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Lecture

Realism


Department
Political Science
Course Code
POL208Y1
Professor
John Haines

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International Relations t Week 3: September 28th, 2010
Theories of International Relations
- By simplifying reality we try to formulate regularities, patterns, that explain what has happened
in the past and what may happen in the future
- Our capacity to make predictions is poor
o E.g. Way Cold War ended was not the most likely scenario experts had drawn before,
peaceful change and peaceful demise of the Soviet empire
- International Relations is largely an American science, started in US in 1950s
o Started to use s]]]vÇ]vP}Æo]vZÁ}oU]v[}µuµZ
- Modesty, world politics is full of surprise
- Politicians consider theories to be too abstract, too general, not practical enough
o Tend to reason more like historians rather than political scientists
o Think about analogies from the past not long-term propositions
- Despite this, theories do sometimes make way into world of decision-makers
o E.g. George W. Bush decided to invade Iraq based on theory by bringing democracy to
Iraq, I will transform the Middle East into a democratic region, generate peace
Worth it to wage a war to generate peace
- One world, many theories, to explain same events
o E.g. Decision to expand NATO post Cold War: One theory (realist take) t expanding
power of the West, by doing so, Russia would feel more isolated than it used to be,
Russia would feel threatened; Second theory (what decision-makers claim) t enlarging
the family of democracies to Eastern Europe, not about security or power, not a loss for
Russia, about bringing democracy and stability to Europe
Realist Theories:
- Realism in world politics is a family of theories, look at the world through the same kind of
lenses, use the same kind of concepts
- Origin: Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, creation of Italian city states, experience of
statesmanship throughout the centuries
o Really started with failure of the League of Nations just after WWI
Called the Great Debate of the 1930s
x Can we do international politics relying only on values; is there not a
place for power consideration?
x Liberalism brought about collective security framework to ensure
stability and peace among European nations, League of Nations
o 20s, 30s, triumph of liberalist principles
- Realists said liberalists had forgot about power, cannot have organization to ensure peace,
which is fundamentally powerless, no capacity to impose peace
- Two problems with League of Nations:
o Strategy contradiction
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Decrease level of armaments among nations
How can you punish a country that does not behave according to the rules if you
do not have the power to punish?
In order to impose peace, need to keep capacity to wage war?
o Membership
U.S. was not a member
Germany was not, at the start, a member
Crucial powers were left outside the collective security framework
x Major contradiction, how can organization ensure peace if the most
relevant powers of the day are not in them?
x 1930s demonstrated that League of Nations failed, no one to stop rise
of Nazi Germany, militaristic Japan
o No one with capacity to do it
o In order to enforce principles, needed power
o Realists won first debate between liberalism and realism
- Cold War was framework where realists felt at home, all about power politics
Core elements of realism:
1. Statism
o The most important actors in world politics are the states, relevant level of analysis,
states are key actors
o Sovereignty is the fundamental principle of world politics
o States have the monopoly of the use of legitimate violence
o International institutions, say the UN, are just a sideshow, they are unimportant, only
what the states will agree among themselves, states are main drivers, very rare to have
international organization to impose own rule above the state
2. Survival
o First object of any state is to survive
Still the case for states like North Korea or Pakistan
o Fundamental characteristic of international system is based on anarchy, no world
government, nothing above the state
Because no world government, first task of states is to ensure their survival
o Concern about security must be overall priority of statesmen
Have to look at power relationships among states, focus on power capabilities,
distribution of military means
3. Self-help
o Security of the state is a matter of self-help
o You are on your own, nothing can ensure your own security except you
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