The main difference between the three theories is how each of them perceive international relations. The realist views each state as being out for itself and power between states as a zero-sum game; where one state gains, another state must lose. The true realist views international bodies as being essentially toothless to prevent conflict because a leader has a responsibility to his or her country to place it in the best position to prosper and be safe. The realist acts in his nation's own self-interest, without regard to how it would affect others in a group.
The liberal views international relations as a collection of relationships between states. Liberals view collective action as being a good way of binding states together in common goals such as economic prosperity. They see international relations as a positive sum game; both sides can win in an agreement between states. Liberals place a high priority on collective action taken between international bodies.
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