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Realism, Prediction, and Foreign Policy

by Samuel Barkin
Foreign Policy Analysis ()


Attempts by some contemporary realists to both claim that international politics are objectively predictable and at the same time prescribe particular foreign policies cannot hold together logically, because they are internally contradictory. The core argument of this article is that these attempts not only fail to fulfill their goal, but that the attempt to be scientific, to see the world as predictable, is ontologically incompatible with the core insight of classical realism, that we must see the world as it is, rather than as we want it to be. There are two ramifications of this observation for a realism that is not internally contradictory. The first is that a prescriptive realism must be a theory of foreign policy, not a theory of systems structure. And the second is that a realism that works as a theory of foreign policy prediction needs to be reflexive, needs to examine its own assumptions and biases as an integral part of the process of studying international politics.

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