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Global Politics – Theory and History

3. The Cold War

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In this module, we explore realist claims about international relations in a Cold War context, focusing in particular on: (i) how the basic logic of the Cold War appears to confirm realist expectations; (ii) how we might complicate this narrative; (iii) the importance of the Cold War’s ideological context; (iv) the importance of domestic politics during the Cold War; (v) the existence of proxy wars during the Cold War; (vi) concluding that, even in a Cold War context, realism only tells part of the story.


In this course, Professor Adam Humphreys (Reading University) explores the relationship between theory and history in international relations. In the first module, Professor Humphreys introduces us to the key characteristics of two competing theories in international relations: realism and liberalism. In the second module, we explore what realism says about state behaviour, outlining in particular the key claims of ‘neorealism’. We then turn in the third module to explore realist predictions about the post-Cold War world, outlining some valuable key concepts for analysis, such as Hegemonic Stability Theory. In the fourth module, we explore how China’s rise in the international balance of power appears to bear out realist predictions for the post-Cold War period. Finally, in the fifth module, we ask how realism might help us to understand Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, focusing in particular on John Mearshimer’s controversial argument that the West antagonised Russia in its attempts to expand NATO and the EU Eastwards. Overall, this course spotlights not only the parts of global politics that realism gets “right”, but also the ways in which realist explanations may fail to tell the entire story. To really understand the global balance of power, we must also account for the significance of other factors, such as domestic politics and national identity.


Professor Adam Humphreys is an Associate Professor of Politics at Reading University. Prior to joining Reading, he taught and studied at the University of Oxford (2003-2013). His research interests include: international relations theory, the relationship between theory and history in international relations, British foreign and defence policy, strategy, and the ethics of war.

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APA style

Humphreys, A. (2022, July 10). Global Politics – Theory and History - The Cold War [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Humphreys, A. "Global Politics – Theory and History – The Cold War." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 10 Jul 2022,

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