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Thucydides, The Melian Dialogue summary

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Thucydides, The Melian Dialogue summary

  • 2 hegemons, Athens and Sparta

  • Refused to join the Athenian empire and were neutral

  • Became enemies with Athens after they tried forcing an alliance

  • Melians argue there’s hope in standing against Athens

    • Athen’s says hope is dangerous because they’re sure to destroy them

    • Hope is by nature an expensive commodity

  • If one follows self interest one wants to be safe

  • If one follows justice and honour involves one in danger

  • When you are allowed to choose between war and safety, you will not be so insensitive arrogant as to make the wrong choice

  • Melos decided to resist Athens and stand up for liberty -- Hope that Sparta helps them and try to save themselves from slavery

  • War commenced, Melians surrendered to the Athenians in the winter

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Thucydides, The Melian Dialogue Thesis

The strong do what they have the power to do, the weak accept what they have to accept

Argues: the change in distribution of power sparked Peloponnesian war

the state is a sole actor

the state is the main actor

the state is a rational actor

the state protects itself from anarchy

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3 components of classical realism

  1. state power

  2. states are sole actors and competitors

  3. Human nature explains world politics

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three phases of realism

  1. classical (pre-20th century)

  2. modern (1939-1979)

  3. Neorealism/structural (1979-present)

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realism define

state’s main goal is power


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Machiavelli classical realism

power politics logic is universal

power politics > principals

ethics and morality don’t matter

most effective leader will know power politics and understands changes in power (potential rising powers)

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Thomas Hobbes classical realism

The IR system is anarchic and states care only about the security dilemma → lack of overarching authority

Anarchy compels states to be obsessed with survival

the state has a moral right to protect itself

War is only stopped with overarching authority (a leviathan) but that threatens state sovereignty

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Security dilemma (thomas hobbes classical realism)

when one state does something to increase security, but makes other states to do the same (domino effect)

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Modern realism (reaction to WW1)

Hans Morgenthau

economic and military power matters for coercion for self protection

states only concerned with relative gains

cooperation difficult

power politics: state behavior, only entity that matters is the state itself (non-state actors are irrelevant)

Survival in anarchic system → acquire and project power

Powerful states do what’s in their best interest

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Neorealm/Structural realism

Propose theories/laws to explain events in IR system

Waltz’s theory that the amount of peace and war in an anarchic system depends on the distribution of power (unimodal, bimodal, multimodal)

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Defensive realism (Waltz) 3 elements

  1. organizing principal (anarchy)

    1. Yes, affects state behavior

  2. differation of units (dem. vs. non-dem.)

    1. doesn’t matter in anarchy

  3. Polarity

    1. states seek to acquire secuirty before power

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Waltz and defensive realism

Neorealism 2 subtheories (defensive and offensive realism)

disagrees with mearsheimer, states don’t just want power but consider pros and cons of an action if it will affect security--thinking longterm not mindlessly going on offense

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Mearsheimer and offensive realism

Neorealism 2 subtheories (defensive and offensive realism)

States want as much power as possible and that leads them to make offensive moves--short term thinking

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Realist World

Thesis: raw power competition, US and China different self-interests

IR politics will always be about power competition, but the players change

Rise of China and eventual replacement of Japan as Asia’s hegemon

China’s rise not possible if not for US geo-political security and free trade after WW2


US policy needs to balance incentive vs. punishment

China needs to rely on soft power instead of hars power

Western policymakers need to figure out how everyone can benefit from globalization

Need a miracle for Taiwan

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What does free trade prevent


interdependence deters violence and war

facilitate diplomacy

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Offshore balancing (realist argument)

Opposses liberal hegemony

argues that regions should self-balance local players against rising hegemons without US intervening until needed

US stays offshore and steps in only when needed

Calculated intervention

If not spending resources where not needed, resources could be put to use at home

3 key regions

Europe (buffer between Russia)

NE Asia (keep an eye on China)

Persian Gulf (oil)

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Difference between realism and liberalism

differ in interpretations on consequences of anarchy on state behavior

both acknowledge anarchic system

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Liberalism define

a positive view that asserts change and cooperation

states can change behaviors and alliances

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Classical liberalism

Kant founder (Perpetual peace)

Human nature is good and all want life, liberty, happiness

Peace and cooperation between states

Morality, law, norms influence state behavior and matter

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Kant’s 3 arguments

  1. concerns League of Peace- International organization, venue for diplomacy

  2. every nation needs to be Republican democracy to form League

  3. Cosmopolitan law: encourage hospitality and exchange of culture to lead to trade and working together

Connect through regime, economy, trust and diplomacy

Precursor to Democratic Peace Theory

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Modern liberalism

no major difference from classical liberalism

adds the ideas that non-state actors affect state behavior and the enlightened self-interest

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Nature/consequences of anarchy (agree with classical and modern)

International cooperation (there’s conflict but also agreement)

States have absolute gains too

power projection will change

Institutions and norms affect state behavior

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Mutual Assured Production

China and Japan not going to war over island territory disagreement because of economic interdependence

Neither country can afford to go to war with each other

Mutual deterrence: both states deterred from declaring war

Relates to Kant’s 3rd definitive article cosmopolitan law

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China’s Soft-Power Push: search for respect (liberal argument)

Thesis: China investing billions to expand soft power to improve its international image and gain respect

reputation tarnished by regime and government

Argues you can’t buy soft power → it isn’t working

education: attracting international students to spread message

conferences: hosting in China to spread message

Confucius institutes: spread favorable message in Africa

Trying to create alternative to western media → control the narrative

Not working because lack of political reform and censorship

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The Next Liberal Order (liberal argument)

Thesis: the age of contagion (COVID) demands more internationalism not less

talking about the world’s democracies

COVID example of a threat to the IR system, the current liberal order isn’t working as well as it could → change

Problems of modernity: doesn’t respect boarders, can’t hide or defeat it in war

States to work together and be more integrated

The US needs to step into a hegemon role and lead the IR system

The foundation (Kant): a club of democracies that respect rules and institutions

The liberal world order after WW2 is collapsing but can survive if more internationalism, cooperation, integration

FDR: the new deal at home leads to a new deal for the world

build lib order, work together, allow states to improve domestic politics

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Levels of analysis- ways to explain events in IR system in three approaches

  1. individual (leaders+their views, relationships w others, desires, self-interests)

  2. State/domestic (economy, gov legitimacy, political system, culture, interest groups, history)

  3. International (alliances, hegemonic standing)

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Realists vs. Liberals on the three levels of analysis

Realists don’t think individual and state levels matter, just the IR system affects state behavior

Liberals argue all three levels matter

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number of hegemons in IR system

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levels of economic development

act as a hibernate for states who want power/influence

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The Compulsive Empire (realist argument)

alternative explanation to why the US invaded Iraq

Thesis: has nothing to do with individuals, it’s what global hegemons do (solely IR level of analysis)

The compulsive empire is the US

The US is a hegemonic empire following the behavior of empires

Needed to invade Iraw to project power (US needed an enemy) and would lose hegemon power unless it reminded people of status

Compelled to expand in an anarchic IR system

Anarchy and polarity

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State definition

territory, stable population, allegiance to a gov (loyalty), other states recognize the entity diplomatically

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Nation define

group of people that shares a common culture, language, history, characteristics

abstract concept, no clear boarders

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state building

building gov institutions

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nation building

taking groups of people and unifying them through a new identity

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Hard power



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Soft power


infleunce, image

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Sources of power

geography, population, economy, military, image/leadership, quality of gov, morale

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uses of power

diplomacy (preventative, crisis, coercive), sanctions, force

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Preventative diplomacy

see an arising problem and prevent tension from turning into a crisis

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Crisis diplomacy

after crisis happened, behind closed doors, small group of people trying to make a decision to resolve issue

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Coercive diplomacy

bullying another state to comply to end the disagreement

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Negative sanctions

punishment on a state to change state behavior (common in crisis- stronger)

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Positive sanctions

incentives to change state behavior through rewards

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realism define

states main goal is power

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Difference between classical, modern and neorealism

classical is specific in terms of providing explanations of war and states

Modern focuses on how powerful states do what’s in their best interest

Neorealism defines behavior through theories

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Difference between classical, modern and neoliberalism

Classical: cooperation emerges from humanity’s good nature and the institutions that allow cooperation

Modern: no major difference, non-state actors and enlightened self-interest affect state behavior

Neoliberalism: it’s in the state’s self-interest to cooperate

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Saint Augustine realism

blames war and conflict on evil human nature

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Modern Realism, Hans Morgenthau 6 claims

  1. Power politics affects state behavior and non-state actors don’t matter

  2. Anarchy drives state to acquire and project power

  3. Tragedy is inevitble

  4. Political vs. military power (non-violence vs. violence)

  5. Human’s list for power causes power politics

  6. Proection from death

States do what’s in their best interest

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enlightened self interest

states follow their self-interests but simultaneously aware that their self-interest can benefit other states and that OK

Helping others isn’t bad or a threat

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Saddam’s Delusions: The view from the inside

liberal argument because analysing domestic level of why US won Iraq so quickly

Thesis: Saddam firmly believed US wouldn’t invade Iraq, and if they did the US would lose, but domestic facotrs lead to the fall of Iraq

Convinced US wouldn’t invade because strong economic ties with France and Russia (but didn’t end up helping)

US invaded despite vote against (anarchy and hegemonic powers)

Negative sanctions weakened Iraq’s military → deteriorated

People afraid of Saddam and lied about military success

Delegated power to unqualified family members and ineffective military decisions lead to the fall

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How do states use force

states either threaten or use force to compel a state to do something or deter a state from doing something

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pressure points

domestic level pressure on a government to take action (lobbyists, interest groups)

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Relative gains (realists)

Benefitting at others expense

Realists say states top goal is to come out on top

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Absolute gains (liberals)

Both parties win

Tied to enlightened self-interest

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Modern liberalism 6 claims about state behavior

  1. Anarchy exists and causes cooperation for security

  2. There’s soft power too

  3. Enlightened self-interest

  4. The state has multiple self-interests (other than power) and have pressure points

  5. Non-state actors

  6. States learn from their mistakes/successes

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Anarchy and its Consequences (realists)

Thesis: how to deal with consequences of anarchy

State behavior is contingent: what one state does is dependent in part upon what others do

Mutual dependence caused by anarchy

States are afraid of cooperation, they fear unfair benefits

Differences in opinion among realists on the consequences of anarchy

  • “Offensive realists”: anarchy forces states to become power maximizers (dog-eat-dog world)

  • “Socially constructed”: aggression stems from the actors’ interpretations of others’ behavior

The Mitigation of Anarchy

  • Diplomacy is good

  • States balance against emerging threats

  • Regimes and institutions can help overcome anarchy and facilitate cooperation

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