Global Politics in the 20th Century

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Many theories have been formulated to explain the major events in the 20th century (two world wars and the Cold War). Among those theories, I think realism theory (neorealism in particular) best explains these events. This paper analyzes how the Balance of Power theory from the realist tradition can be applied in the explaining the onsets of these events and the end of the Cold War. From a realist’s perspective, first, states are rational and their actions are all dictated by their primary interest, which is security. And states seek security through balancing the distribution of power. Second, polarity, which is determined by distribution of, has a significant impact on the choice of balancing behavior of states. And consistent with the history, this theory suggests that states are more likely to go to war under multipolarity while a bipolar system is relatively stable because of security dilemma between two great powers. After this, I will discuss two liberal critiques of the theory and further explain why realist theory best explain the onsets of these events.

First, both liberals and realists agree that international system is anarchic and survival of the state is the primary interests (Marten 9/19/2011). Contrary to liberalism, realists believe that international anarchy encourages states to concern about relative gains and distribution of power given the fungible nature of power (Jervis 2011: 335). However, thinking of international relations as a zero-sum game does not necessitate mindless offensive actions. Instead, just as Mearsheimer suggests, states “think carefully about the balance of power and about how other states will react to their moves” (35). As a result of these power considerations, the balance of...

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Morgenthau, Hans J. “The Balance of Power.” From Hans J. Morgenthau, Politics among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace. 4th ed. (New York: Knopf, 1967), Chaps. 11, 12, 14. Rpt. in Essential Readings in World Politics. Eds. Mingst, Karen A. and Jack L. Snyder. 4th ed. New York: W. W. Morton, 2011. 99-104.

Shelling, Thomas C. “The Diplomacy of Violence.” From Thomas C. Schelling, Arms and Influence (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1966), Chap. 1. Rpt. in Essential Readings in World Politics. Eds. Mingst, Karen A. and Jack L. Snyder. 4th ed. New York: W. W. Morton, 2011. 326-334.

Snyder, Jack L. "Correspondence: Defensive Realism and the 'New' History of World War I," International Security 33, no. 1 (Summer 2008): 174-194.

Wohlforth, William C. “Realism and the End of the Cold War.” International Security 19, no. 3 (Winter 1994/5): 91-129.
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