Most researchers, following the work of American scholar Kenneth Waltz (1979), focus their analysis on international factors only when seeking to explain international and foreign policies. However, foreign policy is based on a government’s assessment of its own national interest. Once this interest is defined, the formulation of foreign policy objectives follows. The guiding theme of any objective is how a given policy can contribute to achieving national economic growth, political stability, and security. While Kenneth Waltz argues that to understand international politics one must ignore national politics as otherwise one would fall prey to “reductionism,” his approach fails to capture the potential and reach of model-building and of applying diversified analytical tools. If we can gain insights from mixing different levels of analysis, national and international in this case, we should do so, precisely, as Waltz points out, because theory and reality are not the same. In a strict sense, theories and explanations cannot be true or false. They only can be more or less useful (which is something that Waltz also points out). Hence, there is no inherent risk in having “the wrong theory.” At worst, such a theory does not help us to understand more and better. Furthermore, any theoretical model is inherently “reductionist,” presenting us with a simplified reading of the world, or a segment of an overly complex reality, so that we can analyze and test the strength and robustness of the causal relations of factors we establish in an a-priori fashion. None of these elements – the factors or the relationships – emerge from reality; they are all fruits of our own minds in order to impose order on a messy world. Reductionism thus is the mark of our trade and ought not to be feared, but embraced.
Scholar Commons Citation
Reiter, Bernd, "Learning from Brazil and India: The Difference that Inclusion Policies can Make" (2012). Government and International Affairs Faculty Publications. 102.