Discussion Questions from class:

1) Realists argue that states are the principal actor in the international system. Is that as true today as it was in earlier times? Why or why not? 2)Do you agree that the security of the state is/ should be the driving force behind foreign policy decisions? Why or why not?

To answer this question we must first answer why states are considered the principal actor in the first place. The second question that needs be answered is why the power of state as principal actor is eroding. Lastly, where is primacy of agency shifting in the international system. I'll use war as an example of shifting capabilities and agency. In my view war is the defining characteristic of the international system. Thus as the state changes war changes, in this case from industrial war to the war amongst the people.

Why realists consider the state the principal actor center around two concepts of parsimony and the use of force. Parsimony is the idea of 'less is better,' that there is a preference for the least complex explanation for phenomenon or “adopting the simplest assumption in interpretation of data or formulating a theory” (cited from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/parsimony). To create a cohesive theory one must take into account the idea that, “human affairs are founded on an underlying order,” and be able to, “sacrifice detailed descriptions for broad observations”(Viotti, 19-21). The state as a concept is able to satisfy both conditions. As Morgenthau writes in Politics among Nations: “What is true of the general character of international relations is also true of the nation state as the ultimate point of reference of contemporary foreign policy. While the realist indeed believes that interest is the perennial standard by which political action must be judged and directed, the contemporary connection between interest and the nation state is a product of history...” (Jervis, 11). Morgenthau also makes the argument that, “Intellectually, the political realist maintains the autonomy of the political sphere...he thinks in terms of interest defined as power...the political realist asks, 'How does this policy affect the power of the nation?” {emphasis mine} (Jervis, 13). To Morgenthau the study of international relations centers around the power of the nation that is separate from other fields of study like economics, lawyer, etc. Morgenthau is creating parsimony within his theory by defining the purview to the state/nation and its pursuit of interest/power.

Waltz is explicit in why he chose the state as the governing unit, “States are not and never have been the only international actors. But then structures are defined not by all of the actors that flourish within them but by the major ones.” Waltz's theory is defined by the major actors, in this case the state, and not necessarily any other actor. Waltz goes further and says, “...to call states like units is to say that each state is like all other states in being an autonomous unit. It is another way of saying that states are sovereign...to say that a state is sovereign means that it decides for itself how it will cope with its internal and external problems...” (Jervis, 36).

Waltz's concept of sovereignty divides the problems of the state into explicit spheres of internal and external, with the internal falling under the purview of only the domestic management of the state and the external being the international system. The domestic in Waltz's view and to a degree Morgenthau holds no water in terms of analysis of what occurs on the international level. This is what is called the black box. The only consideration for incomes and outcomes on the
international level is the external calculus and behavior of the state.

In terms of the pursuit of war I would say that Morgenthau and Waltz's view creates the paradigm known as industrial war. Industrial War ties the people to the state and then the state creates the military to fight other nation's military. The military was viewed as continuing the state's policy by other means. In these types of war the goal was to defeat the enemies industrial capacity and military then create or force a political solution in line with the states policies. The “people,” were not necessarily the objective but rather a tool that produced soldiers and weapons. The state was the primary actor because it could harness and focus the people into creating the tools for war. In other words the sovereign state was the only actor capable of gathering the resources to create and maintain the high expense of creating the agents of mass organized violence. The state had the monopoly on violence.

What causes the shift from industrial war to the war amongst the people? The obvious
answer strikes me as being the collapse of the Soviet Union and the evolution globalization (late eighties/early nineties). But I think the shift starts with nuclear weapons and the strategy of flexible response. Nuclear weapons have the unique distinction of being the peak expression of the industrial war paradigm and its destroyer. Nukes could reach directly into the state and shatter the black box, so to speak. To gain advantage emphasis was switched from total war,
that now carried the threat of annihilation, to the concept of limited war based on the principles of insurgency and counterinsurgency (COIN for short). At the core of this doctrine
was the ability to co-opt individuals and individual groups within the state and create a political order in the domestic arena to explicitly change the nature of the external from
pro-communist/socialist to capitalist or to make sure that a certain political order wouldn't take hold and flourish. While the policy of insurgency/counterinsurgency occurred within the context of the state driven policy of deterrence/containment it is important to note that
the only “hard successes” of the Cold War were using these methods.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, new states emerged, technology disseminated, and small arms put in the hands of millions, the paradigm of war shifted from industrial to amongst the people. This paradigm is explicitly in contrast to how Morgenthau and Waltz understood the international system. Rupert Smith, the creator of this paradigm, defines war amongst the people as: “The ends for which we fight are changing from the hard objectives that decide a political outcome to those of establishing conditions in which the outcome may be decided, we fight amongst the people, not on the battlefield, our conflicts tend to be timeless, even unending, we fight also so as to preserve the force rather than risking all to gain the objective, on each occasion new uses are found for old weapons and organizations which are the products of industrial war and the sides are mostly non-state, comprising some form of multinational grouping against some non-state party or parties” (Smith, 271). Smith's paradigm is completely in contra to what was cited from Waltz and Morgenthau, the black box has not only been opened it has been torn asunder. More academically, the system has changed and with it the individual units themselves, making them less like black boxes.

Even though the understanding and concept of the state system and war has changed, the basic idea  behind foreign policy hasn't. Security, in its various forms and definitions, should always drive foreign policy. The basic nature of any social contract between the state and individuals is that the people give up certain rights or privileges in exchange for
protection of the state. The state's responsibility to look after and provide for the people, and the people reciprocate by offering resources in terms of tax and manpower. Waltz makes the point that there is a difference in terms of capabilities between states but the
concept is the same, even among certain non-state actors like Hamas and Hezbollah. Security and the national interest is always the goal of any successful player in the international system, a lack of pursuing security and national interest is the equivalent of national

Addition: I wonder when robots and cyberwarfare fall among or within these paradigms? Are they their own paradigm? or just an addendum to the war among the people? Interesting stuff...more posts to come!


International Relations Theory by
Viotti and Kauppi

International Politics by Art and

Utility of Force by Rupert Smith