To think theoretically one has to avoid treating the task as that of formulating an appropriate definition of theory1James N Rosenau When one thinks of the reason for theory, we only have to look to our past. As intuitive beings we have always had the urge to define events in our world. People in the past have explained different events and phenomena, by creating stories through assumptions which help people to understand the world they live in. In the case of this essay, we look at the complexities of international relations.
International relations theories are a tool used by us to better understand the political events of our past and present in an attempt to better understand our future. Thus, theorists and various scholars have played a key role for nations and their policy makers when making decisive decisions. In this same way, during the progress of the 20th century three theories have contributed to create the shape of international relations: Realism, liberalism and a more modern form of radicalism, constructivism.Order now
Professor Stephen Waltz, defines the key theories that I will be looking at’ Realism emphasises the enduring propensity for conflict between states; liberalism identifies several ways to mitigate these conflictive tendencies and radical tradition describes how the entire system of state relations might be transformed (in this case constructivism)’2 While a quite concise explanation, it illustrates very well each of the theories that I will examine. International Relations Theory as a Discipline
International Relations theory entails the development of conceptual frameworks and theories to facilitate the understanding and explanation of events and phenomena in world politics, as well as the analysis and informing of associated policies and practices3. The study of International relations began as a theoretical discipline. Two of the foundational texts in the field, E. H. Carrs, ‘The Twenty Years Crisis1939’ and Han Morgenthau’s ‘Politics Among Nations’ 1948 were works of theory in three central respects.
Each developed a broad framework of analysis which distilled the essence of international politics from disparate events, each sought to provide future analysts with the theoretical tools for understanding general patterns underlying seemingly unique episodes (This in essence is why theory is so important. But I will discuss this further down the line) and each reflected on the forms of political action which were most appropriate in a realm in which the struggle for power was pre-eminent. 4
What is explicitly recognized as International Relations theory was not developed until after World War I, with the establishment of Chair of International relations at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth5. Essential, it emerged from the destruction of WW1, with the intentions of preventing another human disaster. The utter destruction of WW1 led many to argue the old assumptions of power politics. The purpose of theory in the early years of the discipline was to change the world for the better by removing war.
A close connection existed between theory and practice: theory was not disconnected from the actual world of politics. This was true of the liberal internationalists who believed ‘the world to be profoundly other than it should be’ and who had ‘faith in the power of human reason and human action’ to change it so ‘that the inner potential of all human beings could be more fully realised. It was no less true of the realists who thought that theory had a stake in political practice, most obviously the constraints on realizing the vision which utopians had been to anxious to embrace.
6 Theories in International Relations This essay will examine these theories and their key exponents and give an opinion about why these theories are so important to International Relations. One key note to consider is that no single theory identifies, explains or understands all the key structures and dynamics of international politics. International historians such as Gaddis (1992-3) stressed that none of the major traditions of international theory predicted the fall of the Soviet Union and its immediate consequences for Europe and the rest of the world.