Anarchy. What a strong word. The most important among International relations (IR) lexicon, especially regarding the Realist paradigm.
This paradigm is one of the most influent and probably the oldest one. The Genesis could go back to 1651 when Thomas Hobbes published his masterpiece: Leviathan. Generally, Hobbes is seen as the founder of the Realist: the first one “who see the world as it is” and not with the mediator of Christian morality.
But, why am I talking about a philosophe who is dead for centuries? The answer is pretty simple: because as a posthumous founder of the Realist paradigm, Hobbes succeed to influence the way of thinking of a whole generations of IR specialists, in United States (US) particularly: Henry Kissinger, Hans Joachim Morgenthau, Keneth Waltz and more recently the actual US National Security Advisor of Donald Trump, the controversy John R. Bolton.
The best way to understand how politicians act, is to understand how they see the world, how they think about the world. That’s why Thomas Hobbes analyses are fundamental. So before explaining US position, it is important to understand Thomas Hobbes.
Anarchy, pre-State society.
In Thomas Hobbes opinion, society before State institution was in total anarchy: “Hereby it is manifest, that during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that Condition which is called War; and such war, as is of every man, against every man” (Chapter 13, $62, Leviathan). So, everybody could act as he wants because nothing was wrong without a power to assure it: you want to kill somebody? It is not wrong in the pre-State society because nobody says it is.
But, in this kind of situation, everybody is fear about everything. It is totally impossible to build something because a man could come and destroy your labour, kill your family… So, humankind decides to abandon their freedom to a sovereign civil god: Leviathan, The State. By doing this “covenant”, human lost their freedom but gain in return security.
To maintain it, State has to be strong and inspire fear to his subjects: “covenant without a sword, are but words and of no strength to secure a man at all” (Chapter 17, §2, Leviathan).
It is the exact same thing about States relations. With no coercive power above all, there are no rules. For Realists (and Neo-realists), United Nation, World Trade Organization, International Criminal Court can survive only because States will. They are a sovereign entity and none of the international sanctions, trials… could force States if they don’t want it.
We can found several examples in recent history to prove it, but we will focus on our subject: US (even if many others exist regarding other countries).
In 1979, the dictatorship of president Samoza in Nicaragua come to an end, push aside by Sandinista (FSLN), a revolutionary movement brought to power at this time. Problem: US are opposed to the socialist FSLN (it is Cold War!). After Ronald Regan’s inauguration, US support anti-Sandinista group and sales arms to them. It’s a clear violation of the United Nations Charter (ratified by US and Nicaragua). Article 2§4 prohibit threat and use of force. Article 2§7 affirm the right of non-interference.
This case will give international jurisdiction, the International Criminal Court (ICC), its higher case: The Republic of Nicaragua v. The United States of America. Even if the US never accept the decision.
The relation between ICC and US are really conflictual: especially because the US were parties to the Statue of the Court but never ratified the Rome Statute. Moreover, Israel, Sudan, US and Russia have informed the UN Secretary General that they no longer intend to become States parties. And because they are sovereign States, it is impossible to do something. Actually, according to Hobbes point of view, noting that the US did is reprehensive because an international Leviathan does not exist.
The other example is Iraq. In 2003, the US came to war without any support of Chapter VII of the UN Charter.
US: international Leviathan?
The military budget in the US is 610 billion $ per year. It’s more than 1/3 of the world military budget and far more than the 2nd budget: China with 228 billion. The next budgets are Saudi Arabia (69 billion), and Russia (66,3 billion).
The US is also the first economy in the world. According to the Realist, military and economy are the most important power to obtain (Hans Morgenthau). During the human history, we never saw a country as powerful as the US.
By fear of being overtaken by the other countries (China for example), US continue to invest in their army.
They are the only country who could act all around the world at the same time. No country can match their power.
According to Hobbes, the US is the only entity who could create a “State upon the States” and assume the leadership. They are the policeman of the wold who can define which countries are the Rogue States or not. They define the good and the bad, as the Hobbesian Leviathan.
According to the Realist paradigm, the US should rule the world with this big army, and this economy. But the US also want to be an example of success, of human right… And that’s exactly the problem.
Realist and liberalism syncretism.
International relations paradigms are the best way to understand the world but they are also dynamic material (and a distorting mirror, so if you see reality through your paradigm, and it does not march: you will change reality instead of your belief).
You can find a lot of IR paradigms: Feminism, Marxism, Constructivism and Liberalism… But paradigms are not a jail; you are not forced to believe everything. They discuss, object, evolve, influence others through their defenders, the scientists. And many time, politicians choose scientist of different “schools” to advise them (at the same time), some schools were dominant: Liberalism after the Cold War, Realism after 9/11, Liberalism again after Obama’s election, and again Realist since Trump election. But even if, they had a different point of views, different ways to understand reality.
Politicians are influenced by both sides and merge them. For the US it’s possible to desire the leadership upon the world, and desire: human rights, democracy at the same time.
It is two different ways of power: hard power (military and economy), and soft power (indirectly influence other countries by cultures like films and music; and ideology like democracy and human rights). This dichotomy is introducing in 1990 in Bound to Lead by Joseph Nye.
This syncretism is one of the problems of the US position in IR. They want to influence the world by culture, and also rules the world by being the unique Leviathan. Nevertheless, if you follow Hobbes you can maintain a State only by fear, and human rights and democracy are not the best way to assure the leadership of the “State upon the States”.
Donald Trump the Leviathan?
Donald Trump is clearly acting against the American idealism: by going out of the Paris Agreement, by his immigration positions, by his leadership…
His National Security Advisor, John R. Bolton is politically a nationalist neo-conservator close to Dick Cheney’s ideas. For him, America is the best country in the world. Regarding IR he is a Realist, member of the George W Bush “hawks”. In his opinion, international relations does not exist because there are no international sanctions. Concerning North Korea, he wants an aggressive position. Concerning Iran, he is against the nuclear agreement of Vienna, signed in 2015.
Since his inauguration in January 2017, Donald Trump is against every multilateral position: he is against Europe and agreed to the Brexit, he is against the Paris Agreement, against the TTIP… To simplify: “America first”.
By getting more aggressive, Trump administration obtain some success with North and South Korea. No nuclear test for 9 months, a historic hand shake between Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in… Thanks to Twitter: everybody remembers Donald Trump’s quotation to the North Korea Leader: “My nuclear button is bigger than yours”.
With China, Trump is acting exactly the same. New York Times headline: “Trump’s Trade War With China is Officially Underway”. And China has a lot to lose: even with his booming economy since the 90’s, Beijing is too dependent on external trade, not autonomous regarding technology.
Regarding foreign policy, Trump is wining again and again. The Madman theory is not new; Nixon was used to it.
Is it possible that Trump succeed to be the Leviathan? Not sure, because others States will not stay under American hegemony. So what? War? Maybe if you trust the Thucydides trap. But America did not win a war since the World War II. If the tension continues to rise, there will be blood it is the only assurance.
Donald Trump will be not the Leviathan but he is not Satan. Because his policy is not really different from Obama’s: being at war to assure American’s petrol independence and to spread democracy all around the world through violence.
There is three type of power exercise: when A forces B (this is a conflict), when A asks B to force C (war by proxy), and when A does not have to do anything because B is acting as A wants it without a move (this is alienation).
Maybe there is just no good solution coming from the States.