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International Relations Neo-realism and Neo-liberalism - David Sanders

David Sanders, Capítulo 17 del Volumen 2 del Nuevo Manual de Ciencia Política
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   Chapter 17 International Relations: Neo-realism and Neo-liberalism David Sanders THERE has been a dramatic increase in the diversity and range of theorizing about international relations over the past two decades. Not only has the analytical rigor of orthodox theoretical approaches been strengthened, but the introduction of additional perspectives has brought new theories, epistemologies and even ontologies to bear on traditional questions about inter- and intra-state behavior. This chapter focuses on the two main strands of the orthodoxy : neo-realism and neoliberalism. In particular, it seeks to assess how far the increased analytical rigor injected by game theory into the neo-realist/neo-liberal debate has contributed to our ability to explain or understand the behavior of state and non-state actors in the global system. I approach this task, first, by reviewing the logic which led scholars to import game theoretic language and models into the analysis of international relations in the first place. I then identify a limited number of analyric weaknesses that stem from this importation. Finally, I conduct a thought experiment which attempts to specify what neo-realism and neo-liberalism might look like if their efforts to constitute versions of rational choice theory were substantially downgraded. I describe the combined result as concessional realism   1  --a simple but flexible set of propositions about nation-state behavior in the contemporary international system. The research program suggested by concessional realism is rather different from that engendered by the current neo-realist-neo-liberal debate. It implies a much more direct focus on the problems of categorizing and identifying national and transnational interests. It also implies a much  ____________________ 1  This description derives from Spegele ( 1983). -428-  stronger focus both on the problem of Hobbesian fear ( Butterfield 1958) and on theory-guided empirical research which examines a wider range of real instances of foreign policy decision-making. I Origins: traditional realism, neo-realism and neo-liberalism The current concern of neo-realist and neo-liberal scholars with game theoretic formulations srcinated partly with Waltz's efforts (Waltz 1979) to convert traditional realism into a neo-realist or structural theory. Traditional realism was both a simple decision-making theory and a protostructural theory about outcomes in the international system (Morgenthau 1967; Carr 1946). In decision-making terms, it offered an unambiguous, if simplistic, analysis of foreign policy calculation. State strategy was aimed fundamentally at maximizing the state's interests and was underpinned by three Hobbesian motives: achieving and maintaining the state's security; satisfying the economic demands of politically significant sections of the domestic population; and enhancing the state's international prestige. The paramount need for security was best achieved by maximizing the state's power capabilities. Traditional realism took on the character of a protostructural theory in two senses. First, the condition of international anarchy (which derived from the absence of a Leviathan-like world government) was seen as the determining structural factor that lead decision-makers to adopt safety first strategies of realpolitik in order to protect and maximize the interests of their respective nation-states. Second, the character and outcomes of the interactions between different states were determined by the overall pattern of national interests: friendship and co-operation between states were considered to derive fundamentally from convergences of their respective national interests; enmity and confrontation from conditions of interest-divergence. Waltz's central claim was that any analysis of international politics which confined itself merely to the attributes of the (nation-state) units or to the interactions between units was fundamentally reductionist and therefore inadequate (Waltz 1979: 18-37). On the contrary, what was required was a thoroughgoing analysis of international structure and its consequences both for nation-state behavior and for the outcome of nation-state interactions. Notwithstanding Waltz's critique of the Hobson-Lenin thesis, what he attempted to develop was precisely what Marxism always claimed to provide: a structural explanation of state behavior. -429-  Waltz developed the notion of structural explanation in two ways. First, in his exposition of balance of power theory, Waltz (1979: 126) attempted to provide a structural explanation of the dominant alliance strategy (the avoidance of power preponderance) that states pursue. As in traditional realism, a pivotal role was accorded to the notion that under anarchic conditions there is no security for the  junior partner(s) in a winning coalition. Second, Waltz developed a structural explanation of system outcomes. Defining structure as a set of constraining conditions which produce a gap between intention and outcome, Waltz (1979: 89-93, 119-22) drew a powerful analogy between balance of power theory and the theory of perfect competition. Under perfect competition, because of the structure of the market in which there are no barriers to entry and perfect information, firms which aim to maximize profit end up minimizing it (i.e. earning a normal profit) because more firms enter the market if greater than normal profits are being made. Waltz argued that structure exerts a similar set of effects in international political systems, where a balance of power (the outcome) emerges fortuitously as a result of each state independently pursuing its own self-interest (the intention). The idea that outcomes occur which are neither intended nor desired by any of the actors involved had, of course, been a familiar theme in game theory since the 1950s. Indeed, Prisoner's Dilemma had long been recognized as a possible restatement of the Hobbesian security problem which was central to traditional realism (Axelrod 1970; Snyder 1971). It was therefore quite natural that the unintended and undesired outcome principle should have been taken up by a new generation of neo-realists who sought to develop it further both in terms of other sorts of game and in terms of iterated games. It was perfectly possible for international actors to prefer mutual co-operation, but the structure of the situation in which they found themselves produced an outcome of mutual defection. Equally naturally, neo-realism's neo-liberal opponents engaged in a similar exercise--though with the objective of showing that the structural constraints on co-operation implied by these games were far weaker than neo-realists supposed. In essence, Waltz's efforts to transform realism into a scientific, structural theory led directly to international relations theorists placing much more emphasis on game-theoretic approaches. The logic was simple. International relations theory should aspire to the status of structural theory; game-theoretic models described the structure of the situation in which nation-state decision-making takes place: it was obvious that the two should be combined to produce a new and more sophisticated theoretical apparatus--a task which both neo-realists and neo-liberals undertook with considerable vigor and enormous skill.  -430-  II Limitations of the game theoretic approach to international relations theory The neo-realist/neo-liberal debate has been criticized from a wide range of different positions, ranging from post-Marxian critical theory to feminism. Much of this criticism has been epistemological. Neo-realists and neo-liberals are variously accused of failing to recognize that their theories merely serve to justify an existing power structure (Peterson 1992); of reifying the concept of causality (Ashley 1986); of underestimating the importance of political discourses (Enloe 1994; Campbell 1992); and of failing to understand the centrality of subjective meanings, rules and rule-following behavior (Hollis and Smith 1990). I am not concerned to dwell on such critiques here. Rather, I seek to provide a critique that accepts the basic neo-positivist epistemology of the neo-realists and neo-liberals (Keohane 1993: 297). Given that it is not possible here to review all of the limitations of game theoretic approaches to understanding state behavior, I focus on two key problems: their failure to provide a convincing analysis of the notion of interests and their ineffective specification of the notion of structural constraints. A Problems relating to the role of national interests   In traditional realist theory, national interests played a pivotal role. In the discourse of foreign policy debate, the national interest --even in an age of proliferating international institutions and regimes--still appears to pre-occupy the private calculations and public utterances of a wide range of national leaders. The continuing centrality of interests (though they admittedly do not refer explicitly to national interests) is also acknowledged by Axelrod and Keohane ( 1993: 88): Perceptions define interests . . . [To] understand the degree of mutuality of interests (or to enhance this mutuality), we must understand the process by which interests are perceived and preferences determined Axelrod and Keohane ( 1993: 88) go on to specify the way in which rational choice theorists approach this problem: One way to understand this process is to see it as involving a change in payoffs, so that a game such as Prisoners' Dilemma becomes more or less conflictual. . . I have no quarrel whatsoever with Axelrod and Keohane's assertion that we must understand the process by which interests are perceived. As I -431-
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