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Realism and cooperation GV516 week 17 Introduction • Realism was the dominant paradigm in international relations after the second world war. It paints a grim picture of the international system and chances for international cooperation. In fact, according to many realists states only care about security issues and survival in an anarchic world. States are competitive and use whichever means guarantees their security. Neoliberal institutionalism such as the game theoretic and rational choice approaches which we will look at next week, grew out of realism or at least with reference to it. • Realism and neoliberal institutionalism do not really aim at explaining the same thing since realism is mainly concerned with security and not cooperation. However, in the late 80s early 90s realists engaged in a debate with neoliberal institutionalism about the likelihood of international economic cooperation. • Today we will first develop a realist picture of the world, ask how realists view institutions and under which conditions they believe cooperation to be possible. Realism • The basic insight of realism is that in an anarchic world states have to be uncertain about others‟ intentions and thus international politics is a steady struggle for power in order to address the security dilemma resulting from international anarchy. • As a consequence of the struggle for power cooperation between states, which might happen, for example in the form of security alliances, does not change anything about the basic underlying structure of interaction, the security dilemma never vanishes! Realism’s five assumptions • The international system is anarchic in nature (does not mean chaotic), i.e. system of independent units without governing authority. • States always have some ability to hurt another state. • Uncertainty about future intentions (especially the use of offensive weaponry). Note you do not have to assume that states have bad intentions ! • States seek to assure survival in the system, in fact that‟s their major priority. • States are rational and can think and act strategically. • Note that realism does not make any aggressive assumptions about states behaviour per se. In fact, as Mearsheimer points out, “the fundamental assumption dealing with motives says that states merely aim to survive” (p. 10). It is not one individual assumption that leads to the gloomy picture realism paints about the world, but the combination of all five assumptions (according to realists). • According to Mearsheimer it follows that: – States in the international system fear each other and since there is no central authority to protect them they have to prepare for war. – States aim to guarantee their own survival in a self-help system; they can‟t rely on anyone in the long run. Thus states aim to maximise their relative power position in the system. • In relation to the global economy this means (according to Grieco and Ikenberry 2003): – States will try to enhance national growth and capacity. – States will protect their autonomy, i.e. avoid dependencies on particular other states that could be a danger to them in the future. – States are concerned about relative gains others make. • This leads Grieco and Ikenberry (2003, p. 105) to suggest that “states are profoundly ambivalent about world markets” pointing to the difficulties of maintaining economic growth at competitive rates while not getting dependant on other states or giving away a crucial advantage to an adversary. Realism on Institutions • Realists do not claim that states never cooperate, and they don‟t claim either that states do not utilise institutions to cooperative ends at times. However, realists‟ view of institutions is that they emerge as the consequence of actions of self-interested actors trying to maximise their power and thus the set-up of an institution would reflect the (security) interests of the powerful states. Institutions are designed in a way that allows powerful states to either increase their power or maintain their power. Institutions are a mere mirror of the distribution of power in the international system. • Mearsheimer suggests that NATO was “an American tool for managing power in the face of the Soviet threat” (p. 14); similarly Waltz has recently desceibed NATO of an instrument of American power over Europe. • Realists do not believe that institutions have any independent impact on outcomes, they are, if at all, intervening variables. They do not have any independent impact since they are explained themselves by the distribution of power. And the distribution of power also explains other outcomes such as war, alliances, cooperation or non-cooperation. The example Mearsheimer gives to illustrate this is the following: NATO certainly played a role in preventing world war III, but it was a manifestation of the distribution of power, and it was the distribution of power (i.e bipolarity, balance of power) and not the institution that prevented war. Realism on cooperation There are two arguments we are going to look at, the “theory of hegemonic stability” going back to Kindleberger and the absolute versus relative gains argument. Theory of hegemonic stability • The argument goes back to Kindleberger and basically maintains that cooperation will only be possible if there is a hegemonic power that will profit from that cooperation and is prepared and has the capabilities to pay the costs to enforce such an act of cooperation. • This theory is rooted in Olson‟s theory of collective action. Olson argues that in large groups, where the action of one individual does not make any noticeable difference and thus strategic interaction does not play any role, it is not rational for anybody to contribute to a public good, except that there is an individual which has such a strong incentive such that s/he provides the good unilaterally, regardless whether others contribute. Since we are talking about a public good, no one can be excluded from the benefits once they are produced. • There is a tendency for the small to exploit the large who will provide the public good. • In terms of international relations this concept can be categorised as a realist concept since capabilities is the factor that determines who is the “large” individual. • Kindleberger thought of an international economic order (a public good in his view) when developing his theory. • Hegemonic stability theory applies this argument to international regimes and holds that (1) regimes are established and maintained by a hegemon (2) regimes decline when the hegemon‟s power declines You might have noted that realist do not anymore claim that a hegemon is a necessary condition for cooperation (see Grieco and Ikenberry 2003, p.113), rather they are now talking about „leadership‟ when discussion HST. • There are - at least - three problems with the theory: (1) The logic basically applies to public goods and many issues requiring cooperation (such as trade) are not public goods (even though some authors make different claims), at least not pure public goods (the regime itself might be a public good however). (2) It is doubtful that the number of actors in the international system is big enough to warrant the conclusion that states do not act strategically and that any one state‟s action does not make any difference to other state‟s actions. As we shall see next week actors confronted with strategic interaction can cooperate for public goods. (3) Empirically there a number of cases that seem to contradict hegemonic stability theory. Examples are the GATT / WTO that did not collapse after the hegemon declined (in relative terms); additionally some environmental regimes (such as the Montreal Protocol) were established at a time when US hegemony had already declined). Relative gains issues • According to realists, cooperation between states is difficult in absence of a hegemon for two reasons: – first because states might defect and – second because there are relative gains considerations. • Relative gains in economic cooperation matter since relative economic strength directly feeds into relative military strength and thus relative power. • Rational choice / game theory deals with the first concern, but generally neoliberal institutionalists assume that states try to maximise their absolute gains and are not concerned with relative gains. • The absolute vs. relative gains problem in its extreme shows how much the different perspectives look at different things! Where institutionalists see benefits from cooperation and thus a chance to cooperate, realists see a threat to a states security and thus no chance for cooperation.
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