Create Your Ideal State


Chapter 17. International Relations: The Struggle for World Order

Learning Objectives

· 1Define “power politics.”

· 2Explain the ways world politics differs from other politics.

· 3Compare the classical balance of power systems in Europe with the world order that emerged after World War II.

· 4Identify and elucidate the three biggest changes in world politics since the end of the Cold War.

· 5Elaborate on the role of the United States in the New World Order.

· 6Explain the role of international law in world politics and why it is often least enforceable when and where it is most needed.

· 7Describe the historical context that made creation of the United Nations appear to be a good idea, and identify its major structures and functions.

In 416 BCE, Athens sent ships and troops against the island of Melos, a colony of Sparta that had remained neutral and wanted no part of the war between Sparta and Athens.* Negotiating from a position of overwhelming strength, the Athenians insisted on unconditional surrender, telling the Melians, “You know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power—the strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must.” The Melians responded, “And how, pray, could it turn out as good for us to serve as for you to rule?” “Because,” the Athenians answered, “you would have the advantage of submitting before suffering the worst, and we should gain by not destroying you.”

Undaunted, the Melians insisted the interest of all would be enhanced by peaceful relations between the two states. The Athenians would have no part of this logic. With ruthless disregard for justice, they reasoned that if the Melians were permitted to remain independent, they and others would take it as a sign of Athenian weakness. “[By] extending our empire,” the Athenians pointed out, “we should gain in security by your subjection; the fact that you are islanders and weaker than others rendering all the more important that you should not succeed in baffling the masters of the sea.” Thus, the cold calculus of power politics doomed the Melian state:

Reinforcements afterwards arriving from Athens in consequence, under the command of Philocrates, son of Demeas, the siege was now pressed vigorously; and some treachery taking place inside, the Melians surrendered at discretion to the Athenians, who put to death all the grown men whom they took, and sold the women and children for slaves, and subsequently sent out five hundred colonists and inhabited the place themselves.

Melos was a real place, and the tragedy depicted in the story really happened. The context was the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BCE), and we know the Melians’ cruel fate because the Greek historian Thucydides wrote about it.

Get Real! Machiavelli and Morgenthau

The greatest political thinker of the Italian Renaissance, Niccolò Machiavelli, taught that the wise ruler must always play to win, for “how we live is so far removed from how we ought to live, that he who abandons what is done for what ought to be done, will rather learn to bring about his own ruin than his preservation.”* Prudent rulers, he argued, recognize what must be done to preserve and enlarge their dominions and do not allow moral qualms to cloud their judgment. Rulers should keep their promises only when it suits their purposes to do so:

A prudent ruler ought not to keep faith when by doing so it would be against his interest, and when the reasons which made him bind himself no longer exist…. If men were all good, this precept would not

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