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Realism At Work

By Cameron Bird


Summary
While states will continuously walk the tightrope between realist and liberalist policy, it will be intriguing to see if leaders trend even more towards structural realism to respond to both external and internal challenges effectively.

On September 15, 2021, the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia announced a security partnership, AUKUS, which sent shockwaves through the global political stage. The nature of the deal, revolving around nuclear submarines, was notably concerning from the beginning. However, it was the underlying political motives that seemed most impactful. Beyond being a stark militaristic and economic power move in the Indo-Pacific region between Australia and two of its most powerful allies, the United States and the United Kingdom, the nature of the action itself in forming this security pact was brutally realist. Realism, in general summary, is a school of thought in International Relations and Global Politics that emphasizes the roles of states, the balance of power between them, and the nature of power in determining a course of action for the self-interest of states. Different branches of Realism provide different explanations for the causes of states’ efforts to increase their own power. Still, they ultimately conclude that the effects are the same: International Politics is a stage with results determined not by principle but by rationality.

Realism, in general summary, is a school of thought in International Relations and Global Politics that emphasizes the roles of states, the balance of power between them, and the nature of power in determining a course of action for the self-interest of states.

So why do states, in an increasingly globalized world, with an ever-growing number of options for the pursuit of multilateralism, choose instead to engage in forms of realist policy? The answer is quite simple: power. The two forms of power most displayed in the AUKUS deal are militaristic and economical. The US and UK are granting significant military power to Australia and, in turn, are receiving tremendous economic benefits in return. While this, at first glance, appears as a multilateral liberalist move, the scenario's background indicates that this move, by all three states, has very intent realist objectives. In agreeing to this deal, Australia scrapped a 50 billion USD deal with France, which intended to supply it with 12 nuclear submarines. France’s foreign minister reportedly called it “a stab in the back.” This was not to be taken lightly. France is considered one of the closest allies of the United States and the United Kingdom, and Australia had indicated that it would remain loyal to the deal made between itself and France. Yet, the appeal of a more significant, grander deal from even more powerful allies was too much.

The answer is quite simple: power. The two forms of power most displayed in the AUKUS deal are militaristic and economical.

This illustrated the realist objectives of Australia in taking the most rational course of action that would lead to the most lucrative results in terms of military power and potential. For the US and UK, the economic upside of such a starkly realist move outweighed the downside of the consequences in terms of multilateralism. This ultimately epitomizes the objectives of realism theoretically.

The economic upside of such a starkly realist move outweighed the downside of the consequences in terms of multilateralism.

Moreover, look no further than the recent news of Sweden and Finland deciding to join NATO. This was widely praised as an incredibly essential multilateral move that would increase security in northern and eastern Europe and enhance the defensive capabilities of NATO against any threats by Russia following its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. This case study, however, provides unique insight into the delicate balance that state governments must operate when it comes to their foreign policy. A multilateral move such as this is true, at face value, a liberalist victory and paves the way for more cooperation between participating states. However, multilateralism also serves as a guise through which states can achieve realist goals and objectives.

Multilateralism also serves as a guise through which states can achieve realist goals and objectives.

Sweden and Finland are joining an Intergovernmental Organization that preaches liberalism in all of its actions. Yet, it is clear that Sweden and Finland gain intriguing benefits due to joining NATO. While NATO had not been attacked by Russia yet, it had been threatened and added Finland and Sweden in order to increase the border between Russia and NATO. However, this action was not necessarily necessitated in order to protect NATO long term, assuming that they maintained their peaceful policy towards Putin’s Russia. For Sweden and Finland, they gain an unmeasurable level of protection from the largest military defense alliance in the world in response to an increasingly threatening regional hegemon in Russia. While increased cooperation appears to be the result, the further these actions are observed, the more it is recognizable that Sweden and Finland are acting with underlying realist ideals to protect themselves from a potential attack, a baseline realist assessment.

Sweden and Finland gain an unmeasurable level of protection from the largest military defense alliance in the world in response to an increasingly threatening regional hegemon.

Overall, state actors have had to deal with increasing crises. Excluding the invasion of Ukraine, where there has been a notably overwhelming response from the international community, state actors appear to be turning inwards in order to respond, reflecting more realist thought than multilateral thought. Covid-Eradication policies, New Zealand’s closing of borders during Covid, and Brazil’s opposition to international interference concerning the protection of the Amazon Forest all reflect the state's priority over the international community. While states will continuously walk the tightrope between realist and liberalist policy, it will be intriguing to see if leaders trend even more towards structural realism to respond to both external and internal challenges effectively.


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