The topic of war and peace has become an increasingly important area concerning international relations over the past decade. Wars varying from Russia’s invasion of Georgia, to the United States involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan placed war on top of international politics agenda. These wars, along with all other wars, are started for various reasons, which different international relations theories try to identify. Theories such as realism or institutionalism may have severely different views on identical cases, and while all theories usually have some degree of merit, opposing theories will find discrepancies in the views of one another’s theories. In international relations, it is important to comprehend the complexities of each theory, because while no theory is universally accepted, everyone usually subscribes to one of the main theories. This essay aims to dissect and analysis the contrasting beliefs of three of the main international relation theories; realism, institutionalism, and state-society approach, and identify key differences between these theories in the context of war and peace.
A realist would argue that a state makes war because the state believes it is in its national interest to do so. To understand the realist approach to war and peace, some common assumptions made by all realists must be understood. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, there is no international body that governs the state. The international stage is anarchic, with no presiding body over states. In addition, every state is wary of long-term treaties and agreements. Hobbes argued that international politics exist in a, “state of nature,” where no body governs the behavior of states. Each state is a sovereign entity that cares firstly and fore mostly about self-survival. After all, the citizens of each state only subscribe to the laws of their state to protect themselves for the actions of others, both domestic and foreign. Secondly, greater attention is given to more powerful states, as they are the primary actors on the international level. A most famous quote by Thucydides, a Greek historian who wrote The History of the Peloponnesian War, stated that "Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” This quote highlights the question of inequality in power among states. While strong states expand their empires, forcefully control resources, and hamper enemy states, weaker states are left to fend for themselves. Realists would submit to this idea of, “might makes right,” on the international stage, perhaps more rigorously with regard to war and peace than any other topic.
Finally, the realist would argue that states, along with individuals, place interests above ideologies. Ideologies cause reckless commitments and escalation of conflict among states, such as those seen during the times of the crusades. Instead, today’s states act rationally and out of self-interest, rather than their beliefs. The affects of such rationality include easier diplomatic relations, careful consideration in all international politics, and less war.
This is a stark contrast to the theoretical ideas set forth by the state-society approach to international relations. The state-society approach believes that state behavior is directly affected by cultural norms, and the behaviors of that state’s neighbors. For example, a state that exists surrounded by aggressive, expansionist states, are more likely to adopt similar behavior; while a state that is isolated from other regime is more likely to be peaceful, and is more likely to possess a smaller army, and less well equipped forces. When it comes to war and peace, the state-society government, “reflects varying patterns of state preferences,” (Liberal Theory of International Politics p. 520). In other words, states must have a reason, “a perceived underlying stake in the matter at hand, in order to provoke...
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