Apr 9, 2020 in Society

Structuralism Theory vs. Reductionist Theory in International Relations

As a consequence of the interaction of international actors, one cannot reduce the structure of the international system to the simple sum of these interactions. This is due to the fact that international relations are an independent phenomenon, which is able to impose certain restrictions on the states. However, it offers them the opportunities on the world stage. Additionally,  according to the structuralism, the structural properties of the international system are not actually dependent on any efforts that the small and medium-sized states make. They are a result of interactions between the great powers. This means that it is peculiar to them and the ‘natural state’ of international relations. As for the interaction between the great powers and other states, then they cannot be characterized as anarchist, because they acquire other forms, which are often dependent on the will of the great powers. Accordingly, it is important to consider the theories of the international relations. Therefore, this paper will focus on the structural and reductionist theories of international relations.

The supporters and followers of structuralism developed its main provisions for regional systems, which are regarded as the intermediate between the global and international state systems. According to the structuralism theory, the most important feature of regional systems is the security complex. The idea of structuralism concerns the structure of the international relations. Its essence is that the neighboring states are so closely connected with each other in matters of security that the national security of one of them cannot be separated from the national security of the others. The basis of the structure of any of the regional subsystems consists of two factors, namely the distribution of opportunities between existing actors and the relationship of friendliness or hostility between them. Simultaneously, it is a subject of manipulation of the great powers. The structural theory’s elements are centered on the main one, the anarchy, which is the core of the theory. The other elements are domination, political field (and its analysis), and political power. All these elements constitute the essence of the theory as well as help it function and analyze the essence of the international relations.

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The analysis of international relations is presented in structuralism philosophical works of French structuralists, such as Foucault, Roland Barthes, Jacques Lacan, Derrida, J. Lyotard, Jean Baudrillard, and others. The adherents of structuralism in international political science insist that structuralism is not the best approach to understanding of international relations, because they are full of uncertainty. International relations are not only closely connected to the objective processes, but they are also dependent on the preferences of a variety of individuals with the values that are inherent in them, such as ideals, prejudices etc. Hence, “the concept of structure is based on the fact that units differently juxtaposed and combined behave differently and in interacting produce different outcomes”. From the perspective of the structuralism approach, the international relations are not only the result of the process of political and other actions. In fact, they are the product of people’s knowledge, which involves the research tools as well as the language; they depend on the interpretation of the relevant texts. As a result, international relations do not exist as some independent ‘objects’ in addition to the perceiver and the creator of a ‘collective subject.’

The representatives of structuralism (gaining relatively independent significance) argue that foreign policy is a continuation of internal relations. However, the national interest and/or the internal dynamics of the international system do not play a decisive role in determining foreign policy. In fact, the most important is the changing structure of the international system: being ultimately an indirect result of governing the states as well as a consequence of their very nature, they establish the relationship between them, and, at the same time, dictate their laws. Thus, the question of structuralism concerning the mutual interaction between the domestic and foreign politicians is to be resolved eventually in favor of foreign policy.

In general, the international relations structure consists of the elements of interaction: on the one hand, there are the countries, or the actors, who focus on achieving their aims. On the other hand, however, there are opposite sides, those who are the contradictory actors. They include the villain actors who pursue their own purposes, which frequently results in the military conflicts. Hence, the structure of the international relations consists of the element of the one side and the element of the opposition(s). The structuralism theory tends to contribute to the limitless world in the understanding of the extent to which it is possible. While the reductionist ideas create the limitations to the theory of the international relations, the structuralism theory organizes a system of how the various elements are supposed to function.  

Another theory which is worth considering in the framework of the international relations is the reductionist theory. According to Waltz, “a reductionist theory is a theory about the behavior of parts. Once the theory that explains the behavior of the parts is fashioned, no further effort is required”. In the theory of international relations, the reductionism approach gains momentum when the principles of scientific change are active: fundamentalism principle is questionable, defending only the best way to solve any organizational problems. When reviewing the role and importance of the principle of reductionism, it is possible to state that it serves as the scientific justification for the idea of the universality of the basic laws and regulations in their classical ideal. Reductionist theory applies the principles of the  depersonalism denial. According to them, the personal qualities of people do not have the character of important and relevant factors, and the people themselves are considered only in terms of their functioning roles as parts of a single institutional mechanism.

Reductionism is inevitably fraught with fragmentation of the object under the study that contradicts the declared commitment of polemology of the macrosociological paradigm. Polemology originates from the principles of structuralism, which focuses on minimizing the damage from the causes of armed conflict entailing the devastating consequences concerning its proclaimed research goals and objectives. First, it causes mistrust in its ability to generate long-term outlook on the possibilities of wars and their character. Second, it leads to the actual opposition of the war as a dynamic state of the world community. This approach of reductionism does not actually concern the challenges, such as the transformation of resources into successful political action or ways of implementing powers on the international stage. In addition, it does not allow classifying the convincing force of its individual types (military, economic, etc.) or forms (‘hard’ and ‘soft’ power).Moreover, due to the reductionism’s approach to solving problems at the global level (i.e., the level of international relations), it is not always possible to apply the same methods to various situations. The fact that the main principle of reductionism is to apply the same tools and regulations to the bigger problems which are initially applied to those which are considered simple does not enable solving all the major problems. Such an approach to solving challenges is arguable enough in scientific circles and requires more justification and proofs. In comparison with structuralism (and its various directions), reductionism does not help in solving military conflicts or those military situations which are economically based. It means that the essence of the theory of reductionism does not fulfill the current requirements towards the peacekeeping policies due to the fact that the theory has the other postulates. In other words, applying the same models of solution of the smaller problems to the bigger challenges does not make any contribution to the development of the international relations.

To conclude, the theory of international relations has undergone numerous changes. The analysis of the structuralism and reductionism theories proved the fact that none of them is flawless or can solve the existing global problems. Hence, there is an urgent need to introduce the proper changes to the theories to ensure their appropriate and more fruitful functioning. Such an approach will help simplify the numerous conflicts and tensions which are present at the time.

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