The Value of Political Realism

Introduction

The debate on political realism, a set of ontological assumptions about international politics, has been a central theme in international relations over the past 40 years. Many scholars and politicians have wrestled over the question of the limitations and insights of realism. Still, realism seems very much alive today, one reason perhaps being that the value of realism as an analytical tool seems to become more relevant to policymakers in times of crises. In turn, such changes cause further debate among realists and their critics.

In PACEM 5:2 (2002), Commander Raag Rolfsen1Rolfsen, 2002: 115 in practise argues that we are in need of a new framework for analysing international politics. According to Rolfsen,

A situation characterized by globalisation, democratisation and a new sense of shared vulnerability demands a novel theoretical framework for world politics.

Rolfsen`s aim is indeed ambitious, but his state of departure is surprising: political realism cannot provide this framework because, again according to Rolfsen, it was developed in an undemocratic environment.2Ibid: 115. Thus, we are not far from concluding that realism is corrupted and that realists are conspicuous people.3Numerous scholars have reduced the meaning of realism to a level of banality. The worst among the more famous efforts to do so can be found in Walzer`s (1977) chapter 1 of Just and Unjust Wars. In this book Walzer actually mistakes the conduct in war of the generals of Athens for political realism as such. Unfortunately, some realists are responsible for this confusion, since they have included Thucydides as part of the school of thought that we have named political realism. I believe this unfeasible view also has been represented in earlier versions of PACEM. This bold proclamation illuminates the front between idealism and realism in a manner that is not typical of Norwegian academic discourses on international relations. Rolfsen has delivered a substantial and refreshing article. It is of such originality and importance that it deserves to be debated and criticised, which is no evident feature in contributions on world politics in Norway. Having said that, my motivation to engage in such a debate does not spring from a wholehearted embracement of realism. Rather, its source is the belief that a theory of foreign policy cannot do without significant elements of realism. Traditional security policy can never remove our vulnerability. At this point there simply is no disagreement between “realists” and “idealists”. However, security has an instrumental value in ensuring other ends. Thus, acknowledging our vulnerability does not remove the value and importance of security as phenomenon and concept.4Buzan, 1991, is an interesting example of a “softer”, yet umistakenly, structural realism acknowledging this.

In this article, I will discuss whether the effort to construct a new security concept possibly can succeed when it simultaneously becomes an attack on political realism (PR). Rolfsen undoubtedly deals some blows against Hans Morgenthau’s Theory of International Politics, although the same points have been made by others before him.5It is often the case that pioneering works are easy to criticise. This was especially true of Morgenthau, who in 1948 tried to challenge American idealism. In this way, his Politics Among Nations got a programmatic character. Thus, Americans criticised Morgenthau for his “Germanic” way of thinking. Indeed, political realism has to be anchored to ideals and visions of desired end states beyond its basic assumptions,6E.h: Carr stressed this point in an elegant manner in 1939. As a realist, he clearly saw that realism must be connected to visions and goals with stronger normative appeals. I believe it is rather obvious that all political realists in the Western world writing after Holocaust in fact were motivated by the desire to avoid future tragedies on the horrendous scale witnessed during WW II. Thus, the aim of Morgenthau, Kissinger, Waltz and others was not to found a Normative Justification for Democracy (witness the contrast with post WW II-German social theory), but to contribute to a theory of how to secure the precondition of democracy and human rights. Thus, the main concern of political realists is the survival of sovereign states and basic principles to remain stability in the relations among sovereign states. Not, I will hold, as an ultimate goal for human rationality, but in order to secure democracy and decency in world politics. The avoidance of war is the basis for upholding democracy and human rights at all. but my main line of argument is that any attempt at establishing a basis for ethical conduct in politics is bound to remain a purely theoretical construction without empirical relevance if it is not mixed with a sound and thorough understanding of PR. The reason simply is, that since the existence of a polity is a precondition for thinking about, implementing and evaluating policies in other areas, politics based on realism is required in the first place in order to secure the polity. There can be no democracy without a modern state, and no state without a minimum level of security through a monopoly of violence. Herein lies a significant aspect of what makes the state legitimate to its citizens. In this way, one can even claim that all normative evaluations and – theories implicitly rest on minimum requirements both to the practises and theoretical considerations of realism.7Thinking, in the abstract, about security and vulnerability is possible without a polity. But to carry out or evaluate governmental policies along the security dimension requires a state. Indeed, one should at least question whether attempts at denying the empirical relevance of PR could lead us into paralysis or hypocrisy. The latter can even serve, unintentionally to be sure, as a basis for demonising opponents, thus functioning as a (moral) sentiment that forms the basis of a more hawkish or brutal conduct in international crisis than is necessary. The prudence found in Morgenthau should not be seen as cynical or a-ethical, but rather as a configuration of thought that should balance our aspirations to fulfil what Morgenthau calls the ultimate aims of politics. The central political problem is exactly how to translate these aspirations (like democracy and human rights) into feasible and efficient decisions. But in order to pursue these important goals, the ability to use power, be it hard or soft, is required.

In his bold attempt at constructing an alternative to political realism, Rolfsen in fact lends himself to a description of certain current developmens8I believe Rolfsen and I are not commencing from incommensurable scientific standpoints, since Rolfsen`s article indicates that he believes it possible to analyse social reality. The last lines on page 115 shows that he is able to characterise the present global state of affairs in a rather straightforward manner. that is built on elements of realism, while his proposals (a new understanding of security) is based on strong appeals to idealism in the sense that he sees his own suggestions as a real alternative to PR. Concerning the latter point, Rolfsen could have found a richer tradition of thought in PR if he had also looked elsewhere than in Morgenthau. The core of realism is prudence, not aggression, unilateralism or imperialism.9See especially Kissinger, 1957, and Wæver, 1992.

In my opinion, the gap between idealism and realism is such in Rolfsen`s contribution that it deserves an answer concerning his conception of political realism. Having said this, I believe Rolfsen`s attempt should be applauded for its frankness and its refreshing normative statements. My main concern here is not to criticise a particular author, but rather to illuminate the weaknesses I have come to see as inherent in all contributions to normative theory in which political realism is too easily condemned, grossly simplified, ridiculed or simply ignored.

Rolfsen on Realism

The first aspect in Rolfsen`s article that strikes me as odd is his very selective reading of political realism. As Wæver10Wæver, 1992: chapter 3. shows, there is no such thing as a single “political realism” that can be treated as a Theory. Rather,

Political realism should be seen as a group or class of theories, hypothesis and world views that have no more in common than a pessimistic view towards utopian notions of progress solely based on appeals to reason and values.

Unfortunately, realists tell us, our first task is to secure relative peace (absence of war) and stability. Realists thus are sceptical against any thinker or politician who claims to have found a promising path towards a platform on which to build a universal approach to secure democracy, toleration, the rule of law, human rights and peace, all being the ultimate goals of both idealists and realists. But building peace is actually far more difficult than wishing it. This latter truism is a classical inspiration of political realism, since it leads the scholar into considering an ethics of responsibility and expected consequences rather than elaborate attempts at analysing universally applicable ethical norms. As mentioned, the central normative appeal in realism itself is that the survival of the polity is the precondition for thinking about foreign policy (including ethics) at all.

I believe that any serious discussion of ethics in politics, and policies of security, should acknowledge this heritage of PR as a starting point of the discussion. I believe most realists would pose the following question; how can it be immoral to lay emphasis on the survival of one’s own polity? Realists will claim that, in principle, there is nothing wrong a priori, in striving to meet the most basic of all national interests; namely survival.

Rolfsen, in my view, has based his criticism of realism on three fragile assumptions. Firstly, he asserts that realism “takes as its basic assumption that power is, or ought to be, the primary end of political action.”11Rolfsen, 2002: 118.Secondly; “The theory has a long history.”12Rolfsen, 2002: 118. Thirdly, according to Rolfsen, the writings (here defined as one single publication) by Hans J. Morgenthau can be seen as representing Political realism. I believe Rolfsen misses some highly substantial nuances on all three points, and that his treatment of especially the first and third assumptions produces an analysis of realism that gives us fewer insights than could have been possible by a richer reading of realism. Concerning assumption one; to say, as Morgenthau, that all politics is about power, and is a struggle for power, is not to claim that power itself is the ultimate aim of politics. Rather, power is a desired goal in the first instance, since once required; it is a means to reach ultimate, substantial human values. The way Rolfsen treats his assumptions on realism, they all point in the same direction; towards the abandonment of realism and the adoption of the “need for a New Understanding of Security.” We may be right in emphasising the need for a broader and richer concept of security than that envisaged by Morgenthau, but this concept must embrace security in the traditional sense while simultaneously including a broader set of questions and priorities. Thus, realism cannot be easily dismissed out of hand.
Regarding assumption two, the portrait of realism as an old school of thought also seems to serve a special purpose. Who can resist such a conclusion when, in Rolfsen`s words, realism;

in Morgenthau`s version, is thus conservative, undemocratic and irrational.13Rolfsen, 2002: 121.

I am simply surprised by the strategy chosen by Rolfsen at this point. By portraying PR as undemocratic, he has simply tried to close the debate concerning the theoretical underpinnings of the security concept. Rolfsen has also, in my view implicitly, dismissed the policy of national survival as a precondition for thinking about security in the modern state. If this is not Rolfsen`s view (and I doubt that it really is), he must clarify his arguments, since his attack on PR and defence of the vulnerability-concept to a significant degree points in the direction of pacifism. I do not believe that it is possible to harmonise the “ethics of vulnerability” as proposed by Rolfsen, with the model for thinking about security as proposed in Forsvarets Fellesoperative doktrine, del A.14FFOD, del A: 81. Thus, it would be highly interesting to know what implications the “ethics of vulnerability”, if taken seriously, could have for the future of the Norwegian Armed Forces.

Rolfsen sees the “undemocratic” element of realism as a result of the historical context in which PR was forged. At this point, he is simply wrong. Political realism as a school of thought was only developed from 1939 till 1957 by scholars in the US and the UK!15See Wæver, 1992: chapter 3 for this view. I believe the formation of realism began in earnest with E. H. Carr`s The Twenty years Crisis (1939), and was consolidated with Kissinger`s A World Restored (1957).

The possible argument16Assuming that PR is indeed an “old school” of thought, like both some realists and their opponents believe. that PR would be unfit for present analysis, if it had been crafted in an “undemocratic context” would be no more sensible than the claim that the philosophy of Immanuel Kant must be flawed because Kant lived in 18th century Prussia!

Political realism is certainly not incompatible with democracy, toleration, and the defence of human rights. But PR is not a theory about these phenomena as such! Rather, PR is a school of thought overwhelmingly preoccupied by how to protect these values. Morgenthau has never claimed to present a Theory of Ethics, simply because politics always is about the tension between ethics (including “ultimate aims”, in the words of Morgenthau) and feasible actions and outcomes (immediate aims). When political realism was constructed in the Western World in the 20th Century, it was implicitly in defence against appeasement as well as against what Kissinger called revolutionary powers. By revolutionary powers, Kissinger meant the powers that seek destruction of others in order to secure themselves. To avoid the destruction of its own policy clearly must be given priority in times of crises. Furthermore, there has never existed a modern democracy without a functioning state. And in modern history, the rule of law and respect for basic human rights has hardly existed outside of democracies. It is for these reasons political scientists have been so occupied with the study of the relations between states, state institutions and democratisation.17There are many other subjects that are studied as well. The question of ethics in politics seems to be a growing field of study. Perhaps a fruitful cooperation between theologians, philosophers and social scientists could develop out of this common concern?

To return to the slightly more arcane ground of theories; When discussing PR, the critic should lay more emphasis on the recent development of the theory, since its present outlook is NOT a result of laying one brick on top of another in a cumulative construction of knowledge. At this point, we have reached Rolfsen`s third assumptionof realism. Most political realists today (see for example Waltz, 1979 and Wendt, 1999) explain the existence of an international anarchy18The concept of anarchy is also a debatable metaphor that is an obvious aim for criticism. The meaning of anarchy is only logical when contrasted with the opposite-hierarchy. Thus, a centralised institution of authority responsible for decision-making represents hierarchy. Anarchy, on the other hand, characterises a de-centralised mode of responsibility and decision-making procedures. not through generalisations on human nature, but through the structures of international politics themselves. The point is that the present power politics between large powers exists and will remain to exist independently of our conception of human nature. By and large, there is nothing “new” in this mode of thinking. As a matter of fact, Thomas Hobbes (1651) stressed that while a state of nature actually never existed among rational human beings, a state of nature did indeed exist amongst sovereigns, since one central supranational authority has never existed. But the point is that Hobbes never claimed that this state of affairs was a result of the human nature, but rather a result of the nature of international politics itself. There will never be no International authority with credible legislative or executive branches that states will be responsible to.19To make such a stament is NOT an argument in defence of such a state of affairs. Herein, in short, lay the roots of the turbulent character of international relations. But at the same time, this structural realism does not lend itself to metaphysical generalisations on human nature. Like the ethics of vulnerability proposed by Rolfsen, this is also an argument in favour of acknowledging the limits of our aspirations to make our own values universal.

The first flaw in realism, according to Rolfsen, is its self-representation as “a-ethical”, while simultaneously claiming normative appeal. I believe Rolfsen is right in criticising any political realist that makes such claims. However, I am not able to find any such realist theorist since modern political realism was born in the middle of the 20th Century. Even a hardcore realist as Morgenthau (1993: 12) states,

Political realism is aware of the moral significance of political action.

Morgenthau is not a-ethical. His ethics is simply an ethics of expected consequences. In this respect, he is not so different from the founder of empirical sociology, Max Weber. Having said this, I agree with Rolfsen that Morgenthau is not very sophisticated on the distinction between the descriptive and prescriptive aspects of his theory. Morgenthau is actually quite honest; he does not purport to present a theory of ethics. I believe it unfair to PR, however, to exclusively explain PR on the basis of Morgenthau`s writings. Why has Rolfsen not quoted E.H. Carr? Why is structural realism totally ignored? Perhaps the ethical implications of these theories are harder to address? The alternative to this kind of ethics in politics is not necessarily attractive. This does not exclude the possibility that genuinely altruistic behaviour might occur in international relations, whenever this is possible under the given circumstances. But most importantly, there might be good reasons for following the implicit ethics of PR – the ethics of consequences, judged by pragmatically interpreted moral criteria. Perhaps it was this line of reasoning that led Morgenthau to criticise the US decision to wage war in Vietnam in the first place?

Let us go a bit further in evaluating the practical consequences of political realism versus idealism in discourses on armed intervention. When considering this question, one could perhaps continue by reflecting over the war between NATO and FRY in 1999. To many a political realist, including officers and old “hawks” as Henry Kissinger, the justification, the diplomacy leading up to, as well as the conduct of, the war on behalf of NATO seemed dubious. The idealistic “humanists” on the other hand, more or less portrayed the conflict as a classical drama between Good and Evil, in which other means than military force was seen as insufficient in order to reach a peaceful solution.20Without mentioning names, I must confess that I was rather surprised by the intense defence of the air campaign by members of SV and humanitarian organisations (Norwegian NGOs) prior to the war in 1999. These defenders of intervention undoubtedly had the best of intentions. The problem was perhaps not whether or not we should intervene, but how this actually should be done. At the time of writing, there is much debate worldwide, including in the US polity (Rolfsen is silent on the latter debate), whether and how the USA should invade Iraq. Again, political realists seem to be much more reluctant to such unilateral US actions. These critics include Lawrence Eagleburger, Norman Schwartzkopf, A. Zenni, B. Scowcroft, Wesley Clark, Samuel Huntington and again, Henry Kissinger. The debates on Vietnam, Kosovo and Iraq show that political realism might perhaps be a more sophisticated ethical platform than Rolfsen thinks. In line with Jon Hellesnes21Morgenbladet, 24 mai 2002., the reason is perhaps that political realism is less ideologically laden than any other alternative. Consistent political realists do not demonise the “Other”. Thus, one is forced to balance the possible with the desirable, to recognise one’s opponent or allied as a bearer of a distinct identity. The point made by Hellesnes actually is that there can be good reasons to follow what he calls the methodological a-moralism22I believe this is a rather odd word. Further, I think Hellesnes is wrong in claiming that realism is a-moralistic. On the contrary, the ethics of responsibility, that Hellesnes seems to defend, is implicit in PR. of political realism, since the ultimate aim of realism is to decrease levels of destruction and the use of violence.

His assumption that unilateral “hegemony” is incompatible with political realism is not a particularly strong case against realism. For further readings, one can only recommend reading Robert Gilpin23Gilpin, 1987. and Immanuel Wallerstein.24Wallerstein, 1974, 1980, 1989. Wallerstein shares a materialistic view of history with realist theorists. One should also note the close epistemological similarity between Wallerstein and Waltz, 1979. Both scholars ascribe the logic of the international system to its decentralised and unpersonal systemic structures. One should not, as Einar Steensnæs (address delivered on September 14th 1999, conference on Military ethics in Oslo Militære Samfund, arranged by Feltprestkorpset), be surprised that realists (like many officers) sometimes share the view of left-wing radicals when it comes to humanitarian interventions. The reason is their common scepticism towards idealistic goals in foreign policy, and especially the feasibility of producing Democracy, a thriving market economy and human rights in areas of unrest through the use of bombs and grenades. The basic point about the balance of power is NOT that there always exists such a balance, but that international politics always is in a flux to and from such equilibria. To be short; “hegemony” is not incompatible with realism. According to Rolfsen, the USA is a hegemonous power, while realism still thrives! The substantial question at this stage is what Rolfsen, and other scholars applying the term, actually mean by a “hegemon”. As political realists will be quick to point out, the phrase can be utterly misleading. The reason simply is that the concept leaves the impression of one single, unrestrained hegemonious power with the abilities to achieve what it wants, where it wants. This is hardly an accurate or rich description of reality; witness the economic balance of power between the EU and the USA, and the relatively weak influence of the United States on Chinese foreign and domestic politics. The use of the term hegemony thus distorts the perception of world politics by ignoring the second and the third worlds.

Moreover, when Rolfsen25Rolfsen, 2002: 120. claims that PR goes beyond logical positivism, he is off the mark; both Kissinger and Morgenthau are highly modest on one point; what it is possible and impossible to deduce from general theorems about politics. At the same time, this leaves the political realist with a limited number of rules that are believed to be generally applicable. The very reasons for these, at first sight, simple theories are the very empirical complexities of the phenomena to be studied. One cannot gain more than a framework for asking the right questions and looking at the right places when studying foreign policy.26I do not believe that one can construct a theory that is both empirically accurate and holistically embraces a universal ethical prescription. It is in fact an open question whether the moral, economic and political spheres could or should be integrated. On Morgenthau, Liska (1977: 105) once said, “the result was commitment to an analysis that is crude in appearance. But, when applied so as to detect the ‘real’ motives and define or delimit ‘relevant’ structures or configurations, it is also more incisively explanatory (as well as theoretically more elegant and parsimonious) than has been any of the competing alternatives. It also cut sharper and deeper than did the sagacious reconciliation and syntheses of the major contemporary critic of Morgenthau, the late and regretted Arnold Wolfers. After all, when all the distinctions are seen through the underlying drive, Wolfer`s ‘pole of indifference’ to power or, relatedly, policy of ‘self-abnegation’ with respect to power, do not change much that is fundamental. So describable instances represented historically either capitulations to irremediable insufficiency of power or else camouflages for a power superiority so overwhelming as to both permit and induce its effacement from explicit discourse and constant awareness”(my italics).

The rest is to be left to astrologists and soothsayers. Thus, Morgenthau once criticised the foreign policy of J.F. Kennedy in the following way:

The statesman must cross the Rubicon not knowing how deep and turbulent the river is, or what he will find on the other side (…) Rather than seeking unattainable knowledge, he must reconcile himself to ineluctable ignorance. He is the leading part in a tragedy, and he must act the part.27Morgenthau, 1962: 344, cited in Wæver, 1992: 48.

 

On page 116 Rolfsen state;

The victimization of the US brought about by the terrorist attacks was what the US government needed to play with confidence its role as the only superpower left on the world stage.

How should one interpret such a statement? In footnote nr. 7 on page 117, Rolfsen claims that while he does not mean to imply that the US wanted the attack to happen (I am glad he makes the qualification). One reasonable interpretation is that Rolfsen thinks that it was convenient for the US that the tragedy occurred. From the US attitude and conduct after September 11th, Rolfsen is quite simply able to deduce that the US has wanted to perform these alleged acts of realism. How is he able to make this insight available to us? It is not entirely clear, but it seems to me that by this assumption, Rolfsen has made himself into a descriptive realist. Because the US has power, it really wants to use this power freely28At this point, he perhaps is right. – might is right, in Rolfsen`s terminology. As far as I can tell, it nevertheless is a description on the present situation that is bluntly based on Machiavellism. At the same time, Rolfsen condemns this increased use of unilateralism by the US. As far as I can see, his criticism on this point is analogous to a normative underpinning of political realism as prescription; the use of force should be restricted to instances where national survival or the basic principles providing international stability are at stake.

Rolfsen suggests that idealism “was still balancing the dominant political realism»29Rolfsen, 2002: 116. through the 1990s. Realism, presumably, is the wild tiger now let loose to wreak havoc in the international arena. On the other hand, Rolfsen describes most facets of current developments in international politics as realism! Thus the

victimization brought about by the terrorist attacks prepared the soil for realism, gave vigorous growth and made it blossom; thus shaping the form, not only of US foreign and security policy, but also of current world politics as a whole.30Rolfsen, 2002: 117.

Increased co-ordination between Russia and NATO is also seen as a sign of increased US unilateralism;31ibid: footnote 7, p. 117. the crisis in the Middle East is a result of political realism; all is “partly” explainable through the “internal flaws” of the theory. In other words; Rolfsen admits that realism is a good explanation and description of world politics, but is it reasonable to claim that human misery is a result of realism as a school of thought? I do not think so. Foreign policy is never pure idealism, nor is it ever pure realism.

An alternative framework for World Politics?

I applaud all scholars who seek to construct an alternative to political realism as description of and prescription for international politics. Nevertheless, it seems to me that there is a considerable gap between practitioners and students of foreign policy on the one hand, and theologians and philosophers interested in ethics and politics on the other. To us empirical social scientists, and to officers, I dare say, such alternative modes of thinking about politics should seek certain criteria.32What criteria theories should meet is debatable, to be sure. However, I believe that some basic criteria found in scientific realism are unavoidable for both students and practitioners of politics. One might argue that social phenomena are socially constructed, but that does not imply that these phenomena are not realities that can be studied as such. First, it should be rather consistent.33In other words, the theory should not contradict itself; a minimum requirement of consistency. Second, it should be possible to check the theory on the phenomena with the corresponding, observable real world-phenomena.34I believe in scientific realism. For an interesting discussion, see Searle, 1995. Thus, the theory must principally be of such character that its basic assumptions and deductions can be refuted by empirical observations. Thirdly, it should be substantial.35The substantiality-criteria is applied in a highly pragmatic way in the human sciences today. I believe that Rolfsen`s “Ethics of vulnerability” (in contrast to his analysis of realism) meets the first and third criteria. He might argue that the second criterion is irrelevant, since his contribution primarily is in the field of ethics. But in that case, he supports Morgenthau`s assertions about the autonomy of the political, ethical and economic spheres of thought. In my view, Rolfsen has to accept criteria number two in order to present an alternative framework for thinking about security. In the social sciences, as well as in operational art, military theory and strategy, we construct theories that simplify complex reality. These devices then help us understand parts of more complex systems or processes. But in order to construct theories and hypothesis, we must make our assumptions explicit; that is, make them available and open to debate and refutation. Morgenthau did just that in his classical work Politics Among Nations. Although Morgenthau was overly ambitious, it is clear that his aim was to see what scope and limitations there was in the construction he called “A Realist Theory of International Politics”;

The test by which such a theory must be judged is not a priori and abstract but empirical and pragmatic. The theory, in other words, must be judged not by some preconceived abstract principle or concept unrelated to reality, but by its purpose: to bring order and meaning to a mass of phenomena which without it would remain disconnected and unintelligible. It must meet a dual test, an empirical and a logical one.36Morgenthau, 1993: 3.

To me, as an officer with at least some training in the social sciences, theories that do not meet the criteria above remain purely theoretical constructions that cannot help us interpret our environment.37Thus, such theories will only help upholding the distinctions between the moral and political sphere. As Morgenthau stressed repeatedly, in the study of war and peace as empirical phenomena, we are forced to make assumptions about human behaviour and the system we call society. Against this, the scholar of ethics will argue that he is doing normative theory. But in that case, normative theory will still occupy its own sphere, distinct from empirical or descriptive theories and research. I am a strong supporter of debates on ethics and moral conduct both in politics and in the use of violence by military units as ordered by the modern state apparatus. Thus, Feltprestkorpset should continue to raise questions concerning both jus ad bellumand certainly concerning jus in bello. I doubt, however, that Rolfsen`s suggestions will help us to a significant degree in constructing a framework for analysing security. This is because its basis in the ethics of Emmanuel Levinas will make it a helpless victim when confronted with actors with lesser understanding and empathy for the “Ethics of Vulnerability”.38The attitude in this ethics is aptly illustrated by Rolfsen on page 124; “I am demanded by the vulnerability of the other” etc. How exactly should “a focus on (strength in) weakness, receptivity, vulnerability»39ibid: 125. help us create a new understanding of security? Of course we are all vulnerable, but humanity is as a matter of fact divided into sovereign states that to a varying degree is supposed to give this protection. We cannot unthink this state of affairs. That some states break down only increases insecurity for their inhabitants and their neighbours. The central assumption made by Morgenthau was not that ethics was not part of political deliberations in real life. However, he maintained that at the time of writing, there did not exist any ethical theory or guidelines that could determine political decisions. Rather, ethical concerns must be balanced with the politically possible, as well as the effects of attempts at conducting a foreign policy that is “right” judged by a theory of abstract ethics. This has been evident to most political leaders in the Western world when faced with challengers such as Adolf Hitler or The Empire of Japan in 1941. Even when faced with such opponents, jus in bello is still important for several reasons. Personally, however, I do not believe that a theory of ethics all together can remove the imperatives of survival found in realism. Rather, ethics and moral philosophy complement political realism and the logic of expected consequences.

References

Buzan, Barry (1991), People, States and Fear, London, Longman.

Carr, E.H (1939/64), The Twenty Years`Crisis 1919-1939 – An Introduction to the Study of International Relations, New York, Harper & Row.

Gilpin, Robert (1987), The Political Economy of International relations, Princeton, Princeton University press.

Hellesnes, Jon (2002), “Tre illusjonar om militærmakt og krigføring”, Morgenbladet, 24. mai 2002.

Hobbes, Thomas (1651/1968), Leviathan, London, Penguin Books.

Kissinger, Henry (1957), A World Restored – Metternich, Castleraegh and the Problems of Peace 1812-22, London, Weidenfeld& Nicolson.

Liska, George (1977), “Morgenthau vs. Machiavelli: Political Realism and Power Politics”, in Thompson & Myers (1977), Truth and Tragedy: A Tribute to Hans J. Morgenthau, Washington, New Republic Books.

Morgenthau, Hans J, (1993), Politics Among Nations – The Struggle for Power and Peace, New York, Mcgrew Hill

Rolfsen, Raag (2002) “Political Realism and the Ethics of Vulnerability: The Need for a New Understanding of Security after September 11”, in PACEM, 5:2, 2002: 115-136.

Searle, J. (1995), The Construction of Social reality, New York, The Free Press.

Thompson, K. & Myers, R.J. (1977), Truth and Tragedy: A Tribute to Hans J. Morgenthau, Washington, New Republic Books.

Wallerstein, Immanuel (1974), The Modern World-System, I, New York, Academic Press.

Wallerstein, Immanuel (1980), The Modern World-System, II, San Diego, Academic Press.

Wallerstein, Immanuel (1989), The Modern World-System, III, San Diego, Academic Press.

Waltz, Kenneth (1979), Theory of International Politics, Boston, Addison-Wesley.

Walzer, Michael (1977), Just and Unjust wars – A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations, New York, Basic Books.

Wendt, Alexander (1999), Social Theory of International Politics, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Fotnoter   [ + ]

1. Rolfsen, 2002: 115
2. Ibid: 115.
3. Numerous scholars have reduced the meaning of realism to a level of banality. The worst among the more famous efforts to do so can be found in Walzer`s (1977) chapter 1 of Just and Unjust Wars. In this book Walzer actually mistakes the conduct in war of the generals of Athens for political realism as such. Unfortunately, some realists are responsible for this confusion, since they have included Thucydides as part of the school of thought that we have named political realism. I believe this unfeasible view also has been represented in earlier versions of PACEM.
4. Buzan, 1991, is an interesting example of a “softer”, yet umistakenly, structural realism acknowledging this.
5. It is often the case that pioneering works are easy to criticise. This was especially true of Morgenthau, who in 1948 tried to challenge American idealism. In this way, his Politics Among Nations got a programmatic character. Thus, Americans criticised Morgenthau for his “Germanic” way of thinking.
6. E.h: Carr stressed this point in an elegant manner in 1939. As a realist, he clearly saw that realism must be connected to visions and goals with stronger normative appeals. I believe it is rather obvious that all political realists in the Western world writing after Holocaust in fact were motivated by the desire to avoid future tragedies on the horrendous scale witnessed during WW II. Thus, the aim of Morgenthau, Kissinger, Waltz and others was not to found a Normative Justification for Democracy (witness the contrast with post WW II-German social theory), but to contribute to a theory of how to secure the precondition of democracy and human rights. Thus, the main concern of political realists is the survival of sovereign states and basic principles to remain stability in the relations among sovereign states. Not, I will hold, as an ultimate goal for human rationality, but in order to secure democracy and decency in world politics. The avoidance of war is the basis for upholding democracy and human rights at all.
7. Thinking, in the abstract, about security and vulnerability is possible without a polity. But to carry out or evaluate governmental policies along the security dimension requires a state.
8. I believe Rolfsen and I are not commencing from incommensurable scientific standpoints, since Rolfsen`s article indicates that he believes it possible to analyse social reality. The last lines on page 115 shows that he is able to characterise the present global state of affairs in a rather straightforward manner.
9. See especially Kissinger, 1957, and Wæver, 1992.
10. Wæver, 1992: chapter 3.
11, 12. Rolfsen, 2002: 118.
13. Rolfsen, 2002: 121.
14. FFOD, del A: 81.
15. See Wæver, 1992: chapter 3 for this view. I believe the formation of realism began in earnest with E. H. Carr`s The Twenty years Crisis (1939), and was consolidated with Kissinger`s A World Restored (1957).
16. Assuming that PR is indeed an “old school” of thought, like both some realists and their opponents believe.
17. There are many other subjects that are studied as well. The question of ethics in politics seems to be a growing field of study. Perhaps a fruitful cooperation between theologians, philosophers and social scientists could develop out of this common concern?
18. The concept of anarchy is also a debatable metaphor that is an obvious aim for criticism. The meaning of anarchy is only logical when contrasted with the opposite-hierarchy. Thus, a centralised institution of authority responsible for decision-making represents hierarchy. Anarchy, on the other hand, characterises a de-centralised mode of responsibility and decision-making procedures.
19. To make such a stament is NOT an argument in defence of such a state of affairs.
20. Without mentioning names, I must confess that I was rather surprised by the intense defence of the air campaign by members of SV and humanitarian organisations (Norwegian NGOs) prior to the war in 1999. These defenders of intervention undoubtedly had the best of intentions. The problem was perhaps not whether or not we should intervene, but how this actually should be done.
21. Morgenbladet, 24 mai 2002.
22. I believe this is a rather odd word. Further, I think Hellesnes is wrong in claiming that realism is a-moralistic. On the contrary, the ethics of responsibility, that Hellesnes seems to defend, is implicit in PR.
23. Gilpin, 1987.
24. Wallerstein, 1974, 1980, 1989. Wallerstein shares a materialistic view of history with realist theorists. One should also note the close epistemological similarity between Wallerstein and Waltz, 1979. Both scholars ascribe the logic of the international system to its decentralised and unpersonal systemic structures. One should not, as Einar Steensnæs (address delivered on September 14th 1999, conference on Military ethics in Oslo Militære Samfund, arranged by Feltprestkorpset), be surprised that realists (like many officers) sometimes share the view of left-wing radicals when it comes to humanitarian interventions. The reason is their common scepticism towards idealistic goals in foreign policy, and especially the feasibility of producing Democracy, a thriving market economy and human rights in areas of unrest through the use of bombs and grenades.
25. Rolfsen, 2002: 120.
26. I do not believe that one can construct a theory that is both empirically accurate and holistically embraces a universal ethical prescription. It is in fact an open question whether the moral, economic and political spheres could or should be integrated. On Morgenthau, Liska (1977: 105) once said, “the result was commitment to an analysis that is crude in appearance. But, when applied so as to detect the ‘real’ motives and define or delimit ‘relevant’ structures or configurations, it is also more incisively explanatory (as well as theoretically more elegant and parsimonious) than has been any of the competing alternatives. It also cut sharper and deeper than did the sagacious reconciliation and syntheses of the major contemporary critic of Morgenthau, the late and regretted Arnold Wolfers. After all, when all the distinctions are seen through the underlying drive, Wolfer`s ‘pole of indifference’ to power or, relatedly, policy of ‘self-abnegation’ with respect to power, do not change much that is fundamental. So describable instances represented historically either capitulations to irremediable insufficiency of power or else camouflages for a power superiority so overwhelming as to both permit and induce its effacement from explicit discourse and constant awareness”(my italics).
27. Morgenthau, 1962: 344, cited in Wæver, 1992: 48.
28. At this point, he perhaps is right.
29. Rolfsen, 2002: 116.
30. Rolfsen, 2002: 117.
31. ibid: footnote 7, p. 117.
32. What criteria theories should meet is debatable, to be sure. However, I believe that some basic criteria found in scientific realism are unavoidable for both students and practitioners of politics. One might argue that social phenomena are socially constructed, but that does not imply that these phenomena are not realities that can be studied as such.
33. In other words, the theory should not contradict itself; a minimum requirement of consistency.
34. I believe in scientific realism. For an interesting discussion, see Searle, 1995.
35. The substantiality-criteria is applied in a highly pragmatic way in the human sciences today.
36. Morgenthau, 1993: 3.
37. Thus, such theories will only help upholding the distinctions between the moral and political sphere.
38. The attitude in this ethics is aptly illustrated by Rolfsen on page 124; “I am demanded by the vulnerability of the other” etc.
39. ibid: 125.

Legg igjen en kommentar

Din e-postadresse vil ikke bli publisert.