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The Theory of Realism. RealPolitik or Power Politics. The tenets of realism go back several centuries and appear to many over time as eternal truths. We see much commonality in both ancient and modern thinking about international relations.

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The theory of realism

The Theory of Realism

RealPolitik or Power Politics


The theory of realism


The theory of realism

Realist thinkers include: to many over time as eternal truths.

Sun Tzu (Ancient China)

Thucydides (Ancient Greece)

Machiavelli (Medieval Italy)

Thomas Hobbes (civil war torn England)

Mao Tse Tung (Communist China)

Hans J. Morgenthau (USA 1950s)

They have all come to similar conclusions about the characteristics of the international system that can be grouped together as the theory of realism.


The theory of realism

Realism is a theory based on power politics to many over time as eternal truths.

Main Assumptions:

States are most important actors

Unitary-Rational Decision-making

International system is anarchic and conflict-prone: often zero-sum situations

All States must pursue power to survive

States balance against threats

Morality has no place in international politics

International politics more important than domestic politics.

Value Relative over Absolute Gains


The theory of realism


The theory of realism

  • Why is international politics seen as more important than domestic politics by Realists?

  • If you do not take care of international politics, there may no longer be any domestic politics. This is a point made by Machiavelli.

  • Domestic politics is only important to the extent that it strengthens or weakens a state.

  • Also, since states are essentially the same, domestic regime type and institutions do not matter much for world politics.


The theory of realism

Anarchy makes conflict in the system inevitable. Realists understand the implications of the security dilemma but see them as unavoidable. Anarchy forces states to compete against each other in a self-help system.

To survive, states must try to increase their power by:

Internal development

Conquest

Alliances (balancing)


The theory of realism

  • Power: understand the implications of the security dilemma but see them as unavoidable. Anarchy forces states to compete against each other in a self-help system.

  • A central concept in international relations.

  • Level of power affects state strategies and outcomes of various contests (military conflicts, economic conflicts, and other negotiations.


The theory of realism

  • Power is both built on tangible and intangible attributes. understand the implications of the security dilemma but see them as unavoidable. Anarchy forces states to compete against each other in a self-help system.

  • Power leads to influence. Power helps a country win international contests.

  • Concept used often by diplomats and other analysts to compare countries.

  • Power is relative, not absolute. We can only say that the United States is powerful compared to others, for example.


Attributes of power
Attributes of Power understand the implications of the security dilemma but see them as unavoidable. Anarchy forces states to compete against each other in a self-help system.

  • Military capabilities (troops, technology)

  • Size of economy (GDP),

  • Sophistication of economy and technology

  • Population,

  • Geography (few borders, mountains, location)

  • Internal cohesion (stability)

  • Patriotism

  • Natural resources (oil, minerals, food)

  • Reputation

  • Education, information

  • Alliances (sometimes unpredictable).


The theory of realism


The theory of realism

  • What makes some countries capabilities and natural resources, while others are intangible such as patriotism and reputation.superpowers?

  • Superpowers are very strong countries that can project their power around the world.

  • By power projection we mean the ability to deploy troops around the world as well as deliver a full-scale nuclear attack.


The theory of realism

  • Such capabilities require a sophisticated economy and society. Presently, only the United States can be classified as a superpower.

  • The Soviet Union was a superpower until the collapse of its economy and communism (1990), which greatly eroded Russia’s ability to field a large army and navy.


Rationality and decision making
Rationality and Decision-making society. Presently, only the United States can be classified as a

  • Assumption that actors are rational

  • Actors must know what is in their best interest

  • Actors know how to maximize utility

  • Choose ranked options that maximize utility

  • In IR, states are often assumed to be unitary rational actors


Rationality and realism
Rationality and Realism society. Presently, only the United States can be classified as a

  • To Realists, Rationality means to value short-term over long-term calculations due to insecurity.

  • Value Relative gains over Absolute gains.

    • Absolute gains = both sides in a relationship gain something.

    • Relative gains = both sides gain something but one actor gains more.


The balance of power

The Balance of power society. Presently, only the United States can be classified as a

To deter aggression by others, states balance against each other so no one country becomes too strong.


The theory of realism

Realists typically focus on the balance of power, which may be regional or sometimes used to discuss a dyad of two countries.

The Concert of Europe that emerged after the Napoleonic Wars is a good example.

Problem: The balance of power seems bound to fail in the long-run and could be said to only delay war. Some Realists would disagree.

However, the concept is rather difficult to define and this part of the theory difficult to test.


The theory of realism


Neo realism
Neo-Realism powerful states, unchecked, will try to acquire more power.

Why reform Realism?


The theory of realism

  • Neo-Realism (Waltz) borrows many of the traditional assumptions of Realism. Differences:

  • System structure dictates the environment of international interactions.

  • System structure is determined by polarity – number of major powers.

  • States are mostly defensive in nature.

  • Bipolar systems are more stable than multi-polar systems – balancing more effective and predictable.


What do you think about realism
What do you think about Realism? assumptions of Realism. Differences:

  • Relevant or Accurate?

  • Logical?

  • Assumptions useful, such as unitary-rational actors?

  • Role of domestic politics?

  • Morality?

  • Does Anarchy really make conflict inevitable?