Re-establishing the Utility of Hans Morgenthau‘s Classical Realism for 21st Century International Relations

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


While the health related implications of pandemics are well established, and some attention has been paid to the security implications of pandemics in the past, a comprehension of the political impact of pandemics has been lacking within international relations literature. This thesis takes on the responsibility of assessing the political implications of pandemics. The thesis reasserts the dominance of Morgenthau‘s classical realism within the field of international relations. The utility of Morgenthau‘s work exists within his particular framework of national power. This thesis seeks to assess the veracity of Hans Morgenthau‘s 20th century classical realism, in the 21st century international environment, and investigates the threat posed to nation states by infectious disease; and in particular the widespread and lethal pandemic. The thesis ultimately adapts Morgenthau‘s original elements of national power to the modern international environment to gain an understanding of how the modern state perceives its national power. The result is a clear indication of states behaving in an orthodox realist manner that seeks to protect their national power above all else. This thesis provides an understanding of the political implications of pandemics. The task of the thesis is to utilise Morgenthau‘s realism to assess a non-state actor and thereby establish the adaptable nature of his original work to a non-traditional security threat such as a pandemic. Then the thesis establishes the political nature of the pandemic threat by assessing three significant pandemics, namely: Plague, Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS), and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The aetiology and pathogenesis of each pandemic is then presented as case studies. The aim of each case study is straightforward. They seek to establish the pandemic agency an actor, in a relationship of power, and then assess the political implications of the pandemic actor. The case studies do so by applying Morgenthau‘s framework of national power to assess the political threat of that pandemic. The results of the thesis indicate first, that Morgenthau‘s framework is both adaptable and relevant in the study of modern international relations. Historically, the utility of Morgenthau‘s work is rarely questioned; however it remained to be seen as to the usefulness of Morgenthau in the modern international environment, where the power of state actors is being increasingly subverted by the rise of non-state actors. The second result of the thesis surrounds the nature of Morgenthau‘s framework and its adaptability for the 21st century. Not only has Morgenthau‘s framework of national power established the multi-faceted political implications of pandemics, but also in doing so, the framework has established its validity in modern international relations studies. While the threat of pandemics is ongoing, the ability to garner a stronger appreciation of the implications of pandemics for the modern state cannot be overlooked. The responsibility of this thesis, in part, has been to develop such an appreciation.
Date of Award11 Feb 2012
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorAnne Cullen (Supervisor) & Stuart Murray (Supervisor)

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