International Relations Theories and Human Rights

Reconciling security issues with respect for fundamental human rights has become one of the key challenges facing governments around the world. They are highly debated since each government considers them from a specific standpoint. Human rights are firmly established both in practice and in the theory of worldwide international relations (IR) (Mutua 2001). The predominant theories of IR explain the role of such rights in completely different ways. Their main provisions carry convincing arguments pointing to the problematic opposition of state sovereignty to universal moral order ideas. Therefore, these aspects may be reviewed and compared for different frameworks, including liberalism, realism, constructivism, and normativism.


First of all, realism emphasizes the nation-state’s role. It makes the broad presumption that the majority of nation-states are urged by national interests or by these interests disguised as moral interests. As a result, realism aims to explain the contentment of foreseen national interests not only in a devoid of law based on political autonomy but also from an ethical point of view (Milner 1999). In other words, realists perceive the state as a unity where politics and ethics come from different fields; meanwhile the result of the action itself determines the correctness or incorrectness of an action (Nexon 2009). Consequently, realism is often understood as incompatible with a true moral commitment to the normative provisions proclaimed by the ideas of human rights.

Normally, realists do not think that normative values and international regimes can be valid on their own. Hence, when the human rights are proclaimed, they have no analytical neither explanatory value which could explain states’ actions. Thus, the proponents believe that international human rights law is not worth of being revised (Shue 1999). After all, the international partnership for human rights presumes a global regime of normative values.

International authority is essential only when it can display the pre-existing distribution of power around the globe. The structure of the international system is composed of these norms. Or else, realists have two options when the international human rights order is not important and when in matters (Shue 1999). In the first situation, they think the states will not worry about the norms, while in the other case is plays a crucial role as a tool in the hands of the mighty people to impose their hegemony on the weak.

In general, realistic theories define “security” as the state’s security and place particular emphasis on preserving the state’s territorial integrity and the physical safety of its inhabitants. A state is considered safe if it can defend itself against or deter a hostile attack, as well as prevent other states from forcing it to change its behavior or sacrifice fundamental political values significantly (Neumayer 2005). This concept can be contrasted with alternative definitions of “security” that focus either on the individual or global level and are not a privilege of the state. Or those that include nonviolent threats to human life (such as disease or environmental degradation), domestic crime, economic hardship, or threats to cultural autonomy or identity.

Realism is one of the predominant ways of thinking in the hypothesis of global relations, which hypothetically formalizes the genuine approach of policy implementation in early Modern Europe (Paul 2005). In spite of the wide assortment of perspectives, he is joined by the conviction that world governmental issues are consistently and essentially a field of contention between entertainers looking for power. Hypotheses of authenticity are against the helpful goals of radicalism.


Liberalism as a theory continues to value triumphs, as it has since its development in the Enlightenment Age. His most impressive current victories are popularity based on harmony and the associated expertise of only favorable world participation circumstances. Liberalism is a useful guide to global security to the extent that people and the gatherings they organize influence or, at best, destroy states. In our current reality, where progressively effective advances in correspondence still allow individuals and assemblies to be activated without States’ involvement, radicalism will always be a useful way to address security concerns. The possibilities of progressivism will be limited to the extent that states are self-governing, ready to conduct their business without the constraints of homegrown and international social orders.

As liberals figured out, moral universalism should be introduced into the international politics. Since the movement appeared in the age of Enlightenment, states have significantly progressed in upholding the universal principles that underlie liberalism. As a result of their policies, multiple Western states eventually consolidated human rights in legal constitutions, put an end to the slave trade and ruined institution of slavery (Neumayer 2005). Moreover, the liberalists proclaimed that they were ready to protect working conditions of employees and elaborated international humanitarian law aiming to protect wounded or captured soldiers and imprison those who attack civilians. Many of these accomplishments occurred between the mid-19th and early 20th centuries.

Liberalism primary concern has always been national security, and not the security of the individual. Therefore, the state as an institution is formed and sustained by individuals and it critical goal is to serve people’s desires (Paul 2005; Walt 1987). Hence, liberalism, having a commitment to the individual, cannot be perceived separately. As a result, liberalists think that security is purely a matter of states’ interaction. Moreover, safety is a consequence of promoting and strengthening human rights rather than military interventions.


Constructivism is far different from realism and liberalism since it does not entirely focus on human rights theory. It suggests an alternative perspective on the relations between norms and interests. The proponents of constructivism consider that there is no strain on sovereign states’ interests and moral principles needed for human rights promotion and protection. The crucial aspect is that international political reality has a purely constitutive nature, which implies how the states create norms and values. Therefore, this dynamic demonstrates the development of human rights within this framework.

Typically, the sphere of international relations comprises a set of rules, expectations, and behavioral patterns that actors must abide by. Constructivists consider that inter-state order is a consequence of universal values’ influence. As a result, human rights become an integral part of human values in the modern state with a moral purpose to organize the power in the state. Therefore, constructivists believe that denying universal values may be disadvantageous since it presumes condemnation or a form of imposing new legitimacy.

Constructivism as an idea that forms the concept of human security, considers the process of mutual interaction as a means of creating international interests. It defines interests and identity, while the identity itself constitutes interests.

In this process, only when states transfer their attention to the common interests of countries, the worth of human security can be established. For instance, the case when the human rights treaty was signed by the Canadian and Norwegian governments followed a meeting in Norway between Foreign Ministers in May 1998 can be considered a new benchmark in foreign policy, particularly in a flied of security (Milanovic 2003). Both governments covered a humanitarian agenda under the umbrella concept that includes support for the issue of the International Criminal Court (ICC), a ban on landmines, and a ban on child soldiers and small arms.


Normative theorists claimed to have utopian and idealistic standpoints; therefore, they are thought to be over-factual in order to be considered scientific. This theory is relatively new and firmly opposes several directions. The normative element in IR is stubbornly irreplaceable for a person. Normativists oppose the thesis of the relativity of ethics and value (Brawley 2005). Instead, they considered any existence of good or bad as a normal phenomenon which does not constrain further societal development. Moreover, they try to preserve national interests and employed the principle of self-determination which stands for an equal right to choose a sovereign and politic status without privacy invasion.

As a result, normativists thought that human rights must not be interferes and the government should protect them. For instance, in 2001 George Bush Jr. determined Al-Qaeda as an attack to the democracy and human rights and introduced “perpetual peace” policy to put an end to this war (Monteiro 2012). Thus, preserving human rights presumes maintaining the national interests. Normativism’s perception of security is connected with preserving state’s national interest. Therefore, once there are not external invasions and human rights promotion, the safety is guaranteed.


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DemoEssays. "International Relations Theories and Human Rights." December 26, 2022.