American Way of thinking Security


How the two world wars influenced the American perspective on security and maintaining its title as the single super power

Security in medieval times was exclusively associated with defense or securing ones vital interest through armed forces or force. Concept of security underwent several transformations before and after the two World Wars. The Cold war period brings a new concept of security in this concept constituted two groups one are called “Traditionalists, while the others are Wideners”[1]. It is important to explain these two groups, because they represent further sub-groups, with contested definitions and explanations of security.  To understand the concept of security, it is important to have streamlined approach so that we can define and explain these two groups and its sub-groups and have valid application for our case study and its conclusion. The 20th century brings a change in this concept, the century which holds a burden of two world wars. The devastation of two world wars shows that man can go to any extent, in the name of security. The First World War exposed the Realists, with their proud principles of realism who killed millions in search of power and were hell bent to convince masses to have permanent state of hostility so that in the name of security we are ever ready to kill others. On the other side were Liberals, who became relevant because they constituted the world’s first League. The distinct feature of this league was that it was not an Exclusive Club, confined to some states but a dialogue platform to tie down the dog of war so that in the name of security and defense man can never go to that beast mode again. Because if we analyze the pre-war situation we can clearly see the “Realist School of Thought” playing a major role in instigating a global catastrophe in the form of WWI, the post war situation hint towards Liberal School of Thought it clearly shows that Realism and Liberalism are two faces of security. One dictating the world as Anarchic, means nobody to be trusted, just lust of power, and get ready for war while its peace.  While Liberalism urges cooperation, promotion of democratic values to ward off Selfish Intent and look for mutual avenues of cooperation for the promotion of peace, whether engaging in a bilateral way, or working under a multilateral platform. The concept of security exclusively associated with the use of force to secure oneself and vital objectives and relevance in international order, by subduing others and their rights, the realist school of thought from the beginning looks attractive to statesman because of its selfish outlook. The end of WWI urges man to think about the destruction while pursuing their interest, the costs seem high. The emergence of League of Nation is considered as the dawn of liberal idea, to have cooperation in pursuing goals, while blind and destructive principles of realism can benefit us in shorter term, but won’t lead us to have lasting peace and prosperity because after decades or even a century we will have another hegemon rising out of the same selfish principles.  Man’s lust for power is as old as man himself, meaning that the realist principles are embedded in man since ancient times and that is the sole reason that we never have a period of constant peace in any century, nearly in every century the empires and states are in a state of constant war against each other.

“The Liberal School of Thought”[2] is comparatively new idea, propounded by Woodrow Wilson on the basis of which World saw first such Organization called League of Nations. The man at that time took a pause and thought about a place where they can all sit representing their own empire, republic or state whether small or large, to engage in a dialogue over the bones of contention among them, or to discuss things which are important for them. The two paradigms were once considered the only two sides of security, one re-representing the optimist side while the other pessimist or darker side. The rise of United States from the rubbles of World War II changed the concept of security, the cold war year’s researches in this realm added very vital literature on traditional and non-traditional faces of security. Realist school of thought, described as a dominant school of thought for centuries, is no doubt the oldest school of thought, for running the state of affairs. US before Pearl Harbor was not a meddling power, but instead enjoyed a sudden boom in their economy through industrialization. The Americans were away from war, but the attack on Pearl Harbor changed the mindset of Americans. This led to the End of Liberalism in American way of thinking. The continuous fight with the Confederates and their final defeat convinced American Presidents to rely on Realist School of Thought. Modern day thinking goes against Americans, condemning them for relying so much on Realist Paradigm, but their existing thinking came out of a sudden attack they suffered while they were not a part of World War II. If we dissect imperial Japan’s ambitions during the World War II, they clearly indicate a realist paradigm.  The Japanese plan was to annihilate US navy’s main force so that they can never prove to be a threat in the sea. US was wary of Nazi Germany, but stayed neutral during the first half of Second Great War. The United States paid a higher price while turning to Liberal school of thought giving so much time to Nazis to rearm. These two factors are contributing to the US dependence on Realist School of thought in the 21st century. They are not giving time to any other power to reemerge as their contender, they resort to use of power in any confrontation.

The use of force in post 9/11 era shows a clear American realism with a touch of liberalism, propounding the concepts of Human security, mainly in a sense to halt the use of force against innocent civilians in the Balkans, on the pretext of humanitarian intervention. Yugoslavia was portrayed as an evil and strategy was set for its dissolution. The Constructivist approach also fits here, because of the threat perception, it was perceived as a vital threat to Europe and thus people perspectives were shaped, that Europe will be at peace without an entity called Yugoslavia. The Dayton Agreement no doubt was one of those Construct, According to Rory Keane “The main Purpose of the agreement was to freeze the military engagement and reduce the risk of conflict. It was therefore defined as a construction of necessity”[3]. The modern day collective security concept passed its first test under the command of United States of America in the form of NATO. The role played by America and its allies is still seen as positive, because the use of force was not directed to destroy any state but the idea was to silence a bullying power trying to disrupt European peace, and set ablaze the peace it achieved after a long struggle.

Societal Security was also a key concern in the Yugoslavian wars. The dominant Serb group tried to dominate the weak group with force and thus threatened their identity, the genocide of millions of Muslims of Bosnia is a proof.  They repeatedly denied their rights and used brutal force against them sowing the Human and Societal Security at play. US was compelled to act to save Europe from further catastrophe. The disintegration of Yugoslavia at one point shows the protection of some groups and their identity, but while the disintegration as a whole also shows that the powerful group which kills millions in genocide, feel threatened with their identity because of Societal Security. In a world which is called a global village and meets annually under one roof in New York at the UN building to sit and talk about their problems, the World which has greater understanding of each other’s values, limitations, strengths and everything else which constitutes a nation also saw the American invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The end of world war and the start of cold war, brought yet another classical ideology into action, Marxism, whose main target was capitalism. The emergence of Russia as a global power after defeating Nazi Germany divided the world into distinct ideologies, the Capitalists and Communists. Communism was distilled from Marxism, its theoretical principles laid the foundations for communism, though the threat was not new but after WWII the world saw total destruction of Europe, the Imperial Powers which were included in axis powers. This led to the emergence of America as a global power, matched only by Soviet Union at that time. The two ideologies were as different from each other as day and night. The Cold War constituted a real touch of realism, with interruptions from liberal school, but this grand competition came to an end with the fall of the Soviet Union. The Capitalist ideology of US and Western World triumphed and the Marxist ideology posed no significant threat afterwards.  The Marxist ideology which instigated the “Constructivism”[4] emerged in late 1980s but it played a major role after the disintegration of Soviet Union. The World literally was back to unipolar system, with one superpower reasserting its own principles, the story of Post-Soviet era sketches an interesting picture, with a blend of Realism and Liberalism and the emergence of brand new concepts originated from the new superpower, the Wideners or Deepeners or all the new concepts and classifications came from United States of America or Europe.  We can explain American role in Military Security using constructive approach. Military study was exclusively associated with Realist School, while now we can interpret it through Constructivism lens. States go to war for their own benefits as they want to capture others resources or vital routes. War in past was domination on others, but with change in international order and thinking, the idea of Major War seems no more attractive. US played a major role in European Security, in fact EU rely heavily on US for its defense needs, the cold war era was a high time for US to provide security shield to Europe, even in the modern construct Russia is portrayed as an evil power, trying to grab lands. The takeover of Crimea in 2014 was portrayed as “redux of 1938 takeover of the Sudetenland”[5], when Hitler’s lust for territory became an unending phenomena. The rise of Nuclear Taboo in the Nuclear Age offers another glimpse into the mater, that Constructivist Approach proved to be a dominant idea, with the presence of all weaponry alliances and nuclear weapons, the military security was ensured.

Human Security concept evolved once the traditional threats were dealt successfully to some extent, the idea emerged because absence of any bigger threat means no other power was able to challenge American might. The emergence of this concept in post-soviet world clearly indicates that there were no more traditional threats in the presence of the new superpower. The idea then shifted towards the individual, and the Post 9/11 world signified the term Human Security further. The US played vital role, convincing and pressurizing countries around the world, to have equal rights for their population, so that no group threatened the new order. The US played an important role in the formation of global ideas and mechanism to deal effectively with food shortages, water problems, and the tapping of centuries old diseases. Polio for example is a major health problem in Pakistan, the attitude of Pakistani government in dealing with this issue is not serious, and that’s why Pakistan is one of those countries, who still possesses polio virus. The US, EU and their influence in UN hinted at tougher stance on Pakistan regarding ignoring the food and health security of Pakistan.

The US criticism of Iran, China, Russia and other important countries of the world is because of Political Security. They undermine people’s right to information, by banning vital tools of communication. There are several major organizations, originated from US, which identify and help those who suffer at the hands of their governments. The Human Security concept is not embraced in the third world countries, even countries at the European periphery and even Russia have severe problems, and the Human/Sex Trafficking rings pose a grave threat to humans. The Interpol is yet another example of American contribution, it has over 190 member countries. US put all its intelligence agencies to point out these rings and help countries around the world in busting such rings. Interpol’s main tasks include public safety, sex trafficking rings busting, and to deal with environmental crime, smuggling, cyber-crimes war crimes. Environmental Security is of paramount importance in today’s word, the idea at first was not taken seriously, but through UN, United States of America with major powers played a key role in highlighting the importance of Environmental Security. The droughts, natural disasters, the arctic meltdown are now considered major threats and to deal with these challenges the main initiatives originated from US. China’s air pollution, ocean pollution are no more the internal matter of the state. The Global Common concept makes it clear that harm to environment will be considered a threat to entire environment and to ensure Environmental Security international community will play its role. The recent proposal by French president to set up an Environmental Security Council[6], got a lot of support from the world.


A closer look at the various perspectives clearly shows that some theories lead us to war, because of its inherent appeal to conflict while alternate perspective like Liberalism provide a brighter side. But the best approach for the 21st century is Constructivist approach; the man himself can think and feel about the darker and brighter sides. With the presence of nuclear weapons and other cutting edge technologies we have to think and construct such ideas that can help us in avoiding conflicts and provide us mutual ground for cooperation. Constructivism can be used to fight the common evils confronting mankind, rather than confronting each other for our selfish interests.


[1] Collins, Alan. Contemporary security studies. Oxford university press, 2013. 147.

[2] Steans, Jill, and Lloyd Pettiford. International relations: Perspectives and themes. Longman Publishing Group, 2010. 23

[3] Rory Keane, Reconstructing sovereignty. Post-Dayton Bosnia uncovered, London: Ashgate 2001 .61

[4] Robert Howard Jackson and Georg Sørensen (2010). Introduction to International Relations: Theories and Approaches, 4th Edition. Oxford University Press. 166.

[5]Abulof, Uriel. “Self-Determination, Redux?” Huffington Post, May 20, 2014, The Blog sec..

[6] “French President Calls for Environmental ‘security Council'” India Times, November 10, 2015, Economic Times sec.

is a freelance writer, geopolitical issues interests him the most. He can be reached at

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