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Vision of Security: Liberalism's Faith in Humanity Or Realist’s Military Methods

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Liberals believe peaceful relations between democracies exist due to the democratic peace theory (DPT), and have faith in humanity with a positive view of human nature; unlike Realists. Realists stress the importance of state sovereignty and critique liberals for being too utopian, they place individual interests over collective interests. In this essay, I will critically discuss both theories and come to a conclusion on which theory I believe has a better understanding of security.

Liberalism became prominent during the age of the enlightenment; attentive to the security of individuals, believing in freedom, human rights and equality, to name a few. They suggest the government is a necessary evil, needed to protect its individuals from harm by others, but it can actually pose a threat to liberty (Paine 1776.) Their faith in humanity and positive view of human nature means they believe human reason can triumph over desire for greed of power. One key component of Liberalism is the DPT which can be dated back to the 1700s. The DPT elicits that democracies are like-minded as they share the same values; peaceful resolution of conflict is seen as morally superior to violent behavior and therefore acts of war, unlike Realists who advocate military intervention. Liberal’s argue the spread of democracy leads to greater security; however, it’s a misconception that this means democratic countries never go to war. Instead, it argues democracies do not go to war with each other. Liberals also believe in other factors than just power politics; economic interaction and interdependence between states is also a vital role, this significantly strengthens peace and has mutual benefits. Economic interdependence facilitates greater cooperation, reducing military conflict and making the world more secure. Ricardo stated that international trade is a major incentive for countries to cooperate internationally and consequently keeping peace, so it does matter what type of state you are, whether a democracy or dictatorship, it will hinder your aspects for peace. Kant’s idea of perpetual peace (1795) is described as ‘permanently established over a certain area.’ Perpetual peace is arguably regarded as the beginning of contemporary liberal thought and It suggests most people wouldn’t vote in favour of going to war unless as an act of self-defence. However, Kant goes on to say this is nothing more than an idea, it cannot be achieved but is a constant objective for states to work towards. More recently, after 9/11 the US created a liberal international system which is based on multilateralism and interdependence. Ikenberry (2008) argues that ‘Today’s western order, in short, is hard to overturn and easy to join.’ Ikenberry goes on to describe US foreign policy under Trump – ‘The world’s most powerful state has begun to sabotage the order it created.’ The system created economic interdependence through foreign direct investment and export markets. Overall, Liberalism in the past has been beneficial and strengthened the world with international organisations like The World Bank. Today, Liberalism is not as strong, its ideas can be seen as naive with regards to perpetual peace and believing that democracies will not go to war with each other. However, Liberalism’s ideas shouldn’t be undermined as their foundation as an ideology is strong, but their view on security, I believe, to rely on the good in human nature is too dangerous; leaders lie and contrary to their belief, individuals are power hungry.

Liberalism’s theoretical opponent, Realism, came to light through criticising the liberalist utopian ideas. Arguing that liberals neglect the role of power and are naive to think that humankind can overcome the scourge of war; WWII confirmed realists thinking that Liberalism was inadequate in dealing with international politics. Realism is one of the dominant theories in international relations and (Wohlforth 2010: 131) argues that ‘Realism provides a foil against which many other schools of thought define themselves and their contributions.’ Realists believe that national security is the military defence of the state against external threats, which agrees with the statement. Their agenda is to increase military capabilities and set up a national strategy with a state-centric focus. However, Herz provokes a dilemma that ‘Striving to attain security from such attack, they are driven to acquire more and more power in order to escape the impact of the power of others. This, in turn, renders the others more insecure and compels them to prepare for the worst. Since none can ever feel entirely secure in such a world of competing units, power competition ensues, and the vicious circle of security and power accumulation is on.’ Thus, each state is looking out for itself, unable to trust others. State sovereignty is a core belief in Realism, and their key to survival is anarchy, where there is no central authority above the state, reinforcing that realists believe in individual interests rather than collective. The main goal of foreign policy is to ensure state survival and defend the national interest, although as mentioned before, it is almost impossible to trust other states using this system, therefore cooperation is difficult in a self-help system making it hard to build up strong allies. Classical realists argue that human nature is mostly concerned with the drive for power and desire to dominate, states are constantly seeking more power than the next, creating a competition which doesn’t end, resulting in international politics becoming a microcosm of fear and war. Overall, states balance in an international anarchy in a state of equilibrium, but can never be certain about the intentions of other states, especially future intentions which leads to implications of seeking to alter the balance of power to maximize relative gains.

In conclusion, security is a contested concept, different theories emphasize different understandings of security, however the theory I believe to be best at understanding this is Realism. Although their approach meant the peaceful conclusion of the cold war caught many off guard, their stance on security is one I believe works best, to not rely on human nature but focus on individual interests, puts their state and people first. While liberals are correct in saying that the internal politics of a state matters, i.e. dictatorship or democracy, this does not stop any state from going to war. Liberalism’s approach of moral crusading is dangerous and goes against national interest, they are more inclined to put their faith in humanity and hope for peace; whereas Realist’s put structures in place like increasing military capabilities and setting up a national strategy with a state-centric focus as mentioned before. I believe their approach to security fits with the statement and is one that protects states the best. 

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Vision of Security: Liberalism’s Faith in Humanity or Realist’s Military Methods. (2022, April 29). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 29, 2022, from
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