‘Realism’ as a Theory of International Politics
- rhetorical victory: realism v. idealism?
Is Realism a …
- … philosophical approach to international history, e.g., Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian
- … normative theory, or a guide to statecraft, e.g., Machiavelli’s The Prince
- … empirical theory of international relations, which seeks to explain and predict behavior, e.g., Waltz’s Theory of International Politics
- Why is conflict more common in some periods than others?
- What are the causes of wars?
- Why do states fail to cooperate when both would gain?
- Are some states more aggressive than others for internal reasons, or in reaction to external conditions?
- When do states form alliances rather than arm internally?
- How dose the distribution of power affect IR?
- do some power distributions make the international system more war-prone?
Classical Realists (or pre-classical)
- writings are considered the basis of modern realism
- focus on fear, honor, and prestige
- Theorists: Thucydides, Machiavelli, Hobbes
Modern Realists (or classical)
- relied on psychology to motivate state action: e.g., ‘will to power’
- Focus on states’ interests & military power
- Theorists: R. Niebuhr, E. Carr, H. Morgenthau
- Practitioners: G. Kennan, H. Kissenger
Neorealists (structural realists)
- Rejected psychological motives in primary theorizing
- Theorizing based on analogies to micro-economics: states as firms in markets
- Seek to explain patterns of conflict and cooperation over time
- Not a theory of foreign policy, but international relations
- Focus on distribution of power
- Theorists: Waltz, Gilpin, Mearsheimer
- explaining foreign policy, not international relations
- return to focus on state’s motives
- Theorists: Schweller, Walt, Snyder, Taliaferro
Common Realist Assumptions
International order is anarchic (self-help)
- no legitimate authority exists above sovereign territorial states
- not simply the absence of government (de-centralized enforcement is possible) but absence of agreement on who or what should rule
States are the primary actors in international politics (statism)
- other actors (individuals, firms, organizations, social networks) are secondary
- populated territory gives states special coercive capabilities over other actors
- “groupness” exception (Gilpin, Walt, Williams)
Primacy of power and security in political life
- derive behaviors and conduct from this assumption
- other values jeopardized without security or ability to resist power of others
Uncertainty is pervasive
- knowledge about other states is limited
- what are their intentions?
- what are their capabilities?
States pursue power
- need coercive power to defend against other states
- debate over whether it is an end itself or a means to other ends (e.g., security, prestige)
Balancing prevails over bandwagoning
- states will arm or ally against stronger states to ‘balance’ their power
- states that ally or align themselves with the stronger state will ‘fall by the wayside’
- one exception: ‘bandwagoning for profit’ (Schweller)
States pursue relative gains over absolute gains
- gain are assessed comparatively: not how much do you have but how much more do you have compared to others
- absolute gains may be sacrificed to achieve relative gains
Conflict prevails over cooperation
- states do not maximize material welfare, so opportunities for gains via cooperation may be forgone
- cooperation is a puzzle to be explained
Competing Causal Mechanisms
expansionist states threaten or attack others; predatory states generate fear for security/survival
- how are predatory states identified?
Security Dilemma (SD):
efforts by one state to provide security for itself inadvertently decrease the security of others
- how to avoid exacerbating the SD?
Changes in the distribution and other features of power alter patterns of conflict and cooperation
- how is power measured?