International Relations Theories—How and Why Do They Matter?
Oumar Sissoko

Table of Contents
TOC o “1-1” h z u Introduction PAGEREF _Toc515813305 h 1Making sense of international relations -implementation of theories in real world situation PAGEREF _Toc515813306 h 2Necessity of multiples international relations theories3Foundation of the United States on a more liberal spirit4Conclusion5Bibliography6
IntroductionVladimir Zhirinovsky, a Russian ultranationalist politician pointed out, “The matter of international relations is very subtle and exquisite.”Human society has never stopped evolving; from the gathering and hunting societies to more complex and well organize structures such as kingdoms and empires to even more developed and sophisticated entities- ‘states’. In addition, relations have existed between ancient human societies and yet continue to exist between new ones whether they are conflictual, peaceful, or economic. International relations is a phenomenon that many scholars trace its origin to the Treaty of Westphalia (1648). A Treaty that has given a new look to the world stage; the notion of nation-states and sovereignty was introduced. International relations, as an academic field, focuses on the relations-interactions between states and non-states actors in world politics. Eventually, due to the complexity of the world, multiple schools of thoughts or theories have emerged such as realism, liberalism, constructivism, and so on. Each of these theories gives a different perspective to make sense of world politics. Nonetheless, as time changes, those thoughts also evolve and refine their concept by bringing in new ideas and taking in account new facts. Those constant changes make the theories sometimes less reliable or inefficient. Nevertheless, there can hardly be one single way to explain the international system. Every major theory of the international relation has plausible interpretations of the same or different human events. The United States is the most powerful and stable country on earth. Its mighty economic-social-military power is the product of its model of governance and the remarkable state of its union. The structure of the United States government is based on a more liberal spirit.

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Making sense of world politics-implementation of theories in real world situationInternational relations as a field of study is all about interactions among and the behaviors of the mains actors of the international system (states) and other non-states actors such as non-governmental organizations. Explaining such a complex mechanism as world politics required political scientists to develop theories. Theories in international relations offer different perspectives through which, for instance, the actions of the United States, Russia, or Iran on the international stage can be well understood and predicted. Many theories have emerged throughout the history of the international relations. However, the realism, idealism or liberalism, and constructivism schools of thought have dominated the discourse on international politics.
Realism is a theory that emphasizes on states as being the main actor of the international system. For realists, confrontation and competitions among states are what best describe the world politics. Moreover, realists in general do not have a good view of human nature. One may trace their assumption that individuals by nature are selfish, brutal, and if left by themselves would seek each other destruction-to the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679). In fact, realists see the international system as an anarchic system where states behave in the same way as individuals would. The absence of a higher authority in the international system that would regulate the actions and behaviors of states, leads to ‘The struggle for power’. Realism is not unified. Contrary to classical realists, neorealists do not focus on structure of the international system. For Kenneth Waltz, one of the pioneers of the neorealism though, neorealism is based on two assumptions: the anarchical principle that order the international system and the distribution of power.

Liberalism is the second biggest theory of international relations. Liberals reject the assumptions of realists. Moreover, they believe individuals are capable of cooperating and creating societies to better their condition of existence. The focus of liberalism in international relations is on individuals because, for them, to understand better the interaction of states, one must put the emphasis on individuals who are the heart of a state. Individuals are better off in society with institutions that guarantee their wellbeing. On the international stage, for liberals, especially neoliberals, international institutions would facilitate cooperation between states and slash the instability and the struggle for power in the international system. In other words, the more states cooperate the better their relations become; and the more they maintain better relations the more stable and peaceful the system would become.
Constructivism comes as an alternative viewpoint to the two theories briefly introduced above. Constructivists reject what are essential to realists and liberals: the primary of states and international institutions. They put idea of norms and the influences that identity has on actions and behavior between actors. Indeed, the behavior of states towards one another are often influenced by the identity, culture, and interest relationship that exist between them. Even though constructivism, liberalism, and realism present some complete different ways to understand world politics, they all have something in common that the survival of the states.
States’ Foreign policies are linked, in a way or another, to international theories. Indeed, one cannot go without the other. However, there seems to be a disconnection between policies and theorists. There is an important variety of theories in international relations and many of them are either inconsistent or ‘too abstract’. Moreover, within the major theories of international relations, there is no absolute consensus. For instance, within the realism school of thought there are two trends: classical realism and neorealism. Neorealists are yet separated between those who thing that, because of the anarchy in international system, states must maximize their security through aggressiveness (offensive realists) and those who maintains that, instead, states are better off adopting restraining, defensive, and moderate posture (defensive realists). This situation edifies one that international relations theories cannot be unified. Consequently, the multiplication of theories and ‘sub-theories’ puzzle policy makers. Despite that, as mentioned above, the relationship between policies and theories is a two-ways interaction. According to Stephen M. Walt, theories can better serve policy makers if they become more consistent, complete, use factual evidence, emphasize more on significant events, and give accurate explanations (2005). The international system is not a simple equation, thus the existence of multiple theories is necessary.

Necessity of having multiples theories international relationsA theory of international relations is a combination of ideas and principles based on factual evidences with the purpose of explaining better the different mechanism of world politics. The international system is not a monotone system; therefore, relaying on one single set of theory to make sense of it would not be productive. Every theory focuses on different important elements to make its assumptions. If one takes separately, any of the theories of international relations explained above, he or she would get different views based on the focuses of the chosen theory. This due to the facts that political scientists use different levels of analysis to examine states behavior. Briefly, in scope of the state-level analysis, states are the main actors in the international system, and, therefore, their organizational structure-type of government determines their behavior on the system. Moreover, if one makes sense of the ‘complex characteristics of a state, he or she would understand the way international politics works. The second level of analysis, system-level, emphasizes more on the effects that the structure and the different patterns of interaction, on the international, system have on the policies of states and other international actors. Indeed, those patterns will help comprehend world politics. In the individual-level of analysis, the focus is on individuals. As the constructivists would point out, individuals are the center or the masterpieces of a state for there is no state without the people. Furthermore, the levels of analysis make the understanding of the international politics more fluid. In addition, if one prefers one level of analysis, for instance to explain an event, does not necessarily means the two others are wrong because they all give plausible interpretation of how the international system works.
For example, all these three levels of analysis can be applied to assess the actual situation of North Korea in the international system. The North Korean regime does not share the western model of government, which is based on democracy. North Korea has ever been ruled by one family; the Kim’s. The country has embrace communism as its model of society and therefore sees the western world superpowers as a threat to its existence, especially the United States. The country behavior towards the western world is conflictual and aggressive mostly due to the structure of its government. At the system-level, one can point out the big mistrust surrounding North Korea. Gain a maxim of security and power is the goal of any country in the international system, therefore letting the North Korean regime become military powerful with huge nuclear capability would be an irrational move from the world superpowers. The growing distrust or tension between the U.S. and the North Korea creates a permanent hostile international environment for the North Korean regime. Lastly, individual-level annalists would focus on North Koreans. The norms and ideology within the North Korean society is a key determinant of the country behavior on the international stage.

Another perfect example would be the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Through the state-level analysis, one would point out the brutal nature of Sadam Hussain’s regime and the assumption that the country had weapons of mass destruction. Moreover, the country’s actions were destabilizing the region making difficult the desire of the United Sates to promote democracy in that part of the world. At the system-level analysis, Sadam’s government violated resolutions of the United Nations putting its credibility at stake. The United States saw the Iraqi government as a threat to its national security and with the quasi-unipolar nature of the international system; they did not hesitate to intervene. Finally, through the individual-level, Sadam Hussain was a dictator that would not hesitate to brutalize his own people. The President of the United States and his advisors were determine to put an end to the Iraqi government wrongdoing. The complexity of international politics makes the use of theories inevitable. Indeed, they all contribute in making sense of events in the international system.

Foundation of the United States on a more liberal spiritThe aim of any government shall be to protect the property of its citizen and their rights of “life, liberty, and estate”. The liberalism ideas are centered on preserving and maximizing the freedom and liberty of individuals. The enlightenment philosophers influenced the founding fathers of the United States of America. They founded the United States union and its model of governance on ideas developed by Montesquieu (1689-1755), JJ. Rousseau (1712-1778), Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), Locke (1632-1704), and so on. The federalism of United States is an indication that individuals are capable of creating societies and institutions that would better preserve their interests. The power in the United States government is not centralized. It is shared between three branches that are Legislative, Executive, and the Judiciary. Each of these institutions of the U.S. government plays a different and significant role in keeping the country unity and enhance its model of democracy. Thus, they check and balance each other power. In addition, Montesquieu has originally developed that principle in his book “On the spirit of Law” (1748). Montesquieu claimed that the prince of separating powers and giving them the ability to check on each other would prevent any group or individual from having a total control on the government (as it is in North Korea) (Little, 1999, 173. In the constitution of the United States, one of the most important parts, that no one can ever miss, is the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights was a condition for the Antirealist to accept the constitution that bound the thirteen states together. They feared a too power powerful national government and were concerned by the protection of the rights of citizens (Little, 1999, 187). In fact, the Bill of Rights in the United States makes the country of the protection of human rights and civil liberties. Moreover, it promotes the freedom of religion, assembly, press, speech, and so on. On the international system, the actions of the United States are also driven by its liberal idea of promoting and protecting human rights whenever they are severely endangered. The U.S. would not hesitate of intervene in countries where human rights are seriously violated either through military interventions or through important economic sanctions. Even though the United States is not solely based on liberal spirit, however, liberal ideals and principles influenced significantly its foundation.

ConclusionIn conclusion, theories in international relations are indispensable. They offer different lens through which one can see the world politics via distinct angles and better understand its mechanism. The three main theories; realism, liberalism, and constructivism all make policymakers able to write better policy and refine their positions on many world issues. Furthermore, the foundation of the United States present significant liberal ideologies for its founding fathers were influence by great philosophers of the enlightenment period. These philosophers preached freedom and liberty of the people and the mandatory duty of their government to enhance and protect their rights to “life, liberty, and the Pursue of happiness” as explained by John Locke.

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