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Mico A.


IS 290
Dr. Arugay

Think Piece #2 (27 August 2015)

In his book Theory of International Politics, Kenneth Waltz discussed what would later be known in
the International Relations literature as Neorealism or Structural Realism. Before delving on the tenets of
Neorealism, Waltz first elucidated the very nature of theoretical construction which his work aimed to
achieve. Developed through simplification, a theory is a mentally constructed picture of an organization of a
domain and the connections of the parts thereof. Waltz stressed that in order to have an effective
explanatory and predictive power, a theory must inevitably isolate one realm from the others, as well as
recognize that some factors play a more vital role than others in affecting a particular phenomena.
After enumerating the steps in testing a theory, Waltz, in an attempt to describe the general
configuration of Neorealism, examined the difference between reductionist and systemic theories. The
former explains that international outcomes emanate from forces within states. Moreover, this theory
suggests that the intentions of the actors correspond to such external results. Waltz argued that, based on
the history of international relations, such a scenario seldom happens. Indeed, notwithstanding the changes
of actors at the national level, there are certain continuities which are still prevalent in international
relations. It is from this perspective that Waltz discussed systemic theories, which explicate that
international politics is a product of its structural forces. These structural forces, which limit and forge the
actions of the actors toward a certain fashion, account for the aforementioned similar outcomes in external
relations. Thus, different structures will result to changes in the behavior of actors.
From this perspective, Waltz discussed the elements of Structural Realism, at the center of which
is the concept of the system, which comprises a structure and interacting units. With respect to the former,
Waltz noted that it is has three facets. First, a structure is defined by an ordering principle. For international
politics, this principle is anarchywhich refers to the constant probability of war among states due to the
absence of a higher authority above them. Waltz explained how such seeming chaos in international
politics creates an order by using an analogy taken from microeconomic theory. Second, the specification
of the functions of its units of the system. While recognizing that there are other actors in the international
arena, Neorealism focuses on states because of their sovereignty and their capabilities. Waltz stressed that
states are unitary actors and functionally the same, in the sense that all of them primarily strive for their
survival and security, without which other goals, such as economic development, environmental protection,
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etc., cannot be achieved. Hence, as the third part of the definition, the structure is defined by the major
states, which have the greatest capabilities in pursuing their goals.
To further illustrate how the structure affects the behavior of units and to differentiate international
and domestic politics, Waltz used the same definition in discussing parliamentary and presidential systems
of government. Since they are not elected separately from the members of the legislature and would have
to secure the support of the majority thereof to remain in power, prime ministers, who are also leaders of
their political parties, are more constrained in exercising their functions, which are largely executive in
nature. Thus, prime ministers, if they wish to maintain their hold on their posts, must act only within the
bounds set by the party members, who have varying interests as the members of the parliamentary
majority. By contrast, presidents have more flexibility in exercising their executive powers since they are
separately elected from congress, from whose support the chief executives will not need to remain in office.
This milieu enables presidents to pursue their policy initiatives more actively as compared to prime
ministers. Therefore, although both are hierarchical in general, the two domestic political systems differ
greatly in terms of the authority and functions of the units. The two also manifest how differences in
structure produce changes in behavior.
In the international context, a similar systemic explanation can be put forward. Reaffirming his
argument that the external realm is anarchic, Waltz noted that what distinguishes the same from domestic
politics is not merely the absence of government per se. Rather, international politics is devoid of a world
government that wields the legitimate use of forcea key characteristic of governments in the domestic
context. This environment paves the way for the evolution of a world operating in a self-help system,
where states rely on themselves to ensure their survival. Corollary to this system is the emergence of a
security dilemma among states, which means that as one of them takes up measures to enhance its
security, other will view the same as threatening. Hence, this situation precludes interdependence among
states because, in cooperation, states pay heed to achievement of relative gains and less to absolute
In order to meet the challenges of an anarchic system, Waltz argued that states must pursue a
balance of power among them. This can be accomplished in two ways. First, by internal balancing, states
must broaden its economic wealth, which will provide the foundation of a strong military. Second, by
external balancing, states can forge alliances with other states to counter an opposing alliance.

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