Challenges to Theory

  • Fred Halliday


The analysis of revolutions in their international context, both ideological and historical, provides an occasion to assess not only international history itself, but also the ways in which this topic can have implications for theorising international relations. The weight of this historical evidence might suggest that any theory of international relations would have to take the impact of revolutions into account. Yet this has not been so: indeed in much of the international relations literature, be it realist or other, revolutions have a marginal presence. For writers within the transnationalist, or pluralist schools, the reasons are several, and will be examined below. For realists, the reason is clear: it reflects the central orientation of their approach which is the denial of the importance of domestic factors in determining foreign policy. From what appears initially as a commonsense point of view, realism denies that revolutions make much difference to the conduct of foreign policy. It asserts that states continue to pursue national interest and the maximisation of power, whatever their ideological guise. In more theoretical vein, epitomised in the work of Kenneth Waltz, the study of international relations is to be conducted at the ‘systemic’, i.e. wholly inter-state, level and is to exclude internal processes and factors. Hence in an article written at the height of the Third World upheavals of the late 1960s Waltz was to say: ‘The revolutionary guerrilla wins civil wars, not international ones, and no civil war can change the balance of world power unless it takes place in America or Russia.’1


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Copyright information

© Fred Halliday 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Fred Halliday
    • 1
  1. 1.LondonUK

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