International relations is the study of power and authority among nations. In a broad sense there have been “international relations” as long as there have been more or less independent societies encountering each other under conditions of anarchy (i.e., in the absence of a recognized legal/political authority to arbitrate disputes). But in its more precise meaning international relations (IR) concerns just what the words suggest: relations between or among sovereign nations or territorial states. And these are usually regarded as an outcome of Europe’s Peace of Westphalia in 1648. As an academic discipline, however, international relations dates only from the aftermath of World War I, following the breakdown of Europe’s balance of power system. Having by now surmounted its humble beginnings, IR has attained a prestigious place in the halls of academia and the practical world of diplomacy and global governance. One of the most attractive aspects of the study of international politics is its unique and authentic way of presenting fundamental political issues. In a world of anarchy with no central world government, questions of life and death are confronted in a brutally honest manner. The rhetorical flourishes of domestic presidential campaigns give way to the cold logic of the international balance of power, in which, as the Greek historian Thucydides of Athens commented, “the strong do what they will and the weak suffer what they must.”
The study of international relations has evolved during the past few decades as political circumstances have changed. The Cold War is over and—some would say—we now inhabit a multipolar world in which no one power, not even the United States, can dictate to others. Furthermore, overt colonialism is a relic of the past; hence, the world now counts far more nation-states than ever before, many of them poor and desperate for economic development. Among other things, their poverty has generated waves of migrants desperate to reach the more developed world where they can find work and a better life. Meanwhile, a number of important nation-states have voluntarily surrendered portions of their sovereignty to trans-national institutions such as the European Union. Some observers of the international scene, often called liberal internationalists, believe that old-style IR (“realism”), with its emphasis on power-balancing and geostrategic advantage, is outmoded. They believe that war should be and will be consigned to the dustbin of history, like torture and slavery. Realists have presented compelling counterarguments while refining their own approach.
In our course we will survey and debate the respective positions of realism and liberal internationalism. But we will also confront another crucial change in the nature of international politics: the onset of globalization and the relative decline of the nation-state as the focus of civic loyalty and problem-solving. Many of the countries we will visit could break apart eventually, as their component regions and ethnic groups try to claim greater autonomy (Italy, Spain, Turkey, Morocco, Peru). Alternatively, some could transfer so much power and competence to trans-national institutions such as the EU, that they will be, at most, semi-sovereign in the international arena. In short, the nation-state is being challenged from below and above as it strains to accommodate its citizens’ demands for linguistic, religious, and ethnic recognition, while trying to meet the fiscal, budgetary, and political demands of higher-order associations. How will the relative decline of the nation-state affect the study of International Relations? That will be an additional topic we shall consider this semester.
Field ClassCountry: Greece
Day: 1 - Monday, 19 September
As we all know, Greece barely escaped default on its huge debt, mostly owed to European (especially German) banks and the IMF. But the problem has only been postponed, since Greece’s economy is so weak that it cannot generate the wealth to pay off its creditors, even well into the future, and its banks are still very shaky, even after the last bailout. Greece’s creditors have been extremely inflexible, to the point that the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is often portrayed on Greek protest placards as the new Hitler. What should the international community do to help Greece? What can the Greeks do to help themselves? Should the German government be so hard-nosed with a member-nation of the European Union? We will canvass two points of view on these questions. First, we will visit the US Embassy in Athens and talk to the personnel there about how our country sees the standoff and what we can do to reconcile the two sides. What is America’s stake here anyway? Should we care if Greece opts out of the euro or even leaves the European Union? Does our national interest require us to intervene and encourage Greece to stay in the EU? After that visit and lunch, we will go to the offices of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, a prominent German NGO with close ties to that country’s Social Democratic Party and thus to its government (the SPD is part of the governing coalition in Germany, along with the CDU/CSU). We will hear a talk from one or two of the staff members on their view of the bailout, then have a colloquium on what the next step or steps should be to restore Greece’s economic viability and sovereignty and help its people escape the deep poverty into which so many have fallen. Learning objectives:
- Understand the international and EU-related dimensions of Greece’s debt crisis
- Learn about the positions of the American and German governments on Greek “bailouts”
- Acquire a realistic grasp of Greece’s options and the international and EU constraints upon its choices