Case Study

Realism and IPE

In line with the traditional Realist view that the significance of IGOs and of globalisation in general is exaggerated, some analysts have suggested that the IMF, World Bank, WTO and other IPE actors are not as influential as many suggest. With the WTO the most common illustration of its impact and defence of its success is the unparalleled growth of international trade that has occurred under the watch of the GATT/WTO regime. However, could this be what is referred to in philosophy as a post-hoc fallacy? Does it necessarily follow that the increase in trade must be due to the rules introduced by GATT/WTO or could this be coincidental? A much cited empirical study by the Economist Andrew Rose observed that many states increased their volumes of trade whilst they were outside the GATT/WTO regime, as much as their members and concluded that overall this was more the result of trade blocs and bilateral deals than global rules (Rose 2004). For the sceptics IPE is and will continue to be dictated by states and IGOs represent no more than convenient vehicles for the expression of state interests.

Carl von Clausewitz

Clausewitz’s On War remains the most revered book on military strategy ever written and a standard text on contemporary reading lists for Security Studies students and military officer trainees, despite being written in the 1830s and never finished by the author. Clausewitz wrote the book whilst serving as the head of a Prussian military academy in Berlin. He had previously served as an officer in the Prussian army after joining as a cadet at the age of 12 and had seen action from a young age in the Napoleonic War. Clausewitz died in the cholera epidemic that swept Europe in 1831 before completing the book, but it was published posthumously by his widow in 1832. 

As a result of this, On War contains a number of gaps and has frequently been misinterpreted. In particular, Clausewitz’s insistence on seeing war as a facet of politics has often wrongly been understood as the glorification of war. Clausewitz shared Machiavelli’s pessimism about human cynicism in politics but, as the quote which opens this chapter indicates, advocated war only when absolutely necessary and justifiable. The uncertainties inherent in battle, or the ‘fog of war’, make any decision to initiate conflict a gamble which should only be undertaken when the odds are stacked in your favour.

Over a hundred years after his death Clausewitz’s rational approach saw him lauded by International Relations Realists as ‘one of their own’ but, such is his insight, other approaches have come to claim inspiration from his work.


Rose, A. (2004) ‘Do we really know that the WTO increases trade’, American Economic

Review, 94(1): 98–114.