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CHAPTER II: Literature Review

The theory of neorealism
Neorealism – or structural realism – one of the major theories of international politics, associated with Kenneth Waltz28 (1924-2013) will be the major theoretical framework that I use in this dissertation. He first suggested the idea in his now famous 1979 book Theory of International Relations. Since then it has been used by several authors such as Buzan (1993)29, Jervis30 (1997); Mearsheimer31 (2001); Hanami32 (2003); and Grieco33 (2015). While they disagree on various aspects of the theory they agree on the broad theoretical concepts that Waltz (1979) first formulated. While this thesis will touch upon other authors the focus will be on two of the main proponent Waltz who proposed defensive realism, and Mearsheimer who proposed the idea of offensive realism. At the core The focus of this theory is to explain the potential behaviour of states in terms of their inherent interests. It is essential to remember that is that neorealism is not a theory of foreign policy but a theory of international politics. The key issues that neorealism focusses on are war, the avoidance of war, power balancing, power seeking, the death of states, security competition and arms races, alliance formation, etc.34 The key concepts of neorealism can be summarised as anarchy, structure, capability, the distribution of power, polarity and national interest.

The following section will explain these concepts

Anarchy and Structure

These two concepts are closely intervined and therefore I deal with them in a single section. At the core of neorealism is the idea that the international system is anarchic as, unlike within nations where the state is the only legitimate authority with a monopoly over force, there is no world government35. To quote Waltz “The state of nature among men is a monstrous impossibility. Anarchy breeds war among them; government establishes the conditions for peace. The state of nature that continues to prevail among states often produces monstrous behavior but so far has not made life itself impossible36 .

The term “anarchy“ does not mean that countries are always fighting and there is constant chaos and disorder—it means that there is no overarching government that can impose order, on in other words, the structure itself is “anarchic.“ The lack of an overarching global authority that provides security and stability in international relations means that there is no formal organizing principle such as a world government with a monopoly over force, unlike domesitic politics which is defined by an heirarchy of force. Only nation states have the right to use force to defend themselves in international relations. Sovereign states are thus the building blocks of the international system, and the primary actors in world politics.37 Consequently, the international system is in a constant state of flux. States compete and try to ensure that they have the capability to survive, especially maintaining territorial integrity and domestic autonomy in the system. This is because of the absence of trust within the international system and the self interest of states. As Waltz puts it, “ To expect states of any sort to rest reliably at peace in a condition of anarchy would require the uniform and enduring perfection of all of them.38

Consequently, all states must rely on “self help“ which Waltz decribes as a “self-help“ system. This means that as states expect conflict they have to “be concerned with the means required to sustain and protect themselves. The closer the competition, the more strongly states seek relative gains rather than absolute ones39“ As the international system is “anarchy“ and the structure is state-centric, states always are striving to prevent a potential attack from the others. Since there is no centralized authority, there is no reason for a state to obey or adhere to an international system unless there is a kind of balance in the system. In fact if there is order, this is due to restraints imposed by the international system to the units40 However “there is a constant possibility of war in a world in which there are two or more states each seeking to promote a set of interests and having no agency above them upon which they can rely for protection.41

Waltz sees this as the central guiding principle of international relations and argues that the structure of anarchy itself prevents any idealistic approach like democratic peace theory, or liberalism, or world socialism from being successful. Idealistic expectations of humanity striving towards a clear goal or nations living in peace will work only “if the minimum interest of states in preserving themselves became the maximum interest of all of them-and each could rely fully upon the steadfast adherence ro this definition by all of the others. Stating the condition makes apparent the utopian quality of liberal and socialisr expectations.42 Thus, “each state arrives at policies and decides on actions according to its own international processes, but its decisions are shaped by the very presence of other states as well as interactions with them43 This view of the state system as one in which nations are competitively seeking advantage all the time allows us to move on to the next element of neo realist theory or capabilities of a state.


The anarchic nature of the state system leads to the third pillar of neo realism which is capabilities which can be defined as the relative power that a state has in the international system. Five main criteria are key to evaluating the capability or power of a state: its natural resource endowment, its demographic, economic, military and technological capacity.44 States strive to achieve a level of capability that ensures their survival. Each state achieves a different level of capability and thus states within the international system are differentiated via their level of capability. What is important then is not absolute capability but relative capability. Thus, in neorealism what is important is the capability or power that a state possesses at a given moment of time. Different levels of power yield variations in the types and magnitude of structural constraints that states face45. This in turn leads to variations in the way a state will behave. At the core of thier behaviour will be the endless striving to get relative advantage within the system. As there is no overarching principle of organization in the system and it is anarchic by its very nature, states are always insecure. They, therefore, will strive for capabilities or power. As Waltz argues, “the structure of the state system does not directly cause state A to attack state B. Whether or not that attack occurs will depend on a number of special circumstances-location, size, power, interest, type of government, past history and tradition-each of which will influence the a ctions of both states46“.

This leads to the great paradox of international politics. Nations will always strive to protect themselves from other states, but the more powerful a particular state becomes, the more insecure the other states become. Therefore, they, in turn strive for more and more power leading to never ending cycles of security and capability accumulation. This leads to the divisions between realists based on the level of power that a particular state needs to be secure. Offensive realists argue that states should always seek to increase their power, while defensive realists insist that too much power can be self-defeating. Offensive realists argue only that superior capability more likely to result in successful outcome.This is because overarching power will overwhelm an enemy. In this concept no state can be really sure about other states’ intentions which can change rapidly. Therefore, what a state should try and match is the actual power of its rivals and not its intentions. 47

Another branch, hegemonic stability theory hold that if one state accumulates power this will have a stabilizing effect on the system. It can be argued that all three are different points on a power spectrum. A weak state feels more secure when it accumlates power, in an act of offensive realism but at a certain poin, the state will trigger a balancing reaction that puts its security at risk, a state of affairs that agrees with defensive realist assumptions. Finally, when the state becomes too powerful to balance, its opponents bandwagon with it, and the state's security begins to increase again. This is the situation described by hegemonic stability theory. Fiammenghi48 (2011) holds that the three stages delineate a modified parabolic relationship between power and security and argues that this brings together both streams of the theory—defensive realism and offensive realism. He argues that as a state moves along the power continuum, its security increases up to a point, then decreases, and finally increases again. This modified parabolic relationship allows scholars to synthesize previous realist theories into a single framework.


The striving for stability in the international system in the absence of an overarching system means that only a balance of power can ensure international peace and stability. This leads to the notion of polarity. What determines the polarity of the international system is the ‘distribution of capabilities’ across units, at any given time There are three major types of polarity: unipolarity, bipolarity and multipolarity. Unipolarity is the state of affairs when there is one dominating power in terms of demographic, economic, military and technological capabilities. This is the state of the world today with the United States maintaining military, economic and technological primacy in the world. The Cold War, when the USA and the USSR faced off each other is the classic example of bipolarity, when the United States and the Soviet Union were two poles of the world. The period before the First World War, and the inter war period would be the best example of a multi polar world. Such a multipolar system with a potential hegemon raise the greatest fear and are consequently the biggest threat to the system as it generates spirals of fear49 Geography prevents any one power from attaining global hegemony and therefore regional hegemons prefer that no other region has a great power, and thus seek to act as off shore balancers. Mearsheimer50 looks at global politics over the last 150 years and argues that powers that tried for hegemony, such as Japan which began to seek the status of an hegemon after the Meiji restoration of 1868 and collapsed in 1945, Germany which began to seek this status from 1862 and collapsed in 1945, the Soviet Union which sought this after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 are examples of powers that sought hegemony, On the other hand, off shore balancers, such as the United Kingdom from 1792 to 1945 when it balanced Germany through the navy and the United States from 1800 to 1990 when it stationed forces in Europe were off shore balancers against those seeking hegemony. Thus, “balances result not from the malevolence of men or of states but from the condition in which all states exist.51

Waltz argues that it is not any noble intentions or system of government that leads to peace, but instead that it is the way power is distributed in the system that induce states to act in some ways and not in others. This, however, sees states as rational actors. Going back to the first principle, the fundamental aim of a state is to survive, or to put in other words states seek “security.“ Key to the neo realist view of the world is the idea that states will always aim at balancing their security. As the international system is still in a state of nature, power-projection is the natural behaviour of states but the system constrains power projection beyond a certain level. Nazi Germany s quest for hegemony rather than a blance of power is a a good example of how states can fail if they do not acknowledge the inherent constraints that the system has. This constant striving for balance in the system leads to the next level of the structure of international relations which is national interests.


The final analytical pillar in neorealism is “national interest“ which is an elusive concept. States strive for security, they try to expand their power, and they are never secure. Thus, the key to understanding how great powers behave in the system is to understand how they try to preserve territorial, economic and military security. At the same time, there is a limit to the projection of power. The system itself has barriers towards an hegemon rising, and many states simply do not have the capability to become great powers. Thus as the example of the United States during the Cold War shows, that even great power is not enough to dominate across the world. One of the key arguments that Waltz puts forward is that state, unless they are revisionist powers, gradually accept that power needs to be balanced. The world can never predict when a revisionist power will appear on the world stage52 In fact, as rational actors, the long term goal is survival, and survival means that states will try to keep the balance of power. Wars can occur when a conflict of interest escalate or when power is insufficiently balanced This leads to a conflict of interest ending up as war which threatens the states that wage it, and the stability of the international system.

One of the key concepts of neo-realism is that the international is far more important than the domestic. Thus, no matter what the interests of domestic actors, or what conflict exists in the state, any given state will try to get the maximum advantage it can in the international system. It is a given in realist theory that the international state system is anarchic, so how a state responds to other states is a reflection of the power it has in the system.

Neorealists assume that statesmen will respond rationally to these preconditions and choose the foreign-policy course which has the maximum potential to ensure security benefits and minimize security risks.53
This was different in early 1990s when Azerbaijan was struggling with internal problems. However, once the regime has consolidated the power under the Aliyev’s regime, any domestic actor challenging the regime has been disabled or neutralized.

The main criteria is that neo-realism gives importance to the international state system, while theories that focus on domestic actors assume that factors within the state, as for example the power or ideology of a particular political party will impact foreign-policy choices.

Neorealism accepts that systemic or structural factors may limit the choices policy makers have, but assumes that elites are not bound by such constrains, at least domestically. On the other hand, those who stress domestic factors insist that statesmen cannot take the optimum course because of local pressure. In reality, most nations fall somewhere in between these two extremes.54 However, as already noted above, since the regime consolidated the power this does not apply to the incumbent regime in Azerbaijan. At least when it comes to foreign policy setting, Azerbaijani government has kept its so-called multi-vectored policy, regardless of the desires of different groups who might look for different foreign policy course.

This thesis is theoritically limited in the way it uses only the neo realist framework to explain the issue. In short, the key argument is this.Azerabaijan, a rather weak player on the international scence used its only advantage, its strategic positioning in the oil and gas landscape to fulfil its national interests.

However, this thesis is limited. It looks at one particular aspect of gas supplies that is the vulnerability of the supply. For this I adapt a definition that has been used in the context of the oil crisis. The focus here is on the potential for coercion, “whether an actor or a group of actors has the ability to force a sustained reduction in the supply of crude oil or crude products on a state.55“ This definition also focuses on a key concern of states—whether they can depend on a steady supply of gasoline and diesel.

Azerbaijan has limited goals and is willing to compromise, as for example in its willingness to deal with the details. For example, Azerbaijan has been demanding a price revision for the gas that is pumped from the Shah Deniz field to Turkey. However, it has not taken any drastic measure.

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