In international relations, in foreign policy, a great deal has to do with
historical circumstances, a great deal has to do with the sense and perception
of people.--Salman Khurshid
The Theories of international relations are cluster of different ideas that
explains how this system of IR works, which are supported by bold evidences.
These theories are not merely random ideas which exist in the universe rather
they are a reflection of phenomena, which are sketched to explain and show how
they all are related to one another in a meaningful and astute manner. Such
theories help in research by providing proper explanation and divination. There
are some theories which may be grand in nature but they do not provide any
generalised principles and hypothesis with that stamina, so that they can be
considered as the foundation for any comprehensive theory which can be
universally accepted. Any endeavours to build theories for IR began with the
first grand debate between the factions of Realists and idealists.
The push was made in 1940s, where growing interests in research, teachings and
analysis due to latest methodologies and techniques to further develop the
process of building theory. Similarly in 60s new avenues were opened for
research purposes due to behavioural revolution. To explain international
political behaviour psychological, biological, sociological, economic,
anthropological inputs were taken into consideration with other social sciences
Till date, IR is influence by three theoretical perspectives of international
politics i.e, realism, liberalism and world system theory. Political realists
obtain their pivotal ideas from philosophic thinking of different philosophers
and believe that mankind is self-entered and competitive and not benevolent at
How International Relations Evolved? Evolution of liberal approach
The advancement and development of the means of transport and communication
that will lead to the reduction of distance have made the world a global village
and there is growing interaction between states. This has led to more important
international relations today than ever before. However, a kind of IR was in
vogue in earlier times in states such as Greece, Egypt, China and India, who
have developed a code for the conduct of relations between them.
This was essentially based on morality and was not scrupulously followed by states.
In addition, these relationships generally cover states in the same region and
can therefore be appropriately described as regional relations. It was in 17th
and 18th Century that states established relations with other states beyond the
region marking the beginning of the IR. Improvements in transport and
communication and the industrial revolution have brought states closer together
and have contributed greatly into the evolution of ‘international Relations’
. Wilson's 14 Points
speech to US Congress in 1918 was an expression of the
sentiments of the idealist exposition. This lead us to discuss the proposals put
by such thinkers and how they have helped in the construction of state,
masculinity and of mental warrior. Chief advocates of idealism were Woodrow
Wilson, Norman Angell and James T. Shotwell.
In 1919 Wilson became chair of Woodrow Wilson's international policy chair at
the College of Wales. Sir Alfred Zimmern was the first holder of the prestigious
chair. Montague Burton also provided international relations chairs in Jerusalem
(1929), Oxford University (1930), London School of Economics (1936) and
Edinburgh University (1948). His firm belief was that by promoting the study of
international relations it would be possible to achieve the the systematic study
of international relations would lead to greater support for international law
and the League of Nations. Despite several shortcomings in liberal thinking,
Zimmern, Wilson and Davies laid the foundation for the Study of going as
The study of going to post-World War I was mainly based
on a legalistic-moralist approach. Liberals were highly descriptive and
prescriptive and tried to establish high moral ideals by ignoring the harsh
realities of international relations. The optimism and ideals of liberal
thinkers collide with the outbreak of World War II (WW-II) in 1939.the failure
of idealists to answer questions about the failure of the League of Nations to
prevent war and also the behaviour of certain states with respect to some
others, That aggravated situations similar to conflicts in the inter-war period,
ultimately culminating in World War II, caused severe criticism of the Liberal
approach to studying go!Contrary to Wilson's hope of spreading democracy,
fascism and Nazism are growing in Italy and Germany and so on has been the rise
of authoritarianism in Central and Eastern europe.
The first world war has caused unprecedented destruction and devastation from
almost every country in question, With millions of lives lost-perhaps a correct
estimate can never be done. Total economic collapse, widespread famine and
widespread famine continued to increase the number of deaths, many years after
the battles ended, even for the victorious nations, It is from this traumatic
experience of the World War I that the inspiration to study IR began as a
separate school discipline.
IR as a school discipline was studied only after the
horrors of World War II experience-I.Prior to World War I, IRhad always existed
as a branch of history, law, philosophy, political science and other related
issues. But World War I resulted in a loss of 20 million lives, demonstrated the
bankruptcy and limitations of traditional European diplomacy as a method of
maintaining world order, and the momentum has increased to alternatives.
The horrific experience of World War I gave birth to liberal approaches to go
that are often referred to as collectively idealism or sometimes Utopianism
When league of nation couldn’t handle the states : Russia and Germany always had
a tense relationship with the League.Germany joined the League in 1926 and left
in the early 1930s. In addition to their invasion of Manchuria in 1931, Japan
left the League and Russia joined the League in 1934 and was expelled in 1940,
following his attack on Finland. Britain and France never had views for the
early League.USA could not join it due to The Senate's refusal to ratify the
League Pact, as well as its intention to pursue its old policy of Isolationism.
Unsuccessful-ness of liberal approach - The severe economic crisis of the 1930s
again forced States to follow zealously the politics of protectionism rather
than interdependence. The situation was like each country by itself, each
country was trying its best to take care of its own interests, if necessary, to
the detriment of others. It was a 'jungle' instead of the zoo. Therefore, the
stage was ready for a more critical and in-depth understanding of IR.
What liberalist theory stands for - thinkers like Thomas Jefferson, Emmanuel
Kant, Rousseau, John Stuart Mill and John Locke etc were the chief advocates of
the tradition of liberal political though which was developed into the liberal
theoretical approach, mainly during the world war 1 during which thinker like
Alfred Zimmern and Norman Angell etc promoted it. Carr in 1939 called them out
as utopians but these philosophers were known as ‘liberal idealists’ or in
general terms only idealists.
The core understanding of this approach is that solution of human rationality,
logic and morals believe in reforming the institutions and put pressure on human
progress. The heart of this concept is that human are rational creature who
likes to build trust and faith , and because of this humans would realise that
things like wars is undesirable and irrational because liberals rejects what
realist say on the matters of IR changing it’s basic dynamic and fundamental
realities. David Sidorsky said that liberalism is firstly a ‘conception of man
who desires freedom and is cable of exercising rational free choices. Secondly
it is an opinion to reconstruct social institutions to fulfil individual needs
and thirdly a view of history of social institutions which is progressive and
continuous application of human reason to it.’
The liberals projected positive aspects of humans and payed less vehement about
the social conflicts that individuals put on themselves inevitably. Liberals
believe that they can extract great amount of goodness when asked in large
numbers to benefit all and create an order which could increase the freedom,
economic harmony and material prosperity of the individuals. This concept in
literary sense be called as harmony of interests.
Wittkopf and kegley presents basic assumptions of liberalism:
- People are capable of mutual Aid and cooperations as human nature is
- Their concern for others welfare makes their progress possible.
- The evil institutions leads them to make bad behaviour and not because
they are flawed. This evil institutions encourage them to act selfishly to
- Though war is not inevitable but it’s destruction can be reduced by
reforming institutional arrangements.
- War is an international problem which requires collective efforts to
- To eliminate war nations would recognize International society and make its
governance democratic and full of self-determination to pacify with other
Liberal internationalism this factions believes that freedom and justice could
be delivered by putting faith in human reasoning. They laid importance of
reformation of individual development which has good consciousness, promoting
free trade, abolishing war, creating up a international government and
preserving peace & harmony.
Idealist believe that international institutions
should be established to construct prosperity and peace manually which do not
just appear naturally. The chief supporters of this view encouraged that
creation of league of nations United Nations
and the implementation of new
international economic order and human rights. Liberal
institutionalism faction believed that merger of regional and international
institutions would help to solve the common problems if more stress is laid down
in increasing the cooperation between European states.
Criticisers consider it to be utopian, impractical, ethnocentric
and culture-centric. The principles tend to portray western values and attempt
to force them on non-western ones. Subjects of International politics such as
free trade, democracy, interdependence are controlled and dominated by big and
powerful states who have vast economic, military and political means. Attempts
of peace and efficacious tries to instal International organisation and
disarmament have not been that successful and the concept of idealism have been
condemned by taking the realities (human nature and politics) into
consideration. Morality have evidently established that it is not useful in
arena of politics and self-interest becomes the whole guiding principle to carry
out state and individual activities.
Evolution of Realist approach
WWII outbreak (1939-1945) -idealists blamed for their utopian
thinking liberal-moralist legal assumptions were alleged far from the realities
of power policy. IR was soon occupied by a critique of the idealism-liberal of
this criticism, it appeared a new model called realism-also known as
Realpolitik-an anti-thesis of idealism.
The difficulties posed by these realistic scholars and their efforts to come out
with an alternative led to the emergence of the first great debate
in the post-World War II period. Realism
as a political theory, it is realistic in the sense that it is hard and devoid
of unpleasant thought and devoid of moralization. Realism with its vigorous expotion soon became the dominant model of IR understanding. Although we focused
on the difficult realities of human nature, dissatisfaction also arose the flaws
of the realistic paradigm around the 1960s and 1970s.
Dissatisfaction was more with the language and method of learning IR. This was
largely due to the behavioural revolution in the social sciences. The main
importance was the application of study. New scientific methods with the
outbreak of the word the second war challenged the effectiveness of the liberal
approach for the Study of IR which led to the emergence of the first major
debate to the IR, The difficulties posed by the behavioural revolution to
realistic thinking in terms of language and method led to the emergence of the
second major debate in IR.
The Second Great Debate was different from the first
in the sense that the first Great Debate was related to IR topic or content,
while the second was purely a methodological movement focused on the mode of
analysis in IR. Thinkers tried to replace subjective belief with verifiable
knowledge and wanted to supplant Impressionism and intuition with verifiable
evidence along with an effort to replace data and reproduce reproducible
information by mere opinion. The Second Great Debate was not won by the
behavioralists or traditionalists and gradually backward, and the Second Great
Debate was not won by the behavioralists or traditionalists and gradually the
controversies backed down, leaving a lasting impact on IR scholars.
This led to the reformulation of both realism and liberalism, which were
greatly influenced by behavioural methodologies. The new avatars of liberalism
and realism in the form of neoliberalism and neo-realism once again fermented
the renewal of the first major debate in the 1970s. He also triggered another
great debate between "neoliberalism" and "neo-realism." This 'neo-neo' debate
came to be known as Third Great Debate on IR.
What Political Realism theory stand for?
It is the oldest and vastly accepted theory which was adopted in IR. the word
‘realism’ possess disparate meanings in subjects of science, literature,
philosophy and arts. Realism is primality related to political power of the
world, which is a dominant school of though & tradition than the rest of the
approaches. It informs the ‘statesman what he must do to preserve the health and
strength of the state.’ After world war 2 realism rested on a classical and
older tradition of though, while tracing itself back to thinkers like
Machiavelli, Hobbes and Rousseau.
It still continues to hold importance in todays time. Realism is based on three principles of statism, self-help and
- The state outside of its borders operates in a position of anarchy and
hence International system is anarchic.
- Sovereign states are the main and rational unitary actors in this
system, where they act only for their own national interest, which includes
national security, increasing national power and survival. It guides the
actions of state in pursuance of international relation.
- This national power and other capabilities of state determine it’s
relations among other fellow states.
The origin of realism can be traced back to the political writings of
philosophers like ancient green historian- Thucydides who wrote he history of
Peloponnesian war , Chanakya’s book Arthashastra, Machiavelli’s II Principe
& Hobbes’ Leviathan. Understanding of these thinkers in terms of realpolitik
has intensely influenced the perspective of political realists with respect to
world politics especially in the point of human nature and state.
E.H. Carr, N.J. Spykman & Keneth W. Thopson are the chief proponents of this
notion. E.H. Carr opined that technological and scientific aspects on politics
has been clear from beginning and it arose from disastrous war with purpose of
domination and inspire explorers of science. This obviate recurrence of the
disease of international politics. Outcome of this was marketed by utopianism.
The liberal doctrine of harmony of interests appears to be indefensible because
common interests present are noting more than an expression of power with a
vested interest in conservation of current situation. Political realism reached
its zenith during the time of J. Morgenthau in his politics among nations : the
struggle for power and peace. In his book he provided 6 principles. Politics is
governed by laws that are objective and which have roots in human nature hence
it is possible to develop a logical theory that reflects this laws which remain
This theory couldn’t remove certain ambiguities and ignored the impact of moral
values on states. For this theory state were the only important factors, due to
which some feminist criticism approach has also arisen expressing the point that
no women involvement was present through out the discourse as it only depicts
masculine factors of war and peace. Women were merely stated as bystanders which
later fuelled several writings in 1980s. Realists do not take account of the
anarchic symptoms of the national interest which in practicality cannot be used
to critics as it would be an incomplete analysis and take it as laborious.
Pluralists tend to see the world with lenses of American political system, to
whom other faction of pluralists refuse to accept. Critics find this approach
to be enduring from American ethnocentrism.
Emergence of Neo-liberalism
The realist school suffered a backdrop due to spread of Neo-liberalism which
was challenged by ‘pluralism’. As the debate arose that state after all might
not solely be a centric actor in IR. This challenge was met by works of Kenneth
Waltz which came up with the idea of neo-realism. He suggested that in absence
of any higher authority the only way to thrive is through self-help which leads
to the dilemma of security because the main difference between int. and domestic
politics lies in the structure of international system and not in war and
conflict. He uses the theory of game in answering to balance of power.
Hence all the thinkers given above thinks that human nature is selfish unless
it’s given correct circumstances. Realism prevails in dominance than nay other
school of thought and during the period of cold war it provided ‘intellectual
frame for the foreign policy’
. It emphasised the autonomy of political action
and model of billiard ball until it was challenged by the revolution of
behaviour. But in the 1970s this surfaced again as ‘Neo-realism’.
Now the concepts, perspectives and arguments of liberal thinkers
found Pluralism which emphasised the role of individuals and took the
perspective into account that non-state acts such as international organisations
does not perceives the presence of state as actors. They also dwelled into the
presence of intra-state actors which influences the foreign policy and role
making decisions. This assumes state to be monolithic as projected by realist
like T. Allison & Alexandra George. Transnational actors who have formal
authority can be private or governmental, may cut across boundaries of state,
may come in conflict with leaders of the state. They recognise the multi-faceted
character of IR and emphasise the complex-interdependence of nations which is
against realist’s notions of self-centric dimensions.
The neoliberals renewed old liberal ideas about the possibility of progress and
change, but dismissed idealism. They tried to formulate theories and apply new
methods that were scientific. Among several lines of neoliberalism, the most
prominent, which sought to meet the realistic challenge, was generally known as
pluralism, and associated with it was the Model of Interdependence of
International Relations. The main proponents of the neoliberal approach were E.
Hass, Robert O Keohane and Joseph Nye. neoliberal school's main line of thinking
was the plurality or multiplicity of actors.Neo-liberalists rejected the
singularities of simplistic approach that considered states to be the the only
major players in international relations.
The new liberal thinking placed greater emphasis on the plurality of actors and
their activities in international relations. In addition to states and state
actors such as United Nations and other regional organisations. Like the
European Union, ASEAN, the African Union (AU), emphasised the growing importance
of non-state actors, such as MNC, IMF, World Bank, several international
non-governmental organisations such as the Red Cross, Red Crescent, Amnesty
International and a number of other non-state actors. They argued thatthese
actors operate between the national and international spheres, thus transcending
States and making boundaries irrelevant to some extent.In additionto political
relations between States, there are other forms of connections between
societies, including transnational links between corporate corporations.
Independence in global politics refers to situations characterised by reciprocal
effects between states and non-state actors operating in different countries.
It's a situation where all actors depend on each other. An actor's policies and
actions have a profound impact on the policies and actions of other actors and
vice versa. Interdependence doesn't just mean peace and cooperation between
actors. It also includes conflicts.Complex Interdependence is a theory that
emphasises the complex ways in which states and transnational actors become
mutually dependent, vulnerable to the actions of others and sensitive to the
needs of others. As an economic nationalist concept that assumes that States are
not the only important actors, social welfare issues share the focus with
security issues on the global agenda, and cooperationis seen as a dominant
feature of international policy as much as conflict.
In this interdependent structure, nationscooperate in their own common interest
and the direct result of this cooperation is prosperity and stability in the
system International. Neoliberals believe that "States are not motivated solely
by the national interest defined in terms of power.Unlike realists, neoliberals
claim that international politics can no longer simply be divided into'high'
and 'low' policies that create a hierarchy between issues. While the high policy
of national security and military power is still important and relevant, they
argue that low policies, especially economic, social, and environmental issues,
are also high on the international agenda. The neo-liberals have not attached
much importance to military power. It was no longer seen as a key instrument of
A very important aspect of "complex interdependence"is that it is a combination
of two opposing views, i.it integrates both the elements of power politics and
economiccooperation. It takes into account both the cost and benefits of the
relationship between dependencies. They argued that in the world of "complex
interdependence,"despite increasing economic cooperation and environmental
interdependence, the possibility of international militaryconflict should not
be ignored. However, unlike the traditional power-political model proposed by
realist scholars, the policy of economic and environmental interdependence in
"complex interdependence" involves competition, even if cooperation offers great
• Neo-liberal Internationalism : this strand liberalist theory was dominated
by its democratic peace advocates who at its heart thought war does not happens
between liberal states. Francis Fukuyama in his work ‘the end of history’ backed
strongly that liberalism victory could be achieved over all ideologies and
concluded that liberal states were internally more at peace, strength and
stability, through establishing pacific union in which war becomes implausible.
• Neo-idealism : this faction through supporters like Danielle Archibugi and
David Held conceived that global politics should be democratised and a
cosmopolitan model should be prescribed instead of Westphalian and UN models.
This will amount to the creation of regional parliaments, spreading authority
of regional bodies like EU and UN.
• Neo-Liberal institutionalism : Axelord, Nye and Keohane were the proponents
of this idea who gave response to the theory of Kenneth Waltz in his work
theory of international politics. This faction assumes that international
environment is anarchic and only states are the most important actors. But they
try to advocate more and more the job of starting and maintaining cooperation
between the states under the anarchic situation.
The neo-liberals argued that interdependence should not be fully described
as"balanced mutual dependence". They argued that "it is the independence of
asymmetries that ismost likely to provide sources of influence for the actors
in their relations with each other. Less dependent actors can often use the
interdependence relationship as a source of power to negotiate an issue and
perhaps to affect other issues. Therefore,the neo-liberals have highlighted a
non-military model of international relations and have consistently advocated
for peaceful competition and cooperative international relations.
Revival of Realism to Neo-Realism
and complex interdependencies
forward by the neo-liberals quickly attracted the attention of the realist
scholars and they tried to renew realism
. It was Kenneth Waltz who tried to
build on the principles put forward by Hans J.Morgenthau and tried to draw Classical Realism
these elements of a theory that was appropriate to the world
of the late twentieth century and links it conceptually to other theoretical
Waltz's labor theory on international politics (1979) laid the
foundation for the neo-realist debate. Focused on the structure of the
international system and on the consequences of this structure in the
international system. For neo-realists, international politics has become more
than the sum of foreign policies of states and the external balance of other
actors. In addition to the structure of the international system, waltz
insisted on motives between actors in an anarchical.
He system argued that states were concerned about seeking power and security,
and not because the Human nature
was considered normal
by classic realists,
But because the structure of the international system forced them to do so.
Therefore, the neo-realists have not neglected the prospects for cooperation
between states. But they argued that while cooperating with each other, states
tried to maximise their relative power and maintain their autonomy. Thus, the
neo-realists once again managed to put the neo-liberals on the defensive in the
During the 1980s, several scholars made efforts to bring the two schools of
thought closer together. Attempts were made to synthesize neo-realistic and
neo-liberal positions of institutionalism and introduced the concept of in-depth
structure means that the political structure encompasses anarchy and hierarchy
and not only includes power and institutions, but also rules and rules. They
believed that anarchic society produced states that were sovereign but that in
no way meant that anarchy was incompatible with cooperation.
It was argued that
units of the international system have a different structure, which extends
impacts to republics and includes state and non-state actors. Acting
internationally, these units also show cooperative and competitive behaviour.
This resulted in alliances, coalitions, regimes, standards and institutions of
international cooperation. Change and Continuity occurred through the
interaction between the international system and its units. In general, these
scholars tried to retain the main elements of Waltz's structural realism but
expanded it by looking at the international system as based on anarchy, but
still including cooperation patron.
Analysis And Conclusion
IR today is observing new growth with steady development for several new
approaches. Though many theories of IR are hung on the sense that state acts in
adherence with National interest or the interest of states (which will include
peace, military, economic opportunities, self-preservation,
security/sovereignty, and influence over other states). Today international
problems are much more difficult to handle than before due to its complexities
and lack of knowledge on IR. Most sources only provide these two theories as an
explanation to IR but a third component i.e, corporatism should also be taken
Through this evolution of IR many challenges came up bu one remarkable one was
the Marxist challenge which immediately faced the neo-realists and
neo-liberalists, was the Marxist point of view. Marxists provided powerful
insights into the origin and development of the international system dividing it
into the dominant North and dependent South. Neo-Marxists comme andré Gunder
Frank (1967), Immanuel Wallerstein (1974) and others training the School of
International Political Economy have greatly contributed to this debate. They
have tried to locate the causes of persistent underdevelopment in developing
countries in the South in terms of dominance models and addiction.
presented two strands of structure theorists:
- Dependency Theory
- The World System theory
Taking an index of Lenin imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, a
bifurcation of the world on the central periphery was developed by theorists. In
1970s, Immanuel Wallerstein added another semi-periphery category to the double
structure model while developing the system theory of the modern world.
According to these structural Marxists, the striking feature of the global
system is the transfer of wealth and resources from peripheral countries to the
core countries, which made the rich richer and the poor poorer. The bifurcation
of the central periphery symbolizes the relative economic strength of the rich
countries (i. Those in North America and Europe), which forms the core of the
world economy and the poorest in the periphery, with the Soviet Union occupying
Evolution of IR in the Post Cord War Era : While the years 1970 and 1980 were
completely concerned about the debate on neoliberalism and Neorealism, after the
end of the Cold War, from the years 1990, there was a change in the way you saw
it go. The prevalence of American scholars was reduced by giving way to the
assertion of scholars from Europe and elsewhere in the world.
The school of
ideas that emerged at the moment in the UK became called the School of English
emphasizing in the society of states or international society. Although the
school became associated with English, but its main figure Hedley Bull was an
Australian. One of the principal promoters of this school was E.Carr, the
theorists of international society made an attempt to provide an alternative set
of premises that are neither Hobbesian nor utopian. While power and national
interest are important, they argued that standards and institutions are also of
With the end of the Cold War and the dismantling of the USSR,
the dominant paradigms of IR seemed unable to explain the prevailing situations.
Therefore, new reflective critical ideas began to gain ground, which was a
departure from liberal, realistic and orthodox Marxist thought to IR. New
debates have therefore arisen on methodological and substantive issues. In fact,
a fourth debate has begun, which challenges the traditions put in place in IR by
alternative methods. The new voices in the IR are identified post-positivist
approaches and the era it announced has been identified as post-positivist Era.
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