MONDAY, JULY 16, 2012: Levels of Analysis
The broad theories can be fit into one or more levels of analysis- they are a way
of organizing theories and foreign policy
Levels of analysis are the vantage point from which we look at the world
What factors matter? Theories usually work at one or more levels
Look into more detailed policy implications
The choice of levels of analysis has a trade off and effects how descriptively
accurate the theories are, how useful it is, the value for predictions, and what we
The three levels of analysis are:
Systemic (third image), which is where neo-realism fits in, maximum
comprehensiveness, generalizable, but it compromises in terms of detail or
depth—a broad picture, but it shallow. It is a highly parsimonious model. Not
exclusively realist though- there are certain constructivist and liberal theories
that fit into the systemic level.
Domestic (second image). This gels with liberal theories (ex. democratic peace
theory). The focus is on variables at the domestic level to account for actions of
the international stage. It focuses on characteristics of states internationally. In
descriptive terms, it is not as comprehensive as the systemic level, but it affords
much more depth and detail in the cases to deal with. It allows recognition of
difference of actors, which systemic does not.
Individual (first image)- best associated with cognitive, classical realism (human
behaviour) theories. Focus is on individuals, personality, cognitive biases, etc.
This level has taken a lot of heat for its focus (most criticized) because it doesn’t
allow us to generalize anything about international politics, and you can end up
with theories of one individual, which is on no use. But it does allow us to go
very in depth and emphasizes differentiation of units, and you end up looking at
minute differences in humans. Like in domestic level, it allows us to look at
Trade offs: scholars made analytical/theories bets in focusing on one or another,
and relate those decisions to the type of puzzle they are trying to deal with.
Alliances: A balance of power is a basic neo-realist expectation of how the world
will be defined. For realists, given the anarchic structure and distributions of
capabilities and power, there are two ways states can function, particularly when
they see a rising power that could reach hegemony—they can balance the
power, and the other is bandwagoning.
In a “world where nothing succeeds like success” bandwagoning (states pick
allies/friends based on who is more successful at the time or could become such)
can occur because there are benefits of joining the stronger party. The more
powerful you are, the more people want to ally with you. This is an intuitive way of thinking about world politics because we see this happening in daily life.
Bandwagoning is logically expected for a few reasons—bandwagoning allows
other states to share in the spoils that come with power (ex. if you’re a small
state, aligning with a major power gives you a decent amount of power and
resources). Bandwagoning also may promise greater security (the powerful
state/patron will protect you), and you’re also ensuring they aren’t a threat to
you and will not attack. The importance of reputation also matters (looks better
to be on the winning side)
Ex) This occurred during the Cold War—there was a belief in both the USA and
the USSR that if they showed weakness in their commitments or weakness in
dealing with other, there would be a mad rush of allies and undecided states
rushing to become an ally with the other side.
If this expectation is true, it means security is pretty scarce in the international
system, because states that are strong attract more allies and support. Rivalries
between great powers also become more intense, because the slightest show of
weakness matters (ex. in the Cold War example)
Balancing at the Systemic level is the opposite option. This is when states ally
against the biggest power or those going towards a position of hegemony. The
expectation that states will balance is a direct consequence of the assumption of
anarchy and its implications.
According to neo-realists, they balance against powers because: given anarchy
and the uncertainty of other states intentions, it makes no sense to realists for
states to align with the strongest actor because allies are temporary and
interests change. Since survival is at stake, they are putting their survival at risk
by being with the strongest power. They argue bandwagoning means placing
your trust in the fact that the great power is benign, and realists argue this is not
the safest option, and balancing is.
It makes sense for states to join the weaker side because it allows influence they
wouldn’t have on the stronger side, which has a lesser need for allies. When
they join the weaker side there is less of a chance of being abandoned because
they have greater value. Ideally, all states will be inclined towards balancing, but
this is not always the case.
Realist suggests some conditions in which they may not happen: extremely
weak states may realize that they don’t add much to a balancing alliances, which
makes them dispensable, so they are inclined to bandwagon since they cannot
really effect the outcome. This isn’t true for stronger states, so they are more
likely to balance to ensure their safety.
Such a world is expected to be more stable and safer than bandwagoning
because great powers have an incentive to be restrained if they know being a
threat will create more states ganging up and creating a balancing alliance
against them. In a bandwagoning world, the opposite is true and the more
aggressive you are the more states will join you. There is more credibility in a balanced world because states value their allies
because of their own interest and are less likely to abandon them. There is more
incentive to stay true to your alliance.
States balance against power. Usually, militarily and economically the strongest
state will encourage or provide a balancing alliance against them. They focus on
this because anarchy means you assume the worst about everyone’s intentions,
and will ally against the great power because even if they seem benign their
intentions may change.
This tells us little about specific policies states could provide. Stephen Walt
came up with this own theory of balancing to correct this: a “balance of threat”
theory. He is sacrificing a little bit of parsimony to get more depth. He argues
that states do not balance against power, but rather balance against threat.
They ally against the state that poses the greatest threat to them, and the
greatest power is not always the greatest threat. Threat involves military
capability, an aggregate power, but power alone is not enough. Other variables
include geographic proximity (with two equal power states, the closer one is
more of a threat), aggressive intentions (if you view the other as hostile
intentions based on past behaviour or anything else, you attribute more threat
to them), and offensive power (if you view the adversaries capabilities as making
offense easier, there is great incentive for fear, but if defense has the advantage,
there will be less fear). By adding these elements of threat, he adds more
specificity to the theory.
Ex) Why Israel and the Arab States built alliances against each other and how
these states aim their alliances not at stronger and more distant power, but at
closer states. Pakistan’s biggest threat