PLS 370-A01

Neorealism/Structural Realism (emereged in the 1980s – Waltz) traces conflict not to human nature but to the structure of the intl system — absence of an overarching authoricty and the distribution of capabilities, internal dynamics do not matter; USSR US behaved in similar manner despite their different systems — distribution of capabilities is what the most important/great powers, etc. # of gt. powers determining the structure of the internal system. (1945-1989 = bipolar system). Theory of Int’l Politics. Frequently termed defensive realism. inthe end states more concerned wuth security than power, maximizing is often dysfunctional because it provokes other states to try and counterbalance it.


  • Gilpin’s Theory of Hegemonic Stability
  • Modelski’s long cycles theory – power-transition
  • distribution of power/capabilities


Int’l econ. order

  • hegemon provides stability, with single power as primary
    • provides public goods/collective goods
    • hegemon bears bulk of burden as self-service
    • transitional times (declining/rising hegemon) ripe for war
    • long cycles theories (roughly 1 century)
  • US inherited British Empire’s role (pax Britannica -> pax Americana)
  • IFI (Int’l Financial Institutions) set up after WWII
  • Bretton Woods (IMF, World Bank — both have weighted voting based on member dues)
    • monetary regime
  • dollar established as reserve currency
  • Nixon abandoned gold standard
  • trade regimes
    • GATT (Gen. Agreemt. Tariffs/Trade)
    • name refers to both a treaty and an org
    • org replaced with WTO in ’95

Offensive Realism

  • differs from Morgenthau’s classical realism
  • does not think states are “naturally” power seeking — not an inner drive
  • claims int’l structure forces them to compete for relative power in order to promote their security
    • anarchy compels nation-states to seek to maximize their aggregate power and consequemtly makes them expansionist. Anarchy forces states to maximize their relative power. since there is uncertainty about the intentions of other states, gt powers are not satisfied or status quo states. All gt powers are revisionist states looking for opptys to gain power over their rivals — sees an endless struggle of gt. power competition
  • Mersheimer argues that in an anarchic world, all gt powers no matter what form of gvt, seek to maximize their power to ensure survival, unless it has achieved global hegemon, resulting in a never-ending struggle for power, which in turn provokes others to counter the hegemon
  • argues that structure of intl system affects gt power behavior — sees a bipolar system as more conducive to peace & stability that multipolar (Tragedy of Great Power Politics) goal of a state is to be hegemon of system
  • status quo powers are rare; very rare for gt power to be satisfied with a given distribution of power, instead they are always trying to tilt it in their favor, they will be willing to use force to tilt the balance of power in their favor if they can do this at a reasonable price
  • all gt. powers are expansionist because of the external structure of the environment — needs of survival (fear, self-interest, power maximize)
  • gt. power: state with military capability to put up a fight in an all-out conventional war against the most powerful state in the world
  • deliberate construction of balance of power: voluntaristic, not deterministic

Great Power

  • Gramsei
    • difference between leader/bully
    • bully dominates, leader persuades


  • realism proven to be very resilient
  • reifies the unitary state
  • neglects the topic of change
  • has conservative bias (prefers continuity over change)
  • focuses on gt. powers
  • parsimonious

3 key theoretical debates

  1. 1930’s: idealism v. realism
  2. 1960’s: traditional v. scientific approaches
  3. 1980’s – Present: traditional v. post-positivist


  • 20 m/c
  • 10 t/f
  • no essay
  • 2 pts ea, 10% total grade
  • intellectual precursors of realism, contribs
    • books, concepts
  • positivism & post
    • features
  • explanatory theory
  • constitutive theory
  • 3 debates
  • impt assumptions of realism
    • ontological
  • impt args of realism
  • classical/neo
  • defensive/offensive
  • change
  • state systems
  • levels of analysis (Waltz, Jervis)
  • Kissinger, balance of power
  • perceptions of interdependence
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