Published online by Cambridge University Press: 22 May 2009
The newest liberal institutionalism asserts that, although it accepts a major realist proposition that international anarchy impedes cooperation among states, it can nevertheless affirm the central tenets of the liberal institutionalist tradition that states can achieve cooperation and that international institutions can help them work together. However, this essay's principal argument is that neoliberal institutionalism misconstrues the realist analysis of international anarchy and therefore it misunderstands realism's analysis of the inhibiting effects of anarchy on the willingness of states to cooperate. This essay highlights the profound divergences between realism and the newest liberal institutionalism. It also argues that the former is likely to be proven analytically superior to the latter.
1. Major realist works include:Carr, E. H., The Twenty Years Crisis, 1919–1939: An Introduction to the Study of International Relations (London and New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1964)Google Scholar; Morgenthau, Hans J., Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, 5th ed. (New York: Knopf, 1973)Google Scholar; Aron, Raymond, International Relations: A Theory of Peace and War, trans. Howard, Richard and Fox, Annette Baker (Garden City, N.J.: Doubleday, 1973)Google Scholar; Waltz, Kenneth N., Man, the State, and War: A Theoretical Analysis (New York: Columbia University Press, 1959)Google Scholar; Waltz, , Theory of International Politics (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1979)Google Scholar; Gilpin, Robert, U.S. Power and the Multinational Corporation: The Political Economy of Foreign Direct Investment (New York: Basic Books, 1975)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Gilpin, , War and Change in World Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. This essay does not distinguish between realism and “neorealism,” because on crucial issues—the meaning of international anarchy, its effects on states, and the problem of cooperation—modern realists like Waltz and Gilpin are very much in accord with classical realists like Carr, Aron, and Morgenthau. For an alternative view, see Ashley, Richard, “The Poverty of Neorealism,” in Keohane, Robert O., ed., Neorealism and Its Critics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), pp. 255–300Google Scholar.
2. Richard Rosecrance provided the insight that realism presents an essentially pessimistic view of the human condition: this is noted by Gilpin, Robert, “The Richness of the Tradition of Political Realism,” in Keohane, , ed., Neorealism and Its Critics, p. 304Google Scholar. This pessimism in realist theory is most clearly evident in Morgenthau, Hans J., Scientific Man vs. Power Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1946), especially pp. 187–203Google Scholar.
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10. Liberal institutionalist theories may be distinguished from three other variants of liberal theory. One of these, trade liberalism, articulated by Richard Cobden and John Bright, finds that international commerce facilitates greater inter-state cooperation: for Cobden, see Wolfers, Arnold and Martin, Laurence W., eds., The Anglo-American Tradition in Foreign Affairs (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1956), pp. 192–205Google Scholar; with respect to both Cobden and Bright, see also Waltz, , Man, State, and War, pp. 98–99, 103–7Google Scholar. A second variant, democratic structural liberalism, posited by Immanuel Kant and Woodrow Wilson, finds that democracies based on national self-determination are conducive to greater international cooperation. For Wilson, see Wolfers, and Martin, , eds., Anglo-American Tradition, pp. 263–79Google Scholar; for Kant and Wilson, see Waltz, , Man, State, and War, pp. 101–3, 109–11, 117–19Google Scholar; and Doyle, Michael W., “Liberalism and World Politics,” American Political Science Review 80 (12 1986), pp. 1151–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Finally, a liberal transactions approach suggests that private international interactions promote international integration: see Deutsch, Karl et al. , Political Community and the North Atlantic Area (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1957)Google Scholar; and Russett, Bruce, Community and Contention (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1963)Google Scholar. Citing an unpublished study by Keohane, Nye recently refers to the first two variants as commercial and democratic liberalism, respectively, and suggests that the third might be termed sociological liberalism. See Nye, Joseph S. Jr, “Neorealism and Neoliberalism,” World Politics 40 (01 1988), p. 246CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
11. In a way quite different from liberal institutionalist theories, world systems analysis also challenges realism's focus on states. It suggests that they are not ultimate causes of world events but instead are themselves resultants of the development of a single world capitalist economy. See Wallerstein, Immanuel, “The Rise and Future Demise of the World Capitalist System,” in Wallerstein, , The Capitalist World System (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), pp. 1–37Google Scholar; and Wallerstein, , The Modern World System, vol. 1 (New York: Academic Press, 1974)Google Scholar.
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36. Keohane, indicates in After Hegemony (pp. 14, 16)Google Scholar that he does not seek the wholesale rejection of realism. However, on the issue of the prospects for cooperation, like the question of international institutions, he does seek to refute realism's conclusions while employing its assumptions. He notes (p. 29) that “[smarting with similar premises about motivations, I seek to show that Realism's pessimism about welfare-increasing cooperation is exaggerated,” and he proposes (p. 67) “to show, on the basis of their own assumptions, that the characteristic pessimism of Realism does not follow.” Keohane also suggests (p. 84) that rational-choice analysis “helps us criticize, in its own terms, Realism's bleak picture of the inevitability of either hegemony or conflict.” Finally, he asserts (p. 84) that rational-choice theory, “combined with sensitivity to the significance of international institutions,” allows for an awareness of both the strengths and weaknesses of realism, and in so doing “[w]e can strip away some of the aura of verisimilitude that surrounds Realism and reconsider the logical and empirical foundations of its claims to our intellectual allegiance.”
37. On the importance of Prisoner's Dilemma in neoliberal theory, see Axelrod, , Evolution of Cooperation, p. 7Google Scholar; Keohane, , After Hegemony, pp. 66–69Google Scholar; Axelrod, and Keohane, , “Achieving Cooperation,” p. 231Google Scholar; Lipson, , “International Cooperation,” p. 2Google Scholar; and Stein, , “Coordination and Collaboration,” pp. 120–24Google Scholar.
38. See Keohane, , After Hegemony, p. 77Google Scholar; Axelrod, and Keohane, , “Achieving Cooperation,” pp. 234–38Google Scholar. For a demonstration, see Lipson, “Bankers’ Dilemmas.”
44. Axelrod, , Evolution of Cooperation, pp. 6, 14Google Scholar. Stein acknowledges that he employs an absolute-gains assumption and that the latter “is very much a liberal, not mercantilist, view of self-interest; it suggests that actors focus on their own returns and compare different outcomes with an eye to maximizing their own gains.” See Stein, , “Coordination and Collaboration,” p. 134Google Scholar. It is difficult to see how Stein can employ a “liberal” assumption of state interest and assert that his theory of regimes, as noted earlier in note 34, is based on the “classic [realist?] characterization” of international politics.
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53. Axelrod, and Keohane, , “Achieving Cooperation,” p. 226Google Scholar. Similarly, Lipson notes that while institutionalized mechanisms (such as governments) that guarantee the enforcement of contracts are available in civil society, “the absence of reliable guarantees is an essential feature of international relations and a major obstacle to concluding treaties, contracts, and agreements.” The resulting problem, according to Lipson, is that “constraints on opportunism are weak.” See Lipson, , “International Cooperation,” p. 4Google Scholar. Also see Keohane, , After Hegemony, p. 93Google Scholar, and Stein, , “Coordination and Collaboration,” p. 116Google Scholar.
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61. On the tendency of states to compare performance levels, see Young, Oran, “International Regimes: Toward a New Theory of Institutions,” World Politics 39 (10 1986), p. 118CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Young suggests that realists assume that states are “status maximizers” and attribute to states the tendency to compare performance levels because each seeks “to attain the highest possible rank in the hierarchy of members of the international community.” The present writer offers a different understanding of realism: while realism acknowledges that some states may be positional in the sense noted by Young, its fundamental insight is that all states are positional and compare performance levels because they fear that others may attain a higher ranking in an issue-area.
62. As Waltz suggests, “When faced with the possibility of cooperating for mutual gains, states that feel insecure must ask how the gain will be divided. They are compelled to ask not “Will both of us gain?” but “Who will gain more?” If an expected gain is to be divided, say, in the ratio of two to one, one state may use its disproportionate gain to implement a policy intended to damage or destroy the other.” See Waltz, , Theory of International Politics, p. 105Google Scholar.
64. In her review of Axelrod, Joanne Gowa cites the 1979 Waltz passage employed in note 62 and, following Taylor's, terminology in Anarchy and Cooperation (pp. 73–74)Google Scholar, suggests that a state may display “negative altruism.” Furthermore, according to Gowa, a state “may seek to maximize a utility function that depends both on increases in its own payoffs and on increases in the difference between its payoffs and those of another state.” See Gowa, Joanne, “Anarchy, Egoism, and Third Images: The Evolution of Cooperation and International Relations,” International Organization 40 (Winter 1986), p. 178CrossRefGoogle Scholar. This portrays realist thinking in a manner similar to that suggested by Young and cited above in note 61. However, this understanding of state utility cannot be readily based on Waltz, for his core insight, and that of the realist tradition, is not that all states necessarily seek a balance of advantages in their favor (although some may do this) but rather that all fear that relative gains may favor and thus strengthen others. From a realist viewpoint, some states may be negative altruists, but all states will be “defensive positionalists.” Waltz emphasizes that he does not believe that all states necessarily seek to maximize their power: see his statement cited in note 60 and see especially his “Response to My Critics,” p. 334.
65. Waltz, for example, observes that “the impediments to collaboration may not lie in the character and the immediate intention of either party. Instead, the condition of insecurity—at the least, the uncertainty of each about the other's future intentions and actions—works against their cooperation.” See Waltz, , Theory of International Politics, p. 105Google Scholar.
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67. Similar to the concept of a state “sensitivity coefficient” to gaps in jointly produced gains is the concept of a “defense coefficient” in Lewis Richardson's model of arms races. The latter serves as an index of one state's fear of another: the greater the coefficient, the stronger the state's belief that it must match increases in the other's weapons inventory with increases in its own. See Richardson, Lewis F., Arms and Insecurity: A Mathematical Study of the Causes and Origins of War, eds. Rachevsky, Nicolas and Trucco, Ernesto (Pittsburgh and Chicago: Boxwood Press and Quadrangle Books, 1960), pp. 14–15Google Scholar.
68. Robert Jervis also argues that realist theory posits at least partially interdependent state utility functions. See Jervis, , “Realism, Game Theory, and Cooperation,” World Politics 40 (04 1988), pp. 334–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
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70. Contextual influences on state sensitivities to gaps in gains are explored in Grieco, Joseph M., “Realist Theory and the Problem of International Cooperation: Analysis with an Amended Prisoner's Dilemma Model,” Journal of Politics 50 (08 1988) pp. 600–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
71. In contrast, Keohane finds that that relative gains concerns may impede cooperation only in cases in which states pursue “positional goods” such as “status”; see Keohane, , After Hegemony, p. 54Google Scholar. Similarly, Lipson expects that states will be sensitive to relative gains only in security relationships; see Lipson, , “International Cooperation,” pp. 14–16Google Scholar.
74. Axelrod, and Keohane, , “Achieving Cooperation,” p. 231Google Scholar; see also Stein, , “Coordination and Collaboration,” pp. 123–24Google Scholar.
75. A crucial experiment seeks real world observations confirming one theory's empirical expectations in circumstances most unlikely to have done so unless the theory is very powerful, while simultaneously disconfirming a competitive theory's empirical expectations in circumstances most likely to have provided such confirming observations. On the methodology of crucial experiments, see Stinchcombe, Arthur L., Constructing Social Theories (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1968), pp. 20–28Google Scholar; and Eckstein, Harry, “Case Study and Theory in Political Science,” in Greenstein, Fred I. and Polsby, Nelson W., eds., Strategies of Inquiry, vol. 7Google Scholar of the Handbook of Political Science (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1975), pp. 118–20Google Scholar.
76. Such a crucial experiment would demonstrate realism's superiority over neoliberalism. On the other hand, if neoliberal theorists wanted to design a crucial experiment to demonstrate the superiority of their approach, they would focus not on North-North economic relations but rather on North-South relations or, better still, on East-West military interactions.
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