Realism and Neo-Realism in International Relations

The realist theory, founded by Hans Morgenthau, Arnold Wolfers, Kenneth Thomson, E. H. Carr and Georg Schwarzenberger, is based on the will to consider man and social relations, and most particularly political relations, a state of affairs rather than ideal. Not wanting to diminish the importance and necessity of the building of a pacifist and harmonious international system of relations, these thinkers reject the utopian conclusion that the sine qua non conditions are guaranteed on a par with the functioning of international Peace Corps.

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Carr, Morgenthau, Reinhold Niebuhr and George Kennan consider that international relations should be realistic, as opposed to the realistic ones, although, a few years later, R. Ashley discards realism because it is undermined by „international antinomies” and because it is far from being a „harmonious tradition”. M. J. Smith, Roger Speagle and K. Goldmann favour the same conclusion, claiming that this collection of ideas which are labelled „realism” is so vagne and incoerent that is wrong to believe in the very existence of Realism and of converging points of view.

Klaus-Gerd Giesen discusses ethical realism, founded in 1939 when idealism was denied for being an utopia and originating in the principles of man’s perfectibility and the high moral standards of international political life. At the time, the existence of the League of Nations and the International Court of Justice enhanced the generalization of everybody’s will (volonte generale) to common will (volonte generale).

This was possible due to the restructuring of Rousseau’s ideas according to the new attitude towards international relations, organizations and jurisdiction, which were incorporated into the new global perspective of the complex reality so as not to distract our attention from real issues, as Kennan stated in „Realities of American Foreign Policy”. Morgenthau, a former student of Rottenbucher, at the University of Munich, has the merit of incorporating Weber’s epistemology into the newly born realism theory.

Weber suggests that science should be neutral to moral values, i. . axiologically neutral, value free – a kind of the Realpolitik of perceiving the irrationality of social reality, consequently, the statesman’s virtue was caution. In his famous book „Politics Among Nations”, Morgenthau states that realism considers caution as the supreme virtue in politics as it is often equated to the cruel reality of the states will of power. With Morgenthau, power weighs heavily in the system of international relations, it can be compared to the atom energy in physics or to silver value in economy.

The concept of power as defined by realists is essentially Weber’s who says that peape involved in politics aspire to power and considers this a general truth. Friedrich Meinecke, the author of „Wirstchaft und Geseleschaft”, secs international politics as the field of elementary power leakage since power signifies the possibility of imposing, against all odds, the „flourishing” will on social relations, irrespective of the means. Power dynamics, i. e. he relations betwen countries, allows for the balance of power during peacetime or for the power shifts during wartime. The balance of power is influenced by politics because foreign affairs imply the will to maintain, increase or exercise a country’s will; such affairs generallt have objectives value, i. e. they are universal, according to Morgenthau. The author also defines politics, stricto sensu, as the peculiar degree of intensity of the relationship that the state’s will of power establishes betwen itself and its objects.

Consequetly, the power and the will of power are the reference points of politics related issues, not only of the relations betwen states, whereas law and order are insufficient for the tendency of gaining and maintaining power. By virtue of their gaining and exercising power, states can be confronted with irrational tension generating conflicts and wars – a notion marvellously explained by Morgenthau in his doctoral thesis „Die Internationale Rechtse Flege ihr Wesen und ihre Grenzen”, defended in 1929.

This tension, caused by varoius differences betwen countries, is sometimes hard to account for and solved as it surpasses the will of power and it is instinctevely felt or solved. Statesman need to be cautious in order to avoid accumulation of tension and manage successfully the changes of international relations. Morgenthau takes into consideration the dichotomy amity-hostility and alliace-inimicality as analysed by Carl Schmitt, who believed that countries can be allies or enemies – a decision based on irrational tension.

Underder negative circumstances, making a decision becomes a serious political act. The realist theory of international relations was a response to their contradictory evolution. It stems from Kuhn’s concept of „paradigm” in physics. Kuhn defined „paradigm” as one or several scientific acquisition(s) which manifest(s) as a means of legitimating an defining a new science. In the framework of international relations, „paradigm” refers to the realistic way of thinking and represents a means of analysing international society an power shifts, especially after World War II.

It is also a normal reaction to the idealism fallacy which was but an utopia. Idealism and utopism area near synonyms having as common core the belief in human perfectibility and the value of moral standards in international politics. Idealists suggested that the application of moral principles depends on each people’s will and that international organizations, such as the League of Nations or the International Court of Justice, would, by virtue of the common will, guarantee peace and security.

They also promoted the idea that the joint efforts of politicians and diplomats would lead to the harmonization of national interests, reason and rational communication, as well as to the understanding and appreciation of universal principles which would become individual priciples/rules/norms as human nature is essentially good and is not to be equated to selfishness and exaggerated needs. As far as politics is concerned, it is meant to influence the individual, to educate people to go beyond their depths by promoting mediation, international jurisdiction and even a world government in order o create a tensionfree atmosphere. Carr (1946), in his fundamental book „The Twenty Years Crisis: An introduction to the study of International Relations”, wrote that the unrealistic belief in the entire world’s wish for peace which is identical to each and every nation’s desideratum, helped politicians and authors of political speeches to forget the conflicting interests of dfferent nations which wish for the preservation of current state of affairs and those which are in favour of a change.

Carr opposed the universalist and rationalist structure of ethical standards, which he considered simple theoretical constructs, with no practical implication. He also pointed to the gap betwen philosophical speculation and practice as the former draws our attention away from things that really happen. Unlike idealistic ethics based on cooperation, education, non-violence and good will, realism emphasizes the description of everything that belongs to political rather than political ideals.

Great importance is attached to facts and not to moral standards, to limited political objectives, such as conflicts (as opposed to the cooperation), to war to the detriment of peace, to the unstable balance of power and, last but not least, to the exercise of power. As far as international relations are concerned, idealism can be said to promote the countries’ right to national independence in response to the roles that empires played in arousing tension betwen diferent nations. Niebuhr (1932), in „Moral Man and Immoral Society.

A study in ethics and Politics”, drew our attention to the idealists’ illusion of limiting the autonomy of states by the foundation of universal organizations and by peaceful and legal resolutions of conflicts. Internationally, the politics of power, with its changeable and sometimes destabilizing alliances, was to be replaced by a system of collective security where the international community (as a whole) should oppose and more efficiently prevent the illegal use of violence. It was not the balance of power, but an international organization, namely the League of Nations, which was ratified as the international diplomatic instrument.

Public debates were to be initiated in order to fiind the best solutions for peace, and the solutions would have been implemented by the majority of the nations which were equal, in prejudice of the other nations which had not complied with the democratic decisions. Peace would have been possible through a reasonable procedural solution. Wars are useless; in other words, by taking into consideration the nations’ rights and eliminating the nationalistic causes of international tension, a multinational security system overriding peace threas could be built.

The pre-requisite for acceptance of the system was that it should be made public in order to allow for rational debates and political adjustments. [i] Motivated by ethical and and cognitive reasons for influencing politivs, idealists attempted to prevent, at least in theory, new dissensions whivh could have led to wars (as it happened with World War I). On the other hand, realists believed that, in some historical conditions, war become a core component of foreign politics, and therefore, there was need for other types or international politics and relations.

According to Clausewitz, peace is sometimes the continuation of war, but it uses different an war is a political means and has to be politically controlled. Carr (1939, 1946) opposes idealism providing three theoretical arguments and starting from the disbelief in harmonious interests. There is an aut of proportion motivation when it comes to interests, ethics vs. politics and theory vs. practice, in the sense that theoretical conditions are applied indiscriminatelly to historical conditions because generally speaking, values are defined by power and ethics by politics.

Carr borrowed the concept of social harmony from the liberal economic thinking, considering that such a situation is the natural outcome of a well defined political structure which, more often than not, imposes its own interests and promotes them. Social harmony may be considered universal as harmonious interests are in fact the statu quo of the groups in power, of the elite, of the big powers. Idealism could be seen as a vulgarized and sweetened replica of kantianism while realism derives from Weber’s „wertfreiheit”, a concept translated by „axiological neutrality”.

It is common knowledge that Morgenthau is the first to introduce Weber’s epistemology to the study of international relations. In „Politics among Nations”, he approaches the complex matter of the politics of power, the aims of foreign politics, by a very nature, forces politicians to use ideology in order to mask the short-term goal of their action, i. e. to gain power. The idea originates in ancient times when Thrasimacos referred to power an justice as something that serves the most powerful one and justice is somebody else’s, it serves the one in power and is detrimental to the powerless one. ii] Morgenthau favours the idea of the interface power-politics as there are several types of power, moments of power accumulation and gain in paradoxical world whose resources are scaree and where some states become powerful via a statu quo politics, some others via imperialism and others via a politics of prestige. According to the author, the fight for power is inevitabele as some countries achieve their normal goals either by military expansion or by economic prestige.

The will of power is at the core of politics and of war since man’s responses are determined by three stimuli:the desire of living, of reproducing the species an of dominating. Yet, people cannot totally satisfy their desire for power within national borders and transfer the unfulfilled aspirations into the international stage. Under the circumstances, states, in their fight for power, become the leading actors of international relations by transferring this concept, which is so typical of man, to the state which is involved in the struggle for survival or for supremacy.

As a causal concept, power is influenced by eight factors: population, geography, natural resources, industrial potential, national character, national moral standards and the international balance of power is struck in the fight for power where there are two parties involved: the ones that want to preserve their power and the ones that want a power shift. The international system is characterized by the balance of power as countries are competitors in their desire of gaining control over other countries, and by tension as the balance of power does not secure peace, on the contrary, it leads to wars.

Some nations’ desire for power, whether they want to preserve or gain to it, gives rise to the necessity of balance of power and to a kind of politics that favours it. And „necessity” is the proper word here. The international balance of power is but a particular case of a general principle responsible for the autonomy of the parts that constitute a society. According to Morgenthau, the simultaneous desire for power of several states ensures the balance of power as well as different types of politics promoted in order to gain and to preserve it as politics is due to the objective laws that are deep-rooted into human nature.

It is an interesting viewpoint as the author emphasizes after the analysis and interpretation of events – the notion of individual or collective interest is the very essence of politics; interests motivated action at a given point in time and depend of the political and cultural context where foreign politics takes plase. As actors on the international stage, countries will clearly define their national interests which will be expressed in terms of power; any individual is driven by a basic instinct of power and conquest, similarly, the state has a tendency for developing and exercising power in the relations with other nations.

In Morgenthau’s opinion, the will of power is based on human psychology, man having the instinct of dominating the others – in any kind of social interaction, the relation with the state included. Usually, politics is a fight for power gain in a world of competition, of poverty and of the constant search for resouces, in a world which is the result of the forces inherent to human nature as long as the whole political life of a nation, and most specifically of a democratic one, both locally and nationally, is a fight for power.

Individual tendencies for exercising power are blocked by norms, institutions and authorities whereas national inclinations for patriotism, collective selfishness, the preservation of traditions and affiliationto a certain ideology are favoured because the frustration of individual instincts of power is maximised and this, at its turn, has given rise to an increasing desire of compensatory identification with the national collectivity’s will of power, as Morgenthau believes.

The notion of balance of power has always been rooted in the political life, being a law that dates back to ancient times. In the 5th century B. C. the historian Tucidide equated it to the Persan king Tissapherne’s politics which aimed at a long lasting balance betwen Persia and its rivals, i. e. Athens and Sparta. A few centuries later, Polybios, in his first volume of „Histories” stressed the importance that Hiero, one of Sicily’s tyrants, attached to the balance of power in the 2nd century B. C. , taking into consideration the force ratio betwen Romans and Cartagenese and asking the former to make peace and to be their allies. The concept was redefined by the USA’s founders. For instance, Hamiltod stated that America’s security depended pn the interaction betwen the European powers.

Researchers (W. G. Sumner, Frank Tannensbaum) disapproved of the balance of power influence on the american forreign policy, identifying this concept to a hindrance to USA’s power and development. Nevertheless, most analysts agre that non-observance of the rational model endangers the state’s survival because anarcy and tensed atmosphere should be resolved by taking into consideration the status and strategy of all other factors involved in the balance of power. John McDonald’s remark that each country’s strategy is largely influenced by other’s and J. on Neumann’s and Oskar Morgenstern’s game theory, put forward in „Strategy in Power. Bussines and War” are worth mentioning at this point.

They stongly believe that in order to win the game you should consider your partner’s position and strategy and this implies an alliance or mutual support. As far as international relations are concerned, the game theory reveals the zero sum of options as the winner’s gains are equal to the competitor’s losses and, under the circumstances, an advantage should be created by various procedures as a set of objectives is at stake: conquest, hegemony, new markets, the exploitation of the resources etc.

Neumann and Morgenstern claim that the states’ concern for guaranteeing the balance of power involves their paericipation in the political game of power through active agrrement and the use of any means that ensure potential gains, even through force consequently, the balance of power is to be redefined as the channelling of resourcing and energies, even as attacks in order to achieve the intended goals. With respect to this idea, events manipulate people and not the other way round.

Some authors (Herzl) consider that power is to be counteracted by power and that the balance of power should guarantee the states’ sovereignity international rights and lay foundations of a global security organization. In practice there is no linear politics as states (considered individually) aim at a certain superiority, rejecting the balance of power is essentially the embodiment of power and power privilege. Hence, there is no need for balance, except the case when a country gains power to become equal of some other countries, to achieve it goals; in other words, the pursuit and gain of power are universal.

Besides, countries are in quest for gaining power and legitimating it. For example, in 1989, when the Warsaw Pact was abolished, the wall of Berlin fell down and the communism was defeated – in Vaclav Havel’s words the power of the powerless was legitimated. It means that the failure of communism and the victory of a democracy in progress were officially aknowledged. Fukuyama thinks that realism in international relations, as a prescriptive ideology, is still relevant in spite of the instatement of democracy in the 1970s and 1980s.

The historical half of the world continues to function according to realistic principles, whereas the posthistorical half resorts to such principles when interacting with the former half. The relations betwen democratic and non-democratic states will be characterized by a feeling of fear and mutual distrust, despite the higher degree of economic independence, force will be the ultima ratio in their interaction. [iii] In his speech on peace dynamics, made in front of the German Parliament in 1929, N. Titulescu quoted Woolf’s „International Government” as a major contribution to the topic.

We were born to be either realistic or unbearable idealists, the latter behaving rather strange. In the first category we include Trasimac, Cleon, Pillat etc. In the second category we include „Socrates, Plato, Voltaire et id genus omne”. It is also worth mentioning that tomorrow’s realist will plead, more often than not, for a cause which makes the today’s idealist be mocked at or hanged. To these two categories, Titulescu add the third: „the accomplishing idealists” which, although aspiring for the absolute, undertake political responsabilities since they want their ideal to become true.

It is them who guarantee peace by disciplinating opposing forces. [iv] Neo-realism is an interpretation of classical realism founded in the 1930s and promoted by Morgenthau until the early 1970s. Referring to this period, Smith in „Paradigm Dominance in International Relatins” label it is abnormar as far as international relations are concerned. Neo-realism, in the very American vein, is a methodological variation, a restoration of realism in the new framework of international relations and world politics.

Waltz and Gilpin are the founders of the explanatory neo-realism which tthrows a different light on the countries political behaviour motivated by immediate interests and by the expectation of gaining power and prestige. In „War and Change in World Politics”, Gilpin states that power distribution among states is the very means of contral in the whole international system by the transfer of the concept of the will of power, specific to the ralism, to power distribution, thus eliminating the exaggerated claims of the classical theory through the minimising of international violence.

Teoretically, neo-realism tones down ralism with respect to international relations. The „will of power” and the relationship „amity-inamity”, the basics of realism, are replaced by „objectivity”, „rationality”, „economic development”. The increasing number of social changes and their ever more complex nature as well as international political changes led to a new more articulated theory of power dynamics.

The study takes into consideration the recurrent processes, the particularities of the new type of diplomatic relations, alliance dynamics, the events that happened in Asia, Africa and the Middle Est in the 1970s and the fundamental issue of moral standards in international politics. The „great theory” fallacy, as Holsti characterized Morgenthau’s political realism, Haas’s neo-functionalism or Kaplan’s theory of systems are due to the general tendency of emphasizing new aspects of the theory of international politics, of interpreting war and imperialism – related problems more exactly.

In this respect, Waltz’s „Man, State and War” testifies for such initiatives: to hypothesize, generalize and validate principles. The extraordinary feature of reality is the dynamics of international relations. Burton claims that no general theory will fit unless it takes into consideration the rapid changes in the technological, social and political context where nations should live in perfect harmony.

We do agree with him as the states’ political behaviour has changed surprisingly due to the clash of interests and uncontrolable forces. Waltz’s „Theory of International Politics” (1979) is considered the fundamental text of neo-realism, defending the complex science or international relations at a time when it was no longer in vogue. Although the author does not redefine Morgenthau’s concepts of power and balance of power, he has the merit of envisaging international relations from a different perspective.

Waltz believe that war is inherent to human nature, to the international system conditions or to the type of political organization/regime. The states’ political behaviour is influenced by international events; the author distinguishes betwen an anarchical and hierarchical international system as every state has the duty of defending its top position and fundamental rights: nobody has a right to command and nobody has to obey. Furthermore, Waltz suggests that the architecture of power and power distribution should be re-designed.

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