The NATO’s Activities: Neo-Realistic Tendencies

Within the context of zero-sum theory, according to which a participant’s gains should equal the losses of utility of another participant, relative gains refer to actions of the parties concerning power balancing, regardless of other factors. For instance, many international organizations rely on cooperation as a necessary condition for balancing power, although it restricts stakeholder’s possibilities to take advantage of other actors because of insufficient knowledge about other organization’s behavior. Acting in accordance with game theory, the relative gains are largely explained by a neo-realistic vision of international theory. In particular, the framework suggests that the modern world is premised on anarchy as the basic ordering principle (Snyder 1984). Due to the fact that power is distributed among states, there is no central power regulating their relationships, which leads to development of equal independent states pursuing their own goals and interests (Baldwin 1993). Each state involved into international relations aims to ensure survival through developing specific behavior and protecting mechanisms that can increase their power. Due to the fact that states cannot predict the intentions of other states, they cannot establish trustful relationships with them and, as a result, they build stronger defense mechanisms to survive. At this point, the analysis aims to demonstrate that NATO’s practices exemplify neo-realistic tendencies in international relations. The focus is made on the strengths and weaknesses of the alliance, including theoretical frameworks that describe and explain the behavior of the organization.

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The security dilemma described above is closely associated with NATO, whose organizational structure is based on this principle. NATO’s activities during the Cold War did not change its members and because it adhered to its purpose of “…to keep the Americans in, the Germans down, and the Russian out,” (Johnstone 2001, p. 24). Nevertheless, its functioning has had a potent impact on preferences and beliefs of the government at all levels, from local members to foreign officials. Thus, NATO’s powerful feedback is primarily oriented on expanding its capacity through imposing pressure on other states threatening NATO’s existence and survival.

The most significant approach by means of which organizations can change their interests is through sustaining domestic policies. According to neo-realism, states do not pursue similar goals and, therefore, preferences arise within a state but not as a result of international interaction (Gordon 2002). However, international arrangement can change power goals and beliefs in society so that it affects foreign relations (Johnstone 2001). With regard to these principles, NATO’s policy of expansion is premised on the belief that the reformers can reinforce its influence in East Europe. Therefore, relative gains distributed among international organizations imply the actual purpose of cooperation between leading actors. In particular, cooperation is primarily premised on the possibility of one of the participants to reduce the risk of expansion of either of the states with which this participant interacts.

The above-proposed alternatives of cooperation restrict the possibility of cooperation between the two sides of debates. In particular, the Cold War situation rationally explains the behavior of both parties should sought benefits and superiority. In fact, if both sides of the debate had withdrawn the ideas to arm, all the countries involved into conflict would not have provided them with power and means for survival and sovereignty (Behnke 2012). At this point, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization can be considered as a unique institution that adheres to a neo-realist paradigm and facilitates cooperation between governments. During the Cold War, the organization showed the essence of neo-realism in practice; nevertheless, its persistence shed doubts on the verity of neo-realistic foundations. As it has been mentioned before, neo-realism relies on the anarchic organization of the international network and, therefore, the distribution of power determines the state’s behavior. At this point, the state organizations strive to gain power to survive and resist the states possessing greater authority. Under such conditions, the competition between states excludes or limits the possibility of cooperation. In addition, the neo-realistic framework admits the existence of some forms of cooperation in case both countries have common interests. In addition, despite the possibility of common interest, all the states involved into international relations consider relative gains a priority. Thus, most states seek to enhance their position by engaging into cooperation that can advance its political and international power. The purpose of gaining relative advantages also makes state cheating and breaking the rules provided it could lead to an immediate gain. Realizing this tendencies implies neo-realists’ specific interests in long-term cooperation.

The Cold War, in which NATO had been involved, exemplifies the impossibility of cooperation among states. It is also a bright example of prisoner’s dilemma, a classical example of game theory, under which cooperation cannot allow the state to benefit from the situation. Hence, the arms races can be explained within a prisoner’s dilemma’s framework (Law 2009). During the Cold War, the supporters of NATO and those of the Warsaw Pact had to choose either to arm or disarm, but either of the decisions could lead to a mutually beneficial cooperation of both participants (McCalla 1996). In particular, if one party decides to disarm whereas another one starts to arm, the relations can cause annihilation and loss of utility of one of the sides. In case both parties decide to arm, neither of those can attack each other because of impossibility to predict their military strategies. At this point, both sides could maintain peace at high cost. Once the participants decide to disarm, they can avoid war and no costs would be necessary to maintain peaceful relations. With regard to the proposed outcomes, the best solution for the parties is to remain disarmed whereas the rational decision still focuses on the necessity for both parties to arm (McCalla 1996). History demonstrates that both NATO and its opponents chose to arm, which caused significant expenses of resources. To understand the pitfalls of cooperation, it is purposeful to consider the situation in more detail.

The cooperation premised on the security dilemma is considered the essence of international relations. It is also the key to realizing how anarchic states with increasingly compatible goals cannot reach peaceful agreement. Thus, hence the main underpinning of the security dilemma is confined to searching for the means by which a state increases its superiority, by describing the authority of other states. According to Glaser (1997, p. 171), “although states exist in a condition of international anarchy that does not vary, there can be significant variation in the attractiveness of cooperative or competitive means, the prospects for achieving a high level of security”. Although the security dilemma focuses on gaining sovereignty and power by one state, the definition of the issue is ambiguous because it is not clear whether security dilemma is an adverse phenomenon. However, the most obvious reason for considering the security dilemma as an adversary’s reaction lies in reducing the state’s security (Jervis 1978). There are three basic concerns supporting the negative outcomes of the security dilemma. To begin with, the state can experience worsening of its initial reaction by reducing defense mechanisms. Increasing the value of expansion, as a deterrence mechanism and wasting money are also among the underpinnings justifying the adverse nature of security dilemma.

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Focusing on the alternative for the both parties of the Cold War to disarm, much concern arises with regard to the threats and benefits that the state could receive. In fact, Wallander (2000, p. 705) asserts, “when threats disappear, allies lose their reason for cooperating, and the coalition will break apart”. Based on this statement, NATO’s demise in the Cold War was obvious. In order to explain the decision of NATO’s to sustain armed races with its opponent, it is purposeful to accept the fact that alliances do not always refer to sources of national power. Instead, they can be represented as security institutions that seek to coordinate their policies to ensure credible defense of deterrence. In this respect, NATO’s persistence demonstrates its purpose to maintain the alliance at less expense to remain active regardless of various circumstances. However, persistence is not always a solution for sustaining organization’s interests (Wallander 2000; Kydd 2001). An institution, such as NATO, will not persist unless it serves its interests and, therefore, developing international partnerships created for reducing threats are unlikely to be effectively in case threats disappear (Kydd 2001). In fact, institutions can have a number of other purposes than security and threats extermination, including uncertainty, instabilities and international relations.

Whether an organization decides to change depends largely on the organization’s assets, such as rules, procedures, and norms, which are essential for coping with a range of external problems, as well as with internal challenges mentioned above. Hence, alliances should adopt specialized strategies and assets to deal with instability and uncertainty, which might be less costly for the organization. Such a position explains NATO’s action during the Cold War, particular, the organization’s decision to continue armed races (Kupchan 1988). Lack of resources for enhancing stability, as well as impossibility to maintain cooperation by other means refers to the peculiarities of the intra-alliance behavior within an organization. Both the presence of cohesive and discord within an organization is premised on the organization’s attempt to establish cooperation for the purpose of increasing its influence in various regions of the world. At this point, the alliance behavior should correlate with both economic and political aspects of alliance management, leading to various dynamics in cooperation and conflicts.

Within the context, NATO’s cooperative behavior can be viewed from three perspectives. First, allies can develop joint operation and offer military assistance within a group. In general, the partners are engaged into coordinated actions. Second, cooperation can be premised on compromise that is officially confirmed by a written agreement. Third, measuring economic contributions to enhancing collective defense mechanisms shapes the essence of cooperative behavior (Kupchan 1988). Partners could cooperate in case they reach a consensus about the means of military defense. These three broad frameworks are relevant for examining cooperative and discord behavior among states, including collection action theory, balance-of-power, and pluralist theory (Kupchan 1988). The fist framework suggests that intra-alliance behavior refers, mostly to a public good problem; it also focuses on distribution of economic and military resources among the members states and group dynamics as the main independent variables shaping alliance cohesion. Balance-of-power theory asserts that members of an organization monitor the emerged threats by searching for cooperation with each other. At this point, alliance cohesion derives from member states’ various attitudes to security issues. Finally, pluralist theory is associated with economic and domestic political factors as the key signifies of alliance behavior. With regard to the above-presented theories, “states cooperate to check threats from foreign powers”, leading to organization’s cohesion because states seek to reconsider the security predicament through enhancing cooperation (Kupchan 1988, p. 324). In order to respond to challenges of security dilemma, it is purposeful to address internal behavioral trends rather than external problems.

NATO’s armed races with the members of the Warsaw treaty are also premised on the necessity of either of the opponents to retain the balance of power. In order to fulfill this objective, Kirshner (1998) stresses that both NATO and the Soviet Union sought to distinguish between political aspects and security issues. The point is that the two states did not interact economically because of the discrepancies in their marketing approaches. Thus, experts in security issues could define the exclude economic relations, except for the analysis of economic containment. Moreover, the probability of military expansion among the market economies was also irrelevant because it did not correspond to the main purpose of the cold war. Thus, according to Kirshner (1998, p. 66), “…with military power and influence deriving from economic power, economic stability and growth in general become central national security concerns”. In particular, long-term various decisions could be made for maintaining security, although it does not contribute to the wealth of the economy. However, the created balance is clear because it focuses on maintaining economic objectives at the international level.

The main principles of international relations during the Cold War are characteristic for economic interactions in a post-war period because NATO’s continues to follow the politics of power balance through gaining superiority over other economies in the world. Enhancing security, therefore, is aimed at introducing new approaches, techniques, and methods for increasing its influence on other states. Therefore, the possibility of cooperation is justified in case it suit NATO’s security issues (Laidi 1994; Duffield 1992). To be more exact, Laidi (1994) has noted that the anarchic principle of international order identifies the nature of a decision-making process.

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In conclusion, NATO’s behavioral intentions and relative gains rationally explain its economic and military policies during the Cold War. In particular, the intra-alliance behavior was aimed at developing new security mechanisms that does not only allow the organization to survive, but also create new possibilities for gaining power. Therefore, the anarchic principle of international order correlates with the game theory of relative gains, according to which the security dilemma is raised. In particular, NATO’s political and economic integration seeks to sustain power over other states in order to survive and retain superiority over other power states on the international arena. Thus, prisoner’s dilemma exemplifies exactly the event during the Cold War period, according to which the rational decision for both sides was to continue armed races, although its was not cost-effective.


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