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5.1] Realism Question Answers

Que. 1. Do you think there is one realism or many?

Realism is a dominant theory in international relations. However there is also a lot of variation in the theory of realism itself.
Generally realism is categorized in three categorized. Classical realism as found in works of Thucydides and revived by Hans Morgenthau in modern times. Neo Realism as proposed by Kenneth Waltz and John Mearsheimer and Neoclassical Realism as suggested by Randall Schewller and Farid Zakaria.
Classical Realism mainly centers around human nature, which it describes as essentially power seeking. This in turn affects the conduct of states. States are key (rather only) actors in international relations. States are motivated by survival. And there is no concept of ethics in international politics. In the words of Thucydides ‘Strong do what they can do and weak suffer what they must’.
Classical explanation was criticized in modern times as unscientific since it is based on human nature. And it was argued that there cannot be scientific understanding of human nature.
To nullify the criticism Kenneth Waltz proposed the theory of Structural realism (neo realism). It changes theory from unit level analysis (human centric) to structure level analysis. Waltz proposed that it is the structure of international politics (anarchy) which suggests that states have to go for self help. The states, then end up in acquiring power to ensure their security.
Slight modifications were made in Waltz’s theory by Mearsheimer. While Waltz proposes that states are security maximizers, Mearsheimer suggests that states are power maximizers. Power rather than security is the goal of states. Based on these arguments the realism of Waltz is called defensive realism while that proposed by Mearsheimer is called offensive realism.
There were more modifications made by scholars of neoclassical realism. In this doctrine unit level analysis was included along with structure level analysis. States, it explained can be either status quoist (security maximizer) or imperialist (power maximizer). Like Germany after 1930s was revisionist power while Germany after 2nd WW was more of a status quoist power.
Thus we find that there is a lot of variety in realism. However despite these differences, the basic tenets of realism i.e. Statism, Self-help and Survival remain same in all major theories.

2. Do you know more about international relations than an Athnenian student studying during Peloponnesian war?

Because of globalization we’ve more knowledge.
Systematics study of history have broadened our understanding. We have multiple examples to study validity of certain phenomenon/theory.
Even on everyday basis we get to know about world politics through digital and print media.
Because of democracy the conduct of foreign policies of nations is more transparent today than it ever was in the past.
The contemporary theories are result of intense debates and historical conditions for example neoclassical realism incorporates features of both classical and neorealism.

3. Do realist confuse the explanation of war and conflict for an explanation of why it occurs?

Why war occurs according to realists.
Struggle for power. Nations are power maximizers. Any emerging power is threat to their security e.g. Peloponnesian war, recent US-China trade war, USA’s sanctions on Russia to limit its economic strength.
To secure certain interest e.g. economic or energy/food security e.g. 2003 Iraq war was motivated to secure energy needs of USA.

However war and conflict can occur for various reasons. For example the 9/11 attack can also be considered as a war. It occurred primarily due to ideological reasons. The Islamic extremist wanted to challenge the hegemony of US culture and values. Further it was initiated by non-state actors instead of state actors. Thus it challenges the realist assumptions in regard to why war occurs and state as principle actor.
Realists also fail to explain many intra-state wars in many third world countries.
Thus we can assume that realism proposes certain reasons for war, but it fails to accommodate all the ground realities.

4. Is realism anything more than the ideology of powerful satisfied states?

While strong do what they can do, weak suffer what they must.
Realism has remained the dominant theory in international relations. However careful analysis of basic tenets of realism reveal how these are more favourable to strong countries than weak ones.
Realism is state centric. It assumes states as most important actor in international relations. The structure of international politics is anarchic and self-help is the only means of survival and security. Nations are either security or power maximizers etc. We can observe that these ideas do not include the concerns of small, weak states.
Realism justifies the actions of strong in suppressing the weak to increase its own security. The conception of justice is also affected by power calculations. Thus it reduces any scope for the development of small nations. The security of such small states is also questioned in such environment.
however realism does propose that smaller states can exert themselves in international environment by coming together to form coalitions e.g. ASEAN punches much weight in international economy.

5. How would a realist explain a war on terrorism?

For realist, states are primary actors. And self help is the way to ensure security of state.
The 1st question that arises in terrorist attacks is that these are not conducted by state actors. Terrorists are diffused among various states. Further the goals that these actors seek also do not adhere to realist assumption. Realists explain how states to war to increase its security or relative power. However terrorist seek ideological goals like challenging American hegemony.
The war on terror is justified in sense that it aims to increase state security. Further the terrorists do not act in vacuum but base themselves in certain state and obtain support from their. It may be active support like Pakistan or passive support by rogue state. In any case, they take shelter of state. Like Taliban in Afghanistan. Saddam Hussein in Iraq.  Thus war on terror war justified in sense that it increased US security.

6. Do West have to learn to be more realist, and not less, if its civilization is to survive in the twenty-first century?

Twenty-first century is posed to be a dynamic era. There is a serious challenge to US hegemony from rising China, centre of gravity is shifting from Atlantic to Asia Pacific and there are voices from politicians and scholars alike to call it an Asian Century.

There are many advocates of realism who suggest West to be more aggressive in this environment. John Mearsheimer suggest in his structural realism that nations are power maximisers, nations are imperialists. This can also be seen from China’s policies like BRI initiative, its cheque book diplomacy while dealing with smaller states like Sri Lanka and Maldives and also it’s actions in South China Sea. Thus United States should go for containment of China according to them. It can either weaken China by inciting and supporting swing state like India for war wigv China or support terrorist activities in regions like Xinxian.

7. What is at stake in debate between offensive and defensive realism?

Realism has remained a dominant school in international relations. However there is a lot of variation in realism itself. Structural realism is considered as modern variety of realism. However structural realism is further classified as offensive realism (John Mearsheimer) and defensive realism ( Kenneth Waltz).

Both the scholars agree that it is the structure of international relations which compell the states to go for self help and national interest. States are key actors and survival is prime motivation for states.

However Waltz suggests that nations are security maximisers. They’re more concerned about their own security that relative gain of power. Thus they do not seek hegemony but survival.

Mearsheimer on the other hand argues that states are power maximisers. We never know the intentions of other and the only way state can ensure its safety is by becoming hegemon.

The description by Mearsheimer is more provoking instability as compared to Waltz.

8. Is structural realism is sufficient to account for variation in behaviour of states?

Structural realism is a modern variation of realism. Structural realism is essentially based on the idea that it is the structure of international politics, the structure of anarchy and absence of overarching authority which determines state behaviour. It forces states to go for self help and acquiring power for to ensure its survival. For example India, otherwise called a pacifist country, went for acquiring nuclear weapon to ensure its security vis-a-vis China. And same is true for Israel in Arab world.

However not all state behaviour can be explained by this doctrine. As criticised by neoclassical realists this explanation does not account for doemstic factors that play role in determining foreign policy of nations.

Sometimes states may behave for purely ideological or gistiuvay reasons. The behaviour of Germany after 1st WW was not motivated to increase its security but to right the historical wrong. The war was largely an attempt to avenge the Treaty of Versailles which was highly skewed against Germany. Further the war was also intiated because of German leadership (Adolf Hitler) and not compelled by structure of international system.

The challenge to structural realism also comes from within in the form of neoclassical realism. It introduces the concept of state capacity and argues thag states differ in capacity and may not behave in identical fashion.

Posted in PSIR 2A QA

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Klaus Kaushal

Where can I find more Q/A like these?