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70 pages/≈19250 words
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The Rising Tensions between Russia and the West (Dissertation Sample)


This is the dissertation that I wrote in order to earn my Master's degree in International Politics. It is about the rising tensions between Russia and the West.


Conflict is an inherent trait of human nature that also drives and motivates social progress and political decisions. Even though humanity has reached a point where it is capable of adequate worldwide cooperation that could eliminate any concerns about survival, safety and comfort, conflict still rages on for reasons that cannot be explained rationally. When a conflict can no longer be explained by rational choices, a need arises to turn to the less explored and often ignored studies of human emotions and psychology, which can not only explain decision-makers’ actions but also anticipate them, and thus contribute immensely to the study and analysis of conflicts worldwide. When human beings no longer need to worry about basic needs (realism), and are capable of cooperating and coexisting (liberalism), their inherent neurosis is shifted from the pursuit of survival to the pursuit of desires. When the material desires are fulfilled, the natural tendency for pursuit is shifted onto the abstract emotional needs to be recognized, accepted, valued and respected by other human beings. Thus, a human being finally discovers her highest gratification, worth, meaning, and confidence through the acceptance and praise from fellow human beings, whose opinions he deems the most valuable. The inherent neurosis to pursue gratification has shifted from the primeval need for survival to a constant dependence on the recognition and acceptance of others, especially considering that the level of recognition someone one holds often parallels her standard of life. The same is true on an international level, thus studying this inherent neurosis (the struggle to be recognized) helps us better comprehend, anticipate and prevent international conflict by also focusing on the leaders and analyzing them as human beings under the shackles of emotions imprinted by nature and evolution. One of the leading problems of conventional theories and interpretations of conflicts is that they tend to examine what states are doing and the reason why they are doing it, rather than asking who they are. The irrationality of the newly rising Neo - Cold War tensions between Russia and the West can be understood through the analysis of emotions, symbols and historical memories. The working hypothesis is that the behavior of the Russian leadership is a product of the indignations it experienced following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Furthermore, it stands that attentiveness to the emotional and symbolic needs of people and leaders during crisis negotiations is the most conducive to reducing tensions and conflicts.
General Introduction
Recently, Russia surprised the world by resorting to imperial and cold-war practices surrounding the crisis in Ukraine. The persistence of such international conflicts and tensions, particularly between ‘great’ and ‘exemplary’ powers often falls short of rational understanding and comprehension. Indeed, ‘irrational’ behavior seems to increasingly become an acknowledged way of describing political decisions. There are often no clear explanation for why states and state leaders behave in a way that does not conform to standard theoretical views such as ‘realpolitik’, where survival and maximization of power are accepted as the main driving forces behind any action and decision. For instance, how can we ‘rationally’ explain a conflict in which there are no clear material interests and benefits that would warrant enormous war resources and energy, or where belligerents willfully continue a conflict even if its costs are far greater than any other peaceful alternative?
For decades, political theorists and researchers have stood on several fundamental theories to explain the dynamics in international political relations and conflicts. The three theories we are most widely presented with — realism, liberalism and constructivism — in most cases serve us well in understanding and explaining the interests that drive all decisions. The three theories also seemingly build upon each other, expanding the understanding of interests to more ‘enlightened’ and ‘cosmopolitan’ levels.
Realism, the primordial conception of modern politics established by Machiavelli and Hobbes, conceives human beings as basic, self-interested, violent creatures, whose decisions are only guided by the need to survive and ensuring future safety, propagation and comfort. As political institutions underwent enlightened transformations through the ages, the ideas of liberalism slowly took hold and built upon the realist’s archaic views of human nature. They emphasized the capability of human beings to transcend their inherent primitive and conflictual nature and build societies and civilizations that were cooperative and reliant on universal human values. In the last century, the next building block, that of constructivism, has also helped expand our understanding of the increasingly complex political relations. It stepped on the ideas, norms and other mental structures created by human beings to guide their societies.
However, it can be argued that these three firmly established theories can often fall short of comprehending the many apparent irrationalities in politics. That is precisely perhaps the issue with such theories - they presume that rationality is inherent to any leader and political decision. However, as soon as a leader makes an irrational move — such as the advancement of costly interests that have nothing to do with material benefit and survival — theories such as realism evaporate in thin air. The problem with most interpretations of political dynamics is that they focus too much on the strategic and material interests of states, whilst often completely ignoring the psychological factors and traits of the humans who drive all the processes and decisions. The roles of emotions, recognition, and symbols in international conflicts, for example, are often disregarded because they seem as insufficient and overly subjective factors that are difficult to build theories and generalizations upon.
1. Research Problem
In an age when international politics is increasingly moving towards a global order of cooperation and liberal practices, Russia is willingly reverting to outdated and costly practices that go against the liberal principles that the Western community is so diligently building.
2. Research Question
Why are states (such as Russia) resorting to irrational violent practices despite the obvious overbearing costs (economic collapse, sanctions and exclusion)?
3. Hypothesis
Russia’s attitude can be explained if we view its actions through the prism and importance of human emotions, symbols and identities — concepts that seem to be widely ignored and neglected in academic circles, due to the tendency to rely solely on liberal and realist interpretations of politics.
4. Methodology
The arguments in this paper are based on content and text analysis from a psychoanalytical perspective. To corroborate the main hypothesis, arguments will [refer to] historical events, political theory and statements, case studies, as well as to existing supporting literature and research which confirm that concepts and human perceptions such as pride, emotions and symbols are as important as conventional explanations when interpreting political behavior. This thesis aims to stress the importance of these so-called ‘non-rational’ and subjective factors and interpretations of contemporary political dynamics that do not hold much popularity in academic circles. Emphasis will be placed on the need for recognition (also entailing respect and reciprocity), and the importance of symbolism, emotions and memories in the analysis of political conflicts. Due to the recent developments in Ukraine that have effectively revived a new Cold War, the theories and interpretations laid forth in the thesis will be substantiated through the prism of the crises that involve Ukraine, Crimea, Russia, the United States, the EU, NATO, and several other important international actors.
5. Structure of Thesis
In order to effectively construct and present the arguments in this thesis, I shall begin with a very general and brief overview of the basic concepts. In chapter 1, the main theoretical arguments will be presented mainly through the works of Hegel, Axel Honneth and Francis Fukuyama. In chapter 2, the concepts of recognition are expanded and explored through recent research in the fields of politics and psychology, as well as through various case studies. Finally, chapter 3 takes a closer look at the Crimean crisis, and applies the working hypothesis to explain both Russian and Western behavioral patterns towards it.
CHAPTER I: Origins of Conflict
-“I will tell you the one thing I really believe out of all the things there are to believe.”
-“All right,” I said.-“All people are insane,” he said. “They will do anything at any time, and God help anybody who looks for reasons.”
- Kurt Vonnegut, “Mother Night” (1961)
1. Thymos
In Plato’s Republic (380BC), the human psyche can be divided into three distinct parts: reason, desire and spiritedness. Although these three part have been called different names by different authors (reason/logic/logos; desire/appetite; spirit/thymos/ego/emotions), the general definition behind each one remains the same.
The reasoning part of the human psyche is the one that is capable of calculation, planning and logical decision-making. It is also the part that is most concerned with our survival...

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