International Relations: Realism

Realism in International Relations (2)

For as long as I remember I have been interested in international affairs. Reading the international news on a daily basis is a bit like an addiction. While studying my bachelors in Computer Science I would neglect my studies and spend hours in the library reading about history and international affairs. After my trip to China in 2011 I began reading heavily the history of China. A short book I read is A short history of China and Southeast Asia by Martin Stuart-Fox. Quite a handy short little book for anyone interested.

Recently I thought it might be a good idea to look at the academic discipline of International Relations. Looking at the news and guessing what will happen next is one thing but studying the subject is something totally different. I picked up a copy of Theories of International Relations which was written by an assortment of scholars ( the link is to a PDF :) ). After reading the introduction I decided to read one chapter each week, dedicated that week to watching videos, reading books and articles to do with that topic. This way I hope the ideas will melt into my brain slowly. This week is the first week and the first Chapter is on Realism and it is written by Jack Donnelly.

First I want to say it has been a very exciting and enjoyable week. Studying what you want rather than in a classroom seems to be the way to go. I have a few observations that I thought about when I read this chapter. One was that Realism while quite limited and simple seems to be quite a good theory. The general theory is something like this:

  1. The international system is Anarchic ( no Hierarchy )
  2. States are the most important actors
  3. All states act rationally and pursue self interest above all else
  4. The main cause for a state is survival

I will not try to explain the theory any further but will share the resources I found helpful and interesting this past week.

Here is a great video from Columbia University, In this video Richard Betts clearly and concisely describes Realism. It is a good watch


Richard Betts is a very accomplished academic. I am especially happy with the way he can explain things in a very easy to understand way. If you want to take a look at his profile at the SIPA website its here.

Another great academic and probably the leading name is Realism is John Mearsheimer. John Mearsheimer’s ‘The tragedy of great power politics’ is probably his most well known book and I am looking forward to reading it.

Mearsheimer has a great and simple way to explain his views on Realism. He speaks with such conviction that I think it would be very difficult to argue against him. Mearsheimer also gives tips to students of IR . Particularly interesting for me is his view on the rise of China. Mearsheimer argues that China can not rise peacefully. His speech on the subject can be viewed here. One thing he mentions in the speech is the fact that internal politics stopped America spreading further into the Caribbean was halted by internal politics and the anti-slavery movement. This contradicts his theory of Realism, and although he accepts the issues with his theory for me it’s kind of annoying. Still definitely a good watch.

Watch a video or two is great but it won’t really teach you much more than the basics. So with that in mind I got a copy of Man, the State and War by Kenneth Waltz and I am making my way through that. I am also reading The Sleepwalkers by Christopher Clark. I am not far into it but so far it has been a very enjoyable read. The Sleepwalkers explains how the First World War got started. There is also a guy on Youtube Gerard van der Ree who has a 11 great videos describing different IR theory here.