Observations of Realists

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Minor Essay
Trimester 1, 2013

1) Are the observations of Realists, such as Hans Morgenthau, accurate in respect to their assessment of the importance of international law in contemporary world politics?

Realists such as Hans Morgenthau and more recently Lloyd Gruber, base their theories on the assumption individuals, and hence states, act rationally to protect their own interests, the national interest. They believe states exist in a world of anarchy without an over arching authority. While this may be the case and it certainly is for some states, it is a theory that requires review within the context of the modern world and international law. In the world of bi-polar power during the Cold War, Morgenthau’s views interpreted the global climate accurately, however it is now short sighted in our time of globalization. Multi-National Corporations (MNC), Inter-Governmental Organisations (IGO) and Non-Government Organisations (NGO) play a very large part on the world stage and influence countries, economies and conflicts. Meanwhile younger theories are tending to consider the state and the world’s political climate as a holistic, interactive entity. Increased access to communication, social media and increased global wealth serve to provide an environment for a better financed and informed NGO. Yet even the UN, it’s efficacy being constantly brought into doubt, plays a vital role in establishing norms and standards with the global stakeholders. These developing theories document our planet’s political interaction and development and as such are constantly in a state of change. Sometimes in-sync with current standards such as international law and other times, not.

Taking into account realism is one of the more established theories of international relations, we have to also consider the global climate in which the theory was established and compare that to now. Hans Morgenthau was born in Coburg, Germany 1904 and experienced two world worlds. He and his predecessors experienced states as the only actors in world politics. The United Kingdom was exiting her great period of colonisation and was witnessing the unraveling of her empire. Meanwhile Germany was rebuilding and rising in global status. The world was experiencing a transition into industry and moving away from the traditional agriculturally driven economies. Throughout this time, the average person’s existence was more concerned with subsistence. Overseas phone calls and intercontinental travel were beyond the average person’s reach. The importance of setting the scene here is to understand globalisation was in its infancy. To understand this helps to shape the importance other actors in world politics play. Instant communications, the Internet and global travel have made the world a smaller place. Activists, such as Green Peace, can now influence states. So much so, the Rainbow Warrior, Green Peace’s flagship, was sunk by the French spy agency, Directorate-General for External Security (DGSE), in July 1985, killing a photographer. This is an extreme example of NGO influence, yet it cannot be denied that to bomb a civilian ship highlights the pressure Green Peace was placing on the international stage.

Realism does not take into account all variables acting upon the state in today’s day and age. When established, realism existed in a time of strong state actors. Today, with the ending of the Cold War that line has blurred, NGOs etc… have filled that void. To understand the motivation behind the establishment of these organisations helps us to understand the influence they have. For instance, Oxfam, Amnesty International and the like have their basis within a moral social consciousness. Therefore, it’s easy to see why theories, such as Social Constructivism, focus on a world shaped by the influences of a nation’s shared beliefs, culture and values. As democracy extends further and nations adopt a capitalist model to fit into the global model, the demands...
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