Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Get access
    Check if you have access via personal or institutional login
  • Cited by 39
  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: June 2012

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


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.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO
Wohlforth, William C., “The Stability of a Unipolar World,” International Security 21, no. 1 (summer 1999), pp. 1–36
Brooks, Stephen G. and Wohlforth, William C., “American Primacy in Perspective,” Foreign Affairs 81, no. 4 (July/August 2002), pp. 20–33
Wohlforth, , “US Strategy in a Unipolar World,” in Ikenberry, G. John, ed., America Unrivaled: The Future of the Balance of Power (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002), pp. 98–120
Waltz, , Theory of International Politics (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979), pp. 39, 48–9, 58–9, 72, 78, 87, and 121–3
Waltz, , “Reflections on Theory of International Politics: A Response to My Critics,” in Keohane, Robert O., ed., Neorealism and its Critics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), pp. 328, 339–40, and 343
Layne, Christopher, Peace of Illusions: American Grand Strategy from 1940 to the Present (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006)
Dueck, Colin, Reluctant Crusaders: Power, Culture, and Change in American Grand Strategy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006)
Larson, Deborah Welch, Origins of Containment: A Psychological Explanation (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University, 1985), p. 3
Jervis, Robert, System Effects: Complexity in Political and Social Life (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), pp. 118–22
Friedberg, Aaron L., In the Shadow of the Garrison State: America's Anti-Statism and its Cold War Grand Strategy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), esp. chap. 2
Mearsheimer, John J., Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York: W. W. Norton, 2001)
Mearsheimer, , “Back to the Future: Instability in Europe after the Cold War,” International Security 15, no. 1 (summer 1990), pp. 5–56
Mearsheimer, , “The False Promise of International Institutions,” International Security 19, no. 3 (winter 1994/5), pp. 5–49
Labs, Eric J., “Beyond Victory: Offensive Realism and the Expansion of War Aims,” Security Studies 6, no. 4 (summer 1997), pp. 1–49
Jervis, Robert, “Understanding the Bush Doctrine,” Political Science Quarterly 118, no. 3 (fall 2003), pp. 365–88
Kaufmann, Chaim, “Threat Inflation and the Failure of the Marketplace for Ideas: The Selling of the Iraq War,” International Security 29, no. 4 (summer 2004), pp. 5–48
Dueck, Colin, “Ideas and Alternatives in US Grand Strategy, 2000–2004,” Review of International Studies 30, no. 3 (October 2004), pp. 511–35
Monten, Jonathan, “The Roots of the Bush Doctrine: Power, Nationalism, and Democracy Promotion in Grand Strategy,” International Security 29, no. 4 (spring 2005), pp. 112–56
Thucydides, , History of the Peloponnesian War, trans. Warner, Rex (1954; reprint New York: Penguin, 1988), p. 402
Rose, Gideon, “Neoclassical Realism and Theories of Foreign Policy,” World Politics 51, no. 1 (October 1998), pp. 144–77
Brown, Michael E. et al., eds., The Perils of Anarchy: Contemporary Realism and International Security (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995)
Christensen, Thomas J., Useful Adversaries: Grand Strategy, Domestic Mobilization, and Sino-American Conflict, 1947–1958 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996)
Schweller, Randall L., Deadly Imbalances: Tripolarity and Hitler's Strategy for World Conquest (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998)
Wohlforth, William C., The Elusive Balance: Power and Perceptions during the Cold War (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993)
Zakaria, Fareed, From Wealth to Power: The Unusual Origins of America's World Role (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998)
Rose, identifies Friedberg, Aaron L., The Weary Titan: Britain and the Experience of Relative Decline, 1895–1905 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988)
Leffler, Melvin P., A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration, and the Cold War (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992)
George, Alexander L. and Bennett, Andrew, Case Studies and Theory Development in the Social Sciences (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005), pp. 113–20
Trachtenberg, Marc I., “The Question of Realism: A Historian's View,” Security Studies 13, no. 1 (autumn 2003), pp. 156–94
Putnam, Robert D., “Diplomacy and Domestic Politics: The Logic of Two Level Games,” International Organization 42, no. 3 (summer 1988), pp. 427–61
Schweller, Randall L., Unanswered Threats: Political Constraints on the Balance of Power (Princeton, NJ: University Press, 2006)
Lobell, Steven E., The Challenge of Hegemony: Grand Strategy, Trade, and Domestic Politics (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2003)
Davidson, Jason W., “The Roots of Revisionism: Fascist Italy, 1922–39,” Security Studies 11, no. 4 (summer 2002), pp. 125–59
Davidson, , The Origins of Revisionist and Status Quo States (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006)
Taliaferro, Jeffrey W., Balancing Risks: Great Power Intervention in the Periphery (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004)
Edelstein, David M., “Managing Uncertainty: Beliefs about Intentions and the Rise of Great Powers,” Security Studies 12, no. 1 (autumn 2002), pp. 1–40
Schweller, Randall L., “Bandwagoning for Profit: Bringing the Revisionist State Back In,” International Security 19, no. 1 (summer 1994), pp. 72–107
Schweller, , “The Twenty Years' Crisis, 1919–39: Why a Concert Didn't Arise,” in Elman, Colin and Elman, Miriam Fendius, eds., Bridges and Boundaries: Historians, Political Scientists, and the Study of International Relations (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001), pp. 181–212
Byman, Daniel L. and Pollack, Kenneth M., “Let Us Now Praise Great Men: Bringing the Statesman Back In,” International Security 25, no. 4 (spring 2001), pp. 107–46
Ripsman, Norrin M., Peacemaking by Democracies: The Effects of State Autonomy on the Post-World War Settlements (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002)
Ripsman, , “The Curious Case of German Rearmament: Democracy and Foreign Security Policy,” Security Studies 10, no. 2 (winter 2001), pp. 1–47
McAllister, James, No Exit: America and the German Problem, 1943–1954 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University, 2002)
Brooks, Stephen G. and Wohlforth, William C.Power, Globalization, and the End of the Cold War: Re-Evaluating a Landmark Case for Ideas,” International Security 25, no. 3 (winter 2000/1), pp. 5–53
Cha, Victor D., “Abandonment, Entrapment, and Neoclassical Realism in Asia: The United States, Japan, and Korea,” International Studies Quarterly 44, no. 2 (June 2000), pp. 261–91
Cha, , “Hawk Engagement and Preventive Defense on the Korean Peninsula,” International Security 27, no. 1 (summer 2002), pp. 40–78
Sterling-Folker, Jennifer, Theories of International Cooperation and the Primacy of Anarchy: Explaining US International Monetary Policy-Making after Bretton Woods (New York: State University of New York Press, 2002)
Sterling-Folker, Jennifer, “Realism and the Constructivist Challenge: Rejecting, Reconstructing, or Rereading,” International Studies Review 4, no. 1 (spring 2002), pp. 73–97
Sterling-Folker, , “Realist-Constructivism and Morality,” International Studies Review 6, no. 2 (June 2004), pp. 341–43
Schweller, Randall L., “The Progressive Power of Neoclassical Realism,” in Elman, Colin and Elman, Miriam Fendius, eds., Progress in International Relations Theory: Appraising the Field (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003), pp. 311–47
Schweller, , “New Realist Research on Alliances: Refining, Not Refuting Waltz's Balancing Proposition,” American Political Science Review 91, no. 4 (December 1997), pp. 927–30
Wohlforth, William C., “Measuring Power – and the Power of Theories,” in Vasquez, John A. and Elman, Colin, eds., Realism and the Balancing of Power: A New Debate (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2003), pp. 250–79
Sterling-Folker, Jennifer, “Realist Environment, Liberal Process, and Domestic-Level Variables,” International Studies Quarterly 41, no. 1 (March 1997), pp. 1–25
Doyle, Michael, “Kant, Liberal Legacies, and Foreign Affairs, part 1,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 12, no. 3 (1983), pp. 205–35
Russett, Bruce M., Grasping the Democratic Peace (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993)
Elman, Miriam Fendius, “Presidentialism, Parliamentarism, and Theories of Democratic Peace,” Security Studies 9, no. 4 (summer 2000), pp. 91–126
Peterson, Susan, “How Democracies Differ: Public Opinion, State Structure, and the Lessons of the Fashoda Crisis,” Security Studies 5, no. 1 (autumn 1995), pp. 3–37
Ripsman, Norrin M., “Moving Beyond (or Beneath) the Democratic Peace Theory: Rediscovering Intermediate-Level Institutions in the Foreign Security Policy Literature,” in Lecours, Andre, ed., New Institutionalism: Theory and Analysis (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005), pp. 301–18
Moravcsik, Andrew, “Taking Preferences Seriously: A Liberal Theory of International Politics,” International Organization 51, no. 4 (autumn 1997), pp. 513–53, esp. pp. 516–20
Elman, Miriam Fendius, “The Need for a Qualitative Test of the Democratic Peace Theory,” in Elman, Miriam Fendius, ed., Paths to Peace: Is Democracy the Answer? (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997), pp. 1–57
Levi, Margaret, “The State of the Study of the State,” in Katznelson, Ira and Milner, Helen V., eds., Political Science: The State of the Discipline (New York: W. W. Norton), pp. 33–55
Buzan, Barry, Jones, Charles, and Little, Richard, The Logic of Anarchy: Neorealism to Structural Realism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), pp. 114–31
Cox, Robert W., “Social Forces, States, and World Orders: Beyond International Relations Theory,” in Keohane, Neorealism and its Critics, pp. 204–54
Ruggie, John Gerard, “Continuity and Transformation in the World Polity: Toward a Neorealist Synthesis,” in Keohane, Neorealism and its Critics, pp. 131–57
Spruyt, Hendrik, The Sovereign State and its Competitors: An Analysis of Systems Change (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994)
Wendt, Alexander, “Anarchy is What States Make of It,” International Organization 42, no. 2 (spring 1992), pp. 391–426
Doyle, Michael W., Ways of War and Peace: Realism, Liberalism, and Socialism (New York: W. W. Norton, 1997), p. 43
Carr, Edward Hallett, The Twenty Years' Crisis, 1919–1939: An Introduction to the Study of International Relations (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), pp. 64–5
Schweller, Randall L., “Realism and the Present Great Power System: Growth and Positional Conflict over Scarce Resources,” in Kapstein, Ethan B. and Mastanduno, Michael, eds., Unipolar Politics: Realism and State Strategies after the Cold War (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), chap. 2
Markey, Daniel, “Prestige and the Origins of War: Returning to Realism's Roots,” Security Studies 8, no. 4 (summer 1999), pp. 126–72
Gilpin, Robert G., “No One Loves a Political Realist,” in Frankel, Benjamin, Realism: Restatements and Renewal (London: Frank Cass, 1996), pp. 3–26, esp. pp. 6–8
Gilpin, , “The Richness of the Tradition of Political Realism,” in Keohane, Neorealism and its Critics, pp. 304–8
Spirtas, Michael, “A House Divided: Tragedy and Evil in Realist Theory,” in Frankel, Realism: Restatements and Renewal, pp. 385–423
Taliaferro, Jeffrey W., “Security Seeking under Anarchy: Defensive Realism Revisited,” International Security 25, no. 3 (winter 2000/1), pp. 128–61
Jervis, Robert, “Realism, Neoliberalism, and Cooperation: Understanding the Debate,” International Security 24, no. 1 (summer 1999), pp. 42–63
Brooks, Stephen G., “Dueling Realisms,” International Organization 51, no. 3 (summer 1997), pp. 445–77
Gilpin, Robert, War and Change in World Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981)
Gilpin, , “Theory of Hegemonic War,” in Rotberg, Robert I. and Rabb, Theodore K., eds., Origins and Prevention of Major War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp. 15–37
Organski, A. F. K., World Politics (New York: Knopf, 1958)
Kugler, Jacek and Organski, A. F. K., The War Ledger (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980)
DiCicco, Jonathan M. and Levy, Jack S., “The Power Transition Research Program: A Lakatosian Analysis,” in Elman and Elman, Progress in International Relations Theory, pp. 109–57
Ashley, Richard K., “The Poverty of Neorealism,” in Keohane, Neorealism and its Critics, pp. 255–300
Smith, Michael Joseph, Realist Thought from Weber to Kissinger (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1986)
Waltz, Kenneth N., “Realist Thought and Neorealist Theory,” in Rothstein, Robert L., ed., The Evolution of Theory in International Relations (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1992), pp. 31–8
Tellis, Ashley J., “Reconstructing Political Realism: The Long March Toward Scientific Theory,” in Frankel, Realism: Restatements and Renewal, pp. 3–104
Donnelly, Jack, Realism and International Relations (Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 2000)
Jervis, Robert, “Cooperation under the Security Dilemma,” World Politics 30, no. 2 (January 1978), pp. 167–214
Snyder, Glenn H., Alliance Politics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University, 1997)
Snyder, , “The Security Dilemma in Alliance Politics,” World Politics 36, no. 4 (July 1984), pp. 461–95
Grieco, Joseph, Cooperation among Nations: Europe, America, and Non-Tariff Barriers to Trade (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University, 1990)
Miller, Benjamin, When Opponents Cooperate (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995)
Glaser, Charles L., “Realists as Optimists: Cooperation as Self-Help,” International Security 19, no. 3 (winter 1994/5), pp. 50–90
Hobson, John M., The State and International Relations (Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 2000), pp. 17–63
Layne, Christopher, “The ‘Poster Child for Offensive Realism’: America as Global Hegemon,” Security Studies 12, no. 2 (winter 2002/03), pp. 119–63
Lee, Gerald Geunwook, “To Be Long or Not to Be Long: The Contradiction of Time Horizons in Offensive Realism,” Security Studies 12, no. 2 (winter 2002/3), pp. 196–217
Lobell, Steven E., “War Is Politics: Offensive Realism, Domestic Politics, and Security Strategies,” Security Studies 12, no. 2 (winter 2002/3), pp. 165–95
Mesquita, Bruce Bueno, The War Trap (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1981)
Mesquita, Bruce Bueno and Lalman, David, War and Reason (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992)
Vasquez, John, “The Realist Paradigm and Degenerative versus Progressive Research Programs,” American Political Science Review 91, no. 4 (December 1997), pp. 899–912
Waltz, Kenneth N., Foreign Policy and Domestic Politics: The American and British Experience (1967; reprint, Berkeley: University of California, Institute of Governmental Studies, 1992)
Legro, Jeffrey W. and Moravcsik, Andrew, “Is Anybody Still a Realist?International Security 24, no. 2 (fall 1999), pp. 5–55 at pp. 13–15
Moravcsik, Andrew, “Liberal International Relations Theory: A Scientific Assessment,” in Elman and Elman, Progress in International Relations Theory, pp. 190–3
Keohane, , “Theory of World Politics,” in Keohane, Neorealism and its Critics, pp. 164–5
Copeland, Dale, The Origins of Major War (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000), chap. 2
Wohlforth, William C., “Power Test: Evaluating Realism in Response to the End of the Cold War,” Security Studies 9, no. 3 (spring 2000), pp. 60–107, at p. 70
Kahler, Miles, “Rationality in International Relations,” International Organization 52, no. 4 (autumn 1998), pp. 919–41, at pp. 924–5
Morgenthau, Hans J., Scientific Man versus Power Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1946), p. 71
Walt, Stephen M., “The Enduring Relevance of the Realist Tradition,” in Katznelson and Milner, Political Science: The State of the Discipline, p. 211
James, Patrick, International Relations and Scientific Progress: Structural Realism Reconsidered (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2002)
Evera, Stephen, Guide to Methods for Students of Political Science (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997), pp. 17–21
Sterling-Folker, , “Realism and the Constructivist Challenge”; Bradley A. Thayer, “Bringing in Darwin: Evolutionary Theory, Realism, and International Politics,” International Security 25, no. 2 (fall 2000), pp. 124–51
Mercer, Jonathan, “Anarchy and Identity,” International Organization 49, no. 2 (summer 1995), pp. 229–52
Weber, Max, Economy and Society, vol. II, ed. Roth, Guenther and Wittich, Claus (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978), pp. 904–05
Desch, Michael C., “War and Strong States, Peace and Weak States?International Organization 50, no. 2 (spring 2006), pp. 237–68, at p. 240 (emphasis added)
Hermann, Margaret G., Hermann, Charles F., and Hagan, Joe D., “How Decision Units Shape Foreign Policy Behavior,” in Hermann, Charles F., Kegley, Charles W., and Rosenau, James N., eds., New Directions in the Study of Foreign Policy (Boston: Allen and Unwin, 1987), pp. 309–36
Krasner, Stephen D., Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999), chap. 1
Hintze, Otto, “Military Organization and the Organization of the State,” in Gilbert, Felix, ed., Historical Essays of Otto Hintze (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975), pp. 180–215
Ranke, Leopold, “A Dialogue on Politics,” reprinted in Laue, Theodore H., Leopold Ranke: The Formative Years (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1950), pp. 152–80
Kissinger, Henry A., World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh, and the Problems of Peace, 1812–1822 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957), pp. 324–30
Barnett, Michael N., Confronting the Costs of War (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992)
Dessler, David, “What's at Stake in the Agent-Structure Debate?International Organization 43, no. 3 (summer 1989), pp. 441–73, at p. 466
Christensen, Thomas J., “Perceptions and Alliances in Europe, 1860–1940,” International Organization 51, no. 1 (winter 1997), pp. 65–97
Waltz, Kenneth N., Man, the State, and War (New York: Columbia University Press, 1959)