Interdependence Theory Approach

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The interdependence-theoretical approach describes in its political science form the mutual dependence of nation states on other nation states, in its economic form also the mutual dependence of different social actors within nation states. This theory, also simply called the "interdependence theory of the IB", is considered to be the forerunner of the international regime theory . Both together have since entered neoliberal institutionalism , which is one of the most important theories of international relations .

Different analytical approaches

The approach of the connection of interests (linking of interests) according to Edward L. Morse states that a change of position of one state results in a change of position of the other state, but the problem remains the same.

The economic definition according to Richard N. Cooper states that one can speak of interdependence when a national actor is highly sensitive to external economic influences, regardless of whether these are perceived by decision-makers.

In Kenneth Waltz 's definition of cost-benefit , one speaks of interdependence when there is a positive relationship between actors, the breaking of which causes significant costs for both sides.

Karl W. Deutsch's definition , based on communication theory , assumes that there is a reciprocal relationship between systems that is based on a broad base of transactions.

In their 1977 book "Power and Interdependence: World Politics in Transition", Robert O. Keohane and Joseph Nye developed an approach to interdependence which, despite theoretical deficits, received a lot of attention within the political science sub-discipline.

The interdependence theoretical approach of Robert O. Keohane and Joseph Nye in international relations

The interdependence theory according to Robert O. Keohane and Joseph Nye describes the interdependence in the analysis of international relations , the entanglement of political, scientific, social and cultural processes and a relationship between social actors in which there is the possibility that the actions of an actor for the undesirable effects arise in each case for the other actor.

In the analysis of international relations, interdependency-theoretical approaches relativize both the role of states as carriers of international politics in favor of non-state actors (including interest groups, corporations, organizations, etc.) and hierarchical differences in the international system. Traditional dividing lines between domestic and foreign policy are removed as well as qualitative differences between “ high politics ” ( diplomacy , security policy ) and “ low politics ” ( economic , monetary , cultural policy ). Central problems are thus the increasing complexity and networking of international relations and the associated limitation of the ability of national governments to act.

Interdependence theoretic approaches are mainly differentiated from, against

  • the concepts of the realistic school that dominated after 1945 with their emphasis on the nation states as actors in the global zero-sum game of influence and power .
  • against dependency-theoretical approaches that emphasize the structural dependence of the peripheral states of the Third World on the states of the industrial center.

In contrast to the normative- ontological orientation of the realistic school and the many historical- dialectically determined approaches, interdependence-theoretical approaches are mostly empirically- analytical, proceed in a comparative manner and concentrate on quantitative analyzes. The entanglements of domestic , intergovernmental and transnational processes and structures are examined on the basis of case studies. The main area of ​​application of pioneering interdependence studies is international economic relations. Consequently, the methodological approach is also based on economic theories.

According to Keohane / Nye, interdependence occurs “where interactions cause reciprocal cost effects”. The authors differentiate between sensitivity to interdependence as a measure of "how quickly changes in one country can produce costly effects in another" and vulnerability to interdependence as a situation "in which an actor has to bear costs due to external events if he has modified his policy ". Interdependence is seen as an intervening variable that relativizes the relationship between power resources as independent variables and the results of the political process as dependent variables that need to be explained. Keohane and Nye treat the goals of actors , the instruments of state policy, the coupling of problem areas and the role of international organizations as dependent variables .

Despite justified criticism, the achievement of interdependence theoretical approaches lies in the fact that specific structures of dependency between systems, actors and policy fields are empirically analyzed and a conceptual scheme is offered that does justice to the complexity of international relationships.

After the end of the East-West conflict, interdependence theoretical approaches seem to be experiencing a comeback and could develop into an explanatory tool for a new world order. Keohane took a first step towards this by working with King and Verba to more clearly conceive the principles of research design and methodological approach in the widely acclaimed work: "Designing social inquiry", 1994. A further development of the interdependence theory, in response to the critical debate with the Neorealists led to the regime theory , which was also founded by Keohane with his work "After Hegemony".

Areas of responsibility

The interdependence theory analyzes different areas of international politics:

  • the number of international actors and the consequences
  • globalization
  • Changes in the balance of power
  • Increase in political integration

Objective of the interdependence approach

First and foremost, he is looking for opportunities and conditions for international cooperation to optimize parallel interests. It is not just about balancing power and security interests, but also about international welfare.

“Sensitivity interdependence” means that states are becoming increasingly sensitive to events in other states or international organizations. It refers to the density of mutual influences between states.

“Vulnerability-interdependence” means that states become vulnerable if the “costs” of interdependence turn out to be too high, even though appropriate adjustments or changes have been made (e.g. change in policy). Attention is drawn to the aspect of symmetry or asymmetry in relationships.

Problems of interdependence

  • The problems of other countries are imported.
  • The number of actors is becoming increasingly unmanageable.
  • Interdependence can be asymmetrical.
  • Short terms of office of governments prevent large-scale action strategies.


Primary literature
Further secondary literature
  • Kenneth N. Waltz: The Myth of National Interdependence . In: Charles P. Kindleberger (Ed.): The International Corporation: A Symposium. Cambridge, MA 1970, 205-223.
  • Manuela Spindler: Interdependence. In: Siegfried Schieder & Manuela Spindler (ed.): Theories of International Relations. 2. revised Edition. Stuttgart 2006, ISBN 3-8252-2315-9 , pp. 89-116.
  • Gert Krell : World Views and World Order. 2nd Edition. Baden-Baden 2003, pp. 183-190, ISBN 3-8329-0966-4 .
  • David A. Baldwin: Interdependence and Power: A Conceptual Analysis. In: International Organization. 34: 4. 1980, 471-506.
  • Jaap de Wilde: Saved from Oblivion: Interdependence Theory in the First Half of the 20th Century. A Study on the Causality between War and Complex Interdependence. Aldershot et al. a. 1991.
  • Barry Jones: The Definition and Identification of Interdependence. In: Barry Jones & Peter Willetts (Eds.): Interdependence on Trial. London 1984, 17-63.

See also