Academic journal article Journal of Power and Ethics

Realism Revisited: Philosophical Assumptions, Power Patterns, and American Foreign Policy

Academic journal article Journal of Power and Ethics

Realism Revisited: Philosophical Assumptions, Power Patterns, and American Foreign Policy

Article excerpt


The United States is facing historically unparalleled demands upon its armed forces in the steadily transforming Post Cold War world. Along with the growth of economically and technologically driven concepts such as globalism, the worldwide web, and international capitalism, it becomes essential to examine the fundamentals that have guided American foreign policy and national security strategies since the end of World War II. The advent of multilateral forces, peacekeeping operations, and constabulary interventions demand the articulation of a grand strategy both to define how these actions add to the context of international relations and to determine how they build upon and ensure the national interests of the United States.

To revisit the anchors of realism that guided American foreign and national security policies from the Truman administration through the Cold War years becomes a critical beginning for opening the dialogue of what the United States must continue doing, stop doing, and start doing as we move fast-forward into the new millenium, the new context, the new world, and maybe even the new realities.


The transformed international environment after World War II demanded that a spotlight focus upon the changes made in the underlying philosophy upon which American foreign policy, national security, and diplomacy rested.

The makers of post-World War II foreign policy have not always been wise, efficient, and honest, but they have always acted on basic assumptions about the world and on basic principles concerning American purposes, interests, and power. More often than not, they have taken the empirical validity as well as the philosophical and political soundness of these assumptions for granted; unfortunately, the assumptions were on occasion frightfully false and the principles equally dubious.

There are those who feel that application of the principles of realism in the making of foreign policy leads to the most tenable position for the United States internationally. During the Truman administration the theory and practical application of what was to be known as "political realism" came into its own. Terms such as "national interest" and "balance of power" replaced the humanitarian, moralistic shibboleths that propelled the makers of pre-World War II foreign policy. The objective of this article is to describe and develop the realism of the politics devised by the Truman administration in response to the challenges during the years following the close of World War II based on analysis, case examples, and historical data.

It is absolutely essential that this be done, because regardless of whether one agrees or even violently disagrees with the policies of the Truman administration, it was Truman and his key advisers who set the foundations of postwar American foreign policy. These self-styled realists operated upon a set of assumptions about the fundamental nature of the international system and the bipolar, postwar world. And it was the philosophical assumptions of realism as enunciated by George Kennan, Dean Acheson, and Harry Truman that set the intangible, but nonetheless understandable, parameters within which American policymakers viewed the world -- and ultimately, set the framework within which operational policies were made and pursued.

The lessons of Munich, the aggressiveness of Hitler, and the weakness of the League of Nations made this group of men "realists" who were determined not to let America make the same mistakes again. Therefore, they acted in a tough, activist, and interventionist framework, which brought about the revolution in American foreign policy in terms of power, ethics, behavior, and context.

No one can understand or come to grips with any aspect of contemporary American foreign policy without first confronting the ideas and the actions of the Truman Administration. For it set the foundations and the style upon which all succeeding administrations operated. …

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