Power Politics: The Framework ProvidedUnderstanding contemporary world politics is by no means an easy feat. To merely begin the process, one must first have an ample knowledge of historical as well as modern trends in international relations, the issues at hand both now and in the past and major events that affect the field. Several groups and styles of thinking have developed throughout the centuries to make attempts at comprehending world politics and most successfully carrying out international relations. One of these styles of thinking is often called power politics and can be referred to as realpolitik or realism.
This school of thought focuses on ways in which power affects the international arena by assessing how states influence each other as the most important actors in world politics. Realpolitik pays attention to political power matters such as military preparedness and industrial capacities, ignoring issues of morality, ideology and other social aspects as reasons for actions of states. In this way, realism sets up a strong framework for understanding short-term, interstate relationships, yet leaves the comprehension of deeper, long-term issues weak in the background.
Power politics maintains that human nature is generally selfish. This belief comes from their understanding of the trends in international relations. They feel that in the international field, states are the most important actors which act upon their own individual interests. Therefore, a state is deemed powerful if it has the ability to maintain its national interests by influencing other states. These trends date back thousands of years to the beginning of war. Once states came into existence, selfishness caused territorial expansion and war to soon follow. Countries began developing armies to carry out their interests with force, and their neighbors had to respond with their own armies. This began the trends that lead to power politics. The need to focus on defense superseded the need to address more liberal issues. Power politics are not only used in matters of war and defense. The general definition of power can be seen as a states ability to get its way, making other states do things that are in the interest of the first state. In realpolitik, states use militaristic, economic, and diplomatic strengths to influence other actors from whom they desire something. The general idea is that population, territory, geography, natural resources, and GDP are all factors that give a state potential power to affect international politics. To most accurately measure a states power in short-term issues, realism looks to military-industrual capabilities and how well the states bureaucracy is run. A large part of the focus on defense in power politics comes from the idea of norms of behavior in a world that is basically anarchistic. The international stage, lacking a central government to make and enforce laws, is a fairly dangerous place to be an actor. Realism, assuming that there is no solution for the worlds anarchy, turns to practices that have taken place throughout history instead of looking to create such a government or international organizations to keep order. There is a certain amount of dependency that lies on these norms of behavior, the most important of which being the idea of sovereignty. This is the idea that states have the right to carry out any policies they wish within their national borders. Respecting sovereignty keeps international relations at a less complicated, less dangerous level. If states were to meddle constantly in the internal affairs of others, there would be far more on which to focus, and far more conflicts to create global upsets. Another behavior that realpolitik uses to keep international relations from reaching unbearable ends in an anarchistic world can be found in the common practice of bargaining. Considering the use of leverage, it is the view of power politics that the more powerful state (that is, the state with the most developed military and highest GDP, et cetera) will achieve the greatest profits in a bargaining situation. The reason this works at keeping some form of international order has to do with cost-benefit analysis. Each state in a situation has to weigh the cost of the actions that could possibly be taken versus the potential benefits of taking such actions. The more powerful state, obviously, has the ability to take greater risks without losing a great amount. The weaker state is forced to go along without conflict because it does not have the necessary might to follow through in order to achieve its own goals. This pattern in international relationships supports the lack of movement to end world anarchy by accepting that conflicts cannot get out of hand due to the lack of resources of certain states. It is perhaps the realist view of anarchy in the international system that draws attention a principle weakness of power politics. Liberal internationalists have a different idea of how the lack of an international government should be addressed. Instead of accepting things how they are, liberals have a sense that, as a global community, states should work to form international organizations that bring states closer while attempting to find the end of global anarchy. These organizations work to create laws and agreements so that states will have guidelines to follow in their actions. Power politics, in merely acting as if anarchy is the only way in which the world can exist, turns away from ambition and optimism to leave things as they are, allowing no room for improvement, but simply a permanent maintenance of the status quo. Although we must agree that the trends and events of history have shown that power politics has kept us rather safe in consideration of anarchy, the lack of desire for improvement is somewhat disturbing. Perhaps the realist tendency to forgo ambitions towards the long-term future of the world can be linked to the idea of a selfish human nature that works to further the goals of their own state. Idealists, on the other hand, focus on human nature as being inherently good. They see rationality not as improving an individual states position, but bettering the status of the world. To view the international, long-term good, one must keep collective goods in mind. A collective good is something , such as clean air, that is beneficial to the entire world. Liberals feel that a state must give up some of its selfish qualities in order to give to the international community as a whole. Realism often ignores this as a requirement . Another aspect of world politics to which realism fails to draw significant attention is the existence and importance of sub-state actors in foreign policy and international events. While liberals believe that the state is not necessarily the most significant voice in the international field, realists tend to think that the state is far more important than any actors within it and reflects only one set of goals and preferences. Therefore, those following the trends of power politics tend to miss a lot of the big picture. They do not take into consideration that a state may act in terms of its religious or ideological views, instead believing that nations act solely for power purposes. Also, power politics doesnt address the influence which interest groups, ethnic groups, and organizations have on the foreign policy of each nation. This leaves a large portion of international relations in the shadows. Power politics helps us to analyze and respond to issues of national security and national interest. One can clearly see the direct relationship between the size of a countrys army and that countrys ability to achieve its goals in the international arena by studying realism. We can look at a country that has a large GDP and much territory and know that that state is not likely to be pushed around on the international stage. One example of how power politics can be used to effectively analyze a modern issue is the conflict between Iraq and Kuwait. When Iraq invaded Kuwait within the last decade, it was in the national interest of the United States to get involved due to the location of the conflict. With the annexed nation an important actor to keeping Iraq from having control of the Persian Gulfs oil, the US used its superior military force to support its own national interest. This example shows us that a nation with a severely higher GDP and a preferable army can use force to influence other states. Despite the fact that power politics helps to analyze many of the worlds issues, it fails to analyze and represent others. As previously mentioned, realism ignores many of the important issues within the field of international relations. These issues include sub-state actors, alternate goals of states, the importance of change in the global arena to improve the quality of the world, and the collective good. It is because of the complexities of the international stage that we must not assume that one view of world politics is correct and the others are wrong. We must take into consideration each school of thought in order to understand how the world works.
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