How To Think About International Relations

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    • 00:00

      [MUSIC PLAYING]

    • 00:10

      HENRY R. 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 for a few minutesabout a very interesting and fascinating subject,international relations.I want to talk to you about the nature of that subject.

    • 00:33

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: Secondly, I want to lay out for you, very briefly,four ways in which we think about that subject.And thirdly, along the way, give yousome examples of how these theories actuallywork in the contemporary world or in historyto explain events to us.Now my first point, this subject of international affairsis extremely complicated.

    • 00:55

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: It involves the study of politics at the highestlevel, the world stage, where we havesome 200 individual countries, where we have thousandsof international agreements and intergovernmentalorganizations, probably millions of nongovernmentalorganizations that are involved in international affairs.We have multiple countries, multiple governments,

    • 01:17

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: multiple corporations, multiple languages, multiple religions,multiple races.It's the most complex subject you can think of.In fact, Albert Einstein once said,it's a subject that is more complicated and moredifficult than physics.And what he meant was the following.That we not only study something which is enormously complex,

    • 01:39

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: but we study something where we're looking at objects.In this case, people who have minds of their ownand who can change their mind.They don't operate on the basis of fixed laws,like physical particles do.And secondly, we're studying events.Were studying organizations.Were studying things that we like or dislike.We're studying ourselves.

    • 02:01

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: So we face enormous obstacles in approaching this subject.And we have to be very modest in termsof what we think we can know.You might say, let's start by just telling methe facts, Professor Nau.Give me all the facts about international relations.But I can't give you all the factsabout international relations.That would be completely impractical.I have to start with some proposition about how

    • 02:23

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: I think the world works.And that directs me to certain facts.And then I can test those facts.That is, I can go and do a test of those factsto see whether or not, in fact, they'reoperating in a particular situation in the world.We use theories in international relations,or what I sometimes call perspectives,in order to direct us towards certain facts

    • 02:45

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: and help us then to test whether or not those facts are at playin a particular situation.Now I'm going to talk to you very brieflyabout four theories of international relations.That is realism, liberalism, idealism, and critical theory.

    • 03:06

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: Let me start with realism.This is an approach to international affairs nowthat focuses on the distribution of powerand focuses on the fact that power is decentralizedin the international system.Realists call this situation anarchy,

    • 03:27

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: meaning that there is no single point of order or power, asopposed, for example, to monarchy,which in fact, means that there is a single source of power.So they're focused on the fact that thereis a distribution of power in the worldand that there is, in effect, no world 911.There is no authority that is considered

    • 03:48

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: to be legitimate in the international systemfor the use of power.You have some 200 states, all of whomare sovereign and considered to be legitimatein order to use power.Now in that kind of a situation of anarchy,realists will point out that countrieshave to protect themselves.They can't, in fact, appeal to some other institutionto protect themselves.

    • 04:09

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: They have to arm in order to be able to protecttheir own security.And when they do that, realism points outthat they encounter a problem.They encounter a security dilemma.How do other countries know that when one country is arming,it's arming only to defend itself?How do they know it's not arming to attack them?And so this creates suspicion among countries.

    • 04:32

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: And even though you can overcome that suspicionto a certain extent, realists will argue that, in fact, youcan't overcome it entirely.And what happens is that you will get tension and conflictamong countries because of this condition of anarchy.Now the only solution, from the realist point of view,is to try to balance the power of your country vis-a-vis

    • 04:55

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: the other countries in order to ensure that youcan maintain your security.And so realism revolves around the balance of powerand focuses on the shifts of powerto explain what may be happening in the world.What's an example?Well, an example, a good example,is to compare what was going on in Germany, for example,

    • 05:15

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: in the late 19th century and what is going on in Chinatoday.In the late 19th century, Germanywas the rising power in the international system.Today, China is the rising power in the international system.Realists will point out all of the difficultiesthat the rise of Germany caused at the end of the 19th century.And realists will point out that we can probably

    • 05:38

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: expect in the 21st century, some difficulties arisingfrom the rise of China.And so that's an example of how realist thinking willanticipate certain outcomes basedon a test of these facts historicallyand a projection of these facts into the future.Now let me speak for a moment about liberalism.

    • 05:59

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: Liberalism takes a different tackon the international system.It emphasizes instead of the distribution of power,it emphasizes the reciprocal interactions and relationshipsamong countries.It's focused on diplomacy, and trade, and exchangesof all sorts that countries engage in with one another.It wants to understand how they communicate with each other

    • 06:23

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: and wants to improve the means by which they communicatewith one another.The argument is that if countries relate to one anotherin sufficient measure and in sufficient intensity,that they can overcome the suspicions that derivefrom the security dilemma.

    • 06:44

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: So in this case, liberalism is looking to other factorsto override the impact of the distribution of powerand the tensions that are created by balancing power.What liberalism would like to seeis these negotiations, these communications, this diplomacy,this trade, well, they'd like to seeit lead towards building down arms in orderto reduce the suspicions.

    • 07:05

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: And so they will concentrate on tryingto encourage countries to think about how they can agreeon arms control and disarmament arrangements of onesort or another.Liberalism emphasizes the role of international institutionsin this regard.In other words, those institutionscan help countries to gain trust in one another

    • 07:26

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: and to make these agreements that will, eventuallyover time, reduce arms.Liberalism wants to get beyond the balance of power.And it wants to ultimately consolidate power,maybe create a world 911, a world government.And thereby, sort of transform international politicsfrom a situation of anarchy and conflict, as seen by realists,into a situation of cooperation and peace

    • 07:49

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: as seen by liberalism.Now a good example of liberalism and how it is appliedhistorically is the European Union.Think of all of the conflicts that the European countrieswere engaged in with one another over the past several years.They've been constantly at war with each other.In the last 75 years, the European stateshave completely overcome those historical differences,

    • 08:10

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: all of the insecurities that arose outof the so-called security dilemma.And they did that by increasing trade, interdependence,forming a common market, forming a common monetary union,increasing, in other words, the roleof international institutions or regional institutionsin the relationships among governments in western Europe.

    • 08:31

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: And today, the European countriesexist whole and free, as an American Secretary of Stateonce put it.Thirdly, let me talk to you briefly about idealism,a third sort of perspective on international relations.Now this perspective focuses not on power and noton interactions or reciprocal interactions.But it focuses on what countries believe, what they value,

    • 08:54

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: how they identify themselves.And it asks the question, how far or close arecountry's to one another?How far apart or how close are countries to oneanother, in terms of how they identify themselves,how they think about themselves?So here's a perspective now, thatputs the primary sort of causal emphasis on ideas,and argues that, look, it's how countries

    • 09:14

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: think about themselves and about others that leads themto determine how they will use their powerand leads them to determine how much they want to interactwith one another, or how much they wantto trade with one another, or engage in other exchangeswith one another.So before power and institutions, idealist argue,come ideas.

    • 09:35

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: And these ideas determine how states behave.Now, a good example of how, in fact, youcan think about contemporary international relationsfrom this standpoint, that is from the standpoint of howcountries think about themselves and how they identifythemselves, what they value, is the phenomenonthat we call in international politics, the democratic peace.

    • 09:58

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: That means that countries, when theycome to identify themselves as democracies,and when they know that the other state is a democracy,that they no longer get involved in military conflictswith one another.We call this the democratic peace.But it is statistically shown over and over againthat democratic countries do not,

    • 10:19

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: in fact, engage in military or violent conflictswith one another.Now what has happened?They still live in an anarchy with one another.They still live in a situation of decentralized power.They retain their own armies and navies, for example.But they don't engage those military capabilitiesin their relationships with one another.They learned how to solve problems peacefully,

    • 10:40

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: through democratic procedures domestically.And they deploy those procedures, also,internationally in their relationshipwith other democracies.Now this doesn't hold in their relationshipswith non-democracies.So it's a clear example of how countries behave differently,depending upon how they think about themselves.Finally, let me say a word about the fourth theory

    • 11:01

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: that we have mentioned.That is critical theory.A critical theory, basically, objectsto the way in which the other three theories approachinternational relations.It says, look, you can't really separate out cause and effectin international relations.You can't sort of slice and dice reality,the way rationalists like to do this in the West.Reality is much more interrelated, entangled.

    • 11:24

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: Power institutional ideas, they're not separate factors.They're all interrelated with one another.And they evolve through deep-seated historicalprocesses.And we need to understand what those deep-seated processes arebefore we can really understand international relations.Now what's an example of this?Marxist-Leninism, for example, is an ideology about the world,or is a critical theory about the world that

    • 11:47

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: leads to an expectation of the growth of capitalismand eventually the demise of capitalism,as capitalism kind of consumes itself in lots of conflictsand in lots of violence.So that understanding of international affairs,that things evolve according to some deep-seated

    • 12:08

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: forces that drive capitalism in the world.Let me give you an example of how that might affect,or that has affected thinking about international affairsand actors in international affairs in the past.So take the example of Stalin, Joseph Stalin,in the Soviet Union.In the 1930s, the leader, of course,of the communist country of the Soviet Union.

    • 12:30

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: Stalin had a Marxist-Leninist viewof how international relations work.And he believed that, ultimately,the capitalist countries, meaning the fascist countriesof Germany, Italy, and the liberal statesof France, Britain, and the United States,that these countries eventually wouldgo to war with one another.That was predicted by Marxist-Leninism.And he believed that was an inevitable consequence

    • 12:50

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: of the forces of history.So he made a pact, a neutrality pact with Hitlerto stay out of a war, if Hitler should get involved,if fascism should get involved in a war with liberal states.Now it didn't pay off that well for him,but that explains his behavior.He had a view of how the world worksdepending upon these deep-seated underlying forces.

    • 13:11

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: And he was going to act on the basis of that view.There are other critical theoriesof that sort that exist today, dependencytheory, neo-colonialism.Some people think about American foreign policy in those terms,imperialism, for example.Deep-seated sort of tendencies on the part of great powersto be imperialistic, and you can't reallydo very much about it.They've always done it historically,

    • 13:33

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: and they always will.This is a short and very quick introductionto the complex subject of international affairs.I've tried to lay out for you someof the difficulties of that subject, some of the theoriesby which we try to approach it, and to give yousome examples of those theories and howthey help to explain either events of the past

    • 13:54

      HENRY R. NAU [continued]: or to anticipate events in the future.And that should give you some, at least,initial start in dealing with this very, verydifficult subject.

How To Think About International Relations

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Abstract

Professor Henry Nau discusses the complexity of international relations as a field of study. Within his explanation he outlines four theoretical approaches to international relations, providing examples of each.

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How To Think About International Relations

Professor Henry Nau discusses the complexity of international relations as a field of study. Within his explanation he outlines four theoretical approaches to international relations, providing examples of each.

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