Realism can be traced back to the 5th century B.C where it was first mentioned in Thucydides book ‘The Peloponnesian war’. Today realism as a theory can be separated into two most dominant strands. One being classical realism and the other being neorealism.
Both of these theories can be linked to certain writers and philosophers which underpinned the main features and ideas of each theory. Classical realism is mostly linked to texts written by Hans J. Morgenthau, Machiavelli, and Carl von Clausewitz.
Neorealism, on the other hand, can be linked to Kenneth Waltz, especially in his book called ‘The theory of International Relations’. In this essay, I will mostly concentrate on the ideas of Morgenthau and Waltz as I believe them to be the most influential of all as their ideas have been most widely used when talking about realism, but I will include others as well. In this essay, I will try to explain what each of them thinks when talking about war. Throughout the essay, I will look at main elements of realism that have a connection to war and conflict while comparing neorealist’ and classical realists’ views on those elements. I will then draw some conclusions on which theory provides the best explanation of war based on my opinion as well as of other thinkers. Realism can be defined as an ideology which seeks to explain the world as it is rather than what it should be. Like Morgenthau wrote ‘it is an empirical rather than a normative paradigm’ (Morgenthau, 1956: 4).
It is also a pessimistic view that stresses the repetitive patterns of power politics demonstrated by reappearing conflicts (Jackson and Sorensen, 2007: 60). States, just like the rational selfish individuals, behave in their own self-interest and ‘are guided by raison d’etat.’ (Brown, 2005: 30). Power-seeking is the number one aim of the majority of nation states. This has resulted in a number of wars and conflicts that have taken place throughout history. Therefore, in such a world, security dilemma and distribution of power are the key terms used for realist’s analysis (Buzan, 1997: 53).
In other words, realists believe that the distribution of power governs international affairs (Frankel, 1996: xiv-xv). However, the two theories differ in their view on what power actually is and why it is that states exercise power over other states. Realism, in other words, is an ideology which focuses on conflicts and security problems of states, unlike other political ideologies which describe almost all aspects of life.
In short, realism is all about power politics. According to the Oxford dictionary, war can be described as ”A state of armed conflict between different countries or different groups within a country.” Wars have been persistent since the beginning of time and the reason why it is such a big issue is due to the number of losses that have occurred in wars. Realism can thus be very beneficial when looking at ways to reduce conflicts. Classical realists and neorealist have very different views about why wars occur and what can be done to stop them. Power Power is one of the main features of realism. It is the main runner of wars in realists views. Morgenthau’s key principle states “interest defined as power” shows this.
In Politics Among Nations, Morgenthau defined international politics as “the struggle for power” He defines power as any type of control exerted by an individual or a group over another body. ‘When we speak of power, we mean man’s control over the minds and actions of other men’ (Morgenthau, PAN, 1948 p13-18). This is considered a classical realist approach. Moreover, Morgenthau states that: “Power may comprise anything that establishes and maintains the power of man over man …. from physical violence to the most subtle psychological ties by which one mind controls another” (Morgenthau, 1965: 9). For Morgenthau, the most important material form of power is military dimensions, but more important than this are moral values, governing quality within a state and the nation’s character (Morgenthau, 1956: 186). This shows that classical realists stress both the tangible and intangible versions of power to the same extent, whereas neorealists seem to only care about the actual materialistic forms of power which can Kenneth Waltz clearly shows “size of population and territory, resource endowment, economic capability, military strength, political stability and competence” (Waltz, 1979, page 131).
The reason why Waltz stresses the importance of materialist values more is that they are easier to measure which helps in analyzing his type of realism which is considered as ”scientific’ realism. Whatever their view on power is, they agree that states main actions include fighting for power. Struggle for power So, why do states struggle for power? This is the main focus of differences between the views of the two theories. Classical realists believe the reason to be a negative outlook on human nature. They think human beings are power seeking creatures that put their own interest first.
As Morgenthau explains in (1947, page 158), the struggle for power in international relations is a consequence of the ‘political man’s’ need to dominate, also known as animus domandi. He also mentions that state is a collective resemblance to a man which acts in the same way as a man does in the society but on the international level. In other words, power politics at the global level is a result of such power operations just like those of individuals in a society (Morgenthau 1947: 40). He also thinks that the anarchical structure of the state allows this kind of behavior to occur, but is not the cause of it. The absence of a world government means that there are no restrictions on a man’s basic desires, reflected in the state behavior, to dominate others (Shimko, 1992: 290-293) On the contrary, neorealists believe that the anarchical structure of the international system to be the main cause for violent actions. The absence of a legitimate world government or a greater legitimate power allows there to be no limitations on the use of power in the international system. As Kenneth Waltz clearly explains ‘Each state pursues its own interest’s, however, defined, in ways it judges best.
Force is a means of achieving the external ends of states because there exists no consistent, reliable process of reconciling the conflicts of interest that inevitably arise among similar units in a condition of anarchy. ( Man, the state, and war, Chapter VIII, Conclusion, p. 238) In short, it can be said that classical realism focuses attention on human nature whereas neorealism accuses the anarchic international system to be the cause (Brown, 2005, page 92).
Importance of States This thought brings us to realists view of the nation-states. All realists including classical and neorealists, believe the state to be the main actor on the international stage and therefore international affairs solely concentrate on relationships between states. Most attention is given to supreme powers as they have the most control in the international sphere (Mearsheimer, 2001: 17-18). Many neoliberals such as Vasques (1997,899) and Keohane (1986, 164-5) also declare that state-centrism and the primacy of nation-states is one of the core values of realism. Neorealists also tend to compare the international system to nations and therefore think that like in any state, the government is the main restriction to the use of violence and therefore forming a world government could lead to a reduction in the number of wars. Classical realists, however, stress the occurrence of violence within a national territory, such as the vast number of civil wars that have occurred throughout history. in order to prove that even with the existance of a government, violence is inevitable, coming back to the negative view of human nature. However, in my opinion, civil wars tend to occur during a very fragile time within a state and therefore does not mean that strong legitimate government could not at least lessen the extent to which wars occur.
Moreover, classical realists think that the state is metaphysically superior to the system, allowing more space for agency in the previous approach, unlike neorealism. (Hobson, 2000: 17) How can war be stopped? Consequently, only structural changes are able to affect international outcomes in world politics (Waltz, 1979: 108). Waltz (1964: 881-909) writes about the bipolar distribution of power being the most stable and peaceful form of the international system. The great powers, managers or adversary partners have capabilities to provide the stability between the states and the global system (balance of power). They are coercive and restrictive (Waltz, 1979, pp.74). Whereas Morgenthau believes that the hierarchical order would lead to harmony.
Similarities By knowing all this, it seems as if these two theories are completely different to each other however there is a number of clashing similarities in both of them. Morgenthau mentions anarchical system as well when he states that ‘among men as among states, anarchy, or the absence of government, is associated with the occurrence of violence.’ In his words, ‘ among states, the state of nature is a state of war’ Conclusion In order to conclude this essay, I must explain what is meant by the best explanation of war. Firstly, the answer is a subjective answer based on my own opinion and secondly, I believe the best explanation would lead to the best result theories. So, by looking at both theories and their arguments, I believe Neorealists to be more accurate in their assumptions on how to stop the reoccurrence of war. Offering a punishment of some sort is the best way to control states. This can be done by providing the world with an accountable, legitimate and single, not bipolar, power which will make sure sanctions are carried out.
These sanctions should not include a form of violence. I also believe that none of the theories are wrong, but classical realism to be a bit misleading as human nature detects the inner wishes of human beings which I do not consider that pessimistically. I also believe that even if that view is true, a higher authority could stop wrong intentions, at least to some extent.