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Approaches of International Relations

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Idealism And Liberalism: International Relations Theory in Brief  Overview 

Liberalism (also known in American circles as idealism) is generally considered the second great body of theory in contemporary international politics, although technically it is the first (the first generation of international relations scholars in England after the First World War were predominantly what we would now call liberals). Note that this body of theory does not necessarily bear any significant relationship to people described as "liberals" in contemporary American politics; while some idealists are politically liberal peace activists, the theory also technically incorporates American neoconservatives who see the mission of the United States as spreading democratic systems around the world. Effectively, where realists see competition and conflict, liberals see opportunities for cooperation. This is particularly so in their defence of international law, economic cooperation, and the spread of democracy as the most important mechanisms for building world peace. (There are also further differences between  between realism  realism and liberalism.) Basic Principles 

According to idealism, a state's foreign f oreign policy is not determined entirely by the international system around it, but rather by its own internal order democratic, communist, dictatorial, etc. In general, liberals have observed that the least aggressive states tend to be ones with democratic governments and capitalis capitalistic tic economies -- the so-called "liberal democracies," most of which are industrialized countries. The controversial claim that no democracy has ever truly gone to war against another democracy lies at the heart of the Democratic Peace Theory. Another insight drawn from the linking of internal and external affairs is that non-state actors, like civil society, multinational corporations, and international organizations, also play important roles in world politics. Reflecting its origins in the post-World War I period, liberals have argued that the chief goal of foreign policy should be to promote world peace (although many accept that wars can be just if world peace is the ultimate goal). One mechanism for doing this is to promote the growth of international organizations and international laws, which, according to liberals, should be generally effective provided that they reflect existing balances of power. Important liberal projects have included the promotion


of universal human rights and conflict prevention in the United Nations, and market liberalization through the World Trade Organization. Some branches of liberal theory insist that domestic and international reforms must be linked, and that world peace will require democratization of currently authoritarian states. Liberalism does not deny that serious international conflicts occur. However, following the neoliberal turn, theorists have generally argued that states should and usually do concern themselves first with what economists and game theorists call absolute gains rather rather than relative gains gains - in other words, they are concerned with achieving a measurable increase in their own power and prosperity on their own terms , rather than more narrowly with increasing their power and prosperity relative to other states    The recent rise of American neoconservatism under the late Clinton and Bush administrations owes much to liberal idealism. Neoconservatives argue that the United States is a unique wellspring of classical republican liberalism, and that its special destiny is to achieve the revitalization of American culture as well as the creation of a stable, peaceful international order by spreading this vision of democracy to other countries, including through military interventions in the role of "world police." (Neoconservative interventionists interventionists have clashed with so-called "paleoconservatives," who argue that the revitalization of American culture should be an independent project and that foreign policy should be essentially defensive and isolationist.) Strengths and Weaknesses 

In its idealist variant, liberalism is the first major body of international political theory to focus explicitly on the problem p roblem of war and peace with the goal of implementing sufficient reforms to end war and create a democratic world peace. In its neoliberal and trade-oriented variants, liberalism offers a powerful but still traditional body of theory that allows for the analysis of non-state actors like corporations and social movements. The democratic peace theory, while still unexplained in specific terms, is one of the strongest claims to truth in all  At the same time, critics c ritics allege that liberalism suffers from theoretical incoherence and a Western-centric perspective. Realists argue that liberals are naive to think that world peace is achievable, and wrong to include corporations and international organizations as important actors in international politics. More radical scholars argue that liberalism ignores


the frequently violent foreign policies of imperial democracies (like the British Empire and, arguably, the current United States), as well as the limitations of concepts like "human rights," which are merely Western rather than truly universal. Important Scholars 

Contemporary liberal academics tend to search for their intellectual antecedents in the European Enlightenment, when philosophers p hilosophers first concerned themselves with international peace and human rights. Important inspiration is drawn from such sources as Immanuel Kant (Perpetual (Perpetual Peace), Peace), John Locke (Two (Two Treatises of Civil Government ), ), Hugo Grotius (On (On the Law of    War and Peace) Peace) and Emerich de Vattel (The (The Law of   Several prominent neoliberal scholars currently form the intellectual leadership of idealism. These include Robert Keohane (After ( After Hegemony ) and Joseph Nye (Soft (Soft Power ). ). Neofunctionalists, focused on international unity through international institutions, include Ernst Haas (The ( The Uniting of  Europe). Europe ). The neoconservative movement includes influential scholars as well as nonscholarly journalist commentators. The latter include Robert D. Kaplan (The ( The Coming Anarchy ) and Max Boot (The (The Savage Wars of Peace). Peace ). Neoconservative intellectuals include Robert Kagan (Of ( Of Paradise and Power ). ). At different times in their careers, Samuel P. Huntington (Clash (Clash of Civilizations and Civilizations and Who  Are We? ) and Francis Fukuyama (The (The End of History ) both identified as neoconservatives. Several prominent neoconservatives played a role in the creation of the Project for the New American Century, which formed the basis for early Bush Administration foreign policy.

Realism: International Relations Theory in Brief  Overview 

Realism claims to be the oldest body of theory in the study of international relations. Essentially concerned with the study of war and peace between nations, realism sees a world that is inevitably and permanently divided intonation-states, controlled by rational governments interested in protecting their security. Realists have divided on how they believe most governments naturally attempt to do this: so-called classical realists argue realists argue that governments attempt to increase their power as much as possible (the


more powerful a state is, the more it can control its own destiny), while socalled neorealists  neorealists argue argue that states can increase their security without necessarily being power-hungry (the safer a state is, the more it can control its own destiny). As with all academic theories, there is a surprising amount of variation among the theories and assumptions put forward by both alleged and selfidentified realist scholars. Even the number of shared principles among all Morgenthau  identified six realists seems to be in flux: for example,  example, Hans Morgenthau Donnelly,, Robert Gilpin finds only three principles, but according to  to Jack Donnelly and Randall Schweller actually lists seven seven.. Most college-level surveys hit upon five, and I will do the same here. Basic Principles 

The fundamental assumption of all realist theory is that the international system (that is, the collection of independent nation-states that make up global politics) is anarchic: there is no overarching power or government or law that actually calls the shots. Nations make up their own rules as they go, and are in charge of their own affairs. Realists attribute this state of affairs to the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, although this is debatable. That anarchic system, moreover, is composed solely of nation-states, and more specifically of state governments. Other actors, like international organizations and multinational corporations, are assumed to play minor and insignificant roles in global politics. Third, all of these states are rational and are driven by the goal of survival . To survive -- and to achieve safety, or "national security" -- is the first objective of all countries. Usually, countries pursue this security, and exercise their power, through military means, but sometimes they do so through economic power as well. Finally, realists argue that there is no morality in international politics. In other words, states cannot allow themselves to be guided by any sense of ethics higher than the drive to survive, and they must assume that other states will be doing the same. Hans Morgenthau also claimed that attempting to add morality into politics would lead to senseless ideological wars. Strengths and Weaknesses 

Its easy and basic applicability to the most traditional of international activities -- power politics and war -- can make realism very appealing,


especially to students looking for a relatively easy-to-apply theory. Moreover, realism is best when engaging with powerful states (especially superpowers like the United States and the Soviet Union) on their own terms, seeing the world from their perspective and focusing on the conflicts and crises that tended to occupy the attention of most of their diplomats and security analysts during the Cold War. Realism has many gaps, however. There is virtually no attention paid to how the internal makeup of different states leads them to have different foreign policies (a communist dictatorship and a liberal democracy are assumed to have effectively the same international behaviour, for instance). Realists also cannot explain the decline of states in the face of international organizations and multinational corporations in the economic sphere. Perhaps most importantly, realism has, on the face of it, little to say about the current "war on terror," which involves states on one side but non-state non -state terrorist groups on the other. (Some realists might counter that the "war on terrorism" is simply an ideological cover and that the real conflicts continue to be between the U.S. and other governments, like those of Iran and formerly of Iraq and Afghanistan.) Important Authors 

Most realists today argue that their discipline began with the work of Ancient Greek historian Thucydides (The ( The Peloponnesian War ), ), Italian Renaissance politician Niccolo Machiavelli (The (The Prince), Prince), and less often Chinese strategist Sun Tzu (The (The Art of War ) and English political theorist Thomas Hobbes (Leviathan (Leviathan). ). Whether these writers were genuinely realists or modern-day scholars are simply engaged in selective historical cherrypicking is debatable. Either way, the modern academic field of realism was founded in the 20th century by German-American scholar Hans J. Morgenthau (Politics (Politics Among Nations ). ). A second wave of realist work was initiated by Kenneth Waltz (Man, the State, and War , and Theory of International Politics ), ), and is currently known as neorealism. Most realists today actually identify with the neorealist camp, although they demonstrate a wide variety of different assumptions and beliefs about global politics. Such scholars include John Mearsheimer (The (The Tragedy of Great Power Politics ), ), Robert Jervis (Perception (Perception and Misperception in International Politics ), ), Stephen Walt (The (The Israel Lobby  and U.S. Foreign Policy ), ), and Robert Gilpin (The ( The Political Economy of  International Relations ). ). Another body of theory, the so-called English School of International


Relations, draws heavily upon realist theory, and some of its members, like Hedley Bull (The (The Anarchical Society ), ), actually identify as realists. At the undergraduate level the English School can usually be described as realist, although there actually are significant (if nuanced) differences between the two theories.  

Marxism: International Relations Theory in Brief  Overview 

Marxism is one of the basic theories of international relations. According to realism  and and  liberalism/idealism  liberalism/idealism are simply self-serving Marxists, both  both realism ideologies introduced by the economic elites to defend and justify global inequality. Instead, Marxists argue, class is the fundamental unit of analysis of international relations, and the international system has been constructed by the upper classes and the wealthiest nations in order to protect and defend their interests. Two of the most important Marxistderived bodies of theory in international relations are world-systems theory (led by Immanuel Wallerstein) and dependency theory (a Latin American school which such proponents as Andre Gunder Frank). More recent neoMarxist work in international relations is led by scholars such as Robert Cox, but is classified separately as Critical Theory or neo-Gramscianism. Basic Principles 

The basic tenet of Marxism is that the world is divided not into politically determined nations but into economically determined classes. Consequently, politics does not supercede economics, but rather economics trumps politics. The various Marxist theories of international relations agree that the international state system was constructed by capitalists and therefore serves the interests of wealthy states and corporations, which seek to   The most successful IR theory derived directly from Marxism is Immanuel Wallersten's world-systems theory. According to Wallerstein, the "First World" and "Third World" are merely components of a larger world system systemwhich which originated in 16th-century European colonialism. Instead, these states actually make up the "core" " core" and "periphery" of the


world system -- respectively, the central wealthy states which own and chiefly benefit from the mechanisms of production, and the impoverished "developing" countries which supply most of the human labour and natural resources exploited by the rich. States which do not fit either class, but lie somewhere in the middle of the model, are referred to as "semi-peripheral." The core-periphery thesis of world-systems theory is based upon another body of work, dependency theory, which argues that the basis of international politics is the transfer of natural resources from f rom peripheral developing countries to core wealthy states, mostly the Western industrialized democracies. The poor countries of the world, like the poor classes of the world, are said to provide inexpensive human and natural capital, while the wealthy countries' foreign policies are devoted to creating and maintaining this system of inequality. International economic law (such as the World Trade Organization) and other such systems are seen as means by which this is done. To combat these systems of inequality, traditional Marxists and dependency theorists have argued that poor countries should adopt economic control policies that can break them out of the prison of international economic controls, such as import substitution (government assistance to domestic producers and barriers to wealthy international corporations attempting to flood the market with mass-produced imports) rather than the export-based models usually favoured by international economic organizations such as the World Bank and International   In most fields, a body of social constructivist theory known as neo-Marxism is included within the general canon c anon of Marxist literature. While also true in international relations, the neo-Marxists generally identify as Critical Theorists and as neo-Gramscians, and their ideas, while related, should be studied separately. Strengths and Weaknesses 

World-systems theory and dependency theory, in particular, offer useful analyses for those who perceive the world as principally and perpetually a sphere of economic conflict between the rich and the poor. In its simplest form, Wallerstein's theory may be viewed as an application of the core concepts to Marxism to international relations, in which poor countries are analogous to poor workers and wealthy Western countries are analogous to property and factory owners within the upper classes. c lasses. Moreover, the Marxist studies of international relations easily preceded free-trade liberal scholars


in perceiving the existence of an international market system, today dominated by liberal theorists and known   Since the end of the Cold War, theories associated with communism have fallen into academic disrepute, seen as obsolete. More significantly, Wallerstein's theory may be seen as both excessively concerned with the role of economics in determining all aspects of social and political relations, as well as excessively pessimistic, offering few means of genuine escape from the capitalist system. (This is true of most contemporary academic Marxist theories.) Important Scholars 

The basic Marxist canon is well known outside international relations, beginning with Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (Communist ( Communist Manifesto ). ). Other relevant sources for the study of Marxism and international relations include the classic studies of imperialism and capitalism by Russian Communist leader Vladimir Lenin (Imperialism ( Imperialism and andThe The State and the Revolution), Revolution ), and the neo-Marxist n eo-Marxist turn initiated by Italian political dissident Antonio Gramsci (Prison (Prison    World-systems theory is principally the creation of Immanuel Wallerstein (The Modern World-System). World-System). Wallerstein began his work in postcolonial African politics, but during the 1970s began to unite the theories of Karl Marx, French historian Fernand Braudel, and Latin American dependency theorists. Associated theorists include Giovanni Arrighi (The ( The Long Twentieth Century ). ). In addition to the Marxist tradition, Wallerstein draws upon the Annales School in the French historical tradition, and particularly upon the   work of Fernand Braudel (Civilization (Civilization and   Dependency theory is principally Latin American in its origin and its focus; see, for example, Andre Gunder Frank (Capitalism (Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin America). America). There are some similar theorists elsewhere, for example, such as Egyptian economist Samir Amin (Imperialism (Imperialism and Unequal  Development ). ). It draws its inspiration from Marxist sources as well as economists Hans Singer and Raul Prebisch. 

  Constructivism: International Relations Theory in Brief 



Constructivism is one of the basic theories of international relations. Its central tenet is that most or even all important elements of international politics are the product of specific social circumstances and historical processes, rather than being inevitable consequences of the nature of humans or the nature of politics. This willingness to see international relations as socially constructed sets constructivism apart from traditional realism  and liberalism. Significant authors include Alexander approaches to  to realism Wendt, John Ruggie, and Martha Finnemore. The more radical branches of constructivism, involving (for example) poststructuralist and postmodernist analysis of discourse and linguistics, are technically constructivist but must be described d escribed separately to appreciate their significance. Basic Principles 

The basic observation of constructivism is that human relations are guided more by ideas than by material things. It emerged as an explicit challenge to Kenneth Waltz's neorealism, which argued that state behaviour was determined by the international system in which states existed and operated. Instead, constructivists note that someone (or rather, many people) must have constructed that system in the first place; in fact, that system is continually being built, modified, and rebuilt as we speak. Where realist approaches thus assumed that states' identities and interests in terests were fixed and relatively unproblematic, constructivists assume this is not the case, and look for ways that how states perceive of themselves and their actions have changed. This is not to say that an international system does not exist or that smaller states, in particular, do not often feel pressured by it; instead, it merely points out that international society is, in effect, what human beings make it to be. The constructivist challenge offers valuable insights into many of the concepts taken for granted by conventional c onventional realist, liberal, and to a lesser extent Marxist analysis. The concept of international anarchy, for example, is found to be considerably more flexible than realists imagine. Traditionally, anarchy (the lack of a single overarching power structure defining hierarchical relationships between states) is seen by neorealists as the cause of insecurity and conflict between states. However, this is only one conception of the consequences of anarchy, which most states happen to have adopted as true. Alternatively, international human society could be


organized on a cooperative basis rather than a competitive c ompetitive basis. At the same time, constructivists open themselves to a range of criticisms. Mainstream scholars frequently attack critical and social theories in general g eneral as leading to obfuscation and incoherence, ignoring the "reality on the ground" in favour of increasingly cluttered academic theorizing. Certain veins of critical theory, however, go much farther than constructivism in attempting to assert the ethical or moral validity of actual alternative conceptions of international systems. Constructivism as such merely asserts that present social structures are socially constructed; it does not suggest what social constructions are preferable to others, nor does it suggest, except in vague terms, how one might consciously alter the continuing evolution of state identity and interest in the international system. Important Authors 

Although Nicholas Onuf (World (World of Our Making) Making) first employed the term constructivism in the study of international relations, Alexander Wendt (Social Theory of International Politics ) is the best-known constructivist scholar, emerging during the 1990s as a direct challenger to the ascendancy of Kenneth Waltz's neorealism during the 1980s. Wendt first applied constructivist theory to the problem of anarchy, as described above. Other major constructivist scholars include John Ruggie (Constructing ( Constructing the World  Polity ) and Martha Finnemore (National (National Interests in International Society ). ). More radical departures from constructivism are dealt with in a different fact sheet. However, poststructuralist and linguistic and discourse analyses also emerged from similar assumptions during the 1990s. These scholars include Richard Ashley, Friedrich Kratochwil (Rules, (Rules, Norms and Decisions ), ), R.B.J. Walker(Inside/Outside Walker(Inside/Outside), ), and James Der Derian (Antidiplomacy  ( Antidiplomacy ). ).

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