Key points of Lesson 2: Cold War and Realism
• Key questions on the Cold War are: What was it? When did it start? Who Started? Your
answer to such questions reveals your assumptions about the nature of international relations.
Do States or other forces govern the relations between its main actors?
• The story of the Cold War can be told as being a massive geopolitical struggle between the US
and the USSR. In this view two large States collide in search of power. In this view the Cold
War began after WWII, specifically 1947, when the US decides upon a policy of containment
of perceived “Soviet aggression”.
• Another story can be told of the Cold War as an ideological struggle. The origin of the Cold
War must then go back to 1917, when the Bolshevik regime emerged USSR. In this view
ideas/ideology matters and drives state policies and action. This view, however, must take
account of the fact that the US and the USSR co-existed peacefully prior to WWII. They also
cooperated during WWII. What caused the change in 1947? This is a matter of ongoing
historical examination. The simple thesis of Soviet expansionism as a cause of the Cold War is
questioned in this view.
• The policy of containment was rooted in a view of the world perpetuated by realist thinkers
who dominated scholarship on IR after the War. In their examinations of the causes of WWII,
they noted that there was insufficient attention to the element of power between 1919 and
1939. Containment, the policy of George Kennan adopted by President Truman in 1947,
suggested that the US must use its power to confront the USSR and to check Soviet expansion.
• One of those post-war realist scholars was Professor Hans Morgenthau who offered the
following six principles of classical realism: Politics is governed by objective laws rooted in
human nature; the concept of ‘Interest’ governs political realism; realism assumes that the main
interest is power; political action has a moral significance, it is not immoral; moral aspirations
of one nation can not be equated with moral laws that govern the universe; political sphere
operates autonomously..separate from other spheres of humans (economy, morals etc.).
Realists trace the intellectual origins of realism (power relations between states) as far back as
ancient Greece. They point to Thucydides’work and the Melian dialogue.
• In the realist view States are primary a