The role of prudence in IR theory

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As classical realism was challenged by structural or neorealism, some of Hans J. Morgenthau’s key concepts have undergone some significant changes. In his fourth principal of political realism, Morgenthau describes that prudence, the weighing of the consequences of alternative political action, is the most important virtue of a statesman. Prudence functions as a mechanism to develop cautious policy. The mechanism of prudence applies moral action by filtering morality through time and place, and by weighing consequences of alternative political action. Morgenthau states that moral action should be focused on securing the safety of a statesman’s community. He thereby does not neglect the tension between rationality and idealism, or interests and morality. However, structural realism largely avoids this tension, by merely focussing on a cost-benefit approach. The concept of prudence thereby changed from a harm-good relationship towards a cost-benefit approach. These changes call for clarity around the concept of prudence. Therefore, we need to focus on aspects that possibly affect a statesman’s ability to apply prudence. There is a need to further analyse decision making processes in order to clarify these factors. A closer look at the players that take part during decision making will therefore clarify the pathway towards cautious, or risky policy outcomes. The Iraq war of 2003 represents imprudent policy outcome. By analysing the case of the Iraq war of 2003, the pathway towards extreme policy can be revealed.
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