Monday, July 14, 2014

Side Effects of Realpolitik

Dan Drezner has a fun post today: what if Realism was advertised like a prescription drug?

I have one problem with it--the list of side effects is too short:
Possible side effects of Realaxil include a waning interest in other people’s problems.  Do not take Realaxil if you care at all about how other countries conduct their own affairs.  Realaxil can cause drowsiness or forgetfulness when operating heavy military machinery.  Please consult your lawyer to see if taking Realaxil will conflict with pre-existing commitments to protect friends or partners during times of emergency.
I would say that the other dangers of taking Realaxil are:
  • the tendency to dismiss the relevance of domestic politics---yours or others.
  • overconfidence in the clarity of the imperatives of the international system--one tends to think that there is one obvious best way to react to an international shock or pressure.
  • an exaggerated sense of one's own importance--bad policy happens because people didn't listen to those taking realaxil.
I am sure that this is also incomplete. Any additions?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My rant relates to the abuse and misuse of the term "realist." War on the Rocks is a great publication, but it frustrates me when it claims to be a "realist" platform. According to its website:

"War on the Rocks is a platform for analysis, commentary, debate and multimedia content on foreign policy and national security issues through a realist lens...

Realism teaches us how to think about the world, rather than what to think about it. It is a broad term that encompasses people of many opinions with a variety of party affiliations but all of whom believe in the centrality of fear, honor, and interest as drivers of inter-state affairs...As such, while we focus on armed force, we do not dismiss ideas and social control as mechanisms for power."

Simply because a publication focuses on armed force doesn't necessarily make it realist. An appreciation for the complexities and nuances of armed force isn't something on which realists have a monopoly. Moreover, many of the articles on that website focus on domestic institutions, bureaucracies, and issues surrounding substate militant groups. These are fundamentally at odds with some of the core tenets of realism. Also, realists are only interested in the material (e.g. balance of power), and roundly dismiss the influence of ideas and social control.

Being a realist does not necessarily mean that you're a hawk.

Finally, I know of a lot of liberal interventionists and constructivists who have a deep appreciation of the influence, utility, and nuances of armed force, fear, and interests. This is an important consideration as well.