In the study of international conflict, there is no one single method that can be termed as the dominant or most preferred in the analysis of the various processes, reasons and genesis of the conflicts. This is because international conflicts emanate from different reasons. The conflicts also involve diverse countries with different ideologies, policies, leadership and system of government.
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The world nations are governed using different methods and systems like democratic system, socialism, monarchical, and dictatorship while some like Somalia have no stable governments. The countries of the world are also unevenly developed; some are very developed possessing advanced weapons like nuclear weapons while others are third world countries that cannot even feed their population.
The main actors in international conflicts vary depending on the theories employed. The key theories have stated nation states, ideologies, terrorism, and economic factors as the key actors in international conflicts (Nye, 2008:33).
As a nation, the US being the most developed on earth is one of the key actors in international conflict. It influences its allies like the Northern Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members in any conflict resolution and management. The United Nations has also a key role to play in international conflict and peacekeeping missions. Terrorist groups like Al Qaeda have also been instrumental in international conflicts.
The war between the US and Afghanistan, sparked in 2001, was mainly flickered by the September 11 attack of the US by terrorists. Even though there is no single most dominant method of analysis of international conflict, several methods have been preferred. These include realism, Marxism, rationalism, empiricism, liberal international relations theory, scientific and qualitative and quantitative methods of analysis
Of the many theories that try to analyze international conflict, realism could be argued as the best and in the right level (Morris, 2003:102).
This is because realism studies the actual reasons and methods as opposed to other theories that rely on idealism; realism is also broad and offers a variety of reasons thus accommodative. Some of the historical figures who have advocated for the realism approach include Niccolo Machiavelli and Otto Van Bismarck. Realism theory holds that the key actors in any international conflict are the nations of the earth.
This theory holds that national interest and security of whichever state comes before morality or any social factors. A state whose national security is threatened will attack without hesitation or deliberation. This theory also holds that there is no single dominant international force whose authority can be respected by others.
Therefore, all nations are constantly trying to outmanoeuvre and outsmart each other in the competition for supremacy and hence conflicts are bound to be observed.
The theory also state that there is no single nation that can be relied on for survival of another nation hence all nations want to safeguard their own survival and in the process of so doing, they find themselves fighting with their neighbours over boundaries disputes, mineral, and oil rich regions.
This theory of international conflict can be said to be the one that offers extensive and intensive explanations for the various conflicts. The US and its allies attack on Iraq in 2003 mainly culminated from the notion that Iraq was manufacturing and in possession of weapons of mass destruction.
Britain argued that Iraq under Saddam Hussein was a threat to its national peace, the US also argued that these weapons could be used by terrorists thus a threat to its national security and hence the necessity of the invasion to destroy these weapons. This national security explanation is one of the reasons highlighted by the realism theory.
The Falklands war can also be explained under this theory of realism; this in the support of the theory’s emphasis that there is no dominant international power whose orders can be taken supreme. Argentina claimed that the Falkland Island, which is geographically few kilometres from its coast, should fall under its territories. This angered Britain who despite being miles far away from the island claimed it was her territory based on historical exploration.
After diplomatic missions failed to settle the dispute, Argentina started human occupation of the island and then attack on the few security forces present, the British reacted by launching counter attacks, resulting in the Falklands War. The Realism Theory claims that the world has no central authority and this is clearly demonstrated by Argentina’s defiance to heed the warnings of the British.
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Britain was the super power of the 18th and 19th Centuries yet Argentina could not hesitate to aggressively offend Britain. When the US intervened to solve the crisis, Argentina still refused to listen, yet the US has been the Super power since the Two World Wars, leading to this war.
This competition for supremacy in world affairs was also seen during the cold war. The US and Soviet Union engaged in various competitive ventures and although they never actually engaged in military confrontations their allies did. For example, North Korea invaded The Republic of Korea (South Korea) prompting the US to mobilize her troops to defend and prevent South Korea from succumbing to communism.
This was repeated in the Vietnam War in the bid by the US to secure Vietnam borders from communism. The Soviet Union also attacked Afghanistan in 1979 a move that saw the US supporting the rebels in an effort to undermine the Soviet’s occupation. International conflicts can therefore be attributed to the anarchy in the international stage as argued by the realism theory.
The realism theory also state that a nation cannot rely on other nations for survival (Nochilin, 1977:45). This prompts the nations to engage in the process of armament and the provisions of firearms. Nations sign multi-million US-dollar contracts with other weapon producing nations in the purchase of weapons like tanks, fighter jets, guns, and bombs. This is done with the notion of self-preservation and assurance of national survival.
The best example is the war in Middle East between Israel and the Arab nations. Israel views itself as a threatened state. Arab nations like Iran have publicly opposed the creation of Israel saying the land where Israel nation is located belongs to the Palestine.
These Arab states have launched attacks on Israel in abide to occupy it; Iran’s president, Ahmadinejad has stated his desire to wipe out Israel from the world map.
These threats have made Israel vow not to entrust its existence to any other state thus engaging in massive armament, which has in turn seen military confrontation in the Middle East region for ages. Military activities have overtaken any other activity in the region (Mitchell, 1998:123).
Liberalism as a theory in analyzing international conflict differs with realism and emphasis on idealism. Realism holds that the state is the sole actor in international conflict, however liberalism hold that there is multiple actors in international conflict analysis, brought about by the various nations’ preferences rather than their abilities. The variation could be in terms of culture, economy or the system of government
. Instead of competition and anarchy on the international platform, the theory projects interaction of different cultures, marketing strategies and multinational companies. Thus, instead of international conflicts the theory views peace as possible.
Realism holds that nations do not abide by ideologies when faced with international conflicts. In its opposition of such a stand, liberalism holds that democracies do not fight one another and have few conflicts among themselves if any. This has been used by critics as the main shortcoming of the realism theory.
Marxist theory differs with the realism and liberalism theory. It says that economic factors are the major actors and influencers in international conflicts. The material needs of nations prompt them to attack others in the quest to supply their industries and population with enough resources.
This can be seen with invasion and colonization of other nations especially in Africa, Asia, Americas and Oceania by European powers from the 15th to the 20th Century. The main aim of countries like Britain and Germany in attacking African countries was to secure raw materials for their surging industries after the Industrial Revolution in Europe.
The other reason was to provide ready markets for the manufactured goods. The economic factors thus lead nations to war in a bid to secure certain resources. The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade/Triangular Trade was also necessitated by economic reasons.
Slaves from African obtained through warfare, and consequently led to the fall of many West African kingdoms. The slaves were taken to the Americas where they worked in the plantations to provide raw materials for industries in Europe. Once the finished goods were produced, they were in turn sold to the subjugated Africans.
The Iraq- Kuwait War, which led to the Gulf War, was mainly seen as an economic war. Iraq was heavily indebted to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia after the Iraq-Iran war of the 1980s. Iraq was also experiencing internal economic hardships and so the only option the Saddam regime could do was to attack Kuwait and seize her rich natural resources.
This led to the Gulf War started by the US and her allies in a bid to stop the invasion and remove the Iraq soldiers from Kuwait. In turn, economic repercussions were severe, as Iraq set Kuwait’s oil fields on fire; Iraq also released millions of gallons of crude oil into the Persian Gulf in an attempt to deter the US naval from reaching the coast (Kaldor, 2006:76).
In the study of international conflicts, Realism, Marxism and Liberalism theories are crucial in the realization of the right level of analysis; the theories explain the various causes and courses of conflicts. International conflicts and crisis have been in existence for a long time. In fact, they have existed through out the history of humankind and thus the right analysis is necessary.
There are numerous theories that try to analyze the issue further expounding while others contradicting. In international conflicts, the key actors have in most cases remained the nation states, ideologies, individuals and economic factor (Haas, 1974:234).
Haas, M, 1974. International Conflict. Bobbs Merrill, New Jersey.
Kaldor, M, 2006. Old and New Wars. Stanford University Press, Palo Alto.
Mitchell, R, 1998. The Structure of International Conflict. St. Martins Press, INC, New York.
Morris, P, 2003. Realism. Routledge, London.
Nochlin, L, 1977. Realism. Taylor& Francis, New York.
Nye, J, 2008. Understanding International Conflicts: An Introduction to Theory and History. Pearson Longman, New York.