Is the glass half empty or half full? A realist would see it as half empty, whereas a liberal would view it as something we can work together on to fill up completely. Liberalism and realism have both similarities and differences but their contrast is much more significant. Both believe the world is a dangerous place, it is just a matter of how to protect yourself and get your state to the top. Both realists and liberals are aware of the ability of the states going to war and destroying each other. Both realise there is no world government which can prevent them from doing harm to one another. Both believe in the importance of hard power techniques; military power and that there is nothing to hinder them from using hard power to get what they want.
Realism focuses on the effective use of hard power such as: military power, economic sanctions and incentives. The only important actors in a realist point of view, are their states. However, this limits the progress and change in international relations and intergovernmental institutions. Although, this is seen as a drawback in a liberal point of view, they enforce that states can never be certain about the intentions of other states; trust nobody, which will always guarantee an aim for the success of their own state only. The main goal of a structural realist state is survival and if the state is a rational actor they are capable of coming up with sound strategies that maximize their prospects for survival. Realist states are states which acquire hard power capabilities, whom are locked in competition with each other state. In their view the states compete with each other in order to gain power at the expense of others losing power. Similar to China today, which is building islands in order to fortify their position in the South China Sea. China describes the man-made islands to be primarily for civilians purposes, however, most islands include runways, radars, outposts and weapon systems.
It is vital to make sure that their state does not lose any power. In structural realism, the world system is believed to require competition, resulting in the world being anarchic and dangerous for all. This results in a balance of defensive realism and offensive realism. John Mearsheimer, the founder of the theory of offensive realism, explains it to be an attempt to expand a state's power. Whereas with defensive realism, Kenneth Waltz develops the idea of a state defending themselves to maintain power by enhancing military power, etc. This supports the idea of a Hobbesian world where there is war of all against all. Within classical realism, a state is much like a human, it seeks power. In a structural realist society the states compete against each other as they believe that great powers are the main actors in world politics as well as the fact that all states possess some offensive military capability, in other words, each state has the power to inflict some harm on it’s neighbour. Much like in North Korea, who are aiming to target the US; one of the most powerful states in the world. The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Un, is displaying acts of offensive and defensive realism by enhancing their nuclear missile development programme. This was done by performing six nuclear tests, after the failure of one. This helps North Korea defend themselves by putting their state in high power using their resources, as well as expand their power by enhancing their weapons. These trials have lead up to a month of escalating tension over the country’s weapon development programme with new UN sanctions. This puts North Korea in high power as they are displaying how they have nothing holding them back from launching a missile of high quality on a country like the United States.
Liberalism is an enforcement of soft power, co-operation and rules. In liberalism consensus building is important as there must be an opinion that everyone agrees with. It focuses on the establishment of opportunities using co-operation and seeing states as most powerful when they work together. International organisations are liberal as they create ties in order to be effective and successful in more than one state. The largest liberal international organisation is the UN (United Nations), which consists of a large group of countries coming together. Another example of a liberal organisation is the EU (European Union). The EU countries have come together to form co-operative law making, trade agreements, etc. This has benefitted the EU states by helping the economies grow and furthermore improving the lives of EU citizens, for example making it easy for the citizens to migrate around EU states. It is believed that each state should use power by conforming to a world order which is governed by international law and respect of human rights. States are important to liberals but the key to their use of soft power focuses on international institutions, international law, treaties, human rights and global trade in order to spread their power across the world. The United States has been known to trade items such as beef, alcoholic beverages, aircraft and spacecraft parts with Australia. Japan is also known to export iron ore, coal and beef to Australia, creating and using cultural ties; a form of soft power, for the benefit of both countries.
Liberals believe in power being distributed amongst a wide range of groups and process, from IO’s (international organisations) to international trade. International organisations and multinational corporations fuel the production of most of the resources and items we have today. Without Apple, being an American company, having transported their iPhones, iMacs, iPads, etc. and declaring itself a multinational corporation, the sales of their products would have never met Europe. Liberalism supports the idea of 'everyone can win'. Liberals contradict realists as realism focuses on the benefit on their own state, rather than the benefit for all. Liberals believe that, through their strategies, all states can win when fully liberal, as liberalism focuses on the interest of all states working together.
Within a liberal point of view, military power is the last resort. Violence is not considered to benefit everyone; if there is war, everyone loses somehow. International systems are believed to create opportunities which can be resolved in peace and with conflict, leaving it up to the liberal parties to work together. However, a world where everyone worked together in harmony, violence would be limited but it would also deprive our systems of democracy. Democracy is believed to potentially only survive using certain ounces of military power and security; transitions to democracy can be violent. Without democracy, neo-liberalism; the belief that states are central but cooperation is key, would not exist.