CONTROVERSY LEVEL: Probably a 4. This read isn’t very controversial; because I’m really just highlighting the differences between domestic and international politics.
If you have ever wanted to know what is different between the two, then this article is for you! I’ll highlight a few concepts that have been discussed before; so if you aren’t sure what the condition of anarchy is, or what a state is, then you need to read up on those two topics here.
The payoff, for the reader, is that you get to talk about major powerholders (presidents, prime ministers, major bureau heads, business elite), international decisions that can alter the direction of history, it helps the reader help understand why wars occur, and discussions can lead to talk about super-secret CIA stuff.
First things first. How do domestic politics work?
In domestic state politics, there are rules. For a dictator, the rules are that (s)he makes the rules. In a republican system, the representatives agree to make decisions based on whatever rules are made (maybe 51% majority). In the United States, laws are made (at a federal level) only after it clears the House, Senate, AND the president.
No matter what the rules are, there are in fact rules. Also, there are mechanisms in domestic politics that dampen the condition of anarchy.
Whether restraining or securing the people, police forces exist to keep the peace (however it’s defined). In general, most countries don’t have people running around killing others indiscriminately. Also, most countries have some form of peace because the government provides (at least minimal) public goods (roads, water, schools, firefighters).
Overall, there are rules that powerholders, as well as citizens, must follow. If they didn’t follow these rules, then there would be no rules, and people would be doing literally whatever they want.
It’s true, there are some regions where there is increased violence. However, there is still SOME form of governance, whether it be cartels, drug (or human) traffickers, poachers, or warlords. So where governments can’t govern, there is always some authority making rules.
Thus, domestically speaking, there is some form of stability. Now whether or not that system is good or not, that’s a different question.
In the international system, each state (country) can do whatever it wants. There is no form of authority preventing states from doing whatever they want. The only authority that stops states is other states, and there is generally always the threat of force in international disputes.
So, in domestic politics, governing groups MUST make rules when they gain control. If they didn’t, then another group would eventually take over. In contrast, there is no principle like that in international politics. Order is lacking because it’s impossible to dictate the actions of other states — although states try many ways to manipulate actions. This is what anarchy is — the inability to create a stable environment, because each individual component is completely equal to do whatever it pleases.
*** Before the state system, it was an empire system by which city-states or empire-centric leaders took over land, and enslaved people to extract resources. So, way back in the day, it was even more ridiculous because there were no formal boundaries, and the name of the game was to secure resources or whatever else was needed.
So, for you business types, international relations/politics is the study of the ultimate free market. It’s a market where all states compete to create the best systems, create the most wealth, secure the most resources, and gain control over other states. No police, no supreme rule makers (hence no rules), and no way of fully knowing what the competition is up to.
That’s heavy. What about WAR!?
Well, because of this environment, war does occur. However, wars don’t occur sporadically and randomly. Instead, there are forces that decide that war is imminent, information campaigns to manipulate public views on war, as well as decisions made at top levels to plan, execute, and justify war. War is a pretty complex animal, and I wrote about it more in depth here. Just remember that war is always an alternative to resolving disputes or a method of political resolution at the international level.
So how can you keep peace?
That’s a good question. There have been many answers throughout history, from Greek times up until now.
Here are some methods people have come up with to avoid war and keep international peace:
Balance of power: This is a very colonial-centric idea. The idea itself is pretty abstract, but I’ll try to explain it as best as possible.
Imagine there are 3 states equal in military and economic strength.
Now, ideally each state would remain equal in size and power to prevent war. However, this isn’t reality. In reality, strength fluctuates, militaries grow and shrink, interests change, land or resources are desired, and leaders change. Regardless, the balance of power seeks to balance interests between the powerful states to avoid potential war.
So how can state 1 ensure that states 2 and 3 don’t ally together and invade and extract whatever from state 1? Well, it can’t, unless it allies with either state 2 or 3 before a possible invasion; which, in turn may prompt a different invasion. Really there are many different ways war could occur with these three states; because each state wants something separate.
The balance-of-power idea is that these states don’t ally at all. If they do, war has a higher probability of occurring.
Instead of allying with other powerful states, balance-of-power suggests that powerful states could just take over smaller, less-powerful states and extract whatever they need. Is it ethical? Naw. BUT, it does prevent large scale war. Well, sort of. Even colonial powers had wars with one another … all the time.
The drawback is that balance-of-power politics usually lead to colonization. And colonization can be pretty brutal, because the objective is to essentially send people over to extract resources and land … and free labor most of the time. In fact, France and other European countries were still colonizing into the 1960s. During the ‘60s, there was actually an effective application of terrorist tactics by the Algerians, and the French consequently left. If you’re interested, check out the film Battle of Algiers: it’s super good.
OK, so moderating a balance of power between states really only benefits powerful states themselves, and lesser states are essentially used for resource extraction. What’s next?
Alliances: Well, this was another idea that used the concept of balance of power, but linked more states together.
Sooo, in this configuration, groups of powerful states ally together, but there is still a balance amid those alliances. For time frame reference, think about the years leading up until WWI. I know lots of Americans don’t know much about this Euro-centric war; but America was involved in this war for about a year.
This alliance chain proved catastrophic. First, there was a whole mess of alliances that occurred leading up to 1914, and things actually seemed relatively stable, until one action caused a massive chain reaction that prompted what was probably the most-brutal war in human history (WWI). Germany was in the center of the storm, and Russia, France, Britain, Belgium, Austria, Serbia, Portugal, and many other states were involved in complex alliance configurations. The problem is that, if there was a formal alliance, when war occurred, then those alliances must be honored with military support. Also, sometimes a state was allied with two separate states against one another … and THEN WHAT!? What meant to be a security/insurance policy turned into a ridiculously devastating war.
In 1914, a high Austrian official was assassinated over ethnic grievances. This action prompted violent state reactions; and, as a consequence, the states who were allied with one another were drug in as well. Even the United States (which was an ocean away) was drug into the European conflict during the last year. Also, American intervention probably ended the conflict.
Why did this massive war occur again?
First, because of the alliance entanglement mess. States were obligated to militarily aid one another (you can research the tangled alliance mess). Second, the European public by-and-large supported war efforts, and war at that time was treated more as a sport than a human catastrophe. Third, there was a mechanized military revolution, and war was seen more-humane because of the new machines that aimed to kill people more efficiently; also, this was the first war to utilize biological weapons en masse.
Look at this alliance graph for ridiculously stupid alliance configurations:
So, alliance chains didn’t work. Next.
World organizations: So, the first attempt at this was the creation of a fancy international organization called the League of Nations (in reaction to the WWI debacle), which was a confederate coalition of states (minus the United States, who created the organization, ironically). The organization was meant to keep the peace. However, this organization was worthless, because it ignored Hitler’s actions to rearm Germany after World War I. The League would only be effective if states willfully take action, which they rarely do because it costs money, resources, and other stuff, and frankly, taking action doesn’t yield any substantial return for the states participating. Because of the League’s failure, WWII happened.
NEXT ORGANIZATION! Immediately after World War II, in 1945, the United Nations was established with the objective of preventing mass world wars as well as developing international cooperation. And, for the most part, it seems to have done that thus far; and will (hopefully) continue to do so.
How can these organizations help prevent war!?
Well, in theory, these organizations can encourage discussion, create streamlined international policy, broker political deals, and target international problems; something like a very weak global federal government. However, in reality, the United Nations is still a confederate organization, and states do whatever they want.
But the United Nations does act as an international forum where leaders can yell, scream, talk about what they want/need, and that information sharing is never a bad thing. By providing a place for states to speak and share information, there is less guesswork about intentions and interests. Also, there are a whole host of translators, initiatives, and other programs aimed at preventing super-bad things. Even throughout the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the United States were member states.
Also, the United Nations does have peacekeeping forces that are available to be used. However, the catch is that the security council members must agree to their use. These peacekeepers are the sum of contributions from different countries across the world; also, they are paid with a global fund, so I don’t think employees pay taxes! The bummer is that peacekeepers often get a bad rap of not protecting, ignoring, or exploiting people. … So there are problems there.
While the United Nations is nice and all, there are other global organizations that may be seen as opposite of what the United Nations does. For instance, NATO was created to be a coalition of like-minded western countries that pooled together troops in order to restrict then-Soviet actions during the Cold War. In reaction, the Soviet Union created the Warsaw Pact organization to counteract NATO. So, where the United Nations wants global cooperation, there are other organizations created to push forward the interests of like-minded states. So, in contemporary times, NATO is marketed as a peacekeeping group rather than a pro-western military alliance; but I’m not sure Russia and other countries see it that way.
So, do world organizations help? Well, there hasn’t been a great power war since World War II … yet. That’s good. While the League was worthless, perhaps the United Nations can actually accomplish something. I don’t think anybody is quite sure yet. Even though the United Nations has existed since 1945, most of the actions of the organization still depend on state cooperation, which varies depending on the state. Also, these organizations differ from separate alliance organizations like NATO or the Warsaw Pact countries. Where NATO can react more-effectively, it may be seen as a threat to opposing coalitions; and the United Nations is notoriously slow to react to anything. ALTHOUGH the employees at the UN are very productive, produce meaningful reports, and monitor important international crimes; but the states are the slowest, and most-important, reactionary components.
While I won’t write about any more development mechanisms in this blog, I will say that there are also global NGOs facilitating information flows, alternative regional development organizations, and international law-making bodies that aim to maintain international peace. All of which have varying degrees of success.
1945 is the year to remember!
The year 1945 is the most-important year for international relations because it was when power was divided among the world’s two most-powerful states, and consequently triggered a Cold War for global ideological (capitalism v. communism) and political (representative/democratic v. totalitarian) dominance. This prompted intense competition, an arms race, wars fought by smaller states, and an era of intense paranoia and spying.
The Yalta Conference in 1945 is where the Soviets and Americans decided which country was in charge of reconstruction where. Incidentally, the United States took western Europe, and the Soviets took the east. Berlin was split in half, because technically the Soviets militarily took half of Berlin during the German defeat. This was such a big deal that there was a wall built that was patrolled by military and police to ensure the boundaries were upheld.
So, in some ways, the Cold War produced a stable system. Because there were only two powers to balance, most wars were fought among smaller states (with exceptions). One of the primary drawbacks of the system was that there was looming threat of war between the two states; and if that were to occur, it would be another world war. COLD WAR BLOG TO COME!
AFTER the Cold War, there was, and (arguably) still is, one major power (the United States). The major power status really depends on how you measure state strength. I hear some people chatter that China will soon be a major player … but that would require further justification. So, for now, I would say it’s safe to say there is only one dominant state. Some commentators said that the single-state power dominance would keep the world stable; but then terrorism ramped up as a stability-threatening global force.
The rise of terrorism challenges the state system because terrorists don’t belong to any one state, and terrorists generally seek to dismantle traditional power structures in favor of theologically based power systems. What are the real intentions? Not sure, but it seems like the anti-western rhetoric suggests that leaders genuinely want to scale back globalism, minimize democratic ideas, and implement any combination of dictatorial fascism or oligarchical theocracy.
In the future, there is lots of stuff to write about. If the reader is interested, I will be writing about the Cold War, nuclear weapons, terrorism, small arms (my particular speciality), globalism, colonialism, and a variety of other topics related to international politics. Also, I am still going to write continually about domestic politics, because it’s important.
So, now you know the difference between international and domestic politics, and some of the strategies meant to dealt with the international condition. Fool.