International relations as a field of political studies are primarily concerned with interaction among sovereign nations. For Shiraev & Zubok (2014), a nation can be defined in legal terms or as a community having the same identity (p. 11). Increasingly in a globalized society, non-state actors – non-government and inter-governmental organizations and multinational corporations – play an important role. However, the foundation of the oldest international relations theory, realism, assumes that states are the main actors. Mearsheimer argues that “states are the principal actors in world politics” (Mearsheimer, 2002, p. 25). According to Waltz, “states are the units whose interactions form the structure of international political system” (Waltz in Art & Jervis, 2015, p. 39). States can be defined as independent geographical entities that share the same government, set of laws, language and ethnicity. They are independent from each other and responsible for deciding their own domestic political agenda that includes economic, fiscal and social policies. Regardless whether nation-states are democracies or oligarchies, the above responsibilities, in addition to foreign policies, fall within their final authority. The UN Charter puts the states as the center unit and guarantees its sovereignty. International law is based on the state recognition. Ultimately, war declaration is made by a state.
For realism, states are autonomous and no other higher entity is to constrain their behavior. States are driven exclusively by one goal: national interest that coincides with power. For idealism, the state is one of many actors in international politics. As such, national interest is based on a pluralistic approach and can c...
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...lly rejecting the above theories about national interest, idealist believe that interdependence and a shared set of democratic and economic values, would lead states to partner in order to maintain peace. National interest can be understood as the attitude that states have in international relations. Realist are more concerned with what the world is and observe that moral principles do not apply to international politics. Morgenthau and others before him (Thucydides and Machiavelli) argued that “universal moral principles cannot be applied to the actions of states in their abstract universal formulation” (2015, p. 19). While moral norms are not denied, prudence and not sacrifice in the name of ethical virtues should be the highest principle for states. Idealists, as the name implies, theorize what and how states should aim to achieve: peace through cooperation.
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