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Power Politics: The Framework Provided

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Power Politics: The Framework Provided

Understanding contemporary world politics is by no means an easy feat. To merely begin the process, one must first have an ample knowledge of historical as well as modern trends in international relations, the issues at hand both now and in the past and major events that affect the field. Several groups and styles of thinking have developed throughout the centuries to make attempts at comprehending world politics and most successfully carrying out international relations. One of these styles of thinking is often called power politics and can be referred to as realpolitik or realism. This school of thought focuses on ways in which power affects the international arena by assessing how states influence each other as the most important actors in world politics. Realpolitik pays attention to political power matters such as military preparedness and industrial capacities, ignoring issues of morality, ideology and other social aspects as reasons for actions of states. In this way, realism sets up a strong framework for understanding short-term, interstate relationships, yet leaves the comprehension of deeper, long-term issues weak in the background.

Power politics maintains that human nature is generally selfish. This belief comes from their understanding of the trends in international relations. They feel that in the international field, states are the most important actors which act upon their own individual interests. Therefore, a state is deemed powerful if it has the ability to maintain its national interests by influencing other states. These trends date back thousands of years to the beginning of war. Once states came into existence, selfishness caused territorial expansion and war to soon follow. Countries began developing armies to carry out their interests with force, and their neighbors had to respond with their own armies. This began the trends that lead to power politics. The need to focus on defense superseded the need to address more liberal issues.

Power politics are not only used in matters of war and defense. The general definition of power can be seen as a state’s ability to get its way, making other states do things that are in the interest of the first state. In realpolitik, states use militaristic, economic, and diplomatic strengths to influence other actors from whom they desire something. The general idea is that population, territory, geography, natural resources, and GDP are all factors that give a state potential power to affect international politics. To most accurately measure a state’s power in short-term issues, realism looks to military-industrual capabilities and how well the state’s bureaucracy is run.

A large part of the focus on defense in power politics comes from the idea of norms of behavior in a world that is basically anarchistic. The international stage, lacking a central government to make and enforce laws, is a fairly dangerous place to be an actor. Realism, assuming that there is no solution for the world’s anarchy, turns to practices that have taken place throughout history instead of looking to create such a government or international organizations to keep order. There is a certain amount of dependency that lies on these norms of behavior, the most important of which being the idea of sovereignty. This is the idea that states have the right to carry out any policies they wish within their national borders. Respecting sovereignty keeps international relations at a less complicated, less dangerous level. If states were to meddle constantly in the internal affairs of others, there would be far more on which to focus, and far more conflicts to create global upsets.

Another behavior that realpolitik uses to keep international relations from reaching unbearable ends in an anarchistic world can be found in the common practice of bargaining. Considering the use of leverage, it is the view of power politics that the more powerful state (that is, the state with the most developed military and highest GDP, et cetera) will achieve the greatest profits in a bargaining situation. The reason this works at keeping some form of international order has to do with cost-benefit analysis. Each state in a situation has to weigh the cost of the actions that could possibly be taken versus the potential benefits of taking such actions. The more powerful state, obviously, has the ability to take greater risks without losing a great amount. The weaker state is forced to go along without conflict because it does not have the necessary might to follow through in order to achieve its own goals. This pattern in international relationships supports the lack of movement to end world anarchy by accepting that conflicts cannot get out of hand due to the lack of resources of certain states.

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