There are many ways of thinking in international relations theory, including constructivism, institutionalism, Marxism, and others. However, two schools of thought are predominant: realism and liberalism.
Realism makes several key assumptions. It assumes that the international system is anarchic, in the sense that there is no authority above states capable of regulating their interactions; states must arrive at relations with other states on their own, rather than it being dictated to them by some higher controlling entity (that is, no true authoritative world government exists). It also assumes that sovereign states, rather than international institutions, non-governmental organizations, or multinational corporations, are the primary actors in international affairs. According to realism, each state is a rational actor that always acts towards its own self-interest, and the primary goal of each state is to ensure its own security. Realism holds that in pursuit of that security, states will attempt to amass resources, and that relations between states are determined by their relative level of power. That level of power is in turn determined by the state's capabilities, both military and economic.
There are two sub-schools of realism: maximal realism and minimal realism. The theory of maximal realism holds that the most desirable position to be in is that of the hegemon, the most powerful entity in the world, and that smaller entities will align themselves with the hegemon out of political self-interests. Under maximal realism, the position where there are simultaneously two equally powerful co-hegemons (such as was the case during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union) is an inherently unstable one and that state will inevitably collapse into a more stable state where one is more powerful and one is less powerful.
The theory of minimal realism holds that non-hegemonic states will ally against the hegemon in order to prevent their own interests from being subsumed bu the hegemon's interests. Under the minimal-realism theory it is possible to have two equally powerful co-hegemons with whom a smaller entity may ally in turn depending on which hegemon better fits with the smaller entity's policies at the moment (playing both sides against the middle).
Liberalism holds that state preferences, rather than state capabilities, are the primary determinant of state behavior. Preferences will vary from state to state, depending on their culture, economic system, or type of government. Many different strands of liberalism have emerged; some include commercial liberalism, liberal institutionalism, and idealism.
Recently, realism and liberalism have evolved into neo-realism and neo-liberalism.
Different schools of thought in international relations can predict the same events. The theories are differentiated by the assumptions they make in their reasoning toward predictions. For example, both realists and liberals claim that events as disparate as World War I, the Cold War, and the relatively conflict-free post-Cold War Europe were predicted by their theories. The theories differ in the fundamental assumptions they make in predicting state behavior. It is possible that one liberal theorist will predict war while another liberal theorist will predict peace; their disagreement arises from how they interpret events, but their fundamental assumptions are the same. Similarly, it is possible that a realist theorist and a liberal theorist could both predict peace, but their fundamental assumptions as to why that occurs would be different.
Many diplomats and scholars have contributed to the field of international relations, including:
- Foreign Affairs
- Foreign Policy
- International Affairs
- International Organization
- International Security
- International Studies Quarterly
Topics in international relations
- anti-globalization - anti-globalization movement - arms control - civil society - culture - diplomacy - economic development - environment - foreign affairs - foreign aid - globalization - human rights - international law - international organization - international political economy - international trade - multiculturalism - nationalism - nuclear proliferation - peace - poverty - terrorism - war
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