How and why does anarchy influence the behaviour of states?

Topics: Hedley Bull, International relations theory, International relations Pages: 5 (2028 words) Published: December 1, 2013
How and why does anarchy influence the behaviour of states?

Helen Milner suggests that “In much current theorizing, anarchy has once again been declared to be the fundamental assumption about international politics. Over the last decade, numerous scholars, especially those in the neo-realist tradition, have posited anarchy as the single most important characteristic underlying international relations.” (1991, 67). This is a key piece of information when trying to understand how states react to a condition of anarchy. Firstly it shows us that scholars and states view anarchy to be a top rating factor in influencing their decisions on the international stage. Secondly it helps us to identify where the belief and assumption that states operate in a condition of anarchy comes from, that is those who follow the realist school of thought or more directly those in the neo-realist tradition. To understand how and why anarchy affects states we must understand where the idea comes from. The belief that states operate in a state of anarchy came first from realism which emerged around the time of the Second World War, however some scholars will argue that some of its theories were based in writings much earlier, in such books like Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of war’ (476-221 BC). The realist theories of international relations are split into three main sub theories. These are classical realism, Liberal realism otherwise known as the English school of thought and Neorealism sometimes called structural realism. The main realism that focuses on international relations operating in a state of anarchy are that of the classic view and neorealist’s, in fact while the English school accepts that there is no higher authority above the state they claim that a system of an international society or society of states, this is expressed in Hedley Bull’s The Anarchical Society, which is the main drawing point of the English schools principles. The security dilemma best taken up by the classic realists and then later by neorealist’s as they came afterwards shows us just how realism best explains why states are and how they are in fact affected by anarchy. Barry R. Posen begins to describe the security dilemma as “The collapse of imperial regimes can be profitably viewed as a problem of ‘emerging anarchy’. The longest standing and most useful school of international relations theory – realism – explicitly addresses the consequence of anarchy – the absence of a sovereign – for political relations among states”. This is a very strong belief in anarchy that states operate in an anarchical system. This belief then leads into the security dilemma which is where we can begin to see just how anarchy affects and changes states behaviour towards each other and other actors in international relations. A good way to describe the security dilemma is as in John Herz words, “A structural notion in which the self-help attempts of states to look after their security needs tend, regardless of intention, to lead to rising insecurity for others as each interprets its own measures as defensive and measures of others as potentially threatening.” (1950, p157). Good examples of the security dilemma are that of the First World War. One thought that follows in line with the security dilemma’s theory is that the powers in Europe felt that they were forced into a war by feeling insecure due to the alliances set up by their neighboring counterparts and so were forced into war despite not actually seeking or wanting a war at all. In addition Germany in fear that it might be forced into fighting a war on two fronts led it to develop its ‘Schlieffen plan’ which was for a speed up mobilization movement of troops. This as it was not clear if it was for defensive or offensive measurers spread fear into the allies and pressured them to also look to increase their mobilization. The security dilemma effectively leads to arms races, which we can see in at its height in the Cold War between the USSR...

Bibliography: Brown, Chris (2009). Understanding International Relations. Basingstoke: Palgrave. pp. 48–52.
Bull, Hedley (1977). The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics. London: Macmillan.
Herz, J. “Idealist Internationalism and the Security Dilemma” World Politics vol. 2, no.2 (1950): 171-201, at p.157 (Published by Cambridge University Press)
Milner, H. (1991). The assumption of anarchy in international relations theory: a critique*, review of international studies. Pp, 67-85.
Went, A. (1992), Anarchy is what States make of it: The Social Construction of Power Politics, International Organization, pp. [391] of 391-425
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