Ethical considerations in International Relations (IR) usually follow from the sovereignty and anarchy distinction. The ethical implications arising from these classic twin IR banners shift the focus toward relations of inside and outside, while morality remains restricted to the national level, where reciprocal moral obligation is legally secured through citizenship, while the international continues to be branded by a constant struggle for power and the elusiveness of any moral rules. In contrast, the poststructuralist notion of difference engenders a democratic ethos of immanent critique, which regards itself as a necessary corrective in contexts where liberal discourses are prevalent, but exposes a tendency of discounting the inherently political nature of the social. A poststructuralist ethics accentuates the radical political institution of society, the aporia of justice, and the contingency of a particular morality.
The concept of anarchy is seen as the cardinal organizing category of the discipline of International Relations (IR), which differentiates it from cognate disciplines such as Political Science or Political Philosophy. This article provides an analytical review of the scholarly literature on anarchy in IR, on two levels—conceptual and theoretical. First, it distinguishes three senses of the concept of anarchy: (1) lack of a common superior in an interaction domain; (2) chaos or disorder; and (3) horizontal relation between nominally equal entities, sovereign states. The first and the third senses of “anarchy”’ are central to IR. Second, it considers three broad families of IR theory where anarchy figures as a focal assumption—(1) realism and neorealism, (2) English School theory (international society approach), and (3) Kant’s republican peace. Despite normative and conceptual differences otherwise, all three bodies of theory are ultimately based on Hobbes’s argument for a “state of nature.” The article concludes with a summary of the key challenges to the discourse of international anarchy posed by the methodology of economics and economics-based theories that favor the alternative discourse of global hierarchy.
There are two primary reasons why empires are central to our understanding of International Relations (IR). First, the empire has been replaced by juridically equal sovereign territorial states over the past century. Formal empires no longer exist, and only one head of state retains the title of Emperor—Akihito of Japan. The second reason why the study of empire matters to IR is that much of the conventional distinction between hierarchy and anarchy has been subject to various criticisms from a wide array of methodological and political perspectives. In particular, International Political Sociology (IPS) has offered a framework for critical analyses of phenomena such as systemic transformation, international unevenness, and global inequality, or war, violence, and racism in international politics. Since the end of the Cold War, new theorizations of empire have placed empire and imperialism at the center of debates in IR. Contemporary investigations of empire in IR, and IPS in particular, have dwelled on a number of political debates and methodological issues, including the nature of American imperialism, the link between IR and global history, and the relationship between empire and globalization. The category “empire” continues to both illuminate the pertinence of IR to social theory more generally and at the same time highlights the shortcomings of the discipline in addressing the causes and dynamics of global inequality, violence, and uneven development.
Kendall W. Stiles
Trust is the expectation that one’s interests be looked after despite the possibility of exploitation by the one being trusted (trustee). Trusting always involves some risk on the part of the one trusting (truster). The truster is vulnerable—either by choice or by circumstance. One can never be absolutely sure that one’s interests are important to the trustee or that their past performance can allow one to predict future behavior. The trustee retains their agency and even has an incentive for betrayal in the future. Much of the research on trust in international relations is aimed at explaining cooperation amid anarchy. In this context, cooperation begins with a leap of faith by actors who trust generally rather than specifically. Such “generalized trusters” do not require evidence that the trustee in question is even trustworthy with respect to a particular issue, since all actors are assumed to be worthy of trust across all topics (assuming they have the capacity to act). This can be considered “credulity,” and it primarily involves having trustful attitudes, affects, emotions, or motivational structures that are not focused on specific people, institutions, or groups. Furthermore, one cannot speak of trust without some reference to affect, particularly since one can never absolutely calculate the odds of betrayal.
Stephen M. Walt
Political Realism has been described as the “oldest theory” of international politics, as well as the “dominant” one. Central to the realist tradition is the concept of “security.” Realism sees the insecurity of states as the main problem in international relations. It depicts the international system as a realm where “self-help” is the primary motivation; states must provide security for themselves because no other agency or actor can be counted on to do so. However, realists offer different explanations for why security is scarce, emphasizing a range of underlying mechanisms and causal factors such as man’s innate desire for power; conflicts of interest that arise between states possessing different resource endowments, economic systems, and political orders; and the “ordering principle” of international anarchy. They also propose numerous factors that can intensify or ameliorate the basic security problem, such as polarity, shifts in the overall balance of power, the “offense–defense balance,” and domestic politics. Several alternative approaches to international relations have challenged the basic realist account of the security problem, three of which are democratic peace theory, economic liberalism, and social constructivism. Furthermore, realism outlines various strategies that states can pursue in order to make themselves more secure, such as maximizing power, international alliances, arms racing, socialization and innovation, and institutions and diplomacy. Scholars continue to debate the historical roots, conceptual foundations, and predictive accuracy of realism. New avenues of research cover issues such as civil war, ethnic conflict, mass violence, September 11, and the Iraq War.
Steven E. Lobell
Structural realism, or neorealism, is a theory of international relations that says power is the most important factor in international relations. First outlined by Kenneth Waltz in his 1979 book Theory of International Politics, structural realism is subdivided into two factions: offensive realism and defensive realism. Structural realism holds that the nature of the international structure is defined by its ordering principle, anarchy, and by the distribution of capabilities (measured by the number of great powers within the international system). The anarchic ordering principle of the international structure is decentralized, meaning there is no formal central authority. On the one hand, offensive realism seeks power and influence to achieve security through domination and hegemony. On the other hand, defensive realism argues that the anarchical structure of the international system encourages states to maintain moderate and reserved policies to attain security. Defensive realism asserts that aggressive expansion as promoted by offensive realists upsets the tendency of states to conform to the balance of power theory, thereby decreasing the primary objective of the state, which they argue is ensuring its security. While defensive realism does not deny the reality of interstate conflict, nor that incentives for state expansion do exist, it contends that these incentives are sporadic rather than endemic. Defensive realism points towards “structural modifiers” such as the security dilemma and geography, and elite beliefs and perceptions to explain the outbreak of conflict.
Alexander D. Barder
Recently, international hierarchy has taken center stage in international relations (IR) theory. Hierarchy is typically understood as a feature of domestic institutional stratification; it defines a set of social arrangements that reflects relations of authority. Where anarchy had once dominated IR theory, there are now substantial debates about how to account for hierarchical international relations between nominally sovereign states, as well as a prevalent conflation between hierarchy and hegemony to discuss unequal material and social arrangements. Yet the focus on hierarchy is nothing new. Theories such as Power Transition Theory and Hegemonic Stability Theory had attempted to understand the international system as a consequence of significant material imbalances of power. Moreover, critical theoretical approaches relying on Marxian analysis tended to emphasize the diverse hierarchical forms of international relations in the political-economic realm. More recent literature on international hierarchy is derived from a rationalist ontology, which explains why it would be a legitimate policy choice for states to enter into asymmetric relations. This literature understands hierarchy in its formal-juridical dimensions. In addition, discussions of international hierarchy by critical and postcolonial theorists take different ontological and epistemological starting points, as hierarchy can be understood in broader terms as a way of constituting and demarcating identities, for example. In other words, hierarchy is as much a social concept as a juridical one. However, this raises crucial theoretical questions concerning the differences between hegemony and hierarchy.