Jack Snyder talks of realism, liberalism and idealism in the context of United States of America. The effects these two theories have on foreign policies are enormous as is evident from the policies undertaken by the United States of America. The theoretical debate between idealism and realism is also a matter of discussion. In his essay, the author discusses the intricacies and complexities of the theories of international relations in view of the contemporary state of affairs in world politics. In reference to another essay by him, one can get to know of the democracies and wars and the effects on world politics. Nation states cannot become civilized and democratic overnight and it involves rocky transitions within the geographical boundaries. History is the evidence of the fact that in the process of democratization, states become aggressive and more prone to warfare with democratic states. This historical pattern can also be seen in present day global political arena.
John Merisheimer talks of structural theory belong to the realist school of political thought. It talks of the anarchic nature of nation states to be the reason behind the aggression in international politics. Thus, it is different from defensive realism. It goes on to describe the power-maximizing revisionists with the ultimate aim to dominate the world power hierarchical status. His theory is also known as offensive realism. The theory has five main tenets like defensive realism.
He talks of the great powers being in the driving seat of world politics and sees the international system to be shrouded by anarchy. According to him, every state possesses capability of military offensiveness. Also, one state can never be certain of the intentions of any other state. The primary goal of each state is to survive. These states act rationally and come up with strategies which would maximize the prospects which would make them survive in the long run.
States resort to offensive action on other states to enhance their power and assure their own security and survival. Self-help mechanisms come into play as the anarchic nature of international system renders a perpetual state of dilemma about a state’s safety and survival. State thus seeks to maximize their own power by maximizing their material capability. For the states, the best way to ensure survival is by seeking hegemony. And to achieve this hegemony, the states resort to offensive techniques. Hence, great powers would practice expansionist policies and would further spread the hegemony. Since global hegemony is impossible to achieve, the state aims at achieving regional hegemony and once achieved they maintain status quo. Finding itself in defensive situation endeavoring to prevent the other states from gaining power, the state resorts to balancing or may intervene by favoring buck passing. This choice depends on whether the international system is bipolar, balanced or unbalanced multi-polar structure.
Thucydides is known to be the forefather of realism in theory of political science. The theory of political realism opines that the international states are involved in a struggle for power for their self-interests and this struggle continues in a state of anarchy. The state is seen as a moral-free and valueless body that is in constant conflict with other sovereign bodies of power. As is stated in the theory, the sole way of achieving security in the international system is by creating a Balance of Power among the most powerful states.
The writings of Thucydides discuss many of the core realist assumptions and in History of Peloponnesian War, the stalwart points toward the concept of power politics. He goes on to argue that the strong should be ruling the weak. He also talks of Security Dilemma, morality, place of justice. As such, states remain under constant Security Dilemma. Thucydides takes up the issue of anarchy and says that Balance of Power is required for running the state machinery. He does not do away with thoughts of morality, however, as he speaks of the Spartans’ view of international system in his book, History of Peloponnesian War.
Realism sees people as power-hungry and capable of evil and thus nurtures a very pessimistic view of the individual. Thucydides opines that self-interest, fear and desire for glory are intrinsic in human nature and hence people have uniform and predictable behavior. He talks of achieving peace through the cooperation of individuals and state.
War is inevitable in this view of international relations as every state strives for gaining power and is driven by self-interest. In his view, whatever is in favor of the interest of the state is justified.
Doyle describes how liberal states that are constitutionally secure abstain from warfare with other liberal states. There is a steady increase in number of liberal states across the globe. However, these liberal states do not foster an atmosphere of peace and cooperation with non-liberal states. Such situations can lead to warfare as discussed by Doyle in his work.
Liberalism talks of the ties among the states and goes on to say that this phenomenon has made is very hard to define national interest and has lest military power to be futile. Liberalism argues that realism is out-of-date and cannot explain the tenets of international relations in the present day situation. It takes into consideration the phenomenon of globalization, international trades and spread of information technology and communication. Thus, the theory goes on to argue that the states are not just driven by power politics. Theories of complex interdependence go on to say that the globe is a harsh place where the usage of military power would bring in losses that would outdo the benefits. Hence, there should be a tendency to cooperate among the states. Military power is not the only sort of power and economic and social power come into play in the age of globalization and intertwined international politics among the nation states. Various states can differ in their nature of primary interests. Also, the theory talks of the importance and significance of
International organizations in promoting an ambience of cooperation, prosperity and trust among the states.
Liberalists see the globe as a place where heterogeneous peace and war exists and realists would rather view the world as a place of homogenous war and struggle. Doyle even promotes an interpretation of Third Image liberalism. This goes on to describe peace y judging the different kinds of relationship between liberal and non-liberal states and liberal states.
Immanuel Kant was the first person who had engaged his thoughts into theory of transnational peace. While Rousseau had argued that peace was impossible in a globe of civilized sovereign states, Kant went on to say that wars may lead to peace. For him, the antagonistic nature of states would thrust procedure of civilizing. He talks of enlightenment which should gradually spread even among the people in the authoritative positions of the state. Thus, the warfare would be gradually seen as an ill for the world society and nation states would finally abstain from violence and aggression. The states would rather get inclined toward financial growth and trade relations among nations would come to the forefront for the policy makers. He sees individual states as analogous to individual human beings and talks of the establishment of “international civil society” and the states would actually be compelled by self-interest and necessity to comply with peace and cooperation. He clarifies that this peace would emerge out of competition among the nation states as this is the ultimate key to financial betterment of any state. He takes the international society as “pacific federation” or “a kind of league” which would endeavor to end warfare and violence with full commitment. This federation would gradually take into its body all the nation states and would foster an ambience of mutual alliance among all. Kant was not a democrat and never did he mean popular representation. His republican constitution is not to be mistaken as a democratic one. His theory talks of the “enlightened” ones among the mass. This process of enlightenment is not uniform among nations. Thus, in case of any conflict between civilized and uncivilized states, the former would triumph. But this should take into consideration the injustices that can be meted out to the uncivilized states.
Wendt goes on to discuss the political theory of constructivism and says that identities and interests need to be treated. He complies with a statist view, but also says that there should be research in the field of identity and state interest as dependent variable. His main interest is in comprehending the effects of anarchism on interests and state identities. He criticizes realism for the shortcomings in this domain. Neo-liberalism has explained cooperation by the procedure without taking into account the systemic variables and this leads to its criticism by him. He opines that the structures of association among humans are finalized by shared ideas instead of material forces. He argues that international organizations have the capacity to change state identities and interests.
Finnermore is another proponent of constructivism and argues that the traditional concern of political science has been ideational concerns. The primary difficulty of these theories is to explain change. Both the processes of social construction and strategic bargaining are intertwined to each other. She says that the emergence of norm entrepreneurs signifies their ambition to change something. In the first stage, norms are adopted for domestic reasons while in the second stage the international scenario comes into play in opting for norms. With time, these norms are internalized. Norms held by prominent states are very likely to be adopted. Depression or shock can lead nations to opt for new norms.
The current day scenario of the foreign policy of aggression on Iraq should be taken into consideration. While the realists would argue that the action was driven by the hunger of United States of America to extend its power and rise in the hierarchal rung of world politics, liberalists would approach the occurrence from a different point of view. For them, this would be seen as the impending clash between a democratic state and an undemocratic state and the subsequent establishment of democracy in Iraq. The constructivists, however, would try to comprehend the identity and the interest of the state in this context. The primary interest of the dominant nation would be taken into account for this understanding.
It can be said that the aggression meted out to Iraq was an act of self-interest and a bid to establish the hegemony. United States of America could exercise its enormous power on a state that was bound to lose out in the longer run in the hands of vehement military aggression. Unprecedented military aggression was seen by the entire globe and this no doubt served the cause of consolidation of more power in the hands of America. The war put an end to the petroleum issue that had cropped up. This in the long run would serve the sovereign and hegemonic interests of America as obtaining petroleum from Iraq would place the nation in the driving seat of international politics. The other states that were in a bid to exercise power and compete with the United States of America would be left in jitters after the massive exhibition of military strength by the nation.
Thus, the political theories can help us in understanding the on-going events in the dais of international relations. Channelizing our logic in these well defined and explained directions would help in the understanding of the intricacies that remain involved in every action that occurs in the global scenario. The acts of aggression and peace are all driven by vested interests and the aim of political science is to unravel these hidden tenets that govern the hierarchical structure of global politics.
Holsti, Ole. Theories of International Relations. Web. April 1.