The Significance of Theory
For some, international conflict is inevitable due to its innate human nature. Realists believe war is a part of a never-ending cycle of violent confrontations between the states. Liberal thinkers tend to assume that the causes of war are connected to the institutions. They argue continued economic benefits that come with peace are one of the reasons why most countries today choose not to engage in military conflict. As for constructivists, they predict the likelihood of a certain state being involved in a war by examining its identity in a global arena. It is evident that theoretical frameworks help to gain an in-depth understanding of the motivations and main objectives of aggressors in international conflicts. As a result, members of government and other prominent globalized organizations have an opportunity to generate effective strategies to prevent the tragic outcomes of both military and cyber-attacks. Despite the obvious flaws of the aforementioned theoretical approaches, each of them has the potential to facilitate the necessary discussions in order to create more efficient ways of managing international conflict in the future by looking back at the incidents in the past.
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Theory matters in terms of understanding what war is and how national security works. The Treaties of Westphalia established the most crucial concept of international relations, which is sovereignty. However, power struggles did not seize to exist after 1648. Wars continue to haunt modern society, which is why it is important to define what constitutes war. Mingst et al. (2018) refer to war as an “organized and deliberate political act by an established political authority that causes 1,000 or more deaths in a 12-month period and involves at least two actors capable of harming each other” (p. 191). Although knowing the globally accepted definition of war makes no difference on a battlefield, terms such as this one are essential in navigating the international arena. For example, the 1994 Rwandan violence was characterized as a civil war instead of a genocide, which led to a global lack of effort to stop the murders of 750,000 men, women, and children (Mingst et al., 2018). Therefore, it is apparent that the work of international relations theorists is not simply academic, but practical since it can affect people all around the world and have real-life consequences on their faiths.
Theoretical frameworks also help to define the causes of war in order to develop effective strategies to prevent unnecessary violence. Some of the most common theories include realism, liberalism, and constructivism. By identifying the possible causes of conflict, these approaches suggest new solutions to manage national security. Thus, the primary task of each theory is to ensure the physical security of every individual is protected since it is an essential human right (Mingst et al., 2018). It is important to recognize that these theories have their flaws and are not necessarily a reflection of reality because of all the assumptions that they include. However, theoretical frameworks remain crucial in understanding the system of international relations. While it is important to look at each individual case and discuss the motivations of all the parties involved in a particular incident, theory structures all the conflicts as a way to see patterns in war. In turn, these patterns serve as an aid for people’s perception of military conflict as well as their understanding of the effective strategies to prevent it. Realists, for example, argue that power transitions increase the likelihood of war (Mingst et al., 2018). Governments and international organizations can use this knowledge to make predictions and develop strategic plans to ensure the balance, however, relative it may be.
Comparing the Theories
To decide whether one theory is better at explaining the causes of war and helping to manage state security, it is important to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each of them. Realists believe that the key to understanding war lies in identifying the sources of power. They support a “power transition theory,” which argues that power transition is the most common reason for military interventions (Mingst et al., 2018). Some states want to solidify their position in a global arena by demonstrating their military strength on the battlefield. Countries that already possess authority and influence might consider war as a way to prevent future conflict and keep the rising challenge down. Realism is based on the assumption that war is a constant feature of interstate politics because the international system is anarchic. According to realists, it is impossible to navigate conflicting territorial claims and competing self-determination claims, when there is no global authority to decide who is right or wrong. This approach to theory proposes two ways of maintain a high level of state security, which include deterrence and power balancing.
The problem with realism is that it is too direct and straightforward in its security management strategies. Power balance approach is effective since it allows states to maintain relative ‘equality’ in terms of their influence and power, which ultimately decreases the likelihood of a stronger state attacking a weaker one. However, despite the advantages of alliances, it is important to acknowledge countries often act irrationally. If one state has been ‘friends’ with the other for decades, it is unlikely it is going to deem their cooperation expendable once the alliance with their ‘friend’ is not beneficial anymore. As for deterrence, this strategy also depends on the assumption that decision makers are always rational and think long-term. Using threats and abusing human fear may backfire when dealing with states that are insecure or desperate.
Liberalism supports nonviolent measures in conflict resolution and argues that the causes of war are connected to the characteristics of states and their institutions. Democracies are less likely to participate in military interventions because they are interdependent. In addition, states with a democratic regime build trust more easily since other governments are aware of the influence citizens have in the process. According to liberal theorists, international institutions play the role of arbiters in influencing conflict. Liberalism suggests two main strategies of preventing military conflict, which include arms control and collective security (Mingst et al., 2018). Disarmament might be considered irrational since it puts ‘law-abiding’ states in a highly insecure position, while rewarding cheaters. Collective security has its limitations due to the fact that it is not always easy to identify the aggressor because of conflicting claims that span centuries. In addition, it is wrong to assume that “the collective benefit of peace outweighs the individual benefits of war, even a successful war” (Mingst et al., 2018, p. 219). Despite their flaws, both of these approaches remain somewhat effective in managing state security.
Constructivism supports identity theory, which estimates the likelihood of states being involved in military conflict based on these countries’ identities and backgrounds. If a state is considered militaristic and ambitious, other governments are prone to believe it is a threat to global security. The main limitation to this theory is that identities are subjective, which is why they are highly unreliable in predicting the actions of a certain state. Constructivists suggest different strategies to prevent international conflict, including the spread of norms delegitimizing war, socialization to cooperative norms, and changing identities (Mingst et al., 2018). These solutions might be considered the most applicable. Even though the incorporation of new norms is a difficult process, it is highly effective based on the examples of landmines banning (1997) and Nuclear Proliferation Act of 1968 (Mingst et al., 2018). Changing identities is intricate as well, but it can have lasting positive effects on the country’s image on a global arena such as the case with Switzerland.
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Laws of War
“Laws of War” provide the international community with numerous possibilities of managing each state’s national security and avoiding the unnecessary human suffering. Jus ad bellum establishes the conditions, which make it legal to go to war (Mingst et al., 2018). Jus in bello addresses the legality of acts during the war (Mingst et al., 2018). Therefore, “laws of war” protect states and individuals from being treated unjustly under the international law. Despite the fact that such regulations protect civilians and prohibit the use of certain weapons, they have various limitations. For example, “laws of war” could only be effective for a seventeenth century pattern, where war was isolated from civilian targets. Modern war cannot abide by these laws since it is impossible for an occupying power to engage in a military conflict without facing resistance and threats from noncombatants. In addition, these regulations often benefit cheaters, whose morality is rather questionable.
Moreover, “laws of war” require constant review and changes due to the rapid development of technology and the rise of cyber warfare. Modern systems (and with them civilians) are growing more and more vulnerable due to their reliance on computers. This allows attackers to deprive noncombatants of essentials, including drinking water, electricity, or pharmaceuticals. The scope of application of just war laws is limited in cyber warfare, which is why it is important to suggest a universal interpretation of the “laws” in relation to modern technology.
Mingst, A. K., McKibben, H. E., & Arreguin-Toft, I.M. (2018). Essentials of international relations (8th ed.). W.W. Norton & Company.