International relations theories
The United States has continued to investigate what went amiss on September 11, 2001. The country’s intelligence faces imminent restructuring, the military is now focused on a new enemy and the federal agency seeks to coordinate with the homeland security, but the question is; did the September attack indicate a failure in theory as well in intelligence and policy? International relations theories are still being debated on in the academic circles and some of these theories have been adjusted to fit into the new realities the world is trying to come to terms with. However, the question still remains; have these adjustments helped in any way? Are these theories still significant to policy makers? A political scientist called Stephen M. Walt published a book six year ago entitled ‘Many theories, one world’, and he mainly focused on three international relations theories; realism, liberalism and constructivism, idealism in its updated form. All these theories form the backbone of public discourse and analysis (Snyder, 2004) and thus this essay seeks to compare and contrast the three theories.
Realism is mainly concerned with the coercive power. It regards states as primary analysis units and it sees power from a military perspective. In this case for them, military strength of a particular country or state poses danger to the others. They also view economic strength as some kind of power and thus those countries that are economically strong determine economic structures of the world. This theory disagrees with the notion that free trade and progress in science can bring long lasting peace in the world and hence they consider this kind of thinking as dangerous. It also considers international politics as ‘tragic’ since it is characterized by competition and open hostilities (Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, 2010).
On the other hand, the liberalists hold the same views as the realists in that they also view the state as a primary unit of analysis, but they also believe that international law and organizations, including the non governmental ones have an important part to play in world politics. Liberalists disagree with the realists’ notion of considering international relations as tragic or a game but instead perceive them as interactions system that has a potential of leading to mutual gain. For them, they are more optimistic about these relations for they believe that, it is very possible to achieve peace and cooperation in international behaviors. Moreover, the theory propounds that democratic capitalism and republican governments lead to inter state relations that are characterized by harmonious coexistence (Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, 2010).
Lastly for constructivists, they believe that interstate sovereignty, legitimacy, political institutions and national identity stem from social actions and thus they have been constructed. They also believe that the world politics are made up of ideas, identities and norms as central elements. This contradicts both the realists’ and liberalists’ views that ideas are inconsequential to world politics (Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, 2010).
All the theories focus on different things. Realism focuses on the power distribution which is shifting among states, liberals focuses on democracies and their rising number in the world. In addition they also highlight the turbulence that characterizes democratic transitions. Lastly the constructivists are mainly concerned with norms that are really changing, for example, sovereignty, international justice, human rights and religious views that characterize politics (Snyder, 2004).
Moreover, realism appreciates the concept of power. Liberalists believe that democracies have the potential to cooperate and this can be facilitated by working together through effective institutions. They also believe that democracies have a tendency to suffer from ethnic violence and be against tyrannical governments. However, the constructivists believe that for a stable political order to exist there must be consensus in values but it also recognizes that for that consensus to come about, there must be an ideological struggle which may lead to conflict (Snyder, 2004).
Strengths and weaknesses realism
Realists’ belief that international affairs are mainly characterized by power struggle among states brings about their pessimism about international relations. However, realism is not amoral since it believes that if countries adopt ruthless pragmatism in regards to power, it may actually lead to a peaceful world. However, the theory does not go down well with the liberal democracies. Many believe that, realism is responsible for wars since it does not recognize international institutions and law could play a major role in maintaining peace in the world. Currently, countries like China are known to have adopted this approach in its foreign policy and that’s why they are seen to slowly develop their military. According to liberalists, realism views do not explain the progressing relationship between countries and thus it is stunted in its vision (Snyder, 2004). However, this theory, since it focuses on military strength of countries, does a good job in explaining the US reaction to September11 2001 attack for example its use of military power against Iraq in its fight against terrorism. This is because realists expect the most powerful countries to try to use their power to dominate others. It also explains why most of the modern democracies are characterized by ethnic violence (Snyder, 2004).
Strengths and weaknesses of Liberalism
This theory explains the importance of the advocates of human rights. It has also proven reliable in trying to find solutions to current security problems due to its centrality on the view that all governments are reliable politically and legitimately. This theory also supports the rule of law and transparency and that is why many see the approach as important in tackling modern security problems. However, liberal thoughts have so many strains to the point that most of the time, they are contradicting each other and this is why Bush’s administration has both supporters and critics. For example, Bush administration was at the forefront in championing for democracy all over the world but it was not concentrating on international institutions which some liberals support and that is why the administration sometimes was criticized. Since liberalists believe that democratic governments do not fight each other, they have really helped in coming up with strong laws in the area of social sciences (Snyder, 2004).
Strengths and weaknesses of constructivist theory
For constructivists, they are focused on explaining the role of human rights organizations among other groups since they help in watching legal violations and moral standards that are perpetrated by democracies. This theory is also effective in explaining the dynamics of transitional forces, such as the illiberal ones, for example, the rise of militia groups, Islamic extremisms and Arab nationalism. It is also reliable in providing insights about the current world order in regards to its value and ideas (Snyder, 2004). However, the theory is not good in offering advice since it leads to two directions which are incompatible. This is because this theory may mean different things to different people. For example, its centrality on the view that political order comes about as a result of shared understanding, calls for dialogue among different cultures. This view is also expressed by liberalists who emphasize on the need for constitutional order in the international level. This does not go down well with some constructivists who believe that there is no need of dialogue since countries already know what is right or wrong and that is why they call for people to embarrass world leaders who are involved in human rights abuses and force them to promote values in their countries (Snyder,2004).
Among the three theories, not even a single one can be able to provide solutions to the current world problems since none can bring out change that is really needed currently in the world. For example, realists were not able to predict when the cold war would come to an end. The liberalists also fail in predicting the time when democratic transitions take place because they concentrate so much on what happens after countries become democratic (Snyder, 2004). The theory also fails in prescribing how to go about peaceful transitions. For constructivists, they are very good in explaining changes that take place in norms and values but the weakness comes about in explaining the necessary circumstances; the international and the material ones that are important in supporting agreements on new ideas and values. Some people have tried to use each of them separately though it has been unsuccessful so far; for instance, those who called for invasion of Iraq and the establishment on international criminal court were relying on a single theory (Snyder, 2004).
This calls for the usage of the three theories and combining them together when coming up with international policies. Each of them does not succeed in explaining how politics in international level work but they can be used to form the basis or framework in answering questions asked especially by those who think that it is very easy to change the world (Snyder, 2004).
In conclusion, no theory is conclusive enough and can be said to be able to offer solutions to the current global problems and thus it calls for the combination of insights from all of them. Each one of them has strengths and weaknesses and thus, by combing them it will be more effective than just using them separately.
Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training. (2010).Theories of international relations.
Retrieved from <http://www.usdiplomacy.org/diplomacytoday/values/theories.php>
Snyder, J. (2004). One world, rival theories. Retrieved from