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Realism and Internaional Relations

  • Date Submitted: 01/28/2010 09:12 AM
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What are the assumptions of Realism, and why has it been so influential in the study of international relations?

Originating from Ancient Greece, realism is the theory, which has been one of the leading and most prominent ways of thinking in terms of international relations in modern times. Thucydides, a Greek Historian, was first to deduce that aspirations for power and domination were prominent aspects of mankind (Dunne & Shmidt 2001: 267). Its dominance in international relations however, really began at the Treaty of Westphalia, which effectively set out the very principles for nation states to protect their own interests. These basic principles of Realism together have forged the stem to all other common assumptions in the Realist school of thought.

Instead of referring to itself as an ideology, realists see it as more of a straightforward rational theory, a way of thinking reasonably in a situation, rather than idealistically. Indeed, it is argued that Realism has dominated International Relations to such a degree, that people forget it is just a perspective, as it is commonly recognized as a ‘commonsense’ view of world politics (Steans 2005: 50).   Dunne and Schmidt point out that the outbreak of the Second World War confirmed inadequacies of inter-war idealist approaches (2001: 162), and that the realities of an incessant struggle for power among states (Steans 2005: 51) were perceptible. After the war, over ¾ of phenomena noted and over 90% of hypothesis tested, was realist in inspiration (Doyle 1997: 15). This is evidence to prove that Realism has been manifestly influential in international relations. As to why, the changing balance of power and the way in which states would now perceive foreign policy, following the war, ushered a new dominant theory behind world politics, where “Policy makers since have looked at the world through a realist lens” (Dunne & Schmidt 2001: 162).

In Realism, States are the primary...


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