This paper makes an attempt to analyze the theoretical framework of the Constructivist and the Neo-Liberal theories in regard to their application to International Relations. Neo-Liberal theories define International Relations in respect to prevailing economic truths. On the other hand, the Constructivist theory defines them on the basis of existent national values and identities, which each country tries to propagate and protect beyond its borders. The paper also explores the prospects of the U.S. as well as the global peace based on the Constructivist and Neo-Liberal theories.
The Constructivist Theory
This theory is used to provide explanations as to why things are they way they are or how individuals know what they know. The constructivist theory presents the notion that an individual can come up with the new ideas based on his or her current or past experiences. According to Barnett (1996), an individual chooses and synthesizes information, constructs hypotheses and makes decisions relying on his or her cognitive structure. This, in other words, implies that the conditions, which individuals live in, are the result of their decisions and/or actions. According to Behravesh (2011), constructivism was introduced to the theory of International Relations in 1989 by Nicholas Greenwood Onuf; who put forward the idea that just like individuals, states are living in a world that is a result of the total of their decisions and actions.
The constructivist theory became especially prominent during the period after the cold war. Prior thoughts regarding International Relations were remodeled after the introduction of concepts such as globalization, security, and international human rights that were defined variously in regard to the bases of constructivist theory; that is, norms, identity and socialization (Behravesh, 2011).
The main focus of the constructivist theory is on the human cognition and its effects on the current being of worldly affairs. As opposed to realism, whose focus is on material power and how its distribution affects or defines the balance of power, constructivists argue that the most beneficial facet of international relations is the social one and not materialism.
Some of the prescriptions of the theory are:
Constructivists believe that humans rely on the past experiences or prior knowledge in cases, where they are faced with the challenge of solving new problems. Similarities between the problem at hand and existing knowledge remind individuals of what they know and how they can apply it in solving the problem.
Cognitive Context and Social Conflict
Conflict results from the occurrence of incompatible issues within a context. Constructivists contend that conflict resolution can be achieved through negotiation, where entities involved in the conflict take part in the discussion. Through attentive listening they are able to make sense of what their counterparts are suggesting, and then they can justify their own points of view and finally, choose the best suggestions fit for the context.
Constructivist Theory in World Policy Making
According to the constructivist theory, international politics is shaped by a collection of different beliefs and cultures. This implies that material interests on their own cannot be the sole determinants of the state policies. One way of understanding the world from a constructivist perspective is by using its basic principles of learning and identity construction. Thus, ideas and perceptions shape identities and determine the individual meaning given to the world. Leonard (2008) elucidates how China’s cultural beliefs have helped it to record unprecedented growth in both military and economic power. Leonard explains how China has been able to use ‘soft power’ to have influence in the third world countries. Unlike the western states, which give aids or loans with stifling conditions, China’s grants and loans are mostly without restrictions; a factor which is making it a significant threat to the current economic and military powers.
Another way of understanding the world from the constructivist perspective is by taking into regard the notion of how past experiences are significant in decision-making. This implies that just like individuals, the way states perceive each other is primarily based on the past actions. For instance, if a state that has been known to be peaceful all along decides to develop the nuclear energy, it might not raise suspicion. On the other hand, if a radical state that has been known to have engaged in or supported terrorist activities decides to develop the nuclear energy, its intentions might be highly questionable.
The Constructivist Theory and Realism
Realism and constructivism are viewed as having the conflicting perspectives in regard to the international relations. Whereas realists argue that international relations are just a manifestation of the power politics and balances of power, constructivists argue that international relations are a manifestation of not only power politics, but also norms and identity politics. However, a closer observation reveals that realism is consistent with certain constructivist deviations.
Realism seems to be better than constructivism, because analyzing international relations from constructivist perspectives has several shortcomings. For instance, there is insufficiency in the logic of appropriateness. The ideas that affect a foreign policy may not be consistent, and criteria used to rank them may not be defined by the decision maker clearly. Barnett (1993) offers constructivist explanations that international insecurity is a result of the role conflicts experienced by different nations “because of their simultaneous presence in institutions that demand contradictory role expectations and performances” (p. 272). However, Barnett does not give any explanation on the outcomes of the role conflicts. The logic of appropriateness does not explain as to why a nation facing conflicting roles acts in ways not consistent with the institutional expectations.
Neo-Liberal Institutionalism (Modernist) Theory
According to Clarke (1996), theory of Neo-Liberalism is based on the modern economic tenets. Clarke states that “neo-liberalism presents itself as a doctrine based on the inexorable truths of modern economics” (p. 1). Kotz (2000, p. 2) explains than neo-liberalism, as an “updated version of the classical liberal economic thought” that was dominant in the U.S. and the U.K., has strong supporters in Western Europe and Japan.
Neo-Liberalists contend that a free-market system, or an unregulated capitalistic economy, symbolizes the notion of free individual choice. They also claim that such a system ensures an efficient economy characterized by a high growth rate and distribution of justice. In the application of this theory, Kotz (2000, p. 2) states that “the state is assigned a very limited role: defining property rights, enforcing contracts, and regulating the money supply”. The theory has been used to shape not only domestic but also international economic policies, especially in countries such as the U.S. and most European countries. For instance, it has been used as a backbone in the implementation of the deregulation policies and free movement of capital.
General Prospects for World Peace
Historically, the world has been turbulent and dynamic in regard to peace and stability. Despite that the end of the 20th century faced terrible conflicts such as the World Wars, the much expected peace and stability are yet to come by with the continuous witnessing of conflicts such as those in Iraq, Iran, North and South Korea, Afghanistan, Israel, and Palestine. Security has become a factor of paramount importance to nations. Each nation is striving to protect its sovereignty and interests from perceived threats.
The United States, as the only superpower at the moment, is perhaps under the biggest threat because of its imperialism. According to Krepinevich, Martinage and Work (2008) and the Center for Budgetary and Strategic Assessments (CSBA), the U.S. is currently in a situation reminiscent of the cold war era, when it was under the threat of Soviet attack. Krepinevich, Martinage and Work (2008) state that even though the current threats, especially from the radical Islamic groups, cannot rival the magnitude of that rivaled by the Soviet Union, they are still significant and need to be addressed exhaustively. The emergence of the new challenges, such as North Korea and Iran’s nuclear programs, is a clear indication that the problems may persist for the next 20 years.
According to Nye (2011), the traditional U.S. perspectives on International Relations need to be revised for it to maintain its current position in global affairs. Nye suggests that the best way for the U.S. to ensure that it remains in its current powerful position is to develop diversification and/or diffusion of power (2011). He states that, in contrast with the earlier years, when power was determined by military and economic superiority, the current situation has changed and “smart power”, which is characterized by the hard power of command and the soft power of attraction, has to be adopted.
Prospects for International Security
Contemporary international security is influenced by a number of variables. One of them is financial security (or lack of it). States that enjoy relative financial stability are less likely to pose security to others. According to Nye (2011), this cannot be achieved by individual states because of the vastness and the dynamic nature of the current global economy. Therefore, financial stability can be achieved through cooperation. Another critical variable is the laws regarding illegal immigration, which has the consequence of arms and illegal drug circulation. The only way to curb this vice is to eliminate the shared challenges through cooperation between states.
The realist and modernist theories work in tandem in the contemporary society. This is because nations are able to acquire power not only through military capability but also through the economic dominance. Acquisition of power as a crucial way for a nation to maintain its sovereignty is relevant in the sense that states answer to no higher authority and must, therefore, seek ways to protect their interests. For example, the U.S. military and economic activities have helped it not only to protect its sovereignty but also spread its identity to other nations. Through sanctions and military threats it can have its way. This view is somewhat different from realist and modernist theories in the sense that both are proposed as the separate mechanisms of operation.