A level of analysis is a way of classifying theories or arguments according to the type of explanatory factor used. There are three levels of analysis: the individual, based on personal traits and behaviours; the state, based on the features of countries; the system, based on the structure of the international system (Waltz 1959). The system or structural level was firstly used by Thucydides in the first book of his History of the Peloponnesian War, where he wrote that it was ‘the growth of the Athenian power, which terrified the Lacedaemonians and forced them into war’ (Thucydides). With this statement, the author identified the cause of the Peloponnesian war in the rivalry between a fast-rising power (Athens) and a status quo power (Sparta) in the international system, therefore highlighting the importance of the balance of power in international politics. Later on, the third image was adopted in the 1950s by structural realists such ...
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...the forces that determine policy; the first and the second image describe the forces in world politics, but without the third image it is impossible to assess their importance or predict their result’ (Waltz 1998). As a consequence, after having acknowledged that ‘a theory has to be about something; it cannot be about everything’ (Waltz 1998), it is significant to recognize both the benefits and weaknesses of this kind of analysis. Therefore, when facing an international issue, it seems noteworthy to ask whether the theory chosen could be useful and exhaustive for an explanation. Moreover, it is necessary to bear in mind that there is a difference between a theory and an interpretation of it, as well as between theory and practice: a good theory does not necessarily give right answers to international issues, but it could be a tool for understanding them better.
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