Realist Theory


Sovereign States are the main actors in International system, and they are the most influential when it comes to the International stage. States are majorly concerned about their security, territory expansion, order, justice, welfare, freedom and power. States has a function under a political theory, an ideology that analyse how States should run its relations with other States and principles to handling political situations. Also a State must be aware of its States actions and when a problem rises, it must use the best approach to resolving it. Realist share a view on International relations such as the causes of war and stability of peace, the structure of International system is regarded as a necessary factor to explanation of questions in International affairs. This essay advocates for the realist theory, as it’s an International relations theory focused on anarchy, State actors, rational actors and State’s survival and its best described as personal perspective on International relation.

Realist are of the notion that theories ought to consist of facts and giving meaning and sense to situations. The character of foreign policy can be seen through the political acts and the consequences of the acts. From this we can see the actions and objectives of statesmen, and consequences of their actions. Realist assumes that Statesmen actions are driven by their self-interest (power) and history has proven this assumption. Besides the theoretical element, a normative element is also considered. It shares the need for a theoretical understanding, to make the rational element of political reality obvious.

States are guided by national interest, although the interest might vary depending on the circumstances. “The State can be seen as a unitary actor. Because States problems are majorly defined by the nature of the international system, their actions are basically a responds to external rather than domestic political forces.”(Ole, 2006; P5).

In response to the suggestions that scholars should devise and test theories of foreign policy, Waltz writes that “there is a lot which is included in an analysis while very little is included in theories. He opined that “due to foreign policy which is driven by internal and external factors, it does not amount to such an autonomous realm, a truly theoretical explanation of it should not be strived for, rather a mere analyses should be considered and it may include a relevant factor to a particular case”(Walt, 1996. Pp54-55) In this light, an analysis of the strength and weakness of the realist theory using the case study approach. An analysis with the realist paradigm in the Middle East context which in my opinion is weaker than its counterparts. They control a good amount of the world energy both oil reserves and natural gas reserves according to a statistic review.

“Realists are of the view of coming up with direct answers to problems, they characterise the State as a government which defends its border, protects the citizens, enforce laws and make politics peaceful and totally different from the International politics”(Mearsheimer, 1995 P5). The supreme model of international relations for almost six decades has been Realism, because it provides a well structured understanding of the collapse of post-World War I international order in Europe and far East and also in World War II and the Cold War.

Classical realism on human nature has always had a pessimistic theory, self interest behavior are not limited to few leader and its very basic and also a core of a realist theory. Because human nature is constant and unavoidable in International relations and in order to avoid problems, modern realist have focused less on human nature instead on the structure of the system to understand the state behavior better. The lack of precision in which the classical realist use the concept of balance of power, power and national interest has been noted by critics. They noted a refutation between the perspective and central descriptive component of realism. Nations and nations leaders seem to act in the motion of interests in terms of power, while other Statesmen give recognition and consider the interests of other nations. Power in classical realism obviously plays a major role but the connection between political outcomes and relative power balances is less than fascinating, pointing out the need for enriched analyses with other variables . The difference between usable options and power as capabilities is very important in such a nuclear age, for example just like the Soviets learnt in Afghanistan and the United States discovery in Vietnam. September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on New York and Washington is much of an illustration of the lack of consistency between political impact and material capability.

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History and political science insight and evidence has critically being viewed by classical realist, the search for clarification has led modern realist to search for similarities and insights. The main focus is often economics, which modern realists have used different borrowed concept such as game theory, theories of firms and market, rational choice, bargaining theories and expected utility. The search for precision has brought up rich theories and models such as the game theory which Mortan Kaplan relates as types of international systems which includes- Unit-veto, tight bipolar, universal, balance of power, loose bipolar and hierarchical. Some other scholars have developed means of understanding international relations by good explanation of system level.

“Realism theory is not a clearly defined theory, scholars who have studied it differ in interpretation of the theory, some scholars have argues that it is formed within a general establishing state (Feruson and Mansbach, 1988; p79). While other would argue that it is a loose framework” (Rosenthal,1991; p7), One standing view of realists by commentators of international relations theory is that the realists are believers of state as the actor in international politics and they are much concerned of the balance of power in a state. The state act a certain way due to the character of people and this is closely related to the theory of Thucydides on human nature that speaks of egoism, power drive and self-interest. They desperately desire protection for themselves only excluding every other, only in cases where they are to gain from an inclusion. “This then creates a ground for the sate itself, making it a selfish state that seeks protection and assurance of survival for itself only at the cost of other state to fall, which is somehow also considered an achievement” (Heywood, 2011; p67).

According to Kenneth Waltz in his theory of international politics, the theory of war is also involved with the system level and not just the state attributes and theory of human nature. Waltz proceeded by agreeing that new beginnings brings in new concepts and he was of the motion that international system basic structure hasn’t change one bit, things are still the same, states as the main actor in world politics, Waltz believed that changes in the system that has taken place in history was as a result of nuclear weapon discovery. Some States changed in the security provision for themselves and including other States due to Nuclear weapons, the nuclear weapon somehow defined how power in States in terms of security, but still the anarchic structure of international political system has not being changed by nuclear weapons and it is this anarchical structure that makes Realism to be the superior theory of international relations.

Security competition between States has being mistaken to be an outdated notion, but this notion has been shattered by the Middle East interstate conflicts, terrorism, human right violation, religious fundamentalism and other enormity which has taken place. The anarchical situation happening in the Middle East is best described by Realism. Hence it has be proven by the conflict in Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and interstates conflicts in Africa that security competitions are not antiquated but alive.

Waltz theory was used to conclude on the characteristics of international relations, which includes some unclear theory about the contemporary international system such as system stability on anarchical character maintenance and no change in the number of major actors.

A theory of the foundation on the three main proposition to determine the structure of international relations was brought by Waltz due to the avoidance of reductionism. The first focus was to concentrate on how the system is ordered. The contemporary system is not hierarchical though it is different in many ways. The other main proposition is the behaviour of the state and the contemporary system and anarchic system are similar because the anarchical system is based on a sovereign state.

Realism is recognized to have little historical concept of States, Neo-realism main problem is to rely on a preoccupation of Great Power relation. It favours the powerful minority over the weak. While for Realism, the state is the main actor in the aspect of international politics. This seems to be an issue because the realists sees the state to be having a massive unchanging structure. This was certainly a problem for the Middle East because they are the outcome of foreign domination. Conceptualization of states is limited, as it takes account for no agency according to neorealist theory. Negative Internal factors regarding state behaviour is not considered. For example “the rejection of the impact to the pursuit towards Arabic Israeli peace by the Pan Arabism. Transnational Islamist politics was useful in helping to elaborate on the Iraq-Iran war adjustment of behaviour in religious aspects since the Iranian revolution”(Gause 1999).

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Realist theory has also being unable to explain and analyse conflict issues, the examination of the conflict in the Middle East has being contrary to the neo-realist unwarranted claim on the predominance of factors in elaborating on the behaviour of states. It is believed by Fred Halliday that neo-realism possess not a reasonable predictive capacity and even explanation to the management and reduction of Middle East conflicts. “The inability of these, results from the fact that conflicts are twisted complicated with state building and this forms a political communities that is not addressed by both theories”(Halliday 2005.)

“There has being serious theoretical criticism and accusations on realism from both scholars and others on the unimportance of its marginalizing of the world which it tried to systematize”(Burchill). The realities of present days has being brought to light the importance of realism. An analysis on International Relations theory has proven that realism for a fact has some weaknesses but still I root for the theory for bringing awareness and understanding of the time we live in and also the concept of realism has being relevance in the understanding of the society and the world at large, giving an idea of how to deal with situations at hand.

Realism has being very useful in dealing with difficult issues affecting the International community today. The balance of power concept gotten from the philosophy of power as a main factor of realism. For example, After the Franco-Prussian War, the world order progressed, which lead to a stronger Germany, The milestones that made a logic in the historical process was the Versailles-Washington world order which was after World War I and Yalta-Potsdam world order which was after World War 11.(Carr, 1995). The world has always had a problem of power struggle, the balancing of power and war . Meanwhile war has being a means of changing and shaping modern states.

Theorist and policy makers would prefer to believe that there is a way power can be balanced but the truth is power is far from being balanced. An evidence is the United States, as a super power, it has not being very productive in ensuring other nations have a genuine peaceful environment.

It is best for a state to preserve its balance of power instead of shifting it as a way of raising conflicts and instability. To some, it is believed that balance of power means resorting of war. States are suppose to get along and sort out their problems with the world but that is where the issue of competition comes in, National interest takes a better part of the situation and state find themselves in a competitive environment.(Buzan,1996). It is certain that every state or nation leader would want to put the interest, independence and survival of its citizen first as a primary factor and also the condition of its existence.

Realist theory has appeared to be a useful theory to states by fulfilling the interest of the nation, the theory has given an opportunity for a better understanding of the true human nature and shown things in their real nature. I would totally agree that realism to an extent isn’t perfect and cannot have solutions to all problems but still it is able to make contribution and understanding to world issues and challenges.

Realism is a vibrant theory, due to the use of it in present day IR and the role it plays in nation states, power, national interest, security, conflict and all. The weakness of the theory doesn’t it make it irrelevant, but it can be combined with other theories to make a better outstanding outcome.

It is clear that till present day, realism is still alive in so many aspects of international relations, such as in the political life of states, nations interest, sovereignty, war, conflict, security and power. Realism has served state as a point of understanding the world since it shows a good sign of useful thinking. It appears that realism has something valuable to offer to the world in describing it and it can either be accepted or disagreed with. For instance, most nation are going through some development changes, economic crisis which is affecting a lot of nations. State are by all means doing everything in their power to protect their interest and this may lead to some kind of consequences. There can be a rise of negative feelings between states due to national boundaries which could result to conflict. In cases like this, it might be useful to look at realism to get some answers or possible solutions to a situation like this.

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Waltz, Carr and Morgenthau have all done a good job for giving a clearer picture of what the world really is, rather than what is should be. The focus on the reality of the system has being a better move, rather than focusing on unrealistic political ideas. The theory provides a reasonable explanation to thing, thus it has being highly recognised and used in IR. “Realist are of the notion that practice creates theory and not theory creating practice”(Carr). They are of the believe that state have the privilege to use organizational forces such as military interventions, still there are still a level of terrorism in the world and state are the ones privilege to use organized forces then non-state actors. The fact that realism is only focused on its own core assumption and not studying other factors that affects international relations, this would lead it as the most used theory in IR that gives understanding to contemporary international affairs. Realism has served the political world very well , giving a foundation of how people conduct International Relations.

It is clear that realism is more than a theory and cannot be understood by the scientific explanation of international relations, Realist theory is one that relies on the political and historical conditions, the ethical standards and the importance in making political decisions was definitely judged. It also has being very useful in cautioning against moralism, legalism and progressivism and other that fail to view reality of State interest and power. Therefore realism is an essential tool for states, in protecting the interest of citizens, securing their safety, preventing of conflicts and war or anything that threatens the global peace.


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