These are my random musings. Hopefully they will be witty, insightful, and frequently updated.
Published on March 31, 2006 By singrdave In World Trade Issues
In you conversations thus far, you guys have not honed in on some key assumptions about Classical Realists and the questions have not prompted to a great extent to confront some issues. Thus, I am going to lay them out. Realists assume that the state is and will always be the principal actors in global affairs. True? They assume that decision-makers are rational and capable of defining national interests. True? They assume that decision-makers will "do whatever is necessary" to protect the national interest even if it includes "immoral decisions." (e.g. always choose the weaker side--the USSR in a conflict with Nazi Germany). Still true? Good policy? You have focused on hard vs. soft power, but has the use of force declined in effectiveness in international affairs? Realists say no. Agree?

Wow, that was a lot of questions...

To answer your first question, regarding the state's ability to retain dominance on the global stage:
The realists' assumption that the state will always be the principal actor for international purposes is not at all true. It is very difficult to believe that another organizational structure will come to rival the state, but it has in the cases of multi-national corporations and illegal enterprises like the mafia. Strange feels that transnational corporations (TNCs) like technology and telecommunication companies have more economic (and therefore political) clout than most small nations. (100-9) In fact, Microsoft Corporation's cash on hand would place it as the 91st highest GDP in purchasing power parity of the 232 nations of the earth. Money talks... and obviously Microsoft has a bullhorn.

In addressing your second question, about state decision-makers are rational and capable of defining national interests:
For the most part, that is a resounding yes. Most nations pursue courses of fiscal responsibility, regarding their place in the world markets with the right amount of perspective. The post-war development of the Koreas is a prime example of this dichotomy. South Korea's economic development model has been wonderful, though it has not been without its blips and bumps. "Moderate inflation, low unemployment, an export surplus, and fairly equal distribution of income characterize this solid economy" (CIA Factbook: "South Korea"). On the other hand, North Korea's post-war development has been less than splendid: "North Korea, one of the world's most centrally planned and isolated economies, faces desperate economic conditions... Massive international food aid deliveries have allowed the regime to escape mass starvation since 1995, but the population remains the victim of prolonged malnutrition and deteriorating living conditions. Large-scale military spending eats up resources needed for investment and civilian consumption" (Ibid., "North Korea"). North Korea has a tenuous grasp of the grim economic realities facing it. As a nation, its people are literally starving in the streets due to socialist mismanagement while not ninety miles to the south, fellow Koreans live in a capitalist society with all the trappings. So to answer your question, no. I do not think that decision-makers are all rational. In the case of North Korea, however, they are putting the state's interests above that of her own people.

Yet another question: has the use of force declined in effectiveness in international affairs? To that I answer "yes". Overt force is no longer an effective threat. For example, not only can we not allow a manufacturing ally like Taiwan to be retaken by China (despite China's overtures), but also we cannot come to Taiwan's aid for fear of inciting an all-out war with a lucrative economic ally like China. We just do not fight wars the same way any more. It is not about taking land or conquering islands in the Pacific; it is the soft arts of diplomacy, policy, economics, and statecraft that win the day.

"GDP - Purchasing Power Parity", CIA Factbook, 2006 ed. Internet: Link, accessed 31 March 2006.
"Microsoft: Key Statistics", Yahoo! Finance. Internet: Link, accessed 31 March 2006.
"North Korea", CIA Factbook, 2006 ed. Internet: Link, accessed 31 March 2006.
"South Korea", CIA Factbook, 2006 ed. Internet: Link, accessed 31 March 2006.
Strange, Susan. The Retreat of the State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1996.

on Mar 31, 2006
I didn't intend to focus on East Asian economies for examples, I just found that they were relevant.