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Realism Critique of Classical Liberal

Realism in international relations is a theoretical perspective that provides a framework for comprehending and analyzing how different nations interact with one another in the global context. From a realist point of view, international relations are anarchic, insinuating that the international system does not have a body of authority concerned with maintaining order and ensuring compliance with agreements (Waltz, 1999). This is supported by Waltz’s model of international political structure (IPS), which states that IPS is anarchy and not hierarchy because no higher authority is above the sovereign states (Topic 3). Having this type of system triggers nations to prioritize pursuing their interests, and the top objectives for nations entrapped in such a system are Power and security (Waltz, 1999). The realists believe that global politics are more understood from their perspective, and they contend the classical liberals’ optimistic ideals in view of interdependence and cooperation among nations. The realists also highlight that the classical liberals do not consider the harsh realities of international politics, which motivates nations, especially those having common issues of conflicts and competition. The realism perspective argues that although interdependence and cooperation are valuable components, they should not be relied on as foundations for stability, especially in a world where self-interests undermine collective interests. For example, the Soviet Union and the United States remained rivals during the Cold War although there was interdependent in the global economy (Kumar, 2021). The two nations prioritized Power and security; thus, they did not maximize the benefits of economic cooperation. The pursuit of Power and security created a security dilemma for the nations. The realists believe that in an anarchic system, when one nation enhances security, it threatens the other nations, increasing the quest to pursue security and Power. This is supported by the theory of neorealism and the state, which states that sovereign states, as the key actors in the IPS, adjust to anarchical structure by adopting successful policies of leading nations (Topic, 3). Also, they strive to balance with other nations with the aim of protecting themselves from attacks by more powerful and larger states.

The realists question the classical liberals’ idealistic view by associating human nature with the behaviors of a nation in the global context. According to realists’ perspective, human nature is deeply rooted in pursuing Power and self-interests (Waltz, 1999). Therefore, the decision-making process is based on the self-interests rather than the interests of the liberals. This is further explained and supported by realists using empirical and historical observations throughout history whereby the state’s behaviors reflect their innate human nature. History has evidence of conflicts and power struggles, thus challenging the liberal world order feasibility. For example, during the era of colonialism and imperialism, the European powers established increased empires through exploitations and military conquests for the primary purpose of expanding their influence and wealth (Kumar, 2021). From a realistic perspective, these actions of the European powers were driven by self-interests without considering liberal principles such as respect for human rights. The ability to understand human nature provides the basis for assessing and identifying the potential conflicts and complexities of international relations. The realists suggest that this knowledge and understanding of human nature shapes diplomatic strategies and realistic foreign policies.

Suitable option

The most suitable perspective is classical liberalism, which first emphasizes economic independence. It perceives economic interdependence as a way to promote peace, and this aligns with recent empirical evidence (Zeng, 2020). For example, the European Union proved this as it pursued increased economic integration, and in return, it improved stability and peace in historically conflict regions. Over the past century, the increased economic growth globally is attributed to economic interdependence internationally and free trade. The classical liberal perspective has contributed to increased economic prosperity and the thriving of international institutions such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), whose success is attributed to liberal economic policies (Zeng, 2020). It encourages the adoption of international institutions for cooperation purposes within states. Doing this assists the states in addressing common challenges, for example, outbreaks of pandemics and climate change. From a broad perspective, transnational issues are better managed through collective action and cooperation. For example, the Paris Agreement for addressing climate change.

Also, from a classical liberal perspective, economic cooperation has the potential to assist nations in resolving their military conflicts, and it has mutual benefits for all the states involved. Although arguments provided by the realism perspective regarding interdependence downsides might be valid, economic cooperation places the states in a better position to protect themselves (Zeng, 2020). Economic cooperation enables nations to access ideal incentives for resolving conflicts and disputes. For example, German businesses and French counterparts have formed trade relationships benefiting both parties. Engaging in investment and trade within nations leads to the development of common economic interests (Li, 2017). Therefore, when conflicts arise, nations are likely to seek solutions with the aim of protecting their economies from losses and disruptions.


Analysis of classical liberal and realism perspectives leads to the conclusion that classical liberalism is the most suitable perspective. The perspective’s beliefs regarding economic interdependence, free trade, and national specialization provide a framework of policy prescriptions that nations can follow. Unlike realist critiques, classical liberal perspectives demonstrate alignment with historical examples. In addition, this perspective intervenes in international relations by providing an optimistic and cooperative approach to the realist perspective, which prioritizes Power and security. Having economic interdependence and deriving peaceful solutions to address conflicts within nations plays a crucial role in creating not only an economically prosperous world but also results in stability and a peaceful world, thus generating opportunities for nations to thrive and succeed.


Kenneth N. Waltz, (1999) ‘Globalization and Governance,’ PS: Political Science and Politics 32(4): 693–700.

Kumar, K. (2021, March 25). Colony and Empire, colonialism and Imperialism: A meaningful distinction? Comparative studies in society and history. Cambridge Core.

Li, K. W. (2017). Redefining capitalism in global economic development. ScienceDirect.

Zeng, Y. (2020). Economic Inter-economic Interdependence, P dependence, Power, and P, and Peace: A Rationalist Peace: A Rationalist Study of Commercial Liberalism.


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