The False Promise of International Institutions | Study Guide

John J. Mearsheimer

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Course Hero, "The False Promise of International Institutions Study Guide," September 29, 2020, accessed September 28, 2021, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-False-Promise-of-International-Institutions/.

The False Promise of International Institutions | Quotes

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1.

Realists and institutionalists particularly disagree about whether institutions markedly affect the prospects for international stability.


John Joseph Mearsheimer

Mearsheimer establishes the fundamental conflict between the two major competing theories of international relations, and this serves as the context for Mearsheimer's subsequent analysis. Institutionalists believe that institutions themselves have sufficient power and authority to compel governments either to take or not take certain actions. Realists believe that institutions only have as much power and authority as the governments they regulate allow them to exercise.

2.

Institutions have minimal influence on state behavior, and ... hold little promise for promoting stability in the post-Cold War world.


John Joseph Mearsheimer

Mearsheimer establishes his central thesis. By taking this position, he places himself in sympathy with the realists, who "disagree [with institutionalists] about whether institutions markedly affect the prospects for international stability." In addition, he effectively limits the context of his argument to the post-Cold War world.

3.

[An] institution ... [is] a set of rules that stipulate[s] the ways in which states should cooperate and compete.


John Joseph Mearsheimer

Previous to this statement, Mearsheimer states that "there is no widely-agreed upon definition of institutions in the international relations literature" and that "institution" is usually defined too broadly to have any useful application in analysis. By providing readers with a clear definition of this term, he clarifies his argument throughout the remainder of the analysis.

4.

Realism paints a rather grim picture of world politics.


John Joseph Mearsheimer

Mearsheimer's definition of realism provides readers with a stark contrast to the idea of a well-regulated world run by institutions. Mearsheimer states that he is a realist, so this early definition of realism helps the reader understand the thrust of his argument from the beginning. This definition of realism as a pessimistic philosophy is also important because Mearsheimer refers back to it in his conclusion, in which he suggests that the pessimistic nature of realism is one of the primary reasons why so many policymakers look for alternatives.

5.

[Each] institutionalist theor[y] ... offers a different argument about how institutions push states away from war.


John Joseph Mearsheimer

Mearsheimer's succinct definition of institutionalism helps readers understand the viewpoint that opposes realism. His subsequent analysis of this conflict is the central focus of the essay. Realism is portrayed as a grim worldview wherein trust and cooperation are unlikely, whereas institutional theories offer a potential solution. This definition also helps the reader understand the two main goals of institutional theories: to discourage war and to promote stability.

6.

Liberal institutionalism ... address[es] [not] whether institutions cause peace, but ... cooperation [among] state[s] [who] are not fundamentally opposed.


John Joseph Mearsheimer

Mearsheimer provides a succinct definition of the first of the three institutional theories he examines. His definition highlights the most important characteristic of this theory primarily by defining what it does not do. This distinction is important for two reasons. First, liberal institutionalism is the only institutional theory that does not "address the question of whether institutions cause peace." Second, by subsequently identifying what this theory does attempt to explain, Mearsheimer provides the context for the analysis that follows. In his introductory comments, he also indicates that he will analyze three institutionalist theories that have increasingly ambitious goals with regard to their respective efforts to challenge the fundamental assumptions of realism. This definition states clearly that liberal institutionalism is the least ambitious theory.

7.

Liberal institutionalism is ... of limited utility in the security realm.


John Joseph Mearsheimer

Mearsheimer asserts this observation during his analysis of the causal logic of this political theory. He effectively limits his analysis to this theory's effectiveness in areas other than the security realm. In addition he adheres to the limits of his initial definition which states that liberal institutionalism is concerned mainly with "explaining cooperation in cases where state interests are not fundamentally opposed."

8.

An important theoretical failing in the liberal institutionalist logic ... [is that] it ignores ... relative-gains concerns.


John Joseph Mearsheimer

In his discussion of realism, Mearsheimer states that "two factors inhibit cooperation: relative-gains considerations, and concern about cheating." His analysis of liberal institutionalism shows that it addresses concerns about cheating. He identifies this theory's failure not only in its inability to address concerns in the security realm but also in its inability to address relative-gains concerns. The conciseness of this analysis clearly demonstrates not only the flaw in this theory's internal logic theory but also how that flaw relates to the opposing theory of realism.

9.

Although [collective security] theory emphasizes the continuing importance of military force, it is explicitly anti-realist.


John Joseph Mearsheimer

Mearsheimer's definition of collective security accomplishes four important objectives. First, this definition states how collective security theory is similar to realism; i.e., it "emphasizes the continuing importance of military force." Second, it identifies where this theory lies on the spectrum of ambition when compared to liberal institutionalism. Collective theory is "explicitly anti-realist"; thus, it is a more ambitious theory, especially given that liberal institutionalism does not even attempt to address security concerns. Third, it indicates specifically how collective security differs from realism by opposing realism's "balance-of-power logic and traditional alliances." Finally, this definition identifies the goal of collective security: "to create a world where those realist concepts have no role to play."

10.

For advocates of collective security, institutions are the key to ... convinc[ing] states to base their behavior on ... anti-realist norms.


John Joseph Mearsheimer

Mearsheimer introduces his analysis of the causal logic of the theory of collective security. Early in his essay, Mearsheimer establishes that realism and institutionalism are opposing theories. This overview of the causal logic of collective security theory show that the theory's proponents believe not only that institutions themselves are the most important tool for challenging the realist status quo, but also how that change should be implemented; i.e., by "convinc[ing] states to base their behavior on three profoundly anti-realist norms."

11.

There are two major flaws in collective security theory, and both concern the all-important component of trust.


John Joseph Mearsheimer

This statement occurs at the beginning of Mearsheimer's analysis of the flaws in the causal logic of collective security theory. In the previous section, Mearsheimer analyzes that logic and its argument that states must "base their behavior on three profoundly anti-realist norms." The third of these three norms is trust. Thus Mearsheimer's analysis of the flaws in the causal logic of collective security theory states succinctly that the flaws lie in the theory's third premise and that there are two flaws to this theory.

12.

The historical record provides little support for collective security, a point acknowledged by the theory's proponents.


John Joseph Mearsheimer

Examining the empirical record is a method of examining the relative truth of an argument that complements theoretical analysis. Empirical analysis looks outside the strict bounds of theory and examines how things work in practice. Mearsehimer states not only that the historical record offers little empirical evidence to support the argument that collective security arrangements are effective but also that proponents of collective security theory themselves acknowledge that there is little evidence in the historical record. As a result Mearsheimer establishes a very solid foundation upon which he can build his ensuing analysis.

13.

Critical theorists ... address the question of how to bring about peace ... and ... make bold claims about ... changing state behavior.


John Joseph Mearsheimer

Mearsheimer's definition of critical theory accomplishes two important objectives. First, this definition states specifically that the goal of critical theory is to "directly address the question of how to bring about peace." Second, it indicates where critical theory lies on the spectrum of ambition when compared to liberal institutionalism. Critical theory "make[s] bold claims about the prospects for changing state behavior." Mearsheimer notes earlier that, although collective security theory is "explicitly anti-realist," it nonetheless accepts the fundamental arguments of realism. In addition liberal institutionalism makes no effort to challenge the claims of realism. Mearsheimer therefore assesses critical theory as the most ambitious of the three institutional theories.

14.

Institutions are at the core of critical theory, [which] aim[s] ... to alter the ... norms of the international system so ... states stop ... acting according to realism.


John Joseph Mearsheimer

In examining the causal logic of critical theory Mearsheimer expands upon the premises outlined in his definition of this theory. According to Mearsheimer critical theory does two things: it "directly address[es] the question of how to bring about peace" and it "make[s] bold claims about the prospects of changing state behavior." This statement examines the logic of this theory and informs readers further that it hopes to change the international system by encouraging states to "stop thinking and acting according to realism." In addition, this theory suggests that institutions themselves are the most important part of critical theorists' efforts to make these changes.

15.

The attraction of institutionalist theories for both policymakers and scholars is explained ... by their relationship to realism ... and ... core elements of American political ideology.


John Joseph Mearsheimer

Throughout his essay Mearsheimer provides an entirely logical and factual analysis of two competing theories of international relations: realism and institutionalism. He acknowledges that realism takes a very pessimistic and grim view of international political relations, and he sympathizes with those who cite realism's pessimism as the reason for this theory's unpopularity. However, he also acknowledges that, in the realm of policy, decisions should be based on sound analysis rather than personal preference. Having identified this gap between reasonable expectation and actual practice, he is able to establish a solid foundation for arguing that the paradoxical support of institutionalism by experts in the field results directly from "core elements of American political ideology." These elements include the view that serious social problems can be resolved better through sustained effort and dialogue among reasonable people and a belief that war should only be waged if there is a clear moral justification.

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