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What are the strengths and weaknesses of different IR theories in relation to a world event.

International Relations is a subject that has been defined to be the study of the relationships between states and with other international organizations or subnational entities like bureaucracies. IR is required to understand, criticize and create change in world politics, which forms an integral part of everyone’s life and no one is devoid of its influence. The theories, that IR consists of, therefore carry intense weightage in world politics, but the relevance of these issues based on their merits and de-merits must be examined and analyzed.

Realism, liberalism and the reflectivist would be the three main types of IR theories. To examine these theories, this essay will have to use a relevant world event to relate it to. The focus of this essay would be the Bangladeshi liberation war of 1971. Each individual theory tends to focus on certain maxims and propositions and helps define certain events; for example realism in its explanation of balancing of power best describes the cold war. Liberalism on the other hand is the ideal lens to look at the role of international organizations like the United Nations. Radicalism, which is based on revolutionary ideals, includes Marxism, feminism and many other theories that help understand events of mass social change like the French revolution and the American civil war. But to examine these in relation to different events would be to suggest the idea of incommensurability, hence the essay would choose the liberation war in Bangladesh to explain the advantages and draw backs of these theories and a brief introduction into their maxims and proposition that make them such a formidable source of information in world politics.

To examine the Bangladeshi liberation war of 1971 we must first understand the political situation in the country. The citizens of then East Pakistan felt deprived of their rights, and sought help of the Indian continent to liberate them from the tyranny of the West Pakistan rule. The Indians sought this as an opportunity to stop once in for all a dual threat of Pakistan on both sides of its borders. This made Pakistan unsure of the objectives of India in relation to territorial expansion.

 Now to start of the first theory that this essay will examine is realism. Realism can be seen in two distinct divisions of classical and neo realism. Both these divisions inherit their origin from Morgenthau and waltz respectively. Classical theory says that conflict is inherent in human nature. This theory can easily be justified in the current scenario as the last century has maybe been the most violent in all of mans existence, but the problem that arises is that then according to this there would be continuous conflict, which the long durations of peace in history prove redundant. Hence a more modern approach was required which is given by Kenneth waltz via neo realism. The theory says that states are always pursuing power and that power leads to material capability and that war is inevitable. The assumptions waltz makes are that state is the only actor and the international system is anarchic due to the non existence of a over arching authority to police matters. To explain this in the current scenario all three parties involved are looking to gain material gains. Bangladesh was looking for financial and territorial freedom as gains. India was looking for an ally to increase its military power and increase territory; Pakistan was trying to prevent losing its material possessions like the population, finances, administration, territory and military. The strength of this theory is that it is the most practical of all IR theories in today’s day and age. It almost perfectly examines the situation providing reasonable explanation for everything and would suggest that if a solution were to be reached it would be by the states at their level with equal gains amongst them. However this theory falls short around the point that it doesn’t believe in the influence that international institutions have. Often the mediator in these situations is the international organization, which controls such situations with its limited but still capable influence. Realism or neo realism do not validate its influence.

 Moving on to the next theory this essay analyses the theory of liberalism. John locke is the man that is credited with its inception. Liberalism in its maxims states that social change and cooperation is possible in the world. It states that unlike realism there cannot be social change and the general order of things is anarchy here there is change and peace amongst nations is possible. If liberalism was to be applied to the scenario in Bangladesh then it would certainly lead to a more idealistic solution. International organizations would intervene and states would eventually solve conflict, as they would see that it would be a more viable option with regards to moral standing. If the policy makers make more liberal laws then yes peace would be a direct outcome of the changed system. The drawbacks however most blatantly are that the theory is too idealistic and looses its practicality. The fact that international organizations intervene in situations of conflict due to vested interests is negated by the fact that the UN sanctioned the invasion of the US in Iraq during the bush government. No nuclear weapons were ever found but the US’s goal to get its oil was fulfilled. Even in the situation at hand, is it actually viable that Pakistan would give up part of its material strength just for peace? Would stop intervening and leave the fate of the war to the two nations involved? Would East Pakistan continue to accept the dominance of its west counterparts? No. Hence maybe in a moral understanding this theory is true and could have helped solve many conflicts but in practicality it doesn’t seem to understand human nature all that much.

 Reflectivist theory, which is the third branch of these theories, is actually sub divided into small aspects. Critical theory that is one of them has Marxism, post structuralism and constructivism. Marxism is a great explanation of the liberation war as it aptly discusses the inevitability of a revolution between the have and have not’s in society. Marxism explains how the suppressed class would eventually form a resistance and break through the oppression being forced upon them.  Constructivism on the other hand talks all about social structures and shared ideas amongst the state and the people. It says that the agents, which are the people, produce and then reproduce the social structure. There is shared knowledge and expectation. In this theory anarchy is what we make of it that it is indigenous. The structures are the reality. Depending on what structure the different interests and preferences can be examined through deconstruction.

 Coming into a different school of thought, the essay also talks about cosmopolitanism theory. This theory states that we are all getting closer to a globalist society with distressed borders; where there is no division amongst human beings. There are no citizens, just human beings. This theory is a great example of how peace and love can be shared. I mean if there was a common force like the EU for the south Asian countries this liberation war or the Kashmir issue would never arise. There would be absolute gains and peace would prevail. But as truth stands for the blurring of international borders isn’t all that good. All the people from every region would want to move to regions with opportunities causing only particular cities to have high concentrations of population. The stress on the resources causes exhaustion and it is not an ideal situation for the country. Also the sovereignty of the countries comes into question as blurring of these borders mean that there is more foreign intervention and the external sovereignty is compromised as the state becomes more and more dependent on other states.

 In conclusion, there isn’t any single theory that is a resounding reply to every world problem or conflict but a solution can easily be formulated based on an expert understanding of the current situation that would enable us to use the apt theory or a perfect balance between two that could give relief. In the opinion of this essay though neo realism is the closest theory to explaining the problems of conflict today regardless of its drawbacks. There are many other theories that exist though like securitization, democratic peace policy, and English school of thought. Securitization for example says that in a case of national emergency the issue is elevated to the highest possible level helping them deal more efficiently with the said situation. On the other hand the democratic peace policy states that democracies are less likely to go to war with other democracies and if it was universally established there would be global peace. All in all every theory is a piece of flawed genius that is for an individual to decipher and use to his benefit, to analyze, understand and influence.

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Written By Ameya Singh

Founder - Young Bhartiya MSC International Relations London School of Economics and Political Science National water polo player National shooter

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