Is Realism Realistic in Explaining Contemporary Wars: Examine Two Cases.

Topics: United States, Iraq War, 2003 invasion of Iraq Pages: 5 (1828 words) Published: November 30, 2011
This paper inherently revolves around establishing whether the realist tradition in the study of International Relations is realistic or not in explaining the occurrence of two contemporary wars. The term realistic in this paper will be defined such that realism can be used to ascertain the outbreak of contemporary wars. A critical analysis of the basic tenets of human nature (classical), offensive, and defensive realism will form an intrinsic component of this paper. Moreover, the case studies of the Second Iraq War and the war in Afghanistan will then be used as a benchmark to analyze the degree of potency present in the aforementioned works in order to reach a plausible conclusion. Realism can be regarded as one of the most preeminent accounts of interstate relations as a political theory as its roots can be traced back to antiquity. Realism can be broken down into three main categories: classical, offensive and defensive realism. Although there are various offshoots of this tradition there is a broad consensus amongst thinkers pertaining to the basic assumptions underlying the realist theory. The treatment of states as being the primary actors in the international system along with the belief that the international system is one which is characterized by perpetual anarchy which dictates the logic of self help from a state perspective coupled with the immense emphasis on power politics and relativity together form the crux of the aforementioned consensus. The foundation of realism is built on classical realism, which dominated the discipline in its early years. Classical realism is premised around the logic that holds human nature as being the main driving force behind state behavior. Classical realism has a pessimistic view of human nature and is built on the assumption that states are managed by these humans who have a ‘limitless lust for power.’ Hobbes accurately captures this in the Leviathan, "in the first place, I put for a general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death. This results in a continuous struggle for power among states, with each state seeking an opportunity to dominate the other and the mistrust amongst them can lead to preemptive strikes and war. On the other hand, defensive realism is focused on survival in this anarchical structure. This form of realism diverges further from classical realism by stressing the importance of the international system within which states coexist. The absence of a higher authority results in an anarchical international system where the states’ security can only be realized through self-help. In particular, the idea of security is a zero sum game that leads to the security dilemma and forces states to compete with each other in order to survive. This effect can be mitigated by the operation of the balance of power, whereby states balance each other. However, since the primary objective of a state is survival, for defensive realists it does not make sense for states to try and seek excessive power beyond what is necessary to survive since ‘balancing checkmates offense’. Seeking excessive power will turn other states against you as they try to maintain the balance and therefore defensive realists advocate a state to be a status quo power. Offensive realism is also a structural theory but like classical realism portrays states as excessive power seekers. The structure of the international systems explains how states are essentially in competition with each other and since states do not know each other’s intentions it results in mutual distrust and fear. Subsequently, if states are primarily concerned about survival it is in their best interest to seek as much power as possible at the expensive of its rival to increase its security, (since it is a zero sum game). In other words, the international system forces states to maximize relative power because it is the best way to ensure their...
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