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Unit Two: Realist Theory and IPE. Dr. Russell Williams. Outline:. Required Reading: Cohn, Global Political Economy , Ch. 3. Class Discussion Reading: Susan Strange, “ The Future of the American Empire, ” Journal of International Affairs , Fall 1988, Vol. 42 Issue 1, pp. 1-17.

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Unit Two: Realist Theory and IPE

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Unit two realist theory and ipe

Unit Two: Realist Theory and IPE

Dr. Russell Williams



Required Reading:

  • Cohn, Global Political Economy, Ch. 3.

    Class Discussion Reading:

  • Susan Strange, “The Future of the American Empire,”Journal of International Affairs, Fall 1988, Vol. 42 Issue 1, pp. 1-17.

  • Realism – the Basics

  • Implications of Realism for State Behavior

  • Realist Approaches to IPE

  • Modern Realism and IPE - Hegemonic Stability Theory

  • Conclusion

  • Further Reading

1 realism the basics

1) Realism – the Basics:

  • Dominant approach to the study of IR, but less important in IPE?

  • States are key actor

    • E.g. IO’s and MNC’s often only “extensions” of state power

  • States are:

    • “Unitary” - Domestic politics and interests less important

    • “Rational” - States pursue predictable strategies based on calculations of self interest

      • “Survival”

      • “Power”

      • “Sovereignty” - Internal and external

    • Global politics is a “self help” system – states must look after themselves

Unit two realist theory and ipe

  • “Politics” more important than economics

    • Economics only important topic when it relates to state power

  • Skepticism about international law, rules, regimes and values

    • Rules are for the “weak”. . . .

  • Skepticism about cooperation

    • States only cooperate when then they gain more than others

      = little cooperation under normal circumstances?

  • Realism “parsimonious”

    • Has few variables and leads to clear predictions

Unit two realist theory and ipe

Realist Theories of International Relations (IR):

  • Avoid overgeneralization – not one single theory

    i) Classical Realism:(Machiavelli to Morgenthau)

    • Human nature is bad - hard to trust others

    • Reject liberal views of human nature

      • Therefore, other states are an inherent threat

    • E.g. Hobbes’“State of nature”

      • Makes a virtue of pursuit of power

      • Other theories seen as “idealism” (E.H. Carr)

Unit two realist theory and ipe

ii) Structural Realism (1970-Present)

  • Waltz, Grieco and Mearsheimer

  • More scientific - explored where threats came from

    • Three “images”

      • Human nature?

      • Domestic Politics?

      • International Structure – lack of Government?

        = International Structure matters!!!

    • Global anarchy means states have to be amoral in the pursuit of power

      • Only two independent variables:

        • Anarchy

        • Distribution of power in the interstate system

  • Large impact on policymakers in US

  • More role for economics . . . (E.g. Thucydides)

2 implications for state behavior

2) Implications for State Behavior:

a) The “Security Dilemma”: Security and pursuit of power is a “zero sum” game

  • Any increase in my security or power means a decrease for others . . .

    = Cooperation unlikely

    b) “Relative gains” more important then “absolute gains”

  • States only cooperate to pursue relative advantages over others

    =E.g. IO’s seen as tools of powerful states which hurt the interests of weaker states

Unit two realist theory and ipe

c) State policy driven by international structure and position in the global “balance” of power

  • Powerful states will pursue different strategies from weak – try to ensure the status quo

    =E.g. Only economically powerful support free trade

    Bottom Line:

    • Cooperation difficult

    • States unlikely to expose themselves to interdependence

3 realist approaches to ipe

3) Realist Approaches to IPE

a) Proto-realism and economics:

  • Most classical realists integrated international economics in their analysis.

    • Economics seen as a source of conflict and war

      • E.g. Imperialism

    • Economy important to state power

      • E.g. Thucydides and the Athenians

      • E.g. Machievelli

Unit two realist theory and ipe

b) “Mercantilism” (16th to 18th Century)

Classical mercantilism:

  • States’ power dependent on treasure

  • Gold is key to power of emerging sovereign states

  • States seek to increase their holdings of gold and silver through:

    • Conquest and colonies

    • Increase exports, decrease imports

  • Problems?

  • Unit two realist theory and ipe

    c) Economic Nationalism and Neo Mercantilism:

    • 19th and 20th century and beyond . . .

    • Industrialization seen as key economic goal

      • Necessary to independence (sovereignty)

      • Essential to military might (security)

    • States need industrial development to survive (Friedrich List)

      • States should:

        • Adopt high tariffs (protectionism)

        • Encourage development of national industries

    4 modern realism and ipe

    4) Modern Realism and IPE:

    Post War Period:

    • Liberal free trade collapsed prior to WWII  “Economic nationalism”

    • Post War Realists believed economic cooperation had to be enforced by dominant states

      • Could reduce threats and conflict

      • Breton Woods system and free trade possible because:

        • US military and economic dominance

        • Threat of the Soviet Union = other states had no choice but to cooperate

    Unit two realist theory and ipe

    1970’s - Post War System under stress:

    • Economic crises = Post War liberal economic order under threat????

      • US decline?

        • US economy relatively smaller

        • Economic success of Germany and Japan

      • OPEC

      • Global economic slowdown

      • Financial instability = end of dollar standard

    • “Détente” – decline of the cold war

    • Result:Realists begin to pay more attention to economics

      =Declining economic cooperation in north and era of the “new protectionism”

    Unit two realist theory and ipe

    “Hegemonic Stability Theory (HST)”:

    • 1980s realists argue, “politics” still dominant over economics

      =Economic “cooperation” becoming more difficult because of declining US power

      • “Hegemony” (Realism): Leadership, or dominance, of international system by single state

        HST assumes:

      • Like liberalism, free trade and globalization good in theory, but unlikely to occur because states mistrust one another under conditions of anarchy

      • “Free trade” and economic cooperation seen as “public goods”

        • Non excludible and non rival

          =“Free riders” – collective action problems

    Unit two realist theory and ipe

    “Hegemonic Stability Theory (HST)”:

    • Hegemonic state can either:

      • Provide public goods itself - So dominant economically that it is in its interest to do so . . . .

      • Force “free riders” to “pay” for public goods

    • Key claim: Hegemony = Liberal economic order

    • Problems:

      • What is hegemony????

        • Economic or military?

        • “Soft Power” or ideology?

      • How do we know when a state is hegemonic, or the world is uni-polar?

    Unit two realist theory and ipe

    “Hegemonic Stability Theory (HST)”:

    • Problems:

      1) Risk of tautology

      • “Reading off the “dependent variable”

        2) Empirical record?

      • If US had declined by 1980s, why globalisation?

        Contemporary Realism:

    • Retreat to “High Politics”?

      • Post 9/11 return to emphasis on security and military conflict

      • Economic issues have been “securitized”


    Conclusions :

    a) Strengths of Realism:

    • Parsimony

    • Focus on distributional outcomes – who gains what . . . .

    • Rejection of idealistic prescriptions of how the world should be

    Unit two realist theory and ipe

    b) Weaknesses of Realism:

    • Domestic politics?

    • Under emphasis of importance of wealth and economics?

    • Empirical problems?

    • There seems to be a lot more economic cooperation then realists assumed likely . . . .

      • Does HST overcome this problem?

    Further reading

    Further Reading:

    • Samuel P. Huntington, “The Lonely Superpower,”Foreign Affairs, 78-2 (March/April 1999), pp. 35-49.

      • Example of realist analysis of contemporary US challenges.

    • Joseph M. Grieco, “Anarchy and the Limits of Cooperation: A Realist Critique of the Newest Liberal Institutionalism,”International Organization, 42-3 (Summer 1988), pp. 485-507.

    • John J. Mearsheimer, “The False Promise of International Institutions,”International Security, 19-3 (Winter 1994/95), pp. 5-49.

      • Examples of realism’s critiques of liberal challengers

    For next time

    For Next Time:

    Unit Three: Thinking Liberally - Diversity and Hegemony in IPE

    • Required Reading:

      • Cohn, Ch. 4.

    • Class Discussion Reading:

      • Eric Helleiner, “Economic Liberalism and Its Critics: The Past as Prologue?,”Review of International Political Economy, 10-4 (November 2003), pp. 685-696.

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