International Relations/Classical Realism

Read this short introduction to classical realism. Pay close attention to what it says about the state system's anarchy and how this affects the ability of states to cooperate. Compare this reading with the previous article and think about the following questions: How do their arguments differ, and what does that imply about effective international law? Which argument do you find more convincing?

Classical Realism

Classical Realism derives from the thought of Thucydides, Niccolò Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, Sun Tzu, Carl von Clausewitz, Edward H. Carr, Nicolas Spykman, Hans J. Morgenthau, Henry Kissinger, Z. Brzezinski, S. Huntington.

Key Assumptions:

  • The international system is anarchic, no true authoritative world government exists.

  • Sovereign states are the principal actors in the international system.

  • International institutions, non-governmental organizations, multinational corporations and other sub-state or trans-state actors are viewed as having little and mostly not independent influence.

  • International Law reflects the current balance of power.

  • States are rational unitary actors each moving towards their own national interest. They move on a cost- gain axis trying to maximise their gains

  • Because of the anarchy of the international system there is a general distrust of long-term cooperation or alliance.

  • The overriding 'national interest' of each state is its national security and survival.

  • In pursuit of national security, states strive to amass resources.

  • States resolve to war on order to achieve high levels of security

  • Relations between states are determined by their comparative level of power derived primarily from their military and economic capabilities.

Both Classical Realism and Structural Realism agree on the key assumption that the states are rational actors moving towards their own national interests. The difference between these two theories is that Structural Realism emphasizes on the function and the role of the international system and the way that states interact in it.

Source: Wikiversity,
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Last modified: Friday, September 10, 2021, 11:39 AM