8 Realpolitik – Some Remarks on Recent Scholarship about Realpolitik in:

Maximilian Terhalle

Strategie als Beruf, page 155 - 158

Überlegungen zu Strategie, Weltordnung und Strategic Studies

1. Edition 2020, ISBN print: 978-3-8288-4409-4, ISBN online: 978-3-8288-7409-1,

Tectum, Baden-Baden
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155 8 Realpolitik – Some Remarks on Recent Scholarship about Realpolitik In “The Rarity of Realpolitik,” Brian Rathbun synthesizes the study of psychology with the realist school of international politics.1 While his novel closing of the gap between these intimately linked strands of research is impressive, his preferential treatment of the notion of “procedural rationality” appears imbalanced for four reasons (22). There is little doubt that Bismarck’s achievements have made him “the most famous realist practitioner of all time” (8). However, the ways in which Rathbun employs the widely shared ‘System 1–2’ distinction in strategic decision-making in order to make his arguments about the nature of Bismarck’s rationality and the latter’s success in European diplomacy is inaccurate (21–22, fn. 68). In fact, by juxtaposing (Bismarck’s) “rational thinking”, which is based on “objectivity and deliberation”, against “human” thinking, which uses “a subjective lens”, including mental “shortcuts rather than … careful analysis”, Rathbun misrepresents the cognitive value inherent to System 1 (7–8). While he associates System 1 with a more short-termed and short-tempered approach to strategy, Rathbun fails to acknowledge the important insights about System 1 which research in Strategic Studies and International Relations, drawing on cognitive psychology, has revealed 1 Brian Rathbun, “The Rarity of Realpolitik. What Bismarck’s Rationality Reveals about International Politics,” International Security, Vol. 43, No. 1 (Summer 2018), pp. 7–55. Subsequent citations appear in parentheses in the text. and which underlines the crucial weight of intuitive judgment when breaking down the complexity of international politics. First, System 1 provides a high-speed neuronal tool with which the brain assesses and processes information in complex environments. Significantly, these dynamics do not occur in parallel with System 2’s deliberative processes but precede the latter processes. Thus, the subconscious of the human brain is critical as it reflects “just how much computation and analysis humans were capable of before they were really aware of any serious thought underway at all.”2 Overlooked by Rathbun, this research indicates that the processes provided by System 1 critically shape the form that subsequent decisions will take as they largely preordain the mental scripts on which factual conclusions will be based. In other words, without the quick and intuitive processes that help the brain to pierce through international political complexity, individuals “might find it difficult ever actually to reach a conclusion.”3 There are no good reasons why Bismarck should be an exception to this finding. Second, the conventional wisdom in International Relations on ‘System 1–2’ has adopted the insights provided by cognitive psychology without addressing one aspect which is absolutely integral to strategic planning and decision-making. To be fair to Rathbun, most scholars have neglected this aspect. The question is does System 1 only react to new and incoming information, as currently thought, or is it also capable of anticipating and possibly synthesizing the development of otherwise disparate strands in international politics. Again, the latest research shows that System 1 is “more powerful and could overwhelm System 2” as it can “draw on an ability to read situations and see possibilities that less-strategic intelligences would miss.”4 The latter 2 Lawrence Freedman, Strategy: A History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 602. 3 Ibid., p. 603. 4 Ibid., pp. 605, 613. 156 Maximilian Terhalle point is particularly important when characterizing Bismarck’s diplomatic judgment abilities. Whereas Rathbun argues that Bismarck’s cognitive strength and diplomatic successes derive from his System 2-based “epistemic motivation” and “data-driven” “style of thinking,” the opposite is more likely to be the case (23, 25). The ways in which Bismarck carefully manipulated international political constellations and, then, seized those opportunities that he had previously contrived did not derive from the “procedural rationality” which Rathbun attributes to System 2 (24–27). Rather, as Michael Howard’s comparative analysis of Henry Kissinger and Bismarck’s intuitive and anticipatory judgment abilities concludes, their respective successes were based on an “appreciation that a situation may be ripe for change, that an adjustment of the accepted framework has become possible.”5 In fact, Bismarck “was able to recognize an opportunity when he saw one because he had an instinctive feel for the shape of international politics.”6 After all, Bismarck could have read Clausewitz’s “On War”, which would have taught him much about the salience of dialectic dynamics in international politics, and Ludwig von Rochau’s “Realpolitik”, published in 1853. Tellingly, his ‘epistemic motivation’ never urged him to consult either of them.7 In sync with Rathbun’s preference for System 2-based rationality is his understanding that strategists should always take into account “all considerations” inherent to a particular situation (17, 25). There is no doubt that System 2 may at times supplement intuitive judg- 5 Michael Howard, The Causes of War (Cambridge, Ms.: Harvard University Press, 1984), p. 241. 6 Ibid., p. 241. 7 Heuser, Beatrice, Clausewitz lesen! (Munich: Oldenbourg Press 2005), p. 9; Bew, John, Realpolitik (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), p.  47. – Though, it is not a secret that Bismarck never read Clausewitz precisely because his unspoken rival, Moltke, promoted Clausewitz as the epicentre of modern strategic thinking, as reflected in the weight Clausewitz was given when Moltke established new formats for educating the future members of the General Staff. 157 Realpolitik ments, notwithstanding the accuracy that System 1 often provides. Though, the question is whether Rathbun’s demands of a strategist’s cognitive capacities are not overdrawn and potentially unrealistic. Not only is it the case that System 2, in contrast to the vast intuitive capacities of System 1 to break down complexity, cannot contextualize more than seven aspects at once.8 Also, Rathbun underestimates the very real and limiting impact which time-pressure imposes on top-level decision-makers. Thus, while Rathbun may be partly right to suggest that System 2 can improve the conclusions offered by System 1, perceived and real pressures in crises do not allow for elaborate argumentative exchanges and, in turn, revisions based on finegrained review processes. Finally, time-pressure also plays a significant role regarding Rathbun’s preference for decision-makers who “continue to collect and process information after making judgments, remaining open-minded” (23). Overall, this may be a good point about the need to adapt strategies; though, as a general rule for decision-makers’ ‘epistemic motivation’ it is not. Strategic decisions often involve the fate of vast numbers of human lives; thus, frequent changes in the direction of a strategy may lead to demoralization among one’s military leaders and the people as well as to major casualties. In sum, an “open mind becomes a luxury.” 9 8 Stanovich, Keith and Richard West, “Individual Differences in Reasoning: Implications for the Rationality Debate,” Behavioral and Brain Sciences vol. 23 (2000), pp. 645–665. 9 Freedman, “Does Strategic Studies Have a Future?,” in John Baylis, James Wirtz, Colin Gray, eds., Strategy in the Contemporary World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), p. 381. 158 Maximilian Terhalle

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Thinking and making strategy serve states’ vital interests. Innately bound up with power, strategy devises a future that reflects vital interests, using its willpower to protect them. Unprecedented, “Strategy as Vocation” introduces Strategic Studies while also offering Germany practical strategies.

The book contains articles in German and in English.


Strategisches Denken und Handeln dient vitalen Interessen. Es verlangt den Blick auf die Macht – und in eine Zukunft, die diese vitalen Interessen entsprechend widerspiegeln soll. Dies gilt immer, besonders aber, wenn Weltordnungen im Umbruch sind. Strategie als Beruf widmet sich den zentralen Konzeptionen der hierzulande vernachlässigten, wiewohl von Deutschen mitgeprägten Strategic Studies und bietet strategischem Denken und Handeln damit erstmalig Grundlagen auf dem Stand der internationalen Forschung an. Konkrete Strategievorschläge sind integraler Bestandteil des Buches.

Das Buch enthält deutsche und englische Beiträge.

Prof. Maximilian Terhalle (@M_Terhalle) lehrt Strategic Studies an der Universität Winchester, ist mit dem King’s College London affiliiert und berät das britische Verteidigungsministerium. Zuvor hat er einige Jahre an den Universitäten Columbia, Yale, Oxford und Renmin (Peking) geforscht und gelehrt.

Terhalle's insightful, balanced, and perceptive essays bring the tools of strategic studies to bear on a range of current international issues. Theoretically sophisticated and empirically grounded, the analysis will be of great value to both the scholarly and policy communities.”

Prof. Robert Jervis, Columbia University, New York

Maximilian Terhalle gehört zu den frühen Streitern für eine strategische Ausrichtung unseres internationalen Ordnungsdenkens und der deutschen Außenpolitik. Sein scharfsinniges Buch bietet eine klare Analyse der instabil gewordenen Welt. Und zieht daraus konkrete Folgerungen für die Verantwortung Deutschlands und seiner Partner für westliche Werte und Interessen.“

Prof. Matthias Herdegen, Universität Bonn

Maximilian Terhalle is a refreshing independent voice on European and German security policy. There is a pressing need for systematic, clear-eyed, and realistic thinking about Germany’s role in a rapidly changing world, and this wide-ranging collection of essays is an important contribution to a much-needed set of debates.”

Prof. Stephen Walt, Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government

The Germans have, for very understandable historical reasons, long been reluctant to engage in the kind of strategic thinking that comes naturally to the Anglo-Saxon world. Maximilian Terhalle, who is one of the Federal Republic’s most innovative experts in the field, is rightly dissatisfied with this opting out of the real world. His new book is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand modern German strategy, or rather the lack of it, and the need for a National Security Council in the FRG.”

Prof. Brendan Simms, Cambridge University

Drawing on wide reading and with a nod to Max Weber, this thoughtful collection of essays by Maximilian Terhalle demonstrates the importance of strategic thinking and how it can be applied to the big issues of war and peace in the modern world.”

Prof. Lawrence Freedman, King’s College London

Die NATO ist strategisch nicht hirntot. Vielleicht aber bald eines seiner Mitglieder. Wer auch immer Deutschland führen wird, täte gut daran, sich den von Terhalle vorgelegten strategischen Kompass sehr genau anzusehen. Die eventuelle Wiederwahl Trumps und der unwahrscheinliche Machtverzicht Putins und Xis bedürfen nicht nur einer erkennbar europäischen Hand im Kanzleramt, sondern auch eines völlig neuen, eben strategischen Mindsets. Terhalles Konzepte für Entscheider sowie seine konkreten Ideen für die Zukunft westlicher Sicherheitspolitik bieten genau das.“

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, Bundesminister a.D., New York/München

Strategisches Denken fehlt im Land des Carl von Clausewitz in allen Bereichen. In der Politik, der Wirtschaft und der Entwicklung von Leitlinien, wie Europa in einer Welt im Umbruch gestaltet werden sollte. Prof. Terhalles Buch zeigt Grundlagen auf und gibt Anregungen in wesentlichen Feldern der Politik. Es sollte von Entscheidern gelesen und genutzt werden.“

General a.D. Klaus Naumann, ehem. Vorsitzender des NATO-Militärausschusses und Generalinspekteur, München

Can Germany think strategically?’ Indeed, and more broadly, can the European Union become a strategic actor? These questions lie at the heart of Maximilian Terhalle’s no-holds-barred assessment of Europe’s options as the continent faces mounting challenges from both partners and adversaries East, South and West.”

François Heisbourg, Special Advisor, Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique, Paris

Terhalle has produced a rich and wide-ranging series of essays on some of the enduring and more recent dilemmas of international security. These subtle but piercing reflections are in the best tradition of strategic studies, from Clausewitz to Freedman.”

Prof. John Bew, War Studies Department, King’s College London

A thought-provoking and illuminating series of essays that grapple with some of the toughest and most important questions facing contemporary Germany, Europe, and the United States, written by one of Germany's most forward-looking strategists.”

Elbridge Colby, Principal, The Marathon Initiative, former US Ass’t Deputy Secretary of Defence, Washington D.C.

Das neue Buch von Maximilian Terhalle, Strategie als Beruf, ist ein wichtiger Baustein bei der Grundsteinlegung für die hierzulande vernachlässigten ‘Strategic Studies’. Der Autor bürstet kräftig gegen den Strich und stellt liebgewordene Denkmuster in Frage. Man muss Terhalle keineswegs in jeder Hinsicht zustimmen. Aber wenn Deutschland und Europa tatsächlich die ‘Sprache der Macht’ erlernen wollen, wie vom EU-Außenbeauftragten Anfang 2020 gefordert, wird man nicht umhinkommen, sich mit seinen Thesen auseinanderzusetzen.“

Boris Ruge, Berlin

For too long, Germany’s deafening silence on strategic matters has struck international academic and policy observers alike. This is about to change. Maximilian Terhalle’s realpolitik-based as well as erudite deliberations on the art of strategy, closing with novel practical ideas for Europe’s future strategic security, betray exactly that.”

Prof. Christopher Coker, London School of Economics/LSE IDEAS

In Strategie als Beruf schreibt Maximilian Terhalle mit außerordentlich klarem Blick über Fragen sicherheitspolitischer Strategie und füllt damit ein Vakuum in Deutschland. Seine Ergebnisse sind unbequem für die von der Friedensforschung dominierten Debatten. Jeder, dem die Strategiefähigkeit des Landes und Europas wichtig ist, sollte seine Ideen kennen.“

Dr. Bastian Giegerich, International Institute for Strategic Studies, London

“For over a decade, Western scholars of strategy have almost exclusively focused on the likeliness of the Thucydides trap to emerge between the US and China. Remarkably, while Prof. Terhalle acknowledges their global strategic importance, he spells out what the potential trajectory of their relationship implies for NATO’s European members vis-à-vis Russia. – Realpolitik reigns.”

Prof. Wu Zhengyu, Renmin University, Peking