The Cold War, from the Prespectives of Realism, Pluralism and Structuralism
This essay will address why the three main approaches to world politics did not predict the end of the Cold War. Firstly it will briefly give a background insight into what the Cold War was. Then it will go on to explain what characterises the three main approaches to world politics which are Realism, Pluralism and Structuralism, it then will briefly look at the distinctive theory behind them.
Lastly the essay will analyse whether or not the three main approaches could have predicted and anticipated the end of the Cold War. The Cold War was the standoff conflict of tension between the United States and the Soviet Union “The Cold War was a multi dimensional conflict in the Third world as elsewhere. It involved, most evidently, a strategic and military competition, which took the form of the nuclear and conventional arms races” R. Saull (2001: Foreword).
Firstly to answer this question we have to understand what the Cold War was about, its origins, key events and how all this was at the forefront of world politics for almost half a century. Without a doubt the Cold War is a period of major significance to both world politics and international relations but what was the origin of it? P. Edwards (2010:64) states that the cold war was a “period of tension that prevailed between the Soviet Union and the United States following World War II. ” The most common and identifiable difference between these two superpowers was the ideology.
The United States praised free enterprise and the capitalist system whereas the Soviet Union denounced this ideology and advocated a Marxist ideology led by an authoritarian communist regime. However despite the differences ideologically this alone was not the cause of the Cold War, as we know too well they were in fact allies during WWII against fascism. The two superpowers were also both anti-colonial because of their history from which they would emerge from. The Cold War began in an era where most of Europe was left devastated by World War II. It is generally considered to have begun at the Yalta Conference in February 1945, when the western powers were unable to get Joseph Stalin to promise pluralistic governments in occupied areas. ” P. Edwards (2010:64). The Soviet Union itself may have thought along the lines of structuralism in the sense that they thought the key features of the so called “international system” were injustice, inequality and exploitation. By 1945 Berlin was the line that divided the east from the west; in fact a wall was erected in the German capital this would later be known as the Berlin wall.
Germany was divided into two nations West Germany and East Germany with the west being the western US-led area and the east being the Soviet-led territorial area, “During the years 1945-1949 the cold war was concentrated mainly on Europe and the areas bordering on Europe such as Turkey and Iran. ” G. Lundestad (2005:34). Until 1949 the Cold War was not an international conflict however due to the two superpowers being anti-colonial this led to a speed up in third world countries in Asia and Africa gaining independence.
The Cold War played a significant role in the decades to come with both powers competing for influence over new regions. The pace in which The Cold War spread was indeed rapid and took many by surprise “first to Asia, then to the Middle East and Africa and Finally to Latin Americas well. In the 1960s the Cold War had become global” G. Lundestad (2005:34). By the 1960s most African and Asian nations were gaining independence and thus lead to the Cold War becoming global. This was mainly because the all of the borders in Europe were already drawn up and things were very tense there.
Whereas newly liberated areas of Africa and Asia were not and quickly became targeted by the two superpowers. Both the US and the Soviet Union engaged military and economic support to the countries that wished to fall under their umbrella. It also engaged in proxy wars in Vietnam, Angola and the Middle East. However despite the tension both sides agreed on a policy of detente. “The policy of detente had primarily meant detente in Europe. Detente also contributed to regulating the arms race through certain limitation agreements” G. Lundestad (2005:87). Realism is a theory which believes that sovereign states are the primary ctors in the international system. It also believes that the international system has always been anarchic due to the nature of states not trusting each other and each state seeking to gain or maximize its own power capability. The Realist approach to the Cold War was also that of an “anarchical constitutive” and had seen the Cold War as something that was not out of the ordinary.
The realists believed that states are always competing to maximize their own power, “the basic premise of its understanding is that the Cold War was not historically unique. he Cold War rather reflected in general terms the ongoing logic of inter-state conflict derived from the anarchical constitutive nature of the international system, and the ‘power maximization’ policies of states” R. Saull (2001:7). One of the reasons why the Realists did not predict the end of the cold war could be because they saw it as something that is ongoing and that states will always be deceiving each other and competing to maximize their own power. Realist scholars such as George F Kennan sometimes referred to as a pessimist because of his lack of confidence in US diplomacy during the Cold War had a different stance on this. In this case the end of the Cold War was not only about the end of the USSR’s international challenge to American power, but was also paralleled by dramatic domestic socio-political transformation” R. Saull (2001:9). Ronald Regan was the last US president of the Cold War and under this administration the United States would see some of the most anti-communist foreign policies. “Ronald Reagan had assumed the presidency in 1981 as an anti-communist hardliner who had accused Jimmy Carter of conducting a foreign policy indistinguishable from appeasement.
Under his watch, the U. S. defense budget soared… ” C. Hodge and C. Nolan (2007:352). Not only was the United States changing in domestic political affairs it was also doing this internationally, the Soviet Union also saw changes under Mikhail Gorbachev. “The Transformation of soviet foreign policy under Mikhail Gorbachev especially the ditiching of the Brezhnev Doctrine, provided one of the principal external stimuli to the internal changes in Eastern Europe in 1989” R. Saull (2001:8).
Despite this Realists have a firm ideology based on the fact that states are the most important factors. “The focus on states as principle movers in the Cold in its origins and development is difficult to dispute” R. Saull (2001:8). Another reason why Realists may have not predicted the end of the Cold War is because they focused too much on states, power and security and the notion of having victor or a loser. “Finally the claim that one side won the cold war needs to be taken seriously, even if it tends to be limited to Realist concerns with security and military power” R.
Saull (2001:8). It may also be because Realists believe that the Cold War was nothing unique and that states will always be competing, and that the conflict was classic example of how dangerously close it can get to all out war. Pluralism is a theory which differs from Realism because pluralists believe that there are more actors other than the state. Traditional Pluralists believe that there are more important factors to consider other than the state such as the non-state actors like NGOs, international organisations, and international regimes such as the EU and UN.
The Pluralist approach to the Cold War tends to focus more on internal economic circumstances. “Yet within Pluralist approaches to world politics in general there is a consideration of socio-economic change, the emergence of other sources of economic power and multipolarity that are removed and separate from developments within the Cold War relationship. ” R. Saull (2001:12). However Pluralists do not effectively correlate the Cold War with general international politics as Realists have shown. Pluralist theory fails to draw the stand together that link the Cold War with a broader world politics” R. Saull (2001:12). Unlike Realists, Pluralists should have predicted the end of the cold war because if states alone are not the main actors it was evident in the 1970 and 80s oil shocks that other factors affected in the way in which states cooperated and how alliances could easily be switched between the two sides. These events would not only create more tension but would also threaten the detente treaties. The threat to detente was greater in the middle east, Soviet Influence was on the increase, in part as a result of US ties with Israel” G. Lundestad (2005:78). However it became evident that Arab nations that were US allies and oil suppliers such as Saudi Arabia became increasingly fed up with the US support of Israel. Subsequently The Six Day War angered and intimidated Saudi Arabia and this would lead to economic ties becoming sour between the nations. “During the 1970s and 1980s three major global petroleum related catastrophes occurred” T. Falola and A.
Genova (2005:70). This significantly changed oil prices around the world. The fact that this event took place towards the end of the Cold War should have alarmed Pluralists that an end to this conflict was inevitable due to rising influence in non state actors in international affairs. Structuralism is different from both Realism and Pluralism; this is because they believe that classes are the key actors. They believe that world order is part of a global capitalist system and that the key features of the international system are injustice, exploitation and injustice.
Structuralism also believes that ‘human nature’ is not fixed and essential; human beings are conditioned by their environment (Marx; Lenin). One of the reasons why certain structuralists didn’t predict the end of the Cold War was because they were so convinced that capitalist world system was evil. “To the left structuralists still contend that development is impossible in a capitalist world and see salvation as only coming once globalisation eats itself and a socialist revolution follows” J. Haynes et al (2011:379).
Structuralism may have even thought that the Soviet Union would step in once the world capitalist system consumed itself and lead the world to a socialist revolution. Overall these three approaches to world politics have different reasons for not predicted the end of the Cold War, and thus are different in whether or not they should have. The Realist stance on the Cold War focused too much on security and power. However the Realist belief was that the international system has always been anarchic in the first place and so the Cold War was not unusual makes it clear why they did not predict the end.
Pluralists on the other hand should have predicted the end for all the reasons mentioned earlier such as the 1970 and 1980s oil shocks. Structuralism tended to focus too much on blaming the capitalist world system for the world’s troubles. They failed to predict the end of the cold war because they believed in a socialist revolution. This is probably why they would not have anticipated the fall of the Soviet Union, maybe because elements of the theory itself was so heavily influenced by Karl Marx and Lenin.