Kenneth waltz realism and international politics pdf

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There are many different types of realist theory. Though many of the realist ideas came from the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, and E. The key concepts found in realist theory are anarchy, the balance of power, and the national interest. Snyder provides the most basic overview of the three major branches of international relations IR theory—realism, liberalism, and constructivism—and is thus the best choice for a quick overview of realist theory. Elman and Jensen is a compilation of realist texts and is an outstanding source for an almost comprehensive overview of realist theory in only pages.

Introducing Realism in International Relations Theory

Download your free copy here. In the discipline of International Relations IR , realism is a school of thought that emphasises the competitive and conflictual side of international relations. However, when looking back from a contemporary vantage point, theorists detected many similarities in the thought patterns and behaviours of the ancient world and the modern world.

They then drew on his writings, and that of others, to lend weight to the idea that there was a timeless theory spanning all recorded human history. Other bodies exist, such as individuals and organisations, but their power is limited. National interests, especially in times of war, lead the state to speak and act with one voice.

Third, decision-makers are rational actors in the sense that rational decision-making leads to the pursuit of the national interest. Here, taking actions that would make your state weak or vulnerable would not be rational. Finally, states live in a context of anarchy — that is, in the absence of anyone being in charge internationally. Within our own states we typically have police forces, militaries, courts and so on.

Therefore, states can ultimately only rely on themselves. As realism frequently draws on examples from the past, there is a great deal of emphasis on the idea that humans are essentially held hostage to repetitive patterns of behaviour determined by their nature.

Central to that assumption is the view that human beings are egoistic and desire power. Realists believe that our selfishness, our appetite for power and our inability to trust others leads to predictable outcomes. Perhaps this is why war has been so common throughout recorded history. Since individuals are organised into states, human nature impacts on state behaviour.

And in his time, leaders were usually male, which also influences the realist account of politics. In order to successfully perform this task, the leader needs to be alert and cope effectively with internal as well as external threats to his rule; he needs to be a lion and a fox. Power the Lion and deception the Fox are crucial tools for the conduct of foreign policy. In the aftermath of the Second World War, Hans Morgenthau sought to develop a comprehensive international theory as he believed that politics, like society in general, is governed by laws that have roots in human nature.

His concern was to clarify the relationship between interests and morality in international politics, and his work drew heavily on the insights of historical figures such as Thucydides and Machiavelli. In contrast to more optimistically minded idealists who expected international tensions to be resolved through open negotiations marked by goodwill, Morgenthau set out an approach that emphasised power over morality.

Indeed, morality was portrayed as some- thing that should be avoided in policymaking. The thinking is that policies based on morality or idealism can lead to weakness — and possibly the destruction or domination of a state by a competitor. In Theory of International Politics , Kenneth Waltz modernised IR theory by moving realism away from its unprovable albeit persuasive assumptions about human nature.

First, all states are constrained by existing in an international anarchic system this is the structure. Second, any course of action they pursue is based on their relative power when measured against other states.

So, Waltz offered a version of realism that recommended that theorists examine the characteristics of the international system for answers rather than delve into flaws in human nature.

In doing so, he sparked a new era in IR theory that attempted to use social scientific methods rather than political theory or philosophical methods. Ideas like human nature are assumptions based on certain philosophical views that cannot be measured in the same way. Realists believe that their theory most closely describes the image of world politics held by practitioners of statecraft.

By assuming the uncooperative and egoistic nature of humankind and the absence of hierarchy in the state system, realists encourage leaders to act in ways based on suspicion, power and force.

Realism can thus be seen as a self-fulfilling prophecy. More directly, realism is often criticised as excessively pessimistic, since it sees the confrontational nature of the international system as inevitable. However, according to realists, leaders are faced with endless constraints and few opportunities for cooperation.

Thus, they can do little to escape the reality of power politics. The realist account of international relations stresses that the possibility of peaceful change, or in fact any type of change, is limited. For a leader to rely on such an idealistic outcome would be folly. Perhaps because it is designed to explain repetition and a timeless pattern of behaviour, realism was not able to predict or explain a major recent transformation of the international system: the end of the Cold War between the United States of America US and the Soviet Union in Realists are also accused of focusing too much on the state as a solid unit, ultimately overlooking other actors and forces within the state and also ignoring international issues not directly connected to the survival of the state.

For example, the Cold War ended because ordinary citizens in Soviet-controlled nations in Eastern Europe decided to rebel against existing power structures. This is due to the state-centred nature of the thinking that realism is built upon.

It views states as solid pool balls bouncing around a table — never stopping to look inside each pool ball to see what it comprises and why it moves the way it does. Realists recognise the importance of these criticisms, but tend to see events such as the collapse of the Soviet Union as exceptions to the normal pattern of things. This describes a situation in which states are continuously making choices to increase their own capabilities while undermining the capabilities of others.

If a state attempts to push its luck and grow too much, like Nazi Germany in the s, it will trigger a war because other states will form an alliance to try to defeat it — that is, restore a balance. This balance of power system is one of the reasons why international relations is anarchic. No single state has been able to become a global power and unite the world under its direct rule.

Hence, realism talks frequently about the importance of flexible alliances as a way of ensuring survival. This may help to explain why the US and the Soviet Union were allied during the Second World War — : they both saw a similar threat from a rising Germany and sought to balance it.

Yet within a couple of years of the war ending, the nations had become bitter enemies and the balance of power started to shift again as new alliances were formed during what became known as the Cold War — While realists describe the balance of power as a prudent strategy to manage an insecure world, critics see it as a way of legitimising war and aggression.

Despite these criticisms, realism remains central within the field of IR theory, with most other theories concerned at least in part with critiquing it. For that reason, it would be inappropriate to write a textbook on IR theory without covering realism in the first chapter. In addition, realism continues to offer many important insights about the world of policymaking due to its history of offering tools of statecraft to policymakers.

In June , the group published a document where it claimed to have traced the lineage of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, back to the prophet Muhammad. As caliph, al-Baghdadi demanded the allegiance of devout Muslims worldwide and the group and its supporters set about conducting a range of extreme and barbaric acts. Many of these were targeted at cities in Western nations such as Melbourne, Manchester and Paris — which has led to the issue becoming a global one.

Ultimately, the intent is to create an Islamic State or Caliphate in geopolitical, cultural and political terms and to deter via the use of terrorism and extreme actions Western or regional powers from interfering with this process.

The major part of efforts to fight the Islamic State group has comprised airstrikes against its positions, combined with other military strategies such as using allied local forces to retake territory most notably in Iraq. This suggests that war is considered the most effective method of counterbalancing the increasing power of terrorism in the Middle East and neutralising the threat that the Islamic State group poses not only to Western states but also to states in the region.

So, while transnational terrorism, such as that practised by the Islamic State group, is a relatively new threat in international relations, states have relied on old strategies consistent with realism to deal with it. States ultimately count on self-help for guaranteeing their own security. Within this context, realists have two main strategies for managing insecurity: the balance of power and deterrence. The balance of power relies on strategic, flexible alliances, while deterrence relies on the threat or the use of significant force.

Both are in evidence in this case. First, the loose coalition of states that attacked the Islamic State group — states such as the US, Russia and France — relied on various fair-weather alliances with regional powers such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran. However, the rational actor approach presupposes that the enemy — even if a terrorist group — is also a rational actor who would choose a course of action in which the benefits outweigh the risks.

Via this point, we can see that while the actions of a terrorist group might appear irrational, they can be interpreted otherwise. From a realist perspective, the Islamic State group, by spreading terror, is using the limited means at its disposal to counterbalance Western influence in Iraq and Syria. First, it would contribute to fuelling anti-Western sentiment throughout the Middle East as local populations become the target of foreign aggression.

It is for reasons such as those unpacked in this case, in regions that are as complex as the Middle East, that realists recommend extreme caution regarding when and where a state uses its military power. It is easy when viewing realism to see it as a warmongering theory. For example, on reading the first half of the paragraph above you might feel that realism would support an attack on the Islamic State group.

But when you read the second half of the paragraph you will find that the same theory recommends extreme caution. The key point in understanding realism is that it is a theory that argues that unsavoury actions like war are necessary tools of statecraft in an imperfect world and leaders must use them when it is in the national interest.

This is wholly rational in a world where the survival of the state is pre-eminent. That being said, a leader must be extremely cautious when deciding where and when to use military power.

It is worth noting that the US invasion of Iraq in , undertaken as part of the Global War on Terror, was opposed by most leading realists as a misuse of power that would not serve US national interests. This was due to the possibility that the disproportionate use of US military force would cause blowback and resentment in the region.

Indeed, in this case, realism yielded strong results as a tool of analysis, as the rise of the Islamic State group in the years after the Iraq invasion demonstrated. Realism is a theory that claims to explain the reality of international politics. The dominance of realism has generated a significant strand of literature criticising its main tenets.

However, despite the value of the criticisms, which will be explored in the rest of this book, realism continues to provide valuable insights and remains an important analytical tool for every student of International Relations. Find out more about this, and many other, International Relations theories with a range of multimedia resources compiled by E-IR.

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Political Realism in International Relations

In the discipline of international relations there are contending general theories or theoretical perspectives. Realism, also known as political realism, is a view of international politics that stresses its competitive and conflictual side. It is usually contrasted with idealism or liberalism, which tends to emphasize cooperation. Realists consider the principal actors in the international arena to be states, which are concerned with their own security, act in pursuit of their own national interests, and struggle for power. National politics is the realm of authority and law, whereas international politics, they sometimes claim, is a sphere without justice, characterized by active or potential conflict among states. Not all realists, however, deny the presence of ethics in international relations.

Realism (international relations)

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Kenneth Waltz

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Realism is one of the dominant schools of thought in international relations theory , theoretically formalising the Realpolitik statesmanship of early modern Europe. Although a highly diverse body of thought, it is unified by the belief that world politics is always and necessarily a field of conflict among actors pursuing power. The theories of realism are contrasted by the cooperative ideals of liberalism. Realists can be divided into three classes based on their view of the essential causes of interstate conflict. Classical realists believe it follows from human nature; neorealists attribute it to the dynamics of the anarchic state system; neoclassical realists believe it results from both, in combination with domestic politics. Neorealists are also divided between defensive and offensive realism. Realists trace the history of their ideas back through classical antiquity , beginning with Thucydides.


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