Do you sometimes get confused when watching the Situation Room on CNN, or Keith Olbermann on MSNBC interviewing people who use terms like neorealism or discuss things like the International Monetary Fund? (If you reguarly watch Fox News then your confusion is beyond all hope, I’m afraid, and I have completely given up on trying to help you.) While this primer on some of the more common terms that relate to geopolitics is by no means intended to be comprehensive, at least it should serve to help facilitate a little more leverage in your understanding.
Realism:Realism as related to world politics is a series of beliefs based on the concept that humanity is both prone to anarchy and has no innate benevolence. A system based on realism believes that there is no higher authority than the sovereign state or nation and so rejects any authority associated with world governing bodies. As a result, nations that ascribe to this theory generally tend to be unaffected by pressures brought to bear by such institutions as the United Nations or the World Trade Organization.
Idealism:Idealism is a policy that attempts to extend a nation’s internal beliefs to its foreign policies and therefore makes use of international law in the construction of its own laws. Idealism plays a significant role in modern day politics due to the expanding influence of the global economy, as well as the associated concerns with workers and human rights. A policy based on the theory of idealism would be expected to pursue equal rights in those foreign countries with which it deals that correspond to the domestic concerns of equal rights.
Neorealism: Neorealism differs from realism by looking at the relationship between individual nations and how the balance of power fluctuates according to the changes in that balance. The neorealist view of political relations is almost a mathematical approach in that in assumes that events occur according to certain general dynamics. The international condition is one seen in terms of anarchy, but this is undermined by the fact that sovereign states put their own survival above all else. This would explain why an all-our nuclear confrontation has never taken place, since it would essentially seal a country’s doom.
Interdependence: Interdependence is distinctly in opposition to Realism. Interdependence states that the survival of one nation is dependent on its relationship to others. Although sovereign independence is recognized and one country isn’t allowed to interfere in another’s, the recognition is that each state is dependent in some fashion all others. For instance, countries without oil must import it from those who have oil; and most countries also must important certain kinds of food. The key element here is that countries with vast resources must accept that they too are dependent upon countries with fewer resources.
Nation and state:A nation and state is term used to describe a sovereign entity based on geography; that is, it has recognized borders that serve to reinforce its autonomy. Autonomy and sovereignty are key to the establishment of a state or nation. A state is a recognized geopolitical entity that establishes laws that its citizens are required to follow. On the other hand, just because the citizens are required, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee that its sovereignty will be recognized as legitimate by the rest of the world.
Diplomacy: Diplomacy is the act of attempting to establish contact with other countries and resolve differences without resorting to violent means. Diplomacy typically engages the use of recognized figures who have the authority to speak for the country’s leader such as a Secretary, Minister, or Ambassador. Often, however, it is achieved using less structured diplomatic channels. For instance, a former President or other former high ranking political figure may be used. Sometimes, diplomacy is used merely for public relations purposes and not to actually achieve its stated goals, such as the use of diplomacy in the months leading up to the US invasion of Iraq.
Intergovernmental Organizations: These are international organizations designed to facilitate the interests of sovereign nations to form a coherent set of global rules. The intention of these organizations is not, as some think, to establish a global, one-world government, but rather to establish international policies of conduct. The most obvious example is the United Nations, of course, but other organizations such as the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund have more far more impact on the average person’s life. The rise of the global economy has created a significant need for a codified set of rules under which governments operate.
Nationalism: Nationalism is first and foremost an ideology by which allegiance to a country is established strongly enough to convince citizens to lay down their lives during wartime. Nationalism posits that it is the state itself that is the central associating entity for a population, superseding race or even continental ethnicity. Nationalism has been the basis for most of the wars throughout history since few individuals have ever had a personal interest in fighting for the causes over which their leaders took them to war. Nationalism in its most extreme form is also a central tenet of fascism, though a country need not be technically fascist to institutionally require its citizens to pledge of an oath of loyalty to the a cloth symbol of its ideals.
European Union: The European Union is an intergovernmental association of sovereign European states that have agreed-though not unanimously as of yet-to share certain policies and unions. Almost half of its members share a single currency called the Euro, and many previous customs laws have been either relaxed or dropped. The EU has served to consolidate both the interests and the power of many individual countries into something approaching a new superpower, although internal differences still present obstacles to any exercising of those powers in a significant way.
UN Security Council: The Security Council is the governing body of the UN with which most people are familiar because is it the body that oversees security and military matters. The Security Council is made up of five permanent members-the US, Russia, China, England and France-and ten members elected on a rotation basis. The Security Council is the most prominent body of the UN because it is the only one that has the authority to enforce UN regulations. A UN peacekeeping mission is imbued with a certain amount of legitimating authority to maintain peace.
Liberalism and Neoliberalism:Liberalism issues forth from the belief that rights and liberty at the center of human existence. It guarantees that every person is born with innate rights that must take precedence over all other political considerations. Neoliberalism attempts to apply this trust in liberty to economic institutions, stating that only an unregulated marketplace will result in truly equitable distribution of wealth. Interestingly, neoliberalism, despite the name, is in almost direct opposition to the economic viewpoints of the liberalism associated with Marxist and socialist policies.
Nongovernmental Organizations: These are institutions that are not directly related to any particular governing authority, but still pursue matters related to international policies. Typically these are humanitarian organization such as the Red Cross, Catholic Relief Services or Amnesty International. Often these groups profess what might be termed ideological beliefs that can rightfully condemn for the same offenses democracies and dictatorships.