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Article

The Balance of Power in World Politics  

Randall L. Schweller

The balance of power—a notoriously slippery, murky, and protean term, endlessly debated and variously defined—is the core theory of international politics within the realist perspective. A “balance of power” system is one in which the power held and exercised by states within the system is checked and balanced by the power of others. Thus, as a nation’s power grows to the point that it menaces other powerful states, a counter-balancing coalition emerges to restrain the rising power, such that any bid for world hegemony will be self-defeating. The minimum requirements for a balance of power system include the existence of at least two or more actors of roughly equal strength, states seeking to survive and preserve their autonomy, alliance flexibility, and the ability to resort to war if need be. At its essence, balance of power is a type of international order. Theorists disagree, however, about the normal operation of the balance of power. Structural realists describe an “automatic version” of the theory, whereby system balance is a spontaneously generated, self-regulating, and entirely unintended outcome of states pursuing their narrow self-interests. Earlier versions of balance of power were more consistent with a “semi-automatic” version of the theory, which requires a “balancer” state throwing its weight on one side of the scale or the other, depending on which is lighter, to regulate the system. The British School’s discussion of balance of power depicts a “manually operated” system, wherein the process of equilibrium is a function of human contrivance, with emphasis on the skill of diplomats and statesmen, a sense of community of nations, of shared responsibility, and a desire and need to preserve the balance of power system. As one would expect of a theory that made its appearance in the mid-16th century, balance of power is not without its critics. Liberals claim that globalization, democratic peace, and international institutions have fundamentally transformed international relations, moving it out of the realm of power politics. Constructivists claim that balance of power theory’s focus on material forces misses the central role played by ideational factors such as norms and identities in the construction of threats and alliances. Realists, themselves, wonder why no global balance of power has materialized since the end of the Cold War.

Article

Special Relationships in Foreign Policy  

Sebastian Harnisch

Special relationships are durable and exclusive bilateral relations between autonomous polities that are based on mutual expectations of preferential treatment by its members and outsiders as well as regular entanglement of some (external) governance functions. The concept has become more prominent over the past three decades in part because of recent changes in international relations and foreign policy analysis theory (the constructivist and relational turn) and long-term shifts in the social structure of international relations, that is, decolonization, international criminal and humanitarian law, which have posed questions of solidarity, reconciliation, and responsibility of current and past special relationships. The term special relationship has a long and diverse history. After World War II, it was used mainly to depict the Anglo-American security relationship as special. Today, well over 50 international relationships are deemed special. Despite this trend, no common theoretical framework has been developed to explain their emergence, variation, persistence and demise. Realism interprets special relationships as asymmetrical power relations, in which presupposed counterbalancing behavior does not occur because shared ideas or institutions mitigate autonomy concerns. Liberalism postulates that the special relatedness occurs when policy interdependence due to shared commercial interests or ideas allows deep cooperation and trust building. Social constructivism, in turn, assumes self-assertion but does not presuppose with or against whom the self, usually a polity, identifies itself. It follows that special relations may occur between dyads with positive identification (Germany-Israel after reconciliation) or negative identification, such as in the enduring rivalry between India and Pakistan. As a relational term, special relationships do not sit easily with the first generation of foreign policy analysis focusing on decision making processes rather than the policies themselves. As a consequence, special relationships have been primarily conceptualized either as a tool of foreign policy or as one context factor influencing foreign policy choices. In relational theories, such as social constructivism, special relations, such as solidarity relations, are not causally independent from actors, as these relations also define the actors themselves.

Article

The 1956 Suez Crisis as a Perfect Case for Crisis Research  

Bertjan Verbeek

The Suez Crisis of 1956 is a perfect case for crisis research in the domain of international relations: the events leading to an Israeli attack on Egypt and an Anglo-French military invasion in the Suez Canal area seriously endangered regional and global peace and security. It also had major long-lasting consequences, notably the end of British influence in the Middle East, the expansion of the Cold War into that region, severe damage to the Western alliance, and, related to that, the acceleration of European integration as well as the development of the French nuclear bomb. An analysis of the Suez Crisis allows for a useful comparison of objectivistic and subjectivistic conceptualizations of the notion of crisis. This bears out that different actors attached, and still attach, different meanings to the events of 1956. Consequently, they look back on, and evaluate, the crisis in different terms. Also, Suez invites a confrontation of rationalist and constructivist approaches to the crisis phenomenon in the international relations literature. Furthermore, it invites an assessment of different approaches to foreign policy crisis decision-making, as they are employed in the comparative foreign policy analysis literature. In addition, the crisis serves to dissect important methodological issues regarding crisis research, particularly regarding causality and the issue of the decision unit. Finally, Suez offers insights into the specific legal and normative constraints faced by democracies seeking to go to war.

Article

The Steps to War: Theory and Evidence  

Andrew P. Owsiak

The steps-to-war theory maintains that war results from the issues under dispute and how states handle these issues. Its foundation rests on the territorial explanation of war, which argues that territorial issues are more conflict-prone than non-territorial ones because these issues constitute a salient security threat that realism recommends be addressed via power politics (i.e., the use of force, including alliance- and armament-building). When states employ power politics, however, the dispute festers, thereby causing recurring militarized conflict; creating feelings of threat, enmity, and competition (i.e., rivalry); producing counter-alliances and arms races; and generally building the more hostile, war-prone world that states originally sought to avoid. Each step taken—from a territorial dispute to rivalry (i.e., recurring militarized disputes) to alliance-building to armament building—therefore increases the probability that war will occur. Existing empirical evidence supports the steps-to-war theory’s predictions in numerous ways. Tests of the entire theory, for example, demonstrate the dangerousness of territorial disputes, the tendency to manage territorial disputes via power politics, and that individual steps reinforce one another. Other bodies of research connect the individual steps directly to the likelihood that war will occur or highlight the connections between these individual steps—much as the theory predicts. Despite strong empirical support, however, much work remains to be done. Future research should consider the sequencing of the steps to war, investigate why the effects of certain steps vary across different epochs (e.g., alliances differ in their effects on war during the 18th and 19th centuries), identify the alternative paths to war, and study the paths to peace more explicitly—as obtaining peace may not be as simple as removing the known causes of war.

Article

Military Intervention in Interstate and Civil Wars: A Unified Interpretation  

Zachary C. Shirkey

Military intervention into interstate and civil wars is both common and important. It lengthens wars, makes them more severe, and shapes how they are fought. Even the mere possibility of intervention can alter the course of a war as belligerent powers alter their strategies to either encourage or dissuade potential interveners. These effects of military intervention are found in both civil and interstate wars. Yet, is state intervention into interstate and civil wars essentially one phenomenon or are they distinct phenomena? By looking at which states are likely to intervene, why and when they intervene, and which wars are most likely to experience intervention, it becomes clear the similarities between state military intervention into civil and interstate wars are more significant than are the differences. In other words, despite some important differences, they are subsets of the same phenomenon. In both types of wars, allies, geographically proximate states, and great powers are more likely to intervene. Also, information revealed by events within both types of wars prompts intervention and explains its timing. Last, wars in which international organizations become involved, both civil and interstate, are more likely to experience intervention. There are, however, important differences notably in the areas of cross-border ethnic ties, the presence of great powers in the war, the use of non-state proxies, and wars caused by commitment problems.

Article

States and Nonstate Armed Groups (NAGs) in International Relations Theory  

Belgin San-Akca

The international arena has been plagued with violence committed by a variety of Nonstate Armed Groups (NAGs), including ethnic and religious insurgents, terrorists, and revolutionaries, which threaten not only the states they target but also the entire world’s stability and security. An intriguing observation related to armed groups is their ability to attract outside state supporters. Indeed, almost half of all groups that emerged in the post-World War II period received some form of backing from states including but not limited to funds, arms, and safe havens. In this respect, it is possible to draw parallels between interstate alliances and state–group alliances. The major International Relations theories—realism, liberalism, and constructivism—have significant insights to offer in explaining the origin and evolution of state–rebel group alliances. These insights are empirically tested using new data on outside state support of rebel groups that emerged in the post–1945 period. Two forms of alliances exist between states and groups: strategic or instrumental and principled or ideational. A strategic alliance occurs if a state supports a group fighting against its enemy or rival, so security-related concerns and common threat motivate a given alliance. An ideational or principled alliance occurs if a state supports an ideationally contiguous armed group with which it has ethnic, religious, and/or ideological ties. Whether there is a strategic or principled alliance between armed groups and their state supporters has implications for the onset, course and termination of non-state violence in world politics. The empirical findings using large-N statistical analysis show that (1) states form alliances with rebel groups in both the absence and presence of interstate hostilities; (2) states form alliances with ideationally contiguous rebel groups, that is, groups that have common ethnic, religious, and ideological ties to states’ population and/or a group of people in its society; (3) democratic states do not ally with rebels, which fight against other democratic states; and (4) states, in general, are less likely to support rebels, which fight against ideationally contiguous states. Socialism emerges as a unifying ideology contributing to a high degree of solidarity both among states and between states and armed groups. The empirical findings imply that the perceived motivation of state supporters by armed groups; whether states support rebels due to strategic or ideational concerns, should have some influence on armed groups’ level of lethality, duration, and attitude toward civilians and governments they fight against. Only a fully developed research agenda offering empirically informed theoretical insights can address these questions by facilitating future venues of research on the origin and evolution of state–NAG alliances.

Article

Cuba and Integration Processes in Latin America and the Caribbean  

Carlos Oliva Campos and Gary Prevost

The uniting core of all the Cuban revolutionary government’s unfolding politics toward Latin American and Caribbean countries has been based on three foundational tenets: the staunch defense of a unified perspective that spans national to regional; the recovery of the historic principles of regional integration defended by Simón Bolívar and José Martí, and the unalterable anti-imperialist position of its international relations. Unlike the enormous negative impacts that the demise of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and Eastern-European socialism caused Cuba, the new political and geo-economic scene of the post–Cold War turned out to be very favorable for a Cuban government that shifted to redefine its relationships with Latin America and the Caribbean. This was strengthened by the victory of progressive and leftist governments in influential countries such as Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela. The new regional circumstances have been the most propitious for the development of the integrationist vision historically supported by the Cuban Revolution.