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introduction

The debate between neo-realists and neo~liberals has dominated


mainstream international relations scholarship in the United States since the
mid-19805. Two of the major US journals in the field, Inter- national Organization
and International Security, are dominated by articles that address the relative
merits of each theory and its value in explaining the world of international
politics. Neo-realism and neo- liberalism are the progeny of Realism and
Liberalism respectively. They are more than theories; they are paradigms or
conceptual frameworks that define a field of study, limit our conception of
reality, and define an agenda for research and policymaking. As previous
chapters on Liberalism and Realism have suggested, there are many versions
and interpret- ations of each paradigm or theory. Some Realists are more hardline' on issues such as defence or partici- pation in international agreements,
while other Real- ists take more accommodating positions on these same issues.
The previous chapter on Liberalism pro- vides a useful description of the varieties
of this the ory, and this chapter will explore those that have the greatest
impact on academic discourse in the United States and on the people who
develop US foreign policy. This chapter will also show the considerable
differences in how the scholarly and policy world define and use the labels neorealism and neo-liberalism.
For most academics, neo-realism refers to Kenneth Waltz's Theory of
International Politics (1979). Waltz's theory emphasizes the importance of the
structure of the international system and its role as the primary determinant of
state behaviour. Yet, most scholars and policymakers use neerealism to
describe a recent or updated version of Realism. Recently, in the area of security
studies, some scholars use the terms offensive and defensive Realism when
discussing the current version of Realism; or neo-realism. In the academic world,
neo-liberal generally refers to neo-liberal Institutionalism or what is now called
Institutional theory by those writing in this theoretical domain. However, in the
policy world, neoliberalism means something different. A neoliberal foreign
policy promotes free trade or open
For most academics, neo-realism refers to Kenneth Waltz's Theory of
International Politics (1979). Waltz's theory emphasizes the importance of the
structure of the international system and its role as the primary determinant of
state behaviour. Yet, most scholars and policymakers use neerealism to
describe a recent or updated version of Realism. Recently, in the area of security
studies, some scholars use the terms offensive and defensive Realism when
discussing the current version of Realism; or neo-realism.
In the academic world, neo-liberal generally refers to neo-liberal
Institutionalism or what is now called Institutional theory by those writing in this
theoretical domain. However, in the policy world, neoliberalism means
something different. A neoliberal foreign policy promotes free trade or open
markets and Western democratic values and institu- tions. Most of the leading
Western states have joined the US-led chorus, calling for the enlargement of the
community of democratic and capitalist nation- states. There is no other game in
town, the financial and political institutions created after the Second World War
have survived and these provide the foundation for current political and

economic power arrangements. These are institutions created by policymakers


who embrace neoliberal 6r Realist] neorealist assumptions about the world.
In reality, neoliberal foreign policies tend not to be as wedded to the
ideals of democratic peace, free trade, and open borders. National interests take
pre cedence over morality and universal ideals and, much to the dismay of
traditional Realists, economic interests are given priority over geopolitical ones.
For students beginning their study of Inter- national Relations, these labels
and contending def- initions can be confusing and frustrating. Yet, as you have
learned in your reading of previous chapters in this volume, understanding these
perspectives and theories is the only way you can hope to understand and
explain how leaders and citizens alike see the world and respond to issues and
events. This under- standing may be more important when discussing
nemrealism and neo-liberalism because they repre- sent dominant perspectives
in the policy world and in the US academic community.
There are clear differences between neorealism and neo-liberalism;
however, these differences should not be exaggerated. Robert Keohane (in
Baldwin 1993), a neo-liberal Iinstitutionalist, has stated that neoliberal
Institutionalism borrows equally from Realism and Liberalism. Both theories
represent status-qua perspectives and are what Robert Cox calls problem-solving
theories (see C115 10 and 12). This means that both neoaealism and neo
liberalism address issues and problems that could disrupt the status quo,
namely, the issues of security, conflict, and cooperation.
Neither theory advances prescriptions for major reform or radical
transformation of the international system. Rather, they are systemmalntainer
theories, meaning that adherents are generally satisfied with the current
international system and its actors, values, and power arrangements. These
theories address different sets of issues. In general, nee-realist theory focuses on
issues of military security and war. Neo-liberal theorists focus on issues of
cooperation, ; international political economy, and, most recently, 7 the
environment. For neoliberal Institutionalists, the core question for research is
how to promote meaning that adherents are generally satisfied with the current
international system and its actors, values, and power arrangements. These
theories address different sets of issues. In general, nee-realist theory focuses on
issues of military security and war. Neo-liberal theorists focus on issues of
cooperation, ; international political economy, and, most recently, 7 the
environment. For neoliberal Institutionalists, the core question for research is
how to promote and support cooperation in an anarchic and com- petitive
international system. For neo-realists, the core research question is how to
survive in this system.
A review of the assumptions of each theory and an analysis of the
contending positions in the so-called neos debate and a discussion of how neo
liberals and neo-realists react to the processes of globalization follows.
Key Points

The neo-neo debate has been the dominant focus in "'illntemational


relations theory scholarship in the USA forthe last 1015 years.

More than just theories, neo-realism and neo- __.a gbemlism represent
paradigms or conceptual frame- _5 15works that shape individuals
images of the world and influence research priorities and policy debates
and Zchoices.
There are several versions of neo-realism or neo- liberalism.
Neo-liberalism in the academic world refers most often to neo-liberal
lnstitutionalism. in the policy world, hep-liberalism is identitied with the
promotion of capitalism and Western democratic values and institutions.
Rational choice approaches and game theory have been integrated into
neo-realist and neo-iiberal theory to explain policy choices and the
behaviour of states in conflict and cooperative situations. These present
more rigorous and scientific versions of the theories.
Neo-realist and nee-liberal theories are status-quo oriented problemsolving theories. They share many assumptions about actors, values,
issues, and power arrangements in the international system. Neo-realists
and neo-liberals study different worlds. Neo-realists study security issues
and are concerned with issues of power and survival. Neo-liberals study
political economy and focus on cooperation and institutions.'

Neo-realism

Kenneth Waltzs theory of structural Realism is only one version of neorealism. A second group of neo-realists, represented by the scholarly contributions of Joseph Grieco (1988a and 1988b), have integrated Waltzs ideas
with the ideas of more traditional Realists such as Hans Morgenthau, Raymond
Aron, Stanley Hoffmann, and Robert Gilpin to construct a contemporary or
modern Realist profile. A third version of neo-realism is found in security studies.
Here scholars talk about offensive and defensive Realists. These versions of neo
realism are briefly reviewed in the next few pages.
Structural realism
Waltzs neo-realism is distinctive from traditional or classical Realism in a
number of ways. First, Realism is primarily an inductive theory. For example,
Hans Morgenthau would explain international politics by looking at the actions
and interactions of the states in the system. Thus, the decision by Pakistan and
India to test nuclear weapons would be explained by looking at the influence of
military leaders in both states and the long-standing differences com- pounded
by their geographic proximity. Ali of these explanations are unit or bottom-up
explanations.
NeoRealists, such as Waltz, do not deny the import- ance of unit-level
explanations; however, they believe that the effects of structure must be considered. According to Waltz, structure is defined by the ordering principle of the
international system, which is anarchy, and the distribution of capabilities across
units, which are states. Waltz also assumes that there is no differentiation of
function between different units.
The structure of the international system shapes all foreign policy choices.
For a nee-realist, a better explanation for India and Pakistans nuclear testing

would be anarchy or the lack of a common power or central authority to enforce


rules and maintain order in the system. In a competitive system, this condi- tion
creates a need for weapons to survive. Addition- ally, in an anarchic system,
states with greater power tend to have greater influence.
A second difference between traditional Realists and Waltz's nee-realism is
found in their view of power. To Realists, power is an end in itself. Hans
Morgenthau describes the Realist view:

The main signpost that helps political realism to find its way through the
landscape of intemational politics is the concept of interest dehned in terms of
power. .. . We assume that states- men think and act in terms of interest defined
as power, and the evidence of history bears that assumption out. (1962: 5)

Although traditional Realists recognize different elements of power (for example,


economic resources, and technology), military power is considered the most
obvious element of a states power Waltz would not agree with those who say
that military force is not as essential as it once was as a tool of statecraft. As
recent conflicts in the Balkans, Russia, the Middle East, Mrica, and Asia suggest,
many lead-

ers still believe that they can resolve their differences with force.

For neo-realists, power is more than the accumu-

\ lation of military resources and the ability to use this power to coerce and
control other states in the

: system. Waltz and other neorealists see power as the combined capabilities
of a state. States are dif- ferentiated in the system by their power and not by
their function. Power gives a state a place or pos- ition in the international
system and that shapes the states behaviour. During the cold war, the USA

and the USSR were positioned as the only two

superpowers. Neo-Realists would say that such posi- tioning explains the
similarities in their behaviour. The distribution of power and any dramatic
changes in that distribution of power help to explain the structure of the
international system. Specifically, states will seek to maintain their position or
place- ment in the system. The end of the cold war and the disintegration of the
Soviet empire upset the bal- ance of power and, in the eyes of many neo-realists,

increased uncertainty and instability in the inter- national system. Waltz concurs
with traditional Real- ists when he states that the central mechanism for order in
the system is balance of power. The renewed emphasis on the importance of the
UN and NATO and their interventions in crisis areas around the world may be
indicative of the major powers current search for order in the international
system. Waltz would challenge neo-liberal Institutionalists who believe that we
can manage the processes of globalization merely by building effective international institutions. He would argue that their
effectiveness depends on the support of major powers.

NeeRealists, such as Waltz, do not deny the import- ance of unit-level


explanations; however, they believe that the effects of structure must be considered. According to Waltz, structure is defined by the ordering principle of the
international system, which is anarchy, and the distribution of capabilities across
units, which are states. Waltz also assumes that there is no differentiation of
function between different units.

The structure of the international system shapes all foreign policy choices. For a
nee-realist, a better explanation for India and Pakistans nuclear testing would be
anarchy or the lack of a common power or central authority to enforce rules and
maintain order in the system. In a competitive system, this condi- tion creates a
need for weapons to survive. Addition- ally, in an anarchic system, states with
greater power tend to have greater influence.

A second difference between traditional Realists and Waltz's nee-realism is found


in their view of power. To Realists, power is an end in itself. Hans Morgenthau
describes the Realist view:

The main signpost that helps political realism to find its way through the
landscape of intemational politics is the concept of interest dehned in terms of
power. .. . We assume that states- men think and act in terms of interest defined
as power, and the evidence of history bears that assumption out. (1962: 5)

Although traditional Realists recognize different elements of power (for example,


economic resources, and technology), military power is considered the most
obvious element of a states power Waltz would not agree with those who say
that military force is not as essential as it once was as a tool of statecraft. As
recent conflicts in the Balkans, Russia, the Middle East, Mrica, and Asia suggest,
many lead-

ers still believe that they can resolve their differences with force.

For neo-realists, power is more than the accumu-

\ lation of military resources and the ability to use this power to coerce and
control other states in the

: system. Waltz and other neorealists see power as the combined capabilities
of a state. States are dif- ferentiated in the system by their power and not by
their function. Power gives a state a place or pos- ition in the international
system and that shapes the states behaviour. During the cold war, the USA

and the USSR were positioned as the only two

superpowers. Neo-Realists would say that such posi- tioning explains the
similarities in their behaviour. The distribution of power and any dramatic
changes in that distribution of power help to explain the structure of the
international system. Specifically, states will seek to maintain their position or
place- ment in the system. The end of the cold war and the disintegration of the
Soviet empire upset the bal- ance of power and, in the eyes of many neo-realists,
increased uncertainty and instability in the inter- national system. Waltz concurs
with traditional Real- ists when he states that the central mechanism for order in
the system is balance of power. The renewed emphasis on the importance of the
UN and NATO and their interventions in crisis areas around the world may be
indicative of the major powers current search for order in the international
system. Waltz would challenge neo-liberal Institutionalists who believe that we
can manage the processes of globalization merely by building effective international institutions. He would argue that their

effectiveness depends on the support of major powers.


A third difference between Realism and Waltzs neo-realism is each ones View on
how states react to the condition of anarchy. To Realists, anarchy is a condition of
the system, and states react to it according to their size, location, domestic
politics, and leadership qualities. In contrast, neo-realists suggest that anarchy
defines the system. Further, all states are functionally similar units, meaning that
they all experience the same constraints presented by anarchy and strive to
maintain their position in the system. NeoRealists explain any differences in
policy by differences in power or capabilities. Both Belgium and China recognize
that one of the constraints of anarchy is the need for security to protect their
national interests. Leaders in these countries may select different policy paths to
achieve that security. A small country such as Belgium, with limited resources,
responds to anarchy and the resulting security dilemma by joining alliances and
taking an activist role in regional and international organizations, seeking to

control the arms race. China, a major power and a large country, would most
likely pursue a unilateral strategy of increas-

ing military strength to protect and secure its interests.