Essay #1 – Human Nature and International Institutions
Two theories dominated the early twentieth century’s view of world politics: liberalism and realism. The latter stresses the importance of the nation-state itself and security via national defense and strategic alliances; whereas the former believes that although nation-states are crucial, international institutes and global corporations are also pivotal to maintaining peace. While the two paradigms have many differences, some of the most important distinctions lie in their views on human nature and the significance of international institutions.
Realism can generally be described as pessimistic with regards to human nature, believing that a person’s reason is often overwhelmed by their passion. With that in mind, realists are skeptical to the intentions of rival nations, and prepare for the worst as a result. This preparation comes in the shape of military advancement and the formation of strategic alliances in order to obtain absolute security. The Cold War embodies many of the principles of the realist theory, with both the United States and Soviet Union constantly vying for military supremacy and forming military alliances, such as NATO and the Warsaw Pact.
On the other hand, liberalism is comparatively idealistic to realism. According to liberals, humans have a moral imperative to ensure others are treated as ends, rather than means. Also, with the advancement of democracy, liberal theory believes that nations will be less inclined to wage war with one another due to a shared sense of legitimacy. For example, the US is less opposed to the United Kingdom’s nuclear program, a fellow democracy, than the budding development of the program in North Korea, an authoritarian state.
International institutions are a contentious topic among liberals and realists. Liberalism stresses the importance of these institutions, such as the United Nations, in resolving disputes peacefully before they can escalate, and mitigates the necessity of raw power struggles. However, realists believe that a nation will defer to its own power before entrusting its security to the promises of an institution, and that even members will be unable to resist the allure of power politics, making the entire effort counter-intuitive and a waste of resources.
Both theories have waned in prominence over time. Primarily, this is due to neither capturing the importance of both high and low politics. Liberalism focuses on low politics, which concerns economics, social structures, and environmental issues. Likewise, realism is concerned almost entirely with national defense, a facet of high politics. Since neither is able to integrate the qualities of the opposing theory, both remain incomplete, and as a result insufficient in explaining the increasing complex nature of international politics.
Essay #2 – Liberalism vs. Realism in the New Millennium
The world has entered the twenty-first century and global politics are more complex than ever. As a result, neither liberalism nor realism is fully capable of understanding international phenomena. However, by analyzing both theories, it is possible to explain some of the occurrences since the beginning of the new millennium, especially with regards to the Middle East.
One of the most significant events of the early twenty-first century was the United States’ decision to invade Iraq in 2003. Liberalism played a part in the US’s justification of this conflict. One reason liberals would favor the war is their strong moral imperative to defend human rights. With the notorious amount of human rights violations under the rule of Saddam Hussein, such as torture and mass murder, it is easy for liberals rationalize an armed intervention under the premise that any nation conducting these violations forfeits their international protection. Hussein’s political party had ruled...