Essays academic service


A study of international politics with the use of the realism theory

Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited. They disagree on the exact meaning of power and on how and to what extent politics is likely to influence policy. But they all find that power has a strong materialist component and that the influence of domestic politics on foreign policy is likely to vary with security challenges stemming from the external environment. And the nature of the strategic environment, most importantly whether the security and survival of the state is under immediate threat, is likely to influence the relative weight of domestic influences on foreign policy.

In sum, great powers enjoy a bigger external action space in their foreign policies than weaker states, and secure states enjoy a bigger external action space in their foreign policies than insecure states. Realism is a top-down approach to explaining foreign policy.

Realists begin from the anarchic structure of the international system. They argue that the absence of a legitimate monopoly of power in the international system create a strong incentive for states to focus on survival as their primary goal and self-help as the most important means to achieving this goal.

These forms are shaped by mechanisms of socialization and competition in the international system and systemic incentives are filtered through the perceptions of foreign policy decision makers and domestic institutions enabling and restraining the ability of decision makers to respond to external incentives. Neoclassical realists combine these factors in order to explain specific foreign policies. Offensive realists and defensive realists focus on the effects of structure on foreign policy, but with contrasting assumptions about the typical behavior of states: In addition to being an analytical approach for explaining foreign policy, realists often serve as foreign policy advisors or act in the function of public intellectuals problematizing and criticizing foreign policy.

This illustrates the potential for realism as an analytical, problem-solving and critical approach to foreign policy analysis. However, it also shows the strains within realism between ambitions of creating general theories, explaining particular foreign policies, and advising on how to make prudent foreign policy decisions.

By itself, power politics does not make foreign policy different from other policy areas. Realists would tend to agree with Harold Lasswell that politics is fundamentally a struggle on who gets what, when, and how Lasswell, 1950 and that struggle for power among rival groups is a fundamental and endemic feature of human life Gilpin, 1996p. However, realists argue that the conditions for power politics are different in international politics and therefore also in the conduct of foreign policy from domestic politics; this is because of the absence of a legitimate monopoly of violence.

As noted by Joseph Grieco: Or in the words of John Mearsheimer: The absence of a central authority that could protect states against each other leads every state to focus primarily on its own security and survival, and, in particular, how it might best protect itself from the attack of other states. When every state ultimately depends on itself to take care of its own security, it worries about its relative power vis-a-vis other states. Simply put, they cannot afford to base their foreign policy on ideology or culture: For this reason, realism is a top-down approach for understanding foreign policy.

If we are to explain foreign policy, we need to understand the international conditions for foreign policy making. There seems to be a built-in contradiction in the realist view of foreign policy. On the a study of international politics with the use of the realism theory hand, realists tend to view foreign policy as extremely important, as it is intrinsically linked to the security and survival of the state.

Realism in Foreign Policy Analysis

Thus, bad foreign policy choices may have fatal consequences not only for the foreign policy decision maker but for the state he or she represents and its citizens. Then again, the scope for foreign policy action is limited in a realist world. Power politics prevail, and a state attempting to base its own foreign policy on any other type of calculations is likely to be punished. Thus, the foreign policy decision maker is left to decipher the signals from international politics in order to defend the interests of the state rather than pursue the greater good.

To the realist this is not a contradiction built into realist thinking about foreign policy but a consequence of the nature of international relations. Intentions do not always correspond with outcomes in an anarchic world, where there is plenty of room for misperception and the abuse of power Spirtas, 1996.

In contrast, whereas structural realists run the risk of a somewhat mechanical analysis of the policy consequences of variations in power distribution in the anarchic international system, classical realists and increasingly neoclassical realists acknowledge the imperfect and sometimes intangible complexity of navigating a world of limited information, inadequate resources, and imperfect moral choices that is the everyday life of the foreign policy decision maker.

The rest of this article explores and explains realism in foreign policy analysis in two steps. First, the article explores the history of realist thinking on foreign policy over the course of history. The aim is to identify a number of recurrent themes in realist engagement practical and analytical with foreign policy and identify shared characteristics in how realists think about foreign policy.

Secondly, the logic of realism is explored. What do different types of realism tell us about foreign policy? What are the opportunities for explaining foreign policy by use of the theoretical tools offered by realism? What are the challenges to these ways of understanding foreign policy, and which analytical strategies may realists use to enhance their understanding of foreign policy?

Exploring the History of Realism in Foreign Policy The history of realism is also a history of analyzing, critiquing, and advising foreign policy. Understood in this way, the group of realist foreign policy thinkers is highly diverse and includes historians, policymakers, and political thinkers.

Although it is impossible to do justice to these scholars and practitioners as individual thinkers and doers, it is possible to distill from the rich tradition of realism a number of recurrent themes and challenges. In the work of Thucydides can be found some of the enduring characteristics of realist foreign policy analysis: Machiavelli justified the use of amoral and immoral means to achieve the goals of the prince e.

In that sense, The Prince is as much an exercise in political theory as it is a work on foreign policymaking and diplomacy. Self-perseverance is a goal worth pursuing for its own sake, because it serves as the necessary foundation for pursuing any other goals. However, in order to pursue this substantive goal in foreign policy, the decision maker must pursue a processual goal: Thus, the good foreign policymaker is the anti-idealist attempting to view the world as it is in order to rationally and cool-headedly employ the means necessary to preserve the political community he is the leader of.

However, from the 19th century as the modern European states system was taking form and expanding so did the practice and thinking behind realpolitik as a both a descriptive and prescriptive theory symbolized by the minister-president of Prussia, Otto von Bismarck. However, it was closely affiliated with the assertion by his fellow Prussian and a veteran general of the Napoleonic wars, Carl von Clausewitz, who a few years earlier had stressed the close relationship between foreign policy and military power in On War: Realism as Road to Peace and Stability If Bismarckian realism was a reaction against the liberal revolutions of the mid-19th century then 20th-century realist thinking about foreign policy may be understood as the reaction against the reaction.

Realists such as E. However, in the context of the two world wars followed by the Cold War, they were concerned to avoid the trap of disillusionment and inaction. As noted by E.

Moreover, to understand foreign policy, we must acknowledge the insights of the expert as well as those of the bureaucrat: To Hans Morgenthau, these opportunities and challenges were essentially political in nature, and the prudent response was a contextualized choice of the lesser evil Morgenthau, 1946. The limited action space left the political decision makers to navigate according to context and capability Molloy, 2009.

Kennan, inspired the Truman Doctrine and U. In the following decades, Kennan continued to influence the debate on U. Thomas Schelling, a Nobel-winning economist, and another veteran of the Truman administration, came to influence both international relations game theory and realism through his work on nuclear deterrence, which showed that the United States and the Soviet Union had a fundamental interest in avoiding nuclear war during the Cold War Schelling, 1960.

Henry Kissinger, a third Cold War realist, served as the national security advisor and secretary of state during the Nixon and Ford administrations. Kissinger played a decisive role in U. He also supported CIA involvement in Chile, working against the democratically elected government of pro-Cuban Salvador Allende, because he thought it was in the U.

While Kennan was a historian and Schelling was an economist, Kissinger was a political scientist with a PhD from Harvard University on 19th-century European diplomacy Kissinger, 1957.

Recurrent Themes and Developments in Realist Foreign Policy Thinking This brief history of realist thinking and practice of foreign policy illustrates how realism has been used as the point of departure for analysis, conduct, and advice, as well as a critique of foreign policy.

It allows for identification of five recurrent concerns in realist engagements with foreign policy. Over the centuries, the focus of the prescriptions seems to have shifted from a primary concern with winning wars to a primary concern with avoiding wars: President Woodrow Wilson in order to avoid the horrors of the war.

Second, realists emphasize the importance of international conditions for national foreign policymaking. It is a top-down approach for understanding foreign policy and claims that to understand foreign policy, one must begin with an understanding of the most fundamental characteristics of the international realm. Third, from this follows a strong universalist claim about the nature of foreign policy and our ability to use realism as a tool to understand it: A realist starting point may be employed to understand, advise, conduct, and criticize foreign policy across time and space.

These critiques levied against U. Realists were also critical of the continuance of U. Over time there seems to have been a long-term trend from realists acting mainly as advisors to foreign policymakers to realists acting increasingly as critics of foreign policy.

  1. The aim is to identify a number of recurrent themes in realist engagement practical and analytical with foreign policy and identify shared characteristics in how realists think about foreign policy.
  2. Their theories allow us to make assumptions about the behavior of states and the outcome of international politics.
  3. Over the centuries, the focus of the prescriptions seems to have shifted from a primary concern with winning wars to a primary concern with avoiding wars.
  4. Here the scholar and the charlatan part company.
  5. Realist foreign policy is not bound by ideology.

One reason, pointed out by George Kennan, is the democratization—or less positively—the politicization of foreign policy. Even at the height of the Cold War public opinion played an increasingly significant role in foreign policymaking.

After the end of the Cold War, the relaxing of structural constraints gave many states, in particular in Europe and North America, the opportunity to pursue a foreign policy that was more directed by choice and domestic politics than necessity, which moved mainstream foreign policy further away from the realist axiom of prudently pursuing the national interest although this trend seems to have reversed since the mid-2000s as a consequence of a more offensive Russian foreign policy and continued conflict in the Middle East.

Finally, as pointed out by Barry Buzan, realism offers an ideologically pluralist approach to understanding international relations Buzan, 1996. Realist foreign policy is not bound by ideology. It provides a method rather than a route to a substantive end goal e. Seeking to distance themselves with varying degrees of success from specific ideas religious or secular about how the world ought to be, realists claim to see the world as it really is.

Whether or not we agree on how successful an approach it is, realism does provide an intersectional meeting point for different ideologies e. Carr are all realists.

Anders Wivel

However, while ideologically pluralist, realism is not necessarily ideologically or culturally neutral. The logic of realpolitik is closely tied to the development of the European states system.

By emphasizing the recurring patterns of international relations over the centuries, realism leaves only limited room for foreign policies aiming to transform or transcend international relations Gilpin, 1981p. For this reason, the realist analysis of foreign policy and the realist conduct of foreign policy run a high risk of being stuck in what Robert Cox termed problem solving: Exploring the Logic of Realism in Foreign Policy All realists are concerned with foreign policy, but not all realists include a foreign policy dimension in their theory.

  • Therefore, we need to add perception of intent, the offense-defense balance, and geographic proximity to relative material power in order to understand the threat calculations of states;
  • There can be no a priori determination where a satisfactory explanation on the ladder is achieved, as this is an empirical question;
  • This understanding of the international realm has important consequences for how they understand foreign policy;
  • Most importantly, realists tend to understand foreign policy in terms of self-help policies aimed at maximizing national security;
  • What is the Contribution of Structural Realism?
  • Like structural realist balance of power theory, balance of threat theory argues that the strategic choices of states are mainly conditioned upon the uncertainty about the capabilities and intentions of other actors created by the anarchic structure of the international system.

Waltz regards the two domains as separate spheres of policymaking with different dynamics. Whereas most realists equate foreign policy with the external behavior of states, Kenneth Waltz understands foreign policy analysis as linked to the analysis of state goals Waltz, 1996. Realists understand international politics as a struggle for power in international anarchy.

This understanding of the international realm has important consequences for how they understand foreign policy. Most importantly, realists tend to understand foreign policy in terms of self-help policies aimed at maximizing national security.

Most realist analyses of foreign policy start from a structural realist understanding of the international system Rathbun, 2008but they not only vary in how they combine different levels of explanation but also in how they combine their starting point in material power capabilities with ideational factors e.

Therefore, the following discussion proceeds in two main steps. Firstly, there is the most parsimonious structural realist logics of foreign policy, focusing almost exclusively on incentives for particular foreign policies created by anarchy and polarity. From there the discussion moves to a discussion of how neoclassical realists seek to analyze the transmission of these systemic logics and incentives into foreign policy through a transmission belt of domestic political factors.