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An anarchist approach to international relations theory


This short essay is an attempt to create a short, concise and clear approach to the current theories of international relations from an anarchist viewpoint. Anarchists have written a lot about events of international relations but have written very little about the theory behind it. This is hardly surprising considering the meaning of the term “anarchy” in international relations theory refers to chaos: situations like what you see now in Somalia which have nothing to do with anarchism and everything to do with a capitalist-inspired chaos.

 Before I begin I will just clarify as to the meanings behind the two main schools of thought within current international relations theory. Realist theory believes that humans are predisposed to conflict, prioritizes national interest and security, rather than ideals, social reconstructions, or ethics and believes that thenation state is ultimately responsible for its own security and survival. Liberalist theory believes that there are plenty of opportunities for co-operation and peace within the current system of nation states and that they can be realized through organizations where nations meet to discuss global issues such as the United Nations. In this short essay I will look at places where both of these theories can be applied and then offer a short critique of current international relations theory as a whole. This is not a scholarly essay, just some thoughts I had on International relations theory when I did a short course on it.

 To top-heavy organisations such as a state or a corporation I would apply the realist theory because these organisations have at their core an urge for greater and greater power. They also emphasise the competitiveness and greed within us. In general, I would apply realist theory to all institutions that have a structure that leaves some at the top and others at the bottom. I would do this because many cases in history have shown that when people are set at the top of a power structure, in a situation where they have power over others, it leads them to attempt to seek out more and more power in any way they can.

 But I would apply the liberalism theory to more egalitarian organisations such as co-operatives, collectives (but not ones that are forced upon the population by an elite as in Maoism), solidarity networks, some of the more egalitarian unions and most organisations where organisation, authority and power come from the everyone involved and there is little concentration of power. I think that these organisations bring out the cooperative, compassionate and sharing sides of people because the lack of concentration of power leads people to seek their goals free of the negative influence of having power over people. Many episodes in history, such as the solidarity networks in America in the 1980’s where the people went to live with victims of US aggression in Latin America, and I’m sure we can all think of many other examples, have shown that people are capable of extraordinary levels of generosity and compassion when they are involved in egalitarian organisations.

 I don’t think it is fair to say that people inherently seek power and will do everything they can to get it but I think that certain institutions, which happen to be the dominant institutions in a capitalist system, lead people to seek power, wealth and other luxuries which is where realist theory comes into play. In international relations, realist theory seems to be the most appropriate right now but I think that if we lived in a more egalitarian world, free of unnecessary concentrations of power, then liberalism theory would be more appropriate.

 But despite the appropriateness of realist theory and liberalist theory to understanding the functions of certain types of organization I actually view international relations theory as rather irrelevant. This is for 2 reasons. Firstly, it seems to assume that states are one harmonious institution like an ordinary group. But this view neglects, what I view as the most important aspect of states: that they are composed of different competing groups where some are being exploited by others. When a state acts it is not the act of the people that make up the state but rather the, usually narrow, group that dominates the other groups. I think that war is not just a violent act of one state against another, but also a violent act of a state against itself. War is the sending off of subjects of the state to die and I think that it is often used as a tool to squash dissent. For example, it seems like a big coincidence that all of the major wars the US has been involved in (from the US’ point of view) since 1945 – the Vietnam war and the first and second war on terror – have come just as internal dissident movements have started to pick up pace; the civil rights movement, the anti-nuclear movement and the global justice movement respectively. All of these have been forced to turn into anti-war movements. I feel that IR theory fails to address the internal conflicts within states and the nature of them.

 The other reason I view IR theory as irrelevant is more to do with how I believe peace can be achieved. I do not think it is possible to find diplomatic peace between states because of their corrupting nature. I think that to achieve a meaningful peace it will be necessary to destroy institutions that allow people to exert large amounts of power over others, such as states and corporations. IR theory just seeks to address a peace between these institutions but I feel that it is these institutions that prevent peace because they lead people to seek more and more power, which ends up with wars and other conflicts.

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