What International Relations framework is most capable of dealing with global terrorism in the 21st Century and beyond? This is a question I have been asked several times. There is a short answer and a slightly longer answer. The short answer: Constructivism is the best approach because it’s not blinded by ideology and special interest distortions. But regardless of what label you use, any approach that takes into account the domestic political, economic, and cultural dynamics within and between nation-states will always yield superior long-term results compared to an approach that only looks at domestic or interstate dynamics. This should seem obvious to anybody with a high school education.
The Delusion of Structural Realism. It is shocking to many people to learn that the rational and integrative approach to international relations I described above is literally the exact opposite of the official doctrine that the U.S. foreign policy establishment has embraced since World War II. Instead of taking domestic politics, economics, and cultural considerations in each country seriously, and crafting American foreign policy in good faith accordingly, virtually every U.S. administration since WWII has officially adopted the destructive ideology of “Structural Realism.” For those who don’t know, policymakers who are guided by the ideology of Structural Realism explicitly ignore domestic factors in each country in favor of a more simplistic “unitary,” “rational actor model” of state behavior.
The Virus of Structural Realism Spawns the Disease of Terrorism. The theoretical model of state behavior embodied by Structural Realism bears virtually no resemblance to the way states and their constituent systems and human communities actually behave and influence one another in the real world. So what is the consequence of the most powerful country on Earth being guided by a delusional ideology? It’s like a pathological infection—a virus—that invades a living organism: Structural Realism has caused so much damage to the International System that it has created a degenerative geopolitical disease called “global terrorism.” In fact, the pain of those who suffer from terrorist attacks is a symptom of the pathology of Structural Realism. Sadly, this pathology and the disease of global terrorism that it has spawned is now a plague that impacts virtually every nation on Earth.
Structural Realists Have a Binary Decision. Globally pervasive terrorist groups fundamentally undermine the theory of Structural Realism. Structural Realists cannot even begin to understand the nature and cause of a terrorist attack, its impact on states, and the most effective response, without taking the time to understand the intra-state political, economic, and cultural conditions that inspire each terrorist attack. But one of the foundational principles of Structural Realism is that the domestic political, economic, and cultural dynamics within a state are entirely irrelevant to the distribution of power and behavior of states in an anarchic international system. As a result, Structural Realists today are forced to make a binary decision: (a) redefine their entire worldview and methodological approach to analyzing international relations; or (b) continue to ignore and misunderstand the intrastate dynamics that have been directly causing most of the instability and violence in our world since WWII.
The Sinister Underbelly of Structural Realism. Regardless of which binary option Structural Realists choose, if they are being intellectually honest with themselves, they will admit that their methodology is deeply flawed and Structural Realism is incapable of guiding political leaders toward a more peaceful world. If they are brutally honest with themselves, they will admit that their methodology and religious embrace of Structural Realism is the direct cause of virtually all the major problems in the world today. If they are viciously honest with themselves, they will admit that “Structural Realism” is merely a code phrase for:
Our foreign policy is to dominate every aspect of the planet to serve our personal careers, to serve the financial interests of the special interest groups who support our careers, and to personally benefit in every possible way from our morally bankrupt, deeply hypocritical, and habitually short-sighted regime at the expense of everyone else.
Staring at the Moon Doesn’t Get Us to Mars. There is no meaningful way to reconcile Structural Realism with the real world of International Relations today. The Structural Realist’s myopic focus on interstate power distribution without sincere regard for the most salient factors within states that actually drive interstate dynamics is like trying to send a human colony to Mars by staring at the Moon. Without understanding the granular physics of gravity, energy, propulsion, light, velocity, mass, combustion, electricity, planetary climate patterns, and all the chemistry that is required to sustain life, a mission to Mars would be an utter failure.
Foreign Policy “Experts” Are Destroying Civil Liberty and Economic Freedom Worldwide. The foreign policy establishment of the U.S. Government over the past 75 years has habitually failed to sincerely take into account the most important intra-state factors that have driven inter-state dynamics between nations since WWII. By staring at the distant lunar surface of their self-imprisoning anarchic system and assuming that’s all they need to see, so-called foreign policy “experts” are destroying civil liberty and economic freedom worldwide. The result is an increasingly dystopic Earth that makes many humans feel like they want to move to Mars.