Free Custom «Neorealism and Neoliberalism» Essay Sample

Free Custom «Neorealism and Neoliberalism» Essay Sample


The aim of the international relations theory has always been scientific explanation of the most significant phenomena, processes and relationships of the research objects. A theory is an abstracted, hypothetical or speculative reflection of reality. To theorize means to think in order to understand and explain. The desire to understand the reality of international relations and comprehensively and logically explain it has always been the driving force of the research and is based on the inherent curiosity of scientists. The explanation of the contents and mechanisms of international relations makes it possible to formulate predictive hypotheses that are aimed at predicting their future state or situation. The interpretation of the phenomena and processes and prognostic hypotheses derived from them, are the main practical results of the research in the field of international relations theory.

Any explanatory concepts in international relations theory are strictly determined by the initial statements that consist of assumptions, which are used by the researchers to interpret their primordial. A primay assertion made by the author of the concept grounded on the empirical evidence and his/her own scientific worldview stands for the choice of the phenomena or processes that, in his opinion, are crucial for international relations through which one can derive a general explanation and understanding of them. It is finally and precisionally formulated as a principle of understanding the essence of the phenomenon, which is a primarily formalized statement of the contents and key factors of international relations.


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The main difference of scientific opinions concerning the nature of international relations stems from the diversity of their understanding of the principles leading to the formulation of a number of theories, each of which tries to explain the concepts in its own way. The principles are a kind of "watershed" of the theories, which distinguish schools that have different visions of international relations. Thus, neorealism and neoliberalism as scientific schools theories are sets of theoretical concepts that are logically derived from the main principles of international relations.


In the late 70-ies of XX century, after a substantial theoretical and methodological crisis of classical realism associated with sharp criticism of the principles and methods of investigation on behalf the representatives of modernism theory, realism gradually revived, which was manifested by the revival of interest in classical realist works and the emergence of neorealism (Glenn, Howlett, & Poore, 2004, p. 5). The new interpretation of the foundations of realist theory consisted in the attempt to improve and enhance classical realism based on the studies of the dependent and independent variables, which make the classical theory a modern science based on the comparative analysis (Dougherty & Pfaltzgraff, 2000).

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Neorealism, which developed primarily through the works of Kenneth Waltz, Robert Gilpin, Gottfried-Karl Kindermann, Joseph Grieco and John Mearsheimer, combined the principles of the classical realist theory of international systems (Glenn et al., 2004, p. 10). The international system has been considered as a structure of relations between states and represents the main category of neorealism, the derivative of which are such concepts as conflict, cooperation, option, preference, interest, perception, reality, and solution. That is why neorealism is sometimes called structural realism, which is associated with the name of the University of California Professor, Kenneth Waltz.

In the theory of international relations, Kenneth Waltz is known for the works Man, the State and War: Theoretical Analysis and Theory of International Politics. The first work was written under a strong influence of classical realism; however, it shows a much broader understanding of international relations. While observing the problem of the use of military force by the states, he argues that the government uses force if the assessment of the prospects for the success results in the suggestion that the desired goals are more attractive than peaceful life (Glenn et al., 2004, p.12). While each state is the highest judge for itself, and any country at any time can use force to implement its policy, the other countries have to be constantly ready to respond by force or pay for their peace of mind. Consequently, an environment where the states act requires certain measures from them (Dougherty & Pfaltzgraff, 2000). Solving the dilemma of war and peace, powerful political elites of the states have to pay attention not only to their own interests but also to the current situation in the sphere of international relations. In other words, while studying international relations, it is advisable to analyze three elements, which are people, state and inter-state environment.

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The fundamental contribution of the founder of neorealism Kenneth Waltz to the theory of international relations lies in the formation of the theory of international politics as a system formed in its basic features largely not by definite actions of the states but rather by the same principle of organizing the absence of a beginning in international relations (the principle of international anarchy) (Glenn et al., 2004, p. 17). Under the conditions of international anarchy, the main role is played by material and power factors or polarity, and not by how the implementation of the foreign policy will be organized (Waltz, 1959, p. 93).

Neorealists formulate two fundamental theses that help to understand international relations (Glenn et al., 2004, p. 154):

1) In the modern world, states employing force fight not for the physical existence but for the improvement of their welfare;

2) States are more independent in their behavior when they have more potential for power (in a broad sense).

An important element of neorealism is observed in its theoretical concepts close to the relationship between politics and economics, which stem from the perception and adaptation of the realities of the 70s of XX century, which includes the oil “shock” of 1973, “Trade war” between the US and Japan and a number of other events that have forced the neorealists to go beyond the interpretation of international relations as a political phenomenon (Glenn et al., 2004, p. 96). In particular, Robert Gilpin became the founder of a new direction of research in international relations – international political economy (Glenn et al., 2004, p. 41).

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The most important difference between the neorealism and classical realism theory is that its supporters see the source of leading politics of the countries around the world not only in domestic factors that determine their behavior but in cruel influence of structural global features of the international system that given them possibilities and limitations (Glenn et al., 2004, p.187). In 1970-1980, under the distinct influence of neorealism theory there were developed so-called strategic research directions aimed at solving practical problems related to the protection of interests and security of the world states (Glenn et al., 2004, p. 96). It is worth noting that in modern international relations theory neorealism is the most holistic scientific direction, which can not be denied in terms of its logic and sequence of the presentation of basic provisions. Moreover, the theory of neorealism is the subject of strong criticism on behalf of almost all modern theories, representatives of which sometimes only polemize with neorealists but never put forward their own contradictory ideas. Thus, many of them only indirectly emphasize the importance of theoretical positions of neorealism.


In the 1980s, the theory of international relations saw the rise of inter paradigmatical debates, in which the main opponent of neorealism was neoliberalism (these two theories are still the most influential paradigms) (Glenn et al., 2004, p.178). Neoliberalism as a separate theory should not simply be withdrawn from the idealism of Kant and Grotius or classical concepts or beliefs of idealists of the 20-30-s of XX century (Hunter, 2013, p. 9). Its important sources were also economic theories of XVIII-XIX centuries, especially those of Adam Smith and David Ricardo, as well as the representatives of modern philosophers Habermas, Bernard, Dahrendorf, and Barber (Hunter, 2013, p. 9). Neoliberalism, as opposed to neorealism, is not only a theory, but rather a combination of a number of theoretical concepts, which are based on similar principles. In the neoliberalism theory, one can distinguish two main interpretations: pluralism and the theory of world society.

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Pluralism is associated primarily with the works of Joseph Nye, Robert Keohane, and James Rosenau, who treated the theory of neorealism with simplicity as its representatives, in their view, ignore or provide only marginal importance to such traits of modern international relations, as interdependence, transnationality, and globalization.

The program for pluralists became the work of Nye and Keohane Power and Interdependence. Based on the idea of bifurcation of international relations, suggested by George Rosenau, the authors argue that an active role in the modern world is played by a close interaction between societies of different countries, which is not subject to state control. For instance, in the relationships between the West countries, these interactions involve trade, personal contacts, and exchange of information. Similarly, the states are not the only actors in the world politics (Keohane & Nye, 2012, p. 153). Joseph Nye and Robert Keohane identify four types of transnational global interaction that takes place outside the traditional interstate relations in the conditions of indirect control of the state bureaucracy. They correspond to the areas of information (where messages, religious beliefs, ideas, and doctrines are revolved), transport (that revolves around material objects, including weapons, private property, and products), finance (transportation of money and credit), and travel (transportation of people) (Keohane & Nye, 2012, p. 153-155).

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In all of these areas, the role of government is to provide interactions, but even in this case it can not fully implement them without the participation of non-state actors in international relations. Nevertheless, in many cases, the state is limited to only stating transnational interactions or even forced to change its foreign and domestic policies under their influence (Keohane, 1984, p. 56). Nye and Keohane (2012) have also determined five options of the influence of transnational relations on the content and nature of interstate politics. The first option is the change of national interests influenced by the interests of private actors. The second option includes the international pluralism that is the interaction of national interests in transnational structures, which involve transnational participants who coordinate their activities. The next alternative deals with the development of containment mechanisms by dependence and interdependence of nations. Two last options include the increase (with the help of NGOs) of governments’ opportunities to influence the policies of others and the emergence of autonomous actors with their own foreign policies that would be able to resist the state and even to encroach on its policy.

This effect leads to the fact that the states become dependent on forces that are not controlled by any of them. This dependence is further enhanced when any of the states creates new instruments of influence on other states. In addition, states of about the same political weight can benefit from fighting among themselves (Keohane & Nye, 2012, p. 160). With the inequality between the actual capabilities of the states, the benefits in transnational relations can be gained by more powerful states, which are centers of transnational networks, while weak states would lose all the benefits.

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The traditional realism delineation of domestic and foreign policies makes no sense while an important issue is to understand their relationship. Rosenau (1990) notes that most political events traditionally take place within national borders and cannot be understood without knowing the political situation. It must be noted that many events in the life of a separate state have a significant impact on the global system (Rosenau, 1990, pp. 174-175).

Among neoliberalists, the most radical position is occupied by Fukuyama who in the concept of the so-called end of history claims that after the “Cold War” the democratic orientation of states became a defining variable of the formation of international relations (Fukuyama, 1989, p. 11). He underlines that “the most important change of the last events of the XX was the discovery of incredible weakness on behalf of the strongest dictatorships in the world, whether they were military-authoritarian or totalitarian communist (Fukuyama, 1989, p. 11). Even though they are always inferior to the stable liberal democracies, liberal democracy still remains the only coherent political aspiration and is present in different regions and cultures around the world (Fukuyama, 1989, p. 11). In his view, democracy is universal and belongs to the absolute priority in determining the foreign and domestic interests of modern states.

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Francis Fukuyama (1989) believes that the armed conflicts of the past have been a logical consequence of less sophisticated forms of government compared to liberal democracy. In the societies of masters and slaves, the armed violence of powerful and weak states was unpreventable while the irrational category of social prestige (which stemmed from inequality) had always been a source of controversy.The process of human history began with the battle merely for the prestige in which an aristocrat seeks for recognition for their readiness to risk their lives. Having overcome his nature, the master showed that he was free and that he was a human in the true sense of the word (Fukuyama, 1989, p. 305). The eternal struggle for recognition and prestige is also present in the international relations, because as the human story began with a bloody battle merely for the prestige, the international conflict begins with the fight for recognition between the states, which is a determining source of imperialism (Fukuyama, 1989, p. 308).

Neorealism versus Neoliberalism

First of all, the problem of assessment of the international relations impact on the interpretation of neorealists is reduced to statements about the stiffness of structural environmental constraints related to the polarity that determines policy. The theory of neoliberalism accepts these limitations as temporary “barriers” that can be overcome by means of growing cooperation. Second, the neorealism theory remains static, insisting on the decisive role of the state in the international system, while the theory of neoliberalism (and especially pluralism) is based on transnationalism. Third, in the neorealism theory, one might notice a conceptually recognized priority of national and state interests, which are aimed at providing security, stability, development and growth of influence in the structure of the international system. The theory of neoliberalism treats the state as a political organization committed to the promotion of the interests of sub-national actors themselves while the interests lead to aspirations of economic prosperity. Moreover, it is typical for neorealists to support the interpretation of the conflict as the situational display of the balance of leading actors in the international system, while neoliberalists find it an anachronism that remains in the past, due to the increasing international cooperation (primarily economic), pluralism of actors and spread of democracy.

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Representatives of neorealism theory consider international cooperation to be a transient expression of common interests that can exist and develop only through the balance of benefits derived from it. This means that if in the process of cooperation one party begins to get more benefits, the other will seek to restore balance or terminate their participation in it. Neoliberals believe in the driving force of the international cooperation, which is the achievement of an absolute benefit by the parties, regardless of which party gets more. In both theories, an important role is played by the problem of international regimes, but neorealists perceive them as a common endeavor of the states to organize and regulate relations between them (Hunter, 2013, p. 54). Neoliberalists enrich them with constructive value, considering it the way to regulate international cooperation and avoid conflicts. Thus, they believe that the processes of creating a fully managed international order are absolutely controllable and provide the world governments a constructive value in this field (Hunter, 2013, p. 54).

State Sovereignety, State Power, and Anarchy

The school of neorealism formed a classic (the most common nowadays) approach to determine state sovereignty (Hunter, 2013, p. 23). The first of its basic tenets is the fact that the state is the main actor and sovereignty is its defining feature related to the use of force. Second, international relations are of anarchist nature, because the world does not have a powerful supranational cell. Consequently, the states interact in a chaotic way. The state sells itself as a monopoly in terms of the legitimate use of physical force within a certain territory. Within the territorial space, sovereignty means the presence of higher authorities in the state to develop and implement laws.

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National sovereignty in the interpretation of neorealists is the cornerstone of international law (Hunter, 2013, p. 24). It provides the states with both freedom of behavior, and obligation to take responsibility for their actions. According to realists, globalization has no effect on such principal characteristics of planetary policy as territorial divisions of the world into national states. Strengthening of economic and other relations can make the state more interdependent, but it does not refer to public systems. States retain their sovereignty, while globalization does not make their struggle for political power meaningless. Moreover, it does not reduce the value of the use of force for the preservation of national interests or finding a balance of power for the sake of the same interests.

Thus, neoralists’ approaches are based on the protection of basic concepts of national interests for them. However, these approaches evoke some reservations. First, such an interpretation presupposes an essential concept of sovereignty, which in principle can not be influenced by historical changes: the attributes of sovereignty exist forever and generate a single form of the state. Nevertheless, sovereignty can be considered as a permanent element of national identity, suggesting that its contents may be subject to change. Second, the theoretical distinction of constituent and regulatory functions does not meet current realities. The change of the regulatory role of the state entails the transformation of state identity, leading to changes in the essence of sovereignty.

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