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Critics on Realism

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As I previously alluded to; realists strongly believe in the centrality of the nation-state in their international political structure. They recognize the importance and relevance of transnational organizations to international relations; however, they believe that state has the ultimate authority and that no state should pass on this authority to any foreign entity.

Another realists’ core assumption is that the international system characterized by an anarchy which shapes the state behavior. Anarchy makes each state always concerned about its own survival and in a constant state of apprehension of being attacked or its interests threatened by another state especially if the latter is seeking to strengthen its power. Therefore, traditional realists like Morgenthau believe that the state must rely on its own power, especially military power, to protect its interests.

Moreover, classical realism looks at the state as a rational and autonomous actor. Realists expand the state autonomy to not only include autonomy from international organizations but also sufficient autonomy from their national societies to recognize and pursue the interests of the nation as a whole. This domestic coherent attitude allows them to “exercise control over different national organizations to direct and control government actions in such a way as to implement the decisionmakers’ strategies” (Doyle et al, pp.166).

In their pursuit of domestic autonomy, realists believe they ought to be unconstrained by civil society preferences or opinions, which I believe creates dilemma. In a democratic society, the government is elected to represent the people and has to conform to their will and choice. How can realist choose to ignore national organizations and the civil society institutions which in many cases reflect and express the public opinion?

The realist system makes power the central, organizing principle of the system. States within this system are trying to remain in some kind of equilibrium despite the constant power maximizing behavior of all states.

Structural realism subscribes to three main conceptual elements as classical realism: Statism, Survival, and Self-help. Structural realism, however, overcame a number of limitations of classical realism by focusing on the distribution of power in the international system and by exploring how the system’s overall structure defined in terms of distribution of power, influences the political outcomes.

Neorealists acknowledge the increasing importance of interdependence and the influence of global economy on world politics, but they argue the each state’s policies continued to be determined by a desire to maximize its relative power, mainly military power (Week four lecture). However, neorealists believe that states need power to achieve security and that power in itself is not the goal. Realists on the other hand see state maximizing power is an end in itself.
Waltz views the system of international relations as a number of interacting units representing states, and refers to the structure as the mechanism through which these units are arranged in relation to each other. By understanding where a state is located in the structure it is possible not only to explain state behavior but also to predict it, although we cannot know with certainty what state will do (Kauffman et al, pp.296)

Unlike classical realism, structural realism does not include consideration of the effects of the policies and behavior of states on international politics. Instead, it considers the outcomes of a state policies depend mainly on the variation of the structure within which their actions occur (Neorealism: confusions and criticism, pp.3). Therefore, by trying to understand the state-level interaction, waltz omitted everything else that is not part of this process, including the state’s history, culture, ideology, political institutions or economic organizations, although he did not deny their importance

Waltz then later clarified that since “capability” is an attribute of the state, we cannot include it in the definition of the structure which must leave aside any characteristics of the states including their behavior and interactions. However, the “distribution capabilities” among the state units across the structure is an attribute of the system.

Furthermore, unlike the domestic political structures which are centralized and hierarchic; the ordering principles in the international-political structures are decentralized and anarchic. State units are alike in terms of sovereignty, and coordinate among each other with none is entitled to command.

Another fundamental concept in Neorealism is the polarity of the international system. Neorealists believe that a world with two superpowers has tendency for peace more than a world with only one superpower or multi-powers. The number of great powers affects the stability of the structure—bipolar system is more stable than multi-polar one because it provides clarity and predictability. They keep watch on each other, can divide the world between themselves and suppress smaller conflicts. So, alliances were not meant only to deter each other but to control states within each league. With multi-polarity, defections are a problem and might threaten the members of that alliance.

However, Neorealism argues that for liberal economy, not international economy, to survive and flourishes it requires a hegemon dominating power to maintain the rules and prevent other emerging powers from disturbing its stability. This Hegemonic Stability Theory (HST) has been one of themes of Neorealism.

To conclude, both classical and structural realism argue that the most important actors in world politics are nation-states; these states are autonomous and rational. It assumes that the system of interacting states is characterized by anarchy, that domestic politics has a minimal effect on states’ foreign policies, and that the behavior of each state is affected significantly by the pursuit of power.

Neorealism differs from realism in two fundamental ways. First, Neorealism believes that states are more interested in security than power, and that states might forego power if it will undermine their security. Second, Neorealism argues that the polarity of the international system influence the state behavior. However, the validity of Neorealism was questioned when it failed to predict and explain the end of cold war and the collapse of the Soviet Union. By ignoring the domestic changes that took place inside the USSR, neorealists have missed the opportunity to predict and understand the changes in that state behavior.

The Middle East is another area where domestic turmoil and cultural complexities significantly alter the state behavior, its choices and political-military alliances, which in turn represent a challenge to the neorealists’ view of world politics. The War in Iraq and the pre-war expectations as to how the Iraqi people would welcome an American invasion demonstrated a major flaw in our realist understanding of how culture and religion can play an essential role in the state behavior and its people. Our strategies in dealing with Iran and the assumption that Iranian military would crumple similar to what happened in Iraq in face of American superpower in any given military confrontation are overlooking the fundamental differences between the theocracy-based Iranian military ideology and the secular authoritarian nature of former Iraqi regime…...

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