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Review on Realism

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According to realism, the world is in a state of anarchy due to the lack of a governing body or dominant power. States are the prime actors on the international stage. They solely engage with each other in order to maintain security and power. The main types of realism are Classical Realism, Structural Realism, and neoclassical realism. Classical realists are emphasized that states behavior and cooperation is due to human nature. They believe that people are selfish and aggressive and that the states, the main actors on the international system are guided by these selfish and aggressive human nature. Hans Morgenthau was an influential classical realist who wrote in his book Politics Among Nations that “politics is governed by objective laws that have their roots in human nature”. Morgenthau argued that human nature is inherently flawed, therefore conflict arises as nations aim to gain power. This inevitably does not allow for cooperation and it leads to war. Evidence of this lack of cooperation is seen in Iraq under the rule of Sadam Hussein, who both undertook expansionary policies in order to ensure the survival of his regime against offensive states that were considered a threat to their existence leading to the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq.

Neo-realists are more concerned with the balance of power across the international stage. They argue that the international system structure can determine the behavior of states within the international arena. Without such authority, the states are in a state of anarchy and are free to do as they wish this again leads to a lack of cooperation between states. This lack of cooperation is further explained when we apply the realist assumption that the goal of the state is to maximize security and power. On the other hand, this goal of maximizing security to ensure survival could be a catalyst for cooperation. States may cooperate militarily by forming military alliances, especially smaller states with larger hegemonies. However, in a world where states cannot trust the actions of each other, the creations of alliances may lead to further escalation explained by the realist concept of the security dilemma. The security dilemma proposed by John H. Herz is the “notion that in a context of uncertainty and bounded rationality perceived external threats (real or imagined) generate feelings of insecurity in those states that believe themselves to be the targets of such threats, thereby leading those states to adopt measures to increase their power and capability to counteract those threats (alliance creation, arms build-ups, and so on)”.

In layman’s terms when a state sees another increase its power through increased military or other forms such as alliances, it leads to insecurity among other states as they feel they are threatened. This, in turn, leads to them increasing their military capabilities which then leads to the same effect on the original state causing a vicious cycle of constant competition. This makes it extremely difficult for states to cooperate as they are in a constant state of fear. A prime example of this is the current situation of India and Pakistan, where relations have been sour since the partition of British India in 1947 and there have been numerous conflicts and relations are plagued by suspicion and hostility. In order for state cooperation to occur the states must be able to trust each other and the security dilemma must be reversed. However historical evidence has proven that even in situations where agreements for cooperation are made by countries there is no guarantee that without international institutions they will be upheld. A clear example of this was when Hitler violated the Nazi-Soviet pact and invaded Russia. Defensive realists, however, would argue that this is not always the case. If two states share the same goals they are more likely to cooperate as there is a better understanding of the countries and their actions. This is also supported by the liberal view that when states harmonize interests they are more like to cooperate. An example of this is the case of US and UK who throughout history have been allies and supported each other even without the coercion of international institutions in both world wars and the cold war. Therefore, it could be considered that according to realists the international system may not generate conflict and in turn promote cooperation between states.

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