Neorealism, Security Cooperation and Europe's Relative Gains Dilemma

Luis Simón

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Most neorealists argue that relative decline constitutes a systemic incentive for European security cooperation. Although this claim is broadly accepted, I argue that the relationship between relative decline and European security cooperation is complicated by a number of factors. First, European calculations about relative decline bear both a global and a regional (that is, intra-European) component. If a European country is to effectively mitigate relative decline, cooperation is not sufficient. It is just as important that cooperation develops in a way that underscores that country's comparative strengths and minimizes its weaknesses. In this regard, European countries are often in direct competition with each other. Secondly, when Europeans are thinking about their relative power position, some countries matter more than others: a given European country may accept to incur a relative loss vis-à-vis another country (European or otherwise) but not others. These calculations are further complicated by issue linkage. Some countries may accept relative losses on some issues (for example, security) in exchange for gains on others (economic). This article examines how intra-European considerations of relative gains affect the way in which Europe's main powers seek to cope with relative decline and assesses how those considerations affect security cooperation in a European Union (EU) framework. In doing so, it aims to unpack the otherwise vague notions of relative decline and European security cooperation.