Explaining Obama's pivot to the Asia-pacific. Using Waltz's structural realism & Keohane's neoliberal institutionalism

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This thesis aimes to contribute to a neo-neo-synthesis by further defining the scope conditions of structural realism (often referred to as neorealism) and neoliberal institutionalism. The November 2011 ‘pivot to the Asia-Pacific’ by the Obama administration is used to test the explanatory value of both theories. The foreign policy considered in this case study encompasses an interesting combination of realist and liberalist elements. After testing for the occurrence of security and economic threats to U.S. interests in the Asia-Pacific a set of theory-specific hypotheses was created and tested. Findings indicate that the strategy-changes the 2011 pivot was supposed to encompass were already observed from 2009 onwards. Neoliberal institutionalism can explain almost every pillar of the current U.S. strategy in the Asia-Pacific: increased institutional engagement, increased American trade and investment in the region and even the increased military resources as part of the rotational deployment system. Structural realism and neoliberal institutionalism seem to be complementary rather than mutually exclusive as each systemic theory is suitable to explain a different type of international system, and the accompanying set of behavioural options in it.
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