International Relationships Theories: Comparative Approach

Introduction

The debate on wars and its causes is historical. The aftermath of World War II saw the mergence of Cold War, which subsequently led to two main schools of thought. The official viewpoint has been surrounded by the reasons that the responsibility for the outbreak and intensification of Cold War was solely on the Soviet Union and specifically on the then leader Stalin due to the policies he spearheaded during and immediately after World War II (Thompson, 1991, p.1). In this view, Stalin was seen as a person whose style of leadership was so rigid for the international communism that required more flexibility. The other school of thought is circled around the orthodox view, which states that there can be a sharp line drawn between the two nations’ casual relationship (p.1). The two opposing views pit the pro- American supported by Truman Doctrine against the pro- Soviet Union, with their leader Stalin. The question has been who caused or perpetuated the war, was it America or a machination of the Soviet Union? However, to clearly understand this concept of who started or did not start the war, it is important to first understand the reasons behind the Cold War, and to understand the reasons, there must be some well structured theoretical criteria. This is because it is hard to explain why nations go to war or why a leader of a nation initiate war against another nation, especially when seeking answers from the leaders themselves. As a common practice, leaders would always give answers that are not convincing enough to justify their actions, always trying to defend such actions even though they may be unpopular. The second reason is that the world itself is a complex environment, where a leader may act or support an act without knowing exactly why he or she is doing so (Baylis & Smith, 2002). This could be fundamentally to justify intuitively what is “right” or what the world feels is “right” to initiate or support an act such as war. In this perspective, it has become more of a necessity to explain such a phenomenon in the wider context of theory, which in most cases may face opposition from the actors, but will give us wider options of what might have triggered such an action. This paper will discuss some of the theoretical perspectives on international relations; liberalism, realism and English school.

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Liberalism

Liberalism is built on the premise of state preference over international interests, unlike realism which fronts the international goal of a state as the priority number one; hence the belief among liberalists that state matters precedes international matters. This sometimes explains why some states treat international issues with little interest, always basing their arguments that sovereign states should remain “sovereign” in all spheres of political, economic and socials. For instance, a liberalist may argue that poverty or war in a neighboring state should be internal matters of that nation state and thus should never be associated with other states however close the two nation states are. To the realist, this kind of argument may be a shocker as the spill over effects of such wars may go past the borders of that nation at war, thus calling for an international intervention. In essence, liberalists are more inclined towards the belief that state preference is more important than states capability, a complete contrast to the belief of the realists (Brown, 2005). Among the liberalists, nation state is not treated as a unitary actor but is seen in the light of pluralism when a state acts on matters of national or international interests, that is, each state is allowed to act preferentially in line with some national factors such as the system of governance, structure of the economy and cultural beliefs (Baylis & Smith, 2002, p.149).

Another common and rather influential belief among the liberalists is that rather than high politics represented by security and political agenda by realists, it is important for states to embrace less political agendas such as pursuing economic interactions and corporations. This is in contrast to realist, whose belief is dominated by the political and security issues. For instance, a leader with a liberalist ideology will pursue a corporation between his or her country to help foster mutual relationship in terms of their export/ import balance and promotion of cultural exchange. By this the leader has a strong belief that such a corporation will yield an absolute gain the mutual economic interrelationship and subsequently peace (Baylis & Smith, 2002). The current dispute among the today’s scholars regarding the two opposing views of realism and reasoning has been intense fro quite some time.

Realism

The theory of political realism has not only been in existence for quite a long time but has also dominated the theory of politics in the recent past (Dunne, Kurki & Smith, 2009, p.311). Traditionally, realism has been associated with the idea of antiwar as manifested in the eve of World War II, where most of the realists felt that the perpetrators of the war had not been guided by the practical thinking of idealism (Dunne, et al., 2009). However in the recent past, especially during and after the Cold War, the modern realists way of thinking have been re-modified, but with the same principle that the lack of central power to control interstate association is the cause of conflicts (p.297).

In practice, the modern realists have come together to share some core aspects of international relations. First, realism is built on the premise of what causes war between the nations and what makes peace prevail. The other central view among realists is that for the international relations to work, a central authority is always necessary to make the interstate relationship viable, and that the absence of such a central power is the beginning of interstate anarchy which leads to confusion on interstate security matters (Baylis & Smith, 2002, p.298). For instance if one nation state is in search for security, the potential adversaries are left with the impression that they are being targeted hence become continuously insecure over the issues. This has been attributed to the increased conflict between nations in relation to race to acquire deadly weapons, commonly known as arms race (Dunne, Kurki & Smith, 2009). This therefore leads us to the principle question of who is more capable relatively, or what Brown (2005, p.173) calls ‘relative capability’. Attempts by nations to deal with this central theme of international relations theory is the reason behind the formation of international units of corporation or global unions and thus the believe among this group that the nations and the leaders who fail to comply or cope with this trend are on their downward trend to collapse (Dune et al., 2009). This reasoning subsequently draws a line between realists and liberalists, with the former having a strong belief that conflicts between nation states are just but natural phenomena and not as a result of evil leaders, historical influence, misunderstanding between nation states or a distorted political system (Dune et al., 2009).

The other aspect of belief among the realists is that it is the regional integrations that are the central to international collaboration, principally basing this point on the geographical inclinations between states (Brown, 2005). Again realists believe that behavior of a state is always rational since it is guided by the ‘national interest’ based on its struggle to survive, attempt to boost its power over other states, keeping its citizens safe and trying out its relative capability (Baylis & Smith, 2002; Dunne, 2009). Realism also put the idea of unity at the hands of the state, where the state will always act as a unit when approaching international issue. Brown (2005) explains that since the common base of a problem is normally defined by the external factors (i.e. the other international players) rather than the internal issues, their response will always be determined by the forces outside their borders.

English School

Unlike the two feuding idealists in the realists and liberalists, English school theory always believe that the states themselves form one common unit, one society, which some scholars have referred to as ‘society of states’ at the level of international community (Baylis & Smith, 2002). This is despite the fact that there is no specific central monitoring unit in the name of a government or a leader. English school ideologists believe that the international relations is depicted from the historical agenda of the past, normally mentioning the used to be borderless nations. Simply put, the English school theory is based on the theory of reconciling the two conflicting ideologies of realism and liberalism, by fronting a middle ground on the both matters of state and international relations.

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English school theory is much of an issue of globalization, since it is commonly associated with the free movement of information, goods and services across the borders. This theory explains and encourages the flow of goods and services, investments, information, migrants, holiday goers, etc. (Brown, 2005; Dunne, 2009). These flows are always connected to history and thus considered international issues that existed before the emergence of these theories.

Conclusion

In the light of post Cold War, structural realism has received quite a challenge considering the recent events. Its inability to explain the change of systems, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent emergence of new nations has been questioned on many occasions. Dunne et al. (2009, p.290) observes that even though realism, especially the classical realism has some of the most admired features such as trading with caution and working with humility, the neo-realism has the least support to the theory of international policy.

Liberalists have been quick at pointing out that liberal states have never been to war that would warrant international crisis, thus contradicting the realism theory point of view. Realists on the other hand are more concerned with the liberalists’ failure to bring internal reconciliation among the feuding parties within a state, accusing them of only being concerned with economic prosperity at the expense of political stability.

While it may be easy for a leader to express an opinion on the reasons why nations go to war, it is apparent that the leader may not know the actual reason for fronting or initiating a war against another leader from another nation. The theories of international relations reveal that the reasons are deeper and rooted on the ideologies of the state, headed by a specific leader. It is thus possible to conclude that Cold War, World War I and II, and other most recent wars such Iraq and Afghanistan are actually rooted deeper than can be seen at face value, but with help of international relations theories, the reasons and the cause of wars can be unlocked.

Reference

Baylis, J. & Smith, S. (2002) The Globalization of World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Brown, C. (2005) Understanding International Relations. London, Palgrave.

Dunne, T. et al. (2009) International Relations Theories: Discipline and Diversity. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

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Thompson, Kenneth (1991) Cold War Theories: World Polarization, 1943-1953. LSU Press, ISBN-13: 978-0-8071-1744-6.

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