Theories of international relations

Theories of international relations

Theories of International Relations (Burchill)-pg 67-90

  • One of the most influential theories in Intl Relations, cause of its powerful critique of liberal internationalism and influence on the practice of intl diplomacy.
  • Carr and Morgenthau were known as the founders of modern or traditional realism.
  • Kenneth Waltz was the founder of neo realism, which emerged in 1980s as dominant theory in intl relations.
  • After first world war, liberalists, or ‘utopians' as Carr called them, wanted to abolish prospects of any more war by using the idea of collective security, thus the creation of league of nations.67.
  • Carr thought liberalism was normative.68.
  • According to him, it was wrong for them to think how the world should be.68.
  • For him, until 1930s, in IR, teleology preceded analysis.C.68
  • ‘Wishing that the world was more peaceful place', according to Carr, cannot erect a scientific theory in world politics.
  • He emphasized more on realties. In other words, the image of world could be: ‘what is rather than what ought to be'.68
  • End of utopianism = realism.
  • He believed that liberalism doesn't include the central element power in its consideration of intl politics. Which without, the root causes of war and conflict would not be properly understood.C.69
  • He said liberalism was wrong in stating that all countries have similar interests.
  • In reality, the post war order reflected specific interests of war and was therefore unlikely to receive support from those states. (Germany and Versailles settlement 1918).
  • According to Carr, liberalist idea of intl conflict is unnecessary is wrong.

  • There is no natural harmony of interests between states in intl system, and in fact war is the only way that power can be recalibrated in the intl system.69.
  • Carr was convinced that a new intl system would be shaped by the realities of global power, rather than morality.
  • His closest statement to morality is that there will be peace only once the dominant power is generally accepted as tolerant, or preferable to any practical alternative.
  • For Carr, and many other realists, there is no binding intl law, and states can get away with whatever they do.
  • Carr's work is not very sophisticated but critical of utopian way.
  • For him , ethics was a function of politics and morality was the product of power.
  • Neglecting the importance of power as a consideration in intl relations, Carr was convinced that the architects of the Versailles peace treaty had set the world on an in evitable course of further conflict.


  • His book, 'politics among nations', was written in the aftermath of World War 2.
  • It comes very close to being a realist text book.
  • Not only had it been written to influence realism, but to also provide a series of guidelines for US foreign policy-makers confronted by the uncertainties of cold war.
  • Morgenthau's writings were scattered with references to laws, principles and science, just because he took Carr's advice to create a science of international politics.
  • He argued that theories should be factual and independent, and not a concept unrelated to reality.
  • He believed that there is a rational essence (or knowable reality) of foreign policy which theories can apply.
  • He believes that the world imperfections are the results of forces inherent in human nature.
  • World cannot be perfect, but a system of checks and balances can make it an accepted place.
  • He was famous for his 6 principles.
  1. Politics are governed by objective laws which have their roots in human nature.They are a fixed set of rules, and helps to distinguish between facts and opinion.Thus, providing us with confidence and certainty in predicting rational political behaviour.
  2. They key to understand intl politics is the concept of interest defined in power.This interest revealsthe true bbehaviour of politicians and state actors against 2 popular misconceptions about what determines a states foreign policy-the motives of statesmen and ideollogial prefernces.There is no room for moral or individualprefernces in the determination of foreign policy.The national interest is always defined in terms of strategic and economic capability.
  3. The forms of state power will change, but the concept of interest stays the same.Changes in intl system will only occur through the worklike manipulation of the perennial forces that have shaped the past as they will the future.
  4. Universal priciples do not affect the state.Individuals will be influenced but states are not moral agents.Prudential behaviour based on a judicious assessment of the consequences arising out of alternative political choices is the guiding law for realists.
  5. No universal set of principles actually exist.When states proclaim these universal principles, they are merely projecting their particular national or cultural codes onto the world as a whole.
  6. Poltical sphere is autonomous from every other sphere of human concern, whether they maybe legal,moral or economics.This helps to see the intl domain as analytically distinct from other fields of intellectual inquiry.
  • Like carr Morgenthaus principles of political realisim reflected the intellectual mood of age.
  • He wanted to point out that any state could attempt to universalize its own moral and ethical principles.
  • Ntional interests provide policy makers with a rational guide to action.
  • His realism was based ona priori assumptions about human nature; the rational pursuit of self interest and utility maximization and so on.
  • He wanted to install certainty into field of IR and was very successful,by the fact that his book is regularly reprinted and widely used by students of statecraft.

Kenneth Waltz

  • Waltz is founder of ‘neo realism' or ‘structural realism'.
  • Critique of traditional realism and a substantial intellectual extension of a theoretical tradition which was in danger of being outflanked by rapid changes in global politics.
  • He made a more sophisticated theory to the extent that his account has often been referred to as occupying a position of intellectual hegemony in the disciple.
  • According to waltz, theory is an intellectual construction by which we select facts and we interpret them.The challenege is to bring theory to bear on facts in ways that permit explanation and prediction.That can only be achieved by distinguishing theory and fact.
  • No realism argues that by depicting an intl political system as a whole, with structural and unit levels at one distant and connected,it establishes the autonomy of intl politics and thus makes atheory about it possible.
  • Thought that interests were same among states.He pointed this out when the ussr and usa pursued power in the cold war.He explains this by saying that there can be systemic constraints found on each state rather than their internal composition.
  • Argues that intl politics can be thought of a system with a precisely defined structure.He tried to explain that realists cannot handle causation ata level above states because they fail to conceive of structuresas a force that shapes and shoves the units.
  • He rejects unit level theories because they attempt to explain the whole (global system) by examining the interactions of its parts(domestic orders).
  • He critisizes other approaches by saying that they assume that there is a direct link between the intentions of individual actors such as nation states, and the results of their actions.
  • All ignore the overriding importance of the intl system which comes between the intentions of states and the results of their intentions.
  • He has ordered system into 3 parts.
  1. Ordering principle of the system.
  2. Character of units in the system.
  3. The distribution of capabilities of units in system
  • Ordering principle in intl system is anarchic.
  • In other words,ordering principle of the intl system forces states to perform exactly the same primary function of their capacity to do so.
  • The anarchic realm imposes a disciple on the states,they all have to pursue security before any other action.
  • States differ vastly in their capabilities.
  • The capacity of each country to pursue objectives vary according to their placement in the intl placement.
  • A key to understand behaviour of states is that the distribution of power in the intl system overrides consideration of ideology or any other internal factor.
  • Hence the important distinction neo realist make between small and great powers.

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