United States Perception on the Stage of International Relations

Do you think the United States needs to be contained? Does it need to be balanced?

If we look at international relations from the domestic and international perspectives, and theorize that inside of a state exists a hierarchy and outside of the state exists anarchy, then it is necessary to address two issues: how is or, perhaps, how should, the U.S. desires to be perceived on the stage of international relations, and how are our actions (actions here meaning force or influence for means of obtaining political power) or inactions actually perceived. Perception, as inadequate as it is, resting in no definite, and influenced by the state’s social, economic, and cultural influences on legitimate force, is addressed by Machiavelli and Robert J. Art.

It is necessary, for this assessment to look at the state as a hierarchy existing among an external sphere of anarchy. Within the state there exists order and law, validated by the ability of the hierarchy to judge right and wrong and the power to enforce judgment on the individuals within the state. However, outside of the state there is not any one supreme authority to appeal to for judgment, nor does any actor posses legitimate force or influence by which to enforce any such judgment on such a scale (universally equal to all other states) so as to be an authority over all. It is because of this lack of authority that outside of the state there exists anarchy.

Upon that clarification, we can now address the first of our two factors. How should we (The United States) desire to be perceived on the stage of international relations? According to Machiavelli it is “much safer to be feared than to be loved, when you have to choose between the two” (as cited in Kaufmann, 2004, p. 138). However, should a state be feared on the international stage it is best not to be hated. This Machiavelli argues can be accomplished by abstaining from taking property and from inflicting capital punishment without just cause. This allows love and fear to exist together. Love exists out of a feeling of obligation, which naturally will be broken if to promote the interest of the obliged, thus it is necessary for fear to exist and operate together with love in order for the preservation and prosperity of a state. According to Machiavelli, “ a wise prince [state] should always rely upon himself, and not upon the will of others; but, above all, should he [it] always strive to avoid being hated” (as cited in Kaufmann, 2004, p. 139).

As for the second factor of how the United States is actually perceived do to our actions or inactions, it is necessary to look at the Four Functions of Force (1966), as addressed by Robert J. Art. These forces, according to Art, are defensive, deterrent, compellent, and swaggering. The problem with the purposes of force is the perception of their characteristics. Art states this in saying, “[f]irst we need to know the motives behind an act in order to judge its purpose; but the problem is that motives cannot be readily inferred from actions because several motives can be served by the same action”(as cited in Kaufmann, 2004, p. 139). Therefore, these four forces, some more easily attainable, and some more easily recognizable than others, who’s mode of implementation can be peaceful for all four, or physical for defensive and compellent, have characteristics that, depending on perception, can be misconstrued as threatening, or an aggressive motive, instead of an act for the “satisfaction of personal ambitions” (p. 83) or an act of defense.

It is because of these variables in the perception of the United State’s use of force, or lack thereof, that it is not necessary, nor possible to be balanced. For this example, if existing independently and separate in a sphere of anarchy it would have to be concluded that it is not possible to be balanced, as there is a constant struggle amongst all actors to obtain power, and the lack of all to recognize any one actor as supreme to the others. Therefore, without simultaneous mutual consent to recognize one supreme authority, balance is not necessary nor is it attainable.

In light of the aforementioned, I conclude that it is best to retreat to a Machiavellian philosophy in our conduct on the stage of international relations. It is not necessary to be balanced, if the goal is preservation of state, nor is it best to be contained. It is best, however, to be loved and feared, if possible together, while maintaining the ability to be self-reliable.

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Profile Photo Candace Riddle

It is not a "bogus term paper". But it is my contribution to a prior discussion and debate amongst political theorists. Believe it or not, such discussion and analysis is applicable to current policy decisions and international relations (ie. carbon emissions issues, national security, and global economic policy).

If you are not a scholar of political science and have no interest in engaging in such debate, I certainly understand. However, in the future, I would politely ask that you refrain from discounting someone's work as "bogus". If you are indeed a Ph.D. in your field, then I'm sure you can understand the insult I take in regards to this accusation.

As for others who wish to engage in relevant debate and discussions regarding current international relations issues, they are quite welcomed.