Neo-realism is a theory on power and the acquisition of power. In the United States and the "coalition of the willing" attacking Iraq without the support of the United Nations, I believe the theory of neo-realism was strongly displayed. However, in the current situation between the United States, Iraq and the United Nations, I believe there has been a shift in theories. Albeit, not a large one, but a noticeable enough adjustment to make a difference.

Kenneth Waltz was said to be the first real neo-realist and the "Theory of International Politics" his book defining the new concept. Neo-realism or structural realism is a system of realism that has been changed and modified to explain international events. It is a system that focuses on an international level. It does not primarily focus on people or theirs behaviors, most often times it does not take these factors into account at all. States are considered key players in neo-realism.

Power is often used as a means for survival and the distribution of capabilities is the only thing that matters in the system, i.e. the distribution of power. The distribution of power can be described in terms of polarity, bi-polarity or multi-polarity. For example, although the United States could, in present times, be considered hegemonic, at one time the U.S. shared power with the U.S.S.R., and thus was involved in a bipolar system. Neo-realism's basis is the acquisition of power, how powerful one state or actor would be relative to how powerful other states and actors are. This system at times makes cooperation difficult or suspect. This also creates a pyramid of power in the international system (Goldstein, 98).

There are two different main theories on the preservation on peace in a structural realism system; multi-polarity, where all the powers are equal and thus avoid conflict or unipolarity, where a hegemony best insures the options for peace. Although the position most strongly supported and proven by history is that one state or actor being at the top of the pyramid and having the most power is the best way to ensure peace (99). In the war with Iraq over the past year neo-realism seems to have played a key part. Without the support of the United Nations, the United States, Britain and other countries went to war with Iraq under the presumption that weapons of mass destruction were being hidden and the country was not cooperating with U.N. resolutions. The coalition against Iraq felt that Saddam Hussein had enough chances to meet the demands and more drastic measures were needed. After the war was won and the dictator deposed, many have questioned the motives of the coalition.

I, personally, feel that neo-realism was the dominant theory in this conflict. To begin with the U.S. is a hegemonic state and at the moment we are in a system of unipolarity. By going against the U.N. Security Council the U.S. caused tension between many nations. Many countries believed that the war against Iraq was immoral and fought for the wrong reasons. It was believed the war was fought to gain power. This could be disputed on many different levels, but when it comes down to it the U.S. did what it felt was in its own best interests.

One of the components of neo-realism is relative capability and the U.S. used its power in the Iraq situation. Cooperation was ruled out, other nations did not agree with what the U.S. was doing and the U.S. was unwilling to bend in its course of action. The United States is a hegemony, it could do this without the fear of severe repercussions, and other nations resented this. It is believed that the U.S. fought this war not only because of Iraq's oil reserves, but also to expand its military power around the world. Although this may or may not be true, in the theory of neo-realism this would make complete sense. Neo-realism is about the acquisition and the expansion of power.

The oil industry is a source of power in the world today, and whoever controls the oil has at least some of the power. By deposing Hussein from power, the U.S. not only has control of Iraq's oil reserves, but it also has control over a country in the middle eastern community and took that control by a show of military force. In the U.S. now looking for support from the U.N. and the countries that previously opposed the war, I believe the U.S. is leaning more towards the theory of neo-liberalism. Neo-liberalism is a theory that is more concerned with the international political economy rather than security. This frame of thinking emphasizes the necessity for states to engage in international cooperation, and the importance of international economic exchanges and the influence of morals and values in international relations. Neo-liberalism also points out that states will most likely seek collaboration because it is to their benefit; states still want to maintain power.

Although it is not completely a neo-liberalist outlook, there are some aspects of neo-liberalism in the current situation. The U.S. wants to maintain its position of power and is seeking cooperation with the United Nations because it is now in their best interests. President Bush is asking the U.N. to help form a United Nations-authorized force under U.S. command to rebuild the nation of Iraq into a democratic society. "Key members of the Security Council, led by France, have reacted coolly to the draft U.S. resolution, arguing that the United States is asking other countries to contribute troops and money to the occupation without ceding enough military, political and economic authority" (qty. Allen). The U.S. is now considering expanding the U.N.'s role in the rebuilding of Iraq due to monetary reasons (Arieff).

If the U.N. contributes more money to the cause, the U.S. is willing to give up some of the power. This is important because although the U.S. wants to maintain control of the situation in Iraq, it is not realistically feasible for the U.S. government to finance it all. Therefore, the U.S. is willing to concede a portion of the power and compromise with the U.N. in order to achieve its goal. Cooperation, while still maintaining power is a key component of neo-liberalism. The theory of neo-realism is prominent in the beginning of the situation in Iraq. However, as the situation developed and the war came to an end, aspects of neo-liberalism came into play.

Power is always prevalent in international relations and regardless of the situation; no country can honestly say they would willingly give up power.


Arieff, Irwin. "Funds to Rebuild Iraq could Fall Short". Reuters 31 Sept. 2003 web Allen, Mike.
Bush Urges Support for U.N. Backed Multinational Force in Iraq". Washington Post 13 Sept. 2003;
A 16 Goldstein, Joshua S. International Relations. New York: Longman, 2001 Art, Robert J.
and Robert Jervis. International Politics. New York: Harper Collins College Publishers, 1996.