Security Studies In The Light of International Theory


This article was written primarily to analyze security studies perspectives within the theories of international relations. It examines the established security organizations by measuring the interaction of realism and constructivism in the security dilemmas of states. In this article, which tries to explain in detail what NATO means for Europe, what thinking structures it has in its foundation, the dynamics of territorial disputes under institutions are also examined.

Keywords: International Theory, Realism, Constructivism, NATO, Security Studies. 


International relations theory aims to explain why international events occur in the same form they happen (Puchala, 1971: 1). The great majority of theorists hypothesize on state-to-state relations. Their goal is to analyze and comprehend patterns of state-to-state political interaction (Waltz, 1979: 1-3). Some go even further, attempting to translate these interaction patterns into universal principles that may be used to explain past occurrences and estimate future occurrences. However, this approach comes with a number of conceptual and methodological issues, beginning with defining and drawing the limits of the entire set of occurrences that are supposed to be explained. Realism, liberalism, and constructivism are the three most prominent schools of thinking.

International relations are frequently confronted with the dilemma of sovereignty’s presence and absence at the same time. When it comes to terms of inter relations, sovereignty refers to the belief in the existence of a supreme and absolute power in society. When it comes to relations, it demonstrates the polar opposite of this belief. To put it another way, there is no absolute power over and beyond the communities that meet in the international arena. As a result, international relations studies remain mired in the problems of war-peace and anarchy-order, which are fundamental parts of the anarchic environment that arises as a result of the application of sovereignty to the international arena, and continuously try to explain them.

Theories of International Relations has two categories learning towards positivism and leaning towards interpretivism (at varying degrees). If we give some examples about positivists school of thinking we can refer; realism, classical realism, neorealism/structural realism, liberal approaches including neoliberal institutionalism, economic structuralism. And these theories differ from three way:

  1. Assumptions / Hypotheses
  2. Units of Analysis
  3. Levels of Analysis they operate at

If we want to clarify what theories are, it is hypotheses that have been proven and confirmed. Because when you simply have hypothesis, you are not sure if it holds.

Also, theories differ from one another according to their epistemologies, methodologies, and ontologies. While epistemology explains different methods are possible, it has roots in empiricism (the view that we can only make truth claims through direct observation of the world.) On the other hand, methodology means that made of research and analysis or a set of rules. Social science can be as objective and scientific as natural sciences, according to positivism. For example, positivism is explaining and knowing things based on scientific data and argues for the ‘’scientific method’’

Ontology the last step is more like asking a question to the subject. ‘’What are the things that matter the most?’’ It calculates reality norms in some topics and subtopics.

Why do we need theories in IR? It explains why things happen, while international relations are comprehensive and complex, we need theories to explain, predict and also simplify it.

We have some actors in this arena like non-state actors. Individuals, civil society organizations, terrorist organizations, multinational organizations etc. There is a plurality of actors in the international system other than states. In liberalism for example all non-state actors have a bigger place and importance than they do in Realism.

1. Types of Realism

Pessimistic view even depressing view of IR, constant power struggle and competition among security maximizing plus possibility of war. Almost paranoid states with egoistic power pursuit. Counter argument to realism to use of military power by states, states can also use their economic power and sanctions to weaken other states, cause only salvation is power. Domestic politics and the composition of individual states not really matters for how those states behave on a day-to-day basis, in international politics. Difference between Classical Realism and Neorealism is classical type of realism is more about human nature rather than neorealism. Structure of IR system is more likely to subheading of neorealism.

In classical realism there is individual analysis and maximization state interest: Egoistic power pursuit but in neorealism we can also refer as structural realism, is more systematic theory, system-level analysis based. We should remember John Mearsheimer and Kenneth Waltz when describing neorealism, which is also divided into two, as offensive and defensive.

Mearsheimer argues that states not only survive also wants hegemony. They maximize relative power to the point of achieving hegemony. But according to Waltz, securing survival is the most important key for all. Intervening structural variables geography, offense-defense balance etc. Security dilemma is mitigated for defensive neorealists. States are okay with simply seeking power defensively. Waltz also put a theory named 3 Levels of War: Human nature and behavior, internal structure of states, structure of IR system. We can summarize the common concern of realists in all circumstances in the form of an environment of insecurity created by the constant increase in power of states. And there are other things that matter (other than power): Alliances, domestic regime type etc. for understanding fear between states.

2. Constructivist Understandings

 1980’s as a critique of Realism and Liberalism- between positivist and interpretivist understanding. Everything is socially constructed (shaped norms and ideas we believe in)

Ideas and norms equal to material factors (ex: power) First assumption for constructivism is about friendship or hostility and the second assumption is that states and relations between states -social structure- can change with norms and rules. Third assumption is more like analysis: 3 cultures of anarchy. If we briefly mention that cultures:

  1. States as enemies (Hobbesian Anarchy): Anarchy defined by the norm of self-help. Conflicts, wars among states
  2. States as rivals (Lockean Anarchy): Anarchy defined by the norm of rivalry, ‘’live and let live’’, Cooperation among states.
  3. States as allies (Kantian Anarchy): Anarchy defined by norms of friendship and peace, peaceful community of states.

Core claim of constructivism is that none of these relationships are fixed in stone because identities are changeable through interaction.

3. Theories That Can Be Explained by Referring to The Events That Have Happened

Neorealism, structure of the international system (anarchy and distribution of power) explains Germany’s struggle for a domination and hegemony in Europe and this leads us to outbreak of World War II. In the light of this information, we can clearly say that in subject of classical realism, human nature “animus dominandi” explains best of Hitler’s moves. In Liberalistic approach of IR, international institutions, international organizations, peace, collective security, the League of Nations needs to be mode better organizations, needs to be reformed in order to prevent wars. So, there is a need for new organization: The United Nations!

Or more about constructivist understanding endless cycle where we are constantly changing these rules. People woke up one day and said maybe this should not exist anymore like USSR example. In the light of these informations we can link up with territory or territorial understanding with it.

Territory and territoriality are often presented together as core concerns for political scholarship for the reasons identified by Ruggie; if “politics is about rule”, then it is also necessarily about “comprising legitimate dominion over a spatial extension” (Ruggie, 1993: 148). In other words, politics is about territory (Pinos and Radil, 2020). Territory in this sense refers most simply to the notion of a politically ordered geographic space, or a “portion of geographic space under the jurisdiction of certain people” (Gottman, 1973: 5).

It is necessary to focus on NATO, which was established to resolve regional disputes and was created to protect the western way of life from two organizations that have still not lost their importance today.

4. European Security Institutions and Eastern European Security Needs

The Eastern European desire to join NATO is rooted in dissatisfaction with two other European security institutions, the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC), established in November 1991, and the Partnership for Peace (PFP), launched at the NATO summit meeting in Brussels in January 1994. Designed to facilitate discussion of political and security issues (NACC) and to promote military cooperation, transparency in military planning and budgeting, and civilian and democratic control of the armed forces (PFP), neither organization commits NATOto defend a member against attack. For this reason, the Eastern Europeans complain that neither the NACC nor the PFP adequately meets their security needs (Mihalka, 1994; Williams, 1997; Reisch, 1994).

Although the most important, nationalist and other security threats are not the only reasons why membership of NATO is desired. More broadly and nebulously, NATO membership, according to Eastern Europeans, will create a “sense of belonging” to Europe or Western civilization (Winter, 1997).

Neorealists expect that states will have difficulty cooperating. Cooperation is difficult because states find themselves in a competitive environment in which survival is never assured and self-help the name of the game. To maximize their chances of survival, states seek to maintain their autonomy and worry about how the gains from cooperation will be distributed and that other states will cheat on agreements to gain a relative advantage. Worries about autonomy, relative gains, and cheating are obstacles to cooperation, and cooperation is likely only when these worries can be alleviated (Mearsheimer, 1994/5: 12-13; Glaser, 1994/95).


As a result, unity and security organizations created due to the security concerns of states have been on the agenda of mankind since the earliest dates of diplomacy. Even in the process of transition to the modern era, we can see that the people referred to by Rousseau as the ‘general will’ norm have given up some of their freedoms in order to receive protection from a higher order of them. In this world where security concerns govern the domestic and foreign policies of all countries, it is always more robust to understand international theories and explain events by referring to them based on them.

Aybüke Özbuğutu

TUİÇ Akademi


Glaser, C. (1994/95). Realists as optimists: Cooperation as self-help. International Security 19(3), 50-90.

Gottmann, J. (1973). The Significance of territory. University Press of Virginia.

Mearsheimer, J. J. (1994/95). The false promise of international institutions, International Security 19(3): 5-49.

Mihalka, M. (1994). Squaring the circle: NATO’s offer to the East. RFE/RL Research Report 3(12).

Pinos, J. C. & Radil, S. M. (2020). The territorial contours of terrorism: a conceptual model of territory for non-state violence, Terrorism and Political Violence, 32(5), 1027-1046.

Puchala, D. (1971). International politics today. Mead Publishing.

Reisch, A. A. (1994). Central Europe’s disappointments and hopes, RFE/RL Research Report 3(12).

Ruggie, J. (1993). Territoriality and Beyond: Problematizing Modernity in International Relations. International Organization 47(1), 139-174.

Skalnes, L. S. (1998). From the outside in, from the inside out: NATO expansion and international relations theory, Security Studies, 7(4), 44-87. DOI: 10.1080/09636419808429358

Waltz, K. N. (1979). Theory, or international politics. Random House.

Williams, N. (1997). Partnership for peace: Permanent fixture or declining asset? In NATO’s transformation: The changing shape of the Atlantic alliance, (ed. Philip H. Gordon). Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

Winter, S. (1997a). Central Europe: NATO expansion means more than security, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Available: 970512125526.html.

Winter, S. (1997b). Europe: NATO Expansion—The Marshall Plan’s Second Chapter. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Available:

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