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International Relation Theories Research Paper

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Updated: Jan 30th, 2020


International relations are largely concerned with power balance and socio-political engagements among various states (Anon., 2011). In order to fully appreciate how different nations relate across the world, three theories namely constructivism, liberalism and realism have been developed by political scientists.

Relevant application of these theories can indeed assist in predicting socio-political and economic policies that have been adopted and embraced by different countries (York University, 2009). Needless to say, policy makers have always been concerned about some of these scholarly perspectives on world affairs.

Nonetheless, such academic theories have for a long time been dismissed by advocates of foreign policies (Reitan, 2004). In spite of divergent views on the application of these international relation theories, it is definite that we still require the same theories in generating ideas on how world policies are being manipulated (Washington, 2011).

Indeed, the applications of these theories have been notable since the end of Cold War as different countries within or near the superpower bloc continued to seek supremacy (Anon, 2011). Certainly, diverse schools of thought have proliferated competition toward world affairs and hence have their own strengths and weaknesses as discussed in this paper.

What is realism?

Realism is a traditionally dominant theory that portrays international affairs as a struggle for might among selfish individuals. Realists have an assumption that world powers are anarchic in nature with independent states acting as focal points (Anon, 2011). Therefore, realists believe that individual states may have offensive power which makes them dangerous to each other or can grossly jeopardize peaceful co-existence (Cristol, 2011).

This school of thought is often pessimistic about strategies of eliminating war and conflicts. Additionally, this theory is dominated by elements of Cold War in the sense that governments in various countries view each other with great deal of suspicion. The theory also provides brief explanation on war alliances and other issues of global interests.

Realism should not be taken as a single theory since realists have evolved it since the times of the Cold War era. For instance, classical realists emphasize that states are like human beings and hence have desire to dominate others (Lynch, 2005). Proponents this theory argue that the desire for dominance was realistically as a result of Cold War. On the contrary, neo-realists dismiss the human nature analogy and concentrate on international affairs.

One of the proponents of realism, Kenneth Waltz, claims that international systems are anarchic in nature. Consequently, each state struggle to survive on it own since there is no central authority to assert power balance. Moreover, defensive realists comprehend that great powers sought defense and subsequently developed into anarchism (Sicha, 2010). Divided opinions from staunch realists have transformed realism from focusing on human nature into more pragmatic aspects of international relations.

Strengths of realism

Realism theory has been the centre of focus whenever deliberating on international affairs largely due to its less complicated and appealing nature to policy makers. The theory has provided adequate proofs in its applicability and variability to world affairs. Realists often argue that the anarchic nature of states may possibly limit conflicts (Anon., 2011).

However, this is factual since every nation will regard utilizing its resources for it own benefits (Moravcsik, 2001). Furthermore, it disregards ethical principle of “might is right” since the strong might not always be right. Moreover, it’s conventional and contemporary applicability is appealing especially to mighty nations who are keen in protecting their interests.

It is evident that although realism lacks sufficient evidence on why there are mighty and violent powers in the world, the theory is still significant and applicable in modern Post War governments.


Realism theory has several gaps that are yet to be filled. To begin with, it fails to explain why some countries may adversely in terms of economic performance index in spite of the presence of international organizations like United Nations who have been mandated to safeguard the interests of member state (York University, 2009).

On the same note, it does not regard international attention on how different states use their differential policies to coerce others. Additionally, when making decisions pertaining international policies, it is not possible to decide for each single nation. The latter weakness is a common cause of worry since such decisions may be self centered and equally lack broad perspective (International Relations Resource Center, 2010).

Moreover, the theory opposes the evil nature of man and claims that conflicts among states arise from their anarchic nature. Currently, some states have ventured into war against terrorism asserting that realists’ ideologies have been rendered obsolete.

What is liberalism?

This theory upholds individual or political liberty and defense from arbitrary treatment (Reitan, 2004). However, the theory contrasts realism since it focuses on economic interdependence. Liberalists assert that when states are economically interdependent, they evade warfare to safe guard mutual prosperity.

However, Woodrow Wilson, one of the proponents of liberalism, has a different school of thought on liberalism (Moravcsik, 2001).He emphasizes that democratic nations are more peaceful than authoritarian ones (Reitan, 2004). Recent liberal theories focus on international institutions as means of enhancing cooperation hence overcome selfish interests.

Case corporate examples include International Monetary Fund (IMF) and International Energy Agency (IEA) (Reitan, 2004). Hence, liberalism mainly focuses on bilateral and multilateral cooperation, with states being the central actors in international affairs (Lynch, 2005).


Liberal ideologies prefer a model society that is free from coercion and where minority rights are protected (Reitan, 2004). Liberalists advocate for free exchange of opinions and transparency in governing institutions. Additionally, it is committed in protecting the less privileged in society (Reitan, 2004).

In other words, liberals advocate for recognition of individual dignity. They assert that everyone is entitled to rational treatment regardless of race, gender or social class. Therefore, they are perceived as advocates of good governance.


Apparently, standard solutions from the liberals were found inadequate in helping citizens to indentify their political and social identities. This led to suffering of several states in terms of political empathy as they were competing for civic and political rights of their subjects.

Furthermore, critics argue that liberals regard nothing more than mere comforts that are consumer oriented (Moravcsik, 2001). It is certain that the theory over-emphasizes on government as the sole solution to challenges facing various states. While liberalists believe that society is always in upward growth momentum, it may not be the case since it is a flat or plain assumption that does not take into account local and international factors that may affect the very growth.

What is constructivism?

This theory puts more emphasis on impacts of ideas unlike the latter that focus on material aspects such as power and wealth. Constructivists value interests and identities of nations as vital product of peculiar historical events. Additionally, proponents of this theory regard aspects in society that shape belief systems and interests of people and how behavior norms are established.

Consequently, the end of the Cold War legitimized the theory for its ability to anticipate and explain events prior, during and after the war (Lynch, 2005). Through the theory, it is possible to understand how norms changes and why people conceive different tastes and behaviors.

Moreover, constructivism has made it easy to understand and solve issues associated with identities and interests. As an emphasis, this theory is very diverse in explaining events, role of norms and how their affect political spheres.


Unlike other theories, incumbent has focused on basic aspect in human relations. Constructivists assert that human behavior influences political system and state interests. They are able to criticize realists who assert that state behavior is influenced by an international system. Additionally, they make some insightful recount on issues that are often ignored by realists and liberals (Lynch, 2005).


Certainly, the theory is prone to criticism for its inability to explain how individual opinions differ in preference to social constructions (York University, 2009). Moreover, they attempt to expound on moral and ethical misconceptions on how norms alter interest and identity of states. However, they are only able to give vague information that does not satisfy their critics. Additionally, this theory poses a common misconception since individuals construct their own reality that can lead to intellectual anarchy. For instance, many scholars have emerged with different inferences hence posing challenges to the initial constructivists (Washington, 2010).

Appealing theory in the 21st Century

Evidently, there has always been a huge debate over which theory remains most effective and relevant in the contemporary society. It is worth to note that their relevance lies on their ability to expound occurring phenomena in world affairs.

Apparently, the three theories have both weaknesses and strength as earlier discussed in this paper. Nevertheless, liberalism has won awards in enhancing peace and cooperation among world states (Reitan, 2004). For this reason, the incumbent is suitable for the complex and diffuse 21st century.

In my own view, I feel that liberalism is the best ideology to use in scaling power of different states owing to the fact that its concepts enhance political, social and economic freedom thereby reducing disparity gap between mighty nations and less or under-privileged states.

Furthermore, through liberalism, human life is perfected by enhancing equal level of integrity and confidence (Sicha, 2010). As an international relation theory, it is the only one that has been idealistic in considering human capacity. Moreover, states that amass power are discouraged from doing so and therefore rendered less destructive by their subjects.

Certainly, there are myriad of challenges being faced in the 21st century that requires well defined principles to address them (Reitan, 2004). Liberalism has a major principle that is very prudent for the modern society. Enhancing good governance and rule of law will solve issues of anarchy and terrorism. However, liberalists insist that governments should be strong to safeguard their citizens from internal and external aggressions (Reitan, 2004).

To recap it all, it is imperative to reiterate that several schools of thoughts have relentlessly attempted to assert influence on international affairs (Waltz, 2011) This has created divided attitude, perceptions and mixed feelings among scholars over which theory is more relevant, supreme and pragmatic (Weber, 2011).

Nonetheless, the relevance of each theory is largely dependant on historical times when they were being applied since each one of them has uniquely impacted international relations in some way.


Anon. (2011). . Web.

Cristol, J. (2011). International Relations Theory. Web.

International Relations Resource Center (2010). Theories of international relations. Web.

Lynch, M. (2005). . Web.

Moravcsik, A. (2001). Liberal International Relations Theory: A social scientific assessment. Web.

Reitan, A. (2004). Liberalism: Time-Tested Principles for the Twenty-First Century. Lincoln: iUniverse, Inc.

Sicha, F. (2010). International Relations: Realism, Liberalism and Constructivism. Web.

Waltz, K. (2011). Progress in International Relations Theory. Web.

Washington, G. (2010). An overview of the field of international relation. Web.

Weber, W. (2011) : A Critical Introduction. Web.

York University (2009). Critical Realism Theory. Web.

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