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Federico Faleschini (ID 10902214) Module Convenor: Jonathan Joseph Module: PO824 (International Relations Theory) 10 November 2010

Essay 1 (word limit: 3000; actual words: 2986)

Is the international society approach an adequate third way between realism and liberalism?

Introduction
The purpose of this essay is to assess whether the international society approach (also known as the English School) represents an adequate third way between the most well known approaches of realism and liberalism. To be more precise, I am going to concentrate on the comparison with neoliberalism and neorealism, rather than classical realism and liberalism, because the former are far more influential in the present international relations theory debate1. Moreover, I am going to focus on the concepts of international society and international system because it is the most basic distinction between these theories, and the one from which many of the other differences follow. To do so I rest mainly on the work of the most important authors of every approach: Hedley Bull for the English School, Kenneth Waltz for Neorealism and Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye for Neoliberalism. My main argument is that the English School (henceforth ES) is a valid alternative to the neo-neo approaches. There are two main reasons for this claim: first, that the international society approach is not as narrowly focused as the neo-neo approaches and thus sheds light on more aspects of international relations (henceforward IR), and second, that it deals with topics which are not covered by neorealism and neoliberalism. The essay is organised as follows. In the first section I will analyse Waltz's neorealist definition of international political system. In the second section I will turn to Keohane's and Nye's neoliberalist definition of Complex Interdependence. In the third section the ES approach is finally introduced: the focus is on the idea of international society, the ES's core concept and main distinctive point. The fourth section concludes.

1 Neorealism and neoliberalism are defined as the dominant mainstream theories (Dunne T. in Dunne T., Kurki M., Smith S. (eds), 2010: 136)

Neorealism and the international system2


Waltz identifies three main features of political systems (both domestic and international ones): the ordering principle, the specification of functions of [] units and the distribution of capabilities across the units (pp. 73-74). His analysis of the domestic and international political system is based on these three main points: together they define the arrangement of units [which] is a property of the system (p. 71). The position in the system, he says, is what really defines states' behaviour, irrespective of their characteristics and assuming that they act with relative efficiency (p. 87) (influence of rational choice theory). With respect to the first point, Waltz sustains that the ordering principle is anarchical in the sense that there are no agents with system-wide authority (p. 82) and thus states live in a world where [their] security [] is not assured (p. 85): therefore he assumes that states seek to ensure their survival [as a] prerequisite to achieving any [other] goals (p. 85). In typical realist fashion, he says that the condition of uncertainty [] about the other's future intentions (p.102) makes states worry about relative gains of the cooperation and thus works against their cooperation (p.103). As we can see, the account of the anarchic nature of the international system is fairly conventional. What is different from classical realism is the systemic approach, in the sense that the anarchical nature is a feature of the system and does not origin from any sub-system unit or human universal (i.e. Morgenthau's evil human nature). To reinforce this aspect, Waltz draws an analogy with economic markets to show that the system is initially created by actors but once formed, a market [=system] becomes a force in itself (p. 83) that cannot be modified by a small number of actors. As to the second point, Waltz affirms that states [] are not formally differentiated by the functions they perform (p. 87). This is not to deny any difference between states, but only to say that every state perform [] tasks [] which are common to all of them (p. 87): the constant condition of insecurity prevents high degree of specialization of each unit as in domestic political systems (p. 100). The states are similar units, differing in capabilities and not in function, and they are all sovereign only in the sense that each one of them will decide for itself how it will cope with internal or external problems (p. 90).

2 The analysis of Waltz's definition of international system is based on chapters 3 and 4 of Neorealism and its critics (Waltz K. in Keohane R. O. (ed), 1986). Any different reference will be cited.

Finally, the third point is a very important one to define the nature of systems, both domestic and international ones (that is, both systems whose units are functionally differentiated and the ones composed of like units). The distribution of capabilities is [] a system-wide concept (p. 93) and is far more relevant in determining each unit's position in the system than the relations between units (e.g. alliances between states): as Waltz points out, a system where three or more powers have split into two alliances remains a multipolar system structurally different from a bipolar system (p. 94). As we can see, Waltz's neorealist definition of the international system reformulates classical realism's one in a more refined and sophisticated way. What is important to note in regard to the scope of this essay is that both theories simply ignore the importance of historical circumstances (as Waltz himself states: Over the centuries states have changed in many ways, but the quality of international life has remained much the same (p. 108)) and heavily downplay the role of elements such as international law and international organisations.

Neoliberalism and the concept of complex interdependence3


Neoliberalism was partially inspired by the pluralism literature which criticised the realist assumption that states could be analytically treated as unitary, rational actors (Sterling-Folker J. in Dunne T., Kurki M., Smith S. (eds), 2010: 118) and stressed the importance of non-state actors. The neoliberal foundational text Power and Interdependence, though, marked a turn towards a convergence with realism: this convergence is best shown by the fact that the authors shared the realist assumption of states as rational and self-interested actors (ibidem) and considered the state as the main actor of international politics. Although the state-centric assumption brings neorealism and neoliberalism much closer than their classical counterparts, there still are important differences between them. In fact, Kehoane and Nye (hereafter K&N) aimed at defining a completely different ideal type from the realist one. Waltz himself recognised that just like market models even his own international system model is an idealization (Waltz K. in Keohane R.O. (ed), 1986: 84).
3 This section is primarily based on chapters 1 and 2 of Keohane's and Nye's Power and Interdepence (Keohane R. O., Nye J.S., 2001). Any different reference will be cited.

Following this rational theory-like approach, also K&N state that their complex interdependence model is an ideal type (pp. 20-21) and therefore it is not always applicable (p. 25) (thus they restrict the scope of their theory as Waltz does). K-N define interdependence as a relation which entails reciprocal (although not necessarily symmetrical) costly effects (p. 8) and thus is not free of distributional conflict (p. 9). K&N sustain that in the 20 th century interdependence has grown at such a level that the realist account of IR is no longer able to explain all interstate relations. Increased interdependence in IR drastically reduces the role of military force and changes the hierarchy of issues at the international level. K&N key out two dimensions of interdependence: sensitivity (degrees of responsiveness [of country A to changes in country B] [] within a [single] policy framework (p. 10)) and vulnerability (dimension related to the relative availability and costliness of the alternative [policy frameworks] that various actors face (p 11)). Vulnerability is the key dimension for understanding the political structure of independence relationships (p.13) because the actor that is able to actually define the policy frameworks is less vulnerable in the long run than an actor which is less sensitive in the short run, but is worse off in the long run under a different policy framework. The ideal type of Complex Interdependence has three main characteristics: 1) There are multiple channels between societies: interstate, transgovernmental (i.e. between bureaucracies in the international organisations) and transnational (i.e. transnational solidarity of political/social movements e.g. communism and anticommunism). 2) There is no hierarchy of issues in the international agenda, that is, military security is not the main goal in each and every issue area. On the contrary, state's goals will be different according to each issue area. 3) Military force is not effective when complex interdependence prevails (i.e. between members of an alliance). In this kind of relationships states use other instruments like manipulation of interdependence (p. 32), that is, taking advantage of relatively low sensitivity and above all low vulnerability compared to the other states involved in the bargaining process. Like Waltz, K&N distinguish between two levels of analysis: the structure of the

system, conceived as the distribution of capabilities among similar units (p. 18), and the process of political and economical bargaining that occurs within the structure. The differentiation of structure and process permits to highlight the role of international regimes. These are defined as intermediate factors between the power structure [] and the political and economic bargaining (p. 18) and their function is to facilitate the bargaining process. They can consist either of sets of rules or of full-structured international organisations. The focus on international regimes and cooperation between (rational and selfinterested) states is the main difference between neoliberalism and neorealism. To resume, neoliberalism provides a good account of a particular kind of interstate relations (particularly those taking place in the context of international organisations) and it does show a deeper understanding of the importance of historical context, while also recognising the important role of transnational actors. However, it still downplays the role of values and identity because of his view of states as rational actors.

The English School and the idea of International Society4


The main methodological difference between the ES and the neo-neo approaches is that the ES does not share the positivist rational theory background and is instead a normative and historical approach; it does not try to identify a basic structure detached from history and morality but on the contrary it poses moral question and gives great importance to historical understanding (Dunne T. in Dunne T., Kurki M., Smith S. (eds), 2010: 139-141). This basic difference leads ES scholars to focus on aspects of IR overlooked by the neo-neo approaches. Bull identifies two opposite conceptions of IR: the System of states and the Society of states. The first concept is broadly in line with neorealist and neoliberal definitions: a system of states exist when a group of states have sufficient contact between them, and have sufficient impact on one's another decision, to cause them to behave [] as part of a whole (p. 9). This definition rules out any consideration of common values. The ES however denies that this concept provides an accurate picture of the reality of IR. Their conception of IR in contemporary times is in fact the Society of states or International Society: the focus is on
4 This section is primarily based on chapters 1 and 2 of Bull's The Anarchical Society (Bull H., 1995). Any different reference will be cited.

shared interests and values, that push states to conceive themselves to be bound by a common set of rules in their relations with one another, and share in the working of common institutions (p. 13). In order to address the most obvious criticism, that is, that IR does not possess the characteristics coupled with the idea of society (i.e. society in the domestic realm), Bull argues that it is wrong to think that international society should possess the same qualities of domestic societies because the actors of the former, the states, are qualitatively different from the actors in the latter, i.e. individuals. He calls this comparison domestic analogy and refers in particular to the hobbesian (i.e. realist) conception of IR as a state of nature, which he thoroughly criticizes5. Bull sustains that every social order is purposive and international society is no exception. He identifies six main goals of international society, ordered by relevance: 1) Preservation of the [] society of states itself (p. 16); 2) Maintenance of the independence of member states; 3) Maintenance of peace in the sense of absence of war [] as the normal condition of their [= state's] relationship (p. 17); war should thus be conducted only according to principles that are generally accepted (p. 17) (i.e. Geneva convention, ecc.); 4) Limitation of violence between member states (e.g. diplomatic immunity); 5) Keeping of promises through the principles of international law pacta sunt servanda and rebus sic stantibus; 6) Stability of possession (ensured by point 2). This short list already provides evidence of the fundamental difference of the international society approach compared with the neo-neo approaches and their conception of the international system as a purely anarchic environment. The ES approach is the only one that can comprise the most different aspects of IR (power politics, international law, international organisations, diplomacy) and takes into account the role of international law (and not only of international regimes, whose scope is more specific). Nonetheless, Bull himself acknowledges that the international society scenario never paints the full picture of IR: a world where all states always behave accordingly to international law has never existed and even then it is always possible that rules can serve specific purposes or interests. As a consequence, he says that it is important to bear in mind that the three elements of IR state of war,
5 To find out more about Bull's criticism of the domestic analogy please refer to Bull H., 1995: 45-48

international society and transnational royalties and divisions (p. 49) are always present and intertwined. Another important distinctive research area of the ES is the focus on diplomats and statesmen as the real actors of IR, even when ES scholars speak of states. As a consequence, the topic of morality in IR is addressed in a peculiar way: indeed Bull believed that the IR theorists doing normative inquiry needed to stay close to state practice (Dunne T. in Dunne T., Kurki M., Smith S. (eds), 2010: 140). With respect to this topic Jackson (Jackson R.H. in Booth K., Smith S. (ed), 1995: 110-128), drawing from Wight's and Bull's three traditions (hobbesian/realist, kantian/universalist and grotian/rationalist) (pp. 23-26), identifies three responsibilities in IR, that is, three responsibilities statesmen ought to take: 1) National responsibility: the state is the original political community and statesmen have the responsibility to defend their own citizens (i.e. defend the national interest and above all national security) in first place; 2) International responsibility: membership of the international society entails external obligations mainly defined by international law; 3) Humanitarian responsibility: statesmen are human beings but are in a position of great power so they must defend and promote human rights throughout the world. Statesmen have to balance all these three elements and are often pushed to terrible and painful decisions. As Jackson himself put it: There is an underlying normative pluralism which statesmen cannot escape from, which scholars should not ignore (Jackson R.H. in Booth K., Smith S. (ed), 1995: 118). Scholars are thus compelled to adopt situational ethics if they want to fully understand statesmen actions. This emphasis on international morality and statesmen's peculiar public responsibility is surely missing in the neo-neo approaches because it is incompatible with their rationalist assumptions. Finally, another distinctive feature of the ES is his deep historical understanding. The analysis of the evolution of international society6 is an important topic among the ES research agenda and again it is something which the neo-neo approaches has left out. In addition, this expertise is useful at a time where the rapid rise of non western global powers seems to put under pressure international law and international organisations.
6 One of the best works of the ES school on this topic is The Expansion of International Society (Bull H., Watson A., 1984).

Conclusion: a valid alternative approach


The aim of this essay was to prove whether the ES is a valid theory vis--vis the neoneo approaches. The validity of a theory can be judged on the originality of his arguments and of his topics. A theory which does not say anything new on a debated subject or does not develop new research topics is neither useful for practitioners nor broadens academic knowledge. I argue that the ES satisfies both requirements. On the one hand, its historical understanding and the focus on the role of statesmen are welcome additions to the neo-neo contributions to the discipline. On the other hand, its normative and historical basis sets it apart from the neo-neo approaches. As ES scholars themselves acknowledge, the international society approach can not explain all international relations but it highlights fundamental elements (international law and morality above all) which would be missed if one relied only on the neo-neo approaches. Moreover, ES scholars seem to have a more acute understanding of the need to take into account all approaches in order to properly understand the complexity of IR: the international society approach is an holistic and pluralistic theory [] [which] embraces power politics, international law and civility, universal morality (Jackson R.H. in Booth K., Smith S. (ed), 1995: 113). I think in the IR theory debate there is place for such an approach.

BIBLIOGHRAPHY (in alphabetical order)


Booth K., Smith S. (eds), International Relations Theory Today, Cambridge : Polity , 1995 Bull H., The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics, Basingstoke : Macmillan, II edition, 1995 Bull H., Watson A. (eds.), The Expansion of International Society, Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1984 Dunne T., Kurki M., Smith S. (eds), International Relations Theory, Oxford : Oxford University Press, II edition, 2010 Keohane R. O. (ed), Neorealism and its Critics, New York : Columbia University Press, 1986 Keohane R. O., Nye S., Power and Interdependence, New York : Longman, III edition, 2001