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Theories of neorealism and neoliberalism

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Many theories of international relations were created and developed as solution to have a harmonious international system. They all attempt to explain the role of the state on the international level such as neorealism and constructivism. For a very long time, Neorealism and Neoliberalism were the theories that were preeminent in International Relations. Both were used to give positive explanation of the cold war. In fact, their theories coordinated the current international world such as the bipolar state. They were both developed in the 1970s as the new kind of liberalism and realism. In the post-cold war, constructivism was introduced, and International relation was studied deeper. Their perspective of International relation seemed to be an even out to rationalism that was taking over. Social constructivism risen aiming to create a disagreement between the rational and the reflective. Throughout this essay I will focus on the differences between the neorealism and Constructivism/Social Conservatism, and their applicability in International Relation.

Neorealism Theory is a sort of rational approach to International Relations. It’s was Kenneth Waltz, one of the main thinker of the theory, critics to Hans Morgenthau classical realism. Although very similar, neorealism mostly focuses on the Anarchical structure of International relation, where there is no ‘central monopoly of legitimate forces’. To develop his theory, states were considerate as “Units” that would do anything to survive. ( Waltz, 1988, 618) Neorealism believes that state is the primordial factor in the world politics, in which they all behave alike. State are responsible for their own actions and the result of those actions is what Waltz believes to be the “Balance of Power”. Indeed in his book Theory of International politics, he states that “Balance of power theory claims to explain the results of states action, under giver conditions, and those results may not be foreshadowed in any of the actors’ motives or be contained as objectives in their policies.” (Waltz, 1979, 118)

In addition, neorealist claim that they are self-help system where they all aim for their own interest and none of them would compromise their interests for the sake of other states. A prime example would be the Syria refugee crisis, where all of them have failed to agree on how to accept the refugee. This shows a significant absence of cooperation between states because each worry about the outcome it might have for them. In self-help system, Waltz state that “units worry about their survival’ (waltz, 1979, 105). He emphasizes the importance of economic and military power since all of them want to ‘increase profit’ and have the necessary means to protect themselves in case of foreign attack. A friend of today can be an enemy of tomorrow. As for identities and interest, neorealism thinks that they are accustomated and established.

On the other hand, we have constructivism, which is more an ontology than a theory. Dr Hagerty defined ontology as the nature of belief, what can be known, what’s in the universe, the entities that you made part of your theory. Constructivism argue that states has identities. The ephemeral fluidity of states identities biases their actions in international affairs. It is very important for a state to acknowledge that, since it allows their policy makers to see how the constant change in social values and norms, that are fundamental to communal identity, can alter or is altered by International relation. Nonetheless, constructivism is blamed for not recognizing material power and its influence. They focus more on the general thoughts of the instruments of power. Similarly, to neorealism, the importance of materials factors is not worth giving attention. According to Wendt, constructivism is a social theory in which people based their actions on the meanings that the objects and actors have for them (Wendt 1992). Thus, the perception of each other create structures that align actions.

Furthermore, according to Ted Hopf, one of the prime concept of constructivism is a ‘intersubjective set of norms and practices’ (Hopf, 1998, 173) and without that structure is pointless. For constructivism, self-help might be a possible result of anarchy but not the sole one. They claim that a state identity is based on their history, their culture, their politics and social context. For constructivism, material power is important as much ‘discursive power’ on the contrary of neorealism that only focus on material power. Hopf highlights two sort of constructivism: Critical and Conventional (Hopf ,1998, 181). In critical constructivism, it’s all about power and discourse, while for conventional it’s all about norm and Identity. Plus conventional act between the international relation mainstream and critical theory (Hopf 1998, 183).

For constructivist international relation are above the rational state decision-making. They see every step of state actions in International affairs. Decision making is where the elites has to act. It is the voice of the crowd. For example, In World War II, Germany’s actions were mainly based on Hitler and the economic-social conditions. He was able to convince them that they need to increase their territory by using the fact that the Aryans needed more space. The Germans supported Hitler because they assumed that they were duped by the Triple entente (France, Great Britain and Russia) in the treaty of Versailles and the beginning of the economic depression. As a result, the Nazi German grew resentment for other European power. Changed were made in the action of Germans concerning their internal domestic affairs. Not only that there was a rational decision making but also an enlargement of domestic and individual factors that can affect a state action. However, the multi-level analysis can be affected by values and ideals within the state.

Both Neorealism and Constructivism are dominant international relations theories in which their underlying philosophy have been challenged from a range of perspectives. Scholars working in all fields have all put forward critiques of international relations’ explanations of state behavior. They both have strength and weakness. Constructivism help by providing ways for state actors to manage their state affairs. It opened up ways of thinking in International relation. While neorealism believes in the nation-state as the highest power. However, since constructivism weight more on the idea than the material, they are able to step forward to the social constitutions of reality. Constructivism makes international relation more “open minded” however we need both theories to explain international relation as all of them makes a valuable contribution to the understanding of the world. 

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