What are the main differences between realism and liberalism in the study of international relations?

Some of the main differences between realism and liberalism in the study of international relations are that realists believe each country must act to preserve itself above all else while liberals believe that countries can pursue common interests and that liberals believe that countries can achieve peace through democracy while realists believe countries will seek power whether they are democratic or not.

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To contrast these two approaches to foreign policy, it is perhaps easiest to use realism as a baseline. Realism in foreign policy terms is based on the idea that all states must pursue a policy of self-preservation above all else. While there are differing strains of realism, the general thrust of this way of thinking is that each state must act essentially on its own and only in its own interests. To put it in personal terms, no state can trust any other state, according to realists. Taken to its extreme, realism basically assumes that international relations is a zero-sum game and really a state of anarchy in which power is the sole determinant of affairs. Realists interpreted the Cold War, for example, as a system in which global stability existed because of the power exerted by the United States and the Soviet Union.

Liberalism operates on a different set of assumptions than realism. Where realists see states as basically monolithic entities focused on self-preservation, liberals tend...

(The entire section contains 4 answers and 918 words.)

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