The Neo-Realist Perspective: U.S. Foreign Policy after 9-11

Scientific Essay 2008 18 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Region: USA




1. Notes on Methodology and Analytic Approach

2. Theoretical Part
2.1. Basic Assumptions of Neo-Realistic Theory of International Relations
2.2. Neo-Realistic Theory of Foreign Policy
2.3. Summary of Results

3. Empirical Part
3.1 Preliminary Notes
3.2. Empirical Indicators for the persistence of Neo-Realistic Approach
in case of the Analysis of U.S. Foreign Policy after 9-11




The terrible incidents of September 11th in 2001 were a drastic cut for the American society. Hardly another event of modern American history had so far reaching consequences for international politics: the still ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the so called PATRIOT Acts 1 and 2, the Homeland Security Offensive could be named here as examples for some political outcomes after 9-11.

Also in scientific discourse 9-11 becomes important: A multiplicity of scientists tries to evaluate in their work possible consequences of the incidents in September 2001. Especially the Iraq War was and still is the topic of a multitude of scientific and popular work. This paper does not make an attempt to evaluate or analyze the incidents of 9-11 in a holistic/general way. The ambition of this paper is to analyze the Foreign Policy of the United States, by using one theoretical approach of studying international relations, which might be helpful to come to cognitions. Of course, this does not mean that the chosen approach is the only possible or purposive one, but nevertheless the approach might be helpful to come to results and conclusions.

In the first chapter of this work some Notes on Methodology and Analytic Approach will be done, to illustrate the analytic framework of this paper. Chapter 2 will present the basic attributes and assumptions of the Neo-Realism (2.1.) and the Neo-Realistic Theory of Foreign Policy (2.2.). In chapter 3 the Foreign Policy of the United States after 9-11 will be analyzed by take a look at two characteristics of U.S. Foreign Policy, which are pointed out by scientists (like Rudolf: 2005, Krell: 2003, Mastanmduno: 1997): Maintenance of America´s superiority and Strategic Autonomy and Instrumental Multilateralism under the scope of Neo-Realist Theory. At the end of this paper the results will be resumed (Conclusions).

1. Notes on Methodology and Analytic Approach

As already mentioned in the Introduction the intended goal of this paper is to analyze and evaluate U.S. Foreign Policy after 9-11 by using a theoretical approach of International Relations[1] Theory. Here Foreign Policy of the U.S. officiates as a case study for explaining Foreign Policy and the behavior of states. Which means: The author of this paper is guided by the assumption that Neo-Realistic theory of Foreign policy is, in this context, the most significant theory for explaining the role of states in international relations and for the analysis of U.S. Foreign Policy.

But, of course, the extend of this paper will not allow to verify or falsify these assumption in a general way[2], but what should be done here is to verify or falsify the following hypothesis for the special case of U.S Foreign Policy, without maintaining automatically that the founding’s could be generalized for the explanation of Foreign Policy.[3]

So, the analysis works by using the following hypothesis:

H1 : When analyzing the Foreign Policy of the United States of America after 9-11, it seems to be the most persistent, evidential, conclusive and purposive way to doing it by using a Neo-Realistic framework and scope.

For verifying or falsifying this hypothesis it will be proceeding in the following way: First the general assumptions and basic theoretical framework of the Neo-Realistic approach will be presented (chapter 2.1.) to put the theoretic basics for this work, afterwards (chapter 2.2.) some additional notes on Neo-Realist Theory, necessary here for the context of Foreign Policy analysis, will be added.

Then in chapter 3 of this work U.S. Foreign Policy after 9-11 will be analyzed under the angle of Neo-Realistic approach. We might see that the empirical founding´s will help us to prefer Neo-Realistic approach here, or better makes the Neo-Realistic approach seems to be the most purposive approach for analyzing U.S. Foreign Policy after 9-11. Of course, that does not mean that other theoretical approaches (like constructivism or liberalism) are obsolete. Maybe other empirical work might come to the conclusion that p.e. the utilitarian liberalism are the most purposive approach in this case. But the intended aim of this work is: Analyzing the Foreign Policy of the United States after 9-11 by using a Neo-Realistic framework and try to evaluate the conclusiveness of the hypothesis above.[4]

2. Theoretical Part

2.1. Basic Assumptions of Neo-Realistic Theory of International Relations

As told above this chapter will deal with the basic assumptions and hypotheses of the Neo-Realistic approach of studying international relations. The Realistic approach of studying international relations is a theoretical framework, with a long reaching back history. Sometimes already the Greek Thucydides (“History of the Peloponnesian War”) is mentioned as the first Realist theoretician (e.g. Krell: 2000 in chapter 5 do so). But definitely Hans Morgenthau (“Politics among Nations”)[5] must be named as the pioneer of classical Realism in political Science (cp. Krell: 2000, chapter 6). The general assumption of Realists are the assumption, that the world is a dangerous place, where conflict, war and the permanent “threat of violence”[6], are factors, wherewith states have to deal with. States (as the central actors of the international system) seeking for security to survive in a hostile environment (cp. Krell: 2000, Schieder: 2003).

Classical Realist Theory is a normative, anthropologic arguing theory, which is founding its assumptions on a significant normative view of the world.[7] So classical Realists argue, that the inability of states to coexist in peace is reasoned in the human nature.

In contrast to this assumption the school of Neo-Realist argues, that the reason for the behavior and relationship of states in an international system to each other is not of anthropological character, rather than a system implicit bundle of reasons are causal for the behavior of states. Neo-Realists assume that the structure of the international system creates constraints for the actors within this system[8] (cp.: Waltz: 1979). The actors, who are important for (Neo)-Realists[9] are states and union of states (like the EU) and international organizations (like the WTO, IMF et al.). For Neo-Realists actors and driving forces within a state or an international organization are not conclusive for explaining international relations (cp.: Rittberger : 2004, Baumann: 1998). This does not mean, that Neo-Realists would deny the impact of endogenous forces and actors for national Policy (like in Policy arenas like: welfare policy or taxation) within a state, but in the scope of the Neo-Realist approach this actors does not matter for international politics and relations. Neo-Realists look at the state as a kind of black-box and it is not important for them to open this black-box for explaining international relations.

Neo-Realist believes that way, because of the following assumptions, which are guiding their view of international relations.[10]

The most important feature of the international system is anarchy. So when observing the character of the international system, you will find out, that there is no actor which hold a ” monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force” (Weber), Neo-Realists argues. I.e. that there is no exogenous actor (like a “world government”) who is able to judge, sanctify and control the behavior of states in this system.

This fact (the attendance of anarchy in the international system of states), “creates a general sense of insecurity in actors [here: states, author´s note ]”[11]. The situation can also be called as a “security dilemma”: Because of the fact, that we do not have any governing instance in the international system, which is able to sanctify states behavior, states and state unions (like EU) are in a kind of self-help situation: The states (as central actors of international relations) have to secure their survival by helping their own. Or as Rittberger says: “… states are bound to secure their own survival and welfare ultimately through self-help.”[12] There is a continuing mistrust between the states because every state has to fear an aggression or an attack on his security by another state. That is why states primary seek for security and seek for opportunities to save their survival.


[1] When the first letter of the words “International Relations” are written in capital letters, are always meant the discipline of political science. When “international relations” written in small letters, it means the relations and behavior of states in the international system.

[2] Therefore see: Baumann et al. (1998 and 2001), Rittberger (2004), also: Brooks 1997, Schweller /Priess (1997), Snyder 1996.

[3] This doesn´t means that the founding´s couldn´t be generalized. But here in this context, the extend of this academic work are too small for doing so. For a general overview about the persistence of Neo-Realist theory compare: Elman (1996).

[4] For a more general examination and discourse about the different theoretical approaches (neo-realism, utilitarian liberalism, constructivism) cp.: Rittberger (2004), or for short overview: Goodin (1998).

[5] He has nothing to do with Henry Morgenthau jun., the founder of the so called “Morgenthauplan” in 1944.

[6] Rittberger (2004): 3.

[7] The classical Realists assume that the human nature is a hostile one and that every actor, if it would be possible tries to maximize his benefit at the expense of the other actors. This view of the world is comparable with Hobbes Maxim of the anarchical condition of human being.

[8] That´s why Neo-Realists often named as Structural-Realists.

[9] For Realists and Neo-Realists, the scope of observation of actors is the same (states and state unions). Cp.: Krell: 2000.

[10] Cp. also: Rittberger (2004), Baumann (1998) Baumann (2001), Schieder (2003) and of course Waltz (1979).

[11] Rittberger (2004): 3.

[12] Ibidem: 4.


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Neo-Realist Perspective Foreign Policy



Title: The Neo-Realist Perspective: U.S. Foreign Policy after 9-11