Man, the State and the War

By Phar Kim Beng
Strategic Pan Indo-Pacific Arena
Twitter: @indo_pan

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The late Kenneth N Waltz was a mathematician, who subsequently took to studying political science, eventually becoming a professor at the University of California, Berkley and Columbia University. But “Man, the State and the War” was written in the 1950s. It didn't distinguish the difference between the international system and the unit actor that is the state(s) that constitute it. So, Kenneth N Waltz ended up using human psychology, the egocentric nature of the state, as well as the self-help nature of the international system, to explain the propensity of wars.

In other words, wars are the results of human actions, first and foremost, what he referred to as the “first image.” Wars are also due to the selfish nature of the state that has an infinite appetite for security, sovereignty, and safety in numbers, which in turn, begets a situation where a well-armed nuclear power will continue to arm itself to the teeth, especially when it is matched by another behemoth. The third image is an international system where no one can rely on anyone else, except its own.

The sum of all three images is a world constantly in a Hobbesian state of fear; one where the perpetual peace described by Immanuel Kant is all but impossible even when aided and abetted by complex interdependence and substantial global trade. Kenneth N Watlz’s analysis is right. But he wasn’t satisfied with the use of the three images. In 1979, he produced the seminal “Theory of International Politics” to place systemic anarchy at the top of all images or variables, and by this token, influenced a whole generation of realists who called themselves the “structural realists”.



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