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States’ Survival: Liberalism or Realism Preferred?

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Liberals could challenge the argument in this article. There has been a huge debate between Liberals and realists regarding human nature and the nature of states. Both theories present opposing pictures. One cannot understand realism without having a thorough understanding of what liberals stand for, and vice versa.

As far as human nature is concerned, people can be of harsh or kind nature personally. Still, these individualist characteristics only account for a little when states operate in a system where they have to interact with many other state and non-state actors. The thesis that is being developed in this article is solely based on the broad international perspective. This is an attempt to show why states choose or are compelled to choose the realist approach in interacting with other states.

The Liberalism and Realism debates started after World War 1 and World War 2, respectively. After World War 1, the then-American President Woodrow Wilson presented his famous fourteen points based on Liberalism.

Wilson was a liberal who believed that institutionalism would save the world from wars. Based on Wilson’s fourteen points, an international institution called the League of Nations (LON) was established. Many states became part of the institution, and it was assumed that humans, by nature, are kind and peace-loving, as suggested by Liberalism. But the irony was that America itself never joined LON.

However, the prevailing Liberalism faced a major dent when World War 2 broke out in 1935. Humans went to war, notwithstanding a huge human and economic loss in World War 1. This gave rise to a new theory in understanding international politics that is opposite to Liberalism. The theory is realism. Realism suggests that humans, by nature, are brutish and cruel, and states always seek power in order to survive.

There are several types of realism as well. The classical realism focuses on human nature. It says that humans go to war because it’s in their instinct, while neo-realism or offensive realism assumes that states’ activities depend on the international system.

One of the renowned realists, John Mearsheimer, says that states adopt offensive realism because the system in which they exist compels them to do so. He discusses the ever-presenting security dilemma in states’ foreign policy. The security dilemma is the fear of external attack by any other powerful state. This dilemma then leads to the maximization of power. States, says Mearsheimer, always strive for more power in order to be more secure.

Also Read: Israel committed Gaza War Crimes- UN Report

Many examples in world history support the realist argumentation more than the liberal one. Mearsheimer sheds light on another very interesting aspect of the foreign policy of the states that claim to be liberal. He explains that states are only liberal when they do not have to take care of the balance of power.

Balance of Power (BOP) is also a concept in international relations that explains state behavior in interaction with each other. BOP is a phenomenon when a state struggles to achieve power to balance the power of its adversary. Many scholars name it the “balance of terror” because the maximization of tools of power is actually based on perceived or real threats by other states. The driving force behind power maximization is terror or fear. That is why the attainment of power is a never-ending phenomenon in state policies.

To explain his argument well, Mearsheimer gives an excellent example of the United States of America, which is considered the most liberal state on the planet. If we compare US foreign policy during and after the Cold War, we can see a sharp difference in the pre and post-Cold War foreign policy choices.

We might say the USSR was a realist that was fighting to balance the power or maximize it by attempting to defeat the USA but wasn’t the USA doing the same thing? This shows that states are only liberal when they do not have some external threat to counter; otherwise, realism is the only constant.

Another argument that is made in favor of “liberal states” is that they do not go to war because of economic satisfaction. Liberals are of the view that open markets boost the economy, which is true, and this openness leads to economic satisfaction, which ultimately paves the way for peace to prevail in the international arena. This argument can be challenged. Seeing many examples from history where big economies waged wars on smaller ones, one can question the liberal argumentation that states with satisfactory economies do not prefer war.

The USA, being a superpower and economically well-to-do, chose to war against states like Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, etc. Similarly, Russia, which also has a handsome economy, waged war against a smaller state, Ukraine, and in recent examples, one can see what Israel has been doing on Palestinian territory. Israel is a prominent state on the list of technologically advanced countries.

Moreover, she enjoys unconditional favors from the world superpower USA but still chooses to go to war against Palestine. All the mentioned aggressors are economic giants in the world but still strive to get more. This also challenges the liberal notion of economic satisfaction.

In sum, we can say that due to a lack of hierarchy, anarchy prevails on the international stage. No government over governments can manage the entire world politics, so in this situation of anarchy, states always prefer to maximize their power in order to defeat or threaten their real as well as perceived enemies. Hence, Liberalism is just a temporary approach adopted by states when they feel secure and to win the hearts of their public, while realism is an ever-presenting approach in states’ policies to ensure their survival.

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