The purpose of this paper is to discuss the different viewpoints of realist and liberal theories of international cooperation. The paper will examine the key concepts and basic logic of these political theories of liberalism and realism, including their strengths and weaknesses.
This theoretical approach to international cooperation was the dominant political theory during the Cold War, which was represented by the struggle for power and dominance between two ideological camps: a democratic camp led by the United States and a communist camp led by the Soviet Union. According to the realist approach, international affairs are referred to as a struggle for power among self-interested states and are generally pessimistic about the prospects for eliminating conflict and war (Owens, 2011, pp. 31-45).
This approach views that the conduct of international affairs by nations is embodied in concept of power, with each state seeking to enhance its position on the world stage relative to the positions of other nations. Hans describes power as anything that ensures that man has control over another man. Therefore, according to this theoretical approach, power dictates all social relationships which serve Han’s argument. This entails the most violent to psychological relationships of control among individuals. Realism consider power to cover man both as a disciplined individual through morals and constitutional parameters.
Realists maintain that the state is the key actor and that there is no other actor above the state (Owens, 2011, pp. 39-57). Additionally, the governments are engaged in a constant effort to ensure the survival of their respective states (Owens, 2011, pp. 44-67). Therefore, every state always acts to ensure that other states do not dominate over it on the international scene. Consequently, smaller nations usually join to work together against the power of a dominant state. The major weakness of this theory is the fact that it emphasizes on the state as the sole actor and ignores the presence of other actors.
This theoretical perspective emphasizes cooperation between states in order to promote economic interdependence and global harmony (Sorenson, 2010, pp. 40-50). In addition to this, it rejects the notion that war is an unavoidable product of international relations and stress economic, societal, environmental, and technological issues as well as military power in discussions of national interests.
This perspective believes that there are other non-state actors, which are also important players in international cooperation. These non-state actors must also be considered along with the state actors. These non-actors include terrorist groups, multi-national corporations, non-governmental institutions, and other international actors. Liberalism accepts that several forces that control international cooperation. Additionally, only an international institution can manage the many interactions among state and non-state actors where members agree on accepted norms and rules for international relations (Sorenson, 2010, pp. 37-67).
This theoretical approach also asserts cooperation between nations encourages economic interdependence, therefore reducing the possibility of occurrence of conflict between nations. The strength of this theory is the fact that it recognizes the possibilities for cooperation between nations. This theory upholds that consideration of environmental, economic, technological and societal concerns as well as shared interest between nations also lead to increased cooperation despite the existence of wars that will never end. Nevertheless, this theory has a weakness in that it places too much faith in humans (Sorenson, 2010, pp. 56-76). This is because not all humans share the same beliefs and values. Additionally, there are ethnic, religious and linguistic differences that hinder cooperation
Owens, P. 2011. The Globalization of World Politics. 5th edition. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.
Jackson, R. Sorenson 2010 International relations Theory and Approaches, , 4th ed., G. Oxford University Press.