Discussion of Five Theories of International Relations
The study of international relations owes most of its roots from liberalism. The liberalist school of thought, having emerged during the Enlightenment, mainly addresses the broad concern of international relations on attaining enduring peace and cooperation between states and non-state actors. Scholars of liberalism thus devote themselves to the study of stabilizing relationships between states and organizations from different parts of the world through a variety of methods (Doyle & Recchia, 2011).
Liberalism includes within its vast umbrella of sub-schools of thought theories that focus mostly on the behavior of state and non-state actors and various phenomena relating to international relations. International organizations, for instance, serve as the foundation of international politics, as states pursue their interests mutually or individually through several forums granting them representation. States may act as forum providers for states or as actors themselves in different forums. Sustaining anarchy in international relations is the issue sought for resolution by institutional peace theory – another school of thought under liberalism. States under institutional peace theory tend to draft and implement long-term solutions to problems relating to anarchy rather than short-term solutions featuring fickle foundations for cooperation. Generally, institutional peace theory notes the importance of fulfilling absolute gains over relative gains. Domestic politics also have due coverage under liberalism through the democratic peace theory, which emphasizes on the effect of domestic regime types of states on international relations, alongside concurrent domestic political issues (Doyle & Recchia, 2011; Viotti & Kauppi, 2011).
In sum, liberalism centers its multifaceted approaches to international relations on the idea that states may cooperate peacefully through methods that would allow them to do so. Compromises and agreements through forums in international relations may take place, provided said forums exist with adequate measures in the form of mutually agreed rules, apart from the influence and compatibility of the domestic regime types binding state and non-state actors on their preferences (Doyle & Recchia, 2011).
Not all discussions on international relations went through optimistic discourses akin to the idea presented by liberalism. Another common conjecture in international relations point to the individual interests of states, which is exactly the premise stated under classical realism. Classical realist theory treats the individualism of states as instrumental for determining outcomes in international relations based on the assumption that states would push their self-interests as their primary preferences in deciding on matters concerning world politics. Traditionally, states tend to implement preferences that satisfy the interests of their respective constituents. Yet, with the inevitable emergence of international relations that pulled states out of seclusion, realism has grown to further prominence in highlighting the irremovable nature of states to protect their self-interests (Williams, 2004).
Four main assumptions characterize the core idea of classical realism. Firstly, the anarchic nature of international relations is undisputable. States, with their respective political representatives, cannot lay claim to a single throne governing the entire international system. Decision-making in international relations thus come from mutual agreements coming from interactions between states, not from a single political entity claiming to be higher than any other state. The United Nations (UN), for instance, is a supranational entity formed by a consensus of states in agreement with one another and is not necessarily a higher political body that any state. As a creation of states, the UN faces the responsibility to retain its integrity in protecting the common goal of its members to maintain lasting peace and cooperation in international relations. A sizable number of members within the UN that would start defying said mutual interest could ultimately spell the demise of the organization. Secondly, the status of states as the main actors in international relations stems from the fact that decisions therein stem from their collective decisions and actions. Thirdly, states, as rational actors, have the main drive to pursue any actions satisfying their self-interests, particularly relative gains. Lastly, survival stands as the main goal of states. The fact that international relations may diminish the chances of states on their survival drives states to have divergent courses of actions aimed at protecting their self-interests (Williams, 2004).
Both liberalism and classical realism stand as political theories interpreting international relations. Marxism, as a direct rejection of both liberalism and classical realism, presents an economic viewpoint to determining international relations. International relations theory under Marxism does not anchor itself on the interests and actions on actors alone, citing a higher influence in the form of economics. Trends influencing the economy tend to influence state and non-state interests and actions, which in turn provide the prominence of class relations in the study of international relations. Marxist international relations theory thus treat capital accumulation as the main factor influencing state and non-state actors in their interests and actions (Kubalkova & Cruickshank, 1985).
Marxism heavily derives its ideas in international relations from the phenomena of colonialism and post-colonialism. Powerful nations during the colonial period have based their interests in occupying their respective territorial domains on the need to meet economic sustenance through raw materials and subsequent geopolitical considerations. Decolonization somewhat stands as the continuation of colonization, in that newly-independent states characterized by their political and economic frailties have sought to form dependent and exploitative relationships with their former colonial masters and other equally powerful nations, as in sub-school of thought of dependency theory (Kubalkova & Cruickshank, 1985).
Both liberalism and classical realism give due regard to the importance of human nature in influencing international relations – the former incorporating the assumption of mutual peace and cooperation as the main interest of state and non-state actors and the latter presuming the compelling influence of self-interest among state and non-state actors. Economic considerations characterize Marxist international relations theory, which in turn points to the human nature of self-enrichment for survival through capital accumulation. Constructivism stands as an alternative approach to international relations through the premise that both history and sociology have contributed to the formation of the characteristics of international relations. The continuum of interactions within society duly influence realities within international relations, hence ensuring fluidity therein based on evolving social trends. Shared ideas coming from social interactions duly influence international relations, not human nature as in the case of both liberalism and classical realism and material benefits presupposed by Marxist international relations theory (Viotti & Kauppi, 2011).
International relations also find due influence from gender roles, which serves as the main concern of feminism. The symbiotic relationship between international relations and gender serves as the focus of feminism; that gender differences influence how global politics operate to generate decisions and actions between state and non-state actors. Feminism, despite its etymology, does not focus entirely on the role of women in international relations, despite the prevailing assumption that they have experienced oppression throughout history under the dominance of men. In fact, feminist international relations theory actually emphasizes on the masculine traits related to the behavior of actors within international society. Thus, feminism assumes that certain factors in international relations have strong associations with gender – war and security being masculine and humanitarian organizations favoring feminine concerns (Sylvester, 1994).
Synthesis: Which of the Five Theories Best Determine International Relations?
Of the five aforementioned theories of international relations, liberalism stands as the most applicable in the status quo. Whereas the reality of self-interest greatly emanates among several state and non-state actors, international pressure brought forth by the prevailing interest on maintaining peaceful cooperation in global politics could stand to influence domestic interests, no matter how averse the consequences would be to some state and non-state actors. Moreover, liberalism urges state and non-state actors to engage in the art of compromise, wherein all those involved in a particular issue in international relations would have to consider the absolute gains benefiting every party than relative gains favoring only one or two actors. Such would not necessarily succumb to the alleged greater interest on capital accumulation assumed by Marxist international relations theory. Crucial issues affecting international relations such as environmental risks of climate change render even the seemingly indispensable importance of capital accumulation minute compared to the overall survival of humankind. Verily, liberalism satisfies the collective need of humans for the survival of their kind as an important consideration in highlighting the emphasis on meeting mutual peace and cooperation. Survival, in this case, is not limited as in the state-centric analysis of realism, but rather relates better to the need to impose peace and cooperation between state and non-state actors amidst the floating reality of anarchy in international relations (Viotti & Kauppi, 2011).
Doyle, M., & Recchia, S. (2011). Liberalism in international relations. In B. Badie, D. Berg-Schlosser & L. Morlino (Eds.), International encyclopedia of political science (1434-1439). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.
Kubalkova, V., & Cruickshank, A. (1985). Marxism and international relations. New York City, NY: Clarendon Press.
Sylvester, C. (1994). Feminist theory and international relations in a postmodern era. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
Viotti, P., & Kauppi, M. (2011). International relations theory. United Kingdom: Pearson.
Williams, M. (2004). Why ideas matter in international relations: Hans Morgenthau, classical realism, and the moral construction of power politics. International Organization, 58 (4), 633-665.