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CIAO DATE: 03/02

Realism and Foreign Policy Analysis

Sten Rynning and Stefano Guzzini

Copenhagen Peace Research Institute
December 2001


Power politics, realists agree, is played by all, be it for reasons of human nature and/or international anarchy. But can one deduce from this general quest for power a theory on state motivations? Recent realist theories seem to agree with this idea in general, but disagree, indeed have opposite claims, about its content. Kenneth Waltz (1979) argues that states are defensive and thus "balance," while John Mearsheimer (1990) contends that states are offensive and therefore "expand." Classical realists, as usual, allow for more common sense and hence variety. Hans Morgenthau (1948) thus included both status quo and imperialist powers in his theory. But the implication of this indeterminacy remains: if realists cannot settle the question which state motivation can be derived from human nature and/or international anarchy, then they need to examine more carefully the study of foreign policy.

Curiously enough, classical realists have not happily grappled with the field of foreign policy analysis (FPA) that emerged in the 1960s. As our first section shows, realists challenged FPA's increasing distance to the diplomat's world of experience and the restricted focus on decision-making, which accompanied the attempt to turn IR into a behavioralist science. But the underlying indeterminacy meant that realists could not leave the challenge of FPA unanswered. Consequently, realists have further expanded the range of state motivations said to derive from human nature/international anarchy, namely power, glory, and ideas, as shown in section III. With regard to policy processes, realists contend that the process must shape policy to take advantage of international power opportunities, which remains the analytical bottom-line. Yet, they differ widely in their assessment of how this actually happens, as section IV illuminates. The conclusion outlines the major research challenges within the realist framework and also the main realist contributions to the field of foreign policy analysis.