Theory Talk #37: Robert Cox
Friday, March 12, 2010
Realism in International Relations (IR) has never been challenged as eloquently as by Robert W. Cox in his seminal article Social Forces, States, and World Orders. Ever since, his work has inspired critical students of IR and International Political Economy (IPE) to think beyond the boundaries of conventional theorizing and to investigate the premises that underpin and link international politics and academic reflection on it. Recognized by many as one of the world’s most important thinkers in both IR and IPE, Cox assembles impressive and complex thinking stemming from history, philosophy, and geopolitics, to illuminate how politics can never be separated from economics, how theory is always linked to practice, and how material relations and ideas are inextricably intertwined to co-produce world orders. In this seminal Talk, Cox, amongst others, discusses possible futures we now face in terms of world order; reiterates what it means that theory is always for someone and for some purpose; and shows how the distinction between critical and problem-solving theory illuminates the problem of climate change.Print version of this Talk (pdf)
What is, according to you, the biggest challenge or principal debate in current IR/IPE? What is your position or answer to this challenge or in this debate?I do not have a grand theory of where the world is going. I think in terms of dialectics, that is, contradictions, which may or may not be overcome. We are living in a time of gradual disintegration of a historical structure, which not so long ago seemed to be approaching what Francis Fukuyama once called ‘the end of history’.
As a critical theorist, I see two future scenarios. As things are right now, there is a prevailing historical structure, yet there are social forces working towards an alternative historical configuration of forces, a rival historical structure. One is that the relative decline of American power gives way to a more plural world with several centers of world power that would be in continuous negotiation for a constantly adjustable modus vivendi, much akin to the European 19th-century balance of power system, but now on world scale. One common threat would hang over this process of negotiation for the adjustment of power relations, and that is the problem of global warming and the fragility of the biosphere, which puts pressures on all of us to achieve successes in coordinating particular interests towards the common interest of saving the planet.
Another scenario is also emerging: a continuation of the struggle for global domination, I think a prevailing term on the American side is ‘full spectrum dominance’, pitting US led forces against the potential consolidation of Eurasian power. This is the old geopolitical vision of Halford Mackinder: a heartland consisting of Eurasia, the world island, encircled by the now American-led periphery. The war on terror, first started by the Bush administration and now continued by Obama, renews the American imperative for world dominance. This leads logically to a coming together of the continent of Eurasia, to confront what Eurasians perceive as the attempt of the US to achieve world dominance by encirclment. The conflicts that now exist in the Middle East—Yemen, Iran, Afghanistan—are symptomatic of this, including the growing reservations of some European countries to the role of the periphery’s military alliance, NATO. There is an alternative organization, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, linking Russia, China, and the Central Asian Republics, which in effect would join together Eurasia as a potential counterbalance to NATO.
I think the biggest challenge is the relative decline of the US in relation to the rest of the world and whether and how America will adjust to a world in which it can no longer presume to lead. I think this is extremely difficult for American society and American politicians. The role of developing this new historical structure, by the actors within it, is to build a context for action which shapes thinking about what is possible for those living through it. This engenders a ‘common sense’ about reality that can endure for a long time, as previous historical structures have shown. This is what Fernand Braudel called the ‘longue durée’. A historical structure in the minds of historical actors may seem fixed, but the historian can subsequently see it as being in mutation, gradually sometimes or more suddenly in others.
So probably the biggest challenge is the challenge to America. The rest of the world is showing some ability to understand and to be party to an adjustment to a new world order—but will America understand? That’s the big problem, because the rest of the world is ready to adapt provided the US takes a lead towards understanding its role as that of one great power amongst others. The moment Obama got elected was a moment that represented the possibility of such a change in American society, yet one year later, in terms of international relations, he has appointed all the people associated with the previous administration. So while there is now, because of Obama, a difference in the mode of expression of American power (Obama is much more sympathetic to the rest of the world than the rather aggressively dominant Bush/Cheney presidency), that power is directed in the same way as before. The US still has over seven hundred military bases around the world which seem to the rest of the world as encirclement.
Now compare this to Britain’s position after the Second World War. Britain was no longer able to sustain its position as a world leader and adopted a policy of withdrawal. It could do so because of the idea of a ‘special relationship’ with the US, which effectively meant turning over problems of international security to the United States. So in structural terms, nothing changed much at that moment in terms of dominance in world order, but Britain managed to adopt to its new role. Now back to the present: with Obama, many people expected an international politics of withdrawal: a big part of his support came from the idea that he was the anti-war candidate—he even received the Nobel Peace Prize. But, in accepting his prize, he somewhat apologetically defended fighting his wars. And this straitjacket of war in which Obama finds himself, this seeming determinism regarding the role of the US in the contemporary world order, has major implications for domestic social forces and is called into question by the crisis in the world economy.
How did you arrive at where you currently are in IR?
I grew up in Canada, and early on I realized that Canada is not just a single entity, but is also an assemblage of communities. I had to come to terms quite early with the fact that states, the homogeneous entities that form the point of departure for thinking about international politics, are in fact made up of combinations of ethnic/religious and social forces, which more often than not have conflicting interests and aspirations. After that, based in Switzerland for 25 years, I traveled the world while working for the International Labor Organization (ILO). At that time, I was no longer identified primarily as a Canadian but rather as an international civil servant— not as a cosmopolitan in the sense of having overcome local identification, but rather could I identify with many different peoples in distinct places. From this experience, I came to understand that all these different peoples ought to be respected in their differences. I thoroughly rejected the idea that the aim should be that everyone would ultimately be the same: difference is healthy, it is interesting, and it would be awfully boring if everyone were the same. So I discovered that not only Canada, but the rest of the world too, was made up of different and conflicting social and political forces, which functioned in alliances that crossed state borders. I saw shared interests with similar groups across borders as well as solidarities within states.
My thinking is furthermore influenced by my tendency, in earlier years, to think about things in historical terms. And not just history in the sense of what happened in the past, but rather history as a way of understanding processes that go on in the world. I read R.G. Collingwood, usually thought of as an idealist in British philosophy, yet whom I found compatible with my own sense of historical materialism. Collingwood spoke about the ‘inside’ as well as the ‘outside’ of historical events. When the positivist looks at what happens by classifying and collecting events and drawing inferences from them, he sees the outside; Collingwood’s emphasis on the inside of events was to understand the meaning of things in terms of the thought-processes of the people who were acting, and their understanding of the structure of relationships within which they lived. To understand history in those terms is what gives meaning to events.
Although I am not a Marxist, I believe much is to be learned from Marxist thinking. Marxist ideas on the tension between capital and labor, and the attempts to institutionalize these relations on state-level and the international level in order to advance material interests, helped me understand the world in a distinct way. I have identified my approach as ‘historical materialism’, yet I have linked it not so much with Marx as with Giambattista Vico (download his main work The New Science here, pdf), the 18th-century critic of Descartes and the north European Enlightenment who lived in Naples .and later with the 20th century Italian Communist leader Antonio Gramsci.
In Vico’s times, Naples was under the rule of the Spanish inquisition, and while he always proclaimed himself to be a devout Catholic, Vico’s vision of the world was quite an antithesis to the orthodox idea of a unilinear history leading to the Kingdom of God on earth. Vico thought in terms of cycles of rise and decline and the possibility of creative new beginnings. Among the Marxists, Gramsci continued the Vichian tradition. He made a distinction between a deterministic and positivist historical economism and historical materialism, in which the realm of ideas is an autonomous force. He recognized the relative autonomy of cultures and ideas and their intimate relationship with material conditions.
Within his historical context, Vico was what we would call a realist, rejecting the Enlightenment belief in a progressive historical process which echoed the Christian teleology. He took a more pessimistic view than that of Enlightenment thinkers; he thought in terms of the rise and decline of what would be called social systems in the terms we use now.
That linear vision of history characteristic of the Enlightenment is persistent up until our days in American thought, especially American political or historical philosophy—I mentioned Francis Fukuyama, who talked about the end of history which we’re moving towards, and we’re almost there. As if history is a finite process which necessarily has to lead towards a definite goal. Fukuyama, I understand, abandoned that vision, but I think nevertheless that it was consistent with a lot of thinking going on within the powerful group of people who were talking about globalization, basically identifying world history with deterministic economic processes. I think this vision is much less likely to be accepted right now as it has led to the financial crisis and the decline of American world power, not militarily, but as effective power. This seems to me the lesson of Iraq and Afghanistan: extreme military power is really not capable of dominating the world today.
Apart from Vichian thinking, I was influenced by a book I read as an undergraduate, Spengler’s The Decline of the West. Historians did not think well of the book, but it saw the world in terms of civilizations, each characterized by a unique spirit, civilizations which underwent a rise and decline, and yet were interrelated either as contemporaries or as descendants. That seemed to me a very appropriate way of understanding what the world had become. While I think we should not take Spengler literally, his way of looking at relationships between groups in historical process has had a big influence on my own thinking.
What would a student need to become a specialist in IR or understand the world in a global way?
I don’t like to prescribe, and my own intellectual trajectory has been very idiosyncratic. Yet I can indicate that, for me, there is a danger in the reading-list-approach to topics, because it tends to put students in the position wherein they get forced to become members of a particular school of thought, and I think that’s a risky thing. Just look at the terminology: different schools of thought or distinct approaches to the same world are called ‘disciplines’, and that is indeed what they do: they discipline students into seeing the world through only one particular lens—which is more misleading than revealing. You can’t understand, for instance, the economy without infusing it with society and all of its problems, or without understanding politics as something that has a kind of organizing and regulating task—you have to take it all together, you can’t just take one aspect. Yet doing this is typical of the problem-solving approach: in order to solve a problem, one has to demarcate and define the problem and set other things aside. But by focusing on solving some concrete problems, which I acknowledge is very important, one blinds oneself for other related issues. If you want to ask where the world is going, you have to get out of that way of thinking.
So I would say something which would probably sound quite heretical to contemporary academics, and that is that if a student feels able to be different, to read widely, and to accept different influences rather than just become entrenched in a particular area of study, he should. A good example which I remember is Susan Strange, who came out of journalism into IPE. Against the fragmentation that conditions mainstream scholarship, she never accepted academic divisions and she talked about IPE saying it should be an open field, and I agree with that emphasis. She called me an eccentric, and coming from her, a non-conformist herself, that was a compliment. Yet what I think I have learnt is that being critical does not readily get you financial resources for research, so you have to be committed and go for it.
What I can comment on more clearly is the role of the historian in relation to the historical structures that condition human action. The historian’s task is to reconstruct these historical structures in his or her own mind so as to be able to grasp the meaning of what the actors do, and what the consequences signify. The historian constructs in his or her mind this seemingly solid but nevertheless transitory structure; he must understand how the actors within any given historical structure, may think in terms of a particular understanding peculiar to its time and place. This fact of the mutation of the “common sense” particular to historical structures which are in process of change points the historian towards the contingency of the prevailing order.
History for me is not a sequence of events but a holistic way of thinking about the world. The current academic fashion breaks the world down into politics, economics, anthropology and so forth. A historical outlook means taking things occurring within a historical context all together. Yet this is very demanding, because one person can hardly accomplish such a view. But one person can at least have an approach that says that everything must be understood. Some contemporary scholars such as Kees van der Pijl (Theory Talk #23) seem to have such an approach to the world.
You have coined the famous distinction between problem-solving and critical theory in your article Social Forces, States and World Orders. If problem-solving theory serves the purposes of the prevailing status quo, for whom or for what purpose is critical theory?
I think the two are distinct but not mutually exclusive. I do not argue for critical theory to the exclusion of problem solving theory. Problem solving takes the world as it is and focuses on correcting certain dysfunctions, certain specific problems. Critical theory is concerned with how the world, that is all the conditions that problem solving theory takes as the given framework, may be changing. Because problem solving theory has to take the basic existing power relationships as given, it will be biased towards perpetuating those relationships, thus tending to make the existing order hegemonic.
What critical theory does, is question these very structural conditions that are tacit assumptions for problem-solving theory, to ask whom and which purposes such theory serves. It looks at the facts that problem-solving theory presents from the inside, that is, as they are experienced by actors in a context which also consists of power relations. Critical theory thus historicizes world orders by uncovering the purposes problem solving theories within such an order serve to uphold. By uncovering the contingency of an existing world order, one can then proceed to think about different world orders. It is more marginal than problem solving theory since it does not comfortably provide policy recommendations to those in power.
What I meant is that there is no theory for itself; theory is always for someone, for some purpose. There is no neutral theory concerning human affairs, no theory of universal validity. Theory derives from practice and experience, and experience is related to time and place. Theory is a part of history. It addresses the problematic of the world of its time and place. An inquirer has to aim to place himself above the historical circumstances in which a theory is propounded. One has to ask about the aims and purposes of those who construct theories in specific historical situations. Broadly speaking, for any theory, there are two possible purposes to serve. One is for guiding the solving of problems posed within the particular context, the existing structure. This leads to a problem-solving form of theory, which takes the existing context as given and seeks to make it work better. The other which I call critical theory is more reflective on the processes of change of historical structures, upon the transformation or challenges arising within the complex of forces constituting the existing historical structure, the existing ‘common sense’ of reality. Critical thinking then contemplates the possibility of an alternative.
The strength of problem-solving theory relies in its ability to fix limits or parameters to a problem area, and to reduce the statement of a particular problem to a limited number of variables which are amenable to rather close and clear examination. The ceteris paribus assumption, the assumption that other things can be ignored, upon which problem-solving theorizing relies, makes it possible to derive a statement of laws and regularities which appear of general applicability.
Critical theory, as I understand it, is critical in the sense that it stands apart from the prevailing order, and asks how that world came about. It does not just accept it: a world that exists has been made, and in the context of a weakening historical structure it can be made anew. Critical theory, unlike problem-solving theory, does not take institutions and social power relations for granted, but calls them into question by concerning itself with their origins, and whether and how they might be in process of changing. It is directed towards an appraisal of the very framework for action, the historical structure, which the problem-solving theory accepts as its parameters. Critical theory is a theory of history, in the sense that it is not just concerned about the politics of the past, but the continuing process of historical change. Problem-solving theory is not historical, it is a-historical, in the sense that it in effect posits a continuing present, It posits the continuity of the institutions of power relations which constitute the rules of the game which are assumed to be stable. The strength of the one is the weakness of the other: problem-solving theory can achieve great precision, when narrowing the scope of inquiry and presuming stability of the rules of the game, but in so doing, it can become an ideology supportive of the status quo. Critical theory sacrifices the precision that is possible with a circumscribed set of variables in order to comprehend a wider range of factors in comprehensive historical change.
Critical theory, in my mind, does not propound remedies or make predictions about the emerging shape of things, world order for example. It attempts rather, by analysis of forces and trends, to discern possible futures and to point to the conflicts and contradictions in the existing world order that could move things towards one or other of the possible futures. In that sense it can be a guide for political choice and action.
How would that distinction apply to a contemporary issue such as, say, climate change?
With the example of climate change, the question is not to choose between problem-solving or critical theory. Problem solving theory is practical and necessary since it tells us how to proceed given certain conditions (for instance, the consequences to be expected from carbon generated from certain forms of behavior in terms of damage to the biosphere). Critical theory broadens the scope of inquiry by analyzing the forces favoring or opposing changing patterns of behavior.
In the example of climate change, problem-solving theory asks how to support the big and ever increasing world population by industrial means yet with a kind of energy that is not going to pollute the planet. It requires a lot of innovative thought, has to mobilize huge reluctant and conservative social forces within a slow moving established order with vested interests in the political and industrial complex surrounding existing energy sources. Problem-solving theory gives opportunity to innovate and explore new forms of energy.
Critical theory would take one step further and envisage a world order focused not just on humanity but on the whole of life, taking into account the web of relations in which humanity is only part in our world. Humans have to come to terms what it means to be part of the biosphere, and not just the dominant feature. In fact, it is a big problem of Western religion and modernist enlightenment thinking alike that nature is seen to be created in service of humans in the first, and is a force to be dominated in the second. Both Western religion and modernism have analytically disembedded humans from nature, turning nature into something to be dominated or an abstracted factor of production. To rethink this, to make humans part of nature, implies seeing humans as an entity with a responsibility vis-à-vis the bigger world of which they are a part.
What is the current value of the term ‘hegemony’?
Hegemony as a term used traditionally in international relations meant the supremacy of one major state power over others and perhaps the acceptance of that supremacy by the others. A much more subtle meaning is derived from Gramsci’s thinking bringing culture and ideas alongside material force into the picture. Hegemony in this Gramscian sense means that the great mass of mankind in a particular area or part of the world regard the existing structure of power and authority as established, natural and legitimate. Hegemony is expanded when other people come to accept those conditions as natural. Hegemony is weakened and eroded when the legitimacy of the power structure is called into question and an alternative order seems possible and desirable.
Let’s look at American thinking. It is very much premised on an idea that ultimately, we should all be the same—and the same means, of course, having what America already has, or wanting what Americans want—democratic capitalism, the ‘American way of life’. This can be seen in American efforts at economic and political development abroad and through military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in how the United States has shaped and used international institutions. As I worked for the ILO, I worked closely with an American Director-general, very much a New-Deal thinker, and this meant working for an agenda that effectively tried to extend the same labor standards and regulations that hold in the US to other countries. Now this can all be done in good faith, and believing in the importance of unions and equal labor conditions is important, but it does not take into account the extreme differences in economic conditions and historical background of people in developing countries targeted by these policies. Now my Director-General was a man who could understand the diversity of the world. Rather than put the ILO’s emphasis on expanding the scope of standards, he directed it into development work. It was still carried out in the spirit of American ideas but in a more subtle way. The hegemonic idea was built into the developmental work.
There is the case of contemporary China; if you look at Chinese and especially the middle class, they want to live like Americans, in terms of consumerism and the like. The economic ties that bind China and the US also influence ideas the Chinese hold, and this has very much to do with the hegemony the US has on all these levels—both economically, and in terms of media. Now since that American level of consumption is not sustainable in the long run, and if one billion Chinese, roughly 20% of the world population, were to add to the existing American 5% of consumers and polluters, one can easily predict collapse of the biosphere. We should, then, hope that the decline in American power and the rise in China’s world power would lead to some collective reevaluation of how to live together on the planet.
And, vice versa, how does the rise of China impact on American hegemony?
This is a very interesting question. The Chinese see China as a great power, but, at least for now, with no pretensions to global domination. And the fact that official policy and thinking is now set in that mold may be reassuring. There has been speculation in America about a G2 – China and America – as the central force in world order. China is the world’s biggest creditor and the U.S. the world’s biggest debtor, so some Americans see the G2 idea as a means of saving American hegemony. I do not think this idea meets with any degree of acceptance in China. Indeed, much of the legitimacy of the Chinese Party depends on its capacity to keep the current growth sustainable for the ever-increasing middle class. This is also the reason why China will in all likelihood stay peaceful.
On the other hand, you see the rise of anti-Chinese sentiment in parts of the US. At the same time, I think the Chinese are very careful about what they say. They prefer to speak of a non-ideological ‘peaceful rise’ that benefits all and threatens no one. They see themselves as having been very dependent on America as a market, and their industry has grown on the basis of that market, but they’re also very aware that they have become over-dependent and they are now working to build up much more of a regionally oriented economy. The success of this regional venture will hinge upon the question whether China and Japan will work together despite their continuous tensions based upon history.
The Russians, too, lay down a line for the US. Their small war with Georgia sent a message: ‘do not mess with our near abroad’. And between the two, Russia and China, there is an organization called the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, that’s very rarely spoken of. Yet as I indicated, I think it is a very important organization since it signals the potential coming together of Eurasia, not as an empire or fusion, but as a kind of regional cooperative group that is counterpoised to US power. And the question now is, how and whether the US can adapt to the idea of working as one great power among several or whether US pretension to global leadership will provoke the consolidation of a Eurasian alliance to counter that pretension. My hope is for a more plural world, but I am rather pessimistic. I am thus a realist in the sense of being realistic both about the limitations of American power and America’s capacity to change away from its present course.
Robert Cox is emeritus professor in Political Science at York University in Toronto, Canada. He was the former director general and then chief of the International Labor Organization’s Program and Planning Division in Geneva, Switzerland. Following his departure from the ILO he taught at Columbia University. He has published, amongst others, Approaches to World Order (1996) and The Political Economy of a Plural World (2002).
- Read Cox’s seminal article Social Forces, States, and World Orders (1986) here (pdf)
- Read Cox’s The ‘British School’ in the Global Context (2009, New Political Economy) here (pdf)
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
- Read the first chapter of Lebow’s The Tragic Vision of Politics (2003) here (pdf)
- Read Lebow & Kelly’s Thucydides and Hegemony: Athens and the United States (Review of International Studies 2001), here (pdf)
- Read Lebow’s Deterrence and Reassurance: Lessons from the Cold War (Global Dialogue 2001) here (pdf)
- Read Lebow’s The Long Peace, the End of the Cold War, and the Failure of Realism (International Organization, 1994) here (pdf)
- Read Lebow’s The Cuban Missile Crisis: Reading the Lessons Correctly (Political Science Quarterly 1983) here (pdf)
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Some months ago, Elizabeth Dauphinee (York) asked if we would be interested in hosting a series of posts resulting from a workshop on recent critical methodological and narrative developments in International Relations. We said yes. Said workshop was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and happened in October of last year at the York Centre for International and Security Studies. It considered how narrative writing, including storytelling, autoethnography, and other forms of creative expression are currently altering the provenance of IR knowledge. Over the next week and a bit we will feature posts from many of the contributors. In this introductory post Elizabeth (who previously guest-posted on racism and the self) sets out the trajectory and stakes of the forum.
The ways in which academics and practitioners think about international politics are shaped invariably by the ways in which they produce and access information. In IR, as in all social science disciplines, there exists an established professional language that privileges the initiated, reproduces adherents through highly specialized training practices, and ignores or rebuffs intellectual ‘outsiders’. These languages sanitize academic writing and they strategically deploy their interlocutors in a style of adversarial debate that is often stagnant and exclusionary. In addition, virtually all theories of IR seek replicable truths and are deeply ill-at-ease with results that are unclear or open-ended or with projects that reveal ambiguity and ambivalence. Scholars deploying various critical methodologies have been arguing for decades that knowledge can only be partial and situated. However, this has not led to a change in the way mainstream scholarship is developed and disseminated, and even scholars who consider themselves to be critical typically operate with specialized theoretical languages and narrow intellectual coda that are often impenetrable even for the most diligent and invested student.
In recent years, these dilemmas have led to a new line of academic inquiry that may be fundamentally altering the landscape of IR. These approaches are based in autoethnography and narrative writing, and involve storytelling, explicit use of the ‘I’ as a narrating subject, and deep exploration of the interface between writers and their subject matter. Scholars who work with these approaches are showing that the form writing takes shapes its content, plots its own boundaries, and pre-determines who can comprise its audience. They are showing that researchers are always personally present in their writing, that narratives – both written and oral – are knowledge-producing activities, and that the claim to scientific objectivity is not only impossible but also, critically, undesirable. They are also showing that critical theory written in scholarly language alienates and excludes the very communities that many IR scholars are trying to reach: students, policymakers and practitioners, institutions of governance, international organizations, the reading public, to name just a few.
As this form of writing is growing exponentially in volume and scope, the workshop organizers and participants determined that the time was ripe for a sustained discussion to identify the successes and challenges facing narrative and autoethnographic approaches. Without a careful and systematic exploration of these novel methods by those who are already working with them – and also by those who are unsure of their value – narrative IR may emerge in ways that are misguided and destructive. They may emerge as an exercise in self-indulgence, or as disconnected forays into the personal and confessional without a sustained political motif. Additionally, ethical questions surrounding the disclosure of both self and other are uniquely important for narrative IR scholars, who do not purport to ‘interview’ their subjects in a formal way. And, concerns about epistemic privilege emerge in the context of approaches that do not claim to situate knowledge in any established theory or philosophical tradition.
In 1987, the groundbreaking feminist theorist Carol Cohn wrote of her experience with the technostrategic language of nuclear defense intellectuals. Using a storytelling approach, she showed how specific professional languages delimited the discourse and the imaginations of those who used them. In time, Cohn observed, these languages precluded other ways of thinking and knowing, and ultimately led to stagnation in the way that defense intellectuals were trained to think and in their subsequent research output. Cohn’s narrative approach was widely celebrated and cited, but it stood quite alone for another two decades and was recognized mainly as a commentary on the limits of scholarship rather than as a legitimate scholarly contribution in its own right. And while many critical theorists recognized that the manner in which IR and related scholarship was written mattered for what could be said, virtually none of these scholars actually attempted to write differently or to systematically consider how the ways we are trained to write alienate us from one another, from our research, and from our students, and how they insulate our scholarly output from all but the narrowest intellectual communities. And while researchers engage non-academic communities in the course of their fieldwork, these communities are seldom seen as true partners in knowledge creation and are almost never the audiences for which academic researchers write.
In addition to their insulating character, scholarly professional languages are also deployed in a philosophical context that is deeply adversarial. Scholars become entrenched in theoretical and methodological positions in ways that are not conducive to the encouragement of creative thinking or problem solving and which stultify intellectual innovation within the academy. The late feminist scholar Grace Jantzen has observed that:
[O]nce the model of a battle is taken as central to philosophical thinking, then the likelihood increases that instead of engaging in creative exploration of the issues, a student who is trying to learn to think philosophically will think not of what gives her insight or how that insight could be extended, but of how her position could be attacked and what she needs to do about it.
In 2004, IR scholar Roxanne Lynn Doty accepted a lecture invitation from the Centre for International and Security Studies at York University. Her lecture, entitled ‘Maladies of Our Souls: Voice and the Writing of Academic International Relations’ marked the narrative turn of her celebrated career. She explored the profound disconnect between the sanitized writing characteristic of IR and the subjects of research that this writing attempted to apprehend and understand. Doty argued that:
In graduate school and throughout our careers we learn to adopt a certain style of writing, a certain way of being on the page, a certain voice…We, in turn, pass this along to our own students. This acquisition process is far from innocent…Our ideas, curiosities, intellectual wanderings, and ethical concerns are twisted and contorted to fit our professional voices and all the while the soul of our writing becomes eviscerated, our passions sucked into a sanitized vortex that squeezes the life out of the things we write about. A certain writing voice is imposed on scholars and students from the amorphous and rather ill-defined, but powerful dictates of ‘the profession’ and for this reason it is extraordinarily political with political consequences.
This lecture, later published by Cambridge Review of International Affairs, heralded what is now being called a new narrative turn in IR. In the years following Doty’s essay, narrative approaches have enjoyed a slow but steady growth in IR. In a prize-winning 2010 essay, Roland Bleiker and Morgan Brigg presented the case for an engaged form of autoethnographic scholarship. They rejected the standard view of the IR scholar as a messenger whose role is to identify information in a discrete and unaffected way. Bleiker and Brigg regard this as the starting point for a deep analysis of the relationship between academic authors and the worlds they both create and encounter. In this way, the excavation of the political subject is made possible by awareness of the self. Naeem Inayatullah also builds the case for autoethnography in the introduction to his Autobiographical International Relations: I, IR. For Inayatullah, narrative approaches are a purpose (though not the only one) in and of themselves. They allow us to engage a ‘process of discovery’ rather than ‘steer [readers] toward a conclusion’. For Inayatullah, this process of discovery is a critical part of the knowledge journey. He shows that there is always something that surprises us in our writing, and that too often this surprise is subsumed under the imperative to account for each element of the scholarly enterprise. In addition, there is a pressing need to cease rewarding intellectual aggression in IR, which only serves to mimic the established rubrics of conflict, and instead to seek out a true plurality of voices.
Since the movement toward narrative IR began, the field has witnessed significant growth in the number of scholars engaged in narrative projects, and a slow but steady growth in the acceptance of these approaches in mainstream venues. However, none of this work is clearly connected, nor has it established connections to other fields in which narrative methodologies are already firmly established and carefully critiqued, such as in Anthropology, Indigenous studies, Women’s studies, and Postcolonial studies. The workshop brought together IR scholars and those from related fields and disciplines who are involved with autoethnography, narrative approaches, and other critical methodologies in an effort to consider the successes, challenges, impacts, and potentialities of critical forms of writing in IR and elsewhere. As this community of scholars is global in scope, yet often isolated in its output, we saw a unique opportunity to create a space that can serve as an intellectual touchstone for sustained methodological inquiry over the longer term. The goals of the workshop involved the establishment of a sustained discussion on writing as praxis in IR. The workshop participants queried this praxis as it relates to the writing self, to the academy as a set of established professional practices, to undergraduate and graduate students, and to the individuals, communities, and environments that form the crux of most field research endeavors in IR scholarship. While many outlets are now beginning to publish this work in IR, the discipline lacks a systematic and widely accepted or recognized evaluative process to assess narrative method. This workshop attempted to address these issues insofar as it began a discussion pertaining to evaluation and critique.
The workshop participants hailed from security studies, Canadian politics, Indigenous studies, Women’s studies, human rights studies, Islamic studies, refugee and migration studies, postcolonial studies, critical terrorism studies, and LGBT studies, and together they enjoyed a tremendous wealth of global and local regional expertise. The diversity of the participants was designed to ensure input from a variety of complementary yet distinct disciplinary research backgrounds. Each participant reflected on the following questions from her or his own areas of expertise:
- What does narrative writing allow us to access beyond conventional academic writing and how might this impact our research?
- Are narrative approaches inherently political? Do they promote genuine dialogue, or do they simply re-confer epistemic privilege by rendering the ‘personal’ unassailable?
- Can particularly contentious and fraught areas of research (e.g., conflict environments and other areas that tend to experience bitter academic impasses) benefit from narrative approaches that allow quieter voices to be heard? Can these approaches help us to move beyond entrenched positions and debates?
- Can narrative approaches change the nature of scholarly debate from narrowly focused combat to supportive environments for creativity at all points in the development of ideas?
- How can narrative approaches allow us to hear and validate the knowledges of ‘the researched’? Can narrative approaches provide ways for communities to play a more dignified and empowered role in the creation of knowledge? What are the challenges and ethical dilemmas associated with this writing?
- Can we mobilize narrative approaches in order to re-engage increasingly alienated students in the social and political sciences? How can we assess this writing approach in the classroom and other professional venues?
The workshop consisted of brief presentations dealing with some aspect of these questions reflecting the specific interests of the participants, and was followed by open discussion and consideration of how to bring narrative approaches to bear on various aspects of academic IR as researchers and teachers, and to consider how academics can mobilize narrative approaches over the short, medium, and long term to engage community leaders, social justice organizations, and advocacy networks, and to re-engage undergraduate students. Although the focus of the workshop was not on Education as such, since all scholars are also teachers and mentors (even if only as writers), the implications for pedagogy are significant.
We have asked the participants to reflect on their workshop experiences here on The Disorder Of Things – to talk informally about what the workshop meant to them for their work, and how they see narrative scholars moving forward – or not – with agendas that re-invest in students and in our communities where so very much is at stake.
- Midweek Linkage » Duck of Minerva – March 13, 2013[...] The Disorder of Things has a new forum on “critical methodological and narrative developments in IR.” [...]
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Robert W. Cox
Robert Cox (born 1926) is a former political science professor and United Nations officer. He is cited as one of the intellectual leaders, along with Susan Strange, of the British School of International Political Economy and is still active as a scholar after his formal retirement, writing and giving occasional lectures. He is currently professor emeritus of political science and social and political thought at York University.
He started work at the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Geneva, Switzerland in 1947, eventually serving as director of the ILO’s International Institute for Labour Studies (1965–71). Following his departure from the ILO he taught at Columbia University. From 1977 to 1992 he was professor of political science at York University in Toronto, Canada.
Cox graduated in 1946 from McGill University in Montreal, where he received a Master’s degree in history. Following his graduation he worked for the International Labor Organization where he would remain for a quarter century, helping to set up and design the International Institute for Labor Studies.
In his academic career Cox is known for his fierce independence and unwavering challenge of orthodoxy as well as his historical approach. While his initial scholarly contributions during his time at Columbia University were quite conventional and focused on international organizations, following from his experience in the ILO, he soon adopted a more radical perspective. During his time at York University he began to reassert himself in a historical manner, reflective of his previous training at McGill University, which enabled him to take on more ambitious themes. Cox describes his academic interests as no less than understanding, “the structures that underlie the world”.
- The Anatomy of Influence : decision making in international organization (1973), with Harold K. Jacobson
- Production, Power and World Order (1987)
- Approaches to World Order (co-editor, 1996)
- The Political Economy of a Plural World: Critical Reflections on Power, Morals, and Civilization (co-editor, 2002)
Saturday, January 5, 2013
International Relations Anyone?
International Relations, Principal Theories
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A. Introduction ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 1
B. Realism ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 2
C. Institutionalism ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 8
D. Liberalism …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 14
E. Constructivism …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 19
F. The English School ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 24
G. Critical Approaches ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 26
H. Conclusion ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 28
1 The study of international relations takes a wide range of theoretical approaches. Some emerge from within the discipline itself; others have been imported, in whole or in part, from disciplines such as economics or sociology. Indeed, few social scientific theories have not been applied to the study of relations amongst nations. Many theories of international relations are internally and externally contested, and few scholars believe only in one or another. In spite of this diversity, several major schools of thought are discernable, differentiated principally by the variables they emphasize—eg military power, material interests, or ideological beliefs.
2 For Realists (sometimes termed ‘structural Realists’ or ‘Neorealists’, as opposed to the earlier ‘classical Realists’) the international system is defined by anarchy—the absence of a central authority (Waltz). States are sovereign and thus autonomous of each other; no inherent structure or society can emerge or even exist to order relations between them. They are bound only by forcible → coercion or their own → consent.
3 In such an anarchic system, State power is the key—indeed, the only—variable of interest, because only through power can States defend themselves and hope to survive. Realism can understand power in a variety of ways—eg militarily, economically, diplomatically—but ultimately emphasizes the distribution of coercive material capacity as the determinant of international politics.
4 This vision of the world rests on four assumptions (Mearsheimer 1994). First, Realists claim that survival is the principal goal of every State. Foreign invasion and occupation are thus the most pressing threats that any State faces. Even if domestic interests, strategic culture, or commitment to a set of national ideals would dictate more benevolent or co-operative international goals, the anarchy of the international system requires that States constantly ensure that they have sufficient power to defend themselves and advance their material interests necessary for survival. Second, Realists hold States to be rational actors. This means that, given the goal of survival, States will act as best they can in order to maximize their likelihood of continuing to exist. Third, Realists assume that all States possess some military capacity, and no State knows what its neighbors intend precisely. The world, in other words, is dangerous and uncertain. Fourth, in such a world it is the Great Powers—the States with most economic clout and, especially, military might, that
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, PRINCIPAL THEORIES
are decisive. In this view international relations is essentially a story of Great Power politics.
5 Realists also diverge on some issues. So-called offensive Realists maintain that, in order to ensure survival, States will seek to maximize their power relative to others (Mearsheimer 2001). If rival countries possess enough power to threaten a State, it can never be safe. → Hegemony is thus the best strategy for a country to pursue, if it can. Defensive Realists, in contrast, believe that domination is an unwise strategy for State survival (Waltz 1979). They note that seeking hegemony may bring a State into dangerous conflicts with its peers. Instead, defensive Realists emphasize the stability of → balance of power systems, where a roughly equal distribution of power amongst States ensures that none will risk attacking another. ‘Polarity’—the distribution of power amongst the Great Powers—is thus a key concept in Realist theory.
6 Realists’ overriding emphasis on anarchy and power leads them to a dim view of international law and international institutions (Mearsheimer 1994). Indeed, Realists believe such facets of international politics to be merely epiphenomenal; that is, they reflect the balance of power, but do not constrain or influence State behaviour. In an anarchic system with no hierarchical authority, Realists argue that law can only be enforced through State power. But why would any State choose to expend its precious power on enforcement unless it had a direct material interest in the outcome? And if enforcement is impossible and cheating likely, why would any State agree to co-operate through a treaty or institution in the first place?
7 Thus States may create international law and international institutions, and may enforce the rules they codify. However, it is not the rules themselves that determine why a State acts a particular way, but instead the underlying material interests and power relations. International law is thus a symptom of State behaviour, not a cause.
8 Institutionalists share many of Realism’s assumptions about the international system—that it is anarchic, that States are self-interested, rational actors seeking to survive while increasing their material conditions, and that uncertainty pervades relations between countries. However, Institutionalism relies on microeconomic theory and game theory to reach a radically different conclusion—that co-operation between nations is possible.
9 The central insight is that co-operation may be a rational, self-interested strategy for countries to pursue under certain conditions (Keohane 1984). Consider two trading partners. If both countries lower their tariffs they will trade more and each will become more prosperous, but neither wants to lower barriers unless it can be sure the other will too. Realists doubt such co-operation can be sustained in the absence of coercive power because both countries would have incentives to say they are opening to trade, dump their goods onto the other country’s markets, and not allow any imports.
10 Institutionalists, in contrast, argue that institutions—defined as a set of rules, norms, practices and decision-making procedures that shape expectations—can overcome the uncertainty that undermines co-operation. First, institutions extend the time horizon of interactions, creating an iterated game rather than a single round. Countries agreeing on ad hoc tariffs may indeed benefit from tricking their neighbors in any one round of negotiations. But countries that know they must interact with the same partners repeatedly through an institution will instead have incentives to comply with agreements in the short term so that they might continue to extract the benefits of co-operation in the long term.
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, PRINCIPAL THEORIES
Institutions thus enhance the utility of a good reputation to countries; they also make punishment more credible.
11 Second, Institutionalists argue that institutions increase information about State behaviour. Recall that uncertainty is a significant reason Realists doubt co-operation can be sustained. Institutions collect information about State behaviour and often make judgments of compliance or non-compliance with particular rules. States thus know they will not be able to ‘get away with it’ if they do not comply with a given rule.
12 Third, Institutionalists note that institutions can greatly increase efficiency. It is costly for States to negotiate with one another on an ad hoc basis. Institutions can reduce the transaction costs of co-ordination by providing a centralized forum in which States can meet. They also provide ‘focal points’—established rules and norms—that allow a wide array of States to quickly settle on a certain course of action. Institutionalism thus provides an explanation for international co-operation based on the same theoretical assumptions that lead Realists to be skeptical of international law and institutions.
13 One way for international lawyers to understand Institutionalism is as a rationalist theoretical and empirical account of how and why international law works. Many of the conclusions reached by Institutionalist scholars will not be surprising to international lawyers, most of whom have long understood the role that → reciprocity and reputation play in bolstering international legal obligations. At its best, however, Institutionalist insights, backed up by careful empirical studies of international institutions broadly defined, can help international lawyers and policymakers in designing more effective and durable institutions and regimes.
14 Liberalism makes for a more complex and less cohesive body of theory than Realism or Institutionalism. The basic insight of the theory is that the national characteristics of individual States matter for their international relations. This view contrasts sharply with both Realist and Institutionalist accounts, in which all States have essentially the same goals and behaviours (at least internationally)—self-interested actors pursuing wealth or survival. Liberal theorists have often emphasized the unique behaviour of liberal States, though more recent work has sought to extend the theory to a general domestic characteristics-based explanation of international relations.
15 One of the most prominent developments within liberal theory has been the phenomenon known as the democratic peace (Doyle). First imagined by Immanuel Kant, the democratic peace describes the absence of war between liberal States, defined as mature liberal democracies. Scholars have subjected this claim to extensive statistical analysis and found, with perhaps the exception of a few borderline cases, it to hold (Brown Lynn-Jones and Miller). Less clear, however, is the theory behind this empirical fact. Theorists of international relations have yet to create a compelling theory of why democratic States do not fight each other. Moreover, the road to the democratic peace may be a particularly bloody one; Edward Mansfield and Jack Snyder have demonstrated convincingly that democratizing States are more likely to go to war than either autocracies or liberal democracies.
16 Andrew Moravcsik has developed a more general liberal theory of international relations, based on three core assumptions: (i) individuals and private groups, not States, are the fundamental actors in world politics (→ Non-State Actors); (ii) States represent some dominant subset of domestic society, whose interests they serve; and (iii) the configuration of these preferences across the international system determines State
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, PRINCIPAL THEORIES
behaviour (Moravcsik). Concerns about the distribution of power or the role of information are taken as fixed constraints on the interplay of socially-derived State preferences.
17 In this view States are not simply ‘black boxes’ seeking to survive and prosper in an anarchic system. They are configurations of individual and group interests who then project those interests into the international system through a particular kind of government. Survival may very well remain a key goal. But commercial interests or ideological beliefs may also be important.
18 Liberal theories are often challenging for international lawyers, because international law has few mechanisms for taking the nature of domestic preferences or regime-type into account. These theories are most useful as sources of insight in designing international institutions, such as courts, that are intended to have an impact on domestic politics or to link up to domestic institutions. The complementary-based jurisdiction of the → International Criminal Court (ICC) is a case in point; understanding the commission of war crimes or crimes against humanity in terms of the domestic structure of a government—typically an absence of any checks and balances—can help lawyers understand why complementary jurisdiction may have a greater impact on the strength of a domestic judicial system over the long term than primary jurisdiction (→ International Criminal Courts and Tribunals, Complementarity and Jurisdiction).
19 Constructivism is not a theory, but rather an ontology: A set of assumptions about the world and human motivation and agency. Its counterpart is not Realism, Institutionalism, or Liberalism, but rather Rationalism. By challenging the rationalist framework that undergirds many theories of international relations, Constructivists create constructivist alternatives in each of these families of theories.
20 In the Constructivist account, the variables of interest to scholars—eg military power, trade relations, international institutions, or domestic preferences—are not important because they are objective facts about the world, but rather because they have certain social meanings (Wendt 2000). This meaning is constructed from a complex and specific mix of history, ideas, norms, and beliefs which scholars must understand if they are to explain State behaviour. For example, Constructivists argue that the nuclear arsenals of the United Kingdom and China, though comparably destructive, have very different meanings to the United States that translate into very different patterns of interaction (Wendt 1995). To take another example, Iain Johnston argues that China has traditionally acted according to Realist assumptions in international relations, but based not on the objective structure of the international system but rather on a specific historical strategic culture.
21 A focus on the social context in which international relations occur leads Constructivists to emphasize issues of identity and belief (for this reason Constructivist theories are sometimes called ideational). The perception of friends and enemies, in-groups and out-groups, fairness and justice all become key determinant of a State’s behaviour. While some Constructivists would accept that States are self-interested, rational actors, they would stress that varying identities and beliefs belie the simplistic notions of rationality under which States pursue simply survival, power, or wealth.
22 Constructivism is also attentive to the role of social norms in international politics. Following March and Olsen, Constructivists distinguish between a ‘logic of consequences’—where actions are rationally chosen to maximize the interests of a
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, PRINCIPAL THEORIES
State—and ‘logic of appropriateness’, where rationality is heavily mediated by social norms. For example, Constructivists would argue that the norm of State sovereignty has profoundly influenced international relations, creating a predisposition for non-interference that precedes any cost-benefit analysis States may undertake. These arguments fit under the Institutionalist rubric of explaining international co-operation, but based on constructed attitudes rather than the rational pursuit of objective interests.
23 Perhaps because of their interest in beliefs and ideology, Constructivism has also emphasized the role of non-State actors more than other approaches. For example, scholars have noted the role of transnational actors like NGOs or transnational corporations in altering State beliefs about issues like the use of land mines in war or international trade. Such ‘norm entrepreneurs’ are able to influence State behaviour through rhetoric or other forms of lobbying, persuasion, and shaming (Keck and Sikkink). Constructivists have also noted the role of international institutions as actors in their own right. While Institutionalist theories, for example, see institutions largely as the passive tools of States, Constructivism notes that international bureaucracies may seek to pursue their own interests (eg free trade or → human rights protection) even against the wishes of the States that created them (Barnett and Finnemore).
F. The English School
24 The English School shares many of Constructivism’s critiques of rationalist theories of international relations. It also emphasizes the centrality of international society and social meanings to the study of world politics (Bull). Fundamentally, however, it does not seek to create testable hypotheses about State behaviour as the other theories do. Instead, its goals are more similar to those of a historian. Detailed observation and rich interpretation is favored over general explanatory models. Hedley Bull, for instance, a leading English School scholar, argued that international law was one of five central institutions mediating the impact of international anarchy and instead creating ‘an anarchical society’.
25 Given their emphasis on context and interpretive methods, it is no surprise that English School writers hold historical understandings to be critical to the study of world politics. It is not enough simply to know the balance of power in the international system, as the Realists would have it. We must also know what preceded that system, how the States involved came to be where they are today, and what might threaten or motivate them in the future. Domestic politics are also important, as are norms and ideologies.
G. Critical Approaches
26 The dominant international relations theories and their underlying positivist epistemology have been challenged from a range of perspectives. Scholars working in Marxist, feminist, post-colonial, and ecological fields have all put forward critiques of international relations’ explanations of State behaviour (→ Colonialism; → Developing Country Approach to International Law; → Feminism, Approach to International Law). Most of these critiques share a concern with the construction of power and the State, which theories like Realism or Institutionalism tend to take for granted.
27 For example, Marxist scholars perceive the emphasis on State-to-State relations as obscuring the more fundamental dynamics of global class relations (→ Marxism). Only by understanding the interests and behaviour of global capital can we make sense of State behaviour, they argue (Cox and Sinclair). Similarly, feminists have sought to explain aspects of State behaviour and its effects by emphasizing gender as a variable of interest
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, PRINCIPAL THEORIES
(Ackerly Stern and True). This focus has lead, for example, to notions of security that move beyond State security (of paramount importance to Realists) to notions of human security. In such a perspective the effects of war, for example, reach far beyond the battlefield to family life and other aspects of social relations.
28 While many theories of international relations are fiercely contested, it is usually inappropriate to see them as rivals over some universal truth about world politics. Rather, each rests on certain assumptions and epistemologies, is constrained within certain specified conditions, and pursues its own analytic goal. While various theories may lead to more or less compelling conclusions about international relations, none is definitively ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Rather, each possesses some tools that can be of use to students of international politics in examining and analyzing rich, multi-causal phenomena.
I Kant Zum ewigen Frieden (Friedrich Nicolovius Königsberg 1795, reprinted by Reclam Ditzingen 1998).
H Bull The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics (Macmillan London 1977).
KN Waltz Theory of International Politics (Addison-Wesley Reading 1979).
RO Keohane After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy (Princeton University Press Princeton 1984).
RD Putnam ‘Diplomacy and Domestic Politics: The Logic of Two-Level Games’ (1988) 42 IntlOrg 427–60.
JG March and JP Olsen Rediscovering Institutions: The Organizational Basis of Politics (The Free Press New York 1989).
DA Baldwin (ed) Neorealism and Neoliberalism: The Contemporary Debate (Columbia University Press New York 1993).
JJ Mearsheimer ‘The False Promise of International Institutions’ (1994) 19(3) International Security 5–49.
JD Fearon ‘Rationalist Explanations for War’ (1995) 49 IntlOrg 379–414.
AI Johnston Cultural Realism: Strategic Culture and Grand Strategy in Chinese History (Princeton University Press Princeton 1995).
A Wendt ‘Constructing International Politics’ (1995) 20(1) International Security 71–81.
ME Brown SM Lynn-Jones and SE Miller (eds) Debating the Democratic Peace (MIT Cambridge 1996).
RW Cox and TJ Sinclair Approaches to World Order (CUP Cambridge 1996).
MW Doyle Ways of War and Peace: Realism, Liberalism, and Socialism (Norton New York 1997).
HV Milner Interests, Institutions, and Information: Domestic Politics and International Relations (Princeton University Press Princeton 1997).
A Moravcsik ‘Taking Preferences Seriously: A Liberal Theory of International Politics’ (1997) 51 IntlOrg 513–53.
ME Keck and K Sikkink Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics (Cornell University Press Ithaca 1998).
R Powell In the Shadow of Power: States and Strategies in International Politics (Princeton University Press Princeton 1999).
KOW Abbott and others ‘The Concept of Legalization’ (2000) 54 IntlOrg 401–19.
A Wendt Social Theory of International Politics (CUP Cambridge 2000).
B Koremenos (ed) ‘The Rational Design of International Institutions’ (2001) 55 IntlOrg 761–1103.
JJ Mearsheimer The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (Norton New York 2001).
MN Barnett and M Finnemore Rules for the World: International Organizations in Global Politics (Cornell University Press Ithaca 2004).
ED Mansfield and J Snyder Electing to Fight: Why Emerging Democracies Go to War (MIT Cambridge 2005).
BA Ackerly M Stern and J True (eds) Feminist Methodologies for International Relations (CUP Cambridge 2006).
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Published in: Wolfrum, R. (Ed.) Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law (Oxford University Press, 2011) http://www.mpepil.com
- Faculty Profile at NUPI
- Read Neumann’s Russia as a Great Power, 1815-2007 (Journal of International Relations and Development, 2008) here (pdf)
- Read Neumann & Sending’s Governance to Governmentality: Analyzing NGOs, States, and Power (International Studies Quarterly, 2006) here (pdf)
- Read Neumann’s European Identity and its Changing Others (2006 NUPI working paper) here (pdf)
- Read Neumann & Gstohl’s Lilliputians in Gulliver’s World? Small States in International Relations (2004 Working Paper) here (pdf)
- Read Neumann’s Russia as Europe’s Other (1995) here (pdf)
Search Theory Talks
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.theory-talks.org/p/contact.html.
The Martin Institute
University of Idaho Moscow, Idaho 83844-3229
The Martin Archives
The Martin Archives are part of the Martin Institute and were created by Dr. Jack E. Vincent, Borah Professor, Political Science, University of Idaho. Vita
The Martin Archives are the data system retrieval system for the Martin Institute for Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution. Portions are accessible through this site.
Peace Research Support: includes access to data sets relevant to peace research gathered from research centers throughout the world. The Martin Institute routinely merges initially non- compatible sets (by standardizing subject order), estimates missing data (by linear trend, series mean or multiple regression), provides data transformations (by ranking, logging, z-scoring, etc.) and provides data summaries (by displaying means, medians, etc.). All sets are available to Martin Fellows and Associates without cost. They are available to others at a reasonable cost. Descriptions of the sets are available, without cost, through this site.
Programming Support: provides complete statistical analysis (factor analysis, discriminant function analysis, time series analysis, etc.) of any data set in the Martin Archives or for data supplied to the Martin Institute. This is done at a reasonable cost based on the scope of the project.
Publication Support: includes the Martin Journal of Peace and Conflict Research and Martin Journal of Conflict Resolution Both accept articles for peer review and possible publication and/or distribution on the Internet. Longer contributions can be placed in the Martin Monograph Series. See: stylesheet. See also: Borah Research Papers. Martin Papers.,
Spring 2009 IR Theory course wiki Home
Part of an International Relations Theory course, this Wiki was designed as a collaborative effort to compile a database which can be used to inform readers of IR Theory. Feel free to navigate the topics on the left hand side of this page to learn more about some of the most well-known and frequently cited authors that are going to guide our expedition in making sense of the IR Theory.
What is IR Theory?
World politics is full of dramatic singular events: wars, financial crises, terrorist attacks, peace talks, revolutions, popular campaigns. International Relations (IR) theory helps us explain and understand those events by equipping us with the appropriate conceptual tools to place these events into context (from the Syllabus). See also: Modern Theories of International Relations
What are we discussing?
Throughout the course of this semester this wiki will feature the works of the following philosophers / authors / scholars:
Thucydides – The History of the Peloponnesian War
Niccolo Machiavelli – The Prince & The Discourses
Thomas Hobbes – Leviathan
John Locke – Two Treatises of Government
Jean-Jacques Rousseau – The Social Contract
Immanuel Kant – Perpetual Peace
G.W.F. Hegel – Introduction to The Philosophy of History & The Philosophy of Right
John Mearsheimer – “The False Promise of International Institutions”
Andrew Moravcsik – “Taking Preferences Seriously: A Liberal Theory of International Politics”
Alexander Wendt – “Anarchy is What States Make of It: The Social Construction of Power Politics”
Thomas Risse – “‘Let’s Argue!’: Communicative Action in World Politics”
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson – “Bridging the Gap: Toward A Realist-Constructivist Dialogue”
J. Samuel Barkin – “Realist Constructivism”
J. Ann Tickner – “You Just Don’t Understand: Troubled Engagements Between Feminists and IR Theorists” & “Continuing the Conversation”
Robert Keohane – “Beyond Dichotomy: Conversations Between International Relations and Feminist Theory”
Naeem Inayatullah and David L. Blaney – International Relations and the Problem of Difference
In addition to:
Edward Halett Carr – Twenty Years’ Crisis
Tzvetan Todorov – Conquest of America
JOHN J. MEARSHEIMER
● Why do states want power?
● How much power is enough?
● What causes great power war?
This chapter examines a body of realist theories that argue states care deeply about
the balance of power and compete among themselves either to gain power at the
expense of others or at least to make sure they do not lose power. They do so because
the structure of the international system leaves them little choice if they want to
survive. This competition for power makes for a dangerous world where states sometimes
fight each other. There are, however, important differences among structural
realists. In particular, defensive realists argue that structural factors limit how much
power states can gain, which works to ameliorate security competition. Offensive
realists, on the other hand, maintain that the system’s structure encourages states to
maximize their share of world power, to include pursuing hegemony, which tends to
intensify security competition. The subsequent analysis revolves around four questions.
Why do states want power? How much power do they want? What causes war? Can
China rise peacefully (the thematic of the case study)?.
JOHN J. MEARSHEIMER
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JOHN J. MEARSHEIMER
Realists believe that power is the currency of international politics.Great powers, the main
actors in the realists’ account, pay careful attention to how much economic and military
power they have relative to each other. It is important not only to have a substantial
amount of power, but also to make sure that no other state sharply shifts the balance of
power in its favour. For realists, international politics is synonymous with power politics.
There are, however, substantial differences among realists. The most basic divide is
reflected in the answer to the simple but important question: why do states want power?
For classical realists like Hans Morgenthau (1948a), the answer is human nature.Virtually
everyone is born with a will to power hardwired into them, which effectively means that
great powers are led by individuals who are bent on having their state dominate its rivals.
Nothing can be done to alter that drive to be all-powerful. A more detailed treatment of
classical realism can be found in Chapter 3.
For structural realists, human nature has little to do with why states want power.
Instead, it is the structure or architecture of the international system that forces states to
pursue power. In a system where there is no higher authority that sits above the great
powers, and where there is no guarantee that one will not attack another, it makes
eminently good sense for each state to be powerful enough to protect itself in the event it
is attacked. In essence, great powers are trapped in an iron cage where they have little
choice but to compete with each other for power if they hope to survive.
Structural realist theories ignore cultural differences among states as well as differences
in regime type, mainly because the international system creates the same basic incentives
for all great powers. Whether a state is democratic or autocratic matters relatively little
for how it acts towards other states.Nor does it matter much who is in charge of conducting
a state’s foreign policy. Structural realists treat states as if they were black boxes:
they are assumed to be alike, save for the fact that some states are more or less powerful
There is a significant divide between structural realists, which is reflected in the answer
to a second question that concerns realists: how much power is enough? Defensive realists
like Kenneth Waltz (1979) maintain that it is unwise for states to try to maximize their
share of world power, because the system will punish them if they attempt to gain too
much power. The pursuit of hegemony, they argue, is especially foolhardy. Offensive
realists like John Mearsheimer (2001) take the opposite view; they maintain that it makes
good strategic sense for states to gain as much power as possible and, if the circumstances
are right, to pursue hegemony. The argument is not that conquest or domination is good
in itself, but instead that having overwhelming power is the best way to ensure one’s own
survival. For classical realists, power is an end in itself; for structural realists, power is a
means to an end and the ultimate end is survival.
Power is based on the material capabilities that a state controls. The balance of power is
mainly a function of the tangible military assets that states possess, such as armoured
divisions and nuclear weapons.However, states have a second kind of power, latent power,
which refers to the socio-economic ingredients that go into building military power.
Latent power is based on a state’s wealth and the size of its overall population. Great
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powers need money, technology, and personnel to build military forces and to fight wars,
and a state’s latent power refers to the raw potential it can draw on when competing with
rival states. It should be clear from this discussion that war is not the only way that states
can gain power. They can also do so by increasing the size of their population and their
share of global wealth, as China has done over the past few decades.
Let us now consider in greater detail the structural realists’ explanation for why states
pursue power, and then explore why defensive and offensive realists differ about how
much power states want. The focus will then shift to examining different structural realist
explanations about the causes of great power war. Finally, I will illuminate these theoretical
issues with a case study that assesses whether China can rise peacefully.
Why do states want power?
There is a simple structural realist explanation for why states compete among themselves
for power. It is based on five straightforward assumptions about the international system.
None of these assumptions alone says that states should attempt to gain power at each
other’s expense. But when they are married together, they depict a world of ceaseless
The first assumption is that great powers are the main actors in world politics and they
operate in an anarchic system. This is not to say that the system is characterized by chaos
or disorder. Anarchy is an ordering principle; it simply means that there is no centralized
authority or ultimate arbiter that stands above states. The opposite of anarchy is hierarchy,
which is the ordering principle of domestic politics.
The second assumption is that all states possess some offensive military capability. Each
state, in other words, has the power to inflict some harm on its neighbour.Of course, that
capability varies among states and for any state it can change over time.
The third assumption is that states can never be certain about the intentions of other
states. States ultimately want to know whether other states are determined to use force to
alter the balance of power (revisionist states), or whether they are satisfied enough with it
that they have no interest in using force to change it (status quo states). The problem, however,
is that it is almost impossible to discern another state’s intentions with a high degree
of certainty. Unlike military capabilities, intentions cannot be empirically verified.
Intentions are in the minds of decision-makers and they are especially difficult to discern.
One might respond that policy-makers disclose their intentions in speeches and policy
documents, which can be assessed. The problem with that argument is policy-makers
sometimes lie about or conceal their true intentions. But even if one could determine
another state’s intentions today, there is no way to determine its future intentions. It is
impossible to know who will be running foreign policy in any state five or ten years from
now, much less whether they will have aggressive intentions. This is not to say that states
can be certain that their neighbours have or will have revisionist goals. Instead, the
argument is that policy-makers can never be certain whether they are dealing with a
revisionist or status quo state.
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JOHN J. MEARSHEIMER
The fourth assumption is that the main goal of states is survival. States seek to maintain
their territorial integrity and the autonomy of their domestic political order. They can
pursue other goals like prosperity and protecting human rights, but those aims must
always take a back seat to survival, because if a state does not survive, it cannot pursue
those other goals.
The fifth assumption is that states are rational actors, which is to say they are capable of
coming up with sound strategies that maximize their prospects for survival. This is not to
deny that they miscalculate from time to time. Because states operate with imperfect
information in a complicated world, they sometimes make serious mistakes.
Again, none of these assumptions by themselves says that states will or should compete
with each other for power. For sure, the third assumption leaves open the possibility that
there is a revisionist state in the system. By itself, however, it says nothing about why all
states pursue power. It is only when all the assumptions are combined together that
circumstances arise where states not only become preoccupied with the balance of power,
but acquire powerful incentives to gain power at each other’s expense.
To begin with, great powers fear each other. There is little trust among them. They worry
about the intentions of other states, in large part because they are so hard to divine. Their
greatest fear is that another state might have the capability as well as the motive to attack
them. This danger is compounded by the fact that states operate in an anarchic system,
which means that there is no nightwatchman who can rescue them if they are threatened
by another country.When a state dials the emergency services for help, there is nobody in
the international system to answer the call.
The level of fear between states varies from case to case, but it can never be reduced to
an inconsequential level. The stakes are simply too great to allow that to happen.
International politics is a potentially deadly business where there is the ever-present
possibility of war, which often means mass killing on and off the battlefield, and which
might even lead to a state’s destruction.
Great powers also understand that they operate in a self-help world. They have to
rely on themselves to ensure their survival, because other states are potential threats
and because there is no higher authority they can turn to if they are attacked. This is
not to deny that states can form alliances, which are often useful for dealing with
dangerous adversaries. In the final analysis, however, states have no choice but to put their
own interests ahead of the interests of other states as well as the so-called international
Fearful of other states, and knowing that they operate in a self-help world, states quickly
realize that the best way to survive is to be especially powerful. The reasoning here is
straightforward: the more powerful a state is relative to its competitors, the less likely it is
that it will be attacked. No country in the Western Hemisphere, for example, would dare
strike the USA, because it is so powerful relative to its neighbours.
This simple logic drives great powers to look for opportunities to shift the balance of
power in their favour. At the very least, states want to make sure that no other state gains
power at their expense. Of course, each state in the system understands this logic, which
leads to an unremitting competition for power. In essence, the structure of the system
forces every great power – even those that would otherwise be satisfied with the status
quo – to think and act when appropriate like a revisionist state.
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One might think that peace must be possible if all of the major powers are content with
the status quo. The problem, however, is that it is impossible for states to be sure about
each other’s intentions, especially future intentions. A neighbour might look and sound
like a status quo power, but in reality is a revisionist state. Or it might be a status quo state
today, but change its stripes tomorrow. In an anarchic system, where there is no ultimate
arbiter, states that want to survive have little choice but to assume the worst about the
intentions of other states and to compete for power with them. This is the tragedy of great
The structural imperatives described above are reflected in the famous concept of the
security dilemma (Herz 1950; see also Glaser 1997). The essence of that dilemma is
that most steps a great power takes to enhance its own security decrease the security of
other states. For example, any country that improves its position in the global balance of
power does so at the expense of other states, which lose relative power. In this zero-sum
world, it is difficult for a state to improve its prospects for survival without threatening the
survival of other states. Of course, the threatened states then do whatever is necessary to
ensure their survival, which, in turn, threatens other states, all of which leads to perpetual
How much power is enough?
There is disagreement among structural realists about how much power states should aim
to control. Offensive realists argue that states should always be looking for opportunities
to gain more power and should do so whenever it seems feasible. States should maximize
power, and their ultimate goal should be hegemony, because that is the best way to
While defensive realists recognize that the international system creates strong incentives
to gain additional increments of power, they maintain that it is strategically foolish to
pursue hegemony. That would amount to overexpansion of the worst kind. States, by their
account, should not maximize power, but should instead strive for what Kenneth Waltz
calls an ‘appropriate amount of power’ (1979: 40). This restraint is largely the result of
Defensive realists emphasize that if any state becomes too powerful, balancing
will occur. Specifically, the other great powers will build up their militaries and form a
balancing coalition that will leave the aspiring hegemon at least less secure, and maybe
even destroy it. This is what happened to Napoleonic France (1792–1815), Imperial
Germany (1900–18), and Nazi Germany (1933–45) when they made a run at dominating
Europe. Each aspiring hegemon was decisively defeated by an alliance that included all, or
almost all, of the other great powers.Otto von Bismarck’s genius, according to the defensive
realists, was that he understood that too much power was bad for Germany, because it
would cause its neighbours to balance against it. So, he wisely put the brakes on German
expansion after winning stunning victories in the Austro-Prussian (1866) and Franco-
Prussian (1870–1) Wars.
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Some defensive realists argue that there is an offence–defence balance, which indicates
how easy or difficult it is to conquer territory or defeat a defender in battle. In other
words, it tells you whether or not offence pays. Defensive realists maintain that the
offence–defence balance is usually heavily weighted in the defender’s favour, and thus any
state that attempts to gain large amounts of additional power is likely to end up fighting
a series of losing wars. Accordingly, states will recognize the futility of offence and concentrate
instead on maintaining their position in the balance of power. If they do go on
the offensive, their aims will be limited.
Defensive realists further argue that, even when conquest is feasible, it does not pay: the
costs outweigh the benefits. Because of nationalism, it is especially difficult, sometimes
impossible, for the conqueror to subdue the conquered. The ideology of nationalism,
which is pervasive and potent, is all about self-determination, which virtually guarantees
that occupied populations will rise up against the occupier.Moreover, it is difficult for foreigners
to exploit modern industrial economies, mainly because information technologies
require openness and freedom, which are rarely found in occupations.
In sum, not only is conquest difficult but, even in those rare instances where great
powers conquer another state, they get few benefits and lots of trouble. According to
defensive realism, these basic facts about life in the international system should be apparent
to all states and should limit their appetite for more power. Otherwise, they run the
risk of threatening their own survival. If all states recognize this logic – and they should
if they are rational actors – security competition should not be particularly intense, and
there should be few great power wars and certainly no central wars (conflicts involving all
or almost all the great powers).
Offensive realists do not buy these arguments. They understand that threatened
states usually balance against dangerous foes, but they maintain that balancing is often inefficient,
especially when it comes to forming balancing coalitions, and that this inefficiency
provides opportunities for a clever aggressor to take advantage of its adversaries.
Furthermore, threatened states sometimes opt for buck-passing rather than joining a balancing
coalition. In other words, they attempt to get other states to assume the burden of
checking a powerful opponent while they remain on the sidelines. This kind of behaviour,
which is commonplace among great powers, also creates opportunities for aggression.
Offensive realists also take issue with the claim that the defender has a significant
advantage over the attacker, and thus offence hardly ever pays. Indeed, the historical record
shows that the side that initiates war wins more often than not. And while it may be
difficult to gain hegemony, the USA did accomplish this feat in the Western Hemisphere
during the nineteenth century. Also, Imperial Germany came close to achieving hegemony
in Europe during the First World War.
Both defensive and offensive realists agree, however, that nuclear weapons have
little utility for offensive purposes, except where only one side in a conflict has them. The
reason is simple: if both sides have a survivable retaliatory capability, neither gains an
advantage from striking first.Moreover, both camps agree that conventional war between
nuclear-armed states is possible but not likely, because of the danger of escalation to the
Finally, while offensive realists acknowledge that sometimes conquest does not pay, they
also point out that sometimes it does.Conquerors can exploit a vanquished state’s economy
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for gain, even in the information age. Indeed, Peter Liberman argues that information
technologies have an ‘Orwellian’ dimension, which facilitates repression in important ways
(1996: 126).While nationalism surely has the potential to make occupation a nasty undertaking,
occupied states are sometimes relatively easy to govern, as was the case in France
under the Nazis (1940–4).Moreover, a victorious state need not occupy a defeated state to
gain an advantage over it. The victor might annex a slice of the defeated state’s territory,break
it into two or more smaller states, or simply disarm it and prevent it from rearming.
For all of these reasons, offensive realists expect great powers to be constantly looking
for opportunities to gain advantage over each other, with the ultimate prize being hegemony.
The security competition in this world will tend to be intense and there are likely to
be great power wars.Moreover, the grave danger of central war will arise whenever there is
a potential hegemon on the scene.
The past behaviour of the great powers has been more in accordance with the
predictions of offensive rather than defensive realism. During the first half of the twentieth
century, there were two world wars in which three great powers attempted and failed to
gain regional hegemony: Imperial Germany, Imperial Japan, and Nazi Germany. The
second half of that century was dominated by the Cold War, in which the USA and
the Soviet Union engaged in an intense security competition that came close to blows
in the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962).
Many defensive realists acknowledge that the great powers often behave in ways that
contradict their theory. They maintain, however, that those states were not behaving
rationally, and thus it is not surprising that Imperial Germany, Imperial Japan, and Nazi
Germany were destroyed in those wars they foolishly started. States that maximize power,
they argue, do not enhance their prospects for survival; they undermine it.
This is certainly a legitimate line of argument but, once defensive realists acknowledge
that states often act in strategically foolish ways, they need to explain when states act
according to the dictates of their structural realist theory and when they do not. Thus,
Waltz famously argues that his theory of international politics needs to be supplemented
by a separate theory of foreign policy that can explain misguided state behavior.However,
that additional theory, which invariably emphasizes domestic political considerations, is
not a structural realist theory.
The theories of defensive realists such as Barry Posen, Jack Snyder, and Stephen Van
Evera conform closely to this simple Waltzian template. Each argues that structural logic
can explain a reasonable amount of state behaviour, but a substantial amount of it cannot
be explained by structural realism. Therefore, an alternative theory is needed to explain
those instances where great powers act in non-strategic ways. To that end, Posen (1984)
relies on organizational theory, Snyder (1991) on domestic regime type, and Van Evera
(1999) on militarism. Each is proposing a theory of foreign policy, to use Waltz’s language.
In essence, defensive realists have to go beyond structural realism to explain how states act
in the international system. They must combine domestic-level and system-level theories
to explain how the world works.
Offensive realists, on the other hand, tend to rely exclusively on structural arguments to
explain international politics. They do not need a distinct theory of foreign policy, mainly
because the world looks a lot like the offensive realists say it should. This means, however,
that they must make the case that it made strategic sense for Germany to pursue hegemony
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in Europe between 1900 and 1945, and for Japan to do the same in Asia between 1931 and
1945. Of course, offensive realists recognize that states occasionally act in strategically
foolish ways, and that those cases contradict their theory. Defensive realists, as emphasized,
have a fall-back position that is not available to offensive realists: they can explain
cases of non-strategic behaviour with a separate theory of foreign policy.
What causes great power war?
Structural realists recognize that states can go to war for any number of reasons, which
makes it impossible to come up with a simple theory that points to a single factor as the
main cause of war.There is no question that states sometimes start wars to gain power over
a rival state and enhance their security. But security is not always the principle driving
force behind a state’s decision for war. Ideology or economic considerations are sometimes
paramount. For example, nationalism was the main reason Bismarck launched wars
against Denmark (1864), Austria (1866), and France (1870–1). The Prussian leader
wanted to create a unified Germany.
Wars motivated largely by non-security considerations are consistent with structural
realism as long as the aggressor does not purposely act in ways that would harm its
position in the balance of power. Actually, victory in war almost always improves a state’s
relative power position, regardless of the reason for initiating the conflict. The German
state that emerged after 1870 was much more powerful than the Prussian state Bismarck
took control of in 1862.
Although isolating a particular cause of all wars is not a fruitful enterprise, structural
realists maintain that the likelihood of war is affected by the architecture of the international
system. Some realists argue that the key variable is the number of great powers or
poles in the system,while other focus on the distribution of power among the major states.
A third approach looks at how changes in the distribution of power affect the likelihood of
war. Finally, some realists claim that variations in the offence–defence balance have the
greatest influence on the prospects for war.
The polarity of the system
A longstanding debate among realists is whether bipolarity (two great powers) is more or
less war-prone than multipolarity (three or more great powers). It is generally agreed that
the state system was multipolar from its inception in 1648 until the Second World War
ended in 1945. It was only bipolar during the Cold War, which began right after the Second
World War and ran until 1989.
It is tempting to argue that it is clear from twentieth-century European history that
bipolarity is more peaceful than multipolarity. After all, there were two world wars in the
first half of that century, when Europe was multipolar, while there was no shooting war
between the USA and the Soviet Union during the latter half of that century, when the
system was bipolar.
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This line of argument looks much less persuasive, however, when the timeline includes
the nineteenth century. There was no war between any European great powers from 1815
to 1853, and again from 1871 to 1914. Those lengthy periods of relative stability, which
occurred in multipolar Europe, compare favourably with the ‘long peace’ of the Cold War.
Thus, it is difficult to determine whether bipolarity or multipolarity is more prone to great
power war by looking at modern European history.
Proponents of these rival perspectives, however, do not rely on history alone to make
their case; they also employ theoretical arguments. Realists who think bipolarity is less
war-prone offer three supporting arguments. First, they maintain that there is more
opportunity for great powers to fight each other in multipolarity. There are only two great
powers in bipolarity, which means there is only one great power versus great power dyad.
In mulitpolarity, by contrast, there are three potential conflict dyads when there are three
great powers, and even more as the number of great powers increases.
Second, there tends to be greater equality between the great powers in bipolarity
because, the more great powers there are in the system, the more likely it is that wealth and
population, the principal building blocks of military power, will be distributed unevenly
among the great powers. And, when there are power imbalances, the stronger often have
opportunities to take advantage of the weaker. Furthermore, it is possible in a multipolar
system for two or more great powers to gang up on a third great power. Such behaviour is
impossible, by definition, in bipolarity.
Third, there is greater potential for miscalculation in multipolarity, and miscalculation
often contributes to the outbreak of war. Specifically, there is more clarity about potential
threats in bipolarity, because there is only one other great power. Those two states
invariably focus on each other, reducing the likelihood that they will misgauge each other’s
capabilities or intentions. In contrast, there are a handful of great powers in multipolarity
and they usually operate in a fluid environment, where identifying friends from foes as
well as their relative strength is more difficult.
Balancing is also said to be more efficient in bipolar systems, because each great power
has no choice but to directly confront the other. After all, there are no other great powers
that can do the balancing or can be part of a balancing coalition and, although lesser
powers can be useful allies, they cannot decide the overall balance of power. In multipolarity,
however, threatened states will often be tempted to pass the buck to other threatened
states. Although buck-passing is an attractive strategy, it can lead to circumstances where
aggressors think they can isolate and defeat an adversary. Of course, threatened states can
choose not to pass the buck and instead form a balancing coalition again the threatening
state. But putting together alliances is often an uncertain process. An aggressor might
conclude that it can gain its objectives before the opposing coalition is fully formed. These
dynamics are absent from the simple world of bipolarity, where the two rivals have only
each other to think about.
Not all realists, however, accept the claim that bipolarity facilitates peace. Some argue
that multipolarity is less war-prone. In this view, the more great powers there are in the
system, the better the prospects for peace. This optimism is based on two considerations.
First, deterrence is much easier in multipolarity, because there are more states that can
join together to confront an especially aggressive state with overwhelming force. In
bipolarity, there are no other balancing partners. Balancing in multipolarity might be
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inefficient sometimes, but eventually the coalition forms and the aggressor is defeated, as
Napoleonic France, Imperial Germany, Imperial Japan, and Nazi Germany all learned the
Second, there is much less hostility among the great powers in multipolarity, because
the amount of attention they pay to each other is less than in bipolarity. In a world with
only two great powers, each concentrates its attention on the other. But, in multipolarity,
states cannot afford to be overly concerned with any one of their neighbours. They have to
spread around their attention to all the great powers. Plus, the many interactions among
the various states in a multipolar system create numerous cross-cutting cleavages that
mitigate conflict. Complexity, in short, dampens the prospects for great power war.
With the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union many realists argue
that unipolarity has arrived (Wohlforth 1999). The USA, in other words, is the sole great
power. It has achieved global hegemony, a feat no other country has ever accomplished.
Other realists, however, argue that the post-Cold War system is multipolar, not unipolar.
The USA, they maintain, is by far the most powerful state on earth, but there are other
great powers, such as China and Russia.
What are the consequences for international stability if the international system is
unipolar? Such a world is likely to be more peaceful than either a bipolar or multipolar
world.Most importantly, there can be neither security competition nor war between great
powers in unipolarity, because it includes just one great power. Furthermore, the minor
powers are likely to go out of their way to avoid fighting the sole pole. Think about the
Western Hemisphere, where the USA clearly enjoys hegemony. No state in that region
would willingly start a war with the USA for fear of being easily and decisively defeated.
This same logic would apply to all regions of the world if the USA was a global hegemon.
There are two caveats to this line of argument. If the hegemon feels secure in the absence
of other great powers and pulls most of its military forces back to its own region, security
competition and maybe even war is likely to break out in the regions it abandons.After all,
the sole pole will no longer be present in those places to maintain order. On the other
hand, the hegemon might think that its superior position creates a window of opportunity
for it to use its awesome military power to reorder the politics of distant regions. A global
hegemon engaged in large-scale social engineering at the end of a rifle barrel will not
facilitate world peace. Still, there cannot be war between great powers in unipolarity.
Balanced or imbalanced power
Rather than look to the number of great powers to explain the outbreak of war, some
realists argue that the key explanatory variable is how much power each of them controls.
Power can be distributed more or less evenly among the great powers.Although the power
ratios among all the great powers affect the prospects for peace, the key ratio is that
between the two most powerful countries in the system. If there is a lopsided gap, the number
one state is a preponderant power, simply because it is so much more powerful than all
the others.1 However, if the gap between numbers one and two is small, there is said to be
a rough balance of power, even though power might not be distributed equally among all
the great powers. The key point is that there is no marked difference in power between the
two leading states.
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Some realists maintain that the presence of an especially powerful state facilitates peace.
A preponderant power, so the argument goes, is likely to feel secure because it is so powerful
relative to its competitors; therefore, it will have little need to use force to improve its
position in the balance of power.Moreover, none of the other great powers is likely to pick
a fight with the leading power, because they would almost certainly lose. However, war
among the lesser great powers is still possible, because the balance of power between any
two of them will at least sometimes be roughly equal, thus allowing for the possibility that
one might defeat the other. But, even then, if the preponderant power believes that such
wars might upset a favourable international order, it should have the wherewithal to stop
them, or at least make them unusual events.
The historical case that proponents of this perspective emphasize is the period between
Napoleon’s defeat in 1815 and the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. There were only
five wars between the great powers during these hundred years (1853–6, 1859, 1866,
1870–1, 1904–5), and none was a central war like the two conflicts that bracket the period.
This lengthy period of relative peace – sometimes called the Pax Britannica – is said to be the
consequence of Britain’s commanding position in the international system. Conversely,
the reason there were central wars before and after this period is that Napoleonic France and
Imperial Germany, respectively,were roughly equal in power to Britain.
Other realists take the opposite view and argue that preponderance increases the chance
of war. Indeed, central wars are likely when there is an especially powerful country in the
system.A preponderant power, according to this perspective, is a potential hegemon. It has
the wherewithal to make a run at dominating the system, which is the best guarantee of
survival in international anarchy. Therefore, it will not be satisfied with the status quo, but
instead will look for opportunities to gain hegemony.When there is rough equality among
the great powers, no state can make a serious run at hegemony, ruling out deadly central
wars. Great power wars are still possible, but the fact that power tends to be rather evenly
distributed reduces the incentives for picking fights with other great powers.
Proponents of this viewpoint argue that the Napoleonic Wars were largely due to the
fact that France was a potential hegemon by the late eighteenth century. The two world
wars happened because Germany was twice in a position during the first half of the
twentieth century to make a run at European hegemony. The long period of relative peace
from 1815 to 1914 was not due to the Pax Britannica, because Britain was not a preponderant
power. After all, no balancing coalition ever formed against Britain, which was
hardly feared by Europe’s continental powers. The reason there were lengthy periods of
peace in Europe during these hundred years is that there was a rough balance of power in
multipolar Europe. Unbalanced multipolarity, not balanced multipolarity, increases the
risks of great power war.
Power shifts and war
Other realists maintain that focusing on static indicators like the number of great powers
or how much power each controls is wrongheaded. They claim that instead the focus
should be on the dynamics of the balance of power, especially on significant changes that
take place in the distribution of power (Copeland 2000). Probably the best known
argument in this school of thought is that a preponderant power confronted with a rising
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challenger creates an especially dangerous situation, because a central war usually results.
The dominant state, knowing its days at the pinnacle of power are numbered, has strong
incentives to launch a preventive war against the challenger to halt its rise. Of course, the
declining state has to act while it still enjoys a decided power advantage over its growing
rival. Some scholars argue that the rising power is likely to initiate the war in this scenario.
But that makes little sense, because time is on the side of the ascending power, which does
not need a war to catch up with and overtake the leading state.
The origins of the two world wars are said to illustrate this line of argument. Germany
was the dominant power in Europe before both conflicts, but each time it faced a rising
challenger to its east: Russia before 1914 and the Soviet Union before 1939. To forestall
decline and maintain its commanding position in the European balance of power,
Germany launched preventive wars in 1914 and 1939, both of which turned into devastating
The offence–defence balance
As noted, some defensive realists argue that there is an offence–defence balance
which almost always favours the defence, and thus works to dampen security competition.
As such, that balance is a force for peace. Some defensive realists, however, allow for significant
variation in the balance between defence and offence, and argue that offensive
advantage is likely to result in war,while defence dominance facilitates peace. For example,
the Second World War occurred because the tank and the dive bomber,when incorporated
into a blitzkrieg doctrine, markedly shifted the offence–defence balance in the offence’s
favour. On the other hand, there was no shooting war between the USA and the Soviet
Union during the Cold War, because the coming of nuclear weapons sharply shifted the
balance in the defence’s favour.
The Chinese economy has been growing at
an impressive pace since the early 1980s,
and many experts expect it to continue
expanding at a similar rate over the next few
decades. If so, China, with its huge population,
will eventually have the wherewithal to
build an especially formidable military.
China is almost certain to become a military
powerhouse, but what China will do with its
military muscle, and how the USA and
China’s Asian neighbours will react to its
rise, remain open questions.
There is no single structural realist answer
to these questions. Some realist theories
predict that China’s ascent will lead to serious
instability, while others provide reasons
to think that a powerful China can have relatively
peaceful relations with its neighbours
as well as the USA. Let us consider some of
these different perspectives, starting with
offensive realism, which predicts that a rising
China and the USA will engage in an
intense security competition with considerable
potential for war.
Can China rise peacefully?
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In sum, a variety of structural arguments attempt to explain when great power war is
more or less likely. Each has a different underlying causal logic and each looks at the
historical record in a different way.
The rise of China according to offensive realism
The ultimate goal of the great powers, according to offensive realism, is to gain hegemony,
because that is the best guarantor of survival. In practice, it is almost impossible for any
country to achieve global hegemony, because it is too hard to project and sustain power
around the planet and onto the territory of distant great powers. The best outcome that a
state can hope for is to be a regional hegemon, which means dominating one’s own geographical
area. The USA’s ‘Founding Fathers’ and their successors understood this basic
logic and they worked assiduously to make the USA the dominant power in the Western
Hemisphere. It finally achieved regional hegemony in 1898.While the USA has grown even
more powerful since then, and is today the most powerful state in the system, it is not a
States that gain regional hegemony have a further aim: they seek to prevent great powers
in other geographical regions from duplicating their feat. Regional hegemons do not
want peer competitors. Instead, they want to keep other regions divided among several
major states, who will then compete with each other and not be in a position to focus on
them. Thus, after achieving regional dominance, the USA has gone to great lengths to
prevent other great powers from controlling Asia and Europe. There were four great
powers in the twentieth century that had the capability to make a run at regional
hegemony: Imperial Germany (1900–18), Imperial Japan (1931–45), Nazi Germany
(1933–45), and the Soviet Union (1945–89). In each case, the USA played a key role in
defeating and dismantling those aspiring hegemons. In short, the ideal situation for any
great power is to be the only regional hegemon in the world.
If offensive realism is correct, we should expect a rising China to imitate the USA and
attempt to become a regional hegemon in Asia. China will seek to maximize the power gap
between itself and its neighbours, especially Japan and Russia. China will want to make
sure that it is so powerful that no state in Asia has the wherewithal to threaten it. An
increasingly powerful China is also likely to try to push US military forces out of Asia,
much the way the USA pushed the European great powers out of the Western Hemisphere
in the nineteenth century. China can be expected to come up with its own version of the
From China’s perspective, these policy goals make good strategic sense. Beijing should
want a militarily weak Japan and Russia as its neighbours, just as the USA prefers a
militarily weak Canada and Mexico on its borders. All Chinese remember what happened
in the last century when Japan was powerful and China was weak. Furthermore, why
would a powerful China accept US military forces operating in its backyard? US policymakers,
after all, become incensed when other great powers send their military forces into
the Western Hemisphere. They are invariably seen as a potential threat to US security. The
same logic should apply to China.
It is clear from the historical record how US policy-makers will react if China attempts
to dominate Asia. The USA does not tolerate peer competitors, as it demonstrated in the
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JOHN J. MEARSHEIMER
twentieth century; it is determined to remain the only regional hegemon. Therefore,
the USA will work hard to contain China and ultimately to weaken it to the point where it
is no longer a threat to control the commanding heights in Asia. In essence, the USA is
likely to behave towards China much the way it behaved towards the Soviet Union during
the Cold War.
China’s neighbours are also sure to fear its rise, and they too will do whatever they can
to prevent it from achieving regional hegemony. In fact, there is already evidence that
countries like India, Japan, and Russia, as well as smaller powers like Singapore, South
Korea, and Vietnam, are worried about China’s ascendancy and are looking for ways to
contain it. In the end, they will join a US-led balancing coalition to check China’s rise,
much the way Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and even China, joined forces with
the USA to contain the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
The rise of China according to defensive realism
In contrast to offensive realism, defensive realism offers a more optimistic story about
China’s rise. For sure, defensive realists recognize that the international system creates
strong incentives for states to want additional increments of power to ensure their
survival. A mighty China will be no exception; it will look for opportunities to shift the
balance of power in its favour.Moreover, both the USA and China’s neighbors will have to
balance against China to keep it in check. Security competition will not disappear
altogether from Asia as China grows more powerful. Defensive realists are not starry-eyed
Nevertheless, defensive realism provides reason to think that the security competition
surrounding China’s rise will not be intense, and that China should be able to coexist
peacefully with both its neighbours and the USA. For starters, it does not make strategic
sense for great powers to pursue hegemony, because their rivals will form a balancing
coalition and thwart – maybe even crush – them. It is much smarter for China’s leaders to
act like Bismarck, who never tried to dominate Europe, but still made Germany great,
rather than Kaiser Wilhelm or Adolf Hitler, who both made a run at hegemony and led
Germany to ruin. This is not to deny that China will attempt to gain power in Asia. But
structure dictates that it will have limited aims; it will not be so foolish as to try to
maximize its share of world power. A powerful China with a limited appetite should be
reasonably easy to contain and to engage in cooperative endeavors.
The presence of nuclear weapons is another cause for optimism. It is difficult for any
great power to expand when confronted by other powers with nuclear weapons. India,
Russia, and the USA all have nuclear arsenals, and Japan could quickly go nuclear if it felt
threatened by China. These countries, which are likely to form the core of an anti-China
balancing coalition,will not be easy for China to push around as long as they have nuclear
weapons. In fact, China is likely to act cautiously towards them for fear of triggering a
conflict that might escalate to the nuclear level. In short,nuclear weapons will be a force for
peace if China continues its rise.
Finally, it is hard to see what China gains by conquering other Asian countries.
China’s economy has been growing at an impressive pace without foreign adventures,
proving that conquest is unnecessary for accumulating great wealth. Moreover, if
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China starts conquering and occupying countries, it is likely to run into fierce resistance
from the populations which fall under its control. The US experience in Iraq should be a
warning to China that the benefits of expansion in the age of nationalism are outweighed
by the costs.
Although these considerations indicate that China’s rise should be relatively peaceful,
defensive realists allow for the possibility that domestic political considerations might
cause Beijing to act in strategically foolish ways. After all, they recognize that Imperial
Germany, Imperial Japan, and Nazi Germany made ill-advised runs at hegemony. But
they maintain that the behaviour of those great powers was motivated by domestic
political pathologies, not sound strategic logic.While that may be true, it leaves open the
possibility that China might follow a similar path, in which case its rise will not be
There are other structural realist perspectives for assessing whether or not China’s rise
will be peaceful. If the world is unipolar, as some structural realists argue, then the growth
of Chinese power will eventually put an end to unipolarity.When it does, the world will be
a more dangerous place, since there cannot be war between great powers in unipolarity,
while there certainly can be if both China and the USA are great powers. Furthermore, if
Japan acquires nuclear weapons,Russia gets its house in order, and India continues its rise,
there would be a handful of great powers in the system, which would further increase the
potential for great power conflict.
Of course, one might argue that China’s ascendancy will lead to bipolarity, which is a
relatively peaceful architecture, even if it is not as pacific as unipolarity.After all, there was
no shooting war between the superpowers during the Cold War. Indeed, the security competition
between them was not especially intense after the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was
more dangerous before then, mainly because the USA and the Soviet Union had to come
to grips with the nuclear revolution and also learn the rules of the road for dealing with
each other under bipolarity,which was then a new and unfamiliar structure. China and the
USA, however, would have the benefit of all that learning that took place during the Cold
War, and could deal with each other from the start much the way that Moscow and
Washington dealt with each other after 1962.
Not all structural realists accept the argument that bipolarity is more prone to peace
than multipolarity. For them, a return to bipolarity would be a cause for pessimism.
However, if the rise of China was accompanied by the emergence of other great powers, the
ensuing multipolarity would give these realists more cause for optimism.
Finally, for structural realists who believe that preponderance produces peace, the rise of
China is ominous news. They argue that US power has had a pacifying effect on international
politics. No other great power, and certainly no minor power, would dare pick a
fight with the USA as long as it sits at the pinnacle of world power.But that situation would
obviously change if China reached the point where it was almost as powerful as the USA.
Preponderance would disappear, and without it the world would be a much more dangerous
place. Indeed, these realists would argue that the USA would have strong incentives to
launch a preventive war against China to forestall decline.
In sum, there is no consensus among structural realists about whether China can rise
peacefully. This diversity of views is not surprising since these same realists disagree
among themselves about how much power states should want as well as what causes war.
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JOHN J. MEARSHEIMER
The only important point of agreement among them is that the structure of the international
system forces great powers to compete among themselves for power.
It was commonplace during the 1990s for pundits and scholars to proclaim that the world
was rapidly becoming more peaceful and that realism was dead. International politics was
said to have been transformed with the end of the Cold War. Globalization of the economic
sort was supposedly tying the state in knots; some even predicted its imminent
demise. Others argued that Western elites were for the first time thinking and talking about
international politics in more cooperative and hopeful terms, and that the globalization of
knowledge was facilitating the spread of that new approach.
Many argued that democracy was spreading across the globe and, because democracies
do not fight each other, we had reached the ‘the end of history’ (classical liberalism is discussed
in Chapter 5). Still others claimed that international institutions were finally developing
the capacity to cause the major powers to act according to the rule of law, not the
dictates of realism.
In the wake of September 11, that optimism has faded, if not disappeared altogether,
and realism has made a stunning comeback. Its resurrection is due in part to the fact that
almost every realist opposed the Iraq War, which has turned into a strategic disaster for
the USA and UK. But, more importantly, there is little reason to think that globalization or
international institutions have crippled the state. Indeed, the state appears to have a bright
future, mainly because nationalism, which glorifies the state, remains a powerful political
ideology. Even in Western Europe,where there has been unprecedented economic integration,
the state is alive and well.
Furthermore, military power is still a critical element in world politics. The USA and the
UK, the world’s two great liberal democracies, have fought five wars together since the Cold
War ended in 1989. Both Iran and North Korea remind us that nuclear proliferation remains
a major problem, and it is not difficult to posit plausible scenarios where India and Pakistan
end up in a shooting war that involves nuclear weapons. It is also possible, although not
likely, that China and the USA could get dragged into a war over Taiwan, or even North
Korea. Regarding China’s rise, even the optimists acknowledge that there is potential for serious
trouble if the politics surrounding that profound shift in global power are handled badly.
In essence, the world remains a dangerous place, although the level of threat varies from
place to place and time to time. States still worry about their survival, which means that
they have little choice but to pay attention to the balance of power. International politics is
still synonymous with power politics, as it has been for all of recorded history. Therefore,
it behoves students of International Relations to think long and hard about the concept of
power, and to develop their own views on why states pursue power, how much power is
enough, and when security competition is likely to lead to war. Thinking smartly about
these matters is essential for developing clever strategies, which is the only way states can
mitigate the dangers of international anarchy.
05-IRT-Chap04.qxd 31/07/06 03:03 PM Page 86
1. Why do states in international anarchy fear each other?
2. Is there a reliable way to determine the intentions of states?
3. Is China’s rise likely to look like Germany’s rise between 1900 and 1945?
4. Does it make sense for states to pursue hegemony?
5. Why was the Cold War not a hot war?
6. Does it make sense to assume that states are rational?
7. Is balancing a reliable deterrent against aggressive states?
8. What is the security dilemma and is there a solution to it?
9. Is the USA a global hegemon?
10. Is unipolarity more peaceful than bipolarity or multipolarity?
11. Is realism relevant in contemporary Europe?
12. What is the tragedy of great power politics?
■ Brown, M. E., Coté Jr, O. R., Lynn-Jones, S. M., and Miller, S. E. (2004) (eds), Offense, Defense,
and War (Cambridge MA: MIT Press). Contains key articles by structural realists, including Robert
Jervis’s seminal article, ‘Cooperation under the Security Dilemma’, World Politics, 1978.
■ Copeland, D. C. (2000), The Origins of Major War (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press).
Sophisticated brief for the claim that major wars are caused by sharp changes in the balance of
■ Dickinson, G. L. (1916), The European Anarchy (New York: Macmillan Company). Short, but
brilliant book which introduced the concept of international anarchy.
■ Dunne, T. and Schmidt B. (2004), ‘Realism’, in J. Baylis and S. Smith (eds), The
Globalization of World Politics, 3rd edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press). An accessible chapter
which charts the major debates within and about realism.
■ Mearsheimer, J. J. (2001), The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York: Norton). The
most comprehensive statement of offensive realism.
■ Posen, B. R. (1984), The sources of Military doctrine (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press).
A smart book that explains the limits of structural realism for explaining military doctrine.
■ Schmidt, B. C. (1988), The Political Discourse of Anarchy (Albany NY: State University of
New York Press). A history of the early years of the discipline of International Relations which
shows the dominance of realism.
■ Snyder, J. (1991), Myths of Empire: Domestic Politics and the International Ambition (Ithaca
NY: Cornell University Press). Excellent case studies on how the great powers behaved in the
twentieth century from a defensive realist perspective.
■ Van Evera, S. (1999), Causes of War: Power and the Roots of Conflict (Ithaca NY: Cornell
University Press). An important study which argues that the offence–defence balance explains
much of international history.
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JOHN J. MEARSHEIMER
■ Walt, S. M. (1987), The Origins of Alliances (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press). Influential
work on the prevalence of balancing behaviour in international politics.
■ Waltz, K. N. (1979), Theory of International Politics (Reading MA: Addison-Wesley). Seminal
book that lays out the fundamentals of structural realism but with a defensive realist bent.
● Interviews with Robert Jervis, John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt, and Kenneth Waltz – http://globetrotter.berkeley.edu/conversations/alpha.html
● Introduction to realism –
● Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy attempts to push US foreign policy in a realist direction –
Visit the Online Resource Centre that accompanies this book for lots of interesting
Copyright © 1999-2012
|Welcome to The IR Theory Web Site|
Sources: US Department of State Photo Centre, Whitehouse Photo Gallery,
UN Photo Library & PoliticalWorld.org
The International Relations (IR) Theory Web site is an on-line resource for students, scholars and other professionals interested in International Relations theory and research.
What is IR theory?
International Relations theory entails the development of conceptual frameworks and theories to facilitate the understanding and explanation of events and phenomena in world politics, as well as the analysis and informing of associated policies and practices.
Why study IR theory?
The discipline of IR was officially established after World War 1 with a view to avoiding future mass conflicts and ensuring peaceful change. This remains a worthy goal, but today the scope and complexities of world politics demand an understanding of a much wider range of issues. Moreover, new conceptual frameworks and theories are required to improve our understanding and assist in the development of better policies and practices.
Posted By Stephen M. Walt Friday, January 4, 2013 – 10:39 AM Share
Here’s a puzzle for all you academics and IR theory mavens out there. On the one hand, the most distinguished scholars in the IR field are theorists. Think of names like Kenneth Waltz, Alexander Wendt, or Robert Keohane, whose reputations rest on theoretical ideas rather than empirical work. Or look at the recent TRIP surveys, where virtually all the scholars judged to have had a major impact on the field are theorists. And most of the classic works in the field are also works of theory; by contrast, few empirical works have proven to be of lasting scholarly value
But on the other hand, the amount of serious attention that IR scholars in the US devote to theory is declining. (Interestingly, the same trend seems to be true of economics as well). The field is moving away from developing or carefully employing theories and instead emphasizing the testing of empirical hypotheses through some combination of quantitative or qualitative analysis. Such work is not purely inductive or atheoretical, but theory plays a relatively minor role and most of the effort goes into collecting data and trying to draw reliable causal inferences from it.
Hence the paradox: theory is the most esteemed activity in the field, yet hardly anybody wants to do it anymore. John Mearsheimer and I explore this paradox in a new paper, and argue that this shift away from theory is a mistake. A revised version will be published later this year in the European Journal of International Relations, but you can read a working paper version here.
Here’s the abstract:
“Theory creating and hypothesis testing are both important elements of social science. Unfortunately, in recent years the balance between theory creation/refinement and the testing of empirical hypotheses has shifted sharply toward the latter. This trend is unfortunate, because insufficient attention to theory can lead to misspecified models and overreliance on misleading measures of key concepts. In addition, the poor quality of much of the data in IR makes it less likely that these efforts will produce useful cumulative knowledge. The shift away from theory and towards hypothesis testing is due mostly to the professionalization of academia, and this trend is likely to continue unless there is a collective decision to alter prevailing academic incentives.”
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I am not complaining. Maybe they are trying to undo what they have set in motion.
This reminds me of the classical tale attributed to Nasrudin. Why are you looking for the keys under the lamp light? The empiricist says because that is the only place we can see. The theorist, on the other hand, explores the dark corners even if evidence for their conjectures are invisible. It is a dilemma.
I still love Yogi Berra’s comment on this problem: ”In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is. “
from TRIP surveys; table on page 8:
Posted By Daniel W. Drezner Tuesday, December 25, 2012 – 2:43 PM
I emailed a few of our gravitas-oozing foreign affairs pundits about the true meaning of Santa in our hyperconnected, globalized world. Here’s what I got in response:
Santa is the most damning piece of evidence yet that we live in a G-Zero world. This stateless actor commands a vast intelligence apparatus, an apparent slave army of little people, and is not above working animals long past their breaking point. By any stretch of the imagination, he’s a rogue actor. And yet, despite these flagrant violations of international norms, there isn’t even a nascent effort to combat, contain or regulate his activities. The G-20 continues to dither, revealing itself yet again as toothless and pointless. This would never have happened back when the U.S. was the hegemon!!
On this day of Christ’s birth, I will tell you something that the New York Times, which is so in the bag for this administration that one of their columnists kept predicting an Obama victory despite overwhelming mispeception to the contrary, will not: Santa Claus is a force for good in the world. Developing countries will cling to their indigenous Christmas heroes, foolishly hoping that these local legends can guide their country towards peace and prosperity. Wake up, rest of the world!! Yes, Santa can seem a bit domineering with his black-and-white dichotomy of naughty and nice. Let’s face it, however — those countries that have embraced St. Nick are better off. If anything, Santa’s problem is that he’s not being mean enough to the naughtys of the world. Only when he is prepared to deploy the elves to places like Syria and the Congo will Santa be able to honestly wish all a good night. I hope ole Saint Nick acts in this expansionist manner — but I worry that the Obama administration, to distract from the fiscal cliff, will declare some kind of “war” on Christmas. Food for thought….
Beltway pundits, serenely sipping their eggnog at those Georgetown Christmas cocktail parties, will offer soothing patter about the merits of a white Christmas and the inherent goodness of Santa Claus. And other powerful interest groups, like retailers and the Catholic Church, will argue in favor of celebrating the birth of Christ on December 25th. Some clever liberal pundits will go so far as to point out that it was an American corporation created the modern-day Santa. Don’t let these lobbies fool you — celebrating Christmas on December 25th and welcoming Santa Claus onto our soil is a breach of American sovereignty that can no longer be tolerated. Why should Americans celebrate this most American of holidays the same time as everyone else in the world? Is it American for our government offices to be closed on this day because of some unelected bureaucrat based in that oldest of old Europe cities, Rome??!! Is it American to have some foreign actor — a.k.a. Kris Kringle — make decisions about whether our children have been good or bad?! Americans don’t need some foreign list to determine who’s naught and nice. I believe that there’s a document that already takes care of everything we need, and it’s called the United States Constitution. Our elected oficials must take action to protect the Constitution of the United States from these global efforts to affect our daily lives. We’re an exceptional country with exceptional children — we don’t need Santa to tell us what they deserve.
It is on Christmas more than any other day that we can appreciate how wrong Chuck Hagel would be for the Secretary of Defense position. The former Senator from Nebraska seems all too willing to compromise in the War on Christmas, suggesting that perhaps “some” public spaces should be free of mangers. This is fully consistent with Hagel’s past waffling on various threats to the American way of life, as evidenced by [MINIONS-- PLEASE INSERT LAZY, INACCURATE HYPERLINK HERE--JR]. I’ve heard exclusively from a top GOP source whose last name rhymes with “Fristol” that Senate Republicans have a master file of statements Hagel made at a Senate Christmas party years ago where he raged against the “rank commercialism” of the holiday. It’s this type of anti-free enterprise statements that clearly demonstrate that Hagel is out of the American mainstream in his views on Christmas — and America’s place in the world.
There are many things to admire about Christmas — and yet I’m left wondering why, on this most nurturing, this most feminine of holidays, it’s a fat, aging, affluent white man who traipses around the world offering gifts to children. It could be that Mrs. Claus simply doesn’t want to leave the North Pole — or it could be that she’s trapped there by the hidebound traditions of this holiday. Clearly, the current model of delivering everyone‘s presents on one night makes it impossible for women to have it all. Perhaps we should rework how Christmas operates to make it a more family-friendly model for the Clauses. Instead of everyone getting their presents on one night, it should be staggered throughout the year. This would allow both Santa and Mrs. Claus to participate in the making of the list, the checking it twice, and the bestowing of presents to the world’s children. Let’s face it — the more that women take an active part in the management of this holiday, the better for everyone involved.
Merry Christmas, foreign policy wonks!!
Posted By Daniel W. Drezner Wednesday, November 28, 2012 – 2:21 PM
Something is seriously wrong in the relationship between universities and the policy community in the field of international relations. The worlds of policy making and academic research should be in constant, productive conversation, and scholars and researchers should be an invaluable resource for policy makers, but they are not.
One hears perennial laments from those in academe that their valuable work is being ignored by policy makers. And, on the other hand, policy makers complain they can get nothing useful from the academy. They may all be right.
Now your humble blogger has explored this topic again and again and again and again and again. I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that while a gap still exists between these two worlds, the bigger gap is between the perception of people like Gallucci and actual reality. Also, to be blunt about it, I also suspect that no one will actually say this to Gallucci’s face, because, well, he’s got the money. Why argue against a gravy train?
Consider the following:
1) There is pretty clear evidence that academics are becoming more copacetic with the media through which policy advice can be communicated. It’s also worth noting that two of Time’s top 25 blogs this year are run by political scientists *COUGH* self-promotion *COUGH*.
2) We are beginning to see routinized channels through which academics are learning how to affect the policy world.
3) On the policy side of the equation, Joshua Foust notes that the Ph.D. is both highly valued and increasingly de rigeur inside the Beltway. Whether that’s a good thing or not is a topic for a later post, but Foust’s observation cuts against Gallucci’s assertions.
So I think Gallucci’s claim is exaggerated. But what’s interesting is why he believes that the theory/policy gap has gotten worse:
There has been a theoretical turn across the social sciences and humanities that has cut off academic discourse from the way ordinary people and working professionals speak and think. The validity and elegance of the models have become the focus, rather than whether those models can be used to understand real-world situations. Conferences and symposia are devoted to differences in theoretical constructs; topics are chosen for research based not on their importance but on their accessibility to a particular methodology. Articles and books are published to be read, if at all, only by colleagues who have the same high regard for methodology and theory and the same disregard for practice.
Look, I’m not going to deny that there’s a lot of abstruse research in the academy filled with lots of seemingly impenetrable jargon. That said, I would humbly suggest that the pattern of recent published work does not match Gallucci’s observation. I would also note that it is way too simplistic to divide political science research into “policy relevant” and “not policy relevant.”
There is still a gap between scholars and policymakers. But Gallucci’s essay suggests a bad situaion that’s getting worse, whereas I see a mediocre situation that’s trending in a positive situaton.
Still, let me also confess that I might be a victim of sample bias here. Over time I’ve found greater and not fewer pathways that connect scholarly international relations research and real-world policymaking. That might be because I’ve got a bit more girth gravitas than I did a decade ago.
So I’ll ask this question to the crowd: do Gallucci’s assertions ring true? What do you think?
Posted By Daniel W. Drezner Tuesday, November 20, 2012 – 4:30 PM
1) I’ve had a few day job papers to bang out;
2) Foreign Policy has not suffered a deficit of content on this topic;
3) My bar to blogging about Israel and Palestine is whether I can offer anything more insightful than The Onion. It’s a disturbingly high bar.
That said, I do think there are a few interesting political science questions that are worth asking after the past week. After all, we’ve just had an election in this country where it turns out that political science explained an awful goddamned lot. I wonder if some of that knowledge is being imbibed — in uneven amounts — in the Middle East.
In particular, I have three questions:
1) Has Bibi Netanyahu been reading Romer and Rosenthal? One of the landmark articles in political science is Thomas Romer and Howard Rosenthal’s paper on the effect of the status quo on political positioning. One of the key takeaways is that in a two candidate race, if Candidate A takes an extreme position on the central policy issue, it allows Candidate B to adopt a policy position that is further away from the median voter and still win.
After reading Ethan Bronner’s story in the New York Times on how the Gaza conflict is radicalizing the West Bank away from Fatah and towards Hamas (see also Haaretz), I wonder if Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu has figured out the following political jujitsu:
STEP 1: Take actions that radicalize the Palestinian population — particularly in the West Bank;
STEP 2: Have Fatah look less and less like a credible negotiating partner, have the world acknowledge that Hamas now represents the median Palestinian preference on peace talks;
STEP 3: Have Likus win Israeli election without changing its policy position, which suddenly doesn’t look so bad to Israeli voters.
Actually, I’d posit that there’s an element of this in the Israeli’s right’s strategy of the past decade, but it seems to be particularly blatant this time around.
2) Has Hamas been reading Stephen Walt? And if so, which Stephen Walt? No, I don’t mean that Stephen Walt. I mean the author of The Origins of Alliances and Revolution and War. I bring this up cause those books would offer contrasting takes on what Hamas would expect the rest of the Middle East to do. It seems pretty clear from the press reportage that Hamas believed that This Time Was Different: the Arab Spring had eliminated authoritarian despots who had used the Palestinian issue as a useful vent for domestic unrest. Newly democratic regimes would — according to Walt’s Revolution and War — be more likely to identify with Hamas’ cause, thereby taking more aggressive action to undermine and isolate Israel. And, indeed, at the rhetorical and symbolic level, this has happened. Libya is sending a “solidarity delegation” to Gaza, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has labeled Israel a “terrorist state,” and Egypt’s Morsi governmment has been pretty plain in blaming Israel for the latest hostilities.
The thing is, my bet would be on Walt’s Origins of Alliances playing the larger role here. What’s interesting about Arab government’s reactions to this Operation Pillar of Defense is that they seem…. an awful lot like how Mubarak et al would have reacted. It would seem that once Islamic movements are charged with running a government, they suddenly start to care about things other than the occupied territories (this appears to be Dennis Ross’ take as well, by the way). For example, I’d argue that these negotiations matter far more to the Morsi government than brokering a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.
3) Does the Israeli right really want to make U.S. Middle East policy a partisan football? CNN polled Americans on the conflict in Gaza, and just like every other poll on this question, Americans backed Israel pretty strongly. 57% of American sympathize with the Israelis; only 13% side with the Palestinians. But as The Weekly Standard‘s Daniel Halper notes, there’s a catch:
CNN’s poll director, Keating Holland, finds that there is a great discrepancy in which Americans think the action is justified, however. Of particular note is that only about 40 percent of Democrats believe the self-defense measures are “justified.”
“Although most Americans think the Israeli actions are justified, there are key segments of the public who don’t necessarily feel that way,” Holland tells CNN. “Only four in ten Democrats think the Israeli actions in Gaza are justified, compared to 74% of Republicans and 59% of independents. Support for Israel’s military action is 13 points higher among men than among women, and 15 points higher among older Americans than among younger Americans.”
Now, you can speculate all you want about the source of this partisan divergence — *COUGH* Netanyahu gambled on Obama being a one-termer and lost *COUGH* — but friends of Israel should be disturbed by this growing split. If Israel becomes a partisan issue, it’s not really going to help Republicans all that much, because all it will do is mobilize the evangelical vote — which they’ve already pocketed. And eventually, Israel will have to face a Democratic president with a base that no longer cares about Israel’s security. That’s not going to be a good day for Israel.
[Yeah, we still liked the Onion story better--ed. Yeah, me too.]
Posted By Daniel W. Drezner Monday, October 1, 2012 – 6:06 PM
Given this climate, I thought it would be useful to take a step back and point out a rather awkward and uncomfortable truth: global economic governance has actually done a surprisingly good job in response to the 2008 financial crisis.
Ludicrous, you say? Well, to make my case, I’ve written up an IIGG working paper for the Council on Foreign Relations entitled, “The Irony of Global Economic Governance: The System Worked.” The opening paragraph:
The 2008 financial crisis posed the biggest challenge to the global economy since the Great Depression and provided a severe “stress test” for global economic governance. A review of economic outcomes, policy outputs, and institutional resilience reveals that these regimes performed well during the acute phase of the crisis, ensuring the continuation of an open global economy. Even though some policy outcomes have been less than optimal, international institutions and frameworks performed contrary to expectations. Simply put, the system worked
Now you’ll have to read the whole thing to see if I’m blinkered or not. There’s a decent chance that I am, mind you, but I’m pretty comfortable with the empirics of my case. What I’m uncomfortable with is the reasons why things have played out the way that they have. More on that as I work it out in my own head.
Now I’ve been just as skeptical as the next guy when it comes to some dimensions of global economic governance. Still, this is one of those times when stepping away from the day-to-day of the blog and looking at the overall situation provides some valuable perspective.
Still, feel free to point out where I’m wrong. Cause I suspect that this paper is going to drive some Very Serious People in the foreign policy community absolutely bonkers.
1) The Russians tend to be wonderfully blunt in explaining their motivations
2) Russia rarely, if ever, dresses up their foreign policy actions in anything other than national interest motivations
3) In the eyes of most realists, Russia is the status quo power justly defending its sphere of influence in the wake of revisionist American demands that have everything to do with ideology and nothing to do with American national interests.
I raise all of this because a few days ago Charles Clover in the Financial Times wrote an interesting story about Russia’s foreign policy in Syria:
A respected Moscow-based military think tank has published a report that is likely to fuel more questions about the wisdom of Russia’s uncompromising support for the Syrian regime. It concludes that Russia really has few – if any – fundamental national interests to defend in Syria….
Russian support for Syria appears to be more emotional than rational, according to the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a consultancy with strong links to Russia’s defence community. It characterised the Kremlin’s Syria policy as a consensus of elites who “have rallied around the demand ‘not to allow the loss of Syria’ ”, which would cause “the final disappearance of the last ghostly traces of Soviet might” in the Middle East.
“The Syrian situation focuses all the fundamental foreign policy fears, phobias and complexes of Russian politicians and the Russian elite” said CAST.
Russia’s actual stake in Syria is not massive, according to CAST. It described Russia’s arms exports to Damascus as a “significant, but far from key” 5 per cent of total arms exports last year, and characterised Tartus, Moscow’s last foreign military base outside the former USSR, as little more than a pier and a floating repair shop on loan from the Black Sea fleet.
Now, it sounds an awful lot like CAST is arguing that Russian foreign policy leaders are wildly inflating their interests and acting in a — dare I say it — neoconservative fashion towards Syria.
I’d be very curious to hear from realists if they concur with this assessment. If it turns out that Russia is not acting in its national interests, it would be a body blow to both realism as policymaking advice and as an objective paradigm to explain world politics. Realists would no longer be able to say that the United States was the only great power not acting in its national interest. More significantly, if lots of great powers act to advance their emotional, historical, or ideollogical interests, then the world doesn’t look very realpolitik at all.
Posted By Daniel W. Drezner Friday, June 8, 2012 – 12:58 PM
So, for those of you interested in political violence and civil wars, be sure to bookmark Political Violence @ a Glance. It’s a new group blog created by some of the all-starts in the field — Barbara Walter, Christian Davenport, Page Fortna, Roland Paris, Matt Kocher, Steve Saideman, Andrew Kydd, and many, many more.
This blog, combined with the debut of The Mischiefs of Faction, have really amped up the presence of political scientists in the blogosphere. It’s just too bad that the mainstream foreign policy community continues to neglect the contribution of political sci— say, who’s that on the cover of the Foreign Affairs? Is that Kenneth Waltz, Robert Keohane, and Graham Allison I see?
At a time when the United States is facing serious domestic and international challenges, it sure is nice to see so many political scientists engaged in public discourse on important issues of the day. I’m sure these contributions will be appreciated by the non-academic wings of the foreign policy community. Oh, wait…
Posted By Daniel W. Drezner Tuesday, June 5, 2012 – 3:08 PM
I enjoyed the first season of Game of Thrones but was somewhat underwhelmed with efforts to use it as a window to understanding world politics today. The second season, which concluded this past Sunday, however, did much better on this score. I think this is because in season one the primary narrative dealt with one ruler of Westeros coping with stupendously naive staff contending factions, whereas this season dealt with a more variegated set of leaders, which worked far better for the show. Two signs of this: First, whereas the Daenerys Targaryen plot in the first season was fun and diverting, I found season two’s Dany sections distracting and deadening. Part of this might have been because Dany was whining more, but it was also because she was largely operating in a political vacuum and therefore less interesting. Second, whereas Cersei Lannister seemed like a master Machiavellian in season one, in season two she appeared to be just a little out of her depth. It’s not because she got dumber, but because the protagonists who interacted with her were wiser or more powerful than Ned Stark.
Season two’s War of the Five Kings allowed for greater contrast between different styles of political leadership and political culture — and was therefore all the richer for it. Leadership ranged from Stannis Baratheon’s humorless determination to Tywin Lannister’s stolid competence to Joffrey’s sadism to Robb Stark’s efforts to preserve humanitarian norms to Balon Greyjoy’s sheer bloody-mindedness. The staffers were great too. I’m sorry that Tyrion Lannister and Davos Seaworth never got to share a scene together — that would have been a hoot. Similarly, the interactions between Tyrion and Varys — especially this one — were delicious.
Indeed, the final episode alone is so rich in its contemplation of political leadership alone that it made up for the less comprehensible parts of the plot (why the hell did Bran, Hodor, and company need to abandon Winterfell?) Tyrion’s explanation for why he wanted to stay in King’s Landing was one of those rare moments in television in which a character was honest about his enjoyment of politics. As Alyssa Rosenberg shrewdly observes, the Throne Room scene in which much political kabuki theater transpired was a powerful reminder of how the victors write the history. And the Varys-Ros alliance bodes well for political machinations in season three.
For all of this — and zombies too! — the finale was great. What put it over the top, however, might be the best rejoinder to the Great Speech Theory of Politics that I have ever seen — Theon Greyjoy’s efforts to rally his troops in the face of overwhelming odds during the siege of Winterfell:
Anyone who calls for better political “leadership” should watch this again and again and again. Yes, leadership matters on the margins — but power and purpose matter one whole hell of a lot more.
The end of the episode promises an even wider array of political actors — Mance Rayder, the White Walkers, a returning Dany — influencing activities in Westeros. This bodes very, very well for season three.
What do you think?
Posted By Daniel W. Drezner Monday, May 21, 2012 – 3:24 PM
Except that, with Romney’s NATO Chicago Tribune op-ed this past weekend, I fear he and his campaign have crossed the line from really stupid foreign policy pronouncements to logically contradictory ones.
Here’s how Romney’s op-ed opens and closes:
NATO has kept the peace in Europe for more than six decades. But today, the alliance is at a crossroads. It is time to speak candidly about the challenges facing the United States and our allies and how to rise to them.
In a post-Cold War world, territorial defense of Europe is no longer NATO’s one overriding mission. Instead, the alliance has evolved to uphold security interests in distant theaters, as in Afghanistan and Libya. Yet through all the changes to the global landscape, two things have remained constant about the alliance. For it to succeed, it requires strong American leadership. And it also requires that member states carry their own weight….
At this moment of both opportunities and perils — an Iranian regime with nuclear ambitions, an unpredictable North Korea, a revanchist Russia, a China spending furiously on its own military, to name but a few of the major challenges looming before us — the NATO alliance must retain the capacity to act.
As president, I will work closely with our partners to bolster the alliance. In that effort, words are not enough.
I will reverse Obama-era military cuts. I will not allow runaway entitlement spending to swallow the defense budget as has happened in Europe and as President Obama is now allowing here.
I really like his first paragraph… and then we run into a whole mess of problems. In ascending order of importance:
1) What the f**k does NATO have to do with either North Korea or China? Seriously, I get that NATO has expanded to out-of-theater operations, but does anyone seriously think that German forces are going to be deployed along the Pacific Rim? I didn’t think so.
2) In what way is Russia “revanchist”? Oh, sure, the Russians are chatty, but does anyone seriously believe that, right now, Moscow poses any kind of security threat to the rest of Europe? One semi-competent victory over a former Soviet repiblic does not constitute revanchism, and swelling domestic discontent and the Mother of All Demographic Crunches suggests that Vladimir Putin will be way to preoccupied with the problems within his own borders to be much of a problem in Europe.
3) There’s an oldie but a goodie of an article on NATO by Mancur Olson and Richard Zeckhauser entitled “An Economic Theory of Alliances.” Romney’s advisors should take a gander. The basic point is that in an alliance containing a single superpower, the rest of the alliance members will tend to free-ride off of the hegemonic actor. In essence, Romney’s op-ed doubles down on that free-rider logic. If Romney commits to boosting U.S. defense spending, exactly what incentive does this give our NATO allies to boost theirs?
4) So Romney wants to “speak candidly about the challenges facing the United States and our allies and how to rise to them”? OK… and apparently the way for NATO to face these challenges is to “work closely with our partners to bolster the alliance.” That, and reverse Obama’s defense cuts.
To which I have to say: that’s it?! Really?! If this is Romney speaking candidly, then this SNL skit is more true-to-life than I realized.
Am I missing anything? Seriously, am I? I don’t like it when a guy with a 50/50 chance of being president in January 2013 has abandoned the Logic Train.
With apologies to Colum Lynch, I suspect the reportage would be something like this:
U.N. SECURITY COUNCIL MEETING ON JEWISH EXODUS ENDS IN CHAOS: Permanent Five split on who to sanction for loss of lifeColum Lynch, Foreign Policy
NEW YORK: Attempts by the U.N. Security Council to reach consensus on an approach to the situation in Egypt came to naught earlier today, as different members of the Security Council blamed different actors in the region for the growing human rights and humanitarian disaster.
U.S. Ambassdor to the United Natuons Susan Rice, addressing the Council, blasted China and Russia for their “addiction to obduracy.” She concluded, “Over the past decade we have continually raised the repeated human rights abuses and acts of genocide committed by the Phaaroh’s regime against the Jewish population in Egypt. Each time, China and Russia have vetoed even the mildest of condemnations, arguing that it was a matter of Egyptian sovereignty. Only now, with the desperate escape of that minority from the Phaaroh’s clutches, do the governments of Russia and China take such an acute interest in the welfare of the Egyptian people. ”
The United States, France, and United Kingdom have indeed introduced thirteen separate resolutions on human rights abuses in Egypt since the advent of the Phaaroh who knew not Joseph.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin delivered a blistering response, arguing that it was the radical Jewsish leaders who had escalated the situation by resorting to weapons of mass destruction and demanding that Moses be indicted by the International Criminal Court as a war criminal: “It was not the Phaaroh who imposed unspeakable sanctions against the Egyptian people. It was not the Phaaroh who slaughtered every first-born male child in Egypt — except the Jews — in a flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions. Surely, not a house in Egypt was spared from this , this plague. It was not the Phaaroh who resorted to trickery in the Red Sea, luring innocent Egyptian troops into the kill zone before massacring them. Both sides are equally guilty in the bloodshed, and until both sides renounce violence, a peaceful solution will be nothing but a mirage of the desert.”
No agreement on any resolutions were reached. British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant flatly rejected many of the Russian assertions, arguing that only soldiers were afffected by the Red Sea disaster, and that it was not immediately obvious whether the Jews were actually responsible for the harsh sanctions that befell Egypt prior to the Jewish Exodus.
Doctors Without Borders upped the number of Egyptian dead into the five figures, but those figures could not be independently confirmed. The Phaaroh’s government again rejected the entry of the U.N. Secretary-General’s fact-finding mission on the grounds that it represented an intrusion of sovereignty. Russian and Chinese officials blamed this inflexible position on the civil society campaign to label the Egyptian Pyramids the “Slavery Pyramids.”
Humanitarian officials are not sure about the current status of the Jewish refugees. According to unconfirmed reports from Egypt, the Jews left in such a hurry that they lacked basic provisions like bread or yeast, carrying only crude rations into the desert. The disputed status of the Sinai makes drone overflights impossible in that area. The “final status” of the Jews is also unclear, as the Assyrians, Moabites, and Philistines all declared the refugees to be persona non grata in their jurisdictions.
Outside the UN building, the NGO Inside Children annnounced that they planned to release a video entitled “LetMyPeopleGo2012,” demanding that the Phaaroh release all Egyptian Jews immediately. The group rebuffed criticisms that this problem had been overtaken by events, saying that calling attention to the cruel despotism in Egypt was still “a worthwhile and noble cause.”
Posted By Daniel W. Drezner Tuesday, March 20, 2012 – 12:55 PM
This assumes, however, that your neologism will catch on — and most of them don’t. This is a good thing, I might add, because most of them are dreadful. For example, Zalmay Khalilzad has a new essay in The Washington Quarterly entitled, “A Strategy of ‘Congagement’ toward Pakistan.” If you’re wondering what “congagement” means, it’s “applying a mixed arsenal of methods to contain Pakistan’s dangerous and destabilizing policies but also to engage Islamabad to sustain existing cooperation and incentivize it to move toward more.” Now, this just sounds awful, which is why it hasn’t caught on despite the attempts of Khalilzad and others to incept it into the foreign policy community’s collective subconscious.
I don’t mean to pick on Khalilzad — he’s hardly the only offender. James Rosenau tried to introduce “fragmegration” — blech. The term “glocalization” has had a somewhat more successful run, but that’s only by comparison to “fragmegration.” For my money, “slacktivism” is the only example of this genre of fusing two words together that sounds even remotely good. Just as bad were the raft of grand strategy terms that came out in the middle of last decade that attempted to fuse realism and liberalism together: progressive realism, realistic Wilsonianism, ethical realism, liberal realism, etc. None of them really took off.*
In the interest of improving foreign policy writing and reducing the pain one encounters when reading these awful neologisms, there needs to be a flexible freeze on these efforts. Even if most phrases of this kind are accurate in what they are describing, the neologisms are so painful to the eyes and grating to the ears that they leech away any force that exists in the underlying argument.
Instead, I hereby offer a humble suggestion: embrace the metaphor. The problem with most efforts to brand a term is that they’re too literal: a fusion of two nouns, or an adjective and a noun, to explain a concept. Metaphors, because they make the intangible more tangible, stick in the brain better. This is one reason why “leading from behind” worked, as has “the pivot.”
The danger of course, is that metaphors don’t always perfectly capture the foreign policy concepts one wants to describe (such as the pivot). It’s a dangerous game — but so is world politics. As someone who’s had to wade through this crap for well over a decade now, failed metaphors will at least entertain the reader better than God-awful neologisms. So give the literary device a try, members of the foreign policy community — and please, for the love of God, stop trying to fuse words together!!
Full disclosure: I’ve haven’t really succeeded in this task either, although the only time I think I ever tried was “counterpunching.”
Posted By Daniel W. Drezner Sunday, March 11, 2012 – 5:25 PM
I’m loving graduate school; it’s been on balance the best time of my life; and nevertheless there have been times when (to quote a colleague) I’ve wished I’d taken the blue pill and kept my job.
Or, as Steve Saideman phrases it:
[A] PhD in Political Science should only be for those who are passionate and curious and do not care where they end up living. And that they need to be aware that the job market can be pretty challenging and stressful.
Checking my blog archives, I see that I’ve mused on this topic before — so, rather than repeat myself, here are some links. If you’re wondering about the virtues of getting a Ph.D. vs. a policy degree like SAIS or Fletcher, click here and here. If you’re really interested in politics and are debating between a Ph.D., a law degree, or going the apprentice route, click here.
But I want to blog about a question related to something buzzing about the foreign policy blogosphere: what if you’re female? Micah Zenko at CFR and Diana Wueger at Gunpowder & Lead have blogged about the underrepresentation of women in foreign policy positions in the government, think tanks or the academy. Wueger asks readers to ”spend 10 minutes thinking about what you can do to help your female staff or friends or Twitterbuddies to advance in their careers.”
After ten minutes, I have some positive words and some cautionary, bordeline controversial pieces of advice. Here goes.
My hunch is that, all else equal, the value-added of getting a Ph.D. might be greater for women than men. Wueger blogs about a big problem: the difficulty/trepidation that women have when seeking mentors, particularly if their field is dominated by men. The advantage of getting a Ph.D. is that it pretty much forces the person to work hard at collecting mentors and advisors. Furthermore, these relationships are forged through years of TAing, RAing, and pleading for dissertation advice. So, even if women are shyer about seeking mentors/male advisors are warier about advising female students, these barriers can be broken down with time.
That’s the good news. The bad news is two-fold. First, Wueger argues that the assignments women get at the outset have a powerful effect on their later careers:
There’s a gap in the types of tasks women and men are assigned early in their careers. Intentionally or not, women tend to given more administrative or support work rather than policy or research work; path dependence takes over from there. I recall a prominent scholar regularly asking his female research assistant (RA) to pick up his dry cleaning and take his car to the shop—things he didn’t ask of male RAs.
OK, for the record, my male RAs were too forgetful to request as little starch as possible this is a problem, but I suspect it’s decreasing. The more serious problem operates through a subtler channel – women might get shunted into research areas that are seen as more female-friendly. For example, I believe that more women study international political economy or international organizations than international security. Even within security studies, I suspect that there are more women studying “human security” than more standard guns & bombs kind of security. This might be due to interest, but there are path-dependent effects at work, and so successive waves of women go into those fields in greater numbers. So, that’s a thing.
The second problem is, I suspect, even greater and trickier to discuss, but here goes. Unlike the apprentice or professional degree paths, the Ph.D. route to a foreign policy career has a few BIG decision-making nodes that have profound effects on a person’s career choice. For the Ph.D., the first job after getting one’s doctorate matters a lot, particularly if said Ph.D. is pursuing the academic career track. The first job can define whether you want to be thought of as a researcher first, a teacher first, a policy wonk first, and so forth. Also, it usually requires moving — with the exception of Ph.D. granting institutions in-Boston-well-not-in-Boston-but-nearby-no-not-Tufts, universities do not hire their own.
The thing is, most people are between 27-32 years of age when they complete their Ph.D.. This also happens to be the peak demographic of the whole getting married/having children phase of life. And, women tend to marry men a few years older than them. The professional difference between 50 and 53 is negligible, but those few years can make a HUGE difference in one’s late twenties/early thirties. It means that, on average and regardless of career choice, the man in the relationship is more firmly embedded down his career path.
For newly-minted women Ph.D.s, this can impose profound constraints on career choices. Their best job offer might be inconvenient for their spouse’s career, and so they pass on it. I saw this very dynamic play out multiple times with female colleagues when I was in graduate school. There are a lot of good reasons to subordinate one’s first job choice to family considerations, but it has a negative impact on one’s long-term career trajectory.
[What about you?--ed. As a man, the age effect was reversed. My fiancee was younger and therefore at a more embryonic stage of her career, which meant she was more portable. For the record, I accepted a post-doc that I otherwise wouldn't have taken for her career, but this was a minimal sacrifice. It only delayed my first job by a year and I got a ton of writing done during those twelve months.]
This problem is not unique to those earning doctorates. Those with non-Ph.D. career tracks , however, have more career-decision nodes at later and earlier ages. I suspect this problem is magnified for Ph.D.s in a way that it isn’t for those who pursue more apprentice-oriented or shorter-degree tracks. But I’d be interested in hearing differing opinions on this in the comments below.
So, to sum up: if you’re a woman and you’re trying to pursue a foreign policy career, there are some advantages by getting the Ph.D., but there are big pitfalls at the beginning and end of getting the doctorate. I urge you to have a good sense of what you want to study before someone shapes that decision for you. And have some good, long conversations with any potential spouse about what you want to do with your career.
Am I missing anything? Seriously, am I?
Posted By Daniel W. Drezner Wednesday, January 25, 2012 – 4:23 PM
Let the fight…continue!
Are There Neoconservative Wolves in the Realist Flock?
Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. —Matthew 7:15
Sebastian Rosato and John Schuessler recently argued that there is “a complete absence of bona fide realists inside the Beltway” and that if more policymakers employed realist thinking when making foreign policy, then we could expect the real “prospect of security without war.” They bemoan the criticism that realist theory receives within both the academy and, especially, in foreign policymaking circles. “This is unfortunate, as realists seem to turn up on the right side of history as often as not — the Vietnam and Iraq wars are prominent examples — and may do so again if the Obama administration stumbles into a foolish war with Iran (a war that prominent realists have opposed).”
Leaving aside the notion that we ought to strive for a foreign policy that is only successful “as often as not,” Rosato and Schuessler are correct that some prominent realists (e.g. Stephen Walt and Nuno Monteiro) oppose war with Iran. Several prominent realists also opposed the Vietnam War (e.g. Hans Morgenthau) and the war in Iraq (e.g. John Mearsheimer). But realists are not alone in their opposition. Many other non-randomly selected scholars representing other schools of thought also often oppose the use of force. For example, see liberals Joe Nye and Anne-Marie Slaughter or constructivists Marc Lynch and Colin Kahl who also oppose war with Iran.
Noting the policy preferences of a particular set of realists (or liberals/constructivists) does little to support the claim that having more realists inside the beltway would lead to fewer U.S. military interventions. An alternative way to assess the likely impact of inviting more realists into policymaking circles would be to survey all IR scholars and see whether self-identified realists are less likely, more likely, or no more or less likely on average than proponents of other IR paradigms to support the use of force abroad. As it happens, we’ve done that in a series of Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) surveys.
In 2004, we asked IR scholars in the U.S. a variety of questions about their support or opposition to the war in Iraq. Among dozens of other questions, we also asked scholars to report the primary IR paradigm that they employ in their research, their political ideology, and their substantive field of study. No matter how we asked the Iraq question (and we asked it four different ways), realists are no more likely than liberals or those who don’t adhere to a particular paradigm to support or oppose the war in Iraq once we control for political ideology. If we leave ideology out of the model, realists are actually more likely to have supported the war in Iraq. Constructivism is the only paradigm that is statistically significantly correlated with opposition to the Iraq war after controlling for ideology. Here we plot the predicted probability of favoring the Iraq war by paradigm after controlling for ideology (error bars represent 90 percent confidence intervals):
The 2004 Iraq results are consistent with results from the 2011 survey regarding the potential use of force in Iran. We asked scholars “Would you approve of disapprove of the use of U.S. military forces … if it were certain that Iran had produced a nuclear weapon.” Again, realists were no more or less likely than adherents of other paradigms to support or oppose the use of force against Iran after controlling for ideology and field of study. Again, if we leave ideology out of the model, realists are more likely to support striking Iran (We discussed the results of the 2011 survey in more detail in a recent guest post on the Monkey Cage).
Our 2006 results differ. We asked scholars “If Iran continues to produce materials that can be used to develop nuclear weapons, would you support or oppose the U.S. taking military action against Iran?” In this case, realists are more likely to support intervention, even after controlling for ideology and a number of other factors.
So, our results from 2004 and 2011 fail to support the claim made by Rosato and Schuessler and our results from 2006 are the opposite of what their argument suggests.
Proponents of a realist foreign policy may rightly point out that our discussion above is about individuals who self-identify as realists, not realist theory. Perhaps there are just a bunch of respondents in our sample calling themselves “realists” who don’t really understand the logic of their favored paradigm. And perhaps a more accurate reading of realist theory (as offered by Walt, Mearsheimer, Rosato and Schuessler) would lead to foreign policy prescriptions that are less bellicose and radically different from other IR paradigms. Perhaps. But it is individual realists — not some version of realist theory personified — who are appointed to policy posts in Washington to craft and implement policy, who write op-eds, blog posts, and journal articles to inform current policy makers, and who teach future policy makers at colleges and universities. And those realists (on average) were not less inclined to advocate the use of force in Iraq back in 2003 and they are not less inclined to advocate the use of force against Iran today.
In most of our tests above, it is only after controlling for political ideology that realists tend to fall in line with liberals and constructivists in opposing the use of force. The average ideology of self-identified realists in the sample helps to explain the gap between the realism that Rosato and Schusseler advocate and the “average” understanding of realism that is reflected in our surveys. As Brian Rathburn recently argued, there may be hawkish wolves within the realist flock — individuals who call themselves realists but who support policies that do not conform to the realism of Mearsheimer, Walt, Rosato, and Schuesster. As Rathbun explains, “The situation is…confused by the invocation of ‘realism’ as a guiding set of principles by both neoconservatives and conservatives.”
To put our cards on the table, we find the Rosato and Schuessler version of realism both sensible and consistent with our own descriptions of realism to our students. We also agree that the Iraq and Vietnam wars did little to advance the interests of the United States, and that a war with Iran would also be a bad idea. We show that many IR scholars also agree for reasons related to their scholarly commitments and/or personal views. Currently, many scholars who self-identify as realists are also conservative and it may be their ideology, rather than the logic of realism that shapes their policy preferences. If that is the case, and they are dressing up their ideologically driven positions in realist trappings, Rosato and Schuessler are right to continue their efforts to better communicate the logic and implications of realist theory. But perhaps they also ought to warn their readers, “Beware those who come to you in realist clothing, for they may inwardly be ravenous neocons.”
What do you think?
Posted By Daniel W. Drezner Friday, January 13, 2012 – 8:41 PM
And then, in the last hand, you have… Israel. Some weird s**t has been going down. Following the apparent assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took great pains to “categorically deny” U.S. involvment. In a New York Times front-pager, U.S. officials were even more explicit:
The assassination drew an unusually strong condemnation from the White House and the State Department, which disavowed any American complicity. The statements by the United States appeared to reflect serious concern about the growing number of lethal attacks, which some experts believe could backfire by undercutting future negotiations and prompting Iran to redouble what the West suspects is a quest for a nuclear capacity.
“The United States had absolutely nothing to do with this,” said Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared to expand the denial beyond Wednesday’s killing, “categorically” denying “any United States involvement in any kind of act of violence inside Iran.”
“We believe that there has to be an understanding between Iran, its neighbors and the international community that finds a way forward for it to end its provocative behavior, end its search for nuclear weapons and rejoin the international community,” Mrs. Clinton said.
Also this week, FP ran a story by Mark Perry describing Israel’s “false flag” operation to recruit Pakistani terrorists. In the essay, Perry gets the following quotes from retired U.S. intelligence officials:
There’s no question that the U.S. has cooperated with Israel in intelligence-gathering operations against the Iranians, but this was different. No matter what anyone thinks, we’re not in the business of assassinating Iranian officials or killing Iranian civilians….
We don’t do bang and boom… and we don’t do political assassinations.
Contrast this with the Israeli quotes in the NYT story:
The Israeli military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, writing on Facebook about the attack, said, “I don’t know who took revenge on the Iranian scientist, but I am definitely not shedding a tear,” Israeli news media reported….
A former senior Israeli security official, who would speak of the covert campaign only in general terms and on the condition of anonymity, said the uncertainty about who was responsible was useful. “It’s not enough to guess,” he said. “You can’t prove it, so you can’t retaliate. When it’s very, very clear who’s behind an attack, the world behaves differently.” (emphasis added)
I think the bolded section in the last paragraph suggests some intuition about what is happening. If it’s true that ambiguity about who is responsible for covert action is useful, and the United States is categorically denying its role in the assassination part of the covert action, then the Obama administration is openly and clearly signaling to Israel to cut it out.
As to why the United States is doing this, I’d posit one or a combination of the following reasons:
1) Washington might have moral or legal qualms with the assassination dimension of these covert actions;
2) Such assasinations give the Iranian government cover to conduct its own assassinations campaign, which winnows the number of scientists the United States can recruit for its own intelligence;
3) The Obama administration thinks it can topple the regime, but these assassinations will be counterproductive;
4) The Obama administration has been trying to get Iran back to the bargaining table, and this kind of covert action stops that from happening;
5) The Obama administration is fragmented and therefore not entirely certain what it’s aims are in Iran, but the policy principals know that what Israel is doing ain’t helping.
I’m leaning towards (5) at this point, but I’d entertain other explanations in the comments below.
Developing… in some very bizarre ways.
UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal has some further reporting that reveals a bit of the current uncertainty and the bureaucratic wrangling that appears to be going on. Some key parts:
U.S. defense leaders are increasingly concerned that Israel is preparing to take military action against Iran, over U.S. objections, and have stepped up contingency planning to safeguard U.S. facilities in the region in case of a conflict.
President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other top officials have delivered a string of private messages to Israeli leaders warning about the dire consequences of a strike. The U.S. wants Israel to give more time for the effects of sanctions and other measures intended to force Iran to abandon its perceived efforts to build nuclear weapons.
Stepping up the pressure, Mr. Obama spoke by telephone on Thursday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and U.S. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will meet with Israeli military officials in Tel Aviv next week….
Mr. Panetta and other top officials have privately sought assurances from Israeli leaders in recent weeks that they won’t take military action against Iran. But the Israeli response has been noncommittal, U.S. officials said.
U.S. officials briefed on the military’s planning said concern has mounted over the past two years that Israel may strike Iran. But rising tensions with Iran and recent changes at Iranian nuclear sites have ratcheted up the level of U.S. alarm.
“Our concern is heightened,” a senior U.S. military official said of the probability of an Israeli strike over U.S. objections.
Tehran crossed at least one of Israel’s “red lines” earlier this month when it announced it had begun enriching uranium at the Fordow underground nuclear facility near the holy city of Qom.
The planned closing of Israel’s nuclear plant near Dimona this month, which was reported in Israeli media, sounded alarms in Washington, where officials feared it meant Israel was repositioning its own nuclear assets to safeguard them against a potential Iranian counterstrike.
Despite the close relationship between the U.S. and Israel, U.S. officials have consistently puzzled over Israeli intentions. “It’s hard to know what’s bluster and what’s not with the Israelis,” said a former U.S. official.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Well, this is just peachy:
The IRNA state news agency said Saturday that Iran’s Foreign Ministry has sent a diplomatic letter to the U.S. saying that it has “evidence and reliable information” that the CIA provided “guidance, support and planning” to assassins “directly involved” in Roshan’s killing.
The U.S. has denied any role in the assassination….
In the clearest sign yet that Iran is preparing to strike back for Roshan’s killing, Gen. Masoud Jazayeri, the spokesman for Iran’s Joint Armed Forces Staff, was quoted by the semiofficial ISNA news agency Saturday as saying that Tehran was “reviewing the punishment” of “behind-the-scene elements” involved in the assassination.
“Iran’s response will be a tormenting one for supporters of state terrorism,” he said, without elaborating. “The enemies of the Iranian nation, especially the United States, Britain and the Zionist regime, or Israel, have to be held responsible for their activities.”
Posted By Daniel W. Drezner Wednesday, January 11, 2012 – 3:31 PM
The best grand theories tend to be written no earlier than middle age, when the writer has life experience and mistakes behind him to draw upon. Morgenthau’s 1948 classic, Politics Among Nations, was published when he was 44, Fukuyama’s The End of History was published as a book when he was 40, and Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations as a book when he was 69. Mearsheimer began writing The Tragedy of Great Power Politics when he was in his mid-40s, after working on it for a decade. Published just before 9/11, the book intimates the need for America to avoid strategic distractions and concentrate on confronting China. A decade later, with the growth of China’s military might vastly more apparent than it was in 2001, and following the debacles of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, its clairvoyance is breathtaking.
Note to self: start outlining awesome, earth-moving grand theory now. [Note to Drezner: sorry, but you already dug your own grave when it comes to intellectual legacy--ed.]
It’s not surprising that Kaplan, a geopolitics wonk, loves Tragedy, with its emphasis on the “stopping power of water” and all. The essay is worth reading in full — but seeing as how I’m quoted without attribution I’ve done a bit of research on realism, I can’t let this casual assertion go by without some pushback:
[I]n a country that has always been hostile to what realism signifies, [Mearsheimer] wears his “realist” label as a badge of honor. “To realism!” he says as he raises his wineglass to me in a toast at a local restaurant. As Ashley J. Tellis, Mearsheimer’s former student and now, after a stint in the Bush administration, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment, later tells me: “Realism is alien to the American tradition. It is consciously amoral, focused as it is on interests rather than on values in a debased world. But realism never dies, because it accurately reflects how states actually behave, behind the façade of their values-based rhetoric.”…
For Mearsheimer, academia’s hostility to realism is evident in the fact that Harvard, which aims to recruit the top scholars in every field, never tried to hire the two most important realist thinkers of the 20th century, Morgenthau and Kenneth Waltz. But at Chicago, a realist like Mearsheimer, who loves teaching and never had ambitions for government service, can propound theories and unpopular ideas, and revel in the uproar they cause. Whatever the latest group-think happens to be, Mearsheimer almost always instinctively wants to oppose it—especially if it emanates from Washington.
This notion of realism being alien to the United States has been a recurring theme of realists, since, well, realism asserted itself in the American academy. It’s impossible to have a conversation with John Mearsheimer longer than 15 minutes without him bringing up this point.
The thing is, it’s a sloppy argument lacking in empirical foundation. Just for starters, even realists acknowledge that Ron Paul’s campaign is doing well because it’s sympatico with the realist critique of American foreign policy. More substantively, this canard is why I researched and wrote “The Realist Tradition in American Public Opinion“ a few years ago. My principal conclusion from that essay:
Americans do hold some liberal aspirations for their conduct across the globe, and believe that morality should play a role in foreign affairs—in the abstract. However, surveys about foreign policy world views and priorities, the use of force, and foreign economic policies all reveal a strong realist bent among the mass American public. The overwhelming majority of Americans possess a Hobbesian world view of international relations. Americans consistently place realist foreign policy objectives— the securing of energy supplies, homeland security—as top foreign policy priorities. Objectives associated with liberal internationalism—strengthening the United Nations, promoting democracy and human rights—rank near the bottom of the list. On the uses of force, experimental surveys reveal that Americans think like intuitive neorealists; they prefer balancing against aggressive and rising powers while remaining leery about liberal-style interventions. On foreign economic policy, Americans think of trade through a relative gains prism, particularly if the trading partner is viewed as a rising economic power. Surveys and polling do suggest that Americans like multilateral institutions, but they appear to like them for realist reasons—they are viewed as mechanisms for burden-sharing.
It is somewhat more accurate to say that America’s foreign policy elites are more hostile to realpolitik — though even here, things can be exaggerated. The recent TRIP survey, for example, revealed that realism might not be the most popular paradigm among IR scholars, but it still commands a healthy fraction of academics, and commands an even greater fraction of attention in international relations courses.
This might seem like a small point, but it’s an important one — because to be honest I’m fed up with realists whining that everyone is against them. If there is one thing that academic realists have in common, it’s a strong, cultivated sense of victimhood. “Our field despises us! Americans don’t like us! The foreign policy community hates us!”
Cut it out already. There is a long intellectual lineage in the American academy — starting with Hans Morgenthau and continuing with Mearsheimer and his students — that evinces realist principles. There is an equally strong intellectual lineage of policy principals – starting with George Kennan and continuing with Brent Scowcroft and his acolytes — that walk the realist walk. Realists advocate a doctrine that genuinely resonates with a large swath of the American mass public. If realists fail to popularize their own ideas, then perhaps they should look in the mirror before invoking the “everyone hates us so we must be right” card.
Posted By Daniel W. Drezner Wednesday, January 4, 2012 – 6:43 PM
Your humble blogger must confess to having a different interest in the results. The good folks running the survey were kind enough to add some questions about how scholars think Web 2.0 technologies — blogs, wikis, tweets, podcasts, etc. — fit into our discipline. This is a natural follow-on to some research that Charli Carpenter and I published recently. Since this is the first time these sorts of questions have been asked, this is strictly a “snapshot” of where the field was in 2011, not the trend over time. Still, given the anecdotal evidence of prior hostility to these technologies, it’s an interesting snapshot.
Looking at the topline survey results, here are the most interesting tidbits I found:
1) More than 28% of respondents cited a blog post in their scholarship, and more than 56% used blogs as a teaching tool. The positive responses for newer Web 2.0 technologies — Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia, YouTube – were much smaller on the research side. On the other hand, a stunning 90% of respondents said they used YouTube in their teaching.
2) 28% of respondents had, at a minimum, contributed to a blog. 7% of respondents “regularly contrribute” to a blog.
3) I tweeted some wrath last month about grading a paper that footnoted a Wikipedia page (for the record, I don’t mind students using Wikipedia as a first-stop for research, but I do mind students who don’t follow the hyperlinks). I see I would be joined in that assessment by about 85% of my IR colleagues.
4) No respondent thinks that contributing or maintaining a blog is important for advancing their academic career. Intriguingly, however, there is certainly more appreciation about the role of blogs in the discipline than is commonly understood. To be specific:
a) 25% of respondents do think blogs devoted to international relations should count in evaluating a professor’s research output. I guarantee you that number would have been much lower even a few ywars ago;
b) More than 66% of respondents thought such an activity should count in evaluating a professor’s service to the profession.
c) 90% of respondents believed that IR blogs had a beneficial impact on foreign policy formulation;
d) More than 51% of respondents thought that IR blogs had a beneficial impact on the discipline of international relations.
There’s a lot more data to discuss, but I would say that this veeeeery interesting snapshot should be enough to generate some discussion for now. For example, do readers think that these numbers will plateau, grow or recede over time?
Posted By Daniel W. Drezner Wednesday, December 14, 2011 – 2:27 PM
To reiterate the criteria for what merits an Albie nomination:
I’m talking about any book, journal article, magazine piece, op-ed, or blog post published in the calendar year that made you rethink how the world works in such a way that you will never be able “unthink” the argument.
I know that this was a super-boring year for those interested in the global political economy, so it’s going to be tough to find good material. Still, please try — this is, I believe, the only year-end Top 10 list that neither Time nor The Atlantic has comandeered. Here’s a link to my 2010 list for reference.
The winners will be announced on December 31st. In the meantime, readers are strongly encouraged to submit their nominations (with links if possible) in the comments.
Posted By Daniel W. Drezner Monday, December 12, 2011 – 2:32 PM
[I]t is to the risk of an EMP attack that Mr. Gingrich has repeatedly returned. And while the message may play well to hawkish audiences, who might warm to the candidate’s suggestion that the United States engage in pre-emptive military strikes against Iran and North Korea, many nuclear experts dismiss the threat. America’s current missile defense system would thwart such an attack, these experts say, and the nations in question are at the kindergarten stage of developing nuclear arms.
The Missile Defense Agency, an arm of the Pentagon that maintains an arsenal of ground-based interceptors ready to fly into space and smash enemy warheads, says that defeating such an attack would be as straightforward as any other defense of the continental United States.
“It doesn’t matter if the target is Chicago or 100 miles over Nebraska,” said Richard Lehner, an agency spokesman. “For the interceptor, it’s the same thing.” He called the potential damage from a nuclear electromagnetic pulse attack “pretty theoretical.”
Yousaf M. Butt, a nuclear physicist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, who last year did a lengthy analysis of EMP for The Space Review, a weekly online journal, said, “If terrorists want to do something serious, they’ll use a weapon of mass destruction — not mass disruption.” He said, “They don’t want to depend on complicated secondary effects in which the physics is not very clear.”
Mr. Gingrich’s spokesman, R. C. Hammond, did not respond to e-mails asking for comment. But the candidate, a former history professor and House speaker, has defended his characterizations as accurate. At a forum in Des Moines on Saturday for military veterans, Mr. Gingrich said an electromagnetic pulse attack was one of several pressing national security threats the United States faced. “In theory, a relatively small device over Omaha would knock out about half the electricity generated in the United States,” he told the veterans.
I’m neither a security expert nor a rocket scientist. After reading Broad’s article, the Space Review annalysis, the rebuttal to that analysis, and Sharon Winberger’s excellent FP write-up from last year, however, I’m reasonably confident that the threat posed by EMP is remote for the near-to-medium future. The scenarios in which an EMP would affect the United States rely on a) rogue states making serious leaps forward in their ballistic missile technology and nuclear engineering; and b) those same actors deciding that it’s in their national interest to launch a first strike against a country with a reliable second-strike nuclear deterrent.
Nevertheless, I can see why Newt Skywalker would be concerned. Most of the taking-EMP-threat seriously essays harp on the devastating effect of such an attack. Surely, Gingrich would argue, even a small possibility of this actually happening justifies at least some investment into countermeasures and preventive actions. Indeed, Gingrich has explicitly made that argument:
Without adequate preparation, its impact would be so horrifying that we would basically lose our civilization in a matter of seconds…. I think it’s very important to get people to understand now, before there is a disaster, how truly grave the threat is.*
Fair enough… let’s be generous and say there’s a 10% chance of this being a real problem over the next two decades. If that’s the case, maybe Gingrich is right to bring it up as an underestimated threat.
Here’s my question, however. If we’re talking about threats to civilization as we know it, isn’t there another possibility that has a much higher probability of occurring — let’s say, better than 50% at least — and a similarly lax amount of preventive action? Like, say, climate change?
As Uri Friedman and Joshua Keating have documented for FP, however, Gingrich’s assessment of that threat has changed recently. Last month, on this issue, he said the following:
I actually don’t know whether global warming is occurring…. The earth’s temperatures go up and down over geologic times over and over again. As recently as 11,000 years ago the Gulf Stream quit for 600 years. And for 600 years you had an ice age in Europe because there was no warm water coming up. And then it started up again. Nobody knows why it quit, nobody knows why it started up. I’m agnostic.
This is fascinating. On the one hand, you have a long-term cataclysmic threat to the planet that commands the consensus of an overwhelming majority of experts in the field. On the other hand, you have a long-term cataclysmic threat to the United States that commands nowhere close to the same level of consensus. Based on his rhetoric, Gingrich wants urgent action to be taken on the latter, but not the former. Why?
I’m not bringing this up to suggest that Gingrich is a buffoon. He could plausibly argue that a lot of people are harping on climate change while only Gingrich can call attention to the EMP possibility. It’s possible that the costs of preventive action on climate change are much greater than dealing with EMP (though if that includes preventive attacks on Iran and North Korea, I’m dubious).
What I’m wondering is whether there is a partisan divide in assessing threats, as there is in assessing economic principles. I wonder if conservatives are far more likely to focus on threats in which there is a clear agent with a malevolent intent, whereas liberals are more likely to focus on threats that lack agency and are more systemic in nature (climate change, pandemics, nuclear accidents, etc.)
What do you think?
*Incidentally, this is the same logic I used to justify greater research into the threat posed by the living dead. Just saying….
Posted By Daniel W. Drezner Friday, December 9, 2011 – 2:35 PM
“Europe is wealthy enough that there’s no reason why they can’t solve this problem,” Obama told reporters at the White House.
“If they muster the political will, they have the capacity to settle markets down, make sure that they are acting responsibly and that governments like Italy are able to finance their debt.” (emphasis added)
By and large, political scientists hate the concept of political will. As I’ve said numerous times on the blog, “political will” is usually tantamount to saying, “if only politicians would completely ignore short-term political incentives and do the right thing!” Or, to put a finer point on it, “if only politicians stopped acting like politicians!” Because we as a profession tend to focus on structural forces and immutable preferences, “leadership” as a variable often (though not always) falls by the wayside.
Looking at the latest EU summit/eurozone machinations, however, I’m beginning to wonder if we need to think about “first image” explanations for what just happened. As the Wall Street Journal, Felix Salmon, Financial Times, Paul Krugman, and Economist are all reporting, it was pretty friggin’ disastrous. Salmon provides the most complete autopsy — here’s a snippet:
[A]nother half-baked solution is exactly what we got. Which means, I fear, that it is now, officially, too late to save the Eur ozone: the collapse of the entire edifice is now not a matter of if but rather of when.
For one thing, fracture is being built into today’s deal: rather than find something acceptable to all 27 members of the European Union, the deal being done is getting negotiated only between the 17 members of the Euro zone. Where does that leave EU members like Britain which don’t use the euro? Out in the cold, with no leverage. If the UK doesn’t want to help save the euro — and, by all accounts, it doesn’t — then that in and of itself makes the task much more difficult.
But that’s just the beginning of the failures we’re seeing from European leaders right now. It seems that German chancellor Angela Merkel is insisting on a fully-fledged treaty change — something there simply isn’t time for, and which the electorates of nearly all European countries would dismiss out of hand. Europe, whatever its other faults, is still a democracy, and it’s clear that any deal is going to be hugely unpopular among most of Europe’s population. There’s simply no chance that a new treaty will get the unanimous ratification it needs, and in the mean time the EU’s crisis-management tools are just not up to dealing with the magnitude of the current crisis.
The fundamental problem is that there isn’t enough money to go around. The current bailout fund, the European Financial Stability Facility, is barely big enough to cope with Greece; it doesn’t have a chance of being able to bail out a big economy like Italy or Spain. So it needs to beef up: it needs to be able to borrow money from the one entity which is actually capable of printing money, the European Central Bank.
But the ECB’s president, Mario Draghi, has made it clear that’s not going to happen. Draghi is nominally Italian but in reality one of the stateless European technocratic elite: a former vice chairman and managing director of Goldman Sachs, he’s perfectly comfortable delivering Italy the bad news that he’s not going to lend her the money she needs. He’s very reluctant to lend it directly, he won’t lend it to the EFSF, and he won’t lend it to the IMF. Draghi has his instructions, and he’s sticking to them — even if doing so means the end of the euro zone as we know it.
So, what explains this mess — the inexorable structural problems of the European Union, or the lack of political leadership? At this point, I’m genuinely uncertain. For example, the facile explanation for British Prime Minister David Cameron’s rejection of an EU treaty is catering to his domestic interests — namely the British financial sector. Then, however, we get to this bit from the Economist:
After much studied vagueness on his part about Britain’s objectives, Mr Cameron’s demand came down to a protocol that would ensure Britain would be given a veto on financial-services regulation (see PDF copy here. The British government has become convinced that the European Commission, usually a bastion of liberalism in Europe, has been issuing regulations hostile to the City of London under the influence of its French single-market commissioner, Michel Barnier. And yet strangely, given the accusation that Brussels was taking aim at the heart of the British economy, almost all of the new rules issued so far have been passed with British approval (albeit after much bitter backroom fighting). Tactically, too, it seemed odd to make a stand in defence of the financiers that politicians, both in Britain and across the rest of European, prefer to denounce….
Britain may assume it will benefit from extra business for the City, should the euro zone ever pass a financial-transaction tax. But what if the new club starts imposing financial regulations among the 17 euro-zone members, or the 23 members of the euro-plus pact? That could begin to force euro-denominated transactions into the euro zone, say Paris or Frankfurt. Britain would, surely, have had more influence had the countries of the euro zone remained under an EU-wide system.
As for Merkel, well, my take on her leadership style has been documented already. She’s dealing with an opposition that is castigating her for not taking swifter and more drastic action to resolve the eurocrisis. In response, she’s pushing for changes that will take months, if ever, to accomplish — and, if they are accomplished, have no guarantee of actually solving the problem. It doesn’t seem like the eurozone has that time.
As for Draghi, well, one could attribute his range of half-hearted measures to his excessively cautious leadership — after all the ECB is an ostensibly independent institution, so presumably Dragh has the greatest amount of autonomy. It’s not that simple, however — Draghi wouldn’t have been selected as the new ECB head unless he demonstrated the kind of policy traits that made him acceptable to Germany in the first place. Oddly enough, although Draghi currently has the most freedom of action, the structures that ensured he would become the new ECB head ensured he would be the least likely person to exploit that freedom.
So, stepping back, there appears to be a role for the quality of political leadership as an explanatory factor for the current eurozone crisis. Properly defining that role, however, is beyond the capacity of this blog post.
What do you think?
There’s obviously going to be much gnashing of teeth about this from the usual suspects, and much caterwauling about said gnashing of teeth from the other usual suspects. So perhaps it’s worth stepping back for a second to appreciate the fact that, contra realism, most alliances in recent history are far more long-lasting than a particular leader’s term of office. Obviously, certain leaders – see: Castro, Fidel — can realign a country from one great power to another. Geopolitical pressures can cause other countries — see: India — to realign during critical junctures. Still, these have been the exceptions rather than the rule since 1945.
The Netanyahu/Obama flap is clearly one of clashing ideologies and clashing personalities, but it doesn’t really change all that much in the way of the US-Israeli alliance. The defense cooperation between United States and Israel is stronger and larger than ever before, for example. The fundamentals of the alliance remain unchanged. As Robert Blackwill and Walter Slocombe recently pointed out in their WINEP paper:
[T]he United States and Israel have an impressive list of common national interests; that Israeli actions make substantial direct contributions to these U.S. interests; and that wise policymakers and people concerned with U.S. foreign policy, while never forgetting the irreplaceable values and moral responsibility dimensions of the bilateral relationship, should recognize the benefits Israel provides for U.S. national interestsThis argument has drawn criticism from the usual suspects, but it reaffirms my point that alliances rarely rise and fall due to individual leaders.So think of dust-ups like the open mic gaffe as mild ripples in the flow of friendship between the two countries, while the stock of the alliance remains fundamentally constant.
[Um... does tha fact alone merit a blog post?--ed.] Good point. There are two other zombie-and-me events this week.
From 7-9 PM EST this Wednesday, I’ll be the “Expert to Discuss How Theories of International Relations Could Salvage Humanity from Global Zombie Apocalypse” according to this press release. That’s because I’ll be delivering the Centre for International Governance Innovation’s Signature Lecture on Zombies, the G20 and International Governance in Waterloo, Canada. Not any old zombie lecture — the signature one. If you don’t live in Waterloo, don’t worry, you can sign up for the free, live webcast of the lecture.
As a warm-up for that lecture, however, might I suggest, the night before, watching Zombies: A Living History. It will be aired on the History Channel on Tuesday, October 25, at 8 PM. The filmmakers interviewed me for half a day, so I’ll pop up now and again.
Here’s the extended trailer:
Enjoy your weekend!
Posted By Daniel W. Drezner Sunday, September 18, 2011 – 8:29 PM
Why has it dome so well? Well, I was extraordinarily lucky it has been marketed in many unusual venues. Still, I suspect the biggest reason for these numbers is that TIPZ is now being assigned in college courses (and in some rather disturbing instances, in lieu of college class sessions). Indeed, its popularity has led to juuuuust a wee bit of blowback from a few students and faculty.
Which leads me to the purpose of this blog post. Consider this an open request to both students and faculty who are using the book ij their classes. Is it useful? Not so much? Too many puns? Not enough? Are there ways to make it more useful for students? I’ve already received some very positive pedagogical feedback, but negative feedback — i.e., anything that needs to be changed — is welcomed as well.
I ask because, more likely than not, I’ll be working on a revised revived edition of TIPZ in about a year or so. Such a revision will, of course, add in more topical zombie references (Both comic book and TV versions of The Walking Dead, or MTV’s Death Valley), recent policy developments (the CDC weighing in on the zombie menace), follow-on research, and a fleshing out of additional theoretical paradigms as well. Plus more drawings, because they’re awesome.
So, let me know what you’d like to see in the new edition to make it even more useful in a classroom setting. And if you insist on telling me that the text is completely perfect as is, well, I can bear hearing that too.
Posted By Daniel W. Drezner Monday, September 5, 2011 – 3:35 PM
Instead of a flurry of new thinking at the highest echelons of the foreign policy establishment, the major decisions of the past two administrations have been generated from the same tool kit of foreign policy ideas that have dominated the world for decades. Washington’s strategic debates – between neoconservatives and liberals, between interventionists and realists – are essentially struggles among ideas and strategies held over from the era when nation-states were the only significant actors on the world stage. As ideas, none of them were designed to deal effectively with a world in which states are grappling with powerful entities that operate beyond their control….
As yet, no major new theory has taken root in the most influential policy circles to explain how America should act in this kind of world, in which Wikileaks has made a mockery of the diplomatic pouch and Silicon Valley rivals Washington for cultural influence. But there are at least some signs that people in power are starting to try in earnest. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has openly integrated the search for a new paradigm into her policy making. In universities, think tanks, and the government, thinkers trying to grapple with this fluid world structure are finally getting attention in the circles where their ideas could shape policy.
Read the whole, provocative thing — if you agree with Cambanis’ arguments, then it certainly represents a data point in favor of Anne-Marie Slauighter’s vision of how world politics operates.
My onlytweak of Cambanis’ essay is that he repeatedly stresses the need for a new generation of strategic concepts and international relations theories to guide U.S. grand strategy, and then lists as examples the following:
Joseph Nye, a Harvard political scientist who served in the Carter and Clinton administrations and has advised Secretary of State Clinton, was one of the pioneers. In the 1990s, he coined the term “soft power,” arguing that sometimes the most effective way for America to promote its interests would be through influencing global health and the environment, or culture and education. His latest book, “The Future of Power,” counsels that America can preserve its influence if it reconceives its institutions and priorities to deal with a world where the energy is shifting from the West to the East, as well as from states to non-state actors. Michael Doyle at Columbia University, a seminal theorist whose idea of a “democratic peace” in the 1990s crucially inflected policy with the belief that democracies don’t fight each other, now talks about the notion of an age of the “empowered individual,” where lone actors can alter the trajectory of states and of history as never before. Stephen Walt, also at Harvard, argues that in the new era America simply needs to start by acknowledging its limits: that with less muscle and less extra money, the first step will be to streamline its goals in a way that so far politicians have been loath to do.
No offense to Joseph Nye, Michael Doyle, and Steve Walt — these are Great Men of interntional relaions thought. The notions that Cambanis lists here, however, are not “new” in any sense. Which leads me to wonder whether Cambanis has defined the problem correctly. Is it that international relations theory has gone stale… or is it simply that the wrong set of existing theories are in vogue today?
What do you think?
Posted By Daniel W. Drezner Monday, August 29, 2011 – 3:47 PM
I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here?’ Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we’ve got to rein in the spending.
An interesting hypothesis!! So, there are three possibilities here. The first is that Bachmann was joking – in which case, wow, that’s a really tasteless joke given the loss of life and probably warrants a pretty big apology.
The second is that Bachmann is simply nuts wrong. Doug Mataconis points out,
I’m not sure how this computes given the fact that the storm largely spared Washington, D.C. and New York, while hammering a red states like North Carolina and a heavily Republican area like Virginia’s Tidewater region.
Well, socialist-supporting Vermont got hit pretty hard too, but still, this is a fair point, and “Bachmann being wrong” seems like another safe bet.
The third possibility is the one I want to explore, however — what if Bachmann is right? What if God really is using wrath to coerce humanity into implementing a particular set of policy preferences?
A God-fearing person would naturally decide to obey. However, this kind of coercive demand strikes me as a pretty massive intrusion into human sovereignty. The point of a democracy is for majorities of citizens and their elected representatives to decide matters of policy. Recent history suggests that neither sovereign governments nor their populations take kindly to coercive threats from other men. If we acquiesce to Divine demands now, don’t we just let God win?
Bachmann’s response suggests an obvious bandwagoning approach to the awesome power of deities: When God says jump, you should say, how high? And, indeed, if the Almighty really is omnipotent, this strategy has much to recommend it. Bandwagoning is generally recommended when the targeted actor is comparatively weak, has few natural allies, and believes that the targeting actor can be appeased with concessions. This seems to fit the Old Testament, monotheistic God to a tee.
On the other hand, however, might a balancing approach yield better long-term results? After all, God has a disturbing track record of making demands like this. We know from Genesis the Old Testament that the Almighty has a tendency to, well, you know, smite humans on a semi-regular basis. There’s the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, an awful lot of Egyptians, etc. This doesn’t even include the number of times God demanded death (the sacrifice of Isaac, Ninevah) only to relent at the last minute. Sure, God has some good reasons in some of these instances, but from a threat assessment perspective, it’s veeeeery disturbing.
Maybe the bandwagoning criteria don’t apply. If one operates along the monotheistic assumption*, humans should ask if there is a possible ally out there to help resist God’s will [Don't go there --ed.], an entity who is God’s enduring rival [You're really going there, aren't you?! --ed.] , one who might have the necessary power to make God think twice about all that smiting?
It’s time to wonder … would a temporary alliance with Satan really be that bad? [Yes it world!! --ed.] Winston Churchill once said, “If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.” Now I’m not sure I would even go that far … the whole selling souls thing sounds like a pretty big demand too. That said, a sober, realpolitik perspective would demand that making a deal with the devil has to be a policy option that stays on the table.
[How about a nice buck-passing strategy instead?--ed. Hey, I'd love to just force other creatures like, say, apes to go toe-to-toe with God, but I just don't see it happening.]
Readers are warmly encouraged to puzzle this out for themselves — or, instead, to buy the very entertaining Biblical Games by Steven Brams.
*The monotheism assumption is important when thinking about how to cope with a venegeful god. If the universe turns out to be polytheistic, then the question becomes whether us mortals can sow dissension among the gods before someone releases a Kraken.
Rather than seeing the international sphere as a space for inter-state power politics, or as a space for networked common action, we can think of it as a space for contagion.That is, think of it as a space where ever-multiplying and ever-ramifying sets of networked relationships across border serve not to enable problem-solving DIY diplomatists, but instead to transmit social influences in ways that are difficult to predict ex ante. This would mean taking seriously the kinds of complexity theory and network theory arguments that Anne-Marie mentions, but following them to a quite different set of conclusions than she does.
The world that complexity theory and network theory depicts is one where actions have highly unpredictable consequences. This follows both from theoretical arguments about processes of contagion across large scale networks, and from empirical research conducted via e.g. experiments….
Just because the world has become more networked, it does not mean that states can either (a) easily use networks to pursue their policy goals, or (b) turn over responsibilities to networks that will self-organize around socially useful tasks and responsibilities. To the extent that networks’ politics are predictable, they will conform to the same kinds of (frequently unpleasant) politics as do states. That is, they will be characterized by power inequalities (sometimes gross), actors pursuing their self-interest while entirely blind to the needs of others, and the rest of the shebang. To the extent that networks’ politics unpredictable, they will be unlikely to be useful tools of policy.
This is a story with far fewer helpful policy lessons than either Dan’s or Anne-Marie’s. It points to plausible developments in world politics, without providing any very obvious tools to deal with them.
I need to process Henry’s arguments more before making a fully thought-out response. This is a blog, a two half-assed thoughts should suffice for now. First, Henry gets at something that was implicit in the exchange between Anne-Marie and myself: the notion that powerful actors possess considerable agency in world politics. Slaughter and I might disagree about who those actors are, but we assumed that power = agency. Farrell’s point about contagion is that this presumption does not necessarily hold. And the policy implications of that suggestion are rather jarring, to say the least.
Second, however, my own theoretical predilections lead me to wonder whether powerful agents can halt/regulate/control the spread of contagion more . The Arab Spring suggests such possibilities. So far, the general unrest in the region has toppled a regime in Tunisia, partially toppled regimes in Egypt and Yemen, led to a civil war in Libya, and led to… something in Syria.
This is not insignificant, but it’s worth remembering that the wave of unrest was much larger than those countries. Early protests in Iran went nowhere — in no small part because the Iraniann state has gotten very, very good at cracking down. Led by Saudi Arabia, the Gulf monarchies have by and large kept populist demands at bay, going so far as to invite Jordan and Morocco to join the Gulf Cooperation Council.
I’m not trying to pull a Kevin Bacon here; the Arab Spring is Big Earthshaking Stuff. My point, rather, is that not every contagion proceeds unimpeded — there are counter-contagions as well. When and how those counterwaves happen is worthy of consideration.
What do you think?
Posted By Daniel W. Drezner Saturday, August 13, 2011 – 3:38 PM
About lesser issues like the contours of world politics, we have some respectful disagreements. This is a fun debate, to have, so let’s dive right in!
To summarize the gist of Slaughter’s latest post: she argues that realists think of the world through a states-only, security-first, billiard-ball approach:
[T]he whole point of realism, as every first year IR student knows, is that structural realism (the school that holds as its bible Kenneth Waltz’s Man, the State, and War) says that international relations analysts can treat the world as if it were composed only of states pursuing their power-based interests.
In constrast, Slaughter advocates a “modern/liberal-social” because such an approach will:
[factor in] all the important social actors, from tribes to democracy activists, focus on the relationship between those social actors and their governments, then assess interests relative to other governments that are themselves enmeshed in domestic and transnational social networks.
Slaughter asserts that the second perspective is the superior approach despite its greater complexity, because it permits a greater focus on the “social and developmental issues” that Slaughter believes will the the primary drivers of world politics over the next decade. As evidence for her more enlightened perspective, Slaughter compares her Twitter stream with my Twitter stream and concludes:
Going through these tweets actually offered an even more succinct contrast between how Dan and I think about foreign policy. Dan asked last week, addressed to all “IR tweeps”: “Is there a better international relations song than Tears for Fears ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World?’” He got some great responses, but for me, his choice says it all about how, his protests notwithstanding, he sees the world. (Many a truth is spoken in jest.) By contrast (and again, with much less humor!), I tweeted a link on Monday to a in the Financial Times by the Israeli novelist Etgar Keret on the J14 protests and quoted the following passage: “In our current reality, the political cannot be separated from the social.” The new foreign policy frontier is deeply social, as messy and unsatisfactory as that may be.
Slaughter’s historiography of realism is a touch problematic, but also a bit of a distraction, so I’ll leave it to others to address that question. Instead, let’s start with the Twitter evidence.
Slaughter is clearly a huge fan of microblogging (despite its negative externalities) and its social networking capabilities. As an earlier adopter of these technologies, I’m a fan too. I do think there’s a danger of reading too much into this kind of data, however. If I really didn’t care about the kind of social and economic issues that Slaughter embraces… well, I wouldn’t be following her. Like any curious IR scholar, however, I do follow her. Just because I don’t tweet/re-tweet about these things all that much doesn’t mean I don’t read/blog/write about them in other venues. Slaughter assumes that I manage my Twitter feed the same way she does, as a natural extension of her research interests. Trust me when I say that I value Twitter somewhat differently.
This might be a trivial issue, but it gets at a point I hinted at in my last post: there’s a difference between what’s visible and what’s significant in world politics. Twitter is highly visible, for example, but I think it’s significance might be exaggerated – or, rather, online networks merely replicate offline power structures. The threat of coercion is often invisible — but it’s effects can be quite significant.
Slaughter’s more substantive point is her contrast between old-school realpolitik and new-school modern social-liberal foreign policy approach. On this distincton, let me start by observing that another important modern strategy in world politics is the notion of issue-framing. If they’re good, policy entrepreneurs will be able to take their issue and frame it in a manner most favorable to their preferred policy solution. When their policy problem is pushed to the front of the queue, they are therefore likely to win the argument.
I bring this up by noting that I don’t accept Slaughter’s framing of our dispute. She posits that only by adopting her international relations worldview is it possible to recognize the social and developmental issues that are bubbling under the surface in world politics. Because realists primarily care about guns, bomb, and interstate security, they ostensibly will miss these problems.
Now, I know a lot of realists, and I can kinda sorta understand how Slaughter arrived at this caricatured version of realism. Nevertheless, Slaughter conflates subject matter with how one models the dynamics of the subject matter. In his last memoir, even über-classical-realist Henry Kissinger acknowledged the importance of human rights issues in modern diplomacy and staecraft. I certainly agree that the economic, social and developmental issues that are near and dear to Slaughter’s heart are matters of import for world politics — indeed, this is a theme I’ve written and rambled spoken about for quite some time. I suspect most realist IPE scholars believe these issues are important… or they wouldn’t be studying IPE in the first place.
Just because I agree with the importance of these issue areas, however, does not mean that I agree with Slaughter’s implicit model of how these issues get addressed. Anne-Marie places great faith in the ability of transnational, networked, non-state actors to bend the policy agenda to their preferred sets of solutions. I think that these groups can try to voice their demands for particular policy problems to be addressed. I think, at the national level, that social movements can force even recalcitrant politicians to alter their policy agenda (see: Party, Tea). Where Slaughter’s optimism runs into my skepticism is the ability of these movements to a) go transnational; and b) supply rather than demand global solutions. I’m skeptical about the viability of transnational interests to effectively pressure multiple governments to adopt a common policy solution, and I’m super-skeptical that these groups can supply broad-based solutions independently of national governments.
There’s a “two-step” approach to world politics with which Slaughter is intimately familiar: it posits that interest groups and social movements can influence national policy preferences, but that outcomes in world politics are driven by the distribution of power and preferences among national governments. In her embrace of a new foreign policy frontier, Slaughter embraces the first step and mostly rejects the second.
That second step is really important, however, as most social movements are keenly aware. Indeed, most of the protests that Slaughter keeps identifying on Twitter are not about solving problems on their own, but demanding that governments address or ameliorate their needs.
Slaughter can and will point to Very Important Initiatives like the Gates Foundation or the Summit Against Violent Extremism as examples of supplying such solutions. These can matter at particular points in particular places, but I’ll need to see some powerful evidence before I think that these transnational groups are as potent as, say, nationalism as political force in the world. All of the social movements and all of the online networks can agitate for policy solutions, but they’re not going to be able to alter fierce distributional conflicts that exist when trying to address many of the topline issues in world politics show no signs of abating. The kind of non-state actors that Slaughter embraces have not been shy in engaging issues like climate change, Israel/Palestine or macroeconomic imbalances — but I haven’t seen any appreciable change in global public policies as a result.
Now, it’s possible that Slaughter will eventually be proven right. That’s the cool thing about studying international relations, we keep adding new data with every passing day. So, here’s my challenge to Anne-Marie — name three significant issue areas in which these kinds of networked actors will significantly alter the status quo (and I look forward to Slaughter falsifying me to within an inch of my life.). Because I can think of far too many issues — including those listed above — on which their impact will be negligible.
One final point: I agree with Slaughter that the issues she cares about are important, and attention must be paid to them. That said, the realist in me is not quite ready to claim that the old security-focused approach to foreign policy is truly outdated. Yes, traditional wars are much rarer than they used to be. That said, we’re just one unsteady power transition away in North Korea, China or Pakistan for traditional concerns about militarized great power combat to return to the main stage of foreign policy practitioners. I really hope Anne-Marie is correct about these new issues being the important ones — because that means the horrors of great power war continue to stay a distant memory.
Posted By Daniel W. Drezner Friday, August 5, 2011 – 9:55 PM
Over at Abu Muqawana, Andrew Exum and Erin Simpson provide a useful breakdown of the choices available for those misbegotten fools young people thinking about getting a graduate degree in international affairs of some kind. Not surprisingly, the choice is highly contingent on a) your level of patience; and b) what you want to do with the degree afte you graduate.
Besides the criminal omission of The Greatest International Affairs Program in the World, I have only one cavil to their analysis. When they discuss getting a Ph.D. in the first place, they note:
[H]ere’s the dirty secret about DC. Everybody wants to hire PhDs, but most people don’t know anything about them. They won’t read your dissertation, they aren’t going to call your advisor (thank goodness), and most won’t know until it’s too late whether you’ve actually been trained in anything useful. So if you just want the credential, stop reading now and just find the cheapest, quickest program and git ‘er done.
And here I must dissent on one minor point and one major point. First, a small correction: if you’re trying to get a job in DC and you’re a newly-minted Ph.D., damn straight your advisor will get a phone call. This doesn’t always happen, but it’s more likely than not. I’ve been on the receiving end of several of these since arriving at Fletcher. True, one could always try not to list your advisor as a reference. The thing is, that is a massive red flag signaling that your advisor doesn’t think all that much of you.
Now, the major point: if your goal is to just get the Ph.D. credential, do not “find the cheapest, quickest program and git ‘er done.” Instead, just run away — run away as fast as you can.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again — there is no such thing as grinding out a Ph.D. People who think that can “gut out” a dissertation will never finish it. Unless you love whatever it is you’re writing about, you’ll never finish. You’ll hate the topic at some point — and without the love, you’ll find other ways to occupy your time than dissertating. This is particularly true at lower-ranked Ph.D.-granting institutions, because all of them aspire to be higher-ranked Ph.D.-granting institutions and believe the only way to do that is to “tool up” their students to within an inch of their lives.
This is one way in which a Ph.D. is different from a JD, an MBA or an MA. Coursework can be gutted out, as can exams. Writing 75,000 words on a topic requires something else, and anyone who tells you differently is selling you something.
Because most traditional Ph.D. programs start out with coursework, I’ll understand, dear readers, if you don’t believe me. To take advantage of the pedagogical tools of the Internet, however, here’s the best video I know that captures this decision:
And, just to be clear, aspiring Ph.D. students: I’m the guy with the weird Scottish accent, the bunny is the Ph.D. program, and all y’all are the ones suffering from the blood and gore.
Unless you really want to kill that bunny, just walk away.
Posted By Daniel W. Drezner Saturday, July 30, 2011 – 1:45 PM
Slaughter’s first post suggests the themes of her new blog — let’s take a look and see what she’s up to, shall we? Here are the opening paragraphs:
The frontier of foreign policy in the 21st century is social, developmental, digital, and global. Along this frontier, different groups of actors in society — corporations, foundations, NGOs, universities, think tanks, churches, civic groups, political activists, Facebook groups, and others — are mobilizing to address issues that begin as domestic social problems but that have now gone global. It is the world of the Land Mines Treaty and the International Criminal Court; global criminal and terrorist networks; vast flows of remittances that dwarf development assistance; micro-finance and serial entrepreneurship; the Gates Foundation; the Arab spring; climate change; global pandemics; Twitter; mobile technology to monitor elections, fight corruption, and improve maternal health; a new global women’s movement; and the demography of a vast youth bulge in the Middle East, Africa, and parts of Asia.
Traditional foreign policy continues to assume the world of World War II, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the first and second Gulf Wars — an international system in which a limited number of states pursue their largely power-based interests in bargaining situations that are often zero-sum and in which the line between international and domestic politics is still discernible and defensible. Diplomats and statesmen compete with each other in games of global chess, which, during crises, often shift into high-stakes poker. It is the world of high strategy, the world that Henry Kissinger writes about and longs for and that so-called “realist” commentators continually invoke.
Well, this is… this is… I’m sorry, I got lost among the ridiculously tall strawmen populating these paragraphs. I’ll go out on a limb and posit that not even Henry Kissinger thinks of the world the way Slaughter describes it. Just a quick glance at, say, Hillary Clinton’s recent speech in Hong Kong suggests that actual great power foreign policies bear no resemblance whatsoever to that description of “traditional foreign policy.”
Slaughter knows this very well, given that she was Clinton’s first director of policy planning. She also knows this because much of her writing in international relations is about the ways in which traditional governments are becoming more networked and adaptive to emergent foreign policy concerns. One could quibble about whether this is really a new trend, but Slaughter was correct to point out that states are doing this.
So, let’s get to the main point of her blog post: what does Slaughter think about this new frontier?
21st century diplomacy must not only be government to government, but also government to society and society to society, in a process facilitated and legitimated by government. That much broader concept opens the door to a do-it-yourself foreign policy, in which individuals and groups can invent and execute an idea — for good or ill — that can affect their own and other countries in ways that once only governments could.
In late June, I spent two days at the Summit Against Violent Extremism (#AVE on Twitter), a conference sponsored by Google Ideas, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Tribeca Film Festival that brought together more than 80 former gang members, violent religious extremists, violent nationalist extremists, and violent white supremacists from 19 countries across six continents. They came together with 120 academics, NGOs, public sector and private sector partners. The conference grew out of a vision developed by Jared Cohen, the head of Google Ideas, when he served in the U.S. State Department’s Office of Policy Planning together with Farah Pandit, who worked on countering violent extremism in the State Department’s Bureau of Eurasian Affairs and is the Special Representative to Muslim Communities. But, despite their role, bringing together this range of “formers” is something that Google Ideas and the Council on Foreign Relations can do much more easily than any government could. The range of projects creating networks to help build on effective, early intervention programs already working around the world, such as Singapore’s programs to deflect and deprogram Islamic radicals, will also be much easier to develop with a broader range of stakeholders, including some government participation, than they would be through government alone….
Skeptics argue that these kinds of initiatives are doomed to remain perennially peripheral and ineffectual. But, in case anyone hasn’t noticed, the traditional tools of fighting, talking, pressuring, and persuading government-to-government really aren’t working so well. Thirty years of urging reform produced next to nothing; 6 months of digitally and physically organized social protests and a political earthquake is shaking the broader Middle East. Twenty years of working toward a treaty to govern carbon emissions has barely yielded an informal “accord.” Yet measures taken by 40 cities organized by the Bloomberg Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative will have far more impact.
Outing myself as a skeptic, I’d make two points. First, Slaughter’s weakness as an international relations theorist is to uncritically observe phenomena like the Summit Against Violent Extremism and then inductively generalize from them to extrapolate the future of world politics. AVE is happening, but I’m gonna want to see a lot more evidence that it’s making a difference before calling it a success. There are a lot of issue areas where this kind of initiative will not substantially alter policy outcomes. Indeed, one could flip this around, look at new trends like sovereign wealth funds, national oil companies and and state-owned enterprises, and reach the exact opposite conclusions from Slaughter. I don’t, but you see my point — world politics is about a lot more than a Muslim woman setting up a Twitter account thanks to her microfinance loan.
Second, Slaughter’s climate change example is a great one. I don’t doubt that the initiatives she’s blogged about likely have accomplished more than the two decades of UN negotiations. I also don’t doubt, however, that those accomplishments are a drop in the bucket compared to what has needs to be done. Furthermore, I suspect these groups would strongly prefer joint government action to their own initiatives, as the only viable means to mitigate the effects of increased greenhouse gas emissions. In which case, they will function like good old fashioned interest groups, which is not all that new.
Slaughter believes that these “bottom-up” movements represent the future of world politics — and she may well be right. My own inclination is that DIY foreign policy represents a poor and underprovided substitute for effective state action global governance. We’ll see what the future holds.
Concluding her post, Slaughter says that she’ll be, ”looking at the world through a very different lens — highlighting features of the foreign policy landscape that simply disappear if we examine only a world of opaque unitary states negotiating, pressuring, fighting, and ignoring each other.” This is good, and highlights the value-added that such an approach can bring to thinking about world politics. I’ll be looking at Slaughter’s musings as well through my own lens — one that is very wary of overhyped initiatives that do not accomplish nearly as much as suggested by their media hype.
Am I missing anything?
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International relations theory
- This article refers to the theoretical discipline. For international studies see International relations
International relations theory is the study of international relations from a theoretical perspective; it attempts to provide a conceptual framework upon which international relations can be analyzed. Ole Holsti describes international relations theories act as a pair of coloured sunglasses, allowing the wearer to see only the salient events relevant to the theory. An adherent of realism may completely disregard an event that a constructivist might pounce upon as crucial, and vice versa. The three most popular theories are realism, liberalism and constructivism.
International relations theories can be divided into “positivist/rationalist” theories which focus on a principally state-level analysis, and “post-positivist/reflectivist” ones which incorporate expanded meanings of security, ranging from class, to gender, to postcolonial security. Many often conflicting ways of thinking exist in IR theory, including constructivism, institutionalism, Marxism, neo-Gramscianism, and others. However, two positivist schools of thought are most prevalent: realism and liberalism; though increasingly, constructivism is becoming mainstream.