Mearsheimer’s original essay is exceptionally well laid-out and logical. In seeking to answer the question of whether or not international institutions promote peace, he examines the three most prominent international relations theories dealing with international institutions, provides detailed explanations of the theory, how it relates to realism, and its causal logic. He then proceeds to point out flaws in the causal logic of each of the theories and explains how that refutes or negates the theory itself. This clear and concise format is definitely a strength of his perspective, however his pessimistic realist perspective ignores a lot of the successes that international organizations have had and leads him to dismiss some of the other theories’ assumptions that may not actually be wrong. An example of this is states’ ability to trust each other. Mearsheimer dismisses it as impossible due to some basic assumptions of realism, that states can never know the true intentions of other states, and all are competing for relative power to ensure their survival. Since trust is a key component in all three theories dealing with international institutions, this rushed dismissal undermines his argument against each theory. There is a lot more evidence for the success of international institutions than there was in 1994, although there is certainly also more evidence that realist assumptions of mistrust are still accurate. The democratic peace theory has also still proven accurate, and probably contributes to the incredibly strong alliance between democratic English-speaking nations, which provides a counter-point to Mearsheimer’s assertion that states can never trust each other.
John Pevehouse and Bruce Russett’s counterargument agrees with Mearsheimer that the link between intergovernmental organizations and peace is problematic and not well developed. They focus specifically on democratic (or predominantly democratic) institutions and how they aid conflict resolution through mediation, socialization, and commitments. (Pevehouse and Russett, 2006, 1) Their argument seems to be an expansion of the democratic peace theory. They point out that between two states “joint democracy alone, independent of other influences, reduces violent conflict.” (ibid, 4) Additionally, the institutions they focus on are not those with universal membership, but those with restricted membership that may exclude states who are in conflict with an existing member. He cites the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, World Trade Organization, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund as examples. (ibid, 3) This exclusionary policy prevents external conflict from coming in to the organizations, and the great mystery of democratic peace theory prevents conflict from developing within these predominantly democratic organizations. I say “great mystery” because no one has conclusively explained why democracies are less likely to go to war with each other, but historic data irrefutably upholds the claim. John Gerard Ruggie also focuses on the economic intergovernmental organizations, “the regimes for money and trade” (Ruggie, 1982, 1) as he calls them. Ruggie seems to agree with Mearsheimer’s assertion that intergovernmental organizations, even those with an economic focus, are extensions of the states that make up their membership, and will act in the interests of those states first. He claims “that the emergence of several specific developments in transnational economic activities can be accounted for at least in part by their perceived first-order contribution to the regimes for trade and money.” (ibid, 5) This would indicate that the economic intergovernmental organizations were, at least as of 1982, engaging in activities that benefited the organization, and in turn the states behind it. By focusing on economic intergovernmental organization, neither Pevehouse and Russet or Ruggie’s arguments can be said to really counter Mearsheimer’s. His argument focused more on the universal membership organizations, such as the United Nations, who’s primary purpose was peace, not economic organizations for whom peace is a happy by-product of their commercial goals.
In today’s world I would argue that the realist paradigm is still relevant for making sense of international institutions. As I said, there is ample evidence for international organizations preventing or ending conflicts, but there is also ample evidence of states ignoring the supposed authority of those organizations and moving forward into conflict when it suits them. I believe that intergovernmental organizations do contribute to the peace process through mediation and socialization, but that states only use these options in pursuit of the realist principle of survival. Smaller states rely on the larger states to enforce the organization’s mediation or decision, which negates the mistrust factor that Mearsheimer’s argument relies heavily on. But larger states can only rely on themselves, which is why we more often see larger states, such as Russia and the US, acting unilaterally without UN consent.
First off, Realism is defined as a “brutal arena where states look for opportunity to take advantage of each other, and therefore have little reason to trust each other” (Mearsheimer, page 13). Realism describes international relations as a state of relentless security competition, with the possibility of war always in the background. The next major point is that States themselves must choose to obey the rules they created. However, institutions, in short, call for the “decentralized cooperation of individual sovereign states, without any effective mechanism of command (Mearsheimer, page 13). Next, there is no central authority that a threatened state can turn for help, and states have even greater incentive to fear each other. Moreover, there is no mechanism- other than the possible self-interest of third parties- for punishing an aggressor (Mearsheimer, page 11).
Realism has 3 main patterns of behavior which are states fear each other, states operate in a “self-help” system to guarantee their own survival and states in the international are there to maximize their relative power position over other states. States are both offensively-oriented and defensively-oriented meaning states look to take advantage of others and also work to prevent others from taking advantage of them. Realists believe that institutions are “arenas for acting out power relationships” so states can benefit for their own self interests.
Three institutionalist theories
First, liberal institutionalism focuses on why economic and environmental cooperation among states is likely and this cooperation reduces the likelihood of war. Liberal institutionalism seeks to create rules that constrain states. One issue with liberal institutionalism is that it ignores another major obstacle to cooperation, which is relative-gain concerns. The state is worried about relative-gains concerns because the state wants to maintain a comparative advantage over another state in order to insure national economic prosperity. Another issue is liberal institutionalism disconnects economic and military issues but ones economy drives the military might of our state. Lastly, Greco said that “Liberal institutionalism is not relevant for global communications” which underlined that cheating was not the concern but rather the distribution of the gains amongst the states.
Second, collective security starts with the assumption that force will continue to matter in world politics and states will have to guard against potential aggressors. Under collective security, there are 3 anti-realism norms, which are states should reject the idea of using force to change the status quo, to deal with states that violate that norm, responsible states must not act on the basis of their own narrow self-interest and lastly, states must trust each other to renounce aggression and to mean that renunciation. To counter collective security, I find it unrealistic for states to adhere to these norms. As Claude, who liked the idea of collective security, said, “ men involved in …. establishing a collective security system …. their devotion to the ideal has been more a manifestation of the yearning for peace and order as an end than as an expression of conviction that the theory of collective security provides a workable and acceptable means to that end” (Mearsheimer, page 27)
The theory of realism in international relations have a strict discipline in regard to international politics that is absolutely very competitive. To others realism doesn’t seem to be the preferred first choice since we offer compromises for an imperfect world. This theory is based on the idea that states always act in accordance with their national interest, or the interest of that particular state. Collecting or trying to describe all of the relevant information of any theory is time consuming but seemingly important. Getting further into detail with the theory of realism we can discuss the pros and cons. This theory offers great promises and discuss successes. Rigorously implementing systemic methods requires more than just theorizing about the relations of a few components of a system and their environment. Realists and Institutionalists particularly disagree about whether institutions markedly affect the prospects for international security (Mearsheimer, 7). It is not surprisingly that a broadly realist approach to foreign policy is mostly endorsed by business conservatives and the majority of Americans. Although Americans become more realist after their attention is sparked when unprecedented events occur internationally. Hard to believe that the American realists have found it increasingly difficult to capture the American people’s attention. This can be considered as a con since the realists don’t come up with precise clear answers, yet they want to change the world. Realism is one of many great theories used to explain international relations. It is also a common sense shared by practitioners when they make sense of world politics (Guzzini, 3). Overall, we cannot avoid theory, theories help us select what is significant and insignificant globally.
The authors Pevehouse and Russett discussed the Kantian Peace Research Program which was developed to help the international organizations bring peace and minimize the violence as much as possible. This is mostly to help international trade and basically for each nation to play nice and get some money out of it. The Kantian view is that IGOs, economic interdependence and democracy form a mutually supportive triangle that promotes space (Spilker, 347). Every solution will have disagreements like the Kantian program has been mentioned of not been helpful and causing more problems with violence. The authors seem to be realists and discuss how ineffective the international relations are. The International Organizations are compared to an anarchic world, nations who only care to take to take care of themselves.
Realism is basically for the pessimists who are automatically inclined to think something bad is going to occur with the international institutions. In regard to the international regimes the realists have at least a little bit to contribute in how they interpret the future. International regimes consist of norms and rules. The formation and transformation of international regimes may be said to represent a concrete manifestation of the internationalization of political authority (Ruggie, 380). When it comes to the private flow with the international economic regimes and the developments within the international economy the realists are always going to find this problematic since they believe there is always going to be a dominant nation taking orders. This comes back to the balance of powers view instead of looking at it as nations working together and compromising to better themselves.