Realism is a method to study and practice international politics. It is the oldest form of international relations in political history. It takes an approach where it emphasizes all world politics deals with the pursuit of power, and states fight for the control of this power. It makes the assumption that all states are only motivated by national interests, which mostly is applied and presented as moral concerns. Realists believe that power can be achieved through strength. They believe that states should go after interests which are only possible to achieve. They also imply that states should not go after the interests of its opponent as that will merely cause a war.
Thomas Hobbes, who lived between, 1588 and 1679, was known as Forefather of Realism, in his famous book, Leviathan, he says if any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless both cannot enjoy, they become enemies andendeavor to destroy or subdue one other. This is the basic idea around which Realism is based, that is, conflict is inevitable.
Hans Morgenthau was also one of the great thinkers of realism, he lived between 1904 and 1980, he was convinced that politics is essentially a struggle for power, and in his most famous book, Politics Among Nations, he explains this conviction by saying, “… the struggle for power is universal in time and space and is an undeniable fact of experience … Even though anthropologists have shown that certain primitive people seem to be free from desire for power, nobody has yet shown how their state of mind and the conditions under which they live can be recreated on a worldwide scale so as to eliminate the struggle for power from the international scene”. He also argued that if a state does not participate in a struggle, it would probably fall victim to the power of others. In short, he implied that states would have to participate to survive.
Realists believe that political struggle between states and people is inevitable because people have a dark side. Basically, they believe that once a state has preserved its political autonomy and its territorial integrity, the states national interests could take different forms, for example, obtaining more land, resources, expanding their political and economic systems into other areas. For realists however, the most important factor on which a state should base its national interests is power. This power can be in terms of economic, political, diplomatic or in terms of military capability. However, this does not mean that realists are murderers or Hitlers (excuse the expression!), as realists still always imply that the most important duty of a state is to take care of its citizens.
According to this political theory there is no authority over the state. It emphasizes that states have to rely on their own resources to protect themselves and to secure their interests.
Because the realists have a view to the world that is fairly pessimistic, they have an approach to world politics called realpolitik. An ideal of realpolitik is to secure your own countries interests first on the basis that other countries will not help you unless its in their own interests. Another methodology realists use is called Balance of Power, this idea basically implies that diplomats of states should try to achieve and maintain a equilibrium of power in order to prevent any other country or a coalition of countries from dominating. They believe this can be done in many ways including, building up one owns strength, by creating allies, or by dividing ones opponents. A third method used to try and maintain stability and peace is by being powerful! Realists are paranoid and believe it is necessary to constantly be armed and trigger-ready because the world is dangerous.
One of the other great contributors to realism was Morton Kaplan. In his book (System & Process In International Politics, 1957) he established the rules of the Balance of Power system :
1) All states act to increase capabilities but negotiate rather than fight.
2) All states fight rather than pass up an opportunity to increase their capabilities.
3) All states stop fighting rather than eliminate an essential state.
4) All states act to oppose any coalition or single state which tends to assume a position of predominance within the system.
5) All states act to constrain states who subscribe to supranational organizing principles.
6) All states permit defeated or constrained essential national states to re-enter the system as acceptable role partners or to pact to bring some previously inessential state within the essential state classification. Treat all essential states as acceptable role partners.
An example of realism : When the attacks on the World Trade Center occurred, there were three countries in the world, Pakistan, India and Saudi Arabia that recognized the Taliban. Within days of the attacks, when George Bush, said the words Either you are with us, or you are against us, these three countries within days stopped recognizing the Taliban and aligned themselves with the Unites States and with its allies so that they would be protected.
My personal opinion is that realism is merely used as a tool to promote the national interests of states. I feel that the balance of power system, is not feasible because even in the unlikely event of achieving it, it will only cause more tension, a good example of this would be arms race during the cold war. Also, what really makes a state powerful? Who decides that? While some countries would consider themselves powerful while they are not, and countries which are already powerful, might believe they are not and further develop their strength.
Realism plays an important part of politics today as it proves and gives us an explanation as to why there is so much political unrest in the world
Idealism is a form of international relations which developed sometime after World War 1. It is very contrasting to Realism, and it is based on morals and values. According to idealists, power is not the central theme. World War 1 left a lot the world destroyed, shocked and horrified. The balance of power that had been more or less been stable through the 19th century was now in shambles. That system had been violently upset by a war that lasted four years and left about nine million soldiers dead1 This made the world leaders realize that there was something fatally wrong with the balance of power system and a new system was required. These leaders came to be known as Idealists.
The idealists were behind the formation of League of Nations and other international organizations. Their basic idea was to form organizations of collective security where nations would promote peace and fight for peace together. The leaders believed that just like in the past, people would come together as one, to better their existence in a cooperative society, because as individuals they would not able to survive.
There was also a breed of idealists known as neoidealists, who gave special emphasis to building international organizations to promote peace.
This is the reason why they are also commonly known as liberal institutionalists. The idealists believe that foreign policy should be made taking into consideration ethics, morals and cooperation. Many of their opposition however believe when taking cooperation and morals into consideration weakens foreign policy and does not favour the countries national interests.
Idealists in short, do not believe that the power is the central theme.
They believe there is a space for morals in international relations and this should be implied in foreign policy.
They believe if morality can work in society then it can work on an international level.
They have the strong idea that peace can be achieved through law not force.
1- World Politics,3rd Edition, Bruce Russett & Harvey Starr, W.H.Freeman and Co., 1989
They promote international organizations, international laws as well as international treaties.
They believe in collective security. They dont believe in a system without sovereignty, the believe in a central authority.
Although idealists have been convinced till now with sovereignty, now the new breed of the idealists, the neoidealists, believe it is necessary to have some international organization intervene. This is were the classical idealists differ from the neoidealists, that is, how much intervention should there be
The classical idealists believe that states can learn to cooperate from pervious experiences without giving up their independence. They believe that economic independence and cultural information exchange is the way to achieve cooperation amongst nations. Meanwhile the neoidealists believe that countries will have to give up their sovereignty to some extent to achieve greater cooperation.
Also, the idealists spearheaded by the then, U.S. President Wilson Woodrow, supported the formation of the League of Nations, the United States never joined the organization. When World War II got over, it left many of the idealists shocked and disillusioned. The League of Nations had failed as an organization as democracy was taken over in Germany, Italy, Spain and other countries, also the member states did not come together in times of crises to fight their opposition. Therefore after World War II, people and states once again decided to come together. They decided on a new international peace organization, called the United Nations. This time the United States did join the organization.
My personal opinion is that, unfortunately, both the systems discussed so far, are extremes of each other. So, naturally if realism failed to work as a system, to me it seems pretty obvious that idealism would also not solve the worlds problems. Idealism, after all, as the name itself suggests is a vision than can probably only work in a story or in a perfect world! Idealism is a very straight, honest and truthful view of what should happen in international politics, should morals be taken into consideration in politics, yes, does idealism successfully do that, no, World War II is a good example.
In this form of international relations the economy plays an important role. According to Marxism economic forces combined with economic conditions decide who the major powers are in the world. In the recent past, Marxism was not too popular, then in the 1980s it became more relevant to countries, because the economies were playing a more important role and were being used to grade countries into how powerful they were.
The term Marxism, comes from the name of a German economist, Karl Marx. Marx was a writer, philosopher and economist, it was through his writings and ideas that Marxism was born. After his death in 1883, many schools of Marxism have been formed, which continue to remain influential, like Socialism, Communism and Structuralism. In his book, Thesis on Feuerbach, he said, The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, the point is to change it.
Structuralism, a branch of Marxism, was founded by Emmanuel Wallerstien. He divided the world into the rich and poor. He also further divided the world into Developed Countries, Underdeveloped Countries and Developing Countries. These terms are still very much in use and are relevant till today. But, due to the division and classifying, some conflicts have arisen. Therefore this theory is divided into two parts, the Marxist theories and the Dependica theories.
The Marxist theory was developed by Karl Marx. It emphasized on the theory of conflict. He stated that just like there was a continuous struggle between the rich and the poor classes, on the international level there was a continuous conflict between the richer developed countries and the poorer underdeveloped or developing countries.
Meanwhile, the Dependica theory implies that the richer countries makes use of the underdeveloped countries for the production of goods because of the cheap labour and resources and then sell these goods at higher prices elsewhere and even to these countries thus making the underdeveloped countries dependent.
In my opinion, Marxism seems to be the most relevant political theory, which revolves around a factor that is especially relevant today, and that it the economy. However, countries like Singapore and United Arab Emirates have jumped from their Third World Countries status to almost the level of First World Countries, within thirty to forty years, structuralism does not explain this, because says that third world countries continue to remain poor and First World Countries will remain rich.
To conclude, I personally feel that there is no single theory to explain every relevant factor and occurrence in todays world of politics. All of the theories tend to have explanations for one or more major incidents in history, like uprisings, wars and military actions, but leave no explanations for others. All these theories themselves are extremist views of international relations, they were developed or modified only when something drastic in the world occurred.
Despite of all the various political theories and analysis of international relations, it is still a phenomenon which is very unpredictable and situational. But in spite of this, these theories are still relevant and important because they help to establish a proper framework for analyzing international relations. I also feel that a combination of these theories would be more successful in understanding and implementing in international relations rather than focusing and practicing one of the theories.
International Politics on a World Stage John T. Rourke
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