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Realism - Introduction to International Relations

Autor:   •  November 28, 2017  •  3,658 Words (15 Pages)  •  321 Views

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Power is not distributed in equal measure between actors, and this distribution can change in time. Wlatz says that the unequal distribution of power is the basic principle of the modern state system structure. A system is bipolar when it is dominated by two superpowers, multipolar when power is distributed to a number of superpowers, hegemonic if it is concentrated in one hegemonic superpower.

The order of the system is given by balance of power (because if there is equilibrium there is stability, for example a classical balance of power situation is the Cold War) and hegemonic stability theory (there is a clear disequilibrium, one is evidently and widely stronger than the other, and it remains stable until there is a clear unchallenged hegemony).

A system in which you have more than two powers tends to be more stable, according to modern realist, while for neorealists bipolar systems then to be more stable.

For realists wars are the only real moment of change. Any hegemonic system tends to decline, because the economic costs of maintaining the status quo become more than the benefits.

Power strategiesDefensive realism (Waltz and Grieco); states are purely defensive actors of which the main objective is survival; if survival is assured they can reach for more power and more profit. This means that a state will not try to obtain more power if this can put in danger its own security.

Offensive realism (Mearsheimer): states are maximizers of power and their objective is to reach an hegemonic position in the international system – regional hegemony to be more accurate.

Mearsheimer individuates these strategies connected to power:

- Strategies to increase power: war; threat; bait and bleed; bloodletting

- Strategies against the aggressors: Balancing (internally, developing your military armament, maybe creating a military industry and externally if you try to find some allies or increasing military expenses); Buck-Passing (scaricabarile – push a state that feels threatened to oppose the aggressor, but staying outside the dispute)

- Strategies to avoid: appeasement; Hiding or self-declare neutral; bandwagoning (create an alliance with the winner)

The classic mechanism to increase a state’s effective power is alliance; alliances can have many specific objectives and are a very important component of the balance of power. Interests are permanent but not allies. Therefore, the fluidity of alliances increases the security dilemma: the higher is the threat, the harder it is difficult to escape the dilemma. My enemy’s enemy is my friend. Actions by a state intended to heighten its security, such as increasing its military strength or making alliances, can lead other states to respond with similar measures, producing increased tensions and generating an escalation, which may lead to war. Breaking an alliance has credibility costs; therefore, sometimes you have to continue an alliance even though it does not comply with your national interest. Another problem is the burden sharing: who is going to pay the costs? Two important military alliances: NATO and security treaty between the US and Japan.

Diplomacy and BargainingInternational organizations are possible if they a) are strong enough to discourage aggression; b) have a shared conception of collective security and international law c) there is a genuine common interest of subordinating one’s own interest for the collective good and international security. → These conditions are very unlikely to be real, so realists see international mechanisms as ineffective. Double behavior towards international organizations and international law; on one hand they see those as elements to consolidate their own position of power to the disadvantage of others (ex. UNSC). On the other, they are critical because of their deficiencies and contradictions. Therefore, the only political means possible are those traditional of diplomacy (principally bilateral).

Diplomacy is the principal instrument that international actors use to communicate with the other actors and realize their foreign policies. In particular, one of the main activities of diplomacy is bargaining; bargaining indicates both the debate in which the negotiators communicate their respective positions, and the game in which both parties have to evaluate the effects of the different possible outcomes, with the goal of being craftier than the opponent is. Bargaining space indicates all the problems on which there can be conflict of interests. The agreements that follow bargaining are fair if there is a reciprocal gain.


Basic assumptions

(1) Pessimistic view of human nature

(2) international relations are necessarily conflictual and international conflicts are ultimately resolved by war

(3) high regards of national security and state survival

(4) basic skepticism that there can be progress in international relations

Humans are preoccupied with their own well-being. Politics is a struggle for power over men; international politics are ‘power politics’: the acquisition and possession of power, and the deployment and uses of power, are central preoccupations of political activity; an arena of rivalry, conflict and war between states. Pessimistic anthropology

Realists accuse idealists of being naive, and that their soft attitude made things worst (and they thought this led to WW2). Being too good-willing is the recipe for defeat, you need to fight. The idea was that life is tough and you need to be tough in turn in world politics, also as a kind of ethical responsibility towards your country, your community.

Classical Realism

Thucydides: war between ancient Greek city-states, which together formed Hellas, and between Hellas and neighboring non-Greek empires. Few great powers (Sparta, Athens, Persian Empire) and many small powers; that inequality is natural. Man = zoon politikon, highly unequal in powers and capabilities to dominate others and defend themselves. All states must adapt to that reality of inequality in order to survive and even prosper otherwise they will not survive. Political ethics in international relations: prudence, caution and judgment. Justice is about recognizing your relative strength or weakness, knowing your place and adapting to the natural reality of unequal power.

Machiavelli: 1) a state must be strong to provide


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