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Neoclassical Realism : Explaining EU''s Foreign and Security Policy

Alex Reichwein
Justus-Liebig-University Giessen
Alex Reichwein
Justus-Liebig-University Giessen
Open Panel

Abstract

After a lapse in interest and popularity, realist approaches to foreign policy analysis (FPA) have begun to spark interest again, even in Europe. This is a noteworthy development within the discipline of International Relations (IR), because as far as theoretical approaches are concerned, the discourses have revolved around a neo-institutional, liberal and constructivist centre of gravity. Neoclassical realism (NCR) is an emerging approach within the realist tradition, focusing on the foreign policies of states. It is a multi-level framework (or model, or template) of foreign policy analysis which is characterized by a specific conception of the international system in which states are embedded, a specific understanding of the role of state leaders'' and elites'' perception, and a specific model of the state and its institutions, and state-society relations in connection with foreign policy. The aim of this paper is (1) to elaborate first and foremost what NCR is about, and (2) how far it is a further development of Kenneth Waltz’ neo-realist balance of power-theory. My argument is that simplistic, purely power oriented neo-realist theories of foreign policy claiming the ‘value’ of parsimony are too parsimonious to explain the foreign policy behaviour of different states, because they only focus on the systemic level, tracing back foreign policy behaviour to systemic pressures. Therefore, neo-realist theories are in need of examination. Against this background, NCR is an enhanced approach which overcomes the limitations and shortcomings of neo-realist theories, and which helps realist foreign policy analysts to deal with the puzzle of underexpansion and underbalancing as foreign policy behaviour of even powerful states, a behaviour which neorealist theories cannot explain (3). Finally, I will illustrate the added value of NCR (by not neglecting the pitfalls of NCR) by explaining the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) of the EU, an area in which the EU member states nearly abdicate strategies of power balancing among each other, favouring instead alternative strategies of cooperation and integration which can only be explained by taking interest beyond power balancing into account (4).