Realism: A Greater Explanation for World War I
Realism, by definition, is the study and practice of international relations; focusing on the nation-state, and that all nation-states are motivated by self-interest (Ferraro on Realism). The first two interests a state looks to fulfill are obtaining self-governance and defining borders. After those have been achieved countries will look to increase their power in many different forms (Ferraro on Realism). The years leading up to World War I were a time where most of Europe, as well as countries in Asia, were rapidly increasing their power. As countries gained power, their citizen’s nationalism, or attitude toward their country, also increased. According to Northedge and Grieve this was because the media was a greater influence then, than it was now. This was due to the fact that there was lack of education and no means of comparing different sources. In that period people believe virtually everything they read (Northedge and Grieve 71). There are many different methods of obtaining power and controlling it within realism; hegemonic stability theory, imperialism, and balance of power theory are three techniques that contributed significantly to the causes of World War I.
The theory of Hegemonic stability reinforces that for the international system to remain stable, it “requires a single dominant state to articulate and enforce the rules on interaction among the most important members of the system” (Ferraro on Hegemony). “The system is a collective good which means that it is plagued by a ‘free rider’ syndrome. Thus, the hegemon must induce or coerce other states to support the system” (Ferraro on Hegemony). To a realist, the international system must be anarchical with no central authority, promoting greater diversity, opposed to a plethora of empires (Ferraro on Realism). This means the hegemon will not rule other nations, but induce a system that will be beneficial for all. To be a hegemon a state needs to develop a system that will benefit major states, as well as having the capability and will to enforce the rules of the system (Ferraro on Hegemony). Prior to World War I, Great Britain held this position of power1, and they spread the ideas of their system to other countries. The most prevalent to the cause of WWI is the notion of capitalism; when this idea of free trade was developed the world economy rapidly increased (Pigman, Geoffrey 188-192). A result to Britain spreading their ideologies across Europe was it gave great opportunities to increase power if they were looking to. A realist would accept these increases of power as natural. Britain’s system led these power hungry countries looking for new ways to increase their capabilities and a new idea, imperialism, came into play.
Britain, being the largest economy at the time, basically revolutionized the idea of imperialism. ‘Coal power, a key component of Britain’s success, was one reason for this expansion. The power of coal makes it possible to for ships to constantly be running, as long as there was a steady supply of coal. They needed coal everywhere, so Britain started imperializing small coal rich countries (Ferraro Oct. 29 Lecture). Another cause of imperialism was, as major economies expanded, countries turned to overseas expansion to reduce costs and secure new markets (Hobson John). Competition in trade made it difficult for countries to sell all their goods at a profit, so many countries turned to nations with populations capable of a growing economy (Hobson, John). Following the liberal ideology of imperialism, saying that it’s an inevitable consequence of capitalism, because wealth consolidates leading to under consumption; furthermore, the overseas expansion will reduce costs, and maintain profit levels (Ferraro on Imperialism). However, a realist could agree with this theory because it employs the notion of less costly options and promotes increasing power. The major economies of Europe all...
Cited: Clare, John. "Background to the War." Causes of World War I (2002/2008): n. pag. Web. 6 Dec 2009. .
Ferraro, Vincent. “Lecture notes on Hegemonic Stability Theory.” Introduction to World Politics. University of Massachusetts Amherst. 15-22 Oct. 2009. Reading.
Pigman, Geoffrey. Hegemony and trade liberalization policy: Britain and the Brussels Sugar Convention of 1902. British International Studies Association, 1997. 188-192. Print.
"Promoting and Advocating for a Strong British Fleet." Royal Naval Museum. The Navy League. 2002. Web. .
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