The great thing about theory – especially theory pertaining to international relations – is that it is malleable and essentially only theoretical. That is to say, it can never fully be applied universally. Or rather that can be done, but only until a new and unpredictable variable is introduced which renders the theory null. It can therefore be stated that theories such as realism, liberalism and Marxism, can all be applied in one way or another to different phenomena.
For instance, international conflicts such as the Rwandan genocide, the war in Kosovo and the war in Iraq can all be viewed through different theoretical lenses. This paper intends to review and analyze these case studies of modern and contemporary conflicts and determine which theories – if not singularly – apply best to the situations questioned. Though realism appears to be at the outset the single most prevalent theory, it is entirely viable to see in which ways the other mainstream approaches can be applied.
One need only look at certain details in order to visualize how the way in which these crises played out can be attributed to other theories. The first crisis to be looked at will be the case of war in Kosovo. Reading through a number of published documents pertaining to or evaluating what exactly happened in the Balkans during the spring of 1999 leaves absolutely no doubt that the machinations of the international actors were cemented around a realistic approach to and outlook toward world affairs. Which elements pinpoint realism as being why events transpired the ways they did?
Mainly evaluations and statements made by key players. These shall be looked at more closely. Madeleine K. Albright, who served as President Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State, has disclaimed in her address tot the House International Relations Committee a number of ideas hinting that the way in which events played out in Kosovo were based on a power struggle and national interest. She has admitted that “we were engaged in diplomacy backed by the threat of force,” and that “[s]ince that time, we have used diplomacy to back NATO’s military campaign. 1 Despite negotiations, which are supposed to be the more pacific approach to resolving diplomatic conflicts, the threat of force was used and later implemented in order to push forth with failed resolutions.
Though she also claimed that the present U. S. forces in Kosovo were representative of “America’s commitment to the Allied cause,”2 she nonetheless was encouraging the House not to allow legislation requiring the removal of these forces from this NATO operation. It is possible to suspect a need to keep these forces grounded – even if it is for an “allied cause. She also goes on to explain that the “problems that have plagued the Balkans – of competition for resources, ethnic rivalry and religious intolerance – are by no means restricted to that part of the world. “3 This is not only evidence displaying the fact that nationalism is at the heart of this particular conflict – that is to say that Milosevic’s forces were in a power struggle with other rival forces – but also a global evaluation of how the world works, indicating a realist perspective.
It is necessary to state however that she does admit the cooperation of certain other actors in resolving the conflict which has already begun: “efforts by Greek NGOs and the International Committee of the Red Cross,” and saying later that in order to provide stability and democracy that it would take “a coordinated effort” and “a commitment from us… the involvement of the European Union and the international financial institutions. “4 Liberalism and the cooperation among actors other than just the states that it encourages is therefore used as a reparative tool and not one necessarily by which conflicts are dealt with in the immediate.
Other indications of the presence of realistic forces at work during the many days of this war can be found in criticisms of NATO itself and how it handled the war. For instance, the use of brute force in order to make the Serbian forces concede in which an attack on the headquarters of Serbian state radio and television in Belgrade constituted a war crime. Others included the continuing bombing of bridges even after evidence showed that civilians had been struck. 5 This demonstrates the Machiavellian-type lengths to which NATO would go in order to obtain its objective.
National interest and security are some of the main tenets of realism and its logic. For example the main goal of NATO from the outset was essentially the defense and security of Europe. 6 Countries are not obligated to follow NATO. Disparities in opinions between what constitutes a legitimate strike, attack, or target can cause certain nations to decline from participating. National armies are subject to the decisions by their own government which indicates that states are the principal actors when it comes to determining whether or not an attack should take place.
Not only were the United States forces flying “nearly 80% of Nato strike-attack sorties during the campaign” but “was also carrying out a separate American operation”7 which was later denied by NATO. Even the strategy behind these bombings consolidated NATO’s sphere of influence: bombed bridges would prevent the Serbians from acting elsewhere. 8 NATO was again protecting its sphere of influence. Instances of these kinds prove that not only NATO, but states as well are very much independent in their participation and can very much orient the directions of the attacks in accordance to their will.
It also begs the question of whether NATO as an organization can be regarded and constituted as a single state actor – obviously encompassing others within its structure – or if each state within has unilateral decision-making powers. Undermining future cooperation with Russia was seen as a sacrifice and a necessity in order to carry out the NATO policy in the Balkans. The war created tension with the great tiger and no one seemed to be concerned with Russia as the objective of security is what was first and foremost important of attaining. Possible conflict elsewhere had to be foregone in order to maintain stability in Europe. NATO’s practices are described as pursuant of “the ends justifying the means”10 and it is suggested by the same author that the “only thing that can keep NATO from being a global vigilante is international law. ” This implies that under normal circumstances it does not follow such rules and is a heavily realist organization. The next conflict which is of interest to the development of this paper is that of the war in Iraq which has been ongoing since 2003. Iraq is an interesting case study as it provides a wealth of examples which can are attributable to various forms of theories.
One by one they shall be reviewed: liberalism, realism and neo-Marxism. The reasoning behind the invasion of Iraq by U. S. forces in March 2003 is muddled in confusion. At first it was a question of a national security threat. This would obviously imply a realist approach. However, after the invasion, the supposed weapons of mass destruction which the dictatorial Saddam Hussein was said to possess were not found. The tone of the war quickly shifted from national security to the security, freedom and exportation of democracy to the Middle East.
This is a very early form of liberalism which can be qualified as Wilsonian in nature. Wilsonianism provides the idealism”11 writes John Mearsheimer – the promotion of democracy – indicating however that this method of approach is mixed with realism – the teeth behind the Bush doctrine12, the “emphasis on military power. “13 This is also evidence of the actors implicated. This conflict is viewed almost exclusively as a stage in which good states are coming to the rescue of evil states or endangered states. This implicates that the conflict is based upon realism. The other view that one can take vis-i?? -vis the war in Iraq is the realism which resonates from actions taken.
Realism is a key element in this war for two reasons. Geopolitics would see the U. S. asserting its strategic position in the Middle East on two bases: as asserting its military dominance and power in this region and also in protecting its most important and lucrative foreign asset, oil. 14 By invading Iraq the United States puts its armed forces in an important military locale for defending allies as well as future interests. For example, with the four bases it now has in Iraq, the United States is now in a position to deploy forces in that region – Iran or Syria were the examples explicitly mentioned – relatively quickly. 5 Occupying Iraq creates a buffer state. Oil is an age-old Middle Eastern commodity at the heart of many conflicts in that area of the world. If one controls and monopolizes the procuring of a commodity then one also ensures economic strength and power. The oil fields of Iraq are of geostrategic importance to the United States – which can yield “enormous strategic power” if it can tap the gas and oil lines of Iraq. 16 – who for the sake of this “national interest” can morally or not use certain means in which to protect and obtain it: unilateral force.
This unilateralist approach highlights the importance of a singular role for the state in protecting its own interests. Again, the analysis provided by the makers of the previously cited work is that of neo-conservatism. They rely on the expansionism, increased military spending, preemptive military action, unilateralism and military might advocated by the Wolfowitz doctrine (an official policy under the Bush administration)17 as signs of neo-conservatism. However, these elements are all closely linked to the notions of realism: state power.
It is also this increased power of the state that leads to the hegemonic discourse that is characteristic of this war. A neo-Marxist theory can be used to also explain how this war was started. One reason relates to oil or economic hegemony and also physical hegemony (the extension of military power discussed earlier). The other relates to the cultural or societal hegemony which the United States holds over its own territory. Firstly, exploitation of natural resources, in this case oil far beneath the sands of Iraqi soil, is the first sign that the world operates based on the neo-Marxist theory.
Oil was an explicit goal outlined in the Wolfowitz doctrine. An increased control over natural resources, especially oil of the Persian Gulf. The second reason for taking Iraq was also to exploit a propitious opportunity to display the United States’ imperial power. 18 America’s hegemony is not restrained to the world stage but also upon its own people. Via the media and other means of deception, a false cultural and societal sense of reality has been constructed. The Bush administration’s policy depends on deception and secrecy. It is built on a policy of fear and the manipulation of fear.
Iraq had been targeted from the outset and though there was no evidence of its supposed involvement in the 9/11 terrorist attacks it needed to be connected. People have been lulled by a leading social force seeking to expand its vision and policies on a global scale. Hegemony explains how easily the war was sold and how so many were tricked into looking the other way. The connection of Iraq to this global project was the last piece of the puzzle which would see liberal and realist notions come together to facilitate the implementation of this exploitative and expansionist project.
Neo-Marxism can provide the looking glass into this reasoning. The final conflict which will be looked at here is that of the Rwandan genocide. Over the course of one hundred days eight hundred thousand Tutsis were slaughtered at the hands of the Hutus bearing machetes. 19 Which theories can best be utilized to explain this horrible massacre? The following paragraphs will analyze a little more closely this issue. In order to best understand the problem at hand it is necessary to place these actors in a context.
The context in which they found themselves was the following: 2500 United Nations peacekeepers were sent to Rwanda in order to maintain the new sharing of power between the Hutus and the Tutsis – who were coming back to the country after having been expelled. However in January 1994 the Hutu militia leader proclaimed that the Tutsis were to be exterminated. UNAMIR, an international organization, did not want to seize their weapons for fear of a repeat of an incident that had happened in Somalia before. Three months later the Hutus reacted violently to crashing of their president’s plane.
The massacres began. 20 There are two ways in which this conflict can be viewed. The problems between the Hutus and the Tutsis repose on an internal power struggle between two nations uncompromising in their efforts to share the power. This hints at a realistic perspective of the situation. Realism can also be used to explain the national interests invoked by certain armies – such as the Italians, the French and the Belgians – who sent in troops during the debacle in order to rescue only their own citizens and who expressed no concerns for the fighting that was actually happening.
It also explains why the U. S. was hesitant about supplying Armed Personal Carriers just in order to avoid a potentially endless conflict in which they did not wish to get involved. 21 Romi?? o Dallaire further expounds this point by recounting an encounter with an American officer who said that the lives of 800 000 Rwandans were not worth more than ten American soldiers. A similar point of view was expressed by the Belgians. 2 He also says that in the last decades of the past century that “self-interest, sovereignty and taking care of number one became the primary criteria for any serious provision of support or resources to the globe’s trouble spots. If the country in question is of any possible strategic value to the world powers, then it seems that everything from covert operations to the outright use of overwhelming force is fair game. If it is not, indifference is the order of the day. “23 This is what transpired in Rwanda. Realism operating at its finest allowed for and essentially justified the massacre of nearly one million people.
Though there existed efforts – such as the peacekeepers at Don Basco school – which would indicate a liberal approach cooperation between international bodies and organizations to vindicate the genocide, many, such as Romi?? o Dallaire, express the explicit failures of these organizations to work properly and suggest that in order to avoid such catastrophic humanitarian disasters again there needs to be an intensification of the willingness to act, “support from the international community”,24 more human rights,25 less unilateralism or small coalitions,26 among other things.
Ideally liberalism would be the best approach in Dallaire’s mind but he indicates that “[w]e have fallen back on the yardstick of national self-interest to measure which portions of the planet we allow ourselves to be concerned about. “27 Realism was what was at play in Rwanda. To summarize, it must be reiterated that the way in which international conflicts can be viewed is dependent on the angles from which they are viewed. The studied elements can allow for theorizing based on realism, liberalism or neo-Marxism.
However, after having studied the cases of the wars in Kosovo and Iraq and the genocide in Rwanda, one can safely say that states act generally in a realist fashion, oft times with a hint of liberalism, but that the analysis which can explain these actions and motivations can be fueled not only by realism but also by neo-Marxism. Realism still remains an important and decisive factor at the source of a state’s action or inaction.