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Realism versus other Theories of International Relations Essay

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Updated: Feb 4th, 2019

The history of world-politics has been dominated by various theories that help explain international relations. In the recent past, debate has been rife over which theory is better suited to foster sound world-politics. The world’s political forum constantly attempts to substantiate which international relations theory can successfully deal with pressing global issues such as war and peace.

In this debate, most scholars are of the view that the choice of the international relations theory has a great impact on global politics. Unlike political ideologies, international relations theories have to be proven before being instituted. The most common theories of international relations are liberalism and realism.

Theories of international relations are modeled on the concept that nations usually act in a manner that serves their national interests. Examples of national interests include economic prosperity, military power, and self-preservation. This essay presents the argument that realism explains more about the important aspects of world politics than the other theories of international relations.

Realism is an international relations theory that argues that countries only act in a manner that increases their power in relation to that of other countries. Realism claims among other things that a powerful country is best suited to outdo other relatively weaker countries. The general concept behind realism is that the world is a dangerous and harsh place. There are several theories that counter the concepts contained in realism.

The most prominent counter-realism theory is liberalism. According to liberalism, the closeness between countries has nullified realism. The fact that several states have similar interests has eliminated the need to employ military power in the event of a disagreement. The other counter-realism theory is idealism. Idealism stresses on the need for nations to employ moral ethics when they are conducting their international politics. Idealism champions for the abandonment of inferior tactics such as trickery, dishonesty, and violence.

Proponents of realism argue that it is formulated on the assumption that the global-politics arena is dominated by anarchy. The foundation of realism is pegged on ‘human nature’. This means that realists assume that governments like human beings are driven by self-interest. Therefore, it is unlikely that the political organizations that are formulated based on other international relations theories can be able to change human nature. The pessimistic nature of realism is often challenged by both idealists and liberalists.

Although the pessimistic nature of realism seems undesirable, its central premise bears a solid argument. Many scholars concur that human beings are creatures who are self-preservative by instinct. Politics is a reflection of individual human beings albeit in a collective front.

Realists articulate that nations are primarily reflections of collective human nature. This makes it hard to argue that the behavior of states can be different from that of individuals. The evidence of the anarchy that is characteristic of human nature can be witnessed all over the world. The events that transpire in the course of conducting global politics provide a solid backing for realism.

Currently, the drive for self-preservation and accumulation of resources are prime influences of international politics. For instance, the relationship between the United States and China is dominated by the need for self-preservation on the side United States and the need to gain resources on China’s side. Most human beings would concur with the premises behind realism.

There are several events around the world today that are used to interpret the current state of world politics. Some of the events that help interpret global politics include ideological differences between nations, armed conflict, and possibilities of conflict. These events are a clear indication that realism is a valid theoretical concept. Even in a world where people lean towards other theories such liberalism and idealism, political events are still characterized by realistic tendencies.

For instance, the political class in the United States constantly distances itself from realism and yet its actions are in line with realism. In addition, the fact that the most politically influential countries in the world are also the countries with the most military power supports realism. The anarchical mode of political operation that is proposed by realism is very similar to the current order of events in the global political arena.

Even though realism is well represented in the global arena, its advocacy can steer a state towards a path of conflict. Proponents of realism blame the theory for increasing aggression, unnecessary military expansions, and conflicts. The need to foster international political unity is greatly undermined by realism.

Unsatisfactory political unity can hamper free trade, peace, and cooperation among countries. The liberalists often blame realism for the collapse of the Soviet Union. In its heydays, the Soviet Union exemplified one of the strongest political units to date. Liberalists also argue that the benefits of globalization are too valuable to be ignored. Given that realism is often touted as one of the deterrents of globalization, liberalists conclude it has no place in modern day global politics.

The fact that realism conveys the most important facts in modern politics can be exemplified by the fact that it is a useful reference during conflict resolution. For a conflict to be resolved, its cause has to be understood.

Realism is best suited in scenarios where tensions and conflicts are rife. The fact that realism concerns itself with a world that is characterized by self-interest and war makes it pertinent to global politics. The last century has seen realism come under attack as an outdated international relations theory. However, events that have transpired within this same period indicate that these attacks have been baseless.

For instance, the political events that transpired during the cold war era highlighted realism on a global scale. During the cold war era, constant jostling for positions of power kept both the US and the USSR in a state of near conflict. These actions point towards the anarchic political actions that are exemplified by realism. Without an in-depth understanding of realism, it would be hard to resolve political conflicts and acts of aggression.

Realism is arguably the easiest theory to define amongst the international relations theories. All political and international relations experts concur that realism provides a measurable success rate as opposed to other theories. For instance, military superiority can be exhibited through machinery to a measurable extent. However, opponents of realism often decry the over-emphasis of military might as a measure of political superiority.

There is a school of thought that is of the view that the simplistic nature of realism renders it circular in nature. For instance, realism leads to the argument that countries ‘obtain power because they obtain power’. Therefore, little attention is paid to the reasoning behind the actions of the countries that pursue realism. The hunger for power among nations can also eclipse other important developments in international politics. A lot of attention is paid to displays of power as opposed to other modern methods of conflict resolution.

The legitimacy of realism as the most relevant international relations theory is constantly undermined by the other international relations theories. The Democratic Peace Theory for instance argues that democracy in itself can foster peaceful coexistence among nations. The efficacy of the democratic theory is however undermined by the fact that even democracies get involved in conflicts.

Another backing to realism being a superior and more simplistic international relations theory is that even the other theories tend to employ realism in their operations. For example, the United States’ invasion of Iraq was said to be an attempt to foster democracy in that country. However, the invasion itself was characteristic of realism because it involved violence and military invasion.

The major opposing theory towards realism is liberalism. Liberalism advocates for free trade among countries, capitalism, and democratically elected governments. Realists usually fault liberalists using the argument that liberalism is not a real-world theory. This argument is not entirely true but it is fostered by the fact that the results achieved by liberalism are less dramatic than those achieved by realism are. However, the tedious nature of liberalism makes it seem more like an ideology than a theory.

The debate as to whether realism is the most practical and simplistic theory when it comes to international politics is set to continue. The most prominent argument for realism is that it is the only true theory and the other theories are mostly ideologies. The main argument against realism is that it is has no place in today’s globalization politics. However, the facts indicate that the relevance of realism in politics is evident and it cannot be ignored.

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1. IvyPanda. "Realism versus other Theories of International Relations." February 4, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/realism-versus-other-theories-of-international-relations/.


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IvyPanda. 2019. "Realism versus other Theories of International Relations." February 4, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/realism-versus-other-theories-of-international-relations/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Realism versus other Theories of International Relations'. 4 February.

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