The Promises and Pitfalls of Realist Explanations of Power Politics in Europe
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Yaşar University, Izmir, Turkey
Publication date: 2020-06-24
Stosunki Międzynarodowe – International Relations 2016;52(2):91–103
This article critically examines the promises and pitfalls of realist explanations of power politics in Europe. Starting with the pitfalls and drawing on a previous paper about the end of the realist tradition in Europe, Jørgensen argues that realism is a theoretical tradition (among several others) and that as such realism’s utility as an explanatory tool is close to zero. By contrast, realist theories might have some utility in explaining power politics, not least in applications of balance of power theory, balance of threat theory, theories of alliance politics, power transition theory or theories of foreign policy. Subsequently, the explanandum, ‘power politics’, is characterised as an attractive yet slippery concept that is in severe need of specification. Moreover, the article points out the obvious, specifically that the region in question – Europe – is part of the world and that, when explaining power politics in Europe, several (neo-)realist approaches would highlight the importance of systemic structural factors. Concerning the promises of realist explanations, it seems useful to examine the conditions under which the utility of realism in explaining power politics in Europe would increase: i) further gains of the European right and far right; ii) further advances of revisionist Russia; iii) the EU disintegrating, cf. challenges to the euro, Schengen, and exit strategies such as Grexit and Brexit; iv) intra-realist tradition developments include a thorough reconsideration of the realist research agenda, for instance: by means of entering the experience of problem-oriented eclectic approaches, specifically giving up claims about realist supremacy, forgetting the bold claim that only realist theories describe the world as it is, specifying when or where realist theory is relevant and where it is not. The article has three recommendations: realists should give up Europe as a region in which realist approaches are relevant (with a few notable exceptions); instead realists could choose global power shifts or regional balances of power in the Far East or the Middle East. The engagement of the US/Russia/Iran/Turkey/ Saudi Arabia in the Middle East could be seen as a soft case for realist analysts.