Realism: Nationalism and Middle East

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Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the realist paradigm for the analysis of international politics in the region.

Realism with its emphasis on war among great powers, and security competition has been a dominant player in the study of International Relations. It has assisted theorists in understanding human nature, how states interact with each other and portraying things in their true nature, by showing them for what they really are. In it’s aesthetic sense it is defined as “fidelity to nature in representation; the showing of life etc. as it is in fact.” (Armstrong, 2005) This essay discusses the Realist paradigm with relation to the Middle East. I will be analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of this theory, and focusing on defining the paradigm. I also believe it is important for this essay to define the Middle East.

To do so, I will be using a variety of content, from journals to books. Focusing on Realism, I have looked at the works of John J. Mearsheimer and Kenneth Waltz. I will be analyzing their study of International Relations, and their Realist ideologies. When discussing the Middle East, Gregory F. Gause’s article entitled, “Systematic approaches to the Middle East International Relations,” has proved to be an important source of information. The crux of this essay, hence the discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the Realist paradigm for understanding International Politics in the Middle East, comes from a variety of different journals and articles. For instance, Mohammed Ayoob’s “Subaltern Realism: International Relations theory meets the third world” and Fred Halliday’s “The Middle East in International Relations: Power, Politics and Ideology” are two of the journals I will be using for this analysis.

Realism, since it’s conception has always emphasized the importance of the State, security and the maximization of power within the state. For the purpose of this essay, I believe it is important to define the state through a realist perspective. Realism pays a great deal of importance to the operations of the state and it’s position in the international system, hence its definition of the state is significant to this essay. Fred Halliday claims, “Realism treats states as unitary actors seeking to maximize their advantages within a competitive, or ‘anarchical’ system, pursuing power politics.” (Halliday 2005) Realists look at the foreign policies of states, and the ways in which they create alliances on the basis of expected threats and suspected opportunities. John Mearsheimer has a similar understanding; he claims International Politics for realists is synonymous for power politics. Mearsheimer describes two types of Realists, classical and structural, the former believe that states want power simply because it is a part of their human nature. In their opinion virtually everyone is born with a will to be powerful wired into them. Hence, great nations are lead by individuals who are hard pressed on having their states more powerful than its rivals. For structural realists, it is the architecture of the international system, which forces states to strive for power. In an anarchic system, where there is no higher authority above the great powers, and no guarantee that one will not attack the other, it is in the interest of each state to be powerful enough if a rival were to attack.

Each paradigm of International Relations theory has it’s own set of strengths and weaknesses. However, in context to the Middle East, the Realist paradigm in my opinion is weaker than its counterparts.

What is the Middle East?

Geopolitically the Middle East, connecting three continents, extremely rich in oil and situated in between Europe and the East, represents a very important part of the international system. However, it is hard to define...
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