A Conflict in the World (War) and What Realists Think
It will further compare the two schools of thought, examining the gaps and the advantages of each one looking back at historical events, including the two World Wars and the Cold War, and the current global environment.
Germany, understanding the repercussions of France gaining Morocco quickly supported its wishes for independence and led to a clash of interest between Germany & France, the first of many problems Germany presented for various nations. This supports the assumption that nations are power hungry because they are willing to do anything to ensure that they will gain or seize what they want despite the opinion of others. France wanted to add Morocco to its empire through sheer power without acknowledging Morocco’s wishes to be independent. A similar situation occurred in the Balkans when Austria had taken over Bosnia but Serbia wanted it as well, Germany decided to ally with Austria while Russia decided to support the Serbs. This leads into the second assumption of the realism theory about states wanted to manage their own securities by building alliances with other states. Another nation who also seemed to fall in conflict with Germany was Britain, Britain felt Germany was challenging it in every way it could i.e. building up its armies when Britain was building up its armies. The concept of building up armies & navies was present before the war actually began and although it increased the security potential of Germany & Britain, it lowered the security of other nations exposed their inert fear. This tied into the concept of balance of power being changed & the insecurity the states felt. The norm for the balance of power is for states to try to increase territories and population and develop economically which is precisely what Germany was attempting to do along with Britain; Germany it seems though had a more hostile approach to this. Instead of viewing other states as allies, they were determined to view them as enemies. Ultimately, Germany pursued their own national interests in increasing the amount of power they could have tying into the first assumption that all states are power-hungry and willing to fight to achieve power.
The reason for that could be a better understand between the countries like for example Germany and France share the same views and thus trust each other more. Therefore the international system does not necessarily generate conflict and war and security is often plentiful. So in summary what are the main obstacles to cooperation according to realists? The answer is aggressive, selfish humans living in states who are only concerned with power and security because of the self-help anarchical international system. Realists leave us with a bleak world, full of vulnerable states scared for their survival and reluctant to trust or cooperate with any other states. However before the points put forward by realists can be completely accepted, some criticisms and disadvantages of realist theory must be pointed out. First of all realism ignores the importance of different concepts of identity and culture in different states. For example counties with the same religion and culture are more likely to cooperate with each other. Realism is criticised heavily for exaggerating the importance of states and not taking into account other actors like institutions and NGOs. Also the international system has no doubt changed over the years, there are no major wars, the Cold War finished without any aggression which realists failed to predict and states in general have lost interest in territorial advantage. Robert Jarvis even believes that realist theory will not be able to explain conflict or cooperation in the coming years. In fact the biggest critics of realists are the liberals or the institutionalists as they are also called (Helen Milner, 1992).
It has been argued that both realism and liberalism provide insufficient accounts and possibilities of peace in the international system. Liberalism with its focus on universalism and harmony makes for an unstable world; whereas realism and its pessimism does not say much about prospects for peace.
Robert Jervis, “Security Regimes”, International Organization, vol. 36, no. 2 (1982)
Robert Keohane and Lisa Martin. “The Promise of Institutionalists Theory” International Security, vol 20, no 1 (1995)
John Mearsheimer, “The False Promise of Institutionalist Theory” International Security, vol. 20, no. 1 (1995)
Helen Milner, “International Theories of Cooperation: Strengths and Weaknesses”, World Politics, vol. 44 (1992), pp. 466-496
P. Roe, “Actors Responsibility in Tight, Regular or Loose Security Dilemmas”, Security Dialogue, vol. 32, no. 1 (2001)