Liberalism and Realism

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Liberalism and Realism have been at odds with each other since the conception of the modern world. The main point of friction between these theories is the fundamental beliefs they are based upon. Liberals believe that international peace and harmony are possible no matter how hard it may be. This stand is based on the belief that human beings are rational and peace-loving. On the other hand, realism stems from the belief that human beings are inherently savage and selfish. Hence complete cooperation and harmony between states is a romantic dream, and conflict will always be inevitable. 

In order to fully understand which of these world views are more accurate, we need to know about the historical context in which these were formed. So let’s look at a brief summary of historical events. 

Major conflict and war have always been good judges of humanity’s character. The League of Nations was the first attempt to establish peace and harmony between states after World War II. Several states had realized the importance of harmonious relations. However, the states were well within their rights to engage in armed conflict. Realists hold a pessimistic view of international relations. They believe that distorted versions of nationalism is the cause for states to look to benefit themselves. The two World Wars were an excellent example of the failure of liberalism. 

Liberalism gained popularity throughout Europe and the western world after the first World War. As much of Europe had been ravaged by the destruction, new weaponry posed a more significant threat to world peace. Hence states were looking for ways to promote peace and harmony. A great example of an attempt at peace is the treaty of Versailles and the 14 points of Woodrow Wilson, the then president of the United States. These points laid out rules and procedures for engaging in diplomacy and establishing international peace. Although a second World War soon rendered the treaty of Versailles moot, the minimal usage of weapons and the eventual end of the cold war was viewed as a major success of Liberalism. 

We can see these theories being realized in today’s world. One can say that the liberalistic view of international relations has successfully materialized with there not being a major war since World War II. Furthermore, there have been numerous treaties that have been signed and upheld between states from all over the world. These treaties have included prohibiting states from acquiring nuclear weapons from non-nuclear states, limiting the number of long-range nuclear warheads that each side can possess. These treaties have and will continue to play a significant role in enforcing world peace. On the other hand, many places in the world are far from being peaceful. China and India are often engaged in border disputes. Palestine has been under occupation for the last 50 years. Furthermore, with so many states holding an arsenal of nuclear weapons, the world is far from peace. 

The world we live in today is constantly filled with conflict and turmoil. One could say that a liberal view is necessary to promote peace and harmony. On the other hand, it is essential to also realize that states are self-interested and thus would place the needs of their people first, even at the cost of other states’ rights. Hence, both the realist and liberal theories of international relations possess relevance.


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Musa Qaiser
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