Sunday, November 7, 2010

Reflection (Week #11)

Last class we had a very in depth discussion about individual wealth and the extent of its relativity and whether less tangible qualities other than monetary ones could be included under the umbrella of wealth. Personally, I still regard the wealth of an individual as being measured by the number of opportunities presented and the individual's ability to capitalize on the opportunity they view as most favorable, whether this ability is based upon tangible assets or other more existential ones, such as knowledge. For this reason, I believe that when defining wealth in terms of the international system, the relationship between the wealth and power of a given state is very close.

Much a state's ability to coerce, either peacefully and diplomatically or through military conflict, is acquired through economic capabilities and economic interactions. This interdependent relationship between a state's wealth and power, a facet of power with realism tends to dismiss, can be clearly seen in some of the history's most powerful state actors. In both the British Empire and the United States, the peak of their respective power in the international system is characterized by the possession of strong economies. Additionally, their decline of power also paralleled a significant decline of wealth. Even if one wholly accepts a realist argument that state actors' sole goal is to maximize power and security, it is still difficult to maintain that a state's power is not premised on its wealth because most all elements of coercion require significant wealth. Therefore, when one leaves economic relations outside of the scope of traditional security, the study of conflict can be severely limited. For example, the Opium War between the Qing Dynasty and the British Empire was one that centered almost entirely around the changing economic relationship between Britain and China due to the British cultivation of a strong and detrimental opium market in China. As the market for opium in China grew rapidly responding to British importation of the drug, the British trade deficit with the Qing Empire quickly reversed itself, giving the British significant power over Chinese affairs, eventually leading to armed conflict. Therefore, I think that both the economic and opportunistic wealth of a state directly influences the power of that state in the international system and visa versa, making the two interdependent.

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