Realism and the War on Terror

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Realist thought on international relations fit comfortably within the context of the great wars of the twentieth century. Powerful nations possessing massive military forces took aim at one another to affect the hierarchical structure of the international system for the good of their own security and power. These wars, however, differ greatly from today's unconventional war on terrorism. Therefore, the realist theories of yesterday, while still useful, require at least some tweaking to fit the present situation.

Probably the most obvious critique of realism with regard to the war on terrorism is that it is a theory that deals with international relations. The belligerents in the war on terrorism are not always conventional nation-states. Therefore, any theory that seeks to explain international relations must be amended to fit the framework of a situation in which nations are not the only players. This is not simply a matter of diction either. Non-state actors do not always act like states possessing a cohesive foreign policy and a desire for self-preservation and advancement. Furthermore, terrorist organizations are not tied to any specific area of land surrounded by well-defined borders that are protected with conventional military forces. This is not to say that terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda and Hezbollah are entirely devoid of the motivations on which traditional nation-sates act like the desire for power, wealth, and security; because, to at least some degree, they must possess these to continue their mission, but it is reasonable to assume that their actions will not always follow the same paths as states.

On the other hand, one area in which realism is valuable to the war on terrorism is with regard to the notion that raw military might is one of the best, if not the best way for nations to ensure their security and prosperity. While it is a bit dubious to assume that conventional military forces will be able to effectively...
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