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Contrast between the Neo-Realist and Neo- Liberal position in International Politics Contrast between the Neo-Realist and Neo- Liberal position in International Politics Submitted To – Ms. Ayesha Rahman (Faculty of Political Science) Date Of Submission – 31 st August 2012 Submitted By – Anushree Modi Roll No. – 69 Semester – V Section – A Hidayatullah National Law University Page 1

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Page 1: Neo-Neo debate

Contrast between the Neo-Realist and Neo- Liberal position in International Politics

Contrast between the Neo-Realist and Neo-

Liberal position in International Politics

Submitted To – Ms. Ayesha Rahman

(Faculty of Political Science)

Date Of Submission – 31st August 2012

Submitted By –

Anushree Modi

Roll No. – 69

Semester – V

Section – A

Hidayatullah National Law University

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Page 2: Neo-Neo debate

Contrast between the Neo-Realist and Neo- Liberal position in International Politics

Table of contents

Acknowledments 03

Research Methodology 04

Hypothesis 04

Introduction 05

Contrast between the Neo-Realist and Neo- Liberal position in International Politics 07

Neo-Realsim 07

Neo-Liberalism 09

Neo-Neo Synthesis 11

The Neo-Neo Debate 12

Conclusion 17

Bibliography 18

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Contrast between the Neo-Realist and Neo- Liberal position in International Politics

Acknowledgement

I would like to thank the University for providing me with the opportunity to complete this

project. Moreover, I would like to thank my teacher, Ms. Ayesha Rahman for providing me with

the support which proved essential for the conclusion of the project.

I also whole heartedly would like to thank the library and computer lab staff as without

their support and help, this project could not have seen the light of the day. I thank my friends

and classmates for their valuable suggestions and precious guidance and all the other people who

directly or indirectly helped me to complete this project. It is all these people who deserve the

credit.

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Contrast between the Neo-Realist and Neo- Liberal position in International Politics

Research Methodolgy

The research methodology used in this project is analytical and critical in nature as all the data

and material has been collected primarily from internet and one book.

Hypothesis

1. Neo-Liberal and Neo-Realists schools of thought were founded after the radical change in

international relations after the Second World War and formation of United Nations and

other such non-governmental organisations.

2. In the neo-neo debate, the clear winner would be neo-realism

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Introduction

Liberalism and Realism are considered as the main theories of International Relations.

Although differences between the two paradigms made them incommensurable paradigms,

nevertheless they shaped the doctrine and the behaviors of policy makers at least to the 1970’s.

What happened later, is that both doctrines reacted to the “behaviorist revolution” and tried to

give their assumptions scientific validity, building ‘neo’ theories that reshaped the old

paradigms.1

 Both the ‘neo’ approaches present a systemic perspective, in order to understand the

consequences of systemic conditions over the behavior of states, and both acknowledge that such

perspective is limited insofar as it fails to understand important variations on state behavior that

arise from domestic dynamics.

Both approaches understand the world as an anarchical setting, in which states interact

without a formal institution that governs them. States are the main actors for both perspectives,

although neo-liberalism considers international institutions and regimes to have an impact on

state behavior. Both perspectives assume that states have a more or less fixed set of interests,

although they differ in terms of whether power or wealth is at the top of the state’s preferences. 

Despite the strong similarities between both approaches, discrepancies between neo-

realism and neo-liberalism revolve around some key issues. The main point of discord between

neo-realism and institutional neo-liberalism was presented by Robert Keohane’s critique of

Waltz’ theory. According to Keohane, neo-realism explains parsimoniously the behavior of

states in an anarchical system, but fails to recognize international economic processes and

institutions that can also have strong effects on states' behavior . The basis for Keohane’s

criticism can be tracked to discrepancies around the consequences of anarchy, the possibility of

sustained cooperation and the preponderance of relative vs. absolute gains.2

1 URL (last seen 25.08.2012.):http://www.e-ir.info/2011/02/26/waever%E2%80%99s-assessment-of-neo-neo-

synthesis-and-its-validity-in-the-neo-neo-debate/

2 URL (last seen 25.08.2012.): : http://ipcomp.wikispaces.com/Neo-Neo+debate

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Contrast between the Neo-Realist and Neo- Liberal position in International Politics

The differences and similarities between both the ‘neo’ ideologies are explained in a

more detailed manner in the following research project

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Contrast between the Neo-Realist and Neo- Liberal position in International Politics

Contrast between the Neo-Realist and Neo- Liberal position in

International Politics

Neo-Realism

For many academics neo-realism refers to Kenneth Waltz’s Theory of International

Politics (1979). Waltz’s theory emphasizes the importance of the structure of the international

system and its role as the primary determinant of state behavior.

However, neo-realism school of thought has two other streams of thought, the first one

being that of John Grieco and the second one being the one found in security studies.

John Grieco combines waltz’s structural neo-realism and ideas of the classical realists

like Hans Morgenthau, Stanley Hoffman, etc.

The third stream of neo-realism is mainly pursued by American scholars, it talk about

how a state must act in the face of an intended threat and persevere to be as strong as the

opposing state (defensive realism) or a state must be proactive and become relatively stronger

than the neighboring or conflicting states. 3

During the 1970’s there was also the strong feeling that liberalism, despite its many

facets, was becoming the dominant theoretical paradigm of international relations. It was the

formulation of realism in structural terms by Kenneth Waltz, with its famous “Theory of

International Relations” (1979) to reaffirm the centrality of the political dimension and restore

prestige to the school. Waltz’s theory was strongly influenced by the positivistic scientism and

labelled as neo-realism, and focused on the structural-systemic within the realist doctrine. He

accused previous scholars as Morgenthau, Kaplan, Hoffmann of reductionism: having explored

causes placed at the individual or the national level, they highlighted limited aspects of

international reality, making realism ‘a theory of politics in general, rather than a theory of

International Relations’4 

3See: Baylis J., Smith S. and Owens P. 2005 . The Globalization of World Politics: An introduction to international

relations. 4th ed. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.

4URL (last seen 25.08.2012.): http://www.e-ir.info/2011/02/26/waever%E2%80%99s-assessment-of-neo-neo-

synthesis-and-its-validity-in-the-neo-neo-debate/

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Waltz shifted from Morgenthau and classical realism, who relied on human nature, to

explain state’s behaviour (anthropological pessimism). Instead, he concentrated on the character

of the anarchic international system (structural pessimism) that causes self-help, conflict and war

The following are the core assumptions of neo-realism as Waltz sees it:

States and other actors interact in anarchic environment. This means that there is no

central authority to enforce rules and norms or protect the interests of the larger global

community.

The most critical problem presented by this kind of anarchy is survival.

States are rational actors selecting strategies to maximize benefits and minimize losses.

States are self-interest oriented and the anarchic and competitive system pushes them to

favor self-help over co-operative behavior.

States see all other states as potential enemies and threats to their national security. This

distrust and fear creates a security dilemma and this motivates the policies of most states.5

5URL (last seen 25.08.2012.): http://ciu.academia.edu/OlowojoluFrancis/Papers/1616528/neo_neo_debate_in_

international_relations

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Neo-Liberalism

Neo-liberalism refers to a school of thought which believes that nation-states are, or at

least should be, concerned first and foremost with absolute gains rather than relative gains to

other nation-states6

Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye are considered as the founders of the neo-liberal school

of thought. This developed this theory as a response to neo-realism and called the theory

“Complex Interdependence”. This represented a fundamental theoretical shift in the liberal

tradition: recognizing the importance of states as primary actors and the anarchic character of the

international system, they marked the beginning of the transformation of the liberalism theory

towards neo-liberal institutionalism.7

Neo-liberal institutionalism or Liberal Institutionalism is considered by many scholars to

present the most convincing challenge to realist and neo-realist thinking. The roots of neo-

liberalism are found in the functional integration scholarship of the 1940s and the 1950s.8

The core assumptions of the neo-liberal school of thought are:

States are key actors in international relations, but not the only significant actors.

There is an existence of multiple channels, namely the relationships, between states

and states, and states and non-state actors. Together with inter-state relations must be

considered transgovernative and transnational relations.

The decline of the importance of military power, is increasingly important given the

economic interdependence and international institutions.9

6URL (last seen 25.08.2012.):http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoliberalism_in_international_relation

7URL (last seen 25.08.2012.):http://www.e-ir.info/2011/02/26/waever%E2%80%99s-assessment-of-neo-neo-

synthesis- and-its-validity-in-the-neo-neo-debate/

8 Baylis J., Smith S. and Owens P. 2005 . The Globalization of World Politics: An introduction to international

relations. 4th ed. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.

9URL (last seen 25.08.2012.): http://www.e-ir.info/2011/02/26/waever%E2%80%99s-assessment-of-neo-neo-

synthesis-and-its-validity-in-the-neo-neo-debate/

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States are rational actors, always seeking to maximize their interests in all issue areas.

States seek to maximize absolute gains through co-operation.

The greatest obstacle to successful co-operation is non-compliance or cheating by

states.10

The neo-liberal theory shares many of its assumptions with the neo-realist theory. Robert

Keohane has quoted “… institutional theory is a half sibling of neo-realism.” It seems that the

current neo-liberal institutionalism appears to try hard and prove that they are a part of the neo-

realist/realist family.

10URL (last seen 25.08.2012.):http://ciu.academia.edu/OlowojoluFrancis/Papers/1616528/neo-neo-debate-in-

international-relations

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The Neo-Neo Synthesis

The Neo-Neo Synthesis is a phrased used in international relations to refer to the

converge of the neorealist and the neoliberal[1]schools of thought since the 1970s. The term is

frequently used by scholars who work outside of those two paradigms as a way of derisively

lumping the two together.11

Neo-realism is the product of Kenneth Waltz’s book “Theory of International Politics”

that was released in 1979 as a response to the widespread acceptance that liberalism had indeed

become the dominant paradigm in international relations. He completely reinvented the realist

school and gave it a scientific approach,

Robert Koehane and Joseph Nye’s neo-liberal institutionalism were a reaction to the

growing popularity of neo-realist paradigm. Koehane and Nye took assumptions similar to Waltz

assumption of the international situation.

The neo-neo synthesis is particularly troubling to many scholars who favor more traditional liberal

approaches, and fear that, particularly under the influence of Robert Keohane,

modern neoliberalism has little to do with the movement from which it draws its name12

The convergence of neo-realism and neo-liberalism was inevitable because scholars of

the two great schools, in addition to sharing a set of fundamental assumptions, ended up having

the same central theme of reflection: how to assess, in a situation of anarchy, the effects that

international structure have on the behavior of states.

11 URL (last seen 25.08.2012.): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neo-neo_synthesis

12 Ibid.

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The Neo-Neo Debate

Despite the obvious similarities in the assumptions and questions of the two paradigms,

there is a huge difference between them considering that they are the ‘neo’ versions of two

radically opposing theories.

It cannot be denied that both neo-liberalism and neo-realism draw some ideas from one

another they are different enough to be at opposing sides of the neo-neo debate often enough.

The key points of the neo-neo debate are:

1. Actors within international relations

As far as neo-realists are concerned, state are the primary actors in international relations.

Neo-liberals agree that states are the primary actors in international arena, but they are

not the only actors that influence the relations.

Neo-liberals could be right at this point of divergence. One only has to see the works of

United Nations and its subsidiary organizations to understand that united nations is indeed an

actor in international relations. One can also add names like WTO, IMF and World Bank to this

list.

2. The importance of non-state actors:

Neo-realists state that neo-liberals exaggerate the impact of regimes and institutions on

state behavior.

Neo-liberals see institutions and regimes as significant forces in international relations.

Neo-liberals claim that they facilitate co-operation and neo-realists say that they do not mitigate

the constraining effects of anarchy on co-operation. Liberal institutionalism thinkers especially

give importance to the institutions created when independent states some together to pool in their

resources to create communities centered towards responding to problems that all the member

nations would have.

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The neo-liberals cite the creation of the European Union, North Atlantic Treaty

Organization, United Nations, South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation, World Trade

Organization, International Monetary Fund and International Bank for Reconstruction and

Redevelopment (popularly known as World Bank) as evidence that the developed countries do

indeed try and help the developing countries by the creation of such organizations.

The neo-realists would cite the same institutions to prove another point. They would say

that these organizations are used by the developed nations to exploit the developing nations and

ensure that the developing nations do not progress and start to compete with them.

Martin Khor argues that the WTO does not manage the global economy impartially, but

in its operation has a systematic bias toward rich countries and multinational corporations,

harming smaller countries which have less negotiation power. He cites example such as rich

countries are able to maintain high import duties certain products effectively blocking imports

from developing countries The TRIPs (trade related aspects on intellectual property

rights) agreement which limits developing countries from utilizing some technology that

originates from abroad in their local systems (including medicines and agricultural products).

In its relations with India, International Monetary Fund strong armed India to adopt a

more liberal economic policy. IMF’s interference heralded a new era in Indian economics. The

much lauded liberalization, privatization and globalization (LPG) model did not come without its

fair share of disadvantages. It cannot be forgotten that India was blackmailed, albeit in a

sophisticated way, to change its economic policies. It put a doubt on the authenticity of the

intentions of IMF and its right to interfere with Indian sovereignty.

3. International system is anarchic, this is agreed upon. The point of difference is

the effect of anarchy on a state’s behavior.

According to neo-realists anarchy puts more constraints on foreign policy. The main goal

of each state is survival.

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Neo-liberals stress on the importance of international interdependence, globalization and

the institutions created to manage these interactions.

Neo-liberals are not too far off from the liberal philosophy of sociological liberalism.

They feel that interdependence on each other would make it too expensive for states to be at odd

with each other. This is disproved by the early example of England and Germany. Noth the

countries had a lot to lose over going to war, as they had extensive trade and cultural relations.

The World War I did see them on opposing sides nonetheless.

When it comes to the realtions between USA and India, USA continues to support

Pakistan despite the fact that the country was known to harbor Osama Bin Laden, who was

wanted in USA. The general opinion is because USA is trying to contain India’s growth because

it sees a potential opponent in India. USA has done this with other countries such as Iraq, Iran

and Russia.

4. In the matter of international co-operation, there is no agreement.

Neo-realists believe that international co-operation is not a natural conclusion but has to

be worked upon. They feel that co-operation among self-serving states is hard to achieve,

difficult to maintain and dependent on a state’s power.

Neo-liberals believe that co-operation is easy to achieve in areas where states have

mutual interests and mutually created institutions to which each state will have surrendered some

of their sovereignty for international peace.

According to neo-liberals, as long as there is inter-dependence, there wont be much

chance of war, as it becomes prohibitively expensive to go to war. If one adds the roles of

international peace keeping institutions, international peace and co0-operations is a forgone

conclusion. To some extent they are right.

The situation between India and Pakistan can be compared to dry tinder. One little spark

and the whole thing would start to burn. It is only keeping in mind that going into war with

Pakistan, no matter how justified, would cost India too much that there have been only four

major wars between the two sparring nations.

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The neo-realist argument cannot be refuted however. The co-operation must be ensured

pro-actively too. USA war on Iraq was a classic example of how a nation may go into war with

another when it feels that the war will be more profitable in the long run.

The cold war between USSR and USA might not have materialized into a full scale war,

but it did result to quite a few maneuvers to over power each other. This tells us that no matter

how much interdependence is there between two countries, if a country finds it more profitable,

it will go into war. Therefore peace and co-operation are never forgone conclusions.

5. When it comes to gains, there is no consensus either.

Neo-realists claim that neo-liberals overlook the importance of relative gains. The neo-

realists believe that the fundamental goal of states in co-operative relationships is to prevent

others from gaining more.

Neo-liberals think that actors with common interests try to maximize absolute gains.

Neo-liberals want to maximize the total amount of gains for all parties involved.

Neo-Liberals think that as long as the treaty that a state enters into benefits it, along with

others, a state will not mind entering into it. Neo-realists counter that as long as a state feels that

it is gaining more than the others, a state will sign a certain treaty.

6. In terms of importance of military power that a state needs the divergence is:

Neo-realists state that anarchy requires state to be preoccupied with relative power,

security and survival in a competitive international system.

Neo-liberals think along the lines of economic welfare or international political economy

issues and other non-military issue areas such as international environmental concerns.

The relationship, or the lack of one, between USA and Iran is the prime example for the

neo-realist take on this matter. USA and Iran had excellent relations till 1979 revolution. Iran’s

foremost military partner was USA. The growth of oil revenue in the 60s and 70s saw the rise of

popularity Iranian government within the people of Iran. Soon after the pro-American leader of

Iran was deposed, Iran cut off all ties with America, rather violently.

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The situation deteriorated to the point where America shot a missile on a commercial

Iranian airline. 290 civilians from 6 different countries were killed and there was no apology

from USA to Iran.

The breaking off of ties between USA and Iran were probably because the new leader of

Iran did not want America to stage a coup as it did in 1953 to restore a pro-American leader.

7. In response to the power, capabilities and strength of other states,

Neo-realists emphasize the capabilities (power) of states over the intentions and interests

of states. Capabilities are essential for security and independence. Neo-realists claim that

uncertainty about the intentions of other states forces states to focus on their capabilities.

(defensive realism)

Neo-liberals emphasize more on intentions and preferences. They again put emphasis on

the existence of international institutions that would help to hold peace within the community

despite the military strength of a state.

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Conclusion

It is a point of consensus between both the paradigms that the states are self-serving and

attempt to maximize their profits.

The point of divergence is the degree of selfishness the states act with.

It seems to the author that both the paradigms err in this regard. The neo-liberals err in

the side of idealism and the neo-realists err in the side of caution.

Neo-liberals think that while the states look upon peace as a major motive and hence

when it comes to co-operation they might prefer to lose something rather than go to war

Neo-realists think that the states look upon their own interest as the major motive. If it is

more profitable to go into war in the long run they will, to hell with keeping peace.

Neo-realists basically attack USA on its stand and use it to show that their assumptions

are not wrong. USA has indeed been seen to prove them right through its action. This is why it

still is the only super power and no state can afford to compete with it. For USA nothing is as

important as it’s own interest.

Neo-Liberalism is said to have been propagated by USA to reduce international censure

on its activities. Many classical liberalists think that the entire point of neo-liberalism is to

excuse the activities of self serving countries.

The first hypothesis of the author was not correct. The paradigm of neo-realism was

created a reaction to the dominance of liberalism over realism and neo-liberalism was a reaction

to the growing popularity of the neo-realism paradigm

The second hypothesis was proven right because as long as the author is concerned, it is

always better to err on the side of caution.

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Bibliography

Baylis J., Smith S. and Owens P. 2005 . The Globalization of World Politics: An

introduction to international relations. 4th ed. Oxford; New York: Oxford University

Press.

Wordpress

Wikipedia

Customessaysservice

ciu.academia.edu

E-International Relations

manchester.academia.edu

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