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The Probability of Nuclear War in Different Ideologies

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Of the three theories, nuclear war is least likely to occur using a liberal approach. Liberalism is an approach in which moral and political positions are based on the pursuit of liberty and equality for all before law. Although there are many different branches and subsets of liberalism, the approach generally supports positions that are in favor free markets, freedom of expression, democracy, and equality for all. When it comes to war, early proponents of liberalism realized that war is costly. The gains of territorial expansion are not outweighed by the losses the citizens will experience.

Liberalism calls for increased alliances and interdependence over separatism. This is based on the knowledge that allies are less the likely to go to war with one another. Furthermore, economic interdependence is strongly correlated with nation with an advance economy. (Martin and Simmons, 1998). Normally, international organizations like the United Nations and European Union seek ways to settle disputes through discussion as opposed to using some sort of military force. From the liberal perspective, theses international organizations and institutions are of the upmost importance in accomplishing world peace. Liberalism is widely considered to be the primary theoretical competitor to realism (Slobodchikoff, 2019).

On the other hand, Nuclear war under realism scales from probable under offensive realism (projecting) to possible for defensive (posturing) realism. Of the three theories, nuclear war is most likely under realism. Realism is a school of thought in international relations theory, theoretically formalizing the Realpolitik statesmanship of early modern Europe. Although a highly diverse body of thought, it can be thought of as unified by the belief that world politics ultimately is always and necessarily a field of conflict among actors pursuing power.” It is important to note that realism is not a single theoretical perspective. Realism contains many different facets and approaches, many of which are still used today. Regardless of the approach, the central focus of realism is the pursuit of power thus making it nearly impossible to analyze the theory as one cohesive piece. A common misconception about realism is that all realist reject the role of ethics in international politics. For example, there are classical realist who believe national interest is of the upmost importance while at the same time not rejecting the importance of moral judgement in international relations. Classical realist would rather place value in the political actions taken, given the alternatives and likely consequences of those actions.

There are also four traditional assumptions when it comes to realism. The first being that politics occurs between states with the states serving as the main actor in international relations. Within any given state you are bound to have multiple organizations, interest groups, and individuals but from an international relations perspective, they are addressed by the state they are associated with. The state will act as a unitary actor. This is especially true during times of international conflict where states will typically speak and move with one voice to show a united front. The second assumption is that most decision makers are rational and will make decisions with the intent of bettering and advancing their states interest. Most decision makers to not want the state to fall or meet their demise. Again, this is clearly an assumption given there some decision makers in the world today that act in ways that are very irrational. The third assumption is that the global system by default is anarchic. There are no global legal authorities and it’s essentially every state/man for themselves. This is somewhat true. In today’s world we are fortunate to have organizations like the United Nations and continental unions to help police the world. Without these organizations, much of the world would truly be in an anarchic state. The final assumption is that International Relations is all about power and security. This back and forth is a reoccurring theme even when analyzing the difference between offensive and defensive realism which is later covered.

In Finnemore and Sikkink’s, Taking Stock: The Constructivist Research Program in International Relations and Comparative Politics, they lay out the basic tenets of constructivism and examine the implications of its theoretical arguments. Constructivism is the claim that significant aspects of international relations are historically and socially constructed, rather than inevitable consequences of human nature or other essential characteristics of world politics. Contrary to realist, constructivist do not believe that anarchy is the ultimate determinant for how a state will behave. For constructivists, anarchy is what states make of it.

Soft power and constructivism work hand in hand. Soft power, also called co-optive power, occurs when one country gets other countries to want what it wants. Soft power is closely tied to a country’s principles demonstrated through interactions in dealing with other states. As globalization increase, these cultural dealings become more important. In Joseph Nye’s Soft Power, he discusses the Great Power Shift and how power lies not in resources a state controls but in the ability to change the behavior of states or the ability to influence the political environment. Traditionally, states would give priority to military security to ensure its survival but today states must consider all dimensions of security. Military power is more costly and less transferable than in previous times. Small states have become more powerful and Nye points to five trends to have contributed to this diffusion of power: economic interdependence, transnational actors, nationalism in weak states, the spread of technology and dynamic political situations.

Soft power is just as important as hard power and if a nation can make its power seem legitimate to in the eyes of others, the less likely they are to encounter resistance. Generally speaking, power is becoming less transferable and, less coercive, and less tangible. “Co-optive power is the ability of a country to structure a situation so that other countries develop preferences or define their interests in ways consistent with its own. This power tends to arise from such resources as cultural and ideological attraction as well as rules and institutions of international regimes.” If a state can make its power seem legitimate in the eyes of others, it will encounter less resistance to its wishes. If its culture and ideology are attractive, others will more willingly follow. If it can establish international norms consistent with its society, it is less likely to have to change. If it can support institutions that make other states wish to channel or limit their activities in ways the dominant state prefers, it may be spared the costly exercise of coercive or hard power’.

Contrary to realism, constructivism identifies “persuasive ideas, collective values, culture and social identities” as the central forces shaping international politics. Under constructivism, social influencing and shaping is more likely to occur over nuclear war.  

Thus, we have considered three political ideologies (liberalism, realism and constructivism) and possible options for the development of nuclear war in each of them. While in liberalism the probability of nuclear war is negligible, in constructive views the probability is many times higher.

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