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Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye have described international relations as exhibiting 'complex interdependence'. What do they mean by this? How accurate a picture is it of the contemporary world arena?

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Introduction

Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye have described international relations as exhibiting 'complex interdependence'. What do they mean by this? How accurate a picture is it of the contemporary world arena? Keohane and Nye's theory of complex interdependence is a theory which tries to give an opposing view to the realist theories which have dominated world politics since the turn of the century. At the time of writing the cold war was dominating the contemporary world arena and this is evident in the authors writing. Complex interdependence is a liberal theory, it is my view that the arena we see today falls in the middle ground between the realist's 'soldiers and diplomats' and Keohane and Nye's ideal type of international system. The vital point of disagreement between Keohane and Nye's view and realist views is that they believe that military force does not take priority over other issues due to the costs involved. "Complex interdependence refers to a situation among a number of countries in which multiple channels of contact connect societies; there is no hierarchy of issues and military force is not used by governments towards one another." ...read more.

Middle

Hence vulnerability is a measure of a states ability to cater for a change in its environment. The use of raw materials is a good example of this. Two countries could have an equal level of sensitivity to a change in their potential import levels of raw materials however it is the accessibility of viable alternatives and at what cost which will show their respective level of vulnerability. Vulnerability is clearly a more important measure of interdependence that sensitivity. States are sometimes able to exploit other states vulnerability to achieve political manipulation of issues. This will involve a level of negotiation where power measured in terms of resources is measured against influence over outcomes. This practice is referred to by Keohane as "the political process of translation." Asymmetric interdependence has far more benefits for the stronger power in terms of the use of power. For example waltz says "US Foreign policy is replete with examples of how the United States has used its superior economic capabilities to promote its political and security interests." Strong states may make short term concessions to weaker states but that is in effect only to encourage them to follow policies of interdependence for the long run benefits of the stronger state. ...read more.

Conclusion

A good example of this is the European Parliament. International organisations play an ever increasing role in international relations today. This is in keeping with the theory of complex interdependence. As the use of military force becomes a less and less viable option increasing levels of international co-operation are inevitable. We can see examples of how the use of international organisations can be seen to benefit both stronger and weaker states. Stronger states often play a formulative role in the creation on Non-government organisations. This can lead to them holding a disproportional amount of power within that organisation. The US and the International Monetary fund are good examples of this. The IMF, based in Washington has been referred to by critics as merely an instrument of US foreign policy. Smaller states can benefit from using NGO's such as the World Trade Organisation as it is a relatively cheap and available partner in protecting its international interests. * A major area in which we can see the relevance of complex interdependence in the contemporary world arena is in states use of asymmetrical interdependencies for political gain. * . It has been seen on a number of occasions how trans-governmental contacts have in fact made it harder for more powerful state to exert their power on weaker opponents. ...read more.

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