Iraq has been a country in turmoil for almost a century. Just in the past 50 years, they have been involved in countless conflicts with neighboring countries and farther countries in the international community. In this essay I will present the core assumptions of the international politics theories neorealism and liberalism and also apply these theories to Iraq’s foreign relations during the 1980s and 1990s.
When applying these theories to Iraq’s relations with their neighboring countries and also the United States, realism best used to describe them because Iraq has historically been very concerned with its own relative power and always remain wary and insecure of others.
The theory of neorealism in international relations is one that focuses strongly on the international system. Neorealists have very determining views of the international system, and John Mearsheimer concludes that results in five key assumptions of the international system. One assumption is that the international system is inherently anarchic, meaning not that there is chaos, but rather that there is the absence of a central authority over the entire international field (Mearsheimer, 54).
Neorealists assume that the military capabilities of powerful states pose dangers to each other and that it is right for states to be wary of other states because their intentions can never truly be known or certain (Mearsheimer, 55). They believe that survival is the ultimate goal of all powerful states and that they are capable of thinking critically to ensure their survival (Mearsheimer, 55).
Neorealism sees the structure of the international system as a determining factor in the amount of peace and/or war that will be present (Kasdin, October 1). Kenneth Waltz, the father of neorealist theory, concludes that neorealism itself can explain international politics dating back to 1648 (Mingst and Arreguin Toft, 81). Waltz argues that “the amount of peace and war in an anarchic international system depends critically on the distribution of power, ” (Mingst and Arreguin-Toft, 81).There are three forms of the distribution of power. A unipolar system, which has never been seen in history, is where one state in the system has supreme power and the ability to defeat any other state (Mingst and Arreguin-Toft, 81).
A bipolar system is one in which two states hold the majority of the power in the international system (Mingst and Arreguin-Toft, 81). A multipolar system is one which sees power shared between three or more states (Mingst and Arreguin-Toft, 81). Neorealists pose that the closer power distribution gets to unipolarity, the greater chance there is for peace (Mingst and Arreguin-Toft, 81). Even if the international system never reaches unipolarity, neorealists still believe that bipolar systems are more stable than multipolar systems (Palmer and Morgan, 335).
Neorealism seeks to overcome the “security dilemma” of realism, theorizing that rather than seeking out power, states try to maximize their security (Palmer and Morgan, 334). Neorealists do not focus on the characteristics of states to determine what affects their behavior, rather they focus on the polarity of the international system (Palmer and Morgan, 334). Another major aspect that neorealists are focused on is the idea of relative power. Neorealists see it as essential that their states have more power overall than other states and they must always gain more power relative to other states (Mingst and Arreguin Toft 82).
States increase their relative power by involving themselves in war or engaging in alliances to divide power among states (Mingst and Arreguin-Toft, 77). This concern with relative power also leads to a concern with cheating. In their efforts to gain advantages over others, states may be inclined to cheat when negotiating agreements (Mingst and Arreguin Toft, 82). The increasing wariness of states due to distribution of power and goals to maximize security are all ideas that contribute to the neorealist view of the state as selfish and insecure (Mingst and Arreguin Toft, 82).
Unlike the view of the individual by neorealism, liberalism views the individual as inherently good and rational (Kasdin, October 8). Liberalism sees war not as inevitable but as an effect of corrupt social institutions that can be reformed and moderated (Mingst and Arreguin-Toft, 83). Democracy and free markets are seen as the best ways to foster peace and prosperity across the globe (Ikenberry, 34).
Democracies across the globe were attractive to the innovators of liberal thinking because the structures of democratic government would seriously limit the types of conflicts that would arise between states (Ikenberry, 36). John Ikenberry poses that “democracies are more transparent than non-democracies, and this allows states to observe the domestic system of other states, and therefore to have more confidence in promises and commitments,” (Ikenberry, 37). Liberal theorists believe that free trade will raise the cost of war leading to a decreased likelihood of war (Mingst and Arreguin Toft, 84).
Immanuel Kant, a key liberalism theorist, believed that anarchy in the international system could be overcome by a collective action of states all acting in their own self-interest that would eventually lead to the expansion of peace (Mingst and Arreguin-Toft, 84). President Woodrow Wilson was another liberalism theorist, and he proposed the League of Nations to solve the problems of the international system. The League of Nations pushed the idea of collective security, where an act of aggression by one state would be collectively reacted to by the international community (Mingst and Arreguin-Toft, 84).
Neoliberal institutionalism is the revived version of liberalism that has been used since the 1970s. Neoliberal institutionalists pose the question of why states cooperate even though the international system is anarchic (Mingst and Arreguin-Toft, 85). Neoliberal institutionalism sees states in the international system as having repeated interactions with other states, therefore making it beneficial to both states to cooperate with each other to maximize their benefits (Mingst and Arreguin-Toft, 86). They see institutions as the most critical because they “facilitate, widen, and deepen cooperation by building on common interest, thus maximizing the gains for all parties,” (Mingst and Arreguin-Toft, 87).
After the Islamic Revolution ended in 1979, Iran was very vulnerable. Saddam Hussein in Iraq saw this vulnerability as an opportunity and decided to invade the Iranian province of Khuzestan on September 22, 1980, which was very rich in oil and had a majority population of Arab Shiites, the dominating ethnicity and religion of Iraq (Not Even Past, para.1). Iraq was initially successful, although their siege was poorly planned and executed.
However, Iran soon retaliated with force against Iraq and in 1982 Iraq found itself on the defensive as Iranian forces pushed into Iraq’s territory (Takeyh, 372). Fighting continued until 1988, with some of the most egregious acts of war being the use of child soldiers in Iran and the use of chemical weapons by Iraq (Takeyh, 376).
Iraq’s decision and implementation of their attack on Iraq had many neorealist aspects. Iraq had an interest in Iran’s territory because it believed some of it rightfully belonged to it, and also the territory was very rich in oil. If Iraq was successful in gaining the territory that they originally invaded – the Khuzestan province – then its relative power would drastically increase. Iraq hoped to become the most powerful state in their region, which would be made much more possible if they gained even more profitable resources by territorial conflicts and war.
After Iraq’s war with Iran, Iraq had amassed a major sum of money owed to Gulf states that had loaned them money. Soon after the war, Iraq accused its neighboring country, Kuwait, of violating Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries production quotas and over producing crude oil to export, which would inhibit revenues going to Iraq. Iraq also claimed that Kuwait was illegaling drilling for oil from Rumayla which was on the border of Iraq and Kuwait. On August 2. 1990, 100,000 Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait and gained control of it within hours (The Gulf War 1991, para. 5).
Immediately after the United States got wind of what had occured in Kuwait, President George H.W. Bush called for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. When Iraq refused, the Bush administration received authorization from the United Nations to use force to dispel Iraqi forces from Kuwait. The United States and it’s coalition forces liberated Kuwait in a operation that lasted from February 24 to March 2 (The Gulf War 1991, para.10).
There are a few explanations that neorealists would give to explain Saddam Hussein and Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, and the subsequent retaliation headed by the United States. Due to the fact that neorealists view the international system as anarchic, Saddam Hussein saw an invasion of Kuwait as somewhat easy and did not expect retaliation from anyone else because there was no official governing body of the international system. Iraq was very concerned with their security on their very slim coastal lands that it accused Kuwait of drilling oil out of.
A very major neorealism concern is power, which after the Iran war Iraq still had but it was vulnerable because of its lack of funds and incoming wealth from its oil reserves. Iraq aimed to maximize its power in the region by taking over Kuwait, one of the region’s largest oil producers. State sovereignty is also very important to neorealists (Mingst & Arreguin-Toft, 142). Iraq had seen Kuwait as it’s territory since the United Kingdom left the region and Iraq’s Prime Minister claimed Kuwait as part of Iraq because it had been part of it during the Ottoman Empire (The Gulf War 1991,para.3).
The decision of the United States to take action against Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait is better explained from a liberal view. President George H.W. Bush made many attempts to peacefully solve the problem and get Iraq to retreat back to their country. However when Saddam Hussein refused to pull out, US forces began air strikes and ground forces against the Iraqi military (A Century of US Relations with Iraq, para.4).
Bush and the United Nations tried to appeal to the rationality and morality of Iraq by giving it opportunities to stand down before ultimately using force as their last resort. Iraq was not acting in a democratic manner and was not acting as a team player in the international forum. The United State’s action against Iraq’s aggression is ideologically parallel to Woodrow Wilson’s ideas of the League of Nations, that the international community would react to aggression by other state’s to ensure collective security in the international system.
One neorealist aspect of the United State’s actions is their relationship with Israel. The United States feared that if they did nothing against Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait that Iraq would gain enough power to become the regional hegemon and they might incite war with other powerful states around them such as the United State’s ally, Israel (War in the Gulf, para.1).