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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

7 - Planetary Problems – Cooperation or Collapse?


America's environmental laws are poorly enforced and riddled with loopholes. Yet they definitely rank a cut above global environmental accords. After all, if a wealthy superpower like the United States can't protect its environment, how can a fractious gallimaufry of nations hope to prevent planetary ecological crises like climate disruption and plummeting biodiversity? Negotiating agreements between scores of rivalrous nations is like herding cats. Ultimately, nations recognize no lawmaking authority greater than themselves and there is no global government capable of enforcing the few environmental treaties that achieve ratification. Therefore, many international relations scholars contend that establishing effective environmental agreements is a virtually futile endeavor.


Neorealism, which is arguably the most prominent theory of international relations, considers such ventures dubious and potentially hazardous. Neorealist theory asserts that all nations are entrenched in an anarchic international system lacking any global peacekeeping authority. Neorealists maintain that this situation compels states to prioritize security and elevate power above all other assets. Power is the nation's capability to defend its interests (especially its very existence) and get what it wants. And because power can be meaningfully measured and employed only in relation to potential threats, obstacles and adversaries – it is relative.

The dog-eat-dog nature of world politics envisioned by the neorealists discourages prolonged cooperation between nations. Temporary security alliances may prove advantageous for bolstering power and overcoming mutual rivals.

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