The theory of international relations (IR) aims at providing conceptual models on which IR can be understood and analyzed in the understanding of happenings around the world. All the theories are essential and reductive on different extents and rely on different group of assumptions. The usefulness of an international theory is determined by the assumptions that are made in relying on it. Normally theories of international relations are either positivist or reflectivist, depending on whether they focus on state level analysis or on expanded meanings of security. There are many theories in this regard such as Constructivism, Marxism and Institutionalism other than the two most widely used theories, which are Realism and Liberalism. Constructivism too is gaining popularity amongst nations in recent times in view of the Marxist bend to it.
Realism best explains the relative degree of order in international relations since it involves the making of certain assumptions, which enable the system to work effectively in coming to concrete decisions without the interference of other agencies. Primarily it is assumed that the sovereign states and not other agencies are the main decision takers in international relations. Hence the governments of states are directly in competition with each other without any third party involvement. Realism in this context empowers the state into holding on to its own fundamental principles and identity in acting as a rational autonomous entity to pursue its interests in maintaining and ensuring its own safety in the quest for survival and sovereignty. The bargaining and negotiation abilities are directly dependent on the resources of the state and its power in this regard has a direct bearing on the ensuing deliberations and conclusions and decisions arrived at. This enables the more affluent and powerful state to leverage its strengths into deriving the desired results.
In this regard the theory of Liberalism is tilted towards idealism and primarily advocates that a state should pursue its foreign policy by making its internal political philosophies and ideologies as a means while involved in deliberations relating to international relations and foreign policy. Followers of this theory advocate that it is better for a state to give priority to the state preferences rather than its capability in deciding the kind of stand to be taken in international relations. Such preferences depend on the type of government, economic systems and culture prevailing in the state. This is in contrast to the theory of Realism, which does not consider flexibility in terms of interaction between states on issues of politics and security. Liberalism entails considerations on economical and cultural factors also such as propagating the culture of the country through films and cultural exchange programs. An advantage of Liberalism is that cooperating on social and cultural grounds and advocating interdependence amongst states can achieve peace and a feeling of harmony.
However it is better to pursue a policy of Realism in international relations since the bargaining power and negotiation strengths of a state essentially accrue from its competencies and all other factors are secondary. The financial strength and other capabilities of the state give it immense power in tilting the scales in its favor and is most favorable to exploit in the international arena where it is the strengths of the nation that determines its bargaining power. A third theory which is often used by states is that of Constructivism which relies on the importance of ideas in influencing international relations by appealing to the state’s threats, goals, identities, fears and such factors as influencing the interests of states in deciding the outcome of the discussions. However such ideals are not relevant to the economic and social structure in most countries and are used only amongst communist countries while deliberating on international relations.
- Cynthia Weber, International Relations Theory. A Critical Introduction, 2nd edition, 2005, Routledge
- Scott Burchill, Richard Devetak Theories of International Relations, 2001, Palgrave Macmillan
- Stephen M Walt, International Relations: One World, Many Theories, Foreign Policy Number 110, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace