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  • Cited by 39
  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: June 2012

1 - Introduction: Neoclassical realism, the state, and foreign policy

Summary

How do states, or more specifically the decision-makers and institutions that act on their behalf, assess international threats and opportunities? What happens when there is disagreement about the nature of foreign threats? Who ultimately decides the range of acceptable and unacceptable foreign policy alternatives? To what extent, and under what conditions, can domestic actors bargain with state leaders and influence foreign or security policies? How and under what circumstances will domestic factors impede states from pursuing the types of strategies predicted by balance of power theory and balance of threat theory? Finally, how do states go about extracting and mobilizing resources necessary to implement foreign and security policies? These are important questions that cannot be answered by the dominant neorealist or liberal theories of international politics.

Consider the following: in 1945, and again in 1990, the United States emerged victorious from a major war or an enduring rivalry. In each postwar period, officials in Washington faced the daunting task of assessing and responding to new and unfamiliar international threats. However, the resulting shifts in grand strategy were not predictable solely based upon an analysis of relative power distributions or the dynamics of American domestic politics at the time.

The bipolar distribution of power following the Second World War does not explain why the United States embarked upon a grand strategy of containment, which eventually mixed both realpolitik and liberal internationalist ends and means, over the alternative of competitive cooperation with the Soviet Union through a sphere-of-influence arrangement in Europe.

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