After reading this week’s assignments concerning realism, I believe that neo-structuralist realism offers the greatest explanatory power in modern international relations. The drive for and sustainment of power (by the state in an anarchic international system) is the key variable in considering realism and how the realist approaches international theory. Seeking and acquiring power is inconsequential of the values and beliefs of the individuals or actors that make up the state.
Neorealism also makes this assumption but then adds on to the classical paradigm by adding that while power is the key variable, “it exists less as an end of itself than as a necessary and inevitable component of a political relationship” (Dougherty and Pfaltzgraff, Jr 2001, 80). Neorealism tweaks the colder, harsher view of power held by classical realists by stating that accumulating and sustaining power is in response to the behaviors and actions of other states in the system.
States make decisions based on what is going to enable them to survive, and this can and will be be influenced by domestic politics and alliances at the international level. A supporting example of neorealism theory is the nuclear arms race during the Cold war and development of MAD or mutually assured destruction doctrine. Mutually assured destruction is the assumption that each state has enough nuclear weaponry to completely destroy the enemy, and the enemy can retaliate in same or greater force. MAD then evolves into mutually assured deterrence which states that security is achieved by the stalemate created by MAD.
If both sides will be obliterated, neither side is eager to pull the trigger. As one state (the US) created its nuclear weapons stockpile and capabilities, the other state (Soviet Union) upped its own accordingly to supersede or at the very least match the destruction possible. Reacting to the actions and behaviors of another state to secure power is the essence of structural neorealism. Jeffrey Legro’s article “Is Anybody Still a Realist? ” is a thorough and sometime scathing look at the variations of realism theory that have emerged in the past few decades.
Legro states that these variations and sometimes broadening of realist theory has only served to dilute the theory until it has lost its central paradigm and uniqueness. He sarcastically comments that if the core of realism is stretched to explain all happenings, at all times on the international stage then basically, everyone is a realist. Realism has lost its uniqueness if it now embraces the concepts of liberalism and idealism. Considering Legro’s critique in the days after 9/11, I see what he is saying but I disagree with his rigidness.
Realism theory has undergone a revival since 9/11, and sometimes a fresh look at a theory can highlight both its strengths and weaknesses. 9/11 and the conflicts since (Iraq and Afghanistan) support classical realism theory in that they highlight the power struggle among states (assumption made that organized terrorism is a state in the anarchic international system). However, 9/11 was not just about material gain but about seeking and emphasizing ideologic recognition and domination. The response to the terrorist attacks are also about re-securing security and ideology and state sovereignty.
I believe that neorealism best explains this. Perhaps some of the variations or ism’s as Legro states go to far in stretching realism beyond its core, but neorealism is a better and more logical theory that explains international relations without losing the heart of classical realism. Dougherty, James E. and Robert L. Pfaltzgraff, Jr. 2001. Contending Theories of International Relations. 5th ed. New York, Longman Publishing, Inc. Gaddis, John Lewis. 1982. Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security. Oxford University Press.
Legro, Jeffrey W and Moravcsik, Andrew. 1999. Is Anybody Still a Realist? International Security 24, no. 2: 5-55. International Security, EBSCOhost (accessed Aug 8, 2012). McDonough, David S. 2005. Nuclear superiority or mutually assured deterrence. International Journal 60, no. 3: 811-823. Norheim-Martinsen, Per. 2011. EU strategic culture: When the means becomes the end. Contemporary Security Policy 32, no. 3: 517-534. Payne, Keith B. 2010. Future of deterrence: The art of defining how much is enough. Comparative Strategy 29, no. 3: 217-222.