Political Science accounts of international politics downplay the role of political leaders, and a survey of major journals reveals that fewer than 3% of all articles focus on leaders. This is in stark contrast to public discourse about politics, where leadership influence over events is regarded as a given. This article suggests that, at a minimum, leaders occupy a space in fully specified chains of causality as the aggregators of material and ideational forces, and the transmitters of those forces into authoritative political action. Further, on occasion a more important role is played by the leader: as a crucial causal variable aggregating material and ideational energies in an idiosyncratic fashion and thereby shaping decisions and outcomes. The majority of the article is devoted to surveying the comparatively small literature on political leaders within International Relations scholarship. The article concludes by inviting our colleagues to be receptive to the idiosyncrasies, as well as the regularities, of statespersonship.
Leaders and Foreign Policy: Surveying the Evidence
Stephen Benedict Dyson and Thomas Briggs
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.
From International Law and International Relations to Law and World Politics
Christopher A. Whytock
Political scientists—primarily in the discipline’s international relations subfield—have long studied international law. After considering how political scientists and legal scholars define international law, this article identifies five stages of political science research on international law, including the current interdisciplinary international law and international relations (IL/IR) stage, and it reviews three trends in political science research that constitute an emerging sixth stage of interdisciplinary scholarship: a law and world politics (L/WP) stage. First, moving beyond the “IL” in IL/IR scholarship, international relations scholars are increasingly studying domestic law and domestic courts—not only their foundational role in supporting international law and international courts but also their direct role in core areas of international relations, including international conflict and foreign policy. Second, moving beyond the “IR” in IL/IR scholarship, political scientists are adapting their research on international law to the broader world politics trend in political science by studying types of law—including extraterritoriality, conflict of laws, private international law, and the law of transnational commercial arbitration—that govern the transnational activity of private actors and can either support or hinder private global governance. Third, moving beyond the domestic-international divide, political scientists are increasingly rejecting “international law exceptionalism,” and beginning to take advantage of theoretical convergence across the domestic, comparative, and international politics subfields to develop a better general understanding law and politics.
Defending Classical Geopolitics
Three successive parts are presented within this article, all intended to raise the visibility and show the utility of classical geopolitics as a deserving and separate international-relations model: (a) a common traditional definition, (b) relevant theories that correspond to that definition, and (c) applications of certain theories that will delve at some depth into three case studies (the Ukrainian shatterbelt, contemporary Turkish geopolitics, and a North American heartland). The placement of states, regions, and resources, as affecting international relations and foreign policies, defines classical geopolitics. This definition emphasizes the application of spatially composed unbiased theories that should bring insight into foreign-affairs events and policies. Specifically, a “model” contains theories that correspond to its description. A “theory” is a simple sentence of probability, with “A” happening to likely affect “B.” Importantly, models are passive; they merely hold theories. In contrast, theories possess their own titles and perform actively when taken from such models. Various methodological challenges are presented: (a) combining concepts with theories, (b) estimating probability for testing theories, (c) claiming the “scientific,” (d) accounting for determinism, (e) revealing a dynamic environment for geopolitics, (f) separating realism from geopolitics, and (g) drawing classical geopolitics away from the critical. Certain theories that are placed within the geopolitical model are examined next: (a) heartlands and rimlands, (b) land and sea power, (c) choke points and maritime lines of communication, (d) offshore balancing, (e) the Monroe doctrine, (f) balances of power, (g) checkerboards, (h) shatterbelts, (i) pan-regions, (j) influence spheres, (k) dependency, (l) buffer states, (m) organic borders, (n) imperial thesis, (o) borders/wars, (p) contagion, (q) irredentism, (r) demography, (s) fluvial laws, (t) petro-politics, and (u) catastrophic events in nature. Additional theories apply elsewhere in the article as well. Of the three case studies, the Ukrainian shatterbelt represents the sole contemporary geopolitical configuration of this type, a regional conflict coupling with a strategic rivalry. Here, partisans of the civil war between the eastern and the western sectors of the country have joined with the Russians against the Europeans and Americans, respectively. Next, Turkey’s pivotal location has afforded it both advantages and disadvantages, a topic discussed at some length earlier in the article. Its “zero-problems” strategy of seeking positive relations with neighbors has now been forced to change tactics, reflective of new forces within and beyond the country. Finally, a North American heartland compares nicely to Halford Mackinder’s earlier Eurasia heartland thesis, with the American perhaps proving more stable, wealthy, and enduring, based in large part on its stronger geopolitical features.
Religion in International Relations
Tanya B. Schwarz and Cecelia Lynch
Though religion was never absent from international relations, since the Iranian Revolution, the end of the Cold War, and the events of 9/11, the international community has taken a renewed interest in it. Questions center on the role of religion in peace and conflict, the compatibility of religious law and norms with different systems of government, and the influence of religious actors on a wide range of issues. A reliance on Enlightenment assumptions, which link “the religious” to the irrational, magical, or emotive, led many to deem religion inappropriate for the public sphere and a key factor leading to conflict. On the other hand, the same assumptions led to an association of “the secular” with reason, proper forms of government, and peace. Multiple scholars challenged such a dichotomous framework, arguing that “the religious” and “the secular” cannot be meaningfully separated, or that, at the very least, the origins of the category of “religion” must be examined in order to study acts and practices deemed religious in the 21st century. Scholarship that wishes to avoid broad generalizations and problematic assumptions about religion should move beyond Enlightenment assumptions and approaches that treat diverse religious communities, acts, and ideas as inherently “good” or “problematic.” To do so, scholars should reflexively engage with religion, paying attention to their own ontological assumptions and the consequences of those assumptions for analyses of religion and politics. In addition, scholars must situate the practices, principles, and identities of religious individuals and communities within broader historical and geographical contexts in order to understand the critical factors informing their ethical frameworks. There are several approaches that are attentive to interpretation, practice, and ethics, including neo-Weberianism, positive ethics, securitization theory, and a relational dialogical approach. These approaches provide alternatives to essentialized notions of religion and shed light on why and how religious actors choose some possible courses of action over others.
The Territorial Peace: A Research Program
Douglas M. Gibler
The first argument that the democratic peace may, in fact, be the product of a larger, territorial peace among states was published in 2007. The argument was based on the strong findings associating territorial issues with conflict. Territorial issues may, in fact, be so salient to the domestic population that they force political centralization and the maintenance of non-democratic governments. This also implies that democracies are likely to be members of a group of states that have resolved their latent territorial issues with neighbors; absent these threats to the state, democracies are faced with few issues over which to fight. That argument is described here, providing a comprehensive discussion of why territorial issues are so salient to the domestic population and the effects of that salience on the polity.
African Agency in International Politics
International Relations theory has tended to overlook the role of Africa and Africans in the international system. Traditionally, the discipline’s most influential theorists have focused instead on relationships between and perspectives of “major powers.” A growing body of work, however, has challenged these more limited efforts to conceptualize African agency in international politics. This scholarship has emphasized the significant space available to, and carved-out by, African states in molding the agendas of international institutions, and the role of African governments and advocacy networks in influencing the trajectory of major international debates around issues such as aid, development, trade, climate change, and migration. The study of African agency in international politics continues to wrestle with two key debates: the meanings of “agency” and “African.” Much of the literature focuses primarily on the role and influence of African states rather than that of African citizens and communities. This focus provides, at best, only a partial and qualified view of the ways in which African agency is secured and exercised at the global level, particularly given the significant structural constraints imposed on Africa by global economic and political inequalities. The extent to which contemporary analysis captures the breadth of African engagement with the international system is also compromised by current state-centric approaches. It is thus necessary to examine a range of approaches adopted by scholars to deepen and nuance the study of African agency in international politics, including work on agenda-setting, mesolevel dynamics and microlevel dynamics.
Theories of International Norm Contestation: Structure and Outcomes
Jeffrey S. Lantis
First-generation constructivist theories argue that international norms are constitutive and regulative—that they shape state behaviors and promote international cooperation. Theories focus on the life-cycle of international norms and probe their impact on cooperation across a range of issue areas. However, a new generation of scholarship has identified the potential for contestation and challenge in international norm development and maintenance. Critical constructivist theory recognizes powerful roles for agency and alternative definitions of norm parameters and compliance. Norm contestation can occur in multiple ways. First, critical constructivists recognize the norm development process itself can involve significant struggles over the definitions and prescriptions of normative architectures. Second, state leaders sometimes challenge the definition and prescriptions that flow from established normative architectures, and they may engage in contestation over the validity or justification of the norm or application in international institutions. Third, some norms may not become internalized in standard ways at the state level due to alternative patterns of norm diffusion and localization. Fourth, norm strength also can be affected by the actions of rival advocacy coalitions in processes of contestation. While contestation represents a vibrant research program today, critics charge that it suffers from significant limitations. No single theory of norm change or contestation has emerged as dominant in the first decade of research, and scholars are just beginning to grapple with whether greater attention should be devoted to contestation during norm development or localization/diffusion challenges. In addition, the concept of norm change raises an ontological debate about whether norms are static or dynamic in nature, and how best to study the cyclical development of norms (or norm change over time). A discussion of areas for further research and empirical testing of norm contestation theories is also presented.
Systemic Causes of Civil Wars
Civil wars in the contemporary world are deeply interpenetrated by international influences. There are six different conceptions of the international system and their effects on civil conflicts: (1) the realist conception and the superpower interventions of the Cold War period, (2) the liberal institutional conception and the diplomatic mediation of the United Nations, (3) global cultural influences such as world religions, democratization and education, (4) the global economy and structural poverty, (5) transnational bilateral relations with neighboring states, and (6) the planetary ecosystem and the effects of climate change. Taken together, these international influences have a weighty effect on the conduct and duration of contemporary civil wars.
Challenges and Possibilities of Empirical International Relations Theory: Evidence From Research in Brazil
Fernanda Barasuol and Andre Reis da Silva
Much of the debate in international relations (IR) theory in the past decades has concerned epistemological matters and the possibility of empirical research in the field. Most of this debate happened either within the United States or between Americans and Europeans, translating the general trend of keeping the theoretical core of the discipline centered around its geographical (developed) core. Brazilian international relations provides an additional peripheral view to IR theory (IRT). It is worth analyzing how theory has been used in Brazilian teaching and research, with the aim of understanding how Brazilian academics have used different theoretical approaches to understand their objects of study. With this objective, it is important to look into teaching syllabi, PhD dissertations, and articles published in academic journals in the field of international relations. There are considerable differences between teaching and research in Brazil, with the first following traditional American textbook standards. Research, however, shows considerably different theoretical and methodological bases.
Analytical Liberalism, Neoclassical Realism, and the Need for Empirical Analyses
Mark R. Brawley
Two approaches currently enjoy widespread popularity among foreign policy analysts: Analytical Liberalism and Neoclassical Realism. On the surface, they seem remarkably similar. Both emphasize domestic factors, yet each claims to employ domestic variables in a distinct fashion. How do they differ? To answer that question, it would be helpful to reflect upon examples where scholars applying each approach have addressed the same case, allowing us to contrast their descriptions directly. Few such comparisons exist, however. Instead, as is apparent to even the casual observer, each approach fits neatly into its own niche. Neoclassical Realism appeals to scholars addressing security policy, whereas Analytical Liberalism dominates research in international political economy. Why would both approaches enjoy limited applicability? Here too, a direct comparison of their arguments might illuminate their comparative strengths and weaknesses. A review of how each approach works provides insight into their respective strengths and weaknesses. Under certain conditions, the key traits of the approaches can be revealed. These conditions identify a series of cases deserving closer empirical analysis, which would provide evidence concerning the relative utility of each approach.
The Spread of Conflict in International Relations
Nils W. Metternich
International relations as a subfield in political science has always been fundamentally concerned about the relations between actors and how they lead to conflictual or cooperative outcomes. However, despite this inherent interest in relations between actors, the gap between theoretical conceptualization and empirical estimation considerably widened until spatial econometric and network analytic estimation approaches allowed researchers to address interdependencies in multiactor settings empirically. However, the discipline needs to strengthen the link between theoretical and empirical network analysis by integrating formal theoretical advances and fully embracing inferential statistical network approaches that are available to researchers. Formal theories of network behavior need to be further developed to establish systematic insights into the conditions under which complex network structures arise and how they affect actor behavior. Rigorous theoretically guided research will form the basis of linking network theories of conflict and cooperation and empirical testing.
Cumulative Knowledge, Science, and the Emergence of International Relations
Torbjørn L. Knutsen
Statesmen, salesmen, soldiers, and scholars have discussed international relations for hundreds of years—at least since sovereign states consolidated their presence along the North Atlantic rim. The Renaissance saw the rise of such discussions, triggered by gunpowder-based armies in Europe and discoveries of new lands in extra-European regions. The Reformation added arguments about the role of religion in interstate affairs—arguments echoed in peace treaties like those signed in Augsburg (1555) and Westphalia (1648). The Enlightenment brought more systematic efforts to explain the causes of war and the preconditions of peace. Two different arguments were drawn more sharply after the Wars of the Spanish Succession and the peace conference of Utrecht (1715): one argued that international order could be maintained by an equilibrium of power; another claimed that peace could be created through diplomatic cooperation and international law. Both arguments were elaborated during the Napoleonic Wars and informed the peace treaties signed at the Congress of Vienna (1814–1815). In the wake of World War I, when the academic discipline of international relations (IR) was established—when scholarly institutions were sponsored for research and education about international issues—there existed a rich literature on the causes of war and the preconditions for international peace. It is argued here that this literature has not been managed particularly well. Few IR scholars have mined this literature systematically. New generations of IR scholars have been more preoccupied with current events than with recurrent patterns. They have been more busy with contemporary theories than with systematically arranging and assessing explanations from the past. If IR wants to become a social science, marked by progress and accumulation of knowledge, it is necessary to catalogue and manage its scholarly heritage in more systematic ways.
Is Democracy a Cause of Peace?
Essentially all scholars agree that the levels of violent conflict, especially wars, within democratic pairs of states are significantly lower than levels of violent conflict within other pairs of states. However, debate rages as to whether this observed correlation is causal or spurious. Does democracy actually cause peace? Answering this question is critical for both scholarly and policy debates. Critics have lodged two sets of arguments proposing that the observed correlation between democracy and peace does not mean that democracy causes peace. First, some claim that the peace observed among democracies is not caused by regime type, but rather by other factors such as national interest, economic factors, and gender norms. These critics often present statistical analyses in which inclusion of these or other factors render the democracy independent variable to be statistically insignificant, leading them to draw the conclusion that democracy does not cause peace. The second critique claims that there is a causal relationship between democracy and peace, but peace causes democracy and not the reverse. Peaceful international environments permit democracy to emerge, and conflictual international environments impede democracy. Though peace causes democracy, democracy does not cause peace. Careful examination of the theoretical claims of these critiques and especially the pertinent empirical scholarship produces two general conclusions. First, there is enough evidence to conclude that democracy does cause peace at least between democracies, that the observed correlation between democracy and peace is not spurious. Second, this conclusion notwithstanding, the critiques do make important contributions, in the sense that they demonstrate that several factors (including democracy) cause peace, that there may be some qualifications or limitations to the scope of the democratic peace, and that causality among factors like democracy and peace is likely bidirectional, part of a larger dynamic system.
How Did American International Political Economy Become Reductionist? A Historiography of a Discipline
W. Kindred Winecoff
First-wave international political economy (IPE) was preoccupied with the “complex interdependencies” within a world system that (it believed) was rapidly devolving following the 1971 collapse of the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates. The original IPE scholars were more dedicated to theorizing about the emergence and evolution of global systems than any strict methodology. As IPE developed, it began to emphasize the possibility that institutions could promote cooperation in an anarchic environment, so IPE scholarship increasingly studied the conditions under which these institutions might emerge. Second-wave IPE scholars began to focus on the domestic “level of analysis” for explanatory power, and in particular analyzed the role of domestic political institutions in promoting global economic cooperation (or conflict). They also employed a “second-image reversed” paradigm in which the international system was treated as an explanatory variable that influenced the domestic policymaking process. In opening up the “black box” of domestic politics, in particular as it pertained to foreign economic policy, the “American school” of IPE thoroughly explored the terrain with regression-based statistical models that assume observational independence. As a result, complex interdependencies in the global system were increasingly ignored. Over time the analytical focus progressively shifted to micro-level units—firms and individuals, whenever possible—using neoclassical economic theory as its logical underpinning (with complications for political factors). This third wave of IPE, “open economy politics,” has been criticized in the post-crisis period for its narrow focus, rigid methodology, and lack of systemic theory. Leading scholars have called modern IPE “boring,” “deplorable,” “myopic,” and “reductionist,” among other epithets. A “fourth-wave” of IPE must retain its strong commitment to empiricism while re-integrating systemic processes into its analysis. A new class of complex statistical models is capable of incorporating interdependencies as well as domestic- and individual-level processes into a common framework. This will allow scholars to model the global political economy as an interdependent system consisting of multiple strata.
Institutions and the Global Political Economy
Lisa L. Martin
In a comparison of today’s global political economy with that of the last great era of globalization, the late nineteenth century, the most prominent distinction is be the high degree of institutionalization in today’s system. While the nineteenth-century system did have some important international institutions—in particular the gold standard and an emerging network of trade agreements—it had nothing like the scope and depth of today’s powerful international economic institutions. We cannot understand the functioning of today’s global political economy without understanding the sources and consequences of these institutions. Why were international organizations (IOs) such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) or International Monetary Fund (IMF) created? How have they gained so much influence? What difference do they make for the functioning of the global economy and the well-being of individuals around the world? In large part, understanding IOs requires a focus on the tension between the use of power, and rules that are intended to constrain the use of power. IOs are rules-based creatures. They create and embody rules for gaining membership, for how members should behave, for monitoring, for punishment if members renege on their commitments, etc. However, these rules-based bodies exist in the anarchical international system, in which there is no authority above states, and states continue to exercise power when it is in their self-interest to do so. While states create and join IOs in order to make behavior more rule-bound and predictable, the rules themselves reflect the global distribution of power at the time of their creation; and they only constrain to the extent that states find that the benefits of constraint exceed the costs of the loss of autonomy. The tension between rules and power shapes the ways in which international institutions function, and therefore the impact that they have on the global economy. For all their faults, international economic institutions have proven themselves to be an indispensable part of the modern global political economy, and their study represents an especially vibrant research agenda.
International Norm Change
In the first wave of scholarship on international norms, the primary task was to convince a skeptical discipline that norms affect domestic and international outcomes. A second phase of international norms research developed political theories of the emergence and establishment of new international norms. Transnational actor models as well as “legalization” and “rational design” approaches tested propositions on norm creation but did not theorize what happens after norms are created. General norms inevitably collide with the relentless specificity of experience. Actors constantly dispute the meaning and application of norms. The resultant arguments modify the norms being contested, and the modified norms then shape subsequent behavior and disputes. The third wave of international norms research has focused on the inherent dynamism of norms and norm systems. Norms emerge through processes of transnational advocacy and institutional design, but they also evolve through cycles of application and disputation.
Theory and Evidence Regarding the Effectiveness of Human Rights Treaties
Daniel W. Hill, Jr.
The adoption by the United Nations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 marked the beginning of the modern international human rights regime. Since then the number of international treaties that protect human rights, as well as the number of internationally recognized rights, has greatly increased. The increasing number and scope of international treaties attests to the fact that advocates for human rights view treaties, which are legally binding in principle, as useful tools for promoting respect for the various rights identified in international law. Only recently have scholars begun to collect and systematically examine evidence concerning the effectiveness of human rights treaties. This new body of research is motivated by a question that has obvious normative import and policy relevance: do we have good evidence that the widespread adoption of international human rights law has had any meaningful impact on the level of respect that states exhibit for the rights articulated in international law? To date, this literature suggests three sources of variation in the effectiveness of human rights treaties: (1) variation in the domestic political and legal institutions that facilitate enforcement and compliance, (2) variation in the nature of the rights protected by different treaties and the nature of violations, and (3) variation in the strength of governments’ commitments to the UN treaty regime. All three sources of variation point to opportunities to advance our understanding of the conditions under which international human rights law can achieve its goals.
Major Powers vs. Global Powers: A New Measure of Global Reach and Power Projection Capacity
Michael J. Lee and William R. Thompson
Major powers appear to behave differently from other states in the international system. They are more active and less constrained by distance than other actors. The common approach of testing conflict (and other) hypotheses across relevant dyads builds this fact into the architecture of quantitative IR. However, we argue that the dominant operationalization of major power status actually conflates two different kinds of states—global powers and regional powers. Global powers are those with both a strong interest and a capacity for long-distance engagement in IR: they build strong navies and air forces and seek to control access to the global commons. In contrast, other states have predominantly local interests and lack much capacity to project force over distance (e.g., 19th-century Austria-Hungary). Here, we develop a new, historically robust measure of power projection capability by examining the naval and air power of states from 1816–2013. We illustrate the face validity of our model by illustrating the important ways in which global powers differ from other states. Not only are global powers more active internationally, they also have fundamentally different concerns than other states. One of the strongest findings in quantitative research in conflict is the idea that states often fight wars with neighbors (either because of the importance of territorial conflicts, proximity, or both). Yet even this powerful result is nullified in dyads where one or both participants have high levels of power projection capability. Global powers are behaviorally different from other states—even many of those considered “major powers” by the Correlates of War (COW) project. We need to consider these distinctions carefully when modeling conflict behavior—particularly when declaring particular dyads to be “relevant dyads.”
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.