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Realistic theory in international relations: concept and content

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In international relations, a realistic theory, also known as realism, is a school of thought that emphasizes the pursuit of national interests and the balance of power among states as the primary drivers of international relations. Realism assumes that states are the dominant actors in the international system and that their behavior is primarily motivated by self-interest, survival, and the pursuit of power.

The concept of realism in international relations can be traced back to classical realists such as Thucydides, Machiavelli, and Hobbes. It gained prominence as a distinct theoretical framework during the 20th century through the works of scholars like Hans Morgenthau and Kenneth Waltz. Realism provides a critical perspective on international relations, focusing on the realities of power politics and the anarchic nature of the international system.

The content of realistic theory in international relations is based on several core assumptions:

1. State-centric: Realism emphasizes the centrality of the state as the primary unit of analysis. It views states as rational, self-interested actors that pursue their own interests in an anarchic international system. Non-state actors, such as international organizations or transnational corporations, are considered secondary in importance.

2. Anarchy: Realism assumes that the international system is characterized by anarchy, meaning there is no overarching authority or world government to enforce rules and maintain order. This anarchic structure leads to a self-help system where states rely on their own capabilities to ensure their security and survival.

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3. Self-help and survival: Realism posits that states are primarily motivated by self-preservation and the pursuit of national interests. States seek to maximize their power, security, and wealth, often at the expense of other states. They engage in a competitive struggle for resources, territory, and influence.

4. Balance of power: Realism places significant emphasis on the balance of power as a mechanism to maintain stability in the international system. States seek to prevent the emergence of a dominant power that could threaten their own security. This can lead to alliances, power balancing, and deterrence strategies.

5. Rationality and unitary actors: Realism assumes that states are rational actors that carefully calculate costs and benefits in their decision-making processes. It views states as unitary actors with consistent interests, rather than aggregations of diverse societal or bureaucratic interests.

6. Security dilemma: Realism highlights the security dilemma, which occurs when actions taken by one state to enhance its security are perceived as threatening by other states. This can lead to a spiral of arms races, mistrust, and conflict, as states engage in defensive measures that are perceived as offensive by others.

Realism has been influential in shaping the study of international relations and offers insights into the dynamics of power and conflict among states. However, it has also faced criticism for its limited focus on states and power, neglecting the role of non-state actors, norms, and other factors that influence international relations.

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