Realism and Rational Theory

Published 17 Feb 2017

Table of content


The international relation concepts of realism and rational theory can satisfactorily explain what is happening to present decision of the US in not removing North Korea from its terrorism list. Realism presupposes that states are motivated to desire more power or security rather than ideals and ethics (Frankel, 1996; Zakaria, 1998). Pursuant to the same concept, a state, under international relations, defines its interest in terms of power in an international system that is characterized by constant security and competition and uncertainty as a result states are never sure how other state will behave. Because of such uncertainty survival is the name of the game as states are focused on them, thus its is not surprising to observe that cooperation is unlikely since states are concerned about other states cheating or achieving relative gains.

From these combined characteristics of realism, there is a greater probability for a state to preserve the status quo and maintain their position in the hierarchy of power. On the basis of the argument that human beings are political animals that manifest their existence through their states, it is asserted that realism principle is close to reality. Rational theory presupposes the existence of the right of choice of the individuals as they try to try to balance the things out as they try to maximize the benefits of their choices while minimizing the costs associated there. (Kok, 2002; Hunt, 2005). This paper will attempt to prove how the concepts of realism and rational theory are explained in the article entitled “Taking North Korea Off the U.S. Terrorism List” by Omestad (2008) and events contained therein. In addition arguments will made argument about why realism and rational theory are used to explain the article.

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Combining the Two Concepts

If the two concepts are combined to describe the attitude of the US to North Korea on the latter’s being removed from the list of terrorists by the former, one could easily appreciate the reasons. Omestad (2008) stated that for more that two decades, Korea has been branded a state sponsor of terrorism by the US. Although recently however, North Korea may have the reason to hope it can get itself off that list of designated outcast, because of recent dealings that it has done with the US , it would seem the US is not yet ready to make that decision. It is undeniable that that label of being part of the list of terrorists in the world has brought North Korea international ostracism and broad U.S. economic sanctions which in turn caused many business contracts from other contracts to be prevented with North Korea. Realism may aptly describe the case of international relation between North Korea and US since US may always have the final say on when it would want to remove it from the list. What perhaps the North Korea would do is to behave like the other countries which are not presently part of the list.

The North Korea’s Compliant

Omestad (2008) stated that North Korea is crying foul, as it claims about the Bush administration’s failure to fulfill its promise to remove Pyongyang from the list as of the end of 2007. North Korea people, according to Omestad (2008), invoked the delay in the fulfillment of the alleged US promise as the main cause of the continuing deadlock over the two countries’ nuclear disarmament agreement. Omestad (2008) believed that delay in the resolution of the impasse endangers Bush administration’s probability to finally determine one US foreign policy problems. By citing the side of the US, Omestad reported that the administration of President Bush has maintained that it has not made blank promise to the North Korean regime and that said country remains stuck on the US terrorism list due to Pyongyang’s refusal to comply up to this time with the requirements of the disarmament agreement involving six countries that the US and North Korea have put together. From an objective point of view, the situation of the two countries has become a chicken and egg situation, where Korea is accusing US of delay from delisting its name of list while US saying in specific terms that North Korea has failed to deliver a credible and complete declaration of all nuclear assets, which should have happened by December 31 as per its agreement (Omestad, 2008).

Rational Theory Applied

The US may be practicing the rational theory as its decisions under the case facts appear to be based on its appreciation of events and circumstances before they actually make a choice. As seen in the instant case, United States is actually making a great choice on whether freeing North Korea from the list is the most rational decision to make in relation to its total international policy in terrorism and its relation with other states like Japan. The case facts have issues that demand US having to consider the side of Japan which is now one of its allies. Omestad (2008) admitted that Japan has, in fact, been urging the US to go slow in delisting North Korea until the latter has accounted the fate of 12 Japanese citizens who have been kidnapped by the North Korea agents in the past. If the US disregards such moves by Japan, it may end up losing its relation with Japan while gaining its relationship with North Korea which under the ordinary circumstances may be difficult for the US to do at this point in time.

Although the concept of rational choice may be best appreciated in economics as people or countries would normally compare the costs and benefits of certain action, the same principle may be appreciated in the realm of international politics. Under the concept of benefit maximization and cost minimization, the US is by analogy trying to make an approximation of the same by trying to balance the relationships that it may intend to lose and to gain. Rational decision making does not entail being forced into making a decision but is best governed by freedom to make intelligent decisions in making one’s preferences in accordance on how it will end to be more powerful and more secure after such decisions under the theory of realism (Griffiths,1992). Rational theory involves weighing advantages and disadvantages of the decisions and the general is to give the benefit of the doubt for prior experience as one would be tempted more to preserve the status quo in maintaining one’s position in terms of power in relation to one’s neighbors.

The Assumptions of Realism
Realism assumes the state is the most important actor in international relation (, n.d.). Being the most important player in the game of international politics, individual figures like the pope or even groups do not affect how nations relate to one another. In this particular case, although they may be groups in the US that are for delisting or certain people who are sympathetic to North Korea’ cause, only the official declaration of the US which normally made by the President of the US or his authorized representative. Another assumption made by realism is the fact that the state is a unitary and rational actor (, n.d.). Being unitary the state must speak with one voice even if its members may differ on the best approach to a given situation. This is closely related with the first assumption since the state can and must only speak one position regardless of disagreements that the US Chief Executive may have the US Congress. It must be noted that the word “rational” in the second assumption is directly referring to the capacity to identify the goals and preferences and determine the relative importance of these. This is consistent with the arguments made earlier that rationality goes with realism principle. No matter how other Americans may think, the decision of the US president is presumed rational as it asserts itself in the international community as long he is doing it in his official capacity.


It may be concluded that the principles of realism and rational theory are able to explain the article concerned about the refusal of the US in the mean time to delist North Korea among the terrorists. Realism is evident as the decision to delist was not decision to look ethical in the world community but to show that US is still world power both in the realms of politics and economics. The US has indeed defined its interest in terms of power if in case it decides to delist North Korea as it perceives constant security uncertainty. The US is actually making a balancing act with its other allies like Japan and the consequences of its decision to remove North Korea from the list if ever. US may be thinking in the process that North Korea may just be cheating in the same way that North Korea tries to imply upon US as it accuses the latter of violating their agreement. In process of making the choice, the US is in effect practicing also rational theory of weighing advantages and disadvantages of the decisions it made with the greater tendency to preserve the status quo and maintain its position in the hierarchy of power.


  • (n.d.) Realism {www document} URL, Accesses February 17,2008
  • Frankel (1996) Realism: Restatements and Renewal; Routledge
  • Griffiths (1992) Realism, Idealism and International Politics: A Reinterpretation, 1992
  • Hunt (2005) Religion and Everyday Life, Routledge
  • Kok (2002) Rebellious Families: Household Strategies and Collective Action in the …, Berghahn Books
  • Omestad, T. (2008);Taking North Korea Off the U.S. Terrorism List
  • Zakaria (1998) From Wealth to Power: The Unusual Origins of America’s World Role Princeton University Press
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