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Making sense of survival: refining the treatment of state preferences in neorealist theory

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2013

Abstract

The assumption that ‘states' primary goal is survival’ lies at the heart of the neorealist paradigm. A careful examination of the assumption, however, reveals that neorealists draw upon a number of distinct interpretations of the ‘survival assumption’ that are then treated as if they are the same, pointing towards conceptual problems that surround the treatment of state preferences. This article offers a specification that focuses on two questions that highlight the role and function of the survival assumption in the neorealist logic: (i) what do states have to lose if they fail to adopt self-help strategies?; and (ii) how does concern for relevant losses motivate state behaviour and affect international outcomes? Answering these questions through the exploration of governing elites' sensitivity towards regime stability and territorial integrity of the state, in turn, addresses the aforementioned conceptual problems. This specification has further implications for the debates among defensive and offensive realists, potential extensions of the neorealist logic beyond the Westphalian states, and the relationship between neorealist theory and policy analysis.

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Articles
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Copyright © British International Studies Association 2013 

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97 Alexander B. Downes and Jonathan Monten, ‘FIRCed to be Free: Foreign-Imposed Regime Change and Democratization’, Paper prepared for the International Studies Association annual meeting, New Orleans (2010). Also, see Fazal, State Death, p. 77.

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102 Examples are too many to list here, but some are soft balancing, balance of threat/risk/interest, omnibalancing, bandwagoning for profit, piling-on, and leash-slipping. See Pape, Robert Anthony, ‘Soft Balancing against the United States’, International Security, 30:1 (2005), pp. 745CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Walt, Origins; Taliaferro, Jeffrey W., ‘Power Politics and the Balance of Risk: Hypotheses on Great Power Intervention in the Periphery’, Political Psychology, 25:2 (2004), pp. 177211CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Schweller, Randall L., Unanswered Threats: Political Constraints on the Balance of Power (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University, 2006)Google Scholar; David, Steven R., ‘Explaining Third World Alignment’, World Politics, 43:2 (1991), pp. 233–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Schweller, ‘Bandwagoning for Profit’; Layne, Christopher, ‘The Unipolar Illusion Revisited: The Coming End of the United States' Unipolar Moment’, International Security, 31:2 (2006), pp. 741CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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