Taking professor Stephen Walt's interview in MUNPlanet as an inspiration I have decided to write a post regarding realism’s relevance in International Relations. Some thoughts follow:
Realism has been
the dominant theory in the field of International Relations over the last half
century. In IR theory realism is based in the view that the states are living
in anarchy, i.e. in total absence of any higher international government.
States are considered goal directed; with realists claiming that survival is
ensured via sufficient power. The national interest equals security and
survival. Defensive Realism will promote the non – action taking path, ensuring
the balance of power, while Offensive realism will promote the opposite. In
international relations, based on classical realism, anarchy allows the worst
aspects of human nature to be expressed. The survival and independence of the
state is the main goal, which is attested by how important are, the sovereignty
and the territorial integrity.
Along with being a dominant theory though, realism has encountered many theoretical attacks in the last 20 years, pointing out a lack of relevance and an oversimplified belief of the world order. Since all theories suffer from imperfections, the questions here should be, if realism’s imperfections are enough to lead to its demise as a theory of IR.
Realism has been doubted and challenged due to its views upon the international system. IR realism has indeed imperfections and cannot be considered as a universal solution to all IR problems. But, as pointed out in the previous lines, that is the case with all international relations theories. Nevertheless, realism contributes to the understanding of the contemporary world by offering attempts to describe it. Can realism predict what will happen in the IR scene and can its predictions be of significant value, especially when it is based on the ‘rule of anarchy’? It is a rather pessimistic theory, seemingly against globalization, ignoring the cooperation between countries and supporting that international organizations don’t essentially matter.
After the end of the cold war, democracy and human rights where promoted and the US emerged, as a dominant political power. This did not stop the world turbulence though. While realism faded and liberalism emerged, the theory of realism did not vanish. A rather insightful example is the one of the events of the 9/11. The theory of realism in international relations can explain the circumstances of the war that followed against terrorism after the events of that day. The events of the 9/11 could be even considered an omen for the extension of instability around the world. Realism was considered to be a dominant theory in the field of International Relations and it still is a theory highly used since national interest and security will always remain an important factor. But other theories exist and contribute in the world relations as well. The reality is that there is still much tension worldwide. In recent years, the economic crisis affects almost all nations around the globe that try to protect its citizens from the impending disaster, with possible serious consequences on a larger scale. It is evident that realism is still very much alive in the IR field, where important aspects of political life; such as power, sovereignty, security and war among others, are the focal point of the current world order.
What are your own views regarding the relevance of realism in IR?