Realism is a theoretical approach to the study of international relations. Realism is believed to be around for a
very long time. Considered one of the founding founders of Realism is Thucydides, the raconteur of the
Peloponnesian wars. According to Thucydides, the war between Athens and Sparta was caused by the increase
in Athenian military power and the insecurity that it created among the Spartans. Nicolo Machiavelli,Thomas
Hobbes and Max Weber are all considered as pioneers of Realism. Among the first scholars to use the term
“Realism” were E.H. Carr and Hans Morgenthau. Carr and Morgethau argued that states are inherently self-
interested, power seeking rational actors, who aim to ensure security and their chances of survival. Both these writers
claimed that there was no natural; harmony of interests among states and that it was foolish and even dangerous to
hope that the struggle for power among states could be tamed by international law, democratization, and international
commerce. All realists believe that the realm of interstate behavior is sufficient unto itself for the purposes of
explanation and normative justification. Realism invokes a bleak picture of international politics. Within the territorial
boundaries of the formally sovereign state, politics is an activity of potential moral progress through the social
construction of constitutional government. Beyond the exclusionary borders of its sovereign presence, politics is
essentially the realm of survival rather than progress. Any cooperation between two states is seen as functional, a
move to ensure the security of each state (Griffiths and O‟callaghan 2002, pp. 261-263).
The Realist tradition rests upon three scientific presuppositions. First, there is the mechanistic view of
international politics, which views relations among states in terms of balance and equilibrium – balance of power.
Second, there is the biological theory associated with Darwin and the infamous struggle for survival. The third theory
upon which Realism rests is a psychological one – egoism (Boucher 1998).
Human Nature and International Anarchy
Realism believes that there are two major constraints on politics – human nature and the absence of
international government. Because of these two factors, international relations is considered as a sphere of power
and interest. One realist, Thompson (1985), states that human nature has not changed since the days
of classical antiquity (cited in Donnelly 2000, p. 9). Realists view human nature is primarily egoistic. Realists agree
that human nature contains a permanent core of egoistic passions; that these passions define the central problem of
politics; and that diplomacy is dominated by the need to control this side of human nature.
The absence of international government is also a constriction on politics. Realists believe that within the
state, human nature can be curb and controlled by the political authority and rule. This changes outside the where
anarchy seems to encourage the expression of worst sides of human nature. Realism, as an International Relations
theory, suggests that states are always finding ways to gain power and will do anything to keep that power. States will
always engage in conflicts and they will continue to challenge one another. As a mitigating factor, diplomacy is
established. Realism accepts three fundamental assumptions about international anarchy. First, that the world is
composed of sovereign nation-states; second, that there is no world government; and third, that the absence of world
government means that international politics is anarchical (Weber 2005, p. 15). Realists believe that the prevailing
goal of states in an environment where anarchy is present is to survive. Survival is the overriding interest of each
state. The only way that states can reasonably ensure their survival is to increase their power. Power protects states
because states with less power might fear those with more power and therefore be less likely to attack them.
Additionally, realists believe that there is no way out of international anarchy. It is unrealistic to think that a
world government could be formed because states would never be secure enough. Each state will continue to be
suspicious toward other states and they will never give up their power to a world government. It is also the belief of
realists that world politics will continue to be anarchical and conflict-laden because of the nature of man (Weber
Centrality of the State
The group is considered as the essence of social reality. Human beings will always strive for group
membership and groups challenge other groups. Realists believe the primary component of political organization
from the beginning of civilization up until now is the nation state. The state is considered as the principal actor in the
international arena and the nature of the state and way states deal with one another define the characteristic of the
international relations (Grieco 1997).
Realists also believe that that states co-exist in a world where there is international anarchy. According to proponents
of realism, international anarchy exists and that states cannot appeal to any single international body regarding
grievances and protection.
Realists work with a cluster of three interrelated assumptions about states. The first part of this cluster is the
assumption that states are rational actors. State rationality, from a realist viewpoint, has at least three elements. Realists assume that states are goal oriented. Realists assume that states have such goals and devise
strategies specifically aimed at their achievement.
Realists assume that states have consistent goals. That is, state preferences are ordered and transitive in
the sense that outcome A is preferred to B, and B is proffered to C, then A is preferred to C.
Realists assume that states devise strategies to achieve their goals. These strategies take into account the
rank ordering by states of these goals.
Characteristics of States: Realist View
1. The main interest of every state, according to realists is security. It has been argued that security is the highest end
of anarchy. States need to ensure their survival first before they commit to other goals such as tranquility, profit and
power. States according to the realist theory are defensive actors. They are agents concerned first and foremost with
their survival and security.
2. States according to realists are concerned about their relative capabilities. States seek power because it enables
them to deal with actual or potential threats posed by other states. Power is considered relative. Because power is
relative, states tend to be positional actors. States, as realists view them, compare themselves to others and assess
their own actions, the actions of others and their relationships and interactions from the viewpoint of their effect on
3. States, value security more than anything. In general, states seek to be free to employ strategies that will ensure
security, increase their power and maintain their position in