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How Convincing Are Neorealism & Neoliberal Institutionalism To Understand Environmental Cooperation?

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  1. Abstract.
  2. Introduction.
  3. Necessity of environmental cooperation.
    1. Samuelson's definition of 'public goods'.
    2. When a global public good starts to be damaged or polluted.
    3. The cross-border nature of the majority of environmental issues.
  4. Realistic and the pessimistic but possible prospect for international cooperation.
    1. The neorealist approach.
    2. Imagining how international cooperation can occur.
    3. Regarding environmental matters.
    4. The neorealist theory.
  5. Neoliberal institutionalism and the overstated faith in institutions.
    1. Neoliberal institutionalism.
    2. The neoliberal institutionalist approach.
    3. An important element of the theory that explains why neorealism and neoliberal institutionalism are strongly opposed.
    4. Reasons why institutions are supposed to encourage better cooperation.
    5. Cases embodied by institutions such as the UNEP, the WMO and the GEF.
    6. The first necessary step to create institutions.
  6. Conclusion.
  7. References.

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. [...]


[...] Furthermore, the aspect of the neorealist theory that enables us to best understand why and how cooperation can occur is attached to the concept of ?game theory?. Neorealism believes that states are looking to maximize their relative gains, which means that in a situation of cooperation, states extremely care about the gains of others. One state, for instance, might think that ?gaining' means ?loosing' if the neighbour state has won more. This is the reason why cooperation is really difficult to achieve; it is due to the reluctance of states to participate in a game in which other states might win more than them. [...]

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