Strengths and Weaknesses of Neo-Classical Realism: International Politics in Iran/Iraq

Best Essays
For the purpose of this essay, I will assess the strengths and weaknesses of Neo-Classical Realism; focusing on the theory’s core assumptions about the International System and how it interacts with units. I will discuss the theory in relation to the international politics of the region, with particular reference to the build up to the Iran-Iraq war.

Neo-Classical Realism has updated and systematized certain insights from Classical Realism , as well as incorporated key tenets from other Realist paradigms. For Realists, the International System is anarchic; creating the conditions of self-help and a balance of power, both of which determine state behaviour . Proponents of Neo-Classical Realism contend that it is relative power in particular which determines a state’s foreign policy . These relative power concerns then indirectly effect domestic (dependent) variables which in turn influence the decision making process.

From a theoretical standpoint, Neo-Classical Realism is balanced between pure systemic theories, and those which prioritise Units. It is both an extension and response to Waltzian neorealism; particularly in the acceptance of the primacy of systemic variables, whilst adding domestic level variables. In particular, opening up the ‘black box’ of the state whilst maintaining the importance of systemic pressures gives Neo-Classical Realism a much wider context of motivations and variables from which to explain state behaviour, and consequently overcome the limitation of classical realism which makes no claim to explain specific events or foreign policy . However, the theory’s core assumptions are in themselves problematic when looked at from outside of the Realist paradigm, constructivism in particular presents a nu...

... middle of paper ...

...ed by David W. Lesch (Westiview Press 2007)

Wohlforth, William, ‘The elusive balance, power and perceptions during the Cold war’ (CUP 1993)


Sterling-Folker, Jennifer, ‘Realist Environment, Liberl process, and Domestic-Level Variables’ (International Studies Quaterly vol.41 1997)

Parasiliti, Andrew, ‘The causes and timing of Iraq’s Wars: A power cycle Assessment’ (International Political Science Review vol.24, no.1, Jan 2003)

Rose, Gideon ‘Neo-Classical Realism and theories of Foreign Policy’ (World Politics, vol.51 no.1 Oct 1998)

Wendt, Alexander, ‘Anarchy is what states make of it’ (International Organizations, vol.46, no.2, 1992)


‘Another Crisis for the Shah’ Time, Nov 13, 1878.,9171,946149,00.html

US National Security Archives:
Get Access