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realism is that the state is the main and most important role player in the political arena with regard to international relations. Many states are involved in international relations, and as such each state is centrally governed by its own self-interest. This self-interest is furthermore not curbed by a central governing body in world politics, and each state basically chooses its own methods and means of securing its own values of self-interest and security. The realist way of political thought during the 1930s and 1940s displaced the thought of idealist and utopian ideals of politics. This was a result of an essentially negative view of human nature, brought about by the apparent success of negative strategies such as war in world politics.
Indeed, it is apparent from historical evidence that the realist theory of international relations is at least to some degree accurate. The unitary state seeks power and self-interest. The methods used to accomplish this are not necessarily in the best interest of all persons and countries involved, and war and anarchy frequently the result. One of the basic assumptions held by the realist viewpoint is that international relations are inherently conflictual.
International Relations and Conflict
This viewpoint makes sense when the variety of parties involved is considered. International relations entail a number of different countries with widely heterogeneous sets of beliefs and ethics. It therefore makes sense that conflicts would arise from the various viewpoints and ideologies. Each state then obviously also seeks its own interest and would protect this even at the cost of human lives. A further realist theory that supports this is a negative and pessimistic view of human nature. This connects with the basic realistic ideal that international relations are rooted in human nature and governed by laws that are deemed objective.
It appears, according to historical evidence, that human nature is prone to violence and selfishness. The self-interest of all the parties involved in international relations often leads to war. Rather than resolving matters in a peaceful manner, it appears that the leaders involved would prefer war. This is behavior that is detected from early childhood. This is then used as the basis for the view that human beings are not essentially good. The theory also supports the fact that international relations basically lead to anarchy. It has been mentioned that, according to the realist theory, the state is primarily interested in self-preservation.
The Values of the State
The key consideration of realism relates to interest that is directly related to political power. This interest is of course the interest of the state, which may vary according to the kind of state that holds the interest. It has been mentioned that the wide variety of states in existence in the world is the reason for the conflicts that arise. The various states make no effort to understand cross-cultural values, and thus misunderstanding and conflict occur as a result of a lack of appropriate negotiation. Hence the pessimistic realistic view of human nature.
Of course, as seen above, the exact nature of the power sought by the various cultural states changes according to the cultures and circumstances inherent in them, the fact of the search for power remains universal. This is regardless of morality as commonly accepted in society. International politics entails a different set of ethics from what is commonly accepted in everyday human relations. Moral principles are thus identified according to the time, place and state for which they are required. They are also always subject to the main values of the state, and determined accordingly. Thus these moral laws are also subject to the particular state involved, and not necessarily to the moral laws governing the universe. When a particular state is then subject to threat, the state's way of dealing with the threat is subject to its self-preservation principle rather than any morals or ethics involved.
The basic values entailed in self-preservation are therefore international security and state survival. These values take precedence over all other considerations of ethics and humanity. This is also the reason for the essentially anarchic nature of international relations. The above values are held by more or less all states and entities involved in international relations. Furthermore the state sees itself as the only legitimate representative of the people and as such licensed to act in its own interest. By association this is also seen as the interest of the people, and thus war and the suffering associated with it is seen as justified by self-interest. This, combined with heterogeneous sets of national values and interests, is what frequently leads to war and anarchy.
Basic ethics related to humanity and human relations are therefore ignored in international relations, since the value system is embedded in self-interest. The state is allowed to act in whichever way is deemed fit for its own survival and for national security. The balance of power is then seen as equal to peace. An imbalance of power on the other hand is what frequently leads to anarchy. A country may for example become disproportionately powerful. Being primarily self-interested and power seeking, weaker states would then perceive this as a threat and take preemptive hostile action without actual provocation. It is this tendency to react against perceived rather than actual threat that also leads to the realist concept of political anarchy in international relations.
Conversely, states that wield disproportionate power, being focused in the acquisition of power, would be tempted to misuse their extreme power in the cause of self-interest. Once again, even if this use of power is not abusive by nature, weaker states will see it as being so and react accordingly.
The Anarchic System
Anarchy in international relations also means that there is no single disinterested world power that could wield intermediary force among the various states. Each state is therefore free to seek as much as possible power through any methods it chooses to use. It is therefore also the system of world government that forces the states to compete for the best and most powerful position possible in the world arena. Force is thus used in order to acquire increased power and/or security by eliminating real or perceived threat. The United States' war against terrorism is an example of this. Its dealings with Iraq as representative of the terrorist threat demonstrates how perceived rather than realistic threat results in the use of force by means of methods that are normally considered unethical.
Another example of this system is the variety of social revolutions taking place not only on a local but also on an international scale. The overthrowing of abusive political systems by workers for example is the not the result of an accepted code of world ethics so much as a code of ethics motivated by politics. The basic value is political power. The advocates of abusive systems fear the power entailed in the numbers of protesters, and therefore agree to their demands in order to maintain a degree of the power formerly held. The threat is thus perceived rather than real.
This was then the principle promoted by utopians and other believers in human nature. The realist view is that human nature is essentially selfish and that it is impossible for any basic human ethical principle to survive in politics, which is essentially interest only in the self-preservation of the state.
Nonetheless, some hold that often politics entail more than merely the values highlighted by realists. Distributive issues for example relate directly to the divide between rich and poor. The utopians for example merely ignored the glaring inequalities of the time, while realists attempted to place these inequalities in their context. From the realistic viewpoint, it was necessary to respond to the poor as a result of the power entailed in their numbers,…[continue]
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