The state, for Realism, is a power-maximizer in a self-help environment where no one can be trusted and violence is endemic. Non-Realist IR theory is invariably also anti-Realist. It never ignores Realism, but always incorporates a critique of that paradigm to position itself intellectually. This is because Realism is about the state. Since we cannot evade the state, which is everywhere and all around us and the centre-piece of our political cosmology, neither can IR theory evade Realism.
Empirical "tests" may show that certain events in the world are (not in) consistent with the hard core of a realist research program. But that does not provide support in any strong sense of that term for choosing realism over some competing paradigm. Many events that are explained by one realist theory are also inconsistent with at least one other no less authentic realist theory. For instance, if balancing and bandwagoning exhaust the possible aligning bahaviours of states, as Waltz (1979) suggests they do, and if good realist theories predict each, as they do, then any piece of evidence simultaneously confirm and contradicts "realism".
Labs provide an extreme example of the perspective when he presents offensive (rather than defensive) realism as "the best realist theory available to go forward and do battle with competing approaches to international relations" (1997, p. 48). Neither, however, will get realist very far in such a battle.
Sovereignty is the primary concept of realism. It is taken as given that states enjoy unchallenged jurisdiction within their own boundaries. Realists make little attempt to theorize the impact a state's relationship with its civil society has upon its relations with other states. Waltz expresses this simplistic view when he writes that 'students of international politics will do well to concentrate on separate theories of internal and external politics until someone figures out a way to unite them (Rosenberg 1994, p. 5). Waltz is able to argue this because of his view of how the states sys operates. Waltz (1979) rejects explanations of international conflict which stress flaws in human nature. Rather it is the structure of the international system that creates tension between states: in the absence of a higher authority, states compete with each other to ensure their security. This may trigger an arms race, perhaps leading to full-scale war. This structure will determine a state's foreign policy, regardless of its internal political arrangements or the nature of the dominant belief system within civil society.
The strength of realism is that it highlights the irrationalities that underpin the login of a world divided into states. The conflicts between states, which are well documented by history, and which often transcend apparent commonalities of 'race' or ideology, present compelling evidence in support of the realist argument. It is increasingly clear, however, the realism's assumptions are inadequate to the task of explaining the nature of contemporary world politics. The problems of mainstream international relations theory lie mainly in its understanding of state sovereignty and security.
Realists and non-realists are tuned to account for different dimensions of international relations. As realist theories are especially well-suited to explain certain