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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
• Modern diplomacy is still often based on
Realist theory.

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.Realist thinkers include: Sun Tzu (Ancient China) Thucydides (Ancient Greece) Machiavelli (Medieval Italy) Thomas Hobbes (civil war torn England) Mao Tse Tung (Communist China) Hans J. .

International system is anarchic and conflictprone: often zero-sum situations 4.Realism is a theory based on power politics Main Assumptions: 1. Value Relative over Absolute Gains . States balance against threats 6. Unitary-Rational Decision-making 3. Morality has no place in international politics 7. 8. All States must pursue power to survive 5. States are most important actors 2. International politics more important than domestic politics.

Why do Realists claim that states must pursue power or that morality has no place in world politics? •The world is anarchic and it is a self-help system. . To survive states must pursue power. then there is no international law that states must abide by. if there is no higher authority. •Also.

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. • Domestic politics is only important to the extent that it strengthens or weakens a state. • Also. This is a point made by Machiavelli. . domestic regime type and institutions do not matter much for world politics. since states are essentially the same.

Anarchy forces states to compete against each other in a self-help system. Conquest 3. Alliances (balancing) . Realists understand the implications of the security dilemma but see them as unavoidable. To survive. states must try to increase their power by: 1.Anarchy makes conflict in the system inevitable. Internal development 2.

• Level of power affects state strategies and outcomes of various contests (military conflicts. and other negotiations.Power: • A central concept in international relations. . economic conflicts.

Power helps a country win international contests. We can only say that the United States is powerful compared to others. not absolute. • Power leads to influence. for example. . • Power is relative.• Power is both built on tangible and intangible attributes. • Concept used often by diplomats and other analysts to compare countries.

mountains. Geography (few borders. food) Reputation Education.Attributes of Power • • • • • • • • • • • Military capabilities (troops. technology) Size of economy (GDP). information Alliances (sometimes unpredictable). minerals. Sophistication of economy and technology Population. location) Internal cohesion (stability) Patriotism Natural resources (oil. .

• Thus. •For example. sometimes it is difficult ranking states by power. while others are intangible such as patriotism and reputation. why did USA lose the Vietnam war?? . such as military capabilities and natural resources.• Some of these attributes are tangible.

. • By power projection we mean the ability to deploy troops around the world as well as deliver a full-scale nuclear attack.What makes some countries superpowers? • Superpowers are very strong countries that can project their power around the world.

• Such capabilities require a sophisticated economy and society. 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. Presently.


states are often assumed to be unitary rational actors .Rationality and Decision-making • 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.

– Relative gains = both sides gain something but one actor gains more. . Rationality means to value short-term over long-term calculations due to insecurity. – Absolute gains = both sides in a relationship gain something. • Value Relative gains over Absolute gains.Rationality and Realism • To Realists.

The Balance of power To deter aggression by others. states balance against each other so no one country becomes too strong. .

Realists typically focus on the balance of power. Problem: The balance of power seems bound to fail in the long-run and could be said to only delay war. which may be regional or sometimes used to discuss a dyad of two countries. However. the concept is rather difficult to define and this part of the theory difficult to test. The Concert of Europe that emerged after the Napoleonic Wars is a good example. . Some Realists would disagree.

•Realists believe that power imbalances lead to war since powerful states. unchecked. •Balancing by forming alliances with other states is the quickest way to check the power of potentially aggressive states. . will try to acquire more power.

Neo-Realism Why reform Realism? .

• Bipolar systems are more stable than multipolar systems – balancing more effective and predictable. • System structure is determined by polarity – number of major powers. Differences: • System structure dictates the environment of international interactions. • States are mostly defensive in nature. .Neo-Realism (Waltz) borrows many of the traditional assumptions of Realism.

What do you think about Realism? • Relevant or Accurate? • Logical? • Assumptions useful. such as unitaryrational actors? • Role of domestic politics? • Morality? • Does Anarchy really make conflict inevitable? .