Competing Solutions to International Security


By: Gerald F. Witherspoon, Sr.

Realists consider a state’s need to balance power of utmost importance in respect to stabilizing its position or security within the international community. Therefore, realists would consider whether a relative loss would be experienced if a decision to participate or become involved in conflict was made. Likewise, because realists equate more power with more security, they would anticipate capitalizing on opportunities to exploit any potential gains. In a quasi-similar yet different manner, liberalists would consider participatory gains and losses, albeit, in a strictly self-interested fashion, irrespective of others (Mowle 2003). That is, realists would have a high propensity to become involved in any international insecurity that presented opportunity for gain, whereas, liberals would have a low propensity to become involved unless the insecurity presented a direct threat to self. Again, in a quasi-similar fashion, both consider norms and interests important. However, realists consider the international community to be arranged in a state of anarchy, and therefore, primary interest lies in state survival and short-term security decisions.  Nevertheless, as Thomas Mowle pointed out, “A liberal problem representation would derive longer-term ‘interests’ from the norms of an international community, often enshrined in a formal institution” (2003, 567). He further illustrated how UN involvement in conflicts demonstrated a collective security system where “interests are defined as a community norm” (567).

So then, the realist schema of international insecurity is consistent in viewing the progress of others as a threat in itself, rooted in fear, and prone to react chiefly to danger and threat (Mowle 2003). In contrast, the schema of liberalism considers violations of common interest established by an institution of stability as a matter of moral injustice that must be corrected. Still further, realism favors aggression if it leads to a balance of power or relative gain for self. Liberalism strongly advocates that aggressors must be stopped because, if not, others will be encouraged to believe that aggression is a norm. Finally, realists view alliances and multilateral institutions as a means to an end. That is, if aligning itself with a coalition improves its chances of survival so far as to not reduce its position of power, than co-operative partnerships are welcomed; Partnerships that do not improve this position are deemed unnecessary or abhorred. Liberalism views multi-state cooperation with institutional norms as a worthy commitment and refusal to comply as a selfish and criminal violation (Mowle 2003). Due to the quasi-similarities existent amongst liberalism and realism it may be necessary at times to utilize both theories to solve problems of insecurity.




Mowle, Thomas S. 2003. “Worldviews in Foreign Policy: Realism, Liberalism, and External Conflict.” Political Psychology 24, no. 3: 561-592. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost(accessed February 19, 2014).



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