Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, POLITICS ( (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited. Please see applicable Privacy Policy and Legal Notice (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 22 April 2018

Summary and Keywords

Neoclassical realism offers insights into why particular foreign policy choices are made, and under what systemic conditions unit-level factors are likely to intervene between systemic stimuli and state behavior. Neoclassical realism brings a multilevel framework that combines both systemic incentives and mediating unit-level variables to arrive at conclusions about foreign policy choices in particular cases. It sets the relative distribution of capabilities in the international system as the independent variable and adds mediating variables at the unit level of analysis. Variables at the domestic level of analysis, such as the role of ideology, the foreign policy executive’s perceptions, resource extraction, and domestic institutions, add explanatory power to system-level approaches. Neoclassical realism accounts for state behavior in a way that a more parsimonious systems-level theory is unable to achieve.

But this rich theoretical framework also faces controversies and criticisms: Is neoclassical realism distinct from other theories and what is its added value? Neoclassical realism overlaps only to a small extent with alternative theoretical approaches. The domestic level of analysis dominates Foreign Policy Analysis (a subfield of International Relations). Unit-level variables suffice to explain state behavior in bottom-up approaches, and opening the structure of the international system for fundamental rethinking is central to constructivism. Neither explains the system-level conditions under which unit-level variables mediate between systemic stimuli and foreign policy. Neoclassical realism analyzes and explains a given foreign policy that more parsimonious or alternative theoretical approaches cannot.

Keywords: neoclassical realism, foreign policy, grand strategy, international system, structure, domestic politics, ideology, interest groups, resource extraction, state power

Access to the complete content on Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics requires a subscription or purchase. Public users are able to search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter without a subscription.

Please subscribe or login to access full text content.

If you have purchased a print title that contains an access token, please see the token for information about how to register your code.

For questions on access or troubleshooting, please check our FAQs, and if you can''t find the answer there, please contact us.