Power Determines Every Relationship In Geopolitics – Analysis


“Political realism is aware of the moral significance of political action. It is also aware of the ineluctable tension between the moral command and the requirements of successful political action. And it is unwilling to gloss over and obliterate that tension and thus to obfuscate both the moral and the political issue by making it appear as though the stark facts of politics were morally more satisfying than they actually are, and the moral law less exacting than it actually is.” — Hans Morgenthau, Classical Realist (1904-1980)

The realignment of ‘Balance of Power’, in contemporary International Politics has resulted in a paradigmatic move in the Classical Realist teachings of Thucydides, Machiavelli, Hans Morgenthau, Reinhold Niebuhr and Nicholas Spykman, wherein the fulcrum of politics and political action has shifted inexorably towards Structural Realism and Security Dilemma. India’s adversarial relations with Pakistan, rising Chinese interference in South Asia, United States of America intervening in all matters of Realpolitik are all crucial components of new Security Studies and Neo Realism or Structural Realism as propounded by Kenneth Waltz and Joseph Grieco.

Classical Realists like Morgenthau held a pessimistic view of human nature. The ‘ism’ was primarily based on the realities of human nature, hunger for power, survival and how conflict was an intrinsic part of insane human nature. Hence Conflict or War was a natural phenomenon. Classical Realists dissected political action during the inter war years mostly after the second world war hence conflict became an act of individual achievements and since the state comprised of individuals, the power of the state was unchallenged or sovereign. Justice, law and society were circumscribed.

Morgenthau opined that when we speak of power, we mean man’s control over the minds and actions of other men. By political power we refer to the mutual relations of control among the holders of public authority and between the latter and the people at large. The shift in classical realism was witnessed in the 1980’s when Kenneth Waltz opined that it is the anarchy in International political structure that determines political action or international power structure. How power was distributed in the international political order was the crucial cog of political studies.

With the killing of Burhan Wani, a young Hizb-ul-Mujahidden operative in Kashmir, attacks in Uri, surgical strikes carried out by India to wipe out terror camps across the Line of Control (LoC) in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) and China technically putting on hold the listing of Masood Azhar, the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief as an international terrorist, the security dilemma has become an inevitable and an unavoidable reality. In Syria, Bashar al Assad is receiving staunch support from Putin’s Russia in the fight against ISIS, What Putin is also trying to ensure is a permanent support base in Syria as a hedge against the power of the US in the middle east. In the new Cold War between Russia and the US, the nuclear dimension is again gaining centre stage, as it is in the stand off between India and Pakistan in the subcontinent. Propaganda has indeed replaced moral philosophy.

Offensive and Defensive realism has replaced classical realism. The current international political order is as anarchic as it can be with nations hedging their conventional war waging capabilities with nuclear options.

Security Dilemma, the third dimension of Realism essentially focuses on the rising insecurities among states when one state expands its nuclear and defensive power capabilities in the name of self help or self defence. All this is based on intuition. There isn’t an actual war going on but threat perceptions are such that are used to justify defence preparedness in an era of globalisation, asymmetric threats, changing and increasingly digitized battlefields and strides in weapon technologies.

The structure of international political order is a powerful determinant of state behaviour today. Conflict studies dissect the role of this structure in carrying out research on conflict transformation and peace building. In 1979 Kenneth Waltz in his “Theory of International Politics” stated that anarchy prevents the states from entering into cooperative agreements to end the state of war. Critiquing the Idealistic theory of conflict Neo-Realists argue that structural dimensions of political order determine the trajectory of existing conflicts today. Wheeler and Booth argued that Security Dilemma exists when military preparations of one state determine the policies of another.

The recent cancellation of the annual summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) in Pakistan was primarily due to members refusing to attend in view of Pakistan’s state sponsored terrorism. There are more and increasing demands for declaring Pakistan as a terrorist state; its isolation eminently gave rise to a new dilemma whether the political order that exists today is capable of doing so.

The idea of balance of power as propounded by the realists essentially means an arrangement to control aggression but with Pakistan continuously provoking India through terrorist attacks and proxy war the entire fabric of balance of power has been distorted. The conventional superiority of India has been largely nixed by this proxy war. To add to the dilemma, Pakistan is a nuclear state with a professed ‘first use’ doctrine, and gets support from China, the other power aspiring to hegemon status.

In response to the terrorist attack in Uri in which 18 Indian soldiers were martyred, India conducted surgical strikes across the LoC in PoK. Pakistan conducted journalists on their side of the LoC to justify its stance that no strikes actually took place. This was followed by (according to reports in the media) the Indian Army taking a team of journalists along the Line of Control to brief them on the situation post the heavy firing across the LoC by Pakistani troops. If reports are to be believed, both countries are claiming their readiness for any eventuality post the strikes. In the narrative as it has unfolded, the role of the fourth estate in conflict scenarios can no longer be undermined. This is equally applicable in the new world order across the globe.

The history of the formation of nation states is intertwined with armed conflicts and bloodshed. War in its protieform manifestation is central to the understanding of International Relations and several other cognate disciplines. When India for example was partitioned in 1947 there were riots and an immense refugee crisis. Similar examples can be seen in the case of Israel, Palestine and all other nations grappling with ethno-national violence and the resultant bellicose tactics used by the governments to suppress such violence.

According to Clausewitz war is an extension of politics by other means. Headly Bull defined war as organized violence carried on by political units against each other. Nations today are accelerating their defence modernisation process and conducting nuclear tests to augment their conventional capabilities for waging war. The psychological pressures by the international community including the United Nations have fairly managed to control nuclear proliferation across the globe, but this influence seems to be waning now. Both India and Pakistan are traditional adversaries and nuclear states. It is best to avoid full blown war.

What is war? E H Carr and Hans Morgenthau had opined that nation states will go to any length to gain power. Geopolitical wars have changed the geography of the world map. Conflicts or wars have existed since time immemorial. Gray, Kaldor, Thornton , Hoffman, Bousquet and Creveld have explored the many dimensions of war, be they hybrid, postmodern or asymmetric. War is essentially rooted in socio-political, psychological, cultural or economic inequalities. Internal conflicts such as the Naxalite movement in India are quintessential cases of resource inequality. War or conflict is more than just an act of violence. It is an action-reaction mechanism based on historical transformations of human societies.

Institutionalization of war is yet another dimension that has been a central theme of political studies and International Relations. In common parlance, Institutionalization refers to the process of embedding some conception (for example a belief, norm, social role, particular value or mode of behaviour) within an organization, social system, or society as a whole. The defence forces in India follow a structural pattern of hierarchy and the institution of the defence mechanism is guided by policy makers from the Ministry of Defence, India. The discipline of International relations was moulded to suit the objectives of the United Nations created in 1945 to save the succeeding generations from the scourge of war. But some wars are never ending. They may not be a full fledged armed violence; proxy wars can disrupt the social fabric of political societies as well.

There are several dynamics of war that need to be understood to tackle internal and external disturbances. The first is to deal with economic inequality. Redistribution of wealth or dictatorship of the proletariat as crafted by Karl Marx is an important study in itself. Other factors include religious differences, territorial disputes, violence against women, gender inequality, political non representation etc. The mechanism of war is like a manipulative tool in the hands of the political establishments to suit specific interests. Analogy can be drawn in the case of the fourth estate which focuses on dramatic stories, sensationalism to increase their TRP’s. This is also a war, a war to win the first slot during primetime telecast of debates.

It is very difficult to understand the logic behind conflicts and wars; as Clausewitz opined there is a marked difference between absolute and real wars. Wars are politically motivated. Unless a just social order is put in place inter and intra state conflict will continue to plague human societies. With the disintegration of the Soviet Block in 1991, the world witnessed the rise of United States of America as the new hegemon controlling international politics. In recent years economic development and globalisation has led to many nations competing with the hegemon for their space in the international arena. India is seen as a dominant state in South Asia; the rise of the Dragon is a direct attack on America’s hegemonic superpower status and equally on India’s aspirations.

New balance of power always replaces the old one. This is an important tenet of Realism. Realism therefore has not lost its relevance today. World wars may be over, but the new wave of cold war between India and its traditional adversary Pakistan has changed the dynamics of International political order.

Reference Reading:
Clausewitz von Carl “On War” 1832
Aday S , The Real War Will Never Get on Television: Casualty Imagery in American Television Coverage of the Iraq War. In: Seib, P. ed. Media and Conflict in the Twenty-First Century. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. 2015,Print
Alexander, Yonah. Terrorism and the Media. Brasseys (US): Richard Lalter Inc, 1999.Print.
Allan Stuart and Zelizer Barbie, Reporting War-Journalism in Wartime, Taylor & Francis Ltd,United Kingdom.2004.Print
Hampson Osler Fen, Crocker A Chester and Aall R Pamela, Negotiation and International Conflict, (Ed) Weber Charles, Galtung Johan, Handbook of Peace and Conflict Studies, Routeledge, 2007,Print.
Forging Peace :Intervention, Human Rights and the Management of media ,Indiana University Press 2007 primarily focusses on role of media in conflict situations and impact of information intervention in escalation, de escalation of conflicts.
Media and Political Conflict, Cambridge University Press, 1997. This book gives an insight on the role of news media as participants in conflict. The author has analysed the role of media in the Gulf War, the Palestinian Intifada, and the attempt by the Israeli right wing to derail the Israel- Palestine Peace Accord.3
Constructive Conflicts-From Escalation to Resolution Louis Kriesberg and Bruce W Dayton Rowman &Little field 2011
Cottle,Simon, Mediatised Recognition and “The Other”, 2007,MIACP
Giddens, Anthony, Sociology-6th edition, “The Media”, 2009 Cambridge
Morgenthau Hans and Thompson W Kenneth, “Politics Among Nations” 1948

Vishakha Amitabh Hoskote

Vishakha Amitabh Hoskote is a Communication Professional, Research Scholar and a Defence Enthusiast. With an MA, MPHIL in International Relations, Political Science and Development Communications, Ms Hoskote regularly writes for Eurasia Review on subjects of geopolitical importance.

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