Realism and Instruments of Power

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The international environment is very complex, due to the inclusion of various political actors and the interaction of these actors at different levels. Typically, threats emerge from competition between states over geopolitical and traditional issues. Recently, non-traditional threats have emerged that affect the national interests of various countries; one of these challenges that is quickly moving to the forefront of importance is that of energy security, and the related topic of environmental security. Political scientists and leaders try to distill the international environment down to basic theories, which can help determine appropriate courses of action in this landscape of change. Using the theory of realism, and responding with the Instruments of Power (IOP), the US can moderate the threat of energy and environmental security. At the heart of realism is the belief that international affairs is the struggle for power amongst states over self-interested concerns (Snyder, 2004, 55). Realism centers on four principles: states, interests, anarchy, and power. States are the overarching administrative, policing, and military organizations that are led and coordinated by an executive authority (Forsyth, 2008, 8). Interests are the hierarchical goals which a state treats as significant to its well-being; security and survival are the highest ranked goals (ACSC, 2010, L1). Anarchy is not chaos, but rather is the absence of a supreme authority over states to impose order in the international environment. Power is the ability to affect outcomes, the ability to change the behavior of others to make an outcome happen, and is the ultimate way to organize a disorderly world and achieve security (Forsyth, 2008, 9-18). According to realism, the driving force behind international politics is fear, which forces states to exercise their power. States impose order over anarchy in order to achieve security for their interests. Different threats to states’ interests prompt policy to eliminate these threats, and in today’s world, energy and environmental security are prime examples of issues that threaten the US, and others, across the globe. Energy security can be defined as the uninterrupted physical availability of energy at an affordable price, and is made up of both short and long term aspects. Short term security is the ability of the energy system to respond to sudden changes in supply and demand, and long term security is linked to investments to supply energy in line with economic and environmental needs (IEA, 2010). In the case of states, energy security encompasses reliable, secure, and affordable imported energy sources, such as oil, natural gas, other petroleum products, and even electricity. Closely related to energy security is environmental security, and refers to planning and programs that seek to mitigate the impacts of human induced adverse changes on the environment (King, 2004, 9). Major issues in this area include water and resource availability, climate change, and land use through deforestation and desertification; the environment is linked to energy security due to cause and effect: populations seek and produce energy and byproducts which in turn, produces environmental degradation (King, 2004, 11). Realism states that behavior in the international realm is driven by fear, and in the case of energy and environmental security, this is fear for an uninterrupted, affordable energy supply and fear that environmental degradation will impact critical resources. China is a good example of how pursuing energy security, while dealing with environmental issues, impacts a states foreign policy. China’s energy consumption has recently exploded due to an increase in modernization, which has led to a greater dependence on outside sources of energy, especially oil. China relies heavily on the Middle East for its oil supplies, and is pursuing trade policies with countries with spare supply, but...
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