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The question of whether international relations can become more peaceful over time is one which has many theoretical views and ripostes.  Over the past three centuries there has been discussions within the sphere of international relations on the possibility of perpetual peace; two dominating theories have pioneered the discussions. These are the theories of liberalism and realism. Both theories, with the inclusion of their own personal ideological beliefs have developed unique and specific thesis’s which seek to answer whether peace between nation states is possible. Both theories focus on emphasising the way in which states interact; also on the motivations which lead states to either engage in war or focus on maintaining peace. Over time the signing of armistices has been unsuccessful, however modernity may be able to create a pseudo armistice supported by globalisation through the interdependence of states.

Firstly, every state focuses on the survival of itself. The protection of the state’s institutions and people is vital (Waltz, 1949) therefore the abandonment of peace and engagement in conflict is occasionally a requirement to survive. In this essay, I will focus on highlighting and elaborating the possibility of peace through my focus on liberal and realist ideology. I shall do this by outlining the core beliefs of each theory, and then distinguishing between the classical vs the neo-variant of the theory.

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For my own thesis, based on the analysis of the philosophies. I personally believe that it is possible for international politics to become more peaceful over time. The increased secularism of states and focus on economic and social progress has meant that key reasons for war, such as religious tension, are decreasing. The perpetual spread of capitalist political ideology is simply creating alignments between states and their interests. Additionally, the further increased inter dependence of states caused by globalisation also emphasis on how peace is possible over time. However, though I personally believe peace Is becoming far more of a reality. The increased hostility and anger, caused by recent imperialist actions from the United States of America, creates an ever-lasting doubt and possibly a promise of war between the capitalist liberal west and opposing forces such as Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.


To begin with, the father of liberalism John Locke in his two treatises to government sets out the basics of liberalism, “wherein power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another” (Locke, 1821, 189) and “there cannot be any such subordination among us that may authorize us to destroy one another” (Locke, 1821, 191) To loosely put it, liberalism as a theory is based on: the freedom of the individual, equality for all, and a political and economic system which consists of minimal government intervention.


Following on from Locke, the neo liberal Norman Angell believed that for international politics, the greater the emphasis on the economy; the more peaceful the connections between states. Angell developed a neoliberal approach to war; Angell believed in ‘absolute gain’ where the actions of international actors consider the impacts on the economy and society far more than just the accumulation of power. This shift from classical liberalism to neo liberalism is a convincing argument in support of the claim that international politics can become more peaceful over time.


Angell used the spread of neo liberalism to explain how war is becoming ever more futile and thus increasing the possibility of peace. Angell says in his text “Devastation, could only be inflicted by an invader as a means of punishment costly to himself, or as the result of an unselfish and expensive desire to inflict misery for the mere joy of inflicting it.” (Angell, 1913, 30) for Angell, to interact in war is a decision to harm a countries own economy. The unnecessary use of resources is detrimental to countries as it leads to a worsening of the states economic position. Angell believed the increased consideration of economic factors, accentuated and emphasised on the proposition of cooperation based on the common interests of one or more states. Furthermore, Angell highlights the impact of war on trade “Since trade depends upon the existence of natural wealth and a population capable of working it, an invader cannot “utterly destroy it,”. If he could destroy the population he would thereby destroy his own market, actual or potential, which would be commercially suicidal” (Angell, 1913, 30) once again Angell focuses on the economic downfalls of war and how these in modern times would be a deterrence to war. The increased inter dependence of nations through trade, act as invisible armistice. If trade is successful and results in economic prosperity; both states are satisfied and thus tend to mainly focus on keeping relations positive.  


Concluding Norman Angell, past imperialism was simply ineffective “Economically, England would gain by their formal separation, since she would be relieved of the cost of their defence.” (Angell, 1913, 33) Angell criticises the takeover of nations through using the example of England, the costs of defence and the impact of war were economically unviable for the British empire. The setbacks of conflict and invasion highlighted by Angell in terms of economic prosperity stand as a factor which when taken into consideration, emphasise the futility of war. The prospect of the ever-increasing chance of peace within the international sphere seems far more possible as nation states have developed alternative means of acquiring economic resources e.g. trade. States focus more on building trade links and cooperating rather than endeavouring and taking over through military force. Globalisation and advances in technology result in increased communication and cooperation between states. Thus, states do not just survive but prosper in such a political economy. Furthermore, the spread of neo-liberalism and ‘Laissez Faire’ economics means that the political interests and ideologies of countries are far more similar than ever before. The establishment of trading blocs such as the European Union stabilises many continents and makes conflict far more unlikely.


Nevertheless, contrary to Angell’s argument. Ceadel. Martin invoked the idea that Angels focus solely on economic factors was irrational and Angell knew this “Angell was aware he might be accused by militarist critics of ignoring non-economic impulses towards aggression” (Martin, 2011, 37). To further Martins point and stabilise a counter argument, he says “though Europe might so reform her political conceptions as to admit that there can be no material gain from conquest, their mere desire for domination and mastery, apart from all question of material advantage, will suffice to push nations into war” (Martin, 2011, 37) the role of power politics and interventionist policies from the likes of the US consequently leads to a disagreement that peace is possible, solely because for there to be peace, the take over and intervention of countries cannot exist. The belief of states such as the United States of America that liberal politics is correct interferes with the beliefs of non-liberal states most prominently within the middle east, Asia, and Russia. These unsecure relations stand as a barricade for peace. These factors will be further emphasised when I discuss the realist approach…


Further accentuating on liberal thought, Immanuel Kant whom introduced the theory of perpetual peace developed several embodying requirements from states to achieve peace and put an “end to all hostilities” (Kant 1795, 93).  These include: the establishment of a republican state, the creation of a pacific union, and lastly, a cosmopolitan law. Kant’s perpetual peace, then translated by Doyle into the democratic peace theory states “”Liberal states, founded on such individual rights as equality before the law, free speech and other civil liberties, private property and elected representation are fundamentally against war” (Doyle 1986, 1151).” for liberals, democracies are inherently peaceful states whom avoid conflict. Thus, when all states adhere to democratic politics the likeliness of war and conflict decrease. It has been said that the assumption that democracies avoid conflict is “as close as anything to an empirical law in international politics.” (Levy, 1989, 88). The democratic peace theory further accentuates the belief that democracies have progressed through the mixture between societies predisposed by Kant’s thesis of asocial sociability. Liberal theorist Michael W. Doyle (1983) also supports this theory. Doyle argued that the reason democracies are peaceful is because the people essentially run the state, Doyle implies that the people ruling together reduces the chances of war. This is because they are far more resistant to engage in conflict due to destruction it brings into their lives. Agreeing to war is in turn risking their families, houses, and social groups


To conclude Kant and liberalism with refence to the question… Indeed, it is possible for international politics to become more peaceful, the increased and stable establishment of trade through Globalisation has already connected states together and created peaceful connections. The key argument at hand for neo liberals in relation to international politics is that if states can cooperate with each other in economic terms it disregards any other tension. This type of interstate interdependence entails mutual benefits for all states involved. This situation then decreases the likelihood of war and indeed means that peace is possible over time. (Keohane & Martin, 1995, 45) 


Continuing from liberalism, I wish to now draw my focus onto realism. Realism as a political theory is far more pessimistic than compared to its opponent liberalism. Classical realists such as Thomas Hobbes highlighted the dark and distinctive view when referencing to the state of nature, unlike Liberals. Hobbes saw that the life within the state of nature was “nasty, solitary, brutish and short” (Hobbes, Leviathan, 1904). For Kenneth Waltz, the view of international politics, is simply one which understands the international system to be anarchic due the absence of an over ruling authority. (Waltz, 1979, 103). Contrary to liberals, some realists do not believe that international politics can become more peaceful until a non-biased over ruling authority is in place, however the likelihood of that occurring are near to non-existent. Overall Waltz believed the anarchic situation which plagues international politics means that all states which exist within that anarchy all pursue self-interest and try to get power to secure themselves and ensure their survival as no other authority is present to guarantee this survival (Waltz, 1979, 104).


Furthermore, “because some states may at any time use force, all states must be prepared to do so-or live at the mercy of their militarily more vigorous neighbours” (Waltz), For waltz, the constant existence of armies creates a state of proposed war always, the anarchic state of the international realm makes peace less of a possibility. For there to be possible peace within international politics than all countries must give up arms. For John Mearsheimer (1994) the “relentless security competition with the possibility of war looming in the background”. (Waltz, 1979, p.102; Mearsheimer, 1994, 9) stands as a gateway for peace, until all states believe that their survival is guaranteed peace is not possible.  


Nevertheless, the concept of mutual destruction can be used to support the possibility of peace through the arrival of nuclear weapons; the arrival of nuclear weapons has inherently helped to achieve peace in international politics (Sagan & Waltz, 2010, 88), simply because the scale of destruction caused by nuclear conflict is likely to destroy the whole planet and its inhabitants. This reality therefore causes deterrence between countries to induce in conflict but rather try to cooperate or use economic sanctions to cause harm rather than nuclear bombing. This can be argued to have saved the world from experiencing a third world war during the cold war, the resistance to engage in warfare caused by the fear of nuclear destruction achieved peace ultimately.


Lastly for realism, Hans Morgenthau also believed “politics, like society in general, is governed by objective laws that have their roots in human nature” (Morgenthau 1967, 4) Morgenthau states “human nature, in which the laws of politics have their roots has not changed since the classical philosophers of China, India, and Greece endeavoured to discover these laws” (Morgenthau, 1967, 4) this in turn relates to the possiblity of peace over time, for morganthau a change in human nature is the root goal for achieving peace, the removal of animalistic practices such as conflcit is embedded in humanity. Morganthau therefore creates an opposing view to Kant, he sees that over time humans inherently stayed the same and thus his disbelief in the possiblity of peace. The fact that peace has not been achieved throughout history. simply because human nature has not changed; means that human nature may never change. This pragmatic view supports the argument for peace not being possible.


Furthermore, “Morgenthau realizes that human beings do not want to recognize the limits of their own perspectives or the powerful drives of their selfishness” (Jervis 1994, 865) he believed that the egotistical nature of humans and their inability to accept others opinions stands as a barrier to peace, Robert Jervis ellucidates this idea “states are often highly moralistic and, by coming to believe that they are doing good for others as well as themselves, do more evil than was necessary” (Jervis 1994, 865) the theory of power politics is highlighted here, the iraq war was a prime example of the disagrement between liberal and non liberal states, in reality as long as not all states are liberal and democratic then there cannot be guaranteed peace and thus cooperation.


To conclude, although both theories present their own beliefs in a convincing manner. The liberal argument that peace is possible over time stands far more convincing. Modernity has adapted to many of the obstacles said in realism such as self-interest, indeed states are self-interested, and this even supports the claims of liberals such as Angell, the futility of war and the increased understanding of benefits achieved through cooperation and trade act as barrier to war. If states are self-interested and solely focused on their survival than they should avoid war as it causes more harm. Power politics does indeed still exist however most states are following in the steps of democracy and over time I believe the ruling of nations by the people creates an even more concrete argument that peace is possible over time. Citizens within states are unlikely to vote for war especially with the integration of cultures in countries creating international links between people in many states. Many different religions and cultures cohabit, this creates further stronger ties and cooperation between states as social groups are far more similar than before. Therefore, overall taking into the account the arguments posed by both theories, an ever continuing economically driven world will inherently bring about peace.  

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