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Positivist Approaches to International Politics

Behavioural movement in political science also impacted the field of international politics. It has also led to the second great debate i.e. between traditionalists and positivists.

Systems Approach: Morton Kaplan.

Systems approach in international politics is based on the systems approach of David Easton. It is also influenced by the general systems theory. General systems theory suggest the utilization of the concepts of different disciplines. Systems approach in international relations is based on the fundamental concepts of the system approach in general. However systems approach (in IR) is often criticized that it does not include even the fundamental features of systems approach.
Stanley Hoffman – ‘Systems approach is a huge misstep in right direction’.
Morton Kaplan’s objective: He wanted to give ‘grand theory’ of international relations. A theory as universal as Newton’s law of gravity. The theory which is capable of explaining past, present and future of international politics. Hence he developed different models (total 10) to explain the past, present and future of international politics.

Models by Morton Kaplan.

1] Balance of power model.
International politics from 17th century till the end of 1st WW can be understood through balance of power model.
Security Dilemma, Multipolar world order, absence of international orders… (explain from billiards ball model.)

2] Bipolar model (Later on named as Tight Bipolar model)
When there are two superpowers, status of other states is like satellites. The entire concentration of power is in two poles.

3] Loose Bipolar model.

3rd Actor emerges. It weakens the magnetic force of the superpowers

4] Very Loose Bipolar model.
Very loose bipolar suggests further loss in the power of attraction of the poles. Satellites start jumping out of the orbits.

5] Universal Actor model.
Poles vanish, world government comes into existence. All states come under the universal actor. (Hypothetical model).

6] Hierarchical systes.
When all states come under single state. e.g. USA or Unipolar world.
It is opposite of universal actor model.

7] Unit Veto Model
It means all states posses equal capacity to destroy each other.

8] Incomplete nuclear diffusion model.
Around 14 to 15 states posses nuclear weapons.

9] Detente system

10] Unstable block model
It is opposite of Detente model. Detent show relaxation of tensions, unstable block model show high level of suspicion and rivalry among superpowers. Return of cold war. It symbolize a very dangerous situation.

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Critical Evaluation

According to Stanley Hoffman, ‘systems approach is a huge misstep in right direction.’ It is a strange parlour game, it does not capture even the basic stuff of international politics.
The models do not have analytical of explanatory importance. Some models are hypothetical, some models are outdated and the current international politics does not resemble any of the model.
The purpose of the discipline of international politics is to find ways to establish peace. This model has no such relevance.
Model does not fulfill even the basic requirements of systems theory. It neither explain the environment, not structures, functions, input output processes. It does not show the role of  domestic variables in international politics.

Game theory

It is also a scientific theory, it goes for application of the methods of operations research, mathematics, economics.
The assumptions in game theory have similarities with realist school. The prominent game theorist is the strategic realist Thomas Schelling.

Assumptions of game theory.

International politics can be seen as a game i.e. A game of strategy. States are seen as the rational actors. It means they are playing game for the purpose of winning the game. Every game has its payoff. (result).
There are two types of games – Two person’s game or N-person’s game.
Games are also categorized into two types in terms of outcomes. Zero sum game & non zero sum game. /Actually zero sum game is hypothetical.
In international politics, scholars have been successful in preparing two persons non-zero sum games.

Most popularly used models are
1] Chicken game.
2] Prisoner’s dilemma.
Game theory is used to predict, what will be the behaviour of the actors in a given situation.

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1] Chicken game

It has been developed on the basis of behaviour between two states (USA and USSR) at the time of Cuban Missile Crisis.
Chicken game helps in predicting the outcome when the two actors are in the state of head-on-collision. Prestige does have importance in international politics. However the rational action is to avoid bigger catastrophe rather than decline in prestige. e.g. Soviet Union’s action’s during Cuban Missile Crisis can be termed as rational actions.

2] Prisoner’s dilemma.

The situation of states in international politics is like the classical example of the two prisoners in the state of dilemma because there exists the trust deficit because of lack of communication.
The effect is that – despite being rational, they are not able to choose the best course, their choice is dictated by the objective of avoiding the worst possible outcome.
It also shows that the party which cooperates may suffer disproportionately and the party which defects will have disproportionate gains.

One of the best examples is the nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan. Despite India’s constitutional and repeated commitments towards nuclear disarmament, international community was sure that India will go for acquiring nuclear weapons.
1] Since China has nuclear weapons, India lost war in 1962, as a weaker party, would be acquiring nuclear weapons to gain strategic equilibrium.
2] It would be foolish on the part of Pakistan if it does not acquire nuclear weapons and trust India. To be on safer side, Pakistan will definitely acquire nuclear weapons.
3] Both are poor countries, if they trust each other, enter into an agreement not to make nuclear weapons, both will be benefited.
4] However they cannot opt for such course.  a) Suppose India trusts China’s No First Use doctrine and does not make nuclear weapon. However if Pakistan makes because there is no way Pakistan can be 100% sure about India. India will be at huge loss.  b) Similarly if India posses nuclear weapon and Pakistan does not posses, it will be detrimental for the interest of Pakistan. Hence both will go for nuclear weapons at the cost of development, even when they know that the nuclear weapons are not meant to be used.

Test Your Knowledge!

1] “Consider the following statements.
Systems Approach of International Politics Is based on the Systems Approach of David Easton.
General System Theory suggests the utilization of the concepts of different disciplines.
Identify the correct statements.”
a) 1 only
b) 2 only
c) Both 1&2
d) None of the 1&2

Show Answer

Ans: c) Both 1&2 are correct

2] Which among the following are the features of International Politics from 17th century to World War I?
a) Security Dilemma
b) Multipolar World order
c) Absence of World Government
d) All of the above

Show Answer

Ans: d) All of the above

3] “Consider the following Statements
Systems Approach is criticized because it ignores domestic variables in International Politics.
Mortan Kaplan said that the ‘systems approach is a huge misstep in the right direction'”
a) Only 1 is correct
b) only 2 is correct
c) Both the statements are correct
d) Both statements are incorrect

Show Answer

Ans: a) Only 1 is correct. Stanley Hoffman said that the Systems Approach is a huge misstep in the right direction

4] Chicken Game and Prisoner’s Dilemma are the models of
a) Game theory
b) Cobweb Model
c) Billliard Ball Model
d) Post Colonialism

Show Answer

Ans: a) Game theory

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please provide good notes for systems theory these notes aren’t good.


Very less to write in 20 mkr qn

rohit khatri

is the system approach be morton kaplan sufficient?