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Hudson Martin
Hudson Martin

Realism And Fear In International Relations : M...



We explore five different discourses that constitute the contemporary political theory of international relations and explore the different ways in which the idea of fear anchors those discourses. This list of five discourses is certainly neither exhaustive nor necessarily a list of the five most important discourses, they merely represent the epistemic landscape that interests the authors of this essay. Another thing to note is that the five fears we have identified reflect five distinct political phenomena; they are (1) fear as the progenitor of the state, (2) fear as the primary ontology of the international system (3) fear of war as the basis of global governance and (4) fear as an instrument of change as terrorism, coercive diplomacy, and sanctions and (5) fear of extinction and fragmentation as the trigger for civil wars and ethnic conflict.




Realism and Fear in International Relations : M...



Until recently the global war on terror was the grand strategy that not only informed U.S. foreign policy since 2001, but also became the most critical issue that shaped the agenda of international organizations and international alliances. The fear of terrorism dominated geopolitics on the global stage. Some of the efforts of the international community have proven successful and the number of people killed by terrorist attacks has reduced in Western Europe and the United States in the last two decades (Ritchie, Hasell, Appel, Roser 2013). Since 2014 terrorist incidences are on a steady decline. Fear of terrorism is now being replaced by traditional fears of rising powers like China and Russia. Terrorist organizations weaponize fear. Terrorists increasingly use brutal tactics on civilians to generate horror and fear (Sullivan, 2015). It is how they hope to compel states to change their policies. Ironically the fear they generate may also justify the opposite kind of politics. Al Qaeda targeted the U.S. to force it out of the Middle East and ended up with a more enhanced and militarily robust and pernicious US presence in the region via the Iraq war.


The spillover potential of ethnic conflict creates fear in the international community. Between 1997-2012, the number of people killed in civil wars exceeded deaths from other forms of organized mass violence such as inter-state wars, terrorism, or genocides (Call, 2012). Ethnic conflicts destabilize the region with flows of refugees and the possibility of drawing neighbors into the conflict. They impact regional economies, disrupt trade, and create demographic challenges to states that are forced to receive refugees escaping civil wars and ethnic conflicts.


As fear is one of the main drivers of ethnic conflicts, the international community tries to end civil wars by mitigating fears that are agitating the conflicting parties. International interventions can come from regional or global powers or international institutions and civil society organizations that promote international peace. These third parties can adopt several different types of fear mitigating strategies including balancing the power of the conflicting parties to increase the probability of loss and reduce the possibility of victory. Such transformed odds often induce parties to compromise and make peace out of fear of losing. Third parties may also try to institute confidence-building measures and enhance trust between the parties to overcome the fear of distrust (Kirschner, 2014). Secondly, third parties may play the role of a referee that monitors that parties are adhering to the settlement and are fulfilling their commitments(Walter, 2002). The idea that there is a guarantor of compliance by the other side often reduces fear of betrayal and encourages parties to move forward towards peace.


In this paper we have explored how fear as a theoretical construct informs several discourses under the broad umbrella of international relations. We have looked essentially at literature and examined the idea of fear. What we have not examined here is how fear has also played a major role shaping global orders and alliances. The Cold War was about western fears of communism and eastern fears of colonialism, capitalism and imperialism. Subsequently, global politics was driven by fear of Islamic revivalism and Muslim fears of American hegemony and western cultural imperialism (Khan, 2002). We are now entering an era where global politics could be driven by western fears of an ascendant China and Chinese fears of western containment. We also notice that there are other sources of fear that are shaping international relations; fear of environmental disasters, of cyber terrorism, of global pandemics, decline of democracy and failed states. Fear is a primal instinct that is necessary for survival and it shapes human choices and actions in all spheres of life, including international relations. Fear will always be there, how we cope with it and how we channel it will determine how our institutions evolve.


GROSS STEIN, J. 2013. Psychological Explanations of International Decision Making and Collective Behavior. In: CARLSNAES, W., RISSE, T. & SIMMONS, B. A. (eds.) Handbook of international relations. 2nd ed. London: SAGE.


Harald Edinger is completing his doctorate in International Relations at the University of Oxford. His research aims at improving explanations of change and continuity in Russian-Western relations. By offering a new interpretation of classical realist theory, which builds on findings from evolutionary psychology and neuroscience, he intends to show when and how emotions such as anger and fear matter in Russian foreign policy. Prior to entering academia, he worked in management consulting and European financial regulation.


Classical realism is an international relations theory from the realist school of thought.[1] Realism makes the following assumptions: states are the main actors in the international relations system, there is no supranational international authority, states act in their own self-interest, and states want power for self-preservation.[2] Classical realism can be differentiated from the other forms of realism since it places specific emphasis on human nature and domestic politics as the key factor in explaining state behavior and the causes of inter-state conflict.[3][4] Classical realist theory adopts a pessimistic view of human nature and argues that humans are not inherently benevolent but instead they are self-interested and act out of fear or aggression.[5] Furthermore, it emphasizes that this human nature is reflected by states in international politics due to international anarchy.


Classical realism first arose in its modern form during the interwar period of (1918-1939) as the academic field of international relations began to grow during this era.[2] Classical realism during the inter-war period developed as a response to the prominence of idealist and utopian theories in international relations during the time.[6] Liberal scholars at the time attributed conflict to poor social conditions and political systems whilst, prominent policy makers focused on establishing a respected body of international law and institutions to manage the international system. These ideas were critiqued by realists during the 1930s. After World War 2, classical realism became more popular in academic and foreign policy settings.[2] E. H. Carr, George F. Kennan, Hans Morgenthau, Raymond Aron, and Robert Gilpin are central contributors to classical realism.[7]


During the 1960s and 70s classical realist theories declined in popularity and became less prominent as structural realist (neorealist) theorists argued against using human nature as a basis of analysis and instead proposed that explaining inter-state conflict through the anarchic structure of the international system was more empirical.[8] In contrast to neorealism, classical realism argues that the structure of the international system (e.g. anarchy) shapes the kinds of behaviors that states can engage in but does not determine state behavior.[3] In contrast to neorealism, classical realists do not hold that states' main goal is survival.[3] State behavior is ultimately uncertain and contingent.[3]


Thucydides was an ancient Athenian historian (460bc to 400bc).[12] Thucydides works contains significant parallels with the writings of classical Realists.[7] In the Melian Dialogue, Thucydides critiques moralistic arguments made by states by arguing that it is instead self-interest and state power which motivate states and that idealistic arguments disguise this.[6] His writings have been a significant topic for debate in the international relations field.[13] Scholarly interest in Thucydides peaked during the Cold War as International Relations scholars made comparisons between the bi-polarity of the US and Russia and his account of the conflict between Athens and Sparta. Rusten describes Thucydides influence on international relations as "after the Second World War, Thucydides was read by many American opinion-makers (and by those academics who taught them) as a prototypical cold war policy analyst."[14]


Niccolò Machiavelli was a political theorist and diplomat in the Republic of Florence (1469-1527).[15] His work diverged from the traditions of political theory during his time.[16] In his text the Prince he advocated for a separation of morals and politics whilst, at the time political theory was heavily influenced by religious ideals. Machiavelli also argues that people should view things as they are, not how they should be, and justified the use of power as a means of achieving an end. Machiavelli's writings have been prominent in western political science and this has extended to the international relations field where his writings have been the source of liberal and realist debate.[17]


Thomas Hobbes was an English political philosopher (1588-1679).[18] Hobbes' major focus was not on international relations but he influenced classical realist theory through his descriptions of human nature, theories of the state and anarchy and his focus on politics as a contest for power.[6] Hobbes' theory of the "international state of nature" stems from his concept that a world without a government leads to anarchy.[19] This expands upon Hobbes' concept of the "state of nature," which is a hypothetical scenario about how people lived before societies were formed and the role of societies in placing restrictions upon natural rights or freedoms to create order and potential peace. Due to the lack of an international society the international system is therefore understood to be permanently anarchic. Michael Smith describes the significance of this theory to realism as "[Hobbes'] state of nature remains the defining feature of realist thought. His notion of the international state of nature as a state of war is shared by virtually everyone calling himself a realist."[20] 041b061a72


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