Theory of International Politics

Theory of International Politics

"Theory of International Politics," as written by Kenneth N. Waltz purports to understand great power politics from the standpoint of "structural" or "systemic anarchy."

When an international system's organizing principle is one of self-help----notwithstanding the presence of the United Nations Security Council or Peacekeeping troops which it can commission to defend and help another country ward off a threat----how then do great powers actually behave across spatial temporal constraints ?

Kenneth N Waltz argued that a theory of international politics has to be predictive and parsimonious. By relying only on one independent variable, which is systemic anarchy, it should be able to predict the propensity of balance of power, arms races, security dilemma, indeed, even the tendency to go nuclear.

But an international system is not an amorphous entity too. It can be bipolar, tripolar, and multipolar, or, occasionally, uni-multipolar, as when the United States was temporarily triumphant in the Cold War, before China and Russia staged a come-back in recent decade. Under which type of polarity is the international system less prone to an all out rivalry and conflict ?

This book argues that rivalry will always be endemic among the great powers, as they will try to maximize their powers. But the manner and time by which conflicts can break out cannot be foretold. Invariably, when the world has more nuclear weapons, thus allowing each power to cancel out the first launch advantage of the other, then the world is likely to be more peaceful.

Such a view is vehemently disagreed by Scott Sagan at Stanford University who argued that more fingers on the nuclear trigger will permit the higher probability of an accidental launch. As is always the case with international politics, both academics are justified to hold their views.

But from a moral standpoint, if peace is only possible, when two or more sides are holding each other hostage, then the quality of peace is also highly questionable. Theory of international politics does not have any ethical dimension or consideration at all; making it divorced and removed from certain realm of human actions completely.

The mechanical rendition of the international system may appeal to the realist who argue that they are simply describing what is, not what should be. But all structures are human constructs too. In this sense, Kenneth N Waltz's work could not create a powerful and compelling answer, invariably, allowing constructivists like Nicholas Onuf and Alexander Wendt to challenge the theory of structural realism.