Realism and Transnationalism: Competing Visions for International Security


This paper is a multidisciplinary study of two competing theories of states’ motives and behavior in international relations, realism and transnationalism. The first theory, realism, suggests that states are constantly competing for security and power within an anarchical international system incapable of preventing aggression or conflict. A competing philosophy, transnationalism, (also known as liberalism) suggests that cooperation, not competition, is the defining characteristic of international relations and that democratization and global economic interdependence reduce the benefits of interstate conflict and encourage long-term cooperation.

This paper seeks to explain the apparent disparity of states competing for power in security matters while also acting cooperatively in international trade and finance. Using the war in Iraq, the growth of global economic interdependence, and the increasing legalism of international trade as examples of state behavior, this paper concludes that realism and transnationalism are not mutually exclusive. Increasing divisions between daily diplomatic and economic transactions and less frequent military-security issues allows states to behave in an orderly fashion in some dealings and compete for power and security in others. While Louis Henkin’s dictum that most states obey international law much of the time appears to hold true, the minority of instances where states do not comply involve the most sensitive of national security issues—such as response to external threats, territory, access to resources, and weapons proliferation.


Comparative and Foreign Law | International Law | International Trade Law

Date of this Version

December 2006