Containment, Neo-Realism and US Foreign Policy during the Cold War

Authored by: Daniel Graeber

The Ashgate Research Companion to US Foreign Policy

Print publication date:  December  2009
Online publication date:  March  2016

Print ISBN: 9780754648628
eBook ISBN: 9781315613727
Adobe ISBN: 9781317041177


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Power and survival derive from the ability to adapt. Evolution spawns learning and is a near guarantee of survival. The inability to adapt and change fosters the demise of the inefficient, a tendency that holds true across many disciplines. Neo-realist theory, a state-centric perception of geopolitical dynamics, offers an effective analysis of the behavior of great powers as they struggle to survive. It does not, however, offer much in a post-Westphalian geopolitical system where non-state actors are approaching nation-states in their influential capacity. Beginning after World War II when the international system was defined by the bipolar structure of the Cold War, the policy of containment—a state-driven deterrence to rivalries based on ideologies and allies—proved an effective means to manage foreign policy. However, as the geopolitical system has begun to transcend conventional notions of a Westphalian system, as evidenced by the emergence of the European Union and transnational Islamic extremist groups, a state-centric policy such as containment may be obsolete.

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