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(p. 35) 2. Realism and foreign policy 

(p. 35) 2. Realism and foreign policy
(p. 35) 2. Realism and foreign policy

William C. Wohlforth

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date: 25 February 2021

This chapter considers how familiarity with realist theory improves foreign policy analysis (FPA), focusing on two features of realism that are often in tension with each other: its firm grounding in centuries of real foreign policy practice, and its aspiration to create powerful general theories that help to simplify and explain the international setting in which foreign policy takes place. The chapter begins with a discussion of the main theoretical schools within realism, namely, classical realism, defensive realism, offensive realism, and neoclassical realism, as well as theories within realism: balance of power theory, balance of threat theory, hegemonic stability theory, and power transition theory. It also examines how realism is applied to the analysis and practice of foreign policy and highlights the main pitfalls in applying realist theories to FPA. Finally, it evaluates some guidelines for avoiding those pitfalls and using realist insights to sharpen the analysis of foreign policy.

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