The International Anarchy

It follows that in a ‘non-cooperative game’ such as the one we find ourselves in today on an international level, beliefs play the role of filling the void left by incomplete information. For the agents and players involved in a non-cooperative game, incomplete information can either be a boon or a bane, and it can either be an advantage or a disadvantage to all the agents and players involved. But what also entails incomplete information is that most of what is out there is mere conjecture and speculation. And as we have come to learn, mere conjecture and speculation does not cut it for us. Mere conjecture and speculation is the business of Richard Haass and Fareed Zakaria and the like, not ours. Moreover, the system would prefer having us embroiled in craziness and madness and the recurrence of smaller games, as long as the system is getting good and high-quality data and information from us as a result of the craziness and madness and smaller games and in turn apply the data and information to the broader non-cooperative game. 

As mentioned before, American foreign policy in the 21st century lodged all of us into a “Hobbesian state of nature” and in turn a state of anarchy and lawlessness on an international level, which in turn had domestic consequences and implications for all countries. But one might be interested in knowing what ‘anarchy’ means in terms of the semantics and terminology of international relations and what an “anarchical state” entails. 

In a sense, anarchy stems from the lack of an enforcement mechanism for international law. In sum, and as Kenneth Waltz wrote: “With many sovereign states, with no system of law enforceable among them, with each state judging its grievances and ambitions according to the dictates of its own reason or desire – conflict, sometimes leading to war, is bound to occur.” Waltz added: “To achieve a favorable outcome from such conflict a state has to rely on its own devices, the relative efficiency of which must be its constant concern.” 

Anarchy means “there is no automatic harmony” to borrow from Waltz. And when such a condition exists, it follows that all states must prepare to use force and in turn increase their capabilities and resources for the use of force or to counter the force used by other states. As Waltz wrote: “Because any state may at any time use force, all states must constantly be ready either to counter force with force or to pay the cost of weakness.” 

Preparation for conflict and the use of force is “imposed by the circumstances in which all states exist” – namely, anarchy and a “Hobbesian state of nature.” It follows that “love affairs between states are inappropriate and dangerous” because the anarchical state of the international system means “the aim of maintaining the power position of the nation is paramount to all other considerations.” 

In turn, and as Americans, we must ask ourselves what it is that we are maintaining our power position relative towards? In other words, vis-à-vis the power position of all other states, whose power position is of primary concern relative to the power position of the American state? In a renewed Cold War context in the 21st century, these questions are arguably more relevant for Americans than ever before, or at least as relevant as they were in the Cold War context of the 20th century. 

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