Neoclassical Realists and their Critics March 11, 2013
Legro and Moravcsik: 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. Therefore • Dilute 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 difficult • Make tests between paradigms difficult • Make 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 system • Anarchy = no overarching sovereign power • Rational = choosing the most efficient means available to attain ends given available information
Anybody a realist • State preferences are fixed and can conflict across states • Preferences need not just be about survival • No need to assume that every state goal is in conflict with other states’ goals • No 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 resources • This 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 Liberalism Occurs 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, Van Evera, Schweller • Snyder’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, Morganthou argues 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 Theories This 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 Theory Occurs 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)– liberalism • Preferences– epistemic • Institutions– institutional theory This 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 pursue • Pursued in many ways, but cannot be ignored • Reason 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 much • Affects 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 unimportant • Are the targets of other actors and often the means by which other actors operate • Do not all necessarily have the same goals • Understanding a state’s goals depends on analyzing a number of factors that realism by itself cannot analyze– thus the need to supplement realism • Conflict 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 power • Understanding 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 not • Creation 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 country Thus, 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 everything Defensive realism: system factors can explain some state-level actions. Neo-classical realism: • Can use realism to explain foreign policies • International system factors are dominant– reference to relative national power and capabilities, anarchy • But 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 power • Strength of state in extracting and mobilizing resources from territory and society • Fact 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 politics Problem: 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 international • Most practitioners go beyond defensive realism to understand that perceptions of threats are shaped by relative material power • States don’t seek security, but rather to control and shape the international environment in order to eliminate uncertainty • Thus, 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 intentions • State situation and ability to convert potential national power into actual national power. Thus method: • Look at interaction primary and intervening variables • Develop theoretically informed narratives– archive work, primary sources, area studies expertise • Model is the Peloponnesian Wars
Rose Precursor examples: Kennedy: Rise and Fall of Great Powers Christianson: Useful Adversaries Leffler: American foreign policy during the early Cold War
Rose Other differences from neorealists: • Neorealists assume that states have accurate understandings of relative power, and power relations are objective, while neoclassical realists argue that misperceptions and intellectual developments affect such understandings • Neorealists think of states as actors with power– all potential power is actualized, no differences; neoclassical: type of state a factor in turning potential power into actual power.