NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE
             FACULTY OF ARTS AND SOCIAL SCIENCES




                         AY 2008/200...
Is it plausible to argue that Realism possesses an “eternal relevance” in explaining the
conduct of nation states?




   ...
game of relative gains is applied during instances of negotiations under a Realist lens.

(R.Viotti & V.Kauppi, 1993, pp. ...
these obstacles by continually reinventing its angles through vigorous theorizing by several of

their leading exponents.
...
However, in their earlier general predictions, they had actually predicted the opposite. What

does this show? It goes on ...
in fact a “coalition of the willing “at all as the U.S. preceded to defy the United Nations

Council and attack the state ...
adapt to changes in responses to policy issues, and that no other actor can be on par to the

state in terms of success ra...
Bibliography

Brown, S. (1992). International Relations in a Changing Global System. Central Avenue: Westview
Press.

Bull...
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Is it plausible to argue that realism possesses an “eternal relevance” in explaining the conduct of nation states

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Is it plausible to argue that realism possesses an “eternal relevance” in explaining the conduct of nation states

  1. 1. NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE FACULTY OF ARTS AND SOCIAL SCIENCES AY 2008/2009, SEMESTER 1 PS2237: International Relations Is it plausible to argue that Realism possesses an “eternal relevance” in explaining the conduct of nation states? Done by: Azmi Suhaimi © 2010 by Azmi Suhaimi Page 1
  2. 2. Is it plausible to argue that Realism possesses an “eternal relevance” in explaining the conduct of nation states? Realism is arguably widely regarded to be the dominant theory in International Relations, due to its long tradition, and its ability to explain the advent of wars and crises which had been a regular feature over history. This aspect was most obvious in the interwar years of 1919-39, where “idealist” scholars failed to predict the advent of the Second World War, and which brought credence back to Realism. Hans J. Morgenthau espouses the defining core of Realism as holding the assumption that the state is the principal actor in international politics, with its interest defined in power, and with the awareness that the world environment is a perilous place. (Morgenthau, 1948, pp. 6-8) However, it is important to ask whether such assumptions by Realism, hold an “eternal relevance” in the contemporary context of International Relations, and whether the state-centric ideology of power still is gaining credence today? I seek to agree with the question posed, by asserting that Realism still does hold relevance in the conduct of nation states, but I would propose to qualify the statement, by weighing in the other threats to the conduct between nation states, proposing Realist theoretical solutions to mitigate such threats. Thus is my hypothesis, keeping in mind the absolute nature of the words “eternal relevance” in my argument. Realism is based on four key assumptions. Firstly, states are regarded as the principal actors and are the key units of analysis. International organizations such as Multinational organizations, terrorist groups are acknowledged, but they are always seen as being less important. (R.Viotti & V.Kauppi, 1993, p. 6) In Realism, states are also seen as the unitary actor, to be having one policy at one time on a particular issue, with the further assumption of them being the rational actor, by selecting the choices that maximizes utility given the situation. Such is particularly evident in the instances of game theory, where a zero-sum © 2010 by Azmi Suhaimi Page 2
  3. 3. game of relative gains is applied during instances of negotiations under a Realist lens. (R.Viotti & V.Kauppi, 1993, pp. 49-51) Finally, national security is key under the Realist ideology, where a realist focuses on actual or potential conflicts between state actors, and examines how international stability is attained, focussing most on the high politics of power and security instead of low politics of economic and social issues. However, a few questions have been brought up amongst the assumptions of Realism, for example, that of it being the rational actor in creating foreign policy. Was it in the Japanese decision to attack Pearl Harbour in 1941? Was it in American’s policy of invasion of Iraq? Realists have argued that these assumptions cannot be seen in definite lenses of it being right or wrong; it should be in fact seen as hypotheses to be useful in helping the theorist develop it and then test with the real world. (Morgenthau, 1948). Realism somewhat brings direction in maximizing the interests of the state in a hostile environment, and that could be the factor on why it has been a popular rhetoric to get by for policy makers (Keohane, 1986). Realism as a school of thought has evolved and encompassed a broad church of ideas, due to its continuity and evolving nature. Tim Dunne and Brian C. Schmidt have quoted the leading contemporary Realist, Robert Gilpin, as explaining the fact that the ideology is a group of laws which transgresses history and geopolitics, (Dunne & Schmidt, 2005, pp. 164- 165), thus explaining its enduring qualities in spite of changes which may have undermined its credibility as an effective tool politics. The idea of “eternal relevance” posed is rather apt in this sense as Realism recognizes that a theory without a means to change cannot effectively preserve itself. (Dunne & Schmidt, 2005, pp. 164-165). Such previous challenges to the “death of Realism’’ were sounded in various stages of the past, namely that of the interwar years as mentioned above, transnationalism of the 1970s, and more recently, the end of the Cold War of the 1990s. However, Realist thought has effectively managed to sidestep © 2010 by Azmi Suhaimi Page 3
  4. 4. these obstacles by continually reinventing its angles through vigorous theorizing by several of their leading exponents. One example is in trying to map out Realism into three historical periods: Classical Realism, Modern Realism and Neo-Realism. Classical realism widely regarded as starting through Thucydides (400-471 B.C.) and the Peloponesian War, faced enduring continuity right up to Machiavelli (1469-1527), where the logic of power politics still gained credence, and further more apparent in the times of World War 1 and 2, where wars after another gave the twentieth century realists conviction that humans were inherently aggressive and depended on vested interests to act. (Morgenthau, 1948) Over time, mid-twentieth century realists such as Carr modified some aspects of Realism by proposing that acting purely through vested interests and power would only be self-consuming, and advocated good leadership which was in line with the international order. (Carr, 1939, pp. 86-88) Therein also developed the question on whether international politics was a result of only human nature, which led to the theorizing of Neo-Realism, where the distribution of power in the international system and that of capabilities across units, decided the number of Great Powers at any one time. (Waltz, 1979) Structural realists regarded the bipolar system, like that of the U.S. and Soviet Union, during the Cold War, as the most stable distribution of power. Structural Realism was also touted to bring a more vigorous theoretical aspect of Realism, updating the school of thought in making it seem more scientific and allowing it more relevance. However, the Realists were dealt with a hammer blow to their argument when the Cold War collapsed from within, as the Soviet Union succumbed to its own nationalistic upheavals and not from any struggle for balance among states in the no longer bipolar world. How did they manage to manoeuvre along these supposed indications towards it losing relevance? Realists responded by arguing that a state in decline would try to reverse the process by stopping its external commitments. (Dunne & Schmidt, 2005, p. 177) © 2010 by Azmi Suhaimi Page 4
  5. 5. However, in their earlier general predictions, they had actually predicted the opposite. What does this show? It goes on to mean that Realists are quick to attach itself to any possible results and consequences and have the ability to explain it from their perspective. John Vasquez put it aptly when he critiqued: “The great virtue of realism is that it can explain almost any foreign policy event. Its great defect is that it tends to do this after the fact, rather than before”. (Vasquez, 1999, p. 324) Realism ideology evolved again in the 90s, with the emergence of the “Neoclassical realists” as described by Gideon Rose in 1998. This was made as an attempt to bring together classical realism factors of the unit with that of structural realism, with advocates like Fareed Zakaria and Walt. There is also the Rational choice realist, who feel the role of international institutions in providing a means to cooperative arrangement under certain conditions, without losing the key assumptions of Realism. (Dunne & Schmidt, 2005, p. 171) This particular group of Realists thus plugs the gap questioned by Liberalists over the relevance of international institutions and also accusations that Realists only tend to wave away the increasing importance of such. The advent of the September 11 attacks proved to be a turning point for Realist ideology, marking the end of the post-Cold war era. Realists had accused the Liberals of being wrong in their claim that war was going to be obsolete after the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, the war fought against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam’s Iraq was termed a war against “terrorism”. Yes, those were states attacked, but the new framework to attack was now a global network of Al Qaeda operatives, a transnational organization which does not present a conventional war to the Realist. Liberalists were proposing the rise of a pacifist “world order” by the coalition of the willing (Dunne & Schmidt, 2005, p. 178) but the brief multilateralism by the United States was only in short-term as the U.S. needed intelligence from other states to track and capture such terrorists. (Waltz K. , 2002) It was not © 2010 by Azmi Suhaimi Page 5
  6. 6. in fact a “coalition of the willing “at all as the U.S. preceded to defy the United Nations Council and attack the state of Iraq, with the United Kingdom being their only major diplomatic and military ally. Such actions were condemned even by Realists themselves, who advocated deterrence as per the Cold war as they felt that it was not of National Interest. Even 32 leading realist thinkers co-signed their affirmation in the New York Times of 2002 (Dunne & Schmidt, 2005, p. 178) This shows the flexibility of Realism in adapting to the changing facets of international politics as critiqued by Vasquez above, but in this case, their opposition towards the Iraq War is increasingly proving to be right. Thus, the realist camp has now increasingly managed to remain as a relevant school of thought in the contemporary framework of International Relations. What about globalization? Could it be a threat to the “eternal relevance” of realism? The emergence of transnational advocacy networks address issues that concern human rights such as that of child labour, which may go unnoticed and unchecked within the borders of a state and are not brought up by state-centric Realism. (Keck & Sikkink, 1998) Could their demands challenge the power and sovereignty of a state? The increasing numbers and influence of Non-state actors such as Amnesty International, Greenpeace and even individuals like Andrew Carnegie challenge the Realist assumption of States being the principal actors of international politics. More pertinently, the actions of Non-governmental organizations have advocated on issues of conscience and welfare that nation-states turn a blind eye on, even those of the environment. Who is to blame for the Tragedy of Commons? However, Realists beg to differ. Kenneth Waltz has labelled globalization as the “fad of the 1990s”, which has been overemphasized and that only involved much of the United States. He argued that globalization is essentially an American instrument for the global economy, and that the State had not lost its power, it has in fact expanded its functions to even a larger base. He states further that States change according the environment and also © 2010 by Azmi Suhaimi Page 6
  7. 7. adapt to changes in responses to policy issues, and that no other actor can be on par to the state in terms of success rate and capabilities. This is due to the argument that States themselves are capable in creating the institutions that make internal peace possible, and whether it succeeds or fails is due to State capabilities, not globalization. (Waltz K. , 1999) Despite the challenges to its “eternal relevance”, even by the appeal of globalization as well, Realists have gone about to modify and qualify their stand over time, but to still hold on to their core assumptions, as a proof of a certain resilience and “timeless” factor of its theories. This could be regarded as proof that Realism as a relevant school of thought in International Relations can still hold ground in determining the conduct within nation states. Even if the vision of a state-centric international arena is being weakened, Realists still do believe that it still holds the key to power and governance in the 21st century. To conclude, I seek to agree with the question posed, by asserting that Realism still does hold “Relevance” in the conduct of nation states, but I would propose to qualify the statement, by stating that it will hold “Eternal Relevance” as long as it continues on its aspect of resilience and as long as the state-centric assumption still holds. © 2010 by Azmi Suhaimi Page 7
  8. 8. Bibliography Brown, S. (1992). International Relations in a Changing Global System. Central Avenue: Westview Press. Bull, H. (1977). The Anarchical Society. Hong Kong: Macmillan. Carr, E. H. (1939). The Twenty Years' Crisis 1919-1939. London: Palgrave. Dunne, T., & Schmidt, B. C. (2005). Realism. In J. Baylis, & S. Smith, The Globalization of World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations (pp. 164-65). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Keck, M. E., & Sikkink, K. (1998). Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Keohane, R. (1986). Neo-Realism and its Critics. New York: Columbia University Press. Morgenthau, H. J. (1948). Politics Among Nations. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. R.Viotti, P., & V.Kauppi, M. (1993). International Relations Theory: Realism, Pluralism, Globalism. New York: Macmillan. Vasquez, J. A. (1999). The Power of Power Politics: From Classical Realism to Neotraditionalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Waltz, K. (1999). Globalization and Governance. PS: Political Science and Politics , 32 (4), 693-700. Waltz, K. (2002). The Continuity of International Politics. In K. Booth, & T. Dunne, Worlds in Collision: Terror and the Future of Global Order (p. 349). New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Waltz, K. (1979). The Theory of International Politics. Reading: Addison-Wesley. © 2010 by Azmi Suhaimi Page 8

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