There is no course on “Realism” in the discipline of Politics and International relations that does not prescribe Prof. Morgenthau’s Politics Among Nations: The struggle for Power and Peace. In fact, I first came in to contact with the school of Realism by reading Prof. Kenneth Waltz’s Man, the State, and War.
Unless the very last man in this world is convinced to give up his pursuit of political power through violent means, the words of realists – from Kautilya to Morgenthau and Waltz are going to be relevant in managing the international affairs. The abstract conceptions which are at times too simplistic in their prescriptions just cannot solve the problem – prevention of war.
It is no surprise that in the aftermath of second world war practitioners of foreign policy and diplomats used this book as a ready reckoner for issues that needed some clear direction. And the realistic school of thought has only grown in strength ever since.
Some of Prof. Morgenthau’s great contributions through this is work is to explain the concepts of Balance of Power, Comprehensive National Power, Sovereignty, Ideological element in International politics, Perpetual Struggle between Status Quo & Political Change, Policy of prestige, certain aspects in Diplomacy, Total war, Collective security & Disarmament etc.,
Hobbes writes the natural state of man as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” With that as a reality security for everyone is an impossible thing to achieve. Since power is not equally distributed, the one with power than the other is tempted to go to war, as he is convinced that his power is considerably more than his opponent. It is a vicious cycle. The belligerent thinks that because he has some level of power he cannot just sit quite, if he is not going to attack the other, the other will attack him for the same objective (Political Power). Extrapolating this state of nature to the context of Nation state, we realize that states (or empires) cannot be at war with all, all the time. Hence, they seek to negotiate with each other to what degree or level, power can be possessed by each other at a given point of time with certain factors remaining constant.
It should be taken for granted that all violence in this world is because of the constant struggle between “Status Quo and Change”. The Church with the help of political power wants to convert every human being in to Christianity through any means and the proponents of Islam want to turn the world in to a caliphate that goes with either communists or capitalists for example, the possibility of violence is imminent hence the possibility of war. So, the conflict is inevitable. If power is a limited source, and at a given time a particular international setup (Status Quo) favors US and not Russia, then Russia would seek to overthrow the status quo for the sake of multiplying its power, and US would defend the status quo with all the means possible as the status quo favors it.
To change the status quo means war, and war as a means involves costs on both sides, hence the two warring groups negotiate the terms to redistribute the power. Hence, they maintain the equilibrium. If state A has 10 missiles and state B has 15, then both may negotiate on the number of missiles both are allowed to have at a given time and agree that either A increase the count to 15 or B reduce it to 10 is balance of power. Now both know that they are equals (once balance is achieved), one cannot attack the other without destroying each other completely. Balance is attained, so the reduction of the possibilities of war.
But in the international scene it is not so simple, the players are many and the factors that impact these calculations are dynamic. To understand Balance of Power among nations one should know what is National Power? Especially on this Prof. Morgenthau has done a yeoman service by theorizing Comprehensive National Power and the elements that constitute it. I recommend all to at least read that chapter alone if not the whole book.
With the resurgence of eastern powers like China and India, the conflict between the defenders of status quo and the players who seek change is only going to get more severe. And the prescriptions of Prof. Morgenthau will only help us traverse through the hard times that lie ahead.