Neorealism VS Neoliberalism: The “Neo-Neo” Debate

Recognized authority of neo-realism or new realism (sometimes also called modern realism, structural realism) is Kenneth Waltz, who in The Theory of International Politics, published in 1979, has rethought traditional assumptions of the theory of realism. K. Waltz more clearly outlined the impact of the international system on the behavior of states, essentially treating them as elements of the international system. Theoretical direction of neorealism was also developed by R. Gilpin, S. Krasner, J. Grieco.

Wide popularity among the scientists of foreign affairs received the work Neo-realism and its critics, published in 1986, by Columbia University, edited by Robert Keyohana (Gulson 2011).

Already in 1972, R. Keyohan and J. Nye published a collective work Transnational Relations and World Politics (Bonsaver 2008). Five years later, R. Keyohan published the book Power and interdependence of world politics in transition These books addressed the growing role of non-state actors, in particular international organizations. In essence, they developed neo-liberal direction, although the R. Keyohan calls his theoretical approach institutionalism.

What are the similarities and differences in views of neo-realists and neo-liberals? As already mentioned, the collective work of American neo-realists and neo-liberals, published in 1993 by Columbia University, with editor David Baldwin acting as arbitrator, found six key points that characterize the positions of the two directions:
1) neo-liberals admit that the international system is characterized by certain anarchy, but, unlike the neo-realists, who emphasize its fundamental importance, they consider that certain models of interactions between states have been developed (R. Axelrod, R. Keyohan).

2) neo-realists agree with neoliberals that international cooperation is possible, but unlike neoliberals, they say that co-operation is difficult for implementation and more dependent on public authorities.

3) neo-realists insist that cooperation brings relative benefits, and neo-liberals – that it is absolutely beneficial to its participants.

4) proponents of both approaches agree with the priorities of States as a national power and economic well-being, but neo-realists give greater importance to the first priority, and neoliberals – to the second.

5) in contrast to the neo-liberals, neo-realists emphasize more the value of real options and resources of States, than their political intentions.

6) finally, neo-realists acknowledge the influence and impact of international organizations in international relations, but believe that the neo-liberals exaggerate their significance.
Some American authors, such as J. Herz, J. Claude, J. Nye, consider theoretical differences between neo-liberalism and neo-realism as unimportant and even express the viewpoint that they express the same views of the realist liberalism (Baldwin 2003). But neo-realists themselves disagree with this point. One of their decisive representatives Professor George Grieco formulated the distinction between liberal institutionalists (all the various opponents of the realism of the past from Kant and W.Wilson to the behavioral and modernists 60-70-ies.), neo-liberal institutionalism (neoliberalism), and realism, ie neo-realism (Keohane 1986).

The overall impression is that the neo-liberals, whose views to a large extent reflect the development trends of international relations in recent decades, are more inclined to compromise with their opponents than the neo-realists.

Anyway, it’s hard to disagree with the conclusion of one of the leaders of the neo-liberal institutionalism: End of the Cold War caught unawares the academic debate between institutionalists and realists (Steger 2010).


Works Cited

Baldwin, David Allen. Neorealism and neoliberalism: the contemporary debate. 1993. p. 301. Print.
Bonsaver, Guido. Recent Work on Neorealism. Italian Studies, 2008, Volume 63, Number 2, pp. 309-314.
Gulson, Kalervo, Pedroni, Thomas. Neoliberalism, cities and education in the Global South/North. Discourse, May 2011, Volume 32, Number 2, pp. 165-169.
Keohane, Robert Owen. Neorealism and its critics. 1986. p. 145. Print.
Steger, Manfred B., Roy, Ravi K. Neoliberalism: a very short introduction. 2010. pp. 56-57. Print.


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