Welcome, realistically | Stephen M. Walt
“What is a “realist perspective?” Realists believe that foreign policy should deal with the world as it really is, instead of being based on wishful thinking or ideological pipedreams (see under “Clinton administration“). Realists know that international politics can be a brutal business and states cannot afford to be too trusting, but we also know that states get into serious trouble by exaggerating threats or engaging in foolish foreign adventures (see under “Bush Doctrine“). Realists respect the power of nationalism and understand that other societies will resist outside interference and defend their own interests vigorously. Accordingly, realists believe successful diplomacy requires give-and-take and that advancing one’s own interests sometimes requires cooperating with regimes whose values or practices are objectionable if not repellent.
Realists appreciate the importance of military power, but they also know that it is a blunt instrument whose effects are sometimes unpredictable. Realists are therefore wary of grandiose plans for social engineering in other countries and believe that force should be used only when vital interests are at stake. Realists recognize that global institutions can be useful tools of statecraft, but they also believe that institutions require great power support to work effectively and are not a default solution for all global problems.
Finally, realists are skeptical of the propaganda that states invariably deploy to justify self-interested policies, and they know that fear, greed or stupidity sometimes lead even well-intentioned democracies to do foolish or cruel things (see under “Iraq“). Realists aren’t moral relativists and don’t think all great powers are morally equivalent, but they know better than to take any country’s idealistic rhetoric at face value.”
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