International Relations arose out of the notion of the world being divided into soverign states and a cursory look at any world map would seem to add credence to this claim.
Throughout history, the trend seems to be states pursuing self-interested political relations abroad. But is is this a good way in which to view the operation of power?
Theorists such as Stephen Walt argue that realist theory is alive and well, aptly describing the disorder of things. Yet in the interlinked, globalised world is this state based notion of soverignty still able to to be used to understand the world?
Realism, focuses on the primacy of the nation state, which must rely on its own power accumulation to maintain its security, and therefore survival.
The epitome of the modern state in the traditional conception is the United States. It dominates the settlements of the global economy and defines the terms of international development. It is the state looked to in times of international crisis, and to lead in addressing global challenges. It attempts to organise an anarchichal world through its power projection.
Many believe that the post cold war international arena is one of uni-polarity, dominated by the United States. Or is it?
The United States throughout the 21st Century has first hand experienced the limitations of its power. Most recently in Syria, where Obama’s assertion of american intervention in Syria fell flat when Russia, who has an ideaological interest in balancing U.S. blocked their attempts at intervention. A discourse which favours the concept of U.S. Hegemony and uni-polarity would be sorely misled if it did not recognise this as a significant and effective balancing act against U.S. Power.
The Rise of China perhaps presents the biggest challenge to US primacy through its effet on an international redistribution of power. Barack Obama, has in some ways aspired a shift away from U.S. uni polarity stating “Now more than ever, diplomacy and engagement are critical to rebuilding our alliances, repairing our relatiionships arounf the world, and actually making us more safe in the long term”. (Cite).
The balance of power theory (BoP) suggests that in a bi-polar world, each superpower is the only threat to the security of the other and each must balance against the other. When one looks at the United States Pivot towards the pacific and asian regions through this analysis seems readily applicable.
BoP predicts that rapid alteration of a states power and status will provoke counterbalancing actions maintaing the stability of relations between states. The drastic rise of china and its growing influence in the Asia Pacific challenges american hegemony in the area.
The Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) when viewed through such a lense can be seen as a balancing act by the United States. Through this formal partnership, the United States is able to increase its sphere of influence and power projection capabilities abroad through twelve pacific rim states.
In a globalised world, the US, although a dominant force militarily, culturally and economically, cannot act without the consent of other states. Thankfully, in a globalised world with Americas economic well being dependent upon China the motivations for peace and stability are increasingly important. Integrated commercial relations makes war less likely under liberalism. Those who benefit from strong, mutually beneficial tradings relationships will be far less likely to wage war. In this way, the treatment prescribed by liberals since the 18th Century has not changed. The illness of war can be treated through free trade and commerce which will unite the world in a globalised community.
In the globalised world balancing requires a more nuanced approach rather than projecting pure military force as is reminiscent of the Cold War. This perhaps shows an evolution in traditional thinking about international relations and the interactions between states. The bringing of order through balancing through soft power in the anarchichal international system may work to the benefit of international law, justice and economies.
The TPP will leverage US power in a way which avoids coercive, military actions in the region. The TPP, if signed, would secure US power embedding the fundamentals of a western-oriented political and economc system within the Asia–Pacific region such that China is incentivised to integrate rather than oppose it.
The TPP and corresponding US rebalance to Asia can be understood as a balancing act in an globalised world with many different meaningful actors. It is an attempt to institutionalise a western-oriented system within the region securing US structural power. The TPP is thus a realist balancing act which restructures the broader international relations within the Asia-Pacific region imposes a US-centred framework to contain the rise of China and secure US Hegemony into the future.
The TPP may herald the replacement of coercive destruction with diplomacy when it comes to interactions between superpowers in the international system.