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According to proponents of the realism theory, international relations are more like a drama with a strong Machiavellian effect. This implies that each state views itself as an entity and constantly watches out for itself so that more competitive states do not exploit and eliminate it1. Power, according to the view, should be the ultimate goal of political action. As a result, states strive to increase their influence and control over others. Because individual states act in a rational and logical manner, the pace of change under realism theory is likely to be sluggish. Liberalism on the other hand states that the actions of a state should be based on what the state wants to be true and not what is actually true. Therefore, liberal states are likely to take actions with the intention of making their views clear. Emphasis is mainly placed on relationships where cooperation is forced2.
The exact opposite of the realism theory is the constructivism theory. The theory implies that ideas and not states are the major driving force. Constructivists give meanings considering the terms that are commonly used to understand such events3. This means that similar actions taking place at separate places or period can present different repercussions. This means that the actions are more significant than their implications. It therefore helps to understand the reasons for the various international relationships.
Realism and the Cold War
The cold war refers to a period marked by tension between the socialists, Soviet Union/Union of Soviet Socialists Republic (USSR), and the capitalists, the United States. The war lasted between 1945-1991 and was mainly fuelled by the difference in ideologies between the warring blocks4. Realism was evident in the cold war with both the United States and the Soviet Union trying to achieve their self-interest.
Realism was mainly actively established in the United States when the Second World War collapsed as an approach of practising international politics5. The unending salience of the United States and Russia antagonism continually suppressed any efforts to do away with the theory of realism. Both states were interested in protecting their ideologies and ensuring that they were spread in a wide part of the world. They therefore both wanted to express their power and authority. While the united states were strong advocators for capitalism, the Soviet Union pushed for the socialism ideology.
Capitalism as supported by the United States refers to the economic system where resources are private owned. As such, these private individuals are responsible for making decisions regarding the use of resources. On the other hand, socialism is an economic approach in which the resources are state owned6. Every member of the country works towards the country’s accumulation of wealth, which is then distributed equally among the population. Peavler (2017) explains that under the socialists approach, the belief is that “what is good for one is good for all. Therefore, an individual works for his own good and for the good of everyone else.”
In pursuit of their interests, the united states and the soviet union did not go into physical war, instead, they offered both military and economic support to their allies with the intention getting them to adop the ideologies. These approached are clear examples of the realism theory aimed at achieving power and self-interest.
Fosnot, Catherine Twomey. Constructivism: theory, perspectives, and practice. New York: Teachers College Press, 2005.
Kelly, Paul. Liberalism. Cambridge, U.K.: Malden, Mass, 2005.
McMahon, Robert J. The Cold War: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
Morris, Pam. Realism. London: Routledge, 2011.
Peavler, Rosemary. "What Is the Difference Between Capitalism and Socialism?" The Balance. March 17, 2017. Accessed December 21, 2017. https://www.thebalance.com/the-characteristics-of-capitalism-and-socialism-393509.
Wohlforth, William C. "Realism and the End of the Cold War." International Security 19, no. 3 (1994): 91-129.
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