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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

Leaders and Foreign Policy: Surveying the Evidence  

Stephen Benedict Dyson and Thomas Briggs

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.

Article

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.

Article

Defending Classical Geopolitics  

Phil Kelly

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.

Article

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.

Article

Systemic Causes of Civil Wars  

Ann Hironaka

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.

Article

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.

Article

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.

Article

Empirical Evidence for Empirical International Relations Theorizing: Tests of Epistemological Assumptions With Data  

Brian C. Rathbun

Balancing theory with evidence, in which we form and adjust our theories at least in part based on their performance, might seem to be a part of any social scientific enterprise. However, there are powerful epistemological tendencies, particularly in the field of international relations (IR), which lead many researchers in other directions. One is somewhat unique to IR—the role played historically by paradigms in the field. At their worst, paradigms put theory before evidence. They offer a set of core assumptions about the nature of international politics and lead their adherents to cherry pick evidence to support them. The other we find in many other social sciences besides political science and international relations—a commitment to deductive theorizing, particularly by practitioners of rational choice. Based on an instrumentalist epistemological position, deductive theory derives hypotheses from a set of assumptions that remain untested, and aims at uncovering general patterns of human behavior that are as generalizable as possible. This type of research, which rests on an instrumentalist epistemological approach, finds itself unable to follow the evidence because it is uninterested in testing its own assumptions with empirical data. When these assumptions prove faulty, it generates bad theory because its foundation is rotten. International relations theorists have squabbled for decades over basic epistemological positions, with each side favoring a particular school in the philosophy of science that justifies their preferred approach to research. As Monteiro and Ruby have nicely argued in 2009, these disagreements cannot be resolved through argument, as each epistemological approach rests on its own set of assumptions that cannot be tested. While they are correct to argue that IR pick and choose their epistemology based on the kind of research they like to do, the viability of epistemological choices is to some degree subject to empirical testing.

Article

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.

Article

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.

Article

Is Democracy a Cause of Peace?  

Dan Reiter

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.

Article

The Power-Transition Discourse and China’s Rise  

Steve Chan

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.

Article

The Empirical Promise of Game Theory  

Alexandre Debs

Game theory is a set of mathematical tools used to analyze the strategic interaction between decision makers. Proponents of game theory have offered different perspectives about its potential benefits in the study of politics: It is a rigorous apparatus that can offer a solid foundation for the scientific enterprise; it offers predictions that could be tested with statistical analysis; it can account for the essence of unique cases and could be tested with qualitative evidence. Critics of game theory, in political science and international security specifically, argued in the 1990s that it had generated few empirical insights. Two decades later, game-theoretic approaches to international security remain a robust research program, but their prevalence remains limited. It is important to evaluate the potential benefits of game theory and the contributions that it has made to international security, so as to devise appropriate strategies to maximize its empirical purchase. The controlled comparison approach, using qualitative evidence on a medium number of cases, appears especially promising.

Article

Determinants of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)  

Yi Feng

Foreign direct investment (FDI) is a major component of globalization. Because of the important role it plays in economic growth and development, many scholars have directed their interest and knowledge to theoretical and/or empirical studies of the causes of FDI. There has been a rapidly growing body of literature that theorizes, hypothesizes, and empirically tests the determinants of FDI. There is no single theory of FDI; rather, various theories look at FDI from different angles and complement each other. Likewise, the empirical studies of FDI are incremental and experimental. The main theoretical approaches to FDI are presented, the empirical evidence gathered in the literature is introduced, and future research is discussed.

Article

Role Theory As an Empirical Theory of International Relations: From Metaphor to Formal Model  

Stephen G. Walker

Role theory as an empirical theory of international relations has an underlying logical structure with the ability to generate different models of cooperation and conflict in world politics at multiple levels of analysis: system-oriented models of incentives and role constraints; actor-centered models of role conceptions and expectations; action-focused models of cues and role enactment. The emphasis at each of these levels of analysis is on strategic interaction, which makes role theory a theory of international relations between ego and alter as well as a theory of their respective foreign policy decisions. The logical and empirical applications of role theory’s models to world politics have morphed from metaphor and analogy into formal models of prediction and explanation that meet the criteria of testability associated with an empirical theory of international relations. These criteria include the logical rules of deductive inference and the correspondence rules of empirical falsifiability associated with the systematic comparison of empirical cases. The pattern of migration and evolution of role resembles the earlier pattern of importing game as a metaphor and introducing the logical structure of game theory into the field of international relations. Binary role theory employs the concepts of role theory and a set of game theory models to analyze conflict and cooperation in world politics. The role metaphor and the concepts of binary role theory provide a substantive “theory of payoffs” for game theory. The latter’s formal models help transform the logical structure of role theory from a metaphor or analogy to a logically coherent and empirically testable theory of international relations.

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

The Global Spread and Contraction of Democracy: A CoEvolutionary Approach  

John M. Owen

Much of the literature on international democratic diffusion appeals to mechanisms—competition, learning, emulation or socialization, and coercion—that typically are treated as competing and theoretically separate. All four, however, fit within a coevolutionary framework, that is, one integrating the concepts of variety, retention, and selection of traits (in this case, regime type). Competition, learning, and emulation are not mutually exclusive and all find support in the large literature on cultural and social evolution. Coercion may seem anti-evolutionary, inasmuch as it implies design and implementation by a powerful rational actor (state, international institution, etc.), but co-evolution can accommodate coercion as well. In co-evolution, agent and environment evolve together: an agent shapes its environment (engages in niche construction), and that reshaped environment alters the fitness of the agents’ traits. A powerful democracy can alter its social and material environment so as to increase the fitness of its own regime. Co-evolution can provide a framework to integrate mechanisms by which democracy and other regime types spread and contract across time and space, and hence can aid empirical research on the effects of global power shifts, including the rise of China, on the fate of democracy in various regions around the world.

Article

The Theoretical and Empirical Approaches to Uncertainty and Conflict in International Relations  

Muhammet A. Bas and Robert Schub

Uncertainty is pervasive in international politics. This uncertainty can have many sources. Each source has different origins and implications for the likelihood of conflict. Existing theories focus on three sources: (1) uncertainty due to asymmetric information about adversary traits that affect war payoffs, (2) uncertainty about adversary intentions, and (3) fundamental uncertainty about conflict-relevant processes. Scholarship details the implications of each type of uncertainty for war and peace as well as the prospects for reducing the uncertainty. While theoretical work is quite rich, empirical studies generally lag behind due to measurement challenges and difficulties in specifying clear, testable implications. Nonetheless, using novel proxies for different forms of uncertainty has generated notable progress.

Article

Diffusion in International Politics  

Alex Braithwaite and Sangmi Jeong

Diffusion with respect to international politics is commonly defined as the tendency for events or behaviors occurring in one spatial unit to influence the likelihood of similar events or behaviors occurring in another spatial unit. General definitions and mechanisms of diffusion that can be thought of as somewhat ubiquitous to the broader literature of diffusion in international politics tend to focus on processes of spillover or learning/emulation. These processes are common to the adoption and diffusion of policy innovations, the spread of democracy and democratic revolutions, and the contagion of civil and international conflicts. While the nomenclatures of these literatures often differ quite significantly, considerable overlap exists in terms of the primary conceptualizations of diffusion mechanisms. Most literatures appear to identify some combination of the following mechanisms: coercion and external pressure; constructivist norm cycles; social networks and linkages; geographic proximity and demonstration effects; learning and emulation. While the study of these phenomena and mechanisms has advanced significantly in recent years, some notable areas of future growth remain. First, differentiating between learning/emulation and spillover processes still presents considerable difficulty. Second, the role of “firewalls” in limiting diffusion processes is not well understood in either general or specific cases. Third, while understanding of social and geographic spaces is now rather nuanced, it remains unclear how best to theorize and model timing in diffusion processes.