Neorealism (international relations)

concept in international relations

Neorealism or structural realism is a theory of international relations first outlined by Kenneth Waltz in his 1979 book Theory of International Politics. Alongside neoliberalism, neorealism is one of the most influential contemporary approaches to international relations; the two perspectives have dominated international relations theory for the last decade.


  • A theory that holds that states are differentiated within the system solely by their relative power position cannot possibly deal successfully with this history or its outcome, any more than Newtonian physics can work for quantum mechanics. This neo-realist assumption, like its view of the unchanging, repetitive nature of balance-of-power politics and outcomes throughout the ages, may make its theory of international politics simple, parsimonious, and elegant; they also make it, for the historian at least, unhistorical, unusable, and wrong.
    • Paul Schroeder, "Historical Reality vs. Neo-Realist Theory", International Security, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Summer, 1994).
  • Due to my poor English and lack of prior knowledge, I failed his midterm exam. Ken called me to his office and told me that he understood my situation and would not count the midterm grade if I got a better grade on the final. He then spent a half-hour tutoring me on the concept of power and the idea of "system structure." Among other things, he told me that he disliked the label "neorealism" because he felt that the term told you nothing about the theory itself. Instead, he preferred "structural realism" because it described the substance of his theory.

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