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Article

Foundations of Rivalry Research  

David R. Dreyer

Though rivalry is not isolated to international politics, interstate rivalries are particularly important given their conflict propensities and destructiveness. Tremendous progress has been made in determining the causes of rivalry initiation, maintenance, escalation, and termination. The empirical results of such research rest on how rivalry has been conceptualized and operationalized. There are several approaches to conceptualizing and operationalizing rivalry. Each approach has strengths and weaknesses. Dispute density approaches, which identify rivals as states that engage in repeated instances of militarized conflict over time, have higher levels of measurement reliability than validity. The strategic rivalry approach, on the other hand, which identifies rivals as states that view one another as threatening competitors and enemies, has a higher level of measurement validity than reliability. This review provides an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of scholarly approaches used for identifying cases of rivalry. Existing rivalry research provides a foundation from which to further develop rivalry approaches. Given that the concept of rivalry has only recently been applied outside of the dyadic interstate context, intrastate and complex rivalry conceptualization and operationalization warrants further exploration. Due to the existence of several mature dyadic interstate rivalry approaches, developing additional distinct approaches for the dyadic interstate context is less imperative than integrating existing approaches. There are several ways this can potentially be done, such as by combining elements of multiple perspectives in ways that minimize weaknesses, through conceptual mapping, or by developing an ordinal measure of rivalry.

Article

Understanding Government Behavior During Armed Conflict  

Cyanne E. Loyle

How and why do governments choose the strategies that they do during armed conflict? While there is a substantial body of research on the use of different tactics by governments and rebels during armed conflict, this work has rarely made an attempt to engage with scholars of different tactics in order to develop a broader understanding of how and why actors make the behavioral choices that they do and how these choices advance certain intended strategies. Furthermore, the work across tactics does not have unified findings. Understanding both the range of behaviors by conflict actors and the motivations for these behaviors is an important and necessary step for understanding the course of armed conflict more generally and for developing relevant policy aimed at changing these behaviors. Within existing literature on belligerent tactics, important lessons about government behaviors and why these specific behaviors are selected can be distilled. Objectives, strategies, and tactics should be disaggregated in order to think through the implications of different government decisions for understanding or changing behavior. This disaggregation aids us in identifying the areas of research in which we have confirmed findings and those questions regarding government behavior that require additional investigation. Moving forward we could and should develop a systematic list of the types of factors that impact certain behavioral choices, across tactics, but this is most useful if we can then link these factors to an understanding of the broader objectives and strategies that a government is trying to pursue.

Article

The Impact of Meso-Level Assumptions on Grand Theorizing: Using Unit, State, and Regime Type for Constructing IR’s Historical Narratives (and Theory-Building)  

Daniel M. Green

Narratives of history profoundly shape international relations (IR) scholarship. Periodizations and grand historical narratives are vitally consequential, establishing the very parameters in which IR scholars labor, speculate, and theorize. Therefore, we should be highly attentive to how we produce these narratives. Yet there is a surprising lack of reflection on general practices in such matters. One common method that international relations uses to set these parameters—identify the basic properties of international systems, chart their comparative dynamics, and construct periodizations and grand narratives of history—is to begin with an initial focus on the predominating units, unit types, and/or regime types present in the global system at any given point in time. Dynastic families, states, city-states, empires, democracies, and autocracies—all have had ideal-typical worlds of relations constructed around them. This “unit approach” is important in making behavioral arguments about actors in international relations and is especially interested in how it has been and can be used to construct improved narratives of IR history that liberate us from the “Waltzian hangover” of a dysfunctionally simple account of history. The three main versions of the unit approach are based on unit type, state type, and regime type. This paper makes arguments about the appropriateness of a unit approach to historical narrative construction and its advantages over other approaches, such as structure-oriented developments.

Article

The Effectiveness of the World Trade Organization’s Dispute Settlement System  

Soo Yeon Kim

The World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement system is its judicial arm and enforcement mechanism, designed to assist members in resolving trade disputes that arise between them. Its design reflects a move toward greater legalization in trade governance under the multilateral trade regime. Compared with the dispute settlement system of its predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the WTO’s dispute settlement provided a more structured and formal process with clearly defined stages and more discipline in the timetable of the dispute so as to resolve trade disputes as efficiently as possible. Most important, the WTO’s dispute settlement provides for virtually automatic adoption of panel rulings: a respondent losing a case can block the adoption only if it can persuade all members of the WTO not to do so. The legal basis for the WTO’s dispute settlement system is the Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU), which provides the principles and procedures by which members may bring their trade disputes to the multilateral trade regime for resolution. Overseeing the dispute settlement process is the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB), which consists of all WTO members and meets regularly to receive and to adopt reports of disputes at their various stages of progress. How effective is the WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism? Effectiveness can be conceptualized as success in attaining the objectives of the dispute settlement under the WTO in three areas: the efficiency of dispute settlement; inclusiveness of the dispute settlement process, especially as it concerns developing country participation; and compliance with legal obligations resulting from arbitration. The existing scholarship on this topic features key debates and frontiers for future research on firms and global production networks/value chains that have the potential to advance our state of knowledge concerning this “crown jewel” of the multilateral trade regime.

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

Conflict Management of Territorial Disputes  

Krista E. Wiegand

Despite the decline in interstate wars, there remain dozens of interstate disputes that could erupt into diplomatic crises and evolve into military escalation. By far the most difficult interstate dispute that exists are territorial disputes, followed by maritime and river boundary disputes. These disputes are not only costly for the states involved, but also potentially dangerous for states in the region and allies of disputant states who could become entrapped in armed conflicts. Fortunately, though many disputes remain unresolved and some disputes endure for decades or more than a century, many other disputes are peacefully resolved through conflict management tools. Understanding the factors that influence conflict management—the means by which governments decide their foreign policy strategies relating to interstate disputes and civil conflicts—is critical to policy makers and scholars interested in the peaceful resolution of such disputes. Though conflict management of territorial and maritime disputes can include a spectrum of management tools, including use of force, most conflict management tools are peaceful, involving direct bilateral negotiations between the disputant states, non-binding third party mediation, or binding legal dispute resolution. Governments most often attempt the most direct dispute resolution method, which is bilateral negotiations, but often, such negotiations break down due to uncompromising positions of the disputing states, leading governments to turn to other resolution methods. There are pros and cons of each of the dispute resolution methods and certain factors will influence the decisions that governments make about the management of their territorial and maritime disputes. Overall, the peaceful resolution of territorial and maritime disputes is an important but complicated issue for states both directly involved and indirectly affected by the persistence of such disputes.

Article

Economic Interdependence and Conflict  

Hyo Joon Chang and Scott L. Kastner

Recent studies on commercial liberalism have paid more attention to microfoundations linking economic interdependence to peace. Using a bargaining model of war, these studies have specified and tested different causal mechanisms through which economic ties function as a constraint, a source of information, or a transformative agent. Recent scholarly efforts in theoretical development and some empirical testing of different causal processes suggest the need to consider scope conditions to see when an opportunity cost or a signaling mechanism is likely to be salient. Future research can be best benefited by focusing on how economic interdependence affects commitment problems and empirically assessing the relative explanatory power of different causal arguments.

Article

Territory, Contentious Issues, and International Relations  

Paul R. Hensel

Territorial issues have been prominent causes of armed conflict and war in the modern era. This observation has led to a rapidly growing body of academic literature on the sources, management, and consequences of such issues. Although territory has gotten most of the scholarly attention, this literature has its roots in research on contentious issues that began in the 1960s. Academic research on contentious issues began with studies on issue areas in foreign policy analysis, focusing on such questions as how the foreign policy process differs from more traditional domestic policy processes. This line of research struggled to find mainstream acceptance until scholars began adopting a more substantive conception of issues, focusing on the nature of the values at stake. General patterns of foreign policy conflict and cooperation have been found to differ substantially across different issues. Importantly, territorial issues are the most frequent and most dangerous issues in armed conflict and war, leading scholars to focus much of their issue-related research on the dynamics of territorial contention. Research on territory has stemmed from the main elements of issues theory that were developed earlier: issue salience, or the importance of the issue under contention; issue context, or recent interactions over the same issue; and institutional context, or the extent to which other actors and institutions are able to influence contention over this type of issue. Armed conflict is much more likely when the issue at stake is more salient, particularly when this salience involves intangible dimensions such as the presence of a state’s ethnic kin in the claimed territory. Greater issue salience also increases the likelihood of peaceful negotiations and nonbinding conflict management techniques like mediation. A recent history of armed conflict or failed negotiations over an issue increases the likelihood of armed conflict, bilateral negotiations, and nonbinding management. The normative and institutional context also appears to affect the likelihood of conflict and peaceful management over issues, although more remains to be done in this area. The issues literature is beginning to make important strides beyond this initial work on territorial claim management. Scholars are beginning to geocode data on international borders, raising important potential benefits for the study of territory and perhaps other issues. International legal arguments appear to affect the management of territorial claims in systematic ways, and ending territorial claims seems to produce substantial improvements in relations between the former adversaries. The same general patterns seem to hold for river and maritime issues, as well as territorial issues, and these other issue types have more promising institutional contexts. Future research could benefit from considering additional issue types (including a recent effort to collect data on identity claims), as well as studying domestic and interstate issues.

Article

The Latin American Puzzles for the Study of International Relations  

David R. Mares

Puzzles for the scholar of international relations abound in Latin America, whether one focuses on unexpected outcomes or examines purported causal variables that, when properly specified, do not lead where theory expects. In fact, the Latin American experience is a great case to illustrate two problems in the empirical application of international relations theories: theoretical formulations tend to be poorly developed and articulated, and the empirical evaluations of those theories are not rigorously designed. The empirical record of Latin American interstate violence is more present and varied than generally accepted by scholars and policy makers. The relationship between conflict and the region’s use of international fora to peacefully resolve some conflicts obscures this record. Puzzles also arise when explaining why the region has the empirical record it does since the causal logic underlying the variables is generally misspecified in studies of Latin American security relations. These analytic errors render most explanations offered in the literature drawing on Latin American cases incorrect. Indeed, the failed explanations themselves offer new puzzles for scholars of international relations. Scholars of international relations can, therefore, benefit from studying the actual empirical history of Latin American interstate relations with the correctly specified causal variables offered by the various theories of international relations.

Article

Managing Internationalized Civil Wars  

Erin K. Jenne and Milos Popovic

In their seminal study “Resort to Arms,” Small and Singer (1982) defined a civil war as “any armed conflict that involves (a) military action internal to the metropole, (b) the active participation of the national government, and (c) effective resistance by both sides.” Internationalized civil wars constitute a newer classification, denoting a conflict involving organized violence on two or more sides within a sovereign state, in which foreign elements play a role in instigating, prolonging, or exacerbating the struggle. Small and Singer defined civil war as one in which a “system member” intervenes into a substate conflict involving organized violence. Although Singer and Small conceived “system members” narrowly as external sovereign states engaged in military intervention into the civil war in question, the definition has since been expanded by the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) and Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP) to include other foreign actors—such as nonstate or private actors, diasporas, IOs, corporations, or cross-border kin groups—any of which can intervene to intensify a domestic civil conflict. From superpower interventions during the Cold War to more recent conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, internationalized civil wars have garnered increasing scholarly attention, primarily because they tend to be far bloodier and more protracted than noninternationalized civil wars. How to end such wars is a problem long bedeviling the international community. Civil wars are already more difficult to end than interstate wars partly because there are more players to satisfy in civil war settings, with multiple conflict parties coexisting on a single territory, and multiple factions within each conflict party—each constituting a “veto player” that might plausibly spoil a peace agreement should the agreement not satisfy their needs. This problem is exacerbated by an order of magnitude when a civil war becomes internationalized. When outside actors get involved in a civil war, the number of veto players rises correspondingly to include not only domestic players and internal factions, but also the involved external players, which may include foreign governments, diaspora groups, foreign fighters, and/or transnational social networks. Managing or ending internationalized civil wars is thus a highly complicated balancing act requiring attention not just to internal, but also to external veto players represented by all involved parties both inside and outside the conflict state. The traditional methods of conflict management involve electoral engineering, power-sharing arrangements, or other peace deals that seek to satisfy the aspirations of involved internal parties, while ensuring that the peace deal is “self-enforcing.” This means that it will hold up even in the absence of outside pressure. In internationalized civil wars, however, conflict managers must also satisfy involved outside actors or otherwise neutralize external conflict processes. There are multiple methods for doing this, ranging from effective border control in cases of conflict spillover to decomposing internationalized conflicts into civil and international conflicts, which are solved separately, to outright peace enforcement involving international security guarantees.

Article

Suicide Terrorism Theories  

Susanne Martin and Ami Pedahzur

Suicide terrorism has captured considerable attention since the attacks on September 11, 2001. Governments offered unprecedented support for scholars who were willing to research the phenomenon. One result has been a tremendous growth in the volume of research on terrorism. The research has also become more diverse. Until 2001, 84% of the articles appeared within the disciplines of political science and international relations. Since 2002, though, only 53% of articles belonged to these disciplines. Meanwhile, other areas (most notably economics) increased in prominence. Despite the growth in the volume and diversity of the research, important aspects of the phenomenon remain largely unexplored. This is particularly evident when it comes to studies of suicide terrorism. Two areas requiring further attention include the “theater of terrorism” and the role of culture. The case of ISIS demonstrates the significant roles of the mass media and culture in explaining contemporary suicide terrorism.

Article

Conflict, Regions, and Regional Hierarchies  

Thomas J. Volgy, Kelly Marie Gordell, Paul Bezerra, and Jon Patrick Rhamey, Jr.

Despite decades of scholarly attention to conflict and cooperation processes in international politics, rigorous, comparative, large-N analyses of these questions at the region level are difficult to find in the literature. Although this relative absence may stem in part from the difficulties related to the theoretical conceptualization or methodological operationalization of regions, it certainly is not for lack of interesting variation in terms of conflict and cooperation processes across regions. Between this variation and recent contributions toward a dynamic identification of regions, comparative analysis of conflict and cooperation outcomes at the region level are primed for exploration and increasingly salient as recent political elections in the United States (Trump election) and the United Kingdom (Brexit) have demonstrated a willingness on the part of policymakers to scale back efforts toward global interdependence. Turning attention to a region level unit of analysis, however, does not require abandoning decades of scholarship at the state or dyad levels. Indeed, much of this work may be viewed as informing or complementary to comparative regional analyses. In particular, regional propensity for cooperation or conflict is likely to be conditioned by a number of prominent explanations of these phenomena at state and dyad levels, which may usefully be conceived in their regional aggregates as so-called regional fault lines or baseline conditions. These include the presence of major and/or regional powers, interstate rivalries, unresolved territorial claims, civil wars, regime similarity, trade relationships, and common membership in intergovernmental organizations. Of these baseline conditions, the impact of major and regional powers on regional patterns of cooperation and conflict is notable for both its theoretical and practical implications. Power transition theory, hegemonic stability theory, hierarchical theory, and long cycle theory all suggest major—and to a lesser extent regional—powers will seek to establish order within areas under their influence; alternatively, the overwhelming capabilities these states bring to a region arguably act as a deterrent inhibiting conflict. Empirical analysis reveals—irrespective of the causal mechanism at hand—regions characterized by the presence of a major or regional power experience less conflict. Moving forward, future research should work to test the two plausible causal mechanisms for this finding—order building versus deterrence—to determine the true nature of hierarchy’s pacifying influence.

Article

Civil War from a Transnational Perspective  

Kristian Skrede Gleditsch

Civil war is the dominant form of armed conflict in the contemporary international system, and most severe lethal armed conflicts in the post-Cold War era have been civil/intrastate rather than interstate. Still, it would be misleading to see these conflicts as purely domestic, as many contemporary civil wars such as Syria display clear transnational characteristics, including inspirations from events in other countries, links to actors in other countries, as well as international interventions. Moreover, civil wars often have important implications for other states, including security concerns and economic impacts. There is a need to focus on the growth and core findings in the literature on transnational dimensions of civil war, in particular on how factors outside a particular state can influence the risk of conflict within states as well as some of the central consequences of domestic conflict for other states or relations between states. This line of research has helped expand our understanding of both civil conflict and interstate war, and that a comparative focus on varieties conflict and attention to the possible transnational dimensions of civil war deserve a prominent role in future research.

Article

American Grand Strategy and Political Economy Theory  

Kevin Narizny

Nearly everything a state does has distributional consequences, including grand strategy. Societal groups with different stakes in the international economy and defense spending often have conflicting strategic priorities, and these groups pursue their parochial interests by supporting the nomination and election of like-minded politicians. Thus, grand strategy is a product of political economy. An overview of American foreign policy over the last several decades illustrates this logic. In the 1980s, the Democratic and Republican coalitions had conflicting interests over the international economy, so the two parties diverged on grand strategy. The recovery of the Rust Belt in the 1990s and 2000s, however, brought increasing convergence. Political discourse over foreign policy was fiercely partisan, but, with the notable exception of George W. Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003, the two parties shared essentially the same view of America’s role in the world. The disastrous outcome in Iraq led the Bush administration back to the middle ground in its second term, and Obama followed the same course. In contrast, the election of Donald Trump augurs change. Trump’s electoral coalition consists of a different balance of interests in the international economy than that of past Republican presidents, so he is likely to pursue different strategic priorities.

Article

Strategic Culture Theory: What, Why, and How  

Edward Lock

The concept of strategic culture has become widely used in the field of international relations, primarily in the context of efforts to explain the distinctive strategic behaviors of states through reference to their unique strategic properties. Despite this, a great deal of confusion remains regarding what strategic culture is, and how it may be used in the context of academic research. Two problems produce this confusion: much strategic culture literature continues to conflate culture-as-ideas with the behavior and artifacts through which those ideas become manifest, and strategic culture scholars have incorporated within their definitions of this concept overly narrow assumptions about where strategic culture may be said to exist. To address these weaknesses in the literature, strategic culture is redefined as consisting of common ideas regarding strategy that exist across populations. This definition is narrower than many because it defines culture as common ideas rather than as ideas plus behavior (or as ideas plus artifacts). This matters not because it solves the methodological challenges faced by those who seek to study ideas, but because it forces us to confront these challenges directly in the context of efforts to understand the different ways that patterns of ideas may produce patterned behavior. This definition is also broader than many because it refuses to dismiss the possibility that common ideas related to strategic matters may exist across populations that are not bounded by the borders of existing countries. The rationale for such an approach is simply that one ought to look and see how common ideas are in fact distributed across populations, rather than assume that patterns will conform to taken-for-granted political units.

Article

Evolution, Adaptation, and Imitation in International Relations  

Richard Ned Lebow

Evolution, as a biological process and a metaphor, has utility in our understanding of international relations. The former is largely inapplicable for obvious, conceptual, and empirical reasons; but the latter is more promising, though those who use it must be explicit about its limitations. There must be considerations on how evolution contrasts with conscious adaption and imitation, on the argument for the need to distinguish among them analytically and empirically, and on the further exploration of the different conditions in which these other two mechanisms might be relevant.

Article

Hierarchy and International Relations: Theory and Evidence  

David A. Lake

The literature on international hierarchy is emerging as a progressive research program. This new theory of international relations is generating novel propositions that are being empirically confirmed. Some propositions, like the hierarchical peace, provide new explanations for previously identified phenomena. Other propositions on defense spending, crisis joining,e trade, and civil wars and repression establish new empirical relationships that—if they are not actually inconsistent with existing theories—were not previously identified. If the measure of progress is the uncovering of new facts, the new hierarchy studies are clearly moving in the right direction. Further progress requires more and better measures of hierarchy and continued testing of propositions derived from the theory.

Article

Diplomacy and Negotiation by the Numbers: More Than An Art Form?  

Mark A. Boyer and Michael J. Butler

One of the long-standing debates between diplomatic historians and social scientists focusing on diplomacy and negotiation turns on what we know and how we know it. While diplomatic history points to the necessity of micro-level approaches rooted in the details of discrete and idiosyncratic negotiations and interactions, social science strives to identify broad aggregate patterns gleaned from a cross section of such activities. The primary benefit of the latter approach is the same as this volume: namely, the advancing of empirically grounded theory. This disjuncture in the study of diplomacy and negotiation helps explain why international relations as a field has spent so little time studying diplomacy—and, as a result, why negotiation and diplomacy remains undertheorized. The overarching objective of this entry is to draw attention to contributions to the negotiation theorizing gleaned from the macro-level social scientific analysis of diplomacy and negotiation. Undoubtedly the range, depth, and quality of this work exceeds its visibility within the mainstream study of negotiation. By necessity, we have elected to draw connections between some of the more prominent examples of the quantitative empirical study of negotiation processes and outcomes and prevailing theoretical arguments in the field of international negotiation and cooperation. In doing so, we hope to draw attention to if not help close the gap between theory and practice in the study of negotiation and diplomacy.

Article

Fractionalization and Civil War  

Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham

Civil wars have becoming increasingly complex in the last 50 years, the role of fragmentation in contemporary civil wars needs to be addressed. Two primary dimensions of fractionalization are: (1) fragmented conflict (i.e., those with many different actor) and (2) fragmented actors (i.e., internally divided “sides” of a conflict). In addition to the two types of fragmentation, there are also various causes of fragmentation. The primary causes of fractionalized conflicts are rooted in the interplay between opposition actors and the government, and among opposition actors. Peace negotiations, accommodation, and the process of war all put stress on opposition actors (and to perhaps a more limited extent, on governments). Lastly, there is a set of conflict-related outcomes and processes that have been linked empirically to fractionalization. These include accommodation of opposition demands, higher rates of violence (against the state and civilians), infighting, duration of conflict, and side-switching.

Article

Understanding Ethnic Conflict: Four Waves and Beyond  

Shiping Tang

The past four decades have witnessed an explosion of research into ethnic conflict. The overarching question addressed in the voluminous and still growing literature is this: Under what cultural, social, economic, political, and international conditions is ethnic conflict or peace more likely? Limiting my survey to the onset of ethnic war, I divide the literature into four waves and critically examine its theoretical and empirical progress. I contend that the field has indeed made impressive progress, both theoretically and empirically. Theoretically, the field has moved well beyond the unproductive debate of the three paradigms (i.e., primordialism, instrumentalism, and constructivism), and there is an emerging consensus that we need to draw valid elements from all three paradigms and beyond. In addition, neo-institutionalism has (re-)emerged as a major approach in the field. Empirically, powered by increasingly sophisticated methods and technologies such as the Geography Information System (GIS) and the availability of more and better datasets, inquiries into ethnic conflict have not only ventured into exciting new territories but also gained deeper and fine-grained knowledge into the causes of ethnic war. I then highlight several recent studies that bring out impressive theoretical and empirical syntheses that may well portend better things to come. Finally, I identify several venues for further scientific progress, including tighter coupling between theorization and empirical hypotheses, getting the basics of methods right, gathering more fine-grained data that measure the level of ethnic politics, bringing together ethnic politics and other key topics in the wide social sciences, and forecasting the risk of ethnic war based on computational social sciences.