Is there a timeless wisdom of realism?

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Bouineau Marine


Is there a timeless wisdom of Realism?

Realism has been considered as the dominant theory of International Relations since the Great Debate of the interwar period. However, it actually dates back as far as Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War in 400 BC. In fact, the idea that war, the balance of power, andthe state are the key elements that matter concerning the interactions between nations have almost always existed and seems, at least at the first sight, to be valid independently of time and place. That is why Barry Buzan, in 1996, first mentioned the expression "the timeless wisdom of Realism "1. The question whether there is or there is not such a thing is particularly relevant nowadays, at thetime of globalization, when one can wonder if Realism is able to face the new features and stakes of an ever-changing international scene. To answer it, this essay tried on the first part to emphasize the lasting relevance of certain Realist tenets and begged the question of the reasons of this timelessness. In the second part, it analyzed three of the criticisms Realism is currently facing. Itlead to the balanced conclusion that only some aspects of Realism are timeless while others are on the contrary clearly outdated and that though Realism needs to evolve, the new century will probably be a Realist one.

Currently, like all through history, Realists' key concepts have proved to be relevant to the study of International Relations and it seems they will always be due to severalreasons.
First and foremost, some Realist claims about the functioning of interstate relations are empirically observable in our world order; therefore we can say that they are timeless since they are not affected by the changes that have occurred in it.
To begin, statism is still obviously pertinent. In fact nation-states are the major actors on the international scene, and most people still clingto them as their preferred form of political organisation2. Moreover, the difficulties that the European community encounters concerning the establishment of a common constitution are often described by analysts as a nationalist refusal to abandon their state autonomy.
In addition the idea that the political field is entirely separated from internal affairs and from other fields continue to betrue today, although we are in a world where everything seems to be interconnected and where the economic, social and domestic spheres influence one another, as Grieco says, international politics are effectively independent because they have achieved a certain degree of autonomy and coherence3.
Self-help and the logic of survival also govern International Relations today, as they did at the time ofcity-states. Sovereign states do not feel they can rely on organisations' help and visibly they are right since Non-Governmental Organisations like the United Nations failed to prevent disasters such as the crisis that happened in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s' and were fundamentally impotent. To quote a more common example, we can underline the League of Nations' powerlessness to avoid theSecond World War. Besides, this leads states to be power-maximizers, or security-maximizers, just like Realist theorists say. That is why one can observe in political action that status quo states as well as revisionist ones always try to increase their strength be it military, cultural or economic. For instance, we can say that the United States of America try to keep their hegemonic position bytrying to find ways to slow China's growing influence (for example by coming back to European countries to “erase resentment” and “tighten ties” after the tensions due to the war in Iraq). This reminds us of Marie-Claude Smouts analysis, saying that a hegemon would try to make this "unipolar moment" last4. We can also highlight that some states constantly try to increase their military power (or to...
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