Henry Kissinger was a star academic at Harvard and Secretary of State. Yet, neither he nor anyone else has written a Summa Diplomatica presenting all sides of international relations. In Power and Interdependence, Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye modify Kissinger-type “realist” interpretations of international relations. Though the “complex interdependence” they develop initially seems to be at odds with the “realism” described by Kissinger, the two can be complements from the right perspective.
To compare Kissinger’s realism with complex interdependence, we must first understand something of Kissinger’s view.1 It is founded on the idea of “World Orders.” In every age, says Kissinger, a hegemonic regime has emerged. The Rome of the Augustan Principate, the Pax Britannica of the 19th century or the United States in the current century all determined the “World Order” in their respective eras. What exactly that “World Order” was may not always be formally defined, as in the case of the US. Debate over the international duties and interests of America, for instance, fluctuated in the early decades of the “American Century” between Theodore Roosevelt’s aggressive New Nationalism and Woodrow Wilson’s ideologically-founded New Freedom. Our readings from Kissinger focus on the regime shift from the increasingly inflexible Concert of Europe, Balance of Power scheme to a more American-dominated regime. The old order, adequate since 1815, became obsolete in an era of rapid mobilization and total war. The rigid alliance system created a “zero-sum game” which made World War I inevitable.
Kissinger’s analysis leaves several questions unanswered. For instance, how does one measure power? What constitutes power certainly changes over time. For instance, industrial and military capacities, common measures of power in the Victorian era, are largely insufficient indexes in a modern era where media and information processing are increasingly important. Another unanswered question is who has power? For Kissinger it is enough to assume that governments have power, and that they are unified enough to exercise it. In essence, Kissinger’s presentation of international relations is a “realist” one.
In Power and Interdependence, Keohane and Nye are unwilling to leave these questions unanswered. For them, realism is only a model, imperfect in some situations. They argue that an alternative model, “complex interdependence,” is often more realistic than “realism” itself. Complex interdependence emphasizes (1) the existence of multiple channels of communication, including informal ties between foreign policy elites, (2) the absence of a clear hierarchy of issues and (3) the irrelevance (in many cases) of military force. Under such a model, power is not “fungible,” that is, power in one issue does not translate into power in all issues (Keohane 43). While realism holds to an “overall structure model,” complex interdependence often emphasizes an “issue structure” where linkages cannot easily be drawn between areas. Two case studies of the complex interdependence model, the Oceans and Money issues, highlight the model’s success.
Under the Pax Britannica and continuing until 1945, a traditional “freedom of the seas” regime existed which treated the seas like an international “commons.” Later, the development of modern extractive economies, such as mining and offshore oil drilling, led to the partitioning of large amounts of sea in an oceanic “Enclosure Movement.” Much of the deliberation on the Oceans issue took place in the UN, giving weak nations increased power through the one-nation-one-vote rule. Even Iceland challenged Britain in the so-called “Cod Wars” (Keohane 96). Undeveloped countries often gained coastal zones of 200 or 300 miles from shore. The power of small nations and the insignificance of force made complex interdependence accurate for explaining the Oceans issue.
Military force was even less important in the Money issue, and informal groups of transnational economic schools of thought held enormous sway. The traditional gold standard (1925-1931) gave way in the 1940s to a quasi-regime which emerged in the Bretton Woods Agreement. By 1976, the International Monetary Fund had evolved into a system of highly flexible exchange rates controlled by central government banks. Although postwar American dominance was clear in the Money issue, Keohane and Nye argue that this was due to America’s strength in the issue area, rather than military power.2
Although neither of these two issue areas conformed to complex interdependence in all situations, Keohane and Nye conclude that the complex interdependence model is becoming more and more relevant over time (Keohane 161). While it may appear that Kissinger’s realism is at odds with complex interdependence, this is not necessarily true. Keohane and Nye point out that the simpler explanation is often best, with complexity added as needed. Sometimes, they admit, realism is sufficient for understanding international relations. And Kissinger himself accepts some of complex interdependence, evident in his discussion of the overlapping and conflicting agendas of the Russian Chancery and Asiatic bureaucracies (Kissinger 174).
Besides reconciling the two views, it is also important to note that the subjects they are based on are tremendously different. Even Keohane and Nye would not claim that the Oceans or Money issues were as momentous as World War I. While Kissinger examines regime changes in overall structure, Keohane and Nye use narrower issues to develop their theories of complex interdependence. In discussing world war, it is unlikely that they would quibble as much over the “fungibility of power.” Thus, the issues the writers choose dictate the seeming conflict between their views.
In the end, there does not seem to be any fundamental conflict between Kissinger’s realism (as applied to epochal events such as World War I) and complex interdependence (applied to smaller, though undeniably important issues). As revealed by his discussion of the Chancery and Asiatic bureaus, Kissinger had at least an intuitive understanding of complex interdependence. The conflict then, exists when the less experienced apply realism to inappropriate situations. Used together wisely, the two models may be more effective than applying either one in all situations. The imperfection of any one model reveals that a perfect description of human behavior in international relations has yet to be found. (Thank goodness for that, because otherwise there would be very little to say.)
Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.
Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye. Power and Interdependence, Second Edition. Harper-Collins Publishers, 1989.
1 This understanding will necessarily be spotty, as it is based only on a few chapters of his book, Diplomacy.
2 Such questions of causality are blurry at best, as it is quite possible that military power and financial strength are related in some respects. This defense of the complex interdependence nature of the Money issue thus seems tenuous.
According to Michael H. Hunt, author of Ideology and U.S. Foreign Policy, ideology as it applies to international relations is “an interrelated set of convictions or assumptions that reduces the complexities of a particular slice of reality to easily comprehensible terms and suggests appropriate ways of dealing with that reality.” (Hunt xi) With ideology defined in so broad a sense, the most fundamental choices, such as the decision to think of the world as made up of national entities rather than billions of unique individuals, are ideologies of a sort. It is hard therefore to even imagine a foreign policy approach in any historical period not influenced by some kind of ideology.
The salient question then is not whether ideologies have influenced history, but which ideologies have influenced history. Hunt asserts that three core ideas have influenced American foreign policy over the years: (1) A belief in national greatness coupled with liberty (2) a well defined sense of racial hierarchy and (3) a suspicion of revolution (17-10).
The American vision of greatness appeared in the very founding of the Republic. Revolt against Britain required a belief in the country’s special nature apart from Britain, evidenced by the popularity of Thomas Paine’s message of American uniqueness in Common Sense (19). This idea grew as the nation grew, through the annexation of vast territories including the Louisiana and Gadsden Purchases in 1803 and 1853, respectively. The ultimate expression of American faith in its own greatness was probably John L. O’Sullivan’s concept of “Manifest Destiny,” which held that the U.S. was “the nation of human progress.” (29-31) Such examples describe a nineteenth century in which this first core idea was present in U.S. foreign policy ideology.
However, the new nation was not completely unique. A seemingly timeless ethnocentric idea, common throughout Europe, permeated foreign policy ideology. This second core idea, racial hierarchy, was just as much a part of the Founding Fathers’ mindsets as the importance of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Hunt’s example is Benjamin Franklin, but racism was largely ubiquitous. The racial hierarchy, in its nineteenth century formulation, put whites on top, “yellow” and “red” skinned races next, and blacks at the bottom (48). Among whites there also was an ethnic hierarchy, favoring Anglo-Saxons followed by Germans, Slavs, S outhern Europeans and finally Jews (78). From Jackson’s extermination of the Creek and Seminole Indians (54) to Mahan’s advocacy of cooperation with Anglo-Saxon nations (79), this second idea was all too significant in U.S. foreign policy.
The third core idea seems an unusual one. How could the U.S., itself a young revolutionary nation, become suspicious of revolution? This was largely a product of experience. Jacobin excesses coupled with insult in the XYZ Affair soured initially enthusiastic American support for the French Revolution (97). As other revolutions failed to live up to America’s high standards, an anti-revolutionary stance evolved in U.S. ideology. The views of John Adams, a proponent of order above almost everything else, encapsulated this third core idea (92). The Jeffersonian view (94) that revolution was necessary and could not be carried out “in a feather-bed” remained, but waned over time.
Though the ideologies Hunt presents were central to the nineteenth century, these ideologies made few things inevitable. The reason is that each of the three core ideas is a double-edged sword that can be interpreted in several ways. For instance, it is possible to agree on the goal of national greatness without agreeing on what “greatness” actually means. Hamilton pursued a European style of greatness in foreign policy while Jefferson advocated an aloof isolationism (22-23). Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson were a similar case in the early twentieth century (127-129). Race hierarchy can work two ways as well–it explains the colonizing impulse as well as the eugenicist aversion to having anything to do with “lesser races”. As for revolutions, Americans have often wanted to support them, such as in the Greek Rebellion. The importance of these ideas was definite; their application was not.
The application depended on other factors, including attitudes as fundamental as pessimism and optimism. In his book, Hierarchy of States, Ian Clark describes a utopian optimism associated with Kant and a pessimistic realism associated with Rousseau. The optimistic view is based on belief in progress, nondeterminism, pervasive rationalism, and the assumption of a natural harmony of interests between states (Clark 51-54). This leads to some interesting assertions, especially the paradoxical one that “progress is created by adversity.” (56) An example of a twentieth century neo-Kantian is Woodrow Wilson, who sought to bring a utopian League of Nations out of the adversity of the first world war. Rousseau-derived realism, on the other hand, denies the possibility of progress, takes a more deterministic view, eschews the power of rationality, denies a universal harmony of interests, makes a distinction between individual and state use of morality and holds that states are perpetually locked in combat (68-72). There is a paradox of realism as well: it is founded upon a conviction that politics behaves in a certain way, yet its emphasis on worst-case planning hinges on uncertainty (86). In a way, optimism and pessimism may be regarded as high-level ideologies. The interaction of the two with Hunt’s core ideas may partially explain why the three ideas have been applied differently, though the picture remains complex.
Hunt’s core ideas have proven remarkably resilient. All three remained factors in the twentieth century. Ideas of American greatness and suspicion of revolution have perhaps become even stronger in the age of American hegemony. In many cases, the old ideologies have been recast in an updated vocabulary. The “great-cycle” theory emphasized U.S. duty to the world following World War II (Hunt 151). The even more recent concept of “Geopolitics” asserts that technology has made the world so small that every event is a security concern (152). This justifies worldwide intervention. In this way, Geopolitics contributed to ideas such as Cold War “Containment” and the “Domino Theory.”
The racial hierarchy also has stood the test of time. In the twentieth century, even Woodrow Wilson allowed the anglophile leanings of advisors such as Colonel Edward House to push him towards siding with the British over the Germans in World War I (133). According to Hunt, Social Scientists now use neutral terms such as “modernization” and “economic efficiency” to clothe racism in pseudoscientific vocabulary (160). Even without obscuring jargon, hypocrisy concerning some African countries reveals that the racial hierarchy is all too real. For years after World War II, the U.S. ignored South African apartheid, with Dean Rusk ironically saying, “We are not the self-elected gendarmes for the political and social problems of other states.” Nonetheless, the CIA did not hesitate to assassinate nationalists in the Congo when insurgency led to anti-white violence (166).
Climatically, all three core ideas applied in the Vietnam War. The war was perceived as a contest of greatness with the USSR. American attempts to modernize Vietnamese politics and win “hearts and minds” reflected the civilizing impulse associated with racial hierarchy. And the efforts to support dictator Ngo Dinh Diem over Ho Chi Minh showed the aversion to leftist revolutions. Hunt suggests that in the wake of traumatic failure in Vietnam, the core ideas have faded (170). The realist tradition of pessimism would suggest that this is wishful thinking.
American imperialism, in the traditional sense, began in 1898, with “traditional imperialism” consisting of “sovereignty…over numerous territories, whether in Europe or overseas.” (Mommsen 5) Although 1898 was also the year the U.S. officially annexed Hawaii, the defining international issue was the Spanish-American War. The U.S. moved to intervene in reaction to anti-Spanish insurrections in Cuba, and in April of 1898 declared war on Spain in the wake of the USS Maine’s sabotage. Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt’s 1897 preemptive plan for war with Spain went into effect, and Commodore George Dewey engaged and destroyed the Spanish fleet at Manilla, in the Philippines. Spain promptly surrendered, and the Treaty of Paris brought the war to a close by December. As a result of the treaty, Spain ceded Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines to the United States, ushering in the era of American imperialism.
The creation of U.S. colonies seems counter to much of American history. Founded in response to perceived British tyranny, the nation not only lacked an imperial tradition–it had a distinctly anti-imperialist one. The Founding Fathers would likely have been very surprised to know that a little more than a century after the signing of the Constitution America would have colonies of its own. Samuel Flagg Bemis described 1898 as the “great aberration,” and in some ways he was right (May 4). Why the events of 1898 happened, how they even could happen, and why they happened specifically in that year are perplexing questions which inspire pages of verbiage while providing little confidence in any one answer.
In American Imperialism, Ernest May approaches the question by examining the opinions of the “foreign policy elite,” a group of opinion-makers consisting of politicians, businessmen, intellectuals, newspaper reporters, writers and clergymen (May x). Using the foreign policy elite as a microscope on public opinion in general, May asks: “Why did American public opinion swing around during the 1890s on the subject of whether or not the United States should possess a colonial empire?” (May xxxiv) The very question he asks implies that he accepts that public opinion did in fact “swing around.”
May cites four possible reasons for the foreign policy elite’s “swing”: (1) Walter LaFeber’s explanation in terms of economic motivation (2) Frederick Merk’s view that imperialism was a continuation of “Manifest Destiny” (3) Julius Pratt’s justification by “Social Darwinism” and (4) Richard Hofstadter’s “Psychic Crisis.” To these theories, May adds a fifth molding influence on the foreign policy elite–the influence of European examples (May 5-10).
Some of these theories dovetail nicely with those listed in Wolfgang J. Mommsen’s Theories of Imperialism. An example is LaFeber’s economic thesis concerning the importance of foreign markets for prosperity. Though lacking any particular socialist moral slant, LaFeber’s idea is not far from earlier theorists like John Atkinson Hobson, who holds that capitalism cannot continue expanding indefinitely without imperialism (Mommsen 9). Similarly, Merk’s stress on “Manifest Destiny” echoes the concept of imperialism as extreme nationalism, perhaps approaching William L. Langer’s equation of imperialism with jingoism (Mommsen 70-71). Other theories, notably John Kenneth Galbraith’s “turbulent frontier” (Mommsen 105), seem to have been left out of May’s explanation. This is unfortunate, since Galbraith’s emphasis on peripheral events is valuable in this case, as the sinking of the Maine galvanized public opinion perhaps more than any long-term trends. Other theories, such as “atavism,” Joseph Schumpeter’s idea that imperialism was a vestigial remnant of pre-industrial warring states (Mommsen 22), seem more applicable to Europe than to the U.S.
May’s assumption that public opinion did in fact “swing around” deserves some examination. Despite May’s references to LaFeber, the two disagree on some points. While May emphasizes the “great aberration,” LaFeber’s book, The New Empire: An Interpretation of American Expansion, 1860-1898,1 describes 1898 as the culmination of a longer trend. LaFeber gives many examples of pre-1890s imperialist thinking, exemplified by William Henry Seward. As Grant’s Secretary of State, his 1867 purchase of Alaska was part of a plan for global economic expansion (LaFeber 24-26). As early as 1853, Seward preached that the battle for world power would happen in Asia: “Multiply your ships, and send them forth to the East. The nation…that sells the most of productions and fabrics to foreign nations, must be, and will be, the greatest power of the earth.” (LaFeber 27) The emphasis on foreign markets, especially Asia’s supposedly vast markets, was around even before the civil war. This makes the idea of a sudden “swing” somewhat suspect.
LaFeber also questions May’s assertion that American imperialism was largely based on European examples. He describes it instead as a “New Imperialism” in which the goal was colonies that kept foreign markets accessible, rather than colonies that were the markets themselves (LaFeber 60-61). LaFeber’s intellectual gymnastics are skillful, yet the difference is likely too subtle to have been appreciated by everyone in the foreign policy elite. Furthermore, the foreign policy elite in 1898 was a voracious consumer of European news (May 86). It is thus unlikely that the European influence was weak.
An extension of the question of whether American imperialism was a “great aberration” is to ask if it continued after 1898. From the most formal perspective, the answer is no. The U.S. quickly stopped grabbing island colonies, as Teddy Roosevelt’s colorful response to the chance to annex the Dominican Republic illustrates: “I have about the same desire to annex it as a gorged boa-constrictor might have to swallow a porcupine end-to.” (May 214) John Hay’s “Open Door” policy concerning China was further evidence of the changing current against imperialism (May 210).
On the other hand, Ronald Robinson and John Gallagher’s recent theories of “informal imperialism” (Mommsen 87) suggest that American imperialism may have continued in the form of economic mastery of increasingly large regions of the world. However, this is to claim imperialism’s continuity by modifying the definition over time. This is like changing the rules in the middle of a game, and is somewhat unfair. But before wholeheartedly accepting Bemis’s “great aberration,” it is interesting to note that in the year after unabashed imperialist Great Britain relinquished its last colony, Hong Kong, “anti-imperialist” America still possesses the protectorates of Guam and Puerto Rico, with naval bases in Cuba and the Philippines. In some respects, the echoes of 1898 can be heard today.
Clearly no theory is perfect for describing 1898. Many explanations have been offered, but none is the last word. The best we can say is that several are valid to a limited extent. I do not hesitate to add my own idea: If nations are like people, the U.S. was a thirteen year-old left home alone with the liquor cabinet unlocked. Like its adolescent counterpart, the U.S. of 1898 simply had to give the vices of its European elders a try. Though this may sound a bit childish, that does not make it untrue. Perhaps there was indeed some element of the liquor-cabinet appeal in 1898. Regardless, the pursuit of the complex issue of American imperialism has left this writer with little more than a headache.
1 LaFeber, Walter. The New Empire: An Interpretation of American Expansion, 1860-1898. Ithaca:Cornell University Press, 1963
Adolf Hitler was an unmistakably bad man. His policy of genocide today seems so universally abhorrent that even historians, those bastions of objective impartiality, describe Hitler as “evil” without a second thought. And evil he was. As a statesman though, Hitler was in many ways not so much an anomaly as some might like to think. As the British historian AJP Taylor points out, world opinion has retrospectively viewed Hitler as a bogeyman, making him responsible for all the evils of World War II. Such a view is convenient, since it removes blame for the war from other European shoulders, from Neville Chamberlain to the German people themselves. (Taylor 11-12). Unfortunately for convenience, Hitler was not the sole cause of the war. It is difficult to separate Hitler the statesman from Hitler the genocidal despot, since both are contained in the same man. Once that is done it becomes clear that Hitler’s role in international affairs was not so different than other leaders, and that he was not the sole perpetrator of World War II.
Since Machiavelli’s writings in the Renaissance, political thought has emphasized pragmatism over morality in international relations. Historians rarely consider morality in assessing modern statesman. From Richelieu to Metternich, Bismarck to Kissinger, “misdirection” and pursuit of the national best interest have been the standards by which foreign policy is measured. In this system, morality is often equated with naivete. World War II is a notable exception to this tradition. As Taylor points out, states can “be criticized at most for mistakes, not for crimes.” (Taylor xiii) While this may be a bit extreme, it does highlight the general contempt realist historians have held for questions of morality. Despite this, the legacy of the war-crime trials at Nuremberg is perhaps an overemphasis of Nazi criminality. In the years leading up to the war, European ministers dealt with Hitler and his staff not as criminals or lunatics, but as a valid and feared participant at the bargaining table. Germany may have relied on force or the threat of force, but this was no different than French or British policy (Taylor 71)–or from American foreign policy in the Cold War. For Chamberlain, Henderson and Halifax–as well as Hitler, Ribbentrop, and Goering–the only bargaining chip that mattered was power. The willingness of the British to negotiate suggests that in international affairs, Hitler behaved in a “reasonable” manner, merely seeking Germany’s national best interests through whatever means were necessary. The response of Hitler’s contemporaries, rather than retrospective moralizing, is perhaps the most accurate way to measure his uniqueness or lack thereof in international relations.
The best example of Hitler’s acceptance among the European powers occurred at the Munich Conference in 1938. Emboldened by Anschluss (the annexation of Austria), Hitler sought next to reunify with the Sudeten Germans of Czechoslovakia. German ambition in the region threatened to cause a major crisis, as Czechoslovakia was allied with France, the Soviet Union, and the members of the Little Entente–Rumania and Yugoslavia. This tangle of European diplomacy was more like the roots of World War I than the machinations of an “evil genius.” With Europe on the edge of war, Hitler called Chamberlain, Daladier and Mussolini to Munich in September. Germany’s annexation of the German region of Czechoslovakia left the Czechs defenseless, but that was a price Chamberlain and Daladier were willing to pay for peace. Though today’s popular view regards Chamberlain as a minor villain for his “appeasement” of Hitler, all of Great Britain cheered him in 1938 for having achieved “peace in our time.” (Watt 84) As Taylor writes, “Every newspaper in the country applauded the Munich settlement with the exception of Reynolds’ News.” (Taylor xxvii) Appeasement, for all the negative connotation it carries today, was accepted by the British population, suggesting that they were willing to accept German expansion as the price for peace. And what was peace but the maintenance of a status quo in which Great Britain was a dominant power? In this way, we see that British motives, on the part of Chamberlain and the largely supportive populace, were also based on self-interest.
Furthermore, the claim that Hitler single-handedly masterminded Nazi ideology is confounded by the fact that Hitler’s ideas were not new. His racial doctrines were based on views in which most Germans already “vaguely believed” (Taylor 71) and the concept of Lebensraum (living space) was similar to market-induced imperialism, though the economic argument was not particularly worthwhile (Taylor 106). Extremism was not Hitler’s invention, but had taken centuries to develop. Considering that Hitler’s ideology was really a repackaging of older ideas rather than the creation of new ones, it becomes quite difficult to place all blame for the war on him.
In fact, it is quite unlikely that Hitler–or any individual–could be wholly responsible for war on the scale of World War II. In a colorful analogy, Taylor argues that wars are similar to road accidents, each ostensibly caused by the mistakes of a driver, but ultimately caused by the existence of highways and automobiles (Taylor 102). Likewise, it is the international system that makes wars possible. In yet another automobile analogy, Watt likens Chamberlain’s final choice of containment in 1939 to the “ultimate maneuver” in a game of “Chicken” where one driver throws the steering wheel out the window, daring the opponent (Hitler) to prove himself and crash (Watt 185). Although Watt’s argument blames “drivers,” it does not invalidate Taylor’s assertion that the system is in many ways the ultimate cause of accidents. The context for the events of 1938 and 1939 included a feeling of injustice on the part of the Germans about the stiff reparations demanded at Versailles in 1918 which created a road fraught with peril, regardless of the “drivers.”
Of course, none of this erases the fact that Hitler committed horrible atrocities. Removing these from the consideration of his international policy, Hitler was merely aggressive and belligerent–not terribly different than many other statesmen. And considering Stalin, whose purges killed or exiled perhaps millions of people (Taylor 112), even the “immeasurable” atrocities unfortunately do not seem so immeasurably distant from those committed in Hitler’s contemporary USSR.
A better objection to the claim that Hitler was similar to his fellow statesmen is the contention that he “willed” World War II (Watt 610) while the other nations were pacifists. The evidence, though, is that even Hitler himself did not want total war–he simply wanted to “bluff” his opponents into making the concessions he desired. This was much like Cold War “brinkmanship” in which force was a threat, rather than a tool one hoped to use. Initially, Hitler hoped to win a “war of nerves” rather than make a continental conquest (Taylor 218). While Great Britain may have felt dwarfed by German military might, Hitler committed most of his resources to the front line, keeping tiny reserves compared to the prudent British (Watt 93). Thus, Hitler intended his military to intimidate, not to fight a sustained campaign. The war then, was not Hitler’s “will”–it was his miscalculation. In August of 1939, he finally took brinkmanship over the “brink” at Danzig, and World War II began.
D.C. Watt describes Hitler as viewing the world as a Wagnerian fantasy epic of heroes and arch-villains (Watt 260). This depiction highlights Hitler’s idiosyncratic nature. If historians make Hitler into a bogeyman responsible for all the evils of World War II, they are being no less idiosyncratic–they are creating a Wagnerian arch-villain of their own. The evidence, though, shows that in the case of World War II history is further from the fantasy epic than some might like to think.

(c) 1998 Garrett Moritz. All rights reserved.

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