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Article

H.E. Goemans

War termination can be defined as the tacit or formal agreement and implementation of decisions to cease fighting on the battlefield. In older literature, scholars focused on the roles of the “winner” and the “loser,” and the endogeneity of the belligerents’ war aims. One group argues that war ends when the “loser” recognizes his position and accedes to the “winner’s” demands. A second group argues that war ends when the combatants agree to a settlement which both prefer over continued fighting. In other words, war is seen as a form of bargaining, where states make rational cost–benefit calculations about war and its termination. These scholars by and large contend that the belligerents’ war aims fluctuate during war, and that the terms of settlement may be very different from the combatants’ original aims. Few studies have highlighted the role of domestic politics. Central in this research is the recognition that the outcome of war and the terms of settlement will affect the domestic political balance of power, and will leave some groups and individuals as domestic political “losers” and others as “winners.” Ikle (1971), for example, argued that the question whether and on what terms to end a war will be particularly difficult to decide for the government that is losing the war. “Hawks”— those who want better terms and favor a continuation of the war—will face off against “Doves,” who would prefer to end the war and are willing to grant more generous terms.

Article

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

Stephen M. Walt

Political Realism has been described as the “oldest theory” of international politics, as well as the “dominant” one. Central to the realist tradition is the concept of “security.” Realism sees the insecurity of states as the main problem in international relations. It depicts the international system as a realm where “self-help” is the primary motivation; states must provide security for themselves because no other agency or actor can be counted on to do so. However, realists offer different explanations for why security is scarce, emphasizing a range of underlying mechanisms and causal factors such as man’s innate desire for power; conflicts of interest that arise between states possessing different resource endowments, economic systems, and political orders; and the “ordering principle” of international anarchy. They also propose numerous factors that can intensify or ameliorate the basic security problem, such as polarity, shifts in the overall balance of power, the “offense–defense balance,” and domestic politics. Several alternative approaches to international relations have challenged the basic realist account of the security problem, three of which are democratic peace theory, economic liberalism, and social constructivism. Furthermore, realism outlines various strategies that states can pursue in order to make themselves more secure, such as maximizing power, international alliances, arms racing, socialization and innovation, and institutions and diplomacy. Scholars continue to debate the historical roots, conceptual foundations, and predictive accuracy of realism. New avenues of research cover issues such as civil war, ethnic conflict, mass violence, September 11, and the Iraq War.

Article

Armed conflict is ultimately about the violent confrontation between two or more groups; however, there is a range of behaviors, both violent and nonviolent, pursued by governments and rebel groups while conflict is ongoing that impacts the course and outcomes of that violence. The use of judicial or quasi-judicial institutions during armed conflict is one such behavior. While there is a well-developed body of literature that examines the conditions under which governments engage with the legacies of violence following armed conflict, we know comparatively little about these same institutions used while conflict is ongoing. Similar to the use of transitional justice following armed conflict or post-conflict justice, during-conflict transitional justice (DCJ) refers to “a judicial or quasi-judicial process initiated during an armed conflict that attempts to address wrongdoings that have taken or are taking place as part of that conflict” (according to Loyle and Binningsbø). DCJ includes a variety of institutional forms pursued by both governments and rebel groups such as human rights trials, truth commissions or commissions of inquiry, amnesty offers, reparations, purges, or exiles. As our current understanding of transitional justice has focused exclusively on these processes following a political transition or the termination of an armed conflict, we have a limited understanding of how and why these processes are used during conflict. Extant work has assumed, either implicitly or explicitly, that transitional justice is offered and put in place once violence has ended, but this is not the case. New data on this topic from the During-Conflict Justice dataset by Loyle and Binningsbø suggests that the use of transitional justice during conflict is a widespread and systematic policy across multiple actor groups. In 2017, Loyle and Binningsbø found that DCJ processes were used during over 60% of armed conflicts from 1946 through 2011; and of these processes 10% were put in place by rebel groups (i.e., the group challenging the government rather than the government in power). Three main questions arise from this new finding: Under what conditions are justice processes implemented during conflict, why are these processes put in place, and what is the likely effect of their implementation on the conflict itself? Answering these questions has important implications for understanding patterns of government and rebel behavior while conflict is ongoing and the impacts of those behaviors. Furthermore, this work helps us to broaden our understanding of the use of judicial and quasi-judicial processes to those periods where no power shift has taken place.

Article

Karen A. Rasler and William R. Thompson

There are various approaches, both simple and complex, to systemic conflict. The simpler ones include balance of power, polarity, concentration, polarization, and democratization. More complex systemic approaches to conflict range from power transition and relative power cycle to leadership long cycle and world-systems. Some of these programs continue to generate scholarly interest and produce new findings, while others have been beset with little activity. Yet, none of these research programs have captured enough scholarly attention to be fully “mainstreamed.” That is, they have not been co-opted as central interpretations of international politics. The theoretical literature on simpler approaches to systemic conflict persists today but was more common prior to the mid-1970s. Since systemic analyses were not well developed in the first two or three decades after World War II, scholars grappled with what systemic analyses meant. One question is whether we should differentiate between a global system and its multiple regional subsystems. Complex systemic research programs have declined in analytical popularity after peaking in the 1980s, in large part because perceptions of the world situation changed in the 1990s. Whether “traditional” system dynamics will regain its lost status in light of the globalization processes perceived to be at work remains unclear, but there is cause for optimism about the future contributions of systemic theory as research programs in this area have expanded to include new topics and issues, along with new theoretical developments in other areas that will be pertinent to systemic perspectives.

Article

Brett Ashley Leeds and T. Clifton Morgan

Security issues have long been linked to the study of international relations. The crucial issue which scholars and decision makers have sought to understand is how states can avoid being victimized by war while also being prepared for any eventuality of war. Particular attention has been devoted to alliances and armaments as the policy instruments that should have the greatest effect on state war experiences. Scholars have attempted to use balance of power theories to explain the interrelationships between arms, alliances, and international conflict, but the overwhelming lack of empirical support for such theories led the field to look for alternatives. This gave rise to new theorizing that recognized variance in national goals and an enhanced role for domestic politics, which in turn encouraged empirical tests at the nation state or dyadic level of analysis. Drawing from existing theoretical perspectives, more specific formal models and empirical tests were invoked to tackle particular questions about alliances and arms acquisitions. Despite significant advances in individual “islands of theory,” however, integrated explanations of the pursuit and effects of security policies have remained elusive. An important consideration for the future is to develop of theories of security policy that take into account the substitutability and complementarity of varying components. There have been two promising attempts at such integrated theorizing: the first explains the steps to war and the second is based on the assumption that states pursue two composite goods through foreign policy.

Article

Bipolarity was viewed both as an empirical condition and as a central explanatory concept, albeit contested, during the Cold War (1945–1989), when two superpowers dominated the international system. The United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) confronted each other as military and ideological rivals heading competing alliance systems—the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), founded in 1949, and the Warsaw Pact established in 1955. Nuclear weaponry added a new wrinkle to the global superpower competition, particularly after the Soviet Union broke the American nuclear monopoly in 1949. A rich literature around these themes emerged as scholars sought to grapple with the explanatory dynamics propelling state behavior under the systemic constraints of bipolarity and the technological challenges presaged by the nuclear age. Such an academic focus meant that the study of international politics, particularly in the United States, was largely refracted through the prism of U.S.-Soviet competition and centered on the nature and implications of polarity, power, alliances, and nuclear deterrence. When the Soviet Union imploded, bipolarity in the sense of two predominant powers ended, as did the division of the world into two opposing blocs. In the post-Cold War period, scholars turned their attention to investigating questions regarding the impact on the nature of system structure and the international order of the collapse of one of the poles. Accordingly, during the Cold War, scholars debated the conceptual and empirical understandings of bipolarity as well as its implications and the causal factors on which the expectation of bipolar stability was based. In the post-Cold War period, scholars reflected over whether the end of ideological (capitalism/democracy vs. communism/single party authoritarianism) conflict presaged the end of history or inaugurated a clash of civilizations, with some questioning the salience of the concept of polarity and the viability of the state system in the face of rising subnational and transnational pressures.

Article

Carmela Lutmar and Lesley Terris

War termination is not a monocausal event but rather the product of a multitude of strategic, political, and psychological factors. Variables at different levels of analysis, such as power distributions, regime types, leadership and leadership changes, and psychological factors are all found to influence war termination processes. Recent studies have also explored how variables at different levels of analysis interact with one another to impact the onset and outcome of war termination, across different types of conflict (interstate and intrastate). Dynamic Bargaining models contribute to our understanding by perceiving war termination in terms of the parties’ ability to reach a mutually beneficial agreement, against a background of accumulating costs and under conditions of incomplete information.

Article

Bronwyn Leebaw

Truth commissions are temporary institutions that are tasked with investigating patterns of political violence under a prior regime as part of a process of political change. In the past, truth commissions were generally seen as a “second best” alternative in contexts where prosecuting past abuses was deemed unrealistic. Today, they are regarded as important tools for pursuing a wide array of goals, from democratization and reconciliation to human rights protection and individual healing. Early scholarship on the development of truth commissions focused on comparative democratization and on typologies that could be used to predict various transitional justice outcomes. More recently, scholars in the field of international relations have undertaken qualitative and quantitative studies in hopes of understanding what is driving the development of truth commissions. However, opinions differ as to the causes, consequences, and moral implications of truth commissions. Some attribute the proliferation of truth commissions to the growing strength of human rights norms and advocacy, whereas others argue that they merely function to manage the balance of power in transitional contexts, or serve as a basis for advancing values such as justice, democracy, and peace. These debates seem to have only intensified as truth commission scholarship continues to grow. One interesting pattern is that a number of scholars, have questioned the effectiveness of truth commissions in satisfying their own claims to investigate the “truth” about past abuses.

Article

The argument can be made, and has in fact been made, that the English School is primarily concerned with the study of institutions. The institutions of international society are social in a fundamental sense. That is, they are something above and beyond what one usually associates with an international institution. There are three dominant perspectives on what the primary institutions of international society are: functional, historical/descriptive, and typological. Hedley Bull was the major proponent of the functional perspective, and he identified five primary institutions of international society: the balance of power, international law, diplomacy, war, and the great powers. However, the historical/descriptive perspective appears to be the prevailing one. Nevertheless, various authors have started to think about the institutions of international society typologically. This has certain implications for how one views the cognitive objectives of the English School. The adherence to functional, historical/descriptive, or typological perspectives involves a positioning in relation to where international relations (IR), as a discipline, and the English School, as an approach to it, should locate itself in wider academia.

Article

Adrian Brisku

Four-centuries-long encounters between the Ottoman Empire and the Grand Duchy of Muscovy/Russian Empire point to complex relations that have been triggered and defined mostly by territorial, trade disputes, and wars, and maintained by diplomatic rivalry and occasional military alliances. Starting as friendly encounters during Sultan Bayezid II reign at the beginning of the 16th century, these relations, essentially and persistently asymmetrical, reveal an initial and long Ottoman dominance over the Muscovy/Russian side; one that lasted from the early 16th to the late 18th century—whereby the two sides shared no direct borders, traded and did not fight each other until the late 17th century—followed by a late 18th-century and mid-19th-century Russian ascendency. This ascendency was achieved largely thanks to the military reform that Tsar/Emperor Peter the Great undertook, namely, the establishment of a standing and professional army and consequentially due to the many wars that Russia won throughout the 19th century; the decisive ones being those fought during the reign of Empress Catherine the Great. The mid-19th century and the early 20th century—which witnessed the implosion of the Russian Empire due to the Bolshevik Revolution and the break-up of the Ottoman Empire by Britain and France—was a long period that saw few and brief military alliances, contested trade relations and yet continued wars. It was ultimately marred by an Ottoman drive to counterbalance Russia’s dominance, while the latter sought to preserve it, by involving other European powers (British and French)—the most crucial moment being the British, French, and Ottoman armies defeating the Russian one in the Crimean War (1853–1856)—transforming their bilateral interactions into multilateral but unsustainable relations.