An International Relations Theory

The Main Thrust

Realism is a view that the international realm is anarchic and consists of independent political units known as states; states are primary actors and possess some offensive military power which makes them ptenetially dangerous to each other. Therefore the focus of Realism is on the State and the security of it's members and citizens. The state will pursue power for their own national interest. This brings with it the necessity to compete with other states for power and security.

Classical Realism

Can also be considered as human realism. It also supports the view that ideological, as well as material factors can constitute power, so involves social underpinnings.

Classical Realism was first commentated on c.460-406bc by Thucydides, who wrote an account of the Peloponnesian war. He stated his belief that the endless struggle for power is part of human nature and should therefore be considered as the basis for International Relations.

Machiavelli, in 1532, said that principles are subordinated to policies and that the art of being a state leader is adapting to the ever changing power-political systems of the world.

Much later in 1948 Morgenthau commented that the laws which govern politics are created by human nature, agreeing with Thucydides.

Structural Realism

Removes the human nature elements as mentioned by classical realism, instead focusing on the idea that states need to survive in order to serve their purpose. This means therefore that the state will seek to gain a position relative in power to other states, resulting in conflict.

Rousseau mentioned c.1750 that it is the anarchical system itself which fosters fear, suspicion, jealousy and insecurity and not human nature.

Waltz reinforced this in 1979 by stating that anarchy leads to a logic of self-help in which states seek to maximize their own security. This was agreed with when Mearsheimer published 'Tragedy of Great Politics' in 2001.

Neoclassical Realism

Seeks out to elaborate on realism, by considering that the theory of structural realism is incomplete and needs to be supplemented with accounts of unit-variables. These include topics such as: how power is perceived and how leadership is exercised.

Key thinkers in neoclassical realism include: Schweller (1997) and Zakaria (1998).

Rational Choice Realism

Rational choice realists use advanced social science methodologies in order to test theories of realism, such as 'game theory', which is the scientific and mathematical study of strategic decision making.

Key thinkers include: Grieco (1993) and Krasner (1999).

Criticisms of The Theory

One of the main criticisms of realism is that it justifies military escalation and conflict, since there is no higher authority than the state. For this reason it can be considered that state security is responsible for most war and conflict, which it could be argued has never been proven.

Another criticism is that the obsession with power and security of the state is mostly due to the male dominance in politics, as argued by feminist commentators, who believe that aggression and power seeking behavior is a masculine personality trait.

Contemporary Application of The Theory

The Arab Spring, a series of violent and non-violent protests which began in the Arab world in Dec 2010, could be argued to be a depiction of realism in action. Whether you argue that the human nature elements of classical realism or the anarchic self help ideals of structural realism were being acted upon, many rulers have been forced from power and many civil uprisings have resulted.