War Rational Choice Realism Essay

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War is a necessary and inevitable. The question of whether it is justified is dependent on the conditions of each war individually, but the necessity and inevitability of armed conflict among human societies has been demonstrated consistently throughout history. Davidson and Lytle (1992) provide a strong argument in favor of this position with their description of the conditions surrounding the detonation of the atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki to bring an end to the Second World War.

Davidson and Lytle argue that the reason for these bombings was not as much to end the war with the Japanese but rather to send a message to the Soviet Union. At the time, the U.S.S.R. was also pursuing nuclear weapons technology. In the wake of the end of the war in Europe, that continent had been effectively been divided between the United States and its allies in the West and Stalin's USSR in the east. To make their case, the authors parrot third-party speculation that the U.S. "had no compelling military reason to drop atomic bombs on Japan" (7). While the use of third party analysis does not explicitly invalidate the conclusion, it also lends it no particular support. The idea that the bomb was dropped for the benefit of the Soviets is, in the end, one man's speculation. One can choose to accept or reject that speculation.

For the sake of argument, it is assumed here that the speculation is accepted as reality, that the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. The conclusion was reached through application of rational choice theory, which of course was not necessarily the decision-making method for President Truman. Davidson and Lytle (1992) make a logical leap when they argue that "if Truman hoped to intimidate the Russians into cooperating, he seriously erred." Before dissecting this argument, it will first be pointed out that if the authors are going to be so pedantic as to argue whether Truman literally dropped the bombs himself, they might want to get it right -- the Soviet Union was comprised of hundreds of nationalities, Russians only one. Stalin himself was Georgian. "Russian" is not an acceptable equivalent to "Soviet." On their argument, the "if" in that clause means that the entire thing is speculative, yet their later arguments rest on the assumption that this statement is true. The underlying motive for the bombs could simply have been intimidation. Cooperation is fine if the American position was one of neoliberalism, but America has never been neoliberal in anything other than a superficial sense. The U.S. is rational, but realist.

Realism in international relations "stresses its competitive and conflictual side" (Korab-Karpowicz 2013). A realist actor is simply not seeking cooperation, at least need with any party that is viewed as a competitor for scarce resources. The United States would surely have viewed the U.S.S.R. As such a competitor, the latter being a massive country with a high level of technology, a broad sphere of influence, a competing and conflictive political system, and a demonstrated truculence towards the west -- Truman would have learned about the latter in Potsdam and Yalta, had he not received the memo from Roosevelt after Yalta. This is a critical error that Davidson and Lytle make in their logic -- they assume cooperation was even a part of Truman's thought process. Cooperation is for Great Britain and Canada; the U.S.S.R. was a rival, a fact clearly established by the summer of 1945.

When rational choice theory is applied to this fact, and the fact that the U.S. has always had a realist outlook on international relations, the bombing of Japan to intimidate the U.S.S.R. is a plausible scenario. The Soviets were working on their own atomic bomb at the time, and any rational actor would have known that having a bomb was one level of power in the political rivalry between the West and the Communist nations, but that a demonstrated willingness to use it was another. Davidsons and Lytle present the following argument: "possession of the atom bomb resulted finally in a decrease in American security and a loss of moral stature. Those are not the desired results of rational decision making." This represents a rather profound misunderstanding of realism, and of the application of rational choice to this situation. Their misunderstanding comes from their interpretation of the outcome as being a less secure world, and the idea that America cared about moral stature. On the latter, it didn't. Realists are not particularly concerned with morality, because they rightly recognize that morality is in the eye of the beholder. You can evaluate morality internally, but it is not reasonable to evaluate the morality of all nations by any one single standard, given how radically different cultures can view moral issues. On the issue of the secure world, the authors blunder rather profoundly. The threat of nuclear annihilation was of course terrifying, for decades, but demonstrating the willingness to use the atomic bomb in the context of the war with Japan was far preferable to having it remain unknown whether or not the U.S. was willing to drop the bomb. Had the U.S.S.R. not been certain about America's willingness -- or indeed its capabilities, since they had only limited means of gathering intelligence about U.S. atomic capabilities -- the first bomb might have been dropped in the context of the U.S.-USSR rivalry. That would have been far more catastrophic. The risk of nuclear conflict between the superpowers would have been higher had the consequences of such escalation not been made abundantly clear on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Thus, Davidson and Lytle (1992) make the case for the necessity of war, at least in a world characterized by resource scarcity and rational actors with a realist or other conflict-based view. If indeed, the U.S. had to drop the bombs for the U.S.S.R.'s benefit, this demonstrates rational thought under the realist paradigm. Rational choice argues that "human actions are calculated and individualistic," in the case of an action such as this Truman would have been acting an agent for the nation, rather than acting in his own personal interest. Agency theory is well-established, so this position is easy to accept. By establishing the United States' position of technological superiority vis-a-vis the other superpower, Truman was able to gain influence for the coming decades. At the time, there was legitimate fear that Communism would overtake the world. While such fears with respect to American politics were surely overblown, the U.S. was seeking to establish as broad a sphere of interest as possible. It appeared at the time that the world might well be divided between U.S. And USSR spheres of influence in the same way that Europe had been divided at Potsdam. Given this milieu, Truman's attempt to gain influence by demonstrating the atomic bomb so bluntly was entirely rational.

By extension, then, conflict itself is rational. The world's resources are scarce -- today we have an approximate timeline for when we will run out of fossil fuels, and in some parts of the world clean water as well. The idea that all humanity can cooperate to distribute these resources, without the need for conflict, is fanciful, and doubtless a theoretical case can be made. But would not a supposition for such global harmony lie in resource abundance, or at least a level of mutual understanding and trust that is quite far from where we are today? Probably. The animal kingdom is a good place to look. Animals are the most purely rational being, their motivations primal and unfettered by thoughts of morality. Competition in the animal world can be far more ruthless than in ours. They lack in organizing capacity, but in that are bounded primarily by a lack of higher level thought -- animals that have higher level though like…[continue]

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