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The World Today: Realism Still Relevant (Security Context)

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The various tensions between states in the world, become a momentum to analyze the relevance of international relations theory, including realism. This theory is the most popular school of thought in international relations and emphasizes the state as a primary actor in international relations. Realism’s perspective states that in achieving the national interest, the state has to establish its capacity within an anarchic international system to establish and maintain its power (ngcayisa, 2020).

In the security context, realism emphasizes that conflict between countries is something that cannot be avoided because of the struggle for power between states or communities, and there is no greater authority, and legal system that can regulate the state, (Williams, 2008). Therefore, to prevent threats from other states, the state or group needs to increase its military capacity (Salomon, 1996).

Related to this, his book (Williams, 2008) says that realists assume that a state should not depend on other states. This is based on the assumption that “there are no permanent friends or enemies, the only things are interesting”, and “if You Want Peace, Prepare for War”. Therefore, military capacity is needed as an absolute prerequisite that a state must have to maintain its security.

One aspect that is emphasized in realism is human nature. Realism assumes that the conflictual world is influenced by the imperfection of humans who are basically born in a conflictual situation. In this case, the behavior of a state in its interaction with other states is influenced by basic human characteristics. Therefore, realists tend to be pessimistic about the role of morals and good intentions in realizing world peace ((Williams, 2008).

Current world situation

Before delving deeper into the current world situation, It is interesting to look back at how the world in the context of international security was projected post-Cold War. The end of the military rivalry between the two world powers, the United States and the Soviet Union opened up new hope for a better world. In this case, instead of going to war, countries are predicted to tend to prioritize cooperation and peace and focus on non-military issues (Anindita, 2022).

A fact revealed by research by the Federation of American Scientists in 2023, shows that nuclear weapons reduction efforts are slowing now compared to the last 30 years. They also stated that currently, the number of nuclear warheads in the world is still very large at around 12,500 warheads by the beginning of 2023 (Kristensen, et al. 2023). In addition, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) 2023, over the past eight years, world military spending has increased significantly, and 2022 was the highest at $2240 billion. This shows that there is a tendency for countries to maintain and increase their weapons capacity in large numbers, Moreover, with the current situation of rampant conflict, it has the potential to further force countries to increase their military capacity in order to maintain their security.

Global military spending from 2001 to 2022, Source: Statista, 2023

Recently, conflicts between countries have become more frequent in various regions. States engage in conflicts to gain power by engaging military force. In addition, some countries are currently trying to increase their military capacity to ensure their countries are safe from threats from other countries. These facts indicate that military issues are still important in interactions between states, and the competition of military power to achieve power is still a concern for some great states. In this case, the prediction of the post-Cold-Cold War world is in contradiction with the current world situation.

For example, in the Middle East, the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Palestine where Benjamin Netanyahu openly declared war. Data from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)  states that during the period 7-15 October 2023, the war between Israel and Hamas caused 4,000 deaths, and this conflict involved military force.  The narratives of state leaders and the facts of the war ultimately indicate that the world is currently still conflictual.

Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7 used 2,500 rockets. It is estimated that in 2021, Hamas in Gaza, have around 30,000 rockets. Not to mention, there are indications that Hamas is developing uninhabited aerial vehicles (UAVs), a type of weapon operated by a satellite navigation system with video cameras and radio networks, and this weapon has been used in the war against Israel (International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2023). This fact confirms that Hamas is making efforts to increase its military capacity.

Compared to Hamas, Israel has enormous military capacity. Israel is included as the 20 countries with the best Airpower in the world, ranked 12th best Landpower, 50 countries with the best sea power, and the top 10 arms exporters in the world. It is currently estimated that Israel has a total of around 90 nuclear warheads (Kristensen, et al. 2023). Another fact is that government expenditure on defense in Israel increases every year. In 2021 it reached over 79.8 billion Israeli shekels (US$ 21.74 billion), and in 2022 reached around US$ 23 billion (SIPRI,2023). This fact also shows that in today’s world, states including Israel, still consider that it is important to increase military capacity to maintain national security.

Government expenditure on defense in Israel 2013-2021, Source: statista, 2023

Another case, in Europe, is the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The discourse of Ukraine’s membership in NATO being a security threat to Russia is one factor in the conflict. Vladimir Putin stated a narrative that “Russia is ready to war against NATO”. Narratives like this ultimately reinforce the realist assumption that “If you want peace, prepare for war”. According to the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission, until October 4, 2023, the Russia-Ukraine conflict has resulted in around 10,000 civilian deaths. Meanwhile, the number of Russian and Ukrainian soldiers who died in the war is estimated at 500,000 (Cooper, et al, 2023).

The relevance of Realism in this case, also be examined from the involvement of many actors including NATO’s member states in this conflict where they show attitudes and actions that military power is still the main force. On the other hand, Russia, based on data from Global Firepower, is the state with the second most powerful army in the world after the United States. Its military budget also increases every year. In 2022 the Russian military budget reached 86.4 billion US dollars, an increase of 31 percent from 2021 (Statista, 2023).

Currently, we are also seeing the competition between the United States and China. Even though there has not been a physical confrontation through military attacks, there are indications that the two countries are both trying to establish their military capacity. China’s military buildup is part of an effort to counter or balance against the United States and its allies. We can see that currently, China is in second place with a defense budget of USD 292 billion, or the equivalent of IDR 4,236 trillion (Ibrahim, 2023).

In other regions such as Africa, the same phenomenon also shows, namely that conflicts over the struggle for power occur everywhere as if indicating realist assumptions about the struggle for power. In recent years, cases of military coups in Africa have become more frequent. Military coups in Gabon, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Chad, Mali, and Sudan, strengthen data that Africa is the region with the largest number of coup cases, namely around 106 coups by 2023. Coups and conflicts in Africa of course involve military forces. Data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) show that Africa’s military spending will total $39.4 billion by 2022 (SIPRI, 2023).

The cases above are only some of the many incidents that indicate that realism is still relevant in today’s world. There is still much evidence that indicates that after the Cold War, instead of minimizing weapons development, countries were actually increasingly carrying out arms races. Apart from ensuring national security, steps to increase weapons are part of the state’s efforts to achieve power. Because it cannot be denied that good military capacity is a considerable bargaining position for a country in its interactions with other countries, in order to achieve other national interests (hegemony, economics, politics, geopolitics, etc.).