How does realism explain war and its causes?

This article focuses on the understanding of war in political realism. Realism claims an original understanding of war, which distinguishes it both from empirically oriented studies of war and from other schools of international relations theory. Unlike the former, political realism avoids formal definitions, emphasizing an understanding of the causes and essence of war. The difference between realism and schools of international relations theory, such as liberal idealism, Marxism, and constructivism, is the assertion of the eternal and unchanging nature of politics, understood as a struggle for power.

War is the most intense manifestation of this constant struggle, and therefore cannot be definitively eliminated from international relations. The article shows what normative conclusions can be drawn from this understanding of war. Realism, more than pacifism and just war theory, recognizes the difficulty of normative regulation of war. Moreover, realism points to the dangers of political moralism and the “criminalization” of war. On the other hand, realism offers a set of practical principles that are not superior to the classical principles of just war and have the same drawbacks: vagueness, difficulty in unambiguously interpreting state interests, and the possibility of abuse. The author concludes that to create a workable system of principles for regulating war on the basis of political realism, it is necessary to expand its theoretical foundations and further rapprochement with other schools of international relations theory.

How does realism view war?

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Political realism is one of the traditions of thought in international relations; points to a world of strength and security, one “as is” as opposed to “ought to be,” closer to the ideal of political. Many actions can be understood and justified from a realist perspective. When national interests conflict with the principles and norms dictated by ethics and morality in force is used as a cause of state. given its pragmatism, this approach has been considered most relevant in existing interpretations around the world; this way, realpolitik guides the actions of many governments overseas. Possession and Increase in Power are the common aspirations of any government, no matter how small.

Given the above, this article seeks to explain whether moral criteria make decisions in international politics less effective; that is, if it touches on a widely debated issue, in relation to priorities: if the choice is ethically correct, by the state; or the implementation of a strategy in accordance with the national interest of the same.

The first part of the article looks at the main authors of classical and modern realism, their approaches, and how in some states realist theory is expressed in the decision-making process of foreign policy decisions. In a second, the most important facts of realism are described. that took place during the Cold War, more specifically those that led to the competition that existed between the Eastern and Western blocs. Finally, approaches that moved away from realism, favoring the moral criteria of the same period.


Realism is the central paradigm of International relations; the other traditions were developed as an alternative to its hegemonic intellectual. Through historical examples we can identify this dilemma between political action and international morality.

International relations are managed by the great world powers from the Fall of the Berlin Wall and as this has been satisfactorily justified by the application of moral and ethical criteria, it raises the legitimate question of what concerns. This raises the question of how a functional and effective foreign policy is designed, but which respects moral and ethical principles without losing effectiveness. Realism bears the historical stigma that the end justifies the means, favoring the ends rather than the tools to achieve them.

In a world where national interest and power guide foreign policy, it is very difficult to separate the just from the lawful, when the latter it depends on “the cause of the state,” as I told Richelieu; so it seems they can go always hand in hand, but not everything is lawful is always just, a convinced realist would say.

Now, speaking of the cause of the state, refers to the basic aims and interests of that state which imposes itself and prevails in what is just or unjust, what action can be. this justification will be given by the ideologies of government in power as well as for the morality it handles.

The anarchical nature of the system, due to the lack of central authority and hierarchy recognized by all, impedes the international decision-making process. Conflict is part of the system, and so a multitude of decisions that may contradict what is morally acceptable, fully legitimate, and protected by unquestionable interests ultimately prevail among citizens. By Machiavelli, moral considerations in matters of state are irrelevant and that Power and morality are mutually exclusive. At the same time, Max Weber argued that realism justified cynicism and immorality, “whoever wants to save his soul must stay out of politics.

1.1 Classical and modern authors

Thucydides, Machiavelli, and Hobbes as leading authors in history, separated by time and distance, but very important for realism (Ortiz, 2000. pp. 100-111). Although Thucydides’ work is not politics, passages highlighted where he mentions the impossibility of avoiding conflict between Athens and Sparta and their disputes Meliano (cited in Vazquez, 1994, p. 36).

The Spanish internationalist Celestino del Arenal (2002) succinctly defines realism as a practical paradigm of anthropological pessimism that rejects the possible harmony of interests by establishing that conflict is inherent in the International System. Realism assumes that moral principles in the abstract cannot be applied to political action.

This is vividly represented in the historical examples that will develop as also American foreign thought on the custom of the Cold War, presented by Henry Kissinger. Has a state-centered approach viewing the state as the main actor in international relations, whose goals focus on national interests and power, where conflict prevails, for the world is essentially anarchic because there is no power or a strong central authority.

As Carlos Sorro Sanchez rightly points out in a personal interview, political realism the constancy of the law of the strongest in the world is modern, a relic of primitive times, when it also applied to relations between people.

Now of realism – structural or Neorealism, Waltz (1988) noted that the collapse of ideologies and utopias of the politics of international revival with greater force political realism. Its vitality is tied to the keys to the survival of states. In this sense it speaks of paradigms like status quo , anarchy, balance of power and prudence of states, the one who advises prudence to the strong and prudence to the weak.

However, the concept of anarchy, as Waltz (1988) suggests, poses numerous challenges in the new organization of systems and subsystems, those who can correct some facts that have been raised as solving the relations between different units or (states) and their relations. These challenges are present all the time. in the development of the internal and foreign policies of states in the modern world because of its desire to gain a foothold on the stage of the international, and so far they have had many attempts and few results.

Therefore, speaking of neorealism and mainly to Waltz, the first referent is the concept of cooperation between states, which is explained as the ability, States should work so, together in order to improve the possibilities of all who cooperate, rather than worrying so much about the benefits that everyone wants to get. This highlights the concept that the author calls the common interest states (Waltz 1988, p. 106).

In this order of ideas, it is clear that the realist vision has a Hobbesian conception of relations International. For his part, however, Hobbes maintains in his natural state the chaos that precedes a politically organized society. and shows a selfish and pessimistic man who needs the coercion of law for his organization and regulation. This regulatory body, called the State, also does not guarantee harmony, since it is regulated by force, violence and egoism. This stage of things is likened to the context of the international, where there is disorder and anarchy. (Ortiz 2000, pp. 100-111). Hobbes raises the impossibility of global justice without global government also existing (Sen 2009, p. 57).

How does realism explain conflict?

According to realism, every state is a rational actor that always acts according to its own interests, and the main goal of every state is to guarantee its own security.

Currents derived from political realism

Classical Realism ( Classical Realism ): the concept of this approach would be to say that politics has unchanging laws rooted in human nature, where the desire for power to achieve interests of variable content is very broad and strong. Moreover, there is a rational calculation of the costs and benefits to national policy. Here the state acts as a structure translating the desire for power into the international sphere. International relations will be more or less conflictual, depending on the internal characteristics of states. There is little empirical verification in this approach; it has been tested or experimented with the same results several times.

Structural realism : This is a systemic model opposed to the “reductionist” explanation, where the conditions imposed by the international structure are primary, internal factors are excluded to simplify the theory, and focuses only on the great powers, where there is more interest in international action. There are some structural principles of international politics, this global anarchy, the self-protection of states and the distribution of power are the only things that vary from one state to another. There is an “explanatory model” in which the independent variable would be the distribution of opportunities, and the dependent variable would be the adaptive strategy of states, that is, imitation or innovation and balance of power.

Defensive realism: In this approach, balance as an offensive-defensive balance becomes important. The balance can shift from one side to the other depending on several factors, such as: the geography of scenarios in which attacks or defenses occur, the technological advances of states and armies. Whether valuable resources of interest to the aggressor are available; and the possibility of coercive defense. Here the presence or absence of aggressive states capable of initiating armed or military conflicts becomes important for defense. Whether there is indeed a real threat from other states.

The implications are this: the environment tends to be safe. There are recommendations for a defensive policy. States prefer to maintain the status quo and bet on a balance of power so as not to be in constant confrontation or under threat, which implies endless defense and security spending. In addition, military conquest is no longer profitable, and aggressive states are already an anomaly; now the threat comes from small groups rather than states. theories We can find ad hoc to explain defensive realism: 1. Jack Snyder’s Myth of Empire, 1991 .: the premise would be: there are cumulative benefits, which is an extension equal to greater security. The best and most developed defense as well as attack. aggressiveness contains rivals and causes third-party support ( encouragement ). This results from the ambition of political and economic elites (dictatorship) and self-belief. 2. “The Balance of Threats” by Stephen Walt, 1985: which argues that the behavior of states capable of balancing the powerful is conditioned by their perception of it. Thus, its defense, its actions, and its defenses will be conditioned. There are a number of factors: aggregate power, the geographical proximity of the state to the more powerful, offensive capabilities, and offensive intentions.

Offensive realism (en: Offensive realism) is a structural approach applicable to all great powers. It has a number of principles that characterize it: great powers have offensive capabilities and can harm each other, states do not know for sure the intentions of other states, aggregate gain, survival is the main goal, great powers are not content with an adequate level of power.

Neoclassical realism: in this approach, there are several types of variables: the independent variables will be the pressures of the international system, the intermediate variables will be those that relate to the domestic sphere of the state, and the dependent variables will be the foreign policy territory of the state at a particular time. There are some structural factors: such as the distribution of power or interaction with revisionist states. There is also an indirect effect through the intervention of internal variables, such as: the perception of technical decisions and political decisions. Attention to decisions at different political levels. It also depends on the consensus between social actors and the ability to extract and use national resources.

Do realists support war?

Realism is most often depicted as a tradition or perspective on international relations explaining war and military conflict. This is not without reason as realists have focused on war as a major or even the primary mechanism of change in international relations.

What is war and its causes?

What is war and what causes it? War is caused by many different things, including competition over land, religious conflicts, and nationalism. Imperialism, racism, and slavery have also been causes of armed conflict.

What are the main causes of war?

More specifically, some have argued that wars are fought primarily for economic, religious, and political reasons. Others have claimed that most wars today are fought for ideological reasons.

Why is war inevitable in realism?

According to political realism, war is inevitable in an international system where anarchy is the rule. As power-hungry individuals lead their states in pursuit of the national interest, fulfilment of the latter can sometimes only be achieved through conflict or the use of force.

What is the main idea of realism?

Realism (including neorealism) focuses on abiding patterns of interaction in an international system lacking a centralized political authority. That condition of anarchy means that the logic of international politics often differs from that of domestic politics, which is regulated by a sovereign power.

Why do realists believe that the anarchic international system causes wars?

Why do realists believe that the anarchic international system leads to war? There are few rules about how to decide among contending claims and no effective arbiter to do so.

Why is realism important in international relations?

Realism also captures varies dimensions existing in international politics. It also gives an account of how these politics have been influenced and changed over time. This has played a significant role in helping different people as well as groups to construe individual’s politics in relation to international politics.

Does conflict lead to war?

Great power is not necessary or sufficient for conflict behavior. Weak states do conflict; do go to war. But power does stimulate and aggravate issues, giving them a more global significance.

What does realism say about security?

In general, realist theories define “security” as the security of the state and place particular emphasis on the preservation of the state’s territorial integrity and the physical safety of its inhabitants (Walt 1991).

Is war caused by human nature?

There is no scientific proof that war is ingrained in human nature, according to a Rutgers University-Newark study. There is no scientific proof that humans are hardwired to go to war, says R. Brian Ferguson, professor of anthropology at Rutgers University-Newark. War, he says, may not be in our nature at all.

What is war and its effects?

War destroys communities and families and often disrupts the development of the social and economic fabric of nations. The effects of war include long-term physical and psychological harm to children and adults, as well as reduction in material and human capital.

Is religion the cause of war?

According to the Encyclopedia of Wars, out of all 1,763 known/recorded historical conflicts, 121, or 6.87%, had religion as their primary cause. Matthew White’s The Great Big Book of Horrible Things gives religion as the primary cause of 11 of the world’s 100 deadliest atrocities.

Why is realism important?

Realism offers artists a starting point from which they can launch themselves into an infinite number of artistic styles. When you understand how to faithfully render what is in front of you in a way that expresses the reality of those objects, you can begin to bend and shift the realities into something more abstract.

What are the characteristics of the realism movement?

realism, in the arts, the accurate, detailed, unembellished depiction of nature or of contemporary life. Realism rejects imaginative idealization in favour of a close observation of outward appearances. As such, realism in its broad sense has comprised many artistic currents in different civilizations.

What did Thomas Hobbes say about realism?

Hobbes claims reason to be the arbiter between desire and aversion, and the determinant factor of human behaviour. The state is a product of the rational approach to the state of nature. The realist emphasis on determining self-interest through the means of reason depicts evident influence of Hobbesian thought.

Why do Realists believe war is inevitable?

From a Morgenthau realist point of view, war is inevitable due to to the Anarchic nature of the International System which is a self-help system, meaning there is no hierarchical authority over the Sovereign state (No big brother or a government to protect states and form rules preventing one state from attacking the

What were the main ideas of realism?

Realism (including neorealism) focuses on abiding patterns of interaction in an international system lacking a centralized political authority. That condition of anarchy means that the logic of international politics often differs from that of domestic politics, which is regulated by a sovereign power.

What are the causes of war according to Kenneth Waltz?

According to political theorist Kenneth Waltz, the causes of war occur on three levels: the individual, state, and system of international relations between states. The system level is what permits war, since it exists in a state of international anarchy.

What are the main causes of war essay?

Eight Main Causes of War

  • Economic Gain.
  • Territorial Gain.
  • Religion.
  • Nationalism.
  • Revenge.
  • Civil War.
  • Revolutionary War.
  • Defensive War.


What are the three theories of war?

These three are: the works of Augustine, the lead-up to and consequences of the Treaty of Westphalia, and the modern interpretations of the Just War Theory. The Just War Theory traces its roots to Aristotle and Cicero.

Is war caused by human nature?

There is no scientific proof that war is ingrained in human nature, according to a Rutgers University-Newark study. There is no scientific proof that humans are hardwired to go to war, says R. Brian Ferguson, professor of anthropology at Rutgers University-Newark. War, he says, may not be in our nature at all.

Is war a natural or social phenomenon?

War is a social political phenomenon associated with a fundamental change of the character of relations among states, peoples, nations, when confronting parties stop using nonviolent forms and methods of struggle and start to use weapons and other violent mediums directly to reach political and economic goals.

Are humans violent by nature or nurture?

Not only the genetic make-up, but environmental factors also influence human behavior. It is well known that early-childhood environment also influences the later-life predisposition toward violent behaviors.

Are humans naturally violent or peaceful?

Humans can be aggressive and violent and peaceful and cooperative all at the same time; arguing for a natural state of cooperation or a natural state of conflict is missing the boat. But humans sometimes are both aggressive and violent.

Why are humans so weak?

Human Muscles Evolved Into Weakness, In Order to Boost Our Brains. Much like our brains, human muscles have evolved several times more rapidly than primate muscles, according to a new study — but that process has made us weaker over time in a process, while brains become more advanced.

Why are humans so selfish?

Psychological data obtained from previous researchers suggested that humans tend to be selfish because they like the attention. Altering the Prisoner’s Dilemma which is a classic matchup theory, selfish strategy, somehow, proved to be more productive.

Are wars inevitable?

Throughout human history, war has taken countless lives, cost untold sums of money and brought great cities to ruin. But despite the long list of conflicts from ancient times to modern day, psychologists say war is not inevitable.

Is war necessary for world peace?

It cannot exist without war, just as death is a meaningless concept without life. For some, however, “true” peace is a positive concept, signifying harmony in world affairs, or perhaps well managed social conflict.

What were the main causes of the world war was it inevitable?

9 Reasons World War I Became Inevitable

  • The Alliance System. Webs of international alliances had been a feature of European diplomacy since the Middle Ages. …
  • The Arms Race. …
  • Spheres of Influence. …
  • Imperial Rivalry. …
  • Nationalism and Social Darwinism. …
  • French Revanchism. …
  • Primacy of Offensive Warfare. …
  • The Schlieffen Plan.