Foreign Policy By Metaphor

Paul Chilton and George Lakoff

   To: The Linguistics and Cognitive Science Communities

   From: Paul Chilton and George Lakoff

   The paper that follows is our first attempt to apply the theory
   of conceptual metaphor to the area of foreign policy. We see
   this as a natural part of our duties as linguists and cognitive
   scientists. It is our job to study conceptual structure in
   all domains of thought, and international relations is
   one such domain. The fact that it is an inherently important
   domain makes such a study more urgent than the analysis of
   conceptual structure usually is. It also makes it important
   that it be written in accessible language, language suitable for
   publication in a magazine with wide circulation. So pardon the
   absence of the usual scholarly apparatus: the listing of
   examples, the arguments for generalizations, the statements of
   the mappings and their entailments. They are easy to supply,
   but that is not our purpose here.

   We would appreciate feedback. Please send comments to and RC.PAC@Forsythe.Stanford.EDU.

      Paul Chilton, of the University of Warwick, U.K., is a MacArthur
      Fellow visitng at the Stanford Center for International Security
      and Arms Control. He is the author of Nukespeak.

      George Lakoff is Professor of Linguistics at the University of
      California at Berkeley. He is co-author of Metaphors We Live By
      and  More  Than Cool Reason, and  author  of  Women, Fire, and
      Dangerous Things.

               The scenario was right  out  of  Dr.  Strangelove.

          General  Tommy  Power,  commander  of the Strategic Air

          Command in 1960, a man with his hand  directly  on  the

          button, was defending the policy of massive retaliation

          against a more limited, restrained use of  weaponry.  A

          description  of the consequences of all-out nuclear war

          failed to sway him.  ``Look,''  he said. ``At  the  end

          of  the war, if there are two Americans and one Russian

          left, we win!''

               The scene was real:  a  maverick  general  with  a

          metaphor  and  the  power to command the use of nuclear

          weapons.  The scene has changed,  of  course.  But  the

          metaphors  and  the  bombs in service of them are still

          with us.

               Metaphors are not mere words or fanciful  notions.

          They  are  one  of our primary means of conceptualizing

          the world. What has been learned over the  past  decade

          in  cognitive science and in linguistics is that a vast

          proportion of our conceptual life is  metaphorical.  We

          think  automatically,  effortlessly  and without notice

          using metaphors we have  grown  up  with  and  accepted

          without  question.   We see our lives as purposeful, as

          journeys toward goals.  It is important to Americans to

          `have direction, to know where one is going,' and it is

          useful to have `a head start.' What is more frustrating

          to  an  American  than a sense of `not getting anywhere

          with your life'--an idea that would  be  meaningless  in

          much of the world.

               Time, in America as in much of the  industrialized

          world,  is  understood as a money-like resource. We can

          `save time, waste time, spend time,  budget  time,  and

          use  time  wisely or foolishly.' When we understand our

          experience through metaphorical  concepts  and  act  on

          those concepts, our metaphors appear real to us. If you

          live by a time-as-resource metaphor, someone really can

          `waste'  an  hour of your time.  If you understand life

          as  goal-oriented,  you  may  really  feel  `lost'  and

          `without  direction'  and  worry  about whether you are

          `getting anywhere with your life.'

               Metaphor is a means of understanding one domain of

          one's  experience  in terms of another--time in terms of

          money, life in terms of travel. Such metaphors  are  so

          automatic,  conventional,  and  widespread  as  to seem

          natural. It takes  an  acquaintanceship  with  cultures

          where lives are not journeys with goals and time is not

          a money-like resource to realize the metaphorical char-

          acter of our own cultural concepts.

               But metaphors  of  some  sort  are  not,  however,

          dispensible.   We  cannot  comprehend such abstract and

          overwhelming concepts as life and time  unless  we  can

          make sense of them in terms of something more familiar.

          We know how to reason about travel and resources. Meta-

          phor  allows us to transfer those modes of reasoning to

          more problematic arenas. And the conclusions  we  reach

          on the basis of metaphoric reasoning can form the basis

          for action.  If we are understand ourselves, to see why

          we  act  as  we  do  and  to  see new possibilities for

          action, we must be aware of the metaphors we are using.

               Unfortunately, the study  of  foreign  policy  has

          lagged far behind research in the cognitive sciences on

          the nature of metaphorical understanding.  Despite  the

          enormous  effort that has been spent, on both theoreti-

          cal and practical fronts, in conceptualizing and recon-

          ceptualizing  foreign  policy,  virtually no effort has

          gone into understanding the  metaphorical  concepts  on

          which our current policies are based.

               This is hardly an accident. Foreign policy  theor-

          ists  pride themselves on realism, and metaphor, in the

          traditional view, is taken to be anything  but  realis-

          tic.   Yet the current understanding of foreign policy,

          both in the popular mind and in the theories of  inter-

          national relations experts, is metaphorical through and

          through.  Indeed, the  expert  theories  typically  use

          versions  of  the  popular  metaphors;  it is this that

          makes them seem `intuitive.'

               The major metaphor that  dominates  thought  about

          foreign  policy  is that the state is a person. As per-

          sons, states enter into social relationships with other

          states,  which  are  seen  typically as either friends,

          enemies, neighbors, neutral parties, clients,  or  even

          pariahs.  States are also seen as having personalities:

          they can be trustworthy  or  deceitful,  aggressive  or

          peace-loving,   strong-   or  weak  willed,  stable  or

          paranoid, cooperative or intransigent, enterprising  or

          not.  Given our folk understandings of what animals are

          like, we will often use animal metaphors to  character-

          ize the personalities of states: thus Russia is seen as

          a bear  and  England  as  bulldog.   Our  policies  are

          designed  to  be  consistent  with  such estimations of

          national personalities.  Thus, for example,  if  Russia

          is seen as aggressive, deceitful, paranoid, and intran-

          sigent, we will treat it very differently than we would

          a   country   seen  as  trustworthy,  peace-loving  and

          cooperative.   Such  metaphorical  preconceptions   lie

          behind policy.

                            The World Community

               Person-states are seen  as  members  of  a  `world

          community'--a  community  of nations. Treaties are prom-

          ises, and keeping one's word is important if one is  to

          be  trusted.  The  community is often conceptualized in

          the US as a kind of  frontier  town,  with  law-abiding

          citizens and outlaw states.  Because there are outlaws,

          a sheriff is needed, and  the  U.S.  has  been  playing

          sheriff  for  the past four decades.  Without the sher-

          iff, there would be anarchy.

               Other widespread, natural-seeming  metaphors  help

          to  structure and legitimize policies and programs. For

          hundreds of years we have  used  the  metaphor  of  the

          `body  politic'.   If  the  state is a person, it has a

          body--and bodies can grow, mature, decline, be  healthy,

          developed,   underdeveloped,  weak,  strong,  diseased.

          Metaphorical  foreign  policy  sees  the  health  of  a

          person-state  in  terms of national wealth and military

          force--instead of, say, the health or well-being of  its

          individual  citizens.  An  `underdeveloped  country' is

          seen as one which is less industrialized  than  Western

          countries.  `Growth'  and  `development'  are  seen  in

          economic terms. States that are not  `fully  developed'

          are  therefore  seen as metaphorical children, who need

          the help of their elders if they are to grow up  to  be

          mature adults. They are thus seen as natural dependents

          requiring both paternalistic help and a strong hand  to

          keep them in line if they get naughty. Given this meta-

          phor, it is impossible to see a third world country  as

          knowing  more  than the grown up industrialized nations

          about the kind of economic system that will  best  suit

          its culture and geography.

               The state-as-person metaphor also permits a  body-

          politic to be seen as `diseased,' and thus as a patient

          requiring treatment.  George Kennan, in his famous 1946

          Long  Telegram  that  set the tone of US foreign policy

          for decades therafter, urged that we must  `study'  the

          Soviet  Union with the same `objectivity ... with which

          the doctor studies the unruly and unreasonable  indivi-

          dual'.  If  the  Soviet Union is mentally deranged, the

          United States must take on the role of doctor.  One way

          of  treating  mental  patients  is  to  strap them in a

          strait-jacket, which in political  terms  is  precisely

          what the policy of `containment' was to be.

               If a body-politic  is  sick,  its   `disease'  can

          `spread`, and `infect' other bodies. Kennan telegraphi-

          cally told the State Department that  `World  communism

          is  like  the  malignant  parasite  which feeds only on

          diseased tissue'. It followed from metaphor that Ameri-

          can  society must be kept in a condition of `health and

          vigor,' which meant military `strength'.  Dean  Acheson

          in  1947  appealed  to  Congressmen  to extend American

          intervention in Europe  :  `the  corruption  of  Greece

          would  infect Iran and all to the east.  It would  also

          carry infection to Africa through Asia Minor and Egypt,

          and  to  Europe  through Italy and France.' The disease

          was communism, and this was not the last time that  the

          metaphor  would  be  used.   McCarthy's  `purge' of the

          American body-politic involved the same  metaphor.   It

          has  two  parts  : internal disease and external conta-

          gion.  Both, together with other metaphors,  have  been

          inherent  in  the  U.S.  concept of `security' after WW


               More recently  Japan  has  been  characterised  as

          suffering  from `nuclear allergy' when it resisted U.S.

          pressures to host nuclear weapons.  When  West  Germany

          sought to rid itself of American nuclear missiles based

          on its soil and to resist U.S. pressures to `modernize'

          those weapons, Germany too was seen by some in politics

          and the media was suffering from nuclear allergy.  If a

          nation  don't  tolerate nuclear weapons in its body, it

          is hypersensitive, that is, sick.

               The  state-is-a-person  metaphor  is   fundamental

          among  academic theorists of international relations as

          well as in the state department. What is  important  is

          the  fact that the metaphor inevitably carries theories

          and beliefs of human personality  with  it.   Thus,  in

          what  is  known  as  `realism'  and `neorealism' in the

          theory of  international  politics,  person-states  are

          viewed  as  consistent  individuals  who  are  rational

          decision-makers and who act accordingly. What counts as

          `rational'  is defined as maximizing economic and mili-

          tary self-interest.

               `Realist' and `neorealist' theorists, of whom  the

          best  known  is  Kenneth  Waltz,  make it a fundamental

          assumption that states have `desires',  an  overarching

          desire  to  survive  and commonly a desire to dominate.

          This leads to a kind of social  Darwinism  for  person-

          states.  It  is also common for `realists' to psycholo-

          gize the person-state  further,  to  postulate  natural

          desires,  such  as  the desire to make others like one-

          self.  Michael Mandelbaum, in The Fate of Nations (Cam-

          bridge   Univeristy   Press,  1988),  argues  that  the

          `impulse' for `strong states' to `expand'  is  in  part

          explained  by  the  desire to `to extend the collective

          self,'  `to   spread   its   domestic   characteristics

          throughout  the  international system . . . to make the

          world like itself.' Robert Osgood  and  Robert  Tucker,

          twenty years earlier, had seen extension of self as the

          person-state's `purpose' or `mission' and had linked it

          to  a `survival instinct.' As they say in Force, Order,

          and Justice (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1967),

          `a  nation may preserve its body and yet perish through

          the loss of its soul--or the abandonment  of  its  pur-

          pose.'  This  metaphorical  theory of the psychology of

          the person-state makes the long-standing American  mis-

          sion to make the rest of the world over in its likeness

          seem natural and inevitable. And it says  that  we  can

          expect  the same from all other powerful states regard-

          less of our policies.

                           Fistfights and Games

               Seeing the state metaphorically as a  power-hungry

          person  seeking  domination  leads naturally to a meta-

          phorical conception of foreign relations as competition

          above  all  else.  There  are two special cases of this

          metaphor: First, war is a fistfight, typically  between

          two  opponents.   The  other  fighter, the Soviet Union

          from our point of view, is seen as  a  bully,  rational

          enough  not  to  fight  someone as strong as he is, but

          bully enough to  beat  up  on  anyone  weaker  with  or

          without  provocation.  Here  strength  is  measured  by

          number of troops in some cases and total nuclear  capa-

          bility  in others. The United States, in this metaphor,

          is seen as having to be strong enough to  stand  up  to

          this  bully,  not  only to protect itself, but also the

          weaker kinds in the schoolyard. The theory  of  nuclear

          deterrence  is  defined  in  this  metaphor: The United

          States must be strong enough to deter the Soviet  bully

          from  starting  a  fight. This, of course, depends cru-

          cially upon the bully's rationality and accurate  judg-

          ment.  It also depends upon the bully's assumption that

          the hero is willing to fight.  If the hero looks like a

          bumbling giant, then deterrence doesn't work.

               The second metaphor sees international competition

          as  a game, typically with two players.  This metaphor,

          taken seriously, is the basis of the common use of  the

          mathematical theory of games in theorizing about inter-

          national relations. In  a  zero-sum  game  there  is  a

          winner  and  a  loser. There are also games in which no

          party can win but one can minimize losses.  The Vietnam

          War  was  analyzed  by American policymakers as such an

          unwinnable game, and hence the US did  not  attempt  an

          all-out victory.

               A race is a special case of a game,  and  for  the

          past  four decades, our foreign policy has placed us in

          an arms race with the Soviets. In such  a  metaphorical

          race,  having  enough weapons to blow up the world many

          times over  doesn't  matter,  nor  does  having  enough

          submarine-based  missiles  to assure the destruction of

          the enemy. The metaphorical imperative is to stay ahead

          or  at  least  close  in total armaments.  It is unlike

          other races in that no ever talks of `winning' the arms


               These contest metaphors  have  long  been  at  the

          center of  our  nuclear  policy.  Paul Nitze and others

          have spoken of the need to have a capability  to  `beat

          the Russians' in a nuclear contest. Robert McNamara saw

          the impossibility of a nuclear victory and in its place

          introduced  the  idea  of a minimum deterrance: nuclear

          missiles that will `survive' a first  strike  and  thus

          deter   an  enemy  from  striking  first.   In  current

          strategy, the emphasis is to `house' missiles  so  that

          that  they  will  be `surviveable'. A `kill' in contem-

          porary strategic discourse is the destruction of a mis-

          sile, not a person.

               The conceptual mechanism here is  a  common  meto-

          nymy,  in  which  the  thing used stands for the person

          using it.  For example, in a  sentence  like  `An  M-16

          killed him', the rifle is standing for the person using

          the rifle. In current nuclear strategy, the same  meto-

          nymy  is used, only here it is missiles that are stand-

          ing for the person-state using the  missiles.   Defense

          of  the  country  becomes  the  defense of the weapons.

          Hundreds of billions of dollars are  spent  to  protect

          weapons, not citizens.  The country is seen as `surviv-

          ing' not if its citizens survive, but  if  its  weapons


               `Realist' international relations  theory,  as  we

          saw,  is  based  on a psychological metaphor, that each

          person-state has a `desire to survive.' One might think

          of  justifying  this  metaphor  by thinking that if the

          state survives, the citizens survive. But that  is  not

          so in our current `realist' nuclear strategy which sees

          the country surviving if its weapons survive,  even  if

          most of its citizens perish.  Our current nuclear stra-

          tegy, based on metaphor and metonymy, is strangely rem-

          iniscent of Tommy Power's.


               If a state is a  person,  its  land  mass  is  its

          home--and the conventional image of the American home is

          the one-family house.   One's  home  must  be  `secure'

          against  `outside'  intruders.  We  have  a  `backyard'

          (Cuba, Mexico, and Central America, in general),  where

          we  do not want other people's missiles.  For some rea-

          son, we do not accept the idea that  the  Soviet  Union

          may  have  a `back yard' (Europe, Turkey), where it may

          be legitimately threatened by our missiles.  The  meta-

          phor  surfaces  even  in such expressions as `window of

          vulnerability', a phrase powerfully deployed  by  those

          who lobbied  to increase U.S.  ICBM capability. An even

          more powerful special case of this metaphor,  conceptu-

          ally  speaking,  if  not technologically, was President

          Reagan's vision of the protective `roof'  of  the  Star

          Wars  space  shield.  It would keep from our heads what

          Truman (threatening further atomic  bombing  of  Japan)

          called a `rain of ruin'.

               Incidentally, there is,  at  present,  a  homeless

          state--the  self-proclaimed  Palestinian  state.  It has

          aroused the kind of mixed feelings of pity  and  threat

          that homeless people commonly arouse.

               A home--a house and grounds--is a container, with an

          inside, an outside, and a boundary. The state is there-

          fore seen as a contained entity.  This  is  a  powerful

          metaphor  in international politics.  It applied as far

          back as the Greek city-states, but  came  to  apply  to

          European nation-states only in the sixteenth and seven-

          teenth centuries. Before that the political entities of

          Europe  were  mostly such that they could not naturally

          be conceptualised as having  an  inclusive  inside,  an

          excluded  outside,  and  a separating line around them.

          Medieval Europe was a collage of multiple and  overlap-

          ping  political  and  religious allegiances. It is only

          with the emergence of the modern nation state that  the

          container  concept  becomes relevant and so well rooted

          in the mind that  it  is  difficult  to  think  of  the

          present  state-in-a-container  system as anything other

          than a natural and immutable fact.

               But this metaphor  reached  its  full  elaboration

          only  around  the middle of the twentieth century.  The

          key terms of American foreign policy after World War II

          are  `security'  and  `containment'.   They are defined

          relative the state-in-a-container metaphor.

               Security for a state is conceptualized in terms of

          being  inside  an  overwhelmingly strong container that

          stops things from getting in  or  out.   We  have  have

          `security  leaks'  on the one hand, and `security pene-

          tration'  on  the  other,  `internal'  and   `external'

          security  threats.  This  metaphor sees the boundary as

          all-important--the  `security  perimeter'  of  American

          post-war policy.

               It is surprising now to recall that the very  term

          `national  security' was not current until 1945-6, when

          it began to emerge in Washington as  a  unifying  `con-

          cept'.  But it is not so surprising, given the natural-

          ness of container metaphors, that it should be  appeal-

          ing and get developed in the way it did.

               Nor should it be at all surprising that  the  most

          central foreign  policy concept of all--the concept of

          `containment' -- should  have  been  be  so   quickly

          adopted.   It  works  like this.  States are containers

          and their contents have a tendency to get out, say,  by

          leakage,  spillage,  boiling  over  or  even explosion.

          Another possibility is that the  container  itself  may

          expand.   Essentially,  this is how the Soviet Union is

          conceptualized in post-war foreign policy.  It  follows

          from  the  U.S.  perspective, that it needs to be `con-


               This is such a natural-seeming nexus of  metaphors

          that  George  Kennan's  notion  of  `containment' could

          scarcely be resisted in the 1940s. It was indeed  taken

          up  with  amazing  alacrity  and eclipsed more moderate

          and, many would argue, more  realistic  assessments  of

          Soviet aims and abilities. And still, in 1989, the gen-

          eration that grew up with these metaphors  as  well  as

          the generations of political `scientists' who have been

          trained to think in terms of them, cannot  get  outside

          of this conceptual universe.

                          The Metaphorical Nexus

               All of these  metaphors  form  a  single  coherent

          nexus  with  the  state-as-person at the center. States

          are thus seen as having personalities, being members of

          a  world community, having stages of development, being

          subject to disease, being rational actors, seeking dom-

          ination  physically and in games, and having homes that

          are understood as containers whose boundaries should be

          as  rigid as possible.  What is especially ironic about

          this is that it is a fundamental principle  of  realist

          foreign  policy theorists not to confuse the individual

          with the state. Their own collection of state-as-person

          metaphors violates that fundamental principle.

               A major consequence of this metaphor collection is

          the  balance  of power metaphor. It is emerges from the

          state-as-person nexus via the view of war  as  a  fist-

          fight  that  can  be  avoided only if the two strongest

          people are about equally strong.  The balance of  power

          metaphor    generalizes    this,   reifying   the   two

          participants as physical objects exerting  force  in  a

          force  field. The objects are stable as long as the two

          forces remain equal; if one comes to exert more  force,

          the  balance  is upset, just as one fighter who becomes

          stronger can knock down the other.

               The balance of power metaphor overlaps  with  war-

          as-fistfight view, but it is different in two important

          ways. First, the  use  of  physics  as  a  metaphorical

          source gives the metaphor a scientific air--for no good

          reason, of course. Second, it  removes  any  notion  of

          human will; the bully may choose not to start the fist-

          fight, but an object exerting a more powerful  physical

          force  will  always  knock  over  an  object exerting a

          weaker force.  The effect  is  to  make  conflict  seem

          inevitable unless an arms increase on one side is coun-

          tered by one on the other side.

               Just as the typical fistfight involves two  parti-

          cipants,  so  a balance of physical forces is much more

          achievable with two major forces than with more,  since

          the  two-body  problem  is  solvable but the three-body

          problem is not.  The  physics-based  metaphor  is  thus

          commonly used to justify a world order with exactly two

          superpowers on the grounds  that  `stability'  is  more

          achievable  with  two  bodies  exerting force than with

          more.  The metaphor that states are objects  projecting

          an  outward  force combines with the container metaphor

          to yield the idea of  `state expansion', in which there

          is `lateral pressure' and possible `penetration' of the

          boundaries of other states.

               A special case of force is magnetic  force,  which

          happens  to be bipolar; there are magnetic dipoles, but

          no tripoles.  Merely thinking about force  in  interna-

          tional relations as magnetic force with `poles' imposes

          a conception of world politics with a binary superpower


               Here is how Michael Mandelbaum, an important  fig-

          ure  among  realist  international relations theorists,

          argues that a bipolar world is the best of all possible

          worlds:  `Strong  states  are  like  powerful  magnetic

          poles; weaker ones can seldom  evade  their  fields  of

          force.   Independence,  therefore, must be redefined as

          equidistance   among--or between--the   most  powerful

          states in the international system.  Even this position

          is not  always feasible.  If the pull of  one  pole  is

          stronger  than  that  of the other, if one of the great

          powers  is  more  threatening  than  the  other,   then

          independence requires not equidistance but closer asso-

          ciation with the  orbit of  the  other  to  offset  the

          threat from the first.' (The Fate of Nations, p.201)

               The magnet metaphor does at least two things.   It

          makes  international  power politics seem as inevitable

          as the laws of physics,  and  therefore  divorced  from

          questions  of  freedom and rights; and it makes it seem

          both natural and  necessary  that  international  power

          politics should result in two and only two antagonistic

          coalitions, alliances, or blocs.

                         The World System Metaphor

               The celebrated  sociologist  Emile  Durkheim,  who

          wrote  in  the  second  half of the nineteenth century,

          theorized that a society is a `system,'  a  mechanistic

          universe  of  its  own in which people and institutions

          are  `units'  bearing  structural  relations   to   one

          another.  This system of relations, he claimed, defines

          social meaning and social identity  and  restricts  the

          possibilities for social action.

               Durkheim's theory of  social  structure  plus  the

          state-as-person  metaphor  yields the superstructure of

          contemporary international  relations  theory.   States

          become `units' and the world community becomes a system

          of relations, primarily power relations, among  states.

          This  system  defines  political  meaning and political

          identity and restricts the possibilities for  political

          action at an international level.

               By an additional metaphor, power is seen as  money

          and   international   politics   becomes   metaphorical

          microeconomics.  The state-person becomes economic  man

          and rationality for the state-person is the rationality

          of classical economics:  maximize  gains  and  minimize

          losses.  With rationality defined by this metaphor, the

          mathematical theory of games, as it has been applied to

          economics,  comes to define rational action for states.

          This coheres with the metaphor of war as a  game.  From

          within  the  metaphorical nexus, game theory appears to

          be  the  natural  mathematics  governing  international

          relations.   The laws of this self-contained metaphori-

          cal universe are game-theoretical laws.

               Since the system is  inherently  mechanistic,  its

          laws  cannot  be  changed any more than can the laws of

          physics.  The system metaphor thus  coheres  very  well

          with  the physics metaphor.  As Waltz puts it, ``A pol-

          itical structure is akin to a field of forces  in  phy-

          sics.'' The international system metaphor thus makes it

          seem like a law of nature that  states  should  act  to

          maximize their power and that bipolar balances of power

          should result.

                  Folk Metaphors and Theorists' Metaphors

               Not all of our foreign policy metaphors  have  the

          same  status.   The state-as-person metaphor is part of

          our everyday conceptual system; it is part  of  a  folk

          conceptualization of governments that is widespread. It

          has been adopted and expanded upon by expert theorists.

          But  we  should notice where the metaphorical folk por-

          trait of the state ends and the hand  of  the  theorist

          enters the picture.

               The folk view has a state-person  replete  with  a

          personality,  a community, a susceptibility to disease,

          a home, a tendency to get into fistfights, and  a  body

          that  can  topple  under  force. It is the theorist who

          elaborates the metaphor, portraying the person-state as

          a rational actor trying to maximize his personal gains,

          who sees states as being like  children  going  through

          inevitable  stages  of  development, who defines health

          and maturity in economic terms, who sees competition as

          a  game  with  a  mathematical  structure,  who defines

          strength by counting warheads.  It is the theorist  who

          reifies  states as objects within a mechanistic system,

          exerting force within a  political  space,  subject  to

          natural  expansionary  pressures,  knocking  over other

          objects as they expand unless the force they  exert  is

          countered by an equal and opposite force. And it is the

          theorist who  claims  that  only  a  bipolar  force  is


               The theorist is typically American,  sees  himself

          as  a  hardnosed scientist, and calls his collection of

          metaphorical elaborations `realism,' a  description  of

          the natural functioning of states.

                           Why Metaphors Matter

               The political `realist' who  uses  such  metaphors

          might claim that they are mere words, convenient labels

          that accurately describe the nature of world  politics.

          But  metaphors  are  not  just words. They are concepts

          that can be and often are acted  upon.  As  such,  they

          define  in  significant  part, what one takes as `real-


               A natural question to ask is whether the  American

          theorist's  metaphors characterize an objective politi-

          cal reality as is commonly claimed, or whether they are

          self-serving means for legitimizing the policies of the

          US government. Take, for example, the metaphor  of  the

          bipolar  world.   When  the United States is one of two

          superpowers, it serves American interests for there  to

          be  no third superpower. Since the US is a rich nation,

          it serves American interests to view poorer nations  as

          childlike, to be both helped and kept in line, and told

          that they too will all inevitably  develop  by  natural

          stages into wealthy adults if they accept our guidance.

               Another possibility for the  self-serving  use  of

          metaphors  is in their application to particular situa-

          tions. Why was Cuban intervention  in  Angola  seen  as

          expansionism while American intervention in El Salvador

          was not? As is  often  the  case,  our  foreign  policy

          experts   apply   their  metaphors  to  serve  American

          interests. Such cases are anything but a  characteriza-

          tion of an objective reality.

                            What Metaphors Hide

               Metaphors also hide important aspects of  what  is

          real,  and  it is vital that we know what realities our

          foreign policy metaphors are hiding.

               Let us return to the Tommy Power  incident,  where

          General  Power  saw  nuclear war as a kind of fistfight

          between two person-states  which  one  could  `win'  by

          delivering  a  `knockout punch.' The hidden reality, of

          course, is the lives of hundreds of millions of indivi-

          dual people, real people, not person-states, lives that

          would be lost in such a `win.'

               The state-as-person metaphor hides the most  basic

          realities  of  the  lives  of  individual citizens. The

          state may be secure in  its  home  while  many  of  its

          citizens are not. The state may be `healthy' in that it

          is rich, while its citizens may not be able  to  afford

          real health care.

               Security for individual people is  very  different

          from  `national security'. Individual people need food,

          shelter, employment,  health  care,  and  education  in

          order   to   be  secure.  The  metaphorical  notion  of

          `national security' has little to do with this.  Spend-

          ing  more  money  on `national security' means spending

          less on what makes individual people secure.

               Not only does the welfare of  individual  citizens

          stand outside the state-as-person metaphor, but so does

          the possibility  of  the  contributions  of  individual

          citizens  to  international  cooperation and communica-

          tion. European Nuclear Disarmament (END) has proposed a

          citizens  assembly  for  a  Europe foreseen as a united

          community. It,  like  groups  of  scientists,  artists,

          scholars,  and  businessmen,  plays  no role in foreign

          policy as conceived of in terms of this nexus of  meta-


               Not only are individual citizens absent  from  the

          state-as-person  metaphor,  but  so  are multi-national

          corporations, which have an enormous influence both  on

          matters of state and on the lives of individuals. A set

          of foreign policy metaphors  that  hides  the  role  of

          multi-national  corporations  also  hides much of their

          impact on all  our  lives,  and  does  not  provide  an

          adequate  public  way  to  monitor  and  regulate their


               The  state-as-person  metaphor  also  hides   most

          environmental issues.  A few cases like the ozone hole,

          rain forests,  and  certain  forms  of  pollution  have

          recently  been  seen  as threats to the world community

          and have begun to be  taken  seriously  as  appropriate

          foreign  policy matters. But the full range of environ-

          mental issues does not  arise  in  the  state-as-person

          metaphor;  this leaves them outside the domain of stan-

          dard foreign policy concerns.

               The metaphors  for  national  strength  also  hide

          vital realities.  Both the US and the Soviet Union have

          sufficient weaponry to destroy each other and the world

          many  times  over.   Yet in the arms race metaphor, the

          fistfight metaphor, and the balance of power  metaphor,

          this  reality  is not present. All that counts in those

          metaphors is relative `strength', measured in  relative

          amounts  of  firepower: Will we `fall behind' and allow

          the Soviet Union to get `stronger' than  the  US?   The

          power  of  these  metaphors overwhelms the reality that

          our real destructive power is more than  sufficient  to

          destroy any attacker.

               The binary nature of  the  fistfight,  balance  of

          power,  and  bipolar force metaphors also hides a vital

          reality.  The bipolar world, with  the  US  and  Soviet

          Union  as the only superpowers, is coming to an end. By

          1992,  the  European  Economic  Community  will  be  an

          economic  superpower.  Japan already is one. As Eastern

          European nations gain more independence from the Soviet

          Union  and  develop  closer ties to Western Europe, the

          concept of the Soviet bloc as a single entity will make

          less  and  less  sense. And Gorbachev's moves have made

          the Soviet Union look less like the bully in the  fist-

          fight  metaphor  and less like the inexorably expanding


                            A Conceptual Crisis

               The result of all this is a conceptual  crisis  in

          American foreign policy. Because metaphors are not mere

          words, because they do partly define what one takes  as

          real,  our foreign policy pundits are having a progres-

          sively harder time making today's world fit yesterday's

          metaphors.  The  movement  by  the  West Germans toward

          nuclear  disarmament  and  toward  rapprochement   with

          Eastern  Europe  is  in conflict with the bipolar world

          metaphor that our senior foreign policy experts  helped

          to  shape  and  see  as  the only stable configuration.

          They are thus warning our government not to accept  the

          West  German  proposals.  For  example, McGeorge Bundy,

          speaking at Stanford on May 4, 1989  asserted  strongly

          that  the  line between Eastern and Western Europe must

          be maintained for the security of both  sides.  As  the

          Iron Curtain begins to come down, American foreign pol-

          icy advisers see that as a threat to  their  conception

          of a bipolar world order.

                           Gorbachev's Challenge

               Gorbachev's New Thinking is a conceptual challenge

          to  the West.  It is in large part a metaphorical chal-

          lenge. Gorbachev has proposed, in  tantalizingly  inex-

          plicit  terms,  his  own  `house'  metaphor: the common

          European house.  It is presumably thought of more as an

          apartment house than the American one-family ideal.  It

          is a new container metaphor, one that  challenges  what

          we  now  see as the wall of security through the middle

          of Europe.

               American foreign policy needs to be  reconceptual-

          ized.   But the metaphor nexus that defines our foreign

          policy is so tightly woven that it is  hard  to  change

          one  part without changing others.  Rethinking will not

          be easy, especially since these metaphors have come  to

          be  seen  as virtually definitional of our foreign pol-

          icy. Try to imagine American foreign policy without our

          present metaphors--without seeing states as persons each

          with a personality, a standing in the world  community,

          an  economic  conception  of  health  and  maturity,  a

          nuclear conception of  strength,  a  benefit-maximizing

          notion  of  rationality,  and a concept of stability in

          terms of a bipolar balance of power.

                         Limits and Possibilities

               It is probably impossible to formulate  a  concept

          of what a state is without metaphor. Moreover, the folk

          version of the  state-as-person  metaphor  may  not  be

          entirely  eliminable  since it is an automatic, largely

          unconscious, and long-standing conventional of  concep-

          tualizing states. The possibilities for change are lim-

          ited by our everyday metaphors. What  can  be  changed,

          however,  are  the  theorist's elaborations of the folk

          metaphors. They need to be changed because both because

          they  are unrealistic and because they do not serve the

          interests of the citizenry of states.  Among the things

          that  policy  makers can do is to find new metaphorical

          elaborations that both serve  more  humane  values  and

          highlight realities that their current metaphors hide.

               One way to reveal part of what has been hidden  is

          to  conceptualize the properties of the state-person in

          terms of the corresponding properties of the least for-

          tunate    quarter    of    its    citizenry.   --Imagine

          conceptualizing the health of a state in terms  of  the

          health  of  the  least  healthy 25% of its citizens.   

          --Imagine defining the eduational level of a  state  in

          terms of the education of the least educated 25% of its

          citizens. --Imagine defining the wealth of a  state  in

          terms  of  the  wealth  of the least wealthy 25% of its

          citizens. --Imagine defining the security of a state in

          terms  of the personal security of the least secure 25%

          of its citizens. --Imagine defining the rationality  of

          a  state in terms of the degree to which it devoted its

          resources to satisfying the fundamental human needs  of

          its  entire  citizenry.  Such  new  elaborations of the

          state-as-person metaphor would highlight realities that

          our  present  metaphors  for the state hide. They would

          refocus the attention of policy-makers on the needs  of

          citizens, which ought to provide the ultimate rationale

          for external policy. In short, they would link external

          policy  to internal policy as it affects the full range

          of citizens.

               This is basically what Gorbachev  has  done  in  a

          metaphorical  master  stroke  that  has not been suffi-

          ciently appreciated by our own foreign  policy  commun-

          ity. One effect of glasnost, or `openness,' has been an

          opening up of the  metaphorical  container  around  the

          state  so that external and internal policy can be seen

          as one and can be restructured together.  In doing  so,

          Gorbachev has confounded the metaphors of our `realist'

          foreign policy theorists, metaphors that keep  external

          policy separate from internal policy.

               The new metaphoric elaborations we suggested above

          would link internal and external policy and throw light

          on previously hidden realities. They would then  permit

          us  to  go  Gorbachev  one  better,  proposing a `world

          house' rather than merely a European house. This way of

          conceptualizing  the  living  quarters of person-states

          would have a number of benefits. First, it would  focus

          on the fact that nuclear war would destroy not somebody

          else's house, but rather everybody's.  Second, it would

          stress  the necessity for cooperation in the management

          of common living quarters.  And third, it  would  bring

          global  ecological  issues  into  center  stage: If all

          there is is one house, then there is  nowhere  else  to

          dump  your  garbage. Acid rain, pollution, ozone deple-

          tion,  and  the  destruction  of  rain  forests  become

          everybody's problems.


               State-as-person thinking can lead to foreign  pol-

          icy debacles.  Take the decision by the Reagan adminis-

          tration to devalue our currency relative to Japan's  as

          a way to solve our balance of payments problem. Through

          the lens of the state-as-person metaphor,  the  problem

          appeared  as  follows:  America  has  bought goods from

          Japan  on  credit  and  owes  Japan  money.    Currency

          devaluation will make American goods cheap to Japan and

          Japanese goods expensive to America.  America will  not

          be able to afford expensive Japanese goods, while Japan

          will not be able to resist cheap American  goods.   The

          money  Japan  gives  America for its goods will pay off

          the debt.

               But Japanese leaders in  business  and  government

          did  not think in state-as-person terms. They kept sel-

          ling to America by keeping their prices in America low,

          they  kept  out American goods by imposing tariffs, and

          made up their losses with  increased  efficiency.   The

          brunt  was  borne by Japanese workers who worked harder

          and were denied cheap American goods.  America's  trade

          debt  was not reduced, and Japanese companies were able

          to buy American  property  cheaply.  The  Japanese  saw

          internal and external policy as a single unified whole,

          while the Americans, via the state-as-person  metaphor,

          saw only the external.

                               Openness Here

               The concepts used by our government and our inter-

          national  relations  experts are of vital concern to us

          all.  Those  concepts  are  metaphorical  through   and

          through.   The metaphors have important entailments for

          our lives and for the lives of millions of others.  Yet

          the  metaphors  and their entailments have largely gone

          unrecognized and unexamined.  The reason is simple.  It

          concerns  the  structure  of  the  profession.   In the

          social sciences, the technical seems to drive  out  the

          nontechnical:  international  relations  scholars  must

          appear as scientific and  objective  as  possible,  and

          metaphorical concepts seem neither objective nor scien-

          tific.  The result is a set of concepts  that  are  not

          only  inadequately examined, but are also very far from

          the realism that is claimed for them.

               As cognitive scientists whose job is to study  the

          concepts  used in language and thought, we are appalled

          by this situation.  We think that the time has come for

          an  open  and public discussion of the concepts used by

          the `experts' in thinking about and formulating foreign

          policy.  The role of the media is crucial in this. Only

          the media can bring about such an open discussion.

               We have two suggestions for theorists in the  area

          of  foreign policy. --Learn to analyze the metaphorical

          nature of the conceptual tools you are using and  learn

          the  consequences  of  those  metaphors.  --Test  their

          consequences in terms of what is real: the basic  human

          experiences and needs of real people.

               Metaphors are among our most important  tools  for

          comprehending  the  world.  They  may well be necessary

          tools for understanding the nature  of  world  politics

          and  for  formulating  policy.   They need to be better

          understood and they could certainly be  put  to  better