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Great Power and Foreign Policy  

Carla Martinez Machain, Rebecca Kaye, and Jared Oestman

Great powers have traditionally played a major role in the study of foreign policy. From a variety of work on foreign policy analysis, it is known that great powers are more active in their foreign policy than other states in the international system are. Whether the actions are disbursing foreign aid, creating alliances, conflict involvement, or others, studies will often control for great power status, with the underlying expectation being that major powers will be more likely to utilize these foreign policy tools. In fact, when considering relevant dyads in quantitative studies of foreign policy analysis, states have to be contiguous for the dyad to be considered relevant, but an exception is made for dyads containing at least one major power, given the ability of great powers to project their power beyond their borders. Key literature on the foreign policy behavior of great powers discusses different ways of defining great powers. In particular, the debate over defining great power status has focused on whether a great power should be defined solely on its physical capabilities, or also on intangible factors, such as its foreign policy interests or whether the state is recognized as a great power by others in the international system. Further, there are questions of whether great powers have to be military powers or whether economic superiority is enough to classify a state as a great power. There is also the issue of regional powers: states that are clearly military, economic, and political leaders within a limited geographic region, but not at the global level. Should these states be considered great powers, or should that classification be reserved for global powers? The literature on great-power foreign policy also discusses cooperative and conflictual behaviors of great powers in the international system. It addresses great power war, focusing on how they are more conflict prone than minor powers, and reviews the issues that drive great powers to engage in conflict, such as positional issues and the intent to shape the international system to their liking. It also discusses a variety of foreign policy actions, both coercive and cooperative, that major powers are more likely to engage in than their minor-power counterparts. In addition, there is much work done on the relationships between great powers and between great powers and minor powers, stressing the competitive nature of major-power interactions and the trade-off between economic and military security and policy concessions that defines major-minor power interactions.


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.


Major Powers vs. Global Powers: A New Measure of Global Reach and Power Projection Capacity  

Michael J. Lee and William R. Thompson

Major powers appear to behave differently from other states in the international system. They are more active and less constrained by distance than other actors. The common approach of testing conflict (and other) hypotheses across relevant dyads builds this fact into the architecture of quantitative IR. However, we argue that the dominant operationalization of major power status actually conflates two different kinds of states—global powers and regional powers. Global powers are those with both a strong interest and a capacity for long-distance engagement in IR: they build strong navies and air forces and seek to control access to the global commons. In contrast, other states have predominantly local interests and lack much capacity to project force over distance (e.g., 19th-century Austria-Hungary). Here, we develop a new, historically robust measure of power projection capability by examining the naval and air power of states from 1816–2013. We illustrate the face validity of our model by illustrating the important ways in which global powers differ from other states. Not only are global powers more active internationally, they also have fundamentally different concerns than other states. One of the strongest findings in quantitative research in conflict is the idea that states often fight wars with neighbors (either because of the importance of territorial conflicts, proximity, or both). Yet even this powerful result is nullified in dyads where one or both participants have high levels of power projection capability. Global powers are behaviorally different from other states—even many of those considered “major powers” by the Correlates of War (COW) project. We need to consider these distinctions carefully when modeling conflict behavior—particularly when declaring particular dyads to be “relevant dyads.”