Traditional theories of International Relations such as Realism can be traced back to the ancient Greek civilisation with the writings of Thucydides and later the post war works of Morgenthau. Realism recognises the “role of power in politics of all kinds” (Lebow:2007). Critical theories of International Relations coincide with the end of the Cold War due to the failure of traditional theories to predict its end.
Realism can be defined as the “constraints on politics imposed by human nature and the absence of international government. Together, they make International Relations largely a realm of power and interest” (Donnelly:2000). One of the key foundations of Realism is the balance of power. States seek a balance of power so that they are seen to be too strong to beat in a war. This balance of power can be achieved through alliances with other states and their military capabilities. The balance of power is to act as a deterrent to prevent war. Realists see military capabilities and alliances to be the foundation of security and those who tip the balance of power in their favour will ultimately be the strongest. However, if alliances are too strong they can drastically alter the balance of power forcing other states to form their own alliances which can eventually lead to war in an attempt to restore the balance of power or create a supreme power.
Classical Realists see the world as anarchical with no international government and that the state is central to society. Realists state that order can be achieved with an effective central authority and that its survival can only be maintained through its material capabilities and the alliances which it creates with other states (Lebow:2007).
Critical theories such as The English School look at International Relations in a different light. Unlike Realists, writers such as Hedley Bull thought that International Relations was not just about states but about a global political system which would create an international society. This international society would come into being when a group of states with common interests and values, form a society in which they are bound by a common set of rules and share in the workings of common institutions (Bull:1977).Modern examples of such international societies are the United Nations and the European Union. This is in direct contrast to traditional International Relations theories as it does not see the world as anarchical but as a working community in which states share goals and work in collaboration with each other.
Realists sought a favourable balance of power to help them achieve peace whilst Liberals state that human kind naturally desires peace. This peace can be achieved through states coexisting in a international community where all are seeking peace. This international society is made up of democracies, free trade and equal human rights throughout. Liberals feel that these factors will help to keep the peace for many reasons. They suggest that if all states within an international community are linked by trade it is illogical and detrimental to the states involved to engage in war with each other. These states will be dependant on each other for economic survival and if conflict was to occur it could cause economic downfall for the entire community. Also, it is extremely unlikely for democratic states to go to war, as no two democracies have ever entered into conflict.
As stated earlier, Realists see an easy way to ensuring order within the state with the use of a single sovereign governing body. However, they feel that that a society of states will always be anarchical as there is no higher, governing body. Therefore, there is no sovereign body thus, it must be anarchical.
Rationalism tends to focus on the actor being completely independent from the environment it is in. Lyman Abbott stated that “the very essence of rationalism is that it assumes that the reason is the highest faculty in man”. Thus the actor is looking to make rational decisions based on a cost benefit analysis. It is primarily selfish and is looking to make sure the benefits out way the costs of any action they take. Actions are determined by meanings. The identity and behaviour of the actor is influenced by what is seen to be the norm. the actor basis its actions on its own experiences. Rationalists believe that there is a place for international organisations, however it would be impossible to create an international government.
Structuralists on the other hand, state that actors act depending on the circumstances around them. Structuralists seek to understand why events occur and how best to act on them. Opposed to rationalists who after learning a fundamental truth will apply this to all their experiences with which it is concerned. Rationalists are happy to know that these events occur whilst structuralists wish to understand why.
“To this war or every man against every man” (Hobbes:1951). Hobbes is stating here that all men must constantly compete against each other for survival and that life is constantly at risk, safety is never guaranteed. This is of great importance within traditional theories of International Relations. Traditional theories see that the only possible security is through a sovereign state. The Liberal approach, even though it is not a theory in itself, it is a combining factor in many critical theories as it assumes that humans naturally seek peace. These Liberal approaches are seen to be a second image approach. This mean that reasons for events on the world stage lie at the foot of the state. The actions of one state will have consequences on all states.
Lebow, R. (2007 ). Classical Realism. In: Dunne, T. Kurki, M. Smith, S. International Relations Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 52.
Dunne, T.. (2007 ). The English School. In: Dunne, T. Kurki, M. Smith, S. International Relations Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 128.
Abbott, L.. (1872). Laicus. Available: http://psp.manybooks.net/books/abbottlyetext04lcscp10/2. Last accessed 24th March 2010
Hobbes, T. (1951). Leviathan. Available: http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hobbes/thomas/h68l/chapter13.html. Last accessed 24th March 2010.
Donnelly, J.. ( ). Realism and International Relations. Available: http://assets.cambridge.org/97805215/97524/excerpt/9780521597524_excerpt.pdf. Last accessed 24th March 2010.