International Relations is relatively a modern academic discipline with theories that serve the purpose of explaining the world and relationships between states. One of the main and most established of theses theories is known to us as Realism. Realism’s intellectual root can be traced back to two and a half centuries ago and the writings of Thucydides (471-400 B.C.). It, however, became a popular and established phenomenon within the field of International Relations in the post war era and after proving itself against the inter-war period writes which are labeled as “idealists”. Since then scholars and theorists have emerged within realism (from Waltz to Mearsheimer) whom have attempted to try and explain the world better than the rest while holding own to the core principles of the ancient traditions and thoughts of realism (Schmidt and Dunne, 2006. pp162). Hence, in this paper observation and criticism of the field of realism will mainly be focused on the core principles of this tradition rather than concentrating on a particular scholar. By doing so, the aim is to discredit the mythical and invented ideology that Realism is the theory of truth and accuracy. According to Realist theory, states are the principal actors in the study of international relations which have unitary and self-help behaviors. Such units operate in an environment where there is not any higher authority above that of sovereign state “anarchy”. The combination of the self- help policy in an anarchy leads to starvation for power to insure security of one’s state. In such Realist world which is dominated by greet and the inevitability of war as Hobbs puts it “all times, kings and persons of sovereign authority,…, are in continual jealousies, and in the state of posture of gladiators; having their weapons pointing, and their eyes fixed on one another…” (Stevens and Pettiford, 2001. pp53), ethics and universal moral principles are signs of foolishness.
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This paper will examine the affect of history on Realism and it becoming statesmen’s tool of analyzing the world and international relations, the role of state as the actor in international society and comparing it non-states agents, assessing ethic in Realism or lack of it in comparison to real world and finally assessing this old phenomenon on the modern world in which we function.
The origin of realism as a theory is associated with the writings of Thucydides on the war between Athens and Sparta. Thucydides was a general and participant in this war. This pattern tend to occur often when it comes to Realist theorist as both Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brezezinski held position in United State foreign policy establishment as well as the classical example; (The Prince) by Machiavelli was written for the prince. This in conjunction with the public confession of many rulers of the 19th and 20th century as being followers of the Realism school of thought (Schmidt and Dunne, 2006. pp162) leads to the belief that realism is the statesman’s’ tool to “perpetuate the very world they analyze” (Viotti and Kauppl, 1999. pp83). Of course, for realist the states like humans are self-seeking, egoist with prime objective of surviving. More importantly, the Realist believes evolves around the fact that international realm is to be described not changes. As Machiavelli put it in The Prince “…he who abandons what is done for what ought to be done, will rather learn to bring about his own ruin rather than his preservation. A man who whishes to make a profession of goodness in every thing must necessarily come to grief among so many who are not good” (Machiavelli, Chapter XI. Pp56).
Hence, by describing the world in such manner, realism becomes the justification tool in the hand of the policy makers when concerning war, power, and national interest and so on.
Of course, the believe of unchangeable international world as well as the fear of security has lead to lack of imagination and incentive to consider alternative form of international politics and indeed his has created the absence willingness to work towards them.
Another core principle of Realism is the essentiality of state and its role as the main actor of international politics theaters. Realist approach on what determines and define characteristic of state may vary from one branch to another. Traditional Realists associate states’ behavior to that of mankind, whereas the structural Realists attribute such behaviors the structures of the system in which states operate. This aside both agree on the unitary of state and it being the core actor in international politics and the essentiality of studying its behavior in order to be able to understand international relations. They both recognize the existence of other agents but insist on that their importance is little if any in understanding International Relation as an academic field and world politics as a whole. Astonishingly, the definition of state includes matters such as; defined territory, sovereign government and recognition. Recognition implies external sovereignty. Any entity lacking theses bases is not an essential entity in the International Relation according to Realism. The best way to question accuracy of this matter is through usage of empirical evidence. First of all, rise of terrorism as non-state organization in the world. Organization like al Qaeda has had an affect on the policy and behavior of states around the world and the aftermaths of the brutal attacks of 7/7 and 9/11 are evidential in both the UK and USA policies. Secondly, the affect Kurdish nation and Kurdish Peshmergas like PKK has on the Middle Ease policy shaping and consequently world politics. One can argue that PKK influence is equal if not higher than that of states like Latvia or Azerbaijan. Of course there are other example of trade organizations and economic entities, but realist may argue that these are essential of hegemony stability theory, but one reaches a dead end within Realism theory when it comes to explanation of the given examples. Thus, by underestimating non- state entities Realism has created a gap in it understanding of International Politics and Relations between states.
According to Realism states are characterized by unity which means; regardless of their cultural, geographical and capabilities, they follow the same pattern of behavior. One of which is survivor and pursuit national security. This is achieved through accumulation of power. There are two main branches of thought within international relations dealing matter of power; defensive and offensive realism. In spite of those two believes the main point that created another gap in the Realist school of thought is the inability to define and measure the concept in which they rely so much on. Morgenthau defines power as “Man’ control over the minds and actions of another man” (Morgenthau, 1948. pp26) . Realists contribute military capacity with power. However in recent times geographical, population, natural resources capabilities are often counted for. This, however, still leaves a vast gap in Realist understanding of power as it still does not explain certain events in international war history. For example the defeat of Egypt Gordon and Syrian coalition by Israel in 1976 despite the clear mass capability of the coalition in comparison to supposedly weaker Israel (Schmidt and Dunne, 2006. pp173) , or the inability of the USA to defeat Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s conflict (Stevens and Pettiford, 2001. pp59). Naturally, for Realist power accumulation, mainly in from of military, should be the main objective of a state in order to survive in a world which is typified by anarchy.
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This over emphasis on power greed combined with the believe of self-help had lead to Realist either ignoring areas in which such case is not applicable or striving to somehow fit it in with their ideas of power politics. Matter like humanitarian and governmental aids for the Horicon survivors and the foreign policy of the United States and many other states around the globe regarding the war on terror where the moral responsibility of universalised sentiment has risen above national interest (Schmidt and Dunne, 2006. pp179). in spite of all the obvious examples of how even in world dominated by fear and greed there are examples of international values, Realist insist on applying Melian Dialogue principle of “the strong do what they have the power to do and the weak accept what they have to accept” (Schmidt and Dunne, 2006. pp169).
This brings the question ethic and value into mind. Does the concept of survivor of the fittest can be applicable in a modern world of liberal ideology? According to realism, state and d ethical conduct are divorced from each other. To make the matter seem more intellectual and less unkind the notion of dual moral standard has been used. This simple implied “one moral standard for individual citizen living inside the state and a different standard for state in it external relations with other state”(Schmidt and Dunne, 2006. pp163). Realism provides leaders and policy makers with a different concept of moral obligation; safeguarding the state for which they are responsible and the community it envelops. This concept implies state should not under any circumstances should comment or get involved in domestic politics of any other state as doing so will question the matter of sovereignty. Therefore, state leaders should strip themselves from the ethical and moral obligation they have been taught and familiarized with since birth and adopt the new way of valuing morality. This however is not the case in reality. There have been many attempts around the world to tackle poverty through international organizational, war of terror, and the fight between good and evil.
Finally, one has to remember that Realism attempts to explain the world as it is rather than create the means of change within international relations. This explanatory method of International Relations is the oldest in comparison to rival, with texts from different periods in history, yet ironically Realism insists on the fact that man can not learn from history!
Despite its name, Realism has many flows and gaps in it and can not explain the world and its politics as accurately as may believe. The fact that Realism continues to find favour among policy makers and statesmen does not make more than a mere theory within International Relation. The fact that realism portraits the true and natural explanation of international society is rather misleading as it does excludes many essential topics such as study of non-state entities as well as the existence of other forces behind states’ behavior in addition to power and the ever lasting question of ethic and international values. Of course other challenges can be raised such as the questing of identity and immigration in the age of globalization or the failure of Realism to predict or even explain the end of the Cold War.
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