Realism is a paradigm because there are many realist thinkers with in realism such as, classic realist and Neorealist, which is broken down into defensive and offensive structural realism. Classic realists believe that’s its human nature and unit level that determines how states behave. Classic realists view states as a key, unitary and rational actor, whereas neorealism also referred to as structural realism believe, it’s the structure of the system, and the system level which determines how states behave.
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The key assumptions of Neo-realists, is the idea of anarchy, which means there is no supreme authority, so states operate on a self help basis so states must fend for themselves. States are can never be certain that they are living next to a powerful state with malign intentions, that coupled with the fact that there is no higher authority to turn to if in trouble causes states to do everything they can to be powerful. The idea states perpetually feel threatened by a potential attack from others. Where no one commands by virtue of authority, no one is obliged to obey. This supports the argument that anarchic structure of international system determines how nation states behave, because states want to be as powerful as they can so other states are less likely to take advantage of them, this is because the weaker the state are more vulnerable and powerful states would take advantage of you and because of the anarchic structure, there’s no supreme authority to help and so the only way to avoid this is to be powerful because that’s the best way to survive in an anarchic structure, which emphasizes that nation states seek power and self interest.
In a world of anarchy neorealist argue that states adopt the dynamics of security dilemma, in striving to attain security from a potential attack, states are driven to acquire more and more capabilities to escape the capabilities of others. This causes states to become more insecure and compels them to prepare for the worst. Since no one can ever feel entirely secure it’s a constant vicious circle of security and capability accumulation, also known as arms race.
Structural realism is divided into two; defensive and offensive structural realism and each theory explain the determinants of how nation states behave. Defensive structural realism, as theorized by political scientist Kenneth Waltz theory suggests that while anarchic, nation- states follows the idea of ‘balance of power’ and is a self-correcting. Actors follow a ‘defensive’ set of policies that seek to prioritize maintaining survival within the current system and not the pursuit of power. This view is dependent on the international system condemning harshly any acts of aggression as it currently does and continually seeks to prevent any instances where it could flair up. An example of this would be Napoleonic Wars, where the threat of France in upsetting the ‘balance of power’ in Europe forced numerous states to form alliances of expediency to tame Napoleon’s aggressive hegemonic tendencies. By combining , numerous powers could maintain the status-quo that was beneficial to some and horrendous to others by asserting that France was threatening to undo the balance altogether, an existential threat that forced defensive action collectively. Defensive realists work on a groupthink mentality that attempts to prevent aggression before it begins and maintain the ever-changing cycle of the ‘balance of power’ whenever it is needed.
Offensive Realism, as theorized by political scientist John Mearsheimer, offers the idea that the international system, being inherently anarchic in accordance with human nature, forces state actors to adapt an ‘offensive’ focused view of foreign policy that forces said actors to act ever aggressively to continually grow their own power and weaken their opponents, regardless of the cost. The idea of the ‘balance of power’ is an anathema to them as they do not recognize balances, only strong v. weak and seek to acquire more power to assure their dominance in the international arena. These individuals rely on aggressive tendencies and military power to further security concerns and assure their own survival against the face of a ‘civilized’ state of anarchy.But the claim that the anarchic structure of the international system determines the behavior of nation states may not be seen as true because there are many explanations as to why the domestic politics is the reason nation states behave the way they do. Domestic politics is decisions that is mainly focused on issues and activity within a nations border.
Structural realism is good as it explains continuity, it explains why different countries, different internal structures or leaders all produce similar outcomes.