The topic of war and peace has become an increasingly important area concerning international relations over the past decade. Wars varying from Russia’s invasion of Georgia, to the United States involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan placed war on top of international politics agenda. These wars, along with all other wars, are started for various reasons, which different international relations theories try to identify.
Theories such as realism or institutionalism may have severely different views on identical cases, and while all theories usually have some degree of merit, opposing theories will find discrepancies in the views of one another’s theories. In international relations, it is important to comprehend the complexities of each theory, because while no theory is universally accepted, everyone usually subscribes to one of the main theories.
This essay aims to dissect and analysis the contrasting beliefs of three of the main international relation theories; realism, institutionalism, and state-society approach, and identify key differences between these theories in the context of war and peace. A realist would argue that a state makes war because the state believes it is in its national interest to do so. To understand the realist approach to war and peace, some common assumptions made by all realists must be understood. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, there is no international body that governs the state.
The international stage is anarchic, with no presiding body over states. In addition, every state is wary of long-term treaties and agreements. Hobbes argued that international politics exist in a, “state of nature,” where no body governs the behavior of states. Each state is a sovereign entity that cares firstly and fore mostly about self-survival. After all, the citizens of each state only subscribe to the laws of their state to protect themselves for the actions of others, both domestic and foreign. Secondly, greater attention is given to more powerful states, as they are the primary actors on the international level.
A most famous quote by Thucydides, a Greek historian who wrote The History of the Peloponnesian War, stated that “Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must. ” This quote highlights the question of inequality in power among states. While strong states expand their empires, forcefully control resources, and hamper enemy states, weaker states are left to fend for themselves. Realists would submit to this idea of, “might makes right,” on the international stage, perhaps more rigorously with regard to war and peace than any other topic.
Finally, the realist would argue that states, along with individuals, place interests above ideologies. Ideologies cause reckless commitments and escalation of conflict among states, such as those seen during the times of the crusades. Instead, today’s states act rationally and out of self-interest, rather than their beliefs. The affects of such rationality include easier diplomatic relations, careful consideration in all international politics, and less war. This is a stark contrast to the theoretical ideas set forth by the state-society approach to international relations.
The state-society approach believes that state behavior is directly affected by cultural norms, and the behaviors of that state’s neighbors. For example, a state that exists surrounded by aggressive, expansionist states, are more likely to adopt similar behavior; while a state that is isolated from other regime is more likely to be peaceful, and is more likely to possess a smaller army, and less well equipped forces. When it comes to war and peace, the state-society government, “reflects varying patterns of state preferences,” (Liberal Theory of International Politics p. 20). In other words, states must have a reason, “a perceived underlying stake in the matter at hand, in order to provoke conflict,” or otherwise act on the international stage. While this would seem to be common sense, both realism and institutionalism whole-heartedly reject this argument. A liberal, someone who subscribes to the state-society approach, would argue that, “liberal theory provides a plausible theoretical explanation for variation in the substantive content of foreign policy. In other words, while realism and institutionalism may focus on the formal causes of conflict and cooperation, such as military power; the state-society approach explains state’s behavior with regard to certain contexts more appropriately. For example, why should the US worry about a limited number of nuclear weapons possessed by North Korea, while countries like Great Britain and France own much larger stockpiles of nuclear weapons? According to realist theory, states are wary of long-term treaties with other states, and therefore the United States should be worried about those countries that pose a greater potential threat.
As modern politics have shown, this is, of course, not the case. States perceive threats not in the most potentially dangerous, but in the enemy most likely to provoke war. It is also important to note, that during the course of history, states change whom they believe to be perceived threats, another fundamental flaw with both realism and institutionalism. Realism contributes, “no theoretical importance,” (p. 535) to the advancement of economic development in international politics, while a liberal would argue that the economic nature of a state has a direct affect on state behavior.
A key aspect of Institutionalism theory, or functional regime theory, is the influence of international bodies on state behavior. Functional regime theory argues that international bodies, such as the United Nations (UN) or the World Trade Organization (WTO), have direct affects on the behavior of states. These bodies enforce certain laws or regulations, such as the Geneva Convention, upon those states who subscribe to the international organization. Subscription to such an organization is generally voluntarily, and usually restricts the behavior of those states that have subscribed.
An example of such an organization was the Bretton Woods arrangements which, “constricted American freedom of action. ” Despite the fact that the United States eventually broke the arrangement, “for some years… the U. S. government followed these rules” (After Hegemony p. 98). So why would a country voluntarily join an organization that by nature restricts the freedoms of that state? The benefits provided by an organization, such as proposed military protection by the UN, outweighs the costs of subscribing to some of the rules set forth by such an organization.
This is another key point at which functional regime theory and realism argue. While institutionalism believes that a state will agree to the laws and regulations of a international body to reap the supposed benefits, a realist would argue that a state would agree to these laws and regulations, but only follow them as they benefit the state. For example, despite being on the security council of the United Nations, and perhaps the most prominent member, the United States of America declared war on Iraq in 2004, despite the United Nations forbidding such action.
A final note about institutionalism should be made that while international bodies may not possess the powers of a state, they are able to influence and shape state’s preferences, through incentives, redistributing power, and changing cultural contexts. Therefore, this theory differs from the realists approach most basic rule, that there is no body above the state. This theory also eliminates the realist idea of a, “state of nature,” on the international stage, as institutions do exist which can limit, but not completely control, states behavior.
In summation, the different approaches to international theory provide different lenses through which outside individuals can view the dynamics of world politics. While a situation may seem clear under a certain theory, a different approach to the predicament may blur the situational lines, causing a degree of uncertainty in international politics. Instead of arguing that one approach to international relation theory is correct, it should be noted that each approach has it’s own merits and limitations, which affect the context in which a situation is assessed.
International relations theories, particularly as they pertain to war and peace, offer some insight into the behaviors of various states. Works Cited 1. Burchill, Scott et al. Theories of International Relations Palgrave MacMillan. 2005. China. 2. Doyle, Michael W. , 1986. “Liberalism in World Politics”, American Political Science Review 80 (December): 1151-1169 http://www. jstor. org/stable/1960861 3. Grieco, Joesph M. “Anarchy and the Limits of Cooperation” in International Organization 42:3, pp 485-507. http://www. stor. org/stable/2706787 4. Moravcsik, Andrew, “Taking Preferences Seriously: A Liberal Theory of International Politics”, in International Organization, vol. 51, no. 4 (1997) pp. 513-333 http://www. jstor. org/stable/2703498 5. Shimko, Keith L. International Relations: Perspectives and Controversies Wadsworth. 2010. United States of America. 6. Thcydides, The Peloponnesian War (Rex Warner, trans. ) (Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1954). “Melian Dialogue”, pp. 400-408. http://mtholyoke. edu/acad/intrel/melian. htm