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Realpolitik and International Security


Admission requirements

Only students of the Advanced MSc International Relations and Diplomacy programme can take this course.


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 Organizations, treaties, and “soft power.” Today’s security environment requires such a thorough understanding of “hard security” questions. Russia’s war on Ukraine seems to be a belated wake-up call, making clear that military power remains relevant even in 21st century Europe. The rest of the world has always remained reluctant to adopt a liberal, or postmodern take on power. 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. Today, Europe has (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

The seminars are based on introductory lectures and class discussions. The course material will focus on existing policy documents, academic articles, and think-tank reports.

Apart from the required readings, students are encouraged to acquaint themselves, and make use of, the following blogs/websites: War on the Rocks; Global Security Review, and Political Violence at a Glance.

Study load: 140 hours

Attendance Policy
Attendance is mandatory, subject to course structure (see syllabus for details).

Assessment method


  • Class participation: Pass/fail

  • Paper outline: 15%

  • Op-ed: 35%

  • 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.

  • Passed partial grades obtained in the academic year 2022-2023 remain valid during the academic year 2023-2024.

  • Passed partial grades obtained in the academic year 2023-2024 remain valid during the academic year 2024-2025.

  • Should a student fail the overall course, s/he can complete the course in the next academic year. In cases of exceptional circumstances, a student may apply to the board of examiners for a resit to complete the course in the same academic year.

Reading list

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


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


Dr. Peter van Ham


This course is an elective course designed for second year MIRD students.
This elective is conditional on at least 5 students registering for this course.
This course is offered by The Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’.