Neoclassical realism

Neoclassical realism is an approach to foreign policy analysis. Initially coined by Gideon Rose in a 1998 World Politics review article, it is a combination of classical realist and neorealist particularly defensive realist theories.

Neoclassical realism holds that the actions of a state in the international system can be explained by intervening systemic variables, such as the distribution of power capabilities among states; cognitive variables, such as the perception and misperception of systemic pressures, other states' intentions, or threats; and domestic variables, such as state institutions, elites, and societal actors that affect the power and freedom of action of the foreign policy decision-makers.


While holding true to the realist concept of balance of power, neoclassical realism further adds that states' mistrust and inability to perceive one another accurately, or state leaders' inability to mobilize state power and public support, can result in imbalances within the international system, the rise and fall of great powers, and war. There are four variations of power balance:

  • Appropriate balancing occurs when a state correctly perceives another state's intentions and balances accordingly.
  • Inappropriate balancing or overbalancing occurs when a state incorrectly perceives another state as threatening, and uses more resources than it needs to in order to balance. This causes an imbalance.
  • Underbalancing occurs when a state fails to balance, out of either inefficiency or incorrectly perceiving a state as less of threat than it actually is. This causes an imbalance.
  • Nonbalancing occurs when a state avoids balancing through buck passing, bandwagoning, or other escapes. A state may choose to do this for a number of reasons, including an inability to balance.

According to one review study, Neoclassical realism has primarily been criticized for its "apparent ontological and epistemological incoherence".[1] A 1995 study criticized Neoclassical realism for encompassing "nearly the entire universe of international relations theory" and stretching realism "beyond all recognition or utility."[2] According to Steven Walt of the Kennedy School at Harvard University, one of the chief flaws in Neoclassical realism is that it "tends to incorporate domestic variables in an ad hoc manner, and its proponents have yet to identify when these variables have greater or lesser influence".[3]

Neoclassical realism has been used to explain a number of puzzling foreign policy cases, such as the volatility in South Korea-Japan relations,[4] Fascist Italy's foreign policy,[5] Slobodan Milosevic's decision-making during the 1999 Kosovo crisis,[6] the occurrence of the Cod Wars between Iceland and the United Kingdom,[7] and Iran's foreign policy choices after the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.[8] Proponents of the theory argue that the theory is particularly valuable in explaining cases that fly in the face of other international relations theories, due to its incorporation of domestic variables.[9]

Notable neoclassical realists

Persons mentioned as neoclassical realists, and the year of the release of the work associated with this classification include:[10]

See also


  1. Smith, Nicholas Ross (2018-02-27). "Can Neoclassical Realism Become a Genuine Theory of International Relations?". The Journal of Politics. 80 (2): 742–749. doi:10.1086/696882. ISSN 0022-3816.
  2. Legro, Jeffrey W.; Moravcsik, Andrew (2006-03-29). "Is Anybody Still a Realist?". International Security. 24 (2): 5–55. doi:10.1162/016228899560130.
  3. Walt, Stephen M (2002). The enduring relevance of the realist tradition. New York: W.W. Norton Company. OCLC 746955865.
  4. Cha, Victor D. (2000). "Abandonment, Entrapment, and Neoclassical Realism in Asia: The United States, Japan, and Korea". International Studies Quarterly. 44 (2): 261–291. doi:10.1111/0020-8833.00158. JSTOR 3013998.
  5. Davidson, Jason W. (2002). "The Roots of Revisionism: Fascist Italy, 1922-39". Security Studies. 11 (4): 125–159. doi:10.1080/714005356.
  6. Devlen, Balkan. "Neoclassical Realism and Foreign Policy Crises". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  7. Steinsson, Sverrir (2017-07-01). "Neoclassical Realism in the North Atlantic: Explaining Behaviors and Outcomes in the Cod Wars". Foreign Policy Analysis. 13 (3): 599–617. doi:10.1093/fpa/orw062. ISSN 1743-8586.
  8. Press, Stanford University. "Squandered Opportunity: Neoclassical Realism and Iranian Foreign Policy | Thomas Juneau". Retrieved 2018-02-28.
  9. Ripsman, Norrin M.; Taliaferro, Jeffrey W.; Lobell, Steven E. (2016-05-26). Neoclassical Realist Theory of International Politics. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199899234.
  10. Baylis, John, Steve Smith and Patricia Owens (eds.) The globalization of world politics: an introduction to international relations.(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008) p.231
  11. Neoclassical Realist Theory of International Politics. Oxford University Press. 2016-05-26. ISBN 9780199899234.
  12. Nato's Democratic Retrenchment: Hegemony after the Return of History. Routledge. 2019-07-02. ISBN 9781138585287.

Further reading