Realism is a political theory, centered upon a list of four assumptions upon which all branches of realism agree. The first assumption is that states are the only actors in the international system and they are viewed as a “black box” in which nothing that happens internally matters (Seay). The second assumption is that all states act rationally (Morganthau 61). The third assumption is that the international system is in a state of anarchy (Waltz International Conflict 260). According to Thomas Hobbes, anarchy, also known as the state of nature, finds men constantly at war with each other as they fight to stay alive. He describes the state of nature as “every man, against every man.” (Hobbes 51.) This leads to the last assumption or realism, that the most important goal of states is survival. The theory of realism claims that under the current international system, the most important factor between states is power. This can be seen through the different branches of realism, classical, neorealism and neoclassical realism.
The first type of realism, classical realism, states that the only goal of states is to maximize their power and that the nature of men drive them to such actions. Hans Morgenthau argued that men will always act in their own self-interest and in the international system, interest is universally defined as power. Consequently, states will make decisions based on what gives them the most power He considered power anything that gives one man an advantage over another, whether it is political, economic, or martial (59). Another important idea proposed by Morgenthau is that the morals laws that govern the universe differ from those that govern states. He argued that states align that states justify their actions by creating amorality that aligns with their personal goals (61). Thucydides used the Melian Debate, which took place during the Peloponnesian War, as an example of classical realism. Athens wanted Melos to join them and pay tribute while Melos resolved to stay neutral. Melos begged Athens to let them remain neutral, but Athens stated, “the standard of justice depends on the equality of power,” meaning that Melos was too weak to make their request (Thucydides 43). Melos was no threat to Athens, yet they destroyed them to dissuade confrontation by neighboring colonies. The Athenians cared only to maximize their power and demonstrate that their justice was based on self-interest.
Neorealism, which can be categorized as defensive or offensive, sees power as a tool which states can use to influence other states. Kenneth Waltz, one of the first Neorealists to describe defensive neorealism, asserted that states act in response to the anarchic system under which they exist. He believed that states “must provide for their own security,” thereby justifying the military complex in order to prevent possible attack, which can lead to unintended conflict (Waltz Origins 66). When two powerful states solely engage with one another, a shift from a multi-polar to a bi-polar world can be created which Waltz argued was more stable because it limits the other states while keeping the two powerful states in check with each other (Waltz Stability 99). The cold war provides an example of this: as the United States increased its weaponry so did the Soviet Union. Tensions increased with the arms race, but neither country ever attacked since they understood that the consequence was total destruction.
Defensive neorealism also focuses on other state’s military power, but posits that the best security for a state is aggression, with hegemony as the ultimate goal in order to fend off the constant threat of attack. However, instead of engaging in an arms race to show power, offensive neorealists believe that states should crush their potential rivals, thus maximizing both security and military power. The hegemonic state, as described by Robert Gilpin, is created after a large scale war, when the international