Neoliberal institutionalism Stein:
• International politics today is as much institutional as intergovernmental. International institutions
can be found in every functional domain and in every region in the world.
• Birth of international organizations: the field of international organizations responds to real
world events and historically has shifted the focus of investigation to reflect changing reality. After
the 1WW and with the creation of the League of Nations and the emergence of international law,
the field necessarily focused on international organizations. When the league failed to deal with
the aggressions of 1930s and WW2, the reaction was to deny the emphasis on International
organizations and international law. Yet, after WW2, there was even a more broad scale effort to
construct international organizations. → creation of UN, IMF, etc. Also, the project of European
unification implies some transcendence of the anarchic state of nature in which realists presume
states find themselves.
• From organizations to regimes to institutions: since the end od WW2 the field of international
organization has undergone significant changes.
o Post 2WW → focus on international organizations, concrete entities with a physical
presence: a formal arrangement transcending national boundaries that provides for the
establishment of institutional machinery to facilitate cooperation among members in the
security, economic, social, or related fields.
o This narrow conceptualization was broadened with a focus on regimes, defined as
principles, norms, rules and decisionmaking procedures around which actor expectations
converge in a given issuearea.
o It rooted the existence of international institutions in the core elements of the realist
theory: states, power and interests. Regime theorists accepted the realist view of states as
the central actors of international politics, and they accepted the central realist premise
that state behavior is rooted in power and interest. In addition, they used the intellectual
tools of conflict analysis such as game theory and derived a selfinterest basis for the
existence of international institutions. → the term regime was replaced by institution as
there was now a new institutionalism which embodied a broader conceptualization.
• Liberalism: those studying post WW2 international organizations were understood as liberals. In
focusing on international cooperation and new institutional arrangements, scholars were accepting
the possibility of change and improvement in contrast to the realist emphasis in the continuous and
unchanging nature of the reality of international anarchy and the omnipresent prospect of war. For
economic reasons, it was rational for the state’s interests to focus on institutions and cooperation
→ despite drawing on microeconomics as realists do, emphasizing self interests as realists do,
using game theory as realists do, there was an emphasis on cooperation and institutions.
• Rationalism: game theory and the demonstration that institutionalized cooperation could be
explained from a starting point of the power and interests of independent actors made possible to
integrate conflict and cooperation in a unifying framework, instead of having the field divided
between those who studied conflict and those who studied cooperation and institutions. → It made
possible a recognition that there were cooperative elements even in the midst of conflict and
conflictual elements in the midst of cooperation.
Competing formulations and perspectives:
• Institutions as marginal and epiphenomenal: Realists trace their intellectual roots to
Thucydides and see states as the primary actors and emphasize the role of power in determining
outcomes in the anarchic setting of international politics. And realists see international institutions
as an relatively small and irrelative component of international relations. Realists have
downplayed the role of institutions in international politics for 2 reasons:
o They have argued that institutions exist tipically in low politics domains of lesser
importance such as transportation, communications, health, and such, and not in “high
politics” domains of national security and defense. o They argue that institutions are epiphenomenal, that they merely reflect power and
interest → that they don’t have independent standings or independent causal roles, and
that they constitute the same world of power politics familiar to realists. Institutions may
exist, but they do not mitigate in any way the anarchy of the international system → they
are just created by the powerful to serve their interests.
• How wide to cast the net? If institutions are simply rules of the game, and if all recurrent
behavior is guided by some rule, then the entire study of international politics can simply be
redefined as the study of international institutions. States interacting in an anarchic international
system follow some rule and thus anarchy can be simply redubbed an institution. → what is said
about regimes can be easily applied t today’s use of institution: “scholars have fallen into using the
term so disparately that it ranges from an umbrella of international relations to little more than a
synonym for international organizations.
Institutions as solutions to dilemmas of selfinterest:
• The heart of neoliberal institutionalism is a view of international institutions as the selfinterested
creation of states.
• States find that autonomous selfinterested behavior can be problematic and they prefer to
construct international institutions to deal with a host of concerns.
o State experience many coordination problems → interests generate multiple equilibrium
for which they need some mechanism.
o State also experience collaboration problems where their autonomous selfinterested
behavior results in deficient outcomes → prisoner’s dilemma (autonomy results in poorer
outcomes). In those cases, institutions can resolve the collective action problems and
allow states to reach mutually preferred outcomes; thus, individuals out of selfinterest,
voluntarily cede some of their freedom of action in order to achieve better outcomes that
those arrived at a state of nature.
• States may also create institutions in order to reduce the governance costs associated with
The dark side of the force: realist arguments for the difficulties of institutional cooperation.
• Relative gains and the problem of institutions: institutional cooperation in international
relations is more difficult than imagined because states have distributional concerns and not
simply welfaremaximizing ones. → situation in which states are more concerned in the relative
gains from cooperation. States that are concerned about their relative standing and the relative
gains from cooperative arrangements do not only focus on their own returns. → there is a great
deal of institutionalized cooperation and much of it having quite differential payoffs.
• Coercive cooperation: international institutions are less benign than they are pictured and reflect
the actions of the powerful. States differ in power and they use that power in the creation of
international institutions; they use that bargaining power as well as their power to structure the
choices for others in the construction of institutions. → where there is a Pareto situation (a set of
acceptable outcomes), great powers use their bargaining power to obtain the outcomes they most
o However, the existence of those cases does not reduce the importance of institutions and
voluntaristic agreement → it simply reminds us that there is a coercive aspect to mutually
beneficial exchanges. Exactly that is the point of neoliberal institutions: that one could
begin with the power and int