The Key To Understanding The Assumptions Of Realism Lies In The Concept Of Power

Project and Seminar Material for Philosophy

Project and Seminar Material for Philosophy

Chapter One

Background Study of the Work


The state is the dominant actor in international relations. The treaty of Westphalia (1648), which formalized this sought to establish a basis for all States (big or small) to participate in international relations as equals since then the state has developed formidable instruments to secure her capacity as the dominant actor in the international system1. International politics attaches a lot of importance to the state and nationality. Perhaps this is why Philips Shively believes that the modern world is fixated on both concepts2. It is in the light of this that ordinarily, it would have been out of place to consider other actors outside of the State as players in International Relations.

The reality now is that in the 2nd half of 20th century, the scope of non state actors have grown to such an extent that scholars can no longer ignore their role in international relations. With the growth of interdependence and communication between societies, a variety of new organizational structures, operating on a regional and global basis, have been established. The rise of these transnational organized non-state actors and their growing involvement in world politics challenge the assumptions of traditional approaches to international relations which assume that States are the only important units of the international system. While some authors recognize that these non-sovereign entities and their activities have led to fundamental changes in world politics, others maintain that the structure of the international system can still be treated on the basis of Inter-state relations.

The Concept and Types of Non State Actors

Non-state actors (NSAs) are entities that participate or act in international relations; organizations with sufficient power to influence and cause politics change that do not belong to an established institution of State. In viewing world politics, the global system can be seen as a chessboard and the actors as the pieces that move about it. Alternately, as did shakespare, we can consider the world a stage, those groups, organizations and individuals who interact on it are the actors3. This is a useful metaphor for several reasons. First, the word ‘actor’ conveys a broad spectrum of interacting entities; it is large enough to encompass all entities we wish to study: Second, our emphasis is on behavior, and the word helps convey the idea of an entity that behaves or performs an action. In relation to non-state actors, the term also helps to convey the idea that different actors have different roles-that some are stars and occupy center stage while others are bit players in the chorus. Yet they all interact in creating the finished production.

However, the state is still the dominant international actor on most important issues in world politics. Thus, one way to identify a significant non-state actor is to ask whether it is taken into account in the calculations and strategies of the leaders of states and whether its continuing functions have an impact on States and other actors on the world stage. “Any organized unit that commands the identification, interests, and loyalty of individuals and affects inter-state relations becomes a major competitor among nation-states4.

The admission of non-state actors in international relations theory rebukes the assumptions of realism and other blackbox theories of international relations, which argue that interactions between states are the main relationships of interest in studying international events.

Realism also known as power politics school of thought believes that states are the primary and only important actors in world politics (state centric assumption). The key to understanding the assumptions of realism lies in the concept of power. Morgenthau contends that ‘international politics, like all politics is a struggle for power. Moreover all political policy seeks to keep power, to increase power or to demonstrate power5. As States alone have the necessary resources to exercise power, they are consequently the most important actors.

According to realists, actors in world politics are defined on the basis of three main criteria: sovereignty, recognition of statehood, and the control of territory and population6. Other entities cannot be seen as distinct and autonomous entities because they do not combine those three essential for being an actor.

The growth of non-state actors particularly multinational organizations and international organizations such as the United Nations in the post world war II period, led many scholars to question state centrism, because it assumes that States are the only important actors in world politics6. Scholars like Keohane and Nye argued that realism no longer offered a comprehensive theory because of fundamental changes in the structure of the international system7. They were among the first scholars to call a revision of the state centric paradigm, because it failed to recognize the importance of non-state actors. In their 1971 essay collection Transnational Relations and World Politics, they identify the phenomenon of ‘transnational interaction’ ‘ which they defined as the movement of tangible or intangible items across state boundaries when at least one actor is not an agent of government’. The authors highlight the importance of non-governmental actors in a great number of international relations. They present a number of case studies examining such varied transnational actors and behavior as multinational corporations, foundations labour unions and scientific networks. They conclude that the State is not necessarily the only important actors in world politics nor the “gatekeeper between intra-societal and extra-societal flows of actions8. This school of thought is called the pluralist school.

In the neorealist school of thought, Kenneth Waltz has been recognized as the major spokesman his leading work, Theory in International Politics is referred to

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