Is Neorealism a Deterministic Theory of International Relations?

Published date01 January 2019
Date01 January 2019
Subject MatterArticles
Is Neorealism a
Deterministic Theory of
International Relations?
Lucas G. Freire1,2
This article is a contribution to the clarification of the central claim of Kenneth
Waltz’s neorealist international relations theory. Over the years, the notion
that Waltz’s Theory of International Politics postulates a deterministic connection
between the configuration of the structure of the international system and the
behaviour of each of the units has gained traction in textbooks and in straw-man
critiques of the neorealist approach. Two major groups of critics of neorealism’s
alleged determinism have formed. The first group focuses on instances where
predicted balancing behaviour did not occur in order to refute neorealism’s cen-
tral claim about the link between structure and behaviour. The second group
objects to any strong claims about structural features as such. In response, this
article shows that a careful reading of Waltz’s writings suffices to indicate that
the presupposition adopted by both groups of critics is flawed. Neorealism was
never presented by its main proponent as a deterministic international relations
International relations theory, neorealism, Kenneth Waltz, theory of theory,
structure of the international system
The view that neorealism is a deterministic theory of international relations (IR)
is becoming more and more popular in textbooks and in how the discipline is
taught around the world. There are at least two sets of accounts where neorealism
1 Lucas G. Freire, Mackenzie Center for Economic Freedom, São Paulo, Brazil.
2 OBSERVARE at Universidade Autónoma de Lisboa, Portugal.
Corresponding author:
Lucas G. Freire, Mackenzie Center for Economic Freedom, Campus Higienópolis, Prédio 12 - Rua Itambé,
143, São Paulo 01239-001, Brazil.
International Studies
56(1) 58–67, 2019
2019 Jawaharlal Nehru University
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0020881718824760

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