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The Use Of Force From A Realist Perspective Politics Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 2123 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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“There are only two forces in the world, the sword and the spirit. In the long run the sword will always be conquered by the spirit.”-  Napoleon Bonaparte. The Use of Force is nothing but the capacity to use the power which operates against any resistance. Force is a three dimensional strength composing of intellectual power, moral power and the competency to affect one’s mind and act (with or without their consent). A narrow and diplomatic description of the application of power, at the international arena can be described as the use of force to settle conflicts by either physical interventions or by persuading another party to do or not to do something. The use of force can be applied in different forms; it can be through a constructive authority that exercises law instead of physical measures, the force can be sensed in physical term also, it can be physical contact, force or restrain (example police, army), another way to use force would be by taking advantage of your position, and this might be legitimate as well as illegitimate use of force (example America’s relation with India, Pakistan etc.) It has been largely observed that the use of force only comes into scene after all rational efforts to unravel circumstances have been unsuccessful.

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The realist school of thought would completely agree with the use of force. Realism is a pragmatic approach, which insists on giving value to the perspective of seeing the world the way it is, instead of what it should be. Modern Realist like Machiavelli supports this notion. A realist’s argument to this is would be the influence of power. Relations between states is always determined by the amount of power (military force and economic) by realist and their belief in “might is right” shows how strongly the realist are for the use of force. Realist like Bodin talks about internal and external sovereignty of a state and the major role it plays in keeping the national interest and nation security, which is the bottom line for each state. So if there is no danger to its own state a realist state will always support the application of force. The primary motive for a state is to survive therefore, if a state is capable enough to use force for its self interest, a realist would very much accept it. As Thucydides puts it “the strong do what they can, the weak suffer what they must” [1] and this gives the sense of positive response from the realists about the use of force without any moral or human consideration.

Throughout history there have been examples of use of force over which a realist would have different opinion. They would completely agree with any use of force, which is a show of superiority over another state, if the aggressive state’s national security was in any way threatened, they are neither in a dilemma because of any type of principles or moral grounds, as they don’t believe that morals and principles have any space in politics. Some of the cases a realist would completely agree with are;

World War II (1939-1945) – World War II was one of the most appropriate instances to the theory of realism as both sides work parallel to the school of thought of realism. One of the core arguments for classic realist is that human nature is selfish and egoistic and therefore there should be great emphases on understanding the basic nature of human, which support self-interest majorly. [2] The Axis power (with major powers- Germany, Japan and Italy) worked for their national interest. Germany’s invasion over Poland, Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor was all examples of spreading their national interest with the use of force. A realist would probably support it as they believe in both “might is right” and “if you have the power than go for it”. Even though we try to bring different type of administration and institutionalism but at the world stage there is always a state of anarchy. This state of anarchy gives each state an equal platform to show their ability and power. History is like a film which keeps on showing the reality which has always leaned towards the theory of the powerful, which is nothing but to be powerful and maintain that with the course of action. Another argument to support this would be structural realism; there have never been encouragements about focusing on the character and decision- making of the actors in international relations. [3] While the acts of Axis power were defended by realism, the opposite parties were not held incorrect either. The means took by the Allies (United Kingdom, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and the United States of America) were to save their self-interest and national sovereignty. No matter how brutal and inhuman Allies’ level of use of force were but a realist would still show a green signal to their action as it’s not about morals and humanity at world politics. (dropping of atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,1945 that not only killed around 200,000 people but also resulted in genetic disorders in the coming generations)

Indo- Pak War (1971) – Pakistan was working as an agency of individual actors which had full right and ability to work and make decisions determining their own outcomes. The choice of the powerful part of the state (West Pakistan) to keep the political power to themselves lead to the revolt in the East Pakistan which will be again supported by realist as it was an action for saving self-interest. This resulted in genocide of Bengalis and minority Hindu population (around 10 million), but realism, which gives no room to humanitarianism does not find any wrong in it. On the other hand realists favor India’s act in the war equally, as the people who were fleeing from East Pakistan were finding refuge in India. A twenty-four year old nation which already had an overstrained economy, to ease of this burden helped free Bangladesh.

Though there is mostly a general positive notion about the use of force among the realist but there have been cases where there has been a sense of disapproval on the use of force.

Kosovo War (1998-1999) – Kosovo and Serbia/ Yugoslavia had been on war since 1912, the sixth Kosovo war (1998-1999) was a guerrilla war against Serb Yugoslav authority. [4] In 1999, March 24 NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) started bombing over Serbia, this air attack was stopped on the seventy-eighth day persuading Serbia to withdraw their army from Kosovo. The rationale for NATO to enter into the war was nothing but humanitarianism which is not corresponding to the ideology of realism. Without any self-interest NATO’s involvement in the Kosovo’s conflict to stop violence and suppression, to attain a peaceful space and the save rehabilitation of the refugees back in Kosovo. “The political realist maintain the autonomy of the political sphere, as the economist, the lawyer, the moralist maintain theirs. [5] ” This one of the six principles of Morgenthau clearly elucidates the stand of NATO. As per the realist theory morality, humanity, justness has no value in the real world and thus, actions tending towards anyone of them are dispirited.

Operation Restore Hope, Somalia (1993) – The name of the operation itself consist the essence of humanity and common good. The intervention in Somalia was on humanitarian grounds, the U.S government and the United Nation’s intervention to stop the mass starvation was only on the ground of humankind and sympathy. Realism does not believe in any expression related to humans other than using them for self-interest (in wars and economic profit etc.) Realism fails to acknowledge the humanitarian dimensions of any situation at the political level. Thus, Realist condemn of use of force in Operation Restore Hope in Somalia.

In my paper above I have talked about extreme realist perspective over use of force with their application in different scenarios. But there are still many events of use of force which lie vague. It is clear that realism is about self-interest and not about holding common good, but with the clear distinguishes in the discipline of realism there have been state of affairs, where realist were not able to take a stand.

The First Gulf War (1990-1991) – The invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi troops was met with international condemnation, and brought immediate economic sanctions against Iraq by members of the UN Security Council. U.S. President George H. W. Bush deployed American forces to Saudi Arabia and urged other countries to send their own forces to the scene.

One of the main concerns of the west was the significant threat Iraq posed to Saudi Arabia. Following the conquest of Kuwait, the Iraqi army was within easy striking distance of Saudi oil fields. Control of these fields, along with Kuwaiti and Iraqi reserves, would have given Saddam Hussein control over the majority of the world’s oil reserves. A realist would agree with the actions of George H. W. Bush during the gulf war as Saddam Hussein’s control of Saudi Oil wells would have led to a disturbance in the balance of power in the Middle Eastern region.

Operation Desert Storm was carried out under the pretext of saving the Kuwaiti Population from mass genocide by Iraqi troops. A realist would oppose Operation Desert Storm if it was based on these grounds.

Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003-?) – The 2003 Invasion of Iraq is another ambiguous case in which realists have had difficulties to take a stand. According to then President of the United States, George W. Bush the reasons for the invasion were “to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people.” Realism proposes the protection of self-interests of a state as the ultimate goal and a state may use any means to achieve the goal. The statement of by the U.S president has two sides to it. On one hand he defends the invasion by reasoning the possession of Weapons of mass destruction which would be a threat to U.S.A’s national security. On the other hand he reasons the liberation of Iraqi people as the cause of the invasion. Realism would agree with the former reason and not the latter.


Max Weber defined the state as a social institution which has domination on the legitimate use of force. The state of anarchy, realism offers gives a state full right to use force without explanation or any type of justification, all it values is nation’s interest and security. One of the reasons that realism supports use of force is also the fact that it supports the notion of each state possessing power and working for that power, which in the long run, gives a sense of danger between all these states running in the race to be powerful forces. While internally a state has a legitimate control over the use of force as they all are obligated by Thomas Hobbes “social contract”, on the international arena the contracts breaks and anarchy takes over. On the moral grounds over use of force, realists argue that morals are nothing but a fake cover over their actions which are only guided by their self-interest. Carl Schmitt put in a short and sweet manner in the following quotes, “Whoever invokes humanity wants to cheat.” And “Humanity has no enemies as such at least not on this planet.” [6] Apart from believes and disbelieves of Realism over use of force, there are some source of law about the use of force like Unite Nations Charter VII. Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter allows the Security Council to “determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression” and to take military and non-military action to “restore international peace and security”.


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