Geneva Conventions, which all UN members have since ratified. The Geneva Conventions form part of the international law that governs humanitarian concerns arising out of war and conflict and stand as testimony of how an international non-governmental organisation (in this case the Red Cross) can start a movement that later develops into international norms and standards. States were once the judge, jury and executioner of all matters related to the conduct of international affairs. Under the guise of state sovereignty, the state could act with impunity as far as its citizens and lands were concerned. Those days are effectively over as the pressure of outside interests, amplified through international non- governmental organisations, have eroded state impunity. In no other area has there been such a major leap forward than in the development of norms involving international human rights. It also used to be the case that monarchs, presidents, prime ministers and other state leaders held immunity from any kind of criminal prosecution while they were in power. That too, has now changed. The International Criminal Court, which sits in The Hague, now has the jurisdiction to hold individuals responsible for a range of crimes. The United Nations briefly discussed the idea of an international criminal court in the 1950s, but it took the efforts of a coalition of international non-governmental organisations, calling themselves the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, to realise the vision of a world court for heinous crimes. In 1997, the Coalition eventually managed to garner the political will, and within a few short years the Court had been established. Today, approximately two thirds of the world’s states are members and dozens of individuals have been prosecuted for war crimes, genocide and other crimes against humanity. There are many success stories of how international organisations, once thought to be the tools of states, have come into their own and set the agenda for the international community. Nowhere is this more evident than in the area of environmental preservation. It took the combined efforts of vocal non-governmental organisations and might of the United Nations to bring states together for a watershed conference on the environment in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Often called the Earth Summit, the UN Conference on Environment and Development was revolutionary because it emphasised the collective responsibility of states towards the wellbeing of the earth. Due to the Earth Summit, states signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Convention to Combat Desertification – treaties that became important milestones in the fight to save the environment from the harmful practices of mankind. The momentum the Earth Summit generated still has an impact today as nations continue to work together, albeit often acrimoniously, to combat climate change. For the average citizen, the most important international organisations might be those whose work can be felt on the ground. The UN Development Programme has been a lifeline for many impoverished nations, helping to raise populations out of absolute poverty, developing programmes to allow the people to be economically sustainable and closing the gender equality gap that exists in many developing nations. In these cases, instead of states contributing to the organisation and keeping it financially afloat, it is sometimes international governmental organisations such as the World Bank that provide the means for the states to pursue development policies that would otherwise not be possible. However, the results of these assistance programmes have been mixed and they are often contentious, as they have sometimes left countries in significant debt or failed to improve their economies. Conclusion E-International Relations ISSN 2053-8626 Page 4/5International Organisations Written by Shazelina Z. Abidin Like most other things, international organisations are only as good as the results they yield, but there is no denying that they play a central role in international affairs. Their growth, particularly in the twentieth century when the concept of global governance came of age, means that nearly every aspect of life is regulated in some way at the global level. International organisations, in their vast array of forms, complement and sometimes positively challenge the role of the state. Going back to the airport analogy used at the start of this chapter, we may not always be aware of how international organisations affect even the most mundane things in our lives. But, our lives would be materially different without them *Please consult the PDF linked above for any citation or reference details. About the author: Shazelina Z. Abidin is a Foreign Service officer with the Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After postings in Washington, DC, and to the UN in New York, she completed her PhD at the University of Sheffield on the Responsibility to Protect. Powered by TCPDF (www.tcpdf.org) E-International Relations ISSN 2053-8626 Page 5/5International Organisations Written by Shazelina Z. Abidin
Using at least two news articles from the last four weeks, provide evidence to support a position on which major theory of international relations best explains world events. Use and list at least two
This PDF is auto-generated for reference only. As such, it may contain some conversion errors and/or missing information. For all formal use please refer to the official version on the website, as linked below. International Relations Theory https://www.e-ir.info/2017/01/09/international-relations-theory/ DANA GOLD AND STEPHEN MCGLINCHEY, JAN 9 2017 This is an excerpt from International Relations – an E-IR Foundations beginner’s textbook. Download your free copy here. Theories of International Relations allow us to understand and try to make sense of the world around us through various lenses, each of which represents a different theoretical perspective. In order to consider the field as a whole for beginners it is necessary to simplify IR theory. This chapter does so by situating IR theory on a three-part spectrum of traditional theories, middle-ground theories and critical theories. Examples are used throughout to help bring meaning and perspective to these positions. Readers are also encouraged to consult this book’s companion text, International Relations Theory (forthcoming 2017), which expands greatly on the subject matter of this chapter. Before we get started, one very important note. You may notice that some of the theories you are introduced to here are referred to by names that also occur in other disciplines. Sometimes this can be confusing as, for example, realism in IR is not the same as realism in art. Similarly, you may hear the word ‘liberal’ being used to describe someone’s personal views, but in IR liberalism means something quite distinct. To avoid any confusion, this note will serve as a caveat that in this chapter we only refer to the theories concerned as they have been developed within the discipline of International Relations. Traditional theories Theories are constantly emerging and competing with one another. For that reason it can be disorientating to learn about theoretical approaches. As soon as you think you have found your feet with one approach, you realise there are many others. Thomas Kuhn ’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) set the stage for understanding how and why certain theories are legitimised and widely accepted. He also identified the process that takes place when theories are no longer relevant and new theories emerge. For example, human beings were once convinced the earth was flat and accepted this as fact. With the advancement of science and technology, humans discarded this previously accepted belief. Once such a discovery takes place, a ‘paradigm shift’ results and the former way of thinking is replaced with a new one. Although changes in IR theory are not as dramatic as the example above, there have been significant evolutions in the discipline. This is important to keep in mind when we consider how theories of IR play a role in explaining the world and how, based upon different time periods and our personal contexts, one approach may speak to us more than another. Traditionally there have been two central theories of IR: liberalism and realism. Although they have come under great challenge from other theories, they remain central to the discipline. At its height, liberalism in IR was referred to as a ‘utopian’ theory and is still recognised as such to some degree today. Its proponents view human beings as innately good and believe peace and harmony between nations is not only achievable, but desirable. Immanuel Kant developed the idea in the late eighteenth century that states that shared liberal values should have no reason for going to war against one another. In Kant’s eyes, the more liberal states there were in the world, the more peaceful it would become, since liberal states are ruled by their citizens and citizens are rarely disposed to desire war. This is in contrast to the rule of kings and other non-elected rulers who frequently have selfish desires out of step with citizens. His ideas have resonated and continue to be developed by modern liberals, most notably in the democratic peace theory, which posits that democracies do not go to war with each other, for the very reasons Kant outlined. E-International Relations ISSN 2053-8626 Page 1/7International Relations Theory Written by Dana Gold and Stephen McGlinchey Further, liberals have faith in the idea that the permanent cessation of war is an attainable goal. Taking liberal ideas into practice, US President Woodrow Wilson addressed his famous ‘Fourteen Points’ to the US Congress in January 1918 during the final year of the First World War. As he presented his ideas for a rebuilt world beyond the war, the last of his points was to create a general association of nations, which became the League of Nations. Dating back to 1920, the League of Nations was created largely for the purpose of overseeing affairs between states and implementing, as well as maintaining, international peace. However, when the League collapsed due to the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, its failure became difficult for liberals to comprehend, as events seemed to contradict their theories. Therefore, despite the efforts of prominent liberal scholars and politicians such as Kant and Wilson, liberalism failed to retain a strong hold and a new theory emerged to explain the continuing presence of war. That theory became known as realism. Realism gained momentum during the Second World War when it appeared to offer a convincing account for how and why the worst conflict in known history originated after a period of supposed peace and optimism. Although it originated in named form in the twentieth century, many realists have traced its origins in earlier writings. Indeed, realists have looked as far back as to the ancient world where they detected similar patterns of human behaviour as those evident in our modern world. As its name suggests, advocates of realism purport it reflects the ‘reality’ of the world and more effectively accounts for change in international politics. Thomas Hobbes is often mentioned in discussions of realism due to his description of the brutality of life during the English Civil War of 1642–1651. Hobbes described human beings as living in an orderless ‘state of nature’ that he perceived as a war of all against all. To remedy this, he proposed that a ‘social contract’ was required between a ruler and the people of a state to maintain relative order. Today, we take such ideas for granted as it is usually clear who rules our states. Each leader, or ‘sovereign’ (a monarch, or a parliament for example) sets the rules and establishes a system of punishments for those who break them. We accept this in our respective states so that our lives can function with a sense of security and order. It may not be ideal, but it is better than a state of nature. As no such contract exists internationally and there is no sovereign in charge of the world, disorder and fear rules international relations. That is why war seems more common than peace to realists, indeed they see war as inevitable. When they examine history they see a world that may change in shape, but is always characterised by a system of what they call ‘international anarchy’ as the world has no sovereign to give it order. One central area that sets realism and liberalism apart is how they view human nature. Realists do not typically believe that human beings are inherently good, or have the potential for good, as liberals do. Instead, they claim individuals act in their own self-interests. For realists, people are selfish and behave according to their own needs without necessarily taking into account the needs of others. Realists believe conflict is unavoidable and perpetual and so war is common and inherent to humankind. Hans Morgenthau, a prominent realist, is known for his famous statement ‘all politics is a struggle for power’ (Morgenthau 1948). This demonstrates the typical realist view that politics is primarily about domination as opposed to cooperation between states. Here, it is useful to briefly recall the idea of theories being lenses. Realists and liberals look at the very same world. But when viewing that world through the realist lens, the world appears to be one of domination. The realist lens magnifies instances of war and conflict and then uses those to paint a certain picture of the world. Liberals, when looking at the same world, adjust their lenses to blur out areas of domination and instead bring areas of cooperation into focus. Then, they can paint a slightly different picture of the same world. It is important to understand that there is no single liberal or realist theory. Scholars in the two groups rarely fully agree with each other, even those who share the same approach. Each scholar has a particular interpretation of the world, which includes ideas of peace, war and the role of the state in relation to individuals. And, both realism and liberalism have been updated to more modern versions (neoliberalism and neorealism) that represent a shift in emphasis from their traditional roots. Nevertheless, these perspectives can still be grouped into theory ‘families’ (or traditions). In your studies, you will need to unpack the various differences but, for now, understanding the core assumptions of each approach is the best way to get your bearings. For example, if we think of the simple contrast of optimism and pessimism we can see a familial relationship in all branches of realism and liberalism. Liberals share an optimistic view of IR, believing that world order can be improved, with peace and progress gradually replacing war. They may not agree on the details, but this optimistic E-International Relations ISSN 2053-8626 Page 2/7International Relations Theory Written by Dana Gold and Stephen McGlinchey view generally unites them. Conversely, realists tend to dismiss optimism as a form of misplaced idealism and instead they arrive at a more pessimistic view. This is due to their focus on the centrality of the state and its need for security and survival in an anarchical system where it can only truly rely on itself. As a result, realists reach an array of accounts that describe IR as a system where war and conflict is common and periods of peace are merely times when states are preparing for future conflict. Another point to keep in mind is that each of the overarching approaches in IR possesses a different perspective on the nature of the state. Both liberalism and realism consider the state to be the dominant actor in IR, although liberalism does add a role for non-state actors such as international organisations. Nevertheless, within both theories states themselves are typically regarded as possessing ultimate power. This includes the capacity to enforce decisions, such as declaring war on another nation, or conversely treaties that may bind states to certain agreements. In terms of liberalism, its proponents argue that organisations are valuable in assisting states in formulating decisions and helping to formalise cooperation that leads to peaceful outcomes. Realists on the other hand believe states partake in international organisations only when it is in their self-interest to do so. Many scholars have begun to reject these traditional theories over the past several decades because of their obsession with the state and the status quo. The middle ground The thinking of the English school is often viewed as a middle ground between liberal and realist theories. Its theory involves the idea of a society of states existing at the international level. Hedley Bull, one of the core figures of the English school, agreed with the traditional theories that the international system was anarchic. However, he insisted that this does not imply there are no norms (expected behaviours), thus claiming there is a societal aspect to international politics. In this sense, states form an ‘Anarchical Society’ (Bull 1977) where a type of order does exist, based on shared norms and behaviours. Due to its central premise, the English school is often characterised as having an international society approach to IR. This describes a world that is not quite realist and not quite liberal – but rather a world that has elements of both. Constructivism is another theory commonly viewed as a middle ground, but this time between mainstream theories and the critical theories that we will explore later. It also has some familial links with the English school. Unlike scholars from other perspectives, constructivists highlight the importance of values and shared interests between individuals who interact on the global stage. Alexander Wendt, a prominent constructivist, described the relationship between agents (individuals) and structures (such as the state) as one in which structures not only constrain agents but also construct their identities and interests. His famous phrase ‘anarchy is what states make of it’ (Wendt 1992) sums this up well. Another way to explain this, and to explain the core of constructivism, is that the essence of international relations exists in the interactions between people. After all, states do not interact; it is agents of those states, such as politicians and diplomats, who interact. As those interacting on the world stage have accepted international anarchy as the defining principle, it has become part of our reality. However, if anarchy is what we make of it, then different states can perceive anarchy differently and the qualities of anarchy can even change over time. International anarchy could even be replaced with a different system if a critical mass of other individuals (and by proxy the states they represent) accepted the idea. To understand constructivism is to understand that ideas, or ‘norms’ as they are often called, have power. IR is, then, a never-ending journey of change chronicling the accumulation of the accepted norms of the past and the emerging norms of the future. As such, constructivists seek to study this process. Critical theories Critical approaches refer to a wide spectrum of theories that have been established in response to mainstream approaches in the field, mainly liberalism and realism. In a nutshell, critical theorists share one particular trait – they oppose commonly held assumptions in the field of IR that have been central since its establishment. Thus, altered circumstances call for new approaches that are better suited to understand, as well as question, the world we find ourselves in. Critical theories are valuable because they identify positions that have typically been ignored or overlooked within IR. They also provide a voice to individuals who have frequently been marginalised, particularly E-International Relations ISSN 2053-8626 Page 3/7International Relations Theory Written by Dana Gold and Stephen McGlinchey women and those from the Global South. Marxism is a good place to start with critical theories. This approach is based upon the ideas of Karl Marx, who lived in the nineteenth century at the height of the industrial revolution. The term ‘Marxist’ refers to individuals who have adopted Marx’s views and believe that society is divided into two classes – the business class (the bourgeoisie) and the working class (the proletariat). The proletariat are at the mercy of the bourgeoisie who control their wages and therefore their standard of living. Marx hoped for an eventual end to the class society and overthrow of the bourgeoisie by the proletariat. Critical theorists who take a Marxist angle often argue that the internationalisation of the state as the standard operating principle of international relations has led to ordinary people around the globe becoming divided and alienated, instead of recognising what they all have in common as a global proletariat. For this to change, the legitimacy of the state must be questioned and ultimately dissolved. In that sense, emancipation from the state in some form is often part of the wider critical agenda. Postcolonialism differs from Marxism by focusing on the inequality between nations or regions, as opposed to classes. The effects of colonialism are still felt in many regions of the world today as local populations continue to deal with the challenges created and left behind by the former colonial powers. Postcolonialism’s origins can be traced to the Cold War period when much activity in international relations centred around decolonisation and the ambition to undo the legacies of European imperialism. This approach acknowledges that politics is not limited to one area or region and that it is vital to include the voices of individuals from other parts of the world. Edward Said (1978) developed the prominent ‘Orientalist’ critique, describing how the Middle East and Asia were inaccurately depicted in the West. As a result, more focus within the discipline was placed on including the viewpoints of those from the Global South to ensure that Western scholars no longer spoke on their behalf. This created a deeper understanding of the political and social challenges faced by people living within these regions as well as an acknowledgement of how their issues could be better addressed. Postcolonial scholars are, therefore, important contributors to the field as they widen the focus of enquiry beyond IR’s traditionally ‘Western’ mindset. Another theory that exposes the inequality inherent in international relations is feminism. Feminism entered the field in the 1980s as part of the emerging critical movement. It focused on explaining why so few women seemed to be in positions of power and examining the implications of this on how global politics was structured. You only need look at a visual of any meeting of world leaders to see how it appears to be a man’s world. Recognising this introduces a ‘gendered’ reading of IR, where we place an issue such as gender as the prime object in focus. If it is a man’s world, what does that mean? What exactly is masculinity as a gender and how has it imposed itself on international relations? As V. Spike Peterson (1992) argues, as long as gender remains ‘invisible’ it may be unclear what ‘taking gender seriously’ means. Once it is recognised that gender is essentially a social construction permeating all aspects of society, the challenges it presents can be better confronted in a way that benefits all individuals. Here, you might be beginning to see some overlaps – with constructivism for example. We are doing our best to present each approach separately so that you have a clearer starting point, but it is wise to caution you that IR theory is a dense and complex web and not always clearly defined. Keep this in mind as you read on, and as your studies develop. The most controversial of the critical theories is poststructuralism. It is an approach that questions the very beliefs we have all come to know and feel as being ‘real’. Poststructuralism questions the dominant narratives that have been widely accepted by mainstream theories. For instance, liberals and realists both accept the idea of the state and for the most part take it for granted. Such assumptions are foundational ‘truths’ on which those traditional theories rest – becoming ‘structures’ that they build their account of reality around. So, although these two theoretical perspectives may differ in some respect in regards to their overall worldviews, they share a general understanding of the world. Neither theory seeks to challenge the existence of the state. They simply count it as part of their reality. Poststructuralism seeks to question these commonly held assumptions of reality that are taken for granted, such as the state – but also more widely the nature of power. Jacques Derrida’s contribution in this area was in how he showed that you could deconstruct language to identify deeper, or alternative, meanings behind texts. If you can deconstruct language (expose its hidden meanings and the power it has), then you can do the same with fundamental ideas that shape international relations – such as the state. By introducing doubt over why the state exists – and who it exists for – poststructuralists can ask questions about central components of our political world that traditional theories would rather avoid. If you can shake the foundations of a structure, be that a word or an idea, E-International Relations ISSN 2053-8626 Page 4/7International Relations Theory Written by Dana Gold and Stephen McGlinchey you can move beyond it in your thinking and become free of the power it has over you. This approach introduces doubt to the reality we assume to share and exposes the often thin foundations that some commonly held ‘truths’ stand upon. Theory in practice: examining the United Nations The United Nations (UN) is a highly respected international organisation created at the conclusion of the Second World War from the ashes of the League of Nations. Although it continues to exist, many doubt its claims to success. The United Nations General Assembly is an organ that provides every country with a seat at the table. However, the United Nations Security Council is where power ultimately resides. The Security Council has ten elected non- permanent members, each with their own vote. More importantly, the Security Council also contains five permanent members – the United States, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom – reflecting the victors of the Second World War who stood dominant in 1945 as the United Nations was created. Any of those five permanent members can, through the use of a veto, stop any major resolution. The United Nations does not possess complete power over states. In other words, it has limited authority to interfere in domestic concerns since one of its main purposes has generally been to mediate diplomatically when issues between countries arise. To better understand this last point, one can point to the challenges faced by the UN’s peacekeepers, who comprise civilian, police and military personnel positioned in areas of conflict to create conditions for lasting peace. Irrespective of any actual desire to maintain peace in a certain area, peacekeepers are typically only permitted to apply force in matters of self-defence. This draws on the common (though not always accurate) description of the United Nations as ‘peace keeper ’ rather than ‘peace maker ’. For these reasons, among others, it is possible to argue that the United Nations as an organisation is merely symbolic. At the same time, despite its limited ability to influence heads of state or prevent violence, it is also possible to argue that many nations have benefitted from its work. Aside from its mission to maintain peace and security, the United Nations is also committed to promoting sustainable development, protecting human rights, upholding international law, and delivering humanitarian aid around the world. From a theoretical point of view, the effectiveness and utility of the United Nations differs depending on which perspective we choose to adopt. Liberals tend to have faith in the capacity of international organisations, primarily the United Nations, along with others organisations such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Health Organization and the World Bank, to uphold the framework of global governance. International organisations may not be perfect, but they help the world find alternatives to war through trade and diplomacy (among other things), which are staples of the liberal account of IR. On the other hand, middle-ground theories such as constructivism focus on ideas and interests. As constructivists focus often on the interactions of elite individuals, they see large organisations like the United Nations as places where they can study the emergence of new norms and examine the activities of those who are spreading new ideas. Realists, although they do not reject the United Nations completely, argue that the world is anarchic and states will eventually resort to war despite the efforts of international organisations, which have little real authority. Generally, realists believe that international organisations appear to be successful when they are working in the interests of powerful states. But, if that condition is reversed and an organisation becomes an obstacle to national interests, then the equation may change. This line of enquiry is often used by realists to help explain why the League of Nations was unsuccessful – failing to allow for Germany and Japan’s expansionist desires in the 1930s. A contemporary example would be the United States invading Iraq in 2003 despite the Security Council declining to authorise it. The United States simply ignored the United Nations and went ahead, despite opposition. On the other hand, liberals would argue that without the United Nations, international relations would likely be even more chaotic – devoid of a respectable institution to oversee relations between states and hold bad behaviour to account. A constructivist would look at the very same example and say that while it is true that the United States ignored the United Nations and invaded Iraq, by doing so it violated the standard practices of international relations. The United States disregarded a ‘norm’ and even though there was no direct punishment, its behaviour was irregular and so would not be without consequence. Examining the difficulties the United States faced in its international relations following 2003 gives considerable weight to the constructivist and liberal viewpoints. E-International Relations ISSN 2053-8626 Page 5/7International Relations Theory Written by Dana Gold and Stephen McGlinchey In contrast to liberals and constructivists, who value the United Nations to an extent, critical theories offer different perspectives. Marxists would argue that any international body, including the United Nations, works to promote the interests of the business class. After all, the United Nations is composed of (and was built by) states who are the chief protagonists in global capitalism – the very thing that Marxism is opposed to. Likewise, the United Nations can be said to be dominated by imperial (or neo-imperial) powers. Imperialism, according to Marxist doctrine, is the highest stage of capitalism. The United Nations, then, is not an organisation that offers any hope of real emancipation for citizens. Even though it may appear humanitarian, these actions are merely band-aids over a system of perpetual state-led exploitation that the United Nations legitimises. Poststructuralists would seek to question the meanings behind the role of the United Nations and the arbitrary power structure of the Security Council. They would also look at how key terms are used by the United Nations and what they mean. For example, examining the wording of concepts like ‘peacekeepers’ and ‘peacekeeping’ as opposed to ‘peace-making’ and ‘peace-enforcing’. Or similarly, ‘collective security’ versus ‘international security’: poststructuralists would be sceptical as to whether these terms really differ in meaning and would point to the power of language in advancing the agenda of the United Nations – or perhaps that of the powerful states controlling it. Even the name of the dominant organ of the United Nations – the ‘Security’ Council – begs the question, security for whom? A critique here would point out that at its core, the United Nations is primarily concerned with facilitating the national security of powerful states rather than human security. In instances like these, the tools that poststructuralism provides to deconstruct and analyse wording have real value. Feminists would look to how those in positions of power, whether politicians or those working for the United Nations such as officials and delegates, perpetuate a discourse of masculinity. Alternative feminine perspectives are still not adequately recognised and those in decision-making positions of power continue to be disproportionately male. Many countries that make up the United Nations marginalise the feminine voice domestically and thus perpetuate this at the international level. This is especially true of states where women hold more traditional roles in society and are therefore less likely to be considered suitable for what may be traditionally viewed as masculine roles, such as a delegate or ambassador. Finally, postcolonialists would argue that the discourse perpetuated by the United Nations is one based on cultural, national or religious privilege. They would suggest, for instance, that, as it has no African or Latin American permanent members, the Security Council fails to represent the current state of the world. Postcolonialists would also point to the presence of former colonial powers on the Security Council and how their ability to veto proposals put forward by other countries perpetuates a form of continued indirect colonial exploitation of the Global South. Hopefully, this brief reading of the United Nations from these varied perspectives has opened your eyes to the potential of IR theory as an analytical tool. We have barely scratched the surface, but it should be clear why so many divergent views are needed in IR and how, in a basic sense, they may be applied. Conclusion This chapter has surveyed the main approaches in IR theory, each of which possesses a legitimate, yet different, view of the world. It is important to note that the theories listed in this chapter are not exhaustive and there are many more that could be examined. However, this is a good starting point for achieving an overall understanding of the field and where the most common approaches are situated. Hopefully this has helped you consider your own theoretical inclination – or at least piqued your interest in determining where you might stand. It is not necessary to adopt one theory as your own. But it is important to understand the various theories as tools of analysis that you can apply in your studies. Using a theory to critique an issue, as this chapter did with the United Nations, is to understand the reason why these theories exist. Simply, they offer a means by which to attempt to understand a complex world. As international relations has grown in complexity, the family of theories that IR offers has grown in number. Due to its complexity and diversity, it is common for newcomers to have some difficulty in grasping IR theory, but this chapter should give you the confidence to get started. *Please consult the PDF linked above for any citation or reference details. E-International Relations ISSN 2053-8626 Page 6/7International Relations Theory Written by Dana Gold and Stephen McGlinchey About the author: Dana Gold is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada. Her PhD research explores how mental representations of the ‘Other’ are constructed and reproduced in the Israeli educational system. Stephen McGlinchey is Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the University of the West of England, Bristol and Editor-in-Chief of E-International Relations. Powered by TCPDF (www.tcpdf.org) E-International Relations ISSN 2053-8626 Page 7/7International Relations Theory Written by Dana Gold and Stephen McGlinchey
Using at least two news articles from the last four weeks, provide evidence to support a position on which major theory of international relations best explains world events. Use and list at least two
This PDF is auto-generated for reference only. As such, it may contain some conversion errors and/or missing information. For all formal use please refer to the official version on the website, as linked below. One World, Many Actors: Levels of Analysis in International Relations https://www.e-ir.info/2016/12/28/one-world-many-actors/ CARMEN GEBHARD, DEC 28 2016 This is an excerpt from International Relations – an E-IR Foundations beginner’s textbook. Download your free copy here. International Relations (IR) traditionally focused on interactions between states. However, this conventional view has been broadened over the years to include relationships between all sorts of political entities (‘polities’), including international organisations, multinational corporations, societies and citizens. IR captures a vast array of themes ranging from the growing interconnectedness of people to old and new forms of security, dialogue and conflict between visions, beliefs and ideologies, the environment, space, the global economy, poverty and climate change. The sheer number of actors and issues that are relevant to IR can be overwhelming. This can make it seem like a daunting task to not just study various aspects of IR but to try to grasp the bigger picture. All the more important are the analytical tools that scholars have developed in an attempt to make the field more manageable – not just for newcomers to the discipline but also for themselves. Social scientists in general spend quite a lot of time thinking about effective ways of structuring their thinking and of processing the complexity of the reality they endeavour to study, analyse and understand. A lot of this kind of analytical sense-making in IR happens in the form of theories. Scholars use theories to explain and capture the meaning of real-life events in the form of abstract interpretations and generalised assumptions. On the one hand, theories can be ‘empirical’ – based on measurable experiences, usually through observation or experimentation. Empirical theories generally seek to try to explain the world as it is . On the other hand, theories can be ‘normative’ – meaning that they build on principles and assumptions about how social interactions should occur. In other words, normative theories generally seek to present a version of world that ought to be . Before scholars develop or adopt any specific theories, however, they take what is often a subconscious decision in selecting the focus of their analysis. Following this, they normally stick with their choice without reflecting very much on alternative approaches to the issue. As students of IR it can be helpful to equip ourselves with a basic overview of the perspectives one can adopt when analysing just about any topic. This chapter will do this by looking at different ‘levels of analysis’ as one of the most common ways of structuring scholarly debates in IR. Levels of analysis Thinking of different levels of analysis in IR means that the observer and analyst may choose to focus on the international system as a whole, parts of the system in interaction with each other, or some of its parts in particular. What forms the parts or components of this system is again a matter of perspective. The international system can be conceived of as made up of states, groups of states, organisations, societies or individuals within and across those societies. IR generally distinguishes between three levels of analysis: the system, the state, and the individual – but the group level is also important to consider as a fourth. To be able to use the level of analysis as an analytical device, we need to be clear about what we are most interested in. We have to clarify for ourselves what it is exactly that we want to look at when discussing a particular theme or issue concerning the ‘international’ sphere. If we were to study and understand the 2008 global financial crisis and its consequences, for example, there would be various E-International Relations ISSN 2053-8626 Page 1/9One World, Many Actors: Levels of Analysis in International Relations Written by Carmen Gebhard ways of approaching, discussing and presenting the issue. To determine the level of analysis we would need to determine what those levels are and ask ourselves some questions, which we can explore below. The individual level Would we look at the actions of individuals responding to the financial crisis according to their own position or responsibilities? For example, a prime minister encountering the leader of another state to negotiate an important financial agreement, the head of a large corporation adopting a policy to rescue their business or even the situation of individual citizens and their attitude towards austerity measures? The group level Would we be more interested in the actions of groups of individuals, such as all voters of a country and the way they express their views in the general election, political parties picking up on the issue in their campaigns or social movements forming to counter the effects of the crisis on society? Would we be interested in activist/pressure groups like ‘Anonymous’ that seek to influence the global debate about the winners and losers of globalisation and capitalism? The state level Would we look at states as actors in their own right as if they were clearly defined entities that have certain preferences, and accordingly, look at their actions and decisions to find an answer to our analytical questions? Would we then be looking at how states interact with each other to deal with the crisis – in other words, their foreign policy? How they build off each other’s suggestions and react to international developments and trends? How they cooperate, say, in the framework of international organisations? Or would we be looking at them as competitors and antagonists, each of them pushing for a stronger position in what makes up the world economy? The system level Finally, might we try to look at the global level, the big picture, and try to grasp wider ranging dynamics that emerge from the global economic ‘system’ to affect its various components, states, national economies, societies, individuals? A much-debated example of this kind of system perspective has been presented by Daniel W. Drezner (2014), who argued controversially that the international system of financial governance did well at coping with the 2008 global financial crisis. He looked at how various parts of the system worked together to mitigate wider repercussions. After all, while we call it the global financial crisis, the world has really not changed much since then and you might argue it has been business as usual for the system. How the level of analysis determines our findings Being aware of various possible perspectives helps us to develop an understanding of where we stand as analysts and observers. It also guides us through the process of investigation and analysis. First of all, the particular perspective we assume determines the kind of information we would need to gather and look at in order to be able to answer our questions and draw meaningful conclusions. A system-level (‘systemic’) study would need to consider global linkages that go beyond single interactions between states. It would need to look at such things as the balance of power between states and how that determines what happens in global politics. This could include developments that are even outside the immediate control of any E-International Relations ISSN 2053-8626 Page 2/9One World, Many Actors: Levels of Analysis in International Relations Written by Carmen Gebhard particular state or group of states, such as the global economy, transnational terrorism or the internet. A state-level study would require careful consideration of what kinds of states we are looking at (how they are ordered politically), their geographical position, their historical ties and experiences and their economic standing. It would likely also look at the foreign policy of states, meaning their approach to and practice of interacting with other states. Key indicators of the foreign policy of states would be the policies proposed and decided by governments, statements of top-level politicians but also the role and behaviour of diplomats and their adjoining bureaucratic structures. A group level analysis would again need to try and break the analysis down into certain kinds of groups, how they relate to the state level and where they position themselves with respect to the global dimension of the issues they are dealing with. An example of this can be seen in the work of Engelen et al. (2012), who discuss the global financial crisis as the ‘misrule of experts’, pointing at the politicised role of technocratic circles and the relative lack of democratic control over the boards of large banks and corporations. A group-level analysis focusing on foreign policy would look, for example, at the role of lobbying groups and the way they influence national decision-making on an issue. If looking at the actions of individuals, we would likely also need to engage with the implications of human nature. This can be seen in the psychology and emotions behind people’s actions and decisions, their fears and their visions as well as their access to information and capacity to make a difference. Psychological factors do not only matter at the level of individual members of society or of a group. They are also an important factor in the analysis of foreign policy, whenever particular mindsets and perceptions of political leaders and key actors might influence their decisions and behaviour. Which one of these specific perspectives we choose would greatly influence our findings. In other words, the focus or level of analysis determines the outcome of our scholarly investigations. Meanwhile, the real-life events we are analysing remain the same, of course. That is a particularly important consideration if we aim at developing generalised conclusions from our observations. Strictly speaking, our conclusions would only be valid within the scope of the level of analysis we chose to focus on. Insights provided by other perspectives would remain outside the remit of our analysis. To illustrate this, let’s stick with the above example of the global financial crisis as it is one of the more debated issues in contemporary politics. From the system level If we studied the global financial crisis from a system-level perspective, for instance, we would expect to gain an insight into the global dynamics that make up the international financial system. Focusing on the big picture would enable us to develop a comprehensive model of explanation that could potentially capture the states and national economies within that global system. The explanations we derive from this systemic model, however, might exaggerate the system-level factors that have conditioned the global financial crisis. As a consequence, we might overlook a lot of psychological and sociological issues that would be the subject of a group-level or individual-level analysis. From the state level If we studied the same theme from a state perspective, we would develop a greater level of detail about specific circumstances in particular states as well as in their interaction with each other. The distinction here, as will be discussed further below, is not quite this rigid in practice as the state level is rarely looked at in isolation but more in its wider systemic context. For our example this would mean that the world financial system is taken as the framework in which state actors operate, so state action is often conditioned by factors beyond the state’s control. From the group level If we studied the issue from a group-level perspective, we would yet again reach a different result in our findings. We E-International Relations ISSN 2053-8626 Page 3/9One World, Many Actors: Levels of Analysis in International Relations Written by Carmen Gebhard would potentially emphasise aspects of the global financial crisis that would escape a more comprehensive global level analysis. This includes analysing the impact of the crisis on society and the livelihoods of individuals as exemplified in the UN Report ‘The Global Social Crisis’ (2011). From the individual level Finally, focusing on the individual level and, say, particular actions of specific personalities in the public realm – be they politicians, diplomats or bankers – would lead to us drawing different conclusions again about the causes and consequences of the financial crisis. The bigger picture In short, being aware and acknowledging the potential gaps in our observation – that is to say, all of what is not directly captured by our perspective or level of analysis – is important. Applying rigour in our analysis is also important. These guidelines for scholarly investigation are applied in many academic disciplines, including the natural sciences. What German theoretical physicist Werner K. Heisenberg (1962, 58) said in respect to research in his field very much also applies to IR; ‘we have to remember that what we observe is not nature in itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.’ Scholarly writings are nevertheless not always explicit about their particular perspective or level of analysis. So, as a reader, it is important to stay critical and to look closely and enquire whenever an argument presented to us appears to straddle potentially conflicting analytical lenses. As you start to read deeper on particular IR issues, always remind yourself of the importance of analytical clarity. Do not hesitate to expect and demand it even from renowned authors and established publications outlets. Note that clarity concerning one’s level of analysis does not necessarily mean that different perspectives could not be used in conjunction with each other – on the contrary. As will be argued further below, many of today’s political challenges are so complex that they require our analyses to span across various levels. Foreign policy A crucial area where the need to broaden our levels of analysis is particularly important is the analysis of the foreign policy of states. Hopefully, we can see this immediately due to the fact that any state activity that crosses their national borders, such as a foreign policy, will have implications for other states. We can look at foreign policy at the state level by analysing government policies and diplomatic decisions in isolation. However, governments are also actors on the world stage and their foreign policies contribute to what we call international relations. As highlighted above, foreign policy can also be explained by looking at the individual level, for example, the psychological and political factors that guide leaders and their advisers in their foreign policy decisions. Those decisions in turn then feed into national decisions that matter at the state level and in relation to other states. It can be helpful to think of foreign policy behaviour as something that is influenced by a range of factors. Some of them can be found within a state, in its political traditions, its socio-economic profile, its political party system or in the minds of leading politicians. Others come from outside, from the global system that builds the context within which states operate. This does not mean that every meaningful discussion of foreign policy needs to look at all these aspects: investigations at one particular level should be used very carefully to draw conclusions about a different level. Where the levels overlap, we need to be aware that each one will require us to look at different kinds of evidence. To help lock in the foreign policy example, we can draw on the case of British prime minister Tony Blair. Blair is often remembered for his decision to take the UK to war with Iraq in 2003, in coalition with the United States. To examine this important foreign policy decision from the individual level, we might draw on Blair’s personal convictions as a committed anti-terrorist with a strong moral sense based on his Christianity, something that helped him forge a common personal bond with the US president, George W. Bush. If we move our focus to the state level, we can judge equally as fairly that Blair might have been acting to preserve the Anglo-American ‘special relationship’ that was vital to British national security. The Iraq war period was a contentious one in Europe, with many European nations E-International Relations ISSN 2053-8626 Page 4/9One World, Many Actors: Levels of Analysis in International Relations Written by Carmen Gebhard rejecting American plans for war. If Blair had followed some of his European colleagues and not supported the war, then he may have put a vital bilateral relationship in danger. Finally, we move to the international, or systemic, level. Here, we are not so much focused on Blair himself since the systemic level often supposes that it is forces operating at the international level that shape behaviour. By this reading, Blair may have felt compelled to participate in what he saw as a shift in world order that was defined by the existence of dangerous transnational terrorism on one hand, and a coalition led by the United States on the other hand who were waging a war on terrorism. Of course, as has been noted already, you would also be able to argue that Blair’s motives might have been drawn from more than one of these levels – perhaps even all of them. Levels of analysis and the changing ambitions of a discipline Apart from making us more critical and discerning readers, being aware of the issue of different levels of analysis can also help us understand the way in which the academic discipline of IR has developed over time. To begin with, in the early days of IR – say, from 1919 until the after the Second World War – a lot of what could be called traditional or conventional IR was not concerned with any potential distinctions between different levels of analysis or theoretical perspectives. J. David Singer (1961, 78) lamented that scholars would simply roam up and down the ladder of organizational complexity with remarkable abandon, focusing upon the total system, international organizations, regions, coalitions, extra-national associations, nations, domestic pressure groups, social classes, elites, and individuals as the needs of the moment required. Singer’s criticism of this ‘general sluggishness’ (Singer 1961, 78) highlights another value in thinking of IR as something that can be studied from different and distinctive perspectives. Being clear about our level of analysis can prevent us from indulging in analytical ‘cherry-picking’, that is to say, from randomly gathering evidence across different levels in pursuit of an answer to our research questions. This ‘vertical drift’, as Singer calls it, can compromise the accuracy of our observations and undermine the validity of our findings. That in turn can obscure some of the detail that might have otherwise turned out to be the key to a conclusive explanation. This does not mean that any one piece of scholarly work must not consider aspects from different levels of analysis. However, when moving between different levels of analysis, we need to do so openly and explicitly. We also need to acknowledge the analytical consequences of drifting between levels: that our search for evidence will need to be comprehensive and that we might have to look at a different set of data or material for each additional aspect. For example, if you were to explain Germany’s decision to open its borders to hundreds of thousands of refugees in 2015 you might want to look at the external pressures as much as the personal motivations of German chancellor Angela Merkel. You would investigate factors at the system level (such as economic indicators, refugee flows, the attitude of key partners) and at the individual level (such as Merkel’s ideological background, her interests and perceptions of the problem as it emerges from statements and key decisions throughout her career). Each would contribute to an overall explanation, but you would need to be prepared to look at different sets of information. From the 1950s onwards, more and more IR scholars endeavoured to specify the focus of their analysis more clearly. The most prominent example was Kenneth Waltz’s Man, the State and War: A Theoretical Analysis (1959) which introduced an analytical framework for the study of IR that distinguished between what he referred to as different ‘images’ of an issue: the individual, the state and the international system. Waltz’s contributions to the discipline generated interest in analysing the international system as a place of interactions between states. From this perspective, the global system is conceived of as the structure or context within which states cooperate, compete and confront each other over issues of national interest. You might visualise it as a level above the state. Particularly important in that context is the distribution of power amongst states, meaning, whether there is one main concentration of power (‘unipolarity’), two (‘bipolarity’) or several (‘multipolarity’). Global circumstances are seen to condition the ability and opportunity of individual states and groups of states to pursue their interests in cooperative or competitive ways. The view of states being embedded in a global context traditionally comes with the assumption that our international system is ‘anarchic’. An anarchic system is one that lacks a central government (or international sovereign) that regulates and controls what happens to states in their dealings with each other. Although this idea of the global or system level as a context of anarchy features in many contributions to the IR E-International Relations ISSN 2053-8626 Page 5/9One World, Many Actors: Levels of Analysis in International Relations Written by Carmen Gebhard literature, the main focus remains on the state as the dominant unit of analysis. This enduring focus on the state, and therefore, on the state level of analysis, is referred to as the relative ‘state-centrism’ of the discipline. This means that IR scholars would generally not only regard states as the central unit of analysis as such, they also conceive of the state as a point of reference for other types of actors. From this perspective, the state acts as the arena in which state officials, politicians and decision-makers operate. The state is seen as the framework that encapsulates society and as the main point of reference for the individual. This predominant focus on the state is strongly related to an assumption IR scholars have made about the state also being the main location of power within the international sphere. This idea that the state is where power is primarily concentrated and located has to be seen against the historical context within which some of the most prominent IR scholars operated – the Cold War. It was an era in which much of international affairs appeared to be run via state channels and in line with particular state interests. Other actors that we would consider important from today’s perspective, such as those explored in later chapters in this book, seem to have had little leverage during the Cold War. This was because the period was dominated by great power confrontation and overwhelming military might on each side of the systemic conflict. Although the Cold War has long since passed, a lot of today’s political life remains managed in the state framework, based on issues like national security, domestic cohesion or internal stability. States form the primary kind of actor in major international organisations such as the United Nations, they feature prominently in the global discourse on most of the major challenges of our time, and states still hold what famous German sociologist Max Weber called the monopoly on violence – the exclusive right to the legitimate use of physical force. States continue to matter and thus have to be part of our considerations about what happens in the world and why. The state as a unit of analysis and frame of reference will certainly not go away any time soon, nor will the interactions of states as a key level of analysis in IR. IR as arena or process? It is important to highlight that thinking from the point of view of different – and to a degree, separate – levels of analysis as discussed up to this point has been contested by some. Leftwich (2004), for instance, has argued that thinking of international politics as something that takes place in a certain site or location is just one possible way of looking at things. He calls this the ‘arena’ approach given the way in which it focuses on the location, or ‘locus’ of interactions, on different platforms that provide the stage to particular events and instances of international relations. He distinguishes this ‘arena’ approach from what he calls the ‘processual’ approach, which assumes that international relations should not primarily be looked at as something that happens in a particular location or at a particular level of analysis but that it can instead be thought of as a complex web of processes that takes place between people. Some theoretical approaches have what is often an implicit preference for a conception of IR as a process rather than an arena with various distinctive levels. This is because they aim to highlight the meaning of interactions as opposed to the meaning of physical structures and locations, such as the state or particular institutions within states. An example of such a perspective can be found in environmentalism or so-called ‘Green Politics’, which traditionally refuses to think of the practice of international relations as something that can be studied at different ‘levels’ of analysis. This is mainly because analysts pertaining to this approach perceive any proposed division of political reality into arenas or any attempts at physically locating a problem in a particular context as arbitrary and misleading. They would also argue that thinking in those divisions conveys a false sense of structure, when all aspects of any societal challenge are fundamentally interconnected and should thus be studied in a ‘holistic’ way – meaning, in conjunction with each other. Another example of such a theoretical approach is feminism, which would argue that politics does not exclusively occur in public places such as state institutions and international organisations. Feminists would instead argue that ‘the personal is the political’, meaning that all human interactions carry and reproduce political meaning, and are therefore part of the intricate process of global affairs. Other thinkers would even go as far as to suggest that politics as a process is not even confined to the human species. Frans de Waal (1982) argues that even the interactions between animals, such as chimpanzees, can carry political meaning and should thus not be excluded from any E-International Relations ISSN 2053-8626 Page 6/9One World, Many Actors: Levels of Analysis in International Relations Written by Carmen Gebhard intellectual accounts of politics including its international and global dimensions . We will not develop these kinds of perspectives further at this point, but it is nevertheless useful to note how such contentions challenge any assumption of there being any kind of clear cut structure or specific levels of analysis that we can rely on as students and analysts of IR. Regardless of perspective, it is important to be aware of the multiplicity of actors and processes that make up the global system. Reminding ourselves of the complexity of international relations equips us with the ability to recognise any overgeneralisations as they are being presented to us by the media, by political leaders, activists, pressure groups and through our social networks, making us more informed, nuanced and rounded in our thinking. Beyond the state While the legacy of conventional Cold War-style thinking still looms large in contemporary analyses, researchers have been interested in developing non-state-centric and more fluid perspectives. We already mentioned environmentalism and feminism as examples of analytical perspectives that acknowledge the importance of actors other than the state, and the role of individuals in particular. Some analysts have not completely abandoned the state perspective but suggest looking into what exactly it is inside states that might be contributing to what happens in the global sphere. This could be related to their internal characteristics, such as their form of government, their economic profile, their cultural and ideological composition or their demography. This perspective includes a distinctive focus on the societies that make up a specific state as much as particular groups and individuals within those societies. Many analysts invite their readers to open the ‘black box’ that way. In other words, to break up the conventional IR habit of treating states as secluded units and containers of power, politics and societies. They also openly challenge the assumption that there is such a thing as ‘unitary’ state action. They would dispute, for instance, that ‘Germany’ – as a nation-state – would push for austerity measures in Greece. Rather, they would insist that related policies are initiated by specific German politicians that advocate such measures out of a particular sentiment, out of an individual interpretation of current developments, or for reasons that might be linked to their own political future or specific preferences of their electorate. Apart from a focus on the individual and group level of official decision-making, this ‘sub-state’ (meaning, ‘below the state’) level of analysis also attempts to expand the scope of scholarly investigation beyond formal interactions of the state, its official representatives and of its constituent parts to include informal relationships and non-official exchanges, such as flows and transfers of goods, information, communications, services and people – above and below the purview of the state. Contemporary IR is interested in looking at actors that operate across state borders instead of being specifically confined by them – for instance, citizens of a particular state or proponents of a particular ethnic or cultural minority within that state. The study of IR has gradually widened to include all kinds of interactions between a variety of actors, including the general public and individual members of it, people like you and me. Such an analytical move seems welcome if we think of how potent the influence of individual actors can be that do not officially represent or act on behalf of states or any of their constituent parts. An example of this is the activist Julian Assange, who spearheaded a widely publicised whistleblowing campaign leaking government secrets via the website WikiLeaks. Another example is Osama Bin Laden, who built a global terrorist network (Al Qaeda) based on his own religious and political visions. Both Assange and Bin Laden, although very different in nature, have had lasting impact on top-level global politics from the position of a private persona with no official political status or role. What is significant in this context is that the traditional conception of the state as the main framework of political interaction and the main point of reference for both society and the individuals within it has lost a lot of its meaning and importance. If we look at the world around us, state borders do not seem to accurately delimitate global affairs. The majority of global interactions – be they related to global finance, production, education, personal and professional travel, labour migration or terrorism – no longer occur via state channels the way they once did. We could say that the increased focus on non-state actors and cross-border issues has marked a close-to-revolutionary turn in IR; something that could be interpreted as a shift away from the inter-national (‘between-states’) to the ‘trans- E-International Relations ISSN 2053-8626 Page 7/9One World, Many Actors: Levels of Analysis in International Relations Written by Carmen Gebhard national’ (‘across/beyond-states’ and their borders). Robert Keohane, one of the leading scholars in the field, recently stated that ‘International Relations’ is no longer a suitable label and that we should instead refer to the discipline as ‘Global Studies’ or ‘World Politics’ (Keohane 2016). In today’s world, few societal and political issues, challenges and problems are neatly confined by the borders of individual states or even groups of states. Thinking about world affairs in ‘transnational’ rather than in purely ‘inter-national’ terms therefore seems more of an analytical necessity than just a choice. Individuals and groups interact across borders and thus relativise the meaning of space and territory as conventional IR knew it. International commercial aviation and the rapid spread of information technologies has further increased people’s mobility and the rate at which interactions occur across and beyond state borders. The ability for common people to store, transfer and distribute large amounts of information, the possibility for data to travel across the world in virtually no time, and the increasing availability of high-speed internet have not only changed lives at personal and community levels but also dramatically altered the general dynamics in politics and global affairs. Social media provide accessible platforms of communication that allow for the projection and promotion of ideas across borders at virtually no cost to the individual or group generating and advocating them. Various political agendas – be they progressive, revolutionary or outright dangerous – can unfold in a relatively uncontrolled and unregulated way, posing real challenges to governmental agencies and the political leaders that try to improve and direct them. Random individuals can potentially start a revolution from their homes, bypassing any conventional conceptions of power and transcending spatial and material boundaries to the point where political activity and even confrontation become weightless and immaterial altogether. A powerful illustration of this can be found in Thomas Neuwirth, an Austrian singer, who is most commonly known by the stage persona ‘Conchita Wurst’. The political messages displayed during a show at the Sydney Opera House in March 2016 multiplied and spread through social media. This eventually urged various representatives of the Australian government to take a stance on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues and also gave momentum to the global LGBT movement. A national politician from, say, Austria, would likely not have been able to influence the domestic debate in Australia to that extent, let alone spark a worldwide debate that way. IR and you This chapter has introduced you to the idea of levels of analysis as an analytical device that makes the variety of issues in IR more manageable and structured. More specifically, we distinguished between the system level, the state level, the group and the individual level, highlighting differences as well as connections between them. We have shown that the academic discipline of IR has gradually moved away from a dominant focus on the state and the system to deal more with the role and perspective of groups and individuals. As you are reading this book it should be an inspirational thought that never in the history of humanity has it been easier for individuals like you to become directly involved in the practice of international relations, or should we say transnational relations. As an individual you are not just a passive subject of international relations as directed by political elites and official state actors; you have the means of being an actor in your own right – or at the very least being counted as more scholars focus beyond the narrow confines of the state level of analysis. *Please consult the PDF linked above for any citation or reference details. About the author: Carmen Gebhard is Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of Edinburgh. She has a particular interest in small states as well as in inter-organisational relationships in security and defence matters. E-International Relations ISSN 2053-8626 Page 8/9One World, Many Actors: Levels of Analysis in International Relations Written by Carmen Gebhard Powered by TCPDF (www.tcpdf.org) E-International Relations ISSN 2053-8626 Page 9/9One World, Many Actors: Levels of Analysis in International Relations Written by Carmen Gebhard

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