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Realism, Neoliberalism, and Cooperation Robert Jervis Understanding the Debate The study of conºict and cooperation has been an enduring task of scholars, with the most recent arguments being between realists and neoliberal institutionalists.1 Most students of the subject believe that realists argue that international politics is characterized by great conºict and that institutions play only a small role. They also believe that neoliberals claim that cooperation is more extensive, in large part because institutions are potent. I do not think that this formulation of the debate is correct. In the ªrst section of this article, I argue that the realist-neoliberal disagreement over conºict is not about its extent but about whether it is unnecessary, given states’ goals. In this context we cannot treat realism as monolithic, but must distinguish between the offensive and defensive variants.2 In the second section, I explain International Security, Vol. 24, No. 1 (Summer 1999), pp. 42–63© 1999 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Robert Jervis is Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Politics at Columbia University and author most recently of System Effects: Complexity in Political and Social Life (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997). I am grateful for comments by David Baldwin, Page Fortna, Robert Keohane, Jeffrey Legro, Helen Milner, Andrew Moravcsik, and Kenneth Waltz. 1. John J. Mearsheimer, “The False Promise of International Institutions,” International Security, Vol. 19, No. 3 (Winter 1994/95), pp. 5–49; Robert O. Keohane and Lisa L. Martin, “The Promise of Institutional Theory,” International Security, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Summer 1995), pp. 39–51; Mearsheimer “A Realist Reply,” International Security, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Summer 1995), pp. 82–93. See also Martin and Beth Simmons, “Theories and Empirical Studies of International Institutions,” International Organization, Vol. 52, No. 4 (Autumn 1998), pp. 729–758; and Keohane and Martin “Institutional Theory, Endogeneity, and Delegation,” paper prepared for meeting on “Progress in International Relations Theory,” January 15–16, 1999, Scottsdale, Arizona, which says that “institutional theory” is a more descriptive title than “neoliberal institutionalism.” 2. My deªnition of the distinction between offensive and defensive realism can be found below, pp. 48–50. For other discussions, see Jack L. Snyder, Myths of Empire: Domestic Politics and International Ambition (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991); Fareed Zakaria, “Realism and Domestic Politics,” International Security, Vol. 17, No. 1 (Summer 1992), pp. 177–198; Charles L. Glaser, “Realists as Optimists: Cooperation as Self-Help,” International Security, Vol. 19, No. 3 (Winter 1994/95), pp. 50–90; Randall L. Schweller, “Neorealism’s Status-Quo Bias: What Security Dilemma ?” Security Studies, Vol. 5, No. 3 (Spring 1996), pp. 90–121; Stephen Brooks, “Dueling Realisms,” International Organization, Vol. 51, No. 3 (Summer 1997), pp. 445–478; Eric J. Labs, “Beyond Victory: Offensive Realism and the Expansion of War Aims,” Security Studies, Vol. 6, No. 42 the disagreement in terms of what each school of thought3 believes would have to change to produce greater cooperation. This raises the question of institutions . In the third section, I argue that realists claim not that institutions lack utility, but that they are not autonomous in the sense of being more than a tool of statecraft. Even if it is true that cooperation and the presence of institutions are correlated, it does not follow that cooperation can be increased by establishing institutions where they do not exist, which I think is why most peopleªnd the realist-neoliberal debate over cooperation of more than academic interest. I do not want to exaggerate the gap separating realism and neoliberalism. Robert Keohane and Lisa Martin have noted that “for better of worse, institutional theory is a half-sibling of neorealism.“4 Both realism and neoliberalism start from the assumption that the absence of a sovereign authority that can make and enforce binding agreements creates opportunities for states to advance their interests unilaterally and makes it important and difªcult for states to cooperate with one another.5 States must worry that others will seek to take 4 (Summer 1997), pp. 1–49; and Andrew Kydd, “Sheep in Sheep’s Clothing: Why Security Seekers Do Not Fight Each...


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