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The Communist revolutionary, shaking hands with a life-long commie hater? Thank this trope.

"Realpolitik" is one word. If you were redirected to here and it says "Real Politik" or something similar, please change it on the original page you linked from. Thank you.

"If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible."
Senator Harry Truman, June 1941 note 

If you ask a diplomat who is not an ideologue exactly why their country is behaving in a ruthless or manipulative manner they will usually, if you can blast your way through all the skillful deflections and rhetoric, respond with this argument: "We're protecting our interests. It is what every other country is doing, and we'd be foolish not to do so too. My Country, Right or Wrong."


This line of cynical philosophy is essentially Nice Guys Finish Last among states, and has been around since two groups of people got together and decided that there were issues which could only be resolved by one side getting what they wanted at the expense of the other. If you ask The Empire, "Why are you taking over our country?" they will respond, "To make sure the other empire doesn't first."

Proponents of this way of thinking would say that there are a lot of big, nasty states committing Gambit Pileups against each other out there, and that if you try being nice, your rivals will simply exploit this, so you must always further your interests where you can as no one else will. Besides, if you try to "help", you could be accused of interfering with the business of other countries to further your own influence. Critics would, of course, point out that it is this kind of thinking which perpetuates Chronic Backstabbing Disorder among nations, and that it is essentially "Might Makes Right" as a political philosophy.


A more benevolent follower of this philosophy would be content to be nothing more than A Hero to His Hometown.

Compare Hobbes Was Right, Well-Intentioned Extremist, The Empire, My Country, Right or Wrong, Gambit Pileup and Personal Hate Before Common Goals. Contrast Machiavelli Was Wrong, as well as Enlightened Self-Interest, where countries act to benefit each other in order to advance their own interests. Proxy Wars are a specific execution of realpolitik.


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    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • As much as every super-hero in the Marvel Universe agrees that the Kingpin is pure evil, they realize that completely removing him from power would create a struggle for control of the New York City underworld that would get even more innocent lives hurt or killed in the process than leaving him where he is. So the Kingpin stays in power, and the city's heroes try to thwart his criminal activities one operation at a time.
  • Fury: My War Gone By explores and ultimately deconstructs this trope. US foreign policy, frequently based on cynical and self-serving ends that obscure the noble ideals it claims to represent and which led to various atrocities and (arguably) unnecessary conflicts, reduces the glorious and beloved heroes of World War II to the corrupt and bloodthirsty schemers behind Vietnam, Cuba and Nicaragua. Fury himself is initially convinced of the necessity of the brutal, cynical and terrible actions the US is involved in, such as backing oppressive regimes, using Nazi war criminals, assassinating world leaders, performing illegal actions in other countries and more in order to oppose communism. By the end, however, he realizes that everything he did in the Cold War was essentially pointless and unnecessarily harmful and didn't really improve anything, and that if there'd been more good idealists like Hatherly running things, the world might have been a lot better.

    Fan Works 
  • This trope is prevalent in Child of the Storm, with the colossal Gambit Pileup. Nick Fury's goal of protecting humanity, for instance, is noble and he's unquestionably on the side of the good guys, he's willing to use some very shady means to bring it about, with much of the story being a chess match between him and Lucius Malfoy. And that is but the tip of the iceberg.
    • Fury's protégé, Director Peter Wisdom of MI13, is an even worse offender, having almost none of his teacher's scruples and being a textbook example of The Unfettered. He takes advantage of Parliament's fears over the current global situation in order to amass resources and power at a rate that frightens the rest of British Intelligence, uses blackmail and bribery to secure the aid of superpowered individuals, and is working to control, or outright supplant altogether, the currently crippled Ministry of Magic as Britain's magic response organization. He explains that he genuinely does love his country, and that quite simply, there is nothing he will not do to preserve it.
    • Doctor Strange, meanwhile, plays both of the above, and just about everyone else like a harp, even when they know he's manipulating them. How? Two reasons. First, they know that he never lies. This is not the same as being honest, but it's an important baseline. Second, the consequences of not doing what he advises are usually a great deal worse, because he is working for the preservation of humanity. This means that everyone winds up, reluctantly, marching to Strange's fife.
  • In Event Horizon: Storm of Magic, this is The Company™'s M.O. through and through, often resorting to underhanded tactics to get what they want. But they are also pragmatic and otherwise pretty decent in their conduct, at least compared to the other, considerably more outright genocidal villains in the setting...
  • Summer Crowns has the alliances that the Dragonhunt forges with the Tattered Prince and Salladhor Saan against the Free Cities, despite most of the former's leadership not caring for either of them.
    • Braavos allying with Lys, despite historically being opposed to all the Free Cities which practice and support slavery.
    • The newborn Kingdom of Summer allowing the Faith to establish septs in their territories with tax exemptions and the right to raise their own soldiers (albeit on a limited basis). All done to provide further aid to their new subjects, as well as a way of drawing more men from Westeros in a way that gets around King Stannis' prohibition on the Dragonhunt recruiting new forces.
  • Earth's Alien History:
    • Despite finding the people of Troyius repulsive, the Klingons still provide them with military and technological aid to counter TeTO's alliance with the neighboring world of Elas, as this gives them a foothold in the system.
    • The Quarians' reconciliation with the Geth is purely to give them better standing against the Five Galaxies.
    • After crowning herself Empress, Daena T'Drak has the new Asari Empire join the Pact of the Raptor alongside their old enemies the Romulans, noting that it's the best way to restore their species' prestige.
    • When Blackfire breaks her alliance with the Romulans and brings Tamaran into TeTO, TeTO looks the other way regarding the Romulan-backed coup which brought her into power in the first place due to preparing for the Reaper War and not having the time or resources to waste on removing her from power. After the war, they begrudgingly let her stay on as Queen (albeit with a transition to constitutional monarchy instead of absolute monarchy) since any other course of action would trigger a civil war which TeTO would get bogged down in.
    • During the Revenant Crisis, when TeTO is aiding the Ildrian Empire in fighting the rouge Decepticons and Klikiss robots, the Pact of the Raptor also gets involved. Officially, this is due to viewing the machines as a mutual threat to all organic life, like the Reapers before them. In truth, however, they're trying to win the Ildrians over towards the idea of joining them instead of TeTO, thus increasing their bloc's power and resources.
    • When Rimillia is discovered, Captain Georgiou offers to bring them into TeTO to help them terraform their hostile ecosystem and develop their primitive FTL technology to expand out of their system. In exchange, she admits, TeTO would get access to Rimillia's rich mineral resources and strategic location.
    • The Shield Alliance doesn't hesitate to take advantage of the genetic disorder plaguing the Valakians, playing up their own knowledge of genetic engineering as a cure and ignoring the potential dangers of it, to convince them to join their bloc instead of TeTO.
    • The Pact of the Raptor spreads propaganda of the Harvesters' and Vinn's past ways in order to besmirch the Shield Alliance's reputation and convince the Deltan Union to join them instead (they try to do the same to TeTO, but they have fewer skeletons in their closets).
    • The Romulans back the Duras rebels in the Praxis War, as they're more friendly to the Pact of the Raptor than the TeTO-aligned Azetbur government.
    • During the second Klingon civil war, TeTO can't directly intervene for political legal reasons, but still unofficially supply Azetbur's forces via the Conspiracy of Light (who are technically neutral), as the potential threat of reactionary forces regaining control of the Empire is too great to ignore.
    • TeTO reluctantly agrees to let the Pact of the Raptor keep Vorl-tak technology when they justify it as a counter to TeTO's vast number of superhumans. This then leads to a treaty between them and the Shield Alliance to share all new technologies in order to keep any one bloc from gaining an advantage over the others.
    • The Pact of the Raptor and Shield Alliance stay neutral in TeTO's war with the Goa'uld so that they can reap the benefits (per the aforementioned treaty) without any risk on their parts.
    • The Romulan government and its partners in the Pact reject the Zhat Vash's fear and hate of digital lifeforms, seeing the latter as potentially too good an asset to throw away. Because of this, and to maintain good relations with TeTO, they officially disavow the Zhat Vash after their Assassination Attempt on Hanka Kamiya and her Digimon partner.
    • The rest of the Shield Alliance is morally disgusted by the Bajorans' oppression of Cardassian colonists in the worlds Cardassia ceded them after the Praxis War, but unable to do anything about it because the Alliance's charter prevents intervention in a member polity's internal affairs. So to circumvent this, they coordinate with the Pact and TeTO to funnel weapons via the Conspiracy to a Cardassian resistance movement on the occupied worlds.
  • One of the central pillars of Of Sheep and Battle Chicken is this trope. It is the driving force behind of many Council's actions, as well as the main theme of the story's take on the various galactic governments; anything is permissible to a group so long as it gets results.
  • The Fight we Chose takes place during the beginning of the Vietnam War, but with the events of Gate opening in the US. Naturally you can't have a Cold-War-centric story without some political intrigue.
    • The US pulls out of Vietnam entirely, essentially conceding victory to the Dirty Communists. However, there is a silver lining to this; the guarantee of a unified Socialist Vietnam that is more closely allied with the Soviets against a greater threat: the People's Republic of China.note 
    • Khrushchev has his hands full holding back the Communist Party's insistence on somehow taking the Gate and the world beyond for themselves; since that would mean open conflict with the Americans for another dimension's civilization that cannot appreciate the benefits of communist ideology over capitalism. He settles for spying and patiently waiting for developments in the Soviet's favor.
  • Fusion Impression: Whereas the Crystal Gems view fusion as an expression of love and relationships, Jasper sees it more as power-play, similar to how people use strength and social-standings as a means of ascending societal ranks.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic Changeling Courtship Rituals: One of Twilight's first thoughts after accidentally marrying Chrysalis is that this greatly reduces the chances of the changelings trying to conquer Equestria again. On the other hand, Twilight's sister-in-law Cadence is so caught up in her hatred of Chrysalis that she remains blind to these implications.
  • Fate/Black Dawn: It is well-known that Morgan is a witch who is at least passively fighting against Camelot. She can still order a booth at a tournament and enter a fighter, because King Arthur can't just ignore such a powerful entity.
  • Chasing Dragons:
    • When it becomes clear that Tyrosh is going to lose the Third Slave War, their traditional partner Lys abandons their alliance in favor of grabbing up as much territory as they can before the Abolitionist Alliance can.
    • With neutrality between the Abolitionists and the Slavers no longer being an option, Lorath decides that the safer option is to not piss off the militarily stronger Abolitionists, so aligns with Braavos and puts in place a plan to slowly emancipate the city's slaves.
    • Lady Shipwright despises Victarion for his raping and pillaging during the fall of Myr, but still plays nice with him for the sake of her House having such a powerful ally.
    • Due to the upheaval brought to western Essos' status quo since the Sunset Company's arrival, the dominant faction in Norvos decides to pursue a treaty with the abolitionists in which they will enact a slow manumission of their slave population in exchange for being allowed to annex Qohor's former territories unmolested. In the eyes of this faction, the small sacrifice of this change to their culture will bring their city greater glory in the long-term. Unfortunately, reactionaries decide to stage a coup rather than let this happen.
    • In response to Lorath's capitulation to Braavos, which they see as part of Braavosi colonialist expansion, Saath and Ibben band together to metaphorically draw a line in the sand.
  • A Diplomatic Visit: The fic goes into great length about the political climate between Equestria and the other nations.
  • There Was Once an Avenger from Krypton:
    • The Nova Corps allow the member worlds of their empire to do anything they want short of things like slavery so long as they stay members. This is why they don't intervene in Morando's coup on Arkiridion V, along with the fact that fighting him would destroy the military resources they'll need to face the Black Order.
    • Small-scale, local politics version — according to Chloe, the only reason her father supports Paris' LGBTQ community is because that gets him more votes than pandering to the religious crowd. The fact that Chloe feels the need to hide her real sexuality from him would suggest that his personal opinions are far different.
  • Children of Remnant:
    • One of the key parts of the story. Yes Salem is an unrepentant monster, but she is also the head of state of the most powerful nation on the planet. The other nations simply cannot ignore her, or even censure her. As long as they play her games, she will negotiate. Even with her negotiating in bad faith, it's still better than her just sending the Grimm against everyone.
    • This is also one of the biggest factors working against Jaune. All he wants is peace, but even if everyone believed that (which they don't), they have other priorities.
    • After chapter 44, all five of the Claimed are immortal. Mention is made of the world governments scrambling to figure out how to deal with five unkillable abominations instead of just one. Their first move is "give them whatever they ask for and be very happy they just wanted a visit from their friends."

  • Downfall: After failing to convince Hitler to negotiate with the Allies, Heinrich Himmler unilaterally reaches out to the British Army to offer his surrender. He seems to be operating under the assumption that the Allies would still prefer propping up the Nazi regime so they could use Germany as a counterweight to the communist Soviets. Subverted because Himmler Cannot Comprehend Good — despite the rest of the Allies having ideological differences with the Soviets (and recognizing that conflict with the Soviet Union is more or less inevitable after the war), nobody with a normal moral code would consider siding with the Nazis for a second. This is especially true as the war is nearly over and there is ample evidence for Nazi atrocities all across Europe.note 
  • In Hackers, The Plague claims to espouse this worldview.
    The Plague: Dade, I know how you might feel about narking on your friends, but, we're hackers. For us, there's no such thing as family and friends. We're each our own country, with temporary allies and enemies. I'd like to make a treaty with you.
  • Lord of War:
    • During the 1980s Yuri Orlov tries to ingratiate himself with Simeon Weisz, an established and influential Arms Dealer. Weisz rebukes him, pointing out that Weisz doesn't sell arms just for profits or to anyone, but for political reasons. (By implication, a pro-Capitalist, pro-American, pro-Israel agenda.) When Orlov points out that Weisz sold weapons to both the Iraqis and the Iranians during the Iran-Iraq War, he counters by stating that he wanted both sides to lose in that conflict. The end of the Cold War causes no small amount of disillusionment and discomfort to Weisz, since the new arms dealers who come to dominate the era are only interested in profit and don't care who they sell to.
    • At the very end of the movie this saves Yuri from spending the rest of his life in jail. When Agent Valentine finally busts Yuri after chasing him for more than a decade, Yuri calmly informs Valentine that at least some of his arms dealing is actually him acting as a middleman for the US Government, allowing them maintain Plausible Deniability while supplying arms to forces that it would be politically embarrassing or hypocritical to supply. As a result he is useful and the government will not allow him to be sent to jail. Yuri is proved right, but he's also aware of the flip side of this trope, and knows that someday they may decide that it's not worthwhile to keep employing him.
  • Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country: Kirk is among the more skeptical officers when it came to the Klingon peace treaty, but is volunteered by Spock to lead the first diplomatic envoy. The fact Kirk was anti-Klingon was being used to give legitimacy to the peace talks, a more compliant officer would have made the Klingons question their commitment and the Federation would worry about being too submissive. When Kirk objects, Spock quotes an Old Vulcan Proverb "Only Nixon could go to China," making it absolutely clear what the movie was trying to reference.
  • Wonder Woman (2017): Field Marshal Haig opposes Steve's idea to attack General Ludendorff's gas ammunition factory in Belgium because the Armistice is almost signed and he doesn't want it to be disrupted, disregarding the potential victims of Dr. Poison's gas doing so.

  • The T'au in the Ciaphas Cain novel For the Emperor use this as their justification for occupying sections of the planet. Cain (HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!) points out that the Imperium have used exactly the same rationale to then seize said planets soon after.
  • John 'Gentleman Johnny' Marcone, later Accorded Baron Marcone of Chicago in The Dresden Files is a typical example of the Kingpin type — he's the head of Chicago's underworld, and a ruthless criminal... but after his takeover of the Chicago underworld, he went about a ruthlessly efficient clean-up, doing what Dresden terms, "Putting the 'civil' back in 'civil offender'", cutting collateral damage to a minimum and personally executing anyone who tries to involve or victimise children. As Dresden notes, there's enough decency in him that, to Dresden's irritation, he can't just file him under pure villain and call it a day. However, this relative decency, tight control of Chicago's underworld, and considerable resultant power mean that Dresden winds up saving him on several occasions, and helping him expand his power by becoming an Accorded Baron under the Unseelie Accords, simply because he is far better than the alternative and, in the latter case, Dresden can't be everywhere and Marcone will defend Chicago out of pure pragmatism (it's his turf) if given the opportunity.
    • Lara Raith of the White Court is a similar case, with her and Dresden repeatedly using each other as catspaws to achieve their own ends, and both are willing to make alliances to deal with mutual enemies. This is despite the fact that she's perfectly happy to admit that she's a monster, if an Affably Evil one, and Dresden has made it bluntly clear that she is "on his list", as is Marcone.
    • Mab, Queen of the Winter Court, is basically the Queen of Realpolitik too, being the most purely pragmatic character in the Dresdenverse. She's also absolutely terrifying.
  • One of the post-Asimov Foundation authors claimed that aliens never showed up because robots killed them to protect humans.
  • In a Robert A. Heinlein novel, Have Space Suit – Will Travel, the Three Galaxies organization of many alien races puts Humanity on Trial. Our hero Kip says this is unjust. The alien moderator responds that the Three Galaxies don't bother trying to understand "justice" but are a defence organization that destroys any race that will be a threat.
  • The Andermani Empire in the Honor Harrington series is known for determining all foreign policy by realpolitik, which is unsurprising, since they model themselves after Prussia. In a subversion of how this trope is usually portrayed, they are just as famous for expanding their empire by rescuing planets in trouble, for entirely pragmatic and selfish reasons — a tradition that started with Gustav Anderman's rescue of Kuan-Yin, now known as Potsdam.
  • The Journey to Chaos series dips into this whenever Eric steps in to help his surrogate little sister, Queen Kasile of Ataidar. Such occasions are slandering a neighboring ruler on her behalf but in his own name in order to shape public opinion to her liking and spying on visiting diplomats. These are commonly played for laughs but it happens more seriously during the Mana Mutation Summit of its third entry. Here, Prince Lunas of Latrot tries to sway this gathering of world leaders by appealing to their self-interest when all he's really interested in is Latrot's interest (or rather, that of Order). Annala Enaz seeks to undermine his plan not by exposing it as a veiled attempt at work conquest (which it is) but by how it is not in their interest to follow it and how her mother's plan helps them so much more. The delegates themselves care less about the Order Versus Chaos war going on between them than about the interests of their country, the ruling part, and their own careers.
  • Kentucky Fried Politics:
    • When the US intervenes against the Soviet-backed Military Coup in Ethiopia, President Mondale convinces the Soviets to back off from further involvement by offering to sell them millions of tons of wheat at a discount. Facing a potentially starving population due to poor agricultural resources, the Soviets begrudgingly accept the deal.
    • After Syria invades Israel on a quite thin pretext (a rogue Israeli national assassinating a Lebanese official with Syrian business ties), the rest of the Arab nations side with Israel in order to preserve the prosperous economic connections that have come from twenty-or-so years of peace in the Middle East.
  • Magic, Metahumans, Martians and Mushroom Clouds: An Alternate Cold War:
    • Despite distrusting Mao, Stalin still provides aid to the PRC in the Chinese Civil War in order to avoid having an American ally right on his borders.
    • Both the US and Israel cut deals for material support with Ramses XI's takeover of Egypt — for the Americans, it's the standard "as long as he's not communist" philosophy, while for the Israelis it's because he only wants to rule Egypt as it existed in his time (which doesn't include the Sinai territories Israel took from modern Egypt), and also because he doesn't care either way about Jews and is outright hostile towards the surrounding Muslim countries.
    • The Soviets are also happy to support Subhas Bose's attempts to take over India, in the hopes of bringing it into their fold.
    • For a time, Nationalist China refrains from annexing Tibet due to not wanting to anger the Yuzhou de fangshi monks. Eventually, however, they feel that it's better to risk it than let Tibet fall under India's sway.
    • During the East African War, nations like Israel and South Africa send material support to Kenya and Tanzania to fight off Uganda's aggression. And after Uganda wins, Rwanda and Ethiopia make concessions to Amin to keep him from invading them too, Rhodesia sends him extravagant gifts to keep him from supporting rebellions against their white minority rule, and both the USA and USSR compete to get him in their respective camps.
    • During the Spanish Civil War that breaks out after Franco digitizes his consciousness in order to stay in power forever, NATO supplies aid to Luis Blanco's reformist forces, due to being more amenable to their interests. The Soviets, meanwhile, support left-wing guerrillas in Catalonia for the same reasons.
    • Once the Iraqi civil war breaks out, the western powers, Soviet bloc, and the various members of the Non-Aligned Movement all start funneling material support to whichever of the various factions is most in keeping with their respective agendas.
    • When the Americans and Soviets unilaterally decide to evenly split the rest of the solar system between the two of them for colonization, most of the rest of the nations with space programs retaliate with diplomatic and economic pressure that eventually forces the two superpowers to agree to UN arbitration on how much of each planet they can colonize.
    • While Rhodesia is able to maintain white minority rule for several more years than in reality, several factors — the total lack of foreign aid, the eventual retirement, death, or defection of all their local metahumans, and the fact that the dinosaur hybrids provided by Mengele aren't a long-term tactical solution to the black militants — causes them to eventually submit to the inevitable and agree to transition to equality to avoid being overthrown.
  • New Deal Coalition Retained:
    • Somalia defects from the African Socialist Alliance to the Entebbe Pact in order to nab territory from Ethiopia.
    • Iraq switches its allegiances from the Soviets to the Americans after Iran goes Communist, and the Americans eagerly accept them as a strong ally in the region.
    • China is allied to the Soviets, but stays neutral in World War III in order to maintain the security of its own sphere of influence in Asia. They only get directly involved when Japan enters the war on NATO's behalf and invades Siberia, and even then it's just because a Soviet collapse would allow Japan to claim massive territory claims; China makes sure everyone knows it's only fighting Japan, to avoid getting dragged into the larger war. And they sue for a separate peace as soon as it becomes clear the Soviets are losing.
    • Libya sits out most of WWIII, but keeps a neutrality that is clearly communist-friendly, no doubt because the Soviets and their allies seem to have the upper hand. Near the end of the war, however, when it becomes clear that the Allies are winning, they declare war on the Warsaw Pact and help defeat the last remaining communist countries in Africa.
    • Slobodan Milošević is placed in charge of Yugoslavia by the Soviets to try and shore up Communist control of what territories they still have. However, unlike the increasingly delusional hardliners in the Politburo, Milošević realizes that the Allies are going to win, so abandons communism in favor of Serbian nationalism, reaching out with an offer of working with the Allies in exchange for control of a Greater Serbia carved out of Yugoslavia post-war. And while the Allies are hesitant (due to wanting to divide Yugoslavia along ethnic lines) they're more desperate to weaken Warsaw Pact forces in the Balkans, so they accept Milošević's proposal.
      • And when NATO realizes post-war what a horrible mistake was and start putting sanctions on Serbia in response to its human rights violations, Milošević responds by forming close ties with various former Allied or neutral nations (primarily the Entebbe Pact, Iraq, India and China) which are seeking increased influence to counter that of the major powers.
    • In the 90s, the CIA backs coups of narco-friendly regimes in South America that are fueling the drug crisis in America. They specifically state that they don't care if the new rulers they install become dictators, as long as they don't continue that trend.
    • During the Great Southern War, the Entebbe Pact finances separatist militant groups in Freyist and Concordat nations, with them doing the same to such groups in Pact nations, to weaken their enemies' war efforts.
  • In Operation Massacre, that is the excuse for the political violence of Aramburu's regime. This book, too, was used as a proof for Aramburu's execution by the left-wing guerrilla Montoneros.
  • Herhor in Pharaoh is completely ruthless. Pentuer, his understudy, gives up politics in disgust.
  • This is what The Prince is actually about — not about tyranny and cruelty, but about unfettered pragmatism whereby the title character protects and advances his interests (and that of the princedom, of course, but they're basically the same).
  • The Scholomance:
    • This is the entire reason why the enclaves opened up the school to children of independent wizarding families in the first place. By doing so and giving these children a quality education, they increased the potential number of recruits to help enrich their enclaves — and more importantly, provided Cannon Fodder for the mals that reside at the school to chomp at while keeping their own children safe. When El realizes this for herself, it puts her off the idea of ever joining an enclave, just like her mom.
    • As the Scholomance was built by western enclaves and has only ever been maintained by them, a disproportionate amount of seats are allocated towards wizards in the western world, to the point the nearly every indie kid in the UK gets a seat at the school. Compare that to the east, where the enclaves only have just enough to send their own children (and even that is a recent development) and a handful of seats for their own indie kids to compete viciously over. As there is a stark divide between the western and eastern wizards with minimal overlap, that means the eastern enclavers have less potential allies and recruits to choose from for graduation and thus lower survival rates than their western counterparts. This has become a major point of contention in the recent decades and drives much of the conflict of the second book.
  • Doorstopper Medieval European Fantasy and Realpolitik met one night, both got seriously drunk on History... and A Song of Ice and Fire is their surprise baby. Yes, you get dragons, magic, kings, queens, assassins, guards, "faeries", taverns and bards: but, what you mainly get is a whole zoo full of political shenanigans (national, international, personal and interpersonal) played out quite cynically, pragmatically and violently. People find themselves working together when they hate each other's guts, refuse to work with others they personally admire because of differing goals; they'll support, set up or kill off anybody in the way to get ahead, shift alliances and target swap all to keep their group's heads above water or to get ahead themselves... the whole enchilada. Consequences for the smallest actions produce massive, unpredicted (not necessarily unpredictable) repercussions. Agendas and counter-agendas tighten around each other in the Game of Thrones. The best players play with cleverness and pragmatism (which often works for quite some time, barring the odd Spanner in the Works), some try to use it with a dash of cruelty (newsflash: it tends to work... until it very seriously doesn't), some try to mix in some idealism (iffy: often backfires when they get the mix wrong, or other players misread the moves): but, ultimately, luck has the final say on how the game plays out thanks to the sheer number of factors involved — some quite outside the known board layout.
  • The Traveler's Gate: Enosh is an apocalypse cult that controls a small city-state, and is dedicated to destroying the Damasca Kingdom. Damasca could easily have conquered Enosh centuries ago, but having a powerful nation of Travelers nearby, even an enemy one, had its advantages. Enosh helped keep the Territories in check, they occasionally shared knowledge, and even had a few trade treaties.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In "3:00 P.M.-4:00 P.M." from the fifth season of 24, Jack Bauer argues with James Nathanson, who is trying to justify the killing of former president David Palmer, whom Jack greatly admires and has personally saved the life of more than once. Nathanson spins a story about how Palmer's death was a necessity, but Jack's not buying it.
    Jack: I've heard your reasoning from Walt Cummings. It's still treason.
    Nathanson: No. It's a realpolitik.
  • On Babylon 5, this is the philosophy espoused by most of the Centauri (except for Vir, who is the Token Good Teammate, and Emperor Cartagia, who is The Caligula).
  • Game of Thrones
    • Robb Stark is great at battle tactics, but when it comes to politics he made two MAJOR political mistakes that would eventually cost him dearly, all because he refused to play Realpolitik.
    • His Arch-Enemy, Tywin Lannister, is the embodiment of Realpolitik and it is extended to the rest of his family, whether they like it or not. To wit, the continued success of the Lannisters — beyond military might, and the sheer amount of gold the family rests upon — is due largely to Tywin's cold, critical knack for impersonal politicking.
      Lord Tywin: The house that puts family first will always defeat the house that puts the whims and wishes of its sons and daughters first. A good man does everything in his power to better his family's position regardless of his own selfish desires.
      • He forges an alliance with the rival Tyrell family (via Littlefinger), the second most powerful family in Westeros, by marrying his grandsons to them and they help him crush Stannis Baratheon. He offers his enemy house member Roose Bolton (Robb Stark's second-in-command) the title of Warden of the North, and Walder Frey (a potential Stark supporter) the lord paramount title of the Riverlands. Robb Stark is murdered by these two soon after. He'd also (as much as he'd prefer not to) sell out his own attack dog Ser Gregor Clegane to the Martells if it means solidifying the Lannister power base.
      • He further explains this reasoning to Cersei after winning the war, noting that there's only so much the Lannisters can bully and push people around and the space for that is even less when they are broke and in debt. So Tywin has to curry favor with the Tyrells with marriage alliances even if he doesn't trust them at all:
      Tywin: You don't form alliances with people you trust.
      • On the other hand, while brilliant in politics, Tywin's less pragmatic attitude towards his family and personal affairs is ultimately what leads to his downfall. Interestingly enough, his second term as Hand of the King follows a similar trajectory to Ned Stark's tenure. Even though he's a ruthless and feared administrator with almost no lengths to which he won't go to secure his family's power, he still fails to prevent an assassination of the king, is made into an Unwitting Pawn by Littlefinger, agitates an old enemy who has one of his family in their power to the point of conflict, and dies.
    • Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish gives several speeches embodying this perspective. He also practices it, creating alliances between the Tyrells(who had supported a rival claimant Renly Baratheon) and the Lannisters and managing to negotiate for himself a sweet position as Lord of the only region in Westeros that hasn't participated in the war. He gives a "No More Holding Back" Speech to this effect, noting that the Kingdom, the traditions of honor and chivalry, even the Iron Throne are essentially fictitious constructs that embodies the values of order rather than enforces it and the realm actually functions on an elaborate deception.
    Littlefinger: The realm. Do you know what the realm is? It's the thousand blades of Aegon's enemies, a story we agree to tell each other over and over, until we forget that it's a lie.
    Lord Varys: But what do we have left, once we abandon the lie? Chaos? A gaping pit waiting to swallow us all.
    Littlefinger Chaos isn't a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some, are given a chance to climb. They refuse, they cling to the realm or the gods or love. Illusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.
  • In JAG, this way of reasoning is often used by Clayton Webb and other CIA characters to justify their actions.
  • The Orville uses this at times to show how a Planety Union may have issues with some of its own members.
    • The biggest case are the Moclans. A Proud Warrior Race, they provide much of the technology the Union needs and some members are good people. However, their "traditions" can often seem very backward. If a Moclan is born pure female, they must either undergo a gender correction surgery or be forever exiled from their society. Likewise, a Moclan attracted to a female of another species also faces being ostracized. "Deflectors" has Ed and Kelly openly musing on how the Moclan society clashes far too much with the rest of the Union but the brutal truth is, the Union needs them too much to try and make them conform.
      • The solution to this crisis was realizing that this trope cuts two ways. Sure, the Moclans have some of the best weapons tech in the Union, but they don't have the manpower when faced with the recent threat of the Kaylon and the only other possible alliance that could cover that disadvantage would be the Krill, who are Scary Dogmatic Aliens who believe any non-Krill offend their god by simply existing. Sure, the Krill formed an alliance of convenience in the last threat, but they still weren't making any attempt at a cease-fire let alone a defense alliance. As Captain Mercer points out if the Moclans want to leave the Union to ensure they stay a Single-Sex Species, they can do that... but the all Female colony is better hidden and will likely survive it's not exactly what the males want from the negotiation.
      • Ultimately the agreement reached is that the Female Moclans will stop the underground railroad to liberate females born on Moclus and aren't admitted as full members of the Union, in exchange, Moclus will not try to eliminate the colony. As the female's leader points out, the solution is not ideal, but considering that it's a step up from genocide in that they get to live to fight another day, it's certainly a major victory from their view.
  • In Stargate Atlantis the Main Characters are put on trial for their previous actions. Shepard basically argues that they aren't fighting for right or wrong, but rather they are fighting for themselves.
  • A friendlier version than most is seen in relations between the Russian Federation and the United States in Stargate SG-1. The two are officially allies and by later seasons the Russians operate their own SG team under the auspices of Stargate Command. In "Disclosure," though, Col. Chekov notes that part of the reason Russia is willing to take a backseat to America is because that way, the United States foots most of the bill for adapting Imported Alien Phlebotinum, then Russia can turn around and build from American blueprints for a fraction of the cost.
    • In "Crusade", when the Russian Federation briefly supports the People's Republic of China bid for control of the Stargate, Chekov later admits that it was simply a ploy by his government to leverage plans to build their own Daedalus-class battlecruiser. While the Russians have long-desired to run the Stargate program, they're content (for now) with the arrangement to simply loan the Gate to the Americans and make them pay through the nose to use it. Both Landry and Chekov admit that their governments would rather maintain the deal than let another nation take control of offworld affairs, especially not the Chinese.note 
    • In "48 Hours", it's made even more clear by Major Davis, when he coldly tells Colonel Chekov that the U.S. would consider any attempt by another nation to start their own Stargate Program to be an act of war.
  • On Star Trek: The Original Series, in the episode "Wolf In the Fold", Kirk explicitly refuses the suggestion that he help Scotty escape the planet on which he had been charged with murder. While he does his best to, and eventually does, get Scotty cleared of murder, Kirk says that he'll allow Scotty to be jailed and executed if he's found guilty — even if Kirk believes him innocent. Why? Because the planet is a strategically vital port, and helping Scotty escape its justice would sour them against the Federation.
  • Characteristic of Romulan foreign policy in Star Trek: The Next Generation and beyond. For example, the Klingons and Romulans are old enemies, and so the Romulans are quite happy to provide support to the House of Duras when they rebel against Chancellor Gowron because it means they get to Divide and Conquer the Klingons and screw over the Klingons' allies the Federation in the bargain.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine treats this trope as the order of the day, with some very underhanded episodes such as "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges" and "In the Pale Moonlight". Many of these episodes involve Section 31, which does whatever's necessary to protect The Federation.
  • Star Trek: Picard has Picard angry with Starfleet for refusing to help the Romulans when their star was going nova which killed millions of their people. He does a televised interview on how the Federation betrayed its principles by not helping their long-time enemies. Admiral Clancy then chastises Picard for not grasping how several major Federation members threatened to pull out if they went ahead to aid the Romulans, especially after a synthetic rebellion destroyed much of their fleet.
    Clancy: Even before the synthetics attacked Mars, fourteen species within the Federation said "cut the Romulans loose or we'll pull out". It was a choice between letting the Federation implode, and letting the Romulans go.
    Picard: The Federation does not get to decide if a species lives or dies.
    Clancy: Yes, we do. We absolutely do. Thousands of species depend upon us for unity. We didn’t have enough ships left. We had to make choices.


    Tabletop Games 
  • BattleTech runs off this trope. Multiple star empires fighting for control of Terra and each other. Word of God is that the setting will never see sentient alien life because a hostile non-human force would break the dynamic too much.
  • The tabletop game Diplomacy runs on this. The whole idea is to keep your nation intact or on top and to hell with everyone else. If that involves saying you'll ally with another player and stabbing them in the back to side with their more powerful enemy three turns later, so be it.
  • The Eberron setting for Dungeons & Dragons downplays the realpolitik elements of the setting in the core book but still plants the seeds for any Game Master who wants to use them, mostly to subvert Character Alignment tropes in the rulers of the various nations, who just got out of a long and bloody war with one another:
    • The nation of Breland is probably least interested in it — King Boranel is an old Chaotic Good adventurer at heart — and can get away with it thanks to the riches of Xen'drik that funnel through their land, but the laid-back attitude and fantastic wealth leave the nation rife with corruption and plagued by political factions lead by people who do not shy away from realpolitik.
    • On the other end of the spectrum you have Aundair, whose Neutral Good Queen Aurala is The High Queen for her own people, but is working hardest behind the scenes to prepare for and get a jump on everyone else for the next big war she sees on the horizon, because it would be best for her people to be ready. But also because she thinks it would be best for everyone if she really did lead them all.
  • The trope name would be an entirely legitimate alternate title for the Spycraft D20 system. While not necessarily a spy in the literal sense, every player is an agent, tasked with achieving an objective with few restrictions on methods and many restrictions on exposure.
    • All major forms of diplomacy, negotiation, and some forms of combat can be replaced by a large wallet and a highly-developed "bribe" mechanic.
    • Combat is intentionally designed to favor people that play dirty, set up traps, and hit weak points. Unlike other d20 games, it's almost unheard of for combat to move past 5 or 6 rounds — someone will have found a weak point and exploited an instant-kill long before then. You also mostly use combat to remove troublesome civilians and diplomats, so that you can replace them in a disguise.
  • Star Trek Adventures: A Fictional Document from the Zakdorn Defense Institute (dating to circa 2360) recommends against Federation intervention in the Occupation of Bajor, arguing that ejecting the Cardassians from Bajor would require a proper war that the Federation can't afford, and that Gul Dukat's appointment as prefect is likely to stiffen the Bajoran Resistance and let them force the Cardassians out on their own. At which point the Federation can swoop in and provide humanitarian aid to bring the Bajorans in on their side.
  • In Warhammer 40,000 this is the basic approach the Imperium of Man takes in regards to the T'au Empire and vice versa. For example, in the wake of the Damocles Crusade, many Imperial worlds were stripped of their defenders in order to make a stand at Macragge against the tyranids of Hive Fleet Behemoth. The T'au expanded their empire in the wake of the Imperial muster, going into now-defenseless systems and offering to protect them in exchange for annexation rights. Those who would not accept the deal were simply curb stomped as most of their defenses were already removed. The T'au defend their aggressive actions by saying that if they had not "expanded defensive interests" to those Imperial worlds, then other, less benevolent powers would have taken them anyway before the Imperium could build its forces back up to keep them.

    On the other side, while the Imperium of course wants to be rid of the T'au eventually, they generally refrain from taking direct offensive action against them, except to try and liberate Imperial worlds that the T'au have annexed, preferring instead a policy of trying to contain the T'au Empire's expansion. This is in part because of the huge drain of military resources that would be required to completely rout the T'au, but it is also because the T'au Empire functions as a bulwark against Tyranid hive fleets, Orks, and other local powers around the Eastern Fringe where the Imperium's power is limited. As long as the T'au Empire exists, it will distract other potential threats away from Imperial worlds, and the Imperium is only too happy to let that happen. On the flip side, both nations are more than willing to cooperate in the face of major regional threats, such as when Hive Fleet Kraken invaded in 992.M41.

  • In Hamilton, "The Room Where it Happens" is an ode to political scheming and backroom deals. And Burr wants in on it.

    Video Games 
  • Not well-followed by Lord Regent Burrows in Dishonored. The Empire of the Isles wanes in power under his rule because his decision making is based mostly on his severely neurotic need for order, rather than on making decisions that will strengthen the country. This is largely his motivation for staging the coup that gets him into power in the first place. He later blames his ineffectiveness on the inability of everyone else to do as they're told.
  • The main quest of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim features a quest that involves complex negotiations between the two Civil War factions (unless the Player Character has already resolved the war in Skyrim). Tullius was seen ready to behead Ulfric at the beginning of the game, but then is seen negotiating with him because the dragon threat is too large for either side to ignore anymore. Elisif and Galmar are both miffed at the idea of just freely giving away territory, but Tullius and Ulfric both see the value. The player can influence these negotiations, though favoring one side too heavily will make the other side dislike you more.
  • The example right above applies to any 4X and Grand Strategy games, regardless of settings or degree of realism. Why would you ally with a power that decimated your people or offends your sensibilities? Because there are bigger, nastier powers out there gunning on both of you.
  • Downplayed in Just Cause 1 and 2, and comes to a head in Just Cause 3. The protagonist, Rico Rodriguez, is a "dictator removal specialist" working for The Agency, which is basically a parody of the CIA that destabilizes countries mainly through car-surfing and Stuff Blowing Up. In the first game, Rico deposes a bloodthirsty nuclear-armed dictator by helping mostly-decent rebels as well as a not-so-decent drug cartel. In the second game, he again deposes a bloodthirsty nuclear-armed dictator, but the three factions he helps are the local crime syndicate, hypocritical Dirty Communist rebels, and ultra-nationalist thugs. And in the third game, The Agency outright refuses to let Rico go to his homeland and depose yet another bloodthirsty nuclear-armed dictator, because he possesses a very powerful new type of Unobtanium, and that makes him The Agency's best goddamn friend — prompting Rico to strike out on his own and work with the local rebels to free his homeland.
  • In Mass Effect, most of the major galactic powers engage in this, especially the Citadel Council. In Mass Effect 3, Humanity is left to fight the invasion of Earth alone because their fellow Council Races would rather concentrate on the Reapers encroaching on their borders first. This is also the reason why the Asari refused to share their intact Prothean Beacon with the rest of the galaxy, despite writing the laws that made sharing Beacon knowledge mandatory for all other races, as data-mining it was the only way they maintained their position as the dominant race in the galaxy.
  • You can easily fall into this way of thinking in games developed by Paradox Interactive, most all of which have you play as a single nation through a turbulent part of history.
    • This is especially the case when playing multiplayer with real people, since wars in Paradox's games tend to heavily favour those who mobilize their troops first. And due to the excessive costs of having your troops at full maintenance during peacetime you'll find most people having minimal maintenance during peacetime. Thus he who mobilizes and attacks first gets the upper hand, by gaining several victories before the opposing side gets to a comparable level of mobilization. Due to this multiplayer games often devolve into people legitimizing their declarations of war by saying "We're only attacking you so as not to have our nation wiped out in case you decided to attack us..."
  • Likewise possible in Kaiserreich: Legacy of the Weltkrieg. Probably the most notable is during the Second American Civil War: if things are going badly for the CSA and AUS against the US federal government then Jack Reed and Huey Long can form a desperate Enemy Mine despite being on opposite sides of the political spectrum and absolutely hating each other as people. Once the US is defeated, the CSA-AUS alliance immediately falls apart.
  • Rise Of The Third Power:
    • Many in the Tariqqi senate are reluctant to back Princess Arielle's claim to the Cirinthian throne because they can't confirm her identity and they risk a war with Arkadya if they do so. While President Ihsan is sympathetic to Arielle's cause, she admits the naysayers in the senate have valid concerns and that she can't override the slow democratic process.
    • After Gage is rescued, Arielle can't completely forgive him for his complicity in Noraskov's crimes. She still marries him because doing so is the only way for her to be seen as legitimate as the eldest surviving princess of Cirinthia.
  • Ruina: Fairy Tale of the Forgotten Ruins: Duke Kamur didn't want to execute Paris's mother, but the government forced him to do so because she adopted a baby that West Siwa wanted dead. If he refused, West Siwa would have declared war on the Kness Dukedom. However, he spares her adopted children, fakes their deaths, and refuses to kill them even when they later try to go after him for revenge.
  • It's a chronic issue for the Republic in Star Wars: The Old Republic. The Empire caught them with their pants down due to Revan's complete lack of a warning, and so they make alliances with the Hutts (mob bosses), terrorists (like the Consular's companion Zenith), criminals (the entire Smuggler class), and openly corrupt governments like the junta on Ord Mantell because those factions dislike the Empire for their own reasons. The Empire makes a selling point over being open with the fact their "government" is a theocratic cabal of Ax-Crazy Sith with day to day operations run by the military. Their Only Sane Employee is the Intelligence Services, which knows how to play this, but gets little in the way of respect. Come the expansions, the Alliance becomes this, with the Outlander recruiting former Jedi, wayward Sith, pirate factions, refugees, and possibly the very man who imprisoned the Outlander for five years against an Omnicidal Maniac.

    Web Animation 
  • Analyzed and discussed at length by CGP Grey in "Rules for Rulers", which in turn, is distilled from ''The Dictator's Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics".

  • Girl Genius has a lot of politics causing problems in the setting. The cliffnotes:
    • The Empire is run by Baron Klaus Wulphenbach, who is from a minor house but still managed to conquer via sheer power. He rules rather fairly after a vassal state joins, allowing all states freedom for their rules to rule as they see fit unless they posses forbidden Other technology or try to start a war. His "Pax Transylvania" is noted to mostly mean "don't make me come over there." Klaus' general paranoia, borne of running this empire and teaching with the Other, have left him unable to view Agatha as anything but a threat.
    • There's also the Storm King conspiracy, which intends to unseat Klaus by putting forward some member of the Sturmvoraus family (initially Tarvek but Gambit Pileup and the outcome of the Battle of Mechanisburg both led to more contenders). A major idea of the conspiracy was that the nobles would prefer a king with the proper lineage to a lesser noble like Klaus who simply has power.
      • As part of the the Storm King conspiracy we found out that Tarvek's father was a servant of the dead Lucrezia Mongfish (potentially the Other) and intended to resurrect her into her daughter, Agatha, so she could rule by using mind control. This clashed with another plan that had Zola pretend to be Lucrezia's daughter to try and take over Mechnisburg, the seat of the House of Hetrodyne (of which Agatha is heir).
    • Tarvek mentions rules had to be put on bringing people back to life and how that affected succession so things didn't spiral out of control.
    • After Klaus' disappearance and a timeskip the massive wars across Europa have killed off over forty of the fifty ruling noble families. Seffie (a von Blitzenguard related to the Sturmvoraus family) insists that the best bet to end this is for her and Klaus' son Gil to marry, as leader of the two largest factions still involved. Gil hates that she has a point.
      • Its gotten so bad to where the Storm King conspiracy has done a 180; they're gonna ensure that Gil gets back on top (though they do have a back-up plan with Tarvek, albeit one done in such a way he is refusing against).
    • When Martellus meets Rerich, an old Jäger, they have a lenghtly conversation about what this trope entrails.
  • In the The Order of the Stick prequel story How the Paladin Got his Scar, Hinjo's attempts to diplomatically request the assistance of the hobgoblin Supreme Leader in tracking down the renegade Sapphire Guard members that had recently attacked hobgoblin villages proves ineffective, as they were distrustful of his reasoning (in the Azurite teachings of the inherent dignity and worth of sapient life). O-Chul employed this trope in order to spin their position in a way that was easier for them to understand:
    O-Chul: We parley with you because it is in our strategic self-interest to do so. As your advisor said, a military conflict would be costly, and our long-term interests would be better served deploying our forces elsewhere. Since a mounting death toll among your people would be the primary cause of such a conflict, saving hobgoblin lives saves human lives.
    Hobgoblin Supreme Leader: Ah! At last, someone who makes sense! I was beginning to think your king had sent a madman to speak for him!
    Hobgoblin General: 'Inherent dignity'-ha! Pull the other one, why don't you!
    O-Chul: [whispering to Hinjo] A man that does not care about those who are different is always suspicious of a man that does. Easier to provide an explanation that fits their worldview that has the virtue of also being true.
  • In We Are The Wyrecats, the Big Bad is trying to keep humanity in a cycle of constant engineered wars to control the population.

    Real Life 
  • Otto von Bismarck, a 19th century Prussian statesman who served as the First Chancellor to King Wilhelm I, advocated realpolitik as a means of uniting Germany. Specifically, this was in opposition to the democratic nationalist movements which attempted to unite Germany as a confederation in the 1830s and 1840s, whereas Bismarck's plan was to unite the German states under Prussian hegemony by uniting them against various external threats. Bismarck would utilize realpolitik again during the Franco-Prussian War, where Prussia's victory as the lead of the coalition of several German states at the French emperor Napoleon III's expense propped up Prussia's standing among the other German states enough for Wilhelm I to proclaim a unified German state in the French palace of Versailles in 1871.
  • Richard Nixon made his political career being a stalwart anticommunist, yet he and Henry Kissinger (his Secretary of State) were the ones who started the push for greater diplomatic ties with the People's Republic of China starting with "ping-pong diplomacy" in 1971 and kicked off on a government level with Nixon's visit to China in 1972 — both held mutual distrust and suspicion of the Soviet Union at the time. Formal diplomatic relations were established in 1979, when the US ended official diplomatic recognition of the Republic of China (i.e., Taiwan).
    • This was also to help leverage better relations with the Soviet Union, intending to goad the USSR into becoming an ally out of jealousy of China's situation. (i.e. "Hey, China is Communist like us, and they're being friendly with the US while getting some benefits from doing so. Why can't that be us?"). It would also lift them the load of being allied with a country targeted for openly breaching human rights, which was impairing the American discourse of promoting democracy abroad.
    • Not coincidentally, Nixon's strong anticommunist reputation was a big reason his administration was able to initiate the move to establish ties with China in the first place — said record helped to shield him from accusations that he was coddling to Dirty Communists (something a more moderate president wouldn't have had). This legitimacy-by-previous-enmity is what is meant when it is said that "only Nixon could go to China" (regardless of how much the Vulcans may claim is theirs).
  • Charles de Gaulle summed this attitude up nicely: "Nations don't have friends, they only have interests."
  • Henry Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston spoke of this in the nineteenth century: "Therefore I say that it is a narrow policy to suppose that this country or that is to be marked out as the eternal ally or the perpetual enemy of England. We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow."
  • Alexander III of Russia once said: "Russia has two allies: the Army and the Navy". However, he did initiate the Franco-Russian alliance of 1894 (which would play a crucial part in the run-up to World War I).
  • The Melian dialogue in Thucydides' account of the Peloponnesian War is an example of how this trope can turn into Might Makes Right. The Athenians asserted their dominance over the Melians due to the fact that they had far stronger military force, and could blackmail the Melians into accepting either submitting peacefully or being killed. The idea was that "the strong will do what they will and the weak will accept what they must".
  • During the Cold War, Finland was in the awkward situation of being a liberal democracy with a mixed economy but also very vulnerable to direct attack by the Soviet Union. Or should we say, renewed direct attack by the Soviet Union, since the Soviets had actually tried to conquer Finland before (to the point where Helsinki was desperate enough to turn to Nazi Germany for help). As a result, Finland had every reason to want to join the West...but also every reason to not piss off the East. The result was a policy of doing everything in their power to avoid unnecessarily offending Moscow while trying to maintain good relations with the West; President Urho Kekkonen defined this policy as art of bowing to East without mooning to West, and stated Find your friends near and your enemies far. Nevertheless, the policy was criticized in some anti-Communist circles, to the point where Willy Brandt's Neue Ostpolitik ("New Eastern Policy", i.e. detente with the Soviet bloc in general and East Germany in particular) was derogatorily called "Finlandization" by many members of the CDU/CSU.
    • A staggering example of this occured during The '70s, when the Soviet Union asked Finland to help them find a way to invade Norway (one of only two NATO allies of the daynote  with a land border with the USSR). Finland obliged, but decided to work so slowly that the whole thing was stalled, and the Soviets eventually abandoned the idea.
  • One example of this was the Western Allies allying with the Soviet Union during World War II. On one side, you had a group of largely democratic countries (most of which, admittedly, had large, distinctly un-democratically-run Empires) who had a strong history of anti-Communism. On the other, you had a totalitarian Communist state which had killed nearly a million of its own people as ideological enemies and imprisoned a few million more. What brought them together — the only thing, even — was a common Enemy Mine in the form of Those Wacky Nazis and Italian fascism. While this did lead to beneficial co-operation between the two powers, it also led to things such as what some have termed the Western Betrayal. Winston Churchill, a vehement anti-Communist, rather famously summed it up as:
    If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.
    • Allied Realpolitik after the war resulted in actions such as "Operation Paperclip", the de-Nazification of scientists and technical personnel who had built the V2 Rockets for Germany, often using slave labor from concentration camps in dreadful conditions. Indeed, more people were killed making these rockets than the rockets did on its own. The most notorious is Wernher von Braun. The reason for this absorption was that the USA wanted to make sure that the Soviet Union, in the early stages of the Cold War, didn't get a leg-up in The Space Race (they failed).
    • Although the the Space Race was definitely important from the standpoint of propaga and national prestige, the real reason behind these development programs was to perfect ballistic missile systems, because both sides had seen how the Nazis had developed a weapon that could fly between nations and couldn't be stopped, and you could be sure the Soviet Union was working on their own program.
    • Joseph Stalin was also one hell of a pragmatist — firstly, he organized mutual aid with Weimar Germany, as they were both troubled pariah states, despite Germany being a capitalist republic. He also abandoned Lenin's ideas of world revolution, focusing on "Building socialism in one country", and hijacked Trotsky's ideas of hyper-industrialisation. After Hitler's takeover, he still traded with Germany; then he tried to ally with the Entente against Hitler; after seeing their reluctance to stop him, he negotiated with Hitler, despite his rabid anti-communism, while re-arming and organizing the army. During World War II he united Russians with ideas of succession between Tsarist Russia and the USSR, glorifying old-time heroes like Alexander Nevsky or Admiral Ushakov, painting old invaders like Napoléon Bonaparte or Teutonic Knights as A Nazi by Any Other Name. After the war, despite anti-Semitic politics, he lobbied the UN for the creation of Israel.
    • The U.S. protected the majority of war criminals from the infamous Unit 731 in the Imperial Japanese Army and gave them political and legal immunity from prosecution in exchange for their cooperation in American bioweapons research. Almost all the core members of Unit 731 were notorious for conducting truly horrific experimentation on unwilling live subjects (mostly Chinese, White Russians and Koreans, although a few American, British and New Zealand POWs were also subjected to the experiments), such as vivisecting people while they were unconscious, forcing prisoners into pressure chambers to watch how they died and herding entire village populations into huge chambers to be killed by the full effects of bubonic plague, anthrax or frostbite. By securing cooperation from the war criminals, the U.S. demanded that they shared the data obtained through those experiments with them. It should be noted, though, that the members didn't tell the Americans how they got the data, but simply the results. When the U.S. Government actually discovered just how the Unit conducted their so-called research, many were so horrified that a number of ex-Unit members were pulled from U.S. bioweapons projects and handed over to the Soviets, who either executed or imprisoned them. It's worth noting that many in the West, including the U.S. government, dismissed witness reports about the activities of Unit 731 as "communist propaganda".
    • Nationalist China, the fourth major Allied power, is an interesting case. The regime was a military dictatorship under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, controlling China as a single-party state. The Kuomintang ruling party encompassed various bickering wings, from socialists to traditionalists. However, each wing was kept united under Chiang, who settled on a centrist position and prided himself on it. This let China get foreign aid from Nazi Germany, the USSR, and America throughout the 1930s, especially once the devastating war with Japan began in 1937 proper. When China joined the Allies in 1941, it was ultimately America that took the most interest. America had plenty of business and missionary interests in China, and FDR believed that the nation deserved to become a world power (with American guidance). So Chiang decided to convince Roosevelt that China could potentially become a liberal democracy. This had some basis in fact — the KMT under Chiang was in the "People's Tutelage" stage theorized by its left-leaning founder, Dr. Sun Yat-sen, which prepared the people for democracy through single-party rule. Although the Americans initially believed this, it soon became abundantly clear that Chiang's government was a very corrupt authoritarian regime with no interest in transforming into a democracy anytime soon. Said corruption and the KMT's terrible policy record on domestic issues disillusioned many American personnel. Yet China's contribution — tying down half of the IJA in China to stop them from re-inforcing Japan's Pacific territories — was invaluable to the Allied war effort. Roosevelt also maintained good relations with Chiang (it helped both men had much in common, such as being staunch anti-imperialists). As a result, the U.S. did provide China with military aid and tried their best to prop up Chiang's government. By 1945, China had regained several territories (including Taiwan) from Japan, ended most of the unequal treaties and was a permanent member of the UN Security Council. However, corruption had worsened and the regime was struggling to hold itself up after eight years of destructive fighting. The U.S. eventually got frustrated with Chiang and withdrew aid during the Chinese Civil War, which was one of the decisive factors in the eventual communist victory. Chiang, realizing that he had lost, fled to Taiwan in 1949 and set up shop there, pushing out crucial reforms but also establishing an even harsher military dictatorship than the one on the mainland. The U.S. and Chiang re-established relations, with Truman realizing the importance of an anti-communist bulwark in East Asia. It wasn't until 1973 that the U.S. (and most Western nations) finally acknowledged the PRC as the "real" China, in no small part due to the increasingly influential Chinese economy.
  • During the Cold War, the rationale for the democratic US to prop up, support, and aid autocratic strongman regimes and dictatorships with dubious, if not outright brutal and horrific human rights records just to fight Communism, even overthrowing democratic regimes to make way for such autocracies or totalitarian juntas, was based upon realpolitik. Whether it worked or was effective or not, or whether more humane decisions could have been made to fight Communism (i.e: letting the countries remain democratic and try to work with them) is a very controversial topic when examining US history. The U.S. has pursued a similar policy in their dealings with the Middle East, with the goals being (a) keeping oil prices reasonable, and (b) minimizing overt hostilities between Israel and her neighbors.
  • In the American two-party system, "primary elections", where candidates compete for their party's nomination, is a major part of deciding the next president. Many candidates, if they're losing in the primaries, will graciously bow out so as not to "fracture the party". Frequently, they'll endorse a candidate who they have some disagreements with, to prevent the victory of the other party (and may be rewarded with a position in that former opponent's administration).
    • Candidates can run without the support of either of the major parties, but no such candidate has won in modern history. The irony is that such a run diverts votes from the candidate with more similar positions, which may enable the victory of someone who you strongly oppose. This effect resulted in Theodore Roosevelt causing Taft's defeat to Woodrow Wilson, and is often credited as a deciding factor in the 2000 US election, where Ralph Nader split the vote with Al Gore. This is why politicians who want real power very rarely run outside the two-party system.
    • The irony of Gore's loss is that he became Vice President because of George H. W. Bush's loss to Bill Clinton (the President Gore served as Veep to) in 1992, thanks to Ross Perot splitting the vote. Bill Clinton, although winning both his presidential elections, never received the majority of the Popular Vote (only the plurality) because of this as well. He remains the only President to twice be elected despite never having a majority of the popular vote.
  • During general elections where there are more than two major parties, if a voter finds their preferred candidate is not popular enough to get elected, they will vote for a candidate they only mostly agree with to keep out someone they really dislike.
    • In Canada, prior to the 2015 federal election, there were open discussions among voters about strategic voting between the NDP and the Liberals in order to knock the Conservatives — who had been in power for 10 years, never with an absolute majority of the vote — out of office. What they suggested was that, in ridings where it was quite clear that either the Liberal candidate or NDP candidate would probably be in third place, said third-place candidate's potential voters should instead vote for the candidate (Liberal or NDP) who would be in second place, which would, theoretically, allow them to beat the Conservative who would otherwise win a three-way (or more) race by a plurality.
    • In the 2016 US Presidential elections, both candidates were polling below 50% for much of the campaign. (One poll among millennials found that both candidates polled lower than a third term for Obama, a machine that would select at random one eligible person who wasn't Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton, and a meteor the size of Texas striking the planet.) A few optimists saw the possibility that third party voting would increase, but in the end, many people voted for one candidate because they could not stand the other. In the end, overall voting was a record low (in spite of record early voter turn out), but exit polling revealed that Donald Trump actually did a few points better with minority votes than 2012 candidate Mitt Romney, while Hillary Clinton had lost a larger percentage of minority voters than the gains seen by Trump (indicating other candidates or non-voting).
    • In Northern Ireland, the unique situation brings realpolitik very much into play during elections, due to voters generally voting for a party's constitutional position on The Irish Question in spite of their other policies or positions. For example, the DUP are very right-wing, but strongly in favour of keeping NI in the UK; while Sinn Fein are very left-wing, but strongly in favour of moving NI to be part of the Republic of Ireland. Thus a left-wing British unionist or a right-wing Irish nationalist will likely still vote for the DUP or Sinn Fein respectively simply to, in their mind, keep out 'the other side'.
    • The concept of Ranked Choice Voting is designed to eliminate these calculations. In RCV, you explicitly indicate your first choice, your second choice etc., and your ballot gets automatically re-allocated if your first choice loses in an early round of counting.