Security has been the source for much debate within International Relations; ranging from the optimum way to provide security, through to the definition of security itself. Neo-Realism has, in the past, been the dominant approach to security issues within International Relations. However, in the past few decades events such as the end of the Cold War, international terrorism and globalisation have dramatically changed the world, which has only intensified the debate over which approach most effectively addresses security issues within International Relations. This essay seeks to argue that although, at one time it may have been, a neo-realist approach is not the most effective way to address security issues within today’s International Relations.
Neo-realist define security in terms of the security of the state and its survival, with this definition being based on the assumption that the international system is violent and anarchic (Tickner & Sjoberg, 2007). They see the state as paramount, with its citizens secondary to the state itself. The main goal of all politics is survival, with survival dominating all policies created. This stems from a fear of insecurity due to the fact that Neo Realists view the defining feature of the international system as anarchy (Lake, 2009); there is the constant threat of attack from other states, which forces all states to be suitably prepared. This is the Hobbesian logic of anarchy: “the war of all against all” (Wendt, 1999). Waltz, describes it as a “shadow of violence” in which some states may use force at any given time, so it is imperative that all are prepared to do so. Neo-Realists see power as being crucial towards security, which traditionally has been defined in military strategic terms (Dunne & Schmidt, 2008). As only the state has legitimate authority over the military, neo-realists view the state as a key actor.
If all states are striving for power then only the strongest will survive. This leads offensive realists to believe that the best path towards security is to become a large enough power that they become a hegemon. The United States of America is seen to be the only hegemonic state on the planet, due to the fact that it has the military strength to not only repel any form of military invasion, from either of its neighbouring countries, but to also conquer them. This, according to offensive realists, is the ideal security measure. Mearsheimer (2001) would argue that it is here that offensive realism and Waltz’s defensive realism part ways over the question about how much power states must acquire to survive. Defensive realists, such as Waltz, would argue that the international system will punish those states that become too powerful and upset the balance of power.
This neo-realist view of power and security is very popular in times of a bi-polar world such as that during the Cold War. The Cold War saw the USA and the USSR enter into an arms race, bringing the world onto the cusp of a nuclear holocaust and eventually ending with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the USA as the world’s only hegemon. Whilst it is possible to argue that during the bi-polar world of the Cold War, neo-realism was the most effective approach to address security issues, the world is no longer bi-polar and new threats to the security of the state have emerged. It would be a mistake to assume that all states recognise the shifts and changes in the distribution of power and amend their policies accordingly (Waltz, 1979). As we can see in today's’ (2012) world, a balance of power is not guaranteed to emerge.
One of the first and most obvious critiques to the neo-realist approach to security issues within international relations is that military strength is not the only or even the best way to guarantee security. Like neo-realism, neo-liberalism views the...