The Dartmouth Observer
Friday, October 07, 2005
State Weakness in International Relations
I apologize to all those who have been expecting more posts from me lately. I do have two posts that I have been working on since mid-September that will be ready for publication soon. The first concerns why gay marriage is and should be a federal issue. The second outlines my theory of constitutional interpretation. I just wrote a post, concerning state weakness which was erased by my computer that I am going to briefly recount.
The concept of state weakness, in international relations today, seems to be horribly flawed. Weakness is generally defined with respect to a state's material capabilities. If it can project force in its international relations for leverage, or, if it is generally safe from projections of power, be they market pressures or military ones, into its territory, a state is not weak. Failure to be able to do these things often leads the classification of a state as weak. There are three main flaws with this definition of weakness as I see it.
First, the definition presumes that weak states aspire to be like the great powers by assuming that all states have the same goals in an anarchic international system. Since the largest states are the most comfortable in their environment, and, have great leeway concerning the choices of other states, small and weak states covet the position, power, and privilege of these powerhouses for themselves. As they see it, the great powers are only subject the whims and preferences of other great powers with veracious appetites, whereas the smaller states are at the mercy of the international system. Great powers don't have to worry about state failure or collapse; the smaller powers do.
Second, the definition of weakness assumes that weak states are twice dazzled by the glory of the great powers. The first dazzling comes with the gross amount of power that great powers have with respect to small states. The second concerns the inability of the weak states to imagine an international relations absent the great powers. This lack of imagination leads the weak states to covet the lifestyles of the powers and emulate their strategies.
Third, the definition assumes that weakness is relative only on an objective, hierarchical scale. States can generally discern where they are on the listings (when they can't they have wars to sort them out), creating a situation where the most powerful states never need to fear being weak as long as they remain powerful. I believe that we need a more relative standard of power that grants a role to the weaker states in imaging their own future.