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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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79. Fukuyama, America at the Crossroads.

Downloaded from mil.sagepub.com at LIBRARY on December 6, 2011 Caverley: Power and Democratic Weakness threatening, the United States should focus its democratisation efforts there. Her famous essay does not criticise neoconservative enthusiasm for democratisation so much as connect it to a grand strategic logic.

Because of the military advantage enjoyed by non-democracies, a United States interested in self-preservation should aggressively spread this cost aversion.80 Muravchik succinctly states the core (and inherently power political) logic: ‘The spread of democracy offers an important, peaceful way to weaken our foe.’81 But by this logic would not other regime types attempt to spread democracy, preferring to be the only autocrat in a world of Kantian peaceniks? Kagan and others address this question by claiming that the existence and success of democracies is inherently threatening to the stability of authoritarian regimes. This autocratic support (perhaps unlike democracy) is not based in ideological affinity but on self-preservation

and the desire to maximise power. Moreover, autocrats:

see their comparative advantage over the West when it comes to gaining influence with African, Asian or Latin American governments that can provide access to oil and other vital natural resources or that, in the case of Burma, are strategically located.82 Bandwagoning and Democratic Dominoes: Mearsheimer argues that in a realist world, states balance against potential hegemons. In a neoconservative world, states bandwagon, or at least fail to balance against, the powerful United States.83 As with the democratic peace, neoconservatism can point to another important empirical finding unaccounted for by neorealism: the utter lack of balancing against the United States.84 Neoconservatism views bandwagoning with the United States as likely for two reasons.

The first is not hard to understand. Weak states, as they have for time immemorial, ‘suffer what they must’. Bandwagoning is their only option. But an additional neoconservative mechanism for bandwagoning exists given liberalism’s inherent enervation of even strong powers. If

80. Muravchik recommends not going to war to spread democracy, although ‘exceptions may occur, especially where the issue of democracy combines with others to make a compelling interest, say, if Castroite guerillas overthrew the elected government of Mexico’, Imperative of American Leadership, 164.

81. Muravchik, ‘Past, Present, and Future’. Podhoretz describes a similar justification for Bosnian intervention. Podhoretz, ‘Bedfellows’.

82. Kagan, ‘End of Dreams, Return of History’.

83. Mearsheimer, ‘Hans Morgenthau and the Iraq War’.

84. Muravchik cites Paul Schroeder, ‘Historical Reality vs. Neo-Realist Theory’, International Security 19, no. 1 (1994): 108–48. On lack of balancing in the postCold War world, see Stephen G. Brooks and William C. Wohlforth, World out of

Balance: International Relations and the Challenge of American Primacy (Princeton, NJ:

Princeton University Press, 2008).

Downloaded from mil.sagepub.com at LIBRARY on December 6, 2011 Millennium: Journal of International Studies 38 (3) democracy weakens states, a ‘democratic domino’ theory becomes logical. After all, ‘a democratizing Russia, and even Gorbachev’s democratizing Soviet Union, took a fairly benign view of NATO’.85 Indeed it is the reluctance to use its vast power that makes American hegemony relatively attractive to other countries.86 Preventative War: Neoconservatism’s theory of democratic weakness in a realist world creates ‘closing windows of opportunity’ that prime it for pre-emption.87 If one believes that decline and disengagement are likely in democracies over time, then rising non-democratic great powers and radicalising weak states will catch up inevitably and perhaps quickly. Given the high likelihood of conflict on worse terms in the future, it makes sense to strike while power is sufficiently imbalanced to give democracies a chance. Plus, both neoconservatism and realism agree that early aggressiveness during a power transition is cheaper;

‘early intervention on a small scale may forestall a much heavier commitment later on’.88 While Dale Copeland claims that such preventative wars occur only under exceptional circumstances, neoconservative logic opens the door to a whole host of justifications for intervention if regime type accelerates these changes in power.89 This combination of focusing on the mere ‘possibility of conflict’, shared with offensive realism, coupled with a focus on the potentially enervating effects of regime type makes neoconservatism’s foreign policy implications so volatile.90

Neoconservatism Is Neoclassical Realism

Democratic enfeeblement is not normally associated with realism.

However, the previous section makes clear that the many implications of neoconservatism require a realist world as a necessary condition.

Moreover, if many of the current generation of realists are to be believed, examining democracy as a factor in international relations should not disqualify neoconservatism from the realist tradition, so long as it is done to study its effect on the generation of international political power.





Ironically, even as Williams suggests that Hans Morgenthau ‘provides

85. Kagan, Return of History, 61; Muravchik, Imperative of American Leadership.

86. Muravchik, Imperative of American Leadership, 56.

87. Stephen Van Evera, Causes of War: Power and the Roots of Conflict (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999).

88. Muravchik, Imperative of American Leadership, 21; Podhoretz, ‘Bedfellows’.

89. Dale C. Copeland, The Origins of Major War (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000).

90. Stephen G. Brooks, ‘Dueling Realisms’, International Organization 51, no. 3 (1997): 445–77.

Downloaded from mil.sagepub.com at LIBRARY on December 6, 2011 Caverley: Power and Democratic Weakness a remarkably prescient warning’ of neoconservatism’s dangerous interpretation of the national interest, the band of self-identified realists who seek to bring a new rigour to Morgenthau’s classical realism quite clearly fail to distinguish themselves from neoconservatism.91 Put simply, nothing in neoclassical realism precludes a neoconservative foreign policy.

Neoclassical realism seeks to correct the flaws of neorealism to the point that Randall Schweller claims it to be ‘the only game in town for the current and next generation of realists’, because the alternatives are ‘highly abstract, purely structural-systemic theories’.92 Like neoconservatism, neoclassical realism focuses on foreign policy as much as systemlevel phenomena.93 Like neoconservatism, neoclassical realism generally assumes that as a state’s international political power waxes and wanes, so too does its efforts to influence other states.94 Like neoconservatism, neoclassical realism incorporates the role of ideas while continuing to give materialist causes their due.

Since the publication of the piece that coined the term, the number of scholars identifying themselves as neoclassical realists has increased.95 Additionally and crucially, these thinkers have sought to answer Stephen Walt’s criticism that neoclassical realism ‘tends to incorporate domestic variables in an ad hoc manner’, and ‘has yet to offer a distinct set of explanatory hypotheses of its own’.96 The more recent generation has focused largely on a single factor: ‘whether state leaders have the power to convert the nation’s economic power into military power or to translate the nation’s economic and military power into foreign policy actions’.97 Brian Rathbun puts it most succinctly: ‘Power can be used only if it can be mobilized. Two variables are particularly important for this: the state’s extractive ability

91. Williams, ‘What Is the National Interest?’.

92. Schweller, ‘The Progressiveness of Neoclassical Realism’, 347.

93. Ibid., 317.

94. Fareed Zakaria, From Wealth to Power: The Unusual Origins of America’s World Role (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998), 43; Kagan, Paradise and Power; Kagan, Return of History.

95. Gideon Rose, ‘Neoclassical Realism and Theories of Foreign Policy’, World Politics 51, no. 1 (1998): 144–72.

96. Stephen M. Walt, ‘The Enduring Relevance of the Realist Tradition’, in Political Science: The State of the Discipline, eds Ira Katznelson and Helen V. Milner (New York: W.W. Norton, 2002), 211.

97. Steven E. Lobell, Norrin M. Ripsman and Jeffrey W. Taliaferro, ‘Introduction’, in Neoclassical Realism, the State, and Foreign Policy, eds Steven E. Lobell, Norrin M. Ripsman and Jeffrey W. Taliaferro (Cambridge: Cambridge University

Press, 2009), 44. See also Jeffrey W. Taliaferro, ‘State Building for Future Wars:

Neoclassical Realism and the Resource-Extractive State’, Security Studies 15, no. 3 (2006): 464–95, 486.

Downloaded from mil.sagepub.com at LIBRARY on December 6, 2011 Millennium: Journal of International Studies 38 (3) and inspirational capacity.’98 Neoclassical realism does not limit itself to material variables, but even so, ‘identity and ideology are used primarily as part of self-help’.99 Neoconservatism could not agree more.100 Oddly, despite considering a wide range of domestic-level variables, neoclassical realism has devoted remarkably little attention to regime type. The few exceptions are suggestive, however. Aaron Friedberg argues that strong, centralised states are better equipped to react to adverse shifts in relative power and that, ‘it would not be surprising, therefore, if liberal democracies failed to do particularly well in this regard’.101 Norrin Ripsman posits that the ballot box can be a drag on the generation of military power and Colin Dueck argues that the prospect of elections forces American presidents to fight wars in ways they would prefer not to.102 Thomas Christensen describes government threat inflation to rouse an American public into mobilising to counter the Soviet threat.103

98. Brian Rathbun, ‘A Rose by any Other Name: Neoclassical Realism as the Logical and Necessary Extension of Structural Realism’, Security Studies 17, no. 2 (2008): 294–321, 302. Several self-identified neoclassical realists argue that ideology directly affects foreign policy behaviour rather than power mobilisation. Colin Dueck argues that American strategic culture filters out realpolitik policy options. Christopher Layne argues that liberal economic ideology led to American over-expansion. William Wohlforth focuses on the perception of power. Of course, neoconservatives also argue that liberal culture inhibits consideration of realist policy alternatives as well as threat perception. This article focuses on power mobilisation because this is what most distinguishes neoclassical realists from liberal theorists. Colin Dueck, Reluctant Crusaders: Power, Culture, and Change in American Grand Strategy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006); Christopher Layne, The Peace of Illusions: American Grand Strategy from 1940 to the Present (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006); William Curti Wohlforth, The Elusive Balance: Power and Perceptions During the Cold War (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993).

99. Rathbun, ‘A Rose by any Other Name’, 303.

100. Lobell et al., ‘Introduction’, 38.

101. Aaron L. Friedberg, The Weary Titan: Britain and the Experience of Relative Decline, 1895–1905 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988), 290; Zakaria, From Wealth to Power. Whereas Mearsheimer and Walt characterise Friedberg as a neoconservative, Schweller describes Friedberg as a ‘neoclassical realist’. This article claims they are both correct. John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007), 129; Schweller, ‘The Progressiveness of Neoclassical Realism’, 318.

102. Dueck, Reluctant Crusaders; Norrin M. Ripsman, ‘Neoclassical Realism and Domestic Interest Groups’, in Lobell et al., Neoclassical Realism. Also see Jonathan D. Caverley, ‘The Myth of Military Myopia: Democracy, Small Wars, and Vietnam’, International Security 34, no. 3 (2010): 119–57.

103. Thomas J. Christensen, Useful Adversaries: Grand Strategy, Domestic Mobilization, and Sino-American Conflict, 1947–1958 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996). On neoconservative/Bush administration threat inflation, see Chaim D. Kaufmann, ‘Threat Inflation and the Failure of the Marketplace of Ideas: The Selling of the Iraq War’, International Security 29, no. 1 (2004): 5–48.

Downloaded from mil.sagepub.com at LIBRARY on December 6, 2011 Caverley: Power and Democratic Weakness Schweller, one of the first to embrace the neoclassical label, has derived many of the same conclusions as neoconservatism. In early work, Schweller argues that democracies avoid preventative wars against rising major powers.104 Although he does not specifically mention democracy, he later finds, like Friedberg, that ‘the behavior of weak and incoherent states does not conform to the logic of balance of power theory; they do not systematically balance against external threats or take advantage of opportunities to expand when they can’.105 Schweller’s most recent work explains ideology as a prerequisite of international power and conquest in the ‘age of mass politics’. In this argument, fascism is the ultimate source of military power, whereas realism and liberalism are insufficient ideological motivators.106 What separates these theories from neoconservatism is not easy to discern.

Spreading Liberalism Does Not a Liberal Make



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