How power is distributed in the contemporary system of international relations Essay

1. After many attempts to find a pacific solution to the problem between Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction, the 20 of March 2003 the United States of America and the coalition army launched and attack. George W. Bush announced that he ordered an attack of opportunity against specific Iraqi targets. This is probably one of the most recent events that showed how power (economical, political and military) is distributed in the contemporary system of international relations.

The United States, according to the French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, “erred in going to war with Iraq morally, politically and strategically”1. France, Germany, and Russia, opposed the intervention of coalition forces in Iraq. In addition, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that “hope{s} that no country will take unilateral action outside of U.N. resolutions”2. Even with the direct opposition of three economical powers (two of them are permanent members of the UN Security Council), Washington decided to launch the attack. The explanation for Washington’s decision shows that the American government had the knowledge and the resources to fight the war even with the opposition of major international figures. Resources and knowledge are two important features in the use of power, and is obvious that if the U.S government would doubt about its capabilities, the intervention would never happen.

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Another important concept involved in the intervention of Iraq is the fact that the United States proved that they have the structural power. Structural power is the “authority and capacity to set the rules of the game and to determine how the others will play the game”3. This condition allowed the Americans to go against the UN Security Council decision and go to war. Moreover, the privileged position of the United States in the international arena permitted the use of influence to achieve its goals. One example of the influence of the American government was the offer of rewards and the threat of punishment for and against the Turkish government. According to an article from the Guardian, the U.S “offered more than �10bn in aid and loans in exchange for use of Turkish soil and air bases”4, and once the request was rejected by the parliament of Turkey its markets slumped5.

The intervention in Iraq was a 0-sum game; at the end the U.S won the war and it gained political and economical control over Iraqi territory. Now that the conflict is over, the reconstruction of Iraq will bring many economical advantages to the U.S and its allies. “This economy cannot afford to stand an attack,” Bush said. “And I’m going to protect the American people. The economy’s strong. It’s resilient. Obviously, so long as somebody’s looking for work, we’ve got to continue to make it strong and resilient”6. As we can see, the American government was ready to finish as soon as possible, and one of the main purposes of the intervention was economical rewards (together with security).

Other aspect that shows how power works in international politics is the alliances that were made in the conflict. Many countries remain neutral prior, and during the conflict, but we could see that countries like Spain, Bulgaria, Britain, Italy, and Australia offer unconditional support to the U.S intervention7. Although Russia, Germany and France opposed American intentions as we saw at the beginning, these new alliances met American needs, and they open a positive response to the intervention.

What was the purpose for the U.S to invade Iraq? We talked about economical factors. Many people argue that Iraqi oil was one of the main factors that the U.S government wanted to get after the conflict. But are economical reasons the only factor? Politically speaking the conflict involves more than just economy. We saw that America have the structural power, plus it had the resources, and I will argue that American society supported the war also because of the security dilemma. From a Realist point of view, the security dilemma comes from the lack of a global government (in this case the ineffective intervention of the UN), plus inequality8. Applied to this conflict, the American society felt insecure about the threat of the Saddam Hussein’s regime, and supported the government on its decision to intervene. Also, the U.S, from my point of view, used this conflict to warn the other countries (maybe South Korea or Iran) about its military and political capabilities. In this case, the war can be considered as a resource to show the power of the U.S in the international system. At the end we have that power in this case was the means but also the ends.

2. Today’s international system is far more complicated than any other period prior our post modern society. The world is losing its boundaries because of multinational corporations and economical interests are increasing its effects on national and foreign policies of all the states. Although the states remains as the only organizations that can provide security and welfare9, the global system of our times shows that they are not isolated from one another, and that all societies mutually interact.

In addition, the creation of organisms or alliances like the U.N, the European Union, or the Mercosur, is proving that states are tending to create a single entity, a global system10. Moreover, the development on communication and technology is eliminating time and space concerns. The difficulty of interaction faced by previous civilizations (like the Chou dynasty or the Greek city-states in Holsti’s chapter 2 examples) is not a concern for the modern human anymore because we can access to information or we can travel from one place to another in matter of minutes.

As stated before, the main political unit in our times is the state. Modern states are characterized by certain features like nationalism. This concept allowed the formation of multinational states, where ethnic divisions were replaced by the idea of citizenship11. Of course there are still many problems regarding ethnic minorities, but in a great percentage multinational states have prevailed. Additionally, the idea of self-determination developed after the Treaty of Westphalia is a main characteristic of modern states that has operated more than 340 years12.

Finally, there are two distinguishing attributes in modern states that are important to include, the disparities among states, and the influence of non state actors. The first one refers on how states differ tremendously in size, population, ideologies, religions, technological levels, economy, et cetera. The heterogeneity of the modern times is an important characteristic of our times. The second one refers to the increase of non state actors (transnational organizations, liberation movements, NGOs) in national and foreign policies. These actors intervene in national and international arenas with different proposes and their pressure is influencing governments all around the globe. Examples of these actors can be found in both globalization and anti-globalization supporters.

When looking at the structure of the modern system we can find three major divisions of states. Whether the division is made into pre-modern, modern and post-modern states13 or into small, medium or great powers14, we can agree that each of the states can be classified inside these categories. Using the second classification we have that the only great power at the time (economically and militarily) is the United States. In the recent conflict between the U.S and Iraq we saw that the Americans are the ones who have the structural power. On the other side, Japan, and the European Union are great powers economically but in the military aspect the U.S is far more advance than these states. This military and economical distinction gives a mixture of military unipolarity and economic multipolarity (polar-mix)15 to our present international system. Using the previous example of the American intervention in Iraq, we saw how Germany and France (middle powers) opposed to the war, bringing economical repercussions two both sides.

Speaking about the form of interactions on the system, Holsti points out that the “interactions between societies have grown at an unprecedented pace”16. Diplomacy and economic relations are part of the everyday politics. We see how the stock market in Japan is influenced by Wall Street and vice versa. Furthermore, the cultural interaction of our times is also an important characteristic of the 21st century; this can be in the form of education, but also food, traditions, costumes, among others. In the other hand, conflict is characteristic of pre-modern states, but in the global system, conflict is solved through diplomacy and alliances.

Finally, we see that in our system war is the last resource (especially when two major powers are involved). All these interactions are framed in a set of diplomatic rules. After Westphalia, the self-determination concept stated than one state cannot intervene on another state. Although the principle is clear, it has been violated frequently. Media, public opinion and non state actors are increasing their influence in the structure of the world, and they too set some rules (indirectly) when dealing with conflicts. An example of this, although it did not achieve its purpose, was the civil demonstrations against the world in Iraq all around the world.

The U.S, as mentioned before, is the structural power, and we can see some indications of a unipolar system (at least in the military aspect), but the emerging powers like the European Union, China and Japan seem to be increasing their influence (especially economically). Economy, I consider, is now a source of stability, but eventually it could become a source of change when the competition for new markets become more aggressive. The modern system is still young, but is also changing really fast. My hypothesis is that it will remain stable for a couple more decades but then it will become a multipolar system, with economy as the main contributor of power.

Bibliography

(Author), Not Quite a New World Order, More a Three-way Split. The Economist 345, no.8048 (1997), p. 41-43

BBC News Online, < http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/2915499.stm>, French PM speaks mind on Iraq, retrieved from the World Wide Web in February 2004.

CBS News Online, <http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/01/24/world/main537788.shtml>, U.S ignores Euro snobs in Iraq effort, retrieved from the World Wide Web in February 2004.

CNN News Online, <http://www.cnn.com/2003/ALLPOLITICS/01/01/sproject.irq.war.cost/index.html>, Bush: Attack by Iraq ‘would cripple’ economy, retrieved from the World Wide Web in February 2004.

Holsti K.J, International Politics: A Framework of Analysis (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1995)

Moens Alexander, Introduction to International Politics: Study Guide, (Vancouver: Simon Fraser University)

The Globe and Mail Online News <http://www.globeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20030223.wunun223/BNStory/Intdddddddernational>, U.S on diplomatic warpath, retrieved from the World Wide Web in February 2004

1 BBC Online, French PM speaks mind on Iraq, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/2915499.stm

(2004, February)

2 CBS Online, U.S ignores Euro snobs in Iraq Effort, http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/01/24/world/main537788.shtml, (2004, February)

3 Holsti K.J, International Politics: A Framework of Analysis (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1995), p. 69.

4 The Guardian Online, Turkey to reconsider US troop ban, http://www.guardian.co.uk/turkey/story/0,12700,916536,00.html (2004, February)

5 Guardian, Turkey to reconsider.

6 CNN Online, What would war with Iraq cost?, http://www.cnn.com/2003/ALLPOLITICS/01/01/sproject.irq.war.cost/index.html (2004, February)

7 Globe and Mail Online, U.S on diplomatic warpath, http://www.globeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20030223.wunun223/BNStory/International, (2004, February)

8 Moens Alexander, Introduction to International Politics: Study Guide, (Vancouver: Simon Fraser University), p. 36.

9 Holsti, International Politics, 67.

10 Holsti, International Politics, 53.

11 Holsti, International Politics, 75.

12 Holsti, International Politics, 46.

13 (Author), Not Quite a New World Order, More a Three-way Split. The Economist 345, no.8048 (1997), p. 41-43

14 Moens, Introduction to International Politics, 64-68.

15 Moens, Introduction to International Politics, 82.

16 Holsti, International Politics, 71.