Neo-realism, Neo-liberalism and Security

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  • 8/10/2019 Neo-realism, Neo-liberalism and Security


    Neo-realism, Neo-liberalism and Security

    Shibashis Chatterjee

    The author is Senior Lecturer, Department of International Relations, Jadavpur University. Kolkata.

    Despite significant changes in International Relations (IR) in recent times, thestudy of the concept of security remains at the very core of the discipline. This isexplained by several indicators, the most important being the development of

    security paradigmsby nearlyevery recent approach to the study of IR, especiallyconstructivism, critical geopolitics, postmodernismand historical sociology.

    Although these approaches have strongly criticized the idea of &dquo;statesecurity&dquo;held by the realists, neo-realists and the neo-liberals, they have not been able todilute the centrality of security in IR. Further, some of these approaches-mostconspicuously the postmodernist and post-structuralist ones-have questionedthe possibility of IR being an independent academic discipline in the first place,by refusing to criticize the epistemology that generates a whole series of binarieslike inside/outside, hierarchy/anarchy, power/justice and state/community. Yet,even postmodernist and post-structuralist scholars acknowledged the importanceof security studies. It is little wonder, therefore, that the mainstream IR theoreticalparadigms like realism (and neo-realism) and neo-liberalism would contribute tothe burgeoning literature on security. Thus, whether one takes into considerationthe trends within the international system or the divergent theoretical perspectivesto understand such trends, the centrality of security is evident.

    The security-centredfocus of the discipline, however, is not without problems.Most studies on security, particularly in the Indian context, lack any theoreticalframework. Security issues are nearlyalways dealt with as empirical issues, witha bearing on policy making. Whether the focus is on critical issues like nuclearsecurity, international terrorism, or weapons of mass destruction, or on relativelysoft issues like environmental degradation,problems of refugees, migration and

    . internal displacement, the treatment is invariably empirical, without any attemptto place case studies in the broader context of theoretical or conceptual debates.

    This is not to deny that considerable theoretical work has been done on security,particularly by Western scholars. Based on the experiences of the West, most ofthese theoretical formulations &dquo;explain&dquo;the empirical reality of the West, but

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    Research for the present study was supported by the UGC-DSA (Phase-III) Programme of theDepartment of International Relations, Jadavpur University.

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  • 8/10/2019 Neo-realism, Neo-liberalism and Security



    their applicability to the study of security in the developing world remains ques-tionable. Sustained case studies need to be conducted to test the validity of most

    of these theoretical frameworks in the developing world and there is little evidenceof research in this regard. The vast theoretical difficulties on issues, actors, levels,methods and, perhaps most significantly, epistemologies complicate the matterfurther.

    This article provides a critical overview of a section of this literature. It examinestheoretical studies of security in recent years within the neo-realist and neo-liberaltraditions. The neo-realist literature is surveyed more extensively, because, com-pared to neo-liberalism, more significant contributions have come from withinthe neo-realist paradigm.

    Even as an overview, the study is a selective venture. The contributions whichwould be highlighted subsequently have been chosen solely by their analyticalworth and value for the paradigm as a whole. This article has also not focused onthe &dquo;othertradition&dquo;in the theoretical study of security, namely, constructivist,post-structuralist, postmodernist, feminist and critical geopolitics positions al-though a comprehensiveoverview of the theoretical literature on the subject shouldtake the rival tradition into account. But the requirement of minimum justice to atradition which is new, so variegatedand complex,demands an independent treat-ment of the subject.

    The Neo- realist/N eo -liberal Accounts of Security

    Kenneth Waltzs Theory of International Politics ( 1979) set the tone for some ofthe most controversial methodological and theoretical debates in IR in the 1980sand the 1990s. Within the empiricist/positivist tradition of IR, the advent of neo-realism or structural realism generated the neo-realist/neo-liberal debate on themeaning of anarchy, the nature of state conflicts and the possibility of cooperationin security affairs.22

    Since the second generation neo-realists and neo-liberals followed KennethWaltz, it is necessary to look into the arguments regarding anarchy and balance ofpower as postulatedby him. Waltzs central assumption is typically Hobbesian.He wrote: &dquo;Thestate among states, it is often said, conducts its affairs in the

    1 For an excellent survey of the neo-realist scholarshipsee John A. Vasquez, The Power of PowerPolitics: From Classical Realism to Neotraditionalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1998). The best collection on neo-realism remains Robert Keohane, ed., Neorealism and Its Critics(New York: Columbia University Press, 1986). For standard overviews of the debates followingneo-realism, see Steve Smith, Ken Booth and MarysiaZalewski, eds, International Relation Theoryand Beyond (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996) and Scott Burchill, Andrew Linklaterand Richard Devetak, eds, Theories of International Relations (Bangstoke: Macmillan, 1996).

    2 For the complete debate see, David Baldwin, ed., Neorealism and Neoliberalism: TheContemporary Debate (New York: Columbia UniversityPress, 1993). Also see Charles W. Kegley,Controversies in International Relations Theory: Realism and the Neoliberal Challenge (New York:St. Martins, 1995) and Michael Doyle and G.J. Ikenberry, eds, New Thinking in InternationalRelations Theory (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1997).

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    brooding shadow of violence. Because some states may at time use force, allstates must be prepared to do so-or live at the mercy of their militarily morevigorous neighbours. Among states, the state of nature is a state of war.&dquo;3Neverthe-less, Waltz thinks that chaos, destruction and death are closely associated withhierarchy (government) than is the case with anarchy. Thus he argues that thecriterion of use of force or the constant fear of its use is not sufficient to explainihe domestic/international divide. This has more to do with the different modes of

    organization in the use of force employed by the government within its territoriallimits and states outside in the context of anarchy.44

    From this central assumption, Waltz developed several keypropositionsregard-ing anarchy. Thus, he seeks to define the formal organization of a sphere whichwould decide the possibility (and desirability) of cooperation, interdependenceor integration among units. Within formally organized realm(s), units are forcedto specialize, since the resultant interdependence does not threaten their survival.In a sphere where there is no central, authoritative regulator, benefits of increasedspecialization become relative. Specialization, therefore, enhances, rather thandecreases, competition.The different units become closely interdependent, in directproportion to the degree of specialization achieved by them. Within an anarchicstructure units co-act, while within a hierarchical realm they interact. In an anarchicset-up, units are self-help entities. The idea of interdependence has a differentmeaning within nations than what it is among nations. It follows logically, then,that inequality in the distribution of the product (created by cooperative behaviour)adversely affects the prospect of an international division of labour. Even theprospect of large absolute gains for both parties is not sufficient to remove thefear of an unequal distribution of that gain. A state therefore constantly worriesabout the possiblegains that may favour others more than itself.6 The structure ofanarchy thus limits cooperation in two ways. First, it creates the possibility ofunequal distribution of cooperative gains. Second, it obstructs cooperation byaccentuating some form of dependenceon others through cooperative endeavoursand exchange of goods and services.

    Waltzs defence of anarchy challengesthe claims made by scholars like Vasquezwho describe the international system as modified anarchy. For Waltz, the meaningof anarchy is not only the absence of government but also the presence of chaosand disorder. Although it can be argued that the international system is very oftenorderlyand peaceful,permittinga whole range of institutions that seem to modifythe behaviour of the units, Waltz believes that such views confuse structure withprocess. Further, although they could be accurate in describing the given reality,they detract from the explanatory power of the theory,

    particularlyas their

    3 Kenneth W. Waltz, Theory of International Politics (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley,1979), p. 102.

    4 Ibid., p. 103.5 Ibid., p. 104.6Ibid., pp. 105-6.7 Ibid., p. 106.

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