Neorealist Theory of US Politics

Realists believe that power is the currency of international politics. Great powers, the main actors in the realist’s account, pay careful attention to how much economic and military power they have relative to each other. It is important not only to have an important amount of power, but also to make sure that no other state roughly shifts the balance of power in its favour. For realists, international politics is synonymous with power politics. They are, however, important differences among realists. The most basic divide is in the answer to the simple but important question: why do states want power? For classical realists  like Hans Morgenthau, the answer is human nature. Practically, everyone is born with a will to power, which effectively means that great powers are led by individuals who are determined to having their state dominate its rivals. Nothing can be done to change that force to be all-powerful  .

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For Neorealists or structural realists, human nature has little to do with why states want power. Instead, it is the structure or architecture of the international system that forces states to pursue power. In a system where there is no higher authority that sits above the great powers, and where there is no guarantee that one will not attack another, it makes good sense for each state to be powerful enough to protect itself in the event it is attacked. In essence, great powers are trapped because they have little choice but to compete with each other for power if they hope to survive  .
Neorealist theories ignore cultural differences among states as well as differences in regime type, mainly because the international system creates the same basic incentives for all great powers. Whether a state is democratic or autocratic matters relatively little for how it acts towards other states. Nor does it matter much who is in charge of conducting a state’s foreign policy. Neorealists treat states as if they were “black boxes”: they are assumed to be alike, save for the fact that some states are more or less powerful than others.  
There is a significant divide between structural realists, which is in the answer to a second question that concerns realists: how much power is enough? Defensive realists like Kenneth Waltz (1979) maintain that it is unwise for states to try to maximize their share of world power, because the system will punish them if they attempt to gain too much power. The pursuit of hegemony, they argue, is especially imprudent. Offensive realists like John Mearsheimer (2001) take the opposite view; they maintain that it makes good strategic sense for states to gain as much power as possible and, if the circumstances are right, to pursue hegemony. The argument is not that conquest or domination is good in itself, but instead that having overwhelming power is the best way to ensure one’s own survival. For classical realists, power is an end in itself; for structural realists, power is a means to an end and the ultimate end is survival.
In a widely discussed essay John Mearsheimer  (1993) use the neorealist argument of Waltz  (1979) and applies it to both the past and future. He says that neorealism has continued importance for explaining international relations: neorealism is a general theory that applies to other historical situations besides that of the Cold War. He also argues that neorealism can be employed to predict the course of international history beyond the Cold War. The question poses is: What would happen if the bipolar system were replaced by a multipolar system?
This question can be justly discussed with the study of the last War in Iraq. Indeed, the Iraq case throws light on the determinants of war, exposing how far decisions are driven by systemic factors. Kenneth Waltz’s ‘defensive realist’ image of systemic constraints shaping a prudent defensive use of power does not appear to correspond to American behaviour. Offensive realism, predicated on the notion that great powers can never have enough power in an insecure world, might seem more relevant, but even this is doubtful: its main proponent, John J Mearsheimer (2001) views hegemony as merely regional and hegemons as acting as offshore balancers outside their own regions. Seeing the Iraq War as going well beyond that, he denied that it was necessary to US security (Mearsheimer and Walt 2003). So, ultimately, How the US invasion in Iraq can be interpreted from neorealists points of view?
First, in order to answer, I will study the works of Waltz and Mearsheimer in identifying their similarities and their differences.
Finally, I will apply their perspective to the US invasion of Iraq.
Defensive Realism versus Offensive Realism: How much power is enough?
The leading contemporary neorealist thinker is undoubtedly Kenneth Waltz (1979). Waltz’s Theory of International Politics (1979) seeks to provide a scientific explanation of the international political system. In Waltz’s view the International relations theory is a neorealist theory that focuses centrally on the structure of the system. Actors are less important because structures compel them to act in certain ways. Structures more or less determine actions.
According to Walts’s neorealist theory, a basic feature of international relations is the decentralized structure of anarchy between sates. States are alike in all basic functional respects in spite of their different cultures or ideologies or constitutions or personnel, they all perform the same basics tasks. But “the structure of the system changes with changes in the distribution of capabilities across the system units”  . In other words, international change occurs when great powers rise and fall and the balance of power shits accordingly. A balance of powers between states can be achieved, but war is always a possibility in an anarchical system. Waltz distinguishes between bipolar systems, such as existed during the Cold War between The United States and the Soviet Union, and multipolar system, such as existed both before and after the Cold War. Waltz believes that bipolar systems are more stable and thus provide a better guarantee of peace and security than multipolar systems. “With only two great powers, both can be expected to act to maintain the system”  . That is because in maintaining the system they are maintaining themselves. According to that view, the Cold War was a period of international stability and peace.
Waltz assumes that the fundamental concern of states is security and survival. He also assumes that the major problem of great power conflict is war, and that the major task of international relations among the great powers is that of peace and security. Nevertheless St ate leaders are prisoners of the structure of the state system and its determinist logic which dictates what they must do in their conduct of foreign policy. There is no room in Waltz’s theory for foreign policymaking that is independent is the structure of the system. Waltz’s image of the role of state leaders in conducting foreign policy comes close to being a mechanical image in which their choices are shaped by the international structural constraints that they face. Thus, Waltz’s neorealist approach does not provide explicit policy guidance to state leaders as they confront the practical problems of world politics. That is presumably because they have little or no choice, owing to the confining international structure in which they must operate. Waltz does address the question of the “management of international affairs”  . Waltz’s argument is at base a determinist theory in which structure dictates policy.
However, just beneath the surface of Waltz’s neorealist text, and occasionally on the surface, there is recognition of the ethical dimension of international politics. For example, he operates with a concept of state sovereignty:”To say that a state is sovereign means that it decides for itself how it will cope with its internal and external problems”  . For Waltz, all states are equal only in a formal-legal sense; they are unequal, often profoundly so, in a substantive or material sense. But that means that a norm of state exists which all states without exception are expected to observe in their relations with each other regardless of their substantive inequalities of power. Waltz also assumes that states are worth fighting for. That, too, indicates that neorealism is imbued with normative values: those of state security and survival.
Waltz operates, as well, with a concept of the national interest: “each states plots the course it thinks will best serve its interests”  . For Waltz, however, the national interest seems to operate like an automatic signal commanding state leaders when and where to move. Waltz sees states as structures that respond to the impersonal constraints and dictates of the international system.
Mearsheimer builds on Waltz’s argument concerning the stability of bipolar systems as compared with multipolar systems  . These two configurations are considered to be the main structural arrangements of power that are possible among independent states. As indicated Waltz claims that bipolar systems are superior to multipolar systems because they provide greater international stability and thus greater peace and security. There are three basics reasons why bipolar systems are more stable and peaceful. First, the number of great-power conflicts is fewer, and that reduces the possibilities of great-power war. Second, it is easier to operate an effective system of deterrence because fewer great powers are involved. Finally because only two powers dominate the system the chances of miscalculation and misadventure are lower. “They are fewer fingers on the trigger”  . In short the two rivals superpowers can keep their eye steadily fixed on each other without the distraction and confusion that would occur if there a larger number of great powers, as was the case prior to 1945 and arguably has been the case since 1990  .
The question Mearsheimer  poses is: What would happen if the bipolar system were replaces by a multipolar system? Mearsheimer  that the demise of the bipolar War order and the emergence of a multipolar world will produce highly undesirable return to the bad old ways of anarchy and instability and even renewed danger of international conflict, crises, and possibly war.
Mearsheimer differs from Waltz whom characterizes as a “defensive realist”: someone who recognizes that states must and seek power in order to be secure and to survive, but who believe that excessive power is counterproductive, because it provokes hostile alliances by other states. For Waltz, it does not make sense, therefore, to strive for excessive power beyond that is necessary for security and survival. Mearsheimer speaks of Waltz’s theory as “defensive realism”.
Mearsheimer agrees with Waltz that anarchy compels states to compete for power. However, he argues that states seek hegemony, that they are ultimately more aggressive that Waltz portrays them as being. The goal for a country, such as United States, is to dominate the entire system, because only in that way could it rest assured that no other state or combination of states would even think about going to war against the United States. In the Western Hemisphere, for example, the United States has long been by far the most powerful state. No other state, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, would even think about threatening or employing armed force against the United States. All major powers strive for that ideal situation. But the planet is too big for global hegemony.”The oceans are huge barriers”. No state would have the necessary power. Mearsheimer therefore argues that states only become the hegemon in their own region of the world  .
Regional hegemons can see to it, however, that there are no other regional hegemons in any other part of the world. They can prevent the emergence and existence of a peer competitor. According to Mearsheimer, thatis what the United States is trying to ensure. That is because a peer competitor might try to interfere in a regional hegemon’s sphere on influence and control. According to Mearsheimer, all states want to become regional hegemons. That is why he refers to his theory as “offensive realism” which rests on the assumptions that great powers “are always searching for opportunities to gain power over their rivals, wit hegemony as their final goal”  . There has always been conflict, there is conflict, and there will be conflict over power. And there is nothing that anyone can do to prevent it. This is why the title of one of his books is The tragedy of Great Power Politics.
In sum, there is disagreement among structural realists about how much power states should aim to control. Offensive realists argue that states should always be looking for opportunities to gain more power and should do so whenever it seems feasible. States should maximize power, and their ultimate goal should be hegemony, because that is the best way to guarantee survival. While defensive realists recognize that the international system creates strong incentives to gain additional increments of power, they maintain that it is strategically foolish to pursue hegemony. That would amount to overexpansion of the worst kind. States, by their account, should not maximize power, but should instead strive for what Kenneth Waltz calls an “appropriate amount of power”  ;
The War in Iraq and the neorealists : a troublesome case
“States operate in a self-help world almost always according to their own self-interest and do not subordinate their interests to the interests of other states, or to the interests of the so-called international community. The reason is simple: it pays to be selfish in a self-help world.”  
The decision made by the Bush administration to invade Iraq in 2003 can both be fit into neorealist theory, while some things also complicate neorealist theory.
Realists believe that power is the controlling force in politics, and especially international politics, and power is defined as the ability to control outcomes. This is a hard thing to prove but the US certainly have shown that it is able to control outcomes, when US forces invaded Iraq without the consent of the UN or most other nations. Other countries like France also tried hard to persuade the US not to invade Iraq, which is also a sign of wanting to control outcomes. However, the US turned out to be a lot more powerful in this case. Mearsheimer’s theory of offensive realism states that the unrelenting pursuit of power means that great powers are inclined to look for opportunities to alter the distribution of world power in their favour. This means that the US, which is by far the greatest power in the West, will always be looking for opportunities to gain even more power at the expense of other states. Neorealist theory can explain the Iraq war in 2003 by saying that the US saw invading Iraq as an opportunity to gain even more power at the expense of foremost Iraq  . The invasion of Iraq can also be seen as a way for the US to prove to the world how powerful it is by not letting the US be taunted by Saddam Hussein, and by defying the opinion of the UN and other states  .
The invasion of Iraq can be analysed as a strategy for gaining power or as a strategy for checking aggressors. By using war as a way of increasing their power, the US can exploit Iraq’s economy for their own benefit and gain power by confiscating natural resources such as oil and foodstuffs  . Also, the US can gain strategic important land by gaining an ally in the new Iraq, which the US has helped rebuild. War has been used as a way of checking aggressors, which is basically a way of preventing other states from gaining power at their own expense. In reality this is done by deterring the aggressor, who in this case is Iraq. When the US did not think that Iraq was deterrable they had no other choice than to invade Iraq, according to offensive realism. This is because the structure of international politics forces states to be aggressive in order to survive. Before and during the 2003 Iraq war the US gave the impression that they were threatened by Iraq, which means that they were trying to deter Iraq, which was an aggressor.
However, looking at the image as being just and democratic that the US clearly wants the world to think of them, it is hard to imagine that they would say anything different from what they did, no matter what their motives were. The conditions of international politics today for countries in the West demands them to be just and democratic – or at least to appear that way – and no state leader would say anything that could not be explained as being just and democratic, because it is the rules of survival in international politics today. This does not mean that states today in the West are only just and democratic, because they can do whatever they want to within reason. It just means that whatever they do will have to be camouflaged as just and democratic.
However, the invasion of Iraq is hard to explain with offensive realism in some ways. According to offensive realism, the central aim of American foreign policy is to be the Hegemon in the Western Hemisphere and have no rival hegemon in Europe or Northeast Asia. How can offensive realism then explain that the US is invading a country in the Middle East, because this region should not interest the US enough to want to invade a country in other regions than Europe and Northeast Asia?  Mearsheimer has trouble seeing why the US have troops in Europe and Northeast Asia, and argues that they should be sent back, and therefore it is even harder to explain why they should have troops in a region in which the US government does not aspire to be a hegemon.
Some of the most prominent realist scholars Mearsheimer and Waltz actually argued against invading Iraq, because they believed that it was unnecessary. All state leaders are rational according to realist theory, which means that Saddam Hussein is also rational although the US government kept arguing that he was irrational and therefore you could not reason with him  . Because realist theory holds that Saddam Hussein, like all state leaders, are rational, he is also deterrable because economic sanctions and threats of massive retaliation will always work on him, and they have in the past, realists argue. Therefore, neorealist theory tells us, that Saddam Hussein is not as big a threat to the US as the US government claimed and there was no reason to invade Iraq. If Saddam Hussein is rational he would acknowledge that Iraq is a weak state, and would never be foolish enough to attack such a powerful state as the US, because it is not wise to attack a state that has nuclear weapons regardless of whether you have WMD or not.
It is impossible to create a theory about international politics, that is bullet-proof, because there will always be an element of unpredictability, which is unavoidable when humans interact. Neorealist theory has been able to predict the US foreign policy because a structural argument: the unipolar system and its instability. However, when the system level ceases to be the major constraint on behaviour, as expected by neorealism, there is much more scope for domestic determinants to drive policy  . Moreover, the war demonstrates the dangers of unipolarity in which the once-benign hegemon becomes malign  . It is no accident that small powers have traditionally put the highest value on international law and the UN and that the world hegemon uniquely deprecates the latter as unwanted constraints on its freedom to do as it pleases; their failure in the Iraq case makes for a less secure world for those at the bottom of the power hierarchy.

An Analysis Of Neorealist Foreign Policy Theory

Foreign Policy refers to a consistent course of actions followed by one nation to deal with another nation or region, or international issue. A country’s foreign policy may reflect broad national objectives or be a very specific response to a particular situation. A country can achieve its foreign policy goals in several ways. It can use diplomacy, that is, peaceful negotiations with other countries. It can employ economic actions such as giving money or other aid to another country, or restricting trade with that nation. It also can resort to military force.  A country’s foreign policy can be influenced by many different variables, including its historical alliances with other nations, its culture, type of government, size, geographic location, economic ties, and military power. A country’s foreign policy is usually aimed at preserving or promoting its economic and political interests abroad and its position in the world.

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Kenneth Waltz espoused a neorealist theory which he developed to portend that states seek to survive within an anarchical system. This theory to some great extent explains the foreign policy framework of countries; however other theorists have argued that the neorealist theory is not exhaustive in explaining other foreign policy behaviours. It is noteworthy however, that although states seek survival through power balancing, balancing is not the aim of that behaviour. Balancing is a product of the aim to survive. And because the international system is regarded as anarchic and based on self-help, the most powerful units set the scene of action for others as well as themselves.
In international relations two dominant theories explain how actors behave in international politics. Generally it is the neorealist and domestic level theories. Following the rule of prudence, these theories tend to be abstract, and as a result leaders are thought to obey the dictates of a theoretical rather than practical rationality. Captivated by the idea of great powers and power politics, realist scholars privilege the role of the sovereign state, which must exist in what Kenneth Waltz calls the “brooding shadow of violence.” Realists understand the nature of the international system as anarchic. It is argued that anarchy induces states to act rationally, for the sake of survival, which motivates them to maximize security  . If all states are assumed to act on considerations of security or power, then all leaders must define their international goals similarly. The realist perspective is reductive and simple; it focuses on conflict and war. States care about their individual welfare above anyone else’s. In an environment where survival is key, the push and pull of special interests in domestic arenas only detracts from an optimal foreign policy. If this is true, then, what foreign policies do leaders consider under these conditions? For realists, realism is state foreign policy. Commonality defines leaders. The differences usually attributed to individuals by way of history, moral conduct and political orientations are non-factors for a realist statesman. Leaders never relinquish the potential to use violent means and so they shy away from ideologically driven foreign policies, albeit it is customary to cloak foreign policy in ideological language  . It is noteworthy that realist leaders act upon circumstances as they present themselves. They look past questions of justice, and hold judgment on good and bad states. For example, during the cold war American statecraft responded to the expansion of Russian imperialism. The realist prescriptions for this encroaching danger consisted in expanding military power to contain existing threats, strengthening and broadening alliances to arrest Soviet expansion (Billington 1986). Conversely, a liberal internationalist approach prescribed that cold war military threats were coupled with other threats. The threat to democratic institutions around the world would also be threatened by non-state dangers, such as poverty, corruption, and problems of global governance. Realist leaders’ interests are identical to the state’s interest. Anarchy does not produce incessant chaos, but a natural state where the life of free states is uncertain, so they must help themselves. The natural state of the world creates the rules in which states must coexist and act with each other. To use force, or hold it in abeyance, is the rule, and it is always at the discretion of the realist statesman. A realist statesman forms foreign policy on the basis of the state’s ultimate concern, to survive by means of increased security or power. However, the question to ask is, can the leadership always keep an internationally minded outlook without concern for domestic repercussions?
Key Tenets Of Neoclassical Realism. Realism, particularly in its classical form, is less a particular theory of politics than it is a philosophical outlook. As such, it is best arranged around a number of core principles. First, the state is the most appropriate unit of analysis in international relations. Second, the nature of the international system is anarchic. Even though states take the edge off anarchy through institution-building, fundamentally their relations revolve around the competition for scarce resources in the absence of an external arbiter of disputes. Third, power is the essential tool that those states have at their disposal in that competition, and the most effective types of power are material capabilities.  
From a foreign policy and international politics perspective the role of unique leaders as forces that shape international affairs is routinely invoked. Given the general perception that leaders are powerful actors in international politics their roles are defined and debated by the public, policy experts, political rivals and the media. Due to the public character of these channels, leaders are judged on the basis of their policy aims, effectiveness, international credibility, and the benefits that bounce to their nations and the world through their actions. However, the identification of specific leaders and their particular foreign policy choices plays a minor role in international relations studies. Who leaders are, and how they perform on the international stage, stirs much debate and reflection. For example, the true intentions of George W. Bush’s foreign policy were debated intensely; the chances that Hugo Chavez’s petrodiplomacy can strengthen a modern “Bolivarian Revolution” are calculated; the control that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad holds over Iran’s nuclear ambitions is today being questioned. It is worth noting that the statecraft of individuals is shaped by the type of regime they preside over. Political characteristics that we may look at include democracies, dictatorships and liberal governments. For example, in liberal states leaders with distinct characters come into power, remain in power, and flourish. Subject to the rule of law leaders in liberal republics possess institutional awareness, partisan loyalty, and they share in citizens’ patriotic commitments. On the other hand, in direct democracies leaders rise through the ranks of the democratic body and must maintain trust between themselves and the fluctuating nature of majority opinion, which is achieved through a combination of rhetoric and policy effectiveness. Further, in direct democracies ambitious leaders that simultaneously define foreign policy on security issues and manage the changeable nature of majority opinion practice what scholars refer to as “Periclean” statecraft. Leaders create unanimity for their foreign policies. Even in a precarious security environment leaders are mindful about the sacrifice of citizens’ private good. Thus, “Periclean” statecraft has a public expression, but it benefits citizens on an individual level. For example, the political community’s identification with empire is something that indulges citizens materially and strengthens their pride. With lessened security threats leaders’ practice statecraft of the “General Will” by attempting to overcome democratic fragmentation. When it is possible for citizens to thwart policy proposals then leaders engage in a process of issue definition, strategic commitment, and coalition building across societal groups. In sharp contrast, leaders in dictatorships achieve power and maintain it by being immoral. Hoping to conquer fortune, a dictator can be rapacious, cunning and shrewd when necessary. The modes of statecraft that leaders practice in each regime depend upon how leaders with domestically defined dispositions respond to the level of external threat in the international environment. Given the influence exerted on leaders’ characters by their domestic environment, and opportunities and constraints, foreign policy conduct combines rational and moral choices that are not abstract, but political in nature. Further, in dictatorships leaders practice “Machiavellian” statecraft by strengthening their hold on power. Sensitive to total defeat their foreign policy tends to be conflict prone. Leaders also tend to be non-cooperative in international agreements, inflexible in bargaining situations, and cheat or defect from international regimes. The statecraft which is referred to as the “Tin Pot”, achieves the bare minimum security for continued survival. With room to maneuver, leaders are more likely to choose foreign policy on individual preferences. Tin pot dictators are conventionally understood as leaders who take on only so much power so as to enjoy the material benefits of office. This is an economic concept of dictatorship, but it can also be used to represent the statecraft of dictators in weak states in non-competitive international environments. Where security from external threat is not a leader’s ultimate concern, attention can be paid to the bare minimum need to attain enough security for continued survival in the international system. In this way, tinpot statecraft is akin to Waltz’s economical predictions that states maximize security, so as to satisfy survival. Leaders that practice the statecraft of the tin pot may prove “lax” in foreign affairs, but this does not mean that they are strangers to domestic repression and violence. If the international environment provides no opportunity for conflict and the state’s limited strategic position inhibits the full qualities of dictatorial rule, leaders can choose foreign policies that are security maximizing. Foreign policy will represent more individualistic preferences. Leaders can focus on international relationships and agreements that increase the international prestige of the state, which can be a remunerative benefit for the state and its leadership.
Liberal republics practice Prudential or Deliberative statecraft. “Prudential” statecraft has the effect of increasing the unilateral decision-making authority in the executive in both military decisions, and international agreements. Leaders gravitate toward the idea that foreign affairs pose exceptional problems for democratic decision-making. Leaders engage the national interest with less domestic interference, yet this is done with an awareness of constitutional expectations, institutional constraints and public opinion. In the mode of “Deliberative” statecraft leaders must cautiously make use of the logic of two level games. It is deliberative because under lessened external threats, a democratic theory of dual authority draws more attention in policy-making. When security is less of concern, presumptive national interests will be distinctly political or partisan. Strategic interests are debatable, and “Deliberative” statecraft occurs in a bargaining environment.
The focus on states as the central actors in international politics leads to the view that what happens within states is of little consequence for understanding what happens between states. Although there have always been those who argued against these claims, the view of the state as the central player in the international arena is so strong. Domestic institutional structures, such as the inclusiveness or exclusiveness of governance, the extent to which government is accountable and transparent or personalist and opaque, and so forth, help shape the domestic and international interplay of leaders, elites, and ordinary citizens, resulting in domestic and foreign policies that create the contours of the international environment. From many of these models, leaders try to maximize their tenure in office rather than trying to maximize national security, national wealth, or some collective notion of the national interest  .
If our attention is turned to national political leaders rather than to states, then it becomes apparent that fundamental policy choices – even war and peace choices – may be made without regard for citizen welfare or the national interest. One has only to reflect on Myanmar’s ruling junta, North Korea’s Kim Jong-il, or Zaire’s late Mobutu Sese-Sekoto recognize that many leaders govern for their own benefit at the cost of the welfare of their subjects. So many nations have been beggared by their leaders that it is difficult to see how we can maintain the fiction that the national interest dictates even the most important foreign policy choices. The central role of states and governments in foreign policy is acknowledged, and emphasis is that this activity is inextricably linked to the societies on behalf of which it is pursued. Hence, Webber and Smith claim that ‘foreign policy is composed of the goals sought, values set, decisions made and actions taken by states, and national governments acting on their behalf, in the context of the external relations of national societies. It constitutes an attempt to design, manage and control the foreign relations of national societies’.  On the other hand, Carlsnaes perceives the realm of non-state actors, which is located beyond the state’s territorial borders, as crucial. Thus, he maintains that ‘foreign policies consist of those ”actions” which, expressed in the form of explicitly stated directives, and performed by governmental representatives acting on behalf of their sovereign communities, are manifestly directed towards objectives, conditions and actors, both governmental and non-governmental, which clearly lie beyond their sphere of territorial legitimacy’.  The above definitions taken together emphasise that foreign policy is an activity that takes place across the domestic-statist-external axis. Arguably, therefore, it affects, and is affected by, actors and forces which operate across this axis. It is therefore submitted that, while not losing sight of the pivotal role of states and governments, foreign policy perceived to accommodate the role of domestic and external determinants in the formulation and implementation of foreign policy.
It is noticeable that central decision makers disagree about what the national interest and international context demand when leaders no longer assert realism’s state-centric approach. Diplomacy, bargaining, and war waging become strategic affairs. Leaders entertain national interests by taking vying domestic factors into account. Not only do leaders face strategic counterparts and rivals in the international realm, they also consider the domestic effects and the strategic rivals therein, of their policy positions. Theories of how domestic politics affect international relations vary, but they share a common view about leaders across time and across regimes. The domestic story demands strategic rationality from states’ leaders; statecraft seeks to lessen the blows of costly international conflict  . Leaders’ devotion is not to the survival of the state but to themselves and their survival in office. Policy decisions cannot bypass domestic collusion, partisan wrangling, and the travails of making decisions on limited information. Leaders may have foreign policy goals but ultimately care about holding on to power and office. This tempts them to act internationally in order to avoid domestic backlashes  . Putnam perceives the state as the mediator between domestic and international pressures. This final attribute, Putnam argues, crucially determines the formulation and implementation of foreign policy.  The politics of many international negotiations can usefully be conceived as a two-level game. At the national level, domestic groups pursue their interests by pressuring the government to adopt favourable policies, and politicians seek power by constructing coalitions among those groups. At the international level, national governments seek to maximize their own ability to satisfy domestic pressures while minimizing the adverse consequences of foreign developments. Neither of the two games can be ignored by central decision makers, so long as their countries remain interdependent, yet sovereign. The unusual complexity of this two-level game is that moves that are rational for a player at one board may be impolitic for that same player at the other board, any key player at the international table who is dissatisfied with the outcome may upset the game board, and conversely, any leader who fails to satisfy his fellow players at the domestic table risks being evicted from his seat.  
This paper has shown that foreign policy is the sum of the official external relations undertaken by independent actors (usually a state, and the government acting on its behalf) with the intention of designing and managing the foreign relations of that state and ‘its’ society. The concomitant conduct is the leadership’s practice of statecraft. Conventionally understood, statecraft is confined to the strategies developed for foreign policy at any given time, but it remains unexamined in international relations theory. A theory of statecraft can explain foreign policy decisions and outcomes that do not conform to existing realist and domestic theories of international politics.

Neorealist and Constructivist Views of Anarchy

What do you understand by an “anarchic system of states”? How do neorealists (Grieco) and constructivists (Wendt) differ in their understandings of anarchy?

Anarchy is often seen as the core concept in international politics, being explored by multiple IR schools of thought in an attempt to understand and explain the international system. But while many IR theories understand anarchy and agree that the international system is anarchic, where the differences of theories arise is their interpretation of how anarchy affects international relations (Parent and Erikson, 2009: 129). This essay will thus, explore two key theories in regard to anarchy, neorealism and constructivism, and attempt to compare the two theories to understand how they are similar in their understandings of anarchy, and more importantly, how they are different. This essay will look into the various ways at how anarchy is interpreted such as; how each theory defines and explains anarchy’s role in international politics, through the cooperation of states, and through non-state actors and by researching these points, this essay will analyse the significant differences of the two theories interpretations of anarchy.

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To begin, this essay will research into how anarchy is defined by each theory and its effect in the international system. Firstly, neorealism is one of the more straightforward and simple theoretical approaches to anarchy. It had been thought of by Kenneth Waltz in 1979, emerging from the IR theory, classical realism. The two theories shared a multitude of key points concerning anarchy, including the three fundamental assumptions that allow anarchy to function which are; firstly, that the world is composed of sovereign states; secondly, there is no higher authority to govern the international system; and thirdly, the absence of a higher authority then means that the international system is anarchic (Weber, 2005: 15). In this system of anarchy, “security is the highest end” (Waltz, 1979: 126), and states will do all they can to ensure their own survival. But as opposed to classical realism, where human nature is the core catalyst as to why states want to acquire power to inevitably survive, it is instead the “structure or architecture of the international system that forces states to pursue power” (Mearsheimer, 2010: 78). With no higher authority ruling over the multiple states in the international system, it leaves these states in the dilemma of the need to acquire power to protect them from potential threats or as Waltz summarises it; that “states may at any time use force, all states must be prepared to do so – or live at the mercy of their militarily more vigorous neighbours” (Waltz, 1979: 102). Due to this, neorealists argue that anarchy is the primary cause of international conflict and other international dilemmas because there is no government above states which can attempt to prevent them, and states are at the most basic argument, fighting for survival.

However, constructivists challenge this claim that the international system is inherently anarchic, most famously by Alexander Wendt who claimed that “anarchy is what states make of it” (Wendt, 1992: 391) and instead of the international system being inherently anarchic, claims that “people act towards objects, including other actors, on the basis of the meanings that the objects have for them” (Wendt, 1992: 396). This can be interpreted as states having different national interests which have emerged from a range of influences such as from history and society. From this, constructivists would argue that the international system is “imbued with social values, norms and assumptions” (Fierke, 2007: 168) and thus, socially constructed.  The belief that the international system is influenced by things such as norms, emphasizes “the social aspect of human existence” (Copeland, 1999: 189) and further differentiates constructivism from neorealism, which is heavily state-centric. Arguing for the possible causes of war brings us back to Wendt’s original argument that anarchy is what states make of it. The social construction of the international system has led countries to believe they need to fight to survive and that enemies are out to destroy them. Instead, while most constructivists do believe that it is a state’s primary objective to survive, they could do so in more cooperative terms (Weber, 2009: 67) which could be argued is heavily linked to neoliberalism. To complete this section, it seems that for neorealists the international system is inherently anarchic which forces states to compete for survival, while constructivists refute this claim, arguing through Wendt, that anarchy is what states make of it, and that anarchy is socially constructed which produces the problems in international politics.

The next issue this essay will put forth is the cooperation between states and whether cooperation can actually be achieved in an anarchic international system. To begin, neorealism believes that anarchy will largely prohibit most forms of international cooperation. But this does not mean that cooperation is unachievable, it’s just the anarchic system which makes it difficult to achieve and maintain cooperation (Grieco et al, 1993: 729). Due to neorealists believing that states are self-centred, it provides an environment to which states often become anxious towards cooperation. States could see cooperation as a loss of their individual power which in effect, could make them appear weaker and be more susceptible to threatening states. This then creates an argument that states would rather resort to conflict than cooperation as at least in conflict, states can fully control and govern themselves. But constructivists, primarily through Wendt, challenge this idea that conflict will be the more likely outcome stating, “we will only know if anarchy and self-help will lead to conflict or cooperation once we know what states do socially” (Weber, 2009: 65). This sets the argument that constructivism does believe that cooperation between states is possible, but it is their own perceptions of anarchy and the ‘self-help’ system which is prohibiting their means of cooperation and to instead play it safe.

Another interesting aspect of the cooperation between states in anarchy is the idea of relative achievement of gains which is highlighted by Grieco (1988). Cooperation between states can most often result in a positive outcome for the members involved, but for neorealists such as Grieco, argue that this is not enough. Due to the anarchic international system, states are “compelled to ask not “will both of us gain?” but “Who will gain more?” (Waltz, 1979: 105). This neorealist belief is further elaborated by Grieco who argues that “states worry that today’s friend may be tomorrow’s enemy in war, and fear that achievements of joint gains that advantage a friend in the present might produce a more dangerous potential foe in the future” (Grieco, 1988: 487). Due to this, neorealists argue that states will not attempt to cooperate if it potentially means that other states will benefit more or equally from a cooperation. Even if a state is cooperating with a friendly or neighbouring state, neorealists believe that in times of cooperation, states will always try to gain the upper hand and will not settle for less. This links back to the argument set forth by neorealists arguing that states are really only looking out for themselves, even in times of formal cooperation. But this is not just in terms of security, as “the fundamental goal of states in any relationship is to prevent others from achieving advances in their relative capabilities” (Grieco, 1988: 498) with this potentially meaning economic, military or development gains. In all forms of cooperation, states do not want to be placed at a disadvantage or for other states to achieve more advantageous gains over them as it could potentially produce future problems.

Constructivists by contrast believe that cooperation is not unobtainable, but instead it’s the international system’s perception of anarchy which is obstructing positive collaborative efforts between countries. A state’s perception of anarchy in a neorealist world will result in a fight for survival and the need to remain more powerful than other states, which results in the favourability of relative gains in international cooperation. But constructivists argue that relative (or absolute) gains are a “function of the dominant discourses regarding security, wealth, and who one’s friends or enemies are” (Berejikian, 2012: 71). Once again referring to Wendt’s famous quote of anarchy is what states make of it, it can be argued that preferences for international cooperation in an anarchic international system are socially constructed. Instead of the assumption that states only want to achieve relative gains, their state interests will lead them into different directions to ultimately generate the best possible outcome for their state, or in other words, start to prefer absolute gains over relative regardless of the outcomes for other states involved in the cooperation. To conclude this section, it is clear to see that the main contrast between the two theories is that for neorealists, relative gains are an important aspect of a state’s survival and they must utilise these gains to maintain their status in the international order, but for constructivists, relative gains are just another socially constructed part of international relations and instead states are just aiming to achieve the best possible outcome whether through relative or absolute gains.

The last point of contrast between the two theories which will be analysed is the role of non-state actors and whether they can actually have a lasting impact in the international system. As one would assume, a neorealist stance on non-state actors is not positive. With the international system being anarchic and a majority of states seeking relative gains in most cooperative collaborations, it would seem difficult for non-state actors to gain influence among states. A key argument is set out by Waltz stating that while non-state actors empirically exist, they conceptually do not (Waltz, 1979: 95). Neorealists abide by the simple meaning of the anarchic system as being a system where no rules or laws are obeyed, and to this, it would prove extremely difficult for non-state actors to intervene in this domination of anarchy. An example of this would be the Iraq war and the UN’s inability to stop it, which leads neorealists to believe that non-state actors are useless in an anarchic system.

But constructivists would of course refute this claim at the ineffectiveness of non-state actors. It can be argued that actors (in this case non-state actors) can “construct, deconstruct, and reconstruct the meaning of ideas” (Fidler, 2008: 270) and through this, interests between states can be created and maintained. This argument counters the neorealist argument and like neoliberalism, non-state actors and international institutions can reinforce state interests between multiple countries. A prime example of this is the formation of the European Union. During its formation, states which had previously been enemies such as Germany and most of Western Europe, had cooperated together to create an institution which has been arguably benefitted from by most member states. However, it could be argued that both neorealism and constructivism offer somewhat correct interpretations of non-state actors, but what depends is the context of the situation. Whereas in situations where non-state organisations try to control an aspect of a state’s military, such as arms control, neorealism would sufficiently explain why states are reluctant to abide to non-state actors roles, whereas when states do not have to cede control to non-state actors, such as through the creation of trade agreements, constructivism (and neoliberalism) would provide better explanations (Hopf, 1998: 174).

In conclusion, neorealists and constructivists do have rather different interpretations of their understandings of anarchy. In the points analysed, it is clear that the main difference between the two theories concerning anarchy is their primary definitions of anarchy. With neorealists believing anarchy is an inherent part of the international system and states must accept it and fight to survive, while constructivists argue that it is not an inherent part of the system, instead it has accumulated over time through previous state interactions and is instead a socially constructed idea and what states do with this idea of anarchy is therefore up to them. In the 21st century, I believe that neorealism still provides the best explanation of anarchy as the highlighted points of the ineffectiveness of non-state actors to resolve or prevent significant military conflict and the limits of cooperation between states are stronger than the arguments offered by constructivists. Another point is that while constructivism can explain past events relatively well, as it can analyse the historical and social aspects as to why an event happened, it cannot predict future events as well as neorealism can, as neorealism does not have to rely on context to predict a future event. Overall, both these theories explain anarchy differently, but they do not completely undermine each other by doing so. However, if constructivism is to succeed as a theory in international politics and challenge neorealism, it might be beneficial to embrace more neoliberalist stances, as both theories already seem to share views on a number of anarchical standpoints.


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