Due to the Corona virus education methods or examination can deviate. For the latest news please check the course page in Brightspace.


nl en

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 a hands-on guide of what constitutes Realpolitik, and how it relates to a liberal world order based on International Organisations, treaties, and “soft power.” Today’s security environment requires such a thorough understanding of “hard security” questions. The US Trump administration has taken 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 may well be on the brink of gaining a nuclear dimension, since both Iran and Saudi-Arabia cherish barely hidden plans to develop nuclear weapons. 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 (and other aspects of economic statecraft); conventional arms control and disarmament; emerging technologies (AI, cyber, and space); strategic export controls; 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.


On the right-hand side of the programme front page of the E-Prospectus you will find a link to the online timetables.

Mode of instruction

Study load: 140 hours

Assessment method

Paper outline (15%)

  • a resit of the applied paper outline is only possible if the student has failed the assignment and a calculated overall course grade lower than 5.50.

  • the resit will take place 6th of June 2022.  

Op-ed (35%)

  • a resit of the applied op-ed is only possible if the student has failed the assignment and a calculated overall course grade lower than 5.50.

  • the resit will take place 6th of June 2022.  

Final paper (50%)

  • a resit of the final paper is only possible if the student has failed the assignments and a calculated overall course grade lower than 5.50.

  • the resit will take place 6th of June 2022.  

Class participation (pass/fail)

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.

Partial grades will remain valid for one academic year.

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 pham@clingendael.nl

Ms. A. Blessing a.blessing @fgga.leidenuniv.nl


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