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									Monica Verma



Theory of International Relations



Essay II: Which theory/theories of International Relations do I like the most to

understand International Relations?



In my opinion, Morgenthau‟s theory of Realism explains international relations as

precisely as no other theory does. In an anarchic international system, states

resort to self-help in order to ensure their survival. They undertake struggle for

power and coherently as single units pursue their own interests. Conflicts are an

essential feature of the theory of realism and nations fight wars to gain power,

maintain status quo or as an assertion of their power.



This explanation of international relations is quite convincing and has been

successfully able to explain important events like the two world wars but in an

increasingly interdependent world, use of force has become costlier than benefits

of cooperation and the notion of relative gain has given way to the notion of

absolute gain. Thus when we look at decrease in use of force, multiple channels

of contacts especially undermining of nation-state as the only principle actor

(realist paradigm) and rise of transgovernmental and transnational actors and

issues of security receiving less precedence over issues such as economic

issues, theory of realism proves inadequate to explain certain aspects of
international relations. Now when the countries of the world are complexly

interdependent then use of realism alone, as an extreme cannot explain

international relations as countries may even come on the verge of a conflict but

conflict is often resolved by other means than war. As Keohane and Nye argue in

their book, „Power and Interdependence‟, that if realism is one extreme, so is

complex interdependence and most situations would fall in between them.

A pertinent case in point is relations between China and India especially in the

last decade. These theories may offer contradictory explanations but relations

between India and China are marked by such contradictions only. There are

areas where the theory of realism is applicable and aptly explains the conflicting

issues between them, where as areas where these two nations are

interdependent show great signs of cooperation.

If we observe relations between the two countries in the past decade, we can

clearly identify the areas where they cooperate and areas where they confront

each other. Thus while in case of environment, trade and economic regimes

cooperation can be seen between them, on the other hand these nations confirm

to a typical realist setting as far as power politics are concerned.

China and India are two powerful neighbors. While China grew at an average of

8% in the last decade, India is fast catching up at 9% or so 1. Both face

competition from each other as far as FDI and energy resources are concerned.

This competition translates into rivalry when both actually have an option to




1
    According to data published by CEIC.
cooperate too to decide the rules of the game.2 As realism dictates, that in an

anarchic world these two nations cannot be certain of each other‟s motives, so

prudence guides them to compete for resources alone rather than cooperate and

lose because of a cheating partner.

As far as power politics are concerned, China is wary of growing Indian power, it

views any increase in India‟s power at the cost of its own. On his recent visit to

India in the same year when leaders from other P-5 states visited India and

supported India‟s bid for UNSC strongly, China‟s Wen Jiabao remained non-

committal3 signaling that China would prefer a relative gain than an absolute

one.4Territorial dispute between them is still unresolved. While China resolved its

border dispute with Russia amicably, in case of India it does not want to be seen

as conceding too much to a rising power and a prospective challenge, especially

when a long disputed border suits its interest more than a settled one5. With an

increase in its power, China has become aggressive and assertive on this front

as one can read from its development projects in disputed areas, infrastructure

projects in PoK (Disputed between India and Pakistan) and policy of issuing




2
  Both the nations agreed to collectively leverage with energy suppliers to ‘be a price maker than a taker’
but rather than going for an open and fair regime, prudence dictated them to seek resources on their own.
For more refer: http://www.businessweek.com/globalbiz/content/dec2010/gb20101215_795065.htm
3
  In comparison to heads of other states who visited India the same year, Wen Jiabao made a routine
statement of sorts with regards to role of developing countries in UN.
http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2010-12-17/india/28240380_1_unsc-role-in-world-affairs-wen-
jiabao
4
  India as a permanent member may help China and other P-5 nations to uphold multipolar world order
against US’s tendency to go alone but instead of this absolute gain, China not sure of India in a realist
world is content with its own relative gain over India.
5
  If Sino-Indian border dispute gets resolved than India would deploy military on India-Pak border, which
would not be a welcome change for China’s ally Pakistan.
http://www.apcss.org/Publications/SAS/AsiaBilateralRelations/India-ChinaRelationsMalik.pdf
stapled visas to Indians from disputed territories6. China and India lack

confidence in each other for now to resolve border dispute- joint communiqué

issued at the end of Wen‟s visit in 2010 barely mentioned it.

In addition to competing for resources and indirectly for power, they also have

gone about building influences in each other‟s strategic backyard. China‟s strings

of pearls strategy vs India‟s Look East policy mark past few years. 7 As a final

conclusion to realism in their attitude towards each other, it would be correct to

point out strategic defence buildup in both the countries aimed at each other,

which makes discounting of a possibility of an armed conflict between the two in

future possible.8

In complete contrast to their rivalry in areas of strategic power, disputed

territories and areas of influence lies their cooperation with each other in case of

environment, trade and reform of international economic regimes. Both nations

are each other‟s biggest trade partners with China replacing US as India‟s

biggest trade partner in the world and India emerging as China‟s biggest trade

partner in South Asia.9 Although the balance of payments is heavily skewed in




6
  For facts on how incursions on Indian territory have increased in the past refer: http://www.sunday-
guardian.com/analysis/let-facts-speak-for-themselves-on-india-china-border
7
  China is building its influence in areas that extend from the South China Sea through the Strait of
Malacca, across the Indian Ocean, and on to the Arabian Gulf- Its String of pearls strategy is seen as a
move to encircle India (http://blogs.reuters.com/india/2009/07/28/india-encircled-by-chinas-string-of-
pearls/) while India’s Look East Policy is aimed at building spheres of influence in East and South East
Asia as a way to counter China (http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/harsh-v-pant-indias-look-
east-policy-gathers-momentum/426638/).
8
  As China finds India increasingly becoming powerful, out of nervousness it may attack India as a defence
specialist in India predicts: http://news.rediff.com/slide-show/2009/jul/11/slide-show-1-why-china-may-
attack-india.htm
9
  China became India’s largest trading partner in 2008.For more:
http://www.ipcs.org/pdf_file/issue/IB153-Ghoshal-IndiaChina.pdf
favour of China but for India, importing from China is much beneficial then

importing from elsewhere.10

Similarly both consciously try to discourage their respective media from reporting

news of prospective conflicts and military exercises of the two fearing

cooperation on economic issues may take a toll.11 Even if either of the nations

look to set agenda in terms of realism, increased interdependence on each other

and due to pressure by transnational and transgovernmental actors, both are

compelled to cooperate with each other12. China thus inspite of being more

powerful of the two cannot set the agenda alone with its manufacturing

dominated economy needing Indian market all the more. China found itself being

supported a great deal by India at the Copenhagen Climate Summit when West

tried to „ambush‟ China, world‟s worst emitter of green house gases.13 China and

India are active partners in groupings like - BRICS & BASIC where they along

with other emerging powers look to influence current agenda of world bodies like

IMF in their favour.14 These are the areas where relations between them confirm

to politics between two complexly interdependent countries.


10
   China’s cost of production comes much lower than in US:
http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/04_49/b3911401.htm
11
    For example recently Manmohan slammed Indian and Chinese media for being ‘unnecessarily high-
pitched ’: http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article2552809.ece
12
   To name a few: Tata Steel to increase investment in China by 5% in 2012
                    Chinese Firm TBEA planning Rs. 500 Crores FDI in Gujarat
13
   Then Indian Environment Minister pointed out how India bailed out China at
Copenhagen.http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report_india-bailed-out-china-from-us-eu-ambush-at-
copenhagen-jairam-ramesh_1380945
14
   In April this year, BRICS nation in principle agreed to reform IMF and World Bank. For more:
http://rt.com/politics/brics-summit-imf-reform/
Thus it would be apt to say that China and India fit a realist model in areas where

their interests are at loggerheads while the areas where their interests are

mutual, one can see politics of complex interdependence playing out.



References

      Morgenthau H. (1948), Politics Among Nations. The Struggle for Power
       and Peace, New York, Knopf, 1985, 6th edition, (first edition 1948)

      Keohane, Robert and Nye, Joseph (1977), Power and Interdependence,
       New York, Longman, 2000, 3rd edition.

      Chakravarty, Pratap (2010), “India-China border tensions belie warm
       words”,[online:web]
       URL:http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5g0hqvd91bv6
       qhrRIogdcpKx_mGLA?docId=CNG.f9f35e312275753acb9bd147d6582f48.
       1f1

								
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