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Neoclassical Realists and their Critics

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Neoclassical Realists and their Critics
March 11, 2013
LegroandMoravcsik: Is Anybody still a realist?
Realism is a theory with important explanatory power. But there are problems, not created by its critics, but by its new adherents.Expanding the paradigm to discuss explanatory factors not addressable by the core realist insight. ThereforeDilute realism by making it less determinant, less coherent and less distinctive.Confuse realism with other theories and paradigms
Anybody a realist
Research implications:Make distinguishing between research theories and paradigms difficultMake tests between paradigms difficultMake it impossible to understand, appreciate and apply the explanatory potential of other types of theoretical approaches. Much of the work those other theories are doing in contemporary studies is obscured by the approach being mistakenly labeled as realist.Make it impossible to understand and apply the real explanatory value of realism
Anybody a realist
To recapture a true and workable understanding of realism, must recapture an understanding that is coherent and distinctive.This means going back and identifying the core assumptions of realism. It is this core that gives realism its explanatory power, coherence, and difference from liberal, epistemic, and institutional approaches.
Anybody a realist
There are three assumptions, all of which must be used for a theory truly to be realist.Rational unitary state operating in an anarchical world systemAnarchy = no overarching sovereign powerRational = choosing the most efficient means available to attain ends given available information
Anybody a realist
State preferences are fixed and can conflict across statesPreferences need not just be about survivalNo need to assume that every state goal is in conflict with other states’ goalsNo need to assume that all outcomes result in conflict or competition– may also be deterrence, domination, threats, bribes, balancing.
Anybody a realist
A world structure created by the distribution of resourcesThis means that power is proportional to the share a resources a state possesses.The determinative power of structural position is not affected by ideology or form of government. All states tend to extract the same proportion of resources from the territory it controls not matter if a democracy or another type of state.
Anybody a realist
Defensive and neoclassical realists do not adhere to all these premises. Instead, they tend to accept only the first two.These tend to argue that they are realist, but are expanding or adding to realism. They are in this sense “minimally realist”, but in trying to expand or synthesize realism, they lose realism’s coherence and distinctiveness.
Anybody a realist
Realism to LiberalismOccurs when the presumption that states have fixed and uniform preferences is dropped. This allows for the consideration of additional factors said to influence the nature of preferences, including culture and political system.Examples: Snyder,Zakaria, VanEvera,SchwellerSnyder’s discussion of imperialism as the product of internal political factors that play off of systemic factors
Anybody a realist
Another example of what is really liberal analysis is that of neoclassical realists.These “realists” argue for different state goals by hold that states exploit power differentials to expand influence, rather than pursuing a universal fixed goal such as security or power.Zakaria: different types of states are different in their abilities to extract resources; e.g., democracies weaker states than autocracies. Somewhat akin to democratic peace theory.
Anybody a realist
Schweller: different types of states engage in different types of balancing or coalition building activities. Not the distribution of power in the system, but characteristics of the state that make them revisionist (jackal, wolf) or status quo (lamb, lion). States adjust their power to their preferences rather than their preferences to their power.In contrast,Morganthouargues that the terms “status quo” and “revisionist” do not really apply to states or goals, but rather to strategies that are driven by systemic factors.
Anybody a realist
Realism to Epistemic TheoriesThis occurs when theorists move from understanding power operating objectively and in an unmediated fashion to determine behavior to seeing power as operating as a factor through mediating factors such as perceptions and beliefs.Walt and balance of threat: analysis depends upon understanding leaders viewing power through the lens of threat– states ally with others they see as non-threatening, and balance against states they perceive as threats.
Anybody a realist
Realist to Regime TheoryOccurs when a theorist agrees that international institutions actually create an international order (or influence an order) rather than seeing them as instruments of order.Generally based on the theoretical understanding that states can contract among themselves to solve particular problems by creating an institution.
Anybody a realist
Again, the problem isn’t that such studies are wrong or misguided; it is that their insights and theoretical contributions are confusingly labeled as realist.But in fact, realism cannot explain everything, and attempting to supplement or water down realist theory in the attempt to do so again creates incoherence and confusion.Better to see each of four theoretical approaches as the best ways of understanding the influence of particular factors, each of which may be predominant in particular circumstances:
Anybody a realist
Power in international system– realism“Tastes” (influence of domestic preferences)– liberalismPreferences– epistemicInstitutions– institutional theoryThis recognition also means that useful realist theory building recognizes the limits of that enterprise, and discards Carr’s misleading characterization of theory as divided between realists and idealists, with its dismissal of everything that is not realist (and mischaracterization of all others as idealist) and its implicit call to explain everything by recourse to realism.
Jervis: realism in the study of world politics
Both rationalism and constructivism are approaches to the study of international politics, but are not in themselves theoretical paradigms, as are realism, liberalism and institutionalism.Thus, to be useful, they must be joined with one of these theoretical approaches, including realism.
jervis
There are many different types of realism; the common assumption among them is that sates are the main actors in the world system and that states focus on their own security.Security within the realist paradigm:May not be the only good states pursuePursued in many ways, but cannot be ignoredReason why international politics exists (e.g., individual security mitigates against the rise of an all-powerful state)Reason for moderation towards enemies and suspicion of allies– don’t want the former weakened to much or the latter strengthened too muchAffects and is affected by economic policy
Jervis
States as actors in the broader realist paradigm:May not be the only actors, but will never be unimportantAre the targets of other actors and often the means by which other actors operateDo not all necessarily have the same goalsUnderstanding a state’s goals depends on analyzing a number of factors that realism by itself cannot analyze– thus the need to supplement realismConflict among them always a possibility, but not necessarily always ongoing
jervis
Realism also important for other theoretical approaches because it provides a necessary focus on the state and on the influence of international power structures. Particularly important to understanding:Understanding how power is related to goals, in that power is mobilized to meet goals, and goals are trimmed to match powerUnderstanding that differences in power affect states in that they are wary of engaging in destructive actions, such as threatening the vital interests of another state.Understanding situations in which cooperation is likely
jervis
Extensions of realism important to understanding:How amoral nature of international policies is accepted while such action that would benefit leaders themselves is notCreation and manipulation of ethnic and national identity by leaders.
Rose: Neoclassical Realism
Neo-realism asserts that a true theory of international relations can explain the dynamics of the international system, outcomes, and pressures, but not the foreign policy of a particular countryThus, the position of those who follow that brand of realism argue that the study of foreign policy should be left to others. It is not an autonomous realm of activity, and therefore while it can be analyzed, it cannot be theorized– too many variables, too many contexts.
Rose
Other schools of realism do attempt to explain foreign policies:Offensive realism: systemic factors explain everythingDefensive realism: system factors can explain some state-level actions.Neo-classical realism:Can use realism to explain foreign policiesInternational system factors are dominant– reference to relative national power and capabilities, anarchyBut these factors are mediated by additional factors at the national level
Rose
Additional factors that neo-classical realists use to theorize foreign policies:Leaders’ perceptions and possible misperceptions of powerStrength of state in extracting and mobilizing resources from territory and societyFact that international system in general is indeterminate: dictate a menu of options but not one particular option.
Rose
Neoclassical positions itself as a realist alternative to other ways of theorizing foreign policy:Innenpolitik: internal factors are decisive: political systems, clashes between political systems, ideology, national character, partisan politicsProblem: why do states with different internal politics act in the same fashion internationally?
Rose
Offensive realism: states will create security policies that lead to conflict– foreign policy is the record of how states attempt to be secure within a given international system.Defensive realism: states are not constantly concerned by security or survival within an international system, thus can pursue various goals. When they do feel threatened, they respond by balancing.
Rose
Neoclassical realism provides an alternative to these:Primary factors are internationalMost practitioners go beyond defensive realism to understand that perceptions of threats are shaped by relative material powerStates don’t seek security, but rather to control and shape the international environment in order to eliminate uncertaintyThus, the relative amount of material power a state has at hand will shape the outlines of the scope and ambition of a state’s foreign policy
Rose
To explain why a state choose from the possibilities presented by its relative material power, we must look to state level for intervening variables:Leaders’ perceptions of security, power and intentionsState situation and ability to convert potential national power into actual national power.Thus method:Look at interaction primary and intervening variablesDevelop theoretically informed narratives– archive work, primary sources, area studies expertiseModel is the Peloponnesian Wars
Rose
Precursor examples:Kennedy: Rise and Fall of Great PowersChristianson: Useful AdversariesLeffler: American foreign policy during the early Cold War
Rose
Other differences fromneorealists:Neorealistsassume that states have accurate understandings of relative power, and power relations are objective, while neoclassical realists argue that misperceptions and intellectual developments affect such understandingsNeorealiststhink of states as actors with power– all potential power is actualized, no differences; neoclassical: type of state a factor in turningpotential power into actual power.

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Neoclassical Realists and their Critics