International Relations: Which grand theory best describes the world today? Why?

Seminar Paper, 2007

8 Pages


In international relations, we find many different actors with distinctive interests and certain individual instruments to realize goals. Within the following paper, our question cannot necessarily be how important nation-states are in comparison with international organizations such as the United Nations, for example. Instead, we have to find the best match in regard to outlining and observing today's political world.

In the following, I will show that realism best describes our world today because of four striking reasons. First, realism is the easiest way to approach international politics and describing the world. Second, realism best applies to our daily individual lives and, therefore, dominates how we shape international relations. Third, the realist theory is our last resort when political circumstances get out of hand, and lives, sovereignty, and power are threatened. This is because we traditionally relied on realist approaches and, consequently, do not hesitate in further outlining our world with the help of realism since it makes us feel more secure in what we are doing. Fourth, realism marks today's hegemon, the United States, and, hence, today's world politics. This reasoning is not an attempt, however, to minimize other grand theories, liberalism and constructivism. International relations is a vast field and therefore must be complemented by alternative views in order to round out the picture and to arrive at valid and persuasive understandings of international politics.

When we approach international politics with levels of analysis, we arrive at the so-called images of the individual, state, and international system (Nye 35). According to the rule of parsimony, it is best to start with the simplest analysis. (Nye 37) Obviously, the realist theory takes the easiest approach by stressing nation-states in an anarchic system, and disregarding surrounding influences such as non-state actors or cultural developments. In order to better understand the three grand theories, we can borrow Nye's descriptions. He depicts realism as the supposition that "the central problem of international politics is war and the use of force, and the central actors are states." (4-5) For realists, it is important to "maximize the power [...] and to minimize the ability of other states to jeopardize [...] security." (5) Another school of thought is liberalism, which goes back to philosophers such as Montesquieu and Kant. "Liberals see a global society that functions alongside the states and sets part of the context for states." (5) To them, "the realist view of pure anarchy is insufficient [...] because people do have contacts across borders and because there is an international society." (5) Some liberals even believe that borders might blur one day due to the high level of interconnection and globalization. (6) Last but not least, we have to include constructivism, a supplement to the other two theories because it does not have as much predictive power as the other ones do. (8) However, constructivism can add certain points the other theories miss, such as "important questions about identities, norms, culture, national interest, and international governance." (7-8) It becomes clear that realism does not dwell on countless variables, which become more and more difficult to connect and describe. The realist theory concentrates on few major assumptions and uses those to better cope with international politics, which is certainly an advantage over other theories when describing today's world.

In our daily lives, we try to realize our goals, follow our interests and maximize our benefits on an economic and social level. We like to have a satisfying job, influence, family and friends, money, prestige, and health. In order to get what we want we use our resources and power, just like nation-states do. Our personal and individual resources can be intelligence, strength or other character and physical traits, which support our advancement in life. It can also be a rich family we come from, or good connections to important people. Power, on the other hand, "is the ability to affect others to get the outcomes we want." (Nye 60) Power does not necessarily have to be related to money; neither does it have to lead to radical or dramatic changes. In a desert, for example, a local might not give us the badly needed drink of water in exchange for some U.S. Dollars. Instead, he might ask for some physical help with his camels as service in return. Our resources can be used to generate power and to make others do something we want. In this daily game of allocating resources and wielding power, no matter how small the resource or the act of power, we often apply a realist mindset. We watch out for our security, attempt to maximize our power, and interact with many others since we, human beings, assume to be the center of life. Of course, we do not live in an anarchic system; however, it is on us how we sell our personality and our traits in order to improve the use of resources and power. We certainly apply liberal ways of thinking, for example, when we get together in groups to achieve something bigger or better. In the end, though, we stand and must accept consequences alone, similar to the notion of being born and dying alone. Ordinary life puts the human being in the center of things and so does international relations in regard to nation-states. Why would we act differently on a broader basis such as international relations than we act on a very narrow basis such as our single life? The answer is we do not and, therefore, realist theory once more shows why it best describes our world today.


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International Relations: Which grand theory best describes the world today? Why?
University of North Florida
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Jane Vetter (Author), 2007, International Relations: Which grand theory best describes the world today? Why?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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