Nationalism, in its most primitive sense, is based on the idea that the world is split into a variety of distinct nations, and that every one of the nations would like to have its own states. Realists agree with most nationalist theorists and believe there’s little the divisions can do to change or transcend this world. Realists try to achieve sovereignty in nationalism by acquiring, exercising, and maintaining power.
Friedrich Nietzsche stated, “Madness is something rare in individuals — but in groups, parties, peoples, and ages, it is the rule.” This means in a selfish world filled with chaos, survival is the highest priority, and individuality gets lost in the communal hunger to fit in essentially. Instead of compromise and cooperation, realists are willing to integrate conflict to achieve power within the unitary system.
Liberalism focuses on the idea that the world has become selfish and unfair but through pragmatic sacrifice and cooperation of states, there is hope for a better society. Liberalists view world politics with the ideology that all economic development is dependent on the cooperation of trade. Liberals see nationalism in terms of a positive-sum game in which the outcome should fulfill the desires and needs of everyone; making cooperation the most beneficial tool for fulfillment.
Realists believe that one state cannot trust the other to simply follow rules that disadvantage both parties but keep both states relatively similar in power to insure overall peace. Peace documents such as treaties are untrustworthy because if one state breaks the treaty and develops nuclear weapons, the other will be severely at risk of the nuclear threat. There is the belief that nuclear weapons build one’s capabilities because the more nuclear weapons a state has the more power one state has over another.
The power a state has on another can stem from the theory that if one state has a larger nuclear arsenal than another, then out of the fear of massive retaliatory action, the opponent is less likely to attack first.
It is not seen by liberals as a given that states will benefit significantly from the development of nuclear weapons. Liberals believe nuclear weapons represent attempts to coordinate behavior to solve a problem that no single state can solve alone; otherwise known as hard power. These nuclear weapons are seen as an attempt to make another state comply by using the fear of nuclear catastrophe.
Kenneth Waltz formulated the idea that the interaction between states is based on the structure of the system and the distribution of power. Waltz’s theory is based on three main ideas: all states are essentially the same in terms of the functions they are performing, conduct foreign policy, provide for national defense, and collect taxes; where states differ in their capabilities. They perform similar tasks, but once again one state is better than the other because of the difference in capabilities.
Lastly, Waltz argues that a change in the distribution of capabilities across the system’s states will lead to a change in the overall structure of the system. For realists, states are similar to billiard balls interacting with each other. What happens inside the billiard balls themselves is of little concern. Waltz argues that achieving nuclear weapons can effectively end the regional monopoly of states and achieve overall stability.
Immanuel Kant primarily focused on his faith in human progress. He argued that human reason can transpose into the international system, eventually overcoming war and conflict through aggressive adjustments in international and domestic systems of governance. John Locke believes that these social contract rights must not be violated by the government.
John Locke’s version of the Social Contract Theory is appealing when he says that the only right people should give up to enter civil society is the right to punish others for violating rights. Every person should be entitled to basic fundamental and natural rights: life, liberty, and property. Abilities such as the development of nuclear weapons do not bring about long-term peace, but rather establish a system of treaties and agreements between nations that govern how nations interact with other nations.
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