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Published January 1994 | Published
Journal Article Open

"Less filling, tastes great": The realist-neoliberal debate


The debate between realists and neoliberals focuses on two issues: (1) delineating the goals that best account for the actions of states, especially patterns of cooperation and conflict; and (2) assessing whether institutions of different types can ameliorate conflict in an otherwise anarchic environment. Realists for their part concede that states may be concerned in the long run with absolute welfare; but they also believe that states, faced with inevitable threats to their survival, must concern themselves with relative position as measured by military capability, economic productivity, and the like thereby attenuating the likelihood of cooperation and the role of institutions as facilitators of cooperation. Neoliberals, by contrast, draw on the lessons of scenarios such as the repeated Prisoners' Dilemma and the myriad instances of actual cooperation in international politics and hence see less reason for supposing that states are concerned necessarily with relative gain. Consequently, they see greater opportunity for cooperation and an expanded role for institutions as facilitators of that cooperation.

Additional Information

© Trustees of Princeton University 1994. This research was supported in part by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Peace. We also wish to acknowledge the helpful comments and criticisms of Tom Schwartz, Peter Lange, and Joseph Grieco. Formerly SSWP 815.

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