International cooperation is a radically different prospect with regard to positivist theories of international relations. According to each approach, states live in a specific international system, are motivated by diverse factors and possess various resources. Each theory then offers a particular context in which cooperation between states occurs in different ways. In fact, states have to face situations that require specific cooperation strategy according to the distribution of powers, their national interests and the nature of the issue demanding cooperation. This last point is the focus of this essay attempting to understand how states behave on the international scene when the issue demanding cooperation is environmental. In a context of great environmental degradation, but also large awareness from countries to effectively address environmental issues, how does environmental cooperation is ruled? The two international relations theories analysed in this essay enable us to comprehend how environmental cooperation takes place within the international agenda. In the end however, none of them is actually able to explain the scope of environmental cooperation alone; rather, there is an interconnection between the different theories of international relations and a necessity to consider all of them to recognize the challenges of environmental cooperation.The modern study of international relations appeared due to the great conflicts of the first part of the twentieth century. At that time, due to the war and international insecurity, international relations approaches started to theorize the reasons for peace and war and the potential for cooperation among states. In this perspective of understanding high politics, the study of environment, considered as low politics, emerged much later.
[...] While some scholars claim that neorealism and neoliberal institutionalism are strongly opposed, others argue that they are not so different and that, only a small element of their theories diverge. Indeed, neoliberal institutionalists integrate some of the values of the realist theory such as the principles about states, but diverge in regards to institutions (Baldwin 1993). For Paterson, as he pointed out, “only one different assumption is necessary to turn neorealism into neoliberal institutionalism; that is the assumption about state rationality and motivation” (Paterson 1996). [...]
[...] Neoliberal institutionalism, by trying to analyse why and how institutions are playing a crucial role in international cooperation does bring some interesting insights to understand the challenge of environmental cooperation, but it also raise some questions and leave some gaps due to its incapacity to think outside the institutional perspective. Conclusion The theoretical analysis of neorealism and neoliberal institutionalism, illustrated of evidence, has proven that they both possess some relevant points to explain the rise of environmental cooperation. Claims from neorealism stating that a small number of participants make cooperation easier to reach and more efficient, does make sense to explain the multitude of bilateral environmental agreements. [...]
[...] (1993) Understanding the Problem of International Cooperation: the Limits of Neoliberal Institutionalism and the Future of Realist Theory, in Baldwin, D.A., Neorealism and Neolibrealism: The Contemporary Debate, chapter 12 Haas, P.M., Keohane, R. and Levy, M.A. (1993) Institutions for the Earth: Sources of Effective International Environmental Protection, Cambridge, chapters 1 and 9 Hardin, G. (1968) The Tragedy of the Commons, Science, vol.162, n°3859, p.1243 Heidenreich, F. (2004) Transboundary Environmental Cooperation A Bridge over National and Ethnic Borders?, Lund University Hellmann, G. [...]
[...] The study of two different schools of thought: the neorealist theory and the neoliberal institutionalist approach will enable us to judge which of them, or which part of them is the most convincing to understanding the way environmental cooperation is most likely to happen within the current international agenda. This theoretical analysis, illustrated by recent facts and evidences, will hopefully give us a better understanding of environmental cooperation as the new type of cooperation of this 21st century. Necessity of Environmental Cooperation Why do countries of the world need to cooperate in order to face environmental challenges? [...]
[...] Rather, we are interested in the emphasis that neoliberal institutionalism puts on the need for institutions to address the management of environmental issues and change the degrading behaviour of the society (Vogler 1996). What are, then, the opportunities and forces pushing or preventing international cooperation? Neoliberal institutionalists consider that one of the largest threats that can occur within the international system is ‘cheating' because it prevents international cooperation to happen. ‘Cheating' is understood as the uncertainty of commitments and the free rider phenomenon. [...]
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