A Comparison Of Multiple Theories Of International Relations Politics Essay

To have a deep understanding in international relations, everyone must grasp many theories which are Realism theory, Liberalism theory, International Political Economy theory, and others. Realism theory is one of the oldest theories that has been created for a long time that is why many people have a view that Realism theory is an outdated approach or that Realism theory can no longer be used to explain international relations. However, we strongly believe that Realism theory is still playing an imperative role in interpreting current international relations. In this paper, we are going to demonstrate that Realism theory is not an outdated theory in international relations since Realism theory is still being used to explain international relations at current circumstances. We begin with providing an overview of Realism theory, and we, then, gives several case studies in order to prove that Realism theory is not outdated.

There's a specialist from your university waiting to help you with that essay.
Tell us what you need to have done now!

order now

Overview of Realism Theory

Since Realism theory has been emerged for a long time, many elements of Realism theory have been developed. Thus, we need to know those elements so that we can have a clear picture of Realism theory. In this part, five crucial elements of Realism theory, which are classical realism, neo-classical realism, strategic realism, structural realism or neo-realism, and stability realism or hegemony and balance of power, will be briefly explored.

Classical Realism

In classical realism, there are three prominent realism scholars whose names are Thucydides, Niccolo Machiavelli, and Thomas Hobbes. Thucydides, who is an ancient Greek historian, developed his main concept in classical realism, which is called naturalist character to show that there is anarchy in international relations. He believes that all states are naturally unequal in power that is why they usually have competitions and conflicts among them. Thucydides agrees with the idea that “Man is a political animal” said by Aristotle, and he further ascertains that political animals are highly unequal in their powers and capabilities to dominate others and to defend themselves. Thus, he recommended that all states, especially weak states, and statespeople must conduct properly in IR by knowing deeply the inequality of power environment so that they can survive and prosper. Decision makers should have thought deeply and carefully before making the final ones whether or not the outcome is good. More importantly, he introduces the view that there is no Justice in equality of power in IR. It means that the great power ones can do whatever they want whereas the minor power ones suffer what results from the actions of great power want. Indeed, Thucydides sees that there is anarchy in international relations since there is an inequality of power. Therefore, all states, especially weak states, have no real choices in operation, but they try to adapt into the environment of power politics or go to war in order to secure and survive.

The other crucial classical realist in IR is the Renaissance Italian political theorist Niccolo Machiavelli who believes that state leaders always try to take advantages and prevent state interest for their countries. In doing so, state leaders need to use two important means in conducting foreign policy which are power and deception. Leaders need power because when they are strong, they are able to defend their countries and to pursue their national interest. Using deception in foreign policy also helps leaders not to miss the opportunity to gain advantages for their countries. State leaders need to grasp well about their rivals or competitors so that it is easy for them to win over their rivals or competitors. Beside this, he has an assumption that the world is a dangerous place, but there are opportunities in the world as well. Therefore, in order to survive, states must know the danger in order to survive, or states must be aware of opportunities so that they can take advantages of them. Furthermore, he commented leaders that they should not perform foreign policy accordance with the principle of Christian ethics such as love thy neighbor, be peaceful, and avoid war except in self-defense because that principle can lead their states to be destroyed. In conclusion, Machiavelli believes that state is self-interest and that the world is a dangerous place, but the there are opportunities in the world as well. He also provides statecrafts for state leaders to conduct so that they take advantages or bring security for their countries.

Beside Thucydides and Niccolo Machiavelli, the seventeen-century English political and legal philosopher Thomas Hobbes who lived at a time of great social change and political instability is also an influential classical realist. Therefore, he developed his concept that is relevant to the nature of political power or sovereign power. He elaborated why people agreed to jointly create sovereign state. Before the creation of sovereign state, people lived in danger because they always have conflicts or wars with each others. Therefore, in order to live in secure and peace, they collaborated with each others to create sovereign state. However, the creation of sovereign state poses other serious political problem which is security of dilemma because no one can control sovereign states.

Neoclassical Realism

Neoclassical realism is the second evolution of realism theory. Morgenthau is a vital neoclassical realist, and he is pessimistic about natural politic of human being. People are born to pursue power and to enjoy the fruit of power so that they can survive or prosper. The desire of gaining power makes them have conflicts or wars with each others. As a result, there will be international anarchy and conflicts in system of states. Moreover, Morgenthau has similar idea about morality in conduction foreign policy with Thucydides and Machiavelli. As a responsible leader for a state, he or she needs to perform or engage in foreign policy or politics that he or she would be wrong according to private morality. For instance, he or she might lie, spy, and cheat.

Strategic Realism

Other element of realism theory is strategic realism, and the noticeable scholar of strategic realism is Thomas Schelling whose main focus is foreign policy decision-making. He believes that foreign policy of state is rational which means that state constructs foreign policy depend on what state want to achieve so that game theory can be used to deeply explain foreign policy of state. In game theory, individual that is rational always try to do something in order to satisfy his/her preference. Beside this, he has a view that when state faces diplomatic and military issues, state leader need to find strategic and instructional though in dealing with them. By doing do, state leader is able to make his state survive and be better off. More importantly, he also provides analytical tools for instrumentally strategic thought which are brute force and coercion. In brute force, he refers to the way that state deals with issues by using military force or going to war. On the other hand, coercion refers to the way that state solves issues by diplomacy or bargaining, so having a deep understanding of her opponents lets state use bargaining method to solve issues more easily and effectively. In short, according to Thomas Schelling, state needs to think strategically in confronting diplomatic and military issues.

Structural Realism

In 1979, Kenneth K. Waltz attempted to reformulate other international theories including classical realism in a new and distinctive way, by applying a more scientific approach, which was known as Neorealism or Structural Realism. Waltz took international structures as the center of analysis, and the international structures are internaional anarchy, states as like units, unequal state capability, and great power relations. Unlike classical realists, Waltz believed that human nature had little to do in the system since they were shaped by the social struture or architecture. The anarchic system urged states to pursue power and compete with each other in order to survive, otherwise they would be trapped in the system. Neorealists believed that power is a mean to an end, and the ultimatevend is survival. According to Waltz, there were five straight forward assumptions to explain why states want power. The first assumption is that great powers are the main actors in world politics and they operate in an anarchic system. The second assumption is that all states possess some offensive military capability. Each state, in other words, has the power to inflict some harm on its neighbor. The third assumption is that states can never be certain about the intentions of other states. The fourth assumption is that the main goal of states is survival. States seek to maintain their territorial integrity and the autonomy of their domestic political order. The fifth assumption is that states are rational actors, which is to say they are capable of coming up with sound strategies that maximize their prospects for survival.

Neorealist Stability Theory

John Mearsheimer is an offensive realist in structural realism theory and he describes about balance of power and hegemony and agrees that military power is still a main tool and critical element in world politic. John Mearsheimer, currently the professor at US University differs from other realists because he determined that the behaviors of states are affected by the anarchical structure of international relations. He agrees that the world nowadays is anarchic where there are the crashes between the states especially powerful ones with no world “government” to rule over sovereign states and challenge its sovereignty. They, states, are trying to compete for power and seek hegemony. However, states, in fact, can only become the hegemony in their own region of the world but they also want to make sure that no other regional hegemony in any part of the world emerges as a peer competitor. For example, this is what the goal of United States is to protect its sphere of influence in Europe and East Asia and it also ensures that there are no other competitors rising to challenge its position. Indeed, if China wants to become the competitor to United States in East Asia, United States will prevent China from intervening in other regions such as the case of South China Sea. This is why his theory was called as “offensive realism” which “rest on assumption that great power are always searching for opportunities to gain power over their rivals, with hegemony as their final goal.”

Mearsheimer also stated that the anarchy has two principle consequences. First, there is little room for trust among states and state can ever be certain another state will not use its military capability. Second, each state must guarantee its own survival because no other actor will provide its security. As a result, states inherently have to possess offensive military capability as the necessary protection.

We can summarize the discussion thus far by briefly stating what these realists basically have in common. First, human beings as well as states are self-interest. Second, they agree that the human condition is a condition of insecurity and conflict which must be addressed and dealt with. Third, they agree that there is a body of political knowledge, or wisdom, to deal with the problem of security, and each of them tries to identify the keys to it. Finally, they agree that there is no final escape from this human condition, which is a permanent feature of human life. In other words, although there is a body of political wisdom-which can be identified and stated in the form of political maxims-there are no permanent or final solutions to the problems of politics-including international politics.

Case Studies

U.S. invasion in Iraq

U.S. invasion in Iraq is one of the evident which show that realism theory is not an outdated approach in interpreting international relations. That event can be analyzed by using state interest, hegemony, and international structure. U.S under President Bush invaded Iraq since the President wants to keep U.S. as a hegemonic state. In order to be a hegemonic state, state needs to have strong economy and military. In this case, U.S. wants to control oil resource in Iraq so that U.S. can use those resources to boost his economy. With strength economy, U.S. can also promote military strength. Beside this, the international structure also caused U.S. to invade Iraq as well. Terrorism is nothing new for human society, but it is probably exist since human began to regulate the use of violence or threat. The 11 September 2001 attacks in New York and Washington and it is regarding as an issue that concern by International Relation. This is the threat to human security of United States as well as the world. For this case United States, the super power invaded Iraq the small state in 2003, the reason is that United States wanted to protect itself from attacking by terrorist groups and care about the world’s security. If Al-Qaida can attack United States, it would be possible for those terrorists to attack other countries in the world. Terrorists are willing to create fear to people that why United States invaded Iraq to ensure security for its citizen and states. Obviously, classical realism theory does effectively apply to the case of US- Iraq war in 2003 due to the fact that United States just use strategic of self defend in order to protect its citizen from being attack by terrorist from Iraq. Public opinion thought that six months before the attack, President Bush met in the White House with eleven members of the US House of Representatives. While the “war against terrorism is going okay,” he told the lawmakers, the United States would soon have to deal with a greater danger: “The biggest threat, however, is Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction. He can blow up Israel and that would trigger an international conflict. In brief, I believe that The United States is willing to protect its people and states from being attack by terrorists from Iraq. US, of course preferred the defensive theory to make the state’s survival. US had made a final decision to invade Iraq before terrorist become the major threat to the international security. Unite States are trying to prevent threats, violence and fear that occur by Al-Qaida and other horror terrorists toward the world security.

South China Sea Issue

The tension generated by maritime disputes in the South China Sea is the example of hegemony and balance of power featured in Structural realism theory. The South China Sea Conflict was involved by six countries. China, Taiwan and Vietnam claims sovereignty over the entire area. The Philippines and Malaysia each maintain separate claims to specific features, while Brunei claims only a 200 nautical mile exclusive zone.

All those states compete with one another because of its enormous economic benefits and the conflicts have started decades ago. It is significant to note that the South China Sea is the critical trade route between Europe and East Asia, and its rich commercial fishing field and enormous natural gas field are worth billions of dollars. Whoever can hold a territorial right over it could gain quite a strong substantial power in politics and economics. It is what China is seeking naval preponderance in the South China Sea to become a global naval power which is a projection to the India Ocean.

Meanwhile, the rising power of China from resources in South China Sea comes the potential threat to United States. US try to deal itself back into South East Asian geopolitics and bolster its position in the region by the growing closer ties with Vietnam. In response to US intervention, China stressed that this conflict is an internal affair of China and the intervention of US will only make the matter worse and the resolution more difficult, posed in Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Website. Similarly, Vietnam could project that the external involvement of US will strengthen the balance of power relatively to China since China is the main threat to Vietnam since decades ago uptill the present day. Other countries also state to act accordingly in the hope of same purpose. Otherwise, Asian-led multilateral security cooperation is still a work in progress toward this security dilemma but it is yet to address increased arm procurements, China’s military transformation and US renewed engagement to shore up Southeast Asia’s regional autonomy and ASEAN centrality in the regions security architecture.

What we can learn from this conflict are the struggle of states to become hegemony still remain and the possession of offensive military power was also taken place and incapability of institutionalism toward this long-term regional security dilemma of ASEAN. The successive control over the sea will give China the greater control over Taiwan, Vietnam, and East Asian Countries. Obviously, the ambitious claims of China also demonstrate the aggressive desire to be hegemony in the regions by claiming to sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the South China Sea. At the same time, US also strengthen its stretegic position in region, for instance, exercising military power with Vietnam and making Vietnam its closest alliance. Otherwise, the multilateral talks in ASEAN did not effectively bring all the involving countries into the negotiation since China prefers bilateral talks to deal with the individual countries by using its soft power, increased trade and investment. This signifies that the corporation through institution did not bring any complete resolution to the conflicts.

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama

Realism theory can better be used to explain the resignation of Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama in 2010 since he could not remove U.S. military base on Okinawa Island. During the election campaign, Mr. Yukio Hatoyama pledged that when he becomes the Prime Minister, he will remove U.S. military base on Okinawa Island. The presence of U.S. military base on Okinawa Island causes some troubles to Japanese such as raping and accident that are caused by American solider. However, that Mr. Yukio Hatoyama could not remove the U.S. military base on Okinawa Island can be elaborated through realism theory in several ways. According Classical realist Machiavelli and Neoclassical realist Han Morgenthau, state leaders cannot use private morality in politics and foreign policy so that they can bring security as well as prosperity to their countries. In this case, being the Prime Minister, Mr. Yukio Hatoyama cannot use private morality in dealing with U.S. military base issue as he needs to think about state interest. Beside this, Because of International structures, Mr. Yukio Hatoyama cannot keep his promise. First, after WWII, Japan is not allowed to have war army by its constitution, but U.S. will maintain security for Japan. Second, North Korea is also a threat of Japan. Therefore, Japan needs U.S. military presence so that Japan can be secured. Indeed, the resignation of Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama which results from failing to remove U.S. military base on Okinawa Island is the evident that show current state leaders still cannot use private morality in politics and foreign policy as well as that international structures determine what state leaders are going to do.

2008-2010 George-Russia Crisis

Georgia-Russia War happened in 2008 to fight for the South Ossetia, which is the automous province in Russia. Georgia called for help from United States to back its power for the balance with Russia and also wished to be the member of NATO. However, United States ignored the Georgia’s intention. According to the theory of Thucydides, there is the inequality of power among states; it means that there are weak states and powerful states. The powerful ones could do whatever they wish to whereas the suffers always go to the weak ones. In this case, Russia, powerful state, could invade Georgia as a weak state, and no one could help Georgai. Although both countries are members of United Nations, it cannot prevent the strong states like Russia to invade Georgia, the small and less powerful state. It states that the states remain the significant and sovereign actor in world politics. Consequently, the international system is mostly dominated and leaded by the strong states who act as the core of the world affair while the weak one followed and acts as periphery of international relations.


Though Realism started to emerge in the ancient time, from time to time Realism have developed into classical, strategic, structural realism to keep updated with the changing environment of international relation. No matter how realism have categorize into a few more types it still manages to keep its core concepts that state is the main actor who manages the world affairs. As we explained the four mian cases including many others phenomena in the world today, Realism proves that the state’s behavior are still shaped by Realism theory. Although, nowday the current issues are muliplied not only about security and politics but also environment, human rights, pedemic disease and terrorism, Realism still can analyse those issues very well. Moreover, the multipolar world exists but the state still stands as the sovereign actor in world politics. Then, Realism remaims the significant platform for explaining the internatioinal relation today and decades ahead.