Realism, schmrealism — Crooked Timber: Stephen Walt writes a quite odd post on realism, liberalism and the future of the euro.... Now Stephen Walt is a smart guy, famous, and all those good things. But [his] post seems to me (and not only me ) to be completely wrong-headed. For one, his lumping of people into one or the other side of the debate is peculiar and artificial. Andrew ‘powerful states, not institutions, determine the course of European politics’ Moravcsik is a decidedly unorthodox representative of international relations ‘institutionalism.’ Walt’s second pick, Barry Eichengreen is hardly any better; he argues in the piece that Walt links to that:
France and Germany are always the drivers of the process. Decisions may require consensus among the member states, but France and Germany have always been the ones shaping that consensus.
Moravcsik and Eichengreen’s beliefs about EU integration stem exactly from their arguments about powerful states’ national interests, not from some belief that institutions e.g. are designed to reduce transaction costs, and are largely innocent of state interest and power relations. This comes out less clearly in the specific Moravcsik piece that Walt links to – but it is pretty clearly outlined in the rest of his work.
But then, Walt’s own arguments are not realist arguments either, except under the most anodyne possible definition of realism. He claims:
As you’d expect, I’ve tended to be among the bears, in part because I don’t think greater “policy coordination” between the member states can eliminate occasional fiscal crises and because I think nationalism remains a powerful social force in Europe. European publics won’t be willing to keep bailing out insolvent members of the eurozone, and the integrative measures that have been proposed won’t be sufficient to eliminate the need.
Fiscal crises, nationalism, the preferences of national publics, and functional economic needs all fit very poorly with modern realist theories of international relations (Walt’s sometime co-author, John Mearsheimer, has a realist theory of ‘hypernationalism,’ but it isn’t at all a good one). For realists, international politics is supposed to be driven by what happens between states, not what happens within them. And this is the problem with Walt’s supposed ‘test of rival paradigms.’ They aren’t rival paradigms (and if they were, they couldn’t really be tested against each other anyway). They’re different arguments in different stages of development about the domestic sources of national interests. If (as Walt seems sometimes to be suggesting in this post), realism is nothing more than the claim that national interests predominate in explaining international outcomes, then realism is theoretically very nearly vacuous. Moreover, the candidate ‘rival paradigm’ explanations are, under this broad definition, actually realist too. They have quite as much to say about state interests, and perhaps more to say about power relations than Walt does. If Walt has an actual realist explanation of what is driving European states apart – one that would presumably be rooted in the security dilemma or some other systemic phenomenon – it would be very nice to know what it is. He certainly doesn’t tell us about it in the post as it stands...