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World Politics: International Politics on the World Stage, Brief

  1. Chapter 1: Thinking and Caring about World Politics
  2. Chapter 2: The Evolution of World Politics
  3. Chapter 3: Levels of Analysis
  4. Chapter 4: Nationalism: The Traditional Orientation
  5. Chapter 5: Transnationalism: The Alternative Orientation
  6. Chapter 6: National States: The Traditional Structure
  7. Chapter 7: International Organization: The Alternative Structure
  8. Chapter 8: National Power and Diplomacy: The Traditional Approach
  9. Chapter 9: International Law and Morality: The Alternative Approach
  10. Chapter 10: Pursuing Security
  11. Chapter 11: The International Economy: A Global Road Map
  12. Chapter 12: International Economic Competition and Cooperation
  13. Chapter 13: Preserving and Enhancing Human Rights and Dignity
  14. Chapter 14: Preserving and Enhancing the Global Commons

Chapter 1: Thinking and Caring about World Politics

"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players," William Shakespeare (1564-1616) wrote in As You Like It. The Bard of Avon was a wise political commentator as well as a literary giant (Alulis & Sullivan, 1996). Shakespeare's lines are used here because they help convey the drama of world politics. The characters are different, of course, with Canada, China, Germany, Japan, Russia, and the United States replacing those of his time and imagination. Beyond that, though, there are remarkable parallels between international relations and the master's plays. Both are cosmic and complex. The characters are sometimes heroic; at other times they are petty. The action is always dramatic and often tragic. As with any good play, the audience was drawn into the action at The Globe, the London theater where Shakespeare staged his works. Similarly, the global theater of international politics draws us in. Indeed, we are seated on the stage, no matter how remote the action may seem or how much we may want to ignore it. Like it or not, we and the world are stuck with each other. The progress of the play, whether it continues its long run or closes early, is something we will all enjoy or endure.

Another quotation from Shakespeare--this time from Macbeth--is also worth pondering. Macbeth despairs that life "struts and frets his hour upon the stage" in a tale "full of sound and fury." Again the playwright hits the mark! The global drama has a cast of national actors (countries) that are often at odds with one another. It is true that many examples of cooperation and humanity can be found in them. But they are also full of ambition, self-serving righteousness, and greed, and it is a rare day when some of the countries are not in open conflict. And even when they are not threatening one another, they are forever calculating what is good for themselves and taking action based on their national interests.

Chapter 2: The Evolution of World Politics

This chapter has two purposes. The first is to establish a historical foundation on which to build our analysis of international relations. To this end the following pages give a brief historical narrative that emphasizes the themes and events you will encounter repeatedly in this book.

The second goal of this chapter is to sketch the evolution of the current, rapidly changing world political system (Robertson, 1997). The concept of an international system represents the notion that the world is more than just a sum of its parts, such as countries, and that world politics is more than just the sum of the individual interactions among those parts. The idea of an international system is also based on the belief that there are general patterns of actions among the system's actors. These patterns can be explained in part by the distribution of power and several other factors that we will explore in chapter 3.

It would be wise to keep your mind open to change. The current international system evolved relatively slowly for several centuries, then shifted rapidly during the twentieth century. Warp-speed technological innovation is the most important source of change. It has brought benefits such as nearly instantaneous global communications, rapid travel, less disease and longer lives, and enhanced material well-being. Breakneck technological change has also created or intensified many new problems, such as global warming, the expanding population, and nuclear weapons. Whether these changes are good or bad, there can be little doubt that, as one scholar has written, there is "turbulence in world politics" as "Spaceship Earth daily encounters squalls, downdrafts, and windshears as it careens into changing and uncharted realms of experience" in the twenty-first century (Rosenau, 1990:4, 7).

Chapter 3: Levels of Analysis

The discussion in chapter 1 of how to study international politics introduced levels of analysis as an analytical concept. The issue is where to focus our study of world politics. Is it most fruitful to study the nature of the world (system-level analysis), to study how countries make foreign policy (state-level analysis), or to study people as individuals or as a species (individual-level analysis)? The best answer is to understand all three levels. The preceding chapter began our survey of system-level analysis through a brief survey of the evolution of the current world system. This chapter will continue examining system-level analysis by discussing it as a theory and then focus on state-level analysis, followed by individual-level analysis.

Chapter 4: Nationalism: The Traditional Orientation

Aliens fascinate us. Not the aliens that immigration officials worry about, but the ones that come from other planets. Whether it is the comical others in 3rd Rock From the Sun or the aggressive aliens in the sci-fi thriller Independence Day, our entertainment media are filled with "others." These others can do more than amuse or scare us; they can tell us something. For instance, take the collection of pod racers in Star Wars: Episode 1. They looked and acted rather odd (and nasty, at least to Anakin Skywalker), but in their own home worlds, they probably were very normal.

Even though we viewed them as unusual, it is quite possible that they viewed the humanoids around them as odd, ugly, and peculiar in behavior. And maybe the humanoids of all races and colors looked pretty much the same to the various pod racers, who might have found it difficult to tell humanoids apart, even though we human beings often focus more on our differences than on the similarities that exist throughout our human society.

The point of this analogy is to get us thinking about our world, how different from and how similar to one another we humans are, and how we categorize ourselves. What we will see is that we do not have an image of ourselves as humans. Rather, we divide up ethnically into Chinese, Irish, Poles, and a host of other "we-groups." Despite our manifest human similiarities, we usually identify and organize ourselves politically around some "we-group" subdivision of humanity. If you think about it, you see yourself politically as a citizen of the United States, or some other country. You might even be willing to fight and die for your country. Would you do the same for your hometown? Or Earth?

Nationalism is the country-level focus that makes most people feel patriotic about their country, but not their hometown or their planet. This identification is our traditional political orientation. It has helped configure world politics for several centuries and will continue to shape people’s minds and affairs in the foreseeable future. Few would argue with the observation that "nationalism has been...the nineteenth and twentieth centuries' most powerful political idea" (Taras & Ganguly, 1998:xi). Despite its strength, however, nationalism today is not as unchallenged as it once was. Some even doubt whether it will or should continue and predict or advocate various transnational alternative orientations.

This juxtaposition of the traditional nationalist orientation and the alternative transnational orientation represents one of this book's main themes: that the world is at or is approaching a critical juncture where two roads diverge in the political wood. The two paths to the political future--traditional and alternative--were mapped out briefly in Chapter 1.

This chapter and those that follow will explore the two roads, usually by comparing them in successive chapters. This chapter, for example, takes up nationalism, the traditional way we identify ourselves politically. Then, in chapter 5, we will turn to alternative, transnationalist orientations.

Chapter 5: Transnationalism: The Alternative Orientation

Breathtaking change has been the most common theme in books about international politics written during the last decade. "The onset of the post-Cold War era in 1990 entailed far more sweeping and revolutionary changes than were even apparent at the time," one study begins (Klare & Chandrani, 1998:vii). "These are exciting times to study global politics...We have entered into a period of turbulent transitions," another study declares on the first page of its preface (Mansbach & Rhodes, 2000:xi).

Such sentiments are not new. We humans have often chafed at the world in which we live and have yearned to change it. "Had I been present at the creation, I would have given some useful hints for the better ordering of the universe," a dismayed King Alfonso the Wise (1221-1284) of Castile and León (in what is now Spain) once mused.

One of the suggestions heard often over the course of human history is that people take a broader, more inclusive view of humanity. This call for change reflects frustration with the traditional way that we humans organize ourselves politically along ethnonational lines. Whether that political organization is the modern nation-state or some earlier form, such as the city-state, there have been critics who urge that we look beyond such territorially bounded structures and adopt transnational affiliations as an alternative to traditional identification with and loyalty to the nation-state.

Chapter 6: National States: The Traditional Structure

This chapter and the next one examine two divergent roads that we can take toward politically organizing the world stage. This chapter will take up the traditional organization: the state. Then, Chapter 7 will examine the alternative type of organization: international governmental organizations.

Chapter 7: International Organization: The Alternative Structure

The sovereign state has been the primary actor in world politics and the essential building block of the state-based international system. Indeed, it is hard to conceive of any other form of organizing and conducting international relations. Yet there are alternatives.

International organization is one of these alternatives (Diehl, 1996). As we have seen, there are many drawbacks to basing global relations on self-interested states operating in an anarchical international system. Many observers believe that global, regional, and specialized international organizations can and should begin to authoritatively regulate the behavior of often-conflicting states. Advocates of strengthened international organization believe that it is time to address world problems by working toward global solutions through global organizations. Those who take this view would join in the counsel given by Shakespeare in Henry VI, Part III: "Now join your hands, and with your hands your hearts." Such advice may be right. It is just possible that ongoing organizations will serve as prototypes or building blocks for a future, higher form of political loyalty and activity.

It is all too easy to dismiss the notion of international organizations as idealistic dreaming. But there was also a time when we believed that the world was the center of the universe. We now know that is not true; perhaps we can also learn that the national state need not be the center of the political cosmos. Surrendering some of your country's sovereignty to an international organization may seem unsettling. But it is neither inherently wrong, nor unheard of in today's world. In fact, the growth in the number, functions, and authority of international organizations is one of the most important trends in international relations. To explore this change in governance, this chapter will take up international organizations. The European Union, as a regional organization, and the United Nations, as a global organization, will be given particular attention to illustrate what is and what might be. Shakespeare tells us in Hamlet that "we know what we are, but not what we can be." Perhaps he was correct in saying that we cannot know for sure what we can be, but we surely can imagine what we might be if we keep our minds open to new ideas.

Chapter 8: National Power and Diplomacy: The Traditional Approach

"Once upon a time," began a fable told by the great British diplomat and prime minister Winston Churchill, "all the animals in the zoo decided that they would disarm." To accomplish that laudable goal, the animals convened a diplomatic conference, where, Churchill's tale went:

"The Rhinoceros said when he opened the proceeding that the use of teeth was barbarous and horrible and ought to be strictly prohibited by general consent. Horns, which were mainly defensive weapons, would, of course, have to be allowed. The Buffalo, the Stag, the Porcupine, and even the little Hedgehog all said they would vote with the Rhino, but the Lion and the Tiger took a different view. They defended teeth and even claws, which they described as honourable weapons of immemorial antiquity. The Panther, the Leopard, the Puma, and the whole tribe of small cats all supported the Lion and the Tiger. Then the Bear spoke. He proposed that both teeth and horns should be banned and never used again for fighting by animals. It would be quite enough if animals were allowed to give each other a good hug when they quarreled. No one could object to that. It was so fraternal, and that would be a great step toward peace. However, all the other animals were very offended by the Bear, and the Turkey fell into a perfect panic. The discussion got so hot and angry, and all those animals began thinking so much about horns and teeth and hugging when they argued about the peaceful intentions that had brought them together, that they began to look at one another in a very nasty way. Luckily the keepers were able to calm them down and persuade them to go back quietly to their cages, and they began to feel quite friendly with one another again."

Sir Winston's allegory is instructive, as well as colorfully entertaining. It touches on many aspects of diplomacy discussed in this chapter. We will begin by looking at power, which remains an essential element of diplomacy in a system based on self-interested sovereignty. In our world, like the zoo, the actors that possess the power to give rewards or inflict punishment are able to influence other actors. Power has many forms. Physical strength is one, and the rhino and the lion were both powerful in this way. Skill is another aspect of power. The turkey had little tangible strength, but perhaps it possessed guile and other intangible diplomatic skills to persuade the other animals to adopt its views. Economic power is also important in diplomacy. The zookeepers controlled the food supply, and may have used food as a positive incentive (more food) or negative sanction (less or no food) to persuade the animals to return to their cages.

Having established the power foundations of diplomacy, we will turn to the general nature of diplomacy. This involves the overall system, the setting in which modern diplomacy occurs. The zoo was the system in which the animals negotiated. Like the current international system, the zoo system was based on self-interest, with each group of animals selecting goals that were advantageous to itself with little thought about how they affected others. The zoo system also apparently allowed some potential for fighting and thus based success in part on the Darwinian law of the jungle. Yet it is the case that the animals were also partly constrained by the zookeepers with, perhaps, some protection afforded by cages.

The third part of this chapter will examine modern diplomacy by looking at how it has evolved and at some of its characteristics. Multilateral diplomacy, for example, has become a much more prominent part of diplomacy than it once was. In Churchill's story, the animals conducted multisided negotiations instead of bilateral diplomacy between, say, just the rhino and the tiger. Those two animals might have made a bilateral agreement that both horns and fangs were acceptable; once hedgehogs, turkeys, and others became involved, the diplomatic dynamic changed greatly. In such a circumstance, diplomatic coalition building is one aspect of support gathering. It may well have been that, before the conference, the rhino had met with the buffalo, stag, porcupine, and hedgehog to convince them that they should support the rhino's position that horns were defensive weapons, while teeth and claws were offensive weapons.

Finally, the fourth part of the chapter will turn to options in the conduct of diplomacy. Direct negotiation is one method, and the animals were engaged in that. Signaling is another method. This occurred when the animals "began to look at each other in a very nasty way." Public diplomacy to win the support of public opinion is another diplomatic method, and it is possible to see in Churchill's story how a clever diplomatic proposal can create an advantage. One can imagine the bear's proposal emblazoned in the Zoo News headline the next day: "Bear Proposes Eliminating All Weapons. Suggests Hugging as Alternative to Fighting." World opinion might have rallied to the bear; this would have put pressure on the other negotiators to accede to a seemingly benign proposal to usher in a new world order based on peace, love, and hugging.

Before proceeding, we should take a moment to put this chapter in context. It is the first of two chapters that look at the traditional and the alternative bases for establishing what policies will prevail in the world. The traditional approach involves countries' practicing national diplomacy by applying power in the pursuit of their self-interest. This approach does not mean that might makes right, but it surely means that might usually makes success. The alternative approach, discussed in Chapter 9, is to apply the standards of international law and justice to the conduct of international relations so that right, rather than who is mightiest, will more often determine who prevails.

Chapter 9: International Law and Morality: The Alternative Approach

The focus of this chapter is the notion that world politics can be conducted with a greater emphasis on following international law and attempting to ensure justice. This is an alternative approach to national diplomacy and its power-based pursuit of self-interest discussed in the last chapter. It would be naive to think that the actors in any system would not be motivated in significant part by what is good for themselves. Most individuals and groups in domestic political systems emphasize their own welfare, just as states do in the international system. There are differences, however, in how domestic and international systems work. What is of interest here is the way domestic systems, compared to the international system, restrain the pursuit of self-interest.

Legal systems are one thing that helps limit the role of pure power in a domestic system. The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, for example, establishes "the equal protection of the laws" as a fundamental principle. Certainly, powerful individuals and groups have distinct advantages in every domestic system. Rules are broken and the guilty, especially if they can afford a high-priced attorney, sometimes escape punishment. Still, in the United States, laws cannot overtly discriminate and an attorney is provided to indigent defendants in criminal cases. Thus, the law evens the playing field, at least sometimes.

Morality is a second thing that restrains the role of power in domestic systems. We are discussing what is "right" here, not just what is legal. Whether the word is moral, ethical, fair, or just, there is a greater sense in domestic systems than there is in the international system that appropriate codes of conduct exist, that the ends do not always justify the means, and that those who violate the norms should suffer penalties. Surely, there is no domestic system in which everyone acts morally toward everyone else. Yet the sense of morality and justice that citizens in stable domestic systems have does have an impact on their behavior.

Most importantly, what all this means is that politics does not have to work just one way. There are alternatives. Idealists envision and prescribe a system of international law that covers more and more aspects of international interchange and that contains strong mechanisms to resolve disputes and enforce the law. Realists do not believe that this goal is attainable and suspect that national states will follow the dictates of national interest, ignore the law, and act in a self-serving way, especially on national security and other vital matters. Idealists reply that they are not so foolish as to imagine a perfect world, only a better one.

Chapter 10: Pursuing Security

Security is the enduring yet elusive quest. "I would give all my fame for a pot of ale, and safety," a frightened boy cries out before a battle in Shakespeare's Henry V. Alas, Melpomene, the muse of tragedy, did not favor the boy's plea. The English and French armies met on the battlefield at Agincourt. Peace--and perhaps the boy--perished. Today most of us similarly seek security. Yet our quest is tempered by the reality that while humans have sought safety throughout history, they have usually failed to achieve that goal for long.

Chapter 11: The International Economy: A Global Road Map

Given the degree to which this text has already discussed the interplay of politics and economics, you have probably concluded correctly that, to a significant extent, economics is politics and vice versa. This chapter and the next will continue to explicate how economics and politics intertwine. The subject of this chapter is the general nature of international political economy (IPE), including IPE theories, and the situation of the economically developed countries (EDCs) of the North and the less developed countries (LDCs) of the South. Chapter 12 will examine the traditional political path of national economic competition as well as the alternative path of international economic cooperation.

It is important before delving into the subject to familiarize yourself with the distinctions between gross national product (GNP) and gross domestic product (GDP), between either of those adjusted for purchasing power parity (GNP/PPP, GDP/PPP), and between current dollars and real dollars. It is also important that you understand how to read graphs (including 100-as-baseline graphs) and that you gain a sense of the origin and reliability of economic statistics. To do so, go to the Explanatory Notes on the Web site, and review "Economics: Technical Terms and Sources."

Chapter 12: International Economic Competition and Cooperation

Throughout this book we have seen that many forces work at cross purposes in the world system. There was our discussion of integration versus disintegration of political units as discussed in Chapter 2; our discussion of nationalism versus trans-nationalism in Chapters 4 and 5; the forces of sovereignty versus supranationalism as discussed in Chapters 8, 9, and elsewhere. This chapter discusses yet another dueling set of tendencies; national economic competition versus global, transnationalism and regional economic cooperation.

Chapter 13: Preserving and Enhancing Human Rights and Dignity

As we near the end of this survey of world politics, it is appropriate to pause momentarily to remember that, amid all the sound and fury, politics ought to be about maintaining or improving the quality of life of people. We have been exploring whether the traditional state-based international system that operates on self-interested competition can best protect and enhance humanity or whether the alternative of global cooperation in an international system with reduced sovereignty will lead to a more felicitous future. This and the next chapter continue that inquiry by addressing the human rights and social dignity of the world's people and the condition of the biosphere that they inhabit. First, this chapter will address preserving and enhancing human rights and dignity by looking at efforts to provide for the human body and spirit. Then, Chapter 14 will take up environmental concerns and programs.

Chapter 14: Preserving and Enhancing the Global Commons

This chapter deals with ecological concerns and cooperation, but it is in many ways an extension of the human rights issues in Chapter 13. One connection between the two chapters is the normative question, "Should we care?" Clearly, the view in this text is that we all should care. Self-interest compels us to attend to issues of the world's expanding population, the depletion of natural resources, the increase of chemical discharges into the environment, and the impact of these trends on the global biosphere. You will see that new approaches are needed because solutions attempted by single countries will be insufficient to solve the problems we humans face collectively. The issues discussed in this chapter are transnational problems. Therefore, their solution requires transnational programs achieved through international cooperation (Zurn, 1998; Bellany, 1997).


World Politics: International Politics on the World Stage, Brief, 4/e
John T. Rourke, University of Connecticut - Storrs
Mark A. Boyer, University of Connecticut - Storrs



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