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Article

African Agency in International Politics  

Jonathan Fisher

International Relations theory has tended to overlook the role of Africa and Africans in the international system. Traditionally, the discipline’s most influential theorists have focused instead on relationships between and perspectives of “major powers.” A growing body of work, however, has challenged these more limited efforts to conceptualize African agency in international politics. This scholarship has emphasized the significant space available to, and carved-out by, African states in molding the agendas of international institutions, and the role of African governments and advocacy networks in influencing the trajectory of major international debates around issues such as aid, development, trade, climate change, and migration. The study of African agency in international politics continues to wrestle with two key debates: the meanings of “agency” and “African.” Much of the literature focuses primarily on the role and influence of African states rather than that of African citizens and communities. This focus provides, at best, only a partial and qualified view of the ways in which African agency is secured and exercised at the global level, particularly given the significant structural constraints imposed on Africa by global economic and political inequalities. The extent to which contemporary analysis captures the breadth of African engagement with the international system is also compromised by current state-centric approaches. It is thus necessary to examine a range of approaches adopted by scholars to deepen and nuance the study of African agency in international politics, including work on agenda-setting, mesolevel dynamics and microlevel dynamics.

Article

Global Governance in Foreign Policy  

Álvaro Mendez

Global governance is a story of human agency confronting the existential challenge of the seismic shift in the international system that is called globalization. Neither phenomenon is yet understood sufficiently in academic theory, but if any social scientific practice is best situated to research it to the requisite depth, it is the discipline of foreign policy analysis. The theory and practice of foreign policy making and implementation are bound to undergo a transformation as radical as the international system. This historic process is dissolving the structure of agency that was set by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. The result has been for state and nonstate actors to compensate with a motley assemblage of structural improvisations, which have been complicating international relations, adding multiple levels of agency above and below the classical nation-state. Where this development will ultimately lead is unknown.

Article

Key Actors in the Management of Crises: International and Regional Organizations  

Eva-Karin Gardell and Bertjan Verbeek

In crisis-ridden times, when events like the COVID-19 pandemic, acts of terrorism, and climate change-induced crises are making constant headlines, states, businesses, and individuals alike look to international organizations (IOs) to help them weather the storm. How can the role of IOs be better understood in the context of crisis and crisis management? For a start, it requires a distinction between objective and subjective crisis perspectives in studying IOs. From an objective perspective, IOs are examined as unitary actors that have the aim of contributing to the stability of the international political system. On the other hand, in a subjectivistic approach, IOs’ actual crisis management is the focus. In this perspective, the emphasis is on an IO’s internal life, that is, its perceptions, bureau politics, and decision-making. In the exploration of these issues, IOs can no longer by studied as entities but have to be unwrapped into small groups and individuals, such as members of secretariats or member state’s top politicians. As borne out by theories developed by scholars of crisis management and foreign-policy analysis, centralization and cognitive bias are of special interest in the study of IOs. IOs’ crisis management has four crisis phases and tasks: sense-making, decision-making, meaning-making, and crisis termination. Finally, crises may prove a threat to, or an opportunity for, IOs. Transnational crises may usher in IOs’ foundation and flourishing, or they may contribute to IOs’ demise.

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

Taking China Seriously: Relationality, Tianxia, and the “Chinese School” of International Relations  

Salvatore Babones

China’s economic rise has been accompanied by the maturation and increasing professionalization of academic disciplines in China, including the discipline of international relations. The emergence of an indigenous international relations discipline in China has led to an intense debate about the development of a distinctive “Chinese School” that draws on China’s intellectual traditions and historical record to inspire the development of new international relations theories. While the debate continues, the outlines of a Chinese School are becoming clear. The Chinese School of international relations theory draws on Confucian concepts of relationality and hierarchy to theorize the character of the relations between countries rather than focus on the attributes of countries themselves. It also highlights the historical existence of interstate systems organized in a hub-and-spoke pattern around a single, central state. The premodern East Asian world-system in which China was embedded and classical Chinese scholars developed their ideas was a central state system. Premodern China was always by far the dominant state in East Asia, with the result that international relations in the East Asian world-system exhibited a hub-and-spoke pattern centered on China, as in the tributary system of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Moreover the Confucian worldview that ultimately came to be China’s state ideology served in effect as the governing moral code of the system as a whole. The combination of a central state structure with a universal moral code created what in Chinese is called a tianxia (“all under heaven”), a world-embracing system of governance centered on a particular state, in this case China. In a tianxia system international relations tend to be hierarchical because of the clear power differentials between the central state and other states. They can be either expressive (showing social solidarity) or purely instrumental, depending on the stance taken by the central state. Chinese School international relations theorists tend to assume that the “best” (most stable, most peaceful, most prosperous, etc.) world-system configuration would be a tianxia system dominated by expressive rationality and centered on China, but this is no more self-evident than the widely held Western preference for a liberal, rules-based order. What Chinese School international relations theory really offers the discipline is a new set of concepts that can be applied to the theorization and empirical analysis of today’s millennial world-system. This postmodern interstate system appears to be a central state system with a universal moral code, an American tianxia based on individualism. The historical Confucian Chinese tianxia may be the best precedent for modeling this system.

Article

Religion in Foreign Policy  

Jeffrey Haynes

Most states’ foreign policies are secular in orientation and focus. A few make religion a prominent component of their ideological approach to foreign policy. States whose foreign policies are consistently or irregularly informed by religion include Egypt, Iran, India, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. In each case, these states’ foreign policies feature domestic religious actors seeking to have regular or intermittent involvement in foreign policymaking. The impact and capacity of such religious actors is linked to the ideological and/or national interest priorities of incumbent governments. That is, religious actors may have an input into foreign policymaking, which reflects a concern more generally with the association between material concerns—including national security issues—and religious and ethical ideas, norms, and values. In addition to states with input from religious actors in foreign policymaking, there are several important nonstate actors whose religious beliefs centrally inform their foreign policies, which often focus on activities in the United Nations, the world’s largest and most comprehensive organization with near-universal state membership. The United Nations is a key focal point to pursue such policies, and three such actors are discussed: the Holy See/Vatican (and, more generally, the Roman Catholic Church), the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and the World Council of Churches (WCC), whose religious orientations are, respectively, Roman Catholicism, Islam, and non-Catholic Christianity. The importance of religious actors in foreign policy, in relation to both selected states and nonstate actors, is explored.

Article

Leaders, Generals, Juntas: The Military in Politics and International Conflict Initiation  

Peter White

International conflict—war, crises, international disputes, and rivalries between states—has a clear influence on the military’s role in politics and vice versa. Given that the military is the primary instrument for defending the state from conventional military threats, international conflict has been an early focus of the civil–military relations literature. Generally, very high levels of involvement in politics—for example, coups, military rule, military officers in high-level government positions—are associated with a greater propensity to initiate international conflict on the part of states. However, there is disagreement as to the reasons for this pattern—for example, preferences for aggression on the part of a politically active military, diversionary incentives for a coup-threatened civilian leader, or institutional pathologies brought on by shared civil–military power are all proffered as possible explanations. Politically active militaries tend to do poorly in conflict. There are two reasons for this. The first is the dysfunction endemic in a military that splits its time between politics and proficiency in arms—as opposed to one that specializes in defense. The second reason is that when the politically active military poses a risk of coup to the political leadership of the state, the latter will often engage in such “coup-proofing” practices as purges, onerous command and control measures, the reshuffling of commanders, and the build-up of security organizations intended to offset the military. These measures not only make it harder for the military to stage a coup, they also make it harder for the military to defend the state. Although military involvement in politics makes “acute” conflict—war, militarized disputes, or crises—more likely, these types of international conflict tend to lead to reduced levels of political involvement by the military. War or a crisis can make a coup more difficult as the military is moved away from the centers of political power. International conflict—especially when it goes poorly—also can lead to reform and professionalization within the military, which decreases the appetite for political involvement. At the same time, indicators of a more severe “chronic” threat environment—hostile neighbors, unfavorable geography, or long-standing international rivalries—can make military intrusions into politics more likely.

Article

Gender Inequality and Internal Conflict  

Erika Forsberg and Louise Olsson

Prior research has found robust support for a relationship between gender inequality and civil war. These results all point in the same direction; countries that display lower levels of gender equality are more likely to become involved in civil conflict, and violence is likely to be even more severe, than in countries where women have a higher status. But what does gender inequality mean in this area of research? And how does research explain why we see this effect on civil war? Exploring this requires reviewing existing definitions and measurements of gender inequality, a concept that has several dimensions. Several clusters of explanations show how gender inequality could be related to civil war while more equal societies are better able to prevent violent conflict. It is clear that existing misconceptions that gender inequality primarily involves the role of women are clouding the fact that it clearly speaks to much broader societal developments which play central roles in civil war.

Article

Capitalist Peace Theory: A Critical Appraisal  

Gerald Schneider

Capitalist peace theory (CPT) has gained considerable attention in international relations theory and the conflict literature. Its proponents maintain that a capitalist organization of an economy pacifies states internally and externally. They portray CPT either as a complement to or a substitute for other liberal explanations, such as the democratic peace thesis, but disagree about the facet of capitalism that is supposed to reduce the risk of political violence. Key contributions have identified three main drivers of the capitalist peace phenomenon: the fiscal constraints that a laissez-faire regimen puts on potentially aggressive governments, the mollifying norms that a capitalist organization creates, and the increased ability of capitalist governments to signal their intentions effectively in a confrontation with an adversary. CPT should be based on a narrow definition of capitalism and should scrutinize motives and constraints of the main actors more deeply. Future contributions to the CPT literature should pay close attention to classic theories of capitalism, which all considered individual risk taking and the dramatic changes between booms and busts to be key constitutive features of this form of economic governance. Finally, empirical tests of the proposed causal mechanism should rely on data sets in which capitalists appear as actors and not as “structures.” If the literature takes these objections seriously, CPT could establish itself as central theory of peace and war in two respects: First, it could serve as an antidote to “critical” approaches on the far left or far right that see in capitalism a source of conflict rather than of peace. Second, it could become an important complement to commercial liberalism that stresses the external openness rather than the internal freedoms as an economic cause of peace and that particularly sees trade and foreign direct investment as pacifying forces.

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

Pro-Government Militias and Conflict  

Sabine C. Carey, Neil J. Mitchell, and Adam Scharpf

Pro-government militias are a prominent feature of civil wars. Governments in Ukraine, Russia, Syria, and Sudan recruit irregular forces in their armed struggle against insurgents. The United States collaborated with Awakening groups to counter the insurgency in Iraq, just as colonizers used local armed groups to fight rebellions in their colonies. A now quite wide and established cross-disciplinary literature on pro-government nonstate armed groups has generated a variety of research questions for scholars interested in conflict, political violence, and political stability: Does the presence of such groups indicate a new type of conflict? What are the dynamics that drive governments to align with informal armed groups and that make armed groups choose to side with the government? Given the risks entailed in surrendering a monopoly of violence, is there a turning point in a conflict when governments enlist these groups? How successful are these groups? Why do governments use these nonstate armed actors to shape foreign conflicts, whether as insurgents or counterinsurgents abroad? Are these nonstate armed actors always useful to governments or perhaps even an indicator of state failure? How do pro-government militias affect the safety and security of civilians? The enduring pattern of collaboration between governments and pro-government armed groups challenges conventional theory and the idea of an evolutionary process of the modern state consolidating the means of violence. Research on these groups and their consequences began with case studies, and these continue to yield valuable insights. More recently, survey work and cross-national quantitative research have contributed to our knowledge. This mix of methods is opening new lines of inquiry for research on insurgencies and the delivery of the core public good of effective security.