Religion and culture have historically been neglected in international relations (IR) theories and in political science more generally. It was only recently that IR began to consider the role of culture and religion in war and peace. Several main scholarly trends in the study of culture, religion, conflict, and peace can be identified, starting with the definitional problems that IR scholars had to deal with as they tried to incorporate culture and religion. The first major attempt in the IR field to understand war almost exclusively through the religious prism was that of Samuel Huntington, who in his Clash of Civilization (1993, 1996) identifies two main reasons why religion can cause war: first, religion can be considered as a primordial and immutable identity; and second, religion is a form of ideology rather than identity. The scholarly literature has also addressed themes such as religious fundamentalism and violence, the role of religious actors in international conflict, the practical use of religion and culture to promote peace via diplomacy, and engagement of religion and culture in existing peace theories such as democratic peace theory. Avenues for future research may include the relational and constantly changing aspects of religion; what, when, and how various religious interpretations receive political prominence in promoting conflict or peace; how religion can be used as an independent variable across cases; and the hidden set of assumptions that are embedded in the cultural and religion labels.
According to the democratic peace theory, democracies are hesitant to engage in armed conflict with other identified democracies. Contrary to theories explaining war engagement, it is a “theory of peace” outlining motives that dissuade state-sponsored violence. The proposition that democracies are more peaceful than autocracies has spawned a huge literature. Much of the relevant quantitative research has shown that democracies indeed rarely, if ever, fight each other, although they are not necessarily less aggressive than autocracies in general. Although, statistically, the probability of war between any two states is considerably low, the absence of war among liberal democracies across a wide range of different historical, economic, and political factors suggests that there is a strong predisposition against the use of military violence between democratic states. According to scholars, the democratic peace theory can elaborate on the empirical phenomena previously explained by the earlier dominant research program, realism in international relations; in addition, the initial statement that democracies do not, or rarely, wage war on one another, has been followed by a rapidly growing literature on novel empirical regularities. This democratic peace proposition not only challenges the validity of other political systems, but also the prevailing realist account of international relations, which emphasizes balance-of-power calculations and common strategic interests.
John M. Owen IV
Liberalism has always been concerned with security, albeit the security of the individual; institutions, including the state, are all established and sustained by individuals and instrumental to their desires. Indeed, liberalism cannot be understood apart from its normative commitment to individualism. The tradition insists that all persons deserve, and it evaluates institutions according to how far they help individuals achieve these goals. Nor is liberalism anti-statist. Liberal theory has paid particular attention to the state as the institution defined by its ability to make individuals secure and aid their commodious living. Although liberal security literature that only examines individual states’ foreign policies may be guilty of denouncing the role of international interaction, the general liberal claim argues that the international system, under broad conditions, permits states choices. As such, for liberalism, states can choose over time to create and sustain international conditions under which they will be more or less secure. Liberalism’s history can be traced from the proto-liberalism in the Reformation to the emergence of the social contract theory and neo-theories, as well as liberalism’s focus on increasing security. Meanwhile, current debates in liberalism include the democratic peace and its progeny, reformulations of liberal international relations (IR) theory, and meta-theory. Ultimately, liberalism’s most striking recent successes concern the democratic peace and related research on democratic advantages in international cooperation. Liberalism is a useful guide to international security insofar as individuals and the groups they organize affect or erode states.
Stephen M. Walt
Political Realism has been described as the “oldest theory” of international politics, as well as the “dominant” one. Central to the realist tradition is the concept of “security.” Realism sees the insecurity of states as the main problem in international relations. It depicts the international system as a realm where “self-help” is the primary motivation; states must provide security for themselves because no other agency or actor can be counted on to do so. However, realists offer different explanations for why security is scarce, emphasizing a range of underlying mechanisms and causal factors such as man’s innate desire for power; conflicts of interest that arise between states possessing different resource endowments, economic systems, and political orders; and the “ordering principle” of international anarchy. They also propose numerous factors that can intensify or ameliorate the basic security problem, such as polarity, shifts in the overall balance of power, the “offense–defense balance,” and domestic politics. Several alternative approaches to international relations have challenged the basic realist account of the security problem, three of which are democratic peace theory, economic liberalism, and social constructivism. Furthermore, realism outlines various strategies that states can pursue in order to make themselves more secure, such as maximizing power, international alliances, arms racing, socialization and innovation, and institutions and diplomacy. Scholars continue to debate the historical roots, conceptual foundations, and predictive accuracy of realism. New avenues of research cover issues such as civil war, ethnic conflict, mass violence, September 11, and the Iraq War.