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Article

Friendship in International Politics  

Kristin Haugevik

In the international political discourse of the early 21st century, claims of friendship and “special ties” between states and their leaders are commonplace. Frequently reported by international media, such claims are often used as entry points for scholars and pundits seeking to evaluate the contents, relative strength, and present-day conditions of a given state-to-state relationship. Advancing the claim that friendships not only exist but also matter in and to the international political domain, international relations scholars began in the mid-2000s to trace and explore friendship—as a concept and practice—across time, societies, cultural contexts, and scientific disciplines. As part of the research agenda on friendship in international politics, scholars have explored why, how, and under what conditions friendships between states emerge, evolve, subsist, and dissolve; how amicable structures are typically organized; how they manifest themselves on a day-to-day basis; and what short- and long-term implications they may have for international political processes, dynamics, outcomes, and orders.

Article

International Competition and Cooperation in the New Eastern Mediterranean  

Zenonas Tziarras

In the 21st century and particularly during the 2010s, the Eastern Mediterranean acquired unprecedented attention and significance as a distinct geopolitical space with new international and security dynamics. This “new” Eastern Mediterranean geopolitical order was largely “constructed” by global and regional power shifts as well as local developments, such as the trajectory of Turkish foreign policy and the discovery of offshore hydrocarbon reserves. The result was a change in the region’s patterns of interstate conflict and cooperation. On the one hand, countries such as Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, and Israel became part of an emerging network of cooperation and security architecture. On the other hand, owing to its problematic relations with these states, Turkey remained an outsider wanting to “deconstruct” this new state of affairs and change it to its own benefit. As such, the new Eastern Mediterranean was ushered in during a period of geopolitical polarization that is more conducive to crisis rather than peace and stability and often transcends its boundaries.

Article

International Order in Theory and Practice  

Kyle M. Lascurettes and Michael Poznansky

International relations scholars of all stripes have long been interested in the idea of “international order.” At the most general level, international order entails some level of regularity, predictability, and stability in the ways that actors interact with one another. At a level of higher specificity, however, international orders can vary along a number of dimensions (or fault lines). This includes whether order is thin or thick, premised on position or principles, regional or global in scope, and issue specific or multi-issue in nature. When it comes to how orders emerge, the majority of existing explanations can be categorized according to two criteria and corresponding set of questions. First, are orders produced by a single actor or a select subset of actors that are privileged and powerful, or are they created by many actors that are roughly equal and undifferentiated in capabilities and status? Second, do orders come about from the purposive behavior of particular actors, or are they the aggregated result of many behaviors and interactions that produce an outcome that no single actor anticipated? The resulting typology yields four ideal types of order explanations: hegemonic (order is intentional, and power is concentrated), centralized (order is spontaneous, but power is concentrated), negotiated (order is intentional, but power is dispersed), and decentralized (order is spontaneous, and power is dispersed). Finally, it is useful to think about the process by which order can transform or break down as a phenomenon that is at least sometimes distinct from how orders emerge in the first place. The main criterion in this respect is the rapidity with which orders transform or break down. More specifically, they can change or fall apart quickly through revolutionary processes or more gradually through evolutionary ones.

Article

International Relations and the 19th Century Concert System  

Tobias Lemke

International relations (IR) scholars have long been fascinated by the politics of the European Concert of Great Powers—the diplomatic institution said to have provided relative peace, calm, and stability across Europe in the wake of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Interest in the Concert is boosted by arguments that the institutional and normative framework of the post-1815 European international order can serve as a useful template for managing great power relations in the increasingly multipolar and multicultural world of the 21st century. From this perspective, the ability of statesmen such as Metternich and Castlereagh to keep the European peace for almost 4 decades and provide pragmatic solutions to the most vexing international problems of revolution, dynastic rivalry, and national competition is meant to inspire contemporary world leaders to provide security and accommodation in the context of declining American hegemony and rising powers. The persistent centrality of the European Concert as a distinct subject area in IR scholarship raises a number of important questions: What exactly was the Concert and how long did it last? How did the Concert as an institution of great power management change over time? How do different theoretical approaches explain the ability of the Concert to structure interstate dynamics in meaningful ways? Most importantly, is it analytically feasible and normatively desirable to use the 19th century European Concert system as a blueprint for reorganizing international relations today? These questions identify key debates across the existing literature and demonstrate the conceptual, theoretical, methodological, and political diversity of the field. They also reveal that the formation of a disciplinary consensus on the Concert remains an elusive goal. As a result, scholars should remain attuned to ongoing historiographical developments and critically reflect on their own theoretical and political priors regarding the history and future of concert diplomacy.

Article

Modern Grand Strategic Studies: Research Advances and Controversies  

Thierry Balzacq and Mark Corcoral

Grand strategy offers an effective framework to understand and explain how and why a state interacts with other actors in a given way and how it combines various military, diplomatic, economic, and cultural instruments to achieve its ends in a largely coherent fashion. Yet, the term “grand strategy” conjures different meanings and attitudes, with some treating it as synonymous with strategy and foreign policy, thus raising questions about its relations with policy and politics. History teaches us that grand strategy remains a demanding enterprise, partly because of actors’ differential status and partly because its time horizon (mid to long term) subjects it to unforeseen conditions that threaten to derail it. However, does this make grand strategy impossible? Modern grand strategic scholarship is studded with tensions, but this must not eclipse research advances. In fact, the more disconnected controversies are from empirical contexts, the more they tend to become ends unto themselves. The first controversy relates to the definition of grand strategy and the best way to chart its landscape; the second deals with the sources of grand strategy (internal vs. external, material vs. ideational); and the third revolves around the feasibility of grand strategy in a capricious and fast-paced environment. These tensions are both defining, in the sense that they outline the state of the field, and productive, as they point toward future research avenues.

Article

Neutrality Studies  

Pascal Lottaz

The study of neutrality, as an academic subject in the fields of history and the social sciences, is concerned with the politics, laws, ethics, economics, norms, and other social aspects of states and international actors that attempt to maintain friendly or impartial relations with other states who are—or might become—parties to international conflict. In this regard, neutrality studies is a subject of international politics in its broadest sense, encompassing international law and international relations. It is an open space that has been explored through various academic lenses, including (but not limited to) realism, liberalism, constructivism, and poststructuralism. Most neutrality research in the early 21st century is focused on particular periods or forms of neutrality. To discuss this topic, it is helpful to distinguish two levels of analysis. First, there is historical research that describes the observable phenomenon of neutral behavior and its related effects, in other words, specific instances when countries (or actors) remained neutral. This is mostly the domain of historians. The second level is the moral, legal, political, and ideational assessment of neutral situations, which are theoretical discussions that treat issues (including but not limited to) the underlying reasons and the larger impact of neutrality on specific conflict dynamics, security systems, identities, and norms. Ideological debates often occur on this level since theoretical assessments of neutrality depend heavily on the subjective framing of the conflicts they accompany.

Article

The Politics of Regional Integration in Africa  

Paul-Henri Bischoff

On the African continent, a commitment to Pan-African unity and multilateral organization exists next to a postcolonial society whose 54 Westphalian states interpret the commitment to unity and integration to different degrees. The tension between a long-term Pan-African vision for a unified continent that prospers and is economically self-empowered, and the national concerns of governing state-centered elites with immediate domestic security and political and economic interests, lies at the heart of the politics surrounding African integration and affects both the continent and its regions. The politics of integration demand that a patchwork of regionalisms be consolidated; states give up on multiple memberships; and designated regional economic communities (RECs) take the lead on integration or subordinate themselves to the strategy and complement the institutions of the African Union (AU). In the interest of widening the social base of regional organization, politics needs to recognize and give status to informal regional actors engaged in bottom-up regionalism. Of issue in the politics of integration and regionalism are themes of norm adaptation, norm implementation, intergovernmentalism and supra-nationality, democracy, and authoritarianism.

Article

Rogue State Behavior  

Nikolaos Lampas

“Outcasts,” “pariah states,” “outlaw states,” “rogue states,” “terrorist sponsor states,” “states of concern,” “axis of evil”. … Throughout the history of the discipline of international relations, these terms have been used to describe a small group of states that have been marginalized by the international community due to their aggressive behavior. The concept of rogue states is by no means new. Historically, rogue entities included countries like Russia, during the Bolshevik era, and South Africa during the Cold War. Since the end of the Cold War, the international community has become much more concerned about the threat of rogue states. The reason for that relates to the combined effect of transnational terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In their simplest form, “rogue states” can be defined as aggressive states that seek to upset the balance of power of the international system either by acquiring weapons of mass destruction or by sponsoring international terrorism. However, this definition is problematic because the international community has consistently misapplied the criteria designating a rogue state and, in many cases, has effectively elevated the threat originating from these countries. Therefore, the existing literature has devoted significant attention to answering the following questions: How is a “rogue state” defined? How did the concept of “rogue states” evolve over time? How can the threat of “rogue states” be dealt with? The related literature focuses on a broad range of issues, from the objectivity of the designation to the efficacy of countermeasures against these states. It includes authors who write from realist, liberalist, critical, rationalist, culturalist, structuralist, and postcolonial perspectives, among others. Perhaps the most important aspect of the concept of “rogue states” relates to the fact that the United States labeled them as one of the most important threats to the stability of the international system. For the United States, “rogue states” replaced the threat of the Soviet Union, as evidenced by the transformation of U.S. national security policy following the demise of its former rival. However, unlike the Soviet Union, in the perception of the United States, “rogue states” were undeterrable and difficult to bargain with. Moreover, the United States argued that “rogue states” held a fundamentally different vision of the international community. Countries like Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Libya became the epicenter of the U.S. national security strategy. However, the United States continues to define “rogue states” based on their external characteristics, and this has contributed to the adoption of largely inconsistent policies that exacerbated their threat. Therefore, the contemporary use of the “rogue state” label is essentially an American creation, a way for the United States to reassess the post–Cold War security environment and structure its foreign and national security policies. Most of the international community has avoided adopting this narrative and the policies that it justified.

Article

Small States  

Yee-Kuang Heng

Scholarship in international studies has usually tended to focus on the great powers. Yet, studying small state behavior can in fact reveal deep-seated structural changes in the international system and provide significant insights into the management of power asymmetries. Overcoming the methodological limitations of gigantism in scholarship and case study selection is another epistemological benefit. Rather than conventional assumptions of weaknesses and vulnerabilities, research on small states has moved in fascinating directions toward exploring the various strategies and power capabilities that small states must use to manage their relationships with great powers. This means, even in some cases, attempts to forcibly shape their external environments through military instruments not usually associated with the category of small states. Clearly, small states are not necessarily hapless or passive. Even in terms of power capabilities that often define their weaknesses, some small states have in fact adroitly deployed niche hard power military capabilities and soft power assets as part of their playbook. These small states have projected influence in ways that belie their size constraints. Shared philosophies and mutual learning processes tend to underpin small state strategies seeking to maximize whatever influence and power they have. These include forming coalitions, principled support for international institutions, and harnessing globalization to promote their development and security interests. As globalization has supercharged the rapid economic development of some small states, the vicissitudes that come with interdependence have also injected a new understanding of vulnerability beyond that of simply military conflict. To further complicate the security environment, strategic competition between the major powers inevitably impacts on small states. The return of conventional interstate war to Europe with Russia’s full-fledged invasion of Ukraine in 2022 serves up a stark reminder of small states’ perennial concerns that “might makes right” in international relations. How small states boost their “relevance” vis-à-vis the great powers has broader implications for questions that have animated the academy, such as power transitions and the Thucydides Trap in the international system. While exogenous systemic variables no doubt remain the focus of analysis, emerging research shows how endogenous variables such as elite perceptions, geostrategic locations, and availability of military and economic resources can play a key role in determining the choices small states make.