Realism is one of the oldest and most popular theories in International Relations. It offers a perspective about competition and power, and can be used to explain the actions between states. An example of realism is the U.S. reaction – or lack thereof – during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
All branches of realism share some central tenets. Realists believe that the world exists in a state of anarchy. Since there is not a world government to keep states from attacking each other, or to punish them when they do, it becomes very important for each government to be able to protect itself and ensure its survival. It is also why states are considered the most important actors in realism. Due to the anarchy, the world operates in power is extremely important. If a state has military power, and to a lesser extent economic power, they are able to defend themselves and even influence other states. Realism stresses the importance of one state being more powerful than its competitors.
In realism, states are seen as rational, unitary actors. Realists assume that the actions of a state are representative of the entire state’s population, disregarding political parties, individuals, or domestic conflict within the state (Goldstein & Pevehouse, 2010). Any action a state takes is in an effort to pursue national interest. National interest is “the interest of a state overall (as opposed to particular political parties or factions within the state)” (qtd. in Goldstein and Pevehouse, 2010, p. 355). If a state is rational, they are capable of performing cost-benefit analysis by weighing the cost against the benefit of each action. This assumes that all states have complete information when making choices (Goldstein & Pevehouse, 2010).
Realist ideas help explain the U.S. reaction to the Rwandan genocide in 1994. There had been many years of bloody conflict between two Rwandan tribes, Hutus (who made up roughly 85% of the population) and the Tutsis (about 14% of the Rwandan population). The Rwandan leader, President Habyarimana, was in the process of putting agreements in place in an attempt to stop the violence. Hutu-extremists reacted violently by assassinating the president and taking over the government. The extremists circulated anti-Tutsi propaganda while they mercilessly slaughtered Tutsi people in droves. They also killed members of the Hutu population that either, refused to kill their Tutsi neighbors, or who were otherwise Tutsi-sympathetic. The violence was stopped not through peacekeeping methods or an intervention from the United Nations, but by a rebel group who overthrew the Rwandan government. Over the course of 100 days, over 800,000 Tutsi and sympathetic Hutu people were killed (United Human Rights Council, 2014).
There can be no doubt the fault of these horrific crimes is that of the Rwandan government; however, if other states had reacted in a more timely manner the casualties need not have been...