Applying Perspectives on International Relations to US Foreign Policy

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    • 00:00

      [MUSIC PLAYING]

    • 00:12

      PROFESSOR NAU: I'm Henry Nau, Professor of Political Scienceand International Affairs at the ElliottSchool of International Affairs at George WashingtonUniversity.I want to talk to you a bit about a casestudy of American foreign policy, which illustratesthe application of the theories of international relationsto world affairs.I'm going to talk about four traditions

    • 00:35

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: of American foreign policy.That is, attitudes towards American foreign policythat have emerged from certain historical periods,and that also reflect a certain logic illustratingone of the theories of international relations,and how those various traditions viewthe overall sort of posture of American policy

    • 00:58

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: towards the world, and finally, to illustrate those fourapproaches, specifically in the caseof the contemporary controversy about the Iranian nuclearprogram and about Iran's position in the Middle East.

    • 01:19

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: So let me begin by talking about the traditionsthat we have developed from various historical periodsover time.The first tradition, which we call nationalism,was one that was identified with the early republic.

    • 01:40

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: It's generally a position taken by smaller, new,or weak nations, because it tendsto focus upon the security of that country alone.It is a way of thinking about American foreign policy thatsaid, look, we're principally interested in our defenseand security.We want to try to do everything we

    • 02:00

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: can to defend our borders, to defend the immediate sealanes next to our borders, and otherwise, wedon't worry too much about the rest of the world.We expect that other countries will alsobe interested in their security, and they will betaking care of their borders.And so there's no real need for usto be extensively involved in international affairs.

    • 02:21

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: And of all things, we want to avoid permanent alliancesand entanglements.Now, this tradition began with George Washingtonwhen he left office.In 1796, he gave a famous farewell addressin which he told us to avoid these kinds of entanglements.He warned us against the ambition of peoplelike Thomas Jefferson, who was very sympathetic, for example,to the French Revolution, and maybe even had

    • 02:42

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: some ideas of intervening in the French Revolution.And he was equally sort of skepticalabout the ideas of Alexander Hamilton, whowas interested in alliances, especially maybean ongoing alliance with Great Britain.George Washington felt that the United Statesshould be independent.It should act unilaterally whenever it could.And that was the best policy.

    • 03:05

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: That nationalist policy was the best foreign policythat we could pursue.Now, realism is the second foreign policy tradition.It comes along a little later in the American experience,after the Civil War when America has consolidated its power.It, first of all, resolved its identity problemsand now consolidated its power, and is

    • 03:27

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: ready to take its place on the world stage.So realism is also, like nationalism, focusedon security-- on national security--but it is also aware of the fact,or it believes, that you're goingto have to manage the balance of power in the world.You can't simply rely on other countriesto take care of themselves.

    • 03:49

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: You're going to have to get into alliancesfor the purpose of trying to manage the balance of powerworldwide.Your objective is to try to preserve world order, not justnational security, but world order,within which you have to provide for your national security.So you get, for example, presidentslike Theodore Roosevelt, who came along

    • 04:09

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: in the late 19th century or early 20th century,and who advocated that the United States take its placeas a great power at the table of great powernegotiations in the world.Today, for example, we have people like Henry Kissinger,who are great proponents.He just wrote a book, in fact, on world order,indicating sort of the realist perspectivethat it's not enough just to provide for the narrow security

    • 04:31

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: of your country.You also have to be concerned about stability in the world.Now, realists do not believe that you should be involvedin trying to spread freedom.That's the third tradition that advocates that.That's liberal internationalism.And liberal internationalism comes along againaround the time of World War I in the person of WoodrowWilson, and then again in World War II in the presidency

    • 04:53

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: of Franklin Roosevelt.Liberal internationalism says that we reallyshould be about the business of transforming the world,that is, making it a better place.Not just simply living with the balance of power,not just simply worrying about howto manage the balance of power, but weshould be trying to get beyond the balance of power.We should be trying to create international institutions,

    • 05:13

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: like the League of Nations, for example,or in the case of Roosevelt, the United Nations--institutions that can help us to resolve problems peacefullyand that can eventually eliminatethe role of military arms and balancing power in worldaffairs.Both Wilson and Roosevelt came homefrom the two world wars saying to the American people

    • 05:33

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: that we will never again be involvedin the balance of power.We want, in fact, to establish these internationalinstitutions that can offer us the prospectof collective security-- not justnational security, but global security.Now, liberal internationalism believesthat the best way to do this is through diplomacy, trade,and negotiations.

    • 05:54

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: It is not very keen on using forcein the process of trying to negotiate a better world.Conservative internationalism is a fourth tradition.Probably the most recent tradition, I would arguecomes out of the post-World War II period.All right, and it suggests that if we'reserious about spreading freedom, we're

    • 06:15

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: going to have to recognize that non-free countries are goingto push back, and that we are thereforegoing to have to at least be willing to counterbalancethose unfree countries, or those non-democratic countries,if we have any hopes of defending existingfree countries and possibly expandingthe number of free countries.

    • 06:35

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: So conservative internationalism focuses a little bit moreon the direct confrontation of ideologiesand is a little bit more skepticalthan liberal internationalism that youcan achieve a lot through international institutionsas long as those ideologies are significantly different.This tradition is identified with Harry Truman,

    • 06:59

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: who came along after World War II,and who, by 1948, identified kindof a conflict between the free world and the communist world,and declared in effect what became the Cold War.Truman was putting more emphasis on the factthat the ideological conflict between the UnitedStates and the Soviet Union limited what we could achieve

    • 07:21

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: in international institutions.And he basically abandoned the United Nations,something maybe which Franklin Roosevelt would not have done.And Franklin Roosevelt continued to be the American president.Another president that representsthis approach is of course Ronald Reagan, whocame into office very much opposed to the realists,like Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger,because he believed that we had to pursue a foreign policy that

    • 07:45

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: did more than just stabilize the world.More than just create world order,we had to in fact pursue a foreign policy thatexpanded freedom, that rolled back the frontiers of freedom,and that enlarged the number of countries that were free.Eventually of course, you can argue, at least,that Ronald Reagan had something to do with the end of the ColdWar and the winning of the ideological competition

    • 08:06

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: with the Soviet Union.After the Cold War ended, some 45 countriesbecame democratic, suggesting that therewere powerful underlying ideological forces thatwere driving the original Cold War conflict between the SovietUnion United States.Had it just been power factors, as realists would argue,then idealists would say it would not

    • 08:28

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: have affected, that is, it would have resultednot in the disappearance of the Soviet Union,but simply a decline in the Soviet Union.Yet of course, the Soviet Union actually disappeared.So something must have been more powerful underlying.And conservative internationalistswould argue that that's the ideological forces at work.

    • 08:49

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: These different positions have arisen historically,and they have a certain inherent logic of their own.And they reflect-- to that extent,they reflect the theories of international relationsthat we have talked about.Nationalism and realism are perspectives

    • 09:09

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: that focus primarily upon material forcesin international affairs.That is, they are primarily concernedabout military and economic power,about security of geography and territory.And the biggest influences on whathappens in international affairs comefrom these material factors.

    • 09:31

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: If a country is an island, it has a better chanceof surviving than if it's a country thatexists in the middle of a continent, like Poland.If it is surrounded by mountains,it's better off than if it is not surrounded by mountains.And so these two traditions reflectthe logic of the realist perspective

    • 09:52

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: on international affairs.Now, nationalism as I've already suggestedwill argue that each country can take care of itself,that that's sufficient for countriesto preserve their individual security.And that there's no need for any kind of a global order.That, in fact, what happens is self-balancing emerges.

    • 10:12

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: Countries take care of themselves and, in the process,everybody takes care of themselves.It's kind of a free market idea of how security works.Realism, as I suggested, already has the sensethat we have to do more than justallow countries to defend themselves.We have to think about world order.We have to have great powers assuming more responsibilities

    • 10:33

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: in the world.And we need to think about stability.Now, the other two traditions, liberal and conservativeinternationalism, they draw more from the liberal and idealistictheories of international politics.Liberal internationalism draws primarilyfrom the liberal theories of international politics,namely, a lot of emphasis on diplomacy,international institutions, collective multilateral

    • 10:55

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: interactions, trade, et cetera.Conservative internationalism draws moreupon the ideologies of the individual countries.It worries more about whether countriesare far apart from one another or closer to one another,and worries that, if we're serious about spreadingfreedom, we're going to encounter oppositionfrom non-free countries and therefore, we're

    • 11:15

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: going to have to be willing to balance poweragainst those countries in order to get those countries to takenegotiation seriously.Otherwise, those countries will try to achieve their objectivesoutside negotiations.Now, let's look at an example todaythat illustrates these traditions as they compete,

    • 11:37

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: as they conflict with one another,in terms of how the United States should deal with Iran.We're in the process of negotiating with Iran todayto end the nuclear program of Iranand also to stabilize the increasing sort of power

    • 11:58

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: of Iran in the Middle East.Now, how do the different traditionsargue we should go about this?Well, the nationalist tradition, whichis very prominent in the debate todayabout American foreign policy, says, in effect,that we should not get involved in this particular conflict.The Middle East is a long way from our borders.It's a long way from our sea lanes.

    • 12:20

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: It is not of particular geographic or strategicimportance to us.Yes, there's oil there.But there's oil in lots of other places in the world,and these countries will want to sell their oil, anyway.What are they going to do, keep it in the desert?No, they're going to want to sell it.So we don't really have to worry about the factthat oil will be affected.We should leave this problem up to the countries of the region.

    • 12:43

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: They are the ones who are most directly affected--Israel, the Gulf Arab states, and theycan take care of themselves.Nationalism argues, in effect, that we should come home.The Cold War is over.We don't have to be extended as we were during the ColdWar around the world.We should bring our troops home from-- certainlyfrom the Middle East.You know, they would applaud, as theydo, some of the policies of President Obama

    • 13:04

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: to bring American troops home from Iraq.And they would argue that we should even bring those troopshome from Europe and from Asia.Now, realism would focus in the Middle Easton the Iran problem.It would focus on the attempt by Iranto achieve hegemony in the region.This is not good from a realist perspective,because you're trying to preserve a world in which thereare multiple centers of power.

    • 13:25

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: You don't want any one center of power to become dominant.So realists would push back against the hegemony of Iran.And in this case, realists would say,look, we need to make sure that Iran stops expandingits influence in the region, stops supporting terrorists,

    • 13:46

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: for example, in Lebanon and in Syria,that they stop supporting violent extremists in Yemen.The idea being that, until we canget Iran to stop this attempt to try to achieve hegemony,we will have no chance for an agreement with Iran

    • 14:07

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: on the nuclear question or on any other question.Now, realists would say, in this effortto try to counter Iranian hegemony,we should feel free to work with other countrieswhether they're democratic or not.So for example, in the case of Egypt,which is now no longer a democratic country.It's run by the military.Realists would say we should work with Egypt, all right,

    • 14:28

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: to counter Iranian influence, and notworry about whether Egypt is a democracy or not.We should avoid, in other words, letting ideological factorsinfluence our policy and worry mostlyabout the balance of power.So we shouldn't get distracted by humanitarian adventures,either, as we did in Libya.

    • 14:48

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: And there, of course, the realistswere opposed to the US intervention in Libya.So the idea is, fundamentally, keep your eye on the ball,prevent the Iranians from achieving any kind of hegemonyin the region.And if you can get stability in the region,then you're more likely to get agreements on thingslike the nuclear question.Now, liberal internationalists believethat you have to be much more direct about negotiating

    • 15:10

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: these agreements.That is, you've got to simply persistin the discussions with the Iraniansuntil you finally persuade them to give uptheir nuclear program.That you don't want to use any forceor threaten any force during the process of these negotiations,because that will only increase distrust

    • 15:32

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: and will make it harder to reach agreements.So liberal internationalists will argue, as for example youcan say the US government does at this present time,that we should stick with negotiations.Maybe reserve force as a last resort,but don't apply any force or don't move any military forcesaround during negotiations, because it will only

    • 15:53

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: make the negotiations more difficult.Now, you know, the United States haspulled troops out of Iraq in order not to threaten Iran.It has refused to get involved in supporting any of the groupsin Syria, in part, in order not to get at cross purposeswith Iran.It's been very careful about not tryingto cross swords with Iran in Yemen, because it wants

    • 16:18

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: to first succeed in getting the agreementon the nuclear question with Iran.It believes that if you can get that agreement,then you will empower soft liners in Iran,and Iran's overall policy then will soften.And it will become less expansionist.And it will withdraw some of its forces and some of its arms

    • 16:38

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: supplies and so on to various places in the region whereit is trying to expand its influence.Now, conservative internationalismis doubtful that you're going to succeed by just puttingthe emphasis on negotiations.Because it will point out that, while you'renegotiating with Iran, Iran may be achieving its objectives

    • 17:00

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: outside the negotiations by acquiring a nuclear capabilityinch by inch, as it seems to be doing,while the negotiations are going on,and by expanding its influence in countries in the region,like Iraq, where the Iranians now have substantial influence,in Syria, in Yemen, and in other places-- in Lebanon

    • 17:21

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: and in Hamas, for example, or in the Gaza Strip.That you have to first convince the Iraniansthat they can't make progress militarilytowards their objectives.And then they will start to take the negotiation seriously.So conservative internationalism worksfrom sort of the military leverageside of things towards an agreement,

    • 17:41

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: rather than assuming, as do liberal internationalists,that if you get the agreement, thatwill alleviate the interest on the part of Iranin exercising military leverage in the region.So these four traditions in American foreign policyare engaged at the moment in a very heated debate about whatthe United States should do about the relationships

    • 18:03

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: with Iran and the nuclear negotiations with Iran.So it's a good example of how, in fact,these different orientations thatderive both from history and from the logic of the theoriesof international relations, how they interact with one another,how they differ from one another,and how they debate the issues in a case

    • 18:23

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: study, in this instance of American foreign policytowards Iran.Let me just ask you a question.In the debate about Iran, do you think that the United Statesshould avoid using any force whatsoeverin these negotiations until the negotiations are complete?Or do you think that it would be worthwhile or it would be

    • 18:45

      PROFESSOR NAU [continued]: useful for the United States to demonstrate to Iran that itcannot achieve its objectives outside the negotiations beforeIran will get serious in the negotiations?Your answer to that question will determine whether or notyou're looking at this problem from a liberal internationalistperspective or a conservative internationalist perspective.[MUSIC PLAYING]

Applying Perspectives on International Relations to US Foreign Policy

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Abstract

Professor Henry R. Nau explains traditional US approaches to foreign policy, from nationalism to liberal internationalism. He then demonstrates each method by using 2015 negotiations with Iran over nuclear policy as a demonstration of each perspective.

SAGE Video Cases
Applying Perspectives on International Relations to US Foreign Policy

Professor Henry R. Nau explains traditional US approaches to foreign policy, from nationalism to liberal internationalism. He then demonstrates each method by using 2015 negotiations with Iran over nuclear policy as a demonstration of each perspective.

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