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Structural Realism/Offensive and Defensive Realism  

Steven E. Lobell

Structural realism, or neorealism, is a theory of international relations that says power is the most important factor in international relations. First outlined by Kenneth Waltz in his 1979 book Theory of International Politics, structural realism is subdivided into two factions: offensive realism and defensive realism. Structural realism holds that the nature of the international structure is defined by its ordering principle, anarchy, and by the distribution of capabilities (measured by the number of great powers within the international system). The anarchic ordering principle of the international structure is decentralized, meaning there is no formal central authority. On the one hand, offensive realism seeks power and influence to achieve security through domination and hegemony. On the other hand, defensive realism argues that the anarchical structure of the international system encourages states to maintain moderate and reserved policies to attain security. Defensive realism asserts that aggressive expansion as promoted by offensive realists upsets the tendency of states to conform to the balance of power theory, thereby decreasing the primary objective of the state, which they argue is ensuring its security. While defensive realism does not deny the reality of interstate conflict, nor that incentives for state expansion do exist, it contends that these incentives are sporadic rather than endemic. Defensive realism points towards “structural modifiers” such as the security dilemma and geography, and elite beliefs and perceptions to explain the outbreak of conflict.


Transformations of War: Perspectives from International Political Sociology  

Vivienne Jabri

The reality of war has always been connected with political, economic, and social dynamics, as opposed to the notion that it is held within the confines of the battlefield. International political sociologists argue that practices of war and peace are positioned at the crux of institutional continuities and societal change, and that it is wrong to presuppose a dichotomy between the domestic and the international. As a result, scholars have become interested in the study of warfare, which, apart from military history, encompasses various themes such as the nature of human conflict and issues of defense policy, logistics, operations, and strategic planning. One particular study is International Political Sociology (IPS), a field of research that is concerned with how wars draw boundaries, how they influence political authority and trajectories of power, and how these are integrated in the global sphere. Meanwhile, International Relations (IR) is a formal subject that addresses the origin of war, how it impacts the dealings of the international system, and the institutional arrangements that might restrict or enhance war as a determinant of state relations. The study of International Relations is rife with various analytical perspectives, from realism to neo-realism and liberal internationalism, all of which exhibit how war continues to have a central place in scholarly disciplines.


East Asia and Foreign Policy  

Enyu Zhang and Qingmin Zhang

The study of East Asian foreign policies has progressed in sync with mainstream international relations (IR) theories: (1) from perhaps an inadvertent or unconscious coincidence with realism during the Cold War to consciously using different theoretical tools to study the various aspects of East Asian foreign policies; and (2) from the dominance of realism to a diversity of theories in studying East Asian foreign policies. Nonetheless, the old issues from the Cold War have not been resolved; the Korean Peninsula and the Taiwan Strait remain two flashpoints in the region, with new twists that can derail regional stability and prosperity. New issues also have emerged and made East Asia most volatile. One issue is concerned with restructuring the balance of power in East Asia, particularly the dynamics among the major players, i.e. Japan, China, and the United States. Regionalism is another new topic in the study of East Asian foreign policies. A review of the current state of the field suggests that two complementary issues be given priority in the future. First, the foreign policy interests and strategies of individual small states vis-à-vis great powers in the region, particularly those in Southeast Asia and the Korean peninsula. Second, what could really elevate the study of East Asian foreign policies in the general field of IR and foreign policy analysis is to continue exploring innovative analytical frameworks that can expand the boundaries of existing metatheories and paradigms.


Realism and Security  

Stephen M. Walt

Political Realism has been described as the “oldest theory” of international politics, as well as the “dominant” one. Central to the realist tradition is the concept of “security.” Realism sees the insecurity of states as the main problem in international relations. It depicts the international system as a realm where “self-help” is the primary motivation; states must provide security for themselves because no other agency or actor can be counted on to do so. However, realists offer different explanations for why security is scarce, emphasizing a range of underlying mechanisms and causal factors such as man’s innate desire for power; conflicts of interest that arise between states possessing different resource endowments, economic systems, and political orders; and the “ordering principle” of international anarchy. They also propose numerous factors that can intensify or ameliorate the basic security problem, such as polarity, shifts in the overall balance of power, the “offense–defense balance,” and domestic politics. Several alternative approaches to international relations have challenged the basic realist account of the security problem, three of which are democratic peace theory, economic liberalism, and social constructivism. Furthermore, realism outlines various strategies that states can pursue in order to make themselves more secure, such as maximizing power, international alliances, arms racing, socialization and innovation, and institutions and diplomacy. Scholars continue to debate the historical roots, conceptual foundations, and predictive accuracy of realism. New avenues of research cover issues such as civil war, ethnic conflict, mass violence, September 11, and the Iraq War.


Three Traditions of International Theory  

Edward Keene

The English School conceived “international theory” as a way to approach the political philosophy and political speculation by examining historical traditions of international relations. The starting point for this line of inquiry was to organize the wide range of material contained in the history of ideas about international politics into a much simpler, and thus more intelligible, scheme, in the event comprising three traditions. Martin Wight called them realism, rationalism, and revolutionism, but they are also known as Hobbesianism (or Machiavellianism), Grotianism, and Kantianism. The fundamental difference between the three traditions is that each represents an idea of what international society is, from which they derive various propositions about more specific topics such as how to deal with peoples from different cultures, how to conduct diplomacy and wage war, or what obligations under international law are. For realists, international society is the state of nature, and since they see the state of nature as a state of war, the answer to the question “What is international society?” is “nothing.” Rationalists agree that international society is the state of nature, but for them it is a state of “goodwill, mutual assistance and preservation,” and so “international society is a true society, but institutionally deficient; lacking a common superior or judiciary.” Revolutionists, by contrast, reject the analogy with the state of nature. Instead, they have an immanent conception of international society, in the sense that they look beyond the apparent or present reality of a society of sovereign states and see behind it a true international society in the form of a community of mankind. Ultimately, these three traditions has exercised a profound influence on the ways in which international relations scholars think about the history of ideas.


Hannah Arendt and International Relations  

Shinkyu Lee

International relations (IR) scholars have increasingly integrated Hannah Arendt into their works. Her fierce critique of the conventional ideas of politics driven by rulership, enforcement, and violence has a particular resonance for theorists seeking to critically revisit the basic assumptions of IR scholarship. Arendt’s thinking, however, contains complexity and nuance that need careful treatment when extended beyond domestic politics. In particular, Arendt’s vision of free politics—characterized by the dualistic emphasis on agonistic action and institutional stability—raises two crucial issues that need further elaboration for IR research that appropriates her thinking. One involves the orientation of her international thoughts. Although Arendt showed “idealistic” aspirations for authentic politics practiced by diverse equals in an institutionally articulated space of freedom, she never lost interest in the extant situation of “non-idealistic” politics. Engaging with Arendt’s theory orientation requires a careful analysis of difficult topics, such as her distinctive conception of the political and her critiques of the nation-state and international law. The other topic that needs clarification when Arendt’s thoughts are applied to IR involves specific ways of associating different sites of power. A close examination of Arendt’s council-based federalism reveals her distinctive idea of international politics, based on her acute awareness of the fundamental complexity that lies in power association and state agency. Bringing IR topics like state agency into conversation with her works generates illuminating questions for Arendt scholarship. Likewise, the ongoing debate on agonistic and institutional features of Arendt’s thoughts can provide crucial insights into critical studies of international politics.


International Studies in China  

Yih-Jye Hwang

Since the beginning of the 21st century, the rise of China has been one of the most frequently discussed topics in international relations (IR) circles. Because of this rise, Anglophone IR scholars have developed an increasing interest in Chinese perspectives on international relations. At the same time, IR scholars in China are dissatisfied with being consumers of knowledge rather than knowledge producers; many Chinese scholars have suggested there should be a Chinese school (CS) of IR, and attempts have been made over the past few decades to establish it. The call for a CS can be understood as an effort by Chinese scholars to establish their own subjectivity in international studies, a pursuit of an indigenous Chinese site of agency with regards to developing IR and IR theory. To demonstrate this, the historical development of international studies in China after the founding of the People’s Republic and how it led to Chinese IR scholars calling for the establishment of a CS in the 21st century is first introduced. Subsequently, the main branches and viewpoints of the CS will be illustrated—including Yan Xuetong’s moral realism, Zhao Tingyang’s conception of the Tianxia system, the Shanghai school’s symbiosis theory, and Qin Yaqing’s relational theory of world politics—before elucidating the main criticisms they have received from the Anglophone world of IR. Critics argue that the overall development of international studies in China is very much one of Chinese scholars replicating mainstream IR and its problems. This claim suggests that the CS movement is an imitation of modern Western discourse for political service rather than a genuine development of an indigenous discourse from Chinese tradition. This article, however, refutes these critics by suggesting that the development of international studies in China does have the potential to make an important contribution to non-Western, post-Western, and global quests in IR; attempts at creating CS contain an indigenous Chinese site of agency with regards to developing IR.


International Organizations and Power  

Rodger A. Payne and Nayef H. Samhat

Power plays an important role in the formation of international organizations (IOs), including the formal institutions established by nation-states to promote collective action at the intergovernmental level. Power is commonly defined as the ability or authority to act, to accomplish a task or to create something new. Those who wield power are typically seen as having the ability to influence or even control the behavior of others. The willingness of states to employ material (or “hard”) power to accomplish their goals—whether those goals primarily reflect the interests of the strongest states or the shared preferences of many states—has long been the subject of scrutiny by international relations (IR) scholars. More recent scholarship approaches the topic from different perspectives, with particular attention to both the power generated by collective action and the collective identity created during the recognition and pursuit of common purposes. According to Michael Barnett and Raymond Duvall, there are four types of power: compulsory, institutional, structural, and productive. This typology can be linked to the way four major schools of IR theory view IOs: realism, neoliberalism, constructivism, and critical theory. Realist and neoliberal institutionalist schools use compulsory or institutional views of power to explain the development of regimes and their effects, while social constructivists and critical theorists rely on productive or structural power to tackle the meaning and importance of regimes. Scholars argue that regimes serve a cooperative function very similar to more formal IOs and provide a rationalist account of regime formation and behavior.


Regime Theory  

Benjamin Meiches and Raymond Hopkins

The term “international regime” was originally used to describe formal agreements between states, but the concept has since evolved after going through considerable critique and reformulation. A universal agreement on the precise nature or elements of a regime has remained elusive, despite a general consensus on the definition. Nevertheless, the concept of regime offers a unique opportunity to better understand international relationships by underscoring the importance of specific attributes of international, multinational, and nongovernmental groups, sets of behavioral or epistemic practices, and processes of learning. As a heuristic device, regime theory helps to explain the rise of complex interaction between states, organizations, corporations, and other institutions as well as the potential for ideas or behavior to shape the international system. Regime theory has supplemented traditional explanations of international order, including hegemonic stability theory or neorealism, by explaining the emergence of cooperation and organization within what would traditionally be considered anarchical or highly unpredictable conditions. Common approaches to regime theory include realism, neoliberalism, cognitivism, and constructivism. Part of the strength of regime theory is that it has remained an elastic concept and has been used to analyze a huge diversity of issues, with many promising results. Regime theory should continue highlighting both the ideational and material dimensions of organization and bringing together positivist, inductive, and critical approaches to understanding power, interest, and identity so as to generate a series of new conversations or trajectories for exploring the creation of international order.


Humanitarian Intervention and International Security  

Taylor B. Seybolt

Humanitarian intervention is the use of military intervention in a state to achieve socioeconomic objectives, such as keeping people alive and communities functioning by providing basic necessities, without the approval of its authorities. There are three eras of humanitarian intervention: the entire time up to the end of World War II, the Cold War, and the post-Cold War period. These three eras are distinguished by differences in the structure of the international system. Ultimately, the Western intellectual tradition of just war is the foundation for contemporary international law governing armed conflict. It is grounded in natural law, which recognizes the right of sovereigns to use force to uphold the good of the human community, particularly in cases where unjust injury is inflicted on innocents. Eventually, a diverse body of literature on humanitarian intervention has developed. The contemporary debate focuses on the long-standing disagreement between positive law and natural law about coercive intervention. Political scientists use realist and constructivist paradigms to analyze the motives of intervening states and to argue for or against the practice. Proponents favor humanitarian intervention on the basis of legitimacy and the consequences of nonintervention. Opponents argue against intervention on the basis of illegitimacy, practical constraints, and negative consequences. Meanwhile, skeptics sympathize with the humanitarian impulse to help civilians but are troubled about methods and consequences.


Mercantilist and Realist Perspectives on the Global Political Economy  

Daniel W. Drezner

Mercantilism and realism would appear to go hand in glove with each other. If realism represents both a systemic worldview and explanatory model for world politics, then mercantilism would appear to be the paradigm’s default foreign economic policy doctrine. And, to be sure, there are obvious and strong areas of overlap. Both paradigms stress the autonomous role of the state—and warn against capture by particularistic interests. Both also stress the conditioning effects of the distribution of power in defining national economic interests. Despite these constants, however, over time, the two approaches diverged more and more. Most modern-day writers who sympathize with mercantilism do so from perspectives ranging from left-leaning social democracy to more radical Gramscian critiques. Realists, on the other hand, have tended to gravitate towards the conservative, Burkean side of the political spectrum. While realists and mercantilists might agree on the role that power plays in the global economy, they do not necessarily agree on the normative implications of that insight. Paradoxically, as realism has acquired a more “scientific” cast, it has become less influential in international political economy (IPE) scholarship. For realism to maintain its relevancy in IPE, it must reacquire its deftness in incorporating nonstructural variables into its explanatory framework. The paradigm retains some useful predictive power for how systemic political variables affect global economic outcomes, but it is of little use in discussing the reverse causal effects.



William Smith

Cosmopolitanism refers to the ideology that all human beings belong to a single community, based on a shared morality. A cosmopolitan community might be based on an inclusive morality, a shared economic relationship, or a political structure that encompasses different nations. The argument that all citizens of the world possess an equal moral status can be interpreted as a statement that all humans deserve to be given equal respect, or that their interests deserve to be treated equally. Cosmopolitanism was initially thought to have been established by the Cynics (classical cosmopolitanism), then further interpreted and elucidated by the Stoics, and later polished and cultivated by the Enlightenment scholars (enlightenment cosmopolitanism). Cosmopolitanism is an analytical viewpoint that defends the concept of global citizenship. Global citizenship is most commonly associated with a “way of creating a personal identity,” along with various ideas about one’s moral responsibilities and political rights. It is also worth noting how within the domain of international ethics, cosmopolitanism is currently being presented as a stand-alone paradigm, apart from rival approaches including nationalism, social libreralism, and realism. However, the difficulty of distinguishing cosmopolitanism from these rivals becomes apparent, and there are those who think that such discerning lines create more confusion than clarity about the various disagreements within the field.


Anarchy in International Relations  

Silviya Lechner

The concept of anarchy is seen as the cardinal organizing category of the discipline of International Relations (IR), which differentiates it from cognate disciplines such as Political Science and Political Philosophy. It is important to distinguish between concepts of anarchy and theories where anarchy operates as a central premise. The concept of anarchy can mean (a) a lack of a common superior in an interaction domain; (b) chaos or disorder; or (c) a horizontal relation between nominally equal entities sovereign states. The first and the third senses of “anarchy” are central to IR as a field, and figure as premises within three broad families of IR theory: (a) realism and neorealism, (b) English School theory (international society approach), and (c) Kant’s republican peace. Despite normative and conceptual differences otherwise, all three bodies of theory are ultimately based on Hobbes’s argument for a “state of nature,” and on an understanding that the key actors in international relations are sovereign states. The major challengers to the discourse of international anarchy are theories of international politics that rely on the methodology of economics as well as cognate approaches that prioritize the “global” over the “international” such as theories of globalization, global hierarchy, and global governance.


Gender, Just War, and the Ethics of War and Peace  

Lauren Wilcox

The just war tradition is the most dominant framework for analyzing the morality of war. Just war theory is being challenged by proponents of two philosophical views: realism, which considers moral questions about war to be irrelevant, and pacifism, which rejects the idea that war can ever be moral. Realism and pacifism offer a useful starting point for thinking about the ethics of war and peace. Feminists have been engaged with the just war tradition, mainly by exposing the gendered biases of just war attempts to restrain and regulate war and studying the role that war and its regulation plays in defining masculinity. In particular, feminists claim that the two rules of just war, jus ad bellum and jus in bello, discriminate against women. In regard to contemporary warfare, such as post-Cold War humanitarian interventions and the War on Terror, feminists have questioned the appropriateness of just war concepts to deal with the specific ethical challenges that these conflicts produce. Instead of abstract moral reasoning, which they critique as being linked to the masculine ideals of autonomy and rationality, many feminist argue for certain varieties of an ethics of care. Further research is needed to elaborate the basis of an ethical response to violence that builds on philosophical work on feminist ethics. Key areas for future investigation include asking hard questions about whom we may kill, and how certain people become killable in war while others remain protected.


International Relations and the Study of History  

Constantinos Koliopoulos

International relations and history are inextricably linked, and with good reason. This link is centuries old: Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, one of the very earliest and one of the very greatest historical works of all time, is widely regarded as the founding textbook of international relations. Still, those two disciplines are legitimately separate. A somewhat clear boundary between them can probably be drawn around three lines of demarcation: (1) past versus present, (2) idiographic versus nomothetic, and (3) description versus analysis. The utility of history for the analysis of international affairs has been taken for granted since time immemorial. History is said to offer three things to international relations scholars: (1) a ready source of examples, (2) an opportunity to sharpen their theoretical insights, and (3) historical consciousness, that is, an understanding of the historical context of human existence and a corresponding ability to form intelligent judgment about human affairs. This tradition continued well after international relations firmly established itself as a recognized separate discipline some time after World War II, and would remain virtually unchallenged until the 1960s. Since the 1960s, attitudes toward history have diverged within the international relations community. Some approaches, most notably the English school and the world system analysis, have almost by definition thriven on history. History plays a fundamental role in the critical-constructivist approach, while realist scholars continue to draw regularly on history. History is far less popular, though not absent from works belonging to the liberal-idealist approach. Postmodernism is the one approach that is almost completely antithetical to the analytical use of history. Postmodernists have characterized history as merely another form of fiction and question the existence of objective truth and transhistorical knowledge. One cannot exclude the possibility that postmodernism is correct in this respect; however, it is highly unlikely that uncountable generations of people have been victims of mass deception or mass psychosis regarding the utility of history, not least in the analysis of international relations.


Nuclear Proliferation and Non-Proliferation  

Jacques E.C. Hymans

Nuclear proliferation became an increasingly major concern after France and then China joined the nuclear “club” in the 1960s. However, it was not until India’s “peaceful nuclear explosive” test of 1974 that a real sense of potential worldwide crisis emerged, which also spawned a substantial amount of serious writing on the issue. The basic puzzle facing the study of nuclear proliferation is why there is a considerable and persistent disparity between the number of nuclear weapons-capable states and the number of actual nuclear weapons states. Three early works that represented crucial conceptual breakthroughs in the struggle toward a proper descriptive inference of the dynamics of proliferation are William Epstein’s The Last Chance (1976), Stephen M. Meyer’s The Dynamics of Nuclear Proliferation (1984), and Opaque Nuclear Proliferation (1991), edited by Benjamin Frankel. More contemporary political science work features attempts by each of the major international relations paradigms to tackle the proliferation puzzle: realism, psychological constructivism, neoliberal institutionalism, liberalism, and sociological constructivism. While scholars disagree over a host of issues, a consensus on the dynamics of nuclear proliferation may be discerned. In particular, there are five points on which most recent works converge: that proliferation has been historically rare; that we cannot take the demand for nuclear weapons for granted; that domestic politics and identity considerations play a crucial role in shaping proliferation choices; and that theory-guided, in-depth comparative case studies are the most appropriate means of advancing the state of our knowledge at this point in time.


Progress in the Democratic Peace Research Agenda  

Steve Chan

According to the democratic peace theory, democracies are hesitant to engage in armed conflict with other identified democracies. Contrary to theories explaining war engagement, it is a “theory of peace” outlining motives that dissuade state-sponsored violence. The proposition that democracies are more peaceful than autocracies has spawned a huge literature. Much of the relevant quantitative research has shown that democracies indeed rarely, if ever, fight each other, although they are not necessarily less aggressive than autocracies in general. Although, statistically, the probability of war between any two states is considerably low, the absence of war among liberal democracies across a wide range of different historical, economic, and political factors suggests that there is a strong predisposition against the use of military violence between democratic states. According to scholars, the democratic peace theory can elaborate on the empirical phenomena previously explained by the earlier dominant research program, realism in international relations; in addition, the initial statement that democracies do not, or rarely, wage war on one another, has been followed by a rapidly growing literature on novel empirical regularities. This democratic peace proposition not only challenges the validity of other political systems, but also the prevailing realist account of international relations, which emphasizes balance-of-power calculations and common strategic interests.


Teaching International Relations Theory  

Craig Douglas Albert

International relations (IR) theory is favorably described in almost every syllabus since 1930. The most important questions asked were: “What is theory?” and “Is there a reason for IR theory?” The most widely used texts all focus on the first question and suggest, among others, that IR theory is “a way of making the world or some part of it more intelligible or better understood.” We can gauge where the teaching of IR theory is today by analyzing a sample of syllabi from IR scholars serving on the Advisory Board of the International Studies Association’s (ISA) Compendium Project. These syllabi reveal some trends. Within the eight undergraduate syllabi, for example, a general introduction to IR theory is taught in four separate classes. Among the theories discussed in different classes are realism, classical realism, neo-realism, Marxism and neo-Marxism, world-systems theory, imperialism, constructivism, and international political economy. Novel methods for teaching IR theory include the use of films, active learning, and experiential learning. The diversity of treatments of IR theory implied by the ISA syllabi provides evidence that, with the exception of the proliferation of perspectives, relatively little has changed since the debates of the late 1930s. The discipline lacks much semblance of unity regarding whether, and how, to offer IR theory to students. Nevertheless, there have been improvements that are likely to continue in terms of the ways in which theories may be presented.


Neoclassical Realism  

Norrin M. Ripsman

Neoclassical realism is an approach to foreign policy analysis that seeks to understand international politics by taking into account the nature of the international system—the political environment within which states interact. Taking neorealism as their point of departure, neoclassical realists argue that states respond in large part to the constraints and opportunities of the international system when they conduct their foreign and security policies, but that their responses are shaped by unit-level factors such as state–society relations, the nature of their domestic political regimes, strategic culture, and leader perceptions. Neoclassical realists have identified a number of important limitations to the neorealist model—for example, states do not always perceive systemic stimuli correctly, or the international system does not always present clear signals about threats and opportunities. Adherents of neoclassical realism insist that their approach represents a significant improvement on existing approaches to international relations and foreign policy, including “Innenpolitik” approaches. Nevertheless, neoclassical realism faces a host of criticisms, such as the claim that it is comparatively inefficient and that it is impossible to separate international and domestic variables. To overcome these challenges, neoclassical realists need to consider a few key avenues for future research, such as generating well-specified neoclassical realist theories of foreign policy and devoting more attention to the domestic politics of international cooperation in order to shed the “competition bias” of neoclassical realism.


Middle East Foreign Policy  

Manochehr Dorraj

The scholarly literature on Middle Eastern foreign policies has long treated the region as a pawn in the larger game of the great powers’ international rivalry for global supremacy. During the Cold War, Middle Eastern foreign policies were seen in terms of East-West confrontation, or as a replica of Western foreign policies. Over time, more sophisticated theories of Middle Eastern foreign policy have emerged. Two of the earliest theories that were applied to the study of Middle Eastern foreign policies were diplomatic political history and psychological approaches. Some scholars argue that the behavior of Middle Eastern states is reflective of some of the basic premises of the realist theory. Others, adopting a neorealist structural approach, contend that while Middle Eastern states may use the language of Islam and Pan-Arabism, power politics still lies at the core of their foreign policy. These scholars consider the shift in the regional and the global balance of power as the major explanatory factors for understanding foreign policy changes in the Middle East. Then there are those who conceptualize Middle Eastern foreign policies primarily in terms of dependency theory, the core-periphery power relations, and a struggle for the control of the region's oil and energy. Two other approaches to the study of Middle Eastern foreign policies are international political economy and bureaucratic politics. The Palestinian–Israeli conflict has been a major polarizing issue responsible for radicalization of regional politics and foreign policies in the Middle East.