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Think Tanks and Foreign Policy  

Stuti Bhatnagar

The role of think tanks as policy actors has developed over time and created significant global scholarship. Widely understood as non-state policy actors, think tanks established either with or without the support of government have evolved in various political contexts with varied characteristics. They are avenues for the discussion of new policy ideas as well as used for the consolidation of existing understandings of global and national political issues. As ideational actors think tanks interact with policy frameworks at different levels, either in the framing stage or at the stage of consensus building towards certain policies. Intellectual elites at think tanks allow for the introduction of think tank ideas into the policy frames as well as the creation of public opinion towards foreign policy decisions. Think tank deliberations involve an interaction with policymakers, academic experts, business and social actors, as well as the media to disseminate ideas. Institutionally, think tanks in a wide variety of political contexts play a critical role in the making of foreign policy and bring closer attention to processes of state–society interactions in different political environments.

Article

Definitions of Geopolitics  

Igor Kovac

International relations literature and the foreign policy community offer and use multiple definitions of geopolitics. More often than not, both camps use the term even without providing or hinting at its conceptualization. This causes muddy thinking and misunderstandings among scholars, as well as misunderstandings between scholars and policymakers. It is unrealistic to expect that at some point, the scholarship will agree on a single common definition, nor is this something worth aiming for. Instead, raising awareness about ontological differences when defining geopolitics, as each definition leads to different (foreign) policy implications, makes more sense for academia and policymakers. Being cognizant of ontological diversity propels clarity of academic writing and informs policymaking. Thus, a conceptual analysis of the term geopolitics is needed to facilitate greater transparency when using the term. Probably the best place to start such an analysis is with the etymology of geopolitics, since no one objects to that: two ancient Greek words: gê (earth) and politikós (statesman). Gê personifies objectivity and determinism, while politikós represents subjectivity and interpretivism. Some definitions of geopolitics stress the first set of characteristics, while others emphasize the second. Moreover, two ontological continua—material–ideational and praxis–science—can be formed from this etymology that form an ontological matrix of geopolitics. Using this matrix, nine different types of definitions of geopolitics can be identified: classical geopolitics; geopolitics as strategic geography; cognitive geopolitics; global geopolitics; critical geopolitics; geopolitics as philosophy of statesmen; anti-geopolitics; geopolitics as logos, pathos, and ethos; and geopolitics as nexus. Each of them carries its unique ontological take on geopolitics, as well as lays particular foundations for policymakers. Such a typology excels other endeavors of classifying geopolitics, since they suffer from one or more vices: they are not systemic, they lack clear classification criteria, they cannot encapsulate all definitions of geopolitics, and their classroom and policy utility are mediocre. Finally, the functionality of the ontological matrix of geopolitics for didactical purposes and for bridging the gap between academia and policymaking is apparent. Namely, making students understand that meta-theoretical issues matter is much easier if visualization is possible. Depicting and explaining ontological positions on the geopolitical matrix is instrumental as similarities and differences become illustrative. Being exposed to the geopolitical matrix equips the people committed to the process of bridging the gap between academia and practice with a new and helpful tool.

Article

Genocide  

Kenneth J. Campbell

Genocide is an interdisciplinary problem for scholars; no single academic discipline has yet taken on the study of genocide in a serious, systematic, and significant way, let alone placed an exclusive claim on it. The historical development of the genocide literature begins with the emergence of Holocaust studies, and the word “genocide” itself was coined in 1944, during World War II. Comparative genocide studies were later developed, in addition to the post-Cold War explosion in the second generation literature on genocide. The scholarly questions on genocide that have been fairly well settled—at least to a certain extent—have to do with core elements of the definition of genocide. This literature, in short, focuses on three principal concerns: definition, explanation, and prevention. What emerges out of the genocide literature over the years is consensus on the fact that genocide is the destruction of people as members of a group. They are differences over which groups should be covered by the definition—for instance, political and socioeconomic groups—but not on the fact that the victims have been targeted because of their group identity, and no other reason. To supplement the scholarship on genocide, future research agendas might include a careful study of the growing transnational antigenocide movement, a comparative analysis of genocide leaders, and many more.

Article

Is There a Discipline of IR? A Heterodox Perspective  

Ralph Pettman

International relations (IR) is widely accepted as an academic discipline in its own right, despite the many subdisciplines which hold it together. These disparate subdisciplines, in fact, have come to define international relations as a whole. Establishing systematic matrices that describe and explain the discipline as a whole can show how the subdisciplines that constitute international relations have sufficient coherence to allow us to say that there is a discipline there. To look at the discipline otherwise would be viewing it as a mere collection of insights taken from other disciplines—in short, international relations could not be defined as a discipline at all. Such an argument forms a more heterodox view of international relations—one which does not attempt to engage with traditional debates about what constitutes the subject’s core as compared with its periphery. The “old” international relations was largely confined to politico-strategic issues to do with military strategy and diplomacy; that is, to discussions of peace and war, international organization, international governance, and international law. It was about states and the state system and little more. By contrast the “new” international relations is an all-inclusive account of how the world works. The underlying coherence of this account makes it possible to provide more comprehensive and more nuanced explanations of international relations.

Article

The Causes of War  

Karen Ruth Adams

The scientific study of war is a pressing concern for international politics. Given the destructive nature of war, ordinary citizens and policy makers alike are eager to anticipate if not outright avoid outbreaks of violence. Understanding the causes of war can be a complex process. Scholars of international relations must first define war, and then establish a universe of actors or conflicts in which both war and peace are possible. Next, they must collect data on the incidence of war in the entire universe of cases over a particular period of time, a random sample of relevant cases, a number of representative cases, or a set of cases relevant to independent variables in the theories they are testing. Finally, scholars must use this data to construct quantitative and qualitative tests of hypotheses about why actors fight instead of resolving their differences in other ways and, in particular, why actors initiate wars by launching the first attack. Instead of taking the inductive approach of inventorying the causes of particular wars and then attempting to find general rules, it is necessary for scholars to approach the problem deductively, developing theories about the environment in which states operate, deriving hypotheses about the incidence of war and attack, and using quantitative and qualitative methods to test these hypotheses.

Article

The Ethics of Torture: Definitions, History, and Institutions  

Rebecca Evans

International law defines torture as the intentional infliction of intense suffering aimed at forcing someone to reveal information, punishing unwanted behavior or inspiring fear in a broader population. Since torture is banned under any and all circumstances, states go to great lengths to insist that their conduct does not qualify as torture. Officials seek to distance themselves legally and morally from an association with torture by using clean torture techniques that do not leave physical marks and by downplaying the seriousness of their methods, characterizing their interrogation techniques in euphemistic language that makes it possible to practice torture without admitting that they are doing so. Yet even supposedly lesser forms of abuse referred to as torture “lite” can have severe effects when they are employed in combination and for long periods. Fundamentally, torturous acts are designed to break a victim by demonstrating the victim’s utter powerlessness. Historically, torture was not only common in times of war and social upheaval, but it was also openly practiced in many societies as an integral part of the judicial system. Torture was seen as an effective technique for obtaining information as well as an appropriate punishment for the immoral and a useful deterrent against future misconduct. Since the end of World War II, torture has been rejected as a violation of basic human rights and publicly condemned by most countries in the world; international treaties such as the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT) require signatory parties to end torture within their territorial jurisdiction and to criminalize all acts of torture. Nonetheless, countries throughout the world continue to engage in ill-treatment and torture, often during times of national stress, when perceived others or out-group members are subjected to extreme interrogation. Although torture is employed by democratic and nondemocratic forms of government alike, empirical studies reveal that political regimes and institutions have a significant impact on the type of torture used and the duration of government support for torture. Effective democratic institutions like a free press and an independent judiciary make it more likely that cases of torture will be exposed and violators punished, and democratic governments with strong mechanisms for holding officials accountable are more likely to transition away from ill-treatment and torture of detainees, at least once violent challenges end. During periods of perceived threat, however, public intolerance of unwanted others makes it likely that democratic publics will condone if not encourage the use of torture against detained transnational terrorism suspects and other dissidents. Under such circumstances, independent judicial institutions may incentivize officials to practice torture more covertly. Non-democratic countries are more likely to flout human rights treaties such as the CAT, signing such agreements as a means of deflecting criticism but continuing to employ torture against dissidents. Even liberal democracies are found to have difficulty complying with certain international human rights treaty obligations, especially when information about violations—as in the case of torture—tends to be hidden. The resulting impunity makes it difficult to put an end to torture.