Differences Between Classical Realism and Neo-Realism

Subject: Politics & Government
Pages: 11
Words: 2762
Reading time:
10 min
Study level: Undergraduate

Realism bears its history from the works of Thucydides who gave an account of Peloponnesian war that took place about 2500 years ago. Realism gives some explanation on human behavior as a result of the absence of universal government. Realism explains international relations as a component of state’s power and interests. Realism is apprehensive of the happening in the world rather than focusing on the ideal world. Realism also looks and examines the current and the most immediate conflicts, war and rivalries by analyzing their causes, the manner they were handled and the general trend of the states involved. Realism also focuses on a state’s power and security and mainly dwells on their relation to state’s action on the international front. Realism further looks at the states capability and potential in their inherent contribution towards international consequences (Morgenthau 5).

Realism is a general orientation of a philosophical disposition that holds on to a number of political theories. It generally focuses on a state’s interest in military and economic power rather that moral ethics and ideologies. Realism has been the major force behind directing international relations and manipulating a states foreign policy. Realism has had a major impact especially after World War II. The international system thrives without any law or control over the states. This situation brings out the need for a country to develop its own foreign policy that is aimed at being competitive and defensive among other nations. For a state to have a successful foreign policy it must be able to maintain its security integrity and improve on its strength. Moral principles and law are not fully embraced by states in international politics but rather a state self interest shape and determine international politics. Realism takes that no country is always sure that another country will not attack it since all states have the capacity to carry out disgusting military assault against each other. Therefore, a state can take any action against another in order to retain its integrity and supremacy. Realism assumes that states have to act rationally since there is no international government (Kennan 210).

On the other hand, Neo-realism takes into account three dogmas: state as actors, rationality and international lawlessness. States are taken to be acting on personal interest but are bound to act rational because of the lawlessness that exists in the world. Since there is no an international government that can give assurance to safety, mistrust and selfishness are the latent attribute of the international system. Walt argues that international system is a big hindrance to a state’s behavior. He tends to show that states that are successful will survive.

Neo-realism takes into account a solution to the problems that are internal to international system against focus on solution to the external problems of the classical realism. Neo-realism shows the international system as structures that have levels and goes further too demonstrate their relationship. Neo-realism shows interrelation of these structures creates the independence of international politics. International structures arise from relations from different states, which by far direct them on what accomplishment they can engage in, and in what they should restrain from. These international structures generate different results from the interaction between the units which are placed side by side (Waltz 32).

Classical realism typically is characterized to a state’s positive intention that is interlined to human nature. Human characteristics are evident on a state’s behavior. Humans are competitive in nature. They are always doing something in order to outdo the other or gain more wealth than the other. Competition is a source of conflict among human, and is also translated to existence of conflict amongst different states. Conflict from a competitor’s view arises from scarcity of resources. One side may possess a resource that is inadequate to the other side. This gives the reason why conflicts arises between states, as one states wants to use the resources owned by the other state. These resources are mainly the natural resources that are non-renewable. Classical realism therefore suggests that competition and conflict are not easy to stay without since they are the means to gain power just as is human nature. A solution to the unending competition is reduction of state’s needs in away that they match its resources. Classical realist therefore suggests that there should be formation of factions that protect the individuals while ensuring improvement in their welfare (Morgenthau 67).

On the other hand, neo-realism has a different view regarding international relations conflicts. It attributes that international conflicts arise from absence of an international government. The absence of central command over the nations creates a vacuum in implementation of any international law and agreement. The absence of a central command makes states timid and lack confidence. States therefore result to all means possible in spite of their economic status and struggle to become competitive as possible. This phenomenon of insecurity can be referred to as lawlessness or anarchy. It is a result absence of an international government that states respond to counter the insecurity (Frankel 118).

Insecurity can result to some states being dominated by others. Many states counter this problem by devising policies that shield them from foreign domination. Another means of avoiding domination is the formation of alliances to the dominating states. The reason behind this alliance is drive away the domination motive to other states. However, formation of alliances does not always work since some states feel that they are powerful enough not to need any alliance in perusing their interests. This eventually leads to intense competition among the powerful states despite the internal arrangements and status. Thus, classical realism and neo-realism differ in their objective of competition. Classical realism objective of competition is to have more power that is a characteristic of human nature, while neo-realism objectives to interstate competition is a states security (Hoffmann 78).

Classical realism and neo-realism differ in polarity on war and international peace. They differ in the ideologies of the balance between bipolarity and multi-polarity. The major difference is focused on uncertainty to enter in war between many states and between two factions of states. Indecision increases with an increase of the major stakeholders to a conflict while ambiguity reduces when the main player are few. When the major stakeholders to a conflict are many, the numbers of outcomes increase while the opposite also applies. Classical realist guided by the objective of gaining more power over others, believe that sureness makes states enter to fighting since the opponents are known. Ambiguity results to a lot of reckoning for war. Being unsure of a state’s opponents can be very dangerous and costly, therefore, states simply result to peace due to the improbability. From this, classical realist believes that two sided conflict is more certain and leads to war and many sided conflict results to peace due to the ambiguity.

On the other hand, neo-realist holds a different view regarding the number of parties to a conflict. Neo-realist embraces a state’s security more than any other thing. To them power is useful in enhancing a state’s security. They strongly believe that any worth effort or action that safeguards a states security is worth venturing into. The belief is attributed to the fact the lawlessness exist in the international relations. Neo-realists believe that when there are many parties to a conflict, the level of insecurity to a state increases due to ambiguity. This leads a state to take action in ensuring its security by getting into war. When the number of parties to a conflict is less, say two, it is much easier for them to forge peace as the states involved are sure of the source of their insecurity (Waltz 76).

Classical realism is guided by principles that are entrenched to human nature. One characteristic of human nature is to remain rigid; this rigidity translates to rigidity in the principles governing classical realism. The human nature to exercise reasonableness in most of human undertakings is well demonstrated to the goals of classical realist in maintaining international relations (Morgenthau 45).

Classical realism takes that international politics are tied to individual states interests. States interests are distinct to power. International politics take shape or direction that is dictated by states while they seek power among themselves. States conquest for power drives international politics to look in other social matters that are unique. Social maters such as religion morality and personal influence to a state do not matter in classical theory given that a state’s foreign policy is streamlined towards gaining more power.

Classical realism unchanged goal is power. A state may change other national goals and objectives but what remains legitimate is power. Any action a state takes is evaluated on its impact to state’s power. A state may vary its levels of strength and threats but what remains consistent is power (Shimko 294).

Classical realism also differs with neo-realism in the definition of power. Classical realism defines power from Morgenthau’s definition while neo-realist defines power from Walt’s definition. Classical realism takes power to be anything that sets up and sustains authority of man over other man; it covers both material and nonmaterial dimensions. Their definitions cover all aspects of human nature like material control, mental influence and physical control. To the classical realist, a big proportion of power is derived from military capability and might. Other factors that also determine power is the manner of government organization and the internal stability they posses. Neo-realism define power in terms of what a country posses and their magnitude. The considerations in their definitions are availability of resources, economic progression, population extent, military strong point and government stability (Hoffmann 80). Neo-realism based their definition on material things because they are easy to measure and determine. To neo-realists, military capability can be used to gain control over other states with lesser military strength.

Neo-realist places much emphasis on the significance of international system structure and its relation to the place and site of a state. The position a state occupies greatly determines its behavior in the international level, while classical realism is envisioned at states interest. Neo-realist claims that the international system organization structure is determined by lawlessness. This places all states of the position of continued existence in the international structure; the competence of as state places it in a different international position. The states with much competence have a leading role in determining the general tread in international politics. Most of the time, the most capable states create problems to the less capable states. The differences in military capability bring about different centers of power that normally result to bipolarity or multi-polarity during war (Waltz 10).

The manner in which a state reacts to the phenomenon or lawlessness brings out a substantial difference between classical realism and neo-realism. To classical realism, states react to anarchy depending on their internal strength. A state behavior will be propelled by the physical location of states in relation to the opponents. States that are located in areas that they can easily defend themselves makes them feel more courageous in getting into world matters since they can monitor any actions geared towards attacking them. Internal politics greatly matter in determining a states involvement in international conflicts and wars. A state may withdraw or avoid being involved in world politics as result of internal constrains brought by its laws and regulations. Classical realists also claim that the size of a state may determine its involvement on international politics (Jackson and Sorensen 69). States with wide geographic area often are involved in world politics because they have large influence of world economics and supply of natural resources. Quality of leadership takes a central role in the reaction of a state to the lawlessness status of the world. On the other hand neo-realism reaction to lawlessness is driven by a state’s potential. A state weighs its military strength and uses its access in determining the extent it can get involved in international matters. A state evaluates its resources that can be used up in international involvement before engaging and determining what actions to take and what roles they can play.

Classical realism and neo-realism differs in the manner one can explain some of the state’s arrangements. Most of the states avoid economic specialization in areas where they are competent but instead focus on ensuring self reliance. To classical realism specialization can enhance creation of a states wealth which in turn translates to more power (Morgenthau 119). Neo-realism greatly opposes specialization as it is a big threat to a states security. A state can be taken at ransom if it specializes through economic sanctions and sabotage by its enemies. Neo-realist advocate for self reliance as it enhances states security.

Differences arise in the manner which states react incase of a conflict affects them. Neo-realism take a state takes an aggressive action by employing extreme conflict measures. States caution themselves by adopting high precautionary measures to the possibility of a conflict. This is different to classical realism, where states take just appropriate precautionary measures to the probability of a conflict. States act in a magnitude that is equal to the threat posed by a conflict. Neo-realism considers a possible conflict in terms of future implications. A state makes current military preparedness in preparation to future conflicts this is geared towards long term security. Classical realism focuses on the short term security threat by employing tactics that solve the current conflict.

Neo-realism strongly puts a states action to be independent on other states. A state takes an action depending on the stand taken by other states that are in association to it. This is because a state may expect support for its action from other states. Moreover, from a neo-realist point of view, when a state increases its security, it does not only increase its security but also enhances the security of other states in association with it. While in classical realism a state takes actions depending on its power regardless of other states stand on an issue (Shimko 288).

Neo-realism does not give explanation to world political events. It fails to foresee and calculate or offer an explanation to state actions that result from cooperation among states. Neo-realism fails to venture in determining states action that is geared towards balancing power as a means of countering possible threats. It also fails to give explanations to the driving force behind increased coordination among states (Hoffmann 76).

Generally neo-realism focuses on structural objectives that are most likely to be wrong decisions. Failure to make successful decision can be liked to the lack of cultural and personal values but can be linked to structural values. Neo-realism takes democracy, human rights and internal pressure less important in determining the course of action incase of a conflict. Personal differences among the policy makers rarely infiltrate or seldom interfere in the decisions taken regarding a states foreign policy as a state is guided by principles that place its security a priority.

Finally the differences between classical realism and neo-realism can be summarized as the causes of conflict from classical realism comes from failure from the people in authority of a state while from neo-realism conflict is caused by lack of an international government. Classic realism does not embrace international system structures more than the states while neo-realism embraces international structures since they are the determining factors to a states actions. Neo-realism tends to base their argument of a scientific and economic point of view while classical realist tends to base their arguments on particular valuations. Classical realist do not greatly differentiate local politics and world politics that are guided by anarchy, they view world order a be brought about the values upheld by those in authority of a state as they are rational in making state decisions. Neo-realist makes distinction between internal and international politics. Classical realism takes the balance of power as a source of conflict while neo-realist takes I as a means of enhancing a states security. Classical realism and neo-realism differ in the manner they approach international relations, classical realist refer to a state as an entity that seeks to fulfill its own self interest while neo-realism consider states to be solely seeking power as a result of failure to establish an international organization that handles all manner of conflict. Classical realism uses a historical approach in defining and coming up with its principles while neo-realism comes up with logic involving inferences from general principles. In addition, classical definition of power is broad and all inclusive while neo-realism defines power in material terms only, though it dwells on economic aspects.

Works Cited

Frankel, B. Realism: Restatements and Renewal. United States: Routledge, 1996.

Hoffmann S., Hans Morgenthau: The Limits and Influence of Realism, in Janus and Minerva, London: West view Press, 1987, pp. 70-81.

Jackson, R. and Sorensen, G. Introduction to International Relations: Theories and Approaches. New York: Oxford University Press. 2007.

Kennan, G. “Morality and foreign policy.” Foreign affairs. 64(2) 1985:205-218.

Morgenthau, H., Politics among Nations. The Struggle for Power and Peace, (6th Ed) New York: Knopf, 1985.

Shimko, K. Realism, Neorealism, and American Liberalism’. The Review of Politics, 54, 1992: 281-301.

Waltz, K. Theory of International Politics. New York: McGraw-Hill Humanities Social, 1979.