Neorealism vs. Neoliberalism

Mayixuan Li Ms. Reilly International Relations: Conflict and Cooperation in Global Politics October 22 2012 Neorealism, a concept of international relations that emerged in 1979 by Kenneth Waltz, is a theory which forces on demonstrating how the world works instead what the world ought to be. Neorealism thinkers claim that international structure is established by its ordering principle, which is anarchy, and by the distribution of power, measured by a number of great powers, which have the largest impact on what happens in world politics.
Since there is no central agency that plays a role as “night watchman” (Mearsheimer, 2001, p. 5) to guarantee the security of states, the anarchic international system pushes great powers to maximize their relative powers in order to attain the minimum goal of their own survival. The trepidation of security is primary factor influencing great powers’ behavior, and in turn makes great powers quickly recognize that the best way to survive without protection is to perpetually expand actual military capability until reach the ultimate aim – hegemony.
Great powers can never be certain about other states’ intentions, which makes them fear each other, and view each other as potential enemies who always have the capability and motive to attack them. To guarantee their own survival, great powers adopt the logic of self – help acting according to their self – interest, and always look for opportunities to alter the balance of power by acquiring additional power for themselves and by thwarting their rivals to increase powers. The self – help system gives rise of security dilemma that reflects basic logic of offensive realism.

No matter a states becomes strong or weak, both strength and weakness in national security can be provocative to other great powers. Mearsheimer states: “ The essence of the dilemma is that the measures a state takes to increase its own security usually decrease the security of other states. ” (Mearsheimer, 2001, p. 13) Neorealism offers a considerably broader definition of power, and view power as two types: actual power and latent power. Waltz states that power includes the following components: “ size of population and territory, resource endowment, economic capability, military strength, political stability and ompetence. ” (Waltz, 1979, p. 131) Actual power mainly points out military capability, such as army, air and naval forces, which directly gives great powers the wherewithal to hurt and possibly destroy each other. Latent power comprises size of population and territory, national wealth, and political stability. Rational great powers do not contend with current distribution of power, and always care about relative power rather than absolute power. They not only look for opportunities to take advantages of one another, but also work to ensure that other states do not take advantage of them.
Before great powers take offensive actions, they consider carefully about the balance of power, about the costs and risks, and about both how much power they could increase and how much power their rivals could obtain. Nevertheless, great powers can never be sure how much power is enough to secure their survival in the ruthless international system. They not only strive to be the strongest, but also to be the only power – hegemony in the world. Mearsheimer defines:“ A hegemon is a state that is so powerful that it dominates all the other states in the system. ” (Mearsheimer, 2001, p. 0) In international relation history, no state has ever achieved global hegemony because of the stopping power of water. The best condition great power could obtain is to become regional hegemony, which dominates distinct geographical areas. Once a great power becomes regional hegemony, it does not want any peers to contend with it. Moreover, neorealism considers three possible systems – unipolar system, bipolar system, and multipolar system. Among all three systems, multipolar system is the most dangerous system, and is more war – prone than is bipolar system.
Neorealism occasionally advocates fostering human rights. Great powers might pursue non-security goals as long as the requisite behavior does not violate the paramount goal – pursuit of relative power. Indeed, these non – security goals sometimes complements relative powers, such as economic capability or national wealth is the foundation and resource of military power. Furthermore, great powers seek to prevent war and keep peace, however, they are not driven by a will to build an independent world, but largely by narrow calculations about relative power.
Cooperation among nations is difficult to achieve and always difficult to sustain since great powers always consider relative gains by themselves comparing to relative gains by another great power. Neorealism certainly asserts no amount of cooperation can eliminate the dominating logic of security competition. Neorealism locates causation in the anarchic international system, which forces great powers to act aggressively toward each other in the survive competition.
Great powers compete to maximize their relative power not because they have a will to fight with each other but because this is the only optimal way to ensure their survival in the dangerous world. Neorealism concludes that the view of long lasting peace is not likely to be achieved by great power become global hegemony, so the world is condemned to perpetual great power competition. There are three great debates referring to a series of disagreements between international relations scholars. The second great debate was a dispute between neorealism and neoliberalism.
Neoliberalism, a response to neorealism, views international system more optimistically, and argues the fact that the world has become more interdependent in economics and in communications as well as in human aspirations. Neoliberals agree with neorealism that the anarchic nature of international system is an inevitable circumstance that states have to confront. Nevertheless, there is a general tendency of interdependence among actors across national boundaries to cooperate with each other in modern international system, which gives rise of the idea of complex interdependence.
While neorealism views that cooperation between states can rarely happen, neoliberalism holds a greater belief in cooperation according to the prisoner’s dilemma. A tale of two prisoners who are questioned after committing an alleged crime. Neither prisoner knows that is being said by the other, but if they both cooperate and confess to the crime, their time in prison will be shortened, where if neither confesses the sentence length will be even shorter.
However, if one confesses and the other does not, then the one who confessed will be set free and the one who did not will receive a lengthy jail term (Mingst 2004, p. 63). Neoliberalists use this to explain why states could wish to cooperate with each other, and even in an anarchic system of autonomous rational states, cooperation can still emerge through the building of norms, regimes and institutions. The importance of such cooperation is that actors have to play the game in an indefinite number of interactions, which abundantly conforms to the real international system.
Moreover, neoliberalism recognizes not only sovereign states as important and rational actors, but also other actors are both principal and logical. Neoliberals always focus on absolute gains instead relative gains in such cooperation relationship. Multiple channels, summarized as interstate, trans – governmental, and transnational relation, provides more freedom to connect societies by both informal ties between nongovernmental elites and formal ties between governmental foreign offices. Through these channels political change occurs, in turns, states become more interdependent.
Since there are various cooperative issues in different areas among states, trans – governmental politics will make goals of states difficult to define. Neoliberalism also acknowledges more contributions made by international organizations, which helped to activate potential coalitions and strive to obtain opinion by every state. Furthermore, all non – security issues can no longer be subordinated to military security, which gives opportunities to a multitude of different agendas coming to the forefront.
The line between domestic and foreign policy becomes blurred, and there is no hierarchy among issues. Military capability does not dominate the agenda anymore, and gradually becomes a less effective instrument to achieve other objectives such as economic and social goals. Nevertheless, the existence of mutual dependence does postulate another type of power. Sensitivity and vulnerability are two essential dimensions of states.
When a costly imposed situation from outside happens, the amount of sensitivity shows how quickly this imposed situation could affect one country from various aspects, and the vulnerability can be defined as an actor’s liability to suffer costs imposed by external events even after politics have been altered. Vulnerability is particularly important of interdependence structure. Even in the world of interdependence, there is no evenly balanced mutual dependence. Neoliberalism asserts two types of dependence, asymmetries in dependence, and symmetries in dependence, the latter hardly emerge.
States can be less dependent or more dependent because of their level of sensibility and vulnerability. Less dependent actors can often use the interdependent relationship as a source of power in bargaining over an issue and perhaps to affect other issue. Power not only can be thought of as military capability, but also can be viewed as the ability of an actor to get others to do something they otherwise would not do. Neoliberalism claims that states act according to their self – interest to cooperate with each other, and to make the world more interdependence through different gendas. The use of military force is not exercised when complex interdependence prevails, so therefore the world could become more peaceful and prosperous. Bibliography Mearsheimer, John. The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. United States: 2011. Waltz, K. Theory of International Politics. United States: McGraw-Hill: 1979. Mingst, K. A. Essentials of International Relations. New York: W. W. Norton: 2004. Axelrod, Robert. The Evolution of Cooperation. United States. Keohane, Robert O. Power and Interdependence. United States: 2000.

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