Understanding International Politics Essay, Research Paper
Understanding international politics can be difficult and complex. There are many factors that must be taken into account. A couple of factors include the types of states or actors involved and what kind of situation is being analyzed. There are three different levels of analysis that provide a framework for understanding international politics; the international system level, the actor level, and the decision-making level (Spanier and Wendzel 22).
The international system level emphasizes the external influences on actors decisions and behavior. The primary actors at this level are states but many nonstate organizations like the United Nations are also important (Spanier and Wendzel 22). This level focuses on the relationships between the various actors and looks at the similarities in their behavior. The behavior of each actor is affected by the behavior of other actors. Because the actors are all complex and different from each other, their actions cannot be anticipated, sometimes they are very unexpected. Because of this uncertainty states are always concerned with power and security, the main goal is survival and being able to protect itself against aggression. Because a states power is detrimental to its survival, it tries to achieve a balance or equilibrium, to try to be as powerful as any potential opponent. This balance of power is a pertinent for each state s security (Spanier and Wendzel 23). This power is sought to secure their core values, territorial integrity, political independence and their prosperity (Spanier and Wendzel 108). The United Stated involvement in both World Wars provides a good example of a state trying to maintain a balance of power. The U.S. was an isolationist up until World War I and then again until World War II. The threat to the U.S. arose from the possibility that one state or a coalition of states might conquer most of Europe and use its new resources to menace the U.S. (Spanier and Wendzel 24). After World War I, the U.S. went back to being an isolationist. When World War II erupted, there were many proponents to isolationism that objected to the U.S. getting involved. They organized under the America First Committee and argued that there were plenty of problems inside the U.S. that needed attention and that the U.S. should concentrate on fixing it s own problems instead of trying to fix others (Brands 144). Opponents of isolationism felt that involvement was necessary to protect American interests. One of these interests was access to foreign markets, which was vital to future American prosperity (Brands 145). President Roosevelt tried to keep out of the war, but still help Britain. He sent fifty destroyers to Britain and set up the Lend-Lease program. After the U.S. declared war on Japan, Hitler declared war on the U.S. and the U.S. was then officially part of World War II (Brands 154). Since this time the U.S. has remained an interventionist, it came out of World War II a superpower. It also had a new enemy, the Soviet Union, which also emerged as a superpower. The distribution of power in Europe changed drastically and the Cold War thus began. The United States had no choice but to establish a new balance (Spanier and Wendzel 27).
The Actor level of analysis emphasizes internal characteristics or factors (Spanier and Wendzel 29). This level focuses on what is different about each actor. It looks at characteristics such as the degree of societal cohesiveness and stability, the domestic economy, historical experience, and national culture and how these affect policy choices and behavior (Spanier and Wendzel 29). One important factor that affects state s behavior is the type of state involved. One type is a democratic state, which is characterized as a basically peaceful state, one reason being that the elected ruler is accountable to the people, also, because the public participates in voting and political decision making (Spanier and Wenszel 29-30). These countries tend to look inward toward domestic policies that improve their constituent s standard of living. They emphasize values such as health care, education and welfare (Spanier and Wendzel 30). Another type of state is a revolutionary state; this type of state presents a challenge to the international order (Spanier and Wendzel 32). Traditional states normally recognize one another s right to exist and govern themselves. The revolutionary state upsets the order because they don t accept the legitimacy of other states in the system because of their domestic structures (Spanier and Wendzel 32). They believe that overthrowing the ruling class and getting rid of the existing system will cure society s ills. Revolutionary states are likely to attack nonrevolutionary countries or cause potential victims to launch a preventive war (Spanier and Wendzel 32).
The third level of analysis is the decision-making level, which focuses on the people who participate in the making and implementation of policy (Spanier and Wendzel 34). There are many aspects that affect how policy makers make decisions. One of these is the person s perception of the world, which is influenced by many factors. A couple of factors are the history of the state and context that it is applied to by the policy maker and also the cultural and general background of that person. Other aspects include the fact the policy makers reach different kinds of decisions and that they arrive at them by different means (Spanier and Wendzel 35). There are three types of decisions and policies. The first is crisis policy, which is usually related to great-power confrontation and involves few policy makers, normally just the ones at the top (Spanier and Wendzel 35). The second is security policy, which refers to normal noncrisis foreign and defense policies. A far greater number of people are involved in the decision-making and they normally have more time to make them (Spanier and Wendzel 36). Domestic and intemestic policy is the third type. This type involves the largest number of actors and revolves largely on welfare and prosperity objectives (Spanier and Wendzel 36).
In order to use the three levels of analysis it is important to know the characteristics of a state and how they are defined and also what their main objectives are. A state is a legal entity; it s a politically organized body of people that occupy a definite territory, normally a sovereign one. A nation refers to a cultural entity; states can have several nations within their borders. An example is the Cherokee nation in the United States. A country is a physical entity, the territory that belongs to a state. States vary drastically in size, population, political and economic systems and the types of natural resources that they have. All states share certain characteristics despite their differences. One characteristic is sovereignty, a state s right to be free to govern as it wishes within its own territory (Spanier and Wendzel 43). All states possess territory and they have populations. Nationalism is another characteristic, it s a collective identity shared by people living within certain frontiers as a result of their common history and language (Spanier and Wendzel 47). The degree of nationality felt within a state is extremely varied. Nationality and geographic boundaries do not always coincide and conflict is rampant in many states because of this. One last important characteristic of a state is that it is recognized by other states when it is thought to have control over the people within its borders and that it is a legitimate political entity (Spanier and Wendzel 51). States are also classified into certain categories based on specific characteristics. One way a state is classified is either as a great or small power. This usually depends on a states military and economic strength, technological capabilities, location and population. They are also classified as being either status quo or revisionist. Status quo states are generally satisfied with the way things are. Revisionists are not and seek to change things, sometimes very drastically. Another classification for states is whether they are a rich nation or a poor nation (Spanier and Wendzel 53-58).
The main objectives of states are very important to know in order to analyze and anticipate their policies. States share common objectives, one of the most important being national security. Physical survival is the base for all states national security. Preserving a state s territorial integrity, political independence and way of life are also included in security (Spanier and Wendzel 77). Economic security is very important, there is a direct correlation between a state s economy and their military strength. The national welfare of a state also correlates with a state s economic strength and industrial capabilities. National prestige is another important objective of a state. It is subjective and intangible because it depends on the perception of other states (Spanier and Wendzel 84-85). A states military and economic strength and their standard of living contribute to their prestige. Ideology is a final objective of a state (Spanier and Wendzel 87). In the past states have promoted primarily secular ideologies, but today those are being replaced by religious ideas and movements. Many of these ideologies have turned radical (Spanier and Wendzel 89). Islamic fundamentalism in states like Iran and Afghanistan is a good example.
The three levels of analysis can be used to understand international politics. All factors that can contribute to a state s decisions must be taken into account. Knowledge of a state is pertinent to analyzing and understanding a states policies and actions.
Brands, William H. The United States in the World Volume II.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994
Spanier, John and Robert L. Wendzel. Games Nations Play.
Washington D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 1996