Realism - The State is the Most Important Actor
During the latter half of the 20th century, the realist theory has been criticized as an outdated method which can no longer sufficiently explain the actions of the global community. Critics point to liberalism, another widely accepted theory, as the successor of realism as the dominant theory of international relations. Opponents of realism assert that the Democratic Peace theory is evidence that the theory of realism is no longer complete. If realism were to stand alone, this accusation might have some validity. The development of neorealism helps to explain what realism could not, accounting for global developments since the creation of the theory of realism. Thus, the realist philosophy, with aid from neorealism, remains a credible philosophy that is capable of dealing with the challenges put forth by liberalist critics. This essay will review the realist theory, examine challenges offered by its opponents through the liberalist theory, and discuss how the neorealist theory has negated these challenges and provided a new foundation for the claim that states are the most important actors in world politics in light of a world where armed conflict is no longer the primary fixation of the world’s states.
Realism is a theory, which while formalized in the 20th century, has a long history, dating back thousands of years (Kegley, 27). The theory of realism states that “all [states] must have survival as independent agents as their primary interest” (Waltz ctd. Grieco 602). As the primary interest of any state is its survival, states are compelled to protect their individual interests and maintain an independence critical to that end (Grieco, 602). Furthermore, whenever the autonomy of a state is challenged, this challenge “takes precedence over all other activities” (Keohane ctd. Odershook). Thus, the continued survival and autonomy of each state is the most important factor in the international decision making process, and the foundation of the realist theory. This claim becomes the driving force for the international relations of every country when evaluated by the realist paradigm.
The realist theory has developed as a theory of state autonomy, emphasizing individual state survival, as a consequence of the perceptions of theorists about the nature of states and progress in the global system. Robert Powell define this perception, reasoning that “if one state can turn a relative gain to its advantage and the disadvantage of others, then [the system’s constraints] will induce a concern for the relative gains and this may impede cooperation absent any superior authority to ensure that these gains not be used in this way” (Powell qtd. Ordershook 213). This emphasizes the concept that states are chiefly concerned with the relative gains that they are capable of achieving, and [states] are acutely aware that other states intend to take advantage of any...