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Common Information

The classical realist theory of international relations has long dominated both academic institutions and the American government. Even at the birth of the nation, early political thinkers, such as Alexander Hamilton, promoted a realist view of international relations and sought to influence the actions of the government based on this perspective. While the classical realist school of international relations is not entirely homogeneous in nature, there are certain premises that all classical realists share. 

The primary principle underlying classical realism is a concern with issues of war and peace. Specifically, classical realists ask, what are the causes of war and what are the conditions of peace? The members of the classical realist school mainly attribute war and conflict to what is termed the security dilemma. In the absence of any prevailing global authority, each nation is required to address its own security needs. However, each nation’s quest for security—through military buildups, alliances, or territorial defenses—necessarily unsettles other nations. These nations react to feelings of insecurity by engaging in their own aggressive actions, which leads other nations to react similarly, perpetuating the cycle.

It is important to note that for realists, unlike idealists or liberal internationalists, international conflict is a necessary consequence of the structural anarchy that nations find themselves in. Whereas other schools may see international conflict as the result of evil dictators, historical chance, flawed socio political systems, or ignorance of world affairs, classical realists see war as the logical result of a system that by its nature lacks a true central authority.

Hand in hand with this view of conflict as an inevitable condition of the global power structure is the realists’ view of the nation as a unitary actor. Because classical realists see international relations as a continuing struggle for dominance, the nation can not be viewed as a collection of individuals with disparate wants, goals, and ideologies. The realist view requires the formulation of a national interest, which in its simplest terms refers to the nation’s ability to survive, maintain its security, and achieve some level of power relative to its competitors.

Realism is not without its critics, many of whom challenge the premise that war is the natural condition of international relations or that there can be a truly national interest. However, the realist school of international relations continues to shape foreign policy because of the successes it has had in describing real world interactions between nations.


Common Information Question: 1/4

It can be inferred from the passage that members of the classical realist school would be LEAST likely to support.


an international policy based on building a strong military force to deter threats


an international policy that seeks to reduce threats of war by providing humanitarian aid to potential aggressor countries


a domestic policy that attempts to unify the nation’s citizens behind a common cause


a domestic policy that allocates a majority of the country’s budget for defense spending


an international policy based on joining a common defense contract with other nations

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Option(B) is correct

This is an inference question. Because the entire passage details the classical realist school of thought, your best bet is to start with the answers. Look at each answer choice and see if you can find support for it in the passage. Because this question asks you to find the choice realists would LEAST likely support, the answers with supporting evidence are the wrong answers.

Choices A and D are supported by the passage because the second paragraph states that classical realists believe that every nation must take care of its own security needs and that war is a constant threat.

Choice C is supported because the fourth power discusses the formulation of a national interest.

Choice E is okay as well because the second paragraph states that "alliances" are one way nations can address their security concerns.

That leaves choice B as the correct answer. The third paragraph states that realists do not believe wars can be attributed to "flawed socio political systems," so trying to increase security by sending humanitarian aid would probably not be supported by classical realists.

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