6 Comparative theories

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6 Comparative theories

Key terminology Realism; Liberalism; International anarchy; Security dilemma; Complex interdependence; Global governance; Anarchical society and society of states.

Realism: Wide school of thought in international relations theory that has a belief that world politics will remain a field of conflict among actors (particularly states) pursuing power. (I would also add that Realism is divided between classical realists and Neo realists and between offensive and defensive realists)

Liberalism: Wide school of thought in international relations theory that rejects power politics as the sole outcome of international relations and emphasises mutual benefits and co-operation. Think of Joseph Nye and positive sum/win- win outcomes. Think also of Ikenberry and Liberal Internationalism 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 (2009)

International anarchy: Concept that the world system is leaderless: there is no universal sovereign or worldwide government. (Hobbes (1651) and Corbett (1956)

Security dilemma: Theory that actions by a state intended to increase its security, such as increasing its military strength, can lead to other states responding with similar measures, producing increased tensions that create conflict. (Graham Allison – very much a hawkish realist calls this The Thucydides Trap, 2015 and the so called Harvard Study)

Complex interdependence: Theory that states and their fortunes are inextricably tied together. This one is best understood by reference to Joseph Nye’s 3D chessboard or what is also sometimes called the cobweb model in contrast to the classical realist billiard ball model which privileges the state. Here TNCs, IGOs (Regional and Global) and NGOs have real power.

Global governance: Movement towards political integration of transnational actors aimed at negotiating responses to problems that affect more than one state or region. Think of things like terrorism, nuclear proliferation, global economic stability, climate change and pandemics. These all require a multilateral approach of states and other actors coming together to resolve them. Issues are no longer domestic OR international. Rather as Mazrui (1977) claimed they are “intermestic”

Anarchical society and society of states: Theory that the states of the world can be members of a society despite the anarchical nature of the international system. Again Hobbes is relevant here. To a degree so is Kant and the Three Definitive Articles of Peace. So too is the English School (Hedley Bull, The Anarchical Society (1977)

6.1 Main ideas of realism.

• States as key actors in global politics and the balance of power (state sovereignty).

• International anarchy and its implications.

• Inevitability of war.

• The security dilemma.

6.2 Main ideas of liberalism.

• The significance of morality and optimism on human nature.

• Possibility of harmony and balance.

• Complex interdependence.

• Likelihood of global governance.

• Impact and growth of international organisations.

6.3 Divisions between realism and liberalism in relation to:

• human nature and power

• order and security and the likelihood of conflict

• impact of international organisations and the significance of states.

6.4 Main ideas of the anarchical society and society of states theory.

• Acceptance that there is anarchy in the global system – absence of overarching authority.

• States have an informal understanding that ensures a degree of co-operation – based on norms and rules that increase levels of trust and reciprocal behaviour.

6.5 An evaluation of the extent to which realism and liberalism explain recent developments (since 2000) in global politics. This should be done through the study of relevant case studies that cover each of the other content sections:

• the state and globalisation

• global governance: political and economic

• global governance: human rights and environmental

• power and developments

• regionalism and the EU.

A2 Global Politics – Summary Theories of IR  

Realism; Neo Realism; Liberalism; Critical Theories (Including Marxism, Neo-Marxism; Anarchism; Radical Ecologism and Feminism) 


    • Traditionally the foremost theory of international politics – based on Thucydides, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Von Clausewitz, Morgenthau, Waltz
    • Central theme: The Three S’sState Survival, State Security & Self Help-States are unitary and coherent actors with a single motive ‘the wish to survive’ (Waltz 2002)
      • power politics; states should only consider their vital interests in the construction of foreign policy (Morgenthau, 1978) 
      • states as key global actors; 
      • states pursue national interests. Claude (1962) International institutions are mere disguises for the expression of national self interest
      • international anarchy (self-help forces states to prioritise security; importance of military power); Hobbes (1651 – Leviathan, all powerful body in the absence of which we get “A war of all against all”)
  • Von Clausewitz (1831) – War is the continuation of politics by other means
  • Importance of balance of power within international systems; 
  • Ethical considerations irrelevant to foreign affairs;
  • EH Carr at the Paris Peace Conference criticised the tendency for Liberals to allow ‘wishing’ to prevail over thinking. Thus Realists regard the international system as one in which international anarchy reigns and in which states naturally compete with one another.
  • Sceptical about international organisations, viewing them as ineffective, having unclear and questionable authority. (Implications of sovereignty)
  • Characterized by the ‘quest for power among all states’. Wish to thrive – offensive realism. Mearsheimer (2001)
  • Realism little questioned during Cold War period, but it was questioned at the end of the cold war

 Realist theories of war and peace

    • War is inevitable; human aggression, human nature, egoism, greed for resources  – states are just like human beings 
    • Implications of international anarchy – no strong central global authority therefore chaotic distributions of power anarchic system
    • Security dilemma Graham Allison Harvard Study, 2013 – 
    •  73% of all conflicts studied arose because of the security dilemma. Also Booth And Wheeler (2008) – Security Dilemma. Allison The Thucydides Trap – 2015 addresses whether the USA and China are headed for war
  • NATO’s eastward expansion after the Cold War is seen by Russia as a threat to its security. Similarly the US naval presence in the Asian Pacific is regarded with hostile intent by the Chinese
  • Fear and uncertainty mean that a possibly defensive military build-up by one state will always be interpreted as aggressive by other states, which will react in kind, creating an arms race)
  • Only balance of power maintains (fragile) peace. KN Waltz (1959, Man, State & War)

Realism and NeoConservatism

    • Morgenthau, H.J. (1978) ‘The Six Principles of Political Realism’: Ideologies, ethics, morals and beliefs should be discounted in place of interests and power which are the two guiding concepts. Interest is defined in terms of power Concern with motives and ideological preferences does not help. States cannot concern themselves with morals. Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement was wrong according to a realist perspective (Morgenthau 1978).
    • Hans Morgenthau opposed the US war against the North Vietnamese on the grounds that it defied a rational understanding of the national interest. He believed that US goals were not attainable ‘without unreasonable moral liabilities and military risks’ (M. J. Smith 1986: 158). 
    • 34 leading realist thinkers co-signed an advertisement in the New York Times entitled ‘War with Iraq is Not in America’s National Interest.’  John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt developed this position:

This war would be one the Bush administration chose to fight but did not have to fight. Even if such a war goes well and has positive long-range consequences, it will still have been unnecessary. And if it goes badly—whether in the form of high U.S. casualties, significant civilian deaths, a heightened risk of terrorism, or increased hatred of the United States in the Arab and Islamic world—then its ­architects will have even more to answer for.

(Mearsheimer and Walt 2003: 59)

  • Project for the New American Century (1997) – also called the NeoCons – a blend of realism and a mission for American power and values (Contrary to realism where Foreign Policy should be based only on Interests and Power).NeoCons were figures coalesced around the Bush White House (2001-2009) Cheney; Rumsfeld; Wolfowitz; Bolton; Condoleeza Rice.

Rice, C. (2000) ‘Promoting the National Interest’ – positive assessment of Reagan but negative assessment of Clinton in Foreign Policy

  • Powerful states affect the international system for both good and bad. This in turn can affect America which is why America should put their interests first. 
  • In IR academic discipline we differentiate between power politics and principled foreign policy. However in the case of America if they pursue power politics it will be in line with world values because American values are universal. 
  • Liberals, according to Rice, are uncomfortable with power politics, great powers and power balances as they lead to war. Having UN approval or approval from other institutions should not be required for exercise of power. -> John Bolton (G.W. Bush’s ambassador to the UN) said that the UN ‘needs to prove its relevance’ in 2004. 
  • Pursuit of national interests after WWII benefited everyone and created prosperity. If America continues to pursue their national interests everyone can benefit again. 
  • America fostered the improvement in Human Rights following the collapse of the SU after the Cold War. 
  • The ‘Four Part Agenda’ (arm control, human rights, economic issues and regional conflicts) was an agreement with Moscow over these 4 issues. The SU gave up because America was pursuing their national interests. 
  • Signing and ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (1993) was not in America’s interest as other countries were trying to acquire nuclear weapons. -> The treaty did not deal with the threat of Rogue States acquiring nuclear weapons. 
  • Clinton’s Mogadishu Somalian Intervention (1992-1993) and the later intervention in Kosovo were a misuse of USA Military assets. The military is there to use lethal force in US interests, not to perform peacekeeping operations.
  • Signing the Kyoto Protocol (1997) was not in America’s interests as China was not a party to it and therefore America would be unreasonably penalised. -> Bush tore it apart in 2001. -> Similarly Clinton signed the Rome Statute but Bush never ratified it. 


  • THE BIG IDEA: Traditional Realism is largely correct but ‘unscientific’, so we need a scientific and systemic theory of IR. Key text: Kenneth Waltz, Theory of International Politics, (1979) allows us to understand what is specific to international politics; allows us to grasp the regularities of international politics allows us to explain key aspects of international politics. Neo Realists dismiss the sovereign equality of states in favour of the hierarchy of states – the strong will prey on the weaker states.
  • A NEOREALIST THEORY OF INTERNATIONAL POLITICS: The role of theory is to identify laws, formulate objective explanations, make predictions. Assumptions regarding: actors, the structure of the international system, & the relationship between the two
  • THE INTERNATIONAL SYSTEM: A SYSTEM is composed of structure (system) & units (actors) in interaction; the STRUCTURE of the international system – ordering principle: anarchy characteristics of units: similar distribution of capabilities –  power as capability approach – population, geography, military resources, economy, research and development): polarity;  the UNITS of the international system:  states are rational “utility-maximising actors” whose main goal is survival
  • THE BIGGEST IDEAWhat really matters: ANARCHY (Absence of Effective global government/centralised authority) & POLARITY (Distributions of power across the structure as a whole)
  • Structural realism divides into two camps: 
    • those who argue that states are security maximizers (defensive realism), (Waltz, 1979) 
    • and those who argue that states are power maximizers (offensive realism) (Mearsheimer, 2001) 
  • THE EFFECTS OF THE INTERNATIONAL STRUCTUREanarchy & polarity constrain the behaviour of units (states); uniformity of behaviour is produced through competition and socialization different international structures have different effects

“The texture of international politics [is] highly constant, patterns recur, and events repeat themselves endlessly (ToIP, 1979… p. 66)

the structure of the international system changes only through war;

Wars occur because there is nothing to prevent them.” (ToIP,  1979… p. 232)

Anarchy point – states always balance against states with superior capabilities; bipolarity is the most stable international structure.


  • the concept of anarchy of limited value – it may be that NeoRealists underplay the system of global governance in ensuring uniformity of rules (WTO) or the general power of non-state actors
  • unrealistic distinction between domestic / international – many issues are intermestic terrorism, climate change, pandemics, wmd proliferation
  • obsolete state-centrism (States are not isolated units) 
  • ahistoricism (a lack of understanding of history – history has not always been driven by states e.g the Ottoman Empire) 
  • reduction of power to military capability – neglects soft power resources/assets
  • ignores norms, beliefs, identity, institutions, gender, class
  • cannot explain peaceful change – e.g. the end of Cold War
  • can I.R. really be a ‘science’?

Liberalism  – Key themes

  • Liberalism as form of idealism
  • International politics should be based on morality and promotion of certain values such as open markets, democracy and human rights. 
  • Human Rights – Humanitarian Intervention and morally driven Foreign Policy
  • Optimism about human nature,  progress, cooperation and peace
  • There is a tendency towards balance in the international order and states have overlapping interests rather than exclusive ones. Joseph Nye and positive sum – win/win
  • A key example of multilateral cooperation which has provided a forum for peace and stability in Europe over the last 40 years is the OSCE with over 55 member states. 
  • Biases in favour of international cooperation:
    • complex interdependence
    • tendency towards regional and global governance

Liberal theories of war and peace

    • political causes of war e.g. empires, great power struggles – Wilsonian Liberalism
    • authoritarian governments often clash with democratic forms of government
    • economic causes of war (economic nationalism; autarky) – Wilson 1919 – Economic nationalism leads to war
    • diplomatic causes of war (balance of power system); 
    • determinants of peace:
      • free trade
      • commercial liberalism
      • national self-determination
    • Democratic peace thesis:  Aaron Wildavsky and Singer (1993)
    • evidence for 1. Democracies tend not to go to war with one another; 2. Democracies tend to be significantly more stable and peaceful than non-democracies.
    • Evidence against – democracies fuel the global arms trade; democracies use overwhelming violence against non-democracies); 
    • Fukuyama also contended in The End of History and The Last Man (1992) that liberalism had triumphed over tyranny
    • collective security (global governance and rule of law) – Corbett Utopian and Vague concept of (1956- World Government)

Kaldor (1999, New and Old Wars: Organised Violence in a Global Age) – Nye – Power diffusion war can develop between states and non-states

  • Global cooperation is increasingly necessary to combat climate change, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, human rights and international development – no one country can resolve these dilemmas alone. 
  • Military Power becoming obsolete (Gray, 1997) should move towards soft power measures…Also Nye and complex interdependence requires greater degrees of cooperation and compromise. 

Liberal Internationalism 

    • THE IMPACT OF WW1: Changed perception of war as an instrument of statecraft; the League of Nations; the systematic study of the causes of war; the first Chair in IR, at Aberystwyth University (EH Carr)
    • Idealists are criticised for not being grounded in reality;   EH Carr at the Paris Peace Conference criticised the tendency for Liberals to allow ‘wishing’ to prevail over thinking
    • Joseph Nye Power of attraction Win win and Positive sum – need for soft power resources in the 21st Century
    • Ikenberry – Liberalism 1.0; Domestic and international institutions are required to protect and nurture these values.
  • (ICISS R2P and Liberal interventionism – Blair Chicago speech April 1999)
    • IKENBERRY – Liberal internationalism 2.0, (BRETTON WOODS 1944 + UN 1945) which is associated with the post-1945 period, is in crisis. 
    • Obama Speech at the UN 24th September 2013. The carnage of 2 world wars prompted a shift in thinking/ The pioneers of the UN were not naive (realist idealists?) Aim of institution was to: Resolve conflict; Enforce rules of behaviour; Build habits of cooperation;
    • Core objectives; Deter aggression; Energy security; Dismantle terrorist networks; Prevent proliferation of WMD; Promote democracy, human rights and open markets. Argues that America cannot achieve these things alone or that US military power is the only way to achieve these objectives.
  • Doyle, 1986 – Modern Liberalism has produced 2  legacies
    • LEGACY ONE – The pacification of foreign relations amongst liberal states. Historical imperialism and colonialism have been replaced by decolonisation and a tendency for liberal democracies not to go to war with one another. Kant calls this a pacific union or pacific federation. Liberals have established a separate peace.                                                                               
    • LEGACY TWO – International imprudence liberal states have fought numerous wars with non-liberal states (attack or threat of attack by a non-liberal state);
  • Ikenberry, G. J. (2009) ‘Liberal Internationalism 3.0: America and the Dilemmas of Liberal World Order’, Perspectives on Politics 7(1), pp. 71-87
  • Liberal international order versions 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0. Liberal internationalism looks at how liberal values have been applied to international affairs through institution building, alliances, treaties, trade agreements. It takes an historical approach to the successes and failures of these endeavours over the 20thC.                                        
  • Liberalism 1.0 associated with Woodrow Wilson and Anglo-American liberals which was brought to the post- World War I international settlement;  Liberalism 2.0 –  Cold War liberal internationalism of the post 1945 era. Liberalism 3.0 – post-hegemonic order where its full shape and logic is still uncertain.

Challenges to International Liberalism 2.0 and the Transition to International Liberalism 3.0?  What has changed? 

    • Move towards Liberal Internationalism 3.0 is characterised by the transition from absolute sovereignty to conditional, human rights & R2P revolution following the 1990s
    • New “license” for powerful states to intervene in weaker ones
    • A set of standards have not been developed for how actors in the international community should intervene in internal matters of states. So far only responsibilities have developed. 
    • Who should be the authority in upholding these standards/responsibilities? 
    • Given America’s military might it made America the best candidate as reflected in the changing nature of the world order: bipolarity -> unipolarity. 
    • Tech + globalisation = new threats
    • End of Cold War = American global ‘inside’ order becomes global ‘outside’ order 
    • Authority crises in the liberal order as rising states challenge American hegemony 
    • Three issues which according to Ikenberry will shape the transition from 2.0 -> 3.0; 1)Scope & Hierarchy; 2) Legitimate authority & post Westphalian sovereignty; 3) Democracy & International Rule of Law. 
    • USA will exercise less command and control over the rules and institutions. 
    • More ‘public’ rules as opposed to America’s ‘private’ rules through institutions such as NATO. 
    • America’s liberal order will become a more genuine multilateral global liberal order. 
    • Solution to authority crises -> a move towards universal institutions or international bodies. 
    • Reformed security council, although may not make much of a difference 
    • Growth in importance of the G-20, G-7. 
    • Economic growth is bringing countries such as China and India into the top ranks of the world system. According to The Economist, developing countries now produce half of the global GNP. 
    • They hold most of the world’s financial reserves and are placing huge new demands on energy and raw materials. As Fareed Zakaria (The Washington Post) notes,

“for the first time ever, we are witnessing genuinely global growth… in which countries in all parts of the world are… players in their own right. 

    • Growth of IMF and WB membership. – the IMF (USA 16.53, China 6.o9%) and World Bank (USA 16.39 China 4.56). Countries such as China and India would gain significant voting shares in the governance of these institutions while the United States and Europe would see their voting shares contract. 
    • A more gradual shift in the global system is the unfolding human rights and “responsibility to protect” revolution (Rwanda 1994 and Srebrenica 1995). The result is an erosion over the postwar decades in norms of Westphalian sovereignty (absolute sovereignty).The result is that norms of sovereignty are seen as more contingent
    • R2P + conditional sovereignty will be embraced in international liberalism 3.0.
    • Legitimacy of international bodies such as UN, NATO or the Bretton Woods institutions are partial and contested. 
    • Unresolved disagreements mount regarding the standards of legality and legitimacy that attach to the actions of powerful states acting on behalf of the international community. Key example being Iraq 2003 or Libya 2011. 
    • IAEA scope will expand. They played a key role in the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal. 
    • As nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons technologies grow more sophisticated and diffuse into troubled parts of the world, governments will no doubt seek to expand IAEA-type capacities for monitoring, inspection, verification, and safeguarding. 
    • A wider grouping of leading states to oversee stability and peace of the global system through increased leadership role to cover security, economic and political governance duties. 
    • Wider and deeper level of integration. 
    • USA will remain important. 
    • USA should observe the rule based system more.

The Breakdown of the International Liberal Order: 

  • Centres of power (e.g US, Canada, EU) will create their own economic and political spheres. 
  • Increase in regional competitiveness. 
  • US to retain the leadership role. 

Ikenberry, 2009 Possibile  breakdown of liberal international order.

The system of open, multilateral trade could collapse ushering in a 1930s-style world of mercantilism (a belief in the benefits of profitable trading and commercialism – may be encouraged by means of protectionism), and regional blocs. The political and security rules and institution of liberal internationalism 2.0 could also fragment into competing geopolitical blocs. Such a breakdown does not necessarily need to entail a complete collapse of order – it simply means there is an end to its open, rule-based, multi-lateral character. (anarchic multipolarity and chaotic distributions  of power) Joseph Nye, 2008) The American hegemonic order could simply yield to an international system where several leading states or centres of power – for example, China, the United States, and the European Union – establish their own economic and security spheres. For example China’s creation of the (AIIB) Asian Investment and Infrastructure Bank in 2016 which has 52 members. The global order would become a less unified and coherent system of rules and institutions, while regional orders emerge as relatively distinct, divided, and competitive geopolitical spheres.

Marxist perspectives in IR: 

    • Marx’s work retains its relevance despite the collapse of Communist Party rule in the former Soviet Union. Of particular importance is Marx’s analysis of capitalism, (Capital volumes I, II & III) which has yet to be bettered.
    • Marx and Engels were among the first nineteenth century theorists who perceived the trends towards globalization not just of economic activity, but of social arrangements, culture and politics. 
    • Marx’s famous passage from The Communist Manifesto is often cited, but it bears repeating, because it encapsulates so well the extraordinary insight which Marx and Engels had into the dynamism of capitalism and its consequences for the political organization of the world economy.

The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls … It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production;

    • This passage has been rightly cited as one of the first theories of globalization remarkable for the way in which it draws together economic, political, and cultural aspects of the impact of capital accumulation and understands capitalism as a global system. 
    • As the world market was extended and its immense possibilities opened up, the absence of any overarching political authority created fierce competition between states economic, political, and finally military. 
    • The link between capitalism and war became one of the firmest postulates of Marxist analysis, expressed in its classic form in Lenin’s immensely influential pamphlet Imperialism.Marx himself provided little in terms of a theoretical analysis of international relations. 
    • Marx’s ideas have been interpreted and appropriated in a number of different and contradictory ways, resulting in a number of competing schools of Marxism. Underlying these different schools are several common elements that can be traced back to Marx’s writings.
    • Drawing on the work of Antonio Gramsci for inspiration, writers within an ‘Italian’ school of international relations have made a considerable contribution to thinking about world politics. Gramsci shifted the focus of Marxist analysis more towards superstructural phenomena. In particular, he explored the processes by which consent for a particular social and political system was produced and reproduced through the operation of hegemony.
    • Thinkers such as Robert W. Cox have attempted to ‘internationalize’ Gramsci’s thought by transposing several of his key concepts, most notably hegemony, to the global context.
    • New (Marxist) Left (For example of Eurocommunism) which emerged in the wake of the events of 1968 (Prague Spring/ Paris Uprisings/ Anti Vietnam protests/ industrial disputes / economic stagnation, rise in insurrectionary (Ignatieff-2004) domestic terrorism RAF (West Germany) /Action Directe (France) and Habermas and Legitimation Crisis) was not just its critique of Western capitalism but its equally strong opposition to Stalinism in Eastern Europe and the former USSR. Critical theory has its roots in the work of the Frankfurt School.  Jurgen Habermas Legitimation Crisis (1968) has argued that emancipatory potential lies in the realm of communication, and that radical democracy is the way in which that potential can be unlocked. 
    • World-systems theory (Wallerstein, 1974) can be seen as a direct development of Lenin’s work on imperialism and the Latin American Dependency School.

Gamble, A. (1999) ‘Marxism after Communism: beyond Realism and Historicism’, Review of International Studies 25 (Special Issue): 127-144:

Marxism In Crisis

  • Marx always predicted that the development of capitalism as a social system would be punctuated by major crises, which would become progressively deeper and broader until the system itself was swept away. 
  • Marxism’s critics hailed it as an end of ideology, an end of history. (Fukuyama, The End of History & the Last Man, 1992) Francis Fukuyama’s claim in 1989 (before the opening of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union) that history had ended was roundly criticized, What is valid in Fukuyama is his insight that the end of the 1980s was a decisive turning point. A new world was being made, and this involved the supersession of the terms of the ideological battle of the old. What is invalid is his belief that this new world will not develop its own history.
  • Capitalism as a global system has grown both more interdependent and more fragile. It has generated enormous wealth and enormous knowledge in the last two hundred years which now support a population far in excess of any that has existed in previous human history. 
  • At the same time the distribution of the wealth capitalism created has remained highly concentrated and unequal, industrial activities have reached the point where they threaten the life support systems of the planet, and the system of accumulation itself is marked by huge instabilities and imbalances which could still implode in a devastating financial crisis with far reaching political and economic consequences. 
  • Marxist analysis therefore points to the urgent need for new systems of multi-level governance in the global economy to identify, manage and steer these problems. 
  • The Global financial crash has seen a resurgence of interest of Marx’s ideas of Capitalism in Crisis
  • For example David Harvey’s analysis of the 2008 crisis offers a purely Marxist analysis.

The Comparative Theories 12 Marker Plans.

This is what the examiners will be relying upon in order to grade your response:

A Level Question 2 Template Global politics

This table outlines a possible approach to writing an answer to the A Level 9PLO/3B
This is a compulsory question which must be completed.
The focus is on Section 6 of the specification and a synoptic requirement to cover core political ideas from Component/Paper 1

AO1 (6 marks)

• Question will have the stem ‘analyse’
• No introduction is required
• A range of points has to be made showing knowledge and understanding from Section 6 on comparative theories
• These points must be precise, accurate and relevant
• Linkage to core political ideas has to be outlined
• 15-17 minutes in time allocation

AO2 (6 marks)

• The task is to provide analysis on the AO1 brought forward
• Differences and similarities between global comparative theory may be advanced
• The synoptic requirement needs analytical development of core political ideas from Component/ Paper 1
• This includes the scope of the idea it may also cover the key thinkers associate with those core ideas
• As there are no AO3 marks a conclusion is not required


Key Thinkers Realism:

  • Morgenthau, 1978, power politics; states should only consider their vital interests in the construction of foreign policy
  • Claude, 1962, International institutions are mere disguises for the expression of national self interest
  • Hobbes, 1651, Leviathan, all powerful body in the absence of which we get “A war of all against all”
  • Von Clausewitz, On War 1831, War is the continuation of politics by other means
  • EH Carr at the Paris Peace Conference criticised the tendency for Liberals to allow ‘wishing’ to prevail over thinking
  • Mearsheimer’s, Offensive Realism
  • K.N. Waltz, Defensive realism, 1979, Theories of International Politics

Realism on war and peace

  • Joseph Nye, 2008, 3rd Level of 3D chessboard. Chaotic distributions of power (non state level) So here is a liberal acknowledging a degree of anarchy in the international system.
  • Graham Allison Harvard Study, 2013, Security dilemma – The Thucydides Trap – 73% of all conflicts studied arose because of the security dilemma.
  • Booth And Wheeler, 2008,
  • KN Waltz 1959, Man, State & War, Only balance of power maintains (fragile) peace. Also “Wars Occur because there is nothing to prevent them” (2002)

Key Thinkers Liberalism

Kant and the 3 Definitive Articles of Peace: Feodus Pacific
Wilsonian Liberalism, political causes of war e.g. empires, great power struggles – economic causes of war (economic nationalism; autarky) Wilson, 1919, Economic nationalism leads to war
Aaron Wildavasky, 1977, Democratic peace thesis
Fukuyama, The End of History and The Last Man 1992, that liberalism had triumphed over tyranny
Kaldor, 1999, New and Old Wars: Organised Violence in a Global Age
Nye, – Power diffusion war can develop between states and non-states
Gray, 1997, Military Power becoming obsolete (Gray is not necessarily a Liberal but the idea the war is obsolete might be thought to be a liberal idea.)
Ikenberry 2009 Liberal Internationalism: 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0
Doyle 1986 – democracies are good for peace but they still wage wars against non-democracies.

Analyse the explanation of global politics provided by the anarchical society (12)

The ‘anarchical society’ is the title of a book written by Hedley Bull in 1977. It is a founding text of the ‘English school’ of international relations theory. In Bull’s book, he argues that the current system is anarchical as there is no higher level of authority over states. He further argues that each state has ultimate sovereignty over its citizens within its set territorial boundaries. Bull argues that the system forms a society where there exists certain ‘common rules and institutions’ which provide a degree of order to the international arena. This is a form of ‘cooperation under anarchy’ as coined by Oye 1986. The theory brings together elements of realist and liberal theory, particularly reflecting on the possibility of states developing certain rules and institutions despite retaining sovereignty. A strong central authority is necessary, as noted by Hobbes in Leviathan 1651. Alternatively there is “a war of all against all’’. The realist perspective supports the idea that there is anarchy, reflected in never ending conflicts and numerous power struggles and conflicts between states. Moreover realists emphasise the importance of the state and that states retain their sovereignty without ever allowing truly lasting supranational institutions to develop and this is reflected in the way that the global system appears to operate, with the majority of institutions recognising state sovereignty.

Bull argues that a fear of unrestrained violence has led states to develop certain rules and institutions which may be supported by the growth of intergovernmental institutions such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (1968). Furthermore, intergovernmental institutions like NATO emphasise the idea of state losing a little sovereignty for reasons of collective security and self interest. Article 5 of the NATO charter, provides this collective security guarantee and thus minimises the worst effects of anarchy. President of the US Barack Obama made a speech at the UN in April 2013 also noting the importance of state cooperation.

Agreements and treaties may provide a degree of order and stability as expected of a global society bringing states together without removing their state sovereignty as reflected in the fact that incidents of war and conflict may have reduced to be replaced by increasing cooperation. As noted by Kant in his Preliminary Article 2, ‘’peace could not be achieved as long as there remains in the world a nation ruled by another nation without that former nation’s explicit consent. Nor should there ever be instituted a world government – an institution superior in its sovereign rights to the national governments’’.

Realists and Liberals on the role of the state:


  • Realists give primacy to the role of the state in global politics – they are the most fundamental building blocks in the architecture of the international system.
  • The billiard ball model suggests that states are undoubtedly important and that states impact upon each other through the exercise of foreign policy (aid, trade, sanctions, tarrifs, embargoes, war and threats of war, diplomacy, alliances, agreements and memberships)
  • Multilateral institutions are ultimately dependent upon states and their resources. International institutions are “mere disguises for the expression of national self interest” (Claude 1962)
  • Morgenthau 1978 nothing matters more than “State Survival, State Security and Self Help” A states power is defined in terms of its interests. States are unitary and coherent actors with a single motive ‘the wish to survive’ (Waltz​ ​2002)
  • Analogy with human nature. Hobbes and Nozick…selfish individualism. (Synoptic reference to Unit 1) In a state of nature life is poor, solitary, nasty brutish and short. Just as individuals are egoistic and selfish, so too are states.
  • Article 2.1 of the UN Charter recognises the sovereign equality of states. Article 2.7 affirms the norm of non-intervention. State sovereignty is still very important. However NEO Realists see a hierarchy of states in which the strong will prey on the weak.
  • Ultimately therefore a state’s capacity and its ultimate survival resides in its war making powers.


  • State arises out of the needs of society and the interests of citizens. It’s primary role to is to secure the “maximum amount of liberty for all” (J.S. Mill)
  • Created to provide a sovereign power to escape from the ‘state of nature’ ( pre-political society)
  • Core role of state is to ensure order​ ​internally. To do so there needs to be the establishment of a strong central authority or in the words of Locke a “Nightwatchman” to secure “life, liberty and property.” because “where there is no law there is no freedom”
  • To prevent tyranny there needs to be both internal constraints (separation of powers-Montesqueiu “power should be a check unto power” and external constraints such as federalism, codified constitution and international treaties.
  • A Constitutionally liberal character (Dicey and the rule of law, separation of powers, constitutionalism, checks and balances etc) prepares the state for entering into peaceful relations with other states to create a feodus pacific (Kant) otherwise known as a peaceful federation of states.
  • Liberals place less emphasis on state sovereignty and instead favour multilateral institution building to create a liberal Internationalism through various regional and global IGOs. (This reflects the cobweb model of international relations or what Joseph Nye refers to as complex interdependence where power is positive-sum and therefore win win rather than zero-sum.)
  • Less willing to see state as the dominant​ ​global​ ​actor.Power has shifted away from the state to global markets and TNCs (globalization)

Realists and Liberals on Human Nature. 


  • Essential core of human nature is fixed and given, fashioned​ ​by​ ​’nature’.
  • Pessimistic view of humans. We are deeply flawed and limited in our capacities, emotionally, psychologically, morally…
  • This links with Oakeshott and human imperfectability, the fact that we are all deeply flawed.
  • In a state of nature there is a war of all against all and life is “poor, solitary, nasty, brutish and short.” (Hobbes Leviathan, 1651)
  • Human beings are driven by desire ‘to exercise power over others’.
  • Human beings: self-seeking and egotistical. Therefore, conflict​ ​is​ ​inevitable, as states acquire the characteristic traits of humans. According to realists: human egoism determines​ ​state​ ​egoism.
  • Characterized by rivalry and competition, therefore, ‘perpetual peace’ is a utopian delusion.


  • Optimistic view of human nature.
  • Humans are self-seeking and self-reliant but are also governed by reason and capable of personal self-development.
  • There is rivalry, but have underlying mutual interests exists for resolving​ ​conflicts.
  • Humans have an innate capacity for reason. Growth of individualism was reflected in the growth of natural rights theories in the 17th & 18th Centuries.
  • Locke initially saw these rights as ‘life, liberty and property.’ Thus society should be organised to afford protection to individual interests and needs.
  • Mill’s On Liberty (1859), one of the classic texts in liberal philosophy, proclaimed that “the only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way”.
  • Oppose the use of force and aggression.
  • The use of force is justifiable on​ ​the​ ​grounds​ ​of​ ​self-defence.
  • There is a moral dimension to some​ ​extent.

Realists and Liberals On Globalisation (Obviously cross references with the Realist and Liberal views of the State)


  • Sceptical towards globalisation -​ ​Globalization​ ​deniers. Believe in the primacy of the state and self help.
  • Morgenthau and the Six Principles of Realism, particularly principle 4, where power is defined in terms of pure interest.
  • States dominated world politics (increasing their capacity of regulations and surveillance in the​ ​midst​ ​of​ ​globalization).
  • States as key actors in global politics and the balance of power (state sovereignty).
  • Globalization: ‘made by states, for states, particularly dominant​ ​states’ Claude 1962.
  • Market and trading system developments are to advance the interests of dominant states, Washington Consensus, Williamson, 1989.
  • Economic interdependence (outcome of globalization) is likely to cause ‘mutual vulnerability”, leading to conflict rather than peace and cooperation.
  • The Thucydides Trap.


  • Globalization brings prosperity to society through the global market (draws resources to its most​ ​profitable​ ​use).
  • Intensified interdependence to a ‘deep’ integration of a single economy. Ironically predicted by Marx in the Communist Manifesto (1848):
  • “The cheap price of its (capitalism’s) commodities are the heavy artillery which batters down all Chinese walls. This compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production” (Marx and Engels)
  • Complex interdependence (Nye)
  • Spread of democracy and free markets through globalisation creates conditions ripe for a feodus pacific (Kant and the 3 Definitive Articles of Peace)
  • Leads to increasing productivity and competition that produces benefits (positive-sum​ ​game Joseph Nye 2010).
  • Increase flow of knowledge and information (personal self-development and society dynamic), and growing importance of international organizations, both regional and global

Realism and Liberalism on Conflict


  • Realists regard the international system as one in which international anarchy (Hedley Bull 1977) and Hobbes (1651) reigns, whilst Von Clausewitz referred to war as the “continuation of politics by other means.”
  • States are likened to humans in that they are self seeking, egoistic and aggressive. The 2003 invasion of Iraq is seen by both realists and critical thinkers alike as a case in point.
  • States are primarily concerned with maintaining their position or securing advantages in relation to other states – foreign policy should not be guided by ethical considerations. (Morgenthau and the Six Principles of Realism, 1978)
  • Power relations are uncertain and a zero sum conception of power dominates. One state’s gain is another state’s loss.
  • Thus conflict inevitably emerges as states seek to maximise their power. According to Waltz “wars occur because there is nothing to prevent them.”
  • Security dilemma – a defensive military build up by one state will be interpreted as a hostile and aggressive act by other states leading to an escalation of tension and probably a state of conflict. Also called the Thucydides Trap.
  • NATO’s eastward expansion after the Cold War is seen by Russia as a threat to its security. Similarly the US naval presence in South-East Asia is regarded with hostile intent by the Chinese
  • Graham Allison’s Harvard Study – in a study of 15 major conflicts the security dilemma was present in 73%
  • Syria as a case study. The conflict arose because of the desire of the Assad regime to repress internal dissent and the failure to restore order quickly.
  • Syrian war is all about power balances and alliances and America showing they are still the Hegemon with Russia opposing this.
  • Assad is using any means necessary to ensure the survival of the Syrian state and restore internal monopoly of violence of the state.
  • Normative or prescriptive views according to realism: Morgenthau’s (1978) six principles of realism state that interests are the primary driver behind the state’s actions and specifically principle 4 states that ethics or morals should not be taken into account.
  • Aiding interpretation or obtaining meaning as according to realism: the war in Syria shows that war is inevitable despite liberal intentions of peace e.g failures of Geneva 1,2 and 3.
  • Powerful states will always assert their own interests -> American intervention in Syria is unlawful since no UNSC resolution approved it, whereas Russian intervention is legitimate as Assad invited Russia to intervene


  • Liberals adopt an optimistic view of human nature and the conduct of politics that is sometimes referred to as idealism.
  • This optimistic view of international politics rests on the assumption that power is positive sum and that by cooperating states can gain mutual benefit with a ‘win-win’ outcome
  • There is a tendency towards balance in the international order and states have overlapping interests rather than exclusive ones.
  • Balance and cooperation for peace and security are an ideal context for conducting trade and boosting growth and prosperity.
  • Since the second world war and especially from the 1990s this recognition of political and economic interdependence has boosted the growth and creation of multiple agencies of regional and global organisations of economic and political co-operation.
  • Politically there is the UN, the ICJ, the OSCE, The EU, The African Union and the Arab League.
  • Economically there are a plethora of institutions such as the IMF, The World Bank, The WTO, the G20, G7, ASEAN, MERCOSUR, NAFTA and the EU which facilitate and promote economic cooperation.
  • Economic conflict and the possibility of military conflict that may arise from it are simply too disruptive and costly and so are best avoided.
  • Thus liberals emphasis the benefits of dialogue cooperation and mutual benefit.
  • Liberals also emphasis the democratic peace theory (“democratic zones of peace” – Aaron Wildavasky,) which is the idea that democracies tend towards cooperation and dialogue rather than conflict in their relations with one another.
  • Fukuyama also contended in the End of History and The Last Man (1992) that liberalism had triumphed over tyranny and that one of the root causes of conflict (Democracies V Fascism) for example had been removed.
  • Spread of democracy and free markets through globalisation creates conditions ripe for a feodus pacific (Kant and the 3 Definitive Articles of Peace)
  • One key example of multilateral cooperation which has provided a forum for peace and stability in Europe over the last 40 years is the OSCE with over 55 member states.
  • Global cooperation is increasingly necessary to combat climate change, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, human rights and international development all of which pose major threats to peace stability and security.
  • Syria through the liberal paradigm: The conflict in Syria arose mainly due to the Arab Spring (which started in Tunisia) which reflected the desire of the people to have more liberal freedoms, democracy, economic freedoms and human rights. Spread of these ideals into Syria; Bahrain and elsewhere.
  • Normative or prescriptive views according liberalism: Conflict resolution can only be achieved through diplomacy and communication. The removal of chemical weapons from Syria in 2013 by the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) was achieved through the communication
  • between America and Russia. (Lavrov/Kerry talks)
    Aiding interpretation or obtaining meaning as according to liberalism: from Syria we can draw the lesson that any intervention in a conflict zone can only be successful if it is multilateral.
  • It is also a classic illustration of the liberal theory that conflicts are most likely to occur between democracies and non democracies – democratic zones of peace (Wildavasky & Singer 1993). Zones of Conflict/turmoil Vs zones of peace.
  • Finally liberals would emphasise that the only solution to the war is a diplomatic negotiated solution.

Realists and Liberals on Global Governance


  • Primacy of the state means that realists are profoundly sceptical about what global governance can achieve.
  • Viewing it as ineffective, having unclear and questionable (Implications​ ​of​ ​sovereignty) authority.
  • Here we can reference Oakeshott who sees society as simply too complex to be fathomable by international organisations. So there is a heavy scepticism to be found for example in conservatism:
  • “In political activity . . . men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage…” (Michael Oakeshott.)
  • Characterized by the ‘quest for power​ ​among​ ​all​ ​states’. Therefore, little scope for cooperation​ ​and​ ​trust.
  • Ultimately states are motivated towards survival, security and self help.
    International institutions are thus “mere disguises for the expression of national self interest” (Claude, 1962)
  • Anarchy prevails (Hedley Bull 1977 of the English School)
  • Morgenthau 1978 The Six Principles of Realism: Power is defined in terms of interests.
  • Neo Conservative criticisms of the UN by John Bolton during the Bush administration. “The UN Desperately needs to prove its relevance.”
  • Scepticism about regional institutions also prevails for example Euroscepticism.
  • Would point to the multiple failures of the UN in terms of the MDGS, Peacekeeping Operations or Climate Change.


  • Supports international organizations.
  • Ideas of Liberal institutionalism and Liberal Internationalism (Ikenberry, 2009)
  • States cooperate because it is in their interest​ ​to​ ​do​ ​so (Joseph Nye Power Shifts in the 21st Century)
  • Sees power as positive sum or win-win.
  • International Organization as a reflection of the extent of complex interdependence in the global system. (Joseph Nye)
  • However, Cooperation may be hard to achieve despite common interest, due to insecurities. Cooperation under Anarchy (Oye, 1986).
  • Increased cooperation may lead to a feodus pacific as promoted by Kant in his 3 Definitive Articles of Peace.
  • Liberals would emphasise the achievements of the UN for example the major improvements in the developing world because of the MDGs and the successful peacekeeping operations it has mounted.

Realists and Liberals on Global Economic Governance


  • Global Economic governance is shaped by mercantilism (world economy is characterised by competition, each seeking to maximise their power​ ​and​ ​wealth).
  • States used the WTO’s Doha round to campaign for their own interests so effectively that the Doha round stalled into a stalemate. This suggests competition rather than cooperation.
  • Influenced by ideas of protectionism. Note the Trump administration’s fondness for applying tariffs to competitor countries’ exports into the USA.
  • Cooperation in economic affairs is limited due to state egoism and international anarchy. An idea which can trace its roots back to Hobbes Leviathan, 1651
  • Support Hegemonic Stability Theory for a stable global economic governance (because they​ ​can​ ​enforce​ ​the​ ​rules).
  • The Institutions of Global Economic Governance are “mere disguises for the expression of national self interest” (Claude, 1962)
  • Note the USA’s structural leverage (Susan Strange, 1996) within the IMF with 16.53% voting share.
  • The Washington Consensus, Williamson, 1989. Institutions of GEG promote the interests of the wealthier Northern hemisphere States.


  • Based on faith in the market and competition. (this can draw resources to its most profitable use, establish long-run​ ​equilibrium)
  • Thus structural adjustment policies of the IMF and the World Bank favour Neo-conservative/Neo Liberal remedies such as privatisation, deregulation and open access to markets.
  • Accepts the need for economic governance as long as it promotes openness and free competition.
  • States should have a mutual interest in upholding agreed norms and rule of the framework of the global economic​ ​governance. Complex interdependence (Joseph Nye)
  • Breakdown of Bretton Woods.- emergence of neo-liberalism Milton Friedman Chicago School. Strong Links with Neo-Conservatism, for example the Economic Liberalism and Monetarism espoused by Thatcher.
  • Links also to Gidden’s Third Way with a clear preference for the free market, as seen in in New Labour’s light touch regulation of the City of London.
  • Fiscal Stimulus following the 2008 crash somewhat echoes John Maynard Keynes’ ideas of state intervention during a crisis. The G20 and the IMF coordinated states response to the crisis around the world as liberals predicted they would.