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Wise International Decisions: The Bigger, the Wiser?

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Colonomos Ariel

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Wise International Decisions: The Bigger, the Wiser?

La sagesse collective : principes et mécanismes

Colloque des 22-23 mai 2008, organisé par l'Institut du Monde Contemporain du Collège de France, sous la direction du Professeur Jon Elster.

Intervention de Ariel Colonomos, CNRS, CERI, 23 mai 2008

When he makes strategic choices, the Prince favors prudence. This is one of the basic conclusions of the realist school of international relations. Although this is highly debatable, classical realists consider that state leaders are prudent to the extent that they do not inadvertently attack bigger states likely to defeat them (i.e. they maximize their interest). Realists are also normative at least implicitly: states ought not to be imprudent.
This line of thought has its origins in Thucydides, who also quotes Pericles saying “we love wisdom without becoming soft”. Wisdom is therefore not only positively associated to prudence, it is also negatively associated to the dangers of passivity.

Yet, who is prudent or imprudent, wise or unwise? Wisdom appears to be a matter of scale. Realists show a great tolerance vis-à-vis autocratic or dictatorial regimes, precisely because they consider that individual decisions are more reliable, i.e. they are more prudent than collective ones. The Prince tries to maximize his interest and is therefore rational, predictable and wise (prudent without being soft), whereas democracy is the realm of passions leading to imprudent behavior. Of course, idealism or liberalism share a different approach (see also the debate about unilateralism vs. multilateralism). This paper will discuss the different models of wise international behavior, depending on the size of the agent, the paradigm its members use when making their decision and the analytical framework that prevails in the assessment of their policy.



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