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Article

Power, Institutions, and Issues as Causes of Conflict  

Michael Masterson and Jessica L. P. Weeks

What do we know about the causes and outcomes of international military conflict? Decades of research from different theoretical traditions have explored the outbreak and conclusion of international conflict from a variety of angles. Broadly speaking, scholarship about international conflict has tended to orbit around three core concepts: power, institutions, and the source of the interstate dispute. The question that remains is how well verified are the most important theories? Three influential theories seek to predict patterns of international conflict: power transition theory, which argues that shifts in power increase the likelihood of war; selectorate theory, which predicts that states that have large winning coalitions are more selective about war; and theories about issue indivisibility and war, which predict that issues that states view as impossible to divide—such as a national homeland—are more likely to lead to conflict. Each of these theories produces specific predictions, allowing an assessment of how well the evidence supports the theories’ main conjectures. Central to understanding the causes of conflict is whether empirical work has tested these three theories using well-validated measures; whether a variety of scholars have tested the core propositions of the theory; and whether scholars have found evidence of the causal mechanisms proposed by each theory. Although each theory has garnered some support, they all fall short on one or more of these criteria. In particular, more work is needed in both measurement and evidence of causal mechanisms before scholars can be confident of the theories’ explanatory power.

Article

Women and Terrorism  

Mia Bloom

Women are playing an increasingly significant role in terrorism. As men are progressively targeted by security personnel, using female operatives provides terrorist organizations with a “win–win” scenario; if security forces avoid invasively searching women for fear of outraging the local conservative population (based on social norms of women’s modesty and the honor code), women are the ideal stealth operatives. If security personnel are too aggressive in searching women, they aid terrorist recruitment by outraging the men in that society and providing the terrorists with propaganda that “our women” are being violated. In most conflicts, women remain an untapped resource. Recruiting women allows terrorist organizations to access an additional 50% of the population. Attacks by females generate greater media attention than those conducted by men. This is especially relevant when media attention is one of the terrorists’ main objectives. Although women’s involvement in terrorist and extremist activities is not a recent development, their presence as frontline activists, propagandists, and recruiters is increasing around the globe.

Article

East Africa: Regional Politics and Dynamics  

Walter O. Oyugi and Jimmy Ochieng

The East African region historically has comprised Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. The politics of these countries have been shaped by the colonial heritage bequeathed at independence and its impact continues to reverberate on politics and administration of the region five decades after independence. While the three countries inherited similar systems of governance that sought to decentralize power, they all reverted to the centralized governance systems that predated independence, to not serve the leaders’ own power interests but to also secure effective control of the localities. According to the said system, all governance institutions at the subterritorial level operated in line with centrally determined guidelines. This centralization of power has impacted on the evolution, character, and nature of the state in the region as well as on the governance of the individual states. Even with constitutional and legislative changes to check on the excess powers of the executive—which in all three cases means the president and his key allies— it continues to seek means of controlling the processes of democratization and decentralization in a manner that defeats the logic of introducing checks and balances. While Tanzania and Kenya have experimented with democratization since the 1990s and Uganda since the 2000s, consolidation remains a challenge due to the reluctance of those in charge of central government to let go of power and its attendant benefits. In addition, the various experiences with decentralization have suffered from the desire of the center to use them not as platforms for participatory governance but rather as tools for control and domination. At the regional level, the issues of national interest and mistrust have continued to constrain endeavors toward deeper integration.

Article

Civilian Self-Protection and Civilian Targeting in Armed Conflicts: Who Protects Civilians?  

Betcy Jose and Peace A. Medie

Studies have shown that civilians are often intentionally targeted in civil wars and that civilian protection efforts launched by the international community have not always been successful, if they occur at all. Civilians, therefore, have had to rely on themselves for protection in most conflicts. However, despite the pervasiveness of civilian self-protection (CSP) and its success at protecting civilians from violence in some cases, it is rarely discussed in the civilian protection literature, and its impact on civilian targeting is inadequately explored. Addressing this gap in the study and practice of civilian protection by carefully conceptualizing CSP and appreciating its role in civil war dynamics can further scholarly and practitioner discussions on civilian protection. CSP is defined as (a) actions taken to protect against immediate, direct threats to physical integrity imposed by belligerents or traditional protection actors; (b) primarily selected and employed by civilians; and (c) employed during an armed conflict. CSP strategies can be organized into three categories. The first, non-engagement, describes strategies in which civilians do not interact with belligerents or traditional protection actors who pose a threat to them. The second, nonviolent engagement, entails some interaction with one or more actors who may harm civilians. The third, violent engagement, includes CSP strategies that incorporate physical violence. These CSP strategies may actually render civilians more vulnerable to threats. First, some CSP strategies might lock civilians into unpredictable relationships with belligerents, which can become dangerous. Second, allying with one set of belligerents might lead to targeting by opposition forces, who view these CSP strategies as crucial support for their enemies. Third, civilians may overestimate how successful their CSP strategies can be, exposing them to harm. Fourth, civilian use of violence may cause belligerents to view them as threats, leading to intentional targeting. Appreciation of the reasons why civilians engage in CSP and understanding when and how this may endanger them can inspire more effective protection policies, as well as advance our understanding of civil war dynamics. For instance, further study on these issues can provide some insights into the conditions under which CSP is effective in protecting civilians and how the international community can support CSP. This information could be particularly useful in the design and execution of peacekeeping strategies that are sensitive to the efforts and needs of conflict-affected communities. Additionally, studying CSP can advance the vast literature on civilian targeting by shedding additional light on why belligerents kill civilians.

Article

War Making and the Building of State Capacity: Expanding the Bivariate Relationship  

Karen A. Rasler and William R. Thompson

A central cleavage in the war making-state making literature is between advocates of the notion that warfare has been the principal path to developing stronger states and critics who argue that the relationship no longer holds, especially in non-European contexts. It is suggested that the problem is simply one of theoretical specification. Increasingly intensive warfare, as manifested in European combat, made states stronger. Less intensive warfare, particularly common after 1945, is less likely to do so. Empirical analysis of a more representative data set on state capacity (revenues as a proportion of gross domestic product [GDP]), focusing on cases since 1870, strongly supports this point of view. The intensiveness of war is not the only factor at work—regime type and win/loss outcomes matter as well—but the relationship does not appear to be constrained by the level of development.

Article

Military Intervention in Interstate and Civil Wars: A Unified Interpretation  

Zachary C. Shirkey

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

Article

Democracy in the Crucible of Conflict  

Robert Ralston and Ronald R. Krebs

The field of international relations has long focused on understanding and explaining the causes of war. In contrast, scholars have devoted relatively little attention to war’s consequences. However, scholarly literature on the consequences of violent conflict, including its effects on liberal democracy, has burgeoned and improved in recent decades, since the 1990s. Existing research shows that security threats, mobilization, and warfare are neither entirely negative nor entirely positive with respect to liberal democracy. On the one hand, in the short run, these pressures erode liberal institutions and values. On the other hand, large-scale mobilization and warfare—both interstate and civil—encourage broader and more intense participation at the individual level and strengthen participation’s structural foundations. However, despite recent advances, there remains much that we still do not know, which suggests promising avenues for future research. The existing literature has not sufficiently or systematically distinguished among the effects of threat/insecurity, mobilization, and warfare. It has been stronger on empirical findings than on developing the mid-range theories and causal mechanisms that would make sense of those findings. It has been firmer on conflict’s impact on individual attitudes and predilections than on how and when violence reshapes larger political processes and structures. It has had more to say about conflict’s short-run effects than its long-term effects, especially with respect to contestation. The impact of violent conflict on liberal democracy remains a rich soil for future research.

Article

National Secession  

Philip G. Roeder

National secession seeks to create a new sovereign state for a nation residing on its homeland that is currently located inside another sovereign state. This goal distinguishes national secession from regional secession, autonomy, and decolonization and shapes the strategies, operational objectives, and tactical choices of the leaders of national-secession campaigns. Explanations for the success of some campaigns—particularly, success at getting on the global agenda—have focused on the identities, grievances, or greed of their members. Explanations for why some campaigns have turned to protracted intense violence have focused on these motivations and on tactical-logistical opportunities. The existing literature suffers from its failure to agree on theoretical and conceptual fundamentals. As a consequence, empirical studies focus on very different universes of cases and operationalize key variables in diverging ways. The existing literature frequently does not consider how the goal of national secession constrains the strategies, operations, and tactics of such campaigns. And so, it often fails to consider whether studies with another dependent variable can be extended to the study of national secession. Explanations stress indeterminate or substitutable causes and remote constraints on most national-secession campaigns—causes and constraints taken “off the shelf” from theories about conflicts operating under very different strategic and operational constraints. Missing from these explanations is the authenticity and realism of the programs for national secession in the assessments of the populations that each program presents as a nation with a right to a sovereign state of its own. Explanations and recommendations for responses by common-state governments, their allies, and the international community often fail to understand the centrality of the war of programs between national secessionists and common-state governments and the ways this constrains what compromises are possible and what responses are most likely to lead to domestic and international peace in such conflicts.

Article

Prospect Theory in International Relations  

Janice Gross Stein

Analysis of the use of prospect theory since the mid-1980s identifies significant impact on research on important puzzles in international security and international political economy. Research since the mid-1990s has identified the scope conditions of framing effects, loss aversion, and patterns of probability estimation on international behavior. New research using multiple methods has strengthened the validity of findings on the impact of framing effects and loss aversion under different conditions. Future research opportunities for psychological explanations of international behavior are identified.

Article

Defining and Operationalizing Context Through a Structural Political Geography for International Relations  

Colin Flint and Raymond J. Dezzani

A structural understanding of the contextualized behavior of states is introduced and operationalized. Context is a central theme of the discipline of geography and identifies context specific, rather than universal, social behavior. Social behavior is both defined by and creates contexts in a constant recursive interaction. Context is defined through a geographic perspective on world-systems analysis, and we focus on the behavior of states. States are central actors because, through territorial sovereignty, they are able to define key social relations and economic flows. The idea of context is developed in a way that extends the key International Relations (IR) concepts of milieu and opportunity and willingness. The recursive interaction between agency and context is conceptualized in a relational way as maneuver, the process by which the aggregate behavior of elites define state-level choices and behaviors that are made by considering the contextual position relative to all other states in the capitalist world-economy. In turn, the decision by any one state changes the behavior of other states so that context and state-level decisions interact and are constantly in flux. The elements of context include the position of a state in the hierarchy of the capitalist world-economy as well as regional and local interstate relations, some of which may display path dependency. The operationalization of maneuver requires an understanding of states as signaling and learning entities and a set of modeling techniques that identify: (1) the degree of change within the system as a whole—or the degree of stability in the number and identity of states within particular positions in the hierarchy of the capitalist world-economy; (2) the maneuver of particular states—or which states change position (or not) within the hierarchy; and (3) the explanatory power of variables measuring political and economic interstate relations in explaining the maneuver behavior of particular states.

Article

Power Shifts and War  

Mark Souva

A large body of theoretical work posits that power shifts or expected power shifts cause war. Power transition theory, cyclic theories of war, preventive war arguments, and the bargaining model of war are discussed in this article. Indeed, shifting power is one of the most popular and venerable explanations for war. Its origins go at least as far back as Thucydides, who famously wrote, “What made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear this caused in Sparta.” Two major points must be discussed. First, there is an impressive correlation between major power war and shifting power, a correlation consistent with the arguments of several systemic theories of war. Second, much of the empirical research examining power shifts and war suffers from endogeneity and model specification concerns. Regarding endogeneity, more effort should be placed on identifying valid instruments and conducting experiments. Regarding model specification, more attention needs to be paid to scope conditions. Shifting power is not expected to cause war in all contexts. Precisely defining the relevant contexts and modeling them empirically is necessary to evaluate the shifting power and war hypothesis.

Article

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

Carla Norrlof

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

Article

Perfect Deterrence Theory  

Frank C. Zagare

Perfect deterrence theory and classical deterrence theory are two theoretical frameworks that have divergent empirical implications and dissimilar policy recommendations. In perfect deterrence theory, threat credibility plays a central role in the operation of both direct and extended deterrence relationships. But credible threats are neither necessary nor sufficient for deterrence to prevail, and under certain conditions, the presence of a credible threat may actually undermine deterrence. In perfect deterrence theory, the cost of conflict and status quo evaluations are also important strategic variables. Classical deterrence theorists tend to fixate on the former and ignore the latter. This theoretical oversight precludes a nuanced understanding of the dynamics of deterrence.

Article

Bargaining Theory, Civil War Outcomes, and War Recurrence: Assessing the Results of Empirical Tests of the Theory  

Caroline A. Hartzell

Once ended, a significant number of civil wars recur. One influential empirical international relations theory on which scholars have drawn in an effort to provide an explanation for this phenomenon is the bargaining model of war. Devised initially for the study of interstate war, the theory posits that bargaining problems may prevent belligerents from reaching a deal that enables them to avoid a costly war. Bargaining problems also have been identified as contributing to the recurrence of armed intrastate conflict. Working within the framework of bargaining theory, a number of scholars have claimed that the most effective way to inhibit a return to civil war is to end the conflict via military victory as such an outcome is thought to help solve key bargaining problems. However, a growing number of empirical tests cast doubt on this proposition. An analysis of the results of these tests as well as new scholarship on civil war termination highlight some of the limitations inherent in employing a theory devised for the study of interstate war to analyze questions related to civil wars.

Article

Effectiveness of Peacekeeping Operations  

Jessica Di Salvatore and Andrea Ruggeri

Peacekeeping has been one of the main conflict management tools used by the international community to restore or safeguard peace and security. Since 1948, the United Nations has established 70 peace operations and has substantially evolved, adopting approaches to peace that extend beyond purely military concerns. Indeed, the promises of peacekeeping as effective instrument of conflict reduction may, to some extent, explain the evolution toward multidimensional missions and the unprecedented number of peacekeepers deployed in the last decade. As consequence, the growing importance of peacekeeping effectiveness has sparked a new wave of research that empirically investigates whether and under which conditions UN peacekeeping works. Peacekeepers are mostly deployed in conflict or postconflict environments where violence is either ongoing or lingering. Thus, violence remains a priority for peace missions. Consequently, peacekeeping is deemed successful or effective according to whether it curbs conflict in several dimensions. Effective missions are those responsible for decreasing the intensity of battle violence, protecting civilians, and containing conflict diffusion and recurrence in the postwar phase. Each mission, however, is deployed in different contexts and operates under variable conditions that affect the operation’s capacity to influence conflict. Concerning mission features, peacekeeping success is more likely when large contingents are deployed under robust mandates. Mission type, size, and composition signal credible commitment from the international community and empower peacekeepers to halt violence while guaranteeing the implementation of peace agreements. These nuanced understandings of peacekeeping stem from the availability of new data on both conflict and peace operations at the national and subnational levels of analysis. Moreover, the empirical study of the effectiveness of peace operations has recently been flanked by simulation-based forecasting, field experiments, and surveys investigating local-level outcomes of peace missions. Unsurprisingly, the focus on violence and conflict outcomes as indicators of success is debatable. First, in dealing with violence, peacekeeping operations produce spillover effects that are largely neglected, such as refugee flows and terrorist violence. Second, given the wide range of functions performed by UN peacekeepers, including electoral assistance, economic reconstruction, and state building, it is reasonable to include these aspects when defining effectiveness. Third, and relatedly, no assessment of short- versus long-term implications of peacekeeping for political, social, and economic development in the host country has been forthcoming. While reducing infant mortality, inequality, and crime are not necessarily tasks for peacekeepers, it is vital to study whether and how UN missions may have shaped the quality of peace in host countries.

Article

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

Belgin San-Akca

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

Article

Opportunity and Willingness: From “Ordering Concepts” to an Analytical Perspective for the Study of Politics  

Harvey Starr

The opportunity/willingness framework (O/W) is presented as an agent-structure approach to the understanding of international relations (IR) and international conflict, with deep roots in the “ecological triad” of Harold and Margaret Sprout. While originally developed to organize thinking about international politics, this article describes how it has evolved into a guide for generating IR theory, developing research designs to study IR, and ways to evaluate those theories. It does this by showing how to synthesize what we know and bring together apparently disparate hypotheses and evidence to bear—crossing a variety of analytic boundaries—and by pulling together what we know across levels of analysis, academic disciplines, and the sub-disciplines of political science. O/W compels scholars to cross, link, and synthesize levels of analysis—complementing theories built around levels of analysis, while at the same time moving them forward in order to deal with the complex causation they have to confront. This complex causation derives from the logical features of O/W, which regards opportunity and willingness as jointly necessary conditions for the occurrence of any event. A discussion of the characteristics of necessity and sufficiency as causal processes leads to the conclusion that not only does this joint necessity distinguish O/W from theoretical approaches that are deterministic, monocausal, or are concerned only with either opportunity or willingness, but is the beginning of a logical story that demonstrates how this framework can deal with causal complexity. The joint necessity of opportunity and willingness, along with its two corollaries of “substitutability” and “nice laws,” forces a researcher to more fully specify the logical and substantive structure of the theoretical statements under investigation, and to ensure the research design is relevant to the theory and set of research hypotheses—such that there is a coherent relationship among the components of logic, theory, and method. At the end of the logical story developed in the article, it can be seen that O/W has moved well beyond an organizing principle and is a model of causal complexity of great potential.

Article

Civil War Termination  

Caroline A. Hartzell

Civil wars typically have been terminated by a variety of means, including military victories, negotiated settlements and ceasefires, and “draws.” Three very different historical trends in the means by which civil wars have ended can be identified for the post–World War II period. A number of explanations have been developed to account for those trends, some of which focus on international factors and others on national or actor-level variables. Efforts to explain why civil wars end as they do are considered important because one of the most contested issues among political scientists who study civil wars is how “best” to end a civil war if the goal is to achieve a stable peace. Several factors have contributed to this debate, among them conflicting results produced by various studies on this topic as well as different understandings of the concepts war termination, civil war resolution, peace-building, and stable peace.

Article

Image Theory and the Initiation of Strategic Rivalries  

Manjeet S. Pardesi

The assessment of an opponent as a strategic rival is analytically equivalent to evaluating its strategic image. The central decision-makers of states reevaluate the image of other regional states and the great powers of the system in response to strategic shocks, as they have an impact on interstate interaction capacity. Interaction capacity in the international system can be affected by three types of changes—military, political, and economic. A strategic rivalry is a process that initiates when the central decision-makers of at least one state in a dyad ascribe the image of an enemy to the other as a consequence of such shocks. It is important to empirically demonstrate the ascription of these images through a cognitive process because strategic rivalries are a function of decision-maker perceptions by definition. Four types of enemy images are identified here—expansionist states, which are territorially revisionist; hegemonic states, which circumscribe a given state’s foreign policy choices; imperial states, which intervene in a given state’s domestic affairs in addition to being hegemonic; and peer-competitors, who pose latent and/or long-term threats. Once formed, these images are sustained over long periods of time and change only slowly in response to additional strategic shocks. These images also inform the strategy that a given state pursues toward its rival.

Article

Empirical Knowledge on Foreign Military Intervention  

Jeffrey Pickering and David F. Mitchell

While the empirical literature on foreign military intervention has made considerable progress identifying the causes and consequences of military intervention, we still have much to learn about the subject. Mixed and even contradictory results remain common in the literature, and cumulative knowledge has in many instances proven elusive. Arguably the two most prominent theoretical approaches in recent scholarship, the bargaining model and the rivalry approach, have provided important insight into the phenomenon. They would nonetheless benefit from further refinement. Common explanatory variables outside of these two approaches also require further theoretical and empirical development. The literature has recently begun to examine the impact that military intervention has on target societies as well, with particular attention being given to target state democratization, human rights development, and conflict resolution. Empirical research could shed additional light on all of these phenomena by developing more detailed theory and data on intervention targets. It would also profit from incorporating systematic knowledge on leaders’ proclivities to use military force into current theoretical models.