Structural Realism – International Relations (1/7)


Basically, what I am is a structural realist.
I’m a person who believes that it’s the structure of the international system, it’s the architecture of the international system, that explains
in large part how states behave. Another way to say that is, I do not believe that domestic politics, I do not believe that the composition or the make-up of individual states matters very much for
how those states behave on a day-to-day basis, in international politics. And to be a bit more specific about this, I believe the fact that states live in what
we call an anarchic system – that’s a system where there’s no higher authority that those states can turn to if they get into trouble – that fact, coupled with the fact that states can never be certain that they won’t end up living next door to a really powerful state that has malign intentions, All of that causes states to do everything they can to be as powerful as possible. And again,
the reason that you want to be very powerful,
that you want to pursue power, that you want to dominate your region of the world, is because in that situation, there is no other state
that is capable of hurting you. If you’re small and you’re weak in the international system, that means you’re vulnerable. If
you don’t have a lot of power, what happens is that the big, the powerful state is in
a position where they can take advantage of you. And again, because the system is anarchic, because there’s no higher authority that sits above
states, there’s nobody that you can turn to. There’s no night watchman that you can call on the telephone to come and help you. So you’re in a very vulnerable situation, and the way to
avoid that is to be very powerful. And to give you a good example that really highlights this, think about the United States of America in the Western hemisphere. The United States is by far the most powerful country in the Western hemisphere. It has the Canadians on its northern border. It has the Mexicans on its southern border. It has fish on its eastern border and fish on its western border. No
American ever goes to bed at night worrying about another country attacking it, and the reason is because the United States is so powerful. So the ideal situation for any state in the international system, is to be as powerful
as possible. Because that’s the best way to survive in
a system where there’s no higher authority, no night watchman, and where you can never be certain that you won’t end up living next door to
another country that has malign intentions and a lot of military power.
In the world of realism, there are basically two sets of theories. What one might call
the human nature realist theories and the structural realist theories. The human nature realists and Hans Morgenthau, of course, would be the most prominent example of this school of thought, believe that human beings are hardwired with what Morgenthau called an animus dominandi. To put this is slightly different terms, Morgenthau was saying that all human beings are born with a Type A personality, and when they get into power, what they want to do is pursue power as an end in itself. So in that story,
it’s human nature, it’s the way human beings are born that causes all this conflict in the international system. That’s a very different way of thinking about the world than the structural realist argument. Structural realists like me and like Ken Waltz believe that it is the structure of the international system, it is the architecture of the system, not human nature, that causes states to behave aggressively. That’s what causes states to engage in security competition. It’s the fact that there’s no higher authority above states,
and that states can never be certain that another state won’t come after them militarily somewhere down the road that drives these states to
engage in security competition. So although both realist schools of thought lead to the same form of behaviour, which is a rather aggressive kind of competition, the root causes are different in the two stories. Again, on one side, you have the human nature realists who focus on the way human beings are hardwired, and on the other side, you have
the structural realists, who focus on the basic way that the system is organised My view is that the most important questions in international politics are what a theory should be concerned with, and there are really only a few big questions out there that matter.
And these questions largely involve war and peace. And I think one of the great advantages of realism is that it has a lot to say. It doesn’t
provide perfect answers, but it has a lot to say about the big questions in international politics. And one of the attractions of realism is that it is a parsimonious theory, which is a sophisticated way of saying it’s a simple
theory. Realism is easy to understand. A handful of factors are said to describe why the world, or to explain why the world works in particular ways, why you get these very important events like World War I and World War II. And I think that that’s the most important thing that a theory can do, is to provide simple explanations for very important events. This is not to say that we shouldn’t have theories that explain minor actions or minor considerations or peripheral situations in the international system. But the most important theories, by definition, are going to be those theories that deal with the big questions.
And the theories that are going to matter the most – and I believe this is why structural realism matters so much – are those theories that are nice and simple, that are parsimonious.
I believe that if China continues to rise economically, that it will translate that
economic might into military might, and that it will try
to dominate Asia the way the United States dominates the Western hemisphere. I think that China, for good realist reasons, will try to become a hegemon in Asia, because I believe the Chinese understand now and will certainly understand in the future that the best way
to survive in the international system is to be really powerful. The Chinese understand full well what happened to them between 1850 and 1950 when they were very weak. They understand what the European great powers, the United States and the Japanese did to them, and they want to make sure in the future that they’re going to be very powerful. So I think they’ll try to dominate Asia. The United States, on the other hand, does not tolerate what we sometimes call peer
competitors. The United States does not want China to dominate Asia, and the United States will go to enormous lengths to prevent China from dominating Asia. And of course China’s neighbours. This includes Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Vietnam, India and Russia – will not want China to dominate Asia. So they will join with the United States to try to contain China much the way our European and Asian allies joined together with us during the
Cold War to contain the Soviet Union. The same
thing, I believe, will happen with China. So you will have this intense security competition between China, which is trying to dominate Asia, and the United States and China’s neighbours, which are trying to prevent China from dominating Asia. So with regard to this question that lots of people are talking about today, can China rise peacefully? My answer is no, and my answer is based on my theory, because there’s no way you can predict the future
without a theory.

Maurice Vega

99 Responses

  1. A bit naive to take as a given that Russia, for one will JOIN the US to contain China, I see the reverse happening, with of course the same conclusion. 

  2. This guy is awesome, I was listening to him for a while and then realised it was Mearsheimer when he started using some lines from his book. The Tragedy of Great Power Politics is really good, well worth a read.

  3. "i do not believe that domestic politics…matters very much for how those states behave"

    dude you wrote a book called "the israel lobby and US foreign policy"

  4. The lecturers of the universities have complicated giving a clear explanation for what realism stands for, thank you very much sir, you have absolutely gave me a clear idea of what structural realism is, I will be very lucky to attend one of your lectures.

  5. "the most important thing a theory can do is provide simple explanations for very important events."

    I thought the most important thing is to come up with explanations that are accurate.

  6. "realism is easy to understand: a handful of factors describe why you get these very important events like world war 1 and world war 2."

    the way to avoid being vulnerable is "to be very powerful"

    So germany invaded poland in order to become less vulnerable? Does anyone seriously believe this?

  7. Its always great to see the renowned worldwide think tanks of global politics on a YouTube to clear misconception s . Long live Shaiemar

  8. I can't bear how half of this video is just him stating euphemisms for what he is saying. I had to watch this video several times because I was getting annoyed and burnt out by it.

  9. Very clear speech. But if you don't consider domestic politics, how can you explain dramatic changes in international politics after the French or the Russian Revolutions? Why South Africa gave up its nuclear weapons after the Cold War? Why foreign policies of Carter and Reagan were so different? Do ideologies, values, interests of decision-makers have no impact on international relations? I think Raymond Aron and Richard Ned Lebow, for example, are really more sophisticated and more interesting.

  10. But could it not be argued that the UN is an overarching structure built by a coalition of states to look out for each other .

  11. I thought this was a parody… but it actually reflects a lot of current American foreign policy and in my opinion America has one of the most frightened insecure goverment and populace that constantly fear attack?! Cool story bro.

  12. So basically we need a NWO? I'm down….makes sense. We would all be able to focus and stop wasting money on defense bc their will be nothing to defend from….in theory.

  13. I've always thought this theory causes a lot of trouble. I compare it to warning weak people that they can be abused whenever, just because they are vulnerable. Yes, some people will try to find others to abuse and take advantage over them, but their behavior, far from acceptable, is disgusting and punishable. Why is it accepted on this theory?

  14. States have behaved the same for the past millennia even when there wasn't a UN, WB or IMF. The international system created post-WW2 is different now than the past and yet(!) the states act absolutely the same out of self-serving interest to further their own power and influence. There aren't many powerful states who strive to uphold UN laws and strive for peace or restrain themselves. Because that is simply the nature of an empire or a great power and it will never change no matter what the structure of the international system is.

  15. this idea seem to preclude the utility for middling states, or even middling great powers, to draft upon the security apparatus of the stronger state (assuming that the stronger state is on-balance non-malign respecting their own state) – at the cost, of course, of some loss of range of action. i.e. the structure the prof speaks of (driving expansiveness of one important sort or another) only principally applies to contending great power states. in which case, this is no great revelation. you might even distill this to the great-man vs tidal force view of history, which is also nothing new. his conclusion is also obvious – of course china will translate their economic power ultimately into a military power which secures their interest. also, interestingly, they do so only at a rate that benefits their marginal interest. they are playing the long game of the middling great power as far as they can. extremely smart play.

  16. 2:40 But neither does Canada. This is a major problem with the Offensive Realist theory that Mearsheimer presents. If power was all that mattered then Canada would be having an arms race with America. Canada has all of the means to do this (they have he second largest stockpile of uranium in the entire world), yet Canada doesn't bother. This is what Mearsheimer fails to consider.

  17. the best deffence of realism that i have come across so far. but i still fel that realism is the weakest of the three main theories. It just assumes that states act as if they where not made up of thousands of institutions and millions of people in a world where anything can happen. it also assumes that a country will ignore the options available to and always head straight for an aggressive route. For example the way he explains that china will attempt to dominate as Asia as if it (unlike everyone else) can not see the risks of US, Indian, Japanese and Russian paranoia. Such complex organisms are not in my opinion so simple minded.

  18. The US doesnt need to worry about Canada and Mexico because neither of these countries are warmongers,greedy or meddlers into the politics of others.They are more concerned with their own affairs.They dont see IR as a competition for resources and security but have a more unilateral vision of cooperation based on common good.Ironically its the US that is constantly concerned with war not them.

  19. Not all states are power maximisers. You don't see Switzerland trying to maximise it's hard power.
    Unless he thinks his theory only applies to great powers in the system… (hence the name of his book). If this is the case, his theory really doesn't have much explanatory power.

  20. Yh so why can’t China be strong what coz your American and feel threaten your not afraid about them dominating Asia your afraid of them being stronger than u 😂😂😂

  21. Waiting for the haters here to explain why (1) Russia invaded Ukraine after Ukraine gave up it's nuclear weapons (2) Israel's Arab neighbors have started several wars with it – and (3) in both cases, no one in the liberalist international community has stepped in to protect these states from clear wars of aggression, despite the numerous international conventions and norms against such wars

  22. India is not just looking to contain China. India is now looking for reagional dominance too. Competing against China.

  23. India is not just looking to contain China. India is now looking for reagional dominance too. Competing against China.

  24. India is not just looking to contain China. India is now looking for reagional dominance too. Competing against China.

  25. Canadians also don't go to bed at night worrying about another state attacking them. International politics is more nuanced than the Mearsheimer's offensive realism allows. He seems to forget that structural realism is a theory, rather than a reflection of reality.

  26. He also ignores the fact that the Cold War did not involve a global economy. While China is a potential enemy to the US and its neighbours, it is also an essential economic partner. Does this mean there is no potential for conflict? Or course not. However, what it does mean is that the current situation is not identical to the Cold War, and that economic interaction will likely play a role it did not play in the US/USSR bipolar situation. Structural realism can only explain so much, it is not an unproblematic model of reality on the ground.

  27. When Lenin came up with decree of peace he immediately gave up territory acquired by czarist Russia.. But such a move makes Russia less powerful by definition… How do you explain from realist view… Here domestic factors play role..

  28. Great job sir.. You really explain the things very simply.. I also want to say some me views.. Realism says the actual situation but it can not predict the future because no country wants to bear loss at present so every country won't want war not at all.. In end every country wants peace but it can not be achieved through this approach.. In the present era of intetdepndence, every country will have to be have to function according to the more of liberalism and less of realism.. .. Please give your comments on my views.. I am really impressed your way explaining.. I too want to contribute my thoughts in international relations for making peace in this world…

  29. E.H Carr is considered to be a realist and wants the national self interest to be considered first in foreign policy, but you have mentioned- he wants something in between realism and utopianism to be the best policy. I guess the argument of E.H Carr is flawed if he is a realist and then trying to find middle ground, can't be comprehended . What is middle ground in international relation :theorist perspective?

  30. Not quite as relevant at the moment… "no American goes to bed worrying about another country attacking it"… 😳

  31. I like his way to explain the foundation of the realism and the difference between structural realism and the theorie of human nature as its basic subject, like it was argued by morgenthau. Though i can´t agree with the international system being a pure anarchy itself. The anarchy of the international system he is describing is depending on the view of only competing isolated states that persue only their own intentions and reach for power to provide safety. Actually in a world that is getting more and more global there are so much more examples of international institutions that can be seen as actors. Thus anarchy isn´t a unchangeable structure but a structure created by the theoretical view of realism. Realism isolates states not seing the potential of cooperating power of states, international organisations as institutions and regimes that provide global agreements of law, peace and the protection of the environment.
    Hes way of speaking and his arguments are really conclusive. But for me the basic thougts of realism are kind of pessimistic and can´t include a peaceful and global future. This way of looking at the world leads to a neo-conservative, and nationalistic foreign policy of the US as a tackled hegemonic super power that increasingly gets into conflict with rising powers of the OECD-States like China.
    As final aspect I also criticize that only with international unions the greatest and worrying problems of all human beings and states can be solved. Which are in my opinion the globalization of liberal economics and the question if there can be infinte growth as well as it spreads social injustice caused by its liberal character and its distribution of power (which outsources developing countries). And also the climate change. We can allready see that the developement of the present foreign-policy with trump quitting the Paris climate protection agreement and the focus on bordersecurity and the rising patriotism. In my opinion we should see the world through different eyes and accept that if we want to overwhelm the really overwhelming global problems we have to cooperate and put the selfinterest a side, get to know and trust each other and focus on changing the present system to a system which isnt just build in a very rational structure of economic growth and developement (which actually just works for the most powerful ones) but has the also rational aims and outcomes just as providing a healthy planet for following generations, peace and social justice and equality. Sometimes i think we allready stopped believing and trying to make it possible and just focus to rescue ourselfs at the expense of others.

  32. The absence of a higher international government/authority does not necessarily make states vulnerable to attack, especially when they hold a close alliance with a superpower state I.e. Washington or Moscow

  33. Also, it could be argued that being a superpower actually curtails a state’s security and increases it’s vulnerability to assailment on the grounds that it will inevitably be relentlessly challenged by other states aspiring towards its ‘superpower status’.

  34. The desire for power might come from fear of being hurt, farther more this desire might come from noble motives that come from places men can't rich but those contents reach to us

  35. Thank you I was really enlightened but can you explain more on why the US doesn't want China to dominate Asia? Maybe US is also up to something that is for their benefit

  36. He’s right in general but the human nature realists are also correct to an extent. I also don’t like how he seems to tacitly advocate for a global superstate

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