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    Institutions and the Behavior of States Essay

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    This paper shall set out to examine the role in which institutions play when influencing states actions on the global stage, but first we should understand what institutions are and where their prominence came from, and why they have not always been key actor on the global stage. In order to do as such this essay will first define what institutions are then look at what are the primary institutions that affect states actions in IR and focus on these as to not spread the goal of the papers objectives too thinly. It will then look at case studies and real life events where institutions have affected the behaviour of states for the better, this will mainly be focused on the role of international law and institutions such as the EC, international Energy Agency, EU, UN and NATO in addition to what power they can wield as to ‘keep states in line’ and acting in the interest and benefit of the many rather than the few. The penultimate part of this essay in order to keep a fair, balanced and holistic view of the role of institutions will be looking at the counter arguments and events of where they do not affect states on the global stage or fail to live up to their objectives, this will be based on the case study of NATO’s and the EU’s involvement in Ukraine. The finial part shall weigh up what this paper has covered and based on the arguments give a clear analysis of how affective institutions are, whether or not they do have a large impact on states and how they do this and if not how they can improve for future influence. Institutionalism can be defined as “a set of rules that stipulate the ways in which states should cooperate and compete with each other”, these rules once accepted by states tend to form international pacts or “mutual acceptance of higher norms.

    ”, (Scott, 1995). Institutions emerged as primary actors on the global stage in the early 1990’s as the Cold War came to a close, in a post-Cold War era the world faced new issues that realism failed to effectively address, it was proclaimed that the ‘end of history had occurred’ (Nau, H. 007). Before the end of the cold war Realism was straight forward and explained the world politics in simple terms with states as the main actors and balance of power politics the primary tool, when this ended Europe based policy makers wanted to strengthen security by empowering institutions as main actors on the global stage, Robert Keohane even stated that “institutions are key to maintain peace in Europe”. Institutionalism has three main components; Collective security, Liberal institutionalism, and Critical theory.

    Collective security is the concept that states bound tougher by force or circumstance whether it be regional such as NATO, political or other connecting points between them understand and accept that the security of one state is to the benefit of all states within that connecting parameters (Goldstein, J. and Steinberg, R. 2010), i. e.

    f one European state is attacked by an external force then the rest would react and come to aid that state with the understanding the same would apply if it were to happen to each of them. This binds states to become less isolated in terms of security and makes each state a larger force, one not worth attacking (i. e. a zero-sum game) and so have much greater deterrents than any one state standing alone which unarguable is an improvement upon their security (Bull, H. 2002).

    In addition it means that states become more reliant upon one another and this in turn creates greater trust between states rather than the ‘everyone even your allies can turn on you at some point down the road’ attitude that realism school of thought championed during The Cold War (Baldwin, D. 1993). The first official attempt of Collective security was the League of Nations which given World War II doesn’t fall under the favourable example in support of collective security, a more modern example would be NATO’s help in the War on Terror in Afghanistan. Liberal institutionalism is the concept that by having and emphasising their importance, institutions such as the international law the EU, NATO and the UN then cooperation can greatly increase between states which means that there is more to be gained by trade agreements than conflict, a great example of this is how the French and German steel industry were merged with one another at the end of World War II so as it was so ineffective for the two to ever fight one another again (Brown, C. 001), so far this has worked to great effect. In effect Liberal institutionalism sets out to make cooperation a much more viable option providing a reasonable way for states to make relative gains in modern IR (Lawson, S.

    2003). The main issue it faces is states ‘cheating’ and the immense distrust between states. Those that believe in Liberal institutionalism would argue that there are three main points as to making Liberal institutionalism realistic to being successful: firstly increasing the number of transactions would allow states to see just how beneficial cooperation is and look to the future for more future gains and also this would allow states to build trust and a reputations to be believed in (Scott, W. 1995). The next thing to do would be to link states as in the example of linking France and Germanys steel industry making it harder and more costly for states to ‘cheat’ in addition to this reducing transaction costs or letting groups of states get better rates makes cooperation more appealing, and finally information provision i. e.

    allow greater monitoring as to provide more warning to states if someone is likely to cheat and make it easier to catch cheaters and punish them as such with sanctions etc. However Mearsheimer states that ‘of all insitutionalist theories liberal institutionalism is by far the “least ambitious” simply due to the fact it “does not directly address the question of whether institutions cause peace, but instead focuses on the goal of explaining cooperation in cases where state interests are not fundamentally opposed” – specifically, economic and environmental issues. ’ (Foreignaffairs. com, 2014). The UN and its charter are the best examples of where Institutions affect the behaviour of states, as they were formed after the end of WWII for preciously that reason to combat the effect of anarchy in IR and so far there has not been open warfare between the European countries (Brown, C.

    2001), apart from civil wars in the Bosnia and Yugoslav Wars in the 1990’s and the current friction between Ukraine and Russia, but this shall be addressed shortly. The main focus of institutions is to offer a solution to the system of anarchy in International relations. What happens when you have anarchy in IR is that it can lead to problems such as the security dilemma (Carlsnaes, W, et al. 2002). The security dilemma comes from the total lack of any global governance or higher power to stop states from trying to force their expansion of power.

    The concept that a confrontation or even war could start without warning at any time due to states looking to self-help themselves to more power to ensure their survival, which realism holds to be all states main objectives (Went, A. 992). This leads to a point where only zero-sum-gains can be made where distrust of other actors or states can cause paranoia, tension or even insecurity. This can occur as simply as when an actor or states builds their military force or power for defensive realism and not offensive realism, but how can the surrounding states be sure, as such they hedge their bets just to make sure (Baldwin, D. 1993). These events can cause situations like in the Cold War where the world witnessed an arms race like no other.

    The major problem here is that basically any attempt to increase security of your state will lead to a decrease in security as other states are mistrusting and react to your movements in a paradoxical way. Institutions offer a solution to this major problem. When looking at examples of institutions being affective NATO during the Cold War unarguably had a key part in playing in deterring the Soviets (Went, A. 1992), however in more modern times they have struggled with Putin’s aggression in Ukraine which will be addressed in the next part.

    The main achievements of institutionalism in modern times is the shift from the hostile aggressive behaviour complex states had in the cold war to a much more open and trading platform that can be viewed globally now (Goldstein, J. and Steinberg, R. 2010), states have learnt that it is far more favourable for them to trade with one another than be aggressive and pour money in to military funding, this can viewed in recent times in both the UK and USA as with the economic landscape issues such as our trident system are being reviewed with the UK voting on to continue its trident systems in 2015. Opposed to the Cold War era the more engaged citizens of western countries want answers as to why their leaders are spending more on arms and making cuts than scrapping the military contracts building infrastructure for jobs and trading among states, the sharp increase of global markets correlates to this shift in vision that has its roots in cooperation and trading. As the ways in which institutions have failed the most controversial and recent case study is the NATO fuelled Ukrainian Russian feud.

    Putin told George bush that the acquirement of Ukraine into NATO or EU expansion would lead to the end of Ukraine and the Russian stance has always been against NATO expansion as seen the in Georgia war of 2008 (Foreignaffairs. com, 2014). These events even lead to a special Russian NATO council being formed to help douse the fires started by NATO expansion. These measures proceed to attempt to minimise the actions of NATO being seen to be a threat and started with US defence missiles on ships rather than in Poland. This had a limited affect, imagine China making a deal with Mexico and Canada to have forces there or pull them into an alliance America would not stand for it at all, it’s important to understand Russia’s prospective. A few realists supported the NATO expansion however, as they thought Russia still needed to be contained but many more thought that a declining great power with a one dimensional economy and an ageing population did not need to be contained and expansion would give Russia the incentive to cause trouble in eastern Europe, this was a said in the 1990’s under the Clinton administration (Foreignaffairs.

    om, 2014). Most Liberals favoured enlargement as they saw realism had ended as understood in the Cold War. Europe took on the Clinton enlargement idea as they saw the end of geopolitics and the liberal world view was accepted dogma between US officials as correct. Obama said in a speech that ideals that motivate western policy and how those ideals have been threaten by older more traditional view of power, meaning Russia, this was better summed up by John Kerry “You just don’t in the 21th century act as countries did in the 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumpet up pretext”.

    Affectively the two side are using different play books but once again you cannot discredit Putin for being irrational or non-strategic, a bit too close to homes and in need of a buffer zone Russia looks at Ukraine as the US did Cuba during the Cold War, (Foreignaffairs. com, 2014). There are creditable fears that having acted in the way Putin did he is testing the waters as he missed the Soviet Union and wants to restore it, so may act aggressive towards other nations in the EU, the spotting of a Russian like submarine in Swedish waters does not help to settle this fear. However Russia realistically cannot invade and occupy Ukraine, it has an outdated army and not a strong enough economy it would be quite like Afghanistan. However it is not just Russia that institutions fail to influence for the better, the US invasion of Iraq is now largely understood to be an illegal war and went against the wishes of NATO and international law showing that institutions as they are cannot contain super powers. The deduction from the arguments put forward is that while it may be a lovely idea that the harsh realities of anarchy in the system put forward by realism can be combated by institutions and in many ways, mostly cooperation has worked, it cannot be said that the current state of institutions is good enough to be proclaimed a true success.

    As long as bodies like NATO have no central force and not enough power to curve the actions of super powers they cannot be taken completely seriously as a new world structure. In the future institutions must be more forceful with their sanctions and understand that although many western states view the world changed since the end of the Cold War many do not and are operating from ‘a different play book’. That being said institutions are a good way to form some structure to the otherwise anarchical society in IR.


    Baldwin, D. (1993).  Neorealism and neoliberalism.

    New York: Columbia University Press. Brown, C. (2001).  Understanding international relations. New York: Palgrave.

    Bull, H. (2002).  The anarchical society. Basingstoke: Palgrave. Carlsnaes, W.

    , Risse-Kappen, T. and Simmons, B. (2002).  Handbook of international relations. London: SAGE Publications.

    Foreignaffairs. com, (2014).  John J. Mearsheimer | How the West Caused the Ukraine Crisis | Foreign Affairs.

    [online] Available at: http://www. foreignaffairs. com/articles/141769/john-j-mearsheimer/why-the-ukraine-crisis-is-the-wests-fault [Accessed 4 Dec. 2014].

    Goldstein, J. and Steinberg, R. (2010).  International institutions. London: SAGE. Lawson, S.

    (2003).  International relations. Cambridge, UK: Polity. Nau, H.

    (2007).  Perspectives on international relations. Washington, D. C.

    : CQ Press. Scott, W. (1995).  Institutions and organizations.

    Thousand Oaks: SAGE. Went, A. (1992), Anarchy is what States make of it: The Social Construction of Power Politics, International Organization, pp. [391] of 391-425

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