In the modern tumultuous world of politics, nation states were and still are very crucial players. Whether they are the most important actors or not is the pivotal point of this essay. The point has been discussed with reference to two paradigms of international relations theories namely realism and liberalism. There are several strands of these two theories but arguments have been built on focusing the common assumptions of each theory. Arguments have been illustrated by citing international events that occurred in the recent Arab uprising.
Besides, examples from other international affairs involving the United States (US), the European Union (EU) and other international alliances have been cited in order to provide a broader perspective to the topic. The discussion reveals that despite their varying degree of state centricity both realism and liberalism generally see states as the central players in international affairs Realist Paradigm One of the original propositions of realism is that Sovereign states are the principal actors in world politics (Alexander Moseley, 2001).
The most discussed issues in current world politics are all between nation states or within a sovereign state. The crisis in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and other Middle East states and talks about economic measures within the EU states bear testimony to this fact. Realism also holds that special attention is afforded to large state powers as they have the most influence on the international stage (Doyle, 1997). That explains why US intervention is expected to solve crisis in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and other Middle East states.
Thus, Saudi Arabia unexpectedly withdrew its embassy from Syria following the US call for ousting the Syrian autocratic regime (Telegraph, 11 August 2011). For the same reason EU states are counting on France and Germany for paving a way-out to the current economic crisis (The Economist, 20 August 2011). As a corollary of the principality of states in world politics, international institutions, non-governmental organizations, multinational corporations, individuals and other sub-state or trans-state actors are viewed as having little independent influence in realist paradigm (Doyle, 1997).
This is evident from the limitations of the United Nations (UN) in solving international crisis and its dependency on member states, especially large state powers, in conducting its activities. Similarly, the US ban on import from and export to Syria, and Arab states’ control and censorship of social medias like Facebook, Twitter etc establish state superiority over multinational corporations. According to realists, there is no actor above states capable of regulating their interactions; states must arrive at relations with other states on their own, rather than it being dictated to them by some higher controlling entity (Doyle, 1997).
Although, this is a highly disputed assumption, we see its relevance to world politics where neither the UN nor large state powers can solely dictate the interactions between the states. Had it been so, the recent crisis in Arab countries and Israel-Palestine conflict could have been prevented much earlier with less devastative outcomes. Likewise, Russia and China could come to agreement with the US and the EU in many cases. Perhaps this situation points to another realist assumption that the international system is in a constant state of antagonism (Snyder, 2004).
In many parts of the world, there are conflicts between states like in the two Koreas, within the states like India, Pakistan, and Somalia etc. There are antagonisms against the state like Al-Qaeda antagonism against the Western states and also state backed antagonism against some groups or weaker states. The thing to notice is that state is the most important actor in all these conflicts. Realists believe that mankind is not inherently benevolent but rather self-centred and competitive. Thereby, the overriding national interest of each state is its national security and survival.
In pursuit of national security, states strive to attain as many resources as possible. States are unitary actors each moving towards their own national interest. There is a general distrust of long-term cooperation or alliance (Mearsheimer, 2001). State and its national interest are the main actors in long-term cooperation or alliance as we see in successful implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the EU. Although the EU is facing a crisis recently originating in some member states like Greece, Portugal and Ireland.
On the other hand, distrust and conflict of interests among states stand in the way of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to achieve the desired outcome. The state’s importance in world politics in a realist paradigm can be aptly illustrated by the US. The US has taken advantage of its current superiority to impose its preferences wherever possible, even at the risk of irritating many of its long-standing allies.
It has forced a series of one-sided arms control agreements on Russia, dominated the problematic peace effort in Bosnia, taken steps to expand North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) into Russia's backyard, and become increasingly concerned about the rising power of China. It has called repeatedly for greater reliance on multilateralism and a larger role for international institutions, but has treated agencies such as the UN and the World Trade Organization (WTO) with disdain whenever their actions did not conform to US interests.
It refused to join the rest of the world in outlawing the production of landmines and was politely uncooperative at the Kyoto environmental summit. Although US leaders are adept at cloaking their actions in the lofty rhetoric of “world order”, naked self-interest lies behind most of them (Walt, 1998). Liberal Perspective Unlike realism where the state is seen as a unitary actor, liberalism allows for plurality in state actions.
One strand of liberal thought argues that economic interdependence would discourage states from using force against each other because warfare would threaten each side's prosperity. A second strand, often associated with President Woodrow Wilson, sees the spread of democracy as the key to world peace, based on the claim that democratic states are inherently more peaceful than authoritarian states. Accordingly the US has been supporting democratic initiatives in many countries and currently in Libya, Egypt, and Syria etc.
A third, more recent theory argues that international institutions such as the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) could help overcome selfish state behaviour, mainly by encouraging states to forego immediate gains for the greater benefits of enduring cooperation. Despite the emergence of the idea that new transnational actors, especially the multinational corporation, are gradually gaining on the power of states as evident in the use of social networking websites in Arab revolutions, liberalism generally see states as the most important actors in world politics.
Unlike realism, all liberal theories imply that cooperation is more pervasive than conflict, but each view offers the state a different but most important position for promoting it (Walt, 1998). Conclusion Realism depicts world politics as a struggle for power among self-interested states and as such deems states as the most important actors. Liberalism, despite its bias to state superiority, allows for other entities like international organizations, multinational corporations and democracy to increasingly influence world politics. The recent international affairs verify the notions underlying these paradigms.
- Journal Articles Snyder, J. (2004). One World, Rival Theories. Foreign Policy, November/December, 55
- Walt, S. M. (1998). The Frontiers of Knowledge: International Relations: One World, Many Theories. Foreign Policy, Spring, 32-43. Retrieved from http://www. scholar. google. com/scholar Books
- Doyle, M. (1997). Ways of War and Peace: Realism, Liberalism, and Socialism (Paperback)... London: W. W. Norton & Company, 41-204
- Mearsheimer, J. (2001). The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. 25-26. ISBN 978-0-393-07624-0 Online Newspapers
- Coughlin, C. (2011, August 11). Without Saudi support, President Bashar al-Assad's brutal dictatorship in Syria looks doomed. The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www. telegraph. co. uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/8695556 2011, August 20. The bonds that tie—or untie. The economist. Retrieved from http://www. economist. com/node/21526363 Website
- Moseley, A. (2001). Political Realism. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from http://www. iep. utm. edu/polreal/.