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In international policy, as in the course of daily human life, self-interested actors must carefully weigh competing and often equally valid choices, and make for themselves some compromise between opposed values. It seems that as often as one is able to solve a problem, one notices that the very solution causes problems of its own. An unmitigated good is difficult to find even in one person's individual life, and it is even harder (if not impossible) to discover a national plan of action which will prove beneficial for every citizen and for the world at large. It seems inevitable that any policy which creates significant benefits somewhere along the line must at another spot be creating significant detriments for at least some subsection of the community. (This is even true with crime control, which benefits most citizens and penalizes those whose selves or families depend on illegal income.) The state must perforce mingle good and ill in its edicts, and often even the best of values conflict in their demands, but this is not to suggest that inaction is the solution, merely that every action must be roundly considered.
Because good and ill effects do so mingle in decisions, one must not take a narrow-minded approach to life or politics. Ideological fanaticism may refuse to see certain negative drawbacks to a given deeply-rooted notion, and fail to consider issues from every possibly angle. So dedication to a specific theory of process may be something of a disadvantage when appreciating international issues. This is particularly evident when considering some of the major issues facing international and national politics today. In areas such as national security, environmental protection, and the treatment of migrants and the immigrant community, many tradeoffs exist which must be carefully balanced if a nation is to thrive. It is important to have a deep understanding of all of the major theories of international relationships, and to be able to draw elements from each to reach a final analysis. In each of these three areas, neither realism, constructivism, or liberalism can individually fully predict and guide the future, but it seems possible to hope that if their divisions are put aside they can in combination provide the fullest analysis available.
The issue of national security is a perfect example on the way in which it is important not to become overly dedicated to a single way of approaching a situation. National security concerns are particularly pressing in the modern times, perhaps more so than at any time since the end of the cold war. Since September 11th, the globe has been embroiled in conflict which (as the fall of the twin towers has assured us) presents a shadowy and yet viscerally real threat to the civilized world. The issue of homeland national security has become very important to many individuals, and America's mounting of an aggressive national "defense" program has led to open warfare in several nations as the world's remaining superpower moved to pre-empt potential threats from uncooperative nations such as Afghanistan and Iraq.
There are any number of debates surrounding national security. For example, there is a very obvious debate plastered all over campuses and in the media regarding whether or not it is right to use war to prevent potential terrorist attacks. Some say that the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan will merely create environments conducive to the formations of disillusioned terrorist cells. Further debates surround the inevitable loss of civil rights associated with nationwide crack downs on suspicious anti-American sentiment and activity. Perhaps the most interesting debate in terms of international policy, however, is that surrounding the importance of multilateral support for national security measures. For the past century, America has generally operated on a multilateral level militarily. Since the founding of the U.N., international opinion has generally held that for conflict to be legitimate, a strong global support must exist behind it. For example, in the first Gulf War, President Bush Sr. let a powerful multilateral force to liberate Kuwait. Today, President Bush Jr. has adopted a far more unilateral strategy, accepting allies where they come in handy but reiterating that they are not entirely necessary. Evidence of this is found both in theory and in action. During the last Gulf war, Bush Sr. apparently made over fifty extended phone calls to Turkey in order to secure their cooperation and keep their support. Bush Jr. has made only three diplomatic calls to Turkey. (Phelps) "It is nearly impossible to imagine the elder Bush saying aloud, as his son did last Thursday [March 6, 2003], that 'when it comes to our security, if we need to act, we will act, and we really don't need United Nations approval to do so.'" (Tapper)
Current American strategy also calls for preemptive strikes aimed at regimes who might be considered dangerous. Whereas in the past it was generally thought acceptable to make a preemptive attack in peacetime only if the enemy-to-be was actively mobilizing or one had other indications of an impending attack, Bush has indicated that preemption should now be based not just on evidence of impending attacks but also on the capability or motive of a nation to attack. "We must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today's adversaries..." Bush has said, and that includes considering movement without firm evidence of pending hostilities and without the consent of the international community. This is framed as a matter of national security. "The greater the threat, the greater the risk of inaction -- and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively." (Bush)
This is an issue with significant tradeoffs involved for both unilateral and multilateral involvement. The problem with acting in a unilateral fashion is that the acting nation hold sole responsibility for the outcome, and may be seen as a rogue state by the other nations of the world. This can cause problems immediately with global backlash. As Fareed Zakaria wrote recently in Newsweek, the unilateralism practiced by America as made it so that politically "America is virtually alone. Never have so many of its allies been so firmly opposed to its policies. Never has it provoked so much public opposition, resentment, and mistrust." (Phelps) This can negatively effect a country's diplomatic power, trade success, and the safety and comfort of its citizens abroad. In the long run, it may also make a country an even more likely target for terrorists who have just one nation to blame for the war that devastated their people. Additionally, without a multilateral stance, all the expense and weight of defense rests on the shoulders of that one nation. There are, however, some benefits to unilateralism. It allows for greater freedom of action and immediacy of response, without the same responsibilities to international consensus. It also brings home a certain sense of glory in its lonesome pride, which may increase global prestige, or at least inspire awe and fear. Controlling unilateral forces is probably easier than multilateral forces as well. The individual state has far greater power in a unilateral situation.
So determining if a unilateral or multilateral approach is better is only possible by balancing these tradeoffs, and determining which are more important. To determine this, the actors involved must apply some sort of theory of international relations. The choice of theories will determine the choice of actions, for they are not all in harmony on this issue. According a realist perspective, every state is and should be driven en by intense self-interest and a desire for power. So one would have reason to be skeptical of international alliances -- each state within the alliance could be expected to be struggling for their own self-interest, and not for the interest of one another. Their own power would be the greatest motivating feature driving them into an alliance, so it seem unlikely that such power would be yielded to a single commander without some conflict. If a nation such as America can act unilaterally and gain a greater share of power by doing so, this would make more sense for it than acting unilaterally. Additionally, realism instructs those who study it that while diplomacy has its place, in the end military force is the ultimate dictator of national fate. This perspective certainly indicates that preemptive strikes may be more effective than diplomacy, and yet they are likely to be disallowed by the global community for moral reasons. So a realist thinker might indeed support Bush Jr.'s hardcore stance. However, a liberal thinker, or a constructionist, would not.
Liberalism holds out a far greater hope for peace, and argues that while states may be self-interested and may be working for themselves, in the end they are also working for the greater good. States, it would suggest,…[continue]
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