Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Waltz, Schweller and Brooks: Realism and Neorealism

Waltz: Realist Thoughts and Neorealist Theory
Schweller: Neorealism's Status Quo Bias
Brooks: Dueling Realism

PART I: Summary

In the Waltz article, the main point was that neorealism (Waltz's theory) differs from classical realism because classical realism is a thought whereas neorealism is a complete theory (p. 71). This distinction is made based on Waltz's definition of a theory: a construct that forms a domain (p. 69), or structure, that indicates some factors are more important than others (p.71) and specifies what the relation between that parts of the structure are (p.71). Additionally, Waltz insists that theory isolate one domain (p.71). Lastly Waltz insists that a theory must drastically simplify the world with its assumptions, which will, of necessity, convey an impractical, or false, picture of the world (p.72).

Waltz claims that classical realism developed concepts – such as power – but was a mere thought and not a theory because there is no separate structure to analyze the concept within (p.71). Waltz compares this to neorealism which has a structure – anarchy (p.74) and allows him to isolate the domain in which the theory operates, and so can analyze the causal relationship of the actors within the structure (p.77-78). Additionally, Waltz, by defining theory as separate from the reality of the world (p. 72) defines classical realism as a thought because it dealt with the realities of the world (development of foreign policy), rather than dealing with the world of international relations as an abstract concept (p.71). Waltz differentiates neorealism by saying it is not concerned with the realities, but with the abstract concept of power as a means and not an end (p.80). In this manner, Waltz claims that classical realism is a thought, and neorealism is a theory.

The main point of the Brooks article is that realism really has two different branches: neorealism (which is based on Waltz) (p.445) and postclassical realism (based on everything else) (p.445) that can be separated based on their main assumption (p.446) of possibility of conflict (p.447) vs. probability of conflict (p. 456). Furthermore, the article states that two other differences in assumptions follow from this distinction (p.446): neorealism assumes that states heavily discount the future because short-term needs of security trump everything else (p.450) and military preparedness trumps all other concerns (p.452), while postclassical realism does not regard the future as subordinate to the short-term security needs (p.458) and there can be trade-offs between military and economic needs (p.461). As a result of these variations in assumptions, there has been very little useful dialogue between the branches of realism (p.472) and there has been confusion between the two branches about what is being tested in the various theories (p.473).

The main point in the Schweller article is that neorealism overlooks the possibility of an aggressor in the system, and instead focuses on a status-quo explanation of international relations (p.92, 101) – which doesn't create the security dilemma that neorealism is concerned with, because there can be no aggressor (p.91, 102). Status-quo states maximize security because their concern for their survival (p.101) – or what they posses – is more important than what the might want (p.99). Waltz describes a security dilemma as a situation in which states are not sure of each other's intentions, and therefore arm for the sake of security, which causes other states to feel insecure and arm more heavily (p.117). However, in Waltz's system, this behavior is irrational because you know the intent of the other states – their security and survival (p.118).

PART II: Analysis

The Waltz article seems very clear about what the separation is, for Waltz, of theory from thought. His main distinction seems to be that theory is abstract, whereas thought is concerned with actual explanatory issues (p.71-72). Waltz discards the notion that a theory ought to be concerned with prediction and manipulation in order to lead to prediction (p. 73). This certainly explains the lack of predictive value in Waltz's theory. However, it does not explain why a theory shouldn't be predictive. He simply states that being predictive is a quality associated with testing the theory rather than creating the theory (p.73-74). It is almost as if he creates his theory on false assumptions (p.72) and doesn't care if it can be tested – because that's not the point of a theory. However, how is this scientific, as Waltz claims to be (p.73)?

In the Brooks article, there are various decision-making models examined for neorealism (Waltz) (p. 454), and the only models that work for neorealism are models that represent a static decision where the decision will always be the same no matter what the situation (p.454). This seems to be because Waltz is not concerned with reality and how a theory can be tested (p.72-73 of Waltz) – he is only concerned with explaining a small section of the world based on simplified assumptions (p. 71 of Waltz). This lack of concern with reality is demonstrated when, in the Brooks article, postclassical realism (with its many variables of economy, military and technology (p.456)) can deal with the real world better than neorealism can (pp. 465 (Japan/Germany), 465 (Ukraine), 467 (cooperation)). However, this article makes a case for realism – at least the postclassical kind with a variety of variables –being relevant to the real world today. This is counter to some of the other articles which indicate that realism, with its power emphasis, isn't relevant in today's world of ideologies and multiple variables. Rather, this article seems to suggest that the more variables realism has, the more utility it will have in the world today.

The last critique of neorealism is based on the circular argument of neorealism. Basically, states arm because they fear for their security and they fear for their security because other states are arming (p. 117). This type of spiral conflict would not be necessary if neorealism had a variable to prevent it – mainly a change in the system. However, when a theory is structurally static, as neorealism is, it prevents the concept of change from entering into the system. Hence, the logic that the system is based on is circular and faulty. Notice that anarchy is absent from this logic circle, so is it so important to the neorealism viewpoint as the other points and assumptions of the theory?

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