Debating IR

Probing the philosophical underpinnings of the international system and anything else of interest.

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Thursday, February 02, 2006

Neoclassical Realism

Thursday's reading examines the US intervention in Kosovo from a neoclassical realist perspective. This perspective builds on structural realism by focusing on state strategies, and by including notions of elite perceptions. Thus neoclassical realism seems to move closer towards a bureaucratic or role based model.

When applied to the situation in Kosovo, the neoclassical realist model suggests that the driving force behind the US actions was a fear of losing its international prestige. Having pushed for the expansion of NATO and having claimed the dominant role in that organization, the US was faced with certain obligations. Thus, the US effectively forced itself to deal one way or another with the Kosovo problem.

I am not convinced that the US would have lost all that much prestige if it had decided to stay out of Kosovo, and had instead left the job to the Europeans. I think that US power was (and is) more genuinely threatened by the possible emergence of a European defense entity. Any concerns over prestige should be secondary to this threat.

This highlights one of the problems with neoclassical realism. One of the most appealing aspects of realism is that, through its single minded focus on power, it can reduce complex international events to very simple terms. By factoring in elite perceptions and state strategies, neoclassical realism becomes both more complex and more ambiguous than other branches of realism.

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