Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mearshiemer and Grieco: Realism and Neorealism Revisited

Mearshiemer: Tragedy of Great Power Politics, chapters 1, 2, and 9
Grieco: Realist International Relations Theory

Part I: Summary

Mearsheimer has a theory of "offensive realism (p.4, 21)" which is that states are always aggressively pursing the goal of ultimate power and becoming a hegemony (p.29) because a hegemony is the ultimate means of guaranteeing a state's survival in an anarchic world (p.40). This means that states will aggressively (p.34) pursue maximization of their relative power because that is how a great power maximizes their security (p.21). This type of aggressiveness (p. 34) by states is caused by being apprehensive about the ultimate interests of other states, awareness that the states operate in a self-help system (anarchy (p.30)), and the understanding that the best way to ensure survival is to be the most powerful state in the system (drive to hegemony) (p.33). In offensive realism, the structure of the system (anarchy) is the determining factor from which all the other factors and assumptions of the theory flow – including the drive to hegemony (p.10). Due to this system, a status quo state (a state which isn't maximizing power) is rarely found because each state in the system is competing to maximize their power, rather than focusing on security alone (p.21).

The result of this aggressiveness, according to Mearsheimer, is that it causes war (p. 335). However there are two factors in determining the risk of an outbreak of wars: power and polarity (p. 5, 356-358). In considering polarity, bipolarity is more stable than balanced multipolarity which is more stable than unbalanced multipolarity (p. 5, 358). An unbalanced multipolarity is the most unstable because it has a potential regional hegemony and their drive for supremacy may lead to an outbreak of war (p. 345). Additionally, other great powers do not want the balance of power to be shifted to hegemony, and so they will work to "balance" the potential hegemony and that can result in war (p.345).

The Grieco article states that realism is a well-developed theory of international relations which focuses on the system that states function in, but that there are several problems (including the question of if the states are security or power maximizers (p.186)) and real world happenings that cannot be accounted for (international cooperation (p.184)), with the realist theory (p.191). The core of the realist theory is based on several assumptions that provide a model in which to view the world: the nation-state is the central actor (p.164), anarchy is the system (p. 164) and that states act rationally, autonomously and as units in the system (p. 165-166). These assumptions lead to several propositions that are common in realist theory: that states are interested in security (p. 166), that anarchy leads to states being defensive positionalists (p. 167), and that states are interested in the survival of their autonomy and independence (p. 167-168).

Grieco uses these assumptions and propositions to test whether the theory of realism has any utility to determine expectations about state behavior and international outcomes (p. 168-177). Specifically, Greico finds that there is solid evidence to support the claim that states do act in a manner that is free from domestic concerns (p. 169) and that the expectation of states acting in a balancing manner is sometimes true and that different realist theorists view balancing differently (p. 170-171). However, Greico also determines that the expectations of bipolarity being more stable (p. 173) and the prediction that states, acting under the realist theory, will lack of international cooperation (p. 176) are not empirically based, and they need more development (possibly with the addition of several variables) before these expectations of realism can be held to be true.

Part II: Analysis

Greico's main problem is that he tries to compact all the various realist theories into one theory that is based on main assumptions about the states and the propositions that realists derive from these assumptions about state behavior (p. 163). He does this in order to deal with realism as a whole in answering the questions of critics and proposing solutions. However, realism has many theorists, and many of these theorists do not have similar assumptions. While it would be difficult to find a realist that doesn't assume that the central actor is a nation-state, you do not have to look far to find realists who do not deal with anarchy as a central assumption (p. 164). Morgenthau and the Cottam theories do not deal with anarchy as a central proposition.

However, Greico assumes that all realist theories deal with anarchy (p. 165). A more creative approach would be renaming this assumption as a "self-interest" assumption – whereby a state acts in its own self-interest because… Under this type of model, anarchy would be a reason that states act in their own self-interest. In addition to the collapse of the differences in the realist theories, Greico tries to respond to all the common critiques of realism: lack of international change (p.178), unit-level variables (p.181), international cooperation (p.184) and the security vs. power maximization (p.186). Rather than trying to respond to each of these critiques, and thereby needing to collapse realism into one theory, it would have been interesting to see how each theory responds to these critiques on its own.

Mearsheimer's theory of offensive realism rests on five basic assumptions: the international system is anarchic, that great powers possess military capabilities, that states can never be certain about other state's intentions, survival is the primary goal of states, and that great powers are rational actors (p.30-31). Mearsheimer's contention is that these five assumptions force states to act aggressively (p.32). I do not see the utility of the first assumption. It could be replaced by an assumption that all states act in their best interest. Additionally, the third assumption – that intentions can never be sure – is blatantly incorrect. If you are unsure of the intentions of another state, a d├ętente strategy is a method for determining them. Additionally, Mearsheimer says that the intention of all the states is to drive towards hegemony because that is their best chance for survival (p.40). Therefore, the intentions of all the states are included in the theory – they are not unknown. If the assumptions on which the theory is based are untrue, then the theory cannot logically flow from the assumptions and remain true as a theory.

Additionally, Mearsheimer lacks a description of power – except to say it is a means to an end of security. He equates power maximization to security maximization. Therefore, Mearsheimer is wrong in his theory of offensive realism.

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