Balance of Power

For centuries, the balance of power has been a confusing notion. The bottom line is, states try to ally with each other to create equality between the opposing alliances, which is necessary to preserve peace in an anarchical international system. Trying to preserve their integrity and national interests, smaller states find it necessary to cooperate with larger states to enlarge their military capabilities and make sure that other large or small states would not dare intervene. Such cooperation is called external balancing and it creates an atmosphere of distrust and competition in the international political arena. Any party can be an ally or a foe to the other party depending on the state’s needs and a current balance of power.

Though there are multiple goals for countries to pursue, survival is the primary one, and it stimulates states to gain additional military power. This is the simplest explanation of why different alliances form. Realists put two more assumptions to this thesis. First, the acquisition of power by one state means its loss for another one. And last, an aggression against a weaker state is an anticipated behavior of a stronger state that pursues greater power. In fact, states naturally think for themselves thus they seek superiority. In this competition, however, they create the system that puts them in balance with each other.

By the 1970s, the described realist paradigm faced criticism and was redefined as neorealism. Anyway, the balance of power has been and still remains the central principle of organization within the anarchical international system. There is no other way for small states to gain protection than to align with more powerful states, and the principle remains valid even in the 21st century. Balance strategy is rather a natural result of normal international relations. After the iron curtain has gone, the bipolar balance of power characteristic to the 20th century vanished. Today we observe an increasing role of soft balancing that determines international relationships.

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Leadership and Decision Making

The behavior of individual political leaders largely influences international policymaking. Despite it is common for single groups and coalitions of autonomous actors make decisions after negotiations, single political leaders have enough power to engage in international relations without consulting other sides. Personality traits, as well as cognition and motives, push leaders towards certain decisions, not all of them being peaceful or considerate.

The attitude of a single leader is not the cause behind all international decisions but it may result in most unexpected decisions. Since the iron curtain has fallen, there is more room for miscommunication and misinterpretation in the international relationships. As there is no common view on the scale of terrorism or the hegemony of leading economies, it is highly important to understand how political elites interpret these conditions.

Scholars have determined three types of conditions under which politicians are most likely to act out of their own beliefs and understanding. Here belong uncertainty in international threats, trade-offs on their way to meeting goals, and the environment where the political authority is fragmented. In cases like these, it is difficult to rationally determine the best course of action. Crisis is another source of uncertainty, threat, and time pressure that forces politicians to make quick decisions. When there is a lack of information or factual evidence, psychological factors and individual perception drive one’s decision-making.

Motives, cognition, and personality traits affect the behavior of a leader and their decisions. Motives are goals towards which people strive. They determine the perception of opportunity and the source of leader’s satisfaction or stress. Major motives of the authorities are power, achievement, and affiliation. Cognition determines how leaders see other people in authority, social systems, and themselves. Cognition processes determine how people select and interpret information. Unlike motives or cognition, traits are a visible component of personality. Political psychologists determine five traits fundamental to leaders. They are extraversion, agreeableness, conscientious, emotional stability, and openness to new experiences.

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History of International Relations

As World War I was over, diplomats, philanthropists, and scholars tried to understand the causes of the conflict in order to establish perpetual peace. They referred to philosophy, history, law, and economics and derived the study of international relations that meant to project future conflicts from past historical events. The discipline expanded as the world politics became more complex, and by now IR is the greatest subfield of political science that deals with human rights, migration, economic development, and all forms of international conflict.

British historian Alfred Zimmern became the first scholar of international politics at the University of Wales. He and his fellow liberals expected organizations like the League of Nations to provide practical solutions to end conflicts and foster international cooperation. However, realists who sought sophisticated reasons behind a war criticized them. Anarchical environment limited the effectiveness of institutions, and realists promoted sovereignty, or control over one’s own physical territory, as a key to international coordination. As opposed to the liberal and radical views, Marxian scholars introduced their radical version of IR. Class interests were supposed to capture the power of the state and affect its foreign policy.

After World War II, the course of IR changed again. The study acquired an economic prospect after the World Bank and International Monetary Fund had been created. At that time, neoliberals concluded that sovereign states with market economies do not start a war with each other. After the advent of nuclear weapons, a new threat to IR emerged. Diplomats and policymakers agreed that the access to nuclear technology should be internationally regulated if people wanted to escape the mass demise.

In the 1980s, alternative approaches to IR appeared. The classic state-centered emphasis marginalized some concerns put by new theorists. These were feminist IR, constructivist IR, and environmental IR. Obviously, international relations became more than discussions of economic bonds and governmental regimes. In the 21st century, terrorism, cybercrime, and ethnic conflicts became new challenges to IR. They urge non-political circles to understand and participate in IR to resolve pressing problems imminent to most countries.

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Processes of Democratization

Scholars keep debating on how societies emerge and stay democratic. After World War II was over, they already argued about how non-democratic regimes turned democratic. Eventually, scholars defined several factors that were likely to have influenced democratization of the US and France as well as younger democracies that emerged later in the 20th century.

In 1991, American political scientist Samuel Huntington outlined three waves of democratization. The large part of English-speaking world democratized in the first wave since the late 18th century. Decolonization that happened after World War II turned more states into democracies; it was the second wave of democratization. In the third wave, Communist regimes in South-Eastern Europe fell and made way for more countries in the late 20th century.

There are several categories that create a positive environment for democratization. Modernization is the first reason why societies become democratic. It implies not only urbanization or industrialization but also higher wealth and better education. If the state is modernized, i.e. works effectively, it creates fertile conditions for developing democratic values.

Wealth is an essential economic precondition to democracy. Yet Aristotle said that democracy does not work in the poverty, and scholars supported this hypothesis. Modern theorists of the 20th century also suggested that wealth pushes most democratic societies forwards, though this perspective is now criticized. Besides the access to the resources, other social preconditions come into view. Here we have an empowered middle class, absence of feudalism, strong political and civic culture.

Building a successful democracy also depends on favorable time and sequence of events. The absence of civil violence and extremism in the society is a must for an emerging democracy. Favorable inner conditions correlate with the stimulating outer influence. An intervention of a foreign party can also speed up democratization. Former colonies are much more likely to grow into democracies due to their specific status.

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Environmental Politics and Conflict

The link between environmental scarcity and conflict was first noticed in 1798 when English political scholar Thomas Malthus assumed that one day the population of Earth would overtake the food supply. It looked like countries with limited resources would expand their capacity via conquest. In 1991, Thomas Homer-Dixon of the University of Toronto published an article on environmental change being the cause of international conflicts. So it appeared that besides ecological and financial losses, climate change may bring conflict to the affected areas.

The digital age has hardly changed our dependence on natural resources, and we strongly rely on timber, fossils, clear water, arable land, flora, and fauna. In his article, Homer-Dixon argued that the environmental change can disrupt the social patterns had been existing for centuries. Environmental scarcity may happen as the result of global warming combined with population growth and unequal governmental policies. Presumably, it will reduce agricultural production, trigger economic decline, and disrupt social relations.

There are three types of conflict that may happen to the society torn by environmental scarcity. In a simple scarcity conflict, states use violence to get extra resources. They start a resource war that concerns renewable resources in the first place. World War I and Falklands War are classic examples of resource wars. In case if the population grows uncontrollably, a group identity conflicts arise. Such wars took place in Darfur and Rwanda where social groups could not peacefully coexist. Environmental scarcity may also inflict violent changes to the state. If the group without political power gets deprived, it may evoke uprising and violence against the authority.

The ideas expressed by Homer-Dixon and his colleagues had some support but they also faced the critique of scientists. More recent studies give hope that governments are still able to minimize environmental damage without igniting a conflict.

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Why is speeding so dangerous

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pedagogical strategy which could mitigate challenges

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