Tag Archive for international relations

Can Samuel P. Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilizations’ model explain trends in foreign affairs after the 9-11 attack?

(C) Kapok Tree Diplomacy. Feb 2011. All rights reserved. Jeff Dwiggins.

The conduct of international relations post 9-11 has certainly been dramatically shaped by the US. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, in the former as a pre-emptive attack to remove WMD and the Ba’athist regime of Saddam Hussein, and in the latter to hunt down al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists and eliminate the training bases that harbored these non-state actors. In both cases, massive reconstruction projects have been undertaken to prevent Iraq and Afghanistan from becoming failed states and help them adopt political and economic reforms of a Western orientation.

But these U.S. interventions are not the only factor explaining the conduct of IR after 9-11. Paul Diehl notes that the demand for peace operations and subsequent escalation in third party interventions rose dramatically following the Cold War due to “superpower retrenchment in providing aid to other states,” an explosion of failed states and civil wars that spawned out of the power vacuum, an increased advocacy for democracy and free markets, greater international concern for human rights, and globalization (52-55). Read more

Is International Relations a Science?

(C) Kapok Tree Diplomacy. 2010. All rights reserved. Jeff Dwiggins, author

Is international relations (IR) a science? Well, I guess it depends on what science we’re talking about – physical, biological, social, economic, political?  When I hear the term “science” I still tend to think of what I’m most familiar with, and that is the scientific method used by the natural sciences. Russett and Starr attempt to modify the social science of IR to follow the scientific method using some general general steps  (2004). I would tweak those steps as follows along the natural science format: pose the question, observe, research and analyze, form hypothesis, experiment, gather more data, analyze results, interpret results, form conclusion, retest (“Steps of the Scientific Method”, n.d.).

Can we apply this same scientific method to international relations? Yes, but obtaining the level of accuracy in international relations typically required in biology or physics is not really possible. Human behavior is not as predictable as universal laws and the uniformity of nature. The current rend in IR is to try and make it as predictable as possible by crunching numbers and trying to explain every outcome through quantitative analysis. But state and non-state actors do not always act rationally, nor do they always operate with perfect information and single-minded purpose. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).

Russett and Starr talk about science being about “comparison, contingency and probability” (p.19) in order to “define, label and classify” (p. 19). They point out that the analysis should be done in a systematic way in order to make theoretical “generalizations” (p. 20). They do admit the role that assumptions (p. 22), values (p. 26) and uncertainty (p. 19) can play in the overall scientific process as it relates to international relations. That’s good. Here’s a few reasons why.

The facts do not always speak for themselves. In tackling the controversy and diverse theories over the assassination of JFK, the late Christian theologian Greg Bahnsen brilliantly points out that, “What a person will take to be a “fact” and how that fact is interpreted and related to other beliefs is not determined alone by the perceptions or observations (or observation-reports) which a person has. His thinking will be guided by various assumptions or controlling presuppositions” (1992).

What one takes to be factual, as well as the interpretation of accepted facts, will be governed by his underlying philosophy of fact – that is by his “pervasive, basic, value-oriented, possibility determining, probability-rating, sometimes religiously motivated presuppositions” (Bahnsen).

The science of international relations is viewed through the value-oriented assumptions of the person doing the analysis. That frame of reference or lens may be realist, liberal, Marxist, constructionist or some combination thereof. It doesn’t mean the conclusions aren’t scientific to some extent, but we do have to be realistic about their precision and highly scrutinize the underlying values and assumptions that went into the observation and research of pertinent facts in the first place.

If our standard is that international relations (IR) must be able to be categorized, defined, labeled and classified, and that the scientific method may be usefully applied to it, then I would agree that it may share some qualities with the scientific method, though not on the same level as the natural sciences.  Thus, IR is not an exact science despite the claims of many social scientists and academics who try to convince us otherwise.


Global Integration as Seen Through the Ideological Lenses of the International Political Economy

“Global Integration as Seen Through the Lenses of the Ideologies of the International Political Economy” by Kapok Tree Diplomacy

Preview                                              Written April 2010

Section One – Conceptions of IPE

Main Actors and Their Goals. Dunne and Schmidt state that “Realism identifies the group as the fundamental unit of political analysis” and “the state as the legitimate representative of the people” (93), while other actors such as international organizations (IGOs) or multinational corporations (MNCs) have lesser prominence (103). Realists view the international system as competitive and inherently anarchic, thus driving states to “simultaneously pursue wealth and national power” under the principle of self-help (Gilpin 425). Some realists argue that states are power maximizers, while others argue they are security maximizers (Dunne & Schmidt 101). The end goal in either case is survival, and economic success is central to each strategy.

Liberals position the “individual consumer, firm, or household” as the main actor within IPE. Gilpin asserts that the “primary objective of economic activity (for liberals) is to benefit consumers” by using free market principles for “organizing and managing a market economy in order to achieve maximum efficiency, economic growth and individual welfare” (421). Goal attainment is furthered by these actors peacefully cooperating in a way that allows supply and demand to settle into a natural, stable equilibrium (Gilpin 422). Other groups like IGOs and MNCs compete for centrality with states “through multiple channels of interaction”(Dunne 115).

The main actors within Marxism are social classes, principally the bourgeoisie upper class who owns the economic means of production and the proletariat lower class who works for the bourgeoisie (Lynch 537-539). The goal of the bourgeoisie is wealth accumulation for themselves and increasing power and profits for their class while subjugating the proletariat in the process. Gilpin notes that Lenin reformulated Marxism to the extent that “the principal actors in effect became competing mercantilistic nation-states driven by economic necessity” (430). Whether the main actors be classes or states, the goal is the same in Marxism – maximization of elitist interests.

Policies and Views on International Relations.  Gilpin asserts that the “foremost objective of nationalists is industrialization” as it is the “basis of military power and central to national security” (“Three” 425). Realists, or economic nationalists or mercantilists (as referred to in IPE terminology), also emphasize national self-sufficiency which may result in protectionist measures to insulate infant or declining industries (Gilpin,”Three”, 426).  James Fallows points out how politics drives economics in nationalism by comparing it to liberalism and illustrating the importance of “deliberate development,” production over consumption, results over process, “business as war” over “business as peace,” and national interests over individual interests (61-87). In realism, states seek to maximize their sovereign independence through wealth and power.

The Limitations of Classical Realism

“The Limitations of Classical Realism” by Kapok Tree Diplomacy

To what extent has neo-realism addressed the limitations of classical realism, if there be any, and overcome them or not? The following analytical essay shall engage this question by exploring each theory’s core assumptions and then review the effect of these assumptions on key areas of understanding international relations to include philosophical perspective, definitions of power and security, the role of anarchy and rationality, the distribution of capabilities and balance of power, and a definition of the international system.

The essay will conclude by bringing both theories’ assumptions to bear upon the current crisis between the United States and Iran. Given the assumptions, I will draw conclusions as to which theory most accurately ascertains the situation and which is more likely to predict the outcome.

The Extent That Theories of Cooperation Harmonize With Reality in Contemporary International Relations

January 30, 2010 – Jeffrey R. Dwiggins, Copyright, Kapok Tree Diplomacy –


The Extent That Theories of Cooperation Harmonize With Reality in Contemporary International Relations

International relations theorists have presented distinctly different views on both the prospects for cooperation among states and the environmental and structural constraints impeding it for decades. This essay will explain and analyze the main views put forth in Robert Keohane‘s Regime and Complex Interdependency Theory, Bruce Russett’s Democratic Peace Theory, David Held’s democratization of global politics, and conclude with Robert Jervis’s ideas on the effectiveness of creating institutions to increase cooperation.

The views of Jervis will bring us full circle with realist and neo-realist views of cooperation. Throughout the essay, I will assess to what extent the arguments of these theorists are convincing. Do these theories of cooperation harmonize with reality in contemporary international relations? The following essay will explain how and why they do, and in other cases how and why they do not.

Theories of Cooperation

Keohane – Regimes and Complex Interdependency Theory.  Keohane defines cooperation as occurring when “actors adjust their behavior to the actual or anticipated preferences of others, through a process of policy coordination” (“Cooperation” 491).  The definition leaves some room for why actors would adjust their behavior at all.  Keohane implies that the answer is found in mutual interests that are of equal importance (“Cooperation” 490). When such mutual interests are present, actors will want to bargain and negotiate as opposed to the manipulation and coercion that prevail under divergent interests and lead to strife. Read more

Kapok Tree Diplomacy Slowly Emerges

Kapok_tree_HonoluluWelcome to Kapok Tree Diplomacy. The kapok tree is a towering and majestic tree native to tropical rainforests, rising to heights of over 150 feet, and providing food and shelter to hundreds of plants and animals dependent on the sunlight found above the canopy. The aim of this foreign affairs-related site is to provide a similar source of light and resources in the form of detailed inquiry into the complex issues of international relations as analyzed through the worldview and prism of the theistic Christian worldview. As a student and practitioner of international relations as well as a Christian, I tend to follow in the footsteps of a far more accomplished scholar who was well known for blending the Christian worldview into his own keen analysis of foreign affairs – Reinhold Niebuhr.

Accordingly, this site will have many branches, some concerning foreign affairs and diplomacy; some concerning other ideals such as democracy and liberty; and still other branches on things like Art, Culture, Entertainment, Religion and Science. It was Niebuhr who said, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  I reject the God-complex that man can fix the world and all of its ills armed with merely his own abilities, reasoning and knowledge apart from God.

Like Niebuhr, I enjoy challenging many of the accepted ideas and opinions of the established academic, journalistic and philosophical elites, especially the presuppositional planks of the worldviews upon which those ideas and opinions are built. I welcome all to the site – young and old, men and women, religious and non-religious, the students, academics and practitioners of international relations, and the curious and undecided. The site is currently in its infancy, so I ask for your patience as I slowly build it over time.

Enjoy the site and remember, “Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love.”  Niebuhr

Jeff Dwiggins
January 2013

Be sure to check out my website as well.

* The posts, views and opinions expressed on this site are completely my own and do not represent the views or opinions of the Department of Defense, the Department of the Navy or the Armed Forces.