In 1991 a US-led coalition launched, with the agreement of UN, a wide military operation against the rogue regime of Saddam Hussein that had attempted to invade Kuwait in order to take over its staggering oil resources. George Herbert Bush, at the head of the coalition that was to rescue Kuwait, explained that the "First Gulf War" had been set off by the greediness of a tyrant, but above all by the selfishness of a state that had tried to seek its national interest at the detriment of another state. The operation was named "Desert storm", as if the war was bound to happen, as if its occurrence was as predictable and natural as the sound of thunder during a tempest. Unarguably the Americans reckoned that the war was necessary, and even natural, as Saddam Hussein's Iraq was jeopardizing the "new world order". It is scarcely surprising that G.H.W Bush, 41st president of the United States, had served as vice-president during the two Reagan presidencies, and that he was himself a staunch patron of a realist foreign policy.
These attempts to present war as a natural consequence of human nature and of the structure of the international system seem to be the brand of a realist foreign policy. But, as Kenneth Waltz once put it, "are wars so akin to earthquakes in being natural occurrences whose control or elimination is beyond the wit of man" ? Is it really one of the main features of the realist theory of international relations to analyze war as a phenomenon bound to occur?
[...] Kenneth Waltz, Men, the state and war, p.1 Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan Kenneth Waltz, First image : International conflict and Human behaviour, in Men, the state and war, p.16 Milton Jill Steans & Lloyd Pettiford, Realism in Introduction to international relations Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan Jill Steans & Lloyd Pettiford, Realism in Introduction to international relations Machiavelli, in the Fourth book of On the Art of War wrote: “There's no avoiding war ; it can only be postponed at the advantage of others”. [...]
[...] The realist thinking, however, denies that “arbitrary rulers are more inclined to favor war than are the people at any claiming that the behavior of the States does not depend upon its government and its internal structures, but on the way it will relate to other states. The realist theory particularly the neo-realists has studied in depth the influence of the system on the behavior of states, instead of focusing exclusively on the internal endogenous reasons for war. The international system can be compared to Hobbes' state of nature, applied to the relations between states. [...]
[...] First of all, realism applies very pessimistic views on human nature to the behavior of states: like men, they will act accordingly to their own interest, to the detriment of others. These naturally aggressive and selfish intents of states create nationalistic clashes and ultimately war. Secondly, the “fatality” of war is increased, for the realists, by the fact that the international system is characterized by anarchy, which dictates the states' constant, crave for security and the “competitive power” politics”. Hegemonic behaviors are even justified by this “natural” order. [...]
[...] Realism naturalizes war, in that it applies pessimistic assumptions on human nature to the aggressive behavior of states. Nevertheless, human nature is undoubtedly an endogenous explanation of war. We need now to study realist claims that self-help and power politics are given by anarchic structure exogenously to process”. The 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant had argued that, if States would all adopt a democratic form of government, eternal peace could be achieved. Indeed, he believed that the violence that is inherent to nature of man could be durably overcome by an effective set of democratic institutions. [...]
[...] Finally, realism definitely rejects the idea that a “Leviathan” a sovereign authority regulating the behavior of states could be set up in order to put an end to the anarchic international system. Thomas Hobbes already agreed with this statement, arguing that states, contrary to men, were not “equally vulnerable”. Therefore, the most powerful states do not feel the need for a “collective security” as they are able to guarantee it themselves. One might argue that this statement explains perfectly the US foreign policy: their participation to international organizations is nothing but a token measure, because they do not hesitate to break the United Nations rules, probably considering that abiding by them is the prerogative of declining European countries . [...]
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