The study of international relations is complex and requires various perspectives in order to understand the intricacies of the way our world operates. Most patterns in international relations can be explained using theories. They correspond to lenses through which one can understand certain phenomena. Using multiple theoretical perspectives can allow us to obtain a better, more complete understanding of a given development in international relations. Different theories draw on different assumptions and each have various degrees of explanatory power. Since the end of the Cold War, the proliferation of international institutions has been unprecedented and has received a lot of attention on behalf of international relations scholars. They are sets of rules, both substantive and procedural, that prescribe and proscribe behavior to states. International organizations are international institutions with actor-like qualities. They are collective entities capable of deciding and acting through organizational bodies.
In line with the above definition, international organizations have become key actors in world politics today. Despite their existence, various theories of international relations account for international organizations in very different ways. Does any theory of international relations satisfactorily account for international organizations? This essay argues that liberal institutionalism most satisfactorily accounts for international organizations. The scope of this paper shall be limited to the three main schools of thought in international relations: realism, liberal institutionalism (derived from liberalism), and constructivism. First, this essay will briefly outline liberal institutionalism’s main assumptions and principles. Next, this paper will show how liberal institutionalism accounts for international organizations in two ways: it explains how cooperation is possible by enhancing efficiency, and by limiting enforcement problems. This essay will also examine liberal institutionalism’s shortcomings and address some insights that realism and constructivism may provide us.
Finally, the discussion will be summarized by concluding that, although liberal institutionalism may have minor fallacies, its explanatory power is far greater than that of realism or constructivism regarding the emergence and functioning of international organizations. Liberal institutionalism has its roots in liberal international relations theory, which assumes that international politics is anarchic. However, in contrast with realism, liberals argue that anarchy can be mitigated. Liberal institutionalists stress the importance of international organizations and their role in allowing states to achieve international collective outcomes. In a highly globalized world, states are interdependent and cooperation is likely, attractive and leads to mutual gains. This paper argues that, in line with liberal
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