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Power is a crucial concept for international relations scholars. Of particular importance for those interested in understanding foreign policy is knowing how power manifests as national capabilities. Understanding the relationship between power and capabilities allows for comparison and contrast of the various foreign policy tools leaders have at their disposal as they attempt to achieve their goals. Despite the importance of power, scholars still debate the best means for conceptualizing and operationalizing the concept. The all-encompassing nature of power makes it difficult to focus on a single characteristic. This article focuses on three main aspects of power: military, economic, and soft power. Each section gives an overview into the current state of research into the various aspects of power. The discussion on military power emphasizes operationalizing military might and issues with innovation. The section on economics focuses on economics as a source of power and a tool for coercion. Finally, the last section focuses on noncoercive aspects of power, better known as soft power. The article ends with some suggestions for future research.
Anthony J. S. Craig and Brandon Valeriano
Technology has been given relatively scant attention in empirical international relations scholarship, despite its obvious importance to issues of military power and global security. Much progress is yet to be made into developing a fuller and more precise understanding of the interaction between technology and international relations. Synthesizing existing research will provide a clearer picture of the state of the field with regards to conceptualizing technology, the proliferation of technology, the technological component of national power, the impact of technology on international relations, the information and communication technology revolution and cyber security, and technology in international digital politics. This synthesis highlights key questions regarding what empirical research has to engage with and provides the first step toward addressing these issues.
Michael Masterson and Jessica L. P. Weeks
What do we know about the causes and outcomes of international military conflict? Decades of research from different theoretical traditions have explored the outbreak and conclusion of international conflict from a variety of angles. Broadly speaking, scholarship about international conflict has tended to orbit around three core concepts: power, institutions, and the source of the interstate dispute. The question that remains is how well verified are the most important theories? Three influential theories seek to predict patterns of international conflict: power transition theory, which argues that shifts in power increase the likelihood of war; selectorate theory, which predicts that states that have large winning coalitions are more selective about war; and theories about issue indivisibility and war, which predict that issues that states view as impossible to divide—such as a national homeland—are more likely to lead to conflict. Each of these theories produces specific predictions, allowing an assessment of how well the evidence supports the theories’ main conjectures.
Central to understanding the causes of conflict is whether empirical work has tested these three theories using well-validated measures; whether a variety of scholars have tested the core propositions of the theory; and whether scholars have found evidence of the causal mechanisms proposed by each theory. Although each theory has garnered some support, they all fall short on one or more of these criteria. In particular, more work is needed in both measurement and evidence of causal mechanisms before scholars can be confident of the theories’ explanatory power.
Michael Bratton and Peter Penar
Power sharing is often offered as a strategy to resolve political crises. In contrast to power capture and power division, power sharing entails exercising power in cooperation with rival groups. The outcome of power sharing largely rests on the purpose and context of the agreement. Power sharing has proven effective at attenuating political violence and providing stability when enacted to guide a transition from white-minority to black-majority rule in former settler states (e.g., South Africa) or to bring persistent civil wars to an end (e.g., Sierra Leone and Burundi). However, in the context of an election dispute, power sharing fails to solve the underlying concerns that contribute to election-related conflict. Although power sharing may attenuate or end violence, the outcome is poor reconciling election winners and losers and deepening democratic practices (e.g., Kenya and Zimbabwe). Recognizing the failure of power sharing after election disputes, external mediators—particularly in West Africa (e.g., Côte d’Ivoire and The Gambia)—have tended to emphasize maintaining normal constitutional processes rather than power-sharing settlements.
A large body of theoretical work posits that power shifts or expected power shifts cause war. Power transition theory, cyclic theories of war, preventive war arguments, and the bargaining model of war are discussed in this article. Indeed, shifting power is one of the most popular and venerable explanations for war. Its origins go at least as far back as Thucydides, who famously wrote, “What made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear this caused in Sparta.” Two major points must be discussed. First, there is an impressive correlation between major power war and shifting power, a correlation consistent with the arguments of several systemic theories of war. Second, much of the empirical research examining power shifts and war suffers from endogeneity and model specification concerns. Regarding endogeneity, more effort should be placed on identifying valid instruments and conducting experiments. Regarding model specification, more attention needs to be paid to scope conditions. Shifting power is not expected to cause war in all contexts. Precisely defining the relevant contexts and modeling them empirically is necessary to evaluate the shifting power and war hypothesis.
The idea of power transition, or power shift, has recently been much in vogue in scholarly, policy, and even popular discourse. It has, for example, motivated a resurgent interest in the power-transition theory and the danger of the so-called Thucydides trap. China’s recent rise has especially motivated an interest in these topics, engendering concerns about whether this development means that China is on a collision course with the United States. These concerns stem from the proposition that the danger of a system-destabilizing war increases when a rising power catches up to a declining hegemon and challenges the latter’s preeminent position in the international system. Thucydides’s famous remark about the origin of the Peloponnesian War, claiming that “it was the rise of Athens and the fear that this inspired in Sparta that made war inevitable” in ancient Greece, has frequently been invoked to support this view. Whereas power shift is a generic term referring to any change in the balance of capabilities between two or more states, power transition is a more specific concept pointing to a reversal of positions whereby a rising latecomer overtakes a previous dominant power in the international system (or at least when this latecomer approaches power parity with the dominant power). Power-transition theory presents a contemporary version of Thucydides’s explanation of the Peloponnesian War. It calls attention to the changing power relationships among the world’s major states and provides a seemingly cogent framework to understand the dynamics that can produce war between these states and their respective allies.
A careful reader will immediately find the preceding paragraph unsatisfactory as it contains several important ambiguities. For instance, what do we mean by “major states” or “great powers,” and what do we have in mind when we refer to changes in their relative “power”? Also, does the power-transition theory claim that war is likely to break out when there is a change in the identity of the world’s most powerful country? Or does it also say that war is likely to occur even in the absence of a late-rising state overtaking, and therefore displacing, an incumbent hegemon? If so, how closely does the late-rising state have to match the incumbent’s power capabilities before the power-transition theory predicts a war between them? Would the latecomer have to reach at least 80%, 90%, or even 95% of the incumbent’s power before an approximate parity between the two is achieved? Does the power-transition theory pertain only to the relationship between the world’s two most powerful states, or does it apply to other states? And if power transition is a necessary but insufficient condition for war, what are the other pertinent variables and their interaction effects with power shifts? Finally, what do we mean by war or systemic war? The answers to these questions are not self-evident. How they are dealt with—or not—is in itself suggestive of the power relations in the world being studied by scholars and these scholars’ positions in this world and their relations to it.
Jonathan M. DiCicco
Power transition theory and Graham Allison’s Thucydides Trap Project are discussed in tandem with two complementary aims: to highlight theoretical and empirical contributions of the power transition research program, and to provide critical perspective on the Thucydides Trap Project. Conventional-wisdom approaches of this sort are distinguished from power transition theory, the empirical international relations theory proposed by A. F. K. Organski and further articulated and tested by generations of scholars. The theory’s central elements—national power, stages of power transition, shifts in the distribution of power, international order and the status quo—are identified and discussed, with a focus on key variables used to explain war and peace among contending states. A comparative, critical examination of the Thucydides Trap Project is used as a lens for spotlighting key empirical contributions of the power transition theory research tradition and the value of adhering to norms of scientific rigor. Opportunities for further growth and development are noted, with special attention afforded to essential features of the power transition theory research program, including the study of (1) the timing and initiation of war; (2) rising powers’ dissatisfaction with the status quo, and a possible distinction between dissatisfaction and revisionism; and (3) reducing the risk of violent, revisionist challenges.
Indra de Soysa
The idea that civil war has to be feasible to occur, and that feasibility is largely a function of the availability of lootable income has gained wide acceptance in the specialized literature on civil war. A parallel debate exists on whether or not liberal, capitalist economies produce a lower risk of domestic conflict. A micro logic for why capitalist economies are less likely to break down in armed conflict is offered to bridge these two literatures. It argues that autarchic economic policies often associated with predatory states drive investment in the shadows for capturing rents from market-constraining policies. The survivability of groups is based on infrastructures of violence and escape rather than simply the availability of lootable income. Free-market economies are far less likely to generate investment in this form of rebellion-specific capital that ultimately facilitates an open challenge of predatory states. Such a view of conflict is able to reconcile why internal conflicts last long, how narratives of greed and grievance coexist in conflict zones, why dominant state forces fail to stamp out insurgency, and why autarchic states are highly militarized. Any theory focused on grabbing to explain the onset of conflict should endogenize the causes of survivability, which ultimately determines how many battle deaths get generated to meet the threshold for becoming a civil war.
Jolanda van der Noll
Many studies have established that religious people display higher levels of prejudice. The review of the literature suggests, however, that in order to understand the relationship between religion and prejudice, it is important to consider the target of prejudice as well as the multifaceted nature of religion. Regarding the target of prejudice, some prejudices may be condemned in religious communities, whereas others may be perceived to be promoted by religious communities. Religion as a multifaceted construct encompasses social, moral, cognitive, and emotional aspects. In its relations with prejudice, the social and cognitive dimension are particularly relevant, as these dimensions determine who is considered to be an in-group member and what constitutes a threat to the own religious worldview. Furthermore, it has also been shown that the exposure to religious concepts influences prejudicial reactions. Finally, a review of the studies conducted outside the context of white Christians in North America and Europe shows that, regardless of social context and religious denomination, prejudice can to a large extent be explained by perceptions of threat, for example, to one’s belief system, which may especially be important for religious people.
The Presidency plays a crucial role in the management and organization of the Council of the European Union’s work and the institution’s interactions with third parties. Formally, the Presidency just chairs the meetings of Council bodies; but over time, member states have endowed it with a range of procedural prerogatives to structure the Council’s agenda and broker agreements, which post holders can potentially use to advance their own private interests. The potential for abuse of these powers raises two related questions: first, why would member states grant these powers to the Presidency, and second, is the Presidency actually able to use these powers to advance its own priorities and policy preferences?
In response to the first question, functionalist theories suggest that member states delegate powers to the Presidency to reduce transaction costs and solve collective action. According to Tallberg, member states grant the Presidency procedural prerogatives and provide it with administrative resources to ensure an efficient management of the Council’s agenda, avoid inadvertent negotiation failure or suboptimal negotiation outcomes, and provide adequate representation of the institution vis-à-vis external actors. Kleine’s theory suggests that the Presidency acts as an adjudicator of the legitimacy of demands for concessions by member states that find themselves in the minority but claim to experience strong domestic pressures for non-compliance. By making impartial and thus credible recommendations about whether the formal voting rule or consensus decision-making should apply in these situations, the Presidency contributes to the long-term sustainability of international cooperation. The two explanatory accounts disagree about whether the growing role of the Presidency reflects an incremental accumulation of powers over time in response to new tasks or just an extension of already existing powers into new areas. Historical research on the development of Presidency powers could shed more light on this topic.
Responses to the second question about the actual influence of the Presidency can be distinguished according to whether they relate to the Presidency’s scheduling power or to its proposal-making power. Control over the schedule and agenda of meetings, as well as the time devoted to different issues during a meeting, allows the Presidency to affect the relative allocation of attention to different policies. Allowing the Presidency to structure the agenda according to its own priorities comes with tangible collective benefits while resulting in little redistributive costs for other member states. In contrast, the Presidency’s exercise of proposal-making power, through its first-mover advantage, control over the negotiation text, and its privilege to call a vote or declare consensus, leads to biased negotiation outcomes with little or no benefits for member states but direct and tangible redistributive consequences. Thus, the Presidency’s prerogatives are largely based on informal norms and behavioral practices, which can always be superseded by recourse to formal rules. However, member states have little incentive to do so when the Presidency exercises its scheduling power but ample incentive if it exercises its proposal-making power.
Existing empirical research provides clear evidence that the Presidency can exercise both scheduling power and proposal-making power at least to some extent and under certain conditions. Interesting questions for future research relate to the overall size and prevalence of the effects of the Presidency’s powers, the mechanisms through which these effects are generated, as well as the conditions that explain their variation over time, across policy areas, and across member state characteristics.
How do people make political judgments and decisions? Each day, people are faced with a host of political issues. They also possess a limited amount of cognitive resources and must grapple with topics on which there is not necessarily an objectively correct answer. In turn, people rely on accessible information to facilitate their political judgments and decisions. Information is accessible when it is activated in a person’s mind. The information can either be chronically accessible, such as the political issues that are consistently important to a person, or made accessible through the situation, such as the issues that the media choose to cover in a given time and place. Situational information becomes especially accessible when the context activates available information stored in memory or the information is consistent with a person’s motivations and goals, such as media coverage rendering civil rights more accessible for racial minorities. Priming refers to the usage of accessible information when making judgments and decisions, such as deciding whether to sign a petition or how to vote in an election. In recent years, considerable debate has emerged about the generalizability of findings and current conceptual models of accessibility and priming across people and contexts. As research on accessibility and priming progresses, scholars continue to examine these topics in novel areas (e.g., social media) and push in building nuanced theoretical frameworks that help to explain variability in priming across contexts. Overall, understanding how people use accessible information in political judgments and decisions stands as an important factor in developing a comprehensive picture of political life.
Tom Delreux and Johan Adriaensen
Principal–agent analyses have been frequently applied by scholars of the European Union (EU). The model helps to explain the reasons, modalities, and consequences of the delegation of authority from one (set of) actor(s)—the principal—to another (set of) actor(s)—the agent. Instances of delegation are omnipresent in the EU: not only is the EU founded upon the delegation of rule-making powers from the member states to the supranational level (European integration), but delegation is also frequently occurring from one actor or institution to another within the political system of the EU (EU decision-making).
Assuming that institutions are forums for strategic behavior by rational actors, the principal–agent model has advanced our understanding of European integration and EU politics by zooming in on contractual, dyadic relationships that are characterized by an act of delegation and the controls established to minimize the risks related to delegation. Principal–agent analyses can be used to address two types of questions: first, on why and how the principal delegates authority to the agent (i.e., the “politics of delegation”), and second, on the ensuing game between the principal and the agent when the latter executes the delegated task on behalf of the former (i.e., the “politics of discretion,” or “post-delegation politics”).
Principal–agent analyses in the field of EU politics have been conducted using a diverse set of methods and research designs, with large-N quantitative studies on how principals control their agent, over in-depth case studies of the formers’ motives for delegation, to more recent attempts to capture post-delegation politics and the agent’s discretion in a systematic and quantitative way. Under the condition that the principal–agent model is applied carefully and for questions on the politics of delegation and the politics of discretion, it remains a useful tool to understand contemporary EU politics.
Prioritarianism is a principle of distributive justice. Roughly, it states that we should give priority to the worse off in the distribution of advantages. This principle has received a great deal of attention in political theory since Derek Parfit first introduced the distinction between egalitarianism and prioritarianism in his Lindley Lecture, published in 1991. In the present article, prioritarianism is defined in terms of a number of structural features of the principle. These structural features are also used to distinguish between this principle and other distributive principles such as utilitarianism, egalitarianism, and leximin. Prioritarianism is mostly discussed as an axiological principle that orders outcomes with respect to their (moral) value, but it is also clarified how it can be incorporated in a criterion of right actions, choices, or policies. Furthermore, different aspects of the principle that need to be further specified to arrive at a full-fledged distributive theory are discussed, including the weights that give priority to the worse off, currency (what kind of advantages should be distributed), temporal unit (the temporal span in which one has to be worse off in order to be entitled to priority), scope (whether the principle applies globally or only domestically, and whether, for example, future generations and non-human animals are covered by the principle), and risk. For each aspect, different possible views are distinguished and discussed. Finally, it is discussed how prioritarianism may be justified, for example, by outlining and discussing the argument that, unlike certain other distribution-sensitive principles such as egalitarianism, prioritarianism is not vulnerable to the so-called “leveling down objection.”
African prisons are some of the least-studied penal institutions anywhere in the world. This is not true everywhere on the continent, as prisons in some countries such as South Africa are adequately studied and have been the subject of commissions of inquiry stretching back to colonial times. It is also difficult to generalize about Africa. For example, there are massive disparities between north Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. Usually, not much information beyond generalities exists for many of them across the African continent. As a result, many negative perceptions endure that are not reflective of the different systems and the different countries in the region. The focus of the research has often been on specific themes and certain countries only and has generally focused on problems. There is, however, a need to portray a more realistic situation in prisons in all fifty-four countries more accurately, without generalizing, and to provide more solution-orientated research to a variety of issues. This can be partly achieved by comparative investigation.
While the conditions in many African prisons are harsh and difficult for inmates, comparatively speaking, prisons in Africa are not the worst in the world. However, they are generally overcrowded, and there is much violence. Issues generally concerning health, food, sanitation, amenities, and other matters remain generally problematic. However, much data is missing from a range of countries. More research is needed to gather more data and to interrogate the diverse prisons in the different countries. There is a need for more holistic research that understands prisons not as isolated institutions but as part of criminal justice systems. There is a need to understand how methods of policing, the conduct of prosecutions, and court processes all have an impact upon conditions within the prisons of a particular country.
Brian W. Head
In the early 1970s, Rittel and Webber asserted that conventional approaches to scientific analysis and rational planning were inadequate for guiding practitioners and researchers who were tackling complex and contested social problems—which they termed “wicked” problems. The full implications of this challenging critique of rational policy planning were not elaborated at that time, but the underlying issues have attracted increasing attention and debate in later decades. Policy analysts, academic researchers, and planning practitioners have continued to grapple with the claim that conventional scientific-technical approaches might be insufficient and even misleading as a basis for understanding and responding to complex social issues. This is paradoxical in the modern era, which has been attracted to notions of evidence-based policymaking, policy evaluation, and performance-based public management.
Scholarly discussion has continued to evolve concerning methods for addressing highly contested arenas of policy and planning. One key proposition is that citizens and key stakeholders tend to have conflicting perceptions about the nature of particular social “problems” and will thus have different views about appropriate responses or “solutions.” A related proposition is that these disputes are anchored in differing values and perceptions, which are not able to be adjudicated and settled by empirical science, but require inclusive processes of argumentation and conflict resolution among stakeholders. Hence, several kinds of knowledge—lay and expert, civic and professional—need to be brought together in order to develop transdisciplinary “usable knowledge.”
As the research literature produces a richer array of comparative case analyses, it may become feasible to construct a more nuanced understanding of the conditions underlying various kinds of wicked problems in social policy and planning. In the meantime, generalized and indiscriminate use of the term wicked problems is not helpful for delineating the nature of the challenges faced and appropriate remedial actions.
The study of economic development in African countries is facing a basic problem of lack of reliable data and statistics. These problems of economic data are best addressed under three main categories: design, capacity, and politics. The focus is on gross domestic product (GDP), but the relevance goes beyond GDP statistics because the aggregate of GDP requires economic data on all sectors of the economy, including expenditures and consumption, which gives the basis for discussing levels and trends in monetary poverty as well as having a correct count of the total population. The problem of design refers to the fact that many, if not most, of the statistical categories that are in use in international organizations disseminating statistics on social and economic affairs are categories that were designed as appropriate for developed countries. Indicators such as “unemployment” work better in a formalized labor market. The problems of design translate into problems of capacity. Because most economic transactions are not recorded in informal economies, this means that they are not reported as a rule and that therefore such recordings require a lot more resources. Many statistics that are readily available from administrative sources in higher-income countries need to be collected in more expensive surveys in low-income countries. Budgets for official services may already be constrained, and thus resources for statistical offices to collect these data are less than the resources needed to do so. Finally, politics of data matter. When statistics are based on missing data, the estimates will invariably be soft, and therefore malleable. Thus, when incentives are clearly identifiable before reporting or aggregation, the final estimates may be biased.
Process tracing is a research method for tracing causal mechanisms using detailed, within-case empirical analysis of how a causal process plays out in an actual case. Process tracing can be used both for case studies that aim to gain a greater understanding of the causal dynamics that produced the outcome of a particular historical case and to shed light on generalizable causal mechanisms linking causes and outcomes within a population of causally similar cases. This article breaks down process tracing as a method into its three core components: theorization about causal mechanisms linking causes and outcomes; the analysis of the observable empirical manifestations of the operation of theorized mechanisms; and the complementary use of comparative methods to enable generalizations of findings from single case studies to other causally similar cases. Three distinct variants of process tracing are developed, illustrated by examples from the literature.
Sabine C. Carey and Neil J. Mitchell
Pro-government militias are a prominent feature of civil wars. Governments in Colombia, Syria, and Sudan recruit irregular forces in their armed struggle against insurgents. The United States collaborated with Awakening groups to counter the insurgency in Iraq, just as colonizers used local armed groups to fight rebellions in their colonies. An emerging cross-disciplinary literature on pro-government non-state armed groups generates a variety of research questions for scholars interested in conflict, political violence, and political stability: Does the presence of such groups indicate a new type of conflict? What are the dynamics that drive governments to align with informal armed groups and that make armed groups choose to side with the government? Given the risks entailed in surrendering a monopoly of violence, is there a turning point in a conflict when governments enlist these groups? How successful are these groups? Why do governments use these non-state armed actors to shape foreign conflicts whether as insurgents or counterinsurgents abroad? Are these non-state armed actors always useful to governments or perhaps even an indicator for state failure?
We examine the demand for and supply of pro-government armed groups and the legacies that shape their role in civil wars. The enduring pattern of collaboration between governments and these armed non-state actors challenges conventional theory and the idea of an evolutionary process of the modern state consolidating the means of violence. Research on these groups and their consequences began with case studies, and these continue to yield valuable insights. More recently, survey work and cross-national quantitative research contribute to our knowledge. This mix of methods is opening new lines of inquiry for research on insurgencies and the delivery of the core public good of effective security.
To have property rights over X is to have rights to determine, in some respect, what shall happen to X, for example a piece of land. To have territorial rights is to have rights to make, enforce, and adjudicate the law within a geographical area. Property and territorial rights thus seem closely related, and philosophical accounts reveal various interesting connections between these bundles of rights—both in their nature and justification. A significant division, which we find in both old and new accounts—of property as well as territory—originates in the diverging political philosophies of John Locke and Immanuel Kant. Lockean accounts regard property and territorial rights as natural. People may acquire both without the prior existence of an adjudicating political authority. Kantian accounts, however, regard property rights as pure legal conventions. Non-existent outside civil society, they must be fully constructed by a state with territorial (jurisdictional) rights. Further divisions exist within Lockean and Kantian theories, and all the most prominent theories—of property as well as territorial rights—face significant unresolved philosophical challenges.
Toyin Falola and Chukwuemeka Agbo
In line with Thomas Hodgkin’s assertion, the search for Africa’s struggle for liberation, equality, self-determination and the dignity of the African is traceable to the result of the centuries of relationship between Africa and Europe dating at least since the 15th century. That association left Africa at the lowest ebb of the racial pyramid which Europeans had formed. As Africans at home and diaspora began to gain Western education, they began to question the racial and discriminatory ideas of whites against black people. They initiated the campaign for African equality with other races drawing inspiration from Africa’s culture and history to argue that Africa had contributed to world development just like any other race. At home in Africa, this new class of elites launched the struggle for the end of colonial domination in the continent. This movement to lift Africa out of the pit of subordination became known as Pan-Africanism. The movement has recorded tremendous successes, an outstanding example being the decolonization of the continent and the improved position of Africans in diaspora. Scholars have done a great deal of work on these movements and successes. Nevertheless, there is urgent need for a critical appraisal of 21st-century Pan-Africanism.