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Realism (Part 2)

Realism is an international relations theory that focuses on power and security. It has several core assumptions including that states are the main actors, their primary concern is survival in an anarchic system, and they will use whatever means necessary to ensure their security. There are different strands of realism including classical realism which emphasizes human nature and neo-realism which focuses more on the structure of the international system. Realism is criticized for being too state-centric and for justifying amoral actions in the name of survival. Overall, realism provides a lens for understanding international politics based on power dynamics between self-interested states.

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REALISM
BY
DR KNOCKS TAPIWA ZENGENI
Introduction
Learning objectives
Upon completion of this section, students
will be able to do the following:
• Explain the basic assumptions of realism,
including the causes of actors’ behavior
and their interests.
• Distinguish between different forms of
realism - classical & structural/neo
realism.
Background – Theory in IR
• The basic problem in trying to understand international
politics is that there is so much material to look at.
• As such it is difficult to know which things matter and which
do not.
• How for example, would you explain 9/11, or the 2003
invasion of Iraq?
• Why did Al Qaeda attack the US?
• Why did American & British leaders authorize the attack on
Saddam Hussein’s Iraq?
• As you know there are very different answers to questions
such as these and there seems no easy way of arriving at a
definite answer to them.
• Whenever individuals are faced with such a challenge they
have to resort to theories.
Background
• What is a theory? It is a grand formal model with hypotheses and
assumptions.
• It is some form of simplifying devise that allows you to decide which facts
matter and which do not.
• A good analogy is with sunglasses with different coloured lenses;
• Put on the red pair and the world looks red, put on the blue pair & the
world looks blue.
• The world is not any different, it just looks different. Well so, with
theories.
• No single theory reliably explains the wide range of international politics
• But one theoretical framework has historically held a central position in
the study of IR - REALISM.
• It is favoured by some IR scholars and vigorously challenged by others
Realism
– Realism
– Explains international relations in terms of power
– Foundation is principle of dominance
– Developed in reaction to a liberal tradition that realists called idealism
• Idealism emphasizes international law, morality, international organizations as
key influences on international events
• Human nature basically good
• International system is a community of states with the potential to work
together to overcome mutual problems.
• Idealists particularly active between World War I and World War II
– Long tradition of realism
• Sun Tzu
• Thucydides
• Machiavelli
• Hobbes
• Morgenthau
Elements of Realism
• Basic realist ideas and assumptions are:
• - a pessimistic view of human nature
• - a conviction that international relations are necessarily conflictual
& that international conflict are ultimately resolved by war.
• - a high regard for the values of national security and state survival.
• - a basic scepticism that there can be progress in international
politics that is comparable to that in domestic political life.
• According to Smith et al., (2012) the three core assumptions of
realism are groupism, egoism and power-centricism.
• These ideas & assumptions steer the thought of most leading realist
IR theorists
• Source: Jackson & Sorenson (2007,p. 60)

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Realism (Part 2)

  • 2. Introduction Learning objectives Upon completion of this section, students will be able to do the following: • Explain the basic assumptions of realism, including the causes of actors’ behavior and their interests. • Distinguish between different forms of realism - classical & structural/neo realism.
  • 3. Background – Theory in IR • The basic problem in trying to understand international politics is that there is so much material to look at. • As such it is difficult to know which things matter and which do not. • How for example, would you explain 9/11, or the 2003 invasion of Iraq? • Why did Al Qaeda attack the US? • Why did American & British leaders authorize the attack on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq? • As you know there are very different answers to questions such as these and there seems no easy way of arriving at a definite answer to them. • Whenever individuals are faced with such a challenge they have to resort to theories.
  • 4. Background • What is a theory? It is a grand formal model with hypotheses and assumptions. • It is some form of simplifying devise that allows you to decide which facts matter and which do not. • A good analogy is with sunglasses with different coloured lenses; • Put on the red pair and the world looks red, put on the blue pair & the world looks blue. • The world is not any different, it just looks different. Well so, with theories. • No single theory reliably explains the wide range of international politics • But one theoretical framework has historically held a central position in the study of IR - REALISM. • It is favoured by some IR scholars and vigorously challenged by others
  • 5. Realism – Realism – Explains international relations in terms of power – Foundation is principle of dominance – Developed in reaction to a liberal tradition that realists called idealism • Idealism emphasizes international law, morality, international organizations as key influences on international events • Human nature basically good • International system is a community of states with the potential to work together to overcome mutual problems. • Idealists particularly active between World War I and World War II – Long tradition of realism • Sun Tzu • Thucydides • Machiavelli • Hobbes • Morgenthau
  • 6. Elements of Realism • Basic realist ideas and assumptions are: • - a pessimistic view of human nature • - a conviction that international relations are necessarily conflictual & that international conflict are ultimately resolved by war. • - a high regard for the values of national security and state survival. • - a basic scepticism that there can be progress in international politics that is comparable to that in domestic political life. • According to Smith et al., (2012) the three core assumptions of realism are groupism, egoism and power-centricism. • These ideas & assumptions steer the thought of most leading realist IR theorists • Source: Jackson & Sorenson (2007,p. 60)
  • 7. Elements of Realism • For realists the main actors on the world stage are states, which are legally sovereign actors. • Other actors all have to work within the framework of inter-state relations (less important). • As for what propels states to act as they do, realists see human nature as key. • For realists, human nature is selfish - thus the desire to enjoy an advantage over others & to avoid domination by others is universal. • As a result, world politics represents a struggle for power between states each trying to maximise their national interests. • Such order as exists in world politics is the result of the workings of a mechanism known as the balance of power. • This obtains when states act to prevent any one state dominating. • Thus world politics is all about bargaining and alliances.
  • 8. Elements of Realism • Diplomacy is a key tool for balancing various national interests. • But the most important tool available for implementing states’ foreign policies is military force. • Since the international system is anarchical, world politics is a self-help system. • The ends can be achieved through cooperation, but the potential for conflict is ever present. • Neo-realism has emerged and emphasises the importance of the structure of the international political system in affecting the behavior of states e.g the Cold War led to certain rules of behavior.
  • 9. Classical Realism • Thucydides, Machiavelli, Hobbes, and indeed all classical realists, share the view of power politics. • For them, international politics is an arena of rivalry, conflict and war between states. • Classical realist theory is primarily a theory of survival. • Thucydides’, who lived in the era of ancient Greek city states, brand of realism was naturalist. • He believed that states were highly unequal in their powers & capabilities and as such he edged them to adapt in order to survive. • He professes the ethics of caution and prudence as well as foresight and good judgement if a country is to survive & prosper. • In his study of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC), he argues that justice in International relations is not about equal treatment but knowing your proper place. • Famous maxim: the strong do what they have the power to do and the weak accept what they have to accept… this is the safe rule- to stand up to one’s equal, to behave with deference to one’s superiors, and to treat one’s inferiors with moderation.
  • 10. Classical Realism • Machiavelli - The Prince – power & deception are the two essential means for the conduct of foreign policy. • Main responsibility of rulers is to seek the advantages and defend the interests of their states and thus ensure its survival. • Statesmen must be both lions (strong) and foxes (astute, cunning). • The overriding Machiavellian assumption is that the world is a dangerous place, but also an opportune place too. • The conduct of foreign policy is based on the intelligent calculation of one’s power and interests against those of rivals and competitors. • Moral ethics as the height of political irresponsibility. • The fundamental values are the security and survival of the state.
  • 11. Classical Realism • Machiavelli maxims: • Be aware of what is happening. Do not wait for things to happen. Anticipate the motives and actions of others. Do not wait for others to act. • The prudent state leader acts to ward off any threat posed by his or her neighbours. He or she should be prepared to engage in pre- emptive war. • The realist state leader is alert to opportunities in any political situation, and is prepared and equipped to exploit them. • As long as possible a prince (leader) should not stray from the good, but he should know how to enter into evil when necessity commands. • The ultimate skill of the state leader is to accept, and adapt to the changing power-configurations in world politics.
  • 12. Classical Realism • Thomas Hobbes – the state of nature is a permanent state of war of every man against every man. • Men escape/survive through the creation of the sovereign state – to protect them from both internal disorders and foreign enemies. • Men and women cooperate politically because of their fear of being harmed by neighbours. • The core value of Hobbessian realism is domestic peace. • International Security dilemma • No possibility of forming a world government. • According to Hobbes, states can contract treaties to govern their affairs. • Thus, the classical realism of Hobbes emphasises both military power & international law.
  • 13. Classical Realism • Summary of classical realism • First, they agree that the human condition is a condition of insecurity & conflict which must addressed and dealt with. • Second, they agree that there is a body of political knowledge to deal with the problem of security & survival. • Finally, they agree that there is no escape (or permanent solution) from this human condition (insecurity & conflict) which is permanent. • This pessimistic view is at the heart of the IR theory of the leading neo-classical realist of the 20th century, Hans J. Morgenthau.
  • 14. Neo-Classical Realism • Morgenthau (1948) Politics Among Nations • Men & women are by nature political animals – born to pursue power and enjoy the fruits of power (animus dominandi). • The ultimate political space within which security can be arranged and enjoyed is the sovereign state. • The human animus dominandi inevitably brings humanity into conflict (power politics). • Maxim: Politics is a struggle for power over men, and whatever its ultimate aim may be, power is its immediate goal and the modes of acquiring, maintaining and demonstrating it determine the techniques of political action. • Echoing Machiavelli & Hobbes, If people desire to enjoy a political space from foreign threats, they will have to mobilize and deploy their power for that purpose. • Separation of the public sphere of politics from private sphere (no room for morality) – e.g. spying, lying, cheating, stealing, conspiring may be immoral but necessary. • Sometimes it is necessary to trample on human rights for the sake of national interest - Plato’s noble lie. • The mechanisms we use to understand world politics is through the concept of interests, defined in terms of power.
  • 15. Neo-classical Realism • Six principles of Morgenthau’s political realism: • (1) politics is rooted in a permanent & unchanging human nature which is self- centred, self-regarding and self-interested. • (2) Politics is an autonomous sphere of action and cannot therefore be reduced to economics or to morals. Leaders guided by dictates of political wisdom. • (3) Self-interest is a basic fact of the human condition- states seek own security & survival. • (4) The ethics of politics is political or situational which is very different from private morality – thus leaders burdened by their responsibility to the people should strive not to do the best but, rather to do the best that circumstances on that particular time permit. • (5) Opposing crusading behavior (imposing ideologies & values) because it threatens international peace & security. • (6) Statecraft involves a profound awareness of human limitations and imperfections (pessimistic view of human nature) . • (Source: Jackson & Sorensen, 2007, p.70)
  • 16. Structural/Neo-Realism • Neorealism (structural realism) is a 1990s adaptation of realism – explains patterns of international events in terms of the system structure (the international distribution of power) rather than the internal makeup of individual states • This approach concurs that international politics is basically a struggle for power but challenges the view that this is a result of human nature. • Hence, it attributes security competition & inter-state conflict to the lack of an over-aching authority above states and the distribution of power in the international system (systemic factors). • Polarity – number of independent power centers in the system – Multipolar – Bipolar – Tripolar – Unipolar
  • 17. Structural/Neo-Realism Core assumptions • States and other actors interact in anarchic environment. • The structure of the system is a major determinant of actor behavior. • States are self-interest oriented, and an anarchic & competitive system pushes them to favor self-help over cooperative behavior. • States are rational actors, selecting strategies to maximize benefits and minimizes losses. • States see all other states as potential enemies & threats to their national security. • Rosseau – it is not human nature, but the anarchical system which foster jealousy, suspicion & insecurity.
  • 18. Structural Realism • Scholars in security studies present two forms of realism, ie, offensive & defensive realism. • Offensive realists highlight the importance of relative power. • Defensive realists recognizes the cost of war and assume that it usually emanates from irrational forces in a society. • They admit that expansionary states willing to use force make it impossible to live in a world without weapons. • Thus, cooperation is possible, but, more likely to succeed in relations with friendly states. • Waltz – anarchy leads to a logic of self-help in which states seek to maximize security (defensive realism). • According to this form of structural realism, the most stable distribution of power in the system is bipolarity. • The other camp (Mearsheimer)– the anarchical, self-help system forces states to maximize their relative power position (offensive realism – global hegemony).
  • 19. Structural/Neo-Realism • Kenneth Waltz’s structural realism has had a major impact on IR theory scholarship. • Waltz claims that the structure of the international system is the main factor in shaping the behavior of states. • Nevertheless, Waltz concurs with traditional realists that major powers still determine the nature of the international system. • Structural realists minimize the significance of national attributes as determinants of a state’s foreign policy. • Structural realists accept many assumptions of traditional realism. • They believe that force is a critical tool of statecraft and balance of power is still the central mechanism for order.
  • 20. Contemporary realists • New approaches since the end of the Cold War • Dissent from both defensive and offensive forms of structural realisms. • Neo-classical realists like Zakaria bring into the fold unit level variables such as how power is perceived & how leadership is exercised. • Places domestic politics (such as the perceptions of state leaders, state- society relations) as intervening variable between the distribution of power and foreign policy behavior. • Rational choice realism claim that institutions matter and seek to apply realism to all states. • Hegemonic stability theory – international economic order is dependent on the existence of a dominant state. • Neo-realism • Strategic realism – Scheling pays little attention to normative aspects of realism. • This form focuses on foreign policy decision making (game theory)
  • 21. Observations • There is a lack of consensus in the literature as to whether we can speak about realism as a single coherent theory. • The most important cleavage/difference is between those who grant theoretical primacy to human nature; • and those who advocate the importance of systemic factors (international anarchy & the distribution of power in the international system) • However all realists subscribe to statism, survival & self-help (Dunne & Schmidt in Smith et al 2005,p 172).
  • 22. Observations • Statism is the centerpiece of realism • This involves two claims (i) the state is the main actor & (ii) state sovereignty signifies the existence of an independent authority. • Key criticism: Statism is flawed • - on empirical grounds- there are challenges to state power from above & below eg the emergence of other actors. • - on normative grounds – the inability of sovereign states to respond to collective global problems such as famine, environmental degradation & human rights abuses.
  • 23. Observations • Survival- the primary objective of all states is survival • This is the supreme national interest • All other goals e.g economic prosperity (low politics) are secondary. • Actions of leaders must be judged according to the outcome rather than the means . • ethic of responsibility – positive outcomes may result from amoral actions- Nagasaki & Hiroshima bombing. • Criticism – there are no limits to what actions a state can take in the name of necessity.
  • 24. Observations • Self-help – no other state can be relied upon to guarantee your survival. • The structure of the international system does not permit friendship, trust & honour. • Only a perennial condition of uncertainty generated by the absence of a global government – security dilemma. • Co-existence is achieve through the maintenance of the balance of power. • Limited cooperation is possible in interactions where the realist state stands to gain more than other states. • Criticism: self-help is not an inevitable consequence of the absence of a world government • It is a logic that states have selected • There are also historical & contemporary examples where states have preferred collective security systems, or • Forms of regional security communities, in preference to self-help.
  • 25. Observations • Other criticisms • Realism is too narrowly focused- ignores important facets of international life. • It overlooks the cooperative strain in human nature. • States are not only in conflict, they also share common interests & observe common rules • Ignores other important actors eg human beings, NGOs etc • Plays down the influence of international law • There are also other values besides national interest.
  • 26. Observations – Rationality • Most realists (and many nonrealists) assume that those who wield power while engaging in statecraft behave as rational actors in their efforts to influence others. • Two implications of this view – Assumption of rationality implies that states and other international actors can identify their interests and put priorities on various interests. » Unitary actor (or strong leader) assumption » Assumption that the exercise of power attempts to advance the national interest – which is not always clear – Rationality implies that actors are able to perform a cost-benefit analysis – calculating the costs incurred by a possible action and the benefits it is likely to bring. » Not easy to tally intangible political benefits against tangible costs of a war » Costs and benefits can be miscalculated. » Human behavior and luck can be unpredictable.