Another Theory of International Relations?

For those who are not aware, I had finished my undergraduate education late last year. Although the major was Political Science, I chose International Relations as my concentration. International Relations is an interesting field that appealed to my lifelong fascination with history, especially 20th century history. The entire century overall is fair game to me because no analysis of the latter half can ever be considered complete without eventually discussing about the early half. It was because of this that I happened to excel greatly in the classes related to International Relations.

Many of IR’s theoretical concepts and practical applications found their basis in historical events throughout the 20th century. In fact, it is because of this overemphasis on the 20th century that I was amazed to discover that the field itself offered little room for innovation. There are three main “Theories” of conventional IR analysis, “Realist,” “Liberal,” and “Constructivist.”

  • The Realist Theory argues that because all world orders are inherently anarchic, every nation is determined to ensure their continued survival. Nations forge alliances and engage in conflicts to acquire power and security within their part of the international system. Every decision made by the nation, the Realists argue, is done purely out of self-interest. Everything from the conduct of war to the negotiations of trade is orchestrated to promote one nation’s interests to the detriment of all others. What is good for one nation may not always be the best for others. Its premises were forged from the historical experiences of the early 20th century.
  • The Liberal Theory, as one might surmise from its name, refers to the Liberal conception of Internationalism. Its proponents consistently believed that either Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), Parliamentary Democracies, or some combination of both will lead to a flourishing of peace among nations. Fostering cooperation are international organizations designed to accommodate the opposing interests and values of various nations within the broader international system. This emphasis on international organizations have also led to a special interest in promoting “non-state actors” such as NGOs and multinational corporations as a means of deterring conflicts. Compared to Realist Theory, Liberal Theory had its premises developed during the late 20th century.   
  • Finally, Constructivist Theory represents a post-Cold War (or dare I say, post-World War II) interpretation of IR analysis that emerged in the wake of the 1990s. Its prominence in IR came partly as a replacement of Marxist Theory’s version of IR and the failures of Realist and Liberal Theories to anticipate the Cold War’s end and the consequences that followed. Although Marxism remains a valid model of IR analysis for Marxists of all persuasions, the Constructivist Theory is a different altogether. In essence, Constructivist Theory stipulates that nations are motivated by the cultures, traditions, languages, ideologies, and religions that bind a Totality to their State. The State’s decision-making is guided by the values and ideas of the Totality, which is expressed in the form of specific foreign policies.    

As one could tell by my descriptions of the three main Theories, I do consider my IR analysis to be leaning toward Constructivism. However, I am not fully convinced that Constructivist Theory should be considered as the most ideal. Constructivism lacks a coherent basis through which the multiplicity of different Totalities around the world can be discussed in a unified analysis. Since the national interest is defined by the values and ideas of the Totality, the same analysis directed at one nation cannot be applicable to all others. How the Totality treats other Totalities can be discerned from their cultural and social history. How the State defines the national interest is influenced from its interactions with other States.

The question that I have yet to ascertain at this point in my professional life is whether it is necessary to be articulating an entirely new Theory of International Relations. This new Theory needs to be made applicable to a specific criterion of factors that any IR analysis will expect. I can list those factors as the following:

  1. The international system is not inherently anarchic insofar as the international system itself consists of States led by Totalities that are more orderly than anarchic. The presence of any “Totality” implies a socioeconomic order created and maintained by the nation.
  2. The State is the primary actor in the foreign policymaking of the nation, whose decision-making rests on the Totality’s ability to govern their State. All of the State’s decisions are guided by a “Destiny” shared between itself and the Totality.
  3. The State does not operate on any conceivable moral plane that ranges between pure self-interest and pure altruism. Its foreign policies must benefit the Totality and others supporting them on the grounds of mutually shared interests.  
  4. The Totality competes with the Totalities of other States to attain the highest-possible position in the various international organizations that comprise the international system. These interactions are conducted through the foreign policies of opposing States, whose national interests may congeal or clash with each other.
  5. The Totality is bound to their State by a shared Destiny. This “Destiny” is a geopolitical mission driven by a passionate interest in specific ideologies, religions, ideas or values. It might also be influenced by culture, tradition, and history.
  6. Lastly, the Totality is not a monolithic polity. It can and will include differing interests and perspectives on how their State should conduct itself within the international system.  

To be honest, I am convinced that Realism and Liberalism do not define most of my IR analysis. Even Constructivism has its own limits and I am always looking for anything that could replace it so I can articulate more well-informed discussions of world politics. A new Theory of International Relations would be helpful in distinguishing my perspective from others who are basing their conclusions on at least one of those three leading Theories.  

Categories: Politics

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