Structural realism

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Structural realism

I. Introduction Of the general theories of international relations, neorealism – or structural realism, as Waltz called it – is the one that is best confirmed by events after 1989 between the United States of America (USA) and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Neorealism as a theory argues that the actions of states, especially the recurring ones, can be explained by the prevailing factors that serve to limit the choices available to them. Thus, it is not about each state making moves with only itself in mind.

It is about each state seeing itself in relation to the rest. Doing so requires the recognition of the others in the picture, what they are made of and what they can do. Moreover, each state can choose to make its move without being subjected to the acquiescence of the rest. In the arena of international competition, therefore, an anarchy is upheld. “Anarchy,” in the context of how Author Waltz used it, does not mean absence of government or the reign of chaos and disorder.

Instead, anarchy is defined as a condition characterized by the lack of an established sovereign body to rule over the countries. Indeed, while order is maintained by governments in their respective countries, there is no authorized body to ensure that the same order is upheld among such independent countries across the globe. In fending for themselves, nations are constrained to act for the best interests and security of their government, their economy and their people. They cannot always do what they would have wanted to do to bag the best package for their respective countries.

Furthermore, the best package that states could aspire for was not the accumulation of power by itself. Instead, states are ultimately after their security and this same security is rather endangered and not protected by beefing up on weaponry and war ammunition. (Waltz, 1979, p. 15) Thus, nations just do what would yield better results for their people given the system-level structure that they are part of. This is the reality that they have to face; powerful as they are on their own, nations and states cannot always get what they want in matters that involve others.

Neorealists focus not on the individual human nature, morality, power and interest that prevail in each state. They rather dwell on the conditions that arise from the interplay of the individual characteristics of the involved states. II. Arguments Against Neorealism While neorealism as presented by Waltz makes sense, it has turned out that some actual historical events could not be explained by the same theory. An example of such events is the non-violent end of the USSR: When a powerful state disintegrates, the result is usually conflict or even civil war.

So the relatively peaceful collapse of the Soviet Union – once the world’s largest empire, most brutal regime and most menacing threat to Western civilization – and the subsequent peaceful end of the Cold War probably ranks as the most remarkable achievement of the 20th century. (McFaul, 2006, Carnegie Endowment website) III. Neorealism and Its Focus on the System In contrast to other theories such as realism, idealism and radicalism, neorealism focuses on the system as being more than the sum of its parts.

(Walters, 1995, GlobalSecurity. org website) Each state is part of an anarchy; there are, thus, no rules. Danger, then, lurks in every possible move at any chosen time by any of the parties involved. For Waltz, the existing structure that is composed of the involved states is the best determinant of how each state is supposed to act with its security as the primary goal. The most powerful state in any given group is seen to behave in a completely different manner when made to be part of another group that renders it as the least powerful.

It is all a matter of what each state is made of, the synergy that it is part of, and the structure that it belongs to. Basing on just its own traits and characteristics would not suffice for the determination of its behavior in the international scope. IV. Neorealism and the Beginning of the Cold War The Cold War was waged between the United States of America (USA) and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) – the former embraced the ideals of capitalism, while the latter, of communism.

(Coldwaressay webpage) Neorealism contends that the Cold War was the inevitable result of the emergence of two superpowers, the USA and the USSR, at the end of World War II. Through all the years since they claimed victory – both being important members of the alliance that won the war – over Germany and the countries that sided with it, each one necessarily had to regard with fear and guarded wariness the possibility that the other would venture to ignite another world war.

And should there be war of any kind, it was foreseen to be not a simple dispute between two warring nations but rather a huge conflict that will involve interlocking interests and complicated parties with political and economic interests: Further, since each superpower possessed extensive resources and could be expected to take whatever action necessary to preserve its relative status through the efficient mechanisms of internal balancing, the Cold War could be expected to be enduring. (Walters, 1995, GlobalSecurity.

org website) Another argument purports that countries do not engage in balancing behavior, as written by Waltz in describing the consequences of neorealism. Countries, instead, have been more inclined to bandwagon and to be in the same side as the more powerful ones amongst them. While neorealism is supposed to not so much care about amassing power as an end in itself, consideration of who has power seems to be an influence that prevails when a state decides on who to side with. V. Neorealism and the End of the Cold War

Indeed, the peaceful and rapid end of the Cold War is not in complete accordance with the concept of the neorealism theory. It has turned out that the move by the Soviet leader Mikhael Gorbachev to end the Cold War was not triggered by the existing structure composed of how things were between USSR and USA. Such move was rather necessitated by USSR’s economic weakness – as an internal and domestic cause, it was totally not considered from the neorealism viewpoint. VI. In Defense of the Validity of Neorealism

In the light of how neorealism seemed to have failed to predict the end of the Cold War and the manner in which it ended, a defense of the theory has been variously written. One of them goes: In search for parsimony, Waltz confused stability to mean both “enduring” and “not war prone. ” Bipolarity was not war prone, but it was not enduring, as it contained the seed of its own demise. This idea also fits Stephen Kramer’s image of the international system as tectonic plates. Uneven growth creates pressures between the plates. Without gradual adjustment pressures build until an earthquake brings realignment.

Waltz theory well explains why gradual adjustment did not occur, making an earthquake inevitable. The theory cannot explain the earthquake’s details and why it was peaceful. Understanding what happened requires a clearer picture of Neorealism’s limitations and how it claims the hidden structures of international relations act. Neorealism paints only a broad picture, rather than attempting to explain particular policies. To expect it to do so would be like expecting the theory of universal gravitation to explain the wayward path of a falling leaf.

A theory at one level of generality cannot answer questions about matters at another level of generality. ” (Walters, 1995, GlobalSecurity. org website) Conclusion While there may indeed seem to be snags in the applicability of Neorealism as the theory of international relations to best explain the events after 1989, well-researched and written documents serve to argue that it simply requires knowing how far Neorealism ought to characterize the aftermath of the end of the Cold War to see that it remains to be valid in the overall view.

The main events are explained by Neorealism in a manner that is way better than any other theory – realism, idealism and radicalism – can attempt to accomplish. Works Cited Waltz, Kenneth. Man, the State, and War. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001. Waltz, Kenneth. Theory of International Politics. USA: McGraw-Hill, Inc. , 1979. McFaul, Michael. “After the Fall. ” 24 December 2006. Washington Post. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

24 December 2008 <http://www. carnegieendowment. org/publications/index. cfm? fa=view&id=18933&prog=zru >. Walters, Wally. “International Relations Theory and the Process of Ending the Cold War. ” GlobalSecurity. org. 24 December 2008 <http://www. globalsecurity. org/military/ library/report/1995/WWZ. htm> Cold War History Essay. “Cause of Cold War. ” Posts (Atom). 24 December 2008 < http://coldwaressay. blogspot. com/2007/12/cause-of-cold-war. html>


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