Evolution of international relation theory

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Evolution of international… 3 Evolution of international relation theory Hoàng Khắc Nam Associate Prof. and PhD., Faculty of International Studies, University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Vietnam National University, Hanoi Email: hknam84@yahoo.com Received 31 July 2017; published 15 December 2017 Abstract: International relation theory is a set of relatively comprehensive views of international relations based on common theories. In international relation studies, there are many different theories and theory classifications. In general, all of these theories have five essential goals: generalizing and describing the reality of international relations, understanding the nature of international relations, explaining the international relation phenomena, forecasting and guiding the actions. The studies of international relations appeared long before, but the theories of international relations have been created rather late. Before the 20th century, there were no theories on international relations which were shaped clearly, but there were only sporadic and unsystematic viewpoints. After the 20th century and especially after 1945, the theories of international relations have fast evolved and were quite diverse. This evolution has continued in the period of Post-Cold War. On the basis of presentation and examination of the process of formation and evolution of international relation theories, this paper gives some remarks as follows: all of the international relation theories were born in the West and also evolved mostly in the West; all of these theories were built on the scientific bases; all of the international relation theories have the trend to evolve in interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary directions; the construction of international relation theory aims not only at explaining the past, guiding the present actions, but also at forecasting the future; most of international relation theories before 1945 were based on materialist viewpoint and paid attention to the character of law in the evolution of international relations; the evolution of international relation is usually accompanied by critical thinking and discussion; the application of international relation theory is quite popular in developed countries, but somewhat more limited in developing countries. Keywords: Theory, International relation. 4 Social Sciences Information Review, Vol.11, No.3, September, 2017 International relation theory is a set of relatively comprehensive views of international relations based on common theories. Nevertheless, in international relation studies, there are other notions like “paradigm”, “perspective”, “school of thought”, “idea”,... which often “are generally called theories” (Scott Burchill, Richard Devetek, Andrew Linklater, Matthew Paterson, Christian Reus-smit & Jacqui True, 2005: 11). But, in my opinion, these notions should be called theories only when they satisfy two points: first, their content has to be basic and rather comprehensive, explaining essential problems of the topic and other issues; secondly, their theoretic basis has to comprise ontology, gnoseology and methodology, being relatively systematic, enough able to resolve problems. Otherwise, they only should be called arguments on certain problem, and although being of category of theory but they are not proper international relation theories. In international relation studies, due to the lack of consensus in understanding theory and argument, there are still different clasifications of international relation theories. Now there exist at least four main clasifications. The first clasification is based on the principal criterion of influence in research and application to reality. By this clasification there exist only two international relation theories such as realism and liberalism. The second clasification is based on criterion of conception on the entities of international relation. By this clasification there are three international relation theories such as realism, pluralism and globalism. (See Paul R. Vioti & Mark V. Kaupi, 2001). The third clasification is based on ontology, defining four international relation theories such as realism, liberalism, marxism and constructivism. The fourth clasification is based on criterion of approach to international relation, comprising those four above-mentioned theories and some other ones like feminism, green politics, critical theory, postmodernism. In this clasification, some include also English school, the others do not recognize green politics (see Reus-Smit, Christian, 2011), nor postmodernism (see Martin Griffiths, 2007) as international relation theories. Some also include postcolonialism as a new international relation theory (see Martin Griffiths, 2007), or structuralism as a set of marxist viewpoints (see Jill Steans & Lloyd Pettiford, 2005)... Although there are such diverse opinions, theory is to be very necessary for studying and implementing the international relations. With such a theoretic signification, this paper will present some problems related to international relation theory as follows: purposes of international relation theory; birth and evolution of international relation theory, in the basis of which putting forward some remarks on this process. Purposes of international relation theory There were several different opinions about the purposes of international relation theory. Scott Burchill và Andrew Linklater have summarized opinions of different scholars and schools of theory about purposes of international relation theory that would be as follows: - To analyse and try to clarify the use of concepts like “balance of power” for Evolution of international… example. This is the opinion of Butterfield and Wight in 1966. - To explain the laws of international politics or the usual patterns of state conducts. This is the view of Kenneth Waltz in 1979. - To use empiric data to verify the hyphotheses about the world such as the hyphothesis about elimination of war between liberal-democratic states. This is the opinion of Doyle in 1983. - To try whether to explain and foresee the conducts or to understand the world view “in the head” of entities of international relation. This is the opinion of Hollis và Smith in 1990. - To examine tradionally the relations between states, focusing on the struggle for power, the nature of international society and possibility of a world community. This is the view of Wight in 1991. - To criticize the forms of domination and the views that were formulated socially and that are changeable but seem to be natural and can not be changed. This is the view of critical theory. - To reflect how the world must be organized and how the different understandings of human rights and global social justice are formulated and protected. This is the opinion of those who support the international ethics. - To reflect the process of self-theorization, analysing the cognitive demands of how the men understand the world, and the ontological demands of what finally have constituted the world. This is the view of constitutive theory (see Scott Burchill, Richard Devetek, Andrew Linklater, Matthew Paterson, Christian Reus-smit & Jacqui True, 2005: 11-12). 5 In general, all these above-mentioned opinions do not reflect sufficiently the purposes of international relation theory. They are more or less influenced by each particular theoretic school rather than the common opinion about international relation theory. Therefore they are hard to be representative of purposes of international relation theory in general. It can be said that purposes of international relation theory are also of purposes of general theory and are applied specifically to study international relations. In my opinion, international relation theory has essential purposes as follows: Its first purpose is generalization and description of real international relations. Even there is also a “view of theory as a constituent of international relation reality” (as cited in Scott Burchill, Richard Devetek, Andrew Linklater, Matthew Paterson, Christian Reus-smit & Jacqui True, 2005: 3). The theories of international relation are all built up on the basis of reality. Even the highly transcendental theories are rooted much in prominent trends or problems of reality. Reality is important basis of formation of international relation theory. Without reality, theory will be unrealistic and unverified. Obviously, theory is the very general reflection of reality. Therefore, mastering theory helps understand reality. Even the idealism - a school of liberalism - although ever was considered as utopia, but a lot of its views, ideas and solutions are still present much in reality. However, there are two points to be taken notice of. First, the different theories of internatioanl relation often generalize and discribe reality not quite the same. Secondly, 6 Social Sciences Information Review, Vol.11, No.3, September, 2017 among the theories of international relation there are the ones which try to generalize the whole historical process of international relation like realism and liberalism, meanwhile there are the others focusing only on certain periods such as marxism and green politics. The second purpose is to understand the nature of international relation. All theories of international relation have trend to understand and identify the nature of international relation. The views and principles of theories together with their ontology, gnoseology and methodology are built up to identify the nature of international relation. This is perhaps a purpose of the most important ones of international relation theory which is as a rationale of international relation theories. From a certain view, theories of international relation are quite the different interpretations of nature of international relation. In reality, all the theories try to do this task. But, there are the ones which try to explain the whole nature of international relation, of course by their own viewpoint such as of realism, liberalism or marxism; meanwhile the others seek the problems and factors which are changing the nature of international relation, in order to reidentify this nature, those theories are constructivism, feminism, green politics. Moreover, there are theories which trend to denounce the insufficiences of the others in regard to nature of international relation and thus demand to reidentify the nature of international relation, such theories are critical theory or postmodernism... The third purpose is interpretation. Steve Smith considered that “theory has to seek the reasons that could explain the international relation” (as cited in Scott Burchill, Richard Devetek, Andrew Linklater, Matthew Paterson, Christian Reussmit & Jacqui True, 2005: 3). Every theory of international relation is itself a different interpretation of international relation. At the same time, all the international relation theories try to explain the different phenomena in international relations. Understanding the nature of internatioanl relation as second purpose is also to provide the essence to help explain the phenomena of international relations that are diverse and complicated due to this nature. Without interpretation of international relation phenomena, theories will be hard to stand, and if they exist, they almost are the particular arguments and not theories. As the above-mentioned concept of “international relation theory” points out, it could be called an international relation theory only when it is able to explain rather comprehensively the international relation phenomena. Thus, international relation theory is an important means that helps us explain different phenomena of international relations. Of course, besides the explanation of different international relation phenomena, the different theories of international relation have also different scopes of time and problems. There are theories that seek the wide interpretation like realism and liberalism, meanwhile the others trend to explain in a narrower scope of time and problems such as feminism and green politics... The fourth purpose is forecasting. Like all scientific theories in social sciences and humanities in general, all the international relation theories try to understand the laws Evolution of international… of international relations besides the understanding of their nature. This understanding of laws is often expressed on two scales. On the large scale, there is an identification of the trends of transtemporal and spacially universal movements of international relations. On the small scale, there is an identification of relation patterns that are rather popular in time but existing in certain particular circumstances and conditions. These are like the laws and formulas in natural sciences, but of course with much less rigour and absoluteness. The understanding of laws and rather popular relation patterns not only helps explain but also helps forecast. If the laws help forecast the movement of international relations in general, then the international relation patterns help forecast the international relations in specific cases or circumstances. This is the task that all international relation theories try to do. All international relation theories try to forecast the future of world international relations and relation patterns from their view. Even there are the highly transcendental theories which focused more on forecasting of future international relations, among them the green politics is a typical example. The fifth purpose is to guide the actions. The international relation theories are studied and built up not only to satisfy the need of understanding, but also to be applied in practice. Unsatisfying this purpose, a theory without practical value will die prematurely. Other purposes of theory are all to do this purpose. Understanding the nature, explaining the problems of international relations or forecasting are all in service of understanding the reality, putting forth the 7 principles of action and building up policies or solutions for practices. Besides that, in international relation theories there are also methodologies and methods that are guiding principles for actions in studies as well as in practices. This is an important purpose of theory that makes the practical value of theory. In fact, all theories of international relation have this purpose and have the possibility of guiding actions effectively. But here we have to pay attention that, due to the diverse and changeable reality, there might exist a theory that would be effective in guiding actions for one case but seems to be unsuitable for another case. Similarly, there is a theory that is good in guiding actions for one period but unsuitable for another time. And in general, there is no theory that could best guide actions for every case and every time. Process of formation and evolution of international relation theory Due to the so great determination of international relations on human life and national fate, the studies of international relations appeared early long before. The ideas and writings related to international relation appeared both in the West and the East since the 5th century BC. Before the 20th century, these studies were sporadic and unsystematic. There were no clearly shaped theory but only single opinions of authors like Thucydides, Nicollo Machiavelli, Fransisco de Victoria, Thomas Hobbes, Hugo Grotius, Jeremy Bentham, John Locke, America de Vatteli, Immanuel Kant, Jean Jacques Rousseau… The studies of these authors have provided many important arguments to be the bases for the birth and evolution of international 8 Social Sciences Information Review, Vol.11, No.3, September, 2017 relation theories later on. Before the premodern time, studies of international relation essentially went on two principal orientations that were realism and liberalism. In the last half of the 19th century, although there were much increased arguments of international relations, but the proper interntaional relation theories were not formulated yet. This is due on the one hand to the insufficiences of arguments of international relations, and on the other hand to the lack of theoretic instruments from the part of social sciences and humanities for building up the theory. However, it is worth remarking that the diversity began to increase. Besides the theoretic thoughts of realism and liberalism, there appeared another more currents of thought. With the apparition of marxism, we have a more new interpretation of world international relations. International relation studies actually began to evolve only since the end of the First World War. The formation of political science in 1880s, especially in United States, together with the changes in international relations of the postwar world provided much more scientific and practical bases for international relation discipline. Also in this time there appeared the first set of arguments of international relation that could be considered as an international relation theory although being primary and with many limitations. That is the idealism which later on is considered as one branch of liberalism. After the Second World War, the studies of international relation have strong and faster evolved. It can be said that after 1945, study of international relation is one of the fastest developed sciences. This is the period in which arguments of international relation began to be systematized and developed into theories and could be called the theorization. The first is realism, and the next is liberalism. These two theories became the relatively comprehensive international relation theories and have been applied much in practices up to now. Since the late 1970s, these theories have been adjusted and complemented by the birth of new schools like neorealism and neoliberalism. At the same time, also after 1945 there appeared another school based much on Marx’s thoughts thus it was called neomarxism. Also at this time there was a fast increase of theoretic diversity due to the more apparition of different theories and approaches from other social sciences that were introduced to studies of internatioanl relation such as behavioralism, rationalism, critical theory, functionalism, neofunctionalism, pluralism and globalism... After the Cold War, theories of international relation began to flourish and develop more and more strongly. The diversity in theories and arguments of international relation continued to be complemented by new approaches and knowledges from many social sciences and humanities. On this basis there appeared a series of new theories and arguments of international relation like constructivism, feminism, green politics, postmodernism... These development and diversity are not only born by the changing reality of world international relations, but also reflect the development of this multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary science. Evolution of international… In general, we can summarize the evolution of international relation theories as a process running from the central problem (war, conflict) to the nature of international relation, from the problems of great powers to common problems of international relations, from sporadic conceptions to theories, from partial studies to comprehensive studies, from political science to multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary sciences. Besides that, there are another signs which reflect this development. Thus as for the entities of international relation, we witness the widening from the relations between states to complicated relations between diverse entities. As for subjects of study, there is a widening from the security and political problems to economic, cultural, social and global problems... As for staff of study, there is a growth from the first concentration in some great countries like United States, Britain and France... to various centres of international relation studies almost worldwide as today. Another sign of development of international relation discipline is the very movement from theoretic studies to combination of studies and training in international relation theories that now are very developing worldwide. We can give a general observation on evolution of international relation theories from the view of Hedley Bull. Hedley Bull thinks that there were three waves of international relation theories: The first wave was idealism or progressivism of 1920s and the early 1930s. The second wave was realism of late 1930s and the 1940s. The third wave have been deployed since the late 1970s with the participation of social scientific theories. 9 Each of these waves was associated with great debates between scholars. These debates were related to many problems among which there was international relation theory. The first great debate was deployed between idealism and realism in the period of 1945-1955. Before the Second World War, the idealism emerged as an international relation theory that determined the scientific community and influenced considerably some persons of planning circle, especially the effort of maintaining the League of Nations that was the initiative of the idealist Woodrow Wilson, the then president of United States. However, the impuissance of League of Nations in prevention of the Second World War as well as in resolution of many previous conflicts showed the defects and even the crisis of this theory. In the same time, and particularly right after 1945, the realism began to emerge and challenge the idealism. The realists criticized the idealism for many problems and they took the reality of the period 1918-1945 to demonstrate the “utopia” of idealism. One of the points of idealism that was criticized the most is that it could not clarify the nature of international relations, could not analyse the reality of political relations between the countries, but only trended to act voluntaristically. In this debate, it seemed that the realism won. Although the idealists have counterargued, but “it is hard to find anybody that could self-confidently declares himself as an idealist” (David A. Baldwin, 2009: 19). This resulted in a reorientation of theoretic studies to be more practical and scientific. Another result of this debate is the 10 Social Sciences Information Review, Vol.11, No.3, September, 2017 emergence of realism. At the same time, the liberalists began to change radically the research trend to seek the new arguments and approaches to replace the idealism and thus to put the premises for developing the later neoliberalism. Some typical examples of this trend were functionalism of David Mytrany in 1943 and neofunctionalism of Ernst Hasse in 1950s. The second debate was held in the late 1950s and 1960s, that was not quite a debate between the international relation theories but on the approaches in social scientific studies. This debate was held in the context of emergence of behavioralism in social sciences. The debate was symbolized by the exchange of opinion between Hedley Bull (1966) - who sought to protect the so-called “classical approach” - and Morton Kaplan (1966) - who protected the so-called “scientific approach”. From the perspective of political science, this is a debate on validity and compatibility of positivistic approach. This debate was deployed between one side who thought that the methods of natural sciences could be applied to the studies of international politics and the other side who considered that social scientific studies do not necessarily conform to the rigourous methods of natural sciences. The debate has helped develop international relation theories at least on two aspects. First, it led to accept and use widely the new scientific methods. Secondly, it contributed to international relation theories many new arguments like arguments of system by Morton Kaplan in 1957, arguments of communication and cybernetics by Karl Deutsch in 1953 and 1964, theory of game by Thomas Schelling in 1960, arguments of policy making by Richard Snyder, H. W. Bruck and Bruton Sapin in 1954 and 1962, the theory of depedence of neomarxists... The third debate is also much related to international relation theory. This debate was initiated first in 1970s between realists and liberalists. The reason of this dabte is that in 1970s the realism has exposed its defects and could not explain many new trends and problems of international relations like cooperation, role of economic factor... These two theories debated on rather many problems such as nature and consequences of anarchy, international cooperation and integration, relative interests or absolute interests, priority goals of a country, intentions or capability, institutions and regime... (see David A. Baldwin, 2009: 10-17). In 1980s, when the other approaches from some social sciences were introduced in international relation studies to make new theories, then this debate has received another criticism of realism from the part of these new theories. Many people think that this is the essential debate between realism, pluralism and structuralism. This debate is quite largely comprehensive, referring to major problems of international relation theory such as entity, paradigm, approach, new factors that influence the international relations. According to many scholars, the results of this debate have not been concluded yet. The realism was been strongly criticized in this debate, but it still continues to stand in the system of interntaional relation theories. The third debate has contributed considerably to the evolution of international relation theories. The defects Evolution of international… detected in the debate between realism and liberalism have contributed to promote these two major theories to change, being adjusted and complemented in order to become the two new schools such as neorealism and neoliberalism. Up to now, these two schools have become official schools in these two above-mentioned theories and still have many influences in practices. Another important contribution of this debate is that it has promoted many new interntaional relation theories since 1980s like feminism, critical theory, world system theory by Immanuel Wallerstein... This process still continues in 1990s after the Cold War by the apparition of constructivism, green politics... Now, although the debates still continue and cover various theoretic problems of all existing interntaional relation theories, but there does not appear the fourth debate yet. Some scholars like Peter Katzenstein, Robert Keohan, Stephen Krasner think that it would be possible to appear the fourth debate by the beginning of the 21st century whose one of major subjects will be the dispute between rationalism and constructivism. However, so far this has not happened yet. Some remarks on evolution process of international relation theories From above-presented evolution, we can draw some remarks as follows: All the international relation theories were born in the West and evolved essentially in the West. This was determined partly by some specific developments of Europe such as: First, international relations have developed earlier and having been deployed continueously and more often in Europe than anywhere. Here, international relations 11 were already complicated with conflicts and cooperations, being bilateral and multilateral,... This fact put the demand to study international relations even since ancient times. Secondly, in development, the European states had the trend to go abroad quite early with mercantilism, colonialism, imperialism as well as with open policies and globalization today. This trend is quite strong, so it requires to study the international relations in direction more and more open. Thirdly, the scientific traditions, which comprise the traditions in social sciences and in the style of thinking to make theories, also developed more strongly in the West than in any part of the world. This brought the interests in development of theories and thence theories were more easy to form here. In modern times, the theories of international relations are born and evolve essentially in the West. Of course there are many other reasons, but this above situation is the great reason leading to the domination of Western theories in studies of international relations. There is almost none of theories that was created in the East before and now in the developing countries. All the theories of international relations were built up on the scientific basis. The scientific character makes theories more convincing, more feasible and especially easier to apply. With the scientific basis and development, the theories are easier to evolve. Besides that, the scientific basis helps international relation theories be easier to spread transnationally due to the fact that the most common “language” in the world is the very science. In general, all the international relation theories that exist until now are built up on the scientific 12 Social Sciences Information Review, Vol.11, No.3, September, 2017 bases. These scientific bases usually are rooted in philosophy, political science, sociology, psychology, history and later on are complemented by those bases from other sciences such as economics, culturology and anthropology,... The history of international relation theories also showed that the weak scientific bases will make the theories be hard to difuse, living short and easy to die. We must mention this remark because so far somewhere there is still an opinion considering that theory would be something less associated with practice. This opinion easy leads to thinking by perception, giving importance to experiences in planning and implementing the foreign policy. All the international relation theories have trend to evolve in interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary directions. This is determined by the fact that international relations are more and more widened into many different spheres of social and human life. This fact is more and more recognized, therefore it requires the knowledge complementation of various disciplines for understanding international relations. This demands to develop the theories of international relation in multidisciplinary direction. Moreover, being born late and associated with many scientific spheres, so it is necessary to complement and borrow the knowledges and methods from other disciplines. Besides that, there are usual interaction and mutual constraint between these spheres. The more developed are international relations, the more increased are interactions between these spheres. This leads to requirement of multi- and interdisciplinary combination in development of international relation theories. Reviewing the development process of international relation theories in general and of each theory in particular, we can see this common trend. Now, there is no theory of international relation that has not the multi- and interdisciplinary trend. At the same time, the international relation theories are more and more complemented by the approaches and knowledges of political sociology, political culture, international political economics. This very fact has contributed to create the trend of international studies with multi- and interdisciplinary connotation, replacing the usual consideration of international relation studies as of political science. This trend helps bring fuller possibility of research to more and more multilateral reality of international relations. International relation theories are built up not only to explain the past and to guide the actual actions, but also to forecast the future. All the international relation theories have oriented to this goal with different scales and levels. The big theories like realism and liberalism or constructivism all seek to explain the whole history of international relations as well as lay the bases for forecasting the future, that is they have quite large and transtemporal scope of study and explanation. The smaller ones such as green politics, feminism, critical theory often only analyse a part of the past to point out its insufficiences, examine the present to show the new changes and thence put forward the new complementary approaches to the future. Their research or historical explanation scopes are usually much narrower than those of the big theories. This has contributed to create the discrimination between big and small
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