Principal Theories of International Relations

Part 1

Constructivist Theory initially developed as a metatheory. Nicolas Greenwood was the first theorist who introduced the model in International Relations theory. His concept contended that states have similar features to individuals as they live in a "world of our making" (Slaughter, n.p). The first Constructivist Theory encountered intense criticism from famous detractors. They claimed that philosophy did not operate a substantive knowledge. Therefore, the alternative Constructivist Theory appeared. Even though the principal theories of international relations, such as Constructivism, Modernism, and Neoliberal Institutionalism, have considerable differences, they all are widely used by the students of foreign policy in investigating fundamental phenomena.

The underlying image of Constructivist Theory appears when considering its central arguments. The core concepts are norms, identity, discourses, and socialization. These notions are frequently used in the discussions about international concerns, which include international human rights, globalization, and security policy. Constructivism ponders international politics as a sphere of interaction. According to the theory, foreign policy is shaped by the players' personalities and performances (Slaughter, n.p.). Overall, the Constructivist concept maintains that states' goals are generated by their social corporate identities or by their interaction with other actors of the international public. Constructivists refer to these objectives both the material goals, such as the economic development of the country and the ontological security, and the immaterial ones, such as international recognition.

Whereas other scholars and theorists take into account such notions as the international institution, military power, domestic preferences, or trade relations, constructivists apply their theory by taking into account such variables as fairness, friends, justice, or enemies. According to the philosophy, these ideas have a social meaning; hence, they are the key determining factors of the county's behavior and, therefore, become fundamental concepts of Constructivism.

The policy prescriptions of Constructivist Theory are specific programmatic ideas that simplify policymaking by postulating how to solve certain issues.  Moreover, being the center of policy discussions, the prescriptions are associated with specific strategies and policy programs, for example, such public issues as tax cuts or increases, unemployment rate or public investment.

The essential point of the theory claims that the social world is constructed from physical entities (Slaughter, n.p.). However, the main ideas and beliefs, which concern the objects, are more important. Hence, physical elements become secondary to the reflective element, with an attitude toward it infusing the meaning of the objective. For example, Social Constructivism first identifies not the general features of the object, but rather concentrates on what the physical entity represents or means to the society. Therefore, the meaning assigned to material objects becomes more important than the existence of the object itself. For example, the presence of the nuclear weapons in the United Kingdom and North Korea is materially identical. However, these entities possess drastically different connotations for the policy of the United States and translate into different patterns of interactions. Another example may be the perception of the confrontation.

The ended war between Russia and Georgia and the present conflict in Iraq are equally dangerous for the society. However, for the United States, the hazard comes only from Iraq, because the country is threatening the world's peace with terrorist attacks, the United States' peace in particular. By contrast, the Russian-Georgian conflict does not intimidate the policy of the neighboring countries or that of the United States. That is why the policy of the USA toward the conflict is different because the state participates in the Iraq war. Hence, the Constructivist Theory mostly focuses on the consequences, which might come from the subject, rather than considers its general features.

Constructivist Theory has similarities, as well as differences with other theories. Various arguments prove that Constructivist Theory differs from realists. The key factor of this discussion is the different approaches to viewing anarchy. Similarly to the other approaches, constructivists see the international system as anarchical. Nevertheless, the theory focuses on the idea departing from the prior position on the anarchical system. Explicitly, constructivists disagree with realists on the point that anarchy leads to war or chaos. Therefore, to constructivists, anarchy is what the performers want to be. Moreover, both theories differ as they are built on various principles. Realism claims that states are actors on a political stage. By contrast, Constructivism suggests that the state's politics is dependent on the behavior of individuals. It represents the approach that is more complex and views the significance of ideas and human conscience. Another striking difference between the theories lies in their general approaches to ideas. Likewise, Realism is mostly ruled by a historical context, whereas Constructivism offers the most accurate account for confrontations. For example, the theory of Realism refers to the law of human behavior. However, the major drawback of the concept is an unreasonable assumption that the war is unavoidable and is a constant element of history and nature. Conversely, constructivism considers ideas and ideologies more important.

In my opinion, Constructivist Theory has advantages in comparison to Realism or other International Relations theories. The first argument in favor of its superiority is that, unlike Realism, it offers a detailed and accurate account of war and other historical conflicts, which is the fundamental problem in International Relations. Moreover, it focuses on social factors and the key ideas, which allows the theory to address the problems that are not within the scope of other theories, such as Realism. The last argument for Constructivism is that it understands International Relations as a social construction, which focuses on the evaluation and careful analysis of various elements, such as law, economy, culture, etc.

Part 2

Neoliberal institutionalism is the theory that emphasizes environmental and economic issues, with a particular focus on the consequences. The theorists of institutionalism argue that financial independence is an important feature of world politics. According to this theory, the states are principal actors in international relations. In addition, it claims that international politics is characterized by hierarchy, with force being an effective instrument of establishing policy. Moreover, neoliberals are concerned with the country's benefits in comparison to others. The policy makers who support the concept consider total gains from agreements. They also argue that focusing on particular benefits is not correct because economic independence safeguards that a particular side cannot exploit the economic relationship to take benefit politically.

Neo-liberal intuitionalists agree that a country acts in accordance with its interests. The theorists acknowledge that cooperation can lead to tension. However, the state can benefit from cooperative strategies. Neoliberals, similarly to neorealists, assume similar positions regarding the international system. They suggest that the states are the key players, which act in the international area. Moreover, according to the theory, the behavior of the country is shaped by the international anarchy. Neo-liberals agree that the acquisition of knowledge is based on the liberal notion of politics and power. Hence, this approach can be called state-centric, as it uses state actors as the basic units of theoretical analysis.

The diffusion of power is the conception according to which the existence of a considerable number of various political organizations, such as associations, unions, or parties, leads to the diffusion of political power within the country. Moreover, the conception identifies that the dominant position in economy moves to another political organization. The example illustrating this idea is the United States continuing to pledge its military power for charitable purposes, for instance, as a part of peacekeeping efforts in Balkans or the famine relief in Somalia.

In the era of multi-polarization, international relations have become diversified.  The primary factors, which contribute to global structure are, for example, the growth of Japanese national power and the countries of Western Europe, the continuing Sino-Soviet conflict, the increasing predisposition to pursue domestic or ethnic interests in Eastern countries, and the rise of China's international status. 

The followers of the Modernist theory suggest redefining the Realism norms. They note that the power is increasingly divorced from politics. Therefore, if the fundamental relationship between authority and influence does not apply, Realism has to reconsider its critical theory. Furthermore, if the power does not relate to politics directly, Realism is not a self-evident culture for diplomatic relations. This redefinition of international politics demands historical differentiation of global systems. Thus, modernists claim that, for its profound understanding, international politics needs a new paradigm.

The general prospect for world peace and security, according to Modernist theory, is the increasing number of visible international agreements on various issues. Modernists express a firm belief that that the world is likely to develop a global jurisprudence through international consensus on constitutional concerns. Modernist theory notes that the prospects for world peace are high. Moreover, it suggests that the United States' national security would be amplified with the development of new global complexes. Subsequently, modernists explain and predict peace for the United States in a consoling way.

From the modernists' point of view, future peace depends on the strength of the international system and its institutional organization. Therefore, it is likely that modernists would strengthen the system through regimes to secure the future and keep peace. The first argument for this assumption is that the world trade system successfully regulates international trade. However, it is quite weak. Therefore, modernists would use the opportunity to strengthen international relations through industrialization. Another prediction is that modernists would become interested in expanding the networks of states, focusing on the weaker nations with corrupt leadership. This model would help establish institutional networks between developing countries and the high powers, which can enhance the likelihood that the international system will remain resourceful. According to Modernist theory, the two above-mentioned concepts would maintain peace and security for the USA in particular. Furthermore, to restrain the U.S.'s sovereignty, modernists suggest keeping the relationship with China, as a manufacturing industry for the U.S. and vice versa. In addition, modernists see the future as a successful establishment of the relations with Russia. The involvement of Russia in the international system would keep prospects for peace and security.

In my opinion, the Realist theory is a rather outdated branch of political philosophy, whose fundamental principles are based on history and block ideology. The other drawback of the ideology is that Realism fails to identify the non-state actors in the international system, with terrorism lately becoming the biggest threat to society as a non-state entity. Furthermore, realists claim that the primary aim of every country is to survive. The theories that identify a man with the creature that secures its existence is only likely to fail in the modern world. Consequently, even though the Realist approach can be used while analyzing international relations, perceiving it as primary ideology is unsuccessful.

For me, the core beliefs of modernists are like-minded. Their concepts of global cooperation and interdependence are essential for the modern existence, as the international networking promotes globalization.  Moreover, the theory of Modernism claiming that the recent technology enables communication appeals to me as well.

My personal approach to the perception of Modernism and Realism falls within the general prescriptions of the theory. However, even though the concepts are fiercely contested, it is hard to consider them as rivals over some universal truth about international politics. Each approach pursues a particular analytic goal. For realists, the principle theory is that the state works to increase its power in comparison to other countries. It claims that the state's primary interest is self-preservation. Moreover, according to the Modernist theory, the international organizations have no power and exist only as long as the country accepts them. The Modernist philosophy differs from Realism in a very specific way, as it is concerned with the importance of globalization through various institutions. The followers of the concept claim that the state is paramount for the survival and advancement of society, which maintains peace. Unique ideas, which are fundamental for each theory, suggest the followings: Realism claims that the state is oriented toward national interests or national security while Modernism advises stressing the importance of international cooperation and interdependence through industrialization.

Even though every concept has its typical drawbacks and unique advantages, none of the theories can be termed as "right" or "wrong" because each concept possesses the implements that can be widely used by the students of international politics in investigating multi-causal phenomena.


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