`Realist` and `neo Realist` international relations theories

Published 17 Mar 2017

International Relations is a vast concept of political science which deals with the behavior among all states, their governmental and non-governmental activities. After the horrible effects of World Wars 1 and 2, international relations has been a subject of many speculations disputes (Brown, 2005). Because of this, international relations paved the way for a more specific and functional academic discipline. Also, it gave way for the rise of several theories which are still under heated discussions among analysts. Two of which are the theories of realism and neo realism.

Realism, or classical realism, is one of the most famous theories regarding international relations and politics. It may also be referred to as political realism because it covers a wide range of theories which all leads to the basic idea that states are motivated by the lust for economic, military and security power. Realists also hold that states are international actors who are egotistic and willing to achieve national interests rather than common good. It also means that states are more provoked to function with self-sustaining and self-protective goals in mind rather than attaining moral ethics and ideals.

On the other hand, neorealism, also called structural realism, holds to the idea that states are also egoists but they are rational and work under the anarchical conditions. The state, based n this theory is a guardian of its own security and independence (Spanier, 1978). This theory works in such a way that the states’ main goal is to survive and outlive other states thus they live and fulfill their own interests without being subordinated by other states. Balancing, for neo realists, is a mere product of survival.

And because of wanting to achieve survival, the members of the states or the people will practice their political units and resources. Furthermore, neorealists believe that in order to have full state security, the state should be well-prepared at all times for divergences which other states through economic and military upsurge. The state’s survival is their paramount concern because of the notion that today’s friend may be tomorrows enemy in war” (Baldwin, 1993). These two theories are the major strands which constitute the international relations theory but these theories, like most other theories, also have several consistencies and inconsistencies in them.

First is that classical realism emerges from a very pessimistic notion about human nature. That is, classical realism presses that people are all hungry for political, economic and military power. According to Morgenthau, “each person must act selfishly, to some extent, in order to preserve himself. On the positive side, classical realism also provides the world of politics a good emphasis on political systems and that is to organize individuals into clusters that can defend their members through giving more emphasis that power relative among all and that it does not last forever.

Neorealism, on the other hand, opposes the evil nature of man. Instead, the theory holds that interstate conflict does not result from the selfishness and hunger of people for power and security; rather, it blames the absence of legally binding rules as the cause of conflicts. This theory reflects the speculation of Hobbes wherein every actor is ultimately pitted against the other in pursuing his own interests (Viotti and Kaupi, 1987). Neorealists argue that due to lack of policies, states are pressured to create more competitive policies on their political and economical way of living so as to ensure security in a neutral world. But then again, neorealism negates the virtue of cooperation and taints it with reluctances, insecurities.

A state would most unlikely rely on some states or collaborate with them since there is a very high risk of domination and vulnerability. Cooperation, therefore, is a very narrow and dangerous chance in these situations as what neorealists perceive. It may also occur but not in a very high degree since there is a concept of relative gains- an advantage which a state gets in a joint venture of states. Cooperation is very temporary as manifested by the convergence of the USA, UK and USSR during the peak of World War 2. Their collaboration aimed at solving a certain problem however, it all ended there and nothing more. This is because of the high risk of dangerous dependence.

The concepts of these international relations theories are very much blatant in historical accounts. When there is a conflict involving a state, it is very inevitable for a leader or the state itself to pay close attention to its relative power. Such is the case of the Western Europe nations during the era when medieval forms of ruling started to disintegrate. That time, there was so much conflict and inconsistencies among the states. Neorealist ideas and concerns were also manifested in the United States during the inception of the Cold War where many analysts emphasized the negative results of the inconsistencies in interstate systems.

The existences of these theories are indispensable since it actually provides the states several ideas wherein they could create a more organized political world with a set of policies and rules. The insights suggested by these theories are very ideal in creating a community of states which values, not scorns the presence of other states. Then again, these theories are very limited in terms of the assumptions about the role of men in achieving political, economic and military power. That is, neither theory can explain what would happen in case these states, instead of clashing, suddenly converges because they want to achieve certain goals in which they are completely compatible. Furthermore, what would happen if these states focus more on developing domestic considerations and building moral and ethical values rather than interstate security concerns? Limited is the best definition we can give to these theories. These theories are either beneficial or detrimental, which means that it solely depends on man’s individual perception regarding these theories of international relations.


  • Spanier, J. (1978). Games Nations Play: Analyzing International Politics, 3rd Ed. New York: Praeger Publishers.
  • Baldwin, D. A.. (1993). Neorealism and Neoliberalism. New York: Columbia.
  • Brown, Chris. (2005). International Relations. Microsoft Encarta 2005.
  • Viotti P. and Kaupi, M. V. (1987). International Relations Theory. London: Collier Macmillan Publishers.
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