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«Power and Democratic Weakness: Neoconservatism and Neoclassical Realism Jonathan D. Caverley While realists and neoconservatives generally disagreed ...»

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and Democracy Promotion in US Strategy’, International Security 29, no. 4 (2005):

112–56, 141; Gerard Alexander, ‘International Relations Theory Meets World Politics: The Neoconservative vs. Realism Debate’, in Understanding the Bush Doctrine, eds Stanley Renshon and Peter Suedfeld (London: Routledge, 2007);

Desch, ‘Liberal Illiberalism’; Schmidt and Williams, ‘Neoconservatives Versus Realists’.

15. Krauthammer, ‘The Neoconservative Convergence’.

16. Focusing on policymakers who are not that interested in theoretic consistency to attack a theory compounds these two errors.

17. Stephen Van Evera, Guide to Methods for Students of Political Science (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997), 26.

Downloaded from mil.sagepub.com at LIBRARY on December 6, 2011 Millennium: Journal of International Studies 38 (3) Living in a Realist World Theory begins with ontology and assumptions, even when tacit. The ones underpinning neoconservatism are familiar to any realist.18 Randall Schweller describes three fundamental assumptions that ‘distinguish realism from all other IR perspectives’ and are ‘common to all realist theories’: conflict groups (i.e. states) are the key actors in world politics, power is the fundamental feature of international relations and the essential nature of international relations is conflictual.19 Neoconservatism shares all of these. The bottom line is, as Joshua Muravchik observes, ‘Peace is hard to come by and hard to keep’.20 Neoconservatism recognises that ‘in most places, the nation-state remains as strong as ever’.21 These states are jealous of their sovereignty.22 They interact in an anarchic world; Krauthammer approvingly cites realism’s recognition of ‘the fundamental fallacy in the whole idea of the international system being modeled on domestic society’ and asks, ‘If someone invades your house, you call the cops. Who do you call if someone invades your country?’23 Kagan claims that outside of Europe the ‘dangerous Hobbesian world still flourishes’.24 Again, as with realism, uncertainty of intentions and the shadow of the future loom large, ‘if history is any guide we are likely to face dangers even within the next decade that we cannot even imagine today’.25 Since they seek to survive in an uncertain world, states care deeply about their own power and that of other, potentially hostile states, with the possible exception of Europe, all large states, democratic or not, are

18. Gerard Alexander argues that ‘the Bush Doctrine shares core ontological assumptions with major streams of realist thought’. The Bush Doctrine shares much in common with Walt’s balance-of-threat theory, as Alexander suggests, because it is not an exclusively neoconservative document. Alexander, ‘International Relations Theory Meets World Politics’, 39.

19. Randall L. Schweller, ‘The Progressiveness of Neoclassical Realism’, in Progress in International Relations Theory: Appraising the Field, eds Colin Elman and Miriam Fendius Elman (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003), 325.

20. Muravchik, Imperative of American Leadership, 28.

21. Kagan, Return of History, 3. Fukuyama is more ambivalent, identifying ‘a shift in the locus of action from nation-states toward non-state actors and other transnational forces’. Nonetheless, the state ‘cannot be replaced by any transnational actor: it remains the only source of power that can enforce a rule of law’.

Fukuyama, America at the Crossroads, 8–10.

22. Kagan, Return of History, 64–6.

23. Charles Krauthammer, ‘The Unipolar Moment Revisited’, The National Interest 70 (2003): 5–17, 12. This echoes John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York: Norton, 2001), 33.

24. Kagan, Paradise and Power, 75.

25. Kagan and Kristol, ‘National Interest and Global Responsibility’. See also Podhoretz, ‘Bedfellows’, 31. Kagan and Kagan, While America Sleeps, 8.

Downloaded from mil.sagepub.com at LIBRARY on December 6, 2011 Caverley: Power and Democratic Weakness interested in competing for more power.26 Like realism, neoconservatism distinguishes between the great and lesser powers, but anarchy has its

effect regardless:

In an anarchic world small powers always fear they will be victims. Great powers on the other hand, often fear rules that may constrain them more than they do anarchy. In an anarchic world, they rely on their power to provide security and prosperity.27 Like their realist cousins, Muravchik’s neoconservatives place their trust in military force and doubt that ‘economic sanctions or UN intervention or diplomacy, per se, constitute meaningful alternatives’.28 Kagan argues that ‘true security and the defense and promotion of a liberal order still depend on the possession and use of military might’.29

Neoconservatism ain’t Wilsonianism

Like realism, neoconservatism rejects the Wilsonian and contemporary liberal mechanisms that help to mitigate this competitive realist world.

Krauthammer describes neoconservatism’s vision of spreading liberal values to other states as ‘expansive and perhaps utopian. But it ain’t Wilsonian.’30 This article suggests taking Krauthammer at his word. Few labels exist less appropriate for neoconservatism than Wilsonianism – realistic or hard, with boots or with teeth – or any other form of liberalism for that matter. This article does not deny that one element at Wilsonianism’s core is American promotion of liberal values abroad, and that neoconservatism shares this tenet. Rather, it points out that this is the only concrete element shared by these two theories.





The differences grow starker still when one compares neoconservatism to contemporary liberal IR theory, which suggests several

26. Kagan, Return of History; Krauthammer, ‘In Defense of Democratic Realism’.

Fukuyama does contrast realism and neoconservatism: ‘the nature of the regime matters to external behavior is held much more consistently by neoconservatives than the alternative realist view that all states seek power regardless of regime type’, but then acknowledges the ‘realist dimension’ that ‘power is often necessary to achieve moral purposes’. Fukuyama, America at the Crossroads, 61–2.

27. Robert Kagan, ‘Power and Weakness’, Policy Review 113 (2002): 3–28.

28. Muravchik, ‘Past, Present, and Future’, 135.

29. Kagan, Paradise and Power, 3.

30. Charles Krauthammer, ‘Democratic Realism: An American Foreign Policy for a Unipolar World’, 2004 Irving Kristol Lecture, Washington, DC, 12 February

2004. Fukuyama, America at the Crossroads. Many neoconservative works invoking Wilsonianism simply borrow amenable aspects. For Muravchik, Wilsonianism merely ‘sets a much lower threshold for American involvement abroad, on the theory that early intervention on a small scale may forestall a much heavier commitment later on’ (Muravchik, Imperative of American Leadership, 21).

Downloaded from mil.sagepub.com at LIBRARY on December 6, 2011 Millennium: Journal of International Studies 38 (3) related mechanisms to undermine the perpetual state of insecurity and competition that typifies a realist world.31 G. John Ikenberry identifies six ‘big ideas’ shared by Wilsonianism and modern liberalism. The first four cover various paths to peace: democracy, free trade, international law and international bodies, and collective security. The final two are a progressive optimism about modernity coupled with the need for American global leadership as a ‘moral agent’.32 Neoconservatism clearly accepts both the importance of democracy as an American national interest and of American moral global leadership, but explicitly rejects the remaining four points of liberalism/Wilsonianism.

For both realism and neoconservatism, transnational mechanisms have little independent effect on international relations. International institutions are epiphenomenal, reflecting the distribution of power, and thus ‘American hegemony is the only reliable defense against a breakdown of peace and international order’.33 States without a liberal hegemonic protector remain ‘mired in history, exercising power in the anarchic Hobbesian world where international laws and rules are unreliable‘.34 Fukuyama evinces ‘skepticism about the legitimacy and effectiveness of international law and institutions to achieve either security or justice’.35 Neoconservatism also doubts the pacifying effects of inter-state commerce; some neoconservative writings support the spread of free markets, but have little to say on free trade except in the context of alliances and threats. Kagan and Kristol warn against the ‘Armand Hammerism’ of ‘blindly “doing business” with every nation, no matter its regime’.36 Norman Podhoretz castigates 1980s’ businessmen for ‘loving commerce’ more than ‘they loathed communism’.37 Trade and security are inescapably linked not as a means of preserving peace between rivals but as a form of strengthening alliances; in the context of the American–Japanese trade disputes of the 1980s and 1990s, Muravchik characterises the view that ‘security relations with Japan... could be sealed off from economic

31. For an efficient review of a massive literature, see Dan Reiter and Alan C.

Stam, ‘Democracy, Peace, and War’, in Oxford Handbook of Political Economy, eds. Barry R. Weingast and Donald Wittman (London: Oxford University Press, 2006).

32. G. John Ikenberry, ‘Introduction: Woodrow Wilson, the Bush Administration,

and the Future of Liberal Internationalism’, in The Crisis of American Foreign Policy:

Wilsonianism in the Twenty-First Century. G. John Ikenberry, Thomas J. Knock, Anne-Marie Slaughter and Tony Smith, eds. (New York: Princeton University Press, 2008), 11–13.

33. Kagan and Kristol, ‘Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy’, 23.

34. Kagan, Paradise and Power.

35. Fukuyama, America at the Crossroads, 49.

36. Kagan and Kristol, ‘Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy’.

37. Norman Podhoretz, ‘Neoconservatism: A Eulogy’. The phrase is originally George Will’s.

Downloaded from mil.sagepub.com at LIBRARY on December 6, 2011 Caverley: Power and Democratic Weakness issues’ as ‘either disingenuous or self-delusional’.38 Kagan rejects the logic of the commercial peace as a ‘comfortable doctrine of passivity’, and suggests that economic interdependence is as likely to cause conflict as prevent it.39 As with trade, so with culture: perhaps a powerful force at the domestic level, but almost useless internationally. Neoconservatism evinces strong scepticism regarding the power of liberal, transnational norms posited by liberals; ‘there is little sense of shared morality and common political principle among the great powers’.40 Krauthammer bluntly observes that ‘moral suasion is a farce’, in his explicit rejection of Wilsonianism.41 Similarly, neoconservatism contains little notion of ideas being used to co-opt potential adversaries in the form of ‘soft power’.42 So while neoconservatism understands that ideas matter on the domestic front, and that regime and individual identity are co-constituted, the claim that neoconservatism represents ‘a systemic constructivist account of IR’ is surely wrong.43 Neoconservatism, like realism, claims that anarchy is always ‘Hobbesian’ unless a hegemon can enforce its preferred order;

Europe’s Kantian ‘geopolitical fantasy’ would not continue were the United States to withdraw its protection.44 Neoconservatism does support ‘democracy at home and abroad’, but given its scepticism of other liberal mechanisms, one suspects the means of causation differs from liberal IR theory.45 Muravchik cites research claiming that democracies rarely fight each other, but rejects the empirical finding that democracies are as likely to start wars against nondemocracies as any other regime because ‘it flies in the face of common

38. Muravchik, Imperative of American Leadership, 202. For the (similar) realist

take see Joanne S. Gowa, Allies, Adversaries, and International Trade (Princeton, NJ:

Princeton University Press, 1994).

39. Kagan, Return of History. Kenneth Neal Waltz, Theory of International Politics (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1979).

40. Robert Kagan, ‘End of Dreams, Return of History’, Policy Review 144 (2007):

17–44.

41. Krauthammer, ‘Democratic Realism’.

42. Kagan, ‘Power and Weakness’.

43. Aaron Rapport, ‘Unexpected Affinities? Neoconservatism’s Place in IR Theory’, Security Studies 17, no. 2 (2008): 257–93. Alexander Wendt, Social Theory of International Politics (Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

44. Kagan, Paradise and Power, 57; J.J. Mearsheimer, ‘The Future of the American Pacifier’, Foreign Affairs 80, no. 5 (2001): 46–61.

45. Benjamin Miller, ‘Democracy Promotion: Offensive Liberalism versus the Rest (of IR Theory)’, Millennium 38, no. 3 (2010). For this reason, while Miller’s ‘offensive liberalism’ may be a useful analytic category, it does not describe neoconservatism.

Downloaded from mil.sagepub.com at LIBRARY on December 6, 2011 Millennium: Journal of International Studies 38 (3) sense.... The cold war as a whole was a one-sided creation of the Soviet Union, while the United States all along wanted peace.’ Muravchik lays out the democratic pacifist logic explicitly, ‘Indeed, in this century, the democracies have several times helped to cause wars by being so pacific that dictators were tempted to overreach.’46

Democratic Weakness



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