sabato 14 febbraio 2015

The role of reason of State for the phenomenology of international alliances

To understand the international relations it is useful to consider the world as an anarchical arena in which every State holds full sovereignty and is independent in taking political decisions. Unlike the relations within the State among different political institutions and actors, in the international relations it does not exist a hierarchy of powers nor is there a supreme binding judicial body that may syndicate on the respect of international law or punish the transgressors of it. Let us remember, for instance, that the International Court of Justice can have jurisdiction over a case only if the involved actors agree. In truth, the international relations are the consequence of particularistic and opportunistic considerations oriented toward the augmentation of national prestige, power and welfare.
In this context, the theory of rational choice plays a key role. This theory, albeit borrowed from economics, states within the international relations that an actor attempts to achieve the greatest possible benefit with the lower costs: in other words, it is convenient to do nothing else but pursue the greater good, avoid the greater evil, or at least, to settle for the lesser evil or good. Applying the theory to the theoretical principles of international collaboration, it represents the model through which international alliances and foreign policies choices are conceived and developed. The calculation of the costs and benefits of an offensive or defensive alliance, the right granted to foreign troops to transit over a land, the conclusion of trade agreements, and any other form of negotiation wholly rely on realistic and strategic analyzes that see in international interaction a range of opportunities that can be more or less profitable. 
Now, one of the consequences of an international order that applies on equal terms the theory of rational choice is the consolidation of territorial stability following the principles of the balance of power. Wrought by English policymakers and strategists, the principle of the balance of power was typically characteristic of the eighteenth century, and it finally affirmed in the European continent during the nineteenth century after the Restoration. The balance of power is one of the key concepts of realist thought and refers to that condition in which political leaders manage to avoid or suspend the natural propensity to war by mutually fostering a kind of balance that equilibrates their geopolitical weight. This would lead to the making of a stable and ordered international system that could overcome international anarchy.  
In order to achieve the balance of power, there are two main strategies, albeit complementary, to implement:

1) Make sure that the power of a stronger political entity, such as an empire, is reduced in order to rebalance its relevance in favor of lesser political entities.

2) Increase the power of the weaker political actor in order to resize the gap of power towards the other actors of the international system with which it interacts.

In practice, these strategies contemplate four different mechanisms aimed at achieving international balance:

1) Divide et impera:  it consists in avoiding the creation of excessively strong coalitions, and in pursuing the annihilation of powerful alliances that either already exist or are being created. The existence of extremely forceful political poles makes it more demanding to conceive counter-balancing strategies.

2) Compensations and territorial partition: this avoids the possibility that a single actor manages to take possession of an excessive quantity of resources and lands, and it helps to compensate the disadvantages that affect the weaker actors of the international system.

3) Dissuasive strategies: consisting in the implementation of policies liable to deter other players of the system from falling prey to greed and lust of conquest, and thus in making choices that can threaten the territorial integrity and survival of the weakest actors, with the risk of unbalancing and altering the international system.

4) Calculated alliances: The aim consists in benefiting from a mechanism that allows fast shifts of the weights, counterweights and powers within the system. This mechanism works best when there is a country that can play the role of balancer for the fact of being in a relatively independent position than other players. The balancer should also be strong enough to be able to intervene in the game of alliances, redistributing the political weights through appropriate choices and in considering mandatory the need of preserving the balance of power.

In fact, these mechanisms require two different tools to find concrete application: war and diplomacy.
Moreover, the political entities that are able to implement these strategies are inevitably those who are either already sufficiently mighty to impose their will on others, or those that, having won a war or a military campaign, have gained a political superiority over the others that allows them to dictate their conditions at the negotiations for peace. In the latter case, the relevance of the winner’s will depends on the importance and degree of the attained victory. So, as it is true that winners write history, it is equally true that winners are those that establish a balance of power that is compatible and, where possible, convergent with their geopolitical strategies.  
Unfortunately, the birth of international stability through realism does not always follow ethical rules: it often happens that cynicism plays a decisive role instead.
One of the greatest expressions of the philosophical concept of cynicism is that named after “reason of State”:  this is a statolatric vision that considers the political power of a country and the supreme interests of the sovereign as propeller engines for political action and a source of inspiration for strategies. Although some theories of international relations believe that the international order relies on idealistic, somewhat naïve, principles, it is difficult to deny that the international community, now as in the past, is rather the result of cynical designs aimed at increasing the welfare of the State (or at least of a group of individuals within the State). 
In his pamphlet entitled "Perpetual Peace. A Philosophical Sketch "(“Zum ewigen Frieden. Ein philosophischer Entwurf”), Immanuel Kant believed he had found antidotes to international wars exposing them in a philosophical-political program which had for ultimate goal the establishment of a global confederation: in the opinion of the great philosopher of Königsberg, the creation of a worldwide confederation of nations would have forever averted war. At the end of the essay, under the appendix heading "On the discrepancy between morality and politics towards perpetual peace", he lists three political strategies - or, in Kant's words, "sophistical standards". He believed they were based on a ruthless and Machiavellian reason of state that did not allow the achievement of a clear and transparent international coexistence, threatening the occurrence of general peace. The stratagems are the following:  

1) Fac et excusa: It is convenient to seize the favorable opportunity for an arbitrary taking of possession both of a right of the State over its own people and of a right over another neighboring folk. Through a fait accompli, the justification would occur much easier and violence would be masked with greater happiness than in the case of looking for pervious convincing reasons and waiting for the objections of the counterpart.

2) Si fecisti, nega: It is opportune to deny the proper blame for all things that happened and occurred, arguing that the blame is to find in other persons or forces.

Immanuel Kant

3) Divide et impera: For Kant, this principle could have two aspects. The internal aspect within the State occurs when strategists try to divide the leaders of the people, and bringing them into conflict with the people in order to gain their own legitimacy to become rulers. The external aspect within the foreign relations considers the production of international crises and discords led to the appearance of a joyful third actor that benefits from the rivals’ divisions and can carry forward the gradual subjugation of other States under the guise of an assistance to the weakest.

For Kant, the whole reason of state can be summed up in the will of the great powers that derives by the increasing of its power regardless of the manner through which this increase was achieved.
In truth, there is a peculiar discipline of international relations influenced by the rational choice theory and by a realistic background inspired to the reason of state: this the so-called science of alliances.

If we consider the foreign policy of the main European powers during the eighteenth century, we may theorize the existence of four types of alliances based on the following valuation parameters: symmetry / asymmetry and homogeneity / heterogeneity of the covenant.
Usually, it is a custom to mark the differences between alliances basing them on different parameters: duration (permanent, temporary, occasional, etc.); effectiveness (operational, ineffective); goals in relation to third States (offensive, defensive, or both species together); nature of the casus foederis; degree of military supply; interests at stake; geopolitical position of the members and rivals (think of the "belt of satellites", the "buffer zone", the “chessboard”, the "independent aggregation" of small States, the ''balance of alignment", the “stalemate” between major powers, etc.); the equal or unequal commitment of the parties; the number of the parties; the distribution of benefits between them, etc.
An alliance is symmetric when it is composed of two or more States that are more or less strategically equal, and this equality produces profitable exchanges of benefits for these interdependent parts. Contrariwise, an alliance is asymmetrical when the parties manifest disequilibrium of power, and this inequality tends to lead the stronger components to dominate the weaker links of the alliance. The alliances between the great powers and those between small powers belong to the category of alliances symmetrical, whereas those between large and small powers to that of the asymmetric: thus, it plays a crucial role identifying small and great powers and their split. Power relations between allies provide important indications: if these relations are equal, the allies have relations of exchange; if they are unequal, they establish a relationship of domination on the one hand and dependence on the other. Therefore, alliances are homogeneous if the contracting States obey to converging constraints or respond to mutually compatible opportunities, and this context predisposes States to work together in a way that promises to be mutually beneficial. On the contrary, alliances are heterogeneous if States obey to divergent constraints or respond to opportunities mutually contradictory, and this discourages a close cooperation because threatens at least one of the allies to be counterproductive or at least disadvantageous. Hence, in homogenous alliances, States find themselves in the situation in which if the ally decides to retreat this would be harmful for both (A supports B because if it would not it be damaged). Instead, in heterogeneous alliances, this context leads States to consider their support to an ally as the factor of their possible damage (A does not support B because if it did it would be damaged).
There are four types of alliance categories:

1) Aggregation alliance: it is a symmetric and homogenous alliance that conceives the prevalence of a "common cause" between allies whose relations of power are roughly equal. It requires a double balance: equal dependent relations and a set of external conditions that are pointing in the same direction, whether defensive or offensive. On the one hand, the symmetry makes all allies extremely sensitive to the possibility of an excessive strengthening of others, it implies a bargaining process conducted by similar positions of power and implies that the abandonment of others would lead to serious danger. On the other hand, homogeneity dilutes the concern of excessive strengthening of one part, rising the opposite danger that the ally will weaken too much. Ultimately, within the alliance, allies work together under the conditions fixed by mutual agreement. Historically alliance aggregation was that contracted by Britain and Prussia in 1756-62, during the Seven Years' War through which the two powers fought together.

2) Warranty alliance: it is an asymmetric and homogeneous alliance that provides for the existence of a "common cause" that joins the allies, whose balance of power, however, are unbalanced in favor of one of them. The asymmetry implies that the balance of power and the strategic importance of the contracting parties is unequal and that is tilted in favor of one of them. The homogeneity means that the negotiations between the parties will take place in accommodative condition in the interests of the weaker party: this is the meaning of the "warranty" offered by the stronger, even if the content of the agreements reflects primarily the preferences of the latter. In essence, then, here the allies work together under the conditions set by one of them. Historically it is an example of the alliance signed between Britain and the United Provinces of the Netherlands 1702-56, in which, of course, the condition of supremacy belonged to the first power.

Frederick the Great of Prussia
3) Stalemate alliance: it is a symmetric and heterogeneous alliance made up of allies that bear a similar strategic power, and the "common cause" coexists with a series of "special causes" that are considered as important as the first. The symmetry means that no one can move freely without the support or consent of others, but by virtue of heterogeneity, such consent will be given hardly, except in rare cases, and due to tough bargaining. The characteristic feature of this type of alliance is therefore a mutual impediment resulting from a coercive negotiation process from positions of strength substantially similar; here the allies must inevitably coexist, but are often at odds on key issues and tend to drag each other in different directions. Therefore, despite the apparent agreement, within the alliance allies will inhibit each other, but they are somehow “allied rivals”, with divergent interests. A historical example may be the alliance between France and Austria of 1756-85, two powers historically opponents who decide to join the efforts to contain the power of new States on the rise, firstly the Kingdom of Prussia.

4) Hegemon alliance: it is an asymmetric and heterogeneous alliance made by States that, at the same time, are united by a "common cause" and separated by some "special causes", but here the allies are, unlike the stalemate alliance, behold an unequal power. Heterogeneity also introduces here a coercive element in negotiations between allies but the asymmetry causes that the strategic relevance of an ally ally is not equal to that of another. It follows that in this context, an ally shapes the decisions of another ally, who follows him reluctantly. One of the historical examples that represents this case is the alliance between Britain and France in 1716-31, when France despite being potentially even stronger, in terms of resources, than England, finds herself, for a number of reasons, in a position of dependence towards the ally, pushing her to conform to her wishes, although from a subordinate position.


C. Simon-Belli, Teorie delle relazioni internazionali, Perugia, Guerra Edizioni, 2002.

I. Kant, Per la Pace Perpetua, Roma, Editori Riuniti, 2005.

M. Cesa, Alleati ma rivali. Teoria delle alleanze e politica estera settecentesca, Bologna, Il Mulino, 2007.

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