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Article

Toward an Evolutionary Theory of International Relations  

Rose McDermott and Christian Davenport

The current practice of conceiving and examining international relations within the dogma of the existing dominant paradigm in international relations unnecessarily truncates our understanding of how historical factors influence current events and restricts our ability to generate flexible and creative hypotheses to predict, and perhaps more successfully intervene in, future events. In many ways, these constraints result, at least in part, from the temporal, strategic, and behavioral isolation embedded in these models, which limit our ability to understand, integrate, and address how states deal with one another comprehensively. Substantial theoretical and empirical purchase can be gained through the application of an integrated explanatory rubric of evolutionary modeling, invoking the central concepts of variation, selection, and retention. Models derived from evolutionary psychology, applied not only to human cognitive architecture, but also to the interaction of these psychological dynamics with environmental factors including institutions, provides a richly generative framework from which to derive meaningful and novel hypotheses about politics in general and international relations in particular. It also allows for a progressive and cumulative research agenda that can build a more comprehensive and descriptively accurate foundation for understanding the nature of interaction between people and societies as well as between states themselves. Such an approach provides a useful framework for understanding the dynamic and interactive nature of international relations, sheds light on existing limitations as well as empirical findings, and facilitates insight into areas not yet explored.

Article

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in International Institutions  

M. Joel Voss

The human rights of LGBTI persons are being contested across the world—both within states and across regions. Despite decades of incremental change, in many states, LGBTI activists are beginning to rapidly advance their normative agendas, particularly in the context of protection against violence and discrimination. However, consistent backlash and opposition to LGBTI advocacy remains. Notwithstanding decades of silence on LGBTI rights, international institutions are also beginning to rapidly include sexual orientation and gender identity in their work as well. Institutions that consist primarily of independent experts and that focus on narrower human rights issues have been especially active in including sexual orientation and gender identity in their work, either formally or informally. At the same time, largely political institutions have generally lagged behind their counterparts. Scholarship on both sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) advocacy and contestation have also lagged behind political and legal developments at international institutions. Although a few works exist, particularly on the UN Human Rights Council, there are numerous other institutions that have been understudied. Further, research on the implementation of international SOGI policies has also been largely absent. SOGI advocacy and contestation continues across nearly every major international institution. Research agendas, either qualitative or quantitative are sorely needed to help better predict and explain the advancement or retreat of SOGI in international institutions and within domestic contexts.

Article

Domestic Constraints on Foreign Policy in Authoritarian Systems  

Jessica L. P. Weeks and Cody Crunkilton

The question of how domestic institutions influence foreign policy decisions has a long history in the study of international relations. However, until recently most of this research has compared the foreign policies of democracies and autocracies, with little attention to the differences within autocracies. In recent years, a small but growing body of literature has examined constraints within autocracies, taking issue with the widespread image of authoritarian leaders as unconstrained and unaccountable. Although existing research on this topic is limited, it focuses on two general sources of constraint on authoritarian leaders: constraints imposed by regime insiders and constraints at the hands of the public. In regimes with a powerful domestic audience, insiders often have both the will and the means to punish their leader for foreign policy failures. Consequently, such regimes sometimes behave quite similarly to democracies. In general, regimes with powerful selectorates or domestic audiences appear more likely to pursue peaceful security policies, to win the military conflicts they do enter, to lose office in the aftermath of defeat in war, to sign trade agreements, to adopt floating exchange rates, and to cooperate internationally, compared to regimes lacking such elite constraints. Scholars remain divided, however, about the extent to which the backgrounds of members of the domestic audience (e.g., whether they stem from a military or civilian ranks) matter. Less research studies whether the public can constrain authoritarian leaders. However, research indicates that the public can sometimes exert constraints through elections or the threat of revolt, if to a lesser extent than regime insiders. For example, the threat of revolution can make leaders who fear violent removal less likely to make concessions to end a conflict. Furthermore, antiforeign protest can tie a regime’s hands, with both peaceful and violent consequences. In the economic realm, some research suggests that the threat of inequality-driven revolutions spurs autocrats to pursue free-trade agreements. Overall, the study of domestic constraints on foreign policy in authoritarian regimes is an emerging area of research, with numerous areas for future study.

Article

The Politics of International Trade  

Mary Anne Madeira

International trade and state efforts to liberalize or restrict trade generate very contentious politics. Trade creates winners and losers at the individual level, firm level, industry level, national level, and even regional level. It also generates conflict among transnational social groups, such as environmental advocacy organizations, human rights organizations, and transnational business alliances. Because of this complexity of the politics of international trade, scholars of international political economy (IPE) can focus on different levels of analysis and a variety of stages of the political decision-making process. Scholars agree that not only societal preferences but collective action problems, domestic institutions, and international factors all affect trade politics and policy outcomes. These aspects of trade politics together form the key influences on trade policy and whether it is liberal or protectionist in nature. Societal preferences constitute the initial inputs into the trade policy-making process. Understanding how different groups of economic actors within society win or lose from trade liberalization or protection is the first step toward understanding trade politics and trade policy outcomes. Once societal trade preferences are formed, they must be aggregated into cohesive pressure groups or grass-roots movements whose purpose is to influence trade policy. This is easier for some groups of actors to achieve than others. In lobbying government actors on policy, interest groups find that domestic institutions play an important role translating societal inputs into policy outputs. Policy-making institutions vary in the degree to which they are susceptible to special-interest lobbying versus the preferences of broader societal coalitions, and electoral rules and party structures also affect policy outcomes, with certain configurations creating a bias toward more protectionism or liberalization. In addition to these domestic-level influences on trade policy, IPE scholars have extensively studied the ways that international factors also affect trade policy outcomes such as the extent of liberalization and the content of what is liberalized (e.g., manufactures versus agricultural goods versus services). International factors such as the distribution of power, the character of international institutions and trade agreements (e.g., multilateral versus bilateral), transnational civil society and diffusion processes may be thought of as inputs into the policy-making process as well. Systemic conditions may constrain the types of policies that governments can adopt, or they may open the door to a range of possible policy outcomes that are nevertheless limited by the preferences of domestic societal actors.

Article

Compliance in International Relations  

Carmela Lutmar and Cristiane L. Carneiro

States’ compliance with international law is a multicausal event, with variables operating at various levels of analysis, such as states’ incentives, regime type, issue area, strategic considerations, psychological perceptions, and level of enforcement. Recent scholarship on compliance with international law in general, and with international agreements in particular, has made great progress in uncovering some of the links between these factors, and in determining under what conditions we are more likely to see greater compliance, in what issue areas, and in explaining these variations.

Article

Europe’s Supranational Courts and LGBT Rights  

M. Joel Voss

Europe has some of the most powerful human rights legal institutions in the world including two supranational human rights courts—the Council of Europe’s European Court of Human Rights and the European Union’s Court of Justice (hereafter, together—the Courts). After decades of relative quiet, the Courts have begun hearing more cases concerning LGBT rights. Judgments of the Courts have advanced some facets of LGBT rights like anti-discrimination in the workplace while disappointing gay-rights advocates in other areas, for example family life and asylum. Scholarship on European courts and LGBT rights is not as developed as scholarship on norm advocacy or policy diffusion within states in Europe. The research that does exist looks at how decisions by the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice deal with current European law, how the institutions are designed, or how the supranational courts may act as agents of change or status quo institutions in shaping wider European behavior. This lack of newer research on the Courts presents ample opportunity for new avenues of research that examines not only how decisions are made at the Courts but also how states implement decisions and how states view the legitimacy of each Court.

Article

The Politics of LGBQTI Human Rights in the United Nations System  

Dominic McGoldrick

The United Nations system has been a major global site of political and legal contestation for LGBTQI human rights. However, the lack of consensus has led to major divisions within the UN’s political institutions. The independent human rights institutions that do exist within the UN system have been more progressive in advancing LGBTQI issues.

Article

Global Actors: Networks, Elites, and Institutions  

Mikael Rask Madsen and Mikkel Jarle Christensen

Over the past several decades scholars have intensively debated what factors drive globalization. Answers have ranged from the emergence of the information society and the global economy to value-conflicts embedded in different civilizations. A different yet closely related question is who is driving globalization? That is, however, much less studied, even if it is arguably key to making global governance intelligible. A whole list of actors seem to offer possible answers to the question of who the globalizers are: Are they global institutions such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) or the International Criminal Court (ICC); communities of experts providing technocratic solutions; transnational networks of activists seeking to alter global and national politics by pursuing, for example, environmental or human rights agendas; or are they powerful individuals forming transnational elites taking the fate of the global society in their hands at a safe distance from ordinary politics in places such as Brussels, New York, or Davos?

Article

The Geography of Civil War  

Andrew M. Linke and Clionadh Raleigh

Attention to geography in the study of civil war has risen dramatically in recent years. Beginning with county-level data in the fields of classical political geography, international relations, and comparative politics, a vast body of conflict research is now dedicated to sub-national analysis. This later turn is itself geographical. Innovations in the geographical study of civil war have dramatically improved our collective understanding of violence and continue to call for modifications of conflict theory. While a turn toward geography has therefore proved valuable for academic research that is most often dominated by political science, there remain fundamental differences within the research community about what constitutes geographical inquiry. An example of such a difference is the attention that physical geography (such as forest cover, mountainous terrain) has received in civil war research over investigations of the nuanced social composition of regions and localities, which tends to dominate for conflict research within the discipline of human geography. The spatial dependencies among conflict locations and events need to be highlighted for their importance. These patterns can reveal important underlying social forces that are interesting to scholars in various disciplines, as well as to the study of key geographical processes and the shift toward spatial disaggregation. This localization of violence studies is necessary and concerns the notion of hierarchical scale, which is a conceptual foundation of human geography. In studying the geography of civil war, there are methodological tools that can outline some risks associated with geospatial analysis of violence.

Article

From Elections to Democracy in Hard Times  

Anna M. Meyerrose, Thomas Edward Flores, and Irfan Nooruddin

The end of the Cold War, heralded as the ideological triumph of (Western) liberal democracy, was accompanied by an electoral boom and historically high levels of economic development. More recently, however, democratic progress has stalled, populism has been on the rise, and a number of democracies around the world are either backsliding or failing entirely. What explains this contemporary crisis of democracy despite conditions theorized to promote democratic success? Research on democratization and democracy promotion tends to focus predominantly on elections. Although necessary for democracy, free and fair elections are more effective at promoting democratic progress when they are held in states with strong institutions, such as those that can guarantee the rule of law and constraints on executive power. However, increased globalization and international economic integration have stunted the development of these institutions by limiting states’ economic policy options, and, as a result, their fiscal policy space. When a state’s fiscal policy space—or, its ability to collect and spend revenue—is limited, governments are less able to provide public goods to citizens, politicians rely on populist rather than ideological appeals to win votes, and elections lose their democratizing potential. Additional research from a political–economic framework that incorporates insights from studies on state building and institutions with recent approaches to democratization and democracy promotion, which focus predominantly on elections, is needed. Such a framework provides avenues for additional research on the institutional aspects of ongoing democratization and democratic backsliding.

Article

Soft Balancing  

Huiyun Feng and Kai He

Soft balancing is a conceptual product of one of the academic debates triggered by unipolarity in world politics. Examination of the soft balancing debate from 2005 to 2016 and critical evaluation of the progress and problems of the soft balancing research program suggest that the significance of the soft balancing debate does not lie in the answers offered by soft balancing scholars. Rather, its significance rests in the question that scholars pose for analysis under unipolarity—the underbalancing phenomenon—and the later endeavor to expand the soft balancing program beyond unipolarity. The future of the soft balancing program depends on continuous scholarly efforts to further clarify the concept of soft balancing, theorize a generalizable model of soft balancing across different cases, as well as demarcate the boundary of soft balancing theory from other research traditions.

Article

The English School: History and Primary Institutions as Empirical IR Theory?  

Barry Buzan and George Lawson

How does the English School work as part of Empirical International Relations (IR) theory? The English School depends heavily on historical accounts, and this article makes the case that history and theory should be seen as co-constitutive rather than as separate enterprises. Empirical IR theorists need to think about their own relationship to this question and clarify what “historical sensitivity” means to them. The English School offers both distinctive taxonomies for understanding the structure of international society, and an empirically constructed historical approach to identifying the primary institutions that define international society. If Empirical IR is open to historical-interpretive accounts, then its links to the English School are in part strong, because English School structural accounts would qualify; they are, in other ways, weak because the normative theory part of the English School would not qualify. Lying behind this judgement is a deeper issue: if Empirical IR theory confines itself to regularity-deterministic causal accounts, then there can be no links to English School work. Undertaking English School insights will help open up a wider view of Empirical IR theory.

Article

Sovereignty as a Resource and Curse in Africa  

Pierre Englebert

The sovereignty of postcolonial African states is largely derived from their recognition by other states and by the United Nations, irrespective of their actual effectiveness. Such international legal sovereignty has been a resource to weak African states, allowing them to endure against the odds, and to their rulers who have instrumentalized it to foster their domestic authority and domination. Yet, African sovereignty has also been a curse. Being exogenous to domestic social and political relations, it tends to isolate and shield rulers from the ruled and predisposes state institutions toward predation. It also standardizes and homogenizes the continent’s institutional landscape in disregard to the wealth and promise of effective institutional arrangements on the ground, to which it denies legitimacy. Despite the equilibrium properties of the African sovereignty regime, there might be opportunities to tweak the system in ways that could unleash more effective and accountable state and nonstate institutions.

Article

Hegemony, Hierarchy, and Unipolarity: Theoretical and Empirical Foundations of Hegemonic Order Studies  

Carla Norrlof

Scholars of international political economy in the 1970s explored the relationship among a dominant power, leadership, and openness. The discussion soon centered on the concept of hegemony, meaning a situation in which a single state exercises leadership in creating and maintaining the fundamental rules of the international system. The scholarly arguments that ensued focused on the rationale for, and durability of, hegemony, and seemed relevant because of a shared assumption that U.S. dominance, so strong during the quarter-century after World War II, was declining. However, the debate was premised on a shared but incorrect empirical perception that American hegemony was declining. When similar questions arose again at the end of the 20th century, the terminology used was less that of hegemony than of unipolarity and hierarchy, and the key question was whether exercising continuing leadership would be so costly to the hegemon that its decline would be generated by its leadership. The issues of hegemony raised in this literature have taken on renewed relevance with the election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States.

Article

The Political Economy of Development Finance in Latin America  

Leslie Elliott Armijo

Finance is frequently, but incorrectly, judged a technical matter best left to experts. Equally mistaken is the exasperated conclusion encapsulated in the phrase “people, not profits,” which holds that capitalism, private investors, and markets are simply evil. Finance is necessary for economic development, but also has profound, and often unexamined, implications for social and political spheres. Channels for financial intermediation may be public or private, and national or foreign, implying tradeoffs among organizational forms. Public banks typically are superior in providing public goods and implementing national strategic plans, but private banks and capital markets normally are more efficient, assuming competitive markets. Savings may be sought within the national economy or from abroad, with domestic savings implying a smaller pool yet less subsequent international vulnerability, and foreign inflows offering potential abundance at the cost of external dependence. This framing yields four ideal-types of long-term finance (LTF): national public finance from state development banks; national private finance from domestic private banks and capital markets; foreign public finance via bilateral or multilateral aid or state investment (including from non-traditional lenders, such as China); and foreign private finance sourced from global investors seeking returns. Both national public and foreign public finance dominated long-term investment in Latin America in the early postwar decades of import-substituting industrialization. In the 1970s through the 1990s, they were succeeded by foreign private bank loans, followed by crisis and retrenchment. In the 21st century global political and market conditions brought a resurgence of foreign capital, including from both global private investors and non-Western public sources. Worries about problems arising from Chinese public finance to Latin America are likely overblown, as the quantity remains small, except in some Bolivarian Alliance countries. However, private foreign inflows, strongly promoted by Western-led multilateral actors, from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to the World Bank, during the 2010s, may be more problematic. Excessive dependence on private securities markets funded by globally mobile capital often undercuts achievement of other valued societal goals such as reducing inequality and ensuring democratic accountability. Notwithstanding their predictable flaws, it may be time for a reemphasis on national, and possibly regional, public development banks.