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Neo Neo Debate in International Relations

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 1893 words Published: 11th Jul 2017

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The study of international relations is best thought as a protracted competition between the realist, liberal, and radical traditions (Stephen,1998). In international relations theory, there are four Great Debates argued by the international relations scholars. In this paper, the neo-neo debate to the study of international relations is the topic used to talk about. The neo-neo debate in international relations is known as a debate between scholars of neo-realist international relations theory and neo-liberal institutionalism (Steve, 2001). The neo-neo debate is not a debate between two completely opposite viewpoint. This paper is finished under the hammer at revealing the key features and the main contributions of the neo-neo debate to the study of International Relations.

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This paper is divided into three sections to finish the work. In the first section, the key features of the neo-neo debate to the study of International Relations show in this part. Section two focuses on the main contributions of the neo-neo debate to the study of International Relations. The last section relates to the conclusion of the whole paper.

2.0 Discussion about the features and contributions

Neorealism and neoliberalism are the two most contemporary approached to international relations theory and they create the neo-neo debate which has dominated much of international relations theory for the last decade (Powell, 1994). Arguments on the consequence of both anarchy and gains and the prospect for peace form the basis of the neo-neo debate (Taylor, 2006). Though neorealist and neoliberal international relations theorists pursue different arguments, the neo-neo debate is not a debate between two polar opposite worldviews. They share assumptions which focus on similar questions and they agree on very similar, through not identical, set of assumptions about international politics. In a word, there are both similarities and disparity between neorealism and neoliberalism. Taylor (2006) thinks the similarities between thee two schools are from the neorealism. First, both of them think states are rational egoists. Unlikely the classical liberal proposition that the idealistic “self-abnegation” and “self-regarding” motivations of states (Hobson 2000), neoliberal scholars agree with neorealists that states are rational egoists so that they are self -interested. This similarity formed those baseline assumptions that neoliberalists began to question and argue with neorealism.

Despite there are similarities between neorealism and neoliberalism, neoliberals maintained many of the key assumptions from the classical liberals. In this paper, there are some points under the neo-neo debate of international relations to show the incomplete opposite between neorealist and neoliberal international relations theories. Exactly those assumptions borrowed from neorealism and core classical liberalism produce the debate between neorealism and neoliberalism. First, the notion of anarchy in international relations is the most significant part among these two schools. To the classical realist, anarchy means that there is no “government of governments” and no authority in the world greater than the sovereign state (Fraser, 2010). But to the neorealist, anarchy is the organizing principle that makes states to act the way they do. The world is constituted of nations which are governed by states in relative anarchy (Axelrod & Keohane 1993). States are supposed to be rational and unitary actors. In the world of anarchy, states have to use self-help as a predominant tool (Setear, 2010). Waltz (1979) thinks that the effect of anarchy is to create the principle of self-help, because a state can only depend on itself for its survival. States are unable to control in an anarchic climate so that they should prepare to be challenged by opportunistic, stronger states (Hobson 2000). Neorealists stand on the belief that the state is the most important actor in international politics to peace, but they also feel powerless to influence the peaceful action of other states. Though neoliberalism is different from Neorealism, it does not vote down the anarchic nature of the international relations. Scholars of neoliberalism emphasis the neorealists have exaggerated the importance and effect of anarchy. They think anarchy can be mitigated by international regimes and institutions. That is to say they argue that the neorealists underestimate the effect of institutionalised cooperation. Neoliberalism believes that interstate cooperation could create institutions and regimes for the peaceful settlement of conflicts (Sheldon, 1994).

Another core disparity within the neo-neo debate is the problem of absolute and relative gains. The difference of this disparity is obvious. Neorealists think that all states must be concerned with the absolute and relative gains which produce by international agreements and cooperative efforts. While neoliberals are less concerned about relative gains and considers that both of them will benefit from absolute gains. For neorealists, winning at all costs can make their friends be their enemy in war in the pursuit of relative gains (Taylor, 2006). For neoliberals, if states only pursue absolute gains, they can cooperate with each other and avoid conflict by maintaining the international principle through a “positive game” (Viotti and Kauppi 1987). This disparity has significant implications on the problems of security concerns of states and the prospects of world peace (Taylor, 2006). Hence neorealists consider conflicts as inevitable outcomes of international relations. Besides, neorealists focus more on the short-term gains of states in competition while neoliberals pay more attention on longer-term absolute gains (Taylor, 2006). Hence neorealists place a higher emphasis on power-maximizing and security dilemma than economic prosperity (Baldwin, 1993). Neoliberals support that international institution can play an important role in resolving conflicts and that it can make states cooperate and work toward long-term gains rather than relay on short-term gains. Though neoliberals agree with neorealists on that states act only out of self-interest, they can not share the suggestion of neorealists about the possibility of international cooperation.

The neo-neo debate has been the dominant focus in international relations theory scholarship in the USA for the last dozen years (Baylis & Smith, 2006). Neorealism and neoliberalism turn to be conceptual frameworks which show people the images of the world rather than just theories. Both neorealism and neoliberalism have its limits and deficiencies. Neoliberalism emerged as a new liberal response to realism during the last decade of the Cold War. Interestingly, the neoliberals borrow many neorealist assumptions but distance themselves from the classical liberalist theory so they can restore integrity to liberal ideals (Taylor, 2006). Neoliberalism is always named as neoliberal institutionalism in the academic world. The development of neoliberal institutionalism presents a serious challenge for neorealist analysis. But the debate between them is still an inter-paradigm one. The neo-neo debate refers to the problems of state power, relations among different states, and relations between state and non-state actors. Baylis and Smith (2006) point out neorealism and neoliberalism share many assumptions about actors, values, issues and power arrangements in the international relations theories.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the appearance of non-state actors induced the world structure to change. Keohane and Nyne (1972) argue that a ‘definition of politics in terms of state behaviours alone may lead us to ignore important non-governmental actors that allocate view.’ Then the neoliberalism came out to explain the changes of world structure. Neoliberals think states should not be seen as the unique actor in international politics. Its assumptions clearly challenges and distinguishes itself from neorealism. Neorealists think that states are the primary and unitary actors in international politics. But the truth is globalization provides opportunities and resource for transnational social movements have challenged the state authority and control in some areas (Baylis and Smith, 2006). That is no exaggeration to say that the neo-neo debate comply with the development of international politics.

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During the development of international relations theory, the development of each school is rooted in argument between different schools. Through those arguments, scholars of international relations extend their thoughts and explore more possibilities, shine their studies, and finally accept the strong points of the others and the weak points belong to themselves. Then they can rethink profoundly on their own theories and make recreation on their works. That is how neorealists and neoliberals affect each other and the development of international relations theories. Powell (1994) points out that much of the neo-neo debate can be seen as a response to Waltz’s Theory of international politics and a reaction to those response. Waltz’s key contribution to the international relations theories is the creation of neorealism which is also called structural realism by him. Neorealism is a reaction to the classical realism and leads the response from neoliberals. Then the debate between neorealism and neoliberals came out to discuss problems which exit in the international politics. The debate between neorealism and neoliberalism is much more deepen and careful than the debate between realism and liberalism. The approach used within the debate has its new features in evidence. It also opens up a new from of debate which not exclude each other and not easy to assert the fault of the other.

Some scholars also think the neo-neo debate between these two theories have failed to contribute as much as they could have to the international relations theory. Powell (1994) thinks neorealism and neoliberalism have serious internal weakness and limitations which lead to the neo-neo debate present confuse rather than clarification. Maybe this shortcoming can also be looked as a contribution to the international relations theories. Scholars need to find much more directions for the future theoretical work after they have realized there were weakness and limitations within the neo-neo debate.

3.0 Conclusion

Today, many of foundations of the interstate system are challenged by change in international norms. These changes have led to a debate among scholars about whether those international relations theories will survive in its current form or evolve into another theory that does not come out. Neoliberals believe economics is a driving force which can encouragingly increase cooperation among nations in international relations. While neorealists think that military force will continue decide what happens in the world. Both of them are right to some extant. And none of them will replace another. May another new debate will replace them someday, the neo-neo debate is still a great evolution of the study of international relations.


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