By Scott Burchill, Andrew Linklater, Richard Devetak
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Extra resources for Theories of international relations
Balancing pursues relative gains. Relative gains concerns dramatically impede cooperation. One must consider not only whether one gains but, more importantly, whether one’s gains outweigh those of others (who, in anarchy, must be seen as potential adversaries). Even predatory cooperation is problematic unless it maintains the relative capabilities of the cooperating parties. In fact, states may be satisfied with conflicts that leave them absolutely worse off – so long as their adversaries are left even worse off.
Debates about the ‘basic Scott Burchill and Andrew Linklater 21 structure of international politics’ are not just about what is ‘out there’ and how we come to know ‘reality’ (more on this later); they are also inextricably tied up with different views about the purposes of political inquiry. Cox (1981: 128) emphasized this point in the striking claim that ‘theory is always for someone and for some purpose’. In one of the most influential distinctions in the field, Cox claims that neo-realism has a ‘problem-solving’ purpose, its main task being to ensure that existing political arrangements ‘function more smoothly’ by minimizing the potential for conflict and war.
Preserving one’s relative position, however, is neither survival nor domination. It is obviously inconsistent with domination (except for hegemons) and may require risking survival. And the risk to survival may be even greater if, as Mearsheimer argues, states ‘aim to maximize their relative power position over other states’ (Mearsheimer 1994/5: 11). But Waltz does not stop here. He also claims that states seek wealth, advantage and flourishing (1993: 54; 1986: 337; 1979: 112), peaceful coexistence (1979: 144) and peace and prosperity; (1979: 144, 175) that they want to protect their sovereignty, autonomy and independence; (1979: 204, 107, 104) and that they act out of pride and the feeling of being put upon (1993: 66, 79).