The Strong and the Weak in International Politics

Subject: Politics & Government
Pages: 11
Words: 2797
Reading time:
11 min
Study level: Bachelor


The international environment is a significant issue in the modern world. It is so because this phenomenon refers to challenging relationships between different nations. They are challenging since world countries represent various cultures, religions, economic levels, and political theories. The latter ones are of significance because they determine how states and political leaders act. Furthermore, these theories imply assumptions that help people shape their beliefs about how countries interact, how the global market works, and others. Consequently, it is essential to understand the political theories and their assumptions to interpret and even predict international relations. Today, realism, liberalism, and constructivism are the most popular political theories. They imply different beliefs and rely on various instruments but are useful to understand the international world.

When it comes to modern foreign affairs, it is exciting that an Ancient Greek statement can be used to describe them. It refers to the quote by Thucydides, who states that the strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must. This statement reflects the inequality between countries and the absence of justice (Lebow 2017, 93). In relation to the modern world, this claim demonstrates that more powerful and developed nations have a more significant influence on the globe, trying to influence the international system’s rules (Lee 2019, 70). Consequently, the paper will analyze the current political theories and try to identify a connection between realism, the quote, and US interventions into developing nations’ domestic affairs.

The Impact on Political Theories on International Affairs

As has been stated above, the sphere of international politics is diverse and developed. However, this diversity leads to many political and ideological forces throughout the globe, which means that “the world is experiencing turbulence and anxiety” (Parmar 2019, 231). It is so because nations follow different political theories, including realism, liberalism, and constructivism, that imply various assumptions. That is why the following subsections will comment on these theories and explain how they govern international relations.

Realism: The Rule of Power

The political theory of realism stipulates that all countries are self-interested and compete with one another for world power. Thus, politics takes place in conditions of permanent conflict, resulting in a constant struggle for dominance (Sleat 2016, 31). Realists stipulate that countries cannot avoid conflicts, which makes these nations accumulate their military power. It is so because this political theory states that conflicts are ineradicable since they are characteristic features of human nature. Realist nations resemble prejudiced and egoistic individuals who are ready to take many efforts to achieve their goals irrespective of possible consequences.

It is not a surprise that these countries require essential resources and instruments to achieve their goals. As has already been mentioned, power should be a basis for order and security (Deudney and Ikenberry 2017, 10). This instrument provides nations with an opportunity to defend or even impose their point of view on international politics. One should also mention that military power is not the only possible leverage. That is why it is necessary to emphasize the role of state diplomacy for the given political theory. This phenomenon plays a significant role because appropriate negotiations and meetings allow nations to find allies or prove their dominance by relatively peaceful means.

The roles of law and authoritative order are other essential elements of the realist theory. Realist countries believe that these two phenomena are more significant than morality (Sleat 2016, 31). It is so because authoritative order results in efficient governance and fast decision-making. For example, if political leaders draw much attention to the questions of morality, disagreement will appear. It refers to the fact that morality makes leaders consider competing values and their actions’ consequences for all participants of international politics. This scenario will make it impossible for these nations to get advantage and dominance among other nations. Consequently, political leaders of such countries are sure that they have the moral right to violate the norms of justice and morality to achieve particular goals.

In conclusion, it is reasonable to emphasize the main assumptions of political realism. Human nature results in the fact that people are forced to live in a condition of constant conflict. Thus, realist countries take significant efforts to achieve dominance over their competitors and get the advantage of this situation. To cope with this task, political leaders accumulate their military power and develop diplomacy relationships (Deudney and Ikenberry 2017, 10). Thus, it is impossible to deny the fact that the political theory of realism implies a significant impact on world international affairs. It results in a considerable distinction between strong and weak nations. This classification results in the fact that strong and more developed nations have more possibilities to influence the world, and they do it. According to Deudney and Ikenberry (2017, 10), “preponderant states can provide order and sustain their position.” Consequently, it is evident that the Ancient Greek quote by Thucydides describes the main principles of political realism that is present in the modern world.

Liberalism: The Spread of Democracy

Liberalism implies numerous differences compared to realism and its core principles. Thus, Leland and van Wietmarschen (2017, 143) admit that the given political theory relies on the principles of equality, freedom, and fair social cooperation. That is why the most significant liberal concepts include democracy, global economic ties, and a peaceful environment with international organizations’ help. Liberalism also promotes political legitimacy, religious toleration, and others (Leland and van Wietmarschen 2017, 143). This political theory is considered one of the most productive political approaches since it tries to establish justice throughout the globe and ideally contributes to benefits for all the states and citizens.

Liberalism also offers a particular view of how political power should be exercised. According to Leland and van Wietmarschen (2017, 144), people as a group are the main actors in politics, which is known as a joint rule. This rule stipulates that citizens elect their leaders, who are responsible for shaping the nation’s international activity. Even though this political theory demonstrates that states and international institutions are key actors of international relations, it is impossible to deny ordinary citizens’ role. As a rule, citizens of a single country have shared history and beliefs, which facilitates decision-making processes. Leland and van Wietmarschen (2017, 143) explain that this situation results in the reciprocity principle, stipulating that significant decisions should be accepted by all reasonable citizens. It is possible to meet this condition because political leaders also tend to follow these beliefs, which can denote that their decisions are in conformity with people’s opinions.

It is worth mentioning that this political theory does not neglect the idea that disagreement can emerge. Since liberalism promotes democracy, it results in reasonable pluralism, “the free exercise of human reason” (Badano and Nuti 2018, 146). This phenomenon leads to the fact that people or nations can have opposing views concerning particular topics. It refers to a disagreement concerning philosophical, religious, and other essential issues. Consequently, one can suppose that reasonable pluralism can threaten valuable relationships between liberal nations.

Nevertheless, it is impossible to mention that the phenomenon above should be canceled, and this kind of freedom should be limited. Leland and van Wietmarschen (2017, 144) argue that the reciprocity principle is a sufficient measure to achieve positive outcomes. It is so because this principle focuses on the considerations of mutual respect and other values. Consequently, this political theory makes political leaders and nations assess their decisions to ensure that they are accepted by their citizens.

At this point, it is reasonable to summarize how liberalism affects international relations. Firstly, this political theory creates an environment of peace and respect. Nations and their political leaders cannot make decisions that would promote their selfish interests. Secondly, liberal countries develop robust economic ties and establish international organizations. The two are necessary because liberal principles do not result in the fact that disagreement has disappeared. On the contrary, reasonable pluralism provides all citizens and nations with a suitable opportunity to express their opinions and beliefs, and this situation often brings disputes. Consequently, the liberal political theory provides the actors of international relations with a chance to settle this disagreement peacefully without appeal to military power. Thus, a significant liberal assumption is that strong nations’ actions should result in benefits for both them and weaker states.

Constructivism: Emphasis on Ideas

Constructivism attempts to analyze and understand international relations from the point of view of their social and historical identifies and backgrounds. According to McCourt (2016, 475), this political theory is a set of “norms, culture, and identities as shapers of state action.” Consequently, appropriate ideas and values are the core instruments that are used by constructivists. In addition to that, the given political theory draws significant attention to social norms, collective identity, transnational networks, and others (McCourt 2016, 476). That is why various activists and nongovernmental organizations become significant and influential actors in the international relations sphere.

Furthermore, constructivism offers its own insight into how world politics operates. It refers to the claim that “collectively held ideas shape the social, economic, and political world” (McCourt 2016, 477). It means that these ideas can become more significant if they find any inconsistencies with the law. Consequently, constructivists contribute to the creation of a powerful ideology that governs relationships in many life spheres, including international affairs. These ideological rules and norms provide nations and political leaders with guidance to make decisions that would not violate these ideological principles. That is why promoters of new ideas play a significant role in constructivist states, shaping their international politics and activities.

In addition to that, it is reasonable to emphasize that constructivism draws attention to material values. However, this political theory provides material concepts with a secondary meaning (McCourt 2016, 477). It means that collectively held ideas result in the fact that material structures are not absent, but their preservation or achievement is not the primary priority. Consequently, ideational factors and persuasive ideas shape relations between various states. It denotes that political leaders can consider some material values to emphasize the importance of social concepts and ideas.

At this point, it is reasonable to mention that constructivism implies essential limitations. On the one hand, Kessler (2016, 349) explains that this political theory neglects some significant aspects of the modern world, which refers to material values. A failure to address and incorporate these resources to a full extent results in nations not sharing constructivist beliefs to seek material benefits. On the other hand, constructivism “has to incorporate the latest fads of social theory” (Kessler 2016, 349). This aspect means that new ideas and concepts shape international relations, which leads to an inconsistent course of politics.

In conclusion, it is rational to consider how constructivist nations cooperate and distribute their beliefs. Persuasive ideas play the most significant role in this political theory because they make it possible for such political leaders to expand their influence. Such leaders do not rely on military power to impose their beliefs and norms. Instead of it, they emphasize cultural and social values to demonstrate their superiority over others. In relation to the quote under analysis, it can describe constructivism by stating that the strong talk about what they can to make the weak share their beliefs.

Addressing the Theories’ Limitations

It is necessary to highlight that each of the theories implies specific limitations. Some of them have already been covered, but it is reasonable to comment on them in detail to generate valuable conclusions. Realism places a significant emphasis on military power to sustain order and security (Deudney and Ikenberry 2017, 10). This state of affairs leads to the fact that this political theory does not contribute to any international relations progress.

As for liberalism, it has the opposite limitation compared to realism. Leland and van Wietmarschen (2017, 143) explain that maintaining a peaceful environment is one of the primary purposes of liberal leaders. However, these leaders fail to understand that they can only preserve democratic values and achieve the desired outcomes if their regimes are supported by military power. The absence of this resource and the presence of reasonable pluralism often mean that actors fail to arrive at an agreement that is beneficial for all.

Finally, constructivism’s limitation refers to the failure to accept alternative points of view and development processes. According to McCourt (2016, 475), constructivists rely on accepted cultural and social norms. However, this political theory does not consider the fact that various political actors can have competing norms or that a particular nation’s standards can change. Consequently, constructivism is not practical because it neglects the world development.

Explaining US Interventions

In an attempt to understand how these political theories can shape international relations, it is necessary to draw attention to a specific case. The role of the United States in the world is a suitable example here. When it comes to international relations, the nation is considered a hegemon, and numerous US interventions support this claim. That is why the following information will identify which political theory allowed the country to take these actions.

To begin with, one should refresh memory that the US has participated in multiple interventions. Target countries included Afghanistan, Iraq, Niger, Somalia, Syria, and others (Fontaine 2019). American political leaders could explain each of these military operations’ reasoning, but their negative consequences denote that these explanations could be misleading. A case with the Iraq war in 2003 is a suitable example here. Some officials in the Bush administration assumed that a de-Baathification policy would empower a new democratic Iraqi government to be less belligerent and more prosperous. However, these officials had false assumptions about Iraqi perceptions of the new Iraqi government, misguided beliefs about how neighboring countries would react, and wrong assumptions about how the de-Baathification policy would be implemented.

The political theory also generated a wrong interpretation of the given event. Deudney and Ikenberry (2017, 7) mention that numerous American policymakers mistakenly considered the intervention a product of liberalism. On the one hand, it was so because the US used military power to promote democracy in the region. On the other hand, the American forces tried to eliminate the terrorist regime and establish peace in Iraq. These two notions are characteristic features of the liberal political theory, which resulted in this wrong assumption.

However, a closer analysis of the political theories under consideration makes it possible to conclude that the Iraq war was a realism product. Firstly, the use of military power to achieve dominance of a particular kind is the most evident aspect of realism (Deudney and Ikenberry 2017, 10). Secondly, Deudney and Ikenberry (2017, 7) admit that this and other interventions were taken to satisfy the US’s self-interest. It refers to the fact that the Soviet Union’s collapse created the unipolar world, where the United States did not need to prove their superiority. The nation was free to impose its order and security throughout the globe, and the realist political theory was a suitable assistant. In any case, it is reasonable to mention that numerous modern scholars identify the realist nature of the US interventions and highlight their adverse consequences in the form of causalities and financial losses (Fontaine 2019). Consequently, one should admit that international interventions are not the best way of managing foreign affairs.

Concluding Thoughts

When it comes to international relations, the United States is a significant actor because it substantially impacts this sphere. This behavior results in the fact that this country creates numerous interventions, and multiple historical examples prove this idea. It refers to the invasions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and many others (Fontaine 2019). The Iraq War in 2003 deserves specific attention because this event has been interpreted differently over the last years. Initially, it was considered a liberalism product because the United States tried to promote democracy and establish the world order. A further analysis, however, has demonstrated that the realistic political theory has caused the given event. The presence of military power and American self-interest allows to arrive at this conclusion.

In conclusion, it is reasonable to compare the three theories and offer political implications. Since each of the theories implies some limitations, it is impossible to mention that any of them is ideal. However, one can analyze all the pros and cons to state which one can offer the most beneficial consequences. In this case, it is possible to mention that liberalism is better than the other two. On the one hand, this political theory emphasizes the role of peaceful measures as opposed to realism (Leland and van Wietmarschen 2017, 143). On the other hand, it is better than constructivism since liberalism draws attention to economic indicators, which contributes to nations’ development. Even though realism implies a limitation that it neglects security and military power, this political theory is attractive in modern international relations.


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