The Rise of Realism

The Rise of Realism

It is difficult to generalize one school of thought for the one-hundred and ninety-five countries that exist in the world. Because politics is so intricate, it is important to note that no country will completely adopt one school of thought. A nation may exemplify realism in some manners and demonstrate liberalism in another. However, overall, it appears as though the world draws more from realism than it does liberalism. There are many ways to ascertain which school of thought is more established or dominant. Realism appears to be more prevalent in our society because nations seem to act on what is in their own best interest rather than trying to apply universal ethics. Obtaining military control is how many nations believe that they can acquire power and possess economic prosperity. Essentially, the world’s political climate is perceived as a struggle whereby the strong dominate the weak. In addition, the idea of self-help seems to prevail over the idea of collective security.

The principles held by realism seem to prevail in our society because governments are still looking out for the state’s best interest, not necessarily the citizens. Lawmakers are not making many decisions to care for the health, protection and promotion of their citizen’s rights. For example, governments are passing bills that favour the corporations, but many citizens are left to struggle. In the United States, Republicans, who now comprise the majority of American politics, are supporting tax breaks for corporations. This will serve to widen the gap between the working class and the upper class. Therefore, while the working class continues to struggle, the rich will become richer. In Canada, for example, the rate of child and family poverty is worsening, especially those families with single-parent mothers. The Canadian government, however, has cut back severely on social assistance programs such as income security , which could improve the lives of families living in poverty. On the other hand, because liberalists maintain that international conflict is caused by the poor conditions under which people live rather than a lust for power , they would probably try to implement better laws for social security to improve the standard of living. In addition, liberalism emphasizes ethical principle over the pursuit of power , thus, a liberalist would most likely re-introduce and encourage social spending because it benefits the citizens and reinforces the importance of individuals. Conversely, realists hold more self-centered values because they inherently believe that the state should primarily take care of themselves and obtain power. It is not an exaggeration to maintain that many governments deny or withdraw certain benefits, rights or protection from citizens to gain a profit.

Politics can be observed as a struggle for power whereby the world’s superpowers dominate the countries who hold less influence. Previously, North America and Western Europe dominated global politics. Russia fell apart as it had to deal with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Brazil, India and China were only interested in their internal reforms. Consequently, the European Union and the United States began to create new norms for the international community. They tried to endorse the liberal principles of free trade, democracy and promote human rights—albeit with realist methods of control such as imperialism. Nonetheless, this new standard for world politics was regulated by institutions such as the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. However, with the emergence of more countries sharing in on the influence of world politics, the liberalist ways of reaching a consensus is becoming increasingly difficult. While BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) “confidently pursue their own national interests, the liberal international order is buckling” These four countries—if they continue at this rate of economic advancement—have the potential to become strong superpowers in global politics. Consequently, the BRIC is now becoming in favour of free trade because of the economic prosperity and revenue that it generates. However, the United States and the European Union perceive it as a threat or a zero-sum exchange.

One could argue that the liberal values of the unity of mankind, importance of individuals, and the need to place protection and promotion of human rights and freedoms is being overshadowed by the realist worldview of trying to maintain stability by creating a balance of power. This also illustrates the realist view that all the states are in a struggle for power. If the United States and the European Union were really in it for the promotion human rights, prosperity of citizens and other liberal values, the inclusion of BRIC into free trade would be a triumphant success or at least an improvement, not a danger. Essentially, this confirms that sometimes a state may appear to be liberal, but in fact, they may be trying to mask their realist intentions or simply being involved to advance their own personal agendas.

The American invasion of Iraq in 2003 would illustrate this point accurately. The Americans claimed that they were going to Iraq to bring liberation, democracy, and freedom to the Iraqi people, in addition to uncovering the weapons of mass destruction that they claimed posed a danger to the world. However, there was no proof that Iraq possessed any weapons of mass destruction. In addition, democracy, freedom, and liberation are not things that can be “brought” from one country to another, they must be taught—and certainly not through military force. It can be argued that the real reason the Americans invaded was for oil . Thus, the decision for the Americans to invade Iraq was done for selfish reasons—for the best interest of their country, even if it caused a detriment to others—which would be consistent with a realist worldview. This is also characteristic of the fact that realists adopt consequentialism. George Bush and his administration only admitted that they were wrong when they observed the results of their actions. Edward Hallet Carr, an international relations theorist, asserts that realists have “no moral dimension [...]. What is right is what turns out to be successful, and what is wrong is unsuccessful.” Another example would be China’s role in providing military weapons to the Sudanese government , who is handing them to a group that is responsible for killing over three-hundred thousand people . Sudan is suffering from genocide right now because there is civil unrest about the revenue generated from oil. When the Sudanese government discovered the Sudanese Liberation Army, a group seeking justice for the West of Sudan—Darfur—the Sudanese government went to China for help because China receives a disproportionate amount of the oil Sudan produces . The Chinese provided them with military weapons in order to “control” the rebels and secure their oil supply. At first it would seem quite surprising that China would respond this way, but in light of realist concepts of self-centeredness and relative gains, it puts it back into perspective.

One can argue that many nations who dominate world politics prefer self-help to collective security. With nations being in a constant fear of one another, coupled with an unrelenting attempt to gain more power and control, it is not difficult to understand why nations are not trusting enough to rely on others for protection. Realists tend to emphasize prominent military power in order to ensure defence from potential threats. A realist would claim that “prudent political leaders seek arms and allies to enhance their national security” Therefore, a worldview that is consistent with realist ideologies would build up their military, regardless of how many alliances they have. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute calculated world military expenditures to have reached $1.531 trillion in 2009, a 49% increase since 2000 . This global increase in military spending may be attributed to many things, one being that many states are becoming fearful and highly suspicious of other states and that there is a rise in realism. The security dilemma and self-help principle makes it nearly impossible for diplomacy, or coming together to cooperate and make a solution that is not dependent on the use of force. If a diplomatic agreement is reached between two countries, the country that embraces realism would only be faithful to it as long as it benefits their country. One could argue that the balance of power theory, the belief in anarchy, and the fear of other nations perpetuates a self-fulfilling prophecy in realism. Because one state is selfish, they will assume others will act accordingly.

In conclusion, it is apparent that the world is operating on predominately realist ideologies. This can be deducted by how many nations are essentially competing for power and promoting their own countries best interests. Many states act in selfish ways in order for them to prosper, even if it is reckless or leaves others at a disadvantage. The idea of anarchy or chaos is prevalent, and therefore, it perpetuates a common lack of trust between nations where even allies are not to be relied on. A balance of power seems to be preferred over diplomacy. In addition, there has been a shift away from upholding the liberal qualities of protecting and promoting human rights and freedoms and replacing those with selfish desires of supremacy.