Why neorealists should resist theorizing climate change as a security issue

    Research output: Working paperAcademic


    Many commentators, countries, policy documents, and (neo)realist IR scholars have come to see climate change – arguably the greatest danger facing humanity today – as an issue of (state or national) security. Yet the leading neorealist theorists, Kenneth Waltz and John Mearsheimer, have paid very little theoretical attention to the problem of climate change. This article argues that, basically, Waltz and Mearsheimer are right: theoretically, neorealists should oppose attempts to turn climate change into a matter of security. Firstly, a traditional neorealist case against regarding climate change as a security issue is stated and tentatively defended. Secondly, various (neo)realist attempts to defend climate change as a (state or national) security issue and thus to expand (neo)realism’s analytic power are discussed and rejected on neorealist grounds. Taken together, these attempts appear to exhibit a range of flaws: obscurity of neorealism’s explanatory power concerning the lack of effective climate cooperation; ad hoc reasoning for rejecting offensive realism in favor of defensive realism; confused conceptual thinking; wishful climate policy thinking; neorealist-theoretical overload; and neorealist-theoretical usurpation of humanity-threatening climate change. Thus, from a properly neorealist perspective, the relationship between climate change and security is contingent at most, and mixing the two to the detriment of both.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages28
    Publication statusPublished - 18-Oct-2021


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