Introduction is observed that states utilize foreign


Before the World Wars, the international system was characterized by non-interventionism and multilateralism. States tried as much as possible to avoid hot spots because the conditions could not allow aggression. In Europe for instance, the international system was characterized by the balance of power where each state armed itself in order to keep off external aggression.

After the First World War, France and Britain allowed Germany to rearm itself in order to bring back the balance of power that had characterized the system for many years. Britain and France feared that Russia could cause destruction due to a revolution in its leadership. The Bolsheviks had taken over power and the economy of Russia was doing well. This was interpreted to mean military stability hence other actors had no option but to allow Germany to equip itself with necessary weapons.

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In the US, the condition was the same since the state never intervened in any major conflict. After the Second World War, the US policies were guided by the Truman’s doctrines, which emphasized on containment. The US had to come up with policies that could counter communism and its effects.

In other words, the US policy makers employed the tenets of realism in their foreign policy formulation strategies. As regards to humanitarian assistance, policy makers came up with two theories to explain foreign aid. It is observed that states utilize foreign aid and humanitarian assistance to further their interests. This is according to realists, such as Hans Morgenthau and Kenneth Walt.

On the other hand, liberalists argue that states may intervene in a foreign state to restore peace and democracy and not necessarily to achieve national interests. The same theories can be utilized to explain the situation in Timor-Leste in 1999. States intervened military to restore peace and democracy. States went ahead to provide humanitarian assistance, though their national interests were not fulfilled.

Realist Approach

According to scholars holding this theoretical framework, the state is the unit of analysis. The theory does not open the black box meaning that domestic variables such party politics, public opinion and regime types do not matter in formulating foreign policies. The international system influences states to come up with strategies that would help them survive. For instance, the status of the international law, international regimes, such as the World Bank and IMF, and polarity influence the behaviour of states.

In the case of Timor, states intervened because the international law demanded them to do so. From this analysis, it can be observed that changes in the international system affect the behaviour of states. In the current international system, the system is controlled by a single power, which is the US. The super power dictates what should be done in the international system. Furthermore, the realists believe that the international system is anarchic in nature.

This means that the system lacks a central authority that can guarantee peace and survival. The international system exists according to the Hobbestain state of nature where life is anarchic, brutal, short lived and nasty. States play a zero-sum game implying that the loss of one state is the benefit of another.

According to Edkins and Maja,[1] it is true that each state is preoccupied with its own national interests. Conflicts and issues affecting other states are not of any importance to powerful states in the international system. States would only intervene in case their interests will be catered for.

Regarding the formation of military alliances and regional cooperation, states consider their national interests. According to realists, it is very difficult for states to cooperate in matters touching on security mainly because of mistrust and suspicion. States try as much as possible to maintain their sovereignty.

Liberalist Approach

According to liberal scholars, there are various actors in the international system including supranational regimes, international organizations, international law, and world regimes such as FIFA. In other words, the international system is a community of both states and human beings. In this case, the foreign policy should recognize all actors. States are required to intervene militarily in troubled regions to restore peace and save lives.

However, the international law does not sanction states to intervene instead they do it for their own benefit. Actors in the international system must observe international codes of conduct and morals. Due to this, universal interests are very important in formulating foreign policies. Some liberal scholars such as Hoffman observe that states have a duty beyond their geographical borders.[2]

It is because of this reason that powerful states emphasize on human rights and equality. Organizations such as Amnesty International have been formed to oversee the welfare of individuals in various parts of the world. Such organizations interfere with state sovereignty since they must be consulted before major decisions regarding human rights are formulated.

It should be made clear that international organizations do not force states to act but instead they request states to intervene in places experiencing crises. In some cases, states in the international system intervene without consulting world regimes, especially when state security is at risk. In Timor for instance, regional states had to intervene because the conditions in the state were interfering with the security of other neighbouring states.

The issue of refugees had to be solved through humanitarian assistance. This was only possible through supplying food relief and other basic needs such as clothes and shelter. According to liberalists, democracy is the most important aspect of world security. Liberalists argue that democracies do not go to war. Issues are usually solved peacefully among democratic parties.

Issues related to Humanitarian Assistance

In the international system, scholars of foreign policy perceive foreign aid to be a tool that is utilized in extending state interests. Powerful states will always come up with laws and regulations governing foreign aid circulation. Realists view this to be against the wishes of receiving states since it interferes with state sovereignty.

In Timor for instance, the leaders were forced to adopt some policies that were unpopular to their people in order to receive foreign aid.[3] Powerful states take advantage of the humanitarian crisis to further their interests. In the Timor region, American and British investors were given access to the economy.

Liberalists on their side would argue that states try to help each other in order to achieve a collective goal, which is world security. For instance, the US and Britain have intervened variously even in places where nothing is gained, such as Somalia and the Middle East.

Regarding humanitarian assistance, it is believed that actors in the international system are guided by morals and codes of ethics, but not laws and regulations. Human life is valued so much by states in the international system. Based on this value, states would intervene militarily to save lives.


Edkins, Jenny, and Maja Zehfuss. Global Politics: a New Introduction. London: Routledge, 2009.

Jenny Edkins and Maja Zehfuss, Global Politics: a New Introduction (London: Routledge, 2009), 58.
Jenny Edkins and Maja Zehfuss, Global Politics: a New Introduction (London: Routledge, 2009), 74.
Jenny Edkins and Maja Zehfuss, Global Politics: a New Introduction (London: Routledge, 2009), 86.