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Realpolitik and International Security


Admission requirements

MSc International Relations and Diplomacy students.


This course offers a concise overview of key aspects of “hard security” and how it relates to a liberal world order based International Organizations, treaties, and “soft power.” Today’s security environment requires such a thorough understanding of “hard security” questions. The US Trump administration takes a (more) transactional approach to security policy, focusing on Realpolitik rather than multilateralism. The rise of China has many military implications, not only in its direct vicinity (the South China Sea), but also due to Beijing’s key role in the military application of emerging technologies (like Artificial Intelligence). An always volatile Middle East is on the brink of gaining a nuclear dimension. Even Europe may (again) become a strategic arena where Russia, NATO, and the European Union compete for influence using military rhetoric not heard since the end of the Cold War. The course starts with a conceptual overview of the nature of security, Realpolitik and geopolitics, before moving to aspects ranging from military power and power projection; economic/financial sanctions; conventional arms control and disarmament; emerging technologies; and WMD treaties and arrangements. By focusing on case-studies, students will gain detailed knowledge about the “nuts and bolts” of contemporary security challenges. Students will also acquire a better understanding of how peace and security may be attained in a more Realist global order. The key question will be how Realpolitik can/will be squared with the main elements of a liberal world order (i.e. international law and multilateralism).

Course objectives

The purpose of the course is to raise, exchange and evaluate questions regarding today’s strategic environment in which geopolitics and “hard security” are becoming more important (by looking at specific case-studies). Students will develop skills to become conversant on a variety of security-related issues, to write lucidly about these issues, and to orally present key findings in class. The main objective of the course is for students to form their own judgement and to encourage critical thinking.


To be announced by OSC staff.

Mode of instruction

The course will comprise of introductory lectures and class presentations prepared by students (often in small groups); some of these presentations will be on the basis of case-studies. Class attendance is required. The purpose of the course is for all students to form their own judgements on today’s security environment and its challenges, based on a critical evaluation of the readings and engaged class discussions.

Study load: 140 hours

Assessment method

  • Presentation: 35%

  • Class participation: Pass/fail

  • Paper outline: 15%

  • Final paper: 50%

Failed partial grades or components should be compensated by passed partial grades or components. The calculated grade must be at least 5,5 to pass the course. It is not possible to re-sit a partial grade or component once you have passed the course.

Reading list

No books need to be purchased; readings will be announced.


Use Brightspace to register for every course. The programme will register the students on Usis based on the group division.


Dr. P. van Ham

Ms. A. Blessing a.blessing


This course is an elective designed for MIRD students. This elective is conditional on at least 5 students registering for this course.