taken from the June 2010 mark scheme edexcel
The question about the inevitability of conflict and war in global politics has long been a matter of theoretical debate and discussion. It is perhaps the key issue that has divided realism from liberalism or idealism.
• Realist theorists have argued that conflict and war are permanent characteristics of international or global politics. Most basically, people are viewed as narrowly selfish and ethically flawed, intent on achieving self-advantage regardless of others. A lust for power and a desire to dominate others is an ineradicable feature of human nature. This implies that international politics boils down to a struggle for power, in Hobbes’s words, ‘a war of all against all’. The primary objective of every state is to promote its national interests, trying to achieve relative gains in the international system. International politics is thus, inevitably, a form of power politics, with war being used as an instrument of state policy. This tendency is strengthened by the anarchical character of the global system, in which, with no power standing above the sovereign state, states being forced to rely on self-help to achieve security in a context of mutual fear, suspicion and hostility. The dynamics of this anarchical system make long-term stability and international co-operation difficult, and perhaps impossible, to achieve. However, stability and peace can be achieved for temporary periods through the maintenance of a balance of power.
• Liberal theorists, on the other hand, believe that global politics can be characterised by harmony and co-operation, meaning that conflict and war occur for very specific reasons and are not inevitable. At the core of liberalism is a belief in reason and the possibility of progress. As individuals are moral creatures and not merely power-seeking ones, liberals believe that international and global politics can conform to ethical principles rather than merely power politics. They believe that conflict and war can be contained in at least three ways. First, free trade helps to establish economic interdependence between and amongst states, making war perhaps unthinkable and building international understanding between trading partners. International institutions can also be forged to ensure an international rule of law, helping to replace unstable balance-of-power politics with a system of collective security. Democratic government also reduces the tendency towards war, particularly as democratic states are accustomed to using compromise and negotiation to resolve disputes. Conflict and war may nevertheless occur, but they are usually associated with factors such as the rise of economic nationalism or the existence of authoritarian rule or imperial structures.