By Hans J. Morgenthau, University of Chicago
Reviewed by Francis P. Sempa, Contributing Editor
America’s post-Cold War foreign policy is still in flux. Scholars, statesmen, and observers continue to debate America’s proper role in the world and how best to protect and promote U.S. interests. It appears that the U.S. is in the midst of a geopolitical pivot from a Euro-centric policy to a focus on the Asia-Pacific region, while it continues to forge a strategy to combat Islamic terrorism and its state sponsors. What better time to reflect on a masterful lecture delivered in 1958 by one of the greatest foreign policy thinkers, Hans J. Morgenthau.
Morgenthau, the author of the seminal book Politics Among Nations and many other works on international politics, spoke at the Naval War College about fundamentals of foreign policy. The main themes of his lecture are still relevant to today’s world.
The problems of international politics, he noted, are the result not of “ephemeral historic configurations but rather stem from the very essence of human nature.” Nations still struggle for power, which is why the “balance of power” is not a temporary phenomenon but an eternal aspect of international relations. The resolution of foreign policy problems or disputes is not the end of the struggle for power. There are no permanent solutions in foreign policy.
Foreign policy utopians and isolationists suffer from the similar illusions that the United States can either solve all the world’s problems or retreat from them. In reality, explained Morgenthau, neither is possible. Disarmament schemes, treaties, the UN, and foreign aid are often promoted as panaceas; at most, they can be utilized to ease or moderate struggles for power.
U.S. foreign policymakers would do well to read Morgenthau’s 1958 lecture which illuminates the fundamentals of our messy and troubled world.