Analysis of International Relations Theory

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS THEORY

  1. Why do states behave the way they do in the international system? Some people argue that this is a question of international relations theory while others say it is a question of foreign policy theory[1]. For our purposes, we shall consider them as the same issue. The behaviour of the states is the central question which the theories of International Relations or theories of foreign policy are trying to answer. Various authors develop theory to explain the behaviour of ‘all states’ and not just ‘one state’ which leads to the problem. No single theory is able to encompass all states. Finding a universal pattern has evaded us so far and the various theories stated are only an attempt to get one theory which defines the behaviour of most of the states. Few of these theories are briefly touched upon in the following paragraphs.
  1. Realism. Realists believe that the international system is defined by anarchy. States are sovereign and thus autonomous of each other and no inherent structure or society can emerge or even exist to order relations between them. In International Relations, political realism is a tradition of analysis that stresses the imperatives states face to pursue a power politics of the national interest[2]. Realist emphasises the constraints on politics imposed by human selfishness (‘egoism’) and the absence of international government (‘anarchy’), which require ‘the primacy in all political life of power and security[3].
  1. Classical realism. This is a state level theory that argues that all states search for power and this is the first and last principle of state behaviour. States seek to increase their power; they seek to decrease the power of their enemies; and everything they do is in the name of amassing power. States see other powerful states as rivals because power, when it is not in your hands, is threatening[4]. There can be peace. However, a durable peace is based upon a unwavering balance of power. If a state is not confident of winning a war, it generally will not start one.
  1. Neo-realism. This theory suggests a system that is an offshoot of classical realism. It agrees to all of what classical realism does. However, it sees the cause of all the power struggles and rivalries not as a function of the nature of states, but as a function of the nature of the international system[5]. States are considered as being alone in the arena of the world. There is no world government or a set up looking out for other states. There are no rules that can’t be broken. The world is in a set of lawlessness and states do what they can get away with in order to gain power. States do what they must to protect themselves. This theory dominates scholarly thinking today and is sometimes referred to in respect of the international relations prevalent in South Asia[6].
  1. Neo-Classical realism. This theory is in a way restoration of classical realism. It accepts all about power rivalries, but it suggests that state characteristics (state level variables) play a major role in the behaviour of states. States don’t just search for power. They do not simply fear other powerful states but there are reasons that states seek power and there are reasons that states fear other states. It’s a sort of combination of classical realism and neo-realism that factors in both system level and state level variables.
  1. Liberalism. The Liberalism theory adds values into the equation. It is often called idealism. It is a state level theory which argues that there is a lot of cooperation in the world, not just rivalry. States don’t just compete or worry about power. States try to build a more just world order. For liberals, peace is the normal state of affairs. In Kant’s words, peace can be perpetual[7].
  1. Neo-liberalism. This is an offshoot of liberalism. It is a system level translation of liberalism and focuses on the way in which institutions can influence the behaviour of states by spreading values or creating rule-based behaviour[8]. Neo-liberals might focus on the role of the United Nations or World Trade Organization in shaping the foreign policy behaviour of states.
  1. Rationalism. This theory, like realism begins with anarchy but unlike realism, it acknowledges that the sense of belonging to the community of humankind has left its civilising mark upon the state and international relation[9].
  1. Constructivism is a theory that examines state behaviour in the context of state’s characteristics. All states are distinctive and have a set of defining economic, political, social, religious or cultural characteristics that influence its foreign policy. States have identities and those identities characterise their behaviour in the international system. A late-twentieth-century addition to international relations, Constructivism has returned international relations scholars to the foundation questions including the nature of state and the concepts of sovereignty, identity and citizenship. In addition, it has opened new substantive areas to enquire such as role of gender and ethnicity which has been largely absent from other theories[10].
  1. Marxism, Critical Theory, Post Modernism, Feminism, Green Politics, English School and Critical Theory are few other popular theories in regards to International theories. Each author is developing a theory in order to explain the behaviour of all states and not just few of them. Finding a common pattern of activity, common rules that can be used to explain why all state behave in a manner has not been possible so far. Hence, trying to analyse the relations between two countries on the datum of these existing theory will not be doing justice. Scholars see several levels of analysis through which state behaviour can be examined and these form the basis of IR theories itself. These levels shall be discussed in the following paragraphs.
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Levels of Analysis

  1. System level. This level of analysis examines state behaviour by looking at the international system. In this level of analysis, the international system acts as the cause which leads to the effect of state behaviour. Any change in the international system causes change in state behaviour.
  1. State level. This level of analysis examines the foreign policy behaviour of states in terms of state’s characteristics. The state’s characteristics foreign policy may be simply manifestation of its cultural characteristic or may be defined by the religious or social traditions, historical legacy of the state, the economic nature and geographic nature of the state.
  1. Organisational level. This level of analysis examines the way in which organisations within state influence foreign policy behaviour. If this level is dominant, the States does not make decisions. Organisations negotiate with each other to create a foreign policy that is a settlement between competing organisations.
  1. Individual level. This level of analysis focuses on people. Since people are the ones who make decisions within nation states, therefore, it can be said that it is these people who govern foreign policy. This level of analysis explains foreign policy by looking at the way leaders understand /perceive the world.
  1. Although all scholars acknowledge the utility of paying attention to levels of the analysis, they differ on how many levels are useful in explaining events. Most political scientists apply between three and six levels[11]. For the purpose of this paper, above four levels will be considered for the analysis of Indo-Sri Lankan relations.
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[1] Newmann,Bill. ‘A Brief Introduction to Theories on International Relations and Foreign Policy’. Retrieved on 02 Dec 14. <http://www.people.vcu.edu/~wnewmann/468theory.htm>

[2] Burchill,Scott, et al. Theories of International relations. Third Edition. 2005. New York. Palgrave Macmilan.P 29

[3] Ibid. P 30

[4] Newmann,Bill. ‘A Brief Introduction to Theories on International Relations and Foreign Policy’. Retrieved on 02 Dec 14. <http://www.people.vcu.edu/~wnewmann/468theory.htm>

[5] Ibid.

[6] Newmann,Bill. ‘A Brief Introduction to Theories on International Relations and Foreign Policy’. Retrieved on 02 Dec 14. <http://www.people.vcu.edu/~wnewmann/468theory.htm>

[7] Burchill,Scott , Linklater,Andrew, et al. Theories of International Relations. First edition. 1996. New York and London. Macmillam. .P 31

[8] Newmann,Bill. ‘A Brief Introduction to Theories on International Relations and Foreign Policy’. Retrieved on 02 Dec 14. <http://www.people.vcu.edu/~wnewmann/468theory.htm>

[9] Burchill,Scott , Linklater,Andrew, et al. Theories of International Relations. First edition. 1996. New York and London. Macmillam. .P 94

[10] Mingst, Karen and Arreguin-Toft, Ivan M. Essentials of International Relations. Fifth Edition.2011. New York and London. WW Norton &Company. P84

[11] Mingst, Karen and Arreguin-Toft, Ivan M. Essentials of International Relations. Fifth Edition.2011. New York and London. WW Norton &Company. P69

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