All entries for Wednesday 04 May 2005

May 04, 2005

IP Theories and comment reply

Follow-up to WP Essay– Theories of International Relations Grade 60/100 2.1 from Iain's blog

This is a follow up to my IR Theories essay and a comment that I was asked. Sorry but these are the sites I used for analysing the UN, but other UN sites would obviously be of some use also.

For the theories you could try this site to accompany one of the textboks I use here

WP Essay– Theories of International Relations Grade 60/100 2.1

In this essay, I shall attempt to explain which theory of international relations is the best one for a student of this subject to use and why that is the case. I will go through each of the theories in turn before trying to reach a conclusion about which one or two I feel are the most useful to use. The theories that I shall be looking at are liberalism, realism and their neo offshoots, Marxism, as well as having an overview of world systems, critical theory and constructivism.

I shall first start off with liberalism. Liberalism is seen as the theory that arose out of the carnage of WW1, where political scholars and the general public alike thought ‘never again’ would they have to endure such wanton destruction and loss of life. It is as such seen as one partly based on utopianism or is idealistic because it is a normative theory that its critics argue sees the world as its proponents ‘hope it would be’ rather than how it actually is. For liberalists the idea of human nature is important and they see mankind as basically good and capable of coexisting with others in peace and harmony, yet I would argue that this is not entirely true as the almost never ending occurrences of violence throughout the world demonstrates, whether that be in the former Yugoslavia, the outbreaks of violence in Africa such as Rwanda and parts of Asia would show.

One thought of liberals that I would broadly agree with is that of the democratic peace hypothesis. Put in general terms, this idea is one that suggests that states that are liberal democratic in nature, on the whole peace loving and will not go to war with each other1. This is because in a liberal global system, there are many constraints on how governments act. In democracies, leaders face re election and other methods of checks and balances that hold them to account. Facing such obstacles it is unlikely that a democratic state would go to war as a decision to do so would face criticism and is often unpopular. Also one of the fundamental tenets of liberalism is that economics has an important part to play in global affairs and economies are likely to suffer if a state goes to war due to the destruction that war entails. Therefore, liberals argue it’s in nobody’s interest to go to war. There are certain failings to this assertion. I do feel that undermine the liberal outlook on international relations. For example, although democracies are unlikely to go to war with each other it does not mean that no democracy will ever go to war as the instances of Iraq and Kosovo will show although in the case of the latter, it was justified on humanitarian grounds to prevent the ethnic cleansing that Bosnian Serbs were committing.

However, as I have already said, the liberal emphasis on economics is one that I do feel is particularly pertinent today as the number of economic groupings will show such as the EU, ASEAN and NAFTA. I feel that with these supranational economic groupings as well as institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO it is almost impossible to separate economics from international relations theory. This would also support the hypothesis that there are actors other than states that have a bearing on how international relations are conducted. In this case the non-state actors are international organisations. For example, the aid received by the European countries in 1947 through the Marshall Plan could be interpreted by a liberalist as a benevolent act on the behalf of the US to help the shattered European economies to recover and to have a worthwhile group of friendly countries with which to trade as well as hoping that an economically sound Europe would help propagate liberal democratic states that could hold off the perceived threat of communism.

Another theory that I feel is useful is the realist one. In brief, this is the theory that suggest that states are the only actors on the global scene and that all states act in what can only be described as the ‘national interest’. To simplify, each states uses its own sovereignty to get what it wants by increasing its own power. In contrast with the multilateralism involved in liberalism, the realist school of thought tends to suggest that states will act unilaterally if that is what is required and to support this assertion I refer to the example of the USA not ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, arguing that it would harm the US economy and put it at a relative disadvantage to other countries that must face less stringent restrictions such as India and China.

Another basis for the realist theory is the idea of a balance of power and the anarchic nature of the global system as there is no effective global government and the world system is anomic (without rules)2. This ties in well with the idea of global relations being one of self help3 and each state striving to promote its own interests at the expense of others. In short, realists see the global system as one of self help. The idea of the balance of power is put in place to explain the situation where states will ally themselves to prevent the hegemony of one state over all others. The example of Britain in the 19th and early 20th centuries is an example of a balance of power system in place.

However, that is not to say that I feel the realist theory is flawless. For example, the UN can exert sanctions and military force on those who transgress ‘international law’, as in the case of Iraq in the 1990’s as well Libya over the Lockerbie bombings, although the US and UK lifted these after Gadaffi agreed to accept responsibility for the Lockerbie disaster and renounce terrorism. Also, the balance of power theory could only work if no one state or alliance is so predominantly powerful that they alone could claim to have greater power than their enemies combined. However, in the contemporary global system, I see the USA as so powerful in both military and economic terms ( in the IMF and World Bank its 18% of votes gives it a virtual veto on all decisions), it can ‘go it alone’ and there is little other states could do about it. In such a unipolar world, a balance of power couldn’t exist as there is no countering power to the USA since the end of the Cold War.

I shall now attempt to quickly cover neo liberalism and neo realism, which tend to merge the ideas of liberalism and realism together. As Keohane4 (1988), one of the main neo-liberals points out international organisations, “constrain activity and shape expectations.” Here it seems that neo-liberals feel that international organisations have a role on the global scene and I feel that this is correct as these bodies do have an impact as well as showing that states are actually prepared to co-operate. Neo-liberals are seen to be more interested in economic welfare or environmental concerns in place of just focusing on survival as neo-realists do. However, I do disagree with the neo-liberal thought that says states are only interested in comparative advantage. Here my support shifts to the neo-realist theory of relative advantage. As Waltz points out,“A state worries about the division of possible gains that may favour others more than itself.”5

Waltz says, and I tend to agree with him, that states also have an eye on how other states are doing in relation to that particular state and that states will act rationally in order to pursue their own interests. All states try to ensure that if their gains aren’t maximised then at least they aren’t worse off than they were before in relation to the power that other states possess. The already mentioned example of the USA refusing to sign up to the Kyoto protocol would suggest that this is the case as in enforcing the protocol, the USA would be less well off than countries such as China and India who had to face less severe cuts in their levels of pollution. Waltz, who is seen as the main voice of neo-realism also repeats the realist view that “self help is necessarily the principle means of action in an anarchic order.”6

The next theory of international relations that I shall try to cover is Marxism. I must admit that there are parts of it that I am not too keen on. The theory suggests that individual actors on the world scene have no impact on how events. If that is the case, then how do historical events happen? I feel that history has required individuals to leave their indelible mark on international relations for events to have occurred. To take an extreme example to explain my point, it is widely felt that although certain events (such as the strength of feeling against what was seen as the unfair conditions laid out in the Versailles Treaty), made the rise of an individual like Hitler in the 1930’s possible, it was his own charismatic way of expressing the frustrations that many Germans felt that could explain his popularity in the early 1930’s. It was not because of the exploitation of the proletariat that led to WW2, I would suggest that it was in part to do with countries like Britain responding to acts of naked aggression on the part of the Germans to increase their power and pursue their own interests.

A central component of Marxism is the idea that each class in history will be replaced by another one in some permanent kind of ‘class struggle’. I take this to mean that Marxists believe that the current capitalist system will be replaced by a variant of socialism or communism. I disagree with this because I feel that instead of being replaced, the ideals of capitalism as supported by liberals are becoming more predominant, not less so on the global scene as well as the end of communism in the USSR. Also, I cite the fact that WTO membership has now reached 1487 and that there are some 30 or so countries negotiating to join it. The reason that I feel that this is relevant is that the fact that WTO and other international organisations are seen as supporting the liberal, capitalist centred view of the world that Marxists say should be eroding away. Instead of eroding away, their membership and global reach is increasing.

This leaves us with the remaining theories. World systems theory is one that deals with the economic inequalities and exploitation between the core and periphery in the capitalist system. This theory purports that the economic exploitation of the weaker economies in the periphery allow powerful capitalist states to prosper through things such as cheap labour and raw materials as well as lower standards that keep costs down for multinational companies. Critical theory points out that it is impossible to generate an objective, impartial theory for international relations as we are all part of the ‘system’ and so we can’t form an unbiased view of the world as such as we are in it. As Cox famously put it “theory is always for someone, and for some purpose.”8 Whilst I accept that this could be true to a certain extent, I am going to reject this theory, as according to Cox, I can’t use a theory to explain the global system as I am part of the system that I wish to study. For constructivists like Onuf, there is no innate law of nature to explain the international system9. To paraphrase, it is what we make of it and if we believe in sovereignty or any other culture or norm that regulates how states act in relation to each other, then in so believing, this idea will exist and we will act accordingly. I reject this, as I feel that human nature is such that we will react to whatever threats we see to our survival, instead of creating norms or values that tell us how we should respond to different circumstances.

In conclusion, I feel that the most useful theory would be a mix of realism and liberalism, although that is not to say that they are flawless (no theory predicted the end of the cold war for example). Liberalism, as far as I am concerned sums up the natural instinct to co-operate as well as placing an emphasis on economics which would explain the increasing influence of non governmental actors on the global scene. Realism’s strength lies in its focus on how the world actually is and that in the absence of an effective global authority, it is a case of ‘every state for itself’ where each state will use any means, peaceful or militaristic, to get what it wants at the expense of others and ensure its survival. I feel that on the whole, these two theories combined best explain the happenings of both the past and contemporary international relations between states and increasingly, non state actors.

Word count: 2195. Upper limit 2200.

Bibliography and footnotes

1. ( Accessed 22/11/04)
2.Little,R “International Regimes” (2001) in Baylis,J and Smith,S (eds) The Globalisation of World Politics (New York: Oxford University Press), 314
3.Waltz, K (1979) Theories of International Relations, (USA: McGraw Hill), 15
4.(Keohane, R. “International Institutions: Two Approaches”, in International Studies Quarterly Vol. 32, 1988, cited in address in footnote 1).
5.Waltz, K (1979) Theories of International Relations, (USA: McGraw Hill),106
6.Waltz, K (1979) Theories of International Relations, (USA: McGraw Hill),111
7. ( Accessed 19/11/04)
8.Cox, R (1996) “Social forces, states, and world orders in international relations theory” in Cox, R and Siclair, T Approaches to World Order (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), p87
9.Onuf, N (1989), World of our Making: Rules and rule in social theory in International Relations ( Columbia SC: University of South Carolina Press)

WP Essay– Is the UN efffective?

Is the UN an effective organisation?

Iain Foreman 0305494
Tutor: Alina Gamboa

Since its creation in 1945, the United Nations (UN) and its effectiveness as an organisation has been the subject of much debate and discussion, especially in light of the events of the last two years where its role or perceived lack of it in the Iraq war has led to some to question its relevance in the contemporary world. The difficulties I feel lie in agreeing on what the UN actually should be doing and what should be left to the individual member states that make up the near universal membership of the UN1. The most effective way to deal with this question would be to look at what the UN does effectively and what it doesn’t, and then to come to some sort of conclusion and to see if it is as Peter Jones put it “only as effective as its members wish it to be.”2

The UN has many detractors with various criticisms of the organisation which I shall be dealing with first. The first of these is that it is unable to neither create peace nor prevent acts of aggression nor even to keep peace in parts of the world where violence has erupted. Examples from the past decade include the recent Gulf conflict, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. In the case of the latter, it has been pointed out that its disintegration and descent into chaos and fighting between differing and national ethnic groups is what many feel could have been prevented by the UN or at least more effective measures should have been enforced to prevent the ‘ethnic cleansing’ perpetuated by Bosnian Serbs. One reason that the vast body of critics of the UN point out is the veto power that is wielded by the five permanent members of the Security Council, which makes it difficult for a decision leading to effective action to be made. In recent times, proposed resolutions relating to Yugoslavia and Israel, among others have been vetoed by permanent members (China/Russia and the USA respectively). This may lead to some seeing the UN as nothing more than a ‘talking shop’ that appears unable or unwilling to act against those transgressing the will of the international community or going against the principles of the UN Charter, due to the UN’s inability to get agreement on what should be done.

This certainly appeared to be the view of the ‘hawks’ in Washington when it became clear that France would veto any resolution that would explicitly permit the use of armed force in ensuring Iraq’s compliance with previous UN resolutions, including the unanimously passed Resolution 1441 of November 2002 that gave Iraq a last chance to prove that it had eliminated its weapons of mass destruction as required after the first Gulf War of 1991. The argument is; how can an organisation be effective when it can’t reach an agreement on how to punish a miscreant state that had consistently broken and then delayed its compliance with regards to obligations that it faces?3 This also raises the issue of whether or not the UN is actually relevant in these circumstances, as if we live in a world where there’s US hegemony, then the theory is that any meaningful UN action has to have US support (e.g. resolutions regarding Israel), or in cases where the US can’t get UN support for its views, then the USA is powerful enough to ‘go it alone’, as in the case of Iraq. This is perhaps summed up best by Urquhart who said “the determining factor in responding to future emergencies will be the interest and concerns of the USA and its allies in a given situation.”4

One of the problems that critics of the UN point out that it has is that it has no standing or permanent forces of its own. Instead it is reliant on member states of the UN to provide troops of their own on a case by case basis to ensure that military action is at least possible. Obviously, in these circumstances a nation will only provide finance or military troops if it regards the function of the UN force as acceptable, or in line with its own interests. The failure to set up a military committee, as anticipated by the founders of the UN, which would have taken over preparations for any collective action to ensure security has resulted in the rendering of the UN as “almost entirely ineffective as an instrument of collective security.”5 The issue of peacekeeping is one used as a rod by the UN’s critics with which to hit it. The supposed ineffective action of the UN in areas such as Somalia and the former Yugoslavia is often cited. Many commentators have noted that the IFOR NATO force sent to the Balkans after the Dayton Peace accords was more effective in keeping the peace than the UN’s ‘blue berets’ were6 .

Other instruments that the UN has at its disposal are seen as insufficient to carry out the tasks required of it. One of the UN’s very own reports has admitted that sanctions can be described as a “blunt instrument.”7 This report also goes on to say that the sanctions imposed are normally ineffectual and often result in the suffering of innocent civilians whilst being unlikely to affect the conduct of the leaders whose actions that the sanctions were supposed to change. The most recent example pointed out by many is the plight of ordinary Iraqis before the second Persian Gulf War, even though the UN had since modified its stance with the now discredited ‘Oil for Food’ programme. It has since been alleged and partly accepted by the subsequent Volcker report that Saddam Hussein was able to corrupt certain UN officials with vouchers for oil reserves in return for influence or a sympathetic ear in the higher echelons of the UN. It seems that sanctions are to be put in place in order to avoid the need for military action but as the cited UN report states this mechanism at the UN’s disposal is often unlikely to effect the desired change from badly behaved states and as Roberts suggests “sanctions are seldom enough: military means are therefore likely to be seen as necessary.”8 The UN is supposed to be able to uphold peace and security in the world and yet one of the ways in which it aims to achieve this end (using sanctions against aggressive states) is seen as ineffective.

Another issue blighting the UN in its search for effectiveness is its budgetary problems. According to the recent figures the UN debt stands at $800 million, with the US owing $690.9 million in unpaid dues9 and has had to cut its staff levels from 12,000 to 9,000. The USA has also withheld in $34milllion in protest against the UN Population Fund’s stance on contraception that has to be applied to Africa in its fight against AIDS. To further underscore the perception that ‘money talks’, the USA has not lost its voting rights despite it owing money to the organisation. Nations such as Afghanistan that didn’t pay monies that it owed have lost their voting rights in the past. The UN is supposed to be equitable in its dealings with all its members but this fact only further suggests that the UN is unable to control the larger, more powerful states that appear to be able to run roughshod over or bully the heavily criticised organisation.

However, that’s not to say it is all gloom when one considers the UN’s effectiveness. Many supporters of the UN point to the success of the first Gulf War where the UN was able to reverse an act of aggression on the part of Iraq when it had invaded Kuwait in 1990. The UN acted with reasonable pace in being able to agree that action was necessary and had expelled Iraq from Kuwait within eight months of its first Resolution calling for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. This success was attributed to the fact that both superpowers, the USA and Russia (which took up the USSR’s seat on the Security Council), both accepted that something must be done. The Cold War divide that had hitherto paralysed the UN taking action was no longer in existence. Both East and West had decided on what action was necessary and led to President Bush’s proclamation of a ‘new world order’ with the UN at its heart. This example could refute the claim of the UN’s critics that the power of veto is the main obstacle to the UN acting effectively.

Another thing going for the UN is that it has as Claire Short put it, “a special moral authority on the world stage.”10 It is seen as the place where to air grievances and it has a unique authority as it is the only international organisation with near universal membership able to deal with issues of the day. As such, it can legitimately claim to speak for the international community as a whole when a proclamation is made on the behalf of the UN. Any action authorised by the UN is going to carry more moral weight than one without its support and members of the UN are more inclined to interfere on the world stage if it is clear that they have the UN’s authority behind them. In short, the UN is seen as a neutral means of garnering support for action in order to reverse undesirable acts, such as acts of aggression.

This has been seen in Parsons’ six examples of the UN helping to mediate and lessen the probability of armed conflict11. One of these is the Falklands dispute where the UK got international support for the notion that force was not the way to assert a nations’ sovereignty over disputed territories, and garnered some moral authority when it sent out an armed force to recover the islands. The UN had also helped mediate between the superpowers in the Cold War. Parsons points out the role the Secretary-General played in the Cuban Missile Crisis in helping to draft letters and allowed Khrushchev to be seen as listening to a plea from the international community in order to back down and avoid a potential nuclear war. To put in Parsons’ own words, “the UN escape route had worked.”12

Another thing that could be said that the UN does effectively is that it aims to improve the lives of citizens all over the world. In this respect it has had limited success, such as the UN development goals and the aim to halve poverty by 2015. According to the UN, the aim to halve the number of people living on under a dollar a day has been met in South East Asia and the Pacific13, but the targets have yet to be reached in sub- Saharan Africa, where there are real problems in attempting to reach the target. The picture of mixed success also applies to the attempt to combat hunger, but most regions have reached or are on course to reach the target requiring every child to have had a primary education14.

In conclusion, the UN has had some success, albeit limited in improving the lives of the less fortunate but could be more effective, especially with regards to maintaining peace in the international community. The problem lies in the make up of the UN where the five potential vetoes in the Security Council ensure that the agenda tends to stay in line with those of the more powerful countries, thus ensuring that remedial action against acts of aggression can only take place if these countries, most notably the USA, allow it. The fact that regional organisations often fare better than the UN in dealing with trouble, such as NATO in the former Yugoslavia or the Arab League helping to diffuse tensions in 1961 between Kuwait and Iraq when the Security Council was paralysed by Soviet vetoes15, show some the UN’s, particularly the Security Council’s failings. In other issues, the UN has been more effective such as reaching agreement on the Millennium Development Goals which aim to help the third world and improve the lives of the less advantaged in the world. In sum, the UN is not as effective as it could be in regards in maintaining world peace but a lot of the ‘behind the scenes’ work has been more effective, although admittedly not as successful as it would be hoped.


1.the UN website membership page at link (Accessed 17 February 05)
2.Peter Jones (1996), Introducing International Politics, Sheffield Hallam University: PAVIC, p135.
3. (Accessed 7 Feb 05)
4.Urquhart, B “The UN and international security after the Cold War” in Kingsbury, B and Roberts, A (eds) (2000 2nd edition) United Nations in a Divided World, New York: Oxford University Press, p86.
5.Peter Jones (1996), Introducing International Politics, Sheffield Hallam University: PAVIC, p130.
6.Teresa Cowling on the web at link (Accessed 6 Feb 05).
7.Adam Roberts “The UN and Collective Security” in Woods, N (ed) (2002), Explaining International Relations since 1945, New York: Oxford University Press, p318 citing Supplement to an Agenda for Peace: Position Paper of the Secretary-General on the Occasion of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the United Nations, UN doc.A/50/60 (3rd January 1995), para.70.
8.Adam Roberts “The UN and Collective Security” in Woods, N (ed) (2002), Explaining International Relations since 1945, New York: Oxford University Press, p318.
9. (Accessed 12 February 2005)
10.The Claire Short speech at the Rockefeller Foundation, New York, 26th October 1999 online at link (Accessed 13 February 05).
11.Anthony Parsons “The UN and National Interests of States” in Kingsbury, B and Roberts, A (eds) (2000 2nd edition) United Nations in a Divided World, New York: Oxford University Press, pp106–111.
12.Anthony Parsons “The UN and National Interests of States” in Kingsbury, B and Roberts, A (eds) (2000 2nd edition) United Nations in a Divided World, New York: Oxford University Press, p107.
13. (Accessed 13 February 05).
14. (Accessed 13 February 05).
15.Sally Morphet, “UN Peacekeeping and Election Monitoring" in Kingsbury, B and Roberts, A (eds) (2000 2nd edition) United Nations in a Divided World, New York: Oxford University Press, p189.


Peter Jones (1996), Introducing International Politics, Sheffield Hallam University: PAVIC
Kingsbury, B and Roberts, A (eds) (2000 2nd edition) United Nations in a Divided World, New York: Oxford University Press
Woods, N (ed) (2002), Explaining International Relations since 1945, New York: Oxford University Press

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