1. Waltz or `Politics without Policy'
The primary goal of Kenneth Waltz in developing a structural theory was its desire to make realism `scientific'. The classical realists had argued that the ultimate cause of war had to with man's evil, power-seeking nature: states formed by men inherently tend to seek power and this entails conflict among them (Morgenthau 1964, 4). However, for Waltz, this was a subjective (unfalsifiable) and thus unscientific argument to account for international politics. Like the classical realists, Waltz start by assuming that states are the major actors in international politics: "non-state actors must "rival" the states to be taken into account (1979, 88-9). He then focuses on the structure of the international system and emphasizes the difference between international and domestic systems. Unlike the domestic systems, the international system does not have an authority above the nation states to enforce the rule of law. Therefore, contrary to the `order' in domestic systems, it is "anarchy" that reigns in the international system (111). And it is this anarchic nature of the system that induces states to be always concerned about security and that leads them to seek power to ensure their survival (85). At a minimum, states seek their own preservation and, at a maximum they drive for universal domination (116). Hence, in Waltz's realism, `prudence' takes the place of `human nature' as the source of power-seeking behavior that which eventually results in conflict. "Anarchy" is therefore the key concept in Waltz's structural realism because all his following arguments derive from the assumption that the international system is anarchic.
Like the classical realists, Waltz assumes that states are rational entities as well (106). Rationality in realist understanding refers to being capable of making cost/benefit analysis and ranking the available options accordingly. Rationality of states combined with the anarchic nature of the international system leads Waltz to his third assumption: egoism. Rational states under anarchy become "self-seeking entities", because altruism brings self-destruction (107). It is "meaningless" for a state to think of others when this has a potential to hurt oneself (ibid).
The combination of anarchy, rationalism, and egoism takes Waltz to another crucial concept of structural realism: self help. In an anarchic world comprised of self-seeking entities, no one but the states themselves are responsible for their own security. States must rely on the means they can generate and the arrangements they can make for themselves (108). Thus, the international imperative is "take care of yourself," (103). This self-help character of the international system leads states to be concerned for "relative gains": it is the distribution, not the production, of wealth and power that is at stake in an anarchic world (Waltz 1964, 178). This then induces the states to perceive international politics as a zero-sum game: one's gain becomes another's loss. As a result, states rarely cooperate among each other (103) and conflict becomes the norm in international politics.
Waltz's reasoning, which starts from anarchy and ends in the absence of cooperation, can be shown in a chart as such:
ANARCHY ' Concern for Survival ' Egoism ' Self-help ' Concern for relative gains ' NO COOPERATION
The final point in Waltz's neorealism is the "balance of power" argument. Waltz argues that in non-cooperative systems states maintain relative stability and order only by balancing one another's powers. Thus, Waltz concludes that balance-of-power politics prevail in anarchic systems that are populated by units wishing to survive (120). Indeed, Waltz believes that balance-of-power theory explains why a certain similarity of behavior is expected from similarly situated states (122).
In addition to the above assumptions and arguments, Waltz assumes the states as unitary (unit-like) actors with same function yet differing capabilities: "we abstract from every attribute of states except their capabilities," (94) because "the units of an anarchic system are distinguished primarily by their greater or lesser capabilities for performing similar tasks," (92). Actually, this is a natural outcome of the preceding assumptions. In an anarchic and self-help world, which makes the security concerns take precedence over all other "low" issues and which creates a non-cooperative environment, it is the capabilities of states that determine foreign policy not their idiosyncratic characteristics.
2. Criticizing Waltz: An Irresistible Temptation for Scholarship
Almost all of Waltz's assumptions as well as his leaps from one assumption to the other have been criticized by numerous IR scholars so far. I divide the criticisms into two main categories: ontological ones (by which I mean the ones that address directly to Waltz's assumptions) and epistemological ones (by which I mean the ones that target Waltz's leap from one assumption to the other).
A. Ontological Critiques of Waltz or "Unrealistic Realism"
a.1) Anarchy that wasn't...
Because Waltz's structural realism is based upon his conceptualization of `anarchy', the critiques that challenge to the assumed anarchic nature of the international system take precedence over others. First, Cox (along with other Marxists of all types) argued that neorealism's emphasis on anarchy is misleading in that it disregards the hierarchical nature of the international system. "Vertical dimension distribution of power" is as important a determinant in world politics as the horizontal dimension of rivalry (1981, 215). In line with Cox's argument, Wallerstein argued that the core-periphery dichotomy within the world-system helps create a relatively stable international environment (1974). Second, the English School has been a harsh critique of the anarchy assumption as well. Contrary to realism's understanding of the international system as a system of states formed by separate entities, the English School tended to view the international system as a society of states, which are bound together with common interests, common values, rules, laws, and institutions (Bull 1995, 13). Bull maintained that anarchy is just one element of the international system, neither the only nor the predominant one. States purposively try to limit the negative effects of anarchy by working together to preserve a sufficient level of order to attain their `higher' goals (20). The most challenging argument of Bull was that war and great power politics, which are associated with conflict by neorealism, many times play positive roles with respect to the preservation of the international order. Third, neoliberal institutionalists argued that the international system was only `conditionally' anarchic (Millner 1991; Robert Powell 1991). Milner pointed out the interdependence and balance-of-power politics among states. She criticized Waltz for ignoring these features of the international system that help preserve the global order and thus exaggerating the anarchic nature of the system. Finally, along with other constructivists, Wendt (1992) argued that there is no such thing as "the logic of anarchy" and that self-help does not follow from the anarchic nature of the international system: "If states find themselves in a self-help system, this is because their practices made it that way. Changing practices will change the intersubjective knowledge that constitutes the system," (407).
a.2) The state, they...:
The unitary state assumption of both realism and neorealism has been a target of harsh criticisms as well. Although Keohane pointed out the need for studying "internal-external interactions" to provide a better account of state behavior (1986, 191), neither him nor his institutionalist followers went into this area; they rather centered their studies on the role of international institutions in cooperation among states.
After accounting for the different domestic structures of states and the importance of these differences with regard to foreign policy making, Putnam (1988) and Allison & Zelikow (1999) argued that any explanation that excludes the influence of the "second image" on foreign policies of states is bound to be partial and indeterminate (Putnam, 430; Allison & Zelikow, 401). According to these scholars, states are not homogenous entities with a priori interests, but coalitions of different interest groups with only partially-overlapping preferences. Foreign policy of a state is shaped with the bargains, compromises, and accommodations of these interest groups (Putnam, 442; Allison & Zelikow 257). Therefore, Putnam suggests that we should treat the term `state' as a plural noun: not "the state, it...", but "the state, they..." (432).
Moravcsik's reformulated liberalism (1997) argues for the primacy of societal actors, i.e. individuals and groups, in foreign policy making of a state as well. He maintains that preferences of a state are "constructed and reconstructed" by the state-society interactions (518). States are "functionally differentiated" from one another, because the trade-offs between different groups that constitute a society yields different foreign policies which reflect "different combinations" of security, welfare, and sovereignty preoccupations (519).
The critique of Waltz' structural theory as to its failure to account for changes in the international system is also related to neorealism' downplaying the role of domestic structures in international politics. Ruggie (1983) argued that "structural change itself ultimately has no source other than unit-level processes," (152). Thus, Waltz' theory of international politics contains only a "reproductive logic", but no "transformational logic," (ibid).
B. Epistemological Critiques or "Irrational Realism"
b.1) Self-help or "I self-help you"?
The most concrete and convincing criticism of Waltz were the ones that were directed against his logical leap from anarchy to self-help. Neoliberal institutionalists argued that international anarchy combined with the egoism of states do not necessarily create a non-cooperative, self-help environment; rather, "rational egoism" often times induces states to cooperate. Thus, realist assumptions about world politics "are consistent with formation of institutionalized arrangements, containing rules and principles, which promote cooperation," (Keohane 1984, 67) Following Kant's "rational devil" analogy, Keohane maintained that egoistic governments "can rationally seek to form international regimes on the basis of shared interests (ibid, 107). The "shadow of future" (Axelrod 1984) makes states forward-looking and thus forces them to cooperate. Only a "myopic self-interest" understanding prevents states from cooperating when it is actually in their interest if the issue is evaluated with other issues (Keohane 1984, 99).
Keohane has emphasized the role of international regimes in promoting cooperation and in mitigating the anarchical nature of the international system. International regimes are valuable not because they enforce binding rules on others, "but because they render it possible for governments to enter into mutually beneficial agreements with others," (ibid, 13). He argues that by providing principles, norms, rules, and decision-making procedures, regimes "prescribe certain actions and proscribe others," (ibid, 59). Keohane opposes neorealism's argument on the insignificance of international institutions and argues that regimes can effect the interests and policies of states by influencing their "expectations and values," (ibid, 63). Although he accepts that international regimes are not "beyond the nation-state," he maintains that they are not pure "dependent variables" as argued by neorealist, but rather "intervening variables" with semi-independent effects on states' behavior (ibid, 64).
b.2) When zero is positive...
The issue of relative vs. absolute gains is actually deeply related with the self-help argument; however, given its central role in many discussions among IR scholar, it seems more appropriate to address it specially. Liberals and neoliberal institutionalists opposed neorealism's argument that relative gains concern is central to foreign policy-making; by contrast, they argued that the importance of relative gains is contingent upon the context of relation, the issue at hand, and the number of participants.
First, Robert Jervis (1978), Robert Axelrod (1984), and Robert Powell (1991) argued that relative gains do not matter in "repeated games." The "shadow of future" changes the payoffs of outcomes and thus increases the likelihood of mutual cooperation. Powell also maintained that relative gains do not matter if the use of force is not at issue (229). In non-security issues like trade, development, health, communication, and the environment, states tend to compromise their relative gains preoccupations and focus more on their own gains. After all, the ultimate end of a state is not only the preservation of its citizens but also the prosperity of them (Waltz 1964, 173).
To me, Morton Kaplan's (1957) argument that "states measure relative gains against the system, not against each other" has been the single best argument that illuminates the relative vs. absolute gains dispute without making a security/non-security split. In case of cooperation with another state, states are more concerned with the `net' gains of this cooperation with respect to their status in the international system than with their `relative' gains or losses with respect to the state they cooperate with. For instance, the US was not highly concerned with its relative loss vis-à-vis Europe in its reconstruction of the European economies in the aftermath of WWII, because this relative loss would bestow her high gains with respect to its relations with the Soviet Union. Similarly, the US was not so much worried about whether Mexico's incorporation to NAFTA would put the US in a relatively better or worse situation vis-à-vis Mexico; what the US was more concerned about was the potential benefits regarding the maintenance of the competitiveness of the US firms vis-à-vis those of Japan and the East Asian NICs. Duncan Snidal (1991) furthers this point by arguing that as the number of participants (n) increases, states become less concerned with relative gains than absolute gains (171). The neorealist case for relative gains concern is thereby weak outside tight bipolar world.
C. A Personal Critique: Neorealism or the End of Politics as We Knew It
Aside from all its logical and substantive flaws, the most-bothering aspect of neorealism, to me, has been its apolitical character. Given the neorealist assumptions, we do not need to study politics, because rational billiard balls who seek power in an anarchic world are bound to behave in a predestined way anyway. As Ashley put, politics in neorealism becomes "pure technique: the efficient achievement of whatever goals are set before the political actor" (1984, 292). Interestingly though, neorealism (like other realist theories) deals with how states should act as well as how they act. And this gives us enough reason to suspect that even the realists themselves are not `true believers' of their own arguments.
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