Realism vs. Liberalism in International Relations and War

Topics: International relations, Climate change, Liberalism Pages: 9 (2672 words) Published: May 15, 2015
Isabelle Bolla
Pol. 120

Climate change is an inherently political and divisive issue in the realm of international relations. Environmental politics as a global enquiry is a fairly new phenomena compared to issues like war, peace, and economic order. The environment – and more specifically climate change– has only come to be studied and analyzed systematically since the early 1990’s. Solving environmental problems is a problem of conflict and cooperation, which can be seemingly difficult to achieve on an international scale – as elucidated by David Hume in the meadow-draining problem posed in Treatise. Cooperation is further made difficult by revolving themes of power, morality, and interests. Since climate change is a global issue, realist and liberal international relations theories can be applied to climate politics in order to understand and identify the gains of various actors, and the potential for cooperation. This paper seeks to explore the inclusive relationship between climate change and international relations theories by assessing liberalist and realist predictions about international responses to climate change, and assessing which theory matches current international actions the most at the present moment. Does climate change challenge the dominant view of humans (and societies) as independent from the environment? In regards to climate change, what non-state actors play a key role in international relations, and can we continue to assert the belief of the state as central primary actor in international relations? With these questions in mind, we can assess which of the three dominant theories in international relations holds the most prescriptive power and sway in a world altered by climate change. The political implications and ramifications of environmental degradation has been studied in societies that were restricted by ecological limits and capacity. Environmental issues like that of global warming, climate change, and ozone depletion have become eminent in multilateral [environmental] agreements (Russett & O’Neal 2001.) A multi-theoretical diagnosis of the environment in international

relations has expanded tremendously over the past few decades, drawing upon different disciplines and sources in order to gain a broader scope on [future] security threats. Climate change raises three specific ontological concerns: the nature of causality in the international political system, the agency of individual entities versus the constraints of the structure of that system, and the possibility that the international political system and the states within it are both whole systems in themselves and constituent parts of larger systems (Kavalski 2007, 444). Climate change is a global problem because it negatively impacts human societies across individual state borders. Causality is difficult to pinpoint because responsibility cannot be solely attributed to one state. Therefore, there are numerous actors within each state and across state boundaries who are responsible for addressing climate change. The actors in individual states comprise smaller systems, and act as constituents in larger systems of politics and government.

Destruction to human societies and systems from climate change will have severe socioeconomic consequences, and will render each society dependent on its location, and ability to adapt to given changes in that location. The capacity of a given society and system to adapt to climate hazards is indicative of their ability to reduce, and recover losses. Systems that have a difficult time adapting to climate changes and hazards, will most likely suffer more detrimental losses and consequences as a result. This is best understood when examining the present situation in Darfur, in which environmental degradation has lead to increased conflict, and difficulty adapting and cooperating between state and non-state actors.

[The conflict in Darfur has greatly accelerated the processes of...

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