AFR 370 Lecture Notes - Kenneth Waltz, Great Depression, Security Dilemma
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Notes of Realism
leaders to focus on interests rather than on ideology
Maximizing and preserve the life of the state in a hostile and threatening environment
the survival of the state can never be guaranteed
that the environment that states inhabit is a dangerous place
Warn state leaders against sacrificing their own self-interests in order to obey to some
unspecified notion of ‘ethical’ conduct.
It was vital that state leaders learned a different kind of morality, dual moral standard
Outside the boundaries of the state, realists argue that a condition of anarchy exists (no
overarching central authority).
Under anarchy, the survival of the state cannot be guaranteed.
States with more power stand a better chance of surviving than states with less power
Like the pursuit of power, the promotion of the national interest is, according to realists, an iron
law of necessity.
Realists do not believe it is practical for a state to trust its safety and survival on another actor or
If a state feels threatened, it should seek to expand its own power capabilities by
engaging, for example, in a military arms build-up.
Smaller states should join forces, establish a formal alliance, and seek to preserve their own
independence if feel threatened by a much larger state.
The peaceful conclusion of the cold war caught many realists unprepared.
Given that realism was unable to provide a persuasive explanation of new developments such as
regional integration, humanitarian intervention, the emergence of a security
community in Western Europe, and the growing occurrence of intra-state war wracking the
state, was in decline relative to non-state actors such as transnational
corporations and powerful regional institutions
In view of Carr and Morgenthau, the great crisis of the 1930s and 1940s was, in part, the result of
earlier statesmen’s inexperienced belief that a harmony of interests between states could be
achieved by gathering nations together in the spirit of cooperation and diplomacy
States naturally tend to serve their own interests and aggrandize themselves at the expense of
Sensible statesmen, according to Realists, avoid putting their trust in paper agreements or
goodwill to guarantee peace
Classical Realists tended to attribute much of this pattern of behavior to the natural tendency of
people and states to be selfish and greedy.
• The drive for power and the will to dominate are held to be fundamental aspects of
• The behaviour of the state as a self-seeking egoist is understood to be only a reflection of
the characteristics of the people that comprise the state.
• It is human nature that explains why international politics is necessarily power politics
• Classical realists argue that it is from the nature of man that the essential features of
international politics, such as competition, fear, and war, can be explained.
• Morgenthau notes, ‘politics, like society in general, is governed by objective laws that
have their roots in human nature’
• For both Thucydides and Morgenthau, the essential continuity of the power-seeking
behaviour of states is root-ed in the biological drives of human beings.
• Nationalistic virtue is required in order for communities to survive in this historic battle
between good and evil
• Classical realists therefore differ from contemporary realists in the sense that they
engaged with moral philosophy
• the anarchical structure of international politics has on the behaviour of state actors
• (Machiavelli 0, obligations and treaties with other states must be ignored if the security
of the community is under threat
• anarchy could be eased by wise leadership and the pursuit of the national interest in
ways that are compatible with international order
• even if states have the best of aims, they are forced into the suspicious, selfish and power-
oriented behaviour as portrayed by classical Realists
o Thinkers like Kenneth Waltz argue that the anarchic international system is itself responsible for
producing state behavior.
o In this anarchic world, states are victims of what has been termed the security dilemma or
o Waltz argues, the only rational course of action for a state in an anarchic international system is
to invest in armed strength in order to be able to defend itself against aggression
o As a result of this dynamic, states’ attempts to defense their independence contribute to making
the international arena less secure for everyone
o In the absence of a world government, states are condemned to exist in an environment of
o State’s declaration that it is seeking armed strength for only defensive reasons is bound to be
met with suspicion.
o Realists remain divided by some fairly important theoretical differences too (offensive Realism
as opposed to defensive Realism)
o Defensive Realists make the simple but important claim that states seek security and nothing
more. They therefore argue that China and the USA will approach each other with great
caution, as neither will want to annoy the other and risk a threat to its own security.
o To Offensive Realists a rising China will necessarily seek hegemony in its region and is
therefore bound to clash with the USA
2) Structural realism:
Waltz’s theory of structural realism is only one version of neo-realism. Waltz neo-realism is distinctive
from traditional or classical realism in number of ways.
I. Realism is primarily an inductive theory. International politics is explained by looking at the actions of
the states in the system e.g. decision of Pakistan and India to test nuclear weapons would be explained
by looking at the influence of the military leaders in both states and the long-standing differences
compounded by geographic closeness.