The Limits of Neorealism: Marginal States and International Relations Theory

By Lieb, Doug | Harvard International Review, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

The Limits of Neorealism: Marginal States and International Relations Theory


Lieb, Doug, Harvard International Review


The foreign policy of small states tends to attract little public or scholarly attention. Much of the discussion about the international role of less powerful nations seems to acquire a mocking tone, flippantly dismissing Switzerland's quaint neutrality or famine-stricken Eritrea's place in the US coalition for the war in Iraq. Since the powerful naturally contribute more to the shaping of international circumstances, a discourse that eschews weaker countries in favor of more influential ones makes practical sense. Examining small states, however, amounts to more than musing over puzzling curiosities. It can inform the consideration of pressing practical issues by improving the means used to approach them.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

In other words, small states provide compelling test cases for international relations theory. Examining the presence of relatively impotent states at the margins of broad military coalitions sharpens the debate between competing theoretical models of international alliance. Specifically, current weak-state behavior in military coalitions demonstrates that a purely neorealist theoretical perspective is insufficient. Accounting for domestic and institutional factors provides a more complete explanation of alliance patterns. Weak-state behavior also lends empirical credibility to the idea that states may choose to bandwagon with, rather than balance against, a pressing threat.

The argument leading to these conclusions will begin with an explanation of the relevant theory. It will then consider two case studies: Iceland and its membership in NATO, Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia, as well as these nations' relationships to the US-led war in Iraq.

Essential concepts shared by these theoretical models are bandwagoning and balancing. Richard Harknett and Jeffrey A. VanDenBerg, Professors of Political Science at University of Cincinnati, explain: "Balancing is alignment driven by the desire to find security in resisting or defeating one's most pressing threat; bandwagoning is alignment driven by the desire to find security in appeasing one's most pressing threat." States may balance or bandwagon regardless of theoretical approach; an approach that accounts for omnialignment recognizes that balancing and bandwagoning may occur with and against threats both internal and external.

Specifically, neorealism holds at its basis that external pressures will outweigh domestic ones as state leaders rationally choose a foreign policy that will minimize security risk in an anarchical international system. In other words, the neorealist approach, whose foremost advocate is Kenneth Waltz, presumes that elites--the empowered individuals shaping their nations' foreign policy--will be free of any domestic constraints that might sway their strategy for global interactions. National politics, international institutions, and ideological or cultural affinities among nations have little relevance.

At odds with neorealism is the domestic-level (or "liberal") theoretical approach. Miriam Fendius Elman, Professor of Political Science at Arizona State University, writes that scholars in this camp "expect that state attributes and societal conflicts will affect foreign policy choices ... and will often render statesmen incapable of responding to the exigencies of the international environment." Institutionalism also places a limit on the neorealist premise of fully rational and self-interested leaders seeking risk minimization. Its constraint, however, comes from the binding political and ideological ties forged within and cemented by such international institutions as the United Nations.

On balance, the truth lies between the extremes. Supposing that leaders who author foreign policy have absolutely no stake in the polities of their nations is as impractical as supposing that they are so preoccupied with those politics as to develop strategy without giving any thought to external conditions. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Limits of Neorealism: Marginal States and International Relations Theory
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.