Policy makers often require a dense theoretical foundation in order to generate creative solutions. In fact, international relations theories are crucial as the world rapidly expands and grows. The emergence of human rights organizations, non-governmental agencies, and entirely new states present policy makers with various issues that are dependent on innovative ideas. Therefore, scholarly inquiries can transform into applicable advice in contemporary international relations.
However, recent developments in international relations academia and theoretical discussions among scholars do not automatically result in the wide-spread inclusions of theory into actual practice. On the one hand, theorists have used functional and regional knowledge to generate useful insights for policy makers. On the other hand, international relations theory is often disregarded by authorities, who see academia as non-applicable and unnecessarily complicated.
In fact, it is important to understand that any theory originates from real-life scenarios and scholars’ need to explain them. Most of the current theoretical frameworks have developed as a result of someone wanting to understand human motivations and intentions. International relations theory is crucial to making efficient foreign policy decisions since it allows policy makers to navigate the complex world of human interactions.
Relationship between Theory and Actual Policy
Policy makers usually heavily rely on factual information related to specific cases. They also tend to explain their decisions to others (and themselves) using academic theories. According to Stephen M. Walt (2005), a theory is “a causal explanation— it identifies recurring relations between two or more phenomena and explains why that relationship obtains” (p. 26). These explanations’ role is to simplify real-world behavior and make the world of foreign policy more comprehensible.
Competing theoretical claims often originate debates in foreign policy. For example, the conflict in Bosnia and Kosovo split the policy makers into different groups based on their prescriptions of the possible reasons for the conflict (Zupancic and Pencic, 2018). Walt (2005) argued that various theoretical disagreement led to one group that “tended to blame the fighting on the machinations of autocratic leaders such as Slobodan Milosevic, whereas those who favored ethnic partition blamed the conflict on a security dilemma created by intermingled populations” (p. 28).
Therefore, it is evident that policy makers cannot remain fully objective in their decision making. They can focus on factual insights, but their interpretation of facts and subsequent justifications of certain actions tie into the theoretical foundation of international relations.
However, there is not a 1/1 correspondence between theories and actual policy decisions. This explains why two members of the same ‘camp’ can have opposing views and call for completely different actions. General theories, for instance, do not have enough explanatory variables. As a result, such theories become too abstract and offer little policy guidance. Policy makers can therefore use the same general theoretical principles but end up coming to absolutely different conclusions.
Apart from the majority of theories not being specific enough, most policy makers often utilize a couple of different theoretical approaches at the same time (Mingst et al., 2018). Every decision of a policy maker is a unique combination of strategies, theoretical viewpoints, and perspectives. The relationship between international relations theory and actual policy is rather complicated.
While policy makers use theoretical insights in order to make sense of different dynamics in international relations, such theories can be too general and interchangeable to have the same results in terms of conclusions. Structural realists and Marxists can come to the same conclusions. At the same time, institutional liberals can operate within the same theory but ultimately fail to generate similar decisions.
Theoretical Explanations of Human Behavior
The existence of different international relations theories indicates that human behaviors are complex and hard to understand using just one approach. Utilizing various theoretical perspectives is complicated. However, it produces the most accurate results by allowing policy makers to debate on people’s intentions and actions using various perspectives. Human behaviors are intricate and not straightforward, which is why using one theory exclusively can be considered ineffective.
Paul Cairney (2013) argues that “the combination of multiple theories in policy studies has a great potential value—new combinations of theories or concepts may produce new perspectives and new research agendas” (p. 1). It is apparent that the utilization of a mix between the most appropriate theories can become essential to any policy maker, who is trying to gain a deeper understanding of human attitudes and motivations.
The emergence of a multiple-theory mindset among scholars and policy initiators demonstrates that all theories are plausible as interpretations of human events in international relations. Theorists, for example, can combine insights from different approaches, while acknowledging that these theories are independent of each other (Cairney, 2013). Policy makers can accepts insights from theoretical academia and employ opposite assumptions at the same time.
As a result, implementing international relations theory into practice requires the ability to select and reject different approaches. Utilizing various theories is, therefore, associated with a policy maker’s skill to prioritize and distinguish between all the theoretical insights presented to them.
In order to gain a more clear perspective on human behavior, it is essential to prioritize one theory. It might be best to choose realism as the primary theoretical approach. Realists have had a tremendous influence both in academia and actual policy making (Mangalvedhekar, 2019). Despite being constantly challenged in debates, this approach has remained dominant in international relations. Realism allows policy makers to stay objective and rational, without feelings or prejudices getting in the way. The realist school of thought has introduced and clearly defined the concepts of power, anarchy, hegemony, etc. (Mangalvedhekar, 2019).
However, even this theory can have a number of negative characteristics related to the differences between the theoretical foundation of realism and its practical implementation. Therefore, it is evident that all theories have their flaws. Policy makers need to gain a skillset that would allow them to combine different perspectives and theoretical approaches in the most efficient way.
The Notion of a ‘More Perfect Union’: The Structure of the U.S. Government in the Constitution
In order to start a debate concerning the theoretical foundation of the U.S. Constitution, it is crucial to understand how much federal/state powers should be allowed to inculcate civic virtue. It is essential to gain a deeper understanding into the extent of government intervention. According to scholars, the contents of the Constitution are revolutionary since they have rejected the popular ideas of gruesome realism. Instead, the structure of the U.S. government reflected in the Constitution is representative of liberal notions related to human behavior.
Massaro (2012) claims that the text of the U.S. Constitution “imposes a highly contextual brake on government power that rises and falls even within the context of so-called “fundamental rights” where liberty is most protected” (p. 385). Therefore, the government has formidable power to influence citizens’ private decisions.
When it comes to the rational explanation of a “more perfect union,” there are multiple arguments discussing the liberal/realist nature of the 1787 concept. Some believe that the notion of a perfect union stems from the combination of realist and liberal approaches. However, it is evident that this concept establishes domestic liberty, participation, and exchange, which is the key to a liberal argument.
According to Doyle (2000), the 1787 concept is “one designed to bring world order while recognizing the reality of sovereign independence, which is the Kantian idea of a pacific union of free republics, or the liberal democratic peace” (p. 82). In fact, a ‘more perfect union’ is the liberal ideal of a democratizing country, where prosperous peace and free will would spread.
In conclusion, it is important to acknowledge the complex relationship between international relations theory and its actual application in foreign policy. The rapid growth of modern political structures and the speed of globalization require policy makers to be as efficient as possible. In order to make the right decisions, it is crucial for authorities to turn to academia and international relations theory. Such insights can provide policy initiators with applicable advice by explaining people’s primary motivations and the specifics of human behavior.
While the realist theory can be viewed as the most objective and factual, it is important to acknowledge the complexity of human interactions. The most accurate perspective for policy makers comes from a skilful combination of multiple theories since utilizing a single approach might be too generic. It is essential for policy initiators to connect different viewpoints in order to present well-rounded arguments.
Cairney, P. (2013). Standing on the shoulders of giants: How do we combine the insights of multiple theories in public policy studies? The Policy studies Journal, 41(1), 1-21. Web.
Doyle, M. W. (2000). A more perfect union? The liberal peace and the challenge of globalization. Review of International Studies, 26, 81-94. Web.
Mangalvedhekar, V. (2019). To what extent is the realist school of IR theory useful for policymakers? E-International Relations. Web.
Massaro, T. M. (2012). Some realism about constitutional liberalism. Constitutional Commentary, 1099, 383-406. Web.
Mingst, A. K., McKibben, H. E., & Arreguin-Toft, I.M. (2018). Essentials of international relations (8th ed.). W.W. Norton & Company.
Walt, S. M. (2005). The relationship between theory and policy in international relations. Annual Review of Political Science, 8(1), 23-48. Web.
Zupancic, R., & Pejic, N. (2018) The EU’s affair with Kosovo. In: Limits to the European Union’s Normative Power in a Post-conflict Society. SpringerBriefs in Population Studies. Springer, Cham. Web.