Realpolitik versus Realistic Politics

By Johan Galtung

School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution – Arlington, VA, USA – April 11, 2016

Classical Realpolitik is the priority in US foreign relations. Let force decide issues, if possible by threat, if necessary by fighting to the end.

The two traditional nominees for the US Presidency, Cruz and Clinton, both advocate open violence; Cruz by “carpet bombing” and by patrolling Muslim neighborhoods making use of force credible, Clinton by standing by her past record of bombing Muslim countries.

Trump, distancing himself from both Clinton belligerence and Cruz patrolling, deepens underlying conflicts in a most unfortunate way by stirring up prejudice and discrimination against Muslims and Mexicans. He wants a fence, built by Mexico, forcing them out.

Sanders is so focused on US domestic inequality that he remains vague on foreign policy. However, he might steer US discourse as well as foreign policy by arguing more positive policies; examples below.

Net conclusion: the two official candidates, Clinton and Cruz, are more similar than they are to their intra-party rivals. Paul Krugman (INYT 5/6 Mar 2016) throws the official Republican (former) candidate Rubio “con artist” for Donald Trump back at Ryan-Cruz-Rubio. And Thomas Friedman, “Only Trump can trump Trump” (INYT 10 Mar 2016), says that should Trump become the nominee and elected, he has a lot of space to maneuver towards the center, away from his extreme positions. “He will have no problem playing the moderate unifier”.

Nevertheless, Trump may already have helped gravediggers dig his grave.

Both Clinton and Cruz have credibility problems. Democrats may find Clinton’s turn toward the left incredible and prefer Sanders as more genuine; Republicans may find Cruz’ Tea Party extremism incredible and prefer Trump. With Sanders-Trump unavailable, high abstention?

However, in the US delegatocracy, very cleverly crafted to protect the USA against democracy, alternatives may still appear/be drafted.

US Realpolitik has led to more than 20 million killed in 37 countries after WWII, while the US relative economic, military – not cultural – position in the world declines. This should lead to a search for something realistic, solving problems rather than adding new problems to the old; solidifying the US position.

What does it take to make US foreign policy more realistic? New ways of thought more than political decisions and economic allocations.

Identify the positive, good in the other big world actors, Russia-India-China-Islam-EU-Africa-Latin America, learn from positives, and link their good to the US good, for cooperation and harmony.

To promote peace, cooperation must be equitable – mutual and equal benefit – and harmony must be based on empathy – deep understanding of others. Know the shadows of history, often long and deep, to concile past traumas, and to better solve present and future conflicts.

Keep in the back of your mind possible threats from other actors and be strong on non-provocative defensive defense without being paranoid, narcissist, exceptionalist, pre-polarized – just being realistic, not naive.

Is this act of change, based on consciousness, too demanding when “my old thought brought me and others downhill; I need new thought”? No, but the new consciousness and the new thought have to be enacted.

The USA has a strong tendency to think in terms of hierarchy and anarchy, forgetting the third option, equity; also to demand that others see the US as positive and good while focusing on their negative and bad; too often resorting to arms instead of conciling traumas – solving conflicts. Yet, Americans who revolted against colonialism and abolished their own slavery may also question their own foreign policy and abolish their own imperialism and warmongering. After having abolished two institutional scourges of humanity it would be well advised to abolish two more.

The gains are obvious and will be quick in coming: true greatness, loved by others, leadership, getting out of the increasing irrelevance.

History moves quickly these days and most states in the world are actually practicing those points – subconsciously, building vast regions with considerable cooperation and harmony. That trend should reach USA and Israel, and the UK – presently at a tipping-point – those three becoming less belligerent would move the world toward much more peace. Nonetheless, there are deeper forces than the consciousness in three states.

There are forces built into the state system itself, pushing the system toward direct or structural violence. We are thinking of rank disequilibrium and rank incongruence, systemic forces unknown to most, hence even more powerful. States are ranked in economic, military, political and cultural power. Power is four-dimensional; they are High or Low on all; HHHH at the top, LLLL at the bottom, powerless.

However, actors–state or sub-state may be high on one and low on another, disequilibrated, yearning to lift the lagging dimension(s) up for equilibrium. Moreover, two of them may have opposite disequilibria, HL and LH, like one high on the economy and low on the military, the other low on the economy and high on the military.

Whereas rank disequilibrium may be a dilemma for that actor to solve, rank discordance involves two (or more) actors and may lead beyond a dispute to glowing hatred, blatant violence. Working on their disequilibria both head for the coveted, contested, narrow HH niche.

There is a “solution”: All equilibrated, HH, LL. But that was feudalism; generally more structural violence – as political power in major organizations reflects economic power. The system may oscillate between direct and structural violence with the temptation to simply with force: Realpolitik. See Abolishing War – Criminalizing War, Removing War Causes, Removing War as Institution, TRANSCEND University Press-TUP, 2015.

There is a way out shown by NGOs: make actors, H and L, members of an organization with a shared, overarching goal. That organization today is known as a region, community, union. Could a United Regions without the veto possibly promote peace better than the United Nations?

Originally published at Transcend Media Service here.

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