Principles of Politics Exercise


Goals of This Exercise

  • Examine how cooperation in the international arena is particularly subject to the problems of collective action.
  • Explain how the rules and procedures of the United Nations and other international organizations affect the ability to overcome the collective-action problem.
  • Explore potential means of overcoming the collective-action problem in international politics in lieu of the United Nations or other formal organizations.

The Rationality Principle: all political behavior has a purpose. All political actors engage in instrumental acts designed to further their individual goals.

Realpolitik: Political Goals in the International Arena

Treating individual nations as political actors, we can begin to analyze their goals as they interact in the international arena. Nations pursue their individual economic and strategic interests; this is known as realpolitik.

U.S. Goals toward Iraq

In 2002 and 2003, among the goals of George W. Bush’s administration was to disarm Iraq of suspected weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and depose Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

For some time, the Bush administration sought to build international support, particularly through the United Nations Security Council, for these goals.

The United States and Iraq: Understanding the Bush Doctrine

The Policy Principle: political outcomes are the products of individual preferences and institutional procedures.

In trying to secure UN Security Council approval for forced disarmament of Iraq, the United States had to contend with the varying preferences of the Council members and the Council’s institutional procedures.

The Rules of the United Nations Security Council

The UN Security Council is composed of 14 members; there are 9 rotating members and 5 permanent members (the United States, Great Britain, China, Russia, and France).

Although resolutions require majority vote, all of the five permanent members of the Security Council have a veto over resolutions.

United Nations Security Council Positions on Military Intervention in Iraq


  • United States*
  • Great Britain*
  • Spain


  • Chile
  • Mexico
  • Pakistan
  • Cameroon
  • Angola
  • Guinea


  • France*
  • Russia*
  • China*
  • Syria
  • Germany

*Denotes permanent member of the Security Council.

Answer the following questions:

Based on this assessment of supporters, uncommitteds, and opponents, what were the prospects that the United States could get majority support for a Security Council resolution?
If it could get majority support, what were the prospects that the United States could win in the UN Security Council?

The Bush Doctrine

With failure in the UN Security Council all but assured, the United States decided to circumvent the current process and build its own “coalition of the willing” to, in the view of the Bush Administration, enforce the UN’s prior resolution, #1441. This led to the first expression of the “Bush Doctrine” in foreign policy.

According to political scientist Robert Jervis (“Understanding the Bush Doctrine”), the key elements of the Bush Doctrine included:

  1. Liberalism: The goal of U.S. foreign policy would be to expand freedom throughout the world.
  2. Preemptive War: The United States would be proactive to secure its safety and achieve its goals.
  3. Unilateralism: The United States would act alone (that is, in the absence of international support) in protection of its interests and pursuit of its goals.
  4. Hegemony: As an unrivaled power in the world, the United States would use its special position and observe unique obligations to lead the world.

Building a “Coalition of the Willing”

The Collective-Action Principle: all politics is collective action.

That the Bush administration would act unilaterally is not to say that it did act unilaterally in the case of Iraq. Instead, the United States built a small “coalition of the willing” that could support the Bush administration’s goals.

Comparing the Two Gulf Wars: International Support

  1991 2003
Countries contributing troops 34 3
Countries providing military assistance
(logistics, financial support, etc.)
>100 44

Source: Glenn Kessler, “United States Puts a Spin on Coalition Numbers” Washington Post, March 23, 2003.

Political actors have goals, but those goals must be compromised when seeking to work in concert with other political actors. Sometimes nations act unilaterally in the single-minded pursuit of their own goals and interests.

Still, at other times, they find it necessary or at least worthwhile to work with other nations to garner support and to build legitimacy both for the broader idea of international organizations and cooperation and because they know that international support can help them achieve their goals. Nevertheless, building an international coalition requires compromise.

Answer the following questions:

What are the costs (and to whom) of the United States’ “unilateralist” or relatively narrow coalition?
What are the benefits of goal-seeking? of going it alone?
Besides the use of international organizations, how is collective action achieved in international politics?


  • Elliott, Michael. “Who’s with Him?” Time, March 3, 2003.
  • Jervis, Robert. “Understanding the Bush Doctrine.” Political Science Quarterly 118: 3 (Fall 2003): 365–88.
  • Kessler, Glenn. “United States Puts a Spin on Coalition Numbers.” Washington Post, March 21, 2003.

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